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Handyman advice on common problems in the home


Help, my hardwood floor squeaks

How annoying is that squeaky floor, in the middle of the night or early morning when everything is quiet? There you are being as quiet as you can then SQUEEEEEEK!!! How loud does that sound, right in front of the baby’s room. It has been very enlightening to me to see what annoyances people will live with, and what is the trigger that makes them finally ready to tackle their situation head on; in this case a squeaky floors. Where do you start?


A squeaky hardwood floor is usually caused by two pieces of wood rubbing together or against a nail. That was pretty simple huh? There are only a few places the noise can come from, space between the floor joist and sub-floor, space between the sub-floor and the finished floor, and loose finished boards rubbing against each other or sliding on a nail. Most of the floors I have eliminated squeaking from in here in Marin County are simply due to age. If you have a newer home with a squeaky floor it might be due to poor workmanship.


If you don’t already know where the source of the squeak is coming from you will need to have someone walk on the floor while you find out where the noise is coming from. A lot of the homes that are built here in Sausalito, Mill Valley, Tiburon and San Rafael are built on a hill and have plenty of access from underneath. This will be helpful for the first phase. If you don’t have access you might have to open up the ceiling underneath the floor to eliminate any really bad squeaks that can’t be addressed from the top.


There are two different things I do from underneath to help solidify the situation. I use shims to fill up any space between the floor joist and the sub-floor; I slide them in hand tight. If you start hammering in a shim you can lift the floor creating a problem somewhere else. We are trying to eliminate the squeaks, not make more so pay very close attention. Next I will use Simpson angle ties, an A21 or A44 will work, to connect the floor joist to the sub-floor using screw that will not penetrate the top of the finished floor. The idea is to limit movement and these little babies sure help do the trick.


Depending on how noisy your floor is, as well as how the joists look you can shore up the floor joists to make your floor even tighter. Cut 2”x8” pieces to block the joists, fastening each one at the ends. I start at four feet on the first joist and then add one every eight feet. The next joist I will start at eight feet so that you have blocking every four feet, this will really tighten things up from below. Now it’s time to address the squeaks from up above.


The areas we are going to address here are surface boards moving, rubbing against each other either at the ends of the board or the sides. Go down to your local hardware store and buy a tube of graphite, it is used as a long lasting lubricant; I apply it to end boards that might be moving together. I have heard people using baby powder or some such stuff but the graphite I have found works best and will blend in with your floor better.


Now before you start getting nervous about putting a hole or holes in your floor, take a very close look at the thousand or more nails you can see without even trying. You would be amazed at some of the things people worry about in regards to stopping a squeaking floor. I actually had a client tell me they were worried about putting holes in the floor, I had a hard time keeping a straight face showing them the lines of nails already in the floor.


Back in the old days you could drill a pilot hole on an angle and drive a finishing nail in to help solidify the floor. Now you can simply use snap off screws to address loose floor boards. This is a special screw that snaps off just underneath the surface of the board leaving a hole the size of the nails that are already there. It would be great if all the squeaks were located right at the floor joist so you could just screw straight into the joist, but this isn’t always possible, do the best you can. Now fill in the hole with some wood putty and move on to the next squeak.


I like to use for special fasteners, you can order these and they will be there before you know it. Order the box with more screws, you will find you can use them all. This process will take away the most annoying squeaks in your floor; it will take a little time and persistence to take out all of your squeaks, good luck.

Help, my door doesn’t close

The early warning signs usually go unnoticed for doors, one of the most used pieces of your home. The signs are the door is a little harder to open and close, it seems to stick; you start to lose paint on the frame of your door. Now your door is having a very hard time opening and closing and you don’t know what to do. It can’t be that complicated, can it?

Doors are very basic, and with any moving part of anything, wear and tear will happen and will require attention from time to time. Doors get slammed, probably not your door, or maybe something gets caught in the door as you are closing it. If you have kids, kids and animals keep a guy like me plenty busy. Eventually the door is having a hard time closing and you aren’t quite sure where to start.

Now there are a couple of things that could have happened to make your door hard to close or not close at all. Your door got bigger, the door frame got smaller, or the screws for the hinges are backing out. While it is true that an exterior door can swell if it isn’t protected from moisture, the most likely culprit is explanation number three, the screws are backing out. Exterior doors are heavy, sometimes requiring four hinges instead of three for the excess weight. A heavier door doesn’t explain why interior doors have the same problem.

Doors hinges are screwed into the door frame with ¾ inch wood screws, the same length as the width of the piece of wood it goes into. The exterior door frames can be made with a little thicker wood. While this holds up for a long time, a door that is used regularly will eventually have some issues. It would be nice if you could just tighten the screws and be done with it, chances are you will be tightening them again if that is all you do. Depending on how long the problem has gone on it might have taken that option away from you.

The best way I have found to fix this on a more permanent basis is to use a two to three inch wood screw, this is long enough to reach and go into the 2 x 4 stud behind the door frame. Problem solved. What if the hinge is coming apart from the door and not the frame? Not a problem, take one of your screws with you to the local hardware store. Screws are measured by length and diameter, the length is measured in inches and the diameter is the gauge. Get some wood screws 1 ½ inches long and a bigger gauge than the one you have. If you would like some help finding it, hold the screw in your hand as you walk through the store looking a little lost. These guys or gals can’t wait to help you.

Help, my closet doors came off

Closet doors are a part of your home you use every day. Imagine, back and forth, they don’t go very far but they usually move every day unless you leave them open. This happens all too frequently because people don’t want to hassle with them and can’t figure out how to get them to stay on their tracks. A surprising amount of people finally just take them off and have them leaning up against a wall.

Closet doors are pretty simple to repair; they have rollers at the top of the door on each side. These fit into a track at the top of the door frame, and slide back and forth. Depending on the type of doors you have, there might even be a track at the bottom they slide along. These are the really thin closet doors that have a plastic piece that you lock into the track on the floor so the door has some sense of stability.

There is a special section in the hardware store that has about any type of roller or guide that you might need to replace the worn out piece. Why? These wear out over time from use, not hard to figure out. It is very important to either take a picture of the roller you need to replace or take it off the closet door and bring it with you. Prepare to be confused, and another trip back to the hardware store if you don’t listen to me. You are about to be amazed at all the different types of rollers and guides.

