Archive for March, 2012|Monthly archive page

Life Saving Tip / Efflorescence on Basement Walls / What Causes ‘Blue Water’ / Cleaning a Showerhead

In GFI, Plumbing, Q&A on March 27, 2012 at 4:01 pm

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I’ve got a shocking life-saving tip for you. How many of you have heard of, or know about Ground Fault Interrupters or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters? (They’re also referred to as GFI or GFCI). If your home was built within the last thirty year, you more than likely have at least one in your home. Now, GFI’s are similar to a circuit breaker, but more sensitive. They’ll sense if someone is getting electrocuted and disconnect the power within 1/40th of a second.

There are three types of GFI’s:

• Circuit breaker combination: Installed in the electrical service box, it protects everything on the circuit.

• Receptacle type: Replaces a regular wall receptacle and when installed, still serves as an outlet but offers the additional protection of the GFI.

• Portable: Generally used by trades people, such as carpenters who use power tools at different job sites.

Once installed, GFI’s require maintenance. On each interrupter there is a test button. Each month, this button should be pushed to trip the safety device and device reset. Tripping the device cleans oxidation and corrosion on the inside, which can affect its sensitivity and ability to protect. Basically, what I’m saying is that if you don’t trip or press and reset the test buttons monthly the GFI’s could become useless and not trip when they’re suppose to.

In new home construction, they are required for kitchens, bathrooms, exterior and even garage receptacles. If your home doesn’t have a GFI, install at least one. If you have a swimming pool, all equipment and surrounding plugs should be protected. If you are not handy, I promise you, any licensed electrician can easily install them for you.

Q: I have a block basement wall and the paint is crumbling off in areas near the floor leaving a white, powdery residue behind. What causes this and how can it be corrected?

A: This is caused by leaking and is called efflorescence. You may not actually see water on the floor because the seepage may be minor and evaporates. Make sure the terrain is sloped away 4 to 6-feet with at least a 1-inch slope. The patio, driveway or walks should also be slightly pitched to direct rainwater away from the house. If you have a sump pump, make sure ground water is draining into it and it is pumping the water out and away from the house.

Q: Our house burnt down and was rebuilt on the same lot. Since we moved back we have blue water. We never had this problem before the house burnt down, so we feel it is not the water supplied by our water company. When taking a shower or bath the walls of our showers/tubs get a blue/green film on them and although it can be scrubbed off, I find myself scrubbing the showers and tubs a few times a week. We spoke with our builder and plumber since day one and they said this happens but have never figured out the cause or the cure. Have you ever heard of this?

A: I spoke to David from 4-A Plumbing and he said it sounds as if lead-free flux or lead-free solder was used and recommends to get a water test done to see if the test results show a lot of lead. I think it may be something else. Check with an electrician and have him inspect to make sure the electrical system is properly grounded 8-feet into the earth as well as all ground connections are secure and proper.

Q: My showerhead used to have good pressure but not anymore. Can it be cleaned?

A: Minerals in your water blocked openings in the shower’s head. Put a rag around the head so you won’t damage the chrome. Remove the showerhead using a wrench. Hold the neckpiece coming out of the wall, with your hand or a channel lock. Once removed place the showerhead in a jar filled with vinegar and let it soak for about two hours. Lightly poke out the spray holes with a safety pin and reinstall. Or, pour the vinegar in a small plastic bag and tape it around the showerhead without removing it. Let it soak for a couple of hours.


Carbon Monoxide / Stucco Chimney Problems / Leak From Ice Dam

In Miscellaneous, Smoke/CO Detectors on March 20, 2012 at 9:30 am

To all my followers: Please pass along my blog address to all your friends and family. I’d appreciate it!


Dear Readers,

This question comes from me. It is: how many of you have a carbon monoxide detector, and if so, is it working properly?


Carbon Monoxide (CO) is also known as the “silent killer” because it is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas.

CO is a by-product of incomplete combustion. It doesn’t just originate from a cracked furnace heat exchanger.

Countless numbers of people have died because of exhaust gasses. More than 20,000 Americans go to the emergency room or died from using space heaters, ovens and barbeques and from CO seeping into their houses when they are warming up their cars.

There is a solution. CO detectors are available at any home, hardware and box store. They do exactly what they claim, detect carbon monoxide to save you and your families lives.

