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Just when you thought you could trust it, your house does something stupid


An old house that knows its owner's birthday, a new house that can't keep itself together, and a cabin in the woods where it "rains" on a bedroom floor are the latest "Stupid House Tricks" we've collected.

You know about stupid house tricks -- most people who have done a rehab or remodeling project have probably encountered something in the existing construction that leaves them standing around shaking their heads.

When we asked readers to send us their stupid-house-trick stories, we heard from a man in Cumberland who was doing some plumbing repairs in a 1900-era house that had been "modernized" at some unknown date.

"One important repair," he wrote, "was to replace steel water pipes with copper. I had to tear up the bathroom floor in order to hook up the sink. Written on the floor joists were numerous

markings of measurements left by other repairmen. In back of the toilet, written on a joist, was a date: 8/12/52." It was quite a surprise: "That is the exact day I was born."

A reader in Bel Air sent a two-page list of things wrong with her brand new house. Among them:

*Master bath toilet hooked up to the hot water pipe.

*All master bath faucets reversed, cold where hot should be and vice versa -- a real problem in the shower "because when you turn on the knob very hot water comes out first and you have to turn the knob all the way around to get cold water."

*Faucets installed on the back edge of a 48-inch wide whirlpool tub, so you have to reach all the way across to turn on the water; plus there's no access panel for the whirlpool's pump.

*No allowance for space taken up in the attached garage by the exterior of a fireplace in adjoining family room, "so our 2-car garage would be reduced to 1 1/2 cars."

*An inadequate gravel base under the driveway that has left such bad cracks and gaps that cars can't be driven over it.

These problems may seem funny in distant years, but for the moment the homeowner is finding them more "heartbreaking."

Randy found a problem that was difficult to figure out and difficult to solve in a cabin he's working on. The place is so remote that it can be reached only by 4-wheel-drive down a "road" that is really a stream bed.

The owner hauled most of the repair materials in his new utility vehicle, but Randy's old truck would only get within 200 yards of the place. So he made a yoke out of a 10-foot 2-by-4 and tied his tools to it with string, then hiked down the stream bed with the tools dangling around him.

The problem? Water collecting on the floor in a bedroom in the rear of the cabin.

The cabin is cut into a hill that rises just behind it. The floor is concrete, and the owner was convinced that there was no leak to account for the water, and had even had some work done to make sure. The problem was worse in the summer and when the cabin was heated. It had to be a condensation problem, he thought, but what was happening?

The answer is that the concrete the house sits on isn't insulated and the back of the room, the part that's basically underground, is pretty much always a constant temperature -- like a cave -- about 50 degrees. So the back floor is actually cooler than the front part of the floor, the part that is closer to the natural grade. When warm, moist air hits a cooler surface, it condenses to form water on the cold surface -- in this case, the back of the floor.

The solution was to power-nail pressure-treated 2-by-4s flat to the floor, and insulate between them with R-11 sheet insulation 1 3/8 -inches thick. The insulation will be covered with plastic and a inch plywood subfloor will be screwed to the 2-by-4s. That way the cold surface of the concrete will be separated from the warm air and the condensation will disappear.

That's the solution to condensation problems wherever they occur: You have to keep the warm air away from the cold surface.

Mr. Johnson is a Baltimore construction manager. Ms. Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

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