Let’s say you want to install a bath exhaust fan in a bathroom that doesn’t have one. You’ll need to cut the wall or ceiling where the fan will go and you’ll also likely need to make holes in the wall or ceiling to run electrical wiring.
In the photo above, you can see that I made two types of openings:
Making a Circular Opening
For the circular opening, I just used a hole saw attached to a drill. The benefit of this is it creates a clean, perfectly circular hole and you can reuse the cut drywall later to patch the hole. This type of hole can be made anywhere – it doesn’t need to be near or over a stud or joist.
Patching a Circular Opening
To patch a circular opening, I use a 1″x3″ piece of furring strip wood.
Drill a screw in the middle of the piece of furring strip and insert the wood into the hole as pictured below. Then, drill 2 screws while pulling the long center screw so that the wood doesn’t move around. Now you’ve created a backing for the drywall to be screwed in to.
Remove the center screw and screw the drywall into the wood.
Making a Square Opening
For the square opening, I like to use a reciprocating saw – specifically, the Milwaukee 12V mini cordless saw because it’s small and lightweight. Use a stud finder to find the studs or joists and draw an outline of the square you want to make such that the square (or rectangle) goes to each stud or joist. Then, try to make a clean rectangular cut so that you can reuse the drywall.
Patching a Square Opening
To patch a square opening, I use a 2×4 piece of wood to furr out the studs or joists to create a backing into which the drywall will be screwed. Pre-drive the screws into the wood a little bit and then clamp the wood to the joists to make fastening the wood piece easier.
I recently had to rebuild a bunch of fences on a new rental property. As you may already know, the hardest part is digging the holes and building the frame. This article explains step by step how to quickly and correctly build a fence frame.
1. Run string from one end of new fence to the other end near the ground
In order for the fence to be straight, we need to make a straight line from both ends. Since we haven’t dug holes yet, we put the string near the ground so we can mark where we want the holes for the fence posts to go.
2. Mark post hole locations
Depending on the existence of neighboring fences, we may or may not need posts at the ends. Mark where the post holes will go. Each fence panel between posts will be 8′ long. For marking the locations, you can you use a wood stake, metal stake, flag stake, or spray paint. I prefer using flag stakes.
3. Dig fence post holes
Normally people use 8′ long 4×4 pressure treated wood for fence posts. If you do that, then the horizontal 2x4s (rails) will have to be toenailed into it or secured using metal brackets.
Either way, that’s a lot of work, especially if you later decide to make adjustments. Also, the wood can rot and weaken over time. For these reasons, I just spend the extra money and buy steel fence posts.
The post hole diameter should be about 3 times the width of the post. Since the steel posts are 3.5″ wide, then the hole should be about 10.5″ in diameter.
Post hole depth
The post hole depth should be 1/3 to 1/2 the post height above the ground. Since we want our fence to be the standard 6′ tall, and the steel posts are 7.5′ long, we’ll make our holes 2.5′ deep.
Top of fence
The height of the fence post and the top rail above ground will be 5′. Therefore, the top one foot of the 6′ tall vertical fence boards will be above the top rail. The problem with this is that top one foot portion of the fence boards can warp.
To fix this, you can screw a horizontal piece of wood (2×3 or 2×4) at or near the top of the fence boards on the side where the fence rails are.
Soak the ground
Before digging holes. you’ll want to soak the ground, preferably overnight. This will make it much easier come time to dig. The deeper you dig, the harder the soil. One way to soak the hole locations is placing a tube for concrete where each hole would be. These tubes are 4 ‘ long so you can cut them in half.
To secure the tubes, you can dig a small hole first using a hand digger.
Or, you can just use a jack hammer with spade bit to make a circle the diameter of the tube. The tube would then be inserted into the circle.
With the tube in place, you can fill it with water and let it drain slowly directly where you want to dig holes.
To dig holes, the easiest and cleanest way is to use a gas-powered earth auger. You can rent one from the Home Depot ($55 for 4 hours). You can choose from a variety of auger bit diameters. Choose a 10″ or 12″ diameter auger bit.
When you are digging, if you can’t dig any deeper, then stop and pour water into the hole and let the water drain. You can then dig again.
You may run into roots and rocks while digging with the auger. In this case, you’ll need to cut the roots using a reciprocating saw or break up the rocks using a jack hammer.
4. Insert posts and secure rails
Now that you have 2.5′ deep holes, you can insert the steel posts in them and screw 3 horizontal pressure-treated 2×4 rails between the posts.
Since each hole diameter is about 10″ or 12″ in diameter, and each post is 3.5″ wide, you have room to move each post so that a standard 8′ long 2×4 will fit between each post. Screwing the 2x4s in place before pouring concrete helps ensure the posts are plumb.
