Archive for May, 2012|Monthly archive page

You Can Do It Yourself!

In Q&A on May 29, 2012 at 1:36 pm

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Even if you are not handy, doing home repairs or projects yourself can save you big bucks.

Most homeowners are intimidated into thinking they could never fix anything. I have a friend who doesn’t own a screwdriver. Well, if you are one of those, you’re not alone.

Millions of homeowners are now becoming first time “do-it-yourselfers”. Why? Because they want to get the satisfaction out of building or fixing something with their own hands. Yea- sure! They do it because they can save a lot of money! They also don’t have to take time off work waiting for a serviceperson who may not show up.

How do you know if you can actually do a project? First, start small. Don’t tackle a major addition for your first project.

Read. There are literally hundreds of home repair and improvement books and magazines available at any bookstore as well as library. There are also hundreds if not thousands of pamphlets and brochures on “How To” and most are free or inexpensive and available many hardware, paint and building supply stores. The internet has a tremendous amount of information on how to fix or build things yourself.

Ask questions where you purchase your materials. They generally have someone who can explain what steps and procedures that should be taken. Many of the home centers have classes you can take as well depending on what project you are trying to tackle.

Follow directions. Manufacturers of do-it-yourself projects understand your hesitation and compensate for it by providing excellent directions and instructions with each package. (How come they never provide enough screws?)

What tools do you need? You don’t need all the tools you see on the Extreme Makeover show, but a basic home tool kit should include at least a claw hammer, assorted screw drivers, pliers, wrench, saw, tape measure and assorted nails and screws. As you need additional tools and equipment then you can purchase or rent them.


I’ve been told that I need roof vents, but I don’t know how to do it myself and I can’t get a roofer out to do it because it’s too small of a job. What can I do?


Installing roof vents is really a very easy job. That’s why roofers generally only charge about $25.00 for labor and material per vent.

You start by measuring the length times the width of the house (exterior walls) to determine the number of square feet of attic space. You’ll need one free, clear, square foot of ventilation for every 150-square feet of attic. You could make it 1-300 if you have a really good vapor barrier in the attic, but even then I still like the extra vents. Each vent opening is covered with insect screening, which reduces its actual size, so look on the vent where it’s stamped with how much venting it provides. You’ll find those vents at hardware & home centers.

Now for the fun part: Pull up a couple of shingles, cut six-inch diameter holes in the plywood spaced as needed and about one-foot down from the highest ridge. Nail the vents over the holes with some roofing nails and mastic and re-install the shingles if they are salvageable. If not, install new shingles that overlap the vents. To get a clearer picture of what I’m describing, check out the vents on you neighbor’s roof. It will keep you from getting hot under the collar over this problem. About the only problems I see is if you’re afraid of heights.


We have a crawl space in our house with a cement floor. We have an odor that is present in all seasons and have found no source of leaks. We installed an insulation barrier on the perimeter walls to keep the family room warmer in the winter, should we also install a vapor barrier over the cement floor?


You should not need a vapor barrier on cement, but if you have a mold odor then you have a leak. Pull the insulation away and check for moldy, wet insulation. Look behind the insulation especially at the top of the walls especially just beneath where any doors lead to the exterior on the floor above.


Cooling a Third Floor Level / Odor From Evaporating Water in Floor Drain / Replacing Old Floor Tiles

In Asbestos Tile, Crawl Space, HVAC on May 22, 2012 at 10:00 am

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I need advice on summer cooling of the third level in my 3100 square foot home. The finished basement is cold, (all vents closed) the eight rooms on the main floor are chilly (most vents closed) and the upstairs is warm with all vents open.

I have heard about mini fans that are installed in ductwork to move along cool air. Is this a reasonably priced alternative that you would recommend?


Fact, hot air rises. The third floor will always be warmer especially in the summer. To make the third floor more comfortable you should start by bringing your attic insulation up to at least R-49 and making sure the attic is adequately and properly vented. You should immediately notice a difference in comfort. Doing so will also save you money on heating and cooling costs.


The water in the drain of my basement floor evaporates periodically, causing really an unpleasant odor in my house. How can it be avoided?


