Monthly archive - January 2013

How’s the Heat with the Hot Water?

How’s the Heat with the Hot Water?

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Let us now say a prayer for forced air heating systems. They were good for awhile and kept many Westchester homes warm through the years, but let’s now leave these noisy relics in the dust and embrace the wonders of hot water heating systems. To say nothing about the ease of control, hot water heating offers a more evenly held heat and a more palpable heat, seeing as it is based on moisture rather than dry air. Hot water heating makes any home more comforting and welcoming during winter.

The furnaces used in hot water heating can be powered by gas, oil, coal, wood, or electric coil. Typically gravity fed or pumped, the heated water in the boiler travels up to the radiators, and as they disperse the heat, the cooler water travels down to the boiler to be reheated. More expensive systems even have hot water tubing under the floorboards, which provides uniform heat.

The radiators, however, are the key component and there are three basic types. First, there’re cast iron radiators, which are actually still very efficient despite their basicness. Radiators fitted with metal covering are similar but often include tubing covered with fins that provide additional convection heat. These fins increase the surface area of the heated parts, and boost energy efficiency. Lastly, there are baseboard heaters, which are more prominent in modern homes and actually provide the most efficient heating on the market. Along with the fins, the placement ensures whole room is heated from the bottom up, which is far more economical.

The issue is that hot water heating systems eventually get air in them and most don’t offer vents. As such, Westchester homeowners must “bleed” their hot water heating systems occasionally to ensure efficient use of heat. System valves are easily opened with a key wrench and all you have to do is put a cup, can or bucket under the valve, and open it up. Eventually, water will start running out of the valve, hence the bucket. In multi-story buildings or houses, it’s best to start on the top floor and make your way down, continuing until all floors have been taken care of.

There’s really only one more thing you have to do, and that is to drain out all the water in the system yearly. Begin by turning off the water supply valve, allowing the water cool completely down before moving ahead. Next, find the release valve on the boiler and attach a hose to it. Run the hose outside and completely drain the system, unless you can’t run a hose outside, in which case use drain the system via filling and emptying buckets. This process gets rid of the built-up minerals and rust in the system. Afterwards, open a bleeder valve on the highest radiator and refill the system. This way, your Westchester home will remain cozy and you won’t be nervous about the energy you’re using unduly jacking your energy bill up.


Warming Up to HVAC

Warming Up to HVAC

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and there isn’t a residential or commercial building in the nation that doesn’t have some version of HVAC. Without it, all Westchester homeowners would be at the whims of Mother Nature all year. At the end of the day, however, the comforts of heating and air conditioning are lesser to the hygienic needs of air circulation HVAC provides. Trust me, if any part of your HVAC system falters, it’s not hard to notice.

Like your Westchester neighbors, you should always get to know your HVAC systems. Homeowners know where the thermostat is and can see the vents, but, for most, that’s where their knowledge of HVAC ends. Following the vents will lead you to your heating and cooling systems and knowing how they should be operating will help you prevent malfunctions and identify them. And like most things, some light reading is needed. Central heating/AC systems come with a guidebook and, yeah, I’d rather be reading Elmore Leonard too, but reading it will help you figure out where to find vent entry points and other useful information. In fact, any manufacturer will surely have it available to download via their website. If your unit is outside, you should clear it of any debris as regularly as once a week.

Back inside! In many cases, vent filters need regular upkeep; once a month is totally respectable. Pop open the vent at the entry point and check to see that the filter isn’t caked with dust. You should also replace your filters twice a year, once in summer and once in winter. Any home improvement store worth its salt will have filters in stock.

Vent areas where moisture is prevalent can also lead to mold. Scrubbing off the mold with a solution made with equal parts bleach and water will solve that issue and evaporator coils wipe down at 10-15 times a year. After rain or snow, be sure to check for any standing water and tend to it immediately. It’s also important to keep an eye on the fans, as they tend to accumulate dust and grime. Fans should be wiped down bi-weekly, or monthly at the very least. If at all possible, it should become as normal as mowing the lawn.

These are easy ways to avoid problems, but there are some things that just require training and that professional touch. Every two years or so, get a certified HVAC technician to give your entire system the once over and they will give it the real buff and shine, to ensure circulation efficiency in your Westchester home. In these bitter days of winter, heating is crucial and a little cleaning beats icicles on the ceiling.


