March 31, 2013 in Features

Do It Yourself: Going wireless might ring a bell for you

Gene Austin McClatchy-Tribune
Quick tip

 Every house and apartment should have two top-quality plumber’s plungers, one for toilets and one for sinks, tubs and other flatter drains. Each costs less than $10, a fraction of the cost of a visit by a plumber.

 The plungers differ greatly in appearance, but I have known people who tried to use a sink plunger to open a toilet and vice versa.

 A sink plunger has a bowl-shaped cup, a toilet plunger has a cup that is shaped like a bell with a snout sticking out the bottom; the snout should fit into the drain hole at the bottom of the toilet.

 Some plastic plungers are available, but I like flexible rubber cups with strong, thick handles that provide a good grip. The clogged fixture should contain enough water to cover the plunger’s cup.

 When plunging sinks and tubs, seal the overflow holes by some means to get better pressure; some people have a helper hold a wet washcloth over the over the holes, others put duct tape over them or use some other means.

 Plunging can be hard work; I have plunged toilets that needed three or four sessions of 15 or 20 strokes before the drain clog moved.

 Don’t flush a toilet that is already full of water – it will overflow; keep plunging until the water level goes down enough to safely add some water.

 Try to get good suction on the upstroke as well as the down stroke.

Q. We live in an older house with what I suppose is the original doorbell system. It runs off a transformer in the basement and apparently has wires running through the walls. It quit working weeks ago. Can I fix the old bell or is there a better solution?

A. If it is just the transformer or the push-buttons, a repair would be rather easy, but you might have to hunt for an electrician who understands old doorbell systems to check it out. If the problem is a broken wire inside a wall, a repair could be expensive.

I think a much better option is to abandon the old system, take out the visible parts, and install a wireless doorbell system.

Wireless systems are simple to install and you can buy kits with the needed equipment at most home centers and on the Internet. Prices start at $15, depending on the features.

A typical system includes a receiver unit with the chimes and at least two push-button units for doors. The receiver plugs into an electrical outlet and usually has a selection of chime sounds; different sounds can be set for front and back doors, making it easy to tell where the person ringing the bell is located.

Some chimes will play excerpts from songs, or the sound of Big Ben, or give out a simple ding-dong.

The push-button can be attached with a screw or double-faced tape. The push button contains a dime-sized battery that, at least in my cases, has lasted for years, but replacement batteries should be available at Radio Shack.

Wireless doorbell systems have some other valuable uses. For example, a push-button could be used by an invalid to signal to a person in another room that help is needed. A receiver could also be used as a time-to-get-up signal in a child’s bedroom, playing a song excerpt instead of the jarring noise of an alarm clock.

Q. We have a marble shower that has stains and deposits on the surface despite our water-filter system. How do we clean it?

A. Marble and hard water, which often leaves mineral stains and deposits, are a poor combination. Most of the cleaners that will effectively remove hard-water stains contain acids that will permanently damage marble. You might be able to find a cleaner that will help at, which specializes in cleaners for difficult surfaces like marble and granite.

Test any cleaner on a small area first to see if it is safe.

If do-it-yourself cleaners fail, you might have to call in a marble-care professional. It is possible that the deposits will have to be ground off and the marble re-polished to restore a good appearance.

If you are able to get the surface clean, it should help if you wipe the marble dry after each use. This might seem like a nuisance, but it can definitely help prevent stains.

If you want a permanent solution, you might consider having the marble resurfaced with an easier-to-clean material, such as mosaic ceramic tiles.

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

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