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The Housing Detective: No simple repair for rusty metal ducts

By Barry Stone Published: August 16, 2014

DEAR BARRY: The forced-air vents in our floor fill with water whenever it rains. This has caused the metal ducts to rust out and expose the dirt. I have no idea who I should call or what kind of business does this type of repair work. Someone said I should seal the floor vents and install new vents in the ceiling, but that sounds very expensive and I would prefer to keep my floor vents. What is the most practical way of solving this problem?


DEAR VICKI: Many homes that were built in the 1950s and ’60s had forced-air heating ducts in the ground below the slab floor. This was a poorly conceived method of construction because ground moisture caused rust damage and allowed flooding of the air ducts. Over time, the ducts can literally disintegrate, leaving earth tunnels for heating your home. The exposed soil also provides an avenue for uninvited creatures to enter the home.

Unfortunately, there is no simple or inexpensive repair for this problem. The solution is two-fold. First you must fill the ducts and the open vents with concrete. Then you will need a new system of ducts to distribute air through your home. Hopefully your house has an attic. If not, a heating contractor can determine an alternate location where ducts can be installed.

DEAR BARRY: We live in a downstairs condo, and there is a wet stain on our kitchen ceiling. We've talked to our upstairs neighbors about this and have tried to help them find the leak, but no wetness is apparent in their unit. Therefore, the leak must be somewhere between our ceiling and their floor. We reported this to the homeowners association (HOA), expecting that they would have it fixed. but they say the leak is the responsibility of our upstairs neighbor. Is this true?

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