Mildew Smell – Get It Done – Ask The Handyman St Louis

We are trying to find the source of a mildewy odor in our home that we have owned for about a year. We thought we had located the source in the humidifier filter, so replaced that and sprayed bleach and disinfectant deodorizer into all the vents. We have replaced all furnace filters as well. There does not appear to be any moisture coming in from outside the home.  The “sniff test” doesn’t reveal a source anywhere throughout the house, but a faint lingering odor exists that is noticeable when you enter the home, and our clothing has picked up the odor as well. Could the odor from the humidifier have been the original source and now the scent remains in the carpet and upholstery? Any suggestions as to how to determine/eliminate the culprit? Thank you!

There are many items to check for here, but basically, you’re looking for old or existing water entry or moisture.

If you have carpeting, I would look underneath it.  If the floors have gotten wet and never properly dried out, the padding and/or carpet could easily be molded.  Even the tack strips around the perimeter can be the source of the mildew smell.  You’ll need to pull up the carpeting, and possibly the padding as well to see, but the bad news is, you will likely need to have a carpet installer put the carpeting back if you didn’t discover that that is source of the problem.  If this is the cause, you’ll need new carpeting and padding.

Several years ago we had a similar issue in our basement.  Although the carpet surface was dry we discovered that there had been two layers of pad underneath and the bottom pad wasn’t never completely drying out, thus causing the problem.

Also check for any signs of drywall, plaster, or paneling stains.   If you find any, this could be showing a source of the smell.  To be sure, you’ll have to remove an area to find out.

A bathroom shower area can easily be the source of mildew if water is getting behind the tiles.  If you find the walls give a little when you push on them, you’ve got a problem.  Or, if there is a lower floor ceiling under the bath, you might see water staining.

At the very least, you might consider purchasing and running a dehumidifier.  This won’t cost that much and having it run for a few days will likely take the smell out of the air.  You’ll have to empty the water frequently, but it can really make a difference.  While you’re running the dehumidifier, you may want to turn the humidifier off, as they both do the opposite things.  Once the smell is gone, try turning off the dehumidifier to see if the smell comes back.  If so, you’ve got to continue finding the source.

If you still can’t find the source, you may want to contact an inspector or company that uses a device to test for moisture.  They may be able to help pinpoint the source.

Be sure that you’re not confusing the mildew smell with that of sewer gas, as this could be a different set of solutions.

Good luck!

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Painting Ceramic Tile – Get It Done – Ask The Handyman St Louis

I have a guest 1/2 bathroom that I am trying to give a “new look”. The floor I can work with, but the walls have 1960s blue & yellow ceramic tile squares that I would love to paint another color.

Changing the color of ceramic tiles can really beautify a bathroom. And, you can do it yourself as long as you are thorough and have patience! You can paint the wall tiles or floor tiles, but do not plan on painting tiles that are frequently exposed to water, such as the walls surrounding a tub or shower, and of course, do not paint a tub. Leave this to the professionals.

The key to this job, like all painting jobs, is preparation. Because paint will not stick well to a shiny surface, you will need to get rid of the “glaze” on the tile. Begin by cleaning the tile with a commercial tile cleaner, one with a mild abrasive. Follow directions carefully. Next, you’ll need to use a sandpaper on the tiles. It is easiest if you have an orbital sander for this. They can be rented at many hardware stores or rental stores. Use a 220 grit sandpaper. This won’t damage the tiles, just take off the shine. If you can’t find an orbital sander, doing it by hand will work, it will just take longer. Wear safety glasses, as this will create a lot of dust.

Upon completion of this part of the job, be sure to clean the tiles from all of the dust. When you think you’ve removed all of the dust, clean the tiles again to be sure. It is critical that the tiles are clean and free of dust. You’re now ready for priming the tiles. This is essential, in that it puts down a base for the paint to stick to. Use a high-adhesion, oil based primer. Oil based primers are more difficult to clean up after, but since you’re going to use an oil based finish paint, you must use the oil based primer. When using these, be sure to allow for adequate ventilation, as the smell can be quite strong.

