Tuesday, November 19, 2013

     Well being in another state gives you a different perspective on things. I am at my Moms' home in Virginia for a couple weeks and they have different climate, different bugs, different landscape and different critters. What they have in common is the need for home maintenance. Something you take care of now will be something you don't have to fix or replace later. Unless you buy throwaway Chinese crap built for throwing away which is a waste of money. Buy things built to last and take care of them and it will be money well spent. Get your furniture at wal-hell and you get what it is...disposable. It's kinda like toilet paper, use it and throw it away.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

It's always something.

    It's seems like the shorter the day the longer the list gets. So I guess a coat of primer on that chest and some yardwork is in order, not necessarily in that order. What stands in the way of your day?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Pretty good.

We all have problem spots and there are found solutions. Example.
Problem.... Dead corner in hallway with junk piling up.
Solution ....cabinet built from found boxes and finished in an antique crackle style.
You just can't say this isn't better. For under a hundred bucks (we already had the paint) Problem solved and we did it with somebodys trash. I wouldn't part with it for under $500 and love what it did for the hallway.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Where does that go?

    Well in the case of purpose built furniture it fills a niche in the house. Case in point: we have a spot in the hallway that used to be home to an old furnace or water heater. Now it is just a dead corner in the hall with some boxes and stuff piled in it. Now I am no master cabinetmaker or furniture craftsman but I have a few skills and have built some pieces we use around the home and have found to be of acceptable quality. The other day we found at the curb a pair of discarded wooden boxes that were apparently crafted by someone with superior equipment and were of quality material. I joined them together and trimmed them out and am currently working on a finish for them. We will wind up with a 4 door cabinet for that spot that is indestructible and attractive. We paid under $100 for the materials and I wouldn't part with it for less than $500. I did invest a considerable amount of time but I had it to invest. Never discount the value of found materials. People throw stuff away because they see no use for it and I am not too embarrassed to pick it up. Your trash could be my next project.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Warm, rain, cold, repeat.

Here in NE Fla we get cyclical weather patterns and this year (so far) we have been blessed with unseasonably warm weather. Now I'm not gonna go all Al Gore on you and blame it on global warning but I will recommend that you use the cycles to your advantage. When it's warm get a jumpstart on the spring chores so you don't waste primo fishing time or (insert favorite spring activity here). Paint,paint, paint when it's warm paint.By the time a few cycles of weather pass you'll be done painting. Everyone has spring chores to get done and weather permitting do them in the winter.Do you really want to clean the garage on a beautiful spring day? If I was a golfing man I'd rather be reserving a tee time without feeling guilty.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What to do?

       What not to do is usually a better question. There are lots of little things that get lost in the big ones. You know that little paint touch up that you'll always get to later? Guess what it's later. My month and a half of open window weather seem to be drawing to a close so before I slam and lock them I may as well see what shape they're in. It's a no brainer to clean the woodstove and fireplace that should be done already...duh. Uh what else? 

Hey! Chill out.

     I said it and it did. I can't complain too much about the climate here. Except for it's soggy, muggy, buggy, moldy and ....well it turns out I can complain. But mornings like today are perfect. That cup of coffee feels and smells great even if it wasn't pumpkin spiced coffee house crap. I think a few things are in order to get ready for the real cold and I don't mean polishing the winter flip flops.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

miscellaneous ramblings.

     A lot of stuff slips through the cracks. Like wind...wind slips through. Water. water slips through. If we are to be warm and snug in our abode the cracks should be plugged. As I write this I am sitting in shirtsleeves and fending off an invasion of ants large enough to tow a car. That does not mean I won't get cold soon. My home is blessed with a single option for heating which is the one where you burn stuff. This means I need to clean and prepare the burning apparatus from last season to get it ready for this season. I read too many stories of space heater "accidents" every year so don't let it happen to you. The time is now to prepare for the cold and do it safely.

Thursday, October 3, 2013


    I guess we have a new one brewing. I should correct myself here and say we have the next one brewing. For the people on the gulf coast I hope all stay safe and have their preparations in order. There are a number of things to take into account when deciding 'Should I stay or should I go?' If you are old enough to recognize the song reference I am probably preaching to the choir. You already have your things in order because you've been there done that. Modern meteorological capabilities are a wonderful thing. They are able to forecast with stunning accuracy where a storm is forming and where it will likely head. My advice to you is don't let the decision to leave be a last minute thing. I know everyone has work, school, family and other things to take into consideration. So consider this...Do you need to go? Is your home built of modern sturdy construction in an area unlikely to flood or suffer tree damage? Do you have the supplies on hand for yourself and family to rough it for a few days? By roughing it I mean cooking, cleaning, and ...yes using the in the great outdoors. This one is not shaping up to be a big one but one can never be certain. You need look at the big picture.

Monday, September 30, 2013

slippedcog: I don't have anything to wear!

slippedcog: I don't have anything to wear!: How can a house be too big and still not have room for all your stuff? Simple, you have too much stuff. Some of your junk needs to go.and y...

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday! Fall! Football!

   Ah yes it is that magical day of that magical time of the year named football season. The coffee shops are all selling their seasonal offerings of pumpkin spiced stuff that tastes nothing like pumpkin but we forgive them. It is Friday, As of this writing it is Friday morning. A Friday full of hope since even fans of high school ball have yet to experience a crushing defeat. Have you done what you need to do to enjoy the game? Or have you settled for just enough to get by? Around here the weather and the season seem to be forcing the carpenter ants to seek more hospitable accommodations. These accommodations include but are not limited to crawling up my pants leg.
     For those not in the know a carpenter ant is unfairly labeled. It is not a carpenter in the sense that it does not build structures to give you shelter or pleasure. It also will not show up 30 minutes late to drink your coffee and make small talk about things that have nothing to do with the project that is a week behind schedule. A carpenter ant is named because it infests habitat familiar to carpenters, namely old, rotten wood. This can be the dead tree and leaf litter associated with it or the rotten siding on your house. If you have the trees there is a good chance you will have the ants.
      I for one wish to spend the game noshing on nachos without the unwelcome attention of an ant that can bench press a Cadillac crawling up my leg. Make no mistake these guys can get big and the biggest ones pack a wallop. As far as I know they are non-venomous but the largest ones have a set of gear on their head that is straight out of a Japanese horror movie. With this goal in mind I intend to proceed straight out with a retail preparation designed by people smarter than me to foil the invasion. After all, as effective as a size 13 flip-flop is I would still prefer to vacuum the carcasses up post mortem as opposed to dealing with the live critters. I've had enough dealings with them in the past to know when chemical warfare is actually an appropriate alternative.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

slippedcog: Working outside in the Summer.

slippedcog: Working outside in the Summer.: Working outside in the Florida Summer can be fun. This I know because reliable sources have assured me that it has been done. I guess it h...