5. Plumb and brace the posts
To ensure the fence is straight from one end to the other, tie a string at both the top and bottom of both end posts. Then adjust the position of each post in between and using a fence post level, check for plumb.
To hole the posts in place, brace them using stakes. I prefer hitting a 2′ long steel stake straight into the ground and then screwing piece of wood horizontally between the steel stake and the post. The steel stakes are pre-drilled. There should be two braces perpendicular to each other to hold the post plumb.
Pour the dry concrete mix in the hole up to 3-4 inches below the ground. Then pour 1 gallon of water for every 50 lb of concrete mix. The mix will set hard in 20 to 40 minutes. If you are unsure if the concrete will completely mix with the water, you can divide the concrete and water in half and or a third and work progressively.
So, in my 2 story house my internet modem is in the family room in the back of the house. The internet comes over coaxial cable by Comcast xFinity 1Gbps. There is a security camera at the front of the house facing the driveway. Every now and then, the security camera would go offline. To spread wifi all over the house, I have the tp-link deco M9 plus AC2200 mesh wifi router (3 wifi access points). The backhaul between access points is wifi, unfortunately. I can’t have a wired ethernet backhaul between access points because running ethernet cable would require opening up walls which is a lot of work. Fortunately, however, there is existing coaxial cabling throughout the house. So, I can use MoCA (Multimedia over Coax Alliance) adapters to bridge ethernet over coax so I can have a wired coax backhaul between access points. This allows the wifi signal at each access point to be much stronger than with a wifi backhaul. There are many diagrams and tutorials online but none that I found were clear enough hence this blog post. Below is my setup with a diagram which should make it clear what goes where.
The continuity tester doesn’t work through splitters. Once you’ve tested all cables, you can label them in your junction box like I did below. As you can see, there is a 1 – 2 splitter where the one input is the coax cable from xfinity. The two outputs each go to the master bedroom and family room.
I added a new coax cable to go to the garage but it’s not connected in the picture because I need to add another splitter or replace the existing splitter with a 1-3 (or more) splitter. For MoCA to work, you need a splitter that
is not amplified
goes up to at least 1.5 Ghz (1500 Mhz)
Before and After
You can also bridge ethernet over your home’s existing electrical wiring using Powerline adapters, e.g.
However, these adapters don’t work if there’s a surge suppressor. Also, there’s a lot more activity in your home electrical wiring that could interfere with the signal, e.g. from the refrigerator, hair dryers, air conditioners, washing machines, and other appliances.
At one of my rental properties, I had some really ugly grass on the on both sides of the property and a jungle of weeds in the back. The space was wasted because not could or wanted to use it.
The previous owners (investors) didn’t want to / know how to maintain the property so I was able to get buy it from them at a discount.
I decided to replace most of the grass (weeds) with concrete indicated in neon green below. I wanted the grass at the remaining areas indicated in dark green to be removed at a depth of 3 inches to place 3/4″ Ginger rock / Sonoma Gold rock. I also wanted to plant ten 15 gallon Italian Cypress trees along the eastern fence.
Here’s how the project went from start to finish.
Day 1: Hauling and Dumping Garbage
Day 2: Removing Grass and Dirt
Day 3: Removing Grass, Dirt, and Old Concrete Slabs
Day 4: Installing Wood Boundaries
Day 5: Pouring and Spreading Gravel
Day 6: Compacting Gravel and Installing Rebar and Weed Fabric
Day 7: Finishing Rebar Installation & Watering Yard
Let’s face it. Garages have been storage spaces rather than places to park your car. Here’s one approach to organizing your garage so that you can still fit your car in it.
1. Build a shelf
You can buy shelving, including heavy duty restaurant-grade ones with wheels which are expensive, or you can just follow the instructions at this YouTube video on how to make a simple set of shelves out of 2x4s.
Twist ties are very useful for tying up cables. Available on Amazon.
5. Place related items together
For example, the picture below is of a bin labeled “Fasteners” which includes nails, screws, bolts, etc. Loose items are placed in appropriately-sized bags. Others are just placed directly in the bin unless their box or plastic container is mostly empty in which case I’d transfer the contents to a bag to not waste space.
In the photo below, the bin is label “Plumbing”. Not everything needs to be in a bag, like the PVC glue. Loose items or small parts that go together with larger parts are bagged so they don’t get lost.
6. Label bins
You can label bins using a label maker. I wanted larger labels so I printed category names on white paper, laminated it, and bolted it to the bins.
By now, your garage should feel a lot bigger and you won’t keep buying things you already have and you won’t spend forever looking for things.
