Archive for July, 2011

Things You CAN Do Yourself around the House

Friday, July 29th, 2011

If you own a home, there are a lot of fun ways you can stay on top of regular maintenance without spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to hire a contractor. Sure, there are some tasks only a contractor should perform, but there are plenty of others you can take care of with a little spare time on the weekend.

  • Fixing Leaks: Unless it’s in a main line or in your sewer, you can usually fix a leak or clog in your pipes by yourself. Replacing a faucet, snaking a line, or taking apart a fixture should still be done with the help of manufacturer’s guidelines, but as long as you turn the water supply off correctly, you should be okay taking things apart and making quick repairs.
  • Yard Installations: Short of digging it up (always have it checked for gas and electricity lines), you can do pretty much anything on your own in the yard. This includes composting, landscaping, adding a barbeque pit or upgrading your back porch.
  • Painting: Feel free to paint anything in or around your home without the help of a pro. Just make sure to use proper ventilation and to ensure that you remove any old paint carefully. If you’re not sure about the age of your paint, it should be tested for lead before you chip it clean, especially if you have children.
  • Replace Appliances: Old appliances can be removed and replaced relatively easily as long as you have someone to help you get rid of the old ones. Also, if you have a gas stove or other appliances that run on gas, always have them checked by a professional. Never unplug gas lines without someone there to ensure the gas supply to your home is off.
  • Tiling: Tiling is something anyone can do, but make sure you’re ready for the time commitment. Especially if you plan on putting tiles on a wall, it’s easy to make a mistake and ruin good tiles or good walls. Also, proper sealing around water fixtures like a bathtub or sink is vital. If you’re not sure, call a plumber to help.

There are a lot of ways you can have fun and fix up your house without paying for a professional’s help. But, remember not to take on jobs that are too much for you. If you aren’t sure how to complete a task or you want a second opinion, never be afraid to call a pro in for some help. Even if they just check your work, it will save you money and you get the satisfaction of having done the work yourself.

Looking at Moving to a New House: What to Look for in HVAC and Plumbing

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

What are the Minimum Efficiency and Maximum Age of a Furnace?

Most homeowners overlook simple things like the maintenance and age of their furnace. However, if you know exactly what your furnace should do and how long it should last, you’ll be better prepared to setup your maintenance visits and start looking for a new model. So, how do you tell what your furnace should provide? Here are some easy tips.

The AFUE Rating

Furnaces built in the last 20 years come with an AFUE rating that tells you how much of the fuel they consume is effectively converted into heat. If your home’s furnace has an AFUE of 80% that means it will effectively convert 80% of the fuel it consumes into heat. However, if your furnace has an AFUE of 98% it will convert 98% of the fuel it consumes into heat.

These ratings are designed to show you what to expect from your system from month to month. If the furnace suddenly starts using far more energy and produces the same amount of heat, you know that the AFUE is no longer accurate. It’s either a sign of a problem or that your furnace needs to be replaced.

Maximum Age

No manufacturer likes to give a maximum age for their furnaces because they can last for much longer than originally rated in many cases. However, most furnaces will come with at least a 10 year limited warranty for the heat exchanger and a 10 year limited warranty for the parts. So, if you take good care of your system, they expect it to last at least 10 years.

However, if you maintain your system annually, check the filters throughout the winter and don’t push it too hard when it gets cold out, your system could last even longer than the limited warranty, allowing you to enjoy an efficient furnace for years to come.

Moving In

While you’ll have your new home inspected, a working furnace doesn’t necessarily mean a good furnace. Make sure to learn just how old the furnace is, how much maintenance it needs, and the level of efficiency you can expect. It may be in your best interest to simply have it replaced now and start saving on your energy bill immediately instead of two or three years down the road as it continues to get worse.

A Different Way to Zone Your Heating

Monday, July 25th, 2011

One of the most frustrating things about traditional heating is that you must pay for the entire home to be heated. You flip on the thermostat and you get the same temperature for every room. Vent covers can reduce how much heat gets to each room, but if you want one room to be cooler than another, how do you do it without installing an expensive zone control system?

Vent Levers for Adjustable Air Flow

The easiest way to control the flow of air in your heating system is to use a vent lever adjustable air flow system that allows you to actually control where the air goes. These systems are installed directly on your furnace’s air handler. Each vent lever can be attached to a specific thermostat in your house or the vent levers can be opened and closed manually from the basement. When one of the thermostats is turned off, a vent lever will close off air flow to that particular room and stop any heat from being distributed there.

