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Ides of March: Beware Of These Soothsaying Signs in Your House

Don't wind up like Caesar and not listen to the advice of a soothsayer.

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roof vent rust

Damaged Plumbing Vent Boots

Plumbing vent boots can be all plastic, plastic and metal, or even two-piece metal units. Check plastic bases for cracks and metal bases for broken seams. Then examine the rubber boot surrounding the pipe. That can be rotted away or torn, allowing water to work its way into the house along the pipe. With any of these problems, you should buy a new vent boot to replace the old one. But if the nails at the base are missing or pulled free and the boot is in good shape, replace them with the rubber-washered screws used for metal roofing systems. Learn more about replacing plumbing vent boots here.

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ceiling water stains

Ceiling Stains

If you have water stains that extend across ceilings or run down walls, the cause is probably a leaky roof. Tracking down the leak is the hard part; the roof leak repair is usually pretty easy. We’ll show you some simple tricks for finding and repairing most of the common types of leaky roofs. If you have a leaky roof, you’d better fix it immediately, even if it doesn’t bother you much or you’re getting a new roof next year. Even over a short time, small leaks can lead to big problems, such as mold, rotted framing and sheathing, destroyed insulation and damaged ceilings. Plus: 14 ways to cover a hideous ceiling.

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FH06FEB_ROOFLK_01Family Handyman


If you can’t see any telltale flow marks and the ceiling stain is fairly small, look at the underside of the roof for “shiners.” A shiner is a nail that missed the framing member. Moisture that escapes into the cold attic from the rooms below often condenses on cold nails. Sometimes you can spot this if you climb up into your attic on a cold night. The nails will look white because they’re frosted. When the attic heats up a bit during the day, the frost melts and drips, then the nails frost up at night again and so on. The solution is to simply clip the nail with a side-cutting pliers.

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damaged shingles

Damaged Shingles

A broken shingle is both ugly and a leak waiting to happen. But as long as you can find matching shingles (and you’re not afraid of heights), the repair is straightforward. Here’s how to do it.

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rot along roof edge and side wall

Mold Where Roof and Exterior Wall Meet

Kick-out flashing is critical where a roof edge meets a sidewall. Without it, roof runoff flows down the wall and possibly into the wall. This is worst when there is a door or a window below and water can seep behind the trim. You might not notice it for years, but eventually rot will destroy sheathing and framing. In extreme cases, the stucco is the only thing holding up the wall! Don’t wait for that to happen to you. To see how to add kick-out flashing, read Use a Kick-Out Flashing to Stop Rot.

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rusted guttersFamily Handyman

Rusted Gutters

Gutter leaks usually start at rusty spots or seams that have opened up because of expansion and contraction. If your gutter is still basically sound, the easiest way to stop the leak is by covering the damaged area with roof and gutter repair tape (available at home centers and hardware stores). First remove rust with a wire brush and scrape out tar with a putty knife. Plus: Easy gutter repairs you can do yourself.

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loose flashing

Loose Step Flashing

Step flashing is used along walls that intersect the roof. Each short section of flashing channels water over the shingle downhill from it. But if the flashing rusts through, or a piece comes loose, water will run right behind it, and into the house it goes. Learn how to install step flashing here.

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mold on exterior walls

Mold on Exterior Walls

If mold is growing on an exterior wall, there could be a leak in the roof. Measure from the moldy area to a reference point like a door, then find the spot on the other side of the wall or ceiling. Look for ground sloping toward the house and down-spouts emptying next to the wall. If you have a serious mold problem, you need to take care of it ASAP.

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holes in roof

Holes Drilled on Purpose

Tiny holes in shingles are sneaky because they can cause rot and other damage for years before you notice the obvious signs of a leak. You might find holes left over from satellite dish or antenna mounting brackets or just about anything. And exposed, misplaced roofing nails should be pulled and the holes patched. Small holes are simple to fix, but the fix isn’t to inject caulk in the hole. You’ll fix this one with flashing.

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gutter apron

Missing Gutter Apron

When water flows off the edge of your roof, some of it clings to the underside of the shingles and dribbles toward the fascia. If you have gutters but no gutter apron to stop the water, it will wick behind the gutter. Eventually the fascia, soffits and even the roof sheathing will rot. You may see water stains below the gutter on the fascia and soffit. This is a sure sign that the gutter apron is missing. Need to completely replace your gutters? Here’s a step-by-step guide.

