Home Improvement All-in-One For Dummies by Roy Barnhart, James Carey, and Morris Carey - Read Online
Home Improvement All-in-One For Dummies
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Put on your grubbies, get out your tools, and get ready to tacklehome repairs and improvements with the goof-proof instructions inthis guide that combines the best of nine For Dummies homeimprovement books in one comprehensive volume. Whether you’rean accomplished do-it-yourselfer or a novice, the easy-to-followinstructions, complete with photos and illustrations, will guideyou through: Basic home maintenance and improvement projects from thefoundation to the roof, including windows, doors, and electricalrepairs and replacements Painting and wallpapering Bathroom and kitchen remodeling, including installing cabinets,countertops, fixtures, and appliances Carpentry, woodworking and flooring Plumbing, including unclogging fixtures and fixing leakyfaucets

Want to spruce up bedroom? Spiff up the kitchen? Shore up theporch? Build stairs? Replace creaky doors and drafty windows? Makethe most of your space? Inside or out, major renovation or minorrepair, the how-to is all right here. Think about it—if youdo just one project yourself instead of calling a plumber,electrician, painter, handyman, or other service person,you’ve saved far more than the cost of this book! Andyou’ll have it on hand to guide you through the nextproject!

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ISBN: 9781118069868
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W elcome to Home Improvement All-in-One For Dummies,

This book contains a combination of need-to-know techniques on topics from routine home maintenance to remodeling to plumbing. Basic steps and illustrations throughout the book walk you through the key points of maintaining and improving your home. These are tried-and-true solutions to everyday home repair and improvement questions.

Foolish Assumptions

You know what they say about the word assume. In any event, we do assume that you care about the appearance and condition of your home, and hence its value. We don’t have this vision that you’re a home improvement fanatic or that you’re particularly handy — you don’t need to be. All you need is a song in your heart, a smile on your face, and an insatiable desire to see your home be the best that it can be.

A few tools are of infinite value when it comes to home improvement. However, the most complicated tool you’ll need is a cordless driver/drill for sinking a screw here and there. The tools that you’ll find yourself needing most often are a scrub brush, a paintbrush, and plenty of patience.

Most important, we assume that you’ll always seek help when needed, and that you’ll always put safety first when attempting a home improvement project.

How to Use This Book

You can use this book in two ways:

If you want information about a specific topic, such as plugging up cold drafts with weather-stripping or cleaning out gutters, flip to that section and get your answer pronto. (We promise to have you back on the couch in no time.) If you need help finding a particular piece of information, use the Table of Contents at the front of the book or the comprehensive Index at the back.

If you want to be a home improvement guru, read the whole book from cover to cover, and a wealth of knowledge will spill forth from your lips whenever the word house comes up in conversation. You’ll know so much that Bob Vila will be calling you for advice.

How This Book Is Organized

The book is actually six books in one. The chapters within each of those books cover specific topics in detail. You can read each chapter or book without reading what came before, so you don’t have to waste time reading what doesn’t apply to your situation. Occasionally, we refer you to another area in the book where you find more details on a particular subject.

Book I: Planning Your Home Improvement Projects

Undertaking a home improvement project without planning is a recipe for disaster. This book walks you through the decision of whether to take on a task yourself or hire a professional, helps you gather the tools you need to do most home improvement projects, and gives you important tips for staying safe.

Book II: Basic Home Maintenance and Improvement

This section walks you through the various parts of a home, from the foundation to the roof, and tells you how to make common repairs. You find information about your home’s heating and cooling systems, its electrical system, and even its appliances.

Book III: Painting and Wallpapering

A simple coat of paint or layer of wallpaper can have an amazing impact on how a home looks. This book helps you choose the best materials for your situation and get them up onto your walls like a pro. The chapters on painting cover both the interior and the exterior of a house.

Book IV: Bathroom and Kitchen Remodeling

Although bathroom and kitchen remodels can be among the most costly home repairs to undertake, they also have been proven to add the most value to a home. This book walks you through the process of remodeling either type of room, from budgeting to choosing fixtures to putting in cabinets, sinks, and showers and tubs.

Book V: Carpentry, Woodworking, and Flooring

Working with wood is a sensual experience — it’s addictive. And really, it isn’t too difficult. This book talks about the basics of carpentry and woodworking, from affixing pieces together to sanding and finishing wood projects. It also walks you through the processes of repairing and installing new hardwood and other types of flooring.

Book VI: Plumbing

Plumbing may be an area that you’ve always found a little bit intimidating — many homeowners do. But when you understand how everything fits together, plumbing repairs aren’t any more difficult than other home maintenance projects. In this book, you find information about two major, vexing plumbing problems: leaks and clogs. Before you call a plumber in a panic, check these chapters — you may be able to make a simple fix and save yourself a hundred bucks or more.

Icons Used in This Book

We use the familiar For Dummies icons to help guide you through the material in this book. Read on to find out what each icon means:

Get on target with these great time-saving, money-saving, and sanity-saving tips.

Commit to memory these key tidbits of information that come into play in various aspects of your home improvement adventures.

We don’t want to scare you off, but some of the projects discussed in this book can be dangerous, even deadly, if approached improperly. This icon alerts you to potential hazards and signals information about how to steer clear of them. We also use this symbol to mark advice for making your home a safer place.

Some fixer-upper mistakes are so common that you can see them coming from a mile away. Let this icon serve as a warning that you’re treading in trouble-prone waters. Why should you have to learn from your own mistakes when you can learn just as well from others’?

Some projects and repairs require the skills, experience, and know-how that only a professional can offer. Novices and weekend handymen (or women) just can’t handle them. When we discuss these kinds of projects in the book, you’ll see this icon.

Most people want their toilets to flush, but some folks aren’t happy until they know how the toilet flushes. This book doesn’t bombard you with a bunch of technical trivia, but some background tidbits are too good to leave out. If you’re an engineer-type who craves obscure details that most normal people don’t care about, seek out these icons. If you’d rather live in ignorant bliss, by all means, skip these little diversions.

