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Bathroom Ventilation

Thus, cost-conscious builders often focus on one of two ready solutions to meet minimum requirements in producing a code-worthy house: (1) They simply install an operable window in baths with an exterior wall, or (2) They install a bathroom exhaust fan that meets minimum air-exchange requirements (usually an inexpensive, extremely noisy model that is sometimes hastily and improperly vented directly into the attic or a crawl-space).

Let’s Clear the Air
“So, what’s wrong with that,” you might say? “All I want to do is to clear the air, if you know what I mean.”  Yes, we know what you mean, and that is all well and good – but only to a point – as it is the absolute minimum advantage, benefit and/or purpose of adequate bathroom ventilation, mechanical or otherwise.

You know those steamy mirrors and damp, dripping walls you have after taking a shower? Actually, the primary purpose of a good bathroom fan is to draw out this pervasive moisture that creates mildew, generates musty odors and leaves hard-to-clean mineral deposits behind. Even far more important, is the residual moisture that creates unsightly mold – both where it can be seen (on grout) and more seriously, where it can’t be seen when it seeps into cracks and crevices to destroy insulation and framing lumber, where it can grow unchecked into a serious health problem.

So… “What’s wrong with just opening a window or running a cheap and noisy, improperly-installed builder-model bathroom fan?” It is where serious problems can – and often do – begin. Why?

Ventilation Shortcomings
Let’s consider the “open window” solution. First off, an open window simply does not provide enough air exchange – fast enough or thorough enough – to provide the moisture evaporation needed to eliminate the potential problems just noted.

This is also compounded by a number of issues, starting with “tighter” sealed homes resulting from the energy-efficiency drive kicked-off in the 1970s. An open widow, depending on season and where one lives, either brings in scads of unwanted hot or cold air – which is not good energy efficiency-wise. And there is the safety and security issue. Do you want an open window while showering? Or to leave it open for an extend period to dry things out? Probably not. Thus, the “open window” technique is not the best solution.

Then there is the cheap and noisy, improperly-installed builder-model bathroom fan. Because it is noisy, homeowners use it as little as possible. Especially, if someone is still asleep nearby. And when it is used, for whatever time period, if  improperly installed (as they often are and were) – vented directly into the attic or a crawl space – they are simply speeding up the process of transferring lots of destructive moisture-laden air directly from the bath to the vulnerable interior structure, where it can breed unimpeded as an unseen science experiment.

Good, Better, Best Ventilation
So what is a homeowner to do? First and foremost, be sure your current bathroom fan is sending its exhaust outdoors. If it is simply “moisturizing” your home’s interior – correct it immediately. That would be “good.”

“Better,” is to be sure you run your bathroom fan long enough to make sure it provides sufficient air-exchange to dry out your bathroom, which can take as long as 15- to 20-minutes. Unfortunately, a noisy fan often precludes this.

Still “better” solutions are: (1) A bathroom fan upgrade. New products, like the “Bath Fan Upgrade Kit” (now available at home centers), easily replaces specific earlier Broan®, NuTone® and Nautilus® model fans with a far more powerful, yet much quieter motor, increases exhaust efficiency by as much as 20-percent and includes a new face-plate grill for an updated fresh look. Option (2) Install a light switch with a built-in timer that can be set to shut off the fan after a given period of time. Either is good, together they’re great.

However, the “best” solution is to look to today’s new breed of bathroom ventilation solutions offered by leading manufacturers, such as Broan and NuTone, that are: quiet, powerful, scientifically well-vented and loaded with make-sense conveniences – that together, remove moisture extremely efficiently and quietly while making life just a little it better (make that a lot better).

State-of-the-Art Ventilation
Today’s best bathroom exhaust fans are either very quiet or “whisper” quiet – meaning you don’t hear them at all. The noise level of bathroom fans is measured or rated in “Sones.” Without going into a lengthy scientific explanation, just know that typical fans operate at 4.0 to 6.0 Sones, which is pretty noisy.

Newer Broan and NuTone models, and “Bath Fan Upgrade Kit” motors, operate at about 3.0 Sones which is far easier on the ears (and nerves). However, the latest high-end Broan and NuTone models, such as the new Ultra Silent™ series and QXTEN line with new hi-tech super-quiet motors – succeed in dropping Sones to miniscule levels in the .09 to .03 range.

Both Broan and NuTone also offer contemporary larger ducting, up to 6-inches in diameter, which reduces exhaust resistance (and noise) and significantly improves performance versus industry standard 4-inch ducts or the totally inadequate 3-inch venting used on the cheap-o models. Broan and NuTone also lead the industry in both offering and converting to this improved and more efficient larger duct configuration.

