Q Our bathroom fans don't seem to be as effective as I would like, and I am wondering if lint or other material could be built up on the fan and in the air shaft above. How can I clean things up? -- E. Quick
A Vent fans, including those in kitchens and laundry rooms, benefit from cleaning at least once a year. Bathroom fans pick up coatings of talcum powder and other materials, and kitchen fans pick up a lot of grease. In the laundry, clothes-dryer vents can become coated or clogged with lint, a fire hazard. If you have an owner's manual for your fans, it might have specific instructions for cleaning.
To clean a typical bathroom vent fan, you turn off the power to it and remove the cover. Use a vacuum with brush attachment to remove loose dust. The fan itself is usually held in place by a bracket that screws to the sides of the housing. Many fans plug into an outlet on the side of the housing, so you must remove the electrical plug and bracket screws to detach the fan. The fan, with blades attached, can then be lifted out of the housing and cleaned. Use a clean, well-wrung-out rag and detergent solution to clean powder, lint and grease from the fan blades. Use a dry rag to clean the motor housing. Some older fan motors might need a drop or two of light oil on the motor shaft, but newer motors are generally permanently lubricated and sealed.
Clean the inside of the fan housing with the rag and detergent solution. The shaft that vents the bathroom air outdoors is more difficult to clean. A dryer vent brush can simplify this. The brush fits standard four-inch-diameter vent pipe and has a flexible, 10-foot-long handle. The brush (item 131839, about $13) is available from Improvements (www.improvementscatalog.com). When cleaning an overhead duct, wear goggles and a head covering and spread newspapers or plastic on the floor to catch falling dirt.
If cleaning doesn't help, it is possible your fans are wearing out or are undersized for the space they serve.
I am planning to install gas fireplace logs this fall and would like to know the pros and cons of vented versus unvented heaters. -- K. Wagner
Unvented burners have several advantages. They don't require a chimney or vent, and they are almost 100 percent efficient as heaters. Most experts consider them safe if they are properly installed and used, but they are not permitted in some areas, so you should check with your gas company or building-code officials.
The burner should have an oxygen depletion sensor, which automatically shuts off the burner if combustion reduces the oxygen in the room to an unsafe level. Unvented burners usually have a bluish flame.
Vented burners have a more natural yellow flame but are less efficient as heaters and require a chimney or vent to carry hazardous combustion products outside the house.
I recommend that a carbon-monoxide detector be installed in any room where a gas heater, vented or unvented, is used.
We want to paint our brick fireplace. Can we use the same semi-gloss paint that we are going to use on the baseboards and other trim? -- Barbara
If this is a latex trim paint, it should be okay for the bricks, but check the container first to make sure the paint is recommended for masonry.
I always caution people to think twice before painting brick fireplaces. If you change your mind after painting, the paint will be difficult to remove.
If the bricks are just dirty, you might try cleaning them. Most stores that sell fireplace accessories sell special cleaners to remove soot and dirt from bricks. Bricks can also be cleaned by scrubbing with a solution of trisodium phosphate (TSP), sold at most paint stores and home centers.
Questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, 1730 Blue Bell Pike, Blue Bell, Pa. 19422. Send e-mail to email@example.com. Questions cannot be answered personally.