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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Harold Daniels (styling by Jabe Mabrey)

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.

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