What Would Bob Do? Ceiling Options, Window Cleaning, and Sewer Odor Control

Bob Vila answers your questions about ceiling options, window cleaning, and septic tank odor control. To submit a question, visit our Forum Section.

By Bob Vila | Updated Nov 9, 2013 9:58 PM

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What Would Bob Do? Wood Ceiling

Photo: Mark English Architects, AIA

I recently purchased a ‘fixer upper’ in the DC area and am starting to decorate. In my living room, I want to do something different with the ceiling, other than paint. I have considered tin ceilings and panel ceilings… what other options do I have? Any ideas that are creative and cheap? The house is in the victorian style, by the way, but I am not going for the overly ornate victorian look. Thanks.

I like wood ceilings. By varying the size and spacing of the boards, you can achieve a number of handsome effects. Once the installation is in place, you can then apply a paint or stain that complements the rest of the room, or leave the wood unfinished for a rustic look of charming simplicity.

Your home’s pedigree might influence your choice of wood finish. Good reasons exist to opt for any of the lighter colors in common use today, but if you own a Victorian, for instance, then a darker stain would be most appropriate. Indeed, much depends on your attitude toward preservation and the choices you’ve already made elsewhere in the home.

If you’re looking for a solution that costs less than wood, consider covering all or part of the ceiling with wallpaper. Here, too, the possibilities are virtually endless. Select from a wide range of patterns, everything from soft and dreamy florals to hard-edged geometrics.

As a quick and easy approach that yields dramatic results, why not drape panels of lightweight fabric over the ceiling? Use small screw hooks for installation and a fire-resistant fabric for safety’s sake (alternatively, spray on a non-toxic fire-retardant). Be sure not to cover recessed ceiling lights or wall-mounted torcheres.



What Would Bob Do? Window Cleaning

Photo: familyhandyman.com

My daughter cleaned our new glass storm door with a TSP solution instead of a glass cleaner. Then she allowed it to dry instead of wiping it dry. Now there appears to be an irridescent film that I have been unable to remove with glass cleaner. Any suggestions?

Your daughter likely used TSP substitute, which can be mistaken easily for window cleaner. In fact, homeowners have encountered a similar issue when intentionally using TSP substitute to clean home exteriors prior to painting. Having mixed with dissolved paint chalk, the solution drips onto windows, where it then bakes onto the glass under the sun.

It’s going to take a lot of elbow grease to remove that residue, but rest assured it can be done. Start with a strong cleaner, such as Dirtex House Wash from Savogran. Dilute it according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then apply the solution with a non-abrasive shammy or chamois. To speed the process, use an electric buffer fitted with a bonnet or polishing pad.



I have a septic system and lift station with an open vent pipe about three feet off the ground. As can be expected, I often get a smell from this vent if I’m in my backyard. I’ve been looking at different filters that can be installed over the vent pipe to control the odor. I was wondering if these filters really work and if so, which type works the best? Or is there a better way to control the odor?

Homeowners with similar problems have reported success with activated carbon vent stack filters. These are charged with activated carbon, which absorbs gas molecules without stopping airflow. As with any filter of this type, the more carbon the better.

Several companies, including Sweet Air, OdorHog, and Rex-Bac-T Technologies, make relatively inexpensive vent filters specially designed for lift stations. The product offered by the latter company (under the brand name Poly-Air) contains one pound of activated carbon, adaptable to most pipe diameters.

To reduce costs, order carbon refills and replenish the carbon charge as needed. Also, you can try raising the height of your vent pipe. It may take some creativity to disguise the pipe—one idea is integrating it into a garden trellis—but your effort will be rewarded.