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

I'll get right on that.

    The other day I attended a seaside wedding. It was at a beautiful bed and breakfast in our country's oldest continually occupied city (St Augustine, Fl). The bride was radiant, the groom was handsome and the entire wedding party looked impeccable and performed their parts flawlessly. The Minister performing the ceremony was appropriately solemn and light which was proper for such a joyous yet serious ceremony celebrating the union of a young couple. The vows were said, the blessings were given and the prayers were bestowed. And then....The bar was opened.
      A good time was being had by all on beautiful oceanfront grounds swept by a gentle seabreeze on a sunny September weekend. There was a DJ to keep music going and maintain the mood. There were servers circulating with platters of  hors d'oeurves. And the bar was doing a brisk business while guests relaxed and enjoyed the company and the surroundings while celebrating the special day of a special couple. And then...then it appeared. At first I ignored it and hoped it would go away. But it was not to be denied. How could it show up here on this day at this time and worm its way ceaselessly into my consciousness. I knew it was there and I was the only one who recognized it for what it truly was. It was an old nemesis. Older than I and far more destructive. A true enemy against whom I had fought many battles but realized I could never win the war. An enemy deceptive in its progression yet relentless in its destruction.
      I am talking of course about rusty fasteners used in the construction/upkeep of a dwelling being constantly assaulted by some of the harshest conditions Mother nature can serve up. When you build on the ocean's front stoop there is no such thing as stainless steel. But you have to try. It was a gorgeous day with a gentle breeze but even that gentle breeze was carrying the salt to attack unprotected surfaces. During Winter North Easters that salt is combined with sand and driven sideways into the building. These conditions are a fact of life for coastal dwellers and the repair and/or replacement of such damage is a neverending task. Sometimes people take it in stride and fix it themselves. These people know the value of paying for good quality fasteners and properly treating new materials. It is not uncommon for the cost of the fasteners in a repair job to exceed the cost of the wood. I have seen $5.00 worth of stainless holding up a $2.00 board. But don't cheap out on the hardware or in a couple months it will look like crap and in a couple more it will need to be done again. The same goes for prep and paint. Get the best and use them right. If you hire the job out then make sure the workman does it right. It's more expensive but that is part of what you signed up for when you moved oceanfront. I haven't even started in about hurricanes yet.

Friday, September 20, 2013

What's old is new again.

There is an old saying ..."Everything in it's time". I don't know who said it but face it..Neither does anyone else. And if a smartypants wants to show their google skills then that's cool too. My point for today's discussion (written but seldom read ) is that certain things need tended to around the ol homestead. If you are renting these fall into the category of home maintenance and need not concern you. Please if you are renting read your lease carefully and make sure this is in fact true. Many homeowners have elected to invest their funds in ironclad leases drawn up by lawyers rather than in the appropriate upkeep of their property.
     It is easy to say with a straight face that the leaking roof does not concern you when they have a legal document to prove that the color you painted the bedroom concerns them. If you are leasing a space your legal options are slim and you are limited to the little bit of wiggle room afforded by your lease. If the money spent on the lease lawyer instead of the roof was well spent there won't be much wiggle room.
     But regardless of ownership status or landlord/tenant disputes hopefully you are settled in the domicile you plan to spend the winter in. If this is the case then a few things are in order. Unless you live in a basement or some other subterranean space then you have windows. This being the time of year to take advantage of Mother Natures air conditioning as opposed to ponying up for the local utility's Christmas party how about checking the window lock hardware while you open it? The landlord will not fix a drafty door unless you bust a pipe so water is running out the gap. And even then the leak may be repaired but the draft will not be. Perhaps a little weather stripping might be in order? The point is you have to take charge of your own comfort. No one else cares. And if they do it's your parents and only because you still live with them and they are getting the bill for the busted pipe and the weatherstripping

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Old man winter is upon us!

Why is winter characterized as an old man? Could it be because winter weather can be as ornery, unpredictable and as cantankerous as and old man who spends the springtime yelling at kids to get off the lawn and bemoaning the loss of the good life of his youth? I don't know the answer but I do know that the calendar says that the Brrrrs are upon us. You know, Septembrrrr, Octobrrrr, Novembrrrr, Decembrrrr. Football season is here and so is playoff baseball not to mention that frozen free for all played on skates with sticks known as hockey.
        How you spend your free time now has a lot to do with where and what level of comfort you will be watching the games at. Take a walk around your kingdom and while you enjoy being the master of all you survey take notes on the things that your kingdom needs corrected before freezing weather arrives. Is a faucet leaking that will leave a sheet of ice for you to bust your butt on during that halftime beer run? What about pipe insulation? Pipe insulation can take a beating in the good months that won't cause a problem till a hard freeze. Yard work, kids, pets,and wildlife all take a toll and it's much simpler to deal with now. The last thing on your mind should be having to get out in the frigid weather trying to duct tape rags around the pipes with a flashlight in your mouth. Animals want to come in from the cold too so make sure your attics and crawl spaces are sealed. Hot tubs that won't see use should be drained and covered. Hot tubs that will see use need to have their heaters tested and thermostats adjusted along with all applicable plumbing protection in place. Pool owners know the drill and are familiar with what needs to be done to winterize the pool. Just remember any enclosure that houses heating equipment will be attractive to critters that can do a lot of damage so prep accordingly.
        The methods of heating a home vary so much according to climate that I can't get into all of them. Just make sure which ever method you use is in good repair, clean and ready to go when you need it. If you need wood for a stove or fireplace get it now before the price gougers come out of their dens. Heat with oil? Gas? Top off the tanks. Is your water heater in the garage? Most water heaters are insulated between the shell and the tank but if your area gets multiple days of down right cold weather an insulating jacket may be in order to minimize heat loss and excessive power consumption.
        Do these things now plus all the ones I forgot to mention and Fall/Winter will be less stressful for all.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mold and mildew.

