Here’s another reminder to winter water.
The Pikes Peak region has had virtually no precipitation in a while, so your lawn, garden and smaller shrubs and trees need a drink. When it’s this dry, lawns are particularly susceptible to damage.
In addition to desiccated root damage, they can become infested with mites that will suck the life out of your healthy sod. Now you know why I don’t recommend blowing out the sprinkler system. Modern, well-drained setups almost never freeze. At my house, I turn three valves — one outside and two in the furnace room — and my sprinkler system is back in business for needed winter watering.
Dear Ken: How do you paint behind a toilet tank without having to call a plumber to remove the tank? — Julie
Answer: Keep in mind that you don’t have to cover absolutely every square inch of wall space back there. You simply have to apply paint to enough area — say 3 or 4 inches in width — around the top and two sides, so that the average user of the bath will think it’s all one color (it’ll be our little secret). Lay some rags under the toilet base first. Then take an old yard stick or paint stirrer and staple a layer of terry cloth to it. Dip the stick into your roller pan and slide it back and forth until you get the required coverage.
Dear Ken: I’m worried about radon. Can I test for it myself? And are the mitigation companies any good? — James
Answer: Yes and yes. You can purchase a couple of charcoal canisters at the health department’s environmental division and test your level in the basement. Put two of them a few inches apart waist-high in one of the bedrooms down there. When you get the results back, you can then make a decision about mitigation. If the reading is just a few notches over the recommended 4.0 maximum, you can retest in a few months and average the results together. That’s because radon levels will bounce up and down as the seasons and weather conditions change.
If the level is high, say 10 or above, contact a mitigation company. They will seal and ventilate the basement, which will take the level down to almost zero. The cost is $1,000 to $2,000, depending on the layout of the basement: crawl spaces cost a little more, while existing French drain systems with a sump pump pit make it a little easier. Get a referral from a home inspector or real estate agent for a company they like.
Check out www.epa.gov/radon for more detailed guidelines. They have a Homeowners Guide to Radon booklet that is quite good, and you can download it as a PDF file.
Dear Ken: I have a partially collapsed window well. Who can I hire to replace it? — Mike
Answer: You’ve chosen just the right time for the window well problem. I’ll bet you can find a landscape contractor who will dig it out and replace it. These contractors like odd jobs during their slow seasons to even out their cash flow. This project is quite messy and labor intensive, so don’t be surprised if it costs more than you expect.
Dear Ken: I would like a gas insert for my fireplace, but I’m skeptical of the salesman’s claim that it will heat the whole house. What do you think? — Kathy
Answer: Count me as a skeptic, too. These inserts work great for a room or two — and that’s OK, because you can use them in, for example, your family room for the entire evening while you’re in there watching TV or reading, and in the meantime you can turn the main thermostat down. That means that your natural gas fireplace insert is heating a few hundred square feet, while the furnace is NOT heating several times that area. That can result in a net energy saving for you.
This concept also applies to the several brands of high- efficiency electric heaters that are heavily advertised. Some of these models look like fine furniture, and so can fit right in to your family room’s decor. They, too, heat up to 600 square feet or so, and so will keep you warm while the rest of the house is cool.
Like all gas appliances, an installation of one of these inserts requires a permit from the city — so make sure the contactor gets the required inspections. Also, they can get pretty pricey, so shop around and get at least three competitive bids.
Dear Ken: To me, the garbage disposal is on the wrong side of the sink. Can I switch it to the other side myself? — Laura
Answer: Yes, if the underside of the sink on the “new” side for the disposal is at the same level or higher than the current location. That’s because you need downward slope into the drain in the wall. You may need to buy a bag of pipe parts at the hardware store. The good news is that all this under-sink plumbing is now done with PVC (white plastic) that is incredibly cheap and easy for us homeowners to fiddle with. In fact, you don’t even need tools; most of the fittings will behave and not leak even if only hand tightened. Take a couple of digital pictures from different angles of the current setup. That will help the plumbing specialist at the hardware store choose parts for you if you get stuck.
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.