DIY Q&A: Old doorbell, marble shower, plungers

McClatchy-Tribune News ServiceApril 5, 2013 

  • Quick tip: Using plungers

    Every house and apartment should have two top-quality plumber’s plungers, one for toilets and one for sinks, tubs and other flatter drains. Each costs less than $10, a fraction of the cost of a visit by a plumber. A sink plunger has a bowl-shaped cup, a toilet plunger has a cup that is shaped like a bell with a snout sticking out the bottom; the snout should fit into the drain hole at the bottom of the toilet. Plastic plungers are available, but I prefer flexible rubber cups with strong, thick handles that provide a good grip.

    The clogged fixture should contain enough water to cover the plunger’s cup. When plunging sinks and tubs, seal the overflow holes to get better pressure; some people have a helper hold a wet washcloth over the overflow holes; others put duct tape over them.

    Plunging can be hard work; I have plunged toilets that needed three or four sessions of 15 or 20 strokes before the drain clog moved. Don’t flush a toilet that is already full of water – it will overflow; keep plunging until the water level goes down enough to safely add some water. Try to get good suction on the upstroke as well as the down stroke.

    Gene Austin

Q: We live in an older house with what I suppose is the original doorbell system. It runs off a transformer in the basement and apparently has wires running through the walls. It quit working weeks ago. Can I fix the old bell or is there a better solution? – Jerry

If it is just the transformer or the push buttons, a repair would be rather easy, but you might have to hunt for an electrician who understands old doorbell systems to check it out. If the problem is a broken wire inside a wall, a repair could be expensive. I think a much better option is to abandon the old system, take out the visible parts, and install a wireless doorbell system.

Wireless systems are simple to install and you can buy kits with the needed equipment at most home centers and online. Prices start at about $15. A typical system includes a receiver unit with the chimes and at least two push-button units for doors. The receiver plugs into an electrical outlet and usually has a selection of chime sounds; different sounds can be set for front and back doors, making it easy to tell which bell is ringing.

The push button can be attached with a screw or double-faced tape. The push button contains a dime-sized battery that, at least in my cases, has lasted for years, but replacement batteries should be available at Radio Shack or a battery specialty shop. Wireless doorbell systems have some other valuable uses. For example, a push button could be used by an invalid to signal to a person in another room that help is needed. A receiver could also be used as a time-to-get-up signal in a child’s bedroom, playing a song excerpt instead of the jarring noise of an alarm clock.

Water stains on marble

Q: We have a marble shower that has stains and deposits on the surface despite our water-filter system. How do we clean it? – M. Kaplan

Marble and hard water, which often leaves mineral stains and deposits, are a poor combination. Most of the cleaners that will effectively remove hard-water stains contain acids that will permanently damage marble. You might be able to find a cleaner that will help at, which specializes in cleaners for surfaces such as marble and granite. Test any cleaner on a small area first to see if it is safe. If do-it-yourself cleaners fail, you might have to call in a professional. It is possible that the deposits will have to be ground off and the marble re-polished to restore a good appearance. If you are able to get the surface clean, it should help if you wipe the marble dry after each use. This might seem like a nuisance, but it can definitely help prevent stains. If you want a permanent solution, you might consider having the marble resurfaced with an easier-to-clean material, such as mosaic ceramic tiles.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service


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