Vanity Drain Clogged – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

PtrapMy vanity sink drain get clogged on a fairly regular basis.  Is there anything I can do to prevent calling a plumber every time this happens?

A vanity drain is the most frequent drain clog to happen,  and fortunately, is usually the easiest to fix.

The simplest and quickest way to attempt to unclog a vanity drain is to start under the sink by locating the “pop-up” arm.  This is the device which raises and lowers the stopper.  Connected to this vertical arm is a horizontal rod that goes into the drain.  Just where it enters the drain is a retaining nut. 

Loosen this nut (it can usually be done with your fingers) and let the arm come out of the drain.  Now, above the sink, you should be able to lift the pop-up out.  When you do so, it may have a lot of hair and gunk attached to it. 

Do not use the sink to wash it out, as you have not yet connected the arm back to the drain!  Instead, use a paper towel to clean off as much as possible.  If need be, take it to another sink and wash it.

Next, use any type of hair removal/drain auger tool to see if there is still anything in the pipe that you can get to.  If you can’t get to it, or don’t have any type of auger/hair removal tool, you still may be able to get to it by going to the next step. 

Loosen the nuts on both sides of the p-trap.  This is the pipe that has a 180 degree bend under the drain.  Have a bucket under this pipe as you loosen the nuts and remove this pipe.  There will be water in it, so be careful to do it over the bucket. 

If there is debris in this pipe, take it to a different sink, one that does not use the same drain.  Wash the inside of the pipe out, but be careful not to let all this debris go down the drain.  Throw the debris away instead of letting it go back down another drain.

You’ve done it!  Put the drain back on, tighten the nuts, and put the pop-up rod back in and tighten that nut as well.  Keeping the bucket nearby, run water in the sink and make sure there are no leaks.

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Great Projects for Under $100 – Get It Done – Ask The Handyman St Louis

FaucetThere are so very many things we can do to class up our home.  Some projects can be expensive.  But there are many which don’t cost quite so much that can leave a lasting impression.  Here are a few ideas that can make a difference.

Replace the door knobs and hinges on the interior doors with bright brass fixtures.  The cost of a bright brass interior lock is about $15 – 20, and the hinges are about $5 each (a door will need either 2 or 3).  The time to replace them would take about one hour per door, including the hinges.

Paint your front door.  A fresh coat of paint on your door will make it look as if it were new.  If you add a color besides white, you can really make a statement.  One gallon of paint will cost about $25 – $45, and it would take about one hour.

Add a door knocker and kick plate to your front door.  This also will create a classy look, especially if you use bright brass.  These can be seen from a long way away, making the front entrance welcoming.  The cost for a door knocker is about $15 – $20 and the kick plate would be about the same.

Replace ordinary toggle switches in the public rooms with dimmers.  You will be amazed how a lower level of light can create a wonderful effect.  If you have different lights on different switches in the same room, you can decide which part of the room you want to accent just by increasing that level of lighting.Dimmer switches run between $10 to $30, depending upon the style.  One note to make however is that if you use the compact florescent bulbs, you will need a special dimmer, and maybe special bulbs.

Replace a kitchen or powder room faucet.  A new faucet makes things sparkle and can really make a difference in the looks of things.  Be sure to use a brand name faucet and not a cheap brand.  These are readily available for under $100.

Create a new effect by mounting picture rails in public areas.  These rails are easily mounted to the walls and can hold several framed pictures.  Another trick would be to occasionally swap out the pictures, keeping visitors on the lookout to see what you have added.

Toilet Flapper Chain – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis – Get It Done

On one of my toilets, I have to hold the handle down in order for the toilet to flush all the way.  What do I need to do?

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.

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!

Tub/Shower Leak – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

I have a tub/shower that has continued to leak water from somewhere, but I can’t find out where.  The tub has been recaulked twice, the tile sealed, but after 60 – 90 days, we see evidence of water at the drywall outside.  Any ideas?

