Better Homes and Gardens contributing editor Danny Lipford answers all your home questions.
Q. "How can I repair a scratch on my beautiful engineered wood floor" -- Linda
A.Touch-up kits are available for repairing minor damage to wood floors. If the scratch is deep and runs across the grain, you won't be able to make it disappear completely, but you can minimize the damage. Try applying paste wax to the spot. Once it has dried, use a clean, soft cloth to wipe off any excess and bring back the shine. For small scratches, use a furniture touch-up pen, brown marker, or shoe polish that matches the color of the wood. For small gouges, rub a matching-color wax filler stick or brown crayon on the spot until the nick is filled; then use a soft cloth to remove any excess. For larger gouges, fill the hole with a matching-color wood putty -- or epoxy glue mixed with sanding dust and/or universal colorant. When dry, lightly sand the spot until it's flush and smooth with the floor; then apply a thin coat of compatible finish to the area.
Q. "I've heard that adding paint conditioner to paint can reduce brushstroke marks. How much conditioner should I add to 1 gallon of paint?"
-- Ann Marie
A: Adding paint conditioner to paint allows it to brush out easier, and it slows the drying time, so the finished surface will be smoother with fewer brushstroke marks. This is particularly true of latex paint, which often dries too quickly. The amount of paint conditioner you add will vary depending on the particular product, so be sure to follow the directions on the container, but it usually ranges from 8 to 16 ounces of conditioner per gallon of paint. Also, be sure to use a conditioner that's compatible with the type of paint (oil-base or latex and interior or exterior) that you're using.
Q. "I have bright colors on the walls of my bathroom. How do I paint over such strong colors?" -- Sandra
A: Prime the walls first with a stain-blocking primer to prevent the old paint from bleeding through. After the primer has dried, apply two coats of high-quality latex wall paint. You can use any color you like, though lighter colors will amplify the available light in the room. Medium-gloss paint is best for kitchens and baths since it cleans and resists moisture better than flat paint.
Q. "Is there a way to hide a ceiling fan's exposed cords without too much work?" -- Rita
A: Depending on the layout of your existing wiring and the framing in your ceiling, you might be able to use a special "fish tape" to snake the wires through the ceiling to your fans and light fixtures, then route them on to the circuit breaker box. If there is a closet nearby, consider removing part of the closet ceiling to gain access, since any damage will be hidden from view. Instead of a wall switch, consider installing a wireless remote that will allow you to control your paddle fan at the touch of a button. Remotes are available -- kits for existing fans and many new fans include a remote. Be sure to turn off the circuit breaker to the fan or fixture, and test it to be certain it's not still hot before working on it.
Q. Is it always necessary to prime before you paint over a previous paint job? -- Cedric
A. Unless the surface is unfinished or you're switching between types of paint -- such as covering oil-based paint on woodwork with latex paint -- you don't need to prime before repainting. If the surface is dirty or greasy, be sure to clean it thoroughly before painting. If it's a glossy finish, dull it down first with sandpaper or a liquid deglosser.
Q. "Why does my dryer take so long to dry my clothes?" -- April
A. You probably clean your lint filter every time you dry a load of clothes. But because some lint will always get past the filter and accumulate in the pipe behind the dryer, you also need to clean the vent hose and pipe once a year to keep your dryer running efficiently. Pull the dryer away from the wall, then disconnect the flexible pipe that connects to the vent in the wall. Use a dryer lint brush (available at home centers) to clean out the inside of the vent and pipe. Use the hose from your vacuum cleaner to remove any remaining lint. This task will shorten the time your dryer runs, which translates into energy savings.
Q. "How can I stop my toilet from running?" -- Mary
A. A toilet that keeps running can be one of the biggest water users in your home, and the two most common problems are simple to correct. The first is a simple adjustment to the float valve. Lift the lid off the tank and look to see if water is running over the top of the overflow tube, a vertical 1-inch open pipe near the top of the tank. If it is, lower the float by turning the adjustment screw so that the tank level stops below the top of the tank when full. The second is the rubber flapper at the bottom of the tank. If it's old and worn, it will allow water to seep out and cause water to run continuously. To replace the flapper, turn off the water to the toilet and flush it. Next, take off the lid, remove the old flapper, and detach it from the chain leading to the handle. Replace the flapper and reattach the chain, adjusting it so there is a little slack.
Q. I'm considering taking the bathtub out of my upstairs bathroom and putting in a shower instead. The downstairs bathroom will still have a tub. If we decide to move, will this affect the value of our home? -- Joy
A. In real estate circles, a bath with a shower is a 3/4 bath while one that has a tub is a full bath, so that could make a difference when your home is described in real estate listings. But because most people today prefer taking showers, as long as you still have one tub in your house, I don't see it as a disadvantage. In fact, many people -- myself included -- would consider a spacious shower a big plus.
