Radiant Barrier – Things to Consider

April 24, 2010

Radiant Barrier has a long successful history as a way to reduce heat loads, but didn’t really get the deserved credit until NASA  acknowledged its use in the Space Program.  As a construction product; it is basically heavy-duty aluminum foil with at least one shiny side. For a greater understanding of the principles of this product, see  How it works? 

During the summer, an attic radiant barrier, combined with existing R-19 attic insulation, may reduce heat gain through the ceiling from 16%-42%. For single-story houses, typically about 15%-25% of the summer cooling load is due to ceiling heat gain. During the summer, the interior ceiling becomes a radiant heater adding heat to the interior spaces. The heat gain reduction from a radiant barrier installation will usually result in a total cooling load savings of 2%-10%-possibly as high as 15% in attics insulated to R-11 or less. Higher savings occur when retrofitting less efficient buildings. Buildings with little to no attic insulation and a high volume of attic ventilation typically provide the most dramatic energy savings from a radiant barrier. The hotter and sunnier the climate is, the more beneficial the radiant barrier installation becomes.

Types of Radiant Barriers

  • Foil Faced Decking Material: With the trade name of TechShield, this radiant barrier product is applied to the back of roof decking during manufacturing and can be applied when the house is built or during a re-roof. Efficiencies of this product is in the neighborhood of 95-97%
  • Rolls or Sheets: The sheets can be applied in a couple of methods; 1) Tacked up on the rafters or 2)rolled out on the attic floor. The labor makes these choices fairly expensive, but you can reduce the installed cost by making it a  DIY project.
  • Spray on Solution:  This is a fairly new option, and came about because of the installed cost  of rolls or sheets. However, spray on radiant barrier is only about 65% as efficient as the aluminum foil types and lacks the low emissivity factor found in the other products. So it may have a lower installed cost, but your benefits will not compare to previously mentioned type.

Things to consider before purchasing or installing a Radiant Barrier

  1. Climate: If living without air conditioning is not an option for you,  you may live in a temperature zone worthy of installing radiant barrier. Studies have shown, this product works better in very hot climates. If your attic regularly exceeds 130 to 140 degrees F, radiant barrier can reduce the attic heat load allowing your HVAC to work more efficiently , in-turn reducing your electricity consumption. If you live in climates similar to Arizona, Florida, or Texas,  you are probably a candidate for radiant barrier.
  2. New Construction or Re-roofing plans: If you are considering either of these projects, foil faced roof decking can be purchased for a couple of dollars per sheet. This is the most inexpensive method to obtain radiant barrier. 
  3. Attic Insulation: Make sure you have enough attic insulation, radiant barrier is not an insulation replacement product but just part of the equation. Having the proper amount of attic insulation combined with a radiant barrier product will provide the maximum benefit.  Also see Insulation: Do you have enough? and Insulation Choices.
  4. Radiant barrier as a DIY project: Choose a product that has high tensile strength or is embedded with tightly woven fiber mesh; either of these features will reduce the opportunity for the product tear during the installation process. There is also a bubble pack version that appears to be as strong too. The bubble pack version is a great product for re-insulating HVAC ducts. Any radiant barrier product should be UL listed and/or have a NFPA “Class A”  flammability rating.
  5. Location to place the radiant barrier: The following table shows a comparison of the effectiveness of the product applied in 4 different locations. Even though the attic floor application appears to be the most effective, this location may 1) cause moisture to collect under the barrier, 2) collect excessive dust; known to reduce its effectiveness and 3) add to the complexity to performing future work in the attic.  HomeownerBOB recommends avoiding using this product on the attic floor. 
Radiant Barrier Location Whole House Tests Test Cell Tests
Mineral InsulationLab Oak Ridge Lab Solar Energy Cntr Tenn. Valley Auth.
Roof: attached to roof deck —- —- 36 – 42% 16%
Roof: stapled between rafters —- —- 38 – 43% —-
Roof: stapled under rafters 24% 25 – 30% —- 23 – 30%
Attic Floor*** 35% 32 – 35% 38 – 44% 40 -42%

If re-roofing is not in your future, installing the barrier on or under the rafters to gain the most long-term effectiveness is probably your best choice. Most of these products qualify as an energy tax credit so take advantage of the opportunity and get it installed before it gets too hot.