    What is the difference? Does it matter? Mold is mildew gone bad and mildew is a warning of things to come. Mold can have toxic repercussions if not addressed promptly. A bad case of mildew left untreated can lead to mold that causes breathing problems and other nasty irritations that do not have to be endured. For the sake of this post I am going to address both as one and the same problem and will only use what works for me. As a standard disclaimer if you have health problems that can be irritated by any of the things I discuss then seek alternates approved by a health care professional. Blah blah blah blah blah. Here in Florida mildew is the unofficial state flower and if you haven't experienced it it is because you haven't been here long. Mold and mildew thrive in a warm moist environment which is Florida in a nutshell.
      The enemy of mold and mildew is .....Bleach. The problem is.......fumes. This is a case where the solution is almost as bad as the problem. In the not too distant past people with breathing related ailments were sent to the hot, dry western climate where airborne micro-organisms that aggravated such conditions would not affect them nearly as much. Personally I will speak from experience and say that if you can breath well and afford the bleach then you should use it often and liberally. Bleach is cheap and effective. It kills mold and mildew on contact and sanitizes surfaces at the same time. Do not skimp. Open the windows and saturate any surfaces that are exposed to moisture regularly. This may be more than you want to hear but my biggest problem spot is the shower. When this requires attention I strip to my birthday suit (It doesn't fit like it did when I got it) and climb in with a spray bottle of bleach. That gunk on the shower curtain and in the grout between the tiles doesn't stand a chance. Follow with a stiff brush and it is lights out for mold. It won't smell good and may burn your eyes but that is what clean smells like. I don't care what the pine-sol lady says. Open some windows and turn on the fan.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

slippedcog: Where am I going to put it all?

slippedcog: Where am I going to put it all?:       Storage. It seems like there is never enough of it and not just for the people featured on the TV show 'Hoarders'. You have t...

Saturday, September 7, 2013

But the game is on.

 Fall maintenance isn't rocket surgery here anyone can fix it I am proof of that. Sure, it make take you longer than someone you pay to do it but if you have the time and basic tools to invest it makes sense to try. First check out the scope of the job and balance that with the time available to you to dedicate to its completion. Things to consider are will you be doing this in spare time or do you have full time to dedicate to it. Full time is considered a job and is not considered breaks for TV, BBQ, playing with the dog, being a proper dad, handling honey do’s or anything else. Also consider any assistance required. If your help is there to drink the beer you bought for helping or talk fishing or girls or whatever then this is not help and is an option best discarded. If your help is a guy you know who also knows how to do the work you have in front of you then you are ahead of the game and have become his/her help. Reward them appropriately by providing everything needed and pitching in where you can. If your help is just an equally unskilled but willing aide reconsider your relationship. Are they willing to follow your direction or are they headstrong and apt to try to take control? 3 guys can do the same job 3 different ways and the job can be done well. 2 guys trying to do the same job at the same time 2 different ways will be lucky to get it done at all.
            Rotten wood repair is pretty much a matter of reverse assembly followed by reassembly. But this must be with an eye toward correcting the circumstances which caused it in the first place. For instance if it is rotten siding in a place where wooden siding is always going to rot then perhaps wood siding is a bad choice for this spot and another material should be selected but that is another subject for another day. Maybe rain runoff had splashed back and ruined the bottom. If that is the case then gutters just became a part of the project. At this point you can choose to split it up into seperate projects but you can’t choose to put them too far apart on your schedule. The main thing to think about going in is that you really have two problems. You have the problem and you have the problem which caused the problem and fixing the problem means fixing both problems. Got it? Good. If not you will always have the problem and putting up new wood just to watch it rot means you never really fixed anything you simply slowed down the cycle of decay.
         Granted, not every situation is caused by a problem in your control since some things have to be considered plain old fashioned maintenance. There are environmental issues that take their toll. Some places are hot, humid, muggy, and buggy. You can employ proper pest control practices to mitigate the bugs but you can’t control nature all you can do there is use the proper material for the job. There are places that are extremes from scorching to fridgid and those will take a toll no matter what the scale of your diligence to upkeep. The key here is to stay on top of it. Every Spring you take care of what the previous Summer and Winter have dealt you. That way you can enjoy Fall football and raking leaves without worrying

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Monday, August 12, 2013

Where am I going to put it all?

      Storage. It seems like there is never enough of it and not just for the people featured on the TV show 'Hoarders'. You have to make do with the space you have and there are ways to do this. Do you have too many clothes and not enough dresser and closet space for them? Shelves and baskets are a way to store excess clothing and still keep an attractive room while stealing no space from your room because it is up and above everything.
The same method can be used for other spaces where furniture is not an option and your best efforts to de-clutter still left you with things you don't wish to part with and no place to put them. I like to read and after filling the only bookcase I owned I was left with a lot I wanted to keep. Here is a re-purpose for the shelves I built in the bedroom.
 Furniture can also pull double duty sometimes even triple duty. I built a coffee table that looks good. It is built well so it doubles as seating when you throw a cushion on it. Since it is on casters it will roll away from the sofa to create separation. And the top comes off to reveal all of our old photos and mementos stored inside. Since I am a builder it was constructed stoutly enough to take all the punishment a family can dish out and it was built using mostly recycled material from job sites. I recommend dumpster diving at construction sites where they are using appealing material (get the superintendents permission and don't do it after hours since trespassing on a job site is a no-no)
There are other ways to make seldom used items work for you instead of just taking up space. We have a dining table that features two leaves to expand it for increased seating at family gatherings. Well the leaves were taking up space and gathering dust. They were also seldom used. So we put them to work and reclaimed the closet space they occupied.
 In this way we gained space, dressed up an otherwise unremarkable doorway and found a perch for various knick knacks. I used the same idea in our previous home but they were used as book shelves. You don't need excess table leaves laying around to make use of this idea. The same thing can be accomplished easily with a pair of decorative brackets and a pre-finished board from your local home improvement store. So there you have it. Extra storage doesn't have to be ugly or take up living space if you get creative.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Back to school for your security degree!

