DIY Frequently Asked Questions

Building Materials FAQ's (273)

Can I place hot dishes directly on my solid surface countertop?

No. A strong, localized heat source can scorch or crack a solid surface countertop. Use trivets or mats under hot pans or dishes.

Can I use expanding foam to insulate walls?

We don’t recommend it. Expanding foam products are created to fill small cracks and voids and require ventilation to cure. Larger gaps may require special techniques to cure properly. Also, you shouldn’t use expanding foam behind tub surrounds.

Are there building code regulations on the windows I buy?

Windows must meet two safety guidelines: wind load and human impact. Standard factory-built windows meet most wind load requirements. Always check with local codes to make sure the windows you buy comply.

Do I have to tear off my existing siding before installing steel siding?

You don’t have to tear off existing siding. You do, however, need to make sure that the existing siding will hold nails and is stable.

How do I attach tileboard?

Do not use nails. Use an adhesive specially designed for attaching paneling to a wall or furring strips.

Can I use vinegar and water to clean tile?

Most tile experts don’t recommend this combination, as it may permanently damage the color of the grout and damage the tile.

What’s the difference between floor tile and wall tile?

Floor tile is 1/2” to 3/4” thick. Wall tile is thinner than floor tile and is not intended to be as heavy-duty as floor tile.

Isn’t a thicker pad for the carpet always better?

Not necessarily. Bedrooms and other area with less foot traffic can use a thicker pad. But heavy traffic areas require a thinner, firmer padding.

What’s the difference between hardwood and a softwood?

The biological answer is that hardwoods produce seeds with some sort of covering, such as a fruit or a nut. Softwoods produce seeds with no covering—they fall to the ground. Hardwoods tend to be more dense, but the hardness or density of the wood is not the means of classification. (Balsa wood, the lightest of all woods, is considered a hardwood). But in the lumberyard, structural lumber is softwood because it is easy to work with and the least expensive. Hardwood is more expensive and is used mainly as a finishing material.

Is there a quick way to fill a crack in my cement block foundation?

One of the easiest ways is to use expanding foam.

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Building Materials Terms (161)

Foam Sealant

  • Installs similar to foam insulation, but comes in an aerosol can and is best for do-it-yourself use.
  • Best used for permanently sealing irregular gaps around the home, such as plumbing feed-thrus, electrical outlets, vents, etc.
  • After curing, it can be trimmed, sanded and painted.
  • When installing, only fill the area about 33 percent and the expanding foam will fill and seal the rest of the area.
  • Formulations include triple-expanding for general-purpose sealing and insulating; minimal-expanding for windows and door frames; and fast drying for multi-step projects such as filling a crack before painting.
  • Wear gloves and eye protection when applying.
  • Remove wet foam with acetone or acetone-based nail polish remover. Cured foam is difficult to remove from skin and clothes.

Steel Door

  • Typically galvanized steel facing with polystyrene, polyurethane, wood or particleboard cores.
  • Offers more insulation, durability, fire-resistance and security than wood doors.
  • The steel exterior provides structural strength and eliminates cracking and warping.
  • Usually used as exterior doors.

Extension Ladder

  • A non-self supporting type of ladder with two similar sections that are linked with internal guides on the bottom of base section and external guides on the top.
  • Sections are pulled apart to increase length.
  • Used for working in high areas and primarily for exterior applications.
  • Available in heights ranging from 16’ to 40’.
  • Smaller extension ladders are extended manually and secured with gravity spring lock brackets
  • that rest on the selected rung.
  • Larger extension ladders are extended by means of a rope and pulley running down the side of the ladder and secured with a cleat.
  • Generally available in all aluminum and fiberglass with aluminum rungs.
  • Rungs can be round or flat and are usually serrated for enhanced slip resistance.
  • Ladder shoes pivot to allow full contact with ground. Shoes can also be turned up to penetrate soft ground for extra stability.
  • Quality classifications include consumer (household), commercial (mechanic) and industrial grades.

Soffit Vent

  • An air intake on the soffit or eave.
  • Helps balance the flow of air into the attic from the ridge vent.
  • Usually made of either aluminum or PVC.
  • Reversible soffit vents can be flush or recessed mounted.

Hydraulic Cement

  • Used to plug running leaks in masonry surfaces.
  • Stops water leaks under pressure and can be used under water.
  • Fast setting.
  • Used inside or outside, above or below the ground.

Premixed Mortar

  • Contains masonry cement and sand, everything but water needed for a mortar.
  • Used for laying brick and block as well as patching and filling in around masonry.

Roof Louver

  • Used for bathroom fan exhausts, kitchen duct outlets and attic ventilation.
  • Usually made of aluminum or plastic.
  • One type, wall louver, has louvered vanes and can be flush or recessed mounted.
  • Another type, the midget louver, helps contain moisture in sidewall construction or other areas.


  • A three-part fitting that connects any standard size pipe where it may be necessary to disconnectt later, such as on a water heater.
  • Connects to male threaded ends.
  • Also known as a ground joint union.
  • A Transition Union joins different types of tubing, such as CPVC to brass.

Resorcinol Glue

  • Is two-component adhesive of liquid resin and powdered catalyst.
  • Used in wood joints, it cures under pressure in 10 hours at 70° F.
  • Ideal for exterior structural applications because of its waterproof and weatherproof qualities.

Glazing Compound

  • Is a long-lasting material used for glazing wood or metal sash.
  • It remains semi-elastic under a smooth, firm, wrinkle-free film that forms when the material sets.
  • It does not dry rock-hard and is easier to remove when reglazing.
  • It resists cold, heat and moisture and is used for patching or sealing small openings or cracks.
  • Glazing can be tinted with oil color.
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Electrical & Lighting Terms (80)

Receptacle Analyzer

  • Analyzes a receptacle to determine whether or not the wiring is sound, if it is grounded and if the receptacle is receiving power.

Outdoor Fixtures

  • Primarily serve a security function, but there are a wide variety of systems, including: high–intensity discharge (HID) systems for mercury, metal halide and high–pressure sodium light sources; incandescent and tungsten halogen fixtures; low-voltage lighting systems; and incandescent or halogen PAR spotlights and floodlights.
  • HID lighting provides considerably greater illumination than other lighting commonly available. Its cost is also higher, although operating costs for lumens output is generally less.
  • Lumens are the measurement of light output.
  • Fixtures to be used outdoors must seal moisture and dust from wiring and switches. Fixtures with photocells provide automatic activation from dusk to dawn.
  • Spotlights or floodlights are used for security. They can also be used with a colored lend as decorative lighting. Weatherproof sockets are essential because the fixture is often mounted on the ground and pointed upward. Only install when the ground is completely dry.
  • Motion lights use sensors that activate the light when they detect heat and motion up to 40 feet away. They can attach to a power pack and mount on walls or fences 6 to 8 feet above the ground.

Appliance Cords

  • Combine cord and connector. The difference between cord sets can be in type of connector and/or cord used.
  • Free-end attachment cord sets without connectors are used in re-wiring direct attachment irons, toasters and similar small appliances. They have pre-tinned ends to speed up wiring.

Conduit Fasteners

  • Use to fasten conduit to a wall or other framing member.
  • Staples can be used to fasten conduit or bare cable.
  • Straps are another type. They can be either one-hole or two-hole.
  • Generally, staples are best used inside the house, straps are best used outside.

Thermostat Cable

  • Used in low-voltage control, alarm and communication systems. Most common types are braided, twisted and plastic-jacketed types. All three use solid copper conductors and are twisted and insulated with plastic.
  • Although thermostat cable is low voltage, it carries an UL-listing for being flame-retardant, since it is installed in the wall. Wiring used in security alarm and smoke detection systems must be UL-listed.
  • Twisted cable, which has no outer braid, is used in doorbells, burglar alarms, intercom telephones and public address systems.
  • Braided cable is covered with cotton braid and is used primarily in thermostat controls and other low-voltage, remote control circuits.
  • Plastic-jacketed cable is also used in similar low-voltage applications.

Continuity Tester

  • Used to determine if a wire or circuit can carry electricity from one end to the other.
  • Generally consists of two probes (one of them being an alligator clip) and an indicator light powered by a battery.
  • Can also be used to test cartridge fuses.

