AHITV – Electrical Part 7

What can go wrong as we bring electricity into a home?

There are three common problems that may be encountered with bringing electricity into the home.

  1. Mechanical damage
  2. Improper location
  3. Moisture problems

I’ll focus on explaining these defects as it relates to the overhead service, as underground service is impossible to inspect without excavation and proper equipment. Remember, problems with the service drop are usually the responsibility of the utility company.

Mechanical Damage

Wires can be damaged by tree branches; deteriorate due to weathering/sun damage, or human error. When damage is noted on the service, the utility company should be notified immediately.

Clearance

Wires that are too low can be hit by vehicles; overhead wires should be about 12 feet above ground level. We also do not want people to be able to reach the wires from windows, doors, or balconies; wires should be kept at least 3 feet away.

Moisture problems

Water on the overhead wires are not a problem; but if the water manages to get into the conduit that goes into the home, this is a problem.

We’ll just put that there.

Occasionally I’ll come across this configuration. The extrusion here contains a factory built fire place. The issue here is that we have a small roof structure, with a gutter but no downspout. The gutter has a small slit on the right hand side that discharges directly into the air-conditioning unit. Over time, this water intrusion will cause damage to the unit.

I have seen this is several parts of Ottawa, it’s important to control water in and around your building.

For more information on Gutters checkout Gutters and what you need to know.

10 Easy Ways to Save Money & Energy in Your Home

by Nick Gromicko, Ben Gromicko, and Kenton Shepard

10 Façons Simples de Limiter Votre Consommation énergétique chez VousLas 10 maneras fáciles de reducir el consumo de energía en su casa

Most people don’t know how easy it is to make their homes run on less energy, and here at InterNACHI, we want to change that. 

Drastic reductions in heating, cooling and electricity costs can be accomplished through very simple changes, most of which homeowners can do themselves. Of course, for homeowners who want to take advantage of the most up-to-date knowledge and systems in home energy efficiency, InterNACHI energy auditors can perform in-depth testing to find the best energy solutions for your particular home. 

Why make your home more energy efficient? Here are a few good reasons:

  • Federal, state, utility and local jurisdictions’ financial incentives, such as tax breaks, are very advantageous for homeowners in most parts of the U.S.
  • It saves money. It costs less to power a home that has been converted to be more energy-efficient.
  • It increases the comfort level indoors.
  • It reduces our impact on climate change. Many scientists now believe that excessive energy consumption contributes significantly to global warming.
  • It reduces pollution. Conventional power production introduces pollutants that find their way into the air, soil and water supplies.

1. Find better ways to heat and cool your house. 

As much as half of the energy used in homes goes toward heating and cooling. The following are a few ways that energy bills can be reduced through adjustments to the heating and cooling systems:

  • Install a ceiling fan. Ceiling fans can be used in place of air conditioners, which require a large amount of energy.
  • Periodically replace air filters in air conditioners and heaters.
  • Set thermostats to an appropriate temperature. Specifically, they should be turned down at night and when no one is home. In most homes, about 2% of the heating bill will be saved for each degree that the thermostat is lowered for at least eight hours each day. Turning down the thermostat from 75° F to 70° F, for example, saves about 10% on heating costs.
  • Install a programmable thermostat. A programmable thermostat saves money by allowing heating and cooling appliances to be automatically turned down during times that no one is home and at night. Programmable thermostats contain no mercury and, in some climate zones, can save up to $150 per year in energy costs.
  • Install a wood stove or a pellet stove. These are more efficient sources of heat than furnaces.
  • At night, curtains drawn over windows will better insulate the room.

Image of a high-efficiency thermostat at the InterNACHI® House of Horrors® in Colorado.

2. Install a tankless water heater.

Demand-type water heaters (tankless or instantaneous) provide hot water only as it is needed. They don’t produce the standby energy losses associated with traditional storage water heaters, which will save on energy costs. Tankless water heaters heat water directly without the use of a storage tank. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. A gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, demand water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don’t need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water.