      Well it is back to school time and your house will find itself alone for much of the day. Kids are off to school and mom and dad are off to work. Even if one parent doesn't work outside the home this is the time of day they have to themselves to get stuff done. Then there are the extra-curricular and after school functions to take up evenings. Your house hates this time of year cause it can get kind of lonely and it feels vulnerable. Well it should feel vulnerable and it is. This is also the time of year when crooks come out to do their work in the daylight. And if Mom ( or Dad..The times they are a changing.) are at home alone they are vulnerable as well.
       We know the basics about how to secure your home in your absence. Lock the doors and windows and set the alarm when you leave. The times we live in have changed and the criminals after an easy payday have changed with them. It has been more than a few years since they developed the technology to open your garage door with their own remotes after intercepting your frequency when you use it. This means the only feasible way to secure the garage was to close the door then go back inside to manually lock it leaving your vehicle vulnerable unless you locked it while you went to lock the garage. And going through all this meant your garage opener wouldn't work when you came home pretty much making it obsolete so nobody did it and a lot of people got robbed as a consequence. Garage door opener manufacturers have since corrected this problem and I haven't heard of many problems lately.
       My point is that technology is rapidly evolving. You can use this to your advantage but so can crooks. However here are a few things you can to to give yourself and your family peace of mind. Some vehicles have keyless entry systems with a keypad that you can use to punch in a number or letter combination to gain entry. Well now they have deadbolt door lock systems that operate the same way. If you have kids that get home before you they just have to enter a code to gain access to the home and not carry a key which they WILL lose. They are products of the digital age anyhow and are much more likely to remember a pass code than they are to remember where they put their key. And that is if in their adolescent half awake state they remembered it in the first place. The beauty of this is you don't have to leave a spare key under a rock or mat since that's where they are always found. Every child I know of any means has a cell phone and if they forget the pass code you can always text it to them. If for some reason they can't then they can do like I had to do and sit on the porch and do their homework till you get home or instead of leaving a spare key with a trusted neighbor like old times you can leave the code. Since you have the ability to change the code whenever you wish it is like being able to re-key your lock without the benefit of a locksmith and they still have the old school key for the Luddites out there.
        Most home security systems have different levels of security packages available to you. If you have and use a home security system then you should fork out for a good one. You don't need some of the bells and whistles that come along now like being able to change your thermostat temp from your phone. That is why you got the programmable thermostat remember? What you need is protection for every entry in your home and a reliable monitoring service that will get emergency services to the house if there is an alarm. You should have fire and smoke detectors wired to this service so emergency services can be dispatched in your absence. You should also have an instant notification of any alerts so you can head off false alarms.
       These are just a few of the things to consider there are more. You can get a breakdown of costs and charges from your security system provider usually for free if you are considering an upgrade. The times they are a changing and you should change with them. Stay safe and secure the threat is real but don't quiver in your boots. Do the best you can and maintain adequate insurance. Obtaining the best in security will get you a break on the cost of the insurance.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Rock you like a hurricane!

      Well as we approach the height of hurricane season it is time to get the kit together again. You know, the kit. It is the one that has all the stuff in it. All the good stuff you need to throw in the car to sustain you when it is time to get out of Dodge in a hurry. Remember when you get where you are going to tough it out at that there will be a lot of like minded folks doing the same as you. This is a bonanza for merchants but a nightmare for shoppers. The stores will be full of people picking over empty shelves and you don't want to be one of those stressed out people fighting over the last tin of overpriced Vienna sausages at some neighborhood gyp joint. My point is the kit should contain food necessities to sustain your family for at least a week. Ditto with water. Don't go crazy you still need to put that aforementioned family in the car too.
      You are going to want the important papers too. Do yourself a favor. With today's technology you don't have to lug a filing cabinet to the car. All of the family photos and important documents should be scanned and loaded onto an external hard drive that will fit in the glove box so you can reproduce them at any office center if and when the need arises. You only need to pack documents for which the original is needed and a reproduction is not acceptable. Birth/marriage/death certificates, Social security cards, Mortgage and insurance papers and so forth. For most people these will fit in a shoebox. I referenced hurricane season but it is best to have the kit ready year round no matter where you live. We know any coastal area can be struck by a storm and inland you have wildfires, mudslides, avalanches, tornadoes, etc. Any of these can prompt an evacuation even if it is dragging the kit to the basement to take shelter from a tornado. Pack the kit in plastic tubs and waterproof the paper work and electronics. The way it has rained lately the river is always rising somewhere and you may be leaving by boat or pickup truck.
        Bottom line is I see way too many horror stories of people wailing that they lost everything after a disaster. There is no need to be caught flat-footed when you have time now to get ready.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Insure it!

     Today I want to talk about insurance. We've all seen the nasty weather and the bad things that come out of storms. Don't be caught lacking when it happens to you. Odds are no matter where you live the increasing frequency of bad weather events will one day catch up to you. This is why we have insurance. Now I will come right out and say something most people already know and that is insurance companies work for insurance companies and not for you. I don't care how touchy-feely the commercials are or how nice the guy that sold you the policy is. The fact is that the nice guy/gal that sold you the policy will not be the one coming out to determine how much if any recovery is made after a claim. Insurance companies make their money by collecting as much in premiums as they can while paying as little in claims as they can get away with.
      Protect yourself and put together a paper trail that is indisputable. If you are insuring a home then make sure the level of insurance covers EVERYTHING you will need to replace should disaster strike. Here in Florida windstorm coverage is typical but it only covers structures and dwellings. If a flood come along with that hurricane (They usually do) and you didn't get flood insurance all the insurance company will do is put a new roof on a ruined home. What about your stuff? Is the personal property provision adequate to replace it? Can you prove it? Did you take pictures, Did you save receipts and serial numbers? Do you have them stored in a waterproof fireproof lockbox with copies on file with your agent? How about clothes? All the stuff you don't think about until you need it needs to be inventoried and covered. Do you have mature specimen trees in your yard? They have value, insure them. If you can't live in your home who pays for your living arrangements? There is insurance for that. Even if you are renting you can't count on the landlord. If disaster strikes you can be out of a home and have no stuff left and no recourse to get it replaced. Make sure you are insured and make sure the lease that nobody ever reads doesn't legally obligate you to continue payments if the home becomes uninhabitable. Sure a judge would probably toss any demand for payment in court but you don't want it to get there.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Reaching dizzying heights.

    Ahh a spiral staircase. Pretty to look at but practical? You decide, after all it will be yours if you decide to install it. Let's look at the pros and cons and see which basket is heavier. On the pro side they are real space savers and save a ton of time on installation. They also add a level of elegance and style that is difficult to get from a traditional set of stairs. They can be custom ordered with a variety of tread and rail finishes to match any decor and they just plain look cool.
      On the con side? Well if you like your wine they are dangerous. It is impossible to get a large piece of furniture up one so unless you have alternate access you will have problems. Unless they are access to a single room or loft they simply are not practical at all. For handicapped people or simply people with mobility issues they are a bad choice for the same reason that they don't work well if you like your wine.
       The way I see it is you have to weigh your options. Will you gain enough space to make it worthwhile? Is it a single sleeping space that doesn't get much traffic? Are you young, spry, and sober enough to negotiate a spiral staircase on a daily basis? Going down half asleep in the dark to use the bathroom could get you a broken neck, are you ready for that? Are you planning on living in the house or selling? If you are selling you are cutting your market for seniors and handicapped. If you are living you are living with it and don't want to regret it. Personally, although my vote means nothing, I would stay traditional. If it's a small space for young people then go for it. Just remember who will use it, for what, and for how long.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

That'll leave a mark!

