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Recessed lights (Part 2)

What You’ll Need

Aside from the cans and the trim pieces, pick up these tools and materials at a super market:

  • You’ll need a drywall saw $5 to cut out holes for the cans.
  • When choosing locations for recessed lights, the easiest way to find out exactly where the joists in your ceiling are is with an electronic stud finder.
  • An electrical test light is basically a little light bulb attached to two metal probes. Use it to make sure the power’s off before you ever touch a bare wire.
  • The electrical cable you buy must be the same gauge as the existing cable you’re connecting to. Most likely, you’ll need “14-2” cable (the cable contains two 14-gauge wires plus a ground). But before you connect new wires to existing wires, hold them side by side. If they’re not the same gauge, you’ll see the difference.

Note: Electrical cable is often referred to by the brand name “Romex.”

To secure all wire connections, you’ll need Wire-nuts. * Whenever cables enter junction boxes, they must be secured by cable clamps five for $2.

If you’re going to fish cables through joists, you’ll need protector plates) and drywall clips. You’ll also need drywall screws $2 and joint compound.

Chances are, your entire ceiling will need a paint job by the time you’re done too.

Lift the can into the ceiling opening. Different cans use different methods of mounting. This one has built-in clips that lock onto the drywall.

Install the trim pieces, screw in light bulbs and you’re done! Tip: If you’re going to touch up the ceiling or give it a complete paint job, do it before you install the trim.

  1. Mark┬áthe openings for the cans using the manufacturer’s template. Then drill a 1/8-in. hole in the ceiling and probe the cavity above with a clothes hanger to make sure there are no obstructions that will prevent the installation of a light. Remember: Cans must be at least 1/2 in. from joints, braces or anything else the can burn.
  2. Cut light openings with a drywall saw. Cutting drywall makes a dusty mess, so cover the floor and furniture with dropcloths, and wear eye protection and a dust mask.
  3. Run cable from the power source-in this case, the junction box where the old light fixture was–to the nearest light opening. Then continue to run lengths of cable from that opening to the next and the next. Make sure you leave at least 16 in. of cable dangling down from each opening. In spots where the cable must cross joists, cut 5 x 5-in. access holes in the drywall and chisel notches in the josts just deep enough for the cable.
  4. Cover the cable running through joists with protector plates. then reinstall the original piece of drywall using drywall clips, and patch with joint compound.
  5. Make connections at the power source and at each can, securing all connections with WireNuts.

Buying Recessed Lights

You’ll find recessed lights (we suggest you begin your shopping at a lighting showroom) where you’ll find a wider selection and a more knowledgeable staff. There are three questions you need to answer before shopping:

1) Do you need standard or remodeling cans?

2) Which type of can is best for your situation?

I.C. (Insulated Ceiling) cans cost around $20 and can be completely buried in insulation, which makes them much easier to install in attics.

Non-I.C. sometimes cost a bit less, but must be at least 3 in. from any insulation. That’s not a problem if there’s living space above, but in attics it means assembling a small structure that holds the insulation away from the can. To avoid this hassle, we recommend you don’t use non-I.C. cans in insulated spaces.

Airtight cans cost around $30, can be covered with insulation and don’t allow heated or cooled air to escape into your attic. Supported by studies showing substantial energy savings, some building codes now require the use of airtight cans.

Important: Whatever type of can you buy, make sure it’s UL-listed.

3) Which style trim pieces will give you the desired lighting effect?

  • Downlights, which cost $15 and up, form a cone-shaped beam of light shining down from the ceiling. A 100-watt downlight will illuminate an area roughly equal to the height of the ceiling; that is, a light in an 8-ft. ceiling will cast an 8-ft.-dia. circle of light on the floor.
  • Wall washers begin at about $20 and cast an arc of light down a wall, accenting a painting or fireplace, or softly lighting a room.
  • Eyeballs, which cost $25 and up, have a protruding, movable port that lets you focus a spotlight on a coutertop, desk or your favorite Bart Simpson doll.

Recessed lights (Part 1)

Chances Are, The Lighting Design In Your home isn’t much different from the first versions of electric lighting: one fixture in the center of each room, casting half of its light against the ceiling, the other half barely reaching the corners of the room.

That was a big step up for folks accustomed to the faint glow of a kerosene lamp. But now that we have the technology, people want to brighten up those dark corners, to shine a beam right on their favorite reading chair, to spotlight their prized black-velvet portrait of the Three Stooges.

Custom lighting schemes like these aren’t just for the fashionable elite with fat wallets. If you have some DIY experience, you can put your own design into practice. The amount of time and money the job will take depends on your existing electrical wiring, the recessed lights you choose and how many you put in. But assuming your room already has a light fixture in it, you can install four good-quality recessed fixtures in one weekend for under $300.

