Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Aluminum Wire Worries (Answer)

Hey Mike,
The large cable you see on the outside of the house is the service entrance cable. These cables are commonly aluminum, as are many of the 240 amp circuits in the house. These aluminum cables are made up of a number of smaller aluminum wires stranded together to make the larger cable. These wires are considered safe and up to industry standards. They should not be confused with single strand aluminum wire.

While single-strand aluminum wire is not always considered inherently dangerous, it has been attributed with an increased hazard of electrical shorts and fire at the connections. These connections generally are outlets, switches, and lighting circuits. In the main electrical panel, the single strand aluminum wire would be found in the 15 and 20 amp circuit breakers. This wiring is found in homes built between 1962 and 1973. Technology does exist to limit the problems at these connections. It is recommended that a qualified electrician inspect the connections to determine what type of remedy is best for the wiring in question.

The best way to be sure of the presence of single strand aluminum wiring is by having a standard home inspection. If a home inspector reports the presence of single strand aluminum wiring, it is necessary to consult a licensed electrician for further evaluation. A standard home inspection is designed to identify the presence of such things. If issues like this are present, it is important to consult a specialist in this field, to assure your safety.
Thanks for your question.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Aluminum Wire Worries (Question)

Hey Al,
We are currently house shopping, and I have a concern because I have heard that aluminum wiring is not something you want in your house. When I am looking at houses, I keep reading on the big cable that comes into the house the word “aluminum”.
Is aluminum in your house a bad thing or not?
How can I tell for sure?
I will post the answer tomorrow.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Keeping on top of things

We all understand the importance of routine or preventative maintenance - to limit our risk of premature failure on large- ticket items, such as cars, furnaces, and air conditioning units. However, millions of dollars a year are spent replacing roofs that may have lasted a lot longer, had routine maintenance been done.
Roof maintenance is an important part of overall home maintenance and should get the same routine check-up that we give our heating and cooling systems. With any system, routine maintenance will help prolong the service life and keep it at maximum efficiency.
Many things can contribute to shortening your roof's life, including algae build-up. If your roof has dark spots, you may have algae. These stains are often confused for sap, soot, and rust. Algae needs inorganic material to support its growth, which it gets from the filler material in the asphalt/fiberglass shingles. Algae is found in approximately 75 to 80 percent of the United States, but grows best in warm, damp climates. If algae staining is the only symptom your roof is exhibiting, it may be professionally cleaned to add years to the life of your roof system.
Proper ventilation of the attic space is important to prevent premature aging of the shingles due to excessive heat. Proper ventilation also will reduce moisture build-up that can damage the wood components of the roof. An easy way to check for attic ventilation is to observe the attic space in the daylight with the attic lights off. Where you see daylight, you see venting. It is also important that you have cross ventilation. For example, if the roof has soffit vents (vents at the eves) and ridge vents, the air will flow from the soffit vents through the attic to the ridge vents. Cross-venting helps prevent hot spots in the attic. You may see soffit vents on the outside, under the eves, but may not see light in that area from the attic side. That commonly occurs when the attic insulation has covered the soffit vents. If this is the case, pull the insulation back until the soffit vent is open and look for light.
It is also important to have good insulation in the attic, especially if you live in a cold climate. Proper insulation will help prevent ice damming. Ice damming occurs when the heat from your house passes through a poorly insulated attic, thus melting snow or ice on the roof, allowing the melted snow or ice to run down to the lower edge of the roof where it can refreeze. As the snow or ice refreezes, it forms a dam. When the dam gets large enough, the water that is hitting it will start running back and under the shingles. This will cause the roof to leak and can damage ceilings and walls.
Here are some preventive maintenance tips that can help reduce leaks and avoid premature roof failure:
 Trim back any overhanging tree branches.
 Keep the roof free of debris.
 Keep gutters free of debris and in good working order.
 From the ground, with the aid of binoculars, inspect the roof for missing or broken shingles.
 Inspect all flashing around chimneys, valleys, pipes, and butting roofs.
 In your attic, with the aid of a flashlight, inspect the wood decking under the shingles for water stains.
 If you see signs of leaking, have it repaired right away.

