Air Conditioning Repair Tips You Can Do Yourself

While a properly maintained air conditioning system will usually last for 10 to 15 years, parts wear out and can require repair. Fortunately, many minor AC issues can be resolved by yourself without calling an air conditioner repair professional. However, if you need some professional assistance, you can contact Air Conditioning Repair Sherman Oaks.

Air Conditioning Repair

First, make sure the thermostat has power and that the breaker or fuse supplying power to the unit has not been tripped. Next, check the evaporator coil and compressor for dirt.

Your air conditioner’s evaporator coil is what absorbs heat from your living areas and cools the circulating air in your home. Without this critical piece of equipment, your AC would be unable to perform its basic function. That’s why it’s so important to regularly clean the evaporator coil and other parts of your system.

A dirty evaporator coil can dramatically reduce your system’s efficiency and cause your energy bills to rise. The accumulated dirt and debris on the coil acts as an insulator, preventing it from absorbing heat from the circulating air. This means that the refrigerant must work much harder to cool your home, leading to increased wear on other components in the system and eventually a breakdown.

Dirty evaporator coils are also a major safety issue because they can lead to dangerous leaks in your home’s indoor air system. These leaks can result in unpleasant odors, water damage, and even mildew and mold. In most cases, the evaporator coil will need to be cleaned by an HVAC professional before the problem becomes too serious.

The first step in cleaning a dirty evaporator coil is to turn off the power to your system at the breaker box or fuse panel. This is essential to prevent any potential damage or injuries during the process. Next, carefully remove the access panel from the front of your air handler or furnace and look inside the unit to see the evaporator coil.

Begin by inspecting the evaporator coil for large debris like leaves or spider webs. Remove these by hand, then use a coil brush to remove loose dirt and debris. This special tool is available at most hardware and AC shops and has bristles that are about halfway between a regular broom and a wire brush. Be careful not to bend the evaporator coil fins, which can be damaged easily.

After brushing, rinse the evaporator coil with a mixture of water and liquid cleaner. Be sure to follow all instructions on the cleaning solution’s label and wear gloves and goggles. You should also be careful not to touch the evaporator coil or any other electrical components while you’re working on it.

Dirty compressor coil

A dirty compressor coil is not good for your air conditioner. Dirty coils cause the unit to work harder, putting added stress on other components and shortening the overall operating life of your AC system. Neglecting to clean your coils may seem like a small problem at first, but it puts the rest of your system under more stress and can lead to more frequent repair issues down the road.

A layer of dirt on your evaporator coil acts as an insulator, blocking the airflow that is necessary for the cooling process. It also prevents the evaporator coil from absorbing or releasing heat, which is key to your home’s comfort. The result is increased energy usage, which leads to higher utility bills.

Your condenser coil is located outdoors, so it’s vulnerable to dirt and debris from the environment around your home. Dirty coils force your air conditioner to work harder to reject heat from your home, which will put additional strain on other components such as the fan motors and compressor. Over time, this extra work can result in the copper windings inside your compressor’s compressor coil melting or breaking.

Dirty evaporator coils can also affect your home’s indoor air quality by increasing humidity. This can cause mold spores and mildew to grow in your HVAC system and spread throughout your home, which is not only irritating but can be dangerous if you or a family member has asthma or other respiratory conditions.

The best way to avoid these air conditioning problems is by scheduling regular maintenance visits with your local Carrier dealer. They’ll check and clean your evaporator and condenser coils, change your air filters, and test your unit to ensure it is functioning properly when you need it most. You can even schedule service online, making it easy to keep your air conditioning running at its best!

Low coolant levels

Engine coolant is essential for keeping your car’s engine from overheating and can also help keep your AC working properly. The same can’t be said for air conditioner coolant (AKA refrigerant), which is used to cool the air that comes through your vents and into the cabin of your vehicle. Low levels of this fluid can negatively affect your AC in several ways.

One telltale sign of low coolant is a warm or hot smell coming from your air vents. Another is a strange bubbling or hissing sound that may indicate a refrigerant leak. If you notice either of these issues, it’s best to stop driving your car and take it to a professional for repair.

A coolant leak is a serious problem that can be very dangerous for your car’s engine and radiator, but it can also cause your AC to lose efficiency. In fact, you may not even be able to run your AC at all if the leak is severe enough.

If you have a leak in your cooling system, you’ll need to have your entire AC system inspected and repaired by an experienced technician. This is because the refrigerant in your AC system is ozone-depleting and must be handled with care by certified professionals.

Many people aren’t aware that they have a low refrigerant level until they receive their utility bill with a spike in energy costs. This is because your AC is working much harder than normal to compensate for the lack of coolant, which causes it to use up more fuel.

You’ll need to visit a certified professional to have your refrigerant levels checked and topped off as needed. If your AC isn’t functioning properly, you’ll likely need to have it refilled with the right amount of Freon to get it back to peak performance.

A quick fix to your AC can be as simple as adding more Freon, but it may not solve the underlying problem. If a leak or other problem with your compressor is to blame, you’ll need to have your vehicle taken into an auto shop for more extensive AC repairs.

Damaged coolant lines

Even the smallest of thunderstorms can do significant damage to your air conditioning system. The sudden change in weather can cause air conditioner problems ranging from a dirty cabin filter to a failing compressor. But if you understand what can go wrong with your car’s AC system and know what to look out for, you may be able to save yourself a trip to the auto shop.

Coolant Lines

Your air conditioning system uses a liquid called Freon to cool your car. This liquid is transferred from the engine to the evaporator coil with the use of air conditioning refrigerant lines. These hoses are under a lot of pressure, so it is not uncommon for them to leak. A leaking hose can quickly empty your entire cooling system of its vital refrigerant and leave you with no way to get cold air into your vehicle.

If you hear a hissing sound coming from your air conditioner or notice traces of refrigerant on the ground or underneath your vehicle, turn off your air conditioner and check the refrigerant lines. Be careful not to touch the lines, as they contain a harmful chemical that can be dangerous if handled improperly. If you find that the hoses are damaged or cracked, it is best to call an auto service professional as soon as possible.

