Archive for General

Composting basics (no acreage required!)

Over the past several years, we’ve noticed many of our colleagues in Edmond and Oklahoma City have started composting some of their food waste.

Originally, we all assumed this was because they just happened to be avid gardeners! But from asking about and listening to their reasons, I’ve learned there are many other reasons composting is seeing a surge in popularity.

In addition to the benefit to your soil, composting can reduce landfill waste and greenhouse emissions and deter pests in your garden. It can also help you build up and replace lost topsoil, which we typically lose every year due to erosion and agriculture.

Composting is fairly simple, too—but it does require more than just throwing all your food waste into a box in your backyard. Here are some things you should compost (and some things you should definitely just leave in the trash).

Compostable garbage

  • Dead plants and flowers, including grass clippings, dead leaves, and even wood ashes
  • Paper products, like shredded bills and used paper towels and napkins
  • Feathers or hair from your pets
  • Most nuts and their shells (but not walnuts—they have a chemical that is toxic to certain plants)
  • Coffee grounds and paper coffee filters
  • Stale or moldy bread
  • White glue (like Elmer’s) and masking tape—yes, really!
  • Natural wine corks
  • 100% cotton balls and swabs

Just leave it in the trash

  • Soaps or shampoos
  • Meat, animal bones, or eggs (you’ll attract unwanted critters)
  • Dairy products
  • Oils, grease, or salad dressings
  • Diapers or feminine products
  • Pet waste or cat litter (there may be parasites)
  • Dryer lint
  • Glossy magazines or wrapping paper
  • Charcoal ashes (contain toxins)
  • Cooked rice and pasta
  • Cigarrette butts
  • Peanut butter

A lot of people find that it’s helpful to have one trash can for compostable material and another for things that aren’t. Even if you have a small garden, composting can be a simple way to reduce your food waste and provide the kind of soil that your plants will love.

Do you compost? What has been helpful to you in the process? What mistakes do you wish you had avoided?

What is (and isn’t) okay to put in the garbage disposal

Most homes in Edmond and Oklahoma City have garbage disposals, but there’s a surprising amount of controversy about what you can and can’t put down your garbage disposal.

When we had a plumbing department, I would constantly hear horror stories from our plumbing technicians about what they encountered in the field!

Food that shouldn’t go down your garbage disposal can gunk up the disposal and dull the blades, making it less effective. And of course, over time that can cause them to break! I recall breaking one or two garbage disposals as a child, which my parents were not happy about…

Based on what our plumbers shared and some online research, I’ve compiled a list of what’s generally okay and what’s not okay to put down your garbage disposal. I was surprised to find so much controversy online over what you can and can’t put in the disposal, so I would just say to err on the side of caution if you’re concerned about damaging your disposal.

Okay:

  • Small citrus peels (admittedly one of the more controversial items)
  • Liquids
  • Soft foods
  • Small amounts of cooked vegetables or meat (like leftovers)

Not okay:

  • Grease, fats, and oils (These will coat the blades of your disposal, making it work harder.)
  • Eggshells (Ground-up eggshells mixed with grease can really gunk up your drain lines!)
  • Vegetable peels
  • Actual garbage (Paper, rubber bands, plastic, etc.)
  • Rice and pasta (They expand when exposed to water, even after being cooked. Yikes!)
  • Bones

Or, think of it this way: If you could feed it to an infant, then it will probably be okay to go down your drain.

You should also run your garbage disposal with cold water when you’re grinding up food particles—that way the natural oils and fats in some foods won’t get stuck in your disposal blades. After running the disposal, though, it’s perfectly okay to run hot water down the drain.

I know we like to think of our garbage disposal as something that simply gets rid of the things we don’t want to scrape into the trash can (and to an extent that’s true) but it might help to also think about it like an appliance, too. Being careful about what you put down the disposal can help you maintain that appliance over the years.

Home maintenance checklist for Oklahoma

You’re probably pretty busy, right? Most people are, and one of the things that tends to fall by the wayside when we’re busy is home maintenance.

Home maintenance, just like car maintenance, can help prolong the life and enjoyment of a substantial investment. But it can be intimidating to try to find time to do all the maintenance tasks you can possibly find online.

