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pinhole leaks

Pinhole Leaks in Copper Pipes: Repair or Replace?

I recently bought a home and am experiencing a problem with the copper waterlines/pipes corroding from the inside out.  So far the corrosion appears to be limited to just the hot water lines, but I'm afraid to take a look inside the cold water lines.

What's happening is we keep getting pinhole leaks springing up throughout the hot water lines, and when I recently repaired two holes/leaks I looked at the inside of the lines and saw a lot of corrosion which I have never seen or experienced before.

I had a home inspection completed by a professional before I bought and closed on the house, and the inspector identified a leak that the previous owner had to fix prior to the closing.  Is there anything else I can do other than replace the entire waterline system?  Also, is there anything I can do because I feel this was an existing problem that the previous owner knew about?


Our Answer

Copper has been used for domestic water piping for over 50 years.  Copper pinhole leaks are a condition that is somewhat newer.  Pinhole leaks in copper pipes form on the inside of copper piping and erode the wall of copper resulting in holes that leak.  Opinions vary on the cause, but many experts believe the corrosion is due to a chemical reaction between the water and the copper.

ToolBase Services, the housing industry's resource for technical information on building products, materials, and new technologies, has found that pitting corrosion can be classified into three types:

  • Type I -Pitting is associated with hard or moderately hard waters with a pH between 7 and 7.8, and it is most likely to occur in cold   water. The pitting is deep and narrow, and results in pipe failure.
  • Type II -Pitting occurs only in certain soft waters, with a pH below 7.2 and occurs rarely in temperatures below 140° F. The pitting that occurs is narrower than in Type I, but still results in pipe failure.
  • Type III -Pitting occurs in cold soft waters having a pH above 8.0. It is a more generalized form of pitting, which tends to be wide and shallow and results in blue water, byproduct releases, or pipe blockage.

For more information, read a case study on pinhole leaks.

Repairing pinhole leaks in copper pipes is done by applying external solder to the holes, by replacing small sections of pipe, or in the worst case scenario, by re-plumbing the entire home. If your problem is severe, I'd recommend you approach this in much the same way as you would if you were suffering from rusted steel plumbing common in homes built from the 1920's on. Repair leaks as they develop. Plan and budget for a major upgrade of the accessible parts of the plumbing system in the near future.  By accessible, I mean those that are visible and accessible from a crawlspace or basement. Replace all the inaccessible pipes only if leaks develop.

That being said, if you ever need to open a wall or ceiling and find copper pipes, never replace the drywall without first replacing the pipes. As for what you should replace the plumbing with, I'd recommend PEX.  PEX is cross-linked Polyethylene and a relatively new type of plumbing pipe that is showing great promise due to it's ease of installation, lower cost and energy saving benefits.  To learn more about repairing pinhole leaks in copper pipes with PEX, see this post by Popular Mechanics.

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Penny Stain: How to Make

I was excited about trying the vinegar and pennies and followed the directions from your article, but nothing happened. The pennies have been soaking for about 2 weeks now and for the most part the vinegar is still clear. What am i doing wrong? Laura

Our Answer

Fresh lemon juice and salt takes the tarnish off pennies – not vinegar!  Wet the penny with the lemon juice and then rub in salt.  Sea salt or other big crystal works the best!

This was a favorite dinner table trick when traveling with my kids. They love to get those flat pennies when were on vacation and later that day I'd grab the lemon off an ice tea glass and the salt shaker, mix up a paste and polish 'til it was bright and shiny!

As for making a stain from pennies, that's also possible.  Here's a guide with tips to make a variety of natural stains from coffee, tea, walnuts, blackberries - and even penies!

Tom Kraeutler

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remove popcorn ceilings

How to Remove Popcorn Ceiling and Make Smooth

What is the best way to go about smoothing a painted popcorn ceiling?  Scraping it is much too hard, so I guess a skim coat is the way to go, but what is the best material to use for the skim coat?

Is it also possible to do a skim coat over unpainted popcorn, without scraping it?


Our Answer

Jeff, taking a ceiling from popcorn to a smooth surface is no easy task, no matter how you look at it.  I laid out all the option in this guide to remove popcorn ceilings, but suffice to say even in the best circumstances, the drywall surface left once that popcorn is removed will still be quite rough.

If you truly want a new, smooth ceiling, the best approach is to add a 2nd layer of drywall to the old ceiling.  This may sound like a lot of work, but I think it's less work than removing the ceiling, or trying to smooth over what's left with more plaster.  You can use thinner, 3/8th inch drywall too and to avoid having to spackle the seam between the walls and the ceilings, consider crown moldings.

