Your Place | When in smoky doubt, clean that chimney out

Posted: December 07, 2007

Question: I have a fireplace with a glass-door insert. With the doors open and a roaring fire, everything is fine, but as the fire burns down I get the smell of smoke in the room. I've tried cracking open the window a little, but it doesn't seem to help. I had an extension put on the chimney, but this didn't help. I would have to close the doors, or keep the fire roaring to avoid smoke. I've been told it could be wind, but it happens all the time. Any suggestions?

Answer: Even if a chimney has been thoroughly cleaned, there often can be enough residual creosote - unburned fuel deposited on the insides of the chimney - to capture moisture from the air. That is the likely cause of the odor.

There are products on the market (check the Internet) that you can sprinkle into the fire to cut creosote production and maybe reduce the odor. But from what I've been told, keeping the insert closed is the most-recommended answer from the experts. At any rate, have a chimney sweep take a look to see if it's time for a cleaning.

Q: We live in a rowhouse, just bought the house next door and are connecting them. There are all kinds of exterior wires attached to the house. We don't know what all of them are. They are unsightly, and I want to get rid of them. I asked an electrician who was at our house if he could identify them. He said he couldn't. I'm sure some of them are old cable and phone lines no longer used. How do I go about getting rid of them?

A: Considering that these houses passed through several generations of owners and through several eras of wiring, there are likely to be a lot of stray wires, some put in by do-it-yourselfers. Some may not have been live for 70 years; you can't tell just by looking.

Call another electrician - one who knows what he's doing - to help you sort things out. The utility company is responsible for the line from the street up to and including the splices on top of the service head, as well as the meter.

Q: I recently broke the lid for one of my toilet tanks. Replacements are no longer being made, because the tank is one of the large old ones, which is the reason I do not want to get a new tank.

I am trying to determine what would be a suitable replacement for the broken lid. I have thought of stone, composite, fiberglass, or even a "restoration" lid, but I do not know where to purchase any of these items. The big-box supply stores only want to do an entire bath or kitchen, and the small dealers do not respond.

A: The best bet for you would be www.toilettanklids.com, where they carry lids for toilets made from 1935 to the present, 71 brands in all. Prices can range from $70 to $470 delivered.

Q: We have a fiberglass bathtub with a textured surface on the floor. My 7-year-old son slipped while showering, requiring four stitches in his chin, so I'm searching for a way to make the tub safer. I looked at bath mats, but they don't stick to a textured surface. I did get safety treads. Is this the best option? Will they be removable?

A: I'd look into a product designed to be applied easily with a sponge or mop that creates a no-slip surface without changing the appearance of the tub. One that I've heard good things about - but please shop carefully and look at all the options - is No-Slip, which can be applied to floors and bathtub surfaces and is used in hotels and airports.

Its Winter Park, Fla., manufacturer says No-Slip (www.no-slip.com) will neither alter the appearance, color or texture of tile floors or bathtubs nor change their stain resistance. You can feel the higher slip resistance (the grip to the surface, that is) when the floor or tub is wet, but you can't see it. Surfaces need to be re-treated periodically.


Have questions for Alan J. Heavens? E-mail him at aheavens@phillynews.com or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101.

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