Winter Maintenance Tips For Your Home

For many homeowners, it is that time of year to prepare your number one asset for the upcoming winter, “your home.”

The tips that will be suggested could extend the life of your furnace, boiler or home and prevent costly repairs. Taking just a little bit of your time will payoff dividends in the long run.

Heating System (Preventive Maintenance)
  • Have your furnace or boiler checked and serviced or tuned up by a licensed contractor before the heating season begins.
  • Clean or replace the furnace filter on forced hot air systems.
  • Have your chimney checked and serviced by a licensed contractor at least once a year.
  • Pay close attention to having creosote build-up removed from chimneys servicing woodstoves and fireplaces.
  • Add extra insulation. Adding insulation is not only for comfort, but can also help prevent ice dams. This happens when too much heat escapes into the attic, warms the ice and snow on your roof. When this melting occurs and refreezes it can cause an ice damn which can lead to water damage inside your home. Ice dams generally form at the gutter line and will work back up under the shingles of your roof.
  • Apply new weather stripping to your exterior doors if needed and caulk windows to prevent against heat loss and drafts.
  • Install storm windows on storm doors and windows if needed.
Safety Measures
  • Change the batteries on smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors.Test the units to make sure they are in working condition. Replace the units if they are not functioning properly
  • Clear gutters and downspouts of obstructions to ensure the proper flow of water to prevent water damage.
  • Repair steps as needed to keep safe during ice and snow.
  • Protect pipes in crawl spaces or unfinished areas by either insulating or shutting off the water to the pipes not in use such as hose bibs. You can also search thermostatically controlled heat tape for certain pipe applications. Please read manufacturers specifications if using this product to ensure this will work for your particular situation.

Moisture in Basements

This is a problem that can cause damage to your health and home

Moisture problems in existing basements are common, but often not understood or properly treated. If your basement is unfinished this may not present a great problem.

Finishing a basement prior to dealing with a moisture problem can result in creating health problems or lead to damage to your house as well. This could take form in molds or mildews.

Basement water problems are solvable, but this comes with a cost to have it done right. It is best to contact a professional to evaluate the water issues you may be experiencing.

Understanding The Problem

To correct the problem you must first understand where the water is coming from. There are 3 sources of moisture.

1. Water from rain or ground water.

2. Interior moisture sources such as humidifiers, unvented clothes dyers, bathrooms and cooking, or moisture in concrete after construction.

3. Exterior humid air that enters the basement and condenses on cooler surfaces.

Basement Moisture Sources

In one inch of rain, 1,250 gallons of water falls on the roof of a 2,000 square foot house.

Without proper grading, gutters and downspouts, some of this water flows into the basement. Below grade the water table can also rise due to flooding or seasonal conditions.

Typical Causes of Moisture Problems in Basements

1. Poor or inadequate grading: If the ground level slopes toward the basement the water will be directed in. Solution: The grade around the house needs to be sloped at least one inch per foot for no less than 6 feet from foundation wall.

2. Defective or missing gutters: Without proper drainage from your gutters and downspouts, rainwater can be directed toward the foundation perimeter. Solution: Place a minimum of one downspout per 50 lineal feet of roof eve. Extensions to the downspouts should extend at least four feet from the wall.

3. Window wells: This can be a source of entry for water if improperly built. Water will be directed toward rather than away from the foundation. Solution: Window wells should be filled from the footing to the window sill with 3/4″ coarse aggregate. This will allow the water to disburse properly along with proper slope away from foundation.

The examples above are just a couple of potential problems that may be related to the moisture problem you may be experiencing. Other areas to watch are ineffective drainage systems, and structural cracks in the foundation walls.

It is recommended to remove interior moisture sources, then evaluate the gutters, downspouts and grading around the house. With those items corrected first could take care of the issue easily. If the problem persists then proceed with an interior or exterior drainage system.Keep in mind that all exterior drainage systems must drain to a sump that can be pumped back out. The sump  must have an airtight, childproof cover.

How to Clean a Dishwasher

It’s tempting to think that your dishwasher gets a good cleaning every time you run it through a cycle, but that’s unfortunately not the case. Here’s how to keep it sparkling clean, sweet smelling, and effective.

At first, the idea of cleaning a dishwasher—an appliance that fills with suds and water on an almost daily basis—may seem a bit strange. But think of it this way: You regularly maintain your vacuum, right? Well, the dishwasher isn’t dissimilar. Whereas there, the sucked-up dust and debris are what threaten to clog and hinder the performance of your vacuum, food scraps, soap scum, and stubborn grease are what can compromise your dishwasher. Even if you installed the unit pretty recently, you should know how to clean a dishwasher in order to maximize its efficiency.

