Dear Ken: I am installing a set of pulldown stairs in my garage. I heard you talking about the fire protection required in a garage. Can I do both? -Jack
In virtually every house built in the last 60 years, the house and garage have been required to have a layer of special, thicker-than-normal sheet rock to add additional protection between the two spaces. This rule recognizes that there is a little more fire danger from the garage space – especially because of the presence of gasoline, paint and other flammables. So, the "firewall" as it's called, slows down the spread of the flames for a few extra minutes until the fire department gets there. Any holes in these surfaces – like your pull down stairs – compromise this protection. In your case, you can ameliorate that breach by adding that sheet rock layer – it's usually five-eighths inch thick – or some galvanized metal on the plywood underside of the stairs. Then add a "picture frame" of two by four’s around the edges of your new opening to protect the trusses.
If your home is old enough, you may have a heat vent opening or two into the garage from the furnace. This not only violates the fire protection we've been discussing, but also represents a safety hazard which can allow fumes, like carbon monoxide, to get sucked into the heating system. So, these openings should be permanently sealed.
Dear Ken: I have a shower caddy mounted on some adhesive strips in my shower. My question is, how do I remove it without damaging my shower tile? -John
Applying some gentle heat – a hair dryer set on low speed, for instance – on to the surface will usually allow you to ease the strips off the tile. Be careful, though: too much heat may actually crack the tile you're working on. Once the caddy is gone, you can use some Goo-Gone solvent to remove the last of the residue.
Dear Ken: The carpet in our bath is pretty bad. Is it easy to rip it up and install tile yourself? What about those sticky back peel and seal tiles? -Bill
If the carpet is simply stretched over some pad, it's pretty easy to get rid of it. Unhook it in a corner with some pliers, and then simple "unzip" it from the rest of the tack strip. After you remove the pad and tack strip, spray on some KILZ primer/sealer over any stained spots.
The self-sticking tiles are easy to do yourself, but they don't hold nearly as well as a system that is glued with troweled-on mastic. I would avoid them and use some 12-inch-by-12-inch regular ceramic tiles. If the floor is simply a layer of plywood or chip board, your job will end up looking better with a layer of cement board underlayment, like Durock or Hardee board; that will create a smooth and unyielding layer for your new tile.
Dear Ken: I would like to have skylights installed in our great room, but I'm worried that this would be a major and expensive project. I'm not crazy about the tube versions. -Suzie
Skylights installed after the fact are a little tricky. Depending on your style of roof, they can be difficult to flash into place and integrate with the existing shingles. Whoever does this work for you should be a licensed contractor – not simply a handyman service – because there are some structural implications. You're right, this will be a relatively expensive and messy project, since it involves several disciplines: framing, roofing, insulators, dry walling, interior trim and painting.
You might want to rethink your prejudice against the tubular style. They are a "one stop" install – very quick, and because of their built-in flashing collar, a little easier to leak-proof.
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 9 a.m. Saturday and is carried on KRDO, AM 1240 and FM 105.5. Visit AroundTheHouse.com.