Dear readers: The sprinkling season is about halfway over, so now’s a good time to check your system’s operation.
Sprinkler heads often get bumped during mowing, and you might be surprised to find some heads are broken and producing a small geyser or not popping up at all. Others might be pointing the wrong direction, spraying against the deck, fence, siding or foundation.
If, as at my house, your water bill is pretty high this summer, you might consider a rain sensor. It’s ideal during these monsoon times to have the system shut itself off when the lawn is wet from rainwater. This device is easy to wire into the clock structure and consists of a wick system, or little disks that swell when wet. If there is enough saturation from rain, a micro switch trips and shuts down the clock until the lawn dry. Wired sensors cost less than $20, and wireless options run $60 or so. The investment will pay for itself in no time.
Dear Ken: Twice we have had snow come in our north-side attic vents and ruin the ceiling below. We would like to address this before the cold weather gets here. Whom should we call to get help? — Dee
Answer: This is an easy job for a handyman service. One option is to block off the north vent from the outside with a piece of plywood or plastic this fall, providing you remove it next spring. I wouldn’t suggest this in, say, the Midwest, where cross ventilation is vital to eliminate condensation. But in this dry climate, it’s likely OK. An even better idea is to cover the offending vent permanently with a cheap fiberglass furnace filter on the inside of the attic. It will let air in but keep snow out.
Dear Ken: My 20-year-old vinyl siding has mildew spots, especially around the area of one tree. How can I get it off? Can I paint the vinyl? — Danny
Answer: This is pretty common on older houses where the original siding has been covered with vinyl clapboards. It’s mostly prevalent on the north (coldest) side. Moisture that leaches through the wall condenses on the inside of the hollow vinyl strips. It’s usually harmless as long as there is no evidence of mold on the inside walls.
You can scrub the spots with diluted bleach — a half cup of Clorox in a gallon of warm water. That will kill the spores, and it might clean the stains. If not, follow with a good power wash.
A good paint store can recommend the right primer/paint combination to apply to older siding.
Dear Ken: We have a 30-year-old house. I’m writing you about the water pipes. When certain faucets are turned off, there is a knocking of pipes on another floor. Is there any solution short of opening walls or calling a plumber? — Paul
Answer: You might have a water pressure problem. Use a screw-on-type pressure gauge connected to the clothes washer cold water faucet (not an outside hose spigot) to check the reading. If it’s above about 60 psi, adjust the regulator. That’s the brass gadget connected to the water pipes as they first come in from the street. Back off the set screw on top (counter clockwise to lower the pressure) a half-turn at a time to see if this provides relief.
Dear Ken: I just bought an old house with a brick chimney. The water heater and furnace use this chimney, and my home inspector says that it needs a cap to keep the weather out. Is that true? — Steve
Answer: You can have a heating contractor custom fashion a permanent cap from galvanized metal that will slip over the chimney top. But you probably need more repairs than a cap. Older brick chimneys are porous enough to let carbon monoxide leak into the house. For many years now, most building authorities have insisted that you sleeve the inside of the chimney with a metal pipe to carry the fumes safely up and out. It’s not as bad as it sounds: they insert a flexible (ribbed) piping system through the old flue cavity starting at the top, and then install a conventional rain cap on the new flue. You need to do this to keep the family safe.
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