Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman “GFCI”

I have an outlet outside, and every time it rains, it trips a circuit, and then some of my inside outlets don’t work.  Do I need new wiring or an electrician?

I don’t think you’ll need an electrician.  It sounds like the rain is getting into the receptacle probably through the slats where the prongs of the plug go.  If these outlets get wet, they should throw your circuit breaker as a safety measure, so that no harm is done to your electrical system.

Since you said that it causes some of your interior receptacles not to work, it sounds like your outlet is connected to a GFCI, or “Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter”.  This is the type of outlet which has two small push-in buttons between where you would plug something in.  One of the buttons is marked “test” and the other is marked “reset”.

Normally, if something like the rain hitting your outdoor outlet causes interruption in power to that outlet and some interior outlets, it is an easy fix by going to the particular GFCI and pushing the reset button.  If you have more than one GFCI in your home, you may have to go to each of them and push the reset button, in order to find which one covers the outlet that isn’t working.

GFCI outlets are mandatory for new homes, where an outlet is located close to water, such as a sink.  They’re also required in the basement and garage, as well as exterior outlets.

However, sometimes the outlet doesn’t have the reset and test button if it is in the same circuit and covered by a GFCI somewhere else.  If, for example, the wiring is run from the kitchen to the outside outlet, as long as it is wired properly, the outside outlet will be GFCI protected, because it is wired after a GFCI.

If after resetting all the GFCI outlets in your home you’re still having a problem, you might have to replace the GFCI, as these can go bad.  If you know which GFCI has tripped, but it won’t reset, either the GFCI is bad, or there is a short somewhere (or water still getting in that outside outlet you mentioned).  Replacing a GFCI is best left to a professional, unless you are familiar with wiring.

There is an easy way to prevent this exterior outlet from tripping the GFCI.  A “perpetual” cover can be installed over this outlet, which allows you to leave something plugged in (a timer for your lights, a pond pump, etc), but still have everything covered, to keep water out.  This cover is about $15, and only requires taking off the old cover and screwing in the new perpetual cover.  It only takes a few minutes and is easy to do.

After having done this, you can spend your time relaxing, rather than having to walk around the house pushing buttons or unplugging all of your outdoor plugs.

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Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman “Outdoor Light Pole”

I have an outdoor light pole that doesn’t work. Have tried new light bulbs and no luck. Any ideas on how to fix?

LET THE LIGHT SHINE IN!

Outdoor electrical post lights are pretty basic, but there two different types which you first need to identify.  Is the light 120 volt or is it a low-voltage light?

A 120 volt light would use your standard wiring and be connected to your circuit panel box.  Another way you can determine if it’s a 120 volt is by looking at the light bulb.  Normally, this type of post light would have a regular light bulb, like you would screw into a lamp.  It could have a smaller base, such as a candelabra, but the bulb is a normal incandescent light bulb.

If there is a switch to turn the light on and off, be certain that the switch is working correctly.  A simple electrical tester will allow you to see if it is.  (See previous Lifestyle article about testing a switch.)  If the switch is fine, or if there isn’t a switch, take the tester and touch one wire to the sides of the socket where the bulb goes in, and the other wire of the tester to the small tab at the bottom of the socket.  If you are getting a good connection, then it could be that the bulb isn’t making good contact with the bottom tab.

If you turn the appropriate circuit breaker off, you can then take a regular slotted screwdriver and gently pry up that small tab in the bottom of the socket, so that it will make better contact with the bulb.

Now, if your tester didn’t show a good connection, there is usually a small plate on the pole that you can remove.  Inside, you will usually see where the wires come up from the ground and connect to the wires from the head of the lamp post.  Try your tester with these wires as well.

If you have a good connection there, then you may have to get a new lamp post head, usually available through the hardware or lighting stores.  If you don’t have a good connection there, there could be a break in the line running into the house.  For this, call an electrician.

If the light is low voltage, there will be a small bulb (which is more like a bulb you would replace in your car).  You will also have a low voltage wire running underground into the house and this wire will be attached to a transformer, which will be plugged in to a regular household outlet.  The transformer is usually a small black box, which looks similar to the end of a cell phone charger that gets plugged in.  This transformer may be bad, but you’ll need a low voltage tester to find out.  This can get tricky, so you may want to consider calling the electrician to trouble shoot things.

