February 6, 2017
Dear Ken: I have panels of three rocker switches everywhere in my new home. I’m having a hard time figuring out what they are all for. Helen
Some of them may control switched outlets. The easiest way to check on this is to buy a polarity tester. This is a small gizmo—less that $8--with orange and red lights that tells you whether or not an outlet is energized and if it is wired correctly. In newer homes, several outlets can be controlled by one switch; if that isn’t complicated enough, you’ll find that sometimes the top half of the outlet is switched, while the bottom portion is always on.
Dear Ken: I'm finishing a room in my house, taping and sanding the drywall and getting ready to texture. I tried one small area with a rented gun, and it was very messy and didn't get much texture on the wall. Rich
This is one of those jobs that is more of an art than a science. You probably didn't dilute the mixture enough when you mixed it up. Also, the nozzle on the gun may be dirty, defective or the wrong type. Did you practice on a piece of cardboard or some plywood? That’s the best way to learn how far away to hold the gun and how briskly to move it back and forth.
If you can’t get it right with the gun, then, yes, you can roll on some materiel--although this, too, requires mixing up the stuff just right. Look for texturizing rollers at the paint store.
Dear Ken: I have a room with wall paneling covered with wallpaper. Can I paint over it? Or cover it with new paper? Eric
Sometimes when you paint wallpaper it can "relax" the glue enough to release parts of it from the wall. As you know interior latex paint is water-based and so is the glue. These days, most wallpaper is strippable--that is, meant to peel off in sections when you want to get rid of it. So see if you can pull it off and start over. Once the paper is gone, wash the walls with a dilute solution of wallpaper paste remover a couple of times. Then you can paint or repaper, as you wish.
Dear Ken: You recommended in a previous article to stuff insulation batts in the floor joists in a crawl space and cover the ground with plastic. Is the plastic for both moisture and radon, or both? Peter
Plastic sheeting--I recommend the black, 6-mil variety--does indeed help keep the crawl space dryer and a little warmer. Air in these areas doesn't move around much because of the limited ventilation available. So the underlying floor joists and plywood are less susceptible to dry rot fungus if you limit the moisture that transpires from the earth. Stuff you store down there stays in better shape, too, but I always recommend elevating boxes on spacer boards, plastic or no plastic. Many vendors in the city will let you have wooden pallets just for the asking. These include the large home centers and landscaping companies.
Since plastic retards evaporation, it can have a harmful effect on wet crawl spaces. In fact, the first thing we do in a home with water troubles is to roll back the plastic in a crawl space. So, don't apply it until your crawl space dirt is dry to the touch.
We do use this same stuff to seal away radon. But it additionally requires an elaborate sealing system around the perimeter and a mechanical, fan-driven evacuation system underneath.
Dear Ken: I'm finishing a bathroom in the basement of my 20 year old home. A friend asked me if the drain to the bath tub was vented or not. I'm not sure. I have toilet and lavatory pipes about 4 feet away. Is that all I need? Mitch
Three-piece-bath piping under basement floors are almost always single-vented through a 2-inch, vertical plastic pipe that runs up through the roof. If such a pipe is somewhere near your proposed bathroom, you’re probably fine. Plus the local building authorities are scrupulous about checking this arrangement and they would have insisted it be in place before the concrete floor was poured.