Find leaks in house before chill air does

Home Work

October 11, 1998|By Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine

FALL WEATHER can be such a tease -- hot and muggy one day, cold and rainy the next, glorious sunshine on yet another. The little reprieves, however, are an excellent time to check out your house for places where precious heat may escape when cold weather does arrive.

Here are some tips from the U.S. Department of Energy on tracking down those energy-wasters:

* On a windy day, light a stick of incense and hold it next to doors, windows, electrical boxes, ceiling fixtures, electrical outlets and attic hatches -- any place there is a potential air leak. If the smoke moves sideways, you may have a leak that requires weatherstripping, caulking, or sealing. Especially on outside walls, installing insulation or rubber gaskets behind switch plates and outlets can reduce air infiltration.

* Examine insulation for dirty spots; they may indicate holes where air leaks into and out of the house. Seal holes by stapling plastic over them and sealing the edges with caulk.

* Remember to keep the fireplace flue damper tightly closed when the fireplace is not in use (and remember to open it before you light a fire!).

* If you have leaky windows and no storm windows, think about buying storms; they can as much as double the R value of single-pane windows. They also reduce water condensation, drafts and frost formation on the windows. If you don't want to invest in storm windows, use clear plastic firmly taped to the frame on the inside.

The Department of Energy has a Web page with more tips and information at

Check that flapper

Bet you didn't know that October is National Toilet Repair Month. Why should you care? Well, for one thing, a leaky toilet can waste as much as 78,000 gallons of water per year -- enough to fill a backyard swimming pool. That's according to Fluidmaster, which makes replacement parts. Fluidmaster also notes that toilet-tank repair is one of the most common do-it-yourself projects.

Generally, the cause of toilet leaks is a faulty flapper, Fluidmaster says. The first signs of trouble are whistling or gurgling noises, or the need to keep jiggling the handle to make the water stop running. A sudden increase in a water bill is also a telltale sign.

Toilet parts simply wear out, and hard water can make them wear out faster.

If you suspect a toilet leak and want to tackle repairs, look for a kit with clear homeowner-type instructions. The time to fix a testy toilet is before the holidays, when entertaining can put a strain on all the household facilities.

Formica colors

The current trend toward botanical images and earth-tone colors in the interior design realm is spilling over into home improvement: Formica has introduced a line of laminate patterns, such as fallen leaves, which mimic the look of autumn foliage; tea stain parchment, which resembles tree moss; and earthen terra, which includes deep browns and tans.

Other trends: Spice colors (ginger root, Spanish paprika, cayenne and pesto); blues and blue-based reds (cornflower blue, Bermuda, ultramarine); and frosted neutrals and ices. The new prevalence of stainless steel appliances is being reflected in metallic silver tones in paneling and accessories.

Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and current president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column; comments, tips and experiences will be reported in occasional columns.

Pub Date: 10/11/98

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