More Than One Kind of Cool

We’re all familiar with the cooling comfort of air conditioning. But have you heard of a swamp cooler? How about geothermal cooling? There are many different home cooling technologies out there—and they’re always evolving. Here’s a rundown of different systems and a look at the future of air conditioning after the phase-out of R22 refrigerant.

Air conditioning.  Whether it’s a window unit or a central air system, air conditioners all use a pressurized refrigerant to circulate the heat from inside your home and release it outside. The most commonly used refrigerant in air conditioning systems is called R22, which is also marketed under many brand names, including Freon®. Air conditioning is a highly effective means of cooling a home, and it offers the added benefit of dehumidification.

Evaporative cooling.  An evaporative cooler, also known as a swamp cooler or a desert cooler, uses the evaporation of water to cool air, which is then circulated throughout a home. A fan forces dry, warm air over cool water, which evaporates and reduces the temperature of the air. In dry environments, evaporative coolers also help increase the humidity within a home.

Geothermal cooling.  A geothermal system employs special pipes that are buried deep underground where the earth’s temperature typically ranges from 50˚-60˚F—much cooler than the outside temperature during the summer. A fluid is circulated through pipes in the home, absorbing heat. The warm fluid is then pumped below ground, where the cool earth acts as a heat sink and absorbs the fluid’s heat. The fluid then returns to the surface to continue the process. During the winter, geothermal systems can also be used to heat a home.

What’s next for home air conditioning?  The Environmental Protection Agency has required manufacturers to completely phase out the production of R22 by 2020. As a result, supplies have become more limited, and the price has risen from less than $10 per pound in 2010 to over $50 per pound and more today, in some cases.

Even simple air conditioning repairs may cost significantly more as a result. Technicians commonly add 1-2 pounds of refrigerant on a routine service call. A more complicated repair or replacement can require up to 10 pounds. As you can see, the cost can add up quickly.

from AHS August Newsletter – Inside & Out

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Checklist: Fall Preventative Home Maintenance

Before the weather grows colder it’s important to prepare for the winter  months to prevent costly damage. Below are the fall preventative home  maintenance steps that every homeowner should follow.

Gutters and Downspouts

Clean gutters and downspouts frequently throughout fall to prevent build up of  leaves and other debris. Neglected gutters can lead to wood rot problems and  pest infestations, not to mention ruined gutters
Be sure water is not coming down behind gutters and that all support brackets  are securely in place.  Ensure that  water drains properly and doesn’t pool. Pooling can cause damage to foundations,  driveways, and walkways.

Windows and Doors

Change  summer screens to cool weather storm windows and doors.   Inspect  and repair any loose or damaged window or door frames.   Install  weather stripping or caulking around windows and doors to prevent drafts and to  lower heating bills.

Heating Systems

Replace  the filter in your furnace.   Consider  having a heating professional check your heating system to ensure optimal  performance and discover minor problems before they turn into costly major  repairs. Clean your ducts to better your  heating system’s efficiency as well as to reduce household dust and to provide  relief to those with respiratory problems.


To prevent pipes  freezing and bursting, ensure that the pipes are well insulated.   Know  how to locate and turn off the water shut-off valve in case pipes do freeze.

Chimney and Fireplace

Call  a professional in to inspect and clean your chimney.  Fireplaces that are  regularly used during the season should have an annual cleaning to prevent  dangerous chimney fires.  Test your  fireplace flue for a tight seal when closed.

Attic ventilation

Be sure  attic insulation doesn’t cover vents in the eaves to prevent winter ice dams on  the roof.   Be sure ridge vents and vents  at eaves are free of plants and debris.   Check bird and rodent screens for attic vents to  prevent any unwanted guests.