     Where to begin? This post is a toughie and is meant to deal with the individual problems around the home faced by people suffering from chronic pain. Because of the many causes and the unique problems it deals to sufferers it is impossible to develop a one size fits all solution. Because of this I am soliciting ideas and commentary from any and all who read this to pitch in with solutions and if you will the nature of the problem which inspired the solution. My first suggestion is an honest self assessment of your limitations and the direction of your travel through the world of pain. By this I mean are you stuck with a deteriorating condition that will worsen with time? Or do you see a sunnier horizon in the future? These are 2 of the biggest questions you have to ask yourself and you have to give yourself honest answers in order to plan for the future.
      I will begin with an easy one. Get rid of stuff you don't need. Common sense right? Wrong. We all have stuff and a lot of it we simply don't need. I would consider making a faux will. That's french for fake but I thought throwing it in there would add a continental flair. What I mean is if you own something and are holding on to it simply to pass on to someone else that you know would love to have it why not give it to them now? If it is something you treasure and gives you comfort or is useful by all means keep it. Simplification is what it's all about because complications add to your misery when you are miserable. Since I don't know who I am writing to or for I will move on to things I have actually done on request for clients who were impaired for whatever reason.
      There was a lady who had a stroke. She had lost partial function of one side but was still mobile. This pairs up well with many people with pain induced motor function. She had a railing going up one side of her stairs but as she favored one side she needed one on the other side as well and they both needed to be fully weight bearing. I also installed a weight bearing handrail down a long hallway and removed an old furnace that required a couple unnecessary turns traveling down the hallway. My obvious question was why don't you sell this house and move to an easier place to live? Her answer was the next time she moves it's going to be in the coroners wagon.
      Next up are handicap rails in the tub/shower. I am of the opinion that every home should have them and not just for people who need them. I bought a house that had been handicap equipped and I was using those bars long before I needed them. If you have balance problems from a medical condition or even from medication then they are invaluable since the bathroom is the most dangerous room in the house. I once broke 4 ribs falling in the tub and that was 20 years ago when I was healthy and strong as an ox. If I had a bar to grab that wouldn't have happened and if it happens now it might kill me. While we are in the bathroom make sure there is a non-slip surface everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Having the bottom of the tub nice and sticky doesn't help if the mat skids out from under you when you are stepping out.
       If you are stuck in a wheelchair the problems are obvious but the solutions often aren't. I'm pretty sure those upper cabinets in the kitchen are no good to you. The easy fix and one I used was to pick up a buffet style chest of drawers which offered dish/glass/utensil storage at chair level as well as a work surface at a friendlier height since kitchen counters are built for people standing. I have also lowered a kitchen sink. And back in the bathroom a pedestal style sink was installed to permit the chair to move all the way in as well as make more room for manuevering. If you are on your feet but back problems limit your mobility then you have the reverse problem and it's probably the lower cabinets that are no good for you. If this is the case then see if you can maximise the use of the uppers and even expand into adjoining spaces with more. Once again in the bath wall mounted storage if you have the space is great to move all that stuff you keep under the sink into.
        If your pain is shoulder oriented and range of motion is a problem for you then that is a tougher nut to crack. One individual had difficulty lifting their arms over their head so I lowered the upper cabinets right down to the countertop and took the doors off. This allowed use of the remainder of the countertop without having doors knock stuff off when opened and a portable butcher block island was brought in to compensate for lost workspace. Arthritis is a painful disfiguring condition and if it is in your hands then the easy stuff is hard and it hurts. I am writing this while in reach of the mug with the extra large handle so I can two hand it when I have to. Lever style doorknobs replacing standard ones work well for many. Replacing doorknobs entirely with dual swing hinges works better for many. You know at the restuarant when the waiter comes out of the kitchen with a loaded tray using no hands to operate the door? And then a busboy goes in the same door the other way with a loaded tub using no hands? That's what I am talking about
       Well I've gone on long enough. These are just a few basics but any tips you have would be great.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Don't fence me in.

     Today I am going to ramble on about fences. The idea for this topic was given to me by C Lee Reed @ if you are a mom or dad you should check her blog out there is good stuff in there. I want to focus specifically the wooden privacy type that typically comes in pre-assembled 6' X 8' panels and is attached to posts sunk in the ground. This is a good project for a homeowner but you need a strong back and the basic tools. The project gets more complicated if you have uneven terrain you need to follow and there are a few methods for dealing with this but first of all you need to set the corners and gate posts. These are normally the only posts I would set in concrete unless it is an extremely long run of fence. My reasoning is thus..a 6' X 8' solid panel is basically a big sail and when it catches the wind a huge amount of pressure is put on the posts holding it upright. Now logic would seem to dictate that this means concrete to create a stronger installation. The reverse is actually true.
       If you've ever carried a fence panel or even sheet of plywood in a high wind situation you know the stress it can exert. A fence post anchored in concrete does not have the flex needed to absorb this stress. The force is exerted entirely at the point where the post can no longer move and that is where it meets the concrete. This the spot the post will break. A post not anchored in this fashion is not as likely to break since the dirt allows more flexibility. And think about even if one does break do you really want to have to dig up a big chunk of concrete to replace a post? The corners need to be sunk in concrete because they need to be plumb and stay that way. Any gate posts need it for the same reason plus the need to support a gate and it's hardware.
       How you deal with differences in elevation depends on circumstance and severity. If it is minor differences you need to cope with well then its just a matter of allowing the fence to organically flow or you can pull a string across the posts from corner to corner at the desired height. using the string as a guide you can mark and cut your post tops and use them as a guide to set the panels. If the differences in elevation are extreme you probably want to step your panels up or down and cut the post tops after installation. I hope these tips help and thanks once again to C Lee Reed at get on over there for tips on things I don't understand like raising children.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

How much?

