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posted: 4/25/2014 12:01 AM

Homemade drain cleaners may do the trick

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Commercial drain cleaners usually are safe to use on your home's pipes, but a simple homemade concoction can work just as well -- saving you money and the environment at the same time.

Q. Is it true that bottled drain cleaners like Drano or Liquid-Plumr can damage my home's pipes, or are they OK to use?

A. They're usually safe to use on both plastic and cast-iron pipes, providing you follow all of the instructions on the bottle's label.

You have asked a timely question, because Monday was Earth Day, when the U.S. and nearly 200 other countries showed support for environmental protection.

Though commercial drain cleaners probably won't hurt your home's plumbing system, the chemical-laden liquid will go into the sewers, out to the ocean or local lake, and perhaps even leech into the water system.

Fortunately, there's often a cheaper and more "eco-friendly" way to go. Just pour about half of a small box of dry baking soda down the clogged drain, follow it with a half-cup of vinegar, and quickly cover the drain's opening tightly with a towel or rag.

Interaction between the baking soda and vinegar will create a mini-volcano -- much like the ones that millions of children have used for their grade-school science fairs -- but the rag that's stuffed in the hole should force the explosion downward and blow out all but the nastiest of clogs. Pour a gallon or two of boiling water down the drain 30 minutes later to clear out any residue.

Q. We hired a professional home inspector to check out a home that we want to buy. After looking at the house (and cashing our check for $390), he gave us a report that said the roof should be examined by a "certified roof inspector." Isn't that part of his job?

A. No. A general inspection includes a brief description of the roof's materials and drainage system, but does not require the inspector to actually climb up on the roof to look for damage or potential problems. You'll have to pay extra to hire a specialist.

Your real estate agent probably can recommend one. The National Roof Certification and Inspection Association, (888) 687-7663,, also operates a free program to help you find a nearby professional who has passed its rigorous certification standards.

Q. A couple who lives a few doors down from me holds a yard sale almost every weekend. The items they sell are mostly cheap stuff they buy from swap meets or other yard sales and then add an extra dollar or so to the resale price. The ongoing sales cause a lot of headaches, including traffic and parking problems, and they bring a lot of creepy characters to our neighborhood. (I caught one "customer" urinating on my lawn just last week.) I have asked the couple to cut back on the weekend sales, but they refused. What can I do?

A. Start by putting your complaints into a polite letter and sending it to the neighbors via certified mail. Detail the various problems that the constant yard sales are causing and ask that they cut them back to, say, once a month or once every other month.

If your request is rejected again, call your local city or district attorney's office or the police department to determine whether there's a local ordinance that limits the number of yard sales a homeowner can have each year. Many cities and counties across the U.S., as well as most homeowners' associations, limit an owner's right to have such sales to once or twice annually.

Should such an ordinance exist in your area, get a copy of it and mail it to your neighbors, along with a note asking that they begin to obey the law. Call local authorities if they still won't comply. A stern warning from a government attorney, or a ticket for creating a "public nuisance" from the cops, may be a powerful tool for the thoughtless couple to get the sales under control.

I shared a story with readers several years ago about a similar problem I had on my own block. At the time, our town didn't limit the number of yard sales a homeowner could have. But because my neighbor was having giant sales nearly every week, the city attorney determined my neighbor was operating an "ongoing business enterprise" and sent him a letter demanding he pay for a business license, get insurance, start charging sales taxes and the like.

My neighbor decided all the red tape and costs involved simply couldn't justify the meager profits he would make by continuing the weekly events, so the troublesome yard sales soon came to an end.

Real estate trivia: The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that each American generates an average of about 4.5 pounds of solid waste every day, most of it paper and plastic products, uneaten food and yard trimmings. With about 300 million U.S. residents, that equates to our nation tossing out 6,750, 100-ton Blue Whales every 24 hours.

• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.

© 2014, Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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