Q: How do I go about obtaining the services of a reputable and competent home-inspection service?
A: A home-inspection service should be selected by using the same common-sense standards that apply to any firm or person operating a service business. Some of the best guidelines are:
* Get recommendations. Don't just consult the yellow pages, where home inspectors are listed under Building Inspection Services. Ask friends, neighbors and business associates if they have used a home inspector (or other contractor, if other services are needed). Try to get names of several inspectors who have given satisfactory service in your area.
Incidentally, although home inspectors are primarily used by would-be homebuyers to check out homes before purchase, they are increasingly being used in other roles. For example, some homeowners use inspectors to check for potential trouble spots so they can do preventive maintenance or prepare a home for sale.
* Check experience and background. A rule of thumb is to use contractors who have been in business for at least five years in the same area. Ask about special training and trade affiliations. Membership in a trade organization such as the American Society of Home Inspectors is an asset. Licensing of home inspectors isn't required in most states.
* Ask for and check job references. Too many homeowners neglect this step, even when they are hiring contractors for expensive home improvements. Get the names of several recent customers, then call them and ask for evaluations. Also check with the local Better Business Bureau, which will advise if any complaints are on file.
* Don't be over-influenced by price. Cost is important, of course, but a home inspector or other contractor who wants reasonable pay for his or her work is more likely to do a thorough job. A suspiciously low fee (or bid for a home improvement) might be a tip off that poor work will be done, or that the contractor keeps overhead down by not carrying liability insurance.
Q: A relative has a house with barnboard siding that I coated two years ago with Thompson's Water Seal. Can the house be painted?
A: Thompson's Water Seal, a widely used water repellent, is mostly mineral spirits with some resin additives. Since two years have passed, there should be no problem from the sealer if the surface is painted or stained. Thompson experts say only a seven-day waiting period is needed if an oil-based paint or stain is used, or 45 days for a water-based finish.
Q: The walls of our kitchen and bathroom are covered with plastic tiles, some of which have popped off. What type of adhesive can be used to replace the tiles?
A: Plastic tiles are seldom used these days, but I think they can be secured with any of several adhesives. One good possibility is an adhesive-sealant such as Polyseamseal, sold at many home centers and hardware stores.
A construction adhesive, of the type sold in caulking-gun cartridges, or an adhesive designed for vinyl flooring, could probably also be used. Both of these usually have strong vapors, so ventilate the area thoroughly.
Before attempting to reglue, clean off as much of the old adhesive as possible by scraping and sanding both the wall and the back of the tiles. The tiles probably crack easily, so care will be needed in cleaning.
Apply a bead of adhesive close to the edges of each tile and make an X through the center. Press the tile firmly against the wall. It might be necessary to hold tiles in place with masking tape until the adhesive cures.
Q: Our house has low water pressure, and a technician advised us to install a new pressure regulator. We plan to have our house siding pressure-washed this spring. Will the low pressure affect that?
A: A new pressure regulator can reduce incoming line pressure, but won't increase it. The low pressure might be the result of inadequate pressure in the incoming line, or clogged pipes in the plumbing system. Normal water pressure for a residence is 40 to 60 pounds per square inch. Your utility company can advise you if your incoming pressure is at the correct level.
Pressure washers have pumps to build up the pressure of their water stream, but for good results a minimum flow of water is needed at the source. Dishwashers and some other appliances might also not work properly if water pressure is very low. One advantage of low pressure: You use less water than if the pressure were too high.
Readers' questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, c/o The Baltimore Sun, Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.