Home Maintenance

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How to & How Not to Maintain your AC

First thing is to make sure you have an AC system. If the condenser (the outside unit) is just buzzing, you are going to need a service call. If the fan is running and hot air (in Cool Mode) is coming out of the top, but it still is not cooling correctly, check for bushes too close to the unit. We recommend that all vegetation (shrubs, bushes, etc.) be trimmed at least two feet away from the the condenser. If not the system cannot draw in enough air to cool the fins.

OK, the system is running, but unable to keep the house cool. Start with checking the filter. Most manufacturers recommend a MERV 8 filter. The cheap fiberglass filters that you can see through are pretty much worthless and will cost you much more in the long run.

MERV 2 “Renter’s Filter”

The super filters (allergen, mold, virus rated) are also expensive. They plug up quickly and cause the AC to run much more than it would if it had proper air flow. Often they are plugged up within a week and the system can hardly circulate air to cool the house.

Finally, filters should be changed monthly. I know is says “Up to 90 days” but that is not for here in Florida. We can grow stuff in our air. Every thirty days (once a month at about the same date) you should change your filter.

Way past due for a change

Ok, we’ve checked and changed the filter, but they system is still not cooling. Time to dig deeper. The evaporator coil (that radiator in the air handler) may be dirty. Some systems you can check this yourself if you have a lower wall mounted filter under the air handler. Most systems will required a professional to inspect the coils. If you’ve not been changing your filters often enough or you’ve been using the wrong filters, you may need a service call.

Dirty & Plugged Evaporator Coil

Finally, check that you are not trying to cool the attic or crawlspace. Some attics can be checked easily. Others require someone with the skills of a contortionist to get through. Others you can barely get your head in the hatch. You may have to call a professional. If you see broken ducts or missing insulation on the ducts, you are losing expensive cool air to the attic. If the ducts are very old, you may need to have your ducts replaced.

Old deteriorated duct.
Duct needs to be repaired and re-sealed.

Finally, if you’ve made it this far, I’ve done a video of even more AC failures:

Time to Clean the Gutters

gutter full of leaves

Ok, it is Autumn here in Florida. The temperature may not show it, but the trees have figured out there is less daylight and are shedding their leaves. Leaves like to collect: in corners, in roof valleys, and especially in gutters.

Gutters full of leaves do not drain properly. In short, they stand water. Water standing in leaves picks up the tannic acid from the leaves and can corrode metal gutters. Standing water can also overflow the gutter and enter the home through the facia. There, it will begin rotting the wooden facia and start causing all sorts of other problems (wood rot and other fungi).

The best cure for all of this is to get your handyman or spouse or self on a ladder and dig that stuff out of the gutters. Use leather or other protective gloves as there is not much telling what is in that stuff. While you’re up there, look at the roof. Do you need to blow the leaves out of the valleys? Are the shingles still in good shape?

Be careful on the ladder and stay safe.

Plumbing Vent Boots

You see these on almost every roof.  They are the vent pipes that let the sewer drain pipes “breathe”.  Without vents, your drain pipes would not function properly.  Much like holding your finger over the top of a straw and finding out the liquid will not drain out of the straw, your drainage system needs to allow air in to allow liquids out.

Most of our vent drains have a lead boot covering them.  Something like this:

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But if you have squirrels in your neighborhood, and they travel across your roof, they will often stop to gnaw on these lead vents.  Evidently, chewing on the lead feels good to them. The down side is that once they chew through the top of the boot, moisture (rain) can get into the home via the gap now in the system.  This water will drain down into a wall cavity where it and it’s associated damage are hidden from view.

Here we can see two examples of failed boots.  They both are allowing water into the walls of the home.

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The Bathroom Vent That Didn’t

In the bathroom, the vent seemed to be working fine.  However, upon looking in the attic we see the vent is not exactly doing its job.

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The large black coupling at the top of the foto should be connected to a duct pipe to evacuate the moist air out of the bathroom and out of the attic space.  Instead, it is dumping humid air into the insulation beside it.  This will create a perfect environment to grow mold (moisture and warmth).

The sad part is that the exhaust duct was just to the right of the picture. Had the vent been installed 180 degrees around, it could have been fine.

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Water Heater Maintenance

If you own a home, you probably have a water heater.

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Unless it is one of the tankless types, your heater consists of a tank with an inlet, an outlet, and some sort of heating method (gas or electric).  These tanks act as sediment bowls for the home.  Incoming water sets in them and the suspended particles settle out.  The number one killer of electric water heaters is this sediment.  It accumulates to the point that it comes in contact with the lower heating element, overheating the element and killing it.

waterheater

Periodically, the tank should be flushed to eliminate this sediment.  If your tank is older than 10 years old or has rust showing on the base or top and has not been flushed before, you may not want to flush the tank as the sediments may be plugging pin-hole leaks.

Flushing a water heater is a fairly straightforward process:

  1. Connect a hose to the lower drain.
  2. String the hose out to a safe place to drain it. The sediments may not be good for planting beds or grass.
  3. Turn the drain valve on and run until clear.
  4. Shut off the drain valve.
  5. Disconnect and remove the hoes.
  6. Repeat every 6 months.

drain_water_heater

Some valves require a large screwdriver to open (like the picture above).  Other have a standard knob like the hose bibs on your home.

 

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