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Johns Manville

Seasonal Preparation

Each fall Americans turn clocks back an hour, marking the end of Daylight Savings Time. "Spring-forward-" and "fall-back" clock-changing can also serve as a reminder to replace smoke-alarm batteries.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, fire is the second leading cause of unintentional death in the home. Each year, nearly 2,700 people die in residential fires, and there are more than 330,000 residential fires reported to fire departments.

Manufacturers and fire-safety experts say if your unit is 10-or-more years old, an alarm that sounds when the button is pushed just means it's getting electricity and not necessarily that the sensor chamber is activating properly. To be certain, either test older units with a smoke device or replace them. Sensor chambers can become dirty and ineffective or non-operational even if the button test works. For safety's sake replace an older unit; then you'll know it'll be working.

Though safety is first, there is a laundry list of other home-maintenance tasks that should be performed as we move through fall and into winter. The following tasks will help save money on utilities and prevent the need for major repairs, improve comfort and safety, save energy and preserve the integrity of your home.

  • Gutters and downspouts: Wayward water is one of a home's biggest enemies—especially rainwater that is shed off the roof of an average home. When allowed to collect at the perimeter of a foundation, excessive water can result in a damp and musty basement or cause foundation movement that produces cracks over windows and doors. If your home doesn't have gutters and downspouts, install them. If it does, be sure they are clean before heavy rains begin. Consider installing a gutter protection system to prevent leaves and other debris from clogging gutters.
  • Drainage: Having clean gutters and downspouts is only piece of the water damage prevention puzzle. A mistake that many make is to allow downspouts to discharge at the base of the foundation. This condition is worse than not having gutters at all due to the high concentration of water. To avoid this problem, downspouts should discharge into a subsurface drainage system and into a municipal storm drain or other water-collection facility. Further minimize ponding around the foundation by ensuring that all soil immediately surrounding the house is graded to drain away from the foundation.
  • Landscape Irrigation: Throttle back on the amount of water used to irrigate landscaping by adjusting automatic timers and use the "rain-off" switch when weather dictates. If you live in a part of the country where the mercury dips below freezing, use compressed air to blow water out of irrigation lines to prevent freeze damage.
  • Water heater and plumbing pipes: You can maximize your water heating dollar by removing sediment at the base of your water heater's tank. The sediment that collects over time greatly reduces burner efficiency and can even cause damage to the interior lining of the tank when allowed to superheat. Adjust burners for the most fuel-efficient and safest combustion. For flames, blue is good, and yellow isn't. Uninsulated water pipes are an energy-waster and a burst pipe waiting to happen. Insulating cold water lines will prevent a burst pipe during freezing weather while well-insulated hot water lines will improve both energy efficiency and comfort as hot water will be delivered more promptly.
  • Roofing: The time to discover you have a leaking roof should not be during the middle of a rain storm. Replace damaged shingles, patch damaged flashing and remove surface debris to facilitate proper watershed and prevent leaks. Binoculars provide a means of inspecting shingles and flashings without getting on the roof.
  • Attic insulation and ventilation: According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a well-insulated attic is one of the best ways to improve energy efficiency, save money and increase comfort. A well-insulated and properly ventilated attic will also prevent ice dams from forming.
  • Weather-stripping and caulking: Gaps around windows and doors are a leading cause of drafts that rob a home of comfort and result in high utility bills. All exterior doors should be weather-stripped and have an adjustable door shoe and threshold. Weather-stripping and vinyl gaskets at door shoes and thresholds that have become brittle over time should be replaced with new supple material. Trim that surrounds windows and doors (at both the interior and exterior) should be caulked to prevent drafts. Gaps and large penetrations, such as those made to accommodate plumbing pipes or conduits, should be filled with expandable foam sealant.
  • Siding: Gaps and cracks in siding should be caulked and patched to prevent leaks and the subsequent damage. Raw siding should be primed as a means of temporary waterproofing until spring; then a more thorough job can be done. Brick exteriors should be sealed with a high- quality masonry sealer to prevent freeze-thaw damage.
  • Fireplace: Creosote-lined fireplace flues are a chimney fire—and potentially hazardous explosion—just waiting to happen. The National Chimney Sweep Guild recommends that a fireplace flue be inspected before each season of burning. In addition, the guild recommends that a fireplace be cleaned after each cord of wood is burned. Inspect the condition of the spark arrestor that sits atop that chimney to ensure that are no tears in the fabric that could allow embers to escape and result in a house fire. Before making your first fire for the season, be sure to open the damper and leave it open whenever there is a fire in the fireplace.
  • Heating: Give your home's heating system the once-over to be sure that all components are in good working order, clean and well lubricated. Be sure that the burners are clean and the flame is properly adjusted. Replace dirty filters to improve air flow and efficiency and to lower utility costs. Also, consider installing one or more decorative ceiling paddle fans to move heated air trapped high up at ceilings. Doing so will make your home more comfortable and lower your heating bill. A side benefit is reduced condensation at windows and glass doors.

