Dear Ken: What can I do about floors that are starting to squeak? Trouble is, the area underneath is finished. - Bill
Answer: That makes it a lot harder. Of course, if the area is carpeted, you can simply flop the carpet back and use some 2½-inch deck screws to cinch the floor boards down over each offending floor joist. It's mostly trial and error, and sometimes you have to "follow" the squeak down the length of a joist until you find the noisy edge.
Areas with wood floors are more challenging. Sometimes you can simply squirt some white or graphite dry, powdered lubricant between the noisy boards to quiet them. Otherwise, if you can pinpoint the exact spot you want to tighten, drill a shallow pilot hole in the floor and drive a 16-penny casing or finish nail into it. After you recess the head with a nail punch, apply a little wood filler compound to cover the hole.
Unhappily, rooms tiled with ceramic or sheet goods are best left alone until the floors are replaced, as there's no sure-fire way to hide nails or screws.
Dear Ken: We have a large three-car garage with a high ceiling. One side is a workshop. How can we keep it warm enough to use the shop? - Nancy
Answer: If you only use this area once in a while, electric heating is a good choice. You can install either baseboard strip units or a ceiling-mounted heater like those in tire shops. Either one will be inexpensive to install and easy to use.
Your electric circuit breaker box likely is in the area, so the wiring runs will be short. Electric heat reacts very quickly when energized, so you can keep the system turned off until just a short time before you use the shop. Keep in mind, though, that electricity costs three or four times more than natural gas to provide the same BTUs.
Do take caution if you live in an old house with heating vents from the furnace vented directly into the garage. These MUST be permanently blocked off and deactivated. Otherwise, fumes could get sucked into the living space through the duct system.
Dear Ken: Do you have any ideas about how to clean grease and oil off our driveway? - Beth
Answer: It's a multistep process that will remove and hide most stains. First, you'll have to scrape off all the surface material that clings to the concrete. Then pour some kitty litter and mineral spirits (paint thinner) on the stain. Don an old pair of shoes and grind this mélange into the stain. Let it sit a day or so, then apply a few more drops of the thinner and repeat. After a couple of days, you'll find that most of the stain has been absorbed. I like to follow this with a good power wash using full-strength dishwashing liquid and a stiff-bristled broom.
When that application has dried, the final step is the secret. Sprinkle powdered cement evenly on any residual smudge. Its gray color will blend into the surrounding area and hide what was once an ugly blemish.
Dear Ken: We have a passive solar wall made of slump block along our south living/dining room wall. It hasn't been cleaned in 21 years, and since we're getting new carpet, we thought this would be a good time to clean it. What would you suggest? - Hal
Answer: If this were outside, I'd recommend a good power washing. But that process produces much too much side spray to tolerate it indoors. How about painting it? You can stick with the same color, or if you'd like, change the color scheme with, say, a darkish gray tint instead of the brown or red you probably have now. Use any good exterior latex material, keeping in mind that it will take at least two heavy applications.
Ken 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 www.aroundthehouse.com