Archive for August, 2012|Monthly archive page

Tips for Washer Problems / Ceiling Fan Support / What Causes Dark Lines on a Drywall Ceiling?

In Miscellaneous, Q&A on August 21, 2012 at 10:04 am

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Today’s home repair tip may help you come clean.

If your clothes washing machine isn’t filling with water rapidly, it may be that its supply hose is kinked, the supply valves are not fully open or the filter screen washers may be clogged. The solution to the first two is obvious, but the last problem is a tiny bit more involved.

The first step to cleaning the screens is to unplug the washer and pull it away from the wall to gain access to the water-inlet mixing valve on the machines back where the hoses screw into the washer. Next, turn both the hot and cold water inlet valves off and unscrew the hoses from the mixing valve. A little water may leak out, so keep a towel and a bucket handy. Using a thin blade screwdriver or needle nose pliers, carefully remove the filter from each valve inlet. Clean each screen under running water with an old toothbrush. Re-install the screens with the rounded part of the screen facing you. Before reattaching the hoses to the inlet-mixing valve, unscrew the hoses from the hot and cold supply valves, and check for screens at this end. If you find screens there, clean or replace them if damaged.

Finally, before you replace those rubber hoses, throw them away and install steel braided hoses that are less resistant to bursting, flooding your house and bursting your bubble.

Ceiling Fan Support

We can all use a little extra support now and then but so do those ceiling fans as well.

Conventional ceiling outlet boxes should never be used as sole support of a paddle fan, no matter how securely the box is mounted. There have been documented failures because regular boxes are not designed for rotating fan loads. Read that as the fan falling down and hitting you on the noggin.

To install a paddle fan there are two options: The first is to replace the ceiling box with one of similar size that is specifically listed and marked as acceptable for fan support. Several designs are available in electrical supply houses and home centers for these installations. This method will probably be necessary if the existing box is mounted between the framing members.

The other option is to avoid using the box as the primary support. This approach may be practical if the box is secured through the back to the heavy horizontal cleat or framing member. First, attach the fan bracket to the box then using additional screws of sufficient size and length, secure the bracket directly to a cross member.

I hope I have a lot more fans by sharing this information.


I have a friend who has dark linear shadow lines on the ceiling. Do you know what is causing this? Does the shadow know?


If you have dark lines on the drywall ceiling below an attic, you’ll find it’s no coincidence that they run not only parallel with the ceiling joists, but directly beneath each joist.

Now, although you may have insulation between the joists in the attic floor, the tops of the joists are exposed to the low winter temperatures in the attic. Since the wood joists are not effective insulators, they act as thermal bridges. Consequently, the temperature at the underside of the joists (at the drywall ceiling) is lower that the adjacent sections of the ceiling that is covered with insulation batts. Because of the lower temperature below the joists, condensation (however slight) tends to form along those areas. Over time, the moisture traps dust and also results in mildew growth, which shows up as shadow lines. To prevent this from recurring, wash the ceiling with a mixture of T.S.P. and bleach. Rinse, let dry and then repaint if needed but use a paint containing a mildewcide. Next, install insulation batts over the exposed ceiling joists. Ideally, the insulation should fill the spaces between the joists and cover the tops of the joists as well. This last layer of batts should be installed perpendicular to the joists. However you install the insulation, make sure to use a type that does not have foil or a kraft-paper vapor barrier. And be sure additional insulation does not cover soffit vents or recessed light housings (unless the housings are IC type rated for direct contact with insulation.)


Anode Rods / Snaking a Drain for the D.I.Y. / Removing Graffiti

In Plumbing, Q&A on August 14, 2012 at 12:38 pm

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Everyone knows what a sacrificial lamb is but did you ever hear of a sacrificial rod in your hot water tank?

In your hot water tank is an “anode rod”. Water heater anodes are often called sacrificial anodes for a good reason. The glass lining that protects the steel tanks of most water heaters is not perfect (unlike us). Electrolytic reactions with minerals in the water can cause the steel tank to corrode. The anode rod, which is usually made from magnesium, is the least noble metal in the tank. As a result, it’s the first to corrode, sparing the steel tank from a similar fate.

Your water heater’s anode should be replaced when it is substantially depleted. Manufacturers suggest it should be checked every six months when other routine water heater maintenance tasks are performed. Just how many of you out there do six month maintenance check-ups on your water tank: such as testing the T&P valve, draining the sediment, cleaning the burner compartment, adjusting the flame if needed and checking for gas leaks. In some heaters the anode rod can be accessed through a port on the top of the tank. Other manufacturers suspend the anode rod from the water outlet. Check the manufacturers instructions for complete details.

