Artistic Talented Welding

Welding and metal fabrication can be very simple and utilitarian but it can also range to what could be considered art. And then it is possible to make metal sculptures as well. One local craftsman at Baltimore Railings & Stairs, can not only do the simple things, he has a background in fine art and can create sculptures in addition to railings, stairs, fire escapes and other similar projects. Continue reading

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Leaf Collection Companies

This time of year, lots of people are out raking. Some people do it themselves and others hire companies to come in and do it for them and others do kind of a combo.

If you are doing it yourself, we hope you don’t have a lot of oaks. We lived in one house that had a lot of oaks around it. Besides there being a lot of leaves, they were a pain to deal with. Some leaves are very soft and easy to rake. Oak leaves are very stiff. That isn’t so bad, but what make is a lot worse is that their stem is also very hard and stiff and it tends to have a curve to it. So, if the curve is facing down, it tends to get caught in the grass and not want to move when you rake it. Even more so with a blower. You can sit and put a blower on a single leaf and it will just stay there stuck in the grass.

One thing that can help with doing the raking job yourself is a holder for the bags. It makes the job so much easier. Some fit inside the bag and hold it open. When the bag is full, you pull the holder out. Others you put the bag inside of it. Whatever the design, it is a great time saver.

Some people just use the lawnmower to chop up the leaves and leave them on or in the grass to provide nourishment for the lawn. If you just leave the leaves on top of the grass without chopping them up, they will tend to kill the grass under them.

The hybrid method is to get the leaves to the curb. Then a company comes along with a truck with a giant vacuum attachment. They suck up all the leaves into the truck and charge a nominal fee to do this. If you have an old bedspread, they are very useful. Or you can buy a tarp. You rake the leaves onto the tarp and then drag it to the curb and dump it. Then go back for the next load until you are done and call for the truck to come.

Raking grass can be a good excuse to get outdoors and get some exercise. And unlike shoveling heavy snow, it doesn’t usually lead to heart attacks. But some people are too old or sick or just don’t want to be bothered. In that case, you can get people who come in with blowers and rakes and clean up all your leaves for you and cart them away. Of course, this costs the most, but is the easiest to do. You just write a check.

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Wicklein’s Pond Repair

Wicklein’s Water Garden is considered one of the best pond installation and repair companies in the Baltimore area. We bought an old house that was originally built in 1930. The original owner used a lot of the latest materials. They had some outdoor lamps on the house made out of copper which wasn’t new, but another two on the porch combined aluminum and copper. Cast aluminum was a new building material back then.

Concrete Was New and Exciting at One Time

Believe it or not, so was concrete. The fireplace is lined with brick, but the sort of French Provincial style hood above it (you couldn’t really call it a mantle) is made of cast concrete and above that is wood. Most people don’t realize it is concrete until I point it out and then they are amazed.

House Problems

The heating system from day one was forced hot air and not radiators. This was very cutting edge for the 1930s. You would think that this would make it easy to add air conditioning. Alas, you would be wrong. Since heat rises, they didn’t need returns on the second and third floors. The only returns were on the first floor and in the basement. When air conditioning was added, this meant that the air conditioning on the second and third floors was very inefficient. We had to figure out a way to get a return up to the upper floors. We gave up for the third floor and installed a heat pump instead.

Unfortunately, they decided to use galvanized pipe instead of copper pipe. Big mistake. The copper pipe would still have been fine. The galvanized pipe was shot. The only good thing is that in the 1930s the pipe would have probably all been the same size and you get water temperature changes in the shower when someone flushes the toilet. The new way is to use larger diameter pipes and decrease the size as you move further away. So no problems while you are in the shower.

The electric system was state of the art for 1930 but not now. With computers and cable and TV it was totally antiquated. So the entire electrical system had to go. If you think plumbing is bad to replace, try electrical. Plumbing goes to just a few rooms. Electrical goes to every room and almost every wall. What a project.

Pond Problems

There is a pond outside. Although it had water, there were cracks in the walls and some of the flagstones that were around the edges in a border were coming loose. A pipe that went to the pond hadn’t been drained in the winter and froze and needed to be repaired. The light in the pond was full of water and no longer functionings.


The company came in and drained the pond into a number of large plastic tubs. They tossed the gold fish into the tubs and cleaned out the slime and fish poop from the bottom. Then they took out some of the lily pads that had overgrown. Then they dried and cleaned the pond. Next they patched the cracks, parging the insides where necessary and cemented the border stones back into place. They said fixing the light in the side of the pond would be too expensive so they sold us some small lights that sit in the pond and a wire comes out and plugs in to an outlet.

