Seasonal Reminder Summer 2016

August 1, 2016

169

Sorry for the delay in the Summer reminder posts. I tend to forget the official 1st day of summer, but start remembering it once we start getting full weeks of 100 degree days. Up to that point, I continue to bask in the spring. So, summer is formally if not officially already here!   This seasonal reminder is more about making sure everything continues to work well through the stress and strain of the summer months more than anything. If you live near me, getting these things done before 10 AM in the morning is the best time of the day, otherwise you may wait till after 6 PM or so (stay hydrated; regardless).  If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out.
  2. 100_0233HVAC Outdoor Unit: We did this in the spring and it’s good to do it again as vegetation has been growing through the spring months. Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 feet of clearance around the unit. Airborne particles generated by the blooming of trees and flowers can easily show up around the air conditioning condenser. Take your water hose and wash down the outside coils. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  3. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  4. Water Heaters: Make a visual inspection of the water heater. Look for dripping water and rust stains. Look at the exhaust flue to ensure it is still sealed. If its time to drain the tank or replace the anode, check the link for more details.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Even though we performed this maintenance during the spring, yard work and vegetation growth can cause some additional sprinkler maintenance. Exercise the system (again). Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by, odd spray patterns, missing heads, pooling water and brown spots.  Replace or repair the heads. Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks is the first of the series and covers the inspection, leak detection, repairs and tips in more detail.
  6. 100_0503Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  They are all looking for cool locations and possible water. If you are not opposed to using perimeter bug spray, this is a good time.
  7. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up. “Water Leaks”, cover this item too.
  8. Appliances: Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to clear the dust bunnies from around all appliances such as washers, dryers and  dish washers. Pull you refrigerator out from the wall and do the same. If it’s within your skill set, turn off the unit, pull the back cover off,  and vacuum out the condenser coils and all the dirt around the fan.
  9. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Gutters, culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  10. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. With tree limbs heavy with leaves, seed pods, fruits and nuts, you may have some limbs that are drooping on your electrical service lines.
  11. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  12. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly.
  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out.
  2. 100_0233HVAC Outdoor Unit: We did this in the spring and it’s good to do it again as vegetation has been growing through the spring months. Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 feet of clearance around the unit. Airborne particles generated by the blooming of trees and flowers can easily show up around the air conditioning condenser. Take your water hose and wash down the outside coils. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  3. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  4. Water Heaters: Make a visual inspection of the water heater. Look for dripping water and rust stains. Look at the exhaust flue to ensure it is still sealed. If its time to drain the tank or replace the anode, check the link for more details.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Even though we performed this maintenance during the spring, yard work and vegetation growth can cause some additional sprinkler maintenance. Exercise the system (again). Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by, odd spray patterns, missing heads, pooling water and brown spots.  Replace or repair the heads. Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks is the first of the series and covers the inspection, leak detection, repairs and tips in more detail.
  6. 100_0503Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  They are all looking for cool locations and possible water. If you are not opposed to using perimeter bug spray, this is a good time.
  7. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up. “Water Leaks”, cover this item too.
  8. Appliances: Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to clear the dust bunnies from around all appliances such as washers, dryers and  dish washers. Pull you refrigerator out from the wall and do the same. If it’s within your skill set, turn off the unit, pull the back cover off,  and vacuum out the condenser coils and all the dirt around the fan.
  9. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Gutters, culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  10. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. With tree limbs heavy with leaves, seed pods, fruits and nuts, you may have some limbs that are drooping on your electrical service lines.
  11. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  12. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly.

Lamp and Light Fixture Inspections: Is it Safe?

April 29, 2016

With all the Restoration, Repurpose and Reclamation programs on TV, its easy to get inspired to pick up an old fixture and bring it home. However, buying used fixtures/lamps that appear to be working correctly might still have hidden problems. I thought it might be a good idea to devote an article to inspecting a lamp/light fixture.  As with any of my projects, safety is number 1, and with any electrical appliance, lamp or light fixture, insuring it remains compliant with the  electric code and the original UL listing  is very important.

pre purchaseWe recently picked up the swag lamp pictured to the side. The picture is from the location we bought it. As you can see it was working. So why would I want to take it apart? Just to check it out!  So, I disassembled it to clean, inspect, repaint the metal surfaces and total rewire if required. As with most any hanging type fixture with the bulb below the socket, there is a natural tendency for the rising heat to make an impact on the above wiring. As expected, I found brittle and decayed wiring above the socket. After seeing the condition of the wiring  I wondered why the fixture was working at all! Overheated wiring is the sleeping giant of lamp and light problems.  Most wiring is rated at 105C (or 221F), and in most correct applications will be fine, however when a bulb wattage is greater than the lamp rating is used, the wiring will be the first component to suffer.  You may never know it until the wiring is disturbed. Once disturbed, the insulation can disintegrate and potentially cause the wires to touch each other. You know where the story bad wiregoes from here. Always follow the bulb ratings requirements as listed on the fixture.

Without knowing the history on a light fixture, it never hurts to confirm that it is in good working order before you use it. Here is my basic check list: 

  1. Physical Review of the Lamp: Is it relatively clean, does it appear to have been stored inside or outside? Fixtures left outside can rust as well as rodents can get to places unseen to chew on the plastic wire insulation.
  2. Manufactured or Custom: In general, lamps that were manufactured in mass generally were designed and built to a specification. Typically they use standard lamp parts and overall meet the design criteria necessary for long term use. Custom lamps can be made from most anything (bowling balls, table legs, vases, etc.). Good custom manufacturers follow the same criteria. On the other hand, I regularly run across lamps that were hand built, but failed to ensure proper safety for long term usage. Many of them I can fix, but for various reasons a bad design can cause premature failure, in turn, it may not be a good lamp. The two most important items with custom lamps is 1)quality of workmanship and 2) proper heat dissipation.
  3. good bad wire comparoWiring terminations: Most failed wiring is at the terminations. Frayed/broken wires, premature insulation failure, loose connection can all impact the safety and performance of the light. In this picture the bottom wire has decayed insulation and has turned black in color due to excessive heat. The one on top is in good condition.
  4. Polarity: In a simply lighting circuit there is a “line or hot” side and a “neutral”. Those terminations should be consistent from the plug to the socket to ensure the hot termination is in the base of the socket not the shell. This is tested with a VOM meter.
  5. Polarized Plug: Similar to #4. The larger prong on the plug goes in the larger hole in the wall socket, which is the neutral side, maintaining the polarity through the entire circuit. If it is a lamp and has a plug on the cord and it is not polarized, it is a good idea to change it out.
  6. Wiring Size: Not usually a problem with US manufactured lights, but most lamps/lights originally designed to work in a different country could have undersized wiring for use in the US. After determining the wire gauge, this can be addressed in multiple ways including, 1)rewiring the lamp or 2)simply lowering the wattage of the light bulb to be used.
  7. Bulb Sockets: Sockets show wear for various reasons, including the cardboard insulator and the metal contact surfaces. Regardless of the reason; noticeable wear in the socket should be resolved by replacing it.
  8. Grounding circuit: Lamps have polarized plugs, but light fixtures require a grounding circuit. This could be a green wire, or a small bare wire, or even a black wire with green tape that is attached to the body of the light fixture. With a VOM meter, continuity between the conductor and the bare metal surface of the fixture can be confirmed.
  9. Switches: Most switches tell you when they are bad and there is little indication they are going bad; not a lot of  in-between. They can be good today, and bad tomorrow. If you have taken the lamp apart, changing the switch/socket is cheap insurance.
  10. Dimmers: Many times dimmers start to act up before total failure. Inspect for 1)free movement between clicks, 2)ambient temperature to touch, 3) full range of light from the bottom to the top of the dimmer movement. If it is just dead, some large dimmers have internal fuses that can go open.
  11. Physical Integrity: Most all manufactured lamps include metal parts. Many of them are soft metals such as brass or pot metal which can be fairly easy to bend or break. With that said it is not uncommon to have to occasionally tighten up some of the parts to keep everything in alignment. Do not over tighten the parts, the soft metal can break and be difficult to repair. FYI: Pot metal can be difficult to fix, so if you are thinking of buying a  lamp that is physically broken, you might think twice.
  12. Top capVentilation: As you can see in this picture of the top cap of the same swag lamp; there is virtually no ventilation for the heat to escape. Just for safety sake, I added some ventilation holes in the top cover.
  13. Light it up: The final test is to power it up and let if run. Depending on the type of lamp, I may let them run for 30 minutes or so with the highest rated bulb. Mainly looking for heat problems with components and if it smells.

Here is the finished lamp.  You can see the small holes I added to the top section for heat dissipation. Since heat is a major issue in this style fixture,  I used an LED bulb and it drastically cut down the amount of heat. LED bulbs have become a game changer for multiple reasons; look for a later post on LED bulbs.

Finished LampFinished Lamp 2

This article was originally published in my other blog found at DallasLampandLight.com

 


Seasonal Reminder: Spring 2016

April 21, 2016

Bee hiveYes, that is me in the bee suit. Spring is not a great time to do bee remediation, but you will find them swarming this time of year.  Yes I knew they were there and had decided to let them do their thing, but the situation changed and I had to ask them to leave. They were not happy with my request. We did our best to save the hive.

 I attempted to relocated about 20k bees that were under my shed the spring of 2015. The picture was a reminder to me to re inspect the shed. The good news is they have found a new home somewhere. I have not seen them this spring.

This seasonal reminder  provides a list of items you need to review before the summer months set in. If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filter prior to the heavy air conditioning months.
  2. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Spring rains are approaching so inspect your roof for leaks, trim away any tree limbs and clean debris off the roof. Look for raised nails and any breaches in the roof surface.
  3. HVAC Outdoor Unit: Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 100_0233feet clearance around the unit. Also take your water hose and wash down the outside coils  that may have accumulated dirt. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  4. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Exercise the system. Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by and odd spray patterns. Replace or repair the heads. If you need more help on this item, click the “lawn sprinklers” tab to see multiple subjects on locating lost heads, valves as well as tune-up recommendations.
  6. Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for rotted wood, peeling paint and other exposed surfaces. Use caulk to re-seal cracks and touch up paint to reseal the surfaces. Replace rotten wood as necessary.
  7. Interior Inspection: Winter dry-out will have caused some surface cracks around doorways and windows. Also  re-caulk/grout any cracks that may have surfaced in the bathroom and kitchen, especially around the tub and shower. These two areas experience the most use and require the most maintenance.  Replace or clean water filters, faucet strainers and vent-a-hood filters in the kitchen. Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes.
  8. Water Heaters: Tank type water heaters should have their pressure release valve tested (opened and closed). This will also validate the drain pipe is clear and open.
  9. Gutters and Downspouts: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely.
  10. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  11. Windows and doors: Look at the edges where the windows and doors connect to the house. Ensure the caulk is in good shape and add caulk as necessary, indoors and outdoors.
  12. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. Look for any damage that may have occurred over the winter. Look for tree limbs that may be contacting the entrance cable.
  13. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  14. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly.
  15. Test Smoke Detectors:  It’s a good time to clean off the cob webs and change the battery.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to


Seasonal Reminder – Lawn Sprinker Tuneup

April 5, 2016

If you are a follower of this blog, lawn sprinklers seems to be a regular topic. I get more hits on this one subject than all the rest. After reviewing  the current articles I found that I lacked a straight up, “seasonal tune up” article. So, for this weeks post I am going to walk through a methodical process of checking your sprinkler system. Generally speaking this is about a system that is designed correctly and  working properly.  I typically do this at the beginning of the watering season then again in mid-summer.

Material/Tools Needed:

  1. Spare sprinkler bodies: You should normally keep some extra sprinkler bodies that resemble the product that was installed with your system. Having identical sprinkler bodies will keep replacement and repairs simple.
  2. A handful of various sprinkler nozzles: Even though there may be several types of sprinkler heads (pop up, rotary or impact), it is important to have extra copies of the same nozzle that are being used in the various zones. Even though many home centers prefer to sell you the sprinkler body with the nozzle, having them as separate items will save you time and money.
  3.  Sharpshooter Shovel:  This particular shovel works well when working on sprinklers as you can dig around a sprinkler without disturbing too much dirt. Dirt and dirty water  is the enemy when it comes to working on sprinkler systems.
  4.  Sprinkler flags: You will probably have to buy these in a pack of 100, but it will be less than $10. You will use these to mark sprinkler heads that require attention.
  5. Screwdrivers: 1 small screw driver, 1 medium screw driver (flat and Phillips head style). These will be used to disassemble nozzles and some heads.
  6. Dental tool: Something like this link will work; these can also be found at the Orange Box store. It is very common for sprinkler nozzles to capture small pebbles that will lodge in the nozzle disrupting the sprinkler spray pattern. You will want to pick out the debris without damaging the plastic.
  7. 1 pair of medium-sized Channel Lock pliers: These can be used to adjust, tighten and loosen the body of the sprinkler head especially if your hands are wet.
  8. 1 pair of medium-sized vise grips: Used as a way to extract nozzles from pop-up heads by lightly holding the nozzle riser exposed. Never use a lot of pressure as you can easily damage the sprinkler head.
  9. WD 40 Lubricant Spray: Used to lubricate various parts that are supposed to move or react to the water pressure. WD40 is a fish oil based product and should not damage the grass.

SPRINKLER TESTING PROCEDURE:

  1. Activate the test sequence in the Sprinkler Controller: Most controllers have a test function that allows you to run the system in short intervals. If you can choose the time limit, set it to two minutes. If your controller does not have this function, you can have a friend turn the sections on one by one. TIP: If you have to do this manually, find some walkie-talkies to communicate with your partner.
  2. Find the first zone that is running:  Carrying your sprinkler flags, walk around and through the zone that is running, looking for the six items mentioned below. Use the flag to identify problems. However, try to realign the heads in this first sequence while the zone is running. Use the Channel Lock to grab the body to make adjustments.
  3. Repeat #2 for all the zones: I find the sprinkler flags really help, cause you can go directly back to each problem once you have made it through the entire system.
  4. Repair, replace  or adjust the heads as required: One of the most  important elements of sprinkler repair is to avoid introducing dirty water into the system. The dirt will make its way to all the downstream head and clog them up. If you find a broken head or pipe within your inspection, you may have to clean all the nozzles (see #2 below) in that zone.
  5. Run the test sequence again: As a final step, run the system one last time to ensure that everything is operating to your expectations.

Common Problems and Solutions:

  1. Misaligned Heads: Heads that are used around the perimeter of a property typically use patterns less than “full circle”. These heads will require occasional realignment to keep them from spraying on a sidewalk, fence or house. You can  adjust  either the nozzle, neck or sprinkler body. Try adjusting to the right (righty tighty, lefty loosie). If you have to turn it to the left, try not to turn it more than a 1/4 or 1/2 turn. Turning the head too much to the left may cause the nozzle or head to disconnect itself (while under pressure), this may cause a guiser of water and will get you real wet.
  2. Dirty Nozzles:  If the pattern seems uneven or broken up. The nozzle is dirty. With the water off, grab the sprinkler stem and raise it as if it were spraying water. Use your vise grips to LIGHTLY hold the stem up. Remove the nozzle and pull the filter (with the dental tool or your finger tip). Blow through the filter and nozzle. If this doesn’t remove all the debris, use the dental tools or water to clean further. You may have to disassemble the nozzle completely to get the dirt out. If the filter was completely stopped up, turn the sprinkler zone on/off very quickly to flush the line at this point (with the vice grips in place). Reassemble the nozzle to the head and release the vise grips to let the stem return to the body. NOTE: The purpose of keeping the stem extended through this process is to avoid the opportunity for dirty water to enter the system.  
  3. Broken/Damaged  head: Besides the nozzle mentioned above, the sprinkler body can leak as well. This could be out the bottom, side or top. Sometime the heads can be rebuilt, but at this stage its best to just swap out the head with an identical body and nozzle. If it’s not muddy around the head, attempt to unscrew the complete body out of the ground. Without disturbing the dirt, re-insert the replacement head. If you have to dig it up, use the sharp shooter shovel to expose the  head down to where it connects to the next pipe. It’s best to dig the hole a bit deeper than the head. If water comes out, you do not want the dirty water to reenter the system as mentioned above.  Replace the head and the surrounding dirt.  This sprinkler repair  link has a video included that might be of help.
  4. Sprinkler heads do not recess into the ground after spraying: This is a very common occurrence caused by small dirt particles surrounding the elevated riser at the wiper seal of the sprinkler head after the water is turned off. Grab the head by the tip and spray WD-40 on the riser. Work the shaft until it moves freely. If that doesn’t clear it, replace the head  and rebuild the old one in the sink to get all the dirt out of it.
  5.  Heavy Running or Pooling Water: This could be associated with #3 or it could be a damaged pipe.  With your shovel, LIGHTLY remove the wet dirt, you do not want to cause anymore damage. Dig below the pipe or area to be repaired. Use a coffee can to remove as much of the water and dirt as possible. Make the repair as necessary.
  6. Weeping heads:  Occurs when system is off. Typically you will notice this on days the sprinklers are not running, or you find constant moist spots. Typically, you must disassemble the sprinkler valve and clean it.  Rebuilding the valve may be required as well.
  7. Draining sprinkler head: similar to #6, but usually happens with a head that is located lower that other heads in the zone. This is fairly normal and can be left alone. If it happens in a bad spot and you really don’t like it, you can add a lateral line drain to disperse the water.

 For more detailed information, take a look at these other articles I have written on the subject: Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Part II, Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Part I ,  Searching for Lawn Sprinkler Valves, Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks; Finding Sprinkler Valves and Common Problems,Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Upgrades Part II,  .



Watering your Foundation – Its a Texas Thing Part III

March 23, 2016

Texas-Drought-2011As mentioned in my last post on watering your foundation; Here in North Texas it is essential.  Since this is not a one time event but a regular requirement, you might as well look at a relative permanent approach to the solution. I identified several ways to do this in my last posts on the subject but I wanted to share a bit more permanent method. The concept is the same, but its a bit more work, and you may want to hire an irrigation specialist to do it.

