Dear Ken: Do you know of a product I can use to remove grease from a stove and hood? — Anna
Answer: If the conventional grocery store-type products aren’t getting the job done, try some ammonia and hot water, diluted half and half, plus a few drops of dishwashing liquid as a wetting agent. If that doesn’t get it done, try mineral spirits — what we used to call paint thinner. Today’s version is low odor, but take frequent breaks and ventilate anyway. Also, remember that it’s flammable.
Dear Ken: You recommended a certain type of carbon monoxide detector on your radio show a couple of weeks ago; which one was that? — Keith
Answer: I prefer the plug-in style for several reasons. It sits at roughly the same level as your head while you’re sleeping — the time when you’re most vulnerable to the insidious gas. Even though carbon monoxide is a little lighter than air, it tends to accumulate near the floor first as the hot air from the furnace moves to a cold air return.
I like the Nighthawk brand because it contains a historical record of prior carbon monoxide exposures, and it’s easy to self-test.
Dear Ken: Should I cover my air conditioner unit in the winter? — Jerilyn
Answer: I like the idea because it’s easy and inexpensive. Of course, these condensing units are coated with weatherproof enamel paint and have self-draining holes to get rid of melting snow and rain, but they will look prettier longer and probably last a few more years in service if they are protected from harsh winter conditions.
You can buy an inexpensive plastic cover, complete with a rubber strap, for less than $15 at a discount store. I use conventional bungee cords to secure my cover, as they create a more snug fit around the bottom. If you need an odd size cover not readily available at home centers, check out accovers.com.
Turn up the cover an inch or so at the bottom to let moisture escape and to discourage mice. Finally, go to your electric panel and turn off the breaker to prevent any accidental energizing of the condensing unit.
Dear Ken: We are in a new home in a windy area. We feel drafts along the baseboards and through the plugs. Can we add wall insulation? — Jonathan
Answer: Probably not. The walls of new homes are chock full of batt insulation, so there’s not really room for more. Check outside where the siding hangs over the foundation walls. You might need to fill the gaps with insulating foam. Let it swell overnight, then trim the edges. Alternatively, you could squirt in caulking or stuff in chunks of fiberglass.
Inside, remove the outlet covers and probe around the boxes with a kitchen knife. If all you hear is the crinkle of paper insulation — not the crunch of builder-installed Styrofoam — then it could be helpful to inject the foam in there as well. Not too much, though; if overdone, it can put strain on the back of an electrical box as it expands. Also, apply insulating pads behind the switch and outlet plates.
In a windy area, window coverings such as cellular shades or insulated drapes are doubly important. You also could install some interior storm windows.
Dear Ken: I have an AprilAire humidifier on the furnace. Could I have some tips about getting it going this winter? — Barry
Answer: This is the most common style of humidifier in which warm water trickles over a honeycomb screen while air from the furnace blower flows through and evaporates it. Remove the cover and check the screen. Chances are it will be coated with dried minerals from the evaporating water. Screens for this brand are around $10 each in two-packs, so I’d advise replacing each fall.
There likely will be dried scale around the interior frame of the unit that can be scrubbed with a toothbrush. If your water supply is particularly mineralized, then around midwinter soak the screen in pure white vinegar for a while to dislodge the inevitable buildup.
Is your humidifier fed from the hot or cold side of the plumbing system? Hot is preferred because the water evaporates more readily. It’s easy to switch if you need to; simply buy a saddle valve and screw it on to the correct pipe.
Set the humidistat to about 40% when the temperature outside is moderate. It will have to be lowered as winter sets in because cold air holds less moisture. Otherwise you’ll get sweating around the windows and sills. For reference, there should be a chart next to the dial indicating humidity settings vs. outside temperature.
If you have central air conditioning, there might be a summer/winter damper lever inside that fat tube leaving the humidifier enclosure. Open it now to let air circulate through and pick up water vapor. In the spring, turn the humidistat dial to off and close that same damper so the air conditioning works properly (if you forget to shut it, the coils might freeze up).
Finally, remember that the humidifier only runs when the furnace fan is spinning, so to maximize the moisture level, run the fan 24/7 if needed.
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His call-in radio show airs at 4 p.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com