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I am planning to build an energy-efficient house and am considering using a permanent wood foundation instead of concrete. Are there really any advantages to using a permanent wood foundation? -- F. G.

A -- As long as the soil type at your building site is acceptable, a permanent wood foundation (PWF) is an excellent choice. More than 300,000 houses in the United States and Canada have been built using PWFs.

PWFs are ideal for crawl spaces, partial and full basements. A finished PWF basement is as dry and warm as the typical living room. An entire panelized PWF can be installed by a small crew in just one day.

A PWF is basically a heavy-duty wood framed wall used for the foundation below the ground. It uses CCA pressure-treated lumber to resist damage from moisture and insects. If built to proper design specifications, it should hold up as well as a poured concrete or block foundation.

A PWF offers many advantages, including lower utility bills, reduced construction time, construction in any weather conditions (even freezing) and potentially lower costs for a finished basement.

Since a PWF is just a framed wall, it can be insulated with batt insulation like any above-grade wall. With 2x6 framing, R-19 insulation is attainable. The wood walls are compliant to handle slight ground movements.

This high level of insulation can significantly reduce the utility bills and improve comfort in an energy-efficient house. There are cement-like coatings for any exposed above-ground foundation lumber to give it a concrete look and surface protection.

Several companies produce complete panelized PWFs. Send your blueprints to the company, and their engineers design the PWF. The insulated panels are built in a factory and delivered to your building site.

Woodmaster produces a panelized PWF with a 75-year warranty against fungal and insect damage. For a leak-proof foundation, shiplap joints are used, and all joints are sealed with waterproof adhesives.

Several house kit manufacturers offer PWF options. If you plan to do some of the construction work yourself to lower costs, these house kits (up to 3,000 square feet) are an efficient, cost effective option.

For finished basement construction, the electrical wiring and plumbing can easily be run through the insulated walls. Drywall or paneling is nailed directly to the studs.

Write for Update Bulletin No. 815, listing manufacturers of complete PWF frame panels, a soil conditions chart, PWF design detail sketches and floor plans of several PWF/house kits. Please include $2 and a business-size, addressed, stamped envelope and send your request to James Dulley, The Buffalo News, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.

Self-flushing toilet?

Q -- Every now and then, my toilet flushes by itself. I'm wondering if I have poltergeists in my house and if it is wasting much water. What is causing this and how can I fix it? -- G. F.

A -- Other than ghosts, the problem is most likely caused by a leaky toilet flush valve (flapper) inside the tank that allows water to leak out of the tank. This also causes the water level in the bowl to drop.

When the tank water level drops low enough, this trips the fill valve and you hear the water start to run, just as if it was flushed. This does waste water. Simply replace the flapper to fix it.

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