Trouble Lights

  • Have a strict standard for safety. All lamps with metal guards must be permanently grounded to the guard. Some lamps have plastic guards that solve the grounding problem, reduce heat build-up and prevent scratching of painted surfaces.
  • Some models do not have built-in cords. These models attach to a user’s extension cord and are easy to store and convenient to use.
  • In all cases, handles must be tightly fitted to the cage and meet crush-resistance testing and heat-factor requirements.

Three-Way Switch

  • Controls power to lights and devices by turning off the hot side of the circuit.
  • Mounted in an electrical box.
  • Has three brass terminal screws.
  • Controls one circuit from two separate points. For example, a light that can be turned on in either the house or garage.
  • It may also include a green grounding screw.

Wire Channels

  • Use to fasten conduit to a wall or other framing member.
  • Staples can be used to fasten conduit or bare cable.
  • Straps are another type. They can be either one-hole or two-hole.
  • Generally, staples are best used inside the house, straps are best used outside.


  • Provides localized light for specific activities such as reading, writing, sewing and food preparation.
  • The light should cover the entire task area and be located so shadows are reduced to a minimum.
  • Available in a wide variety of styles.
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Electrical FAQ's (92)

What tool should I use to strip the plastic sheathing off wire?

A combination wire stripper tool has openings that fit different sizes of wire. When a wire is put into the correct one and pulled it will remove the covering without damaging the wire.

The dryer plug will not fit the receptacle in our new house. How can I remedy this?

In most new homes, there should be four-prong dryer and range receptacles. If you have a three prong power cord, you will need to change it.

Should I just throw away my old recyclable batteries?

No, laws require that they be recycled. This includes Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Lithium Ion (Li-ion) and small sealed Lead (Pb) batteries. You can look for a battery recycling seal on the rechargeable batteries found in cordless power tools, cellular and cordless telephones, laptop computers and camcorders.

How does a voltage tester work?

A non-contact voltage tester measures the difference in electrostatic charge between the person holding the tester and the tip. If you hold it near an energized cable it will sound or flash (or both). These devices, however, do have limitations, including detecting ghost voltage (or phantom voltage), which has bled over from a nearby energized cable or device. Contact testers (or continuity testers, as they are called) have probes that are inserted into the slots in a receptacle. They can also test for correct grounding to make sure the receptacle is wired correctly. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully before using these products.

How do I test a switch to see if it is working?

Use a continuity tester. First, shut of the electricity going to the switch and remove it. Touch the tester leads to both of the switch’s terminals. If the switch is working properly, the tester will light up when the switch is on and go out when the switch is turned off.

Why are electric heaters limited to 1500 watts?

Because anything over that would exceed the safe amp rating of most wiring and would present a fire hazard.

How do I connect a wire to the terminal on my light switch?

Bend a stripped wire 180 degrees by bending it over the tip of needle nose pliers. Wrap the wire clockwise around the screw so that it will stay in place as you tighten the screw. Don’t over tighten and make sure there is no insulation under the terminal.

I have low voltage outdoor lighting. Can I add additional lights?

You will have to look at your transformer to determine what its maximum wattage is. Most bulbs are four watts, but they come in different wattages, you will have to add up what you are currently using.

Will a rechargeable battery ever wear out?

Yes, different brands will last longer than others will. Generally, batteries that are more expensive will last longer, but the savings of the longer life offset their initial expense.

How large of a cord should I use when wiring an appliance?

Use cords with 16-guage wire for appliances pulling less than 15 amps and 12-guage wire for appliances pulling up to 20 amps?

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Encyclopedia-Terms (0)

Electric Heater

  • Plugs directly into a wall unit.
  • One type uses black heat, where heating elements have the heating wire wound around a porcelain insulator.
  • Another type is the more popular instant heat that uses a ribbon element.
  • Some models have small fans to force heated air into the room.
  • Heating capacity is rated in BTUs. Wattage ratings of heaters can be converted to BTUs consumed per hour my multiplying the number of watts by 3.413 (the number of BTUs equaling one watt.)

Dial Thermostat

  • Controls the temperature in a room turning on or off the furnace or air-conditioner.
  • Temperature is set manually by a dial.
  • One type is low-voltage. It uses power from a transformer that converts 120-volt power into 24 volts.
  • Line-voltage thermostats are another type, and use the same power source as the units they control.

Ultrasonic Humidifier

  • Uses high-frequency energy to break the water up into tiny droplets, which are then dispersed into the air by a small fan.
  • Quiet and use little energy.
  • Has the potential of leaving a sticky white dust around the house if used with hard tap water.
  • Can pose health risks if the unit raises the level of airborne particles in the air.
  • For best results and to prevent pollutants in the air, use distilled water with this type of humidifier.

Leverage-Assisted Trimmer

  • Used for a variety of lawn and garden cutting applications.
  • Uses a cam located between the handles with an off-center pivot that increases the cutting efficiency.
  • Reduces the effort required to squeeze the handles.
  • Designed for one-handed use.
  • Has a safety lock or catch to hold blades together while not in use.



  • Attaches to the gutter to carry water down the side of the house.
  • Rainfall capacity of a guttering system is largely dependent on the size and number of downspouts rather than strictly gutter size.
  • Downspouts are usually rectangular in shape and come in 10’ lengths.
  • Popular sizes of downspouts are 2”x3”, 3”x4” and 4”x5”.

Premium Potting Soil

  • Includes perlite and vermiculite, which aid in water drainage and aeration.
  • Features a wetting agent that provides more uniform water distribution in the soil.
  • Some mixes contain fertilizer in either water-soluble or slow-release granular form.

Plant Hardware

  • Used in conjunction with pots or other plant containers.
  • Different types can include hooks and brackets in a wide variety of styles and finishes, including vinyl-coated and rustproof items.
  • Other features include rotating hooks or swivel brackets.

Backflow Protector

  • An anti-siphoning device.
  • Prevents reverse flow of water and contaminants back into plumbing pipes through unprotected hoses.
  • Can be plastic or brass.
  • Fits between the threaded faucet and hose.
  • Most plumbing codes require that non-removable breakers be used.
  • Drain in winter to avoid freezing.

Flat Hose

  • Lies flat until water pressure rounds it into a 5/8” hose.
  • Stores more easily and compactly than a conventional hose.
  • Must be completely extended before water will pass through and completely drained before storing.
  • Because it is drained after use, it is less susceptible to freezing and cracking and will not wear on edges.
  • Weight is one-third that of a conventional hose but delivers same amount of water.
  • One type is made with a polyurethane liner and a tightly woven polyester jacket. The liner is bonded to the jacket to reduce kinking and leaking. Another type has a construction similar to a conventional, reinforced vinyl hose.

Post Hole Digger

  • Used to dig into the ground to create holes for setting posts, footings or for planting trees or shrubs in all soil types.
  • The user plunges the tool into the ground with the handles together. The user then pulls the handles apart which brings the blades together to remove the soil.
  • Heavy-duty models have sharp steel blades riveted to a heavy steel frame.
  • Light-duty models are made with blade and handle socket rolled from one piece of metal.
  • Typical spread point ranges from 5-1/2” to 6-1/4”.
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FAQs (0)

What type of grass seed should I use for a bare spot?

There are many types of grass for different regions of the country. But the things to consider include—is the area shaded or sunny and how much foot traffic the area gets.

What is the best way to water a lawn?

Once a week for an extended period (slow watering) rather than more often for shorter periods of time. This allows moisture to go deeper into the soil.

I used a shade-tolerant grass seed in a shady area, but the seeding won’t grow. What’s going on?

Make sure you keep this area well watered, and do not cut it as short as the rest of the lawn. In addition, rake the leaves in the winter. If you still have a problem, you may have to trim the branches on a tree that is blocking the light or cover the area with mulch.

What are the advantages of a synthetic fertilizer?

They’re faster acting than organic, making them a good choice for aiding plants in severe distress from nutrient deficiencies. These fertilizers, which come as dry, granular pellets or water-soluble products, also provide even, consistent feeding.

What do I use to cut branches more than ¾”?

