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Fireplace logs ~ Static Electricity in the Home ~ Maintaining an Older Furnace

In Uncategorized on October 17, 2017 at 12:48 pm

Q:

I love my fireplace but would like to know which is better to burn in it, real wood or fake logs?

A:

According to the “Old House Journal”, there was a time when the only answer would have been wood, but they tell us that there’s been a flood of new fireplace fuels for sale in stores and lumberyards. Pre-packaged are among the most common. Made of compressed sawdust soaked in paraffin, these so-called logs are easy to start and generally burn for about three hours. Surprisingly, they give off a tremendous amount of heat. The trouble is that they produce little or no embers and nearly all the heat rises straight up the chimney. As a result of this significant drawback, they recommend package logs, for apartment dwellers or homeowners that only use their fireplaces occasionally or in situations where gathering and storing wood is too burdensome.

According to the “Old House Journal” the price of fake logs compares favorably with the cost of real wood. But because so little of the heat produced actually ends up in the room, fake logs should not be considered as an alternative heat source of energy for heat.

Q:

I have a lot of static electricity in my house and it’s driving me crazy. Is there something I can do to get rid of it?

A:

A shocking problem for you could be the static electricity in your house. Static electricity in the house is usually more of a problem in the winter, when the relative humidity is very low than in the summer when the humidity is high.

You know the expression, “It’s not the heat it’s the humidity”? Well, static electricity is the buildup of an electrical charge brought about by rubbing two dissimilar non-conducting materials together. Moist air is a better conductor than dry air and, as such, helps dissipate the charge before it becomes noticeable.

So it’s a good idea to add a humidifier to your forced air heating system if you have none. Also if you do have a humidifier it may need cleaning and maintaining. Another problem I find with many units is that they are just too small for the square footage that they are trying to humidify. You may need to add a second unit or replace the one you have with a better one or larger model.

Studies have shown that in order to prevent static shock in rooms with carpets of wool, nylon and some other synthetic fibers, the relative humidity should be higher than 30 or 35 percent. Some manufacturers have introduced conducting fibers in the carpet to minimize the problem. One such example is Monsanto’s Ultron line. In the meantime there are products available from grocery stores such as Static Guard that can be sprayed on clothing and furniture that eliminates static cling.

Q:

I have a very old furnace. It still works but I want to know how to keep it maintained properly. Do you have any suggestions?

A:

If you have a very old furnace, it’s important to have it cleaned and inspected annually, because when the heat exchanger cracks or corrodes through, it will leak carbon monoxide into the house. Some people frown on that. In the meantime, you can get more efficiency and save some money if you follow these simple tips:

  1. Check and replace the filters monthly. A dirty filter restricts airflow.
  2. Check the fan belt. If it’s too loose the motor will still turn but it will pull less air through the system.
  3. If the motor requires oiling, keep it oiled.
  4. Add air for combustion from the outside. An excellent product is Equaliz-Air, available by calling them directly 734-462-1033 or visit their website www.equaliz-air.com.
  5. Install a humidifier or make sure the one you have is clean and operating properly. Adding humidity to dry air makes you feel warmer and more comfortable.
  6. Close dampers in duct work to unused rooms.
  7. Close registers in those unused rooms.
  8. Remove obstructions from in front of registers.
  9. Clean out floor registers or better yet have the entire duct system cleaned.
  10. Finally, turn back or dial-down the thermostat when leaving the house or at night.

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Getting Your House Ready For Colder Weather

In Uncategorized on August 25, 2017 at 10:48 am

You are probably thinking, “Where did the time go?” Summer is almost over and the colder weather is just around the corner. You should also start 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.

Exterior:

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.

Attic:

  • 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.

Fireplace:

  • 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.

Interior:

Electrical:

  • 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.

Garage:

  • 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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Is Your Basement Wet? Here’s How to Dry it Out

In Uncategorized on May 25, 2017 at 4:07 pm

What is a two syllable word that means dry as a bone? If you can’t say ‘basement’, especially after the last few months of rain we’re experiencing – read on.

Basement leaking can come from a very slight trickle or seepage of moisture. It can also result in standing water so deep you need waders.

The good news is that homeowners can correct most leaking basements inexpensively. All it takes is some sweat equity and a relatively small amount of cash. Here’s what to focus on:

 Around your house

The common cause of basement leaking is the ground around the perimeter of your house is sloped toward the house. The grade or terrain should slope away from your house at least 4 to 6 feet with a 1-inch per foot decline.

What you need to correct this problem is a wheelbarrow, work gloves, shovel, rake and topsoil.

Topsoil can be delivered right to your yard and dumped in a pile at the end of your driveway and can be purchased from local landscaping and garden centers. The more yards you purchase, the cheaper per-yard cost will be.

To determine how much you will need, figure 1-cubic yard of soil will cover 108 square feet 3 inches deep (that’s about 5 feet wide by 20 feet long).

