Cleaning, painting can fix smoke-soot damage

Q. Our furnace broke down a couple of years ago and we have heavy smoke or soot damage on the walls and ceilings of our house. We’ve tried various cleaners but none worked, and we tried painting but the dirt bled through the primer. Can you help?

A. Cleaning and painting are the correct steps for this type of damage, but you will get best results if you use procedures that have worked for others with severe smoke-soot damage.

First, try cleaning up as much of the mess as possible. Use a solution of TSP (trisoium phosphate or a phosphate-free substitute). TSP is a heavy-duty cleaner sold at most paint stores and home centers. A heaping tablespoon in a gallon of warm water should remove some of the dirt.

Apply the solution with a sponge wrung-out frequently in clean rinse water, and try it first on an inconspicuous section of wall. Begin at the bottom of a wall, which will help minimize streaks.

When you have removed as much of the dirt as you can, let the surfaces dry thoroughly and apply a stain-killer primer called B-I-N, made by Zinsser and sold at many paint stores and home centers. This is a pigmented shellac-based primer that is excellent for sealing smoke damage.

Prime only one small wall as a test. When the primer dries, roll on a coat of acrylic wall paint and wait a couple of weeks to gauge the results. If you are satisfied, follow the same procedures on the remaining walls and ceilings.

Q. Where is the best place to locate a whole-house fan in a single-level house (ranch house). Also, how do I know how much attic vent space I need to handle the exhaust?

A. If the house has a central hallway, the ceiling there is an excellent location for the fan. If there is no hallway, pick the ceiling of any suitable room near the center of the house.

Bedrooms are not good locations for whole-house fans, mainly because of the noise they make.

Since the fan will actually sit on top of the attic joists and someone will need to get up there and wire and install it, a space with some attic headroom is important.

The hall or room where the fan is located will have a louvered panel in the ceiling, which is not unsightly. The louvers will open only when the fan is operating.

The vent space needed for a fan depends on the size of the area to be cooled and the capacity of the fan chosen. For example, a house with 1,400 square feet of space to be ventilated should have a fan capable of moving 4,200 CFMs (cubic feet of air per minute) and have 17 square feet of unobstructed attic vent space.

If you buy a fan at a home center and install it yourself, the owner’s manual will give you information on the vent space needed. If you have the fan professionally installed, the installer can advise you, but you should still make sure you get a manual.

You can find a couple of charts useful in selecting a fan at www.pge.com. Use the search feature and the words Attic Vent Space for Whole House Fan, then click on WHF Tech Sheet.

Whole-house fans, which draw cool night air into homes through open windows and exhaust it through the attic, are much cheaper to operate than air conditioners. However, they won’t work well unless nights are cool: 72 degrees or less.

And a whole-house fan should never be used at the same time as an air conditioner.

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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