Loppers are used on small trees and bushes up to 2 inches in diameter. They are essentially oversized pruners and are also available in compound models. For larger branches, you will need a saw. These come in a variety of styles. Essentially, you need to pick one that will allow you to get at the branches.

What sizes of wheelbarrows are there?

For general use around the yard, there are 3-cubic-foot and 4-cubic-foot models. The heavy-duty, 6-cubic-foot model is designed for commercial use.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of drop spreader and broadcast spreaders?

A drop spreader allows for precise applications, such as along flower beds, but it typically takes a little longer and requires you to make sure that you do not put too much or too little in one area. Broadcast spreaders are quicker and require less precision.

Once I mix the epoxy base with the hardener, when can I start painting the floor?

It varies by manufacturer, but some of the more common products require a 30 minute set up time minimum before using. They, you have 2½ hours to use it or the product must be discarded.

Can I paint the vinyl siding on my house?

Some experts don’t recommend painting vinyl siding because it expands and contracts. Some siding manufacturers void their warranties if the siding is painted. However, if you decide to paint it, make sure that you clean it well with a strong cleanser such as TSP. Make sure it is also rinsed off. Don’t use a primer and use a premium 100 percent acrylic latex paint that is a light shade to prevent the siding from warping.

How much of an area will a gallon of paint cover?

For many paints, a gallon will cover 400 square feet. However, the quality of the paint can affect how much it will cover. The label on the paint can usually provides some guidance.  In addition, there are a number of factors that affect how much paint you will need. These include the type of surface being covered, the color currently on the surface and the color being applied.

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Hand & Power Tools FAQ's (185)

I need to drill a 1-inch hole in a piece of wood. What bit do I need?

For drilling medium sized holes in wood, a spade bit is a good choice. Common sizes range from ¼ inch to 1½-inch. They can also be used on chipboards and floorboards.

What type of utility knife should I buy for general household use?

You probably should get a model with a retractable blade, especially if there are children present in the home.

What’s the advantage of a carbide-tipped circular saw blade?

The cutting edges are made from extra-hard carbide steel that will last up to 20 times longer and are good for cutting materials of different hardnesses.

What type of drill bit should I use for cutting a large hole for a new door lock?

For larger holes use a hole saw. They range in size from about 1 inch to 4 inches. They have a pilot bit and a saw-toothed circular rim.

What type of handsaw blade should I use to cut paneling?

Use an 11-point blade—with a fine cut—so that the wood will not splinter when it is cut.

I’m buying outdoor power tools. Which is better: an electric or gas leaf blower?

A gas blower provides mobility and is more powerful.

What do the teeth-per-inch numbers mean on sawblades?

The numbers indicate the number of points per inch on a saw blade.

What does the amp rating mean on power tools?

Generally, more amps translate into more power for electric tools.

Are folding steel or plastic sawhorses as durable as homemade wooden ones?

Depending on the construction of the homemade ones, they are probably more durable and can be conveniently folded and stored out of the way.

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Hand Tools Terms (241)

Drywall Hammer

  • Drywall HammerUsed to score, sheet and set nails for drywall work.
  • Features a scored head and a notched blade instead of a claw.
  • Notch in the blade is used to remove exposed nails.


Landscape Rake

  • Has a wide head braced with brackets attached to the handle.
  • Used for spreading dirt, gravel and sand.

Prick Punch

  • Used to make a very light starter mark that can then be enlarged by a different type of punch (usually a center punch).
  • Also used to mark layout lines.
  • The point of a prick punch has a long bevel.

Steel Wool

  • A popular accessory item. It should be used before painting on any glossy surface.
  • Uses include removing grime and sludge prior to refinishing, preparing new surfaces, removing old coatings on raw wood and for application in between coats of enamel, paint, shellac or varnish.
  • Also removes paint from glass, furniture, tile and other surfaces.
  • Comes in grades ranging from fine to coarse.
  • More water-based strippers and finishes have led to a man-made synthetic steel wool product. This product will not cause spotting in wood, as standard steel wool can when used with water-based finishes.
  • Bronze wool is a popular alternative to steel wool.

Caulk Gun

  • Tool that applies caulk from cartridges to work area.
  • Ratchet Guns are less expensive, but are more difficult to use. To stop caulk flow on the ratchet gun, the user must turn the piston so the ratchet disengages.
  • Smooth Rod Guns are more expensive, but are easier to use. With a smooth rod gun, the user simply disengages a quick-release thumb plate to stop the flow of caulk. Drip-free smooth rod caulking guns allow the piston to back up slightly after each squeeze so the user does not have to turn the piston or depress a lever to stop the flow of caulk.
  • Some models use an automatic vacuum action to draw any unused caulk back into the nose of the tube.
  • Power Guns that operate with a rechargeable battery pack are becoming popular with pros and serious d-i-yers.

Mud Masher

  • Hand powered device used to mix drywall joint compound.
  • Features hardwood handle and square, grooved head.

Corner Trowel

  • Used to form inside and outside corners.The most requested sizes are square and 1/2″ radius.

Utility Vise

  • Similar to a bench vise.
  • Generally has jaws ranging in length from 3″ to 6″.
  • Better models feature swivel bases so the vise may be turned to the best angle for each particular job.
  • Some utility vises either have cast-in pipe jaws or permit special curved-face pipe jaws to be inserted between the regular jaws to add versatility.

Toolbox Saw

  • Also called Panel Saw or Short Cut Saw.
  • Good for ripping, crosscutting and general cutting of lumber, plywood and particleboard and plastic materials.

Double-Bit Axe

  • Performs the same function as single-bit axe, but has two cutting edges—one on each end of the head.
  • Generally used by professional lumbermen.
  • Double-bit axes have straight handles because the handle must be symmetrical with the double-edge head.
  • Common head patterns include Western, Michigan, Swamping and Reversible.
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Hardware & Fasteners Terms (109)

Screw Eye/Hook

  • A screw eye consists of screw thread at one end and a ring at the other.
  • A screw hook consists of screw thread at one end and a hook at the other.
  • Used to hang tools or utensils or for holding them together.


Drop-In Anchor

  • Expandable concrete anchors set in pre-drilled holes.
  • Accepts standard coarse thread bolts or threaded rod.
  • Drop-in style anchors do not require patching after sinking.
  • Comes in sizes to fit 1/4” to 3/4”.

Passing Link Welded Chain

  • Made with links sufficiently wide to permit the links to pass each other easily, keeping kinking and tangling to a minimum.
  • Used extensively on farm machinery, for a swing chain and for animal tie-out.


  • One type is made for mounting on a post (typically in rural areas), the other is for mounting on a house (typically in town).
  • Rural mailboxes are medium or large size, usually made of heavy galvanized or painted steel, aluminum or plastic. Since they will be exposed to the elements, they must be able to resist the weather.
  • You may need a mounting pole for rural mailboxes. Wrought iron posts are attractive and last a long time. Wooden posts should be treated if they are to last a long time.
  • Suggest enamel plates and stick-on letters for street names and numbers. Large 4” high numbers make it easy to identify a house at night.

Magnetic Catch

  • Uses a magnet to help the cabinet door stay shut.
  • Ranges in pull from 8 lbs. to 40 lbs.
  • The holding power is reduced if only part of the magnet makes contact with the strike. Therefore, the magnet must be installed carefully to properly align the catch and the strike.
  • Quality features include a floating or self-adjusting action to ensure proper alignment and contact.


  • Shaped like the letter T.
  • Because it is exposed, some are available in ornamental styles.
  • The vertical strap is secured to the frame while the horizontal strap is secured to the door.
  • Commonly used on gates and cabinet lids.

Common Nail

  • Used in general carpentry and wood framing.
  • Available in most sizes and finishes.
  • Use with harder woods.
  • Applications include house foundation, floor joists, rafters and internal studding.


  • Used to tighten wire or for bracing doors.
  • Consists of a barrel-shaped metal device with a threaded rod inserted into each end.
  • Rods have eyes at both ends, or some types have a hook on one end and an eye on the other.


