New thermostat saves money, hassles

A thermostat is an important part of your heating/cooling system.

A thermostat is an important part of your heating/cooling system.

It tells you what the temperature is in your home, but more importantly, it tells your heater or air conditioner when to turn on. The newer, programmable thermostats are quite an improvement over the old mercury-switch units in that you can set them to turn off and on at specific times and temps, which can save you money every month.

For example, you can set it to automatically cut back when you are away at work but reset at a more comfortable temp for your arrival home. The temperature can be changed while you sleep and reset before you get up.

The first step in replacing your older thermostat is to shop for a new one. There are a lot to choose from, so make sure you get one made for your type of system. Shut off the power to the existing thermostat at your main breaker box. Then remove the old unit from your wall.

Clip a clothespin or some tape on the existing wires so they won’t slip back into the wall. It is a good idea to take a digital photo of the existing hookup to note which wires are attached to which connections. If you can’t take a photo, at least write down which colour wires go to which leads on your current thermostat in case you need this information when hooking up the new unit.

Mount your new thermostat, hooking up the wires according to the instructions included with it. Most are simple to install and have a help line if you need to use it. Turn the power to the unit back on, and program it according to the instructions. If it requires a backup battery, as most do, install one. You probably will have to change the settings once you have lived with it for a day or so, but you will see that it can really be a great convenience.

A Super Hint — A wrench or pliers are made to grip items with their sharp teeth. But if these teeth become worn down, then they are less effective, and you can find that the tool slips when you try to hold on to something.

Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to sharpen the teeth. Use a small file rubbed over the sides of the teeth to carve them back into the tool. Chances are, they are not worn so much as just covered with grime and other gunk. The file will clean this out as well, and you will be able to hold on much tighter with your sharpened teeth. No X-rays or cleaning required for these sharp teeth!

Dear Carrells: We finally had our first family of squirrels in our attic this winter. Now I know why people hate them so much. They really made a racket and a mess of things up there.

My dad told me he used to mix up a batch of petroleum jelly and chili powder and spread that around the places where the critters were getting into his attic to chase them away.

I mixed some up and spread it around the area where they were nesting and getting into the attic. Then I closed up the holes. They tried to get in again but didn’t like the taste of the repellent they had to chew through to get in, so they are now gone. — T.D.

A Super Hint — Petroleum jelly is a great aid in sealing up a partially used can of paint. Clean off the rim of the can, smear it with petroleum jelly and then close it up. It will seal the can but will prevent the lid from sticking.

Dear Al: I used angle iron to mount my garage door opener. It was easy to work with and made for a very steady mounting bracket. I had some left over, and I attached it to the side of my workbench. The holes that run down the side are perfect for holding a whole set of screwdrivers. They are handy when I need them, and I can keep them all in one place. — R.M.

Q: We have a spot on a patio wall. We were told by a repairman that it is efflorescence, so we cleaned it with muriatic acid. This removed the spot, but it keeps coming back. Is there a way to seal it or something? — J.K.

A:You need to resolve the moisture issue that is causing the ongoing problem with efflorescence. Correct the drainage issues first, and then clean it again. You can try sealing the surface with a water sealer, but if the moisture comes back, the mineral deposits will, too.

Dear Kelly: My bedroom drapes just won’t stay closed, and I don’t want the light coming in to wake me up too early. I used straight pins to hold them together, but that didn’t work very well. I finally glued a couple of small magnets to the inside of the drapes where they come together. The magnets stay together until I need to open the drapes, and then they let go. It’s really worked out well. — F.R.

Shoptalk — For patio covers and other outdoor structures made of wood, you will do well to mount the posts in concrete, or at least on concrete. Most post anchors are not very attractive, but the new Titan Post Anchor is almost totally concealed. It’s made to be extremely long-lasting, and slides up inside the post with only the base showing. The base is simple and attractive, and can be used with wood, concrete, composite materials and more. They have four-by-four and six-by-six bases available in a couple of finishes, including powder-coated and stainless steel for marine usage. Check them out at

A Super Hint — Hopefully you have readied your lawnmower for another season, which will be starting soon. But we have one more idea that you might want to try. Add a screen-door or cabinet handle to the front part of the metal mower deck.

It’s a simple project and will give you a super handle to hold on to when you need to lift your mower over an obstacle or into a trailer or truck. Otherwise you might be tempted to grab it along the edge, which puts your fingers in the danger zone! This handle really will make things much easier (and safer), and won’t be in your way while you are using the mower.

Dear Carrells: I do a lot of woodworking, and mix my own stains. I find that I need to keep stirring them in order to keep the pigments evenly distributed. I came up with a better plan — put some marbles into the can before stirring it. The marbles make stirring much easier and faster. A bag of marbles didn’t cost much at the discount store, and there were enough in the bag to use in several different cans. — W.B.

A Super Hint — Need a quick measurement and caught without a ruler? A dollar bill is about six inches long, and a quarter is about 1 inch across. Keep this in mind in case you need to use it sometime.

Dear Al: I turned my picnic table into a small greenhouse. I just placed a plastic cover over the table that reaches to the ground. I placed bricks around the bottom to hold it down, and I have placed all of my small vegetable plants and seedlings under the plastic to stay warm. I put a small plant light in there at night to keep them toasty. This year I am determined to get a head start so I will have a great crop of our family favourites. — W.D.

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