Home Maintenance – Misc Notes and Tips

2012-09-09 Updated

2010-09-08 Initial Post


• Before trying to rig something together, go to a hardware store and talk to the sales people there and tell them what you’re trying to do. In most cases, there’s a tool or product that can help. You’d be surprised at what’s available.

There have been several occasions where I’ve seen a tool and thought of how much easier it would have been if I had used it on a particular task. The point here is to talk to people and get ideas and advice. Tell people what you’re trying to do and not what you think that you need to get the job done—let them suggest ways to accomplish what you’re trying to do.

Don’t go into a store and say “I need this and that.” Instead, ask “I’m trying to do this, what do you suggest?" And if you feel that the person you’re talking to isn’t knowledgeable, ask someone else. Getting the right part or information the first time saves you time, money, and headaches.

I had a situation where my shower faucet handles were not grabbing onto the faucet stem. The stem was worn down and not catching onto the grips inside the handle. I went to Home Depot and asked for an “adjustable” handle that I could tighten onto the stem, thus saving me from having to install a new stem. The guy I talked to told me to remove the stem and bring it in. He had me buy a special wrench for that. Not knowing any better, I tried to do that and found that the wrench didn’t fit, plus it wasn't a quick task to do either.

I went back to Home Depot thinking I needed another wrench. I then asked a different guy if there was some type of adjustable handle. It turns out that they do make adjustable handles which were termed “universal.” This saved me time and money since a new valve stem would have taken longer to install and each stem was $15 - $17. I ended up buying a Danco universal handle set for $9 something (it was for a kitchen faucet but fit my shower fine) and a Danco universal handle diverter for $6 something. They were easy to install and worked well.

I didn't follow my own advice and made more work for myself when I replaced my porch light.

• Get a good pair of tight fitting work gloves that allow decent dexterity. You’ll protect your hands from miscellaneous cuts and will have a better grip on tools. I originally got a pair of Mechanix Wear CG Impact Pro. They’re more expensive than the other models, but I wanted something with leather palms. The extra padding was a nice touch as well. That pair has since worn out and I got a cheaper pair or Firm Grip brand gloves from Home Depot. Compared to equivalent gloves from Mechanix Wear, Firm Grip is just as good, but cheaper.

• Before you start installing anything, do a dry run and see if it would be difficult to install before you start cutting anything or putting holes into your wall. I bought a Neu Home bathroom shelf/towel holder from Walmart and it was very tough to install. The poor design made using a regular screw driver difficult, and the screws they included were not good quality, resulting in the heads being stripped easily. Had I not already drilled eight holes into the wall for it, I would have returned it and got something else. I ended up using different, better quality, screws and got it installed.

• With YouTube and the like, there are now videos on how to do just about anything. So search for videos that can help with your project. Seeing a video can be much more helpful for certain projects such as building a retaining wall

• Identify and clearly label the main shutoff valve/switch for all the major utilities—water, gas, electric, etc. Also label shutoff valves for garden house outlets. Use labels made out of plastic or any material that won’t deteriorate after a few years. I cut up a large Tyvek envelope into squares for labels and then used an orange Sharpie marker to write on them. Show everyone living in the house where these areas are and also write down the locations on a piece of paper and put it on the fridge. You don't want to be scrambling to find the main water shutoff valve when something starts leaking.


• When choosing a contractor, make sure that the contractor has worked on similar projects. For example, if you need recessed lighting installed, any licensed electrician can technically do the job. But the problem is that some electricians who work mostly on new construction won’t have enough experience retrofitting an older home—installing recessed lighting in a house before the drywall is in place is a lot easier than trying to fit the lights into an existing ceiling.

• Contractors who specialize in commercial properties might not have much experience working on residential properties. So make sure that the contractor has done similar work in a similar home. Based on that, a referral is your best source.

• See if the person giving you the estimate will be the one doing the work, or at least come on site the first day to supervise. I had a situation where my mother-in-law's basement had some waterproofing work done. We were down to two companies which both were pretty much going to do the same thing for the same price, and we ended up choosing the first one.

