Around the house
Dear Ken: We had a guy come out and clean our furnace ducts. Now he says we should seal the ducts with an injection of plastic particles to prevent air leaks. What do you think of this idea? It’s pretty expensive. -Julie
Not too much. If you think about it, any air leaking from your duct system is staying inside the home’s energy “envelope.” So you’re really not wasting heating dollars – I would pass on this.
One exception: sometimes one or more of the branch heating ducts leak enough to produce an irritating whistling sound. Of course, if you can get to the source, you can wrap the joints and holes with silver duct tape. But many times these areas are not accessible. In that case, it may be worth it to seal the ducts with this technology.
Dear Ken: I had a new bathroom installed. The toilet is on a concrete floor, and it rocks back and forth a little even though the bolts are every tight. Is it normal to have some movement? -Dennis
Not really. You risk leaks as the toilet gets used and becomes even looser. The concrete floor is probably a little out of level or uneven. Also, the bottom of the toilet may not be perfectly straight. In any event, try easing a few plastic shims under the low edge of the base – these are readily available in the plumbing section on your local hardware store. Loosen the hold-down bolts and gently tap one or two shims into place until there's no more "rock and roll.” Re-tighten the bolts – not too tight – and then apply a generous bead of caulking on the three front sides of the toilet base, but not the back.
Dear Ken: I am considering a water softener for my house, which is on a septic tank. Is there a potential for damage? -Darryl
Not really, as long as you run the brine line outdoors. When the softener recharges itself every few days, it produces a strong salt solution. Salt is a preservative and microbe killer that may harm the delicate flora balance in your septic tank. So this small line should be run somewhere out in your yard into a pit made of rocks. Keep it away from the foundation, desirable plantings, the wellhead and, of course, the leach field.
One other septic point: adding additional bacteria, enzymes or other activators to the system isn't a good idea. They hasten the breakdown of the sludge into too fine a mixture, and that can plug up the leaching system. Normal household use – combined with a pump-out every four or five years – will keep the system stable and in good working order.
Dear Ken: Do you recommend insulating the basement before hanging sheet rock? -Josh
Not only do I recommend it, but it's now required in all new homes. Use an R-11 batts – about three inches thick – stapled to the studs. We no longer glue or nail these wall studs directly to the concrete. Instead, build the wall on the concrete floor and tilt it up. That way, the wall be perfectly straight and not mirror the waviness of the typical concrete foundation.
Also, if your existing basement walls have a gap at the bottom – we call this a "floating” wall – you need to build yours that way, too. This is the scheme that allows the floor to move without affecting the structure above.
Dear Ken: I have a tool shed in my backyard. I can run a power line out there, but how can I control its lights from my house. There is no way to snake a wire up to a light switch in my kitchen. -Greg
You're in luck. Technology has reached into this area, too. You'll be amazed at the variety of controllers available for switching household circuits on and off. Most have a range of 75 feet or so, and they are cheap. Less than $20 for a package including a remote transmitter and controller at the light end of the circuit. One brand to look for is Etekcity.
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.