Handyman Hotton

  • By Peter Hotton

    Boston Globe
November 24, 2012

Q. Our old Victorian has forced hot air and central air. We have noticed the second-floor air flow pressure is always weak, whereas the first floor always blows strong. We’ve tried to balance the registers without success. Any ideas to keep both floors constant with heat and air conditioning? Worth mentioning is that we have only one cold air return on the first floor and only one temp control on the first as well.

A. I am assuming the “temp control” is a thermostat. The first floor is working well because of that one cold air return, allowing hot air to pump like crazy plenty of heat into the first floor rooms, then back to the furnace for reheating and delivery. The second floor, without a return, is chilly (or hot according to the season) as the system struggles to pump warm air into these upstairs rooms, but nothing happens because the air fills the rooms, pressurizes, and prevents more hot air to enter because there is no return.

You could cut small holes, maybe 10 by 10 inches, in the floor of each bedroom, and the ceiling below, to act as cold air returns. I bet it’ll work. But before trying this, instead keep all bedroom doors open and the stairwell open as well; these will act as cold air returns. My house is not Victorian (much older) and had a hot air system installed, plus air conditioning, and I have three returns on the first floor and keep doors and stairs open on the second. Works like a charm, even if the systems are a retrofit, and not done from scratch in new construction.

Q. My condo is 6 years old. Sometimes I get really hot water in my shower, and sometimes I don’t. My plumber removed the regulator, but now it can be very hot and other times not so hot. What do you suggest?

A. The regulator in an anti-scald shower faucet is very sensitive, and should be left in place. Have your plumber replace the entire valve.

Q. I get moisture on all my second-floor windows. We keep the bathroom window open during showers and the door closed for a while, without improvement. Any thoughts to stop this?

A. Humid air rises, fogging second-floor windows no matter what you try. Venting the bathroom might help, but keep the windows open during and after showers, and the door open as well. Venting will reduce the moisture upstairs. Open a window in each bedroom until the fogging stops. And keep bedroom doors open whenever practical.

Q.I bought Enviro logs and burned two of them in my fireplace. When they burned completely, the house smelled of wax. Is wax coating the flue? Would this be dangerous, or cause a chimney fire?

A. No matter what you burn in a fireplace, even one that draws well with the damper and chimney wide open, there will be a lingering odor of burning wood, which will go away in a day or two. The same goes for the smell of wax; there might be a bit of wax lining the flue just as smoke tarries in the flue. I Googled fireplace logs and wax, and discovered that the wax used in some logs is being changed from petroleum based to “food-friendly based.” You can try Googling to see if the wax is dangerous. In the meantime, don’t burn the logs.



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