Archive for May 2016

Demystifying light bulb options

When you go to a home improvement store, the sheer number of light bulb options can be overwhelming. Not to mention the fact that most of the terms used to describe the bulbs sound like a bunch of industry jargon!

Here’s a quick guide to those terms, so you can choose the right bulbs for your family’s home.

Bulbs

There are three main types of bulbs you’ll run into. Each have their pros and cons, and they’ll be good for different purposes.

Incandescent: Incandescent lights are what most of us think of as the traditional light bulb. They tend to burn out quickly, but they’re relatively inexpensive. Incandescent bulbs have been phased out by the EPA, so they aren’t being manufactured in the US anymore, though you can still buy them. They aren’t very efficient or very bright, but they are definitely an affordable option.

CFL: This stands for compact fluorescent lights bulbs. CFLs are growing in popularity, because as the EPA has phased out incandescent lights, CFLs have become less expensive. They’re brighter and last longer than incandescent light bulbs.

However, they’re very sensitive to the light switch being turned on and off frequently, so they usually don’t last as long as the box says they will. They aren’t very environmentally friendly because they have mercury in them.

LED: LED (Light-emitting diodes) are tiny bulbs that can make up any kind of bulb shape and light color. They are becoming more common and can work the majority of light fixtures. LEDs are not as hazardous to dispose of as CFLs and they last for a very long time. They are the most expensive out of this list, though.

Measurements

Now that you’ve got a handle on the different types of bulbs out there, it’s helpful to know the meanings of the different measurements listed on each box.

Watts: This measures how much energy the bulb uses (not how bright the light is). A lot of home light fixtures shouldn’t take bulbs over 60 watts.

Kelvins: This is a measurement of where the light is on the color spectrum. There’s often a color wheel accompanying this measurement, so you can choose warm or cool lights.

Lumens: This measures the brightness of a bulb. CFLs and LEDs put out more lumens per watt than incandescent lights do—they shine brighter while using less energy.

Once you find a light bulb you like (or which light bulbs you like for each room of your house), make sure you keep track of it. Whether you use a spreadsheet, notes, or even pictures on your phone, that will help you keep your home lit consistently just the way you like it.

Don’t drown your plants!

Have you ever bought a yard full of beautiful flowers in April, only to find they’re dead in June? You may be overwatering them!

When flowers wilt, it’s easy to assume they need more water. In fact, some of the signs of over watering look similar to the signs of under watering. But one of the most common killers of indoor and outdoor plants is overwatering. This is especially true for potted plants.

Roots do two things: they take in water, and they absorb oxygen. Overwatering means the roots can’t absorb oxygen and that actually rots the roots from within the soil.

So how much should you water? The obvious answer is that it depends.

And it does depend on the size of the pot, the age of the plant, whether it’s in a sunny spot or a shady one, and the type of plant. There are some tell-tale signs to see if you’re over watering, though. Do your potted plants have any of these signs?

  • Constantly wet soil
  • Yellowing of the lower stems and leaves
  • Wilting (over watered plants are yellowed and wilted, under watered ones are brown and wilted)
  • Rotting roots
  • No new growth, especially buds that don’t turn into flowers

How can you prevent over watering your plants?

  • Read the tags that come with your plants—they may not need as much water as you think!
  • Pay attention to the symptoms of overwatering once your plants are in soil.
  • Make sure there’s good drainage for potted plants.
  • Water less often in the spring than in the heat of summer, especially when there has been a lot of rainfall.

If you have over watered some of your plants this year, don’t worry! Let them dry out for a bit, and it’s likely they’ll spring right back to life.

Repairing flickering lights

We get a lot of calls about lights that flicker constantly or sockets where bulbs are continually burning out quickly. Problems like these are usually because there’s an incorrect bulb in the socket, it was screwed in too tightly, or it wasn’t screwed in tightly enough.

The most common underlying cause of flickering lights isn’t the bulb, though. It’s an issue with the socket itself. Read on to learn how screwing a bulb in too tightly can alter your socket, making future light bulbs flicker!

Most homeowners would like to solve this kind of problem rather than paying a service fee for an electrician to come out and do it. If you’re comfortable doing that, here’s what you need to know.

The problem

In the middle of your socket, there’s a brass tab bent at an angle. Ideally, it connects to the bottom of the bulb and connects it to your home’s electrical system.

If you have a bulb that’s screwed in too tightly, that will press the brass tab down and when you install the next bulb, it may not be able to reach that tab, and then the light won’t turn on because the bulb isn’t really connected to your electrical system.Light bulb sockets

It may even work for a few days and then stop working. That’s because there may be an initial arc of electricity from the bulb to the brass tab that makes the connection briefly, but that’s not always stable and you don’t want to rely on that.

The tab is meant to be at a 20 degree angle, not flat at the bottom of the socket. Fixing the tab will often fix the issues with the light bulb that goes in that socket.

The solution

Turn the light switch off. You can even turn the electricity off for that whole room at the breaker box if you prefer.
Use a fiberglass ladder, not metal.
Take a screwdriver and pop the brass tab up so that it can create contact with the bulb.

