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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.

Solving a Water Direction Problem / Granular Carbon Water Filter System

In Uncategorized on May 3, 2017 at 1:26 pm

Q:

We need assistance and direction to a problem we are having where water is entering the foundation, garage, and basement. We feel this is linked in someway.

We first noticed that after a heavy rain saturated the ground, we would find water puddles in the basement that flowed from the garage wall. We took out the drywall and molding and applied Dry Lock water sealant on the wall (rod holes) and replaced the drywall. Well, for about a year, everything was fine but then we noticed that on the other end of the garage wall, the situation repeated itself and we used the same process.

We never made the connection until recently that when the temperature drops below 20 degrees our garage floor rises up about an inch and a half and separate from the driveway. Once the temperatures get above freezing and remains there for a couple days, the garage floor goes back down and even with the driveway. Could it be that water is getting under the garage floor somehow and with the freezing and thawing that takes place is making the water somehow find weak spots in the wall and leaking into the basement? However, now it is starting to come up from the basement floor as opposed through rod holes, but is still against the garage wall side.

Who do we need to contact in regard to our concerns? Do you think these issues are linked?

A:

I’ve seen many garage floors that heave upward when it freezes. The culprit is obviously water beneath the slab. In your case, that water is flowing toward a foundation wall that may not have been waterproofed. The builder possibly didn’t see a need to seal the wall since there was going to be a garage on that side of the house. He may have sealed it but obviously not adequately.

Your first order of business is to keep water away from the garage. Make sure all ground around it is sloped away 4 to 6 feet. Check to see that the gutters do not overflow, and that the leaders all discharge 4 to 6 feet from the garage. Seal the gap between the garage floor and the driveway with a viscous sealant.

After that deal is sealed and the problem continues, I’d call a basement waterproofer for estimates. You’ll want to waterproof that entire wall from the basement side.

Q:

I have a granular carbon water filter system flowing from my main house line. The problem I am having is that it greatly reduces water pressure throughout the house. So bad in fact if you flush a toilet you lose most pressure everywhere until the toilet refills. I figured out that removing the actual filter solves the problem. Is that ok or do I need a professional to come and have the housing system removed from the pipe?

A:

You can keep the housing system in place without the filter and it shouldn’t present any real problems. More to the point, why is your water pressure so bad? If you have old galvanized pipes that are causing poor water flow, you’ll need to replace them in the very near future. They generally last 40 to 50 years. Galvanized pipes were replaced with copper around the 1950’s. That means don’t get a sentimental attachment to your existing pipes. If you have city water your pressure should be between 40-60 PSI. That should be adequate if you have copper or plastic pipes. Then if not, check your blood pressure before you call the plumber to determine why you have a problem. Call the city to check if the meter is restricted or defective.

If you’re on well water you may want or need that filter. Check with a water conditioning company. They should be able to install a system that will not restrict the water flow as much as the one you have. This is one time when you’ll be glad that the pressure is on.

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An Inspection Makes a House a Home

In Uncategorized on April 13, 2017 at 10:50 am

Not all home inspectors are the same, each having their individual style. Their procedures and reports also differ, so it’s important to be educated before hiring someone. Since your home is probably the largest purchase you’ll ever make, you should understand what the job of a home inspector is and what they do. It’s not the inspector’s job to tell you to buy the house or walk away from it. The inspector usually has no idea what you’re paying for the house. So, even if it is a “disaster” it might be priced so low that it’s a great deal no matter what is found during the inspection.

