March 29, 2009 in Features

Let’s try to flush out the problem

Gene Austin McClatchy-Tribune

Quick tip

 Reader Dino Fanara, a home-improvement contractor in Spokane, says he prefers steaming to chemical removers for stripping wallpaper.

 Steamers can be bought at some home centers or rented at tool-rental agencies. Prices for do-it-yourself steamers start at about $30.

 “By sliding the steam applicator ahead as you carefully scrape, the wallpaper will come off reasonably well,” Fanara said.

 If there are multiple layers of paper, he said, he tries to pull off the top layer dry before using the steamer on the underlying paper. However, he said he does use chemical removers to soften and remove paste residue after the paper is stripped.

 In some cases where paste residue is thick, both steaming and chemical removers are used.

Q. We have a new toilet, a well-known brand that clogs every single day. We have used a snake and plunger to try and open it, but these didn’t help. Can you give us a solution, such as pressure-assisted flushing?

A. Pressure-assisted toilets, which use a compressed-air device in the tank to give extra force to flushing, have a different design than conventional gravity-flush toilets. The best-known pressure-assist device, the Sloan Flushmate, cannot be retrofitted into a gravity-flush toilet, and I don’t know of any other practical system for converting a conventional toilet.

However, I don’t think you really need pressure-assisted flushing. Your new, top-brand toilet simply should not be clogging every day. I think there is either some defect in the toilet or something wrong with the installation.

For example, I have heard of a faulty wax-ring installation that clogged the drain-waste pipe under the toilet and prevented proper flushing. It is also possible that some object fell into the toilet and is blocking it.

Your first step should be to contact the manufacturer. Describe the problem and see if you can get some help. If this doesn’t lead to a solution, the toilet might have to be removed so the underside and the drain-waste pipe can be examined.

Modern toilets use only 1.6 gallons of water per flush, but in general the newer models flush quite well, especially so-called high-performance toilets. I have a newer high-performance toilet (not pressure assisted) that has clogged only three or four times in more than a year, and then it was easily cleared with a plunger.

Q. I recently contacted a company about a “pure-air system” for an energy-efficient home, but they haven’t replied. Where can I get information on these systems?

A. It sounds like you are interested in an air-to-air heat exchanger. This is a device that pulls fresh, outside air into a building and expels stale, inside air, but removes most of the inside heat from the air and transfers it to the incoming air. In this way, you do not waste heat. Some models also work in summer, extracting heat from outside air before it enters the cooled house.

If this is what you want, contact heating-cooling contractors in your area. You can also get more information by using a computer search engine and the words Air-to-Air Heat Exchangers.

If you are concerned about fresh combustion air for your heating system, this is often accomplished by installing a duct leading from the outside to the base of the heater or to the cold-air return duct. A heating contractor can also help you with this.

Q. The caulk around my kitchen-sink backsplash is dark with mildew. If I remove it to re-caulk, is there any special cleaner I should use to prepare the gap before applying new caulk?

A. Many caulk manufacturers simply recommend a “clean, dry surface” free of old caulk. Cleaning with denatured alcohol is also sometimes recommended. The best bet is to check the instructions on your caulk container for any special cleaning and application tips.

Before removing that old caulk, however, try this: Mold some toilet tissue or facial tissue into narrow pads and soak them in chlorine bleach. Place the pads on the mildewed caulk and leave them there for several hours or overnight.

Remove the pads and rinse the caulk with clear water. Many times this will eliminate mildew.

Questions and comments should be e-mailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.

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