McClatchy Tribune News ServiceFebruary 22, 2013 

Q: Our sliding patio doors are very drafty around the bottom, letting a lot of cold air into our family room and, I’m sure, causing us to use extra energy for heating and air conditioning. We tried weather-stripping the door bottoms, but that didn’t help much. Any ideas? – H. Mallory

Sliding doors are among a number of drafty places that can be helped with so-called draft stoppers. These tubular objects are actually a form of movable weather stripping that can be put in place when needed or pushed out of the way or taken up for storage. Draft stoppers can be bought or you can make your own very cheaply, tailoring the sizes to your needs.

Homemade stoppers are best made from a soft, pliable fabric; stiff fabrics won’t form themselves to the drafty crevice as well. Cut a strip of fabric to the length you want, plus a few extra inches, and to a width that will form a tube a couple of inches in diameter. With wrong side of the fabric out, run a seam along one edge and one end. Then turn the fabric right-side out so the seam is on the inside. The best filler is fine sand, which makes the stopper heavy enough to form itself to the crevice. Lightweight fillers like cotton don’t work as well. Pour the sand into the tube through a funnel and sew the open end shut when the tube is full enough to be pliable and easily shaped; avoid overfilling. Some people also make draft stoppers from old socks, laying them end to end to fill long spaces. If no one in the house can sew or making your own seems like too much work, search the Internet with the words Draft Stoppers. Prices vary, ranging from about $5 to $30 for decorative stoppers. Draft stoppers are ideal for sliding doors, but also work well with drafty swinging-door bottoms and can be placed on window sills to help seal drafty windows.

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Q: Our sump pump failed to work during a recent storm, and we got water in the basement. The pump has a new motor and seems to be OK now. How I can make sure this doesn’t happen again? –George

There is no way to guarantee that the pump will work if you have a storm, but regular checkups can improve the odds. If you get water in the basement with any heavy rain, I suggest pump checks every three or four months, plus an extra checkup if a storm is forecast. First, make sure the sump is clean and free of debris, with nothing blocking the flow of water into the intake screen at the bottom of the pump. Run some water into the sump with a hose, or use buckets, but add enough water to start the pump. Once the pump is running, check visible outside hoses and outlets. If you have an owner’s manual for the pump, it will probably also have some maintenance tips to follow. Some people in flood-prone areas have their pumps checked and cleaned once a year by a pump technician. This kind of pump care definitely helps, but it won’t insure that you’ll survive every storm with a working pump, and of course it won’t help if there is a power failure.

For power-failure protection, and for best protection against mechanical failure in the main pump, you need a backup pump. A backup pump is normally powered by a 12-volt battery, which should be kept fully charged. A so-called deep-cycle or marine battery is usually recommended. For more information and sources, search the Internet with the words Backup Sump Pumps. For example, Home Depot recently offered a selection of backup pumps ranging in price from less than $200 to more than $600. A battery is usually not included. A deep-cycle battery can cost $250 or more. A reliable battery charger can be bought at most auto-parts stores for $30 or less.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service


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