Dear Readers: The heating season is just around the corner so this is the ideal time to schedule that furnace checkup. Why? When the first cold snap hits, the heating and air conditioning companies get swamped with requests to light pilots and to clean and service heating systems. You'll have to get in line then and may not be able to schedule a visit when it's most convenient for you. There’s also enough warm weather left so the technician can check the central air system. If you combine the two services, you’ll realize big savings compared to the cost of two separate trips.
Every heating system – whether forced air or hot water boiler – should be checked out by a licensed heating contractor before winter gets here. This is a good annual habit to establish, even for newer homes, because theoretically any furnace can fail at any time. Plus, a well-adjusted furnace will use less fuel and save you big bucks over our long heating season.
I've seen special prices advertised for this checkup for as low as $69, although the average is probably closer to $90 or so. Interview your company to make sure – at a minimum – that they will vacuum out the cabinet, adjust the burners if needed, check the electricity loads, inspect the heat exchanger, do a carbon monoxide check and provide a new filter.
Speaking of the season, I want to once again urge you to protect your air conditioning condensing unit in the winter. You can buy a plastic cover with an elastic cord for about $15 at discount or hardware stores. Make sure you shut off the main breaker to the A/C system after you cover it.
Dear Ken: I have some oil spots on the driveway I need to remove. You've mentioned this before on the radio, but I can't remember the details. -Toni
I've gotten dozens of suggestions over the years, so here a few of my favorites. First, the stains need to be dissolved. I like the idea of applying mineral spirits (paint thinner) or Goof Off liberally to the stain, followed by some ground-in kitty litter to absorb the dissolved stain. You may have to repeat this two or three times. Some folks swear by a simple application of full-strength liquid dishwashing detergent or one of the jelly-like hand cleaners used by auto mechanics.
In any event, the next step is to power wash or scrub the stains with hot water and a strong water detergent, like TSP – available at hardware stores. There may be a faint, residual stain left on the surface. You can hide it by sprinkling on a little powdered cement. Scrub it with a stiff-bristled broom to complete the job.
If you have a favorite oil stain solution you think I might want to know about, please send it through my web site, www.aroundthehouse.com.
Dear Ken: We are finishing the basement into about a 600 square foot room. How many heat vents do we need? -Melissa
At the very least, you should install one over each door and window opening on the outside walls, since that's where most of the heat loss occurs. Four or five total vents would be about right, but that depends on several factors – the most important of which is how many of the room's walls are exposed to exterior temperatures. I would leave the calculation to the company that performs your annual furnace check and service.
Don't forget return air. The main reason basements are cold in the winter is the lack of or positioning of return air grilles. They should be at floor level so the heat gets pulled across and down into the room. Many builders provide ceiling return airs as a temporary measure. They should be blocked off when you finish the basement and replaced with low intakes. If not, the room will have a nice, warm ceiling, but you'll be shivering at floor level.