No Heat? Try These First / Cleaning Your Humidifier / Cleaning Your Fireplace

In Uncategorized on October 24, 2016 at 10:17 am

No heat?


I have no heat in my house. What can I do?


Lon’s law: Your furnace will only fail under these conditions:

  1. It’s the coldest day of the year.
  2. It’s a holiday
  3. It’s your day off and you were planning to treat yourself to a day of doing absolutely nothing.
  4. You have overnight guests from Florida who cannot tolerate even a mild chill in the air.

Here are a few things you can try before calling the heating company.

  • Check the thermostat and verify it is set on ‘heat’. This is like following the rule to make sure something is plugged in that doesn’t work.
  • Check the fuse or circuit breaker to your heating system.
  • Check the service safety switch for the furnace. It’s a toggle switch that looks just like a light switch. It’s located on the side of most gas furnaces or on a wall or ceiling, near older furnaces. The switch should be flipped to the ‘on’ position.
  • With oil heat, check to see that the oil tank is full and check the relay box in the flue pipe, which is the large metal pipe between the furnace and the chimney. Press the red restart button on the box one time.
  • If the gas furnace was installed before 1980 replace the thermocouple, which is a thin copper line that stretches from the gas valve to the pilot light. It’s a safety device that stops gas flow .if the pilot goes out. Thermocouples can easily be replaced with a pliers and wrench. If the pilot is on and the burner will not respond, and if you’ve checked everything else, it’s probably the thermocouple.
  • If the furnace kicks on, but quickly kicks off again, the fan belt may be failing to move warm air out and all you may need to do is replace a broken belt.
  • If your furnace still doesn’t work, it’s time to call a licensed heating contractor. Many companies will respond 24-hours a day, thank goodness.


Cleaning your humidifier


I heard that my humidifier is the most neglected appliance in my house. How true is that?


When I am inspecting homes for prospective purchasers, I find that humidifiers are the most neglected appliance in the home. In the fall they should be turned on. If you forgot, do it as soon as possible.

When manufacturers recommend cleaning your humidifier are they just spouting off, or is it really important to do so? Well, you should at least clean your humidifier at the start of the season, if you’ve failed to do so.

Some recommend it be done once a month during the heating season. The hardness of your water, the amount of humidity needed and the frequency of the humidifier’s operation, are all factors in how often you need to clean yours. Check it monthly, or at least in the middle of the season. It may not require cleaning, but it should still be checked. A dirty humidifier contributes considerably to indoor air pollution and bacteria, which can lead to health problems if it’s not cleaned regularly and properly maintained.

Cleaning your fireplace


How often should I clean my fireplace and chimney if I use it in the winter as a heat source?


If you are using your fireplace as a source of alternative heat, and you burn a fire every day during the cold months, your chimney should be cleaned two to three times a year. If you use the fireplace occasionally, you might not need to have it cleaned more than once a year.

Creosote is a product of incomplete combustion in your fireplace. It accumulates in your chimney and can become a fire hazard. Its buildup cannot be avoided, but it can be controlled by what you burn and how the chimney is cleaned. Also, a fireplace that starts smoking (especially it it’s under the legal age) may need to be cleaned.

The buildup of creosote and soot also hinges on whether you burn a lot of newspapers (my weekly column burns especially well), along with soft woods, such as white pine. Soft woods produce more creosote than hardwoods, such as oak.

Don’t burn your money by throwing chemicals into the fireplace to burn off excessive creosote. Make and investment in hiring a professional chimney sweep who is licensed and insured so you can have peace of mind about your fireplace being a safe and enjoyable feature in your home.

Getting Your House Ready for Winter

In Uncategorized on September 30, 2016 at 2:07 pm

You are probably still dreaming about how great and short this past summer seemed. In reality, you should be thinking about getting your house ready for the cold weather.

The golf and boating season is short enough as it is. So you don’t want to waste a lot of valuable “thinking time” on what you think needs to be done, I’ve compiled a “short list” to help you along.

I’ve arranged the checklist in segments. Don’t worry, while it seems like a long “to do” list, many steps may not apply to your situation. Other items any not need doing and already are in good condition.

Doing the items required for your situation will actually save you money and add to your comfort.

Finally, before you start the list, don’t worry. I have low expectations of you. I’ve been inspecting houses in our community for over 35 years, so I’ve seen what happens when people forego maintenance and repairs. I’m married. My wife doesn’t listen to me, why should you? But here’s your fall checklist regardless.


Roof and Gutters:

  • Using binoculars, check for damaged, loose, missing shingles and repair if needed.
  • Using those same binoculars, examine the metal flashing around the base of the chimney. If you see gaps, caulk or tar them.
  • Cut back the tree limbs of branches within two to three feet of the roof. The weight of snow and ice on them will drag them down onto the roof, damaging the shingles.
  • Remove ivy from near the top of the chimney and from all wood siding and trim.
  • Clean the gutters.
  • Secure loose gutters.
  • Repair leaking gutter seams.
  • Install soffit vents under overhangs to reduce winter ice dam problems as well as mold in the attic. Go in the attic and pull the insulation away from the vents.
  • Add roof vents. For the most part you’ll need one free, clear foot of attic ventilation for every 150 square feet of attic space. If you have a real good and secure vapor barrier under your existing insulation, you’ll only need 1/300 ration of ventilation.
  • Inspect the chimney, Tuck-point or replace loose, missing bricks.
  • Install a chimney top screening to keep birds, squirrels and raccoons from getting into the house.


