Dear Ken: I have a 60-year-old toilet that I don't want to replace, but I can't get the flapper valve to quit leaking. Can you help me? -Dan
This is a classic symptom in older toilet tanks. The edges of that big hole under the flapper get scarred and chipped over the years by sediment in the water supply. So, instead of just the rubber flapper, you need a kit that also contains a new valve seat – the part that the flapper valve settles into. My favorite is the FluidMaster brand. You'll see a shrink card that contains a (usually) orange flapper and a metal ring.
The rest is easy. You turn the water off and dry out the tank with a big sponge. Then clean around the rim of the hole and let it dry for an hour or so. It's tempting to use a hair dryer, but I wouldn't take that risk as it might end up cracking the tank.
Then you simply press the valve and seat (the metal ring) in place with the putty ring included in the kit. Once you're done, you can test the installation by adding some food coloring in to the tank. If, after a half hour or so, the bowl water is clear, then give yourself a pat on the back.
Dear Ken: I have a bat infestation in the attic. I've been given a $3,100 quote to remove the dirty insulation and sanitize the attic. Does that sound right? -Karen
It sounds high, so I would get a couple more estimates. The first thing, of course, is to plug up the hole through which they are intruding. Keep in mind that bats – like mice and cockroaches – can collapse themselves to creep in through incredibly small holes. The most likely place to look is around the air vents. If the screens are torn, there's you problem. Make sure the animal control technician searches for babies before he repairs the holes.
The smell of bat guano, if there's enough of it, can creep inside your bedrooms; especially if the droppings have slid down inside interior walls cavities. They can contain histoplasmosis – a fungal infection which is usually not fatal – that can cause flu-like symptoms. Clean up is a little complicated, but usually involves bagging up the droppings and affected insulation and then disinfecting the entire space. The good news is that the attic air and interior household air masses are separate, so if the technician misses a little contamination, it’s no big deal.
You should research this enough yourself so you become an "expert" in the lingo and procedures. Google has hundreds of entries for "bat infestation," but I like to start at the colostate.edu (Colorado State) website. Drill down until you reach the household pest section.
Ironically, many homeowners – especially in old houses – have bats in their belfries, but don't even know it. However, now that you do, it's important to get this done, since you will have to disclose it anyway if you sell the house.
Dear Ken: I had a contractor tell me that it's okay to vent the bath fan into the attic and not through the roof. Do you agree? -Chris
Technically, no. In most building department jurisdictions, new rules require them to be vented directly outdoors. But not that long ago, you were allowed to run that three-inch metal duct vertically and point it directly at the underside of a roof vent. That way the moist air can quickly escape. It's a good system, because it doesn't require poking a hole through the roof, which can quickly become a leak source.
To avoid drip-back into the bathroom, use insulated ducting and create a flat spot in the ducting just after it leaves the fan. That will trap condensed moisture and let it evaporate before it can do any damage.
Keep in mind that this scheme applies only to bath fans. Kitchen vents, because of their high grease and smoke output, must be vented outside. Ditto for dryers. Their lint and moisture can induce mold and plug up the furnace.