Scary, not Scary: Don’t try these home repairs at home

No, I’m not trying to fool myself. Your humble correspondent knows he’s just an aging handyman who’s reached the pinnacle of his career on the world stage. Yet even from my lowly perch, I feel a need to do SOMETHING to unite everybody in these troubling times when we can’t seem to agree on ANYTHING. It’s Halloween for gosh sakes, and we can’t even agree on what’s SCARY anymore. And the list is long and growing: the unvaccinated, global warming, open borders, men playing in women’s sports, even whether parents attending school board meetings are “terrorists.”

If CHARITY begins at home, maybe unity on what’s scary begins at home, too. And fortunately, that happens to be one of the disappointingly few areas in which I may qualify as an expert. So let’s see if I can build a consensus on what’s scary and what’s not scary in do-it-yourself home repairs.

Roofs: Scary

In all fairness to roofs, roofs themselves are not the problem — the problem is gravity and the way it pulls your body toward the ground below. Not that it helps that roofs have slopes. Nor does it help that many of you like vaulted ceilings, which might require the roof to have a slope steep enough to give a mountain goat pause. Sure, if you live in a one story ranch with a relatively flat roof, you might end up bruised rather than brutalized if you fall off. But in general, you want to leave roof work to the professionals, mountain goats, and others crazy enough to go up there.

Light Bulbs on Vaulted Ceilings: Scary

Q. How many home builders does it take to change a light bulb on a vaulted ceiling? A. None. They’re gone, that’s YOUR problem (Forgive me for indulging in a little handyman humor there). Yeah, I don’t know why they put can lights up there either, and what they expect you to do when a bulb burns out — other than call Fix St Louis, who actually, believe it or not, have the ladders (and occasionally SCAFFOLDING) needed to change those bulbs. But here’s an even better idea — have us replace those canned lights with bulb-less LED lights so that you never have to change a bulb up there again (maybe change the FIXTURE, sooner or later, but never a bulb). That’s OK, we don’t need the repeat light-bulb-changing business — we’re busy enough.

Attics: Scary (unless you’re a contortionist)

Regular readers know I sometimes equate the skills required for work in an attic to those of petite girls from a breakaway Soviet republic, competing on an Olympic gymnastic team. The ONLY places you can step on are those narrow 1-½” wide edges on those widely spaced joists. Otherwise, you are stepping on a flimsy ½” thick sheet of drywall that cannot support your weight, which is the flip side of a ceiling rising 8-9’ above the floor beneath it. If you crash down to THAT floor, that’s gonna leave a mark — on you and the house. Did I mention that the attic is dark, covered with insulation that hides the attic floor, is usually not tall enough for you to stand, and likely has a low lying roof with nails protruding downward pointed toward your head?

Sure, if you have an agile body and a lot of time to make sure you’re avoiding the dangers, you can do stuff like add insulation, replace damaged screens on your gable vents, add a junction box for a ceiling light or fan for the level below, add or replace an attic fan, or lay plywood over the joists so that you can walk like a hunched-over human being up there or use that space for storage. But if you do NOT have an agile body, have a busy life, and would rather not risk damaging your house as the price of learning new handyman skills, you might want to call the contortionists here at Fix St Louis.

Plumbing and Electrical: Scary & Not Scary

We at Fix St Louis don’t discourage folks from trying to do plumbing and electrical repairs themselves, as long as they do it safely. For instance, just as Alec Baldwin could have prevented tragedy by simply checking that his gun was not loaded, you can use an inexpensive electrical tester to make sure the wiring is not “hot,” and shut-off the water valve near the plumbing you are about to work on. And hey, if your home repairs don’t work out, you can always call Fix St Louis to make things right.

Now, if I had the misfortune of having a lawyer sitting next to me right now, I’m sure he’d be poking me, trying to stop me from giving advice on whether it’s worth the risk of bodily injury or property damage to do plumbing and electrical work yourself. I say, it’s your body, your house, and in my view your decision. But, think about it. Have you ever heard of anyone you know getting injured or worse by falling off a roof? Probably yes. How about getting seriously injured from do-it-yourself plumbing and electrical work? Probably not. How about serious damage to a house from plumbing or electrical work? Probably not, either. Just sayin’.

