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posted: 6/9/2013 4:00 AM

When a home sits closed with no heating or cooling

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By Dwight Barnett

Q. I recently purchased an older home that sat all winter without the water or electricity. Now that I'm trying to get things working again, I'm having trouble with the older windows not opening, some sink faucets that have hot water but not cold, and doors that close on their own right after they are opened. Is this common? The water thing really has me bugged because the water is turned all the way on under the sink.

A. When a home -- old or new -- sits empty and closed with no heating or cooling, things begin to change in the structure of the home. The wood framing was dry when the home was first occupied, and over the years the moisture levels in the cells of the wood would have stabilized.

When the wood starts to receive additional moisture from the empty home's environment, the wood will swell and may twist or bow from its original shape. The wood windows in an older home are exposed to the extremes of humidity changes and can swell to the point that they will no longer open without a great deal of effort.

Older-style windows that have a sash cord and counterweight are so loosefitting that they are not likely to be a problem. It's the wood windows that have a slide rail on either side of the sash that will become difficult to open.

Over time, once the home is occupied and is heated and cooled for comfort, the wood will again shrink and the windows should operate freely. In the meantime, you can lubricate the side rails by rubbing the end of a wax candle or a bar of soap against each rail.

The doors close because the wall where the door is hung is no longer plumb. Try removing one of the hinge's pins near the top of the door, put the pin on a concrete slab and tap it with a hammer to slightly bend it. Once reinstalled, the slight bend will give minor resistance to stop the door from self-closing.

When the water has been off for a long time, sediments build up inside the supply pipes and water heater. When the water is turned on, the sediment becomes loose and flows through the pipes to the faucet's aerators or to a shut-off valve. The aerators can be cleaned by unscrewing the filter screens, washing the sediment out and reinstalling the aerators.

If you have hot water but no cold water, it is likely the sediment is trapped in the shut-off valve under the sink. The valve contains a threaded valve system with rubber washers that can be replaced. Shut off the water to the home, remove the cap nut of the valve and unscrew the threaded valve body. The washers are available at major home and hardware stores along with a complete threaded valve body.

Q. I recently purchased a very old farmhouse, and I want to upgrade the wiring. The wires are now exposed on the surface of the walls, but I can work from the basement to replace them. My problem is this: I have read that the wiring in a basement should be passed through the floor joists and not be hung from them. The old wood joists are like concrete, and I'm having trouble trying to drill holes. Why can't I hang the new wires from the joists?

A. My sources tell me the wires shouldn't be hung from the floor joists because any future remodeling projects, such as adding a ceiling, would expose the wiring to damage. Hanging a ceiling with nails or screws could penetrate the wire's insulated covering, leading to a short, or the wires could overheat and start a fire. Another reason is that electrical wiring should not be exposed to accidental human contact where the wiring could be damaged.

If drilling holes in the joists is a problem, you can install the wiring in either a rigid or flexible metal conduit that is then hung from the joists. You'll still have to drill pilot holes for the screws or nails used to support the conduit, because driving a nail in the older wood is almost impossible.

My best advice is to hire a licensed residential electrician to install the new wiring to ensure that all the home's circuits are properly installed and safely protected and grounded at the breaker panel or fuse box. When inspecting a home with circuits added by the homeowner, I generally find major defects that require an electrician's attention. Do it right the first time and avoid major problems in the future.

• Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him with home improvement questions at

Scripps Howard News Service

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