Reference Studys of Effectiveness of Radiant Barriers

  1. TAMU Study
  2. Radiant Barrier Fact Sheet; DOE Oak Ridge National  Laboratory 

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.


Inspecting & Cleaning Clothes Dryer Vents

December 27, 2009

 In 1998 the US Consumer Product Safety Commission associated 15,600 household fires to clothes dryers. Many of these fires can be related to lint build up in the dryer exhaust duct. This number may not appear to be significant, but the potential loss for anyone would be.

A full load of clothes contain about 1/2 gallon of water. Lint is created as a by-product of removing the water from the clothes. Even though many would believe the lint filter in the dryer takes care of most  lint concerns, they would be wrong. Pulling out your dryer from the wall after about a month of use will reveal lint that did not get caught by the dryer nor did it make it through the vent duct but escaped outside the duct system.

REASONS TO INSPECT THE DRYER AND VENT SYSTEM:

  1. Excessively long drying times
  2. Clothes are very hot at the end of their cycle
  3. Clothes are still damp after completion of their cycle
  4. Dryer has become noisier than usual
  5. Premature dryer failure associated with heating element, motor or bearings
  6. Existing dryer is more than 5 years old
  7. High usage applications (every day use)
  8. Recent dryer replacement

 

 

Besides the items mentioned above, you may have installation or design issues that may be causing your dryer not to operate properly.  Take a look at these items for a more in-depth inspection.

  1. Excessive Duct Length: The International Mechanical Code, article 504.6  and 913 defines a maximum length of 25 ft. For each 45 degree turn, reduce that number by 2.5 ft. and 5 ft. for each 90 degree turn. If your dryer is not on an outside wall and the dryer duct is routed through the attic or under the house you probably have two 90 degree turns.  If you include the vertical distance (attic or basement) with two 90 degree turns, you have an approximate budget of 9-13 ft. from the rear of the dryer to the outside wall (this is not very far). Excessive distance may cause buildup to occur more rapidly. The diameter of the pipe should be 4 inches. If you can’t change the distance, inspect and clean the duct more regularly or consider adding a booster fan.
  2. Excessive Vertical Distance: Pushing this air up has its limitation. (see the Whirlpool document listed below for back pressure requirements). If your system exceeds the vertical hight of one story (8 ft.) you may need to measure the back pressure with a manometer and consider a booster fan for adequate dryer ventilation.
  3. System Integrity: Visibly walk (or crawl) the entire duct where it is exposed (attic, crawl space, basement, etc.) to ensure all fittings are tight, secure, straight and clear not crimped or bent up. TIP: Performing this function while the dryer is running will help find problems quicker.
  4. PVC Piping: The use of PVC (plastic) pipe should be avoided completely as excessive heat can melt the plastic (PVC will melt at 140 F).  Besides the temperature issue, PVC has a tendency to create static electricity that can contribute to the build up. If PVC is used, consider having it replaced with ridged metal duct work. 
  5. Plastic or Thin Flexible Connection Duct: This would be the “transition” ducting to connect the dryer to the wall outlet.  A ridged solution is the best but many times a flexible duct is required due to the lack of space. There are dozens of choices even though the big orange box may only have two. You may have to use the internet to find the best product for your requirement. Check out Fixitnow.com as a great source to review your duct options. Avoid the plastic or thin foil slinky type at all costs. If you need one that is flexible, find a simi-flexible non-kinking type. If you find the plastic or thin foil type in your system, replacement is recommended. Try to find one with a UL listing on the packaging.
  6. Kinks, Tight Bends & Rough Interior Surfaces: A smooth free flow path with minimal bends and turns is the most ideal installation.
  7. The entire duct system should be metal: Otherwise you may have excessive static electricty.  Make sure there is continuity from end to end from the dryer to the outside vent, 3) Ensure the dryer is correctly grounded, 3) Check the grounding of the AC Breaker panel, 4)Make sure there are no plastic fittings or section in the system. By having a properly grounded dryer and the metal vent is connected to the dryer, the static electricty will have a good path to ground.