The hoses are attached to the AC unit with a spring-type or band clamp. You should inspect these clamps for signs of wear and tear and tighten them as per the manufacturer’s specifications. Make sure that you don’t overtighten the clamps, as this can damage the hoses or cause them to crack.

Over time, your coolant lines can become eroded by the harsh elements and formic acid that are found in most antifreeze. Erosion causes tiny holes in the copper lines, which can lead to air conditioner issues and coolant leaks. You can tell that you have a coolant leak when you see puddles of fluid under your car or if the low coolant indicator light illuminates on your dashboard.

Home Improvement

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Home Care

Hot Tub Installation 101

Exterior Home Hot Tub

Backyard hot tubs help soak away stress and provides relief for muscle aches and joint pain. Before you set up your little oasis, here are a few things to note.

There’s nothing like a long soak in a hot tub, especially when it’s outdoors overlooking the view. Summer or winter, the warm water, and massaging jets ease tired muscles and melt the stress away.

Maybe you’ve been attending pool and spa shows, looking at all the models and options available. Before you get too far along your buyer’s journey, there are a few things to figure out, like if you need a permit, where you’ll locate the tub, and if you need to hire someone to install it. If you plan to add a hot tub to your backyard oasis, these how-to instructions will help you get started.

Do You Need a Permit to Install a Hot Tub?

Check with your local building official to see if you need a permit. They’ll likely ask you a few questions about the location, foundation, and wiring before giving you an answer. If all you need is an electrical permit, most likely the electrician will pull that for you and include it in his fee.

Also, ask your local zoning official and homeowners’ association for any rules regarding the placement of outdoor spas.

Best Location for an Outdoor Hot Tub

The best location for your backyard hot tub is where it will bring you the most joy. Consider the following points before making a final decision.

Proximity to the house. To reduce the risk of electrocution, place your tub at least 16 feet away from overhead power lines. To protect your home and outbuildings from potential flooding, keep it at least 5 feet from any structure. Also, locate the spa close to a doorway into the house or provide a small changing area close by for wintertime use.Plenty of space. Leave adequate space for removing and storing the cover and accessing the maintenance panel.Optimum privacy. If you don’t want the neighbors watching you soak away the cares of the world, hide your hot tub behind a hedge, privacy fence, or wall. Remember a view hidden by trees could change when the trees drop their leaves. Mark the location you’re considering, then walk the perimeter of your yard, viewing it through your neighbors’ eyes.Protection from the elements. In addition to privacy, windbreaks make using your tub more enjoyable, particularly in cold weather. A sheltered location also reduces operating and maintenance costs.Breathtaking views. Stand where you think you want the spa and turn around, taking in each view. Ask yourself if this location provides the calming power you need. The stress will dissolve much easier if your view includes a gorgeous sunset rather than a brick wall. If your property doesn’t offer picturesque landscapes, consider a garden location with flowers, bird feeders, or the soothing sound of wind chimes.

Types of Foundations for Hot Tubs

According to the home services marketplace HomeAdvisor, a 4-person tub filled with water could weigh as much as 4,000 pounds. So, before adding one to your back deck, consult with a general contractor or structural engineer to make sure the deck can handle the load. Other foundation ideas include:

Concrete—Pouring a concrete pad is quick and easy. Jacuzzi recommends a reinforced concrete pad at least 4 inches deep.>
Spa pad—Install these interlocking pads on grass or soil and level with sand for a sturdy but moveable foundation. They’re ideal for temporary situations, such as rental houses.Concrete pavers—Because they tend to shift, stone patio pavers aren’t the best choice for your hot tub foundation. Instead, use interlocking concrete pavers[SZ1] [AC2] and have the pad they form inspected by a structural engineer or contractor to make sure the tub is properly balanced and level.

Shade Your Hot Tub

A shaded hot tub protects you and the tub itself from the ravages of the sun. Also, any heat deflected from windows or other reflective surfaces could damage the tub’s cabinet. For this reason, locate your spa inside or under a gazebo, pergola, or awning.

Although trees provide a natural setting, you don’t want leaves and twigs in your tub. Nor do you want branches to fall and damage it.

Installing Your Hot Tub

Clear the path

Delivery personnel need an unobstructed path to transport your hot tub from their truck to your location, using a dolly. Help them before the big day by:

Choosing a path clear of any water or gas meters, air conditioning units, low-hanging roofs, and gutters, and free of six or more consecutive stairs.Measuring gates and doorways beforehand and comparing those measurements with the unit.Measuring to make sure the unit will fit around any 90 degree turns, bends, or corners.Removing patio furniture, potted plants, or play equipment blocking the way.Checking for and pruning overhanging branches or shrubs blocking the path.

Electrical requirements

Hot tubs come with 120v or 220v connections. If your tub has a 220v connection, it must be hard-wired to the power supply. If it has a 120v connection, it can be plugged into a dedicated grounded outlet using the unit’s 10-foot cord. If the outlet is further than 10 feet away, the unit must be hard-wired. In both instances, the unit requires a dedicated circuit with no other appliances sharing the power. Make sure all electrical work is complete before filling the spa.

Plumbing requirements

You can fill your hot tub with a hose from an outside tap. And to drain the water for periodic changes, attach a hose to the drain port and route it away from the spa and your home’s foundation, to an area that can absorb a large amount of water quickly, like a storm drain.

Steps to Fill Your Hot Tub

Once your hot tub is delivered, assembled, and wired, it’s time to fill it with water.

Turn off the electricity.
Clean the spa per the manufacturer’s instructions and open the air valves.Make sure the drain port is closed.Fill the tub with cold water 6 to 8 inches from the top edge, remembering the water level rises when occupied.Turn on the power and heat to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.Follow directions for adding the sanitizing chemicals.There’s nothing like a hot tub to create a sanctuary in your backyard. Follow these guidelines for the peace of mind that takes your relaxation experience up a notch.

