Forget the Pro – Do it Yourself!


Last week we talked about when to call in a pro to help with home repair projects. This week I am featuring some DIY home repair and maintenance projects for pesky problems that you can handle yourself. Some of these have surprisingly simple, and sometimes unusual, solutions.

Listless Toilet

If your toilet seems to be flushing with less oomph than normal, don’t automatically assume it is the water pressure. Ninety percent of the time the problem is that the holes under the rim are clogged with calcium and sediment. Get a small brush with stiff bristles and clean them out. The flushing power of the toilet will improved significantly.

Gross Grout

If you want to replace the grout, you have two options: Dig it out by hand or use a grout-removal attachment on a rotary tool. Let’s go with the latter. Allow a strong grim cleaner (Formula 409 also works just fine) to soak in for several hours, not just a few minutes. Grab a small brush (a toothbrush with firm bristles works well) and vigorously scrub. Your bathroom will look so much cleaner!

Torn Vinyl

Use a silicone-base seam sealer to fill the tear and wipe off the excess with a dry cloth. Or try this easy fix: If it’s a no-wax floor and the tear is small, take a bar of soap and rub it sideways along the cut until it is filled. Unless you soak the vinyl in water and use a brush to scrub, the soap will stay in place during routine cleaning.

Broken Tile

This handy DIY project can make a dramatic difference in your bathroom or kitchen. Remove the grout around the tile with a grout saw (available for less than $5 at paint hardware stores). If a tile has already started to chip, continue to break off little pieces and remove the entire damaged tile. If not, make a hole in the center with a masonry drill, which will break the tile, and remove the pieces from the center outward. Glue the new tile in place with an adhesive such as Liquid Nails, then apply fresh grout around the edges

Woodwork Scratches

Hardware stores sell a number of scratch fillers that look like brown pencils or crayons. Find the shade that most closely matches your cabinet and rub it into the scratch. Hide marks in furniture, trim, and floors using Minwax markers (about $5 each, in nine colors; at hardware stores). They provide pinpoint stain application

You can hide a damaged finish on antique furniture or any fine woodwork by applying a coat of pigmented wax, such as Briwax, or a pigmented polishing fluid, also known as scratch cover, which will make fine scratches barely noticeable.

Frozen Icemaker

Remove the ice bin and find the tray where the water freezes into ice cubes. Open the tray and look for a little piece of plastic pipe where the water flows into the ice-cube tray. The end of that pipe can freeze up. You can thaw it out by aiming a hair dryer at the pipe. It should thaw within five minutes.

Drippy Faucet

First things first – stop the flow of water to the faucet by turning off the stop valves under the sink. If it’s an old faucet, remove the handle by unscrewing it. (The screw may be hidden under a plastic piece that you can flip off with a pocketknife.) Once the handle is off, remove the chrome cylinder underneath, then remove the nut that holds the stem in place. Pull out the stem and replace the washer. New faucets have “seats” that serve the same purpose as a washer, but you need to buy one that’s specifically for the brand and model of your faucet. Disassemble the faucet and take it to a hardware or plumbing store if you need help identifying the model.

Bumpy Plaster Walls

Brush on a matte paint rather than the usual eggshell. The ultra-flat sheen helps hide imperfections in the surface; any amount of glossiness reflects light and highlights unevenness.

Unclog a Sink

The surest solution is to remove the P-trap, flush out the clog, and reinstall the trap. You can also try clearing the clog from above. Just unscrew the ball-and-socket connection that holds the assembly together in the back of the sink, slide out the rod, and remove the pop-up stopper. The offending glob—or at least enough of it to get the drain flowing again—is likely to come out on the end of the stopper. Clean it off, replace and hand-tighten the its ball-and-socket nut.

Quiet a Bathroom Fan

That noisy vent fan may just be the rattle of a loose cover. For a simple fix, remove the cover and bend the spring-loaded attachment brackets slightly so that they grip a little tighter against the ceiling. While you’re at it, switch off the circuit breaker and vacuum the unit’s insides to quiet the fan blades and take the strain off the motor.

Wobbly Toilet

First, check the closet bolts holding the bowl to the floor. If they’re loose, hand-tighten them, then give an additional quarter-turn with a wrench. If they’re already tight, steady the toilet by slipping some plastic plumbers’ shims into the gap where the bowl meets the floor. You’ll find these useful wedges in plumbing-supply stores, as well as home improvement stores.

Loose Laminate Countertop

Use a heat gun, or even a hair dryer, to gently heat the laminate and soften the old glue underneath. Whack it with a rubber mallet or a hammer cushioned by a block of wood. Weigh it down for about an hour with a stack of heavy blocks while the laminate cools and readheres to the substrate.

