I few ideas for your home as winter approaches.

1. Flip that little switch on your ceiling fans so they turn in reverse.  As we all know ceiling fans normally turn in a direction that pushes air down. This creates a gentle breeze feeling in your house that cools you off via evaporation. When you switch the fan to reverse instead of blowing on you, it pushes air up forcing the hot air that’s pooling around your ceiling down your walls.  This air circulation helps the efficiency of whatever heat source you have working in your house.

2. if your house has a swamp cooler its time to winterize that too. It will prevent damage from frozen water lines, prevent rust, and close off the vent that would let heat out. First disconnect the power source to the evaporative cooler, then turn off the water supply. After that drain the cooler removing as much water as possible. To do this remove the side of the cooler and sponge out as much water as you can into a bucket. Next clean the unit using a shop vac. Its best to change the pads in evaporative coolers once a year. Now might be a good time to do this. The final step is covering your cooler and closing off the vent.

3. Take care of any drafts. When I’m doing a home inspection I often see that the weather seals around exterior doors are failing. For some reason this is a favorite thing for dogs to chew. Close your exterior door and look for light. If you see a large gap it’s a good idea to replace your weather stripping. You might also want to purchase one of those under-door draft stoppers if you think a draft is originating from under the door. Next check windows especially if you have an older house. A draft from a window on to a thermostat can cause your heater to think you house is colder than it actually is. I like to install window insulation film. For not much money you can install this film around you window giving another space of trapped air. This can increase the comfort of you home considerably. As a plus if your blinds are installed in a recesses fashion this film will keep them from getting dirty. In my house it seems the blinds are ash magnet for any small particles my wood burning stove creates. I just cut a small hole in the film for the strings so I can still adjust the blinds.

4. Change the filter on your forced air unit. This should be done once a month but if its been neglected now’s the time to change it. A dirty filter can greatly affect the efficiency of your furnace.

5. Make sure the ducts on you forced air system are correctly insulated. When I’m in the crawlspace for a home inspection I often find this insulation falling off ducts.  If this is the case all you need are a few rolls of duct tape to fasten the insulation back in place.

6. Insulate the wall of your foundation. This only applies to houses with a crawl space and for people who are willing to take on a project. Insulating the floors from underneath the joists is a must but it also helps to insulated the stem walls of your crawl space foundation. The concrete or cinder block stem walls seem to loose a lot of heat in the winter. I think one of the best ways to insulate these walls is with rigid foam. I use the blue closed cell foam and instead of mechanically fasten it I glue it using spray foam. You can cut the foam to size, spray the back of it in a few places with a can of foam, and use 2x4 lumber propped at angles to press the foam against the stem wall. After an hour or so you can remove this lumber and move on to the next segment.

I quick word about attic insulation in SW Colorado

Though it didn’t really feel like it this year La Plata, Montezuma, and Archuleta counties are all in climate zones that get cold. La Plata and Montezuma are in climate zone 5 and Archuleta in Zone 6. The International Energy Conservation Code states that climate zone 5 should have an attic insulates to R-38 and zone 6 to R-49 but this is considered minimal by today’s standards. Energy Star recommendations say that any home in climate zones 5-8 should have an attic insulation with an R value of R-49 to R-60. So what exactly does that mean? It means every attic around here should have some serious insulation. What I find during home inspections is that around half of the homes I inspect do not have the thickness of insulation needed to meet these requirements. So how thick should your insulation be if you live around here? If your using loose fiberglass you should have a minimum of 20-30 inches of insulation. If using loose cellulose or fiberglass batts you need a minimum thickness of 17-20 inches. Fiberglass batts should be installed with the paper facing down in an attic. That paper is there to provide a moisture barrier and should always be facing the homes living space.

Wood Buring Stove Door Gaskets

Many of us here in the Durango area make use of wood burning stoves. At my house we use ours every day during the winter. Once we get some warmer days we take the opportunity to do some stove maintenance.  One of the most important features of your stove is the ability to choke it down, slowing the airflow to make the fire last longer. This doesn’t really work effectively if air is seeping in around the door of your stove. I’ve noticed that most stove gasket material starts to “flatten” after about 3 years causing gaps in the door seal. Here are some steps to install a new stove door gasket.

The first step is buying the right length and with of gasket. You can check with your stove manufacture or measure it once its removed.

Next you will want to remove the door off your stove. Some stoves have bolts honing the door on at the hinges. Once the door is removed lay it down on a flat surface using a towel to protect both the stove door and whatever you laid it on. If your stove door has a window you will want to remove the screws holding on the glass and carefully lift the glass off the door and set it aside.

 

The next step is removing the old rope. This can usually be done by simply finding a loose section and pulling. After all the rope is removed you will want to clean the “channel” the rope came out of. The best way to do this is to use a wire brush. Make sure you wear eye protection. Once the seal groove is cleaned out get your new rope and fit it in place without adhesive to make sure it fits correctly. Then, put down a bead of stove gasket cement in the groove you just cleaned and place your rope. Most manufactures recommend letting the gasket adhesive cure for 24 hours. Now its just a matter of reinstalling your stove door on it’s hinges. Usually you will notice a significant improvement in your stoves efficiency.