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Home Remodeling

Firework Safety: 9 Tips for Safely Celebrating the Fourth of July at Home

Fireworks, Sparklers

In many areas of the country, some form of consumer fireworks are legal. Learn how to protect yourself and your family if you’re planning your own festival of lights this holiday.

The Fourth of July is a swell summer day, isn’t it? You hang out in the hammock, grill a few burgers, and watch—or maybe light your own—fireworks. It’s great family fun—if you play it safe with those fireworks.

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), more fires are reported on Independence Day than any other day of the year, with more than half those fires caused by fireworks. Added to fires are injuries

Many of accidents can be avoided if the proper safety measures are taken. This Fourth of July, if you live in an area where fireworks are legal and feel the need to try them out, protect yourself, your family, and your neighbors with these safety tips.

Have a designated shooter

Make sure the person using the fireworks is a responsible adult. Never mix alcohol with fireworks, says Ralph Apel, president of the National Safety Council. The National Safety Council also suggests the shooter should wear safety glasses because eye and face damage tend to be the most common forms of fireworks-related injury.

Know the fireworks you are using

Carefully read all the safety and warning labels. Do not use fireworks that have been bought illegally, and do not use fireworks that have no warning labels.

Apel says consumers should buy their fireworks only from a licensed dealer. If you’re planning on having a festival of lights in your own backyard, make sure you use only consumer (formerly Class C) fireworks. Leave the display (formerly Class B) fireworks to the professionals.

According to the American Pyrotechnics Association (APA), the legal limit for explosive material in a consumer firework is 50 milligrams, which the APA notes is about the size of half a common aspirin tablet.

Do not use illegal or homemade fireworks

Use fireworks only as they are intended to be used. Do not put multiple fireworks together and light them off as one. Make sure to purchase only legal fireworks kits. It is illegal to make your own fireworks.

Tampering with legal fireworks or building your own is dangerous and can lead to unexpected explosions. Fire Chief and NCFS board member Kyle L. Lenn, of Ralston, Nebraska, says the majority of the accidents he has responded to weren’t caused by fireworks but by illegal explosives that people made and treated like fireworks.

Follow local and state laws and regulations

Make sure you know and understand what types of fireworks—if any—can be used in your area. According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), 45 states, including Connecticut, California, Texas, and Pennsylvania, allow certain types of consumer fireworks to be sold and used.

Five states have banned the sale and use of all consumer fireworks: Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Be sure to look into federal, state, and local safety standards for igniting fireworks.

The American Pyrotechnics Association provides information on state-by-state fireworks control laws. You might also check with your local fire department to ask about regulations in your area.

Have some form of water ready

Keep a hose and a bucket of water close at hand. Use the hose to put out stray flames or sparks from firecrackers. Hose down any duds, or fireworks that do not ignite when lit, and let them sit for at least 20 minutes before handling to ensure they aren’t delayed starters. After the wait time has elapsed, soak the firework in a bucket of water for an additional 15 to 20 minutes before disposing of it.

Chief Lenn suggests using a hose to wet the ground where the fireworks were lit after your celebration. During the July 4th season, he says, firefighters respond to lots of small grass fires, as well as small fires in trash cans and dumpsters in which fireworks were lit.

When disposing of dud fireworks and firework fragments, make sure they have been thoroughly soaked. Reserve a doubled trash bag for saturated fireworks and keep it out of and away from any residential structures.

Check your local waste management guidelines for proper disposal in your area. Do not place unused fireworks in the garbage. Store them in a cool, dry place away from flammable objects or liquids and out of the reach of children.

Observe precautions when lighting fireworks

Chief Lenn advises that fireworks be placed on level, solid ground. Gravel, dirt, or grass can sometimes be soft or uneven, which may cause rockets to tip over while firing.

If a grassy area is the only place available, lay down a flat, wooden board from which to launch your fireworks. Chief Lenn also advises against the use of matches to light fireworks. Instead, he recommends using a multipurpose lighter.

Make sure your hands and face are not directly over the firework while you’re lighting the fuse. Once it’s lit, join spectators at a safe distance. Never attempt to re-light a firework if it does not ignite the first time.

Be aware of your surroundings

Plan where people will be sitting and the direction in which aerial fireworks will be firing beforehand. When purchasing any type of firework, keep the size of your space in mind and determine required spectator distances beforehand so you don’t bring home something you shouldn’t be lighting. Make sure onlookers are a safe distance away.

Chief Lenn says that proper distancing of crowds from displays depends on how the area you’re using is situated and what you’re lighting. Required spectator distances vary depending on what’s being lit. For example, crowds should stand at least 15 feet away from burning cones and fountains.

Check labels for the required safety distances of each unit. In general, fireworks should be placed far enough away so that if they tip over, their flames won’t reach any spectators.

Also, make sure you are not lighting fireworks near combustible materials, such as newspapers, gasoline, or dried leaves. Never ignite fireworks indoors, and always set them off away from buildings and houses.

Keep children away

Children should not handle fireworks and should be kept under strict adult supervision when viewing them. “Teach your children proper firework spectator safety and supervise them closely,” says Apel.

Fireworks can be fun and entertaining for children—as long as they are kept at a safe distance and understand how powerful fireworks are and how dangerous they can be when used improperly.

Learn what to do in the event of an injury

Before you light fireworks, familiarize yourself with first-aid information and advice from medical professionals, which can be found through online resources. The Mayo Clinic website offers a wealth of information about basic first aid. If you have any questions as to the severity of the injury or the injury appears to need professional medical attention, call 911 or take the injured person to a hospital emergency room right away.

For more information about fireworks safety, visit the National Safety Council’s website. But, given the risks involved with consumer fireworks, you might want to simply be a spectator this Fourth of July.

Kick back, stay safe, and let the professionals handle the thrilling explosions.