Before you run out and buy the new parts I would like to introduce you to something that will eliminate ever having to bother with your doors again except to open and close them, more easily than ever before. I found this when I was trying to find replacement tracks for some closet doors I was working on in Sausalito.

There is a company that I would highly recommend you look at, Johnson Hardware at They have the products to take your sliding closet doors to the next level. They are simple to install and you will never have to fuss with your closet doors again. The price is just a little more than you will already be paying for replacement parts.


Finding a Gas Leak
One of the things I find,almost universally, is that home owners do not want to even try to light a pilot light or anything else that has to do with natural gas. That is exactly why PG&E will charge you for everything but coming out to light a pilot light. Every once in a while they will go out or the thermocouple will go bad and a home owner will get nervous. Sometimes they even think they smell gas.

I was taught by PG&E to check the gas fittings with a spray bottle of soapy water. Simply spray soapy water over the gas fittings and bubbles will begin to blow anywhere there is a leak. At that point you can simply shut off the gas at the valve where you are at and tighten the fittings in question, be sure to use two wrenches when necessary, then re-check to see if you have them tight enough.

Help, I have no power

Electricity is very nice to have in your home, we find out just how dependent we are on it when something as simple as an electrical circuit blows. All of a sudden for no seeming reason you don’t have any power, now what? Why did it blow, will it blow again, do I need an electrician? The answers to these questions are pretty simple, and you will know if you need an electrician after reading this.

Fuses and circuit breakers are the Paul Revere of your electrical system. When a fuse blows or a circuit breaker trips, you are being warned something is wrong. Before you reset the breaker or replace the fuse, find the reason it blew. The most common cause of a circuit to trip is too many appliances on at the same time on one circuit. If it wasn’t that, take a look around and make sure you don’t have any problems.
There is a panel either outside your home or inside that we need to focus on, this is where the electricity comes from outside and goes to the different parts of your home.

In Marin County there are plenty of older homes that still have fuses and not breakers, so you need to know which one you have to be prepared for an emergency. Having spent a little time growing up in the country you make sure to always have extras, electricity is a nice thing to have. You can just reset a breaker by turning it off and then on again. You will know which one to flip because it will be kind of in the middle, appearing to be neither on or off. If you have fuses, you will need to replace the one that has blown with a new one. You should be able to tell which one to replace by the blackish gray haze on the glass, kind of like when a light bulb blows.

Replacing a switch
This is where the term “you get what you pay for” holds true. With as much use as a switch gets it pays to spend a little more for a good switch.Turn off the breaker for the switch you want to replace. Remove the switch plate and then the screws that hold the switch to the box.

Pull the switch out of the box so that you can remove the wires from their respective terminals. There will either be looped terminals on the side or the back wired receptacles. If the switch has a red wire as well as the black and white one you have what is called a three way switch. These are typically used in a hallway or kitchen to turn the light on or off from more than one location.

When I replace a switch I like to wrap the wire around the screw in the direction the screw tightens for a nice tight connection, rather than sticking the wire in the back of the switch. Remove one wire at a time and attach it to the new switch. Make sure the connections are firm and gently push the switch back in the box. Fasten the screws for the new switch and refasten the switch plate. Turn the breaker back on and make sure your new switch works.

Replacing an outlet
A lot of older homes in Sausalito, Mill Valley and San Rafael have two prong outlet receptacles. A home owner will typically ask me to replace these with a three prong outlet so the appliances and tools will plug in without an adapter. Installing one of these three pronged outlets does not mean that it is grounded, it is not safe to use for your computer. Each box has to be grounded individually if you want protection. There are some other things too but I will address that under grounding for your computer.

Turn off the breaker for the outlet or receptacle you want to replace. Remove the face plate and then the screws that hold the receptacle to the box.

Pull the outlet out of the box so that you can remove the wires. The ways of fastening are the same as we used with the switch. In some cases the outlet might have four wires coming out of it, just take your time and replace them one at a time so you don’t get anything mixed up. I like to wrap the wire around the screw in the direction the screw turns for a nice tight connection instead of poking the wires into the back of the plug.

After you reattach the wires gently place the receptacle back in the box and fasten the screws that hold it in place. Replace the face plate and turn the breaker back on and make sure your outlet works.

Installing a light fixture
This will work with basically any light fixture where you are replacing the light with something of similar size. Either on the wall or the ceiling it is all pretty basic. Just take your time and make sure all your connections are secure.

Turn off the breaker for the light fixture you want to replace. Get a ladder you feel comfortable with and examine how the fixture is mounted. Whether wall mounted or ceiling mounted the fastening systems are basically the same.

The main difference with light fixtures besides how they look is how they mount.There is either a nut to remove in the center of the fixture to get to the wires, or screws or nuts on the side to remove to get to the wires.The wiring is very basic, ground to ground, white wire to white wire, black wire to black wire.

Turn the breaker back on and make sure your light fixture works.

Gfcis are an inexpensive electrical device, but it serves a very important purpose. Simply put a ground fault circuit interruptor keeps someone from being electrocuted by opening the circuit, shutting down the flow of current. These receptacles are in the bathroom, kitchen and outdoor receptacles. Any receptacle wired on that circuit receives protection from the gfci.

I typed that last sentence in bold for a reason, if you have an outlet or two that doesn’t work in your house, it is very likely wired to a circuit with a gfci in it. These trip sometimes and you might not know until you find one of these outlets that don’t work. The circuits where you might find a gfci are in a bathroom, kitchen, garage, or outside.

Looking at a gfi receptacle you can see the connections are a little different than a regular receptacle. It is also very important to wire them correctly if you want the receptacles downstream from them to work. These type of outlets can be quite a bit more complicated so follow the directions that come in the box carefully, or better yet, give us a call. This is something that you want done right.

Dimmer switches

Dimmer switches were developed to allow more control over lighting than just on and off. As a side benefit, they save energy and extend the bulb life by reducing the amount of electricity used. Dimmer switches are available in single-pole and three-way models.

Do not use a dimmer switch to control a ceiling fan or any other motorized appliance or you will burn up both the dimmer and appliance.

Simply follow the directions for replacing aswitch.



