Q. I enjoy and value your column very much! We have a passive solar house built in Shelburne, Vt., during the "first" energy crisis in the 1970s. It includes three large (49-by-70-inch) double-paned windows, directly facing south, of course. These are the original windows.
The middle of these three windows has streaks of fog inside, which I assume means there is no longer a complete seal and there is likely a pinhole or opening on the outside of the window letting air and humidity enter.
What are my options to correct this situation? Is there a solution short of complete window replacement?
A. Yes, the seal is broken, and it is not surprising considering the glass is about 40 years old. It can happen with age, vibrations or poor installation, etc.
Although this does not materially diminish the insulating value of the glass, it is unsightly and impairs the view. The only solution is to have the glass replaced.
Q. Our Cape Cod-style home is 22 years old and has a circulating hot water furnace with baseboards (Slant Fin). Last year, the upstairs zone stopped working.
It was suggested to us that the problem might simply be the thermostat, so we replaced the thermostat and the heat worked for one day, and then stopped again.
We are not sure who to call to fix the problem. The furnace is working fine downstairs, so would a plumbing/heating service professional help? Is it more likely an electrical problem and the thermostat, so an electrician would be the answer? I can't bear another winter with a freezing bedroom, so your suggestions would be appreciated.
A. Since the boiler works well for the first floor, it is not a thermostat problem; you may have wasted your money changing it.
The person to call is an experienced HVAC contractor to check the pressure on the boiler, which may have dropped below the needed 20 pounds to reach the second floor. Most boilers are cold-start, so the pressure needs to be set at 12 to 15 pounds when cold. As the water heats up, the pressure goes up and can push hot water to the second floor. There could also be an airlock or other problem, such as a malfunctioning zone valve or circulator.
Q. I have been trying to find the best air filter for my furnace that will remove the most dust from my home as I have been having a problem with quite a bit of dust.
Someone suggested a Dynamic filter; another person told me put in a Honeywell. I also read that filters can be put in the vents or to try a media air filter, which is better than an electronic filter. It must be HEPA-rated.
I am so confused by all this information. All I want is the best filter that will remove the most dust from my home. I respect your opinion and will be waiting for your reply before I make a decision. There is so much information out there; it is very confusing.
A. Your best option is to use a medium-efficiency filter with a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) between 7 and 13. These filters are almost as effective as true HEPA filters, which are not usually suitable for residential buildings as they may require modification to the system.
You can buy pleated MERV filters in hardware stores. The ones I buy at Ace Hardware have a MERV of 8.
This is a lot less expensive than having electrostatic or HEPA filters installed.
Q. Is there a way to remove the artillery fungus spots from vinyl siding? We found that power-washing only cleaned the siding but did not remove the spots.
A. Sorry, but there isn't a sure way to remove the artillery fungus from vinyl siding without risking serious damage to the siding. A Pennsylvania reader has had success waiting until the fungus freezes to remove it with a plastic scraper. You may want to try it, but I wonder if it will still leave a dark spot.
Q. Our backyard concrete patio was covered with a plastic grasslike carpet by the previous owner. My husband removed the carpet for me and I was so happy. But, unfortunately, there appear to be glued areas now left behind on the patio. I would love to remove these areas so that the patio looks better. We have tried diluted bleach, straight bleach and even nail polish remover on different spots, but nothing seems to work. Is there something else that might work for us?
A. The way to remove leftover adhesive from outdoor plastic carpeting is to pour boiling water on a couple of square feet at a time and scrape the adhesive immediately as it is softening.
Q. I first discovered an infestation of black flies last summer. They are very small, maybe 1⁄8-inch long. They are coming from my drains in the laundry room, the bathrooms and my kitchen. It took me a long time to find out what they were. They went away during the winter, but came back this summer. I've tried pouring Clorox down the drains, but it didn't kill them. I also have no plants in the house. Now I see two different kinds, both very small. They are driving me crazy.
A. Drain flies breed in the organic matter that coats the drainpipes of sinks, tubs and floor drains. So you need to get rid of the organic matter, and bleach will not do it as it kills only bacteria and not the insects.
The simplest way to deal with sewer flies is to get a kit that contains glue boards, a spray to kill the flying insects and a drain gel. The adults fly in an erratic pattern, but never stray too far from the drain. Get rid of them by spraying the air in the area near the sink where you see them.
To identify which drain the flies come from, glue boards are used to make a tent over the drains overnight for one or more nights. You can also cover part of the drain with packing tape with the sticky surface facing down. It's important to not cover the entire drain to allow for air movement. If you see any flies caught on the sticky surface, you know that this is a contaminated drain.
You need to clean the pipes to remove any organic matter, hair or whatever that is sticking to the sides of the pipes. Using a stiff, round brush coated with dishwashing detergent, scrape the sides of the drainpipe as far down as you can to remove as much stuck organic matter as possible. You can also use a plumber's snake to clean the pipes deeper than the brush can reach; twist the snake as you drive it in. Then, using a plunger, vigorously pump it up and down for a couple of minutes to dislodge any organic matter loosened up by the brush and snake. Pour a solution of boiling water and Arm & Hammer Washing Soda down the drain.
Next, gently pour a few ounces of a drain gel all around the sides of the sink opening, so it can flow down and coat the drainpipe. Do so every night until you no longer see any activity, and then do so every month as a maintenance program.
If you cannot find the needed products in hardware stores, you can buy them online at: www.domyownpestcontrol.com or by calling P&M Solutions toll-free at (866) 581-7378. Whatever products you use, be sure to read and follow the directions as they vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
Q. We have a lot of trees in our development, so we have to have our gutters cleaned out a couple times a year. My husband is not able to do this anymore. Would it be worth it to have commercial gutters and drain pipes installed? Would it take care of the clogged gutter problem?
A. Commercial gutters and downspouts can handle a lot of leaves, but they can also be overwhelmed if you have a lot of them. Commercial downspouts are the most valuable part of the system, as they tend not to get clogged because their cross section is twice that of residential downspouts. But if your downspouts discharge into an underground drain, the underground pipe may get clogged and cause a backup.
If this is your major problem, you can have commercial downspouts installed on residential gutters. Be sure that the gutter specialist you call is making such installations using the properly sized outlet and does not try to sell you new gutters as well. This may be what I would consider your best solution.
Although I haven't found a gutter guard that does not have some problem, in your case you may want to consider one; the problem is which one -- most of them are quite expensive.
In the long run, it may be less expensive to have your gutters cleaned after all the leaves have fallen. With commercial downspouts, you may need to have the job done only in the fall; the spring blooms may simply wash off harmlessly.
Clarification: In a recent column in which I answered a reader's question about the length of time it took to get hot water for showering, I listed several possibilities including the Hot Water Lobster. The following comment from a reader who had the Hot Water Lobster installed is unsettling and I apologize for mentioning this system:
"I had a professional plumber install it who followed the directions implicitly, and it did not work and has not worked to this day. I was rather shocked and surprised you would have mentioned that company in your article.
"I have no knowledge of the Laing AutoCirc system, but after spending a small fortune for the first waste of time, I'm reluctant to try another joke."
I am sorry that you had such a bad experience. We have had the Laing AutoCirc for many years and it works very well.
• 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
© 2013, United Feature Syndicate Inc.