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posted: 3/14/2010 12:01 AM

Fiberglass Spackling tape keeps cracks from returning

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Q. I have a friend who recently renovated her condo. All of the ceilings have radiant heat, and the only cracks are in the kitchen and bathroom. The cracks are several feet long and seem to run along the lines of the radiant fixture itself. My friend uses the fan in the bathroom but doesn't take long hot showers to begin with. In the kitchen, the cracks are near the light fixture several feet from the stove. We have had it spackled with joint compound, sanded, primed and painted several times. Is there a solution for this?

A. It's hard to tell without further investigation why the cracks occur repeatedly. But to diagnose the problem may entail opening up the ceilings. Drywall ceilings should not crack the way you describe. Are the ceilings plastered? Before getting involved in an expensive exploration, apply fiberglass-reinforced tape over the cracks, Spackle and paint. This type of tape should resist cracking.

I have a split-level home in Elgin. The lower level is always cold. Would it help to have insulation blown in? Could it be done from the outside? What else can we do to make it warmer? The house is 10 years old.

A. You have given me very little information. Assuming that your house has the same level of insulation throughout, and that the walls are filled with fiberglass, blowing in cellulose is not an option. I suggest that you have an HVAC contractor check the heating system out and balance it. You can improve the insulation of the lower level by removing the siding, adding rigid insulation and residing.

I have a problem with the concrete floor of my garage. When it is hot and in the 80s, moisture comes through the floor in areas 3 to 4 feet in diameter. It's not the entire floor. It's gotten so bad that the Sheetrock on the supporting beams has absorbed the moisture at the bottom 12 inches. It's a two-story building, 28 feet by 44 feet, and the three-car garage is insulated, finished and heated. What has caused this problem, and what can I do to correct it?

A. It sounds as if the concrete slab was poured directly on soil without a stone bed and plastic vapor retarder. There isn't much you can do about it now without tearing the concrete and pouring a new slab over a proper base. If by "supporting beams" you mean posts, you should check to make sure that they are not affected by this moisture problem if they are wooden. You should cut out the bottom of the gyp board to a line just above the affected area to investigate how the supporting posts are faring. If they are also affected by the moisture, they could eventually lose their support strength and the structure could settle. In that case, you should have an experienced contractor do whatever is necessary to correct this situation. When that is done, instead of replacing the gyp board, screw 1/2-inch pressure-treated plywood to the framing.

Last year you mentioned the benefits of installing a Laing Autocirc pump in one of your columns, and I purchased one of these units online and had it installed under my bathroom sink. The results were excellent, as I now have instant hot water in my master bathroom, shower and two other full bathrooms in my house. One of the full baths is upstairs and even there I get hot water instantly.

However, my wife thinks that the energy costs have increased as a result of this operation. Does the pump consume significantly more electricity and increase the frequency the hot water heater has to fire up to heat the water? Also, does your pump make an audible noise every time it begins or ends a pump cycle?

A. The Laing Autocirc pump is one way to have instant hot water at every faucet, and it does a very good job. The pump does make noise every time it kicks on. Its timer allows you to have it come on only when you need it. It may increase your energy consumption slightly, since it keeps hot water circulating during the selected operating cycles that might cause the water heater to fire up even when hot water is not used. Without the benefits of the pump, you had to run the hot water for a much longer time to get it to the faucets. That also caused the heater to fire up to heat the cold water that is replacing the water wasted until you get the hot water you want. You can mitigate that small increase in energy consumption by setting the pump's program to operate only when you are home. And it seems to be a small price to pay for the added convenience. If you have an unfinished basement and you can insulate the hot water pipes, this will help considerably.

We have a hot water heating system that was installed when the house was built in 1966. We have not had any problems with the boiler but have replaced the pump two times. We also replaced the expansion tank once. Many of our neighbors have replaced their boiler, which was very costly. What is the life of a boiler? Should we be concerned that it will fail in the cold of winter and have serious problems?