Whether your post light is 120 volt, or low voltage, most lights have a dusk to dawn sensor in the post (a small round “eye”).  Many times, this can go bad, causing the light to stay on or off, regardless of the time of day.  A sensor for a 120 volt is easily replaced and available at hardware stores.  The sensor for a low voltage light is harder to find, but try some electrical supply stores for availability.  Both type of sensors can be changed easily and should come with specific instructions.

So, there really isn’t a single answer the question of how to fix it.  You have to go through a series of tasks to find out exactly what the problem is.  But once you fix it, your delight will be as bright as the post light!

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THE St Louis Handyman

Steve

Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman “Power Washing Your Home”

I just bought a house covered with vinyl siding and have noticed dirt and cobwebs all over it. Do you “wash” a house? How do I go about such a task? Do I rent a power washer or is this professional job?  Help!

J.S.   West County

Answer:

Dirt, cobwebs, and even mold can grow on any surface of a home.  Although this won’t generally create a problem, it can be quite unsightly.  Giving the exterior of your home a cleaning can be done in a couple of easy ways.

If you have vinyl siding, aluminum siding, wood siding, or brick, a power washer is a relatively easy way to make things look great.  If you are only cleaning out cobwebs, a simple garden hose may be the easiest way to clean things up, but this generally won’t get dirt off from higher places on the home.

If you have Masonite siding, or other “hardboard” siding, a power washer may not be the best method for you.  If there is any paint peeling, power washing can cause the hardboard siding to swell up and become damaged.  The best thing to do here is to use bleach and a garden hose.

A power washer takes your household water (about 3 gallons per minute) and runs it through a pump and motor, increasing the pressure of water to 2300 PSI (pounds per square inch) making it much more powerful than a regular garden hose.

Power washers can be rented at many home improvement stores or rental stores for about $70 per day.  If you rent one, be sure to get a briefing on how to start and operate it.  If you wanted to purchase one, generally $300 would be a starting price for a gas operated power washer

A power washer may come with several different tips for the end of the spray nozzle, usually from 0 degrees to 40 degrees.  Always start out with the largest degree tip or spray pattern, as the smaller degree tips can easily cause damage to siding or wood.  It is strongly recommended to become familiar with the power washer by spraying an area of the grass before pointing it toward the house.

Always start at the top of the house so the dirt coming off will be falling onto areas not yet washed.  Hold the end of the nozzle about 2 feet from the siding at first, getting only slightly closer if needed.  Keep moving the wand, not staying in one place too long, as you could damage the wood or siding.

If you have a two-story home, you may need to have an extension ladder to reach near the top.  This requires a great deal of safety awareness, as you don’t want to get the ladder wet when standing on it.  A slippery ladder is not a good thing to stand on. By power washing to one side of the ladder, you can eliminate getting the ladder wet.

For difficult stains, if you have siding other than wood, you may want to spray some household bleach on the area, but be sure to rinse it off completely, not letting it stay on more than one minute.  If the bleach is left on the siding too long, it could change the color.

When you’re all done, you can use the power washer to rinse your windows, as water run off will likely get them dirty.

This is the process and it can be an enjoyable job – especially if you like getting wet on a hot summer day!

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THE St Louis Handyman

Steve

Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman “Skim Coating Walls”

I REMOVED SOME WALLPAPER AND THE WALLS UNDERNEATH IS UNEVEN. IS THERE ANYTHING THAT I CAN DO TO MAKE THEM EVEN SO I CAN PAINT THE WALLS?

“Mud YOUR WALLS” or “PLAYING WITH MUD”

When removing wallpaper, many times the paper lining of the drywall can come off in spots which will leave indentations in your wall.  If you painted right over it, the indentations would be quite noticeable.  However, there is an easy way to fix this, and it doesn’t require a great deal of experience.

The product that you’ll need is joint compound, or commonly called “mud”.  It is available at any hardware or paint store.  I recommend buying it pre-mixed, as opposed to mixing it yourself.  You’ll also need a drywall knife which comes in several different sizes (4” up to 12” wide), along with a mud pan, and later, a sanding sponge.