 

 

Now is the time to Prune Fruit trees

The ideal time to prune fruit trees is after the coldest part of winter is over, but before bloom begins. In this area of Colorado that time is now. It’s safer to prune a little bit later rather than earlier—especially with fruit trees. Pruning wounds heal fastest when the tree is just beginning to grow for the season, and that fast healing helps limit problems from pathogens trying to take hold in the cut areas.

Any tree can be pruned while it's in flower and you'll get those same benefits.

Fruit Tree pruning tips:


Remove weak, diseased, injured or narrow-angle branches (the weaker of any crossing or interfering branches), and one branch of forked limbs. Also remove upright branches and any that grow toward the center of tree. You want to keep your tree from becoming too thick and crowded and to keep its height reasonable. All these objectives promote improved bearing, which is your overall aim. A good rule of thumb for fruit trees is to open them up to allow air flow. A bird should easily be able to fly through a properly pruned fruit tree.

Apple, pear, cherry, and most plum trees do best when pruned and trained to a central leader tree. This type of tree has a pyramidal shape with a single upright leader limb as its highest point. This leader is the newest extension of a long, upright growing trunk from which all lateral branches arise. As with all strong growing branches, the leader should be headed back each year. The uppermost bud on the leader produces a vigorous new leader, and no other shoot should be allowed to grow taller. Lateral limbs should be selected from shoots growing out from the central leader. These should be spaced vertically 4-6” apart, have growth that is more horizontal than vertical and point in different compass directions from the trunk.

Peach, nectarine, and apricot trees do best when pruned and trained to a vase-shape. This type of tree should have no central leader. The shape of the tree is controlled by selecting and maintaining three to five main scaffold limbs arising from the trunk. These limbs should point in different directions and originate no less than 18″ and no more than 36” from the ground. Prune as shown, balancing growth evenly between the scaffold limbs.

 

 

Testing your Sump Pump

Many of the houses I inspect have sump pumps. These pumps are meant to carry water away from underneath your house in the event of a flood or if the house was built in a location that didn’t have adequate drainage. A sump pump also removes collected condensation created by your air conditioner and water from areaway drains, preventing moisture from collecting around the foundation of your home or in the floor of your basement. If this pump fails, you may end up with standing water under your house and nobody wants that. Standing water left under a house can lead to moisture intrusion all the way up to your attic. During home inspections I’ve seen houses where this moisture intrusion has caused mold issues and rotting of structural members. Test your sump pump periodically to ensure it is working correctly to protect your home against water damage. Here’s how.

1        Find the outside pipe that catches the water as it drains from the pump. Examine the inside the pipe to ensure no dirt or debris is clogging the drain. Remove any debris.

2        Locate the sump pump in your basement or mechanical room. Trace the two electrical cords from the sump pump to the electrical outlet. The pump cord plugs into the back of the float cord plug. Pull the plugs from the outlet, pull the plugs apart, and plug the pump cord only back into the outlet. You should hear the pump running. Unplug the pump and plug the cords back in the wall with the float first, and the pump cord plugged into the back of the float pump.

3        Remove the lid from the sump crock. Slowly pour some water from a 5-gallon bucket into the crock. Observe the sump pump switch. It should turn on and begin to pump water from the crock. Wait until the water pumps from the crock to ensure the pump turns itself off, then slowly pour the remaining water in the crock to ensure the pump turns on again.

4        Replace the sump pump if it fails either test.

 

Water Sediment During a Home Inspection.

 During many of the home inspections I notice a buildup of sediment in a homes water system. This is more prevalent in homes running off a private water well. The places I notice this are faucets, showers, clothes washing machines, and hot water heaters. Have you noticed the flow of water from your bathroom faucet has slowed over the years? If sediment is the culprit the fix is easy. This is also a good place to start if you suspect sediment in other places in your home. A faucet aerator is a simple fitting that screws into the end of most bathroom and kitchen faucets. The outside is a hollow metal cylinder with one threaded end that fits the threads on the faucet spout (they're usually inside the spout, so you don't see them). Inside the cylinder is a tiny screen, a rubber washer, a mixer disc and perhaps a few other parts, such as a flow restrictor or an inner plastic housing. The aerator's purpose is to add air to the water flow and create a consistent, straight stream. If you turn on your faucet with the aerator off, you'll see why it's needed. Many times you can simply unscrew this aerator and wash the sediment off of the screen. If you see a buildup of minerals you can soak this park in vinegar overnight and most of it will come off. Here are two important things to remember when doing this. 1) be careful not to damage the aerator when you're taking it off, and 2) make note (or take a photo) of the order of the pieces inside the aerator before you take it apart; they have to go back in exactly the same order. Replace the aerator and see how much your water flow has increased.

