Monthly Archives: April 2016

Bifold Closet Doors

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

Question:  The closets in our home have folding doors that are screwed onto the sides of the closet opening and fold open and closed.  They always seem to be coming off the track and one set in my son’s room is completely broken.  I hate these doors and want to know what they can be replaced with.

Your Handyman:  The type of door that you are describing is called a bifold door which has a pair of tall narrow doors on each side that are hinged in the middle and fold up accordion style when closed.  The older style bifold doors are supported for the most part by a pivot pin fastened to the wall at the bottom of the first door panel that the door swings on, and an open style track on the top of the closet opening that serves as a guide for the doors as they fold and unfold.  These older style bifold doors are easily damaged by rough use or by a child pulling downward on the door, the door can split where it receives the pivot pin, or they can sag a little and no longer stay in the top track.   There is a newer style of track hardware that solves all these problems by supporting the weight of the doors almost entirely from the top track which is an enclosed channel that has little 4 wheeled rollers that travel inside with an attachment post that inserts into receivers on the top of the doors.  This new style track can also be used to refit older style sliding closet doors, can be purchased at most hardware stores for about $125, and is a fairly simple installation project that most homeowners with basic carpentry skills can  successfully install on a Saturday.

Another option for your closets is to replace the bifold doors with either louvered or solid sliding bypass doors that can be ordered at a lumber yard or a door shop.  Carefully measure the actual opening width and height of the closet without the doors and take that measurement with you when shopping for the new sliding doors.  The salesperson at the lumber yard or door shop can help you order the correct size to fit your closet opening allowing for room for the overhead support track that was described in the previous paragraph, and also for a few inches of horizontal overlap between the two doors in the middle when they are in the closed position.  Most closet openings are of a size so that a standard door of 32” – 36” wide and 80” high can be used and non standard sizes can be ordered without being significantly more expensive.  The support for the weight of the doors is carried entirely from the top horizontal rail but you will need a small plastic door guide to be fastened onto the floor in the center of the doors to keep the doors aligned properly and to not allow the doors to be pushed in or out.  If you are ordering louvered doors it is a good idea to have them ordered with a coat of white primer paint applied at the mill which will make the job of applying the color top coat of paint much easier.

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

Can You Dim Compact Fluorescent Lights?

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

Question:  I just recently replaced the old light bulbs in my kitchen ceiling recessed can lights with the new energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs.  The new bulbs work fine when they are turned up to the high setting but flicker like crazy when I dim them.  The old incandescent bulbs worked fine at the lower setting.  Are my new bulbs defective?

Your Handyman:  Your new bulbs are probably not defective but more than likely will not work with your dimmer or any dimmer for that matter.  Most compact florescent bulbs are not capable of being dimmed and you will need to purchase ones that marked on the packaging as being dimmable, and they will be substantially more expensive.

You may also need to replace the dimmer switch if it is the old style mechanical switch, with an electronic switch that says on its packaging that it is compatible with compact florescent bulbs.

Even with the correct bulbs and dimmer switch, it has been my experience that the compact florescent bulbs don’t dim all that well, still slightly flicker at the lower settings, and tend to make a buzzing noise at the lower settings also.  I personally don’t like the compact florescent bulbs for many reasons and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they are completely replaced by LED lighting in the near future.  LED (light emitting diode) lights are very low wattage, last for thousands of hours, produce a very bright light that doesn’t distort colors, emit very little heat, and dim well with the correct dimmer switches.  LED lighting is still relatively very expensive but the prices are quickly coming down and they are being more frequently installed in homes and businesses.

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

Replacing the Kitchen Sink

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

Question:  The cabinets and tile countertop in our kitchen are all about 20 years old but are in very good condition and look nice.  However, our kitchen sink has numerous stains and scratches and it looks pretty bad.  Is it possible to just remove the tiles around the sink and install a new sink without having to replace the entire countertop?

Your Handyman:  Yes you can just remove the perimeter tiles around the sink, install a new sink and retile just the affected area provided you can purchase matching tile and that the new sink has the same footprint as the old sink or is just slightly larger.

Depending on the style and color of the tile on your countertop, finding matching tile may not be a problem at all or it may be mission impossible, so step number one is to go shopping for the tile.  If your sink is a typical under mounted sink, you will probably need to purchase both square field tiles and narrow quarter round tiles that are used to finish the edge of the counter top where it laps over the edge of the sink.

