Handyman on Call

Ceiling fan saves on heat

By Peter Hotton
Globe Staff / February 10, 2011

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Q. The following is a quote from one of your recent articles: “Once a room with high ceilings fills with warm air, it is easy to maintain that heat, just as in other rooms with lower ceilings because no more heat can be delivered until the air cools off.’’ I have an 18-foot-high cathedral ceiling. I am thinking about getting a reversible fan to move the hot air in the ceiling down to the floor to save on heat cost. Would this be a practical application? How about in summer?

RICHARD HAUG, by e-mail

A. Yes, a ceiling fan is an excellent idea to save heat. You will probably save more in heat than the cost of the fan’s electricity. And in summer, you will be more comfortable, whether you have air conditioning or not.

Q. I folded the corner of an air mattress to install a contour sheet, and now it won’t hold air. I checked for any leaks, including using a bit of soapy water, without success. I fill the mattress, and by morning I’m sleeping on the bare floor. Is there a way of finding and plugging a leak?


A. The leak is probably in the seam which broke a bit when folded. If the mattress is relatively new, you might get a replacement. Otherwise, blow it up and dunk it into the tub full of water. You might find the leak that way. If so, a strong duct tape or Gorilla tape can seal it. A new tough tape on the market is Scotch Tough Duct Tape.

Q. The bottom faucet of my bath/shower is dripping. I tried tightening the hot and cold faucet handles, without success. My plumber said he’d have to get to the pipes from the wall, through my closet. Can’t he just yank off the dripping faucet, then replace it?

B.G., in Stoughton, by snail mail

A. It really doesn’t work that way, and there is something else he can do while he’s at it. And that is to replace the two faucets with a one-piece anti-scald valve. It is much more effective than the old-fashioned type.

Q. What good is my ridge vent if it is covered with snow?

JEFF P., in Hotton’s chat room

A. Some good — by allowing a little air flow, unless it turns to ice. Don’t sweat it. It will be unblocked in a few weeks or less. Don’t let anyone tell you to go up there and clean it. Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out on a sloped roof in the winter.

Q. In a recent column you mentioned Icynene to insulate an attic to help prevent ice dams. Is there a good technical reference for this procedure?

RICHARD, in Hotton’s chat room

A. I have not seen any technical bulletins on Icynene, but call Bob Anderson, one of the owners of Anderson Insulation in Abington (781-616-6251), and ask for information. Or Google Icynene, where I found lots of information.

Q. Do you think ice dams can cause leaks higher than the 6 feet that ice and water shields are installed these days? Does the water back up higher and higher or does it find another way out?

STEVE, in Hotton’s chat room

A. Water can back up all the way to the ridge if given the chance. Roofers started installing ice and water shields maybe 20 years ago, 3 feet up along the lower edge of the roof. Didn’t work. Water was backing up beyond the 3-foot line, so they started using 6-foot ice and water shield. Failed again. So now, many roofers are covering the entire roof, including the Handyman’s, and neither I nor anyone else has leaks. Such an ice and water shield will not prevent ice dams, but will stop those pesky leaks.

Q. Who can we call to get rid of an ice dam on a fairly tall house? A roofer? A handyman? We can’t get up there with a ladder.

MARCY, from Waltham, by e-mail

A. I’m with you on staying off a roof in winter, or any time. A roofer can remove the snow and the ice of the dam, but he should do it carefully. It will be expensive.

Globe Handyman on Call also appears in the Sunday Real Estate section. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton ( also chats online about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. Go to