Dear Ken: We installed a 3-ton A/C unit in June. We have a 1,600-square-foot ranch home, but the system doesn’t always keep up. Do you think it’s big enough? — Liz
Answer: I think so, but there are a few tricks to get ahead of the heat on the warmest days:
• Program the thermostat to drop to the cool setting earlier in the afternoon, say about 2:30 p.m. That will have the house cooling as the heat load increases.
• Before leaving in the morning, close the blinds and drapes on the southerly-exposed windows.
• Upon returning home, turn the auto/on switch on the thermostat to on. This is particularly important in a ranch home because it will pull cooler basement air into the system, moderating the temperature on the main level.
Also, set a remote-reading thermometer in the attic space. If it reads 120 degrees or more, there’s work to do. An attic needs 13-plus inches of blown insulation (about R-40), plus extra vents might be required to exhaust the daily heat buildup.
One other effective add-on is a thermostatically-controlled vent fan. It installs on the attic sidewall over a gable vent and pulls cooler outside air through the space.
Dear Ken: We are finishing our basement and have been told by the building code people to use “floating walls.” Can you tell me about them? — Frank
Answer: The soil in many areas of this region contains varying amounts of clay (it tends to be worse nearer the foothills). This clay can expand with amazing force when it gets wet from drainage water. That force can push up on parts of the house that touch the ground, causing the concrete floors in the basement to buckle and crack. This heaving would transfer to the structure above if those basement walls touched the concrete.
Engineers and builders have created a clever way to protect the structural integrity of the rooms above by sort of suspending the basement walls from the ceiling and attaching them to the concrete floor with two flat 2-by-4-inch boards spaced about an inch and a half apart. The bottom board — the one resting on the floor — is connected to the rest of the wall only with huge nailing spikes. So it can move up and down, or float, with the floor, but the wall stays put. There’s more details involving sheet rock and baseboard connections, so consult with a contractor or trim carpenter.
Dear readers: Small blemishes on the carpet such as pet stains or burn marks can be handled a couple of ways. If there are leftover scraps or a closet you can “steal” from, then a carpet installer can patch the area. It might not exactly match the high-traffic and sun-exposed area that’s being repaired, but the new piece will blend in within a few weeks.
For small spots that don’t go deep into the fabric, take a pair of manicure scissors and a magnifying glass and carefully give the area a haircut. Usually it’ll be barely noticeable.
Dear Ken: We want to get a humidifier this year for the furnace. What kind should we buy? — Mike
Answer: Modern whole house humidifiers work pretty well. Unlike the old water bath type that accumulated algae and got dirty quickly, the new styles are self-cleaning and have no moving parts. I recommend the Aprilaire brand, but there are others similar in style. These all feature a hot water stream dribbling over a mesh screen and drawing warm furnace air through it, which adds humidity.
The lone drawback is they only operate when the furnace fan is running, so turn the thermostat fan switch to the “always on” setting. Alternatively, you can install one of the new automatic models that take control of the furnace fan circuit when the humidity falls below your setting (I keep mine at about 40 percent). Expect to pay an installed price of around $500.
Dear Ken: Dust blows into our bath fan. What should we do? — Alan
Answer: Check the outlet of the fan. There should be a flapper over the 3-inch hole that stays shut except when the fan is running. Sometimes, especially on the metal versions of these caps, the flapper won’t close properly because the assembly is under stress. If so, replace it with a plastic version.
Dear Ken: There are rust spots around the drain in my lavatory. Can I cover them myself? — Rick
Answer: Usually the cheaper steel sinks will slough off there porcelain coating after they’re “bruised” by dropped curling irons or an errant hair dryer. You can buy touch-up porcelain repair “paint” at the hardware store. Scuff up the area with fine sandpaper and apply the material very sparingly. Unfortunately, it’s only a temporary repair; eventually you’ll want to replace the sink with an all-porcelain version — about $40 more than the steel one you’ve got now.
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 4 p.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com