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One More Thing to Add to Your Honey-Do List

August 8, 2013

Woman Gloves

I knew the title would get your attention. I also know that you will be cussing me – again. I’m sorry. I find that I have a list as long as my refrigerator door and it grows all the time. Being a handywoman does not give me a FREE pass from the yearly or seasonal items I pass on to you. I have to do these things or my house will shudder, spark, leak, and fall down. I don’t want anything to happen to my most valuable asset and I don’t think you do either. So, with that said; add this tidbit to your list.

Sump pump clean out. I know, it’s yucky, stinky, and the pump is stuck back in a dark corner somewhere in the bowels of your home. The pump sits in a pit in the basement floor or crawlspace and the floor around it is slanted slight downhill so any water will flow into the pit. Then the sump pump ejects the water out of the house.

I know you hate crawling in these dark recesses but the pump is an important part of your house and it functions to remove ground water from underneath your house. Without your sump pump, water coming up from the ground, or flowing from a heavy rain can flood your basement or whole house. You need to take proper care of it so it functions correctly at all times.

You need to clean the “pit” the sump pump sits in at least once a year to get out the sludge. Yuck. Necessary, but still – YUCK. Make sure you have enough light, turn off the pump and disable any sinks or other appliances that you have draining into the pit (yes, it’s illegal but people do it all the time).Now, disconnect the pump from the electrical outlet and the discharge pipe. Put the sump pump in a large bucket. Take the pump outside in the bucket and squirt it off with the hose to get it clean of the all the sludge deposits on it.

Go back inside and using a dry/wet vacuum remove the rest of the water from the pit and scrape the sludge from the edges of the pit. It can smell pretty bad so be sure you have proper ventilation (a fan helps).

Now, reconnect everything the way you took it off and you are back in business for another year. See, not too bad. It’s a bit like some of the other filters and stuff I have you cleaning on a yearly basis. I am all about keeping your house happy and healthy. Just like you…..keeping the sludge to a minimum.

To women holding hammers,

Jo Ellen Soesbee, the ToolBox TomGirl

Small Investment, Big Transformation: 5 Projects that will Transform Your Home without Putting You in the Poor House

July 19, 2013

Me and my ToolBox TomGirl truck
outside the WomanTalk Live studio.

Summer is a great time for home improvement projects. But if we’re not careful, even “little” projects can add up to big bucks.

I was thrilled to appear on WomanTalk Live on July 13 to share ways you, too, can transform your home on a budget via 5 summer projects that give you a lot of “WOW!” for your money.

Click here to enjoy to the show!

To big transformations with small investments,

JoEllen Soesbee, the ToolBox TomGirl

Freshen up with paint

June 7, 2013


You can freshen up just about any room with a new paint job. It doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. Don’t get overwhelmed with the painting because you don’t know the basics or don’t have the proper tools and knowledge. Painting can be relaxing and is very rewarding. You get to see what you did for a long time (hopefully not too many of you screamed when you read that). With that little knowledge you can take some of the scary stuff out of painting.

A gallon of interior paint costs anywhere from $12-$50 or more, depending on the quality. Painting a 12×12 foot room, both walls and ceiling, will most likely cost around $25-$100. Add to that the cost of your primer, brushes, rollers, drop cloths and other miscellaneous items ($10-$50).

  1. Hiring a contractor to paint for you will cost approximately $200 – $400 for the same 12×12 room. This does not include the price of painting the ceiling.
  2. Remember the saying “you get what you pay for”, if you buy cheap paint you will get cheap results. My favorite paint is from Sherwin Williams but Home Depot and Lowe’s also have good quality paints at a fair price.
  3. Painting requires prep work. If you want the job done right you want to be sure to tape the edges, remove door handles, remove the switch plate covers (TURN OFF THE ELECTRICITY) and other decorative fixtures.
  4. Do not take shortcuts with supplies: cheap paint brushes leave streaky marks and lose the bristles, cheap paint rollers leave fuzz on the wall, and cheap paint will take more than one coat.
  5. Cover all furniture and flooring with something that will not let the paint go through to what is below.
  6. Paint all crown molding, baseboards and wainscoting.