The next place you may be having water sediment issues in your house is your clothes washing machine. You might notice that your washing machine takes longer to fill up. You might also notice that when the valve is switching from cold to hot water the flow changes drastically. Faulty valves inside the washing machine can cause this but most often its just sediment in your inlet screen. This is another easy fix. First turn off the water supplies to the washing machine and unplug your machine from its power source. Then unscrew the fitting from the back of your washing machine. When you do this all the water remaining in your hose will drain out so have a towel ready. After you remove the supply lines take a close look at where they screw into the machine. Inside the fitting on the back of your machine you will see a sediment screen. Be careful when removing this so you don’t damage it. If its clogged simply wash it off or soak it in vinegar if you have mineral build up. Replace this screen, screw your supply lines back in, and you will see a considerable improvement in the water flow.

Another common place to find sediment in a house’s water system ins in the hot water heater. You can tell if you have a buildup here by listening to your hot water heater. If you hear rumbling or banging when it fills up or turns on then you probably have a buildup a sediment in there. This is a more complicated procedure but most home owners can do it. See my previous post on how to drain your water heater.

The way I resolved these issues in my own house was to install a whole house filter. I did it myself with push fittings but if you have doubt then call a plumber for a professional installation. These filters are cheap, can be found at most hardware stores, and usually resolve any further issues with water sediment making it to other problem areas throughout the house.

 

 

 

 

 

Some Info about Metal Roofs here in Durango.

About ½ of the roofs I do home inspections on in the Durango/ La Plata area are metal. Metal roofs can be made from a variety of metals and alloys including Galvanized steel — hot-dip zinc galvanized G-90 and G-60 steel (a less expensive, thinner-gauge steel, often used in low-end, lower-cost corrugated and ribbed metal panels), Galvalume steel — zinc and aluminum coated steel (A more expensive and longer lasting coating compared to G-90 steel.), stone-coated steel (G-90 galvanized steel), aluminum, copper, zinc, terne (zinc-tin alloy), and stainless steel.

A metal roof is durable. William Hippard, president of the Metal Roofing Alliance, in Seattle, WA, says the building trades have taken a shine to metal roofing because of its attributes. “Without a doubt, metal roofs are cheaper in the long run,” Hippard says. “Many metal roofs will easily outlast any warranties that the company provides.” Warranties up to 50 years are common, but it’s not unusual to find metal roofing that has been in use successfully for 100 years.

From an appraisal standpoint, Hippard says metal roofs are so durable and desirable that they add approximately $1.45 per square foot to a home’s overall value. Insurance companies give discounts of up to 35 percent to homes with metal roofs because when properly installed they are virtually impervious to wind, hail, and fire.

It is typically possible to install a metal roof over an old roof, thus eliminating the extra cost and hassle associated with the shingle tear-off (be sure to consult your contractor about the possibility of “over-top” installation for your specific roof). — This is generally possible because metal is an extremely light-weight material..

Maintenance:
Generally metal roofs require none or minimal maintenance. Metal roofs can be cleaned with water. Almost all of the metal roofs I see during home inspections have some loosened fasteners. This is due to the expansion and contraction of the metal. Our temperatures here in SW Colorado change drastically over a 24-hour period. Corrugated style metal roofs (with exposed fasteners) will require fastener re-tightening every 10-15 years. After years of service, you may choose to repaint a metal roof to give it a fresh look again, but it is not necessary, and will depend on your roof’s original coating.

Environmental Impact:
Metal roofing is the only TRULY green material in the roofing industry, because it uses the least amount of resources during the manufacturing process, contains no petroleum by-products, and can always be recycled. New metal roofs may contain anywhere from 30-60% of recycled metal content, and are 100% recyclable at the end of their service lives. Old metal roofs will never end up in our landfills at the end of their service lives, thus saving the ever-precious landfill space and helping protect the environment. A metal roof (or any metal for that matter) can be recycled an unlimited number of times without suffering material degradation.

Lightning:
During home inspections I am sometimes asked about a metal roof and lightning. A metal roof will not increase the likelihood of your home getting struck by a lightning. If a lightning does strike your home, a metal roof will safely dissipate the electric charge even if it is not grounded. Metal Roofs act as a Faraday Cage for your house and they disperse the charge over a larger area as compared to a skimpy little wire coming down your chimney or wall. They also intercept 100% of the lightning that comes towards your house, unlike a lightning rod which only intercepts the lightning that happens to hit your rod. – You can read more about it here:

Snow:
Metal roofs shed snow. If you happen to live in an area that often experiences a heavy snow fall, with freezing temperatures, a metal roof will shed off the snow, thus helping prevent a heavy snow accumulation and ice dams on your roof. They shed snow so well that this can be dangerous in places where the roof is on a second or higher story. However, a metal roof can easily be outfitted with snow-guards to prevent the sliding of snow over door entrances and other areas where heavy snow fall is undesirable.

