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Dear Ken: Is it OK to close off heat registers in the winter? If so, how many? What about in the summer when we air condition? Also, we were advised that it’s OK to block the cold air return in the basement. What’s your opinion on all of this? — Brenda

Answer: Be careful. If you starve the furnace of its required air in winter, you risk overheating it and shortening its life. In summer, the result can be a freeze-up of the evaporator coils (the ones on top of the furnace) — especially in times of high humidity.

My guideline is to close off no more than 25 percent of the vents in the house; that should still allow enough circulation through the system. And don’t forget that heat rises, so after you shut down some registers, you can rebalance everything by barely cracking open vents on the upper levels and gradually opening them as you move down.

As to the return air part of your question, I would leave it alone. Otherwise, the basement won’t heat adequately. Air that comes out of those downstairs ceiling outlets will have to travel all the way upstairs to make a return trip through the furnace.

Dear Ken: Our water meter has a drip indicator, a little dial that spins even though we aren’t using anything and have checked all the toilets and sinks. Any ideas? — Al

Answer: Even though everything may appear to be off, I’d be suspicious of one or more of your toilets. They can have microscopic leaks through and around their flapper valves. Plus, the fill valve inside the tanks has a washer that can wear out ever so slowly and start to leak without any apparent sound, such as hissing. Turn off each toilet valve, one at a time, and check the water meter.

If you need to do more snooping, turn off the feed valve to the water heater. That might help you pin the trouble down to either the hot or cold piping, so you can check sinks, showers and tubs more definitively.

One other thing: Is your sprinkler system totally off? Sometimes that main shutoff valve can let tiny amounts of water slip through which eventually dribbles down the floor drain.

Finally, don’t forget our “stethoscope” test. Touch the blade end of your largest screwdriver to pipes and valves while holding the blunt end against your ear. (Or you could go online and buy a real stethoscope, good enough for our purposes here, for less than $30). That can narrow things down for you. Start with the incoming water meter and pressure regulator and work your way into the house from there.

Dear Ken: What do you think of the systems to change the color or cover up an old tub? — Doug

Answer: They work pretty well. If you have a tub with a dated color — the pink, blue and aqua hues of the ‘50s come to mind — you have two choices. You can have an acrylic resin or epoxy sprayed on in any color you want. This will cost you less than $1,000 and will last for, perhaps, five to 10 years. For two or three times more money, you can have an exact-fitting, molded acrylic liner installed. These are much more permanent and have longer warranties —maybe 20 years or so. Either method is preferable to the considerable hassle and expense of tearing out the old tub.

Dear Ken: I have a new house (less than a year) with a wet crawl space. The water comes into the house from five empty lots on the uphill side. What should I ask the builder to do? — Daniel

Answer: They probably need to contain that water in some sort of channel. That can vary from a simple PVC pipe to catch the water above you and drain it around your house to a more elaborate crushed-rock-filled ditch lined with plastic.

By allowing the water to snake its way by your house at its leisure, you’re letting moisture soak into the newly backfilled soil and then into the crawl space. This problem will only get worse as the landscaping matures. It will slow the water even more and magnify your problem.

As for the soaked crawl space, roll up the plastic sheeting and let the soil evaporate. You can accelerate the drying process with a box fan blowing out through the crawl space access door. If none of my suggestions helps, the most drastic step would be installation of a perimeter drain on the outside of your foundation (at its bottom) whose outfall runs into a sump pump pit.

Finally, you should talk with a lawyer to make sure these concerns and their remedies will survive the builder’s warranty.

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

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