Weak Showerhead Flow

Your showerhead could be clogged with mineral deposits. Gently unscrew it from the pipe and soak it overnight in vinegar. (If you don’t have that much time, a 50-50 mixture of hot water and CLR, a powerful calcium dissolver, will do the job in a few minutes.) Then wrap new Teflon tape clockwise around the pipe threads and turn the head back into place.

What handy DIY techniques do you use to keep your home in tip-top shape?

A Little Prevention Can Go a Long Way this Fall


Fall is the perfect time to take care of the little things around your home that can make a big difference. Take advantage of the temperate weather to repair any damages before the first frost hits. Here are some tips that will keep your home in good running condition throughout the winter.


Check foundation for cracks and caulk around the areas where masonry meets siding, where pipes or wires enter the house, and around the windows and door frames to prevent heat from escaping. Openings in the structure can cause water to get in and freeze, resulting in cracks and mold build up. A careful check of the outside structure combined with inexpensive maintenance can save you money in the long run.


Inspect exterior walls to see if any paint is peeling or blistering on the house or outbuildings. Peeling or chipping paint is a sign that the existing paint film is no longer protecting the siding of the building. Left uncorrected, the siding itself will deteriorate, leading to expensive repairs in the future.


Make sure the roof is in good shape. Inspect for missing and loose shingles. Ice, rain, snow and wind combined with rapidly changing temperatures and humidity wreak havoc on roofs. Inspect your roof from top to bottom, using binoculars if necessary. Check ridge shingles for cracks and wind damage. Look for damage to metal flashing in valleys and around vents and chimneys. Scan the entire roof for missing, curled, or damaged shingles. Look in your gutters for large accumulations of granules, a sign that your roof is losing its coating; expect problems soon.


After leaves have fallen, clean out the gutters and downspouts, flush them with water, inspect joints, and tighten brackets if necessary. Replace old or damaged gutters with new ones that have built-in leaf guards. Clogged gutters can lead to damaged exterior surfaces and to water in your basement. They are also more prone to rust and corrosion.


Weather-strip your garage door. Make sure the seal between your garage door and the ground is tight to prevent drafts. Inspect your driveway for cracks. Clean out and repair any damage with driveway filler, then coat with a commercial sealer.



Heating and cooling amount to 47% of the energy costs in your home. Proper sealing and insulation can save up to 20% on heating and cooling costs, or up to 10% on your total annual energy bill. Air leaks from windows and doors are easy to find by moving your hand around the frame. Applying weather-stripping and caulk to these areas will help cut down on drafts. Gaps in caulk and weather-stripping can account for a 10% of your heating bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Have your heating system checked by a licensed heating contractor. Heating systems will use fuel more efficiently, last longer, and have fewer problems if properly serviced. 

Check basement windows for drafts, loose frames or cracked panes.

Change the direction of your ceiling fan to create an upward draft that redistributes warm air from the ceiling.


A clogged chimney is a fire hazard. Get your woodstove and fireplace in working order. Clean and inspect the glass door for cracks and have the chimney cleaned by a licensed chimney sweep. Birds love to nest at the top of an unprotected flue; a chimney cap can prevent this from happening.

Test the batteries in your smoke and carbon dioxide detectors and keep extra household batteries on hand. Replace the batteries in each smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detector, then vacuum them with a soft brush attachment. Test the detectors by pressing the test button or holding a smoke source (like a blown-out candle) near the unit. If you haven’t already, install a smoke detector on every floor of your home, including the basement.


Vacuum internal parts of air conditioners. Remove units from windows or wrap outside box with an approved tarp or plastic air conditioner cover in order to prevent rusting of vital parts.  

Clean humidifiers regularly during the heating season. Bacteria and spores can develop in a dirty water tank resulting in unclean moisture misting out into your room.


Pile of fall leaves with fan rake on lawn

Clear leaves from lawn, reseed patchy areas, and plant spring flowering bulbs. If deer are a problem, start deer-proofing by covering plants with netting and chicken wire.  Fertilize your lawn with a high phosphorous mix to ensure healthy grass in the spring.

Prepare your yard equipment for storage. This includes draining fuel from all gas-operated equipment such as lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and chain saws. Drain garden hoses and store them inside.

Inspect and fill bird feeders. Keep in mind that once you start feeding birds you should continue on a regular basis throughout the winter months.


Check the supports, stairs, and railings on porches and decks. Make sure the handrails can support someone slipping on snow or ice. Cover and store outdoor furniture and barbecues in a protected area.

Make sure all soil is emptied from pots and planters. Dirt left in clay pots will freeze and cause the pots to crack if left outside

Please share your tips for winter preparation!

