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posted: 5/5/2013 4:56 AM

Pair of old furnaces should be replaced soon

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Q. I have two 23-year-old, 100,000-BTU Carrier natural gas furnaces heating my 2,900-square-foot two-story home in the Chicago area. A few years ago, a service tech said furnace No. 2 has a small crack in the heat exchanger and needed to be monitored for carbon monoxide (CO) leakage. Recently, a tech from a different company, after cleaning and inspecting, reported both furnaces were in very good condition. But later, while on a recall visit, he then said furnace No. 1 had a tiny pinhole in the heat exchanger. He suggested it was time to replace the furnaces.

I have two Kidde CO detectors with digital displays, one on each floor. These will alarm at 30 parts per million, but will record CO levels as low as 11 ppm. Neither of these has ever alarmed, nor have they registered any level of CO when the memory is tested. Both always pass user tests and have been maintained with proper batteries.

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I understand new furnaces are more efficient. That is welcome, but the saving in fuel cost is not a good payback if that is the major reason to replace. My old furnaces are working fine. I would replace one or both if faced with a major repair. What is your take on the need to replace them before that occurs? Replacements run $2,000 to almost $6,000 each, depending on the efficiency and number of stages of heat/blower speed.

A. The average life of heat exchangers has been said to be about 10 years, according to two specialists who do nothing but check out and fix furnaces, and wrote a book about it.

Your furnaces are 23 years old, inefficient and both have cracks or holes in their heat exchangers.

Regardless of the fact that you have carbon monoxide detectors and keep them well maintained, my recommendation is to replace the furnaces. There is no point in taking a chance.

Depending on the number of years you plan on staying in the house, you may or may not see a payback, but you are very likely to have to replace the furnaces whenever you put the house on the market, so why not do it now before the costs go up and while you can benefit from their efficiency? And you will be doing your part for the health of our planet.

Q. We have a solid-color kitchen counter called Kromark. The cap from a Soft Scrub with Bleach cleaner left a 1-inch diameter light beige stain on top of the counter caused by the Soft Scrub from the cap being left on the counter for a while.

Can you give me any solutions as to how to remove this stain and restore the spot to the original countertop color? (See photo.)

A. Many attempts at reaching Kromark have failed; the several numbers listed have been disconnected. So I assume they are out of business. I also have been unsuccessful at reaching competitors, who often know each other and could have provided the answer. It seems as if several of them are also out of business -- phones disconnected.

If your countertop is marble or granite (Corian would not have been affected by the bottle cap), the Soft Scrub cap has etched it. You will need to call a local fabricator to repolish your top.

I did locate one, which has been in business for over 50 years: Sprovieri's Custom Counters, 55 Laura Drive, Addison, (630) 543-3400, www.sprovieris.com. Good luck.

Q. We have white Corian countertops in our kitchen. They are so easy to clean for all stains except one: newsprint. Somehow, newspapers left on them leave black ink marks, which no cleaner I have used can remove. Any suggestion would be most appreciated.

A. Corian is amazingly resistant to stains, but newsprint is one exception. Somehow, the ink is impossible to remove with normal household cleaners. But you can get rid of these stains with a Clorox pen. One end has a pencil tip, while the other has a brush. Use the brush to smear the gel on the stains and leave it on for a few minutes. It works like magic.

Q. We love your column and read it every Sunday. We are aging and need to install safety bars in the bathtub/shower of the main bathroom. The problem is quarter-inch ceramic tile, 5/8-inch drywall with -inch stripping in front of concrete block. Not enough room for attachments. Ideas please.

A. Unfortunately, there isn't enough depth to be able to use Moen's Home Care SecureMount anchor system as is, which is ideal where wood blocking or studs are not available -- it needs 3 inches. But an experienced plumbing or general contractor can substitute a toggle bolt from a hardware store to anchor the base plate to the tiles. He or she will have to drill a hole through the ceramic tile and the drywall to insert the toggle bolt. The SecureMount anchor system should be available in plumbing supply houses.

Q. My 2-year-old asphalt driveway is showing some small cracks along the length, probably from the weight of cars and the fuel-oil delivery truck and normal weathering. It was sealed with a sprayed coating shortly after it was put in before the onset of winter. I am now looking for a product to fill or seal these cracks before putting a new "allover" sealer coat on it. What would be the best treatment to use to fill and seal these cracks and how long would it be advisable to wait before applying any new topping/sealer?

A. Your problem is likely to have been caused because you sealed the driveway too soon. An asphalt driveway should not be sealed for at least two years after its installation, even longer if the driveway is in the shade, in order to allow the oils in the mix to evaporate. If sealed too early, the asphalt will remain soft and subject to damage from vehicular traffic, cars left in the same spot, bicycle kickstands, etc.

You should let the sealer wear off before attempting any repairs and certainly wait a year or even two before applying another coat of sealer.

You can find products in hardware, construction supply and box stores to repair the cracks, but the product to use depends on the size and severity of the damage. Consider having a well-established paving contractor advise you.

Q. We live on a cement slab with a drain in the mechanical room. Lately, we have been having a sewer smell coming from the drain and leading into the guest bathroom's sink and bathtub.

I called our plumber's number and talked with his wife, and she mentioned that we should (because the drain is dry) put five gallons of water in the drain and then go get the cheapest bottle of cooking oil and pour that in the drain. This would put a seal in the drain so there would be no smell.

My husband is hesitant. Any suggestions other than the above?

A. Basement floor drains are no longer permitted in a number of jurisdictions for the very reason you are experiencing. It is essential that the trap be filled with water to keep sewer gases from entering the house.

I wonder what kind of odor rancid cooking oil would emit after a while, so I can't really endorse your plumber's wife's suggestion. It would seem to me that mineral oil would be better, but I still think that it is best to pour water in the drain every week or less if needed. You can also fill the trap and cover the drain with a rubber disk of the type used for kitchen sinks. You should be able to buy one in your supermarket or hardware store.

An alternative is to seal the drain permanently with a cement plug if the drain is never used, as it appears not to be.

An interesting tip: "Your column is one that I read every week and I am amazed at all of the different subjects you expertly address. Your last column answered a question of how to paint faded plastic (vinyl) exterior shutters. The dark blue 12-year-old vinyl shutters on my house had turned gray and I was considering painting them. I was never a fan of painting vinyl and thought I would try a trick I use in detailing my car's vinyl and especially the rubber tires.

"First, I apply waterless hand cleaner with a soft scrub brush to the shutter and let it chemically loosen the dirt and film for 10 to 15 minutes or until it is starting to dry. Waterless hand cleaner (Goop or GoJo) is sold almost everywhere in small quantities or by the gallon at Costco or Sam's Club. I then use the scrub brush to lightly scrub the surface while using a water hose to flush the dirt away. If the shutter needs a second cleaning, wait for it to dry because water will dilute the hand cleaner and it will be less effective. After the shutters are dry, I apply a coating of pump spray tire wax, such as Armor All, and wipe it with a soft cloth to even the coating of wax. You can hold a piece of cardboard adjacent to the shutter to prevent any overspray onto the house. The shutters will have a sheen to them and look new. As time goes on (two years), you can clean and wax them again and you will not have any areas of paint that will start to peel and you will not have to rehire a painter. I use the same process on vinyl porch railings and spindles. Thanks for all of your helpful hints. Tom in Pittsburgh"

• 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 email at henridemarne@gmavt.net.

2012, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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