If your roof is more than twenty years old, you should consider having it inspected by a professional roofer.
Remember your roof is a major system of your house. Deferred maintenance can be very costly.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Draining Problem (Answer)

Hey Val,

Judging from the age of your house and the symptoms you described, you probably have a clogged or collapsed yard drain. The drain line for the sewer runs from your house to the street, where it connects to the public sewer system. These lines can be crushed from tree roots or get clogged over time.
The reason that the drains only clog when you use a lot of water is because the lines are only partially blocked. Under light use, the drains can handle the water without backing up. With heavy use, the lines fill faster than the partially clogged drain can drain.
For a temporary fix, you can buy some drain line cleaning crystals that you can flush down the toilet. But the best way to fix this is to have a plumber clean and scope the drain.
If they tell you that you have “Orangeburg” pipe, you will need it replaced. Orangeburg is the brand name of a bituminous fiber sewer pipe material that was made by rolling tar and paper into the shape of a tube. The pipe tends to deteriorate with age and no longer maintains a round interior circumference. The pipe can be further damaged with the use of routers. These pipes also are susceptible to damage from plant roots.


Thanks for your question.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Draining Problem (Question)

Hey Al,

We live in a slab home that was built in the sixties. We are on the public sewer system. We have lived here for ten years and up to this point we have never had a problem with slow drains. The weird thing is that the drains work fine until we wash a lot of clothes or take several baths in a row. Then everything backs up.

Thanks for any help you can give us.


Thanks for your question.

I will post the answer tomorrow.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chimney Cap (Answer)

Dear Amelia,

Chimney caps are protective coverings for chimneys that are usually made of aluminum, galvanized or stainless steel, or copper. Most have a mesh screening that serves as a spark arrestor and barrier against animals. They also prevent rain from entering the flue of the chimney.

All chimneys, even unused ones need a cap to keep out rain. The rain will soak into the masonry and bring moisture into your house.

Since this chimney is not in use, you can either use a chimney cap, or block the flue. A two inch masonry block can be caulked or cemented on the top of the flue to seal it completely off. This a more permanent fix.


Thanks for your question.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chimney Cap (Question)

Hey Al,

We recently purchased a thirty-year-old house that has been completely updated.

Our home inspector said that the chimney does not have a cap. He also said that the chimney was used for the old furnace and the old water heater. Both have been removed and replaced with new units that have their own venting system.

Since the chimney is no longer being used for anything, should I still put a cap on it?

Can you help me understand?


I will post the answer tomorrow.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Deck Staining (Answer)

Hey Mark,

It is difficult to put a time factor on when it is safe to seal, paint or stain newly constructed porches or decks. What really matters is the moisture content of the material. The moisture content for paint, sealer, and stain applications should not exceed 14 percent. To determine the moisture content, you will need to rent a moisture meter. Some of these meters have probes that look like pins; they are only intended to touch on the surface for the moisture reading, not actually inserted into the material.

For older decks, it’s a bit easier to determine when to stain or reseal. A simple test would be to check the deck after a short or moderate rainfall – or pour a half-cup of water on slowly. If water is beading on the surface, the deck is sealed and protected. If the water is absorbed quickly, it’s time to reseal.

There are many brands and types of deck finish; none is perfect for all situations. Their success lies not in the type of ingredients – or the price – but in how well they penetrate the wood. The more they soak into the wood, the longer the finish will last. Be sure, however, to get a sealer with ultraviolet protection, since sun can be your deck’s worst enemy.


Thanks for your question.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Deck Staining (Question)

Hey Al,

I built a new house with a deck in May 2003. I have heard that you shouldn’t stain your deck or porch for a year, but I would like to do so before winter even though the wood is pressure-treated (the new kind).

Which is correct?


Thanks for your question.

I will post the answer tomorrow.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Not Enough Circuits (Answer)

Hey Mattela,
I recommend that you consult the electrician doing your work. Or, if you are knowledgeable on wiring and the safety precautions of doing the work, you can do the work yourself.

My recommendation is to run two twenty-amp circuits. Put half of your outlets on one and the other half on the other. If you are doing this yourself, don’t forget to use 12/2 wires. For safety, never attempt a do-it-your-self electrical job without the proper knowledge of wiring methods and safety precautions.


Thanks for your question.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Not Enough Circuits (Question)

Hey Al,

We just moved into a larger house with a workshop area. It is large enough for my tools, but it only has a 15-amp lighting circuit and no outlets. I am upgrading the electrical service to run my power tools.

I have a table saw, a bench grinder, a vacuum cleaner, a table sander, and a drill press. Between my son and me, we may run two of these tools at a time and I want the circuits to be adequate for this, without tripping breakers. I need to install six receptacles, but I need to know how many circuits to put them on and what amp breakers to use?

