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Advice on new doors, basement insulation, and more

Q. I have six doors I want to have replaced. Right now there is a natural stain on the trim and doors. If I just replace the doors, I’ll have to have the hinges and hole for the door knob measured and cut out. The door will then have to be stained and sealed to match the casing.

Option 1: Buy new doors mounted in the casing with the hole for the knob/handle precut. Would still have to have all stained and sealed.

Option 2: Buy new doors mounted in the casing that are preprimed white and ready for installation. Baseboard trim would have to be painted white or replaced with ones that match.


Which way would be the most cost-effective in terms of labor and installation? I appreciate your opinion on what I think is a common problem for a lot of people with older homes.


A. It’s always less expensive to replace a door “slab” than install a new prehung door and jamb unit. You should purchase your doors as blanks, without the knob bore drilled out and hinges cut.

To answer your questions directly: Option 1 works with “blank doors” stained and sealed. This allows your carpenter to cut the hinges and knob bore in the exact location it’s needed to match up to the old jamb. Most carpenters use door-installation jibs that allow them to do this. Option 2 requires installing a new door and jamb and changing the trim. With this option you may find yourself cutting into or adding base trim, which risks wall damage and might necessitate painting the walls.

Q. I have a 70-year-old ranch-style house in Wilmington. I’m wondering if the main floor would be better insulated if I put insulation in the uncovered rows in the basement ceiling. A portion of the basement ceiling is exposed, so the framing is visible. I’ve heard that I can put insulation between the framing rows with the vapor barrier up and the pink insulation facing the floor of the basement.


In the rows between the framing of the ceiling in the basement, there are long nails coming down from the floor above. So there are a lot of pointy ends in the framing rows. So it doesn’t seem like I could put faced insulation in the rows, because the tips of the nails would pierce the kraft-paper side.

Can I put unfaced pink insulation in the rows instead? Would anything bad happen if I do this? Do you have another suggestion?

In case you are wondering: The exterior walls of the main floor have a mix of blown-in and pink insulation, depending on which part of the main floor you are in and when the work was done. In the attic there are two layers of R-19 pink insulation on the exposed floor.


A. You can absolutely insulate your floor joists in the basement. I’d use fiberglass insulation over ridged insulation; its less expensive, easier to install, and will fill around the joist ends you mentioned.

With insulation, the vapor barrier always faces the heated side of the building, but in this case, I’d simply forgo the vapor barrier and use open-faced batt insulation.

Install and hold the insulation in place with wire batt supports. Insulation rods are sold in boxes of 500 and are sometimes called “tiger teeth,” “wirestays,” and “lightning rods.” They are made of high-tensile wire, have an angle cut to dig into wood, and are sold in lengths ranging from 12 to 26 inches. They are the fastest, most economical method of installing roll and batt insulation. Wire supports install with a twist of the wrist and hold the insulation permanently in joist bays. When installing wire batt supports, space them 12 to 16 inches apart.


Take the time to insulate the rim joist of the house. This is the perimeter framing member. You can buy foam insulation in a box; one brand is the Dow Froth-Pak 200 kit. These kits are expensive (roughly $350), but they seal air leaks, which are a huge contributor to heat loss.

Q. I would like to know in which direction (clockwise or counterclockwise) my ceiling fans should be rotating this time of year. I get conflicting responses from novices, so I thought going to a guru would get an answer to my question once and for all.


A. I would not call myself a ceiling fan guru; maybe grand poobah. I happen to know the answer only because I had a similar issue with my screen-porch ceiling fan.

During the summer, you want the fan to blow air straight down, which means it should spin in a counterclockwise direction (as you look up at it). During the winter, it should spin in a clockwise direction.

TIP Using a ceiling fan in the winter can help reduce heating bills up to 15 percent. The updraft of the fan pulls warm air off the ceiling, down along the walls, and back to the floor. This recirculation makes a room feel warmer, allowing you to lower the thermostat and decrease the use of heating devices.


Dear Rob

Thanks for your very complete information about taking care of my leathered granite. I feel comfortable that I know what to do. Enjoy your new activity. I look forward to reading your columns.


Please accept my sincere thanks for the baking soda paste/toothbrush suggestion for a dirty grout problem I have had for a long time. (I read your article in the Jan. 18 Address section of the Globe.) I got on my hands and knees this morning, toothbrush in hand, and lo and behold, I now have a brand-new-looking floor! Wonderful solution after having tried so many other things only to no avail! I thank you again!


Rob Robillard is a general contractor, carpenter, and editor of and principal of a carpentry and renovation business. Send your questions to or tweet them to @globehomes or @robertrobillard.