Ask the Experts: Light Bulbs & Dimmers

August 12th, 2020

Robin Renner, Construction Director, answers questions about DIY home repairs.

Are there LED light bulbs that work with dimmers?

Q: My original bathroom fixture uses standard incandescent bulbs. A few months ago, I had an electrician rewire the switch plate with a dimmer switch. The dimmer switch seems to work with regular incandescent light bulbs but not LED light bulbs. For environmental reasons, would it be better to change back to a regular non-dimmer switch with LED light bulbs or keep the dimmer switch and use incandescent bulbs? Are there LED light bulbs that work with dimmers?

A: The short answer is that there is an incompatibility with the bulb and dimmer switch. Not all LED bulbs are dimmable. Make sure you are using an LED that specifically says that it is dimmable. The packaging should say “for use with light dimmers,” like this one.

Also, not all dimmer switches will work with LED since they take a lower wattage. It’s also possible (but not as likely) your electrician didn’t install the correct dimmer switch. Check with your electrician to see if the correct one was installed. Most new ones are rated for LEDs, but maybe he had an old dimmer switch, or you supplied one that wasn’t rated correctly for LEDs. It’s possible, if you take the cover plate off so you can see the switch, that you may be able to tell if the switch is rated for dimmers, but not all are marked. Check out this example of a dimmer rated for LEDs.

Ask the Experts: Caulking

August 11th, 2020

Robin Renner, Construction Director, answers questions about DIY home repairs.

I have tons of what looks like failing/old/dried out caulk lines. Is there a way to recaulk without having to paint again?

Yes, you can recaulk seams that have cracks or stretch marks. Some people think you need to remove ALL the old caulk before you recaulk, but there is a shortcut that I’ve used for years and holds up very well.

Seams and cracks in caulk show up as black lines because of the shadowing. Caulking will fill the crack and eliminate the shadowing. It depends on whether you want to see a black line or a white line in the caulk seam. I prefer the white line myself.

  • First, clean the area to caulk. Make sure there’s no dust or dirt to stop the caulk from sticking. Use a brush to get the dirt out of the cracked area. A small brush, like a nail brush, may work perfectly. Let dry.
  • Then get ready to caulk. You’re going to cut the end of the caulk tube smaller than usual. Usually, you cut a 45-degree angle, about 1/2 inch from the end. For this, cut at 1/8 to 1/4 inch from the end.
  • Your goal is NOT to set a new caulk bead but to FILL l the existing bead crack. Apply very little because you’ll be wiping most of it off. Caulk and wipe with a wet/damp cloth, so there is only caulk in the crack. Let dry, and you’re done.

Do remember that exposed latex/acrylic caulk (painter’s caulk) will collect dirt more easily (not so with some latex/acrylic/silicone mixes, they are often meant to be exposed but don’t hold paint well, so read the label.) That means in about a year, your caulk line may be dirtier than the surrounding painted surface.

If you care, and after it’s dry the next day, use matching paint and a small art brush to touch up the new caulk line.

Check out our caulk glossary to help you find the right one.

Keep It Ventilated

August 6th, 2020

by Matthew Flyer, Construction Manager & Robin Renner, Construction Director

Why ventilate?

Does your home smell stale? Is moisture a problem? Can’t get rid of odors? You need to ventilate your home. Ventilation means getting fresh air into your home or exchanging stale air for fresh air. A closed or sealed house keeps stale trapped moisture, smoke, cooking odors, and indoor pollutants in the rooms where you live. This can cause health problems and make asthma and lung problems worse.

Houses 100 years ago were leaky. Usually, they didn’t have insulation in the walls, so fresh air could pretty easily enter through all the gaps, cracks, and holes in the building. Also, the building materials used 100 years ago were mostly natural products. They didn’t release chemicals (called off-gassing) like formaldehyde, flame retardants, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other chemicals that are so common today’s building materials and furnishings.

Proper ventilation helps keep a home energy-efficient, safe, and, most importantly, healthy.

Here are some inexpensive tips that can help you keep your home properly ventilated.

1. Open Doors and Windows

Simply opening doors and windows a few times during the day to “air out” your house, quickly replaces stale indoor air with fresh outdoor air, getting rid of pollutants, allergens, and extra moisture. If weather permits, leaving windows slightly open overnight can improve the air quality inside your room.

2. Vent Outside/Dry Clothes Outside

If you have a dryer, make sure it vents outside and keep the lint filter and vent clean. Check your lint filter each time you use the dryer. If you don’t have a dryer, dry laundry outside, if possible because wet clothes add to the humidity in your home.