Here’s a brief list of some of the most important ones for Oklahomans. For me, I find it’s really helpful to schedule out when I’m going to do these tasks well in advance, so I’m not wondering when it’s time (and stressing if I’ve forgotten).

Fireplace

Real fireplaces should be cleaned at least once a year. Creosote forms over time, lining the flue, and as little as 1/8th of an inch can lead to a chimney fire.

Water heater

Drain your water heater once a year to remove sediment from the tank. Sediment forms from hard water, and if you aren’t draining the tank, those particles will build up over time and reduce the capacity to store water.

Gutters

Your gutters help prevent the ground immediately around your home for getting waterlogged and risking foundation damage. Removing leaves, twigs, and other debris when they build up helps your gutters do their job.

Air filters

Replacing air filters helps prolong the life of your HVAC unit and prevent premature compressor failure (which can cost you up to $10,000!). At minimum, these should be replaced every quarter, although most homes benefit from more frequent replacement.

Smoke detectors

Check the batteries at least once a quarter to make sure they’re working properly—do the same for carbon monoxide detectors if you have them. It’s a good idea to replace the batteries once a year.

Fire extinguishers

If you don’t have a couple of these in your home, what are you waiting for? Check the expiration dates and replace when necessary (they typically expire five to ten years after they were manufactured). Check for signs of any visible damage or corrosion every month.

Washing machine

Detergent residue, dirt, and even sand can build up in your washer, making it dirty and even sometimes smelly. Run your washer once a month with hot water and bleach (with no clothes) to disinfect and remove odors. Wipe off any dirt or sand with a wet rag.

To make sure these home maintenance items get finished when they need to, I recommend using a calendar app—Google, Outlook, whatever you’re most comfortable with—and setting reminders.

This is especially helpful for those tasks that have to be done periodically, like changing your air filters. You won’t have to spend energy trying to remember the last time you did a certain home maintenance task, and you’ll be able to rest assured that your home is in good condition.

Why we value our initial visit to your home

If you call us for a new electrical project or to repair something that isn’t working properly, you may be frustrated to find that we will want to come out to your home and inspect the potential project before we give you a hard-and-fast quote.

Now, we don’t do that in order to frustrate our customers, but we know that it can sometimes be a cause of frustration. After all, if you’re trying to estimate a budget for a project, why should you have to pay a service fee to have a technician come out to your home?

We do things this way in order to make sure that we’re serving you, our client, as well as we possibly can. It can help to think of things in medical terms: You wouldn’t be able to simply call a surgeon and request a procedure out of the blue, would you?

If your doctor didn’t call for the surgery, the surgeon is going to require you to have a medical exam before you go under the knife. Otherwise, they would be engaging in medical malpractice.

We don’t want to commit malpractice in our jobs either, although it looks different in our world than in the medical world!

Sometimes the problem that we receive a call for isn’t really the root of the problem—or we find something dangerous to your family. You might call because the breaker for your bathroom keeps tripping, but when our technician arrives, they discover that your breaker box is one of the types that is prone to combustion, and it therefore needs to be replaced before anything else can happen.

Or maybe you call because you want to wire some new lighting to your living room, but your technician discovers that the previous owner of your home must have hired someone unlicensed to handle the current wiring, because it isn’t up to code.

We don’t want to give you an estimate over the phone that we won’t be able to uphold! But if our technician notices issues that threaten your family’s safety, or finds that there’s a better solution to your issue than the one you’d requested, we want to leave room to offer what’s the most effective for your family.

While you will pay a service fee for our technician to come out and assess the situation, that does not mean that you need to have the service done that day—or even have a decision made yet!

We know that it’s common for people to want to discuss with their spouse or other family members about significant decisions on their homes, and we will not charge a second service fee to come out and complete the service. We’ll provide an definite quote for the project at the end of the initial service call, and you can choose to go forward at that point or at any point in the future (or not at all).

Miscommunication happens all the time, so we want to make sure that everyone’s on the same page about what needs to be done before we quote you for a project, and certainly before we start work.

Investing in a new HVAC system?

A new heating and air system isn’t a small investment for most people. And nobody wants to be blindsided with a surprise expense in the middle of summer or the dead of winter with a busted HVAC system.

