Question: We recently bought a condominium with a dead doorbell. Where do we even start trouble-shooting the problem?
E.F., La Habra
Answer: "Assuming it's an electric doorbell, remove the exterior button outside the door and you'll see two wires," says Mike Delaney of Fullerton Hardware. "Remove them from their contacts, then let them touch.
"If the bell rings, the problem is in the button, and it needs to be replaced. If there's no reaction when crossing the wires, the next step would be to look in the chime. Make sure the piston inside is free to move; sometimes they get dirty or rusty and need to be lubricated with a white silicone grease.
"With a low-voltage test meter, you can check if there's current reaching the coil. A wire may be out of place or possibly the transformer has failed.
"The transformer is usually in the attic of a home, and it may take some sleuthing to find it in your condo. Fortunately, most doorbell problems can be traced to the easily changed button, (which is likely to break first because) it's exposed to the elements and it's moved a great deal."
Q: The mantle on our prefabricated fireplace is made of galvanized aluminum, which we learned by accident when a large picture fell and made a huge dent on top of it. What's the best way to cover this up without making it look as though it's been patched?
C.Y., Santa Ana
A: "Get some fine sandpaper and sand along the area where the paint's chipped," says Charlie K. of Tustin Paint Mart. "Your goal is to get rid of all that's not adhered well to the aluminum. After it's sanded, you might want to get some Bondo, a filler that's used in auto body work, to fill the dent, then sand that down until it's level with the rest of the frame. Bondo's easily painted, and if it's done right you shouldn't be able to notice a dent."
Q: I've recently received a number of big photos that I'd like to hang in a hallway with nothing on the walls. I suppose I should secure them into the wall studs. Before I start the job, I want to know roughly how far apart they are. My neighbor says they're about 16 to 18 inches from each other. I think they're 12 inches apart. I don't want to start pounding into the walls until I know, and I don't want to buy a stud finder.
H.G., Laguna Niguel
A: "They're approximately 16 inches apart throughout most houses," says Claude Bradley of Canning's Brea Hardware. "If you're going to be making a lot of holes in the wall, it may be worth your while to get a stud finder. There are some available that sense the density of the wall and are very accurate that can be bought for around $15 to $20.
"You can also get the standard magnetic finders that work like a compass and find nails behind the wall, and those can be found for between $2 and $3."
Q: In a painting job we did in our bathroom, I got splatters of latex enamel on my rug and faux-marble countertops. I've seen a liquid product in hardware stores that says it picks up old latex paint blobs off carpeting. Is it worth trying?
A.H., Huntington Beach
A: "It's probably some type of solvent that dissolves away the paint," says house painter Steve Grassley of Mission Viejo. "First, I'd try the usual methods: soap and water and a razor blade to scrape away the mistakes.
"After that, I'd try the solvent, but follow the directions and make sure the room is well ventilated.
"I don't believe in getting something that picks up your mistakes without any problems. When you have to work at scraping away old paint, it reminds you to put more time in your masking job next time."