Monthly Archives: March 2015

  • Handyman Help: Upgrade a Wall Outlet with USB Functionality

    These days it seems like gadgets rule our lives– from iPads to external battery charges, USB outlets are in demand. With a little DIY handyman work, you can update wall outlets to include up to two USB slots. There are several ready-made options for USB outlets that can be plugged into a regular outlet. However, these devices stick out from the wall. If you want to avoid bulky walls, USB sockets can be inserted into the wall like a standard outlet. Note that this job may require some wall patching at the end. USB

    To begin, find an outlet you want to replace (other than GFCI outlets with a button since USB outlets do not have GFCI functionality built-in). Turn off the power to the room in which the socket is located. Unscrew the current wall plate and remove it, then unscrew the electrical outlet from the junction box.

    At this point, make a note of how the socket is currently connected, either by drawing a quick diagram or taking a picture on your phone. Carefully remove the power wires from the existing outlet. Some USB outlets only have one neutral wire terminal. In this case, outlets with a middle-of-run wired outlet will require you to combine two wires in one. Many USB outlet kits supply a knot and extra wire for this purpose.

    Next, attach the wires to the new USB outlet and push the wires back. Screw the USB outlet into the junction box. Turn the power back on and if the polarity mismatch indicator is glowing, the wiring was not done properly. In this case, you’ll have to unscrew the outlet and fix the wires.

    If there is no glow, turn the power back off and screw in the wall plate cover. Clean up the area and turn the power back on. If the wall requires some patching, use a caulking gun to seal any spaces. Allow it to dry and sand down any rough spots. Caulk and other tools required for this handyman job can be found at

  • Safety & Sanitation – How to Manage A Home Renovation with Hired Crew

    If you’ve hired a contractor and crew to complete major renovation work in your home, there are some issues you’ll likely have to address. Having strangers work in your personal space may seem like a major inconvenience, but maintaining an attitude of professionalism is a must. Being overly friendly can come back to haunt you, while displaying any form of hostility will only make the project more stressful. Expect to deal with the following issues:

    Construction Worker

    Interaction – The best thing any homeowner can do when it comes to interacting with a hired crew is stay out of the way. They have been hired to deliver a specific service. Hanging around to talk or observe will result in an awkward situation. Carry about your day normally while letting the crew know you are around, in case questions arise.

    Valuables – Do not leave valuables or meaningful items lying around. Unless you know the crew personally, there is always a small chance that things can go missing.

    Communication – Questions or concerns about the project should go to the team leader or straight to the contractor. Do not ask other crew members for status updates.

    Bathroom – Before signing the contract for work on your house, consider if you would be okay letting crewmembers use the bathroom. Your decision may be based on the number of bathrooms in your home or how strongly you feel about cleanliness. If you opt against bathroom use, consider including a portable bathroom on site that can be drained, cleaned, disinfected, and deodorized on a regular basis.

    Comfort – There is no need to offer snacks, lunch, or water on a daily basis, but doing so every now and then to show your appreciation is okay. If the crew is working outside during the winter, their supervisor should have a heating device such as the Tradesman natural gas heater onsite. In the event that the boss has neglected to set workers up with a heat source, you may want to allow them to come in for a few minutes to warm up.

    Safety – Clear out the area being renovated to allow the crew to move around freely without danger of hurting themselves or damaging your personal items.

  • Handyman Help, Advanced – DIY Concrete Driveway

    Taking on a DIY concrete driveway project is challenging even for the most advanced DIY enthusiasts. Managing a concrete driveway project from start to finish takes patience, time, and persistence, but the benefits may be worth it. Concrete driveways are low maintenance, decrease erosion, create an additional space for children to play outdoors, and are easier to clean. Here is an outline of what goes into building your own concrete driveway.

    Concrete Driveway

    Determine the path of your driveway. Consider how busy your street is; will you back in or back out; are there permanent trees or bushes on your property that cannot be removed; is your property on an incline; does it make sense to build a circular driveway instead of a straight one, etc.

    Figure out your costs. Consider the amount of concrete you will need, reinforcement materials, the types of forms you will use, equipment that will be rented, and the cost of hiring extra hands to help out.

    Check with local agencies about any necessary permits needed to proceed with the project.

    Determine the soil-bearing characteristics of your site. Soft or loose soils may need amending to support your driveway. Consult a builder or engineer if you are unsure before proceeding because an unsteady base means the concrete will not settle properly into a secure soil foundation.

