Get Answers to 24 of the Most Common Home Improvement Questions!

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Ask the Expert: Jason Gettum Answers 24 of the Most Common Home Improvement Questions

ask the expertDo you ever run into issues with your home that you wish you could just fix yourself? You’re not alone! In this post, Indianapolis remodeling expert Jason Gettum takes the time to answer questions about many of the most common home improvement issues that homeowners typically run into.

Take a look at these 24 common questions and let us know if you spot something Jason hasn’t covered!

These questions are from real Indianapolis area homeowners just like yourself.

How do I get gum off of concrete?

Question: At a cookout and someone dropped chewing gum onto our sidewalk. After a day of sun and stomping the gum got worked into the sidewalk pretty well and we can’t get it up. Do you know of any removal tricks? – Justine Voigt

Answer: Egg Whites – The white of an egg will remove chewing gum from most things, including your hair. Put the white of an egg on the gum and leave for a couple of minutes. Then work the gum out. Vinegar – Saturate the gum and it will actually dissolve. Heat the vinegar first for faster results. WD40/Penetrating Oil – Simply spray the sticky gum with WD40 and work it into the gum. The gum will come out easily.

Why is my drainage system not working?

Question: My home is at the bottom of a small hill, and whenever it rains the run-off from the rest of the neighborhood comes into my backyard and starts flooding my basement. I installed a drainage system 10 years ago, but it no longer seems to work. – Robert Julien

Answer: Thanks for the question Robert. To work properly, drainage systems of all types need to be kept free and clear so that water from sudden downpours or spring snow melts can flow through and away freely. Check to see if your system is clogged with leaves or other debris. Something as simple as a blockage in the pipe would allow water to build up in your backyard and make its way into your basement. You could start by trying to flush out the system with a garden hose. If this doesn’t work and the water doesn’t drain away, you may need to call in a professional drain company to clear it.

Why does our garage floor sweat? 

Question: We built our house 5 years ago. When the weather starts to warm and humidity rises, our garage floor sweats excessively. Is there anything we can do to stop this? – Bill Melton

Answer: The dampness may be caused by the original preparation of the floor, a lack of drainage, a lack of crushed stone, or a vapor barrier. Until the floor warms to the ambient temperature the use of a fan may help a great deal.

Why does it take to long to get hot water to your faucet?

Question: Hello, I was wondering if there is anything I can do to shorten the time it takes for hot water to come out of my sink. When I am working in the kitchen, I find that I am spending too much time waiting for the water to heat up. Is there a solution for this problem? – Debbie Q.

Answer: Debbie, There certainly is a solution. You can have a recirculating pump installed. Basically, a recirculating pump is a device that sits between your hot water heater and your sink, and keeps warm water close to the tap and sends cold water back to be re-heated. This nifty device also saves fresh water, since it keeps you from having to run the faucet needlessly, so owning one can give you Federal tax credit for being environmentally savvy.

How to remove spots on stainless steel appliances

Question: Could you please give me some advice for removing spots on my stainless steel appliances? – Pat Howe

Answer: Sure Pat. For tough spots try glass cleaner, ammonia, or rubbing alcohol. You can also use vinegar or olive oil on a soft cloth (apply sparingly). Some people even swear by club soda to clean stainless steel–it’s especially effective in getting rid of heat stains. Whatever you use, follow the grain of the stainless steel during washing and drying and be sure to apply plain water afterward and wipe dry.

When you’re done cleaning, polish your appliance with a stainless-steel cleaner. These cleaners also help reduce stains and scratches. Follow the manufacturer’s suggestions for using the cleaner, and rinse and dry your appliance at the end.

How to clean grass stains from concrete

Question: Hi, I am wondering if there is something I can use to remove grass stains from my sidewalk. My grass looks beautiful, and the sidewalk bright and white, except where I ran over it with the lawn mower, green wheel marks up and down the sidewalk – very unsightly. Thanks in advance.- Janice Warren

Answer: Scrape away and discard excess dirt and grass. Then apply glycerin directly on the stain and rub gently to lubricate any residual stain material. Next apply a solution of 1 gallon water, 1/4 cup washing soda, and 1/4 cup borax with a nylon bristle brush. Scrub grass stained area with moderate pressure. Rinse the brush regularly, and refresh the cleaning solution as necessary.

How to clean humidifiers for storage

Question: I’m getting ready to store my humidifiers. Can you tell me how to clean them for storage? – Jenn Walters

Answer: First, check the manual for your humidifier to make sure that you these cleaning instructions are compatible with your machine.

Cool mist humidifiers have basic steps for cleaning them. Unplugged the cool mist humidifier and remove the filter. Next, remove the mineral buildup following the directions included below.