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rusted flashing around chimney

Rusted Chimney Flashing

All kinds of bad things can happen around brick chimneys. Flashing around chimneys can rust through if it’s galvanized steel, especially at the 90-degree bend at the bottom. A quick but fairly long-term fix is to simply slip new flashing under the old rusted stuff. That way any water that seeps through will be diverted. Learn about proper chimney maintenance here.

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hail damage

Hail Damage

When a large hailstone hits an asphalt shingle, it can tear or even puncture the shingle. But usually, it just knocks granules off the surface. When a shingle loses its protective layer of granules, UV rays from the sun begin to destroy it. More granules fall off around the damaged spot and the bruise grows. Learn how to remove roof shingles here.

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Bulge in Washing Machine Hose?Family Handyman

Bulge in Washing Machine Hose?

What it means: The hose is ready to burst.
A bulging washing machine hose is an emergency. It may burst next year, next week or right now. But it will fail and it won't just leak—it will gush. In just a few minutes, it can do thousands of dollars in damage.

Plus: The Top 10 DIY Appliance Repairs

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Family Handyman

Stain Around Bathroom Fan

What it means: Condensation is forming inside the duct. The stain could be caused by a roof leak but condensation inside the duct is the most likely cause, says Reuben Saltzman, a home inspector with Structure Tech. If you live in a cold climate, there’s a good chance that the warm, moist air from the bathroom is condensing inside the duct and the water is seeping back down into the fan housing. It’s soaking the drywall around the fan and may be ruining your fan motor or even the framing components in your attic.

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Efflorescence on Chimney Brick?Kara Grubis/Shutterstock

Efflorescence on Chimney Brick?

What it means: Too much moisture inside the chimney Efflorescence is the white material that appears on brick. It occurs when moisture moves through masonry. That moisture picks up minerals and leaves them behind in the form of tiny crystals. The minerals themselves do no harm, and a small amount of efflorescence is common. But heavy efflorescence on your chimney is a cause for concern. It's a sign of moisture inside the chimney—and when that moisture freezes, it can slowly wreck the chimney from the inside out. Even more alarming, your flue liner could be cracked or broken, and deadly combustion gases from your furnace, fireplace or water heater may be leaking into your home. Plus: Secret Cleaning Tips From the Pros
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Melted Grommets on Water Heater?Family Handyman

Melted Grommets on Water Heater?

What it means: Deadly gases may be entering your home Exhaust from a gas water heater is supposed to flow through a duct and out of the house. But sometimes, exhaust doesn't flow up and out. Instead, it "backdrafts," spilling deadly carbon monoxide into the air you breathe. One sign of backdrafting is damaged plastic grommets on top of the water heater, melted by the hot exhaust. This shows that your water heater has backdrafted badly on at least one occasion—and you must take action. Plus: Appliance Care and Maintenance Tips to Make Appliances Last
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Decking Directly Under the Door?Family Handyman

Decking Directly Under the Door?

What it means: Rot could be wrecking your house.
Decks that are built right up to the bottom of a door often mean trouble. Rainwater splashes off the deck up onto the door. That much water is hard to keep out. Even if the flashing holds up, water may eventually find its way through the door components. This can ruin the siding, door and interior flooring, or worse, destroy the rim joist and other framing components both inside and outside your home.

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The Water Meter Never Stops?Family Handyman

The Water Meter Never Stops?

What it means: You've got a leak.
If all the faucets and plumbing fixtures in your house are turned off and the low-flow indicator on your water meter continues to measure running water, you're wasting water and money.

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Greasy Kitchen Stuff

We understand that venting the range hood into a wall cabinet saved a lot of labor, but we admit that we’re puzzled by the louvers.

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Vinyl Dryer Vent

Vinyl dryer vent hose is such a bad idea on so many levels. So a smooth metal dryer vent is the best solution, hands down.

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Cracked Chimney Liner

It’s cracked like the Liberty Bell. But this cracked chimney liner needs to be repaired to prevent a chimney fire.

