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Prep concrete for tile.

The vinyl tile in my basement is in bad shape, and I want to replace it with either ceramic or porcelain. How do I get the old tile off and prep the concrete for new tile?


Popping off the old tile is fairly easy--just use a heavy scraper and elbow grease. Then attack the adhesive with a razor scraper (Photo 1). Scrape up as much adhesive as possible, keeping the blade sharp with a sharpening stone as you go. If the adhesive is hard and brittle, use a chopping motion to break it up. Then scrape again. Even then, some of that old adhesive may be impossible to remove. If you can't get it all off, don't worry. Newer latex-modified thin-set can be applied right over the small amount that remains.


After you scrape off the adhesive, touch the floor to see if there are any sticky areas. Use a chemical adhesive remover on those parts. Find one in the flooring department at home centers.


Next, locate all the cracks. You'll have to prime those areas and cover them with a peel-and-stick crack prevention mat (also called anti-fracture or crack isolation membrane; Photo 3) before you lay the new tile (Crack Buster Pro is one brand; a 12-in. x 25-ft. roll is $30). Skip this step and we guarantee your new tile will crack right over the cracks in the concrete.


Cut the membrane so it's 1-1/2 times the width of your tiles. Then prime the concrete (see Photo 2) with the recommended solution (consult the membrane manufacturer's literature). Let the primer dry, and then apply the membrane (Photos 3 and 4).


With the cracks patched, apply a latex-modified, crack-resistant thin-set (MegaLite is one brand). Then move on to the fun part, the tile setting (see Photo 5). To find a dealer for Crack Buster Pro and MegaLite, go to (800-272-8786).

Ceiling fan remote retrofit

I have an old ceiling fan and light that operates via pull chains. Can I retrofit it with a remote control?

Probably. There are many "universal" remote kits on the market ($20 to $80). All of them feature on/off and fan speed control. Others also offer light-dimming and thermostatic control capabilities. But whether you can use a kit depends on the amount of free space inside the fan canopy.

Many "ceiling hugger"-style fans have enough free space for the receiver. But "down-rod" styles may not. Shut off the circuit breaker to the fan and lower the canopy (use a voltage sniffer to make sure the power is really off). Check the fit of the receiver before you commit to wiring it in permanently. Keep your receipt just in case.

With the power off, connect the hot and neutral wires to the "AC-in" wires on the receiver. Then connect the three remaining wires to the fan and light (they're labeled by the manufacturer).

If you have neighbors nearby, you may have to change the frequency on the transmitter and receiver to prevent you or your neighbors from controlling one another's fans (see Photo 2).


Most floor tiles made from the 1920s to the 1960s contain asbestos and require special procedures for removal. If you're unsure about yours, remove a tile and send it to a local asbestos abatement firm for testing. If it tests positive, follow these asbestos abatement procedures. Seal off the area with poly sheeting. Wear an asbestos-rated respirator. Change clothes before moving into a "clean" area. Clean the entire room with a damp cloth before removing the sheeting. Follow your local environmental codes for disposal. For more information, search the Internet for "removing asbestos tiles."


Marble-friendly putty

I have a cultured marble sink and had to replace the faucet and drain. The plumber used silicone to set them in place and it was a nightmare to get them off. Why didn't he use plumber's putty?


Ordinary plumber's putty contains oil that stains cultured marble, granite and other porous stone surfaces. Some plumbers use 100 percent silicone to set the faucet and drain and avoid the staining issue. But as you've discovered, one downside to silicone is that it's also an adhesive. You can buy a plumber's putty that is compatible with cultured marble and other porous materials. A 14-oz. tub of Stay Put Ultra plumber's putty costs $7.50 at


Does natural gas really destroy copper?

In our Oct. '09 issue (p. 51), we showed readers how to connect natural gas appliances using copper tubing. Barely a week passed before the angry letters poured in. Each was more vehement than the one before, telling us we had committed a life-threatening error by recommending copper hookups. The letters, which came from plumbers and gas company employees, maintained that natural gas should never be run in copper pipe--it must be run in steel (black pipe). They warned us that the corrosive components of natural gas can lead to leaks, explosions and, at the very least, appliance failure.


Their claims had some basis in fact 50 years ago when gas utilities drew their supplies from local wells and piped gas untreated into homes and businesses. But today, almost all natural gas in the United States and Canada is obtained from large pipeline networks. The gas in those pipelines has been treated at the wellhead or at the refinery to remove the corrosive hydrogen sulfide. This gas does NOT present a safety risk when used with copper tubing, yet the terrifying legend lives on. TFH readers should know that copper tubing is approved for gas by the National Fuel Gas Code (NFPA 54), Uniform Plumbing Code, Uniform Mechanical Code, and the International Association of Plumbing and Mechanical Officials. It has been in use in many states for more than 35 years with no safety issues.


Despite all the evidence to the contrary, some state and local building codes continue to ban the use of copper as a material for gas. Because local codes always trump national and international codes, you must obey them. Meanwhile, it's time for the 50-year-old myths and legends to die.

by Rick Muscoplat
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Title Annotation:QUESTION & COMMENT
Author:Muscopla, Rick
Publication:The Family Handyman
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Feb 1, 2010
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