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.


  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 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.


  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.




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.

Ask BOB and FAQ’s

June 19, 2009

questionEven though I try to answer most of your questions within the text of my articles, sometime a short quick  answer is all you need. I will categorize them to try to make some order of it all. Add your questions to the comment section, and I can usually respond in a day or so. Take note, the answer to the question and the solution may be beyond your skill set, if so, call a professional.

Automatic Lawn Sprinklers:

  1. Some of my sprinkler head still pass water well after the zone has run, and never seems to stop,  what do I do? AKA weeping heads. Typically, the sprinkler valve has dirt or grunge in it, and even though it is closed it is still leaking, much like a leaky faucet. You will need to turn the water off, disassemble the valve and clean it. Don’t be surprised if it takes multiple times to get it to stop.
  2. Water sprays in the air from the head around the shaft, how come?  This is a dirty or worn head. I like to keep replacement heads as spares and change them out like for like. Either use the same nozzle or the same pattern head. Disassemble the removed head, clean it, replace any bad parts and reuse it.
  3. My sprinkler valves chatter, what do I do? If it occurs immediately as the zone comes on or as it is shutting down, this is fairly normal. It’s about water and air, and the pressurized water is rushing to fill the empty pipe.
  4. How do I find a lost sprinkler valve?  The easiest way is with a cable locater. They are expensive and not easy to find rental units. If hiring an irrigator is too expensive for you try my method described in  Searching for Sprinkler Valves.  
  5. Why does the last sprinkler in the zone leak? Probably because it is also the lowest head in that zone. Sprinkler zones always drain a little bit after they are shut off. If the head location creates a lot of mud or is in a bad place you can purchase and install an in-line drain that can be placed in the ground upstream of the head reducing the amount of water coming out of that head.  It it seems to never stop, see #1.
  6. What do I do with a sprinkler valve that is cracked and why did it crack? A cracked sprinkler valve is an indication that it froze during the winter and will have to be replaced. There is not a real simple way to do it other than 1) turn the water off, 2) dig up the dirt around the valve, 3) cut the PVC on either side of the valve and replace the valve by splicing in new PVC.
  7. Why does my sprinkler sprays over the sidewalk. Assuming the head is not broken or incorrectly adjusted, it may be due to poor design. As a cost cutting measure some irrigators spray over a sidewalk to avoid digging underneath it to add heads. You may be able to reduce the nozzle to a 1/4 or 1/2 pattern but it may leave the area across the sidewalk dry. If you are happy with those results, you have solved it, on the other hand, the solution may be to add more sprinklers which can get expensive. Read my sprinkler articles in full to see all your options. 
  8. Can I turn one sprinkler head off? If it is a pop-up type the answer is yes. There is a small screw in the middle of the nozzle that can be turned to reduce/increase or turn off the water.
  9. I have a sprinkler head that pops up but doesn’t spray water, whats wrong? See #8, try adjusting it first. If that doesn’t work the nozzle and filter is dirty. Remove the nozzle, clean the filter and nozzle with pressurized air and or a tooth pick to get the little pebbles out.  If that doesn’t work, replace the nozzle (like for like).
  10. How many heads will be on each zone?This is not a short answer as it’s an engineered number based on water pressure, water volume,  pipe size and type heads used to figure GPM.  Check out this Rainbird link for details.
  11. Can I change the sprinkler nozzle to increase the distance of spray? Yes, but there are additional issues to consider. Each sprinkler zone is designed with a water budget. Each head/nozzle use part of that budget. If you change a nozzle to one that consumes more water (larger spray pattern), it will consume more water. Simply put, you can change as many nozzles as you wish, but you may deteriorate the performance and spray patterns of the  heads on that zone giving you more problems than you started with. Even though this is a calculated value, to keep it simple; change one at a time and run the system to make sure you have not made a negative effect on the entire zone. If you notice a loss in water pressure and the existing heads no longer spray to cover, you have exceeded the water budget for that zone. If you want to know how to mathematically calculate the sprinkler zone water budget, send me a note and I will provide you the long answer. 


