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ASK THE HANDYMAN / JOHN MORELL

First, Check Water Heater Parts for Metal Fatigue if Pilot Light Goes Out

January 22, 1994|JOHN MORELL

Question: Our 11-year-old water heater works great, but during the past two months I've had to light the pilot light four times. There are no unusual drafts and it's fine otherwise. What could be the problem?

E.D.

Santa Ana

Answer: "There are a couple of things it could be," says Ted Blanke of Central Plumbing & Heating Supply in La Mirada. "There's a part near the pilot called a thermocouple; it's a bimetal product, and anytime you get flame near a bimetal, it generates a millivolt of current. That current is transmitted into the mag assembly, which is basically a magnetic coil that keeps the pilot line open.

"Over time, the flame burning against the thermocouple causes metal fatigue, and not as much current is transmitted, cooling the mag assembly to the point where it shuts the pilot down. With a problem like this, the thermocouple is the place to start. Turn off the gas and try replacing it before checking on anything else."

Q: We have adobe clay soil on the side of our house that gets sticky and mushy when it rains. What can we add to the soil to dry it up, since we are planning on cementing over it later this year?

K.K.

Oceanside

A: "You may want to just add a base of sand on top of the soil," says Ken Newland of Tustin Block. "This kind of soil expands when it gets wet and contracts when it dries out. Sand will thin it out and act as a cushion. You'll need to level out the clay as best as you can, then lay out the sand and pack it down before applying the cement mixture."

Q: I have a second home in the Rockies and we're experiencing a problem with roof leaks there. It was re-tarred last summer and there's no obvious problem with the sealed skylight in the center. I understand that a sealer can be applied to the roof that will prevent leaks. It slants only about 15 degrees, so if it needs to be replaced, what type of roof would work best?

J.C.

Corona del Mar

A: "I'd suggest staying away from some kind of sealing product," says Pete Gorman of Rancho Lumber in Westminster. "When you have a leaking roof and the shingles are in good shape, the problem can often be traced to the felt underlayment. As it deteriorates over time, the felt loses its seal and needs to be replaced. On expensive tile or shake roofs where the shingles are in good condition, a roofer can remove them carefully and replace them after changing the underlayment. With asphalt shingles, which are fine for your roof, you'll probably want to replace the shingles."

Q: Last year we made an ugly mistake. We use those bowl cleaners that color the water in your toilet and during a problem with the tank in our downstairs bathroom, some of the blue water overflowed and dyed the gray carpeting around it. Household rug cleaners haven't worked, any suggestions?

S.D.

Fountain Valley

A: "People who put carpeting in bathrooms are in the same category as those who live in glass houses. Don't throw stones and don't use colored bowl cleaners," says carpet repairman Dave Greene of Santa Ana. "Eventually, water will get out of the tank and cause stains. If you get to it quick with a sponge or wet towels, you could dilute it enough to wipe it out. But if you've let it sit there for a while, it's probably in for good.

"Your best bet is to make a mat from a remnant of the carpeting or use a color that coordinates with the bathroom. The mat should fit all the way around the toilet, including under the sides of the tank. Ideally, it should be put in place immediately after the carpet is installed. Also use a mat in front of the counter, which is an area where you get toothpaste and mouthwash stains."

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