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.

Bathroom Sink Draining Slowly – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

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

Materials: Bucket, channel lock wrench
Time: 15 minutes
Difficulty: easy

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!

A Follow Up To A Previous Article:
In a recent article, we talked about the cleaning of shower doors, due to soap scum and calcium build up. We received several comments and suggestions from readers that I thought I’d pass along, as they might be of help to you. Marge Meyers uses a cleaner designed for smooth top ranges. She finds it cleans not only the glass, but the chrome as well. She then follows this up with a regular window cleaner to prevent the stains from building up.

Al B. finds that using a SOS pad works well, as it is inexpensive, quick, and rinses fast. He also uses this on the shower floor.

If you have any further suggestions for cleaning or simple household repairs, be sure to send them along and we’ll try to share them with other readers.

Change Your Backsplash – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

I just moved into a home and have a lot of items on a “to-do” list. One of them would be to tile my backsplash above the kitchen sink. Can this be done easily?

Congratulations on the new home! It sounds like a normal move-in, where there are many things to be done on the wish list. Tiling an area above the sink can be a great way to add character and dress up the area. Tiling a backsplash is not a very hard job to do. The hardest part of the job is cutting the tile, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

First, I’m assuming the area above the sink is drywall or plaster, and is in decent condition. If so, you’re ready to go. Begin by choosing the tile you want. Most backsplashes consist of 4” tile, but any size can be used. Generally, you’ll want to lay the first course of tiles just above the counter top and sink. Starting at one corner, spread the adhesive with the smooth edge of a notched trowel.

Next, using the notched side of the trowel, go over the same area to create the ridges from the notches. As you begin, just run the mastic to go slightly above the first row of tiles, for one or two feet. Press the first tile into place, giving it just a slight turn both ways as it goes on. Be sure the tile is straight and don’t just depend upon the corner wall being straight, because chances are, it isn’t.

Next, place two plastic spacers on the top of the tile and two on the side. This allows for perfect spacing between the tiles. Continue on to the end of the row, but if the last tile needs to be cut, leave it for now. It’s much easier to do all of the tile cutting at one time. Go on to the second row, remembering the spacers, and continue until all of the full tile areas are done.

You’re now ready for the cutting of the tiles. It is much easier to use a wet tile saw for this. They can be rented from most larger hardware stores, or from a flooring store. Get some instructions from wherever you rent the saw. Make your cuts and install them in order. It is best to make each cut, or only a couple of them and install them, rather than cutting every tile at one time.

Once the tiles are up, you need to let the mastic dry, usually for about 24 hours. You’re then ready to grout the tiles. Be aware, any color of grout can be used. This is an easy way to add a distinctive color to the scheme. Follow the instructions on the grout carefully when mixing the grout. Then, using a grout float, apply the grout to the tiles. This will at first seem like a messy job, but basically, you’re just working it into the joints, in a circle fashion, to be sure it goes in well. As you do this, remove any large amounts off of the tile. Follow directions as to when you can sponge off the haze from the tiles. This will usually have to be done a couple of times.

Once the grouting is finished, you’re ready to caulk the area along the counter top, top, and corners as needed. The coloring of the caulk is up to you, but will usually look best if it matches the grout color.
Sealing the grout and tiles is a good idea, but you usually have to wait for a week or so before doing it. It is an easy process, and the sealer can be purchased wherever you got the tile.
Be sure when you’re all finished to pat yourself of the back!


Get It Done

Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

Changing a Sink Flange – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

I have a white sink with a disposal, and the chrome flange just doesn’t look good with the white sink. Do they make a white flange for this, and if so, is it something easy to replace?

You are in luck! They certainly do make a white disposal flange, and it isn’t very hard to replace it.
Once you have the flange and are ready to start, I would suggest lying a thick towel down on the cabinet lip. You’ll see why in just a few minutes of working inside the cabinet, lying on your back. Begin by disconnecting the pipe leading from the disposal to the drain. If you have PVC drain pipes, you may be able to loosen the couplings by hand, but if not, use a pair of channel–lock pliers. Once the drain is away from the disposal, you’re ready to remove the disposal from its mounting.

From below, just at the top of the disposal, you will see a ring (usually chrome colored) with a loop. Using the disposal wrench (an elongated “S” tool), insert it into the loop (using a screwdriver if you don’t have the wrench), then turn the unit clockwise. Be prepared as you do this, as the disposal will drop down into your hands, and it is somewhat heavy. When it does come down, set it aside.