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Home Care

How to Repair Damage After a House Fire

The interior of a house featured on This Old House Season 42 that sustained fire damage. The left side of the room has all of the drywall removed and a door off of its hinges.
Meg Reinhardt

The job of restoring your home can be physically demanding, dirty, and emotionally exhausting—but it’s doable and well worth the reward of getting your house back.

It might start as a spark from an arcing electrical wire, or from some robust sautéing that got out of hand, or more commonly these days, from a wildfire. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are more than 350,000 house fires in this country every year. Some inflict relatively minor damage to the house, while others consume the house entirely. And while any fire is a traumatic event, many homeowners are left with enough house that they can rebuild the damaged parts and return to life as usual.

Call Your Insurance Company

If your house has sustained a fire, your first call should be to your insurance company. Do not enter the house until the fire marshal or fire department gives the all-clear and says that it’s safe to enter.

Consider Hiring a Structural Engineer and Specialized Companies

Engineer examines a building/home exterior wall. He wears a red hard hat and clear safety glasses and holds a clipboard.
iStockDepending on the amount of damage, you may need to hire a structural engineer to assess the condition of the floors, walls, and roof. These specialists evaluate the condition of the house’s foundation, framing, and building envelope and recommend repair or replacement of any damaged portions. If the house is uninhabitable, be sure to secure it by covering any holes or damaged windows or doors with plywood. To prevent further water damage, tarp off any open sections of the roof, provided that the fire department or structural engineer says it’s safe to do so.

There are companies that specialize in cleaning up the soot, smoke, and water damage after a fire, so if you don’t have the skills or the inclination, call one of them. Restoration companies typically use thermal fogging machines and ozone generators, as well as other equipment, to clean a home’s interior. Many cleaning companies don’t do repairs, however, so you may also need to call a builder, electrician, plumber, or roofer.

Wear Appropriate Gear When Cleaning

Shot of a young man putting on his protective gear before the decontamination process.
iStockStructure fires generate toxic chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic. If you perform any of the cleaning yourself, be sure to wear a dust mask, protective clothing, and rubber gloves.

Get Rid of the Water First

Start by removing anything that’s wet: drywall, insulation, rugs, and furniture. Water damage is a real threat and anything that remains wet will breed mold and mildew. If there’s standing water in the basement, you can rent a sump pump to extract it. You can also rent fans and dehumidifiers to circulate air and promote drying; and while you’re at it, replace all the air filters in your HVAC system.

How to Get Rid of the Smoke Odor

Two blue industrial sized fans sitting on a subfloor.
iStockIn the immediate aftermath of a fire, firefighters often set up big fans to clear smoke and its associated odor from the structure. But the smell of the fire will linger long after the smoke is gone, so undamaged surfaces such as ceilings, walls, and floors will have to be cleaned. All charred fixtures, furniture, cabinets, and the like should be removed. Soot is corrosive and should be removed as quickly as possible.

Use a shop vac, or similar, that’s equipped with a HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filter to extract debris from the floor and fabrics, such as upholstery, curtains, and bed linens. Rugs that are salvageable should be cleaned by a professional carpet service.

To clean soot-covered surfaces, experts recommend mixing a solution of a couple of tablespoons of dishwashing detergent, a cup of borax, and two cups of vinegar in a gallon of water. Focus on one area at a time, use a sponge to scrub surfaces, and rinse with plain water afterward. Clothing can be cleaned by soaking in warm water, detergent, and white vinegar. You can also take it, along with draperies, blankets, etc., to a dry cleaner that’s experienced in eradicating smoke odors.

Evaluating the Remains

When all the irreparably damaged items have been removed and the home’s interior has been cleaned, it’s time to consult the structural engineer’s report. It’s up to the structural engineer to assess the condition and viability of the house’s structural components.

If your house cannot be restored with relative ease, it might be time to remodel or redesign it. If it can be salvaged and you opt to rebuild, discuss the proposed construction with the structural engineer. In most places, you’ll also need to get demolition and/or building permits before you start, and current building codes may force unforeseen but beneficial changes to the house, such as a seismic retrofit or energy-efficient upgrades. Depending on the extent of the fire damage, you may be calling an electrician and a plumber as well.

As you’re working, remember that demolition can be dangerous. Before setting ladders, be sure that walls and floors are adequately braced. As with new construction, build from the ground up, establishing the first level before starting the second. And recognize that the emotional toll of this experience can be debilitating; accidents are more likely to occur when you are tired, so take extra care to be rested and alert when you rebuild your house.

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Home Remodeling

How to Install an Automatic Door Closer

An automatic door closer attached to a multi toned wood door.

How does automatic closing with customizable speed and power sound to you? Installing an automatic door closer can check all those boxes while meeting code and keeping you safe.

Garage entry doors, fire doors, and some entrances in residential building complexes are often required to have some sort of automatic closing system to meet code. The idea is that if a car is running in the garage, fumes won’t enter the home. Or, if there is a fire in the room, the door is guaranteed to be shut. While spring-loaded hinges are usually the bare minimum, an automatic door closer is a major upgrade.

With customizable speeds and closing power, this system is worth the upgrade. But, it’s not as easy to install as a spring-loaded hinge. Here is everything you need to know about how to install an automatic door closer.

Tools and Materials for Door Closer Installation

Utility knifePainter’s tapePencilTape measureSpeed square Safety glassesGlovesDrill driverDrill bits#3 Phillips bit or screwdriverHex keysEverything else you need will be included in the door closer kit. Most even come with paper templates you can tape to the door for precise drilling locations without the need for measuring.

How to Install an Automatic Door Closer

Installing an automatic door closer may involve a bit more work than installing a set of hinges, but it’s definitely a DIY-friendly job. The following instructions will help.

Step 1: Identify the door-swing direction

A close up of a door hinge mounted on a mossy green door and frame.
Getty Images/iStockphotoThere are a few different ways to install an automatic door closer, and you want to ensure you’re installing yours correctly. First, you need to identify the swing of the door, which you can do by standing in the door jamb with the door open and your back to the hinges. If the door is on the right, it’s a right-hand-swing door. If the door is on the left, it’s a left-hand-swing door.