With your walls being dry, first put a drop cloth or plastic down on the floor.  Then take the joint compound and put some into the mud tray.  Get some mud onto the knife and spread it over the indentations in the wall.  Use a thin coat, just enough to fill in these areas.  You don’t want to fill up areas outside of the indentations, so use the knife to scrape off any excess.   You should only have the mud in the holes or indentations.

The mud will need to dry before it can be sanded, so give this about 24 hours.  Then, lightly sand over the area with the sanding sponge.  Take your time, as it is best to not sand enough rather than sand it down too much (or you’ll have to apply another coat of mud!).  Once you think you’ve sanded the area properly, run your hand over it to see if you can feel any edges.  If so, sand these down as well.  After you’ve sanded everything, you may want to dampen a soft cloth and very lightly wipe off the dust on the wall.  This is the process of skim coating, whether it is a small indentation or several all along the wall.

Your next step is to apply a primer/sealer.  A primer looks like paint, is applied the same way as paint, but it seals the wall.  This is a necessary step before painting.  Otherwise, the paint you apply may not hold up properly.  The primer can be purchased at any hardware or paint store.   It can be tinted to match your paint color, which is recommended if you’re prepping a large area.

It is usually best to apply the primer with a roller.   This way the texture of the roller will match with the rest of the wall.  If you were to use a brush, you would likely see brush marks on the wall, where there weren’t any before.  After the primer has dried (about 90 minutes), touch up the area with your wall paint.  Again, using a roller will give a better look.

That’s it – you’ve done it!!  Now, instead of sitting back and admiring your work, go around the house and find all the other nicks in your drywall (this process also works with plaster), and really get things looking great!

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Steve

Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman – Roof Vents

Our house is about 34 years old. We have two plumbing vents that go through the roof. The tops of the vents appear to be collapsing in on themselves. I assume the escaping sewer gases have weakened the pipes? Do we need to replace the vents, or just bend them back into the proper shape? Is this something we can handle ourselves, or do we need a plumber or a St Louis Handyman? Thanks for your help!

Good News!!! Probably…

The vents that go through the roof on older homes are sometimes capped with a lead coating to seal the pipe. Generally, this wrap will go over the top of the pipe and down inside the pipe just an inch or two. It is common for this lead cap to be uneven as it goes over the pipe, and may appear that something is wrong. To make sure there isn’t, look into the pipe and see if there is a good opening inside. The pipe will usually be 2” to 4” in diameter, and the inside diameter will be slightly less because of the lead wrap. You should be able to see down the pipe a few inches. As long as the opening looks good, you are okay.

Use a flashlight to make sure that there isn’t any debris lodged in the vent. Also, occasionally, squirrels will chew on this lead making the surface look uneven. Look closely for tooth marks, scratches, etc., and if you see any holes, they can be sealed up with a clear silicone caulk.

You might also want to take note of how well the drainage of your sinks, showers, etc. is working. If they’re running well, then you’re okay. But if all of your drains are running slow, there could be an issue. The vent pipe going through the roof allows air into the drain pipes, helping them to flow properly.

To get an idea of how they work, imagine if you dip a straw into a glass of water and put your finger over the hole in the top of the straw and lift it out. The water will stay in the straw. But as soon as you take your finger off, the water will flow. The way the vent pipe and drain systems work is similar. If your drains are running slow but the vent looks clear, then you’ll need to also check the drain stack in the basement to make sure it is not clogged.

Hopefully, you are just seeing the normal installation of the lead wrap and won’t have to do anything at all.

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THE St Louis Handyman

Steve

Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman “Screening a Door”

Get It Done – can you tell me how I can replace the screen in my sliding screen door?

SLB, Valley Park

Replacing a screen in a sliding door is similar to that of a window and can be easily done.  You’ll need to buy some screen, some spline, and a screening tool to work the spline and screen into the groove of the door or window.

First you have a choice as to what the screen is made of: aluminum or fiberglass.  Each one has its advantages.  The aluminum is slightly stronger, but if someone throws a ball or object against it, it may cause a wrinkle that won’t go away.  While the fiberglass isn’t quite as strong, it is more forgiving when tree limbs or balls hit it.  Although I prefer the fiberglass, each situation is unique.  If you have cats or dogs which scratch the screen, go with the aluminum, or possibly a third choice, pet screening.  Pet screening is great, but it is thicker, and may not fit into the groove of your door.