Anode rods are not always made from magnesium. In some areas, the water contains minerals that release foul smelling gases when they react with magnesium (I had that problem at my lake house). Usually, it’s sulfur that’s the most troublesome and in these areas anode rods made from aluminum are substituted. If you experience that problem, check with the heater’s manufacturer to obtain the correct anode rod.


When my sink or toilet gets stopped up will snaking it out be an easy do-it-yourself, money-saving project or do I have to call the plumber again?


If plunging fails, it’s time to use and auger or snake. There are various fancy snakes that attach to electrical drills or have tidy cases, but you’ll get no better results than with an ordinary bent-handled snake. It’ll cost around ten dollars at hardware and home centers. The operating principle of a snake is this: You push it into the pipe until it hits the clog, then screw the spiral tip into the obstruction and pull back toward you. Take the trap off first. The trap is the U-shaped section of the pipe directly below the sink or the tub. Unfortunately, some older tubs have those traps shaped like a drum. Sometimes the obstruction will be in that trap; try pushing it out or snagging it with a coat hanger. As soon as you take the trap off under your sink, buy a new slip nut gasket (that’s the plastic or rubber seal). Take the old one with you for reference. I’ve been told I have a loose gasket but in this case the old gasket will probably not seal tightly a second time. If the nut is worn, replace it as well.

You use a special snake called a closet auger for toilets. The rubber sleeve at the end protects the porcelain from scratches, and the long handle certainly makes the job more pleasant. Closet augers cost about twenty-five dollars.


Some kids sprayed graffiti on my garage. What can I use to remove it?


Aren’t kids just the cutest little things and they write just about the cutest little expressions on the side of your garage. Well if you’re not as amused as I am, and I am sure you’re not, there are removers for that graffiti. There are removers for those kids too, but it’s illegal.

You can remove the graffiti using a product called Zip-Strip Paint Remover from the Star-Bronze Company. It costs about $12.99 for 32-ounces. You brush it on, let it sit for about 15 minutes and scrub it off using a stiff brush. But wait! If you still can read the handwriting on the wall, you can also try Motsenbocker’s “Lift Off” Graffiti Remover. It costs about eight dollars for a 22-ounce spray bottle and is safe to use on any surface, is biodegradable and can be used indoor or outdoor.

Check your local hardware or paint stores for these products.

Ladder Safety / Cleaning Slate Grout / Seasonal Home Odors / Beware of Contractor Scams

In Uncategorized on August 6, 2012 at 11:30 am

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Ladder Safety

 The U.S. Consumer Safety Commission states that about 165,000 Americans require medical treatment for injuries related to ladders every year and that number is escalating. Each year over 300 people are killed using a ladder and ninety seven percent of these accidents happen within the home.

Here are five-points of ladder safety:

1.    Choose the right ladder for the job:

  • Step or extension ladder.
  • The ladder can only hold so much weight. Remember to add the weight of tools and material to your weight. So check the load rating.
  • Don’t overreach or use the top two steps of the ladder or top three rungs of an extension.
  • Do not use an aluminum ladder when working on or near electricity.

2.    Inspect the ladder:

  • Make sure the rungs are not bent r cracked.
  • Check the slip resistant pads, ropes and pulleys.
  • Make sure the rung locks are working.
  • Did the spreaders on the stepladder lock?

3.    Set the ladder properly:

  • The ladder should lean at a 75-degree angle, which means one foot for every four feet.

4.    Secure the ladder.

5.    Climb and work safely:

  • Obviously use common sense and safe work practices and you won’t be one of those ladder statistics next year.



I just read your column in the Birmingham Eccentric. I have a grey/brick colored slate entryway and hallway (you have seen this slate in many houses built in the 1950’s) that has blackened grout. I have used ammonia and water, vinegar and water etc. to try to clean it with no improvement. Do you have any suggestions for cleaning this slate?


Try some grout cleaners that are available at Home Depot, Lowes or Tile stores, they should work. If not, it is because of all the sealers, which have built up over time. Here is a home remedy I’ve used successfully:

  • Wearing rubber gloves and protective eyewear, apply varnish remover and lacquer thinner. Allow it to remain on the slate floor for a few hours and then scrub it off.
  • Rinse well.
  • If you are still floored, apply a mixture of one-part, 18-percent muriatic acid to four parts water. Test this in an inconspicuous area before applying to the entire floor.
  • It is very important to rinse the floor thoroughly and wear rubber gloves, long-sleeved shirt and protective eyewear.
  • Once clean and dry, apply a grout sealer periodically.