The floor drain does the same thing as the traps in plumbing fixtures. They’re designed to hold water, which blocks the passage of sewer gas from the sewer or septic tank from entering your home. That is a good thing!

Every time we use a plumbing fixture we replenish any water that has evaporated. But unless the basement floods frequently it’s a good idea to occasionally go down to the basement or laundry room and pour water into the floor drain, since that water also evaporates. When it does evaporate, as you know, you’ll smell an awful sewer gas odor.

If you’re one of those people who don’t like the idea of another periodic task, then you’ll love this tip. Remove the floor drain cover (there may be only a couple of corroded screws holding it in place) and pry up the cover. Now, remove and clean out any debris that you can see. Next, take a ping-pong or tennis ball and place it in the drain opening and replace the cover plate. Measure the opening before you drop in a ping-pong ball. If the hole is too big, use the tennis ball.

The ball should sit perfectly on the drain hole and block any sewer gas trying to work its way into the house. If any water gets onto the basement floor from an overflowing laundry tub, burst pipe or one of those 100-year storms that seem to happen every other year now, the ball will float and the water should still drain. Just remember to test this first by pouring some water into the drain and making sure the ball rises to the occasion.


I was thinking about replacing my old shabby basement floor tiles. Do you have any suggestions on how I go about doing this?


If you have a house built prior to 1982 and especially if it’s older than that, the floor tiles in the basement, hallways, kitchen or wherever there is tile, may contain asbestos.

Now, we’ve all heard that asbestos is hazardous, but generally those tiles are not hazardous as long as you basically leave them alone. They’re not friable, which is the “catch word” for hazardous asbestos. Friable means the product can easily be broken up and disturbed with hand pressure. If it can be, the invisible asbestos fibers become airborne and we inhale them increasing our risk of lung cancer, asbestosis or mesothelioma.

Keep in mind that not all floor tiles contain asbestos and if you need to know if it does, take a broken or loose tile, place it in a zip-lock bag and take it to one of the numerous testing laboratories that you can find in the yellow pages or on the internet.

In my experience, all 9”x9” floor tiles, as well as the adhesive used to lay them, contain asbestos. If your tiles do indeed contain asbestos, wetting them down lightly so there is no dust disturbance allows you to safely pick up those old crumbling floor tiles. Then use an ice chopper or long-handled scraper to gently pry all the rest of the tiles loose.

Check your municipality, I think you are allowed to double-bag them and dispose of them with your regular garbage.

Re-sealing a Concrete Patio / Can Alligatoring Paint Be Corrected ? / Vermiculite Insulation

In Asbestos Tile, Q&A, Vermiculite on May 15, 2012 at 12:29 pm

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I have a concrete patio, which was sealed with a 50-50 mixture of boiled linseed oil and kerosene 8 years ago. We are happy with it, and I am thinking of resealing it with the same mixture, but not sure if it requires stripping.  If it does, what kind of mixture do I use to strip it before applying a new coat? Also can this 50-50 mixture be used for sealing stamped concrete patios?


There is no need to remove the previous sealer since it has long worn away due to weather, the suns rays and normal wear. The only thing you need to do is make sure the surface is clean and dry before you reseal it. My recommendation is to wait until it is nice and hot to apply the sealer, otherwise it takes too long to dry.

Finally, this method of sealing concrete is not only recommended for patios, it is also recommended for driveways, porches and walkways as well.


The paint on some walls looks like the hide of an alligator. Can it be corrected?


Yes, it can be corrected. You didn’t read me say it can be done easily, but I will say it could be corrected and maybe worth the effort to you.

Sometimes numerous random cracks appear over the wall – not straight cracks, but cracks that actually look like an alligator’s hide. These cracks originate within the paint itself. A couple of circumstances contribute to this problem: Applying paint over a surface that’s not clean or is greasy, and most often, applying a flat paint over glossy enamel or a varnished woodwork.

In the future, if you plan on painting over gloss or semi-gloss enamel paints or varnishes, sand and clean the surface prior to painting. Then apply a de-glosser, like Liquid Sandpaper.