3. Replace incandescent lights.

The average household dedicates 11% of its energy budget to lighting. Traditional incandescent lights convert approximately only 10% of the energy they consume into light, while the rest becomes heat. The use of new lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), can reduce the energy use required by lighting by 50% to 75%. Advances in lighting controls offer further energy savings by reducing the amount of time that lights are on but not being used. Here are some facts about CFLs and LEDs:

  • CFLs use 75% less energy and last about 10 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • LEDs last even longer than CFLs and consume less energy.
  • LEDs have no moving parts and, unlike CFLs, they contain no mercury.

4. Seal and insulate your home.

Sealing and insulating your home is one of the most cost-effective ways to make a home more comfortable and energy-efficient, and you can do it yourself. A tightly sealed home can improve comfort and indoor air quality while reducing utility bills. An InterNACHI energy auditor can assess  leakage in the building envelope and recommend fixes that will dramatically increase comfort and energy savings.

The following are some common places where leakage may occur:

  • electrical receptacles/outlets;
  • mail slots;
  • around pipes and wires;
  • wall- or window-mounted air conditioners;
  • attic hatches;
  • fireplace dampers;
  • inadequate weatherstripping around doors;
  • baseboards;
  • window frames; and
  • switch plates.

Because hot air rises, air leaks are most likely to occur in the attic. Homeowners can perform a variety of repairs and maintenance to their attics that save them money on cooling and heating, such as: 

  • Plug the large holes. Locations in the attic where leakage is most likely to be the greatest are where walls meet the attic floor, behind and under attic knee walls, and in dropped-ceiling areas.
  • Seal the small holes. You can easily do this by looking for areas where the insulation is darkened. Darkened insulation is a result of dusty interior air being filtered by insulation before leaking through small holes in the building envelope. In cold weather, you may see frosty areas in the insulation caused by warm, moist air condensing and then freezing as it hits the cold attic air. In warmer weather, you’ll find water staining in these same areas. Use expanding foam or caulk to seal the openings around plumbing vent pipes and electrical wires. Cover the areas with insulation after the caulk is dry.
  • Seal up the attic access panel with weatherstripping. You can cut a piece of fiberglass or rigid foamboard insulation in the same size as the attic hatch and glue it to the back of the attic access panel. If you have pull-down attic stairs or an attic door, these should be sealed in a similar manner.

5. Install efficient showerheads and toilets.

The following systems can be installed to conserve water usage in homes:

  • low-flow showerheads. They are available in different flow rates, and some have a pause button which shuts off the water while the bather lathers up;
  • low-flow toilets. Toilets consume 30% to 40% of the total water used in homes, making them the biggest water users. Replacing an older 3.5-gallon toilet with a modern, low-flow 1.6-gallon toilet can reduce usage an average of 2 gallons-per-flush (GPF), saving 12,000 gallons of water per year. Low-flow toilets usually have “1.6 GPF” marked on the bowl behind the seat or inside the tank;
  • vacuum-assist toilets. This type of toilet has a vacuum chamber that uses a siphon action to suck air from the trap beneath the bowl, allowing it to quickly fill with water to clear waste. Vacuum-assist toilets are relatively quiet; and
  • dual-flush toilets. Dual-flush toilets have been used in Europe and Australia for years and are now gaining in popularity in the U.S. Dual-flush toilets let you choose between a 1-gallon (or less) flush for liquid waste, and a 1.6-gallon flush for solid waste. Dual-flush 1.6-GPF toilets reduce water consumption by an additional 30%.

