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Advice on improving your home

Enlist Contractor to Detect Source of Drafts

October 11, 1998

QUESTION: My house is very drafty. I've called in various professionals, but none has located the source. How can I find where the drafts are coming from?

Henry Spies, of Spies Home Inspection Service in Champaign, Ill., explains:

ANSWER: You need a contractor with access to a blower door--a large fan that fits into an exterior doorway and either pressurizes (blows air into) or depressurizes (sucks air out of) the house.

Air leaks are located by following smoke trails from a device called a smoke pencil.

Check your state energy office or local cooperative extension service for a contractor who conducts blower-door tests.

You can also detect drafts on your own. Many drafts sneak between the baseboard and flooring. Stop them by applying a thin bead of clear caulk to the gap under the baseboard.

Drafty windows and doors are often caused by cold air blowing through the spaces between the rough openings and the side jambs. Block out the drafts by removing the interior trim, filling the spaces with fiberglass insulation and then sealing them with aerosol foam caulk.

No Need to Replace Sash, Just Jamb Liner

Q: Sash-replacement kits are available for double-hung windows. But in my case, the sash and frames are in good shape; they just don't fit tightly together. Can I buy only the jamb liners?

Roy Barnhart, a former remodeling contractor and a frequent contributor to Today's Homeowner, says:

A: Yes, you can. First, determine the size liner you'll need by measuring the vertical glass height from the lower wood rail to the center locking rail. Measure just the glass, not the rails. Also measure the width of your parting strips--the vertical trim that separates the two sashes.

To install the new liners, remove the interior stops, parting strips and sash. Slip both sashes into the channels of the two jamb liners and pop the whole assembly into place. Then reinstall the interior stops and touch up the paint as needed.

Quaker City Manufacturing makes painted aluminum sash liners called Window Fixers. Contact the company at 116 Darby Common, Folocroft, PA 19032; (610) 586-4770.

Expect Dripping Sound in New Water Heater

Q: As my new gas water heater heats up, I hear dripping and a sizzling sound when the water hits the burner. The plumber says it's condensation caused by cold weather, but this never happened with my old unit. Is something wrong?

Robert Livingston, a plumber in Johnstown, Pa., answers:

A: Relax; it's OK. Regardless of the weather, a new water heater with a clean tank and cold water entering at the bottom tends to form condensation until the tank warms up. The moisture often falls onto the burner and creates the sound you describe. Excess condensation collects in a small pan in the heater and soon evaporates.

The reason your old unit was silent is that a thick layer of sludge probably insulated the bottom of its tank, preventing condensation from forming and dripping onto the burner.

To Stop Leak, Find Out How Water Gets In

Q: The concrete-block foundation of our home leaks during even the slightest rainfall. The seepage occurs mainly along two walls, one of which is adjacent to a concrete driveway. Extending downspouts and building up the grade around the house with river rock has lessened the leak. What else can we do?

Michael P. Lennon, president of HomePro Systems in Falls Church, Va., explains:

A: Knowing how the water gets in is the best way to stop it. You have to pinpoint the the real source by noting exactly when the seepage stops.

If the leak ceases an hour or two after the rain stops, it indicates a ground-surface source. In nearly all cases, hydrostatic pressure from water that has saturated the ground near the foundation drives the seepage into the basement.

Most of that water comes from the roof. That's why gutters and downspouts are so crucial to keeping basements dry. Besides extending all downspouts to at least 10 feet from the house, be sure gutters are clear and flowing freely.

Then check the basement wall adjacent to the driveway for soil saturation. Water can seep in where the driveway joins the house or travel along the gravel bed under the driveway and pool up against the foundation. Again, redirect runoff from the roof and yard so it drains away from the driveway. Fill any driveway cracks with waterproof caulk or hydraulic cement.

As for building up the grade with river rock, I'm not surprised it hasn't helped much; rain and gutter overflow will seep right through and saturate the soil. Instead, use rock-free soil that can be compacted into a hard slope. For further reading on dealing with a wet basement, point your Web browser to http://www.todayshome

Do you have a remodeling or repair and maintenance question? Send it to Questions & Answers, Today's Homeowner, 2 Park Ave., New York, NY 10016; fax: (212) 725-3281; e-mail:; Web: http://www. Please be sure to include your name, address and phone number.

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