Archive for the ‘Winter Tips For Your Home’ Category

Ice Dams

In Winter Tips For Your Home on January 9, 2018 at 10:05 am

Remember these two words “Ice Dams”.

In the coming months there’s a good chance you’ll be cursing them because of the damage they could cause.

The melting of the snow on your roof causes ice dams. As the snow melts, it gets to the cold overhangs, eaves and gutters. The snow freezes and starts accumulating a large ice block or “dam”.

As more snow melts, the cold ice water runs down the roof toward the dam. The water refreezes as the sun goes down and that ice starts backing up. As you might imagine, shingles are not waterproof. They are designed to shed water so the accumulating ice is now backing up beneath the shingles.

As the ice melts, it rots the roof structure, ruins ceilings, walls and furnishings and causes mold to flourish.

Your best defense against ice dams is increasing the amount of insulation and ventilation in your attic as well as installing ice shields.

The heat that is melting the snow is heat you’ve paid for. It is lost through your attic because you do not have enough insulation.

There are a few things you can do to reduce ice dams and eliminate any damage they can cause to your house. You should bring the level of insulation up to R-49 or higher. Doing so will save you money on heating and cooling costs and it will make your house more comfortable in the summer as well as the winter. The added insulation reduces or stops the heat from escaping into the attic and keeps it where you want it, in the living space of the house. Go to www.technihouseinspections.com and click on “Insulation- Packing it In” to find out how much insulation you need and how to do it yourself or hire-it-done.

Adding adequate ventilation to your attic cools the attic area above the insulation, which also helps to reduce ice dams, prolong the life of your shingles and also saves on cooling costs. But Michigan has severe winters and ice dams are inevitable. The only way to eliminate damage from backing up of the ice is to install “ice shields” under your shingles.

When re-roofing, you should remove the shingles and install ice dam membranes. In our area, code requires at least “two layers of underlayment cemented together or a self-adhering polymer modified bitumen sheet shall be used in lieu of normal underlayment and extend from the lowest edges of all roof surfaces to a point at least 24-inches (610mm) inside the exterior wall line of a building.”

The only exceptions are detached structures such as sheds or garages that do not have a heating and/or cooling system.

That code is from the 2006 Michigan Residential Code but remember that is the minimum code. In reality, you should go 6 to 9-feet depending on the slope of your roof. Lower slope roofs should have more ice dam membranes. You should also install the membranes in and all the way up all valleys and around all skylights.

By the way, if you don’t think heat you’re paying for is causing the ice dams, go through old photos. Better yet, try and remember what the roof looked like a couple days after a snowfall. You’ll see snow on the garage and porch roofs. You’ll see snow along the overhangs of the house, but the snow over living spaces is gone or melting. If the sun alone were causing the snow to melt, it would be melting evenly all over the roof.

Many people use de-icing cables on their roofs to reduce and melt the ice accumulation. Oftentimes it is successful. But remember, heat loss, along with freezing weather are causing the ice dams. I have on occasion seen where those electric de-icing cables caused secondary ice dams farther up the roof. While many people swear by them, I do not feel they are all that effective.

They can be expensive to operate if left on for long periods of time. Every inch of them needs to be inspected annually to verify they have not become brittle or cracked.

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Winterizing Your House While Away / Why Does My Washerless Faucet Leak?

In Plumbing, Winter Tips For Your Home on February 26, 2015 at 9:50 am


I follow your blog every week and you wrote an article about closing up a house for the season. We are going away for a month and I will be leaving the thermostat set at 55 degrees. I will shut off the water from the main shut off in the basement, which will leave the sump pump and the back up sump pump running. Do I have to do anything with the water heater? There is a dial on mine that says “vacation”, can I just turn it to the “vacation” setting and leave it at that, or is there something else I need to do? Upon my return is there anything I need to do with regard to the water heater? Any other advice you can give would be greatly appreciated.


Just turn the water heater down to the “vacation” setting and that should be fine. That is, if the water heater is in the basement. By turning the temperature down to the “vacation” setting you are still leaving the pilot on and the water slightly heated. When you return, just turn the temperature up to 120-degrees, which is the sanitary setting for the water if you have a dishwasher. For those of you who do not have a basement and will be gone for a month or more in the winter, I suggest turning the water heater off and draining the water from it. It would be unlikely, but not impossible for the water to freeze in a water heater in a basement unless it was a winter like we had last year.

