Tag Archives: home maintenance

Updating Your Fireplace Mantle

Whether you’re thinking of selling a house in the near future, or just want to update it to keep pace with your changing tastes and styles, there’s one great remodeling option that can instantly change the entire character of your living room or den:  An update of the fireplace mantle. Unlike most remodeling investments, an updated mantle is one of the few that will usually add more than the price of the remodel to the value of your home, and it is a great way to make your whole house feel new and exciting all over again.

There are a couple of things that you need to keep in mind when considering a new fireplace mantle. The main thing most people think about is whether or not the new mantle will match their current home decor. This is actually not terribly important, and here’s why: a fireplace mantle will almost always become the centerpiece of the room, owing largely to its size and positioning. Since it’s such a large part of a room’s character, it will naturally set the tone for the rest of the room, meaning that it takes a lot less work to “make it fit in” than most people think. In fact, often something as relatively minor as painting the room to match the new mantle will be enough to make it fit.

One of the few times that you DO have to seriously consider the design of your mantle before upgrading is if your home is built in a very pronounced style. For instance, if you have an art-deco style home with lots of straight angles and minimalist design, a heavily embellished mantle will stand out. Or vice versa, if you live in a Victorian home with lots of molding and scroll-work on the walls, getting a sleek, modern mantle might not be doable, if you don’t want it to stand out.

You should also seriously consider your choice of material. If it’s a non-working fireplace, you can get creative with various woods and other non-standard materials; however, if it’s an actively used fireplace, your first consideration should always be function followed by form. Marble, granite, and other glossy stone will add brightness to the room, and will give the fireplace a more formal feeling. Slate, shale, and wood, on the other hand, often have the opposite effect, making a room more warm and inviting. Either way, a fireplace mantle remodel can be a fantastic way to turn your living room or den into the room you want it to be and set the mood for the entire house.

Handyman Matters can help you update your fireplace mantle to become a centerpiece in your living room or den. Enter your zip code above to find a location near you or call us today at 1-866-FIX-MY-HOME to schedule your appointment today.

Get Your Chimney Ready for Fall

Another autumn is upon us and, for many homeowners, this is the time of year when they start making preparations for using their fireplace or wood burning stove, cleaning out the chimney and cutting and preparing the firewood. Unfortunately, many people forget to take the very important steps of checking their chimney cap and masonry to make sure everything is in order and ready for the coming cold season.

Fortunately, making sure your chimney or chimneys are in good condition is a fairly easy task, and one that can be accomplished in less than a couple of hours, provided you can make it up to the roof.

Before you get started, however, you need to understand what you’re going to be checking: the chimney cap. Modern chimneys have multiple parts protruding above the house.

The part most people think of as the chimney cap is actually the rain cap. This piece, made of metal and often shaped like an umbrella, covers the flue opening and prevents rain from entering the chimney, as well as keeping strong winds from creating a downdraft in the flue. This piece is also often covered with a fine steel mesh to keep any sparks that might have entered the chimney from flying out and causing damage. The chimney rain cap should be free of corrosion, and should be attached firmly to the flue and be very difficult to shake.

The actual chimney cap is a concrete base, either poured into the chimney or pre-made, that surrounds the flue and sits on top of the chimney. The purpose of the chimney cap is to create a tight seal between the chimney masonry and the flue, and keep out water. There are a couple of things you should be looking for when inspecting your chimney cap.

First, make sure that the cap is properly constructed. The top of the cap should be gently sloped from the flue to the edge of the cap. The edges of the cap should stick out at least 2.5 inches from the masonry sides, to keep water pouring off the cap and dripping down the masonry. Inspect the concrete for any cracks or chips, as these may lead to water entering your chimney or otherwise damaging the masonry. Also, make sure to check the space between the chimney flue and the chimney cap: It should be sealed with a flexible sealant to allow the flue to expand with heat without cracking the chimney cap.

The professionals at Handyman Matters can prepare your chimney and get it ready for fall. Call us today at 1-866-FIX-MY-HOME or enter your zip code above to find a Handyman Matters in your area.