Next, you will see a retaining ring which surrounds the flange. Using a screwdriver, pry one end of the ring down and the rest of the ring will come off. Be patient here; getting this ring on and off is usually the hardest part of the job. When the ring is off, unscrew the three screws which compress the mounting ring from the flange. You’ll then be able to drop the mounting ring from the flange. With that done, push the flange up and into the sink.

You’re now ready to install the new flange. Take some plumber’s putty and roll it in your hand to form about a ½” snake, which you will wrap around the rim of the flange. Set the flange into the hole, and if there is any writing on the top of the flange (the manufacturer’s name), it looks better if this writing is readable from the top. Next, you’ll simply reverse the process of installing the mounting plate.
Before you’re able to tighten the flange, the retaining ring has to be reinstalled. If you have any trouble, it may help to have someone press down on the flange from above. With the mounting ring secured, lift the disposal in place, insert the wrench and turn the ring counter-clockwise to tighten it. Reconnect the drain pipe and test for leaks. You’ll notice that the plumber’s putty has squeezed out from the new flange. This is normal. Just scrub the excess away until you can’t see any more.

Get It Done
Ask THE Handyman St Louis

Flourescent Light Not Working – Ask THE Handyman St. Louis – Get It Done

I have a florescent light in my kitchen that isn’t working properly. I’ve changed the bulbs, but sometimes it works, and other times it doesn’t. Do I need a new fixture?

Fluorescent lights can be troublesome at times; however, repairs are fairly easy. My first suggestion with problem lights is to simply replace the bulbs. But since you’ve already done that, let’s go to the next step.
With the switch on, try rotating the bulbs slightly, making sure that they have good contact in the bulb pin holders at each end. Sometimes, these sockets or bulb holders need to be replaced. If turning the bulb slightly brings the light on as it should be, wait and see if the problem persists. If it does, replace the sockets (two per bulb).

If rotating the bulb doesn’t help, it could be either the ballast or the starter that is bad. Older fluorescent lights have a starter, which is usually a gray, round device, about 1” long and the circumference of a nickel. You will usually see the starter with the bottom half being exposed. Sometimes you have to remove the bulbs to see them. To remove a starter, simply twist it one-quarter turn counter clockwise to remove it. The starters are usually less than $1 and are available at any hardware store.
If your fixture doesn’t have a starter, then it will have a ballast. A ballast is a transformer that will boost the 120 volt house current up to about 300 volts in order to light the bulb, then reduce the voltage down to keep it lit. Replacing a ballast can be done, but it may take a first timer about 30 minutes, as there are numerous wires to connect. Also, the cost of a new ballast can be $20 and higher, which means that sometimes, it may be less expensive to simply buy a new fixture, especially if the fixture is simply a shop light type.


If you decide to replace the ballast, be sure to look closely when buying the new one, as there are many different types. It would be best to remove the old one and take it to the hardware store with you.

Get It Done
Ask THE Handyman St Louis

Smelly Ice Cubes – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

We have an icemaker that makes ice cubes; however, they taste moldy and your hands smell moldy when you finish putting them in a glass. Is there a way to resolve this problem other than getting a new icemaker? We did change the water line once and it helped for a very short time.

If your icemaker is working correctly other than the smell and taste, and that no other sources of water have any issue, then I think that a cleaning process is in order. First, make sure that the water line (which you said you replaced) is copper and not plastic. If it is plastic, be sure to change it over to copper, as the plastic lines could be part of the problem.

Begin the cleaning process by turning off the valve to the icemaker line. This is usually in the basement, and has a small ¼” line running to it. Then remove the icemaker unit from inside the freezer to clean it. Each unit may be slightly different, so I can’t give you exact directions, but you’ll need to remove the plastic tube that comes from the back of the freezer to the top of the icemaker, allowing the water to enter into the ice tray. The icemaker unit usually hangs from two screws, which may need to be loosened slightly to lift the unit out. However, the electrical plug will still be attached, so once the unit is off the screws, unplug the unit from its receptacle. You’ll now have the freedom to take the unit over to the sink.

The icemaker unit has a motor inside of it, so do not immerse the unit in water. Instead, I would suggest as thorough of a cleaning that you can, without dipping the unit in water. A bleach solution might be a good idea, using a sponge to clean. Afterwards, be sure to rinse the unit as thoroughly as you cleaned it, and then let it dry completely before reinstalling the unit.

My next suggestion is to consider purchasing and adding a water filter to the ice maker line. The larger hardware stores carry these for about $15 – 20, with all of the parts needed to add the filter to an existing line. The filters last for about 6 months. Replacement filters cost slightly less, and take even less time to install. In reading reviews on these filters, I think this will solve your problems.