Hint: A quote from a contractor for painting may be cheaper in the winter, early spring or late fall (off-season.

Okay, now go on and paint that room or call someone else to do the work for you. You know the basics and can make an informed choice.

To freshening up with paint,

Jo Ellen Soesbee, the ToolBox TomGirl


How Long Will It Last

June 6, 2013


This time of year we find out about leaking roofs, HVAC systems that don’t want to cool, and if luck has it and we had a great tax refund, we buy new appliances. I remind you to buy quality products from a reputable company. Remember to check licenses and warranties.

If you do your homework you can expect your money to be wisely invested. Below is the list of common “major” expenditures around your home and how long you can expect them to last.

Heating (let’s hope you don’t this now that spring is in the air)

  • Forced air furnace – 10 to 25 years
  • Water boiler (welded steel) 15 to 30 years
  • Water boiler (cast iron) 30 to 50 years

Air Conditioning

  • Central air – 10 to 15 years
  • Window air conditioner – 10 to 20 years


  • Standard asphalt shingles – 12 to 15 years
  • Premium asphalt shingles – 15 to 30 years
  • Slate tile – 40 to 80 years
  • Wood shingles – 10 to 20 years
  • Rolled roofing – 5 to 15 years
  • Metal – 60 years


  • Dishwasher – 5 to 12 years
  • Garbage disposal – 5 to 12 years
  • Oven – 15 to 20 years
  • Washer – 5 to 15 years
  • Dryer – 10 to 25 years

Remember – you get what you pay for! Shop wisely.

To buying quality products,

Jo Ellen Soesbee, the ToolBox TomGirl

What’s all the buzzzzz about?

June 5, 2013

Carpenter Bee Burrowing Into a Deck

Have you noticed the bomber bees? These are the black bees that seem to hover around when you are sitting on the deck. I used to laugh and say they were drones that were trying to listen in on my personal conversations.

Because it is springtime, it is mating time for the bees and you may have begun to notice them around your house.

These black bees are carpenter bees. Some refer to them as wood bees because they love to bore holes in the wood around your home to raise their families. The bee looks very similar to a bumblebee but the carpenter bee has a black abdomen where the bumblebee has a black and yellow abdomen. They help pollinate flowers and though they will buzz real close to you, they rarely sting. The male carpenter bee doesn’t have a stinger. The female has a stinger but she stays in the nest to protect it and will sting only if threatened.

If you have wood bees, you will know because you will notice small holes in the wood around your home (deck, eaves, and walls). The holes are about this size of your finger and you will see what looks like sawdust around the holes. But, I hate to tell you – it’s not sawdust, it is feces (yup, poop that looks like sawdust – I guess if you eat wood you eliminate wood).

The bees build their nests in the wood by boring holes (about 1” wide and as long as 6’ or more). The bees tend to return to where they, themselves hatched out. As a result damage can build up over time from them drilling holes and excavating tunnels. The bees deposit an egg at the end of each tunnel and leave a ball of pollen for the larva to feed upon before sealing up the tunnel. Larvae tend to be noisy so they then attract woodpeckers that can cause further damage to the house.

The good part is that they work very slowly. If you deal with them quickly you can minimize the damage to your home. Below are some ideas on how to keep the bees away and then deter them from returning next spring.

1.    Pour almond oil in and around the carpenter bee holes. Carpenter bees do not like this oil and it will drive them away and discourage them from returning to their nests. Look into the holes with a flashlight to make sure the bees and larvae are evacuated. This could take up to three months. (Make sure you fill the empty holes with a steel wool pad and seal opening with wood filler or wire mesh. Leave in place until you can replace the damaged sections of wood).

2.    Apply paint or varnish to the wood around your home. Carpenter bees prefer untreated wood, and this will deter them from building a nest. Be certain to coat all sections including the underside of trim.

3.    Apply a botanical pesticide if efforts to drive the carpenter bees away fail. This may occur with large infestations. Common pesticides include neem oil and pyrethrins that come in oils, sprays or dusts.