Q. I am recaulking the area where a shower insert meets a wall that is painted with semigloss latex paint. Will silicone caulk stick to the paint, or should I use a different type of caulk around a shower insert? -- Kathy
A. Pure silicone caulk will adhere to your paint as well as to the shower insert. However, if you plan to paint over the caulking, you will need to use a paintable caulk because paint does not adhere to 100 percent silicone caulking.
Q. "Do I need to prime my metal front door before repainting?" -- Rosa
A: If you use the same type of paint that's already on the door, you don't have to prime before repainting, but when changing from oil to latex or latex to oil, a coat of bonding primer is needed to improve adhesion. In either case, clean the door thoroughly, and lightly sand to dull the gloss on the old paint. Wipe off any sanding dust with a damp cloth and allow to dry before painting.
Q. What should I do to cover the knots in knotty pine if I decide to paint the wood a light color? -- Judy
A. Knots pose a real problem when painting because the resin they contain can bleed through the finish and cause discoloration. Spot prime the knots with an oil-based or pigmented shellac primer that is designed to prevent bleeding. If there are a lot of knots, consider priming the entire area first to give the surface a more even texture. If the boards have been varnished, lightly sand them to remove the gloss and wipe off any dust before priming to increase adhesion.
Q. I applied polyurethane finish to my cabinets after I stained them. After a week there is still oil on the surface of the cabinets, and when I remove it, it leaves dull spots. What's the problem? -- Thomas
A. Polyurethane finishing problems can result when:
-- An old or previously opened can of finish was used.
-- The can of finish has been exposed to extreme temperatures.
-- It wasn't stirred thoroughly before applying.
-- The finish was applied under extreme temperatures or humidity.
-- It was applied to a greasy or oily surface. This includes certain exotic woods, such as rosewood, teak, and ebony, which contain high concentrations of natural oils.
If you are still having problems, the finish itself may be bad. Try using a fresh can of a different brand of polyurethane.
Q. I have a ceramic bathroom tile floor installed over a cement and mortar base. Can I tile on top of the existing tiles with thin-set mortar? If so, are there any preparations to the existing tiles required? -- James
A. You can lay a new layer of tile over the existing tile floor if it has no major cracks or settling. If any of the old tiles are loose, reattach them to the floor, and fill in any gaps. Remove the toilet and replace the toilet flange bolts if they aren't long enough to handle the added height. Clean the floor and rinse it to remove any residue before laying the tile using thin-set mortar. Because the new tile will raise the height of the floor, you might need to cut off the bottom of the door to keep it from scraping and to provide adequate ventilation.
Q. There are several small rotten spots on our outdoor bench. How can we repair it without replacing the whole piece? -- Denny
A. Automotive body filler is good for repairing rotten spots in wood because it hardens in a matter of minutes and can be used to fill large areas. Begin by removing all the rotten wood. If the hole is bigger than a dime, drive a few small nails or screws below the finished surface to provide support for the filler and help hold it in place. Mix up a small batch of filler and apply it to the area, making sure to follow the safety instructions on the can. Body filler sets fast, so don't mix up more than you can use in a few minutes. Once the filler is hard enough to work, use a sharp chisel or hand plane to remove any excess. Sand the surface smooth, then finish it with paint or exterior varnish to prevent further decay.
Q. "Why do my windows sweat during the winter, and what can I do about it?" -- Carol
A. It's all about the amount of humidity in your home. To reduce it, seal all the cracks and gaps around the outside of your windows with caulk. Be sure to use the exhaust fans in your bathrooms and kitchen regularly. And if you have single-pane windows, consider upgrading to double-pane windows. They're designed to keep the heat inside when it's cold and outside when it's warm.
Q. When installing fiberglass insulation under a floor, which way should the paper backing face? -- Kim
A. The paper backing on fiberglass insulation should always face toward the heated area of the home. In an attic, the paper should be put down against the ceiling. Under a floor, it should face up toward the floor. The reason for this is that the paper contains a layer of asphalt adhesive that acts as a vapor barrier and prevents water vapor from passing through it. If the vapor barrier is installed backward, moist air coming from inside the home can condense during cold weather and become trapped in the insulation. This could lead to rot and mold.
Q. I need to paint some exterior vinyl siding. How do I prepare the siding so paint will adhere to it? -- Verna
A. If there is mildew present, start by spraying it with a mixture of bleach and water. Allow the bleach to sit for 10 to 15 minutes and then rinse it off with a garden hose. Next, clean the siding with detergent and warm water or a pressure washer to remove any dirt. Paint vinyl siding with a high-quality exterior acrylic latex paint, which contains urethane. Do not paint it darker than the original factory color because this can cause it to absorb heat and warp.