5 Senior Safety Enhancing Features for your Home

With many Boomers entering retirement age, it’s never been more important to add safety features for seniors into your home – especially since many seniors are opting to stay put in their houses, rather than moving to an assisted care facility. To make sure your loved ones are safe at home, consider adding these 5 safety enhancing features.

1. Hand Rails

Hand rails are generally installed on stairs and in longer hallways to assist with mobility and to reduce the chance of a fall. These types of safety measures are generally quick and inexpensive to install.

2. Wheelchair Ramps

Wheelchair ramps are helpful for homes that have stairs leading to the front door or have smaller levels within the home – usually a sunken living room or a few stairs that lead to the kitchen or another room in the house. Adding a wheelchair ramp adds mobility and allows a person to move around to different rooms more freely while decreasing the risk of an accident.

3. Motion Detector Lighting

Lighting beside the bed and in rooms that aren’t frequently utilized can often cause problems when light switches aren’t directly inside the room. Motion detector lighting simplifies that process by having lights turn on automatically when motion in a room is detected.

4. Bathroom Grab Bars

Bathrooms can quickly turn into a safety issue because of the fact that water can be slippery, as can showers and bathtubs. Many people will install rubber bath mats to help with stability, but bathroom grab bars are also helpful in reducing falls.

5. Non-skid Flooring

Wooden floors as well as linoleum and tile floors in kitchens can become very slippery – especially after being cleaned or polished. Non-skid flooring decreases the likelihood of a fall by making floors more traction friendly with either non-skid tile or a slip-resistant matte finish for existing floors.

At Handyman Matters, we know safety is the utmost importance for your family. That’s why we’ll even provide a complimentary home safety inspection to alert you to any potential safety issues and solutions on how to remedy them. Call us today to set up an appointment or a consultation at 1-866-FIX-MY-HOME or enter your zip code above to find a location near you!


Replacing Household Products Can Keep You Safe

While people take all manner of precautions to ensure the safety and health of their families, some household products may need more attention and maintenance to keep loved ones and the home environment as safe as possible. A recent study shows that many Americans are unknowingly at risk of illness, injury or worse due to living with and using products that have not been properly maintained or replaced.

“Most of us have trained ourselves to pay attention to expiration dates on food,” says Meri-K Appy, president of the nonprofit Home Safety Council. “But, how many of us are thinking about the lifespan of the products we count on and live with every day? It’s easy to take for granted our smoke alarms and our pillows, or even our toothbrushes. But the truth is, if you neglect replacing these and other products, you could be putting yourself at risk.”

Handyman Matters has put together the following list of time-sensitive products that require regular replacement to maintain peak performance:

Smoke alarms – These potentially lifesaving devices have lives of their own and expire after about 10 years or 87,000 hours of service. Yet, a new study conducted by First Alert, a leading manufacturer of home safety products, recently uncovered that nearly a quarter of Americans (23 percent) have either never replaced the smoke alarms in their homes or have not done so in more than six years. Unprotected, these homes and their occupants are in danger of becoming among the 900 lives lost each year in U.S. home fires due to non-working smoke alarms as reported by the National Fire Protection Association. Handyman Matters professional craftsmen can check these devices and replace them as necessary. Call today to schedule your home maintenance check.

It is imperative that smoke alarms be properly maintained to ensure their effectiveness. Alarms should be tested every month and batteries replaced every six months for maximum security. If the alarms in your home are approaching the 10-year mark, or if you can’t recall when they were installed, be safe and replace them immediately.

Carbon monoxide alarms – According to the American Medical Association, carbon monoxide intake is the No. 1 cause of accidental poisoning in the U.S. Still, an alarming 25 percent of American homes are not equipped with any CO alarms and another 23 percent have CO alarms that have never been replaced, according to the recent First Alert study.  The NFPA recommends installing CO alarms outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement. To ensure peak performance, Handyman Matters suggests replacing batteries twice a year and check alarms monthly using the “test” function. When properly maintained, a CO alarm has a life of approximately five years, after which time it should be replaced with a new unit.

Carbon monoxide is an especially dangerous threat because it attacks without warning and can be deadly. The value of CO alarms is so critical that more and more states and municipalities are passing laws that require homes to have CO alarms to protect residents from this silent killer.

