Q: I have a 1950s home. Last year I remodeled, but did not change out the windows. I got an estimate yesterday (for new windows) at $8,200. Would that be a good investment? –Gayle H.

A: The answer to that question depends on exactly what you mean by it being a good investment.

First of all, I’m a big fan of changing out older, single-pane windows for new energy-efficient ones. They save on utility costs; they help conserve energy for all of us; and they’ll make your home quieter and more comfortable. So from the standpoint of comfort and reduced utility bills, it’s definitely a good investment.

Most of today’s buyers are looking for energy efficiency when they shop for a home, and many probably would rather not have to tackle a remodeling project as extensive as changing out a house full of windows. So as a selling feature to make a home more attractive to a buyer, again it’s definitely a good investment.

Finally, we would need to look at it from a strictly financial perspective, and that’s a much harder one to answer. If you’re going to stay in the home for awhile, you would need to look at what the monthly energy savings would be, then divide that number into $8,200 to determine how many months it would take to pay back the initial investment.

If you’re planning on selling soon, you should talk to your real estate agent and see what homes like yours are selling for with and without upgraded windows.

The difference in sales prices will be a pretty good indicator as to whether or not you’ll recover the full $8,200. It’s doubtful that you’ll recoup the entire investment, but the home should be easier and faster to sell with the new windows, so you’ll have to factor those savings into the financial mix as well.

Q: I live in a building that is 80 years old and has 90 apartments. The wastewater drain lines are now clogged up but not corroded as could be expected. The lines are of cast iron. The actual diameter is about an inch or a little more but the problem is they are now so badly clogged that the inner diameter is about half an inch or less.

The stuff that is clogging the pipes is probably organic matter that now appears to be hardened. It is now not possible to install garbage disposers because of the clogging, as they will only make things worse. Strangely enough, the drains from the toilets seem to be OK, but only the lines from the washbasins seem to be clogged.

The question I have is whether it is possible to clean out this stuff with a reamer or snake or some other means without actually replacing all the pipes, which is obviously going to cost a great deal? If so, what is the best method? –Sepala A.

A: The cast iron pipes in your building are very resistant to corrosion, so unless they are damaged or leaking there would be no real reason to have to replace them. What you are seeing in the sink drains is typically a sticky mixture of grease, soap, hair and food, which is a combination that tends to really congeal and stick to itself and the inside of the pipes.

This mix of organic material, combined with the relatively small diameter of the sink drain lines, is why you have a bigger problem at the sinks then you do at the larger diameter, grease-free toilet lines.

The solution is to have the drains professionally cleaned. The cleaning company uses a powered, rotating auger on a long line to remove and flush away the buildup of material inside the pipes and restore much of the original inside diameter.

The cleaning company can also assess the condition of the pipes, the relative amount of buildup and other conditions present in your building, and can give you advice on what steps to take to prevent the buildup from occurring again in the future. They can also advise you on whether or not the addition of a garbage disposal would be possible.

Q: I have a deck that needs replacement of some boards. This deck is about 10 years old and the boards are fastened to the joists using small steel "devices" or "set-ups" (I do not know another word for it) that hold the boards in place, keep them from touching the joists directly and eliminating the nail heads to be seen. I have been asking around, but nobody seems to know what I am talking about. When I show them an example of such a device, they tell me that they have never seen such a thing. Can you help me? –Pieter T.

A: There are actually a number of different types of concealed fasteners such as the ones you describe. Some types are football-shaped and fit into a recess that is cut into the sides of the boards, while others have pins that go into the sides of the boards and then a screw that goes down into the joist. There are other styles as well.

With just about all of the concealed fasteners, they are installed individually as each board is placed down. As you say, they prevent the screw heads from being visible, but they also make it more difficult to remove individual boards.

With all the ones I’m familiar with, in order to remove the decking you will need to start at one end of the deck and take up the first board at the edge, then remove the concealed fasteners, then take up the next board in line, etc.

If you need to replace individual boards in the middle of the deck, the only other option is to cut out the board from above, remove it and the concealed fastener, then install a new board and fasten it from the top with screws.

This will leave the screw heads exposed, or you can countersink the screws and then cover them with matching wood plugs, which will help blend the new board in with the existing boards that don’t have exposed fasteners.

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