Archive for November 2016

Simple furnace fixes for your home

Winters in Central Oklahoma aren’t as harsh as they are in other parts of the country, but a broken-down heater is more than an inconvenience! Having reliable heat is a must and a furnace repair can sometimes cost several hundreds of dollars.
There are certainly times when you need a professional out to examine your furnace, but there are some simple things you can check yourself if your furnace is out.

Here are issues we’ve seen clients address on their own. If you’re comfortable with them, trying these out before calling a professional can get your heat back on and save you money!

1. Check your thermostat

This may seem obvious, but that’s often the best place to start! Is the temperature set to where you would like it? Is it set to the on or auto position? Is it set to heat or cool? Have you replaced the battery lately?

Before assuming you have a problem with your heater, it is always best to check the thermostat.

2. Change your air filters

Dirty air filters are the most common cause for issues to your heating or cooling system. Dust and dirt restrict airflow, adding stress to the moving parts in your system. That stress will lead to costly problems if not corrected.

Filters are very inexpensive and can easily be purchased in bulk online. The standard rule of thumb was to change every 3 months, but if you find your filters becoming visibly dirty before then, you may need to change them more often. Many people with pets and children find that’s helpful for their home.

3. Make sure the gas valve and/or the pilot light are on

This is another relatively simple problem to identify. For many Edmond and Oklahoma City area clients, no gas equals no heat. If you have an older furnace or boiler, is your pilot lit? Is it possible you shut one of your gas valves off for some reason and forgot to open it back up?

We have seen these simple items be the cause of having no heat many, many times. And it never hurts to check.

4. Check your circuit breakers and shutoff switches

We always recommend you check the breaker for your furnace or air conditioner if the system is not running, before calling out a service technician. If it’s tripped, you can easily reset it yourself. If this has only happened once or twice, it’s probably not a big deal.

If it is happening more frequently and becoming a nuisance, though, we recommend calling out an HVAC company first, not an electrician.

5. Check your drain lines

Most modern systems have some controls built in to shut your system off if the drain becomes clogged. These safety features are built-in to help prevent damage from overflowing drains. This can actually make it look like your thermostat has quit working, as it will be blank and look powerless.

If the drain pan and related drain for your evaporator coil cannot function properly, the result is expensive water damage to your ceiling, walls or floors. If you can tell that the drain is clogged, you can often flush it with a mixture of 25% bleach to 75% water. There are also cleaning tablets available at your local hardware store.

Before calling out an electrician, you may want to see if any of these five issues is the culprit. You’ll be warmer, and you won’t have to spend money on a service fee!

And of course, if these quick fixes don’t do the trick, or you’d rather have a professional check your system initially, we are happy to send someone out to investigate.

5 times you should call a professional electrician

If you’ve ever run speaker wire through the attic for a surround-sound stereo system, or swapped out a ceiling fan, or replaced a broken light switch, then you’ve performed basic electrical work.

We don’t often give out a lot of DIY tips for electrical repairs, but it’s not because we think people can’t or shouldn’t undertake basic electrical work under safe conditions. For a variety of reasons—legal, liability, and plain common sense—we think it’s best to let our clients decide for themselves what they are or aren’t comfortable tackling.

No matter what your comfort level of electrical repairs is, though, here are five projects where you should definitely call an electrical contractor. It’s much safer, and it’ll probably be cheaper, too.

1. New construction or remodeling projects

These complicated projects require a permit under a contractor’s license and inspection by the city or municipality in which the project resides. Safety codes have to be followed to minimize fire hazard.

A competent professional will size the electrical service to handle current and future electrical needs, and will coordinate the connection to utility service with the utility provider. It’s simply not possible for a homeowner to call OG&E or Edmond Electric and tell them that you installed something and need service connected.

2. Lighting design and installation

Unless you are comfortable with lumens, watts, kelvins, low voltage timers and controls, and 3-way switch legs, this is probably better handled by a professional. A good electrical contractor can walk you through the design and installation process, ensuring you have enough light in the right places and are happy with your investment.

3. Weather-related damage

A downed tree limb on an overhead electrical line can take your electrical service out. We see this happen in strong winds and even ice storms, which can leave thousands of people without power in and around Oklahoma City.

There are times when OG&E or Edmond Electric will shut a customer down even if their service is still working, out of a safety concern like a fire hazard. You will need an electrical contractor to repair the damage in accordance with safety codes and work with the utility provider to restore your power.

