Seasonal Reminders – Winter Wrapup

December 31, 2009

Winter can have lots of different definitions so depending on where you are geographically located, some of these items may not be possible due to the weather conditions. For those of us in the Southwestern United States, having a nice 70 degree day can be fairly easy to find.  Normally the winter seasonal reminders are more about making sure everything continues to work well through the stress and strain of the winter months more than anything.  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 as you enter the heavy heating months.
  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. 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.
  4. Set Back Type Thermostat: If the battery is a year old, replace it.
  5. Winterize Plumbing: Wrap exposed pipes, fixtures and drain down the automatic sprinkler system.  
  6. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  7. 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)
  8. Gutters and Downspouts: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely.
  9. 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.
  10. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  11. 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

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Inspecting & Cleaning Clothes Dryer Vents

December 27, 2009

 In 1998 the US Consumer Product Safety Commission associated 15,600 household fires to clothes dryers. Many of these fires can be related to lint build up in the dryer exhaust duct. This number may not appear to be significant, but the potential loss for anyone would be.

A full load of clothes contain about 1/2 gallon of water. Lint is created as a by-product of removing the water from the clothes. Even though many would believe the lint filter in the dryer takes care of most  lint concerns, they would be wrong. Pulling out your dryer from the wall after about a month of use will reveal lint that did not get caught by the dryer nor did it make it through the vent duct but escaped outside the duct system.

REASONS TO INSPECT THE DRYER AND VENT SYSTEM:

  1. Excessively long drying times
  2. Clothes are very hot at the end of their cycle
  3. Clothes are still damp after completion of their cycle
  4. Dryer has become noisier than usual
  5. Premature dryer failure associated with heating element, motor or bearings
  6. Existing dryer is more than 5 years old
  7. High usage applications (every day use)
  8. Recent dryer replacement

 

 

Besides the items mentioned above, you may have installation or design issues that may be causing your dryer not to operate properly.  Take a look at these items for a more in-depth inspection.

  1. Excessive Duct Length: The International Mechanical Code, article 504.6  and 913 defines a maximum length of 25 ft. For each 45 degree turn, reduce that number by 2.5 ft. and 5 ft. for each 90 degree turn. If your dryer is not on an outside wall and the dryer duct is routed through the attic or under the house you probably have two 90 degree turns.  If you include the vertical distance (attic or basement) with two 90 degree turns, you have an approximate budget of 9-13 ft. from the rear of the dryer to the outside wall (this is not very far). Excessive distance may cause buildup to occur more rapidly. The diameter of the pipe should be 4 inches. If you can’t change the distance, inspect and clean the duct more regularly or consider adding a booster fan.
  2. Excessive Vertical Distance: Pushing this air up has its limitation. (see the Whirlpool document listed below for back pressure requirements). If your system exceeds the vertical hight of one story (8 ft.) you may need to measure the back pressure with a manometer and consider a booster fan for adequate dryer ventilation.
  3. System Integrity: Visibly walk (or crawl) the entire duct where it is exposed (attic, crawl space, basement, etc.) to ensure all fittings are tight, secure, straight and clear not crimped or bent up. TIP: Performing this function while the dryer is running will help find problems quicker.
  4. PVC Piping: The use of PVC (plastic) pipe should be avoided completely as excessive heat can melt the plastic (PVC will melt at 140 F).  Besides the temperature issue, PVC has a tendency to create static electricity that can contribute to the build up. If PVC is used, consider having it replaced with ridged metal duct work. 
  5. Plastic or Thin Flexible Connection Duct: This would be the “transition” ducting to connect the dryer to the wall outlet.  A ridged solution is the best but many times a flexible duct is required due to the lack of space. There are dozens of choices even though the big orange box may only have two. You may have to use the internet to find the best product for your requirement. Check out Fixitnow.com as a great source to review your duct options. Avoid the plastic or thin foil slinky type at all costs. If you need one that is flexible, find a simi-flexible non-kinking type. If you find the plastic or thin foil type in your system, replacement is recommended. Try to find one with a UL listing on the packaging.
  6. Kinks, Tight Bends & Rough Interior Surfaces: A smooth free flow path with minimal bends and turns is the most ideal installation.
  7. The entire duct system should be metal: Otherwise you may have excessive static electricty.  Make sure there is continuity from end to end from the dryer to the outside vent, 3) Ensure the dryer is correctly grounded, 3) Check the grounding of the AC Breaker panel, 4)Make sure there are no plastic fittings or section in the system. By having a properly grounded dryer and the metal vent is connected to the dryer, the static electricty will have a good path to ground.

In 1999 the US Consumer Product Safety Commission reported of the 15,000 house fires studied, electric dryers were over 2.5 times more likely the cause of the fire over a gas dryer and that the most frequent locations were the dryer vent and lint trap.