Fire extinguishers – Like their alarm counterparts, fire extinguishers need to be regularly checked to ensure that the pressure is at the recommended level and all parts are operable and not damaged. If an extinguisher is damaged in any way or needs to be recharged, it is best to replace the unit completely, advises the U.S. Fire Administration. Disposable models come with expiration dates that inform owners when the unit should be replaced.

Furnace filters – Not only do clean furnace filters help save on energy costs, but they also reduce the risk of fire. Just as full dryer screens can cause fires, so can dirty or clogged filters in the furnace. When replacing an old filter, note that many available products are disposable. But there are other products – such as electrostatic filters – that can be washed and reused time and again, generating even more savings if used and cared for properly.

There are many items around your house that require maintenance checks – you do not want to be caught in a situation where one of these products fails.


Fool-Proof Tips for Cleaning Wood Surfaces

To keep the wood surfaces in your home clean and beautiful without damage, you need to consider the kind of wood and the treatment its receives.

General Cleaning for Wood Furniture and Paneling

One of the first rules of cleaning wood is this: never soak it with water. Wood is porous, and applying water will swell the pores. Water can also damage many types of finishes – the proof is that most of us have a table or desk with tell-tale rings on them left by wet cups.

While dusting with a barely-damp cloth shouldn’t harm painted wood surfaces, any application of water to oiled, lacquered, or unfinished wood is likely to leave permanent, disfiguring marks.
Opt instead for a dry dusting cloth, or use the dusting attachment on your vacuum cleaner to keep wood furniture and paneling clean.Dry or Damp Wood Dusting Cloth

Clean Wood With Vinegar

It isn’t a good idea to clean wood with pure, undiluted vinegar-in addition to leaving water marks, the acid in the vinegar could “eat” certain kinds of finishes. However, for polishing, a homemade treatment of half olive oil and half white vinegar can buff up stained and oiled wood finishes nicely. Simply apply with a soft clean cloth and rub in well. Blot off any excess with a second cloth.

For wood floors, add a cup of white vinegar to your mop bucket for extra grease-cutting power. But don’t let pools of water stand on the wood afterwards, or you may wind up with water marks, especially on darker woods. Stand on a towel and “walk” it around the room to wipe up any excess water.

While vinegar can be safe, DON’T use other solvents like alcohol, ammonia, or acetone-these will damage your furniture or even strip off the paint.

Waxes for Wood Surfaces

Adding a shine to wood furniture, especially antiques or exotic woods, is as easy as applying some wax. Waxes made specifically for wood furniture are designed to provide extra protection from moisture, dust, and stains as well as a pleasing soft sheen. Even better, if you want to refinish your furniture at any point, wax will not cause problems.

Liquid waxes are the easiest to apply, and often dry quickly, but you may need to apply more than one coat to really see results in terms of both looks and protection. The results from liquid wax usually last up to four months, depending on how much wear your furniture gets.

Bona High Gloss Hardwood Floor Polish - 36 ozPaste waxes offer superior, long-lasting protection to fine wood furniture. It isn’t necessary to apply more than one coat to most woods, but the extra effort can take your wood from looking good to looking great. The hard, shiny finish given by paste wax is well worth your time for treating lacquered and oiled woods.

Removing Water Stains

As with stains on fabric, it’s best to treat water stains on wood as soon as possible after they happen. Blot up any excess moisture and try one of the following home remedies, depending on what you have lying around the house:

  • Apply shaving cream. Leave for 5 minutes and wipe up.
  • Apply real mayonnaise on a cloth. Let rest on the stain for up to 10 minutes and wipe off.
  • Gently apply metal cleaner. Leave for 5 minutes and wipe away excess.

All-In-One Wood Cleaners

Finally, many products are available that treat wood while cleaning it. These products, while effective for painted, sealed, and laminated wood surfaces, should be tested in an inconspicuous place on unsealed or oiled woods before trying. These cleaners can be a convenient and effective solution for wood surfaces in areas that are frequently soiled, such as kitchens or bathrooms. Try products from Bona, specially designed to clean sealed woods. Check out our recommended wood cleaning kit below.


