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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 #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.

M066C - Paint vs. Primer_300dpi

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.

M061C - Clothes Dryer Venting - Poor Conditions_300dpi

 

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.

M059C - Simple Wall Patch_300dpi

 

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.

 

P027C - Toilet Leak at Floor_300dpi

 

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.

Quick Tip #27 – Plumbing Vent? What Plumbing Vent?

August 18th, 2014 by admin No comments »

All modern plumbing systems in residential construction have a plumbing vent. It doesn’t just vent unwanted odors from the drainage system to the outside; it actually serves an important purpose by supplying air to the system.

The plumbing drainage system in your home is actually called a drainage, waste and vent (DWV) system. When water flows down the piping, an air supply (vent) is needed to allow the water to flow. Think of the vertical pipe as a drinking straw. If you plug the top end of a straw, liquid won’t drain from it.

The DWV system in your home consists of a series of pipes connected to each fixture; they extend above each fixture, and the system terminates at an open pipe that extends through the roof. This piping allows air into the system and prevents unbalanced pressures in the piping.

 

P016C - Drainage, Waste and Vent (DWV) System_300dpi

The vent also prevents the system from drawing water out of a trap at the fixture with the characteristic “glug-glug-glug” as the drain gasps for air. Plumbing traps should drain smoothly and never “glug” or gasp for air.

If your home has a drain that empties slowly or gurgles as it drains, this may indicate a venting problem. If you flush a toilet and the sink gurgles, there’s definitely a vent problem. Have a plumber check this.

Quick Tip #26 – Pop-Up Stopper Sticks

August 11th, 2014 by admin No comments »

P097 - Sink Stopper AdjustmentsMost bathroom sinks have a “pop-up” sink stopper that opens and closes when you operate a small knob or lever built into the faucet. Push it down and the stopper pops up to drain the sink; lift it up and the stopper closes.

Most of these mechanisms need adjustments from time to time, and many are never set just right in the first place. Take a look at the illustration. The rod at the rear of the sink will allow adjustment where the metal strap with holes attaches to the stopper rod. The rod can be placed in holes at different heights to raise or lower the mechanism. The perforated rod also allows a sliding adjustment where it is attached to the solid rod that goes up through the sink.

If the sink is plugged, place a bucket below the sink, then loosen the nut and pull back the rod for the pop-up stopper at the tail piece of the sink drain. (A little water may leak out.) This will disconnect the pop-up stopper, and you can remove it to clear out debris that always collects here.

Quick Tip #25 – Turn That Gas Off

August 4th, 2014 by admin No comments »

Operating Wrench-Type ValveIf your home has natural gas or propane appliances, you should know where the gas valves are located and how to turn them off.

All gas appliances are required to have a special valve located on the pipe near the appliance. Look at your gas cooking range – you should see a valve just behind the unit where the flexible connector connects to the pipe. Also, there should be a valve on the side of a gas furnace or gas water heater.

The illustration shows a typical gas valve that is operated with a small wrench. The valve may have a larger handle you can operate with your hand, and in some newer installations there may be a valve with a large handle. In essence they all work the same: when the handle is parallel to the pipe, the gas is on; when perpendicular to the pipe, the gas is off.

Make sure the valves are off and the pipe is capped if your home has a gas supply line with no appliance connected to it. If you ever smell gas in your home, leave immediately. Call for help from outside your home – you can call the local gas utility or the fire department.

Quick Tip #24 – Compact Fluorescents – Yes, They’re a Good Deal!

July 29th, 2014 by admin No comments »

E124 - Compact Fluorescent LampsOK, for many years compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) were a bit of a pain. They provided an eerie color, took a long time to reach full brightness, never worked outdoors in cold weather, and failed early.

Most of those problems have been solved in the last 20 years. Now it’s hard to resist these lamps, which provide the same amount of light as incandescent lamps for about 25 percent of the energy cost. They also generate about 75 percent less heat inside an air-conditioned space, which is important in areas where air conditioning is used often.

They are color-corrected to provide a natural color. When you purchase the lamps, look for the “warm white” or “natural” color notation on the packaging. The color-corrected CFLs really do have great color. They’re available as spotlights and floodlights, and there are special versions for circuits with light dimmers. The bulbs are small enough to fit in most household lamps and fixtures.

If you do the energy calculation, you’ll see there is a great payback for substituting CFLs over incandescent bulbs. They also last about six to 12 times longer than incandescents.

Quick Tip #23 – Fixing a Drip at the Bathroom Fan

July 22nd, 2014 by admin No comments »

V007 - Bathroom Exhaust Fan ProblemsSo you run the bath exhaust fan to remove moisture – but then you get that drip, drip, drip from the fan on your nice clean rug. Bath exhaust fans should not drip. If yours does, there’s something wrong with it.

First, check the exhaust ducting or tubing; it should be insulated, straight and vented to the outside. There should be a minimum of bends for proper air flow. If there is no insulation around the duct, the problem could be condensation in the cold duct. Adding insulation around the duct may solve the problem.

The fan’s damper can also get stuck in the open position, allowing hot air into the cool duct and creating condensation. Check the small damper at the fan. It should open when the fan is on and close when the fan turns off. This damper responds to fan pressure and gravity. Most vent connectors through the roof or sidewall should also have a damper to keep cold air out, and it should open and close with fan operation.

For many years, contractors installed bath fan vent ducting incorrectly, creating a bend or low loop to catch condensation. This just allows water to accumulate and may cause a large leak when the water lets go.

Quick Tip #22 – The Rain May Drain, But It’s Really Not a Pain

July 14th, 2014 by admin No comments »

P017 - Storm, Sanitary Sewer in StreetWhen a rain gutter and downspout send their discharge below grade to a pipe, it may appear that rainwater is draining into a sanitary sewer, but it really isn’t. In municipal areas with sewer systems, gutter (rainwater) discharge is normally routed into a storm sewer. This storm piping routes water to rivers and streams and is separate from the sanitary sewer system.

Municipal systems include a sanitary sewer system that routes toilet, shower and sink water to a sewage treatment plant. The flow of storm and sanitary sewer systems would never be combined unless a really old system is in place or there are problems with the system. In the old days before good sewage treatment, homes had combined sewers – but that is not common today.

When you live out in the country, your gutters may discharge below grade and be directed underground to the side of a hill or a lower spot. Rural areas don’t have storm sewers.

Here is a tip. Look at the curb and gutter in front of your house. If you see grates there, rainwater flows into a storm sewer system below the street.