Today’s show is about household maintenance that needs to be done before a long winter. Bill, Tessa, and Reuben talk about what to check and clean. They highlight the under-maintained areas of a house.
They start by discussing the water system from sprinklers or lawn irrigation systems; how to properly disconnect garden hoses, sump pumps, drain exterior faucets, drain traps; and how to avoid sewer gas leaks. Reuben shares his experience when their sump pump once failed and burst steam in the winter.
Reuben also talks about maintaining the heating equipment, air exchange equipment, dryer ducks, dampers, smoke alarms, and thermostats. Tessa shares about water-stained ceiling, vents, and cleaning air exchangers like the heat recovery ventilator (HRV) and energy recovery ventilator (ERV). Bill asks about roof maintenance and AC refrigerant lines.
Also, they discuss preparing furnaces and recommend that some inspection and cleaning should be done professionally especially in fall.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Bill Oelrich: Reuben.
Reuben Saltzman: Exciting. It’s exciting.
BO: Yes. That was the sound of my faucet freezing in March and bursting.
BO: Welcome everyone. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman as always, your three-legged stool, coming to you from the Northland, talking all things houses, home inspections and anything else that’s rattling around in our head. Welcome everybody. Today is fall maintenance discussion. It’s that time of the year, and we would be remissed if we did not take everybody to school and make sure all of the fall maintenance is completed on their home before a long, boring winter. Reuben.
RS: Exciting. It’s exciting.
BO: Yes. That was the sound of my faucet freezing in March and bursting.
Tessa Murry: Shout out to Kevin Wagstaff, ’cause wasn’t that his app that he recommended to us, Reuben?
RS: That was Kevin Wagstaff’s app. That was the air horn and I got to use it last night. I think it was my first time. I’m doing this hockey training, I’m a hockey coach for my daughter’s team and we gotta do this training. It’s this seven hours, and so I had to do three and a half hours via Zoom last night.
TM: Oh, my gosh.
RS: And one of the people leading, she’s like a PE teacher, and she uses that to get everybody’s attention. But she just makes everybody to do it with their voice.
RS: And she made all 75 of us on the call do it with our voice. But I cheated.
TM: Oh my gosh.
RS: I used my air horn. Yeah. I’m sure everybody cares about this.
BO: Why am I not surprised you were Johnny-on-the-spot with some random noise replay?
RS: I’ve been waiting patiently for the past four months to use that air horn one time.
RS: And now I’ve got it ready to go. But…
BO: Speaking of ready to go, is your house ready for winter, Reuben?
RS: Bill, it is not. It feels like it’s summer out still.
TM: I know.
RS: How can you do fall maintenance?
TM: Just this past weekend… I know. Just this past weekend there’s this art tour that happens in Wisconsin called The Fresh Art Tour, it’s along the river. And it’s beautiful. Most falls when I go to it, you’re wearing sweaters and a jacket or something. But this year, I was in shorts and a tank top. It was like 83 degrees.
RS: Yes, yes. And for all of our listeners, tens of them out there.
RS: We’re recording this during the first full week of October. I’m not sure when this podcast is gonna air. If we can get our act together, we will air this on the 12th of October, ’cause that’s really a good time to talk about fall maintenance. We were not planning on doing a podcast on fall maintenance this year, ’cause we did one two years ago, and I thought it was pretty solid, but I looked back and it was only about a 20-minute podcast. And I don’t know what happens over the years but I guess it’s podcast creep or something, but our podcast episodes keep getting longer as we get more and more long-winded, and we talk about things like air horn apps.
RS: The podcast get looser. They’re getting longer, and I think it’s good though. It’s more content, it’s more information, and there’s a lot to say about fall maintenance. There’s a ton of stuff that needs to be done. I just had a neighbor email me and all the rest of my neighbors saying, “Hey, you guys ready to get your sprinklers blown out?” And I just went, “What? No, I’m still using my sprinkler. It’s only… Oh wait, it’s October. Alright, I guess it’s time.”
BO: Yeah, you might wanna make that call that happened at my house on Monday. And it was a four-week wait to get them out there.
RS: Oh my goodness. Yeah.
RS: Yeah. Time to get started now. Yeah, we got a lot to do. We got a lot to cover today, Bill.
BO: Well, what’s the first thing you always do in the fall?
RS: Well, I think water is probably the most important thing to think about. I don’t know. What do you think, Tess?
TM: Of course.
RS: Is there anything more important than water?
TM: Water is the potentially, the most damaging thing you can have. But yeah, let’s focus on water.
RS: Okay. Alright. And make sure that you don’t have water freezing. If you got an irrigation system at your house. Don’t we always call this a sprinkler system. But technically, if we’re gonna be word sticklers, a sprinkler system is a fire suppression system inside a house. And nobody has a sprinkler system for real at their house. The right term for this would actually be a lawn irrigation system. As soon as I’m done with this podcast, I’m gonna go back to calling it a sprinkler system.