Before you put any topsoil against your brick foundation wall, you should brush the wall with a wire brush and seal it with a water-proofing mastic. You don’t have to dig down to the footings. Just go down until you see the top of the existing black tar mastic and overlap that surface.

Gutters and downspouts

Overflowing gutters and downspouts discharging rainwater next to the foundation are major contributors to wet basements.

Inspect your gutters periodically to make sure they are clean and not plugged with leaves and debris. Make sure they are secure and not pulling loose from the fascia board.

The gutters should be sloped toward the downspout. If not, they could also cause them to overflow. The downspouts should not be connected into storm conductor boots. If so, it puts a major strain on your basement drain tiles. Disconnect them by cutting the downspouts with a hacksaw; add an elbow section and put a 4 to 5 foot piece of downspout pipe in the elbow. That should take any roof discharge away from your foundation walls.

If you disconnect the downspout from the storm conductor boot make sure you seal the top of the unused boot to stop objects from falling in the opening.

Install a splash block at the end of the extended leader to prevent grass, leaves and debris from plugging the pipe and obstructing the flow of roof water, which in turn could cause your gutters to overflow. Ten foot sections of aluminum downspouts cost approximately $12. elbows are around $3 and splash blocks are approximately $4 each at Home Depot.

Gutters that are clogged or loose contribute to a number of problems. In addition to allowing overflowing water to leak into basements, they cause the paint on the fascia and soffit trim to fail prematurely. Ineffective gutters put a strain on the roof and even trim and siding along the entire house.

Basement window wells

Basements are deeper today than house built in the 1920’s and 30’s. Back then basement windows were well above grade level. Today’s basement windows are at or below grade and require wells around them on the exterior to keep the ground away from the window so light can come in. The wells can be made from concrete, bricks, blocks, wolmanized timber or corrugated steel. A common occurrence is that during heavy rainstorms, gutters can overflow and pour water into the wells. And the water seeps into the basement.

Inexpensive plastic covers can be purchased starting at around $10. Install them over the the wells to divert the water away.

Basement window wells that have drains in them should be kept clean so the drain remains open. If you don’t have a drain, one can be installed using a posthole digger. Dig down until you get to the drain tile and then install a section of perforated drainpipe into the hole; fill the pipe and the area surrounding the pipe with pea gravel (small stones are available at landscaping centers). Any water that gets into the well drains quickly to your drain tile.

Flower beds and boarders

Railroad ties, rubber and steel garden borders keep flower beds around the perimeter of the house looking neat and clean but can contribute to a basement leak. They trap the water against the house.

Borders should be installed lower in the ground or have breaks in them so water can drain away.

Basement entries

Basement doors are notorious for leaking. There should be an awning over the stairwell to keep out as much water as possible. There should be a drain at the bottom, too. That drain can get clogged with leaves and debris and if so, the stairwell will flood. The water usually finds its way into the basement under and around the door. For that reason, keep the drain clean and periodically have it snaked out by a plumber.

Clogged drain tiles

Around the perimeter walls of your basement is a drain tile system. The drain tile used to be made from clay crocks wrapped with felt roofing paper. Today’s drain tile uses perforated plastic piping wrapped in a cloth sock. The drain tile then is surrounded with pea gravel and it’s installed at the base of the foundation walls adjacent to the footings.

Drain tiles usually drain into the storm sewer or sump pump. The drain tile can collapse or be damaged by tree roots. In either case it can be a costly repair because of the labor costs involved. Replacing damaged drain tile systems have put many basement water proofing contractors’ kids through college.

Settling concrete slabs

Improperly sloped concrete patios and driveways usually have settled because the earth beneath them was not compacted properly. Erosion and gravity do their thing and your patio starts sinking. When it’s sloped toward your house, all the rain that lands on it flows toward the foundation wall and eventually finds its way into your basement.

If the concrete slab is not cracking and broken you should check into a repair called mud jacking. Mud jacking (also know as concrete raising) is about half the cost of replacing concrete.. The company drills holes in the settled section and pumps a slurry beneath that slowly raises the concrete to the desired height or slope. Mud jacking contractors can be found in your local yellow pages listed under concrete.

Cracks in walls

Hydrostatic pressure is the term used to describe the pressure water can exert when it accumulates and is pushing against a wall. When enough water accumulates, it will either push the entire earth on its axis away from your basement wall or push your basement wall inward. I’m betting your wall gives in first.

Commonly, a hydrostatic crack is found in walls made of cement blocks. Evidence of movement will be a horizontal crack that is 3 to 5 courses of block from the top. The crack usually will be along a mortar joint and that joint will be open. If its been filled with mortar, it will be wider than all other mortar joints in the wall. The wall will, with time, bow inward.

If the movement is not severe, the movement can be stopped by making sure the exterior landscaping and concrete are sloped away from the house.

Individual cracks that leak can be repaired by basement waterproofing contractors.

Rod hole leaks

Poured basement walls use steel rods to hold the forms in place while the concrete is being placed. After the concrete cures or hardens, the rods and forms are removed. Many contractors install a cork and mastic to fill and seal those rod holes. Oftentimes, the cork cracks and the rod hole leaks.

