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Handyman Q&A

Keep Mildew in Check by Reducing Moisture in Room


Question: I have a mildew problem on the ceiling above my shower. I do not have a window in the bathroom. I want to paint, but am worried it might just be covering a problem instead of repairing it. I use bleach about every two weeks to clean the ceiling and walls, and it makes the mildew go away for a few days. What is the best thing to do?

Answer: Mildew in your home is easy to remove. Just mix 1/3 cup of powdered laundry detergent (less if concentrated) and 1 quart of liquid chlorine bleach with 3 quarts of warm water. Add the bleach to the water first and then the detergent. Scrub with a bristle brush. In minutes the mildew will disappear.

Rinse the area thoroughly and towel-dry. Although this reasonably mild solution can be used for most painted surfaces, rubber gloves, eye protection and plenty of ventilation are necessary.

In the future, don't spend time removing mildew when you can prevent it. Mildew can't grow without a food source, and the food source that mildew thrives on is moisture. Mildew spores are in the air, and they look for moist places to settle, feed and grow.

How do you prevent mildew from growing? Reduce or eliminate the food source by cutting the amount of moisture, usually condensation, that settles on walls, floors and ceilings. Eradication is possible even in humid climates.

Not having a window in your bathroom means ventilation might be poor. Moreover, the lack of natural light provides optimal conditions for mildew growth.

A bathroom without a window should have an exhaust fan to remove moisture and odors. Unfortunately, bath fans are often undersized, broken or simply not used.

If you have an exhaust fan, make sure that it is cleaned periodically, that the duct is properly connected and in good shape, and that it is always used during showering and allowed to run for 10 to 15 minutes after the shower.

Also, check the CFM rating on your fan housing (that's the amount of air the fan moves expressed as cubic feet per minute). Anything less than 80 CFMs is usually too small for most American bathrooms. Consider upgrading to a larger model.


Test Concrete Moisture Before Installing Carpet

Q: When installing indoor-outdoor carpet, should I trim, then glue to concrete or glue, then trim?

A: First, be sure that the concrete slab is clean and dry. Check for moisture problems by securely taping a 12-inch-square piece of plastic sheeting to the slab, using duct tape. If moisture appears between the plastic and the slab, it should be sealed with a high-quality concrete sealer.

Use a stair tool (a large chisel-like tool) to seat and crease the edge of the carpet into the joint between the floor and the wall. Finish the job by trimming the carpet with a utility knife.


Tankless Heaters: Lower Bills--and Lower Volume

Q: I have a gas water heater. I was thinking of replacing it with what I believe is called a set system, a set of heating coils that attaches to the main water feed. The system gives hot water only when it is needed, eliminating the need to heat water continuously. Where can I find such a system? Is it more economical?

A: You refer to a "tankless" water-heating system, which does not store heated water.

The tankless system is the most energy-efficient because hot water is not being continuously reheated in a storage tank. The only time the tankless type uses energy is when the hot-water faucet is open.

These systems are in wide use around the world, but Americans have shied away from them because they do not produce high volumes of water. For example, with a tankless system you may find it difficult to maintain warm water when the clothes washer is in operation at the same time both bathrooms are in use.


Remove Door Trim to Reglue Damaged Area

Q: The door-latch side of my door frame is broken. Would you tell me how to replace it?

A: If you can, try to patch the jamb (door frame).

First, remove the trim piece from the door frame that travels vertically down its center. Use a razor knife to put a slit in the paint between the trim and the frame, so that it can be removed without damage. One or both casings (trim molding between the door frame and the wall) also should be removed, depending on whether either would restrict the repair. With the trim removed, you can easily reglue the damaged section or cut it out and patch it. A jigsaw is best for cutting out a damaged piece.

Use lots of glue and plenty of screws or nails to connect the new piece. Remember, with the stop and the casing removed, you are dealing simply with a long, narrow, flat piece of wood that is held to the framed door opening with nails and shim-shingles.

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