How to save money on power on those warm days of the year.

At this time of economic crisis most of us are looking for ways to reduce overall household expenses and power bills in particular. And with spring and summer temperatures predicted to remain above average this year most of us are particularly concerned about keeping our homes comfortable during the hot season without breaking the bank.
One relatively inexpensive way to do that is with a “whole house” fan. A whole house fan cools your home by forcing hot air out of the house and attic while drawing fresh, cooler air into the house through open windows.

If you have a well vented attic odds are that a fan will work for you to reduce your hot weather electric bills dramatically. The fan can lower the temperature in your home by five degrees in just a few minutes, thereby reducing AC usage. A typical fan installation is in the ceiling of the home below a central section of the attic. The minimum average ceiling opening is app x 2’ x 2’ and there is a fairly unobtrusive white louvered grill mounted flush with the ceiling surface that stays shut except when the fan is operating.

The fan louvers are flush to the ceiling and open/close automatically. The fan is controlled by a wall switch or pull chain and does not need to run for much time at all to make a big difference. Running only 20-30 minutes is all it normally takes to reduce the inside temperature of a house when the outside temperature drops at night. Our generally cool summer nights make this a perfect climate for these fans.

Of course the main advantage of a whole-house fan is the cost vs. the savings in air conditioning expenses. The units are sized according to square footage of attic space to be vented and cost is approximately $1000-1500. Since installing one of this in my own home 4 years ago our summer electricity usage has been cut in half.

Naturally, nothing good in life is without its drawbacks. The drawback of these fans is that they are a bit noisy because of the volume of air passing through the grill and fan blades. However, since the fans are only operated for a very short period of time most homeowners find the disturbance acceptable given the advantages offered.


Preventing damage to the exterior of your house from environmental forces.

As a General Contractor, I am involved with many repairs of sun or water damaged wood on the exterior of homes. Most wood repair work is preventable with some basic maintenance by the homeowner.

Step one is to just pay close attention to your house. Walk around the exterior carefully examining all the wood surfaces. Note any cracks or deterioration in the finish. Even the smallest cracks will allow moisture to penetrate the exposed wood. This allows further cracking and peeling as the wet wood releases its hold on the paint, thus causing even further paint deterioration in a vicious cycle that leads to decay or sun damage of the material. Pay particular attention to the glass/wood connections on your windows or glass doors.

These are very vulnerable areas. The paint should cover any gap between the two materials to keep water out. Inspect the window and door sills. These surfaces get a lot of sun as they face upward. Check the surfaces of your doors for any cracks, especially in the joints of any mouldings or other details.

Due to expansion and contraction the joints are the first areas to crack on a painted or finished wood surface. And check the door bottom and edges for de-lamination of the veneer. Once this starts it can quickly destroy the door. Check the spots where wood trim joints stucco or other materials. These areas need to be keep sealed with caulking compound.

The good news is that if the problems you find are relatively minor their correction should be something you can do yourself, especially if you have any leftover paint from a prior paint job. Mix the paint thoroughly then use an artist’s brush to touchup cracks. Keep any work you do confined to as small a profile as possible in case the touchups do not perfectly match the surrounding paint. Maintaining the paint will not only save potentially thousands on future wood repairs but will also extent the life of your existing paint job.


Avoiding residential water damage.

Residential water damage from a plumbing issue is one of the most common yet often preventable disasters that can befall a homeowner. With a few simple steps we can greatly reduce our odds of being swept away from a tsunami from within.

Here are the basics:

– Anytime you will be away from home for several days or more shut off the water to the house at the water main valve outside. Pipes and fittings under pressure are subject to rupture without warning sometimes causing thousands of dollars of damage. Not sure where your shut off is? Its worth having a professional come out to show you. And of course check that outside irrigation lines do not stop working if the water main is off if shutting for an extended period of time.

– Upgrade those old washing machine hoses to stainless steel jacketed hoses. This is an easy replacement that is often overlooked because the hoses are out of sight behind the machine, but these hoses are under pressure and can break without warning to flood the entire house.

– Shut the hot and cold valves for the washing machine when not in use. Even if the hoses are in perfect shape the internal water valve inside the machine can fail resulting in just as huge a flood.

