Answers to your home maintenance and repair questions
Can you believe it? A year has gone by. A whole year since Lora and Joseph at the Lyons Recorder agreed to let me blather on about what makes my world go ‘round: fixing things and playing with power tools! (Cue Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor sound byte. Actually no, don’t. That just sounds ridiculous.).
I thought perhaps, for this auspicious occasion, I would share with you some of my bloopers over the last 23 years: those lessons learned by doing; those moments where you can only reflect by saying, “What was I thinking?” The hope is, of course, that my lessons, hard learned, can become your lessons that won’t be repeated. At the risk of never again getting a phone call to help someone with their home maintenance and repair, let us begin.
Lesson 1: Always Kill The Power
You read this in all the home repair how-to books, and have probably heard me say it a time or two. There could not be a more important rule to follow when working with electricity. Always locate and trip the breaker in the electrical panel that controls the circuit for the fixture, outlet, switch, or device you are working on. If you don’t you could very well end up with curly hair like mine (and I was not born with it!).
My initiation into electrical awareness occurred when I was first learning about this handyperson world under the patient tutelage of a guy named Gary. He really was quite the all-around handy man but he did some dangerous things sometimes, one of which he instructed me to attempt: changing out an electrical outlet without turning off the power. Yes, I know. As I look back now, I cringe. But I was young, invincible and he did the first one to show me how. How hard could it be? His one word of advice was to pull the outlet out of the box with your fingers on the top and bottom (12 & 6 positions) of the outlet, not the sides (9 & 3 positions). And, where do you think my fingers went to pull the outlet out? Yep, the sides. They call it getting “bit,” when you get shocked like that. I call it just plain stupid. Don’t take the chance. It doesn’t feel good. And, just so you know, turning off the switch to a light fixture doesn’t count. The power could be coming from the box under the light itself, then to the switch and back. Kill the power at the panel.
Lesson 2: Roofs Aren’t Made For Walking
Anytime you are on a roof, keep your foot placement under close scrutiny. Roofs are not designed for foot traffic. Any work on them should be done with the proper equipment and safety measures in place. You will see roofers with safety lines attached to the peaks of the roofs and cleats, boards nailed to the roof deck, to plant their feet against to avoid slipping and sliding down the roof. Roof tear off can be especially dangerous because you are taking the old shingles, shakes, or whatever the roofing material was and removing it to reveal the roof deck, the wood (often plywood, OSB, or planks on some older homes) that lays on top of the rafters or trusses of the roof framing.
Over time, dust gets underneath roofing materials, especially cedar shingles, since they don’t seal around the edges like asphalt/fiberglass shingles, making that decking extremely slippery. Dust and steep pitch make for a very dangerous situation. I used to love roofing, hopping around like a mountain goat and then one day that dangerous combination of dust and pitch got the better of me. Let me tell you there is no worse feeling than starting to slide down a roof (we didn’t wear safety ropes back then), with the cleat board just out of reach, knowing that the edge is coming and there is nothing you can do. Thank goodness for rain gutters and arbor vitae shrubbery! A couple if bruises, but no broken bones and a whole new respect for watching my step and taking safety precautions (I don’t do roofing anymore, BTW).
Lesson 3: Always Know Where The Water Shut-off For The House Is Located
Plumbing basics: always be prepared to shut the water to the house off as quickly as possible. This means not only knowing where the shutoff is located, but making sure that it functions and the path is clear to get to it. And pray that it is a ball valve (long thin handle that pushes one way for on and the other way for off) and not a gate valve (round handle that needs to be turned 27 times, it seems, to shut the water off). Just because a fixture has its own shutoff doesn’t mean that you’re in the clear when working on fixing a drip, or changing a faucet out, etc. I was sent (by my friend, Gary) to address a slight drip coming from the shutoff for a toilet in an apartment building. The main building water shutoff was in the locked utility room on the first floor. Instructions: just slightly tighten the valve on the pipe that comes out of the wall, but don’t over tighten it because it is chrome-plated copper pipe that can be fragile. Key word: slightly. Suffice it to say, I over tightened and the full force of the water supply system (between 60-80 psi) came at me out of that pipe like a herd of bison. And I couldn’t turn the water off.
Gary and I worked together for over three years. He never gave up on me and taught me a lot. And, I have learned a lot of lessons through the years that I can’t wait to share with you in the next year of ‘Ask the Handy Woman’. That is, if the Recorder lets me keep writing for them! Some things you just have to learn on your own, but hopefully these lessons of mine will keep you from having to learn by doing on your own projects.
Until next month, drive safely, keep smiling, and remember, “Measure twice, cut once!”
With over 20 years’ experience in Home Maintenance and Repair, Remodeling and Building Inspection, Kheli started the Handy Woman LLC to be ‘not just your average contracting company’, but also to teach people how to take care of their homes by offering do-it-yourself coaching and how-to classes. Along with typical home repair and maintenance services, her focus is to help our elders age-in-place and teach women homeowners how to understand and care for their homes.
For more information please call Kheli @ 303-999-5812 www.thehandywomanllc.com