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THE HEAT IS ON: FURNACE EFFICIENCY AND MAINTENANCE

You can almost hear the hum of furnaces in homes throughout North America cranking up for the colder months ahead. It is especially important to have furnaces inspected and properly maintained to ensure that they run efficiently and safely. Here are some pointers to get the most out of a furnace:

SIMPLE WAYS TO IMPROVE EFFICIENCY

Home heating, especially with a gas furnace and your location, can represent half or more of a typical home’s winter utility bill. Efficient operation can mean lower energy bills and a more comfortable home. Programmable thermostats can be used to automatically turn heat up or down at specified times, so that the temperature is lowered overnight or while no one is at home. The newest types of thermostats can be operated via smartphone or tablet and can even “learn” the preferred temperature for different times of day. Now that’s a “Hot Trend”.

Thermostats should be calibrated occasionally to avoid “off-cycle” heat loss. A properly calibrated thermostat will result in more even heating between the on/off cycles, which is more efficient and more comfortable.

SAFETY AND MAINTENANCE

Safety is also an important factor in furnace operation. Gas furnaces can be a source of dangerous carbon monoxide if there are leaks or cracks that go unnoticed or unrepaired. The furnace flame should be steady and burn blue; if not, this should be addressed immediately. A qualified contractor or inspector can detect these types of problems and recommend needed action.

Simple furnace maintenance includes checking and replacing disposable air filters and cleaning permanent-type filters, as well as keeping dust, hair, and lint away from the burner compartment and air intake. No matter what type it is, a well-maintained furnace will not only last longer, but can save energy, money, and help a home’s overall air quality and comfort.

CONSIDERING A NEW FURNACE?

If a new furnace is necessary, it’s worth it to evaluate the various types of furnaces available and how well they might meet a home’s specific situation. Furnaces are defined as conventional efficiency, mid efficiency, and high efficiency. There are advantages and drawbacks to each type, and some are better suited to older homes, for example. Cost may be a factor in considering various types of systems. However, the ability of most new furnaces to reduce off-cycle heat loss, eliminate the need for an always-on pilot light, etc., make replacing a furnace worth considering if the current system is in bad repair or functioning poorly.

6 Essential Fall Maintenance Tasks

With autumn just around the corner, now is the perfect time for homeowners to get their property in shape and help avoid problems in the months ahead. Here are six key jobs to tackle before cold weather sets in.

  1. Caulk around exterior door and window frames for a tight seal. Look for gaps where pipes or wiring enter the home and caulk those as well. Not only does heat escape from these openings, but water can enter and damage underlying materials, and even cause structural damage.
  2. Check the roof for missing or damaged shingles. Water, wind, ice and snow can cause serious damage to a vulnerable roof, leading to a greater chance of further damage inside the home. Always have a qualified professional inspect and repair the roof, but binoculars can be used to do a preliminary survey from the ground.
  3. Clear gutters of leaves, sticks, and other debris. If the home gets heavy leaf fall, this may need to be done more than once during the season. If the gutters can accommodate them, leaf guards can be real time-savers and prevent clogging. Check the joints between sections of the gutter, as well as between the gutter and downspouts, and make any necessary adjustments or repairs. Make sure downspouts direct water away from the house.
  4. In cold-weather climates, garden hoses should be drained and stored indoors to protect them from the harsh winter elements. Shut off outdoor faucets and make sure exterior pipes are drained of water. Faucets and pipes can easily freeze and burst, causing leaks and increasing the potential for serious water damage.
  5. Have the furnace inspected to ensure that it’s safe and in good working order. Most utility companies will provide basic, no-cost furnace inspections to their customers, but schedule early as there can often be a long waiting list as the weather cools down. Replace disposable furnace air filters or clean the permanent type according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Using a clean filter not only helps with interior air quality, it will help the furnace run more efficiently, saving money and energy.
  6. A wood-burning fireplace can be a real pleasure on a chilly fall evening. For safety, have the firebox and chimney professionally cleaned before use this season. Creosote, a byproduct of wood burning, can build up to dangerous levels and cause a chimney fire that can spread to the rest of the house.

With these easy steps, your clients will enjoy the comforts of home all season long and know that they’re protecting their investment, too.