The biggest difference in this solution is capitalizing on the fact that you may already have a permanent in-ground sprinkler system. With this system, you operate it as any other section to your irrigation system profile and its no longer a separate system to take care of.

Criteria of existing lawn sprinkler system: For this to work, you need an automatic lawn sprinkler system and a couple more conditions to make it work.

  1. sprinkler controllerElectronic Irrigation controller: The irrigation controller will be the source of the schedule to water the foundation.
    1. Spare Zone: Most controllers come in 4, 6, 8, 12 (and so on) zones. You will need at least one vacant zone position for this to work. You can query the controller by stepping through the zones. When you select the zone with the controller, look for statements in the readout that could say things like; vacant, not-wired, turned off, etc. It that doesn’t work, open the back half of the controller and look at the incoming wiring. Each position that has a number on it represents a zone. If you find a number with no wire, you should have a vacant zone. If you don’t have any vacant zones, your forward path from this point would be to replace the controller with more zones. This may exceed your budgetary limitations
    2. Spare Wire: In many cases during the initial installation, the cable with the zone wires in it, may exceed the number of connected zones. So look for some coiled up wires in the base of the controller.  If that is the case, you are in luck and can use one of the spare wires. If you have no spare wires but a spare zone on the controller, you would have to add a pair for the new zone. (a colored wire and a common (white) wire).
  2. sprinkler-valveAdding a New Valve: At this point, you have a 1)zone position in the controller, 2) a spare wire for the new zone. Now, locate all the existing valves in the yard. Specifically ones that are close to the house.
    1. In that valve box, look for the same color wire you identified in the controller, if it is not there, check the other valves. Worst case, you may have to bring a new wire to your chosen location.
    2. Dig up around the existing valve and identify which pipe is under pressure all the time. Once identified, turn the main water supply off that feeds the sprinkler system (probably near the water meter), you will cut into the pipe and add a new valve. You may have to run a short piece of wire from the existing valve to the new one to hook it up. The connection will be one colored wire and one “Common”.
    3. When you buy the new valve, make sure it has (low) flow control, and or is designed to work with zones that don’t use a lot of water pressure. The drip lines you use have a low GPM (gallon per minute) rating as well as low pressure.
  3.  Polypipe: Depending on where you locate the new valve, you may need a section of polypipe to get you to the foundation.  You can cut the hose to length and use the polypipe fittings to make up the ends. Make sure the polypipe and fittings are the same dimensions. Since all these connections are on the low pressure side of the system, these fittings are just simple resistance (chinese finger) snap in connectors.
  4. Drip Lines:  From the poly pipe, use the same fitting to transition to the Drip Line. These hoses are designed with drip emitters in the hose every 12 inches.  Run it around the house keeping it about 6 inches from the foundation.  You can bury them a couple of inches or hide them with mulch. Staking them with landscape stakes will help keep them in place as this product does not like to lay flat to the ground. You can purchase the hose in bulk from the Orange Box store of Sprinkler Warehouse. You will need to also purchase inter-hose connectors as well as a way to connect to your water. If you have to make a sharp turn it is better to use a fitting than bending the pipe. You do not want to crimp the hose. Splitting the line with a Tee is totally acceptable, and it will also allow a little better flow control if the go half way around the house with one feed and half with the other.

 

So here is what it looks like in dollars. Admittedly, you can probably do this a little cheaper, but I used high quality components, so this should last for years to come.

DripSys for house

Related articles:https://homeownerbob.wordpress.com/2012/03/05/watering-your-foundation-its-a-texas-thing/

https://homeownerbob.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/watering-your-foundation-getting-ready-for-the-summer/

 


Internet TV Options Part 5 – Cutting the Cord

March 10, 2016

BirdsAntennaIf you read the previous 4 parts of this series, you will remember my quest to cut the cord (disconnect traditional cable TV). The plan was to imulate as closes as possible a solution that included a 1) broadcast antenna for local service, 2) Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu (currently the big players in this space) and 3) Simular to #2, in that it includes streaming video, but from sources such as You Tube, and other individual content providers such as CMT, CNBC, MSNBC and 4) some sort of DVR to allow for time shifted viewing (something the cable companies got us to like). So here we are, over 4 years later and I still hadn’t done it cause  I  just wasn’t happy with my solution as well as it didn’t pass the wife test. Until now!!!  I had tried one brand of OTA DVR, but it just didn’t have the response, nor did it have a good 14 day schedule. So after much deliberation, I purchased the TiVo Bolt. For three reasons, 1) it had all the time tested feature sets that TiVo has refined over many years, 2) the Bolt will be their premiere product as they phase out the Roamio, so all their development will go toward their newest product and 3) it had enhanced feature that recognize streaming video sources  more than the Roamio:

So lets look at how TiVo Bolt answered my questions/problems identified in my previous post. 

  1. Broadcast Antenna: vs.  UVerse. Hands down, assuming you have good OTA (over the air) reception, the broadcast antenna provides a superior picture quality. With the Bolt connected to my antenna, I can not see any service degradation between the straight antenna connection vs going through the Bolt box.  After watching this for a couple of days, I keep thinking I bought a new TV. If you have CATV, satellite or a fiber based service provider, it will probably not be that noticeable, but if you have a provider such as AT&T that originally provided their content over copper, the difference is quite noticeable. Note: In the recent months AT&T has announced with the purchase of DirecTV, they will be moving their customer base from UVerse to DirecTV (copper vs. satellite based solution).
  2. Antenna Reception: As noted in my earlier entries, having a good antenna and good broadcast antenna service will be paramount to support your OTA TiVo receiver. This is the core of your off cable, non streaming service. If you have poor reception, pixeling, or blocking you will get quite frustrated with the service. If your antenna service is marginal on a good day, it will be poor on a bad day. Wind, rain, tree’s with large leaves in the summer will all negatively impact the reception. If you are old enough to remember, depending on a TV antenna for all of your broadcast television, you will remember fuzzy, scratchy and intermittent service. Its still the same but different. Even though having an antenna on a 10 ft. mast may work for many urban dwellers, antenna masts of greater proportion may be required. In my case, I have struggled with getting adequate reception of the NBC affiliate (and I live in the city).  I have continued to tweak my arrangement and after several months of refinement, I have it to a manageable level. In bad weather it is usually the first station to start acting up. 
  3. No or limited on-screen TV Guide for Broadcast TV:  So far, the Bolt has got this covered. The user programing for identifying shows, show series, and movies from both traditional OTA providers but also non-traditional services such as Amazon and Hulu, create an almost seamless transition from CATV type solutions. Setting down with my non-tech wife (aka; NTW) to provide some training, showed me how smooth the transition would go, as she picked up on it very quickly. The Bolt remote is very intuitive to most all the activities we all have come accustom to with other remotes.
  4. DVR: To bring OTA  broadcast TV up to speed with CATV, a DVR is nearly a must. The folks at TiVo understand that time-shift viewing is taking over traditional viewing habits and have simplified the process quite well. Whether you want to record a series or just some specific events, the recording process is very simple. The Bolt comes with 500g but you can easily add an outboard larger hard drive storage.
  5. Netflix:  Over the last 4 years Netflix has become the elephant in the room by embracing our new viewing habits. Add in Amazon Prime and Hulu (just to name a few), and you can fill in many of the blanks left by leaving CATV. Call it ala carte or pay per view, TiVo has integrated these services into the box as just another part of the viewing spectrum.
  6. Roku Box: I was probably an early adopter to this service and it kind of reminded me of when we first got FM radio. Needing a special tuner to get there. Whether it be Smart TV’s, DVD players, game boxes, or TiVo receivers. Gaining access to streaming services has come mainstream. The Roku served me well, but I really don’t need it since the streaming services are now nearly everywhere on most all connected devices.
  7. Multiple TV’s: Again, TiVo has this covered as well. With the TiVo Mini, you can watch the same TV programs  that show up on your primary TV.
  8. Sports: There is still a hole here and if they had a good fix for it, we would already have it. Typically Sports are viewed in real time, not recorded (as much). And the most acceptable way to watch live sports is through a CATV provider as they have access to all locally broadcast events. If you just want local sports, you can probably make it work, but if you live in a far away place from your favorite, you still have a problem.. However, there are some establishments that will broadcast far away game for you at their business. Granted, it might cost you the price of a couple of beers, but hey; its an option.  For me, its not a deal breaker as I really don’t watch sports.

Next time we will look at the costs and payback

Image courtesy of [Vlado] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Seasonal Reminder-Power Outages: Part 1

January 20, 2016

By human nature; we do not appreciate certain things until they are gone.

The El Nino patterns have brought us some challenging weather. Having record rain and tornados in the winter is a bit out of the ordinary. Hopefully you have not already been effected by these conditions. But, it serves as a reminder that good preparation can ease the difficulty. The items mentioned dont even come close for those that might be caught in the direct path of devastating weather conditions, but can help the rest of us that may be near the areas.

If you have suffered issues of direct impact, look at  the Disaster Safety site mentioned below as well as the Red Cross for assistance as well as a way to pitch in and help.

Regardless of the weather condition, it most common for it to impact the power grid.  Many times, these conditions can be related to tornado’s, hurricanes, thunderstorms, snow, ice and the list goes on. Several of these type disasters can be devastating especially if you experience a direct impact. Look at the Disaster Safety site for concerns of direct impact. Statistically, secondary effect outages has a broader impact but is typically resolved in a short time frame. A loss of power will impact your life immediately, and you do not have a lot of control on the time or day it will occur.  According to the IEEE standard 1366-1998, the median outage in North America is 1.36 hours per year per household.  In other words, half the households in the U.S. will experience  power outages totaling 1.36 hours or greater. That could be in small segments or one event.   For the purpose of this article I will break down preparedness by duration of loss, 1) 8 hours or less, 2) 72 hours or less,  3) 7 days or less, and 4) Long term. Granted, knowing how long the event will last is the biggest question that none of us really know. However, shorter outages are usually related to severe storms. The greater the coverage of the storm will impact the length of time for restoration. More severe conditions such as hurricanes, tornadoes and long duration storms will all impact the length of restoration.

8 hours or less: An outage of 8 hours can pass pretty quick but having a few essentials will smooth out most issues.

  1. Where is my flashlight? I have dozens of normal flashlights (the kind with no batteries) and one large rechargeable unit. But if an outage were to go beyond a couple of hours I might be in trouble. Use candles for stationary locations throughout the house and save your flashlight for moving around or going outside but keep candles away for other combustible items (curtains, cloth, paper, etc.)  As for flashlights, there has been a recent revolution in small lighting. It’s the LED bulb. The LED uses less than a 1/10 the power of a normal resistance (incandescent) type bulb.   Due to the low power requirements of LED bulbs they can be powered by different sources such as wind up flywheels, super capacitors or rechargeable batteries. radiolightchargerThe American Red Cross has endorsed several, but I like the RF150  that combines an LED Flashlight, radio and cell phone charger. It’s a bit pricey at $30 and up but it is truly an emergency tool that will last for years with little maintenance. This one unit will cover item #1, 4 and 5  all in one unit allowing you to find it quickly or lose everything all at one time. Pretty cool, wind it for a minute and get an hour of service. There are several other choice on the market that cover the requirement.  If you have one or plan to get one, storing it near a window with lots of sun will keep it well charged. Look for my review of this product under techy things.
  2.  Where is the phone number to the Utility?  This sounds simple, but if you don’t have number 1 covered it makes #2 that much harder. If you live in a state where electricity and natural gas  is deregulated, knowing the name or number of your utility companies could be a 15 minute discussion. Locate your phone bill, electricity bill, gas bill, and etc. they should have a number posted; “In case of an outage call this number“.  Make a label, sticker or note and place it on your new emergency flashlight. TIP: You need to call them and report the outage even if you know your neighbor has already reported it. Utilities will increase the severity of the condition by the number of reports (phone calls) logged against the outage. Most utilities can provide you a reasonable status of the condition. The smaller the problem, the easier it is for them to estimate the length of the outage. If you know the outage is wide spread and they continue to be vague on how long, you may need to prepare for a longer outage than 8 hours. Also, continue to check the news on the radio.
  3. I need heat!! In the winter this can be critical, not only for you but your house.  If you have forced air central heating, you’re screwed as you will need both electricity and natural gas  to make the system work. Having a fire-place, oven or bathroom heater  with natural gas will get you through an 8 hour period unless you live in the northern climates.  TIP: In the winter, crack open the water faucets to a slow drip in the kitchen and bathrooms (especially those based on the exterior walls) to ensure they do not freeze. Also make sure you have a source of fresh air when using these heating devices as they can consume the oxygen. Even with these devices, the house is going to be cold, so the likelihood of freezing a pipe is greater.
  4. My phone does not work! If you still have a traditional telephone (land line) plugged in the wall it should still work assuming your phone does not require power from a wall outlet, this includes cordless phones. TIP: Always have at least one telephone that is like the one your mother had. Just plugged in the wall, no features,  lights, caller id, just a phone (aka POTS, plain old telephone set). The phone company does a great job of ensuring traditional dial tone, but this does not include DSL (Internet service), VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) or any other non-traditional, non-regulated services.
  5. Where is my cell phone? Cell phone service is becoming more reliable as the consumer is becoming more dependent on it.  In many cases, the cell phone has taken the place of the POTS.  For the most part, if you use your cell phone sparingly, you can make 8 hours. Besides the unit mentioned in item 1, there are many solar phone chargers on the market, or you can use your car for short durations as well assuming you have a car adapter.
  6. Do I have a radio that works? Probably not other than the car. Mine has a battery that will protect the memory of stations and time setting but that’s about it.  You will need a radio like a flash light that does not require an electric cord. Weather specific radios are great, but some music sure passes the time. The radio (news) will help you gauge your needs beyond 8 hours. See item 1.
  7. We have no hot water! Maybe, maybe not. If you have an 1)electric water heater, 2)gas-fired tank-less water heater or 3) some pilotless gas water heaters, you could have limited or no hot water. I have a tank-less water heater so for me its a big NO for hot water. However, I have a gas stove so I can cover the small requirements. With an 8 hour failure, a 50 gallon water heater can cover your immediate needs.

You probably already recognized some items are missing. The list is based on an 8 hour or less outage. For longer outages look at my post for Electrical Power Outages Part II, as  things start to get more interesting as time goes on.


Christmas Lights and Electrical Safety

December 1, 2015

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), estimates  240 home fires involving Christmas trees and another 150 home fires involving holiday lights and other decorative lighting occur each year. Together, these fires result in 21 deaths and $25.2 million in direct property damage.

For some reason, I am believed to be a Scrooge when it comes to decorating for Christmas. Normally, I let my family deal with all the  details including unpacking all the decorations, placing ornaments on the tree, getting the doggie Christmas collars out, etc. But I do serve as the pack mule in unloading the attic to get it downstairs out of the attic,  but a Scrooge I’m not!!… Ok, maybe curmudgeon.

Point One: Christmas lights in all their glory are a huge waste of energy. Four strings of C9 (old school) regular Christmas lights can consume 1800 watts of power or 1.8 kwh. On an individual house basis, it may not seem like much but add it to about 25% of all households and it works out to be a lot electricity. Not to mention, the selected idiots that adorn their house to the point that you can no longer recognize it. Ok, so you kind of get me at this point, so lets move on.

This year I am out to prove them wrong “I’M ALL IN”. In fact, it started last year. Believe it or not, I bought Christmas C7 lights (on sale) to hang outside. We’re talking outline the house type lights… This is a big step for me. So with all this lead-in, where am I headed you ask. Dont forget, this is a blog about home maintenance anyway!!

Before we go to far, let it be known what amount of lights I have installed.

  • 3 – Strings of 200 count C7 outdoor LED lights
  • Total bulbs= 600
  • Wattage per string 19.2W
  • Total waste of energy 57.6Wh
  • About the equivalent of one 60W light bulb, most of us waste that much energy on any given day

I will contain my excitement to exterior decorations and electrical load, but lets remember what the NEC code says about connected devices:

NEC 210-23  15 and 20 Amp branch circuits: …The rating of any one cord and plug connected utilization equipment shall not exceed 80% of the branch circuit rating. Furthermore… the total rating of equipment fastened in place shall not exceed 50% of the branch-circuit. In short, no one plug should exceed more than 80% of the circuit rating and that any stationary equipment (i.e. dishwashers, waste disposer) that constantly draws power should not exceed 50% of the rated circuit. Typical residential branch circuits (outlets, wall switches and fixtures) may be rated at 15 or 20 Amps.

So, we have circuit budget of roughly 1100 watts for a standard plugged outlet ((15A*120V*.8pf)*80%).

Choosing the Lights: If you dont already own exterior lights, go for  the LED versions (C7 or C9). By far, they will last the longest and cost the least to run. C7 and C9 are bigger bulbs and are easier to manage. If you take care of them, they could last a life time.

The following chart is a general guideline is fairly conservative. Most Christmas lights will provide the limitations and wattage. As mentioned in my calculation above, at 80% you have a budget of 1100 watts, at 50% your budget would be 720 watts.