Landscape and Yardwork

Although grass appears to stop growing in the  fall, the roots are actually growing deeper to prepare for winter. Now is the  best time to fertilize and reseed your lawn.   Prune  your trees and shrubs after the leaves turn to encourage healthy growth.   Trim any tree limbs that are dangerously close  to power lines or the roof of your house. Heavy snow and ice can cause damage in  the winter.

from HomeAdvisor formerly ServiceMagic Newsletter

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Roof Inspections

In many states, especially those that see a higher amount of snow and hail, when  buying a home it is usually requisite to have the roof certified from  inspection. Matter of fact, many lenders required this to be done before they  will cut a check. In most states, a properly ventilated roof can last 20 years  or more. In states where the snow is heavy, they often have to be replaced every  five years. While having a secure roof is one of the most important parts of a  home, it can also be a very expensive investment, especially if you bought a  home under the guise that everything was on the up and up.

Roofing Inspections Roof inspections are simply inspections that  determine the intergrity of a roof, how long it may last, and when it will need  to be replaced. Roof inspectors are not going to climb up on your roof or the  roof of a home you are thinking of buying and pull up shingles or tiles. Roof  inspectors have special procedures wherein they can determine the lifespan of a  given roof without tearing into it. At first glance it might seem that roofing  inspectors would have to pull up part of the roof to do a  thorough examination,  but if you consider your own roof, you would not want anyone tearing holes in it  just to see if it was in good shape.

Roof Inspectors Roof inspectors also have super-technical  techniques like infrared roof inspections where they don’t even have to touch  the surface of the roof itself to determine a roof’s integrity. This process  uses infrared rays to locate parts of a roof that are at higher or lower  temperatures than the rest of the roof. These “hot spots” can show a roof  inspector just exactly where heat is escaping.

Roof Inspections Because replacing a roof can be quite an investment,  insurance companies and lenders require that this has been checked off. It makes  sense for these companies to protect their investments, but you as the homeowner  should want this to be secured as well. You don’t want to be stuck with a bill  that you weren’t expecting, and you also don’t want to sell a home to a family  and put them in the same spot.

from Homesense by Servicemagic

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3 steps to furnace duct repairs

You set your thermostat, you hear your furnace come on, and you feel warm air coming out of the registers. All must be OK with the system, right?

Maybe not.

The furnace and the thermostat are only two of the elements in the system that heats and controls the warm air in your home. The third is the duct system, and even though it’s delivering warm air to the registers, there’s a pretty good chance that it’s not doing it at peak efficiency. And every bit of warm air you’re losing is money that’s coming straight out of your pocket!

Start with an inspection

Whether you do this yourself or pay a home inspector or, better yet, a licensed HVAC contractor to do it for you, tuning up your duct system begins with a thorough inspection. You may be surprised to find what age and even damage from others who’ve worked under your house have done to your duct system over the years. It’s going to mean some crawling, but it’s worth it.

Turn the furnace on, even if it’s just to the “fan” setting. That way there’s air moving through the ducts, which makes it easier to both hear and feel any leaks. Take a strong light — preferably a cordless one so you’re not dragging a long extension cord around behind you — and follow each duct run from the furnace all the way to the end.

If you’re not planning on doing the repairs immediately, plan on also taking some bright pink or yellow flagging tape with you. It’s available at any home center, and you can use it to mark any problem areas so you can easily find them later.

Look and feel for areas where joints between pipes and fittings may have come loose, or where there may be small gaps. Also look for areas where support straps are missing, sagging, or otherwise not providing adequate support for the ducts. This is especially important with flexible ducts, where large sags or kinks in ducts can impede air flow.

Another thing to look for is areas where insulation is missing or nonexistent. You’ll also want to make note of any areas where the ducts are resting directly on the ground, as contact with the cold, damp soil can wick heat out of the ducts, and can also cause rust and other moisture-related problems.

Inspect each of the boots, where the duct attaches to it. Again, look for loose joints, missing insulation and sagging ducts. Around the boots, look to see that large gaps are not present where the floor or ceiling was cut out to accommodate the fitting. Occasionally you will find a floor that has been cut too large for the boot and then not patched, which can leave an opening for drafts to come into the house from unheated areas.

Also inspect the plenum, which is the large sheet metal box attached to the top or bottom of the furnace from which all the ducts originate. You’ll want to check that the plenum is fully insulated all the way around, and that all of the ducts are well sealed at the connection points.