Warm mist humidifiers need to have their mineral build up removed using the directions included below. Unplug the humidifier first. Next, it is important that you clean the heating element. Pour white vinegar into the base of your warm mist humidifier. Place the misting chamber into the base.

Allow the vinegar to sit and soak for at least half an hour. Remove the unit and using a soft bristled brush, gently brush away the mineral deposits from the coils. Never use a metal brush. Never pick at the deposits with a tool or sharp object. A clean toothbrush can be used to brush the deposits away.

How to level a table

Question: How do I make my table level? – Steve Hartman


  1. Step 1 – Place a level on each corner of the table. This will measure exactly how much the table is off level.
  2. Step 2 – Lift the table by the corner that shows the largest error in level measurement. It’s ideal to have two others to lift as you measure with the level.
  3. Step 3 – Measure the level of the table until it is flush. Then place some shims underneath the legs of the table.
  4. Step 4 – Repeat the corner leveling process on the other corners of the table. After you finish with each corner of the table, remeasure the entire table again. If it’s not level then add or subtract from underneath the legs until it is square.
  5. Step 5 – Decide how much material you need to add to each leg to make the table level following the previous 4 steps. In some instances, it may be easier to saw a little length off the table leg(s).

When is home remodeling too much?

Question: When is home remodeling too much? Is there a limit to improvements when you won’t get your investment back? -Dave B.

Answer: Investing in remodeling and home improvement for your Indianapolis home depends on many factors. First and most importantly, what is the value of other homes in your neighborhood and area in comparison to yours?

Given the economic climate, a consultation with a realtor might make sense. But, in general, if your on the lower end of home values, then you can theoretically put more money back into your home with less risk of affecting your return on investment. However, if your home is towards the top tier of relevant home values, it may make less sense to invest heavily.

One caveat though: Homeowner’s who plan to stay in their homes for a long period of time, or forever, should worry less about about the return on investment. Not that it isn’t important, rather most will forego a return to make their homes comfortable and suitable for their family and their lifestyle…i.e. the way they live in their home and the amenities that make staying worthwhile.

In many cases, when compared to building a new home or buying an existing home, it is still more affordable to remodel to get what you want and need to stay in your current home. More so the case when a good chunk of the existing mortgage is paid down.

Repairing scratches in hardwood floors

Question: Is there any way to remove a scratch from hardwood floors? – Michael Crowles

Answer: You can repair scratches in hardwood with the use of a touch-up kit for urethane finishes as supplied by the hardwood manufacturer. If the scratches are more severe you may need to replace the entire board. If there are numerous scratches throughout the floor, a polyurethane top dressing could be applied over the entire floor. This process is similar to that of waxing a sheet vinyl floor. Again, this may have limitations for hardwood that has severe damage. In some instances a full sand and refinish may be the only answer to removing and repairing the scratch.

Can I convert a crawlspace to a basement to create more space?

Question: “Do you add basements to a home? I am currently on a crawl space and want to add some square footage to my home. Would love some suggestions. I am in Greenwood.” – Jane from Greenwood.

Answer: Hi Jane. Yes, it can be done. However, it is a rare project! Most of the time, the work involved in creating a basement beneath an existing part of your home is cost-prohibitive. It is usually cheaper to create more space by adding an addition, or reconfiguring existing space within the home.

How to clean your tile grout

Question: How do I clean the grout between my tiles? – Jim Kennedy

Answer: Hi Jim, thanks for the question. And it’s a popular one! Here are the steps to take to clean your tile grout, brought to you by the Indianapolis home experts, Gettum Associates Inc.

  1. Step 1: While cleaning (steps 3 through 5), be sure to wear rubber or latex gloves and safety goggles, and throw open the windows to avoid exposure to the harsh chemical fumes of bleach-containing solutions.
  2. Step 2: Spray on a commercial grout cleaner or a heavy-duty all-purpose cleaning solution with bleach. Wait for several minutes
  3. Step 3: Scrub the grout with a stiff scrub brush or a grout brush, then rinse thoroughly.
  4. Step 4: Blast mold, mildew or stubborn stains with a bleach-containing cleanser, or make your own using 1/4 cup (2 fl oz/60 ml) chlorine bleach and 1 qt. (32 fl oz/1 l) warm water. Let the disinfectant sit at least 10 minutes to thoroughly kill the mold and mildew.
  5. Step 5: Scrub the grout with a stiff brush or a grout brush, rinse, then dry with a white towel or paper towels.

What is the best way to clean my propane BBQ grill?