Where to Go from Here

We don’t care whether you start with the Table of Contents, the Index, Book V, or even Chapter 1 (what a novel idea!). What’s important is that you get going. A better home is just around the corner!

Book I

Planning Your Home Improvement Projects

In this book . . .

W here do you start? Can you do it yourself? What materials, tools, and knowledge do you need? How much will it cost, and how do you keep from maiming yourself in the process? Dig into these chapters that frame answers to these knotty questions.

Collecting basic household tools and the right stuff for specific jobs doesn’t have to be a struggle. Venturing into the local hardware store or home center need not signal safari time — although with the size of today’s home centers, you may need to pack a lunch.

Whether you want to estimate the time and cost involved in a job or check out the possibility of adding more hands-on adventures to your to-do list, you can build comfort and confidence with a cruise through this book.

Here are the contents of Book I at a glance.

Chapter 1

Do It Yourself or Hire a Pro?

In This Chapter

Sizing up costs, time, and skill level

Choosing the right person for the job

Getting down to business

Y ou can expect to save at least 20 percent and sometimes 100 percent of the cost of any job by doing the work yourself. What’s more, you can enjoy the sense of pride and accomplishment that comes with a job well done. That said, you must remember that most people are hard-pressed for time and energy, and some projects require special skills and tools that the average Joe may not possess.

We’re not suggesting that you tackle these really advanced jobs. But countless other projects, such as removing wallpaper or sanding wood, require little in the way of tools and talent. By beginning with unglamorous repairs, such as fixing a broken window screen or tightening a loose hinge, you can quickly build your do-it-yourself skills and confidence. The bonus is that doing these projects makes your house a better and more comfortable place — a convenience that won’t go unnoticed by you or anyone else in the house. Install a ceiling fan, and everyone notices the balmy breezes; paint the garage, and your neighbors rave. The idea is to choose projects that make a difference in the livability of your house and, at the same time, build your skills and confidence.

Just how do you know your limitations? That’s the $64 question. We know that there’s nothing a handy homeowner can’t do, but that’s not the issue. When it comes to massive projects, such as replacing all the walls in a house or building a large addition, you have other factors to consider. As you gain experience, you’ll develop a sixth sense to evaluate your limits and your situation. That’s what this chapter is all about.

Taking Everything into Account

Three factors go into the decisions of whether and how to do a job yourself: time, money, and skills. If you have plenty of time, you can tackle almost any project, using only some basic tools and gaining the skills you need as you go. If you have lots of dough, you can purchase plenty of timesaving tools and gear, or even hire someone else to do the job for you. And if you already have a treasure trove of home improvement skills, you can do the job yourself quickly and for a moderate cost (maybe even without using this book).

But for most mere mortals, the question of to do or not to do the work all by yourself involves finding a balance of all three factors and then doing some soul-searching for a reasonable response.

Calculating the cost

First up, consider the cost of materials. Don’t become another statistic of the do-it-yourself damage factor. If the materials are expensive, you’re taking a big risk by doing the job yourself. If, for example, you’re laying $30-a-yard wool carpeting, you’re gambling with expensive dice. Make one miscut, and you suddenly find yourself in the carpet remnant business. You have to replace the damaged material, and you’ll probably end up calling in a carpet installer to finish the job after all. Not much savings; plus, you wasted too much time in the process.

If you’re considering a project and want to get a ballpark figure of the labor costs involved, go to a home center and ask whether an installation service is available. Many retailers feature this one-stop-shopping service, farming the work out to contractors. These stores often display materials, such as doors, windows, and ceiling fans, with two costs: a do-it-yourself price and an installed price. The difference between the two figures is the cost of the labor.

This figure gives you a starting point for looking objectively at the cost of tackling a project. But don’t forget the other part of the equation — the cost of tools that you may need. Look at tools as a long-term investment: If you’re a budding do-it-yourselfer, you want to add to your stash so that you have a complete workbench that can last a lifetime. However, if a project requires an expensive tool that you may only need once in your life, consider other options, such as renting or borrowing.

Although perfectly affordable rental tools are available for many jobs, some people love any excuse to buy their own new tools. And that’s okay. In fact, you may even say that nurturing the home improvement market so that it continues to contribute generously to our national economy is your civic duty. We list our top tool and gadget picks in Chapter 2.

Tallying the time

Time is a real consideration when you’re deciding whether to tackle home repairs and improvements yourself. Whether you’re skilled or not, working around the house takes time, sometimes an amazing amount of it. For all handypersons — and wannabes — estimating the time to complete a job isn’t an exact science. If you’re new to the do-it-yourself realm, heed these words about estimating how long a job is likely to take: Bone up on what’s involved, write down the process in step-by-step fashion (as you perceive it), and include the shopping time, working time, and cleanup time. Translate the work into numbers of hours . . . and then triple it. The result that you get is liable to be pretty close. The more projects you complete, the more you realize the value of estimating accurately.

Many novice do-it-yourselfers make the tragic mistake of underestimating the time commitment and then box themselves into an unrealistic deadline, such as painting the living room before Christmas or building a deck for the Fourth of July family reunion — both noble ideas, but they warrant considerably more time than initially imagined. The work takes much longer than you anticipated the first time that you do any job. Setting an inflexible deadline only adds more pressure to the project.

Scrutinizing your skills

Now for a touchy subject: recognizing your talent. This topic is sensitive because some people are born naturally handy — a fluke of nature like having blue eyes or red hair. Some people are innately gifted with an artistic or mechanical sense; the ability to hang wallpaper or repair a loose hinge seems to come naturally to them. Others are less gifted. For the mechanically challenged, these seemingly simple tasks are tantamount to building the Taj Mahal over a long weekend.

