Q: I visited a home center recently to buy a light fixture for a specific application. The first person who waited on me in the electrical department seemed very confused about my request, and admitted she usually worked in the garden department. She called their lighting expert, who got me what he thought I needed.
Before I left the store, I studied what he'd given me in more detail. It just didn't seem right, so I ended up putting it back on the shelf and went elsewhere. I found out later that what he'd given me was completely the wrong item, and would in fact have been quite dangerous if I'd used it as and where this "expert" recommended. As a do-it-yourselfer, how do I protect myself against bad home center advice in situations like this?
A: I'll begin by saying that I typically enjoy shopping at home centers because of the wide variety of products and their one-stop convenience, but you raise a valid point. It's not unusual for home centers to shift personnel around between departments, and you're sure to find varying levels of experience and expertise. Also, while many home center employees in the various departments can be knowledgeable, with a solid background in the construction trades, as you discovered that's unfortunately not always the case.
My best advice is to take advantage of the wealth of information available on the Internet and do your homework before heading off on a shopping trip. The more knowledge you have about exactly what you're looking for, how it works, where it can and can't be used, what options, accessories, and even colors are available, what precautions to be aware of, the better off you'll be. Then at least you'll have a better understanding of what questions to ask, and also have a better sense of when to walk away if things don't feel right.
I also feel strongly that there's a time not to use home centers. For complex lighting, plumbing, electrical, painting, and other home improvement situations, there are definite advantages to seeking out an experienced specialty store.
Q: What would you use to insulate your dryer duct pipe with? It's near a cold wall in the basement and condensation sets in and leaks to the floor.
A: I would suggest a minimum of 1 inch of fiberglass insulation; 2 to 3 inches would be even better. Wrap the insulation around the duct so there are no gaps, and secure it in place using long plastic strap ties. Fiberglass duct insulation and strap ties are available at home centers and hardware stores, where the sheet metal and ducting supplies are sold.
Q: Thanks for doing a very thorough and enlightening (no pun intended) article on the types of light bulbs now allowed. My question is, what is now suggested for those places where 40 watt bulbs were perfect for providing a little much needed ambient heat?
A: I'll begin by saying that a light bulb is not the safest way to heat a space, so I can't offer you any specific recommendations. You might want to look at why the space is cold in the first place, and what other forms of safer, more energy efficient heat might be available for that specific area.
Halogen bulbs still use a filament to produce light, like a traditional incandescent bulb. However, the filament is incased inside a small glass capsule that's filled with a halogen gas, which allows the filament to last quite a bit longer. So when operating, a halogen bulb still produces heat.
When replacing any bulb, check to be sure that you're in compliance with the manufacturer's recommendations for what can be used with that specific fixture — for example, you can't use heat-producing bulbs in some closet locations, due to the potential fire hazard.
Have a home repair or remodeling question for Paul? He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.