Dear Ken: My wife and I go round and round on this one. I’m from the Southwest and think a swamp cooler is all we need. She’s from back East and wants central air. Will you break the tie? — Gary
Answer: In a way, you’re both right. This decision is mostly budgetary. A central air system will run about $3,500. But you can install an evaporative cooler for about a third of that price. The cooler works pretty well in our arid climate; you can direct the cool air into any room by simply opening a window. But some folks don’t like the added humidity and odors it introduces into the house along with, perhaps, some extra mold spores and bacteria. So if anyone in your household has respiratory troubles — such as hay fever or asthma — it’s best to avoid these units.
The central air system not only cools your house, but also can help you create your own indoor environment. You can keep the windows closed, shutting out pollution and traffic noise. And you can add extra filtration to the furnace to trap those small particles. Also, most real estate professionals tell me that a central system adds real monetary value to your house, whereas a future buyer won’t value a swamp cooler in the same way.
Dear Ken: We’re buying a 1993 home with polybutylene pipe. We’re asking the owner to re-plumb the home, but they don’t think it’s an issue. How big of a deal is this? — Jason
Answer: This plastic piping was popular from the late ’70s to the mid ’90s. It has devolved a reputation for catastrophic leaks as it ages. Consequently, it has a lousy reputation with Realtors, appraisers, inspectors and lenders. A 1993 house probably has the best generation of polybutylene with copper — not plastic — fittings and hopefully a “manifold” arrangement in the utility room. Check if that is the case.
Even so — as I’ve said on my show — when you sell this house, it probably will come up again. And if at that time we are in a buyers’ market, you might be forced to replace it or lose the deal. The folks you’re buying from should have dealt with it when they bought the house. Bottom line: Hold your ground. But if you really love the property, perhaps you could split the cost with them.
Dear Ken: We can’t seem to keep paint on our master bath ceiling. We’ve tried re-doing it with KILZ primer, but it still peels. We don’t have a fan but do keep the window open when the weather allows. Got any ideas? — Terri
Answer: You really need a bath fan. Most master bathrooms have to accommodate two or more showers per day, seven days a week. That’s a lot of extra humidity, even in our dry climate.
Before you paint again, shower in another bath for a week or so, then apply your KILZ primer, followed by a couple of coats of semi-gloss paint. Latex is OK, but if you want the ultimate protection, use an alkyd (oil based) paint or one of the new water based epoxy products.
Dear Ken: Could you tell me the proper water pressure for your house and for the sprinklers? Mine is about 80 pounds. — Ethan
Answer: That’s too high. You should have two water pressure regulators in your house — a so-called “split” system — one for the house pipes and one for the sprinklers. Set the house side for no more than about 55 pounds per square inch (PSI). Anything higher and you risk a catastrophic leak in the valves in the dishwasher, ice maker, washing machine and toilets. Most sprinkler systems are designed for higher pressures to get proper coverage to all the areas of your lawn. Usually, about 75 PSI will get the job done.
Dear Ken: We installed a new water heater, and now we get this banging noise in the pipes. Do we need a water hammer gizmo like you’ve written about in the past? — Barb
Answer: First, check your water pressure. If it’s too high (see above), adjust the pressure regulator to lower it. The regulator is a brass device — about the size of a soda pop can — connected into the water pipes near the city meter. Turn the screw on top counter clockwise to lower the pressure.
You also might need an expansion tank. When your new water heater raises the temperature in the closed piping system, the pressure rises as the water expands. An expansion tank connected to the cold water line will absorb these pressure differences and help moderate their effects.
Finally, yes, you could install water hammer arrestors in the hot and cold water lines in your house. These are small “shock absorbers,” similar to the ones in your car, which will smooth out the shock waves created when you turn faucets on and off quickly.
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.