Heating/Cooling-Air Filters

August 13, 2011

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

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

aifilter

MERV 1-4

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

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

Pleated MERV8

MERV 5-8

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

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

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

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

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

Lifetime Electrostatic

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recomendation:

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

Key Inspection Points and Action Items:

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

Attic Insulation – Do You Have Enough?

July 30, 2011

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

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

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

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

The Inspection:

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

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

Insulation Table

Common Types of Insulation in Residential Attics

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

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

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


Seasonal Reminder – Fall 2010

September 27, 2010

The Fall Season is technically here. For me it’s is just barely below 90 degree’s. If you are in the northern climates this is your opportunity to “batten down the hatches” by tightening up the house. Re-caulking, sealing, and roof inspections are in order. Checking door and window seals are also in order. For the rest of us, the lower temperatures are a relief, summer is mostly over and we can attack those projects we wouldn’t touch during the summer.

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

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


Chasing Water Leaks Part II

July 28, 2010

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

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

Leak Isolation Group II (main lines and  concealed leaks)

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

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

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

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

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

Key Inspection Points and Action Items:

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

Water Heater Inspection

April 13, 2010

About 20 years ago, my hot water heater started leaking the day before we left for a vacation. In a panic, my wife said, what are you going to do. I said, turn it off and go to Disney World. True story!! So needless to say I had a project waiting for me when I returned. 

Water heaters come in many types, shapes and sizes. Natural gas (or LP) or electric tank type are the most common. Like everything else in the house, a little bit of maintenance and periodical inspections can work to get the most life out of a hot water heater. 

The Inspection: If the water heater is new, you can go 3 years before inspecting it. Then every two years, At 7, start inspecting it every year.

  1. How  old is the water heater? If the water heater was there before you were. You need to figure out how old it is. Newer tanks maybe clearly stamped with a date. Sometimes a plumber will also write on the tank the date of installation. If you find none of that, look for the serial number. The first four digits should include a date code. Every manufacturer does it a little different. C-93,  0393, 9303, 9313 (13 is a week number) In this example, all equate to March of 1993. Typically water heaters can last for 10-15 years, but start inspecting them more regularly at about 7 years.
  2. Physical Inspection: With a good flashlight, try to look around all the surface area of the outside structure. Look for any water, water deposits, rust or deformation in the shell of the heater Inspect all the water connections. The tank should be marked with cold input and hot output. WARNING: The hot water output will be HOT. Be careful if you touch them. Look for heavy rust and water streaks on the shell of the heater. Using a paper towel as your inspection tool it will identify water on the back side where you may not be able to see it.
  3. Cold Water Cut-off: Close the valve to make sure you can. In an emergency, you need to know it will close successfully.
  4. Pressure Release Valve: Every water heater has a pressure relief valve. By design, if the water heater gets too hot and the water starts boiling, the relief valve will let the water out. If the water heater was installed correctly, the valve should be connected to a pipe, and the pipe should exit the house.  Open the valve for about 2 seconds, then let it go quickly so it will re-seat. Be aware, it may not re-seat. If it doesn’t re-seat, activate it a couple of times. If it does not re-seat, it will need to be replaced. TIP: When testing this item, be aware, it may not re-seat, so do it when it will be convenient for you to replace it or have it replaced. You want to avoid that weekend call out to a plumber.  If you get stuck, you can turn the cold water off (see #3) and it should  stop leaking until you replace it, granted you will be limited on hot water. Here is the e-How link to replacing a pressure relief valve.
  5. Flue Inspection (Gas fired Water Heaters): You should see a rigid metal duct or flue leaving the top of the water heater. Inspect each joint to ensure it is properly sealed with aluminum type tape. This is very important as a leaky vent can cause carbon monoxide poisoning. This vent needs to be inspected from the top of the water heater to the point of exit out of the house. It should also be secure and supported on its path out of the house.