    Use small wooden or metal stakes to lay out the sides of your driveway. When working outdoors in extreme cold, using a heater to keep workers safe from frostbite. The Mr. Heater Tank Top Heater from is perfect for outdoor construction projects such as this. Once you are confident the jobsite is safe, tie builder’s line to help you and your workers better visualize the driveway. Proceed to remove sod or any other vegetation located within the builder’s line. If your project required fill material, crushed stone or gravel is best for very cold climates as they will prevent cracks from forming and expanding due to precipitation.

    Before adding fill or setting forms, find out if there are underground lines that require modifications. Next, install the forms for the driveway. Lumber is commonly used and anchored with wooden stakes to support the form boards. Driveways are usually set with at least four inches of concrete – thicker for properties with heavier vehicles or poor soil conditions. Grade the fill material or existing soil so that your concrete will be the correct thickness once you are ready to pour it.

    Use a plate compactor or a hand tamp to compact the fill material and install reinforced steel if you want some extra security for your concrete. Plan the pour of the concrete with extreme care. If your driveway is big, and your budget allows for rental of a concrete truck, this is the best solution. Alternatively, use a wheelbarrow – which is very labor intensive, or hire a concrete pumping contractor to place the material.

    Once the concrete is poured, use a broom to get the surface as flat as possible. Cure the concrete with a layer of plastic sheeting or by applying a curing compound. Once the driveway has been sufficiently cured, test it out by driving your car on it. To complete this intense DIY project, remove the forms and repair any landscaping as needed.

  • Weekend Warrior: How to Make A Cob Oven

    If you are looking for a project to complete over the course of a weekend, building a cob oven is a great idea! Cob ovens are baking ovens that are heated by lighting a fire inside. They can be made with natural materials. With this project, there’s no need for exhaustive effort or complicated equipment. These ovens can bake pizzas and breads, and create mouthwatering roasts. Food cooks very quickly since the oven is superheated. Expect pizzas to finish in about 5 minutes, while a large duck may take just 45 minutes to roast. Cob Oven

    The main necessary materials for this project include clay, sand, sawdust, firebrick, gravel, and old cinder blocks. You’ll want to build a foundation that raises the oven off the ground and onto an appropriate working height. Typically about 40” off the ground is a good average height. Build the base with masonry material – clay, sand, straw, etc.

    Once this base reaches about waist level, fill it with a non-compressible material like tamped gravel. Include an additional 4” layer of sand, extending just above the sides of your base. Pat down and level out the sand. Next, build the floor of the actual oven with firebricks, packing the bricks close to each other. You’ll want to make sure that the bricks are level. If necessary, take some extra time on this step. The nicer the oven floor, the fewer problems you will have when the oven is up and running.

    The next step is making the dome for the oven cavity. Start shaping the dome with sand – the width should be the diameter of the baking space you desire. Make the height of the dome 75% of whatever your width is. Add a layer of newspaper over the dome so when you dig out the sand, you’ll know when to stop digging.

    Build the clay mass over the dome, keeping the first layer to just sand and clay. Ensure that the mixture has a sticky consistency, but also enough sand so that the layer won’t shrink and crack too quickly over time. This generally means between 20-25% of total clay content. Make this layer about 4” thick all the way around the sand dome.

    Once the clay mass is completed, add the insulation layer of straw and a bit of clay. To complete this step, use a clay mixture that is 50% clay and 50% sand. Wet the mixture so that it has the consistency of a milkshake, adding plenty of straw to soak up the mixture. Add the layer to the dome so that it is about 6” thick. This layer will help keep the heat inside the oven for as long as possible.

    Sculpt the door in the insulating level. If you are not making a chimney, the door should be two-thirds as high as the inside dome, to allow fresh air to feed your fire. Allow the oven to dry thoroughly and then pull out the sand with a clay spade chisel from to create the opening for your food. Once done, let the oven dry for a few days before you use it for the first time.

  • Handyman Help: Repairing Rotten Wood

    Rotted wood on doors, stairs, and outdoor areas can be repaired with a bit of handyman knowledge. The project will require you to remove the rotted section and fill the hole with wood filler. Materials and tools may be found at including: a flat-head screwdriver, wood chisels, a hammer, wax paper, sandpaper, drill with driver bits, a paintbrush, disposable mixing tray, rubber gloves, safety goggles, rags, flexible putty knives and plastic spreaders, 2-part wood-patching compound, and 2-inch all-purpose screws. Autumn

    Using the screwdriver or chisel, dig out the rotted wood until you get to wood that is strong and solid. Coat the exposed wood with the wood hardener to help guard wood against future deterioration. Note that some wood hardeners are highly flammable and toxic. It is important to work in an area that is open and ventilated.