6. Use appliances and electronics responsibly.

Appliances and electronics account for about 20% of household energy bills in a typical U.S. home. The following are tips that will reduce the required energy of electronics and appliances:

  • Refrigerators and freezers should not be located near the stove, dishwasher or heat vents, or exposed to direct sunlight. Exposure to warm areas will force them to use more energy to remain cool.  
  • Computers should be shut off when not in use. If unattended computers must be left on, their monitors should be shut off. According to some studies, computers account for approximately 3% of all energy consumption in the United States.
  • Use efficient ENERGY STAR-rated appliances and electronics. These devices, approved by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR Program, include TVs, home theater systems, DVD players, CD players, receivers, speakers, and more. According to the EPA, if just 10% of homes used energy-efficient appliances, it would reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of 1.7 million acres of trees.
  • Chargers, such as those used for laptops and cell phones, consume energy when they are plugged in. When they are not connected to electronics, chargers should be unplugged.
  • Laptop computers consume considerably less electricity than desktop computers.

7. Install daylighting as an alternative to electrical lighting.

Daylighting is the practice of using natural light to illuminate the home’s interior. It can be achieved using the following approaches:

  • skylights. It’s important that they be double-pane or they may not be cost-effective. Flashing skylights correctly is key to avoiding leaks;
  • light shelves. Light shelves are passive devices designed to bounce light deep into a building. They may be interior or exterior. Light shelves can introduce light into a space up to 2½ times the distance from the floor to the top of the window, and advanced light shelves may introduce four times that amount;
  • clerestory windows.  Clerestory windows are short, wide windows set high on the wall. Protected from the summer sun by the roof overhang, they allow winter sun to shine through for natural lighting and warmth; and 
  • light tubes.  Light tubes use a special lens designed to amplify low-level light and reduce light intensity from the midday sun. Sunlight is channeled through a tube coated with a highly reflective material, and then enters the living space through a diffuser designed to distribute light evenly.

8. Insulate windows and doors.

About one-third of the home’s total heat loss usually occurs through windows and doors. The following are ways to reduce energy lost through windows and doors:

  • Seal all window edges and cracks with rope caulk. This is the cheapest and simplest option.
  • Windows can be weatherstripped with a special lining that is inserted between the window and the frame. For doors, apply weatherstripping around the whole perimeter to ensure a tight seal when they’re closed. Install quality door sweeps on the bottom of the doors, if they aren’t already in place.
  • Install storm windows at windows with only single panes. A removable glass frame can be installed over an existing window.
  • If existing windows have rotted or damaged wood, cracked glass, missing putty, poorly fitting sashes, or locks that don’t work, they should be repaired or replaced.

9. Cook smart.

An enormous amount of energy is wasted while cooking. The following recommendations and statistics illustrate less wasteful ways of cooking:

  • Convection ovens are more efficient that conventional ovens. They use fans to force hot air to circulate more evenly, thereby allowing food to be cooked at a lower temperature. Convection ovens use approximately 20% less electricity than conventional ovens.
  • Microwave ovens consume approximately 80% less energy than conventional ovens.
  • Pans should be placed on the matching size heating element or flame. 
  • Using lids on pots and pans will heat food more quickly than cooking in uncovered pots and pans.
  • Pressure cookers reduce cooking time dramatically.
  • When using conventional ovens, food should be placed on the top rack. The top rack is hotter and will cook food faster. 

10. Change the way you do laundry.

  • Do not use the medium setting on your washer. Wait until you have a full load of clothes, as the medium setting saves less than half of the water and energy used for a full load.
  • Avoid using high-temperature settings when clothes are not very soiled. Water that is 140° F uses far more energy than 103° F for the warm-water setting, but 140° F isn’t that much more effective for getting clothes clean.
  • Clean the lint trap every time before you use the dryer. Not only is excess lint a fire hazard, but it will prolong the amount of time required for your clothes to dry.
  • If possible, air-dry your clothes on lines and racks.
  • Spin-dry or wring clothes out before putting them into a dryer. 

Homeowners who take the initiative to make these changes usually discover that the energy savings are more than worth the effort. InterNACHI home inspectors can make this process much easier because they can perform a more comprehensive assessment of energy-savings potential than the average homeowner can.  

Electricity – Part 6

Service Entrance

How does electricity get to the house?

Typically, homes have 240-volts that come in overhead (service drop) or underground wires (service laterals) from the utility company.

The 240-volts is made up for two 120-volt wires and one neutral. These wires may be copper or aluminium.