 

Attic Insulation

I would say that about 80% of the homes I inspect have inadequate attic insulation for our area. Here in La Plata we are in climate zone 5. For a regular non-cathedral ceiling, the department of energy recommends an attic insulation value of R38-R60 for our zone. R value is a measure of the resistance of an insulating or building material to heat flow, expressed as R-11, R-20, and so on; the higher the number, the greater the resistance to heat flow.  Different insulation types have different R values. To get to the suggested R38 you would need at least 12 Inches insulation. To get to R60 you would need at least 15 inches.   Adding additional insulation over the top of what you have is a easy DIY project. Home Depot will let you barrow their attic blowing tool if you buy enough loose fill fiberglass. If you do it yourself make sure you don’t blow in fiberglass over your soffit vents. They make easily installed baffles to prevent this.

Some lawncare/ home maintance things to do to get ready for winter.

 

Clean and stow your lawn mower

1.     Add Fuel Stabilizer to gas tank and run the mower for 5 minutes to make sure the stabilizer gets to the carburetor. Or, if your mower has a fuel shut off then shut it off and let it run until it stops

2.     When the mower is cool, remove the spark plug and pour a capful of engine oil into the spark plug hole.

3.      Pull the starter cord a couple of times to distribute the oil, which keeps pistons lubricated and ensures an easy start come spring.

4.     Turn the mower on its side and clean out accumulated grass and gunk from the mower deck.

 

 

Drain your sprinkler system

 

Time to drain your irrigation system. Even buried irrigation lines can freeze, leading to busted pipes and broken sprinkler heads.

  1. Turn off the water to the system at the main valve. 

  2. Shut off the automatic controller.

  3. Open drain valves to remove water from the system.

  4. Remove any above-ground sprinkler heads and shake the water out of them, then replace.

If you don’t have drain valves, then hire an irrigation pro to blow out the systems pipes with compressed air. A pro is worth the $75 to $150 charge to make sure the job is done right, and to ensure you don’t have busted pipes and sprinkler head repairs to make in the spring.

 

Some things about home owner plumbing maintenance.

As a home owner you should identify and tag the water supply turn off valve for the entire house. Then look for the turn off for each fixture. There should be a shut off for each toilet, one for the cold water inlet for the water heater, and there may be shut offs under the sinks. Identify the main gas valve turn off and each appliance shut off.

 

Periodically, all facets, hose bibs, and other valve should be checked for leaks. Run the water, look under the sink cabinets for leaks, and then go into the basement or crawl space to determine if any leaks exist there.

 

Water closet flushing systems frequently waste water. Remove the top of the flash tank of the toilet periodically to check its operation. Listen to the toilet to determine if there are any leaks in the reservoir.  These leaks are usually in expensive to repair.

 

Check the toilet bowl to see that it is tight to the floor. If the toilet bowl is loose, a new wax seal may be required.

 

In cold climates, drain exterior water lines, hose bibs, and sprinklers in the winter. Turn the valve to the hose bib off on the inside of the house and turn the outside hose bib valve on.

 

 Locate the water heater and read the instructions in the booklet or on the side of the water heater. Depending on the manufacturing specifications, drain 2 or 3 gallons of water from the heater every 3 to 4 months to remove sediment that may have accumulated in the bottom of the tank. If this valve has not been opened in some length of time, they may not seal properly when closed and a new washer may be required.

 

 All valves in the home should be operated periodically. If these valves appear corroded, they should be cleaned and checked for leaks. If they are corroded, there is a good chance that they may leak after you clean and operate then. Therefore, it would be wise to start at the main water turn off to the house and water heater, then approach the individual valves.

 

 Sump pumps.

 

You may or may not have a sump pump in your home. There are different uses for sump pumps. A clear water sump pump removed groundwater that accumulates around the house. There is usually a drain tile system that runs into a sump pump crock. The sump pump discharge is water through a pipe to the exterior of the house. Most communities do not allow this water to be discharged into a sewer system. A sanitary sump pump is used to discharge gray water into a septic or sewer system. This is usually water from my washing machine or basement sink.

 

Moisture can be your home's worst enemy.

One of the most important things in preventative home maintenance is to keep moisture away from your house. Here are a few things you can do to prevent moisture damage:

  • If you don’t already have them then you should install rain gutters. This will direct water away from the foundation and can help prevent a cracked slab. Make sure the bottom of your gutter downspoutis diverted away from your house with an extention or french drain.
  • Dirty gutters don’t work. You should clear the leaves from your rain gutters at least twice a year to avoid water backup. Standing water in a gutter can rust those made of sheet metal.
  • Sometimes the vertical drain pipes on your house can become clogged.  If this happens try to flush debris down them with a hose. If that doesn’t work, you can use a plumber’s snake to free the debris from the gutter drainpipe.
  • If you irrigate your yard make sure your sprinklers don’t get your house wet. Adjust your lawn sprinklers to ensure that only your lawn or landscaping is getting watered.  Wet wood will rot and attract pests such as carpenter ants and termites.
  • Inspect the washers on your hose and outdoor faucet periodically and replace them if needed to prevent dripping water from soaking the foundation of your home.
  • Go up in the attic to check for roof leaks every several months to prevent water damage to ceilings and walls from rain.
  • Use the bathroom fan or open a window when you take a shower to prevent condensation that encourages mold and mildew growth. Make sure your bathroom fans do not vent into the attic. I see this often and it can be a source of moisture that is perfect for mold growth.  

