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ASK THE HANDYMAN / JOHN MORELL

In-House Return-Air System Eliminates Musty Smells and Saves Energy

June 26, 1993|JOHN MORELL

Question: We have a townhouse that was constructed on a hillside in the 1970s, and the heating and air-conditioning systems were installed underneath the unit next to the earth. The rooms downstairs have a musty odor that permeates everything on this level. Is there anyway to treat or seal the dirt underneath the house to prevent the odor?

B.H.

Irvine

Answer: "The key to solving the problem is finding out where the return air duct for the furnace and air conditioning is located," says Ted Blanke of Central Plumbing & Heating Supply in La Habra. "If the return air is being drawn from the cavity underneath the structure, then you're going to pick up the musty smell from there.

"A return-air system should be developed so that it's coming from the house. This allows you to save energy also, since you'll be heating or cooling air that's already gone through the furnace or air conditioner. If the return air ducts are in the house, there shouldn't be any reason you're getting that odor. I'd have someone check underneath the unit to look for cracks or gaps where the bad air may be getting inside."

Q: My kitchen countertops are made of Formica in a butcher block pattern, and over the years, they've developed water spots. I've tried lots of products to remove them and nothing's worked. Any suggestions?

G.T.

Laguna Beach

A: "If it's Formica, I'm guessing you've had it quite a while so the stains are pretty well set," says cabinet maker Rod Stevens of Anaheim. "You can try a solution of vinegar or baking soda and water, which usually works well with water deposits. You can also use a mild abrasive, such as Soft Scrub, and try to rub them out, but I wouldn't use anything stronger than that. No kitchen surface is perfect, and over time, you'll create plenty of stains on them. Some of these you may just have to accept."

Q: Our dishwasher is about 12 years old, and it's worked fine until recently. It normally goes through three wash cycles, but lately it bypasses the first two and only turns on for one. Where could the problem be?

D.W.

Yorba Linda

A: "The first thing I'd check is the timer," says Tom Houlihan of Orange County Appliance Parts in Garden Grove. "The timer often gets unnecessarily blamed for dishwasher problems because it's usually the most complicated part on the machine, but in that case, that's the first thing I'd suspect, and it may need a new one. However, you may want to stop and think before getting it repaired. Changing the timer with labor could cost more than $100, and you can find a new dishwasher for a little over $300. You've had a good 12 years out of it; it may be time to get a new one."

Q: We recently painted some rooms in our house using paint pads, and we liked the job. Now we're planning to do the exterior and we'd like to use pads again, but do they make them for stucco?

R.R.

Buena Park

A: "Pads really aren't meant for use on stucco, they're generally good for smooth surfaces," says Jim Craig of Decratrend Paint in Anaheim. "For stucco, if you're not going to use a sprayer, you should get some thick rollers that are meant for rough surfaces. Stay away from the foam rubber rollers since those don't generally last on a rough surface."

Q: We're getting an old crib from a relative, and we'd like to strip off the paint and use some kind of stain and varnish. I know there are regulations regarding lead in paint, but are stains and urethanes OK for use in a crib?

C.A.

Huntington Beach

A: "Modern paints and stains are safe around children," said a representative of Tustin Paint Mart. "Just make sure you've allowed the stain and sealer a good chance to dry before letting the child near it. After it's dried and hardened, there shouldn't be a problem."

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