Remember when your gym teacher shared this wisdom: You may be good at sports, but it takes a lot more than that to be a professional athlete? Well, this is where the tide of fate flows in your favor. You may not have been born with a hammer in your hand, but you can develop the skills of a confident do-it-yourselfer and go on to accomplish amazing feats. You can gain and hone the skills of a handy homeowner — without the drudgery of running laps or lifting weights to stay in shape. It’s true; as you get older, you get better. After you figure out how to install a dimmer switch, it’s like riding a bicycle; you never forget.

Starting small

Even if you aren’t a do-it-yourselfer and you have no desire to become one, you can participate in projects and save money by doing the grunt work. We’re talking about simple jobs, such as removing wallpaper, tearing up old floors, scraping paint, and many other tasks that require more time and enthusiasm than talent.

The bottom line: If you’re a first-timer, choose projects that are within your range of skills and don’t require expensive materials and tools. Avoid boxing yourself in with unrealistic deadlines, and by all means invest your time as sweat equity and do the grunt work yourself.

Hiring Help the Smart Way

You can find entire books devoted to hiring a contractor, but we think that you need to know the basics. If a project is simple, such as replacing a closet door or repairing a faulty dishwasher, the plan is pretty straightforward. Get a couple of estimates and compare them, making sure to specify the full scope of the job and the quality of materials. Remember: You want estimates that compare apples to apples.

This advice becomes dicey when the project is more complex — say, bathroom remodeling that involves opening a wall, replacing the fixtures, and upgrading the flooring — all subject to surprises, hidden costs, and unexpected complications. Professionals have difficulty bidding on a job without knowing what they may find when the wall comes down or the old floor comes up. An accurate bid is based on complete and accurate information and the cost of fixtures, which can range from low-end to luxury. As a consumer, you have to spell out exact styles, models, and colors for a precise estimate.

Finding a good contractor

Shop ’til you drop . . . for the right contractor, that is. Spend as much time reviewing contractors as you do choosing a doctor. Start in your neighborhood and branch out to a network of friends and acquaintances who can provide referrals. Most contractors are listed in the Yellow Pages, but contractors rely on their reputations, not the phone company, for new customers.

Check out the service trucks that you see working in your neighborhood; the most familiar one probably has a good repeat business there. Stop by or call the neighbor (yes, be that bold!) and explain that you’re looking for a contractor. Ask about your neighbor’s experience. Is the homeowner pleased with the contractor’s work? Most often, people are quick to share their thoughts, positive or otherwise.

This seat-of-the-pants screening process is the best way that we know to find competent contractors — it’s direct, immediate, and tells you what you want to know from a reliable source, another homeowner just like you.

Whether you live in a suburban subdivision or a historic urban neighborhood, look for contractors who work on homes similar to yours. Kitchens and bathrooms in tract ranch houses are subjected to repeat remodeling, and the contractor who works in the neighborhood knows what to expect. Along the same lines, a carpenter who specializes in historic houses is more likely to know the intricacies of older homes, so he or she is your best choice for restoration.

For the same reasons you don’t usually go to a proctologist for an earache, don’t hire a rough carpenter to do fine woodworking. Sure the carpenter can do the work, but you get the biggest bang for your buck by hiring someone with skills and experience for the specific job. Take advantage of individual expertise — that’s what you’re paying for.

Know what you want before talking to a contractor. No, you don’t have to know the serial number of the new faucet, but you do need to have an idea of the type, style, and features you want. First of all, a contractor can’t bid on a job without knowing what you expect to have installed, repaired, or built. Second, the only accurate way to compare bids from different contractors is to be sure that the work is based on the same specifications.

Some people may tell you to get three bids from different contractors and choose the middle one — easier said than done. If you do your homework and are satisfied with the references and professional manner of a contractor, you may be hard-pressed or time-restricted to scour up two more. The bottom line is to use your best judgment and common sense, and don’t let a schedule force you into making a decision. If you interview a contractor and are thrilled with what you find, don’t balk at having to wait until he’s available. Never rush a job and settle for someone you’re not completely satisfied with. After all, you only build an addition or remodel your kitchen once in your lifetime — that is, if you get the job done right the first time.

When you meet with a contractor, ask for customer referrals of work similar to your project, and then check out those references. This task takes time, but you can benefit greatly by listening to someone with firsthand experience. Many people consult the Better Business Bureau as a resource or contact a local chamber of commerce for a list of referrals. Even if you find a contractor through one of these sources, you should still ask the contractor for a list of satisfied customers in your area whom you can call for recommendations.

Covering all your bases

After narrowing your search for the perfect contractor, you’re ready to get down to business. At this point, it’s critical to get everything in writing:

Liability: Ask for a certificate of insurance and make sure that the contractor is licensed and bonded to cover any injuries that may occur on the job. Reputable contractors carry workers’ compensation insurance and insurance that covers them in the event of personal liability or property damage. Checking out a contractor’s liability is very important, because you may be held liable if the contractor or one of his workers is injured while working on your home. You may also be held liable if the contractor or one of his employees injures someone else. Check with your insurance agent about getting additional umbrella liability coverage for the duration of a major building or remodeling project.

Contract: A complete contract includes a detailed description of the project with a listing of specific materials and products to be used. For a job that involves various stages of completion, a payment schedule itemizes when money is to be paid. A procedure for handling any disputes between you and the contractor is also important, along with directions for handling changes in plan due to an unforeseen need for additional work or materials.

If the project involves removing debris or if it’s intrinsically messy (hanging drywall, for example), make sure that the contract has a cleanup clause that clearly defines the contractor’s responsibility to leave the work site broom clean and orderly. Also make sure that the contract spells out who’s expected to apply and pay for the building permit and what’s necessary to meet those requirements.

Most states require a recision clause that allows you to cancel the agreement within three days of signing it. This arrangement gives you some time to think things over and helps to prevent you from being pressured into signing the contract.