But I’ve gotta say, based on the stories you guys tell me every day in my travels around your subdivisions, it sounds like the scariest Halloween costume would be a kid dressed-up like the last handyman you hired. But of course, that costume would be silly, because it would mean that handyman actually showed-up when he was supposed to. Guess that leaves it to Fix St Louis to take the SCARE out of home repairs.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis

Special Garage Makeover Edition: From Total Neglect to Near-Total Neglect

There’s a good reason your humble correspondent has never spotted “Live, Love, Laugh” stenciled on the walls of a garage. If homes were a family, garages would be Cinderella, the poor neglected stepchild.

Like Cinderella, garages do a lot of dirty, essential work. But, they rarely get cleaned. The dents and holes in their unfinished walls tend to be ignored, or might elicit a shrug at best. And many don’t even want to think about the possibility that their garage does double-duty as another creature’s bedroom with en suite bathroom.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you homeowners out there act like a bunch of Wicked Step Mothers. And I’m also not saying it’s time for this Cinderella to finally get the attention she deserves to turn her surroundings into a castle.

No, I’m being far more cynical than that. I’m saying just — jeez, people — just throw your garage a bone every once in awhile, and you will greatly benefit yourself.

Think of Fix St Louis as your Garage Fairy God Mother, and we can grant you your garage-sized wish.

An Additional, Easier-to-Access Storage Attic

Stand in your garage and look-up. If you can see the rafters of the roof, you are looking right past an attic that just happens to be missing a floor. What a great place to put all those large bulky things you actually CAN throw away, even though you haven’t realized it yet. Like the original boxes to your electronic products, bolts of leftover carpeting, the crib of your now 50-year-old son, etc. Or things you are holding onto for your kids, waiting for that blessed day they move to a house of their own. Oh, and there will also be plenty of space for things you actually DO use, only not too often. Fix St Louis can create that attic space by building that floor.

Attic Ladder

Did I mention you are going to need a way to get up to this attic space, whether you already have that space or not? Fix St Louis can install a drop-down fold-out attic ladder on the underside of the attic floor that will make it MUCH easier to get to than the other attic that you now have.

You know, that attic you can access through a hatch on the ceiling of that small closet. With a hole size that would be just big enough to twist yourself through, if you were a member of the Romanian female gymnastics team. And because there isn’t a plywood floor up there, it’s easy to step on a place that won’t support your weight, cracking the ceiling on the floor below. Worse yet, because everything is covered with insulation, you can’t even SEE the ONLY places that WILL support your weight — thin balance-beam-wide ceiling joists, easy for female Romanian gymnasts to navigate, but not so much for you. I’m guessing that if you ever actually DID put anything up there, you didn’t try again anytime soon, and have long forgotten what exactly it was that you put up there, anyway.

Storage Along Garage Walls

Let Fix St Louis help you put the walls of your garage to work. Line them with manufactured self-standing shelf storage units, or custom ones we can build with raw lumber. Let us hang a pegboard to hold your garden tools, or panels that allow you to hang-up your brooms, rakes, shovels, and anything else with a long handle that is now leaning against a wall, but every once in awhile falls over and trips you. We can also help you mount bikes on walls OR ceilings. And how about hooks to get those long loops of orange, outside extension cords out of your way?

Power Station

This is an idea that is bound to become hotter. Find a wall of your garage that already has an electric outlet, or have Fix St Louis install one in just the right place. Now, mount on wall space around this outlet the battery power chargers from the new generation of garden tools (e.g. weed whippers, lawnmowers, trimmers, saws, leaf blowers, etc.). The batteries can charge without ever being in your way. You just insert the batteries, plug the wall-mounted chargers into the outlet, walk away, and forget them until the next time you need these tools.

OR, mount nearby to this outlet one of those big round electric cord reels, with a 20+ foot cord and a bulb at the end, that you see in car repair shops. If you mount it near the garage door the cord with bulb will reach anywhere inside and immediately outside your garage. Pretty handy for things like looking under your hood (if that’s even a thing anymore), finding things lost under the front seat, or locating stuff dropped onto the driveway when it’s dark. And if you get a cord reel that also has an OUTLET at the end, you now have a way to use a vacuum cleaner or tire inflator inside or outside, wherever your car is parked, Also a way to more conveniently fill-up inflatable mattresses, toys, and other items (but not the adult stuff, because your neighbors might talk).

