Monthly Archives: September 2015

Fixing Sliding Closet Doors That Come Off Tracks

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

Question: The sliding closet doors in our bedrooms keep coming off the tracks, get jammed against each other and they are driving us crazy! My husband used to be able to get the doors back on track but we now have two closets with doors that are jammed and we have given up. The doors are the original ones from when the house was built in 1964 and we would like to ask what can be done to fix these doors so I can get back into the closets!

Your Handyman: We get many service calls for sliding bypass closet doors and pocket doors that have come off track and even had one call where a lady in Montecito was trapped inside an upstairs bathroom by a jammed pocket door, managed to climb out the window and safely get back inside through another upstairs window that was open.

The problem with the older style of sliding door is with the old style ceiling mounted tracks that support the rollers which are mounted on the top of the doors. These older tracks typically are in the shape of an open hanging “J” which allows the doors to come off track if they are pushed or lifted up rather than pulled horizontally from side to side. Often sliding doors can get hung up on carpeting or some obstruction in the closet, a person will then try to push up or lift the door in their efforts to open the doors to get into the closet, and the rollers then lift up and out of the track. Some sliding closet doors can be quite heavy and lifting them back onto the track can become a difficult task for the average homeowner.

Often the original sliding doors were installed over hard wood floors, carpeting was laid over the hardwood some time later and the bases of the doors were never trimmed to allow for the extra height of the carpeting. In this case simply removing the doors and trimming the base will get the doors back into working shape if the rollers and tracks are not damaged. If the rollers and tracks are worn out or if you just would like to upgrade the hardware, then the solution is to remove the old “J” style track and rollers and install the new style track and roller hardware that can be purchased at most hardware stores. The new style of track is shaped like the letter “C” mounted on its back and the rollers are like a little trolley that is completely enclosed inside the track. If installed correctly, it is impossible for the roller trolley to come off of the track and they will work correctly indefinitely.

A typical 6’-7’ wide closet with 2 bypass doors should take about 2-3 hours to switch out the old track hardware with the new style hardware, assuming that the doors and closet frame are in good condition, and the hardware will cost about $150. We recently installed new hardware for a pair of old closet doors but also replaced the original slab style doors with new louvered doors, and it made for a nice improvement in the appearance of the bedroom.

These same problems frequently occur with the old track and roller hardware for pocket doors however installing new hardware for a pocket door can be a bigger project depending on how the pocket door was installed, and what is involved with getting access to remove the old track. Replacing the track and roller hardware on an older pocket door often requires that a 1-2 square foot opening is made in the drywall in order to get tools inside the pocket in order to remove the old hardware and install the new. If the drywall is carefully removed it will be a simple job to use the same piece of drywall to seal up the opening. However if the walls on the pocket door have cabinets or are tiled, then the project may involve temporarily moving the cabinets or making an opening in the tile.

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

 

Dishwasher Doesn’t Drain Properly

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

Question: My dishwasher isn’t getting all the water out of the bottom when we use it and I am trying to find out if can be repaired or if the time has come to buy a new dishwasher.

Your Handyman: The first step in diagnosing what ails your dishwasher is to check to see if a clogged or kinked drain hose is the cause of the problem. A dishwasher has a drain pump that evacuates the water out of the washer via a flexible rubber or plastic drain hose that ideally is connected to an air gap vent on the top of your kitchen sink, and then to a second hose that connects the air gap vent to the garbage disposal. If either of these hoses are kinked or clogged with food debris, then your problem may be easily solved by disconnecting the hoses under the sink, clearing them of any obstructions or straightening them out, and then reconnecting them taking care that the connections are water tight. If there are no problems with the drain hoses then the problem is with either the circuitry in the dishwasher’s control panel or the drain pump. Whether to repair or replace an older appliance can be a tough decision and sometimes you can run up a repair bill almost equal to the cost of a new appliance, and you are left with a repaired older appliance that may soon need more work. An anecdotal rule of thumb that I recommend to clients is that if the appliance is more than 5 years old and originally cost less than $500 dollars, it’s best just to replace it. This may seem wasteful to some people, but a service call by a skilled technician is usually at least $100, parts are probably going to be needed which can be $100 or more, and often a second service call is required to install parts that had to be ordered. The bright side is that the price of scrap metal has never been higher and the waster hauler will strip out any recyclables before your old dishwasher arrives at its final resting place in the landfill.

