Avoid Red-Hot Surprise in Wiring

Question: The electrical outlets in our 37-year-old house are worn and need replacing. I want to do it myself, but a friend says that the color code for the wiring is not always the same in every house. I've always assumed that red is hot and black is ground. Am I wrong?


Costa Mesa

Answer: "Yes, you should know exactly what each wire is before you start working on it," says Bill Cramer of Ferrell's Electrical Home Center in Anaheim. "In 110-volt circuits, black is normally the hot wire, while white is the neutral or return wire. Green or bare copper is the ground.

"Sometimes, when dedicated circuits are installed, red is used as the hot wire since that tells the electrician that that wire dedicates that circuit on a separate breaker, or if a switch operates that receptacle, the red indicates that's what it's for. For 220-volt circuits, you don't have the neutral or white wire, just black, red and green."

Q: We painted our living room a year ago with an off-white flat paint and have found that it's very difficult removing stains with regular household cleaners. Is there something else we can use to clean spots that won't damage the paint?


Fountain Valley

A: "Walls painted with flat paint always pose a problem when they need to be cleaned," says Caroline White of Standard Brands in Mission Viejo. "When they're scrubbed, you often end up having paint come off with the stains. There's a special cleaner, Absorene, that was made for removing wallpaper stains that you should probably try. It basically works like an eraser, and all you do is rub it gently on the marks."

Q: The house we just moved into has a Doughboy above-ground pool in the back that's about 20 years old. It's in very good shape--the previous owners took good care of it--but we're thinking about burying it in the ground to make it like a built-in pool. Is this feasible with a pool that old?


Buena Park

A: "It's probably not a good idea," says Victor Medellin of Secard Pools in Orange. "The structure is probably too weak to handle the stress it would be under. You have to figure that after 20 years it's seen lots of hot and cold weather and it's probably got some rust, even if it doesn't look bad.

"You're thinking of a major job, renting heavy equipment or having a contractor come in and dig the hole, then moving the pool in and landscaping. You're better off doing it with a newer pool."

Q: We have a chimney that faces the front of our house and I'd like to remove the stucco from it so that the brick work shows through. How can I do this without damaging the brick?


Santa Ana

A: "Your success at getting the stucco off brick is going to depend on how old the house is," says Ken Newland of Tustin Block Co. "If it's a newer house, the stack is probably made out of what's called a Davidson Imperial Brick, which has a scratched surface on it. An older home is probably going to have an Atkinson Brick, which is easier because it has a smoother surface.

"Unfortunately, though, stucco often adheres to the grout, so you won't get a finished grout line. You may have to grind it down and re-grout it. If you want to go to the look of brick, you're probably better off getting a good quality brick veneer surface and placing that over the stucco, which would save you a lot of time and work."

Q: I have a small hole in the concrete floor of my garage that I'd like to patch. However, someone told me I should chisel it out so that it's larger and deeper before filling so that the filling doesn't come out. Is this true?


Huntington Beach

A: "If the hole's shallow, you should probably undercut it to allow more room for the patch to set," says contractor Dave Navaronne of Santa Ana. "Chisel down about an inch below the surface, and try to work at an angle so that the hole you're creating at the bottom is wider than the opening at the top. This will prevent the patch from coming out once it sets and dries."

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