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Home Sense

Mike McClintock
Washington Post
Thursday, May 13, 2004; 12:00 PM

Have questions about how to keep your home fit and trim?

Home Sense columnist Mike McClintock is online every other Thursday at Noon ET to answer your questions about home building, remodeling, repairs and the wide range of home-consumer issues. If it has something to do with the place where you live -- from home security to the latest on appliances, energy-saving and a lot more -- just ask. Mike has the answers.

Mike McClintock (For The Washington Post)

McClintock's column appears in the Post Home section every Thursday. He is the author of 10 books, including "Alternative Housebuilding."

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Mike McClintock: Hi: This week's posting is about recycling- a few facts and figures to chew on, then dispose of in bin number one through three- or six, or nine, with answers and extra info end of hour as usual. Plus, as long as they keep bubbling over, my consumer complaint of the week. I have plenty, but if you have a good one I'll try to scan down and post it.

OK: so complaining (legitimate gripes only), then quizzing, and I'll start answering your questions in the meantime.

Consumer Complaint of the Week: Tuna Baloney
Cans of tuna (and albacore) come in two types: "solid white" and darker, less firm, less expensive "chunk light". My complaint is that a lot of higher-cost "solid white" is not only not solid and white, but often less chunky and light than "chunk light", which generally is not chunky or light at all and more like mushy cat food.
Some brands throw in the odd can of actually solid and white tuna- to keep you guessing, maybe. But I'd say either deliver what you promise or trim the expectations, say, with cans that say SOILD WHITE TUNA- SOMETIMES. And the higher-price one I opened yesterday for lunch with a picture of pristine white ribs of solid tuna on the can was- meow- you know what.


1. What is the overall recycling rate in the U.S? That means MSW (municipal solid waste), including paper, yard trimmings, cans, bottles, garbage and such? (The rate is not at all uniform one state or even county to the next.)
- 8%
- 18%
- 28%
- 38%

2. Just for some perspective, which country's consumers recycle more?
- U.S. out-recycles the U.K?
- U.K. out-recycles the U.S?

3. In the last 15 years the U.S recycling rate has changed by what rate?
- decreased by 50%
- stayed about the same
- increased by 50%
- increased by 100%

4. What percent of aluminum beer and soda cans are recycled?
- 5%
- 15%
- 35%
- 55%


Delray, Alexandria, Va.: The other day, all of a sudden the water in our house wouldn't turn on. A few minutes later it worked again, but now the water in our upstairs sink is barely coming out. Water comes out fine in tub and in all the other sinks in the house. Any thoughts?

Mike McClintock: That?s a bit of a stumper, but when you get no water (none) it?s through the whole house and due to no pressure, which means (if you?re ona private well) no power; it?s an unusualy occurance on a public supply, but suppose there could be a pressure glitch. Once that happens, all sorts of grit and other stuff in the system can become dislodged (due to the sudden pressure changes), and the best guess is that you?ve collected a bunch of it at the aerator screen in the upstairs sink. Unscrew it. Flush it backwards and poke out any lodege bits with a toothpick.


Ashburn, Va.: I have an unfinished basement; I am planning to install washer and dryer in the basement; because of the vibrations these machines cause: is it advisable to install them in the area where we have the furnace and water heaters;

Do I need to add any other supporting structure on the concrete floor when I install these machines.

Mike McClintock: Install them where you have water supply pipes and drains, or where it's easiest to tap in to existing lines. If you take care with leveling, the vibrations will be minimal- and if the concrete slab can't hold them, run.


Washington, D.C.: I live in a 1906 rowhouse on cap. hill and have some water seepage in the basement. I contacted a basement waterproofing company that suggested jackhammering up the cement and along the exterior wall (where the seepage is) and installing a pvc pipe system to move the water to a sump pump. Do you have thoughts on the effectiveness of such a proposal?

Mike McClintock: Done right, it works, but a bit like carrying a bucket to catch the blodd from a cut instead of getting it stitched up (sorry if you're eating lunch). First, i'd try to deal with the water outside before it gets in: extending downspouts, creating a slope away from the foundation, etc.


Crofton, Md.: Sometimes, the best way to direct rain water from the gutters is to install a long pipe from the end of the gutter to a distance far away. Of course, this pipe is usually buried. How can you have access to remove debris such as leaves, bugs, etc. from this extension since it basically becomes inaccessible after you bury it?

