Q. Henri, love your column, always a lot of good ideas and solutions there. I need help with this floor. There is a great hardwood floor under it. However, I don't know if it's safe to go and pull this up -- whether it has asbestos in it or not. It is the one-foot-square pieces glued down, and if you do pull it up, what's the best way to get the glue off the floor? I am thinking of doing this in the near future. Any help you can offer would be deeply appreciated. Thank you.
A. Thanks for sending the photo. I assume that the floor tiles are vinyl/asbestos, which was commonly used many years ago. It is not safe for a person not trained in removing this type of tiles to do so, as invisible asbestos fibers can float in the air for days and even months. The adhesive used also needs to be identified, which an experienced flooring dealer/contractor can do and tell you whether or not it can be removed without damaging the hardwood floor beneath.
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Q. We live in a two-story colonial with attached garage just outside of Chicago. Our house is about 12 years old. When the house was built, there was nothing above the garage other than attic space that is not usable. Access to the attic space is through the ceiling in the garage. The previous owners added a large walk-in closet in the master bedroom. This closet is over the garage. During the winter, the closet is freezing cold. There is a forced-air vent in the closet, which does blow heat, but it is still freezing in there.
We took a peek into the garage attic space and found that the attic was not insulated at all. When you look in the attic space, you can see the walls of the closet addition, and there is insulation on these walls, but not in the rest of the attic.
We are considering insulating the rest of the attic so that the closet stays warmer. Is there any reason not to do this? I don't know why the previous owners added the closet but did not seem to put in enough insulation. Is this something we can do ourselves or do we need to hire a particular type of contractor?
A. First thing to check: Is there insulation on the ceiling of the closet? It may not be adequate, so add to it as I describe for the walls below.
Instead of insulating the entire attic, which is not likely to improve the situation very much, add 2-inch-thick aluminum-faced polyiso rigid insulation to the outside of the closet's studs, making sure that all the joints butt tightly.
Fiberglass is a good insulation, but it is a filter, so that any cold air in the attic is robbing it of some of its R-factor. And it is also possible that the fiberglass is only 4 inches thick.
There is no reason why you can't do it yourself; it only takes cutting the rigid insulation to size and nailing it to the studs.
Q. As administrator of my dad's estate, I am in the process of trying to sell his house in Lake Geneva, Wis. The house is a ranch-style frame home with a wide roof overhang of approximately 2 feet. It was built in 1953 with cedar siding exterior. An addition was added to the rear of the house in 1990, bringing the total square footage of the home to approximately 1,600 square feet. The rear and side of the yard slopes away from the house, so drainage is not an issue. After the addition was completed, the entire house was covered with Dryvit "Sprint" EIFS exterior in 1991.
I recently had an offer made on the house, only to have it to fall through because the potential buyers were leery of the Dryvit exterior, even though I offered to have it inspected by a licensed EIFS inspector. There are no obvious signs that the house has been compromised by any moisture penetration of the Dryvit material, although I'm unsure what damage could actually be viewable, which is why I agreed to have the Dryvit exterior inspected.
I'm interested in your opinion of Dryvit, and whether an inspection by an EIFS inspector should be sufficient to allay any concerns by a potential buyer, or if I have an additional obstacle in selling the house besides the lackluster real estate market in Lake Geneva. If you have any recommendations as to qualified EIFS inspectors in the southern Wisconsin/northern Illinois area, I would appreciate that as well.
A. Dryvit was developed as an outside insulation covered with a plastic, stucco-like finish in order to lower the cost of real stucco, which requires highly skilled workers. But there have been a number of failures of all EIFS systems, leading to water intrusion problems resulting in mold formation, rot and serious structural damage because it was installed by non-skilled or improperly trained workers. This led to litigation against the manufacturers, who claimed that the installation instructions were not followed, and against the construction industry, which claimed that the instructions required thoroughly skilled workers and blamed the manufacturers for a lack of understanding of the realities of field construction.
It is almost impossible to prevent water intrusion behind any finish -- EIFS included -- and it is almost impossible to detect problems, even with moisture meters, until they have become very serious. So even an inspection by an experienced inspector may not be reliable, and not the fault of the inspector.