UPDATE: July 29, 2021
Instead of laminating printed sheets of paper, I found a simpler, more flexible solution. Just buy clear sheet protectors for 3 ring binders. $5.00 on Amazon for thin ones. $20 on Amazon for thick, 5.5 mil vinyl ones (preferred). Just drill two holes in the plastic bins where the 2 outer sleeve holes are and fasten using a small bolt with a washer. Then, print your labels and insert them from the side.
I’m bad with plants, and you probably are too. Whatever I plant just seems to die. And even with Home Depot’s 1 year return return policy, who’s gonna wanna dig up and return a plant with its roots and all and dirty up their car to take it to the Home Depot for $50.
There is one plant (or tree, actually) that anyone (in California) can plant without worry of it dying. This set-it-and-forget-it tree is the Italian Cypress. There are so many great things about this tree, it’s no wonder it adds value to your property.
Fast Growing Tall trees are expensive. You can buy this tree short and the regular Italian Cypress tree will grow up to 3 feet per year.
Very Hardy The Italian Cypress tree is hardy (will survive) down to 10° F. Obviously not a problem in California where it seems to just get hotter and hotter every year.
Drought Tolerant With increasing temperatures and less rain in California by the year, water is becoming less available and more expensive. Some locations may even prohibit watering your lawn or garden during certain periods. This is not a problem with the Italian Cypress tree. I stopped watering mine and they still look alive and green.
Evergreen, Non-deciduous The Italian Cypress tree is an evergreen tree meaning that it’s green forever (all year long). It is non-deciduous meaning that it doesn’t lose its leaves for part of the year. This is great because it’s low maintenance. My neighbor’s trees are deciduous and every winter, their leaves dirty up my front yard and I have to clean it up. With the Italian Cypress tree, there’s nothing to clean up and it looks alive all year long – no temporary death!
Fertilizer The Italian Cypress tree doesn’t even need fertilizer. Just dig a hole, put the tree ball in, back fill, give it some water, and you’re done.
Readily Available The Italian Cypress tree is readily available at the Home Depot all year long. It’s also available at Costco for about half the price but Costco only has it in early Spring 🙁
Most places sell the regular Italian Cypress tree but there’s also a dwarf version. Here are the specs for each.
Dwarf Italian Cypress
Cupressus sempervirens Compacta
7-9 ft. in 10 years 25-30 ft. at maturity
35-40 ft. in 10 years or Trim to Desired Height
Grows Well In Zones:
Down to 10° F
Down to 10° F
Planting and Care for Dwarf Italian Cypress Trees
1. Planting: First, select a location with well-drained soil and full sun – any area with 6 to 8 hours of sunlight is ideal.
When you’re ready to plant, dig a hole that’s about one and a half to two times the size of your plant’s root ball, place the Dwarf Italian Cypress in the hole, back fill the soil and water to settle the roots.
2. Watering: Once established, your Dwarf Italian Cypress is moderately drought tolerant, but it’s important to have a regular watering schedule for the first couple of growing seasons. Water about once weekly or check the surrounding soil near your Cypress – if the surrounding soil is dry about 2 or 3 inches down, it’s time to water.
3. Fertilizing: Apply a well-balanced, general purpose fertilizer to your Dwarf Italian Cypress in early spring, before new growth begins.
Planting and Care for Regular Italian Cypress Trees
1. Planting: Italian Cypress Trees are drought tolerant and like to be on the dry side, so choose a location with full to partial sun (4 to 8 hours of sunlight daily) in well-drained soil.
Then, dig a hole that is just as deep but twice as wide as the root ball of the plant. Place the plant in the hole to check the depth. If the soil of the root ball is below the level of the soil of the surrounding ground, pick up the tree and add more soil to the hole. Fill in the hole with the same native soil you removed then water the tree by counting to 20 or by giving it five full watering cans full of water.
2. Watering: Irrigate your newly-planted tree twice a week for the first month, once a week for the next two months and every two weeks after the first three months. Water your Italian Cypress if you have warm, dry, and windy weather during the winter in your area.
3. Fertilizing: This tree isn’t fussy about soil. It grows equally well in clay, loam, or sandy soils. It also does not need routine fertilizing.
Let’s say you want to do some home improvement somewhere besides your, e.g. at one of your rental properties. You may be tempted to just bring a few tools related to the job you’re going to work on. What often happens, though, is you end up realizing you need another tool that you didn’t expect to need. Once you do that a few times, you then realize you need a way to just bring ALL your tools so you don’t waste time going back and forth. But how can you bring all your tools? Below is how I bring most tools to a remote worksite. I find this setup works very well.
Heavy Duty Stackable Tool Boxes with Wheels
There are many toolboxes on the market but some are overpriced. I went with the Ridgid ones below.
In the photo above, I have stacked four boxes. The problem, though, is the handle is below the top-most box and it tends to hit your hand which is painful. So, I just stack 3 boxes and the small parts box is lightweight enough to carry by hand.