Fire Hazards in the Home


The cold weather often means that people are spending more time at home increasing the risk of house fires. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says there are more than 360,000 home structure fires each year, resulting in about $6-8 billion dollars in damage.

The good news is that the most common causes of household fires are largely preventable. As we begin to flirt with colder weather here in the Valley, now is the time to identify and correct potential fire hazards in your home.


“People don’t think of wiring as a danger, because it’s out of sight behind walls,” says Lorraine Carli of the NFPA. But electrical fires have accounted for more than 50,000 home blazes a year, plus $1.5 billion in property damage. And seemingly innocuous acts, like driving screws into a wall to hang a mirror, can easily pierce wiring.

One good fix: Replace circuit breakers with arc-fault circuit interrupters (about $30). These safeguards detect dangerous electrical arcs—abnormal sparks that signal bad insulation or loose connections—and stop them before they start a fire.

Kitchen Hazards

The number one source of house fires is cooking – usually leaving pots or pans unattended on the stove while you run away to do something for “just a minute.”  In fact, over 40% of all house fires begin in the kitchen.

Create (and maintain) a 3-foot zone between combustible materials (paper towels, pot holders, recipes cards) and the burners. And, of course, never leave cooking unattended.

Other kitchen tips:

  • Don’t throw water on a grease fire, put a lid on the pan to smother the fire.
  • If an oven fire flares up, turn off the oven and leave the door shut until the fire extinguishes itself.
  • Keep clothing, pot holders, paper towels and other flammable items away from fires.

Clothes Dryer

Clothes dryer fires happen more often than one might think and the risk is about the same for both gas and electric-powered dryers. The most frequent causes of fires in dryers are lint/dust  and clothing. Even if you diligently empty the lint catch every time you dry clothes, the very flammable particles still build up inside the dryer cabinet. To minimize the risk, hire a professional to clean the cabinet and the pipes at least every two years.

Dryer tips:

  • Clean the lint screen frequently and don’t run the dryer without it.
  • For gas and propane dryers, make sure there aren’t any leaks in the lines.
  • Vent the dryer to the outside of the house and ensure nothing blocks the vent pipe.
  • Clean the vent pipe and the area where the screen is housed.
  • Keep the area around the dryer free of combustible materials.

Electrical Outlets

The blades inside electrical outlets loosen over time, something you may notice when you plug in an appliance and the cord falls out easily. A seemingly small annoyance can generate a lot of intense heat and lead to a fire. Your best bet is to replace outlets as soon as you notice that plugs don’t fit snugly.

Aging Appliances

While vintage appliances add charm to a home and may still run well, they were made according to antiquated safety codes and may include frayed or damaged wires. Have them rewired, and, in general, stick with modern equipment that comes with a UL mark, signifying that Underwriters Laboratories has vouched for the item’s safety in actual use.


While candles add ambiance, warmth, and fragrance to a home, keep in mind that there over 29 candle fires per day in the United States.

About one-third of these fires started in bedrooms and more than half of all candle fires start because of candles that were left too close to flammable items. They should always be kept at least 12 inches away from anything that can burn and never be left unattended. Those of us fortunate enough to have animals in our homes must be aware that a pet brushing up against a flame is enough to spark a fire.


Need another reason to quit? While the number of fires caused by smoking is trending downward along with the habit itself, smoking still accounts for a significant percentage of household blazes.

From the moment a fire starts to the point where the structure is fully engulfed is usually less than two minutes, which is why prevention is so important.

Please take the necessary precautions to protect your family and home. Always have working (and regularly tested) smoke detectors in your house and keep a fire extinguisher nearby just in case.

Have a fire safety tip to share? Please leave a comment below.

Autumn is Around the Corner – Go Outside and Play!


The kids are back in school and the first cool chill has descended on the Valley. Before it gets too chilly and our thoughts turn to pumpkin carving, apple picking, hot cocoa, and fireplaces, here are a few ideas to enjoy some outdoor activities before the real cold hits!

A Dream Come True Playground

This wheelchair-inclusive playground in Harrisonburg features a rock, rainbow arches, shade structures, roadway, hammock swing, draw wall, pavilion, and family comfort stations that are fully accessible. The Liberty Swing allows children in wheelchairs the opportunity to experience the joy of having a swing in the park. The playground is open from 8:00am to dusk, weather permitting. The park will remain open year round unless the temperature is 32 degrees or below, or the ground is frozen.