In 1999 the US Consumer Product Safety Commission reported of the 15,000 house fires studied, electric dryers were over 2.5 times more likely the cause of the fire over a gas dryer and that the most frequent locations were the dryer vent and lint trap.

INSPECTING & SERVICING DRYER AND DRYER DUCTING

  1. Clean lint screen/ filter before each use: This is mandatory, running the dryer with a clogged filter screen will force the dryer to push the air and lint into other places, such as in the interior of the dryer as well as the laundry closet area.
  2. Clean under and around the dryer: Pull the dryer away from the wall or out of the it space and clean the floor and walls and underneath the dryer. Perform this yearly.
  3. Dryer interior space: You will have to make this call regarding your experience to perform this item. With the dryer disconnected from the wall (electric plug and duct), remove the inspection plate on the rear of the dryer. Inspect for excessive lint and remove with a vacuum cleaner. Inspect as often as yearly, but every three years may be sufficient.
  4. Remove and clean the transition duct: If you can remove this, take it outside and use a vacuum cleaner, compressed air or water hose to throughly clean this out. NOTE: if you use water, get it good and dry before you replace it.  Normally once a year should work. 
  5. Clean the dryer duct (in-wall):  There are a dozen ways to do this, but I like the “Chimney Sweep” type product. Using a portable drill attached to the device,  you can run this through the pipe and it will scrub out all the lint. I like to do it from the outside with the dryer running (yes it makes a mess) but it does a great job. If you don’t want to invest in the tool, consider hiring a professional. The worst thing you could do is getting something stuck in it, which would put you out of business and make matters worse.  Inspect this once a year and clean it as required. I use the LintEater  and found it to be an excellent product with great instructions and a hand full of accessories for the everyday homeowner. Its about $35.

Specific codes that define the use of dryers and the installation of  venting duct work include but not limited to: International Mechanical Code, article 504.6  and 913, UL 2158 par. 7.3,  ANSI Z21.5.1 Gas Dryers as well as local codes and ordinances.  This Whirlpool link provides a nice detailed vent specification as well as pressure measurements if you are building a new dryer vent system and need to provide a contractor the specifics.

 

  

 


Seasonal Reminder – Summer Household To Do List

July 5, 2009

100_0497Summer is Here!!!  Its been close to 100 degrees most of the week, and it could be that hot till Labor Day. 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.  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. HVAC 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 2 100_0233feet of clearance around the unit. Airborne particles generated by the blooming of trees and bushes 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. Lawn Sprinklers: If you read my weekly posts, you may notice I have been writing a lot on lawn sprinklers. This subject has been getting the most hits and questions so I have responded by writing more articles on the subject. Even though we performed this maintenance during the spring, yard work and vegetation growth can cause some additional sprinkler maintenance. Exercise the system. 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 and repairs in more detail.
  5. 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.
  6. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up.
  7. Appliances: Use a hand held vacuum cleaner to clear the dust bunnies from the vent at the bottom the unit. 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.
  8. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.100_0206
  9. 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. 
  10. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  11. 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


AC Service Ground and Bonding Connections Part II

May 17, 2009

electricalLightning is responsible for more than $5 billion in total insurance industry losses annually, according to Hartford Insurance Company.

  Here in the Southwest the weather is struggling between winter and spring which brings heavy rains and torrential thunderstorms. These conditions increase the opportunity for electrical surges and spikes. The impact of these storms can cause both personal and property damage. Proper grounding and surge protection can  be your best defense.

