Category Archives: Tips & Other Resources

Homeowner’s Guide to Upkeep and Improvements

 

home_improvements_and_spring_cleaning_checklist

Whether you are a homeowner, looking to buy a home, or an investment property owner doing your own (DIY) maintenance and repairs — this guide is for you. Repairs to a house can be costly if regular inspections and maintenance are not performed. Not only will this guide assist you with knowing what to look for when doing your own repairs on a house, it will also help you identify any issues that may need the help of a professional.

We tried to cover many of the common items that need regular maintenance checks in your home — many you can do yourself. You can save a LOT of money avoiding costly repairs through regular seasonal maintenance and home efficiency checks. At the end of our article will be a downloadable seasonal maintenance guide with a checklist that covers most of the common areas of concern after we post the outdoor checklist next week. However, every house has its own story and, if there’s an issue on your house that is not touched on, let us know and we’ll look at adding it.

Before you get started, here are some tools and supplies you may need:

Batteries – 9V

Ladder

Light Bulbs (size depends on fixtures)

Vacuum

Cleaning Supplies

Bucket

Screw Driver Set

Hammer

Filters (size depends on HVAC unit)

Work Gloves

Safety Glasses

Caulk gun

Caulk (color and type depend on what is being repaired)

Scraper

Putty Knife

Broom & Dustpan

Garden hose

SPRING HOME MAINTENANCE

Spring is that time of year when plants grow and flowers bloom, 80–degree weather is upon us and everything outside starts to come to life after a winter nap. Mother nature takes care of the new growth by sending rain and wind and, unfortunately, severe weather often comes right along with it. Stay a step ahead of the weather by protecting your home, inside and out, with regular seasonal maintenance.

INDOOR

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

Having smoke detectors is one of the least expensive things you can do to protect your home and family. More importantly, correct installation and maintenance is key to the detector functioning properly during an emergency. While some smoke alarms do not have replaceable batteries, many do. It is important to replace the batteries twice a year and test the alarm monthly. For the latest information on Fire Safety & Prevention, visit the National Fire Protection Association website.

Furnace & Portable Space Heaters

A major factor in home comfort is the ability to properly heat and maintain the temperature in your home. We are experts on home efficiency and we know from experience that heating your home efficiently requires proper insulation but it only helps if the units used to heat your home are functioning properly. For comparison — for all the visual learners out there — it is the same as putting your coffee in an insulated mug versus a regular coffee cup. Which will stay warmer longer?

coffee_comparison_for_insulation

Whole house heating systems require the filter to be changed frequently. Each unit does vary depending on the frequency of use and type of filter used. Heating systems should be inspected and tuned-up by an HVAC professional once a year. Portable Space Heaters also need connections checked (electrical and gas), and filters cleaned or replaced. Follow manufacturers directions for storing the appliance for the spring.

Air Conditioners

Much like the heating system, air conditioners only work well if your home is properly insulated and air-sealed. The only thing standing between you and the outside is your home. Gaps in the doors and windows, improperly vented attics, and insufficient or inadequate insulation are all factors in maintaining a comfortable temperature and saving money on utility bills. See the Outdoor Spring Checklist for more information on your A/C unit.

Sump Pump

In Kansas, having a basement has become standard building practice for most newer homes due to the prevalence of tornadoes. A sump pump is one of the MOST important items in your household during the rainy season (besides proper drainage from gutters to keep the water away from your foundation). Sump pumps take the excess water out and away from your house and without it, the basement would flood.

Testing the sump pump should be done at least annually. Remove debris, check to see if it turns on when it fills up to the float and then check to be sure the discharge pipe is clear are some of the basics. Many people, especially those with a finished basement, opt for a second sump pump or adding a battery backup to their only one in case of a power outage. Here is a helpful link to Lowe’s website regarding how a sump pump works and the different types.