     Once again my inspiration for today comes from Jill @ She wants to know how to keep from getting scammed. She has kids at home and is more or less at the mercy of an industry with a less than stellar reputation. In order to keep yourself and your bank account safe while ensuring the tradesman gets a fair price here is what you do. Check re-check and triple check. If it's a plumber then choose one who has been in business for long enough to have a good BBB rating. Same with an electrician. If you own a home and are likely to need the services of tradesmen start taking note of trucks and company names doing business in the neighborhood. Do not EVER do business with anyone who solicits work from you. If you did not call a business with a working phone number and schedule an appointment shut the door on them and deadbolt it.
      Always know a guy. You know that guy. He's the guy that even if he can't fix it he can tell what's wrong and tell you. A cracked fitting or a leaky valve, or simply a failed heating element do not necessarily mean the water heater is bad. The plumber may be giving you solid advice when he says you need a new one but it really depends on the age and condition of the tank. If it is old and inefficient you probably want a new one even if the old one can be repaired. Here is a tip if you have the vehicle that can do it and you know you need a new one then go get it yourself. There is typically a plate with all the pertinent information on it just write it down and head to the place that sells these things.
       When you get to the store find an old guy. I am not saying that the staple in a kids eyebrow or the bone in his nose makes him stupid, what I'm saying is sometimes there is no substitution for experience. All in all avoiding a scam is as simple as doing your homework. An honest business will be happy to give you references and you should check them. An honest business will have honest employees. Ask for ID and write down their names because you want to know who has been in your home. Also friends and family can be used as sources if they have recently had similar work done. An honest business will give you an invoice that includes all parts, labor and warranty information. When a tradesman shows up have a number ready. Tell them you need to be told if the price is going to exceed that number. Any project can get expensive quickly and it isn't always the fault of the tradesman trying to gyp you. But having a number agreed on between you can prevent a nasty surprise when they present the invoice.
      Once again thank you to Jill @ for the inspiration and good luck with any task you take on.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Let's split.

    Today's topic comes courtesy of Jill from a great site to check out especially if you are going to be in or near the Houston TX area. She wants to split one big bedroom up into two smaller ones. This is a job I have actually performed a number of times and sounds simple to me. I say it sounds simple but there are numerous considerations beyond just building a wall. First and most obvious is access to each room. If you put up a wall separating rooms and stick a door in it then you have a less than desirable situation. This scenario involves bedrooms and access to a bedroom should never be through another bedroom. It's OK to access the kitchen by going through the dining room but these are bedrooms and the privacy issues of both bedrooms are compromised by this set up. This might not be a problem if we are dealing with small children but as they grow it will become one. It will also kill you at resale if you ever choose to put the house on the market.
      We also must consider egress. Fire safety codes address this concern but it is often overlooked if you have chosen to circumvent the whole permitting /inspections process. (wink wink). This does not lessen its importance however. Each of the now two separate rooms requires its own emergency exit and is normally just a window to the outside large enough to allow safe passage for a human of normal size. Without being familiar with this particular project there may need to be a window added or re-sized for this reason.
       Moving on to electrical considerations. Each room needs overhead lighting that is independently switched. I don't care what they say about hiring a professional electrician. If you are an advanced home repair/remodeler this is something you can handle yourself. If you are not, call a pro. If you are not sure call a pro. One of the things to consider especially in the south is the location of the ceiling fixture and its quality of installation. The best way to handle this is to install a box that is designed to hold a ceiling fan. A fan/light combo is best for a room even if it isn't in the budget right now. It certainly could be a future project and doing the advance prep makes perfect sense right now even if you install a cheap light as a 'get by' feature.That wall you built to split the rooms probably needs a couple of receptacles on each side as well.
       There you have it. I spoke in generalities not knowing the specifics of this case but these are the basics in order to maintain the proper form and function of a home. Individual details are open to change based on your site, budget, and judgement. Just remember not to let your budget cloud your judgement. Once again many thanks to Jill @ for today's inspiration and good luck with your project.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The heat is on

     Who would have thought that Florida would be the place to go to escape the heat? It seems as though a large portion of the US is in the grips of a heatwave that makes a day in the sunshine state seem like a good idea about now. What are us natives that claim superiority in the coping with heat stress supposed to think? Well in the first place we sympathise with you and understand the suffering. You need to hydrate any way you can and the news is reporting water shortages. If there is no way your work or active life provides a way out of the sun here are a couple tips.
         Give up the bottled water addiction. This is no time to be a bottled water snob. If that is all you can find then go for it but any clean drinking water source is perfectly acceptable for your needs. If it makes you feel better fill that brand name bottle that was originally filled at a tap elsewhere from your own. This will allow you to maintain the artificial appearance of taste and class regardless of availability.
         Public fountains maintained for their aesthetic appeal and improvement of public spaces are great places to wet that towel you are carrying to dry the sweat. They are usually clean and chlorinated like a swimming pool and adding the moisture to your skin will help cool you down.
         Stick to the shade. That sunny path that is perfect in April can scorch your brain now so find an alternate if you can. Heat related illness is very real and can sneak up on you quickly. You want to avoid the alcohol since it will add to the dehydration factor so maybe a tall glass of water instead of a beer to wash down lunch might be in order. Similarly caffeinated beverages add to the body losing water so marinating in coffee or tea before heading out could be a bad idea.
          Sports drinks claim to be scientifically formulated to help replace the electrolytes lost to perspiration. I cannot refute this claim with any evidence to the contrary but I can tell you that 30 years framing houses in the Florida sun has taught me that the added sugar can make you sick. Plain water always worked best for me and eating the foods rich in the electrolytes you are seeking to replace will do the job. Soda was never a viable option unless I wanted to be puking off the edge of the slab. Bottom line is try to stay wet inside and out and you'll feel better and avoid heat stress/stroke but if you just start to feel 'wrong' get out of the heat and rest.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Getting it right can go wrong.

To take the Walt Kelly quote "We have met the enemy and he is us" out of context a little isn't hard to do. It was penned in different times but holds relevance through the ages. Oftentimes the worst thing you can do is nothing. Other times the something you do is worse. It is an absolute truth that you can be your own worst enemy if you blindly stumble in without doing the research. I believe it to be a fact in the Internet age with the amount of information literally at our fingertips that any project can be accomplished by anyone. If you don't make use of this valuable asset you are working against yourself from the outset and could well wind up paying someone like me to tidy up your mess. This needn't be the case.
       Planning can save you time, money, effort and frustration. What is not to love about that? You can pick a project, research materials, locate them, purchase the tools to work with them and have it all in front of you at the beginning of the task instead of a bunch of running back and forth because you have the wrong blade or forgot the primer. Larger projects like a deck can actually be planned at the big bonanza warehouse superstore. What will happen is they will get on a computer that will render a 3D rendition of your project and give you a list of a bunch of stuff you don't need but the computer is programmed to try to sell you. This is OK as long as the store's return policy allows for the return of the stuff you find you don't actually use.
      An afternoon spent planning the weekend before the actual project can mean the difference in a success or a boondoggle that you wish you never undertook. Use all the tools at your disposal and if you happen to be reading this then you have a good one at your fingertips. You can read the back of a can of paint for application instructions but you can find a video online for application demonstrations. This is a case where doing your homework means you really ought to do your homework before you start the homework.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Is it worth it?

