Bathe Responsibly During the Lockdown

The image of Missouri either got a big boost OR took a big hit last week, depending how you look at it. On one hand, photos from a pool party at the Lake of the Ozarks went viral, showing us to be a fun-loving bunch, and it might have offset those uncool Branson-area billboards featuring the Baldknobbers. But, unfortunately, after the pool party ended, the partiers returned home and went viral themselves.

Lake of the Ozarks Pool Party
Lake of the Ozarks Pool Party

So now we’re all being treated like a classroom where the entire class must be punished for the misbehavior of a few. In this case, the principal is your “County Executive,” who you maybe never even had heard of, and has job responsibilities you probably never understood. That is, until you learned of those unlimited powers to completely control your day-to-day life.

As punishment, we may now be held in detention even longer, delaying when we can send our kids back to school, go to restaurants that are financially viable, and go to bars to re-enact scenes from the Lake of the Ozarks, except without being waist deep in pool water.

As your humble handymen, we at Fix St Louis don’t think it’s our place to make you suffer through yet another one of those overwrought, hand-wringing expressions of sadness and lectures that are now filling your inbox, from folks you never did business with, making you wonder how they got your email address in the first place. But as a public service, just in case the pool partiers’ mistake was that they simply didn’t know of any good options to communal bathing, we would like to share with you what’s available in social distance-compliant bathtubs-for-one.

Alcove Tub

If the name “al-COVE” immediately makes you think of “Party Cove” at Lake of the Ozarks, you may not be ready for today’s lesson. These bathtubs, the most common of all tubs, are almost always 5′ long and are surrounded by 3 walls that form an alcove. Since the tub’s all hemmed-in by walls, there’s not much you can do to upgrade the tub, but you CAN make dramatic changes to those 3 walls, aka the “tub surround.” Wall tiles have gotten a lot more interesting these days. And, if you really hate the dirty and disintegrating grout between the tiles, you can replace the tiled walls with panels of “Onyx,” which is the new cultured marble. Also, if you have separate hot and cold faucet handles, we can change those to a single lever faucet. Fix St Louis can make these upgrades for you.

Alcove Tub
Alcove Tub

Drop-In Tub

If its name makes you think these tubs are for people like you, who want their friends to just come on over, drop-in, and join them in the tub, we can assure you that what happens at Fix St Louis stays in Fix St Louis. Actually, these are tubs that are carefully lowered, NOT dropped, into a platform that we can build for you. Typically, the sides and top ledges of these platforms are made of tiles or that Onyx stuff we mentioned above. Of course, you’ll need a larger than normal bathroom to pull this off, usually a master bathroom.

Drop-In Tub
Drop-In Tub

Standalone Tub

Then, there’s this tub that needs neither to be wedged-in nor dropped in. In the past, most of these tubs had legs, like those “clawfoot” tubs featuring a large bird claw grasping a ball — pretty creepy if you think too much about it. Newer versions come in all kinds of cool shapes, and often don’t have legs. Fix St Louis can install these, too.

Clawfoot Tub
Clawfoot Tub
Other Standalone Tub
Other Standalone Tub

Whirlpool Tubs

Sometimes referred to as Jacuzzi’s, which is actually a brand name, these are tubs that have jets that shoot-out hot water from the sides. Now I know that a lot of folks really like them, and we handymen are not exactly known for our appreciation of luxury items, but given the quality of the “massage” you’re gonna get from a whirlpool tub, your money might be better spent at Massage Envy/Deluxe/Whatever or for a boiling pot filled with round stones from your backyard.

You should know that Fix St Louis hears lots of stories about how excited people were when they first got a whirlpool after spending lots of money, used it only once or twice, then 2 years later, feeling guilty for not having used it since, found it no longer worked because of lack of use. Now, there’s nothing at all wrong with oversized tubs in general, but you might consider whether getting one that also shoots out hot water is worth having another motorized appliance in your house that will eventually fail.

Whirlpool Tub
Whirlpool Tub

Walk-In Tubs

These are bathtubs with doors, mostly for older folks and others who have trouble lifting-up their leg to clear the top of the tub. Maybe there’s a walk-in tub salesperson out there who wants to correct me, but I don’t get the sense that these ever took off, and I think I can guess two reasons why. First, the investment may never pay off for an elderly person with this leg problem because, pardon the expression, they’re just one step away from having to move someplace else because of mobility issues. And second, if you have to wait for all the water to drain out before leaving the tub, aren’t you going to get the chills?

