Do It Yourself: Good strippers can pay dividends

Q. My concrete porch and steps were once painted but they now look awful. The paint was stained by a metal railing that rusted and has been replaced. I’d like to remove the paint to restore the original concrete finish or, if that’s not possible, repaint properly. Can you help?

A. The paint can be removed, of course. The simplest method is to have the concrete sandblasted. This is best done by an experienced painting contractor, although sandblasting equipment can be rented at some tool-rental agencies.

One reason why a pro is the best bet is that if the paint was applied before 1978 it might contain lead, a health hazard if particles or fumes get into the air and are breathed.

An experienced painter can test the paint and, if it contains lead, recommend the safest method of removal. You can also test the paint yourself, using a lead-test kit, sold at home centers or online (search for Lead Paint Test Kits).

The old paint can also be removed with paint stripper. Stripping will be a lot of work if the surface is large, but you can do a small section at a time.

Good strippers include Strypeeze and Peel Away. Stypeeze can be bought at many home centers and hardware stores. For information on Peel Away, which comes in a variety of versions, search Peel Away Paint Stripper on the Internet.

There are other good strippers, of course. Some will work much faster than others, so read the directions and cautions carefully before buying.

A good system is to work on a reasonably cool day when the concrete is shaded. Spread remover in a thick layer and lay a sheet of plastic over it to help prevent evaporation. After giving the stripper plenty of time to soften and loosen the old paint, remove the plastic and scrape and clean the concrete, following directions for the specific stripper.

If you decide to repaint, use a special porch-and-floor paint, not regular house paint. Watch the railing for signs of rust and treat rusted areas immediately with rust converter, a chemical that converts the rust to an inert, paintable substance; you can buy rust converter at many home centers and hardware stores.

Q. I have a couple of older toilets in my house and the tanks refill very slowly. Is there anything I can do about this short of replacing the toilets? Our water pressure seems OK and faucets work well.

A. The first thing to do is check the shutoff valves, located in the water refill lines under the toilet tanks, to make sure they are fully open. Turn the valve handle counter-clockwise as far as it will go; this will ensure you get a full supply of water to the tank.

If the valve is already fully open or this doesn’t help, there is probably a problem with the toilet’s refill valve. The refill valve is located inside the toilet tank, on the left side. In older toilets, it is usually a ballcock valve, which is activated and shut off by a metal or plastic float on the end of a rod.

Close the shutoff valve mentioned above and flush the toilet, which will empty the tank except for a little water in the bottom. Check the valve visually to see if there is any debris or obvious defects that could be interfering with its operation. Also remove the ball from the rod (it screws off) and make sure it does not contain any water.

Refill valves wear out in time and defective valves are the cause of many toilet problems, including a variety of noises. You can buy parts for refill valves at some hardware stores or home centers, but the best bet is to replace the entire valve with an up-to-date version.

Refill valves are not expensive and are relatively easy to install; instructions are included. Be sure to buy a replacement that is designed for your brand of toilet.

When you remove the old valve, clean out the bottom of the toilet tank thoroughly and make sure there are no obstructions in the water-refill pipe under the toilet; if possible, use a narrow bottle brush to clean any sediment out of the pipe.

I think these steps will solve your problem. If they don’t, it is possible the water pipe leading to the toilet is clogged with mineral deposits. The best bet if you suspect this is to call a plumber.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at gaus17@aol.com. Send regular mail to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.

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