Q: I need to replace my gas furnace. I have had four companies out, and each has suggested something different. What is your advice? -Dick B.

A: All heating contractors are naturally going to suggest the brand that they carry, and quite honestly, any of the nationally recognized brands of gas furnaces will give you good service. Here are some general suggestions:

Have an energy audit done on your home, including an evaluation of your existing windows, insulation levels and other factors. This will help you determine the proper size of furnace, and also where you can make some changes or repairs to your home to help conserve energy. The utility company where you purchase your natural gas should be able to provide this service, and is also a great source of contractor referrals and impartial furnace information.

Look for a furnace with a high energy-efficiency rating and a solid warranty on all parts, including the heat exchanger.

Select a local heating contractor who specializes in this type of work, and avoid the department stores and the home centers for this project. Look for a contractor who is willing to provide you with references from clients who have recently had the same furnace installed that is being suggested for your house. Follow up by calling some of the references to see how happy they are with both the furnace and the contractor. Don’t base your decision solely on price.

Q: Is it difficult for a non-handy person to replace a light fixture? Are there some general instructions you can provide? -Barbara Ann A.

A: In most instances, replacing a light fixture is well within the abilities of the average do-it-yourselfer. First, shut off the power to the circuit that the fixture is on (don’t just turn off the light switch). Mark the circuit with a warning tag so someone else doesn’t accidentally turn it back on. Remove the screws and/or nuts that hold the old fixture in place, and disconnect the fixture from the house wiring.

There are white and black wires coming off the new fixture. Those are connected to the white and black wires coming from the house wiring, matching the colors. The connections are made using approved wire nuts, which should be provided with the fixture. There may also be a bare or green ground wire on the fixture as well, which is connected to the bare or green ground house wire.

Install the new fixture, following the specific instructions provided with the fixture. Each fixture will have its own hardware included in the package, and everything you need should be there. Once the wiring is connected and the fixture is secured to the mounting box, reactivate the power.

Remember that these are just generic instructions, and that you’ll need to follow the specific instructions that come with the light fixture. If, in the course of removing the old fixture or installing the new one, you see anything that causes you alarm–frayed wires, heat damage, wires of a color other than white, black, and green (or bare), or anything else you’re unsure of–stop there, leave the power off, and consult with a licensed electrician.

Q: I will be tiling a new bathroom that includes a stall shower. I had a plumber install the drain and membrane, and while I am comfortable with installing tile, I have never poured a sloped shower pan. Can you refer me to some guidelines? -Bill M.

A: Quite honestly, the sloped mortar that is required for a properly constructed shower pan is difficult to do correctly. I know that you’re interested in doing this yourself, but I would strongly recommend that you leave this project to an experienced tile setter–at least the pan portion.

If you do intend to tackle this on your own, there are a number of good books on tile setting available at most bookstores and libraries, or check online. Look for a book that has step-by-step illustrations on how the sloping screed boards are made and installed, how the mortar is mixed and placed, and how the bed is finished out so that you have both a consistent slope and also end up at the proper height for the tile to meet the drain.

Two very important words of caution: First, test the shower pan membrane prior to installing the mortar base by filling the pan with water and waiting at least 24 hours to see if any leaks develop. Second, when installing the mortar make certain that the weep holes in the drain are protected so that they don’t become clogged.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@direcway.com.

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