  • Check for leaks and deterioration.
  • Inspect screens on all vents. Make sure they are not damaged, missing or torn.
  • Add insulation; for Michigan and this part of the country you should have R-60 insulation.
  • Each type and manufacturer of insulation has its own R-value. R-value means the insulation’s resistance to heat and cold. For example: Loose fill fiberglass can have an R-value between 2.9 up to 3.7 per inch. Blanket of roll fiberglass used to be between 3.1 up to 3.7. But, for example, Owen-Corning came out with a fiberglass insulation of R-4, which is used for cathedral ceilings. Most older blown-in fiberglass and cellulose (R-value between 3.1 to 3.7) insulations settle or compact with time. As it settles, it loses some of its R-value.

Exterior Walls:

  • Check for peeling paint and touch-up as needed.
  • Repair or secure any loose vinyl or aluminum siding before it falls off and becomes bent and damaged.
  • Inspect storm windows. Repair or replace as needed.
  • Remove screens and install storm windows.
  • Clean all storm windows. Better to do it while it’s nice outside, rather than when it’s cold and blustery.
  • Replace all broken, cracked windowpanes.
  • Replace glazing compound around glass, where needed. That’s the putty that seals the windowpane in the sash.
  • Install glass block or storm windows on basement windows. Remember that one thin pane of glass is the only thing separating the inside of your house from a 70 to 80 degree temperature difference in the winter.
  • If you have a crawl space, close the vents.
  • Caulk around windows, trim, hose bibs and utility entrances. Caulk wherever two different materials meet.
  • Replace damaged and missing weather-stripping as well as thresholds around all doors to eliminate drafts.

Exterior Miscellaneous:

  • Replace all burned out porch, post or flood light bulbs. Keep in mind it gets dark earlier and they’ll be on longer. Before you put in the new bulbs, wipe some petroleum jelly (Vaseline) on the base of the bulb. The petroleum jelly prevents the bulb from corroding in the socket and breaking off when it’s time to replace that bulb.
  • Replace exterior incandescent bulbs with CFL’s, which uses 70-percent less energy.
  • Clean all cracks in the driveway, walks, patios and porches. Fill the cracks with crack filler to prevent moisture from getting into them, freezing and damaging the concrete or asphalt.
  • Inspect and clean out the clothes dryer vent.
  • Make sure the ground around the house slopes away from the house.
  • Turn off and drain hose bibs.
  • Turn off and professionally winterize sprinkler systems.
  • If you have window air conditioner units, remove them. If it is not possible to remove them, at least cover and insulate the units.
  • Keep any firewood off the ground and away from the house.
  • Certain flowers such as roses and tulips need winter protection. Some flowers need to be removed or trimmed.
  • Clean and store yard, patio and pool furniture.
  • If you have a swimming pool, have it professionally winterized to prevent damage.

Miscellaneous Equipment:

  • Now is a good time to pull out that snow blower and check the oil, replace the gasoline (if needed) and clean or replace the spark plug. Check the grease in the gearbox on the auger of the blower. Sand and paint any rusting metal parts. Start the blower’s engine to make sure it starts. If it doesn’t, now is a great time to take it in for service before the season rush.
  • Spray all shovels, snow blower blades and yard tools with silicone spray.
  • Inspect all shovels and rakes. Sand and paint all rusting metal sections. Tighten loose handles or grips. Pound out and straighten bent corners.
  • Winterize and store lawn mowers.


  • With caution, look up inside your fireplace and check for loose bricks, debris, animals, etc. Remove whatever you see.
  • If your fireplace chimney has not been cleaned, and you used your fireplace weekly during last season, have it cleaned to prevent a chimney fire.
  • Examine the firebox for loose, crumbling bricks or mortar. Make any necessary repairs using fire clay, which is heat resistant mortar.
  • Install glass fireplace doors to conserve energy and money.
  • Install screens on tops of chimney to prevent birds and animals from getting into your house.



  • Learn the location of main electrical disconnects, fuses or circuit breakers.
  • Buy spare fuses.
  • Circuit breakers should be tripped or flipped every six months to clean the contacts so they don’t oxidize and become useless. Plan on doing that when you reset the clocks every year.
  • All ground fault circuit interrupters (G.F.C.I.); as well ARC fault circuit interrupters (A.C.F.I.) should be tested monthly to insure proper function.
  • Label each circuit.
  • Visually inspect each lamp, extension, appliance cords and plugs in the house. Immediately replace any that are frayed or broken.
  • Install smoke and fire detectors in the basement and sleeping areas of the house.