Assessing The Situation

This article will show you how to power a series of recessed lights by tapping into the junction box above an existing light fixture. Your existing light switch will then control the recessed lights. If your ceiling has no light fixture, you’ll need to tap into an existing circuit or create a new circuit connected to the main electrical panel. Before tapping into an existing circuit, you need to be sure that the extra electrical demand won’t overload the circuit. If you don’t know how to make that determination. If you want to wire a new circuit, you can run cable to the box yourself. But hire a licensed electrician to make the connections inside the panel.

Even if your ceiling has a light fixture, there are some questions to ask before you begin shopping for recessed lights:

  • What’s on the other side of your ceiling? If the answer is “attic,” you can most likely use standard recessed light housings (a.k.a. “cans”) and run electrical cable through your attic. If there’s living space above, you’ll have to “fish” cable inside your ceiling and you’ll need “remodeling cans,” which are designed for installation without access from above. Plus, you’ll have to determine how much space there is between the ceiling and the floor above. Most cans require at least 7 to 8 in., but cans that need as little as 5-1/2 in. are also available.
  • What kind of wiring do you have? If you want to make connections to very old fabric-insulated wiring or aluminum wiring, you’ll have to call in a licensed electrician. Fabric-insulated wiring, which is sheathed in cloth rather than plastic, sometimes has no ground wire or has hot and neutral wires that are the same color, so you can’t tell them apart. To determine whether a wire is aluminum, scrape it with a knife. If the scraped area is silvery in color, it’s aluminum.
  • How many lights do you want to install? Without any worry of overload, you can install a series of lights that will draw as many watts as the existing fixture. Example: If the existing fixture uses three 100-watt bulbs, you can install four 75-watt recessed lights without danger of overloading the circuit.

If you want to install a lighting system that uses more watts than the existing fixture, first make sure the circuit can handle the added demand.

What will you do with the existing light fixture? You have three options:

  1. The easiest is to remove the fixture, tap into the junction box above it and place a cover plate over the box Note: The junction box must remain accessible. You can’t patch over it with joint compound.
  2. You can remove the fixture and the box above, then install a recessed light in their place. It’s not as easy as it sounds; your have to disconnect all the wires in the existing box and reconnect them inside the junction box attached to the can. The difficulty is that the wires connected inside the box are probably so short that reconnecting them in another box will be tough.
  3. You may be able to “piggy-back” recessed lights without giving up your existing fixture. To do this, you add the wires feeding the recessed lights to the wires that feed the existing light (you’ll have three black wires together, three white wires together, and three ground wires together).

Warning: But here again, you run into the danger of overloading the circuit.

Garden arbor

Make it a shady place to relax or a dramatic garden gateway.

Years ago, I rented an attic apartment in a English village.

The apartment itself was a dump, but one window looked out over a flower garden, just the sort of old- fashioned garden you’d expect to find in a English village, complete with a cobblestone path and a pic- turesque white arbor. the owner of the house claimed that the arbor was more than a hundred years old. And although she had a dated photo- graph of a young couple in front of an identical arbor, I still can’t believe that a wooden structure could look so graceful after a hundred damp English winters.

The arbor detailed in this article may not last a century, but it is an approximate copy of the one that stood below my attic window. You can make yours a simple archway like the original, or a gateway, or if you’d just like a place to sit and relax, you can add a bench seat instead.

It’s Easier Than It Looks

Don’t be put off by all those difficult-looking curves and arches; this arbor was designed with simplicity in mind. If you have a drill, a jigsaw and a circular saw–and some experience using them–you can build this arbor in two or three weekends. And instead of dragging all those tools out into your yard, you can build it right in your garage.

The cost of this arbor depends mainly on the wood you choose. The gate version, built from nearly-knot-free cedar, will cost around $230. Lowergrade cedar will cost about $150. Green pressure-treated lumber could save you another $40, but we don’t recommend it; dry, good-looking treated lumber is often hard to find and it’s more likely to warp, check or crack than cedar. Whatever you use, add about 25 percent to the cost if you build the seat version.

Assembling The Sides

Begin by putting the posts and stretchers together to form the arbor’s sides. There’s no need to but the posts, even if they aren’t exactly 8 ft. long. Just be sure to position the stretchers by measuring from the top end of each post.

Cedar is a very soft wood, so it usually doesn’t split when screwed or nailed. But to be on the safe side, drill 1/8-in. pilot holes before you drive in toe screws. Also drill 1/16-in. pilot holes before you nail the strips that hold the lattice in place.

When cutting the lattice with your circular saw, you may hit the staples that hold the lattice together. So along with eye protection, wear gloves to prevent flying staple fragments from lodging in your fingers.

