Fixing air conditioning vent is a breeze

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June 22, 2008

Q. I am getting a lot of condensation around two of the air conditioning vents coming out of my cathedral ceiling. No other vents in the house do this. It is enough to wet the plasterboard around the vent, causing it to decay. What is wrong and how can I fix it? The air conditioning man said the duct is not laying flat and after that we caulked, but the problem continues.

SLIDELL, Louisiana

A. Air conditioners are not supposed to do that, because they are dehumidifiers as well as coolers. I think what is happening is that both the ducts coming out of the cathedral ceiling - and the ceiling - are not insulated, and the cool air coming out of the vents condenses in the cool sides of the ducts just as it comes out of the ducts. Insulate the space between the ceiling and roof, being careful to ventilate the space above the insulation. And, insulate the ducts, or install pre-insulated ducts.

Another trick: Extend the duct about a foot into the room. Any condensation that occurs will appear as a mist, and dissipate harmlessly into the room. Those ducts may look kind of weird, but if they work you can gussy them up and make them colorful.

Q. How can I clean plastic lawn chairs, especially of bird doo?


A. Count the ways: A strong detergent and water solution, plus a cup of bleach, left for a minute or two on the chair, scrub, and rinse. Rub with Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. Treat with ArmorAll, normally used on auto tires and dashboards.

Q. Can gutters be adjusted up or down to make them drain better? I am getting a few shallow puddles in some sections of my gutters. If those puddles are allowed to remain, would they become a place for mosquitoes to breed? I don't think the gutters are sagging.

STAN DIZALIO, East Greenbush, N.Y.

A. The only way to adjust the gutters is to take them down and put them up again, something I would not encourage. The gutters are probably close to level, and a level gutter will indeed drain. The puddles are probably too shallow and will evaporate quickly enough to prevent mosquitoes from breeding. If you are that concerned, put Mosquito Dunk granules in the puddles to prevent breeding. The only other thing to do is to slope the gutters one-16th of an inch, per foot. But I don't think it is necessary.

Q. I have a flock of sparrows - I swear it is a flock - in a third-floor bathroom vent that exhausts through a wall. I try to blow them out with the fan on high, but they won't budge. It has been six weeks now, and I am sure the babies have gone, but the remaining birds are driving me nuts. How can I push them out and put a proper closure for the vent?

ROSE, on edge

A. Buy a long-handled brush to push the beggars out. A proper outside closure will prevent anything from coming in. Three brands of ducts and covers are Panasonic, Vent-Axia, and NuTone.

Q. I replaced my toilet lever, but now the flap closes prematurely, so I have to hold the handle down until the flush is complete. Can I make an adjustment so this does not happen?


A. Yes, you probably can. Many toilets have a chain connecting the flap to the flushing arm (the lever you replaced). When the lever is pushed, the arm rises and pulls up the flap, letting the toilet flush, and at the end of the flush it lets the flap down. The chain on your unit is too long, because it does not hold the flap up long enough. Shorten the chain and you should be home free. Newer toilets have a different mechanism, but the same principle applies.

That pesky critter

Remember "Bothered in Suburbia" who had a critter in her walls that she could not identify, locate, or oust? The Handyman received some ideas as to how to handle the phantom but noisy critters.

From Mary: You suggested squirrels. I think you're absolutely right. Not only are squirrels large-ish, active, and feisty, they store nuts! Years ago I had a friend who lived in a house in the woods. His room was upstairs under the eaves - small flat ceiling, sloped upper walls, short vertical walls. There were squirrels in all these spaces. They stashed nuts in the attic and would periodically send them rolling down between the studs, much to the annoyance of my friend, who was a very light sleeper.

From Vickie: I might have an idea that would help "Bothered." Several years ago I heard noises in my attic. I knew a bird was nesting in one end and something much larger was running around in the other end. The pest control company went up twice. They removed the nest (which the bird just rebuilt) and put down bait (which the critters ignored). I was told there was evidence of mice and bats. I am convinced a squirrel was up there as well. They said it was not possible to close up all the holes where animals could gain entrance.

So I took matters into my own hands. I hooked up an old stereo on the shelf just below the attic access panel and put the speakers in the attic. I set the tuner on a radio station that doesn't come in very well (all static) and waited. I turned the stereo on as soon as I heard noises in the attic. The volume wasn't too high. Any noise will bother the visitors. I had to leave the stereo on for three nights in a row (I shut it off when I wasn't home). Now, I seldom have a problem.

Every spring something tries to sneak in. I'm not kidding! What used to brazenly run around, now tries to tiptoe! All I do is flip a switch for a few hours and it's gone until the next year. I think something like that could work for "Bothered" if they could direct the sound into the walls and floor.

Richard from Lexington had his own experience: There is a room with a fireplace with a steel smoke pipe going through the roof. I think the critter came down the chimney, and found another entrance into a crawl space. In fact found an opening outdoors. I covered it with a screen and the deed was done.

Thank you all, and why didn't the Handyman think of all these things? At any rate, let's hope that "Bothered" will read these missives and be guided by them. I like the idea of a radio.

Q. My driveway is made of quarry run crushed stone, and quarry dust that works quite well when it packs down. I was thinking of putting Portland cement in a seed spreader, then sprinkling it with water to make a sort of concrete. Would that work?

JOE, Melrose, N.Y.

A. As a point of explanation, quarry run crushed stone is a certain sized crushed stone and quarry dust is stone dust. Your idea would make something like soil cement, which can be quite hard. While it would be hard, it would not be very thick, and a car would make short work of it. But try a small area of the drive, maybe 5-feet long, and you might find that it works better than the Handyman thinks it will.

Q. I have a horrendous downdraft in my chimney. I have to use a paper torch for quite a while to get the air going up so the fireplace will not smoke. There is a cap on the chimney, and I have raised it, to no avail. What's next?


A. Several candles in the fireplace have worked for some, not for others. But here is a thought: Consider a draft booster, a fan at the top of the chimney to get the air moving up. Call Energy Unlimited in Wayland.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton is also in the Styles Section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to Hotton's e-mail is

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