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 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


Electrical Switches and Outlets

September 17, 2011

light-bulbLight Switches and outlets are taken for granted by providing endless amount of light and electricity at a moments notice. With proper care, these electrical elements will serve you and your house for 20 years or better. 

For the most part, we do not consider these items a problem until they are broken or when failure occurs. However, recognizing conditions than can be resolved today will allow you to fix the issue on your own schedule and ensure adequate safety to you and your home. We all know that failure typically won’t occur until you really need it. So take a look at your electrical outlets and switches today, you may be surprised to find that some of them are starting to show indications of wear that will eventually result in failure.  Replacement or repairing them now will ensure uninterrupted service.

Light Switches: This inspection involves visiting every light switch in the house. Go through each room, one at a time.

  1. Standard Light Switches: Operate every light switch in every room. It should operate smoothly. If it is warm, makes noise, won’t stay in the on or off position or feels mushy, it should be replaced.
  2. Dimmer Switches: There are different styles of dimmer switches,  they include standards/with secondary sliders, full sliders and rotary switches. Compared to standard light switches, it is not uncommon to find dimmer switches warmer than ambient. This is normal. Operate the switch through its full range. It should transition from off to 100% (on) smoothly. Some switches may have clicks or notches in the transition from 0% to 100%. If the light interrupts  or flickers during transition from off to 100% the switch should be replaced. TIPDimmer switches and CFL (compact florescent lights) don’t mix unless the switch and bulb is rated for it. This improper switch/bulb combination may act like a bad bulb or switch. 
  3. 3-way Switches: Are defined as two switches with one light circuit. Either switch on this light circuit should be able to turn the light on or off no matter the position of the other switch.
  4.  4-way Switches: Are three switches with one light circuit. Any one of the three switches should work the same as the 3-way switch and should operate the lights regardless the position of the other two switches.

TIP: If the 3&4 way switches do not operate as described, they could be bad or wired incorrectly. It is not unusual to find a 3 or 4 way switch to be previously replaced and not re-wired correctly. See Wiring a 3-Way switch or Wiring a 4-Way electrical switch

Electric Outlets: This inspection involves visiting every electrical outlet in the house.  Electrical outlets are very durable and can last a life time, however the excessive wear and abuse can cause damage to them.c140_product1

  1. Testing: Test each and every outlet to validate voltage and polarity. Purchase a low cost outlet tester much like the one pictured to the right for this inspection. They are self explanatory in their use. Generally you plug them in the outlet and they will provide a self check set of lights that will provide a go-no-go indication. TIP: Make sure you check both outlets on the receptacle as they can be wired separately.  An outlet can fail a test and appear to work properly. The three most common failures are, 1) reversed polarity, 2) open ground, 3) open neutral, 4) Hot open.
  2. Reversed Polarity: Hot and neutral are terminated on the wrong connectors. The outlet may still appear to work correctly. 
  3. Open Ground: The ground circuit is not complete. This usually happens when a grounded type (3 holes) outlet was used to replace a faulty 2-wire receptacle. TIP: Even though this outlet will appear to be working properly and will not cause an issue when using a lamp, this open condition can create issues with electronic devices such as computers, TV’s or stereo receivers.
  4. Open Neutral: Similar to Open ground.  TIP: Even though this outlet will appear to be working properly and will not cause an issue when using a lamp, this open condition can create issues with electronic devices such as computers, TV’s or stereo receivers.
  5. Hot Open: The outlet will be dead.
  6. Receptacles: 2 prong vs. 3-prong outlets were prevalent in houses built prior to 1965 and without an adaptor, you will not be able to properly use a plug cord with 3-prongs. The NEC code changed around 1965 requiring grounded outlets be part of new construction. If your house was built around 1965 and you find 3 prong outlets or a mix of both and the wiring was not upgraded, the tests performed in item 1 will reveal those problems for you (typically open ground). Even though the receptacles may appear to work properly, ghost problems may occur. If your electrical system is based on a a 2-wire system, 2 wire outlets and adapters yellowstone-0111are still considered acceptable. However, proper grounding for today’s electronics may not be compatible and rewiring your house may be considered.   
  7. Physical Damage: Inspect each outlet for physical damage. If the outlet or the face plate is damaged, they should be replaced.
  8. Warm Outlets: If the outlet feels warm to the touch, the outlet or the wire connection may be faulty. Replacing the outlet should resolve the problem. Purchase a higher quality version of the same receptacle (about 3 bucks) and used the screw down terminations. For more detail testing of this condition, see the article on Warm Outlets
  9. Overloaded Outlet: Most residential outlets are rated for 15 Amps maximum. Installing an excessive amount of electrical devices can cause problems. TIP: In these occasions where you need more outlets from the same receptacle, use a fused power strip. The power strip will include a fused breaker on the device. If an overload occurs, it will trip and protect the wall plug and the circuit from damage.
  10. GFI (Ground Fault Interruption) Outlets: GFI outlets are found in newer (or remodeled) houses. Typically GFI outlets will be found in the kitchen, bathrooms, garage, outside outlets or areas where the homeowner may be exposed to water while using the outlet. GFI outlets look a littleoutlet different and should be labeled as such and will have a self test button. The test button should disable the outlet and expose a reset light or button. Press the reset button and power should be restored. If the outlet does not disable and reset during the test, it should be replaced. In some cases, GFI outlets may be wired together and will cause multiple outlets to be disabled at the same time. TIP: These additional outlets may look like regular outlets but SHOULD be labeled as GFI, but don’t be surprised if they are not. Additionally the controlling GFI outlet may or may not be located in the same room.

