Dear Ken: I’ve got some dark and dreary paneling in the basement that I want to paint. Getting the paint to stick is a problem. I don’t want to use a solvent-based primer, because of all the fumes — especially with the pilot lights burning inside the furnace and water heater. How can I paint the walls without blowing up my house? — Brenda
Answer: Not to worry. Most of today’s paints, stains and primers are available as water-based products and have been designed to have low volatility — that is they evaporate less and produce fewer fumes than the old days. Nevertheless, it couldn’t hurt to turn off the pilots temporarily (if your furnace is newer than about 25 years, it probably has an electronic pilot, not a flame).
Open whatever windows are in the basement and use a box fan to circulate some air. Use a good primer/ sealer such as Bullseye 1-2-3 or KILZ; apply two coats and sand lightly between each. Finally, apply a good interior latex semigloss paint and enjoy your brighter basement walls.
Dear Ken: We have an older home. It has galvanized water pipes which have closed up with minerals over the years so the pressure is really low. What do you recommend for replumbing? — Bruce
Answer: The new PEX plastic water pipes are easy to use in a case like yours. Since they can bend without transitioning through a fitting, they can be snaked through small openings and crawl spaces right alongside the old water pipes. Plus you’re not soldering copper pipes — where there’s always a risk of a fire. And of course the labor will be much cheaper because there are less fittings and longer continuous runs of piping.
The benefits of replacing this pipe are several. First of all you’ll have better flow and higher pressures, you won’t be getting extra iron in your drinking water, and it will taste better.
Moreover, when you sell your house, you’ll make profit on this upgrade, because a future buyer would heavily discount their offering price were it to still have the old galvanized piping.
Dear Ken: I have an L-shaped deck on two levels. They seem to sway and shimmy if you walk on them too energetically. Is there an easy cure for this? — Andy
Answer: Yes. As the deck joists and beams dry out in our climate, they shrink and can pull away from each other. So the whole system loosens up — railings included.
After you’ve retightened all the screws and lag bolts, you can apply a sway brace or two. This is a 1-inch by 4-inch board that you screw on to the bottom surfaces of the deck joists at a 45-degree angle — like the cross brace on a fence gate (if the decks are big enough, you could apply them in a V-shaped pattern). They will greatly reduce the swaying you’re concerned about.
Incidentally, this technique also works on the underside of long deck stairs.
Dear Ken: I hate the smell of burning bugs in my halogen torchiere lamp, so I’ve put an upside-down glass pie plate on top. What do you think? — Michelle
Answer: Bad idea. Apparently you have one of the older style halogen lamps with a 300 watt lamp. The bulbs in these fixtures burn at around a thousand degrees F. and so need ventilation to dissipate that tremendous heat.
At the very least, I think you’re going to considerably shorten the life of the bulb. Also, have you thought of what happens when that pie plate slips off the fixture and hits something flammable, like carpet?
And here’s another reminder to never leave a room — let alone your house — when one of these lamps is switched on. And be extra careful with them when little kids are around.
In the interest of having a safer home environment, I would replace it with one of the newer style LED torchiere fixtures. They use a lot less electricity and burn at much lower temperatures.
Dear Ken: We hired a landscape company to install a sprinkler system in our brand new house. There was settling around the control box of about 12 inches. Is this excessive? Who should fix it, the builder or the landscape contractor? — Jake
Answer: You’ve described one of my pet peeves. Sprinkler valves almost always drip and leak, so they and their control box belong out and away from the foundation of any house, new or old. This is excessive, and the soil should be filled in and compacted as soon as possible. Two questions: Did the landscape err here by installing a leaky system? Or did the builder not compact the soil properly? You should ask for a sit-down with both entities and let them resolve it in front of you. I’ll bet they will work it out to your satisfaction.
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