A little seasonal home maintenance can prevent big problems down the road and save you money.

Decking alternatives: How about composite wood?

A beautiful wood deck is the superstar amenity of a home's exterior. It is the undisputed focal point, serving both visually and as the "heart" of one's outdoor lifestyle. Much like the kitchen phenomenon indoors, decks are a social "magnet" where those who live there relax and will spend a great deal of time and it is where guests gather and socialize.

Simply put, decks in and of themselves are a great attraction with great attraction.

Say "decks" and one automatically thinks: wood. It's only natural. Wood is beautiful, there are numerous choices with various levels of quality and pricing and when warmed by the summer sun, it simply "feels" good, both physically and aesthetically.

Appearance aside, the wood you choose for your deck is generally a function of budget. The most pervasive and least expensive natural material is pine, Douglas fir and economy grades of redwood. While considered the most traditional of all decking materials, even with proper care, they have a limited lifespan, generally about 10 years or less depending upon exposure and how well they are maintained.

You can extend the lifespan of "economy" lumber (or POW, "plain old wood") by using that which has been "pressure-treated," whereby chemicals (pesticides) are driven deep into wood fibers to retard deterioration due to moisture and to provide insect resistance.

Pressure-treated wood, with proper care, is said to extend the lifespan of wood from 10 years to as much as 20 years.

The obvious pluses and benefits are offset by a modest increase in price and a minor controversy over the long-term exposure to the actual chemicals used to achieve the desired effect. The original formula, chromated copper arsenate, contained arsenic. Today's more human-friendly version, ammonia copper quaternary, uses copper-based preservatives to accomplish the benefits of pressure-treated wood and, though less toxic, still conjures up health concerns among families with little ones who might scour the surface on all fours.

Beyond economical and longer-lasting lie a number of woods that increase price-wise exponentially as do the beauty, durability and exotic aspects. The pricing stair step begins with cedar and cypress, and goes on up to and through rich mahoganies, durable and beautiful redwoods and exotics like South America ironwood, pau lope and ipe.

Budget aside, a beautiful wood deck can also put a damper on one's summer fun or entertaining with on-going maintenance. However, today's technology is steadily providing exciting new answers to this age-old nemesis.

The cost and drudgery of keeping wood looking good is rapidly giving way to a manmade species called composite wood that is giving Mother Nature a real run for her money.

Say "composite wood," and the uninformed may think: cheesy plastic? No way, not today. Along with the steadily increasing numbers of manufacturers offering a wide range of looks has come a product that truly rivals the properties, performance and reason for using natural woods.

Composite wood in general blends real wood fibers with various forms of plastic and molds it into "board form" to achieve the look and properties of conventional decking but with a host of built-in benefits.

First be aware that composite wood is only used for deck surfaces, and that all sub-structures still utilize traditional framing techniques and conventional materials. Here's where pressure-treated lumber really shines. But it is on the surface where composite wood-look decking is becoming a superstar.

Basically, composite woods last far longer than natural lumber and require very little maintenance by comparison. Periodic soap and water cleanup is all the maintenance usually required. Composite decking will stain just like natural materials, so be sure to prevent nasty spills and drips from your barbecue.

Beyond being artfully molded into planks that truly capture (and rival) the "look" of traditional decking, it does not warp, crack, rot, split or splinter and it resists insects. It handles like wood for sawing, drilling and fasteners (screws and nails), and it requires no staining, painting or finishing initially or later on.

While not a no-maintenance product, it is certainly low maintenance and the elimination of initial staining and/or sealing and re-staining and/or re-sealing over time equates to savings that more than offsets the modest increased upfront cost.

Aha, you say, there's the catch. Not really. Composite woods fall in the same price range as the upscale choices such as cedars and redwoods but without the "down the road" drastic changes in appearance and inevitable care required. Keep in mind that even composite materials will age, oxidize and turn gray with prolonged exposure to the sun. (But then so will you.)

Once you've decided that composite wood just may be your decking surface solution, compare before you buy. The Internet is a great place to start, as most manufacturers provide comparative data on their Web sites. Once you've narrowed the field down to only a few, based on that which appeals to you, head for dealerships where those products are offered in your area.

You'll find a wide range of technologies and engineering, such as reversible planks (with different graining on either side) and tongue-and-groove edges that make spacing easy and provide proper drainage. Then there are hidden fastener options (for better appearance and safety), hollow product that allows for wider joist spacing, extended warranties (up to 25 years) and composite accessory options such as matching railing systems.