4.    Discourage them from returning to old tunnels for over wintering or laying new eggs, by plugging the holes with wire or aluminum balls covered with a caulked fill. Put several coats of an oil-based stain or paint over the area to deter the bees from returning. (Catch the hole early – it takes the female six days to bore an inch and you can possibly vacuum out the female. Then caulk over the hole before a nest is built. You can caulk her into the nest, but she will die in there rather than boring her way back out). Please don’t kill her – we need these bees to pollinate our flowers and crops.

5.    Paint using oil-based paints. Carpenter bees avoid oil-based paints as well as wood covered in bark. Most carpenter bees will avoid hard wood as well, so choose oak over pine when building.

6.    Use vinyl or fiber cement trim or siding on the outside of your home.

7.    Or, my favorite – using your DIY skills, make a home for them and take them somewhere else to live (NOT your neighbor’s house). They will come back to it each year and leave your house alone. Give your bees a structure of soft wood with a straight grain for easiest access. Leave it untreated. You could even go so far as to drill a small half-inch hole in it. This will encourage your carpenter bees to nest here. Carpenter bees will stay with a nest, generation after generation, rather than seeking out and building a new nest. According to Ohio State University entomology department, the female bores in for 2 inches, turns and bores another 6 inches, so make sure your structure allows this much space.

Hope you have a buzz free spring and summer with the tips I have given you.

To being buzz free,

Jo Ellen Soesbee, the ToolBox TomGirl


Paint Perfect

June 4, 2013

Painting a wall

I love painting. NOT. Because I don’t like to paint I have learned many simple strategies to make it go faster and look better in the process. This week I am going to share some of my secrets (okay – my painters secrets too) with you. Later, if you know of any that you want to share with me – please do.

  1. Preserve your paint by keeping the lid tight when not in use. To keep the lid clear of paint build up, punch a few holes in the channel where the lid fits to allow all the paint to drain back into the can.
  2. New drywall MUST have drywall primer on it before you begin your painting. Make sure you use drywall primer – nothing else will do the job.
  3. Paint your room in the right order. Top down. Cut in the ceiling with a brush being sure to get all the edges. Then you roll the rest (roll the paint on from the ceiling edge backwards). Allow the paint to dry and move on to your walls. Put painters tape on the trim so the leading edge slightly covers the molding so that the paint will not seep underneath. Cut in the ceiling, corners and baseboards. Begin with a paint-heavy stroke about ½ inch from the joint and then use a second lighter stroke to smooth the paint out to the joint. The jury is still out on whether or not you should do the woodwork before or after. I think that in rooms with a lot of woodwork it is easier to do it first and keep a clean line around the edges afterwards. But, you have to decide this one yourself.
  4. Having the right brush is extremely important. Don’t buy the cheap one that has the bristles falling out (you get what you pay for). If you tug on it gently and you come away with some, you will be wasting time pulling them off your freshly painted wall. Use synthetic brushes with latex or oil-based paints and natural bristle brushes only with oil based paints. Sash brushes have the angled head and are great for your sharp lines. Stain brushes are stubby with short bristles (this keeps the stain from dripping).
  5. Having the right roller is another important choice you will need to make. The smoother the surface, the shorter the cover nap should be. For most of my painting jobs I choose a good quality polyester or nylon cover. They can both be used on either latex or oil based paints. Foam rollers are pretty nice also and can be used to apply smooth coats for less cost. Make sure you “defuzz” the roller before using it. I usually run my hand up and down it a few times getting the extra fuzz off or you can wrap tape around it so when you take the tape off the extra fuzz will be gone.
  6. Finally, light up your life when painting. You need extra light when painting so that you can see the entire room without shadows. You want to have a smooth, clean finish on the walls with no drips, smudges or missed spots. Work lights are reasonable at your local hardware store and I guarantee you will use it for other projects in your home.

