Archive for General

Keeping your cords and cables under control

Any home with a television, cable box, computers, or even just basic floor lamps and fans, can easily have a mess of cords and cables. Over the years, we’ve seen lots of interesting ways that people manage cords in their home—some that are great ideas and some that put the homeowner at risk.

Here are a few tips for managing cords, whether it’s the mess of cords behind your entertainment center or the power strip next to your night stand.

Don’t overload power strips

This is one of the most important safety tips, and yet we see overloaded power strips all the time. Just because there are six or eight plugs on the power strip doesn’t mean you can plug six or eight things into it.

Some items, like fans or bedside lamps, don’t require much power. Other items, especially heating items like blow dryers, crockpots, and toasters, draw much more power. It’s a good idea to only have one of those on any single power strip.

Also be sure that any power strips are plugged directly into a wall outlet and not another power strip.

Avoid cords in high-traffic areas

Some homes, especially older ones, may not have electrical outlets in every place you need power. However, running power cords across high-traffic areas creates both a tripping hazard and a fire hazard if you’re regularly walking or rolling things across cords.

If possible, consider rearranging things so that whatever needs power is located close to the available outlets. If that’s not possible, try running cords over doorways instead of in front of them on the floor.

Keep cords tidy with labels and ties

If you peek behind your entertainment center or under your computer desk, is there a jumble of cords and cables staring back at you? That hidden mess of cords can present a fire hazard if you’re not careful, as electrical shorts can occur in the power strips or in the plugs themselves.

By keeping the cords more organized, you lessen the stress on any one plug or cord, as well as make it easier to inspect them regularly for any issues. Consider using velcro ties or other cord management tools to better contain the extra length of cords and keep things tidy.

Also consider labeling the cords where they plug in to the wall or power strip, as labels can help you quickly troubleshoot any issues with your electronics.

Tips for keeping your home cool in the summer

The summer heat has arrived, and your HVAC system is working harder to keep your home cool, which may mean a spike in your electric bill.

Whether your goal is saving money or you just want your house comfortably cool regardless of the outside temperature, follow these tips to help your HVAC system better handle the heat.

Check your doors and windows

Windows and doors are a key place where outdoor temperatures, whether hot or cold, sneak into your home.

Check your doors for any drafts and replace weather stripping that looks worn or damaged. Check the seals around all of your windows—if the caulk shows signs of cracking or pulling away from the edges, it’s probably time for some new caulk. Depending on which direction your windows face, you may also want to consider adding a tinted film on older, less energy efficient windows.

Close your blinds

Keep your blinds closed, especially during the hottest part of the day, to block some of the heat. For west- and south-facing windows that get lots of sun, consider adding a decorative room-darkening curtain on top of your regular blinds. The extra layer will help reduce the heat coming through the windows and prevent your home from turning into a greenhouse.

Keep air moving

During the summer, switch your ceiling fans to rotate counter-clockwise to help better circulate the cool air in your home. If you don’t have ceiling fans, a couple of strategically placed box fans or tabletop fans can still help circulate air and reduce the temperature in your home. In your bathroom and kitchen, be sure to use your exhaust fans to pull any heat or humidity out of the room as you shower or cook.

Fire up the grill

Using your stove and oven during the summer months makes your house hotter, which makes your air conditioning unit work that much harder to keep it cool. Head outside to the grill to avoid adding extra heat to the house. If you don’t have a grill, consider doing most of your cooking in the morning or late evening when temperatures are cooler and then reheating at meal times.

These are just a few of the tips you can use to help your HVAC unit better cool your home in the summer. If you’ve tried these tips and your unit is still struggling to keep up, it may be time for a service call to identify any other issues that may be going on.

Are premium heating and air conditioning systems worth the money?

You might expect me to tell you that yes, you should shell out the extra money for a premium heating and air conditioning system. After all, we do sell them!

But the truth is, they’re not worth the money for some people. Only you can decide whether or not a pricier HVAC system is right for you. So like a lot of things, the answer to this is that it depends.

What does it depend on?

It depends on your definition of comfort, for one. It also depends on your budget, of course. And you’ll need to take into consideration your expectations for an HVAC system. Do you want something that’s simply going to keep the summer heat and winter cold at bay? Or do you want to be completely comfortable at all times of the year?

Either choice is really okay, and we sell to customers in either frame of mind. And since comfort is so hard to quantify, the best way to figure out what kind of HVAC system fits your needs is to have a conversation about it with an expert.

Apart from that, though, I can give you some insight based on how we work in the Edmond and Oklahoma City markets.

