Smoke Detectors For Your Safety

October 24, 2015

smoke_detectorAs we (finally) start rolling into the cooler months, its worth talking about smoke detectors again. The NFPA (National Fire Protection Agency) recommend  that every home have a smoke detector outside each sleeping area (inside as well if household members sleep with the door closed) and on every level of the home, including basements. Floors without bedrooms should have detectors in or near living areas, such as dens, living rooms or family rooms. TIP: Even though we may believe the kitchen and bathrooms should have detectors, in fact these rooms can be a source of numerous false alarms. Depending on the age of the house, smoke alarms may have been installed as part of a security system, or they may be stand-alone. Depending on the brand and style they may be receiving power from the security system, so there may not be a battery at the unit. If this is the case, the battery at the security system may last for several years and should be replaced based on that required interval. TIP: Most security systems will provide a battery alert when they require changing.  Testing smoke alarms associated with a security system may be more involved and you may have to coordinate your test with the security system monitoring/surveillance center. TIP: Smoke or fire alarm routed through the security system are typically an “automatic dispatch” with no confirmation required so consult with your provider. Key Inspection Points and Action Items:

  1. Visually inspect the detector
  2. Clean off cob webs from the cover without removing the cover. You can get a can of “air” used to clean electronics  from a computer store that will work
  3. Replace the battery yearly or earlier if the chirp indicator has been active. (Locally powered 9V type batteries)
  4. If you find corrosion (green powdery substance) on the battery terminals, replacement is recommended. TIP: If the corrosion is minimal, try using a Q-Tip dipped in a liquid mix of baking soda/water or Coca Cola to clean the battery contacts.  You must remove all the corrosion and avoid getting the solution(s) on anything but the effected area. After cleaning put a light film of dielectric grease  on the connectors to slow down the opportunity for corrosion to re-appear.
  5. The NFPA recommends the detector(s) be tested monthly. Press the test button which should briefly activate the audible horn. It should reset itself shortly.

Residential grade smoke alarm/detectors are not repairable, if they fail to operate properly through testing, they should be replaced. Limited long-term test data exists, but manufacturers and trade associations indicate the product should remain properly functional for 10-12 years under normal conditions.


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.

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


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.


Seasonal Reminders – Winter Wrapup

December 31, 2009

Winter can have lots of different definitions so depending on where you are geographically located, some of these items may not be possible due to the weather conditions. For those of us in the Southwestern United States, having a nice 70 degree day can be fairly easy to find.  Normally the winter seasonal reminders are more about making sure everything continues to work well through the stress and strain of the winter months more than anything.  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 as you enter the heavy heating months.
  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. 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.
  4. Set Back Type Thermostat: If the battery is a year old, replace it.
  5. Winterize Plumbing: Wrap exposed pipes, fixtures and drain down the automatic sprinkler system.  
  6. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.
  7. 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)
  8. Gutters and Downspouts: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely.
  9. 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.
  10. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  11. 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


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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Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks

March 21, 2009
 Fixing easily corrected household water leaks can save homeowners more than 10 percent on their water bills. sprinkler21

       

 Unfortunately many of us require lawn sprinklers to have any kind of landscaping short of cactus, gravel and rocks. Having a lawn sprinkler system is kind of like garage door openers, once you have one its hard not to. Dragging hoses around the yard is a real pain and it becomes a challenge to keep things alive. Taking care of your sprinkler system will save you money,  reduce the opportunity to waste water and keep your plant material alive. With water restrictions  on the upswing,  more and more cities are assessing fines for violating the restrictions.  Check with your local municipality for restrictions regarding time of day, rain and freeze detection.  Adding a rain sensor to your system is a wise decision.   

Rain Sensor

Rain Sensor

   

Because sprinkler heads are not under pressure until the system is live,  it can be difficult to isolate the leaks. “Pop-ups”  are the most common spray heads found in  residential systems. Typically I find  pop-ups require more maintenance than the larger impulse or stream sprayers primarily due to the fact that pop-up sprayer use less water per head and the water orifices are smaller and they clog easily.  With pop-ups, it takes more heads per square foot to provide adequate coverage. The greater the distance between heads, the further the water has to spray.  To do this, the arc in the spray pattern has to be projected higher in the air.  As a result,  you lose up to 50% of the water in the air.  Up until the last year or so, we have seen little in the way of water miser type heads. These new type heads are designed to replace the pop-up with a miniature stream sprayer providing a coarse spray in lieu of a mist. This can help reduce water loss and your system may be retrofitted to use these type heads. However, it is important to match the right head for the system. When your system was designed,  it was all based on a certain water pressure, pipe size and GPM (gallon per minute) volume, so any changes need to take this into account otherwise you may end up over/under-watering. Not that a DIYer cant figure this out,  a good licenced irrigator can help you solve the problem. Also, take a look at this comparison study of nozzle types.   