Plumbing isn’t a really sexy subject, but if you own a home you need to educate yourself just a little bit or else you might wind up spending a lot of money you don’t have to. We hope to answer most questions you might have. We might also throw in some useful things that can help you in our humble opinion and over thirty years of experience fixing problems, just like the one you are looking to take care of right now. With a few basic tools and a lot of confidence you can take care of most of the plumbing situations in your home.

If you don’t see what you are looking for just pick up your phone and give us a call. We will talk you through what you need or set up a time to come help you out. Plumbing can seem overwhelming when you have water flowing everywhere, or maybe not flowing, that can be equally disturbing. By planning before you attempt any plumbing repairs you will be greatly reducing the stress you might feel when attempting to repair said plumbing situation. Continue reading and be brave, or grab your checkbook and give us a call, your choice.


Help, my garbage disposal doesn’t work

The garbage disposal is one of the most used and abused things in your home. It’s kind of like the toilet, we don’t think about it until it doesn’t work. As with anything with moving parts, they have their limits and will wear out with time, don’t be surprised when your garbage disposal takes a vacation. I have seen what gets put down them and it isn’t pretty; some people use them as a garbage can.

So you are reading this because your garbage disposal doesn’t make any noise when you flip the switch or your disposal hums. Garbage disposals are pretty straight forward when it comes to repairs. If your disposal makes a humming noise but doesn’t spin around, your disposal is jammed. There is something that has jammed itself between the blade and the body of the disposal keeping it from spinning around. There is a hole on the bottom of the garbage disposal for just this thing. I use a hex wrench or a special tool made by the disposal company, sometimes found on the side of the disposal in a special plastic holder, to un-jam the garbage disposal. If you don’t have either of those, find a big screwdriver to move the blade from the top. You need to move the blade and then run the water to wash down whatever has jammed your disposal.

If your garbage disposal doesn’t make any noise, you probably have two things you need to do. The first thing to do is check to make sure your disposal is plugged in. Believe it, people use underneath the sink for storage. Garbage disposals have a long cord and it can be jostled around enough to come unplugged. If your disposal is plugged in, then find the reset button on the bottom of it and press it. Your disposal got jammed and the safety mechanism kicked in, saving your disposal to work another day. You will still have to un-jam your garbage disposal before it will work. Make sure to run a good amount of water when you run your disposal, and pay close attention to what gets put down the sink.

Your garbage disposal is a great tool for your kitchen, if you would like to extend the life of it, remember to use a good amount of water when using it. It is also important to watch what you put down it, nothing fibrous like an artichoke or corn husks. In the event these things don’t work, give me a call and we will replace it for you immediately.

How to Install a Garbage Disposal

When your garbage disposal quits working it doesn’t take long for most people to spring into action to get it replaced. When the sink starts to drain slow and starts to stink it doesn’t take long. One thing we expect from our plumbing is to work when we expect it to, turn on when we want it and to drain like it’s supposed to.

Assuming you have already confirmed you need a new garbage disposal, what do you do now? Look under the sink and see what type of garbage disposal you have, take note of the name and size of the motor. For most homes you will find either a 1/3 horsepower or ½ horsepower, I always opt for the bigger motor because I have seen what people put down them. It isn’t necessary to get the same type of garbage disposal that you are replacing, it just makes it easier.

Now before you run down to your local store to buy a disposal, check the type of gaskets underneath the nuts used to tighten the pipes, it’s a good time to replace these. Depending on your plumbing set up they will be 1 ½ inches and either the plastic compression kind or the flat rubber. Make sure to get a small tub of plumbers putty if you get a different disposal than the one you are replacing, you will need it when you replace the sink basket. Everything else you need should come in the box with your new garbage disposal.

Before you install your new disposal, you will have to attach the power cord to the bottom of your disposal. After you insert the cord through the opening, tighten the connector so the cord is snug and won’t move if tugged. Make sure to use your ground, and tighten all your connections before you close the cover.

If you haven’t already removed your disposal, do it now. If you were able to buy a disposal that will just hook right back up, go ahead and do it. Just get yourself comfortable because these little babies can get heavy in a hurry. Replace the washers for the nuts and then put everything back together without tightening anything, after everything is hand tight go ahead and tighten everything. I have found when you tighten each piece as you are putting it together you soon find out you should wait to tighten all the pipes at one time. Ready? Plug it in, turn on the water and fire that bad boy up! Make sure there are no leaks before you close up those doors, it’s not good to have water under the sink.

What if I got a different disposal than the one I am replacing?

This part is for those of you that have to change the sink basket before you install your beautiful new beast of a garbage disposal. The sink basket is the piece that goes through the sink and is attached from underneath. The sink basket comes out by backing off the nut underneath the sink; now push the sink basket up into the sink. To install your new sink basket you will need to take some plumbers putty and roll it into a line about the size of a pencil. Put the plumbers putty around the bottom side of the new sink basket where it will contact the sink. After you tighten the nut, scrape away the putty that squeezed out and throw it away. Now you can hook up your new garbage disposal.

Help, my faucet leaks

Another water waster and an annoying noise when everything is quiet. First, we will discuss the two handled faucet. I prefer to fix both sides when I do this, a personal preference, to save the home owner money and time,as they will have to call someone to fix the other side when it starts leaking.Start by turning off the supply lines underneath the sink, turning to the right. There are two pieces you have to pop off, the H and the C from the top of the handle, use a flat tip screw driver and nothing sharp. Now remove the screws and take the handles off exposing the stem.

If the handle doesn’t come off easily I like to loosen them by setting a pair of pliers, handle side, underneath the handle and lift up on them while turning the handle. Gentle pressure is all you should need to take the handles off. Once the handle is off, use a crescent wrench to remove the stems, turning left to loosen.I like to replace the seats when I replace the stems, they are located in the two holes with water in them, they are what the rubber washer sits on to turn the water off. What usually happens is when water starts to drip, you will just righten it a little bit more, thinking THIS will stop the drip. What happens next is self perpetuating. The rubber washer is usually worn down to the rim, causing the leak, then the brass rim is ground into the seat causing the metal to wear away and away we go.