4. Standby generator installation

In addition to integrating directly into your electrical panel through an automatic transfer switch, standby generators are often connected directly to your natural gas or liquid propane fuel source. An incorrect installation can mean much more than the generator simply not working—it can cause serious damage to your home’s electrical system, or to you.

5. Pool or spa wiring

Regardless of the size of your project, pool or spa wiring is not something you can just plug in. Water and electricity don’t mix, so it’s safest to call a professional for this project. They can make sure they have the right type and size of circuit. You’ll avoid burning out your pumps, and more importantly, you’ll know your family is safe when they use it.

For these five projects, we always recommend using a professional electrical contractor. The risks are just too high. These are projects with a significant amount of danger involved, and they’re also expensive ones to fix if a DIY job goes wrong.

Save yourself the risk and stress by calling out a licensed electrical contractor, preferably one who can provide references.

How a humidifier can benefit your home this winter

Winter weather usually means dry weather in Oklahoma. And cold season often coincides with the drier weather, bringing with it sore throats, winter coughs and dry skin.

Having a humidifier can help keep the chill out of your home this winter, and you’ll probably find a few other benefits as well. You have several options for choosing a humidifier for your home, which I’ll get to in a bit. But before that, here are a few reasons people choose them in the first place.

Benefits of having a humidifier system in your home

1. Save money on energy: Just as humidity makes your home feel warmer in the humid spring and summer months, it can make your home feel warmer in fall and winter too. Your home will feel the same at 68 degrees with 40% humidity as it does at 74 degrees with 20% humidity. With a humidifier system, you can keep your thermostat setting lower in the winter, saving you 5-10% on your annual heating bill.

2. House plants thrive: Many Oklahoma City area residents bring potted plants inside in cooler weather. Plants suffer and often begin to die off if the air is too dry. But in a more humid home environment, these indoor plants will thrive throughout the cooler months.

3. Reduce static electricity: Do you find that you (or your pets!) are constantly shocking your other family members in the winter? That indicates you have a static electricity problem. A little more humidity will minimize the issue.

4. Chapped lips and dry skin: Adding humidity to your home environment often helps with chapped lips and dry skin, since the air has more moisture in it.

How do you know if it’s dry in your home?

Aside from the visible signs such as a lot of static electricity, chapped lips, and cracked hands, there’s a simple device called a hygrometer that measures humidity. The ideal range for humidity in the home is between 30% and 55%. You will likely need to keep it closer to 30% in winter months and may see it closer to 55% in the more humid spring months.

What types of humidifier options do I have?

There are hundreds of different types of humidifiers out there, but they can be broken into two pretty general categories.

Humidifiers come in portable models designed to cover one or more rooms, or integrated whole-home humidifying systems.

1. Portable humidifiers: These come in all shapes and sizes and range in price. They do require cleaning and maintenance by the owner, as well as constant refilling of the water source.

Most portable humidifiers can be defined by the type of mist they produce: either ‘Warm Mist’ or ‘Cool Mist’ varieties. As you might guess, some produce steam for a warmer mist while others simply blow air across cool water vapor.

For a complete list of available portable models and consumer ratings, visit the Consumer Reports website.

2. Whole house humidifiers: These models typically require a professional installation and are integrated directly into the ductwork near your furnace. Installation costs will vary from one home to the next. Investing in a whole house model can range from a couple hundred dollars to over a thousand.

They do require less maintenance than portable models and are usually connected to the water supply from the home, so there’s no need to manually refill the water.

If you think a humidifier could benefit your home this fall or winter, it’s completely up to you to decide whether a portable or whole house humidifier makes the most sense for your family. If you have questions or want to discuss installing a whole house humidifier in your home, give us a call.

The difference between two-prong and three-prong outlets

We often speak with clients who are concerned about their two-prong electrical outlets. Having two-prong outlets instead of three-prong ones usually means that the home isn’t properly grounded to modern standards.

Is this something you should be panicked about? Does it mean you have to rewire your entire home immediately? Not exactly. There are some things you should keep in mind if you have two-prong outlets, though.

Grounding 101

Since the 1960s, a grounding system has been required in residential wiring. It provides safety to residents and stability to the overall electrical system. The grounding system is a separate system of wiring integrated into your electrical system, and it terminates into the Earth (typically through a ground rod). The grounding system serves two main purposes:

1. Safety: It removes dangerous levels of voltage if there’s an equipment failure or system disruption, sending that high voltage into the Earth instead of through your electrical system (or your body).