Self-Tapping Concrete Screw

  • Hardened steel screws designed to cut threads in pre-drilled holes.
  • Holes can be drilled through the item to be fastened without moving the fixture.
  • Head styles are Phillips, flat or hex-washer.
  • Used in poured concrete, concrete block or masonry.
  • Pull-out resistance of concrete screws is much greater than in plastic screw anchors because they bite directly into the concrete.

Twist Link Welded Chain

  • Has links twisted at uniform angles. The slight twist in the links tends to make the chain more flexible and prevents the entire chain from twisting and knotting during use.
  • One type is the coil chain, which has long lengths.
  • Another type is machine chain, which has shorter links than the coil chain.
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Hardware FAQ's (78)

How strong should the chain be I buy?

Chains are all rated to their working loads. Welded chains have links that are welded to form a continuous loop, and are the strongest. Weldless chains are formed by bending, twisting or knotting the metal to form individual loops. They are recommended for light work only.

What do the marks on the head of a bolt mean?

They represent the hardness of the bolt. No marks indicates the least hard, three marks is medium hardness and bolts with six marks are the hardest.

What kind of anchor should I use if I’m attaching conduit to a foundation wall?

Use either hammer anchors or a concrete/masonry screw.

What fixture can I use which will enable me to hang a picture straight?

For lightweight pictures, a saw-toothed hanger on picture frames will permit you to adjust the picture on the nail.

What do I need to know to buy the right type of caulk?

The type of caulk you use will depend on the following factors:

  • Where it will be applied?
  • What type of surfaces will be bonded or caulked?
  • How much stress or movement will the joint be subject to?

I have a tarp that I want to tie down. What should I use?

The easiest way is to use a grommet tool and grommets.

Why would I use brass screws?

Brass is softer than and not as strong as stainless, and its main use is when you want the decorative look of brass.

Do you have a caster that works better on a bed?

Yes, a special bed caster has a wide wheel, which makes it easier to roll. Casters come in a variety of sizes to accommodate different weights.

What are some common uses for sealants?

Sealants are used to seal or close cracks or joints between sills and foundations; where siding joins window and door trim; openings around external electrical outlets, electrical and telephone cables; dryer vents; kitchen, attic and bathroom vents; flashings; skylights; other cracks and openings that leak water into homes or that leak heated air and energy out.

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Heating & Cooling FAQ's (61)

How large of a kerosene heater should I buy?

Kerosene heaters are rated by their BTU output. Approximately 28 BTUs/hour are required to maintain one square foot of space at 70°F. Multiply this figure by the total square footage in the room you want to heat and you will have the approximate BTU rating of the heater you should buy.

Why do I need vents in my attic?

Venting protects against moisture buildup in the attic and framing materials and helps keep the home cooler. In the summer, a tremendous amount of heat can build up in the attic, which can make the air conditioning system work much harder than it needs to. Venting keeps the attic cooler because it allows that hot air a place to escape. In the winter, vapor occurs when the warm air inside the house meets the cool air outside and condenses into water droplets. Ventilation keeps this moisture from rotting insulation and framing materials.

How do I change the air filter in my furnace?

The filter generally is located as close to the blower unit as possible. It will be between the incoming ductwork and the blower. Furnaces may have a slot with a flap that closes over it. Slide the old filter out and slide the new one in the same way.

How much space should there be between the stove and surrounding objects?

There should be a 36” clearance on all sides of the stove to prevent scorching or possible fire.

Can I use an extension cord with my electric space heater?

It is best to plug your electric heater directly into a wall outlet. However, if you must use an extension cord, only use one that is heavy duty, meaning it has 14-gauge wire.

Do I have enough vents in my attic?

You should have one square foot of vent area for every 150 square feet of attic floor space. The vent manufacturer will list the vent area on the package as the FVA (free vent area). The vent area must also be split between high and low vents. If a vapor barrier is present, then the requirement changes to one square foot for every 300 square feet. Shingle manufacturers require that attics have adequate ventilation; otherwise their product warranty may be voided.

What does MERV stand for?

Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. It basically rates the filter’s ability to trap particles from the air. The higher the MERV number, the more efficient the filter.

How big of a stove do I need?

Bigger is not always better. Check the tag for the BTU rating. Do you need a stove for the whole house or just one room?

Where in the room should I place a portable heater for best results?

Place heaters under a window to warm cold air as it enters the room through possible gaps around the window.

I already have some loose-fill insulation in my attic. How do I know if I need more?

Generally, if you have less than 9” of insulation on the attic floor, it needs more.

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Heating & Cooling Terms (56)


  • The andiron is a pair of metal bars with decorative front shafts that hold the logs.
  • Using a grate and andiron allow air to circulate and feed the fire, while ashes fall away from burning logs.

Oscillating Fan

  • Moves back and forth in an adjustable pattern to spread air over a larger area.
  • Oscillation function can generally be switched off with the turn of a knob.
  • May be used on the floor, a table or mounted on the wall.
  • Usually does not have as high an air delivery as floor fans.
  • Typically ranges in size from 8” to 16” in diameter.
  • Tile angle varies from about 50° to 90°.

What kind of caulk should I use around window frames?

Latex caulks are good for filling these kinds of gaps. They clean up with water and most are paintable. However, they must be applied in temperatures of more than 40 degrees.

Glass Enclosure

  • Improves fireplace performance by controlling air intake, making the wood burn more slowly and retaining more heat in the firebox. Additionally, the fireplace pulls less warm air from the house.
  • Allows user to leave the fire unattended.
  • Allows a clear view of the fire while keeping smoke and sparks out of the room.
  • Most have a built-in draft at the base to direct air to the bottom of the fireplace opening. This allows the user to easily start and control the fire.
  • Mounts securely against the face of the fireplace and overlaps the opening.

Exhaust Fan

  • Used primarily to extract stale air from an attic, kitchen or bathroom.
  • Kitchen fans are installed above the kitchen range or under the range hood and prevent smoke and grease from accumulating in the kitchen and spreading throughout the house. A switch simultaneously starts the fan and opens an outside vent.
  • Bathroom fans may come with an optional light or heater and are used to expel steam and odors from the rooms.
  • Should carry certified sound ratings developed by the Home Ventilating Institute and its member manufacturers. Ratings are in steps of 0.5 sones and 10 (CFM) cubic feet per minute. Limits for sound outputs are 6.5 sones for bathroom fans and 9 sones for kitchen fans up to 500 cfm.

Warm-Mist Device

  • Uses a heating element to restore moisture to the air.
  • The water surrounding the heating element is brought to near boiling and a fan cools and distributes the moistened air, which is slightly warmer than room air.
  • This type can be used with tap water and will not cause white dust.
  • Can be noisy and consumes more energy than other types.

Fireplace Set

  • A set containing the tools usually needed around a fire.
  • Contains a stand, fire poker, ash shovel and broom.
  • Available in many different styles for a variety of décor options.

Digital Thermostat

  • Controls the temperature in a room turning on or off the furnace or air-conditioner.
  • Temperature is set electronically.
  • A popular type is a programmable thermostat that allows the use to preset temperatures for different times of the day.
  • A popular replacement for dial thermostats because they use the same wiring.

Evaporative Humidifier

  • Uses a wick and high-volume air to return moisture to the air.
  • The wick is a honeycomb arrangement of cellulose paper with a large surface area.
  • Operates by partially submerging the wick in the water while a fan forces air to pass through the upper exposed area, distributing absorbed water into the air.
  • Wicks will need replacing.
  • This type uses little energy and is easy to clean. Some units can be noisy.

Electric Heater

  • Plugs directly into a wall unit.
  • One type uses black heat, where heating elements have the heating wire wound around a porcelain insulator.
  • Another type is the more popular instant heat that uses a ribbon element.
  • Some models have small fans to force heated air into the room.
  • Heating capacity is rated in BTUs. Wattage ratings of heaters can be converted to BTUs consumed per hour my multiplying the number of watts by 3.413 (the number of BTUs equaling one watt.)

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Home Security FAQ's (38)

What kind of security system do I need to protect my doors and windows?

A perimeter system protects the doors and windows while an area alarm has a motion detector that protects entire rooms.

Where should I keep a fire extinguisher in my home?