It can be difficult to figure out how much a new HVAC unit will cost, though. Prices listed online might not be accurate for our Oklahoma market, and you run the risk of being chased down by salespeople if you call companies to try to price it out.

Obviously, there are lots of variables involved, and that’s part of the difficulty as well. Depending on how large your home is, the state of your ductwork, and the end result you’re looking for, there’s a wide range of possible investments you could be looking at.

Currently, in our Oklahoma City and Edmond markets, we find that people pay, on average, between $7,000 and $10,000 for a complete installation. You can stop reading now, sure—but if you’re curious about where in that range you might fall, these considerations can help you gauge what kind of investment you should prepare for.

Current state

Is your HVAC system completely broken, or is it simply working at sub-optimal levels? Is it December, or July, and you’re feeling some urgency, or it it a relatively mild time of the year like April, and you can wait a little to make your decision?

What’s the age of your home? Has it been recently renovated? Is your ductwork older? Will you be needing to replace the entire system, or just one part?

Desired state

Just like with cars, you can get normal, functioning models and you can also get luxury models. And trust me, there are luxury HVAC systems. Think about if that’s something that’s important to you.

If you just want something that works, that’s okay. Not everyone needs or wants the extra bells and whistles. We’re not going to push the units that are over $10,000 onto anyone, but if that’s something you’re interested in, that is an option.

Budget

What’s your budget? I’ve seen online estimates of anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 dollars for replacing a HVAC system, but I think that range is really too big to be useful. Typically in our market, people invest between $7,000 and $10,000 for a new HVAC system.

Ultimately, even an experienced HVAC professional won’t be able to give you a hard and fast estimate until they’ve come out to your home, because your home and your family’s needs are unique. But most people, in most circumstances, will find that a completely new HVAC system will require that size of investment.

Have further questions about HVAC installation, or the state of your HVAC system? Give us a call, and let’s have a conversation about your situation.

Don’t gamble with your home

Let’s say you know a really great general contractor who has offered to help you with an electrical project you’ve been wanting to get done. Or maybe you have someone in your family who’s dabbled in electrical engineering, and they’re sure they can help you finish that incomplete project for cheap.

Is there any reason you shouldn’t go with those options? A circuit’s a circuit, right? Surely there are tutorials online they can follow.

Obviously, I’m going to take some kind of issue with that, simply because of the work we do at Baxter. But regardless of that, I would still counsel a friend against cutting corners in that way, and there are several reasons for that.

For one, it’s dangerous. Electricity, managed improperly, can harm you or your contractor, and could create a fire in your home that your homeowners insurance won’t cover (more on that in a bit).

In addition to the fact that they simply haven’t gone through the work to become licensed—and therefore are probably not as skilled in electrical work as they are in their chosen field—there are some significant (and costly) considerations for you as a homeowner.

Often, someone who isn’t a licensed electrician will choose to do your project for a significantly lower quote than a licensed electrician. But if something goes wrong, the cost of that project could increase exponentially.

Homeowners insurance won’t cover damage

Having a contractor who doesn’t have an electrician’s license work on your electrical project requires you to take a risk. If there’s a fire caused by their project, your homeowners insurance won’t cover the damage.

Not only is a fire a significant hazard to your home and your family, but saving a few thousand dollars by having an unlicensed contractor execute your project could end up costing you far more than that financially if things don’t go exactly right.

What happens if they’re injured while working on your project?

If you hire someone who isn’t a licensed electrician to do electrical work on your home, you’ll want to consider who will cover their workman’s comp. If they’re uninsured for electrical work, you’ll be responsible for paying if they end up hurting themselves on your project.

Ultimately, it’s up to you how you spend your budget for home improvement projects. But hiring someone who isn’t a licensed electrician to do your electrical work could end up costing you more money than you save—and could even be dangerous for your family.

Indoor and outdoor spring home maintenance

As the weather gets warmer, we find that our Edmond and Oklahoma City neighbors are ready to give their homes a little TLC.

Whether you love spring cleaning or prefer a more gradual cleaning approach, there are some tasks inside and outside your home that are ideal to tackle in the spring.

Your home’s interior

Look in your attic for signs of mold and evidence of critters. Check the drain pan for your air conditioner (it might be in your attic or in a closet) to ensure it’s draining properly. Change out your air filters if you haven’t recently. It’s also a good idea to call for spring maintenance on your entire HVAC system to make sure it serves you well as the weather gets warmer.