Heating System:

  • Remove all combustibles from anywhere near the furnace or water heater.
  • If furnace or boiler motor has oil cups, oil the motor. Usually 20-weight oil is best unless otherwise stated.
  • Have ductwork vacuumed out and sanitized commercially.
  • If your furnace is older and has a fan belt, depress the fan belt in the middle. If it depresses more than an inch, it should be adjusted.
  • If the fan belt is cracked or worn, replace it.
  • Replace the air filters or wash electronic air filters.
  • Lightly blow off dust on the thermostat.
  • Have your furnace heat exchanger inspected by a licensed heating contractor. The heat exchanger is the interior part of the furnace that separates carbon monoxide from the air you breathe. You may need to get a second opinion if they say it’s cracked since it usually means you’ll have to replace the furnace.
  • If you have a humidifier, make sure it is clean and operating. Turn the water to the humidifier on and open the by-pass damper if you have one.


  • Caulking, latex paint, some liquids, etc. will become useless if they freeze. Save them by storing those types of products indoors or in a heated garage.
  • To help keep your garage a little warmer as well as keep out rodents, make sure the overhead door is properly weather-stripped along the bottom, top and sides.
  • Tune-up the overhead garage door by tightening all loose nuts, bolts, hinges and tracks.
  • Lubricate the tracks, rollers and hinges with light oil.
  • Inspect springs and cables for wear.
  • Verify the automatic safety reverse works to avoid injury or damage.

Planning Ahead:

Planning ahead will save you money, inconvenience and possibly your life. Not only should you plan for the normal seasonal conditions but also those unforeseen.

Keep emergency supplies on hand including:

  • Flashlights and extra batteries.
  • Extra blankets.
  • Candles and/or lanterns.
  • Canned food with hand operated can opener.
  • Kerosene heater with fresh kerosene.
  • Extra firewood if you have a fireplace.
  • Portable radio with fresh batteries.


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New Construction Inspection/Chimney Cleaning/Sweaty Floors

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2016 at 2:05 pm


My husband and I met you a few years ago when you inspected a house we were planning to purchase, but after the results of your inspection we decided to pull our offer.

We are now a week away from closing on our new house that we had built and we need your opinion whether we should have a house inspection performed since this is a brand new home. The builder provides a one year limited warranty and has a company that does a pre-closing walk-through, where they should point out the defects they find, and they later provide a warranty service performance. What are your thoughts on doing it this way, or should I have you perform our inspection?


I absolutely think and know that you should have a new house inspected. I usually find even more issues with new construction that some older homes. The good thing with new construction inspections is you can give a list to the builder if the problems are real, and the builder is legitimate and conscious he will correct the issues observed. My experience with some builders doing their own final walk-through is that many of them are not all that interested in finding all the defects, if they exist. Regardless, who does this company the builder uses to do your pre-closing walk-through work for, you or the builder? The answer is the builder, since he is the one paying that company.

I am not referring to your particular builder or the company they use since I am not familiar with them. I also never ask who the builder is when inspecting new construction. I have found that even the best builder can have some bad crews, while a terrible builder with a bad reputation could pick up a good crew on occasion.

That being said, you can call my office to set up an inspection.


How often should my fireplace chimney be cleaned and inspected?


If you’re using your fireplace frequently and not having your chimney cleaned and inspected at least annually, you’re playing with fire.

I’m going to go right to the bottom line. If you use your fireplace, let’s say once a week, then the flue should be cleaned annually. If you use it more often, it should be cleaned and inspected accordingly…

Did you know if you build a fire in your fireplace that has no lining or a cracked, damaged liner, you’re basically playing with fire. Wood fires give off soot and tar that can build up as deposits inside the flue, which in turn can suddenly ignite as a spectacular chimney fire. In a well-lined flue, a chimney fire can be harmless, but in an unlined one, a chimney fire can easily spread to the rest of the house.

If you are just using your fireplace to burn gas logs, you shouldn’t have to worry. The heat is not as intense and they burn cleaner.

Remember when looking for a chimney sweep make sure .he is insured, bonded and a member of the Guild or Wood Heating Research Education Foundation.


I am in need of some advice with regard to a cabin that I inherited up north that is on a cement slab. The floors sweat when it’s cold and I was wondering what would be the best flooring for this situation. The floor is currently tiled but would like to know if carpeting or painting can be used.


You have several alternatives to your sweaty situation. Purchasing and operating a dehumidifier is certainly a reasonable solution, but that means using electricity and if there is no way of running a hose to a drain or to the outside, then you’ll have to constantly empty the dehumidifier pail. I’m not fond of that solution, but it is an option you should consider.

There are at least three companies that make sub-floor systems for use on concrete. They are all engineered to be a moisture barrier as well as offer anywhere from a small degree of insulation value up to an R-factor of 4.5.

I think each is worth checking into and you can decide which works best for you and your needs. Here they are:

Dricore™ www.dricore.com

Homasote Company www.homasote.com

Subflor   www.subflor.com

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