Walk-In Tub
Walk-In Tub

OK class, so please resist the temptation to bathe with others until your all-powerful County Executive releases us from detention. And, if you simply MUST have a bath time companion, try a rubber ducky.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis
314-434-4100

Drain the Cesspool! Bring the Super Bowl to St Louis!

Don’t mind me, please go right ahead to your Super Bowl parties this weekend. Your humble correspondent is saving his energy for a bigger celebration coming as soon as later this year, when a Super Bowl may come to St Louis, courtesy of the federal government.

You see, for decades there have been federal regulations that have forced manufacturers to make toilets work using decreasing amounts of water. And by saying “work” I am being generous, attested to by the presence of a plunger next to just about every toilet Fix St Louis sees nowadays. I dunno, it’s pretty easy to imagine we’re dealing here with a bureaucracy run by know-it-all Ivy League elites, who think they know best about everything, including how to dispose of our waste — and also think theirs doesn’t stink. But, maybe they sincerely believe they’re on a noble mission rather than a power grab to control our every movement, if you’ll pardon the expression.

After all, there are some places in the country, like California, where voters might actually LIKE these blasted water-stingy toilets. Water seems to be scarce there, although it may be by choice. Many live in deserts, and voters have put in place lawmakers who have placed additional restrictions on water usage, halted construction of new reservoirs, and diverted fresh water into the ocean on behalf of fish no one has ever heard of, much less eaten.

But, there are other places, like St Louis, where people have a more water-friendly attitude, who even endure thunderstorms, tornadoes, and flooded basements to get the water they need. If I did my middle school math correctly, every INCH of rain we get in the greater St Louis area provides enough water to flush the toilet of every man, woman, and child 10x per day for 9 years.

If Californians really like these toilets, or even want to regulate them down to the point where they operate on their own SPIT, that’s fine with me. But if St Louis has the water to provide our toilets with enough to do the job without harming others, that should be fine with Californians and everyone else.

If we’re going to be stuck with these low water-capacity toilets, at least you can count on Fix St Louis to fix them. We can solve all the problems they come with by repairing, replacing, and adjusting all of a toilet’s components, whether it is leaking, suffocating from lack of water, or it’s running and won’t stop.

But, we’re excited by the prospect of a new “Super Bowl”, well-functioning toilet coming to town as early as this year. Maybe the type of toilet Americans enjoyed in the 1950’s, a 6-7 gallon tank that unleashes a gusher that takes everything down with it, except for an occasional ashtray the kids threw in – but nobody even has those things hanging around anymore. If America can send a man to the Moon, surely we can send a you-know-what to a sewer lateral.

The reason for our optimism here at Fix St Louis is that the President recently ordered the EPA to review relaxing water regulations on toilets, claiming “people are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times as opposed to once. They end up using more water.” Geez, I don’t know what happens in public rest rooms a billionaire might visit, but the ones I go to don’t have toilets that need to be primed like water well pumps. Nevertheless, I welcome the President’s initiative in what I hope blossoms into a growing “poop-ulist” movement.

Look, I’m just a humble handyman, who can’t match the soaring rhetoric of a Martin Luther King Jr. But I, too, have a dream, when an American can attend a cocktail party at Martha Stewart’s, use the hall bathroom, close the lid, flush, then walk away confidently without ever looking back. Some may say I’m a dreamer, but apparently I’m not the only one.

But until that glorious day arrives, we at Fix St Louis will proudly continue to fix your toilets. Don’t worry about us, we’ll still have plenty of other work to do.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis
314-434-4100

Don’t build that ARK yet! We can keep the water out.

It’s time for someone to name names. Who in the St Louis area invoked God’s wrath, leading to more than 40 days and 40 nights of rain? Could He be THAT MUCH of a Boston Bruins fan? Did the failure of the City-County merger spoil some vast eternal plan? And why instead of a plague of locusts are we seeing these little hoppy green suckers all over the place? They MUST be falling from the sky because not even rabbits can breed that fast!