Aging in Place with Style and Grace

Aging in place – updating one’s home to accommodate changing needs and abilities as one ages – doesn’t have to mean sacrificing a home’s style and decor. From attractive lighting designed to work well for aging eyes to barrier-free shower stalls that compete in beauty and practicality with what you might find in a luxury community for those 55 and older, plenty of home modifications now make it possible to age in place gracefully and stylishly.

It’s no longer necessary to give up your home’s good looks for a more institutional-looking appearance just to achieve a safer, more usable house; you can age in place and retain the style that makes living in your home comfortable and safe, and maintain your independence at the same time. With more than 78 million baby boomers growing older in the United States, aging in place – and how to do it well – is a hot topic for many homeowners. If you’re planning ahead or thinking it’s now time to update your home to accommodate changing needs, Handyman Matters has a few things for you to keep in mind:

Kitchens and baths are commonly the most challenging rooms in the house for people, like many seniors, with mobility issues. Updating these rooms can go a long way toward helping you stay in and enjoy your own home for as long as possible. Bathrooms, in particular, pose safety issues because falls are one of the leading reasons seniors must go into nursing homes.

When renovating your bathroom, focus on the important elements, including low-level entryways, accessible grab bars, easy grip faucets and showers with safety screens. Other elements include safer, slip-resistant flooring; brighter, more flexible lighting; and safe access to the shower or bathtub. Handyman Matters professional craftsmen can prepare your home for the changing needs of the future.

Stepping in and out of a tub or shower is one of the riskiest times for people with mobility challenges. Appropriately placed grab bars – now available in designer colors and textures – can help improve safety in these high-risk areas. Another option that’s high on safety and style is to replace a current shower or tub with a walk-in shower. The walk-in showers are a good option for wheelchair users or in rooms where a full-size tub is not practical. Have these items installed properly by the professionals at Handyman Matters.

That tile floor that you adored in your 40s can be a slip hazard when you reach your 70s. In fact, any hard bathroom floor surface such as linoleum, vinyl or tile can put you at increased risk of slipping and falling. Carpeting might be a better option, one that is slip resistant and warmer and softer on the feet. Many manufacturers now offer materials that are attractive and able to repel moisture. If installing carpeting isn’t practical for you, use area rugs with sticky backing to help ensure safe footing in high traffic areas, like in front of the commode, sink and bathtub.

Aging eyes not only need more light to see, they need better quality light, especially at night. Avoid dim lighting; older eyes need several times more light than younger eyes to see well. Increase the amount of light in your bathroom and consider using naturally brighter bulbs like compact fluorescent bulbs, which are also energy-efficient.

Be aware of glare, as well. Bright lights bouncing off all-white bathroom surfaces can create glare that makes it difficult to see and navigate for older people, especially at night when they may not be fully awake. If your bath is all white, Handyman Matters can paint the walls a light color in a finish that will help reduce glare. Use area rugs on white floors to help break up the expanse of white and reduce glare.

Boomers aging in place will find more options than ever before to do so with style, but safety should be your first concern – that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy good style and beautiful design as well. Take it from the professionals and let Handyman Matters prepare your home for you to age in gracefully and with good style.


The Value of a Home Inspection

The purpose of a home inspection is to inform the individual buyer of the current condition of the home. The purchase contract the buyer and seller signed is contingent on the home inspection. A buyer will generally have the option, based upon the inspection, to opt out of the purchase, ask for repairs or credit towards repairs or a purchase price reduction.

Many home buyers do not adequately research the profession before hiring an inspector.  What should a home buyer be looking for in a home inspector?

Licensing: Some states require home inspector licensing while others do not. In states that do require licensing, ask for the inspectors’ FULL license number and write it down. This includes any letter-type distinctions in front or in back of the number. This will help tell you if he is a fully licensed home inspector or an intern or apprentice.

Insurance: Does the home inspector carry Errors & Omissions and or liability insurance, and can they provide proof of insurance upon request?  Not all states require insurance. Inquire as to the state insurance requirements and be sure the inspectors have the proper type and amount.

Training: Has the inspector had formal training from a recognized training school? State regulation in the home inspection profession is relatively recent (Many states still do not have licensing or regulation!), so formal training has been mostly optional. Many “old timers” were carpenters, electricians or builders and learned to perform home inspections “on the job.” However, there is no single trade that qualifies someone to move into the field of home inspection without extensive training.