The system itself is not as easy to use as a zone control system but because the technology is simple and it takes only a few seconds to the turn the vent levers, it’s a viable and effective method to control your heating if you cannot afford zone control. If you’re not sure whether this is a good solution for your particular furnace, an HVAC contractor can help.

How to Get Vent Levers Installed in Your Home

If this sounds like a good solution for you, take some time and contact your local HVAC service provider to learn more about what it takes to have vent levers installed. For some systems it is relatively easy to add them to an existing air handler. In older systems or in the case of a boiler, you may need to install more specific types of handlers to control the flow of heating to each room in your home. A professional can give you a better idea of what your home needs and how it can best be setup.

What Information Should I Keep in My Home?

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

There are a lot of important documents you receive when you own a home. You have a deed, a title, tax information, service contracts, warranties, and other paperwork needed to maintain your home and protect it against damage or theft. If there is a fire or something breaks you need immediate access to your documents no matter the situation. So, they need to be close at hand.

Specific Documents to Have

Always have your warranty and insurance documents on hand. If something happens to an appliance or piece of equipment, you don’t want to spent time calling customer service to obtain your policy numbers. You want to take action now and that means you need that information on hand immediately. Keep paper copies of your insurance forms, warranties, service contracts and anything else you may need in the case of an emergency. Additionally, it’s good to have a call sheet with all important information and policy numbers typed up for quick access.

Sensitive Document Storage

For special documents you store at home like your deed, mortgage papers or insurance documents, a fire proof safe is a good investment. If something happens, you want that information to be safe and immediately available. Many homeowners create photocopies of these documents for easy reference and put the originals in a safe deposit box somewhere so they cannot be destroyed in case of an emergency.

Digital Copies

There is also a growing trend to scan and store digital copies of your information on a computer hard drive or in an email account. This ensures that no matter what happens you always have a copy of your most important documents. You can then keep your original signed copies in a safe deposit box and have all the pertinent information for your home available via a computer no matter where you are.

Documents are easy to misplace or accidentally destroy when you’re not careful, but those simple pieces of paper are more important than you can imagine. You may not even look at them for years to come, but when the time comes to do so, you want them to be available and in good condition. So, take proper steps to create photocopies and digital copies, and store the originals somewhere safe to protect from fire and other disasters.

What to Look for when a Home is 50 Years Old

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Buying an older home can be a very rewarding experience. The architecture is unique, the rooms have character, and it feels more like a home than a brand new, prefabricated home that was built in a development. But, there are quite a few things to keep in mind when buying a house that is 50 years old or more – from what construction materials were used to how it was maintained for the last 50 years.

Possible Safety Issues

Because the dangers of lead paint and asbestos were not yet understood in the 1950s and ’60s, you should always have your home thoroughly inspected for both before buying. The risk of either being in a 50 year old home is high unless someone has gone to the trouble of removing them in a remodel. Even then, older insulation, hidden paint layers or other construction decisions can be potentially dangerous, especially if you have children.

Not that you should avoid an older home solely for this reason. There are plenty of homes that have been made livable again with a little hard work – it’s just important that you know about it before investing so much money.

Maintenance Issues

Another thing to consider is the upkeep of the house. A 50 year old home has been lived in for many years. That means there have been multiple furnaces and air conditioners, replacements of windows, new roofs put in and much more. How well and how often those things were done will play a major role in determining how good of condition the house is in.

If you buy a 50 year old home and the roof and furnace need to be replaced, that’s another 5 figure investment to update your living space.

Other things you should be on the lookout for are old appliances like your refrigerator and stove, as well as the gas lines and electrical. Your panel box may be outdated, as may your electrical lines and outlets. These are all things that get updated eventually, but a home built 50 years ago would be both unsafe and outdated by today’s standards.

More than anything, when buying an old home, the most important thing is the condition. Age has very little to do with how livable a home is. Some people live comfortably in homes that are 200 years old. Others must have 10 year old homes completely remodeled. It’s all about how the home is maintained and cared for.

Noise Control for Your HVAC System

Monday, July 18th, 2011

Most people think of HVAC and associate it directly with comfort. They assume that once they are warm or cool in their home that there is nothing else to worry about, but even the smallest HVAC systems can be quite noisy, and if you own a business or live in a multi-family building, they can be downright disruptive.

