Q: We’re having a problem with water running intermittently in two toilets in our house. The water runs inside the tank for a short time from a small tube that empties into a large tube. We shut the water off to the toilets to keep it from happening. What’s wrong?
A: The small tube is called the refill tube and the large vertical tube, usually located around the middle of the tank, is the overflow tube.
It is normal for water to flow from the refill tube into the overflow tube after a flush – that is how the toilet bowl gets refilled while the tank is refilling. However, if water runs in the tank at random times, it usually indicates the tank is leaking water into the bowl.
Tank leaks like this sometimes cause mysterious middle-of-the-night flushes when no one is using the toilet. Such leaks can waste thousands of gallons of water every year, so it can be a costly problem.
The culprit when these leaks occur is usually the flapper valve at the bottom of the tank. This valve opens when the toilet flush lever is pushed, but should close tightly after the flush. If the valve doesn’t close tightly, it means the flapper valve is either defective or not properly adjusted.
With the water turned off to the tank, flush it to get most of the water out of the tank, then check the valve. Sometimes the chain that lifts the valve is too short to let it close properly and must be adjusted; check this first.
There might also be debris on the valve seat or valve itself that is keeping it from closing; clean both flapper and seat with a soft cloth. If the valve seat feels especially rough or corroded, use very fine (4-0) steel wool to clean it.
If neither of these repairs works, it is best to replace the valve. Replacement valves, with instructions, are sold at home centers and are relatively easy to install. Just be sure and get a valve that fits your brand and model of toilet.
Q: Can you tell me how to sharpen the blades on my new, reel-type push mower?
A: First, congratulations for using a reel-type push mower. These mowers do not use gasoline and make little noise. They also do a fine cutting job. Unfortunately, they are best suited to small lawns that can be mowed regularly.
If your mower is new, the blades should not need to be sharpened for a long time. In fact, when reel mowers have cutting problems, it is usually because they are out of adjustment, not because the blades need sharpening.
Your owner’s manual should have some information on adjustments. If you do need to sharpen the blades, it is fairly complicated and requires some disassembly of the mower. There isn’t space to describe it here. You will also need a special sharpening kit to do the job properly.
For detailed sharpening information, visit www.reelmowers.info/. A sharpening kit is available at amazon.com; click on Home & Garden and enter Reel Mower Sharpening Kit in the search space (about $12).
Q: How can I remove two or three layers of wallpaper in my older house? The wallpaper has been painted over.
A: Because your house is quite old, you should test the paint for lead before attempting to remove the wallpaper. In general, any paint applied before about 1978 might contain lead.
Lead test kits are available at some home centers or on line at www.leadcheck.com (about $19). Most kits have swabs that change color if lead is present in paint.
If the paint does contain lead, removal should be done by an expert who will take proper precautions to protect your health and home. Visit www.epa.gov/lead for more information on dealing with lead paint.
If the paint does not contain lead, you must score the paint and wallpaper so a chemical wallpaper remover can reach the underlying paste and soften it. The walls in your old house are probably plaster and should hold up well under the scraping you will need to do.
Chemical removers such as DIF are sold at most home centers and wallpaper-supply stores. Coarse sandpaper can be used for scoring or you can buy a special tool called a Paper Tiger that will perforate the paint and paper.
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