Mike McClintock: That's the rub. So, generally, if extending solves a water problem like leaks in the basement, say, wity a temporary setup of just a lebngth of downspout attached to the outlet, youthen excavate and install a real drain pipe, the idea being to keep debris outof the system at the gutters, and maybe even provide an open end where the piupe drains. And if that doesn't do it, the deadly offset fitting just under the gutter usually will act as a trap.


Arlington, Va.: Hi Mike,
Question: how should I go about cleaning the aluminum siding on my townhouse. Any tip will be appreciated.

Mike McClintock: Nothing is more thorough than a bucket of water and some non-abrasive liquid detergent- plus you and a sbrub brush. Next best (and less arduous) is a hose-end sprayer- basically your garden hose with a special nozzle that mixes in detergent. You still might have to so some scrubbing by hand, though these systems come with brush ends, and extension poles for reaching up without a ladder. Then there's pressure washing, also with detergent mixed in. Key there is to dial a very low pressure, generally 300psi or under, and test that on an out of the way place. Also, try to shoot down instead of up to keep the high-pressure blast out of seams.


Charlotte, N.C.: I hope you have a chance to answer this, because if I'm told one more time "it's complicated" by a contractor looking for an excuse not to complete the work, I'll scream. (Apparently, to them, a girl couldn't possibly understand. I keep wanting to say, "well, then have the person who explained it to you give me a call!") We had a full-brick house built 18 months ago, and an irrigation system installed just three weeks ago. The irrigation system plugs in to the outside, GFI-protected outlet. (The GFI outlet itself is in the garage.) The GFI keeps tripping, thus keeping the irrigation system from working consistently, thus effectively killing $2000 worth of new sod in the backyard. The construction company's electrical contractor is trying to blame this on the irrigation system. ("These houses aren't wired for this.") The unit draws less than a quarter amp, so they're full of it, plus virtually every house in my neighborhood has an irrigation system, all of them installed post-constuction. Plus, it tripped occasionally long before the irrigation system was put in. The other explanation I've been offered is moisture creeping in and tripping the GFI that way. Of course, the electrical contractor says that's not his problem. Bottom line is, my outside outlets don't work consistently and my yard is dying. If this were your house, what would you do? Please help!

Mike McClintock: Firts i'd replace the gfci. Then (we're assuming nothing works as we progress for the sake of argument), i'd lightly spritz around the gfci to simulate actual conditions and see if it trips. Then i'd replace the installation- just do it again to be sure it's caulked and can't get wet. Then i'd install a standard outlet instead of the gfci and see if it trips with a radio plugged in, etc. i.e. generally working backwards soyou know it's not the gfci, the installation, the circuit. It could be something in the pump system that is jolting the gfci- a condition that might be provene true if you install a new gfci and get the same result.


Silver Spring, Md.: At times when we turn the hot water on in the tub, a LOUD rattling noise occurs in the pipes(sounds like it is coming from a few rooms a way). The rattling won't stop until you fiddle with the hot water tap. This also occurs at times when you turn the hot water off in the tub. Sometimes when you fiddle with the hot water tap on the tub (to abate the noise), the noise stops, but the bathroom sink will trickle on! Any ideas? I am worried that we won't be able to recreate the situation if we get a plumber out. We had a guy out looking at an unrelated issue with our heater and the scenario occurred and he said that he thought that we may have a loose washer in our tub spout. Could that be? Our we damaging our pipes by letting them rattle like this (this typically occurs once every two weeks or so).

Mike McClintock: Loose or wornm washers can let air siphon back into the system. Then the wall of water isn't continuous (it's puching some air bubbles) and the wall, in sections, bangs against the elbows and other fittings; it's not one smooth stream. So you can replace washers on the fixture, and also install an anit-hammer device inthe line. It's abasically a shock absorber that doesn't fix the problem, but softens the bumps
-- and sorry for all the typos but my finger are kind of sticky in the heat and goupy air today


Del Ray, Alexandria, Va.: Hey Mike,
Our water pressure dropped a few days ago and stayed low.
The whole house has reduced flow. It's always that way - not just when the washer's on.
What could be the cause?


