Dear Ken: I can't find the end of one of my long flex downspout pipes. What can I do? -Ted
Stick a hose in the gutter and wait until you see a wet area somewhere out in the yard; it might take 20 or 30 minutes. You're right to be concerned. When the downspout extension pipes get plugged up or buried, it's like having no gutters at all. During our strong summer storms, they will back up quickly, and then the gutters will overflow. That water then soaks in and may get under the foundation, causing structural issues as the soil swells in reaction to the moisture.
And of course, water trapped in a plugged pipe will freeze in the winter – leading to an icy backup that will creep all the way up to the gutters. Ultimately, that will encourage the formation of an ice dam – and a real mess!
You need to keep a constant eye on the outlets of all the downspout pipes: the kids may stick rocks and sticks in them or grass may creep inside. Also, don't let a landscaper tell you that the pipe end can be buried under a dryscape rock bed; the water flow will still be retarded. The only answer is a wide open pipe end that will let the water escape as quickly as possible. To keep them in the front of your mind, mark them with colored flags, like we use for sprinkler heads – or spray them with some fluorescent paint.
Dear Ken: I'm getting a new roof. I'm thinking that this is a great time to add ventilation. What do you think about a ridge vent? -Dan
I like the idea. A ridge vent is a plastic honey-combed baffle, which sits over a long slot cut into the plywood at the very apex of the ridge. After it's in place, the roofer will lap a row of shingles over it to disguise it and keep the weather out. Since heat accumulates in the top of the attic first, it's a very effective way to cool that interior space. Cooler air infiltrates though those little soffit vents behind the gutters and convects upward to escape through the ridge vent. They are a little pricey, so the only cost effective time to install one is when a new roof goes on. In other words, so your timing is perfect!
Dear Ken: The flapper on our bathroom vent fan makes a lot of noise when the wind blows. Any ideas to quiet it down? It's driving us crazy.
You could apply a strip of foam insulation around the fixed side of the vent flapper. That will muffle the sound considerably. Also, how about switching to a different style? There is a three piece "louvered" variety you could try – like we use for clothes dryers. As a last resort, you could build a plywood box sticking out three inches or so from the house. Leave its bottom open. It will act like a baffle, since the wind will have to make a couple of 90 degree turns before it impinges on the flapper.
Dear Ken: I have an old railroad tie wall that is sagging and settling a lot. Could I use some concrete blocks and just set the new wall in front of the old one?
You could, but I wouldn't. If the wall continues to move, it could start pushing out against the new one, and you'll have the same old problem – just with a different material. Use those lightweight, colored concrete retaining wall blocks, set far enough in front of the old wall that you can pull the ties out after the fact.
Of course, you'll want to set the blocks on a new concrete pad/footer that will provide long-term stability. Also, when you backfill it with dirt, compact it in lifts and then stop and tamp it before you add more.
Finally, many building departments want to inspect a retaining wall installation when it gets over a certain height – usually four feet. So, you may need to pull a permit.