The Gurus of How-To: New Year, New Home Repair Challenges

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Gurus of How-To, Al Ubell and Larry Ubell, are here to offer advice on home repair matters, from heat to ice dams to furnaces on the fritz.

Call 212-433-9692 with your questions or leave a comment below.


Al Ubell and Larry Ubell

Comments [27]

Random NYer

@ Bill from New Rochelle

1.) Thank you for the advice to take pictures of the black smoke from the chimney. I probably didn't think of it because I haven't used a camera for years and don't even own one- other than lousy camera on my cellphone, which I've never actually used yet. Do you think that would be sufficient or should I invest in a digital camera?

2.) Regarding steam radiator valves, the rule I've always heard is that they need to be kept all the way open or all the way closed to avoid leaks.

Astoria from New York wrote:

"No one on your staff questioned the taste level of using "Burnin' Down the House" as the lead-in to the home-repair segment, when the Connecticut house fire that killed five as the result of embers occurred only two weeks ago? Seems like a no-brainer to lead in with something less blatant, for a while."

Great point!
Lawrence from NYC:

"Do you really need a carbon monoxide alarm if you live in an apartment building?"

To the best of my knowledge, the law requires both CO as well as smoke detectors to be placed in each apartment within a building. Why would you think an apartment building would be different?

What I wonder is whether a CO detector is necessary if you don't use any gas at all within your apartment.

Jan. 11 2012 02:17 PM
Jim from NJ

The comment made about the "memory" of rechargeable batteries is out of date. Ni-Cad batteries had a memory effect, but all modern rechargeable batteries such as nickel metal hydride and lithium ion do not have memory effect

Jan. 11 2012 01:56 PM
Patricia from Northern NJ

I have several heating zones in my 1950s brick house in Northern NJ.
Even if the thermostat in the main part of the house is turned to off, if one other zone is turned to 65, the main thermostat reads 73. What's going on?

Jan. 11 2012 01:56 PM
lyn from Manhattan

I live in a hi-rise bldg. and smell cigarette smoke coming thru the walls. I have written many letters to mgt. and they ignore them, refuse to acknowledge the problem. Get all the symptoms of being around cigarettes and it's making me sick (frequently). Especially because of working at home and/or needing to be plugged in to outlets. Sealing outlets does nothing (foam, plastic covers, etc). What's wrong with the bldg (smokestack effect?), how can it be fixed? how can I get it improved besides air purifiers in every room? Please help thanks!

Jan. 11 2012 01:54 PM
Nina from midwood, bkly

is there any connection between possible toxins within a bklyn neighborhood and the high number of youth with autism?

Jan. 11 2012 01:53 PM
maria from brooklyn

it's maria again,forgot something, I've also noticed that some mold is growing on the ceiling near those same windows.The building used to be a factory and it was turned into a loft building some time ago, thanks.

Jan. 11 2012 01:53 PM
Random NYer

Sewer Fumes from Cracked Waste Pipes

I've heard this topic addressed by the Gurus in the past, who warned that the fumes are harmful to breathe-in and also combustible.

In my case, the fumes are coming not from the drain that is within my bathtub itself but from the pole just outside the tub that you pull up and down to open and close the drain (whatever that things is called...).

Also, there are several apartments below me.

Any specific comments or advice?

Thanks a lot. You guys are among my favorites. You should have your own show!

Jan. 11 2012 01:53 PM
Bill from New Rochelle

1) Always love the show.

2) My old apartment had radiators that leaked if I adgusted the valves (hot water) Some rooms were too hot. I covered the radiators in those rooms, then it was much better.

3) For: Random NYer, re: black smoke...TAKE PICTURES.

Jan. 11 2012 01:52 PM
steve from Manhattan

What about TRVs (thermostatic radiator valves).
Do they work well for 2 pipe hot water systems in pre-war buildings?

Jan. 11 2012 01:50 PM
Patricia Bronstein from Northern New Jersey

We live in a 1950s brick house. We have several heating zones and even if the heat in the main part of the house is turned off, and we have one of the other zones at 65, the heat in the main part goes up to 73 sometimes. Is there anything that can be done?

Jan. 11 2012 01:49 PM
Maria from Morningside Hts.

I'm considering a fixer-upper upstate. The house part is fine, but the basement is full of mold, and an engineer said the sub-flooring for the first floor is decaying. Is it possible to re-do a basement and foundation to a house without having to tear the whole house down?

Jan. 11 2012 01:49 PM
Maria from brooklyn

I have big windows along one of the walls in my apartment. That piece of wall below the windows is always wet because of the temperature difference between the inside and the outside, and I've noticed lately that
there' s mold growing on it...I've cleaned it but keeps coming you have any advice? thanks!

Jan. 11 2012 01:47 PM
Steve Pollock from Oyster Bay Long Island

Electric Ranges - You will find most 30" electric stove/oven combinations require 50 amp service though you will find a few that only require 40 amps. Steve Pollock

Jan. 11 2012 01:44 PM
Judith Targove from Highland Park, NJ

Leobnard L. gave the woman with the sprinkler problem short shrift. She should have been told to call 311 again and tell them that their advice to call the fire chief failed because the chief never called back. That way another transaction will be entered in the system and they can't close her case by just giving her a phone number. The call becomes a complaint against the fire department. (Of course, she should have been more persistent and called more than twice or called 311 again on her own.) She was cut off without any resolution of her problem.