        At some point this question will arise even if it's only one you ask yourself in a moment of frustration.The answer is yes even if you have a strong case for the other one. I could tell you all about how perseverance builds character but you've probably heard that speech before and if you haven't then there was a missing influence during your developmental stages that you really could have used but can make up for yourself. Arriving at the end of a project is a journey. But it is a journey you undertook and will be upset with yourself if you abandon. Oh sure you will blame other factors for it's abandonment but without getting too psychological on you none of them are to blame. It is you plain and simple lacking the drive to push through obstacles. If you have a paint project and it doesn't turn out well you have a choice. You can say 'to heck with it' and throw it away. Or you can clean it up do a little research into the problem and have another go at it. If you simply give up then you were never committed in the first place and may want to look into a new hobby.
       Why would you begin a project you were not committed to to begin with? Well there are several reasons it could happen. There is a proliferation of television programming demonstrating the ease with which such things are accomplished. The actual work required and a realistic time frame for completion are not disclosed. There is one show that depicts people picking up items at a flea market for a song and transforming them in a matter of hours into artwork that sells for incredibly unrealistic prices. Do not expect this. They have a team with a fully equipped shop and professional talent at their disposal.You can expect zero help and a requirement to make do with what you have or purchase to complete.
        Look at it like this. Anyone can pick up some sandpaper and sand an old finish down to an acceptable surface for the application of a new one. The people on TV have guys. They have guys with an extensive arsenal of power tools and the knowledge to use them. You may wind up with a pack of sandpaper and elbow grease don't expect similar results. Bottom line is if you begin a project you need to begin it with the commitment to see it through. A setback should be simply a setback and not a finish line.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Is this the best you can do?

           There is an old adage that says "Do the best you can with what you have". This becomes an amusing enigma when the best you can is faced with the worst you've ever seen. Fear not, simplify. Let's take the example of a patch of rotten wood on the house. We aren't talking rocket surgery here anyone can fix it I am proof of that. Sure, it make take you longer than someone you pay to do it but if you have the time and basic tools to invest it makes sense to try. First check out the scope of the job and balance that with the time available to you to dedicate to its completion. Things to consider are will you be doing this in spare time or do you have full time to dedicate to it. Full time is considered a job and is not considered breaks for TV, BBQ, playing with the dog, being a proper dad, handling honey do's or anything else. Also consider any assistance required. If your help is there to drink the beer you bought for helping or talk fishing or girls or whatever then this is not help and is an option best discarded. If your help is a guy you know who also knows how to do the work you have in front of you then you are ahead of the game and have become his/her help. Reward them appropriately by providing everything needed and pitching in where you can. If your help is just an equally unskilled but willing aide reconsider your relationship. Are they willing to follow your direction or are they headstrong and apt to try to take control? 3 guys can do the same job 3 different ways and the job can be done well. 2 guys trying to do the same job at the same time 2 different ways will be lucky to get it done at all.
            Rotten wood repair is pretty much a matter of reverse assembly followed by reassembly. But this must be with an eye toward correcting the circumstances which caused it in the first place. For instance if it is rotten siding in a place where wooden siding is always going to rot then perhaps wood siding is a bad choice for this spot and another material should be selected but that is another subject for another day. Maybe rain runoff had splashed back and ruined the bottom. If that is the case then gutters just became a part of the project. At this point you can choose to split it up into seperate projects but you can't choose to put them too far apart on your schedule. The main thing to think about going in is that you really have two problems. You have the problem and you have the problem which caused the problem and fixing the problem means fixing both problems. Got it? Good. If not you will always have the problem and putting up new wood just to watch it rot means you never really fixed anything you simply slowed down the cycle of decay.
         Granted, not every situation is caused by a problem in your control since some things have to be considered plain old fashioned maintenance. There are environmental issues that take their toll. Some places are hot, humid, muggy, and buggy. You can employ proper pest control practices to mitigate the bugs but you can't control nature all you can do there is use the proper material for the job. There are places that are extremes from scorching to fridgid and those will take a toll no matter what the scale of your diligence to upkeep. The key here is to stay on top of it. Every Spring you take care of what the previous Summer and Winter have dealt you. That way you can enjoy Fall football and raking leaves without worrying.

Monday, July 1, 2013

DIY FYI you don't get from TV.

Here are some of the things you won't find out from the smiling host with the perfect teeth and soap star good looks about the project that got you all fired up on that last show and made you want to try it for yourself. You have to think about it and it will make sense.
First off think about the fact that they are spending 30 to 60 minutes polishing and selling you a project that they claim you can do in a weekend. Adjust that for commercial time and allow for the witty banter between host/homeowner/crew and you get a better idea of the actual time dedicated to giving you the knowledge and information to successfully tackle the job yourself. Make no mistake they ARE selling you the project because the project actually being attempted is what is selling the products. Product manufacturers are not willing to spend big money on advertising that has little chance of benefiting them. thus the main objective of the show after you sort out all the fluff is to sell product.
A good example even if it is rather generic is everyone uses household cleaners and mops and such but the won't sell many of them to the guys watching the basketball game so that's not where their advertising budget will be spent. They will however sell them to the people who couldn't stand another ballgame and decided to go shopping till it was over and these people got their product ideas planted during a nauseating episode of Kardashian something or dancing with washed up has beens. The basketball game sold advertising to the people who make a snazzy bottle of goop that when you wash with it will cause beautiful women to be irresistibly attracted to you.
OK I hope I have cleared up the primary motivation of all the major players here but understand there is a whole set of secondary concerns which is why it is so complicated and takes an entire production company to handle. You must be entertained or you will not watch and will not ultimately buy. This is why the DIY/actors/salesmen are charming, witty and attractive. Also there is genuine interest in your ultimate success since that ups the likelihood of you being a return customer. To this end they employ real tradesmen and fill a good portion of the 30-60 minutes allotted (minus the aforementioned advertising and mugging for the camera) with good honest tradecraft and tips. Based on the level of your experience and the time you actually have to dedicate to the project the timeline indicated to you is more than likely pure fiction. Remember when you take on this project you are taking on the work of an entire team of professionals in addition to execution there will be planning/design. shopping and stocking and a lot of the ugly stuff that doesn't make it to TV like cleaning and prep. I'm not trying to scare you off I want you to get it done and have the satisfaction of a job well done, understanding the true nature, cost and effort you are putting into the project before you begin can make the difference between a nightmare you will regret and a thing of beauty you will be proud to tell people "I did it myself!".

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Working outside in the Summer.

