September 7, 2013
Dear Ken: My mother hired a roofer to put a new roof on the house. It now leaks badly. We also found out that the guy we hired does not have a license, and he just filed for bankruptcy. I would appreciate your input. - Mark
Answer: I'm sorry for your travails, but your question may help others to avoid a similar fate. There's not much you can do now - even suing in small claims court probably won't get you relief from a bankrupt company.
Here's what I wish you had done. It's vital to look at three documents when you're hiring someone to work on your house. They must have a valid contractor's license plus workers' compensation and liability insurance.
Ask to see the pocket card that accompanies the license (or call the building department for verification) and ask for certificates of insurance before the job starts.
If there's the slightest hesitation, go on to another company. Your neighbors' recommendations plus a Google ad indicating longevity in the area are also good cues for you to follow.
When we suffer large casualty losses - like the recent hail storms along the Front Range - some unscrupulous companies (sometimes called "storm chasers") descend on us. These companies you've never heard of can be bad news. If you see out-of-state license plates or easily-removable magnetic signs, move on to a local company.
Dear Ken: Our water heater warranty is about to expire. Should we extend it? They want $61 for two years or $107 for a three-year extension. - Joyce
Answer: I'm not a big believer in extended warranties. The manufacturer has done the math, and so the statistics are stacked against you. Two problems here: Water heaters, if they're going to fail, usually do so after eight to 10 years or so. Also, you can buy a new one in a box at the home center for about $300. So, why spend a third of that money to protect against an event that's pretty unlikely anyway.
Dear Ken: I hear a popping sound coming from the water heater. Does this mean it's about to quit on me? - Dirk
Answer: I wouldn't worry. Noises inside the water heater as you describe are simply effervescing points centered around small mineral deposits inside the tank. Their porous surfaces encourage the water to "boil" and create bubbles.
That noise - which sounds to me like a tea pot getting ready to whistle - is usually an indication that your water is hard (it contains excessive calcium and magnesium ions). A water softener might help you and so would draining the tank once a year.
Other common water heater sounds are similar hissing and popping noises caused by condensing water droplets. Burning gas produces a little vapor as a byproduct. When the burner first fires up, that moisture condenses on the cold chimney pipe, falls back on to the burner and pops. These sounds disappear after a few minutes.
Dear Ken: My folks have an older "octopus" type heating system and furnace in a crawl space. If I insulate the ducts, am I risking freezing the pipes? - Ken
Answer: Probably not. There still will be some residual heat radiating from the system no matter how effectively you insulate. Make sure that you plug up any holes to the outside air that could jeopardize the water pipes. If you're still concerned, buy some split Styrofoam pipe insulation (very cheap) that you can snap over each pipe run.
It's always a good idea to bleed a little warm air into the crawl space from one of the ducts. A heating contractor can easily design and install a movable, manual damper and small pipe cut into a vent pipe near an exterior wall.
Finally, if these old ducts are sealed with pipe tape containing asbestos, make sure you resolve that issue first. You can seal over the tape with an appropriate paint (my preference), or you can hire a mitigation company to remove it. Contact the health department or visit www.epa.gov for more information.
Ken Moon is a homebuilder-turned-home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show, "Around the House," is carried on KRDO, AM 1240 and FM 105.5, at 9 a.m. Saturdays. Go to aroundthehouse.com to contact Moon.