Use a brush for oil paints to get the corners and a short nap roller (1/8”) for the tiles. Be careful not to allow any paint lines in this process, as they will show in the end. Allow the primer to dry. I strongly recommend applying a second coat of primer. After the second coat is dry, use the same 220 grit sandpaper to very lightly go over the work, just to remove any slight ridges. Again, clean up any dust.

For the finish paint, use a semi-gloss or high-gloss, oil based, alkyd paint. Don’t skimp on the cost of the paint. Use a well known brand! Paint the tiles in the same way you primed them. Don’t use too thick of an application. If needed, you can always apply a second coat. You’re now seeing the beautiful change, but you’re not quite done.

Finally, you need to add a clear, water-based urethane. This is simply a protective finish. Don’t use the oil-based urethane. Follow the directions of the urethane, but it will be basically the same as the paint and primer.

If you want to be creative, you can paint a border with a different color, or paint individual tiles with any color you want. Your imagination is the only limit. Be sure to take before and after pictures, because your friends are not going to believe it!

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Installing a New Vanity Faucet – Get It Done – Ask the Handyman St. Louis

Do I need a plumber to replace a bathroom sink faucet?

Generally, for a kitchen or vanity faucet, this can be done without a plumber.  However, changing a faucet is never a comfortable thing to do.  I’ve often said that plumbing is my exercise in prayer.

To begin changing a vanity faucet, first turn off the water supply.  If the faucet has shut-off valves inside the vanity, turn them off then verify that by turning the faucet on (if you have a two handle faucet, turn them both on).  If you still have water coming out, this means the shut-off valves need a new washer, so you’ll have to turn your whole house water shut-off valve off.  When verifying this step, you may still have a small stream coming out of the faucet as the water lines empty.  Once the water is off, use an adjustable wrench to unscrew the supply lines (both hot and cold) from the wall and faucet.

From underneath the vanity, remove the two nuts which hold the faucet onto the vanity.  You’ll also need to remove the nut from the pop-up assembly where a small arm comes out of the drain.  Remove this arm and connection and you should then be able to remove the faucet from the top, pulling the supply lines up through the holes in the vanity top.

Clean the surface of the vanity where the base of the old faucet was.  Then you’re ready to install the new faucet.  General instructions follow, but it is always a good idea to read the instructions that come with the faucet.

It is easier to install the new supply lines to the faucet first.   Be sure to wrap the threads of the faucet body where you are installing the supply lines with a Teflon tape.  This seals the connection.  Always wrap the tape in the same direction as you would be to tighten a nut – clockwise.  Be certain that the nuts on the supply lines are tight.  Drop the supply lines through the holes and rest the faucet body in place.  You’ll then need to take the nuts that come with the new faucet and slip them over the supply lines up to the underside of the faucet and secure them tightly to the faucet body.  This connection won’t need Teflon tape.

Next remove the pop-up assembly flange.  This is the item you see in the bottom of the sink which is held in place by a large nut underneath.  Using the channel lock pliers, remove the nut.  When you install the new flange, you’ll need to use plumbers putty under this flange.  Just roll out a ¼” ring that fits under the lip of the flange.  When you install the flange and tighten the new nut, this will create a seal so water doesn’t leak.  Continue following the manufacturer’s instructions for the rest of the pop-up assembly.  When you’re all done, connect the supply lines to the wall shut-off valves and then turn them on.

Before you turn the water on, it is a good idea to remove the aerator (on the spout).  Turn the water on (hot and cold) and make sure there are no obvious leaks.  Next turn the faucet on, both hot and cold, and again look for any leaks.  If there are none, allow the water to run and empty any debris from the new faucet, then reinstall the aerator.  Be sure to look for any leaks under the vanity.

After a quick clean up you’re done!  And, you can use your new faucet to wash your hands!

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Caulking a Tub – Get It Done – Ask The Handyman

Can anything be done about the mildew and mold at the bottom of my bathroom tiles where they meet the tub? I’ve tried mildew cleaners, but they don’t seem to help much.

