Ben Gromicko, founder of iNACHI
Published the 'Packet of Home Maintenance Information' for the average
homeowner to answer a lot of questions. You can download the 79 page brochure here.
Keeping up neighborhood values
My wife and I do a lot of walking around the neighborhoods with our dog and
we've noticed something. With all the snow fall in recent weeks there are a
few homes that obviously(?) don't have anyone living in them. What's the
tip-off? Driveways and sidewalks with no clearing of snow or even any tracks
to imply someone is living there. Whether it's a foreclosed home or a family
of snow-birds gone south for the Winter this is an invitation to desperate
ne're-do-wells. Potential home buyers look for proximity of foreclosures and
many agents are familiar with crime reports in the areas. Driving up and down
a driveway, walking up and down the front walk both leave suggestions that
"someone lives here". Even in nicer weather, picking up yard debris
and maybe getting together with neighbors to take turns cutting the grass
helps the neighborhood be safer and it looks nicer too!
Bird Feeders and Voles (field mice)
A lot of us like to take care of our winged friends, especially in the
Winter months. That's why putting out bird seed and suet is so popular.
Here's what you have to watch out for (personal experience):
We had feeders in our back yard for several months, storing the seed bags off
the floor in our attached garage. Didn't pay much attention to the seeds we
were finding on the floor, just thought it was spilled morsels...and other
Finally we were alerted to our guests when, driving down the highway, a mouse
suddenly crawled up on the dashboard! It was a little warm so the car windows
were open and the mouse proceeded to scamper across the dashboard, out the
window, up on the hood and disappeared into the wiper cowl--all while
traveling at 40 miles per hour and my wife freaking out next to me.
Short of it: a family of voles had taken up residence in our two month old car
(the shop gutted the interior and trunk down to bare metal, set traps and
waited for two weeks), garage (had to gut the garage, discovering nests in
every possible and impossible place) and areas around the outside of our home.
If you can put your little finger into it they can get into it. We had cats
and dogs so maybe that's why the varmints didn't come inside!
Put out poison, traps and sonic repellants; removed every trace of bird
feeders. That was eight years ago and only the occasional sighting of an
outside pest has happened.
We have a neighbor who is a bird lover and knows her outdoor shed is a vole
haven. It's close to her bird feeders and that's where she stores her feed. As
long as the critters only reside in the shed she's very happy to continue
feeding her little friends--being on the lookout for "guests".
- Draining your hot water heater:
If you're on a well system you should drain your water heater once a year,
two years at most; but if you have municipal water that might not be
necessary. Here's a tip to know when it is time to drain your water heater.
If you hear a crackling sound when the tank starts to heat up it is time to
drain the tank. That's the sediment in the bottom of the tank making the
noise. If you don't know how to drain the tank ask a plumber, handyman or
knowledgeable person. It really is very simple once you've done it.
- If you start to hear a rattling noise from a water pipe when you shut off
a faucet the air trap may be saturated and has to be drained. What you're
hearing may be 'water hammer'. Sounds technical? Not at all. If you've seen
plumbing pipes near a faucet with a 6 to 12" length of capped vertical
pipe that goes nowhere, that's the air trap. (By the way, I've seen the air
trap installed horizontally. That makes it useless.) As water rushes through
the pipe toward an open valve/faucet, it has considerable force behind it.
When the valve is closed the water bangs against the valve causing the pipe
to rattle. An air trap allows the rushing water to come to a halt by
compressing the air in the trap.
To bleed the water out of all the air traps turn off the main water supply
to the house. Turn down the water heater setting. Open all the faucets in
the house and let the water drain. This allows air to get into the air
traps. Turn all the valves/faucets off. Turn the water heater setting back
to its original setting. Turn the main water supply on. Go through the house
turning on each valve. A lot of spluttering and splashing will occur as the
line recharges with water. Don't be concerned if the water comes out a
little discolored for a while, especially if you have copper pipes. It will
flush clear in a few seconds.
By the way, re-charging your air traps may be a good time to drain your
water heater. See 1 above.