Can you help me?


I will post the answer tomorrow.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Black Staining on the Roof (Answer)

Hey Tony,

The black staining is caused by the growth of algae and fungus spores that land on your roof. Trees do not have to be nearby for these air-born menaces to set up camp on your roof. All they need to grow is the nutrients from both the dirt on your roof and the limestone granules on the shingles. Heat and moisture on your roof will help them turn your whole roof black.

Roof shingles come in a wide variety of quality as indicated by the prices. The higher quality shingles have treatment to prevent algae and fungus growth. This treatment involves adding varying amounts of copper and zinc granules, and petroleum distillates on the shingles. Cleaning and controlling algae and fungus growth can add to the life of your roof.

If you choose to clean the roof yourself, be careful of products that are just bleach or chlorine. This type of product can leave your roof streaked and can also dry out the singles and cause premature cracking and a shorter shingle life. Some of these products also will kill grass and shrubbery. Read product labels carefully and follow the application directions. Most of all, be careful working on the roof, because you can cause damage to yourself and the roof.

Another alternative is to call a qualified roof cleaning company. You still need to ask if the products they use will cause streaking or grass and shrub damage. Roof cleaning companies can also provide preventative maintenance services that can prevent future algae and fungus growth.


Thanks for your question.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Black Staining on the Roof (Question)

Hey Al,

We live in a twenty-year-old ranch, with a two-year-old roof. We had the new roof done in a light colored shingle.

Now we have noticed black staining starting near the peak and running towards the edge. Our house faces south, but the stains are on both sides of the roof. We are not close to trees, so we cannot figure out what is causing these stains.

Can you tell us what these stains are and how to get rid of them?


Thanks for your question.

I will post the answer tomorrow.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Retaining the services of a professional home inspector to inspect your potential purchase will save you money at the closing table. Identifying defects and pointing out costly repairs will give you bargaining leverage as well as save you from costly, and untimely repairs. You would not like to find out two months after you moved into your dream house that it was going to take two or three thousand dollars to repair your heating system.
Understanding your home enough to know when routine maintenance needs to be done will save you from untimely and costly repairs, not to mention protect your investment.
Understanding your home will also help you as a seller. If you are prepared for a home inspection before you have a potential buyer send out his/hers home inspector, you will find out this, too, will save you time and money at closing.
The following inspection outline is aimed at providing you, the homeowner with an introduction to the basic knowledge of what a home inspection consists. This outline is not intended to accomplish a complete or thorough inspection of your home, but to give you the basic knowledge to investigate your home from a technical viewpoint.

I hope this exercise will help you understand and prepare for a home inspection, as well as gain the understanding of residential care and maintenance.


1- Check for signs of insect infestation
2- Check grading to assure water will drain away from the foundation
3- Check basement or crawl space for dampness following wet weather
4- Check foundation walls for cracks (horizontal or vertical)


1- Check masonry for cracks and missing mortar
2- Check wood siding for decay and paint failure
3- Check vinyl or aluminum siding for loose or missing pieces
4- Check fascias and soffits for paint failure


1- From the ground, check for damaged or missing shingles
2- Check for damaged flashing
3- Check gutters for damage and make sure they are attached properly
4- Check downspouts to make sure that they are attached and running water away from the foundation
5- Check vent louvres for bird nests or other obstructions
6- Check for chimney caps


1- Check to make sure window wells and storm drains are free of debris
2- Check for drips at outside hose bibs
3- Check driveways and sidewalks for cracks and settling
4- Check for any wood surfaces that are in contact with the soil
5- Check for tree limbs on the power lines that enter the house


1- Check for damaged screens and broken glass
2- Check caulking at doors and windows
3- Check doors and windows for operable latches
4- Check auto-reverse on electric garage door openers


1- Check for cracks in walls and ceilings
2- Check for water stains on walls and ceilings


1- Check for any leaking handles or faucets
2- Check drains that drain slow
3- Check for leaks under sinks
4- Check shower diverter
5- Check water heater for leaks and rust


1- Clean or change furnace filter
2- Remove clutter from around the furnace
3- Check the outside AC unit to make sure the area around it is free of bushes or other obstructions


1- Check for missing or broken switch or receptacle covers
2- Check for covers on all junction boxes
3- Check for GFCI receptacles in bathrooms, kitchens, and out side receptacles

4- Locate the main service panel and remove any obstructions

We encourage you to care for your home and respect the initiative of do-it-yourselfers. We do not advocate that maintenance be performed by anyone who is not capable and comfortable doing so. If you are unsure of your ability to perform needed maintenance on your home, seek the services of professionals.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Water Heater (Answer)

Hey Ross,

Since you have the option of going with Gas, I would suggest having it professionally hooked up to your gas line.