    Next, drive a few screws into the damaged area to support the patching compound. Situate the screws about an inch away from each other. Mix the patching compound until it has a glue-like consistency. Typically, the compound will dry within 5 to 15 minutes, so fill the damaged area at a steady pace. Use enough compound to overfill the hole, keeping the excess smooth. Allow the material to dry and then sand it down. Prime and paint the compound. Make sure to replace any damaged trim.

    Another method for fixing rotted wood is via an epoxy penetrant and filler. Instead of replacing the damaged wood, it can be repaired with specialty epoxy penetrants and fillers. Doing so is generally faster and the fixed wood is stronger than the original.

    Epoxy penetrants and fillers can restore rotted wood in windows, columns, frames, decorative wood components, and even broken furniture. If you are fixing wooden siding, rather than removing the boards, drill a series of holes one inch apart and halfway through the wood. Then mix the epoxy and paint it over the bad parts of the siding. A syringe can be used to inject the penetrant into the holes. After the material is hardened, use the epoxy filler to reshape the missing part(s) and paint over, if desired.

  • Handyman Help: Staircase Maintenance

    Staircases are exposed to weight and constant usage over time. It’s not surprising that staircases can eventually start to creak, crack, or even break permanently. Staircase maintenance should be done regularly to check on minor problems. These problems are best addressed right away to prevent the problem(s) from worsening. Many issues may not be obvious to the naked eye. Getting under the stairs is the easiest way to inspect and fix potential damage – especially on stairs that are carpeted.

    Have a helper walk up and down the staircase while checking for movement in the joints underneath. Mark any stairs that need attention. Address problem stairs using the techniques below. Staircase

    Materials and tools needed for staircase maintenance can be purchased at These items include wood glue, block(s) of wood, panel pins, wedges, a pin hammer, circular saw, and carpenter’s square.

    Creaking or Damaged Treads or Risers: Treads and risers are tightly positioned, typically. The wedges can loosen, causing the stair to move and creak. Carry out repairs of this sort from below the stairs, if possible.  If treads or risers split, they can be replaced in an open-string staircase by removing the balusters and fasteners from the damaged tread or riser. Slide out the broken part and use it as a template to cut a new part, slip the new part into place, and replace the fasteners and balusters.

    Repairing Creaking Stairs from Below: If a wedge is loose under the noisy stair, remove it and use as a template to cut a new wedge. Apply wood glue to the sides and position it firmly into place. The wedge must fit tightly to prevent movement in the joint. Once tight, glue a reinforcing block across the joint between the tread and riser. Secure the block by drilling pilot holes through the block and into the stair, but be careful not to accidentally penetrate the outer surface.

    Repairing a Broken Baluster: On a closed-string staircase, lever up the fillet below the broken baluster using a chisel. Use this part as a template to trim a replacement. Replace the fillet and pin it into place using a panel pin. Decorate, if desired, to hide the repair.

  • Weekend Warrior: Doghouse Construction

    Building a shelter for dogs is essential, particularly in regions of the country where there are extreme changes in weather. To ensure protection against heat, humidity, rain, snow, and freezing temperatures, you must create a safe environment for your dog. Assembling a simple doghouse can be completed over the course of a weekend. Keep in mind that the doghouse should be proportional to the size of your pet – there is no need to build a huge space for a small dog.


    Purchase the necessary tools from saw with a miter box, hammer, multi-bits screwdriver, file, tape measure, ruler, protractor, a pair of compasses, and a power drilling machine. In terms of material, pick up plywood sheets, 2x2 studs, one drywall bull nose, screws, nails, 8 L-shaped braces, and 2 T-shaped braces.

    First, put together the framing, cutting 4 identical sections for the length of the house, 4 identical sections for the width of the house, and 6 identical sections for the height of the house. Assemble 2 of the length section pieces with 2 of the width sections pieces to act as the bottom of the frame. Redo the same step with the other pieces to make the top of the frame. Screw the 6 remaining sections perpendicular to the bottom section with longer screws, and secure them at the top of the frame as well.

    Next, start assembling front and back siding. Measure the total width and height of the frame from the step above and draw it twice on a piece of plywood – one for the front and one for the back. Add a triangular top and cut out the shape with the help of a saw. Add interior reinforcement to the front and back siding.

    With the front and back siding done, install the left and right siding by measuring the total width and height of the frame, drawing the measurements onto a sheet of plywood, cutting the piece out, and nailing the piece onto the structure.

