Home Tips

Heating and Cooling:

1.  Heating and cooling adjustments-forced air furnaceWarm air rises; cooler air sinks. Keep this principle in mind, and you’ll realize why opening the correct air returns in winter and summer will provide better air distribution-which, in turn, allows more even temperatures in your home.

2.  When you use a forced air furnace for summer cooling, you should open the high returns. This allows the furnace to take warmer air from the top of the room back to the air conditioning cooling coil in the furnace. In the winter, open the low returns to collect cold air at the floor.

3.  For a two-story home, you may also need to adjust the supply air for winter and summer. In the winter, warm air rises to the second floor, so less heating is required there.

4.  In the summer, warm air still rises, and a hot attic adds even more heat, so you need greater cooling (air flow) to the second floor than to the first floor.

5.  The best way to control air flow is to adjust the small dampers in the heating/cooling duct system in the basement. Often, these dampers are found where round supply duct runs connect t o the main (rectangular) ducts. Look for small (¼-inch) threaded rods and wing nuts. You can adjust the damper by turning the screwdriver slot on the small rod. When the slot is parallel to the duct, the damper is fully open. You don’t need to adjust the wing nut, which simply locks the rod into place.

6.  Heating ducts vary. Some systems have levers indicating the direction of the damper. Some rectangular ducts have dampers and levers.

7.  To adjust air flow for summer cooling, start by fully opening all second floor dampers. Next, partially close dampers to first floor rooms that are getting lots of cold air. You will find that closing the damper to 50% or turning the shaft to 45 degrees will only partially slow the air flow. Often, even if you fully close the damper, there will still be air flow because the dampers fit very loosely in the ducts.

8.  Closing first floor dampers will direct air to the second floor. rk your damper settings for summer and winter once you have found the correct balance.

9.  Remember to clean the furnace filter, too, because a plugged f ilter can also restrict air flow.

10.  Older homes were not built for cooling-the supply and return ducts to the second floor may not be adequate-so adjustments may not solve the problem. A quick fix may be to run the fan furnace continuosly.

11.  Furnace air filters and maintenanceHow often should you change the filter on the furnace? Whenever it’s dirty. And although it sounds a little silly, better filters get dirty more quickly and need to be changed more often.

12.  A standard cheap (about $1) fiberglass air filter should be checked once a month and changed when it shows visible dirt. You also need to check the filter when running the central air conditioner, because air circulates through the furnace and the filter.

13.  I suggest you replace the cheap fiberglass filter with a pleated paper filter. You will find them in any hardware or building supply store next to the standard filters. Read the labels-some are more efficient than others. Price will vary from about $3 to $15. These filters will trap much more dirt and smaller particles of dirt. They need to be changed more often because they do a better job of trapping dirt.

14.  The next level up from standard throw-away filters are washable filters and electrostatic washable filters. Washable foam filters work quite well if coated with a special sticky spray like Filter Coat. Electrostatic filters are relatively expensive (about $100), but they do trap dirt well.

15.  A better filter is the 6-inch-thick pleated paper filter. Air is forced through a long accordion of filter paper. Fine holes in the paper trap small particles of dirt. The large surface area limits pressure loss in the heating system. A special frame needs to be installed in the duct work, and the filter costs about $25, but it will last one or two years.

16.  The top of the line is an electronic filter that charges metal plates in the air stream and attracts dust. This is the only type of filter that actually removes smoke particles from the air. This filter costs about $700 installed. Filter plates must be washed monthly in the dishwasher or by hand with soapy water.

17.  I consider the pleated paper filters a good investment. The more expensive electronic filters are great for people with allergies or sensitivity to dust.  


Installing and maintaining a GFCI   (ground fault circuit interrupter)

You may have heard of a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) or GFI (ground fault interrupter). The GFCI is a valuable safety device that should be installed in bathrooms, kitchens and any other rooms with a sink; in the garage; near pools; and at all exterior outlets.

If your home is fairly new, it already has GFCIs. They have been required in new construction and remodeling for about 15 years. If you are spending the money to remodel a kitchen or bathroom, add GFCI outlets there and at every other spot in your home where damp or wet conditions occur. Hire an electrician to do this job.

The GFCI uses sensitive circuitry to prevent shocks. A tiny imbalance in the power and neutral line will trip the GFCI. The imbalance indicates the possibility of current leakage that could deliver a shock.

GFCI outlets or circuit breakers provide a high level of safety for a very small cost. The GFCI outlet can cost less than $10. In most locations, it can be installed in just a few minutes.

Don’t confuse a GFCI with the fuse or circuit breaker in the basement. The fuse or breaker protects the wire from overloading, overheating and burning. A fuse will allow 15 or 20 amps to flow through the circuit before it trips-that’s more than enough power to electrocute you.

Once the GFCI is installed, test it monthly with the test/reset button on the face of the breaker or outlet. Push the test button, and the GFCI will trip. Reset the GFCI by pressing the reset button. Often a GFCI outlet in one bathroom also protects other bathrooms, the garage, and exterior outlets.

When we perform a home inspection we always test the GFCIs, and we’ve found that about 5% to 10% of the existing GFCI outlets are not working properly.

Carbon Monoxide Detectors: 

You’ve probably heard about the new carbon monoxide detectors. Are they worth the money?  Do they work, and if so, what type should you buy?

I think carbon monoxide detectors are valuable, although they have had some problems with false alarms triggered by quick changes in temperature or pressure, air inversion, or pollution. You should have at least one detector in your home near the sleeping areas.

Your best insurance against a carbon monoxide problem is routine maintenance of gas- or fuel-burning appliances. If you maintain your stove, furnace and water heater, problems should not develop. Also, maintain your fireplace or wood-burning stove and never, never use an unvented combustion device in your home.

When you buy a detector, We suggest one with a digital readout. Place the detector in your home according to manufacturer’s instructions. One good place is in a hall near bedrooms, at a height where you will notice the reading every night. If you frequently check the reading, you can monitor the level of carbon monoxide and react before any alarm sounds. Most of the alarms don’t sound until the carbon monoxide reaches 100 parts per million, which is a dangerous level for many people.

If you ever notice headaches, excessive drowsiness, or symptoms of a cold while you’re at home and these problems clear up when you’re away from home, suspect carbon monoxide. If your whole family feels ill, suspect carbon monoxide. You can’t smell or see carbon monoxide, so if you suspect a problem, contact a service contractor immediately.