Home & Garden

Handyman: What’s that black mystery soot above the light fixture?

Q: I installed track lighting four years ago when we bought the house. They have several bulbs in each fixture, all 50W halogen bulbs. The main fixture above the island has eight bulbs. Recently I noticed very dark, almost black areas above each fixture. I tried to clean the soot off with micro fiber, and what a mess. I am not so concerned with the ceiling as we are going to paint this year anyway. But there was black soot on the fixtures and even inside. I removed the bulbs and installed 35W.

What can it be? We do have propane heat, and sometimes I see a film on the windows, which I think is from the propane. The only other cause I can think of is that my wife loves candles. She uses the island to melt wax, trim wicks, melt two or three old candles to make a new one and generally obsess over her collection.

A: Those dark areas above the halogen lights are from scorching of the ceiling from the lights. Even if they are rated cooler than older models, they are still hot enough to scorch anything nearby over time. You could lower the fixtures holding the bulbs or put in less weighty and cooler fluorescent bulbs.

That is one problem easily fixed, but the other is worse and hard to fix: All those candles, which cause most of the soot that sticks to everything. The candles have to go. Have your wife use a screened porch, perhaps with a low-running exhaust fans. She can do all sorts of things with her candles, but it will depend on the weather. Late spring to early autumn should give her plenty of time. And don’t let anyone tell you that low-soot candles are the same as no-soot candles. Where there is a flame, there is soot.

Cleaning laminate floor

Q: I have a laminate floor on which a liquid covering has been placed. Alas! Now it has smudged and spotted.

A: If the laminate is wood, sand off the smudges and spots, and apply two thin coats of a water-based urethane varnish. If it is plastic, check with the manufacturer as to what must be done.

The big blockage

Here’s what Judith Barton wrote the Handyman about a blocked bathroom vent: “We had our bathroom ceiling getting a bit of black mold, too. So it was cleaned and repainted. Some months later, the same thing started to recur. But we were having work done on our house exterior, and the painter investigated the vent cavity from the outside. It was blocked with hornet nests. Perhaps your correspondent should check on his.”

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