C7 or C9 Lamp Wattage Lamps per Outlet Lamps per 15 Amp Circuit Lamps per 20 Amp Circuit
.6 Watts (LED) 250 Lamps(bulbs dim the farther
your runs are from main power source)
2400 Lamps 3200 Lamps
1 Watt (LED) 250 Lamps(bulbs dim the farther
your runs are from main power source)
1440 Lamps 1920 Lamps
2.5 Watts 300 Lamps 576 Lamps 768 Lamps
3.7 Watts 250 Lamps 389 Lamps 519 Lamps
5 Watts 175 Lamps 288 Lamps 384 Lamps
7 Watts 125 Lamps 205 Lamps 274 Lamps

Key Points to Christmas Light Installations:

  1. Stay within the wattage limitations mentioned; 1000W at 80% and 720W at 50%. The light packaging should provide you to total wattage. Just subtract it from your total wattage budget as you organize your lighting plan.
  2. Attempt to either use a dedicated electrical circuit  or one that does not have a lot of static or dedicated load.
  3.  Limit the string to string connection to no more than 3 or what is provided as the manufacturers recommendations.
  4. Limit the per outlet load to no more than 50% of the per circuit limitation. 80% rule: 500W. 50% rule: 360W
  5. Use timers or remote control switches to turn the lights on and off to limit the energy usage.
  6. Dont fall off the roof
  7. Merry Christmas… BOB

Smoke Detectors For Your Safety

October 24, 2015

smoke_detectorAs we (finally) start rolling into the cooler months, its worth talking about smoke detectors again. The NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) recommend  that every home have a smoke detector outside each sleeping area (inside as well if household members sleep with the door closed) and on every level of the home, including basements. Floors without bedrooms should have detectors in or near living areas, such as dens, living rooms or family rooms. TIP: Even though we may believe the kitchen and bathrooms should have detectors, in fact these rooms can be a source of numerous false alarms. Depending on the age of the house, smoke alarms may have been installed as part of a security system, or they may be stand-alone. Depending on the brand and style they may be receiving power from the security system, so there may not be a battery at the unit. If this is the case, the battery at the security system may last for several years and should be replaced based on that required interval. TIP: Most security systems will provide a battery alert when they require changing.  Testing smoke alarms associated with a security system may be more involved and you may have to coordinate your test with the security system monitoring/surveillance center. TIP: Smoke or fire alarm routed through the security system are typically an “automatic dispatch” with no confirmation required so consult with your provider. Key Inspection Points and Action Items:

  1. Visually inspect the detector
  2. Clean off cob webs from the cover without removing the cover. You can get a can of “air” used to clean electronics  from a computer store that will work
  3. Replace the battery yearly or earlier if the chirp indicator has been active. (Locally powered 9V type batteries)
  4. If you find corrosion (green powdery substance) on the battery terminals, replacement is recommended. TIP: If the corrosion is minimal, try using a Q-Tip dipped in a liquid mix of baking soda/water or Coca Cola to clean the battery contacts.  You must remove all the corrosion and avoid getting the solution(s) on anything but the effected area. After cleaning put a light film of dielectric grease  on the connectors to slow down the opportunity for corrosion to re-appear.
  5. The NFPA recommends the detector(s) be tested monthly. Press the test button which should briefly activate the audible horn. It should reset itself shortly.

Residential grade smoke alarm/detectors are not repairable, if they fail to operate properly through testing, they should be replaced. Limited long-term test data exists, but manufacturers and trade associations indicate the product should remain properly functional for 10-12 years under normal conditions.


Is Your Air Conditioner Running Efficiently?

August 11, 2015

AC unit Here in the Southwestern part of the country air conditioning is a requirement. With temperatures running above 100 degree’s for weeks at a time, these systems can struggle to perform as necessary to keep you and your family cool. Besides filters, there are a few other things that are worth mentioning. If you think you may have a problem, it will probably be showing up in your electric bill as either you or your system is having to compensate for its inability to perform as required.  Canvas your neighbors about their electricity usage as a comparison. Talk to folks that have simular houses and life styles for a good comparison. Square footage, thermostat settings and occupancy times are all important. Differences of more than 20% can be a clue there may be an issue. Also, use energy numbers or kwh as listed on the electric bill not the actual dollars spent. Here in Texas, the electricity is deregulated and there could be 2 to 5 cents of difference in kwh per hour charges.

If your system has operated properly in the past, these inspection and preventative maintenance items will ensure optium performance.  However, if your system has never worked properly or struggeled to keep the house cool, you may have design or service conditions that may warrant a call to a professional. Either way, by inspecting and maintaining the obvious you are  isolating the issue allowing the trained technician more time to fix the problem less time to find it.

Inspection and Maintenance Items:

  • Clean air filters: Replace the air filter 2 to 4 times a year. See my complete article for details.  Heating/Cooling Air Filters.
  • Air Returns:Keep these vents clean from dust debris and any obstruction. Depending on the design, the return air vent(s) may be close to the floor or in the ceiling. If the air return is near the floor, remove the metal grid and use a vacuum cleaner to remove all the dust and debris. If you have an air filter located here, replace it as necessary. In some cases you may have a filter here as well as at the unit. If so, this filter should be replaced on the same schedule as your normal filter.
  • Room Temperature: A well designed central air conditioning system should provide balanced air flow and temperatures of no more than about 3 degrees in difference from one room to the next. Large windows and doors will impact that number to some degree.
  • Air Flow: With air registers in each room, the air must circulate from the room to the return air location. For this reason, the air must be able to exit the room with the door closed. Either the door will (should) be undercut or there may be a pass-through return vent into a hallway or another room. If doors slam themselves shut (when the system is running), you may have a return air issue. TIP: If you recently added new carpet to your house, and you are now having air conditioning problems, the new carpet may not be adequately allowing the air to return under the doors. 
  • System Temperature Differential: This test is similar to checking your blood pressure as variables can effect the results. Most professionals set the thermostat low enough to require the system to run constantly (8 to 10 degrees below ambient) for at least 30 minutes (run it longer if you can). Use a digital thermostat to validate the air temperature exiting the register. Do not go by the temperature of the register itself. Its the air temperature you need. Do the same at the make-up or input air. You should have a temperature differential of 14 to 20 degrees in difference.   Too high or too low is a symptom of a larger problem. High numbers indicates a 1) dirty filter, 2) improper/inadequate duct-work, 3) a fan not spinning fast enough or undersized.  A low number indicates 1) refrigerant loss, 2) a dirty coil, 3) overworked compressor, 4)over-sized fan, or 5) deficient/blocked  return air system. Check the obvious, then contact an HVAC specialist.
  • HVAC drainWater Pan and Condensate Drains: In the process of the cooling the house, the evaporator coil inside the air handler unit (located in a closet, attic or basement) can pull humidity out of the house envelope. In doing so, that water collected by the system has to be expelled. By design, a drain is connected to the unit and released outside. This drain tube must stay clean of debris, otherwise it can back up and cause water to drain into the house causing damage to Sheetrock and overtime to the building structure. They don’t drain all the time so just visually seeing water dripping is not a good enough inspection. Once you locate the drain, use a Wet/Dry vacuum cleaner to attach to the pipe (at the end, outside the house). Seal it as best as possible and run the vacuum for a couple of minutes. This should pull any bugs, lint, dust or debris out of the pipe. This is a better method than pouring water through the system, and a lot less messy. Perform this function at least once a year.
  • Outdoor Compressor: Ensure plant material is clear of the compressor (18″ to 2′), remove leaves, grass, vines by hand. Use your water hose to spray down the coils to remove lint dust and dirt. This is probably one of the most important quick solution to a system that is under performing.
  • 100_0529Outdoor Compressor Connections: There should be two copper pipes and one maybe two electrical conduits. The larger of the two (suction pipe) copper pipes  should be properly insulated (all the way to the air handler/evaporator coils in the house. This pipe is delivering the cold freon used to cool the house. The longer it can stay cold, the better. Also look at the electrical connections to ensure they are sealed (sealtite  type conduit) and secure. There will also be a small low voltage wire  that may or may not be in a conduit, make sure it is not cut chafed or deteriorated.
  • Air Ducts: This item deserves an article on its own. Independent studies have shown up to 35% loss in cooling capacity due to poor duct insulation, leaky ducts, leaking air vents and duct splicing.  Inspect for air leaks  throughout the entire system. All of these components that make up the delivery system should be sealed with the highest degree.  Use Aluminum faced tape or mastic paint rated for UL 181 applications to seal any holes. DO NOT USE FABRIC BASED “DUCT” TAPE. TIP: If you are considering replacing your HVAC system look seriously at replacing the duct work as well. Poorly insulated ducts can reduce your SEER rating by 50%.
  • Set Back Thermostat: If you don’t have one, you need one. This is one of the most effective ways in managing your heating and air conditioning requirements and costs. Basically, you program it to change the temperature automatically to meet your lifestyle needs by adjusting the temperature for periods when the house is not occupied. Regarding the maintenance? Most are battery equipped and you should change it once a year.
  • Attic Insulation: Inadequate attic insulation can also effect the performance of your system. Use this US Gov link to determine if you have enough insulation for your region. Use a straight edge or yard stick to measure the insulation in various places. Avoid compacting it or stepping on it any more than you have to. Use a rake to re-spread and  fluff the insulation.

Key Inspection Points Action Items:

  1. Replace air filters
  2. Inspect and clean all air grills
  3. Clean and inspect outdoor compressor unit
  4. Clean condensate drain
  5. Inspect ducts for leaks
  6. Change battery in thermostat
  7. Check level of attic insulation

Lamp Repair and Restoration

August 6, 2015

DLandL FinalV2aOk, its time to confess…. I’ve been cheating. Yes that’s right, I have another business/webpage.

Several years ago we had the opportunity to acquire a lamp repair business. Granted, its maybe not the most high tech cutting edge opportunity you would first think of, but on the other hand it fits right in my wheel house.  My hobbies have always involved building, restoring and repairing; be it motorcycles, houses, lawnmowers, sprinkler systems, mixers, lamps, etc., etc. When I went to college, getting a degree in Industrial Technology just seemed to fit.  So, when one of my life long friends that had been repairing lamps and lights decided to give it up and move to the country we jumped at the chance to keep the light burning.

So with that said, we started Dallas Lamp & Light.  Dallas Lamp & Light is a locally owned WhiteRock/East Dallas business specializing in light fixture repair as well as complete lamp restoration and redesign. Electrical rewiring is our  core competency but we also have the expertise and facilities to perform full rejuvenation including surface restoration of metal, wood and ceramics. Look to Dallas Lamp and Light to bring light back to your lamps and fixtures.

We carry a complete stock of  replacement components, including switches, cords, fixture receptacles and brass hardware. We also have a collection of over 35 years of specialty parts that can be used to bring your light back to tip-top shape.

Looking to update the look of a lamp? We can re-coat metal surfaces with traditional metal lamp colors and finishes as well as any color under the rainbow. Typically, we use either acrylic enamels,  thermoset and thermoplastic polymer coatings in lieu of plating to reduce exposure to environmental concerns. These coatings are very durable and work well in this application.

Interested in making a lamp from a favorite item? We can do that too! From musical instruments to bowling balls, we can turn that special treasure into a functional part of your household.

If you are local to the  Dallas Ft. Worth metroplex, or want to pack up that lamp and send it to me, we can help put the light back into most any lamp.

BOB

 

 


Seasonal Reminder – Summer 2015

June 30, 2015

169 I think most of the country, with the exception of California has had an extremely wet spring. For us here in the southwest, we are officially out of a 5 year drought (for now). With an annual rain fall of about 30 inches, you don’t really want it all in one month, but we surpassed it by achieving over 35 inches in the month of May. So, summer is officially here! With the 4th of July just around the corner, history could repeat itself as may not see much more rain till September.   This seasonal reminder is more about making sure everything continues to work well through the stress and strain of the summer months more than anything. If you live near me, getting these things done before 10 AM in the morning is the best time of the day, otherwise you may wait till after 6 PM or so (stay hydrated; regardless).  If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out.
  2. 100_0233HVAC Outdoor Unit: We did this in the spring and it’s good to do it again as vegetation has been growing through the spring months. Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 feet of clearance around the unit. Airborne particles generated by the blooming of trees and flowers can easily show up around the air conditioning condenser. Take your water hose and wash down the outside coils. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  3. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  4. Water Heaters: Make a visual inspection of the water heater. Look for dripping water and rust stains. Look at the exhaust flue to ensure it is still sealed. If its time to drain the tank or replace the anode, check the link for more details.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Even though we performed this maintenance during the spring, yard work and vegetation growth can cause some additional sprinkler maintenance. Exercise the system (again). Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by, odd spray patterns, missing heads, pooling water and brown spots.  Replace or repair the heads. Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks is the first of the series and covers the inspection, leak detection, repairs and tips in more detail.
  6. 100_0503Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  They are all looking for cool locations and possible water. If you are not opposed to using perimeter bug spray, this is a good time.
  7. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up. “Water Leaks”, cover this item too.
  8. Appliances: Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to clear the dust bunnies from around all appliances such as washers, dryers and  dish washers. Pull you refrigerator out from the wall and do the same. If it’s within your skill set, turn off the unit, pull the back cover off,  and vacuum out the condenser coils and all the dirt around the fan.
  9. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Gutters, culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  10. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. With tree limbs heavy with leaves, seed pods, fruits and nuts, you may have some limbs that are drooping on your electrical service lines.
  11. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  12. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Seasonal Reminder: Spring 2015

May 5, 2015

Bee hiveYes, that is me in the bee suit. Spring is not a great time to do bee remediation, but you will find them swarming this time of year. As for this picture, I found over 20k bees under my shed. Yes I knew they were there and had decided to let them do their thing, but the situation changed and I had to ask them to leave. They were not happy with my request. We did our best to save the hive.

This seasonal reminder  provides a list of items you need to review before the summer months set in. If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filter prior to the heavy air conditioning months.
  2. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Spring rains are approaching so inspect your roof for leaks, trim away any tree limbs and clean debris off the roof. Look for raised nails and any breaches in the roof surface.
  3. HVAC Outdoor Unit: Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 100_0233feet clearance around the unit. Also take your water hose and wash down the outside coils  that may have accumulated dirt. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  4. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Exercise the system. Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by and odd spray patterns. Replace or repair the heads. If you need more help on this item, click the “lawn sprinklers” tab to see multiple subjects on locating lost heads, valves as well as tune-up recommendations.
  6. Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for rotted wood, peeling paint and other exposed surfaces. Use caulk to re-seal cracks and touch up paint to reseal the surfaces. Replace rotten wood as necessary.
  7. Interior Inspection: Winter dry-out will have caused some surface cracks around doorways and windows. Also  re-caulk/grout any cracks that may have surfaced in the bathroom and kitchen, especially around the tub and shower. These two areas experience the most use and require the most maintenance.  Replace or clean water filters, faucet strainers and vent-a-hood filters in the kitchen. Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes.
  8. Water Heaters: Tank type water heaters should have their pressure release valve tested (opened and closed). This will also validate the drain pipe is clear and open.
  9. Gutters and Downspouts: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely.
  10. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  11. Windows and doors: Look at the edges where the windows and doors connect to the house. Ensure the caulk is in good shape and add caulk as necessary, indoors and outdoors.
  12. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. Look for any damage that may have occurred over the winter. Look for tree limbs that may be contacting the entrance cable.
  13. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  14. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly.
  15. Test Smoke Detectors:  It’s a good time to clean off the cob webs and change the battery.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Washing Machine Inspection – Cheap Insurance

January 1, 2015

The Insurance Industry reports over $200 million in water damages a year related to washing machines each year.

Most of us never think that one event caused by the washing machine can quickly create serious damage to our house in less than a few hours. In fact, if one of the water hoses connected the washer were to break, it will release approximately 600 gallons of water in an hour.

The cheapest insurance to protect against a bursting water hose in the house  is to turn the water off at the wall after each use.. Congratulations if you have the conviction and memory to do this on a daily basis…. I don’t.

Most washers are equipped with standard light duty water hoses rated for 3-5 years of service. At the least, a yearly inspection can reduce the risk, but it still not a guarantee that it will protect you from an inevitable flood.

Yearly Inspection: At the least, performing this inspection will further reduce the probability of having a flood associated with the washing machine.

  1. Clearance: The washer should maintain a 4-5 inch gap between the back of the washer and wall. Ensure the hoses are not crimped or kinked.
  2. Hoses: With the water on, grab the hoses and move them around to ensure they are still very pliable.   Granted, they will be a little stiff since they are under pressure. Run your hands over the entire surface area of both the hot and cold hoses looking for any abnormalities, such as bubbles (like in the picture)  or surface cracks. Move the hoses in a circular motion specifically around the collar terminations at the washer and at the wall.  Typically this is where the hose will break. Be ready, this inspection may cause the  hose to leak or  break. If so, be ready to turn the water off. TIP: As with all plumbing work, make sure you can successfully turn the water off before starting the inspection. ANY amount of water detected is enough to warrant replacement of the hoses, unless the leak is at the threaded connections.
  3. Connections: Make sure the threaded connectors are tight at both the wall and the washer.
  4. Hose Inspection Part II: Turn the washer on to warm, as the washer is filling up, turn the water off (H&C) at the wall. Turn the washer off allowing the hoses to drain a bit into the washer.  Inspect the rubber hoses again for pliability.
  5. Final Inspection: When finished with #4, turn the water back on and reset the washer; re inspect the hoses and connectors  for leaks.

Upgrade Solution:

For those of you that have experienced a flood of this type, or like me, prefer, to fix it before it breaks you have a couple other options to consider. Most of you know, I am kind of a techno-nerd. So at this point, it would be easy for me to jump off into a solution with electric solenoids, wifi based alerting sensors and such, but this one only requires the KISS  approach (keep it simple stupid). If you look at my article on “How Long Will They Last“, you will see a clothes washer should last you about 13 years.  Lets look at the  choices for hoses:

  • Standard Replacement Rubber Hoses: With a life expectancy of the 3-5 years and a cost of ***  and an hour of labor to do it. If you have to use a professional, add another $75 bucks, it’s about $100 every 3 to 5 years or $300 over the lifetime of the washer. TIP: This is a fairly simple exercise similar to changing a garden hose, but you will have to move the washer around to get to the hoses.
  • Metal Braided PVC Hoses: Considered an upgrade,  easily acquired at the big box store and priced at approximately $30 for the pair. With a life expectancy of 5 years (at best). These hoses give the appearance of sustainable life, but in reality the stainless steel braiding serves to protect a standard type PVC hose from the natural elements, otherwise it would  not be anymore  durable than the standard rubber hose.  It can break easily at or near the connectors as well.
  • High Grade Rubber Hoses: If you have been around much construction equipment, you are well aware of the use of rubber hoses used in hydraulics. These hoses are under constant high pressure at the tune of about 1400 lbs. These hose can be made custom or through Floodchek who design them specifically for this application in both red and blue in color. Floodcheck  hoses have been used in commercial real estate application for years and  are warranteed for 20 years. Priced at under $50 for the pair. Whether  custom or from Floodchek, these hoses will last the lifetime of the washer and is fairly cheap insurance. HomeownerBOB recommends this solution.

