High temperatures encourage accelerated growth of bacteria in garbage disposals. It’s usually the parts not easily accessed — like the rubber splash guard and the top of the disposal chamber —that accumulate food particles.
There are two good tools for this cleaning operation: a round toilet bowl brush and a toothbrush. Saturate the toilet brush with liquid ammonia, then swab it around the insides of the disposal, paying close attention to the splash guard and disposal chamber. Because the brush barely fits into the hole, and because there will be a lot of crud on it, cover it with an old towel before you withdraw it to avoid splatter. Repeat until the innards are clean, then use the toothbrush to get whatever remains under the splash guard.
You can “sweeten” the whole disposal by grinding up a few handfuls of ice with half a lemon. For ongoing maintenance, I dump half a cup of pine oil cleaner inside at the end of a night. Let it drain down the outlet pipe and flush in the morning.
While we’re focusing on the disposal, take a look at that rubber guard. It’s not only for water splashes, but it also protects people from flying bone chips, glass and other hard stuff. If its “leaves” are missing or rotting away, replace it. This job isn’t a big deal, but it requires two people — one to hold the disposal barely below the drain and the other to slip a new rubber guard on top.
How about the dishwasher? This time of year you might notice that it gets stinky between loads. In here, too, food particles begin to break down and bacteria take hold until you get that unpleasant odor every time you open the door. So it’s a good idea — especially in the summertime — to take extra care to rinse off the dishes. And why not take advantage of that “rinse and hold cycle”? It’s usually a quick rinse or two, but just enough hot water swishes in there to discourage odor-producing germs for a couple of days.
Dear Ken: From time to time, we notice a natural gas smell outside around the meter. Is this OK? — Gerry
Answer: If it comes and goes, it’s probably normal. The regulator attached to the incoming gas line is supposed to spritz a little out of its opening periodically to compensate for pressure variations. But if the smell lingers continuously over several days, have the gas company come out to tighten the fittings.
One other gas meter problem: The dirt around the foundation can sink and drag a gas line with it. That, in turn, yanks the meter out of plumb. If the twisting is severe enough, a leak could appear somewhere on the house side of the system. If yours is twisted badly, your provider likely will want to add a small pipe to take the strain off the meter so it can then be straightened.
Dear Ken: I have an older house and have discovered that I have a void under my basement concrete slab. Should I attempt to fill it? — Dean
Answer: Leave it alone if the floor hasn’t settled. This is common in lower-level family rooms, where the builder might not have compacted the soil properly. As loads go, the weight of furniture is relatively light so the concrete slab is acting like a bridge over that soil gap. If, on the other hand, it starts to crack and sag, the repair is comparatively easy and painless. It can be lifted into its old position by injecting a concrete or limestone slurry underneath (so-called mud jacking).
Dear Ken: My house has a cathedral ceiling. How can I get more insulation in there? — Roland
Answer: It can be problematic to inject additional installation in the gap between the ceiling and the roof trusses. Sometimes this space is only a foot or two high, and it’s already got the old insulation bats in there. In some houses, however, an installer can crawl in far enough to stick a tube on the end of the 4-inch hose to get material into all the corners and edges. Bottom line: Even if they can only fill part of the cathedral space, it will still save you energy dollars. So have a company come take a look.
Dear Ken: My water heater pilot light keeps blowing out at the most inconvenient times. Is this fixable? — Trish
Answer: Maybe. Air currents are blowing down through the flue pipe; you most likely notice this happening on windy days. If yours is an older heater, there will be two access panels for pilot lighting — a bigger outer one and a small steel panel behind it. Remove the smaller one, set it aside, and then replace the outside cover. That might set up different air flow patterns that will leave the pilot light alone.
If you have a newer water heater (built in the past 15 years or so), you probably don’t have the access panels I described. Instead, they have mandated, sealed combustion chambers without homeowner access. These aren’t vulnerable to the wind ,so there is likely something else going on such as low gas pressure or a dirty flame tube. Contact a plumber who can make adjustments or appropriate repairs.
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His call-in radio show airs at 4 p.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com