Garage Doorbell

Do you ever find yourself stranded in the garage, pounding on the door to the house for somebody to PLEASE let you in, because you don’t carry your keys when you’re doing outside work? This problem has been solved. Let Fix St Louis install a wireless doorbell on that door.

Garage Door Openers

I recently installed a new garage door opener that allows me to open the garage door from my Smart phone over the Internet, i.e. from wherever I am in the world, I suppose. Initially I figured this was something I did not need, and just one more thing that could break (d’ya think I sound like a handyman?). But once you have this feature you’ll find all kinds of reasons to like it. Ever pull away from your house and not remember if you closed the garage door? Did any member of your family ever lock themselves out of the house, especially if they don’t live there anymore and don’t carry a key? Ever have a friend or neighbor want to drop something off, but for whatever reason it shouldn’t be left outside? Fix St Louis installs garage door openers.

So, at least for this one day, let’s give 2 and 1/2 cheers for the lowly, but faithful garage. Let’s face it, a beautiful garage probably won’t get you one extra nickel when you sell your house. And you’re never going to hang out with your guests there — certainly not the Queen if she ever happens to drop by for a visit. But a few minor garage improvements by Fix St Louis can at least make YOUR life easier, even if your Cinderella garage never gets to know what it’s like to live like a Royal.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis

Are LEANING fences & mailboxes giving your yard that “abandoned ghost town” look?

A lot of towns west of the Mississippi went through “boom” times when gold or something else was discovered, followed by “bust” times of decay and neglect.

Back in the olden days, when your humble correspondent was just a handy-boy, I learned that our big boom came when folks migrated here to trap furs.

But they must’ve taken all the good stuff with them, because all we have left are a bunch of rodents, an occasional groundhog, and — are those really dead armadillos I see by the side of the road? We should all be thankful for that community-minded genius who is trying to lure back the trappers, by reintroducing the bear to Kirkwood.

But it’s now been almost two centuries since our area went “bust.” So, why do so many yards display features from that period — the leaning fences, leaning sheds, leaning mailboxes, everything but the leaning tombstones? You asked, so I’ll tell you why.

It’s that homeowners have no idea who to call, to make these leaning things go straight. Call a fence company? HA! They’ll just tell you that you need to spend those extra multi-thousands of dollars you just happen to have lying around to build a whole new fence. Call a mailbox post contractor? A WHAT?! Call a GENERAL contractor? Sure, m’am, we’ll get back to you in about 6 months.

Fortunately, there IS a company you can lean on to un-lean your fences, sheds, and mailboxes. And by sheer luck, and the “slanted” content in this newsletter, it just happens to be Fix St Louis.

1. Leaning Fences

The only parts of your fence that are anchored in the ground, and would be causing the lean, are the posts — those square vertical boards you see every 6-8 feet. Just ask Fix St Louis to replace only those posts that are leaning or wobbly, and magically your fence will once again stand at attention.

So, why did those posts start leaning in the first place? Chances are, it’s because the fence’s installer didn’t know that you also need to pour CONCRETE into the hole dug for that fence post, or didn’t pour in enough. There are other reasons, too. Like the bottom of the post rotted because it absorbed water from the ground. Or the installer was lazy, and didn’t dig the post hole deep enough. Any which way, our skilled Fix St Louis technicians know the difference between a cup of Ted Drewes Dutchman and a sack of Quikrete. We’ve got concrete, and we know how to use it.

2. Leaning Mailboxes

If you think of your mailbox post as just a fancier version of a fence post, you already know why it’s leaning and how we can fix it. But you might also be interested in speaking with our highly experienced mailbox design consultant (oh, guess that’s me), who can tell you what options we can provide beyond what’s at Home Depot: 1) Various colors, metallic finishes, or artwork; 2) Wood, metal, or plastic-sleeved posts; 3) Personalized name and address plates; 4) Fancy grille work, horse heads, etc.; and 5) Mailboxes so strong that you will pity that fool who tries to play drive-by hockey with it.

