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Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

Eliminating Hydrostatic Pressure / Fixing a Sticking Door / Ladder Safety

In Uncategorized on April 30, 2013 at 3:49 pm

Q:

We have block basement walls and noticed a horizontal crack two to four courses down from the top of the wall. It hasn’t started to bow or heave inward but we heard it still might collapse.

A:

The movement of the walls is caused by hydrostatic pressure. I have seen cases where hydrostatic pressure pushed down a basement wall within four years. Usually you don’t have to worry about this happening, but you do have to eliminate the hydrostatic pressure, which is a simple thing to do. Slope the terrain around your house away from the foundation for four to six feet with a pitch of at least one-inch per foot. That will reduce ground water that accumulates against the exterior of your basement walls and pressure when it freezes. You know the terrain was the problem since it is apparently improperly sloped and the crack is the frost line.

Q:

I have a door that always sticks. It’s hard to close and open. Is this a job I can do or do I need a carpenter?

A:

“You forgot to close the door. What’s the matter with you? Were you born in a barn?” I don’t know if you heard that when you were growing up, but I did, and sometimes it wasn’t my fault – honest.

Doors that won’t close because they’re swollen, or doors that stick when closed, can usually be planed or filed down where they are binding. However, before you pick up that file or plane to trim that area, try using a 2×4 and a hammer. It’s not to destroy the door, but to fix it.

Slowly open and shut the door watching and feeling it to find out where it binds. Place a two to three foot length of the 2×4 against the doorjamb where it’s binding and then hit the 2×4 with the hammer. More often than not, you’ll be able to knock the jamb back enough to stop the binding. The reason you hit the 2×4 and not the painted jamb is to prevent or reduce damaging and/or splitting the doorframe.

If you have to file or plane part of the surface, it’s important to repaint or reseal the planed area, as well as the top and bottom of the door. Without this protection, they will continue to swell and eventually it will get warped. Hey, I know what you’re thinking. I’m not that warped!

Q:

My husband has slipped off the ladder twice and while I know this sounds stupid, I don’t think he knows how to use one. Any advice?

A:

Climbing a ladder to success may not always get you there if you don’t follow these five points to ladder safety.

Each year about 300 people are killed using a ladder and according to the U.S. Consumer Safety Commission another 165,000 are seriously injured, so your husband is not alone. You, or someone you know probably had an accident with a ladder. Here are five points of ladder safety to keep you on track:

Choose the right ladder for the job:

  • Step or extension ladder?
  • Height of the ladder: Don’t over reach or use the top two steps of a stepladder, or the top three rungs of an extension ladder.
  • Ladder material: Don’t use an aluminum ladder when working with, or near electricity.

Inspect the ladder:

  • Check the rails and rungs for damage, such as bending or cracks prior to climbing on the ladder.
  • Check the slip resistant pads, ropes and pulleys.
  • Check the spreaders on the stepladder to make sure they lock.

Set the ladder properly:

  • The ladder should lean at a 75-degree angle, which means one-foot for every four feet.
  • Secure the ladder so it won’t slip.
  • Climb and work safely.

Obviously, it’s important to use common sense and not take a short cut so you won’t be one of the ladder statistics now or in the future.

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Have Your Dream House Inspected Before You Buy / Ridding Carpenter Ants / Using The Proper Light Bulbs in Older Fixtures

In Uncategorized on April 11, 2013 at 10:02 am

Q:

I’m house hunting and once I’ve decided that I’ve found my “dream house” what can I look for myself (to make tentatively sure I won’t wake up to a nightmare) before I call you to fully inspect it?

A:

Browsing around the house you are about to buy won’t give you all the information you should have before committing to such a major purchase. Since it is probably going to be the next home you live in for quite a while, you should also get a feel for it. Open cupboards and drawers in the kitchen (I have actually had them fall off in my hand) and don’t be shy about looking in closets, turning lights on and off, and trying out things like the intercom, doorbells and garage door openers.

If kitchen appliances are included with the home, give them a try out too. After all, if they’re not working you will incur additional costs to get rid of them, not to mention buying new ones. Check the closet shelves to make sure they’re secure, open and close the doors to rooms, check all faucets and look for any areas that may have water damage. Look thoroughly around basement walls for stains. By the way, consider fresh paint on basement walls a “red flag”.

Remember, you’ll be checking everything out eventually, either while you’re negotiating, or after you’ve bought the house. So consider yourself a wise homebuyer and learn as much as possible prior to moving in. That includes doing a personal inspection, as well as having a professional inspector who is a member of NAHI or ASHI. Check out your inspector carefully. Make sure he or she is licensed and insured.

Q:

While doing some renovations I discovered a carpenter ant infestation. I replaced the damaged wood and treated the exterior with appropriate insecticides. My concern is that I may have trapped a colony of ants in the sub-structure of my house. Understanding that I have two small children in the house, can you recommend a product that I could spray and/or inject into my wall spaces to prevent further damage or colonization?

