By Peter Hotton
Q.I am getting nasty smells down my chimney, like burned wood and creosote. I wonder if the downdraft is caused by the use of exhaust fans in the house. How can I stop that odor?
A.You have a reverse chimney effect, where the air pressure in the house is lower than outside, so air plunges down the chimney, carrying the creosote and other goodies lining the chimney with it. Closing the damper won’t do it, and closing off the firebox opening won’t either. Here’s a sure-fire cure, which a reader told me about: He bought a kerosene lantern, like those used for signaling on a railroad train. Open the damper, light the lamp and put it on the firebox floor. Its heat will get the air moving up and out. It might even work with the damper closed. Or, with the damper open, put in a bank of votive candles. It will give a festive look to your fireplace.
Q. The outside of the Lally columns in my under-the-house garage have rusted out at the bottom. The inside concrete looks OK, but is the outside steel layer important?
A. Lally columns are made up of a steel tube filled with concrete. The steel is most important, because any concrete inside the steel tube is too small to hold up without the steel. What has happened: Water vapor came up through the concrete slab and condensed on the cool steel. If the rust eats clear through the steel, the column needs replacing. You can use a Lally column, a hollow steel column, or a jack column, the latter with a screw top that can extend the top to make a snug fit.
To replace each old column, support the beam temporarily on each side of the old column, then remove the column. If the column is set into the concrete floor, pull it out and fill the hole with concrete. Before installing the new column, put a piece of thin aluminum (not foil), say 12-by-12 inches, over the filled hole and glue it in place. This will act as a vapor barrier, preventing any moisture coming up to rust out the column. Then install the new column with a steel plate at the bottom and another at the top.
Q. My son had a new garage built. I suggested a garage-door opener with battery backup. Well, when it was built the contractor had installed one with no backup. He and the installer said they were not dependable. I question this. I suspect the installer did not sell them with backup.
A. I agree with you that the installer said they were undependable because he didn’t want to put one in. I don’t know if they are dependable or not, but my sense of logic says that battery backups work well with sump pumps, so why not door openers? However, all overhead doors have manual backup, consider that a free bonus.
Q. I had my kitchen remodeled, installed a new stainless sink, new garbage disposal and pipes. The sink stayed in the same place as the old sink. Within two weeks there was an odor coming from the sink. The plumber checked the trap and said it was fine, but within that short time there was a buildup of gunk. I have tried baking soda with vinegar, lemon, all the home remedies. It is getting worse as I can now smell it when I enter the kitchen. It seems to get a little better after I run very hot water but comes back fast.
A. I wonder if the disposal is not draining debris out of itself well enough when it shuts down. That would explain the rapid buildup of gunk, and anything like that, including dirty water, will smell to high heaven when it stands a few days or hours. Have your plumber check out that disposal to make sure it is self-cleaning.
Drains tend to get gunked up with oils, grease, and other contaminants that can smell like sewer gas. Put a cup of bleach in the drain at night until morning, when you can put water down the drains. It may stay sweet for a while.
— The Boston Globe