In spite of that, only half the homes in our area have a CO detector. Some of those units are older and not even working. If your carbon monoxide detector is older than five years, it’s time to replace it. It is important now more than ever to install CO detectors in your house. Please do it this weekend.


We have a two-story house. In the winter a large frozen waterfall develops from the upper roof corner to a first story roof. That section has been completely ice shielded running up the adjoining wall. I installed an electrical heat cord and the frozen waterfall still develops.

When we have a sudden thaw, we sometimes get a leak to the first floor room under the bottom of the waterfall.


If you did install ice shields under the entire first floor shingles and up the adjoining wall you should not have a leak. It’s possible that you did not go up the adjoining wall far enough or the leak is originating under the second floor shingles and running down between the exterior and interior walls until it gets to the addition.

I have inspected hundred of homes where a second floor ice dam runs down through the walls and ends up in the basement.

My recommendation is to install ice shields all the way up all valleys. Add more insulation and ventilation.


My chimney is constructed of block that has white cement that has been troweled onto the block to give it a stucco-like appearance. The problem is the cement is cracking and chunks are falling off. The cracking is in the upper third of this 2-story chimney. What do you think the proper way to repair this chimney so I don’t have this problem again in a few years?


There are just a few issues that could be causing the problem. The chimney “wash” or cap is damaged allowing moisture to get behind and loosen the stucco. In that case, repair/replace the wash and all loose and missing stucco.

If the wash is intact you have a bigger problem since the stucco may have been improperly installed and not bonding to the block. If that’s true, you’ll probably need to take it all off and start over.

Finally, in the past, was your furnace replaced with a high-efficiency furnace that now vents through the wall? If so, was the chimney relined to reduce the interior opening to accommodate just a gas water heater?

If you only have a gas water heater exhausting into a large older chimney, the unburned gasses, carbon monoxide and condensate cannot go up and out the chimney, which causes those gasses to condense within the chimney. In cold weather those gasses, which contain moisture, migrate through to the cold exterior. That is what causes spalling bricks and failing stucco.

The problem was so severe the industry calls it “orphaned water heaters”.

If that’s the cause, relining the chimney before it completely fails is necessary.

Indoor Air

In Indoor Air Quality on March 14, 2012 at 2:23 pm

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Have you been suffering from:
•    Insomnia
•    Allergies
•    Colds
•    Headaches
•    Fatigue
•    Lack of concentration
•    Asthma
•    All of the above

Research has found that many health related problems are directly related to the air in our homes. Back in the 1970’s we started caulking, insulating and sealing up our houses to save energy (read that as “save money”). Our old drafty homes may have been expensive to heat but the infiltrating air made the air indoors cleaner and safer.

Add to the equation that each household uses a lot more cleaning products and chemicals than we did back then. The majority of these products contain what is now referred to as Volatile Organic Compounds or VOC’s. VOC’s are the off gassing of chemicals in items such as cleaning products, draperies, furniture, paints, pesticides, repellants, bleach, cologne and aerosol sprays. It’s a wonder we aren’t gasping for breath at home.

Other sources of indoor air problems are carpeting, bedding, refrigerator drip pans, dirty air conditioning coils, HVAC filters, ductwork, too much humidity, as well as pets and bathrooms without exhaust fans. Keep in mind this is only a partial list.

What can we do to make the air in our homes safer to breathe?
•    Change the furnace/AC filters frequently.
•    Have your ductwork cleaned.
•    Properly maintain humidifiers. That means cleaning them periodically.
•    Repair any and all leaks. I.e. roof, flashing, basement and plumbing.
•    Clean refrigerator coils and drip pan according to the manufacturer’s requirements.
•    Install and use kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans that vent to the outdoors. Exhaust fans that just circulate the air    do very little to clean it.
•    Make sure the attic is well ventilated.
•    If you have a crawl space, install a 6-mil vapor retarder on the ground of the entire crawl.
•    Insulate all cold water pipes to reduce condensation.
•    Vacuum carpeting frequently and replace the cleaner bag as needed.
•    Remove and properly dispose of all household paints, cleaners, chemicals and strippers.
•    Make sure the dryer is vented to the outdoors. Clean the screen after each use. Periodically clean the dryer exhaust vent pipe.
•    Keep pets clean.
•    Control humidity so moisture does not collect on windows or cold walls in the winter.
•    Install an air-to-air heat exchanger for your furnace.
•    Have your furnace or boiler inspected annually and install carbon monoxide detectors throughout the house.
•    Do not store firewood indoors.
•    When you install new carpeting, keep the windows open to ventilate the room.
•    Do not smoke or allow smoking in the house.
•    Clean your house frequently and thoroughly.
•    Have the house tested for radon and mold.
•    If your house is over 30 years old, have it tested for asbestos and lead.
•    Purchase low VOC products only.

