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Dear Ken: Which way should those plastic deflectors on the heat vents face? Into the room or to the wall? -Tom

The quick answer is neither. I don’t like these gizmos because they nullify the original design of your heating system. The reason we put heat vents against the outside walls and under windows and patio doors is so that the warm air will wash over these cold surfaces. The air then rises up and out into the room and returns as cool air to the perimeter – setting up sort of a convection loop. If you short-circuit this scheme by diverting air into the center of the space with your deflectors, then the room ends up feeling colder than it should, as heat radiates from your body to the cold outside walls. That makes you run to the thermostat and turn it up as compensation for your perceived chill. So, lose the deflectors, except in one special case.

If you have draperies directly over your heat vents – on both sides of a picture window, for example – then they will balloon out into the room when the furnace is on. Pretty ugly and inefficient. In that case, the deflectors are useful in pushing that air out from under the curtains. 

Dear Ken: I have a two year old home. When my furnace kicks off, we get a very loud sound – like a vent slamming shut. Can this be fixed or quieted? -Sarah

It sounds like the big, box-shaped ducts – called a plenum – connected to the furnace is flexing too much. When the blower shuts off, the air inside is suddenly depressurized, and as it collapses slightly, you can get that "drum head" metallic sound. Sometimes the fix is as simple as applying a few small dimples on the surface of the plenum with a ball peen hammer to distort it a little. If the sound is coming from one of the branch ducts, there may not be enough metal straps holding them to the wood floor joists; or maybe the existing straps aren't screwed extra tight.

Dear Ken:  I'm getting too old to clean the gutters. Is there anything I can cover them with? -James

Gutter screens, which are touted to be self-cleaning will work for a year or two – then they, too, will clog up with leaves and needles trapped in the mesh. There are gutter covers – like the Leaf Guard and Gutter Helmet brands, for example – that add a metal plate, which covers most of the trough, expect for a small slit. Because of its innate surface tension, the rainwater will curve around that lip and run into the gutters, while the leaves go overboard. These system work pretty well, but they do have a tendency to overflow a little during heavy rains or hail storms. Plus they can encourage ice dam formation on north exposures. But, overall, they are worth it, particularly on tall homes where manual gutter cleaning is a dangerous proposition

Dear Ken:  We live in a 50's home and want to remodel the kitchen – maybe take out some walls, change the cabinets and appliances. Do you have some ideas how we can plan the project and get started? -Ellie

There are some great new software packages you should check out. For less than $20, you can get your hands on a floor planning program, complete with color schemes and furniture and appliance lay outs. You can add or delete walls and rearrange your cabinets as you desire. Check out Sweet Home 3D at Amazon.com.

Two caveats, though, before you start. The plumbing arrangement is the hardest system to move and is usually best left in place; plus the interior walls in a 50's house may or may not be load bearing.

Dear Ken: I used some Drano to unclog a bathroom sink. I forgot to rinse it for about an hour, so now I have a smell in the sink that won't go away. Do you think it may have eaten the pipes? -Debbie

Could be. It's probably better for you to replace the under-sink piping rather than fool with neutralizing or hiding the smell. These plastic parts – traps, risers and horizontal arms – are pretty inexpensive and go together without tools.  

Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 9 a.m. Saturday and is carried on KRDO, AM 1240 and FM 105.5. Visit AroundTheHouse.com.