Question: I’m getting ready to retire my propane grill for the season. Can you tell me the best way to clean it? – Mark Handley

Answer: Begin by making sure that the grill’s controls are in the “off” position. Next, close the propane tank valve and disconnect it from your grill. Next combine hot water and a common liquid dish soap designed for cutting grease. Remove the grill racks and soak in the water solution for 30 minutes. Use a soft cloth soaked in the solution to remove built-up grease from the burners. Scrape the inside walls clean with a sturdy spatula. To finish, use a wet-dry vacuum to remove the debris and solution from your grill. Once the grill is completely dry, you’re ready to store it for the season.

How often should I clean my chimney

Question: How often should I have my chimney swept? I have a 5-year-old chimney and use it mostly on weekends during the winter months. – Jason Hill

Answer: Jason, according to professional chimney sweeps, it’s a good safety habit to have your chimney inspected annually. Your inspection should tell you if your chimney needs cleaning AND if your chimney needs repairs.

Why? (further info)

Read more on the CSIA (Chimney Safety Institute of America) website here.

How to repair drywall holes from your towel bars

Question: After the towel bar in my bathroom had become loose, I attempted to tighten the screws but found that the large drywall plugs had created dime-sized holes. How do I repair the holes in a manner that will allow me to re-hang the bar in the same spot? – Mandy

Answer: Hi Mandy, thank you for your question. This is a commonly needed repair. Over time from use, wall anchors can pull out, leaving holes. The best way to make the repair is to cut out the drywall around the hole and install backing (scrap lumber works well!) between the studs. Repair the drywall but cutting a “patch” from a scrap piece of drywall. Install mesh reinforcing tape at the seams, if necessary, and fill with drywall compound. Let the compound dry and sand smooth. Then, you can prime and paint the repaired area with paint to match. Now, you can reattach the towel bar by screwing directly through the drywall and into the backing material. Not only have you have fixed the hole, your towel bar will remain tight to the wall over time. Good luck!

Having trouble flushing your toilet?

Question: Help! I am having trouble with my toilet flushing. The water is high in the bowl and I have to use a plunger every time we flush -Lauren

Answer: If you have other toilets in the house that are not experiencing the same problem, then the problem is likely with that particular toilet. If the toilet is older than 10 years old, there could be lime build-up in the passageway, restricting the flow of water, or there could be an object (such as a child’s toy, bottle cap, toothbrush, etc.) lodged in the trap of the toilet. In order to remove an object from a toilet it usually has to be taken out and turned upside down in order to get access to the obstruction. If the problem came on suddenly, it’s probably an object in the toilet. If the problem came on slowly, it is more likely lime build-up.

You can try and find a product to “clean out” the lime build-up, or you may wish to consult with a plumber. If you have an aging toilet that is slowly becoming hard to operate a toilet replacement may be a wise choice. If your handy, you can even install the toilet yourself!

How often should a deck be cleaned and how long does a sealant last?

Question: I’d like to make sure that I’m on the right maintenance schedule for my deck. How often should I have it cleaned and how long does sealant last? – Bob Ryan

Answer: That’s a great question Bob. Many people realize too late that without proper maintenance the lifespan of your deck can be surprisingly short. First let me say that spring, summer, and fall are typically the best time for deck maintenance. The key factor is temperature.

Almost all deck preservative products cure and dry properly when the temperature is at least 50 degrees. Cleaning and sealing your deck depends on climate, weather, and sun exposure. Decks in the direct sunlight tend to fade and dry out. Decks in humid and shady areas may grow algae and fungus spores. Both problems require attention yearly, or no later than two seasons apart. One additional factor to consider is your choice of products. Having your deck cleaned and sealed with quality products will help prolong your enjoyment of your outdoor getaway.

Questions about concrete problems

Question: I recently put in a new concrete walkway. Are there common problems I should be aware? If so, how can I repair them? – Don G.

Answer: There are a few common concrete problems:

  • Sunken concrete is caused by erosion of the sub-base. The best solution for this is to have a contractor raise the concrete surface and inject fresh concrete underneath it.
  • Frost heaving is most common in cold climates. It is when the cold forces concrete pieces off the ground. The best solution is to remove the damaged pieces and restore the sub-base adding an asphalt board to keep the new concrete sections from attaching to each other.
  • Cracks or surface deterioration are the most common problems. However, both can sometimes be repaired. Fill small cracks with concrete caulk and for large cracks, use a vinyl-reinforced patching product. As for surface deterioration, this problem is completely widespread with the weakening of the concrete; the best solution to this would be resurfacing, if possible. In some cases, a thin layer of fresh concrete (or an overlay) can be poured over the existing surface.

How to remove toilet stains

Question: I have ugly water stains in my toilet. Can you suggest a solution for removing them? – Michelle Stewart

Answer: There are several commercial, products that would do the trick. However, there are other, eco-friendly solutions that can be done with simple, inexpensive products rather than harsh chemicals. Follow the steps below.