Natural Gas is the most efficient amongst all of the heating sources available in today’s market. With Heating Oil, running a close second and LP Gas running even a closer third.

Natural Gas is most efficient because it has a quicker recovery time. That means, the heating time is much shorter to heat the same amount of water versus electricity. And Natural gas is more efficient than heating oil.

Prices do vary based on your location.

As far as a recommended size, I suggest a minimum of a 40-gallon water heater. This should suffice for a family of three. Choose the high efficiency model and since you are going from electric to gas now, I recommend the high efficiency model that has a power venting system. This system will allow you to vent the gas vapors directly out side of the house, without making holes in your roof and using metal chimneys.


Thanks for your question.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Water Heater (Question)

Hey Al,

My water heater is starting to leak, and has finally made me look at the stores to purchase another one. With it leaking and not working as best as it can, I actually have the time to do research and make the best decision. So, the ultimate question is, should I buy a water heater that runs on electric or gas? I do have a gas line that goes into the house, so I am flexible on my options. I have a family of three, and we do a moderate amount of use of the dishwasher, showering and laundry.


I will post the answer tomorrow.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

New Dishwasher (Answer)

Hey Holly,

Congratulations on your new home. This will be a kitchen of your dreams. The stainless steel tub dishwashers are not just for looks, but a higher quality unit with some substantial benefits. Although the stainless steel tub dishwashers are more expensive, these units have a longer life expectancy, they are usually whisper quiet compared to the plastic tub models.

With the stainless steel tub units, they are able to achieve the same heat, and even hotter, but using a much lower wattage element, therefore saving money on your electricity bill over a period of time. The higher heat will also sanitize your dishes even more.

Good luck with your new home.


Thanks for your question.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Monday, March 22, 2010

New Dishwasher (Question)

Hey Al,

I am considering buying a stainless steel tub dishwasher for my house.
We are having a new house built, and we are picking out appliance and considering the purchase of a stainless steel tub dishwasher. Although they are more expensive than the standard plastic tub models, are they more efficient, just for looks, or just a waste of money?


I will post the answer tomorrow.

Please send questions to agarrett54@hotmail.com Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Time for a check-up

This is a good time to give your house a spring check-up. With Old Man Winter gone, it is a good time to see what kind of damage he left behind. It is also time to prepare the house for the next season.
With the cooling season on the way, it is a good time to have the air conditioning serviced. If you are planning to have the ducts cleaned, now is the time to have it done.

With regard to cooling, let me remind you of the importance of good attic ventilation and proper insulation. This is important in keeping the cooling cost to a minimum.
If you are going to cool your house without air conditioning, here are some tips:

 Inspect window and door screens
 Make sure you have window covering for the south and west facing windows
 Clean and service fans

In warm weather open all windows when the sun sets, then close them at sunrise. Curtains or some type of window covering on the south and west facing windows will help keep the heat of the sun out.

Now is also the time to evaluate your house for maintenance and repairs. Hear is a list of things to check:

 Check the exterior cladding
 If wood cladding- check for warping, loose pieces, also peeling or blistering paint
 If brick cladding- check for cracks, mortar missing between bricks, and spalting bricks (faces popping off brick)
 Check foundation for moisture and movement
 Check landscaping around the foundation for proper grading (no low spots)
 Inspect porches and decks
 Check the condition of your chimney cap
 Clean your gutters
 Check the gutters and downspouts to see if they are attached securely, and in working order
 Inspect roof system and roof flashing

Inspecting the roof system is important. If your roof is in excess of fifteen years old and looks questionable to you, it may be wise to have it inspected by a professional.
Winter conditions can cause the shingles to claw (curl under on the bottom corners). This is also a sign of aging. Also another likely product of winter, is broken or missing shingles.
If your attic is not well vented and insulated, you will likely find the shingles curling up on the corners. This condition is important to monitor because it makes the shingles highly susceptible to wind damage.

Your local Home Inspector can provide you with a list of maintenance items that your home needs. Taking care of these maintenance items will save you money on more expensive repairs down the road.