Service drops/laterals are typically the responsibility of the utility company. Underground laterals are typically buried two-feet to three-feet deep and then goes up to the meter. Overhead drops are usually attached to the side of the building and comes down to the electrical meter.

Typically, circuits are 120v. Some 120v circuits have a black or red and a white wire. Larger circuits may require the use of both the black and the red wires that care each 120v, totally a potential for 240v to appliances like stoves, clothes dryers or water heaters.

Deck Inspection

Gutters and what you need to know

What do I need to know about roof drainage? 

Roof drainage is one of the most important design of a roof and roof coverings. However, no roofing system is complete without controlled drainage.  

This is where gutters and downspouts become such an important part of roof drainage and is important for protecting your basement and the health of your home. 

Gutters have come a long way over the last couple hundred years, it’s still fair to say that most guttering systems are high-maintenance. Homeowners with uncovered gutters need to clean them out regularly; and after severe weather they need to be inspected as they may have been damaged. 

Do all homes have gutters? 

Not all homes have gutters, however, in Ottawa and the surrounding area I highly recommend controlling water from rain and thaw to keep it from your foundation. 

Some homes are designed to be without gutters with eave overhangs of 1.2m to 1.5m (4 to 5 feet). Even though they maybe protecting the foundation in this manner, there are usually porches under these over hangs with a base that is affected by moisture. 

Gutters and downspouts are generally found on buildings with slopped rooves. Flat rooves employ internal drainage systems that moves the water to the public or private waste system. 

What kind of gutters should I have? 

This is a good question. This depends on the architecture of your home, but for most homes built in the 21st century they are equipped with aluminum or PVC type gutters; in some cases, gutters are not installed at all. 

From personal and professional experience, I do not recommend PVC type gutters, no matter how attractive the price may be. I recommend a good quality aluminum gutter system, preferably designed by a specialist. Aluminum maybe easier to damage, but it will stand the test of time if cared for. 

How do they protect my foundation? 

Gutters and downspouts protect your foundation by controlling the flow of water. Gutters should discharge at least 1.8m (6 feet) away from your foundation. This will mitigate basement leakage in certain situations. 

Can I install them myself? 

The work itself can be dangerous and I always suggest a professional do the work. Don’t be afraid to call and ask for references and example of work. This can help you find someone you can work with and trust. 

Electricity – Part 1

The Basics of Electricity

Electricity provides us with heat, light and power.

Where does it come from?

The utilities provide the general public with electricity, they generate it with water, burning fossil fuels, or from nuclear reactors. As, we move forward, we are seeing the requirement for more environmentally responsible way to generate electricity.

Electricity is sent from the power generation plants to grids across cities. Electricity can be alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC). In North America, we mostly use AC to power our home appliances.

Common Electrical Terms

This is where the math starts:

  • V = Voltage (Volts)
  • I = Current (Amps)
  • R = Resistance (Ohms)
  • P = Power (Watts)

You can use these in the following formulas:

  • V=IR
  • P=VI

Montly News Letter

Welcome to the Homeowner’s Newsletter! Each month, you’ll find plenty of useful information for keeping your house in great condition so that you can enjoy it for years to come. Preserve your investment—and keep your family safe and healthy—by maintaining your home using the following tips.

Vulnerable Roof Areas

An example of vulnerable roof areas and a recommended fix. The typical vulnerable areas are where the roof changes direction or material (for example, AREAS where the roof meets a chimney or a wall). On a properly installed roof, these areas are flashed. Particularly vulnerable areas exist where two or more flashings intersect, for example where a chimney occurs in a valley. Things that obstruct the flow of water off sloped roofs increase the risk of leaks. Skylights, chimneys and dormers are examples. Roof penetrations for plumbing stacks, electrical masts, etc. are also weak spots.

What matters in an inspection?

Buying a home? The process can be stressful. A home inspection is supposed to give you peace of mind but often has the opposite effect. You will be asked to absorb a lot of information in a short time.