Luckily, there are tools available to cut the sound level and make it far more comfortable for everyone both inside and outside the building.

Residential Noise Control

The easiest way to reduce noise in your home is to purchase HVAC equipment designed to run quietly. Today, many manufacturers provide air conditioners and furnaces with dampeners and quiet control devices that reduce the sounds these devices traditionally make. Even the classic banging sound of a boiler is now generally history.

But, even with new technology, most HVAC systems still make some noise, so if you want to cut out the noise completely, there are upgrades you can make. First on the list is a sound blanket. A sound blanket wraps around your compressor and blocks out the steady noise that these devices make. Older compressors especially can benefit from these.

Your ductwork can be noisy as well so duct lagging is a popular upgrade to keep the sound of heated or cooled air passing through your home to a minimum.

Industrial Strength Noise Control

If you live in a larger building or own a business, industrial strength devices are necessary to stop the noise. Blankets and lagging are still effective, but you might also consider mufflers and silencers to block out the exhaust noises that are made by larger units. Vibration isolation helps reduce structural noise and sound barriers wrap around an HVAC unit to contain residual noise to a certain area.

Overall, there are quite a few ways to make sure you stay comfortable and blissfully unaware of the operation of your system throughout the year. The key is to make sure you target whatever noise source is most prevalent in your particular HVAC system. Some systems suffer from vibrations while others have noisy compressors. Find the culprit and stop the sound in its tracks with the right noise controller.

What Happens if You Put Your Air Filter in the Wrong Way?

Friday, July 15th, 2011

Air filters are important pieces in your overall home comfort system. They keep unwanted debris and sediment out of your indoor air and they help your system run smoothly for years to come. However, if you’re not careful, an air filter put in backwards can lead to quite a few problems with your heating and cooling system.

The Most Common Problems

The most common problem you will face with a backwards facing filter is simple inefficiency. If your furnace is forced to blow air through the non-porous end of a filter, it will take more energy to do so. The blower will be overworked and you will pay more money for your heating. The same is doubly true for an air conditioner which has multiple filters in place to keep outdoor contaminants out of your indoor air.

Beyond the cost of improper filtering, you will likely suffer from a decrease in indoor air quality. The filter is designed to remove a lot of unwanted debris, but only when installed in a certain direction. If you set your filter up backwards, the normally collective end of the device will not face the air supply. In effect, your filter will help keep debris in the air.

This results in a clogged filter and improperly cleaned air when it reaches your lungs. If you have a home indoor air quality system it will help to supplement this problem for a while, but the clog will eventually become too much for your system.

Avoiding the Problem

There are two ways to avoid improper installation. First, you can have a professional install the system for you. Whenever you need a new filter ask someone to come and take care of it. When they do, though, pay close attention to how they set the filter and any other steps they take. By carefully watching you can ideally learn what it takes to do this step yourself and hopefully keep your system running smoothly for years to come.

Top 10 Mistakes People Make When They Buy HVAC Equipment

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Every year millions of homeowners buy a new HVAC system for their home. Whether for heating, cooling or air quality, they make a huge investment in a new system that will be with them for years to come. Unfortunately, many of those people make big mistakes when buying their next system, so to help you avoid doing so, here are some simple things you should not do.

  1. Ignoring Air Quality: Air quality is about more than comfort. It affects the health of everyone in your home equally. Consider it carefully when installing a new system.
  2. Avoiding Even Heating and Cooling: One room being cooler or warmer than another is not okay. It’s bad for your system and bad for your home’s comfort level. Have insulation and ductwork checked before installation of a new HVAC system.
  3. Not Upgrading Your AFUE or SEER:  New systems are highly efficient. Take advantage of that by buying one with a higher AFUE or SEER rating.
  4. Not Vetting Your Contractor:  Always spend time checking up on your contractor, reading reviews and asking other customers how their experience was.
  5. Skipping the Service Agreement:  Service agreements save money and help your system last longer. Don’t skip them.
  6. Buying the Cheapest Option Available: It may be tempting, but a cheap HVAC system is a bad idea if you want it to last and save you money in heating and cooling. Even a midrange system will save you money in only a few years with higher efficiency ratings.
  7. Picking the Same Model You Already Had: New models are stronger and more efficient. When possible, get an upgrade and your bills will reflect the difference.
  8. Waiting too Long to Buy: The longer you wait, the more you pay in heating and cooling bills for an old, worn down system. If you know you’re going to buy a new system, act fast to save the most possible money.
  9. Not Asking Questions: If you have a question, ask it. There is no such thing as a stupid question when looking for a new HVAC system.
  10. Ignoring Maintenance Recommendations: Maintenance recommendations are optional but almost always to your benefit. Research on your own before committing to anything, but don’t ignore the necessity either.