You’re not alone if you have mold and mildew along your tub or shower. If you think about it, it only seems natural that a hot and damp area would attract this unsightly bacteria. However, there is an easy solution to make things look great, and that is recaulking the tub/shower.

Start with a dry tub or shower (no one having used it that morning). Take a box type razor blade and score the top and the bottom of the existing caulk, all along the tub or shower. Then take the safety type razor blade and start removing the old caulk. If the old caulk was a latex caulk, it may be hard and somewhat difficult to remove it, but with a little extra time, you’ll be able to do this. If the old caulk was a silicone caulk, this will be fairly easy, as it will seem like cutting rubber. Once you have the majority of the caulk off, use the safety razor to be sure that all of the small amounts are gone. If you see any mildew or mold after the caulk is removed, spray some bleach on these areas until the mold is gone. Be sure the areas are dry before recaulking.

To begin the caulking, some people like to use rubbing alcohol, wiped over the surfaces to get the surface as clean as possible. Next, take the caulk and caulk gun, and begin caulking a SMALL bead of caulk, starting in one corner. Keep moving the caulk gun while applying a small amount of pressure on the trigger of the caulk gun. It is important to not apply too much caulk, as things can get messy.

Once you have the caulk applied to one wall, wet your finger and smooth the caulk to a nice finish. The finger finishing will not only make the caulking look nice, but it also ensures that the caulk has been pressed into the surface of the tub and the wall.

If you have applied too much caulk, stop and wipe the excess caulk from your finger on a paper towel, then continue with the finger process. If you’ve gotten excess caulk above the area, this is the time to remove it with a damp paper towel, trying not to disturb the finished area. Repeat the process for the other walls. When you’re done, be sure that there are not pin holes or gaps in the caulk, as this could allow water behind the tile.

While latex caulk can be used, I prefer a silicone caulk. It is much more flexible and much easier to remove the next time you caulk the tub or shower. Also, be sure to use the silicone that is designed for a bathroom or kitchen, as it will help in fighting the mildew effect. These bathroom silicone caulks come in various colors if you need them, but white is the most common color of tub/shower caulk. If you don’t find the colored caulk at a hardware store, most tile stores will have them.

Do not use the tub or shower for 48 hours, allowing the caulk to cure. Getting the caulk wet before then can cause the caulk to fail.

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Vinyl Floor Curling Up – Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman

I had a new vinyl floor installed in my kitchen about 7 years ago. It was installed over the existing old tile flooring. The new flooring is starting to curl by the door leading to the garage. Is there any way to make this lay down so that it is no longer curling? It does not get wet as in a bathroom.

Great question, and not an unusual occurrence.

There could be a number of reasons that the new flooring is starting to come up, but whatever the reason in your case, you want the problem solved.  I understand.

If the new flooring is curling up right at the door, you may be able to install a small transition strip.  These, along with some other possibilities, are available at any hardware or flooring store.  A transition strip is used where two separate floorings come together, such as carpet and tile, or two different patterns of tile.  These strips come in brass or aluminum colored metal, or in wood.  They can be flat, or have one side raised slightly to correct for the different height of the carpet where it meets the tile at a different thickness.  Or, depending upon your situation and preference, you might be able to use some quarter-round molding (if the area is right up to the door threshold).

Before installing the transition strip, I would suggest gluing the curled tiles down first.  As long as the tile isn’t bending over onto itself, you should be able to do this, but it might work better if it is done during warmer temperatures.  Begin by using an adhesive, such as flooring glue or Liquid Nails, to be applied under the area where the tiles are curling up.  Next, use something with a straight edge, like a 2×4, to keep the edge of the tile down.  Put weight on the 2×4, all along the damaged area and let this sit at least overnight.  More weight is better than less.  Full buckets of paint could do the trick.

When you come back to the area, remove the weight and the 2×4.  See if any part of the tile is trying to curl back up.  If so, put the weight back on it for the day.  As a last resort, if the tile is not staying down, you may want to consider cutting the curl off; only if the transition strip or molding you’ll be using will cover the area you’ve cut out.

