Dear Ken: The builder put in a sump pump pit in the basement, but there isn’t a pump inside. Do you think I need one? It’s about a third full now. — Frank

Answer: Generally, builders don’t install a pump if the pit is dry when the house is finished — or unless the soils engineer specifically requests it. If there is that much standing water in your pit, I would install one for sure. They cost about $100, but are a worthwhile “insurance policy” against basement flooding. By the way, I recommend a sump pump for ALL finished basements, even if the pit is dry.

Install a check valve in the vertical pipe line from the pump; it prevents water from sliding back down into the pit after the pump shuts off. And most important, make sure the pipe is long enough on the outside to really get the water away from the foundation. Otherwise, you may end up pumping the same water over and over, as it makes a round trip from the surface back into the French drain and sump pit.

One other good idea is to install a water alarm hanging inside the pit hole. That way, if the water level rises too high, you’ll be alerted in time. They are available online for less than $15.

Dear Ken: I have a whirlpool and this black gunk keeps coming out of the jet holes. How can I get rid of it? — Laura

Answer: Gunk’s a pretty good word for this stuff. It’s body oil, dirt and soap scum, which fester— along with bacteria — inside the room-temperature environment of the pipes, hoses and pumps. The secret with these tubs is to use them often — at least once or twice a week. That keeps the material from gaining a foothold. For now, if you’d like to get it clean, it’s quite simple. Add ¾ cup or so of your favorite dishwashing powder. Run the tub jets for 15 minutes or so, then drain. Follow that with a tub of plain warm water for 10 minutes to rinse.

Dear Ken: I have a window well problem. I need to keep water from leaking around the edges. What’s the best caulk to put between the well and the house? — Stephen

Answer: You can use any siliconized exterior latex caulking (cheap) or pure rubber silicone (more pricey). If the gap is large, you may want to fill it up with some of that insulating, expanding foam you squirt out of a can. This material is strong and makes a great gap-filler, but it’s not supposed to be exposed to sunlight. So here’s the drill: Let it harden overnight, and then shave it with a chisel or knife a quarter inch or so. That will leave a “bed” for your caulking material.

Another option, in lieu of the foam, is to use backer rod —a round foam “rope” that you can stuff into the cracks. It is less vulnerable to sunlight damage and much less messy.

To help keep water from entering the house around a window well, here are some other suggestions. Make sure the bottom soil level of the well is about 6 inches below the lip of the window sill. Then add a layer of small rocks to aid evaporation and to prevent staining from splashing water droplets. Soil around the well should slope away from its lip at no less than 1 inch of fall per foot of distance away (more is better). If the dirt is too high, you can “raise” the level of the window well by adding some metal landscape edging curved around the top to create an artificial barricade, against which you can add more soil. Finally, make sure downspouts around these wells are routed well away through flex pipe.

Dear Ken: I have some old plastic shutters, and they are sun damaged, with some yellow and brown spots. How can I clean them? — Len

Answer: If they are faded by the sun, you’ll have to repaint them. Ask a name-brand paint store for just the right primer for this application, apply two coats, and then follow up with a good exterior latex topcoat.

If you simply want to clean them, use some warm soapy water and a stiff scrub brush. Sometimes the spots and stains won’t wash off, so there’s another approach. Use WD-40 as sort of a seasoning agent that will dissolve most spots and brighten up the finish. But first try a test spot along one edge that won’t show, so you can see the reaction before you do the fronts.

Dear Ken: I have a cedar fence with metal posts. How long should I wait before I put on a clear sealer? — Mark

Answer: Let it dry out and stabilize for 30 days or so. Then you can apply one of the many available oil-based deck stains with a pump sprayer. I would avoid a clear product, because the sun cooks it away in no time; use one of the tinted varieties. Once you start this process, the coating will have to be renewed once a year to cancel out deterioration and fading from our high-UV sunlight and the sprinkler system.

Dear Ken: The previous owner left an old water softener in the basement which we no longer need. How can I disconnect it? — Michael

Answer: If you don’t need the extra room, you would create by removing it, I would just let it be. There should be some sort of water valve set next to it, labeled “IN SERVICE/OUT OF SERVICE”. Push the rod in the direction that takes it out of service. Then unplug the softener clock and motor. If you really want it out of the way, you should be able to locate two couplings that simply unscrew to disconnect the softener from the house pipes.

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.

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