Humidifiers & Dehumidifiers

Dry sinuses, bloody noses, and cracked lips are all signs of dry indoor air. Humidity levels in the home should be kept between 30–50%. Generally, humidity levels are lower in the winter and higher in the summer. In Kansas, humidity levels can often exceed 80% outdoors.  It is recommended to have a humidistat (hygrometer) to measure the indoor levels for optimum comfort. Always follow all manufacturer instructions when storing a portable unit for the season. There are filters, hoses, reservoirs and electrical components to inspect. If your home has a whole house humidifier, an HVAC professional can service it when they come to do the annual inspection for your other heating and cooling units.

Dryer

Are your clothes taking more than one cycle to dry? There might be an issue with the dryer exhaust vent pipe or vent pipe connection hose. Regular inspection behind the dryer to check and see if the hose is still connected to the vent pipe and cleaning out lint buildup is key to maintaining a dryer and preventing fires. Use your vacuum to clean out behind, underneath, and inside the connection hose leading up to the vent pipe. This article from the American Society of Home Inspectors is a great resource for an in-depth look at dryer maintenance.

Refrigerator

From cleaning the condenser coils in the back to simply wiping down the door seals, refrigerator maintenance is a MUST. Unless you live alone, chances are someone is spilling liquids or food and not cleaning it up, shoving food to the back accidentally blocking air flow, and adjusting the temperature while you are not looking — because it’s a button after all, and fun to play with — or maybe it was the cat?

cat_looking_in_fridge

All of those will contribute to your refrigerator working harder and you losing money on costly repair or replacement when it goes out. Check out “How to Avoid Refrigerator Repairs” by The Family Handyman on the how-tos.

Hot Water Heater

Maintaining a water heater is something many homeowners can do. There will be gas or electricity involved depending on your type of heater so it is best to only maintenance it if you feel 100% comfortable working on it. You can always call a licensed plumber to perform the required maintenance for a fee.

Be sure to wear safety goggles and gloves before starting the checklist on this portion. Gas or electricity MUST be turned off before starting this inspection and maintenance. From checking the pressure relief valve to draining the hot water heater, Lowe’s has a great step-by-step guide for you to follow called “Maintain a Water Heater.” Regular maintenance will reduce the buildup and sediment and help you catch many issues before they become an emergency or expensive replacement.

Ceiling Fans

Warmer weather is on the way with springs’ arrival! Ceiling fans help circulate the air in your home, helping to create a comfortable living area for you and your family. Just a reminder — turn off your fan before attempting to clean or repair. Believe it or not, a dirty fan can not only put dust and allergens into the air you breathe, but dirty blades can cause a fan to shake and make noise. After dusting your fan and blades the next thing you will check is the screws holding on the fan, tighten any loose ones. Next, check the pull chains for any damage and replace the chains as needed — your local hardware store sells these if yours broke or if you just want to add a fancy pull to the end of your chain so you can tell which one is the light and which one is the fan.

If your fan also has a light receptacle, replace any bulbs that are blown out. Be sure to replace with only the type and wattage recommended for your unit (it should be labeled). Some fans also have a place to oil the motor. See this great wikihow guide on how to “Oil a Ceiling Fan.” Last, you will want to check the direction your fan blades spin. There will be a switch to change it from counterclockwise (for spring and summer, to bring the cool air up from the floor and circulate around the room) versus clockwise (for fall and winter, to redistribute the warm air at the ceiling level down and round the room).

Chimney

This one will be quick since regular maintenance should be performed by a professional chimney sweep to prevent fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association, “the leading factor contributing to home heating fires (28%) was failure to clean, principally from solid-fueled heating equipment, primarily chimneys.” From creosote buildup to improperly vented systems there is a lot that can go wrong. For the average homeowner in the spring, you will want to check for any dirt and debris and close the damper when not in use.

Attic

This is probably one of my favorite areas to talk about since we create home comfort by making sure your home is energy efficient. We don’t just sell you some insulation if your home is “drafty,” we actually assess the whole picture to be sure that any insulation installed will perform at its highest. It’s part of the complete picture of home energy efficiency.

Some great indicators you may need more insulation and better ventilation besides visually checking your attic for bare spots of insulation are:

  • If your air conditioning or heating system runs often (or doesn’t shut off)
  • Different temperatures in different rooms throughout the home (having that “one cold or hot room” is not normal)
  • Wet spots on your ceiling indicating moisture is building up and better ventilation is needed (before you have to re-do your ceiling $$$)

That’s it for the INDOOR section – I will post the OUTDOOR Spring checklist in the next few weeks, then follow it up with an easy to read, downloadable checklist to make it simple to check off your accomplishments as you go. This is all part of the Homeowner’s handbook coming out with the new website. 