There is a special tool called a seat wrench, not expensive, place it inside the seats and turn left to loosen. I replace them with monel seats, not brass, they last longer. At this point you can replace the stems or replace the rubber washer and the rubber o-ring located in between the two moving parts of the stem. Your local hardware store will help you to identify the parts you need if you bring the stem with you. Ask for a little plumbers grease to apply in between the two pieces when you change the o-ring, it helps the stem to turn more easily. Now just install in the reverse order and turn your water back on. Keep your eyes open for leaks under the sink, most often it will come from your angle stop. If water is going to leak, it will, just keep an eye on it.

Single handle faucet

The single handle faucet works in a little different way. The water comes in the same way, it just has one moving part. To remove the handle you will probably need some type of allen wrench, you will notice a small set screw, just back it out a little. Make sure you have the water turned off below, and unscrew the piece that holds the ball. Be very careful to notice how this comes out and where any o-rings might be, these form a water tight seal when tightened and needs to be replaced along with the plastic piece that sits on top of the ball. You will need to bring the ball with you or take a picture with your phone to get the right replacement parts.

There are two seats, one for hot and one for cold, that will be noticeable when you remove the ball from the top of the faucet. These are replaced as well with the tool that comes in the replacement parts package. Installation is the reverse. Tighten everything nice and snug. then turn the water back on.


Help, it’s wet under my sink

One thing you do not want to find when you grab something from beneath your sink, kitchen sink or bathroom, is water. Water comes in through the wall, flows up to and through the faucet, and then flows back down through the pipes under your sink. You certainly don’t want water outside of those pipes; the damage can get very bad, quickly.

Ideally, the pipes would have their own little room with double doors for access, but that doesn’t happen anywhere. Space for storage is usually at a premium and in Marin County even more so. Anyway it just seems to make sense to store certain items under the sink. Sometimes things get jostled around when putting stuff under there.

Check to make sure the nuts holding the different pieces of pipe together are tight. Examine the pipes where the nuts tighten for water stains. Put the stopper in the sink and fill it part way up, now take the stopper out and look at the pipes while the water drains.

Now look at the angle stops, the valve that turns the water on and off under the sink, is there water leaking from there? Sometimes you can just tighten the nut to stop water from leaking; if that doesn’t work it will likely need to be replaced. Make sure the supply lines are tight as well.

The last thing to look at is to turn the faucet on and check to see if there is water leaking out of the faucet itself, underneath the handles for a two handle faucet, as well as the base of the spout. The rubber “O” rings wear out after time and the water goes wherever it wants instead of where it is supposed to go. When this happens water goes straight down, every time you turn on the water.

After fixing your problem, make sure your base is dry and clean before putting your stuff back under. Mold and mildew don’t take long in conditions like that, and trust me you don’t want to have to deal with mold.

Help, my toilet is clogged

You do have a toilet and it is clogged, so let’s get down to business and let you know what you need to do to unclog your toilet. It’s not really complicated; it’s just a little messy. Unfortunately you don’t know your toilet is clogged until you use it. I always have some old towels to wipe up the water and recommend if there is water on the floor to clean that up first. It eliminates a hazard for you and you won’t track water all over the house.

This is a very simple thing to do, but as with most things we might not be familiar with it can be rather intimidating to attempt. Before you go to get a new seal check your supply line. If it is not a metal braided line, pick one up when getting the seal, longer is not better with this piece. It should fit with as straight a shot as possible. By doing this you are eliminating the chance of the line bursting and depositing a whole bunch of water on your bathroom floor before you find it. I like to get the wax seals that have the closet bolts, the bolts that hold your toilet to the floor, with the wax seal.

Now you have your seal and supply line so turn off the water to the toilet. Make sure to have a towel or two on hand to clean up the mess you are about to make. Flush the toilet one last time and hold the handle until all the water goes out of the tank. There will be a little water left in the bottom of the tank, not enough to cause a problem; if you have a wet and dry vacuum you can use it to remove the rest of the water. Get as much as you can out of the bowl as well, this is where the mess will come from.

Disconnect the water supply to the toilet and unscrew the nuts holding your toilet to the floor. Hopefully the nuts will unscrew easily and you can lift your toilet gently upwards off of the bolts and set it on some newspaper. If the nuts give you a hard time use a hacksaw to get them off. This is the reason I like to have extra closet bolts on hand. Whether you have to replace them or not, it helps the tightening process if you put a washer and nut on the bolts before you place the toilet. Tighten them down so that the bolt doesn’t turn on you later, keeping you from tightening the toilet to the floor.

I like to use a big screwdriver to grab the old wax seal and put it in the box of the new seal, those things are messy and sticky and you want to keep your hands out of this mess if possible. Place the new wax seal and reset your toilet. Be careful not to over tighten the nuts. You can crack the toilet and then you will be doing this all over again. Now tighten the water supply line and turn the water back on. If water is going to leak it will, so stick around and flush the toilet a couple times and make sure there are no leaks.

Repairing a Running Toilet in Marin County

There are few things in life more annoying than a running toilet, maybe a dripping faucet at night. Aside from the irritating noise they make I think it kind of bothers me when I know that water is being wasted. A small drip can waste several gallons a day and a running toilet can fill a swimming pool in a month.

How your toilet works

There are only a few parts to address with a toilet so they are fairly straight forward to fix. The water supply for your toilet is underneath the tank, typically called an angle stop. This is where you can turn the water on and off for your toilet, clockwise to close it and vice versa to open it. Remember this if your toilet ever starts to overflow. The line that runs from the angle stop to the bottom of the tank is called the supply line. This hooks into the fill valve which has a float mechanism that shuts off the fill valve when it reaches its predetermined level. That is how the water gets into the tank. When you push the handle it pulls the flapper valve up so the water can go rushing into the bowl and away go troubles down the drain. Pretty simple huh?


Replacing a Leaky Flapper Valve

This is one of the easier things you can do in repairing your toilet. If your toilet runs it is either your flapper valve or the fill valve doesn’t shut off. Shut off the water and unhook the flapper from the fill valve and the handle. If you have never done this before, note the brand of toilet and bring the flapper with you when you buy another one. There are several different kind, they are not a universal item. Installation is the reverse, hook the flapper and chain back up. Make sure the chain is the right length or it might not work properly or keep the flapper from closing.Turn your water back on and make sure you have no leaks.