 

A few things about your home's septic Systems

In a rural are such as we have here in SW Colorado many home's waste watergoes into a septic tank. The average household septic system should be inspected at least every three years by a septic service professional. Household septic tanks are typically pumped every three to five years. Alternative systems with electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components should be inspected more often, generally once a year. Is very important to keep up this this maintenance. If you fail to pump your septic before it overflows sludge into your drain field then it can ruin your drain field. Replacing a drain field can sometimes cost from 10 to 15 thousand dollars. Here are some guidelines from the EPA.

 

Four major factors influence the frequency of septic pumping:

  • Household size

  • Total wastewater generated

  • Volume of solids in wastewater

  • Septic tank size

·        When you call a septic service provider, he or she will inspect for leaks and examine the scum and sludge layers in your septic tank.

Keep maintenance records on work performed on your septic system.

Your septic tank includes a T-shaped outlet which prevents sludge and scum from leaving the tank and traveling to the drain-field area. If the bottom of the scum layer is within six inches of the bottom of the outlet, or if the top of the sludge layer is within 12 inches of the outlet, your tank needs to be pumped.

To keep track of when to pump out your tank, write down the sludge and scum levels found by the septic professional.

The service provider should note repairs completed and the tank condition in your system’s service report. If other repairs are recommended, hire a repair person soon.

Remember to use water efficiently. The average indoor water use in a typical single-family home is nearly 70 gallons per individual, per day. Just a single leaky or running toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water per day.

All of the water a household sends down its pipes winds up in its septic system. The more water a household conserves, the less water enters the septic system. Efficient water use improves the operation of a septic system and reduces the risk of failure.

 

 

Toilet use accounts for 25 to 30 percent of household water use. Many older homes have toilets with 3.5- to 5-gallon reservoirs, while newer, high-efficiency toilets use 1.6 gallons of water or less per flush. Replacing existing toilets with high-efficiency models is an easy way to reduce the amount of household water entering your septic system.

 

Toilets aren’t trash cans!

Your septic system is not a trash can. An easy rule of thumb: Do not flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper.

 

How to drain your Hot Water Heater

When was the last time you flushed the hot water heater in your home?  It’s important that this be done at least once a year to remove sediment that accumulates on the bottom of the tank. That's especially true if you live in a hard-water area or run off a private water well. Sediment buildup reduces the heating efficiency of your water heater costing you money in the long run.

One sign of excessive sediment buildup is a popping or rumbling sound coming from your water heater. That's the sound of steam bubbles percolating up through the muck. On a gas water heater, the sediment creates hot spots that can damage the tank and cause premature failure. On an electric water heater, sediment buildup can cause the lower heating element to fail. Flushing offers a payback in lower energy bills and extended heater life.

First turn off your water heater. There are two types of water heater, gas and electric. If you have a gas water heater then you can turn it off by shutting off the gas supply at the main valve to your heater. If you have an older model gas water heater remember that you may need to relight your pilot light once you are finished. If you have an electric hot water heater simply turn it off the breaker at your homes main electric panel or breaker box. Make sure you are turning off the correct breaker. Your water heater must be off for this procedure.

Next turn off the cold water supply to your water heater. This can usually be found at the top of your water heater.

 

Next turn on the hot water in either a sink or tub in your house. Leave this on for the entire process to prevent a vacuum from forming in your lines.

Next open the pressure relief valve. This isn’t a necessary step, but it can help water flow more easily while draining and it allows you to test your pressure relief valve, thus killing two birds with one stone. Make sure you have a bucket beneath the drainage pipe on your pressure relief valve before opening as water will be rush out. Be careful. This water will likely be very hot. If water doesn’t come out, you’ve got a faulty pressure relief valve and it will need replacing.

After you’ve opened the pressure relief valve, let the water in your hot water tank cool.

Then connect a garden hose to the spigot at the bottom of your water heater. Make sure the other end of the hose goes outside, into a drain, or at least in to a bucket.

Turn on the spigot and drain your water heater until the water runs clear. Then flush the system by turning on the cold water inlet valve that you previously turned off.

 

Once the water is clear you are done.

 

To put your water heater back into operation.

Turn off the drainage spigot and disconnect hose.

Close the pressure relief valve if you opened it.

Turn off the water on your sink or tub that you turned on at the beginning.

Turn on the cold water spigot leading to your hot water heater.

When the tank is full, open the pressure relief valve to let off any excess air.

Turn on the hot water spigot of a sink or tub to get the air out of the system. Cold water should be coming out of the faucet at this point. Turn it off.

