Dear Ken: We want that new composite decking, but we have heard that it has a problem with mold. What do you think? — Glenn
Answer: Composite (some say plastic) decking is a good choice, since it requires almost no maintenance. Mold is not a major concern here, but the manufacturers say to use a bleach-containing deck wash if it does appear. Grease can also be an issue on composite decking. So, it’s best to use a protective layer of wood or metal under your barbecue grill. Grease which does splatter on the boards should be removed immediately with a hose and warm, soapy water. These vulnerabilities aside, this material is a great choice because of its minimum demands for annual cleaning and restaining over its long lifetime.
Dear Ken: I have a window well problem — one of mine is rusting badly. The trouble is, it’s almost completely buried in soil. So how can I replace it? Repair it? — Josh
Answer: If it hasn’t rusted through, you can slow down the deterioration and buy yourself more time by applying some appropriate paint. There are rust-inhibiting primers available, which actually combine chemically with the oxidation to create a whole new surface. After applying a couple of coats, you can spray on a topcoat of enamel in your favorite color.
Replacing a window well can be a big deal — especially with limited access to the backyard. If there’s not enough room to get equipment back there, that means considerable hand digging. However, many times you can have a standard-sized window well cut down a little so it slips inside the old one. First, apply a layer of heavy plastic sheeting, so the rust and corrosion doesn’t transfer through. Contact a ready-mix concrete company for help with this option.
Finally, check your drainage. Maybe there is a naughty downspout somewhere nearby that’s allowing water to flow towards the window well. That would keep the surrounding soil perpetually damp, encouraging ongoing corrosion.
Dear Ken: I live in a complex that won’t allow a window air conditioning unit. How can I get more ventilation and still be safe? — Brad
Answer: Have you checked out one of the portable A/C systems? The unit itself sits inside the room with only a tiny, unobtrusive window vent expelling warm air; Black and Decker sells one for around $450. Maybe your complex would allow it.
Otherwise, for fresh air ventilation, you can use a window track thumb-screw stop. This is a little gizmo—two to a package, very cheap — that attaches to the window frame. Use a pair — one on each side — a few inches above the normal locking position. That way, the window can be left partially open during the day. A homemade solution is to buy some ¾-inch wood dowel. Cut it to this same (partially open) length and install in the side tracks of a single hung window or the bottom track of a slider.
If there are new windows in your future, keep in mind that some manufacturers of vinyl windows include an entry stop-latch built in to the frame that will allow this same part-way-open arrangement.
Dear Ken: There is a loud buzzing noise in certain parts of my condo unit. How can I get this checked out? — Hannah
Answer: Buzzing is almost always an electrical issue. You may be able to isolate this yourself — and thus avoid having to pay an electrician to play Sherlock Holmes. Since you say you hear it in more than one place, I’d start in the utility room; furnace ducts can transmit noise through their hard insides into adjacent rooms. Look for a small transformer on the side of the furnace. This is for the doorbell, and as it ages, it can start to buzz and hum. There’s also one inside the furnace. Use the blunt end of a screwdriver pressed against your ear as a stethoscope to pin down the culprit (don’t worry, these transformers produce only about 24 volts, so they are relatively harmless).
Other possibilities include fluorescent lights, whose interior ballasts can age, overheat and start making noises; ceiling fans run by the wrong kind of dimmer so they buzz at lower speeds; and exterior security lights — especially the bright white, mercury style, which are notorious for humming even when brand new. Once you’ve narrowed down the possibilities, an electrician can replace the offender.
Dear Ken: The sun bakes our windows on the west side, so we’re thinking we need new ones. What kind should we get? Do the blinds inside the windows work OK? — Michelle
Answer: If it’s simply the incoming heat and glare that’s bothering you why not try some low-e film before you replace the windows? You can buy it in rolls at the home center and install it yourself. All you need is a razor blade, some soapy water and a squeegee — plus a partner to help hold it in place. It will really cut down on incoming temperatures.
If you really do want new windows then I would get a good set of vinyl units; ask for low-e glass. This is a similar coating to the film, except it’s on the inside of the double pane set. It adds maybe 15% to the cost of a given window, but it will save 25% or so in energy costs — perhaps even a little more if you have central air.
The blinds inside the window panes are metal, so they hold up pretty well. I think they add an elegant look to any window, but they are somewhat pricey.
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