That’s it!

If popping the tab up doesn’t fix your flickering light or frequently burning out bulbs, or if you’d rather not do it yourself, you’re welcome to give us a call. We’ll be happy to find the solution that works in your home.

Beware of dog

Did you know your dog could be dangerous…to your air conditioning unit?

Our technicians run into some pretty unusual causes for air conditioning issues. One that you simply cannot make up is unit damage that results from dog urine.

Unfortunately, this isn’t a rare occurrence.

It also isn’t covered by most warranties (and creates very recognizable damage), so read on to figure out what you can do about it.

What’s going on?

Dog urine corrodes the metal on your air conditioner’s condenser coil, which is part of where the magic happens. It’s not a part you want to have issues with.

Because of the acidity of most dog urine, it damages the metal of that coil, which can create a leak. Even a small leak could lead to en entire system repair, depending on the age of your unit.

This is typically an issue with male dogs, and it’s a behavior you want to catch as soon as possible! If you catch your dog taking care of business on your air conditioner, you’ll want to retrain them before it becomes a habit.

Once or twice won’t harm your unit, but once a dog finds a spot they like, they’ll probably keep using it. So what can you do about this?

Preventing the issue

There are two main things you can do to deter your dog from urinating on your air conditioning unit: cover it up and train him to urinate somewhere else.

If you’re going to surround your unit with plants or a fence to keep your dog away, make sure you leave enough room around your unit for good airflow. Your air conditioner needs to pull in air from outside to work properly, so place plants or a fence two to four feet away from your unit.

To train your dog to urinate elsewhere in the yard, you may need to go out and watch him and redirect him. Also, spray a non-toxic pet-repellent garden spray near your air conditioning unit (you can find it at a pet store!) to keep him away from the area.

If your dog is relieving himself on your air conditioning unit, you’ll be able to tell. There will be a bit of discoloration and damage before the urine starts corroding your unit’s metal.

Try to catch it early, because some leaks cannot be repaired, depending on the age of your unit and the refrigerant it uses. There are chemicals we may be able to run through your unit to clean the coil up. But if it’s happening it’s going to get worse, so be proactive!

If you’d like to see what the effect of this looks like, check out this video.

Is your air conditioner freezing up?

It’s a common misconception that if you turn the thermostat too low, you’ll freeze up your air conditioning system. That can contribute to your air conditioner freezing up, but it’s not the underlying cause.

If it freezes up once or twice, that’s not terrible news. But if it’s freezing up once a week, that indicates a systemic issue. There are four common reasons for air conditioners to freeze up, and having an idea of what’s causing yours to do that can help you figure out what next steps to take.

Reason 1 – Insufficient air flow

Your air conditioning system needs to have air flowing through it to work properly—specifically, across the evaporator coil. If it’s not blowing air over that coil, the heat exchange isn’t working right. That lack of air flow causes it to work harder and makes it difficult for it to remove heat from the home, causing ice to form on your unit.

Reason 2 – Refrigerant issue

Your unit cannot function without refrigerant. It’s what removes heat from the air in your home. A frozen unit could indicate that the refrigerant is low, or that the pressure in your system is off (usually because of a leak).

Reason 3 – Temperature fluctuations

Air conditioners are designed to work within a certain temperature range. When there is high humidity and a wide temperature range outdoors (like during most Spring months), those conditions can create a big pressure drop within your system when it turns on. That makes it freeze up.

Reason 4 – Mechanical problems

If there’s a kink in your refrigerant line, that restriction can create a problem, just like a kink in your garden hose makes it difficult to water your plants. Or if your air filters or air ducts are very dirty, that can restrict airflow and make it difficult for your system to run properly.

All four of these reasons come back to the pressure in your system and whether it allows your refrigerant to flow smoothly between your air conditioner and your furnace. When that flow is disrupted, your air conditioner doesn’t work properly and can freeze up.

What can you do?

Turn your air conditioner off! It’s not working when it’s all frozen up.
Check your evaporator coil and condenser coil, if you’re comfortable doing so. If it’s frozen, you’ll be able to see it from a distance.
Look for airflow restriction. Are your vents closed? Is there enough space around your air conditioning unit to allow air flow?
Change your air filters if they are dirty.
Check for really dirty air ducts— if they’re full of gunk, that will restrict airflow too.

If your air conditioning system is repeatedly freezing up, that can ruin your compressor. And once your compressor’s out of action, you pretty much need a new unit.

Some companies might install a new compressor, but we don’t recommend it—it’s like installing a new engine in a car. By the time you need to replace the engine, there are usually so many other issues with the car that it makes more sense to just buy a new one.

It’s important to pay attention to your air conditioner freezing up as early as you can. While it is expensive to replace your air conditioning system, a small refrigerant leak may only cost you a few hundred dollars.

If you’ve done all you feel comfortable with, and your air conditioning unit is still freezing up, you may want to call a professional to diagnose the underlying problem before it causes further damage.