Energy Efficiency: Receptacles & Switches

In a previous post, I discussed the importance of air sealing in addition to insulating for improved energy efficiency. In this post, we’ll look into that in more detail with receptacles and switches.

Believe it or not, receptacles (outlets) and switches are one of the main culprits for leaking air in most homes. This makes sense really, considering that there are usually many receptacles and switches in a house and that the wall areas surrounding them are usually insulated while these areas usually aren’t. Air can easily enter and exit the house through these many small areas, and the toll this takes on efficiency is much greater than you might assume.

A common remedy to this problem is installing foam gaskets made for the receptacle or switch plates, but unfortunately these easy fixes don’t always do the best job. A better option (and one you can do in addition to the foam) is spray foaming around the boxes that contain the receptacles or switches. This is very effective at air sealing these small spaces and helps more than you might think in stopping air leakage and improving the energy efficiency of your home.

When you can spare about half a day, take the time to complete this simple but very helpful project. It’s cheap and easy and the rewards will really pay off.

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Maintenance Tip: Chimneys

In a prior post, I discussed some common defects found with chimneys. In this post, I’ll give you one important tip to keep your chimney in good working order.

If you have a chimney, it should be serviced at least annually by a qualified chimney sweep. I have to admit that even I still think of Dick Van Dyke’s character, Bert, in Mary Poppins when I hear the term “chimney sweep,” but these professionals are all but old and obsolete! They are a very valuable resource for a very important component of your home.

Hiring a chimney sweep for annual maintenance is especially important if you own and use a wood-burning fireplace, but it is still important if you own a chimney at all. Chimneys serve a simple but extremely important purpose of removing exhaust gases from the house. Often times they have the added bonus of being a decorative focal point as well, but their pretty exterior can cause us to easily forget how they may look on the inside.

Don’t make the mistake of neglecting your chimney. Schedule annual cleanings in advance by a qualified chimney expert so you can rest at ease knowing your chimney is in good condition and performing well.

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Maintenance Tip: HVAC

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are one of the most complex systems in any home. No matter what type of system your house has, it is guaranteed to have many components that work together in a complex way to produce or remove heat from your home.

I have come to have immense respect and appreciation for knowledgeable, experienced and qualified HVAC technicians. They are some of the most regulated of all contractors and typically require a great deal of education and training to be competent in their field. These experts are truly worth their weight in gold.

That being said, it is a wise practice to have your heating and/or cooling system thoroughly evaluated and serviced by a qualified HVAC technician every year. This is especially important if your system is ten years old or older. Having an expert service your system annually (and ideally shortly before the heating season) will help it to perform more efficiently and last longer.

Schedule servicing for your system before you forget, and set a reminder for yourself to do it every year. Be sure that the technician who provides the service documents his or her name, the date, and what was done and that the service record is left at the unit for reference. This is helpful for you as well as anyone else who may own the home in the future.

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Maintenance Tip: Gutter Guards

Clogged gutters are an all-too-common problem. Houses surrounded by trees and dense vegetation are especially prone to clogging from leaves and other debris. You’ve probably heard about gutter guards, but you may not know much about the pros and cons of various types.

Several types of gutter guards exist: foam, mesh, perforated, brushes, reverse-curve, etc. The goal of each type is to allow rain water to freely flow into gutters while blocking debris from entering. Of course, some gutter guards work better than others.

Some types can simply be inserted into gutters, while others must be secured and require more work to install. As you probably guessed, “more work” in this case means “better,” as it typically does.

From experience, I can tell you with confidence that I feel reverse-curve gutter guards do a better job than the other types. They completely block the gutter, but their rounded edge (which looks like water would cascade right off of it) actually causes water to follow the curve and go right into the gutter. They allow water to flow freely into the gutter while preventing nearly all debris from entering, which is exactly what you want a good gutter guard to do.

Although other types of gutter guards can be installed easily by just about anyone, reverse-curve guards should be installed professionally because they are permanently secured to the edges of the roof rather than being placed in the gutters.

You should consider installing gutter guards if you don’t already have them. Any of the options are better than nothing, but reverse-curve guards are a great option if you can afford them. If you don’t, be sure to clean your gutters at least once, if not twice, a year to ensure they function properly.

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Common Defects: Missing Chimney Caps

Most houses I inspect – especially older homes – have a chimney. In my area, most chimneys are brick and have clay flue liners. Unfortunately, most of those chimneys do not have a cap.

Caps are necessary on chimneys because they help prevent water, debris and wildlife from entering the flue and causing obstruction or damage to the liner. If the flue becomes blocked because no cap is present to stop items from entering, exhaust gases and smoke can quickly backdraft into the house and become a safety hazard.

Ideally, the cap is fitted with a screen to help block things from entering the chimney. Screens were not common years ago, but good contractors install them regularly now.

If you have a chimney that is missing a cap, contact a reputable chimney company to have one installed. It will preserve your chimney and protect your family, and is a very worthwhile investment.

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