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Bowed Deck

Yep, let’s have over a couple of dozen neighbors for a really fun evening. Or tear off this disaster waiting to happen and build a deck properly.

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Beam Splice Not Over Post at Deck

Somebody’s tape measure must’ve been off when they put together this deck. Looks pretty unsafe considering the splice is only sitting on a sliver of the post. Most building codes require at least one inch of bearing wherever a beam is supported by a post. Fall in love with outdoor amenities like one of these gorgeous outdoor bars.

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Fresh Paint

A fresh coat of paint can be like slapping lipstick on a pig, so to speak. A coat of paint didn’t completely cover up the deficiencies in this deck.

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Joist Hangers Into Stucco

There’s no ledger board with this deck and that should be cause for concern. There is nothing right about this. Here’s the correct way to attach a deck to a house.

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Family Handyman

Having a Dirty Stove While You Cook

If your stove is covered with grease and other flammable grime, a small kitchen fire can get out of hand quickly. Clean and clear the area around the stove before turning on the heat. (Learn how to keep your kitchen health-inspector approved in less than 5 minutes.)

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Fireplace fireAnastasios71/Shutterstock

Fireplace Safety

Your home’s chimney should be swept at least once a year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. This fire safety measure will help remove soot and debris which could become a fire hazard. And when using the fireplace, keep any flammable materials, such as blankets, curtains and rugs away from the fireplace and never leave children unattended near a working fireplace.

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GFCI outletFamily Handyman

Loose Outlets

The constant movement of loose electrical outlets can loosen the wires connected to the outlet and create dangerous arcing. Luckily, the fix is simple, check it out here.

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Exposed Lightbulbs

Those closet lights that don’t have an enclosure around them pose a fire and safety risk in the home. According to Buell Inspections, under normal circumstances a 60-watt light bulb will not get hotter than 175 degrees Fahrenheit but under some conditions it could reach close to between 290-500 degrees, high enough to ignite things likes table tennis balls, which begin to melt around 130-150 degrees, according to Nittaku, a table tennis equipment manufacturer.

Find out how to pick LED lights that will help you save on energy costs.

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Family Handyman

Start and Stop

If your furnace is cycling on and off, it’s because something in the system is causing it to cut off before it can complete a full heating cycle. Unfortunately, it’s also a good example of those frustrating indicators that could mean many things; repeated cycling could be a sign that the fan motor is dying, or it might simply mean that the heat sensor needs to be cleaned.

Understand which repairs you can do on your own and which require a pro with this article: Three Easy Furnace Repairs… and Two to Avoid.

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17oct88_513937816_06 cleaning windows window sills dustingmady70/Shutterstock

Moisture Buildup

If you notice that some rooms in your home have moisture either on the ceilings, walls or windows, that could be a sign that there isn’t sufficient airflow through your home. Stagnant or damp air indicates that there could be a problem in the vents or in the furnace itself.

Pay attention to condensation, as it could be a sign of furnace problems. If you’re experiencing condensation on your windows, here’s how to get rid of it.

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HVAC Condensate LineFamily Handyman

Water Leaks

It’s probably no surprise that if there’s a puddle of water around your furnace, it’s a sign of a problem. But what many homeowners don’t understand is that water is a natural byproduct of a gas furnace or air conditioner at work. Your first step should be to determine where the water is coming from. If you only see the leak when running your air conditioner, chances are that the water condensate line has a clog or a leak. If that’s the case, you have a relatively simple fix ahead of you. If the water is coming from the furnace itself, or if it is coming during the heating cycle, then there’s something more serious going on, and it may be time to call in a pro. If the issue is a condensate line clog, here’s one simple fix to try before calling in a pro: Pan Tablets.

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Cold Spots

If you’re noticing some rooms in your house are colder than others, it’s likely that your furnace is either not heating enough to keep your whole house warm or it isn’t able to maintain the push/pull of the vent system to circulate warm air.

Of course, not all cold spots are caused by problem furnaces. If you’re suffering from a cold room or two, here are other options to help you even out your home’s temperature.

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hearLuis Molinero/Shutterstock

Eerie Silences

We swear, this is also not a sign that your house is haunted!