A Blender Blunder

A Blender Blunder

Seeing as big companies make them, appliances can often seem as much more complicated as devices than they really are to Westchester homeowners. This is as true of blenders as any other appliance, and fixing a busted blender is surprisingly an easier task than you would expect.

There is three typical causes for blender malfunction: motors that become burnt-out, blades that get clogged, or an interruption has occurred in your electrical connection. The first two causes are easy to diagnose and fix, but in the case of diagnosing an electrical interruption, you will need a voltmeter and a contact sprat solvent, which are handy tools to have in your Westchester home regardless.

To test the blender’s electrical, disconnect the electrical cord and turn the blender switch on. Set the voltmeter on the RX1 scale and carefully place the meter’s two probes onto the two metal prongs of the plug. While watching the meter’s readings, test out each of the blender’s switches, one at a time and note the markings.

Low readings indicate a normal switch that is functioning perfectly. What you want to look out for is an infinity reading on the meter, which is indicative of an electrical defect. To investigate further, you will need to expose the screws that hold the switch housing cover in place. While the device is still unplugged, remove the plastic faceplate that covers the housing and, subsequently, the screws that attach the plate to the housing.

Now that the mechanism is exposed, use the contact spray solvent to clean the contacts, openings and terminals at the rear of the switch block. After you have cleaned out the mechanism, plug it back in and test the switches again. This usually fixes the mechanism, but if the blender continues to not work, unplug it again and find the fuse, which is usually located at the end of a wire lead coming from a terminal connected to the power cord.

With your voltmeter still set to RX1, clip the probes ends to the two lead wires or terminals. If the reading is high again, disconnect the probes and look on the metal cap of the fuse to find the size and write it down, as it will need to be replaced. This will almost certainly fix a purely electrical issue but if the issue is with the blades, that’s another story. While the machine is still unplugged, carefully try turning the blade shaft. Debris will usually be very easy to see and easy enough to dispose of but in rare cases, you may have to replace the coupling.

If none of this works, you more than likely have a burnt-out motor, which will require you replacement, but considering the cost, you will likely just want to buy a new blender for your Westchester home. Otherwise, replace all screws and plates, and get some ice, tequila and margarita mix, and whip yourself up a congratulatory drink.


Cleaning Out Showerhead Crud

Cleaning Out Showerhead Crud

For Westchester homeowners, replacing a shower washer is one of the simplest and quickest plumbing repairs you can undertake and it is usually the source of many leaks one finds in regards to showerheads. While performing the repair, you’re also able to clean and maintain basic parts of the shower and de-scale the showerhead to ensure that you won’t have to fix or replace the washer again for a while.

To begin, turn off the water to the area where you will be working. This may involve turning off the water at the main supply. Let the shower run until no more water comes through and turn it off, and then remove the showerhead, either by using a wrench to loosen it from the shower pipe or screwing it off. You can use the same wrench to loosen the nut from the faucet and then remove the tube. When you loosen the showerhead and remove it from the hose, you might find a build-up of lime or scale, which can be cleaned easily enough in the process.

If you want to be diligent Westchester homeowner and keep these situations from happening again, you should clean the showerhead and washers once a year. To do this, fill a large bowl with vinegar and submerge the showerhead in the vinegar for an hour. When it’s done soaking, empty the bowl and clean the showerhead with water. Once it’s free of lime, you should be able to take apart the showerhead easily. First, however, take out the old shower washer to a hardware store to find an exact replacement. Upon returning, take apart the showerhead and secure the replacement before screwing the showerhead back together. You can use Teflon tape on the shower-arm thread to ensure no leaks. When screwing the showerhead back onto the arm, be careful not to screw it on too tightly, as this can lead to further showerhead issues.

Many Westchester homeowners have hand-held showerheads. For a hand-held shower, you should replace both washers. Its not particularly necessary, but it is better to be cautious. In this case, use the Teflon tape on the threads of the hose where the showerhead screws on, and also on the threads of the faucet where the hose attaches. In either case, when you’re finished, turn the water back on and run the shower for a minute or two and then turn it off to ensure the leak has been fixed. If there is an issue, tighten the connections a little more but otherwise, you should be able to use your shower without any subsequent drips.