Dear Ken: With summer on the way, I’m trying to decide whether to install a whole house fan. Wouldn’t it be just as effective to set a couple of box fans in the windows of the upstairs hallway, since our hot weather doesn’t last long? — Todd
Answer: It wouldn’t have the same effect. A whole house fan not only draws cool air into the house, but also purges the attic of the day’s hot air, which can drop the temperature up there by 20 or 30 degrees. That means less heat will leak into the bedrooms through the night. Another, more subtle benefit: A perpetually hot attic will cause shingles to blister and can shorten the life of the roofing system.
When you install your fan, use a twist-type, one-hour timer instead of a regular wall switch to control the motor. That will ensure that the fan won’t stay on all night if you fall asleep with it running. Why is that bad? Under rare conditions, the fan’s substantial air draw can overwhelm the water heater while the burner is on and pull fumes into the living space.
Dear Ken: I have a 3-year-old house. The attic access in the closet is sealed, so I’ve never been up there to take a look. Any problem with unsealing it? — Tim
Answer: Not really. Once the city inspects the blown-in attic insulation, the builder is allowed to seal the panel with caulking and paint —unless, of course, equipment is up there. It makes for a nice clean look and prevents chattering of the Sheetrock during high winds.
But no, it’s not a problem. Simply slice along the caulking bead on all four sides and gently lift the panel. One thing to check: Is there a “blanket” of insulation on the topside of the access?
Dear Ken: I have aluminum wiring in my condo. Can I fix this myself by adding copper jumpers? — Chris
Answer: You can if you have experience with residential wiring, but I would leave this to a professional. Aluminum wiring — popular in house construction for about 10 years starting in the mid ’60s — poses a fire hazard. Thermal expansion and contraction around the screws on outlets and switches can work the wire loose, causing overheating and, in rare cases, an in-the-wall fire.
The fix is pretty straightforward. A licensed electrician will attach a short copper “pigtail” to the old wires in each outlet and switch box.
Once the work is done, the electrical contractor will give you a letter saying the wiring has been repaired and updated. A future buyer and their home inspector usually will accept that resolution without complaint.
Dear Ken: I have a dimmer switch that is pretty hot. The little screws are sometimes too hot to touch, but it’s been in for about a year with no problems. What do you think? — Julie
Answer: I think you need a “beefier” model. Too hot to touch is a big red flag for a dimmer. Check the total wattage of the light bulbs in the circuit and compare it with the rating on the front of the dimmer. I’ll bet you’ve exceeded (or have come close to) the max. Install the next larger-rated size. (Also, it helps to use a metal switch plate cover that will help dissipate some heat.) If it still runs hot, run this by a professional electrician.
Dear Ken: Our concrete driveway is flaking and “pocking” all over. It seems to be accelerating. Can something be done to stop it? — Dee
Answer: The phenomenon you describe is called spalling. It’s usually caused by the freeze/thaw cycle of snow and ice that has been left on the surface. Or your driveway could be breaking down because of poor installation and finishing. If the concrete was too “soupy” when it was poured or cured too quickly on a hot day, the surface was weak from the start and will deteriorate as you describe.
You can mix concrete skim coatings and apply a thin layer to the bad spots. This is a medium term solution at best but will make your driveway more presentable. For areas that haven’t broken down, you can apply a liquid concrete sealer.
Finally, remember to keep the surface clear of snow and ice during winter.
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.