- If you have a dripping pressure relief valve on your water heater--don't
cap it or seal it in any way. Have a plumber replace it.
To see what happens when a water heater explodes watch this video on YouTube:
- If you have had your A/C compressor replaced look at the nameplate on the
unit and find the maximum breaker size listing.
Now look in your circuit breaker panel and look at the size of the breaker
that is used for your A/C circuit. The breaker should not be rated higher
than what is on the compressor's nameplate. Here's why and why I often find
an oversized breaker.
Let's say your old compressor was listed with a 30 amp maximum breaker. Your
new compressor is listed with a 20 amp maximum.
If your compressor starts pulling above 20 amps (something needs attention
and the circuit breaker should start opening) the breaker won't open and the
minor problem worsens until the compressor fails and possibly needs
replacement instead of a quick fix. Installers really don't have too much of
an incentive to decrease the breaker--they may be selling you a new one a
couple of years earlier.
- Here's a quick check you can do on your own to see if your A/C is
functioning properly; it's called a Delta Test.
Get an inexpensive meat thermometer; the small, skinny kind.
Have your A/C running for 10 to 15 minutes during the cooling season to
stabilize. This part is a little tricky; the evaporator of a central air
conditioning system is usually in the square duct area just above the
heating section of your system. It's the area that has tubes leading in and
Determine if you can find a small opening to insert the thermometer tip at
the bottom and top of this evaporator area. Careful, you don't want to
puncture the coolant tubes. Some HVAC service techs will drill small holes
in these areas and place a small piece of foil tape over them; that's
normal. If you can't find small openings insert the thermometer tip into the
air flow as close as possible to the evaporator at both the return and
supply sides. Note the temperatures of both readings. The difference should
be between 15 and 22 degrees. Anything outside of this range you might
consider having a technician come and inspect your system; it isn't as
efficient as it should be.
- GFCI testing: Most homes now have GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter)
outlet protection near the kitchen sinks, in the bathrooms and at the
exterior outlets, among other areas. Many outlets have test and reset
buttons and the recommendation is to test these outlets on a monthly basis.
Some circuits may be protected at the circuit breaker panel with a test
button on the breaker.
If your GFCI outlet has the test/reset buttons on the outlet a better way to
test it is by using an inexpensive three-prong tester available at all
hardware and home improvement stores; the kind with the push button for GFCI
testing. This tester is great for the homeowner because it can alert you to
simple problems like open grounds, reversed polarity. The advantage to using
this method of testing the GFCI outlet is the fact that pushing the tester's
button creates a momentary voltage imbalance between the hot and neutral
(similar to the condition when a fault occurs PAST the outlet if the hot or
neutral conductor comes into contact with anything that diverts the
current from its safe, normal path-a "short circuit") that causes
a properly functioning GFCI to trip. Pushing the Test button on the outlet
merely tests the tripping mechanism, not it's ability to trip during a
fault. I have often pushed an outlet's test button, tripping the circuit,
but it does not trip with the tester nor a more advanced analyzer.
Also it is important to test the outlets because over time their ability to
trip often fails, which is normal aging of the device.
- AFCI testing: New construction requires AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit
Interrupter) protection for circuits in sleeping areas. Right now AFCI is
only used at the circuit breaker and has a test button on the breaker.
Several very expensive testers/analyzers are on the market that can perform
AFCI circuit testing but different circuit breaker manufacturers use
different circuitry to accomplish the same protection. One tester/analyzer
may not trip the circuit when another brand will. The best way to test these
AFCI circuit breakers is to press the test button on the breaker.
- If you have a tear-off of your old roof shingles and the old vent hoods
are removed in the process, be sure that it is in writing that the
installers will properly re-connect any ducts to the vents that penetrate
the roof. And go into the attic and look before you sign off on the job. Be
sure that the work order specifies that any ducts are re-attached because
without that clause the installer has no obligation to do it. Most likely
he'll charge you more because his installers have to go into the attic to do
it. All too often the vents are re-installed on the outside and the bathroom
ducts are left laying on the attic floor! Condensation and mold damage are
very likely down the road.