Ok, so this solution wasnt good enough for you, here are some items  that are belts and suspenders. However, for me, the upgraded hoses are more than adequate. I say this because the solenoids will stop the water in the even of a flood, they also induce new failure points that are not worth it in my book.

  • Electric Solenoids: Floodstop will detect water on the floor and tell the water to shut off at the washer connection.
  • Water Alarm Detector: This device works in conjunction with your burglar alarm activating an alarm condition that would report to you or the burglar alarm monitoring company. NOTE: Unfortunately, by the time you get home, the damage is done.
  • Whole House Flood Detector: This is the premium solution as it allows sensors any where and everywhere. If you house is over 10,000 sq. feet, you might consider this, otherwise its pretty expensive.

Seasonal Reminder Fall 2014

September 28, 2014

Fall PictureThe Fall Season has been here for a week and it is still a bit warm. Looking at the long term forecast we may still see 90 degrees!   But no complaints. It was a mild summer with only a handful of days over 100. If you are in the northern climates this is your opportunity to “batten down the hatches” by tightening up the house. Re-caulking, sealing, and roof inspections are in order. Checking door and window seals are also a good idea. For the rest of us, the lower temperatures are a relief, summer is mostly over and we can attack those projects we wouldn’t touch during the summer. Click on the heading below to get a more detailed description of an inspection/maintenance item.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters:If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out.
  2. Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Remove the nests and use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  Dont forget to look at you electrical service entry as spring and summer growth, additional tree trimming may be required.
  3. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Winters are a bad time to look for roof leaks so inspect your roof for leaks, trim away any tree limbs and clean debris off the roof. Look for raised nails and any breaches in the roof surface and all the exposed vents.
  4. Sealing the Leaks: Summertime weather can cause the home exterior to dry out. Look for cracks and voids in building materials. Seal them with a good latex caulk. Larger voids should be filled (first) with a foam spray caulk, then to make it dressed for paint, use the latex caulk to finish it off and paint as necessary.
  5. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up.
  6. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  7. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and check the condition of  the battery.
  8. Chimney Flue Inspections and Cleaning: For our northern friends this is the time to ensure your stoves and fireplaces are prepared for the winter use. Inspect the stove seals, clean the chimneys and flues.
  9. Drain and cut-off sprinklers: If you are in the northern climates, its time to turn off these services to protect them through the winter. In the south, southwest and western part of the US, we can wait a few more months. For more details see Winterizing Plumbing.
  10. Smoke Detectors: As we enter the heating season, it’s a good time to clean the cob webs and change the battery.
  11. Lawn Sprinkler Adjustment: Whether you have to shut down your sprinkler or just reduce your watering schedule, now is the time.
  12. Power Outages: For some of us, this time of year can bring extended power outages, check out this post to make sure you are prepared

Seasonal Reminders – Summer 2014

June 29, 2014

funny-pictures-summerSummer is officially here, and  the good news is we have been getting needed rain. We are still WAY below on annual rainfall, but we’ll take anything we can get. With the 4th of July just around the corner, I suspect we have seen the last of the rain till September.   This seasonal reminder is more about making sure everything continues to work well through the stress and strain of the summer months more than anything. If you live near me, getting these things done before 10 AM in the morning is the best time of the day, otherwise you may wait till after 6 PM or so (stay hydrated; regardless).  If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out.
  2. 100_0233HVAC Outdoor Unit: We did this in the spring and it’s good to do it again as vegetation has been growing through the spring months. Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 feet of clearance around the unit. Airborne particles generated by the blooming of trees and flowers can easily show up around the air conditioning condenser. Take your water hose and wash down the outside coils. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  3. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  4. Water Heaters: Make a visual inspection of the water heater. Look for dripping water and rust stains. Look at the exhaust flue to ensure it is still sealed. If its time to drain the tank or replace the anode, check the link for more details.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Even though we performed this maintenance during the spring, yard work and vegetation growth can cause some additional sprinkler maintenance. Exercise the system (again). Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by, odd spray patterns, missing heads, pooling water and brown spots.  Replace or repair the heads. Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks is the first of the series and covers the inspection, leak detection, repairs and tips in more detail.
  6. 100_0503Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  They are all looking for cool locations and possible water. If you are not opposed to using perimeter bug spray, this is a good time.
  7. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up. “Water Leaks”, cover this item too.
  8. Appliances: Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to clear the dust bunnies from around all appliances such as washers, dryers and  dish washers. Pull you refrigerator out from the wall and do the same. If it’s within your skill set, turn off the unit, pull the back cover off,  and vacuum out the condenser coils and all the dirt around the fan.
  9. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Gutters, culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  10. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. With tree limbs heavy with leaves, seed pods, fruits and nuts, you may have some limbs that are drooping on your electrical service lines.
  11. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  12. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


HDMI Switchers and Cables – Internet TV Options

April 11, 2014

 After starting the series on disconnecting from cable TV “Cutting the Cord” , I realized it was a never-ending story. There are so many branches to the story, I decided to just consider it another category and write about it anytime I felt like it.. Granted, this is a little outside of the “prime objective” (Protecting Your Home Through Preventative Maintenance), but what the heck… its my site and I get lots of hits on Internet TV Options :).

The HDMI connector on the rear of your TV is currently the best way to get the highest quality reception from the source (DVD, DVR, Cable Box) to the TV screen. The quality of reception is no better than the cable that carries it. Typically TV’s have 2 maybe 3 HDMI connections. Optimally, for peak performance having a cable from each device to the TV will provide the best performance. However, for many people (me) it might not be practical, especially if your equipment is located in another room (like me). For this reason the best solution may be one good cable and a HDMI splitter (aka switch). By adding this device near your equipment you can connect all the source equipment using short cables, then you only require one cable between the TV and the HDMI splitter.

How do I choose a HDMI splitter? You can spend as little as  10 bucks to as much as several hundred. I looked throughout the  available devices and found the Monoprice products to be moderately priced and include the necessary features. Whether you go with Monoprice or not, here are the important features to include within your selection process.

  • Number of ports: Select a device with at least one maybe two or more ports than you need. For only a couple of bucks extra, you can accommodate a future game console or DVR. I would suggest a splitter with at least 4 ports.
  • LED indicators: A power-on lamp as well as a source indicator
  • IR Remote: If you equipment is located in another room, remotely switching from one source to another will be important. Granted, you now have ANOTHER remote to keep up with. Make sure and read my recent article on remotes.
  • HDMI Compliance: Make sure the device you purchase meets the current HDMI standards known as “HDMI 1.3a”. This is an industry standard rating that defines a level of performance. The features associated with HDMI 1.3 or better will provide higher speed and deeper color. It will also support 1080P. If a 3D TV is in your future, change that to HDMI 1.4.
  • Supports 1080P:  This will ensure, the device will not limit the broadcast ability of the source equipment. Devices compliant with HDMI 1.0 or better will cover this item.

What do I pick for an HDMI cable? There are lots of choices. It can be very easy to get caught up in the hype of all the flim flam marketing mumbo jumbo.. Most retailers jack the prices of most interconnect cables to recoup the lousy margin they had to take of the DVR they just sold you. (See PM cable comparison)  So if you can wait a couple of days, just buy it over the internet.. You will save BOO KOOS of money, especially if you have to buy a long one (like me). Many times, too much information just helps in making the decision difficult. (Some times when I try to explain some techy things to my wife, she reminds me that she really just wants to know what  time it is, and not how to know how to build a watch.) The basics are important: Larger wire size for longer distances. The smaller the number = bigger wire size. Here is the simple rules.

  • The lower the number, the larger the wire size (20 gauge (ga.) wire is larger than 26 ga.)
  • Use the shortest cable length between the connection points, don’t buy extra long ones and just coil them up.
  • Cable lengths of 15 feet or less = 24 ga
  • Cable lengths of 20 feet or less = 22 ga
  • Cable lengths of 45 feet or less = 22 ga (cable lengths over 45 feet will require an amplifier to provide you a quality signal).
  • Meets HDMI Standards 1.4
  • If you plan to run the cables through the walls, technically they should meet UL Class 2  to meet the fire rating.

As for a cable source,  I have used both Monoprice and Cablestogo with positive results. If you need a booster for lengths over 45 feet, look at Monoprice as well.

Good luck, BOB


Seasonal Reminder Winter 2014

January 9, 2014

Winter StormWinter got  here with an attitude for 2014, aka Polar Vortex (for what ever that means). Many of us are seeing record low temperatures and for those of us that have been living with mild winters, you should realize you will see some changes you may not have seen for quite some times. Furthermore, the longer it stays below zero, the more impact it can make.

  1. Plant material that has previously lived through the winters may die, so hopefully you have already covered them up.
  2. Outdoor faucets may freeze up. Either cover them up with some form of insulation material or turn the faucet off below ground
  3. Its also a good time to look at the trees that may be near the electrical service drop. Look for limbs that have drooped too close to the service wire. This is not the time to trim them safelty, but you should take not and trim them in early spring. If they are putting excessive stress on the service line you should call a professional.
  4. Also look at my article on extended vacations.

If that wasn’t enough for you, here are the regular winter items to look at. Take care and stay warm.

Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filters as we enter the heavy heating season.

  • Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Winter rain and snow can cause the most marginal leak to show up, If you can still get on your roof, give it a look.
  • Attic Inspection:  Making a general inspection of your attic  is important. Look for rodent tracks, damaged electrical  wires and importantly vents and stacks.
  • HVAC Indoor Unit:  Besides the air filter, look at the general condition of the unit. If the unit uses natural gas look for a good strong flame.  If you smell natural gas anywhere, address it immediately.
  • Set Back Type Thermostat: If the battery is a year old, replace it.
  • Winterize Plumbing: Wrap exposed pipes, fixtures and drain down the automatic sprinkler system.
  • Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  • Caulking and Sealing Windows and Doors: Look at the edges where the windows and doors connect to the house. Ensure the caulk is in good shape and add caulk as necessary, indoors. (leave the outdoor caulking till Spring).
  • Tile Grout and Caulk: Take a look in your bathrooms for separation in the tile grout and around the tub and shower. Winter heat will cause those materials to shrink. This is a great time to reapply caulk or grout in those areas.
  • Gutters and Downspout: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely. This is as much a fall issue for the colder climates, but in the warmer states we are still seeing leaves fall. Look for a new article on this one next year. As you may know, I hate gutters, but I found a new product that may reduce my dislike. I will order some of the product and install them on another house that has lots of tree to see if they work.
  • Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for those wasp/bird  nest and remove them with a broom. At this time of year you will have little resistance from them.
  • Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  • Seasonal Power Outages: Winter storms can leave many without electricity and other essential services. Review these items for safety sake.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks II

July 31, 2013

lawn20edge20pop20up2011My wife complained the water bill had gone to the moon (again) last month. Even HomeownerBOB has sprinkler leaks!! In this post I hope to show another way to identifiy water leaks in automatic lawn sprinklers. After doing the basics, it was obvious, it would take a little more effort.

At this point, I still had no idea where the leak was other than I was confident it was past the valve as the meter was not moving otherwise.

Most sections should use near the same amount of water except where it might be a very small section or (in my case) I have 3 sections using emitter tube for drip irrigation, but even in this case there should be some relative similarities.

  1. Access the water meter for the property, clean the meter face or get to where you can watch the meter move.
  2. Make sure all other water devices are turned off or wont come on during this test
  3. If you have a controller that has a test sequence, set it to 1 minute. If not, have some one manually operate it at one minute per section.
  4. Have a friend turn it on while you are positioned to watch the meter
  5. Once it starts, watch the meter (this is not real scientific, but you are looking for a difference in the trend.
  6. You should beable to recognize when the watering changes from one zone to the next as the water meter will stop (very briefly) then start again.
  7. In most cases the meter will briefly run very fast, then (noticeably) slow down.
  8. Compare the speed and gallons used by each section. (your comparison should be like for like, in other words, pop-up sections to pop-up sections and so on.
  9. If you find a section that does not trend the same way (i.e. does not slow down after the initial turn up), it is likely that this is your problem zone. In my case, I had two that looked funny.
  10. Stop the test and run just the sections that appeared perculiar. Walk the entire section, head by head to find larger quantities of water.

100_0203In my case, the problem was in the emitter section. It is not unusual to spring a leak in these sections either due to driving a shovel (my wife) through one, or one of the ends coming open. It ended up being neither, but was caused by an inline filter I installed (below ground under this cover) to keep the emitters clean. This has happened to me before on a different section as I used these fancy filters that self clean them selves, unfortuntly they tend to stick open, and they have to be replaced. I replaced them with a non-self cleaning type. I have one more that could go bad, so its only a mater of time.

Make sure and click on the Lawn Sprinkler tab to see all my articles on lawn sprinklers.


Seasonal Reminder Summer 2013

July 13, 2013

Sprinkler1Summer is Here!!! You can plan on one thing here in Texas, the weather is always changing. While both the East and West Coasts have been having bad weather, its been quite pleasant here. Being nearly half way through July, we have only seen about 3-4 days over 100. It’s been GREAT!!. This seasonal reminder is more about making sure everything continues to work well through the stress and strain of the summer months more than anything. If you live near me, getting these things done before 10 AM in the morning is the best time of the day, otherwise you may wait till after 6 PM or so (stay hydrated; regardless).  If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out.
  2. 100_0233HVAC Outdoor Unit: We did this in the spring and it’s good to do it again as vegetation has been growing through the spring months. Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 feet of clearance around the unit. Airborne particles generated by the blooming of trees and flowers can easily show up around the air conditioning condenser. Take your water hose and wash down the outside coils. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  3. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  4. Water Heaters: Make a visual inspection of the water heater. Look for dripping water and rust stains. Look at the exhaust flue to ensure it is still sealed. If its time to drain the tank or replace the anode, check the link for more details.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Even though we performed this maintenance during the spring, yard work and vegetation growth can cause some additional sprinkler maintenance. Exercise the system (again). Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by, odd spray patterns, missing heads, pooling water and brown spots.  Replace or repair the heads. Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks is the first of the series and covers the inspection, leak detection, repairs and tips in more detail.
  6. 100_0503Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  They are all looking for cool locations and possible water. If you are not opposed to using perimeter bug spray, this is a good time.
  7. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up. “Water Leaks”, cover this item too.
  8. Appliances: Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to clear the dust bunnies from around all appliances such as washers, dryers and  dish washers. Pull you refrigerator out from the wall and do the same. If it’s within your skill set, turn off the unit, pull the back cover off,  and vacuum out the condenser coils and all the dirt around the fan.
  9. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Gutters, culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  10. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. With tree limbs heavy with leaves, seed pods, fruits and nuts, you may have some limbs that are drooping on your electrical service lines.
  11. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  12. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Seasonal Reminder Spring 2013

April 10, 2013

spring 2013So far Spring is coming in on its own terms… Still seeing some weird weather along the way. Take a day and  repair the items that have deteriorated over the last few months and perform a little preventative maintenance around the house.   This seasonal reminder  provides a list of items you need to review before the summer months set in. If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filter prior to the heavy air conditioning months.
  2. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Spring rains are approaching so inspect your roof for leaks, trim away any tree limbs and clean debris off the roof. Look for raised nails and any breaches in the roof surface.
  3. HVAC Outdoor Unit: Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 100_0233feet clearance around the unit. Also take your water hose and wash down the outside coils  that may have accumulated dirt. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  4. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Exercise the system. Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by and odd spray patterns. Replace or repair the heads. If you need more help on this item, click the “lawn sprinklers” tab to see multiple subjects on locating lost heads, valves as well as tune-up recommendations.
  6. Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for rotted wood, peeling paint and other exposed surfaces. Use caulk to re-seal cracks and touch up paint to reseal the surfaces. Replace rotten wood as necessary.
  7. Interior Inspection: Winter dry-out will have caused some surface cracks around doorways and windows. Also  re-caulk/grout any cracks that may have surfaced in the bathroom and kitchen, especially around the tub and shower. These two areas experience the most use and require the most maintenance.  Replace or clean water filters, faucet strainers and vent-a-hood filters in the kitchen. Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes.
  8. Water Heaters: Tank type water heaters should have their pressure release valve tested (opened and closed). This will also validate the drain pipe is clear and open.
  9. Gutters and Downspouts: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely.
  10. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  11. Windows and doors: Look at the edges where the windows and doors connect to the house. Ensure the caulk is in good shape and add caulk as necessary, indoors and outdoors.
  12. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. Look for any damage that may have occurred over the winter. Look for tree limbs that may be contacting the entrance cable.
  13. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  14. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly.
  15. Test Smoke Detectors:  It’s a good time to clean off the cob webs and change the battery.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Testing Home Alarm Systems

January 21, 2013

Home Security Alarm Systems are probably one of the most overlooked household safety items. We all assume they will work properly when needed. If you are a follower of this blog, you have figured out that I like to fix it before it breaks and know how to use it when needed. I read most manuals , and try to troubleshoot something before calling a repairman.( I am really not that boring, but fairly predictable)  With all that said, many of us spend $100 to $500 a year to have our house monitored, but beyond about 3-5 false alarms a year, we rarely use much of the service provided.

This post will cover the basics of how to inspect your system. Even though you can call out a technician (for a fee) you can do most of analysis yourself. Typically the monitoring service will work with you over the phone as you cycle  the system. Since every system is a little different, you need to refer to your owners manuals to validate the exact process or method. My attempt here will be to generically walk you through the various stages and elements of the system.

