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Winter brings window condensation

Handyman on Call | PETER HOTTON

Q. Two questions: 1. I am getting a lot of condensation on the inside of my storm windows in cold weather, but only on the upstairs windows. How can I prevent that? My Handyman opened up all the weep holes at the bottom of the storms, which should allow water vapor to escape, preventing the condensation (and frost). 2. The houses on my street are very close together. A builder installed two a/c units on the house next door, plus two heating systems with power vents coming through the wall. They sound like a diesel engine. I checked with town officials who said there is nothing that can be done to reduce that sound. Is there?



A. Okay, let’s start with 1. It’s a basic situation and shows up in the autumn when it gets chilly. First you get a bit of mist, then Jack Frost goes to work. Even improvements like storm windows and replacement windows might not help a lot. For you, make sure those weep holes are large enough (1/4 inch is not too much) and open. The condensation occurs only upstairs because humid air rises.

What is happening is that humid air in the house goes through the main windows into the space between storms and windows. Weatherstripping those windows will help. The easiest stripping is called Mortite, a flexible rope that you can press into all joints. It is reusable. Humid air also leaks through the weight pockets (if you have rope and pulley windows). Nothing can be done about that. Also, vent the house: open windows and storms for five minutes twice a day, to allow that humid air to escape. Even replacement windows can leak, because they are installed in an existing opening. My own replacement windows, as good as they are, do leak air. It is one of those things best lived with, if everything possible has been done.


2. Something can be done about those nearby noisy a/c condensers and power vents. The condensation may not be too bad, but the contractor, if he thought about it, could have located the power vents to the rear of the house. This is what you can do: Since you have storms and main windows, you can put an inside storm up. Stores have Saran type covers for windows, and you only have to put them on one wall. Or, cut an acrylic sheet to fit over the casing. Drill holes for screws to hold the storm in place. Adding any kind of layer can make a difference.

Q . I get backdraft odors from my septic system, but only twice a year, around Thanksgiving and Christmas. There are also sewer gas odors in the basement, but not as strong. It’s a bit embarrassing when the whole family visits. What’s wrong and is there a fix?


A. It may be due to a blocked soil pipe, the one that is attached to the main sewer drain in the basement. Or one that is partially blocked, which cold weather makes it act up a little. Have a plumber check the soil pipe. Or, perhaps the tank has filled up with solids, so you can have it cleaned, which can be done every two to four years, based on the number of people using it. It is possible that the odors are backing up into the main drain and there is a leak in that drain. A vent on the tank could solve this, but a vent in the backyard so low to the ground could smell up the yard. A solution for that is to put an upside-down U-shape pipe on the vent, to guide the odors downward, and scattering them. A plumber should deal with these chores.


Q. My attic has a new roof, and I have a ridge vent as well as soffit vents that are individual vents at least 12 inches apart. In very cold weather, I am still getting large icicles dripping over the roof edges, easily three feet long. What’s wrong?


A. You have done everything right with a ridge vent and soffit vents in the eaves. Trouble is, the soffit vents are the culprit. The vents are too far apart. I will bet the icicles are forming under the drip edge right in line with the solid wood soffit between vents. That’s because the roof is warm in those unvented areas, promoting the icicles. Sounds crazy but it’s true. Put new vents in the soffit between existing vents, and make sure there is no insulation on the soffits inside the attic.

Q. My unit is two stories above a smoker and I still cannot get the old tobacco smell out. Is there a way?



A. Don’t give up. There are more and more smoke odor killers available. Many work on what’s there, but none works to keep the smoke out, so you have to keep doing it, often on a daily basis. If both the odor in the room plus the odor killer does not appeal, then moving to a virgin area (one where there has never been a puff) may be necessary. And who knows how the various treatments are affecting us? At any rate, there are two types that I know of: Fresh Wave ( and Room Shocker (

Q. I am very much not a handyman, and just bought a new house. Some of the doorknobs upon turning consistently fall off. Is this as easy a fix as getting new doorknobs?

RICARDO, in Hotton’s chat room

A. Is this a brand new house or just new to you? I’m guessing it is not brand new. Those knobs might be screwed onto a square, threaded axle. There is a set screw on the neck of the knob. It can be screwed onto that square axle to keep it from moving. If there are no set screw, get one at a well-stocked hardware store. More modern knobs are screwed through a flange and into a hole that is part of the mechanism. Too loose screws can cause it to fall off. For a fix, call a locksmith.

Globe Handyman on Call Peter Hotton is also in the g Section on Thursdays. He is available 1-6 p.m. Tuesdays to answer questions on house repair. Call 617-929-2930. Hotton also chats on line about house matters 2-3 p.m. Thursdays. To participate, go to Hotton’s e-mail is