By the way, once you turn off the water at the meter, open all the faucets in the house to drain any water in the pipes that could freeze. After you do that, then pour a cup of camping antifreeze in all the drains because remember, there is water that can still freeze in the traps and this will keep the water from freezing and busting the pipes.

As for the toilets, if you are worried about the heat failing (and I would) I suggest flushing the toilets once the water has been turned off and pour a cup or two of camping antifreeze into the toilet as well as the toilet box. Unlike automotive antifreeze, camping antifreeze is not harmful to the environment. Camping antifreeze is available wherever camping equipment and outdoor camping supplies are sold.


Why does my single lever faucet leak when it states they never do?


I f you have one of those single lever faucets, like a Delta faucet, people are under the impression that it’s not suppose to leak. Boy, what a drip!

No one ever said they aren’t supposed to leak. The advertising claim is that Delta faucets as well as other brands of single lever faucets, are washerless and you will never have to replace a washer. Well, the ads were right. However, you will have to replace “O” rings, springs and seats. This job is easy to do and kits can be purchased containing everything you need for the job, including the Allen wrench. The kits are inexpensive and can be purchased at most hardware and home centers.

Start by determining the model of your brand of leaking faucet and then purchase the repair kit. Turn off the water and stop up the drain. Now comes the hard part. Follow the directions on the kit for your particular faucet. (You knew there had to be a catch somewhere). Actually, the directions are very simple to follow. Even I can do it.

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In Winter Tips For Your Home on January 12, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Thawing & Preventing Frozen Pipes

I don’t care if you do have a cold heart, but if your pipes freeze there is a way to thaw them to reduce damage, that I do care about.

If one of your plumbing pipes freeze this winter, it’s important to thaw it out before the ice expands and splits the pipe. But, it’s possible that doing it, with lets say a propane torch, could actually make matters worse. First, obviously if you’re not careful you could burn your house down using a torch. On a lot lesser scale, if you are working on a section of frozen pipe not near a faucet that can be opened, thawing the pipe out too quickly can produce steam. The steam will, of course, expand, exploding the pipe. Wasn’t that what you were trying to avoid? If you can open a faucet close to where you’re thawing the pipe, you’ll have a release for the steam and you only have to worry about not burning the house down.

A few successful ways to thaw frozen pipes are: Using a hair dryer, heat lamp, or an electric space heater. But you should be concerned about using any electrical device around plumbing. Especially if it’s frozen and split, what if water shoots out? You could get electrocuted. So if you use either of those, plug them into an outlet with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). If you don’t have one, buy a portable one, and it’ll protect you from electrocution.

My least favorite recommendation is to wrap the pipes with heating tape and plug them in. You’ll find heating tape at hardware stores. It is a solution, but heat tapes should be inspected annually to make sure they are not cracked or brittle. If not installed properly, they could cause a fire and finally if they stop working, you won’t know until the pipes freeze.

If you have a kerosene heater put it in that room with the frozen pipes to slowly thaw them out. But, don’t put it too close to the wall where it could start a fire. How about just wrapping the pipes with rags and pouring boiling water on them being careful not to scald yourself. No steam is created and no chance for electrocuting yourself.

Now don’t go getting all hot under the collar, but if you don’t provide heat to that area, it will just freeze again.

Oftentimes, kitchen sinks are on an outside wall. The pipes run up and along that wall and in older houses the insulation is either non-existent or at best, inadequate.

Regardless, if it is plumbing to a kitchen sink or a bathroom, having insulation blown into the wall cavity should correct the problem or at least reduce the possibility of the pipes freezing.

If you can, have a plumber relocate the pipes from within the wall to the interior of the cabinet.

Another solution is to cut an opening in the cabinet or vanity doors and install decorative louvers to allow warm air in to keep the pipes from freezing.

If you have a crawlspace and the plumbing runs in the crawl, make sure the area is properly insulated. I would also insulate all pipes with pipe-wrap that run in a crawlspace or attic.

Finally, learn where the main water shut-off is and make sure all family members know how to turn off the water to reduce any damage.