To women holding paintbrushes,

Jo Ellen Soesbee, the ToolBox TomGirl


February 10, 2013

No one ever told me that you could not grind up all your leftovers or peelings in the garbage disposal. I thought it was a Food Dispose ALL. I am here to give you some good advice and save you frustration time and money.

Do NOT grind up your leftovers, peelings, the dinner leftovers, or the crap from your refrigerator that’s un-identifiable. Really. No matter what you think and what it says on the box, this is not going to keep your garbage disposal in working condition.

Here is my advice on garbage disposal etiquette. You can choose to take it or pay me later to come fix the monster under your sink (the one that growls at you from time to time).

  1. Scrape the leftovers into the trash can and then rinse the rest into the garbage disposal. Run cold water during and immediately after putting anything in the hole.
  2. Do not try to ground up fibrous foods such as banana peels, corn husks, celery, or plant vines.
  3. If you want to fix your disposal yourself be sure to unplug it and turn it off. Check out to see if anything is stuck inside and clear it out. Insert your Allen wrench into the socket at the bottom of the disposal and turn it to try and free the jam. Turn your disposal back on and if it doesn’t work make sure you press the red reset button on the bottom (the button will be popped out if it has been tripped).
  4. If you have a disposal with no place on the bottom for the Allen wrench, you can stick a wooden broom handle in the hole and try to turn the flywheel. Again, try the reset button.

a.    If the water backs up while the disposal is working correctly, the problem is in the drain pipe, not the disposal.
b.    Do not use a disposal if you have a septic system because too much food waste will interfere with the normal decomposition of septic waste.
c.    To keep the disposal smelling fresh, grind up lemon or lime rinds every once in awhile.
d.    To keep the disposal assembly clean, grind up ice cubes every once in awhile.

Ladies, always remember that the systems we use in our lives (including our disposals) operate under the rule that if you put too much garbage in, you will clog. Or, even worse, get too much garbage out.

Here’s an extra tip: If the disposal will not turn on (no noise) than the problem is electrical. You may need a new switch, the circuit may have tripped, or the garbage disposal is dead.

To garbage disposal etiquette,

Jo Ellen Soesbee, the ToolBox TomGirl

Elder Bathroom Safety

February 10, 2013

Handicapped Access Bathroom Shower
This is not a story on how to take care of your aging bathroom. That will be another day when I talk about awesome renovations. Today is about changing your (or your parents) bathroom so that it is safer and more user friendly.

First, let me start with a disclaimer. I am a Baby Boomer and I am over 54 years old. I do not have any parents living but my friends and customers do.

We’ve all heard horrific stories of the elderly being injured in the bathroom. Bathrooms are one of the most dangerous areas in a house. For your Mom or Dad the bathroom can be a real hazard.

“Falls are the leading cause of death from injuries among older persons and the death rate from falls continues to climb. Each year, one in three Americans age 65 and older fall and almost a third of them need medical treatment as a result,” according to the AARP. Did you know that research shows that 75 percent of household accidents happen in the bathroom? This is why it is so important that you provide a safe bathroom as you age.

For most of our Moms and Dads, remaining in their home to live an independent lifestyle is extremely important. Whether they move in with you or stay on their own it is critical that you provide a safe home environment. One of those needs may be to renovate the bathroom to fit their needs.

I have learned that there are certain items that need to be attended to. Here is a short list to help you get started.

  • Non-slip rugs
  • Install grab bars
  • Bright lights
  • Bathtub or shower renovations to allow for easy access
  • Safety bars near the toilet and sink

To keeping our elders safe,

Jo Ellen Soesbee, the ToolBox TomGirl

Have you forgotten?

February 10, 2013

A studio shot of a standard construction safety equipment

I recently returned from a meeting for the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) where we were reminded about job safety. Hearing some of the things I already knew (but wasn’t necessarily doing), made me think about making some changes in my daily habits. Again.

The information I was given was more for contractors but it made me wonder how many of you DIY’ers have gotten lax in your safety precautions also. Hmmmmm. Wonder how many of you remember these things AND do them?

