Super Handyman: For an inexpensive yet dramatic change, think paint

Posted2/24/2012 12:30 AM

If you really want to make an impact on the way your home looks, inside or out, and your budget is super-small, think paint! If you do the work yourself, your only expense is the paint and maybe a couple of brushes and rollers.

It's not an easy job, but with our tips, you can do it yourself and save a bundle.

• Take all of the furniture, rugs, drapes, etc., out of the room.

• Remove switch-plate covers, outlet covers, phone-jack covers and other removable fixtures from the walls.

• You can leave ceiling fixtures up if you need to. Just loosen the cover plate at the ceiling, if you are painting that part of the room. Cover the lamp with a trash bag to protect it from spatters.

• Use a dropcloth or two. Tape it in place so that it doesn't move around and allow paint to get onto your floors.

• Clean the walls with trisodium phosphate (TSP, in the paint department). If you have any dents, gouges or other damage to the walls, patch over them and let them dry before you paint.

• Loosen trim molding or protect it from paint with masking tape.

• Prime the walls, or use one of the new paint-and-primer-in-one products.

• Cut-in or do the edges first with a paintbrush or pad. Then use a roller to get the walls done. Finish each wall before stopping to avoid marks or lines.

• Give the room time to dry before moving anything back into place. You're going to be really happy with your work, and in just one weekend, you will have a new and improved room. Invite a friend over to help, and be done in half the time! Good luck.

DO sweat it

Painting from the can is still the way most of us do it. It can be messy, but with a little forethought, you can avoid some of the drips. Slip a sweatband around the paint can. If you don't have a sweatband, try a terry hair band, old sock or rag, held in place with a rubber band. These will catch those drips that would end up on your floor, shoes or dropcloth. It's easy to do and works pretty well.

Hang up a downspout

Gutters are great at channeling rain from your roof away from your home's foundation. But guttering can be used for other things, too. For example, a scrap of downspout can be used to help store and organize long materials like pipe, trim, dowels and things like this. Use a screw to attach a small section, vertically, to your garage or shop wall, then stuff pipe down into it. You can mount it horizontally and do the same thing, and free up some floor space as well. We bet you can come up with even more ways to use it for shop storage.

Super hints

• To get a solid joint when sweat-soldering, the pipes you are working with need to be absolutely dry. If your plumbing pipe is still dripping a little, even with the water turned off, stuff a piece of bread up into the pipe to catch and absorb the water. It's an old trick that works great!

• Some of my tools have sentimental value, and I would never want to part with them. I would rather repair an old tool than replace it in most cases, anyway. A good way to prepare a wooden handle, old or new, is to heat it up in the oven or with a blow dryer. This removes moisture from the wood to make fitting it on the head easier. After the repairs have been made, the moisture will work its way back into the wood and expand it, and you'll have a super-tight fit.

• It might be a hassle to remove a door for painting, but it's very important that you don't forget to paint the bottom and top of the door. Any part that isn't painted is a place where moisture can get into the wood and cause problems.

Q. My patio is clean now but has a few very small cracks on the surface. I want to find a way to seal them, but without it looking odd. What do you recommend?

A. Unfortunately, it's very hard to match old concrete with new patching material. Very small cracks are best patched with a concrete patch in a caulking tube. This is fast but probably won't match. About the only way to disguise a patch is to cover the whole surface with a concrete "topper." This is applied over the top of the entire surface. It will take a little more time, but will look great.

Q. We are going to have to move our refrigerator within the next couple of weeks. We've already heard that you shouldn't turn the unit on its side, but we might not have a choice, with our truck. Is there a safe way to do this, or should we not try?

A. Although it's a better idea to move the unit upright, it can be laid down if you are careful. Just stand it back upright when you get to your destination, and leave it alone for 24 hours. Don't turn it on. This gives the liquids sealed inside the unit time to get back into proper position to run. Good luck!

Q. My water is what we call "hard water." It has lots of minerals in it and causes a lot of problems around my home. My dishwasher is the hardest to keep clean, maybe because it uses hot water. What can I use to keep the inside of the unit cleaner?

A. Vinegar is a great cleaner for mineral deposits. Pour a gallon of vinegar into the dishwasher and then run it empty on "quick wash." Try using a dishwashing soap with a softener built into it, or use the additive you can buy for this purpose.

Q. I have an older desk with a couple of spots where the clear coat has worn off or been scratched off. How can I recoat these areas without it looking weird?

A. Just get a small can of polyurethane that matches your current finish. You can use a small paintbrush to apply the coating just in the areas where it has worn off. It shouldn't be noticeable at all. Good luck!

Reader tips

• I painted our bedroom and wanted to surprise my wife. I got it all done, but it was still wet, and I wanted to move the furniture back in before she saw it. I got out two box fans and set them up to blow across the walls. It worked! I was able to get it all done before she got home from work, and she loves it! It does look pretty good, if I do say so myself.

• I ran out of paint remover before I got to my hands and arms the last time I was painting indoors. I guess it's not very good for your skin, either. I used cooking oil. The oil cuts right through the paint, almost as well as the solvent does. It's definitely safer to use, too. It will work on some materials that get paint on them as well. I tried it on a couple of tiles that got some spots on them. It works.

• I saved the old liquid soap container from my side of the bathroom and refilled it with oil. I keep it right on my workbench, where it's handy for small projects. I love the squirt bottle, and find it much handier than a spray, which gets all over everything, or something that has to be poured out. Just a little dab here and there, and it keeps things running smoothly.

• We had a timer installed on our water heater. The idea was to turn off the water heater when nobody was home to need it. Now the heater only runs about four hours a day. We are saving quite a bit of money. I knew it would be some, but it's a lot more of a savings than I thought it would be. It was well worth the price of an electrician!

• I love my copper cookware. My mother gave it to me years ago, and I plan on keeping it forever. My secret for keeping the copper clean is to use ketchup on it. I just smear a little ketchup on the copper, let it sit for a few minutes, and then wipe it off. The copper always looks great, and I love that I am saving money on my special "copper cleaner."


• Outdoor lighting comes in a variety of forms. There are electrical lamps, solar lamps and something new called Edge Glow Grout. Edge Glow charges in the sun and will emit a soft light for up to 12 hours. The manufacturer suggests that it be installed in channels cut into your deck and deck steps with a circular saw or router. After the channels have been cut into the wood, you mask off the adjacent areas to prevent the liquid from overflowing the channels. Then you mix up the Edge Glow and install it. After it's set up, you can walk on it and wash it, and it won't be harmed by chemicals, weather, freezing, heat, insects or other damaging conditions. Check it out at and learn more about this cool new product.

• A water leak can cause a lot of damage, and the longer it goes unchecked, the more expensive the repairs are likely to be. But you can prevent some of the cost and hassle with an early-warning system, provided by a small, compact, battery-operated leak alarm. The battery life is about three years, too. You actually get a package of three, all for less than $20. Put one next to your water heater, in your bathroom or laundry room, and another in your basement. The alarm is loud and will let you know if you have a problem. Check it out online at

• 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

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