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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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Quick Tip #37 – Can Lights? Make Them Green

October 27th, 2014 by admin No comments »

Can lights or recessed ceiling lights are a common design feature in modern residential construction. They are also common in older custom-built homes. They provide a unique lighting pattern without the glare of a fixture, but they may also waste energy.

You have several options when replacing the bulbs (lamps) in can lights. Don’t use a common “A” type bulb; it will not direct light out of the fixture. Most of the light is just wasted inside the can.

Consider a spot or flood lamp that reflects and projects light out of the can, such as a parabolic aluminized reflector lamp (also called a PAR bulb). For a “green” step up, consider a parabolic lamp, which has a curved reflector that projects even more light out of the can into a smaller pattern.

For a choice that’s even more “green,” use a compact fluorescent spotlight or reflector lamp. These compact fluorescents save about 75 percent in energy costs and last much longer than incandescent bulbs. They also create less heat in the room – heat that must be removed with air conditioning in hot climates.

While light from fluorescent lamps may look a little different at first, their light color and quality have greatly improved in recent years. Look for “warm” color lamps or “color corrected” lamps for a more pleasant light.

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Quick Tip #36 – Tune Your Refrigerator for High Performance (Or Color It Green?)

October 20th, 2014 by admin No comments »

The refrigerator is among the most neglected of household appliances, because usually it runs forever with little repair. However, it often consumes the most electricity among your home’s appliances. You can improve the performance and extend the life of your refrigerator with simple maintenance.

The condenser coil of a refrigerator transfers heat to the air of your room. You should clean the coil with a vacuum or soft brush once or twice a year. The coil is located behind or underneath the refrigerator; it’s a serpentine apparatus with small fins. The fins’ narrow spacing catches lint and debris. A small tube connected to your vacuum will quickly collect this dirt.

Viewing and accessing the coils is often as simple as snapping the plastic cover off the lower front of the refrigerator. Often there is also a small fan that moves air across the coils. The fan should also be carefully cleaned or vacuumed after you unplug the unit.

Cleaning the coil and fan will aid in heat transfer and shorten the refrigeration compressor’s run time. This will save electricity and lengthen the life of your refrigerator.

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Quick Tip #35 – A Ton of Cooling

October 16th, 2014 by admin No comments »

Ever hear of a two- or three-ton central air conditioner? Does that mean a two-ton air conditioner weighs 4,000 pounds? Is the term related to cooling capacity, or is it a random term that tech folks use to impress us?

When engineer Joe Cool (at least I think “cool” was part of his name ) developed the standards for measuring mechanical cooling, ice was commonly used for cooling. You know, in the old days, food was stored in the ice cooler, and there was no air conditioning. So Joe decided that the cooling capacity measurement should relate to ice.

A standard was set equating one “ton” of cooling to the amount of energy needed to melt one ton (2,000 lbs.) of ice over a 24-hour period. For tech folks: the exact figure is 12,000 btu per hour.

So what is a btu? It stands for British thermal unit, and we will cover that detail in another tip. Just remember: one ton of cooling equals melting one ton of ice in 24 hours – 12,000 btu per hour.

To put it another way, the change of phase from ice to water requires 144 btu per pound or 288,000 btu per 2,000 pounds.

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Quick Tip #34 – Fix That Wobbling Ceiling Fan

October 6th, 2014 by admin No comments »

Wobbling ceiling fans are not safe to use. If a ceiling fan in your home shows excessive wobble, stop using it until you can get it fixed. Fans are dangerous if not installed and operated properly.

Many fans wobble because they have loose parts or need to be balanced. Find the manufacturer’s instructions for your specific fan.

In many cases, you can solve the problem by tightening bolts that hold fan blades to the motor housing. In some cases, swapping the position of some blades may solve the problem; swap blade for blade and test the operation after each swap.

If wobbling still occurs after tightening and swapping the blades, check whether your manufacturer provides a weight kit to balance the fan. With the balance weight kit, you work from blade to blade, adding and removing weight until the fan is balanced. This is tedious and time-consuming but effective.

Finally, if the mounting to the ceiling box or bracket is loose, the fan might be improperly installed. This condition should be checked by a professional. Ceiling fans are too heavy to be mounted in a standard electrical box; they need a special box and support bracket.

Never operate a fan with excessive movement or a loose mounting.

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Quick Tip #33 – Squeak, Squeak, Squeak in the Hardwood Floor

September 30th, 2014 by admin No comments »

Flooring of all types has the potential for squeaks. Floor framing dries and shrinks, and squeaks occur as fasteners become loose, allowing movement in the subfloor and framing. Hardwood floors are known for this quality as they dry during the winter.

For a quick fix, try sprinkling a little talcum powder between the offending hardwood boards. This may temporarily quiet the squeak as the talc lubricates the rubbing surfaces.

For a better quick fix, try Counter Snap. This screw fastening system secures loose hardwood floorboards and stops squeaks. You drive the slotted screw through a special bracket into the hardwood and subfloor. (For dense woods, you will need to drill a small pilot hole.) Once the screw tightens the loose board, you break off the screw just below the finished wood surface.