As handymen, we at Fix St Louis accept it is not for us to answer questions that stump the most learned members of the clergy. But it is well within our calling to deal with the very worldly issue of how to keep these rains of Biblical proportions from entering and damaging your house.

Sump Pumps

Your home may or may not have one, but a sump pump is an electrically-operated water pump mounted in a lid-covered hole in your basement floor. It collects groundwater that gets underneath the perimeter of your house, and pumps it up and out, either back into your yard or into a sewer pipe.

If you’ve got one, make sure it works. If you’re afraid it may stop working in a power outage, Fix St Louis can install a unit with an alarm, a backup battery, or both. If your house has NOT been prepared for a sump pump — that is, it does not have a hidden below-floor channel around the basement floor perimeter and a hole someplace in the concrete floor for the pump itself — it can still be retrofitted to accommodate a sump pump (though not inexpensively).

Foundation Leaks

If you see water coming into your basement from cracks in your concrete foundation or notice that floors near walls are wet, you should do something about it. Fix St Louis can refer you to the real experts in water entering your house – qualified foundation specialists. When their work is done, Fix St Louis can repair the damage created by BOTH them and the water.

Gutters & Downspouts

Gutters and downspouts are designed to direct all the water that hits your roof into drain pipes or onto ground sloped away from your house. Call Fix St Louis if you see water overflowing your gutters, leaking from beneath a gutter, spewing from the bottoms of downspouts that have become disconnected from drain pipes at their bases, or pooling near your house.

Mind the Gaps

If water is entering your house from gaps around windows and doors, call Fix St Louis to replace the caulk, inside and out, and repair the damage to the inside of your home. We can also fill the gaps between concrete patio floors and the house.

Look, I’m just a humble servant to homeowners, not a prophet. But, I’m still going to predict these rains are not a signal we have reached the end times. So, let’s all just wait it out. But thanks to Fix St Louis, you don’t have to wait it out wet.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis
314-434-4100

KOHLER Vortex poses a bigger threat than POLAR Vortex

Yes, last week was outrageously cold. And amazingly, it’s gone from 0 to 60 in four days, oddly similar to your humble correspondent’s first pick-up truck.

But that POLAR vortex was SO January, and now we’ve moved on. TODAY we must continue to grapple with a much greater threat to our daily existence, the disappearing KOHLER vortex. I’m referring to that swirling whirlpool of water you see in the toilet bowl after you flush, which over the years has become weaker and weaker. The result of this has been… well, you know.

Like allegedly so many of our problems, the Kohler Vortex problem is NOT a natural occurrence, but is man-made. More specifically, CONGRESS-man-made. Not satisfied that only 71% of the Earth’s surface is composed of the non-exhaustible resource, water, zealous federal regulators have driven toilet tank capacities way, way down – over the years, from as much as never-need-a-plunger levels of 8 gallons per flush to as little as forever-calling-Fix-St-Louis levels of 8/10 of a gallon per flush.

To be fair, you can’t really blame Congressional leaders like Mitch McConnell or Nancy Pelosi for not seeing this problem from their distant thrones, given that they don’t actually FLUSH, much less PLUNGE, their own toilets. Those functions are handled by unpaid interns.

Fortunately, we are Americans, and Americans will never sit still for tyranny, by toilet or otherwise. Manufacturers and consumers are now standing-up and defending the people’s “business.”

Toilets March On

Yes, it’s true that toilets don’t flush as well as they once did, and an unsightly toilet plunger has become almost mandatory next to every toilet (Martha Stewart, are you listening?). But there’s no question that today’s toilets work a whole lot better than when these federal regulations were first introduced, and they should continue to improve as, hopefully, more college students realize that opportunities in toilet engineering now exceed those in the liberal arts. In the meantime, you should not be scrimping by buying the cheapest toilet. As a rule, you should be selecting from among the best ones you can find that do not have fancy, designey-type styling or bells & whistles you believe to be silly or unnecessary.