Repairing a Fill Valve

If you have an older toilet with a big float ball on it you have a fill valve that can be repaired instead of replaced. Turn off the water. With the top off of the tank you should see three screws on top of the fill valve. Simply remove those and replace the diaphragm inside. Make sure to place it in the same way as you took it out. For reference purposes this is called a ballcock assembly.

Replacing a Fill Valve

This can sometimes involve removing the tank from the bowl. Depending on how old the toilet is, you might be able to get by without taking the tank off. Turn off the water and flush the toilet. Try and get as much water out of the tank as possible, whatever is left in the tank will either wind up on you or the floor, be prepared. Unhook the supply line to the tank and undo the bolts that hold the tank to the bowl. Once you have the tank off, find a comfortable spot to affect your replacement. Install the valve in the reverse order making sure to tighten everything carefully. Place the tank back onto the toilet and tighten it down. Hook the water back up and turn it on. Adjust the float as necessary. Make sure you have no leaks before calling the job finished. Remember, if water is going to leak it will.

Changing a toilet seat

While this repair is very simple, you might have to make two trips to the store if you don’t identify which type of toilet seat you need first. You need to know if you have a round bowl or an elongated bowl. Once you get your new seat the replacement is fairly simple. If it has been awhile since your seat has been replaced it might be a little more time consuming. Close the lid to your toilet and you will see where it attaches to to the bowl. If it’s a newer seat everything will be plastic and should be fairly simple to replace. Simply pop the tops of the plastic covers, unscrew and replace. If you have an older seat you might need to locate your hack saw. This will require a little patience if the metal is corroded and won’t turn the way it is supposed to. Try to snap the bolts off first with a pair of pliers, if that doesn’t work you will need to saw the bolt off. Take your time and don’t get in a hurry, It’s not a comfortable position you are in anyway, not a lot of room usually. If this is the process you have to go through you will be impressed with the new ways to attach your toilet seat. Pretty exciting huh!

Locating your shutoff valve

Knowing where your shut off valve is very important information, it is located between the meter and your home, and it controls the water supply to your home. Whenever you need to replace an angle stop or anything under pressure, this is the place to start. Most shut off valves are located right next to your house, right underneath a hose bib. Usually a round handle that turns to the right, clockwise, to turn the water off. Left to loosen, right to tighten. When I turn the water supply back on I always turn the handle all the way back to the left and then turn it one quarter turn to the right to avoid sticking and possibly the breaking of the valve. As you turn the water on make sure that water doesn’t leak from the nut the shaft goes in to,if it does, give the nut a turn to the right until it tightens. If you still have water leaking at this point, you will need some packing material from the hardware store.

Angle stops

An angle stop is the next step in the delivery of your water. These are located underneath your sinks, one for hot, one for cold, and behind your toilet. If your faucet wont shut off, or your toilet begins to overflow you can stop the flow of water with the angle stop. I do the same thing with the valve when I open them up, turning it all the way to the left and then one quarter turn to the right so it doesn’t stick open.

By design, an angle stop can go a long time in between closings. If the home is twenty years or older, I like to replace the angle stop and supply line anytime I replace a toilet, faucet, etc… A lot of home owners like the attention to detail and preventive maintenance. It costs a lot more to repair water damage than it does to replace a couple of angle stops or supply lines.

Supply lines

The supply line runs from your angle stop to the faucet or toilet ad washing machine. You have supply lines to your dishwasher and ice maker as well. On some older homes that haven’t had any work done the supply lines are probably solid. I prefer to replace any supply lines I can with the braided supply lines,metal. I like these better than the vinyl ones,they are the best made and virtually guarantees no burst lines or water damage while you are on vacation. These come in different sizes so measure carefully, you don’t want it too long or it will cause you trouble. I found out the hard way that too much is too much with the supply line, you want as straight a shot as possible without bends.


Pop up stoppers

An annoying problem in almost every bathroom you enter is the pop up stopper for the bathroom sink.
One of the more annoying problems in a bathroom without a doubt. You have plastic pieces that connect with metal pieces that move, eventually things wear down and break. Sometimes it is just that “stuff” clogs up the stopper and the drain is slow, or you cant’ close the stopper all the way or it just plain ole doesn’t move up or down, it’s a pretty simple fix.

Open up the door of the vanity and reach to the back pf the pipes just above the p-trap, or reach to the back of the pipes on a pedestal sink above the p-trap for a round connection where the stopper rod connects with the stopper. Back the round piece counter clock wise to remove the rod, which is meant to stick through the hole in the bottom of the stopper. If the plastic piece on the bottom of the stopper is broken replace it..

Screw the round piece back onto the pipe, making sure it is in the hole at the bottom of the stopper. The back part of the rod sticks through a hole in a piece that hooks up to the pop up knob that sticks up through the faucet. There is a metal piece that holds the rod to the pull lever. All very simple and easily repaired if you apply yourself.
Give us a call, we can help.

Clogged drains
One of the most annoying things that can happen to a home owner, and one of the most preventable. Usually the drain clogs at the most inopportune time, meaning more expensive to have it fixed at that particular time, usually a holiday. Do yourself a favor and don’t pour one of those drain cleaning products into the mess, a little tip, IT’S TOO LATE! You will have to drain the water in your sink and you don’t need to be dealing with chemicals.

Almost all clogs can be solved with a small 25 foot hand auger. Simply put a good size pan to catch the water underneath the p-trap and remove the p-trap. Empty it into the pan if that didn’t happen already. Now slowly insert your hand auger into the drain pipe that goes into the wall a little at a time. You will feel when you hit the obstruction. Unless it’s a tree root you will be able to clear it with a little persitence and patience. Remember you are saving yourself at least $85 so take a deep breath, it all washes off of your hands.

Something very important about tightening up your pipes is to wait until everything is reconnected before starting to tighten the nuts, this prevents annoying leaks and drips


Help, my wall has a hole in it

Oops! Who has a hole in their wall, is it behind the door where you don’t have a doorstop? That is the exact reason door stops were invented. Or is the hole from an accident, maybe a young teenage boy. I can tell you in my profession we come across as many reasons as there are holes. I think it is a pretty safe bet that we have all seen some botched attempts at fixing the holes. In some cases I think it looks better with a hole rather than a wall that has a noticeable patch. Some people get creative and hang a picture over it until they move. In any case, drywall repair is a pretty simple fix with just a few special tools and some patience.