Water Quality in The Home

Municipal water systems are required to test and monitor drinking water supplies to ensure safe and good-tasting water. But what happens once that water has been piped into towns, neighborhoods, and homes? Older homes may still have service lines made of lead going into the home, which can cause lead to leach into the water. The local water supplier should be able to confirm the presence of lead service lines for homeowners. Older fixtures that contain lead, or lead that was used on pipe joints, can also cause elevated lead levels. Whenever possible, pipes and fixtures containing lead should be replaced with new materials.

Many homes built before the 1960s have galvanized steel pipes. While galvanized pipes do not create chemical contaminants on their own, they are susceptible to severe corrosion which can flake off and clog taps and faucets. In some instances, lead can build up inside galvanized pipes, especially if the service line into the home is or was made of lead. To be on the safe side, it is best to have all galvanized piping replaced.

Another water quality concern is what are known as emerging contaminants, which, if present in a home, usually occur in very low level amounts. These fall into two general categories: health effects and aesthetic effects. Emerging contaminants affecting health include detergents, pesticides, and medications. Other contaminants that don’t affect health may adversely alter water taste, odor, and/or color. Home filtration systems are the most common means of reducing emerging contaminants. Options include faucet or pitcher filters, plumbed, and reverse-osmosis filters that treat the entire home’s water supply. Any filtration system installed should be listed as meeting national standards for reducing multiple contaminants.

Well Water Quality

While most people in North America get their water from municipal water systems, there are also millions who rely on well water at home. Water sourced from a well should be tested on a regular basis for contaminants such as bacteria and metals. If well water coming from the tap tests high for lead, it could be that the water in the well is too acidic, which causes lead to leach from pipes and fixtures. An acid neutralizing system can usually alleviate this problem without the need to replace pipes and fixtures. Other possible well water quality problems can be avoided by making sure wells are located away from septic tanks, livestock, and pooling water runoff. Well maintenance should be on a regular schedule so that any issues can be addressed before they cause health problems for the home’s occupants.

Water quality can easily be tested for metals, bacteria and other contaminants. Contact your local Pillar To Post Home Inspector for more information about this and other added services available.

FOUNDATION CRACKS

Houses of any age will shift and settle over time, resulting in cracks. Cracks may appear in finishes, structural components or both. Though they usually don’t have any structural significance, it’s worth some visual detective work to help homeowners understand the difference between different types of foundation cracks.

Shrinkage Cracks

Concrete shrinks as it cures, so a newly poured concrete foundation may develop small vertical shrinkage cracks, which are not structurally significant. Characteristics of shrinkage cracks include:

  • The crack will be small and vertical, usually less than 1/8” wide.
  • The crack is in the foundation wall only and does not extend up through the structure.
  • Shrinkage cracks usually occur in the middle third of the length of the foundation wall. If it’s located toward the end of the length of the foundation wall, it is probably not a shrinkage crack.

Settlement Cracks

Like shrinkage cracks, settlement cracks are vertical, but they extend up through the structure. In block or brick foundations, cracks may follow the mortar joints in a step pattern rather than vertical. Most settlement cracks are caused by short-term settlement. Ongoing settlement is uncommon but can cause structural problems over time. Here are some ways to get an idea of whether ongoing settlement is likely:

  • Crack size: Settlement cracks more than 1/4” wide are more likely to indicate ongoing movement than smaller cracks.
  • Direction of movement: The edges of a typical settlement crack line up and fit together vertically, much like pieces of a puzzle. If the edges of the crack have shifted, or sheared, so that they no longer line up, the 1/4” rule described above doesn’t apply. This type of crack can be a significant structural concern.
  • Repaired and re-cracked: Unless it is a hairline crack, a settlement crack that was repaired and has re-cracked could also indicate ongoing movement and should be addressed.

Horizontal Cracks – Basement Foundation Wall

In homes with true basements, a horizontal crack in the foundation wall, below grade and running the full length of the basement is likely a sign of foundation failure. For a house with a full basement, the soil outside the foundation wall exerts a tremendous amount of pressure on the foundation wall. Occasionally, unanticipated additional loads exert pressure and cause horizontal cracking in the foundation wall. Do not wait to address this potential issue as it could cause much greater problems down the line, including structural failure.

Contact your local Pillar To Post Home Inspector for further information on these and other home-related issues.