Monthly Archives: February 2016

Corrugated Patio Roofing

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

Question: The back patio at our Mesa home has a very nice arbor that was built by the previous owner of the house but it doesn’t provide much shade or any protection from rain. My husband and I would like to know what type of roof could be put on it that would make the patio more pleasant to use on hot days and give some shelter to our dogs and patio furniture in rainy weather.

Your Handyman: There are several issues that need to be considered to determine what type of roof if any can be correctly installed over your arbor, which are adequate slope for drainage, strength of the structure to safely support the weight of a roof, and the spacing of the support pieces that the roofing will need to be fastened onto.

Most baby boomers who grew up in the Sun Belt will remember the wavy corrugated fiberglass panels that covered countless patio roofs in the 60’s and 70’s, but after 30 years of exposure to the sun became brittle and cracked. These fiberglass roofing panels were very popular because when installed correctly they provided a weather tight, light weight, inexpensive roof that was relatively easy to install, and only filtered out about 1/3 of the sunlight. This same style of corrugated roofing panel is now made from poly carbonate (PC) and PVC, available in many different colors and levels of light transmission, and now are virtually inert from ultra violet damage caused by exposure to sunlight. These PC and PVC panels have all the benefits of the old style fiberglass panels but will far outlive the homeowner if installed correctly per the manufacturer’s instructions.

All roofs must have a minimum slope to provide drainage, otherwise rain will pool eventually causing damage to the roof or house, and your arbor was probably constructed without any slope. However there may be an easy way to unfasten the cross members of your arbor and then reinstall them with a positive slope draining away from the house. The roofing panels typically are available with a width of 26” which allows for a 2” overlap horizontally when supported by rafters that are placed every 24”. If the spacing of your rafters is greater or less than 24” then the job may still be possible but will require some special efforts to ensure that the roof is rain proof. The connection where the patio roof and house meet needs to be sealed in a correct way depending on if the panels meet the house at the roof edge or at the siding, and you may want to consult with a roofing contractor to get this important detail correct to avoid expensive water damage to your home.

Most arbors are constructed with larger dimensional lumber for appearance and also to provide support for vines and hanging plant baskets so it probably is of adequate strength to support PC or PVC panels, both of which are very light in weight. You can take a look at these panels at most any of the building supply stores in Santa Barbara and be sure to go online to read the manufactures requirements for installation if you are planning to tackle this job as a “do it yourself” project. Otherwise you should not have any problem finding a local contractor with experience installing this type of patio roof.

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

Repairing a Bath Drain

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

Question: Our young family just purchased and moved into our first home in San Roque three weeks ago, the house was built in the 1950’s and overall is in pretty good shape. However the plumbing that we can see under the sinks has a lot of mineral build up and rust, but our immediate plumbing problem is that the bath tub drain is stuck in place and we can’t drain the tub. My husband and I have no experience at all with doing any type of plumbing repairs, however we do plan on replacing most all of the plumbing in a few years after we build up our saving accounts. How can we get this tub drain to work properly?

Your Handyman: Congratulations on your new home and welcome to the often challenging world of home repair and maintenance! You are smart to plan on redoing the old plumbing at first opportunity because old plumbing never gets better on its own and often can develop big problems as it gets older. However, your sticking tub drain is probably going to have a quick and simple solution that requires few tools and little plumbing experience.

The first step in your maiden home repair project is to first remove the tub over flow plate which has the drain lever attached to it, which is located on the face of the tub over the drain opening. Once the two screws holding the overflow drain plate in place are removed, you will see a vertical metal arm piece down inside the overflow opening that is attached at its top end to the drain lever handle and on the bottom end to the drain plug. The drain plug looks like a small piston head that is made of brass and rides up and down inside the drain assembly as you move the drain lever up and down. In the down position it blocks the drain pipe from the tub allowing the tub to fill with water, and in the up position it is clear of the drain line and the tub drains. The cause of your problem is that this piston is stuck in place probably due to a build up of mineral crud, or possibly it had not been used for many years by the prior owners and is rusted in place.

Grab onto the drain arm with a pair of pliers and pull up to try to break the piston loose and get it moving again. If it refuses to budge, go to the hardware store and buy a can of penetrating oil (not WD40) and spray a liberal amount into the overflow opening to saturate the piston. Let the penetrating oil sit for an hour or so and then try again with your pliers. If the piston still won’t break free, apply more penetration oil and wait for a few more hours.

Once the piston has broken loose you should be able to pull it out through the over flow opening. Clean any mineral build up or corrosion off the piston with a wire brush or emery paper, thoroughly coat it with plumber’s silicone grease and finally slide it back into place inside the drain assembly. However if the piston refuses to come loose then unfortunately it is time to call the plumber who will probably need to replace the drain assembly which is more than you want to tackle on your first home repair project.