Beyond this, both Broan and NuTone also offer a full compliment of nifty “gotta have” options that make life just a little bit better. They include amenities like: Fan/Light combinations with built-in ceiling lights and/or soft-glow night lights; Fans with both lights and built-in heaters; and fans with Sensaire® “humidity sensor” technology that automatically turn on when needed and off when their job is done. Then there are fans than don’t even look like fans. They may look like a designer light fixture, a stylish grill or simple offset slit vents high up in the ceiling.    

Join the Bathroom Fan Club
If we’ve simply made you realize your bathroom fan is for more than just “clearing the air,” it’s a great start. But if you’re tired of seeing wallpaper droop, paint peel off the walls, nasty mildew and scary mold (or worse, not seeing it) plus fogged-up mirrors, not being able to dry yourself off completely or a variety of bad hair days (to name but a few concerns or discomforts) – then it’s time for action.

Practice “good” ventilation by running your existing fan long enough to do the job for which it is intended – or step-up to “great” ventilation by heading for your local home center to check out both Broan and NuTone’s state-of-the-art “quiet” bathroom ventilation. You’ll be impressed by their lower Sones (indicating quietness) and their listed CFM (cubic-feet-per-minute) rate of air-exchange. Basically, think less Sones and more CFM. Better yet, think Broan and NuTone.

There, I think we’ve “cleared the air” on bathroom ventilation.

Safety upgrades and modest remodeling are good investments

The annual "Cost vs. Value" article published annually by Remodeling Magazine gives consumers a look at the average price—and the return on investment—of all the most popular types of remodels.

In 2005, the word was that the average return on a remodeling project was in the high 90 percentile. At the same time the average cost of a kitchen remodel nationwide was $108,000.

In 2006, the 19th annual cost vs. value report shows, housing sales slowed and remodeling did, too. The survey, published last November, said that returns on remodeling investment in 2006 had plummeted from the 90s to the 70s, a whopping 20 percent drop.

Remodeling is still going strong, but with the slowdown in new home sales, most consumers have become reluctant to invest in higher-end products—expensive finishes such as fancy faucets and flooring, for example.

The word among those in the industry is: Don't expect customers to pay $700 to $900 for a faucet, because the ones most desired now are closer to the middle in price, $200 to $300.

We have trouble believing that anyone would spend more than $200 on a faucet anyway.

Nonetheless, now you know the industry buzz.

Keep in mind that our faucet example also applies to finish choices folks are making as they remodel. Other features and finishes offered at the upper end of the price scale included expensive tile and custom hardwood floors, and bathrooms with fireplaces.

But is remodeling still a good investment?

You bet, as good as ever. However, you may want to think out exactly what you want to spend on your remodel before making the final decision. Currently, more modest investments in finish items are getting the best return.

Our recommendations:

  • Before tackling any major remodeling project, first invest in safety upgrades. Make sure that your electrical and gas systems are in premium condition and that they comply with the most current electrical and plumbing codes. Ask your local building department to inspect your home and advise you on what repairs will make your home safest for you and your family. You may have to pay a small fee, but nothing like the cost of losing your home to a fire or an explosion.

Don't forget smoke alarms and CO2 detectors. If you don't have them, add them. If you do have them, bring them up to date—smoke detectors stop detecting after 10 years.

  • Next, comes energy efficiency: Invest in compact fluorescent light bulbs, furnace cleaning and maintenance, and appliance replacement—new ones are a great deal less expensive to operate.
  • Finally, don't forget general home maintenance. A roof leak may cost $450 dollars to have repaired, but if left unchecked it could end up doing thousands of dollars in damage.

Remember:

Safety, energy and maintenance repairs are not considered remodels. A remodel is not tax-deductible against a home's capital gain.

A repair is deductible. That's because a remodel is considered (by the government) as an improvement to conditions where a repair, even if it is an upgrade, brings the home back to its normal condition.

Once your home is safe, energy-efficient and properly maintained, remodel the master bath and kitchen. Of all possible remodels, they have always been top of the list.

You'll never want to leave once those two areas of your home are up to snuff.

The cost vs. value report covered 25 popular remodeling projects performed in 60 US cities. The report itself can be found at:

http://www.realtor.org/rmomag.NSF/files/Cost_vs_Value06.pdf

More home improvement tips and information are available on the Web at:
http://www.onthehouse.com or by calling 1-800-737-2474, ext. 59.

Spring Maintenance

Keeping your home and its operating systems clean and in good working order will make everything safer, more energy efficient and will cut utility and repair bills. What's more, regular maintenance can prevent damage that can lead to hundreds or thousands of dollars in repairs.

Many home maintenance projects offer a two for one—they improve appearance and prevent costly repairs down the road. For example, a fresh coat of paint will do wonders to improve the appearance of your home. That coat of paint will also offer weather protection that prevents deterioration and rot.

Many home maintenance tasks offer multiple benefits. Changing a furnace filter will not only improve the air quality in your home; a clean filter also means that the system won't have to work quite as hard and, thus, will save money on repairs and your utility bill.

