Question: I've seen several homes with those bright halogen lights that illuminate the front and back yards, and they seem to do a pretty good job. Are they easy to install and are they efficient?
Answer: "Both," says Jim McNally of McNally Electrical Supply in Los Alamitos. "GE and Sylvania make lamps you can screw in anywhere that have a halogen diode inside. If you're considering using the light with a dimmer switch, you may want to go with the GE since the Sylvania doesn't always work with dimmers.
"As for strength, a bulb that's rated at 90 watts will create the light of about a 150-watt incandescent bulb, and 150-watt halogen will be equivalent to a 300-watt incandescent. You can get a good fixture designed for halogens for about $30 with the lamp, and you just follow the directions on the box."
Q: We were interested in doing something with our old concrete patio, and I've been looking at those masonry paving tile kits. Are they good to use and will they last?
A: "They are easy to use for a do-it-yourselfer, just don't try to rush the job," says Jose Zendejas of Standard Brands in Santa Ana. "Before starting, you should clean the concrete and make sure it's smooth and level before putting the tile down.
"When you start, apply the mortar and lay the tiles down. There should be spacers supplied in the kit, or the tiles themselves might have bumps extending from them that keep them separate and give you the right spacing when you're butting them together.
"After the tile sets in a day or so, you can fill in the spaces with grout. You fill it in a section at a time, being careful not to get it on the tile. Let that dry another day or two and seal the surface. There are all kinds of sealers available that can give you everything from a matte finish to a high-gloss look. Try the sealer in an inconspicuous spot first, since they can cause the tile to change color."
Q: My brother in Palm Springs has an electric heat pump that he raves about. It keeps his home warm in winter and cool in summer, and with his savings on heating and air conditioning costs, he thinks it is the best investment he's ever made. Are they available here too?
A: "In our area we don't see them very much, primarily because of the availability of cheap natural gas," says Rod Albright of Albright Plumbing & Heating Supply in Los Alamitos. "In areas where you have to rely on electricity to do your heating, they do help reduce your costs. They're basically just a pump that draws air in electrically and heats it or cools it depending on what you need.
"People also hook them up to electric water heaters and let them 'preheat' the water, which works well since electric water heaters tend to be pretty inefficient. Overall, however, if you had two houses and one has a gas system and the other had an electric heat pump, I'd favor the gas system simply because your costs would be cheaper."
Q: I want to convert a wood burning fireplace into a gas-log system. Is this difficult to do on my own?
A: "It's really very easy," says Bob Evans of Fireplace & Patio Trends in Orange. "In most every fireplace, there's a gas feed line that comes out of the wall. It's either set up with a log lighter line that will ignite the wood, or it's capped. If you want to install a gas log, you either take off the cap or remove the log lighter and hook the system up to that same piece of pipe. Most of the kits come with their own hardware that you'll use to connect to the pipe."