  1. How do I fix nails popping up in the roof? Besides being an indicator your roof may be approaching end of life. Hammer the nail back into the roof and apply some roof rated caulk or  clear 25 year silicone caulk will work too. Just a dab!  Otherwise it will be ugly-looking from the ground up.

Crawl Space:

  1. I have a wet crawl space, how do I get it to stay dry.  Sorry, there is not a good short answer for this one. But here is my capsule answer. Usually caused by poor drainage. 1) You need a 3-5 degree slope away from the house, 2) good clean gutters to push the water away from the house, 3) Possible french drains and or transfer (sump) pumps. Look for a future article on this item. 


  1. I have a standard electrical outlet that is warm to touch, what do I do?  Turn the power off, carefully pull the outlet out of the wall. The connections may have become loose over time but if there is enough wire, cut back the copper wires (about a 1/4 inch) then re terminate the wires in the outlet. If that didn’t solve it, replace the outlet. Or just do them both at the same time. Outlets are cheap.  For more details read Warm Outlets and Electrical Switches and Outlets.
  2. I have an electrical switch that seems warm to the touch, is it bad? Could be. If it is a standard switch (not a dimmer) and it is warm, follow the method described in #1 and replace it if necessary.
  3. How do I install a new ground rod?1) Make sure you have identified all your buried utilities, 2) find a location within about 3 feet or less from the AC Utility entrance, 3) Dig a hole about the size of a bucket, 4) Drive your new ground rod into the center of the new hole to the point that the top of the new ground rod is 6″ below ground, 5) Run the new ground wire between the Circuit Breaker panel and the ground rod, 6) Connect the new wire with the appropriate grounding termination material, 6) Put the dirt back in the hole.  If you have no electrical experience, have an electrician make the terminations.
  4. What type of TVSS do I use for a refrigerator?Any class A should work fine. As with many appliances, clearance can be a challenge. For me, I replaced the standard wall outlet with a Leviton 5280 series TVSS outlet as a direct replacement. 
  5. Is it okay to use a standard 2 prong outlet for my computer or digital TV. NO. NO. NO. Thats the simple answer. The short answer is you need a grounded 3 wire circuit to properly protect your equipment (plus a class B TVSS). For me, I would run a brand new circuit to these devices from your AC panel. There are other ways, but this is the best.  This goes for that big flat panel TV too! A $300 bill from an electrician is cheap insurance.
  6. One outlet has a dead plug-in it, the other one is okay?You probably have an external switch associated to that plug, try activating some switches in the room to see if that changes the condition, otherwise change the plug.
  7. I tested my outlet as reversed, checked the wiring on the outlet and the breaker and it looks good, whats wrong? Many electrical circuits are wired in series or can be “daisy chained” all together. This saves wire and the amount of terminations at the circuit breaker box. Some where in your circuit, the wires are reversed. You will need to isolate the circuit by determining all outlets powered by the same breaker, and inspect all of them. Leave the power off while you are making your inspection. 
  8. Do I need to ground my microwave any different from any other appliance? No, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a single class A surge protector at the outlet between the outlet and the microwave. 
  9. Does fiber optic equipment need grounding? Yes and no. Since there is no way to carry current through a glass fiber, the answer is no. However, the electronic equipment at the ends do. This has to do with protection from any spike or voltage imbalance that may be transmitted from the AC source as well as serving as a “ground reference” for the fiber optic equipment (NID). Its lack of proper grounding has been associated with video reception pixiling.
  10. Should I ground my Gas Meter? There have been recent changes in the code that may allow it. Personally being old school, I would never ground my gas meter. If you have followed the ground schematic as listed in my grounding articles I see no real advantage to it.


