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Lights Flicker? Check Your Connections


Q: I'm having a problem with one of the electrical circuits in my home. Lights connected to it will flicker from time to time, and I've not been able to find out why. Someone suggested replacing the circuit breaker, but in all my years of owning a home, I've never come across a faulty breaker. What could be causing this?


Laguna Beach


A: Usually when you get flickering like that in one circuit, the problem is a loose connection, says Mike McCoy of Current Supply in Westminster. It could be at the circuit breaker or where the breaker makes contact with the electrical panel.

The fact that only the one circuit is affected is a good sign. If lights on other circuits also flickered, that would be a sign of a more serious problem.

Turn off the main power, then tighten the connection from the back of the breaker and see if that makes a difference. It's not uncommon to see breakers loosen or even crack.

Typically the breaker box is outside and exposed to hot and cold weather during the year, which affects the breakers' connections. If the breaker is faulty, the cost to fix it will be $10 to $25.


Q: I have an old, painted chest of drawers that had apparently been stored in a damp place and has a strong mildew odor. I've scrubbed it and used bleach to disinfect it, but the odor comes back. We're thinking of stripping and repainting it, but we're worried that the odor will remain. Any ideas on how to get it out?


Newport Beach


A: There are things you can try, but there are no guarantees, says Mark Bausman of Bausman & Father Furniture Refinishing in Huntington Beach.

Lots of times that odor never goes away. Try washing it again with a solution of bleach and water to kill any spores. Give it a good stripping, then coat the inside with a clear coat, like shellac, to seal the odor in.

Getting rid of mildew odors often depends on the type of piece it is. If it's a closed piece, like a trunk, it's almost impossible to get rid of odors. Open pieces are usually easier to deodorize. Make sure you finish the inside of the drawers, which may be where much of the mildew was formed.


Q: I've tried many times to plant an herb garden, but each time the plants start to look promising, they're eaten by snails and other bugs. Are there any safe ways of protecting the plants without pesticides?


Huntington Beach


A: You may want to try sprinkling some diatomaceous earth around the herbs, says Matt Huddleston of Country Garden Nursery in Placentia.

It's a powdery substance made of ground fossilized shells that's often used for its capability to soak up moisture. What happens is the snails get close to it and dry out.

It's good for most soils. You should be able to find it at any well-stocked nursery. The only other solution is to grow the herbs inside, where they're free from outside pests.


Q: We're having a problem with our kitchen sink backing up sometimes. A neighbor who looked at it said it's probably happening because our old garbage disposal isn't cutting up food as it should. Could an old disposal cause this?


Buena Park


A: It can if it's not cutting up the waste finely enough, says Ron Albright of Albright Plumbing & Heating Supply in Los Alamitos.

As a disposal ages, its blades can dull and make it less efficient. When a drain is slow in an older home, you also have to suspect the piping, whether something is blocking the flow or the pipes themselves are the problem.

It's also possible that an obstruction could be in the drain's vent off the roof. This would impede air flow and cause any drain connected to it to flow very slowly.


Q: I've got a nice, wrought-iron gate that needs some refurbishing. Part of it near the bottom is crumbling away because of rust. Is there some kind of filler I can use to patch it?


Costa Mesa


A: Unfortunately, once rust has affected iron to the point where it's causing it to crumble, you're in trouble, says house painter Mike German of Anaheim.

If it's just on the surface, it can be scraped and sanded away, but if it's already destroying the metal the only solution is to get a new gate.

Depending on the damage and the design of the gate, you may be able to have a gate maker use part of the salvageable gate to make a new one.

If you have a question about your home or garden, A Helping Hand will help you find the answer. Send questions to John Morell, Home Design, The Times Orange County, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626.

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