Monthly Archives: August 2015

Santa Barbara Faucet Repairs: How to Shut Off Water Supply

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Question:  Our home is in the City of Santa Barbara, our bathroom faucet has been dripping for months and now the drips have become a trickle.  I have replaced the washers on faucets before but my problem is that I can’t shut off the water in order to do the job.  The small valves under the sink are old and the handles no longer will turn.  Our house doesn’t have a main shut off valve and in the past I have turned the water off at the meter on the street, but now it will not completely shut off any more either.  How can I get the water turned off for a few minutes so I can work on my faucet?

Your Handyman:  It is not uncommon for an older home to not have a main shut off valve that is usually located near the front door where the water pipe enters the house allowing the water to be shut off quickly in the event of a plumbing emergency, or for the type of routine maintenance that you want to perform.  However the water meter on the street is the property of the City of Santa Barbara and they do not want anyone other than a public works employee using the meter valve for any reason.  So your first step is to contact the City Public Works Department to report that your meter will not shut off and they will schedule a time for repair or replacement of your meter and or meter valve.  The next step after public works is finished is to install a shut off valve where the main water line enters the home.

The shut off valve should be a ball style valve that is easily operated and it should be installed above ground.  A ball valve turns off and on with a 90 degree turn of the handle and is much more reliable than the older style gate valves which inevitably get fouled by mineral build up from our very hard water or from corrosion.  This is a relatively simple plumbing job if you are proficient in the cutting and sweating of copper pipe and if not, call a contractor to do the job correctly.

Once you have the shut off valve in place you can then easily turn off the water for your faucet repair project or if needed in the event of a future plumbing emergency.  You should also replace both the hot and cold angle valves under the sink so that they too can be quickly turned off when needed.  Purchase and install new angle valves that are also of the ball valve style, which are a little more expensive but will hold up much better over time.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

Removing Old Mirrors

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Question:  We recently purchased a Santa Barbara home that was built in the early 60’s and we would like to remove the original wall to wall mirrors that the original owner had installed in the bathrooms.  The mirrors seem to be supported by little plastic brackets that are screwed to the wall at the top and a shiny metal track at the bottom.  Can we just lift the mirrors off the wall after unscrewing the brackets?  I am concerned that the mirror will shatter while we are trying to get them off the wall.

Your Handyman:  Large wall to wall mirrors over a vanity or on living area walls were a very popular feature in homes built in the 60’s and 70’s.  The popular style now for a bathroom seems to be large mirrors that are framed with a heavy wood frame and hung on the wall like a picture.  Removing the old wall mounted mirror is a job that may seem to be a simple task, but actually is a job that is potentially very dangerous and needs to be thought out before being attempted.  A large mirror can be quite heavy and if broken while being removed can inflict saber like cuts to arms and legs while crashing to the floor creating a true medical emergency.  Most large mirrors are supported by a stainless steel track along the base that is screwed to the wall studs and the plastic brackets that you described at the top, but more often than not the installer first applied adhesive to the wall board before setting the mirror in place.  How much adhesive was used is not known until you start the removal process and usually the adhesive will tear off the top layer of the drywall, requiring drywall repair and painting for wall areas not covered by the new mirror.

Two capable adults will be needed for this job and both need to be wearing heavy gloves, eye protection, sturdy work pants and work shoes.  Remove the top plastic brackets while supporting the mirror and try to work the mirror loose while both workers are very ready to jump back immediately to a safe distance if the mirror were to separate from the wall and fall.  If you are lucky and there is a minimum of adhesive, the mirror may just easily be lifted up and out of the bottom bracket.  If the mirror does not want to easily come loose you can carefully start working it away from the wall and start slipping several wedge shaped wooden carpenter shims in along the top edge which will slide down between the wall the mirror and wall as you pull the mirror off the wall.  Most mirrors can be removed without breaking if this process is patiently followed and the mirror should then be carefully loaded into the back of a pickup truck and taken to the county dump.  Breaking the mirror into smaller pieces that can be put into your trash bin is a bad idea and you will end up scattering glass shards around your yard that a child or pet may cut their foot on.

There are few first aid scenarios’ more urgent than severe bleeding, so don’t underestimate the potential for injury from glass cuts for this job.  Call a contractor if you have any uncertainty that you and your helper can do the job safely.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259

Hola El Nino: Get Your Home Ready

Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.