Once the tiles are laying down as they should, install the transition strip or quarter-round.  Usually the transition strips come with their own nails.  For the quarter-round, use a 1” to 1.5” finishing nail, along with a nail set to sink the nail into the molding.

Next, pat yourself on the back for accomplishing another home maintenance project!  Oh, and why not gather your spouse and kids around to show off your work!

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Disposal Smell – Get It Done – Ask The Handyman

We have lived here for 6 years and our condo was brand new at that time.  A few months ago I decided to buy a double-bowl stainless sink instead of my original white one, which I had difficulty keeping sparkling white.

My original white double sink had 2 equal-sized bowls but I chose a larger main sink with the small vegetable sink to the right.  Our garbage disposal (which of course is only 6 years old) has in the past couple of months developed a musty, foul odor.  I have purchased some commercial product called Disposer Clean or something.  It doesn’t help.  As I look under the sink it seems the plumbing under the disposer goes straight down then makes an abrupt turn upward, then into the drainpipe.

I also looked in the disposer with a flashlight and it seems to me that it looks rusty or something.  Any thoughts??

As to the rust, it is not uncommon to see these disposal blades rusting slightly.  However, if they have a lot of rust it could be that the blades are not functioning as they should and are leaving waste in the disposal.  In this case, a new disposal would be needed.

Disposals get the foul end of our food waste.  It is possible, if you put a lot of leafy remnants, such as lettuce, potato peels, and similar items, for some of the leftovers to stay inside of the disposal.  I understand you tried the disposal cleaner without any luck, but you might try these suggestions also.

With the disposal and water running, try placing several ice cubes into the disposal.  This may sound horrible, but the ice chips may force any food debris out.  This not only helps with the cleaning of the disposal, but will actually sharpen the blades as well.

If you still have the odor, use the sink stopper which came with the disposal to allow you to fill up the sink.  Once the sink is full, remove the stopper and allow all of the water to go down the disposal and pipes.  The pressure from so much water can act like the ice and possibly remove any food remnants.

A common home remedy to try would be a half-cup of baking soda poured into the disposal, with the disposal off, followed by a half-cup of vinegar.  Let this sit in the disposal for 5 – 10 minutes, then flush it, with the disposal off, for a minute with hot water.

Whenever you use the disposal, you should follow a few tips.  Always use cold water.  Never jam the food all at once into the disposal.  Feed the food in small increments.  Always leave the water running for 5 – 10 seconds after you’ve turned the disposal off, allowing the waste to get flushed down the pipes.

There are certain foods which I won’t put into the disposal, because, like you, I notice a smell for a while.  Broccoli is one of these.  I would rather empty it into the trash, but the smell will stay if you don’t take the trash out fairly soon.  Potato peels, corn husks, lettuce, celery, parsley, rice, and other similar foods are best left for the trash can.  Grease from cooking is another item that is best for the trash can (only after it has hardened).  Although liquid grease will go down the disposal, it can also coat your pipes, giving the potential for future odors.

A couple of good items for the disposal are ice, egg shells (another way of sharpening the blades), and occasionally, half of a lemon or lime, which will leave the disposal smelling wonderfully (if such a thing is possible).

Good luck!

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Installing a New Toilet – Get It Done THE St. Louis Handyman

Installing a new toilet is fairly simple.  The hardest part is the lifting of the bowl (and the tank if it is a one-piece toilet) onto the flange.  If this lifting is difficult, a second person may be needed.

Start the replacement by turning the shut-off valve to the off position.  Flush the toilet, and then remove as much of the water in the tank as you can, so as not to cause a mess.   Be certain to remove the supply line, which comes from the wall and hooks up to the bottom of the tank.  A two-piece toilet can be removed as one piece, as long as you don’t mind the extra weight.  If you don’t feel very strong, then take the tank off of the bowl first, by unscrewing the two (and sometimes three) bolts at the bottom of the tank.  When the bolts removed, you’ll be able to lift up on the tank and dispose of it.