I hope this wipes your slate clean.


I have a problem that I hope you can help me solve. I have a mobile home I use as a year-round cottage. Once the weather gets cold and the place is closed up, there seems to be some odors. The furnace and ductwork have been cleaned but still get the odors.


Have someone check beneath your mobile home. You may have debris, rot, mold, etc. Make sure the insulation is not wet, moldy or hanging down. Make sure there isn’t loose or damaged ductwork and all duct joints are sealed. You should check and clean out exhaust fans as well as their vent lines.

Finally, there is a possibility the odor may be originating from dirt or a rodent. Clean behind and under all furniture and appliances. Don’t forget to clean the coils behind and/or under your refrigerator.

 Beware of Contractor Scams

 Need a contractor? Beware of scams.

The majority of home repair and improvement contractors are legitimate. Yes, they make mistakes, but what separates them from the unethical ones is that they stand by their work.

Nowadays, scams are prevalent especially in the home repair and improvement field.

Be wary of anyone knocking on your door saying they are in the neighborhood and will give you a discount or claim they notice you need (fill in scam here) i.e. trees trimmed, roof repair, driveway sealed etc. Always get at least three estimates. Ask for and check references. You want a copy of their license and insurance. Check with local building authorities as well as the Better Business Bureau for complaints.

Finally, never pay up front, period. Contracts require a deposit but before you pay a penny, do your homework to make sure they can do theirs.


Noisy Water Heater / Phantom Flushing / Check For Asbestos Tiles First

In Asbestos Tile, Hot Water Tanks, Plumbing on August 6, 2012 at 11:00 am

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My gas fired water heater “cracks and pops” like a steam radiator during the reheat cycle. Is there a cure?


Providing no one spilled a box of cereal into your tank, you may just have purchased and inexpensive tank. Even so, there are a few things you can do.

First, turn down the temperature setting, on the dial, on your tank. It should be set to 120-degrees. Next, periodically turn off the gas and using the hose of a vacuum cleaner, vacuum out the sediment that accumulates on the top of the burner compartment.

Another thing, twice a year, drain a pail of water from the hose bib at the bottom of your tank. That will flush some of the sediment out and help the tank last longer and be quieter.

One more thing, many people think turning the temperature up all the way will give them more hot water or hot water faster. Wrong on both counts. All you’ll do is take years of life off the tank, spend a lot of extra money trying to maintain the temperature of the water, which you’’ just have to add cold water to so you don’t scald yourself.


I have a toilet that all of a sudden flushes by itself. I know something is wrong and I know it’s flushing money down the drain. But what causes this?


Depending on the frequency that could be a few hundred dollars annually down the drain.

To correct the problem, pour a few drops of food coloring into the tank. Wait about 10 to 15 minutes and lift the seat of the commode. If the water turned the color of the food coloring, you’ll need to replace the tank ball or flapper ball not the float. It is generally black or rust colored at the bottom, center of the tank.

Turn off the water and drain the box. Simple to install replacement kits, which are easy to attach to the overflow pipe are available at neighborhood hardware stores for under ten dollars.

But before you install the new flapper ball, lightly clean the rim that the flapper sits in with a fine steel wool, you’ll now have what is known as a “Royal Flush”.


I have an older 1940’s house with a tiled basement floor. Some of the tiles are cracked, broken or have become loose. Can the old tiles just be yanked out and replaced?


If the tiles measure 9-inches by 9-inches in all likelihood those tiles contain asbestos. Normally floor tiles with asbestos present no health problems unless the fibers are disturbed. The only way I know of doing that would be to use a buffer/stripper machine on the tiles or damage and break the tiles. Feeling bored and looking for something to do? First take one of the broken or loose tiles to a testing lab (check the yellow pages). If it’s not asbestos, pretend you’re married to me and ignore what I’m saying.

If they do contain asbestos, to remove the old tiles you’ll need a large, long handled, metal scraper. Of course, prying and scraping the tiles will indeed disturb the asbestos. The only way to do it safely is to keep them wet while you’re working. Once loose, place the wet tiles in a large double-bagged garbage bags and dispose of them properly. The remaining adhesive may also contain asbestos fibers so instead of sanding them down, use a chemical remover.

If the basement is dry and you’re planning on carpeting it, leave the asbestos tiles down and just replace the damaged, missing or loose tiles with any tiles just so the floor is even. Remember, the asbestos tiles will be a good insulator between the cement floor and your carpeting.


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