Unplugging electronic devices was the old school method of protecting our electronics, however with more microprocessor based equipment that may be built-in or hardwired it becomes difficult to do that.  This can be good and bad. On the good side, this “smart” technology can allow our washing machines to weigh the clothes to determine how much water to use, to our sprinkler systems determining how moist the soil is before it waters our landscape. On the bad side, all of these electronic devices are highly susceptible to the negative effect of power surges and spikes. Any technology less than 10 years old can easily be a candidate for failure due to technological advances based on micro-processor based technology. With all that said, it becomes very important to protect all of these devices from electrical surges and spikes. Even if you live in an area with very little lightening, or thunderstorms, your equipment is still subject to utility and equipment based electrical surges. 

Even though most of us recognize electrical surges as they occur from outside sources, (severe storms, etc.) power fluctuations (or spikes)  from utility switching equipment and even equipment within our house have the ability to create power transients that can have an impact.  So, to properly protect you and your house, you may consider going beyond the typical power strip or point of use (POU) surge protector by having multiple layers of protection.  Obviously, equipment such as a Flat Panel TV, computer or audio equipment require point of use (POU) surge protectors but including  Surge Protection at the point of entry (electrical service panel) will also provide protection for items such as dishwashers, HVAC systems, microwave ovens, washers, dryers and so on.    

tt43kicamiqr72cajlxf3qcaqg2uy9cataa1tgcaozp5xycal1ce1jcanvsd5ycaf7gwszca1aq9vncaubtid9cayql0nrcav7a5t3ca26lasucaabxmn3ca179qr3cagr0p6uca5rqldfca8ochrrProper surge protection cannot be discussed without stressing the importance of  a grounding network for your house. My article on bonding & grounding covers how to identify and inspect your system, but the subject warrants a bit more discussion. The reality of the situation is that your household experiences electrical spikes and surges regularly even without a storm in sight and the source can be any incoming services (Commercial AC, CATV, Satellite TV and Telephone Service) as well as electrical appliances in your house. 

Both the National Electric Code (NEC) and National Institute of Standards recognize the importance of proper grounding  by providing recommendations and standards to increase this level of protection. Read the following articles before you go too much further. For your house to be properly protected, the integrity of the complete house is essential. Bonding and Grounding, Electrical Switches and Outlets (especially testing of the outlets). TIP:  Any outlet without proper grounding should not be used for any electrical equipment that requires protection even when you have a POU surge protector plugged in.

Ensure your grounding systems is up to par:

  1. Test all your outlets as mentioned above.
  2. If your house is over 30 years old and the electrical service has never been upgraded, the water pipe may be the only source of ground. Adding a ground rod would be a good idea at this point. Add the ground rod near the electrical service meter and a new wire between the rod and the ground termination bar in the service panel. It’s okay to leave the cold water pipe connection in tack. The grounding schematic  found below is considered a perfect world design. Creating this form of grounding arrangement will optimize your ground system.
  3. Grounding SchematicIf you have a ground rod and it is over 20 years old, it may be time add a new one. Underwriters Laboratory (UL) recognizes standard copper clad ground rod have a life expectancy of 20 years. If the electrical system has not been upgraded, replacing the ground rod will be cheap insurance.  Its perfectly okay to have multiple ground rods connected together in an array. 
  4. National Standards recognize ground systems with less than 5 ohms of resistance as being acceptable. Unless you live in a very dry climate or have known issues, testing an installed ground rod may not be necessary. If you are thinking you need to replace it,  it’s cheaper to just add it than have it tested.OYL94SCAGD0QOUCAYL04A3CAWYLBW6CAAH81G0CA0L2SH0CAHPGADSCAA7UEPWCAR3W6D8CAEFUGXNCAWGM712CAE6Z75SCAHKAUTPCAM64A17CAYGWHLQCAY41LE9CAXSYBESCAAW9HKRCASITYXC
  5. Ensure that all CATV, Telephone, Satellite services are collectively grounded at the same location as the AC service. TIP:  The closer these services are to each other and the shorter the ground wires used to connect them; the better.  Using the proper grounding hardware, the ground wires can be connected together at the ground rod, or you can use a collection device like the one pictured.    
  6. NEVER EVER connect a ground wire or ground rod to a natural gas pipe.
  7. As noted in the Grounding Bonding Post, having all the incoming services enter the building in the same general vicinity is most desirable.  TIP: With existing houses, these services may already be installed. If you are remodeling or building, keep this item in mind as you go through the process.   When the services all enter from different locations, surges may travel through the house to reach the intended ground source. Unfortunately in those type cases, this can increase the opportunity for the surge to follow an unintended path that may include passing through a television or computer.
  8. Following these items will reduce the risk and opportunity for surges and spikes, however damage from direct strikes are nearly unavoidable. 

