Archive for October, 2011|Monthly archive page

Smoke detectors…… Do They Make Your Home Safe?

In Smoke/CO Detectors on October 31, 2011 at 5:38 pm

There is a lot of truth to the statement that having a smoke detector doesn’t make your home safe. If properly maintained, in the right location, and operating properly, they will alert you if there is a fire. Hopefully, and usually they will provide you and your family enough time to get out of your burning house.

Now comes the “If properly maintained” part.

The battery should be replaced annually. Don’t wait until it starts chirping constantly. Don’t wait until the battery is dead. If you hear a periodic beeping or chirping it means replace the battery.

Many, if not all hard-wired detectors also have back-up batteries that require annual replacement. Never remove a battery without immediate replacement.

Smoke and fire detectors can also lose effectiveness if bugs, spiders or dust gets into them. Periodically, vacuum each detector in and around the unit to suck out dust and debris.

Detectors have test buttons or sensors, which enable you to see if they are operating. They should be tested monthly. The test verifies that the circuit, horn and battery are operating as designed.

If the horn fails to sound when testing the unit, replace the battery. If it still doesn’t operate, replace the unit. Do not attempt to repair it.

Never paint a detector. Remove or protect detectors when painting around them.

Location, Location, Location

For a detector to alert you, it needs to be able to detect smoke first. To do that they have to be in the proper location and you need to have enough of them.

  • There should be a smoke detector in every bedroom.
  • One should be installed at the top of every stairway.
  • Every hallway should have a smoke detector. Especially outside of sleeping areas.
  • Any room with a fireplace or space heater should also have a detector.
  • Do not install a smoke detector in or just outside of a bathroom. The steam from bathing/showering could easily set off false alarms or the humidity could damage the unit. Relocate the unit away from that immediate area.
  • Many people have nuisance alarms when installing a detector in the kitchen. Install a heat detector in the kitchen along with a photoelectric smoke alarm. The photoelectric is not quite as sensitive to smoke as the ionization type.
  • Install detectors in the basement.
  • Never install a detector close to a heating and cooling supply register or return. The air movement could prevent the alarm from activating.
  • Detectors should be installed on the ceiling or high up a wall. If installed on a ceiling, it should be a minimum of 4-inches from the nearest wall. If you are installing the detector on a wall, it should be a minimum of 4-inches, but no more than 12-inches from the ceiling.
  • If the room has a cathedral ceiling, install the detector between 4-inches and 36-inches from the peak.
  • Smoke detectors may not operate properly in unheated buildings.
  • Garages are also not a good location for smoke detectors. Combustion gases from your car could cause nuisance alarms. A better alternative would be to install a heat detector.
  • Never install a detector out of reach. You need to easily change the battery and test and vacuum the unit.

Smoke detectors have been around since the 1960’s. The battery-powered units we are familiar with came on the market in the 1970’s. Smoke, fire and carbon monoxide detectors do what they claim to do. They detect smoke, fire and carbon monoxide. They save lives. The lives they save could be yours or your families.

All you need to do is install them in the proper location and periodically maintain them. That’s a small price to pay for saving a human life.



New Products (Shark Steam Mop / Skil Router / Sealing a Deck

In New Products, Q&A on October 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Shark Lift-Away Professional Steam Pocket Mop™

Most people spend hours each day doing many chores around the house to keep their homes looking nice, sparkling clean and fresh. If you are tired of getting down and dirty, check out this new product that I was recently introduced to. It’s called the Shark Lift-Away Professional Steam Pocket Mop™. I know it will help lift you up when it comes to doing those dreaded chores.

Using only water and no harsh chemicals or over-powering, smelly cleaners, this floor care product makes cleaning hardwood, vinyl and ceramic floors a breeze. It’s easy to use and takes up a lot less time than pulling out a mop and bucket or getting down on your hands and knees to clean or scrub those areas.

It is not recommended for use on unsealed wood, unglazed ceramic floors, no-wax floors or surfaces that have been treated with wax because the steam may remove some of the sheen. The mop has three steam settings, ‘dust’ for a quick dusting and the fastest dry time, a ‘mop’ setting for normal steam cleaning and ‘scrub’ for heavy cleaning.  When in ‘scrub’ mode and using the carpet glider attachment, you can even freshen area rugs and carpets.

The Shark Lift-Away Steam Mop™ also has another great feature; it can also become a hand-held unit with the click of a button. When using it in the hand-held mode it is only programmed with one setting for ‘above the floor’ cleaning, as well as garment steaming.