Don’t mount it too close to where a fire is likely to occur. For example, don’t keep it next to the stove. A good place is at the top of the stairs or near a workshop. In most cases, it’s a good idea to have a fire extinguisher for every 600 square feet of living space.

What can I do to add security to my door?

Consider installing a stronger strikeplate—these are larger and have much longer screws.

What is radon gas and how do I protect my family from it?

Radon is a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that can collect in hazardous concentrations in areas like the basement. A radon detector in your basement will help keep your family safe.

Is there a product that makes installing a strikeplate easier?

Yes, there is an adjustable strikeplate

My smoke detector beeped last night, but there was no smoke. What is wrong with it?

This is a warning signal that the batteries are low. If your alarm is more than 10 years old, you should consider replacing it, just to make sure that you have one that is in good working order.

What is the difference between a single-cylinder and a double-cylinder deadbolt?

A single-cylinder is key operated from the outside while a double cylinder is key operated on both sides. They both have their advantages.

How long should a smoke detector last?

We recommend that you replace any smoke detector that is more than 10 years old.

What is a gunlock and how does it work?

A gunlock fits over the trigger to prevent the firing of the gun. A good gun lock will cover the trigger completely and have a quality, pin-tumbler locking mechanism.

What can I do to add security to my door?

Consider installing a stronger strikeplate—these are larger and have much longer screws.

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Home Security Terms (35)

Ionization Fire Detector

  • Measures the changes in electric current caused by invisible particles ionized in the heat of combustion.
  • Transforms air inside the detector into a conductor of electric current. When smoke enters the detector and impedes the flow of current, the alarm sounds.
  • Responds particularly well to the smoke caused by a flaming fire.
  • Requires little power and is effectively powered by household batteries.
  • Slower to respond to a smoldering fire.
  • Detectors are required to emit a low warning when batteries are weak.

Gun Lock

  • Fits over the trigger housing of guns to prevent firing of the weapon.
  • Some models have a sound alarm to warn that the gun is being tampered with.
  • Some have tamper-evident devices to alert owners that the gun has been disturbed.
  • Some models can lock multiple guns at once.

Home Intrusion Alarm

  • Wide variety of types available. Selection will depend on what you want to accomplish. Some feel a loud alarm at the point of entry will scare away the intruder. Others prefer a remote alarm located in a bedroom that will alert only the homeowner. Others prefer an outside alarm that will alert neighbors. Other kinds will sound an alarm and are connected directly to monitoring systems that will alert the police.
  • Simple alarms may consist of a door-locking device with a buzzer attached. When the device is tampered with or the door opened, the alarm sounds.
  • Many intrusion alarms are more elaborate and have twocomponents. A perimeter alarm detects intrusion at points of entry, such as door and windows. An area alarm detects motion inside a room.

U-Bar Lock

  • Provides maximum protection for bicycles, gates, etc.
  • Hardened steel shanks resist cutting.
  • Available in combination lock or keyed lock versions.

Keyless Entry System

  • For advanced home security and convenience.
  • Audio and visual indicators confirm the lockset is activated.
  • Uses a keypad on the door or a remote control to open the door.
  • Some models will sound an alarm after the incorrect code has been entered more than three consecutive times.
  • Anti-theft rolling code feature ensures the same code is never used twice.
  • Some systems are compatible with some garage door openers so the homeowner only needs one remote.

Cable Lock

  • Uses the combination of a lock and cable to lock and secure objects in a variety of applications.
  • Some models have a chain or cable permanently attached to a combination or keyed lock.
  • Chain or cable often has a protective plastic coating to prevent scratching.

Home Area Alarm

  • Uses either ultrasonic waves or microwaves to detect motion. When it detects motion, it triggers an alarm.
  • Generally plugs into a standard electrical outlet, so they’re easy to install.
  • Ultrasonic detector waves only go as far as the wall of the room, while microwaves penetrate walls and windows.
  • Some ultrasonic alarms use a narrow sonic beam that must be bounced off a hard surface. Here, the intruder must break the beam to be detected.
  • Other ultrasonic alarms use a wide beam that fills the room and detects motion anywhere in the trap zone.
  • The most important consideration with this type of alarm is avoiding false alarms. These can be caused by air conditioners or drapery moving above a hot air register. Better systems have built in circuitry that does not respond to these types of signals.
  • Some systems have extra repeater alarms or satellites. These can be plugged in anywhere in the home to add extra noise and relay the warning to remote rooms.

Tubular Cylinder Padlock

  • Offers many key changes by replacing the cylinder.
  • Usually used in electronic security systems, but some owners of motorcycles and expensive bikes use them as well.
  • Pins are arranged in a circle and are exposed.
  • The key is cylindrical.

Fire Safety Ladder

  • Used to escape from an upper story window.
  • Comes in varying lengths, but most are sold for second-story rooms.
  • Features include tangle-free designs, compactness and strength ratings of the lines and footsteps.

Pin-Tumbler Padlock

  • Provides maximum security for valuables.
  • Pin-tumbler locking mechanisms make padlocks harder for thieves to pick.
  • Tumblers with five or more pins provide the best security, while four pin is the next best.
  • Hardened solid steel and steel alloys make better locks and shackles.
  • Solid extruded brass padlocks are more resistant to rust than steel, but can be damaged more easily.
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Lawn & Garden FAQ's (154)

How big of an access hole should I drill in my birdhouse?

It varies depending on what type of bird you’re trying to attract, but a good average size is
1½-inch diameter.

How do I maintain my mower after each use?

After each mowing, wait until then engine cools and then use a hose to spray the clippings and grass debris that may be clinging to the underside of your mower. Some people recommend that you get your blade sharpened about once a month.

I notice there is quite a price range in hoses. What do I get for my money?

The less expensive hose is ½” and not reinforced. Medium-priced hoses are usually 5/8” and have some reinforcement in the walls. Higher-priced hoses have more reinforcement and ¾” hose is usually made with rubber.

What is an outdoor edger?

These tools provide a vertical cut into the soil, to create a clean line between a lawn and a flowerbed, driveway, sidewalk or some other structure. The fastest models are powered models. A non-powered edging tool looks like a shovel with a small blade shaped like a half moon. You can push the blade in with your foot so that it slices off a thin piece of turf, leaving a clean, straight edge of soil along the edge of the lawn.

How short should I cut my grass?

About 2” or 3”, but never more than about 1/3 of its length.

What are the advantages of a synthetic fertilizer?

They’re faster acting than organic, making them a good choice for aiding plants in severe distress from nutrient deficiencies. These fertilizers, which come as dry, granular pellets or water-soluble products, also provide even, consistent feeding.

When should I prune?

Typically, it’s best to do this trimming when the plant is dormant before it is budding.

What time of year should I plant my container garden?

The same time of year that is recommended for planting the plants you choose outdoors.

When and how do I apply mulch?

Summer is the best time. Applying in the spring slows the soil’s ability to warm naturally. Coarse mulches should be applied 3” to 4” deep, and fine mulches 1” to 2” deep. It should be wet thoroughly after application. One cubic foot of coarse mulch should cover about 3 to 4 square feet of space.

What tools make up a basic gardening set?

A basic gardening tool set would include a spading fork, a garden hoe, a watering can, a round-ended shovel, a bow-head garden rake and a pair of garden shears.

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Lawn and Garden Terms (144)

Bermuda Grass

  • Spreads by fast-growing surface runners during warm periods.
  • Becomes brown and dormant from first frost until late spring.
  • Not recommended for northern areas.

Grow Light

  • Gives indoor plants light they need to grow.
  • Versatile and can be fitted into bookshelves, into hanging planters, etc.
  • In order for the plant to maintain its shape, evenly distribute the light from above.

Liquid Fertilizer

  • Spreads with a hose that attaches to a container holding the fertilizer. Other types may be used on plants and mixed in a watering can.
  • Fertilizer is in a concentrated form that is diluted with the water from the hose.
  • Nutrients are immediately available to the plants, which makes this the fastest response fertilizer.
  • May require user to fertilizer more frequently, since fertilizer is absorbed quickly.
  • Fertilizer must be spread evenly to avoid burning.