Home Maintenance Checklist

SPRING INDOOR

 

Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detectors

INSPECT MAINTAIN REPLACE
Use test button on detectors throughout house to check operation. Change batteries two times per year (every 6 months). If unit is “chirping” the battery is already low. Units need replaced every 7–10 years or if after replacing the battery the unit does not work.

Ceiling Fans

INSPECT MAINTAIN REPLACE
Check pull cords, lights and light sockets and test all functionality for operation.   Change the direction of your fan to counter-clockwise so the air will blow down. Dust the blades regularly. If the unit is making a lot of noise or certain functions no longer work, then it is time to upgrade.

Refrigerator

INSPECT MAINTAIN REPLACE
Check refrigerator door to make sure it is airtight. Make sure food is clear of internal fan. Check water hoses and cords for damage. Clean all dust and debris from under and behind the unit and vacuum coils. Change water filter every 6 months (or sooner if fridge sensor indicates it is time). Most refrigerators last 10–20 years. New units can save you money on your energy costs.

Furnace/Heating System

INSPECT MAINTAIN REPLACE
Heating systems should be inspected and tuned-up by an HVAC professional once a year (typically done in the fall before use for cold weather). Change filters frequently (approx. every 2–3 months). Vacuum baseboard heaters and air vents. Your furnace and baseboard heater is not designed to last forever. A well maintained unit can last 15–20 years. New technology can save you big $ on your energy costs.

Portable Space Heater

INSPECT MAINTAIN REPLACE
Check cords, supply lines, moving parts, and operation per manufacturer instructions before storing. Address any service concerns, empty fuel (gas/pellet units) then clean and store in a safe place. Portable units vary in longevity based on how much use and how the unit was stored. Replace the unit if there is any questions about safe operation next season.

Air Conditioner – INSIDE

INSPECT MAINTAIN REPLACE
Central air conditioning systems should be inspected and tuned-up by an HVAC professional once a year (typically done in the spring before use for warm weather). Window A/C units should be checked for secure install & safe operation. Clear the outside of the A/C unit from leaves, debris or winterizing materials. Change or clean (depending on type used) any filters used on A/C units. The A/C unit is housed outside and subject to extreme heat and weather. A well maintained unit can last approx. 10–15 years. Newer units are more efficient and can save you big $ on your energy costs.

Humidifiers & Dehumidifiers

INSPECT MAINTAIN REPLACE
Call an HVAC professional out for help maintaining a whole house humidifier. Smaller, portable units need checked for safe operation such as looking at the power cord and correct operation. Change or clean (depending on type used) any filters used on humidifiers/dehumidifiers. If the unit is no longer working properly or if there is any damage to a portable units’ cord or functionality, then it is time to get a new one. Portable units are readily available at most hardware and big box stores.

Dryer

INSPECT MAINTAIN REPLACE
Check vent hose for lint buildup and a secure connection to both the unit and the wall. Vacuum out any lint in hose and under dryer to prevent fires. Holes in the dryer hose will allow the lint to disburse into the air during operation. Buy a new hose if there are holes.

Hot Water Heater

INSPECT MAINTAIN REPLACE
Test the temperature and pressure safety relief valve according to manufacturer instructions. This should be done yearly. Drain your hot water heater per manufacturer’s guide once a year to remove sediment from bottom. Replace anode rod before it stops working — about every 5 years.

Sump Pump

INSPECT MAINTAIN REPLACE
Test the pump according to the manufacturer’s’ instructions. Clean out the pump and surrounding space annually. Basements are common in Kansas and they typically run on electricity. During storms, electricity can go out. Consider investing in a backup sump pump or generator so you don’t get surprised with a flooded basement.