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

Removing a “Popcorn” Ceiling

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

Question: My wife and I just purchased a tract home in Goleta that is in a great school district, we love the neighborhood, the house is in good shape, but it really doesn’t look much different now then when it was built in the early 1960’s. We plan on up-dating and remodeling as time and money permit in the future but we really want to get rid of the old popcorn style ceilings before we move in. Can you tell us how we can go about this and is this project something that we can realistically do on our own in the evenings and weekends?

Your Handyman: Congratulations on the purchase of your new home and good for you that you are ready to start building up some “sweat equity”. Popcorn ceilings were a very common sprayed on coating for ceilings in both homes and offices in the 1960’s and at the time was popular, but now they have a very dated look that many homeowners don’t like. It was a relatively quick and inexpensive way for the builder to finish off the ceiling and it actually was a very effective acoustic treatment for sound absorption. Removal is a pretty messy process and getting it taken care of while the house is vacant would be ideal.

An issue that you need to be concerned about is finding out if the popcorn ceiling material contains asbestos and if it does, then precautions need to be taken to ensure that the asbestos is contained while being removed and is then disposed of properly. Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was widely used in many building materials including ceiling coatings until the late 1970’s and is now considered to be a hazardous material that if present in your ceiling, needs to be removed by a licensed professional and safely disposed of. Your first step is to contact an environmental testing service who will come to your home, take samples of the ceiling coating and analysis them at the lab. A positive test result means that you will want to take great care to not contaminate your house or yard with asbestos fibers and that you really should hire a contractor who is licensed by the state to remove and dispose of asbestos construction debris. Santa Barbara County homeowners can dispose of up to 125 lbs of properly bagged popcorn ceiling debris containing asbestos at the UCSB hazardous waste collection center, and you can get additional information at the SB County website: www.lessismore.org. If you decide to tackle this project on your own then you will want to cover all the floors, walls, windows, exterior doors, and heating/ac registers with heavy mill plastic sheeting. You and any one working with you on this project need to wear a respirator that is appropriate for filtering asbestos fibers, safety goggles and a disposable hazmat coverall with a hood.

The old popcorn ceiling first is wetted down with water to prevent dust using a Hudson pump style sprayer and then the soggy coating is carefully scrapped off with a drywall taping knife and allowed to fall to the plastic sheeting on the floor. Care should be taken to avoid gouging or otherwise damaging the drywall underneath the coating.

If your lab test comes back negative and asbestos is not present, it still makes sense to lay out all the plastic sheeting, wet down the coating to minimize the dust and then just roll all the plastic sheeting up and put it out with the trash. Either way, once the ceiling is scrapped clean you will be left with the exposed unfinished drywall, which will need to be textured to match the existing texture on the walls, and then finally painted. Drywall texturing is a time consuming process that is best done by a skilled plastering contractor otherwise your ceilings may end up looking irregular or unfinished.

It is not uncommon for homeowners to remove popcorn ceilings as a do-it-yourself project, but there is much more to the job than I can cover in this column, and it is important that you research the process thoroughly before beginning.

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

Color Matching Old Paint

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

Question:   It has been over 12 years since the walls in our home were painted and they are way overdue for touching up. We had a can of the original paint stored in the garage and I carefully touched up all the scuffs and marks with a good quality paint brush, but it looks terrible after the paint dried. Is it possible to do a little touching up that will look good or do we have to bite the bullet and hire a painter?

Your Handyman: A successful painting touch up job requires that the color and sheen of the paint matches and also that the application method matches. Paint that has been up on the wall for more than a few years exposed daily to sunlight, is going to gradually fade and sometimes will also become a little chalky depending on the quality of the paint. A can of paint that has been patiently sitting on a shelf in the garage for a few years has settled out to the point where it is very unlikely that it will be an acceptable match.

Take the old paint can to a paint recycling center and get a quart of new paint color matched by a paint store (not a paint department). The paint store will need a sample about the size of a half dollar in order to get a good match and you can carefully cut out a piece of the painted surface with a utility knife to be used for the color match. Cut the sample out in an out of the way place on the wall and then simple patch it with some spackle it and paint it with the new paint.