Check for signs of moisture underneath sinks and near your washing machine, your dishwasher, and your hot water heater—if you find any signs of leakage, you’ll be able to address it before it become a larger problem.

Your home’s exterior

Clean out your gutters and look for any shingles that look out of place, or other signs of damage on your roof. Trim any branches that hang over your roof to keep them from falling during spring storms.

Take a walk around your property, looking for any places where dirt has accumulated. Give your windows a nice cleaning, and spray down siding or brick to remove any accumulation of dirt or grime.

Your yard

Now’s the time to clear your beds for spring planting and add fresh mulch. You can plant summer-blooming bulbs, and you can even start some cool-weather plants from seeds:

  • Onions
  • Carrots
  • Kale
  • Celery
  • Potatoes
  • Lettuce

Giving your home a little care early in the season will give you time to relax and enjoy the results of your efforts well into the summer!

Prevent critters from encroaching on your home

Recently, my wife and I had a battle of the ages with what turned out to be a family of squirrels.

We live a little outside of Oklahoma City on a wooded lot, so seeing squirrels is pretty common year-round. It was quite easy for them to jump from the nearest tree onto our roof. We hadn’t really considered why this could be a problem!

Once it got cold this season, we noticed a scratching sound coming from our attic. We heard it a few times over the course of a couple days and decided to investigate. A cursory search around the property revealed a soffit screen had been clawed or chewed through.

If you aren’t sure what a soffit screen is, that’s pretty normal. A soffit, on most homes, is the wood that bridges the gaps between your roof’s edge and the wood or siding of your home. Most will have screens installed by the builder, which helps circulate air and lets your attic breathe.

It was clear our home had been invaded by some manner of critter. The hole in the soffit screen wasn’t too big, so we were hopeful that it wasn’t a raccoon or opossum. After asking around and doing some light internet research, we decided to call a service company out to our home to have them look at the problem.

We happily paid the company’s service fee and their technician confirmed we did, in fact, have some squirrels in our attic. For a nominal fee they removed the vermin from our attic. We declined the preventive methods they suggested, though, and decided to tackle them ourselves. In addition to some of the things we tried, we read about a few other preventive tactics that are worth sharing.

Changing out the soffit screens

The soffit screens we had weren’t very durable and were easily compromised. For a few hours’ worth of work and a couple hundred dollars, we were able to replace our cheap screens with a heavy metal screen with louvers.

Trimming your trees

At our home, we had areas where the tree limbs were unnecessarily close to the house. We ended up handling this ourselves, but if you’re uncomfortable doing so, it’s a good idea to hire a tree-trimming company.

Seal any gaps around the home

Mice can squeeze through an opening as small as a quarter of an inch. Other critters can also get inside through surprisingly small spaces! Caulk around your windows and check into any loose trim boards around your home. Investigate your siding to see if any of it is loose or warped. We ended up putting some copper mesh in the weep holes of our brickwork near the foundation to block critters but allow for airflow.

Check your vents

Just like with your windows, you’ll want to make sure the vents in your roof are fully sealed around the base. To find holes, try turning off your attic lights during the day and looking for any daylight. If you aren’t comfortable making the repairs, a reputable roofing company can help you seal up vents.

Secure your trash cans

In our case we were lucky we just had squirrels to deal with! There are certainly raccoons in our neighborhood, and we’ve heard they can be quite destructive. Our trash cans are large, and the lids are heavy. We still keep some heavy rocks on top of them, just in case the raccoons get any ideas.

Kill the grub worms in your yard

Grub worms tend to attract the very kind of critters you want to keep away from your property. Skunks, moles, raccoons, and groundhogs all feed on grub worms. In addition to helping keep the critters away, you also won’t have as many June bugs to deal with when it warms up! If you want some tips on how to do this, check out this article.

If you’re concerned about critters getting into your home, these preventive measures can give you peace of mind. Adding these to your regular home maintenance will hopefully mean that you won’t have to share our experience of uninvited guests.

Baby proofing your home’s electrical systems

Before having any kids of my own, I knew very little about baby safety protocol for the home. Sure, I had seen the little caps people put in their empty outlets, but that was the extent of my knowledge.

