Q: Can you tell me what is "out there" in terms of venting a bathroom fan in a brick home? My friend owns an 80-year-old home that has never had a fan in the bathroom. She needs to keep scrubbing the walls because of mildew. Two contractors have told her that there is no bathroom fan that can be used to vent her bathroom because of the brick walls. I find this difficult to believe.

One quoted her more than $600 to make up something. One of the box stores told her to scrub the walls and then apply a mold prevention coating over the well-dried walls. She cannot afford the $600. Does she have any other option? –Anne W.

A: I’m going to make a couple of assumptions here, based on what you’re telling me. One is that there’s no attic space above this bathroom that the contractor can run a vent through to get to the outside, and the other is that home has solid brick walls, not wood framing with a brick veneer.

Assuming both those things are true, I can understand the difficulty a contractor would face when installing a ventilation fan. Having to find a way to route the ductwork from an interior bathroom through walls and then through solid brick is labor-intensive, and therefore expensive.

There are a couple of things I can suggest. First, if the bathroom is over a crawl space or basement, there may be a way to install a wall-mounted fan and then run ductwork down through the floor and out that way. I have no way of knowing if that’s possible without seeing the house, so I would contact a heating and ventilation contractor, not a general contractor, and take one more try at seeing if that or some other method might be possible for getting a fan in there.

If not, talk to the HVAC contractor about installing a dehumidifier instead. Dehumidifiers are another way of removing moisture from the air, and there are a wide variety of makes and models in all different sizes, styles and price ranges. There are also "canned" dehumidifiers, which are disposable. They’re designed primarily for basements, and absorb moisture over time and then are thrown away.

Q: My plumber said he can jackhammer my [concrete slab] floor, which follows the underground ductwork, and repair or replace it that way. This is a major project, but could it do any harm to the foundation? –Arlene B.

A: Whenever you start cutting into a concrete slab, there are a number of variables to take into consideration, depending on how the house was originally constructed. Some are built with a foundation around the perimeter of the house first, then the slab is poured inside of that foundation in a second, separate operation. Others are done in one operation, with a single slab floor that’s considerably thicker at the outer edges, and that thicker edge becomes the foundation that supports the home’s walls.

With either type of slab, there’s always a chance of damaging the supporting foundation, but more so with the single-pour style, because the concrete is continuous.

I would strongly recommend against just jackhammering the slab. Jackhammering alone is going to create a lot of vibration in the slab, which can send shock waves through the concrete and create damage to the surrounding slab, the foundation, and even the walls. Instead, I would suggest that you have a concrete-cutting company come in and saw the slab first in the affected areas. They’ll still have to do a little jackhammer work to remove the cut slabs, but it will be minimal, and the cuts will help prevent damage to surrounding areas.

Either way, this is a pretty messy process. There’s going to be lots of dust from the cutting, hammering and removal of the concrete, as well as from the repairs and the patching. Be sure everything in the house gets well covered with plastic before you start, and plan on a thorough cleaning afterward. I’m not trying to scare you with all this, but I do want you to be prepared for all the possibilities.

Q: I cannot figure out why there is a lot of noise when I turn on the hot water. However, when I turn on both the hot and cold water, there is no noise. Please advise. –Hangjun Z.

A: If the noise is occurring while the water is running, it is probably a bad washer or cartridge in the faucet. I would suggest rebuilding the faucet, or even replacing it if you want to upgrade for any reason.

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