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updated: 8/16/2014 10:51 AM

Spruce up your old deck this summer

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A nice outdoor deck can add a lot of value to your property, not to mention fun times for your family. But a deck can age over time, so let's talk about how you can correct some common problems and head off some others.

If your deck is made of pressure-treated lumber, as most are, then you need to be careful not to breathe in dust when sanding or sawing. Wear a dust mask, safety glasses and gloves when working with the stuff.

If any of the piers or joists are damaged, you probably ought to replace these before doing anything else.

Warped or cupped boards are going to happen. Remove screws or nails that are in the way. This will make it easier to use a crow bar or lever to persuade the board back into place and install screws to secure it. Sometimes you can pull the whole board up, flip it over and then secure it. If it's severe enough, you will have to cut a new board to replace the old one.

Loose railings, steps and other members need to be tightened back into place with bolts and nuts, screws or metal brackets.

The surface of the wood needs to be maintained regularly. You can buy deck cleaner at your home center or hardware store. A good one will strip off the dirt and mold/mildew and make the surface look new again. Then you can coat it with stain/water seal. Some formulas are thicker than others, and can cover and even seal in splinters and other minor imperfections.

This should be an annual event and, once finished, will help you avoid these timely repairs and make your deck much more fun to use!

Truck tension

Trucks and SUVs are great for hauling materials and other bulky items home from the store. When carrying smaller items around in a large truck bed, you can keep them from rolling around by installing a tension rod running from one side to the other to hold things in place. A bathroom shower-curtain rod will do the trick, but any tension rod used for curtains will work. Use them in the back of your SUV, too. When you are home and unloaded, remove the rod and save it for later.

Power light

LED bulbs are very energy-efficient. They are used on all sorts of appliances and other gadgets. But if you are trying to see the status of an appliance or some other small indicator light, and you're outdoors or in another brightly lit place, it can be a little hard to see. One way to make the status easier to see is to surround the bulb with darkness. Place an empty toilet-tissue roll over the bulb and peer through it, telescope-style. In the darkness, you'll be able to see if the light bulb is lit.

Super hints

• The latest fad in nail polish is bright and weird colors. Since nail polish is very tough stuff, use it to do touch-ups on outdoor projects, metal items and lots of other stuff. Nobody will ever know!

• I seem to collect a lot of stuff. I know I shouldn't, but I can't seem to help myself. I have my garage lined with storage shelves. It allows me to keep things off the floor, but I still can see where everything is. I also hang things on the shelves. One of my favorite places to store paper towels is right on the upright sides of one of these shelves. This way, the paper towels are easy to get to and won't fall off the shelf while I'm working.

• If you want a finely finished tabletop to last, place a piece of clear plastic sheeting over the top. You also can use glass, but the plastic is so inexpensive and easy to cut. Do this to your tables and dressers to protect the surfaces from everyday wear and tear.

Q. I would like to know, once and for all, how to completely clean my white-tiled shower. I just can't get it to stay clean. What will work?

A. Regular laundry bleach is the best stuff for killing mold and mildew. Make a paste of bleach and baking soda (wear gloves, safety glasses and a paper mask when you do this), and spread it on the grout and allow it to sit in place for a long time. This will bleach the grout clean again. Once clean, apply a grout sealer to the surface to seal it and keep it looking good for a long time.

Q. I cleaned out my garage and, even after cleaning the floor as best I can, I still see some rust stains on the floor. My guess is that they came from one or both of the cars at some point. How can I clean these from the surface?

A. Use a concrete cleaner with oxalic acid in it. TSP is a good cleaner for heavy-duty stains. If that doesn't work, try using a rust remover for concrete surfaces. That will clean it off pretty easily. This is available at most hardware stores and home centers.

Q. Our master bathroom has a tile flooring in the bathroom and dressing area. I want to cover part of it, the dressing area and closet, with carpet. I don't want to remove the tiles but would love to have a soft surface in my closet. How can I best do this without damaging the tiles?

A. Use heavy-duty double-sided tape all the way around the edges in a continuous strip where the carpet will be installed (like tack strips). Now you can install your padding, inside the taped area. The carpet will be placed on top and pressed down onto the adhesive, where it should stay just fine.

Reader tips

• I made a nifty tool for cleaning out my household gutters. I used PVC pipe and cut and fit the pieces together to make a long-handled tool with a U-shaped end. The bottom of the "handle" is threaded, so I can attach my garden hose to it. I just turn on the hose, place the end into the gutter and blast out the leaves and other debris. I hardly ever have to climb up the ladder anymore.

• Our next-door neighbors were adding onto their home. It's been OK so far, but last week we had a ton of rain. I started seeing the water puddling up on our patio. I knew it would come in under the door if I didn't do something quickly. I grabbed a can of Great Stuff Expanding Foam Sealant and sprayed a line in front of the door directly on the patio. It hardened quickly and acted as a dam to prevent the water from getting into the house.

• I had to replace a leg on our coffee table. It was easy enough to do, but I wanted to try to stain it to match the rest of the table. I found an old can of stain out in the garage that I thought would work. I wanted to stir it up really well, but I didn't want to spend all day doing it. I dropped a half-dozen large bolts into the can, and the nuts made the stirring process go a whole lot faster.

• We installed a new fence around our backyard. It's our first in a long time, and we spent a little extra money to get the best materials we could so it would last a long time. We used our old posthole digger, but sharpened the blades first. It took only a few minutes to sharpen them both, and it was amazing how quickly the blades cut through the clay soil we have. It was well worth the extra time spent doing it. And the fence looks great, too.

• We don't need air conditioning where we live, but I do like to use box fans in my windows to bring the fresh air into the house. My husband, though, has allergies and would prefer that I not keep the windows open, so we compromised. I bought HVAC filters and placed them over the fans to filter the air coming in.

This seems to help enough for us to both get what we want during the summer.


• We found a super degreaser at our local hardware store. Mean Green Super Strength Cleaner and Degreaser is remarkable. It works on lots of different messes inside the house, in the workshop, garage and even outdoors. It is very effective at cutting through grease, and on a variety of surfaces, too, including concrete and fabric. To find out more, go to

• Duluth Trading Co. makes some neat stuff for us do-it-yourselfers. We like their Magnetic Tool Saver Tarps. These heavy-duty tarps come in several sizes and have magnets built right into the rolled, seamed edges. They're water-resistant and keep out dust and other things Mother Nature likes to throw our way. The magnets make it easy for the tarp to grab hold of tool tables, grill stands and trailers, and it won't slide or blow off. To find out more about the tarps, go to www.

• Write to the Carrells' at

2014, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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