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Quick tips for savings

If you have asked yourself why your toilet is leaking, then here's how to find out if it's the flapper -- the rubber stopper at the base of the tank.

Open your toilet tank and add about 3 drops of food coloring. Wait about 45 minutes to see if the food coloring shows up in the bowl. If it does, then your flapper is in fact leaking and should be replaced. Here's the kicker. Once you've changed the flapper, perform the food coloring test again. If the coloring still gets into the bowl then you will want to wipe down the flapper seat located at the toilet tank throat. Use a nylon scouring pad or 0000 (fine) steel wool and do the test again. If a leak test shows that the leak persists install a new flapper seat. Total cost is about $12 for everything and should take about 10 minutes (work time) to replace.

In winter you may have to use your clothes dryer more frequently than you do during the summer when you can hang many items outside. Be safe -- clean out your dryer vent system. It's easy! All you need is a leaf blower. Move the dryer away from the wall so that you can access the duct and use your leaf blower to give the lint a push. Next, go outside to the exhaust port and use the blower in reverse to suck out everything that's left. Some dryers will collect lint between the drum and the dryer cabinet. By removing either the top of the cabinet or the back -- or both -- it should be easy to inspect and clean the interior. The total cost: 50 cents for electricity and about 45 minutes of your time.

A leaky faucet is never fun, but the leak may not be as bad as you think. Faucets have three basic types of leaks. One leak comes through the tip of the faucet; another leak shows up at the valve(s); and yet another will show up at the base of a spout that swivels. Each leak requires a different repair. You may have one of the easy ones to repair. Here are the three -- from easiest to most difficult:

*Leak at base of swivel spout. A swivel spout usually protrudes through a nut that attaches to the faucet body. Once the nut is removed the spout also can be removed and one or two O-rings can be replaced that reside at the base of the spout. Any corrosion should be removed before adding the new seals. A little O-ring lubricant will result in a longer lasting repair. Cost is about $4 and the task including cleaning can take up to a half hour.

*Handle leak. Whether the faucet has one handle or two, a leak at a handle means that the packing material or washer needs replacement. The repair is simple. First, remove the handle, which can sometimes be tricky. Faucet manufacturers like to hide the handle screw. The screw is often hidden below a cap at the top of the handle and other times an Allen screw can be found somewhere on the side of the handle. With the handle off, remove the nut immediately below and lift it off the valve stem. The packing material or washer can be found on the underside of the removed nut. Replace with new and reassemble. By the way, these first two repairs can be performed with the water on, but -- just in case -- turn off the valves beneath the sink before beginning the job. The packing material is about $2 and the job takes about 20 minutes.

*A leak from the tip of the faucet. Water dripping from the spout means that the valve assembly is not sealing properly. This repair requires that you turn the water off to the faucet first. For single handle faucets remove the handle (usually an Allen screw hidden at the back of the base of the handle). With the handle removed, unscrew the cap that holds the cartridge in place. In some cases the cartridge can be easily removed. Many modern faucets require a cartridge puller (about $35). Pull and replace the cartridge and reassemble. For two handle faucets remove the handle, remove the packing nut and then remove the valve stem. Replace the packing washer and the washer at the base of the valve stem and reassemble. If the portion of the valve stem that holds the washer is even slightly damaged then completely replace the stem. This project can cost up to $70 for materials and can take an afternoon from start to finish.


James Carey and Morris Carey are nationally recognized experts on home building and renovation.