Dear Ken: I want to add a couple of grab bars in my shower. How do I start? - Alan
Answer: Avoid the so-called "no screws" grab bars. They are anchored with super-strong adhesive, and their advertising looks very appealing. But the constant, unavoidable steam and moisture in a shower stall - plus the microscopic hills and valleys in most tile surfaces - make me dubious about their long-term viability and safety.
Grab bars need to be secured deep into the studs with real wood screws. You may be able to use an ultrasound stud finder or an in-wall imager plugged into a cell phone for this. They can "see" through the tile and drywall to locate solid wood. Of course, the lengths of safety bars aren't always in multiples of 16 inches, so you can raise or lower the angle of the bar a little to catch a stud on each end.
Then you'll need a carbide- or diamond-tipped drill bit to penetrate the tile. Go slow here and use minimum pressure on the drill. The screws that come with the bars should be sufficient, providing they go into the actual stud a couple of inches. Because studs are only about 1-3/8 inches wide, only two of the three screws will be in wood. Use a hollow wall anchor for the third hole. Finally, bed the flanges of the bars in a siliconized caulk to keep water out of the wall cavity and to prevent screw corrosion.
Dear Ken: I've heard that shielding your central air-conditioner compressor from the sun is a good idea. Do you agree? - Tim
Answer: I do. The compressor's purpose is to condense the refrigerant gas - what we used to call Freon - so it releases the heat it picked up inside the house. Obviously, the cooler the compressor remains, the quicker and (slightly) more efficiently it can do its job. The ideal spot for a compressor is on the north or east side, or both, of the house. That way the sun shines on it either not at all or only in the morning. If you're going to build a sun shield for yours, make sure it doesn't block the air flow from the fan, or your efforts will produce a negative payback.
Dear Ken: I live in a small home, about three years old. I tend not to use the bath fan when showering. Some condensation forms on the mirror, but we have no mildew. Is this causing any harm? - Sherry
Answer: Probably not. Our climate is so dry year-round that the moisture you create quickly dissipates into the house's air mass the minute you open the door - or it's grabbed by the furnace and moved through the rooms even quicker.
The exception is the presence of teenagers. Their showers often are so lengthy that you can, indeed, end up with mildew spots on the ceiling and walls of the shower surround. So if your family is blessed with any adolescents, I recommend the opposite approach. Wire the fan and light together (as is done in motels and apartments) so the fan is on whenever the light is. That will help carry what can be excess humidity up and out of that bathroom.
Dear Ken: What's the proper method to use when draining the water heater in the basement of a two-story house? - Bill
Answer: A drain should be on the bottom of the tank. It isn't always obvious, as they don't look like a valve or faucet. Look for a circular plastic collar with some threads on it. Screw a garden hose onto it and run the other end into the nearby floor drain. Then turn off the gas and the cold water inlet valve, grasp the plastic collar and turn it counterclockwise to drain the tank. It goes more quickly if you open a hot water faucet upstairs (use a sink that has separate hot and cold handles).
Once the tank is empty, you can turn that cold water inlet valve on-off-on-off a few times to stir up the sediment on the tank's bottom. That will raise the burner's efficiency a notch or two. To restore hot water, simply reverse the process, turning the gas back on as the last step.
Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 9 a.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visitaroundthehouse.com