Fireplace/Chimney – INSIDE

INSPECT MAINTAIN REPLACE
Check fireplace and chimney for any dirt and debris. Clean out fireplace of any ashes (should be done about every 40–50 fires). Close the damper when not in use. If you see a blockage or anything is not working 100%, call a professional to clean and inspect right away.

Attic

INSPECT MAINTAIN REPLACE
Check attic and stairs for heat loss. Inspect pull down type attic stairs for any loose, missing or broken parts. Add insulation where needed. Contact us for a home energy audit or if an extensive amount of insulation is missing and you can see the tops of the joists. Replace worn out insulating materials. If insulation is missing in areas you could be paying 10–20% more EACH MONTH on your energy bill!
WABA_Home_Show

Home Showiness: Our experience at the 2018 WABA Home Show

Every year, for as long as I can recall, we have had a booth at the Wichita Home Show. Sometimes, we’ve had large, stand-alone booths. Other times, we’ve just had a 10×10 or 10×20 space in a row with other vendors. We’ve done giveaways of promotional items of all sorts; from balloons to bags, pens to stress balls. There’s also been a raffle or three and discounts off of services for finding us at the show.

There are times I wonder why we do it.

I say this because there’s a lot of work involved with being a part of a Home Show. There’s planning each year’s booth and literature, preparation of the booth, set up time (which is two or more hours for at least two people), the time spent working it (which we spread among six people) for four days and then takedown. That’s at least six days of time, plus the monetary expenses for space, booth, literature, and more.

Again, why do we go to the Home Show?WABA_Home_Show_Comfort_Wall

I’m sure the first response is “to increase sales,” and yes, that’s nominally the reason. But if we account for the costs AND hours to make it happen…let’s just say our industry doesn’t have the price tags to make that answer as clear-cut as I would like it to be.

Then there’s the fact that our services are of a “one and done” nature — to steal a phrase from college basketball. In other words, two of our three primary services (insulation and air sealing) is needed once per house and then not again at that location.

Factor in that the average homeowner lives in a home for 11 to 15 years and we’re pushing the logic in doing the show for economic purposes.

So, with all these negatives, why do we still do it?

There are a couple of pros to these cons. The first is creating or maintaining some amount of “Top of Mind Awareness” — a.k.a long-term branding reasons. When people do need our services, they’ll hopefully remember our name or logo because they saw or spoke to us at the Home Show. These needs are all fine and good, but it’s not the real reason we keep doing it.

No, we keep doing it because we like helping solve people’s home comfort, health, safety, and energy efficiency issues. Even if the solution is something we don’t install or work with, we like being able to point people in the right direction.

If you peel all the rest of it away, we just like being a resource or a guide to people having better structures around themselves. It’s why we picked the name NorthStar years ago. It wasn’t just because we could use a cute bear — that was just a bonus later on!

So, with all that in mind, we hope to see you at the Wichita Home Show next year!

Homeowner’s Handbook: The Instruction Manual

There are many steps when it comes to buying, selling, or owning a home. Should I get a professional inspection done? Will I be able to manage this all on my own? What kind of issues does this place have that I can’t even see? Even with all the tips and tricks out there about finding a home, you still need a central handbook for all these ideas. New_homeowner_handbook_guide

All these questions (plus hundreds more) are the reason we want to provide you with some tips for your home. First-time homeowners might find many things they’re unsure about. This could be from issues you didn’t even know to check on when you first bought your home. To maintain your new home, this Homeowner’s Handbook is here to help!

Maybe you have owned your home for many years and are looking for a change. These tips can help you prepare your home to be top-notch when you’re ready to sell. Or, maybe you’re in the market for a new home. If so, you probably want the best value for your dollar. In that case, follow these tips when searching for your dream home to make sure you find the perfect place.

This manual is packed full of ideas for keeping your home happy and healthy. From DIY ways to keep your home warm without a full insulation replacement to blocking harmful UV sun rays from entering your home, the Homeowner’s Handbook will be your guide. 

Whether you have a surplus knowledge of homes or absolutely none at all, we hope to provide you with further understanding and clarification throughout this manual. Here at Northstar, our expertise is what proves our knowledge of homes. Through our Building Science Principles Certificate from BPI, and more, we are here to give you the best help possible with our expert knowledge.