Repairing a hole in your drywall requires a little confidence in yourself. You are going to make your hole bigger than it already is to fix it, so relax and have confidence in yourself that you will be able to make it look better than it does right now. The question is how big of a hole are you going to make, well that depends where it is, but you need to make sure to cut away all weak spots. Grab your stud sensor and find out where they are in relation to the hole in your drywall, mark them with a pencil.

The drywall has to have something to attach to so it will be a strong patch and not crack later on. If the hole is close to a stud I will cut the drywall back to the middle of the stud. Depending on the size of the hole I have to cut I will use a drywall saw and a utility knife. I make my cut square or rectangular, using my speed square for small holes and a level for bigger holes, so that the piece of drywall I cut to place in the hole will fit as tight as possible. At this time you can tell the thickness of the drywall, it comes in different thicknesses and you need to make sure you have the right one, the most common are 1/2” and 5/8”.

After cutting your drywall patch to fit as snug as possible, you need to reinforce the other side of the hole. Cut a piece of 2”x 4” about 6 inches longer than the hole and slide it inside to use as a backer. Fasten it with screws, with half the board on each side of the hole for strength. Now you can set your drywall patch in the hole and screw it in.

Make sure the edges are clean, sometimes the paper from the drywall will tear instead of cut; the edges need to be clean for a patch that isn’t noticeable. Use mesh drywall tape to frame the hole and apply a thin coat of drywall compound. I like to use a fast setting compound called “hot mud”. This dries very quickly, allowing me to finish the patch much quicker than normal. The process is to gradually add, it is a lot easier to add then take away, feathering the edges out so when you apply the texture it will look natural. You will need at least two coats of mud, sanding in between coats, before you add the texture.

This next part is where we earn our money, matching the texture. There a two types of texture techniques that are used most often when building a home, knock down or orange peel texture. Fortunately for you, the local hardware store sells this stuff in a can so you don’t need any special equipment to apply the texture. Before you attempt to texture your patch, practice on a spare piece of drywall, you will notice that it doesn’t come out of the can as an exact match. A tip from a pro, shake, shake, shake the can for at least a minute; you get a much better result. Keep trying until you like what you see, you can just keep wiping it away until you get the result you are looking for. When your drywall patch dries you need to seal the area with a sealer like Zinnser or Kilz, an aerosol spray, this will help the patch to blend into the wall when you paint if you have patched it nicely. If you skip this step, you will be able to see exactly where the patch was made.


Painting Your House in Marin County

Almost anytime is a good time for painting your house in Marin County. The climate is more Mediterranean so great weather is something we get to enjoy in abundance living here in Marin County. A good house painter can stay busy year round in Marin with weather like we have. It doesn’t get too hot or cold around here, and the rain really knows how to space itself. You have some unique conditions in Sausalito and Mill Valley, where you get more wind and foggy conditions, San Rafael and Novato get noticeably hotter. Sometimes the difference in temperature can quite stark.

Start With a Walk

It is important to take a walk around your house a couple times a year with the sole purpose of inspecting the exterior of the house. I always start at the top of the house and work my way down, just like when I paint a house. Keep your gutters clean so they last longer, while you are there take a look at the fascia for wear and places that need to be caulked so that water doesn’t get to do its thing on your house. Is the paint starting to peel anywhere? The southern side of the house will usually take more abuse. Take a close look at the body of the house; does anything catch your eye? Look at the base of the house, paying very close attention to where any wood comes into contact with the ground, like around the door frames. Keep an eye out for fungus or dry rot. We have a lot of shade here in Marin along with moist conditions that cause fungus in a lot of different areas. Fungus isn’t good for your house and it can be pretty slippery on your walkways, especially on bricks. Raise your hand Mill Valley if you know what I am talking about. If you make a habit of looking at these things you will probably be able to keep anything from becoming an expensive problem.

Protect Your Investment by Painting Your House

Bare wood, where paint cracks and peels away invites undue wear, dry rot, cracking of the wood and more. When water is allowed to enter your home in these areas it is just a matter of time before you have what we call “a situation”. Paint on the homes are in Marin County is not subjected to severe weather compared to other areas in this beautiful state, so home owners in Marin County can keep up with the maintenance a little easier. Painting your house on a regular basis helps you to protect an expensive asset. Keeping up with the paint on your house helps keep bad things from happening to your home.

Expense or investment

Living in Marin County is expensive, so most expenditures are looked at carefully. Keeping up with the painting on the exterior of the home is an excellent investment if done right. Without the right painter for your house you could end up spending money more often than you need to. That is called an expense. When you are ready to paint your house in Marin County, hire a painter who knows how to prepare a home for paint.

Preparing To Paint Your House

Preparing your home to be painted is just as important to the process as painting the house itself. If this is rushed or not done properly you will have major problems with the paint sticking to the house. Take your time and paint your house right the first time, I can promise that you won’t be sorry. Painting your house here in Marin County can get a little pricy, so you want the paint to stick around for a little bit.

Use Good Paint

As a personal practice I stay away from painting a house with inferior paint. While certain paints advertise a life-time guarantee, that is not realistic. Another feature advertised is coverage in one coat, I wouldn’t count on it. A second coat is necessary for proper coverage. Not only that, if you try to cover in just one coat of paint you will probably have a sloppy job. It will be too thick and runny, or too thin in places. In any case, a second coat of paint is a must.

Clean Up Your Mess

The landscaping is a very important part of your house so make sure you hire a painter that is very clean and knows how to take care of your yard like it is their own. You would like the paint on your house, not on your plants and other things. A conscientious painter will not only clean up after themselves every night before they leave, they will also make an extra effort to paint only what is expected.

how to remove hard water spots
Ingredients: vinegar, nylon brush
Soak a cloth in vinegar. Lay the cloth on the water spots and spray more vinegar on the cloth. Remove the cloth and scrub the area with a nylon brush.

how to remove white rings in furniture
Ingredients: mayonnaise, plastic wrap
Apply a thin layer of mayonnaise to the affected area. Cover it with some plastic wrap, and allow it to sit for about an hour. Lastly, remove the plastic wrap and work the mayonnaise into the finish.

how to remove mildew
Ingredients: powdered laundry detergent, liquid bleach, warm water
Pour 1/3 cup of powdered laundry detergent, 1 quart of liquid bleach and 3 quarts of warm water into a spray bottle. Spray the mix and allow to remain on the surface for a few minutes, then rinse with water and dry the area.

how to clean tile and shower enclosures
Ingredients: lemons, nylon scouring pad
Apply the lemon to the surface and scrub with a nylon scouring pad. When clean, wash with a mild detergent and water, then dry.