Warranty: If the contractor offers a warranty, be sure that the provisions include the name and address of the person or institution offering the warranty and the duration of the coverage. Read the document closely to be sure that it’s written clearly and that you understand all the terms and conditions. A full warranty covers the repair or replacement of the product or a refund of your money within a certain period. If the warranty is limited, find out what those limitations are.

Building permit: Most towns or counties require a permit to build on or change a property. The fee is based on the scope of the improvements and is either paid by the homeowner or included in the contractor’s bid (which the homeowner pays eventually). If you’re doing work that requires a building permit, you must fill out an application and pay a fee. If you hire contractors, you’re better off having them apply for the permit because their license is on the line. During different stages of the job and at its completion, the work is inspected to ensure that it meets the building codes. These inspections are your best assurance that the work is done correctly or at least that it meets minimum government standards.

Chapter 2

Gearing Up for Your Home Improvement Adventures

In This Chapter

Stocking up your toolbox

Investing in great gadgets

H ow can you expect to create miracles without a magic wand? Of course, you can’t. And by the same token, you can’t expect to do projects around the house without reliable tools.

People take different approaches to owning tools. Tool-obsessed individuals look for any excuse to add to their collection — these folks simply can’t own too many tools. More practical do-it-yourselfers want to own only what’s required to do the job. Both approaches have their place, but whichever your persuasion, you need a stockpile of core tools — the essentials that you never want to be caught without.

If you think of every tool you buy as a long-term investment, you’ll gradually acquire a reliable stash that can get you through most home repairs and improvements. In this chapter, we walk you through the basic tools that are essential to any toolbox, but we can’t resist also tempting you with some of our favorite gadgets and gizmos designed to delight any do-it-yourselfer.

Sure, everyone dreams of a workshop like Norm’s. But in the real world, most people are hard-pressed for the space. At a bare minimum, find room for a workbench somewhere in your house, garage, basement, or shed. Designate this space as a work area, where you can take a door lock apart or stir a can of paint, lay out a window frame that needs new screening or stow your tool tote and rechargeable power tools. Your workspace doesn’t have to be fancy; anywhere with good lighting and electrical power will do. Lay a flat work surface across two sawhorses or, if space is at a premium, get a portable bench that you can fold up and store out of the way.

The Top Tools for Any Homebody

Shop for the tools you need in home centers, hardware stores, or any large mart. Don’t try to buy all the tools that you’ll ever need at one time; instead, buy tools as you need them. Focus on quality rather than quantity and buy the best-quality tool you can afford.

The tool-buying experience can be daunting for a first-timer. As you roam the aisles of megastores, don’t let the overwhelming selection intimidate you. Ask a salesperson for help and explain that you’re new to the do-it-yourself scene. A knowledgeable salesperson can help you make your decision by explaining how the wide range of prices reflects the quality, features, and materials of various tools.

So here it is, our list of the basic tools you need to get on the road to home improvement adventures:

3/8-inch variable speed reversible drill: This tool, available as a plug-in or cordless, uses steel blades called bits to drive in or remove screws, drill holes, sand wood, mix piña coladas, and do other important home improvement tasks. See Figure 2-1.

Claw hammer: We recommend a 16-ounce hammer with a fiberglass handle to cushion the blow to your hand. Watch out for carpal tunnel syndrome, an injury that can occur from repetitive motions, such as constantly hitting your thumb and then hopping around the room.

Pliers: Slip-joint pliers have toothed jaws that enable you to grip various sized objects, like a water pipe, the top of a gallon of mineral spirits, or the tape measure that you accidentally dropped into the toilet. Because the jaws are adjustable, pliers give you leverage to open and firmly grip an object.

Toolbox saw: A small, easy-to-use handsaw is useful for cutting such materials as paneling or shelving.

Assorted pack of screwdrivers: Be sure that you have both slotted (flat-head) and Phillips screwdrivers in a variety of sizes. The slotted type has a straight, flat blade; the Phillips blade has a cross or plus-sign that fits into the grooves of Phillips-head screws.

Utility knife: Choose a compact knife with replaceable blades that’s strong enough to open heavy cardboard boxes and precise enough for trimming wallpaper.

Buy the type with a retractable blade; you’ll appreciate it the first time that you squat down with the knife in your pocket. (Ouch!)

Staple gun: You can use this tool for a variety of jobs, like securing insulation, ceiling tile, plastic sheeting, and fabrics.

Carpenter’s level: A straightedge tool that has a series of glass tubes containing liquid with a bubble of air. When the bubble in a single tube is framed between marks on the glass, it shows that the surface is level (horizontal) or plumb (vertical). See Figure 2-2.

Metal file: Filing tools, such as those shown in Figure 2-3, are flat metal bars with shallow grooves that form teeth. Metal files are useful for sharpening the edges of scrapers, putty knives, and even shovels and garden trowels.

Allen wrenches: These L-shaped metal bars, often sold in sets (see Figure 2-4), are designed for turning screws or bolts that have hexagonal sockets in their heads. This tool also goes by the name hex-key or setscrew wrench. Used to assemble everything from knock-down furniture to bicycles to gas grills, this tool was invented by a man named, umm, let’s see . . . we’ll have to get back to you on that one.

Gizmos and Gear

Tools alone don’t lead to a life of joyful home improvements. You gotta have gadgets, too. Some really great gadgets are available to keep you organized, efficient, safe, and comfortable:

Itty-bitty notebook: Keep a reference of your home improvement needs in your car or purse and refer to it when you shop. Instead of jotting down notes on scraps of paper that you’re more likely to lose than use, keep all this stuff in one place. Buying a new lampshade? Jot down the dimensions of the old one. Replacing the tray to your ice-cube maker? Make a note of the model number. Keep a record of paint colors and wallpaper patterns and a zillion other details (such as your wedding anniversary) in this little notebook.

