Around the house:

Ken Moon — Around the House

Dear Ken: I have one of those inexpensive bookcases from a discount store. It’s made from pressed wood covered with some kind of a plastic skin. Can it be painted? — Brenda

Answer: Once you prime this surface, you can apply virtually any kind of top coat that suits you. Wipe down the piece with some TSP or other strong detergent, lightly scuff sand the surface before you start — 220-grit sandpaper will do — then apply a couple of coats of a good prep material; I like a KILZ product called adhesion primer. Finally, cover the surface with your favorite semigloss interior latex paint.

The bond here is good enough to maintain the finish if left alone, but if you move the piece or abuse it, you may find chunks of the new paint will slough off right down to the old finish. Not to worry, though: simply touch up the spots in the same sequence.

Dear Ken: I have a hardwood floor that needs help. A former owner drove ring shank nails into the floor joists along each board. How can I get them out without causing too much damage? — Michael

Answer: You probably can’t. Shanked nails have little ridges cast in each nail precisely to keep them from releasing. Evidently, the prior owner had a squeaky floor in the vicinity and chose a rather crude way to fix it. Drilling out the heads or pulling the nails will irreversibly scar that individual board, and that creates a very difficult replacement project.

The only solution is to continue to drive them deeper with a nail set and then cover the holes with a colored-to-match wood filler.

Dear Ken: I’m replacing the light fixture in the foyer with a heavy antique one. The electrical box in the old hole is one of those plastic ones hung on two metal pieces. Will this support the old fixture? — Jeff

Answer: Assume that it won’t. This is too dangerous a location to take on chance on that fixture crashing down on unsuspecting guests! Look for an “old work” fan kit at the home center. This is a gizmo sort of like what you have now, except stronger. Twist and break up the old box with a set of channel lock pliers and remove it (if you can’t get it out of the hole, shove it out of the way and leave it to lie on the upper ceiling surface). The new box has metal bars, which you twist to expand and bite into the neighboring ceiling joists. Once it’s in place, you can safely hang your new-old heirloom fixture.

Of course, you need to check the specifications of the fan light-bar to make sure it’s matched up weight-wise with your fixture. Stand on the bathroom scales with and without the light, subtract the two numbers, and check that weight before you start. And allow a 50% leeway, at least. For example, if the bar you’ll install is rated at 150 pounds, then assume it will only hold 75.

One more thing. You’ll need to make the ceiling hole a little bigger than the opening you have now. You can cover the opening with a special, extra-wide escutcheon plate before you hang the fixture.

Dear Ken: My central vacuum has a clog someplace in the basement. How can I remove it? Do I have to call someone? — Terry

Answer First, make sure that the “clog” isn’t simply a plug inside the collection basket of the unit itself. If not, there are a couple of ways to attack this. Turn the unit on manually (usually a switch on the side of the motor), start at the opening closest to the vacuum motor and, very gently and slowly, run a plumber’s snake into the pipe. This is a long spring — 15 feet or so — that’s very handy to have around the house to unclog sinks and toilets.

If you’re lucky, it will be long enough to reach the jam-up. If not, try the second method. Turn the motor off and then insert the business end of a workshop vacuum into that same opening and see if you can pull the clog to you. If not, then reverse the hose and blow into the opening with the unit on.

Dear Ken: We have a buildup of about four layers of paint on my patio. How do I remove it, and what can I apply after that as a decorative finish? — Paul

Answer: Borrow a power washer from the neighborhood rental center and blast that old paint off. You say it’s blistering, so I’d guess it’s some sort of house paint that will readily yield to your washer wand.

Be careful, though: Concrete only looks tough. It’s quite porous and so can be blasted away if you concentrate in one area too long. Once the patio is clean, apply a water-based concrete stain in your favorite color.

Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 4 pm Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit www.aroundthehouse.com

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