RS: But if you have a lawn irrigation system, you need to get that blown out. You’re gonna have frost coming all the way down, it’ll freeze those pipes. It’ll destroy it. Usually what people do is, you just call a company who specializes in this. They’ll come out and they’ll blow your system out. They got this gigantic gas-powered air compressor that they tow along on the back of their truck, and they unscrew a few things. They have you shut your water off and then they hook up and they blow a ton of air through the system, and you see water and then air coming out of all of your spouts, and that’s about it. And then your sprinkler system, there, I did it. I said sprinkler, see. Then your sprinkler system is winterized. And for the cost on this, I think it should be somewhere in the neighborhood of about 75 bucks, depending on who you’re calling and how fast you need them to come out. We’ve got a neighborhood deal where we got one person in the neighborhood who arranges for 10 of us to get it done. And I think we all pay about 50 bucks each, or something like that.
BO: Wow, look at you guys.
TM: That’s nice.
RS: Well, bulk discount, why not. You know how this works. A huge part of that contractor’s fee is the drive time. You drive across town, if you can eliminate 10 trips, boy, that’s worth a lot of time. Yeah.
BO: Yeah. Speaking of sprinklers and irrigation systems, that might be just a partial podcast. Wasn’t there a minute when houses in Minnesota were going to be required to have sprinkler systems if they were over a certain size? But I digress, that’s not fall maintenance. We can’t have that conversation.
RS: Oh come on, that’s such a fun discussion, Bill.
BO: That was the truth though, for the blink of an eye and then it got shut down.
RS: Yeah. We can’t just talk about it and then brush it aside. Let’s talk about it for real, Bill. That was required back when we were adopting a new building code, and it was in the code back in 2015. And it was for homes, I don’t remember the exact number, but it was if a home was over 4000 square feet or something… Or maybe it was 4500 square feet, it was for really big houses, there was a period of time where it was required. You had to have a sprinkler system. And everybody was in an uproar over this. And then I added fuel to the fire by doing an April Fools Day blog post.
TM: Oh no.
RS: And I had put that on the Star Tribune.
TM: Oh no. [chuckle]
RS: And I said, “All homes in Minnesota are gonna be required to have sprinkler systems, including all existing homes. It doesn’t matter where you live, it’s gonna be retrofit.”
RS: And I had all these tells. I thought I was being really obvious that this was outlandish. We had a quote from Doc McFries, and he said… From McDonald McFries or something. “What do you think?” He said, “I’m loving it.”
RS: And we said, “As part of the new requirements, you’re also gonna be required to have ball pits on the sides of stairways, if you don’t have 36-inch guard rails. You’ll need to require ball pits on the sides of open stairways.” And it was just some outlandish stuff. But it was a really good lesson for me in that I learned nobody reads. They read the headline and then they fire off their nasty emails, they fire off their boat. It’s like, you can’t just put some information in there to let people know that you’re joking. It’s…
BO: Well, this falls in the category of what’s rattling around in our heads right now. So, why ball pits?
RS: Well, it was just a joke. When I say ball pit, I’m talking about Chucky Cheese.
BO: Gotcha. I thought you were doing something clever with the fact that you’re not supposed to be able to put some four-inch sphere through a baluster gap, and this was to catch the balls that go flying through the… The improperly spaced baluster.
RS: Oh, no. No. I’m just thinking a bunch of colorful balls sitting on the side of your stairway. We’re now putting this in the code. I was trying to be outlandish but huge fail on my part. I got…
TM: I never…
RS: I got a call…
TM: I never saw that… That article.
RS: Oh good, good.
RS: I got a call from the state…
TM: I wish I read it.
RS: At 07:00 AM, and their office was getting flooded with phone calls from people who were furious.
TM: Oh my gosh. [laughter]
RS: And I’m like, “Dude, it’s a joke.” And they’re like, “Well, nobody knows it’s a joke.”
RS: So I took it down. I took it off the Star Tribune right away. But a lot of people saw it and they were mad. And that’s… That’s the last April Fools anything I have attempted under the name of a business.
RS: And, yeah, I’m done with that.
BO: Maybe you inadvertently fixed that from ending up in the code because the state was like, “If this is what’s gonna happen, if we put this in, we just don’t have the people power to manage all the disgust calls that come in.”
RS: Yes, yes, exactly. And you know what, while we’re at it, one last thing, since we’re just really digging into this tiny little topic is a Bible verse that I had my kids memorize, which is Proverbs 26, 18-19. This is a good lesson for me. It says, “Like a maniac shooting flaming arrows of death is one who deceives their neighbor and says I was only joking.”
RS: There, there. That’s my lesson. I’ve learned my lesson, knock it off, no more April Fools.
BO: Okay, alright.
TM: Oh no.
BO: Back to the discussion at hand.
RS: Alright. Sorry.
BO: Have you started your… [laughter]
BO: Have you started your furnace yet this year?
RS: Wait, we’re still on water, Bill. Hold on.
RS: Hold on. [laughter]
TM: We’re not done with water. There’s a… There’s…
TM: We could talk for an hour about just water things to do to.
RS: I know. What about your faucets, Tess? What do we do?
TM: Yeah, I think this is the big one. If you’ve got exterior faucets, it’s really important to make sure that you turn off the water to them. Even if they are frost free faucets, it’s still a good idea to find the shut-off and to turn off the water and to winterize them. And there’s a whole process for doing that. Since this is a longer podcast, I suppose we can just briefly run through it real quick. If you’re a homeowner, check your exterior faucet shut-offs, usually they’re located somewhere in the ceiling of your basement. Find that shut off, turn it off. Go to the outside, open up the hose bin, let the water drain out. And then you should be able to find a little bleeder valve on the inside where that shut off valve is in your basement. And open up that bleeder valve and prepare to catch any excess water that’s still in the pipe. So grab yourself a bucket, you might get a little bit wet doing that. But that’s the process. Turn off the water on the inside, let the water drain out on the outside and then let any excess water in the pipe drain out on the inside. Am I missing anything on that, Reuben?
