Wednesday, February 15, 2012

We-Design-Day: Home Evaluation - Interior Fittings (Part 1)

This week, we’re moving inside! I'm going to split the interior into three sections to be covered over the next three weeks – mechanical, electrical and the general and aesthetic components. I am not an electrician or a plumber but fortunately, I've been involved in enough institutional renovations that I have a fairly good idea of how a system should operate and simple home owner tips that can improve the life of your existing mechanical systems.

When you start to think about the mechanical components in your home, it's easy to get overwhelmed and not even know where to start. In a manner of speaking, your home is a breathing entity. Air must come in and air must go out. Improper air movement – either caused by “too tight” construction or by “too loose” construction can cause equal energy inefficiencies. It's hard to know where the balance lays and it varies depending on to whom you speak. The mechanical systems in our homes help the house breathe and when it isn't operating properly, the result could be higher energy bills, poor indoor air quality/sick building syndrome or mould.

A typical home mechanical system is comprised of four main parts: heating, cooling, ventilation and plumbing. These are further broken down to the furnace, air conditioner, humidifier, ducting, hot water heater, pipes, drains, hot and cold water. Other homes may have other parts, but generally, these are the "common" parts.

We don't have to be experts to know if we've got problems with any of these items. Stale air, lack of heat and smells can be indicators something isn't working right. 

We can start our inspection in our furnace rooms. Note the type and age of your furnace - you are a looking for a manufacturer’s tag that should give you all the pertinent details. Most utility companies (in Canada) perform free inspections on your furnace. They can check the fittings, look for leaks and
As with many things on our checklist, age is a major factor in determining the need to replace anything. Old doesn't mean "no good", of course, but as everything ages, the parts start to wear and fail and like your building envelope, you do not want your furnace to tank during a cold snap! To check the efficacy of your furnace, remove a vent cover in your living room - when standing; can you feel air moving when the furnace is running? If not, check another room, if the air flow is limited, it may be your ducts need cleaning. Are you cold air intakes covered? It should be added to every spring and fall clean to remove the cover plate and vacuum the plate. Also, ensure no furniture or other such item is blocking the air intake. in order for a mechanical system to work properly, free flowing air must be present.

Design Tip: Most people consider putting furniture up against a wall a design 'no-no' - while this is true, the bigger reason not to is because you can cover furnace vents and cold air intakes, thus restricting the air flow in your home! Think of grouping your furniture in conversational arrangements and using walls with no ducting to anchor large pieces.

One area of the house too hot, another cold? Hire a professional and consider relocating your thermostat before replacing the furnace. Our mechanical system is costly so start saving those pennies - all furnaces and hot water tanks will eventually need replacing and depending on where you live, you may eligible to government grants or rebates for improving the energy efficiency of your home.

When our hot water heater went during my seventh month of pregnancy, we were home and both of us thought the other was running water. By the time we figured out what it was, we were inches away from flooding our carpet and furniture in our family room! There were no signs, other than age, that the hot water tank had any issues. As part of your furnace inspection, most utility companies can also assess your hot water tank and if not, a furnace cleaning company can often offer cleaning and maintenance services. If your tank does go, consider a tankless system - although the initial cost is high, the hot water on demand is great and you aren't spending hundreds of dollars a year heating 40 gallons of water when

Mommy Tip: Go right now and check the temperature of your hot water tank. it should be set no higher than  49°C (120° F). This is essential if you've got children in your home - we all like a nice hot shower, but not at the expense of scalding a small child. Our tank has been set like this its entire life and it won't change.

Wait, you're not done yet! That snake-work of pipes running all over (your home) are part of your mechanical system! Cold water, hot water, drains, toilets and sinks are all part of this system and ensuring their operation - although not directly impacting the effectiveness of the whole system - can impact your energy budget by wasting water! A leaky toilet can use up to 200 000 litre of water annually - not only is our clean water supply at risk, the cost (to the home owner) is extremely high - so you are literally, flushing money down the toilet!

A leaking pipe, a dripping tap can all cause excess cost and waste. Although this isn’t necessarily directly part of our home evaluation, it goes to show how all the parts of our puzzle need to work together to ensure our home is functioning. All these parts need to be looked at, listed in your evaluation and a plan for replacement devised. Certainly, a furnace can last your lifetime (in the home) but they can go with no notice or cause extra costs through repairs or wasted energy. It’s good to get all these things on our radar now before they can fail.

Next week, we’re going to look at the electrical system and how it fits in to our Home Evaluation. Thank you for stopping by and as always, I value your feedback and questions!

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