    Using the pair of compasses, determine where to create the opening for your dog. Cut the opening carefully with the saw. Measure, cut, and nail in the bottom (floor) of the doghouse. Once the floor is done, cut and install the roof pieces. Cut and nail the drywall bull nose to cover the gap between the two roof sections to prevent water from leaking through. Finally, add decorations, patterns, or paint to enhance the look of the doghouse, if desired.

  • Safety & Sanitation: Build a Backup Outhouse

    Building an outhouse may not appeal to everyone, but having one in the backyard does have an array of benefits. If used regularly, an outhouse lowers the water bill, removes bathroom odors from the house during warmer months, and reduces the odds of septic and sewer issues. An outhouse also serves as a backup option in the case of water shortages or if the system is completely shut down for repairs/updates.


    Buy the materials and tools needed from to get started with your outhouse and proceed in the following way:

    • Decide on a location that is at least 200 feet from all water supplies, streams, and lakes.
    • Find a location downwind of where people eat, live, and socialize.
    • Select a shaded area to reduce the heat inside, but do not place directly under trees as you may hit the root system when digging the hole.

    Dig the hole: 4x4 is usually considered a good size. Choose a circle or square pattern based on your personal preference.

    Build the floor: Put planks over the hole, so you have a piece to connect the floor to. These planks should be no smaller than 2x4. Larger planks function better with this project. The planks should extend at least 2 feet on either side of the hole. Cover the planks with flat lumber such as plywood to create the floor and measure where the hole should be. Make the hole at least 2x2 feet and decide on a position under which you will build the seat. (Note: if this will be a squat outhouse, the hole may be 1 to 1 ½ feet across.) Cut out the hole and secure the floor to the planks with screws or nails. Build the seat by making a box out of wood that is larger than the hole in the floor. Secure the box to the floor, make a proper size seat, and then add a commercial seat top.

    Build the sides: Use 2x4 lumber to create a frame. Next, cover the frame with plywood panels to make a fast, easy structure that is sturdy. On one of the 4 sides, draft a frame of a door and cut it out before attaching the plywood to the frame. You can then add the door at the end of the project, or use a temporary curtain.

    Build the roof: Measure the length and width of the outhouse walls and cut plywood to the appropriate dimensions with a saw. Place the plywood on top of the structure and secure it with a drill. Cover the plywood with roll roofing.

    Add a door: The door is optional for those who are comfortable using a curtain to indicate when the outhouse is in use. If you intend to have a door, use hinges and screws to secure it properly to the structure.

    Once the outhouse is complete, be sure to add toilet paper and a flashlight.

  • Handyman Help: How to Remove & Replace a Toilet

    Whether you are updating the entire bathroom or simply switching out a broken bowl, removing and replacing a toilet is a straightforward job. The supply and waste pipes are already in position. With the right equipment from, you can have the job done in one day. Here are steps for this handyman project. Toilet

    Lay out rags and newspaper where you’ll set the old toilet. Turn off the water supply to the toilet and flush it several times to remove all the water from inside the tank and bowl. Disconnect the toilet by unscrewing the nuts that attach it to the water supply line. Next, remove the caps that cover the bolts at the base of the toilet and unscrew the nuts.

    Use a utility knife to loosen the seal by scoring the seal between the bowl and the floor. Rock the toilet side to side to free it from the floor. Place the old toilet on the rags and then remove the wax gasket using a putty knife. Block the drainpipe with a rag and clean the area to remove any excess dust, dirt, or seal from the floor.

    Insert a new wax gasket on the new bowl and apply a bead of caulk to the base of the toilet. Remove the rag from the drainpipe and lower the bowl into place on top of the flange. Press down to ensure proper positioning. Fasten the toilet to the floor by carefully tightening the washers and nuts onto the bolts. Putting too much pressure can cause cracks on the porcelain.

    Use plastic toilet shims, if the toilet is not level. Then fill the caps with plumber’s putty and place over the bolts. Set the new tank on top by inserting the bolts through the base of the tank. Lower the bowl gently to position it correctly. Attach the tank to the bowl by securing the nuts and washers. Check to make sure the tank is level. Set the tank lid on top of the tank, leaving the joint between the two pieces unsealed.

    Connect the supply line between the shut-off valve and the fill valve. Tighten the compression nut to finish connecting the toilet to the water supply. Open the shut-off valve. Finally, apply caulk along the bottom of the toilet to seal the joint between the toilet and the floor. Use a wet finger to smooth the bead of caulk along the joint for a smooth finish.

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