More and more people are planning, and hoping, to shut down their houses completely in winter to save fuel while they bask in Florida's or Arizona's sun. When it costs up to $3,000 to keep the house at 52 degrees for four to six months, shutting down the house makes sense.
In response to e-mails, here is a summary of what to do: Turn off the heat, drain the water, and relax, worry free.
Leaving a house cold in winter will not harm its structure, or its furnishings. It is not the cold that hurts things, but the humidity.
First, drain the domestic water (drinking water). A plumber can do this if you don't know how, or you could learn from him. He might charge several hundred dollars for this, including turning the system on in the spring. Then put nontoxic antifreeze in all traps and toilets. Do not use standard auto antifreeze; it is poisonous. Have the water department shut off the water at the house.
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If you have a hot air heating system, nothing else has to be done. If you have an air conditioner, make sure any condensation water is drained.
If your heating system is hot water or steam with a boiler and radiators, put nontoxic antifreeze in the system.
Call your appliance dealer to see if anything has to be done with refrigerators and freezers.
Use adhesive caulk
Q. When I put in a bathroom in my basement, the shower stall that sits on the concrete floor was caulked around the inside perimeter. It wasn't long before it all came off. So my daughter cleaned the area and put in new tub and shower caulking. It came off again. What can we do?
I think what happened is that there is no groove or indented space at the joint where the caulking can be forced into, forming sort of a key to hold the caulking in place. You could try using an adhesive caulk instead of ordinary caulk, and when you install a bead of it in the joint, press it carefully with a wet finger, to form a concave cove. Or, buy a rigid vinyl cove, with a self-adhesive back, to put in place of the caulking. This is usually used along the joint between tub and wall tile, but it will work in this case.
Replacing the ceiling
Q. I have to replace the ceiling in one of the big rooms in my old Victorian house. What is best: drywall or Blueboard with a skim coat? Also, can I put up the Blueboard myself?
You can put up the Blueboard, but it is pretty tricky, because you have to put up furring strips (which must be nailed or screwed to the invisible joists above the ceiling finish) to make sure there is a good surface for nails or screws.
Blueboard and skim coat is better, because that skim coat is real plaster, not the paper finish of drywall.
Q. My front door is solid wood with a solid storm door. The main door fit snugly for some years, but recently it has developed a large gap on the latch side, from the knob to the floor. The latch also will not engage. What's wrong and how can I fix it?
I think the top of the door has dropped a bit, creating a tapered gap from knob to floor. The gap also made the latch unable to engage.
First, check to see if the hinges are tight, both on the jamb and on the edge of the door. Check the screws with a screwdriver. If there are loose screws, tighten them; if they keep turning, put a sliver of wood in the hole so the screws will tighten up.
If all loose hinges are tightened, the door should return to its original position, and the latch and/or deadbolt will engage in the keeper. The keeper is the brass plate screwed to the jamb.
If the latch fails to re-engage, it may be too high or too low. If the latch is too low, take the plate off and file down the bottom.