Monthly Archives: October 2015

Replacing Your Mailbox

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

Question: Our mailbox was the innocent victim of a hit and run driver this past weekend and the pressure treated wood post looks like it was almost completely rotted underground where it broke away from the cement. We have landscaping in this area that requires a lot of watering which probably contributed to the rotting of the post. What do you suggest for a new mailbox that will hold up to wet ground?

Your Handyman: I always try to encourage the use of steel posts instead of wood for mail boxes and fencing because even the best grade of redwood or pressure treated lumber can soon rot in wet conditions or be compromised by hungry subterranean termites. My suggestion is to contact a local welding shop to have them fabricate a new post for your mailbox that is made from a 2 3/8” diameter galvanized thick wall steel fence post with a 6” square steel plate with ½” holes in each corner welding onto the top end of the post. Most weld shops will prime and paint a post in high gloss black but you purchase a can of spray paint in a different color if preferred and leave it with the welder for the final color coat. A sturdy steel post is completely termite proof and will stand up to most all abuse, except for a direct hit by a car. You may also want to put a few reflectors or some reflectorized tape on the post so it is easily seen at night by people maneuvering in or out of your driveway area.

Assuming that you want the mailbox in the same location, the hardest part of your project may be to remove the old concrete footing that supported the old post. Take care not to create a huge crater that will require many sacks of concrete to fill and always be cautious not to damage any buried pipes or other utilities. The new post should be buried a minimum of 18” in the ground with at least one 60 lb. sack of concrete post hole mix and the USPS requires that the base of the mailbox be at 41” above the roadway. Wet the hole with a garden hose, put the post in the hole, pour the dry concrete mix into the hole and then wet the immediate area with water. It is not necessary to mix the concrete with water before hand. Using a carpenters level carefully check to make sure that the post is vertical, cover the cement with dirt and give the concrete a full day to dry. The next day fasten a 2” x 8” piece of lumber to the square plate on the top of the post using 1 ½” lag screws with washers, and then screw down the mailbox to this platform using the same size lag screws fastened through the inside base of the mailbox. Your mailbox should now be strong enough to provide decades of service and a few inexpensive reflectors will make it more visible at night.

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

Weatherproofing Back Door

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

Question: The back door in our laundry room that goes to the backyard was just replaced about 7 or 8 years ago by my brother in law but it is now so swollen up from rain that it needs to be replaced again. Do we need to get a metal door so the new door doesn’t get ruined also?

Your Handyman: Probably the main issue affecting the longevity of your back door is that is does not have an awning or patio roof that provides protection from the weather. An exterior door that is exposed to direct rain all winter is going to need to have the protection of multiple coats of paint on both faces and all four edges. If it has a dog door then the cut that was made for the dog door needs to be thoroughly sealed with paint and caulking. If the door has an aluminum sash style window then care needs to be taken that the seam around the window is kept caulked and painted.

All exterior doors ideally should have a raised threshold installed on the floor, an aluminum door shoe on the base of the door with a drip edge to push rain away from the door base, and a rubber weather strip on the bottom of the door shoe to keep moisture from seeping under the door. Otherwise the base of a door can wick up moisture that runs down the face of the door and the door base will soon start to swell up and crack.

A simple awning can easily be built and installed over the door for the best weather protection for the door and also for people and pets using the door in bad weather.

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

Installing a New Ceiling Fan

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

Question: The bedrooms in our house don’t seem to get much air circulation when the weather is hot even with the windows open and we would like to know how much trouble it would be to install ceiling fans. In the past summers we keep cool without any problems but this hot summer has been unbearable!

Your Handyman: A ceiling fan can be a stylish addition to a room but can also help with air circulation to keep the room cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. If your bedrooms have adequate attic space and access then the installation will be a relatively quick project. Most fans that are sold now have a remote control feature for both the lights and the fan speed, so it is not necessary to install a wall switch for the fan to operate provided there is electrical service in the attic that is accessible. Most fans now also have an optional wall switch that will control both the fan and light if the fan is replacing a ceiling light.

The first step is to install a new metal electrical box that is rated to support a ceiling fan and is strong enough to safely support the weight and movement of the fan. You will want to determine the location on the ceiling for the fan and then drill a small hole in the ceiling to insert a piece of wire through so you can find it when working in the attic. Depending on the position of the ceiling joists, which are the horizontal framing lumber that supports the ceiling, you may have to move the fan position slightly so that it is between two joists. Typically a piece of wood 2” x 4” blocking is nailed between the ceiling joists at the location of the new fan and the electrical box is screwed to this piece of blocking. There are also special expanding brackets that cleat into the ceiling joists that provide adequate support for the fan and this type of bracket can also be used in the case where there is no attic access.

The next step is to provide electrical power from an existing electrical junction box in the attic using the proper electrical fittings and cable. This work should only be done by an electrician unless you are very experienced with electrical work, and do not work on any circuit unless the circuit breaker is turned off and you verify with a testing device that the power is off. If your fan is replacing an existing ceiling light then the electrical supply cable for the old light is usually adequate for the new fan.

You are now ready to assemble and install the ceiling fan following the manufacturer’s instructions packed in the box with the fan. Keep in mind that ceiling fans seem to be frequently on sale at the big box hardware stores however a bargain fan will usually be a noisy fan, while a more expensive fan will operate quieter. An inexpensive fan that hums or rattles when operating may keep you awake at night and make you regret not purchasing a more expensive model.

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

Deck Railing Safety and Requirements

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

Question: The back yard at our home has a slope going up to the back fence and the previous owner build a deck on the slope which has a nice view. We are now considering renting the home and want to make sure that the deck railings are safe so that no one takes a fall. What are the requirements for a safe deck railing?

Your Handyman: Building codes require that a deck that has an elevation drop of 30” or greater from the edge of the deck, has a handrail that is a minimum of 42” high. A railing that is lower than 42” high may allow a taller adult to topple over it accidentally when backing up. A lower railing also seems to invite younger people to hop up on top of it to sit while talking with friends. Make sure that your railing construction is very solid and can support the weight of a falling adult.

It is also required that the horizontal spaces between the vertical balusters on any deck be a maximum of 4” in order to keep a small child from getting his or her head stuck between the balusters. This 4” rule also applies to any horizontal space under a panel of balusters between the baluster panel and the top of the deck. If constructed from wood, it is a good idea that the balusters be constructed from wood that is a minimum of a 2”x2” so that it is not easily broken.

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

Restoring Brass Locksets on Front Door

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

Question: The locksets on the pair of front doors on our home have become very tarnished but we really like their unique style and they still operate just fine. Is there any way to restore the brass finish or is possibly painting them an option?

Your Handyman: Many older homes have very ornate and decorative locksets and handle sets that would be very expensive to replace or to have custom reproduced. If the metal is just severely tarnished and not corroded, the answer is to carefully remove them from the doors and take them to a metal replating shop. The replating shop will clean the old metal and then apply a new coating of brass making your locksets shine like new again. Painting is probably not a good option because the paint will probably soon be scratched off the metal by keys, long fingernails, and just regular day to day use.

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