Dear Ken: I have what I think are ants near the garage door. They are leaving piles of sawdust. Could they be termites? Am I in trouble? — Helen
Answer: Probably not. You may be infested with carpenter ants. They and their cousins, powder post beetles, are bothersome but not as scary as termites. Here’s a way to check. Termites have no waist — but ants have that typical pinched middle that most insects sport. Besides, termites usually leave telltale mud tubes around the foundation, and if you don’t see any, I think you’re fine.
But a professional exterminator should take a look at your situation. Not to worry, though. I’m sure you’ve caught it in time, and there’s no significant structural damage at this point.
Dear Ken: I have a 900-square-foot apartment. How can I pick a window unit air conditioning unit that is quiet? How about a timer or thermostat? — Laura
Answer: Have the store demonstrate the units you’re interested in. They will all be about equally noisy, and they all come with a built-in thermostat. Trouble is, if the air conditioner is on the sunny side of the house, it may heat up and come on even if the room is cool.
I like your idea of a timer set to come on before you get home from work. You’ll need to find one with enough capacity to handle the AC start-up load — an ordinary lamp timer won’t handle this situation. Ask your local hardware store for a recommendation or use Google as a source.
Dear Ken: We had a broken sprinkler pipe and ended up with about 2 inches of water in the basement. We dried it out in three or four days. No smells now or staining so far. Are we OK? — Steve
Answer: Probably. We are lucky to have extra-low humidity here. That usually means that if we jump on these problems posthaste, the moisture doesn’t have a chance to soak in and cause permanent damage. You have good instincts: the “smell test” is one of the best ways to spot potential troubles with fungi, like mold. If no one in the family seems particularly bothered with allergic-type symptoms, you’re probably OK. And, if neither the walls nor the carpet is stained, that would indicate that you got to it in time. For added peace of mind, you could have a carpet technician unhook the ”wet” corner of the room and check for staining underneath in the pad. If you see some, no big deal; pad replacement is pretty cheap.
Dear Ken: How do you get that brown color from fertilizer off the concrete? — Lance
Answer: It’s the iron-containing chemicals in the fertilizer, and the good news is that, eventually, the sun will cause it to fade away.
If you want to accelerate the disappearance, scrub it with a stiff-bristled broom and TSP (tri sodium phosphate), a strong detergent you can buy at the hardware store. Alternatively, white vinegar or CLR can work. None of these compounds should be allowed to sit on the concrete too long, because they might start to eat away at the surface.
Dear Ken: When I was screwing the wood down on my new deck, I noticed that you could see moisture coming out of the wood around the screws. Should I wait to stain it? — Ronnie
Answer: Definitely. We import lumber from wetter parts of the country, like the Pacific Northwest. So looking back, it would have been a good idea to let the lumber sit around for a while before you installed it. That would have let it achieve equilibrium with our drier surroundings here in the Rockies. This is a similar problem we have with oak hardwood floors. If they’re installed too quickly, they shrink and gap during the first few months and require filling and refinishing.
Let the deck sit and relax for at least 30 days before you apply a stain.
Dear Ken: My house is old and so has plaster walls. What kind of company can I call to fix damaged areas? — Norm
Answer: If it’s relatively small areas — like a hole here and there — call a drywall repair person. They can use ordinary “mud” to fill in the gaps. For large areas, you’ll need a stucco contractor (we used to call them “plaster and stucco” contractors until drywall took over the world).
Finally, remember that most old plaster walls contain a little asbestos as a binder, so handle the debris carefully. Keep it damp, seal it in plastic bags and discard appropriately.
Dear Ken: How can I remove those little design stickers on the bottom of my bathtub? — Sherry
Answer: Try some gentle application of heat with a hair dryer (too much will crack the porcelain). The residue can then be removed with Goo-Gone solvent or WD-40.
Dear Ken: Does it matter which way a furnace filter faces? — Debbie
Answer: Absolutely. There’s usually a little arrow pointing in the direction of the recommended air flow; it should almost always point to the blower motor. The filter is microscopically designed to capture particles flowing in that direction more efficiently.
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