This blog post is a spin off of the book: 100 Things Every Homeowner Must Know: How to Save Money, Solve Problems and Improve Your Home and is written in the spirit of smart-homeownership. As with most things in life, the better you get to know your home, the better you’ll be able to care for and improve it.
Your Plumbing and Water System
In modern plumbing, a drain-waste-vent (or DWV) system is part of a system that removes sewage and greywater from a building, and regulates air pressure in the waste-system pipes to aid free flow. The DMV system carries waste out of your house and into the city sewer lines.
For these systems to work, every drain in the home must have a trap and a vent. The trap is the u-shaped tubing (often called a P-trap) that you often see under sinks. This shape allows a water seal to form which prevents sewer gas from escaping into the house. Learn how here.
Vents are just pipes that lead outside through the roof. The vents prevent water from creating a vacuum within the traps by allowing air into the system.
Water flows to your house from local city’s water main. When it enters your home, water flows through a meter, which measures your water usage. In the unfortunate event of a burst water pipe or other water-related emergency, it’s imperative that you know where your main water valve is in your home so that you can shut off the water supply until the problem is fixed.
Note, home fixtures and appliances such as the hot water heaters, toilets, sinks, dishwashers, and clothes washers all have individual water shut-off valves that can be used to stop water-flow locally until you or a plumber can address the problem.
Your Heating System
How is your home heated? When you are purchasing a home, you’ll often hear or see terms like: forced air heating, central air heating, space-heaters, furnace-heating. Understanding how your heating system works can save you money and keep you and your loved ones safe.
A central heating system has a primary heater, such as a gas furnace, an electric furnace, or a heat pump. All of these are capable of heating air, and when paired with a fan, blower or air handler, can distribute heated air throughout your home. In contemporary homes, ducted air systems are the most common type of central heating and cooling.
A Forced air system refers to a system of ductwork and vents that delivers temperature-controlled air into your home. The forced-air system is separate from the actual heating or air conditioning unit.
A furnace will often do the work of heating the air which later gets pumped through ducts. Furnaces can either use electricity, natural gas, or fuel oil. Within every furnace is a heat exchanger where air enters and is warmed before flowing throughout the house. These exchangers can wear out and crack. When this happens, dangerous, invisible fumes from burning fuel can seep into your home. This where carbon monoxide detectors come into play, they will detect these dangerous fumes and alert you in the case of an emergency.
Did you know that leaky ductwork can waste 40 percent your heating and cooling dollars? Additionally, ductwork without insulation can waste 30 percent. If you suspect your ducts leak or are under-insulated, consider sealing duct connections with aluminium tape and silicone caulk and insulate ducts in attics and crawl spaces.
While we’ve talked the more common heating system in Santa Cruz County, there are quite a few other heating and cooling systems on the market. You can read more about them here.
Hot Water Heaters
A hot water heater is basically a personal holding-tank with a heating device (usually gas or electric) in or underneath the tank. Without getting into too much detail, there are three things that are critical to know about your hot water heater.
- Never block the relief valve. As water heats up, pressure in the tank builds. The relief valve releases excess pressure, ensuring your water heater does not crack, or worse, go shooting through the roof (this has happened!). If you notice that the relief valve is leaking, it may need to be replaced. While not a complicated fix, be sure that you know what you are doing, or call a professional.
- If you have a gas water heater, ensure that it has a cover plate, and that you do not leave flammable material, such as clothes, near the base of the tank. If clothes pile up or lent accumulates near the heating element’s flame, a fire may ensue.
- If you see a puddle coming from the tank of your water heater, call a professional immediately. This may signal that the interior lining of the tank is deteriorating. At this point, it is just a matter of time until your heater bursts and floods your home.
When you notice minor electrical problems, or a sudden loss of power in the house, here are a few things you can try before calling an electrician:
- When a light goes out or a switch doesn’t work, always check the main electrical panel first. You may notice a “tripped circuit breaker” or a break that is pointing in a different direction than the others. Switch it to the off position, and then back on, and try the lights again.
- Did you know that disposers have an overload feature that shuts off the power when the motor becomes too hot? If you notice that your disposal stops working, wait until the motor cools, and look for the “reset button” underneath or on the side of the unit.
- Fridge acting funny? Before assuming it’s the power, make sure the temperature dial is not set too low. Also, check to see if any food containers are blocking the vents. The vents allow cold air to flow through the unit and if blocked, may not function properly.
Toxic Gases in your Homes
Usually our homes are associated with protection and security. However, when harmful gasses build up, they can become toxic and dangerous. In fact, the American Association of Poison Control Centers has reported that over 90 percent of poison exposures occur within the home.
As mentioned above, Carbon Monoxide can build up in your home when your furnace malfunctions. This is why it’s important to ensure that you have working CO2 detectors installed.
Radon is a colorless, odorless gas which occurs in the environment naturally and is a by-product of decaying uranium in the soil and bedrock. Excess exposure is hazardous not because of the radon itself, but because of the radioactive products formed when it decays. These compounds can increase a person’s risk for radiation-induced cancer. Radon tends to accumulate in places where ventilation is inadequate. Most commonly, it enters the home through cracks in the foundation, and then gets trapped inside and builds up. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), one in 15 homes had high levels of radon in 2016 and radon exposure causes nearly 21,000 lung cancer deaths annually.
You can find test for Radon by buying a Radon test online or a local store. Note, you can do either a short or long term test. A long term test is recommended as Radon levels fluctuate day to day and month to month. This blog provides suggestions if you do find high levels of radon in your home. Want to learn more about detecting Radon before buying a home, and how you can negotiate should you find it? Take a look at this comprehensive guide.