OnTheHouse Express

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Dr. Roof

Keep the top of your house in top condition. Dr. Roof’s advice can keep you from needing costly housecalls.

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When to Repair or Replace a broken heating system

According to Ken Ely, a home heating and energy efficiency expert with Lennox — a leading provider of home comfort systems — homeowners should ask the following four questions before making the decision whether to repair or replace:

  • Is the furnace or boiler on its last leg? Excessive energy consumption and frequent repairs are the trademarks of a system at the end of its useful life. If the heating system is more than 15 years old, replacing the aging system with a new ENERGY STAR-qualified system can save time, money, and headaches — and keep you warmer and more comfortable in the long run. If the system is less than 15 years old, routine maintenance may be the way to go. In fact, an annual check-up can significantly increase the heating system’s performance and extend the life of the unit.
  • Are your energy bills going up, up and up? While the cost of home heating oil and natural gas is on the rise, an older, less efficient heating system may also be the culprit when it comes to high energy bills. By replacing an older furnace that is 60 percent efficient with one that is 95 percent efficient, homeowners can save approximately 57 percent on energy bills and up to $5,513 over a five-year period. Energy calculators, such as the one available on lennox.com, can help consumers compare the savings of different high-efficiency systems and determine whether to repair or replace an older unit.
  • Were you feeling left out in the cold even before the heating system stopped working? Duct problems, inadequate sealing or inadequate insulation can create hot and cold spots in the house. When making the decision to repair or replace a heating system, talk with a reputable home heating and cooling contractor about your home comfort issues to determine if you need to replace the existing system or if the issues can be resolved with repairs or duct sealing.
  • Is the heating system still protected by a warranty? If the existing system is still under warranty, it may make sense to have the furnace or boiler repaired depending on the type of coverage the product warranty provides. If there is no warranty left on the existing system, consumers may want to buy a new heating system that comes with an entirely new warranty for added peace of mind. For example, products like the Dave Lennox Signature Collection G71P gas furnace, come with a standard limited 10-year warranty for parts and a limited lifetime warranty for the heat exchanger.

For more tips and advice for improving your home comfort this winter, Ely recommends consumers check out online resources, such as Lennox.com and ItPaysToLiveSmart.com.

Adding A Decorative Wall Niche

. The project we are about to detail is so simple you might decide to go into business for yourself.

We're talking about the installation of a prefabricated wall niche. They not only are attractive but they allow you, as well, to utilize dead space in a wall for a display platform for flowers, art, sculptures, statuary, religious items and more.

There are a few tricks you will need to know to ensure a smooth installation. But, the project is easy:

* Cut a rough opening in the wallboard.
* Apply adhesive to the wallboard.
* Mount the niche in the opening.
* Nail it in place with finish nails.
* Caulk the nail holes.

Except for the few precautions that follow, that is all there is to it.

The real trick is accomplished in the planning. Most wall niches are made to fit in the empty space that exists between wall studs. The empty area (or wall cavity) between any two studs is known as the "bay" or "stud bay." This cavity between floor or ceiling joist would be known as the "joist bay" and between rafters...you guessed it...the "rafter bay."

Wall studs normally are spaced at either 16 inches or 24 inches on center. If the spacing is 16 inches, the stud-bay clearance (distance between studs) will be 14 inches. If the studs are spaced at 24 inches, the distance, stud-to-stud, will be 22{ inches. The niche you choose should be purchased to fit your particular stud spacing.

Yes, you can install a niche made for a smaller 14-inch bay into a larger 22-inch bay, but you will have to do a little framing that could turn the project into a weekend of work.

Keep in mind that not all stud bays are empty. They can contain electrical wiring, plumbing pipes and vents, to name a few things. Also, keep in mind that a wall has two sides and you will want to study both of them before cutting. Why look on the other side? By surveying its surface you often can tell what's inside. A wall switch or receptacle is a dead giveaway that electric wiring is nearby. An intersecting wall on the opposite side guarantees that the chosen stud bay is not empty. Such a configuration requires the wall being intersected to have partition framing. Sometimes you can get around the wiring, but you won't ever get around a partition connection.

The most important tool for this project will be a stud-finder. One that also checks for sheet-metal ducting, plumbing pipes and electrical wiring is best for this task. If there is a sink or shower valve on the other side of the wall, there will be a valve or a vent pipe in the wall. If a stove exists, there might be a gas line or larger electric wire in your way. Look in the attic to see if anything is penetrating the top of the wall. No penetrations from the attic or subarea are good indications, but not proof positive.

