Your Place: Tips for heating a home safely

Posted: January 13, 2012

On a warmish New Year's Eve, I planted more lettuce in the cold frame on the south side of the house since what I'd put in a few weeks before was thriving.

Then, of course, the next few days turned bitterly cold. Although the lettuce continues to thrive - it is a cold frame, after all - my thoughts turned to how people were coping with this and future spates of frigid temperatures.

Consumer Reports tweeted a link to a Centers for Disease Control list of home-heating safety tips. I'll give you a few.

Use fireplaces, wood stoves, or other combustion heaters only if they are properly vented to the outside and do not leak flue gas into indoor air space.

Do not burn paper in a fireplace.

Ensure adequate ventilation if you must use a kerosene heater.

Use only the type of fuel your heater is designed to use. Do not substitute.

Do not place a space heater within three feet of anything that may catch fire, such as drapes, furniture, or bedding, and never cover your space heater.

Never place a space heater on top of furniture or near water.

For the whole list, go to

Better late than never. I received an e-mail while I was away for the holidays from a reader with a decision-making deadline of Dec. 22.

Oops, I say. It seems she has a 1992-vintage dishwasher that seems to wash pots and pans just fine but leaves cloudy marks on the backs of glasses.

She asked me to recommend a model - I cannot do so - or determine whether she needs a replacement.

My advice: If your dishwasher has a dispenser for it, a rinsing agent might help. You also may be using more dishwashing detergent than you need.

Experiment before you replace.

Question: My 1929 house was aluminum-sided (covering wood siding) in the 1970s. Everything looks fine from the outside, but I keep wondering what deterioration is going on under that skin.

Short of ripping off siding in different spots to check, is there a way to know if the wood is rotting? Or am I worrying about something unlikely?

Answer: If there were pieces of siding that were crooked or sagging, or there was mold or mildew on the surface, I'd say you might have a problem. If everything looks fine, depending on how you define the word, I wouldn't go looking for trouble.

From my experience, houses were sided with aluminum for three reasons: To avoid having to paint, to hide rotting wood (salesmen in the 1960s talked entire neighborhoods into believing replacing the rot was more expensive), or to make one rowhouse look different from the next (hence siding over brick).

From your address, it sounds like your siding was done to avoid painting.

Q: How can I safely take berry stains off my hardiplank (fiber-cement) siding that birds put there from our holly tree?

We tried bleach and water and used a brush that took off some finish. I also used a siding cleaner recommended at the home center and it didn't do anything.

A: When I was installing hardiplank as trim on a 19th-century shed in a churchyard a few years back, I used washing soda (in the laundry detergent aisle at Wegmans and elsewhere) to remove sap from evergreen trees before I painted the board.

That or lemon juice might work.

Cork floors. I wrote about cork flooring a few weeks ago, and a number of you responded with your experiences.

Here's one: "I have cork flooring in my kitchen. My house does not have a basement, and the cork floor is warmer and also softer than a typical floor.

"I didn't consider it an expensive type of flooring, but it does have one thing to consider. It is prone to scratching. The installation has it as a floating floor. The sections are large pieces, and they are glued together.

"My cats have put many tiny nicks in the floor through their racing and stopping in the kitchen.

"I did put a protective coating on the floor, using water-based polyurethane, which is the suggested sealing by the manufacturer."

My neighbors recently had a cork floor installed in their kitchen. What I saw looked good, but we'll see about endurance.

Questions? E-mail Alan J. Heavens at or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101. Volume prohibits individual replies. He is the author of "Remodeling on the Money" (Kaplan Publishing).

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