Lawn Disease Control

  • Controls fungus-related diseases that destroy healthy lawn turf.
  • Fungi adheres to the plant, steals food from and/or deposits toxic substances in the cells of the plant.
  • Some types of disease controls are granular chemicals while others are liquids.
  • Homeowners who use a mixture of grasses have a better chance of their lawn surviving a disease as most diseases attack one specific type of grass.
  • Common types of lawn fungi are snow mold, leaf spot and dollar spot.
  • Snow Mold attacks grass any time from late fall to early spring. Grass turns a reddish color or tan to gray. It can destroy small areas or complete lawns.
  • Leaf Spot results in brown or black spots on leaves and can occur through a wet, cool fall, winter and spring season. Thinning of the lawn may not be noticeable, but leaf activity is quite pronounced.
  • Dollar Spot starts in mid-spring and/or when weather is moist and cool. Damaged spots are a bleached straw color. A cobweb-like growth is a sign the fungus is active.

Planter’s Wagon

  • Carries light loads of plants.
  • Some features include a fold-down handle that converts into a seat, a side compartment for storing tools and gloves, a removable tray and the ability to convert to an upright workstation.
  • Larger-capacity carts may be able to carry heavier loads than wheelbarrows but they are less maneuverable.

Hose Reel

  • Provides compact and efficient hose storage.
  • Uses a rotary action to unroll and roll hose.
  • Some models can be mounted on the house or garage, others ride on a caddy or cart.
  • Usually incorporates a leader hose that attaches directly to the water supply.
  • Some models feature storage trays for accessories.
  • Typical capacity is 150’ for 5/8” hose. A large capacity reel basket holds 400’ for 5/8” hose.
  • Some feature a screw-sliding guide mechanism for keeping the hose neatly wrapped on the reel.

Plug-Type Aerator

  • Cuts through hard soil to loosen and break up the dirt several inches below the surface so air and moisture can promote deep root growth.
  • Has coring points that puncture up to 3” deep.

Long Handle Round Point Shovel

  • Round-tipped blade is made of steel and is forged or hot-formed to the front strap as a single unit.
  • Has better cutting power than a square point shovel.
  • Handle may be wood, fiberglass or metal.
  • Best for digging, mulching or dirt removal.
  • The top of the blade may have a turned lip called the foot pedal.

Garden Fencing

  • Designed to keep small predatory animals out of the garden.
  • A welded, galvanized fence with a large 4” square mesh at the top and a small 1” mesh extending 12” up form ground level.
  • The lower mesh can be buried several inches below ground to prevent digging under the fence.
  • Other specialty fencing is designed for use as a tomato cage, for protecting seedlings or as a flower trellis.


  • Good for shady areas.
  • Has finer blades than Kentucky bluegrass.
  • Usually the dominant seed found in mixes for shade.
  • Red fescue is well adapted to drought soils in both shady and sunny areas.
  • Tall fescue is coarse, but good for areas that need tough grass.
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Paint & Decorating FAQ's (80)

My garage floor has cracks. Can I still use an epoxy finish, or is it primarily for relatively new floors?

You can use an epoxy floor finish on your garage, but you must first fill all the cracks using cement crack filler or a hydraulic cement patching compound and let it set completely before starting.

How long will I have to wait between coats of paint?

While drying times can vary based on factors such as humidity, plan on waiting about four hours when you are using latex paint. If you are using oil-based paint, you will probably need to wait up to 24 hours.

Other than walls, where are faux finishes generally used?

Faux finishing is quite popular on furniture, lamps, bowls—you name it.

Should I use a brush with synthetic or natural bristles?

As a general rule, you should use a synthetic bristle brush with latex paint and a natural bristle brush with oil-base paints. However, many synthetic bristle brushes can also be used with oil base paints.

Should I buy a paint brush with angled bristles or cut square?

An angle-tipped brush allows you to put the tips of the bristles on the work at the natural angle that the brush is held. In addition, an angle-tipped brush puts slightly more bristle area on the work than a square-tipped brush of the same width.

The inside of my grill needs painting. What type of paint should I use?

If you need to touch up the paint on the non-porcelain surfaces of your grill, such as the endcaps or the cook box, use a high heat-resistant Barbecue Black or Fireplace Black spray paint that is rated up to 700 degrees F. First wash the surface and use some fine sandpaper to rough up any bare spots. Then be sure to mask off and cover the porcelain hood so you don’t get paint on it. For the cook box, first cover any other parts of the grill with paper or cardboard, then use the spray to touch them up.

What tools do I need to remove old wallpaper?

A wallpaper remover, a 3” wallpaper stripping tool, a bucket and a sponge. You can also buy a tool that will score the paper before you apply the remover.

Can I paint over a wall where a faux finish has been applied?

Yes. Several coats of a latex paint should do the trick.

I have textured ceilings. What nap of roller cover should I use?

It depends on how textured the ceiling is. If it’s slightly textured, a 3/8-inch or a ½-inch nap roller cover should work well. If it’s heavily textures, you might need a 5/8-inch or a ¾-inch nap.

Can I use the same brush for both latex and oil-based paint?

Yes, but you must make sure you clean them extremely well. It’s best if you just buy two sets of brushes. One for latex and one for oil-based paints.

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Paint & Decorating Terms (82)

Exterior Paint

  • Like interior paint, exterior paint is available in both latex and oil-based formulations—both of which are designed to withstand wear and exposure to severe weather conditions.
  • The advantage of exterior latex paint is that it films on exterior wood allowing moisture to evaporate through the film, which helps reduce blistering.
  • The disadvantages of exterior latex paint, especially of some lower-quality products, are poorer adhesion to badly weathered or chalking surfaces and, in some cases, less effective hiding qualities.
  • The best qualities of oil-based paints are their effective penetration of the surface and excellent adhesion. Oil-based paints have advantages over latex paints in that they adhere better to chalky surfaces and they provide better results for anyone repainting a surface that already has several layers of oil-based paint.
  • Trim paints are chosen to contrast with house color. They dry quickly to a hard finish; they are primarily for use on window frames, shutters and railings. Trim paints are not recommended for large surfaces.
  • Flat finishes, which mark easily, should not be used on doors, door frames or other areas that are exposed to wear. Satin or gloss paints are recommended for these areas.
  • Major problems associated with house paints are generally due to:
    • failure to follow manufacturer’s directions
    • excessive moisture
    • painting wet surfaces
    • painting during inclement weather
    • failure to use proper primer coat
    • failure to clean the surface completely.
  • Any of these conditions can cause blistering, peeling, early fading or similar problems.

Roller Tray

  • A container that holds paint when using a paint roller.
  • Most trays have ribbed bottoms to remove excess paint from a roller cover after filling it.
  • Ladder-lock legs permit them to snap onto a stepladder.
  • A good quality tray can last indefinitely if cleaned after each use.
  • Plastic tray liners are also available.
  • Some trays features a lid that closes and seals paint, roller or brush inside the tray. This eliminates the need to clean the painting equipment after each use. It also saves paint.

Ladder Stabilizer

  • Attaches near the top of extension ladders to help stabilize the ladder and make it safer to use.
  • Most models provide a wider or more stable base and protective rubber end cap to protect the work surface.
  • Can be used on both aluminum and fiberglass extension ladders and even articulated ladders to hold ladder 10” away from the wall.
  • Some models include spring loaded locking latch for quick installation and removal.
  • Commonly used to span second story windows to center ladder when working on windows. Some models span double windows.
  • Some models also designed for use on corners.

Putty Knife

  • Putty knives range in size from 1″ to 3″. Generally, the greatest demand is for 1-1/4″ and 1-1/2″. Models with wider blades are joint taping knives.
  • Blades range from stiff to flexible for different tasks.
  • The finest quality putty knife blades are made from mirror-finished, high-carbon steel and are hardened, tempered and individually ground.
  • Used for applying putty and spackling as well as scraping paint, chipping out old putty, scraping off accumulated grease and scraping old finishes off furniture.