Collect literature and brochures for comparison and ask to visit a finished deck where you can see and test-walk the product.

In the end, a beautiful deck increases the beauty, value and enjoyment of your home and choosing (and using) the new composite wood deck surface that's right for you might just make things better in all three categories.

Today, a little homework upfront saves a lot of home "work" later on.

Repairing Your Toilet Saves Water Waste -- and Noise

In case you haven't heard, October is National Toilet Repair Month. Did you know that toilet flushing accounts for 38 percent of household water use and that a leaking toilet can be one of the greatest sources of water waste in the home?

According to statistics produced by Fluidmaster, a major manufacturer of toilet repair parts, an average leaking toilet will waste up to 78,000 gallons of water per year. Think about it -- that's enough water to fill two average-sized backyard swimming pools.

Wasting water is expensive and the abuse of a precious natural resource. In addition, a leak can prevent a toilet from flushing properly, which can require multiple flushes and result in still more wasted water. What's more, the noise produced by a leaking toilet can be irritating at least and at worst the cause of sleepless nights.

The key to a smooth flushing toilet is a siphon action that is created when a rush of water is discharged from the tank into the bowl when the flush lever is depressed. The flush lever arm raises a plug -- called a flapper or plunger -- located at the base of the tank that allows water to travel into the bowl through bowl-rinsing siphon ports located at the underside of the rim of the bowl and through a port located at the throat of toilet.

It is a combination of the volume of water and its velocity that results in a full and complete flush. Thus, a partially full tank or obstructions that reduce the velocity of the water can prevent a toilet from flushing properly.

There are several causes of a sluggish toilet that can usually be corrected with a modest investment of money and energy. In fact, toilet tank repairs are one of the most common do-it-yourself household plumbing projects. What follows are some common toilet problems and their solutions.

A loose lever: Generally, a toilet lever is fastened to the tank by means of a threaded bushing inserted through a hole in the tank onto which a nut -- typically plastic -- is tightened. Over time the nut can work loose, allowing the lever mechanism to rotate in the opening, thus prohibiting it from fully raising the plunger or flapper. Simply tightening the nut will usually fix the problem.

From time to time, the connection between the lever and plunger or flapper -- usually consisting of a chain or rod -- can become disengaged, which will prevent the stopper from being opened. This can usually be corrected by reattaching a hook or rod to the lever or stopper. When broken, a replacement rod or chain can be installed.

Faulty flapper: The majority of toilet leaks are caused by a faulty or worn flapper and symptomized by the need to jiggle the tank handle. Over time, the rubber stopper at the base of the tank can become brittle, worn, dirty or misaligned with the flush valve seat, or the seat itself is so corroded that the stopper will not seal properly. This creates a leak that lowers the tanks water level, causing the fill valve to turn on and refill the tank.

A faulty flapper can be fixed by cleaning the flapper or tank ball and drain seat thoroughly using a brush or scouring pad. If the leak persists, remove the existing flapper and replace it with a new one.

Overflow pipe/flush valve: Sometimes the overflow pipe or flush valve assembly can become so corroded it creates leaks that lower a tank's water level, causing the valve to turn on and refill the tank. The best fix is to replace the flush valve assembly with a new one that will work for your particular toilet.

Another overflow-related problem occurs when the water level is set too high and reaches the top of the overflow pipe when the fill valve shuts off. This results in small amounts of water pouring into the overflow pipe, causing the valve to turn on to refill the tank. This can usually be solved by setting the tank water to a lower level.

There are various ways to do this depending upon the type of toilet and style of flush valve. Some valves have an adjustment screw while others have an adjustment clip located on the link of the valve. An old trick is to bend the rod that travels between the flush valve and the float ball. However, this can backfire if the rod rotates a half turn where the water line raises and water goes pouring down the drain.

Fill valve: Another common problem that causes a toilet to leak is a fill valve that won't shut off and water continually pours down the overflow pipe. This is usually caused by debris that becomes lodged under the valves seal. Debris can consist of hard water (calcium) deposits, tiny pieces of corroded pipe, pebbles, or solder, that are transported to the seal via the water pipe.

The simplest means of dealing with this problem is to shut off the water supply to the toilet and remove the valve top. Cover the opening with an inverted cup and turn the water on and off a few times to flush the valve and remove water line debris. If the problem persists after flushing the fill valve, the valve seal is probably cracked or split. Replacing the seal will usually solve the problem.

