Q: My 1920s home has part basement and part crawlspace underneath it, with a partial wall that separates the two sections. Is it a good idea to cover the dirt portion with plastic? Should I extend the wall all the way up so the two sections are separated? –Dan A.

A: It’s fine to lay plastic over the dirt portion of the basement — in fact, it’s required by most building codes. The plastic acts as a vapor barrier to prevent ground moisture from getting up onto the wood members and insulation. The recommended material is 6-mil black plastic, which you can get at any home center or lumber yard.

The only reason to raise the wall between the basement and the crawlspace areas would be if you want to turn the basement area into living space. In that case, the crawlspace areas need to be blocked off from the basement, insulated, lined with a vapor barrier, and have cross ventilation to the outside. If all of the basement and crawl areas are nonliving space, then you can leave the partial wall as it is.

A couple of other suggestions. If the basement is not living space and the floor between the living space above and the basement/crawlspace below is not insulated, it should be. Insulate between the joists using faced fiberglass batts with the facing (the vapor barrier) facing up, and also insulate your water pipes and ducts.

Q: I’m looking for information on how to design a shower with no doors or curtains. I’ve seen them in magazines, and they appear to be very open. Are there problems with this? Can it be done in a 6-foot-by-8-foot room? –Elaine E.

A: The bathrooms I’m familiar with that utilize this concept do so through careful design and careful directing of water from the shower head. Most involve some type of curving or overlapping wall arrangement and placement of the head(s) so that splash off the surrounding walls does not get through the door opening. Glass block is commonly utilized for all or part of the enclosure walls to maximize light.

Some bathrooms are large enough that even the curving walls are done away with. Waterproof surfaces such as ceramic tile are utilized on the floor and walls, and the shower and shower heads are located so as to minimize spray into the rest of the room. This type of design requires a large room, oversized ventilation fans to deal with moisture in the air, and careful attention to selection of such things as ceiling paint, countertops, cabinet finishes and other areas of the room that might be affected by the moisture in the air.

Before undertaking a project such as this, I would strongly suggest that you consult with an architect or designer who has worked with open shower plans similar to what you’re looking for. If possible, arrange to meet with one or two homeowners who have these kinds of showers and see what problems they may have encountered, and work out your design to eliminate them.

Q: We have a 60-year-old home with double-hung windows. The windows are in good shape, but the ropes are wearing out and some of the weights have fallen into the wall. Is there some product that will remedy this situation without having to tear out the windows and reattach the weights? –Phil C.

A: The product you’re looking for is called a spring-loaded counter-balance. It is basically a set of carefully tensioned springs set in a holder that fits between the side of the window frame and the side of the window sash. In most installations the old ropes are simply cut off and the weights are allowed to drop into their wall pockets, where they are abandoned. The sashes are removed and trimmed as needed; then the new counterbalances are installed.

New counterbalances will not work in all situations. Some windows may require new sash units or perhaps even complete retrofit windows, both of which are a definite advantage if your old windows have single-pane glass. Talk with any window company in your area that deals with window retrofits. They can come out and examine your existing windows, and advise you on how best to proceed.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@ykwc.net.

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