Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Waking Up Your Air-Conditioning From Winter Hibernation

Most of North America is nearing that lull in the seasons when they can achieve a relief from heating the house and instead enjoy the crisp cool air of Spring coming through the windows to whisk away the remnants of Winter. Changing Air FiltersMany people view this as the best time of year, especially after being mostly domesticated and battling cold, snow, and ice for the past 4-5 months. Be aware though, the Spring can fly by fast and before you know it the humming of the air-conditioner will be a welcome reprieve from the hot and humid temperatures.

The Spring season raises a good question – is it more about digging out from a brutal Winter or preparing for a pleasant Summer? For the answer you really need to look no further than your home’s air-conditioner. The outside unit likely endured a brutal pounding from constant exposure to cold temperatures over the Winter so it needs to be both maintained from the past and prepped for the future to enjoy efficient operation in the months to come.

Cleaning the Outdoor Central A/C Unit

Whether you have a central air or a split-duct system the outside unit needs to be cleaned before jumping in to the main Summer cooling season. The compressor and condenser sit in this outside unit and will freeze up and have restricted air flow if not cleared of debris and buildup. First turn off the power to the A/C then remove the outer case to allow access into the heart of the unit. Use a vacuum to suck up the debris from the fins and then spray them off with water from the garden hose.

Clean the Indoor Unit

The outside part of the air-conditioner essentially creates the cold air while the inside unit delivers it. It’s equally important to clean the inside unit so that dirt and debris which settled in the Winter aren’t distributed throughout the house every time the A/C runs. The filter should be changed at the beginning of the cooling season (as well as frequently throughout the Summer) and the blower housing should be vacuumed of any dirt and debris.

Do Some Test Runs 

Kids and rodents as well as the environment and just old age could leave the air-conditioner at a very unpredictable status over the offseason. You should check any electrical connections as well as duct registers, circuit breakers, and more before starting up the A/C. Even if it powers on without a hitch, run the air-conditioner a few times before it is really needed so that you can inspect if any airflow is lost through damaged ducts, if condensation is forming in the drip pan (as it should), and just if the unit is operating at it should in general.

Get a Professional Annual Inspection 

It’s easy to spot debris when cleaning but harder for a DIYer to know if the internal components of the air-conditioner are in good working order. It’s recommended to get an annual inspection before the hot Summer months first of all for peace of mind in knowing that the system will function but also for tasks such as:

  • Cleaning the 3 C’s – compressor, condenser, and coils.
  • Checking refrigerant levels – recommended by only a certified tech.
  • Inspection of all wiring – testing and evaluation of both hidden and exposed connections.
  • Checking the cycle on and cycle off processes – for safety and running efficiency.
  • Calibrating the thermostat – to avoid unnecessary cycling and accurate temperature readings.
  • Lubricate moving parts – fans and blowers build up with debris.
  • Clean drains and tubes – avoid backup and potential mold growth in the utility room.

In some cases an annual inspection of your HVAC system by a certified technician is required in order to keep in good standing with the manufacturer’s warranty. In this instance an inspection becomes a great investment.


Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Is It Time for an Insulation Upgrade?

For many homeowners the topic of insulation is an out of site, out of mind discussion. If a room is cold we generally just turn up the heat, put plastic over the windows, or throw on an extra sweater.Insulation Poor insulation almost never catches a bad rap because it is hidden behind a wall and most people don’t know what, if any, kind of thermal resistance is in their walls.

The truth is millions of dollars have been spent installing Energy Star windows, upgrading a furnace, or powering a space heater when in fact those projects are useless because of underlying insulation issues. When you left the door open as a kid you heard, “are you trying to heat the whole neighborhood” when in essence poor insulation is in itself an open door.

The real tricky question comes in knowing whether or not your current insulation is adequate. It’s one thing to rip into wallpaper and drywall to come to this conclusion but it creates a whole new problem in itself. Instead, follow these tips on determining what you have for insulation and then what your options moving forward are:

Where Should Insulation Be? 

It’s important to remember that insulation is not only for keeping cold air outside during the Winter, it’s also crucial for blocking out hot air in the Summer. The obvious spots for insulation are in every exterior wall from floor to ceiling. One of the areas where many homes have inadequate insulation however is in an attic. Temps can approach 150° in an uninsulated attic as heat from the roof is absorbed into the home, making air-conditioners work harder and driving up energy bills.

Is My Insulation Adequate?