You will be left with a very small hole which you can patch with wood putty or colored filler – or just ignore.

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Quick Tip #32 – Water Heater Drip Needs Attention

September 28th, 2014 by admin No comments »

One fine day, you walk past the water heater, and your foot gets wet. Hmm, that’s strange. You take a look and notice a very slow drip – drip – drip from the tube on the side of the water heater. That can’t be too bad, right? Just put a bucket under the tube to catch the water? Sorry, not a good idea.

That tube on the side of the water heater is the temperature and pressure relief (T and P) valve (also called TP and R valve). This valve monitors temperature and pressure inside the tank. If the temperature or pressure becomes too high, the valve will open to dump steam and water. This prevent excessive pressure from building and possibly rupturing the tank.

If you find a leak, this often means the valve is not seating properly, and perhaps debris has built up in the valve. It may also mean the temperature or pressure is too high.

When the T and P valve is leaking, have a plumber check for problems and replace the valve as needed. Don’t ignore this problem, as it could create a safety hazard.

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Quick Tip #31 – Paint Over That Water Stain

September 15th, 2014 by admin No comments »

Let’s say there was a leak in the drain for an upstairs bathroom that left a brown stain on the drywall below. No problem – you painted it with latex paint left over from painting the ceiling, and at first it looked great. But a week later the stain started to bleed through the paint, and eventually it looked just as bad as before. Now how do you fix it?

Primers and stain killers need to be applied over stains before you use latex paint. Typical latex paint just doesn’t have the capacity to cover serious stains and water marks. Primers and stain killers have special binders and covering agents that can block stains and provide an excellent base for latex paint.

What is a good primer? For interiors, KILZ and BIN are excellent stain blockers. Where there is a water stain, remove any loose material, patch, and then apply the primer. If the drywall and paint are solid, just paint over the stain. BIN actually contains shellac; professional painters have used this stain-killer for many years.

Many manufacturers make specialty primers that work well to cover most stains.

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Quick Tip #30 – Clothes Dryer Venting – A Hidden Danger

September 8th, 2014 by admin No comments »

Each year many home fires are caused by improperly maintained clothes dryers. The dryer and vent pipes can overheat and cause a fire. Vents plugged with lint will compound the problem. Don’t let your home become the next casualty.

First, always follow the manufacturer’s requirements for cleaning the dryer lint screen. On most dryers, the screen is easy to find and clean between each load; just pull the screen from your dryer and remove the lint.

Next, make sure the ducting that vents dryer discharge to the outdoors is properly installed. Many dryer manufacturers and local municipalities require a metal vent duct, not a flexible vinyl vent. The metal duct should have as few bends as possible and be routed outside with as short a duct as possible.

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The problem with flexible vinyl and flexible metal ducts is that their rough interior traps lint. Also, these ducts are often installed with excessive loops and tight bends that trap lint.

When in doubt, contact the manufacturer of your dryer for specific requirements. A person who cleans chimneys may also clean and maintain dryer exhaust ducts and will know local code requirements.

Quick Tip #29 – Patch the Hole Behind the Door

August 31st, 2014 by admin No comments »

So the kids had a little shoving match, knocking against the bedroom door, and the doorknob smashed a hole in the drywall. They had done this before but never punctured completely through the drywall. Those previous dents could be ignored, but the new hole needs to be fixed.

Your experience with patching drywall has taught you there is only one way to achieve a perfect patch – hire a professional. Sure, you can spread some spackling compound or drywall compound over a small hole, but the texture never matches. Worse yet, the sanding creates a huge mess and makes the patch look even larger as the texture is removed.

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For the hole created by the doorknob, we have a quick fix: cover it with a circular patch/bumper. The bumper will be slightly raised from the drywall surface, but it will look like it was designed to be there. The bumper will be larger than the hole, creating a sturdy support base, and it can be held in place with construction adhesive.

After the bumper patch is in place, you can paint it to match the wall color.

As a preventive measure for the rest of your house, make sure all doors have a working doorstop or a bumper to prevent doorknobs from striking drywall.

Quick Tip #28 – Stains Around a Toilet = Serious Problem

August 30th, 2014 by admin No comments »

Always be on the lookout for water leaks in your home, including little clues that could indicate bigger problems. For instance, if interior paint is bubbling or loose, you’re likely to find a water leak behind the paint.

Around your toilet, check the vinyl flooring. Any gray stain in the vinyl that can’t be washed away may indicate a leak where the toilet connects to the drainage pipe – or a leak at the wax ring sealing the toilet to the drain pipe flange.

 

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The gray stain in the vinyl is caused by a small amount of water seeping under the vinyl. Water discolors the subfloor and vinyl; the stain can’t be removed.

Gently rock the toilet from side to side. It should not wobble or slide on the floor. Any movement means there may be a problem that should be checked by a plumber.

If your home has a basement or crawl space, you can also look for signs of drips or wood stains below the toilet. This type of leak is particularly bad because it can cause unseen rot that may require replacement of the subfloor – an expensive repair.