In general, most furnaces make some noise during operation. But if your furnace cycle is accompanied by an increasing amount of shake, rattle, and roll, it could be a sign that some of the mechanical elements are coming lose. In that case, a tune-up is advisable. And if the sounds stop abruptly, creating especially noticeable periods of silence, your furnace may be giving you a warning that there are bigger problems lurking. If you’re hearing more odd sounds around your house, here’s how to eliminate them forever.

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Dryer Lint

In a four-year span there are nearly 25,000 dryer fires, which cause millions of dollars in damage and hundreds of injuries, some fatal. Dryer fires start when built-up lint near the motor, gas burners or heating elements catches on fire. This fire can then spread to ignite lint in the vent pipe. Make sure you’re regularly cleaning the lint trap in your dryer and the vent pipe.

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insulated toilet tankFamily Handyman

Sweaty Toilet

If summers are humid where you live and you don’t have air conditioning, you’ve probably noticed your toilet “sweating” excessively. Condensation forms on the outside of the tank, which can drip down and make a mess or even rot out your floor. Some toilets are available with insulated tanks to prevent condensation problems.

Ever worried about waking someone up when flicking on the bathroom lights in the middle of the nights? Then this tricked-out toilet will blow your mind.

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Family Handyman

Bubbling Toilet

If you have air bubbles that rise up through your toilet bowl (except when it flushes) or notice the water level rising and falling, you probably have a clogged or improperly vented toilet. This toilet bubbling problem is especially true when you have an appliance like a clothes washer nearby. Your drain line is gasping for air.

When you pour liquid from a can, you’ll notice that it doesn’t flow evenly unless you have a second opening for air. The same holds true for plumbing vent pipe. As water goes down a drain, air is needed to equalize the pressure in the drain line.

This is the purpose of a venting system. If the drain lines in your home have poor venting, water rushing down the drains will pull water from nearby P-traps. The drain in the toilet bowl is basically a P-trap. If the problem just started, it’s probably a blocked drain or plumping vent pipe that needs to be “snaked” out. And since the water in the toilet is dropping and gurgling, it’s likely that the problem is near that area.

Unfortunately, a clogged or missing vent is tough to fix, since it usually requires breaking into the walls to examine the drain system. Unless you have plumbing experience, this project is best left to a professional. That way you can avoid one of these 100 plumbing goofs and other scary things.

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Family Handyman

Toilet Won’t Flush Well

Master baths are often distant from the rest of the plumbing in the house, so they often have their own plumbing vents independent of the home’s other plumbing. If the flushing performance is anemic and there are no clogs or obvious malfunctions, there may be an amazingly simple remedy. Occasionally, plumbers forget to remove the temporary plug that’s used to pressure-test the lines after plumbing rough-in. They’re located at the top of the vent pipe up on the roof. If you can’t see a rubber cap clamped on the vent over the bathroom from the ground, climb up on the roof and inspect the end of the vent over your bathroom and I’ll bet you’ll find an overlooked plug. If so, break through the plastic with a screwdriver and pry out the pieces and that toilet will work just fine.

If that isn’t the problem, you probably have a defective toilet or an obstruction in the drain line. Get ahold of the plumber who worked on the house. He or she should be able to solve the toilet wont flush problem. Discover these 9 super-simple toilet tuneups, too.

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unclog toilet fill holes

Sluggish Toilet

If your toilet flushes slowly, the rinse holes under the rim may be clogged with mineral deposits. With a mirror and a coat hanger, you can clean out those clogged holes without ever getting your hands dirty. The photo says it all—look into the mirror to see if the holes are clogged. If they are, bend a coat hanger flat and probe the tip into the holes to poke out any mineral deposits.

If you thought some of those toilet seats were crazy, prepare for 50 of the most insane toilets ever created.

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Your Chimney Smells Weird

Chimney sweeps don’t only remove dangerous creosote buildup; they can clean out toxic mold too. Moisture can accumulate in the porous bricks and mortar of a chimney. Rusty chimney caps or flashing that needs repair allow rain and snow to seep in, creating an environment for mold to thrive. That may be the reason you smell something funky on days when the wind is blowing in a certain direction. Fix the cap and flashing and call the chimney sweep to extinguish the mold issues. Watch out for these other scary ways your fireplace could be toxic, too!