Q: Our gas water heater has lost a 4-inch portion of its vent stack. The small piece fell behind the water heater and is impossible to remove. Do I really need a continuous connection there? It's in the garage and there's really no chance that the fumes can get in the house.
A: "The building code requires that your vent be fully connected," says Ray Odegard of Niagra Plumbing and Heating Supply in Garden Grove. "And if it's in the garage, it's got to be at least 18 inches off the floor. The danger is that if there are fumes getting into your garage, starting your car could cause a spark, which could lead to an explosion. If you can't get the old piece out, put a new one on as soon as possible."
Q: I've been using surge-protecting power strips for my home computer and CD player. But is there a way to protect my electrical equipment from power surges at the breaker box rather than have a bunch of these awkward strips around the house, and how do I know if these strips are good protection?
Corona del Mar
A: "There are surge-protecting receptacles, but nothing has come out yet to protect you at the breaker box," says Doug Howard of Graybar Electric in Anaheim. "Surges or spikes occur in electric lines for any number of reasons, and when they happen, they can hurt sensitive electronic equipment. When looking for surge protectors, there are a number of things to check. The better protectors will be faster in nanoseconds, they will have a high surge current rating and their amp rating will be higher.
"They vary in price, and just because you may be paying $75 or more for a power strip doesn't mean you're getting the right one for your use. The best you can do is see if there are any guidelines in the owner's manual for the equipment you want to protect, then shop around."
Q: I've inherited an old circular saw that runs great but has a blade that could use a good sharpening. I'd like to do it myself, but is there some kind of special file that I'd use?
A: "Your best bet is really to either get a new blade or what's called a 'trade-up' blade," says John Hanna of James Hardware in La Habra. "Sharpening these things is a complicated process, because they're not only sharpened, they're 'shaped,' which is where every other point is kinked in or out to produce a cut in the wood. New blades only run about $8 to $9, and when you trade up, or bring in your old blade, you get a sharpened blade that's good as new for about half that."
Q: The former owners of our house got some silicone-based caulk on the glass panes of one of the French doors that seems resistant to my scraping. Any suggestions?
A: "Try softening it first with some paint and varnish remover," says Chuck Lang of Vista Paint in Stanton. "You have to use the gel form that will stick to the surface, rather than the liquid kind. Apply it to the caulk and let it sit a few minutes, then with a fine blade scrape it off."
Q: I've got one of those whirlybird-type fans out of my attic that lets hot air out of the house in summer. But when winter comes I'd like to keep the warm air in. Can't I just cover it up with a bag to keep it from working?
A: "You can, but don't be surprised if it's not working next summer," says Mark Altonne of Galvanized Fan in Santa Ana. "When you do that, condensation can build up and cause the fan's bearings to rust prematurely. You can try spraying a lubricant into the bearings at the top of the fan. Or you might just cover it for just the coldest times. Some of the fan manufacturers used to supply canvas bags to put over the fans just for this purpose, but they stopped when they couldn't solve the bearing problem."