With the swing of the door determined, choose which side of the door you’ll be installing the closer assembly on. Generally, you’ll want to hide the closer from the rest of the living space, so you’ll typically mount it on the garage- or room-side of the door.

Step 2: Mark the drilling locations

If your kit contains a template, there may be options for left- and right-hand doors. Find the template the fits the door, cut it out with a utility knife, and tape it to the door according to the directions.

If your kit didn’t come with a template, follow the manufacturer’s instructions to determine where to drill. Be sure to measure from the hinge side of the door. Using your pencil, mark the distance of each set of holes from the hinge. Placing the speed square against the top of the door, mark a vertical line at both pencil marks. Use your tape measure or the rule on the square to mark the height of each of the holes on these vertical pencil lines.

Consult the instructions to determine the drilling location on the door jamb to attach the swingarm.

Tip: Laying out four holes with a tape measure and speed square can be tough to do accurately. If you can mark two holes, you’ll be able to drill the others when the closer is in place for a perfect installation.

Step 3: Drill the holes

Throw on some safety glasses, and if you’re drilling through a metal door, gloves are helpful as well. Using a power drill with a smaller drill bit in place, drill your pilot holes on the marks you just made before stepping up to the appropriate bit (usually 3/16, but check the instructions). Don’t drill all the way through the door; a depth of ¾ inch is typically enough.

Step 4: Install the door closer body

Most door hardware of any type uses #3 Phillips bits, so tighten one into your drill for this step. Using the screws that came in the kit, attach the door closer to the door according to the directions. Be sure to pay attention to the instructions so you’ll know which way is up when you’re installing the door closer.

Step 5: Install the swingarm bracket

With the #3 Phillips bit still in the drill, use the included hardware to attach the swingarm’s bracket to the door jamb. It’s sometimes easier to separate the arm from the closer for this part, as one of the holes can be very difficult to reach with tension on the closer.

Step 6: Attach the swingarm to the closer and adjust it

If you removed the swingarm from the closer, it’s time to reattach and adjust it to close correctly. Check the directions that came in the kit, but this often means loosening the set screw on the arm and adjusting it so that the jamb side of the swingarm is perpendicular to the jamb.

How to Adjust a Door Closer

The door closer will have adjustment screws that allow the user to dial in the speed and pressure at which the door closes. Check your local code for the appropriate speed, but it’s usually supposed to take a door around seven seconds to close and latch. These screws usually take hex keys, but some adjust with a standard screwdriver.

Door Closer Installation is DIY-Friendly

An automatic door closer attached to a multi toned wood door.
iStockOnce you’ve dialed in the speed, install the cover and enjoy the fruits of your labor. You’ll have a door that meets code with much more adjustability than spring-loaded hinges. While each kit is a little different, the installation procedures are almost entirely the same and well within the capabilities of a DIY’er. Just measure, mark, and drill carefully and you’ll have no problem tackling this job on your own.

Did you miss our previous article…

Home Care

Common Roof Problems and How to Fix Them

Roof shingles with garret house on top of the house among a lot of trees. dark asphalt tiles on the roof background.

Staying on top of these common issues will keep the water outside, where it belongs.

That roof over your head, the one that keeps you dry and protects you from the elements? It will weather storms, wind, sleet, and snow for decades, but it won’t last forever. There are a handful of potential issues—old or torn shingles, worn-out flashing, clogged gutters, and more—that will degrade the roof. It’s a gradual process—first a loose shingle or worn piece of flashing lets in a little water, then decay develops, and soon you have water ruining your house. The best thing to do is to fix these small problems before they grow into big, expensive ones. Here’s what you need to know.

Common Roof Problems

Signs you have a roof leak

Roof leakage, water damaged ceiling roof and stain on ceiling close-up
iStockA leak in your roof doesn’t have to present itself as a torrent or even a steady drip, drip, drip. If you suddenly find a wet spot on your ceiling or a stain on it that keeps growing, you may have a small leak. If you have access to your attic, look inside at the area above the leak. Do you see wet insulation or stained areas on the sheathing or rafters? You may even want to have someone soak targeted areas of the roof with a hose while you examine below. Once you’ve found the leak, you’ll have to find the corresponding problem on the surface of the roof.

Note: Many roof surfaces—especially tile, metal, and slate—can be very slippery, and, combined with a steep pitch, make for a hazard. They are best repaired by a professional who specializes in these particular roofing materials. With any roof repairs, always consider calling a professional—they have the equipment and the experience.

Common Roofing Repairs

Loose, torn, or missing shingles

If you need to replace shingles, you’ll need thee items:

LadderHammerFlat barNew shinglesRoofing nailsCaulk gun
Roofing sealant Pick a day that’s not too cold or too hot (shingles get brittle or soft, respectively), and start by using the flat bar to break the seal between the shingles. Slide the bar up beneath the first nail and hit the bar with the hammer until the nail pops out. Repeat until the bad shingles are out. Starting with the lowest course, nail the new shingles in place. At the last course, you’ll have to lift up the shingle above to drive in the nails. Squeeze a bead of roof sealant beneath the leading edge of each replaced shingle and the shingles directly above them.

Vent boots

The rubber boot around the plumbing vents can develop cracks or tears. If the aluminum flashing is not leaking, it may be possible to replace just the boot.

To replace the flashing, you’ll need to choose a boot that fits the vent pipe’s diameter. (You may be able to find flashing units with adjustable boots.) Pry up the exposed front edge of the old flashing with a flat bar, remove any nails, and lift the base and boot off the pipe. Apply a generous bead of roof sealant to the underside of the new flashing unit, then slide it over the pipe and under the shingle course just above the pipe. Replace the nails, sealing any exposed heads, or use nails with neoprene washers.

