Question: My house has a large south-facing window that gets no shade. The paint on the sill cracks, blisters and peels and has to be repainted frequently, despite the fact that it's scraped, sanded and primed before each painting. Is there a special paint or treatment that will resist ocean breezes and hot sun?
Answer: "If you haven't used it already, try an oil-based primer," says Carl Kortesmaki of Sinclair Wallcovering & Fabric in Costa Mesa. "And make sure that the paint you're using is an acrylic resin, since that's going to be more flexible and will resist cracking in those conditions more than other paints. You should also be sure that in the preparation, you've sanded and scraped the sill down to the bare wood. Otherwise, you're piling coats upon coats of paint, which could contribute to the problem."
Q: Our gas barbecue is 3 years old and the lava rocks underneath the grill have never been cleaned or replaced. How should they be cleaned, or is it better to throw them out and get new ones?
A: "One way to test the condition of your lava rocks is if you can break them apart in your hands," says Tom Larson of Leisure Living Patio Furniture in La Habra. "If they crumble, it's time to replace them, but if they stay intact, you can try to clean them.
"Turn them upside down in the barbecue and turn on the grill to burn off the grease. This is easier if you have the kind of rock briquettes that have a uniform shape so they're easy to flip over. To keep them clean, you should probably do this about every two months, depending on how often you use the grill."
Q: We have a lot of indoor plants, and I would like to know how to mix my own potting soil.
A: "The hard part about making your own potting soil is that the soil has to vary depending on the type of plant," says Jim Coleman of American Landscape Supply in Huntington Beach. "Some plants like different levels of acid or alkalinity in the soil. Many flowering plants like azaleas and camellias do well in high-acidic soils. If you put their soils in with other plants, they might die.
"There's also a problem with moisture, since indoor plants generally need something in the soil to hold water. You can try to stretch your potting mix by combining it with about 40% top soil."
Q: After moving some furniture around, we saw that there are depressions in our carpet where the old sofas and tables were. How can I get rid of these?
A: "I depends on the fiber. A carpet made of polyester doesn't really have the ability to recover its shape that nylon carpet does," says Walt Parker of Parker's Floor Coverings & Draperies in Orange. "One of the problems with polyester is the yarn can actually fuse together, making it very difficult to get it loose.
"If the carpet's nylon, it can be worked on so it's not as visible. Use a brush and steam, which might release the curl in the yarn and help it recover. Try holding a steam iron above the spot and push the button to release the steam on it, but be careful not to let the hot iron touch the carpet."
Q: I'm looking for a replacement infrared heat bulb for one of my bathrooms, but is it possible to find one that's higher than 250 watts to produce more heat?
A: "You can get them in 375 and 500 watts," says Bert Sessler of AAAA Lighting Supply in Westminster. "And they come in both red and white bulbs. If you don't care about the color, you might want to go with the white bulb, since that's usually half as expensive as the red. Both produce the same amount of heat."
Q: I have an old drill that was made in the 1950s but is still good and works well. The only problem is that the chuck key to remove and install bits is lost and I've never been able to find another. I've just tightened the bit down using a screwdriver and pushing the gear that the key fits into until it's tight. I've never had a problem, but a key would be easier to use. Any suggestions?
A: "You could take two pairs of locking pliers and attach them to the bottom and top ring to loosen and tighten the bit," says Greg Yates of Springdale Hardware in Huntington Beach. "If you haven't already done this, you might want to check out some hardware stores to see if they have a key that might work. Usually they carry keys for many sizes and makes.
"One problem is that keys aren't necessarily made by the manufacturers of the drill. If all else fails, contact the manufacturer's customer service department and see if they can't track down the right key. And you probably should stop tightening it with a screwdriver. That doesn't sound safe and you could end up breaking a bit."