In retrospect we should have chosen the second one. Why? Because the second guy actually would have done the work. The first guy was just an estimator and never came on site during the work. And the work crew was basically just laborers who did exactly what they were told to do even though it would have been better if they moved the sump pump to another corner since we had told the estimator that we wanted more of the room trenched out for the french drain. With that change, the sump pump should have been moved to the other side of the room, but the laborers didn't question the original plan.

Anyway, it wasn't the end of the world, because the basement's still dry, but it would have made everything look nicer if the sump pump was moved. Had the second guy done the job, since he's more than a laborer, he'd have the knowledge and authority to make changes as needed.


• For chandeliers and other ceiling lights, the wires are often not labeled, so it’s not easy to see which wire is positive and which is neutral. From what I’ve read, the wire with the ridge on it is the neutral wire. I’ve actually swapped the wires around on a chandelier and it worked fine, so I’m not sure if it even matters which wire is which.

• When installing chandeliers, have two strong pliers around to use for opening the chain links to adjust the height of the chandelier. If the wires get twisted around the chain, you can unscrew the center part at the top end of the chain which will then allow you to pull the wires out and untangle them.

• I was talking to an electrician and asked about the ceiling fan braces like this Westinghouse 0110000 Saf-T-Brace. He cautioned that they can push the joists out of place and cause nails to pop.


• Pick or scratch awl. This comes in really handy for marking a spot or poking a hole in wood or drywall. If you use it to hang a picture on a wall, for example, you can poke a pilot hole right through the drywall so that it’s easy to put in a nail or screw. If you’re working by yourself, this makes it a lot easier. I got a nice Stanley pick and hook set at Walmart for under $6.00.

• Get a moving blanket so that you don't scratch up your car. Home Depot had a nice moving blanket for around $15.

• Framing square. This is great for working along side a level when installing curtain rod mounting brackets. For some reason, I didn’t see many good quality levels with built in rulers, otherwise I wouldn’t really need this tool. There’s also another type of square called a rafter square that's triangular in shape; I have a small one of those in plastic.


• When assembling IKEA furniture, make sure to constantly picture how the item looks fully assembled. It's not uncommon for pieces to be put in backwards or inside out without you realizing it until you're almost finished, thus necessitating going backwards several steps to correct the piece. IKEA is actually one of the worst violators of user-friendliness when it comes to instructions. They try to save money by making the instruction sheets language-neutral, which means there are only pictures. So pay attention when assembling IKEA furniture!

• When installing things that don't need to support a lot of weight such as curtain rods or small shelves, use the plastic anchors that need a pre-drilled hole--don't use the self-drilling metal anchors that might come with the products as they make a huge hole and are harder to work with.

• It really doesn’t make much of a difference if you drill into a stud or not since the plastic wall anchors can support a lot of weight. If they can’t, there are other types of metal anchors that can support much more weight. The point here is to install the item at the spot where you want, and not relocate the item just so that you can screw it into a stud. You’ll need to put the same amount of holes in the wall anyway whether you screw directly into a stud or drill a hole first to install an anchor.

•I would avoid or at least be careful when using curtain wire (like the IKEA DIGNITET) or anything similar because the tighter you make the wire, the more it pulls on the window moulding/trim. Window trim is usually fastened using small nails, so anything that pulls on them too much, could pull them away from the wall, which is what happened to me. I had to put screws into the trim as fix.


You should install an access panel if you have utility valves or switches that are hard to reach from inside the utility room. You should be able to cut a large hole on the outside of the room to install the access panel. The access panels can be painted to match your wall.

Initially I wanted an access panel that was like a regular door with a frame and hinge. I went to Home Depot and the only thing that they had was a spring-loaded access panel from Watts (model APU15 http://www.watts.com/pro/_productsFull.asp?pid=2322&ref=1). This actually ended up being easier to install and can fit any size/shape hole from 10” x 10” to 15” x 15”. One thing that I messed up when installing this was that I planned to cut the hole the full 15” x 15”. That was a bad idea since the edge of the cuts might show. I ended up making the hole 15” x 13” and the two pilot holes that I initially poked through are barely visible, so that worked out. I suggest making the hole a few inches smaller unless you absolutely need the full size.