Regardless of how you may feel about the politically hot issue of global warming and if the burning of carbon based fuels is permanently altering our climate, I personally have a feeling that our 4+ year drought is going to end with a bang this winter.  Though I am not a true local and have only lived in good old Santa Barbara for 40 years, I don’t ever remember a summer where we had a real rainstorm in June and these monsoonal cloud patterns throughout July and August.  My fishermen friends tell me that the water temps in the channel are so warm that tropical fish like Dorado are now being caught in local waters.  Predicting the weather seems to me to be part science, part intuition and a good measure of luck, and I think it is likely that we are going to experience a very wet winter this year.  After so many years of dry weather, it has been easy to postpone weather related home maintenance and here are a few issues that homeowners should address while we still have a month or two of summer left on the calendar.

Leaking Roofs:   A roof only leaks when it rains and if you have been putting off repairing or replacing a worn out or leaking roof, trying to get a roofing contractor to return your call after El Nino arrives while be less likely than trying to call the IRS on April 14th.  Now is the time to take action if your roof has leaked in the past or if your roof has exceeded the recommended life of the manufacturer of the roofing shingles.  If your roof shingles are starting to look frayed or have been damaged by wind, it is probably time for a new roof.  Now is the time to call a roofing contractor.

Leaking Skylights: If your home has sky lights and you see any sign of water damage or water stains when you look up at the sky light, then you need to call a roofing contractor.  Most sky lights are constructed sort of like a Tupperware lid that fits down over a metal frame that is water sealed often with a rubber of plastic seal or gasket.  If any water is passing through this seal, then a roofing contactor needs to lift the skylight off the roof, check the integrity of the metal flange and rubber seal, and make any needed repairs or install new parts.  Climbing up onto the roof and trying to seal the skylight with silicon or tar is a waste of time and a good way to take a bad fall.

Rain gutters:  The purpose of rain gutters is to move rain water away from your house ideally to an area where the natural slope of the ground carries the water away to a street, stream or storm drain.  When the soil around your home becomes overly saturated, a home can experience moisture damage to the exterior walls, water can flow under a cement slab and enter the home via foundation cracks, or your crawl space or basement can flood.  Now is the time to make repairs to your gutters and to make sure that they are securely fastened to the rafter tails or eve fascia boards.  It your gutters were installed using aluminum spikes, these spikes often work their way loose over time and should be replaced with long threaded screws that can be purchased at the hardware store.  If your yard is graced with mature trees that shed leaves onto your roof, cleaning the gutters can wait until late fall before rains may arrive unless you live in a wild fire zone in which case your gutters should always be kept free of leaves.

Paint:  Painting a house is one of the easiest maintenance chores to postpone but if your siding and trim is cracking and any bare wood is exposed it is time for paint.  Ideally a house should be prepped and painted every 8-10 years. The primary purpose of a coat of house paint is to protect a home from the relentless eroding forces of sun, wind and rain.  If your home’s protective layer of paint is in bad shape, you possibly will need the services of both a carpenter and painter after your home is subjected to another winter of wet weather.  Homes with siding made from manufactured wood products are especially prone to water damage as even the smallest amount of moisture will cause these wood products to swell and crack.

Surface Drainage:  If you are fortunate to have a home that is built on a slight slope and has natural drainage make sure all surface drains or swales are free of leaves and dirt so you are not out working in the storm with a shovel and rake.  If your home is on a flat lot with poor drainage you may need sand bags to prevent water from entering your garage or house during extended down pours.  Your neighborhood fire station usually makes sand bags available free of charge when bad weather arrives.

Sump Pumps:  Basements and crawl spaces under older homes can be prone to flooding and are often equipped with a sump basin and a submersible electric pump.  Now is the time to check to make sure the sump is free of dirt and crude and that the pump is working correctly.  December of 2011 was the last really wet month we had and I was fortunate enough to purchase the last available sump pump in Santa Barbara for a customer whose pump had failed and their basement was quickly filling with water. Test the pump by running a garden hose into the basement and make sure the pump turns on and the drain line is intact.  A submersible pump needs to be plugged into a GFI protected outlet and always be very aware of the potential for electrocution if you have to enter a flooded basement.

Be Prepared is a good motto to live by and with a little preparation and planning your home will do just fine when and if our old friend El Nino returns to Santa Barbara this winter.

-Mark Baird
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259