DEAR BARRY: We have a problem heating the family room on the lower floor of our split-level home. It just won’t get as warm as the rest of the house. The room is side by side with the walk-in subarea, and we’re wondering if we should close the subarea vents during the cold winter months. Do you think this would help to conserve heat? –Jan

DEAR JAN: Your problem could be a simple matter of convection — that is, the natural upward movement of warm air. The stairway that leads to the family room is essentially a chimney, allowing warm air in the family room to rise toward the upstairs area of your home. If there is a door that closes off this stairway, that would prevent the rise of heated air. If there is no door, you could install a ceiling fan above the stairway. This would counteract the upward flow of warm air.

If cold air in the subarea is part of the problem, you may need to insulate the wall between the subarea and the family room. You could also panel the wall with plywood on the subarea side of the framing. And if there is no weatherstripping on the door to the subarea, that should also be installed.

The benefit of closing the subarea vents depends on the climate where you live. In dry climates, such as the Southwestern states, vents are needed to minimize humidity in the subarea. The evaporation of ground moisture can raise humidity levels under a house. During cold weather, moisture in the air can condense on the wood framing, causing fungus growth and dry-rot damage.

In areas with high humidity, such as the Southeastern states, closed vents in winter can reduce condensation — especially if you install a dehumidifier in the subarea. In either case, closed vents are unlikely to reduce heat loss in the family room, as long as the family room is sufficiently insulated.

DEAR BARRY: The home I’m buying is under construction in a new development and will be finished in a few weeks. Yesterday, I discovered that the master bathroom is 4 inches smaller than the master bathrooms in the other homes on the block. Even the door is 4 inches smaller. Now that they’ve completed that part of the building, it appears that we are stuck. Is this a breach of contract on the builder’s part? –Laurie

DEAR LAURIE: Variations in detail, design and dimension often occur when homes are being built. These changes are usually disclaimed in the purchase contracts offered by real estate developers. Therefore, your builder is probably free of liability for the size difference in your master bathroom. However, the potential for more significant defects should not be overlooked. This is why you should hire a home inspector when the construction is completed.

Homebuyers often assume that new homes do not need to be inspected. Many buyers have come to regret that assumption. A qualified inspector can always find construction defects in a new home, and the conditions reported by your inspector will have to be addressed by the builder.

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