The Lift-Away comes with all the attachments you will need to attack the messes in your home and although there is some assembly required, it puts together easily.

It retails for $179.95 and can be purchased online at www.shark.com. But check them out at Wal-Mart. I have seen them there for less.


Skil™ Routers

The word “router” has a new meaning for today’s generation. They think computer link, but for old timers (like myself), woodworkers, do-it-yourselfers and hobbyists, a router is a tool used to finish edges along with cutting patterns and designs in laminates, metal and wood.

Just how did you think most of those intricate designs were cut into cabinets, picture frames, furniture, etc.?

I have an old router that I’ve have for almost forty years. It works. There’s nothing wrong with it, but Skil Power Tools, which has been making great power tools for over 85 years, recently improved the simple router.

Skil’s new line of routers has numerous features that I envy. One is the Soft Start™ Technology. It allows a smooth start-up without the kickback my old router allows. The Soft Start™ also dramatically increases the routers motor life.

I’m impressed with Skil’s attention to detail as to user-comfort and ease of use. Their routers have quick-clamp release levers. With my old router, I have to use a wrench to make bit changes and adjustments. They’ve also included quarter-inch as well as half-inch collets to tackle just about any application.

Older routers took a lot more skill to master. With Skil’s new models, half the skill is just simply plugging the cord into the wall socket. That’s how easy it is to use.

Skil has three new models all with new features, updated technology and ergonomic, comfortable designs. The models are #1817, 1827 and 1830 and range in price between $69.99 and $109.99.

Each model is worth checking out at Lowes or by visiting www.facebook.com/skil or www.skiltools.com.


I have a new deck and spoke to five different people and got five different answers on when to seal it. What’s the bottom line?


Some people say you should wait sixty days, six months or even a season. But basically you should listen to your contractor for your particular material. But, a general rule of thumb is, with redwood or cedar; apply a sealer as soon as possible, as long as it’s dry.

Pressure treated decks usually take longer to dry thoroughly and can be treated with a sealer about one month after installation.

Sealing decks reduces exposure to the elements, which can dry out and ruin them.

Closing Your House For The Season

In Winter Tips For Your Home on October 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Closing Your House For The Season

There are many things you need to do if you’re leaving a cottage or your house for all or part of the season.

You have to decide if you want to leave the heat on while you are gone. If you leave the heat on, turn it down to around 55-degrees. That will keep pipes from freezing, and save you money on heating costs. If you go back to the cottage periodically, it shouldn’t take long to get the indoor air up to a comfortable level.

Regardless, even with the heat on, I would still turn off the water at the meter or pump. That way if the heat fails or the power goes off, the pipes could still freeze and burst, but damage would be minimal.

If you decide to turn off the heat you must winterize all the plumbing. That means turning off the water and completely draining the system. Draining the pipes is done by turning off the water and opening every single faucet in the house.

Next, using a wrench, remove the water meter or open the drain line where well water enters the house. Turn off the gas or electricity to your water heater and connect a garden hose to the spigot near the bottom of the tank and let all that water out as well.

Flush the toilets to get most of the water out of the toilet tank. You will need one to two gallons of RV anti-freeze, which is available at camping outfitters, sporting goods stores and just about wherever camping equipment is sold.

Pour one cup of the anti-freeze down every sink, basin, tub and shower drain. Also pour a couple of cups of anti-freeze into the toilet as well as the toilet tank.

Your dishwasher has a pump, which is holding water that could also freeze. Manufacturers do not recommend adding anti-freeze. They usually suggest that you disconnect the drain line and let the water drain into a small bucket.

There are a lot of other steps you need to do to close a house for the season. Here is my checklist:

•    Cut back overhanging tree limbs.
•    Clean the gutters.
•    Make sure the chimney cap or screening is on top of the chimney and secure.
•    Close crawl space vents.
•    Put on storm windows.
•    Lock the shed or garage doors.
•    Bring in or store all outdoor furniture.
•    Thoroughly clean and store barbeque grills and garbage cans.
•    Winterize all boats and motors.
•    Lock up and store boats, lawn equipment, bikes, canoes, etc.
•    Fill boat motors, lawnmowers, etc. with fresh gas and Sta-bil to keep the gas from going bad.
•    Have a professional blow out and drain sprinkler systems.
•    Unplug all appliances and electronics.
•    Turn off circuit breakers except to an alarm circuit, some lighting, sump pump and furnace.
•    Make a list of all valuables and record serial numbers on appliances and electronics. Store that list at another location.
•    Take photos of everything and store at a second location.
•    Remove all food from the kitchen cupboards including cans and jars that could freeze and burst.
•    If you have plants in the house, move them to a friend or neighbors house.
•    Remove all food from the refrigerator, unplug the refrigerator, clean it, wipe the interior down with bleach and prop open the doors.
•    Put timers on a few lamps and radios around the house to go on and off at different times.
•    Make sure the fireplace damper is closed.
•    Clean or replace the furnace filter.
•    Pour one cup of mineral oil into the bottom of your dishwasher to keep the rubber seal from drying out and cracking.
•    Unplug coffee makers, irons, etc.
•    Do all laundry.
•    Clean the house.
•    Dispose of all garbage.
•    Close and lock all windows and doors.

