Dear Ken: Is it wise to have an annual service on my A/C system? Or just the furnace only? — Larry
Answer: It’s absolutely a good idea for older systems. They can have issues with low refrigerant and dirty evaporator coils (the ones on top of the furnace that do the actual cooling). However, if your A/C system is relatively new, say 15 years or less, I think an every-other-year approach is OK (but the furnace should be looked at annually, regardless of its age).
Many HVAC companies will offer you a package discount if they can do both at once, since they only have to make a single service call. This is the best time for that combo check — just before the heating season.
Dear Ken: Compact fluorescent lights burn out quickly in my recessed kitchen lights. Does that make sense? — Cliff
Answer: Yes. Extra heat is produced by the ballast (transformer) circuitry, located in the base of each bulb. Since heat rises, it gets trapped in the confines of the recessed can fixture, zapping the electronics. I think you should switch to LED bulbs. They emit far less heat than CFL’s (and incandescents, for that matter). They cost a little more, but they can last thousands of hours longer than what you have now. Plus they don’t contain mercury, which can contaminate landfills.
When you do discard the existing CFL bulbs, please take them to your county’s hazardous materials drop-off facility.
Dear Ken: This is my first sprinkler system. How easy is it to replace pop-up heads? — Ann
Answer: It’s not too hard, if you take it slow. Unscrew the head with a large pair of pliers and gently ease it out of the ground. As the sod grows around each sprinkler head, it forms a hard soil cylinder. So you can usually insert the new head back into the hole and screw it into place before the dirt collapses. Chances are a few soil particles will drop into the connection, regardless. Not to worry; unscrew the little nozzle on top of the head and turn on that zone for a few seconds. The water geyser that erupts will cleanse that part of the system. Then, replace the nozzle and you’re are back in business.
It’s not always the head itself. Sometimes the little plastic vertical riser that feeds it will break — typically from an errant lawnmower wheel. In that case, you may need to cut out a chunk of sod around the tee connection to the main pipe to make the repair. No big deal, since the sod will heal itself quickly after it’s reinstalled.
Dear Ken: Our older stainless steel sink has rusted through and made a little pinhole. Can we patch it for now? — Pat
Answer: Any sealing you do will be only a short-term fix at best. Look for an epoxy-based product — like JB Weld. Or look in the plumbing section of your favorite hardware store and you’ll find a product labeled “plumber’s epoxy patch,” or some similar name. It’s pretty neat: You combine two pastes together, knead them with your fingers and apply the resulting compound to the underside of the hole.
You’ll then have a waterproof patch. Keep in mind that these older sinks almost always develop more than one rust spot within a short time, so I’d budget for a new one as soon as possible.
Dear Ken: I’m getting lots of water in the bottom and in the drawers in my fridge. What do you think is going on? — Elaine
Answer: If the food in the freezer side is still frozen solid, you probably just need to give it a good cleaning. There are heaters inside the freezer compartment that periodically turn on to melt accumulated frost. That water dribbles into a small drain hole and then runs into an evaporator tray underneath. The hole can get blocked by the odd piece of broccoli or breadcrumbs. Pull out the drawers and remove the plastic shield to access the hole. I then use a turkey baster filled with warm water to blast out the blockage.
This is also a good time to pull out the tray to clean it. You’ll first need to remove the decorative kick plate below the doors for access.
However, if the temperature in the freezer has slowly risen from the recommended zero degrees or so, and the food is getting softer, one of the heaters may need replacement, since excess frost blocks cold air flow inside the compartment.
Dear Ken: I have to mitigate the radon level in my house. Is this going to be expensive? — Melanie
Answer: Generally, you’re looking at $1,000 to $1,500. The actual price depends on your total square footage, whether you have a basement or a crawl space, and ease of access to your underground French drain system. The mitigation company will first seal cracks in the basement floor, cover bare dirt with a heavy plastic membrane and install some sort of power vent system, usually connected to that same drain.
These companies always guarantee their work. They will do a post-installation radon test which will demonstrate the effectiveness of their efforts. However much your level is above the maximum-allowed 4.0, it’ll be close to zero after they are done.
How to find a company? Get a referral from the home inspector who did the initial radon test or from your real estate agent.
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 4 p.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visit aroundthehouse.com.