Roller Cover

  • Available in natural or synthetic fibers.
  • The density of the fiber determines the roller’s ability to hold paint and spread it evenly. Inexpensive rollers that become matted or fail to spread the paint will produce a mottled finish, regardless of the quality of paint used. They may also leave lint on the painted surface.
  • Mohair covers are especially good for applying enamel, while lambs wool covers are excellent for alkyd paints, but not latex.
  • Synthetic fibers make good all-purpose covers. In fact, about 95 percent of all roller covers are synthetic.
  • Smooth roller covers (with a 3/16″ or 1/4″ nap) are used for painting walls, floors and fine finishing.
  • Medium rollers covers (with a 3/8″ or 1/2″ nap) are used for for sand-textured walls.
  • Rough rollers covers (with a 3/4″ or 1″ nap) are used for light stucco walls and masonry floors.
  • Extra rough covers (with a 1-1/4″ nap) are used to paint brick, block, masonry and stucco.
  • Texture roller covers are designed specifically for the applying texture paints. Some are foam with patterns etched into the surface. Others have deep, looped material. Texture roller covers have large diameters to accommodate the heavier consistency of texture paints.

Interior Paint

  • Is available in latex and oil-based formulations in different gloss levels such as flat, satin, eggshell, semi-gloss and high-gloss.
  • Interior latex paint is easily applied and can be thinned with water. Brushes and rollers can also be cleaned with water.
  • Latex paint is the most common and easiest type of paint to use.
  • Oil-based interior paint consists of a pigment that exists within a substance made of resins and thinners. When thinners evaporate, the resins form a hard coating—and the pigment provides the color.
  • The contents of oil-based paints make them harder to apply, although this same characteristic can also give them a heavier coverage on the first coat.
  • Oil-based paints have certain disadvantages, particularly the odor and the longer drying time (8 to 24 hours). Solvents, thinners or turpentine are also necessary for cleanup, and oil-based paints cannot be applied to moist surfaces.


Coloring Tint

  • Tint used to change color of glazes when faux finishing.
  • Available in a variety of colors.
  • Generally comes in 12 oz or 1 oz. bottles and tubes.

Ladder Levelers

  • Can be mounted to one or both legs of a ladder to allow it to remain level on uneven surfaces.
  • Consists of two swivel shoes that adjust between 3-1/2” and 8-1/2” (depending on the model) so that one leg can stand on the ground and one can stand on an elevated surface, such as a step.

Paint and Varnish Scraper

  • Also called a wood scraper.
  • Removes old finishes and smooths the surface with its sharp cutting blade.
  • Often used with paint strippers and other chemical removers
  • Can either have a fixed blade like a putty knife (generally called a wall scraper) or a replaceable blade.
  • Sizes range from the 1″ blade—primarily used for small, hard-to-reach areas—to a 5″ blade.
  • Replaceable blades are usually made from tempered, high-carbon steel. Some have carbide or even diamond-honed blades for greater cutting ability and durability.
  • Contour scrapers can accommodate a variety of blades for removing materials on rounded surfaces and in grooves.

Paint Roller

  • A tool consisting of a handle with an extension socket on the end to allow the user to add an extension pole and a frame that holds the roller cover.
  • Great for speed of application.
  • Standard wall rollers are 7″ to 12″ wide.
  • Some rollers have shields incorporated into the structure of the tool to combat spatter and drizzle.
  • Smaller rollers, called trim rollers or mini rollers work well on woodwork and other small areas that cannot be painted with standard rollers. They are available in many different sizes and shapes, depending on the area for which they are designed.
  • An advanced roller is the paint stick, which pumps paint straight from the handle or the can to the wall, where it can be rolled on with the attached roller. The advantage is that the user does not have to deal with drips or messy trays.
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Plumbing FAQ's (121)

Can you have a garbage disposal if you have a septic system?

Yes, in fact, many manufacturers make models specifically for homes with septic systems.

Is ½” CPVC and ½” PVC the same size?

No. CPVC is measured by O.D., which makes its sizing similar to hard copper. PVC is measured by I.D., which makes its sizing similar to iron pipe.

I just refinished my basement and I want to ensure that it doesn’t flood. Do you have any advice?

You can buy a sump pump that has a battery back up. There are also high-water alarms.

Why is my toilet refilling every 10 minutes. What is the problem?

More than likely, water is leaking from the tank into the bowl. This could be the result of the lift chain being tangled which isn’t letting the flapper seat properly. A build-up of scale or hard water deposits on the seat of the flapper might also be preventing the flapper from seating properly. Remove this scale with steel wool or with No. 500 abrasive paper.

I want to transition from 3/4″ copper pipe to 1/2″ copper pipe. How do I do that?

You need a reducer coupling or elbow (if there is a change in direction) to join the two pieces together.

How do I join fittings to plastic pipe?

Use a solvent welding glue, which softens the pipe and fittings so they can melt together.

I bought a new faucet with a built-in pull out spray nozzle, and now I have an extra hole in my sink where the pull-out spray used to be.

You can use this hole for a variety of handy accessories, such as a soap dispenser or for the dispenser of an under-sink water filtration system.

There is water leaking from my water heater. What could be the cause of this?

The pressure relief valve could be leaking. Try operating the valve to see if it will stop. It also might need tightening. A gasket around the heating element may need replaced, or the tank could be rusted out, which requires a new hot water heater.

What is the proper way to join galvanized to copper pipe?

You should use a dielectric union. This will prevent electrolysis from occurring, which deteriorates the copper tubing.

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Plumbing Terms (100)

ABS Pipe

  • Drain PipeMeans Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene.
  • Made from a thermoplastic resin. Lightweight and easier to use than metal pipe.
  • Commonly used for DWV (drain-waste-vent) applications or for underground electrical conduits.
  • Available as either solid wall or cellular core construction.


  • Also known as a force cup or a plumber’s friend.
  • Used to clear blockages in toilets sinks and tubs.
  • Combination plungers (usually black in color) consist of two cups, one inside the other.
  • Recommend combination plungers for clearing toilets.


  • Removes burrs from the inside of the pipe. Burrs are the flakes of metal or plastic on the outside and inside of the pipe after the pipe is cut.
  • Cone-shaped, with ratchet handles.
  • Cutting edges can be sharpened, but this is difficult and time-consuming and the small replacement cost usually makes it impractical.
  • Straight-fluted reamers have straight cutting edges. They can be used by hand or in a pipe rotating on a power drive unit.
  • Spiral-fluted reamers have spiral-shaped cutting edges. They cut more easily, save time and are often used by sheet metal workers to enlarge holes in sheet metal and conduit box outlets, as well as smoothing inside edges of pipe. They are for hand use only.

Check Valve

  • Operates automatically, permitting flow in one direction only.
  • Sometimes combined with a throttling or shut-off valve. Some communities require a check valve in cold water lines between the water heater and meter.
  • Used to prevent water pumped to an overhead tank from flowing back when the pump stops.
  • Some check valves are designed for use with vertical pipes only. Therefore, it will not work if installed upside down. The closing deviceóa disk, ball or clapperófalls shut by gravity when installed vertically.
  • Another variety is the Swing-Type check valve, which is a small, smooth swing-type gate located in the center of the valve. As water is pumped through the flow side of the valve, a gate swings open to allow water to pass. If water attempts to back up through the valve, the gate is forced shut against the pressure side of the valve.

Sump Pump

  • Used to discharge ground water that accumulates around a basement that is below the water line. The basement should have a drain tile around it to collect ground water and convey it to the sump in the basement.
  • A Submersible type pump is a motor and pump sealed in one unit that rests in the sump pit.
  • A Pedestal pump sits in the water, but the motor is mounted on a column above the water. They are available in automatic or manual models, either gravity-fed or self-priming operation.
  • Pump capacity is rated by gallons-per-hour pumped as well as ìliftî pressure generatedóhow high the liquid is to be pumped.Submersible Sewage and Effluent pumps are for continuous use in moving large volumes of water containing solids.
  • Some pumps have battery backup, and a combination electric and battery-powered sump pump is now available.


  • Used to sweat a copper fitting.
  • Forms a bond between fitting and pipe.
  • Use lead-free solder if used on potable water lines.
  • Most common type is 95-5 tin-antimony solder. The first number is the percentage of tin in the solder. The more tin, the more workable the solder.