RS: That’s pretty good Tess. Three thoughts on this. One, is this is kinda obvious, but disconnect your garden hose.
RS: Always, always, always. Don’t leave it attached ’cause there’s surely gonna be water in there, and if that freezes, it can back up and get inside and wreck you faucet. Number two, this is just a little bit of trivia while we’re talking about this. You said there’s gonna be a little bleeder on that shut off valve on the inside. Here’s the bit of trivia, what’s the name of that little thing that you unscrew, that little cap? Anybody know? It’s that little drain on the side, it’s called the petcock.
TM: Can we air that on radio. Is that gonna be edited out? [chuckle]
RS: That is an official plumbing term.
TM: Okay, well, you know what, I guess the elephant in the room, strange language for some of these things here that we deal with as home inspectors. Silcock is another one. And I think if you listen to our old podcasts on home maintenance, fall maintenance routines, Reuben, you talk about the silcock as well, on the outside.
RS: I remember I used to say that during inspections and Melin’s face would turn red. [laughter] And he’d have to leave. And now we call them hose bibs. So we’re not trying to make anybody uncomfortable. It didn’t… That’s what it was called in the code. That’s what it’d say on the product and I’m just trying to use the right language but… Alright, we’ll call it what everybody else wants to call it. We don’t wanna make anybody uncomfortable.
TM: Yeah, hose bib feels a little bit safer.
RS: Yeah, yeah, for sure.
TM: So does bleeder valve, so we’ll stick to that.
RS: Okay, yeah, I… Agreed. I agree. I don’t call them petcocks, nobody knows what we’re talking about. It was just a fun little bit of trivia. And then the last thing was the last time I had drained my outside faucet, I had my daughter helping me. And when you… The way mine works is you got the drain and then the pipe goes way up into the ceiling and then it comes back down at my walk-out basement and I had shut the valve off, I went outside. I can’t remember what order it was. I don’t remember how this worked. Whatever it was, I had Lucy go inside and hold a towel over this area or hold a bucket up to it to catch the water when it drained. I think I had done it in the wrong order. It was like I opened the bleeder valve first and then I went, “Oh shoot, well, I’m just gonna leave it. Lucy, water’s gonna come out of here. All you gotta do is go outside and open up the faucet, and as soon as I do, water’s gonna come out so be ready.” And she’s like, “Okay.” So she’s holding the bucket, I open up the faucet, I come inside and Lucy is soaked.
RS: The water came out hard, it splashed all over this bucket, it got all over her, and she was just glaring at me. She’s like, “I’m never doing that again.”
BO: Next time she’ll be the runner.
RS: Yeah, yeah, so it can be a fair bit of water.
BO: Why is it so important to disconnect your hose? Even if the hose is connected, won’t the pipe just expand out into the hose or something? What’s the big deal?
RS: Well, you have to disconnect your hose to drain your faucet. And once you’re done with that, just leave it disconnected. I suppose, Bill, if you wanted to take your hose and drain the hose entirely, back when we used to have a hockey rink in the backyard we’d do that all the time. You just… You take a hose at the end and you hold it way high above your head and you keep pulling the rest of the hose through that high loop and it’s gonna let all the water drain out. If you were to do all of that and then reconnect your hose again to the faucet, to leave it that way all winter, I suppose you could. But I can’t imagine why you’d want to do that. And then if somebody inside accidentally turns the faucet on, it’s gonna fill that hose with water, or if it turns out that you have a very small leak where it just drips, one drip per minute per hour, whatever it is, you got the potential to unknowingly fill your hose with water. So I would much rather just leave it disconnected all winter long.
BO: Did I tell you about my fail a couple years ago, where I forgot to disconnect the hose from my frost free and I had the sprayer nozzle still on the hose, and this was middle of November. What happened was obviously everything expanded, but the burst in the pipe was inside my house, but after the shut off. You can describe this better than I can, ’cause where the actual shut off happens is like a foot inside your house and then there’s this length of pipe that goes to the actual exterior. Well, that filled with ice because it had… The water had nowhere else to go and it burst the pipe inside my house but it wasn’t leaking until the spring when I went to turn on my exterior faucet and then it leaked all over the house. You understand? Did I paint a good enough picture? I was hitting the professor here with some sly back-handed knowledge and it didn’t work out very well.
TM: Was your basement finished, Bill?
BO: Yes, yes. It was in the ceiling of a bathroom.
TM: Oh man… So you had to open up the ceiling, replace sheet rock and all that.
BO: Just a small hole, it hasn’t been repaired yet.
TM: Well, maybe that’s for the better.
RS: What’s the rush?
BO: It’s a guy’s basement bathroom. Nobody cares if there’s a hole in the ceiling. You just look down.
RS: Yeah. Now you just call it an access hole, right?
BO: That’s correct.
TM: There you go.
BO: Now there’s a new shut off through that hole because it had to be replaced right there.
RS: Yeah. Well, you know what you could do, you just get one of those little plumbing access panels that just snaps into place as long as you just cut a square hole.
BO: Yes, that is the plan.
RS: And you have an extra 30 seconds.