Other Common Roofing Problems

Leaks can also occur around other areas of the roof’s flashing, such as the counter flashing surrounding the chimney, or the step flashing at the base of a dormer or adjacent wall. If the counter flashing around your chimney is leaking, use roof sealant to repair cracks and glue individual pieces back down.

If you find a leak in the step flashing along a dormer, a sidewall, or around a skylight, there are two options. The first is to replace the flashing, which means you have to strip away the shingles and siding in that area, then reverse the process by installing new flashing and siding.

The second option is to repair the damaged flashing with a judicious application of roof sealant. The trick here is to keep the sealant’s surface relatively smooth—big beads or lumps of sealant can actually divert water, preventing it from draining properly. Nails used to secure flashing should not be exposed; if they are exposed, apply sealant to their heads. In some cases, repair is only a stopgap until the flashing can be replaced with the rest of the roof.

Ice dams

Long icicles and snow overhaning the roof and gutter of a building.
iStockIf you live where the winters are cold, you may have experienced leaks caused by so-called ice dams. Warm air escaping from the attic through the eaves causes a freeze-and-thaw cycle at the edge of the roof. Ice builds up, hits the warm air, and as it melts, water finds its way under the shingles and into the house. Don’t try to chop the ice away—it just damages the shingles and doesn’t solve the problem. You can install a roof de-icing cable, but a more permanent solution involves blocking air leaks in your attic, increasing your insulation, and possibly having a roofer install a self-adhesive membrane and new shingles along the roof’s perimeter.


If not routinely maintained, gutters can cause problems with your roof as well. A clogged downspout will cause the gutter to back up. Vegetation starts to grow in the gutter, promoting water damage of the fascia, which can result in rotting rafter tails. The overflow can also spill out onto the siding or windows and cause even more water-related problems.

The solution is to clean and inspect the gutters at least once a year. Again, you’ll need a ladder, along with a small garden trowel and bucket to scoop out dead leaves and twigs. It also helps to have a hose up there so you can flush away smaller debris with a stream of water.

If your gutters are older, you may find that repairs are in order. Make sure that the gutter’s attachment to the fascia is solid and replace hangers as necessary. Use a caulk gun fitted with a tube of roof sealant to patch leaky seams.


Moss growing on the roof of a building.
iStockIf your house is even partially shaded, portions of the roof that don’t get any sun may grow patches of moss. If you’re a hobbit, you may think that’s a good thing, but for the rest of us, moss is a problem. It gets under shingles, breaking their seal and causing leaks. It promotes decay in all types of roofing materials, notably cedar and asphalt shingles.

There are several ways to rid the roof of moss. If you happen to be getting a new roof, strips of zinc or copper laid in between shingle courses will prevent moss from growing in the first place. If you’re stuck with your old roof, get a ladder, some slip-proof shoes, a hose (not a pressure-washer) and long-handled scrub brush and climb onto the roof. Standing above the mossy areas, direct a strong spray of water down onto the moss and then use the brush in a downward motion only to push the moss off. Repeat as many times as needed, but be careful not to damage the shingles.

There are commercial sprays such as Moss and Algae Cleaner or Safer’s Moss and Algae Killer that kill moss. Or if you’re more inclined, you can mix one part liquid laundry bleach and one part water, spray it on the moss, and then rinse it off with the hose twenty minutes later.

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Home Remodeling

Ideas for Small Bedrooms

Interior of a Scandinavian style attic bedroom with a monochromatic (white/light gray) color scheme. There are two large skylights on the ceiling that allow for a lot of natural light.

Here are 12 ways to make your space appear larger and more organized.

Not every home comes with large, expansive rooms, particularly an older one. If you feel like the walls are closing in the small rooms of your old house, try a few designer tricks to help your bedroom make a king-sized impression. From organizing your belongings to using the right colors, these ideas will give you that peaceful, easy feeling you need to fall asleep each night.

How to Make a Small Bedroom Look Bigger

Ever think that something is much bigger than it really is? Like the hill you conquered on your last hike? Well, you can encourage your eyes to do the same thing with your bedroom. Designers often use tricks to make a small space open up and feel much larger than it appears.

Use vertical space

Using wall space from floor to ceiling prompts your eyes to travel up rather than around.

Place shelves high, like over doors or along the ceilings, to showcase seldom-used items or collectibles. Hang your artwork higher than usual, too. And rather than blinds or short curtains, choose draperies that stretch from ceiling to floor, making the ceiling appear higher.

Choose colors strategically

A small bedroom with a monochromatic light pink color scheme. White toys lay on the floor and the bed.
Jared KuziaPaint in light colors. A pale, monochromatic color palette makes you feel like the space is wide open. Match your drapery and headboard color to the walls, making them invisible; and save your color for throw pillows, artwork, or rugs.

Capitalize on the lighting

Whether you’re painting the walls in a light or dark color, make sure there’s plenty of light. If the room has minimal natural light, add it artificially. Layer the lighting with a ceiling chandelier, wall sconces, and table or floor lamps. If you need sun-blocking draperies for optimal sleep, layer them over sheers for the waking hours.

Choose transparent furnishings

From wall shelves to nightstands, clear lucite furnishings are virtually unnoticeable and expose more floor space. Also, try replacing wooden doors with frosted glass ones; they allow more light through, making the space appear larger while still protecting your privacy.

dd mirrors

A small modern bedroom with en suite and mirrors on the closet doors.
GAP InteriorsMirrors don’t just reflect the space, making it look bigger—they bounce light around the room giving it a more spacious feel. Try mirrored closet doors, a large dresser mirror, or mirrored tiles on the wall.

Tips for a Organizing Small Bedroom

The idea, “a place for everything and everything in its place” is tough to adhere to when space is at a premium. The first step in effective small bedroom organization is to declutter. How many pairs of jeans does one person need? Do you have clothes with the tags still on? Or maybe, items that should go elsewhere have gotten cozy in that easy chair in the corner. Ferret out those things and then use the following ideas to create that place for everything.

