Remember the old Art Linkletter feature "Kids say the darnedest things?" Well, houses sometimes do the darnedest things. You know there's something wrong, but what could be causing it, and how should it be fixed?
An example, from a letter we got from a reader, is the gurgling tub. "Every time the toilet is flushed, there is a loud 'glub glub' noise in the bathtub. No one seems to know what causes it or what can be done about it," she wrote.
We've experienced a few glub glubs in our time. Karol's current bathtub does some glub glubbing too. We think we know what causes the noise, but we are not sure what the reader can do, short of tearing out the walls and changing the way the bathroom vents to the roof.
It takes air to make a toilet flush properly, in the same way the old soda cans you opened with a church key opener needed two holes: one to drink out of and one to let air in so the liquid flowed out smoothly.
Old-house plumbing is notorious for not being properly vented through the roof. When the toilet flushes, it pulls the air it needs through other fixtures -- the sink or bathtub. The glub glub is probably the sound of water being sucked out of the trap.
Current plumbing codes require that the drain at most fixtures be attached to a vent that connects with vents from other fixtures and extends through the roof. The vents supply air that the toilet, tub and sink need to drain, and also allow sewer gases to escape to the outside.
If the venting system is inadequate, the fixtures will drain, but they may do it slowly -- and noisily. If you're planning a major rehab, that's the time to make sure the plumber installs vents according to the code that will eliminate glub glubs. Retrofitting when you're not tearing out the walls already might just be more of headache than a few gurgling noises.
A reader in Randallstown wrote to remind us that setting back the temperature at night to accomplish major energy savings, as we advised in a February column, doesn't work for all systems.
It does work for fossil-fuel systems, which is what we were writing about, but it doesn't work for heat pumps. Len Popa, who is a heating and air conditioning contractor, points out that unless your heat pump has a programmable set-back thermostat, setting it back at night won't save energy. It's true that you could lower the temperature during the nighttime hours. But when you try to raise the temperature again in the morning, the large temperature differential would cause the system to automatically engage its backup electric-resistance heat. That mode of operation is so expensive it's likely to wipe out any savings from the setback.
An automatic setback thermostat monitors the temperature differential and brings the heat back up so gradually the backup system isn't triggered.
Finally, a lot of readers ask us to supply names of contractors who do particular kinds of work, which is a request we simply can't fulfill. We have contractors we're comfortable working with, but that doesn't mean everybody would be comfortable with them. And if we singled out one or two, we'd be leaving out dozens and dozens who are just as good, but we don't know them.
The best way to find a good contractor is to check with friends and relatives for successful experiences. Take the names from their recommendations and make sure that person or firm is licensed and insured. Check with the Better Business Bureau and local licensing agency (in Maryland, it's the Maryland Home Improvement Commission) to make sure there are no outstanding complaints. Get references from your candidates and check them out. That's the best way to find good contractors.
Next: Restoring old windows.
Mr. Johnson is construction manager for Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Ms. Menzie is a home writer for The Sun.
If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, write to us c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.