To eliminate the alligatoring-paint, you have two alternatives: A temporary solution is to fill and sand each and every crack with spackling compound and repaint. The permanent solution is to chemically strip off all the layers of paint, clean, sand, prime the walls, and re-paint. Keep in mind that most of the paint under the latex topcoats probably contains lead. Lead paint must be removed using precautions. You must be careful not to stir up dust or cause fumes that contain lead. You really should consider hiring a professional since you are going to set up a containment area in each room that you’ll be working in. Containment means removing everything from those rooms. The carpeting and floors will have to be covered with heavy-gauge, six-mil plastic and all seams taped. The plastic should even be taped to the baseboards. The heat supply and returns must all be sealed off and you will need to wear disposable clothing, goggles and protective mask. You can find out more about safety measures by calling 1-800-424-LEAD. Ask for the brochure “Reducing Lead Hazards When Remodeling Your Home.” This brochure explains what to do before, during, and after renovations.

Now that you think about it, those cracks don’t look so bad after all, do they? They sort of give the walls character. And speaking of character, I’m often called one.

You inspected my house for a purchaser and found vermiculite insulation in the attic. They did not buy the house because of it. Why?

Vermiculite is known to contain hazardous asbestos.

EPA’s recent testing in houses with vermiculite found that for the most part, undisturbed attic air contains no detectable asbestos. If vermiculite is disturbed, or samples pulled from the bottom of the insulation, there is up to 2% of a very hazardous type of asbestos. Since any exposure to asbestos is unsafe a licensed asbestos contractor should remove it.
Another problem with vermiculite is just its existence in the attic. Houses breathe and vacillate between negative and positive air pressure. When your house is under negative pressure you could be pulling asbestos fibers into the air via wall sockets, light fixtures, recessed lights, gaps between the floor and walls, etc.

Vermiculite looks about the size of the eraser on a pencil. The colors vary from silver-gold to a gray-brown. If you think you have it, do not go into the attic.

Musty Odor From A Crawl Space / Leaking Chimney Clean-out / Wet Crawl Space / Wet Chimney Insulation

In Crawl Space, Odors, Q&A on May 8, 2012 at 2:33 pm

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I have a musty odor emitting from the crawl space. How can I stop the odor from rising through the floor?


Check to make sure that a plumbing fixture or pipe is not leaking into the crawl. The leak could be rotting some of the sub-floor and possibly the insulation.

You’ll need to crawl under the house with a flashlight and look directly under the kitchen and bathroom areas. Check for plumbing leaks or leaking through the foundation walls.

Check the insulation around the perimeter or is it attached to the underside of the floor joists? In either case, it could be trapping moisture or critters and the smell could be originating from either. In both cases, it’s not uncommon.

If you’re sure that neither one of these issues is the cause of the problem, than you’ll have to remove the insulation away from the band joists. That is the insulation stuffed between the joists along the top of the exterior walls. Oftentimes when inspecting houses, I find evidence of leaking, rotting and wood destroying insect activity in that area and it is usually caused by improperly installed door walls, entries or brick flashing on the exterior.

Remember, where there’s smoke there’s fire and in your case, you need to find the leak and eliminate the odor.


I am confused. My real estate agent said I have to hire a home inspector, but the seller says it must be a licensed home inspector.


There is no licensing for inspectors in Michigan. That’s not entirely bad. I’ve talked to inspectors where there is licensing and it seems to “dumb down” the industry.

The best inspectors are qualified and must undergo ongoing continuing education training. They also must be members of the American Society of Home Inspectors (www.ashi.org) or the National Society of Home Inspectors (www.nahi.org).

Both organizations set standards of practice, require continuing education and establish guidelines regarding ethics for inspectors.

Make sure any inspector is a member of one of these organizations and has errors and omissions insurance.


I have water in my crawl space. It has a dirt floor that is covered with plastic and I put extensions on the downspouts. There are no problems with rot or mold but there is a slight musty odor.


With time you will have mold and rot so correcting the leak is imperative.

I am assuming the ground around the exterior is sloped away from the house and not toward it.

Your next step would be to either waterproof the foundation walls and install a drain tile system on the exterior or put in a drain tile system to a sump pump in the crawl.

Whatever you do is expensive, but necessary. Check in the yellow pages under basement waterproofing companies.


