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Looking for great advice on home repair, home improvements and many do-it-yourself projects? Then look to Tom Feiza, Milwaukee's "Mr. Fix-It." Tom has helped millions on a broad range of home-related topics. The right column contains a list of chapters from Tom's book "Just Fix It". If you find this information useful you will enjoy Tom's book. If you are looking for the How to Operate Your Home website, click here.

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Mr. Fix-It Blog

Quick Tip #9 – No “Ding-Dong” at the Bell

April 16th, 2014 by admin No comments »

E010 - Doorbell ButtonHow annoying…that front doorbell only works from time to time, and you never know whether someone is there. You don’t want to call an electrician for such a small job.

Hey, it’s often a quick fix — just replace the exterior button. Doorbell systems operate at a low voltage, so you really can’t get a shock. You also can’t damage the system by attempting a repair. Give it a try.

Check out the front button and loosen a few screws holding it to the door frame. If the button is recessed into the wood, carefully pry it from the hole in the wood frame with a putty knife or pocket knife. The wires can be delicate, so be careful not to damage them — and don’t give the wires a hard tug.

Once you have found the wires, remove them from the screws on the switch. Touch the two wires together. If you get the “dong” every time you touch the wires together, you have found the problem. Just go to the hardware store and find a similar replacement switch, attach the wires and install the switch.

It is really that simple. Most doorbell failures can be traced to the exterior button, which is exposed to the weather and takes a beating.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #8: The Sinking Sidewalk

April 7th, 2014 by admin No comments »

M001A sinking sidewalk is bad news for you and your guests. Where the pavement is uneven, someone’s bound to trip eventually.

Pavement sinks because exterior concrete is always on the move. Soil settles. Moisture moves soil up and down. In cold climates, frost can heave and lift concrete slabs.

Tearing out, hauling away and replacing an entire sidewalk or driveway is expensive – and hard on the environment when all that concrete ends up in a landfill. But if your concrete is in pretty good shape, you can avoid this process. By “pretty good shape” I mean large sturdy pieces and a surface that is smooth and solid.

If that’s the case, a process called mudjacking can level the concrete slab. For about one-third the cost of replacement, a specialized contractor will drill holes in the slab and pump ground stone or a cement slurry under it. With just a little bit of pressure, the slab will be raised back into position. A few more holes are used to fill voids, and then a concrete mix is applied to patch the holes flush with the surface.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Use Quick Tips for your own content!

Quick Tip #7 – Get with the GFCI

March 24th, 2014 by admin No comments »

E119Ever noticed that some electrical outlets have a red and a black button in the middle? You’re looking at a GFCI — a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. This sophisticated device senses any current leaking through and immediately shuts off the power so you don’t get a shock.

In newer construction, GFCI outlets are located wherever water and electricity are used in close proximity: near sinks, in the garage, and at exterior outlets. In an older home, there may be a GFCI breaker (with push buttons) in the main electrical panel.

You should test this device every month to make sure it’s working to protect you from shocks. A simple test is to plug a lamp into the outlet with the light on. Press the “test” button and you should hear a click and the light should turn off. Push the “reset” button and the light should turn on with a click of the GFCI outlet.

Statistics show that about 10 percent of household GFCI devices are not working properly. If you find a problem, hire a professional to fix it ASAP.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #6 – Finding Studs

March 18th, 2014 by admin No comments »

M052If you think “finding studs” is something gals do in a singles bar, you’ve come to the wrong column. We’re talking wall framing studs. Every once in a while, you need to locate studs in a wall, like when you want to hang something heavy or cut into a wall for access. You could use an electronic stud finder, if you have one, and you may strike it rich. But electronic stud finders are not always accurate. They also don’t work on thicker drywall or where there are obstructions on or behind the wall.

To find studs or confirm the reading of a stud finder, think about how a wall is assembled. The illustration provides various clues to finding studs. First, most studs are placed 16 inches apart — so if you find one, you can find others. Studs are also found next to electrical switches and outlets, and often they surround heating return grills.

Look at the wood base trim of the wall; often you’ll find nail holes filled near the top of the trim. These nails will be driven into wood studs. Also, look for any imperfections or nail pops in the drywall surface — you can shine a flashlight over the surface at a flat angle to see little bumps or depressions. This technique reveals drywall nails or screws that will be placed into studs.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #5 – Save Money with a Filter Change

March 10th, 2014 by admin No comments »

H009Maintaining the filter on your air conditioning and heating equipment isn’t fun or glamorous. So why bother? Because a clean filter allows for proper air flow, and that makes the equipment run efficiently, saving you money. Also, a clean filter helps your system perform better, so your home environment will feel more comfortable.

And because a dirty filter restricts air flow and can make a heating unit overheat or an A/C unit freeze up, maintaining the filter helps you avoid a service call.

Filters come in various types, so take a look at your equipment. If you have a cleanable filter, note on your calendar when cleaning is due. Otherwise, buy an appropriate replacement filter to have on hand when you need it. Filters are inexpensive and should be changed or cleaned when they are visibly dirty. When you do change the filter, note the directional arrows on the side. Place the filter so that the arrows point in the direction of air flow.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #4 – One Cold Room

February 21st, 2014 by admin No comments »

H020Does your home have one room that’s always cold? Is there very little air flow from the heating grill, even when it is fully open? The culprit may be a heating supply duct that’s been closed.