INSPECTING & SERVICING DRYER AND DRYER DUCTING

  1. Clean lint screen/ filter before each use: This is mandatory, running the dryer with a clogged filter screen will force the dryer to push the air and lint into other places, such as in the interior of the dryer as well as the laundry closet area.
  2. Clean under and around the dryer: Pull the dryer away from the wall or out of the it space and clean the floor and walls and underneath the dryer. Perform this yearly.
  3. Dryer interior space: You will have to make this call regarding your experience to perform this item. With the dryer disconnected from the wall (electric plug and duct), remove the inspection plate on the rear of the dryer. Inspect for excessive lint and remove with a vacuum cleaner. Inspect as often as yearly, but every three years may be sufficient.
  4. Remove and clean the transition duct: If you can remove this, take it outside and use a vacuum cleaner, compressed air or water hose to throughly clean this out. NOTE: if you use water, get it good and dry before you replace it.  Normally once a year should work. 
  5. Clean the dryer duct (in-wall):  There are a dozen ways to do this, but I like the “Chimney Sweep” type product. Using a portable drill attached to the device,  you can run this through the pipe and it will scrub out all the lint. I like to do it from the outside with the dryer running (yes it makes a mess) but it does a great job. If you don’t want to invest in the tool, consider hiring a professional. The worst thing you could do is getting something stuck in it, which would put you out of business and make matters worse.  Inspect this once a year and clean it as required. I use the LintEater  and found it to be an excellent product with great instructions and a hand full of accessories for the everyday homeowner. Its about $35.

Specific codes that define the use of dryers and the installation of  venting duct work include but not limited to: International Mechanical Code, article 504.6  and 913, UL 2158 par. 7.3,  ANSI Z21.5.1 Gas Dryers as well as local codes and ordinances.  This Whirlpool link provides a nice detailed vent specification as well as pressure measurements if you are building a new dryer vent system and need to provide a contractor the specifics.

 

  

 


Re Insulating HVAC Ducts

December 1, 2009

The US EPA reports leaking ducts reduce overall HVAC efficiency by 20% accounting for a loss of over $140 per year due to these leaks.

 As mentioned in earlier articles, HVAC ductwork has not received the attention it deserves. Take a look at  my HVAC Duct article to evaluate and inspect your existing duct work. If you have determined that it is in need of attention you have three choices, 1) do nothing, 2) have them replaced or 3) re-insulate them.

  Duct Replacement: Be prepared, HVAC contractors typically want to sell new systems.  Here is the SW part of the US, their big season is the summer, having this done during the cooler months may be a better choice. Duct replacement is not as profitable as system replacements, but keeping their technicians busy can be better than not working them at all.

Considerations when discussing this issue with a HVAC professional:

  1. Flex ducting is a widely used proven product but does not have the long-term performance rating found with a typical sheet metal product. But is widely used in the residential market and most professionals like to use it because it is easy to install and not as labor intensive as rigid duct work. This product  can easily be mis-installed by creating kinks and  sharp bends that can reduce the product performance. Read this flexible duct inspection method before you meet with the contractor to better understand the product and how it is applied.
  2. After an evaluation, most HVAC specialists will want to replace the ducting in lieu of  repairing or re-insulating. Why? It’s quicker, cheaper and it becomes a known value. This is not a bad thing, these folks are trying to make a living and attacking the problem by replacing everything may be an economical solution for both of you.
  3. If you allow a professional to replace the ducts, make sure to ask some of these questions. Will all the joints and edges be sealed with (paint on) mastic? What is the R value of the new duct? What is the life expectancy of the duct product? What is the product warranty? What preventative measures are followed to avoid kinking (of the ducts). Will the system be tested for leaks after completion?
  4. If the professional didnt mention it,  also consider having all the output and return registers (this is the box in the wall/ceiling where the vent cover is attached) replaced or re-insulated. Most new registers are sealed and insulated to insure a tight fit. Also, ask them to use spray foam insulation between the register protrusion and the sheet rock, this will further seal the interior  from the attic space. Most HVAC professionals do not address register penetration into the interior space.
  5. If you have any rooms that never seem to adequately heat or cool, make sure and mention this to the professional too as he may have to resize or reroute the new duct work to better balance the system.

Duct Re-insulation (for rigid ductwork): This is a great DIY project if you consider yourself cheap labor and you dont mind working in the attic. Consider this a mult-weekend project. Before you start, ask yourself these questions. 

  1. Does your system work reasonably well? If you have any rooms or areas in the house that never properly heat or cool, consider adding an additional output duct as this would be the time to address it. Consider using a professional to perform this work as you may need to rebuild some of the system to retain the system balance.
  2. Is your attic adequately insulated? If not, plan to do it, but after all you other attic work is complete.

 The process if fairly straight forward and here is an outline of the necessary work.

  1. Strip the existing insulation material
  2. Ensure all joints are secure and snapped and screwed together
  3. Use duct mastic to seal ALL seams and joints
  4. Use HVAC tape to complete any seals not treatable with mastic
  5. Use expanding foam insulation to fill any cracks between the duct registers and the sheet rock
  6. Use duct wrap to re-cover all the exposed duct, seal with duct tape and mastic

Material Required for the Job

  1. Duct wrap rated at an R value based on your region (see table below)
  2. 1/4,1/2, and 3/4 self tapping sheet metal screws
  3. HVAC Duct Mastic
  4.  Take adequate precautions while working in the attic. Avoid stepping directly on the sheet rock ceiling and wear protective clothing and dust masks.
  5. If a professional indicates the duct are under/oversized, you may ask them to provide  the Man L or Man J duct analysis supporting their position. (This is an engineering schedule that is used to properly size ducting.)