Experience: This is can be a misleading qualification if the right questions are not asked. Years of experience are not as important as the total number of home inspections completed. In a 2005 national home inspection business operations study conducted by the American Society of Home Inspectors (ASHI), over 80 percent of respondents said they were full time home inspectors. Yet almost 40 percent said they perform less than 100 home inspections a year. This discrepancy may indicate that many home inspectors are working at other jobs or are semi-retired individuals. Be sure to ask how many inspections the inspector completes a year:  At least 200 or over would be a good standard. It is also still important to ask overall years of experience and total number of home inspections.

Continuing Education: Even well trained, experienced home inspectors must continually update their skills and knowledge. Licensing requires a minimal amount of continuing education for inspectors to renew their license. Look for home inspectors who go beyond the necessary minimum and spend the time and money to keep their skills current.

Association Membership: Home inspectors who have made the commitment of time, training, testing and money to belong to a reputable professional home inspection society are generally more committed to doing a high quality job for their clients. But be careful; not all home inspection organizations are equal. Some ask for little or no training, knowledge or experience to become a member, while others are very rigorous in their qualifications for membership. A membership logo means little; it’s what’s behind the symbol that counts. Inquire about and research this area fully.  It will provide you with great insight into the home inspectors’ abilities and dedication to performing a top notch home inspection.

The Inspection: How long does the home inspection take? As previously mentioned, short inspection times mean poor quality. A thorough home inspection on an averaged sized home, (1500-2500 sq. ft.) should last 2-4 hours. Also ask if the inspector would like you to attend the home inspection. If they say no, this should alert you that something is wrong with this particular company. A good home inspector should insist that you attend the home inspection if at all possible.

The Report: This is why you hire a home inspector, to provide written detailed information about the house. The first and most important question:  When and how will you receive the report? On site, within 24 hours, a week, by email, regular mail or delivered by the inspector?  What type of report does the inspector use, what is the approximate length, are there pictures included?  Be wary of short reports, 10 pages or less, and long report turnaround times.

Other Qualifications: Ask if the home inspector has additional certifications or licenses in services that you may need in addition to the home inspection. For instance, radon testing is a very common ancillary service provided by many home inspection companies, but many inspectors are not certified or formally trained. Some states may even require certification or licensing in these services. If you are looking to have other services done, be sure to ask about the inspectors’ qualifications to conduct the tests you require.

Miscellaneous Items: There are some things you should confirm when calling to hire a home inspector. Be positive that the inspector that will be doing your home inspection possesses the qualifications stated by the person on the phone. This is especially important when talking with multi-inspector firms. Also will the home inspector be readily available for follow up questions?

Price: The very last question you should ask, not the first. Put quite simply, you get what you pay for. Good home inspectors demand higher prices because of experience and money invested into training to improve their skills and their business for the benefit of their clients. Remember the money you pay a good inspector is an investment. You will very likely receive back from the seller monies well in excess of the home inspection fee. Be certain to choose your inspector wisely.

Having a good home inspection will provide you with valuable information on your prospective purchase and ultimately piece of mind going forward.


21 Questions to Ask to Make Sure Your Project Gets Done on Time

Handyman Matters President and Founder Andy Bell’s commitment to educating consumers is so strong that he spent six months compiling the “Consumer Guide to Choosing a Home Repair or Remodeling Contractor,” which includes 21 questions to ask to make sure your project gets done on time and on budget.

The complete 14-page Consumer-Guide is featured on the company website  and is highly popular, Bell said. It explains what you need to know, why you need to know it and the questions to ask to make sure you get the information you need to make an informed decision.

“As people research their next project, it is the best way they can protect themselves,” he said. “If people follow this guide it is very unlikely they will run into a company that does not deliver as promised.”

