Dear Barry,

We live in a rural neighborhood, with septic systems rather than sewers for plumbing waste. To prevent detergents from damaging our septics, everyone drains their laundry into a separate drainage area in their yard. Recently, we noticed water draining under our back fence and into our garden. To our dismay, we discovered a PVC pipe that drains the neighbor’s laundry water onto the ground – detergent, lint, and all. We left a note on their door asking them to call us, but we received no response. Someone needs to teach them a lesson in common consideration. How do you suggest we resolve this problem? – Bonnie

Hello Bonnie,

Although not officially recommended, the Lucille Ball approach would be to install a PVC pipe cap on the end of the pipe at the back fence. The resultant overflow in the neighbor’s laundry room would most likely draw an immediate response from your neighbors but would probably incite a local feud – amusing fair for a TV sitcom, but not a formula for neighborly coexistence.

A more practical approach would be to discuss the matter face-to-face with the neighbors (assuming that they are inclined to cordiality) and to ask that they relocate the open end of the drainpipe. If neighborliness and friendly persuasion fail to achieve a desired affect, you can report the matter to the local health department, building department, or equivalent agencies. In most areas, draining graywater onto exposed ground surfaces is illegal, and is particularly egregious when disposal occurs on someone else’s property. In short, take the good-guy approach. If that doesn’t work, let the government be the bad guy. They’ve had more practice.

Dear Barry,

We are currently remodeling our 80-year-old home. It has a lathe and plaster interior and we’re concerned about the lack of insulation in the walls. If we inject insulation into the wall spaces, we might not get even distribution of the insulating material. The alternative is to remove the plaster and replace it with sheetrock. This will enable us to install fiberglass bat insulation. What do you recommend? – Lewis

Dear Lewis,

If you blow loose fill insulation into existing walls or if you inject plastic foam, there is a degree of uncertainty as to whether the stud spaces have been filled completely. Fire blocks, wall bracing, electrical wiring and the plaster residue that protrudes between wood lathe members can all restrict the full distribution of insulation. Some companies that install these materials try to compensate by injecting insulation at high and low levels at each stud space, but even this approach does not guaranty that cavities will be completely filled.

The alternative – replacement of the lathe and plaster – is considerably more costly and labor intensive, but the outcome is certain and of higher quality. All wall cavities will be fully insulated, interior surfaces will be more evenly finished, you will have the opportunity to evaluate concealed portions of the construction in need of repairs, and you will be able to install new electrical wiring without restrictions. If you can afford it, replacing the interior surface materials will more effectively accomplish your intent to upgrade the quality of your home.

For questions please visit Barry at


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