After the cleaning and adding of the filter, carefully move the refrigerator back into place, being sure not to pinch the copper water line. Once your icemaker starts making ice, I would suggest that you throw away the first batch or two of ice, in case there were any cleaning agents left inside the icemaker.

Get It Done
Ask THE Handyman St Louis

Garbage Disposal Making a Noise – Get It Done – Ask THE Handyman St Louis

My garbage disposal is making such a loud noise. Is there anything I can do about it?

Bad news first. There really is nothing that can be done when a garbage disposal starts going bad, unless you really want to clutter up your basement floor in trying to take one apart. It would be much easier and take less time to simply replace the disposal. The good news is that replacing one is not a major event (unless your spouse or neighbor is standing over your shoulder).

Disposals will normally come in ½ and ¾ horsepower. I think that the ½ horsepower is fine for most all homes. The next decision to make is regarding the noise level. If you spend more, you can get a quieter unit, but this can double or triple the cost of the disposal. There are other high end qualities available, but I usually recommend the basic model. I like the InSinkErator – Badger 5. This is not the cheapest model, but we’ve found it to be very reliable, and it comes with a 2 year, in-home warranty.

Begin by turning off the power at the circuit breaker which controls the disposal. Using adjustable pliers, disconnect the drain trap from the disposer. Using the small wrench that comes with the new disposal, or a screwdriver, insert it into the mounting ring near the top of the disposal. Using one hand on the bottom of the disposal for support, slightly lift up on the bottom of the disposal while turning the wrench or screwdriver to the left until the disposal is free of the mounting bracket. You’ll then be able to set the disposal on the floor of the cabinet.

Turn it over and remove the electrical cover plate, then remove the wires connected to the disposal. Next, loosen the three screws on the mounting bracket. Using the flat blade of a screwdriver, pry off the metal ring which goes around the bracket. You’ll then be able to push the sink flange up through the sink hole. Scrape off the old plumbers putty at the top of the hole, being careful not to scratch the sink surface.

To begin installing the new disposal, use new plumbers putty around the underneath part of the new sink flange. Place it into the hole and press it into place. If you don’t have another person to help you, it can be a good idea to place a towel in the sink, then put the old disposal on top of the new flange to help hold it in place. Follow the directions of the installation of the new disposal, but basically, it is just installing the new mounting piece, attaching the wires to the new disposal, then securing it to the mount, and reattaching the drain pipe. If you have a dishwasher, you’ll need to remove the plug from the inside of where the dishwasher drain hose is attached to the disposal. Don’t forget the remove this plastic plug from inside the disposal after you’ve knocked it out. With everything back together, turn on the circuit breaker and the water and check for any leaks.

Now tell the person that has been standing over your shoulder that they can go back to whatever they were doing, that you’ve gotten the job done successfully!

Get It Done
Ask THE Handyman St. Louis

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!

Get It Done

THE St. Louis Handyman


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!

Get It Done

THE St Louis Handyman


Instant Hot Water Dispenser – Get It Done THE St Louis Handyman

Is it possible to add an instant hot water dispenser if my sink doesn’t already have one?

Adding an instant hot water dispenser is not only doable, but for tea drinkers, makes things much easier.  The cost of an InSinkErator unit will range from about $200 for the basic unit to $275 for a deluxe model (with the looks being the only difference).  Some makes and models will come with a purification filter, but you will pay more for this type.

Adding the dispenser requires tapping into an existing cold water line.  This is the supply line feeding the cold water side of the faucet.  The unit also requires electricity, which usually will have to be added, as most sinks to not have an electrical outlet in the cabinet below.  Although a garbage disposal has electricity, it is usually switch controlled, so you can’t tap into that line.  If the basement is unfinished, it is usually fairly simple to bring power up to the sink cabinet and add an outlet, if you are electrically competent.

Installing the unit will require drilling a hole through the deck of the sink where you want it to be mounted.  The unit will come with a saddle valve which will allow you to tap into the cold water line.  Just follow the directions from the manufacturer.  Once the unit is assembled and in place, it is simply a matter of plugging it in.  Remember however, you will be working under the sink, on your back sometimes, so have the Ibuprofen handy.

The unit will make occasional slight noises when the water is being heated, so don’t be alarmed.  It is also a good idea, if you have children, to caution them about the hot temperature of the water.  They could get injured if they aren’t careful.  Although the water temperature will be near boiling, most models will let you adjust the temperature slightly.

Once you’re done you can sit back and enjoy a hot cup of tea – although hot chocolate sounds better to me!

Get It Done

THE St Louis Handyman