Many of you will escape to warmer climates this winter. So here’s my annual snowbird tip list to get the house ready before you leave.
Two areas need attention: plumbing and security.
I’m not a believer in shutting off the heat entirely. You risk freeze-ups of pipes inside wall cavities, plus the super-cold temperatures are brutal on woodwork, furniture, electronic devices and the appliances.
• So, set the thermostat at no lower than 55 degrees.
• Flush each toilet and remove the water in the bowls with a coffee can and a large car-washing sponge. That leaves a hole that can let sewer gas into the house, so stuff a couple of plastic shopping bags in there — but not too far.
• Invert a piece of Tupperware over the shower drains and close the pop-up stoppers in each remaining sink.
• Turn the water heater off — including the pilot — and then close the main incoming water valve in the basement.
• Dribble some water out of the lowest bathroom sink to let atmospheric pressure into the system.
• It’s also a good idea to open cabinet doors under sinks on outside walls to let some warm air waft through those spaces.
• To ensure that the ice maker won’t keep calling for water from a dry pipe, lift up that little lever in the freezer compartment.
• Unplug the garage door opener.
• Plug a couple of lamps into timers so they come on and off at normal times (nothing says you’re not home more than a lamp that burns 24/7).
• Turn on a talk-radio station set to a loud volume.
• Finally, blinds should be left at least partially open to allow the police and your neighbors to see inside.
Dear Ken: Is there a good cleaner for oak cabinet doors? They are 8 years old and don’t have a shiny finish anymore. — Cheryl
Answer: The underlying lacquered finish may still be there, but it’s been covered by a layer of “pollution” — hand prints, grease, smoke and just plain dirt. The first goal is to degrease them. A half cup of white vinegar in a quart of water will probably do the trick. You can use one of those little (green) nylon mesh scrubber pads if you like. Once you’ve removed the crud, you can use some Liquid Gold or Olde English to restore a pleasant finish, which can be renewed whenever you’d like.
If your situation is more extreme , you can use a stronger degreaser, like low-odor mineral spirits — but use great care. Ventilate, wear rubber gloves and beware of its flammability!
Dear Ken: We’d like to remove some columns in our living room. They are dry walled and disappear into our vaulted ceiling. Do you think it’s OK to do this? — Ted
Answer: If your house is about 60 years old or newer, it’s probably OK. Since that time, most homes have been built with a trussed rafter system holding up the roof. The trusses are engineered to free-span from the opposing outside walls and carry the load, which, because of our snowy climate, can be pretty burdensome. If there’s a small wedge-shaped “attic” — like a 2-foot space — between the shingles and the living room ceiling, you’ve got trusses. If there’s an exposed wood beam under the peak of the living room, that means you’ve got traditional rafters, so consult with an engineer. Keep in mind, though, that I haven’t seen your situation, so, if you have any doubts, ask a home inspector or a building contractor to stop by and take a look.
Dear Ken: The pipes leaving our water heater have developed pinhole leaks and they’re covered with green and white spots. What can be going on? — Jean
Answer: What’s going on is galvanic corrosion. There’s an electro-chemical reaction between the water heater tank and the pipes, with the minerals in the water acting as a liquid electrolyte (remember the simple battery you made in a beaker in high school chemistry?). Sometimes simply adding an insulator can help. A plumber can install isolating connectors containing a rubber bushing, which electrically separates the tank and the pipes. While there, have them replace the pipes leading into the tank with those corrugated, flexible copper connectors to reduce strain and to make replacement of the water heater much easier.
Dear Ken: I’ve noticed some gray stains in the linoleum around one our toilets. We’ve tightened the floor bolts, but the area gets bigger. Is there a problem we can’t see? — Pat
Answer: Those stains telegraph that water is seeping between the vinyl’s gloss coat and the underlying pattern. It’s probably time to pull the toilet. The most likely fix is to replace the wax ring, which seals the toilet bowl to the pipe flange underneath. They can age and crack (sometimes installing TWO rings helps). A much less likely scenario: the porcelain toilet bowl base has cracked. By the way, I’m afraid that the sheet vinyl will have to be replaced.
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 4 pm Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com.