BO: That’s right, yes.
BO: Okay, what… Are we done with water? Is our house safely winterized at this point?
RS: Well, just…
TM: Not quite.
RS: Yeah, what else we got Tess?
TM: Well, if you have any other like sinks that are, I guess, in a garage or something, you should make sure that you drain those traps so they don’t have water in them that can freeze and damage the pipe as well. What other water things…
RS: Well, hold on though, if you drain the trap, you’re gonna get sewer gas coming in.
TM: You could put antifreeze. Is that what we recommend?
BO: Dump a little RV antifreeze?
TM: RV antifreeze. Yep, so you don’t get sewer gases.
RS: Yep, it’s a good solution.
TM: Speaking of disconnecting hoses from outside faucets, if you’ve got a sump pump discharge is going out through the exterior wall and it’s connected to some sort of extension pipe, especially a corrugated plastic extension pipe to take that water and drain it away from the house, you should make sure to disconnect that too. It can freeze and then it can cause damage. Reuben, I think you shared a story about your own personal experience with this…
RS: Yes, I had that happen.
TM: On our previous podcast. Yeah, what happened?
RS: I came downstairs into my unfinished basement, 5:00 AM, drink my morning coffee, sit at my computer, do my thing, and I just heard this whirring going on and I didn’t really pay much attention to it. But after a while, it started bugging me, like, “Wait, what is that noise?” And I went over to investigate and it’s my sump pump running continuously trying to pump water out of my sump basket and there was one of those corrugated extension thingies outside, it’s the dead of winter, it’s filled with ice and water can’t go anywhere. So the pump is just pushing water up against this ice constantly, nothing’s moving anywhere and there’s… It’s so hot in my sump basket, I take the cover off, and steam just starts coming out of there.
TM: Are you serious?
RS: Oh yeah, oh yeah. It was hot. I should have taken my infrared camera and taken an image…
TM: Oh, my gosh.
RS: ‘Cause it’s just… It’s a pump running non-stop not moving any water. That thing is just groaning.
TM: Oh, man.
RS: I surely removed many, many years off the life of that thing. It did end up burning out before I moved out of that house and it wasn’t that old. So I’m sure that day couldn’t have helped.
TM: You stressed it out.
RS: You’ll wreck the sump pump.
TM: I think that’s it for water stuff on the exterior. We missing anything else?
RS: No, that’s good.
TM: That’ll keep someone busy for a few hours.
BO: Catastrophic themes you’ve covered.
TM: Yeah, definitely.
RS: And then you gotta think about air. You need… Now we start changing the use of our heating equipment and our air exchange equipment. It starts doing new stuff that it doesn’t do in the summer time. Most importantly, probably, is making sure that you have enough combustion air coming in your house. Now, you close up all your windows, your house is all sealed up. If you have a gas-fired appliance in your house that uses air in the house for combustion, which is most every water heater out there, and a lot of the older style of furnaces use indoor air for combustion, it’s really important that you have these combustion air intakes that are free and open to the outside. They’re designed to bring air in to support combustion for your appliances. And those things get filthy, they get really dirty. Bees like to make nests in there, the intake grates get super filthy and it doesn’t take anything to clean it. You can basically just take a rag, stick it up inside that grille, wipe all the dust and dirt off there, and you’re good. And if you don’t know where yours is located, then you weren’t paying attention during your Structure Tech home inspection. No, I’m just kidding.
RS: It’s one of those things we always point out during our home inspections, and even if we don’t point it out while we’re walking around with our client, if they’re not around the outside with us, we still take a picture of it, we put it in our reports, we put a far away image along with an arrow pointing to it like, “Hey, this is your combustion area. You need to make sure this stays clean,” ’cause that’s a critical detail. So check it in the fall before you start using your equipment. What else we got for air, Tess?
TM: Well, very similar to a combustion air intake grille on the outside of your house would be, if you have an air exchanger, so like an HRV, heat recovery ventilator, or an ERV, energy recovery ventilator. Those have intakes and exhausts as well. And the intakes get filthy dirty. Usually, you can always tell which intake is combustion area and which intake is for an HRV or ERV when you’re inspecting, because the HRV, ERV is usually really dirty. And the combustion air intake is dirty, but not quite as dirty. Because when those systems are running, they’re pulling in air, it’s not just passive air coming in like the combustion air. So, take a walk around the outside, if you have one of those, make sure you clean off the intake as well.
TM: And then with that, it’s always good to take a look on the inside of the HRV, ERV system as well, because there’s filters in that too that need to be cleaned. And even the core typically of those systems need to be pulled out and cleaned once a year. So it’s a good idea to just open up that system. If you’re not sure what we’re talking about, Reuben has written… You’ve written blogs on this, but usually it’s like a rectangular box that hangs from the ceiling in your utility room, typically, and it’ll be next to a furnace. And there’ll be little clasps you can open up and open up the cover on that thing. And then you’ll see filters in it that you need to slide out and clean, and put back in, seasonally at least. And typically the manufacturer will have some sort of maintenance instructions on the inside of that thing. So follow that, make sure you clean it. This is one of the areas that is always neglected, I think, for home maintenance.
TM: Whenever we’re doing inspections, it’s the HRV, ERV system. It’s like homeowners don’t know what they are, what they do, and they certainly don’t even know that there’s maintenance involved with them.
