Dear Ken: We have a cedar fence and want to protect it. Would you put varnish on it or some other clear coat? - Ed
Answer: Varnish would not be my first choice for this project. It tends to turn sort of a sickly yellow color in the sun, and it will break down into a scaly crust in no time. Ditto for the so-called water sealers. They don't turn ugly like varnish, but they do cook away in the hot sun relatively quickly. I'd choose one of the name-brand deck stains I've recommended. Behr, Penofin or Superdeck are good choices. They contain linseed oil, which will help protect your fence. They, too, come in clear or "natural" finishes, but I'd pick a pigmented version, which will give a little more longevity. Use a cheap, plastic pump sprayer for this application.
Of course, you can always let the fence weather to a natural gray tone - sort of a New England seashore finish. You eventually may decide on this option anyway, since fences at our elevation require recoating virtually every year.
Dear Ken: We would like to put a medium-size freezer in our garage. We are told we need a dedicated outlet for this. Does that mean 110 volts or 220? Is that a good thing to put in our new house? What things run off of 220? - Sherry
Answer: Your freezer needs its own separate 120-volt outlet. The good news is that most electric panels are in the garage, so the wire length - and, hence the expense - will be minimal.
Don't use the existing garage outlets, because likely they are GFCI (ground fault) controlled. These are pretty sensitive circuit breakers that sometimes trip for no apparent reason, such as during especially wet weather, or from a nearby lightning strike. That could ruin a freezer full of food if you're not home to catch it in time.
A three-wire, 240-volt outlet in your garage could be used for professional-grade power tools, such as a table saw, air compressor or welder. Also, folks who are into ceramics use them for their kilns. Those are pretty unusual circumstances, so I wouldn't spend the extra money to have one installed in your new home unless you have one of those specific needs.
Dear Ken: We live in a newer home and are wondering about the floors. They seem to have more spring than they should. Is there a fix for this, or do we have to live with it? - Mike
Answer: This is a common complaint these days. Lumber is expensive, so builders design floor plans using joists to their absolute maximum, permissible free span. Nationally recognized tables for each floor joist type designate the spacing and spans allowed, whether one of the popular pre-manufactured, wood I-beam styles or a regular 2-by-8 or 2-by-10 "real wood" board. Trouble is, those spans allow some flexing of the joists. Even though they aren't going to break or fall down, they can feel a little insecure. The only cure is to provide a wood post support underneath each offending joist or to "sister" another piece of wood alongside. This can be either another board of the same type or a piece of plywood directly glued and screwed to each joist. A handyman service would be a good choice for this work.
Dear Ken: Our air conditioner has sort of a dusty smell when it starts up. It is stronger at first, then weakens. Any ideas about what's causing this? - Angie
Answer: Air conditioning dehumidifies the house air as it cools. That's why you see dribbling from that water line, called a condensate pipe, while the system is running. That moisture tends to accelerate the accumulation of dust in the evaporator coils (sitting on the furnace or air handler box) and in nearby ducts. That may be what you smell. If yours is an older home (say, more than 20 years old), it may help to have a duct-cleaning service ream them out. Also, change your air filters every three weeks during the cooling season.
Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 9 a.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visitaroundthehouse.com