Dear Ken: I want a new kitchen floor. We have existing vinyl tile and underlayment. They are in pretty good shape, but do we have to remove them first before we install laminate flooring? — Julie
Answer: Usually not. If the floor you have is intact — that is, flat and not bubbled — it can stay. In fact, removing it could release harmful dust.
One hitch though. You need to make sure the dishwasher can slide out of its opening after the “higher” floor is in place. It’s usually not a big deal because the rear legs of most dishwashers are angled to allow you to tip it backward and walk it out of the hole. You can check this by temporarily laying a piece of plywood of equivalent thickness in front of the dishwasher. Then remove the two under-counter screws and see if it will ease from its opening. If it does not, you’ll have to remove the flooring or switch from laminate material to plain vinyl.
Note: Fiddling with a dishwasher can cause leaks underneath, so check for dribbles with a flashlight before you reinstall the kick plate.
Dear Ken: My builder says to seal the concrete on the north side of my new house. I understand you don’t agree. Should we anyway? — Bill
Answer: Generally, applying liquid sealant to concrete is a waste of time since it gets cooked away by the sun and has to be renewed every few months. There is an exception, though. North-facing driveways and sidewalks are vulnerable because they get little, if any, winter sun. So the daily freeze-thaw cycle wherein ice and snow are left in place eventually breaks down the smooth surface. That produces spalling — the cottage cheese effect that is so ugly. A sealant can help mitigate this outcome.
So unless you promise never to let ice build up this winter, I would indeed apply a clear liquid sealer now. Do this each fall and again in January and your driveway will benefit.
Dear Ken: The labels on driveway patching compounds say apply only when it’s 40 degrees or above. I live in the mountains where it gets into the 20s at night. Can I still do it? — Andy
Answer: If the high temperature is expected to be in the 50s or above, start patching early. That way, the afternoon temperatures will help accelerate curing of the patching product. For the next two nights, cover the patched areas with a homemade “blanket” — pieces of plastic with towels on top.
Dear Ken: My gas log pilot light won’t stay on, and I have to restart it every time. Can I fix this? — Todd
Answer: Try cleaning the thermocouple. That’s the probe the pilot flame impinges on. The heat produces a small voltage in the thermocouple that holds the gas valve open. It’s a safety device designed to shut down the whole thing if the pilot light blows out. There might be some crud clinging to the probe tip. Additives in natural gas produce scaling, and that can coat the thermocouple and fool it into thinking there is no flame.
Remove the front of the gas log. This is a two-person job because the glass is tempered and delicate. Gently use an emery file to clean off the probe. While the glass door is lying flat, use window cleaner to remove the dirty film. If the pilot light still won’t stay on, the thermocouple might need to be replaced. That’s a job for a professional.
Dear Ken: We have a tenant who promised not to smoke in the house, but I think they are doing it anyway. Is there some way to detect it? — Lori
Answer: The best detector, of course, is how it smells when you visit. It’s hard to hide smoke odors because the particles are electrostatic; they cling to walls and textured ceilings readily, not to mention drapes and carpet. Maybe you’re blessed with folks who smoke on the patio or in the garage. Although that violates the agreement, if you can’t smell it in the house and they’re paying the rent on time, I’d leave them alone.
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.