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posted: 5/2/2014 12:01 AM

Spring cleaning for your drain lines

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A slow-moving drain could mean a clogged drain line. But occasionally it is a clogged vent stack.

In order for a typical drain line to work properly, it needs air. Your household drain lines have attached air vents to allow for the best drainage of toilets and sinks. These vent stacks are located on your roof, so they can become clogged with leaves, bugs, bird nests and other debris. Here are some tips on clearing these vent stacks and keeping them clear.

You may have a vent that serves more than one drain. This is common. For example, you may have all of your bathroom fixtures on one vent. That's why it's so important to keep them cleaned out.

Since the easiest way to clear these is to get up on your roof to do so, plan ahead. Always take extra precautions when you need to work up on your roof. A plumber's snake is a super tool for clearing a vent stack. Carefully feed it down into the line, and work it back and forth to clear it out. This usually will take care of most clogs.

Another way to flush a vent pipe out is with water. Stick the garden hose down into the pipe as far as it will go to get the best pressure for forcing a clog out.

Never use chemicals to get the clog out. This is just a recipe for disaster and should never be done, no matter how bad the clog.

If you have a lot of trees that overhang your roof, trim them back. You also might consider installing a cover over your vents. You can make a simple cover from a square of wire mesh, cut larger than the vent and held in place over the top with a hose clamp. Other devices are available at your home center or hardware store. You'll need to know the diameter of your stacks to get the right fit, so take measurements before shopping.

Keep your vent stacks clear, and you will have a head start on keeping your drains running smoothly!

Extra downspout?

We recently put in the rain barrel that we talked about in our column. We installed a diverter on the downspout, so we had a section of the material left over. The leftover scrap of downspout helped corral a bunch of dowels that we had on hand in our workshop. We simply attached it to the stud in a wall of in the garage so that it sits on the sill, and then filled it with the dowels. It's easy to sort through them and find what we need for a specific project.

Quick fix for slippery situations

Sometimes you want things to slide. Other times, you don't. If you want a piece of metal or plastic to slide less, try wrapping a rubber band around it. The rubber will grab the surface it is sliding around on. This is a super way to slow down a metal straightedge or a level while you are working on a project. Give it a try the next time you find yourself in a slippery situation.

Super hints

• A cracked patio needs to be repaired so it doesn't get worse over time. But if you've made the repair and it looks bad, you can resurface it with a thin concrete leveler that is easily spread over the whole surface to even things out.

• We have a doggy door that has been installed for many years. The flap was replaced several times, and now the manufacturer is out of business, of course. Since I have been unable to find one in the correct size, XXL, I made my own from a truck floor mat. I cut it to fit and drilled holes near the top to mount it in the frame. It's not perfect, but it's about as close as I'll ever be able to get. It does a fine job.

• A funnel will allow you to pour solvent or other shop liquids back into the original containers without wasting any. If you need to strain the liquid, place a scrap of screen, some steel wool or a coffee filter into the funnel before you start pouring.

Q. Our driveway has a large stain on it. I think it might be from one of our cars that is older and might be leaking some oil. I've tried cleaning it with detergent and water and a scrub brush, but it barely made a dent. What else can I try?

A. You can use some trisodium phosphate or mineral spirits paint thinner. Both should cut through the stain. In fact, you may need to use both of them to get the entire stain off the concrete. When you do get it completely clean, apply a water seal to protect it better against future stains. And get that car to the shop and see if they can take care of that oil leak!

Q. I have a dining-room table that I love and want to keep as is. I needed a buffet for the dining room, but was only able to find an unfinished one that I could stain to match. Now I can't find a matching color stain. What can I do to make it look good?

A. Matching stain can take some finesse, but you can do it. Find something that is close to a basic stain, one shade lighter. Then practice on the back of the piece and see if you can use two coats or a second color to mix your own to match it better. Apply a sealer that also matches the sheen to protect it from serving abuse.

Q. We have an outdoor faucet in our side yard that has been dripping for a while. There are mineral salts all over it and the brick wall. I can't make it budge and really wanted to try to replace it. Can you help?

A. See if you can saturate it with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and water. That should cut through a lot of the mineral deposits. Then you can shut off your water and try to loosen the faucet in order to replace it. If you need to, you might try adding some heat to it with a torch, or try tapping it with a hammer. Both will help loosen it up. Good luck!

Reader tips

• We're trying to be more energy efficient, so we put up a clothesline again. Our old iron poles still are in the backyard, cemented into the ground. We cleaned up the poles and painted them. Then we put on some new vinyl clothesline. We added some small sections of garden hose here and there for hanging things like sheets. (The hose keeps them from creasing so much and keeps them tight on the line.) Boy, everything sure does smell great now! Everything that's old really does come back in style.

• We, at one time, put up stucco texture on our walls. Now we are getting rid of it, and it's tougher than we thought. We made a super-size sander from a 18-inch piece of two by four, covered with sandpaper. It takes two hands to use it, but it does a pretty good job. We're making a second one so we can get twice the work done. I will be very glad when it's finished, but it will look great when it is.

• I took a tip from your columns and bought a package of metal shower-curtain rings to hold my wrenches together and hang on my shop wall. Well, I've also used the rings in several other places around my shop. I keep my tool keys on one, used one to hang a shop towel on the side of my ladder, used them to hold cords up on the shed wall, and used one for washers that I need in my hoses. I even might have to buy another package soon, because they really do come in handy and I'm running out!

• My wife complains that it takes forever to get hot water to the kitchen sink. I bought her several nice pitchers so she can save the cold water to use on her plants. We are on water restrictions in our city, so we have to be very careful about wasting water. Now she can fill the pitchers and use these to water all of her plants.

• I bought a long length of flexible magnets for my sewing room. I use it to keep up with pins, needles, bobbins and other sewing hardware. I bought a second roll for my husband. He also uses it for his hobby, which is fishing. He keeps a piece on the dash of the boat to hold on to hooks, weights and some of his fishing tackle. He wants some more for his workshop. Super stuff!


• Baking soda isn't just for baking any more. As a matter of fact, it can be used for all sorts of things in the shop, home and even in the garden. Baking soda doesn't cost very much, and just about everybody has a box or two in the house. So why not use it to its full potential? We have put together a listing of some of our favorite uses. We added some of our reader's ideas, too. It's also available directly on our website at

• Mosquito Dunks are great to throw into standing water. They are safe for fish and birds, but will kill mosquito larvae. Now you can buy Mosquito Bits. These smaller bits of the same 100 percent natural, biodegradable material is perfect for bird baths, planters, fountains and other areas. The container has a shaker lid to make broadcasting easier, too. You can find it at your garden center, hardware store or home center. To get additional details, go to

• Through the years, Stanley's FatMax has come out with some amazing tools and accessories. Now, Stanley has come out with the PowerClaw, a clamp-on power strip. The heavy-duty, spring-loaded clamp allows you to clamp on to a wall, a ladder, a rafter, your sawhorse or a wide variety of other surfaces, keeping it off the ground. Three grounded outlets allow you to plug your drill, saw or other tools on-site, where you need them most. It really will eliminate tangled wires. It's grounded for safety and is built to withstand high impacts, should you accidentally drop it. 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

© 2014, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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