Mysteries, Miseries

Restoring Formica countertops

It is impossible to restore the color and eliminate scratches from plastic laminate (brand name: Formica). The same properties that make plastic laminate durable also make it impossible to patch or repair.

However, you can clean and polish laminate with a product like Gel-Gloss. This is a white, milky cleaner/polish much like automotive wax. With a little rubbing, Gel-Gloss will remove most stains and discoloration. After it dries to a light powdery residue, buff with a clean cloth. This leaves a nice glossy protective finish that tends to mask scratches so that the plastic laminate looks refinished. It also leaves a smooth, sealed surface that resists water spotting and stains. In the future, when the counter gets dull, just apply more.

Never use bleach or abrasive cleaners on plastic laminates. They can damage the surface.

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Gray vinyl-flooring stains around a toilet

Gray stains that appear below the surface of a vinyl floor often indicate water damage. When the stains are around the toilet, there is probably a leak at the wax ring that seals the toilet to the plumbing flange.

Try gently pushing the toilet from side to side. It should not move. Once a toilet is loose, you’ll probably need to remove the toilet from the floor and replace the wax ring.

You can try a quick fix by tightening the nuts on either side of the toilet at the floor. These nuts, under small plastic caps, tighten the toilet to the plumbing flange. BE VERY CAREFUL not to overtighten or you’ll break the toilet base. The toilet is made of porcelain (glass-covered pottery) that will break with uneven pressure or poor support. Turn the nuts slowly, a quarter-turn turn at a time. When the toilet will not move, the nuts are tight enough.

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Quieting a squeaky floor

Floor squeaks are caused by loose floorboards and framing members that move and rub against each other as you walk across the floor. The noise comes from wood rubbing on wood or wood rubbing on nails. It’s most common in winter when homes dry out during the heating season. As wood dries, it shrinks, and gaps open up. A common 1 by 6 could shrink as much as _ inch across its 6-inch width in going from damp summer conditions to dry winter heating conditions.

Luckily, you can work on your floor from the basement below. When the squeaks occur, have someone walk on the offending floor while you listen for squeaks and watch for movement in the basement. Mark the problem areas.

If you can reach the joists and subflooring in the squeaking area, your best fix is to "sister" a 2 by 4 or 2 by 6 to the side of the joist and tight against the sub-floor. "Sister" is a carpentry term meaning that the 2 by 4 is parallel to the joist with the wide, flat surfaces together.

Use a short length–18 to 36 inches–and liberally apply construction adhesive to two adjacent 90-degree sides. Construction adhesive is dispensed from a caulking gun and has a caulk-like consistency. You then attach this board to the joist and the subflooring with several screws or nails driven into the joist at an angle.

The construction adhesive will effectively weld the wood to the joist and the subfloor, preventing movement. The adhesive fills voids and will not release as the wood shrinks and moves. Construction adhesive is the key–it will not shrink as it cures. Use as many short lengths as you need to stop the movement and squeaks.

Although many home improvement books recommend driving small shims between the joists and floorboards, I think this can complicate the problem. How far do you drive the shims into the gap? If you drive them in too far, you can loosen the subfloor.

Two products on the market work well to eliminate floor squeaks. Squeak-Relief from Accuset Tool Co., Troy, MI, provides a small aluminum bracket and specially sized screws. The bracket takes the place of the 2 by 4. It effectively secures the floor to the bracket and the joist.

Squeeeek No More from O’Berry Enterprises, Crystal Lake, IL, works from above the squeak through carpeting or hardwood flooring. It is a special bracket that holds and drives a long notched screw. Once driven into the offending area, the screw disappears. The bracket ensures that the screw is driven to the right depth. Then you use the bracket to break off the head and shank of the screw just below the wood. If you use this on a finished wood floor, it will create a tiny hole that should be patched with wood putty.

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Opening the garage door during a power outage

Let’s say you’ve got an automatic garage door opener. It’s a great convenience, one you take for granted until the power goes out. Now what do you do?

Your door opener came with a key to unlock the emergency release. You’ll find a circular lock near the top center of t he garage door. Open this lock and pull the attached cable out through the opening. Doing so will release the opener from the garage door so you can open the door manually.

I suggest you test the emergency release from inside the garage, with the door down, to make sure it works properly. It is very, VERY important to test this with the door down. If the springs are not adjusted properly, a door released in the up position can crash to the ground.

A handle or cable will release the door with a slight pull. The mechanism will re-engage when you move the door or run the opener.

When you test the release, it’s also a good idea to have a friend outside the door. If you are confused by the operation, have someone show you how the release operates.

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Mildewed walls or ceilings

North-facing rooms may show particular moisture problems. In extreme cases, black mold or mildew grows on corners of outside walls. The framing in these corners consists of several 2 by 4 studs that strengthen the area and provide a nailing surface for interior drywall. However, there is no room for insulation in these corners, only solid wood framing from inside to outside. Solid wood is a relatively poor insulator. The walls stay cold, and condensation forms. Moisture from the condensation allows mold to grow.

You have two options: either reduce the moisture content of the air inside your home or increase the temperature of the wall.

Reducing humidity may be your best bet. If there is condensation on walls, there is probably also condensation on windows that is damaging the window frames.

For the other option–increasing the wall temperature–move furniture or drapes that reduce air flow. Try running a portable fan in the area. Raising the temperature of your furnace or running the furnace fan will also help.

You can also increase the wall temperature by insulating the inside or outside of the wall with a rigid board that covers the edges of the wall studs. This is a major job that requires siding or drywall replacement. If the ceiling is the problem area, increase attic insulation over the cold areas while maintaining an air path for ventilation into the overhangs. Ideally, there s hould be about 10 to 15 inches of insulation.

If you can’t solve the problem through these measures, try an engineer or home inspector who specializes in moisture problems.

Proper repainting over mildewed walls or ceilings requires killing the mildew and using a special paint. See the "Paint and Drywall Finishing" section for details.

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