Archive for December 2016

Why did your electrical outlet quit working?

Typically, electrical outlets don’t just quit working. When they aren’t working properly, there’s usually an underlying cause. We’ve fielded thousands of service calls for our Edmond and Oklahoma City clients where the primary complaint has been that one or more electrical outlets had stopped working.

If you’ve ever been in that position, you know how frustrating it can be!

Sometimes, there are things you can do as a homeowner without lifting a tool or paying a service fee. You can use whichever of these troubleshooting tips you’re comfortable with to save yourself the time and expense of a service call.

See if other outlets aren’t working either

You can safely test this by using a voltage meter. If you don’t have one, you can also take a small lamp and use it to test the outlets. Voltage meters are less than $15 at most hardware stores. Mark the ones that aren’t working with a piece of colored tape so you can see if there are any locations where multiple outlets aren’t working.

Check your circuit breakers

Any time something electrical stops working in your home, it’s a good idea to check your breaker box for tripped circuit breakers. Make sure to fully turn your breaker all the way to the off position, before turning it back to the on position.

Look for tripped GFCIs

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI, or GFI for short) are put in place to disable a circuit in the event of a ground fault, which could include somebody getting shocked. These safety devices are quite necessary, but can cause a lot of grief when it comes to outlets not working. If you aren’t familiar with these devices or how to reset them, you may want to watch our video on tripped GFI outlets.

Check for bad connections

This step may not be for everyone. Before checking any electrical connections you will first want to turn off the circuit breaker that powers the outlet, then confirm the power is disabled, BEFORE you check the connections.

But if you are comfortable doing so, you can remove the cover plate and check for the following:

  • Loose terminal screws or loose stab-in connections: If this is the problem, we suggest replacing that outlet and securing the connections on the new outlet.
  • Secured wire nuts: Make sure all connections at the wire nut are properly secured. If they have come loose or don’t have a good connection, that can make your outlet stop working correctly.

We find that often simple solutions turn out to be the right ones. If that’s not the case, then involving an electrical contractor you trust is the next best step.

Common questions about bathroom exhaust fans

You’ve probably used the exhaust fan in your bathroom before—have you ever wondered if you really need it? Older homes were often built without them, and residents simply opened windows to ventilate their bathrooms.

Of course, there’s almost nowhere in Oklahoma where opening the windows after a shower is a functional year-round solution, with the varied weather we have here. And more importantly, modern exhaust fans are much more efficient at reducing humidity than opening a window is.

We receive a lot of questions about bathroom exhaust systems from homeowners. Here are answers to some of the most common ones.

What’s the investment for adding a new exhaust system to a bathroom?

That depends on several factors, including how high-end you want to go. For a new installation, you’ll want to consider several things:

  • Exhaust fan unit: Some of these are just exhaust fans, but some include heating and lighting elements too.
  • Venting: Your exhaust system will need to vent outside the home, not into the attic or a crawlspace. Longer vent runs will cost a little more due to materials and the labor to complete the work.
  • Power and switches: We typically either add a new switch plate or expand one that’s already in place.
  • Multiple contractors: Typically an electrical contractor would handle adding new switches and connecting to the power source, while an HVAC contractor would add the ventilation system.

Since there are so many variables, we typically will not price a new installation until we have seen the home and can accurately gauge the work needed. You may want to be wary of someone who will give you a quote over the phone without seeing your home first.

How much does it cost to replace my existing fan?

This depends on your unit. Some economy units can be replaced for $150. But larger, energy-saving units can cost much more. Our clients often purchase the unit they want themselves. If that’s your route, consider these things:

  • Size of the existing and new units: If they’re the same size, it’s usually an easy swap. But if the existing unit is larger or smaller than the new one, that will require filling in the gap or cutting a large hole in the sheetrock.
  • Features of existing and new units: If your new unit has heat and light but your old unit was solely an exhaust fan, you will probably need a reconfiguration of the existing switches and switch plates.

Can’t I just go without an exhaust system in my bathroom?

You certainly can! Exhaust systems are routinely installed during the home building process, but older homes don’t always have them. You may experience some humidity issues, but depending on your home environment, you may not.

I feel some drafty, cold air coming from my exhaust vents. Is something wrong?

This is a tough one to answer without physically seeing the exhaust system. Some of the questions we typically ask clients, though, may help you determine the cause.

  • Is the ventilation properly sealed? If it isn’t, cold air from your attic or crawl space could be getting into the exhaust vent.
  • Is there a damper on your vent cap? Dampers (movable flaps) on the cap to the vent system can sometimes prevent air from getting into the vent when the exhaust fan is not running. There are ‘draft blockers’ you can put in the exhaust vent, which help move air one-way, preventing back drafts.
  • Are your dampers obstructed? Something as simple as a twig could prevent your dampers from closing and doing their job, leading to a draft.

If you have further questions about your existing exhaust system or about installing a new one, let’s have a conversation. We’d be happy to talk about what makes sense for your budget and your needs.

It’s not too late to winterize your home

Utility costs in Oklahoma City, like many other parts of the country, tend to spike in the months where the weather and temperatures are the most volatile. But because these months are the most costly to keep your home comfortable, they’re also the months where simple energy efficiency measures have the largest impact.

Here are some simple things you can do to winterize your home and stay a little warmer and safer as temperatures outside drop.