The homeowner can repair rod hole leaks easily by chiseling them out, rinsing them out and filling them with hydraulic cement. Twenty pound buckets of hydraulic cement costs about $14. One bucket should be enough to do dozens of rod holes.

While wearing protective eyewear, chisel out the center of the damp area where the leak is occurring (Chisel in about 3-inches). Take a garden pump sprayer filled with water and rinse out the hole. While wearing gloves, quickly mix a small amount of the hydraulic cement and roll the cement in your hands into the shape of a cigar. Push the cement into the rod hole as far back as you can and smooth the surface even with the basement wall. Hydraulic cement is easy to work with but it heats up and expands in your hands. Before attempting to fill the first rod hole, practice with the cement so you can determine how fast you need to work.

Condensation

Most basements feel cool and damp. That’s because they are. To determine whether you have a condensation issue or the basement leaks, tape a piece of aluminum foil or plastic to the wall or floor. Leave it in place for a day or two. If moisture is on the surface, you have a condensation issue. If moisture is behind or under the plastic then you have a seepage problem.

To reduce condensation you should insulate all plumbing pipes with pipe wrap. Turn off, drain and clean the humidifier in the spring. Repair dripping faucets. Cut shrubs away from the foundation walls and make sure everything is sloped away from the house. Do not hang clothes to dry in the basement and make sure your clothes dryer is clean and vented to the exterior.

You can open the basement windows to air out the basement but don’t do it on a hot, humid day. That will only add to the basement’s humidity. If all else fails, purchase and use a dehumidifier.

Sewer problems

Sewer problems causing the drains to back up can be extremely costly. You can rent a 100-foot snake at tool rental companies.

Plumbing and sewer companies are specialists at snaking out sewers. Plumbing companies can run a camera through the sewer pipe and determine exactly where an obstruction occurs and whether the pipes need replacing.

Backflow or gate valves can be installed where the sewer connection leaves the house. When city storm sewers back up into the basements (where they did in many cities not too long ago) the homeowner could close a gate valve and prevent a flooded basement. These systems are expensive because you need to install a back-up sump pump that will pump excess water to a dry well in your yard. The problem with backflow gate valves is they need periodic maintenance to keep them working properly and you’d need to be home and aware that the sewer is backing up in order to close the valves. Finally, you cannot use any plumbing in the house until the problem has passed and you open up the valve. It has also been recommended that you install a clean-out downstream of the valve as well. Without the clean-out, it’s possible that a sewer snake could get tied up in the valve itself.

Basement water alarm

Basement water alarms are available for $15 up to about $50. They help prevent costly water damage by alerting you that water is on the floor or starting to back up. They usually operate on a 9-volt battery and should be placed by floor drains, near the laundry area, by a sump pump or wherever there is a potential for water damage.

The Sonin Co. has a wireless model for around $30 at Home Depot. The sensor can be in the basement while the receiver can be up to 50-feet away.

Finding problems underground

These are things to look for in a basement if you don’t know whether it leaks:

  • When you open the door to the basement take a whiff. Do you smell a musty, moldy odor? If you don’t trust your nose, trust your eyes. Examine the bottom of anything stored on the floor. Do boxes have water stains? If so, they’ve been in contact with moisture.
  • Look for staining on the bottom of finished walls. Sometimes the stains are concealed by plastic baseboard trim. If possible, pull the trim away to look behind it with a flashlight. Look for stains on the back of interior finished walls and under the stairway. Water stains on wood usually are recognizable. So check the bottom of wood shelving, partition walls and paneling carefully. The darker the stain the more involved the water problems are.
  • Loose floor tiles can be a sign that moisture is leaking into the basement. Are there one-eighth-inch gaps between the tiles? They weren’t laid with those gaps. Moisture caused the tiles to shrink. Often, you’ll notice tiles with gaps at one end of the basement or just near the perimeter walls but the tiles will be secure and tight fitting in the middle of the basement. That indicates areas that have been exposed to leaking.
  • Look for efflorescence, the white powdery, fluffy growth on masonry walls. It’s a result of moisture mixing with the water-soluble salts within the wall and leaking into the basement. Efflorescence itself doesn’t mean the basement floods. The moisture could be evaporating once it wicks through the foundation and is exposed to the air.
  • When purchasing a house, another clue that a basement might leak may be an absence of stored belongings. Have the current owners lived in the house for a long time, yet they’re not using the basement for storage? Are they storing items only on one side of the basement?
  • Are the foundation walls freshly painted? Fresh paint is a red flag to any home inspector. Realtors know stains and efflorescence may not look all that good, but fresh paint usually means a wall looked worse than minor stains, and that could signal a problem.
  • Look for rust stains around the furnace cabinet and the steel stanchions that support the house. Heavy rust could be a symptom of ongoing flooding. Around the furnace those rust stains could just mean the air conditioner or humidifier leaked, so examine the pattern of the rust.
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