Hide the bed

Yes, you need a bed in the bedroom, but must it be the focal point? After all, it takes up more real estate than any other piece of furniture. So, why not hide it when you’re not sleeping? Consider a Murphy bed, cabinet bed, or daybed to save space in your small bedroom.

Ditch the dresser

Another space hog in the bedroom is the dresser. Conserve floor space with a highboy-style dresser. Or, ditch it altogether and use shelves in your closet and nightstands with drawers. Purchase bins to stow items that don’t need to be pristinely folded or hung up, like socks, underwear and pajamas.

Use the space under the bed

If you have a bed taking up most of the square footage of your room, why not use the space under it to store things like shoes, linens, off-season clothing, or even seasonal decorations. You could purchase a platform bed with drawers or use rolling bins with lids instead. If you don’t mind a high bed, create even more space underneath by elevating it a few inches with bed risers.

Use baskets

Bedroom interior with a rustic bed with blankets in a basket on the floor.
iStockA large basket for extra blanket storage takes up much less space than a cedar chest, and it can be moved around easily. Use a matching smaller basket to hold other items, and yet another for books or magazines.

Hang things on the walls

Wall hooks can hold a lot more than clothes. Hang musical instruments, sporting equipment, scarves, and jewelry for display when not in use. A toy hammock is ideal for stashing stuffed animals in a child’s room or extra pillows and blankets in a teen room. You can even mount a small floating box shelf next to the bed to replace a nightstand.

Get a new headboard

While having no headboard makes a room appear bigger, a headboard with shelves and storage cubbies can replace nightstands, freeing up floor space. Store books on the shelves and add some clip-on lighting or wall sconces for nighttime reading.

Build or buy a jewelry cabinet

Not enough floor space for your jewelry armoire? Save room by hanging a jewelry cabinet with a full-length mirrored door. With plenty of room for necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, you can hang the cabinet on the wall, over the door, or even recess it between the wall studs. Don’t have much jewelry? Use the cabinet for extra toiletries or small incidentals.

Your bedroom is meant to be a place of rest. A retreat where you escape the cares of the world. By eliminating clutter, organizing what’s left, and using a few visual tricks, your new zen space is only a weekend away.

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Home Care

How to Grow Hebe Shrubs

Purple Hebe plant grows in an english garden surrounded by terracotta planters and a raised garden.

These vibrant, versatile bushes can bring color and beauty to your garden all year long. Here’s what you need to know about planting, pruning, and propagating hebe shrubs.

To add depth and color to your garden without working too hard, consider putting in hebe shrubs. These hardy, easy-care plants are pretty in every season, thanks to numerous blooms and evergreen foliage in a variety of hues. Plus, hebe—pronounced HEE-bee—is versatile enough to be used as a border, grown in containers, or fit in just about anywhere your landscape needs livening up. Read on for a hebe how-to now, since summer planting will give roots ample time to settle before cold weather hits.

bout Hebe Shrubs

Original to New Zealand, hebe shrubs can thrive in U.S. growing zones 7 through 11, doing best in locales with warm summers and mild winters. Though they’re in a genus of their own now, the plants formerly belonged to the Veronica genus—hence the still-used common name of shrubby veronica. There are some 100 species of hebe, plus many cultivars. Flowers may be white, red, pink, purple, or blue. Leaves, too, run the gamut from bright green and blue-green to maroon, purple, and gray.

Tips for Growing Hebe Shrubs

Select a species

Hebe Variegata shrub blooms with purple flowers and variegated green leaves.
iStockHebe VariegataChoose hebe shrubs that best suit your garden design goals. For a tall hedge up to six feet high, consider Hebe Variegata, with its rounded shape, purple blooms, and cream-edged foliage. The Grace Kelly cultivar has similar flowers and leaves but is shorter, topping out at three feet. Wiri Blush sports dark green leaves and striking hot pink blooms, while more demure Western Hills has silver-gray leaves and white or pale lavender flowers. Also keep in mind that compact varieties with small foliage, such as Baby Bush and Baby Marie, fare better in colder climates than large-leaf species.

Plant properly

Pick an area that gets lots of light or at least partial sunToo much shade will likely yield a leggy look and poor flower production. If your area is prone to freezing winters, plant hebe where it will be sheltered but not crowded by other plants or a structure (e.g., close to the house). Moist (not wet), sandy soil that drains well is ideal, and the more neutral the pH, the better.

Don’t worry about water

Hardy hebe shrubs are fairly drought-resistant during much of the year. The exception is summer: Quench their thirst with about an inch of water weekly to encourage bountiful blooms.

Close-up photo showing the new purple / pink shoots that are growing on a silver grey hebe in the spring. This compact evergreen shrub is named Hebe ‘Red Edge’, with its leaves being subtly edged with a red color and flowers appearing in the summer.
iStockRed Edge Hebe

Fertilize lightly

Given the right growing conditions, low-maintenance hebe shrubs don’t need much in the way of fertilizer. However, adding organic matter (some combination of compost, green manure, leaf mold, and/or animal manure) or slow-release fertilizer in early spring may help foster growth and blooms.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

Hebe isn’t particularly prone to insect damage yet will attract beneficial pollinators. Franciscana Blue Gem and Midsummer Beauty are especially tempting to bumblebees, butterflies, and other desirable garden guests. Hebe plants are also stoutly disease-resistant, though they may suffer downy mildew or septoria leaf spot in damp locales where circulation is poor. Smart planting can preempt these issues.

Prune post flowers

Taking cuttings of Hebe in order to propagate. hand holding scissors and striping off the lower leaves of the plant.
John Swithinbank/GAP PhotosOnce hebe shrubs have finished flowering, it’s time to prune to ensure that next year’s blooms will come back robustly. Aside from that, the plants’ naturally full, appealing form shouldn’t require much trimming. If a bush starts to get spindly, cut back about one-third to encourage a denser, bushier quality.