The home inspector’s job is to impartially and objectively, let you know what you are actually buying. The condition of the roof, structure, plumbing system, water pressure and hot water tank should be evaluated. The home inspector should let you know everything about the electrical system and if it is adequate and safe. You’ll learn about the insulation, the furnace or boiler, if it is operating properly and not leaking carbon monoxide into the house. The inspector will not be able to tell you if the heat is even or adequate throughout, but should let you know if there isn’t a heat source in some rooms or additions (yes it happens). The inspector will let you know if the foundation appears bad or if the basement leaks. When the inspection is complete, you will probably know more about the house you are purchasing than the sellers who may have lived there for 30 years. This inspector will also make a “honey-do” list for the prospective purchaser (my client) of all the “nit-picky” items. If the inspector finds a lot of things in disrepair, remember almost everything can be fixed. The client should be shown what the inspector sees and why it is a problem. He doesn’t make up the problem or exaggerate the seriousness of it, but tries to put it in the proper perspective. We actually have more to lose if the client doesn’t buy the house because it’s possible that two or more real estate offices might blacklist us from referrals (the selling office and listing office).

Why do you need a house inspection? Let me answer that question with another question. Who else in the transaction is looking out for your interest? Is the realtor, who only gets paid if you buy the house, able to be totally objective? Some real estate salespeople tell their clients they really don’t need an inspection because “The seller filled out a disclosure statement”. That document serves to somewhat protect the realtor. “I didn’t know the basement leaked. They filled out the disclosure statement and signed it saying it was a dry basement.” I, in turn am not interested in what the Realtor refers to as a “disclosure statement”. I refer to it as a “Liars statement”.

The inspector will easily be able to determine if the purchaser is handy by the questions they ask, and the purchaser should ask questions. The adage about there being “no such thing as a dumb question” seems especially true on a home inspection. The buyers are spending a lot of money on the house and the inspector should not only make them familiar with the house and how it works, but also its condition. The buyers are encouraged to ask questions. I have had buyers ask what the furnace is and what it is for. If they have to ask, it is because they really don’t know. For that reason, most inspectors want the purchaser to accompany them on their inspection.

On the other hand, the inspector does not want the seller of the house following along on the inspection because they often get defensive. This is a house they live in and now they are hearing about all the little problems that have been ignored, forgotten, or never knew existed. Another reason the seller shouldn’t participate in the inspection is that they didn’t pay for the information. Finally, the buyer needs to feel comfortable about asking questions without being in the presence of someone with whom they are negotiating.

There are some home inspectors who feel their client is the one who refers business to them, i.e. the realtor. They don’t want to lose the referrals (read that as money) so the inspector may feel he has to downplay a problem or gloss over suspect defects. Then there are some home inspectors that are not particularly thorough and issue short reports that basically don’t tell you much. There are also inspectors that have little training and experience and are just out of their league. These inspectors fit the “obligation” of a home inspection and rarely cause a problem for the salesperson. Some realtors refer to the good, competent inspectors as the “deal killers”. Home inspectors, in return, have “names” for those realtors.

There are realtors who might see home inspectors as adversaries or at the least, a necessary evil. There are also many realtors who truly are looking out for their client’s best interest. A good realtor generally has an attitude that is similar to a clerk in a store showing merchandise. They will point out anything that is visible to their client, the buyer. They also rely on good inspectors to educate their clients.

“What you see is not always what is there”. Realtors know that a good, professional inspection will give the buyer not only peace of mind, but will increase their credibility with their client for future referrals. Also, it’s worth mentioning that a thorough inspection should insulate the Realtor from any potential lawsuit against them of their real estate company.

Are you under the impression that municipalities in which, inspections are done by city inspectors protect your investment? Think again. A municipal inspector looks for code violations, period. These inspectors don’t remove electrical service box covers to check for double tapping, aluminum wiring, overheating circuits and oversized breakers, which can only be discovered by inspecting in the main service box. Believe it or not, if the house you are considering buying has aluminum wiring, a bad foundation, asbestos, old galvanized plumbing, or even a wet basement, they are not code violations and not even covered by city inspections. Even a bad roof is not a code violation unless it is leaking on the inspector’s ahead at the time of the inspection. To correct those items is a major expense and a potential deal killer, but a city inspector does not address them.