Installing a Ceiling Fan In Marin County
If you own an older home in Marin County, chances are you don’t have air conditioning. A nice perk about living here in Marin County and the bay area in general are the really nice days and cool nights. Sometimes the days around here are just a little more than nice and get up into the hot range. Besides opening the windows and doors, which doesn’t help when there is no breeze, you might think about installing a ceiling fan.

Ceiling fans have been popular since their inception. Blowing air down into a room makes people feel cooler in the summer; it also helps to keep away bugs and mosquitoes. In the winter, you can reverse the motor to pull the air up to the ceiling and circulate the warm air down the exterior walls;
there are many different kinds of fans, fans with lights or just the fan. Choose the best one to suit your needs.

It is important to note that a good quality fan is worth spending a little money on, don’t pick the least expensive one. Bearings and motor size is the key here. Without getting too complicated, fans without sealed bearings and small motor size will be the reason you replace your ceiling fan. In short, bearings are the moving part of the fan motor and will collect dust wearing out more quickly. Find yourself a fan with sealed bearings.

One of the most important points in installing your new ceiling fan, besides clearance, seven feet is recommended, is to securely mount your ceiling fan box to handle the movement and torque of the fan. Every time your fan comes on it can move with great force, especially when turned all the way up. You don’t want your ceiling fan working its way loose and ripping itself out of your ceiling, it can happen.

Now you need to assemble your fan. It doesn’t look like it should take that long to put together, but they are deceptive. Just follow manufacturer’s instructions. Take your time and make sure all of the screws are tightened properly. After you have the ceiling fan ready to hang you will turn off the breaker for the circuit you are working on. Theoretically the switch should keep any electricity from reaching the light when the switch is off, but don’t chance it. It can be very unsettling to receive a little jolt of electricity.

Position a ladder directly underneath the light you are going to replace and remove the fixture so that you are comfortable. There are a number of things that can vary with the wiring such as a light kit or a remote control; what’s nice is all you have to do is plug things together or put the colors together the instructions tell you. One installation tip I will give you is when you lift that fan up, they get heavy very quickly. Use the wires to wrap around whatever hook the manufacturer makes available to you at the box to help hold the ceiling fan up while you wire it. You need two hands to be able to wire properly, so take your time and do it right. All done?

Turn the breaker back on and enjoy your fan. There is a certain satisfaction in doing something yourself, don’t you think?



Making Your Basement Livable

Homes in Marin County are small enough and extra storage is always nice, especially when it is under roof, but if you can make it into a living space it’s a bonus. Being such a hilly area means Marin County has a lot of two story structures. That means there are a lot of basements and attics that could be converted into living space. Depending on the area available to use here are a couple of ideas for transforming a little used, unattractive basement into a family room, a laundry room or a workshop with maybe an extra bathroom.

Before you start any planning it is best to make sure you have no drainage problems. I know by visiting different areas in the county, there are a lot of drainage and runoff issues that are dealt with on a regular basis. I recommend a lot of French Drains and dry wells. Once you are sure you have no water issues to deal with it is time to plan.

In Marin County you hear talk of return on your investment, but I have noticed when home owners are doing any kind of remodeling project, they are trying to make their living space more livable. By doing that, if you make your home more valuable that’s fantastic.

I am amazed when I see people charge head first into a project like this without taking the time to thoroughly think things through. You may not be prepared for all of the challenges you will face but you will have a good road map to help keep you on course. Do yourself a favor and take out a piece of paper and draw a rough sketch of the area you plan to close in. Not only does this give you a conceptual idea to work with, it is also helpful in figuring out the cost of your new room.

You can do a lot of the work yourself but it really helps to have a professional to look at your situation. When you talk to the right contractor they can help you confirm the ideas that you have that are workable as well as inform you of things you might not be aware of or have thought about. Make sure you deal with a licensed contractor when hiring someone to help you with your basement remodel here in Marin County. You want to know that the work has been done to code and will pass a building inspection. If you ever want to sell your home you don’t want to have to rip out all your work or pay expensive fines to come current, if the work was done properly.

Installing a Pet Door in Marin County

Pet doors are great for pets and owners in Marin alike. All of us are plenty busy here in Marin County and we like our pets to be comfortable while we are not home. How many of you have to get up to open the door to let your pet in or out of your home? Imagine not being able to talk and needing to go outside. Turn something that is necessary for your pet, like needing to run around or go to the bathroom, into something you don’t have to worry about any more.

A pet door is basically what its name implies, a door just for your pet or pets to get in and out of the house on their own. Most people in Marin just love their pets, as evidenced by all of the pet specialty businesses in the area. You can put a pet door in a door, in a wall or even in a screen door. There are your basic pet doors with a flap, or more advanced electronic pet doors that open and close themselves, my recommendation.

Electronic pet doors work through contact with either magnets or an ultrasound collar, kind of like a garage door opener. These work by attaching a small key or magnets to your pets’ collar. They are small and lightweight so that it will not bother your pet. I am partial to an electronic door that slides up and down vertically to allow your pet in or out. Not only will this door protect you from little critters, it is rain proof. Not only will you never have to open or leave the door open for your pet, you won’t have to worry about any other little critters invading your home. Here in Marin we are blessed with beautiful wildlife all around us, I think we would all agree that wildlife should stay out of your home. It has an automatic dead bolt to add another layer of protection. The fancy ones come with a digitally encoded key that only opens when your pet is on a direct approach, eliminating unnecessary opening and closing of the other types of electronic doors when the pet passes by. The door is operated by an AC adapter and has an optional battery compartment.

The doors come in different sizes so you can pick the size to fit your pet. Pet doors are reasonably priced and you are sure to find one to fit your pets’ needs. If you own a pet here in Marin County and don’t have a pet door, take a little time to check the internet, these are amazing products meant to make your life simpler and pamper a beloved member of your family.