3. Use Exhaust Fans in Bathrooms and Kitchens 

Excess moisture builds up after showering or bathing. Let the fan run for at least 5 minutes after you’re done. Newer bathroom fans have timers to ensure they continue running to allow excess moisture to be removed. Also, running the kitchen exhaust fans when cooking will eliminate odors and excess heat.

4. Keep HVAC (Heater and Air Conditioner) Filters Clean

Your HVAC system circulates air throughout your entire home. With a dirty filter, your HVAC system can’t do an effective job cleaning the air and will make your system work harder. Filters are easy to replace and should be done every three months. See our video.

5. Reduce Humidity, Especially in the Summertime

Using exhaust fans, covering cooking pots, and taking shorter showers help. Excess humidity problems can be solved cheaply with a portable dehumidifier. Ideally, place one in the basement and hook it up to drain continuously.
See our dehumidifier tips.

Working Together: Improving Homes and Health

August 5th, 2020

by Matthew Flyer, Construction Manager

This post was featured on the National Association for State Community Services Programs’s blog during National Healthy Homes Month 2020.

For the last 25 years YACHAD, which means “together” in Hebrew, has played an active role in the Washington, D.C. area by working with families to help them create and maintain healthy homes. Over the past year, Yachad received more than 200 calls for services—more requests than we can accept. The families accepted into our housing remediation programs all lived in their homes for at least a decade, and most for several decades. Their homes are the foundations for their families.

The key has been to pull together resources from volunteers, contractors, grants and local government programs. Rather than relying on individual programs, Yachad combines aspects of many programs targeting them to meet specific outcomes for each home. Historically we have relied on both grants to support contract work and volunteers to fix homes. More recently we have become an implementer of the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) administered by the District of Columbia’s Department of Energy & Environment. By combining the energy efficiency benefits of WAP with our other healthy homes and home repair services, we deliver a more comprehensive impact for our clients. In addition to saving money on energy every month, families live in safer, healthier, and more comfortable environments. Not only do these efforts include hands-on work within homes, but also outreach and community relations which are instrumental to identifying needs and implementing solutions.

Yachad also addresses food insecurity in homes that lack working stoves, refrigerators, and functioning kitchen plumbing. It was not unusual for the families we work with to use hot plates and microwaves when appliances were broken. Many are without a fully functioning refrigerator and unable to store food properly which can also lead to serious health problems.

Examples of Yachad’s healthy homes work:

  • Yachad renovated and created new kitchens for homeowners, replacing stoves, refrigerators, microwaves, kitchen cabinets and laminate flooring.
  • Volunteers pulled out old carpeting, replacing it with new laminate or tile flooring.
  • Repaired roofs, addressed extensive plumbing problems to fix water leaks and broken bathroom and kitchen fixtures.
  • Installed new dry wall removing old and moldy material and completed the jobs with coats of paint.

Most recently Yachad has expanded its work to focus on households with serious health-related issues, such as asthma where mold, mildew and pests exacerbate respiratory issues. Data shows that healthy housing and energy efficiency leads to reduced incidents of asthma flare-ups, including asthma-related hospitalizations, emergency room visits and doctor visits. For this reason, Yachad is partnering with Children’s National providing home remediation expertise alongside health care professionals for families receiving asthma treatment.

Collaboration is the future of healthy housing. Yachad is active in the newly formed D.C. Healthy Housing Collaborative, a multi-sector coalition connecting government agencies, healthcare, public health, health insurance providers, housing services, legal services, and more, united in pursuit of policy and systems changes that will lead to healthier housing conditions. Together we are creating healthy housing resources for the community and teaming up to have the deepest impact.

Kitchen renovation before and after thanks to Added Dimensions

American University Hillel students remove old carpet

Volunteer Spotlight: Cancer Researcher and Handyman

April 27th, 2020

by Lisa Hershey, Community Outreach Director

April is National Volunteer Month and Yachad is shining a spotlight on Larry Baizer, a long-time volunteer, who has been helping us for about 15 years. He started off as a participant in our Sukkot in Spring annual home repair program, and over the years stepped into the leadership role of House Captain, and then joined our HandyMensch team of year-round advanced-skilled volunteers. Yachad is lucky to have enthusiastic, talented volunteers like Larry involved in our organization. Come and meet him.

image of volunteer next to homeowner
Larry helping one of Yachad’s clients

Tell us about your day job.

I am a Program Director at the National Cancer Institute–National Institutes of Health. In that position I coordinate clinical trials of new treatments for cancer.