1. Run fans in reverse

Rotating your fans in a clockwise motion will help force the naturally-rising warmer air back to ground level.

2. Flush your water heater

Your water heater usually works hardest in winter, especially when it sits in the cold garage. Draining your water heater can help drain any calcium sediment buildup, which will help your water heater operate more efficiently.

For best effects, this should be done annually. If your water heater is several years old and this has never been done, it will likely have minimal results.

3. Insulate and properly seal your windows

You can always replace your older windows with new ones, but that’s probably a four- or five-figure investment. If you’re worried about your windows letting cold air inside, here are a couple of more affordable things you can do:

  • For a few dollars, you can get an insulation kit for your windows. This thin plastic sheet is largely invisible and easy enough to install. There are better versions you can have professionally installed for a fraction of the investment of replacing your windows.
  • Caulking around the outside of the window can make a big difference, make sure to use a exterior-grade caulk.
  • Weatherstripping is another great option. It helps to make a firm seal in the interior area of windows, known as the sash. These are the movable parts of the window which open and close.

4. Tune up your heater

Consider this the shameless plug for our industry. Some people are comfortable doing this themselves, but most people prefer to outsource to an HVAC contractor.

Either way, a well-maintained furnace has lower operating costs and it will keep your home warmer. Most companies perform this service for around a hundred dollars per heater or furnace.

5. Change your air filters

We hate to beat a dead horse, but we find dirty air filters present on roughly 75% of our service calls where the HVAC equipment has stopped working. Consider this a reminder to change yours if you haven’t done so recently.

6. Draft guards for your doors

These may not always be the most aesthetically pleasing, but draft guards attached to the underside of your exterior doors will help with drafts letting unwanted cold air in your home this winter. You can get them for $10-$15 any hardware store.

7. Chimney balloon

I had never heard of one of these either, thank you internet. Chimneys are a huge source of heat loss in many homes, the chimney balloon will plug this draft up and can be easily removed when you want to use the fireplace. There are many brands available, here is one we found that appears to have positive reviews.

8. Check your air ducts

While a visual inspection of an air duct system is included in most heater or furnace tuneups, there are better and more in depth ways of checking to see how much heat loss you have in your air duct system. Some contractors (we happen to be one of them) have infrared equipment and can show you where your air ducts may be leaking, as well as price repairs to the duct system.

It’s estimated that in some homes, as much as 30% of the utilities associated with heating and cooling the home are lost due to inefficient ductwork.

These proactive steps can help you save money and retain heat this winter. If you’re worried that your heating or cooling system simply isn’t working, give us a call, we’d be happy to help you figure out a solution.

Safety tips for your Christmas lights

I’m sure you’ll find a lot of people trying to do their best Clark Griswold impression this Christmas season, hoping to make their homes visible from outer space. There are safe ways to do that, but there were still over 200 house fires started by Christmas light displays last year.

Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make sure your lights won’t become a fire hazard in your home! Here are some important ones.

1. Avoid removing ground pins from electrical plugs

The ground pin is that third prong that electrical plugs have. Most outlets have three prongs but some older ones just have two. It is very dangerous to remove the grounding prong to make a three-prong plug into a two-prong plug.

There are adapters you can buy that are much safer and do not create a fire hazard.

2. Use proper lighting hangers

Yes, buying clips or hangers for your lights can add to the expense of Christmas lights, but running nails or tacks through them simply isn’t safe. You can damage the insulation or coating and expose wiring, which can lead to a structure fire.

3. Mind that ladder safety

Ladder safety is extremely important! Make sure you have a stable ladder, preferably one made of fiberglass since you will be hanging electrical wires (and fiberglass isn’t a conductor like metal is). Have someone hold the base of the ladder for you if at all possible.

4. Make sure your extension cords and light fixtures are rated for outdoor use

There is a difference between interior and exterior light fixtures and extension cords besides the price! It can create a fire hazard to use internal electrical equipment for external purposes, especially with extension cords.

5. Avoid combining metallic ornaments and lights

Any time you have electrical power running into a metal housing, there’s a potential danger. If there is a wiring fault, the metallic housing can become a conductor of electricity and a fire hazard. It’s better to keep metallic ornaments and electric lights separated.

6. Visually inspect all of your power cords and light strands

If you can see exposed wiring or damaged plastic coating anywhere, you are better off not using them. Exposed wire is a safety hazard!

7. Consider using LED lights

While LED lights are more expensive to buy up front, they cost less to operate and burn much cooler than typical lights. The risk of heat-related fires is greatly minimized because they are so much cooler in temperature

8. Don’t overload your electrical circuits

You know the Clark Griswold setup, with 30 strands of lights plugged into a series of power strip? That will overload your circuit. While this risk is greatly reduced with LED lights, you can still overload your circuit. While the circuit breaker should trip and disable the circuit, there’s always the chance of a fire hazard when you have an overloaded circuit.

Signs your circuit is overloaded:

  • Buzzing or flickering lights
  • Circuit breaker is tripping
  • Warm power outlets or power cords
  • Sparking around outlet (probably should call an electrician here)
  • Crackling sounds

Now, if your neighborhood likes to get competitive with their lights, or you like to be the house that everyone stops to look at when they’re driving around looking at Christmas lights, go right ahead! Just make sure you’re following these safety tips so your home can be beautiful and safe this winter.