QUESTION: A licensed contractor is fixing my bathroom, which had a leak between the tile and the bathtub. I asked him if I needed a bathroom fan to get rid of the humidity that goes into the bedroom after showers. He stated I didn't need one because I have a window in the bathroom. I would like your opinion about this. Also, if you recommend installing a fan even with the existence of a window, what brand do you recommend? Is there a noiseless one?
ANSWER: Your contractor is correct. Section 1205 of the Uniform Building Code (1979) states that where bathrooms have natural ventilation by means of openable exterior openings (such as windows or skylights) with a minimum of 1 1/2 square feet, a mechanical ventilation system or bath fan is not required.
So much for building code minimums. Now we must address specifically what your needs dictate. Granted, if you have an operable window, you aren't required to have a bath fan but you may in fact need one. There is a definite difference here.
Your description of an abundance of steam accumulating in the bedroom is a sure sign that a fan is needed. We strongly recommend that you consider installing one.
There is no such thing as a noiseless exhaust fan. Some, however, are less noisy than others. Fans are rated by the cubic feet per minute (CFM) of air that they move and are also rated by the level of noise they emit. Remember, the building code does require that a bath fan provide a minimum of five air changes an hour. Some simple math will tell you just what size fan you will need.
Draining Water Heater Enhances Efficiency
Q: Is there something I can do to improve the efficiency of my water heater? It seems like the higher my utility bill goes, the longer it takes for me to get hot water.
A: There are several things that you may do to improve the performance and longevity of a water heater. The fact that your utility bill is high and that you are having trouble maintaining hot water are no doubt related.
First, it's a good idea to drain the water heater at least once annually, and twice annually in areas where the water is abundant with mineral deposits. This will prevent the accumulation of sediment at the bottom of the tank, which greatly inhibits the effectiveness of the gas burners below.
An electric water heater will also benefit from this because once drained, you can remove the heating elements and clean any debris that has accumulated on them. It is not unusual for these elements to eventually corrode and become nonfunctional.
Draining the water heater is a relatively simple task that generaly doesn't even require any tools. Start by turning off the gas or electricity to the appliance, and close the cold water valve at the top of the tank.
Connect a garden hose to the drain valve located at the bottom of the tank and open the valve a couple of turns. You will also want to open at least one hot-water faucet somewhere in the house. This will let air into the tank and help it to drain. Once the tank is empty, turn the cold water valve at the top of the tank back on, and close the drain valve (after water from the drain appears clear).
The faucet that was opened when draining should remain open, allowing air to escape until water comes rushing out of it. Disconnect the hose and restore power to the unit.
Sources for Locating Qualified Contractors
Q: I contacted 12 painting contractors (referrals, advertisements, Yellow Pages) and scheduled appointments. Seven came and looked at the exterior of the building. All seven said they would be "calling in a few days and would put together a bid for the job."
Only three responded with a written estimate. I don't feel totally comfortable with the three estimates I did receive. However, I don't want to pick 10 more contractors out of the Yellow Pages, wasting my time with contractors who don't show up, do show up but don't submit an estimate and those that don't call back.
Frankly, I'm disappointed. What am I doing wrong? My list of contractors with no response is longer than the list of those who did.
A: You aren't doing anything wrong. As a matter of fact we want to congratulate you for all of the valuable time that you are investing in the selection of a contractor. It is apparent that you recognize the value of contracting with a professional to improve your home.
Your "buyer beware" attitude may tend to be exhausting now, but you will reap the fruits of your labor when the painting starts.
The methods that you have used to locate contractors are good ones (such as referrals, advertisements and the Yellow Pages). However, your list is not complete. Many counties have a Builders Exchange that maintains a membership roster by trade. They may even make a few recommendations if you ask.
Another good way to find a good contractor is through a national trade organization with a branch in the area. Generally, these organizations maintain stringent criteria for membership and require their members to adhere to a code of ethics and high business standards.
In addition to these precautions, you should also contact the Contractors State License Board and the Better Business Bureau to ensure that the contractors you are considering are in good standing with these respective agencies.
Finally, once you have found someone you are comfortable with, make sure that he has all of the proper insurance required to perform the work, and that his contract is fair and includes everything that you have discussed. Remember, if it's not in writing, chances are that you won't get it.
The Careys are syndicated columnists and general contractors in the San Francisco Bay area. Address questions to the Carey brothers at 510 Garcia Ave. No. E, Pittsburg, Calif. 94545.