Following is a description of each box.
Small Parts Box
Unlike other small parts boxes, this one has a robust locking mechanism so when you carry it around, the latch doesn’t accidentally open and spill all your parts everywhere.
I only put the parts I use the most like
screws in various lengths (T-25 star head in lengths 1-1/4″, 1-5/8″, 2″, 2-1/2″, 3″)
various metal screws shorter than 1-1/4″
Wago wire connectors (better than wire nuts)
plastic wire clamps in 3 different sizes
plastic ribbed drywall anchors
For small or few items, I put them in 4 mil 4″ x 6″ clear zip lock bags.
Using a label maker, I label the screws by length.
For the plastic basket, I use this for long items like the 2′ long level and for items specific to a particular task, e.g. if I’m building a new fence, I put string, plumb level tool, knee pads, etc.
In the toolbox below, I put various small tools grouped by category in 12″ x 12″ 6 Mil Zip Lock clear bags. These are relatively thick plastic bags so they don’t puncture easily. In the tray, I put things that don’t fit into the other categories, e.g. because they are too long. The categories of items are
electrical (wire stripper, multimeter, outlet tester, voltage sensor, voltage tester, small pliers)
Many homes come with one or, if you’re lucky, two exterior outlets. Depending on the shape and layout of your house, this may not be enough. You can pay someone to add exterior outlets but that could be pricey. Instead, here’s a simple way to add exterior outlets using components rated for outdoors.
Note that this plastic electrical box only has an opening on one side unlike others that have a open on the top and bottom. Since we don’t water to get in, we use this single hole box and install it such that the hole is at the bottom.
strip about 3 inches of the green outer jacket to expose the 3 wires (green, white, black) inside,
strip 1/2″ of the 3 wires and screw them into the appropriate terminals on the outlet.
screw the outlet into the electrical box
screw on the outlet cover
if you have an existing exterior outlet, you can simply plug the other end (male end) into that outlet. Otherwise, you can cut off the male end, drill a hole through the exterior wall where an interior outlet is and connect the wires to the interior outlet. WARNING: Turn off power to the interior outlet before doing this to avoid electrocution and a short circuit.
Secure the extension cord to the exterior of the building using the cable clamps. Or, bury the extension cord under dirt or rocks. Or, put the cord into a gray outdoor-rated PVC pipe and clamp the pipe using the gray plastic clamps.
Two exterior outlets in series
In this case, one of the electrical boxes will have two extension cords coming into it as shown in the picture below.
In this case, strip the wires again and connect them as usual. The outlet I’m using supports two wires for each black and white terminal so that was straightforward. The green (ground) terminal, however, only support one wire so I made a jumper wire, connected it to the green terminal, then connected the 3 open green wire ends to a 3-terminal Wago connector as shown below.
If you need to dig a hole to, say, plant a tree, there are a few different tools available to get the job done. Depending on the size and number of holes you need to make, here are some tools to consider.
SDS Plus Hammer
An SDS Plus rotary hammer uses an SDS Plus bit. It has 3 functions
You can use the hammer function with an SDS spade bit to break up hard soil. I have the Bosch Bulldog xTreme which is a popular SDS Plus rotary hammer.
It comes with a 6 in. diameter x 31 in. long auger bit and offers 45 ft. lbs. of torque and fast drilling speeds up to 320 RPM.
There are different bit sizes as well as an bit extension available.
If you use an auger, or any digging method for that matter, it’s good to soak the ground with water first. You can create a small hole first and then fill it with water so the water will seep down to soften the ground you want to remove.
You can also rent this towable auger for $118 per day but I found it very heavy and difficult to use.
You can also rent a mini skid steer with auger attachment. They cost $300 per day from the Home Depot.
You can also rent a mini excavator from the Home Depot for $300 per day.
Sometimes you might find a need to label your garbage cart, e.g. if you own a multi-family rental property and your tenants can’t remember which cart belongs to them. They may try to use their creative skills to label their carts themselves but the carts might come out like below which is illegible and makes the cart itself look like garbage.
You can try using a stencil and spray painting or hand painting the numbers on the cart but stencils are expensive and the results are usually not good either. Notice the blotchy edges below.
Use Google Docs to create a document with large address numbers on it. Print it on the vinyl decal sheets, ideally using a laser printer. Then, to reduce the possibility of the ink evaporating from the sun and increase waterproofness, spray a few coats of clear, glossy paint. Don’t spray thick coats at once since otherwise the clear paint will cause the ink to run. Just do multiple thin coats.
You can the just peel and stick the number on your garbage carts. In the picture below, my ink toner was low so the print results weren’t good. That went away after replacing the toner.