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Blocking heat intakes to conserve energy use

By Peter Hotton
November 27, 2011
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Q.I have a forced hot air heating system and was cleaning the wall-mounted intake registers when I found that the former owner had put cardboard to block two of the intakes in the living room with two heat output registers on the opposite side of the room. The stairwell to the second floor is also in this room, and one intake is across from the stairwell. Only one more intake is on the first floor, the rest are in the basement. When I turned on the heat, air was being pulled in from these registers. Why would someone do this?

NICK, in Hotton’s chat room

A. Homeowners are a funny breed, and I think the fellow was trying to get more heat from the registers in that room.

The system sounds quite extensive, so if you feel your heat is adequate, leave the cardboards in, or take them out. There may not be a big difference. What you call intake registers are called cold air returns, and are designed to allow warm air to flow normally into several rooms while allowing cooled air to return, preventing a situation of blowing warm air into a room without returns, where it pressurizes with no way to return, eliminating all efficiency.

If you are in doubt, or are uncomfortable, call a warm air heating man, who can balance the system to your satisfaction.

Q.I have oil heat with a forced hot water system, which I am looking to convert to gas. One contractor told me that a gas heating system (boiler) won’t be able to heat the house with forced hot water. Another contractor told me that gas can work equally well. What are your thoughts?

CRAIG, in Hotton’s chat room

A. Huh? Gas can heat a boiler in a forced hot water system as easily, maybe better, than oil. Sometimes it might depend on the gas pressure in your community, but I have never heard of such a thing in New England. Sometimes overuse of gas from many houses can require the company to ask customers to stop using gas, until they can figure out what happened, but that was only once, many years ago. I suggest you go with the second contractor.

Q.My peach colored Corian vanity top was stained with spilled air freshener, a loud red stain. I tried bleach without success. What will get that stain out?


A. That Corian has the same color through and through, so you can sand that stain off. Use emery cloth.

Q. My white asbestos-cement shingles need painting. What kind of paint will work best?


A. I think latex house paint will work well. Use two thin coats. If you are changing the color, don’t make it too different from the original; it will be easier to use a closer color.

Q.1) Whenever I flush my toilet, I can hear it draining through the tub drain. What’s wrong? 2) I have a chain link fence down one side of my yard. My new neighbor put in a cedar stockade fence, and they are just 6 inches apart. How can I maintain any grass there?

BONNIE, from Metairie, La.

A. 1) Nothing is wrong. The tub drain runs into the toilet drain, and you are hearing the sound of the water through the tub drain. 2) Fences make good neighbors, huh? There is nothing you can do or want to do for whatever is growing between the fences. But wait; there might be. Take down the chain link fence so you can mow the lawn right up to the wood fence. Save the fence for another project. Sell it.

There might be restrictions as to the position of a fence. Check your building department. Even if you find any violations, I would be reluctant to pursue them because the cost can be exorbitant.

Q. My ranch was built in ’64. New roof shingles were installed in ’95. Ever since, a shadow appears on the ceiling where the rafters are above. My husband checked the attic without finding anything. The ceiling is not damp and the attic is ventilated. The shadows appear most on the west-northwest half of the house. Any thoughts?

WESTWITCH, in Hotton’s chat room

A. I assume the ceilings are level, not slanted. Ergo, the beams above the ceiling are joists. Rafters are the sloping beams supporting the roof. The shadows are appearing on the ceiling below the joists because water vapor is condensing on the ceiling making it wet along the lines of the joists, but barely detectable, and mold spores land on the wet surface and the mold grows and grows, or dirt sticks to the wet spots. The joists are cooler than the insulated floor of the attic.

You can treat the mold with a mild bleach solution. If it’s dirt, wash it. Reducing moisture in the house by ventilation also will help. Adding lots and lots of unbacked fiberglass insulation on the attic floor also can make the joists warmer, reducing the likelihood of a damp ceiling following the outline of the joists.

Peter Hotton is also in the g section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton (photton@ also chats online 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to

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