– Rubber gloves
– Dishwasher safe container
– White vinegar
– Unsweetened lemonade mix (optional)
– Baking soda
– Bleach (optional)

STEP 1: Detach the dishwasher’s bottom rack.

Access the dishwasher drain by pulling out the detachable bottom rack. Thoroughly examine this crucial area, and remove any gunk or chunks you find by glove-covered hand. (These not only impede drainage but can also damage the appliance.)

STEP 2: Run a cycle with nothing but one cup of vinegar.

Fill a dishwasher-safe container with one cup of white vinegar, and place it on the upper rack of the otherwise empty machine. A natural cleaner with many talents, white vinegar takes care of two big problems that often plague dishwashers: clogs and smells. Count on it to cut grease that may line walls from previous loads of dirty dishes, clear away old detergent build-up, and even dissolve mineral deposits—all of which could one day clog the plumbing and cause your appliance to underperform. The fact it neutralizes food odors so that your dishwasher won’t smell is practically a bonus!

Close the door and run the dishwasher through a hot-water cycle. Once the vinegar has worked its magic, you should open the door to a clean dishwasher—all grease and grime washed away, and any musty odors that may have been present now removed.

Note: You can use a package of unsweetened lemonade mix rather than vinegar to achieve similar results when you clean a dishwasher. Its citric acid works similar to vinegar in cutting through lingering food particles. Look for this in the list of ingredients, and remember to stick with regular lemonade, though; flavored options can leave stains.

STEP 3: Complete a short rinse cycle with baking soda.

Now sprinkle a cupful of baking soda across the bottom of the appliance, then run it on a short hot-water cycle. Whatever food smells weren’t wiped out with vinegar will be absorbed by the baking soda, the same way they are when you place a box of Arm & Hammer in the fridge. The slightly abrasive nature of baking soda will act like a scrub, to boot! When the cycle’s done, you should notice that your fresh-smelling dishwasher now boasts a brightened, stain-free interior.

STEP 4 (optional): If there’s mold or mildew leftover, consider a cycle with bleach.

Has your dishwasher suffered a vicious attack from nasty mold? While vinegar will kill mildew, some dire cases may need the harsher cleansing power of bleach. Add a bowl filled with one cup of bleach to the bottom of the basin, then run the machine on a full cycle—that is, unless the interior of your dishwasher contains stainless steel, in which case you should completely avoid the use of bleach. Bleach and stainless steel are not friends. If your dishwasher with stainless steel parts still has a mildew problem after following this how-to, repeat a vinegar cycle as instructed in Step 2.

STEP 5: Add this routine clean to your calendar.

Repeat the above steps every one to two months, and you’re likely to add years of service to the machine that tackles your least favorite chore.

Keeping Your Dishwasher Clean

Now that you know how to clean your dishwasher, perhaps the best way to keep it this way is to treat it with basic respect and consideration day in and day out—after all, the machine isn’t invincible. Observing a set of simple usage guidelines can help you wring the best possible performance from this workhorse appliance, even as you prolong its lifespan.

• The dishwasher shares a drain with the kitchen sink, so if you have a garbage disposal, run it before washing the dishes to ensure that the drain is clear.

• It’s smart to conserve electricity and water by running the dishwasher only when it’s full, but resist the temptation to pile dishes too high or too tightly. This prevents the sudsy water from traveling around all sides of each dish and getting your load completely clean.

• Don’t prewash dishes too thoroughly before adding them to the dishwasher. For detergent to do its job effectively, there needs to be a certain amount of grease and food residue present. Otherwise, the detergent simply creates foam during the wash cycle, and that excess can be detrimental to the appliance.

6 Ways to Stop Chimney Fires Before They Start

Enlist these techniques to reduce the likelihood of a chimney fire starting on your watch.

There are more than 25,000 chimney fires incurring $125 million-plus in property damage every year in the United States. That damage is largely due to flames in the lower chimney migrating upward to crack, warp, melt, or otherwise negatively affect the masonry or metal chimney walls. In the most severe cases, chimney fires can destroy houses and put lives at risk. These tragedies are often preventable: Failure to regularly inspect, repair, and clean a chimney can cause it to malfunction or collect dangerous build-up that puts your family at risk.

Fortunately, if you practice the prevention tips here, that hard-working column above your fireplace or wood stove should continue to do its job of ushering smoke and other by-products out of your home, so you and yours can safely enjoy cozying up in front of the flames. Keep reading to understand what causes chimney fires and the six best steps you can take for preventing them.

