Garage Organization

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.

2. Buy transparent plastic containers

These clear boxes from IKEA are great. They’re also cheap. You don’t need to buy the lid.

3. Buy zip loc slider bags

Slider bags are better because they are more secure. I use a few different sizes.

2.5 gallon
1 gallon
1 quart
12″ x 12″ bag – 6 mil thickness

Available on Amazon

4″ x 6″ bags 4 mil thickness

Available on Amazon

3″ x 4″ bags

Available at Walmart

4. Buy twist ties

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.

Dwarf vs Regular Italian Cypress Trees

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 CypressItalian Cypress
Botanical NameCupressus sempervirens CompactaCupressus sempervirens
Deer ResistantYesYes
Drought TolerantYesYes
Mature Height7-9 ft. in 10 years
25-30 ft. at maturity
35-40 ft. in 10 years or
Trim to Desired Height
Mature Width2 ft.5 ft.
SunlightFull SunFull Sun
Growth Rate:SlowFast
Grows Well In Zones:7-10 outdoors7-11 outdoors
HardyDown to 10° FDown 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.

Pictures of Dwarf Italian Cypress Trees

Pictures of Regular Italian Cypress Trees

Tool Portability and Organization

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″)
  • drywall screws
  • various metal screws shorter than 1-1/4″
  • zip ties
  • metal washers
  • Wago wire connectors (better than wire nuts)
  • plastic wire clamps in 3 different sizes
  • plastic ribbed drywall anchors
  • rubber bands
  • etc

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)
  • reciprocating saw blades
  • writing (pencils, markers, pencil sharpener, eraser, pen)
  • cutting (scissors, tin snips, utility knife, pvc pipe cutter)
  • gloves
  • various sizes of flathead screwdrivers
  • various sizes of philips screwdrivers
  • socket set and socket adapters
  • various sizes of chisels
  • various sizes of hex keys
  • measuring tools (hard tape measure, laser distance measure, angle measuring tool, soft tape measure)
  • various drill / driver specialty bits
  • various angle grinder blades and attachments
  • various mini circular saw blades
  • stud finders (magnetic, electrical)
  • various oscillating tool attachments
  • various wrenches

The bottom-most box that has the wheels is used for power tools and a few other tools.

  • hammer
  • sledge hammer
  • rubber mallet
  • paint stirrer
  • drill
  • driver
  • reciprocating saw
  • oscillating tool
  • angle grinder
  • orbital sander
  • mini circular saw
  • jig saw
  • clamps

Easily Add Exterior Outlets To Your Home

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.

Materials

Leviton 15 Amp 125-Volt Duplex Self-Test Tamper Resistant/Weather Resistant GFCI Outlet – $19

Cantex 1-Gang FSE Electrical Box – $7

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.

1-Gang Extra Duty Non-Metallic While-In-Use Weatherproof Horizontal/Vertical Receptacle Cover with Wasp Guard – $9

Gardner Bender 3/8 in. 1-Hole Plastic Cable Clamps – (15-Pack) – $1

HDX 50 ft. 16/3 Indoor/Outdoor Landscape Extension Cord, Green – $15

Instructions

One exterior outlet

  1. Cut off the female end of the extension cord,
  2. strip about 3 inches of the green outer jacket to expose the 3 wires (green, white, black) inside,
  3. strip 1/2″ of the 3 wires and screw them into the appropriate terminals on the outlet.
  4. screw the outlet into the electrical box
  5. screw on the outlet cover
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

Different Tools To Dig a Hole

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

  • drill
  • hammer drill
  • hammer

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.

Amps8
Max speed1300 rpm
Blow energy2 ft lb
Blows per minute5800 BPM
Chuck typeSDS Plus
Weight11 lbs
Price$200

Some SDS Plus bits you can use are

Bosch Bulldog Xtreme 2-1/2 in. x 10 in. SDS-Plus Hammer Steel Self-Sharpening Wide Chisel – $26

3 in. x 6.5 in. SDS-Plus Scaling Chisel – $25

If you need to longer bit, you can buy an SDS Plus bit extension. But, be careful as I believe it’s designed more for drilling rather than hammering.

Milwaukee PLUSLOK 18 in. SDS-PLUS Carbide Bit Extension – $100

SDS Max Hammer

The next step up from an SDS Plus hammer is the SDS Max hammer. This one is from Harbor Freight. It also has 3 functions.