If you shut off the gas to your hot water heater, turn it back on.

If you turned the thermostat off on your hot water heater, re-light the pilot light (it’s easy follow the instructions on your hot water heater), and then turn it to on.

If you have an electric hot water heater, flip the breaker switch on your electrical panel that gives power to your hot water heater.

Wait about 20 minutes for the water to heat up. Turn on a hot water spigot somewhere in your house to ensure hot water is coming out.

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Maintanence.

A few home maintenance things to do while you’re spring cleaning.

 

  • Inspect, and possibly change out HVAC filters. Manufacture of HVAC systems tell you to change your home air filter every month. This is more important for air conditioners than heating units.  If the filter is dirty, change it out, otherwise inspect it again next month.
  • Clean kitchen sink disposal. Put some vinegar in an ice tray and let it freeze, then run the ice cubes through the disposal. It cleans your disposal and the ice sharpens the blades.
  • Inspect your home’s fire extinguisher(s). This inspection doesn’t require much: ensure it has easy access (not being blocked by a garbage can or anything else), that the gauge shows adequate pressure, and that it has no visible signs of wear and tear. By the way, putting out fires with an extinguisher is harder than you think. The key is to start in one corner of the fire and sweep back and forth moving forward until the fire is out.
  • Test smoke/carbon dioxide detectors. This is pretty self-explanatory. Push the button. You’d be surprised how many I test that do not work.
  • Test garage door auto-reverse feature. In the United States, at least 85 children have had permanent brain injury or have died since 1974 as a result of accidents involving automatic door openers. Place a 2×4 on the ground where the door would close. It should reverse after a second or so when the door hits the wood. Also, test the photo-electric sensors if you have them, you probably do this on accident occasionally. If the door doesn’t immediately go back up, you have a problem. Many of the safety pressure reverse systems I test would certainly kill a child or pet. Most are simply adjusted improperly. Something else I commonly see is mounting the photo eyes on the ceiling to bypass them. I don’t know why people do this but it is dangerous. Even if you don’t have kids don’t assume there will never be one near your garage.
  • Run water and flush toilets in unused spaces. This mostly applies to guest bathrooms, or any other sinks/water sources you don’t use on a regular basis. The idea is to prevent grime or any other kind of build up. Regularly running a little bit of water through will prevent this.

 

The often overlooked Range Hood Filter.

Manufactures recommend cleaning range hood filers every month.  This filter is designed to catch grease. Over time the grease buildup will decrease its effectiveness and reduce air venting on units that exhaust to outside. If hasn’t been cleaned in a while, or ever, then prepare yourself for a nasty project. The cleaning method below seems the most popular. I’ve also heard of adding vinegar to the water.

 

 

How To Clean a Greasy Range Hood Filter

What You Need

Ingredients
Very hot or boiling water
De-greasing dish soap
Baking soda
Non-abrasive scrub brush
Paper towels or dish cloth

Instructions

  1. Remove the filters from the hood: Most filters should easily slide or pop out of the underside of the hood. Mine had a metal loop I could grab to push the filter up and slide it out.
  2. Fill a sink or bucket with boiling water: The hotter the water, the more effective. Depending on how hot you can get the water from your tap, that might be good enough. For me, I boiled water in my electric tea kettle, and poured that into the sink.
  3. Pour in baking soda and dish soap: Pour a good squirt of de-greasing dish soap and 1/4 cup baking soda into the hot water. Swish around with a brush (not your hand because it's too hot!) until the water is nice and soapy.
  4. Put greasy filters in water: Submerge your greasy exhaust fan filters into the water. Make sure they're completely covered.
  5. Let them soak: Allow the filters to soak for 10 minutes.
  6. Scrub the filters: After soaking, take a non-abrasive scrub brush and scrub the filters. Add more dish soap to your brush if required while you scrub.
  7. Rinse and dry: Rinse the filters thoroughly in hot water and dry with a paper towel or clean cloth.
  8. Replace the filters and repeat as needed: Put the filters back into the hood, and repeat as needed! Cleaning the filters once a month is a good maintenance strategy.

 

Lanscaping and Grading around your home.

The basic concern for landscaping and grading is to determine whether they can cause damage to the exterior and foundation of your house. The principles are simple:

1 Vegetation and grading should not encourage water to flow toward the home.

 

2 Vegetation should not be allowed to damage siding, trim, and roofing or pose a potential to do so.

 

A proper slope is 1” per foot for at least 5’ or 6’ from the house. Land with a reverse slope sends excess water toward the foundation and eventually ends up in your crawlspace or basement. In some cases, adding additional backfill to slope the land away from the house solves the problem. That may pose additional issues at basement windows, which would then be below grade. Window Wells may be recommended to prevent water penetration through the windows.

If window wells are already in place, make sure they drain properly, have a good gravel base, there is no corrosion of the metal well siding, and that debris buildup is not present. Make sure the plastic domes are not cracked or broken. Also, make sure metal grills that appear over window wells are not corroded or broken.