The only way to determine if there is a problem is to perform destructive testing around windows, doors and any other flashing points through which water is likely to have penetrated.
Any EIFS installed prior to 1997 is particularly suspicious, and some insurance companies will not issue homeowner insurance on homes with this type of finish.
Your dad's home has one thing in its favor: 2-foot overhangs, which have surely protected the Dryvit from water intrusion, but there are still some areas through which it can have occurred, such as any joints, flashing and sills.
Sorry to be so unhelpful, but this is the reality with older EIFS. Some improvements with the EIFS systems have been made since 1997, which are meant to reduce the potential for water penetration, but their installation still requires highly skilled installers, proper flashing and great care in all aspects -- hardly the case in actual field work.
Q. Recently, we moved into a new house built in the same location as our old house, which had to be demolished. We have the same well. In our old house, we had a propane gas water heater. The new house has an electric water heater. We are getting a rotten egg odor from the hot water. There is no odor with the cold. The temperature on the water heater is definitely high enough. We recently had the water tested and no problems were found with the well water. Also, some of the plumbing is that new type of hose plumbing. Do you have any ideas what might be causing this problem?
A. Water chemistry can change quickly, especially with well water. Rotten egg odor comes from the sacrificial anode in all but plastic hot water tanks, such as the electric Marathon, which is quite expensive. Sacrificial anodes are mostly magnesium -- although there are less desirable aluminum ones -- and installed in water heaters to protect any steel parts in glass-lined heaters.
One way to eliminate the smell is to go through several steps to be able to pour several pints of hydrogen peroxide into the tank to kill the bacteria. You should have a licensed plumber do that for you and install a special tee so that you can do it yourself in the future.
Another possibility is to replace the magnesium anode with a powered anode, which is connected to an electrical outlet, but uses minimal current. It eliminates the need for a sacrificial anode and should never need to be replaced.
Q. I have two American Standard toilets circa 1970.
Both started about 1995 to not flush the first time. It would take up to six attempts to get a good flush. In about 2008, something resembling black mold started appearing around the flushing 1-inch boost hole at the bottom of the bowl in both summer and winter.
I was considering adding some bleach to the water tank to see if it would kill anything in the toilet body. Don't know if there is any connection between the two problems.
A. It sounds as if the jet holes developed some calcium deposits, which affected the jet of water needed to ensure a solid flush. The best method I have found to clear that up is to shut off the water supply to the toilet tank or to hold the float up with a piece of wire and flush the toilet. Very gently pour about a cup of muriatic acid in the bowl and close the lid. Muriatic acid is very caustic, so use the utmost care and wear safety glasses, rubber gloves and old clothing. Avoid splashing at all costs.
After an hour or so, reopen the water supply or free the float and flush the toilet. Using an old short-handle screwdriver or other similar tool, gently scrape the jet hole to remove the loosened deposits until the china is white again. You can buy muriatic acid in hardware stores.
I have also heard that readers have had good luck pouring a bottle of Coca-Cola, vinegar or citrus juice into the bowl instead of the acid; it may be worth a try.
The newer American Standard water-saving toilets flush very well (we have two of them installed in the last few years). You may want to consider replacing the old toilets.
Readers' follow-up: Two Pennsylvania readers offer an explanation to the still-high water bill another Pennsylvanian receives after making a number of water-saving changes in his or her home.
"Re: Pittsburgh Water Bill: The solution to the lack of savings on the duplex water bill may be the size of the water meter. PWSA charges minimum amounts depending on the size of the meter (water supply line). I had a three-unit building with a 1-inch meter and supply line. There was a 15,000-gallon-per-month take-or-pay each month."
"They need to check with their municipality and determine what the minimum usage bill might be. If they don't use enough water, they might never get above the minimum billing.
"This happened to my mother after my father passed on -- she complained to me that her bill was the same every period, and she didn't use much water. It turned out that she never exceeded minimum consumption."
Thank you both for responding. I hope the reader who first wrote about this problem sees your explanation.
• 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 email@example.com.
© 2012, United Feature Syndicate Inc.