What is something about you that most people don’t know?

I am an avid musician and sang tenor in a Jewish community choir for 10 years. More recently I have begun playing the violin again after a 50-year hiatus. I take weekly lessons and have joined a community orchestra associated with the NIH.

What do you get out of volunteering with Yachad?

I enjoy working on the homes of Yachad’s clients, helping with repairs that are sometimes simple, sometimes more complex but always improve quality of life. I also like working with the HandyMensch and always look forward to trading stories and repair tips with them.

Have you learned new skills while volunteering with us?

Through working with Robin, Yachad’s Construction Director, I have learned a lot of new carpentry techniques and have become sufficiently proficient at some of them to be able to teach others. 

What is one of your favorite past projects ?

Last June we worked at L’Arche, a group house for intellectually challenged adults in Arlington. The residents were great fun to chat with and it was really an impressive facility with a strong sense of community.

What keeps you involved with Yachad after all these years?

The Yachad people are just wonderful and I really enjoy working with them and with the HandyMensch volunteers. Robin is a great leader and teacher and is so helpful in guiding the projects and gently correcting any errors. I always feel that we have made the houses we worked on brighter and a more appealing place for the families to live.

What is your favorite tool that you can’t live without?

Electric drill is probably the first choice.

How-to Drywall

April 15th, 2020

by Robin Renner, Director of Construction

Are dings and dents in your wall starting to stick out like a sore thumb?  

With the coronavirus keeping most of us homebound these days, you are probably noticing things around your house that need fixing. If you’ve got extra time on your hands, why not learn and practice some new skills and give simple repairs a go. I’m taking this time to start or complete projects around my own home, and I thought I could share some of my favorite links for DIY skills. 

Let’s start with some basic drywall skills. 

Working with drywall gets easier the more you learn and practice. I recommend checking out Home Depot and Lowe’s websites, which have sections focusing on Do-It-Yourself skills. You’ll find short videos and guides for home repair and maintenance. Start with the drywall repair section. I’m always on the lookout for tricks, tips, and new ideas to improve my drywall skills. I guarantee you’ll learn something, whether you’re a beginner or an old hand at drywall repair!  

Video Links:

The videos linked below have tips and techniques that will really up your game. When you do pick up the drywall tools, you’ll be better prepared for a smooth and flawless drywall patch.

Home Depot: How to Patch Drywall

Lowe’s: How to Patch and Repair Drywall

Vancouver Carpenter: Taping and Mudding 101

Vocabulary:

Also take a moment to familiarize yourself with the jargon of drywall. Download my Drywall Glossary with links to examples, so you will be in the know.

  • “Mud” is the shorthand name for drywall taping compound or joint compound. It’s a gypsum-based paste used to finish drywall joints and corners in new drywall installations and for general repairs such as repairing cracks and holes in existing drywall and plaster surfaces. All are easy to sand with sandpaper or a wet sponge. (Learn about different kinds of mud in the Drywall Glossary.)

  • Joint tape is used to repair seams and cracks. There are several choices: mesh and paper.

Tips:

  • YACHAD ALWAYS RECOMMENDS WET-SANDING FOR SAFETY.
  • Avoid ‘spackle’ or other patching compounds. They are meant for very small holes, are difficult to apply, and are often hard to sand.

Now get to work and watch a few of the videos. Then, get out your tools and practice repairing the cracks, dings, and holes in your own house.

Post a photo of your work on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and tag us @yachaddc. Check back soon for more How-to Tips.

Home as Sanctuary

February 7th, 2020

by Audrey Lyon, Yachad Executive Director

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel is well known for linking prayer with social activism. “Praying with our feet,” is how he described participating in protest marches on Shabbat. Less well known is how Heschel likens prayer as a home for the soul and body. Prayer is the infrastructure for our body and soul. At Yachad we take that idea one step further and say that our homes are like a sanctuary for that prayer. 

“For the soul, Heschel states, “home is where prayer is. In their home, even the poorest person may bid defiance to misery and malice. That home may be frail, its roof may shake, the wind may blow though it, the storms may enter it, but that is where the soul expects to be understood. Just as the body is in need, so is the soul in need of a home.”

Yachad’s work to make homes less frail—healthier and functional– also restores a family’s dignity and resilience to life’s challenges. As we continue to pray with our feet, we must also work to see that homes in our community offer comfort and sanctuary for our body and souls.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, “On Prayer,” Conservative Judaism, Vol.225, No. 1970. Page 2.