Pre Inspection Check list

  1. Registration: Many municipalities require residential security systems be registered with the local police department. Typically, the fee is around $25. per year. Yes, it is an additional method of revenue generation for your local city, however if you fail to register the system they will (excessively) fine you for false alarms, as well as discontinue any dispatches. Ensure your registration is paid and up to date. Some municipalities will just refuse to dispatch without an up to date registration
  2. Documentation: Locate any/all alarm programming manuals. You might pre-read them prior to calling the alarm monitor center.
  3. Phone Connection: Assuming the installed system is monitored by an alarm center, there should be either a phone line connected or a Cell phone transmitter. If you don’t have your system monitored, you can still perform most of the tests. The assumed response upon activation will be an audible alarm.
  4. Phone Dialer: Some DIY systems have an outbound phone dialer. It can be set up to call a cell phone, pager, friend, but the police will not accept these calls direct. Typically this includes a recorded message to the intended receiving party. This is a cheap way to have a monitored system without paying the monthly fee.
  5. Alarm Monitor Center: Contact your alarm center to make sure all your contact information is current. This would include your primary and secondary contact numbers. As added insurance, ask the Center what number they would call from to contact you in case of an alarm condition.  (it may not be the main number). Program this number in your cell phone as “HOME ALARM“, so when you get the call, you will answer it.  With all that said, be ready to answer any password protection codes to further the dialog.

Security System Testing: Since there are dozens of alarm system types, they are all a little bit different. This method is generic and you may have to make a few changes or additions for your specific brand. Some tests can be performed without actually creating a real alarm. Most of the tests can be performed without monitor center but they need to be aware of the tests you are preparing to perform. Before you get started, call them and ask them if they can work with you over the phone to test the features of the system. This will get you through most of them. If you are testing anything that will provide an active alarm. Tell them you will be testing within a certain time frame (such as 10A to 10:30A). They can record the condition but not dispatch. When you are finished you can call them to confirm they saw all the conditions.

Key Pad Alarm: Most key pads include buttons labeled for Fire, Police or just Instant. Work with your alarm center for testing these conditions. Read the documentation on this devices as it will allow you to adjust settings or configurations.

  • Phone Dialers: Mentioned above, if you have one of these, make sure the call list is up to date and the phone line is still connected. As you test your system, any alarm activation that would be recognized by the alarm control center would be seen by your call list. If you have a monitored system you will probably not have an independent phone dialer, so skip this step.
  • Door/Window Sensors: If the alarm sensor was installed after the house was built, the sensors will look like this. Assuming you have these type sensors, opening and closing the door or window should be recognized by the local touch pad. There may even be a pre-alarm (beep beep) or a code showing up on the key pad.  Every system is a little different, but if you get this kind of pre-alarm, you should be able to open all windows and doors equipped with this type sensor. Open and close each and every location that includes a sensor to ensure the panel recognizes the condition. For instance, if every window in your house is monitored, when you have an open door/window, the alarm panel should display or beep, due to the change in the condition. A number code/red lamp or beep should occur of each window and door being monitored . Regardless of the system and type of display; you should have a clear or green condition with all the door/windows closed and a red/alert condition if the door/window is open. Be aware, you may not have sensors on every door and window. If that troubles you, adding a sensor is not that difficult and can be a DIY option or performed by the monitoring company.
  • Glass Break Sensors: As pictured these can be very generic looking, and they may look as much like a smoke detector, but their locations will be more room related than smoke detectors, they will also be a little smaller. These can be tested, but a sensor tester is required. Granted the cost of the tester is about the same as calling the technician to come out. So you make the choice. Typically this condition is set up to send an immediate alarm so, you need to contact the Alarm Center prior to testing. Each sensor should identify on the key pad as well as to the Alarm Center. It is good to know what the identification codes are as it will help you understand the failure location.
  • Smoke Alarms: Depending on the installation, the smoke detector may or may not be connected to the alarm system. If they are connected to your alarm panel, they are probably connected to each other as well. Once you activate one, it should cause the others to beep. Your documentation or Alarm Center can verify this. Independent detectors will have a test button on the surface, where integrated detectors may not. If it doesnt have a test button, it requires “smoke in a can“. This provides the necessary element to activate the detector. DO NOT us anything like a candle or burnt paper to perform this test. The can of smoke is about $15 and can be used more than once.
  • Motion Detection: These can be a bit more tricky to test. Try to find the manufacturers documentation to help understand a specific test plan. Typically they will be mounted on a wall or hung from the ceiling. By nature, they work best when you pass in front of it, not walking toward it. When it was installed, that should have been a big consideration as to its location. Many of them have activation sensor on them (red light that blinks) when it picks up on movement. However, to fully test it, you should arm the alarm and walk in front of it to be activated. Like the smoke alarm this will trigger an instant alarm condition, so work with the monitoring center to test this unit. 
  • Audible Alarm: You probably have already heard this by now, however, its important to ensure that the audible alarm comes on conditionally related to the alarm. So, it should be active on any door, window, smoke, or motion detection.
  • Non-Audible Alarm: Most alarm systems have a “Silent Activation” feature. Assuming you were involved in the initial installation, you should be aware how this work. Typically its associated with your entry code, but either the Alarm technician or Monitoring Center can walk you through this step.

Hopefully after finishing this exercise you will have a better understanding of the system and feel confident in its performance.


Seasonal Reminders Winter 2013

December 29, 2012

Cycling in Winter 2013Many of us wondered if winter was going to get here at all. Here in Texas, we have had record winter highs, but it looks like it might start getting cold (regularly). The Winter list is fairly short. Mostly indoor stuff, stay warm and safe.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filters as we enter the heavy heating season.
  2. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Winter rain and snow can cause the most marginal leak to show up, If you can still get on your roof, give it a look.
  3. Attic Inspection: I mentioned this item in December. Making a general inspection of your attic  is important. Look for rodent tracks, damaged electrical  wires and importantly vents and stacks.
  4. HVAC Indoor Unit:  Besides the air filter, look at the general condition of the unit. If the unit uses natural gas look for a good strong flame.  If you smell natural gas anywhere, address it immediately.
  5. Set Back Type Thermostat: If the battery is a year old, replace it.
  6. Winterize Plumbing: Wrap exposed pipes, fixtures and drain down the automatic sprinkler system.
  7. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  8. Caulking and Sealing Windows and Doors: Look at the edges where the windows and doors connect to the house. Ensure the caulk is in good shape and add caulk as necessary, indoors. (leave the outdoor caulking till Spring).
  9. Tile Grout and Caulk: Take a look in your bathrooms for separation in the tile grout and around the tub and shower. Winter heat will cause those materials to shrink. This is a great time to reapply caulk or grout in those areas.
  10. Gutters and Downspout: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely. This is as much a fall issue for the colder climates, but in the warmer states we are still seeing leaves fall. Look for a new article on this one next year. As you may know, I hate gutters, but I found a new product that may reduce my dislike. I will order some of the product and install them on another house that has lots of tree to see if they work.
  11. Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for those wasp/bird  nest and remove them with a broom. At this time of year you will have little resistance from them.
  12. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  13. Seasonal Power Outages: Winter storms can leave many without electricity and other essential services. Review these items for safety sake.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Seasonal Reminders Fall – 2012

September 24, 2012

The Fall Season has been here for a week. We are still regularly in the high 80’s. But no complaints. It was a mild summer with only a handful of days over 100. We did get to see some rain compared to the Midwest. f you are in the northern climates this is your opportunity to “batten down the hatches” by tightening up the house. Re-caulking, sealing, and roof inspections are in order. Checking door and window seals are also in order. For the rest of us, the lower temperatures are a relief, summer is mostly over and we can attack those projects we wouldn’t touch during the summer.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters:If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out.
  2. Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Remove the nests and use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  Dont forget to look at you electrical service entry as spring and summer growth, additional tree trimming may be required.
  3. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Winters are a bad time to look for roof leaks so inspect your roof for leaks, trim away any tree limbs and clean debris off the roof. Look for raised nails and any breaches in the roof surface and all the exposed vents.
  4. Sealing the Leaks: Summertime weather can cause the home exterior to dry out. Look for cracks and voids in building materials. Seal them with a good latex caulk. Larger voids should be filled (first) with a foam spray caulk, then to make it dressed for paint, use the latex caulk to finish it off and paint as necessary.
  5. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up.
  6. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  7. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and check the condition of  the battery.
  8. Chimney Flue Inspections and Cleaning: For our northern friends this is the time to ensure your stoves and fireplaces are prepared for the winter use. Inspect the stove seals, clean the chimneys and flues.
  9. Drain and cut-off sprinklers: If you are in the northern climates, its time to turn off these services to protect them through the winter. In the south, southwest and western part of the US, we can wait a few more months. For more details see Winterizing Plumbing.
  10. Smoke Detectors: As we enter the heating season, it’s a good time to clean the cob webs and change the battery.
  11. Lawn Sprinkler Adjustment: Whether you have to shut down your sprinkler or just reduce your watering schedule, now is the time.
  12. Power Outages: For some of us, this time of year can bring extended power outages, check out this post to make sure you are prepared

Watering Your Foundation – Getting Ready for the Summer

June 6, 2012

As mentioned in my last post on watering your foundation; Here in North Texas it is essential.  Since this is not a one time event but a regular requirement, you might as well look at a relative permanent approach to the solution. I identified two ways to do this last time, one is fairly quick, where the second one is a bit more involved. This is the quick one.

Soaker Hose Solution: This is a fairly simple homeowner task but there are some limitations and issues that have to be addressed before you start.

  1. Length Limitation: No one single hose shall be more than 100 ft from the source. In other words, if it is 200 feet to circle you house from one outdoor faucet, you will need to either create two systems or split the line from the faucet with one line going clockwise halfway around the house and the other line going the other way.
  2. Pressure Regulators: Especially with a porous type soaker hose, high pressure will cause un-equal watering, meaning it will be real wet close to the source and fairly dry at the end of the run.  A 10PSI regulator is recommend. Worse case, no more than 30PSI.
  3.  Elevation: Because there is no way to regulate how much comes out of the pores, placing a hoses down (or up) a slope will cause the hose to over water on the low side. (No more than a 2in rise over 100ft)  If this is an issue try cris crossing horizontally to get up the hill.
  4. Backflow: Technically required to protect your water system; the backflow preventer, keeps water from seeping back into the pressurized water system.
  5. No Kinks: Simply said, do not allow the hose to kink as this will disrupt the flow of water to the system.

Building a Soaker Hose System: So now with the limitations understood, you should be able to construct a system without too much of an issue. Here are the major elements of the system. This bill of material is based on a one hose system originating from an exterior water faucet. NOTE: Most of the provided links are from Dripworks.com and MrSoakerhose.com. I have never used them, but their materials appear to be high quality, they have been in business for 20/30 years  and they will give you a price cut when buying volume. If you have a bad experience with them, let me know and I will pull the references.

  1. Hose Splitter: (not pictured)  Since you will probably still want to use the faucet for regular landscape watering, you will need to split water into two sources using a hose splitter. Spend the money and get a good brass unit with individual cutoffs. This will take a lot of abuse as you will keep the water turned on at this point, most all the time.  If you are building a multi-hose system, you will need a splitter with more than two outlets. Look at Dripworks at their selection. Avoid the plastic modes as they will only last a season or two. NOTE: if you need to run multiple soaker hoses, you will need a splitter after the regulator as well.
  2. Backflow Device: As mentioned above, these are technically required to keep contaminated water from traveling into the household water system.
  3. Timer: A battery operated single timer should meet most of your needs. You will have to monitor the water output initially to make sure you are getting good saturation. If you find pooling water, cut back the water usage. I would start with an hour a day two to three days a week. The water usage should be about 145 gallons per hour for 100 ft of soaker hose at. Using my current water usage rate of  .00020 cents per gallon that’s about 3 cents a day.
  4. Pressure Regulator: As mentioned above, this is required to promote equal water flow.
  5. Filter: (optional) on a system using the porous style of water hose, filtering the water for small particulate is fairly insignificant as you dont have limited holes to release the water.
  6. Garden Hose or Polypipe: Depending on where your water source is, you may need a section of water hose to get you to the foundation. Use the shortest length available or make up your own length.  If you need to build one, go the polypipe route. You can cut the hose to length and use the polypipe fittings to make up the ends. Make sure the polypipe and fittings are the same dimensions. Since all these connections are on the low pressure side of the system, these fittings are just simple resistance (chinese finger) snap in connectors.
  7. Soaker Hoses: Since this is a simple single run you may choose to just buy prebuilt hoses ($30 for 100ft). If you want to build you own, ($9 for 100ft, plus two fittings)

So here is what it looks like in dollars. Admittedly, you can probably do this a little cheaper, but I used high quality components, so this should last for years to come. Additionally, you could upgrade to a solar based timer so you wouldn’t have to worry about changing the battery in the timer as often.

Next time we will look at the HomeowerBOB foundation watering solution that builds the system off your existing lawns sprinkler system. (See Watering Your Foundation Part III) This is the “Tim the Tool Man Taylor” version and may be a bit extensive, but I have had little to no problems since installation. We will use the existing  sprinkler timer, add a new solenoid valve and a different style of distribution hose for more equal disbursement of water.


Gutters and Downspouts

April 7, 2012

Hopefully you read my articles on landscape drainage. In that article, I covered the fundamental components of any good drainage system. Gutters and downspout are the part of any good foundation drainage. If properly inpspected and maintained, gutters  and downspout will properly catch water and move it away from the house foundation. If they are not properly taken care of, they can cause more damage than not having them at all.

Okay, here is my secret. No, I don’t have gutters, nor do I want to put them on my house cause they are ugly. So, now that we all know that, I can continue the article. Lets look at all the good and bad reasons to have gutters.

Gutter Goods:

  • Gutters remove water from the house and keep from damaging the ground below the roof line.
  • Excessive water around the foundation can also damage the siding and wood structure of the house
  • The constant  change in moisture content can cause constant movement. This can make pier and beams move around causing the house to shift.
  • Gutters reduce the chances of allowing excessive water under the foundation. If you have a basement or crawl space; this excessive water can cause foundation, mold and eventual termite issues as they love moist soil.
  • With some modification, you can contain the water from the roof in rain barrels for landscape watering.

Gutter Bads:

  • Gutters are ugly.
  • They can easily clog if not maintained
  • If the gutter downspout drain into an underground french drain, they can also clog the underground drains
  • Gutters are high maintenance if not shielded from leaves and debris
  • Without shielding, gutters must be cleaned throughly twice a year
  • Gutters are ugly; or did I already say that

Inspection of Gutters and Drains: Assuming you have gutters, lets look at the inspection points and thing to consider important.

  • Gutters should naturally drain based on a designed fall toward the downspout. The gutter should fall 1/4 of an inch for every 10 feet. Assuming the gutter is clear and clean, stand on a ladder  at the furthest point from the downspout. Run water through the gutter and visually watch the water move toward the downspout
  • Based on the above inspection, if you find water standing, inspect the hangers in the vicinity to ensure they are installed every 2 feet, tight and secure to the house fascia board.

Roof Gutters: Ugly as they may be, they serve a purpose. During a heavy rain fall the surface area of the roof takes on a lot of water. Naturally it will run down the roof to the edge. Without gutters, this water and the lack of a proper grade can cause excessive water to pool under the house.  The number one reason for gutters is to move the water away from the house.  Hopefully its path takes it to the street, alley or drainage ditch. Additionally, the gutter downspout should extend away from the house at least 10′  with a fall of 6″ over the 10′ distance. This will ensure the water moves away from the structure.

  • Roof Gutters combined with sub surface drain pipes: To reduce the ugliness of the roof gutter downspout, adding sub-surface drains can help. Granted, this can be expensive as these pipes must be ditched into the ground and run far enough away from the house for the water to naturally drain.
  • Dry Creeks: This may be a stone or rock drainage ditch that is normally dry until the rain water needs a place to go. Creating a Dry Creek to channel the water will assist in moving the water around or away from the residential structure. Read more about how to build a dry creek.
  • French Drains: Similar to sub-surface drains, but the pipes are normally perforated. These 4″ pipes pick up the water that is seeping into the ground; like the sub surface drains, these pipes must be ditched away from the house with a fall  and run far enough away to allow the water to drain naturally. TIP: It is not unusual to have both sub-surface and french drains, but they should not be mixed; in other words do not combine them into just one pipe system. This item is easily a topic in its self. Read more about how to build a french drain for more details.

So, ugly as they may be, they are very important. Gutters are relatively inexpensive for what they provide. It’s not uncommon to find gutter systems in need of help as they are easily neglected. Maintain them well and they will take care of you and your house.

So you may be wondering, I dont have gutters but I must be doing something, right? You are correct, but that is another story for another post.


Seasonal Reminder – Spring 2012

April 1, 2012

Spring time is riding time but it’s also time to fix all those items that broke during the winter months. Take a day and  repair the items that have deteriorated over the last few months and perform a little preventative maintenance around the house. This seasonal reminder  provides a list of items you need to review before the summer months set in. If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filter prior to the heavy air conditioning months.
  2. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Spring rains are approaching so inspect your roof for leaks, trim away any tree limbs and clean debris off the roof. Look for raised nails and any breaches in the roof surface.
  3. HVAC Outdoor Unit: Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 100_0233feet clearance around the unit. Also take your water hose and wash down the outside coils  that may have accumulated dirt. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  4. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Exercise the system. Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by and odd spray patterns. Replace or repair the heads. If you need more help on this item, click the “lawn sprinklers” tab to see multiple subjects on locating lost heads, valves as well as tune-up recommendations.
  6. Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for rotted wood, peeling paint and other exposed surfaces. Use caulk to re-seal cracks and touch up paint to reseal the surfaces. Replace rotten wood as necessary.
  7. Interior Inspection: Winter dry-out will have caused some surface cracks around doorways and windows. Also  re-caulk/grout any cracks that may have surfaced in the bathroom and kitchen, especially around the tub and shower. These two areas experience the most use and require the most maintenance.  Replace or clean water filters, faucet strainers and vent-a-hood filters in the kitchen. Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes.
  8. Water Heaters: Tank type water heaters should have their pressure release valve tested (opened and closed). This will also validate the drain pipe is clear and open.
  9. Gutters and Downspouts: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely.
  10. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  11. Windows and doors: Look at the edges where the windows and doors connect to the house. Ensure the caulk is in good shape and add caulk as necessary, indoors and outdoors.
  12. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. Look for any damage that may have occurred over the winter. Look for tree limbs that may be contacting the entrance cable.
  13. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  14. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly.
  15. Test Smoke Detectors:  Its a good time to clean off the cob webs and change the battery.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Celebrate National Fix a Leak Week

March 18, 2012

Ten percent of homes have water leaks that waste 90 gallons or more water per day. Participate in National Fix-a-Leak Week by fixing a water leak this month.