I’ve been doing inspection in Southeast Michigan for over 35 years but I know I’m not perfect. I am also not naïve enough to believe I’ll find every flaw in a house that I’m inspecting. I just hope if there are any major problems that I’ll find them.

Remember, a home inspector is not a specialist. We consider ourselves “professional generalists”. We don’t have to be a licensed electrician to observe, check, and report on loose and improper wiring, double tapping, aluminum wiring, oversized fuses or breakers, overheating wiring or improperly wired fixtures and outlets. But we need to recognize it and advise our client. We’re only in the house for a few hours and in that time we need to discover, evaluate and report to our client everything that we find. We also need, as I said earlier, to put it in the proper prospective. Remember, the inspector doesn’t know the price or the value of the house. A $200,000.00 house being purchased for $175,000.00 may sound like a great deal, but what if it has a bad foundation and/or needs $40,000.00 in repairs? It suddenly becomes no deal at all.

Over the years we’ve seen houses in which the sellers paint over rotted wood, which by the way is very common. I’ve seen people put furniture and boxes in front of foundation problems to conceal them. We have found fresh, wet paint on basement walls that leaked, and burned or torn carpeting covered with a throw rug. Burn marks on kitchen counters that have been covered with sponges, saucers, plants, etc. And yes, I found a counter top with a crack that was covered with the cord of a coffee pot!

Since the inspector is a ‘guest’ in the home, the inspector is not allowed to start moving furniture, boxes, or crates. If that cheap figurine should break, it immediately becomes a priceless heirloom for which the inspector is usually on the hook. This is one reason many inspectors, like myself, insist that the buyer or their representative (such as a family member) accompany them on the inspection if at all possible. The main reason is so the client can learn about their next house and how it works. In addition, they see things as we do and not let their imagination make it worse. It also helps our client see what’s not visible because of stacked boxes, junk or furniture obstruction the area.

It’s a challenge when sellers try to hide problems. I’m not saying we always find the hidden ones, but is can become somewhat of a game. When a buyer sees a burned or cracked counter, it means they’ll need to replace that some day. However, when we find sellers trying to hide problems with fresh paint, plants or sponges, the buyer immediately wonders what else is the seller hiding. They know we’re doing our job, but they also know we’re only human.

Do we make everyone happy? Sometimes. But that’s not our goal. The good inspector realizes the only one we need to make happy is our client, the purchaser. We know our clients want the house otherwise they wouldn’t be paying us to inspect it. We also know if the house fails the inspection, they will be disappointed. But the inspector and our client know we saved them a lot of money and grief.

To find a good inspector, consider your realtors recommendation but do your own homework. Call several companies. Don’t shop just for the price. The more qualified and professional the inspector, the more valuable is the service you are provided. Ask about their qualifications and licenses as well as errors and omissions insurance. Ask how long they have been in business. Then verify the information with the Better Business Bureau.

There is no licensing for home inspectors in the State of Michigan at this time but you can verify with the State Licensing Board if the inspector is a licensed builder and how long they’ve held a license. You can also check if there are complaints against the individual or company. It is not unusual for someone in business to have complaints lodged against them, or be sued but how many times and how they were resolved should be a concern to you.

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Winterize Your Pipes During a Power Outage in Cold Temperatures

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2017 at 2:53 pm

Over a half million people lost power from the fierce wind storms that came through southeast Michigan during the last 48 hours. The high winds wreaked havoc on many cities, causing hundreds of downed power lines and fallen trees. Over 600,000 residents and businesses are without power for possibly days. Because of that, there’s a good chance that many of you will have to leave your homes to seek warm shelter elsewhere until all is back to normal.

If you must leave your house (especially when temperatures are still quite cold), this is something important you should do before you pack your bags: safeguard your plumbing. Doing so will avoid possible cracked or burst pipes and cracked toilets due to having no heat in your home to keep those pipes warm.