Key Inspection Points and Action Items:

  1. Inspect and operate all electrical switches to ensure they operate properly
  2. Inspect and test all outlet using an outlet tester.
  3. Replace or repair the outlets and switches as necessary.
  4. Read my article on Warm Outlets.

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 – Spring 2011

April 1, 2011

 No time to nap!! 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. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  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. 
  15. Test Smoke Detectors:  Its a good time to clean off the cob webs and change the battery.

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 – 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.

Seasonal Reminder – Summer 2010

June 20, 2010

Summer is Here!!!   This seasonal reminder is more about making sure everything continues to work well through the stress and strain of the summer months more than anything. If you live near me, getting these things done before 10 AM in the morning is the best time of the day, otherwise you may wait till after 6 PM or so (stay hydrated; regardless).  If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out. 
  2. 100_0233HVAC Outdoor Unit: We did this in the spring and it’s good to do it again as vegetation has been growing through the spring months. Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 feet of clearance around the unit. Airborne particles generated by the blooming of trees and flowers can easily show up around the air conditioning condenser. Take your water hose and wash down the outside coils. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  3. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  4. Water Heaters: Make a visual inspection of the water heater. Look for dripping water and rust stains. Look at the exhaust flue to ensure it is still sealed. If its time to drain the tank or replace the anode, check the link for more details.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers:  Even though we performed this maintenance during the spring, yard work and vegetation growth can cause some additional sprinkler maintenance. Exercise the system (again). Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by, odd spray patterns, missing heads, pooling water and brown spots.  Replace or repair the heads. Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks is the first of the series and covers the inspection, leak detection, repairs and tips in more detail.
  6. 100_0503Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  They are all looking for cool locations and possible water. If you are not opposed to using perimeter bug spray, this is a good time.
  7. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up. “Water Leaks”, cover this item too.
  8. Appliances: Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to clear the dust bunnies from around all appliances such as washers, dryers and  dish washers. Pull you refrigerator out from the wall and do the same. If it’s within your skill set, turn off the unit, pull the back cover off,  and vacuum out the condenser coils and all the dirt around the fan.
  9. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Gutters, culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  10. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. With tree limbs heavy with leaves, seed pods, fruits and nuts, you may have some limbs that are drooping on your electrical service lines. 
  11. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  12. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly. 

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


Crawl Spaces; Basements Without Benefits

June 12, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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