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stop roof leaks, roof repair

Painting over Water Stains and Mold: How to Repair and Prep After a Water Leak

What is the rule of thumb for painting over water stains? I have a two-story house, and my second-floor shower stall developed a leak, as evidenced by water dripping from the first floor ceiling. The leak is small--a few drops of water after every use--and I believe I have now fixed the source of the leak (failing, cracked grout).

Now that I'm preparing to repair the ceiling, I see that the water dripped out around a nail head which developed a quarter-sized black stain that I assume is black mold. A few inches away, the paint has cracked and is peeling along a two-foot-long drywall seam. I was hoping to simply remove the loose paint, clean the black area with some bleach, re-spackle and re-paint the existing drywall.  Will this work or do you think that I should remove and replace the affected drywall to eliminate the black mold in the ceiling?

Our Answer

Before we get to painting over water stains, let's talk about mold. Mold needs three things to fester: air, food and water. While there is plenty of air and drywall is a terrific food for black mold, the fact that you have fixed the leak means that there should be no more moisture to feed a mold problem.
Secondly, the black mold that you think you have, may not in fact be black mold at all. While mold is possible, water stains--caused by the reaction of water with paper, paint and rust--can also form a black spot. Regardless, a quarter-sized area is nothing to worry about, even it is black mold, as long as the leak has been repaired.

As for painting over the water stain, my suggestion is to most certainly remove the loose paint as you suggested. Then wash the area down with a bleach-and-water solution just to make sure any mold spores have been neutralized. The next step is the most important: paint the stained area with an oil-based primer like KILZ. This will seal the stained surface and prevent it from leaching through to the top layer after you paint. For the best results, prime the entire area and not just the spots that have been impacted by the leak and resulting water stains.

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attic fan on roof

What’s the Best Temperature for Attic Fans?

At what temperature should I set my attic power vent fans to keep my attic cool? I live in a hot and humid climate, where temperatures are often in the 90s. The roof gets full exposure to the sun throughout the day.

Our Answer

Attic ventilators generally turn on between 90 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit.  That said, attic fans are not the best choice for cooling attics, especially if you have central air conditioning.  The reason is that attic fans depressurize attics and can rob air conditioned air from the main body of the house, greatly decreasing efficiency.  It essentially pulls that cooled air through cracks and crevices in the attic floor, and also through holes that allow for wires and pipes.
A much better cooling option is continuous ridge and soffit venting.  Basically, you cut a slot in the top ridge of the roof and put a vent right over it.  As the wind blows over the roof, it depressurizes the ridge and sucks the moist warm air from the attic.  Everything you want to vent from the attic gets sucked out of that ridge through the depressurization that happens through the normal wind cycle.

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Home Generators

we have a home office and are interested in getting a generator. we would like one that would be wired directly what brand of generator would you recommend?

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Popcorn Ceilings: Tips on removing your old popcorn or textured ceiling treatment

Is there an easy, efficient way to remove or even clean my unsightly popcorn textured ceiling treatment? It's beginning to look dirty and I'd much prefer to have it gone. Would it be easier to simply clean and paint it or remove the popcorn ceiling all together?

Our Answer

Of all the ceiling questions we get on our national radio show The Money Pit, removing popcorn ceilings has to rank as one of the most popular.  These are probably biggest challenge up in the ceiling zone found in homes from the paneling-and-disco era.
At that time, popcorn ceilings were an acoustic solution and a handy way for builders to skip having to add three layers of drywall mud and tape (with the added distraction of those little sparkle bits that were scattered across the ceiling scape), but today, they can be an inconvenient eyesore.
Removal of a popcorn ceiling is possible, but it takes some pretty intense work to accomplish: you'll have to soak the popcorn ceiling treatment surface with water (we recommend using a pump garden sprayer for this) and then scrape it all away with a six-inch drywall knife.  You'll then be left with a lot of material that should be disposed of properly, not mention some significant ceiling repair before applying an oil-based primer and a flat finish.
There are maybe a million better ways to spend a Saturday, starting with your annual dental cleaning.  If you can live with the texture of your popcorn ceiling, you can always use a high-pile, slitted roller to apply a new coat of color that coordinates with the rest of the room. This will make the popcorn ceiling appear brighter and cleaner and save you the backbreaking removal process.