– Look at the pipes under each sink, especially the vertical pipes toward the rear. Note any tell-tale signs of rust or corrosion and replace any pipes or fittings that show the same. Pipes that are potentially weak often give you a visual warning.

– Replace any plastic water supply pipes under sinks (the thinner vertical ones toward the rear) stainless steal pipes.

– Replace your water heater if it is over 10 years old. Even though it may still be working fine the internal components begin to wear over time and can rupture without warning.

– Pay attention to any new sounds from drains and toilets or changes in the toilet water level and call us to inspect. Sometimes a sewer line backup will give an advance warning.


How to detect and prevent rats and mice from entering your home.

Regardless of how upscale your neighborhood is you can count on rats and mice looking to set up housekeeping at your place. No area is immune; these guys are everywhere and are always looking for a way in. Of course, it’s a lot easier to keep them out with good defenses than it is to get rid of them once they make your house their home.

Here are some steps to take to help stave them off:

– Take a walk around your house and look carefully at the foundation for any cracks or openings. Remember that mice can get through a hole as small as a dime. Patch any holes you find.

– While walking the perimeter of your home look at your attic vents, foundation vents and crawl space access covers.
Plumbers and cable, phone and alarm installers, etc are notorious for leaving holes in the screen mesh that covers the vents and for leaving access covers off or askew. And sometimes the mesh just wears out from rust and corrosion.
Every hole is an invitation. Make these repairs asap.

– Do an inspection of any pipes that enter your home. Installers often leave a gap around the perimeter of them that can be an easy entry point.

– Look at the bottoms of all your doors. If you have any gaps greater than 3/8” you have a “welcome” sign out for them (as well as for ants, roaches, spiders and cold winter air). Repair any such openings with a door shoe or sweep.

– Check your garage door. The gap under it is often overlooked as a common entry point. If you see significant daylight when the door is shut it can sometimes be adjusted to close tighter. Or, a special garage door weatherstrip may be added to the door bottom to create a seal.

– If you feel comfortable on a ladder check your roof for access points. Builders often do not bother to seal holes under eaves (especially where roof sections come together) as their main focus is waterproofing. Rats love these areas as entryways into your nice warm attic. With a flashlight look up into any overlapping areas of your roof for openings and seal them with steel hardware cloth mesh.

– Check the ventpipes that come through the roof. Many of them have wide openings that are easy access into your house for rats and mice. They need to be screened with steel mesh.

– Same applies to your chimney. It should have a proper chimney cap which not only keeps animals out but protects from sparks that could start a roof fire.

– Trim any tree limbs that are close to or touching your roof. They act as a bridge onto your house for 4 legged vermin.

– Lastly, check your clothes dryer exhaust outlet. It should have louvers or a flap that closes securely when the machine is not in use. Inspecting your house once a year for these issues will really help you free of these uninvited guests.


Why your shower may go cold because of the water heater, and how to fix it.

If this has not happened to you yet, rest assured that sooner or later it will: You open the tap for a hot shower and out comes nothing but a stream of ice water. Whether due to a gust of wind, a glitch in the gas supply or an issue with the gas controls, when the pilot flame goes out the water will be cold in about 6 hours. But most of the time just relighting the pilot flame will get you back into business within 30 minutes and its so easy a novice can do it in less 90 seconds.

Here is how:

(suggest print these instructions and tape them to the water heater)

1) Find the control valve the front of the water heater. It will have pipes coming into it.

2) Turn the smaller control knob (usually red or black) to the ‘pilot’ position.

3) Remove the sheet metal access panel at the bottom of the tank to expose the lower service hatch.
There may be an inner panel that needs to be removed as well.

4) Locate the pilot flame orifice. This can be tricky. Follow the tubes leading from the gas control valve  through the hatch to their terminus. The pilot flame orifice is at the end (use a flashlight if necessary to find the end of the pilot tube).

5) Use a fireplace match or extended lighter to light the pilot flame AT THE SAME TIME that you are holding the red ‘pilot activation knob’ on top of the control valve down as far as it will go. A blue flame should appear within 20 seconds.

6) Continue to hold the red knob down for about 30 seconds before releasing it. The flame should continue to burn.

7) Carefully reinstall the sheet metal inner and outer panels.

8) Turn the control knob from ‘pilot’ to ‘on’ You should notice an audible “whoosh” as the main burner ignites.  Hot water awaits in about half an hour.