Many homeowners are faced with the conundrum of having insulation but not knowing whether it is sufficient or not. Energy Star has laid out a map of eight different insulation zones and the recommended R-Value of the attics, walls, and floor (R-value is the amount of thermal resistance). The best places to start searching are the attic, which should have 12” of insulation and putting batting between floor joists in a crawl space or unfinished basement.

Checking Wall Insulation 

The reason attics and basements are recommended to upgrade insulation first is because they are easy to access. Attics can have insulation blown into them and basement joists are usually exposed. Walls however are covered up by drywall or plaster and what lies behind them is mostly a mystery. Upgrading wall insulation is expensive because it involves demolition of the finished walls (or drilling multiple holes) and rehanging sheets after improving the thermal resistance – that being said in an old house that is a sieve for heat and A/C loss it could be a worthwhile investment.

Insulation Upgrade Options

If you’ve determined that your existing insulation is doing nothing but draining money on utility bills and making your home uncomfortable, the next step is to determine what type of upgrade you want to have performed. Popular insulation types include:

  • Fiberglass batts – come in 16” or 24” wide rolls that fit nicely into the space between wall studs. Requires open access to that area however (removed drywall, unfinished rooms).
  • Polystyrene foam board – can be installed from the exterior to provide high insulation value compared to the thickness, especially when combined with improved interior insulation.
  • Loose fill cellulose – blown in material which can be sent into an enclosed wall needing more insulation and attic floors as well.
  • Polyurethane spray  – can be sprayed into enclosed areas or exposed attic floors but works when pressure-sprayed into an exposed wall.

Please contact us to schedule an inspection of your existing insulation setup as well as for more information on which insulating options work best regarding your home’s layout.


Wednesday, 10 February 2016

How Much Should Homeowners Know About Their Own Plumbing?

There are some definite things a DIYer could do around their house if they ‘had to’ and other projects that are a fun way to spend a weekend learning something new. Things that come to mind in these regards include painting a room, changing doors from Spring to Winter, power-washing the siding, and other tasks that don’t require calling ‘the guy’. Two areas which most DIYers opt to bring in the professionals are anything having to do with either 1) electrical work or 2) plumbing.

PlumbingA majority of time when the power goes out it doesn’t really necessitate an emergency. Granted not having a furnace power on for an extended period of time could get worrisome but usually utility crews are on the case and there’s not a lot a homeowner could do to fix the power anyway. Plumbing problems are a different animal however. A toilet not flushing or a sink not draining becomes a serious issue where a plumber needs to be called sooner rather than later. Then there’s pipes that burst which could essentially damage the entire home if not handled immediately.

This begs the question of how much a homeowner should know about their own plumbing system. Even the fastest contractors with 24/7 emergency service take a few minutes to get on-site which in the case of an overflowing toilet or a wall that is leaking could mean thousands of dollars in damage. The average homeowner isn’t expected to know how to reroute pipes throughout their home, but knowledge of these basics can only help.

Water Shut Off

Rule number one when it comes to unwanted water suddenly appearing in your home is “Stop the Flow”. Before you can even assess the situation and brainstorm repairs it’s important to minimize the damage by turning off the water valve. The easiest solution is to simply turn off the main valve that enters the home (basement, utility room, etc.) from the outside and is usually located near an exterior wall. If a fixture such as a sink knob or a toilet handle sticks then individual valves can be used so that the rest of the house maintains water access.

Location of Water Meter

One of the biggest utility drains on a house is hidden lost water usually from undetectable leaks. These not only  cost basically money for nothing, but the constant presence of moisture is eventually going to either rot the surface it is in contact with or lead to the formation of mold. Find the water meter (near a garden, footpath, on the exterior of the home or under the sink) and turn off all fixtures inside the house. Check the numbers and then recheck a while later and since the fixtures are off there should be no change. If there is, a leak is present…somewhere.

Winter Care

The cold weather is bad enough, nobody wants to deal with an indoor ice rink from broken pipes on top of that. As the temperatures start to dip make sure to disconnect all the outside hoses and put insulation on any pipes that are exposed or located in cold patches (window in a basement utility room).

Routine Maintenance and Proper Operation

If water is taking a lot longer than normal to drain it’s best to attack the blockage early instead of letting it build up into a more serious issue. Salt (or baking soda and vinegar) and boiling hot water are a great concoction for breaking up clogs as is a hardware store $15 drain snake. An even better approach is preventing the blockage in the first place by using the garbage disposal responsibly (or not at all) and installing hair stoppers on bathroom drains.

These basics should help most homeowners either avoid or know how to tackle an emergency situation promptly. For most plumbing issues it’s best to hire a contractor but these tips and a little familiarity with your home’s plumbing will limit the damage until we can get there.