The Supporting Therapeutic Access to Recreation, STAR Trail at Woodrow Wilson Rehab Center in Fishersville, Virginia welcomes visitors daily, free of charge, from dawn to dusk. The half-mile wheelchair accessible crushed stone trail enters a white pine forest above the picnic shelter and crosses the lake onto an island with a bridge continuing the trail around the lake. Benches are located along the trail.

The Blue Ridge Parkway

Breath-taking scenery and abundant recreational opportunities make the Blue Ridge Parkway one of the most popular components of the National Park System. “America’s Favorite Drive” winds its way 469 miles through mountain meadows and past seemingly endless vistas. Split-rail fences, old farmsteads and historic structures complement spectacular views of distant mountains and neighboring valleys.

George Washington and Jefferson National Forest

These two national forests stretch from one end of Virginia to the other, as well as extending into West Virginia, along the legendary Appalachians. Virtually every type of outdoor recreation activity you can imagine is available. In addition to hiking, fishing, mountain bicycling and camping, don’t forget hawk watching, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, nature photography, and orienteering.

Ramsey’s Draft

Ramsey’s Draft Wilderness in the George Washington National Forest is one of the largest tracts of virgin forest left in the eastern United States. Among the variety of plants you may see are some virgin hardwoods and hemlocks standing in the upper elevations and a more typical Appalachian forest of tulip poplar, red oak, and basswood. Keep your eyes peeled for deer, bear, and the many smaller mammals that inhabit the woods of central Virginia.

Frontier Culture Museum

Staunton’s Frontier Culture Museum features four working farms and a blacksmith’s forge. Reenactors help create a living illustration of life in Europe before immigration to America at a 1700’s German farm, 1700’s Scotch-Irish farm, a late 1600’s English farm, and the American farm of the Shenandoah Valley in 1840-1860.

Luray Zoo

Luray Zoo is home to over 250 animals, and is the only true rescue zoo in Virginia! The Zoo receives animals that are retired zoo animals, unwanted pets, confiscations, and abused animals. The 3+ acre facility offers one of the largest venomous snake collections on the east coast, outside exhibits, as well as a petting zoo.

Crabtree Falls

The Crabtree Falls Trail features a series of five cascades and a number of smaller ones that fall a total distance of 1,200 feet. The trail provides views of the falls from overlooks constructed to accent the beauty of the valley.  The first overlook is just 700 feet from the lower parking lot and for those not afraid of a pretty steep hike, Crabtree Meadows offers an amazing vista where the trail ends and the Appalachian Trail begins.

What are some of your favorite places to visit in the Valley?   

Staging Your Home for Success


Getting ready to sell your home? Appearance is everything. That’s where home staging comes in. Hiring a professional “stager” to prepare your home can cost anywhere from $50 to $150 per hour. Here are some tried and true trips to get your home ready to sell!

Always be ready to show.  Your house needs to be “show-ready” at all times – you never know when your buyer is going to walk through the door.  Don’t leave dishes in the sink, make the bed, keep the dishwasher cleaned out, the bathrooms sparkling, and make sure there are no dust bunnies in the corners.

Curb appeal is vital to attracting buyers. This first view of your home that a buyer has is the most important. Studies show that a majority of buyers will not get out their car if they do not find your home’s curb appeal visually attractive. Spruce up your home’s exterior with inexpensive shrubs and brightly colored flowers, update outside fixtures, and make sure the paint and siding are in tip-top shape. See my previous blog for curb appeal tips.

Stage rooms with one purpose so buyers will know what it is. Paint the walls a neutral tone and then furnish the room with a theme – spare bedroom, office, etc.

Bathrooms that sell. Bathrooms are one of the most important rooms in a home to prospective buyers.  A low-cost alternative to replacing dated tile is ceramic epoxy paint. Thoroughly clean the walls or, even better, repaint for a bright, fresh look. Pedestal sinks show off square footage in small bathrooms beautifully.

Fireplace facelift. Give your fireplace a thorough cleaning, scrubbing it with soap and water. Then, using a stone color enhancer, polish the bricks to make them shine. A centerpiece worthy fireplace is undeniably inviting.

Kitchen, kitchen, kitchen. Studies consistently show that the kitchen is the most important room in regards to selling your home AND the best return for your money in upgrades and updates. The fastest, most inexpensive kitchen updates include painting and new cabinet hardware. Use a neutral-color paint. Instead of replacing dated cabinets, stain them. Add new, complimentary hardware and you have an updated kitchen for a few hundred bucks.

Built-in bookshelves. Like a lot of the other tips here, you are going to have to take yourself out of the picture. Remove personal affects and replace with a sparse array of neutral objects.

Let the sun shine in. Maximize the light in your home. After location, good light is the one thing that every buyer cites that they want in a home. Take down the drapes, clean the windows, change the lampshades, increase the wattage of your light bulbs, add more interior lamps, and trim any outside greenery that may hinder sunlight from streaming in.

