August 15, 2010 in Features

Homeowners advice: Sump pumps, brass fixtures, water heaters

Gene Austin McClatchy-Tribune
 

Q. My sump pump is six years old and I worry about it failing in an emergency. I was thinking of buying a backup pump and keeping it on a shelf in case the basement floods and the existing pump fails. What is your opinion?

A. If your existing pump is properly maintained, it should have years of useful life ahead of it. Also, the best backup you could have would not sit on a shelf, but would be a standby battery backup pump to operate in case of a power failure, which often accompanies storms that flood basements.

For starters, make it a habit to check the existing pump every couple of months. Keep the sump clean and free of debris and make sure the inlet screen to the pump is clean.

To make sure the pump is operating well, pour some water into the sump until it causes the switch to kick in and start the pump.

If you see a forecast of heavy rain, repeat the maintenance steps. Also check the pump owner’s manual to see if any other maintenance steps, such as lubrication, are recommended.

Backup pumps that work during power failures are operated either with a battery or water power (via a hookup to a municipal water system). I prefer the battery type and if you have a well, it is your only choice. A 12-volt marine battery is generally used, and it must be kept well charged.

You can get more information about battery-backup pumps on the Internet; use a search engine and the words Battery Backups for Sump Pumps.

If owning a second regular pump would make you feel better, there is no reason why you shouldn’t. Keep in mind that warranties usually start from the date of sale. But if the pump is stored indoors in a dry place, it should be ready to use if needed.

Q. We recently bought a chandelier that has a plated brass finish with some kind of coating to keep it shiny. We have a lot of solid brass fixtures in the house which have darkened with a natural patina that we like. How can we make the chandelier match the other fixtures?

A. Brass is often given a lacquer coating to keep it shiny, which is the way most people want it.

The best way to remove the lacquer is with a gel-type paint stripper such as Strypeeze. Remove the fixture from the ceiling and take it outside to do the work.

Read and follow the directions and cautions on the stripper label. Be sure to wear eye protection and rubber or plastic gloves.

Brush a coat of stripper on the parts you want to work on and give it time to soften the lacquer, then wipe the parts clean with paper towels. If the chandelier is elaborate with many small parts, getting off all the lacquer will be a tedious project.

Q. Our water heater is in the attic and we had to have it replaced because of condensation. We wonder if a ridge vent would help, because the attic gets very hot in summer and very cold in winter. What type of contractor installs ridge vents?

A. Ridge vents can be installed by roofers. The installation requires removing some of the shingles from the ridge of the roof, cutting a narrow strip off the sheathing on each side of the ridge, and attaching the vent so it doesn’t leak.

A ridge vent should improve the ventilation in your attic and should relieve condensation on cold surfaces, but it won’t protect cold-water pipes from freezing if the weather gets very cold in your area.

I think an attic is a terrible place to put a tank-type water heater in any climate. If the tank or pipes should spring a leak, you could have major damage to your house, especially if you are absent when the leak occurs. If you have a basement or downstairs closet large enough, I would definitely consider relocating the water heater.

You can get some protection from water pipes freezing in winter by wrapping them with thermostatically controlled heat tapes. For information, use a search engine and the words Heat Tapes for Water Pipes.

Questions and comments should be e-mailed to Gene Austin at gaus17@aol.com. Send regular mail to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.


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