The Silent Thief

A leaky faucet that drips at the rate of  one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water per year. If you have a dripping faucet or running toilet, these need to be fixed first and will solve the obvious water leaks. If you need to call a handyman or plumber.. the time is now. If you want to give it the DIY try, visit EHow.com for a straight forward method for fixing common faucet and toilet leaks. However before you start, make sure you have already read my post on Water Supply Cut Off and City Water Cut Off.

Even though fixing water leaks is not normally what I would consider as preventative maintenance, fixing a faucet or toilet is something that is hard to miss, if you see it leaking….fix it. However, some water leaks can occur in places you would not normally view. Under the sink, behind the refrigerator, and under the house are just some of the places. These type water leaks can go unnoticed for weeks, months or even years. These leaks not only waste water but can cause structural damage to wood floors as well as foundations. If you have no leaks, this inspection is about 5 minutes. If you do, plan on a good part of the day.  Good luck .

The Inspection

This inspection method is really about finding those hidden leaks.  Insure that nothing will be turned on (dishwasher, toilet, sprinklers, etc.), or activated during this test. Before performing the inspection you must gain access to the meter. This may require a meter key that can be purchased in the plumbing section of any home improvement center. Once you have the meter box open, the meter should be visible. There are at least a dozen different water meters having different dials and gauges. Look for the “Low Flow” gauge in the meter (in the meter pictured here, the low flow indicator is the little red blob to the left of the large sweep hand, between the 7 and 8 on the dial). If you are unsure which gauge it is, turn on a faucet, leave it on and look at the meter. One of the gauges in the meter will be moving faster than any other part of the dial; this is the low flow gauge. Turn off the fixture, return to the water meter and watch the low flow indicator for approximately 3-5 minutes. If the meter progressively moves forward, you have some form of leak, if not no further investigations are required. If you do have a leak,  you can call a professional or try to further isolate the problem. Either way, it may take some time  as some the leak may not be visible.  $TIP$: Isolating the leak before calling the plumber will save you some money as the plumber will charge you by the hour whether he is looking or fixing a leak.

Before we start the leak isolation test, turn the water off here (to make sure you can). It may seem like a simple task and why should you do it just to say you can? Because when you really need to, time is of the essence, and you don’t have time to search for the right tool. This cut-off (on the street side of the meter head may be hard to get to, so find the right wrench that will work for you).  A crescent type wrench works best for me. The cut-off is probably a ball valve and you will only need to turn it 90 degrees from its current position.

Leak Isolation Group I (fixtures, faucets and toilets):

If you find a lot of  water or condensation on the fixtures, save the test for a dry or warmer day as this condition will make it difficult to find your problem.

As mentioned in the beginning of the article, you should have already fixed any obvious dripping faucets. This isolation method is for the hard to find leaks. If the low flow meter stops after any one of the isolation steps, you have found the source of the leak.

  1. One at a time, turn off each fixture at the wall and return to the meter to watch the low flow gauge. This should include all faucets, toilets, ice makers, water filters, dish washer and water heater (inspect last).   If the meter stops, there is a leak between the cut off and the fixture.
  2. If you find water dripping or puddles, take some unused toilet paper and wipe down the hose, pip, cut-off, fixture and both ends of the connection; everything under the sink.  TRICK: Why use TP you ask? TP is very absorbent, very pliable and you can see any water trace in the paper. Water travels down hill so look at the joints above the first sign of water.
  3. With the water turned on, start your inspection from the highest joint/connection. Look at the TP after wiping down each joint/connection/pipe section/cut-off. If you find any water deposits on the TP, you may have found the leak. Leaks are usually found at joints, couplings and connections. Assuming it can be tightened, do so by hand if possible or with a wrench, or call a plumber. TIP: Most plumbing connection are made with soft plastic, copper or brass, only tighten the joint to the point of not leaking, over tightening can cause it to leak worse.  Many plastic joints ca be tightened by hand. After tightening the joint, dry it completely and perform the TP test again. Perform the test at least twice. If the leak persists, replacing the rubber washer or seal at this joint may be required.
  4. Toilets: Toilets require the TP test as well. Since most residential toilets have a tank, you will have to verify that water is not leaking from the tank to the bowl. Remove the lid from the tank and add some colored tank bowl cleaner to the tank water (do not flush). Give it about 5 minutes, then see if any of the color has leaked in the bowl. You may have a leaky flapper valve.
  5. Check the water meter again. Hopefully you fixed it, but you could still have more leaks.
  6. Perform this series of tests as required for each water fixture in the house. This will include all faucets, toilets  refrigerator mounted ice maker, dishwashers and any other water consuming or delivering device.

Just to visually understand the relation to size of hole to amount of water loss, check out this table.

Look for articles on Sprinklers Leaks and Plumbing-Chasing Leaks Part II for additional leak detection methods.


Watering Your Foundation – Its a Texas Thing

March 5, 2012

If you are new to North Central Texas you may have never seen soil quite like this. Known locally as Black Gumbo, this clay soil has  a Jekyll and Hyde personality. In the fall, winter and spring it can be tolerable even though it will stick to everything that it touches it. But dry summers will change its personality. It can create cracks in the ground  large enough to swallow small animals. Break it up into small pieces and it become a weapon of mass destruction…. throw a clod at some one and you can easily put some ones eye out (as my mom would say). I have never met a shovel that liked it. The weapon of choice to dig in black gumbo? A Pic.

With all that said, what does that have to do with home foundations you ask? A lot; the properties of this soil allows it to shrink more than 15%. For this reason, the soil surrounding the foundation can easily pull away and leave it un supported or cause footings to permanently move.  Because of these characteristics, foundation repairing is a big business in Texas.

The two most common foundations are pier and beam and post tension slab foundations. Both can be repaired but slab foundations tend to be the ones with the most dramatic problems.  If foundation concerns are not addressed BEFORE they start, it can cost 10’s of thousands of dollars to repair them.  To protect your foundation (regardless of the types mentioned), you must water your foundation. Even though most sprinkler systems will help, most were designed to spray water away from the house. To complicate it further, many cities are enforcing landscape watering restrictions. Probably the most important fact associated with watering foundations is to do it 12 months a year. It is very import to maintain a constant moisture content to retain soil  consistency. Even if you only have minor issue (sticking doors, squeaky floors), managing the porosity of soil will even out the issues for a more stable foundation.

How to Water a Foundation: There are several methods.

  1. Hand Watering: I dont recommend this method, but it can work. It can be difficult to consistently apply the same amount of water around the entire foundation with a systematic approach.
  2. Soaker Hoses: By far the most popular,  “soaker hoses”,   are easily attached to water outlet and draped around the foundation of the house. These come in 25 and 50 foot length and can be connected in series. Try to place them within about 6 inches of the foundation. (TIP:Keep bare landscaped areas covered with a natural mulch (pine or hardwood bark, etc) This too will assist in retaining the moisture content around the structure. Covering the soaker hose with the mulch is acceptable.). You will need to inspect these regularly as I have found they deteriorate fairly quick (less than 3-5 years). Additionally, neighboring visitors (rats, mice, raccoons and such) have found a liking to chew on hoses, in turn puncturing them causing excessive water to come out in one place. Once broken, I have not seen a good way to repair them, so you will have to replace the hose.
  3.  Drip Lines: These hoses are designed with drip emitters in the hose every 12 inches. You can deploy them in the same method as mentioned for the soaker hoses, but the hose material is a bit more stiff. Staking them will help as they do not like to lay flat to the ground. You can purchase the hose in bulk from the Orange Box store of Sprinkler Warehouse. You will need to also purchase inter-hose connectors as well as a way to connect to your water source.

Regardless of the method of disbursement, doing it consistently is just as important as the watering itself.

Take a look at Watering Your Foundation to see a semi-permanent installation guide  to foundation watering.


Seasonal Reminder – Winter 2012

January 15, 2012

The Winter list is fairly short. Mostly indoor stuff, stay warm and safe.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filters as we enter the heavy heating season.
  2. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Winter rain and snow can cause the most marginal leak to show up, If you can still get on your roof, give it a look.
  3. Attic Inspection: I mentioned this item in December. Making a general inspection of your attic  is important. Look for rodent tracks, damaged electrical  wires and importantly vents and stacks.
  4. HVAC Indoor Unit:  Besides the air filter, look at the general condition of the unit. If the unit uses natural gas look for a good strong flame.  If you smell natural gas anywhere, address it immediately.
  5. Set Back Type Thermostat: If the battery is a year old, replace it.
  6. Winterize Plumbing: Wrap exposed pipes, fixtures and drain down the automatic sprinkler system.
  7. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  8. Caulking and Sealing Windows and Doors Look at the edges where the windows and doors connect to the house. Ensure the caulk is in good shape and add caulk as necessary, indoors. (leave the outdoor caulking till Spring).
  9. Tile Grout and Caulk: Take a look in your bathrooms for separation in the tile grout and around the tub and shower. Winter heat will cause those materials to shrink. This is a great time to reapply caulk or grout in those areas.
  10. Gutters and Downspout: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely. This is as much a fall issue for the colder climates, but in the warmer states we are still seeing leaves fall.
  11. Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for those wasp/bird  nest and remove them with a broom. At this time of year you will have little resistance from them.
  12. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  13. Seasonal Power Outages: Winter storms can leave many without electricity and other essential services. Review these items for safety sake.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Attic Inspection – Vents and Stacks

December 23, 2011

U.S. EPA  studies report unintentional carbon monoxide exposure accounts for an estimated 15,000 emergency department visits and 500 unintentional deaths in the United States each year.

Many of us only go to the attic for one reason; to get Christmas decorations. Its real easy to get the boxes and go, but there are good reasons to check things out while you are there. This picture is a combination of venting that should not occur. Hopefully you won’t find this during your inspection.

Reasons to inspect your attic:

  1. Recent activity: HVAC technicians, roofing activity, telephone repairman or  remodeling activity are all reasons to make these inspections.
  2. Rat, rodent infestation.
  3. Once a year “at Christmas Time”!!

What to inspect in your attic: As you should know, there are several devices in your home that requires venting, including water heaters, stoves, vent-a-hoods, wall heaters, clothes dryers and bathroom vents. Catagoricly these have different function as well as outcome associated with it, if it is not functioning properly. The following 4 pictures show what good vent pipes should look like. The bad ones are all together at the end.

  1. Water Heaters,  vent-a-hoods, wall heaters, stoves and HVAC systems: Any of these devices that use natural gas and require proper venting to exhaust the fumes from the burners (carbon monoxide) require an outlet. Typical vents consist of  a tin pipe 2″-8″ in diameter  connected from the top of the unit, then exits directly above through a roof vent cap. For years it was common to find these tin pipes just loosely fitted to each other on their way out. For this reason they are very easily knocked loose or disconnected. Current building codes now require the joints of these pipe to be secured and air tight. As seen in the first picture, the bends have been coated with HVAC mastic to complete the seal. The second picture is a water heater that was secured (screws holding the pipe together), but lacked the seal. We used standard HVAC aluminum tape to properly seal it.
  2. Clothes Dryers: If the dryer is electric, the only vent would be the standard dryer vent. If it uses natural gas it would have a vent similar to those in item #1.  It could be vented out the roof or to an outside wall. All the pipe joints should be securely connected and sealed to be air tight. Read the link on Clothes Dryer  Design for details of the standard dryer vent. An unsealed dryer vent can cause excessive moisture, humidity as well as an ugly mess.
  3. Bathroom Vents: Typically 2″-3″ tin pipe. It too can be vented through the roof or wall. Unsealed bathroom vents are similar to Dryers in that they can cause excessive moisture and humidity.
  4. Plumbing Vents: These will have a different appearance than other vents as they will be either PVC plastic, cast iron or heavy galvanized pipes. They are typically very rigid and will be near or above almost all plumbing drains, toilets, sinks, showers and tubs. It’s not as common to find these vents disconnected or unsealed, but possible. Unsealed plumbing vents will release unwanted sewer gas including  a mixture of ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and a little sulfur dioxide, all considered toxic.
  5. Wood Stoves and Fireplaces: Many new style non-masonry style chimneys are just huge vent pipes (6″ to 12″). These pipes are designed a bit different and if installed correctly will typically not be an issue, but should be inspected in the same manner as any fuel using device exhaust vent pipe. Masonry flues are typically double walled (or should be). If you have had foundation issues or see cracks with gaps of 1/8″or larger, there may be a reason to be concerned. A leaky chimney flue will emit  CO into the attic like #1.
  6. Portable Heating devices: Kerosene heaters were very popular in the 1980’s, (yes, I still have one). In cases like this, you must crack open a window or door to ensure fresh air is brought into the room as the heater will easily displace the oxygen.
  7. Attached Garages: Idling cars with the garage door closed can be a source of CO as it can migrate through the attic into the house.

Carbon monoxide is produced by common household appliances. When not properly ventilated,  carbon monoxide emitted by these appliances can build up. Red blood cells in the body pick up CO quicker than they pick up oxygen. If there is a lot of CO in the air, the body may replace oxygen in blood with CO. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can damage tissues and result in death.

Inspection Method:

  1. Before entering the attic, (especially the first time), write a note of what vents or stacks you are looking for. It’s very easy to get disoriented once in the attic. The first time you perform this inspection, it could take 45 minutes. Take a good flashlight with you. You may also want to wear a long sleeve shirt and pants to avoid contact with attic insulation. Also wear a dust mask and safety glasses. Make sure and stay on the wood rafters or plank pathways as you may put your foot through the ceiling.
  2. Note that you may not find a vent stack for each and every device. Especially plumbing devices. Many times plumbers will combine these together before they enter the attic. This is an acceptable method.
  3. Any one of the following eight pictures is somethings you may find. Unsealed, disconnected, open-ended pipes, pulled connections and just flat-out don’t exist. You may even find a section of pipe just laying in the attic. If so, look for a buried vent stack coming out of the ceiling and an associated roof vent with nothing connected.
  4. The intent with any of these vents is to achieve an air tight seal. In cases where the joints are secure but open, using Aluminum Foil Tape will properly seal the joint. If the joint is disconnected, secure it with screws or expanding hose clamps, then seal with the tape.
  5. If the pipe does not go anywhere, you will need to build or create one.  This is a mid-level DIY project, professional handyman or even plumber. If you plan to do it your self, look for data on the device being vented for recommendations or requirements for the associated venting.
  6. And lastly, buy a CO detector for the interior of the house. These look very simular to a smoke detector and can be installed on wall ceiling of placed on top of a piece of furniture.  They can be purchased on line or at the orange box store.


Seasonal Reminder – Fall 2011

October 27, 2011

The Fall Season has been here for a month, but with baseball still in season (go Rangers) and the temperatures barely below 60, it still feels like late summer.  If you are in the northern climates this is your opportunity to “batten down the hatches” by tightening up the house. Re-caulking, sealing, and roof inspections are in order. Checking door and window seals are also in order. For the rest of us, the lower temperatures are a relief, summer is mostly over and we can attack those projects we wouldn’t touch during the summer.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters:If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out.
  2. Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Remove the nests and use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  Dont forget to look at you electrical service entry as spring and summer growth, additional tree trimming may be required.
  3. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Winters are a bad time to look for roof leaks so inspect your roof for leaks, trim away any tree limbs and clean debris off the roof. Look for raised nails and any breaches in the roof surface and all the exposed vents.
  4. Sealing the Leaks: Summertime weather can cause the home exterior to dry out. Look for cracks and voids in building materials. Seal them with a good latex caulk. Larger voids should be filled (first) with a foam spray caulk, then to make it dressed for paint, use the latex caulk to finish it off and paint as necessary.
  5. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up.
  6. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  7. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and check the condition of  the battery.
  8. Chimney Flue Inspections and Cleaning: For our northern friends this is the time to ensure your stoves and fireplaces are prepared for the winter use. Inspect the stove seals, clean the chimneys and flues.
  9. Drain and cut-off sprinklers: If you are in the northern climates, its time to turn off these services to protect them through the winter. In the south, southwest and western part of the US, we can wait a few more months. For more details see Winterizing Plumbing.
  10. Smoke Detectors: As we enter the heating season, it’s a good time to clean the cob webs and change the battery.
  11. Lawn Sprinkler Adjustment: Whether you have to shut down your sprinkler or just reduce your watering schedule, now is the time.
  12. Power Outages: For some of us, this time of year can bring extended power outages, check out this post to make sure you are prepared

Cutting the Cord Part IV:II Seamless Intergration

August 28, 2011

As a refresher;  this is my trek to recreate a non cable, alternative TV solution to replace the $100 a month cable habit. Admittedly, I take a bit longer than your average media reviewer to make a decision or evaluate something.  As I mentioned back in Part IV.I, one of the hooks with the Cable TV option is the (relatively)  seamless use of cable box provided remote control and access to programing. As mentioned, the solution I have been creating is a bit more complex. To achieve a similar viewing experience, you need an antenna, an internet connection, a separate DVR, and maybe a DVD player.  While building this solution, I have been collecting additional remote controls and as of this moment I am up to 7 for one TV.

Houston We Have a Problem: Even for a techno geek, 7 remotes is over the top. Here are the devices in my solution requiring a remote:

  1. Cable Box, yes its still hooked up
  2. TV remote; used to shift from one source to another
  3. DVD;  to pause and play  those redbox rentals
  4. ROKU Box; Once you are in ROKU mode, you have to surf around through the selection menus
  5. HDMI Switch; Since all my equipment is remote from the TV, I use one HDMI cable from the A/V closet to the TV, so the switcher allows me to redirect the source from the cable box, DVR or ROKU box
  6. A/V receiver; I use this device when I want to use the surround sound speakers to watch movies
  7. CD Player; not really part of the TV solution, but a remote that is used to turn on the CD player

So needless to say, it was time to consider my options. Here are my concerns:

  • My current solution is fairly complex. It may require 2 to 3 different remotes to switch between the various sources.
  • If my solution is too complex or takes to many hands and remotes, its way too inconvenient. Two or three remotes might work, but 7 is way over the limit
  • If my wife wont accept the procedures required to get to the various sources, she will push back.

