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!".