Holiday Lighting Tips

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Holiday Lighting Safety Checklist

By: Pat Curry

Published: November 18, 2009

Before you plug in and light up for the holidays, run your decorations through this quick safety check.

Inspect light strings. Discard any that are damaged. Frayed or cracked electrical cords or broken sockets are leading fire hazards.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for connecting multiple strings. The general limit is three strings. Light strings with stacked plugs can usually accommodate greater lengths than end-to-end connections.

Replace burned-out bulbs promptly. Empty sockets can cause the entire string to overheat.

Make sure outdoor lighting is UL-rated for exterior use. Exterior lights, unlike those used inside the house, need to be weather-resistant. The same goes for any extension cords used outdoors.

Don’t use outdoor lights indoors. They’re too hot for interior use. For the coolest bulbs and greatest energy efficiency, try LED lights, which come in a wide range of styles and colors.

Don’t attach light strings with nails or staples. They can cut through the wire insulation and create a fire hazard. Only use UL-approved hangers.

Take exterior lights down within 90 days. The longer they stay up, the more likely they are to suffer damage from weather and critters chewing on them.

Store lights safely. Tangled lights can lead to damaged cords and broken sockets. After the holidays, coil each string loosely around a stiff piece of cardboard, wrap it in paper or fabric to protect the bulbs, and store in a sturdy container until next year.

Pat Curry is a former senior editor at BUILDER, the official magazine of the National Association of Home Builders, and a frequent contributor to real estate and home-building publications.

99-Cent Store Home Repair Tips


  • 99-Cent Store Solution #5: Fix a Stripped Screw

    Yesterday, we tightened a loose cabinet hinge for less than three bucks. Today’s tip is the most inexpensive of our series. The turn of the screw is … a pain in your neck if it’s stripped. Read

  • 99-Cent Store Solution #4: Loose Cabinet Hinge

    Yesterday we showed you how to handily repair drywall for $10 in case Charlie Sheen drops by your place. But back to reality. If one of your kitchen cabinets is hanging on for dear life … Read

  • 99-Cent Store Solution #3: Patch Drywall Hole

    Yesterday’s torn-screen fix cost all of $1.98 (including an impulse purchase). Today’s is the priciest in this weeklong series—but still under $10. Read

  • 99-Cent Store Solution #2: Torn Window Screen

    Yesterday, we shared our discovery of the 99-cent store as a practical resource for home improvement supplies. We repaired a scuff mark on a countertop for less than $3. Today, we’re going to get rid of one of life’s greatest annoyances for less than $2. Read

  • 99-Cent Store Solution #1: Scuffed Countertops

    At HouseLogic, we love to find and share inexpensive solutions to household problems. Our five solutions this week—one a day—don’t even require a trip to your big-box home improvement store—not that we don’t love stocking up at Lowe’s or Home Depot. Instead, pay a call to your 99-cent store. Its aisles are crammed with the inexpensive (and multipurpose) wares to fix what’s ailing. Read

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Real Estate Agents Indicted for Short Sale Fraud

We have had several potential business partners or “would-be” investors present us with this type of transaction as a business model.  In each instance we politely explained that we can not participate due to the fact that we believe it is fraud.  As we understand it the FBI has been monitoring double closing transactions and now our friends over at Mortgage Fraud Blog have provided the evidence.

If you do decide to participate in this type of transaction we would strongly encourage you to disclose, in writing,  the details of the simultaneous escrow to all parties.

Must-Have Landscape Tools

In the world of landscape tools, these are the basics you must have to improve and maintain your property.

Round point shovel: Arguably the most versatile landscape tool, this shovel has a rounded and beveled steel blade that ends in a point. It digs, scoops, and slices dirt, manure, and gravel. Cost: $20 to $30.

Rakes: There’s a whole world of long-handled tools that dig, spread, and gather. Buy a metal-toothed landscaping rake to move dirt, separate rock from soil, and spread mulch. Buy a plastic leaf rake that gathers leaves, grass clippings, and other debris on the surface of your lawn. Cost: $30 to $50 (landscaping rake); $10 to $20 (leaf rake).