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Epoxy Garage Floor Coating

I applied an epoxy-based coating to my garage floor, but it didn't last all that long and started chipping away. I am ready to do it again, and want to know if you have any tips or products to recommend.

Our Answer

Like many a finish project, proper preparation is key to a great-looking and long-lasting garage floor.  While many manufacturers make epoxy garage floor coating, I have had good experience with QUIKRETE's Epoxy Garage Floor Coating Kit
QUIKRETE makes it easy to prepare the garage floor with its Bond-Lok concentrate. After the floor surface is thoroughly swept, Bond-Lok is mixed with water and applied to the floor to degrease, clean and etch the surface.
After the Bond-Lok garage floor application and a thorough rinsing and drying, it's time to add the epoxy-based finish in two-by-six-foot sections. You can also add QUIKRETE color flakes for extra flair. Finally, make sure the garage floor is thoroughly dry before you move your cars back in. Temperate and humidity can impact drying times making them far longer than the garage floor epoxy manufacturer predicts.

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Tools for home repair

How to Prioritize Repairs in 100 Year Old Building

I've just moved into a new apartment, in a building that's around a hundred years old. I'll be asking a lot of questions in the future, but my first question regards choosing a priority area of focus.  There are 3 areas of concern:

#1 Water Damaged Walls and Chipping Paint

There is water damage to the walls with chipping paint that looks very old and there is accompanying yellow orange bubbling (almost like old sun worn spray foam/great stuff).

#2 Worn & Damaged Hardwood Floor

Then there is the beautiful hard wood floor. It has various areas of water damage, decades of foot traffic wear, possibly some burns from smokers many years old, and some cracking here and there. I would not want to replace anything, but rather restore it all and fill in cracks with a metallic copper epoxy.

#3 Worn Bathroom Fixtures

The next area of focus would be the bathroom sink, toilet, tub, and various wood work around the house. I have no idea how to get the decades of grime out of the tub, or taking the rust out of the sink (CLR is not working).

I have experience with the first two options, but not the third.  If you can help me prioritize these projects, and provide tips on how to go about getting the projects done, I would love to hear your suggestions. Thank you for your time!

Our Answer

Your questions are understandable as many in your situation have the same question which is not what needs to be repaired, but what needs to be repaired first!

Generally speaking, repair priority should be based on first doing repairs that are needed to preserve a building for further damage.  So, for example, you'd fix a leaking roof before you remodels a worn out bath.  In your case, none of these repairs seems to negatively impact the structure or mechanical systems, so the good news is that you can proceed as budget and timing allow.  That said, I do have some suggestions that may help you decide.

Water Damaged Walls and Chipping Paint: I assume that the cause of the water damage has been addressed.  If not, that should be your first priority.  As for the paint and other substances, given that the building is 100-years old, there is a significant risk that this paint contains lead, which can be dangerous, especially to children.  You'll need to have the paint tested and if it is lead, find a trained, certified and experienced lead paint remediation company.

Worn & Damaged Hardwood Floor: This is a pretty easy fix.  Given the condition the floors need to be sanded, a job I'd hire a floor contractor to do.  These reason this may not be a DIY project as it requires an experienced using a large, heavy floor belt sander -- which is a machine that can easily damage your floor if not used by an experienced pro.  The only thing really odd about your proposed repair is that you talk about "fill in cracks with a metallic copper epoxy", which is a material I'm unfamiliar with and seems unusual.  If after sanding you have cracks to fill, that would be done with a floor filler material.

As for any gaps you may have between the boards, those can be filed with jute rope, pressed down in place and then covered with the floor finish (oil-based polyurethane is best).  While there are other techniques we'd recommend if the damage was minimal, deep stains or gouges require the floor to be sanded.

Worn Bathroom Fixtures: Remodeling a bathroom is always a smart home improvement project as updated bathrooms, as well as kitchens, generally provide a good return on investment.  The condition of the finish you describe sounds to me like its simply worn and all the "cleaning" in the world is not going to make it any better.

There's no emergent reason you need to do the floor or bathroom projects.  However, my advice would be to first determine if the paint is lead based, and then take it from there.  If lead paint removal is needed, it's a project that would interrupt either of the other two projects.

Good luck and let us know if you have further questions!




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Oak hardwood floor in bright home.

Refinishing Hardwood Floor Tools and Finish: Tools to use for sanding and recoating hardwood floors

I'm going to refinish my hardwood floors; what grid sandpaper should I use and what type of coating should I put back on the hardwood floors?