Tool tote: Keep a stash of the tools that you reach for most often in some kind of portable toolbox or crate. Be sure to include a stock of string, a pair of scissors, and other common household repair accessories. Many repairs must be done onsite, so having a tool tote that you can take with you to the project can be invaluable.

Kneepads: Cushioned rubber pads, held in place with elastic strips, protect your knee joints from the impact of kneeling on hard surfaces. (Pretend that you’re in-line skating, and you won’t feel so silly.) Kneepads are especially important to wear when you’re crawling around on hard, debris-strewn surfaces.

Goggles: Remember how your mom always made you wear a hat when it was cold outside? Well, if she saw you with a hammer or chipping away at something with a chisel, she’d say, Put on your safety goggles! A tiny chip of wood or a speck of metal or hardened paint can seriously damage your eyes, so protect them at all costs. Mother knows best.

Goggles used to be clunky contraptions that only kids wanted to wear, but now they’re available in designer styles (well, sort of). Goggles are an inexpensive investment that may save your eyesight. Just remember to put them on.

Gray duct tape: Sure, this product was designed for taping heating ducts, but it’s a national icon for do-it-yourselfers. Use it to seal window screens, patch old sneakers . . . heck, we’ve seen it patching dents in cars!

Neon circuit tester: This two-buck item, pictured in Figure 2-5, can be a lifesaver whenever you have to work on an electrical switch, receptacle, or power source. Before you begin tinkering with a device, use this circuit tester to make sure that power isn’t flowing to it.

Wire brush: This item, shown in Figure 2-6, looks like a lethal toothbrush. It’s useful for scraping blistered paint, removing rust from metal, and taking corrosion off spark plugs.

Stud finder: No, this tool isn’t for finding hunky guys (unless they’re trapped in your walls). Wall studs are the vertical wood framing to which wallboard is fastened. A stud finder, shown in Figure 2-7, is an electronic device that locates the metal fasteners behind finished walls, which enables you to find a sturdy place to hang pictures, mirrors, and shelves.

Ladders: Get a stepladder for household chores, such as changing light bulbs and painting rooms; get a taller self-supporting or extension-type ladder for outdoor maintenance like cleaning gutters and trimming trees. In general, aluminum ladders are lightweight and strong; wooden ladders are solid, heavy, and economical; and fiberglass ladders are strong, electrically nonconductive, and expensive. If you can afford it, fiberglass is the best choice.

Every ladder is given a duty rating — its maximum safe-load capacity. This weight includes you plus the weight of any tools and materials you wear and haul up the ladder with you.

Chapter 3

Safety and Preparedness

In This Chapter

Preventing household fires

Protecting your home with smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers

Being prepared for general emergencies

Gas line maintenance tips

Tightening up security

Garage door and electrical safety

I n this chapter, we offer time-honored, proven safety practices blended with a host of new innovations, contemporary concepts, and the very best of today’s high-tech electronic wizardry. When used all together, these measures ensure greater peace of mind for homeowners.

Practicing Fire Safety

Fire has been a number one household danger ever since the day, many eons ago, when our prehistoric ancestors got the idea of bringing fire indoors for cave heating and dinosaur cooking. Since then, accidents and total household destructions have occurred due to misunderstanding, miscalculations, and misuse of this powerful force of nature.

The following points are worth noting with regard to residential fires:

Careless smoking is the leading cause of residential fire deaths.

25 percent of fires with child fatalities are caused by children playing with fire.

Household fire hazards include overloaded electrical circuits, faulty wiring, unsafe appliances, wood- and coal-burning stoves and furnaces, electric and kerosene space heaters, unattended fireplaces, and the careless use of lighters and matches, especially by children.

Only you can prevent fires

So what’s your best defense against this household killer? Your best defense is quite simple — good old common sense:

Exercise great care with all flammable materials, including fabrics (like drapes and furniture) near high heat sources (like stoves, space heaters, and open fireplaces) and especially combustible liquids (like solvents, cleaners, and fuels) — when both using and storing them.

Don’t overload electrical circuits or put too great a burden on individual outlets or lightweight extension cords. Overloading causes overheating, which leads to wire fatigue and a possible fire. Dimming or flickering lights, a power cord that’s warm or hot to the touch, and fuses that repeatedly burn out or breakers in the electrical panel that frequently trip are sure signs of an overloaded circuit.

Don’t use bulbs with a higher wattage than a lamp or fixture is rated for because the lamp can seriously overheat. Most modern light fixtures and lamps have a label on the fixture that rates the maximum recommended bulb wattage for that fixture. If you can’t find the label, bring the lamp or information on the fixture to a lighting store for recommendations on the wattage of bulb that should be used.

Watch for faulty electronic equipment, malfunctioning appliances, frayed electrical cords, flickering lights, or fuses that blow and circuit breakers that trip repeatedly — they’re all potential fire hazards.

Never smoke cigarettes, cigars, or pipes in bed — or when you’re tired or lying down.

Make sure that any ashes have cooled before you throw them away. Many fires are started by the careless dumping of ashes that are not fully extinguished. This includes ashes from ashtrays, fireplaces, and barbeques. Hot embers can smolder undetected in the trash for hours before igniting.

Keep space heaters at least 3 feet away from flammable items. Only buy units with tip-over shut-off switches and never operate one while sleeping.

Smoke alarms: Gotta have ’em

A smoke alarm is considered to be one of the least expensive, most popular, and best forms of life protection insurance you can buy. A working smoke detector doubles your chance of surviving a fire by warning you of a dangerous situation before it’s too late.

For minimum coverage, have at least one smoke detector or alarm on every level of your home and in every sleeping area. You can also add alarms to hallways outside every bedroom, the top and bottom of all stairways, and often-forgotten places such as basements, attics, utility rooms, and garages.

Smoke detectors can be either

Battery-operated: These inexpensive units can easily be installed anywhere. They require frequent inspection to determine the condition of the battery.