  1. Can I bury my HVAC Condensate Drain? I wouldn’t. Some Building codes require the drain to be visible at all time to ensure that the homeowner can inspect the fact that it is properly draining. 
  2. What do I do about excessive static electricity in my dryer vent? 1)Make sure the entire vent from the dryer to the exit is metal, 2) Make sure there is continuity from end to end of the 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 electricity will more easily find its way to ground. This will also help reduce the potential of a fire.
  3. Can I use a general purpose 12 volt battery for a solar landscape lighting system? The short answer is yes. A 12 V battery will provide DC current to power the lights. However, battery chemistry and cell designs are typically engineered for the application. For instance, a battery used to start your car is different from what is found in a golf cart even though they may be the same voltage (12vDC). One is used to provide a  burst of power for a short interval, where the golf cart battery is designed to provide output over a long duration. Between the two, the golf cart battery or a battery that is used in a similar fashion is the better choice. The car battery will work, and if it is oversized, you may not recognize a difference for a while. The continued (long duration) cycling of the car battery in this application will cause it die quicker than the golf cart battery. 

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.

How Long Will They Last? Household Materials and Appliances

January 23, 2010

 Ever wondered how long household appliance should last? How about that fiberglass tub you are thinking about buying instead of a cast iron one?

With proper maintenance and inspection these items should provide adequate service to you and your household.

This list is courtesy of the U.S Dept of Housing and Urban Development. Printed in 2000.

