Four reasons why some bricks have three holes

Q: In looking at a house being built down the street, I notice that the bricks have three holes that go completely through. Why?

A: Several reasons:

1. Holes save raw materials for the manufacturer.

2. The holes make the bricks weigh less.

3. Holes allow a consistent heat distribution throughout the brick when it is cooking in the kiln, resulting in a thorough and even cure.

4. Most important, the holes allow the masonry structure to be built more securely. The brick is turned during construction (you won't see the holes on the finished product) allowing mortar to fall inside. These holes, filled with mortar provide a "keyway," locking one brick to the next. The holes can also accommodate rebar if needed.

Q: At your urging, I have been cleaning my forced-air electric wall heaters, one by one. They are filthy, and I cannot find a really good technique. Any ideas?

A: First step: Turn the thermostat down, then turn the power off at the circuit breaker. Then remove the heater cover. From there, I like to shop-vac the heaviest dirt out of the way first.

Then, I take a toothbrush and scrub the coils, fan and housing. A toothbrush also works well for cleaning bathroom exhaust-fan blades.

After cleaning a fan last weekend, and sealing the housing tightly, I was baffled why I got no airflow out the external vent. The external flapper was working and not painted shut. What could the problem be? After removing the vent cover, I discovered that a toothbrush also works well at pulling birds' nests out of vent pipes.

Tune in to the Tile Doctor

After 40 years of doing something, almost anything, you tend to get real good at it. For example, I've been breathing for nearly four decades, and consider myself quite accomplished.

Hank Visser has been laying tile for 40 years, and his abilities are in much wider demand than mine. Visser, who calls himself "Hank The Tile Doctor," recently released two tile-installation videos on VHS and DVD.

Tile installation is truly an art, and Visser provides an inside look into what it takes. Designed for novices, but useful for those with some experience, the series is satisfyingly complete.

The first 90-minute video covers preparation, layout, tile cutting and installation, followed by grouting. His second 60-minute video concentrates on the installation of a mudset shower pan. Some information on tile selection, tools and materials is also included.

Visser is not a Hollywood-type reading a script; you can definitely see this is genuine experience at work, and not acting. No flashy MTV-like graphics, no crazy camera angles, just straight-ahead information. He talks while he works, describing his actions as he goes.

Visser makes no promises that you can be a professional tile-setter by watching the video and goes so far as to tell the viewer in no uncertain terms (regarding showers), "A leak could be more costly than the money you could save by attempting to do it yourself."

The video could use a bit more information on material choices. Visser fails to mention that ¼-inch tile backer board sold in home-improvement stores is not a good substrate material for anything other than countertops, as it is so flexible compared to ½ inch. (He agreed with me in our correspondence that ¼-inch material should never be used for shower walls despite marketing to the contrary.)

A properly installed shower should last at least one human's lifetime, if not many more, according to Visser. I hope his videos will help some do-it-yourselfers achieve that goal.

Visser provides e-mail consultation to his video buyers. The videos sell for $14.95 and are available online at or by mail at 20268 Maple Street, Lake Ann, MI, 49650. Fax is 231-275-3116.

Darrell Hay answers readers' questions. Call 206-464-8514 to record your question, or e-mail Sorry, no personal replies.