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Unclogging Drains and Toilets

It always seems that bathroom sinks are always getting clogged much more than other types of sinks which I suppose is due in part to people combing their hair over top of them. One the simplest things to do to unclog a sink is to take a look at the stopper and see if that’s clogged up at all. If that looks pretty good, it’s time to move to the trap underneath the sink. The trap is the bend in the drain line where water collects usually. Debris can also collect here from time to time which can slow down the water flow.

To take these off sometimes you may need pliers but a lot of times you can do it by hand by just unscrewing it. When you take it off you can dump the water out and take a look to see what you have in there. If that looks clear then you’ll have to move onto phase 3 and use a snake. To use this, you must first unscrew the compression fitting, which is where the piping leads into the wall. This allows you to run the snake straight into the drain. Insert the snake and it should go in easily until it fits an obstruction. Once it hits one, tighten the handle and just run it clockwise until you get around it then continue snaking down until you hit another obstruction and repeat the same clockwise process. One thing about using a snake is you never quite know if you’re getting rid of the obstruction you just have to continuously take it in and out to check.

Another tool you can use on a clogged drain is a plunger. For the plunger to work properly, fill the sink with water and set the plunger over the drain to cover it up. Seal the overflow drain with a rag while you plunge up and down. If you’re using a plunger on a kitchen sink with two drains or one drain and disposal, you should cover up one of the drains while plunging the other. Otherwise the second drain will release the pressure just like an overflow drain would.

To clear a clogged toilet, you use many of the same procedures you use on a clogged sink or tub but the tools are a little bit different. For instance, this is when you use the inside flange on a plunger, this will give a better seal to the shape of the bowl. If the bowl is backed up to the rim, you’ll want to bale out some of the water before plunging up and down for about two minutes or so. If the plunging has dislodged the clog, any water in the bowl should drain down to normal. You can test this by pouring in a bucket of water. If you flush the toilet now, you’ll run the risk of flooding the bathroom if the clog isn’t cleared. If it seems to be draining properly, then flush it. Flush it a few times to make sure that any debris gets washed down the waste pipes and out.

As with a clogged sink, the last step to bringing in a plumber is to bring in the heavy artillery. There is a special type of auger called a “closet auger” and it’s specifically designed to get to the trap in the toilet. Toilets also have a trap that’s built right into the bowl. The waste has to travel up the trap and then down and out. The closet auger already has a bend in it to match the first curve in the trap. I pull the coil back so that the tip is right at the end of the curve. Then I place the curve into the bottom of the toilet, hooking up into the base of the trap. Now I turn the crank on the end of the shaft to set the auger spinning. If I feel the tip bite into the clog I can either pull the clog back into the bowl and dispose of it or work the snake back and forth to try to break up the clog. And again once you’ve cleared the toilet, first check it with a bucket and not by flushing.

Repairing Walls

If you come across a hole in the wall that’s too big to spackle then you need to put some backing behind it before you patch it. If the hole is very big you’ll have to cut out a section of drywall right up to the middle of the stud on each side, put in a new section of drywall and then go through the mudding and taping process all over again. Anyway, for backing we’re going to be using short pieces of wood and we’re going to start by putting a bit of adhesive on each end. Now you stick it in so the adhesive is going to hold it to the good drywall around the hole.

The adhesive will hold eventually but if you’re impatient you can secure it with a couple of drywall screws right away. Just drill some screws directly into the wall through to the backing pieces of wood. If you get to a backing piece that you cannot hold through the hole by end then drill a screw into the middle so you have something to hold onto while you wait for the adhesive to set. Pull it out once it’s set to the drywall.

There are quite a few products on the market for repairing drywall and you’re going to look for a few qualities: something that dries quick, something that sands easily and something that’s not gonna crack. Once you have some spackling compound that works, force it into the hole against the backing pieces of wood and fill everything up. Try to get it smooth on the surface and put on a little more than you need so you can sand it down flat. You may want multiple layers if the hole is deep and you may want to let certain layers dry before applying another coat. After all of the coats have dried for an hour or two you can sand and paint it.