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

Repairing A Sliding Shower Door

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

Question: One of the sliding glass shower doors in our bathroom keeps coming off track and I am worried that the glass is going to break into a million pieces. My son has been able to get it back onto the track in the past but this time it is really stuck. Is it somehow possible to get the sliding doors working again or is it time for a whole new shower door? With the exception of the jammed door, it is in good condition, looks fine and hopefully it won’t have to be replaced.

Your Handyman: The glass in your shower door is tempered which means that it will actually explode in a sense into thousands if not a million small pieces of glass each about the size of a pea, quicker that you can move yourself out of the way. Tempered glass is required by building codes in most doors and also in windows that are close to the floor so that if the glass is broken, it doesn’t break into long jagged pieces that can cut a person’s arms and legs like a razor sharp saber. If you or your son were to drop the glass door while struggling to get it back onto the overhead track, it could easily shatter if it hit the tub or floor.

The likely reason that your shower doors are jamming is that the two rollers on the top of the door have slipped a little out of adjustment and the bottom of the door is dragging on the bottom rail of the door frame. Once the height of the rollers are adjusted correctly so that the bottom edge of the glass is not in contact with the aluminum base rail, the doors should operate smoothly again.

The trick to removing the doors from the overhead track is to first remove the small plastic door guide that is mounted in the middle of the bottom base rail where the two doors overlap or bipass. The purpose of this guide is to retain the doors inside the frame and to prevent them from swinging out into the tub and possibly coming off the track. The guide is usually made of plastic but sometimes aluminum and is usually fastened in place with silicone adhesive or a single set screw. Use a narrow putty knife to get under the guide to release the adhesive and then it should just slide off the base. With the guide removed the doors can now be carefully lifted up and out while you are standing in the tub so that the rollers are free of the track and can then be gently set down outside of the tub.

The horizontal aluminum top rail piece that conceals the two door tracks is usually just held in place with silicone adhesive and it can be accidentally lifted off the two side frame pieces which are screwed to the wall, allowing the outside sliding door to fall into the bathroom. Be sure to check to make sure that this cap piece is not loose before you remove the inside door and if it is loose you will need a helper working outside the tub to ensure that the outside door is supported.

Once you have the doors removed from the track you will see how the rollers are easily adjusted up or down on the top of the door frame and more than likely yours will need to be adjusted slightly downward to lift the door up relative to the frame. The rollers are usually made from a nylon type material that can chip or crack over time and if any of the rollers show any sign of such wear, it makes sense to just replace them all. Take one roller off and take it with you as you head for a local hardware or glass shop where you should not have any trouble finding a replacement set, unless your doors are very old, in which case you may have to visit several glass shops before you find the right parts.

Once your rollers are set at the correct height it is time to hang them back onto the track while standing once again inside the tub, with the outside door going in first. After both doors are on track and operating smoothly, take a tube of silicone adhesive caulking and apply the adhesive to the edge of the top rail where it meets the wall on the sides and top. This will ensure that the top rail stays safely in place.

Your last step is to set the center guide back in place using a liberal amount of the silicone adhesive, allow the adhesive at least a few hours to dry and your shower doors should now operate like new.

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

Do Redwood Fences Need Staining?

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

Question: We just had a new redwood fence built in our back yard to replace an older fence that was falling apart. Do the redwood fence boards need to be painted or stained to protect them from the weather? We are hoping that this fence will outlive us and we want to know the best way to protect it.

Your Handyman: Redwood fencing is by far the most common type of residential fencing in Southern California due to its appearance, durability and affordability relative to other types of fencing. You can drive down almost any street in Santa Barbara and see numerous homes with fencing made from redwood fence boards often with the top corners lopped off in what is commonly called “dog eared”.

The main reason wood fences fail is that they are built with wood posts that are often quickly compromised by termites or moisture damage. Hopefully your new fence is supported by steel posts which can usually be expected to outlive the fence owner. Redwood fence boards and redwood in general contain a natural substance call tannin that gives the redwood the ability to resist weathering and insects, and if the wood is left natural it will soon take on an attractive grayish brown color.

The vast majority of redwood fences are left natural but some are stained often with a red tinted penetrating stain or less commonly painted with a solid color paint. Staining or painting probably does add some durability to the wood but I suspect that it really is more an esthetic decision about how the fence looks.

So with all that being said, if you think that the appearance of the fence will be enhanced by staining, then you should do it.

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

Patching Drywall After Plumbing Repairs

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

Question: After over 30 years of reliable service the mixer valve on the shower in our Montecito home finally gave up the ghost and stopped working correctly. We now have a brand new shiny shower valve installed by our plumber who left us a big gaping hole in the wall behind the shower above our beautiful marble counter top. Can just the hole in the drywall be patched or do we need to have the entire wall need redone?