Dual Flush Toilets

And speaking of bells & whistles, are you aware that some of the toilets sold have TWO buttons for flushing, one with diminished water flow for #1 and the other at the government-mandated maximum flow for #2? Yeah, at first I thought it was a joke, too, but I’ve actually seen them in person! I don’t get the sense that these have really caught on – after all, it doesn’t make your toilet flush any better. I say, don’t buy one, you’re only encouraging the federal bureaucracy. Who knows? When the regulators dig deeper, just imagine how many classifications of human waste they’ll find? These dual flush toilets might go from 2 buttons to a full keyboard!

Dorothy and her Litte Toilet, Toto

Q. How can you tell if a homeowner owns a Toto toilet? A. Don’t worry, they’ll tell you. These toilets are made by a Japanese company, and they have a reputation for clogging less often. They have been said to have less convoluted piping below, and larger flush valves in the tank. However, Toto competes against at least two VERY strong and innovative companies, Kohler and American Standard. Sooner or later, if not now, I suspect whatever performance difference there is or was will disappear. We are already seeing signs that Toto is becoming just another high quality brand, not that there’s anything wrong with that. You once had to pay up to $1,000, and in many cases MANY thousands, for a Toto toilet, but Home Depot now sells some units with the Toto brand at standard toilet prices. So shop carefully, and beware of the hype.

The Future of Toilets

Looking into my “crystal bowl,” I’m going to predict that someday there will be an electrical outlet behind every toilet. That home inspectors will even write you up if you DON’T have one. These outlets will almost certainly be used for pumps to improve flushing performance in light of the onerous federal water capacity limits, but they will also be used for functions unimaginable, some of which you can see today at the Kohler showroom on Clayton Road west of downtown Ladue. Motion-sensing toilet seats that open when you approach, man-resistant seats that lower automatically when done, foot warmers, music, remote control by Blue Tooth, colored lighting, seat warmers, massagers, checking by smart phone to see if it is “occupied,” bidet-type features, and more. You have no idea.

As we approach the promise of adding electrical power to toilets, surely federal regulators must now be plotting to curb the energy use from those additional electric outlets. Must be frustrating to think they may never get us back to that waterless, powerless outhouse with the cut-out crescent moon.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis
314-434-4100

‘Twas the night after FIXmas. Not a faucet was dripping, not one in the house.

It’s hard to be nestled all snug in your bed, while visions of a flooded basement dance in your head. We get it. Amidst your pre-holiday schedule there arose such a clatter, you had to defer a few home repair matters. Yes, you INTENDED to get those dripping faucets fixed during the pre-Christmas FIXmas season, but that time flew-by faster than Cupid, Donner and Blitzen.

So, why not make your FIRST New Year’s resolution one you can cross-off immediately – a resolution that will give you great tidings of comfort and joy for all of next year. Shutdown that drip-drip-drip on ALL of your faucets. Every last one of them. Not just some phony PARTIAL shutdown like from our perpetually-leaking Federal government, but a REAL TOTAL shutdown.

Kitchen Sinks

Don’t mean to laugh, but it’s funny listening to homeowners describe the stages of denial and grief they go through before they finally accept they need our help to stop their kitchen faucet leak. At first, they try to convince themselves it only happens sometimes, then they convince themselves it will go away by itself. Then they go through a sort-of “bargaining” stage where they put their lever handle through a choreographed set of movements with an unusual ending position to make the dripping stop.

Yes, we can fix those leaks. But honestly, among our happiest customers are those who learn in the process that newer faucets don’t have a separate spray handle because it’s built right into the faucet stem, and as long as we’re out there they’d rather have us install one of those.

Bathroom Sinks

These faucets drip, too, and we can fix them. But could this be a sign from the heavens that it’s time to replace that crummy faucet, which you never much liked in the first place? Folks are often reluctant to call us for this dripping because they think it’s too small a problem to bother a contractor with. Well, that may be true for everyone else, but NOT for Fix St Louis. Remember, we SPECIALIZE in small jobs.

Exterior Faucets

What about those faucets sticking out from the sides of your house, usually low to the ground? These faucets are probably the MOST susceptible to leaks. Not just dripping from the spout, but also spraying all over the place when you turn them on. Sometimes, they even leak within the wall!

The two most common causes of these exterior faucet leaks are: 1) VERY low temperatures freezing the water inside, until it expands and bursts the pipe walls; and 2) Since these faucets tend to be used very rarely, gaskets that have become hard, dried, and compressed, so they no longer do their job.