3. Leaning Sheds

If you have a wooden shed that is leaning one way or another, Fix St Louis can use a collection of rarely-used and oddly-named tools to crank it back into position, including winches, pulleys, cables, and “Come Alongs.” And so it won’t just collapse back into position when we hit the tools’ “release” buttons, we will permanently brace the structure using lumber.

And even if you’re not the type who embarrasses easily, and are not particularly bothered by the unkempt appearance of your property, there are other, very practical reasons to make these repairs. If your neighbors don’t share your appreciation of our region’s charming “bust” period, your trustees might slap a lien on your leans. Or, if the neighborhood kids decide your house is haunted, you might find them daring each other to peak into your bedroom windows.

But, you know in your heart of hearts that if fences, sheds, and mailbox posts were meant to lean, they would have been built that way. Call Fix St Louis today, and we’ll set you straight.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis

Support the Transitioning of your Rooms to their Preferred Identities

When you spend as much time as I do working hard and poking my head into things like toilets, crawl spaces, and other dark places, it’s good to look up every once in a while to notice the cultural trends I’ve been missing.

For instance, one evening a few weeks ago I put my tools down for a few minutes to watch the Olympics, and saw New Zealand athlete Laurel Hubbard get eliminated immediately for failing to make any of the first 3 lifts in the women’s weightlifting competition. Then I immediately learned that Laurel Hubbard was born a male, set weightlifting records in New Zealand competing as a male, decided that he “identified” as a female, began hormone therapy 9 years ago to “transition” to female, and was now competing in the Olympics against athletes born female.

Now, the sports announcer just rattled all that off as if that’s an everyday thing. But his words were packed with so many ideas that, frankly, were so foreign to your humble correspondent that he might as well have been speaking a foreign language. To give you an analogy drawing from MY world, it was as if we placed that sports announcer behind the counter at one of our plumbing parts suppliers, where he had to be fluent in listening to the guys in the room describe the plumbing part they needed, in sentences in which every other word was an expletive, enabling him to flawlessly walk into the warehouse behind him, which is the size of 2 football fields, and return with exactly the right part.

But even though I may never understand what that sports announcer said, I think I may understand the concept as it applies in the handyman world — especially in this pre/post/forever-and-ever COVID pandemic period. So, here goes.

Suddenly, have you noticed the names of the rooms in your house no longer line-up with the preferences of how your family wants to use them? Where is the remote CLASSROOM for your kids? Where is the OFFICE that is suitable for work? Why do you have all those electrical, phone, and PC WIRES running across rooms and aisles, from wall outlets to electronic equipment and chargers? And where’s the appropriate BACKDROP for Zoom calls to make the remote worker look like a professional rather than a squatter in a house that badly needs decorating, if not remodeling.

So while admittedly it may be a BIT of a stretch, you could say that, like weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, the “preferred identities” of your rooms have changed. OK, you got me — it’s more than a BIT of a stretch. But regardless, could it be time to “transition” these rooms to your preference, like in the examples below?

TRANSITION #1:
LIVING ROOM TO OFFICE

In many homes, when you enter the front door there is a Living Room to the left or right. How about filling-in that big opening between the front entrance and the living room with a French door with glass, extending the wall surfaces of the opening inward to meet that door. Now, put a desk in the middle of the room, facing the French glass doors, some new outlets on the floor beneath the desk, a few can lights on the ceiling, built-in bookcases behind the desk, and maybe even some crown molding at the top of the walls. Fix St Louis can perform this makeover for you.

TRANSITION #2:
BEDROOM TO OFFICE

The big needs for a remote worker sitting at a desk are electrical outlets, computer wall jacks, and lighting. Fix St Louis can add wall and overhead light fixtures, and also add outlets and jacks on the wall behind the desk, or even under the desk. Usually, we run these wires through walls from the attic down or from the basement up, but we can also run them across walls and ceilings by cutting into, then restoring the drywall.

TRANSITION #3:
DINING ROOM (OR KITCHEN) TO CLASSROOM

The difference between transitioning a dining room or kitchen to remote classroom space vs. converting a living room to office space (as described above) is that these rooms cannot be converted entirely for the single purpose of a classroom — you will still need a functioning dining room or kitchen. For these spaces, we can add electrical outlets and jacks on the floor beneath dining room tables or within base cabinets along walls or on islands. (The lighting in these rooms is generally sufficient to handle remote classroom needs).