Another method is the “half patch method” which uses a piece of drywall the size of the hole and some paper backing on it to serve as the joint tape. The first step is to clean the rough edges of the existing hole. Then you cut out the patch using a sharp utility knife. On the back side, you can come in an inch, scored the circumference and scraped off the gypsum being careful not to tear off the facing paper. Next you want to apply some spackle around and to the edges of the hole and then press the patch onto the wall. Apply more spackle over the entire patch and follow the normal process for patching.

To repair a ceramic tile wall you’re going to run into the same color matching problems you had with the floor. Besides that the first thing you want to do is scrape out the grout around the edges. You can do this step using a utility knife or a grout saw. To get the old tile out, you can use a center punch and a hammer to start hitting away it. Once you’ve hit away a good starting spot you can start prying out the pieces. You always want to pry against the old tile and not against the new ones that you want to stay there. Scrape off the excess pieces that may stick to the wall and be careful not to scrap away at the drywall if there is no plaster or mortar backing. Next, apply a silicon caulk to the back of the new tile and take care to apply the right amount so the tile will set at the right height. After you press the tile into place, you’ll have to wait about 30 minutes for it to fully set up. The last thing you want to do is apply grout. You can pick up premixed white grout at the home center if the rest of your grout is white. Applying it is just a matter of getting some on your finger and then pressing it down into the cracks. Finally, use a damp sponge to wipe off all the excess.

When repairing wallpaper, there are a few tricks depending on what issue you have. One common problem is when the seams work loose. This is easy to fix with glue that comes in a tube with a tapered end. Just lift up the edge of the wall covering and squirt some glue under it. Wipe away the excess with a damp sponge per usual. You can also use a seam roller to smooth it down further.

You can also patch wall coverings if you’ve saved some old wallpaper. Take the scrap and line it up over the damaged area so it lines up precisely at the edges. Tape this in place. Cut through both layers of covering at the same time with a utility knife. You can even cut along a line in the pattern to hide the seam even better. After peeling off the new material, wet the area and start peeling off the old damaged piece, which can come off in pieces. Apply some adhesive on the back of the new patch and place it into position so the pattern matches again. Smooth this down with a clean wet sponge.

Basic Circuit Troubleshooting

When your dryer, vacuum cleaner, blender, or any other appliance suddenly won’t work, most people do one of two things. Either they throw it away and pay for a new one or they pay almost as much having someone spend fifteen minutes to an hour to fix it for them.

There is a third option that has been forgotten by many. Fix it yourself. After all, most people didn’t learn about circuits in school, although maybe we should have. It’s extremely valuable information.

An appliance can look a little intimidating sitting there looking pretty in your kitchen or laundry room, but actually most are fairly simple machines made up of a collection of mechanical devices and circuits. The home appliances that we use every day are not magic boxes. They operate by basic rules. Understand those rules and, suddenly, what was a huge expense becomes an interesting puzzle. Understanding how a circuit works will give you the confidence needed to save more of your hard earned money and feel the satisfaction that comes with taking care of business.

An electric circuit is a path, or several interconnected paths, capable of carrying an electric current. Most circuits have four basic parts:

  • a power source,
  • conductors,
  • a control device such as a timer or switch, and
  • a component, such as a light bulb or motor, called the load which offers resistance to the circuit.

Wires act as the conductor, carrying electric current from the power source to the component. To provide and element of control, a switch of some sort is normally installed. And lastly, a safety device such as a fuse or breaker is used to protect against trouble.

There are three basic problems that can occur with an electrical circuit:

  1. a shorted circuit,
  2. a grounded circuit, or
  3. an open circuit.

Simple. The key is to learning how to read the signs.

Shorted circuits, grounded circuits, or open circuits can all occur within the conducting wire, component, or a control device such as a switch, thermostat, or timer. Let’s take a look at this basic circuit, enclose it in a grounded cabinet, and use it to demonstrate the three most common types of circuit problems that can occur.

First, a shorted circuit.

A short circuit happens when two bare conductors come in contact with each other. The current no longer flows through the entire circuit. It is shunted from the hot conductor to the neutral conductor and bypasses the load.

When this occurs there is only a very small amount of resistance in the circuit. According to Ohms law, for a constant voltage, represented by “E”, when resistance is lowered, “R”, the flow of current, or amperage, goes up, represented by “I”. This increase in current flow can cause the wires to heat up and is the most common cause of electrical fires.