Cutting Corners And Curves

When the sides are built and the lattice is installed, you’re ready to mark and cut the decorative patterns on the headers. The square notch is a cinch, but the curve might be a little tricky if you’re a jigsaw novice.

A jigsaw blade often bends one way or the other, leaving a cut that’s not quite vertical. You can minimize this beveling effect, which is especially common when cutting curves, by moving the saw at a slow, steady pace. Pressing along as fast as you can usually leaves a rough, beveled, wandering cut.

Even the cleanest jigsaw cuts will need to be smoothed with coarse-grit sandpaper after cutting. You can do this by hand, but a finishing sander cuts down on the drudgery. It can also cut into your curves, though, so press feather-lightly and keep the pad moving back and forth across the workpiece.

Headers, Arches And Brackets

  • Joining the two sides of the arbor by attaching the headers is a delicate process. First, you screw on one header, making sure it’s perpendicular to the posts.
  • Then screw temporary X-braces to the posts. Next, with a helper–or better yet, two helpers-gently flip the whole flimsy assembly over and attach the other header and X-braces.
  • The arches, rungs and 2×4 blocks that you screw to the inside of the headers can be installed with the arbor sitting on its side.
  • Before you install the brackets, double-check the headers and posts to make sure they’re square with each other.

Finishing Touches

The trim that wraps around the headers and rails is made from pine door stop. Your jigsaw or circular saw isn’t the right tool for cutting this small stock at 45 degrees. So unless you have a power miter saw, use a wooden or plastic miter box that guides a handsaw (under $10 at home centers).

Patch all nail, screw and knot holes with exterior spackling compound, then sand and prime the arbor. Cedar is full of brownish pigments called “tannins” that will bleed through latex paints, so prime your arbor with an oil-based stain blocker like BIN or Kilz.

Planting The Arbor

The arbor’s posts are set in holes about 16 in. across and 1 ft. deep. Getting the arbor to stand perfectly upright or “plumb” is a trial-and-error process of digging one hole deeper and throwing dirt back in another. When you get it right, firmly tamp the bottoms of the holes with a 2×4. Then hold a level on the posts one last time and make sure the outside edges of the posts are 4 ft. apart. If all is well, go ahead and add concrete.

Home Repair (Part 2)

Balky Window Lever

Casement windows (side hinged!, awning windows (top hinged) and hopper windows (bottom-hinged) all rely-on little levers called “operators” for opening and dosing. Several things can go wrong with an operator; here’s how to proceed.

Begin with a simple inspection:

  • Make sure the latches are fully released.
  • If a recent paint job has glued the window to its frame, cut the paint bond with a utility knife.
  • Tighten the set screw with a small screwdriver.
  • If tightening doesn’t help, loosen the set screw and check the teeth inside the crank handle. If they’re rounded over, replace the handle (about $4).
  • If the teeth on the operator thumb worn, you’ll have to replace the entire operator ($10 to $20).
  • Next, remove the operator cover. If the gears inside are corroded, bent or broken replace the operator. If they look OK, try cleaning them with a toothbrush, then spray them with a silicone lubricant.
  • To install a new operator, simply reverse the removal steps we show here.

New Deadbolt Lock

Every exterior door should have a good

quality deadbolt lock (about $30). If your door has a window or is so dose to o window that someone could break the gloss and reach the deadbolt from outside, the deadbolt should be key operated inside and out. Don’t get the style that operates from inside with a thumb turn.

Important: Keep the key near the door and make sure everyone in the house knows where it is, so they can escape in case of if ire.

When you buy the deadbolt, don’t forget to read the packaging. It will tell you what size hole saw and spade bit you need so you can pick them up at the same time. Along with the deadbolt, you’ll get a paper template that fits over your door and shows you exactly where to bore the holes.

Sticky Door

Opening a door shouldn’t be tug of won But loose hinges, sagging floors, sinking foundations and even high humidity can cause a formerly free-swinging door to bind against its, jamb. When an exterior door scrapes against the jamb, it often drags on the threshold too.

Try the simplest fix first: Tighten all the screws that secure the hinges to the jamb and the door.

If tightening doesn’t work, remove a screw and replace it with a 3-in. screw. As the long screw goes through the jamb and into the stud behind the jamb, it will not only tighten the hinge, it will also draw the hinge-and the entire door-toward the stud.

Cautions: This trick has its limits. If you drive the screw too far, you’ll create gaps in the jamb and casing joints.

If a long screw doesn’t do the trick, you’ll have to scribe the door and shave it down to size. Our door was binding only against the side of the jamb. But you can use these same methods to deal with a door that binds against the top of the jamb or the threshold.

Notes: If you have a newer exterior door, the threshold may be adjustable. In that case, you just remove the rubber gasket and adjust the threshold by turning screws.

