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posted: 12/20/2013 12:01 AM

Keep your holidays safe and free from house fires

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At this time of the year, we all are very busy shopping and partying with our friends and family. Just promise us that you will take a few minutes and give your home a safety upgrade. Here are a few things you'll want to check:

• Fire hazards are a lot more common during the wintertime than during the summer. Be prepared. Test all of your smoke detectors and replace dead batteries. Add a couple more if you only have one or two. It's amazing how many lives a small, inexpensive device like this has saved.

• Every home ought to have at least one working fire extinguisher. They don't cost much and are easy to operate. Buy a general-purpose type for all kinds of fires and keep it handy. Use it AFTER calling 911 in case of a fire.

• Don't leave candles or heating appliances unattended.

• Have your gas appliances inspected for carbon monoxide leaks. Install a carbon monoxide detector if you don't already have one.

• If you will have children as guests in your home, install electrical outlet covers and move all items within grabbing distance up to higher tables and shelves. A good way to look for kid issues is to crawl around your house on your hands and knees looking for problems, and address them. Other things to move are lamp cords, and cords for blinds and drapes.

• Some plants are dangerous for kids and pets, so keep things like mistletoe out of reach of both.

• If you don't have a basic first-aid kit, now is the time to get one. If it's not been restocked in a while, at least refill the bandages. A few other stomach and headache remedies also might come in handy.

Have a safe holiday season!

Plywood makes expanded seating a cinch

Expecting a larger-than-normal crowd at your next dinner party? You can expand the seating at your dining table by putting a sheet of plywood over your smaller table top. We also suggest placing a towel or rubber mat between the two so your table doesn't get scratched. Of course, you will want it to be stable, so make sure you don't go overboard with your overboard. The plywood shouldn't be twice the size of the existing table top or your dinner could end up in someone's lap! Smooth off the edges if you can, and use a tablecloth or two. Now the whole family can sit together at one table!

Paper towel core keeps cords corralled

Crawling under your desk to unplug a device is just part of the home-office-experience. Well, labeling these items makes a lot of sense and makes things easier. But what do you do with all the cords? Well, we found a great way to keep them all together. We took a cardboard paper towel roll and slit it down the side to wrap it around the cords. The cardboard core closes around the cords to keep them all in a neat bundle and out of the way. Because it's open all the way down the side, you also can pull out the one you need to remove without having to undo the whole thing and redo it afterward. Simple and successful!

Super hints

• Replace standard electrical outlets with the new, tamper-resistant outlets that prevent objects from being pushed into the outlets. It is easy enough for most DIY'ers to do and well worth the extra effort for safety's sake!

• In Texas, a lot of us use ceiling fans on our patios to keep the air moving on hot days. It also helps with the excess humidity. Outdoor models are available and will last longer. But if you have standard wooden blades, they usually don't last very long. We suggest replacing them with vinyl or plastic blades. These are widely available and will last a lot longer in the great outdoors.

• Solar lights can be used in so many places and help add real pizazz to our outdoor landscape. They are easy to install with no wiring and are getting more and more affordable every day. Add them to your exterior holiday decor and skip those electrical cords.

Q. I have a serious problem. I accidentally dropped a nut down into the bathroom drain. I can't believe I didn't think to close up the drain, but I didn't. Is it OK to leave it alone or do I need to try to fish it out somehow?

A. Yes, stopping up the drain or covering the bottom of the shower with a towel probably would have prevented this but, as long as your drain is still working, it should be OK to leave it alone. If it does start slowing down, you can try retrieving it with a magnet, but if the drain is metal, then you won't get too far with that method. You also might try sucking out the drain with a shop vacuum. Make sure it's set to pick up water in case you do so.

Q. I have some old metal school lockers that I want to use in my garage for storing our sports equipment. They are rusted in some places and the paint is starting to peel. What do I need to do to clean them up and make them look better?

A. If the lockers are very old, you probably ought to test the old paint for lead. If no lead is present, use a power sander to get rid of all of the loose paint and rust. Then you can use a metal primer and a paint made for metal.

Q. I have casement windows in my sunroom. I like to open them on nice days to help regulate the temperature, but they are getting hard to use. Is there a way to lubricate them, or is there some other way to help with this situation?

A. Yes, you can lubricate all of the moving parts with silicone grease, available at your hardware store. There's not much to them other than the hinge and crank. If these are damaged or bent, you should replace them.

Q. I need to replace a small piece of wood trim on a very old dresser. It's plain, but I can find nothing in the way of molding to match it. What should I do?

A. Probably the easiest thing to do is mold one out of clay. Check your hobby store for one that will harden quickly and can be sanded and painted. Mold it by hand and tools to match and, after it has hardened, you can finish it to match perfectly with a little more tooling and some paint.

Reader tips

• A candle in our dining room went unnoticed for too long and dripped onto our sideboard. We let it harden and then scraped it off with a plastic spatula. There was a little bit left and we tried some ice to harden it even more. This made it easier to remove most of the rest of it. Then we tried the hair dryer. This softened it, and we were able to get the rest of it off. After all of that trouble, we will be a lot more careful next time.

• After the first freeze, I decided to clean up my patio and get it ready for next spring. I had a glass-top coffee table out there and the top was not looking too good, so I wanted to cover it. I decided to tile over it. I went to a tile supply shop and was able to grab some old sample tiles, enough to do the whole table. I removed them from the cardboard and scraped off the adhesive on the back. Then I glued them all down to the glass table top with tile adhesive. Then I grouted them in place. It looks so neat and it only cost a few dollars.

• I try to reuse a lot of my plastics. I've also learned a few tricks to make working with them easier. If you soak them in hot water before you start cutting them, they will be softer and more pliable to work with. Also, use a new blade, since it will cut better than an old, worn blade. Wearing gloves also helps to hold on to the plastic and protect you from the sharp edges.

• I have a good stack of bricks left over from a wall that we added to our landscape. I like to use these bricks around the house for different things. I've learned, though, that I should apply a sealant to them before using them for book ends or door stops. This keeps them from shedding dust and little pieces of brick on my floor and shelves. Since it's clear, it doesn't show.

• I like to try to fix up things around the house rather than just get rid of them. That's why I really enjoy your column. I was trying to recover an old chair in my office and was using a vinyl material. It was thick and hard to fold around the edges. I got my hairdryer out and used it to warm the material up. This made it more bendable. The chair looks fantastic with the new covering. I have some leftovers and plan to cover some boxes and magazine holders so they will all match.


• Petroleum jelly is an incredibly useful concoction. It's perfect in the shop and super in the home. We bet you would love the list that we have put together of some of the many uses that we have found for this stuff in and around the house. Some you may have tried but, hopefully, others will be new to you. Heck, you may have some clever uses that we didn't list. If so, let us know and we will add them to our list. We also will have it posted on our website at

• Our sinks have automatic overflow devices, so why shouldn't our toilets? Well, the Penguin Toilet does! Most clogs happen just at the drain opening in the toilet bowl. The Penguin Toilet has built-in overflow holes, so if the water gets too high in the bowl, it flows down into these holes and out the drain before it hits the rim and makes a huge mess for you to clean up. Check it out for sure at

• Kilz Max Clear blocks stains and odors just like shellac. But it's nonflammable, has very little odor and contains a mildewcide to prevent mold growth. It's great for sealing in water stains, pet odors, smoke smell, rust and a host of other hard-to-cover materials. Use it on subfloors, wood, masonry, drywall, plastic and even ceramic tile. To find out more, go to

• Write to Al and Kelly Carrell in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006 or visit the Carrells' website at

2013, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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