Updating Your Shower/Tub Walls – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

I have an older home with wall tiles throughout my bathroom.  Some of the tiles are cracked and not looking too good.  What can I do besides tearing everything out?

Other than replacing the tiles, there are a few things you can do to make the walls look better.  First, if the grout around the tiles is dirty, you can attempt to clean this up, by either regrouting or trying cleaning products.  Regrouting is done by using a hand-held grout saw, a grout float, and new grout.  This does take some time and effort, but can make things look better.

You’ll need to know if your grout has a sand additive to it or not, so that you can match the existing grout.  Also, be aware that if you are not removing all of the grout from the entire wall, you may see slight color differences between the new and the old.

As to the cracked tiles you mentioned, again, if you aren’t going to replace them, a clear silicone caulk will at least keep the water from getting behind the wall.

A second option would be to cover the tiles with a tub or shower surround.  More and more homes are installing these, as it makes the appearance nice and smooth, cleans easier than tiles, and needs less maintenance.  The trick to a nice looking shower surround is not to buy the least expensive ones, as they can be less on quality as well.  For a good one, you can plan on spending  $300 – $500.  The surround for a shower is slightly more.    Usually, there will be shelves built in for toiletries.

Although installing a surround is not extremely difficult, it is better to let the professionals do this, as one mistake can ruin the surround, especially if you are going to have one mounted onto the existing tile in your bathroom.  Care needs to be taken so that the tile still shows on the borders, making the project look its best.  Some hardware stores carry a couple of surrounds, but for a better selection, you may want to go to a plumbing supply house, such as Henry’s Plumbing.  You can even get a surround which looks like tile, if you like.

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Shower Ceiling Paint Cracking – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

The ceiling paint in my shower has started to crack and peel.  I’ve tried to touch it up with paint, but it only cracks and peels more when I try to paint it.  Any ideas?

If it helps, you are not alone in having this problem.  We see this type of situation far too often.  In most cases, the cause is that the ceiling was never primed before it was painted.  Because of this, the paint doesn’t bond to the drywall like it would if the drywall had been primed.  So, the rule of thumb is, never paint drywall, or even wood, without priming it first.  Yes, two coats of paint may cover the area, but it will never last like it should unless it was primed first.  A primer acts as a sealer and a bonding agent to hold the paint.

So, your first step is to scrape off the paint.  In most cases, you’ll find areas where the paint will come off very easily, but other areas will be very stubborn.  So, you’ll likely have to skim coat the ceiling, so that the surface will be even.  Get off as much paint as you can, then using a joint compound (commonly referred to as “mud”, skim coat the ceiling. (See previous articles on how to skim coat.)  Let this dry for 24 hours, then lightly sand the areas to get things smooth.  You’ll know if you need a second coat of mud after you’ve sanded the mud.  Be sure to have plastic over the tub and anywhere necessary, as there will be dust.

After your surface is even, prime the ceiling, using a roller for best appearance.  Let the primer dry, then paint the ceiling with whatever color you wish, again, using a roller, after you’ve cut in the edges with a brush.

Humidity in a bathroom can be very high due to showers, so it is always a good idea to have the exhaust fan running while taking a shower.  If possible, even let the fan run for about 10 minutes afterwards.

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Replacing a Mail Box Post – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

A car knocked over my mail box post.  It this something easy to fix?

Replacing a mail box post does require some effort, but other than the manual labor, it is easy to do.  For myself, I hate digging holes, whether it is in the garden, planting a tree, or replacing a post.  The only good part about it is when the job is finished!

There are several types of material for mail box posts, but the two most common are wood or metal.  Within these two categories, you can get some intricate designs, but for the basics, you will be able to purchase them at the hardware stores.  For the wood, you’ll have to decide between the cedar or treated wood.  I usually prefer the cedar, as it takes a stain or paint better than the treated post, although it does cost slightly more.  Either post will come with the “arm” that the mail box sits on.  If you’re choosing a metal post, pay attention to the design, as some require installing the post onto a cement pad versus just the metal pole being cemented into the ground.