RS: Yeah. They’re notoriously under-maintained.
TM: Yeah. So the fall is a really good time to just check that system on the outside with the intake and then on the inside of it as well.
RS: Check your clothes dryer duct. It’s a lot easier to do this stuff this time of year. Make sure that it’s clean. Check the damper, make sure it opens freely, take a little peek in there. If your clothes dryer’s butted right up against an exterior wall, and the entire run of that dryer duct is through the wall and there’s nothing else, you probably don’t have much to worry about. It’s probably all fine. But if you’ve got a clothes dryer located, say, in the middle of your house, and you know that that duct has to run across your house or through the middle of it, or maybe up to the roof, that’s a long run. And the longer it is, the more potential you have for it getting clogged, and the more important it is for you to have that dryer duct cleaned out. And it’s a matter of hiring a professional to come out and clean that. It’s usually the same people who offer to clean your air ducts are gonna offer that service to clean your dryer duct. So, clean that if it needs to… Needs to be cleaned. And then also check the other terminals at the outside for things that remove air, such as your bathroom exhaust fans and your kitchen exhaust fan.
RS: Turn on all the fans, go on the outside, and make sure you can account for air moving out of your house at every one of those terminals. And I bring this up as an important winter maintenance thing because what we’ve found happen numerous times is you have wasps build a nest in that bath fan terminal or kitchen fan terminal up at the roof, and that nest blocks the terminal from opening. It’s got this little aluminum damper that’s supposed to open, but if there’s a nest there, it can’t open. So people turn on the bathroom exhaust fan every time they take a shower. They take that warm humid air, it pumps it up. It tries to pump it up out of the roof but the damper’s stuck shut. So it just pumps all this moist air, it hits that terminal, it condenses on the cold terminal, and then it drips right back down inside the duct. And then it stains the ceiling where the bath fan is. And then, of course, it leads people to think that they got a roof leak and they call a roofer. And the roofer’s like, “No dummy, your roof is not leaking in the dead of winter. There’s snow up there. It’s a condensation issue.” And all this wrecked ceiling, and trips, and worry about roof leaks and all that, it’s all the result of a wasp nest. That’s all it comes down to. What I’m getting at is make sure your dampers open and close the way they should. It does make a big difference.
BO: Do you have to get on the roof to go check this out?
RS: Maybe. [chuckle]
TM: A lot of bathroom dampers are on roofs. Sometimes they vent out through the side of a house.
TM: Or, rare occasion, maybe, through a soffit or something but…
RS: And Bill, I gotta say, we’ve… Well, back before we were all using mobile phones for taking pictures during our home inspections, I used to use a camera with a 80X digital zoom, and I’ve got some pretty impressive photos of nasty dampers on second storey walk out roofs. So I’m really three storeys down, pointed up there with my camera and you can see some crazy clarity. So if you’ve got a nice zoom lens on a camera or a video camera or binoculars, you can use any of those things, you might be able to see it from the ground.
BO: That doesn’t solve removing the wasp nest. [laughter]
TM: Yeah, true.
BO: Two storey walk out thing…
TM: Do you think that Nerf gun would work at that, just squirt it from below, trying…
BO: No, there’s no hope.
RS: There’s a good chance that you get a lot of that water in your house and stain your…
TM: Right back down.
TM: Don’t do that. Don’t try that.
BO: You have to find a very comfortable human who likes heights and doesn’t have a problem wandering around on roofs to go fix that.
TM: Speaking of the water stains on your ceiling around bath fans, Reuben, I feel like you’ve touched on that and yes, that definitely it could be the cause of a wasp nest keeping that damper closed, but that may not be the only reason why you have water stains around your bath fan on your ceiling, right?
RS: Do tell, Tess. What else is going on?
TM: Well, another option could be, and this is another damper issue, but we have run across a lot of dampers where the weather stripping piece on them is sticky and that damper will just glue itself down. It’s just a matter of going on the roof and replacing that piece of weather stripping so that it doesn’t stick.
RS: That’s right.
TM: Yup. And then I was thinking, another thing, too, that I’ve seen a lot of, where you’ve got a bath fan, a duct that’s going through an attic, and if it’s not insulated properly, then you’re gonna have a lot of condensation that forms on the inside of that duct and drips back down. So making sure that that duct is completely insulated all the way from the ceiling of that attic space up to the roof is really important. And then even if you have insulation on a duct, I’ve still seen condensation form, and especially if it’s like a really long span, a really long duct that’s going through a really big tall attic, then it’s more likely that you’ll get condensation too. One thing I saw a lot of when I was in the insulation industry is, contractors who install those, in order to reduce their callbacks from this water issue, they would actually use a… Like a flexible duct material and they would put a trap in the duct, like actually put a intentional sag so that any condensation that form in that duct would drip back down and stay in that trap so that it didn’t drip onto the ceiling, concern people. So…
RS: I think I remember Rob Vassallo with CBS, he was on our podcast about a year or two ago, and I think I remember him talking about doing that.
TM: Yes. Yeah, and I guess… I don’t know what to say about that. I don’t like it. Who likes to think about having this duct with a lot of water just sitting in it up in your attic space. But what’s the alternative potentially having this condensation drip back down and stain your ceiling. So it goes back to design, I guess. I’ll get on my soap box for a second, just making sure you’ve got a bath fan that vents to the outside trying to insulate as much as possible, shorter span as possible, is all you can really do.