HERCULES 12 Amp 1-9/16 In. SDS Max-Type Variable Speed Rotary Hammer

Amps12
Max speed515 rpm
Blow energy6 ft lb
Blows per minute2900 BPM
Chuck typeSDS Max
Weight15 lbs
Price$230

This hammer is 4 lbs heavier than the previous one but has 3 times the blow power.

Some SDS Max bits you can use are

WARRIOR 4-1/2 In. SDS Max Type Clay Spade Bit – $43

This bit is 18 inches long.

1-1/8″ Hex Jackhammer

Next up would be a full on 1-1/8″ Hex Shank Jackhammer. This is normally used for breaking concrete. This is only a hammer. It cannot drill. For example

XtremepowerUS Heavy Duty Demolition Jack hammer – $180

Amps15
Max speedN/A
Blow energy55 ft lb
Blows per minute1800 BPM
Chuck type1-1/8″ hex shank
Weight45 lbs
Price$180

This hammer is MUCH heavier (by 30 lbs) than the previous one but has 9 times the blow power.

Some 1-1/8″ hex shank bits you can use are

Neiko 02627 Clay Spade Chisel Bit for Demolition Hammers, Alloy Steel | 1-1/8″ Hex Shank | 17.5-inch Length – $43

Gas-powered Auger

You can rent a gas-powered auger from the Home Depot for $78 per day or buy one from Harbor Freight.

PREDATOR Gas Powered Earth Auger – $230

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.

Excavator

You can also rent a mini excavator from the Home Depot for $300 per day.

Labeling Your Outdoor Garbage Carts

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.

An easier and better way is to print vinyl decals. You can buy a pack of 15 vinyl decal sheets for $7 on Amazon.

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.

Easily Remove a Fence Post Using a Farm Jack

If you need to remove a wood or steel fence post that’s stuck in the ground in concrete, you can do it yourself easily using a farm jack.

Tools / Materials Required

  • Farm jack ($50 at Harbor Freight)
  • 2×4 wood 48″ (4′) long (mine happened to be 53″ long)
  • Nut and bolt
  • 3 foot long chain
  • Spring link

Setup Instructions

  1. Drill a hole in one end of the 2×4 using a spade bit.
  2. Insert the bolt into 2×4 and through the top hole on the farm jack and secure using nut
  3. Connect both chain ends to the bottom hole on the farm jack using the spring link

How to Use

  1. Tilt the farm jack and the 2×4 such that the post is in the middle. This is necessary as the post will try to pull the farm jack towards it. The 2×4 acts to prop the farm jack in place.
  2. Put the chain around the post
  3. Put a piece of plywood under the farm jack to make a solid base so the farm jack doesn’t get pushed into the dirt
  4. Crank the lever up and down to raise the chain until the post come up out of the ground
Sprink links make quick work of connecting chains to holes
Removing a wood fence post
Removing a steel fence post

Strong, Non-Permanent A/C Window Support Mounting Bracket

Global warming seems to be making California hotter and hotter every year and I’m in Silicon Valley where temperatures are usually moderate. Last year there was a hot streak which pushed me to the brink of buying an A/C unit but the simple, portable ones were sold out or overpriced. It’s a good thing I didn’t get one because it turns out the window units are way more efficient. So, I ended up getting this Danby 8000 BTU Window Air Conditioner (Model DAC080EB7WDB) from Costco (sale price: $159). It’s Energy Star® compliant and cools areas up to 350 sq. ft. The problem is I’m worried it’ll fall out my 2nd story window. After searching everywhere for a non-permanent A/C window support mounting bracket, I ended up going with this 2 arm, drill-less, heavy duty bracket by Alpine Hardware. The thing is, after assembling and installing it, I felt that it wasn’t as strong as I’d like it to be. It’s supposed to grab on to the window frame or wall by the left and right adjustable arms but when fully extended, the metal would bend a bit.

So, I just bought some heavy duty L brackets and screwed them into the studs and window sill and screwed in a 2×3 piece of wood for increased strength.

I then removed the left and right adjustable arms and installed the A/C mount like this.

Here’s how it looks from the outside.

Now this is super strong. Although I have permanent screwed-in L brackets and a 2×3 piece of wood (which I’ll paint to match the color of the window sill), I’m okay with that and I can still completely close the window.