Your walls were probably painted originally with a paint roller so it is important that the touchup is done with a roller also. If you use a paint brush to touch up a rolled wall, the sheen will be different and the touchup will look different that the rest of the wall. Paint stores sell disposable touch up roller kits for about $2 that are very convenient and easy to use.

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

Expansive Soil Causing Ceiling Cracks

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

Question: Our home was built in the 1920’s and several of our bedrooms have terrible cracking in the ceilings that we have tried to patch over but the cracks keep coming back. It really looks bad and we want to permanently fix the cracks. Any ideas?

Your Handyman: This is a very common problem in older homes that were built on raised perimeter foundations in areas with expansive soil. Expansive soil is very common in the Santa Barbara area, it heaves up in the winter when wet and then settles and cracks in the summer when dried out, and the house moves in lockstep with the soil supporting the older foundation.

Your plaster ceiling cracks are the tell tale signs of these seasonal slight settling movements. Patching this type of cracking, as you have found out the hard way, can be a challenge and I suggest that you give up on the patching and install a new drywall ceiling. A layer of new ½” drywall can be fastened to the old plaster ceiling by screwing through the new drywall and the old plaster and into the ceiling joists. After texture is applied to the new drywall ceiling to match the walls, along with a coat of primer and a color top coat of paint, your ceilings will look like new and the plaster cracks are gone for good. You might also consider the installation of a beautiful new crown molding as part of this project, which are common in homes of this period as a nice finishing detail. Your new ceiling will also provide a little additional insulation value as an added benefit helping to keep the home a little warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

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

Synthetic vs Redwood Decking

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

Question: My husband and I are planning to finally build our “dream deck” off the back of our home and want it to be an inviting area for barbequing and a gathering place for our family, but also want it to add to the value of our home. I’ve been doing a little online research about the plastic decking boards and they really are attractive and don’t need any maintenance. What do you think of this type of synthetic decking versus real redwood?

Your Handyman: A well planned deck will not only add to the value of your home but will also enhance your family’s quality of life by creating a new living space for meals, family gatherings or a quiet private space to relax. There are many brands of synthetic deck boards to consider that offer colors and styles that can not be created with traditional redwood or pine decking. The first major brand of synthetic decking was Trex which often is used by people as a generic name for this type of deck board. However there are some potential problems with synthetic decking that you should factor into your design process that often seem to be a little understated in the manufacturer’s sales brochures.

One concern is how do you repair a scrape or gouge caused by someone dragging a piece of furniture or an umbrella stand across the deck, or repair a burned spot caused by a groundout cigarette or a spilled charcoal briquette? A properly installed redwood deck can easily be sanded and resealed while a gouge or burn in a synthetic deck is a permanent problem that can’t be sanded out or filled without making the damage even more noticeable. Another possible concern is mildew if your deck is in a shady area or located in an area with high humidity near the beach. Most synthetic decking has a textured wood grain pattern on the top surface which can hold moisture where unsightly mildew and slippery algae can grow creating a new maintenance chore for the home owner. Irregular fading was a past issue with some synthetic decking brands that I believe has been resolved but I have seen numerous older decks that have had many boards that had faded creating a mottled sort of appearance to the deck.

I personally prefer the look of redwood for decks but should add that the price of quality redwood decking has really gone up substantially over the past 10 years. If your contractor submits a bid for redwood be sure to have him list the grade of redwood he is bidding on and then go to the lumber yard to take a look. There are several grades of redwood deck boards with the higher grades being the most attractive but there are big jumps in price as you go up to the higher grades. Also make sure that no matter what decking you select that your contractor will fasten the boards from the bottom and there will be no screw heads exposed on the surface which is the preferred installation method. Exposed screw or nail heads detract from the look of any deck and on a redwood deck they make sanding and resealing difficult to the point of almost being impossible.

With both synthetic decking and redwood decking, the framing structure of joists, beams and posts that supports the deck boards will have to be made from regular framing lumber that is susceptible to water and termite damaged. Only the actual decking boards are available in synthetic materials, however I have seen recent ads for synthetic decking supports made from steel but I have not seen them in use.

Another option for your deck may possibly be interlocking pavers which can be very attractive and are truly maintenance free.

