All posts by Gary Pardun

Whence come the roaches?

SkillLevel1Whenever we returned to the beach house after being gone for several days we would find a handful of mostly dead (in “The Princess Bride” sense) roaches scattered about. Where were they coming from? I caulked or foamed every crack I could find. Fortunately, my ever-loving wife, “Rochelle” (not her real name) was patient and cut me some slack because she knew I was really trying. (Not to be confused with the phrase, “He can be really trying,” which means something else entirely. I’m pretty sure I heard Rochie correctly but now I’m starting wonder if I was listening carefully.)

Plumbers and electricians like to drill holes. Lots of holes. The licensing test for plumbers has two questions:

  1. Can you glue PVC pipe?
  2. Can you drill a hole?

If yes, here is your license.

For electricians the questions are different:

  1. Can you strip Romex cable?
  2. Can you drill a hole?

Here’s your license.

Notice there isn’t a third question: Can you seal the hole? So although they are both good at drilling holes, the answer to that one is typically, “Not so much.”

Dryer vent in wall and floor needs to be sealed
Dryer vent in wall and floor needs to be sealed

In the pantry I found a dryer duct going into the floor that had enough space around it for a squirrel to get through along with a year’s supply of nuts so I foamed around that baby to slow down the varmint traffic. But still the roaches came.

I foamed the holes around the water pipes in the sink cabinets in the kitchen and all of the bathrooms. Still they came.

In the attic, I foamed the wiring holes that go into the tops of the walls. I caulked around the outside doors. It didn’t slow them down.

I pulled out the kitchen stove and foamed the openings in the floor underneath the stove. Same for the refrigerator. I squirted little puddles of roach bait poison in corners and by the doors. They are supposed to take the poison back to the nest so that the whole colony is wiped out. Maybe the roaches can’t read the instructions or they purposely flaunt them but that didn’t work either.

Major roach portal in cabinet floor
Major roach portal in cabinet floor

Then one day my ever-loving wife said she saw a roach on the countertop that scooted off and disappeared under the edge of the countertop. I looked up under there but couldn’t see where it had gone so I took out the top drawer to get a better look. (The drawer slides on each side have a little plastic lever that releases the drawer.) Nothing obvious so I figured it must have gone down behind the other drawers so I took them out too. Eureka! The answer was blindingly obvious.

The electrician had drilled a hole in the base of the cabinet to run a wire for the outlets. Oh, and I’m sure he sealed the hole. NOT! I was staring at a roach superhighway. The whole roach contingent could have crawled out of there side by side in parade formation. It was now clear that the little black dots in the drawers were roach rest areas when they needed to take a break from the highway.

Roach superhighway in cabinet bottom and through subfloor
Roach superhighway in cabinet bottom and through subfloor

Not only was there a hole in the bottom of the cabinet but there was another hole in the subfloor below it. Taking advantage of a more-or-less direct line to the roach hoard, I shot some poison down both holes.

Superhighway is now closed
Superhighway is now closed

Then I foamed the subfloor hole by sticking the Great Stuff gun down the cabinet hole. Did I mention it was a large hole? Then I foamed the hole in the cabinet bottom and replaced the drawers.

Result? No more roaches.

Sometimes I like to imagine the puzzled look on their stupid little faces when the survivors, if any, bump into all of that foam. What the …? It warms the cockles of my heart, if I have any, which I doubt because I tried to pay attention in school and I have no recollection of any mention of “cockles” when we were learning about hearts.

 

Couch de-sag-ification

SkillLevel3Our new green couch was much more comfortable in the showroom than in our TV room. Of course they delivered one from the warehouse–not the one we sat on in the store–and quality, shall we say, can vary.

When my ever-loving wife, “Spud” (not her real name), and I sat on the couch the middle would sink like the Titanic and tilt us nearly head-to-head, which is all very romantic and everything but hard on the old spinal column. It looked like we were the Stephen Hawking twins slouching in our wheelchairs.

Clearly the springs were shot in this couch, which speaks to the poor quality of furniture construction these days. Continue reading Couch de-sag-ification

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Park bench resurrection

SkillLevel4

The painted wood in the park benches was deteriorating
The painted wood in the park benches was deteriorating

The park benches in our church courtyard were in sad shape. Sad probably isn’t the best word. More like sobbing-your-eyes-out shape. The wood slats were crumbling or missing entirely and only the rusted bolts and layers of black paint were holding them together.

