July 22, 2013 Updated: July 22, 2013 at 4:35 pm
Dear readers: Last week Congress drove a stake through the heart of the compact florescent light (CFL) mandate. The House voted to cut off funding for enforcement of the 2007 law that would have essentially removed the traditional incandescent bulbs from the market by next year.
Now we can decide for ourselves the best bulb for a given application in our homes.
CFLs are indeed a good choice to save energy. They use about 2/3 less wattage than their incandescent cousins, but they do have some limitations. They are best used in fixtures that stay on for extend periods - like reading and bedside lamps. They don't do as well in other places, like hallways, where there are continual on-off cycles. The surges prematurely age the bulbs, so they end up costing more than they save. CFLs also respond very slowly in cold locations, like garages, plus they aren't readily dimmable without special, expensive switches. Bottom line: A sensible mixture of both regular and CFL bulbs is the best combination of cost, bulb life and energy savings.
Dear Ken: I think our swamp cooler is setting off the smoke alarms. Is this possible? - Joe
Answer: Perhaps. The evaporative cooler introduces both water vapor and small particulates into your indoor air, which can "fool" the detectors into thinking there are seeing smoke. Try switching your detectors from location to location, so they all end up in different places. Next, are your detectors more than 10 years old? By that time they fill up with cobwebs and dust and become more vulnerable to false alarms, so they should be replaced.
Make sure to clean out the cooler several times during the summer season. Replace the evaporator pads and scrub out the reservoir to minimize bacterial and mold spread.
There's another style of smoke detector that you could install. Its photocell technology vs. the ionization type most folks have. These are a great choice because they give you warning of a smoldering fire, which is the most deadly in residential settings.
Dear Ken: I think the top arm of my dishwasher has quit working. Can I fix this myself? - Joe
Answer: Yes. This usually is the result of a clog in the little spray holes. Remove the arm by releasing the plastic nut that retains it. Then use some fine wire to remove whatever is stuck in there. Does you dishwasher have a spray tower? This is an arrangement of plastic tubes that rises out of the bottom spray arm to inject water into the upper one. Make sure not to block that area with dishes or pots.
Dear Ken: We went away for a week or so, and now the icemaker has quit working. Any ideas? - Dana
Answer: Sometimes the icemaker is simply bound up with ice crystals from disuse. Turn the freezer and refrigerator off for a half hour or so. Then gently blow some warm air from a hairdryer over the mechanism. More often than not, it will start working again.
Dear Ken: I have a 1959 house with a totally vaulted ceiling, and I'm getting a new roof. Would this be a good time to add insulation to the attic? I could remove the roof boards to get it done. - Judy
Answer: It's a pretty good idea. You could cut a couple of viewing holes to see what you have now. I'll bet it's minimal, since energy savings was not a big deal back then. If there is room, no need to remove the boards - just inject some fiberglass through 2-inch holes, like we do in an old wall. Don't fill the cavities all the way, though, or you will overheat the underside of the roof. Leave a dead air space of a foot or so. Also, install a few vents - like turbines - so you can relieve the inevitable heat buildup in your vaulted attic.
Ken Moon is a former homebuilder - and now home inspector. His radio show, "Around the House," is carried on KRDO, AM 1240 and FM 105.5, at 9 a.m. Saturdays. You can contact him at www.aroundthehouse.com.