Dear Ken: Our backyard is mostly dirt and cockleburs. Also, we have big dogs, and they are affected by all the mess. We are thinking of concreting most of it. What do you think? — Candice
Answer: I think it’ll be very expensive. The guys will have to haul the concrete back there in wheelbarrows, and that will run up the cost big time. Besides, concrete is pretty much permanent and might not be the choice of a future buyer. Why not consider one of two other options: You could spread a generous layer of fine pea gravel over the whole area you’re concerned about. Or, check out artificial turf. It’s no longer the ugly stuff you may remember from the ’80s. Today’s material is made of soft, plastic fibers that not only look real, but feel nearly like natural grass. There’s even a style with drain holes to let your dogs “do their thing.”
In either case, at some future time another owner can easily remove these improvements and revert to a regular yard.
Dear Ken: I smell a funny odor in the laundry room, like maybe sewer gas is coming up. How can we get rid of it? — Laurie
Answer: It’s usually a floor drain. Whether the laundry is located in the basement or on the second floor, there is almost always a floor drain nearby to carry away any leaks that develop. You may have to get on your hands and knees with a flashlight to peek under the washer and dryer until you locate it. You should dump a pitcher of water into it weekly to keep the trap sealed — which keeps out the sewer gas. Or better yet, pour a bottle of mineral oil into the drain. It will sit there and not evaporate, but if water needs to go down, it will push the lighter oil out of the way.
Dear Ken: How can I get rid of latex paint in a can that is too full to evaporate? — Mitch
Answer: Generally the rules allow you to dispose of (water-based) latex paint cans if there is no liquid inside and you leave the lid off to allow them to inspect it. Most counties have some sort of hazardous waste drop-off facility you could use, but usually you have to make an appointment first.
You could try to soak it up with cat litter, sawdust, diatomaceous earth or cellulose floor absorbent, like they use in schools and repair garages. If it dries out when combined with one of these absorbers, you’re probably OK to seal it in a plastic bag and toss it.
But it’s a good idea to run this by the trash company before you go to all the trouble to process the paint.
Dear Ken: Lately we’ve been smelling humidity around our gas dryer. The vent is about 18 feet long with three 90-degree bends. Is this too much and should I be concerned? Dwight
Answer: You’re OK — but just barely. There is (thankfully) a small risk of fire if the venting to the outside has too much resistance to the moving air stream — allowing excess lint to collect along the way. Generally, you’re allowed a 35-foot run to the outside with your dryer vent, but you have to subtract 5 feet for each right angle turn. There is an exception: If the manufacturer lets you get away with more footage than that, then the city will defer to those limits.
Anyway, in your house, with 18 feet plus three 90-degree bends, you have the equivalent of 33 feet — just under the limit. But remember you have a connector between the dryer and the wall inlet; keep it as short as possible. And make sure it is aluminum, definitely not fabric or plastic!
Nonetheless, it’s a good idea to clean out the system once a year. Remove the outside vent cover, attach an electric leaf blower to the inside opening and blow bursts of air through the pipe. You’ll be surprised how much crud comes out the other end.
Finally, remember that gas dryers — unlike their electric cousins — need a source of combustion air. So if you have a laundry room with a door, you need a transfer vent opening to let fresh air inside. You can cut a hole in the sheetrock on both sides of the wall and install a grille, like we would use for a heating system return air inlet; make sure it’s at least 100 square inches.
Dear Ken: Some studs in my basement are starting to bow out a little. Should I be worried? — Alex
Answer: Maybe. This may indicate that the concrete floor is shifting upward, applying pressure to the wall. You will need to cut or notch the studs to relieve the stress. Do this before the pressure affects the upstairs. If allowed to continue, you may soon notice drywall cracks and sticky windows and doors in the upper levels.
Check with a structural engineer for a drawing of the “floating wall” system for basements. It’s a neat and simple way to accommodate this movement and keep it downstairs.
Dear Ken: My daughters throw their bath towels in a heap in the corner. They start to smell and get mildew. How can I get them to smell sweeter (the towels, not the girls)? — David
Answer: Do a towel-only load with a cup and a half of white vinegar on the hottest water setting. Then rewash with your regular detergent. Maybe you can show the girls how it’s done. Of course, there’s no substitute for hanging the towels on the bar after they’re used.
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.