AC-powered: Installed by an electrician (or those with a good working knowledge of electricity), these units are much more dependable over the long haul due to their direct-wired power source. But they should have an independent battery backup so that they continue to operate during a blackout or an electrical fire that temporarily interrupts power.

Some newer models have a hush-button feature that silences a nuisance false alarm and desensitizes the unit for a few minutes until the air clears, when it resets itself. Other high-end models have safety lights that come on when the alarm is activated.

Dealing with fire emergencies

After a smoke detector sounds — whether night or day — a quick response and preplanned actions are your two best lifesavers.

Before opening any doors, look for smoke seeping around edges and feel the surface with your hand. The doorknob is another reliable indicator as to whether fire exists on the other side because metal conducts heat faster and more efficiently than wood does.

If it feels safe, open the door slowly and be prepared to close it quickly if heat and smoke rush in. Don’t stop to get dressed, find pets, or collect valuables. Wasted seconds can cost lives. Gather only family members and exit immediately. If smoke is extremely dense, crawl on your knees and keep your mouth covered with a towel or cloth, if possible.

Families should develop and rehearse a home escape plan, with two ways out of every room. Store a fold-up fire escape ladder in every second-floor bedroom. Also include plans for a designated meeting place where everyone should gather once safely outside. After you’re out, stay put until help arrives and never re-enter the house under any circumstances.

Rehearse your family escape plan regularly. After everyone knows what to do, perform run-throughs with your eyes closed — simulating darkness or smoke-filled passages — counting and memorizing the number of steps to each and every turn and ultimately to safety.

PASSing on a fire

If you ever need to use a fire extinguisher, use the PASS method:

Pull the pin.

Aim at the base of the fire.

Squeeze the handle.

Sweep the base of the fire from side to side, starting with the closest edge and working away from yourself.

Testing alarms and detectors

All smoke detectors and alarms have a test button that, when pushed, causes the alarm to sound. Also, most detectors have either a blinking or a solid light that glows to let you know that the alarm is getting power.

Once a month, get up on a chair or use a broom handle for extra reach and push the test button. If you don’t hear anything, then your battery is dead. If after changing the battery, the smoke detector is still not working, immediately replace it with a new one.

The button test ensures that the batteries are working. However, it doesn’t tell you whether the detector is operating properly. To find out, put two or three lighted matches together (the wood kitchen type is best) and then blow out the flame, holding the matches so that the smoke wafts up toward the unit.

While battery-operated units have a built-in device that chirps when batteries get low, signaling the need for replacement, common wisdom dictates not waiting until that point. Batteries should be replaced twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall.

Never remove a battery from your smoke alarm for use in another item, such as a radio, toy, or TV remote. Many people do so with every intention of replacing them in short order, only to remember that they forgot while standing and watching their house burn down (if they were lucky enough to awaken and escape in time).

While you’re up checking your battery every month, also brush or vacuum the alarm to keep dirt and dust out of the mechanism. Never use cleaning sprays or solvents that can enter the unit and contaminate sensors.

Replacing alarms and detectors

After a period of ten years, a smoke detector has endured more than 87,000 hours of continuous operation, during which time the internal sensors have probably become contaminated with dust, dirt, and air pollutant residues. If your alarm or detector is more than ten years old, consider replacing it to maintain optimal detection capabilities of deadly smoke in your home.

Fire extinguishers

Most fires start out small. Often, they can easily and quickly be put out if you have a working fire extinguisher readily at hand. Manufacturers of home safety products recommend having one fire extinguisher for every 600 square feet of living area. The kitchen, garage, and basement each should have an extinguisher of its own. Keep one in your car, as well.

Fire extinguishers are rated according to force and how much firefighting agent they contain — both of which determine how long the extinguisher operates when it’s used and discharged. With most home extinguishers, the duration is short — so quick action and good aim are important factors in quenching flames while a fire is still in its early stage. (See the sidebar PASSing on a fire for tips on using fire extinguishers.)

Always purchase fire extinguishers with pressure gauges. Check the pressure gauge at least once each month to ensure that it’s ready for use at all times. If the fire extinguisher pressure is low and the model can’t be recharged, dispose of it and replace it with a new unit.

Under no circumstances should you test the extinguisher by pulling the pin and squeezing the trigger. Doing so can result in premature loss of pressure.

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Danger in the Home

Carbon monoxide (CO) is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in America. CO is an invisible, odorless, poisonous gas produced by the incomplete combustion of fuel — such as gasoline, kerosene, propane, natural gas, oil, and even wood fires. In concentrated form, CO can be fatal when inhaled — killing in minutes or hours, depending on the level of CO in the air. In smaller doses, CO produces a wide range of flulike symptoms ranging from red eyes, dizziness, and headaches to nausea, fatigue, and upset stomach. One telltale sign of mild CO poisoning is flu symptoms without a fever.

Typical sources of CO in homes are malfunctioning gas furnaces, gas stoves, water heaters, clothes dryers, and even improperly vented fireplaces. Other major dangers include using a generator in or too near your home, cooking or heating with a barbeque unit indoors during a power outage, and letting a car run in a garage or carport where exhaust fumes can collect and enter the home. Many of today’s energy-efficient, tight homes minimize outside air exchange and cross-ventilation, giving CO no chance to exit after it enters the home.

There are CO detectors and combination CO and smoke detectors for the home. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) recommends that every home with a fuel-burning appliance of any kind be equipped with a least one CO detector.

If you have only one unit, place it in the hall outside the bedroom area of your home. Invisible CO in concentrated form is even less likely to awaken a sleeper than thick toxic smoke.

While heat and smoke rise toward the ceiling, CO wafts through a room like perfume — only you can’t smell or see it. Place CO detectors from 14 inches off the floor to face height on the wall and never near a draft, such as a window, doorway, or stairwell.

