Q: We have a 40-year/old home with a three story chimney for a fireplace in our living room on the first floor. On damp and rainy days there is a definate smell of damp soot coming out of the fireplace. We have had the chimney inspected twice and both times the chimney sweep said the chimney did not need cleaning. Do you have any suggestions?
A: The most frequent cause of this problem is an accumulation of soot and ashes in the cleanout box under the fireplace. There should be a door built for this purpose, either in the basement directly under the fireplace, or on the outside behind it. Cleaning this does not solve your problem, the next step is to check the smoke shelf just above the damper. Soot can collect there and get damp, and this is not always easily visible when the chimney is inspected.
Q: I sleep on a heavy couch that is on casters. This couch has to be opened each night. The room was recently recarpeted and now the feet leave dents because the casters dig into the carpet. Is there anything I can put under the legs to prevent this?
A: put plastic or rubber cups under each leg -- the kind sold for this purpose in all hardware stores. However, if the legs have to be moved each night when the coach is opened, it will mean lifting the leg each time. If this is a problem, your best bet is to replace the casters with heavy-duty, double-wheel rubber casters (often called piano casters). These will spread the load more and be less likely to put dents in the carpet. t
Q: We recently insulated our basement walls with fiber glass that has Kraft-paper facing. We plan to cover this insulation with Sheetrock, then put wood panels over this. Is it necessary to slash or cut the Kraft-paper facing before we put up the Sheetrock?
A: That is exactly what you should not do. You are not clear about whether by Kraft paper you mean that this is the side with the vapor barrier on it; insulation with a vapor barrier has Kraft-paper facing on the other side as well. At any rate, the insulation should have a vapor barrier facing the inside of the basement -- always with the barrier toward the warm or heated side in the winter.
Q: I live in a condominum apartment and my bedroom wall allows a great deal of sound to come through from my neighbor's apartment. Is there anything I can do to cut down on the sound?
A: This is little you can do short of building a second partition wall that is not in direct contact with the original wall. You would have to install fiber galss batts between the two walls. Large bookcases full of books and bulky pieces of furniture on the exsisting wall may help, as will plugging holes around switch plates and other openings where sound may penetrate.
Q: I am thinking of putting plastic storm windows on the inside to help conserve heat. However, the sun comes in the back of my house most of the afternoon. Will storm windows keep out the extra warmth I get from the sun on sunny days?
A: No, they will not. In fact, the extra storm windows will help trap the heat and keep it inside longer after the sun goes down.
Q: I have a large old house in which the kitchen sink is over 60 feet from the hot-water heater. It takes a long time to get hot water at this sink, and the water never seems hot enough, even though it is turned as high as it will go. In addition, my new dishwasher is not doing the job it should. Since half of the piping runs through an unheated basement crawl space could this be the problem, or do I need insulating cover on the hot-water heating?
A: I would cover the hot-water pipes where you can reach them, and put a cover on the hot-water heater. These measures should help, but it's possible your hot-water heater is not working the way it should. Have a reliable plumber check it. CAPTION:
Illustration, no caption, by Bethann Thornberg for The Washington Post