Hoe: This digging and spreading landscape tool has the blade at a right angle to a long handle. The shape and sharpness of blades vary, making some hoes better for slicing weed roots (gooseneck hoe), and others for breaking up soil (garden hoe). Cost: $10 to $40 (specialty hoe).

Flat border spade: The blade is parallel to the handle. This is often used to edge beds and uproot grass. Cost: $60 to $70.

Chainsaw: These gas or electric saws have sharp teeth that revolve on a chain. They’re good for cutting wood, downed tree limbs, big branches, and trees. It takes practice to use one safely, so get some pointers before revving up. A 40 cc saw with a 16-inch blade is good for most yard work. Cost: $130 to $200.

Shears: There’s a wide variety of hand-held landscape tools that cut and trim. You’ll need small bypass shears for roses, hedge shears for boxwoods, and looping shears for small tree limbs. Cost: $20 to $30.

Lawn mower: Manual, battery, electric, or gas-powered lawn cutters are pushed or ridden, self-propelled, or hand-propelled. Most can bag clippings. Get a 21-inch gas-powered mower for the average yard. Yards bigger than ¼-acre may need a riding mower to save time and muscle. A push-type reel mower is a good green choice. Cost: $100 (reel); $300 (gas); $1,500 (riding mower).

Wheelbarrow: Made of metal or plastic, wheelbarrows are movers of soil, plants, hay, and basically anything that fits. Most have one wheel and two handles for balancing and steering; some have two wheels for added stability. Cost: $30 to $60.

Edger: This is a manual or automatic landscape tool that creates a neat and clear separation between the lawn and adjacent surfaces (such as driveways) and around trees or flowerbeds. $30 (foot powered); $90 (electric); $190 (gas).

Hand trowel: This is used for digging small holes to plant seedlings and bulbs for borders and gardens. Cost: $5 to $10.

Must-Have Electrical Tools

Basic electrical tools will save you money on simple repairs and should be in every home owner’s toolbox.

Electrical tools fall into two categories: test and repair.

Test the power
Electrical testers are useful to determine if, where, and how much electricity is flowing–good and easy information to collect before you call an electrician.

Circuit tester: This plugs into an electrical outlet to test the presence of electricity, aka whether an outlet is “hot.” It’s a good tool to help you determine whether the lamp is broken or the outlet isn’t working. Make sure you test the tester on an outlet you know is hot, so you can trust its accuracy on others. Cost: $4.

Multimeter: One meter checks several electrical properties–AC or DC voltage, current, resistance–to help diagnose malfunctions. They’re digital or analog, and can test switches, batteries, and power sources. Cost: $15 digital; $10 analog.

Battery tester: Digital or analog meters are great for testing that drawer full of loose batteries. Cost depends on the types and sizes of batteries it tests. Cost: $15 for a household battery tester with an LCD display; $7 analog.

Repair the problem
Linemen’s pliers: These pliers grip, twist, and cut heavy wire and cable; they also can do double-duty to hammer nails or wire staples. Cost: $30 for 9″ pliers.

Long nose (needle-nosed) pliers: These skinny and grooved pliers have snipping blades that reach into small places to snip and bend the end of wire. Cost: $20 for 5″ pliers.

Wire stripper: This plier-like tool cuts through and strips plastic or rubber insulation around cable and wire. Cost: $12 for a 6″ stripper.

Insulated screwdrivers: Flathead and Phillips head screwdrivers come with insulated tops that protect against electrical shocks up to 1,000 volts. Cost: $40 (2-piece set; 4″ Phillips and flat).

Electrical tape: This plastic vinyl, ultra-sticky tape covers and insulates wire. Cost: $4 (3/4-inch, 66 ft.)

Cleaning House: Secrets of a Truly Deep Clean

Deep clean your house and you’ll brighten rooms and maintain your home’s value.

