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Michael Clark, Handyman

I began working with Michael Clark, expert home repair guy, a few years ago. We hit it off right away because his conscientious, organized work style and his reliability and honesty are exactly what I was looking for in a handyman.

Since I’ve learned so much about how to approach home repairs from watching Mike at work, I thought it would be great to share some of his wisdom with Register readers. Keeping a home in working order is a large part of being organized and also, for those interested, extremely important in feng shui, the discipline concerning the relationship of energy and elements. In feng shui, broken items can lead to negative energy in the financial sector (broken=broke), and who needs that right now?

Angela Hoxsey: What’s the most common job you get called in to do? It seems that for my clients you hang a lot of art.

 Michael Clark: When you asked for the interview I went back through my invoices for the year. I couldn’t find one thing this year that I’ve done twice.

AH: That’s amazing! What kinds of things do people try to tackle that are best left to professionals?

MC: It’s good for people to try stuff and figure out what they can and can’t do. Like hanging art. If this were not the Napa Valley, I’d be hanging a lot less art and people would be doing that for themselves. Of course, electrical is best left to a professional.

The thing people don’t do for themselves that surprises me is painting. Take the time up front to do the preparation. Cover your floors, take off the outlet covers, tape off windows and trim. That part is not fun, you don’t get that instant gratification of color, but it’s worth it

AH: My embarrassing story is that when I touched up the paint in my closet, I didn’t take the clothes out first. Big mistake! I thought I would be so careful but paint drips! And it dripped on this amazing Chinese silk coat I have. I ran around to dry cleaners in three counties trying to get it cleaned. What a waste of time and money when I could have just moved the clothes in the first place!

MC: Exactly. The people who are patient are the most successful do-it-yourself-ers. The problem is that people watch what I call ‘home pornography,’ those do it yourself shows that make it look so fast and easy. They don’t realize that any problems are edited out.

I put on a lot of hardware that people should be able to put on themselves. One thing people need to know that to put in a screw you need to drill a pilot hole first.

AH: Drills are a little intimidating.

MC: You know how Black and Decker started making drills for home owners? During WWII when women were working on airplanes and things, the companies noticed that the Rosie the Riveters were taking home the drills at night to do repair projects at home. The gals got very handy with a drill!

AH: With hanging art, I have a problem if my clients want two paintings hanging next to each other. I can never get them level.

MC: The less expensive levels you buy at the store are not perfectly level. One trick is to turn the level around and check it from both sides and split the difference. Most people don’t want to spend $400 on a laser level, but it is awesome.

AH: What’s the advantage of local hardware stores over the big chains? Is one type good for some things and the other for other things?

MC: It depends where you live. For me, the chains are far away and I’m paid by the hour. Also, in the local stores you can get a lot of good advice. You can spend a lot of time in one of those huge chains just for a small item.

AH: Tell us a few disaster preparedness items that everyone should know.

MC: People need to know where to turn off the water: at the sinks, at the toilets, at the hot water heater and ultimately at the main valve. They need to know where the gas main is and how to turn it off. Also very basic stuff like how to flip a circuit breaker, where the breaker box is. Know how to reset the GFCI [ground fault circuit interrupter] — the test and reset buttons on some outlets. That’s another thing to check on if you lose power.

AH: Is there any point to keeping extra materials from a home building or remodel? I have lots of clients who save rolls of carpet or boxes of tiles for years — they don’t really survive the years well in a garage or basement — what’s the point of keeping them?

MC: It wouldn’t hurt to keep a couple tiles and a small square of carpet. If someone spills red wine a carpet guy might be able to cut out the stain and patch it. But otherwise, there’s no reason to hang on to a lot of extra materials. An example: I kept a big bundle of roof tiles and was tripping over them for ten years. Finally I realized the whole roof needed replacing and I’d held onto those tiles for nothing.

AH: What belongs in a tool box for the average home?

MC: A four-in-one screwdriver, pliers, a small hammer, a tape measure. Keep it all in a canvas bag or a container that you can take room to room. Then, as projects come up and you find you need a new tool, add to your tool bag or box.

AH: What’s your favorite organizing tip?

MC: Keep all your manuals for appliances and things together.

AH: I often make binders for my clients with all their house manuals in them.

MC: That’s perfect — it saves a lot of time for a handyman too. I would say another way to be organized and save money is to get ready for tradespeople coming over to do projects. If you have a leak under the kitchen sink, clear it all out before I get there. Or if you’re having a painter come in, have the color chosen and the paint purchased before they get there. It seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how people aren’t prepared.

Another way to be organized about home improvements is for painting. Take a piece of chipboard, the cardboard that comes inside new shirts, and cover half with two coats of the color for your records. Write down the brand, color and formula and keep it on file. Even if the paint is discontinued, you can get the color matched if you need to later. With whites this is especially important. People think, “Oh, it’s just white.” But like my wife reported the other day, Benjamin Moore proudly displays that it produces 135 shades of white!

AH: Can you fit your car in your garage?

MC: No I can’t! But that’s my workshop and it’s very tidy.

(Unfortunately, Michael Clark is not accepting new clients at this time.)