You’ll also have a choice of coloring:  either silver/aluminum or charcoal/black.  I prefer the charcoal as it doesn’t reflect the glare of the sun.

Before you buy your screen, take the old screening out, along with the rubber spline which holds the screen in.  First, take the door off the track by lifting it up slightly, inserting a screw driver or putty knife under the wheels, then pull the door out from the bottom.  You’ll want to lay the door onto a flat surface such as a deck, driveway, or a basement floor.

Then locate where the ends of the spline meet (or a place where it seems loose) and with needle-nosed pliers pull the spline out.  The old screening can then be lifted off the door frame.

Take a piece of the spline with you to the hardware store, as there are several thicknesses and you want to have the same size.  You will also want to buy the spline tool which lets you roll the spline over the screen and into the groove along the perimeter.  Be sure to measure and take the dimensions of the screen with you.   A few inches should be added to the width and height when purchasing the screen.  You’ll trim off the excess when you’re done installing.

Once you have your supplies you’ll be ready to GET IT DONE.  With the door off and the screen removed, lay the new screen over the frame of the door, overlapping it evenly on all sides.  Starting at one corner, take the spline and spline tool and work the screen and one end of the spline into the groove of the door.  Take your time and be careful not to cut the screen with the tool.  As you work the spline and screen into the groove, make sure that the screen is still somewhat even where it overlays the other sides of the door.  Continue this process all around the door until you reach the starting point.

All you have to do now is take a razor blade tool and cut off the excess screen.  When doing this, be certain to cut above the spline, not under it, or else you’ll be cutting the screen and will have to start all over, with new screen.  When you’re done, reinstall the door, go inside, sit down, and admire your beautiful screen.  You can also feel good knowing that you’re the talented person that made the repair!

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Steve

Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman “Door Sticking”

I have a home repair question for Get It Done: how can I get my door to go smoothly into the door frame when shutting it?  Right now when I close/open the door it hits the frame slightly.

S.B. Columbia, MO

A door that doesn’t close properly can be a source of great frustration!  However, it’s usually an easy fix and you probably don’t need to call a St Louis Handyman.

There are several reasons a door that used to close properly won’t any longer.  The hinges and screws could be loose, the door could have warped over time, or the house may have settled slightly.  The heat of the summer and cold of the winter can cause the door to expand and contract so that in the summer the door doesn’t fit any longer.

If you have any cracks in the wall around the door, this could be an indication that settling is occurring, and any fix to the door may be temporary.

After a visual inspection for wall cracks, make sure that the hinge screws are tight, both into the door and into the frame of the jamb.  If you find they are loose a slight tightening could be enough to get the door into proper alignment.

If the hinge screws are tight and the problem still exists, then grab some course sandpaper and a block of wood.  Or, if you have a wood planer or a rasp, this will make the job much easier.  Where the door is sticking, notice by how much and make a light pencil mark on the door, indicating how much of the door you need to sand down.

For minor adjustments, you can proceed with the door still hanging – but be sure to lay a drop cloth down under the door (if you don’t have one, a large trash bag will do), as there will be saw dust.

If you think you’re going to have to do quite a bit of sanding, then I suggest you remove the door off the hinges.  To do so, place the edge of a flat head screwdriver under the head of the hinge pin and gently tap the hinge pin out of the hinge using a hammer.  You’ll need to do this on each hinge.

Once all the hinge pins are removed you can slide the door off the hinges and take it to a convenient place (outside or in your garage) to do the sanding.  FYI – solid doors can be heavy so you might want a second person on hand to help you maneuver it off the hinges and carry it.

When you’re ready to start sanding, wrap the sandpaper around a block of wood which fits comfortably in your hand.  Look for your pencil line and then go to work!  When you get close to the pencil line, try closing or rehanging the door to see if it fits.

If it’s still sticking, keep going.  But as you get close to a proper fit, switch your sand paper to a medium grade, and when you’re finished, take a fine sandpaper and go over the area to make it smooth.

When the door fits properly, wipe the area you’ve sanded with a damp cloth, then prime and touch up the door with paint (or if the door is stained, just stain it).

If by chance the part of the door that is sticking is near the door handle, you may have to remove the plunger plate on the door or the strike plate on the jamb and chisel the area out to make them recessed enough to prevent the sticking.