De-bug the light fixtures
See that bug burial ground within your overhead fixtures? Turn off the lights and carefully remove fixture covers, dump out flies and wash with hot soapy water. While you’re up there, dust bulbs. Dry everything thoroughly before replacing the cover.

Vacuum heat vents and registers
Dirt and dust build up in heat vents and along register blades. Vents also are great receptacles for coins and missing buttons. Unscrew vent covers from walls or pluck them from floors, remove foreign objects, and vacuum inside the vent. Clean grates with a damp cloth and screw back tightly.

Polish hardware
To deep clean brass door hinges, handles, and cabinet knobs, thoroughly wipe with a damp microfiber cloth, then polish with Wright’s or Weiman brass cleaner ($4). Dish soap shines up glass or stainless steel knobs. Use a Q-tip to detail the ornamental filigree on knobs and handles.

Replace grungy switch plates
Any amateur can wipe a few fingerprints off cover plates that hide light switches, electric outlets, phone jacks, and cable outlets. But only deep cleaners happily remove plates to vacuum and swipe the gunk behind. (OK, we’re a little OCD when it comes to dirt!) Make sure cover plates are straight when you replace them. And pitch plates that are beyond the help of even deep cleaning. New ones cost less than $2 each.

Neaten weather stripping
Peeling, drooping weather stripping on doors and windows makes rooms look old. If the strip still has some life, nail or glue it back. If it’s hopeless, cut out and replace sections, or just pull the whole thing off and start new. A 10-ft. roll of foam weather stripping costs $8; 16-ft. vinyl costs about $15.

Replace stove drip pans
Some drip pans are beyond the scrub brush. Replacing them costs about $3 each and instantly freshens your stove.

Must-Have Painting Tools

Sooner or later you’re going to paint something; you might as well have the correct tools. Here are the tools that should be in your painting toolbox.

A brush with painting tools
Paintbrushes are like shoes–you’ve got 50 pairs, but you always wear the same two. The go-to paintbrushes are a 3-inch flat brush for cutting in trim and a 1 1/2-inch angled brush for details. Brush handles are a matter of comfort–wood, plastic, wood-plastic–but brush filaments should match the job.

Natural bristle: Made of hog or ox hair, these are good for applying oil-based paints, primers, stains, and polyurethane varnishes and shellacs. Cost: $11 for a 3-inch flat brush; $7.50 for a 1 1/2-inch angled.

Synthetic bristle: These are good for applying latex and acrylic primer and paint, and water-based wood finishes and stains. Cost: $8 for a 3-inch flat brush; $6 for a 1 1/2-inch angled.

Paint roller derby
Paint rollers cover walls and ceilings quickly and seamlessly, and are essential painting tools.

If you’re a once-in-a-blue-moon painter, pick a disposable roller set. You’ll get a 9-inch plastic frame, synthetic cover, and plastic paint tray for about $5. If you plan to be the touch-up artist in your home, invest in a good roller set. Here’s what you’ll need.

Frame: For walls and ceilings, select a 9-inch metal cage with a plastic or wood handle, threaded to accommodate extension poles. Cost: $2.50.

Paint bucket and grid: Instead of tripping over gallon paint cans and upturning metal trays, fill a 5-gallon paint bucket halfway and slip in a 9-inch metal or plastic grid, which loads rollers with the proper amount of paint. Cost: $6 for a bucket; $2 for the grid.

Cover (sleeve): Lambskin or mohair covers are long-lasting and perfect for oil-based paints. Synthetic covers are better for acrylics. Covers with ½-inch naps are the most versatile. Cost: $7 for lambskin 9-inch ½-inch nap; $1.75 for synthetic.

Extension poles: Buy 2 ft.-4 ft. or 4 ft.-8 ft. aluminum extension poles that screw and lock into the frame handle. Cost: $18 for 2-4 ft.; $22 for 4-8 ft.