A:

Even if you did “trap” carpenter ants in the wall cavity, they probably won’t do much damage. But there are some caveats to that statement.

The difference between carpenter ants and termites is that termites are subterranean. You don’t know they are eating your house until you step through the floor. Carpenter ants only chew on wood that is wet or damp and you usually only see them walking across the dining room when you have company.

It is difficult to find a colony within the walls, but you have the advantage of knowing the general area where the nest was prior to your renovation. That’s not to say they didn’t relocate, but I would start there.

Carpenter ants are usually dormant in the winter months. When the weather breaks, you start to see them again, call a professional. They have chemicals that are people and pet friendly.

Q:

I have a 1940’s house that has the original light fixtures that came with the house. When I bought the house it had a new circuit breaker system. As I grow older I find that I need brighter lighting inside the house. Is it safe to be using 100-watt bulbs instead of 60 watt in these original fixtures?

A:

Yes and No!

If you replace those 60-watt light bulbs with 100-watt incandescent bulbs the answer is no. It is not safe. The larger wattage gives off additional heat that could, and eventually will, overheat the wires in the ceiling above and cause a fire. At the least, the overheating will crack and shatter the glass on the fixture or cause premature failure of the bulbs.

If your fixture will accommodate a fluorescent bulb, an inexpensive alternate is to replace those 60-watt bulbs with a 100-watt compact fluorescent (CFL’s). You’ll save money and get more light. They use ¼ the watts of incandescent bulbs and last years longer. They also do not give off nearly as much heat, so your house is cooler in the summer.

If the CFLs do not work in your existing fixtures, you should replace the fixture.

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Truss Rise / UF Insulation / Duct Cleaning / Ridding an Old Septic Tank

In Uncategorized on April 1, 2013 at 11:24 am

Q:

Have you ever heard of a house experiencing cracks in the winter between the ceiling and the walls or am I just cracking up?

A:

You may be, but the other problem is called “truss rise”. In houses built with wood trusses, cold air in the attic in winter sometimes causes the trusses to expand and rise off the tops of the interior walls on which they are attached. Here’s what happens: Roof trusses are engineered structures, which function as a unit. When the exposed top chords expand or contract, the entire unit is lifted right off the walls. This problem is called truss rise.

The wallboards (i.e. drywall) that are nailed to the underside of this bottom chord are pulled up with it producing a gap. Rising roof trusses seem to occur more often in houses with heavily insulated attics, since the lower truss chord is well protected against moisture absorption by the insulation that covers it.

All this does not seriously affect the structural strength of the house; the problem is mainly the unsightly crack and its constant reappearance. Most, if not all, of this cracking can be eliminated by adding roof and soffit vents to keep the attic-moisture free in winter. Also make sure bathroom exhaust fans do not discharge into the attic.

Furthermore, minor cracks between the ceiling and wall can be covered with crown molding around the ceilings perimeter, but attached to the ceiling only. That way it will conceal the crack.

Q:

I have a question regarding home insulation. The walls in my house were insulated in 1977 with Urea Formaldehyde. I remember there were some health issue discussions as the time, but I never heard anything definite one way or the other. Was there ever an answer as to whether or not it was considered safe?

A:

Urea Formaldehyde insulation was a good insulation with an excellent R-value. The problem was due to the installer. If they didn’t properly adjust the equipment, the insulation off-gassed high levels of Formaldehyde. The off-gassing caused irritations and respitory problems.

The same problems occurred in numerous FEMA trailers because formaldehyde is used in thousands of products including carpeting, furniture, paneling, cabinets, etc.

With time, the off-gassing dissipates and the product is safe unless you are extremely sensitive to volatile organic chemicals.

Q:

We are experiencing an odd smell in one room. It comes from the return air ducts. We had the furnace; AC, attic and room all tested, but cannot locate the odor. The odor does not occur every day and usually only when it is sunny. Any comments?

A:

I know from your 2-page letter that you tore out walls and did mold testing, but why haven’t you had your ductwork cleaned and sanitized.

At the risk of sounding skeptical, be wary of duct cleaning companies that are too inexpensive. You really do get what you pay for.

There are many good companies, Safety King 800-AIR-DUCT and A-1 Duct-Cleaning 800-382-8256, among them.

Q:

My house had a septic tank. Many years ago when our sub converted to the city sewer, a sewer pipe was connected to the street side of the septic tank and joined the city sewer system. Lately, sewage is coming up through the floor drain. The plumber wants to drain the tank, crush and fill it and run a sewer pipe. I am worried about killing my 100-foot Blue Spruce that grows next to the tank.

A:

Usually when one connects to the city sewers the septic tank needs to be drained, crushed and filled at that time. I’m surprised you got away without doing that.

Understand that the tree’s roots are probably in the tank and possibly in the drain leading up to the tank from the house.

Call a plumber that will run a camera in the sewer line and they should be able to pinpoint the exact problem.

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