Some companies present their HVAC system options as good, better, and best, but I think that’s a little deceptive. The higher-end models legitimately might not be the best option, and might be a waste of money depending on your space and what you’re looking for.

Instead, we think about the different tiers of pricing and HVAC models as basic, intermediate, and advanced. Just like with vehicles, there’s a buyer for everything—from the basic car that gets you from A to B, to the high-end models that people stare at whenever they’re on the road.

For our purposes, we always estimate the investment for the equipment and the installation. Larger investments sometimes include reworking the ductwork in the home, but that’s certainly not something we do with every install. Here’s an estimate of the investment for each level of HVAC equipment and installation:

  • Basic: $8,000-11,000
  • Intermediate: $11,000-14,000
  • Advanced: $14,000-20,000

We do not push any of our most expensive models on our customers; in fact, that doesn’t even come up unless we’re in a conversation with a client who specifically brings up that type of comfort level and investment.

The vast majority of our customers who have an HVAC system replaced go with either our basic or intermediate models, because that’s what works best for most people.

For some people, though, the increased comfort is worth the money for our advanced models and installation. Typically, we will not install a higher-end HVAC system without also investigating the ductwork, because poor airflow will limit the effectiveness of that high-end unit. That contributes to the larger investment, but also means that their system ultimately works more efficiently.

But that’s not a necessary or even a good option for everyone, and we’re not going to pressure our customers into buying something more than they need.

If you’d like to have a conversation about what makes sense for your home, we’re happy to talk through your options in more detail. Give us a call to talk about how your current system is working (or isn’t) and what your solutions might be.

Heating and air questions to ask before you buy that house

Aside from the roof over your head, the heating and air conditioning (HVAC) system(s) in a home are likely your largest potential investments in any home you’re considering purchasing.

Much like roofs, HVAC systems have limited lifespans and will typically have to be replaced at some point after the home is purchased.

Unlike a roof replacement, though, there are very few situations where an HVAC system would be replaced by your insurance company.

Of course, there are exceptions to that rule of thumb, but it’s rare for an insurance company to replace an HVAC system even in the event of hail damage to the external unit.

Now, that’s probably not on your mind when you’re going to open houses and looking for a home to purchase, but a new HVAC system can cost on average between $7,000 and $12,000, so it’s important to know the state of a home’s HVAC system(s) before you purchase it.

Here are some questions you can ask to find that out.

1. Is your HVAC equipment still under warranty? Do you still have the warranty information?

If the seller isn’t sure, there’s a good chance there may not be a warranty. Most of the newer equipment we install in Edmond and Oklahoma City area homes carry warranties on various components anywhere from 5 years to 25 years.

2. What type of equipment do you have, and how old is it?

The age of the equipment is even more important than the type. Most systems, depending on how well they are maintained, last between ten and fifteen years. Well-maintained systems can sometimes last longer than fifteen years, but we’ve also seen poorly-maintained systems fail before ten years.

3. Do you happen to have a copy of the repair and maintenance records?

If you wouldn’t simply take someone’s word on vehicle maintenance for a vehicle you want to purchase, don’t just take someone at their word on HVAC maintenance, either. If there’re no way to verify that the system has been well-maintained, you could be taking on some risk with that home.

Prevent unexpected expenses with due diligence

When it comes time to have a home inspected, we always recommend having a trained HVAC professional inspect the heating and cooling equipment (not a home inspector). Why is that? Here’s an explanation of our stance on this subject.

If you find out that the HVAC system will need to be replaced sooner rather than later, you can either walk away or negotiate a better price. We’ve seen purchases backfire with new homeowners having to replace their HVAC systems months after buying their homes, and nobody wants to be in that situation.

One homeowner we’ve recently visited with discovered that the two HVAC systems in their new home were patched and pieced together, leading to several performance issues. They didn’t tour the home on a particularly hot or cold day, so the HVAC system wasn’t really running when they were in the home. The home inspector wasn’t trained to look for issues with the heating and cooling equipment, and on the surface, everything checked out.

This homeowner is now investing $17,000 in an unexpected expense to replace the equipment and correct air duct issues.

I’m no real estate expert by any means, but it’s a good idea to tour a home during the heat of summer if you can manage it—that’s when the inefficiencies or lack of comfort in a home really stand out. If you can’t be comfortable in the home, do you really want to buy it? Would you still buy it at asking price?

When you’re asking questions about the home’s HVAC system, don’t forget to check the furnace or heater, as well as the outside air conditioning unit. Look for manufacturer’s labels or plates with information on each of the units, and take a picture of them. I’d recommend doing a little internet research on the units. The serial numbers will often indicate the true age of the equipment.

If you’re considering purchasing a home and would like an honest, unbiased assessment of the HVAC system(s), we are happy to help.

