Seasonal Reminder – Summer 2010

June 20, 2010

Summer is 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. 

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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Crawl Spaces; Basements Without Benefits

June 12, 2010

I never saw a residential basement until I was about 12. I always wanted one as a kid, young adult as well as an old guy. The true man cave!! Dark dank musty, cob webs…. the whole thing.  Unfortunately for me, basements are a phenomena found mostly in the colder regions of the US and I don’t see me moving there anytime soon.   This article is  for all of us that have crawl spaces (not basement) under our houses, as the DIY mainstream media rarely addresses the subject adequately.

A Crawlspace is a Basement Without Benefits: Crawlspaces provide the negatives of a basement without providing the benefit of usable space for water heaters, HVAC’s shop space and storage. If you live in the South, Southeast, some parts of the Southwest and your house was built before 1975, there is a reasonable probability your house may have a crawl space. Even though crawl space construction continues today, slab type foundations are less expensive to construct and are used more often in these same regions.

Similar to a basement, crawlspace construction allows access to the vital organs of the home including plumbing and some electrical services. The code has changed over the years requiring a minimum height, but older structures can have crawl spaces with limited working room. NOTE: Some tradesmen may charge extra fees for working in the crawl spaces. If you are having major work in your house that includes re-working the floor, consider allowing them to open the floor for better access. This may save you some money.

Vented Crawl Spaces: Since about 1950 ventilating crawl spaces have been mandated by most building codes. For the most part we were told to open our vented crawl spaces in the summer and close them in the winter. In their inception of early construction,  these houses were built with little to no insulation and in many cases (prior to 1965) were built without air conditioning. Letting the house breath or move air was a good way to keep the overall temperature of the interior space to a tolerable level (during the summer) as well as a way to remove the moisture from the crawl space floor. All this was fine until we started insulating the floors, caulking every crack, adding air conditioning and pretty much sealing the house to the point that little if any air flow is occurring.   By trapping this air/humidity under the house we have caused problems including  rodent/insect infiltration, mold and wood rot. Vented crawl spaces work well in dry climates with low humidity.

Even though most building codes continue to support  “vented” crawl spaces,  there is some compelling data that may cause you to consider sealing your crawl space. But be warned, if you choose to (properly) seal your crawl space when you go to sell the property, a home inspector may dispute the decision. NOTE: If you have any appliance (floor furnaces, gas heater, etc) installed in the crawl space; they require input air, so sealing the crawl space is not recommended in those applications.

Here are just a few of the reports and white papers that have been written on the subject:

Non-Vented Crawl Spaces: If your crawl space is not vented and was properly sealed during construction and you have no moisture, drainage or mold/mildew problems you are in good shape. However, based on the numerous studies; the South, Southeastern and some parts of the Southwestern regions of the United States appear to be good candidates for non-vented crawl spaces. These areas typically have high humidity most of the year, combined with high heat in the summer. Here are some reasons to consider sealing the crawl space:

  1. Reduce humidity and moisture  in the crawl space
  2. Control mold and mildew
  3. Reduce exposure to rodents and other 4 legged creatures
  4. Reduce drafts
  5. Impact the floor temperature in the winter by 3-5 degrees
  6. Reduce heating and cooling demands

Candidates for sealed Crawl Spaces: As a general rule, if it’s above 75F outside, there is more moisture in the outside air than in the 70 to 75F crawlspace air; so, if you ventilate the crawlspace, you’re bringing more moisture into the crawlspace than you’re removing. If you drop the air temperature by 20 degrees, the relative humidity (RH) approximately doubles. When it gets to 95F outside and that air is brought into the 75F crawlspace, the RH doubles. If it’s 60% RH outside, the relative humidity in the crawlspace is at the dew point. At dew point conditions, water vapor turns back to liquid. Kevin O’Neill of HVAC at Carolina Cooling & Plumbing, Inc.

 In laymen terms; the high humidity found in the ambient air outside the structure will naturally seek places of lower or less humidity to normalize or equalize the humidity. When this occurs underneath a house,  the crawl space acts like a wick and brings more humidity in the space. To make maters worse, if you have added insulation to create a barrier between the crawl space and living area, you are creating a stagnant nest for humid air to reside.

 After much studying and consideration, I have decided to seal my crawl space. Look for my future article on creating a moisture barrier and sealing up the space.


Landscape Drainage – Inspection and Maintenance

June 4, 2010

The last article I wrote on this subject was about the result of poor drainage and the impact on your property. Assuming you have reasonably good drainage, it is still important to inspect and maintain all the elements associated with the drainage system for proper performance.  This article assumes you have some or most of the solutions mentioned.  If you have some of these elements and still have drainage issues, and you havent read Landscape Drainage, take a look to see how you can improve the situation. 

  1. Gutters: As a late winter or spring reminder, gutters must be cleaned of tree leaves and debris. The water that reaches the gutter must flow freely to exit the down spout. Allowing the gutters to accumulate debris will not only clog the gutters and the flow of water, but also clog the downspout. Allowing the leaves to breakdown in the gutters will cause the material to turn in to dirt. The accumulation of this dirt and new leaves  will cause water to back up. All of this adds up to a lot of weight, which in turn can cause the gutters to fail. If you leave the condition for an extended period of time, the weight and deterioration will cause the gutters to pull away from the house and fall to the ground….It really happens.
  2. Gutters with concealed drains: With the accumulation mentioned in item 1, some of this same material can eventually clog up the buried pipe. The clogged pipe will cause the water to back up till it finds a place to get out. This is usually at the transition fitting between the downspout and the underground drain. This exit of water will virtually defeat the purpose of the extended drain. If the concealed drain is clogged up; using a Drain Snake or power drain auger and a lot of water will be the solution to completely flush the pipe.
  3. Surface grade of Landscape: As mentioned in “Landscape Drainage”, maintaining the slope away from the house is important. Keep debris and buildup to a minimum. Rake and grade the landscape material to ensure the proper grade (4 degrees) and fall from the structure.
  4. Keep landscape material away from sill plate: Keep the landscape material build up to a minimum as not to accumulate to the point that it is level-to or above the sill. As mentioned in #3, rake or grade the landscape material away from the structure.
  5. Surface Drains: Depending on the system design, you may have drainage grate(s) to receive water runoff as well as an exit drain(s). It is critical to keep these opening free and clear of debris. Most of these drains work purely on slope, gravity and volume. If the exit drain is covered with grass or obstructed to impede the flow of water, it will easily reduce or stop the water flow away from the structure.
  6. Dry Creeks: Even though dry creeks can be designed to be attractive, it is important they retain the design slope and path to remain clear of any obstructions that might block, back up or divert water in a way that defy the design intent. Keep the creek clear of weeds and landscape refuge. If necessary, flush water through the creek to ensure proper flow.
  7. Sump Pump: Sump pumps can be located in basements, crawl spaces as well as pits associated with surface drains. Test them by flushing water through them to make sure they activate and pump the water out of the pit and off the property as designed.  Inspect the exit drain for clear free flow.
  8. Moisture Barrier: Once a year, crawl through the space looking for voids and rips in the material.  Look for rodent penetrations and any damage they may have caused. Tape and reseal any breaches in the barrier. Keeping this material intact and resistant to moisture is the key element.
  9. De-humidifier: Any de-humidifier placed in the crawl space should include an exit drain pipe just like the sump pump. Test the de-humidifiers ability to remove the water through the exit drain in the same way as the sump pump. There may be filters to be cleaned. Refer to the owner’s manual for any specific maintenance.