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

Inexpensive Options for Clogged Drains

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

Question:   We have three teenage daughters all with long hair who share the same bathroom and the tub drain is forever draining slow. Our house was built in the 1930’s but all the plumbing and drain lines were completely updated about 10 years ago. I have spent a small fortune on plumbers coming out twice a year or more to clear this drain and hope that maybe there is a less expensive solution?

Your Handyman: Three teenaged daughters sharing one bathroom is a true test for even the most modern drain pipes and yes there an alternative to having your plumber’s phone number on speed dial. Try the new gel style Liquid Plumber type of drain cleaner which uses enzymes as opposed to the old style lye based products, which were not only dangerous to use but not so great for your plumbing. These new enzyme based products are very effective at breaking down soap crud, tooth paste, shaving residue, and hair. Purchase a few of the gallon size jugs at the hardware store, read the manufacturers instructions carefully, use it every month to keep the bathroom sinks and tub flowing clear, and you should be able to use the money saved by not calling the plumber to help build up the college funds.

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

Front Step Handrail Options

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

Question: My front porch has three cement steps without any sort of handrail and they are becoming more difficult for my husband and I to safely negotiate, especially if we are carrying something heavy like a bag of groceries. How can we get a safe handrail for these steps before one of us takes a bad fall?

Your Handyman: Any fall can be a bad fall and many seniors have experienced a major decline in their quality of life after suffering a fall that a younger person would consider to be minor. The solution for making your front steps safer is a sturdy and attractive steel handrail fabricated from either wrought iron or ornamental iron, that will safely support a falling adult and hold up indefinitely to sun and rain.

Wrought iron is made from solid metal bars that are heated up in a forge, and then twisted and hammered into all types of decorative designs. Ornamental iron is made from hollow posts that can’t be heated and twisted but is typically much less expensive than wrought iron, but still very attractive.

The handrail posts can be fastened to your concrete steps with expanding concrete anchor bolts that are hammered into holes drilled into the cement with a masonry drill, or larger holes can be cored with a coring drill and the posts set into these cored holes with cement. The expanding anchor bolts are the least expensive method and the bolt heads are then concealed with a decorative metal skirt that slides down the post.

Most handrails are usually painted in a high gloss black but there is no reason that they can’t be painted any color that you prefer to match your home’s décor.

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

Protect Yourself from Water Heater Leaks

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

Question: Our home’s water heater is located in a hallway closet in the central part of our home and we have just recently had very expensive hardwood flooring laid in this hallway, living room and master bedroom. My wife and I are concerned about the wood floors being water damaged if the water heater were to spring a leak. What can be done to protect our new floors?

Your Handyman: It was not uncommon for water heaters to be placed in an interior utility closet often alongside the furnace in tract homes that were built in the 1950’s and 60’s. Even the highest quality water heater is going to eventually suffer from internal rusting and start to leak, which if left unchecked can cause extensive water damage to flooring, cabinets, and drywall. Many of the owners of these homes have relocated the water heater out to the garage and the furnace up to the attic, and then converted the old utility closet to a linen closet or additional square footage for a bathroom or bedroom. If moving the water heater out to the garage is more of a project than you are primed for at this point in time, there are simple precautions that you can take to contain the eventual leak.

A water heater in most any location should be seated in a shallow metal pan often called a Johnny Pan which ideally should have a drain line that allows water to drain out to the exterior of the home. Such a drain line may not be possible in your utility closet but the pan is still a good idea for containing a slow leak, and is also a good place to put a water leak alarm which can be purchased at most any hardware store for about $20. The alarm will sound off when any water comes in contact with the sensor, and is similar in size to a smoke alarm.

A seismic bracing strap kit can also be purchased at any hardware store to hold the water heater secure during an earthquake to prevent both water lines and gas pipes from breaking and to keep the tank from toppling completely over in a strong shaker. The tank needs two straps, one at the top 1/3 of the tank and the other at the bottom 1/3. The straps need to securely hold the tank in contact with the back wall or an inside wall corner in order to be effective. A tank not held in firm contact with the wall risks being torn loose as it moves about independently of the movements of house in an earthquake.

Lastly, if you are going out of town for even a day or two, be sure to shut off the water supply to the house interior. This requires a separate water supply shut off valve for the house and for the outside sprinklers and hoses. Many unfortunate homeowners have arrived home from vacation to find that a minor water leak has flooded their home causing all sorts of expensive and time consuming water damage.

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