Dear Ken: I have a toilet that is losing water from the tank, but I cannot find any leaks. I have replaced the flapper, but it still does not maintain the water level. What is my next course of action? — Tom
Answer: There are two possible fixes, and I hope yours is the easier one. Check that little hose or pipe that’s sitting in or over the round overflow tube. While the toilet is filling, a small stream is directed through this tube and into the bowl to wash the sides and stabilize the water level. It needs to sit above the pipe opening. If it’s too far down into the hole, a siphoning cycle gets started that lets the tank water keep dribbling into the bowl, even after the fill has stopped. Raise it and secure it an inch or so above the water line with some stiff wire or an electrical alligator clip.
The second possibility is a crack or pit around the ceramic seat of that flapper valve. You can check this yourself by adding some colored food dye to the tank. Wait and hour or so, and you may see some of the color drained into the bowl. If so, try replacing the flapper with a Fluid Master Brand flapper and seat. This is a kit that comes with a ring of putty- like material to squish over the flapper valve seat (the large hole). Usually it will spread out enough to cover whatever crack or pin hole is causing your pesky plumbing problem.
Dear Ken: I’m thinking about getting my bathtub refinished. What do you think of this and how long will it last? Is it caustic? — Melissa
Answer: The most common method is to first etch the tub and then apply an acrylic resin or epoxy coating over the old finish. It works pretty well, but you’d be wise to consider this as only a medium-term solution (the warranties are usually five to 10 years). Pick a company that has longevity in the community and that has been recommended by a neighbor or friend. Absent those references, ask the company for a few names of their immediate prior customers whom you can call about their experience with the firm.
The etching materials are fairly caustic, but the company will take all kinds of appropriate precautions both to protect the technician and to seal off the area from the rest of the house as necessary.
Dear Ken: We saw an article of yours quite a while ago about aluminum wiring from the ‘60s and how you could add copper to the wires to make them safer. We need further information. Could you help? — Wes
Answer: Aluminum wiring was installed in thousands of single-family and mobile homes from about 1964 to 1975. The demands of the Vietnam War drove up copper prices, so it was thought: Why not substitute aluminum, since it’s almost as good a conductor as copper? What we forgot about was aluminum’s thermal expansion characteristics. When you wrap it around a screw in a plug or switch, it expands and contracts so severely that it can work loose and cause an arc — especially when a lot of current is drawn through the circuit. This has led to some inside-the-wall fires, so it’s recommended that the problem be addressed by an electrician. If you think you have this stuff, you could hire a home inspector to take a look. They can check not only for its presence, but whether or not it has been addressed; chances are it has been repaired by now.
But if not, it’s a simple concept: A short copper pigtail is attached to the aluminum wire with a special crimper and connection system, and when this new wire is attached to the screw, you’ve created a traditional — and safe —connection.
Finally, make sure the electrician who performs the overhaul gives you a letter of compliance, which you can show to a future buyer.
Dear Ken: My question is about kitchen cabinets. Is installing them something the average person can do? — Ron
Answer: If that average person has some carpentry experience and a good assistant, he or she might give it a try. Here are a few of the pitfalls:
• Removing the old cabinets is a little tricky, especially at the wall/counter top line. It’s easy to do big-time damage to the drywall.
• The new cabinets may not fit as nicely as they’re supposed to. Walls can be out of plumb or — worse yet — out of square. In those cases, you’d need some pretty good skills to scribe (custom cut) and shim the cabinets and tops to the walls.
• The upper cabinets — which you set first — can be hazardous to you and that friend as you slide them into position. You’ll need a good temporary scaffolding system to hold them in place until they’re secured.
• Since this is a process you’re not used to, you’ll probably end up with scratches, dings and dents you didn’t plan on.
This is one of those jobs that looks easier than it ends up to be, and so I’ve listed the most daunting and likely trip wires for your consideration.
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 aroundthehouse.com