With an 18-month old of my own now, I have become rather well-versed in baby proofing the home!

According to the National Fire Protection Association, there are roughly 2,400 injuries and a dozen fatalities by children each year from electrical shocks in the home. There are several things you can do to baby proof your electrical systems, though!

Tamper-resistant receptacles

The first thing you should do is determine whether your power outlets are tamper proof (or not). Tamper-Resistant Receptacles (TRRs) have what appears to be plastic in the vertical outlet slots. These slots are designed to only open if both sides are pressed simultaneously.

Some quick information from a Google search confirmed that my wife and I did not have TRRs in our home. They were only required by electrical codes starting in 2008, so our home built in 2004 did not have any of these.

How we baby proofed our home

In addition to the individual plastic outlet caps you’ve probably seen, there are also safety plates you can install over existing electrical outlets. This added layer of protection requires you to slide the outlet cover over before you can plug something into it. These cost a couple of dollars a piece at various online stores.

We ended up going the thrifty route and bought some plastic individual outlet caps to take care of our empty and unused electrical outlets. That cost us less than ten dollars for the entire house! It only provided a certain level of security, though, as our little guy seemed to enjoy trying to unplug the power cords from outlets and power strips.

Once again, we utilized the power of internet search and located numerous other solutions to our dilemma.

There are several companies who have created different types of covers for your electrical outlets and power strips. They’re designed to keep the cords from being unplugged by little ones. Some are much easier to install and use than others, so be sure to read online reviews carefully.

Traveling safely

By the time we had our home’s electrical systems baby proofed, we had invested a fair amount of time in the process. I was a little concerned about what traveling would look like, but my wife’s Pinterest activities yielded a helpful tip—bring a roll of duct tape with you! While it’s a bit unsightly, and it’s not a great permanent solution, you can easily cover the outlets in a hotel room or relative’s living space with a small amount of duct tape.

Will you need to be baby proofing your home soon? If your home was built after 2008, then there is a fair chance your outlets are tamper resistant. It’s definitely worth investigating!

If you don’t have TRRs, feel free to pull from the experience my wife and I had. Of course, if you decide that you would like your current outlets changed to newer tamper-proof models, give our office a call. We would be happy to help.

Why your furnace may not be turning off

It’s been a relatively cold winter so far in Central Oklahoma. We have responded to a lot of no-heat emergencies. But believe it or not, we’ve also made several service calls this winter because a homeowner’s heat wouldn’t turn off!

We’re always happy to help, but in many of these cases, our services weren’t entirely necessary to solve the problem. If your furnace won’t turn off, there are several things you can check (based on your comfort level) if you’d like to investigate the issue before making a service call. Often, that will save you time and money as a homeowner.

Thermostat issues

We always recommend starting with the simplest solutions first. It might seem overly simple, but it’s worth checking the thermostat—especially if you share your home with anyone else!

Compare the temperature setting for your thermostat with the current indoor and outdoor temperatures. If it’s 10 outside, 72 inside, and the thermostat is set to 80, that’s probably why your furnace won’t turn off!

Is your thermostat set to ‘Auto’ or perhaps ‘On’? This happens more often than you would think. If there are multiple people living in one home, thermostat settings tend to mysteriously change. It’s always worth taking a few moments to investigate before opening up your wallet.

Other potential issues

If your thermostat settings are not the issue, there a couple of other things that could be the cause of the problem.

Clogged air filters can make it more difficult for your furnace to reach the desired set temperature. This could cause it to run continuously—it’s trying with all its might to do what it’s being told!

Leaks in your air duct system are less likely to be the problem, but if you are losing heat due to these leaks, that can cause your furnace to run continuously. Your furnace will keep running trying to reach the desired set temperature, even though the hot air isn’t going where it needs to go.

Mechanical problems can also sometimes be the cause of a furnace that won’t stop running. Issues with your blower motor or a failed limit switch can cause the furnace to keep running. A faulty thermostat, while unlikely, could also be the cause.

In our experience, many times homeowners are able to correct the issue themselves if their furnace keeps running, which saves them time and money. But if you aren’t comfortable investigating, or find that some of the simpler solutions don’t resolve the issue, we are happy to come out and fully diagnose the source of the problem.