Air Conditioning Maintenance

An air conditioner requires regular maintenance for the unit to function effectively and efficiently throughout its years of service. Neglecting necessary maintenance ensures a steady decline in air conditioning performance, while energy use steadily increases.

    1. Filters:
      The easiest way to save money and keep your house at the right temperature is to replace filters. When filters become clogged they constrict the airflow in your home, and greatly reduce your air conditioner’s efficiency. The time of year can affect your filters as well; during warmer months you should replace your filter once a month, and during colder months you need only to replace them every other month.
    2. Condensation Line:
      More often than not, if you have a problem with your A/C system, it’s likely your condensation line. Because it is a wet area, mold and bacteria tend to grow inside and clog the line. To help prevent this problem, every month or so you should pour a 1:9 mixture of household bleach and water through your line. The condensation line is located on the inside of your unit.
    3. Other A/C Maintenance Items:
      Other maintenance should be performed, but only by a professional. DO NOT OPEN YOUR AIR CONDITIONING UNIT. Opening your unit can be very dangerous—even fatal—without the proper knowledge of the system. You should have yearly professional maintenance done.

Caring for Ceramic Tile

Ceramic tiles are popular as design features within many modern homes. Varying in size, style, color and cost, tiles are widely used because of their beauty, as well as their ease to clean. Whether used as flooring or on walls, ceramic tiles can be maintained easily if you follow some standard procedures for their upkeep.

  1. Glazed VS Unglazed
    Ceramic tiles come in two different types, glazed and unglazed. Because the unglazed tiles have no outer shell to protect them, they require more cleaning. All tiles should be cleaned regularly with a simple water solution. Tiles should be wiped down with water, and then dried with a clean sponge, cloth or mop. This helps avoid the build up of dirt, mold, mildew and hard water stains that tend to be a problem.

Grout

Grout is basically glue for your tiles. It is a simple mixture of cement and fine sand, or sometimes acrylic materials such as silicon. Hard water and calcium deposits help with the accumulation of mold, mildew and stains, making them the largest complications with grout.

If your grout starts to discolor, try using 1/4 cup of mild detergent added to a one-gallon bucket of water. Use a sponge and clean the affected areas of tile. Once the areas are cleaned to your liking, use plain water to rinse the tiles and grout. Everything should look as good as new!

  1. Surface Care
    DO NOT use any cleaning products that could scratch or damage the tile’s surface, such as scouring powder/acidic cleaners. Only use products that specify for use on tiled surfaces, or risk damaging your tile.
  2. When You Need Extra Elbow Grease
    For dirtier projects on your tile, use a mixture of chlorine bleach and water. Only work with this solution in a well-ventilated area, Also, rubber gloves should be worn for your safety, especially when cleaning walled surfaces.To Make The Solution
    Take one-quart of chlorine bleach and mix it into two-gallons of water in a bucket. Once mixed, let the solution sit for approximately 15-20 minutes. If cleaning walls, use a sponge; if cleaning floors, use a mop or soft bristle brush. Next, dip the tool into the solution. Take the sponge or mop/brush and rub it all over the dirty areas. Once all of the areas have been covered by the solution, let the solution remain on the surfaces, untouched, for approximately 10-20 minutes, depending upon the amount of grime present.After the time has lapsed, rinse the entire area with plain water. Next, use the aforementioned mild detergent and water solution procedure to remove any remaining traces of chlorine bleach. Finally, rinse down the area again using only plain water. Once all of the detergent solution has been rinsed away, wipe down the tiled surfaces with a clean cloth to dry the area thoroughly.
  3. Maintaining:
    In between these methods used to clean your tiles, it is recommended you use a commercial mildew retardant spray on tile to prevent germs from accumulating. If you use these procedures on a routine basis, you will extend the life of your tiles and keep them looking good as new.

Fireplace Maintenance

Always be sure the damper is fully open before starting a fire in the fireplace. It can, and should be, closed during non-use to avoid conditioned air loss.

  1. Gas Starters:
    When starting a gas fire, start by opening the air vent and arranging the logs. Start a small fire with newspaper BEFORE turning on the gas. Once the wood is burning sufficiently, you can turn the starter off. It is recommended to remove the valve key when the gas is not in use to prevent gas leaks.
  2. Glass Doors:
    Where provided, be sure that glass doors are open while a fire is burning intensely. When glass doors are open, the metal mesh should be extended over the opening to prevent burning debris from entering the room. Be sure to open the mesh if the glass is closed—leaving them both closed while the fire is burning can cause excessive heat build up, causing the mesh to warp or discolor.The glass doors can be closed again when the fire has burned down and you are ready to leave the room.
  3. Wood Fires:
    Wood fires should be steady, slow burning, and clean. Fires too hot can, and will, cause damage to the fireplace and masonry elevations.Start the fire with kindling and paper under the grate and three or four logs stacked on the grate. A piece of newspaper should be used to heat and draw the flue before the fire is lit. Otherwise, the smoke from the logs will seep into the home and discolor the mantel and walls.Never burn pine or other soft woods, only hard woods. Allow spacing between the logs for air circulation. Any log over 6” in diameter should be split.
  4. Ashes:
    Ashes should be cleaned out after each use. Make sure ashes have completely cooled before cleaning.
  5. Chimney and Spark Arrester Cleaning:
    Depending upon the frequency of your fireplace use, your chimney and spark arrester should be cleaned annually by a professional. Neglecting to clean your chimney results in the build up of residue, which can lead to chimney/house fires.
  6. Trash:
    Under no circumstances should trash, debris, manufactured or pine logs be burnt in the fireplace. Additionally, never use any type of liquid fire starter.