A. I don't know of any way to tell when you will need to replace your boiler. It may have lasted longer than those of your neighbors because it was a different make. Boilers begin to leak slowly, short of a major event. Considering that your boiler is 44 years old, quite inefficient by today's standards, and that you have already spent money replacing failing parts, you may be wise to take advantage of the tax credit by installing a high-efficiency boiler. The savings in fuel will help you recoup the remainder of the cost. After that, the savings are money in your pocket.

I am looking at putting in replacement windows in our 900-square-foot cabin in Vermont. They currently have single panes from 60 years ago. Have you ever seen the new high efficiency R-5.6 Series 900 replacement fiberglass windows from Serious Materials? Do you have any thoughts on using them? I am also looking at options for upgrading our 80-percent efficient propane furnace (still running fine) to 96 percent and/or adding 8 inches of SIP panels on the roof to add R-32 worth of insulation (in conjunction with a new metal roof that will be installed in the next couple of years). How would I make an analysis regarding which changes provide the most energy savings for the investment?

A. I have had no experience with Serious Windows. Their Web site is interesting, and their claims may be accurate. To get a sense of what is best to do, you may want to have an energy specialist perform an audit on your cabin. Your power company can give you names of qualified people. You are mentioning replacing windows and the furnace, and adding insulating panels to the roof (I assume that you have a cathedral ceiling), but what about the walls of the cabin? They can't be very efficient, and may need to be improved as well. If this is only a vacation home, and you are planning to use it intermittently in winter, you may want to consider the need for all these improvements. The cost will be high and you do not have the advantage of tax benefits on a vacation home.

In September of 1999, I had my roof shingles replaced by a local roofing contractor. They removed the existing shingles down to the plywood. They installed a ridge vent and IKO 25-year shingles. I just noticed that the shingles are turning under at the corners on the side of the roof. I surmised that the east side was being exposed to the direct sunlight, causing curling.

I contacted the contractor, and he said my attic was not sufficiently insulated, which caused the roof to "cook." I told him that made no sense; if that were the case, both sides would curl. Do I have a claim against IKO? How do I go about submitting a claim? I have a 20-year-old addition right next to my main roof, and the shingles are still lying flat. I wish I knew what type of shingles they are.

A. The east-side shingles are curling because snow stays on them longer than on the west side, which dries faster because the afternoon sun is stronger, and the prevailing wind may blow the snow off earlier in the season. Ten-year-old shingles should not be affected this soon. You are right: The contractor makes no sense. Shingles may "cook" if they are installed on a deck insulated with rigid insulation, but not if there is ventilation under them. Most shingle manufacturers specify having ventilation between the roof deck and the insulation for that reason. You may have a claim against IKO, but be aware that this will be an uphill fight all the way. IKO has refused to honor warranties on better cases than yours. To file a claim, contact them and ask for instructions.

Follow-up: I can always rely on my readers to come up with good suggestions and solutions to problems for which I have none. In a recent column, I addressed the problem of recessed can lights in ceilings located below an attic that were inviting cold drafts. This is the solution offered by a reader from Schaumburg.

"Twenty-five years ago, when we remodeled our kitchen in the spring, we encountered a similar problem when fall and winter finally arrived. We could feel the cold air just pouring through the fixtures at all times. We solved the problem by placing a 24-inch Styrofoam "Rose Bush Cone" over each fixture and then wrapping each cone with insulation. The small hole at the top of the cone allows the warm air to escape, and at the same time, there is room inside the cone for the air to absorb the heat from the fixtures. This also solved our draft problems, without the "thermal protection" device shutting down the units. Any thoughts? We'd appreciate your comments."

Brilliant! Far better than my suggestion to make an aluminum circle and wrap it in insulation.

• Henri de Marne was a remodeling contractor in Washington, D.C., for many years, and is now a consultant. Write to him in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006, or via e-mail at

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