Mike McClintock: To be helpful need to know if you're on a well or municipal supply- but big and sudden pressure drops are unusual for public water, and much more common on a well. If you need more pressure generally, there's not much you can do on a meter (unless the meter inlet is bad and that's unusual, too), but more you can do on a well- basically by changing the pressure setting so water is pumped intothe holding tank at greater pressure, down side being the pump runs more. If you've always had low pressure, that's also a sign of small-diameter pipes (either new or by now from corrosion) that just won't much water through.


Washington, D.C.: No problems with hot water in my house, except for the single-handle shower in one bathroom, which won't go beyond lukewarm. Any ideas?

Mike McClintock: Might be too far from the heater, the water colling off on it's long trip, in which case you could snap foam insulating tubes onthe supply pipe. If it's hot enough elsewhere, youdon't need to increase the thermoststa setting. But-- probably the most likely cause (now it comes to me) is that the mixing valve in the single-lever faucet has some corrosion or grit or is worn out and won't give you a full mix of hot.


Greenbelt, Md.: I'll be painting my living room this weekend. The walls will be cranberry and the ceiling is going to be white. What can I do to make sure I get a crisp straight line where the wall meets the ceiling?

Mike McClintock: Paint the ceiling first, of course, then after it's fully dry apply painter's tape to the edges. Or, if you have a good sash tool (flagged and tipped and probably $20 bucks and up) practice cutting in- a little bit at a time, very slowly, even red against white.


Annapolis, Md.: When building a deck with an octagon for a gazebo, is the framing much different if one were not going to get a gazebo, but still wanted the octagon?

Mike McClintock: No; the only difference is that you might have to use tibers the next size up for the extra load, though many gazebos are very lightweight. But the framing is flaky and takes some planning.


Anonymous: misfit screen door: We recently replaced the sliding screen door on the back of our 10-year-old house. The old one used to fit fine, but over the years became balkier. This one does not quite fit either, maybe because of settling. It keeps falling out of the track. Do you have any fixes for this?

Mike McClintock: Anonymous, eh? But son't you realize that this is like radio, i.e. you can be yourself or anyone else; there's no video; you could be in your jammies. Anyway-
Sounds like it's the frame and not the screen, so you might have to straighten, clean, lubricate the rib track the screen slides on, top and bottom. Typically, the screen whewels are a craaige that's spring-loaded and keeps itself pretty easily in the system.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: I'm renovating my patio and I would like to run electricity from inside. I'll let an electrician do the wiring, but I'm wondering about running the wire through the wall to the outside. My building is old and I have thick brick exterior walls.

Is this a job that a DIYer can handle or is this best left to the pros? Thanks!

Mike McClintock: Let the electrician make his own installation, otherwise problems can be blamed on what you did- and the pro shoiuld have done this hundreds of times.


Alexandria, Va.: My tiny 1920s rowhouse has the original hardwood floors in almost every room. The house was renovated quickly as a rental before I bought it, and the floors are one of the areas where the previous owners skimped to save money--they're sanded unevenly and finished with a poly coat, which is now in need of another coat or a replacement. There are gaps of up to 1/4 inch (in some cases even 1/2 inch) between some of the boards and I would like to fill them in for a smooth appearance and to keep the edges of the boards from catching my feet, ow. Can I do this myself, and if so can you point me in the right direction to find out how? The gaps are my main concern, as some of them look awful. Thanks very much!

Mike McClintock: Thopse are big gaps. In old houses, oftne with wideboard pine planks that shrank, the gaps were filled with oakum, and some large gaps filled with splines- just thin strips of more wood, which is about the only way to cover 1/2 inch. So i'd say no to d-i-y, and when you hire someone go very carefully over the exact process and what it will look like.


Lake Barcroft, Va.: Happy Cicada launch!

Hope you have a chance to answer my question. I have a tiled bathroom and want to rip out the tub faucet fixture. There is no panel access, so I'd have to remove the tiling to get at the stuff. How difficult would it be to pop the old tiles (have a plumber do the plumbing magic) and then butter/grout/etc. with replacement tiles?

I have two boxes of matching tiles, so that is no problem, and I'm reasonably handy with patching/refinishing surfaces/regrouting bathrooms. I just haven't done tile replacement before.

Thanks for your ideas.

Mike McClintock: You may well be neater than a plumber, maybe much neater, say, by using either a grout cutter (like a tiny router) to clear out the few seams and then prying gently to break the adhesive bond, or, drill a series of tiny holes in the grout to get it moving. Retiling should be the easier part, first scraping dwon any old ridges of adhesive. And a good tip (you were smart) to keep some extra tile and other materials on hand for repairs and replacements down the road.