When my ever-loving wife, “Queenie” (not her real name), saw the benches she tipped her head back ever so slightly and pronounced, “We are not amused.” She let it be known that they should be tossed in the rubbish heap, which for park benches is the equivalent of “Off with their heads!”

But one of them had a nameplate reading, “In Memory of Elizabeth” and the deteriorating benches were threatening to take that memory with them.

Since the benches were sitting on an ipe (pronounced “ee-pay“) deck, I decided to rebuild them using ipe slats so they would look like they belonged there. Ipe is a Brazilian walnut hardwood. Very hard. Very dense. Very heavy. This makes it an excellent wood for outdoor furniture and it requires very little maintenance. It is so dense it doesn’t absorb much moisture and most sealers just sit on the surface because they can’t penetrate into the wood grain. A very, very thin layer of hardwood oil is the only thing they will take.

Since you can’t just walk in to your local Lowe’s or Home Depot to buy a few feet of ipe, I found an excellent source for it online at AdvantageLumber.com. They manufacture “sustainably harvested” exotic hardwood, which is important when using wood from Brazil (or anywhere). The salesman was helpful and knowledgeable. Highly recommended.

Most of the bench slats were 2″ wide with another three that were 1″ wide at the top and bottom. AdvantageLumber had 1 x 6 ipe deck boards on sale in 4′ lengths so I ripped them into a pair of 2″ slats and a single 1″ slat. The math worked out pretty well for the number I needed of each size. Ipe sawdust is a very fine yellow powder that looks like pine pollen and gets everywhere. I should have hooked up the Shop Vac for dust collection while I was using the table saw. I also should have worn gloves because unfinished ipe makes for hard, sharp slivers. Don’t ask me how I know.

Routing off the corners of the ipe slats
Routing off the corners of the ipe slats

Then I ran the new slats through the router to round over the sharp corners. (This time I remembered to hook up the vac and wear gloves.)

Three guide pieces screwed to a piece of plywood form a jig for drilling
Three guide pieces screwed to a piece of plywood form a jig for drilling
Drilling holes for carriage bolts
Drilling holes for carriage bolts

I chose type 316 stainless steel carriage bolts to attach the slats to the wrought iron bench sides because I like the look of the round caps and they will last forever. Every slat needed two holes drilled for the bolts so I set up a jig on the drill press to position each slat at the right distance from the end and centered width-wise.

I bought a new cobalt drill bit for this project because the web said ipe can dull ordinary bits.

There is some debate as to whether you should sand ipe because sanding will make the surface even harder and less able to absorb the protective oil finish. Since people were going to be sitting on these benches I decided it would be more important to sand them so as not to snag Grandma’s bloomers. Continue reading Park bench resurrection

Ceiling fans and smartphones

(Featured photo by Fannie Mae.)SkillLevel3

When the air is too warm there is nothing like a breeze to make it cooler. But if there is no wind sometimes you have to make your own. My ever-loving wife, “Fannie Mae” (not her real name), is a ceiling fan fan, so it goes without saying I’ve had to install a number of them in our various homes. Since you can replace a ceiling light with a ceiling fan-light combo without running new wiring she thinks the more the merrier.

In the space of two months, I’ve repaired four ceiling fans at three different houses and none of them were ours. This last one was a bit of mystery. The fan worked but the light didn’t. After running through the easy tests (Is the wall switch on? Is the chain switch on? Are the bulbs burned out?), it was time to open up the housing and have a look at the wiring. Fortunately, most of the wiring for the light is in the shallow metal bowl hanging from the bottom of the fan and I didn’t need to take the whole fan down–just the glass globe, which is held on by a fancy nut at the bottom.

ceiling fan "bowl" cover
Ceiling fan “bowl” cover

Three screws hold the metal bowl. Two of them have open slots so that you can loosen the screws a little and turn the bowl a notch to take it off. The third screw has to be taken all the way out and placed in a secure (disclosed) location so that you can screw it back in when the time comes.

I am always shocked, shocked I say, how many wires are hidden in that bowl. (Speaking of being shocked, I made sure the wall switch was turned off before I started poking around. My momma didn’t raise no fool.) One pair of wires was for the fan direction switch (up for winter, down for summer). Continue reading Ceiling fans and smartphones

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Central vac plan of attack

SkillLevel4

First let me say that my ever-loving wife, “Dusty” (not her real name), has many fine attributes and it would take quite some time to list them all. Vacuuming, however, might not appear on that list. On the friendship scale, Dusty and a vacuum cleaner would be labelled “acquaintances,” which is to say they’ve met but they don’t spend a lot of time together. When the twins were six months old, Dusty turned on the vacuum cleaner and the kids looked at her in utter shock and horror. “You’ve never heard that sound before, have you?” she said. Did I mention they were six months old?

