QWe recently bought a house and carpeted the basement. During heavy rain, one corner of the basement takes on enough water to soak the carpet. A contractor proposed a $4,000 project that would mean digging a trench around the interior of the basement and putting in new drain pipes and a sump pump. Is this the only way to go? -- T. Porter
AThere are several possible ways to cure or relieve this problem. First, make sure the rain gutters are functioning properly and carrying rain water well away from the foundation. Sometimes inexpensive downspout extensions will make a big difference by carrying the water to safe drainage points. These can be bought at most home centers and hardware stores. All downspouts and gutters should be kept free of obstructions such as leaves. I know from experience that a good gutter system can make a big difference.
If there is good inside access to the corner where the water is entering, try sealing the joint of the floor and wall with fast-setting hydraulic cement such as Fast Plug.
Finally, if the walls are bare and unpainted, apply a coat or two of waterproofing paint such as UGL's Drylok.
Removable rugs are best in basements that sometimes take on water. They can be rolled up and put in a dry place if heavy rain is expected.
I want to replace the rollers on my sliding-glass patio door, but don't know how to get the sliding panel out to remove the old rollers. Can you help? -- J. Altschul
The sliding panel has to be lifted out of the frame. Getting it out can be tricky, as well as take quite a bit of muscle, and there isn't space here to give all the details. However, you can find instructions at http://searchwarp.com/swa11807.htm.
I plan to take a long vacation in January and want to protect my house against freezing pipes. What do I need to do? -- T. Ruple
Here is a system used by many winter vacationers: Shut off your water supply at the main valve and drain the pipes by opening faucets at a low point. Also shut off and drain the water heater. There will still be some water in appliances and traps throughout the house. You can add nontoxic RV antifreeze to traps and hire a plumber to drain appliances. An alternative to the last step that many people prefer is to set your thermostat at 45 to 50 degrees and leave it that way during your absence. Have a friend or neighbor check you house at least twice a week to make sure everything is OK.
For extra safety, though, I strongly advise installing a warning system such as FreezeAlarm. This device can be hooked up to a telephone to warn you or a neighbor that the temperature in the house has dropped below 45 degrees due to a heater malfunction or power failure. A basic FreezeAlarm costs about $170.
Moisture comes through our attic vents during storms. A ceiling was damaged one time and some of our blown-in insulation gets wet. Can we seal the vents with plastic during the winter, when most of the problems occur? -- T. Burns
In general, attic vents should be left open year round. Their purpose is to ventilate the attic so moisture can escape. Without vents, moisture rising from the house could condense on cold surfaces and cause problems similar to those you are now having -- ceiling damage, wet insulation and so forth.
I suspect that the vents involved are gable vents in the walls. These generally have louvered covers that admit air but keep rain and snow from entering the attic. If your vents don't have covers like this, or if the covers are damaged, the problem could be solved by new covers.
If you feel you must close the vents, you might be able to rig up interior shutters or doors that can be closed only when storms are expected.
More on Woodpeckers
Readers Dorothy and Ron Marks say they thwarted woodpeckers that attack the cedar siding on their home by attaching short "sacrificial" pieces of cedar siding to the areas where the woodpeckers liked to peck (the corner trim).
"Now the woodpeckers mostly use (the added pieces of siding)," Dorothy Marks said. "The sacrificial pieces need to be replaced every few years, but not the corner boards."
Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to email@example.com. Questions cannot be answered personally.