Trees too close to the house can lead to root problems with the foundation and sewer lines, messy gutters, and falling branches. If trees are too close, they should be trimmed back or removed.

 

Vines on the house can hold moisture and promote insect damage. English Ivy has a very strong grip and can puncture paint services, grow behind siding and loosen it, and even grow under sills. Vines also keep siding from drying out. If there are vines on the house, it's a good idea to have them removed.

 

Shrubbery near the house should be trimmed back so there is about a foot of clearance from the house to prevent moisture retention. Loose and mulched soil in flowerbeds should not touch wood siding or cover the top of the foundation. Leaves and plant debris should be raked away from the house.  It is never a good idea to use wood mulch is such as wood chips, shredded bark, or sawdust in flowerbeds around the house. Besides being horrible for your plants by robbing nutrients and promoting fungus, wood mulch also provides a highway for pests into your house.

 

 

 

The truth about wood stoves and buildup in stove pipes.

When looking online you might see articles telling you not to burn pine in wood stoves because of the excess buildup it creates in the stove pipe or flue. Ideally, your firewood supply should contain a mixture of both hardwoods and soft woods but all wood creates buildup in stove pipes. Dense hardwoods burn longer and produce more heat, making them superior to softwoods for maintaining your fire. Pine certainly isn’t the best wood to use in stoves but sometimes it’s all that available.

When you burn wood in a stove, creosote collects in the stove flue. Creosote is nothing more than a condensation of small, unburned particles contained in the smoke that coats the chimney surface as it exits. When the heated particles contact the cooler flue, the vapor solidifies into a layer of creosote. Since pine burns much faster, with less BTUs than hardwood, people often load up their stoves and choke the air down to make them burn longer. Doing this reduces the speed the smoke travels through the flue. Its this smoldering effect that actually produces more creosote.

You can reduce the amount of creosote by properly seasoning your firewood. When your firewood is dry -- about 20-percent moisture or aged at least six months, if not more, it will burn more efficiently, creating less creosote. Green, wet wood smolders, creating more creosote-producing smoke which represents nothing more than energy literally going up in smoke. Burning a hotter fire and using smaller logs -- no matter what firewood you use -- also helps avoid excessive creosote. In addition, don't burn treated pine lumber nor any other piece of trash.

Creosote is highly flammable and can lead to house fires. Clean your chimney at least once a year, more often for heavy use, to remove inevitable accumulation.

A short explination of radon for homeowners.

You can't see radon and you can't smell or taste it. However, it may be a problem in your home. Radon is estimated to cause many thousands of deaths each year. That's because breathing air with high amounts of radon can give you lung cancer. In fact, the Surgeon General has warned that radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States today. Only smoking causes more lung cancer deaths. If you smoke and your home has high radon levels, your risk of lung cancer is especially high.

 Radon comes from the natural radioactive breakdown of uranium in the soil and water gets into the air you breathe. Buildings naturally create a negative air space and basically suck in radon from the soil.  Radon can be found all over the United States but is especially high here in the four corners area.

It can get into any type of building. This includes homes, offices, and schools. However, you and your family are most likely to get the greatest exposure at home where you spend most of your time. The only way to know if you and your family are at risk from radon is to have your home tested.

The EPA and Surgeon General recommend testing all homes below the third floor for radon. Testing is inexpensive and easy. The best way to test for radon is to have a certified radon tester place a continuous radon monitoring unit in the house for a few days. Millions of Americans have already tested their homes for radon.

Radon reduction systems do work and they are not too costly. Some radon reduction systems can reduce radon levels in your home by up to 99%. Even very high levels can be reduced to acceptable levels.

A Home Inspector's recommendation about heating equipment maintenace.

There are a few things that home inspectors recommend about the maintenance of heating systems. It is recommended that mechanical heating equipment be serviced on an annual basis. Oil furnaces have nozzles and strainers that need to be replaced on an annual basis or the efficiency of the furnace drops dramatically. Newer gas units can be serviced every couple of years. Once a gas unit gets to be over 10 years old, it should have annual maintenance checkups.

 

In a forced air heating and or cooling system, the blower and motor must be protected from dirt and dust. For this reason, filters are in the return air side of the blower unit. A standard filter should be changed monthly. Some filters can be changed or cleaned less frequently, depending on the manufacturers specifications and usage of the equipment. One of the most common recommendations in a home inspection is the changing of the HVAC filter. Clogged or missing filters can do serious damage to the heat exchanger and air-conditioning evaporators..

 

The blower, blower motor, or hot water circulating pump motor should be oiled twice a year, unless they have sealed bearings. Refer to the owner’s manual for how much and what type of oil to use.

 

If you have any oil heater, periodically check the oil tank for leaks. If you notice oily smoke smells or soot, have the unit serviced. Oil furnaces must be serviced on an annual basis.

Keep bleaches, paint, and other materials sealed and away from heating systems. Damage to the heat exchanger can occur if fumes from these products are drawn into the heating unit.