Spring Clean Your Attic

It may not seem like the most fun way to spend your spring break, but if you’re not laying on the beach in Florida, you might as well be productive, right? Cleaning out your attic is one of the best ways free up storage space for all of the random stuff you’ve accumulated throughout the years and can even make your home healthier and lead to a more efficient home too! How so? Read on!

Start By Decluttering

Before you start climbing into your attic, make sure you have a few trash bags with you. Depending on how often you venture up there, you may find a lot of stuff that can be taken from your attic to the street curb. Other things may be perfect to sell in a spring garage sale! As for all of the items you want to keep, you should try to organize everything into sturdy, waterproof containers. Plastic totes work great and don’t deteriorate or rot like cardboard boxes often do.

Once you’ve removed anything you no longer need or want and have organized the stuff you are keeping, you should do your best to remove any dirt or dust that has accumulated. Sweep the floors, and dust the entirety of the attic to help remove the allergens that make you and your family sick.

Inspect Your Attic

Once everything is looking more spacious and organized, it is time to inspect your attic to see the conditions of your walls, ceiling and roof decking. Can you feel air blowing around recessed can lights? See light coming through the rooms below? Or is there evidence of past moisture on the underside of the roof deck? All of these are signs that your home isn’t working as intended and are things that should be addressed. In the first two cases, air sealing can be done by yourself or a professional. In the second one, more research is called for to properly get to the root of the potentially serious issue.

While you’re up there, you should also check to see if any of your current attic insulation is wet (sign of a current problem) or moldy (sign of a past and potentially recurring problem). Not only can this create a mildew smell, but mold can obviously bring health risks to you and your family. Old, damaged insulation needs to be removed and replaced and the cause of the moisture needs to be fixed.

Invest in Insulation

So after cleaning the attic and checking for obvious issues, you’re now in a great position to replace or upgrade your insulation (or maybe put some up there for the first time). Obviously, we recommend contacting us for a free estimate! We’ll do a thorough inspection of your attic and help you choose the right insulation type for your home. With added insulation, you can expect to save on utility bills and experience improved comfort through the hot summer months and colder winter. Insulation is an investment that will eventually pay for itself!

At the end of a couple of hours of work and short walkthrough with our Comfort Advisor, you can feel accomplished for completing a home project that you probably would have rather put off doing! Instead of wondering about the horrors hiding up in your attic, you now know exactly what your attic looks like, know where to find everything, and can take comfort in the fact that you’ve taken steps to help your family save money, be comfortable and stay healthy!
If you’re feeling up to it, you can even put together a garage sale to sell all that stuff you were ready to part with. Maybe you’ll even make enough money to take the trip to Florida that you would have preferred in the first place!

Caution Ahead: Brick Veneer and Spray Foam

There are a lot of different ways to build a wall. There’s standard 2×4 walls, 2×6 walls, ICFs, SIPs, concrete block and steel stud, to name the major ones. Then, there’s what to put on the outside the wall (siding, brick, stone, EIFS, etc.), inside the wall (<a title=”Simple Saver” href=”http://northstarcomfort pfizer viagra france.com/simple-saver/”>fiberglass, cellulose, spray foam, etc.), then the interior of the wall (what kind of sheetrock, paint, etc.). All of this is your wall system. Yes, the construction industry considers the wall system – not a living, breathing one – but a system nonetheless.

That said, the specific point of this entry is that caution needs to be used when using spray foam insulation & brick veneer in climate zone 4, which is where Wichita and Kansas City, to name a couple of cities, are located. Why? Well, it comes down to a few things:

  • Brick veneer can store huge amounts of water.
  • Most house wraps are also called a Weather Resistive Barrier, is very vapor permeable (as in water vapor goes through it very easily)
  • The sun will drive water vapor towards the inside of the house, through the house wrap and into the OSB.
  • The foam, open or closed cell, has such a low permeability that the water effective stops inside the OSB, as it has nowhere to go until it can evaporate back to the outside.