Radon is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that exists everywhere. The problem with radon occurs only in our houses. It attaches itself to the air, which we inhale. It contributes to between 20 and 30,000 lung cancer deaths annually. Radon mitigation usually costs under $1000.00.

Asbestos was ubiquitous. Thousands of products in our daily lives contain asbestos. A few include ductwork, brake linings, drapes, gaskets, insulation in attics, pipe wraps, boilers, ceiling and floor tiles, roofing, siding and the list goes on. Asbestos was banned and was no longer installed beginning in 1972. The problem is that it exists in our daily lives. Michigan ranks twelfth in the nation in asbestos related deaths.

Mold is also everywhere. There are tens of thousands of molds. There are probably 1000 different molds in our homes but only a handful are toxic. But everyone’s tolerance is different so we have differing reactions to mold exposure. If in doubt, have an environmental company do an indoor air mold test.

Lead-based paint was banned in 1978. Lead is especially hazardous to small children and infants. If your house is over 30 years old and/or you are planning on doing remodeling or paint scraping/sanding, you should have the walls and woodwork tested.

Lon’s Favorite Tips

In Miscellaneous on March 6, 2012 at 11:45 am

Every now and then I get in a generous mood and decide to share some of my favorite homeowner tips with you.

Of course, I didn’t put them in any particular order. I have listed them in the order they “popped” into my head.

Some I’ve learned because I was a “muddy boots” contractor and others I’ve accumulated from reading publications such as, The Family Handyman, Consumer Reports, Old House Journal, etc.

Peruse the following list. I hope you learn something from it that will save you time and money. If you have a tip you want to share with fellow Eccentric readers, send it to me at drdiy@comcast.net.

Cleaning a microwave: (I found this tip in the Family Handyman and love it).

  • Partially fill any microwave-safe cup with water and place a healthy slice of lemon on the water. Put it in the microwave and boil the water for approximately one minute. Don’t open the door. Let the steam loosen baked on food and spills. Wait ten minutes and open the door. You should then be able to wipe the interior clean.

These charcoal tips come to us from This Old House Magazine (September 2009). When hardwoods burn you get charcoal. Charcoal is great for barbequing, but did you know it has other great uses?

  • Place charcoal in open bowls or perforated plastic bags in your fridge or drawers to banish odors.
  • Put a lump of charcoal beneath the cut stems in a vase to help the water stay clean and clear.
  • Mix charcoal into your compost pile to increase its carbon content. (If the pile smells like ammonia it needs carbon.)
  • Before storing rock salt or sand used during winter, mix a few lumps of charcoal into the bag or bucket. They’ll soak up the dampness and prevent these materials from freezing or caking together.
  • Potted orchids benefit from charcoal’s alkalinity. Mix small pieces with your potting medium (e.g., bark or wood chunks) to nourish the flowers.
  • Place a few lumps of charcoal in your toolbox to absorb moisture and keep the metal from oxidizing.

WD-40 was invented in 1953. Technicians were looking for a rust preventative solvent and degreaser to protect parts for the Atlas Missile program. The name came out of that project, which was to find a “water displacement” compound. They were successful with the fortieth formulation. That’s where the name WD-40 originated.

Now that you know that, did you know there are many uses for WD-40? Check out the following:

  • Keep rust from forming on tools.
  • Eliminates squeaks in fans.
  • Restores and cleans vehicle roof racks.
  • It can be used on leather car dashboards and vinyl bumpers.
  • Spray it into the tracks of drawers and windows. It makes them easier to slide.
  • Removes tomato stains from clothing.
  • Loosens stuck or hard to glide zippers.
  • Keeps your bathroom mirror from fogging up after a shower.
  • Removes duct tape residue.
  • It can remove tar and scuff marks from kitchen floor

Restore the scent of cedar to that old cedar closet:

In time, the oils in cedar harden on the surface sealing in that delightful aroma. To restore the scent, while wearing a dust mask and eye protection lightly sand the cedar with 100-grit sandpaper. If that isn’t successful, you can wipe cedar oil onto the newly sanded wood.