For the installation of a new pole, let’s assume you have either a wood pole or a metal pole which does not require a cement pad.  Begin by removing the mail box from the old post.  Next, measure the height of the “arm” of the existing post from the ground.  You will want to have the new post at the same height.  Next, remove the existing pole.  Most likely, the existing pole was installed with cement, which means you’ll have to dig the cement out as well.  A note of caution: if you have a sprinkler system or invisible fence for a pet, be aware of where the wire or pipes are so that you don’t run into any surprises.  You can always call 1-800-DIG-RITE for a free, utility/state sponsored company to come out and mark any utilities which might be nearby.  It is better to be safe.

The next part is where the labor comes in.  Using a shovel, dig around the pole as close as you can.  If there is cement, you’ll soon find out, as the shovel just won’t go in.  Moving out from the pole, find the closest area where the shovel contacts dirt.  Dig as much as you can closest to the cement.  To go deeper, you’ll have to move slightly away from the cement.  Basically, if the cement surrounding the post is 12” wide, you’re going to end up with a hole that could easily be 3’ wide.  As you dig deeper and wider, gently try rocking the old post, as this can let you know how close you are to having the old cement up.  A word of caution here: cement is heavy and this may require two people to lift the cement and pole out of the ground.  Once the cement is out of the hole, installation of the new post is easy.  Getting rid of the ball of old cement is another matter!

Place the new post into the hole, straighten it and measure to see where the new “arm” of the post is relative to the old post.  If you need to add dirt to make the new post higher, shovel the dirt in.

When you get it to about the same height, try to tamp the top of the dirt down somewhat so that when the post is installed, it won’t sink down into loose dirt.  When you’re ready for the cement, begin by pouring about a third of a bag of post cement (post cement dries quicker than normal cement, although it costs a few dollars more) into the hole, with the post in the hole.  Add about one gallon of water.  You’re then going to need to mix the water and cement slightly.  Using something like a broom handle will work well.  Once mixed, add the rest of the bag of cement, then more water.  Mix as needed.   Holding the level against the post, move the post as needed, then place the level on the next side and adjust accordingly.

Let the cement dry slightly, then fill up the rest of the hole with dirt.  Remount the old mail box onto the arm, and with a beaming smile, wait for the mail carrier to come by.  The two of you can then both admire your job!

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Fixing a Broken Storm Door Closer – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis – Get It Done

The wind recently caught my storm door and jerked it so bad that it broke the closer and split the wood that it is screwed in to.  What kind of project am I in for?

You’re not alone.  I see this problem several times in a year.  It usually happens as someone is opening a door during a high wind, or the door wasn’t properly latched.  The wind catches it and pushes it so hard that it can bend the rod on the closer, as well as cause damage to the door jamb.  In most cases, this can be a simple repair.

Begin by replacing the closer, which can be purchased at most all hardware stores.  Follow the directions, but basically it is just removing the old screws and replacing the unit.  However, at this point, it is a good idea to make an adjustment, so that this may not happen again.  The screws that come with the closers are fairly short.  I would suggest getting longer screws, such as 2” to 2 ½”.  The screws that come with the closer are usually the same color as the closer (black, white, etc.), so the new, longer screws may need some touch up paint on the heads of the screws after you install them.  These longer screws are only for the end of the closer which is screwed into the door jamb, not into the door itself.

Once the new closer is installed, you may want to check the closing strength and make a simple adjustment.  There is a screw on the end of the closer which allows the door to close either  quickly, or slowly, depending upon how this screw is adjusted.  In other words, if the door is closing so slowly that it doesn’t actually engage the lock, adjust the screw so that the door closes with more force.

Now for the damage done to the door jamb.  Normally, this type of accident will split the wood below the area where the closer was screwed in.  If the split in the wood is not too severe, you can use finish nails to secure both sides of the crack.  Then spackle the holes and caulk along the crack, and touch up the paint.

There is one more item to mention, if this storm door problem has happened before, or if you are in an area that gets frequent wind gusts.  A safety chain can be installed between the door and the jamb.  This is also sold at most hardware stores.  The chain is attached at the jamb and the door.  If the wind begins to pull the door too far, the chain stops it in time to prevent any damage.  The chain is enclosed in a plastic covering, so it won’t hurt the door finish.

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