RS: Yup. Straight run, short run.
TM: The shorter the run, the better. Yeah.
BO: Silly question for you all. How do you feel about, speaking of roofs and roof vents and dampers, the dryer vent going through the roof? Good idea, bad idea?
TM: Thumbs down. Yeah.
BO: Tess has given the thumbs down but why do they do it?
TM: Because people like having their washer and dryer located on the floor where their bedrooms are, and a lot of modern design houses, I think, have upstairs laundry rooms these days. And so those laundry rooms, a lot of times they vent up through the roof and through the attic. I don’t know, Reuben, do you have an opinion on that?
RS: Oh, yeah. As soon as I’m in charge, you’re not gonna be allowed to do it anymore.
RS: ‘Cause who’s supposed to get up on the roof to clean it, who’s responsible? This is a regular maintenance thing. Those dryer duct terminals, they need to be cleaned at least annually. This is an important thing. And you got the steep roof way up there, is the homeowner seriously supposed to get on the roof and clean that off every year, or hire somebody to do it? It seems like it was very poor planning to even allow this. And that’s just the maintenance part of it. What about every time the clothes dryer’s running, pumping 200 CFM of super warm air onto a snow-covered roof? What’s gonna happen with all that snow?
TM: It melts.
RS: It melts…
TM: It leads to ice dams, potentially.
RS: Yeah. It melts, but then it’s gonna run down a little ways to some unheated portion and then it’ll freeze again. And like you said, Tess, yeah, it’s a big driver for ice dams. I found ice dams happening in the middle of roofs, where… God didn’t design ice dams to happen there. He designed them to happen at the eaves. It’s just weird to have an ice dam in the middle of your roof and it’s a result of a dryer exhaust. So, I don’t like it at all.
TM: Yeah, not a fan.
BO: Speaking of roofs, is there anything else that needs to be done on the roofs in terms of fall maintenance?
TM: Well, real quick, I’ll jump in there. A lot of attic spaces are vented, and so if you’ve got a vented attic, you’ll have hopefully some sort of intake at the soffit and an exhaust at the peak of the roof. And that exhaust could be, those square box vents, passive vents or you could have a continuous ridge vent, but one thing to check out, Reuben, you have this in your blog is, take a look… You can look at these roof vents from the ground. If you’re seeing straw or some other debris sticking out from underneath these box vents, chances are, birds have been trying to build a nest in them, and you don’t want to get up there and clean that out so you can have proper air flow in that ventilation. Same thing goes for your soffit intake vents. Take a look underneath the eve of the house, that roof overhang section. And if you’ve got any type of venting, make sure that you clean that. And how often do we see clean soffit intake vents when we’re doing home inspections?
RS: If the house is less than a year old, then it looks pretty good.
TM: Other than that?
RS: Other than that…
TM: They are usually painted shut or clogged. Yeah, that just… It’s an important part of the proper functioning of air flow through an attic is to make sure that both of those are clean.
RS: Yeah, and then what else we got for the roof. Obviously, clean your gutters. That’s a huge one. If you’ve got gutters on your house, and hopefully you have gutters on your house and you got trees in your neighborhood, they love to get dirty. I’ve got gutters on the side of my house where there are no trees anywhere nearby. I don’t know how it gets so clogged, but it does so…
TM: What kind of stuff do you get in there?
RS: Leaves or seeds, just miscellaneous debris. It’s gotta be coming over from blocks away. No, not really blocks, but it’s just… It’s funny how the wind will carry that stuff, and you’ll get clogged gutters in areas where you feel like it just shouldn’t happen. But it’s really important to get that done before winter. You don’t want all that spring thaw overflowing your gutters potentially getting down inside your walls, wrecking your soffits and fascia covering. Yeah, take care of it now. This is the time to do it.
TM: What do you think about gutter guards, Reuben?
RS: I like them. I like them. We did a video on that in a blog post about that probably about a year ago to discuss the pros and cons of them, and they all work pretty good. But none of them are maintenance-free. Even with the best ones out there, we’ve seen every single type get clogged. It’s a first line of defense. But you can still have debris piling up around there. We’ve seen trees growing out of the best ones out there from lack of maintenance. So none of them are 100% maintenance-free. But they will make your life a little bit easier.
TM: I think that’s a really important point to make. You can invest a lot of money in a gutter helmet or some type of system like that, but you still have to do some maintenance.
RS: Yep, yep.
BO: Do you pop the helmets off, debris gets in? Do you actually have to take those off or do you try to just wash it or clean them with the thing in place? Reuben’s giving a very unusual look. You can’t see it. It’s a great pod.
RS: It’s an exaggerated shrug. I have no idea. I’ve never had one.
TM: I think you actually had a little video in your blog about that, Reuben, with a tiny little robot you can buy that you put in your gutter and it scoots out all the debris. Is that right?
RS: Yeah, yeah. It’s this little battery-powered thing. You stick it right in there and it’s got this… I don’t know if it’s an impeller or a propeller. I don’t know the difference between those two. It’s got something that spin and it throws all the leaves out of there. But still, that doesn’t answer the question about if you’ve got gutter guard. How do you get it inside there to start with?
RS: Yeah, I don’t know.
TM: That’s tough.
BO: I would love to see that little robot thing because the weight of some of this debris when it’s been weighted down for two, three, four months, that little robot should be pretty powerful to make that job done.