As with smoke alarms, CO detectors can be battery operated, hard-wired-mounted directly onto an electrical wall outlet, or plugged into an electrical cord, allowing units to sit on a shelf or tabletop. Units that plug into a direct power source should have an independent battery backup in case of a power failure.

Your CO detector should have a digital display with memory that indicates and records a problem, even when it’s too small to trigger the alarm. A normal low level of CO in a home is zero. Nada, zilch, zip. However, even a small reading — such as 25, 30, or 35 parts per million — indicates a problem that could escalate.

The care and maintenance of CO detectors is basically the same as for smoke alarms. (See the section Smoke alarms earlier in this chapter for more information.) However, unlike using kitchen matches to test a smoke alarm, a carbon monoxide detector can’t be tested using an outside source. Therefore, it’s imperative that the test buttons provided on the equipment be tested at least once each month.

Additionally, have your heating system, vents, chimney, and flue inspected (and cleaned if necessary) by a qualified technician. Always vent fuel-burning appliances.

Other important maintenance procedures include checking and correcting any signs that indicate potential CO problems, such as

A noticeably decreasing hot water supply

A furnace that runs constantly but doesn’t heat your house

Soot collecting on, under, and around any appliance

An unfamiliar burning odor

A loose or missing furnace panel or vent pipe

Damaged brick, chimney discoloration, or a loose-fitting chimney pipe

Guarding Your Home against Natural Disasters

Natural emergencies can befall the average home and family without warning, anywhere in the world. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, mudslides, blizzards, tidal waves, lightning, squalls, gales, downpours, monsoons, typhoons, whirlwinds, and zephyrs can come out of nowhere and cause substantial damage to a home. Although you can’t do anything about the weather, you can be prepared for such emergencies, which may save your life and avert damage to your home.

Shoring up your castle

The same things you do to maintain your home every day pull double duty because they also can prepare your home for a natural disaster. The best defense against becoming a victim of an earthquake, fire, flood, snowstorm, tornado, or other natural disaster is a strong offense — keeping your home in tip-top shape.

For example, maintaining your roof can prevent shingles from being blown off and a roof leak from occurring. Well-sealed masonry can prevent freeze-and-thaw damage brought about by bone-chilling cold. Plumbing pipe heaters can prevent hundreds or thousands of dollars in damage caused by a burst pipe due to freezing.

How strong is your offense?

Reacting appropriately in the face of disaster

When your castle comes under siege from any of Mother Nature’s natural marauders, three defensive maneuvers should take place in rapid succession:

Go to your safe place. Have a safe place in your home, such as a windowless room in the basement, ready and stock it with emergency survival supplies, including first aid equipment, a radio, bottled water, and emergency food provisions.

Stay in your safe place until you get the all clear. That’s why you need a portable radio with functioning batteries! A portable or cellular phone (with extra batteries) also comes in handy at this stage.

Check for damage. Following any major disaster, first check the status and well-being of your family members and neighbors. Then begin a thorough home inspection to ascertain any damage that may create larger problems.

Check especially for damaged power lines and dangerous gas leaks, which can cause fire and explosions. Then check for electrical system damage and downed power lines. If you see sparks, note exposed wiring, or smell overheated insulation on wiring, shut off the electricity at the main circuit breaker or fuse box. If water is present, be careful not to make contact if you suspect that it may be electrically charged.

Also check for any damage to water pipes and sewer drain lines. If they’re damaged, turn off the main water supply valve, avoid drinking tap or well water, and don’t flush toilets or drain water into tubs and sinks.

Well in advance of any natural emergency, you should know where your valves and circuit breakers are located. Make sure that you know how to turn off all major supply lines, and show your family members how to do so, too. Many hardware stores and home centers sell an inexpensive combination dual-emergency wrench designed specifically for quick gas and water shutoffs.

Putting things back together

Follow these general guidelines for getting back underway after an emergency:

Deal cautiously with structural damage, watching for physical dangers, ranging from broken glass and nails to water and wet surfaces that may be electrically charged after power resumes. According to the American Red Cross, the number two flood killer after drowning is electrocution. Electrical current can travel through water. Report downed power lines to your utility company or emergency management office.

Use a flashlight to inspect for damage. Don’t smoke or use candles, lanterns, or open flames, unless you know the gas has been turned off and the area has been aired out.

Prevent deadly carbon monoxide poisoning by using a generator or other gasoline-powered machine outdoors. The same goes for camping stoves and charcoal grills.

Some appliances, such as televisions, keep electrical charges even after they have been unplugged. Don’t use appliances or motors that have gotten wet unless they’ve been taken apart, cleaned, and dried.

Watch for snakes and wild animals that have been flooded out of their homes and may seek shelter in yours.

Discard contaminated foods and kitchen and bath products.

Boil drinking water until you’re absolutely sure that it’s safe.

Pump out flooded areas in your home as soon as possible to avoid permanent damage to the house’s frame.

Pump out flooded basements slowly over the course of several days to prevent the basement walls from caving in due to the excessive pressure being placed on the walls from water-logged soil on the opposite side.

If hardwood floors get soaked, mop up excess water and debris immediately and dry the floors slowly to reduce warping. Don’t use heat for drying. Open windows and doors and allow finishes to air-dry. Rent a high-volume fan such as those used by professional carpet cleaners to hasten the drying process.

Drying finishes out too quickly can cause warping, buckling, and cracking that can be avoided if finishes are allowed to air-dry more slowly.

If carpeting gets soaked, don’t remove it while it’s wet — doing so can cause tearing. Instead, pick up excess water with a wet/dry vac or carpet cleaning machine, slowly peel back wet carpet, and discard the padding. Then set up a box fan or two to dry the area completely. In most cases, carpets can be cleaned and reused; just the padding needs to be replaced.

Have a professional check all plumbing and service your septic tank, if you have one.

Call your insurance agent to begin the claims process.

For more information about disaster preparedness and recovery, visit the Web site of the American Red Cross at www.redcross.org .