Bad Light Switch

Replacing a bad light switch is a quick, simple job. You can replace standard switches with dimmers, decorative switches or most timer switches using the steps we show here.

Don’t worry if the wiring inside your switch box doesn’t look exactly like what we show here. Your switch may be connected to one white wire and one black, for example. There may be more wires in the box than we show, but you need to deal only with the two connected to the switch.

Safety First: Before you even unscrew the switch’s cover plate, shut off power to the switch by flipping the circuit breaker or removing the fuse. And don’t touch any bare wires or terminals until you’ve checked them with a voltage test light.


Aluminum Alert: With the power off, scrape a bare wire with a utility knife. If scraping reveals silvery metal instead of copper, it’s aluminum wiring and you’ll have to call in a licensed electrician.

Old Wiring: If you have old, fabric-insulated wiring, have a licensed electrician inspect the wiring before you do any electrical work yourself.

Home Repair (Part 1)

Our annual collection of proven solutions to common household headaches.

Your home is your castle, but even a castle needs maintenance: Your throne wobbles, the crown jewels aren’t protected by a deadbolt lock, a light switch no longer obeys your commands. And unless the royal treasury is overflowing, you have to solve these palatial problems yourself.

The following pages contain tried-and-true fixes along with a few new tricks. So even if you’re already the Duke or Duchess of DIY, read on. You’re sure to learn something that will help you keep the kingdom running smoothly.

Old Tile Grout

Broken or badly worn grout isn’t just an eyesore. Cracks let moisture get behind ceramic file, where it can weaken the bond that holds the tile in place and damage plywood or wallboard. to it’s important to replace bad grout before it leads to bigger problems.

The process we show here applies to any grout, whether it’s on floors, walls or countertops. Note: Rough-textured “sanded” grout is used on floors. Smooth “unsanded” grout is for walls. Your countertop may have either.

Chances are, you won’t be able to perfectly match the color of the new grout with the old, but you can come close. If you can’t find a good match using samples or a brochure at a tile store, experiment with mixing colors. Let your sample batches dry for three days before making comparisons.

Tips: If your grout is badly stained, but otherwise intact, try cleaning it with a phosphoric acid solution and a stiff brush. You’ll find both at tile stores.

Wobbly Chair

The first chair you rebuild should be’ garage sale bargain, not a cherished heirloom. Gluing the parts back together fairly simple, but disassembly can easily turn into outright destruction.

Wooden chairs come in two basic styles. Stick chairs are made of spindles with tapered ends called “tenons” that fit into sockets. Frame chairs are made from squarish parts held together with dowels. Tenons that break have to be rebuilt. Broken dowels can simply be removed and replaced.

When your chair is dismantled, you have to get rid of all the old glue. A small chisel is best for picking glue out of sockets. Tenons can be scraped with a utility knife or-if they’re about 1/2 or 3/4 in. dia.-cleaned with a plumber’s tube cleaning brush, which cost $4 at home centers.

When you remove glue, you often remove wood as well, leaving sockets too big or tenons too small. Wood glues have almost no “bridging strength,” so you can’t just use extra glue to fill the gaps. Instead, you have to tighten the joints.

When you glue the chair back together, use hide glue (available at woodworking stores). Standard wood glues begin to set in about 10 minutes. Hide glue gives you about 30 minutes to put it all back together.

Leaky Faucet Cartridge

Cartridge-type faucets are DIY-friendly because all the delicate vital organs are packed into one simple cartridge; if the faucet drips or doesn’t mix hot and cold water like it should, you just replace the cartridge.

Note: leaks around the base of the spout mean you have worn O-rings, not a crippled cartridge.

Cartridges are used in both single- and double handled faucets. If the levers or knobs on your two-handled faucet turn only 90 to 180 degrees, you most likely have a cartridge-type faucet. If you can turn them completely around two or three times, you have washer-type valves.

Single-handled faucets use either cartridges or ball valves. On a cartridge faucet, the handle is secured to the faucet by a screw that’s hidden under a cap. On a ball-type faucet, rate cap; the rounded base of the handle forms the cap that fits over the top of the faucet.

Cartridges come in a zillion forms and home centers carry only a few of the most common models, so the way to get the right one for your faucet is to remove it and take it to a plumbing supplier. You’ll pay $15 to $25 for a replacement (check the Yellow Pages under “Plumbing Fixtures”). Remember: Double-handled faucets take two cartridges and the right and left may not be interchangeable.

Also remember to turn off the water supply to the faucet. If there are shutoff valves under the faucet, turn them both clockwise. If not, you’ll have to turn off the main, where the water supply enters your house.

Tips: For easier reassembly, lay the faucet parts in a row in the order you remove them.