Be sure that you inspect the garage and unheated basement as well. These areas are sometimes assumed to be part of the house, and people have the mistaken impression that ducts there don’t need to wrapped. But remember — if it’s unheated space, ducts that are not insulated will lose a tremendous amount of heat into the surrounding air, so you’ll have a nice warm garage or unfinished basement, and higher utility bills to go with it.

Make the repairs

Put together a simple repair kit of some basic tools, including a hammer, tin snips, utility knife, cordless drill, and anything else you may have identified during your inspection.

You’ll also need some short sheet-metal screws, a roll of metallic foil duct repair tape (get the good stuff, not your basic, run-of-the-mill gray cloth duct tape), and some duct strapping. Assemble everything into a 5-gallon bucket or other tote that’s easy to work with under the house.

In hard ducting — solid sheet metal as opposed to flexible ducts — repair loose joints using sheet-metal screws. After the joints have been secured, seal them up using the foil tape. Be sure there’s air moving in the ducts, and check to be sure you can no long hear or feel any air leaks.

Flex ducts typically use a clamp system to secure the flex duct to a hard duct. If a flex duct joint has come loose, check to see if you can reuse the original clamp. If you can’t, you can typically use a large worm-drive clamp or a flexible plastic clamp to secure the joint. After re-securing, wrap the duct’s inner insulation blanket and outer shell back into place to cover and seal the joint.

If ducts need to be re-supported, use duct support strapping that’s made for this purpose. Attach the strapping to a joist, girder or other solid support, using nails or screws. Don’t use wire or string, as it doesn’t provide adequate support and can also pinch and kink the ducts. Make sure all of the ducts are up off the ground.

Insulate the ducts

Remember that you’re pushing heated air through ducts that live in a very cold environment under your house or up in your attic. That heated air is constantly trying to move out of those ducts and into the unheated air that surrounds it, and when in goes, it happily takes your hard-earned dollars with it.

The best way to prevent that from happening is to insulate the ductwork. All of your ducts, both hard ducts and flex ducts, should be insulated to at least R-8, and I prefer R-11 if you can get it. If you live in a warm climate and you’re not worried about losing heated air, remember that the reverse is true as well, and you’re also wasting money whenever you lose air-conditioned air.

By Paul Bianchina, Friday, February 24, 2012.

Inman News®Remodeling and repair questions? Email Paul at All product reviews are based on the author’s actual testing of free review samples provided by the manufacturers.

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Can Hardwood Flooring Make You Healthier?

As one of the oldest and still most highly prized types of flooring in the nation, hardwood has nothing to prove when it comes to desirability. However, on the commonly held belief that hardwood is a healthier flooring than carpet (because hardwood doesn’t provide a place for dust and mold to hide) the verdict isn’t exactly cut and dry.

Does Carpet Affect Allergies?
There are many people out there who believe that dust mites, pollen, and other allergens can easily become trapped in your carpet. Perhaps surprisingly, the carpet industry supports this belief. According to, studies comparing airborne particles levels in carpeted rooms to non-carpeted rooms showed carpeted surfaces trapped more particles so that walking [over the floor] disturbed fewer particles. Result: less dust in the breathing zone over carpeted floors. To put it more bluntly, the website tells us, clean, dry, well maintained carpet actually improves indoor air quality.

On the Other Hand…
Producers of hard flooring are quick to point out that just because the allergens are trapped, they are still present. From their prospective, having dust you can see and remove on your flooring is a better situation than having trapped particles all over your house. People other than hardwood flooring manufacturers share this view, as well. According to the AAFA (Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America), Hardwood floors are an ideal type of floor for persons with allergies and asthma.

The Problem with Moisture Issues
One place where everyone can agree that carpet DOESN’T belong is in moist areas. The Center for Disease Control firmly tells homeowners to “Remove and replace flooded carpets to reduce the likelihood of mold growth (a situation that can become decidedly serious).” The CDC also makes a point of telling homeowners, “Do not carpet bathrooms” for the same reason.

Note: Any moisture rich area is generally considered a bad place to install carpet, but since moisture can have extremely detrimental effects on hardwood, too, the clear winners in basements, bathrooms, and laundry areas are other forms of hard flooring like tile, stone, and concrete.

