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Talk to a Toolman: Q&A With Chip Wade

Should you hire a pro or do that home repair yourself? HGTV Magazine asks Elbow Room’s Chip Wade to weigh in on five common questions.

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Q: I'd love to replace the knob on my bedroom door. How do I do it?
Chip says: Give it a go.
Use a long screwdriver to remove the screws that hold the doorknob in place-they'll be tucked below the knob on one side of the door. Then pull apart the entire doorknob assembly. Unscrew the strike plate on the side of the door and slide out the latch (the metal bar that goes into the strike plate when the door is locked). Your new doorknob should come in a kit with all these pieces. Slide in the new latch first, then align both knobs on either side of the door and screw them in. If your new knob doesn't match up with the old screw holes, patch them, then predrill new holes for the new knob and screw it in. Finish by screwing in the new strike plate.

Q: There's a skunk in my backyard. Help!
Chip says: Give it a go.
Before you call animal control, try these tips: First secure garbage can lids to get rid of food sources that could entice the stinker to take up residence. Also close off any dark, sheltered areas where the skunk could hide, like the space under a deck. Next install outdoor lights on motion sensors. The brighter the bulb, the better, since skunks are nocturnal and tend to stay away from well-lit spots. As a last resort, you could spray your yard with a repellent that contains dog or fox urine. (But just a warning-it could smell.) If that doesn't send him packing, set a humane trap (find one at havahart.com). That'll allow you to capture the skunk and relocate it far away from your home.

Q: Can I add a stone retaining wall to my yard on my own?
Chip says: Hire a pro
. You may think you can just start stacking stones, but if your wall doesn't have a properly installed footing (a.k.a. foundation), it can topple over. In fact, any wall that's more than two feet high, which is as low as most walls get, requires engineering to be supported properly. That's why I suggest calling in a landscape contractor. He'll make sure the wall-whether it's made from concrete, stones, or natural boulders (my favorite)-has a solid foundation, then he'll build it up to just the height you want.

Q: The paint on my exterior windowsills is peeling. How can I fix it?
Chip says: Give it a go.
Peeling is usually caused by exposure to moisture and sun-hard to avoid, I know. To fix it, first get rid of all the old paint. Wearing a dust mask or respirator (get one at a hardware store), remove the peeling stuff with a stiff wire brush and/or a paint scraper. Fill any cracks with a paintable exterior sealant; let dry. Sand the wood, then coat it with an exterior primer. Wait a day to ensure it's dry, then paint it with an exterior semigloss, which holds up to the elements better than a flat finish. Check the forecast before you do this task: If it's rainy or colder than about 50° Fahrenheit, the paint won't bond to the wood or primer and will peel as badly as it did before.

Q: I think I see termite damage in my basement. What should I do?
Chip says: Hire a pro.
It can be hard to tell the difference between termite damage and wood decay caused by water, so it's best to hire an exterminator certified to deal with termite infestations. He'll do an inspection and, if the damage is from termites, treat the problem with baits or a termiticide, usually over a few visits. Although treatment can run in the thousands of dollars, it pays to get an exterminator in ASAP to limit the damage those little buggers can do.

Q: My hardwood floors are scuffed. Help!
Chip says: Give it a go.
The only way to really fix a scuff is to refinish that portion of the floor. A pro job can cost hundreds of dollars, so if the area is small, do it yourself. First clean the spot with a degreaser. Then sand it with a sanding sponge or an orbital sander, going from a coarse grit to a fine grit. Wipe the wood with a damp cloth, then restain it by applying the stain in light coats with a foam brush, then wiping with a rag. Let it dry, then use a paintbrush to apply a protective finish such as polyurethane, extending it a bit beyond the repair so it blends in. If it looks too glossy after it dries, buff away some of the sheen with superfine steel wool.

Q: I'd like to put a sliding door where a regular door is. Is this doable?
Chip says: Hire a pro.
This is a fairly simple job for a licensed contractor, as long as your original doors are French or double doors; otherwise, it will require a major renovation. Either way, if you can, buy your sliding door from the company that made your old doors, as they're more likely to have the same dimensions. Before your contractor arrives, tape down a tarp to protect your floors. He'll remove your old door and install the new one, as well as flashing (strips of sheet metal that help weatherproof the opening). Make sure he offers a warranty so you're covered in case of leaks or drafts.

Q: How do I add crown molding to my ceiling?
Chip says: Hire a pro.
Unless you're comfortable using a compound miter saw, call a carpenter. You have to miter the ends of the molding (i.e. cut them at an angle) so they fit together at the room's corners, and this can be tricky, especially if your trim has lots of nooks or raised panels. A carpenter will cut the trim to fit your space. Then he-and likely a helper, since it's tough to hang molding alone-will install it with a nail gun and finish by caulking the seams and nail holes. An average-size room will take a pro an hour or two.

Q: There's a crack in one of my windowpanes. Can I replace it on my own?
Chip says: Give it a go.
Putting in new glass is easy, especially if you have single-pane windows, which are only one piece of glass thick. To start, put X's of painter's tape over the cracked pane. Tap it with a hammer to free it from the frame, then, wearing heavy gloves, pull out any remaining pieces. Using a screwdriver, dig out the old glazing putty and the glazier's points, the small metal triangles that hold the glass in place. Once the frame is clear, apply a thin layer of new putty around it. Press the new pane (get one at a glass shop) into the putty, and insert new glazier's points. Roll more putty into ropes and press it around the new pane's edges, then smooth with a putty knife. If you have windows with double panes, you can buy a replacement sash (which includes the glass and frame), then pop out the old one and put in the new one.

Q: I found a wasp's nest in my backyard. What's the best way to get rid of it?
Chip says: Hire a pro.
Wasps can be aggressive if they feel threatened, so play it safe and hire an exterminator. To prep for his arrival, clear the surrounding area the best you can without disturbing the nest. After the treatment is done-it can take a few hours-wait several days before hanging out in the area so any remaining insects have a chance to buzz off.

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