TRANSITION #4:
BASEMENT TO OFFICE (TO GUEST BEDROOM)

If you have an unfinished basement, you can look at this pandemic as a great excuse to make a down payment on a finished basement. Pick out a corner of the basement for an office, your first project on the way to a finished basement. There are usually unfinished walls and ceiling, so it’s easy for Fix St Louis to wire-in lighting, phone jacks, PC jacks, cable TV, speakers, etc. Most homeowners would start with a drop ceiling with ceiling tiles and square or rectangular light fixtures that fit into the grid, but a drywall ceiling provides a more finished look. If eventually you’re thinking of turning this office space into a guest bedroom, consider incorporating a closet into the framing work needed for the walls, and having the new room encompass an existing window or glass patio door that can be used for egress during a fire, both required to refer to it as a “bedroom” in realtor listings.

Well, we at Fix St Louis are very busy, have to get back to work, and don’t really have the time to 2nd guess our identities as handymen. Someone recently told me that folks are now being asked to assert their “preferred pronoun” for how they would like to be addressed by others. In case you’re wondering, I’ve chosen “Dr” as my preferred pronoun, even though there’s a middle school teacher’s voice in my head telling me that it’s not a pronoun. But to tell you the truth, we at Fix St Louis don’t really care what you call us, as long as you DO call us, when you are ready for a transition.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis

What if handymen wore overalls scrawled with “Tax the Rich”?

Maybe you’ve seen pictures of U.S. Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (aka “AOC”) modeling an evening gown with “Tax the Rich” scrawled all over it. Now, I’d be real surprised to see someone wearing that when I’m at Home Depot picking up supplies. But I was MORE surprised by where AOC wore it — at a $30,000 per ticket fundraiser for the Metropolitan Opera.

As your humble correspondent, who spends half my waking hours poking my head into toilets, it’s difficult for me to understand how “the rich” think. But, do these rich, $30,000 per ticket attendees really believe that taxing themselves even more is a good idea? If they really LIKE paying taxes so much, shouldn’t they also be attending gala events to contribute $30,000 a ticket to the federal budget?

Maybe it would help us understand this better if, for a moment, we took a deep plunge downward from the lofty world of stretch limos to the base-level world of pickup trucks.

Let’s say your HANDYMAN was doing things that were not in your best interests. And he thinks of YOU as being rich, even though you’re not. And he feels so emboldened that he brags about what he’s doing to you, and even scrawls it all over his overalls. Here’s what his overalls might say:

“Upsell the Rich”

You need a window repaired, but your handyman really does not want to do a job that small. But instead of telling you that, he says, “you know all the windows in your house have been around for awhile, and soon all of them will have this problem.” Then he sells you on replacing ALL your windows. Now there’s something you never have to worry about with Fix St Louis. We actually PREFER small jobs to big jobs. And often, we’re the ONLY contractor that homeowners talk to who offer to REPAIR rather than REPLACE what’s broken.

“Inconvenience the Rich”

When you ask a contractor “when can you start?,” most likely they’ll give you an IDEA of when they can start, in weeks or months, but they won’t commit to specific work dates. “I’ll call you about a week beforehand,” they might say. Now, think about it. Who else in your personal or professional life, other than your immediate family, would you give away that much control of your calendar to? Who else would you allow to leave you in this unsettled state, forcing you to continue to think about it, and make sure it doesn’t fall through the cracks?

Contractors avoid commitments on starting dates for THEIR convenience, not yours. This is their way of reducing their down time to as little as possible, by stringing together the end of one job with the start of the next. Unlike pretty much everyone else, Fix St Louis will give you FIRM starting dates as soon as you agree to the job. Frankly, it makes our job tougher, as it puts us under a lot of pressure to accurately predict how long each job will take, and to place enough padding in our schedule for those jobs that take longer than we thought. But that’s OUR problem not yours — you’ll be able to place our work dates in your calendar, then move on to think about other things.