Your Handyman: Well the bad news is that your wall needs to be repaired but the good news is that your plumber was able to open up a hole in the drywall and not in a tiled surface or in the exterior wall of the house. The mark of a professional drywall patch is that it can not be noticed at all after the patch is completed and the paint is dry. The first step is to clean up the edges of the hole so that they are all straight cut lines with no rough edges and ideally you are left with a rectangle with 90 degree corners. The next step is to take some scrap pieces of flat wood like pine shelving stock, place these boards behind the drywall halfway past each opening edge and then screw them into place with drywall screws going through the old drywall. This gives you a solid wood backer surface to screw the new piece of drywall into place allowing no movement that will create telltale cracks in the finished work. The next step is to fill the screw divots and the seams with drywall joint compound which is commonly referred to as drywall mud, and wait for it all to dry. It has been my experience that drywall tape is not needed when the patch is blocked and screwed on all sides. Once this first step in the repair is completely dry, then the critical part of the repair takes place which is the matching of the texture on the patch to that of the surrounding walls. There are many different styles of drywall texturing and the key to making the patch disappear is to have a professional do the texture matching. An experienced drywall contractor has all sorts of tricks that he may use so that the final layer of mud that he applies to cover the new drywall blends in perfectly with the old wall. The last step is painting it to match and usually it is best to take a small piece of the old painted drywall that was removed by the plumber to a paint store to have it scanned and color matched. Often if the wall was painted more that a couple of years in the past, the original paint has been sitting in the can so long that it may no longer be a perfect match. An experienced person at a paint store will be able to match both the color and sheen so that it all blends together and the patch remains as only a memory.

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

Installing an ADA Front Door Ramp

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

Question: My wife recently took a serious fall at our home, she was hospitalized for a while at Cottage Hospital and thankfully is now back at home, but she has to use a walker to get around. The front porch of our house has only three steps and it is very difficult for her to get up the steps even with my helping her. Please tell us what kind of ramp we can build that is not very expensive that will allow her to go to the front door with her walker.

Your Handyman: Since the passage into law of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 it is now commonplace to see sometimes very long twisting ramps at public places like courthouses, schools, and office buildings. A safely designed ramp can be a life changer for a person like your wife who suddenly needs the assistance of a walker to move around her home after a lifetime of mobility and independence.

There are many important details that need to be considered in the design of a ramp so that it is safe and probably the most important detail is the slope. A ramp that is even slightly too steep can prove to be a hazard for your wife to use with her walker and could cause her to tumble forward or to fall backward. The correct maximum slope for an ADA complaint ramp for your porch is 1:12, which means that for each vertical inch in elevation that the ramp goes up overall, it must cover 12 horizontal inches or 1 foot in distance. This maximum slope limit is why the many ramps that we see in public places often seem to be much longer than one would expect. So in the case of your front porch which has 3 steps, each step is probably about 8” high, which when added together give a total height of 24” to reach the porch from the walkway. So using the formula of 1:12 the length of your ramp will need to be 24 feet long assuming that the front yard is level. If the front yard slopes down away from the porch, the ramp will need to be even longer and if the yard slopes up, then the ramp can be a shorter length. Building a 24’ long ramp that can safely support groups of people who may walk over it to enter your home, has a non slip surface, safe handrails, and a minimum open width of 36”, may become a much bigger project than many homeowners are ready to take on, especially if the ramp is intended to be temporary. However building a steeper ramp with a shorter length in an effort to make the project more affordable might have terrible consequences if your wife were to lose her footing and take another fall. Possibly there is a side or back entrance to your home that has fewer steps that would prove to be a better location for an affordable ramp, but it still would need to be constructed in a safe design.

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

Repairing and Replacing Shower Valves

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

Question: Our shower has been dripping for months and just recently the dripping has gotten much worse. My husband put new washers on the valves which stopped the dripping for a week or so but it gradually started back in again. The shower plumbing is original to the house which was built in 1964. Is there any way to stop the dripping or do we need hire a plumber to rip open the walls and put in new handles?

Your Handyman: Whenever you are trouble shooting a problem it just about always makes sense to try the inexpensive and quick solutions first, which your husband wisely did by installing new washers. Often a dripping faucet can be easily fixed by unscrewing the part of the valve that is turned by the handle, which is called the valve cartridge, and replacing or flipping over the little round washer that is compressed against the valve seat to stop the water flow when the handle is turned to the closed position. In the case of plumbing that is quite old it may require that the valves be rebuilt, or in the worst case completely replaced.