  1. Turn off your water at the meter
  2. Flush all toilets to drain most of the water out
  3. Open every faucet in your house, including the laundry tub (if you have one.)
  4. In each toilet box, and also each toilet bowl, add 1 cup of RV or marine antifreeze (available in the sporting goods section of your favorite store, like Meijer, or any sporting goods store.)
  5. In each sink, shower and bathtub drain, add 2 tablespoons of the RV/marine antifreeze. This will help keep the traps from freezing.

If you follow these steps, your plumbing will not freeze in these cold temperatures when your heat goes out due to a power outage.

 

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Spring Cleaning Tips for the Kitchen

In Uncategorized on February 13, 2017 at 11:51 am

 

With spring just around the corner, here are some inexpensive tips for spring-cleaning, and you don’t even have to leave the house to buy supplies to do them.

These tips are to help eliminate odors, remove stains and rid food build-ups in the kitchen.

Doug Rogers, president of the Mr. Appliance Corp. says, “Don’t neglect your kitchen appliances during spring cleaning. Your appliances never get a day off. They take the most abuse yet probably get the least attention. Keep them clean to help them last longer and run more efficiently.”

Give spring-cleaning a whole new meaning with these different and often forgotten tips from Mr. Appliance® and Mr. Rooter Plumbing®:

  1. Eliminate odors in the refrigerator by using vanilla extract soaked into a paper towel and wipe down the walls inside the refrigerator.
  2. Soak removable refrigerator parts in a sink with warm, soapy water to remove stains and spills.
  3. Run an empty dishwasher with a cup of vinegar to remove food residue.
  4. Removed caked on foods from over racks with warm, soapy water.
  5. To eliminate odors in the garbage disposal, place ice cubes and citrus peels in the disposal. Turn on the cold water and then run the disposal for 15 to 30 seconds. After turning the disposal off, continue to rinse with hot water for 15 more seconds.
  6. For cleaning the inside of microwave surfaces use a mixture of two tablespoons baking soda and one quart warm water to remove food stains.
  7. To avoid the yellowing of white appliances, use a mixture of ½-cup bleach, ¼-cup baking soda and four cups of warm water. Using a sponge wipe down the appliances let it set for 10 minutes before rinsing and drying.
  1. To remove grease build up from garbage disposals, turn on the hot water then the disposal and squeeze a tablespoon of dish washing liquid into the disposal. Run the hot water for 15-30 seconds and turn off the disposal but let the hot water run until all the suds are gone.
  2. For cleaning residue and stubborn stains on the inside of the microwave, heat a bowl of vanilla extract for three minutes and use it to wipe down the inside of the microwave (be careful the vanilla extract may be hot.)
  3. To clean the condenser coils, which are located behind the fridge, use a brush or hand-held vacuum to remove dirt, dust and pet hair.

“The best way to ensure an odor-free and grease-free kitchen sink is to prevent the smell and build-up before it begins”, said Mary Kennedy Thompson, president of Mr. Rooter Corporation. “A good dose of spring cleaning can clear the air, keeping your garbage disposal in good working condition.”

Kitchen appliances and plumbing fixtures will continue to sparkle and smell fresh for many years to come just by following these tips from Mr. Appliance and Mr. Rooter Plumbing.

 

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Winter Driving Readiness

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2017 at 4:26 pm

When it comes to preparing their cars for winter, most people fall into one of three groups.

‘Group One’ is the worst. Look into one of their trunks and you’d see something like the following:

  • One spare – flat
  • Four empty cans/bottles
  • A rusty screwdriver
  • Moldy rags
  • One ice scraper with broken handle
  • Two wet, moldy paper bags
  • A thing (cannot identify)
  • A cheap flashlight with corroded batteries

Pitiably, ‘Group Ones’ think they’re ready for winter driving. On a good day, they might even check the oil and battery, but will probably forget. However, ‘Group Ones’ rarely look in the trunk because they’re confident that the one flashlight, and screwdriver they bought on sale for $1.99 (batteries included) just after they bought the car two and a half years ago are still there. They are so proud of thinking ahead. Nice job guys!