All things being considered, I thought it best if I took over the vacuuming responsibilities, although “took over” implies that someone else had them previously and that might be tough to prove in a court of law. And now that I was the vacuumer-in-chief I could choose the vacuum.

I like a central vacuum for a lot of reasons. It is quieter than an upright or drag around because the motor noise is in the basement or garage. It is cleaner because the dirty air that gets through the filter goes outside the house rather than back into the room. A standard lug-along vacuum cleaner is really a dust re-circulator because anything the filter misses goes right back into the air so that it can settle on the floors and furniture. And the long hose of a central vacuum makes it much easier to clean the stairs because you don’t have to haul a heavy machine up and down the steps, which is why so many of us are forced, forced I say, to have dirty stairs. Can I get an amen?

We’ve had a central vac in three homes, each installed a different way. The first home was still under construction when we asked if they could install a central vac and that made it easy for the builder because the sheet rock hadn’t been put on the walls yet.
Our second home was built in 1923 and central vacuums weren’t very common in 1923. A little research convinced me that you can install one in almost any home so I hired the local vacuum cleaner dealer to install a central vacuum in our old brick two-story house.
The key to the whole thing is planning. The basic idea is you have the vacuum motor and filter in the basement or garage connected to PVC tubing that run through the house to inlets where you plug in the vacuum hose. They are called inlets because the air is sucked in as opposed to an outlet where the electricity comes out.

Inlet for central vacuum
Inlet for central vacuum

The vacuum hose is about 30′ long so you need to figure out where Continue reading Central vac plan of attack

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Workshop Catch-22

SkillLevel5

Where did all of the home workshops go? It used to be that every home had a little woodworking shop for fixing a broken chair or building a cradle. Not anymore. I assumed the reason was modern technology and Walmart made them obsolete. After trying to set up a workshop myself, I now know the real reason: It is impossible!

It isn’t easy finding space for a workshop. The garage and the basement are the usual candidates but I don’t have either one. My ever-loving wife, “Woody” (not her real name), didn’t seem to catch the vision when I proposed using the guest room for my woodworking even though I assured her I would close the door to keep the dust out of the rest of the house. It’s not like we use that room on a daily basis but the idea went over like a lead balloon. She proposed using the storage room. So we compromised and I’m using the storage room. Continue reading Workshop Catch-22

Thermostat in the cloud

SkillLevel4

With my ever-loving wife, “Charlotte” (not her real name), on sabbatical, it has become an increasing challenge to maintain a comfortable, yet energy efficient temperature in the house amid her comings and goings and various sabbatications.

BAYweb has a convenient and powerful way to control the temperature using a web browser from anywhere in the world. You log on to their website (www.bayweb.com) to see the current temperature in the house and adjust it as needed. The service is free but you have to buy and install their control module and thermostat. In our case, the cost of the hardware was offset in less than a year with reduced energy costs by adjusting the temp when we weren’t home.

Of course you can manually set back your old-fashioned thermostat before you leave on vacation and reset it when you return but the BAYweb system has these advantages:

  1. If you forgot to set back the thermostat before you ran out the door for your vacation you can do it from your motel or even your smartphone at the rest area.
  2. A few hours before you return from vacation you can turn the temp back to normal and the house will be comfortable when you walk in the door.
  3. You can monitor the temperature while you are away. One guy was away during the winter and noticed that his house was getting too cold and got the heating repair company to fix his furnace before the pipes froze.
  4. You can view charts and reports of energy usage and temperatures.

Our house has separate systems for upstairs and downstairs so I bought two pairs of thermostats and control modules. The basic idea is to replace your current wall thermostat with the new one and splice the control module into the wire that runs between the thermostat and the air handler. (The air handler is the unit in your attic or basement that blows the heated or cooled air. See “The return should suck more.” The heat pump or air conditioner compressor is the noisy unit outside.)

