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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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