After you have bought your pet door, the installation is not that difficult for someone with determination. Most home owners like to install them in their door; it makes it a lot easier than in a wall. In most cases a wall will have wires where you would like to install the door so you will be doing a little more than installing a pet door. The door you choose to install the pet door in should be flush so that you will have a tight seal. There are a lot of paneled doors here in Marin County, not the ideal type of door to use for installing your pet door.

All you need is a drill, tape measure and a jigsaw. Remove your door by taking out the door pins and lay it on some sawhorses or something similar. You want room underneath the door for drilling and cutting. Center the template that comes with the pet door and tape it to the door, make sure you are at least three inches from the bottom of the door. Drill the holes for the bolts and then bigger holes for your jigsaw to cut out the hole for the door. Assemble the pet door and then re-hang your door. You will find it doesn’t take long before your pets will be taking full advantage of their newly found freedom.


Deck Preservation
With summer just around the corner, Marin is one of the more beautiful places to live and enjoy the outdoors. Before you start to have parties and barbeques outside, take a little time to take care of an important investment, your deck.


  • Clean the deck boards with a biodegradable deck cleaner to remove dirt, mildew and algae.
  • Inspect your deck to see if any safety issues exist, loose or squishy boards, nails or screws popping up, loose railings.
  • Sand any spots that have become rough or splintered.
  • Finally, protect your investment from the elements. Use a high quality preservative to protect your deck from the sun and rain.

Call The Handyman Can of Marin today if you would like to spend your time enjoying your deck instead of working on it! Let us show you how to save money by addressing your deck and paint needs before damage starts.

Maintenance Check Up

Anytime is a good time to head outside and examine the condition of your house. Like our cars, most people leave their homes alone until it lets us know something is wrong. Then it is usually a little more expensive than it would have been if we caught it earlier. A quick walk around your house and you will have a to do list. I normally start from the top down, gravity, from all the painting I have done.


  • Marin County has its share of trees,which make it so beautiful to live in,but trees over or next to the roof can cause your gutters to clog and can rub up aginst your home when it gets windy, make note of any problem limbs and get rid of them before they get any bigger.
  • Gutters can pull away from your roof if they get clogged up, they get full of water and then bad things happen. Erosion to your foundation from water spilling over where it shouldn’t be coming from, and downspouts can be ripped from the body if the gutters were already loose. Make sure you run some water after you clean them to make sure your downspouts aren’t clogged. Check the downspouts to make sure they are securely attached to the body of your home.
  • Fascia board is that thick board that runs along the roof line, these warp and crack with time if not taken care of. If you see cracks and splits start to develop, grab a tube of caulk and take care of this immediately.The trim boards arond the windows, doors, and corner boards will twist and crack as well. If not taken care of, water will get into places where it shouldn’t be causing dry rot, so keep that tube of caulk with you while walking around.
  • Are all your screens still on and if you have the old wooden windows, you need to check the glazing compound. Once it starts to crack, it pulls away from the windows. That can create dry rot and your windows will fall apart in no time. They can be restored relatively inexpensively if you don’t let it get too far, but this is something you will regret letting go..
  • Paint is more than cometics for your home. It protects the expensive material that covers your home. Done properly it can create a water tight covering but you have to stay on top of it. The southern side to your home will need the most attention. We can paint one or two walls, or your whole home.
  • Your air conditioner should be cleaned off unless it has a cover, leaf and pine needle build up will kill your compressor. Don’t lean things up against it, blocking air flow.
  • The foundation of your house should be looked at for erosion and areas where dirt is up against the house. There should be six inches between the dirt and the frame of your house. While your looking at the bottom of your house make sure the vents are in place and not ripped. You don’t wan’t anything living under your house.



Choosing between repairing and replacing a window ins’t just a matter of architecture versus efficiency. Many old homes here in Marin County boast their original windows, an in some cases the architectural detail is magnificent. Unfortunately, the older the windows are the less likely they are to be energy efficient. Upgrading the window means either restoring them to their original condition or replacing the window. Deciding which can be a tough choice, here are a few things to consider about new windows when making your choice.

Replacement windows can be well insulated, helping to cut down on energy costs and noise.

You can open the windows easier and they stay open unlike the old double hung windows that might need new string or the pulleys reattached.

You can replicate the architectural designs of old windows, but extensive designs can become a bit pricey.

Replacement windows can be installed rather quickly, which helps keep the disruption in the house to a minimum.

Removing the existing windows can damage the surrounding areas that can lead to costly repairs.

Restoring your windows might be just as costly as replacing them, but it is possible to bring them back to working order, usually with only cometic damage to the surrounding area, easily fixed.

Seismic Upgrades for Earthquakes
Should I upgrade my home? Many existing homes in Marin County that I have inspected are in need of seismic upgrades to help increase their structural safety. Most of the time this doesn’t require upgrading your home to the latest building codes and can be done within a day or two. There are some very simple things that we can do without an engineer, and relatively in expensive.


  • Adding Seismic Upgrades to your home will give it a better chance of surviving the next big earthquake and with less property damage.
  • Seismic upgrades are fairly inexpensive and strengthening your home can add resale value to your home here in Marin County.

When you upgrade the stability of your foundation you will be able to resist earthquake forces to a much greater degree, hopefully saving your home from damage. Living in Marin County we understand very well what an earthquake is. Just because your home survived the 1989 earthquake doesn’t mean that your home will be fine. An inspection is FREE and seismic upgrades are not that expensive. Just the fact you are reading this means you already understand what can happen.

Earthquake basics

There are two basic things that your home experiences during an earthquake, lateral and uplift forces. Lateral forces involve the side to side movement of your home and can shake the house and weaken its frame causing it to slide off the foundation. Uplift forces can cause the house to overturn and lif off the foundation.

The Handyman Can of Marin uses a “continuous load path” to strengthen your home.These connections are critical during an earthquake. We start by making sure the frame is anchored properly, and follow the path to the ceiling joists. Your home will be more likely to withstand an earthquake when each part of the house is connected together.

Do I need to check my foundation?

Are you living in an area prone to earthquakes?

Was your home built within the last twenty years?

Is your home built on a raised foundation?

Is your home built on a hillside?

Is there living space above your garage?

Living in Marin means the answer to most of these questions is yes.


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