A few years ago I had installed this system at another house and put the control modules in the attic next to the air handlers. Continue reading Thermostat in the cloud

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Downsizing–a moving experience

SkillLevel2Nothing puts downsizing more squarely in your face than moving to new digs. The new place might not even be smaller but the thought of moving all of your stuff (which is a pretty apt word because that is often what you do with it) from here to there is overwhelming.  It is easy to identify the procrastinators because they are the ones who have a garage sale after they move.

My mother was moving from an 1100 sq. ft. condo to an 1100 sq. ft. apartment so you wouldn’t think she would need to downsize. But the condo had an 1100 sq. ft. basement while the apartment had only a 50 sq. ft. storage room and that is where the math broke down. (Other things broke down too but let’s not go there.)

I paid Mom (her real name) a visit to see if I could help her put the 10 lbs. of potatoes in the 5 lbs. bag. My ever-loving wife, “Amelia” (not her real name), was not available to help because she is on sabbatical and she was off doing whatever sabbaticants do on their sabbatications, which seems to include a lot of travelling to faraway places at times that always seemed to excuse her from less desirable obligations. Coincidence? I’m just saying.

Mom’s new apartment was on Waldo Street, which was just off a road that was under major construction and lined with orange cones and barriers of various kinds alongside huge drop-offs. If you got distracted while driving you were likely to be featured on You Tube  in one of those “fail” videos within an hour of burying your car nose down in a gravel pit with the taillights pointed toward Jupiter. The construction made it hard to find the turnoff for Waldo Street and the newcomers would be driving around asking, “Where’s Waldo?” The locals thought that was hilarious.

When you are downsizing for a move it helps to have a lot of relatives because you can designate pieces of furniture that won’t fit in the new place as “family heirlooms” and prevail upon the relatives to “keep them in the family,” which sounds a lot nicer than “Go lug that old dresser up from the basement and take it to your house so I don’t have to move it.”

Even after “heirlooming” a bunch of stuff, the furniture still didn’t fit in the new den. Mom wanted a 5′ desk in the middle of an 8′ room so people walking by would see the gold eagle on the front of it. Putting it in the middle didn’t leave much room to walk around the ends, especially with all of the non-“heirloomed” file cabinets, chests, tables, chairs, etc. My sister, my brother-in-law, and I tried to come up with solutions. The most promising idea was to pull the eagle off the desk, put the desk against the wall and stand the eagle on top of it but we wisely surmised that Mom would not be amused.

The Eagle has landed!
The Eagle has landed!

All those hours of playing Tetris helped us fit the corner of desk “A” into the gap between chest “B” and cabinet “C” and we proclaimed, “The eagle has landed!” Mom didn’t even have to crawl under the desk to get to the chair on the other side, which was a huge relief to all parties present and saved me from having to make the ethical decision whether to post a photo of her doing so (for its educational value, of course).

The shoe cabinet was too tall to fit under the clothes rod in the closet.
The shoe cabinet was too tall to fit under the clothes rod in the closet.

The shoe shelf cabinet thingy Mom built several years ago was about 6″ too tall to fit in the bedroom closet under the clothes rod so we needed to downsize it. The question was how to do it.

In this case it was easier to cut down the top section rather than cut off the bottom (losing one or two shelves) and make new legs.

I removed the little door on the top section and the cabinet top itself and pulled out my circular saw from my car trunk. (Surely, I’m not the only one who drives around with a circular saw for just such emergencies. And stop calling me Shirley.)

Cabinet on its side for cutting. Note the pink cloth to prevent scratches from the saw.
Cabinet on its side for cutting. Note the pink cloth to prevent scratches from the saw.

After removing the top portion of the Masonite on the back of the cabinet, I laid the cabinet down on one side so I could cut off about 6″ from the other side. To protect the cabinet side from getting scratched by the saw plate, I put a piece of pink cloth under the saw plate. Normally I’m not a pink kind of guy but that was what was available. I don’t know for sure if the cloth has to be pink to prevent the scratches but it worked and I would advise you to do likewise just in case.

When both sides were cut, I screwed the top on and then measured and cut the Masonite for the back and screwed it on.

The downsized shoe cabinet with the little cupboard converted to another shoe shelf.
The downsized shoe cabinet with the little cupboard converted to another shoe shelf.

The downsized cabinet fit snugly in the closet. More snugly than I had expected because I had taken an extra inch off. It turns out that I had forgotten to allow for the thickness of the top when I was measuring the sides. See how reading about my blunders let’s you avoid similar mistakes?

