Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

When Hiring a Contractor- Do Your Homework! / Damaged Ceiling Tiles / Hanging Pictures on Plaster Walls

In Miscellaneous, Mold on February 13, 2013 at 11:17 am

Do Your Homework When Hiring a Contractor

Hiring a contractor? Do your homework, before he does your home-work!


You should be prepared. Make a list of what you want done. Each contractor should be bidding on the same list. Always get three bids. All bids should be free. All bids should be in writing.


Check out references. I had some driveway work done on my house. The contractor never followed through with my complaint six months later. He has my name on his list of references. When someone calls, I tell them “No, I’m not satisfied and do not recommend him”.

How was the workmanship? Cleanliness? Were they satisfied? If possible, see the jobs.


As for the contract itself, the contract should include job specifications i.e.:

  • Detailed description of work to be done.
  • Materials to be used.
  • Cost of the job upon completion.
  • Payment schedule.
  • Permits needed and who is responsible for them.
  • Change order clause (any changes must be in writing).
  • Statement of insurance.
  • License number of the contractor.
  • Guaranty or warranty.
  • Method of debris removal and who will be responsible.
  • Start and completion dates.

Any contract signed at your house can be canceled within three days. Also get a release of liens at the time of paying the final payment. If you pay your contractor and he fails to pay any of or all of his “subs”, they in turn can sue you, put a lien on your house forcing you to pay twice. Get the release of liens.


I have water damage in the old ceiling tiles in my breezeway and the ceiling is bowing. I am concerned because I smell a musty odor. There are also mice. Just recently they have chewed through one of the tiles. Insulation, tile, along with their feces fell onto my couch. I don’t know where to begin.


Begin by putting a small piece of the ceiling tile in a zip lock bag and take it to a testing lab. Check the yellow pages for environmental testing labs. How you proceed from there depends on whether it contains hazardous asbestos or not. If it does, call an asbestos abatement company. If not, still proceed with caution due to the mold and fecal matter.

I’d call an environmental testing company next to inspect for mold, since you obviously smell mold. They will test, and if hazardous, recommend a company to remediate it.

If it’s not hazardous, remove everything from that area and cover the floors with 4 to 6-mil plastic. Wear a disposable tyvak coverall, gloves, mask, and eye protection and carefully pull down and dispose of the existing ceiling tiles and insulation.

Make sure you repair the roof, replace any rotted wood, and seal any openings where the mice are entering. Remember, mice can get into an opening 1/2 the diameter of a dime. Replace the insulation and install a new ceiling.


I have plaster walls and am having problems hanging pictures without really damaging the walls, any tricks?


Take a couple of pieces of masking tape and make an “x” where you want to put the hook or nail. Tap a nail with a blunt head into the center of the tape. The plaster should not break. To make a nail with a blunt head, put the nail on any hard surface with the pointed end up. With a hammer, hit the point hard so it is slightly flattened at the tip. By doing so, you push wood or drywall back or inward and lessen the chance for surface cracking.

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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.)

Removing Wet Mark From Wood Table / Repairing Small Holes From Hanging Pictures / Maintenance To Keep Ceramic Floors Looking Great

In Flooring, Miscellaneous, Q&A on July 23, 2012 at 9:41 am

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I had my nephew over and he set a glass on my wood table (without using a coaster) and it left a large white spot or ring. Do we need to refinish the whole table?


You’ve now experienced the age-old problem that people with wood furniture have all experienced. I just didn’t think furniture was made from wood anymore. I was beginning to think everything was plastic, acrylic or laminate. Nice to know wood is still around, and your nephew is gone!

To remove the stain, mix a small amount of toothpaste with some baking soda and lightly rub it onto the white stain. Rub with the grain using a damp, soft cotton rag. When it dries take a dry rag and wipe everything clean.

If the area you cleaned is now a different shade than the rest of the tabletop, don’t fret, gently do the rest of the table and when done, wipe with lemon oil instead of furniture wax.


The house I am trying to sell has some holes where I hung pictures. I want to repair them but don’t know where to start, can you help?


You know I think most of us have some minor nail pops, cracks or holes in at least one wall or ceiling, especially when you remove a shelf, picture, or even from small settling cracks.

I remember my first apartment. I filled the nail holes where I hung pictures with toothpaste to get my security deposit back.

Well, you don’t have to resort to such devious measures as long as there is easy-to-use, “ready-mixed” spackle or patching plaster available for under three dollars a quart. If you’re really trying to save money, buy the very inexpensive, five-pound box, you just mix it with water for about two dollars.

The only tools you’ll need will be a hammer, possibly a putty knife, a four-inch flat blade trowel and some sand paper. Tap in any protruding nails or remove them and replace them with drywall screws. Clean out and remove any loose pieces and fill the holes and cracks using the putty knife and the flat blade. Push the spackle as far into the crack as you can and then release pressure on the blade and as you get farther away from the crack or hole slowly apply more pressure to the blade. What that does is feather the new spackle down the existing wall. The smoother the finish the less sanding you’ll need to do.

