The Gurus of How-To

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Leaves in your gutter? Furnace on the fritz? The Gurus of How-To, Al Ubell and Larry Ubell, are here to help! They'll answer questions about home repair. Call 646-829-3985 with your questions or leave a comment.


Al Ubell and Larry Ubell

Comments [37]

Karla from Manhattan

We live in a small apt. building built in 1927 and our electricity runs off of one circuit.

This means that we have one 20 amp fuse feeding four outlets. We have what is
called BX (type B experimental) cable also known as AC or armored cable; however,
we do not have an actual ground wire. The armor is clamped to the metal gang
receptacles. The apartment is wired from this single cable somewhere in the
walls and branched into all the rooms and lights. We also lack GFCI protection
in the bathroom and kitchen however we do have LCDI protection on all the
power strips.

The fear is that with modern requirements we may be taxing the BX cable beyond
its maximum rating and I am not sure what its maximum amperage really is. This
is a firehazard coupled with the lack of a good ground, the BX cable can easily
catch fire or Arc since we lack any kind of ACFI protection as well.

So the question is, is it wrong/right to still have the single circuit or should
we in fact have the quad circuit (4 fuses/breakers 4 outlets) like most flats
have. And even worse since it appears our meter is connected into four fuses,
where do the other 3 go?

The managment has upgraded half of the apartment's electrical systems (but not ours). Is he required to upgrade all of the apts?

Nov. 10 2010 02:30 PM
mark from Brooklyn

I live in a small apt. in Bklyn brownstone. The landlord will do no work, spend no money but said I could replace ancient worn dirty and unraveling carpeting. Underneath this carpeting is flooring of 9x9" old tiles - some of which crumble in my hand. Landlord said it's old masonite. A friend tells me this old tile (a gray & white marbled looking pattern) contains aspestos - and that I should neither remove it or carpet over it - since it's crumbling and a vacuume cleaner will disturb the old tiles and create dust w/ aspestos. How do I know and what do I do?

Nov. 10 2010 01:57 PM
Ted Glass from LES, Manhattan

I've been using CFL bulbs in enclosed glass sconces in our building and they keep failing, probably because they are enclosed fixtures. Is there any alternative to returning to incandescents?

Nov. 10 2010 01:55 PM
Jessica from Ridgewood

I live in the top right apt in a 6 family railroad building. The thermostat is in the second floor hallway, set at 72. The heat almost never comes on in our apartment, though it is on in other (lower floor) apartments and in the hallway. Is it just that the hallway is too warm so the thermostat is not clicking on?

Nov. 10 2010 01:53 PM from yonkers

i read that bedbugs eggs , are killed at 145 degrees.
if one shares washers and dryers, what is a good thermometer to check max heat of washers and dryers so i can get the managing company to fix a too cool hot wash and dryer settings.

Nov. 10 2010 01:53 PM
Ragnar Naess from Brooklyn

The builders of the Peruvian city Machu Pichu knew how to use venturis built into the walls of granaries to increase flow of fresh air through stored grain, thus preventing buildup of moisture and development of mold.

Nov. 10 2010 01:52 PM
Chris from Long Island

That woman who just called with the amperage question on her fridge. The 134a she sees on the sticker isn't amps, it's the type of refrigerant.

Nov. 10 2010 01:52 PM
David from Staten Island

I have a Hot Water heater that is approximately 14 years old and seems to be working fine. Would it be advisable to replace now?

Nov. 10 2010 01:52 PM
Bill Form LI

When the steam heat in our home turns on both my daughter and I get asthma like symptoms (wheezing when we breathe) any ideas?

Nov. 10 2010 01:52 PM
Andrew from Greenpoint

I live in a railroad apartment, five rooms long, each with a steam radiator. They all heat up at the same time except the big one in the front room of the house, which partially heats up, but most of the coils remains cold. Then, every once in a while in heats up fully. How can I make sure it fully heats up every time?

Nov. 10 2010 01:51 PM

should I have my forced air system tubes cleaned?
I change the filter, but the inside of the vent pipes have never been cleaned .

Nov. 10 2010 01:49 PM

should I have my forced air system tubes cleaned?
I change the filter, but the inside of the vent pipes have never been cleaned .

Nov. 10 2010 01:48 PM
Jill Williams

Please..... tell me how to dampen the sound coming through the walls/floors in my apt cheaply. Also advise me how to dampen sound coming thru the air vents in my apt.

Nov. 10 2010 01:47 PM
Sara from Park Slope, Brooklyn

My floor in my bathroom is sinking in. I had someone tell me that the concrete of the sub-floor is cracking and sinking down. Will this require ripping up the entire floor or can just the area that the tiles are sinking be repaired? The area is about a half of foot by a half of foot. What type of person repairs this? Tile person????

Nov. 10 2010 01:47 PM
Phoebe from Bushwick

I have hot water problems. Normally, I only have a few minutes of hot water, and then the water goes luke warm for five or ten minutes and then hot again. Now that the radiators are on, the problem is fixed if the heat is actually on. When it is off, I have even less hot water than usual (only a few second of hot or warm water).

Nov. 10 2010 01:44 PM
Lisa Noble from Croton

Do I need a new thermostat if my current digital thermostat (Honeywell) only turns my 1920s radiator-based steam heat system on and off, and doesn't regulate the temperature? Unchecked, the heat will escalate until we all turn into little puddles and the only way we can manage this is by turning the heat off after about an hour.

