One of the benefits of volunteering your time helping other seniors is working with like-minded fellow volunteers.  We come from all walks of life and apply acquired skills to the tasks at hand.  Each weekly assignment brings new opportunities and challenges.  It has been said that no one has a monopoly on good ideas.  Therefore, it is not unusual that you’ll learn something new while working with different team members on projects.  And sometimes they are real time-savers!  So, since we’re at an age where we often forget more than what we learn, this Hall of Wisdom is an attempt to capture some of those good ideas before they are lost!

We suggest that the next time your Team assignment includes something you’ve never tackled before, pull up this Hall of Wisdom and check if this list includes solutions to problems you may face on Friday.  Similarly, if you are stumped on the job, pull up this Hall of Wisdom on your smart phone and see if it offers suggestions you had not yet considered.   We’re hoping that, if you have good time-saving solutions, you’ll document them and send them to  so we can add them to the list!

Forms and Specifications

  • Saving time on Friday morning:

When you receive your assignments on Thursday afternoon, use your PC or Mac to fill out any New Client Release Forms you may need on Friday.  This form is a “fillable PDF”.   You’ll notice that fields for name, address, and date have a lightly colored background (see NOTE below).  Add the New Client’s name, address, and date of work to the form.   Send form to your printer – CTRL-P on PC/CMD-P on Mac – and bring to the meeting.  Don’t save the form, just close it and repeat process for next New Client.  NOTE: This works for Chrome, Safari, and Edge browsers.  For Firefox: First download file to your desktop and then display it on your screen.

  • Reduce redundant travel time visiting clients:

As the Team Leader, do you have a good idea where the clients live?  Use the Find MAPSCO Page Number capability to quickly mark their locations on a Google Map.  That perspective will usually provide the most effective order to follow to minimize redundant travel time.  See the sample display of a recent list of clients.  The display starts with the address of CRUMC, click the “Find MAPSCO Number” button to mark the location.

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Each year we change a lot of batteries on smoke detectors. Most of these units (~90%) are of the ionization type. Next time you do this, please check the manufacturing date marked on the base of the unit. Kidde and First Alert, the largest manufacturers comprising over 75% of the market, do not guarantee their sensors beyond 10 years. They recommend replacing units older than 10 years.

Consumer Reports (CR) has published an in-depth article on smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. It summarizes detector basics as follows: (color and highlighting added by me)

Fires burn differently: Some flare, some smolder. Make sure you purchase a smoke detector that can detect both types of fires.

    • Ionization Smoke Detectors are best at detecting the small particles typical of fast, flaming fires but in our tests, all tested poorly for detecting smoky, smoldering fires. Ionization units are prone to false alarms from burnt food and steam, so don’t mount them near a kitchen or bathroom.
    • Photoelectric Smoke Detectors are best at detecting the large particles typical of smoky, smoldering fires but poor at detecting fast, flaming fires. Photoelectric units are less prone to false alarms from burnt food and steam, so you can install them safely around the kitchen or bathroom.
    • Dual-Sensor Smoke Detectors combine ionization and photoelectric technology to save you the hassle of installing two separate smoke detectors. But you will still need to install carbon monoxide detectors.

The following links to articles from News 5 in Cleveland, OH, and the video link below better define what CR failed to quantify as “tested poorly”.

Many NE Ohio fire departments give out dual sensor smoke alarms; say homeowners need two types

Call for new smoke detector laws in Ohio following exclusive 5 On Your Side investigation

Of the two different types of smoke detectors, one is better equipped to save your life (2:07 min.)

Wikipedia has a good reference article  and reports that “A 2004 NIST report concluded that “Smoke alarms of either the ionization type or the photoelectric type consistently provided time for occupants to escape from most residential fires,” and, “Consistent with prior findings, ionization type alarms provided somewhat better response to flaming fires than photoelectric alarms (57 to 62 seconds faster response or about 1 minute), and photoelectric alarms provided (often) considerably faster response to smoldering fires than ionization type alarms (47 to 53 minutes faster response).”