  • CPVC stands for Chlorinated Polyvinyl Chloride.
  • Used for both hot and cold water supply or chemical distribution systems.
  • Good for temperatures at 200° F in pressure systems and non-pressure systems.
  • Requires special solvent cement that is different from cement used for other types of plastic solvents. Most solvents will indicate this on the can.

Water Softener

  •  Help remove minerals (magnesium, calcium, iron) that cause “hard” water.
  • Quality water softeners have either fiberglass linings or steel tanks that have double coatings of epoxy for guaranteed rustproofing.
  • Fiberglass tanks prevent electrolytic action that causes excessive rust and corrosion because there is no metal-to-metal contact.
  • When water enters the home, it is directed into the water softener. Water passes over a mineral bed, with minerals holding the lime and magnesium present in the water.
  • Chemicals in the water softener unit must be regenerated, cleaned or replaced. The regeneration process happens by reversing the flow of water through the softener tank and adding sodium chloride or potassium chloride. The reversed water flow quickly flushes accumulated minerals from the chemical.
  • Quality water softeners have solid brass and copper valves and bearings. Iron or steel parts are seldom used in a quality softener because salt can cause rust.

PVC Cutter

  • Used for cutting ABS, PVC and PE pipe.
  • Makes clean cuts with one-handed operation.

Shutoff Valve

  • Used to shut on or off the water to a water supply tube.
  • Generally used underneath sinks and toilets.
  • Also known as a speedy, angle stop, water supply valve, cutoff valve, lavatory straight valve or stop.
  • Made of metal or plastic in either a straight or 90∫ configuration.
  • Fairly easy to install.
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Power Tools Terms (84)

Rotary Edger

  • Comes in single- or double-wheel models.
  • In the single-wheel model, a rubber-tired wheel moves along the walk or driveway and turns a cutting blade against a cutting edge.
  • Teeth float above the bottom trench to cut grass without being clogged by stones, sticks and other debris.

Sabre Saw Blade

  • A carbon steel blade used for cutting most woods and some plastics.
  • The high-speed steel blade is used for cutting metal, fiberglass and abrasives and thin plastics.


  • For the d-i-yer who wants to experiment with welding, there are several consumer-level welding setups available.
  • Arc welders are for welding iron to thin metals up to 1/4”.
  • Wire feed welders, also known as Mig welders, are used for hobby, workshop, home and farm repairs.

Brad Point Bit

  • Used for wood drilling only.
  • Tip has a screw-type point leading the drill flute that prevents drill walking.
  • Helps prevent splintering, as the brad point is the first part of the drill to emerge, allowing the user to back the drill out of the hole and finish from the other side of the material.

Trim Saws

  • Small circular saw used to cut sheet goods, moldings and trim.
  • Designed to make straight cuts on materials that are difficult to cut with a handsaw.
  • Can make cuts on a variety of materials, and different types of materials generally require different blades.
  • Easy to handle and lightweight.
  • Some models can adapt to cut glass and ceramic tile.

Twist Drill Bit

  • Used in both wood and unhardened metals to make clearance holes for bolts, screws, etc., and to make holes for tapping.
  • Bits marked HS (high speed) or HSS (high speed steel) are suitable for drilling in metals or wood,
  • Bits made of carbon steel should be used only in wood and not in metal as they are more brittle and less flexible than HSS bits.

Reciprocating Saw Blade

  • Carbon steel blade used for soft woods and plastics. Do not use for material with nails.
  • Carbon-tipped blades are best for nail-free wood, nonferrous metal, plastic and fiberglass.
  • High speed steel blade is used for most metals, plastics and fiberglass. Blades are brittle and easily broken.
  • Bimetal blades combine carbon steel and high speed steel. They last as much as three times longer than other blades.

Fixed Base Router

  • Used for beading, routing, grooving, fluting and many types of decorative carving that could take hours to do by hand. Achieve different shapes of cuts by using different shaped bits.
  • Has a motor that raises and lowers with a rack and pinion and a bit that protrudes at a set depth.
  • Most economical type of router and highly portable.
  • Standard and light-duty routers have 1/3 to 1/2 hp motors; commercial heavy-duty routers are 3/4 hp and higher.


  • For picking up dirt, sawdust, metal shavings and other materials an ordinary vacuum cannot.
  • Wet/dry vacuums are designed for use anywhere and can suck up water as well as dirt.
  • Sizes range from 1 gal. to 50 gal., and motors can be 1 hp to 5 hp.
  • Many models incorporate a blower feature by attaching the hose to a separate blower port on the motor.
  • Newer designs include a backpack vacuum that is battery operated.

Beam Saw

  • A circular saw with a high capacity, usually with blades 10” and larger. Can cut through 4” material.
  • Used for cutting heavy timbers or for crosscutting or mitering angles on large, thick stock.
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Storage & Workshop Terms (35)

Step Ladder

  • A self-supporting device used for climbing that consists of two rectangular frames hinged at the top with one side containing the rungs for climbing.
  • Non-adjustable in length and folds closed for storage.
  • Available in increments from 2’ to 12’ in height.
  • Steps are flat and riveted and are generally 3” or more in width.
  • Most models include a top plastic platform on top for storing tools or loose fasteners.
  • Available in wood, fiberglass and aluminum construction in various duty (weight) ratings, with fiberglass considered the best construction of the three.
  • Quality classifications include consumer (household), commercial (mechanic) and industrial grades

Spring Clamp

  • Similar to a clothes pin, this clamp consists of two metal jaws to which clamping pressure is applied by use of a steel spring.
  • They are designed for use with thin materials.
  • Spring clamps are versatile enough for home, hobby or professional use indoors or outdoors, holding round or odd-shaped objects.
  • They typically come with 1″, 2″ or 3″ jaw openings.

Rust Remover

  • Cuts through and dissolves rust from metal surfaces to form a metal shield that can be painted.
  • In jellied form, it clings well to vertical surfaces.
  • When brushed on, the rust dissolves quickly.
  • These products are extremely harsh on the skin; protective gloves should be worn.
  • The solution is applied with a stiff brush or aerosol spray and allowed to dry for 12 to 24 hours, depending on humidity (check manufacturer labeling and literature).

Utility Vise

  • Similar to a bench vise.
  • Generally has jaws ranging in length from 3″ to 6″.
  • Better models feature swivel bases so the vise may be turned to the best angle for each particular job.
  • Some utility vises either have cast-in pipe jaws or permit special curved-face pipe jaws to be inserted between the regular jaws to add versatility.


  • Is available in solid, liquid and aerosol form.
  • Used to remove dirt, oil and grease from basement and garage floors, driveways, patios and sidewalks.
  • Some formulations are made for concrete only and should not be used on blacktop surfaces.

Woodworking Vise

  • Has jaws made of wooden pads to hold work piece securely in place without marring surface of work piece.
  • Generally mounted to the side of a workbench
  • Some woodworking vises have a fast-acting screw arrangement for the rapid positioning of the movable jaw prior to clamping.
  • Smaller vises have continuous screws and are light and easy to clamp on a workbench or sawhorse.


  • Prepares surfaces before painting and assists paint and varnish in bonding to old finishes.
  • Available in water- or solvent-based formulations.
  • Concrete Cleaner is specifically designed to clean and degrease concrete and masonry surfaces and to prepare concrete basement floors to be painted.

Corner Clamp

  • Designed to hold miter or butt joints at a 90º angle.
  • They can be used for gluing picture frames, cabinets, molding and trim.


  • Is available in denaturedwood isopropyl or methanol form.
  • Wood and methanol alcohols are extremely toxic and should not be recommended for do-it-yourselfers.
  • Denatured alcohol, a safer substance, is used for thinning and for cleaning shellac and pigmented shellac primer.
  • Alcohol is excellent for removing grease and oil spots, fingerprints and other smudges.

Handscrew Clamp

  • Also called a cabinetmaker’s clamp, it consists of two hardwood clamping jaws adjusted to the work by two opposing steel screw spindles assembled into the jaws.
  • The jaws adjust to a variety of angles and come in a wide range of sizes up to 10”.
  • They are used for clamping wood, metal, plastic and fabrics.
  • Handscrew adaptors can be used to convert handscrews into miter clamps.
  • Also available are handscrew kits so woodworkers can make their own jaws.
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