Removing stick-on mirrors:

Those mirrors were pretty common in the 1970’s, but so were mullets.  There are a few methods to attack this problem but all involve you wearing protective eyeglasses and heavy gloves. Another necessity is contact paper or adhesive shelf liner.

Start by peeling back and attaching the contact paper to the mirror. That should help prevent glass from flying everywhere as you pry and pull it away from the wall.

Using a heat gun or hair dryer, try and soften the adhesive holding that holds the mirror to the wall. As you work, slip a putty knife or a hacksaw blade between the wall and the mirror until you have it loosened enough to lift off.

Once you’ve removed all the mirrors, you’ll find you need to patch the damaged drywall. Cut away and sand any loose drywall paper. Paint the area with KILZ primer and when dry, patch with spackling paste, sand and re-prime. Now you’re ready to paint.

To all my followers: Please pass along my blog address to all your friends and family. I’d appreciate it!


In Flooring, HVAC, Plumbing, Q&A on March 2, 2012 at 10:37 am

To all my followers: Please pass along my blog address to all your friends and family. I’d appreciate it!

We have a stuck diverter tub/shower valve. Do you know of a solution that would free up the valve that doesn’t have a lot of “don’ts”?


If your diverter is in the wall, turn off the water and stop up the drain so you don’t lose anything.

Remove the cap that conceals the handle screw. Next, remove the screw and then pry off the handle. Use a wrench to remove the packing nut. You are now ready to remove the stem. Put the handle back on the end of the stem and turn it counter clockwise. When it’s out, replace the washer. Put plumbers grease on the threaded end of the stem and replace the stem. You may need to replace the inexpensive packing and packing washer (hardware and home centers).

The other type of diverter is the type that has a knob on the top of the spout that you lift. Usually the entire spout will need replacing. That is done by sticking the handle of an old screwdriver or hammer into the spout and turning it counter clockwise. You will be removing it from the pipe coming out of the wall. When you replace it, use Teflon pipe seal on the pipe and hand tighten the new spout. (See, no “don’ts”).

I have a tile bathroom floor that has a small area in the floor that has a grating noise when walked upon. Nothing seems loose, and the grout is intact. The only visible evidence is a few short hairline cracks along the grout tile interface. I had planned to install larger tiles over the existing ones and thought that the larger tiles would span the loose tiles and minimize the problem. Do you think I can avoid removing any loose tiles although I can’t feel any? I guess that the alternate would be to remove any loose tiles I can find and use a leveling compound?

You can tile over existing tile, but if they are as loose as yours appear to be, forget about it. The problem will get worse and the new tile floor will crack and also become loose. In your case, I’d remove the old floor and start from scratch. You may even find your sub-floor is delaminating.

My house was built in the 1950’s and my gas bills are extremely high. I already added insulation in the 1980’s and I turn down my thermostat at night. What’s next?

If the last time you added insulation to your attic was back in the 1980’s, you only have about R-19. That’s not even minimum by today’s standards. You need to add a lot more to bring your R-value up to R-60. R-value is how we measure insulation’s Resistance to heat and cold.

You should also install insulation in your basement at the top of all block or poured concrete walls between the joists. There you can use R-19 insulation.

In addition, you can reduce your gas bills by turning down the hot water tank to 120 degrees and by frequently replacing your furnace air filter.

The furnace that heats the radiators in our home is now 35-years old. Is it time to replace it to gain savings on heating bills? I read your column all the time, but on this issue you always discuss forced air furnaces as opposed to steam heat.

You don’t have a furnace you have a boiler. That’s important since many HVAC companies only work on furnaces. Heating and Plumbing contractors work with boilers.

Yes, you’ll save some energy by replacing the boiler, but will you save enough money to offset the 2-3000 dollar cost of the new boiler? How much are your gas bills? Do you have enough insulation? How good are your windows? Caulking? How long are you planning on staying in the house?

Do the inexpensive things first as well as the math.

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