2. Overvoltage protection: If higher voltage enters an electrical system (such as from utility lines touching, lightning strikes, or power surges), grounding provides an alternative path which will minimize damage to the electrical system and connected appliances.

The third prong you see in some outlets grounds your home’s electrical system to the Earth, protecting you and your home.

Can’t I just replace them with three-prong outlets myself?

We do not recommend this. Simply replacing the two-prong outlets with three-prong outlets will most likely not properly ground those outlets. If your home wasn’t wired with a grounding system, you’re actually creating a false sense of security and potential shock hazard.

If you were to plug a faulty corded device into one of these incorrectly grounded three-prong outlets, you would receive an electrical shock. You would become the grounding system instead of the Earth, and that is definitely as dangerous as it sounds.

Is it safe to use my current two-prong outlets?

Ultimately, it’s up to you. Grounding systems were introduced for good reason, but there’s no requirement that an existing home’s grounding system be corrected immediately. Most electrical contractors will tell you you’ll need to rewire your home immediately. We don’t want to scare you into spending your money, but it’s up to you as a homeowner to make an educated decision about your home.

Without a proper grounding system, you do run the risk of expensive electronics becoming damaged more easily due to voltage irregularities. We also see improper grounding come up as an issue during home inspections for sale or purchase of a home.

But if you want to make your current system work better for you, there are many options for adapters that can make your three-prong plugs work in two-prong outlets.

If your home has two-prong electrical outlets or you have any concerns over its grounding system, we are happy to consult with you on what options you can take for a permanent solution.

Why are there no basements in Oklahoma?

Recently, while visiting family in the Kansas City area, I was asked why we don’t have basements in our homes in the Edmond and Oklahoma City areas. Without really thinking about it, I started uttering something about moist soil and a high water table.

I had no factual basis behind the statement, but it was something I had been told many times. When my family challenged me on it, I decided to spend a little time looking into it and thought it was worthwhile to share some of what I’ve found.

The myth of impossibility

Oklahoma’s lack of basements was a hot topic around the time of our last large, destructive tornado. There was a lot of national attention at the time because of how rare basements are here, and there was a lot of passionate banter on social media from people insisting you couldn’t build basements here. But after a little bit of thought, I had to admit that wasn’t true.

There are definitely homes in the Edmond and Oklahoma City areas that do have basements! I know people who have basements in their homes, although not many. And we also see basements used in several commercial applications like parking garages. There’s even a company in Edmond named “Basement Contractors.” Its owner, Mike Hancock, has been interviewed several times regarding the prevalence of this myth in Oklahoma.

So the myth that you can’t build basements in Oklahoma is just that—a myth.

Origin of the myth

If that kind of thinking is untrue, why is it so prevalent? There is a bit of truth in the origin of the myth. Oklahoma City area homes built with basements back in the 1940s and 1950s did have some issues. Waterproofing technology wasn’t very good back then. Since then, waterproofing has greatly improved, but many remain skeptical in Oklahoma when it comes to basements.

The frost line in Oklahoma is much higher than our neighbors to the North, meaning the foundations our homes sit on don’t have to be dug as deeply as they do in other areas of the country. In places like Northern Kansas, Iowa, or Indiana, for example, the slabs for their homes are often dug much deeper.

That means you have to dig only a few more feet to create a basement in those states. In Oklahoma, our foundations don’t have to be dug very deep to be below the frost line, so you have to dig much deeper after you’ve dug the foundation to build a basement here. That makes our basements more expensive than those in other states.

It all comes down to cost

Ultimately, this is about supply and demand. If people in Edmond and Oklahoma City demanded basements, then surely they would become the new standard in homebuilding in our neighborhoods. So, why don’t they?

Some of that is based on the myth that you can’t build basements here. But most of it is because it’s more expensive here than in other parts of the country! In addition to the fact that a builder has to dig roughly twice as deep to build a basement here than in, say, Kansas (because of our high frost line), we don’t have many basement contractors in Oklahoma.

That means the contractors who are able to build basements here can charge more because there’s less competition here than in other places. So basements are rare here because they tend to be more expensive.

Obviously, we don’t build basements. But if you have a basement and want to maintain or install electricity or heating and cooling systems, we’re happy to help. And if you’ve ever wondered why nobody in Oklahoma seems to have one, now you know.