Then there are the ‘Group Twos’.

‘Group Twos’ are actually an enviable lot. ‘Group Two’ people are prepared – compared to ‘Group One’, that is.

They tune up their cars, put on the snow tires, change the oil and check the windshield washer fluid. (Group One, are you still there?) They examine the air in the spare tire (or whatever you call that whimpy Cheerio-sized rubber thing the car companies put in the trunk these days.)

‘Group Twos’ have even been known to keep a folding shovel in the trunk, a flashlight with new batteries and a blanket.

They’ve got tools in the trunk: pliers (2), screwdrivers, including a Phillips (3), electrical tape, spare wire, hammer (I don’t know why they would need it either, but I certainly can’t complain because I’ve got one, too), socket set, adjustable wrench, extra gallon of windshield fluid, rags, a pair of work gloves, umbrella, bungee cords, first aid kit, maps, extra fuses, fire extinguisher, road flares, traction mats to get unstuck on snow and ice, a good-quality ice chopper, snow brush and jumper cables.

Most ‘Group Twos’ even put a bag of rock salt in the trunk for better traction. I’m proud of you, ‘Group Two’. These are also the people that use to have CB radios in their cars before cell phones to help all of you ‘Group One’ people when you get stuck. They’re the ones who stop when they see you on the side of the road trying to flag down traffic with wet, moldy paper bags.

Now for “Group Three’. Before we start, I know that ‘Group One’ will think ‘Group Threes’ are “sickos”. So will many ‘Group Twos’, but we ‘Group Threes’ don’t really care. My wife says she wishes I would “act normal” and join her in ‘Group One’, but I’ve told her that “I’m ‘Group Three’ and proud of it.”

Now that winter is here we ‘Group Three’ people are in our glory, prepared for the worst. Psychologists and psychiatrists would probably call us insecure, but let ‘em. We say we’re secure because we’re prepared. Our trunks have everything

We would never suffer like my good friend Bonnie, who spent a miserable night some winters ago stranded on the expressway while driving across Michigan during a snowstorm, waiting for the roads to be plowed.

In my typically ‘Group Three’ trunk is survival stuff. Not just any stuff, but Grade-A, first quality stuff:

A genuine military survival knife, in addition to the Swiss army knife, a space blanket (in addition to the regular blanket), a canteen with metal cup for melting snow into hot water for soup, made from the bottle of bouillon cubes (which are also in the kit.)

Hexamine Fuel Tablets and four-inch Hexamine Stove, which can boil a cup of water in four minutes that I got along with my army food rations (crackers, cocoa, beverage powder, peanut butter) at any army/navy surplus store. I also keep a whistle; waterproof matches, mints, candy, gum, compass, rope and yes, a can opener.

I also took an old one-pound metal tobacco can with lid, punched small holes all around it, and filled it with five-inch candles. I figure that if I am stuck in the cold, and if I crack a window just a bit, I can provide some heat in the car as well as a little light.

I’m going to need the light because I keep a deck of cards and a book in my survival kit so I won’t be bored to death.

It goes without saying I keep a couple of packages of Kleenex, but don’t ask me why.

“Group Threes’ also keep a snake bite kit as well as sewing kit in their survival packages. Chances are pretty good I’m never going anywhere with my car that I’ll get bitten by a poisonous snake, but if you are, won’t you be glad to see me!

Luckily, we don’t have to lug the bag of rock salt around in our trunk. Who has room for it?

I did a calculation once that the third group was responsible for almost one-fifth of the gas shortage of just a few years ago. A surprising statistic considering we in ‘Group Three’ never run out of gas.

By now I’m sure that some of you ‘Group Twos’ are waiting for the army/navy surplus store to open so that you can get what you need to cross over. We’ll be glad to have you.

