Dear Ken: The sink drains in our master bedroom emit a sour odor every summer. I have tried mixtures of bleach and powered detergent with no success. Do we just have to live with it? Kirsten
Answer: Not necessarily. Sometimes, ordinary drain cleaners aren't enough. Lavatory piping can trap long strands of hair, dental floss and other material, which siphons water from the trap between uses. That is, it creates a path for water to creep up and out of the P-trap and down into the main line. Once that trap is open, sewer gasses can waft into the sink.
The cure isn't chemical; it's mechanical. Pull the popup stopper out of the drain and poke out all that trapped gunk with a screwdriver. This is also a good time to ream out the pipe leading into the walls. Use a plumber's "snake" for this operation. It's a long coil spring that you insert into the drain pipe and twist with a built-in handle to scour the insides.
One other oft-neglected source of lavatory odor is that little overflow hole; it's up under the front lip of the sink and sometimes can inadvertently trap material that was supposed to go down the drain. To clean it out, use a turkey baster to blast plenty of hot, soapy water down the hole.
Dear Ken: I am installing a pull-down set of stairs in my garage. I heard you talking about the fire protection required. Are the stairs a problem? John
Answer: They are. In virtually every house built over the past 60 years, the walls and ceiling between the house and garage have been required to include a layer of special, thicker-than-normal sheetrock to add fire protection between the spaces. The garage poses a little more fire danger, which can be exacerbated by the presence of gasoline, paint and other flammables. So the "fire wall," as it's called, slows transmission of the flames into the living space for a few extra minutes until firefighters arrive.Any holes in this surface, such as your pull-down stair opening, disrupt this barrier.
You can reinstate the breach by adding that sheetrock layer, usually five-eighths of an inch thick, on the plywood underside of the stairs. Then add a "picture frame" of 2-by-4s around the edges of your new opening to protect the attic trusses.
Houses that have a furnace heat vent or two opening into the garage pose a problem. This not only violates the fire protection, but also represents a big safety hazard. Fumes - most notably carbon monoxide - can get sucked into the heating system through the vents. So they should be permanently sealed.
Dear Ken: Tell me about aluminum wiring issues. How do I tell if I have it in my house? Jerry
Answer: During the Vietnam War, when copper prices went through the roof, many electricians switched to then-cheaper aluminum cabling. What we didn't know then was that the stuff may loosen at the connection and in rare cases can cause a fire. If your home was built between roughly 1965 and 1975, have an electrician check your circuit breaker panel. They will remove the cover and look for single-strand gray wires.
The repair is pretty simple. The electrician will attach small "pigtails" of copper wire to the ends of the aluminum conductors and then attach the copper directly to the outlets and switches. When the work is done, have the company give you a letter saying the repairs were completed and the wiring is now safe.
Dear Ken: I'm ready to move out of my apartment. What's the best way to patch holes in the drywall? Rebecca
Answer: The lightweight, acrylic spackling compounds are a do-it-yourselfer's dream. They go on in one coat and don't shrink. Gouge out any loose material and apply it with your fingertip flush with the wall. You can even dabble it with some wet paper towel to match the textured surface. Let the spackling dry overnight before sanding and painting, and, incidentally, if you spill any of the stuff on the carpet, let it dry before vacuuming.
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. Visit aroundthehouse.com