How does my home’s electrical system work?

A lot of homeowners—even people who have lived in their homes for quite a while—aren’t completely certain about the jobs of every element of their home’s electrical system.

While that’s perfectly okay, it’s normal for homeowners to want to know about the different parts of their system if it’s being worked on. Here’s an overview of the elements that make up the electrical systems in most homes.

Service entrance

All electrical power will come into your home either through an overhead or underground electrical service.

  • Overhead service: This is the type you can see, with visible overhead power lines. It’s less common in urban and suburban areas because it’s prone to damage from wind and ice storms.
  • Underground service: This is more common in the Edmond and Oklahoma City areas we service. The electrical service runs underground from a transformer to your electrical meter.

Electrical meter

This is the device your utility company uses to measure how much electricity you consume. Whether it’s a Smart meter or a manual one that someone reads each month, this device is responsible for the electric bill you receive every month.

Breaker box

The heart of your home’s electrical system resides in a seemingly innocuous metal box, likely somewhere in your garage or the exterior wall of your home near the electrical meter. Whether you call it a breaker box, electrical panel, service panel, or some other name–this metal box is ultimately responsible for getting power to your home.

What you typically see from your breaker box is the outer cover and circuit breakers themselves. Hopefully yours is labeled as well, indicating what each circuit actually powers within the home.

Electrical circuits

If the breaker box is the heart of the electrical system, the electrical circuits serve as the veins
that carry the electricity throughout your home. These circuits run in two main varieties: lighting and power outlets.

Electrical circuits all have a set capacity of how much power they can deliver. If this capacity is exceeded, the circuit breaker will trip, cutting off the flow of electricity. This is a safety device to prevent fires from overloaded circuits.

The power supply for your home comes into your breaker box from the electrical meter, which is often close to the breaker box, especially on the newer homes we service. The breaker box is where the power supply is distributed throughout the home. Electrical circuits make sure that the energy gets to where it needs to go, and the breaker box cuts off electricity, if needed, to prevent a fire.

If you have more questions about your home’s electrical system, or are worried that it isn’t functioning properly, let’s have a conversation.

Frustrated by an air conditioner that won’t start?

There’s not much that’s worse than when you need to use your air conditioner and it won’t start.

Whether it’s the first time you’ve used it all year, or you just know you’ll need it more and more as the temperatures rise, it’s frustrating to find that your air conditioning system isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do.

There are four main things you can check yourself (if you’re comfortable doing so!) before calling anyone out and paying a service fee.

These are relatively common reasons for air conditioning issues, and you can save yourself time and money if you’re able to identify and resolve the issue in your home.

1. Is your thermostat set to cool?

I know it sounds silly, but if you have anyone at all living with you, it’s worth checking. Particularly when the weather is very temperate, it’s common for people to simply turn their AC off entirely to enjoy the nice weather. This is one of the first things we look into when we receive calls for air conditioning issues.

2. Do you have a tripped circuit breaker?

Now of course, it’s possible this was simply turned off for some reason (maybe you had someone out to do work on your home or your property). But if you notice that your circuit breaker is tripping repeatedly, there may be an underlying problem.

You should definitely check the main circuit breaker for your home, but there should also be a breaker box by your condenser (the outside part of your air conditioning system) according to building code. That’s usually helpful when you’re getting your HVAC system serviced, but as the home owner, you’re certainly free to check and see if it’s tripped.

3. Is your indoor unit draining properly?

The indoor part of your HVAC system is often in a closet or in your attic. There’s an evaporator coil that collects condensation, and a drain pan underneath it that should have a safety precaution to shut off the unit when the system isn’t draining properly.

If your air conditioner isn’t working, it may be shut off for safety purposes for something like this (to prevent water damage from leaks). Notice a clog? If you can get it safely unclogged, your system should begin draining properly, the safety feature will turn off, and your air conditioner will get back to work!

4. What’s the blower doing?

If the outside part of your unit appears to be working properly, but the inside isn’t getting any airflow, it’s possible that there’s an issue with your blower. Typically, your blower is near your furnace.

You can check for a tripped circuit, and if that’s the issue, flipping the switch back to “on” should help. It’s also possible that the blower motor isn’t functioning properly. If that’s the case, it’s a good idea to call in a professional.

One cause I didn’t include: a broken thermostat. It’s entirely possible that your thermostat is broken if you aren’t getting any cool air, but our technicians have found that to be the issue on very few of their site visits.

If you aren’t comfortable checking for one of these four reasons—or the issue is something other than these four—or you’re just tired of sweating and want someone to fix it, give us a call. We’d be happy to help.

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.