Dear Ken: I'm repainting my daughter's bedroom. She has a bookcase finished with flat latex. Do I need to sand it first or just apply a primer so I can paint it? - Laura
Answer: It's always good to prime before you repaint, especially if you're drastically changing colors. Wash the case with some vinegar and water, rinse and let dry. Then scuff sand a little to break any glaze on the surface. Once it's wiped down, you can apply a couple of coats of a primer/sealer, such as KILZ or Bulls Eye 1-2-3. Lightly sand between each coat with some fine (150 grit) paper. Then you're ready to apply your favorite semi-gloss acrylic latex, interior topcoat.
Some might prefer an alkyd or resin paint system here - what we used to call oil-based. It is a little harder and wear resistant, but it's inconvenient to handle and slow to dry. I prefer the latex, because it's much more easily renewed whenever you need to touch up the bookcase.
Dear Ken: Recently we had a plumber snake out our sewer line. Now we have an unpleasant odor in the shower in the basement bathroom. Anything you know of to eliminate it? - Jim
Answer: It sounds as if he may have pushed unwanted "material" upstream into your basement plumbing lines. You can buy a little drain-cleaning rubber bladder device at the hardware store. It screws to the hose, and when water is run through it, the bladder swells shut, forcing the water downstream into the sewer with great force. Run it into the shower drain you write about - and also the basement floor drain - to push the gunk back into the main sewer line. As for a sweetener, I like a strong pine oil cleaner dumped into the drain. Let it sit for a few hours after you do the purging job.
Dear Ken: We have a 38-year-old furnace that used to have a "basket" filter. Last fall we had our ducts cleaned. At their recommendation, we went to an electrostatic filter. It makes unusual noises, which we never heard before. Do you think we did the right thing? - Eric
Answer: Those basket-type arrangements in old furnaces make you buy, size, cut and install your own filter medium. They are cumbersome and so aren't changed as much as the frame filters we use today. The electrostatic style you mention usually has a built-in metal frame, and that may be banging around inside the blower box. They may have not arranged for a proper holder and restraining wire to keep the filter in one place.
I like the idea of changing to a more modern filter system, but you may need to modify or re-secure the holding frame. Also, I'll bet they sold you a so-called washable filter. I prefer to throw my dirt away, so I encourage you to buy the paper (disposable) variety. The pleated style - usually light blue or white - will cost you about $12 for a three-pack. They trap really tiny particles - much more so than the cheap fiberglass types - and so are the most efficient for the money.
Dear Ken: We would like to finish the attic over our family room and are wondering if it is structurally sound enough. How do we find out? - Dennis
Answer: It depends on the age of the place. Since the early '60s, we've used trusses to support the roof. They're part of an engineered rafter and joist system designed to support themselves, the sheet rock hanging under them and little else. That would mean that your attic needs to remain unfinished.
Older homes, however, have conventional rafters under the roof boards with a self-supporting attic floor joist system. In that case, the attic is mostly open. This older style is much more adaptable to your plans to finish the space, and it sounds as if this is your configuration. All that's needed is to check the free span between bearing points and the size of the joists under the attic floor. The contractor you hire can do this, using simple span tables.