Once you have determined that the replacement tile is available, the next step is to find the new sink.  A under mounted style sink sits inside a cut out in the plywood base which is under the tile, with the sink edges supported by the plywood.  So if you are not able to find a sink of the exact same size, then the cut out can be slightly enlarged to allow for a sink that is a little bit bigger, but it is not easy at all to reduce the cut out size for a sink that is slightly smaller.  Do not start removing any of the old tiles until you have purchased both the new tile and the new sink.

It is always hard to estimate how much time will be needed to remove old tile because there is no way to know beforehand how well they were installed and how much thin set adhesive was used.  Sometimes tiles will pop out in intact pieces with minimal effort and other times they have to be chipped out in small potato chip size fragments using a hammer and a cold chisel.  You will want to remove only the first row of tiles that surround the sink and the first step is to cut the outside grout line with either a hand grout scrapping tool or with an electric oscillating cutting tool equipped with a grout cutting blade.  Cutting the grout line will help to protect the second row of tiles that you do not want to remove or damage.

Once the tile is removed, the outer edge of the sink will be exposed and you will need to check inside the cabinet under the sink to make sure that there are not any fasteners on the underside of the plywood that are helping to hold the sink in place that will need to be removed also.  Now the faucet, dishwasher air gap, filtered water tap, garbage disposal, and drain lines will all need to be removed or disconnected.  If the old sink is porcelain coated over cast iron, it is going to be very heavy and two people will be needed to lift it up and out.

The next step is to set the new sink in place which may require a slight enlargement of the cutout and a heavy bead of adhesive silicone caulk will need to be applied to the edge of the cut out to help seal and hold the sink in place.  Now the tile setter will take over and install the new tile and quarter round and then the new grout after waiting a day or two for the tile work to dry.  There are many different colors of grout but it should not be a problem finding the correct match at a local tile store.  The tile store also sells caulk that matches the grout color that can be used when caulking the sink to give a nice finished look.  Grout is available as either sanded or non sanded and if your old grout feels rough to the touch then it is sanded and likewise if it feels smooth it is non sanded.  The new grout will need to be sealed after it has had a couple of days to dry and the sealer will protect it from moisture and staining.

Most new sinks have 4 holes along the back edge and you will probably want to purchase a new faucet, filtered water tap, dishwasher air gap and a soap dispenser, all in the same metal finish.  After all the plumbing is connected, your new sink will be ready for use.

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

Replacing Casement Window Cranks

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

Question:  The windows in our house swing out like doors and have a little hand crank with a handle that you turn to open and close the window.  Several of these hand cranks have stopped working correctly and we have to go outside and push the window in to get it to close.  Do we need to have new windows installed or can the old windows be fixed?

Your Handyman:  The type of window that swings out like a door is referred to as a casement style window.  A casement window typically has a hand operated crank at the interior bottom that is turned in order to swing the window in and out on its hinges.  This little hand crank assembly is just a simple gear box and it is very common for the gears to strip after years of use or if the window needs lubrication and is difficult to close.  The crank assembly is designed to be removed usually by unscrewing two or more screws that are located on the outside edge of the window frame.  After it is unscrewed and the swing arm is detached from the crank assembly, the unit should then slide out of the window frame toward the inside of the home.  Some units will be encased in a plastic cover or a piece of wood trim that will need to be very carefully removed prior to removing the unit from the frame.

Once you have the old crank assembly removed, take it to a window or glass shop and in most cases they will have a replacement unit on their shelf for sale.  We have done many replacements of casement window crank assemblies, in most all cases the new unit is available locally, and in the rare case it will need to be handled as a special order by the glass shop.  It is also a good idea to periodically lubricate the window hinges so the window swings easily and puts less strain on the hand crank gears.

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

Cooling Off a Hot Attic

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

Question:  Our house often gets very hot towards the end of a spring or summer day and I have heard that an attic fan is an inexpensive way to cool off a house.  Our house is a 40+ year old home in Goleta.  Can you tell me what types of attic fans are available?

Your Handyman:  An attic fan can be an inexpensive way to help cool off your home in the summer that is not very hard at all to install.  The air in your attic can rise to well over 120 degrees on a sunny day trapping heat inside the living areas of your home that is unable to radiate up into the attic until it cools off, which in the summer may not be until the early hours of the morning.