Unsurprisingly, this can lead to structural weakening of the OSB. So, what to do? The two main things to do involve tweaking common building practices slightly so that we can make longer lasting structure. Notice I’m not saying don’t do spray foam & brick veneer – I’m just saying that I would:

    • Use a weather resistive barrier with lower permeability. Permeability is rated in Perms. Standard WRBs are 35 or so. 10 Perms or less will keep enough water vapor out to help minimize the intrusion.
    • Change the way you build the veneer, to include more ventilation. Current practices on residential construction use only weep holes at the bottom of the brick at regular intervals. The research I’ve seen suggests that creating a more breathable brick veneer will keep moisture in the air moving & not heading in, towards your house.

Thanks to Lucas Hamilton at CertainTeed for doing all the heavily lifting with this. All I did was ask the question & thought I should pass along the information. And, again, this is just for Climate Zone 4 – and there are 6 across the U.S., so ask your builder, insulator, architect, energy auditor, what’s recommended for your area.

    -Jeff

 

The Easy Way to get R-15 Sidewalls

This month’s installment of the Building Science overview – Indoor Air Quality

In the June issue of the WABA Digest, two separate columns discussed some of the proposed changes to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), particularly in reference to wall insulation. As a reminder, the proposed changes are from R-13 to R-15 in 2×4 walls and from R-19 to R-21 in 2×6 walls. I have no intention of debating the merits of this change. Instead, I would like to point out that the easiest way to achieve higher R-values without switching to high-density batts or adding exterior sheathing: Certainteed’s Optima insulation, designed for use in the Blow-in-Blanket System, achieves an R-15 in 2×4 framing and an R-23 in 2×6 construction. The advantages of using Optima are numerous – no gaps or voids, no settling, plus it goes in the wall cavity completely dry. It also contains no chemicals that create noxious odors nor is it a source of food for insects or animals. One of the main concerns about raising the wall insulation R-values is about adding cost and using Optima does cost more than normal batt installations. But given estimates of changing to high-density batts or from 2×4 framing to 2×6 adding around $1,000 to the cost of an average new home, upgrading to the BIBS system with Optima adds less than half that. Plus, you still get all the benefits of having a better insulation job than just thicker batts can give you. Regardless of energy codes now or in the future, Optima may be a better choice to keep your customers’ homes more comfortable.

Foam vs Fiberglass vs Cellulose

When it comes to insulating a new house, there are a few ways to get it done. The main three ways of insulating a new, wood or steel framed house are fiberglass, cellulose, and spray foam. So, other than the obvious, how do these products differ? Is one superior to the others? What really counts when it comes to insulation? For the next couple of months, we’ll be taking a look at these different systems to try and sort them out. To help objectivity, we will use NAHB’s study, Field Demonstration of Alternative Wall Insulation Products. We start at the beginning – with definitions: Fiberglass batts – Made of fiberglass, batts come in wide variety of sizes, thicknesses & R-values. They are available with a kraft facing, which is generally inset stapled to the cavity wall, or unfaced, also called friction fit, which is covered with a separate vapor barrier. The

They are available with a kraft facing, which is generally inset stapled to the cavity wall, or unfaced, also called friction fit, which is covered with a separate vapor barrier. The Blow-in-Blanket System – also made of fiberglass, BIBS is a loose-fill product that is blown behind a net that has been stapled to the studs. Holes are punched through the net when and where the installer blows the material into the cavity. R-values depend upon the cavity depth and density blown but can be up to 4.2 per inch Spray Cellulose – Made from recycled newsprint, cellulose is applied to wall cavities by a hose that mixes the material with water to activate a binder that has been mixed in. Loose material from the installation is often recycled back process.

Low-Density Polyurethane – Foam, made by combining polymeric isocyanate (MDI) with a propriety resin. Soy-based foams are also available. R-values are about 3.6 per inch and the foam is open-cell. Higher density, closed-cell foams are also available at a premium. If we stopped here, we would be forgetting one of the more important aspects of a good insulation job – the air sealing or polycel/caulking. In fact, this is one of the most important parts of an insulation job – as we will see later. For now, we need to note that there are different levels of air sealing and they vary widely. A standard air seal usually involves caulking attic penetrations & clinking windows with fiberglass, while and upgraded air seal involves sealing windows with foam or caulk.