My water heater and furnace are in the basement and exhaust into a mutual chimney quite apart from the fireplace. There is an ash clean-out door at the base of the chimney. In rainy weather or at a thaw, through this door comes a pretty good flow of water.


First, install a metal chimney cap and screening on top of the flue. Also make sure the wash at the top of the chimney is not cracked, broken, rusted through and/or leaking.

While those are the common sources of leaking, your problem may be because the chimney below grade is cracked and water is getting into it and leaking through the clean-out door.

If that’s the case, basement waterproofers should be able to repair the problem.


When it rains, water drips into our basement under the fireplace. The contractor who installed the fireplace for us has told us, that the water coming through the chimney has also ruined the insulation inside the chimney. He says the cold drafts we get in our living room each winter coming from the firebox are the result of the insulation having been soaked and no longer doing its job. I’m trying to decide what to do.


I agree that the insulation is most likely ruined. The leak probably originated from the chimney wash. If it is masonry, (which I doubt) it can be patched with vinyl concrete. If it’s a metal pan, it is a poor design and prone to leaking.

Mystery Spots on Basement Floor / Missing Roof Shingles / Garage Door Opener Problem

In Miscellaneous, Q&A on May 1, 2012 at 9:41 am

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I have never had any problems with leaks in my basement.

Over the last several months I have noticed several dark spots appearing on the concrete floor. They are not moist and some of them have white areas, but those are not wet. The spots are not near walls or under any pipes; they are more toward the middle of the basement. Do you have any idea of what they might be?

Those are leaks and efflorescence as a result of leaks. The moisture under the slab is permeating up. If you have a sump pump, check it and verify that it is working and possibly lower it in the sump to make sure it comes on sooner.

Every year about this time, or for that matter, every year at just about anytime, the wind rips off a shingle or two from my house. It is becoming expensive to hire a roofer to replace them each time. The roof isn’t that old so it shouldn’t need replacing. How can I replace a missing shingle myself and save money?

When you inspect your asphalt or fiberglass shingles, you should find that each shingle, which generally has three or four tabs, is probably secured with nails or staples. The nails should be about one-inch in from each edge and another one over each slot. The overlapping shingles should conceal the nails or staples. Obviously, your self-sealing tabs did not seal properly. A common problem with shingles installed in cold weather.

You need to slip a pry bar under the overlapping shingle (which is just above the torn/missing shingle) loosen and raise it. After removing the nails, you should be able to pull out the remainder of the damaged shingle.

Using a utility knife cut off several inches along the top of the new replacement shingle along with a small corner on each topside. Slip that newly trimmed shingle into place and nail it down suing four galvanized roofing nails.

Now for the tricky part – trying to nail a new shingle down without damaging the overlapping shingle. A good technique is to slip your trusty old pry bar back up under the overlapping shingle directly over each nail. Then hammer on the pry bar to drive each of the nails down at one time. I hope I’ve driven my point home.

While you’re up there lightly try and lift the remaining shingles. If they are loose, dab a small amount of tar from a tube or caulking gun under each loose tab. That should prevent additional shingles from blowing off.

You know what they say, “What goes up, must come down”. But as you can see, when we’re talking about your roof, what comes down must go back up!

Help, my automatic garage door opener is acting up.

You didn’t provide enough information, but here’s a start. Check and see if there is anything obstructing the door’s remote sensor. Remove the obstruction and try again. Check and see if you have photoelectric sensors neat the bottom of both sides of the overhead door. They may have become dislodged or misaligned.

The most likely problem is the photoelectric sensors located near the floor. They are a safety feature designed to prevent damage and injury. Make sure there is no obstruction. Even a cobweb could cause the problem.

Perhaps the sensors are loose or not lined up. They could have been bumped or dislodged.

Take a look at them and you should see a small light. The light should be constant and not blinking. If it is, try adjusting and tightening the wing nut at the back of the sensor.
Some concrete floors heave. If that’s the case, adjust the automatic safety reverse. Look for an adjustment screw. If you can’t locate the owner’s manual, and your opener is an older model, it may not have an adjustment knob or screw. If that’s the case, it’s not safe and should be replaced.

If the door activates itself, somebody nearby may be using the same radio code as you. Check your manual for instructions to recode your opener.

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