Meanwhile, if I’m fortunate enough to get stranded on the freeway this winter, while I’m waiting for my bouillon to boil, I might be inspired to write about how much fun it is to be around the house with a typical ‘Group Three’.

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Holiday Safety

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2016 at 11:51 am

The holidays are supposed to be fun and we want them to be safe.

I’ve compiled a holiday safety checklist to get you started and keep you and your family safe. I know most of the list is common sense, but look it over and at least use it as a reminder.

Christmas Trees:

  • Always buy a fresh cut, healthy tree. You can check by looking and feeling. The tree must be green, the bark moist and green, and the needles should bend and not break when you bend them.
  • Run your hand down a branch. If the tree is fresh, some needles will fall off but only a few.
  • Tug on a few needles; they should be difficult to pull off from the branches.
  • Bend a few branches; if they snap off or crack, the tree is too dry and won’t last.
  • When you get the tree home, cut a few inches off the bottom of the trunk at an angle so the tree can absorb more water.
  • Set the tree in a sturdy tree stand. Make sure the base or legs are sturdy to keep the tree stable so that it will not tip over, which can pose a danger to children and small pets.
  • The stand should be able to hold a lot of water and the water should be checked and maintained. A six-foot tree requires approximately one-gallon of water every other day.
  • Do not place the tree next to, or close to fireplaces, heaters, radiators, heat registers or candles.
  • Never place the tree in front of a doorway or in the path of any exit source in case of an emergency.
  • If you use, or are planning on buying an artificial tree, make sure it is fire resistant. Don’t take the salesman word for it, check the label.
  • Install a smoke/fire detector as well as an ABC fire extinguisher in the room with the tree.
  • Ribbons and tinsel are a big temptation for small children, cats and dogs. It can wreak havoc in the pet’s intestines or stomach. Small children also love the shiny tinsel and bows on presents and need to be supervised or the tree needs to be barricaded with some type of gate or fencing for safety measures.

Holiday plants:

  • Poinsettias are a common household Christmas plant, but toxic to little ones and pets. The sap from the leaves may cause vomiting and skin irritation. Avoid placing it where pets and children may reach it.
  • Christmas Mistletoe is also a favorite to hang where people can kiss under it. Hanging it high up is best as the berries from this plant are highly toxic for children and pets. Remove the berries for the best safety precautions.

Lights:

  • Only use UL listed labeled lights and cords.
  • Never use electrical lights on a metal tree.
  • Before using any and all holiday lights, inspect all connections and cords. Look for cracked, brittle or frayed wiring or cords.
  • Do not coil or tie extension cords when in use. They could overheat.
  • Inspect all lights for broken or damaged sockets.
  • Make sure the bulbs work and are not loose of missing.
  • Never use indoor extension cords, outdoors.
  • Never lay cords under carpets or across walks or steps.
  • Outdoor light sets should be marked “waterproof”.
  • Never shorten or splice light sets.
  • Make sure all outside lights are plugged into a ground fault circuit interrupter (G.F.C.I.) outlet.
  • Do not overload electrical outlets. If you are trying to use dozens of light sets, plug them into different outlets on different circuits.
  • Turn off, or better yet, unplug all tree lights and decorations when going to bed or leaving the house.

Fireplace:

  • Have your fireplace and chimney professionally cleaned and inspected to remove creosote.
  • Never use a fireplace without a screen to protect against sparks and ashes.
  • Never use gasoline or barbecue starter fluid to start a fire in a fireplace.
  • Keep all combustibles including, gifts, paper, furniture and holiday stockings away the fireplace and mantle when using a fire.
  • Install a smoke and carbon monoxide detector in a room with a fireplace.
  • Burn only clean, dry firewood.

Candles:

  • Never put lit candles in windows.
  • Never put lit candles within reach of small children.
  • Do not leave a room with candles burning.
  • Do not use candles in children’s rooms or on Christmas trees.

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

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

No heat?

Q:

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

A:

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

Q:

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

A:

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

Q:

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

A:

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.

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