Q. When I had a big new room attached to my townhouse everything looked great for a while, until a crack showed up where the addition is attached to the townhouse. The crack in the ceiling is a half-inch wide, and about a half-inch from the main wall. Is the addition falling away? Is there anything I should do? Is there anything the contractor should do?
Call the contractor to get an opinion, I think he is obliged to at least cover the joint if nothing else is wrong. What you can do, all other things being equal: Check the walls where they butt up against the main wall; check the joints to see if any have opened up.
The ceiling gap may mean the addition has dropped or pulled away just a little, or just the roof has dropped or pulled away. In the latter case, check the roof where it butts against the main wall. Any crack in the roof may be covered by flashing, which may keep it from leaking. If the room or roof dropped a little, it probably won't drop any further, which is more a hope than a fact.
So if nothing else moves, I suggest you put up a crown molding along that gap between ceiling and wall. The crown molding will cover about 3 inches of ceiling and 3 inches of wall. A good thing about a trim like this is that if anything moves behind it, there will be enough stress to split the molding or cause gaps between the molding and wall and ceiling, which will be an immediate, visible warning as to what is happening.
Q. I have had electric baseboard heat for 30 years, and it's time to let it go. I have read about liquid-filled electric radiators that take quite a while to cool down, thus saving money. Would these work in my small area? I am restricted by the condo association.
The liquid-filled radiators may take a long time to cool down but they take an equally long time to warm up. It is electric heat and no matter how you spin it, it is still electric and not good in northern climes – and certainly not in New England, where electricity rates are high.
I think you said you have about 750 square feet of living space, and you do not have gas, so I suggest you look into a pellet stove with a power vent through a wall. You've got to persuade the association this will work and will save a bundle. A pellet stove can warm up the space quickly, and it can be turned on and off at will at a flick of a switch.
Q. My Victorian house has no chimney caps on the two flues coming out of the chimney. But when the heat or fireplace is not on, I get a sour, wet, burned ash smell from the chimney. How can I prevent that?
That smell is caused by a downdraft in the flue, when falling air pushes the odor from the walls of the flue into the house. It does, indeed, smell bad. One cure is to block off the flue that is at fault, which is probably the one serving the fireplace. Block off the fireplace opening, or put a damper at the top of the flue. Top dampers are sold at energy and fireplace stores. Another fix is to light a kerosene lamp or several votive candles in the fireplace, which will get the air – and smell – going up and out.
Q. The felt on the insertable weather strips in my storm windows has worn off, making the windows loose. Where can I find replacement strips?
If the storm windows are opened and closed frequently, the strips can wear out. But before getting replacements, check the windows for air tightness. If you can give them a good shaking, they may have worn out. You can put Gorilla tape on the joints to see if that will keep them airtight. As for replacements, call Harvey Industries, makers of True Channel storm windows. Also, search the Internet for “storm window weather-stripping.”