Though home maintenance is a year-round task, spring and fall are two of the most important times for it.

Fall is the best time to prepare your home for winter rains and snow. Projects such as exterior caulking will prevent leaks and drafts. Repairing gutters and downspouts, roofing and drainage systems will help prevent roof leaks and flooded basements.

Spring is a time to assess how well your maintenance work held up during the winter and what other maintenance work or repairs must be made as a result of winter. Here's our list of spring home maintenance tasks that will keep your home humming for another season.

  • Gutters and downspouts: Even if you cleaned them in the fall, a mulch can collect in the gutters that can hasten rust and deterioration and make gutters sluggish during spring showers. Use a garden hose, a gutter scoop and a nylon brush to flush the gutters and downspouts. Use a wire brush to remove rust and peeling paint. Repair leaks and seal joints with a high-quality exterior grade caulk. Prime bare spots and add a fresh coat of paint.
  • Siding: No matter the type of siding, after a long winter's wear, it needs a good cleaning. One of the best means of brightening dingy siding is with a thorough pressure washing with water. If the siding is chalked or streaked, scrub it using a nylon truck brush along with a mild solution of powdered laundry detergent and hot water. Rinse thoroughly with fresh water. Check for cracks, peeling paint, missing or damaged mortar and caulking, and make the needed repairs.
  • Roof Leaks: Inspect the roof for loose or missing shingles. Binoculars work well for making an on-the-ground inspection. Look in the attic for water stains on the underside of the roof sheathing and on the rafters. They are telltale signs of a roof leak that might yet produce enough water to make its way to your ceiling. You don't need to wait till it rains to check a roof for leaks. Use a garden hose at suspicious areas to determine if your roof is leaking. Unless the roof needs replacement, damaged shingle replacement, flashing repair and roofing cement or caulking usually will do the trick.
  • Caulking: Caulking can take a real beating during winter. Spring is a good time to caulk around window trim and door frames, especially if you missed doing it in the fall. Do this after you have washed the exterior siding. Caulk tends to crack in concrete, foundations and basement walls.
  • Window and door screens: If you have trouble getting a good view of your spring flowers through your freshly washed windows, it might mean your window screens need cleaning or replacement. Remove window and door screens and give them a cleaning with a solution of powdered laundry detergent and hot water. Brush the screens with a nylon brush and give the screens and frames a rinsing with a garden hose or, better yet, a pressure washer. Mend tears and replace deteriorating material with new fabric. Lubricate hinges on screen doors and adjust hydraulic closers to make sure that the door closes fully.
  • Decks and fences: Decks, fencing and other exterior wood finishes should be cleaned and finished regularly to keep them looking good and to extend their life. Most high-quality exterior stains and wood finishes will last for two to three seasons—depending upon climate and the severity of the elements. However, a good spring cleaning is always in order. A solution of liquid chlorine bleach, powdered laundry detergent and hot water will remove mold and mildew from almost any exterior surface. For best results on wood decks, use a commercial deck-cleaning product that won't damage the finish. If the deck cleaner doesn't do it, try using a commercial deck brightener. If the finish is worn, try light sanding along with a fresh coat of finish.
  • Landscape irrigation: April showers may bring May flowers, but after the showers are gone, a good irrigation system will keep flowers blooming and turf green all summer. Spring is the time to clean, adjust, lubricate and tighten sprinkler heads. Most heads have an adjustment screw that will control water volume and, thus, the area covered by the sprinkler. Most modern sprinkler heads contain a filter that can be removed and cleaned. Replace broken filters. Clean or replace valve diaphragms to make sure that they are sealing properly. If you have an automatic timer, adjust the program to provide adequate watering time and don't forget to replace the battery that backs up the irrigation program.
  • Concrete patios, paths, driveways and carports: If your driveway or carport looks like an Indy 500 pit stop, a good cleaning is in order. Clean and degrease exterior concrete surfaces with a commercial concrete cleaner-degreaser. Use cat litter to absorb as much of the grease or oil first—by grinding it into the area with the soles of your shoes. Dispose of the oil-tainted cat litter as you would paint, used motor oil or other household toxic substances.
  • Air conditioner: Don't wait until the first heat wave to have your air conditioner serviced. If you do, chances are you will have a long wait. Save money and beat the heat by having a heating and air conditioning specialist give your system a good going over. Change filters, clean the coil case, check the blower, the temperature drop and the coolant pressure, lubricate the system and make sure that all components are operating to capacity.
  • Barbecue: Make sure the barbecue is in tiptop shape for serious spring and summer grilling. A good cleaning is all most barbecue grills need. Clean rust using a wire brush and rust solvent. Spot-prime using a heat-resistant metal paint. For gas barbecues, use compressed air to remove spider webs from burner assemblies. Clean or replace grates as necessary.