Question: We've had a problem in recent weeks with graffiti that have been spray-painted on the outside of a block wall that separates our back yard from the street. I've tried paint thinner, which smears but doesn't remove them. Is there anything that will work?
E.M., Fountain Valley
Answer: "The problem is that the block walls are very porous, which means that the paint goes beyond the surface," says Allan Howell of Imperial Paint Co. in Anaheim. "Just using paint thinner breaks it down but doesn't get it off.
"There are a couple of good products you can use. One is a spray remover that won't harm walls. Apply it and hose it off.
"The best thing to do is use an anti-graffiti clear coat, which is painted onto a surface and which acts as a barrier between the paint and the wall. With this clear coat, after the wall's been painted again, you can use the spray graffiti remover and the paint should wipe right off, then reapply the clear coat in those areas."
Q: We have a large rubber tree on the side of our house. While it provides a great deal of shade, I'm afraid that its roots could reach down and crack the foundation. Could that happen?
T.N., El Toro
A: "Yes, rubber trees can grow very large, and their roots can be quite invasive," says Car Breitenfeldt of Olinda Nursery in Brea. "Like any kind of ficus, they go after water wherever they can find it. If it's large and close to the house, it's probably best to remove it. That can be a messy job, although it's not a hardwood and is easy to cut if you're going to be doing the job yourself."
Q: We recently moved into a home with a wood-stove fireplace. While I've read where they produce a great deal of heat, I wouldn't know about that. Every time I try to start a fire, it goes out after a few minutes. Am I doing something wrong or could there be a problem with the stove?
M.T., Trabuco Canyon
A: "There are a number of factors to consider," says Les Katsis of Yorba Linda Patio & Hearth. "If you have an insert-type stove, which is a regular fireplace that's been converted into a wood-stove fireplace, there could be a problem with the chimney. To get a proper draft of air, the chimney has to be higher than the peak of the roof.
"If you have a free-standing wood stove, you have to make sure the settings are right. When starting it, use wood stove starters, which are small, 1-inch blocks of wax that melt and burn across the wood. Open the drafts on the bottom and in the flue and let the wood burn really well. Once it gets going and it's hot, you can close down the drafts and let it heat your house. These stoves produce convection heat rather than radiant heat and are very efficient."
Q: We painted our house four years ago, and it's already showing signs of wear. We live about a mile from the ocean. Could the salt in the air be causing the paint to age prematurely?
S.H., Laguna Beach
A: "Salt air is probably the worst climactic element for your paint," says Jim Livingstone of Paint N Paper House in Placentia. "The best thing you can do is to periodically look around your house and take care of those spots that need to be repainted. That means, sanding, priming and repainting. You'd be amazed at how, by keeping up the paint around the house, you can make it look fresh, and you won't have to repaint in full as often."
Q: In some homes I've seen domes in the ceilings that surround lighting fixtures. How are these made?
A.K., Santa Ana
A: "They're often just a polyurethane, prefabricated dome that comes with a rim you install on the ceiling," Brea carpenter Nick Kramer says. "They're not easy to put in. Usually you have to cut into the ceiling joists, which can be tricky. Or if your ceiling's high enough, you can install another ceiling with 2-by-4s and dry wall and build the dome into that. Either way, it's not the kind of thing you can do in a weekend. If you're really interested in them, you might think about buying a house that already comes with a dome."