Additional emergency measures

When dealing with an emergency situation, after immediate dangers are dealt with and relatively under control, take photos to record all damage to your home and its contents for insurance purposes. All too often, taking photos only comes to mind once cleanup and repairs are well underway.

Also, keep emergency gear close at hand, including a pair of sturdy shoes (to prevent injuries from rubble and broken glass), heavy socks, heavy work gloves, and clothing for keeping warm and dry for an extended period, both day and night.

Emergency preparedness also includes put- ting together a full first-aid kit with a manual instructing you how to deal with most major situations and injuries step-by-step. Check this kit twice a year for expiration dates and freshness of the products it contains. Also, watch for free first-aid training classes in your area, often sponsored by local organizations, hospitals, or police and fire departments.

Immediately after a natural disaster, the power is often out. Thus your emergency preparedness should also include provisions for both portable and self-contained lighting, including flashlights, extra batteries, candles, a disposable butane lighter, and waterproof matches.

Playing It Safe with Gas Lines

Of all emergency preparedness topics, gas lines deserve extra consideration — both in the event of natural disasters and for day-to-day living. If not properly installed, monitored, and maintained, natural gas is without question the most potentially dangerous item in your home. Gas can cause instant flash fires and devastating explosions that can result from negligence and carelessness.

Don’t pour concrete or put asphalt around the rigid gas delivery pipe leading to the meter. This pipe must remain in soft, pliable dirt to ride out any seismic activity safely.

An exposed gas meter is always susceptible to being damaged or dislodged by contact. For protection from housework and gardening and to keep gas meters near driveways and sidewalks from being hit, place two heavy metal pipes in concrete (much like you would set a fencepost) in front of and on both sides of the gas meter.

To keep the gas line shutoff wrench easily accessible in a gas emergency, attach it to the main line at the shutoff valve with a piece of chain and a hose clamp. If you ever have to close the main gas valve, rotate the bar on the valve only one-quarter turn so that it runs across the gas line (closed) rather than parallel to it (open).

Inspect all gas line connections in your home. Those leading to appliances, furnaces, and water heaters should be only corrugated stainless steel or new epoxy-coated flexible connectors with shutoff valves where they meet the solid gas delivery lines (unless the manufacturer or local building codes specify otherwise).

Always call before you dig. Many types of underground lines serve your home, ranging from gas and electricity to water, telephone, and cable TV — and they’re often only a few feet beneath the surface. So before you dig a ditch, sink a fencepost, or plant a tree or shrub, call your local utility companies for location information.

Maintaining Burglar Alarms

Not all household dangers derive from natural forces. You also need to take measures to protect your home against those who would storm the castle, scale the proverbial stone walls, and plunder the family jewels.

Have properly installed solid and secure window and door locks strong enough to deter the average burglar. Then be sure to use them. Sounds too mundane and simple, you say? Police report that 50 percent of all home burglaries are due to windows or doors being left unlocked.

One of the best ways to determine whether your home is secure from potential intruders is to lock yourself out and try to get in without using your house key. You’ll either be surprised at how easy it is to gain entry, or you’ll feel relieved at how tough it is to get into your Fort Knox. During this exercise, be on the lookout for loose doorknobs and deadlocks and shaky windows and doors (including the garage door).

Many break-ins can be averted. A number of whole-house alarm systems are available today, and — just as with smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors — they need occasional testing, checking, and tuning up. Most systems include a failsafe battery backup, which needs checking and replacing at regular intervals — at least twice annually. Many systems also have a fire-sensing capability that must be checked and maintained as outlined in Smoke alarms earlier in this chapter.

Most systems have a keypad for indicating system operation and points of intrusion, and a horn or siren installed indoors (in the attic) or outside under an overhang or eave. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for maintaining and checking these features at specified intervals — pay particular attention to all points that signal an intrusion when contact is broken.

Make sure that sensitivity levels are properly set to avoid both frequent false alarms (that eventually go unheeded) and a system that doesn’t respond properly when it should.

Before ordering and installing an alarm, check with local law enforcement agencies to see if any restrictions or special ordinances apply to alarms in your area. Most police departments discourage homeowners from installing a dialer-type alarm system that automatically calls the police or sheriff’s department when activated. They find that when a major disaster takes place, this type of alarm swamps incoming lines that are needed to field calls for specific individual emergency situations. A good alternative is to have your alarm monitored by a central reporting agency. Thus, if a false alarm occurs, the police or sheriff won’t be summoned, and you’ll be off the hook for a false alarm fee and the embarrassment of having the cops show up at your home only to find you in your bathrobe collecting the morning paper.

Keeping Automatic Garage-Door Openers in Working Order

As with all mechanical components in a home, an automatic garage-door opener requires periodic maintenance to ensure safe and efficient operation. In fact, because a garage door is often the heaviest and largest single piece of moving equipment around a home, frequent testing and maintenance are especially important.

One of the best resources for garage-door maintenance is the owner’s manual. Lubrication requirements and adjustment details are typically found in this manual. If you don’t have an owner’s manual, you can usually order a replacement copy by contacting an installing dealer or the manufacturer. Some manufacturers even make owner’s manuals available on the Internet. All you need is the brand and model number.

An inspection of the garage-door springs, cables, rollers, and other door hardware is a great place to begin. Look for signs of wear and for frayed or broken parts. A handy do-it-yourselfer can perform most minor repairs, such as roller replacement, but a qualified garage-door service technician should handle the more complicated tasks. The springs and related hardware are under high tension and can cause severe injury if handled improperly.

Rollers, springs, hinges, and tracks require periodic lubrication. Use spray silicone, lightweight household oil, or white lithium grease according to the instructions in your owner’s manual.

Periodically test the balance of the door. Start with the door closed. Disconnect the automatic opener release mechanism so that the door can be operated by hand. The door should lift smoothly and with little resistance. It should stay open