Do It Yourself

By Gene Austin
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Saturday, November 8, 2008

Q: My house is very cold, and I need to get new entry doors in the front and back. Which type of entry door is best: wood, steel or fiberglass? Do I need storm doors, too? -- Anna

A: Steel and fiberglass doors have cores of foam insulation that give them better energy efficiency than wood. Any new entry door you buy is likely to be pre-hung in a frame, making it well sealed around the perimeter and helping to eliminate drafts and heat loss through the gaps that are common with older entry doors.

Steel doors generally cost considerably less than wood or fiberglass, and are considered excellent for security. However, steel doors are subject to scratches and deterioration from weather. Wood doors are usually considered most attractive, but require periodic maintenance, including refinishing.

For these reasons, some homeowners prefer fiberglass doors for long-lasting durability and minimum maintenance.

For best energy efficiency, entry doors should have small glass areas or no glass.

While well-sealed entry doors are a good step toward improving comfort in your home, they won't necessarily solve a cold-house problem. If your heating system hasn't been cleaned and adjusted this year, this should be one of your first steps. Drafty, ineffective windows also are a major cause of heat loss, as is inadequate insulation. If possible, have a professional energy audit performed in your home, or do your own audit. For information on do-it-yourself audits, visit and type do-it-yourself energy audit in the search space.

Q: I had some tile installed in my bathroom, and the grout is too dark. Is there anything I can do to brighten it? -- J. Mounds

A: Grout color can be changed with dye or stain. A wide variety of colors are available at Several color charts are available at this site, and they include many light tones such as white and off-whites. This is epoxy grout stain with prices starting at about $22 for an eight-ounce bottle, which will treat up to 275 square feet of wall or floor tiles. The stain can be applied with a small brush.

If grout stain doesn't solve your problem, the original grout can be removed and replaced with a lighter color. This is tedious work. Do-it-yourselfers generally use a small tool called a grout saw to remove old grout. Latex-modified grouts and the tools needed to apply them are available at tile dealers.

Q: I recently bought a water-pressure gauge and tested my water pressure. I got readings of 110 pounds per square inch. Is this okay? -- D. Selnick

A: Water pressures of 50 to 60 pounds per square inch are considered best for homes, although some experts say 80 pounds per square inch is okay. Excessive water pressure can cause premature wear on faucets, valves and various plumbing fixtures and appliances. It can also cause pipe noises, such as banging, and leaks. An example of a serious leak that might result from high pressure is a burst washing-machine hose; make sure you have metal hoses that can resist high pressures. Your system might not have a pressure-reducing valve, which can correct a high water-pressure. If there is such a valve, it appears not to be working properly. Contact a plumber to verify the water pressure and determine if a reducing valve needs to be installed.

Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to Questions cannot be answered personally.

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