• If something that uses water or gas doesn't work, check all the valves--even the main valve to make sure that they're all open. We had thought that a gas dryer didn't work because it didn't heat up, but it turned out that the valve supplying the dryer was closed. On another occasion, I thought that the backyard faucet was frozen and wouldn't open. I proceeded to try to force the faucet open and broke the handle. It turned out that there was another valve inside the basement that was closed. After opening that second valve in the basement, the water flowed out of the faucet. This brings me to the next point.

• Don't assume that something like a faucet, for example, is in the closed position just because water isn't coming out. Turn the handle in both directions to verify that it goes in both directions without any issue. I almost messed up the valve on the backyard faucet and was about to call a plumber. I should have tried to close the faucet handle instead of assuming it was frozen closed and thus trying to force it beyond the opening point. I just assumed that since no water was coming out, it must have already been in the closed position.

• Replace your shower head with a hand shower. This makes it easier to clean your shower and also to rinse off the walls and curtain after every shower. Home Depot had a nice Aquadyne model for around $16. It comes with all the parts needed for installation--even the Teflon tape.

• Don't use a garden hose reel. They don't work that well and can leak. Instead, get a 6 ft 4x4 pressure treated post and put it 3 ft into the ground in front of the faucet. Then get a hose holder and mount it to the post. This looks nice and doesn't require you to drill a hole into the side of your house. If you don't have a post hole digger, call a cheap landscaping company and ask them to do it. It shouldn't take them long so they shouldn't charge much. It's also a no-brainer task, so it would be difficult for them to mess it up. I got this idea from Ed, a contractor who did some work on my house.

I noticed that after three years, the post started to show signs of deterioration and also had holes from termites or some other insect. A thought had crossed my mind about using some type of vinyl fence post cover to protect the wood and also make it look more attractive. Months later I finally got around to doing that and it was pretty easy. Home Depot had a nice YardSmart brand 4 in x 4 in x 39 in "vinyl post jacket" and matching "pyramid post cap," both for around $16. The only color I saw was white, which is what I wanted anyway, even though my house siding is beige--I didn't want a beige color that wasn't an exact match to the siding. I was so happy when I saw the post jacket because it was already pre-cut to 39 in, which is the exact length that I had wanted. So now this looks really clean and professional.


• From what I’ve deduced, grout sealer is only necessary if you have light colored grout in an area that is prone to dirt or grease, such as a kitchen stove backsplash or floor tiles by the front door entrance. Also, grout sealer might be necessary in areas that get exposed to a lot of water, such as shower walls. If you have tile in your foyer with darker colored grout, IMO, sealing that area would be a waste of time.

• Grout sealer should be optional for dark colored grout or grout in areas that don’t get very dirty, such as a bathroom sink backsplash. NOTE: This means that having dark colored grout is more beneficial—I would not suggest using bright white grout unless you are willing to clean and seal it often.


• You can tell that the pricier blinds (mini blinds or cellular) use better materials because they use more metal on the header parts. Using metal allows the blinds to have the strength to be mounted with hidden brackets.

• When installing roller shades, make sure to get the exact measurements for the center of the shade with the bracket included. The side with the roller mechanism adds a fraction of an inch to its side which results in the shade itself being slightly off-center if you center using the bracket. So what you need to do is compensate for that by placing the brackets slightly off center. I had this issue with IKEA shades and it looks like other roller shades would have the same issue. They should design the left and right mounting brackets differently to compensate for this issue.

• When adjusting the length of mini blinds, don’t worry about the sides being uneven at the bottom. You’ll be able to even out the sides afterwards using the two adjusting cords. After the cords are even and the blinds are even, cut the cords to the same length and re-knot them. I wasted some time trying to make the blinds even at the bottom, only to realize afterwords that, that step was totally unnecessary.

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