Must-Have Plumbing Tools

Stock these plumbing tools in your home toolbox so you can fix sinks, toilets, and other plumbing problems that may arise.

Plungers: No home should be without these suckers/pushers whose rubber cups form a seal around the drain or toilet. Use a cup plunger to push clogs through sinks and tubs; use a flange plunger, with a non-splash ball cup, for toilets. Use a bellows plunger when the other two don’t work. Cost: Cup, $3 to $4; flange, $8 to $15; bellows, $7 to $11.

Closet auger: Named for “water closet,” this 3-foot plumbing tool has a crank, handle, and flexible shaft tipped with an “auger bit” that breaks and grabs troublesome toilet clogs. Cost: $10 to $20.

Hand auger, aka plumber’s snake: A hand-powered crank and reel of ¼-inch steel cable clears obstructions from sink, tub, and shower drains. Cost: $15 to $30.

Hacksaw: This go-to saw cuts through just about anything–metal pipe, hardware, nuts, or bolts. Keep blades tight in the frame, and keep extras on hand. Cost: $15 to $30. Blades: $5 for 2.

Adjustable pipe wrench: The serrated mouth on this iconic plumbing tool grips pipes. It has one fixed jaw and one that moves by turning a thumb screw. Buy two–one for gripping and holding, one for turning. Cost: $17 to $35.

Hex key or Allen wrench set: Thin L-shaped wrenches with hexagonal heads often are used to fix stuck garbage disposals. Cost: $5 to $15 for a set of 6 to 7 wrenches.

Caulking gun: A metal frame and trigger holds and applies caulk, which seals seams around the edges of tubs and sinks. Cost: $15 to $25.

Tongue-and-goove pliers: Also called water pump pliers or channel locks, these pliers with a right-angled and serrated jaw can turn, hold, twist, or loosen nuts, bolts, fittings, and frozen parts. Buy the 10-inch and 12-inch. Cost: 10-inch $10; 12-inch $10 to $14.

Must-Have Drywall Tools

Drywall ToolsThe correct drywall tools will easily repair the cracks and holes that inevitably appear in your walls. Here’s a look at the drywall tools that will do the job.

A smear of joint compound can cover faint cracks and subtle dimples in drywall, but you’ll have to perform some cut-and-patch surgery on holes and larger drywall problems. Here are the tools you’ll need.

Utility knife: Your main drywall cutting and scoring tool, this razor blade-in-a-handle also is good for straightening edges of damaged drywall for easier repair. Cost: $1 to $15.

Keyhole saw: This long and thin drywall saw looks like a barracuda, with interchangeable blades for precision and tight radius cutting. Cost: $6 (includes 2 blades).

Mesh or paper tape and patches: These hole cover-ups provide a flat surface for joint compound. Purists use mesh; others prefer paper tape, which they claim provides a smoother surface. Cost: $7/300 ft. for mesh tape; $4/150 ft. for paper tape. $5 per 6″ patch.

Try square: This L-shaped instrument is good for marking and measuring drywall cuts. Cost: $9 (hardwood) to $25 (rosewood).

Putty knife: This flat knife, usually 2 to 6 inches long, is used for applying joint compound or putty for small repairs and nail pops. Cost: $2 (plastic); $6 for 6-inch steel.

Drywall knives and trowels: These are flat tools–4″, 6″, 8″, and up–for taping drywall and applying, spreading, and feathering joint compound. Cost: The larger the knife–say, 12 inches–the more compound it will hold and the better it will feather the edges of joint compound patches. Cost: $4 (plastic set 6″, 8″, 10″); $40 (13″ steel trowel).

Mud pan: This mini-trough holds joint compound, aka “mud.” Pros like a stainless steel mud pan because it’s durable and won’t rust; plastic pans are cheap enough to throw out for easy clean-up. Cost: $4 (plastic); $14 (stainless steel).

Sanding block: This rubber block holds the sandpaper that smoothes and blends drywall patches. Cost: $5.

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