Life Expectancy of Household Components
Appliances Life in years
Compactors 10
Dishwashers 10
Dryers 14
Disposal 10
Freezers, compact 12
Freezers, standard 16
Microwave ovens 11
Electric ranges 17
Gas ranges 19
Gas ovens 14
Refrigerators, compact 14
Refrigerators, standard 17
Washers, automatic and compact 13
Exhaust fans 20
Source: Appliance Statistical Review, April 1990
Bathrooms Life in years
Cast iron bathtubs 50
Fiberglass bathtub and showers 10-15
Shower doors, average quality 25
Toilets 50
Sources: Neil Kelly Designers, Thompson House of Kitchens and Bath
Cabinetry Life in years
Kitchen cabinets 15-20
Medicine cabinets and bath vanities 20
Sources: Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, Neil Kelly Designers
Closet systems Life in years
Closet shelves Lifetime
Countertops Life in years
Laminate 10-15
Ceramic tile, high-grade installation Lifetime
Wood/butcher block 20+
Granite 20+
Sources: AFPAssociates of Western Plastics, Ceramic Tile Institute of America
Doors Life in years
Screen 25-50
Interior, hollow core Less than 30
Interior, solid core 30-lifetime
Exterior, protected overhang 80-100
Exterior, unprotected and exposed 25-30
Folding 30-lifetime
Garage doors 20-50
Garage door opener 10
Sources: Wayne Dalton Corporation, National Wood Window and Door Association, Raynor Garage Doors
Electrical Life in years
Copper wiring, copper plated, copper clad aluminum, and bare copper 100+
Armored cable (BX) Lifetime
Conduit Lifetime
Source: Jesse Aronstein, Engineering Consultant
Finishes used for waterproofing Life in years
Paint, plaster, and stucco 3-5
Sealer, silicone, and waxes 1-5
Source: Brick Institute of America Floors
Floors Life in years
Oak or pine Lifetime
Slate flagstone Lifetime
Vinyl sheet or tile 20-30
Terrazzo Lifetime
Carpeting (depends on installation, amount of traffic, and quality of carpet) 11
Marble (depends on installation, thickness of marble, and amount of traffic) Lifetime+
Sources: Carpet and Rug Institute, Congoleum Corporation, Hardwood Plywood Manufacturers Association, Marble Institute, National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association, National Wood Flooring Association, Resilient Floor Covering Institute
Footings and foundation Life in years
Poured footings and foundations 200
Concrete block 100
Cement 50
Waterproofing, bituminous coating 10
Termite proofing (may have shorter life in damp climates) 5
Source: WR Grace and Company
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) Life in years
Central air conditioning unit (newer units should last longer) 15
Window unit 10
Air conditioner compressor 15
Humidifier 8
Electric water heater 14
Gas water heater (depends on type of water heater lining and quality of water) 11-13
Forced air furnaces, heat pump 15
Rooftop air conditioners 15
Boilers, hot water or steam (depends on quality of water) 30
Furnaces, gas- or oil-fired 18
Unit heaters, gas or electric 13
Radiant heaters, electric 10
Radiant heaters, hot water or steam 25
Baseboard systems 20
Diffusers, grilles, and registers 27
Induction and fan coil units 20
Dampers 20
Centrifugal fans 25
Axial fans 20
Ventilating roof-mounted fans 20
DX, water, and steam coils 20
Electric coils 15
Heat Exchangers, shell-and-tube 24
Molded insulation 20
Pumps, sump and well 10
Burners 21
Sources: Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute, Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration News, Air Movement and Control Association, American Gas Association, American Society of Gas Engineers, American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc., Safe Aire Incorporated
Home security appliances Life in years
Intrusion systems 14
Smoke detectors 12
Smoke/fire/intrusion systems 10
Insulation Life in years
For foundations, roofs, ceilings, walls, and floors Lifetime
Sources: Insulation Contractors Association of America, North American Insulation Manufacturers Association
Landscaping Life in years
Wooden decks 15
Brick and concrete patios 24
Tennis courts 10
Concrete walks 24
Gravel walks 4
Asphalt driveways 10
Swimming pools 18
Sprinkler systems 12
Fences 12
Sources: Associated Landscape Contractors of America, Irrigation Association
Masonry Life in years
Chimney, fireplace, and brick veneer Lifetime
Brick and stone walls 100+
Stucco Lifetime
Sources: Brick Institute of America, Architectural Components, National Association of Brick Distributors, National Stone Association
Millwork Life in years
Stairs, trim 50-100
Disappearing stairs 30-40
Paints and stains Life in years
Exterior paint on wood, brick, and aluminum 7-10
Interior wall paint (depends on the acrylic content) 5-10
Interior trim and door paint 5-10
Wallpaper 7
Sources: Finnaren and Haley, Glidden Company, The Wall Paper
Plumbing Life in years
Waste piping, cast iron 75-100
Sinks, enamel steel 5-10
Sinks, enamel cast iron 25-30
Sinks, china 25-30
Faucets, low quality 13-15
Faucets, high quality 15-20
Sources: American Concrete Pipe Association, Cast Iron Soil and Pipe Institute, Neil Kelly Designers, Thompson House of Kitchens and Baths
Roofing Life in years
Asphalt and wood shingles and shakes 15-30
Tile (depends on quality of tile and climate) 50
Slate (depends on grade) 50-100
Sheet metal (depends on gauge of metal and quality of fastening and application) 20-50+
Built-up roofing, asphalt 12-25
Built-up roofing, coal and tar 12-30
Asphalt composition shingle 15-30
Asphalt overlag 25-35
Source: National Roofing Contractors Association
Rough structure Life in years
Basement floor systems Lifetime
Framing, exterior and interior walls Lifetime
Source: NAHB Research Foundation
Shutters Life in years
Wood, interior Lifetime
Wood, exterior (depends on weather conditions) 4-5
Vinyl plastic, exterior 7-8
Aluminum, interior 35-50
Aluminum, exterior 3-5
Sources: A.C. Shutters, Inc., Alcoa Building Products, American Heritage Shutters
Siding Life in years
Gutters and downspouts 30
Siding, wood (depends on maintenance) 10-100
Siding, steel 50-Lifetime
Siding, aluminum 20-50
Siding, vinyl 50
Sources: Alcoa Building Products, Alside, Inc., Vinyl Siding Institute
Walls and window treatments Life in years
Drywall and plaster 30-70
Ceramic tile, high grade installation Lifetime
Sources: Association of Wall and Ceiling Industries International, Ceramic Tile Institute of America
Windows Life in years
Window glazing 20
Wood casement 20-50
Aluminum and vinyl casement 20-30
Screen 25-50
Sources: Best Built Products, Optimum Window Manufacturing, Safety Glazing Certification Council, Screen Manufacturers Association