Why all the precautions? Most stud bays are empty. However, you shouldn't arbitrarily start removing drywall. A diagnosis first can save dollars later.

Once you've found the perfect place for your niche, use a razor knife or a saw to cut out the wallboard to the niche manufacturer's specifications. We suggest a making a small hole with a razor knife first. Check to make sure that nothing exists in the cavity. Then cut.

With the hole cut, apply the glue. Put it on the wall...not the niche. You will find out that handling a caulked niche can be a mess. Ever hear the old saying "paint travels"? Well, caulking and adhesive does too. Some manufacturers suggest a special adhesive for their niches. If that's not the case, we suggest silicone caulk. Clear is good. It sticks well, can easily be cleaned with alcohol and will readily fill the irregular void that typically is created between a straight object (like the back of a niche) and a wall's wavy surface.

Be prepared to have someone apply pressure to the surface of the niche to hold it solidly in place while 6-penny or 8-penny bright finish nails are used to permanently attach it to the wall. The nail should be long enough to go through the niche and the wallboard, and then penetrate into the stud approximately 1 inch. Wipe off the excess caulk, putty the nail holes and let everything dry.

If you are even modestly careful when you cut the drywall, you will find that no wall painting will be necessary, and you will have to paint only if you want to change the color of the niche.

New Year's Resolution for Monthly Home Maintenance

. Lose weight; quit smoking; exercise regularly; test the smoke detector. What have you resolved to do in the New Year? If you're like most Americans, you've made a host of resolutions intended to improve your lifestyle and well-being. The examples, losing weight, quitting smoking and exercising are among the most common "to-dos." Less common is the final example...testing the smoke detector in your home. Often overlooked, it is no less important than the other resolutions.

Testing a smoke detector is just one of several home-maintenance tasks that should be performed on a regular basis. Maintenance performed regularly and on schedule provides optimum longevity, helps prevent potential breakdowns or malfunctions, and ensures maximum safety for you and your family. Here are a few tasks you should take on:

1. Check Furnace Filters: The purpose of the filter on a forced-air furnace is to keep dust, soot, and other contaminants from collecting on the interior workings of your furnace. In addition, a high-quality filter will cut down on airborne dust and particulate matter that is blown into your living area. Once the filter has been sufficiently coated with this grime, it causes the furnace blower to work harder, making it more costly to operate and shortening its life span. A clean filter will help the furnace run more efficiently and save on operating costs.
Since filter size and location vary from furnace to furnace, you'll need to check the owner's handbook for this type of information. If an owner's handbook doesn't exist, this information usually can be found on the furnace or on an inside panel of the furnace. Some furnaces have more than one filter that will need replacement. Buying replacement filters by the case will cut down on the unit price and will make replacement convenient.

2. Check Water Filters and Softeners: Water filters are a great means of improving water quality (smell and taste). The secret to keeping water quality high is replacing filters regularly. The frequency depends upon the type of system and the condition of the water. Whole house filters, point-of-use dispensers and icemaker water supplies can each be changed in a matter of minutes. Besides providing better quality water, a clean filter will improve flow.
Although a water softening system is reasonably maintenance-free, every now and again the brine solution becomes clogged at the base of the brine tank, preventing the solution from being siphoned into the resin tank. You know this is the case when your brine tank is full of salt and your water doesn't have that slick feel. Check your owner's manual for information on how to flush the brine tank, or call a service pro to do it for you.

3. Clean the Dryer Duct and Filter: Clean the lint screen thoroughly after every load. If it's filled and clogged with lint, the air won't circulate and the clothes won't dry. The dryer runs far longer, which wears it out faster and wastes energy dollars. Use a duct cleaning brush to clean the dryer duct at least twice annually.

4. Clean and Freshen Sink Drains: Foul odors from a sink drain can make your home both unpleasant and uninviting. To keep sink drains in your home running freely... and absent of odor...try these methods: 1) Run hot water through the sink after each use; 2) Throw a handful of baking soda into the drain and follow it with hot water; 3) Pour a cup of vinegar into the drain and let is sit for a half-hour. Then chase it down with very hot water.