1. Minimize creosote build-up.

The main culprit of chimney fires is creosote. This highly flammable, dark brown substance coats chimney walls when by-products of a fire (smoke, vapor, and unburned wood) condense as they move from the hot fireplace or wood stove into the cooler chimney. If the temperature in the chimney flue (the space inside the chimney) is high enough, and the creosote build-up thick enough, creosote can catch fire—and that fire can spread and move up the flue.

To minimize creosote build-up, only burn seasoned hardwood that has dried for at least six months and contains a moisture content of no more than 20 percent, which you can easily test with a wood moisture meter (available at hardware stores for $40 and up). And remember to always keep the damper (a metal plate in the flue that regulates the draft) open during a fire to maintain adequate airflow.

And if your chimney’s flue liner (the layer between the flue and chimney walls) is uninsulated, it’s recommended to insulate it by either wrapping a heat-resistant insulation blanket around the liner or pouring an insulation mix like vermiculite (available at hardware stores for $10 at up) into the space between the flue liner and flue. An insulated flue liner will prevent flue temperatures from getting too cool—a condition that could encourage fire by-products to condense and form creosote.

2. Schedule an annual chimney inspection.

Because many defects that lead to chimney fires, such as a cracked flue liner, aren’t visible to the naked eye, it’s crucial have a Chimney Safety Institute of America-certified chimney sweep inspect your fireplace or woodstove, chimney, and venting system once a year. This pro will inform you of any damage and, if desired, repair it as well as remove soot, creosote, or obstructions such as bird nests.

Consult your chimney sweep company about which inspection level is recommended for your chimney and venting system.

3. Clean your chimney when walls have 1/8 of build-up.

If when you scratch a finger against a chimney wall and uncover one-eighth of an inch of build-up, it’s time for a cleaning. A professional chimney cleaning costs between $100 and $350 and usually includes a sweep of the outside of the chimney along with the firebox, the smoke shelf, the smoke chamber above the firebox, the flue, and the flue liner.

4. Install a chimney cap.

Leaves and animal nests inside a flue can quickly fuel a chimney fire when touched by loose embers from a fire. A chimney cap on the crown around the outside opening of the flue will keep debris and critters out. The cap will also prevent “back puffing,” whereby escaped smoke from a fire re-enters the chimney and then the home. Caps also prevent acidic rainwater from entering and corroding the chimney. Expect to spend anywhere from $50 for galvanized metal caps to $500 or more for decorative models. While some homeowners opt to put in a chimney cap themselves, self-installation may void the warranty—it may be worth it to call a pro.

5. Use safe fire starters.

Always stick to the best fire starters when selecting fuel, kindling, and tinder. Well-seasoned hardwood or CSIA-approved logs are the only fuels you should use in your fireplace or wood stove. Never use gasoline and kerosene to start a fire—these liquids are highly flammable and combustible and can quickly create a conflagration. Likewise, don’t burn coal unless you’ve got a coal-burning wood stove because it can significantly raise the temperature of the flue, increasing the risk of a chimney fire. For kindling, stick to dried twigs or branches. Cloth is a poor choice—it gives off large amounts of smoke when it burns. Use torn or crumpled old newspaper or pine cones for tinder. Never use cardboard or glossy paper (like magazine pages) as tinder because both contain chemicals that can emit toxins into the chimney and the home when burned.

6. Employ clean burning techniques.

Low-temperature, slow-burning fires, particularly those left to smolder overnight, produce more smoke and leave behind more unburned combustible material. When that hardens into creosote on the chimney walls, there’s an increased risk of chimney fires. Hot, fast-burning fires, on the other hand, leave far less smoke, vapor, and unburned wood behind, so little to no creosote forms. The best way to burn a clean fire is to use the top-down burn method: Place the large logs vertically at the bottom of the fireplace or wood stove (with the bottoms of the logs facing you), add four to five horizontal layers of kindling, then top with tinder and light.

And, before retiring for the night, always extinguish the fire: Spread out the wood and embers with a fireplace poker, then cover them with the ash lying at the bottom of the fireplace using a fireplace shovel. Then douse the cooled wood and embers with enough baking soda to cover them completely—the sodium bicarbonate will extinguish any remaining embers. After the firebox cools (for a minimum of three hours, but preferably eight), shovel the ashes into a metal container. Fill the metal container with water and store it outside the home away from other flammable materials until you’re ready to discard them.