Dear Ken: My lights flicker occasionally. It’s not just one room, but the whole house. The power company and an electrician have been out, but they can’t find anything wrong. What should I do next? — David
Answer: Light fixture fluctuations and flickering signify tiny voltage drops — and they are normal when appliances start up or cycle on and off. These can include the oven, fridge, clothes iron and the central A/C system, among others. Is there any correlation between the dimming and a major appliance? If so, it’s no big deal.
But if it’s random and the electrician has tightened all the relevant connections, both inside the circuit box and in the outside meter enclosure, ask for a new main breaker. This is the device — usually rated from 100 to 200 amps — wthat controls all the current entering the house. They are heat-actuated and so can wear out.
If that doesn’t solve the problem, ask the power company to install a monitoring device, which can record the voltage in the system for a week or so. That might reveal power line problems that aren’t obvious during a single visit.
Dear Ken: The grout between the stones of my fireplace is cracking and falling off in places. How can I fix this myself, or should I ask a professional? — Craig
Answer: It would be difficult to get a professional to come, even if you wanted to. Brick masons are extremely busy with new home construction right now, and your small job probably wouldn’t get a high priority. Not to worry, though, because this is an easy repair for us amateurs.
All you need is pre-mixed mortar or a dry bag mix you can whip up yourself. First, scrape out all the loose chunks, brush and/or vacuum out the residual dust, and then wet the areas that will receive the new stuff. Then it’s simply a matter of deciding which tools will most easily insert the new mortar into the cracks and smooth it: Use your finger (wear rubberized work gloves), a screwdriver, a putty knife or a “pointing” tool you can buy at the hardware store — which is named after the actual process you’re about to undertake.
Dear Ken: I have heard you mention a strong drain cleaner on your program. What is it? Our 1968 house has an ongoing drain problem. I have used a snake and gotten a few tree roots out, but last night the dishwasher backed up into the floor drain. Any suggestions? — Jeff
Answer: The product is plumber’s acid — an aggressive form of sulfuric; one brand name is Liquid Lightning. It’s pretty good for slow-running sink and tub drains, but you appear to have another sort of problem. The kitchen branch line might be clogged before it enters the main 4-inch line to the street. It can build up a greasy layer of crud over the years — particularly if it was laid a little too flat under the basement floor. So have a professional company clean it.
Your ‘60s house probably has a cast-iron sewer line running to the street. These can be invaded by tree roots, just like their earlier clay tile cousins. The same company can put you on a regular rooting-out schedule once or twice a year.
Dear Ken: We want to tackle this problem before the cold weather gets here. My kids’ room is right above the garage and is so cold on some winter nights that they can’t sleep. The heating contractor has redirected some more heat into the room, but that didn’t seem to help. Do you have any other ideas? — Wendy
Answer: When you say the room is cold, you probably mean 10 degrees or so less than the rest of the house. If you simply raise the temperature of the garage (which is likely about 45 degrees or so in cold weather) by a similar amount, you’ll make up that difference upstairs. The point is: You don’t need to get the garage to room temperature, but simply take the “edge” off of it.
If you have an ancient wood or steel garage door, then it will pay to get an insulated one. And that may be all you need to do.
It can also help to install a couple of electric baseboard heaters — say 6 feet long. Since most electric panels are in the garage, it should be an easy hookup. Wire them into a thermostat set to 55 degrees and you’ll be all set.
If the garage is still cold after all these efforts, then it may be poor or nonexistent insulation on top of the garage ceiling. You can cut a small viewing hole here and there and check it yourself.
Incidentally, I know it’s tempting, but you must not under any circumstances bleed heat from the regular furnace ducts into the garage, since that can let carbon monoxide and other dangerous fumes leak into the living quarters!
Dear Ken: My dog has to see everything when he’s riding in the car, so he leaves “prints” all over the windows. Regular window cleaners won’t completely remove them. Do you have another idea? — Dan
Answer: Dog drool and nose prints require two steps. Mix equal parts white vinegar and warm water, spray it on and let it sit for a few minutes before wiping. Then follow up with a simple solution of Dawn or Joy in a spray bottle —or your favorite grocery store glass cleaner. By the way, you need to look on the bright side: At least the dog never asks, “Are we there yet?”
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