Our Answer

Refinishing hardwood floors is a popular project that can really improve the look of your space. If the finish is just dull and there aren't deep gouges or any other kind of serious flaws in the floors, the simplest way to prep the surface for a fresh new coat is to rent a floor buffer with a sanding screen.   The screens gently rotate to take off only the top layer of finish and won't damage the surface underneath.

If the floor is badly damaged, you'll need to rent a floor sander. Typically, there are two types of floor sanders available.  A floor belt sander is the tool most pros use.  These tools are big, heavy, hard to maneuver and if you sneeze when you are using one, can damage your floor for life.  We don't recommend renting a belt sander for your floors. If they are that bad, hire a pro to do the sanding.  Nothing short of using one of these behemoths every day is going to give you the experience to use one without making the floor look worse than when you started.

A better option for the DIYer when refinishing hardwood floors is a machine known as a U-Sand.  A U-sand is a 4 disk random orbital sander that does a fabulous job sanding the floor and is goof-proof regardless of the skill level of the user.  It also does a good job of sucking up the dust it creates, making for a much neater job and smoother finish.
Even with these tools, you will most likely still need to do some sanding by hand in the areas tough to get to.  You can also rent a disk sander that is designed to get into the edges of the floor, but keep in mind that these machines typically leave swirl marks that may none the less need to be hand-sanded out.

Polyurethane is the finish of choice for floors.  The finish is available in both latex and oil based versions.  In our experience, the latex finish works well for cabinets, trim and furniture but just doesn't have the abrasion resistance to do a good job on the floors.  For refinishing hardwood floors, oil finish still delivers the best long term result.

When refinishing hardwood floors, the best way to apply oil-based polyurethane is to "mop" it on with a synthetic "lamb's wool" applicator.  This useful tool, available at any home center, looks like a sponge mop and lays down a silky smooth finish in a fraction of the time it would take to do it using a brush.  For best results, use several thin coats and try to avoid heavy traffic on the floor for a few days after the finish is applied so that it can fully harden on the newly refinished hardwood floor.

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Plumbing Blasting Hot Water

Hi, I'm getting sudden bursts of very hot water in the middle of a shower. I have a gas water heater. The pilot light is on. Any ideas why this is happening?

Thank you!

Our Answer

This can be an unsafe situation to have a sudden burst of very hot water in the middle of a shower, and you need to have a licensed and insured master plumber check this out as soon as possible.

The water heater has nothing to do with the supply of uneven water temps. It will gradually decrease in temp as the tank begins to run out of water.

In the shower valve is a device that controls the water temp by mixing the cold with the hot to deliver a constant temp that is set by the handle. If that  temp goes up and down it's the faucet control that is starting to fail. With modern anti-scald valves this device is set when installed to prevent super hot water from ever exiting the shower or tub faucet.

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air filter

MERV Score for Indoor Air Filters?

What rating should indoor air filters have?  Many intake filters don't list the MERV rating.

Our Answer

MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, and ranges from 1 up to 20.  The higher the rating, the greater a filter's effectiveness.  It generally doesn't take more than a few dollars per filter to jump several grades higher on the MERV spectrum.

I would say that, as a rule of thumb, go with a microallergen filter, which usually has a MERV score of at least 11.  However, if you want to hone in on more than just ratings, there's a whole line of Filtrete air filters that can weed out various particles depending on your intended result, such as reducing odors or allergens.

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low voc paint

Low-voc Paint: Earth- and Human-friendly Paints Provide Great Project Results

I'm taking on some painting projects and am looking for a safer paint. Lately I seem to be more sensitive to working with paint, and get an allergic reaction that makes my eyes water and leads to some nasty headaches. Are there any options for a more environmentally friendly paint product? I have also been reading a lot about something called VOCs in paint. What are VOCs, and could they be causing my problem?

Our Answer

Possibly, and it'd be a good idea to shop for low-VOC paint this time around. VOC stands for volatile organic compounds. Some VOCs are fungicides that prevent mold growth, others help with color and some contribute to the paint's spreadability. The fact of the matter is that chemicals like these have been part of the manufacturing process for many years because it actually made the paint better. Believe it or not, even toxic lead, which is no longer used, was there to improve colorfastness. In fact, I remember finding a can of very, very old paint during a home inspection years ago on which the manufacturer bragged about the paint's high lead content!