That’s it!  You’ve done it.  Know you have the arm muscles and the know-how to fix a sticking door.

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THE St Louis Handyman

Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman “Ceiling Stain”

I have a question for the “Ask the St Louis handyman” column.  I just noticed a brown stain on the ceiling of my kitchen.  Does my roof need to be replaced?  Thanks so much for listening. S.M. in Fenton, MO

Time to put on you sleuth hat and play detective.  Before you consider putting on an entire new roof, we want to try and isolate the cause as much as possible.  The problem could be the roof, a leak from a bathroom (if you have a second floor), or a vent boot which needs to be caulked.  Check this out before contacting a St Louis Handyman.

The first thing to do is take a pencil and trace around the stain.  This will help you to discover if the leak is growing as we try to isolate it.  If the leak only happens when someone is using the bathroom upstairs, then you can easily explore the source by tracking when it happens.  However if the leak expands when it is raining, we will need to look at the roof.

You may want to start with a visual inspection.  Look at the shingles for cracks, raised edges, etc.  This could be a sign that a new roof is needed.  A typical roof will last between 15 and 20 years.  If you suspect a new roof is needed, call several roofing companies for estimates.

If your roof looks like it’s in good shape, then you want to check the vent boots to see if the leak is coming from there.  Usually in the back of the house, there are one or more pipes which come through the roof and extend up about one foot (they are usually between 2” and 4” in diameter).  These are vents from your interior drain pipes and allow proper ventilation and drainage.

Where they go through the roof, there is flashing around the pipe, called a “vent boot”.  Sometimes this flashing needs to be caulked or replaced.  Try using a clear silicone caulk or roof cement if you see a crack.  If the “boot” needs replacing, they are available at the larger hardware stores, and usually come in different sizes, but some are adjustable for a range of sizes.

The best way to install a new vent boot is to remove a few shingles around the boot flashing, lower the new boot over the old one, caulk it down, and then reattach the shingles.  I’ve even seen the new boot installed directly over the old one without removing shingles and just caulking it in place.

Once you’ve corrected the source of the problem, leave the ceiling stain a little longer to make sure the issue is resolved.  Then you can touch it up with a stain killer and paint and it should look good as new.

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Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman Service – Fixing a Toilet Handle

Why is it that I have to hold down the lever on one of my toilets and not on the others to make a complete flush?  Is there an adjustment I can make?  Thanks Get It Done!

J. E.   Webster Groves

This can be a source of frustration, especially when nothing appears to be wrong.  There are a couple of possibilities, however, and the fix might be an easy one.  You can do this yourself without calling a St Louis handyman.

Inside the toilet there is a chain that connects the flushing handle to the “flapper” (the covering which is usually at the bottom of the tank where the water drains out).  Sometimes, the chain has too much play in it.  It should only have a small amount of slack.  If it has too much slack, the flapper may not raise up all the way when the handle is pushed.  If it doesn’t have any slack, it may not let the flapper rest all the way completely down.

In your case, it could be too much slack, so try adjusting it.  First, turn the water off to the toilet by closing the “shut-off valve” which is located under the toilet tank where the water comes out of the wall.  Turn the valve clockwise to stop the water flow.  Then unhook the pin at the end of the handle bar.  Put the pin down a few links in the chain (towards the flapper), making it slightly shorter in length.  Reinstall the “hook” or “pin” onto the end of the handle.  You’ll then need to turn your toilet shut-off valve back on, let the tank fill up, and see if this did the trick.  If not, you may need to adjust it a little more.

If the chain adjustment doesn’t completely fix the problem, there is one more thing to check.  Look at how the flapper is attached to the tank.  It should have either “ears” or a “ring” attachment.  The ears will be on either side of a tube which stands in the toilet – it’s the tube where the water goes down when the toilet is filling up.  These ears are small pieces that stick out slightly and the collar of the flapper fits into the ears.  A different way of attaching the flapper to this tube is by a ring on the flapper which goes over the tube and rests on the bottom.  Both the “ears” and the “ring” are designed to keep the flapper in place.    You should have one or the other.  If you have both, the flapper gets into a bind and won’t operate freely.   If that is the case, remove the ring and use only the ears.

Good Luck!

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THE St Louis Handyman Service