5. Test Smoke Detectors: All smoke detectors and alarms have a "test button." Once a month, get up on a chair, or use a broom handle for extra reach, and push it. If you don't hear anything, your battery is dead. If after changing the battery, the smoke detector still is not working, immediately replace it with a new one. Test the smoke detector by striking three kitchen matches, blowing them out and holding them near the unit. While you're up there checking your battery and testing the detector, brush or vacuum the alarm to keep dust out of the mechanism.

6. Test Carbon Monoxide Detectors: The care and maintenance of a carbon monoxide detector is much the same as for smoke detectors with regard to cleaning and frequent testing. However, a carbon monoxide detector can't be tested using an outside source. Therefore, it is imperative that the test buttons provided on the equipment be tested at least once each month.

7. Flush the Water Heater and Check the PTR: Mineral deposits and sediment at the base of a water heater tank make the job of heating water infinitely more difficult and affect your utility bill. Check your water heater for sediment and remove at least once annually. The pressure and temperature relief valve (PTR) opens to release pressure buildup in the water heater when the temperature or the pressure gets dangerously high, thus preventing a possible explosion. To test the valve, simply raise and lower the test lever several times so it lifts the brass stem it is fastened to. Hot water should rush out of the end of the drainpipe. If no water flows through the pipe or you get just a trickle, replace the valve.

8. Test GFCI receptacles: The Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) was developed to prevent electrical shocks. All GFCI receptacles have test buttons. You should test each receptacle in your home at least once a month. If the test doesn't trip the breaker, replace the GFCI immediately.

New Year’s Resolution

As we face the New Year and most of us want to change for the better, the one thing most difficult to tackle for most people is change itself. It is much easier for most of us to learn a new skill or take a course that promises new and greater results. We are all drowning in a sea of information, it is much easier to seek out new information rather than apply what we already know. Daniel Webster once said, "It is much better to read one book 10 times than to read 10 books."

Then we have to tackle our negative way of thinking, by changing our attitudes about something and looking at most ideas with a positive outlook, we can actually move forward to the last and most important principle of change. Behavioral change is the toughest because now we actually have to do something about it. And for us to be successful we need to seek out a support system and some form of accountability that will in a loving way guide us to our goals.

So let the New Year in with joy and make it the year where you can succeed and reclaim your health. So as we have seen massive changes in our finances, realize you come into this world with nothing and you leave with nothing. Your health is one of the few remaining things you do have control over, so exercise your control.

Live with vigor.

Rebuilding Together Kicks Off in 2009

This year, thanks to Rebuilding Together, historic West Tampa will win big this Super Bowl Weekend regardless which team leaves victorious. Rebuilding Together is celebrating the 14th annual “Kickoff to Rebuild” an NFL sanctioned event which happens each year Super bowl weekend in the host city. Some recent year NFL players who have come to lend a hand included Kurt Warner, David Gerard, Brandon Jones, Tomas Tapeih and a lot more great guys from the NFL.

This year the plans include a HUGE “Kickoff to Rebuild” intended to make a lasting impact in Tampa with a blitz style work day — improving nearly 20 homes in the West Tampa community on Friday the 30th. Nearly 1000 volunteers from the Tampa community, local and national sponsors, as well as current and former NFL players, will donate time, money and materials for the West Tampa work day to supply free home repairs. For the second year, The American Petroleum Institute is acting as title sponsors as part of their energy efficiency program, ensuring that the project is complete with key energy efficient home renovation measures. After the work day, volunteers and community members will enjoy a block-party style celebration of their hard work and dedication to rebuild.

A recent guest of On The House, Gary A. Officer, President and CEO for Rebuilding Together said that “being able to showcase this project at the Super Bowl as part of our long standing relationship with the NFL helps bring awareness to the need to preserve affordable homeownership in America and give help to those who need it, so they can live in safe and comfortable housing. We thank the NFL once again for this opportunity.”

The West Tampa community is a historic neighborhood that has taken significant measures in recent years to reinvigorate its traditions and legacy within Tampa. It is a community primed for revival and prepared to rebuild the historic buildings and homes that characterize the community between its Central Business District and the Westshore Business District. In the heart of the West Tampa district, the old West Tampa neighborhood is an area that combines urban living with historical preservation.

To find out how you can help by sponsoring Kickoff to Rebuild contact Brian Annis at bannis@rebuildingtogether.org or 202-483-9083. For more information about Rebuilding Together visit www.rebuildingtogether.org