Fixing Wall Switch Leads to a More Complex Problem


Q We have a laundry and utility room that leads to the garage. At opposite ends of the room, at the doors to the garage and house, are wall switches that control one ceiling light.

The switch near the garage hadn't been working right, so I turned off the breaker for that circuit and replaced the switch, and it worked fine. However, our upstairs bathroom apparently runs off the same circuit and now, any time we use the hair dryer in there, the breaker trips.

Is the problem in the breaker, or could there be a problem in the new switch?


Buena Park


A This sounds like a problem that's going to be hard to track, says Mike McCoy of Current Supply in Westminster.

It could be that the circuit breaker was wearing out and the act of turning it on and off to change the switch further weakened it. There could also be a problem in the new switch, or it may be a weakness in the wiring of that circuit.

Unless you have a great deal of experience with electrical trouble-shooting, this is probably a job for a professional. They'll start with the main electrical panel, then branch out to check each outlet and switch.


Q I've replaced all of my cabinet door knobs and hinges, except for two hinges on the far left door. They're very close to the wall, and, being right-handed, I can't get in there to screw them out. The head deforms as I try to use my screwdriver on them.


Laguna Niguel


A Most hardware outlets carry a tool known as an offset screwdriver, says Frank Eckert of Arrow True Value Hardware in Orange.

These are inexpensive, under $5, and they allow you to access screws at an angle and give you some leverage to put them in or pull them out without stripping the screw. If the head has already been damaged to the point where it can't be turned, try using a small pair of locking pliers and grip the head and turn it.

These screws are usually made of soft metal, and you may break the head off, which allows you to pull the hinge off. To remove the screw body you can drill holes around the embedded screw until it loosens enough to be yanked out, then repair the holes with putty.


Q My house is 2 years old and has a ceramic tile counter in the kitchen. Where counter tile meets the back-splash tile, we've had problems with cracking grout. We replace the grout, then it cracks again. Could this be a construction problem?


Mission Viejo


A It's very common in new tile applications to find cracking grout, says Gloria Richey of Tile Importers in Anaheim.

As the tile and the surface settle, they move just enough to crack the grout. Check with your local tile store to find the proper tile caulk, which comes in most of the popular grout colors and is made with silicone. It's easy to apply into the cracks, and you simply smooth it out with your finger. After it dries, it still has some give that lets it move rather than crack like regular grout.

If you have a question about your home or garden, Helping Hand will help you find the answer. Send questions to John Morell, Home Design, The Times Orange County, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

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