  1. Have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen (one that has been inspected yearly)
  2. Know the tools in your toolbox, what they are made for, and only use them for that reason
  3. Keep your knives and tools with sharp blades – in a safe place, and sharp
  4. Know and use the 4-to-1 rule for ladders (bet you don’t even know what that is, do you?) – it is designed to remind you that when you are using a straight ladder you are supposed to position the ladder base 1ft away from the wall for every 4ft of ladder height (ladder safety is my worst) – oh, and you don’t stand on the top or next-to-the-top step on a ladder (smirk)
  5. Remember to check to be sure the power is OFF before you plug or unplug an electrical appliance or tool into the electrical outlet (you could lose a finger or two if it is on and starts spinning out of control. I have seen this and it is NOT pretty)
  6. Have the numbers for the poison center, emergency personnel, and your point of contact where someone (including you) can find them in case of emergency
  7. Know that you should only use rubber handled tools when doing any electrical work (as well as rubber soled shoes)
  8. Know that a hard hat has an expiration date (oh – you don’t wear them at home, do you? – guess that was for me). I never knew this before this weekend.
  9. Know that not cleaning out the lint filter and dryer exhaust hose can lead to a house fire
  10. Know that to lift a heavy object you should bend at the knees, hold the load close to your body, and then use your legs (not your arms) to lift the load.

I could go on and on with more of these but I need to stop at 10 because I don’t want you to get overwhelmed and not do any of them. Really, when was the last time you saw a “Mr. Yuck” sticker or looked at your emergency contact list? I can tell you that for me it has been at least 10 years. And yes, I do have visitors with little kids who come to my house, and yes, I have had an accident where I needed my doctor’s number and could not find it. So, enough said.

Here’s to you being a prepared and safe, DIY woman. Hold on to that hammer!

Jo Ellen Soesbee, the ToolBox TomGirl

He NEVER Listens to me!

February 10, 2013

Oh no! It's coming this way!

He never listens to me! How many times have we said that about our boyfriend, husband, son, and boss? Well, let me tell you that what is only a nuisance at home can be critical on the job.
My man on the job (whom I will call Bob-the-Builder in order to protect the innocent), has a tendency to also tune me out. And, because this one particular day he was not listening I was up to my eyeballs in water, and I was not happy.

I was standing in the customers bathtub while Bob-the-Builder was working across the room on the double sink faucet replacement (he gets the hard work of going under the counter). I was asking questions about the replacement set I was about to put on the shower. Bob-the-Builder must have been pretty occupied because when I asked “Did you shut off the water?” he responded that I did not have to shut it off to replace the shower set. I distinctly remember my brain screaming “shut off the water, shut off the water,” but of course I ignored that little voice and went about what I was doing.

Whoosh – I can’t even begin to put into words what happened next. It was a straight out rapid shooting at me directly. There was water spewing out of the faucet at about 600 miles an hour – right at my face, chest and darn-it, my hair!  I was so shocked at first that I did not react. Then after the water reached my ankles (which was VERY quickly), I screamed “TURN OFF THE WATER.” Bob-the-Builder was laughing so hard I thought he was going to have a conniption right there and leave me to drown. Finally he pulled himself together, ran down the steps and turned off the main water valve.

To add insult to injury he came back up the steps and said “Hey, you’re the boss – why didn’t you tell me you wanted the water turned off?” What???  He said he had turned his off at the sink and he thought that when I said “Did you shut off the water?” I was talking about his water. Noooooo. That was not right because he has responded that I did not need to shut it off to replace the shower set. “Oh”, said Bob-the-Builder, I guess I wasn’t listening. (Imagine that).

Luckily I wear black shirts and not a see-through-when-its-wet white one (it could have been embarrassing). I worked the rest of the time in extremely wet clothes and then had to walk out of the house barefoot in order to keep my wet shoes off the carpet.

Life as a handywoman can be exciting and a whole lot like being married. Next time I will hit him on the head with a frying pan (or small hammer) and “make” him listen. Oh – and next time that little voice in my head tells me something, even if I already know – I might just listen better.

To better listening,

Jo Ellen Soesbee, the ToolBox TomGirl