Dear readers: If you haven’t shut down the sprinkler system, now is a good time. I don’t recommend blowing out the lines with compressed air, however.
It’s vital during dry winters to water the lawn, bushes and young trees once every three or four weeks. Instead of dragging stiff and frozen hoses all over the yard with a portable sprinkler, I prefer to fire up my system on warm winter days. Modern systems, with the zone pipes configured from black polyethylene, usually don’t need purging with air. This material is pretty flexible and typically can withstand freezing. Moreover, once the system has been idle for a few days, the pipes are only partially full of water anyway. (Note: Older systems with hard pipes made of white PVC or galvanized steel should be blown out since they are much more vulnerable to cold temperatures).
The manifold part of your setup — the arrangement of pipes on the outside wall plus the plastic valves in that box next to the house — does require attention. You need to drain these pipes each time you winterize the system. There should be a little faucet in the valve box that lets water dribble out. A corresponding drain in the furnace room lets atmospheric pressure into the line to ensure the water leaves from that end too.
Don’t forget the final step. Turn on the sprinkler clock and switch on each zone valve manually for a few seconds. That will allow air into the pipes so they can trickle water into the soil through the heads and underground drains. Once that’s done, turn the clock to the off position. Otherwise, the valves will overheat if they are energized over and over without any water flow.
It only takes me about two minutes to unwinterize and then redrain the system after watering. If your winterization procedure is more complex, you might want to hire a plumber or landscaping contractor to do some repiping.
October is also a great time for a final lawn treatment. So perform fall aeration and then follow with your last application of fertilizer. Some companies make fertilizers specifically for winterizing. I opt for an all-purpose product with iron.
Dear Ken: Our basement is typically cold in the winter. Should the first floor be insulated between the floor joists along with wrapping the heat ducts? — Brett
Answer: If the first floor simply overlays an unfinished basement, probably not. The heat loss will be negligible because the heat rises away from your first floor and the temperature difference between levels is too small to cause much heat to transfer anyway.
Crawl spaces are another story. Instead of a temperature difference of 5 degrees or so between levels, there can be a disparity of 15 degrees or more. So install some 6-inch (R-19) batts between those floor joists, wrap the heat ducts with a foil-backed material and sleeve Styrofoam insulation over the hot water pipes.
By the way, the batts will resist drooping — from the inevitable vibration above — if you install spring steel wire insulation supports between the joists. One version is made by the Simpson Co. and is available online or at the lumber yard. Install every 3 feet or so along the length of each joist.
Dear Ken: What type of humidifier should we buy? Is there one that has a HEPA filter? — Brenda
Answer: I prefer humidifiers with no moving parts; one brand I like is April Aire. Water simply dribbles over a honeycomb-type mesh as the warm air blows through it.
Make sure to get an offset installation, which means the unit sits on a side duct instead of right over the furnace. That way, excess moisture won’t corrode and rust the inside of the furnace.
Finally, since warm water evaporates more quickly than cold, make sure it’s plumbed into the hot side of the water tank plumbing.
HEPA, or high efficiency particulate arrestance, filters are available on console or portable room air purifiers. They capture significantly smaller particles than ordinary filters and are a great choice to purify air in the bedroom — not to mention an excellent source of white noise.
Dear Ken: We have a mysterious squeak or chirp that comes and goes. It’s not in the floor and seems to be coming from everywhere. What do you think it is? — Gina
Answer: If you’ve accounted for all the pets, here are a few ideas. Gas and water meters can make noise as their wheels and gears turn. Also, smoke detectors let you know with irritating persistence when their batteries are low. Do you have a humidifier? It might have a wheel that turns noisily. Otherwise, all I can suggest is to turn up the stereo.
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