If you do things just right, your new HVAC system will last for years to come and provide steady, comfortable heating or cooling throughout that time. But, if you rush through things, make a hasty decision and neglect to do any research, you may have issues with your system in far less time than you’d like. Be smart and you’ll be rewarded.

Label Your Panel Box for an Emergency

Monday, July 11th, 2011

During an emergency, moving fast is a priority. You need to get your family out of the house fast, but there are certain things you should have done well before the emergency that can help to keep you and your family safe. Specifically, if there is an earthquake, flood, or other major natural disaster that can disrupt your appliances or cause a sudden power surge, you want to turn off your electricity immediately, before anything can go wrong. Emergency workers might also need to access your panel box if you’re not home or if the area is too unsafe to enter.

Specific Instances this Might Matter

Think of what can happen if there is a flood in your basement and you need to go down to save your prized possessions or to stop the flow of water. Walking into a flooded basement with live electricity is incredibly dangerous. So, it’s important to know where your panel box is and what each of the breakers in it is for. This gives you the control necessary to stop the flow of electricity and stay safe, even when knee deep in standing water.

This also makes it possible for someone else to flip those breakers if you’re not home or there is a more urgent disaster like a fire or an earthquake. In the case of an earthquake, you never know when electrical supplies might be tripped or when your appliances will become disconnected from exhaust hoods or vents. Your gas is usually tripped off immediately by an earthquake shutoff valve, but your electricity needs to be manually stopped.

The Risk of Live Electricity

The key to effectively keeping your home operational through an emergency is to take every possible precaution until you can be sure that the space is safe. That means turning off key breakers, checking your home for disconnected appliances or potentially dangerous situations, and if necessary calling in an electrician to take care of any specific problems. In the case of most emergencies, if you’re not totally sure that something is safe, take precautions first by calling a professional and then worry about saving possessions and cleaning up.

Home Energy Myths

Friday, July 8th, 2011

Measuring and controlling your home’s energy consumption is a little tricky. There are plenty of talking heads and information resources on the internet that tell you how it’s supposed to work, but in most cases you’ll find that so called common knowledge about your home’s energy use isn’t always true. Here are some of the most common myths and how to differentiate from the truth.

  1. Conservation and Efficiency Are Different: Many people think that by getting an energy efficient appliance, they are conserving energy and helping the environment. To some degree this is true. However, in reality, you are merely reducing how much energy it takes to complete a task. Conservation is finding ways to actually stop using energy for common tasks. Taking baths instead of showers, not watering your lawn, and turning off lights completely are all examples of conservation.
  2. Turning Off an Appliance Saves a Lot of Energy: Regardless of whether an appliance is physically on or not, it still consumes power as long as it is plugged in. The only way to completely stop your energy consumption is to unplug an item completely or use a power strip that blocks access to electricity when the switch is turned to off.
  3. Turning on Items Creates a Power Surge:  While turning a computer on and off uses a bit more electricity than simply leaving it on all the time, it isn’t a significant difference. In fact, the longer you leave an appliance on, the more it wears down and the faster it starts to use extra power to remain effective.
  4. Extra Insulation Creates Pressure: If you insulate a certain area of your home, you don’t need to worry about air leaking out. While it’s a good idea to complete all of your insulation at the same time, if you skip the windows or doors for now, it won’t hurt. All insulation is a good investment, no matter how much you install at any given time.
  5. One Energy Source is Cheaper than Another: This depends largely on the type of energy source you have for heating and cooling, the cost of that source and how much heating and cooling you need. A single portable electric heater is cheaper than running your entire oil heating system. But, electric heaters are rarely cheaper if you use them to heat your entire home.

Myths abound when it comes to energy use around your home. Make sure to get all the facts before making decisions that could end up costing you more money in the long run.