January 30, 2017
Dear Readers: You've probably noticed that this winter is turning into another dry one. I hope you've been doing your winter watering. Every three or four weeks, it's vital to give your lawn, young trees, bushes, and flower beds a good drink of water. That's why, last fall, I recommended against blowing out the sprinkler system. If you did, that's OK, but you'll have to drag hoses and sprinklers all over the yard. Winter watering is vital to wet desiccated roots in your yard's landscaping. In addition, it will discourage the proliferation of mites. These little guys love dry weather, as it gives them a chance to establish a foothold munching on your beautiful lawn.
As we've discussed, the zone pipes in modern sprinkler systems crisscrossing the yard rarely freeze; the most vulnerable part is that piped manifold on the side of the house. It's still not too late to have a plumber come over and rig up a couple of drain valves so you can un-winterize your sprinkler system quickly, and then reverse the process when you're done.
Dear Ken: I have a new ranch home with a finished basement. The lower level seems impossible to heat. Is there any way to fix this? Tom
If your heat comes out of the basement ceiling and is captured by a cold air return also on the ceiling, the heat will tend to "cling" to the upper reaches of the basement rooms. So there will be a pretty significant temperature gradient--maybe 10 degrees or so-- from the ceiling on down. Since you are low to the floor—watching TV for instance--you feel cool, even though the average room temperature may be OK. So, check on the location of your cold air return ducts, and have an HVAC contractor re-route them to the floor, if appropriate in your house. Sometimes, folks who finish their own basements omit a return air duct and grill all together. That makes this unpleasant situation even worse.
Dear Ken: Our home is about 9 years old. We notice that our front door closes and locks but doesn't seal well. We can see lots of daylight. How can we fix the gap? Marge
You probably need to move the striker. That's the small plate with a hole in it on the door jamb that receives the door knob latch and deadbolt. If you have a fixed type--by far the most common--you probably need to move it towards the inside a little. Today's fiberglass and steel doors expand and contract with the seasons--sometimes even daily if they face the sun--so they need this adjustment often. Moving that fixed striker, even a little bit, means you have to get out the wood chisel to gouge out a new recessed groove.
There is a great alternative to this never-ending adjustment process--an adjustable striker. These incorporate a sliding plate which you move in and out as needed simply by loosening the two screws. If you don't have that type, you can easily make the switch. Incidentally, check the screws securing the striker. If they are the short ones that came in the box, substitute 3-1/2 inch deck screws. They run into the side studs and so are significantly more secure.
Finally, a door is adjusted properly (1) when there's no visible daylight around its four edges, (2) when it won't wiggle in or out after latching, and (3) when you have to apply slight pulling pressure inward to engage the dead bolt.
Dear Ken: I just had a water heater spring a leak. What should I look for when I go out shopping for a new one? Longer warranty? 40 or 50 gallon? Peter
First, size. I always recommend that you choose the next larger tank size when you buy a new water heater. Tougher efficiency standards have been required since about 1994, the result of which is that new units don't heat water quite a quickly as their older cousins did. So, if you have a 30-gallon tank now, buy a 40-, or choose a 50- to replace a 40. I wouldn't spend a lot of extra money for a higher efficiency model or for a longer warranty. Why? It takes too long to recover the extra cost.