Around the house: Adding enzymes can damage septic system

Dear Ken: How do you tell if you need a new water heater? There’s a little water around the base, but it doesn’t look serious. — David

Answer: Sometimes water will condense from inside the chimney and run down onto the floor, leaving a rusty stain. Other possibilities: The drain at the bottom of the tank is dripping, the temperature and pressure relief valve has weakened and is dribbling, or roof water is dripping down the outside of the flue pipe. If you eliminate these potential causes and there is still water sitting around the base, it’s time to replace the water heater.

Dear Ken: The floor under our kitchen sink cabinet has gotten wet and now it sags. Is there an easy way to fix it? — Pam

Answer: It’s likely made from particleboard, which doesn’t do well with moisture. To avoid the mess of a tear-out, leave the old wood in place and glue down some AC plywood — at least 3/8-inch thick. Then buy a scrap of linoleum at a tile store, cut it to fit, and loose lay it on top of the new floor.

The linoleum step is smart even if you don’t have floor troubles. There’s always water dribbling under the sink from the spray hose. The sheet vinyl lying below there will allow evaporation without damaging the vulnerable floor underneath.

Dear Ken: How do I take care of rusty and popped nails in drywall? — Rob

Answer: The secret is to seal the rust away from the surface so the stain doesn’t reappear. Rub it with fine sandpaper if you can reach it; then “set” it with another nail or small screwdriver. Dab in a good sealer/primer, and then spackle. I prefer the lightweight, one-step acrylic spackling compounds, applied with a finger.

Dear Ken: We want to finish our deck, but it’s pretty dirty. How do we clean it first? — Matt

Answer: Sometimes power washing will work. You can borrow the equipment from a neighborhood rental center. Another approach is to use a deck stripping/brightening liquid available at paint stores. Most contain a medium-strong, chemical- like oxalic acid or sodium hydroxide, which etches the surface to restore a just-built look to the deck. Be sure to cover valuable plantings and grass with heavy-duty plastic before you start, as these formulations can be hard on vegetation.

Dear Ken: I have old metal cabinets that need painting. Do you have some tips? — Chris

Answer: The process is basically the same as it is with wood, except for the materials, which are chemically a bit different. Clean off the pollution with a degreaser (vinegar and water, or tri-sodium phosphate) and scuff sand. Next, apply a zinc chromate-based metal primer and then a spray-on enamel. If you can remove the doors, you’ll find this process goes much better when they are lying flat on a sawhorse. A paint store can advise on the right products.

Dear Ken: I’m buying a house with its own septic and well system. How can I protect myself? — Beth

Answer: A home inspector can provide a subjective analysis of the available water pressure, the condition of the pump and pipes, and the behavior of the sewage system (looking for liquid and odors outside). It’s also helpful to look inside the toilet tanks for signs of sediment and discoloration from minerals and contaminants in the water supply. Finally, pick up a water quality test kit from the health department. It will give you an indication of any microbiological issues.

The county probably will require a certification inspection by a sewer company, which, if nothing else, will offer an idea of the health of the septic tank and leach field. The inspection also will indicate whether the system should be pumped out. After consulting a home inspector, the health department and a sewer company, you should have a good picture of the condition of the systems.

Finally, ask to see the seller’s invoices for pumping out the septic tank and also the data sheet — including the state well certificate — from the original well driller.

Dear Ken: I’ve got what I can only call fake stone on the house and the fireplace, but my tastes run to Southwest design and colors. Is there any hope? — Michelle

Answer: As with most projects, there’s an easy (and cheap) option and a more expensive one. You might be able to paint the stone with a light pastel (a shade of tan or terra cotta) that will dramatically — and forever — change the look of the stone. Stucco can be applied over almost anything and is the expensive, great-looking alternative for inside and out. But it’s one of the sloppiest processes you can imagine, so proceed carefully.

Dear Ken: My garage door faces south and is taking a beating from the sun. Can I save it? — Larry

Answer: These doors (I assume it’s made of wood) do better when they’re painted on all six sides, including the edges. So apply latex exterior paint to the unpainted surfaces. Change to a lighter, more neutral color if you can, and plan on repainting every two years. When you tire of doing this, I’d advise switching to an insulated steel unit with a texture finish.

Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 4 p.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com.

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