Noisy filling toilet: Sometimes a toilet can be particularly noisy when it is refilling. This is usually due to an angle adapter -- the fitting at the end of the refill tube located at the top of the overflow pipe -- that points straight down the overflow pipe. There is a simple fix to this problem that you can relate to if you have ever poured an ice cold beer into a glass. To minimize suds you tilt the glass and pour the beer against the side of the glass. The same holds true when it comes to quieting your toilet. Simply tilt the angle adapter so that the refill water is hitting the inside wall of the overflow pipe.

These are just a few of the steps that you can take to ensure the peak performance of your toilet. You'll save water, money, lots of aggravation and probably sleep better at night!

Last Chance Chores -- Before Winter

Winter is setting in and the cold, wet days to come will prevent us -- or at least make it very difficult for us -- to perform important tasks that affect our comfort and our pocketbook.

If the temperature in your area, for example, has dropped to an average below 55 degrees F, then the possibility of patch-painting exposed wood surfaces is lost until spring. Yes, you can paint. And, the paint job will probably look as good as ever. But chances are it probably won't stick.

Paint just doesn't cure when it's temperature is below 55 degrees. When it doesn't cure properly, it doesn't stick. When it doesn't stick properly it will peel off prematurely. Mid-winter and the hottest days of summer are not meant for painting.

Concrete is another product that doesn't do well in extreme temperature conditions. A cool day is great for concrete because it takes longer to cure and the slow curing time actually reduces the potential for cracking. But, once the temperature gets into the mid-50s, the curing process changes and you can end up with concrete soup.

Be cautious of the contractor who tells you that it's OK because there are additives that can change curing time even on very cold days. This is true to some extent, but do you want to be the one who owns the cracks if the concrete company fails? It is hard enough to get proper curing when the weather is perfect. Why gamble when the weather is extreme?

This time of year is our last chance to clean, oil and store our gardening tools. Before it gets too cold to comfortably walk outside -- let alone clean anything -- get your garden tools pressure-washed, oiled and stored in a dry location. Wooden handles rot and splinter in wet weather and unprotected metal will rust, even if it is indoors.

Don't be shy about oiling the handles as well. Wet winter air, leaks in the tool shed roof and walls -- not to mention damp ground -- all promote moist storage conditions.

Besides tool handles, this time of year also is our last chance to oil exterior wood surfaces to protect them against water damage. Oil preserves wood. Once absorbed into the wood's fibers, the oil displaces water that would otherwise cause fungus damage and rot. Unfortunately, once winter rains begin, exterior surfaces absorb the water and will not absorb much oil. Therefore, oiling wet wood is a futile practice that, simply stated, is worthless and useless.

This time of year is our last chance to clean, protect and store our barbecue and our garden furniture. It is important to remember to clean these items before storing them. Small pests are attracted to mud-covered wood and metal. If the barbecue is outside and built-in, shut off the fuel source and protect areas where spiders can nest and lay eggs. Not because the spider could be unfriendly, but because the webs they weave can clog fuel lines and orifices.

This time of year is our last chance to paint and caulk exterior windows and doors to reduce high energy bills. Paint won't cure when it's too cold outside. And nothing (paint or caulk) sticks to a wet surface.

This time of year is our last chance to make ready your storm windows and shutters. We all know that storm windows increase home comfort and reduce energy bills. But it is very human to wait until the last minute. Unfortunately, waiting until the last minute results in long lines at the window store and other place that offer storm window repair and maintenance.

This time of year is our last chance to replace loose or missing roof shingles to prevent damage to our home's interior. When wet weather is on the horizon, roofers are their busiest. Which means it is the hardest time to get their help. Be sure to spend a minute or two -- right away -- with a pair of binoculars to check out the condition of your roof. A missing shingle can leave you with thousands of dollars worth of interior damage to ceilings, walls, cabinets (not to mention their contents), damaged floor covering and more. Call now if you suspect a problem.

This time of year is our last chance to have our firebox and flue checked for cracks and creosote buildup. Creosote buildup can combust or explode when the fireplace is used. Cracks in the firebox or flue can allow flames and hot gasses to come into contact with combustible surfaces in our home. A deadly fire can result.

This time of year is our last chance to have our furnace checked at a decent price and in a decent period of time. This is the time of year when heating contractors are at their busiest. A furnace that has gone unchecked for an entire season could be a danger to your family. A little rust spot is all it takes to allow the furnace to pump deadly carbon monoxide into your home.

This time of year is our last chance to have our water heater cleaned and checked. Cold water in the summer is bad enough. But, there is nothing worse than no hot water in the dead of winter.

This time of year is our last chance to change exterior light bulbs. Picture yourself changing an exterior light bulb when the temperature outside is near or below zero. Change all exterior light bulbs now. It is inexpensive and could save someone a slip on the ice.

This is definitely an important time. It's your last chance for the year to do a lot of things.

Have you made YOUR list?