Dear Ken: Do you recommend closing off unused rooms in an air-conditioned house? Our contractor says it’s not a good idea, but I don’t understand why. — Marie
Answer: He’s right, up to a point. The air conditioner coils in your furnace were sized to cool your whole house, considering the many variables unique to the situation: the square footage of your home, the insulation, the size and style of the windows, and even the compass orientation of the building. As you close off rooms, you effectively reduce the air flow over those coils. Since the compressor (outside) doesn’t know the difference, the furnace coils can actually ice up. And that can lead to an overload and an automatic shutdown of the system. Bottom line: You can’t close off vents willy-nilly with impunity. Count the number of vents in your house and divide by four. That gives my maximum recommendation of the number of vents you should shut down. Start with the basement rooms, since the cold air will settle down there anyway.
Dear Ken: I live in a year-old house. I have a problem with the floor under my master bathtub. Every move is accompanied by an annoying squeak. Is there anything I can do to eliminate it? — Hal
Answer: Apparently the plumbers didn’t brace it well enough underneath. These days, most tubs are made of some sort of acrylic — easy to maintain but pretty weak, structurally. They usually come with some sort of block or shim system to place beneath strategic points of the tub bottom. I hope you’re still under warranty, because I’d ask the builder to open the ceiling under the tub and squirt a couple of cans of that same poly-foam insulation I mentioned earlier under the tub base. When that stuff sets up, it’s amazingly strong.
Dear Ken: We found a leak in one of our bedrooms during the last heavy rains. The leak has been fixed, but we can’t seem to get the water spots out of the ceiling. What can we do to get rid of the stains and repaint? — Tammy
Answer: First, kill any mildew spores with a little diluted bleach and warm water. Then you’ll need to seal over the water spots with a good material that has a shellac-like base. A couple of good choices are Bullseye 1-2-3 or KILZ primer-sealers. I prefer the brush-on rather than spray-on versions, but either way, after a couple of good coats of this stuff, the stains will be gone, and you can paint with your favorite semi-gloss latex.
Dear Ken: I’m trying to find out how to get the noise out of our plumbing pipes. They run overhead and are very noisy. I’m not sure if it’s air or what. It happened after they shut the water off to repair the water main that serves us. — Marty
Answer: Mainline repairs can introduce all kinds of foreign material into the plumbing, such as fine sand, grit, rust and even gravel particles. Remove and clean all the faucet screens and aerators in your house. Then run the hot and cold water full-force for a while. It might also help to drain and flush the water heater. Finally, tweak the pressure regulator. That’s the gizmo in your system that sits on the pipe as it comes in from the street — about the size of a pop can. Turn its adjusting screw a couple of turns counter clockwise, then back to its original setting. If material is trapped inside, that probably will free it.
P.S. Air bubbles disappear in the first few hours after they turn the water back on, so I doubt that’s what you’re hearing.
Dear Ken: We painted the foundation of our house about three years ago. The paint has bubbled, and fine powder is in the concrete underneath. What can I do to cover this? And is it normal? Also, what about dust coming from under the lowest board on the side of the house? — Michelle
Answer: Concrete is not nearly as indestructible as you might think. It reacts chemically to alkaline salts that are carried through it by evaporating water — sometimes by breaking down and powdering. That process loosened the paint you had applied, because it no longer had a solid surface to cling to. A better choice would be one of the new water-based concrete stains. They come in all sorts of colors, are easy to apply and will let your foundation “breathe” a little.
As for the lowest board on your house, it’s quite common to see a good-sized space between the foundation and that first layer of framing. It’s usually caused by the slight in and out variations in the foundation, while the boards themselves are straight.
You can chink a little fiberglass insulation into the crack, then seal with an exterior caulk. Or you could squirt a little insulating foam into the crack, but be careful: It’s a little hard to control and expands like crazy.
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 9 a.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com