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posted: 4/20/2014 12:01 AM

Energy-efficient housing is a worthy goal when done right

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Q. I have a zero-net house with 16-inch-thick walls and have the same condensation problems, even on triple pane windows, as your recent reader from Vermont had.

As I see it, the condensation problem is always worst at the bottom of the windows and window frames. This is largely due to poor circulation of warm air in the deep-set windows within the thick walls (the windows are set flush with the outside wall). The other reason for the condensation is the lack of a distinct heat source, such as a radiator under the window, as I only heat the house with 70-degree electric floor heat.

There was a good reason why windows in older, less insulated houses were recessed toward the inside of the house and why they typically had hot-water radiators underneath the windows.

A. Net-zero houses are the wave of the future, the best way to reduce the carbon footprint of our housing. If all our existing housing stock would undergo a major energy-efficiency overall, we would go a long way toward this goal.

But as we tighten up our houses, we are also reducing the number of air exchanges per hour, which we need for health, unless we also have a way of regulating them efficiently. This can be done with air-to-air heat exchangers, which exhale warm, but stale, air through the exchanger while inhaling outside, fresher air, which is warmed by the exhaled air as it passes through the vanes of the exchanger.

In cold climates, there is strong evidence that even triple glazing is not enough. I started installing quadruple glazing in the mid-1970s to reduce the heat loss through windows, increasing comfort when sitting close to the glass and ending condensation.

Perhaps you should consider installing Magnetite storm windows to eliminate your condensation problem.

Recessing windows in the exterior walls also increases their efficiency because the air that flows over the walls forms an eddy in the recesses, reducing the heat loss through the glass.

Q. Thank you so much for your response and input regarding my desire to put a finish on my garage floor.

I went to our local home show this weekend and saw a product called Flexmar. It's a polyaspartic concrete coating (according to their brochure). They said you can put a sand product in it to make it non-slippery. And they said it's not the same as epoxy paint products.

I wanted to stay away from the interlocking tiles you mentioned because, with the Pittsburgh winters, I could see the salt and cinder pebbles working their way through the tiles.

Your thoughts on the polyaspartic flooring? They say it can be walked on and used much quicker than the epoxy products. Not sure how intrusive the chemicals would be.

A. I have no experience with Flexmar and other polyaspartic concrete coating. I suggest that you go to and read through the comments before making a final decision.

Q. We recently purchased a new front-loading washer. Although the washer is level, the spin cycle induces quite a bit of vibration that seems to get transmitted throughout the house. The laundry room is on the first floor over the basement.

From what I've read on Internet postings, this seems to be a common issue with front-loading washing machines. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a consensus on a single solution. I've seen suggestions to add a ¾-inch plywood sheet under the washer/dryer to stiffen the floor. I've also seen other suggestions to sister the joists below the room, again to provide greater support and stiffness to the floor in that room.

The basement is finished with a drywall ceiling, so it is not easy to access the joists. Even if I were to remove the drywall, I suspect HVAC ducts or plumbing pipes might interfere with my ability to reinforce the joists. Adding the plywood sheet on top of the current floor would be more straightforward, but I'd like to have more confidence that this will work before I do it. Do you think this will be a good solution? Do you have any other suggestions?

A. You haven't mentioned whether you also bought a pedestal for the washer to bring it to an easier loading height. If you have, try the plywood trick under both the washer and the dryer to spread the weight over several joists.

If you haven't, try building a pedestal with ¾-inch plywood, 16 inches high and the width and depth of the machines. Inside the very bottom of the pedestals, screw two-by-four pieces on all four sides to make the footprint wider. Adhere strips of closed cell tape of the type used between pickup truck body sides and caps to the bottom of the pedestal as a cushion to reduce vibrations. You should be able to find this tape in auto body stores and some hardware stores. I hope this will help.

Q. The south facing side of my house is covered with thousands of tiny, black, raised spots. They cover both the vinyl siding and the wood on the porch. They can mostly be scraped off with a fingernail. I assume they are some kind of spores. Planted on that side of the house are a red-bark dogwood, a hydrangea, a forsythia and three small fire bushes. I also plant annuals there in the spring and summer.

Could you tell me both how to prevent them, as well as how to remove them? I am afraid that power-washing won't work and that rubbing on them to remove them will cause shiny spots on the vinyl.

A. You are fortunate to be able to scrape the tiny black spots with a fingernail; this is unusual because I think that these raised spots are artillery fungus.

Artillery fungus, which comes from disintegrating organic mulch, occurs in the moderate temperatures of spring and fall, when the temperature is right for its formation. It is nearly impossible to remove without causing some damage to the surfaces onto which it is stuck. The black dots of artillery fungus explode with such force that they can reach 20 feet in height, thus its name.

There are several ways to prevent the growth of artillery fungus. You can top organic mulch yearly with new mulch. You can remove the existing mulch entirely and replace it yearly with new mulch. You can remove the mulch or top it with rubber mulch. You can replace the mulch with cypress mulch, which seems to be immune to the formation of artillery fungus.

A Pennsylvania reader has had success waiting until the fungus freezes to remove the dots with a plastic scraper. You may want to try it, but I wonder if it will still leave a dark or shiny spot on the vinyl siding.

Another reader passed on his experience with cypress mulch, which he has used exclusively for years with complete success.

Q. With this harsh winter soon to be -- thankfully -- history, it is time to prepare for a nonrepeat of what could have been a real water disaster in our home.

When the wind chill dipped to 25 below zero, my wife called me at work to say that there was no water in the upstairs master bathroom toilet tank. The sink right next to it had running water, as did the second bathroom next to it. But the water in the feeder pipe apparently froze. The outside wall to both bathrooms has a northern exposure.

We immediately placed a heater under the toilet aimed at the exposed pipe as well as one aimed at the kitchen ceiling underneath where the bathroom is located. Our trusted contractor was placed on call, my wife located the main water cutoff valve in the basement and prayers to all appropriate water and plumber gods were offered.

Twelve hours later, water flowed into the toilet tank with no burst pipes. What would you recommend we do this summer to keep from having the same near-disaster?

A. It sounds as if there is an insulation problem in the band joist between the kitchen ceiling and the bathroom floor in the area of the toilet tank feed pipe. The only way to make sure is to have a thermography specialist check the area out while we still have cold temperatures.

You should be able to find a thermographer by calling your utility provider or local energy office for the name of one or more, or by looking in your Yellow Pages under "Infrared Inspection Service" or similar heading.

Once the weak spot is found, a strategy for fixing it can be outlined. It may involve removing some pieces of siding if yours is vinyl or clapboards in order to be able to inject foam insulation or blow in cellulose in the weak area.

An experienced, certified energy specialist should be able to provide the entire service.

Q. I read your column every week and enjoy your suggestions. I need help with iron stains. We have well water. My tub and clothes get stained with rust. Our water goes through a water softener, and at times we change pellets and use the pellets that contain Iron Fighter.

I have used Iron Out to remove the stains in our bathtub, but it doesn't work any more. I have tried cleansers, such as Soft Scrub, then resorted to Comet cleanser, and have also used baking soda. My tub looks terrible and it is only 3 years old. Please help with suggestions.

A. You should have the water specialist who installed the water softener or a competitor check the system out. Something is not working.

To remove rust stains from your porcelain tub, try Boeshield Rust Free, which you can purchase from the Rust Store, Zud is another product worth trying. You can find Zud in supermarkets and hardware stores.

• 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

© 2014, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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