RS: Well, for the price tag for that little robot, I’m sure it’s very powerful.
RS: Those things are expensive, man. Crazy expensive.
TM: Like how much?
RS: I wanna say like 400 bucks or something.
TM: Oh my gosh, and you still have to get up on a ladder to put it in the gutter and remove it and put it in a new section. Yeah.
RS: Yeah, yeah. It’s not like you can sit at your couch and say, “Robot, clean my gutter.” Or, “Alexa, clean my gutter.”
TM: Yeah, we’re not quite there yet.
BO: That may be in development.
RS: Yeah, it’ll be coming. It’ll be coming.
BO: Are we back on the ground finally? No more roof talk, or is there anything else you’re looking at on the roof?
RS: By the way, I found it. It’s called the iRobot Looj, and they’re 300 bucks. I guess the price has gone down a little.
TM: Come down a little bit. Nice.
RS: Alright, sorry, Bill. I think that’s it on the roof. Tessa, do we have anything else on the roof?
TM: No, I think that covers it for the roof. But one thing we do mention though, it’s always a good idea just to take a walk around the outside of your house to look at the roof once a year too. And if you wanna do that in the fall it’s a good time just to see the general condition of it. Are you missing any shingles? That sort of thing.
BO: I did notice on my neighbor’s house a random shingle just fell out. I have no idea how this has happened, and it’s now laying in the valley. But there is this situation where it’s the visible part of the architectural shingle, the wear part of it, that broke off. So I don’t know if this was an expansion contraction thing and it just broke it across… It’s the six inches that’s exposed, that just broke off and slid down. It’s very unusual.
TM: Yeah. Well, there’s a little bit left on exterior to go through. This is just a minor thing, but take a walk around the outside as you’re looking at your roof, you’re looking at your gutters, your soffit intake vents, roof vents, hose bibs, all that, and look for any sort of penetrations that you have in the side of your house, especially think about where your AC refrigerant line goes through, your exterior wall or hose bibs, cable, anything like that, and make sure that you seal around those gaps. Because that is a source of air leakage but also a contributing part to pest intrusion, so…
RS: Oh, yeah.
TM: I can’t remember if Scott Doran, who we had on our past podcast episode talked about it, but we like to refer to it as like a virtual mouse highway, those AC refrigerant lines. So make sure you see you seal those.
RS: Yep, good point. And then while you’re on the AC, people always like to go out there and put these big elaborate covers over their air conditioner, you don’t need all that. It’s gonna trap moisture in there…
RS: I know, right? But they sell them. It’s gonna trap moisture in there. It’s gonna make it more inviting for rodents to make homes in there. All you gotta do is leave it alone. It’s designed for outdoor use. You don’t need to put anything over the top. If you really wanna keep snow and debris from getting inside there, especially if you’ve got a lot of pine needles or something like that that might get inside, you could put a piece of plywood over the top and maybe a big rock or something to keep the plywood from blowing off, but that’s it. Don’t do anything else. They’re designed for outdoor use. You’re fine. You don’t need a fancy cover for your air conditioner.
RS: And another question that comes up sometimes is, should you turn off the circuit breaker to your air conditioner in the fall? You’re not gonna be using it anymore, and I’ve heard people say, “Well, they got this little crankcase heater there and it’s gonna warm the refrigerant and it’s gonna be running up your electricity bill all winter long, so you better turn it off.” I did the calculations and what these little crankcase heaters use, if you have one, and it’s hardly anything. You could surely never notice the difference in your electricity bill. So, I wouldn’t worry about that. The one argument, might be a valid argument to turning it off, is that what if somebody in the house accidentally switches the thermostat over to cool and they try to run the air conditioner when it’s way too cold and it’s not safe for it? Well, then you could damage it. So if you’re a super picky homeowner, you’re concerned about the other people who live with you, I suppose maybe you’d wanna turn it off. For me, I don’t, but I think it almost comes down to personal preference. We don’t have a hardline stance one way or the other.
BO: Your thermostat’s not under lock and key?
RS: No. I got one of those Wi-Fi enabled thermostats now. So now I can control it from anywhere. Any of the kids, bump it up by one degree and my phone goes off, my air horn sounds. No, I was just kidding.
BO: Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha. So, you can’t butt dial your air conditioner on in the middle of winter?
RS: No. No, I cannot.
BO: Okay, that would be a serious problem if that were the case, but… Okay, any other general maintenance you’re doing around the house outside?
RS: I think that’s it on the outside.
TM: If you wanna be an A++ homeowner, I think you also have listed, Reuben, in your blog about checking weather stripping that might be damaged or missing around doors, windows, replacing that… Just general things.
RS: Yeah. Yep.
BO: Are you now ready to turn your furnace on, give this thing the old seasonal test?
TM: Yeah, talking about furnaces, there’s some maintenance with those, and we recommend that you have them professionally tuned up annually. We say annually, how often do we see furnaces that are actually tuned up annually? Not very often. But it’s a good thing to do just to make sure it’s working efficiently, it’s working safely, and to stay on top of any potential issues that might be happening to extend the life of it.
BO: I talked to a furnace contractor earlier… Or late last week, and he made the comment, “Start your furnaces early. There are not a lot of parts laying around, and if you’ve got an issue, you wanna know sooner than later because we’re worried about this winter being a problem winter from a supply and demand perspective.”
