It’s no secret that a bathroom remodel is one of the top projects that will yield the best bang for your home-improvement buck.
But if tight finances postpone a full-blown or even a partial bathroom remodel, there are still a multitude of easy, cost-effective improvements you can do yourself to make the space more attractive and livable.
One of the best and most economical means of sprucing up an old bathroom is cleaning. It’s something that most people can do, it doesn’t cost much and we have yet to see a bathroom that couldn’t benefit from it.
Mildew be gone
Mildew is often a problem in bathrooms because of the moisture that’s present. For many years, we have been using a homespun formula developed by the USDA Forest Products Laboratory to remove mildew on painted and washable surfaces, inside and out.
Mix 13 cup of powdered laundry detergent and 1 quart of liquid chlorine bleach into 3 quarts of warm water. Add the bleach to the water first and then the detergent. Even though the solution is mild, be sure to wear eye protection, rubber gloves and have plenty of ventilation.
Put the solution into a clean plastic spray bottle and spray it onto the affected areas. Let it sit until the black mildew stains turn white (about 5 to 10 minutes), but don’t let it dry. Rinse with warm water and dry. This works particularly well on tile, grout and painted walls and woodwork.
If the caulking still has mildew after using the solution, your only option is to remove the existing caulking. Use the mildew cleaner, dry the area and wipe it down with denatured alcohol, and apply a new bead of caulk.
If the tile grout still shows signs of mildew, discoloration, hairline cracks or pitting, your best bet is to regrout the tile with a fresh coat of grout.
This simply involves removing the uppermost surface of grout (about 18 inch) with a manual or electric grout saw. Clean the area and apply a new layer of grout with a rubber grout float. Use a damp sponge to remove the excess and polish the remaining haze with cheesecloth. Once the grout has cured, use a high-quality grout and tile sealer to prevent future staining and mildew growth.
Where there’s mildew …
Mold on walls is usually accompanied by peeling or bubbled paint at walls and ceiling. As with mold, this usually results from too much moisture.
You can convert your bathroom from a swamp and cut down on your cleaning by improving ventilation. If the bathroom doesn’t have an exhaust fan, install one, even if the room contains a window. If it does have a fan, use it.
Keep in mind that a bath fan should operate not only during bathing, but for up to a half-hour thereafter. Install a timer switch that will automatically turn the fan off at a preset time.
Most bathrooms need a fan with a minimum cubic foot per minute (cfm) rating of 80. If your bathroom has a bath fan and you still have mildew, chances are the fan is either too small or isn’t being run enough to do the job — or both. Installing a retrofit fan upgrade kit is a great DIY bathroom improvement that will pay big dividends down the road.
Drip, drip, drip
Aside from being the annoying cause of many a sleepless night, a leaky toilet or faucet can be a huge waste of water and often results in a pitted and/or rusty basin or tub.
A leaking toilet is usually caused by a defective or poorly sealing flapper. The flapper is the rubber stopper that seals the drain at the base of the tank. When you press the flush lever it raises the flapper, allowing water to enter the bowl to create the siphon effect that results in a flush.
A replacement flapper costs just a few bucks and can be installed in a matter of minutes. Be sure to clean any mineral buildup on the throat that the flapper seals against, using a nylon scouring pad.
A leaking faucet usually indicates that the rubber gasket (washer or O-ring) is worn and needs replacement. This can be simply a small rubber washer or, in the case of a modern valve, a replacement cartridge.
In either case, your best bet is to turn off the water, remove the valve stem or cartridge and take it to your home center, hardware store or plumbing wholesale house to identify the proper replacement.
Just remove the valve handle (usually held in place by either a machine or Allen screw) and use a crescent wrench or adjustable pliers to remove the packing nut that holds the valve stem or cartridge in place. After making the repair, put everything back together in the reverse order that they were removed.
Curled vinyl can curl your toes
Beyond looking terrible, vinyl flooring that is curling where it abuts a tub or shower can be a cleaning nightmare. Worse yet, it can let water get to the subfloor, which can mean hundreds or even thousands of dollars in repair bills.
The appearance can be improved and repair bills avoided by making an easy repair. Start by applying some heat to the curled area using a clothes iron, but lay a towel down first to prevent damage to the vinyl.
Apply steady, even heat while pulling back the vinyl a couple of inches. This will let you clean up the area with a vacuum and apply some fresh vinyl adhesive. Use a modest amount, though: too much can cause the vinyl to ripple. Re-lay the vinyl and apply constant pressure to the area with heavy objects like books. After several hours, remove the weight and apply a fresh bead of caulk at the joint.
For more home improvement tips and information from James and Morris Carey, visit their Web site at www.onthehouse.com or call 800-737-2474 Saturdays from 6 to 10 a.m. The Careys are also on KRKO (1380-AM) from 6 to 10 a.m. every Saturday.