Preparing Your Home From Heat Loss

In Winter Tips For Your Home on January 3, 2012 at 3:48 pm

If your chimney flue has not been cleaned recently and you use the fireplace weekly, have it cleaned to prevent a chimney fire. Also, examine the firebox for loose or crumbling bricks. Make any necessary repairs using fire clay, which is a heat resistant mortar. Take a look at your chimney from the outside. If ivy or tree limbs are near the top, cut them back. If you have loose or missing bricks, have them repaired or replaced before you use your fireplace.

Most fireplaces built since 1990 have dampers just above the firebox that close off the flue to limit heat loss when it’s not in use. Make sure the damper is not damaged by age or stuck open (or shut) because of fallen debris. Call in a chimney sweep for major problems. They should be able to make a “clean sweep” of anything wrong.

If your house has a crawlspace make sure you’ve closed all the vents. Also, if you have little or no insulation in the crawl, add R30 insulation to the perimeter walls, a vapor barrier (generally 4-6 mil plastic) should be covering the dirt ground of the crawlspace. And finally, insulate all plumbing pipes with insulation or pipe wrap.

Does your house have a whole-house fan in the hall ceiling? Install a plastic vapor barrier on top of it and then cover it with insulation to prevent heat loss. The heat loss through those louvers is considerable. One problem I find when inspecting houses is some families don’t seal the whole-house fan, which causes rotting and mold in the attic to the roof sub-structure. That is not good.

If you total up all the areas around the average house that need caulking and weatherstripping, you’re looking at an equivalent of a three-foot gaping hole in the wall. Weatherstripping consists of those slim strips of rubber, plastic, metal and foam that seal the moving edges of doors, windows and other areas. To stop air leaks, weather stripping has to make a good seal between the door or window and its frame.

Storm windows not only protect the main window from water, winter, rain and snow, they slow heat loss by creating a dead-air space, however, only if they are tight enough to limit air movement. Make sure storms fit snugly all around the window frame, leaving only small weep holes along the bottom edge to allow condensation, rain and moisture vapor to escape. Loose storms are not only ineffective, they promote frost on the indoor window surface.

Pipes, vents, hatches, recessed lights, and cracks that penetrate the upper floor ceilings are easy avenues for heat loss. Even more important, they allow moisture vapor to migrate to the attic, where cooler temperatures cause it to condense into water that saturates insulation and freezes into frost. Close off large penetrations with plywood or wallboard, then seal all joints and cracks with caulk.

If you think you have “bats in the belfry” what do you have up there? You’d better make sure you have good attic ventilation. In an insulated attic, the rafters and roof boards are cold. Any warm, moist air reaching them through the insulation immediately condenses into moisture. The moisture gets trapped and eventually rots the wood. So whenever you add attic insulation, make sure you have good attic ventilation. To see how much insulation and ventilation you need, go to my website at www.technihouse.com and click on “Insulation: Packing It In”.

If a winter storm strikes, close off those rooms that are not absolutely essential. Listen to TV and radio for weather developments. Letting faucets drip a little may prevent freezing damage. If a power failure occurs, turn off most light switches, your furnace switch, and unplug the freezer and refrigerator. The surge of returning electrical power can damage the motors of appliances.


Handy Tips on Heating Costs For A Chilly Winter

In Q&A, Winter Tips For Your Home on December 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm

If people want to save ten to twenty percent on their heating bills, do they need to be handy?

They don’t really need to be handy, just take their hand and set the thermostat back to 68-degrees. This is one of those energy saving tips (read that as money saving) that you’ve been hearing for the past decade but still forget to do. For every degree you turn your thermostat back, you save approximately one-percent on your heating bill. That could accumulate to some big bucks.

If you’re elderly or have infants in the house this tip may not be such a great idea since it could affect their health. But for the average household, if you dress for the temperature by wearing a sweater for example and by controlling drafts by closing the blinds or drapes on the windows you shouldn’t have any discomfort. Also, don’t forget “clock thermostats”, which cost anywhere from twenty to fifty dollars. Older models just had one or two setbacks that automatically turned the heat down in the evening just before you went to bed and had it start up fifteen minutes before you woke up in the morning.

Newer, more complicated models can be programmed to accommodate any schedules you and your family may want it to go off and at any time of the day you need. Some digital thermostats contain little computers that accommodate your weekly schedule including the weekend. If you’re following my advice, you’ll be a little cooler, and that’s not a lot of hot air.
The static electricity in our house is a shocking problem. What can we do about it?

