Let’s take a moment to discuss that electric circuit breaker box of yours. Pretty boring, you say? Well, let’s see.
It’s the control and distribution center for virtually all the energy usage in your home, and so it deserves a little attention.
In my inspection travels, I run across all sorts of trouble getting to and into these panels. Many are painted shut and so, I suspect, haven’t been opened in years. Some are hidden behind pieces of furniture or have been integrated into added kitchen or garage cabinets. But this is one device in your house that sometimes needs to be gotten to quickly by you, one of the kids or, perhaps, a firefighter when there’s some sort of electrical trouble, like arcing, sparking, the smell of smoke or trouble with an appliance. So it’s a good idea to make access as unhindered as possible.
Some panels are outdoors, hanging on the side of this house, so of course you have much easier access to it —but so does everybody else. So it’s advisable to invest in a small padlock to secure it from mischievous kids and wandering scoundrels intent on disabling your lights. Make sure though, that you hang its key in a conspicuous place by the back door to facilitate quick access.
The breakers inside the panel are really little heat-sensitive switches that trip to OFF when they sense an overloaded circuit. But like all of us, they tend to age, and they can be affected by airborne dust and pollution. So, they should be exercised every now and then (once a year is adequate) to ensure they can trip when necessary. Make sure your computer work is saved before you run through this drill.
With the help of an assistant, you can figure out which room is controlled by each specific circuit breaker. Then add corresponding labels on the panel door. This makes it much easier to isolate trouble later on, when you’re in more of a hurry.
Dear Ken: I want to paint some decorative designs on my patio. Can I use regular house paint? — Wes
Answer: In a word: No. Paint simply sits on the surface of concrete, then flakes and wears away. (A good rule of thumb for all paints: vertical surfaces, yes; horizontal: no) There are concrete stains available in any color you can think of, and they’re water- based. They will soak in and not sit on the surface.
Dear Ken: I’m installing a new wooden porch at my front door over the old stoop. Can I step it down right at the door or do I need some sort of landing? — Phillip
Answer: It’s not natural — and can be dangerous — to pull a door towards you and step out and down. The code requires a landing or porch at least as wide and deep as the door (a 36-inch door opens to a 36-inch by 36-inch landing).
Dear Ken: Whoever painted the house last time got paint on the carpet at the bottom of that baseboard. Can we get it off? — Chloe
Answer: Minor areas can be “scraped” off with a wire brush or simply trimmed with scissors. Otherwise, try some rubbing alcohol or Goof Off blotted with an old white towel (try a test patch first in an out-of-the-way spot).
Dear Ken: We’d like a new bath floor. Should we take up the old one? — Rick
Answer: Only if the main sub-floor underneath has rotted; otherwise, cover it. Older hard surface floors may contain a little asbestos, so, instead of ripping it out and releasing particles into the air, cover it with a good 1/4-inch underlayment — like cement board.
Dear Ken: I’ve read some bad news about the halogen torchiere lamps. Are they dangerous? — Lisa
Answer: The older torchiere lamps have halogen bulbs that operate at extremely high temperatures (about 900 degrees), so they need to be kept well away from combustibles, like draperies. In fact, there have been enough instances of fires started by unattended halogen torchiere lamps, that many colleges have banned their use in dorm rooms.
Don’t leave them on and unattended, and please don’t install them in the kids’ bedrooms. If used sensibly, they can be very useful, and you’ll appreciate their brilliant, natural “daylight” color.
But if you’re in the market for a new one, you’ll be pleased at the selection of LED lamp versions of this style. They’re not quite as brilliant, but they burn at much lower temperatures, which should allay your concerns. Especially if you have kids in the house.
Dear Ken: I have older metal siding — I think it’s steel —and it needs painting. What do I need to do? — Mike
Answer: It first needs to be power-washed to remove pollution and old chalked paint. Any rusty or bare areas should then be coated with a rust-inhibiting primer. Then apply two coats of a good exterior acrylic latex house paint.
Dear Ken: My outside faucet dribbles. Can it be fixed easily? — Paul
Answer: It’s normal for a half cup of water or so to dribble out of the faucet when it’s shut off. This helps protect it from freezing during cold weather. But if the drip is continuous, turn off the water, remove the faucet handle and unscrew the stem nut underneath. You’ll then be able to withdraw a rather long stem with a rubber washer on its end.
This washer can simply be replaced with a new one, just like your inside faucets. If your house is older, it will help to use a cone-shaped version of this washer instead of the flat one that is probably installed now.
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the region. His radio show airs at 4 pm Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com