 Odds Stacked Against You:  Having  a good ground system as mentioned above will protect you in most cases, however there are certain issues that will work against you. Some of the conditions you can change,  some not. Either way you need to be aware of them. 

  1. Tall structure; having the tallest structure in the general vicinity
  2. Having the largest or tallest trees in the area
  3. Large antennas, such as amateur radio
  4. Located near open water
  5. Older vintage building wiring systems that did not include proper or adequate grounding
  6. Living in an area served by aerial electrical, telephone or CATV lines
  7. Living in an older neighborhood with numerous tree’s in the utility easements
  8. A combination of any of the previously mentioned situations

I know this is a lot of information, but these grounding issues are regularly overlooked until a failure or problem has occurred. If you see the value of this, but its over your head, consult with an electrician about evaluating your system and performing the upgrades for you. My next article will cover the actual surge suppression devices (aka. TVSS). We will see the different classes of TVSS’s, where and how to apply them  and how to recognize a good one.  Look for my next post on Residential AC Surge Protection Using SPD’s and TVSS’s.


Lawn Sprinkler Maintenance Can Increase Water Efficiency

April 20, 2009

sprinklers-01In-ground lawn sprinklers are about 50% efficient. Evaporation, poor maintenance and bad design  are the largest impact to that figure.

The spring season has many of us looking to use automatic lawn sprinklers to do our watering.   Hopefully you have read my post on Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks.  This is a good start, but it just barely touches the subject of efficiency. Besides fixing leaks, there are numerous items that can be performed to make your system more efficient without sacrificing performance. Today, the dollar cost of water is still very reasonable, however water conservantion is really about using less and the long-term benefit.  Even though this article will address issues specifically related to systems designed with pop-up type heads, many of the suggestions will work with other types as well.

General Design Considerations:  Understanding how an irrigation system is engineered will help you understand how to make one work more efficiently. If you have a “blueprint” of your system you have a head start, if not, we will perform some hands-on analysis to obtain performance information. 

  • Elements of Design: All systems are designed based on water usage  and gallons of water (GPM) per minutes used by each head. Typically the small pop-up heads use more water per head per square foot watered. Because they apply more water per square foot than other types, they work well for small and medium-sized residential properties. They can also be easily tuned to fit odd spaces with a host of nozzle choices. 
  • Zones or Sections: All sprinkler systems are broken down into zones or sections. The Irrigator calculates the zone size by using available water pressure, pipe size and maximum GPM per zone. Besides these items, zone adjustments may also include special watering needs such as side yards, gardens, flower beds or odd-shaped areas. Since additional zones require more material, labor and money many Irrigators will keep the costs down by limiting the number of zones installed, this is good for him and maybe not so good for you. As you analyze your system and you see one head out all by itself in the middle of another zone, the Irrigator needed a head in that location but did not have enough water budget left in the prevailing zone. This is all very common but can be problematic if you are attempting to manage your water usage at a higher degree than normal homeowners.
  • Sprinkler Heads & Nozzles: There are a half a dozen types of sprinkler heads, but the pop-up style is still the most popular because they can meet varying needs. Pop-ups can be purchased in different levels of spray coverage and are promoted as providing better coverage because they are typically spaced closer together. Typical systems use heads designed with 10′, 12′ and 15′ radius spray patterns as well as strip sprays and bubblers.  Larger properties can use Impulse or Rotary style heads to conserve water as they can be placed very far apart. Because they distribute water in more of a stream vs. spray found with a pop-up style, they do not waste quite as much water per square foot.  Impulse and Rotary heads work well with wide open lots, but don’t work well when there are obstructions such as building structures, trees, and property lines.
  • Mixing Head Types: No matter the sprinkler head style, it is perfectly normal to find a mix of spray pattern nozzles within each zone, and a mixtures of head types in a system,  but NOT a mixture of head type (Pop-up, Rotary, Orbital) in the same zone. Mixing head type can make it difficult to properly manage coverage and watering levels.
  • Optimal Design: The best designed systems account for the water required based on the environment. In other words, shrubs and flowers should be watered at a different rate than turf. Shaded turf may be watered less than turf placed in full sun. Grass type is also influential. Unfortunately, not all sprinkler systems are designed with these considerations as it can be more costly to engineer a system with greater efficiency. TIP: If you don’t currently have a sprinkler system, and are looking to purchase one, beware of the very low bids as some Irrigation Contractors will take short cuts on the items mentioned in an effort to win the business.

