Super handyman: Tips to fix common toilet problems

June 8, 2013 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

Toilets may look very complicated, but the standard models really aren’t. Let us take some of the mystery out of how the average toilet does its thing. You’ll also need to know how to adjust these parts if they stop working correctly.

There should be a water-supply shut-off valve located under or behind the toilet. Use this to shut off the water if the toilet is overflowing or running continuously. It also can be used when servicing the toilet.

When you push the handle down to flush the toilet, it raises the flapper or plunger within the tank, allowing the water from the tank to go down into the bowl quickly to flush the contents of the bowl down the drain. If at any point during the process something doesn’t work like it is supposed to, you could have problems.

If the drain is clogged, use a plunger or auger to free the clog. You also can use a wet/dry vacuum to suck out the clog.

If the water doesn’t drain into the bowl from the tank with enough force, then check the function of the flapper to see if it is raising up enough and that you have sufficient water in the tank to do the job. Adjust or replace the flapper, or adjust the water level in the tank to fix this problem.

If the water continues to run after the flush, then check the flapper to make sure it seats securely. Replace the flapper or adjust the chain for a better fit. Another cause of a running toilet is that the water level is too high, over the top of the overflow tube within the tank. Adjust the water level down to resolve this issue.

These are all common problems with easy fixes. Not all toilet problems are solved this easily, but knowing the basics should help you with most issues.

Here’s an easy way to extend your reach

It sure used to be easier to reach things up high than it is now. Is it true that you shrink as you age? Well, whatever the reason you need to reach up high for something, you’ll love this handy tool. Just use a long piece of wood or the wooden handle of your broom for the base of the tool. Now, drive a nail or install a screw partially into the top side of the wood, near the top. Now you have a super tool that will help you to hoist a hanging basket up to that hook on the ceiling, hang those wind chimes from the patio overhang or hang that bird feeder up high in your favorite tree. It also can help you get these items back down, and can help with a lot of other chores around, and outside, the house.

Grab a bag to make spray painting neater

Spray paint is the fastest way to paint. It goes on quickly and dries fast, too. About the only thing that we don’t like about spray painting is the overspray that tends to get on surrounding things, including US! But one surefire way to avoid getting that spray all over your hands and arms is to slip your hand inside a bread bag or a plastic grocery sack, like a glove, before using the spray paint. The bag won’t hinder your spraying ability, but will protect your arm from the overspray. When you are finished with your “art” project, just toss the bag or recycle it, if you can. Now spray painting is SUPER easy and neat to do!

Super hints

• A great way to save energy during the summer is to use your microwave and crockpot to fix meals instead of your oven and stove top. It will keep your kitchen cooler, too!

• We recently bought a juicer, and we love it. We still are experimenting with it and learning the best ways to use the juice and pulp. We found some sealable plastic bags at the craft store that are tall and thin, like the type ice pops come in. Now we use the juice with some of the pulp to make our own homemade ice pops. Everybody loves them!

• Old window screens can be used as dryers for herbs and sweaters. Both need to be dried flat by air rather than heat. You can find an old screen in front of your neighbor’s house after a storm, or talk to a window repairman to see if he’ll save one for you!

Q. I am so tired of trying to balance the toilet paper roll on the holder. It just keeps falling off the wall. What is the best way to keep it in place on a Sheetrock wall?

A. Use better wall anchors. There are several different kinds available at your hardware store. Some just screw in with screws, and other anchor-type devices install before the screws go in. Most are easy to use and inexpensive. Once they are in, you shouldn’t have to mess with it again for a long time. Good luck!

Q. I just cleaned my gutters and found a couple of places that need to be shored up a bit. I’m not sure how to best do this. What do you recommend?

A. There are several different types of gutter hangers, so check your hardware store and see what it has available to you. Just choose one that can be added without having to take down a lot of your existing guttering. If the guttering just needs to be tightened or sealed better at the joints, use a little roofing repair caulk and some sheet-metal screws.

Q. I thought I had a leak in my attic because I found mold on some of the wood. I think it must be a moisture problem, not a leak. What can I do?

A. You need to add ventilation to your attic as soon as you can. A powered vent is the most efficient way to do this, but a solar vent is a good option because it will run without the aid of electricity. Other vents, like turbines or static vents, also will help. You need to have plenty of soffet vents as well. The air is drawn in through the soffits and exhausted through the rooftop vents. To figure out exactly how much ventilation you need, multiply the length of your attic by the width to get the square footage. Then divide that number by 150. That number will give you the total square footage of venting needed for your home. You can convert that into square inches by multiplying that number by 12. Sixty percent of that number should be used for exhaust venting, and 40 percent for the soffet vents. This is just a basic formula that you can use, and you may want to adjust it for your particular home.

Reader tips

• We have just finished putting new vinyl flooring in our guest bathroom. We had a small leak but didn’t know about it for a long time, so we had to take up the old floor to make repairs. To get the best fit of the new floor, we made a pattern of paper grocery sacks, taped together and cut to the exact shape of the floor. Then, we used the pattern to cut the new flooring before gluing it into place. It was a perfect fit and looks great!

• Our new dryer is so good that we don’t really need to use dryer sheets anymore. I’ve found some great uses for them in the house. One of my favorites is using them to clean the baseboards. Ours are large and always seemed to be dusty, until I started wiping them down with the dryer sheets. They work great to grab all of the dust, and then even seem to help prevent dust from sticking once you wipe them down with the sheets.

• Last year I bought a label maker. I thought it would be great to use in our home office. But I use it in my shop more than in my office. It’s great. The labels can be made quickly and easily on a variety of labels, and some are extra large and perfect for marking storage boxes or cabinets in my workshop. The labels are peel-and-stick, so they stay up, even in the winter. It’s a great new “tool” for my shop.

• I know I should have been more careful, but I spilled some camp fuel in the trunk of my car. I cleaned it quickly, but the smell still is very strong. My dad told me to use mineral-spirits paint thinner to wipe up the rest. Then, I covered the carpet with cat litter to absorb what was left. I let it sit on the spot overnight, and then vacuumed it up. You can barely smell it anymore, thank goodness!

• I sprayed for pests last year, but my peach tree is in need of more again this year. I read a blog about fruit trees that suggested I add some dishwashing soap to the spray to make it stick. It does seem to work. I sprayed the tree again, and this time it seems like more of the spray stayed on the leaves than before. I sure hope it worked. I love those peaches!


• Petroleum jelly is an incredibly useful concoction. It’s perfect in the shop and super in the home. We bet you would love the list that we have put together of some of the many uses we have found for this stuff in and around the house. Some you may have tried, but hopefully, others will be new to you. Heck, you may have some clever uses that we didn’t list. If so, let us know, and we will add them to our list. We also will have it posted on our website at

• Behr Marquee is the latest and greatest exterior paint and primer. It is formulated with a nonstick surface that actually prevents dirt adhesion. It also has advanced UV protection, low VOC, resists fading and is mildew-resistant. It can handle a little rain after only one hour and, if that’s not enough, it even covers stains. You can get Marquee in a variety of colors, and in flat, gloss or semigloss. See the video at and check it out at your local Home Depot.

• If you have a bit set, then you probably have empty slots where lost bits should go. But Skil’s new Cordless 360 Quick-Select has a built-in bit management system, which is a fancy way of saying “built-in bits that you can’t lose.” All you need to do is select the bit you need on the housing and dial it in. The bit pops into place, and you are ready to go. It holds 12 bits and, in addition to the standard recharging system, it has USB capability. Find out more at

• Write to Al and Kelly Carrell in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006 or visit the Carrells’ website at

© 2012, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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