Low Cost, Essential Home Improvement Tools for DIYers

Here’s a list of the minimum tools I think a DIYer would need. To keep costs low, I chose tools that had good reviews but were not necessarily brand name.

Power Tools

Since it’s cheaper to buy a bundle, I picked this bundle of 12 tools. Not all are essential like the brad nailer but since you can save $259 with this bundle, it doesn’t matter. Also, Ryobi has the most battery-powered tools which is a big plus.

Ryobi ONE+ 18V Cordless 12-Tool Combo Kit with (3) Batteries, Charger, and 300-Piece Drill and Drive Kit

$799

Bulldog Xtreme 8 Amp 1 in. Corded Variable Speed SDS-Plus Concrete/Masonry Rotary Hammer Drill

$179

You can get a cheaper refurbished one at cpooutlets.com.

Hitting Tools

Protection

Knee Pads

$26.99

Showa Atlas 660 – 10/XL blue gloves

Electrical

Pliers

Drill / Driver Accessories

Screwdrivers

Drywall Tools

Socket

Cutting Tools

Measurement & Marking Tools

Lighting

Wrenches

Levels

Screws

#8 Phillips Bugle-Head Construction Screw (1 lb./Pack)

1-1/4″, 1-5/8″, 2″, 3″

$8.78

Other

Gardner Bender 3/8 One Hole Plastic Cable Clamp (18-Pack)

1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 3/4″

$1.28

Tool Boxes

The Husky organizer above is good but the latches can easily open on their own possibly causing everything to fall out. A better but much more expensive option would be to buy one or two of the Milwaukee organizers below.

Block Weeds From Growing Along Driveway Expansion Joints

We’ve all seen them. Weeds. Along your concrete driveway expansion joints. Many, if not most, people will just remove the weeds only for them to grow back as soon as it rains. So, why do weeds grow along these lines? Apparently just a little bit of dirt that makes its way into these gaps is enough to cause weeds to grow. I’ve had enough of these weeds growing every year so here’s my attempt to resolve this annoyance once and for all.

Remove Weeds

To remove weeds, you can use on oscillating tool, and small reciprocating saw, or even a utility knife or flathead screwdriver. Since I like doing things the quick and easy way, I use an angle grinder with a wire wheel.

If you need to enlarge some gaps or smoothen them out, you can use an angle grinder with a diamond blade.

Fill Gaps

Now, my driveway has gaps that are small (1/4″), medium (1/2″) and wide (3/4″ – 1″) in width and the depths range from 1/4″ to maybe 3″ deep. The small and shallow gaps are usually not a problem.

At first, I thought about filling some small gaps with Sakrete Concrete Crack Filler since the driveway is made of concrete.

Concrete Crack Filler

I tried this on a small gap and product was very easy to apply and it settles nicely producing a nice bead.

However, it turns out you shouldn’t do that because apparently those gaps – called expansion joints or control joints – are by design so filling these gaps with concrete defeats their purpose. Concrete Crack Filler is good, however, if you do have a thin, natural crack (not expansion joint) because it hardens just like concrete.

Concrete Filler and Sealant

For horizontal surfaces or slightly sloped surfaces like your driveway, use Sikaflex Self-Leveling Sealant.

Foam

Now, for some of the larger gaps, it would be too expensive and wasteful to fill them with sealant. For those, I decided to use a foam gap filler.

Apply Foam

This stuff really does expand and is pretty sticky when wet. It’s great for filling large gaps. Of course, you’ll need to trim the foam in order to apply sealant. This can be done with a utility knife, a mini reciprocating saw, or, better yet, an oscillating tool.

I cut away the foam a little bit below the surface of the concrete to allow for a layer of sealant.

Apply Sealant

At first I bought the 10 oz sealant but because I wanted to seal all joints, I got the 28 oz sealant (cheaper) and a 29 oz caulking gun. As you can see below, the sealant self levels resulting in a nice, smooth finish.

Had I gone with non self-leveling sealant like Sikaflex Construction Sealant

then the result would look like this:

You could try to smoothen it out using a taping knife by why bother. This type of sealant is better for vertical surfaces.

Now, if you don’t like the look of a gray joint, you can color your driveway with Rustoleum Epoxy or Behr Granite Grip and the entire driveway will be the same color.

Sand

You can also sprinkle sand on the sealant to prevent debris from sticking to it while it dries.