There are basically two types of attic fans; one type that blows air out of the attic through a vent in the roof and another that vents out through a gable vent.  A house with a gable style roof has exterior walls at the ends of the house that go up to the ridge of the roof like a triangle, and a rectangular louvered vent is usually located on the wall near the top of the triangle.  A house with a hip style roof has a roof that sort of sits on top of the house like a pyramid shaped cap and does not have any gables.  It is usually best to minimize the amount of vents that are perforating your roof and if you have gable vents then it is best to have an attic fan at the gable vent.  Likewise if you have a hip roof you will need to have the fan vent through the roof.

Most gable vents are approximately 12” wide by 18” high and a 12” diameter box fan can be fastened to the attic side of the vent ideally that is located on the side of the house that gets the afternoon sun.  The box fan can be purchased with a thermostat so it can be set to turn on when the temperature in the attic climbs over 100 degrees or so, hot air is pushed out on the hot side of the house, and cool air is drawn in via the gable vent(s) that is on the other side of the attic which is the cool side.  Box fans are available at most hardware stores or can be purchased online at a distributor like Grainger.  On summer days the fan will probably turn on in the mid afternoon and then run for a few hours after dark before your attic is cooled off.  The electrical supply for the fan should be controlled by a wall switch that is easily accessible near the attic access opening so the fan can be turned off when you are not going to be at home or during the winter.

If your house does not have gable vents then you can purchase a fan unit that is designed to be installed on the attic side of the roof with a vent that goes through the roof.  This vent needs to be installed by a roofing contractor so that it is water sealed correctly and it is important that the fan unit is well made so it will not fall apart or start rusting.  I have seen solar powered roof fan units for sale but I would first research how long the battery charge will keep the fan running after sunset and what type of warranty is offered by the manufacturer.  Any vent that is installed in your roof should be of adequate quality to survive the life of the roof which can be as long as 35-40 years for better quality roofs.

You may also want to consider getting a quote from an insulation contractor to have a new layer of insulation laid down in your attic in addition to the attic fan, which will also help to keep the home warmer in the winter months and cooler in the summer.  A large deciduous shade tree planted strategically in the yard so that it shades the roof in the summer goes a very long way to helping cool off a house without using any electricity.  Also consider a lighter colored roof when you eventually have your old roof replaced.  A darker colored roof absorbs heat and you may have noticed when traveling in an airplane that most all the roofs on commercial buildings and warehouses are white in order to reduce air conditioning costs.

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

Santa Barbara Water Softener Installation

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

Question:  We are new to Santa Barbara and have just purchased an older home that we plan to fix up and remodel over time.  Our previous home was in a mountain community in Colorado where the water was spring fed and naturally soft and we are shocked by how hard the water here is.  So our first project is to get a water softener installed ASAP but we have no idea how to do it.

Your Handyman:  Santa Barbara has to be one of the nicest places on our planet to live, the people are friendly, the beaches are gorgeous, but the tap water is terrible.  I personally don’t know people stand showering and cooking with un-softened Santa Barbara water, but many people are concerned about the added sodium in their water or that water is wasted in the softening process.

To install a water softener you will need to find a location in your house or garage that has nearby access to a drain line, an electrical outlet and most importantly, access to the main water line that supplies all the water to the interior of the house. You don’t want to be supplying softened water to the outside garden hoses and sprinklers, and you also don’t want to have just your interior hot water and not the cold water softened, or vice versa.

Commonly a house will have what is called a plumbing loop which is an exposed section of the main water line in the wall of the garage or laundry room that is meant for the placement of the water softener.  If a plumbing loop is not present and your home is on a raised foundation allowing access to the plumbing lines under the house, then with a little reconfiguring of the main water line you should be able to correctly set up the water softener.  If your home is on a concrete slab then you probably will not be able to get access to the main interior supply line without quite a lot of plumbing work.

If you are unsure about how the water supply lines run in your home, you might consider hiring a plumber for an hour or two to look over your home’s pipes and to give you a solid quote on what is involved to get your softener plumbed correctly.  Santa Barbara has many excellent plumbers and every family eventually needs a good doctor, a good lawyer and a good plumber.

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