November Checklist: Add towel racks and grab bars, check smoke detectors and more


Why wait till it’s cold and you’ve got shopping to do to put up holiday lights? (Jason Fochtman/Associated Press)
November 6, 2013

With daylight saving time over, this is a great month to focus on chores that keep you safe and warm inside.

Add towel racks

If you’re expecting houseguests during the coming holiday season, consider a few simple upgrades that make life more comfortable when extra people are in the house. If there’s no good place for guests to hang damp towels, add a row of hooks or switch out a standard towel rack for one with two rods. Or, even better, install a unit with two rods plus a shelf on top, perfect for extra fresh towels. Because towel hooks and rods get pushed and pulled as people add and remove towels, be sure to fasten into studs, not just drywall. If studs aren’t in a convenient place, attach a decorative wooden backboard that you can screw to studs, and then fasten the towel hangers to that.

Upgrade night lights

If your guests need to get up in the night, they’re likely to need a little light to guide them through unfamiliar space. You might already have night lights, but are they good enough? Some, with glowing electroluminescent screens, are very energy efficient but too dim to help people with weak eyesight, while others with incandescent bulbs put out a good amount of light but waste energy. Buy an LED night light with a built-in motion sensor or upgrade an existing incandescent type by switching to an LED bulb with a matching screw base. Want something more decorative? Virginia Stained Glass in Springfield (703-425-4611; www.virginiastainedglass.com) is offering a night light construction class Nov. 17 from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. The fee is $30, or $50 for two if you sign up with a friend.

Install grab bars

Adding a grab rail to a bathtub or shower makes bathing safer not only for guests but for members of your own family. Forgo suction grips with a manufacturer’s warning that the device isn’t intended to support full body weight leverage. Attach the bar securely by drilling through the shower or tub wall into studs — or into solid wood blocking if your house is new enough to benefit from building codes that require a horizontal band of framing behind shower walls at grab bar height. (You can find step-by-step instructions at www.familyhandy
man.com
.) Or buy a no-drill type that gets cemented to the wall and is rated as ADA compliant, such as the No Drilling Required Gripp, about $70 at Home Depot, depending on bar length. Grab bars are such a critical safety issue for people who aren’t steady on their feet that many senior citizens centers and homeowner-assistance programs provide help for those who can’t afford them. Rebuilding Together Montgomery County, for example, offers free installation to people who qualify (rebuildingtogethermc.org).

Check smoke detectors

If you don’t like to wake up in the middle of the night to the annoying chirp of a smoke alarm with a battery that’s about to give out, heed the “change your clocks, change the batteries” advice given by many fire departments. The time switch is a good reminder to buy the batteries you need (probably 9-volt) and replace all of them. While you’re at it, press each test button for a few seconds to make sure the device sounds. To test whether the detector actually responds to smoke, you can buy a spray designed for just this purpose, such as the GE Smoke Detector Tester, also known as Smoke! in a Can. It’s about $9 at hardware stores.

Inspect gaskets on wood stoves and fireplace inserts

If you burn wood, you probably know to hire a certified chimney sweep to clean the chimney and inspect the stove annually. If you have a fireplace insert or a wood stove, also check the gasket around the door. If it’s frayed or loose, replace it when the fireplace is cold. Take the old piece with you to a hardware store or fireplace shop so you can buy replacement cording of the same diameter. Also get a container of the cement that holds the gasket in place. Chip out the old gunk before you install the new piece.

Assemble a hearth-cleaning kit

Wood fires are gorgeous when they’re burning, but there’s no denying the mess they create. To make cleanup more convenient, get an attractive basket to hold the tools you need: a whisk broom and a small dust pan, plus a spray container with glass cleaner and a few old newspapers if you have glass doors. Keep the kit near the fireplace. Empty the dustpan into the fire — it’s a lot safer than dumping stray embers into a wastebasket or vacuuming them up, where they could set a bag of collected dust on fire.

Insulate pipes

If you have bare water pipes running through your crawl space, attic, basement or other accessible place, this is a good time to insulate them. Besides helping to prevent freezing, which could cause the pipes to burst, insulation also keeps the water in hot-water lines hotter and helps prevent condensation on cold-water lines in the summer. Hardware stores and home centers sell foam tubes that are easy to install. Measure the diameter of your pipes before you shop so you buy a suitable size. To install, cut a tube to a length you need, if necessary, with scissors. Then just open up the lengthwise slit on the tube and slip it over the pipe. If there is a crease but no slit, carefully cut along the crease first. Some types come with tape attached to seal the slit once the tube is in place.

Put up holiday lights

Don’t wait until December to put up holiday lights. It’s a lot easier to do it now, while the weather is still reasonably warm. LED lights are the way to go. They’re far more energy efficient — enough to recoup the cost of replacing your old incandescent lights. They also last longer, about 50,000 hours outdoors (twice as long indoors). And the bulbs are cool, so you don’t have to worry about them starting a fire. What to do with your old incandescent strings? Recycle them at Mom’s Organic Market (for the six locations in Maryland and Virginia, see www.momsorganicmarket.com). Bring them in after Thanksgiving (and before February) and you’ll qualify for a 30 percent discount on buying new lights through www.holidayleds.com.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions to localliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

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