•    Put telephone service on ‘vacation’ unless it is needed for the house alarm.
•    Contact the police department to let them know when you will return and leave a phone number with them where you can be reached.
•    Make sure a neighbor or friend has a key and a phone number in order to reach you in case of an emergency.
•    Stop or forward mail and package delivery, but make sure bills are still being paid.
•    Stop newspaper deliveries.
•    Arrange for the drive and walk to be shoveled to give your house a lived-in look.
•    Ask a neighbor to park or drive on your driveway occasionally.
•    Disconnect the garage door opener and make sure the overhead door is locked.
•    Turn off your cable service.
•    Close and lock all windows and doors.

Getting Your House Ready For Winter

In Fall & Winter on October 3, 2011 at 3:32 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.

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.


  • 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.

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.


  • 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.

Getting The Most Out of Your Heating and Cooling

In Fall & Winter on October 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Did you know that if your house has old radiators it’s okay to paint them? But too much paint, meaning too many layers, will not only hide some of the beautiful, decorative details in those radiators, but will also cut down on the heat transfer.

If you want to remove all that old paint, one way to do it is to remove the radiator and rent a sandblaster to clean it. Better yet, take that radiator out to the garage and use a chemical paint stripper to remove all that old paint. Remember to contain the mess since in all likelihood the paint contains lead.

I see a lot of people with steam heat putting radiator covers over and around their radiators to try and conceal or decorate them. Anything you use will cut down on the efficiency of the radiator. One thing you can do is to wrap cardboard in aluminum foil and slip it between the radiator and the wall, you’ll just be radiating more heat back into your house.

If you hear banging pipes with your steam heat, it’s probably because one or more of the radiators are sloped improperly. If the radiator settles and slopes away from the valve, it will trap steam that condenses, causing other steam to back up. This causes the knocking and clanging noises. To correct the problem, put a level on each radiator making sure it’s properly pitched and, if not, tap shims under the two legs farthest from the valve.

If you hear hissing sounds from your radiators, don’t throw a “hissy fit”. Hissing sounds are normal, but only intermittently and only from the vent. After the steam rises, the vent should close. If it continues to hiss, it may need replacing. If it never hisses, it may be stuck and you probably aren’t getting heat from the radiator. It may need to be soaked in vinegar to clean it or it may need replacing.

Did you know that when a heating contractor tells you your heat exchanger is cracked and you’ll need a new furnace, means it’s going to be a negative cash-flow day.

Understand that the air you breathe never comes in contact with the actual flame. The flame is inside a metal chamber called the “heat exchanger” and the air you breathe is circulated around the outside of the exchanger and heated through conduction. When the heat exchanger cracks, it could leak carbon monoxide into the air you breathe. Your furnace should be inspected annually. You should also install smoke/carbon monoxide detectors throughout your house. Don’t forget to replace the batteries when you reset your clocks in the fall.

Did you know that you could get more efficiency and save money on your heating bills if you check and replace furnace filters frequently? A dirty filter restricts airflow. Also, if your furnace has a fan belt, check the tension. If it’s too loose the motor will still turn but it will pull less air through the system. If your blower has oil cups, keep that motor oiled.

If your heating bills are too high, it’s a good idea to add air combustion from the outside. An excellent, inexpensive product is Equaliz-Air (available on line at www.equaliz-air.com or by calling 734-462-1033). Also install a humidifier or make sure the one you have is clean and operating properly. Adding humidity to dry air makes you feel warmer. Don’t forget to close dampers in ductwork to unused rooms and close the registers in those same rooms, and that my friend is not a lot of hot air.

If your house has air conditioning, do not cover your air conditioning compressor. Although experts differ, it is generally accepted that the compressor unit is designed to be outdoors; covering it could accelerate rust and corrosion while providing a home for field mice and chipmunks that cannot forage for food in the severe weather. At that point the wire insulation in the unit looks like dinner to those little critters.

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