“Stall the Rich”

This is a more insidious version of “Inconvenience the Rich.” Instead of floating the starting date just to eliminate downtime between jobs, some handymen use this floating period to prioritize and rearrange their jobs, so that they work on bigger ones first, and the small job that you may have last, if ever. This can’t happen with Fix St Louis because we give you firm work dates upfront.

“Ditch the Rich”

This is the worst handyman practice of all, and sometimes morphs into criminal activity. This is “Stall the Rich” on steroids, where the endpoint is that the handyman may NEVER start, or never finish a job they started.

The most innocent, but still irritating, version is when a handyman really, really does not want your small job, but rather than tell you that directly, he chooses to avoid you and never get back to you.

On the other end of the spectrum are handymen who take money upfront, may even start the job, but never come back. Tell-tale signs include having to listen to tall tales, especially those intended to pull your heartstrings, like “I’m going to have to take a few days off next week to attend the out-of-town funeral of a Great Aunt who meant so much to me.” Needless to say, Fix St Louis would not have an A+ rating from the Better Business Bureau if we ever pulled stunts like these.

So, do you NOW understand how AOC can wear a “Tax the Rich” evening gown, and not have the $30,000 a ticket attendees throw her out the front door and land on her slogan? Me neither. But at least you’ve been warned that if your HANDYMAN shows-up wearing overalls that threaten the rich, it may be time to throw THEM out, and invite Fix St Louis in.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis

Go ahead, fight fire with fire. But fight water with plastic.

You might have guessed that, as a busy handyman, your humble correspondent doesn’t spend much time pondering the teachings of the great philosophers. But, I do grab wisdom wherever I can get it.

Like from that late 20th century philosopher, Madonna, who famously said “We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.” Or the Mr McGuire character in the movie “The Graduate”, with his succinct career guidance to recent grad Dustin Hoffman. “I just want to say one word to you … Just one word … Are you listening? … Plastics … There is a great future in plastics.”

Frankly, I didn’t pick up on their wisdom right away, but eventually I had my Aha! moment. PLASTICS! That MUST have been the material in Madonna’s prophecy! This handyman’s really got to hand it to that girl who knows her materials.

Think about it. What’s the one thing that does the most damage to houses? It’s water. And what material frustrates water the most when it goes about its devious plan to damage your home. Yes, it’s plastic.

Haven’t you noticed all the things in your home that are now made of plastic? If all “plastic” means to you are those small Lego blocks that hurt like hell when you step on them, you’re not thinking big enough. Plastic comes in many disguises, and is now found all throughout your house. Here are some of the best places Fix St Louis can install plastics to keep water from damaging your stuff:

Deck Boards: Fix St Louis can replace all the wood on your deck with boards that look just like wood, but don’t rot and never need staining. These “composite” boards are usually made by combining a variety of materials, that are held together and sealed with a petroleum-based resin, i.e. “plastic.”

Doors, Windows, and Front Porch Columns: Have you ever seen rotted wood outside on the wood trim around an entry or garage door, on the base trim of a porch column, or on a window ledge? Fix St Louis can replace these with PVC or composite trim that will never rot. Or we can fill holes with a plastic-based, rot-resistant patching material if the damaged area is small.

Floors: There are several areas in your home that, sooner or later, are likely to have an unfortunate water event — particularly bathrooms, kitchens, and basements. Water can ruin a floor made of hardwood, laminate flooring, or carpeting. You might want Fix St Louis to replace these floors with “vinyl plank,” a floor made of plastic, but with today’s technologies can be made to look just like wood.

Shutters: Unless your home is on the historical register, there is no good reason to replace deteriorating wood shutters with new wood shutters. Since they’re covered with paint anyway, what difference does it make what they’re made of? Go with a material that won’t rot and that you may never need to paint again. Vinyl shutters are what most homeowners choose. But if you want something more sturdy and more resistant to fading, composite shutters are a good choice.

The “great future in plastics” has brought different benefits to different people. For Madonna, judging from what I have seen, it’s been mostly in the form of injections. For Mr McGuire, it’s been in the form of investments that provide a comfortable retirement.

But for you as a homeowner, while I’m no Mr McGuire who can offer his best advice in just ONE word, maybe I can do it if you’ll give me THREE words plus ONE abbreviation… Are you listening?… Call Fix St Louis.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis