Question: During a trip to France this summer, I noticed that many of the homes there use small water heaters that heat the water as it flows, which seems much more efficient than our water tanks. After I got home, I found these units for sale here at a couple of hardware stores. How difficult are they to install?
G.A., San Clemente
Answer: "Before you buy one of those units, it would be a good idea to take a look at your hot water needs," says Rod Albright of Albright Plumbing and Heating Supply. "The problem with them is that you don't get as much hot water as you would with a standard water heater. They only heat about 2 1/2 gallons per minute, which may be all right for one or two people, but for a family it's not enough. You've also got to consider that you can only have hot water running in one place at a time, so you can't take a shower while running the dishwasher.
"As far as installation, they're pretty straightforward. They connect to existing plumbing, but they also need an electric outlet. Another factor to consider is the price. Expect to pay around $600, twice the price of a regular water heater."
Q: What do you do about a curtain rod that will not hang straight? I've got two new ones, and I've tried repeatedly to get them to hang right, but one side is always lower than the other.
T.L., Corona del Mar
A: "The trick is measuring from the floor up to where you want the brackets, not from the ceiling down," says Scott McCarthy of Standard Brands in Huntington Beach. "Ceilings tend to vary, so you're better off measuring from the floor. After you've got it measured, attach one of the rod's brackets to one side and check to see if it's straight, using a level.
"Attach the other bracket and use the level on that side as well. Then put the rod in place and check that with the level. Some common problems may occur when people install curtain rods without putting in a middle bracket. If the curtains are heavy and the rod's long, it's going to need some support in the middle. There's also a problem in automatically using the screws provided with the rod. In some cases, you'll need molly-type screws or wall anchors to make the brackets hold firmly to the wall under a lot of weight."
Q: I've heard that if the coils in my refrigerator are dirty, it will tend to use a lot more energy. If that's true, how can I clean them?
K.B., Villa Park
A: "Refrigeration needs an efficient transference of heat, and dirt and dust act as an insulator," says Tony Monzo of Jasco Appliance Party in Santa Ana. "Inside the coils, the refrigerant changes from a gas to a liquid, and if the coils are insulated, the refrigerator has to work harder.
"Appliance supply stores should carry a condenser coil brush, with which you reach in underneath and brush off the coils after unplugging the refrigerator. It's an easy job to do. The only problem is some older refrigerators can only be accessed through the back, so you'll have to move it away from the wall. How often you clean them depends on how dirty they get. Usually, they should be cleaned every four to six months. However, if you have pets, their fur can get under there, and you may have to do it once a month."