Sometimes we can fix these faucets from the outside. Other times we can replace them easily with a new frost-resistant faucet if there’s an unfinished room or drop ceiling on the other side. Worst case, we can make the replacement by cutting-into the finished/painted drywall on the inside, then either cover the cut area with a plastic access panel (to make repairs easier the next time) or patch and paint the area. BTW, a specialized plumber, who will not provide one-stop shopping like we do, is more likely to leave you with a hole in your drywall, maybe with the cut piece of drywall screwed back in place. Instead, we’ll leave you with a fully-restored wall – mudded, taped, properly-textured, and painted.

Water Shut-offs

Ever notice those hard-to-reach faucet handles behind your toilets, beneath your sinks, or in various places in your unfinished basement? Sometimes they’re handy if you want to shut-off the water to a particular fixture, but not shut-off all the water in the house. Well, those can drip, too, and Fix St Louis can fix and replace them. Folks seem to like it when we offer to replace them with the new ones that have a lever that just needs a quarter turn to shut it off, instead of turning a circular handle round-and-round-and-round.

Look, we get it. “Faucets that don’t drip” is not the reason for the season. We reluctantly acknowledge that Mariah Carey wouldn’t have gone platinum with “All I Want for Christmas is a Faucet that Doesn’t Drip.” But after all the holiday craziness is all over, and you get around to it, give Fix St Louis a call. You deserve a few silent nights.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis
314-434-4100

Beyonce’s Right: “If you like it, you better put a (wax) ring on it”

While sitting in a Lion’s Choice the other day, daydreaming about leaky faucets, the background music suddenly caught my attention. I couldn’t quite make out the lyrics, but they went something like “if you like it, you better put a wax ring on it”. For a moment, I thought the singer — someone you probably never heard of named “Beyonce” — was speaking only to me, and her words brought back a flush of memories of all the times Fix St Louis had spared our customers further ceiling and furniture damage by changing the wax ring on an upstairs toilet.

So I went online looking for the video, where I watched her dance with 2 OTHER young ladies singing about their eligibility, and ALL of them had tremendous talent. And by “talent” I mean that if this dancing thing doesn’t work out for them, we sure could use their ability to contort their bodies to climb under kitchen sink cabinets to fix drains, slither through crawl spaces, and scamper through attics while stepping only on joists to avoid plunging through the ceiling immediately below. Apparently, the baby in the video below also finds their dexterity remarkable and worth emulating.

Now, not being familiar with Beyonce’s full body of work, I don’t know if her songs cover the full range of causes of ceiling water leaks. So just in case, here are the most likely causes for these leaks that we see at Fix St Louis.

  1. Toilet Wax Rings: As it turns out, the most common cause of leaks from ceilings is, unfortunately, also the most disgusting. So rather than spend any time thinking about what is causing that stain, just call us, and we will take care of that pesky connection between your toilet and the drain pipe beneath it.
  2. Shower & Bath Drains: It’s not uncommon for drain pipe connections beneath showers and tubs to wear out or become misaligned. Sometimes we can fix this from above, but often we need to cut out the ceiling below to pinpoint the problem and replace the plumbing parts. Incidentally, this is the single best reason to hold onto old ceiling paint you’ve used, because after we’ve patched that hole that we needed to cut for access, or primed the stained area, matching new paint to the surrounding ceiling is often nearly impossible, and requires painting the entire contiguous ceiling.
  3. Caulking & Grout: You might think that water is stupid, but actually it’s very smart. It has an uncanny ability to find even the smallest hole to fit through, and the most meandering pathway, in its quest to join you and your family in the room below. So look for holes, cracks, and gaps in that white goop along the ledges & seams of your tub or shower — inside & out. And, don’t forget the base of your toilet. Fix St Louis can plug these up.

These are generally not the types of repairs homeowners can take on themselves. And if you ever had someone in your home try to do caulking, there’s a good chance there’s now a thick, ugly glob of white goop where a narrow white line used to be. So, next time you see a water stain on your ceiling, take Beyonce’s advice — “Say our name, say our name.” When it comes to repairing leaks and restoring drywall, Fix St Louis has all the moves you need.

Dr Steve
Fix St Louis
314-434-4100