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 build-up 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.

It’s a good idea to add a humidifier to your forced air heating system if you have none. Also, if you 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 m ay need a second unit to 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 35 to 45-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 in grocery stores such as Static Guard® that can be sprayed on clothing and some furniture that eliminates static cling.
Cutting & Stacking Firewood

Cutting and stacking firewood is not only hard work it can be dangerous as well. Not every chain saw user understands how to work safely outdoors. Conditions, especially when cold or wet, are often less than ideal. Woodcutting is heavy, strenuous work. That’s why I avoid doing it at any cost. Special safety gear is also recommended whenever these tools are used and are available from a variety of sources including chain saw manufactures and distributors.

You know the best defense against injury is always work carefully, without hurry or distraction (I’m sorry, what were we taking about?) and to prepare for the job at hand. Good footing and support are essential, both for the material you are working on and for yourself. Boots and ankle supports are better than low shoes or sneakers, also back supports should be worn when handling heavy objects or doing repetitive tasks, as when lifting and stacking firewood.

Drafty Storm Windows … Getting Your Snow Blower Ready for the Season … Fixing Cold Floors Over Crawl Spaces

In Q&A, Winter Tips For Your Home on November 29, 2011 at 3:07 pm

My storm windows are a little drafty can they be caulked all around them?

Surprisingly storm windows, whether they are wood, metal or vinyl should never be caulked around or sealed along the bottom edge. According to some sources the primary purpose of storm windows is to protect the interior sash and frames from wind and foul weather. They also obviously reduce air infiltration, regardless sealing the bottom edge of a storm window can trap moisture between the interior window and the storm window, the trapped moisture will cause condensation problems even mold and eventually rot. When I’m inspecting a house for a perspective purchaser I find a lot of that deterioration.

The sill is especially prone to rot, so be sure rainwater can run off the sill either through weep-holes or a small gap at the bottom of the storm sash. Most aluminum and vinyl combination screen/storm windows have weep gaps built in on the bottom sash to let water out, so make sure they are not clogged or caulked closed.

I want to get my snow blower ready for the season. I used up most of the fuel last year. Do you think it’s ready?
Not a chance. As a matter of fact if you haven’t prepped your snow blower here are a couple of tips in addition to what you may have done.

Drain any leftover fuel from the tank and replace it with a fresh supply. Old fuel can turn gummy and really screw up the engine. Change the engine oil in four-cycle engines (two-cycle engines use a gas and oil mixture). Consult your operator’s manual for the recommended weight. If you have a two-cycle engine, you may need to make minor carburetor adjustments. Again, consult your operator’s manual. Also install a new spark plug and keep the old sparkplug as a spare after you’ve cleaned it. You better inspect the belts. If they show signs of cracking or thinning, buy and install new ones. If your snow thrower is a chain-driven type, get a spare master link for the chain. Also, lubricate the chain for smoother operation. Buy extra shear pins/bolts. If you hit a rock chances are you’ll have to replace a broken pin. One year I broke four shear pins. Replace the fuel filter and air filter or if they’re washable, wash them.  Then put a couple drops of oil on the air filter and then squeeze it out. Apply a wax to the auger and on the inside of the discharge chute to prevent snow from sticking. If you don’t have any wax use a silicone spray or even Pam cooking spray.

I read your column in the Observer and have a question hopefully you can help us with. We have a crawlspace under our 30-year old addition of our house. We redid our family room in the addition two years ago and installed hardwood floors instead of carpet and now the floors are cold in the winter. Can you recommend a way to fix this problem?

Is the crawlspace insulated? If so, how much? I would install at least R-19 insulation to the three perimeter exterior walls. Is there any ductwork in the crawl and if so are the ducts insulated as well? The ductwork as well as any plumbing should be insulated. The pipes, so they don’t freeze or drip condensation, and the ducts so any heat or air conditioning can get into your family room. Make sure the ductwork has not fallen or become loose. You should also have a vapor barrier on top of a dirt floor. The plastic should completely cover the ground in the crawl, overlap each section of plastic and tape it to the adjoining plastic. If you have vents in the perimeter walls, they should be closed in the fall and open in the spring. Now your tootsies should stay toasty.

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.

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