Top 5 Reasons Why Water Sprinklers are Wasteful   

  • Poor design: System design that allows sprinklers to spray water across sidewalks or concrete cause water to be lost to evaporation and run off. 
  • Wrong watering times:  Running your water sprinklers in the middle of the day allows the water to evaporate before it has time to absorb in to the ground. 
  • Wrong water duration: Some believe short duration watering is a way to conserve water however, short shallow watering can cause turf and plants to experience stress because the shallow water can cause shallow roots.
  • Dirty nozzles: Even though sprinkler heads (should) have filters underneath the nozzles, they can still pass some particles in to the nozzle. Many times bad-sprinklerthese particles can be wedged in the spray nozzle causing it to mis-spray and not distribute water equally and efficiently throughout the spray pattern.
  • Lack of maintenance: Sprinkler heads take a lot of abuse from lawn mowers, string trimmers and edgers. Whether it be abuse,  leaky or bad sprinkler heads, all of these conditions can cause a lot of water to run down the sidewalk. 

Standard spray nozzles are approximately 50% efficient as the over-spray is lost in the air.  Loss and waste in a sprinkler system can be difficult to recognize without taking the time to exercise the system and inspect each sprinkler head while running.   

 Keeping your lawn sprinkler system in good working order is one of the easiest ways to get optimum performance from your system. Most all lawn sprinkler systems can be defined in two distinct parts:
  • Feeder or Pressure Lines: The side under pressure includes a cut off valve, double check valve (aka back flow prevention valve) and a valve for each zone and a lot of pipe. 
  • Distribution Lines or Zones: The system could include any number of  zones, this is all dependent on the size of the system. The zone has to be running to inspect it for leaks. Since the sprinklers are spraying water, finding leaks can be a bit more challenging.

Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks   

Feeder or Pressure Line  Leaks:   

  1. Finding leaks in feeder/pressure lines is similar to the same process as found in the Chasing Water Leaks post. Turn off the main cut-off that will isolate the sprinkler system from the remaining water supply. If the flow meter stops proceed with the following steps.
  2. Locate each sprinkler valve in your system. If you are not sure how many valves are in your system, look at your Sprinkler Controller to identify how many sections or zones are in the system. Finding the sprinkler valve may be difficult as valves can be overgrown by grass or ground cover.  If you have the original installation drawing, it should identify the approximate locations of the valves. Before you hire a professional, try the methods described in Searching for Lawn Sprinkler Valves. Either way, once you find them, take note of their location for future use. 
  3. You may notice water residue around some sprinkler heads even when it should be dry, known as weeping, this could be a hint that the sprinkler valve is passing water when it should not be.
  4. Once the valves are located, they should be turned off, one at a time to determine if you have isolated the leak. Each valve has a manual cut off on the center top of the valve. Once you have isolated the leak to a specific zone, the problem will be resolved at the valve. (TIP: Sprinkler valve can be disassembled and cleaned without removing them from the system but the water must be shut off.) Most likely it just needs to be cleaned (that means taking it apart and removing any dirt or debris inside the housing),  but it could have been damaged during the winter months, if so, you may need to replace the valve. Read this tutorial for specific instructions on repairing a solenoid valve.

Distribution Lines or Zones: (Plan to get wet)   

  1. Run each section one at a time. Walk the zone looking for excess water accumulation around the head, the seal could be bad or the head loose causing a lot blown-sprinkler1of blow by. Try tightening the head, (yes, all this while the system is running). If none of this stops the excessive water, replacing the head and riser is the simplest solution. If the leak is around the stem or nozzle riser, you can take these head apart for cleaning. Perform this action with the water turned off. To avoid additional dirt in the system, its best to dig away the dirt from around the head, down to the connection otherwise dirty water will enter the lines. It’s important to remember to do your best job of keeping new dirt from entering the system as this will cause more blockage problems further down the pipe. TIP: Keep a couple of extra sprinkler heads around for spares and spare parts. Changing the head is lots less invasive and a 1 for 1 head swap out than trying to operate on the head in the dirt and water. You can also rebuild the removed head for future change-outs.
  2. If the head is not leaking inspect the pattern of the water spray. Different nozzles are designed with different patterns, so the spray could be limited by design to provide adequate coverage. There are too many nozzle patterns to discuss, but most importantly, look for a  nice clean even pattern. If you see breaks or weakness  in the pattern, the nozzle is probably dirty. Turn the zone off and unscrew the nozzle. There will be a  filter in the riser. Clean the dirt out of it. Also inspect the nozzle itself for very small pebble grit lodged in the sprayer. Use a toothpick or very small screwdriver to remove these particles. The last item may require 2 people. Run the zone without the nozzle installed, this will blow-out any dirt particles that are below the filter. Tell your partner to turn the water off and grab the riser before it stops releasing water. This will keep  dirt from re-entering the system. Re-install the filter and nozzle. Perform this same inspection with each sprinkler zone.   
  3. If necessary, (while the zone is running) adjust any partial pattern sprayers that may be near sidewalks or driveways to keep the water spraying on the grass. If you have parkway sprinklers that  are designed to water across a sidewalk (bad design)  to water grass or plants, you may be stuck with leaving it alone since cutting it back may cause an area to be dry.

