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Wednesday, July 5, 2006 10:14 pm

Keep it cool upstairs

The belief that attic fans will help is widespread

Dear Gene: We live in a two-level house with most of the living space on the upper floor. The air-conditioner thermostat is on the upper floor, which gets very warm in hot weather. We are thinking of having a couple of electrically powered attic fans installed to help cool the upper floor. What is your opinion? Will we save energy? — S.F.
The belief that attic fans will help cool living space by pumping hot air out of an attic is widespread, but I am not one of the believers. I think your most important bulwark against heat infiltration from the attic — and against loss of cooled or heated air from the living space — is insulation on the attic floor. In warm Southern climates, a radiant barrier (a reflective surface) under the roof sheathing can also be effective in reducing attic heat. For more information on radiant barriers, check the Web site of the Florida Solar Energy Center (www.fsec.ucf.edu); type “radiant barriers” in the search space at the top of the home page. Independent studies have shown that electrically powered attic fans can actually increase energy costs in air-conditioned homes by using electricity and by pulling expensively cooled air into the attic and expelling it to the outside. And if the attic floor is well insulated, attic fans will have little or no effect on the temperature below the insulation. Another claim is that fans create a dangerous “backdraft” in the attic that can pull hazardous combustion products such as carbon monoxide into the living space from water heaters and other combustion-type appliances. My advice is to increase your attic-floor insulation to at least R-30 (about 10 inches of fiberglass or cellulose) and forget about the fans. You should, however, have a good natural ventilation system in the attic, usually consisting of vents in the soffits (under the eaves), on the ridge of the roof, and in the gable ends.
Dear Gene: I have a concrete driveway. Can I seal it myself, or is this a job for a contractor? Where do I get the sealer? — D.M.
Sealing a concrete driveway is not difficult, and many homeowners do it themselves. Concrete sealers are available at most home centers and building-supply outlets. A widely sold one is UGL’s Drylok Masonry Treatment (www.ugl.com). A long-handled roller is a good application tool. Clean the driveway first by blowing or sweeping off dirt and debris, and remove any stains with a concrete cleaner or degreaser, also sold at most home centers. Sealing the driveway will help prevent dusting and chipping of the concrete and provide some resistance to stains.
Dear Gene: I have a walkway made of flagstones set in concrete. Several of the flagstones have come loose, and the mortar around them is cracked and loose. How can I reattach the loose stones, and what do I use to fill between them? — P.Z.
Buy a bag of dry mortar mix and a small trowel at a home center. You will just need to add water to the mix and follow directions on the bag to prepare the mortar for use. Lift out the loose stones, clean out the area underneath, and spread a layer of mortar about a half-inch thick. Set the stones into the mortar and wiggle them until they are firm and level with the surrounding stones. Fill in around the stones with more mortar mix and smooth it with the trowel.
TOOL TEST: Homeowners looking for an inexpensive compact air compressor to inflate tires, toys, and the like, and possibly perform other tasks such as powering air tools, will find several good candidates at home centers. One is Husky’s new model FP2070 (about $100 at Home Depot), which I recently tested. The Husky is cordless — it operates on rechargeable batteries that make it easily portable — and has several other bells and whistles that set it apart, along with surprisingly powerful performance. This compressor is about the size of a five-gallon bucket but generates as much as 135 psi (pounds per square inch), enough to operate some air tools such as staplers and brad nailers. The compressor has a comfortable bucket-type carrying handle, and the accessories include a tire chuck and several other inflating tools. In addition, there is an AM-FM radio and a 12-volt power outlet for running direct-current tools and recharging cell phones. I would appreciate a more comprehensive owner’s manual with larger type and better illustrations, but on the whole this is a potent and versatile package for the money.
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