Guesses: 1. 18%

2. UK out-recycles US

3. stayed about the same

4. 15%

Mike McClintock: no, no, no

so this may not be the day to buy a lottery ticket


Washington, D.C.: Wet Rowhouse Basement Again: Thanks for your response. I agree that I'd love to stop the water (luckily I was done with my lunch before I read your blood analogy) from coming in but my downspouts drain into the storm sewer and my house is along an alley that is bucked and paved with very old bricks, not concrete. I don't think there would be a way to build up a slope short of ripping up the alley myself!

Mike McClintock: Then the system you described might be the best option- but make sure you uinderstand what the drains and sump and all will look like


Bowie, Md.: We are told that the best way to avoid mold in the basement is to keep the humidity below 60% and to circulate fresh air. How is this possible during the hot summer when the only way to circulate the air is to open the doors and windows that allow humid air to come inside?

Mike McClintock: Lower humidity always works, so in the summer either run a dehumidifier (down side is it's a compressor that makes heat; plus you have to empty it), or better yet dump some AC down there.


Northern Ireland: I'm an American living in the UK, and I'd say that the UK beats the US in recycling. Everyone in our town has a large bin for recylcing paper and for recycling garden waste, which are picked up every few weeks. We don't have pick up for glass/can/plastic items, but there are receptacles everywhere, and they always seemed to be filled.

Mike McClintock: Nope, the overall rate is higher here (but see end-of-hour about UK goals for improvement and other stuff); and this varies wildly from one place to another. Where i am, you recycle if you want to; other places, they won't piuck up your garabage and someimtes even open it at the sound of glass, and some places require 9, yes nine, bins for sorting prior to pickup.


Virginia: I discovered an asbestos board in a house I'm renovating. I didn't disturb it, but the previous owners had stuck a nail in it (and subsequently removed it) to hang a picture (it is above the fireplace). Is it safe to leave it, or should I get the experts in to remove it, because of the hole in it?

Mike McClintock: If it's asbestos, moving and disturbing in any way, like sanding makes it friable (flaky) and is the worst thing to do. Reaplacement used to be the advice, now it's encapsulation, like painting even, and leaving it alone.


Washington, D.C.: It's probably not normal for TGI's to crack or delaminate at the ends, but if it does, how can it be fixed?

Mike McClintock: That's tough, because the plywood on those joists is thin, and you can't very well take it out and replace it. So i probably would scab on two pieces of plywood (a sandwich) extending well beyond the bad area, gled and screwed, as they say. But the delamination may be due to a leak that you should track down and fix so it won't happen again.


Bowie, Md.: Hi Mike:

Thanks for taking my question--love this chat!

Ever since your article "When a Wall is in the Way," I've been thinking about a renovation done by a previous owner of my house.

The previous owner created a doorway in what had been a solid wall. It improves the traffic flow immensely--but how can I determine if he did this in a way to ensure my house isn't going to fall down? I think it's a weight-bearing wall.

Further, it would be great to take down about four feet of a wall I think bears weight as well. If there is electrical in the wall as well, can you give me a ballpark of what to expect to pay someone to install a post and move the wires?

Mike McClintock: The column lists many ways to take an educated guess- mainly by where the wall is- whether it's loadbearing or not (more than i can redo here quickly), but any decent contractor should be able to confirm for you. And it's easy enough to install a header over openings to carry the loads where studs are removed. But then you have to pick up those loads in posts at the sides of the open, and underneath, too. (Moving a few boxes is easy and quick work; not costly.)


Annapolis, Md.: 1. 28%
2. US over UK
3. increase by 50%
4. 35%

Mike McClintock: First two yes, second two not


Flint, Mich.: I need your help in settling an argument. My husband and I just ripped up some carpet in preparation for bamboo floors. Well, the sub floor has soaked up some of the "mess" from a couple of doggy accidents. The smell is unpleasant. Husband thinks we can put a couple coats of primer prior to flooring and we'll be okay. I'm thinking we need something more drastic like new sub floors. Or...is there an in-between solution.

Many thanks! Love the chats.

Mike McClintock: Bad odor is nothing like rotten wood. So if the subfloor is spongy, or plywood delaminating, yes, you probably need to replace a section. If it's just smells bad, bleach a few times, and/or apply a product specially for removing pet odors.