Routine Maintenance:

  1. Drain the tank of sediment: At the base of the water heater is a spigot. If you can get a bucket underneath  it, drain about a gallon of water. If it is clear, perform it yearly. If it is milky or include noticable particles. Connect a garden hose, with the open end leading outside and drain the entire tank. You must turn the water off (above item 3) and open a hot water faucet in the house so it will drain to be able to get all the water out. Perform this every 2 to 3 years.
  2. Replace the anode (optional): If your water heater does not normally last 10 years,  you may consider this maintenance item. On top of the water heater is a large bolt. Underneath the bolt is a sacrificial anode that is designed to corrode. Once it has dissolved, the tank will take on that role and start corroding.  Because we all have different water quality, the anode will corrode at different rates in different parts of the country. If you have a concern, inspect it at 5 years. It’s best to shut off the water, as well as the heat source (electricity or natural gas).  If the anode has consumed at least 6 inches, the anode should be replaced. After completing this exercise, drain and refill the tank.

Following this method will allow you to get the maximum life out of your water heater.


Chasing Water Leaks Part I

March 27, 2010

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

 

The Silent Thief

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

 

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

 

The Inspection

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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


Seasonal Reminder – Spring 2010

March 20, 2010

Today is the first day of spring and I believe we may see snow tonight… In Texas!!  So this post may be a bit early to start working on that Spring To-Do List, but give it a look so you can take care of things in the next couple of weeks.  It’s time to fix all those items that broke during the winter months, repair the items that have deteriorated over the last few months and perform a little preventative maintenance around the house. This seasonal reminder  provides a list of items you need to review before the summer months set in. If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filter prior to the heavy air conditioning months.
  2. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Spring rains are approaching so inspect your roof for leaks, trim away any tree limbs and clean debris off the roof. Look for raised nails and any breaches in the roof surface.
  3. HVAC Outdoor Unit: Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 100_0233feet clearance around the unit. Also take your water hose and wash down the outside coils  that may have accumulated dirt. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  4. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Exercise the system. Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by and odd spray patterns. Replace or repair the heads. If you need more help on this item, click the “lawn sprinklers” tab to see multiple subjects on locating lost heads, valves as well as tune-up recommendations.
  6. Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for rotted wood, peeling paint and other exposed surfaces. Use caulk to re-seal cracks and touch up paint to reseal the surfaces. Replace rotten wood as necessary.
  7. Interior Inspection: Winter dry-out will have caused some surface cracks around doorways and windows. Also  re-caulk/grout any cracks that may have surfaced in the bathroom and kitchen, especially around the tub and shower. These two areas experience the most use and require the most maintenance.  Replace or clean water filters, faucet strainers and vent-a-hood filters in the kitchen. Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes.
  8. Water Heaters: Tank type water heaters should have their pressure release valve tested (opened and closed). This will also validate the drain pipe is clear and open.
  9. Gutters and Downspouts: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely.
  10. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.100_0206
  11. Windows and doors: Look at the edges where the windows and doors connect to the house. Ensure the caulk is in good shape and add caulk as necessary, indoors and outdoors.
  12. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. Look for any damage that may have occurred over the winter. Look for tree limbs that may be contacting the entrance cable.
  13. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  14. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly. 

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


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

Caulking and Sealing

January 11, 2010

 The colder months make it easy to find problems associated with door and window seals. I spent the day caulking window casings and sills today (inside the house). With the temperature hovering around 25F, it was easy to find the bad spots. Lucky for me, my house is in pretty good shape. I haven’t done any window maintenance in about 4 years.

It’s  not uncommon to see shrinkage (not the George Costanza type) in building materials such as caulk, grout, wood trim and spackling (all water based products).  This is usually the time of the year you will see more cracks around your shower, bathtub, kitchen as well as windows and doors. This is a great time to do interior caulking  in all of these places. If you own a new house that is less than 5 years old, you will probably notice significant amounts of cracks related to this type of contraction. It’s is important to understand; caulking is not a one time event. The material will continue to move and you may have to continue to re-caulk over the years.

PURPOSE OF CAULK: Caulk or sealant is used to bridge the gap between two material. Typically corners, seams and edges, especially where two dis-similar material meet. Caulk is used to create a barrier for air, water, grunge and 4 legged creatures from entering the house as well as keeping  untreated materials from being exposed to those elements. Universally, caulk is used as an exterior and interior sealant to protect both you and your home. 

CAULKING AND SEALS

Window Caulking: Assuming you have functional windows, the caulking should be limited to the where the two opposing surfaces contact each other. (i.e. window frame and wall). If there are gaps and cracks, clean them and fill with a thin coat of water based acrylic latex caulk. Painting after you finish may be required, but that is your call. My trim is off white and it blends well enough to be left as is. If you find no cracks or gaps leave it alone, no need to add layers of caulk just because. I took these before and after pictures of one of my windows. Hopefully you can see this is a very thin seasonal dryout crack that I filled with caulk.

