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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Home do-it: Sleeping, space heaters make dangerous mix

Gene Austin McClatchy-Tribune

Q. Our second-floor bedroom gets quite cold at night, even if we don’t set back the thermostat more than a few degrees. Is there a portable electric heater that would be safe to use in a bedroom while sleeping? We have warm-air heat.

A. I can’t vouch for the safety of any portable electric heater, certainly not while the occupant of a room with a heater is sleeping.

Directions for some electric heaters recommend that they be unplugged unless someone is able to keep an eye on them. I know people who use oil-filled radiator-style heaters in bedrooms at night, but that is a personal choice that could be risky.

Radiant-type heaters, which put out a hot stream of air and often have fans to concentrate the heat, would be especially dangerous while sleeping, in my view.

I think a safer option is to install a booster fan to bring more heat through the duct that serves the room. Booster fans can be installed in ducts, or you can get fan-equipped room registers.

Before buying a booster fan, check to see if there are problems that might be reducing the flow of warm air into your bedroom.

Even if the warm-air register is open and unobstructed, a return-air register could be blocked or partially blocked and impeding good air flow.

Also, keep your heater filters clean; dirty filters can block air needed for good heat and also place an extra load on the heating equipment. Some heater breakdowns have been traced to dirty, clogged air filters.

If you decide to buy a booster fan for installation in a duct, make sure you get the correct size and that the duct is accessible for the installation. For register-type fans, remove the regular register and measure the opening carefully to ensure a good fit.

Duct-type and register-type booster fan are sold at some home centers and heating-supply outlets, and are widely available on the Internet. Prices vary widely, starting at about $35 and ranging much higher for fans with special features like variable speeds.

Q. We get ladybugs in an upstairs bedroom every year when it gets cold. There is a decorative window in the room but no visible means of entry, so how can the bugs be getting in?

A. Bugs don’t need a large gap to get into a house.

There is probably an entry point near the roof. Once in the wall, they can get into the room through an electrical outlet, switch box or most any other tiny opening.

They might also be coming in around the window, even though there are no visible gaps.

An easy test to detect hidden gaps is to wet one of your hands on a cold day and pass it around the suspected point of entry. If you feel a puff of cold air on your wet hand, you have found a gap.

Go outside and inspect the caulk around the window at that point. It might have cracked or pulled away from the joint.

If this is the problem, scrape out the old caulk and re-caulk. Be sure and check the directions on the caulk container before buying – some caulks shouldn’t be used in temperatures below a specific point.

Also keep in mind that ladybugs are considered good bugs. If you have outdoor plants, these little critters can help keep them healthy by consuming aphids that might otherwise destroy the leaves. I suggest being as kind as possible to those ladybugs.

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