“I hated the word rain…”

October 4th, 2019

“It was a stressful and scary situation. I kept thinking, ‘What am I going to do?’ We would put out buckets and pray for the best.“– Ms. Siles

It may be true that into each life a little rain must fall. But for the Siles family, a little rain became crisis management.

The roof no longer kept the rain out. Water made its way into bedrooms and closets dripping through walls and ceilings. The homeowner managed the leak as best she could with a tarp over the roof and plastic bags taped to the ceiling covering areas where drywall had fallen away exposing insulation. The major roof leak was causing severe water and moisture damage leading to mold.

For most people mold is a nuisance. But for this family with two children, one who has asthma, mold is life-threatening. Mold spores can trigger an asthma attack causing airways to restrict, wheezing, and shortness of breath. It was imperative that their roof get fixed. Our partner, IMPACT DC Asthma Clinic, sent this family to us for home remediation.

Yachad got to work and fixed the expansive roof damage giving this family more than a dry home–giving them a healthy space for their children.

Thank you, thank you. You took a big stress off me. You all have been a true blessing to my family and myself. — Ms. Siles

Thank you to the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation for supporting our home remediation work in Prince George’s County.

repaired roof
The repaired roof gives a peace of mind

“I thought, ‘What am I going to do?'”

September 4th, 2019

Charlene was at the end of her rope by the time she called Yachad. She and her daughter were living with water leaking from the ceilings into their bedrooms for over four years. Charlene knew her roof needed repairing but she could not afford it.

“Every time the wind blew it sounded like it would blow the rest of the roof off.” She was scared and nervous and didn’t know what to do.

The leaky roof was only one of several problems.

The family hired a contractor to create an accessible bathroom on the first floor for their aunt who lived with them after suffering a stroke. Sadly, the project was not finished after the workers unexpectedly left the job. The family was left with an unfinished bathroom and unusable bathtub. Health issues plagued her daughter. Mold from the roof and other plumbing leaks, plus the old carpet throughout the home, were triggering her allergies. The house was literally making her sick.

Yachad’s health remediation work was needed.

Over the past few months, Yachad’s tradespeople addressed the serious repairs. Volunteers pitched in to complete the aunt’s bathroom and remove the old carpet.

Work wrapped up this month and the house is now better than ever. “I just thank, thank, thank everyone and am so grateful and happy for everything,” declared Charlene, who is no longer anxious when it rains.

BEFORE–unusable tub

AFTER–the finished bathroom makes daily life easier

Can We Do It? Yes, We Can!

March 12th, 2019

The training was full of information that I needed and will use. I can’t wait to start working on projects/problems as they occur as opposed to waiting until I save up and hire someone from outside to do the job. The demonstrations and hands on material were also eye-opening. Thanks so much.
Charlene, Yachad Homeowner

This weekend Yachad’s Construction Director, Robin Renner, led a DIY Home Repair workshop for our spring homeowners. She shared easy and inexpensive solutions for addressing common household repairs and maintenance. Topics ranged from how to use a caulk gun to providing examples of weatherstripping products to advice on unclogging drains.

photo credit: Ray Alvareztorres

Thirteen homeowners—all women—soon found themselves leaning over pieces of drywall getting the hang of fixing holes using spackle and a putty knife. “Making the session hands-on is important,” says Robin— “It is a chance for our clients, who are predominantly older women, to see that they don’t have to be intimidated by minor home repairs.”  Lana, one of our participants, said “I learned so many tips that I can use to keep my home safe. The hands-on task of repairing small holes in the drywall was good…having the right tools and the knowledge to try was powerful.”

A key approach to overcoming unease about home maintenance is to simply understand how your house works. For this reason, Robin carefully reviewed how toilets, sinks, and electrical outlets work. There was even a chance to examine the inside of an electrical outlet and a ceiling light fixture, which were passed around, plus the underside of a sink drain.

As the workshop came to an end, Robin stressed the importance of three things:

  • Keep your house sealed up: This will prevent bug/pests and pollution from coming in and prevent hot/cold air from leaking in or out.
  • Keep your house clean.
  • Keep your house dry: Fix plumbing leaks and mop up water promptly.

The homeowners left the workshop with special Yachad swag, really cool drain cleaning tools and heavy-duty kitchen cleansers, but more importantly, they left with increased knowledge and self-confidence.

Thank you to the Howard Stanfield Memorial Fund for the generous support of our homeowner workshops. And, a special thank you to THEARC and Building Bridges Across the River for hosting our program.

photo credit: Ray Alvareztorres