Jan. 11 2012 01:40 PM
Anita Feldman from Manhattan

I live in one-bedroom apartment in an apartment house, and, although I would like to have the benefits of a smoke alarm in my apartment, I've found that the alarm goes off, annoyingly and uselessly, when I do ordinary cooking. Even pan-broiling a lamb chop will set it off. It seems that these alarms are not made for the close confines of a small apartment, and many people I know have told me that they don't use their fire alarms for this reason.

Jan. 11 2012 01:36 PM
Dale from Manhattan

Recently neither my cell phone nor electric toothbrush are getting full charges. I live in an apartment building. Can something happen in the building or an adjoining apartment to reduce the electricity in my apartment?


Jan. 11 2012 01:36 PM
Random NYer

Excessive Black Smoke from Chimneys- Please Specify Legal Limits

Hello Gurus,

I see thick plumes of pitch-black smoke repeatedly belching forth from a chimney that I see from the windows of my Brooklyn apartment.

I first called 311 to report this several years ago. When I called back to check on the status of my complaint, I was told that an inspector had visited the site and found that the emissions were within legal levels. I couldn't help but to suspect some kind of monkey business at play, such as the Super. or landlord of the building having bribed the inspector but I never really followed-up.

I recently listened to an archived "Gurus of How-To" segment from back in June (2011) in which you discuss this issue of black smoke from chimneys. ( ) This inspired me to try reporting the smoke I see to 311 again, which I recently did. The result seems to be the same as last time: I checked the status of my complaint at the 311 web site and it says that no violation could be found at the time of inspection. I don't see how that could possibly be, as the situation has been worse than ever recently. Just today, I saw black smoke coming-out continuously for what seemed like at least three full minutes before it finally stopped. And I have often noticed what seemed to be at least three or four emissions within a period of less than an hour- some occurring within _minutes_ of each other. As I'm sure you will appreciate, though, it is quite difficult to be able to notice the moment that an emission begins and exactly how many occur within a given time frame; I would have to keep my eyes glued in the direction of the chimney...

Could you perhaps specify what the exact legal guidelines are here? This information does not seem that easy to find. On the show from June, Larry said, "if you see smoke coming out of a chimney for more than fifteen to thirty seconds"...
But isn't that something like more than 15-30 over the course of a certain time frame?

Jan. 11 2012 01:34 PM
Rachel from Sunset Park

Please remind people not only to have working fire and smoke alarms, but also to have fire extinguishers as well. We also have a rope upstairs on the third floor of our 2 family, just in case, we have to get out.

Jan. 11 2012 01:31 PM
Roger from Brooklyn

What product applies easily to seal leaks in a flat tar roof (Brooklyn, two story Atlantic Yards neighborhood). I want to roll it on, better yet, spray. Thanks. Love Accurate, love Leonard. Roger, Brooklyn

Jan. 11 2012 01:24 PM
Lawrence from NYC

Do you really need a carbon monoxide alarm if you live in an apartment building?

Jan. 11 2012 01:24 PM
Paula Heisen from NY

Could the gurus recommend a resource and/or website with non-hysterical information on the treatment of bedbug infestions?

Jan. 11 2012 01:24 PM
Danielle Jensen

how should we ventilate when cooking if we live in a typical ny apt.

Jan. 11 2012 01:23 PM

I have an historic house, so old windows do not fit tightly. As a result I get condensation on the inside of the storm windows in winter. I've been told Seal & Peel might do the trick, i.e. fill in the gap during the winter but peel it off in summer when I want to open the windows. I haven't tried it yet, so 3 Qs.

1. Will Seal & Peel do the job in the winter?
2. Can I peel it off in the summer without damaging the paint on the window surrounds?
3. If not S&P, is there another solution?

Jan. 11 2012 01:22 PM
Astoria from New York

No one on your staff questioned the taste level of using "Burnin' Down the House" as the lead-in to the home-repair segment, when the Connecticut house fire that killed five as the result of embers occurred only two weeks ago? Seems like a no-brainer to lead in with something less blatant, for a while.

Jan. 11 2012 01:20 PM
Ruth from Queens, NY

Taking into consideration that I am "financially challenged", what can I do about an ice dam just above my (north facing) front door? It's a small frame house with standard shingle roofing, about 10 ft including 2 "corners" (the gutter looks like an outward facing U)

Jan. 11 2012 01:16 PM
Daniel from Hartsdale, NY

Hello Al and Larry!

We have a single family house in Hartsdale, NY. We have had a leak around the chimney for many years and last year we have asked opinions from chimney specialists, roofers, masons, siding specialists... name it!!! We are still quite unclear on what should be done as we were advised to simply repoint the chimney, to waterproof it, to rebuild it altogether, etc.! Others have said the leak could be due to the flashing areas where our house roof meets the chimney or even the flashing where our flat garage roof meets the chimney. Others said it is the chimney crown that may be a problem.

We heard that you do inspections at individuals' houses. How can we get in touch with you so that you can give us your professional and, most importantly, unbiased, advice? Any comment you may have on radio would be great. We want to solve our chimney problem before dealing with redoing the siding of our house (some actually think that our old aluminum siding may be the culprit for the leaks...!)

Thank you so much.
Daniel and Longah

Jan. 11 2012 12:57 PM
Chris from Ithaca, NY

I wonder if the Ubells have an opinion on installing zone heating in a home. We have an two story 1400 sq ft. house built in the 1880s. We recently added insulation to our attic floor and I've noticed the second floor is a lot warmer than it used to be (it's always been quite noticeably warmer than the downstairs). We have a gas powered furnace, radiators throughout the house and one thermostat on the main floor. Do they think it could make sense to install a second thermostat on the second floor. If so, what would the installation process (and cost) be like? Thank you.

Jan. 11 2012 12:51 PM

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