Look under the Legislation section of this article to see how Australia is implementing a policy of Photoelectric Smoke Alarms only. The city of Albany, CA, and some cities in Ohio are implementing similar strategies.  This link summarizes what Massachusetts spells out for its citizens:

    • “A third of all the deaths in the United States could be prevented by switching to photoelectric,” said Deputy Fire Chief Jay Fleming from the Boston Fire Department.
    • Ionization alarms are found in 90% of American homes, but in Chagrin Falls and in the city of Boston, among others, you are not allowed to build a new home with ionization smoke detectors, only photoelectric.
    • “Most consumers are not aware that that smoke detector may not go off, even though there’s so much smoke, you and I wouldn’t be able to see each other” said Fleming.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors:  New homes in Plano must include Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors.  There should be at least one unit on every floor of a residence.  It is recommended that dual Photoelectric/CO detectors be installed.  When mounting these units, avoid locations

    • In close proximity to any fuel-burning appliance.
    • In excessively humid areas such as your bathroom.
    • In direct sunlight.
    • Near any sources of blowing air such as a fan, vent or open window.

Smoke and CO Detector Recommendations

    • We want to install detectors that provide the earliest warning of imminent danger and thereby provide more time for home owners to escape.
    • You should replace old smoke alarms with Photoelectric Smoke Alarms, NOT Ionization Smoke Alarms.
    • The Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office publishes this fire safety inspection checklist.   It reinforces what is mentioned above and suggests where to place the various detectors in a residence.  Best location is on the ceiling of a room or hallway; place at least 4 inches away from adjacent vertical or slanted walls.
    • Note that Texas State Fire Marshal’s information excludes individual ionization detectors – that detector type is only recommended when combined with a photoelectric detector in a dual-sensor configuration.

Bottom line: Replace old smoke alarms only with units that include a Photoelectric Smoke Detector, and, remember, detectors older than 10 years should be replaced!

  • So, which detectors has POH been installing in homes in the Plano area?

This link summarizes recommended choices for Smoke and CO detectors (last updated: 2/17/2019) from both major vendors based on the age of the house where they will be installed.  Insert the HD (8-digit) or Lowes (6-digit)  item number in the search field of the respective website or app to locate the part and availability.

    • Homes built before 1991 – homes without dedicated wired interconnections
      • Smoke Detector:
        • Kidde P3010L (HD – 21027434) powered by 10-year sealed battery.
      • Dual Smoke/Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector
        • Kidde P3010CU (HD – 21027454) powered by 10-year sealed battery.

To interconnect detectors electronically:

      • Smoke Detector:
        • Kidde P4010DCS-W (2-pack) (HD – 21027682) with sealed 10-year battery and RF communication to connect with other P4010 units.
      • Dual Smoke/Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector:
        • Kidde P4010DCSCO-W (HD – 21027680) with sealed 10-year battery and RF communication to connect with other P4010 units.
    • Homes built since 1991 – homes with wired interconnect between all detectors
      • Smoke Detector:
        • Kidde Firex Model P12040 (HD – 21006371).  We replace the OEM 9-volt backup battery with a lithium version to achieve a 10-year lifetime for this detector.  During this period we don’t anticipate having to replace batteries!
      • Dual Smoke/Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detector:
        • Kidde Firex Model KN-COPE-IC (HD – 21007624).  Like the P12040 above, we replace the OEM 9-volt backup battery with a lithium version to achieve a 10-year lifetime for this detector.  During this period we don’t anticipate having to replace batteries!

Installation Tips

  • Houses built in the 1980s, may have detectors powered by 120 volts but wiring does not have yellow or red wire to interconnect detectors): Remove old pigtail, use wire-cap to cover exposed wire tips, and stuff wire assembly back into box. You will mount battery-powered unit using screws that held old unit to box.
  • Wired detectors:
    • Pigtails: Strip an extra ¼” off the insulation to facilitate making connection to solid-wire terminals with wire caps.
    • Sticker: If you have replaced OEM battery with lithium battery, add sticker to unit to warn others that unit uses a 10-year battery.
    • Make sure wire-nuts fit tightly around pigtail-wire and house wiring. A loose connection is primary source of erratic alarm behavior and false alarms.
    • With 120 volts applied to network, voltage between red and neutral (white) wires should be zero and never exceed 5 volts. If you measure fluctuating voltage with multi-meter, tighten wire nuts on all installed detectors until the voltage stabilizes between 0 and 2 volts.  You can temporarily turn OFF the 120 volt supply to detectors by locating the fuse in fusebox labeled “detectors” or something similar, e.g., “smokes”.  Don’t forget to turn it back ON before you leave!
    • Always remove all old detectors from client’s house. Dispose of these units responsibly by taking advantage of Plano’s electronic recycling that takes place every third Saturday of the month.  Do not leave with client for disposal (DAMHIK!)