Universal Remotes: These all in one controllers  have been around nearly as long as multiple remotes. I have to admit, being cheap, I never considered any of them good enough to justify the expense. However, it was worth some research to see where the technology currently is.

The good news is, there have been dramatic strides in this category of electronic devices and by most sources, the Logitech brand is viewed as the bench mark product by many professional equipment reviewers.

Looking at the Logitech family of remotes  (at least 3 to choose from), they all function the same way but the 650 model only supports 5 devices and the 900 supports 15. In the middle is the Harmony One. The major differences with the more expensive 900 is the RF control. The Harmony One is very similar to the Model 600, but will control 15 vs. 5 remotes. Do you need the RF version? What is RF vs IR. IR (InferRed Light) devices require  line-of-sight to see all the devices vs. RF (radio frequency) that can transmit through walls. So, if you have all your equipment in a cabinet or closet, the RF device will project through the wall (granted you will still require a device to convert the RF to IR to talk to all the equipment since IR is the most common communications path for residential grade AV equipment. The Harmony One appeared to be the best choice for me since I already had an IR pipe to my equipment closet and I needed to control more than 5 devices.

Here is what makes the Logitech standout:

  • The tactical buttons to move around the devices (DVR, DVD, Cable Box) are pretty common. Such as; forward, back, up down, fast forward etc. So, no mater what device you are using, those common command buttons remain the same.
  • Device specific command are through a touch screen that allows you to access specific buttons  to further customize your request. (i.e. choose a CD track or access specific segments of a DVD). These commands are not near as regularly used as the ones mentioned above.
  • Activity based commands: This is the icing on the cake. With programing, you set one button to perform multiple functions on multiple devices. For instance; to watch a DVD with my system this is what happens: TV=On, TV=Video 1, DVD=On, DVD=Play, A/V Reciever=On,  A/V receiver= Video 1.  That is 6 commands over 3 different components  with ONE BUTTON. This is AWESOME… MY WIFE CAN DO THIS!!!!!! SHE DID THIS BEFORE I SHOWED HER HOW!!!!!!
  • The downside: I got excited in the last bullet point, so as you can imagine there is a “But”. You must use your PC to program the remote. Actually I see this as a plus. I found the program fairly easy to negotiate.  With installed programing, it walks you through the various components to perform the set ups… Yes, it will take the better part of a day to complete this function, but it is TOTALLY worth it. With Logitech library of  remotes, the program remains updated so, if you buy a new DVD in 2 years, they will probably have the code set , so all you have to do is upload the new instructions.

I have to admit, this part of “Cutting the Cable” caught me off guard. I did not figure this into the equation. However, if you look at my original formulas (Part I)  on cost and budget, we had some room to make some adjustments. The Harmony One has been out a couple of years, so the price has dropped from its original price of approximately $239 to about $165. The model 900 is fairly new, so they are still pricy ($349). Granted if your equipment is concealed you will need either the RF version remote or an IR Repeater (Channel Vision or Smarthome both have decent solution for under $100). If your equipment is in a remote closet, the RF version will keep you from having to run wires from the TV to the remote location and there is no receptor located at the TV. For me, I had already wired for IR, so it worked out better for me to use the IR.

I am approaching to final step, so stay tuned to see if we can make the final cut.


Heating/Cooling-Air Filters

August 13, 2011

 Indoor Air quality is between 2 to 5 times more polluted than the outdoor air (US Environmental Protection Agency, September 1999)

I am invoking the 90/10 rule on this subject. Good basic air filtration will reduce dust and keep your HVAC equipment in good working order. For the other 10%, specialized filtering may be required to obtain hospital grade filtration, reduce allergies or conditions that have caused your house to be considered sick. If you have concerns of that level you may try some expensive HEPA type filters or consult an air quality specialist.

aifilter

MERV 1-4

To help us understand filter performance,  the standards body ASHRA created the 52.2 standard for rating replacement air filters. MERV or Minimum Efficiency Rating Value defines filtration performance with a 1-16 scale with 16 being the most efficient. However, “efficient” in this context is about  the amount of  particulate collected through the filter at the cost of reduced air flow. Using  a filter with the highest rating will require more service as it may 1) clog more quickly, 2) require more regular replacements, 3) be more expensive, and 4) add undue wear to HVAC components, 5) cause your system to over work, in-turn use more electricity.  So, if you do not have specialized filtering needs, finding a happy medium between efficiency and air flow is the prime objective.

 MERV Rating 1-4: Typically a very thin membrane made of fiberglass strands. This filter will picks up the big stuff and will reduce particulate to your system but will not provide any real air quality value.  The efficiency rating is <20%.  A MERV 1-4 filter can be purchased for a around $1 each.

Pleated MERV8

MERV 5-8

MERV Rating 5-8:  Typically a pleated cloth type membrane is more efficient and should meet most normal needs. With an efficiency rating of >20 but <50% these pleated panel type filter will provide adequate filtration as well as keep your equipment in good shape. They are about $3 each.

MERV Rating 9-14: Used in commercial or industrial applications based on their ability to remove certain smells and oders are becoming more popular for the home market. Assuming you can find the size you are looking for it will cost you $8 or more. When you get past a MERV11 they can be more difficult to find and expensive.  See the ASHRA MERV table for specific filtering requirements.

TIP: When you jump from a MERV7 to a 11, the price triples. The biggest difference is the amount of efficiency.  Based on the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) Green Building Program they recommend a MERV 9 or better.  ASHRA 62.2P  also recognizes proper air filter efficiency at 60% or 3 microns ( MERV 9).

When you visit your home center they will probably limit your selection to 3 or 4.

  1. The cheap fiberglass stran filter, MERV 1-4
  2. A large selection of MERV 5-7. They may even be packaged in quantity priced at about $3 each or a little less in quantity.
  3. A MERV 9-11. Fewer sizes but still a reasonable selection. About $7.95 each. If you are struggling with allergies, something greater than a 10 may help.
  4. Maybe a HEPA (MERV14-15) or another high-end disposable filter at $15 to $100. These may be recommended to you for specific algeric conditions.
electrostatic-air-filter

Lifetime Electrostatic

Reusable or Life-time filters: Unfortunately there is not a standardized rating method for these type filters and I have failed to find enough independent data to support their use. Depending on who you listen to, an electrostatic filter could be similar to a MERV 4 on the low end and a MERV12 on the high. An electrostatic filter can cost between $60 to $300. If you are using a MERV 9 or better you may consider a reusable electrostatic type filter. You will have to be the judge as to it meeting your needs. HomeownerBOB has no recommendation here but I have read more positive comments about the BOAIR brand. If it works for you, it will  pay for itself in less than 2 years and you won’t be throwing filters in the trash.  The biggest advantages of  electrostatic filter are 1) they can be washed out and reused, 2) their efficiency rating is in the 90% range and 3) the airflow is excellent and does not deteriorate at the same rate as a pleated filter. Once you wash it, it is completely restored. Many times electrostatic filters come with a lifetime warranty.

Hybrid pleated/electrostatic charged filters:  MERV does not rate this type filter either. The manufacturers market this filter by having the attributes of both pleated and electrostatic filters, but at $17, its still a disposable filter.

Many professional will encourage you to change filters on a monthly basis and depending on where you live, that may be the right thing to do. HomeownerBOB recommends that you replace your filter some where between 2 to 4 times a year. You will need to be  the judge on the conditions that may warrant more or less frequent changes.

Reasons to change/clean your filter more frequently may include:

  • Continued use of heating or air conditioning throughout the year
  • Living on or near a busy street, highway, airports or rail road track
  • Living in a dry/arid part of the country
  • Living in an area with a low percentage of annual rain and or high winds (Texas, New Mexico, California, etc)
  • Living on rural property with a lot of exposed dirt
  • Living on an unpaved road

As I said in the beginning of this article, these filter recommendations are based on the larger body of population that does not have health related conditions. There are many more filters, filtering systems,  filtering strategy (cascading) and air exchange studies that can be used to solve air quality issues.

Recomendation:

It should be pretty obvious, unless you have special needs, or live in a very dusty enviornment, the MERV 5-7 should work fine.

Key Inspection Points and Action Items:

  1. Change, or clean your HVAC filter at least 2 to 4 times per year.

Attic Insulation – Do You Have Enough?

July 30, 2011

rockwool1Proper attic insulation can make a drastic impact on your utility bills. Any home over 5 years old should have the attic insulation evaluated as settling insulation and higher summer temperatures  can degrade its ability to protect your home from the summer heat.

7 reasons to be concerned about the condition of your attic insulation.

  1. High utility bills.
  2. Its been more than 5 years since the house was built.
  3. You have lived in the house for more than 10 years and never evaluated it.
  4. Some thermal insulation materials settle more than others.
  5. Increasing summer temperatures require more insulation.
  6. Recent contractor activity in the attic  (i.e. telephone, CATV, Security, HVAC). These workers can matt down the insulation while performing their job.
  7. Rodent infiltration. These buggers will easily pack down the insulation to get to various points of interest.

Acceptable attic insulation 10 years ago is not the same as it is today. In fact, in just 3 years, my region has been increased from an acceptable value of R31 to R38.

The Inspection:

  • Determine how much insulation is required. Use this Insulation Chart to determine how much is enough.
  • Enter the attic with great care. Attic entrances may be through a door or attic stair case or possibly a hatch in the closet. WARNING: You must keep your feet/body on the wood joists (beams) as stepping on the sheet rock will cause damage, and possibly cause you to fall through the ceiling.
  • With a flashlight and yard stick: Randomly check the depth of the material. Ensure the measuring device (yard stick) touches the sheet rock and measure to top edge of the insulation material. Try not to crush the insulation while performing the inspection.
  • Determine the type of insulation.  Different material have different R values.

rockwool3If you can see the ceiling joist as in this picture, you  probably do not have enough insulation.  Typical ceiling joists can range from 2 X4’s, 2X6’s to 2X10’s.  For instances, if you have 2X6 beams with loose fill rock wool, you would have a R value of 16.5 (3.0X5.5″=16.5). Newer houses typically have larger beams. Determine the material type as this will help in figuring out how much insulation to add. Use the chart below to calculate the R value of the existing insulation. TIP: If you find you have enough insulation in areas that have not been disturbed, but you find areas matted down due to activity or construction work. Use a soft plastic rake to fluff it back up.

Insulation Table

Common Types of Insulation in Residential Attics

  • batt insulationFiberglass: Comes in batts, blankets, and loose fill, either pink, white or yellow in color. Fibrous in nature and can leave you with microscopic splinters. TIP: Before working with fiberglass insulation, spread a heavy coat of baby powder over any exposed skin, this will fill your pores briefly while working with the material.
  • rockwool2Rock Wool (or Mineral Wool):Loose fill used aggressively prior to 1970. Usually brown or dark gray in color.
  • Cellulose:Loose fill made of recycled paper. Blue or gray in color. With close inspection you will find small pieces 100_0550of newspapers. The product is treated with a fire-retardant solution for safety.
  • Combination:This is not a type, but you may find a combination of two or all three types. Previous owners may have added insulation over the life of the house. This is not a problem, but you should determine how many inches of each type to calculate the value of the existing insulation.

By now, you should know, how much insulation you have vs. what you need. Assuming you need to add insulation, HomeownerBOB highly recommends hiring a professional for this task even though the home centers will provide you tools to perform the work. Once you determine what type of new insulation you prefer, you can easily bid shop the work over the phone.  The professional will need to know 1) square footage of the house, 2) type of insulation material you would like, 3) how many inches to apply.

So how do you determine what type of insulation to use? Read my article on “The Choices“.


Seasonal Reminder – Summer 2011

July 1, 2011

Summer is Here!!! We have hit 100 almost every day for the last two weeks and it not even July 4th yet.   This seasonal reminder is more about making sure everything continues to work well through the stress and strain of the summer months more than anything. If you live near me, getting these things done before 10 AM in the morning is the best time of the day, otherwise you may wait till after 6 PM or so (stay hydrated; regardless).  If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out.
  2. 100_0233HVAC Outdoor Unit: We did this in the spring and it’s good to do it again as vegetation has been growing through the spring months. Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 feet of clearance around the unit. Airborne particles generated by the blooming of trees and flowers can easily show up around the air conditioning condenser. Take your water hose and wash down the outside coils. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  3. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  4. Water Heaters: Make a visual inspection of the water heater. Look for dripping water and rust stains. Look at the exhaust flue to ensure it is still sealed. If its time to drain the tank or replace the anode, check the link for more details.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Even though we performed this maintenance during the spring, yard work and vegetation growth can cause some additional sprinkler maintenance. Exercise the system (again). Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by, odd spray patterns, missing heads, pooling water and brown spots.  Replace or repair the heads. Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks is the first of the series and covers the inspection, leak detection, repairs and tips in more detail.
  6. 100_0503Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  They are all looking for cool locations and possible water. If you are not opposed to using perimeter bug spray, this is a good time.
  7. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up. “Water Leaks”, cover this item too.
  8. Appliances: Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to clear the dust bunnies from around all appliances such as washers, dryers and  dish washers. Pull you refrigerator out from the wall and do the same. If it’s within your skill set, turn off the unit, pull the back cover off,  and vacuum out the condenser coils and all the dirt around the fan.
  9. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Gutters, culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  10. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. With tree limbs heavy with leaves, seed pods, fruits and nuts, you may have some limbs that are drooping on your electrical service lines.
  11. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  12. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Energy Vampires: Ways to Reduce Energy Consumption Around the House

June 17, 2011

Energy Phantoms or Vampires account for approximately 5% of the electrical energy used in every household, spread that across every home in the US and it adds ups up to 65 billion kilowatt-hours of wasted electricity each year.

As quoted from the Investigations of Leaky Electricity in the USA  paper ….. the average US house leaks constantly about 50 Watts. This is approximately five percent of the residential electricity use in the US. Leaking electricity falls into three major categories: video, audio and communication. Video equipment such as TVs, VCRs, cable boxes and satellite earth stations account for the largest share of residential leaking electricity, approximately 35%. Audio equipment accounts for 25% of standby consumption, and communication devices (answering machines, cordless phones and fax machines) are responsible for an additional 10%.

Energy vampires  can be defined as electrical devices that consume an amount of energy by doing nothing but waiting to be activated or used. This standby mode can be most recognizable in TV’s, video and audio equipment. But it really goes way beyond that.

Some of the common energy wasters in most homes are the adapters (aka: wall warts) that come with rechargeable battery-powered cordless phones, cell phones, digital cameras. You will also find them with many music players, power tools, and other electronic devices.

Conceptually, if you can just unplug all of  them when not in use, this would solve much of the problem. Easier said than done. Being the techno geek that I am, there will always be a another way.

Techno Solutions:

  1. Individual Timers: You can use traditional electrical timers or this new style like this Belkin unit. It is designed specifically for applications that only need to be on for a certain amount of time where the specific time of the day is not important. At $10 bucks, it might be a good solution for your clothes iron, electric tooth-brush or MP3 player.
  2. Group Timers: Combined with a surge protector, these devices will not only protect the equipment connected, but also shut them down to cut off the phantom load. Price wise, they are still in the same range as a regular surge protector/power strip. Additionally, many of them include a couple of priority plugs that stay energized all the time.
  3. X10 Technology:  If you read my article on X10 Technology, you may  have already figured this out. Combined with your X10 units and the software package, you can set timed events for all of these devices. Or combine one with a power strip. If its possible; try to cluster all of these type devices into groups. Plug all of them into a  power strip, then plug the power strip into the X10 timer. Schedule the timer to run only a certain amount of hours per day. Probably 3-5 hours max.  For devices like televisions, DVR’s and audio equipment; try to do the same thing. If you dont use X10 timers, any traditional timer will work as well.   (TIP: If you have a cable box, U-Verse or satellite receiver, it would be best, not to cycle this device on and off. It is very normal for the service providers to perform late night downloads to update your software, turning them off at night may be problematic and cause you to have some service interruptions or cause you to miss some updates.)
  4. Energy Star Equipment: As part of the design specification, most energy star devices do a good job in reducing the phantom loads. However, because devices like televisions, microwaves and DVR’s usually have clocks in them, they will still use a little bit of energy. If you choose to shut these devices down, just understand that the device might require you to re-set the clock every time. The only way to find out, is to try it.

Managing Other Electric Devices: Here are a few tips for keeping the energy usage in check on the non-techy type equipment:

  1. Refrigerators: This device can use as much as 20% of your total consumed AC energy.   Most new refrigerators with electronic thermostats come preprogrammed to run 0F and 40F (freezer/refrigerator). If you have an older style, use a thermometer to make the adjustment. Set the freezer between 0-3F. TIP: Energy Star rated  refrigerators will make a significant impact on your energy usage.
  2. Clothes Dryers: Use the cold or warm cycle s as much as you can. Avoid the hot cycle.
  3. Dishwasher: Always run it full. Dry them cool instead of hot. Drying cool does not impact the dishwashers ability to sanitize the dishes. However, you may have to wipe them off before you store them. Doing this will reduce the dishwasher energy used by 20%.
  4.  Water Heater Thermostats: The default setting for water heaters is 140F, 120 will work in most cases. If you live in the southern part of the US, it is easy to drop the temperature during the summer. You will never notice the difference.
  5. Set Back Thermostat: Even though this does not technically fit into this article, it is a pivotal element in energy reduction. Worth an article on its own!!
  6. Energy Star Rating: Look here first when replacing appliances. These subtle changes will make positive affect on your overall energy usage

The Gas Gauge (Geek Overload): Believe it or not; studies show that if we are able to monitor the amount of usage of a product (while in use) it will cause us to use less. There are multiple devices on the market today; such as TED, Power Cost Monitor, and Energy Monitor that will provide instant feed back on energy usage. You will be able to see all the energy vampires at any time of the day. Some of them have software with data loging history, peak demand and the list goes on. Its pretty cool (geeky) to walk around the house and start yanking plugs and watching the meter drop. (NOTE: The devices mentioned may require  installation, in some cases they only work with certain brand of meters. Read the webpages carefully before purchasing).