Alexandria, Va.: Mike, does paint that's on metal "give" a little? I have a metal ice cream parlor table and two chairs, with the heart-shaped backs. They do give when you lean against them. I want to sand and paint the set a different color. But I have fears of my new paint cracking when the seat backs move.

Mike McClintock: These are meant to bve painted fairly regularly, but usually the parts that flex do so as units and rust is the main culprit. TRoo bad, but there's no plastic (really flexible) paint i know of.


Tacoma, Wash.: Hi Mike. Are you still an advocate of Pole Homes ? I've been gathering as much information as I can about this type of construction. Your book was the most informative and inspiring. I've tried to locate a reasonably priced set of plans. An Australian firm has some for $6k. I've been quoted anywhere from $6k to $24k to engineer the plans that I've drawn. The reason I chose to do a pole frame, was because our property is sloped and the concrete was going to exceed our budget. Could you please contact me and give me some ideas. Sincerely, Don Hazen

Mike McClintock: You bet, which you may have detected in the book copy, and you might try for plans at pole treaters (preservers) and timber groups, even the timber framers guild might be nice enough to hook you up with some links. And (in a somewhat rural setting generally) it's still about the most practical answer to a steeply sloping site.


Arlington, Va.: Recycling: Arlington takes only plastic numbers 1 and 2, but their paper program is great - all junk mail, boxes, post in notes! post it notes!! but, i hear in DC you can put plastic grocery bags in your bin, here i have to schlep them to the store. why so close so different?

Mike McClintock: Seems to be local controls only, maybe because it would be alarming (at least in some areas) to suddenly go to 3+ bins, specially if you're in the middle of nowhere and make a sat routine of going to the dump.


Annapolis, Md.: I love your chat. Thanks for taking my question. I live in a split-foyer and was wondering how feasible it is to remodel it into a colonial or add a third level. It was built in 1973. I would like to have the bedrooms on a separate level. I detest the usual addition on the back of the house.

Mike McClintock: Certainly possible, but depends on the load you're adding vs. the capacity of the footings- something you need an architect or engineer to decipher. Have mentioned before an addition i work on where "very footings" on the plans meant we had to dig a big trench to see what was there- and then righ a way to reinforce the pour; in that case the addition was a library- one room but all walls flooor to ceiling books.


Washington, D.C.: When windows are removed that are enclosed with a brick facade (replacement windows not an option), is it very hard to get the brick to match and the mortar to blend in correctly?

Mike McClintock: Sure- and make sure also yyou're not, first, decreasing the value, second, violating a code about second means of egrees or ventilation. You can fgenerally match mortar color, but old brick is tough to get on the nose.


Bowie, Md.: I have corian countertops and an area has become discolored because a hot pot was laid on top of a wet dish rag which caused it to steam up. How can I remove or blend in this "blanched" area?

Mike McClintock: Try their website for repair, which are very possible, though generally recommened for one of the installers to do.


Arlington, Va.: I am in the midst of a kitchen renovation in my small townhouse. I started pulling up the vinyl/laminate (roll out type) flooring and there seems to be some sort of cushioned material (grey) applied over the concrete slab subfloor. It just doesn't seem to be as hard as concrete. I want to use 4X4 ceramic tiles on the floor and am wondering whether I can tile over this stuff.

Mike McClintock: If it's at all soft, pull it up. Ceramic tile needs a rock solid foundation, or the grout will crack, if not the tiles.


Mike McClintock: So- no yeas or nays about my tune complaint? maybe next time. Meanwhile, here are the answers to the posting:


1. What is the overall recycling rate in he U.S? That means MSW (municipal solid waste), including paper, yard trimmings, cans, bottles, garbage and such? (It's not at all uniform one state or even county to the next.)
- 28%
Statistics according to currently posted EPA reports.

2. Just for some perspective, which country's consumers recycle more?
- U.S. out-recycles the U.K.
The rate is about 15% in the U.K (the government's goal is 25% by 2005) compared to about 28% here.

3. In the last 15 years the U.S recycling rate has changed by about what rate?
- increased by 100%
This translates to about 75 million tons of MSW material a year that does not end up in landfills or incinerators.

4. What percent of aluminum beer and soda cans are recycled?
- 55%
It's one of the most successful recycling programs, as well as 42% of paper and 40% of plastic soda bottles compared to the 28% overall recycling rate.

See you next time


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