Steps to clean stains from a toilet-

  1. Drain the water from your toilet bowl
  2. Pour a 2 liter of cola the affected area and allow it to set for 4-6 hours
  3. Use a pumice stone to scrub away the loosened deposits. The pumice stone should not scratch the surface as long as you do not scrub too hard.
  4. If deposits or stains remain, simply repeat these simple steps until they are gone.

Fix knocking water pipes

Question: I hear a knocking in my water pipes whenever someone uses the bathroom located in my basement. Can you offer any tips I can try before I call in a plumber? – Marv Lowe

Answer: Marv you can try turning off the main water valve in your house. Be sure to do this when all plumbing is in the off position of your home; shutting off the main water valve will stop any water from entering your home.

Next, turn on all of the faucets and flush every toilet in your home to drain the plumbing. Do this for as long as it takes to stop any water from coming out. When you are certain everything has been drained as dry as possible, shut off all of the faucets.

Then go back to your main valve and very slowly turn it back on. The knocking sound should be eliminated, because you have allowed the air compression chambers to refill with air.

I have an old hardwood floor. What are my refinishing options?

Question: I have a wood floor that is showing its age. What are my options? -Sharon McKenna

Answer: Hi Sharon – It depends on what the type of flooring. The traditional method is to sand off the old finish and then refinish. Sometimes this is the best solution, but is a multi-day project with significant dust and odor. It depends on the type of floor you have.

The options are:

  • Real Wood – This can be sanded, but there is a limit. Each sanding takes 10 to 15 years off the life of the floor. Even though the boards are usually 3/4” thick, once 1/4” is sanded off, the tongue and grove joints and nails are exposed. If you are not the original owner, it can be hard to determine how much sanding a floor has left.
  • Veneered Floor (engineered hardwood flooring)- These are very popular now, and are a quality floor. Since it is a thin hardwood veneer, it can only be sanded once at most. Engineered, prefinished hardwood flooring has an advantage over solid wood in that they are more dimensionally stable (ie less effected by changes in temperature and humidity).
  • Laminates-These are not wood at all and sanding is not an option. You will have to replace your floor.

Questions about cleaning granite countertops

Question: I am so tired of using soap and water on my granite, it takes forever to clean and remove the soapy film. I’d love a cleaner that I can “spray and wipe” for dried food spills, etc. I am starting to hate my granite because it is so high maintenance. Thanks in advance for any suggestions.

Answer: You can find cleaners specifically designed for granite countertops in home improvement stores, such as Menards, Home Depot or Lowes or consult with the supplier of your countertops for their recommendations.

Also, don’t forget to periodically seal your granite and other stone countertops to avoid any potential staining from foods and liquids.

Water in my crawlspace

Question: I have a problem with water in my crawl space. I am wondering if I could just convert it to a full basement to fix the water and my small space problem?

Answer: Hi Brandon, Thank you for your question. Honestly, from a cost perspective, you will be better off addressing the water issues in your crawlspace. At the very least, you will need to install a sump pump in your crawlspace to deal with the water issues. A local, reputable plumber should be able to accomplish this. It is the least costly way to control the problems you are having.

That being said, you can certainly convert a crawlspace to a basement but it may not be cost effective. Not only is digging a basement below a crawlspace a labor intensive proposition, but you also have to provide a stairway somewhere in the existing home to get down to the space which will cost additional money. However, if your family needs the additional space, and a room addition either out the first floor, or up above with a new second story addition does not make sense, then yes, a basement may be the solution. Just beware that this can be more costly than the previously proposed solutions.

Ceiling fan direction advice

Question: I was told that I should change the direction that my ceiling fans spin in during cooler months. Since I’ve never done this I’m not sure in which they should be set to spin. – Ashley Leftwich

Answer: Hi Ashley. Thank you for your question.

Today, ceiling fans are a common fixture in most homes. Spinning counterclockwise, they move air around the room. Not all energy experts feel it’s a good idea to use them in the heating season (doubters says they cool the air too much), but the fans do help bring heated air down to earth in rooms with cathedral or high-sloped ceilings. However, that’s only if you slide the reversing switch on the side of the motor housing to the winter (clockwise) position. Then run the fan at its lowest speed. If you can’t reverse the blade rotation or if you think the fan is cooling off the room too much, leave it off.

Get in Touch With the Gettum Associates Team

Have any more questions about remodeling and home improvement? Let us know!

If you’re interested in remodeling your home, but you’re not sure where to begin, our design/build services and home design expertise is the place to start. Get in touch with us today to arrange a design consultation, or give us a call at 1-317-888-5681.

If you’re ready to get started on your renovation project, you’ll want to download our guide: Seven Questions to Ask When Choosing a Remodeler in the Indianapolis Area.

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