During a home inspection your inspector will take the flame shield off your heating unit. One of the many things that home inspectors check for is a "dancing flame" when the fan from a forced air unit comes on. This can mean there is damage to the heat exhchanger which could be allowing carbon monoxide and other dangerous exhaust gasses into the home!

 

Seven easy ways to reduce home power consumption.

 

 

Drastic reductions in heating, cooling and electricity costs can be accomplished through simple changes, most of which homeowners can do themselves. Here are 7 easy ways to reduce the amount of energey your home uses.

1. Find better ways to heat and cool your house.

As much as half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling. The following are a few ways that energy bills can be reduced through adjustments to the heating and cooling systems:
    Periodically replace air filters in air conditioners and heaters. This increases the effeciantcy of your HVAC unit.
    Set thermostats to an appropriate temperature. Specifically, thermostats should be turned down at night and when no one is home. On average, In a decently insulated home, about 2% of the heating bill will be saved for each degree that the thermostat is lowered for at least 8 hours each day. So, turning down the thermostat from 75° F to 70° F, saves about 10% on heating costs.
Use a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat saves money by allowing heating and cooling appliances to be automatically adjusted during times that no one is home and at night. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and, in some climate zones, can save up to $150 per year in energy costs.

2. Install a tankless water heater.

Tankless or instantaneous water heaters provide hot water only as it is needed. They don't keep water heated that is not being used by heating water directly without the use of a storage tank. When a hot water tap is turned on cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. A gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, tankless water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water.

3. Replace incandescent lights with LED.

In the past the average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting. Traditional incandescent lights loose 90% of their energy as heat. The use of new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), can reduce the energy use required by lighting by 50% to 75%. Advances in lighting controls offer further energy savings by reducing the amount of time that lights are on but not being used. Here are some facts about CFLs and LEDs:

    CFLs use 75% less energy and last about 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
    LEDs last even longer than CFLs and consume less energy.
    LEDs have no moving parts and, unlike CFLs, they contain no mercury.

4. Seal and insulate your home.

Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy-efficient, and you can do it yourself. A tightly sealed home improves comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills

Since hot air rises, air leaks are most likely to occur in the attic. Homeowners can perform a variety of repairs and maintenance to their attics that save them money on cooling and heating, such as:

    Plug the large holes. Locations in the attic where leakage is most likely to be the greatest are where walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls, and in dropped-ceiling areas.
    Seal the small holes. You can easily do this by looking for areas where the insulation is darkened. Darkened insulation is a result of dusty interior air being filtered by insulation before leaking through small holes in the building envelope. In cold weather, you may see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. Cover the areas with insulation after the caulk is dry.
    Seal up the attic access panel with weatherstripping. You can cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foamboard insulation in the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel. If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner.
5. Install daylighting as an alternative to electrical lighting.

Daylighting is the practice of using natural light to illuminate the home's interior. It can be achieved using the following approaches:

    skylights. It’s important that they be double-pane or they may not be cost-effective. Flashing skylights correctly is key to avoiding leaks;
    light shelves. Light shelves are passive devices designed to bounce light deep into a building. They may be interior or exterior. Light shelves can introduce light into a space up to 2½ times the distance from the floor to the top of the window, and advanced light shelves may introduce four times that amount;
    clerestory windows.  Clerestory windows are short, wide windows set high on the wall. Protected from the summer sun by the roof overhang, they allow winter sun to shine through for natural lighting and warmth; and
    light tubes.  Light tubes use a special lens designed to amplify low-level light and reduce light intensity from the midday sun. Sunlight is channeled through a tube coated with a highly reflective material, and then enters the living space through a diffuser designed to distribute light evenly.

6. Insulate windows and doors.

About one-third of the home's total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors. The following are ways to reduce energy lost through windows and doors:

    Seal all window edges and cracks with rope caulk. This is the cheapest and simplest option.
    Windows can be weatherstripped with a special lining that is inserted between the window and the frame. For doors, apply weatherstripping around the whole perimeter to ensure a tight seal when they're closed. Install quality door sweeps on the bottom of the doors, if they aren't already in place.
    Install storm windows at windows with only single panes. A removable glass frame can be installed over an existing window.
    If existing windows have rotted or damaged wood, cracked glass, missing putty, poorly fitting sashes, or locks that don't work, they should be repaired or replaced.


7. Change the way you do laundry.

    Do not use the medium setting on your washer. Wait until you have a full load of clothes, as the medium setting saves less than half of the water and energy used for a full load.
    Avoid using high-temperature settings when clothes are not very soiled. Water that is 140° F uses far more energy than 103° F for the warm-water setting, but 140° F isn’t that much more effective for getting clothes clean.
    Clean the lint trap every time before you use the dryer. Not only is excess lint a fire hazard, but it will prolong the amount of time required for your clothes to dry.
    If possible, air-dry your clothes on lines and racks.
    Spin-dry or wring clothes out before putting them into a dryer.