In most cases, a leak such as this is going to be either a caulking or grout issue.  If there is a hole in the caulk, or the caulk has pulled away from either the tub or the tile, water can get behind.  It is then going to either find a way to exit, or will get soaked up by drywall behind the tile.  Inspect the caulk very closely, looking for even a minor hole the size of a pin.  Be certain to also check the caulk around the shower door and door track.  Normally, the caulk around the door and track is a clear caulk, so take your time, as a hole or separation won’t be quite so obvious.  The caulking should be 100% silicone, made for kitchens and baths, as it has additional ingredients to prevent mildew.

If the caulking looks good, next check the grout.  This is the material between the tiles.  Again, a small pin hole can allow water penetration.  Take your time and look closely, even bending down to be at eye level for the lower areas.  If you need to add grout, a hardware store will carry a white and almond, but if you need a different color, you may have to go to a tile store in order to find the color in a 100% silicone.

If the grout and the caulk look fine, I would then have a professional take a look.  The problem could be in the area behind the faucet control, or even behind the tub spout.

Don’t try to repair any drywall until you are convinced that the leakage has been fixed.  You wouldn’t want to go to the trouble of making the repair and then find out you still have a leak.

Good luck!

What is a GFCI? Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

We’re getting ready to sell our home and had a pre-sale inspection.  The inspector says that we need GFCI receptacles in a number of different places, required by electrical codes.  What are these for and can I do it myself?

A GFCI stands for a Ground-fault circuit interrupter.  This is a receptacle that has a “test” and “reset” button in between the areas where you insert a plug.  To combat the danger of a combination of water and electricity, a GFCI is required in bathrooms, kitchens, garages, workshops, and outdoor areas.  Basically, a GFCI monitors current flowing through the hot and neutral wires.  In normal situations, the current is the same in both wires.  Any change in this will cause the GFCI to cut the power in a fraction of a second to the protected receptacles.  In most cases, pushing the reset button will restore power.  If it won’t reset, the GFCI should be replaced.

Most homeowners don’t realize that a GFCI In their bathroom will likely be connected to other outlets in the house.  In other words, if the bathroom GFCI fails, you might find that an outlet in the kitchen, garage, or outside may also be inoperative.  So, if you ever find an outlet in the house that is not working, go and check all of the GFCI’s in your home, including the garage and outside.  See if any of them have tripped by pushing the reset button.

A tricky part about installing a GFCI in your kitchen where you have more than one outlet near water, is that, depending upon the wiring, one GFCI may protect the others.  However, this is not always the case, so I would recommend contacting a qualified company to have this work done.

A GFCI is the only way to convert a 2-prong outlet to a 3-prong outlet by code.  If your home is not grounded and you need a 3-prong outlet for a computer in your bedroom, a GFCI is the only legal way to do this.  However, having a computer plugged into a GFCI can cause problems if the GFCI trips.  Therefore it is always best to have your computer plugged into a surge protector with battery back up, with the surge protector plugged into the GFCI.

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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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Pedestal Sink – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

We’re considering changing our bathroom vanity to a pedestal sink. Is this possible without redoing the whole bathroom?

Good question, but the answer depends on several things.

Basically, most any bathroom vanity can be changed to a pedestal sink. However, there are definitely things to be aware of. First item to note is the flooring. Does the flooring (tile, carpet, etc) extend under the vanity? In most cases, it won’t, which means when you remove the vanity and install the pedestal, you’re going to have to deal with the floor repair. If it is an older home, trying to match the older floor tile can be an impossible task. If the bathroom is carpeted, you have a better chance of making a seamless repair, but this will have to be done by a professional. If the bathroom is small, it might be just as easy to replace all of the carpeting. If by chance your tile or carpeting does extend under the vanity, then you won’t have to deal with these issues.

However, if your walls are tiled around the vanity, in most cases the walls will not be tiled behind the vanity, which means you’re going to also have to deal with the wall repair, just like the flooring.

Be certain to measure the height of the pedestal you’re thinking about. If by chance you have a mirror just above the vanity, this could become another issue you have to deal with.

