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Do It Yourself: Inspect crawl space before closing vents

Sun., Jan. 15, 2012, midnight

Q. Our house is built over a shallow crawl space with vents. The space has a dirt floor and the ground is damp. There are no ducts or pipes in the space. Can we close the vents in winter?

A. Whether crawl-space vents can be closed in winter depends primarily on the condition of the space. In general, if the crawl space is dry and properly insulated to keep the floor warmer over the space, the vents can be closed in winter to help keep out cold air. Unfortunately, your crawl space doesn’t appear to meet those guidelines, and you might be risking rotted wood framing and insect damage over the space as well as cold feet.

You don’t say whether there is any access to the space. If there isn’t, it would be a good investment to have an experienced mason take out enough concrete blocks or concrete from a crawl-space wall to form a small access door (if you do this, make sure the opening is properly supported and can be closed when not in use. The first thing you should do is cover the earth floor of the space with the thickest plastic sheeting you can find or with roll roofing. Overlap the cover sections and hold them in place with bricks or stones. Next, check the framing in the floor over the space for signs of rot or insect damage. If you find problems, they should be repaired before proceeding. If the wood is OK and the floor over the crawl space is not insulated, you should add insulation. This is a relatively easy and inexpensive project once you have access to the space. Use R-19 fiberglass blankets (about six inches thick) that will fit between the joists. Put the vapor barrier or facing on the top side, and hold the insulation in place with lengths of stiff wire jammed between the joists.

The ground covering and insulation should pay for themselves rather quickly by reducing your heating costs and improving your comfort.

Q. The pull chain is broken off my ceiling fan. Is there some magic way to fix it without removing the fan? – M. Fitzgerald

A. If there is a stub of chain left outside the fan housing you can probably splice a new chain to it with fine wire. Otherwise, you’ll have to gain access to the switch that the chain controls, and that might mean removing the fan. Be sure and turn off the electricity to fans before tampering with them.

Questions and comments should be emailed to Gene Austin at Send regular mail for Gene Austin to 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422.

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