Less is more.  Cluttered rooms indicate to a buyer that your home lacks storage space. Pack up unnecessary items and furniture, and move items to your garage or a nearby storage facility. See my previous blog about how to de-clutter your home.

But more storage space is more! Ample storage space is a huge selling point for a home. Organize and clear out closets and your cabinets to visually enhance the storage you really have.

Incorporate some of these tips to get the most for your home. Taking the extra step to stage a home can make a difference in how a buyer values it and the price a seller might get for it, according to the National Association of Realtors® 2015 Profile of Home Staging.

Have some home staging tips of your own?

I look forward to hearing from you!

If You Cannot See Where You are Going, Ask Someone Who has Been There Before



If you haven’t seen ‘STEM’ in the headlines lately, stay tuned, because you will. STEM, short for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, is an area of study and jobs where women (and minorities) are grossly underrepresented. Proof of the importance of this fact is that eight of Forbe’s magazine’s Ten Most Powerful Women in business work in STEM fields.

The single most common factor these women share? A mentor. In honor of Women’s History Month, I encourage you to positively impact young lives and help guide the next generation of ground-breaking women.

If you aren’t a six-figure earning glass-ceiling buster or aren’t a woman and think that excludes you from this conversation, you’re not off the hook that easily.  There is more than ample opportunity to be a mentor in other ways –  intellectual, mental, spiritual, emotional, athletic…. The point is to share some of your accumulated skills and knowledge. You know, those things you wish you had figured out a decade earlier?

A mere 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs are women. BUT, a recent study by EY’s Women Athletes Business Network and espnW found that 94% of women executives have a background in sport and more than half of women in C-level positions played at the collegiate level. Soccer moms and dads, I’m talking to you.

Mentoring is a chance for both participants to learn. If you want a mentor, and I urge everyone to continuously seek opportunities to grow, don’t be shy. Ask that person who has something you want, whether it is a job in engineering or great spiritual peace, if they would be willing to speak with you. Most will be flattered. Start that conversation today.

If you work in a STEM field, find local opportunities to mentor here:

If you don’t, here are a few options:

 Do you have a mentor story you would like to share?

A person who made an impact in your life? Please share your experiences and feel free to add additional resources for mentors and mentees.




how to build a strong girl

Girl PowerI recently read a very inspiring story that I wanted to share with my Win Win followers in hopes that they will take away the same inspiration from it that I have.  Popular Bollywood actress, International Recording Artist and UNICEF India Ambassador, Priyanka Chopra, recently visited Chandrapur on International Youth Day at request of UNICEF to visit a new generation of strong young Indian women.   The girls she met are part of the Building Young Futures program, run in partnership with UNICEF.  The program is determined to challenge the difficulties many girls are facing across the world, providing girls with the knowledge and skills they need to become strong financially independent women and also very importantly, to become the agents for change and development in their own communities.

Chopra has been a UNICEF Ambassador for more than 8 years championing the cause of adolescent girls. She  passionately believes that young people are bursting with potential… that they can transform society.  But they need help.   Chopra says “We need to urgently invest in their future and help them realise their potential and I am determined to help make that happen.”

There are 1.2 billion adolescents in the world today.  I remember the dreams I had for the future when I was a teenager.  I had support and encouragement that I could make those dreams a reality.  With support, opportunities and a lot of hard work, I’ve been able to make them happen. But I know that many youngsters aren’t this lucky.  In Maharashtra, for instance, girls are held back by not completing education, early marriage, ignorance around health issues and a lack of financial understanding.  Mostly, they have no voice for decision making.  We need to show adolescent girls around the world that they DO have a voice and that we’ll support them in their dreams for the future because it’s OUR future too.

Support for young people can only have a positive impact on our nation and society as a whole.  So what are the ingredients for a strong girl or boy?

• Teach a young person not what to think but HOW to think
• Encourage a young person to dare to believe because they have the skills to realize their dreams
• Foster a young person’s confidence to voice their own opinions and solve their own problems
• Instil an understanding of savings, money and business so she may become financially independent
• Nurture an interest in their community so their impacts can be shared and beneficial to others

Alongside all this… add a bit of magic… encouraging adolescents to share their new power and use it to do good for the community. Teach others and the ripple of empowerment spreads.  It’s a real, tangible, positive effect that is there for all to see.

All girls and boys can make their own name and fate and be independent.  I thought that was a great message for young people everywhere on this international youth day. With ‘Building Young Futures’ and UNICEF’s involvement these positive stories and messages will only grow in number.