Electrical Service-Panel

January 18, 2009

The electrical service panel would be considered the heart of the electrical system. A properly sized, correctly wired panel will serve the electrical needs of the home for many years. Proper care and inspection will reduce the potential of system level problems and failures.


electrical-service-panel1If you have many of today’s modern conveniences such as a dishwasher, clothes washer, dryer, electric heat and air-conditioning, your service is likely 100 Amps or greater. If your house has anything smaller than 100 Amps, upgrading  your service to 150 Amps or greater is highly recommended. If you have very few of the items mentioned, the inspection covered in this section may or may not reveal immediate problems associated with a small panel, but as you add more electrical devices, you will start to see issues that are discussed in this topic.

Look at the table below to help determine what level of electrical service panel you may have. Generally speaking, service panels are not well marked to provide you an exact rating number, but the fewer positions the lower the rating. More positions typically equates to larger service. This is all based on the assumption that the panel is supplied with large enough cables in the first place. If you live in an older house, don’t be surprised if you have add-on panels that are used to provide additional capacity, if they are installed correctly there should not be any problems. If you question the cable sizes, have an electrician look at the panel for greater clarity.




With our increased dependency on electricity, the minimum acceptable size of AC service panels has slowly increased over the years. If your house is in category A or B with the original AC service panel, upgrading to a 150 Amps or greater can be a wise decision, as adding additional circuits will be problematic. In fact, some insurance companies may not issue or renew a policy because of the fire risk associated with the smaller panels.


With relative ease, and a tool or two, the homeowner can inspect the electrical service panel to identify conditions that may warrant further investigation or repair. Additionally, if you would like to analyze your AC requirements, send me an email and I can forward you an spreadsheet to calculate your AC demand. This will provide you a general reference of demand vs. capacity.

Visual Inspection: This level of inspection is performed with no more than the door open. No screwdrivers or tools should be required to expose the face of the panel. There should not be any exposed wires at this point. Your service panel should (generally) resemble this picture (for a panel newer than 1960). Look at the general condition of the panel.

  1. The door should open and close without difficulty or obstruction.
  2.  The panel should fit snug to the adjacent wall. No gaping holes around the panel face around the Sheetrock or wall covering. If you find conduit or Jacketed Metal Conduit (JMC) leaving the sides of the panel, this is okay assuming the electrical conductors are not exposed.
  3. With the door open, look for missing knockout where breakers may have been removed. TIP: Home centers have plastic filler plugs to cover these holes. 
  4.  No standing water, corrosion or signs of water in the panel is acceptable. Call an electrician for resolution.
  5. Look at all the breakers for deformation, if they look melted or are no longer holding their original shape, they should be replaced. This can also be an indication the breaker has or is exceeding its limitation.

Heat and your AC Service Panel: Heat generated by the electrical service panel is an indication of potential problems that may result in an interruption of service. Heat can be recognized in a couple of different ways. 1) by touch or, 2) or digital  infrared thermometer.  If you don’t own a digital thermometer, they can be purchased for a reasonable price ($15 to $100) over the Internet or discount tool supply. The digital thermometer will be referenced throughout HomeownerBOB and its a great addition to your tool box. You will find lots of uses for it.inferred-thermometer

Before you look for heat issues, try to answer these questions.

  1.  Have you noticed that you regularly trip breakers?
  2. Does it occur at a certain time of the day?
  3. Does it occur when you use specific appliances such as a vacuum cleaner or hair dryer?
  4. Is it the same breaker(s) that have to be regularly reset?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, it’s a good decision to replace the breaker(s) now. All breakers have a service life and can deteriorate over time due to frequent tripping or heavy loads. Large commercial breakers can be tested and repaired, but it is more economically feasible to replace residential breakers if there is any question of their reliability. Furthermore, this will further the isolation process of the breaker if it continues to trip.