So you see, spackling is also like getting plastered, but on a smaller scale and it’s even ok to drive the car afterward!


What kind of maintenance do I need to do to keep my ceramic floors looking great?


You should know that ceramic tiles are like men. If you take care of them in the short run, you can walk all over them for years and talking care of them means just mopping with a cleaner like Spic & Span, rinsing with water and letting it dry. Better yet, you can purchase the Bissell® Steam and Sweep™ at local home centers such as Target, Sears, Lowes and Meijer. It is chemical free and does a great job sweeping and cleaning.

Unglazed tiles should be sealed with a tile sealer (sold at tile stores) and sealed just about every other year. You don’t have to seal unglazed tile, but you should still clean and seal the grout periodically. Products like “Grout Revive” or “Tile Guard” are available at hardware and tile stores, which do the job nicely.

But if you have stains in the grout or in unglazed tiles that just won’t come out, and you’ve tried all the grout cleaners on the market, wearing rubber gloves, goggles, protective clothing and working in a well-ventilated area, you should be able to get the stains out using a diluted solution of Muriatic Acid mopped on and rinsed with water. If that doesn’t work, Phosphoric Acid will. You’ll also find them at hardware and tile stores. Finally, if you can’t get the grout clean, it can be cut out and replaced or even colored using a grout stain or colorant. Similar to what you use to cover your grey hair.

Mystery Spots on Basement Floor / Missing Roof Shingles / Garage Door Opener Problem

In Miscellaneous, Q&A on May 1, 2012 at 9:41 am

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I have never had any problems with leaks in my basement.

Over the last several months I have noticed several dark spots appearing on the concrete floor. They are not moist and some of them have white areas, but those are not wet. The spots are not near walls or under any pipes; they are more toward the middle of the basement. Do you have any idea of what they might be?

Those are leaks and efflorescence as a result of leaks. The moisture under the slab is permeating up. If you have a sump pump, check it and verify that it is working and possibly lower it in the sump to make sure it comes on sooner.

Every year about this time, or for that matter, every year at just about anytime, the wind rips off a shingle or two from my house. It is becoming expensive to hire a roofer to replace them each time. The roof isn’t that old so it shouldn’t need replacing. How can I replace a missing shingle myself and save money?

When you inspect your asphalt or fiberglass shingles, you should find that each shingle, which generally has three or four tabs, is probably secured with nails or staples. The nails should be about one-inch in from each edge and another one over each slot. The overlapping shingles should conceal the nails or staples. Obviously, your self-sealing tabs did not seal properly. A common problem with shingles installed in cold weather.

You need to slip a pry bar under the overlapping shingle (which is just above the torn/missing shingle) loosen and raise it. After removing the nails, you should be able to pull out the remainder of the damaged shingle.

Using a utility knife cut off several inches along the top of the new replacement shingle along with a small corner on each topside. Slip that newly trimmed shingle into place and nail it down suing four galvanized roofing nails.

Now for the tricky part – trying to nail a new shingle down without damaging the overlapping shingle. A good technique is to slip your trusty old pry bar back up under the overlapping shingle directly over each nail. Then hammer on the pry bar to drive each of the nails down at one time. I hope I’ve driven my point home.

While you’re up there lightly try and lift the remaining shingles. If they are loose, dab a small amount of tar from a tube or caulking gun under each loose tab. That should prevent additional shingles from blowing off.

You know what they say, “What goes up, must come down”. But as you can see, when we’re talking about your roof, what comes down must go back up!

Help, my automatic garage door opener is acting up.

You didn’t provide enough information, but here’s a start. Check and see if there is anything obstructing the door’s remote sensor. Remove the obstruction and try again. Check and see if you have photoelectric sensors neat the bottom of both sides of the overhead door. They may have become dislodged or misaligned.

The most likely problem is the photoelectric sensors located near the floor. They are a safety feature designed to prevent damage and injury. Make sure there is no obstruction. Even a cobweb could cause the problem.

Perhaps the sensors are loose or not lined up. They could have been bumped or dislodged.

Take a look at them and you should see a small light. The light should be constant and not blinking. If it is, try adjusting and tightening the wing nut at the back of the sensor.
Some concrete floors heave. If that’s the case, adjust the automatic safety reverse. Look for an adjustment screw. If you can’t locate the owner’s manual, and your opener is an older model, it may not have an adjustment knob or screw. If that’s the case, it’s not safe and should be replaced.

If the door activates itself, somebody nearby may be using the same radio code as you. Check your manual for instructions to recode your opener.

Carbon Monoxide / Stucco Chimney Problems / Leak From Ice Dam

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

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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.

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.

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