Fortunately, the manufacturing process has gotten much better at producing quality paint that is much safer to use. Today, lead is gone and low- or no-VOC paint is the standard. Latex, alkyd-based paint is commonly made with no or low VOCs and even oil paints have a lot less. You can actually read the paint's label to determine how much VOC has been added. A low-VOC latex paint would have about 250 grams of VOCs, and a low oil-based paint would have about 350 grams or so.

When shopping for paint, be sure to inform the clerk that you are particularly interested in low-odor, low-VOC paints. If you ever have a question about what is inside the can, you can also ask for the MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) which will list VOCs in Section 9. Odor is another issue that manufacturers have been working to reduce, and most low-VOC products are also low-odor.

Other than selecting low-VOC paint, just make sure you work in a well-ventilated area. Opening up a few windows in the dead of winter might not seem like a smart idea, but the added cost in heat is a small price to pay for your health and comfort throughout the job.

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Basement Water in Old House

We have probably a 1920's house, and as you can imagine, the concrete floor has cracks (floor is tiled with old linoleum tiles), and the intersection of the walls and floor typically begin seeping water when we have 2+ inches or more in a 24-48 hour period. On one corner of the house is a sump, which has some old drain tiles draining into it. Only one drain tile has any water movement thru it. I  suspect they have gotten cloged throughout the years... The seepage is literally, from around most of the entire foundation, but particularly, on the opposite side/corner of the basement from the sump.

Would adding another sump on the opposite side help reduce the ground water pressure under the floor to prevent the water from coming up thru the cracks around the rest of the basement? The house footprint is 26'x44'.

Fortunately, we don't store anything that could get wet down there, but never the less, having to wet vac the water out on those heavy rain periods here in Iowa can be a pain!

Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

Rick Smith (Waterloo, IA)

P.S.  The down spouts on the house drain thru drain tile I buried (after buying the house) to run the water more than 15ft away, and the foundation dirt is sloping away.. we have a 18x18 deck on one side which I cannot tell the drainage beneath it, dut to it basically being flush with the ground.

Our Answer

Rick, sorry to hear about your wet basement problems!  I will tell you that you are in very good company as this is one of the most common questions we are asked about.
While frustrating, there are simple solutions.  For starters, please review these articles:  Basement Waterproofing Tips and Wet Basement Solutions.
Based on what you have said above I am 100% confident that your problem is being cause by poor exterior drainage.  When a basement leaks after a heavy rain, it is NEVER a rising water table, which is the ONLY time you need a subsurface drainage system.  So, you do not need to add a second sump pump.  What you probably do need to do first is carefully, and I mean very carefully, make absolutely sure that not a DROP of water from your gutter system is leaking out of those drain pipes any closer than the 15 feet away you ran those extensions.  Also check to be sure the gutters are capturing all run-off especially during periods of heavy rain when gutters can become overwhelmed.  Secondly, looking at the photo, which the home is up on a berm, I'm not sure that the perimeter soil slope away for the first 4 feet from the foundation.  That "backfill zone" must slope away about 6 inches over 4 feet to keep the soil around the home dry.

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tankless water heaters

Is Electric Tankless Water Heater a Good Option?

Hi, have a 34-year-old oil water heater.  We are starting to see sediment in the hot water and I'd eventually want to switch from oil to gas, which is accessible.  Financially, we want to put that job off a few years and to to get an oil water heater now and then switch to gas in a few years seems wasteful.  My thought was to get an electric tankless water heater now and switch the heat and kitchen to gas when we can afford it.  My basement is also very small, so tankless will provide additional room.  The house has one and a half baths and four bedrooms. Does electric tankless make sense and how do you decide what size the tankless must be to provide the right amount of how water?

Our Answer

Since you have a very old water heater, it's smart to replace it now before it starts to leak. If you wait and it does leak, you're going to be facing an emergency repair, which can cost a heck of a lot more!

It's not a great idea to install an electric tankless water heater, but I don't think you'll really need one.  It seems like you think that you need to convert the entire house to gas heat when adding a water heater. In our experience, gas utilities will run the gas line to your house if you agree to hook it up to one appliance, like a water heater!

Given that, your best bet is to have the line run to your house and replace the old oil water heater right now.

By the way, electric tankless water heaters are not efficient and would be a very poor choice. They can't be compared in any way shape or form with a gas tankless water heater. Once the gas line is run, you can decide if you'd like to install a gas tankless water heater, or the more old fashion tank-style water heater.

If you do decide to stay with electric your best option would be an electric heat pump water heater. These are much more efficient than standard water heaters and have come down in price.