To remove the bowl, near the floor on both sides will be a cover for the floor bolts.  Pry the covers off to expose the bolts, loosen them, and then lift the bowl from the floor.  Because the bowl sits on a wax ring, it may feel as if the toilet is stuck to the floor.  Rocking or twisting the toilet slightly may help.  However, be careful, as there is still a good amount of water inside the bowl.  If you set the bowl down, be sure to use a drop cloth or plastic, as the bottom will have wax residue.

You will then be looking at the floor drain, and the leftover part of the wax ring.  With a scraper, remove all of the wax (gloves are recommended).  Next, place the “flange bolts”, which usually come with the wax ring, and place them into the slots of the flange in the floor.  Place the new wax ring over the bolts and set the ring down to the floor.  Now comes the new toilet.

If you purchased a two-piece, place the bowl directly over the flange and lower it slowly, looking down through the flange bolt holes to be sure you are positioning it correctly.  When the bolts come through the holes, push the bowl down onto the floor.  Because of the new wax ring, you’ll have to use some pressure to get it down onto the floor.  Sitting on the toilet will help.  Use the nuts and washers that came with the bolts and fasten the bowl to the floor.  Before tightening them, be sure the bowl is perfectly square to the back wall, so your toilet won’t be crooked.  You can then begin installing the tank.

It is best to follow the directions which will come with the tank.  Be certain to also install a new supply line, as the old one may not reach, or may have gotten a kink in it.  After the tank is on and everything installed, slowly turn the water shut-off valve on.  Look for any leakage of water from all areas.  Once you’re sure there are no leaks, open the valve all the way and let the tank fill up.  Once it has done this, flush the toilet, and again, look for leaks.  Next, install the new toilet seat.

You’re done!  Grab some good reading (I recommend the Post Dispatch) and try it out!

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Choosing a New Toilet – Get It Done THE St. Louis Handyman

What type of toilet can I install if I want to replace my existing one, and how do I go about installing it?

Replacing a toilet is a fairly simple job.  The harder part is deciding which model you want to install.  There are many different choices, but basically, they are all installed in the same way.  I’ll talk about selection this week and in my next article (January 24th) I’ll tell you how to install it.

Most toilets come in two pieces, the bowl and the tank.  They are usually bought separately, but you have to be sure to choose two that are designed to fit together (both being made by the same company).   The “one-piece” toilets are more expensive, slightly harder to install due to the weight, and the repair parts for these toilets are more expensive than the two-piece toilet.

You’ll need to decide on your color and also whether to get a round or elongated bowl.  The round bowl is usually best for a small bathroom, where space is critical.  An elongated bowl allows for more sitting room and comfort.  Installation procedures are the same, so simply look at the two styles and decide which is best for you.

Another option to consider is purchasing a “comfort-height” toilet.  This is a toilet which sits up slightly higher, about 2”.  This is ideal for a taller person, someone with bad knees, or someone who has trouble getting up and down.  While 2” doesn’t sound like much, you will be amazed by the difference.

Some stores, such as Home Depot, have designed a “Flush Performance” rating.  This rating takes into account the outlet size at the bottom of the toilet, the flush valve size, and other items, which are then factored into a rating system which will let you compare the efficiency of each toilet you’re considering.  All toilets purchased today will conform to a law passed in 1994, which states that no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush will be used.  Some toilets may even use less.

The last note to think about is the “footprint” of the old and the new toilet.  If you have a tiled floor, the tile should cover the floor completely under the toilet.  However, if by chance you have carpeting, the carpeting may only go up to the base of the toilet, and not underneath it.  When you go to install the new toilet, you may have flooring exposed.

As to prices, toilets can vary quite a bit.  I usually like to stay with a brand name that I’m familiar with, such as American Standard, Kohler, etc.  Most toilets will be in the $200 to $400 range – just keep in mind that basically a toilet is a toilet.

When you have your new one picked out, be sure to also purchase a wax ring with bolts and a new toilet supply line.  And don’t forget a new toilet seat, with the toilet seat bolts.  This will save you another trip to the hardware store when you’re ready to do the installation.

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THE St. Louis Handyman