Dear Ken: My stairs are noisy. How can I stop the treads from popping and squeaking? I need to tell you that it is finished underneath with drywall. — Cliff
Answer: You could try driving a few 16 penny casing or finish nails directly through the carpet. I know it sounds pretty aggressive, but it can’t hurt, and you may get lucky and tighten up the right boards that are rubbing together. You can also find breakaway screw sets at the hardware store that can work. You twist them into place and the head eventually snaps off even with the surface.
The best way, of course, is to hire a carpet installer who can expose the wooden treads for you. He can stand by while you attack the squeaks with deck screws and maybe some resin-based (brown) carpenter’s glue.
Dear Ken: There is musty smell in the basement of my 1960s home. There’s also some moisture under the carpet down there. Any ideas? — Carrie
Answer: Based on your home’s age, I’ll bet you have those tiny basement windows that were popular in those days. That means that you probably need more ventilation to get rid of the excess moisture. Even if the walls and floors appear dry, there is always a little moisture escaping the damp soil behind the concrete and working its way into the basement as vapor. That raises the relative humidity down there and produces that musty smell you complain of.
Why not try to get some air moving through the basement? Find a location near one of the outside walls (the hallway is best), and attach an inexpensive bath fan to the ceiling. Run its duct outdoors, wire it into a timer and let it run two or three hours each morning. That will pull drier, sweeter air from upstairs through the space and exhaust the damper air outside.
If you have some actual standing water under the carpet, take a look at the drainage elements above that area —like a too-close downspout, leaking hose spigot or a low area that doesn’t drain away well.
Finally, if indeed you have those diminutive, high-up windows and there are folks sleeping in the basement, you need to take extra care to keep them safe.
Of course, it’s best to hire a company to install a proper “egress” window and well. But if that’s not possible, you can mitigate the risk a little by building in permanent ladders under the smaller windows.
Also, install a fire extinguisher in each room and add extra smoke detectors.
Dear Ken: I have an old well in the backyard that was covered up. Do you think it’s worth resurrecting? — Rollie
Answer: It may not be up to you. These old wells were in fashion years ago as a way to get around lawn-watering restrictions. They simply drilled down until they hit the first layer of underground water, dropped in a small submergible pump and used its pressure to soak the lawn and shrubs (you might recall “well water” signs in the front yards in older urban neighborhoods).
Things have changed though, over the last 40 years or so. Most of these wells were unpermitted by state authorities, and of course that’s no longer allowed. Besides depleting the water in a given aquifer that probably belongs to someone else who owns the rights, these shallow wells can contain chemical contaminants that may be harmful to humans and animals as they are misted through the sprinkler heads.
The permitting of wells — new and old — is the purview of the state natural resources folks. Check their website for further information and guidance.
Dear Ken: The drains in one bathroom seem to gurgle for a while after I use them. Is this something I have to live with? — Liz
Answer: Probably not. This phenomenon is more common in older houses because we used smaller pipe diameters in those days, and may not have installed as many vent pipes to the roof as we do now. The answer is usually to have a professional come and clean out the drains with a rotating cable and blade machine.
However, many times, in a situation like yours, the culprit isn’t in the basement pipes as you would expect, but up high in one of those roof vent pipes. Waste products can get stuck in there, starving the system of outside air, and that can produce the sound you describe.
So, make sure they get up on the roof to inspect the upper regions of your system.
Dear Ken: I moved into a fix-and-flip house that was totally rehabbed, including new carpet. But there is still a “dog” smell inside. Do you think it’s on the wall surfaces? — Mitch
Answer: I don’t think so. Pet odors aren’t electrostatic, like smoke particles, so they tend to originate where they were first deposited. I’ll bet the owner forgot to seal urine stains on the wood floors before they replaced the floor coverings.
I know this sounds gross, but the best way to check is to kneel down and use your nose to verify that the odor is seeping up through the carpet and pad. If so, you’ll have to unhook it from its tack strip, roll it back and then treat the stains. Use a mild soap and water solution containing a deodorizer like Woolite’s Oxy Clean Pet Odor Remover to scrub the spots. Let them dry, and then apply a couple of coats of our good old friend, KILZ. That sequence should neutralize and seal the stains so they don’t leak through the carpet.
Do this right away before the odors permanently contaminate the pad.
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