Q: We have a recessed medicine chest in the wall of our bathroom. It is 15 1/2 inches wide and fits between two studs in the wall. I want to replace it with a wider chest (30 inches) but this would mean removing part of the two wooden 2-by-4 studs on each side. I am concerned about impairing the structural integrity of the house if I do this. Can you tell me if this can be done safely?
A: You would only have to cut one 2-by-4 stud, not two, because after you take out a section of one stud there would be more than enough space for a 30-inch-wide cabinet between the studs. If the wall is a load-bearing one, however, you will have to put extra studs against the existing ones on each side of the new opening, then nail a double horizontal 2-by-4 across the top and bottom of the new opening, with each end resting on top of the newly added short studs on each side. The 2-by-4 stud that you cut off in the middle (to make room for the new chest) should rest on the top of the doubled horizontal 2-by-4s so the strength of the wall would not be affected. You will need another 2-by-4 across the bottom of the opening (under the chest) to help support it.
Q: Is there any way to install weather stripping around an overhead garage door so I can keep cold air out of an unheated garage that is under a heated room?
A: A number of heavy-duty weather-stripping materials are sold for use under the bottom of a garage door, but I know of none especially made for the sides of a garage door. If the door fits properly, it should be reasonably snug against the stop molding on the outside. I think you could probably use regular swinging doors by fastening it to this molding. Just don't make it so tight that it interferes with the door action.
Q: Our vacation house is supplied by water from a private well of our own. During the winter we use it only on weekends, so before leaving for the week we shut off the water pump and let the water run until the water tank empties. Does this drain the water system enough to protect the pipes against freezing?
A: No, it does not. Chances are there are spots where water still remains in the pipes, especally behind closed valves and faucets. To drain the system properly, you should open a drain cock or drain valve in the lowest part of the system, usually in the basement, next to the hot-water tank.
Q: I live on the ninth floor of a midtown Manhattan apartment building and sometimes the noise of the traffic from the street below gets really annoying. Is there a special kind of curtain I can buy or a special fabric I can use for curtains that will make my apartment less noisy?
A: No conventional curtain, no matter how heavy, will help much. All fabrics, even thick carpets, let air through and this means sound waves come through easily. The only two things that will help cover your windows are solid wood shutters or an extra set of storm sash (plastic or glass) on the inside. Either will serve to lower the amount of sound that comes through the windows -- especially if they are loose-fitting. As mentioned in the column this week, sponge rubber or plastic stripping around the windows will also help to some extent.
Q: I am planning to insulate and panel my basement, but do not know how to attach the 2-by-4 studs that must be put up first. The basement walls are stone and uneven, so fastening the studs to them will be difficult. Can you tell me how to secure the 2-by-4s?
A: In this type of installation you normally do not fasten the studs to the foundation wall. You build separate partitions from the overhead joists to the floor, spacing the framework several inches in front of, but not in contact with, the foundation walls. Nail a 2-by-4 to the overhead floor joists first, then use a long level or plumb bob to locate another 2-by-4 on the floor directly under this. This bottom 2-by-4 is secured with anchors or masonary nails, then the studs are erected between them. Insulation is then installed by stapling it to the studs.
Q: I read in an energy-saving program that the pilot light in my gas furnace should be shut off during the summer when the furnace is not in use. I always thought the pilot light should stay on to prevent the furnace from rusting while not in use. Do the benefits of leaving it on outweigh the cost of the energy consumed?
A: I don't think rust would be a serious problem if the pilot light were turned off, unless the basement is damp most of the time. However, I suggest you talk to you local utility company to get an idea of how much money you can expect to save by turning off the pilot light. You can compare this with how much it will cost to have it turned off and then on again in the fall.
Q: The house we recently moved into had a family room built on in the back. The outside walls of this room are apparently separating from the rest of the house, leaving a gap that is more evident (wider) at the top of the room than at the bottom. I cannot tell if the room has settled as much as it ever will. If the problem is in the foundation, can it be rebuilt, or is it likely that only shimming will be required?
A: I think you have a serious problem. Either the foundation is not deep enough, or parts are missing entirely. It is more than likely that further settling will take place, and complete breakdown will eventually occur. This cannot be diagnosed by anyone other than a competent builder or architect, and then only after physically digging down to inspect the foundation and footing.