Steve Belson, Sep 2016
Updated by Herman van Beek, Feb 2020


  • Sliding Exterior Glass Door Rollers:

    Replacing exterior sliding glass door rollers involves removing a heavy door and possibly dismantling the frame. The door area may have to stay open for an extended time. One option which doesn’t require door removal is the installation of plastic glides and strips. Existing rollers are retracted, not removed. Information is available at I’ve been using for about five years with no issues.

Bill Devitt, Oct 2017

  • Bifold Doors:

    This document describes how to repair the leveler screw support in a hollow-core bifold door.

Herman van Beek, Oct 2018

  • Door locks: 

    If you are experiencing a problem with a door lock where the key is hard to turn or it sticks/stops before the door is locked, then it is the tumblers in the lock that are wearing out.  The tumblers can be replaced. If you are able, take the lockset to a locksmith or call a locksmith to come out.  We took ours to A1 Locksmith (1100 W Parker Rd) and they replaced the tumblers for less than $20. The original key can still be used.

Dwaine Finseth, Jan 2020

Grab Bar and Toilet Safety Frames

Plain-O Helpers installs well over 100 grab bars and Toilet Safety Frames each year.  An excellent installation guide has been written: Grab Bar and Toilet Safety Frame Installation

Bill Downs, Jan 2016


  • Faucet Parts:

    Teter’s Faucet Parts in Dallas has the largest inventory of special faucet parts.  The next time you can’t find your part at Home Depot, Lowes, or Elliotts, take a picture of the part with your cell phone, including a ruler, and text it to Teter’s (214-549-2525).  They usually respond back to your phone within a few minutes with availability and cost.

Elliotts, Dec 2016

  • Braided stainless steel faucet and toilet hose fittings:

    Plumbing projects often involve tightening compression fittings.  The common unknown is how tight should they be.
    Regarding the braided stainless steel faucet and toilet hose fittings with the rubber cone washer, the suggested approach is this:
    Hand tighten as far as you can. Then with a wrench do one quarter turn more.
    Turn on the water and tighten just enough to stop any drip. Usually there will not be any drip.
    Over tightening cuts the rubber cone causing water loss and hose replacement.

Dwaine Finseth, Mar 2017

  • Seal garbage disposal after dishwasher removal:  

    Sometimes we take out a dishwasher but the client has a disposal they want to keep. The solution is a 7/8 inch rubber chair leg cap fits very securely over the garbage disposal’s dishwasher nipple.

Dwaine  Finseth, Feb 2020


  • The client complains about an open/broken/dead circuit and the fuse box shows no fuse problems.  Check and see if there are  any GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) sockets in use.  If yes, there may be multiple GFCI sockets in each bathroom or utility room.  These are typically wired on the same circuit and are therefore in series – if one blows, all sockets downstream from it will be open/dead as well!  Reset every GFCI socket you find.

Bill Kwoka, Dec 2016






  • Change Electric Dryer Cord from 3-Prong to 4-Prong

Due to changes in the National Electrical Code (NEC), wiring for electric clothes dryers changed around the year 2000. Before the change, dryers used 3-prong cords that plugged into 3-slot electrical outlets (receptacles). Since the change, dryers use 4-prong cords for 4-slot outlets. Newly installed dryer receptacles must be 4-slot. However, it’s still legal to use a dryer with a 3-prong cord and an older-style receptacle. So, if a client has an older dryer with a 3-prong cord, you can replace the cord with a 4-prong cord (sold by HD) to fit their home’s 4-slot receptacle. Here is a link to an excellent article that covers that conversion in detail.

In case you have to replace the terminal block on old dryers, you may encounter a part number used by many brands that is no longer being manufactured – specifically, part number 53-1518.  However, found an Electrolux replacement  5304409888 that does the job!





Herman van Beek, Jan 2019

  • Converting fluorescent light fixtures from T12 to T8 bulbs

Here is a description with diagrams on how to convert a 2-bulb T12 fixture to a 2-bulb T8 fixture.  Please read the warnings as to what will likely happen when you place T8 bulbs in fixture with a T12 ballast as well as when you place T12 bulbs in fixture with a T8 ballast.

Herman van Beek, February 2018