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Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2006 03:14 pm

How to improve ventilation

When windows aren’t enough, try fans, air exchangers, or “fresheners”

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Dear Gene: My townhouse sometimes has a stale odor. I can’t open the windows for ventilation because they have no screens. What do you suggest?

I would certainly take steps to install screens in some of the windows. There are some options, however, if this is impractical for some reason. One option is to install an exhaust fan in a window where most of the stale odor originates, or a couple of fans, if necessary. Some exhaust fans can be installed in windows, making it unnecessary to break through walls or run ducts. You can get information on some fans at the Web site www.air-n-water.com; click on “exhaust fans,” at the left of the page. Some exhaust fans are reversible, so fresh air can be pulled in or stale air exhausted. Prices for window-mounted fans start at about $40.

Another option is an air exchanger. These can generally be used year-round, but prices are generally higher than for fans and installation is more difficult. For details, see the Web site www.alpinehomeair.com.

Some air cleaners or air “fresheners” will also help remove odors. These can be set up in individual rooms or installed in a central heating-cooling system. Portable air cleaners are sold at many home centers. For information on air cleaners, check the Web site www.allergybuyersclub.com.

Dear Gene: Some of the brick siding on our house has ugly white streaks under the shutters, where paint has washed down. How can we clean the bricks?

These stains are caused by “chalked” or powdered paint and often occur under painted surfaces such as windows and trim.

The stains can generally be removed by pressure washing. If you want to do it yourself and don’t have a pressure washer, try scrubbing with a solution of TSP (tridosium phosphate, sold at paint stores). A phosphate-free version is sold in some areas. Follow directions on the container for mixing the solution and wear goggles and gloves. A long-handled brush works well and keeps you out of the way of spatters from this powerful cleaner.

Once you get the stains off, you should consider repainting the shutters with a non-chalking paint. A high-quality acrylic paint should work well.

Dear Gene: We’d like to clean a green mold from our flagstone patio with a bleach solution but worry about damaging the lawn and plants adjacent to the patio. Can you help?

If there are sensitive plants near the patio, try a relatively mild bleach solution containing 1 cup of bleach to a gallon of warm water. Also use the system recommended for bleach-type deck cleaners: Soak the plants and surrounding soil with water before starting cleaning, and rinse them thoroughly with clear water again after cleaning. This should dilute any bleach runoff to the point where it will be harmless.

Dear Gene: We never use our chimney, and I am wondering if I can plug it at the top to keep rain out and prevent possible mold formation inside the chimney. We know about plugs for the bottom, designed to save energy. What do you think?

You should not permanently plug the top of the chimney, for safety reasons. If someone tried to use the chimney in the future and didn’t know about the plug, there could be serious problems. You can keep most of the rain out with a chimney cap, which would also let air circulate inside the chimney, which is important in helping prevent mold formation. Chimney caps are sold at most home centers, and, if you can safely get on your roof, the installation is quite simple.

Quick tip: One option for brightening a brick fireplace without painting it, suggested by reader Jim Jones, is to encase the bricks with ceramic tile, marble, or stone.

If a wood surround or façade is installed on an actively used fireplace, the wood should be kept well away from the firebox. In some areas, fire codes require that wood surrounds have at least 12 inches of clearance above and on each side of the firebox, leaving some bricks exposed (or cover them with a nonflammable material). The best bet, if wood is considered, is to contact the building inspector in the municipality to learn what rules apply.

Several Web sites offer precut kits for wood mantels and surrounds; one is decorativeconcepts.net. Others can be found by using a search engine and the words “wood fireplace surrounds.”

Send questions and comments to Gene Austin at doit861@aol.com or 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, PA 19422. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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