Q: Several people have said to never close our foundation vents, including the home inspector, the Realtor, and even the gardener! However, I notice in previous columns that you recommend closing them during the winter. Can you shed some light on this for me? — Dawn G.
A: The foundation vents are designed to provide a cross flow of air under the house that assists with the removal of any moisture accumulation in the crawl space before it can build up and cause mold, mildew, or damage to structural components. On the downside, the vents also allow freezing air to pass through an area of the home that typically contains a number of plumbing pipes, which increases the risk of having a pipe freeze. These frigid breezes can also aggravate air leaks into the house, causing uncomfortable drafts and robbing the home of expensive heated air.
During the coldest part of the winter, humidity levels are at their lowest, so the risk of moisture-related damage in most areas is minimal. On the other hand, the risk of damage from frozen pipes is at its highest at this time. For that reason, I always recommend to people that their foundation vents be closed or blocked whenever freezing temperatures are a possibility, and that they remain open the rest of the year.
How long you leave the vents open or covered each year is dependant on where you live. In Hawaii, for example, where moisture levels are very high and the chance of freezing is very low, vents can typically stay open all year. In other regions where the opposite conditions exist — low moisture and very low winter temperatures — the vents may need to remain covered for several months. If you have a severe moisture buildup in your crawlspace during the short period that the vents are closed, then you probably have a moisture problem in the home that is due to poorly graded soil, plumbing leaks, unvented fans, or some other source not related to ambient air-moisture conditions.
Q: I need to paint my wooden front door, which is currently stained. It also has scratches at the bottom from a dog. How do I fill the scratches and prepare the door? — Jim C.
A: The best way to proceed would be to take the door off its hinges and lay it flat over some sawhorses (you can also do this with the door still in place, but it’s easier and results in a better finish if you can lay it down). Sand the door with 80- to 100-grit sandpaper to remove dirt, light scratches, and any clear finish that might be over the stain. Apply a paste-type exterior-rated wood filler over the deeper scratches using a putty knife, allow it to dry, then sand the filled areas. If necessary, repeat this operation.
Now lightly sand the entire door one more time using 120-grit paper. Remove all the dust with a vacuum or by blowing with compressed air, then apply one coat of an exterior-rated wood primer, followed by one or two coats of good-quality exterior paint. If the color you have selected is dark, you can have the primer tinted to a darker shade so that it’s easier to cover with the finish paint.
All the materials you need — including the wood filler, primer, paint, sandpaper and brushes — are available from your local paint store.
Q: I have seen some homes where investors have placed tile over existing tile in a shower. My home inspector said this was okay, as long as the original tile had no cracks or mildew. What do you think of this procedure? Also, can I put new flooring over an existing tile floor, or do I need to tear the old tile out first? — Judy M.
A: I am not at all a fan of covering a problem — or a potential problem — with another material. You hit the nail on the head when you said “investors,” since these are often people looking for the quickest, least expensive way to cosmetically improve a home for resale, without paying enough attention to potential problems down the road. I would strongly advise against installing ceramic tile over the top of existing tile in a shower.
As to the second question, it’s best if you remove the tile first. However, if the tile is sound you can float a latex filler material over it to smooth it out, then install vinyl over the top of that. I would, however, consider this a less than ideal repair and would not recommend it for a long-term solution.
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