Because the circuit is properly protected, the fuse, or circuit breaker, reacts to this increase in current, or amperage, and blows or trips stopping the currents ability to flow. To correct a short, the damaged conductors, or component, must be located and repaired. Then the circuit breaker can be reset or the fuse replaced. That was easy!

So now let’s look at a grounded circuit.

Grounded Circuit

It is a common safety practice to connect the cabinet of an appliance, or other major components, to a ground source. Electricity will always take the path of least resistance to ground. You do not want to be that path. So, this connection helps to protect the user from electrocution in the case of a short.

A grounded circuit happens when a hot wire comes into contact with a cabinet or a grounded part. When this happens, the circuit is again shunted to a neutral connection, in this case ground, the load is bypassed, the resistance decreased, the amperage increased, and you know the rest.

See, it’s pretty simple. We locate the problem, fix it, reset the breaker or replace the fuse, and bingo, you’re back in business.

Lastly, an open circuit.

An open circuit happens when a conductor, or component, breaks or burns out, opening the circuit and blocking electricity’s ability to flow. When this happens, resistance is increased so, according to Ohms law, current must decrease.

An open circuit is just like opening a control switch. No current is allowed to flow. This is the most common type of electrical problem associated with appliance repair. If any part within the circuit fails, the continuity, or electricity’s ability to flow, is broken, stopping the flow of current. Replacing the defective circuit component, or conductor, will get you going again.

At this point a few questions need to be asked:

  1. How do I know which of the three types of problems I’m dealing with?
  2. Once I know what I’m dealing with, how do I locate it?
  3. Lastly, once I’ve found the problem, how do I fix it?

There are a few things you can do right off the bat.

First, buy a volt meter if you don’t have one. A volt meter is a very inexpensive tool that will pay you back ten fold if you learn how to use it.

Understanding the basics of electric circuits can go a long way in allowing you to help yourself when it comes to many common problems around the house, including dealing with a wide variety of home appliance repairs.  Not that you’ll be able to do everything that a professional repair tech can do, but you will be able to save yourself some money on house calls.

Plus, when you do need to have someone with professional training come out and help you, you’ll be able to ask relevant, intelligent questions, and you might even be able to mooch a bit of free education off of them as they go about doing your repair.  I always love doing that (both sides of the equation, actually – both the mooch and the teacher! Lol).  It’s a great way to learn more… watch over the shoulder as someone with more experience does what you can’t do on your own.  It’s not only the way I got into the fixing things, including appliances, way back when I was a kid, it’s also an attitude I look for in all the technicians I hire at Appliance Masters – someone who is equally interested in learning as they are in teaching. Because we can all always learn from one another.

So anyway, there are a few techniques used for identifying what kind of problem you are dealing with when it comes to electric circuits, and point you in the right direction to locate it. There are two main types of circuits having the same key elements: A power source, conductors, load, and a control device.

The two types of circuits are series circuits and parallel circuits.

Series circuits are formed when two or more components, or loads, which offer resistance to the circuit, are replaced in series. When a problem such as the ones I described earlier happens, the entire circuit fails.

The other style, a parallel circuit, is when two or more components or loads are placed in parallel. In this style of circuit, depending on where the problem occurs, one component may fail while the other components remain unaffected. Many appliances use circuits that have both styles in one circuit and this is called a series parallel circuit.

Now you may be saying, “You said this was easy!” Anything worth doing takes some time and practice to master.

Now you know the four key elements of a circuit and the three most common problems that can cause your appliance to call in sick. This is a solid foundation of information to get you started.

Most appliance problems happen when a particular component fails to work properly, or a control device, like a thermostat, door switch, or timer, fails to open or close when it should. Each of these component failures gives clear signs as to the cause of the problem and where to start looking.

The easiest way to troubleshoot most appliance problems is by these symptoms, such as a dryer that will run with no heat, a refrigerator that is cold in the freezer but not the fresh food section, a washer that does nothing when it should spin, or a dead dishwasher.

These clues will tell you where to look, and with a little practice you are well on your way to experiencing the satisfaction that comes from solving your own home appliance problems.