Dear Ken: I removed old wallpaper from the hallway and in the process damaged the texture on the wall. I have scraped it and removed the glue, but I don't think it's going to be OK without retexturing. Can the average person do this? - Carol
Answer: You could try applying a texture compound with a roller or stiff brush, or you could hire a dry-wall contractor. No matter which way you go, the end product probably won't match your walls. Hallways are the worst, because their length emphasizes and exaggerates the differences in a very visual way.
Why not texture with wallpaper? I recommend this treatment over ugly old paneling (after sanding and spackling), and it may cover all the imperfections in your case. A muted gray, beige or off-white textured wallpaper will appear to be a plain wall but will hide all the unevenness. Choose a nice, heavy vinyl for this job. If your hall walls have significant "hills and valleys," apply a liner paper first so the variations won't telegraph through to the new paper.
Dear Ken: How many rooms can I close off that I don't want to heat? - Cheryl
Answer: I have a rule of thumb that I use year-round, for heating and cooling. Count the vents in the house and divide by four. Never close more than 25 percent of your heating system's vents. Your furnace was engineered for a fairly specific air throughput. If you close too many openings, you risk overheating the furnace and shortening its life. Conversely, when you run the A/C, too little air flow can freeze the coils.
Dear Ken: I have a garbage disposer with a strong moldy smell that won't go away. Any ideas? - Jean
Answer: The innards of a disposer can be scoured occasionally by grinding up half of a lemon or lime and a handful of ice cubes, but the usually neglected part is the underside of that rubber splash guard. Use a round toilet brush for this job. It will barely fit into the hole, but it does a marvelous job on the hidden parts - not only the splash guard, but also the topside of the disposal chamber itself. If you like, you can saturate the brush with your favorite ammonia-based household cleaner before you start.
Finally, have an old bath towel available to envelop the brush as you ease it out. Otherwise, you'll splatter gunk everywhere.
Dear Ken: I want to install a programmable thermostat in place of my older model. I have one in the box without the instruction sheet. Can you tell me the steps? - Danny
Answer: You could Google the manufacturer's website, and you might find an installation manual. But here are some general guidelines. If yours is a conventional forced-air heating system, you'll have two wires - usually a red and a white - connected to the thermostat. Your new one probably has RH (for heat) and a W terminal. Use these and match their respective colors.
Electronic models have a little computer inside that is pretty sensitive to stray electrical impulses, so it's important to turn off the power to the furnace first. Look for a regular wall switch either near or mounted on the furnace cabinet. If you can't find it, go to the house panel and turn off the furnace breaker itself.
Dear Ken: In a recent article, you discussed insulating heating ducts in the crawl space with fiberglass batts, but you said not to use duct tape to secure them. Why not? - Mike
Answer: I use duct tape for lots of projects, but it's not a good long-term fix when it's under stress. Many folks, for example, use it to tape downspout pipes. After a few months, it literally disintegrates from sun exposure. In your heat-duct case, we find that using it anywhere around the warm furnace produces the same result. The warmth accelerates its demise, so you end up having to rewrap your job. A better choice is that shiny, metallic duct tape that heating technicians use.