RS: Good tip, Bill. Good tip.
RS: That’s worth the price of admission right there for this podcast for anybody who stuck around this long.
BO: That’s four people, Reuben, and we’re three of them, and your mom is the other one, so… Good on Patty.
TM: Shout out to Patty.
RS: That’s right.
BO: Okay, what else? What else have we got going on? You fire up the furnace, turns on, it delivers heat, same thing with your boiler, doesn’t make any funny noises, you’re good to go. That checks all the boxes on this list, doesn’t it?
RS: Most of them. We always talk about change your furnace filter. It’s like, “Do it in the fall.” But it’s not just a fall thing. If you get the really cheap filters, you’re supposed to do it monthly. If you get the semi-okay filters, you change them once every three months. So it’s not really a fall maintenance thing but it’s one of those things. Alright, it’s on your mind, you’re doing stuff with your furnace, just double check it, make sure your furnace filter is clean, and then we did, just a week or two ago, we did a really long podcast about smoke alarms. I don’t think there is much we could talk about for smoke alarms that we didn’t already talk about, although I…
BO: Change the battery…
RS: Change the battery, Bill. My wife, she listened to one of our podcasts. I think she’s been listening to a few of them now. I’m gonna be in trouble soon.
RS: She’s like, “I was listening to your podcast and you forgot to tell people to change the battery.” Even if it’s a hard-wired smoke alarm ’cause that’s one I got her. She, I think at some point, was under the impression because it’s hard-wired, you’re not gonna have batteries in there, but it doesn’t matter. They will still have batteries even if they’re hard-wired.
TM: Gosh, good point, Anna.
RS: Make sure you’re changing the battery in your smoke alarm. Yeah. Thank you, honey. Appreciate it.
TM: Speaking of changing batteries, we forgot to mention with thermostats. It’s a good idea to check the batteries in your thermostats too. Reuben, you’ve got a story about that, don’t you?
RS: Yes, had a family member come home after being gone for a week, and their house was right on the verge of becoming a frozen winter wonderland with burst pipes. It was in the 30’s inside their house. It was so cold.
TM: Oh my gosh.
RS: And the problem was that the batteries were dead on the thermostat and it went out and the furnace never kicked on. So you don’t want a really, really stupid preventable service call. If your thermostat takes batteries, go ahead and replace them. Or, if you’re really meticulous, at least test them. Make sure you don’t have that happen.
BO: That shouldn’t even be a possibility of failure. A thermostat that’s hard-wired should never lose power to batteries.
RS: Well, Bill, I think it depends on how it’s wired. Now, I’m going outside my lane, I am not the thermostat wiring expert here, but I think the way it works is you’ve got some thermostats, the super, super old ones, just had two wires coming in and the wires would touch together, and the heating appliance would kick on. And then we got fancier and we started adding another wire to control the fan and another one to control the AC, and then another wire to provide power to the thermostat. But if you’ve got… If you don’t have enough wires coming to your thermostat, it’s not going to be powered and you are gonna need… It’s gonna need to be powered by batteries. And I kinda learned a little bit more about this when I upgraded my thermostat… I had one, like I told you, I got one of those fancy Wi-Fi ones, and I had to add another wire to power it.
TM: Oh, wow.
RS: And up until just a year ago, my fairly new house did not have a power source to the thermostat. So there’s a ton of them that don’t have one.
TM: That’s really surprising.
RS: Yeah, it is. But that’s how it goes, and that’s how a lot of them are wired.
BO: Well, that was a good tip because I ran into that situation last year. We were going on vacation, and the battery was blinking and I was like, “Ugh”. I hate touching anything before I leave for an extended period of time for fear of failure, but the other chance of failure was worse than changing the battery, so…
BO: Well, I think that’s putting a wrap on this whole fall maintenance business. Is there anything else you wanna add to this before we wrap this up?
RS: Well, fireplaces are important, but, gosh, we should almost do a separate podcast about fireplaces, maybe even get Scott on our team out to talk a little bit more about fireplace inspections and fireplace maintenance. So, fireplaces are important for fall maintenance, but it might just be a totally different discussion.
BO: Do you recommend a yearly cleaning even if you don’t use it very often, say you had three fires in it? Do you recommend that somebody clean the fireplace?
RS: I do not, no. I think the number of… When you get your fireplace serviced or cleaned, is gonna have to do with the number of fires that you have. If you have one fire a year, then maybe get it cleaned every 25 years or something. But you probably wanna get inspected more often than that. I think inspections are important, but the cleaning, no, it’s based on usage.
BO: Alright, alright. Well, let’s do that. Let’s get Scott on the hook for some fireplace conversation and we can all rip apart chimneys and why they’re always in bad shape. ‘Cause you’ve never seen a good chimney, right? Unless it’s a stainless steel chimney that came from the manufacturer and was immediately installed.
RS: About how it goes.
BO: Well, awesome. I feel like I’ve got work to do now because I forget to do these things, and then occasionally you see that hose laying over there with water out of it, and it’s frozen water. And then you think, “Oh no. What did I forget to do?”
BO: Alright, thank you everyone. You’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. As always, we appreciate you listening. Please tell your friends about our podcast if they’re horrible home maintenance people, ’cause maybe you can save them a few hundred dollars. We appreciate it. We’ll catch you next time.