Ken's latest blog post:
Dear Ken: When we got a new furnace, they installed two big ducts through the outside wall. I’m thinking of blocking them up because they let in so much cold air. Brrrrrr. Is this really required? Can I cover them up for now? Art
I wouldn’t do it without first consulting a heating contractor. I’m surprised you weren’t given some other options. First, the background. This air supply is needed to make up for the oxygen consumed by the furnace and water heater when natural gas is combusted. Without it, these appliances will operate much less effectively and may in fact pull fumes—including carbon monoxide-- into the house. But the mechanical code allows other sources than direct outside air. For example, you could install a louvered door to the furnace room and pull the air from the inside volume of the house. It turns out that most homes leak enough air through cracks, doors and windows to replace the amount consumed by the furnace and water heater. The rules are quite complicated, however, so an HVAC contractor needs to get involved to design the alternative. For instance, if your basement is on the smallish side, you may need a grille at the top of the stairs.
Another great source for combustion air is through a crawl space. There are outside vents in there anyway, and they can be used to draw air through the space and into the furnace area. That will pre-condition the air—that is, warm it up a little—so you won’t get those great gobs of direct cold air coming in, as you do now.
Dear Ken: We have a toilet that almost always clogs. A plumber came and augured it out. No change. Now what can we do? Amy
I’m surprised that he didn’t unbolt it from the floor and turn it over. Many times, a solid object like a kid’s toy, popsicle stick or comb will get dropped in there and make it almost out and down the drain—but instead gets lodged in the toilet’s outlet hole. Liquids go down OK, but toilet paper gets hung up and can produce the stop-ups that are bugging you. Also, after the plumber pulls the toilet, the hole in the floor will make a much better locale for him to employ another auger treatment or use even a bigger blade to scour out the pipe farther down the line.
Dear Ken: I have a cantilever under my tub and shower, and the drain freezes up occasionally, but not every winter. I have been adding some windshield washer fluid during really cold spells. But I need another idea. Donn
I’ll say. Your approach is unique, but what if you’re on vacation, or perhaps forget to pour in the juice before you go to bed? Let’s try a permanent fix. The first step is to do some eyeballing of that space underneath. Cut a small hole or two so you can see if the insulation is on the outside of the pipes—that is the drain is entirely on the warm side of the space. If the batts are indeed properly placed, you could install a small piece of heating cable and leave it plugged in year round. This stuff doesn’t warm up until it gets really cold in there--which may not happen more than once or twice each winter. Heat cable in confined spaces is a little tricky, so follow the manufacturer’s recommendations assiduously.
Here’s another and better idea. If the cantilever is in the ceiling of a finished room, you can simply cut a rectangular hole in the sheet rock under the drain and then install a decorative, slotted metal grille cover to hide the cut. That will allow just enough warm room air to waft up into that cantilevered space to prevent freeze-ups.
This also works great in finished basements. The pipes feeding the exterior hose faucets get trapped in the joist spaces above the ceiling. They, too, can freeze—especially with a northerly exposure. When they do, they seldom leak right away; that happens in the spring when they are first used. Anyway, this same hole/grille cover scheme is invaluable here, too.
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