Is One Flooring Healthier than the Other?
If you take care of your flooring and replace it when necessary, there’s nothing to strongly suggest that either hardwood or carpet is a significantly healthier option. However, homeowners who like the comfortable feel of carpet should be aware that proper cleaning and maintenance are essential to keep it as healthy and attractive as possible.

It should be noted that some have made a case for hardwood being healthier on a global scale. When sustainably grown and harvested, wood flooring is a very environmentally friendly product whose long life expectancy suggests that it won’t be taking up landfill space any time soon!

by John Nunan from ServiceMagic Newsletter “The Neighborhood”

Jon Nunan is a freelance writer who draws on his experience in construction, ranging from landscaping to log home building, for his articles on home improvement.


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Checklist: Preparing Your Home for Colder Weather

The pantry is stocked with hot cocoa and there’s a stack of logs by the fireplace.  Youmay be ready for colder weather, but is your home?  Whether you expect your winter to be mild or wild, don’t ignore these steps to get your house ready for colder weather.

Check weather stripping around doors and windows, and replace where necessary.

Place a draft snake or rolled towel underneath drafty doors.

Turn the toggle switch on your ceiling fans so that the downward sides of the blades are leading. (In most cases, this means they’ll be rotating clockwise.)  This rotation will help pull warm air down into the room.

Remove and store window AC units.  If you leave them in year round, air can seep in (and out) through the sides.

Reduce th temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees or lower.  You’ll enjoy lower utility bills – and you won’t have to worry about getting scalded.

Install storm doors and windows.  Yes, it’s a time and money investment, but it can seal drafts and reduce airflow significantly, especially if you live in a cold climate.

Before the weather gets too cold, get your heating system inspected by a professional.  Periodic maintenance will help your unit run smoothly.

Make sure you have enough insulation in your attic.  A well-insulated attic should have at least 12 inches of insulation.  Here’s a tip:  If youcan see the ceiling joists, you need to add more.

Exterior and Lawn

Prepare your lawn.  Rake up all your leaves before winter arrives.  Apply a sustained-release fertilizer in late fall – it will help the roots survive the cold season and bounce back quickly in the spring.

Drain all hoses and turn off faucets.

Check your gutters.  Properly pitched gutters slope between 1//16 inch and 1/8 inch per foot.

Inspect the exterior of your house.  Seal entry points around pipes with caulk or foam.

Seal driveway and walkway cracks.  For crevices less than a half-inch wide, use acrylic latex concrete repair compound.  For larger cracks, apply vinyl concrete patching compound with a trowel.

Empty your lawnmower’s fuel tank and store it for the winter.

from AHS November newsletter “Inside & Out”

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Home Maintenance Tip – How to Keep Wintry Pests Outside

Colder temperatures send wintry pests, such as rodents, spiders and cockroaches, searching for food, water and shelter inside our homes. Mice are a common winter nuisance and only need a space the size of a nickel to enter a home.

To keep these pests outside:

  • Seal any cracks and holes on the outside of the home, including utility and pipe entrances.
  • Put screens on vents and openings to chimneys.
  • Replace loose mortar and weather-stripping around the basement foundation and windows, and at all entry doors.
  • Keep attics, basements and crawl spaces well ventilated and dry.


from Old Republic Home Protection email

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Service Your Furnace Now, Before You Need Heat!

Most people only call a heating service repair person when their heating system breaks down.  But befoe you turn up th heat, have your system serviced first.

At the very least, a heating contractor should:

  • Check thermostat settings to ensure that the heating system turns on and off a the right temperatures.
  • Tightena electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors.
  • Lubricate all moving parts.
  • Inspect the condensation drain  in your furnace.
  • Check system controls to ensure safe operation.
  • Show you how to correctly change your air filter.
  • Check all gas or oil connections, gas pressure, burn combustions and heat exchanger.

What can you do yourself?