Google Power Meter: In their “save the world mentality” Goggle has teamed with some utilitiy and equipment providers to allow you to view your usage on line. Neat idea and its free, but has limited availability.

TOP Household Electricity Vampires (Courtesy of Lawrence Berkley Laboratory)

Appliance Saturation Watts Watts / House
TV 180% 6 10.8
Cable boxes 50% 20 10.0
VCR 80% 10 8.0
Compact audio 67% 10 6.7
Answering machines 60% 5 3.0
Alarms 19% 15 2.9
Video games 55% 5 2.8
Portable stereos 65% 3 2.0
Rechargeable vacuum 20% 5 1.0
Cordless phones 49% 2 1.0
Fax 4% 15 0.6
Satellite 5% 11 0.6
Toothbrush 13% 3 0.4
Smoke detectors 84% 0.4 0.3
TOTAL 50.0

So what is this in dollars and cents. For example; if you use 1000kW per month at .12 per kW, that works out to be about $6 bucks a month. (1000X.12)*.05=6. Unless you are prepared to take some drastic measures, you may be lucky to cut 50 to 60% of that number. So look for $3-5 per 1000kW used as a target.

Okay, this article might be a little anal, to gain back $6 bucks a month as a payback period is not worth recognizing. However; look at it like a leaky faucet. Its not a bad idea, and long term its will save you a couple of bucks and if everyone did it we would have less dependency on the grid.


Cutting the Cord IV.I

May 8, 2011

 If you have read my posts on this subject, cutting the cable cord is a growing interest.  CNET correspondent David Katzmaier revealed the reality of his journey that resulted in returning to cable. Cutting the cord can be difficult and you may/may not be a candidate for the transition. Since I am not complete with the cut over, I thought I would do a state-of-the-transition of my own, but more in a techno-nerd sort of way. Here are some things I have learned along the way as well as some concerns and considerations:

  1. Cold Turkey: As the author of the CNET article mentioned, he went cold turkey in one fail swoop and besides the immediate cable withdrawals he also struggled with antenna adjustment issues. A broadcast antenna can experience similar reception issues found with satellite services more so than cable or phone based services.
  2. Antenna Reception: As noted in my earlier entries, having a good antenna and good broadcast antenna service will be paramount. This is the core of your (off cable) service. If you have poor reception, pixeling, or blocking you will get quite frustrated with the service. If your antenna service is marginal on a good day, it will be poor on a bad day. Wind, rain, tree’s with large leaves in the summer will all negatively impact the reception. If you are old enough to remember depending on a TV antenna for all of your broadcast television, you will remember fuzzy, scratchy and intermittent service. This can also occur with the digital antenna.
  3. Limited Reception: Some channels will not show up. Obtaining ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX are the big broadcast providers. However, due to antenna placement, you may have difficulty receiving all of them. Even being relatively close you may find it difficult to get good reception. Spend the money on a good antenna, mast, coax, splitters and amplifiers to ensure high quality reception. If you are not a much of a technogeek, consider hiring a professional to establish your antenna service. As a DIYer project, its quite a trial and error process.
  4.  Antenna Placement: Even though having an antenna on a 10 ft. mast may work for many urban dwellers, antenna masts of greater proportion may be required. In my case, I have struggled with getting adequate reception of the 4 major networks off of a 10 ft. mast (and I live in the city).  I have continued to tweak my arrangement and after about 2 months. I have been monitoring the quality during some spring showers and it appears to be working pretty well.
  5. It’s Not the Same: To put it bluntly, cable TV services do a decent job to create a seamless one remote solution. Without the cable box, you will have to manage your watching habits a bit more. Using the tuner built into the TV, you will have to select different input sources that you have to move across to see what you want. For instance: the Broadcast antenna will be source one, where the Roku box will be another as well as a DVD player. Most modern TV’s have multiple input sources built into the tuner .
  6. No Online TV Schedule: With Cable, it got real convenient to channel surf the TV guide to see what else is on. Right now, an online TV schedule does not exist in my arrangement. However, as an option, TV Guide has a mobile app for Iphones and Itouch devices. You can program in your zip code to see localized TV programing. (NOTE: Once I install the Channel Master DVR, the TV guide is part of the programing, so I assume I will regain the surfing feature.)
  7. Multiple TV’s: Much like the cable boxes, if you want to watch multiple viewings through the Roku box, you will need more that one (there are other methods to use one centralized Roku box, but it will cost as much as just adding a second box). However, if you are just looking at broadcast TV on a specific set; no additional boxes are required.
  8. Sports: If you are tied to live time sports beyond your normal region or programing area; cutting the cord will be an issue. If you are still committed to making the move, you might consider looking at the online sources for real-time sports outside of your region

Cut the Cord Gradually: This would be my biggest recommendation. It’s best to wean the household off the cable instead of the flash cut.

  1. Dedicate one television to the conversion: This will allow you to gradually move toward using this solution as an acceptable viewing solution.
  2. Connect the new antenna to this TV to work out any bugs found in the reception. As I mentioned, we struggled with getting adequate antenna service to work a reliably as the Cable Service. For that reason we continued to go back to the other room. Since it appears we have cleared up the problem, we dont find it necessary to go to the other TV to watch broadcast television. This process will also help you identify what programing you are really watching. If you find you have to watch Overhauling, or the DIY network, it may be a struggle to make the final cut.
  3. Live with the solution for a month or so: Get the antenna service working well. Purchase the Roku box and use that to watch on demand movies. We got the Roku box and we have watched a few movies, but maybe 3 over the last week, which is a lot less than I thought I would be watching.
  4. The good news: Broadcast and Internet TV options continue to grow. Stay tuned for my next installment of “Cutting the Cord”.  My next step is to purchase the Channel Master DVR (recently reduced to $299 on Amazon).

Stay tuned!

BOB


Earth Day 2011

April 20, 2011

There are thousands of ways to celebrate Earth Day this weekend. If you decide to celebrate with your house, here are a few items that can make a difference for the earth as well as your house.

  1. Fix a Water Leak: We had “fix a leak week” in March. But if you missed it, this is a great time to take a look at your water service to see if you have any water leaks that need repairing. Read “Chasing Water Leaks Part I” and “Chasing Water Leaks Part II” for the full details on finding those water leaks.
  2. Add a  Digital Thermostat to your HVAC System: Also known as programmable or setback thermostat. This device will reduce your electricty usage by 10%  over 12 months. This chart reflects a general guideline for timing and temperature.
  3. Add Attic Insulation: Not only will you get a tax credit, you can reduce your overall heating and cooling bills. Read the Insulation articles to see if you have enough.
  4. Plant a Tree: Granted, you may not see immediate results to your efforts, but strategically placing a tree on the correct side of your house will shade the house from extreme heat and late afternoon sun.

Have Fun: Enjoy the day. Spend some time under the shade of a tree and just enjoy this great place we live on.

Happy Easter too!

BOB


Seasonal Reminder – Spring 2011

April 1, 2011

 No time to nap!! It’s time to fix all those items that broke during the winter months, repair the items that have deteriorated over the last few months and perform a little preventative maintenance around the house. This seasonal reminder  provides a list of items you need to review before the summer months set in. If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filter prior to the heavy air conditioning months.
  2. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Spring rains are approaching so inspect your roof for leaks, trim away any tree limbs and clean debris off the roof. Look for raised nails and any breaches in the roof surface.
  3. HVAC Outdoor Unit: Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 100_0233feet clearance around the unit. Also take your water hose and wash down the outside coils  that may have accumulated dirt. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  4. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Exercise the system. Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by and odd spray patterns. Replace or repair the heads. If you need more help on this item, click the “lawn sprinklers” tab to see multiple subjects on locating lost heads, valves as well as tune-up recommendations.
  6. Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for rotted wood, peeling paint and other exposed surfaces. Use caulk to re-seal cracks and touch up paint to reseal the surfaces. Replace rotten wood as necessary.
  7. Interior Inspection: Winter dry-out will have caused some surface cracks around doorways and windows. Also  re-caulk/grout any cracks that may have surfaced in the bathroom and kitchen, especially around the tub and shower. These two areas experience the most use and require the most maintenance.  Replace or clean water filters, faucet strainers and vent-a-hood filters in the kitchen. Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes.
  8. Water Heaters: Tank type water heaters should have their pressure release valve tested (opened and closed). This will also validate the drain pipe is clear and open.
  9. Gutters and Downspouts: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely.
  10. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  11. Windows and doors: Look at the edges where the windows and doors connect to the house. Ensure the caulk is in good shape and add caulk as necessary, indoors and outdoors.
  12. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. Look for any damage that may have occurred over the winter. Look for tree limbs that may be contacting the entrance cable.
  13. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  14. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly. 
  15. Test Smoke Detectors:  Its a good time to clean off the cob webs and change the battery.

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Chasing Water Leaks Part II

July 28, 2010

water-leak210% of all homes have some sort of water leak, and can be repaired quite easily. However, hidden leaks are hard to find but can go un-noticed for years and cause significant structural damage.

To continue with the “Chasing Water Leaks” theme for March, Part II of this article is directed at the real hard to find category. By now you should have fixed any leaks associated with faucets, toilets, and any other water delivery devices (dishwashers, ice makers, lawn sprinklers, etc.). If not, make sure and read the posts on Chasing Water Leaks Part I and lawn sprinklers  and resolve those issues first before going any further.  This Part II  inspection will help you discover leaks that may be in the ground, in a wall or very small leaks that can go unnoticed in or around the house. Even if you decide not to do any of the work, isolating the leak for the plumber will save you significant $$’s.

Leak Isolation Group II (main lines and  concealed leaks)

  1. Main water line: Typically houses have a service cut-off immediately before the water service enters the house. Turn off the service cut-off and re-inspect the water meter low flow gauges to see if the meter is still running or not. If the meter still runs, walk the path of the water line looking for dark green grass (in the summer) or wet spots. TIP: Use caution in operating this cut-off if it has not been operated for a year or so, do not force it. You can still walk-out the path without using the cut off. Obviously, if you find something here it will need to be fixed before you can complete the inspection. Finding the leak here may conclude your inspection.  Considered rare, finding a leak here can typically be associated with recent digging.   mold
  2. At this point, the leak you are searching for is probably very small.  You will be looking for traces of water, in the form of moisture or mold. You may just find slight discoloration or the surface may be cold to touch compared to the rest of the surface. Inspect baseboards and walls near or around where water pipes enter the house. Make sure and look on both sides of a wall that may have water pipes in them.  Look for moisture on the walls and floors surrounding all the water fixtures. You may also find distortion on the wall or floor surface as water will cause the building materials to expand. If you find solid evidence, you may have to open the wall to get to it to expose the pipes, but before you do, try to isolate the problem further by following the Foundation methods.  (TIP: Experiencing foundation movement could have been the cause of a leaky pipes in a wall.) If you were unable to locate the leak based on the previous inspection you may eventually require a professional but before you call them try these inspection methods for further isolation.

Pier & Beam Foundations: Houses with pier and beam foundations usually have a crawl space with an access hole. Possibly in a closet or outside around the foundation. If you are claustrophobic, don’t like bugs spiders and crawling things, you want to stop here and call a professional. If you choose to continue, take a good flashlight and crawl in.

  1. Start at the end of the house where the water line enters the house and  crawl the path of the pipes. Look for puddles, wet soil and wet pipes. If you suspect pipes-in-crawl-space1a leak in the wall , look up at the floor boards and all locations where the pipes enter the house above you.  Moisture, dampness, mold is the give away. If it has been leaking for an extended period of time, you may find rotten wood. If the pipe is leaking within the wall, you will probably see water trickling down the pipe to the ground.
  2. If you find water or water damage around the large drain pipes under the toilets, shower, tub or sinks, this will have to be addressed, but is not the cause of water loss through the meter.

Slab Foundations: With slab foundations; walk the perimeter of the house.

  1. Look for damp areas or pools of water
  2. Look for damp conditions or green moss on the concrete and brick. This would not be associated with any gutter downspouts or roof run offs.
  3. At this point, if you  haven’t found it, you may have a leak in an interior wall or under the foundation. If you have had recent foundation movement or foundation repairs, this would increase the chances of this type of leak.
  4. Calling in a professional may be your only choice because it may require  specialized test gear designed to measure for small amounts of water. When you are interviewing a plumber over the phone, insure they are equipped for this type  of diagnostics. Otherwise they will come out and do pretty much the same things you did, then call another plumber (as a sub-contractor) to perform the tests  and charge you for both his time and the other plumber.

Key Inspection Points and Action Items:

  1. Use the  water mter to determine if any water leaks exist.
  2. Inspect in, around, and underneath the house.
  3. Once the leak(s) have been isolated, repair them or call a professional.

Chasing Water Leaks Part I

March 27, 2010

Ten percent of homes have water leaks that waste 90 gallons or more water per day. water-meterParticipate in National Fix-a-Leak Week by fixing a water leak this month.

 

The Silent Thief

A leaky faucet that drips at the rate of  one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water per year. If you have a dripping faucet or running toilet, these need to be fixed first and will solve the obvious water leaks. If you need to call a handyman or plumber.. the time is now. If you want to give it the DIY try, visit EHow.com for a straight forward method for fixing common faucet and toilet leaks. However before you start, make sure you have already read my post on Water Supply Cut Off and City Water Cut Off.

 

Even though fixing water leaks is not normally what I would consider as preventative maintenance, fixing a faucet or toilet is something that is hard to miss, if you see it leaking….fix it. However, some water leaks can occur in places you would not normally view. Under the sink, behind the refigerator, and under the house are just some of the places. These type water leaks can go unnoticed for weeks, months or even years. These leaks not only waste water but can cause structural damage to wood floors as well as foundations. If you have no leaks, this inspection is about 5 minutes. If you do, plan on a good part of the day.  Good luck .

 

The Inspection

This inspection method is really about finding those hidden leaks.  Insure that nothing will be turned on (dishwasher, toilet, sprinklers, etc.), or activated during this test. Before performing the inspection you must gain access to the meter. This may require a meter key that can be purchased in the plumbing section of any home improvement center. Once you have the meter box open, the meter should be visible. There are at least a dozen different water meters having different dials and gauges. Look for the “Low Flow” gauge in the meter (in the meter pictured here, the low flow indicator is the little red blob to the left of the large sweep hand, between the 7 and 8 on the dial). If you are unsure which gauge it is, turn on a faucet, leave it on and look at the meter. One of the gauges in the meter will be moving faster than any other part of the dial; this is the low flow gauge. Turn off the fixture, return to the water meter and watch the low flow indicator for approximately 3-5 minutes. If the meter progressively moves forward, you have some form of leak, if not no further investigations are required. If you do have a leak,  you can call a professional or try to further isolate the problem. Either way, it may take some time  as some the leak may not be visible.  $TIP$: Isolating the leak before calling the plumber will save you some money as the plumber will charge you by the hour whether he is looking or fixing a leak. 

water-meter-key1Before we start the leak isolation test, turn the water off here (to make sure you can). It may seem like a simple task and why should you do it just to say you 100_0178can? Because when you really need to, time is of the essence, and you don’t have time to search for the right tool. This cut-off (on the street side of the meter head may be hard to get to, so find the right wrench that will work for you).  A crescent type wrench works best for me. The cut-off is probably a ball valve and you will only need to turn it 90 degrees from its current position. 

 

Leak Isolation Group I (fixtures, faucets and toilets):

If you find a lot of  water or condensation on the fixtures, save the test for a dry or warmer day as this condition will make it difficult to find your problem.

 As mentioned in the beginning of the article, you should have already fixed any obvious dripping faucets. This isolation method is for the hard to find leaks. If the low flow meter stops after any one of the isolation steps, you have found the source of the leak. toilet_water_shutoff_valve

  1. One at a time, turn off each fixture at the wall and return to the meter to watch the low flow gauge. This should include all faucets, toilets, ice makers, water filters, dish washer and water heater (inspect last).   If the meter stops, there is a leak between the cut off and the fixture.
  2. If you find water dripping or puddles, take some unused toilet paper and wipe down the hose, pip, cut-off, fixture and both ends of the connection; everything under the sink.  TRICK: Why use TP you ask? TP is very absorbent, very pliable and you can see any water trace in the paper. Water travels down hill so look at the joints above the first sign of water.
  3. With the water turned on, start your inspection from the highest joint/connection. Look at the TP after wiping down each joint/connection/pipe section/cut-off. If you find any water deposits on the TP, you may have found the leak. Leaks are usually found at joints, couplings and connections. Assuming it can be tightened, do so by hand if possible or with a wrench, or call a plumber. TIP: Most plumbing connection are made with soft plastic, copper or brass, only tighten the joint to the point of not leaking, over tightening can cause it to leak worse.  Many plastic joints ca be tightened by hand. After tightening the joint, dry it completely and perform the TP test again. Perform the test at least twice. If the leak persists, replacing the rubber washer or seal at this joint may be required.
  4. Toilets: Toilets require the TP test as well. Since most residential toilets have a tank, you will have to verify that water is not leaking from the tank to the bowl. Remove the lid from the tank and add some food coloring or colored tank bowl cleaner to the tank water (do not flush). Give it about 5 minutes, then see if any of the color has leaked in the bowl. You may have a leaky flapper valve. 
  5. Check the water meter again. Hopefully you fixed it, but you could still have more leaks.
  6. Perform this series of tests as required for each water fixture in the house. This will include all faucets, toilets  refrigerator mounted ice maker. dishwashers and any other water consuming or delivering device.

Look for articles on Sprinklers Leaks and Plumbing-Chasing Leaks Part II for additional leak detection methods.


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