Working outside in the Florida Summer can be fun. This I know because reliable sources have assured me that it has been done. I guess it has a lot to do with what you are working on and with who. It could also be a measure of the lack of entertainment choices you have going for you. But there are are some givens that are going to interfere with the fun and these are not Florida exclusives but rather Florida specialties. It will be buggy and muggy. Depending on the task and location it may be toothy and muddy. Slimy, scaly, rotten and smelly are also common adjectives used to describe an outdoors task in the "sunshine" state.
Do not let this discourage you it is part of the sacrifice you pay for living in paradise and if your state offers conditions that are comparable to the ones listed here I suppose it could be considered paradise as well but I am here to tell you a beach is a big bonus for the clean-off after the mess has been conquered if you have one you know exactly what I mean.
There are a couple of necessary steps to successful completion of a task outdoors in a hot climate. If your idea is calling a guy and paying him to do it then I am talking to that guy not you. But if you are the guy/gal then step 1 is to hydrate. I mean with water or other body friendly electrolyte carrying drink designed for that purpose not knocking back cold-uns in the sun till you give up and swear you'll fix it next week end. Step 2 unless you are blessed is the bug juice to keep the worst of the biters at bay and until I pick up a sponsorship I'm not going to recommend a specific one. This only helps with the everyday pests and not with particularly nasty beasties you may run into during the course of whatever task you have set in front of you so if you are afraid or allergic there may be other situation specific precautions to take. Step 3 is dress for excess. In other words it's gonna be hot but you need to be smart about your clothing. When I framed houses as a younger man the uniform of the day was shorts, sneakers, a t-shirt and a ball cap. And the t-shirt came off early to handle sweat rag duties. I mention this because it is true that the wisdom of age is wasted on youth and quite frequently on other people of a similar age.
Dressing well is key to comfort and longevity (can you say melanoma?) I find that sunscreen properly applied makes me hotter so a lightweight long sleeved shirt works best. A long sleeve shirt will actually contribute to cooling you down by absorbing sweat and giving an evaporative cooling effect and it will keep the need for the sunscreen down as will the lightweight long pants you put on for the same reasons. Pitch the ball cap in favor of a full brim to keep the sun off of your neck and don't even consider flip flops. You are now ready to brave the chore ahead good luck.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Liar Liar.

I never met a tool I didn't like. Lie. There has been more than one time that I chucked a 'tool' because it didn't do its job as well as something else I came up with.

Always pay for quality. Lie. If you are only going to do a job once then buy the cheapest tool that will get the job done. You can pay $1200 for a tile saw but if you don't set tile for a living then the $99 one will see you through any project in the house.

Tools make the man. Lie. Skills make the man. A skilled crafstman with a basic set of tools will do a better job than an amatuer with a complete set of top of the line wizardry.

Bigger is better. Lie. Too many people oversize the tool for the job at hand. For instance if you can't loosen that fitting with the appropriate size pipe wrench then you have an issue a bigger one will only make worse.

I can't do this. Lie. You may need help but if you want to get it done you can do it. You may need help with certain skills or you may need help with the heavy lifting but if you know what you want and understand your capabilities you will know what help to get.

That roof leak can wait. Lie. If it has already caused damage you can see then there is more you can't see.

If I finish this then she'll quit bugging me. Lie. When you finish this it will be time to start on that. Get used to it. If you didn't want projects in front of you then you never should have flashed your skills. Once she knows you can she will see to it that you do.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Another one in the bag.

       Well another holiday season has come and gone and I hope it went well for everyone. Now we get down to the real nitty gritty part of winter. Living in Florida as I do we don't really have to worry about cold weather as much as a large percentage of the world does. This is good and bad. Good because we don't get many really cold days and bad because many of us are woefully unprepared for the ones we do get. Every year I hear about fires in homes and people losing everything sometimes even their lives in a bid to stay warm.
         This leads me to my topic today which is heater safety. I'm not talking about Newer homes where the heat source is a part of a well equipped central A/C system. I'm talking about the folks in homes without central heat who primarily rely on space heaters whether electric, kerosene, or wood burning stoves or fireplaces. Each one has it's benefits and dangers and I won't discuss the benefits here in detail because I wish to focus on the dangers.
          First I will discuss kerosene heaters. Depending on the age and model of your heater it should have built in safety features but the features are no substitute for proper operation and maintenance. First of all you must observe the safety precautions dictated by common sense. Keep any and all flammables well clear of the heater and also since kerosene heaters operate as a combustion heater meaning they burn a fuel in order to produce heat they also consume oxygen as part of the combustion process and produce Carbon monoxide as a by-product. Adequate ventilation is an absolute must for safe operation of a kerosene heater and a functional CO2 alarm can help make sure you wake up in the morning. Kerosene heaters need to be refueled and it is imperative that this takes place outdoors after the heater has cooled and any fuel spilled in the process should be thoroughly cleaned up before any attempt is made to relight the heater. I recommend just shutting it off at night and adding blankets to the bed. If that isn't an option then make sure it is fueled and a safety check has been done before bed time because trying to refuel a heater half asleep in the middle of a cold night leads to dangerous shortcuts being taken.
          Woodstoves and fireplaces have their own set of safety requirements and really should be addressed separately because they are two very different animals. A fireplace is normally built into a wall and can be either a manufactured or site built masonry unit. For practical purposes a fireplace is more an aesthetic fixture than a realistic way to heat a space unless specific upgrades have been installed to make more efficient use of the heat generated by the burning of the wood such as air circulation units that force air through tubes heated by the fire and out into the room. A huge percentage of the heat generated by a fireplace is lost up and out of the chimney. I won't discuss gas fireplaces here because quite frankly I don't know enough about them good  or bad but I am sure they come with their own set of safety precautions. Woodstoves by contrast are more efficient than a fireplace since they are commonly of cast iron that absorbs heat energy from the burning wood and radiates it out in a 360 degree radius and as such requires substantial clearance on all sides from any combustibles and the building structure itself. This means they take up a large amount of space and if your room is small it just may not be practical. Woodstoves and fireplaces have one thing in common you should never go to sleep with an open flame in either one and the safety measures should secured (screens and/or doors on a fireplace) and the doors tightly shut on a woodstove.
             This brings us to electric heaters. The #1 thing I can say about electric heaters is just keep them up to date. I have seen some real dinosaurs in the flea markets and garage sales and it just isn't worth cheaping out this way. Newer electric heaters have become cheaper and also safer with internal breakers, tip over sensors, better thermostats and selective power levels. Don't chance it with some flea market relic that is a disaster waiting to happen. Get a newer, smaller, safer and more efficient heater and throw away those fire starters you drag out of the attic every year and make the whole house smell like burning dust.