  • Change air filters monthly.
  • Buy a programmable thermostat – they can save on heating and cooling bills, and the wear and tear of your furnace.
  • Seal cracks.  Caulk or weatherstrip any gaps in your home.
  • Clean Registers – make sure heat registers are clean and free of foreign objects.
  • Keep the area around your furnace clean and unobstructed.

From Fidelity Natonal Home Warranty Newsletter

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Plumbing 101: 5 Tips for Healthy Pipes

Common plumbing problems can turn into complex plumbing emergencies if they’re not dealt with immediately. Luckily, homeowners can take steps to prevent and repair clogged drains, frozen pipes, and other plumbing pitfalls.

Know how to shut off the water. Every inhabitant should know where the main water valve is located. This controls the flow of water as it comes into the house. By turning off the water at the main valve, you can avoid a burst pipe, overflowing tub or other emergency.

Avoid frozen pipes. Frozen pipes can cause flooding and significant structural damage to your house. Avoid disaster by making sure the temperature inside your house never drops below 55º. Look for air leaks around electrical wiring and pipes, and use caulk or insulation to seal them. Insulating the pipes in your crawl spaces and attic can also help prevent them from freezing.

Keep grease out. Grease and oil can build up in pipes and cause backups in your home. Instead of pouring it down the drain, let cooking oil or grease cool and then throw it in the trash—or better yet, see if your municipality recycles it.

Stop hair from going down the drain. When hair escapes down the drain, it often becomes tangled and stuck together. It then acts as a barrier, keeping water from traveling smoothly down the pipes. Screened drain covers are an inexpensive way to avoid this. Buy one and clean it off regularly.

Avoid drain cleaners. They often contain corrosive chemicals that are harmful to pipes—and people. They also can kill the “good bacteria” your septic system needs to operate effectively. If you have a clogged drain, don’t risk damaging your plumbing system by using a drain cleaner; instead, arrange for an AHS service contractor to take a look at it.

from “Inside & Out”  AHS July newletter

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Go Green with Bamboo

The Power of Bamboo
Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world with certain varieties that grow a foot or more per day. Their stalks reach maturity in only three to six years—decades less than the maturity rate of a traditional North American hardwood. Plus, a single bamboo stalk can be harvested multiple times since it regenerates after cutting.
Bamboo is by far one of the easiest and most affordable ways to go green in and around your home. Consider top bamboo products when you’re ready to upgrade, replenish or replace:

Bamboo Floors
Bamboo flooring has gained popularity as an environmentally sustainable building material that is stronger than most hardwoods. Its durability, cost and status as a green building material make it an attractive choice for many homeowners. It’s sleek, durable and stylish, at a great price.

Bamboo Fencing
Bamboo fences are probably the most practical, effective and sustainable type of fencing. They can be easily mended, cut and bent. They’re also durable and flexible, holding strong even when tested against high winds. Bamboo fences are naturally antibacterial, which means mold and mildew are avoided.

Bamboo countertops are hard, durable and bring warmth to your kitchen. A uniquely renewable source, bamboo’s natural resistance to bacteria makes it ideal for the kitchen. The product can be finished with natural mineral oil, beeswax or linseed oil, for protection and easier cleaning (who couldn’t use that?).

Considering new furniture for inside or outside your home? Take a look at the many bamboo products on the market. You’ll find that nearly anything can be made from bamboo including chairs, tables, sofas, beds and more. There’s a vast array of styles, colors and designs that are totally affordable. The fun side of bamboo is its flexibility, allowing furniture makers to get create unique and refreshing designs that are harder to achieve with traditional hardwood.

Not only are bamboo blinds popular for their aesthetically pleasing looks—they’re energy efficient, durable, inexpensive and easy to maintain. Bamboo blinds are very suitable as window blinds because they have a very low heat absorption rate.  They keep a low temperature in the house during summer and help keep the heat inside during the winter.  You can also use bamboo blinds and shades for room dividers or door screens as well. Best of all, they’re surprisingly affordable.

As you consider options for going green in your home, try implementing bamboo anywhere you can. The floors are durable, the countertops are beautiful, the fabrics are soft and the price is just right.

From American Home Shield “Inside & Out” April 2011 issue

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