Propagate easily

Want more hebe shrubs? Simply snip a healthy three- to four-inch section and remove about an inch or so of leaves from the bottom. Moisten the end of the cutting and dip into rooting hormone to stimulate root growth, then plant in soil-less potting medium. Tamp down around the cutting, water lightly, and keep warm while avoiding direct sun at first.

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Home Improvement

Smart Home: A Brainier Backyard

Summer 2021, Smart Home, smart lights
Turn these smart lights on from a phone, and use them as patio lights or tuck them into garden beds. | Courtesy Ring

As smart tech aimed at outdoor living evolves, the range of tasks it can handle—from lighting the patio to freeing you from the grill to robo-mowing the grass—is more impressive than ever.

This article appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of This Old House MagazineClick here to learn how to subscribe

Months of social distancing have made outdoor spaces more central to our lives than ever before. So this might be the season to double down on smart home tech designed to make outdoor living and entertaining simpler, easier, and more enjoyable—allowing you to take your playlists to the backyard, tend the grill from afar, and dim the string lights for dinner with a voice command or smartphone app. The best devices give you the same level of control from a lawn chair that you’re used to having from your family room couch.

Using smart home technology outdoors isn’t a novel idea—you’ve probably taken a smart speaker out to the deck to crank up some tunes—but this new gear was designed with outdoor use in mind. That means it comes in a durable, weather-
resistant build made to survive the elements, and in many cases with rechargeable batteries that untether you from an outlet. Ideally, the smart devices in a backyard mix are easy to set up and to control with either your phone or the virtual assistant you already use inside. Here are a few of our favorites.

Summer 2021, Smart Home, smart projector

Dinner and a Movie

Film screener

Not much bigger than a soda can, this portable projector casts a 100-inch picture onto a screen or wall (or, in a pinch, a bedsheet) for open-air movie nights. Stream up to 4 hours of Netflix, YouTube, or Hulu—or download to its internal hard drive when Wi-Fi isn’t available.
Anker Nebula Apollo Projector, $350; Nebula

Summer 2021, Smart Home, cooler

Flex-temp cooler

A refrigerator is a luxury in an outdoor kitchen, but this portable electric cooler might just be more versatile—it can freeze down to −7°F when plugged in. And its 36-liter capacity fits more than you’d expect, since no ice pack is needed. Monitor and set temps from your smartphone.
Dometic CFX3 35 Powered Cooler, $900; Dometic

Summer 2021, Smart Home, pellet grill

Clever cooker

At one time, low-and-slow barbecue required minding a grill or smoker for hours—even overnight—to regulate the temperature. But once you sync this pellet cooker to your Wi-Fi, making those adjustments, and checking the temp of the food inside, happens from your phone, whether you’re indoors on the sofa or across town.
Traeger Pro 575 Pellet Grill, $800; Traeger

Summer 2021, Smart Home, wireless hub

Wireless hub

This thermos-size smart speaker works with Alexa and the Google Assistant to control your other connected devices while cranking tunes during dinner. Its rugged, splash-proof body protects against drops, so you won’t have to baby it. Connect through Bluetooth when you’re away from Wi-Fi—say, at the beach.
Bose Portable Smart Speaker, $350; Bose

Summer 2021, Smart Home, smart light/speaker

Light Up the Night

Sound-light combo

A touch-sensitive ring on this 8½-inch-tall outdoor-rated lantern controls the brightness and the volume of the built-in Bluetooth speaker. Delivers 15 hours of diffused, warm light and tunes per charge.
Pablo UMA Mini, $299; Pablo Store

Summer 2021, Smart Home, smart plug

Easy switch

This weatherproof outdoor plug turns any standard set of string lights into a smart one that you can control from your phone. It requires Lutron’s Smart Bridge ($80), which uses a low-frequency wireless band to sidestep spotty Wi-Fi; or sync it with a virtual assistant’s app for voice control.
Caséta by Lutron Outdoor Smart Plug, $80; Caséta

Summer 2021, Smart Home, smart light

Patio pillar

Line a path or an outdoor room with these solar-powered LED fixtures for up to 6 hours of soft, white light, using Dusk to Dawn mode. No wiring needed; just pop them in the ground. Connect them to Wi-Fi with a bridge ($50), then turn them on or off, or adjust the brightness, from a smartphone—or ask Alexa to do it.
Ring Solar Pathlight, $35; Ring

Summer 2021, Smart Home, smart sprinkler controller

Less work, better lawn

Precision watering

Traditional irrigation controllers, with their gaggles of dials and switches, can be confusing to use. This one avoids all that with an intuitive smartphone dashboard. Wiring is DIY-friendly, and the controller uses Wi-Fi to find local weather updates so it won’t waste water if rain is on the way.
Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller, from $230; Rachio

Summer 2021, Smart Home, robot mower

Turf service

This robotic mower keeps lawns as large as ¼ acre manicured, freeing up your weekends. It’s quiet enough to run at night; schedule it so you wake to freshly cut turf. Onboard controls are easy to use, or operate it via a smartphone through a cellular network—perfect for those remote corners of the yard that Wi-Fi can’t reach.
Stihl iMow RMI 422 PC-L, $1,900; Stihl

TOH Pro Tip

“If your mesh network has satellites, plug one in by your patio or deck, or move it to an interior wall nearby, for better Wi-Fi. Just remember to take the satellite with you when you go inside—they’re not designed to handle rain or harsh sun.” —Ross Trethewey,home technology expert

Blanket Your Yard in Wi-Fi

Even the latest, greatest outdoor smart tech won’t work well if your home’s Wi-Fi network can’t reach it. Sure, moving an indoor satellite to a nearby wall, or even outside, can help. But for complete coverage, add a weather-resistant outdoor satellite extender, like the Orbi Tri-band Mesh WiFi Outdoor Satellite Range Extender ($350; Netgear), which can live outside year-round. Plugged in to an outlet and linked to your main router, it’ll add up to 2,500 square feet of coverage. Remember, a satellite sends out signals in all directions; for the best coverage, be sure to center it in your backyard, or mount it on a wall or fence post.