So then we needed to call in an electrician for the extra plugs to redo some of the wiring. One of the things we needed a plug for in addition to the pump for the fountain was a new device they sold us. The water runs from the pump through a hose and then through this contraption where the water is bombarded with UV light to kill the algae and stuff so the pond doesn’t get dirty and cloudy as fast.

Then they suggested covering the bottom with small rounded stones. Some the size of pea gravel but most an inch to 3 inches long. Most were sort of egg shaped and not round. It looks pretty good, but makes cleaning the pond more difficult.  All in all though, the pond looks and performs much better than it did.

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Paving Companies

Do your due diligence as with any company, but there are a group of paving / asphalt companies that are notorious for their tactics. In general, you should get several quotes any time you have a job. You will be amazed at how much the prices vary.

You also want to see locations where they have done work. You might want to see places that they did a year ago to see how they are holding up as opposed to ones that they just finished. It is good to talk to some of their customers as well.


If you have a house and there is a hole in the driveway, you really need more of a handyman. The real paving guys have too much tied up in their equipment to bring it out for a tiny hole. Just get some patch filler and put that in and tamp it down. They are going to want to redo the whole driveway. That is the sort of job they are set up for.

Fly By Nights

But if you have a commercial space with a parking lot, you will get guys coming by saying they are doing work nearby and have some asphalt left over and they can do some patching for you at a great price.

First, you have to wonder if they skimped on the other job so they had enough to make the offer to you and other local property owners. Second, these guys usually do not do a very good job and their prices aren’t the bargain that they claim.

To get some referrals, you might call some commercial property management companies. They deal with paving companies on a regular basis and can refer some good ones to you most likely.

Good Guy Gone Bad

You can still get stuck. I had used one guy and he had done a good job. A few years later I needed some holes patched. I got several quotes and he came in a bit below the others. He said that he was going to put 2 inches of asphalt down. I don’t know if he had started drinking or was having other problems, but it turned out he only put down about a half inch in some of the places and when it started to break up, he was no where to be found to fix the botched job he had done.

One thing that worried me while he was doing it was that he rented the equipment to do the job. He didn’t own his own equipment. From now on, I would only use someone who was successful enough that they had their equipment.

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Hiring a Plumber

Who you hire may depend on the size of the job as we shall explain. This is besides the obvious that if you are doing a high rise building you are not going to hire a one man show who may or may not have an assistant. That obviously won’t work. But there are other cases that are much closer and harder to call.

Get Quotes

Unless you have worked with someone for a long time, you are probably going to want at least two quotes if not three. That is assuming the job is a bit complex. If it is something like your disposal won’t work or your toilet float doesn’t work, just ask for prices over the phone.

A number of years ago, we were dealing with a rental where the water was backing up in the basement toilet. When that happens, that usually means the sewer line is blocked for some reason and since the water can’t go anywhere, or is draining very slowly, the water just backs up as you run water, say from a dishwasher, washing machine, shower or toilet.

If this happens, stop running all water, don’t flush the toilet and call a plumber immediately, or a RotoRooter type company. Sometimes the problem is that someone flushed paper towels down the toilet. They don’t break up the way toilet paper does. Frequently the problem is roots that have grown into the pipe at a joint or crack.

Expanding the Job

We had a plumber who was recommended come out and snake out the line. He charged a fairly hefty fee. A few weeks later, the same problem happened. He came out again and said he didn’t think snaking it again would help. He said we would need to take the tree down in front of the house and then replace the sewer line. The tree was going to cost several thousand dollars and its been a while, but replacing the sewer line was something like $5,000 or $10,000. Definitely sticker shock.

Finally a Reasonable Quote

So we called around and found Kirk at All Nite Sewer and he snaked it for half the price of the first guy, went a lot further and got a lot more stuff out. So $150 instead of $8,000 or $13,000. Definitely worth it to call around and get another opinion.

You will be amazed by the different prices you get when you request quotes on jobs. It can be all over the place.

But Not Always the Cheapest

We had a larger job and got prices an on this one, All Nite was higher than some large companies. It wasn’t a huge job, but they apparently had the infrastructure in place to knock it out quickly. So each company seems to have a sweet spot depending on their size and the size of the job.

You are also likely to get a better recommendation if you ask someone in a trade than just a friend. The friend may have a perfectly good person or company but finding a good company is more likely from a trade person recommendation.

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Welcome to IT Gawker

Welcome to IT Gawker, a blog about various service industries and different companies. We will give you tips on what to look for and things to watch out for. Whether it is tree services, used appliances, plumbing, electricians, roofers, check here for ideas and insights.

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