Dear Ken: Just a quick question about ice makers. There is currently poly tubing that is installed to my refrigerator. I don’t feel comfortable with this long term. Should I replace it with copper? Are the fittings compatible? — Doug
Answer: You’re right to be concerned, because plastic tubing to an ice maker is susceptible to cracking and splitting. The constant flow of hot air from the compressor fan in the essentially unventilated space behind the fridge blows over and around the tubing — and eventually makes it quite brittle.
So it’s a good idea to use only copper or steel-braided lines in this area. The compression type fittings are the same for either of these 1/4-inch systems. All you need is brass — instead of plastic — accessories to convert to the new piping. By the way, you may notice a piece of plastic tubing rising vertically from the water valve to the rear of the freezer compartment. That’s usually OK, since this piece is up and away from the heat.
Dear Ken: Do you have a buyers’ recommended list of things to look for before making an offer on a house? I’ll be having an inspection, but would like to be able to spot serious problems early. — Dana
Answer: It is, indeed, a great idea to know whether to make an offer on a house in the first place, rather than wait for the formal inspection. That way you’ll have avoided all the paperwork, delays and expenses in purchasing a house, which may not have been a good choice in the first place — only to have to start all over again.
Significant foundation and other structural problems should be avoided. Look for cracks in the exterior concrete walls. Minor stress cracks that have no surface separation are normal, but cracks that have “telegraphed” their movement upstairs are usually more serious. In that case, you’ll see fissures in the drywall above, and perhaps doors and windows will be ill-fitting.
If you are considering a house built in the earlier parts of the last century, you’ll have to, shall we say, loosen your standards a bit. These homes usually sit on old stone or “rubble” foundations, perhaps intermixed with bricks or concrete blocks. They tend to settle and shift around, so the owners end up shoring the floors above with timbers and homemade beams. This is all normal stuff for these “seasoned” proprieties. As long as the outside walls are plumb and straight and the floors are reasonably flat, you’ll probably be OK. But you may garner additional peace of mind by having an engineer take a look. Make sure to choose one who doesn’t always “go by the book” — but instead has experience evaluating “mature” homes.
A little evidence of moisture around foundation walls is OK. For example, you may see some salt deposits along the edge of the basement floor. But evidence of standing or pooling water is a red flag. It can simply be surface runoff from the downspouts, but it can also indicate a high underground water table — which can be big trouble.
Look for stains on the ceilings. Some can be explained as simply a one-time attic snow drift, but others — especially around fireplaces or under bathrooms — might be a reason for extra vigilance.
Is the furnace clean or dirty? A little dust is OK, but if it looks like it’s been ignored for years, that may indicate that the seller isn’t in to maintaining things — both the obvious and the not-so-obvious.
Other signs of deferred maintenance and neglect — like torn screens, dirty windows, mildewed and dirty tub and tile grout, doors that don’t latch, old paint and the condition of the landscaping — may also indicate how attentive the current owners to their castle.
Dear Ken: My trilevel house is quite drafty. I have noticed lots of wind coming through the plugs and switch plates. How can I cut this down? — Marty
Answer: You need to attack this problem both at the inside and at the (exterior) source. Outlets and switches are problematic on outside walls because the rear of their boxes is closer to the outside air — and so has less insulation behind it than the rest of the wall. You can squirt some expanding poly foam behind and around them — but be judicious, because a little goes a long way. You can also apply those pre-formed Styrofoam pads under the cover plates.
As to the source, look for obvious areas where air can leak into the wall cavity. The gap under the siding at the foundation line, and cracks around windows and doors, are obvious culprits. These can be caulked and/or chinked in with some fiberglass insulation.
Ken 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.