Dear Ken: What would you recommend for cleaning the metal vent screens in a kitchen range hood? So far I’ve tried liquid detergent and boiling water. — Cheryl

Answer: Normally, they can be kept clean by running them through the dishwasher about once a month. Try soaking yours in full-strength ammonia for a few hours. Then rinse well, and they can dry themselves while sitting in their brackets in the hood. Also, don’t forget that most hoods have a charcoal odor filter somewhere above the grease screens. These filters need to be changed three or four times a year, depending on how saturated they’ve become.

These comments apply to most houses built in the last 40 years or so, wherein builders switched from the more traditional exhaust hoods — which blow outdoors — to the current system of recirculation. This switch wasn’t necessarily instituted to lower building costs, but mostly by consumers’ preoccupation with saving energy and the proliferation of vaulted ceilings — which prevents any reasonable chance to hide an exiting exhaust duct.

If you have one of those older styles, I think you’re lucky, because it blows both smoke and heat outside, instead of back into your face. In that case, make sure the duct actually terminates outdoors and not into a confined space — like an attic

Dear Ken: We have a 4-year-old custom home. One of the upstairs bedrooms doesn’t get any heat or air through the floor vent. At the same time, on the first floor, we have a wall that gets pretty hot. Do you think there’s some sort of disconnect? — Jim

Answer: When you say you get “no heat or air’ through the vent, do you actually mean zero? The flow in the vents in the upper story of a two level house can sometimes be quite anemic — especially in those bedrooms that are offset horizontally from the furnace. A couple of sheets of ordinary toilet paper held over the vent can help you decide if there is a blockage or a disconnect. If it’s just a weak flow, a heating contractor can “zone” the upper level. They’ll install a baffle in the main trunk lines to direct more flow upstairs, and perhaps may increase the fan speed

Anyway, it’s very unusual for a connection to become unhooked in a wall, since these pipes must be well strapped to support themselves before the drywall is installed. The “hot” spot you feel on that wall may simply be radiation from one of those vertical duct runs, or it may be the furnace flue pipe — which can get quite warm. In either event, that same heating person can tell you which it is.

Dear Ken: Tiny white plastic chips have been appearing in the hot water clothes washer hose screen and the aerator of a nearby bathroom sink. And our water heater seems to heat a little less than normal. Can they be related? — Debbie

Answer: I’m guessing you have an older water heater. Back in the late 90’s, there was a run of water heaters from several manufacturers whose “dip tubes” were bad. This is a plastic pipe that sends the incoming cold water to the bottom of the tank to be heated by the burner. These tubes fail occasionally; they can be examined by unscrewing the connector bushing at the cold water inlet. If the tube is seriously decayed, it’s probably a good idea to flush and fill the tank to purge the plastic shards inside. In any event, a plumber can easily replace the plastic tube with an identical one. By the way, if your faithful water heater is old as I think it is, then I would plan on replacing it sometime in the coming year.

Dear Ken: For years my wife and I have had opposite opinions about the exhaust fan in the bathroom. I think they waste energy. Can you help? — George

Answer: They have two purposes really: odor and water vapor. Using the fan for odor is mostly aesthetic. But if your bathroom is on the smallish size, it’s a pretty good idea to leave the fan running while bathing to get rid of extra moisture. Even in our dry climate, dampness can accumulate on the ceiling above the tub or shower and encourage the growth of mildew. Those spots are kind of a pain to cover because they bleed through paint. You need to kill them with some bleach water and apply a sealer — like KILZ — before you paint.

Teenagers’ interminable showers can exacerbate this problem In that case, I recommend — as a defensive ploy — that you wire the bath fan and light together so the fan is always on.

Incidentally, if your bath is a large suite-type arrangement open to the master bedroom, it probably doesn’t matter whether you use the fan or not.

Of course, in the winter heat does get sucked out of the house when you use the fan, which costs a little extra. But the benefits of avoiding mold formation outweigh that tiny bit of waste. It can also help the house “breathe” a little and freshen the inside air by encouraging a little leakage from the outside.

Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 4 pm Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com

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