If the above issues aren’t a problem, you may be good to go, but there are still some things to think about. Your water supply valves which are under the vanity can sometimes be too far apart from each other, so that when the pedestal is installed, you can see these shut-off valves. Ideally, you want these valves to be about 6” away from each other, so that they are hidden by the pedestal. The same thing holds for the drain pipe. Sometimes the drain line isn’t centered in the vanity, which means that the drain won’t be directly behind the pedestal and will stick out like a sore thumb. Both of these issues can be corrected, but unless you know what you’re doing, it would be best for these to be done by a professional.

I hope I haven’t talked you out of your project, but you want to be aware of all of the issues that might come up. Many times, a small improvement such as this can turn in to a much larger job.

Slow Drain – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis – Get It Done

My bathroom vanity drain seems to be draining slower than usual. Is there something I can do to check this out?


Vanity drains have a tendency to clog up after time. If you think about it, it’s only normal. Soap scum, hair (especially if someone shaves in this sink), etc. will leave residue that can collect on the inside of the pipes, especially the p-trap. The p-trap is the curved piece just under the drain. Normally, this is an easy job to disconnect and clean.

Begin by having a small bucket or pan so that water still in the p-trap won’t spill onto the floor. You won’t have to shut the water off, since we’re only dealing with the drain. If the p-trap is PVC (white plastic), you may not even need a wrench. If the trap is chrome (metal), you probably will need a pair of channel lock pliers.

Loosen the nuts for the p-trap. When this is done, you should be able to remove it, but be careful, there will be water in this curved pipe. Let the water empty into the bucket. You’ll then be able to see if the pipe is dirty and filled with debris.

You’ll need to wash this out, but be sure not to do it in the sink you’re working on, since you’ve just disconnected the drain. Once you’ve done that, just put it back into place, tighten the nuts, then check for leaks after running the water.

Knowing how to do this can be very helpful, not only in keeping the drain flowing, but also if you would ever happen to drop something down the drain. We’ve all heard the story of a wedding ring being dropped down the sink!

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Medicine Cabinet Troubles – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

“I have a medicine cabinet that hangs from the wall. I would like to have a recessed cabinet installed instead. Can this be done?”
–J.S., St. Louis

In most cases, this can be done without an enormous amount of work, as long as the wall consists of drywall and not plaster. The main cause of difficulty is if there are electrical lines or plumbing behind the area.

There isn’t a way to know for sure, but there are a few things you could look for in order to be better informed. For example, is there a bathroom directly above this one, with a vanity or toilet in about the same place? If so, the drain stack pipe could be in this area, or plumbing supply lines. Or, if there is a light above the existing medicine cabinet, there could be electrical wiring behind the wall. Electrical wires can be moved out of the way much easier than any plumbing lines.

Unfortunately, the only way to know for sure would be to cut out a hole in the area you want to install the new cabinet, and take a look.

To do this, make a hole directly behind where the existing cabinet is. That way, if you find plumbing that will prevent you from completing the project, the hole can be patched with a rough repair and you can rehang your existing medicine cabinet without having to do a finished drywall repair.

If you find nothing behind the area where the new cabinet will go, then continue to cut out the area for the new cabinet, consulting the directions for the dimensions of the rough cut-out. Chances are, that when you have removed the drywall for this cut-out, you will find a stud running up and down behind the area. You will need to cut this portion of the stud at the top and bottom of your opening. You will then need to create a top and bottom plate where this stud has been cut, essentially creating a “box”, which will surround the new medicine cabinet. Because you previously cut the drywall to the correct opening size, these 2×4’ss can go behind the top and bottom edges of the drywall, so they won’t be seen. When this is done, insert the medicine cabinet, screwing the top and bottom into these 2×4 box you created.

If the medicine cabinet has a mirror, be sure to smile at yourself for a job well done!

Time: 1 ½ hours
Materials: Drywall knife or utility blade, 2×4, drill, screws, sawz-all
Difficulty: Medium