The report is the result of extensive customer surveys that identified issues that homeowners are most concerned about. Beware of repair and remodel companies or individuals that can’t satisfactorily answer the following 21 questions:

  1. How long have you been in business?
  2. Do you have complaints filed against you with the Better Business Bureau?
  3. What documentation do you have that proves you’re qualified?
  4. Do you require an advance deposit on all jobs?
  5. What experience or proof do you have that you can do (whatever I need)?
  6. How many times have you done (whatever I need) before?
  7. What guarantee do you have that you will show up on time?
  8. Do I get a written quote (for larger projects) and how is it calculated?
  9. Will you help me make a materials list so I can buy my own materials to save money?
  10. What is your employee screening process before hiring? If working with an individual, check his or her background.
  11. Do you have policies for how you or your employees will conduct themselves in my home? If so, what are they?
  12. How will I contact my craftsperson before and during the job?
  13. What steps do you take to communicate with me before, during and after my job?
  14. Will you come back at no charge and fix any problems with your work that show up after you leave? For how long?
  15. Do you have a written guarantee?
  16. How long will it be before you can start work on my job?
  17. Do you have a current business license and/or contractor license, if local laws require one?
  18. Do you have proof of insurance?
  19. Do you have letters of reference from your bank/suppliers to show that bills are paid and that you are in good financial standing?
  20. Do you have letters of reference from past customers who I can contact?
  21. Do you have a written safety program and follow safe work practices?

Make sure to ask these questions about any contractor that you want to work on your house. It is important to make sure the person coming to complete projects is qualified and is going to get the job done right the first time. All Handyman Matters craftsmen are insured, bonded and experts in the home improvement industry.


It’s Annual Fence Fix-up Time

If you’ve watched home improvement shows that focus on “curb appeal,” you know that a coat of paint or stain on a fence can make a huge difference in the attractiveness of your home. But visual appeal isn’t the only reason to renovate your fence –a worn out enclosure can also put the safety of your home and family at risk.

It’s important to inspect fences, gates and gate hardware around your property to ensure all are in good working condition. Secure fences, with no gaps underneath or between sections, gate hardware that functions properly and with gates that self-close every time, can ensure the safety of the occupants and property in your home, and keep toddlers and pets from getting out into dangerous traffic. They can also reduce your liability from claims resulting from a defective gate.

Weather, from extremes in temperature to ordinary rainfall, can affect gate operation either through the creation of rust, or through freezing and thawing that affects gate alignment. Rusty metal hinges and latches or gate misalignment can lead to gates that no longer close securely, creating conditions that can be dangerous or even deadly if ignored. When was the last time you checked each gate around your property?

Selecting the right gate hardware can easily solve most of these problems. Choose gate hinges and latches that are made of super strong engineering polymers that will not rust, and are adjustable and self-lubricating, requiring little or no maintenance.

Updating your gates so they are self-closing and self-latching, improving the security and overall look of the fence, can be done in just a few minutes with these products.

“In our research, we found that when homeowners consider their fencing needs, rusty metal gate hardware that no longer functions properly was their number one concern,” says Jim Paterson, a senior vice president with a leading manufacturer. “Common gravity latches are inexpensive and function fine when new. However, as soon as rust sets in, these latches no longer close without manual assistance.”

For the fencing itself, rust can present greater challenges. Steel fences and gates, if not protected with an effective sealant such as powder coating, must be periodically repainted with rust-resistant paint to prevent weather-related damage. Existing rust should be removed before painting, and a rust-preventive primer should be used as the first coat.

Wood fencing can be repaired by prying the damaged section out with a pry bar or cutting it out with a handsaw. Try to use the same type of wood as the original, and don’t re-use the original nails. For wood fences, use paint specifically designed for fencing.

On wrought iron or other steel fences, if rust has worn through metal pickets at the ground level creating a large gap that children or pets can get through, sections of the fence will need to be replaced.

“Aluminum or vinyl fencing can protect against rust on the fence itself,” Paterson says, “but the hardware must still be rust-free and adjustable to ensure the gate will be in working order. A quick inspection, and if needed, the minutes spent installing new gate hardware, can help protect your family and property, increasing security and decreasing liability.

“All gates should close and have the ability to be locked, but gates leading to pools or spas have an additional requirement,” Paterson says. “They need to have a child-resistant latch so that young children cannot open the gate without an adult’s assistance.”

For help with all of your fencing needs, contact the experts at Handyman Matters today.