Rebuilding the hot and cold shower valves involves removing the valve handles and then unscrewing the valve cartridge which is the long narrow assembly that has the handle attached on the outer end and the rubber washer on the inside end. Once the cartridge is removed you will be able to see inside the valve body which is the brass housing that is fastened inside the wall, and you should be able to see the condition of the valve seat which is the surface that the washer makes contact with. The valve seat is usually designed in such a way that it too can be unscrewed and removed often requiring a specialized plumbing tool. Take the old cartridge and valve seat to a plumbing store where replacements should be available. Lubricate the new parts with a little plumbing or silicone grease, and your valves should work like new when everything is back in place.

Often after many years of exposure to the very hard water of Santa Barbara, unfortunately it is not unusual to have plumbing valves become so corroded or damaged by mineral scale that they can not be disassembled or they break apart when under the stress of the plumber’s wrench. If the years of use and hard water have left your valves in this condition then your only option is the last resort of opening up the wall and installing new valves. Opening up the wall sounds pretty bad and it can be pretty bad, but if the wall behind your shower valves is in a closet or the partition wall to the commode, then it is as simple as removing a little drywall and the valves can be replaced without any damage to the tile in the shower enclosure. If the backside wall is a tiled wall in another bathroom, a wall with built in cabinets or the exterior wall of the house on the second story, then your job will probably require breaking away the tile and then re-tiling the wall after the plumber’s job is complete. Matching the existing tiles is always the trick to an acceptable tile patch when you are forced to retile a small section of a wall, floor or countertop and it just about always pays off to tuck extra tiles away in the garage or attic when you have any new tile work done.

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

Fire Rated Garage Doors

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

Question: Our home has a door that goes from the kitchen into the garage that looks pretty bad from years of being pawed at by our dogs and the time has come to replace it. A friend of ours is a retired contractor and he says that the new door needs to be a fire door because it goes out to the garage. Can you tell us what makes a door fire rated and where do we get one?

Your Handyman: Your retired contractor friend has given you correct information. Building codes require that a door that connects a living space in your home to a garage must be a fire rated door, and a fire rated door will bear a metal tag on the door edge that identifies it as being fire rated. A fire rated door is usually filled with a fire resistant material like gypsum, is very heavy, and is designed so that both the door and the door jamb would be very slow to burn through in the event that a fire started in the garage, allowing you time to safely exit the house and call 911. Building code also requires that the fire door has an automatic closing mechanism so that the door is not left standing open in the event of a fire and residential fire doors usually will have self closing adjustable hinges. Additional fire protection from a fire in the garage is also provided by building codes that require that the drywall on the wall that is common to the house and the garage is 5/8” thickness, not the more common ½” thickness drywall found in the rest of your home, and that the drywall extends to the roof line in the garage interior to inhibit a garage fire from spreading into the attic space over the house. It is also a good idea to install a smoke alarm in the garage to provide early warning if a fire occurs.

Both your old door and jamb will need to be removed and a new pre-hung fire door can be ordered at most any lumber yard or building supply store which will consist of the door already attached to the jamb with hinges and one of the hinges will have the self closing feature. Fire doors can be ordered in different styles and with different veneers to match your kitchen interior and a finish carpenter can easily remove your old door and install the new fire rated door.

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

Repair Water Damaged Deck

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

Question: Our home has a wood balcony outside a pair of French doors off the master bedroom on the second floor. My wife has tended numerous potted plants on the balcony for years and we now just recently have discovered that the wood boards under the plants are rotting from the regular watering the plants receive. To make things worse, a wood post that supports the roof above the balcony has quite a lot of water damage also that was concealed by the plants. What needs to be done at this point to repair and protect our deck?

Your Handyman: We have worked on many wood decks and balconies that have suffered varying degrees of water damage from vines and potted plants, which in one case lead to the front six feet or so of the deck having to be completely removed. Flowering potted plants and vines can add beauty to a deck but can also keep deck boards constantly moist from water seeping out of the pots, and vines and untrimmed trees can shade areas of a deck so that it is very slow to dry out in foggy or wet weather. Even the most expensive clear redwood decking or pressure treated lumber will start to rot in the presence of prolonged moisture and over time will get to the point of needed to be replaced. Once wood starts to rot, a fungus commonly called dry rot will take hold which will continue to grow and damage the wood even after the wood is completely dried out.

Your first step is to remove all the potted plants from the deck so that the wood can dry out and the extent of the water damage can be accessed. More than likely the wood post will need to be removed and replaced along with the affected decking boards. If the horizontal wood beams that support the deck are showing signs of damage, then they too will need to be replaced which may involve having to open up the wall of the house in order to provide support for the new beams. This project is probably going to exceed the abilities of most do-it-yourself homeowners and a contractor with decking experience will need to be hired.

In my opinion, no potted plants should be on a wood deck even if they are sitting in a water proof saucer, and any vines or trees should be pruned back to allow direct sunlight and free movement of air around the deck surfaces. Also try to keep the spaces between the deck boards clear of leaves and twigs that could hold moisture and eventually lead to water damage.

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