In the basement, find the main warm-air supply duct, which originates directly above the furnace. Often this is a rectangular duct running down the center of the basement. It may branch off into smaller circular ducts serving individual room registers.

Where the round duct attaches to the rectangular main, look for evidence of a duct damper: a wing nut around the end of a quarter-inch threaded rod. At the end of the rod, you’ll see a screwdriver slot.

If this slot is perpendicular to the small round duct, the damper is closed. If the slot is parallel to the duct, the damper is open. You can loosen the wing nut and change the position of the damper. Then secure it by retightening the wing nut.

If opening the damper solves the problem, great. If the room is still cold, you may need to partially close other dampers to direct more air to the cold room. Often, dampers fit loosely, and even when fully closed, they can leak lots of air.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #3 – Plugged Drain? Here’s a Quick Fix

January 13th, 2014 by admin No comments »

Yuck…your tub or bathroom sink is draining slowly … again. Every time you remove the trap or use a plumbing snake, you know you’ll be dealing with a major mess. And, the hair in the trap is disgusting! But, you’re tired of standing in water when taking a shower.

Well, next time you’re at the grocery or hardware store, pick up a drain cleaner: a flexible plastic strip with small hooks along its length. It looks like a very thin Christmas tree.


Without dismantling anything, you push this thin plastic tool down the drain and pull out all that hair and junk. For some drains, it helps if you remove the stopper for better access.

Just be ready for a mess when you pull it out. Have a rag or paper towel ready to catch the junk. You should also wear rubber gloves.

After the junk is removed, run very hot water down the drain for several minutes.

If you don’t have time to go to the grocery store, you could also try this with a length of thin wire bent to form a hook on one end. This tool is not as effective, and it will take more effort to catch the hair and the junk — but it can work.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #2A: Quick – Turn Off the Water! (Cold Climate)

January 6th, 2014 by admin No comments »

Oh, no! Water is running from somewhere beneath the cabinets and ruining your new kitchen floor. HELP!

P005You can prepare for a crisis like this by knowing how to turn off the water to your home. You should locate the main water valve, know how to operate it, and tag it. Everyone in the household should walk through this drill.

Where is the valve? You don’t know? For us lucky folks in cold climates, supply piping is buried several feet in the ground; the pipe enters the home through the basement or crawl space. Take a look at the illustration. (In warm climates, pipes don’t need to be protected from freezing, and water may enter the house through an exposed valve.)

To find your supply line, look on the street side of your home first. You can also trace the pipe from the water heater to the cold water source. Remember, “right is tight” (off) with older valves. For ball valves: when the handle is perpendicular to the pipe, the water is off. If the valve is rusted or corroded, have a plumber test it and replace it if necessary.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #1: Power Lines: Play It Safe

January 1st, 2014 by admin No comments »

We all need to be aware of possible safety concerns with overhead power lines. If you ever see a power line – or what you may think is a power line – on the ground or in an area where folks can touch it, call your local utility.

Take a quick look at the electrical line feeding your home. It may be underground. Don’t dig a deep hole (to plant trees, for example) without contacting Diggers Hotline to locate underground wires and utilities.

E025If your home is fed by overhead wires, they should be at least 10 feet above any walking surface and 12 feet above a driveway. If your home has a pitched roof, overhead wires should be at least 3 feet above the roof. Make sure there is sufficient clearance to any window or raised porch. Electrical wires should never be run over swimming pools.

These clearances are mandated so people are never exposed to the wires, and also to keep the wires from being struck by tall trucks and other vehicles. You should never be able to reach out and touch a wire.

Sometimes clearances become a problem because of home improvements. We all add porches, deck and pools around our homes, and often folks don’t think about the overhead wires when making these changes. Any home inspector will tell you about finding hazards related to electrical wires.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It
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Helping you operate and maintain your home

Insulation Near a Fireplace?

December 17th, 2013 by admin No comments »


Can I insulate the underside of my first-floor fireplace chase? I would like to put batt-insulation, and a ceiling below the fireplace. I currently use the area as a storage closet. The area is very cold, and the air seems to migrate upstairs. I also get frost above the basement wall, on the framing. The fireplace is ~20 years old, and non-gas.



You’ll need to check on the installation requirements for your specific type of pre-fabricated fireplace. They must be installed per specific installation requirements. In general, they require clearance around the metal firebox, and around the metal flue that is routed up through the boxed-in chimney chase. I don’t think your real problem is in the basement. I think the real problem is the exterior wall behind the fireplace. Insulating below the floor will be of little value.

The areas around the fireplace can be a big heat-loss, because the outside wall behind the fireplace may not be properly insulated. The exterior wall should be framed so that it can be insulated and sealed like a typical exterior wall. This does not always happen when the wall is buried behind a manufactured fireplace, and brick facing.

F007 - Metal-Framed Prefabricated FireplaceThe area below the fireplace (above the foundation wall) should be independent from the fireplace installation. Ice in this area (and around the sill/band joist) occurs because air moves through the fiberglass batts, and moisture condenses on the cold surface.

The ideal fix at the top of the foundation wall is to have the area sealed and insulated with spray foam. This will seal the air-leaks, provide a vapor-barrier, and insulate the area.

If you want to work with fiberglass, you need to remove it and caulk any gaps in the area around the sill-plate to the sub-floor. Fill the space with tight-fitting fiberglass, then seal it with drywall and plastic caulked in place on the heated side. It sounds like the foam is a much better option.

–Mr. Fix-It