Moving might cause you to downsize the number of pieces of furniture you have. It might also cause you to downsize the furniture itself. It might also cause you to have that garage sale you’ve been putting off.

When Amelia gets back from all of her travels we might need to discuss whether her sabbatications require any downsizing to avoid conflicts with fun activities like moving the in-laws.

 

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How to install a kitchen floor and stay married

[Editor’s note: The following is a guest post by my daughter, Grace Pardun Alworth (her real name). She and her husband, Jim (also his real name) have been faithful readers of Gary’s Fix since the beginning. Any good ideas you read in this post probably came from Gary’s Fix articles. The rest of it, not so much.]

The hubster and I looked at the ugly floor in our hip, new farmhouse-inspired kitchen and said, “Ew. We should rip this out!” fairly regularly for about a year.  Then we finally ripped it out. Then we said, “Ew. We should finish this floor!” fairly regularly for an additional year.

Finally, on our 8th anniversary, we went to Big Bob’s Flooring (yes, this is a real place), and talked to Ryan (I was disappointed it wasn’t Big Bob himself.  In fact, Ryan was quite petite.)  He advised us to hire a professional to install a sheet of fancy vinyl. He proceeded to tell us about the horrors of peel-and-stick tiles and the mishaps naïve and motivated new homeowners like ourselves combatted. Ryan (not Big Bob) suggested that not only would the warranty protect the flooring, it would even protect our marriage.

“That’s a fairly compelling sales pitch you have there, Not Big Bob,” I conceded.  “Let’s run the numbers.”  Not Big Bob ran the numbers, and, well, let’s just say the hubster and I decided to continue our search.

Our quest took us to a big box store, where we found peel-and-stick black and white vinyl tiles for 67 cents a square foot.  The warranty only covers the tiles, but the hubster and I agreed, “We’ll take our chances.”

We are not professionals, but we did read the instructions on the box, which basically qualifies us to be professionals.

Our previous kitchen flooring was actually a half an inch of 60 years-worth of flooring on top of a hardwood subfloor.  The top layer was a sheet of linoleum that, even against Not Big Bob’s advice, was probably installed by naïve and motivated young homeowners.  If the Continue reading How to install a kitchen floor and stay married

At your disposal

SkillLevel2When my ever-loving wife, “Contessa” (not her real name) yelled, “It’s all wet under the sink!”, my finely honed senses from many years of wedded bliss detected that the tone of her voice meant something other than, “Oh, I’ve been waiting such a long time and I’m so glad it finally got wet under the sink.”

We’ve had a variety of problems with disposals. Sometimes they won’t turn on. Sometimes they make that awful crunching-rock sound. Sometimes they plug up and the water won’t drain out of the sink. Sometimes they sound like a truck up against a brick wall with the gas pedal floored.

This time it was a wet sink cabinet floor, which as we all know is where you keep the dishwasher soap so it stays dry. Contessa was not amused.

Water was dripping out of the bottom of the disposal in a pretty steady stream. (Check the video below.)

I decided to check the selection of new disposals on line. Big mistake. There must have been hundreds of different brands and sizes. Apparently, the garbage disposal business is pretty lucrative and everybody and his brother make and sell them. Most houses have a disposal and the typical warranty is 1 – 2 years! You can do the math. (If you are looking for a new business opportunity, you heard it here first.)

So I went to the local Big Box store, which narrowed the field down to about eight choices and picked a medium quality disposal (with a whopping 3-year warranty!) that was fairly quiet. We don’t run a disposal often enough that noise is an issue but it is usually a good indicator of quality and durability. Many reviews ragged on disposals with plastic cases because they crack so I made sure this one had a metal case.

What’s nice about replacing a disposal as opposed to adding one for the first time is you don’t have to install the special collar in the sink drain that supports the disposal. You can just leave the old one there and hook on the new disposal. That saved me a lot of time.

The dishwasher drains into the disposal for two reasons. Dirty dishes can have chunks of food on them that get flushed out the dishwasher drain and you want to be able to grind them up so they don’t clog the sink drain. The other reason is that dishwasher water is hot and soapy and helps to clean the disposal and reduce odors. Wash your dishes; wash your disposal. It’s a two-fer.

Drain hose from dishwasher has a low spot instead of a high loop
Drain hose from dishwasher has a low spot instead of a high loop

After I cleaned out the soggy mess under the sink I saw problem #2. Continue reading At your disposal

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