Key Inspection Points and Action Items:   

  1. Look at your water meter for any slow leak that may be caused by your sprinkler system. Isolate the sprinkler valves to determine where the leak is.
  2. Run each zone, inspect each head for leaks, also look for a good pattern and good coverage. Cleaning the heads may be required.  
  3. Adjust the sprinkler heads as necessary to minimize water over-spray on no-porous surfaces (sidewalks and streets).
  4. Adjust your water cycles to match the season.

Roofing-Looking for Leaks

March 4, 2009

roof0006

Contrary to common belief, roof leaks can be found when it is not raining.

While installing a chimney cap last week, I figured it was time to perform the annual roof inspection. My roof is less than 3 years old so you wouldn’t expect to find much of anything. Unfortunately that is never the case. Your roof takes a lot of abuse and you need to keep an eye on it.

Catching roof leaks before you actually notice them can save lots of dollars as roof leaks easily damage walls and ceiling finishes, besides the structure behind the walls. Even though a manufacturer may rate a shingle for up to 30 years of life, different climate conditions may impact the realistic life expectations to more like 17 years. Additionally breaches created by vents, chimneys  and other protrusions typically are the source of the failures.

Assuming your roof was installed correctly, most of your problems will be associated with just normal wear. Contrary to common belief, it does not have to be leaking to find it. Most roof problems can be identified on a nice day, it doesn’t have to be raining or leaking to find the problem. In fact, it’s easier to find a leak on a nice day and the repair process will go more smoothly. If you have a roof leak and call a roof repairman in a panic, don’t be surprised he won’t show up until after it quits raining. Standing on the roof when it is wet or during a storm is not recommended and should be avoided. Most of my discussion on the subject will relate to asphalt/fiberglass type shingles which is about  95% of the market. However, most issues are generic and can apply to other roof products as well.

Some of these items can be viewed from the ground, but if you plan to do any of the minor repair, you will need to get on the roof anyway. Most people don’t call a roofer until they have a leak. For a minimal charge, a roofer can perform an inspection and  correct most problems in a single visit. Here are the most common roof problems to look for. 

