Dear Ken: I have a bone-colored tub that has developed two pea-sized rust spots near the drain. Is there a good way for me to repair these? - Darrell
Answer: You can take a short- or long-term approach. If you can find a matching porcelain touch-up kit (an exact match might be a little difficult, as almond, bone and now bisque are variations of this basic color), you can scuff up the spots with some emery cloth and daub some of the colored material on the blemishes. But because the drain area of a tub takes the most abuse, as it's always wet, you'll need to repeat this touch-up often.
A better way would be to hire a refinishing company to apply a new polymer resin or epoxy coating on your tub. That will cover not only the rust spots, but also will allow you to choose a more modern color - and that can lead to a whole new bathroom if you were to then replace the toilet and lavatory.
Dear Ken: I'm out in the country, and my house is on a septic tank. I have concerns about the salt-water output from a softener. Is there anything else I can use? - Leslie
Answer: Chemical softening is really the only answer. We need to get those calcium and magnesium ions out of your well water to soften and condition it. Modern softeners are computer controlled, so they only recharge when needed - not, say, "Every other day at 2 a.m.," which used to be the case. That means they are trouble-free and produce the minimum brine required for a given water hardness reduction.
You can't run that strong, salty liquid into your septic tank, because it will kill the friendly bacteria the system uses to process household waste. You'll have to pick a spot away from desirable vegetation and downhill from your well to discharge the brine line. Dig a3-foot-deep pit (drywell) and fill it with coarse rocks to act as a dispersing receptacle for the salt solution.
Water softeners add a little sodium to the water stream, so if that's your concern, consider installing a reverse-osmosis system in the cold-water line under the kitchen sink. That way, you, your pets and the houseplants will get straight well water without that extra salt.
Dear Ken: I have aluminum siding in a mustard color that I want to refinish. It is faded and oxidized, so I probably will need a primer. What do you think? - Robert
Answer: Power-wash the surface first. That will remove the powdered, oxidized coating. You're correct. Use an intended-for-metal primer. This is an oil-based material that will bind to the metal and allow some microscopic expansion and contraction as the outside temperature changes. Some folks say you can skip this step, but I think the primer gives a more durable and weather-resistant finish. For the topcoat, choose a good 100 percent acrylic latex, exterior paint in a satin sheen.
Dear Ken: I have an odd toilet problem. It sounds as if one of my toilets is flushing on its own, but I don't know which one. Can I fix this myself? - Carol
Answer: Probably. To figure out which one it is, pour a few drops of food coloring into the tanks and wait through one of the cycles you describe. The coloring will manifest itself in the bowl of the offending toilet.
The diagnosis? The flapper valve that lets the water into the bowl is leaking, which lowers the water level in the tank ever so slowly. When it gets down an inch or two, the intake valve mechanism responds by opening to let just enough water in to restore the level in the tank; it's a circular cycle that wastes water.
The rubber flapper can be hard to match. They all look pretty much the same, but sometimes the new one won't fit precisely. So turn the water off, gently unhook it from the tabs that hold it in place, and carry it down to the hardware store for an exact match.