Dear Ken: We have A/C, but our second-floor bedrooms are hot. Would a whole house fan help? The installers think we’re crazy. — Will
Answer: Not crazy: shrewd. A whole house fan will help cut air conditioning costs — not a lot, but enough to make it worthwhile. The fan sucks cool evening air into the house and out through the attic. It’s that through-the-attic part that will help lower your cooling load. And there’s another advantage. At the beginning and end of the summer, when it’s not quite hot enough for central cooling, but too warm to sleep, the whole house fan is just the ticket. In other words, you’ll start high-cost cooling later and end it earlier with the fan, and since it costs less to use per hour, you’ll save real money.
Some folks find central cooling a little irritating, since it dries out the interior atmosphere and recirculates odors and staleness — sort of like an airliner on a long trip. If that’s you, you’ll like the fresh air intake of your whole house fan.
Finally, make sure to open several widows or the patio door when it runs so it’s not starved for air; otherwise you can pull water heater fumes into the house. Moreover, it’s a good idea to use a one-hour timer to energize the fan, so you don’t leave it on after retiring.
Dear Ken: We babysat a big tomcat for a while. He sprayed the concrete floor in the basement. How can we get this horrible smell out? — Sarah
Answer: Start with one of the popular deodorizers — like Nature’s Miracle or an OxyClean product, followed by a good primer like Bullseye 1-2-3. Apply a couple of treatments, rinse well and let it dry. You’ll be left with white spots, which will then need to be covered. Use a gray deck enamel to blend everything into a single uniform hue.
Dear Ken: Our driveway is sinking 2 or 3 inches in the middle and has cracked. We heard you talking about mud jacking and wonder if this would help us? — Paul
Answer: It probably would. Mud jacking is a way to lift up concrete slabs that have subsided. They inject a sloppy slurry consisting of cement, water, sand and some clay (the mud part) underneath. First they drill a series of 2-inch holes in the surface. Then they use high pressure so that the material will first fill in all the crevices in the collapsed soil and then start to raise the slab back to its original height. It can seem a little pricey at first, but when compared to “rip out and replace,” there’s no contest.
Remember that not all concrete surfaces are eligible for this treatment. If they are badly cracked and not held together well with wire mesh or rebar, they may break apart as they are being elevated.
Dear Ken: You wrote last month about adding vents to cool down the garage. But our HOA doesn’t want turbines or any visible venting. What can I do? — Tom
Answer: Why not an attic vent fan? It mounts on the inside wall surface over a gable vent. The only thing showing on the outside would be a flat, rectangular, louvered grille — and surely that wouldn’t be a big deal to your HOA board. The fan is controlled by a thermostat and blows outward through the vent grille. Of course, vent fans work best when they have a cooler air source to draw from. So, for maximum efficiency, you’ll have to leave your big garage door up a foot or so — but of course, that might also freak out your board. If it does, install a couple of crawl space-type grilles close to the ground on the outside walls as an air supply.
Dear Ken: What is your recommendation for the best sealer to apply to exterior concrete? — Scott
Answer: Any name-brand clear, liquid masonry sealer is a good choice. They are helpful in retarding concrete spalling — that is the flaking away of the smooth surface of the driveway — which then exposes the underlying aggregate. This breakdown occurs because moisture sinks into the microscopic pores of the concrete and then goes through those inevitable, daily freeze-thaw cycles in the winter.
These products are silicone-based, so they don’t last more than a few months in our high-elevation sunshine. So it’s a good idea to seal your driveway at the beginning of the winter season, say in October, and then again halfway through on a warm day in January or February.
Nonetheless, sealing your concrete is no substitute for clearing off ice and snow as soon as you can after each storm. Also, if you must, use “concrete friendly” salts. And fill in cracks that develop — especially in those control joint grooves — with an epoxy-based crack filler.
Other locations where clear sealants are extremely helpful are horizontal, stuccoed surfaces, like the tops of pillars holding up your deck or on exterior, flat recessed window sills. These are so expensive to repair — let alone replace — that you should also seal them each time you coat the driveway.
Dear Ken: We have a bay window that sticks out from the house and in winter the whole thing is really cold. We think now is a good time to upgrade it. How can we insulate this area? — Anne
Answer: I’m surprised that the original installers didn’t do this. If you have an unfinished basement, you can look from the inside towards the bottom of the bay. You may need to knock out the box sill boards that are in the way. That may let you see all the way to the outside. In that case, take chunks of fiberglass batt insulation and stuff each joist cavity full — up to a point, that is. Insulation is effective because it’s full of microscopic air pockets. So don’t push too hard. If you don’t access as I’ve described, you’ll have to remove the plywood under the outside of the bay element and then insulate.
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