My boyfriend suggests that I may be using the wrong type of thermostat.

Nov. 10 2010 01:42 PM
Eric Russell from Basking Ridge, NJ, formerly Brownstone Brooklyn

when piling things around the radiator, make sure that the person does not use materials that can burn or melt at the temperatures achieved by the radiator.

Nov. 10 2010 01:41 PM
Frank from Newark

Greetings, I would like to know how I can get the hair out of my faucet in my kitchen. It always make's a back up sound when I turn it on.

Nov. 10 2010 01:40 PM
Hannah from Bushwick

My apartment is heated by coils in the floor- which is a laminated wood floor. Except for the bathroom which has a tile floor that gets HOT, the heating is EXTREMELY inefficient and (since I pay for my own heat) last year my roommates and I had a verrry cold winter. Is there a way to make make a floor-heated apartment warmer, or do i need to convince my landlord into ripping up the floor and putting in something different?

Nov. 10 2010 01:40 PM
Cathy from Harrison, NY

For homeowners like us in Westchester, how often do we really need to clean out the leaves in the gutter? And what is the proper way to do it? Do we need to use those special ladders so as not to damage the roof? And are there any gutter protectors that actually work?

Nov. 10 2010 01:40 PM
Carolyn Martin from Litchfield CT

Re the peeling bedroom ceiling, perhaps a less laborious fix would be just adding a layer of new sheet rock and starting fresh.

Nov. 10 2010 01:40 PM
maggie from morristown nj

The red dust Q: probably rust
I have steam heat, and when too much steam is emitted from the radiator, I find red dust on everything nearby--I assume it's rust particles.

Nov. 10 2010 01:38 PM
sarah from philly


This happens to me too and it turns out that the red dust comes from my brick walls. I own a old brick row home (built ~1910) and many of the walls do not have insulation, so any hole you have, from hanging a picture etc, leaks this red dust.

Nov. 10 2010 01:37 PM
Carin from cold spring harbor, NY

Why is it when I first turn the cold water on in the morning the water is very hot and it takes a few minutes to get cold?

Nov. 10 2010 01:37 PM
sarah from philly


This happens to me too and it turns out that the red dust comes from my brick walls. I own a old brick row home (built ~1910) and many of the walls do not have insulation, so any hole you have, from hanging a picture etc, leaks this red dust.

Nov. 10 2010 01:37 PM

Could the "red dust" be from crumbling bricks?

Nov. 10 2010 01:36 PM
David from Grand Concourse Bronx

I live in an apartment built in 1941. The hot water radiators are in the walls under the windows. When the heat is on now it smells musty/moldy. I don't see any specific leaks. Any thoughts on how to get rid of/ what is the source of the moldy smell?

Nov. 10 2010 01:36 PM

What is the best time to clean air conditioners both window units and through wall units?

Nov. 10 2010 01:36 PM
tanner from brooklyn

i own a detached brick building with three apartments and steam heat. i have the thermostat set to 69. the first and second floors heat well enough, but the top floor is always chilly. seems backwards to me. we had the radiators professionally checked, and they were fine. advice?

Nov. 10 2010 01:34 PM
Matt from West Orange, NJ

What is the best way to insulate an attic that has been converted to a bedroom?

We recently purchased an older bungalow (c.1930) that had been renovated to convert an attic to a master bedroom suite. The knee walls are uninsulated and two small doors lead to storage and crawlspaces. The attic rafters appear to be insulated, but it does get drafty up there.



Nov. 10 2010 01:33 PM
Steve from Brooklyn

The steam heat in our co-op builing was recently turned on for the season and since that time the hot tap water in our building has gone from bearable to scalding. It is now around 140-150 degrees as opposed to around 120 degrees pre-heat. Is this normal? And is it safe?

Nov. 10 2010 01:32 PM
Ken from Soho

The answer to today's question is the Bernouli effect.

Nov. 10 2010 01:32 PM
Ken Carr from NYC

I think that your quiz answer is a' Venturi Valve'

Nov. 10 2010 01:32 PM
Artdis from Bushwick

I have a Weil McLaine gas/hot water boiler, its 3 years old. It is controlled on each floor by a LED thermostat. Recently I had to replace one of the thermostats and it keeps giving an error message "change filter", except as far as I know the boiler has no filter.

What does this mean?

Nov. 10 2010 01:30 PM
Anne in Westchester

My apartment has several older overhead light fixtures. The maximum incandescent bulb required is 60 to 75 watts. Since the new energy efficient bulbs burn much cooler, can I use higher wattage energy efficient bulbs to produce greater light?

Thank you.

Nov. 10 2010 01:30 PM
Joe Saporito from Maplewood, NJ

I just purchased a home -- built in 1927 -- We have a 15 gallon tankless coil for hot water. The water stays hot in the kitchen sink and in the attic bathroom -- but the 2nd floor shower, the water stays hot for 45 seconds then goes cold.

Nov. 10 2010 01:25 PM

we live in an old building with hot water radiators controlled by the landlord. I understand that during this time of year the landlord is legally required to keep the temperature in our apartment above a certain temperature, but our apartment frequently gets uncomfortably hot. we can't open our windows as we live on the first floor with windows facing the street. Is there anything we can do to lessen the amount of heat coming from the radiator?

Nov. 10 2010 12:04 PM

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