EFFICIENCY STRATEGY

Stage I: Gain the most efficiency out of your existing system without impacting the design.  All of Stage I is covered in detail in the “Sprinkler Leak” post. But here are the high points.

  1. Check for leaks in the pressure side of the system. Use your water meter to isolate the leaks in the sprinkler zones.
  2. Check for leaks in each zone. Most leaks are at the heads; repair and replace the heads and risers as necessary. Make sure you use the same style head and similar nozzle sizes as the one you are replacing.  TIP: All the major manufacturers make pop-up heads, its okay to mix brands but if you stick with the same brand, you can always move and change nozzles between existing heads when needed because nozzles are not universal between manufacturers.
  3. Ensure all sprinkler heads are clean and providing the proper water pattern.
  4. Adjust the watering duration and times to match the season.
  5. If your watering durations continue to allow excessive water run off, try changing the watering times to a series of short cycles. For instance, change a single 15 minute cycle  to 3 back-to-back 4 or 5 minute cycles. This can allow the water to saturate before the second and third cycle occurs. Typically, I don’t like the short cycle watering strategy, but if you perform it back-to-back, its okay.
  6. Consider using your system in manual mode only. Watering when only necessary will reduce your water usage substantially. 

lawn-sprinklers3Stage II: Plan to get wet.  This stage requires a bit more effort and the gains achieved may be small, but the intent is to make gradual changes that will increase efficiency without negatively effecting performance.  This stage is intended to optimize the system by fine tuning the existing sprinkler heads. 

  1. Look for excessive water  accumulation. Not all landscapes require the same amount of water. Unfortunately, when irrigation systems are designed, this fact may not be included in the design. Read the system performance by looking for items such as excessive water, green moss or over saturated ground and plants.
  2. Fine tune  individual sprinkler nozzles. Each sprinkler nozzle has a fine tuning screw on the top of the nozzle allowing you to change the water output. However, when you reduce the flow, you reduce the pattern spray coverage. In some cases, you may completely turn the water off at the nozzle. This is sort of a trial and error exercise, so you may need to make the adjustment and keep an eye on the area for proper coverage. Newer style nozzles may include a water saver disk found under the nozzle to equalize pressure and reduce water usage. Adding or removing this disk will also change the amount of water delivered.
  3. Parkway Watering: I mention this because this strip of grass found with many older homes is a large source of water waste with automatic lawn sprinklers. Run the zone that waters this area to determine how much waste is occurring. Adjust it as much as you can. If you still have excessive water run off you may consider adjusting the fine tune screw to the off position and either hand water it or let it go brown and just let the rain keep it green By completing Stage I & II, you should be reducing you water waste. You may be able to reduce your watering duration by the fact that you are wasting less water. Before you move to the next step, let the system run for several weeks/months. Monitor the performance and make further adjustments as necessary to the nozzles and watering duration.

After completing Stage I and II let the system run for a couple of months. Monitor the performance and the water usage, make adjustments as necessary.  However, if you want to go further, I still have Stage III and IV recommendations. Look for my post next week on  “Lawn Sprinkler Efficiency Upgrades Part II“.  

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