  1. Tree Limbs on the Roof. If you find tree limbs hanging within about 5 feet of your roof, you may consider cutting them back. When the tree adds leaves in the spring or ice over in the winter, they can cause damage. If you find a limb that has been rubbing the shingles you may need to apply some roofing caulk to seal any potential leaks. Shingle replacement or using an asphalt based roof caulk can solve the problem.
  2. Debris on the Roof. Leaves and limbs can accumulate around the chimney, roof valleys and corners.  Leaving this material in-place can breakdown, cause bugs to accumulate and accelerate deterioration of the roof material.
  3. 100_0124Bathroom and Kitchen Drain Pipes. (a.k.a.)  Vent stacks. Look around the top edge where the lead sleeve is molded into the top of the pipe coming from the vent. Looking at this picture, you can see that squirrels have really abused this vent stack. They can easily chew holes in the stack causing rain water to drip down the side of the pipe inside the house. Most roofers will just replace the lead vent stack.  If they are as damaged as this one, that may be your best choice, however, you can add acrylic caulk (grey or clear) around the edges to fill this holes.  Also look for exposed nails that are used to secure the flange of the lead vent stack. Add a dab of the same caulk over these nails.
  4. Water Heater and HVAC Vents. These vents are typically aluminum, tin or stainless steel and will not have the squirrel problem but look for the nail holes and if there is a vent cap, ensure there is a good seal. Use foil tape (HVAC type tape used on ducting) to seal the two if necessary. TIP: Exercise caution around these vents as they can be hot due to exhaust heat from devices they are venting.
  5. Nails: Normally, most nails are intended to be concealed by other shingles. However there are some places where it is just unavoidable for them to be exposed. Where you find them, make sure there is a good dab of caulk covering them.
  6. Chimney’s. The chimney should have some form of cap or top to reduce the opportunity for water to drain down the inside of the chimney leaving water on the floor (like my house). Inspect the cap for a proper seal to the top of the chimney. If you don’t have one at all, contact a roofer or sheet metal shop. TIP: If you just need the cap, and plan to install it yourself, take the measurements and   find a sheet metal shop.  If you contact a roofer, they will typically use a sheet metal shop to construct the cap, charge you 10-20% mark up, plus installation.
  7. Skylights. Skylights can be a big source for water leaks. Having them installed at the same time as the roof seems to reduce the opportunity for leaks. Roofs are installed as a system, adding protrusions (skylights, vent’s, etc), after the fact creates a breach in the system and becomes a potential location for water to find its way into the house.
  8. Wall/Roof Joints: Look for good flashing (metal edge) where these two opposing surfaces meet. This would typically be where the roof edge butts against a second story wall.
  9. Wall/Chimney Locations. Much like #7, these two opposing surfaces provide an opportunity for water to force itself into the house. Look for a good seal here. TIP: Do not remove or pull back the shingles for inspection unless it is the location of a known leak. Roof systems can be fragile especially as they age. It’s not hard to cause additional damage.
  10. Roof Valleys: Another location where opposing surfaces meet, allowing water to converge. Much like #8, if you do not see anything obvious and you have no known leaks.. let it be.

If you do not know how old your roof is, here are a few additional items to look for that are signs of age and the roof may be near the end of life. If it’s not leaking, just keep a good eye on the items you can address.

  1. Loss of Asphalt Granules. By nature asphalt shingles will lose some of their exterior surface. The granules provide color and protection. You may see a  loss of granules in the valleys and near the edges or areas where there is regular water flow.
  2. Curling of the Shingle Tabs.This is an indication of age due to the roofing material drying out and losing its pliability.
  3. Chipped, Broken and Missing Shingles.  This is wear and tear that has occurred over 20 plus years. As the material becomes brittle, it is easy for it to chip and break.
  4. Raised Nails.  If you find nails surfacing, or popping up through the face of the shingle from underneath, this is a sign your roof  may be approaching its life expectancy.

Overall, avoid spending too much time walking around. Make your inspections and repairs and get off. Excessive activity can  cause problems as well.


Plumbing-City Water Pressure

February 28, 2009

plumbing-faucetCommon water pressure should be somewhere between 45 and 125 psi.

There are many contributing factors that impact this value that may include 1) distances to the water source, 2) size of the distribution lines, 3) elevation of the water supply, 4) primary water line size and the list goes on. However, your plumbing system should work correctly if the pressure is within the 45/125 psi range. If you have just moved from the city to a rural area, do not be surprised if the water pressure is lower than what you have been used to. Contact your water provider to determine if they are within their specification at your house.  (If your house is served by your own well, the primary pump will determine the pressure. Wells will be covered as a separate post.) There is no maintenance inspection associated with the water pressure item other than knowing what it is as a reference as it can cause the system to act differently than normal. Recognizing the  changes will help to determine if any action is required during high pressure conditions, you may experience excessively noisy pipes, clanging or hammering. Low pressure is pretty obvious… low pressure and low flow. Typically, these conditions can be associated with the service provider performing work that required them to open up or turn off the water near by. If the condition does not pass in 24 hours, you may call them to determine how long the condition could continue.  TIP: If you experience low pressure, take the opportunity to fill up some gallon jugs as you may totally loose water pressure before the water line repair is fixed.

waterpressure-gaugeIf you suspect your water pressure to be out of range, you can check it using an inexpensive pressure gauge available at most any home improvement center. To check your water pressure, simply screw the pressure gauge on to an outside faucet (TIP: closest to the water meter) and open the faucet. This will provide an accurate reading. If you find it to be low or high and intend to call the water department, provide them the reading to assist them in their resolution. (TIPKnowing what the water pressure is, under normal conditions, is also valuable information

Since water lines stay under pressure and are considered a closed system, turning the water off, opening the pipes(s) and exposing the interior of the water line allows dirt and mud into the system. It doesn’t matter whether the work  is performed by the water provider, plumber or yourself, it can cause clogged water filters, strainers and faucet nozzles. If you are aware of the work, wait about three days, then clean your faucet strainers/nozzles/filters. Look for a future post on this subject. Plumbing-Faucets.