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.

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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

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 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


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.