  1. Test by Touch: Without a digital thermometer, you can place a finger on the face of the plastic breakers. TIP Look for temperature differential. If you find an individual breaker noticeably warm, and it has been tripping, you may have an issue, so have the breaker changed out. If you already changed it out and it is still warm, the load on the circuit is probably high. If the breaker has not been tripping, no further action is required. Just make a note in your inspection journal and look for a change from one inspection to the next.
  2. Test by Infrared Thermometer: TIP: Look for temperature differential. If you find 25% in temperature difference between the hottest breaker and the coolest, and it is not tripping, log it in your home inspection journal.
  3. Tripping Breakers: If the breaker has started tripping, replace it first, then try the following trick to resolve the issue if it continued to trip after replacement. TRICK: Identify everything plugged into this circuit and try moving some appliances to other circuits to de-load this one. If you can live with this change, you have solved the issue, no further action is required. If it’s not a convenient arrangement, you may need to hire an electrician to re-associate some outlets to different circuits. This can get expensive, but it will take an on-site analysis to figure it out. Regardless, re-associating the circuit should solve the problem.

Testing and Exercising Circuit Breakers:Some professionals recommend circuit breaker testing by switching breakers on/off 5 consecutive times once per year. HomeownerBOB considers this optional. If the service panel is over 10 years old and breakers were never exercised for test, cycling them may actually cause some deterioration. TIP: Determine the brand and style of the breakers and buy a couple of the most common sizes (15, 20’s and 30’s are the most popular) and keep them for an emergency. If you choose to exercise the circuit breakers in the future, you will have ready access to a replacements. If the house is fairly new, exercise them if you wish.

Service Panel and Breaker Caution:  If your service panel is a Federal Pacific brand, some municipalities require them to be replaced. FPE Panel Controversy.

gfci-breaker GFCI Circuit Breakers:These special breakers will look different than a standard breaker as it includes a test and reset button, just like a GFI (ground fault interruption)outlet. In newer houses the electrician may wire an entire bathroom or all the kitchen circuits as GFCI in lieu of installing individual GFI outlets. You may also use an outlet tester with a GFI  testing feature to trip the breaker. Either way will work but HomeownerBOB prefers to test at the outlet as this allows you to associate the outlets with the breaker. See Outlets and Switches.

afci-breakerAFCI Circuit Breakers:  AFCI  breakers may look like a GFCI, both will be properly labeled to identify the difference. Arc Fault Circuit Interruption breakers are designed to prevent fires based on an arc flash that could occur in an electrical appliance. Read their full description in US Gov. AFCI doc for more information. Since 2002, the NEC has required these breakers be used with all bedroom circuits. TIP: These breakers can be quite sensitive and may trip for no apparent reason. If your inspection finds no fault, the breaker has been replaced and it continues to trip, you may consider having an electrician evaluate the circuit. Even though HomeownerBOB cannot recommend the removal and replacement of this breaker with nothing other than the same breaker, there have been cases where replacement with a traditional standard breaker has solved the problem without issue. 

Replacing Breakers: There are many links on how to change out a circuit breaker. Here is just one. Replace a circuit breaker.  If you are replacing your own breakers, they should ALWAYS be replaced with a like-for-like size and rating of the breaker being removed. NEVER up-size a breaker because it continues to trip. If you replaced the breaker because it was hot and it is still hot or it continues to trip. Make a note in your inspection journal. If it starts to trip over the year, follow the testing isolation method described above. The NEC (National Electric Code) allows for residential grade breakers to supply up to 80% of their rating. So in other words, if you have a 20 Amp breaker, the actual measured load should not exceed 16 Amps (1920 Watts) at any one time.