Tub and Shower Caulking: Similar to windows. Look where the tile or wall surface touches the tub it self. This is where most of the problems are. Keeping a good water tight seal at this location is critical  in keeping water from getting behind the tub; and same goes with the shower. These surfaces will require more regular inspection and recaulkng to keep them up to snuff. If you live in an older home you may find lots of caulk gunked up here. If you continue to see mold in this location even after caulking, it would be a good idea to spend the time and remove all the old caulk, let it dry and replace all the caulk. This is a very laborious job but once its done right you will not have to caulk near as often.  Inspect for recaulking every 6 months.

Caulking “Part Art Part Function“: Caulking appears to be an easy task, however it’s also very easy to make a mess of it. One of the reasons I use a latex based product as often as possible is because its very easy to start over if you mess up.  TIP: After applying the bead of caulk, moisten your finger and smooth the caulk into the corner, if you have too much caulk it will spread outside your finger, wipe it off and keep going. Use a wet rag to carefully clean it up. If needed, use your finger again. Continue to work it until you like the way it looks.  Even though most instructions will not include this tip, I learned this from a wise old painter and  it really makes a difference.

It’s estimated that up to 11 percent of the air leaks in a building are around the doors.

Door and Window Trim: This is related to the trim or molding around the windows and doors. Typically this is done prior to painting. Look for small dryout cracks at the joints and edges.  Try to force the caulk in the crack it self and wipe clean the surface. Look at these before and after pictures of this interior door trim.

Door Seals: All exterior doors should have some form of seal. It could be rubber, plastic, foam or even metal strips (usually copper).  This seal creates a barrier to keep the outside temperatures outside, and the inside temperatures inside. Inspecting this on a windy day can reveal leaks. Look at the seal(s), ensure they are in tack, and form a complete seal around the door frame. Look at the door threshold in the same way. In some cases there may be a wiper (thin rubber strip on the bottom of the door) to make contact with the threshold when the door closes. If you find problems, you may be able to fix them but most likely the complete seal may have to be replaced.  The local hardware store usually has many styles to choose from. When replacing a door seal, it is important to find the right one. Using one that is too think will make the door difficult to open and close.  Look at this site on weather-stripping for a detailed description of the various styles.

Attic Entrance: Either a hatch or attic stairs. If it’s a hatch seal it the same way as a crawl space hatch. If you have a hinged stairway you can seal the door much like the crawl space, however adding insulation over the hatch will provide additional value. Here are some examples of tents and hoods that will work. If you have room, you can make one out of insulated fiber board.

Crawl Space Entrance: If you have a basement or the house is built on a slab, this will not apply to you. Many houses with a crawl space will have a hatch in the floor. Use a small strip of  foam based weather-stripping attached to the contact surface between the hatch and floor, this will help keep the winter drafts down. TIP: It doesn’t hurt to have a patch of fiberglass insulation to fill the void in the hatch hole, it would be removed  when you need access.

For more detailed methods of caulking and sealing see the attached DOE article covers the subject of caulking, sealing weather-stripping.  Weatherizing your Home.


Seasonal Dryout Around the House

January 9, 2010

If you normally live in a humid area of the country you may experience seasonal dry-out during the winter months.  Because our heating systems dry out the air they tends to dry-out wood products, sheet rock and other building materials. Recently I have had neighbors commenting that they hear popping at night throughout the house especially in the attic. It never hurts to take a flashlight and make a pass through the attic looking for broken timbers, but more likely than not, it is nothing more than dry-out or the expansion and contraction of various building materials. Even though you would think a 50-year-old building would have already experienced all the dry-out possible, timbers continue to move and will also absorb moisture during the more humid parts of the year. In many cases the sound you hear is the movement of the timbers and temperature changes will cause them to pop (forever).

Besides the popping look for these dryout signs as well:

  1. You see hair-line cracks in your sheet rock
  2. Cracks around trim, baseboards, door molding
  3. Cracks around interior and exterior windows and doors
  4. Cracks around the tub,  shower and throughout the kitchen
  5. Nails popping out of the sheetrock

This is a great time to do some interior caulking as its fairly easy to recognize where the leaks are. Look for my next article on caulking and sealing.