Foundation Maintenance

Proper maintenance of your home’s foundation and supporting soils is critical in the prevention of foundation failure.

Most areas of Texas have soils that contain various amounts and types of clay. While clay soils can have great bearing capacities, they tend to expand and contract based upon moisture content. Since it is impossible to control rainfall, we could never hope to maintain clay soils in a “contracted” state. Therefore, the goal is to help you maintain these clay-based soils in their “expanded” state.

  1. Foundation Movement VS Foundation Failure
    Please remember there is a huge difference between foundation movement and foundation failure. All slab-on-grade foundations move to some extent. In fact, they are designed to move. Most of the foundation movement associated with expansive clay soils occurs within the first 2 years of the home’s completion. Typically the movement stops when the foundation establishes its “footprint” in the underlying soil.In some instances the foundation movement can result in cracks in building components such as stucco, sheetrock, tile, brick, molding, etc. These cosmetic damages do not preclude the diagnosis of “foundation failure”. Quite the contrary, it is extremely unusual not to have some cosmetic repairs associated with foundation movement within the first two years of home ownership. However, proper foundation maintenance can greatly reduce the need for cosmetic repairs.
  2. Builder Responsibilities:
    It is the builder’s responsibility to establish proper drainage around the foundation perimeter. Although we want the perimeter soils to be hydrated, they must be hydrated uniformly. Therefore, the builder will establish positive drainage away from the foundation at all points around the foundation perimeter. Water cannot be allowed to pond at any point adjacent to the foundation.
  3. Homeowner Responsibilities:
    You will possess the home much longer than it took to build. Therefore, more long-term maintenance will be required of the homeowner. Please remember that the foundation is the most expensive single component within the home. Like most other components of the home, it requires proper maintenance. Here are the basic steps:

    1. Grading and Drainage:
      You are responsible for maintaining the positive drainage established by the builder. While proper grading and drainage is important in all soil conditions, it is critical in areas with expansive clays. There should be at least 4 inches of the foundation showing above the grade at all points of the foundation perimeter.In addition, the soils adjacent to the foundation should slope away from the foundation for at least the first 6 feet. No alterations to the established grading should be made. Landscaping and soils that are added should not interfere with the established lot drainage.Ponding water adjacent to the foundation may cause serious structural damage and affect the warrantable status of your foundation.
    2. Hydration:
      Ironically, while we address the importance of removing surface water from the foundation perimeter in item#1, we also need to address adding water to the foundation perimeter. The key to proper hydration is uniformity. That’s why we can’t rely on intermittent rainfall for our hydration. Therefore, we remove rain and surface water, then rehydrate in a very controlled and uniform manner. By adding water evenly to the soil along the foundation perimeter, we can mitigate the contraction that occurs during drought conditions.In clay soils, you should be able to press a pencil into the ground about 4 inches with relative ease. You don’t want the soil to be muddy or excessively soft, but it shouldn’t be like concrete either. If there is a gap between your foundation and the adjacent soil, it means you need to add water…..evenly….at the entire perimeter of the foundation!
    3. Trees, Shrubs And Other Large Vegetation:
      Please think carefully about the size, type and location of the trees and shrubs you are planting. The small oak tree you plant today will be quite large in 20 years. A 25 year old oak tree will need up to 100 gallons of water per day to survive. That’s not a problem if you plan ahead for meeting this need. But if you don’t give it enough water, it will simply take it…from under your foundation or your neighbor’s foundation.When trees are removed near a foundation, approximately 70% of the roots are penetrating under the slab….because that’s where the water is located! Never plant a large tree closer than 25 feet to your foundation. In addition to the problems caused by the roots, the canopy will also cause damage to the superstructure.Large shrubs should also be planted at least 6 feet from the foundation. These plants can steal vital moisture from the soils which support the home. Flower beds and other landscaping should never impede the grading and drainage established by RVision Homes.
    4. Pets:
      One of the wonderful things about dogs is that they love to dig. That’s not a problem—unless they are digging adjacent to the foundation. It only takes a small amount of ponding water adjacent to the foundation to cause problems in expansive soils.
    5. Utilities, Construction, And Repairs:
      At some point in the life of a home it will become necessary to make a repair or install a utility. If the construction involves trenching adjacent to the foundation, it should be done with great care.Just filling a construction trench with loose fill will allow water to be trapped adjacent to the foundation. It is your responsibility to make sure the trench is properly compacted during backfill. A licensed structural engineer should be consulted prior to making any major additions to the property.Swimming pools must be designed as not to undermine the underlying soils which support the foundation. All additions must include a drainage plan that will keep surface water from ponding adjacent to the foundation.
    6. Plumbing:
      Plumbing leaks can wreak havoc on a home’s foundation. Soft or muddy areas in the soil, “heaved” areas inside the home, excessive moisture coming from weep holes in the brick and wet areas within the dwelling can all be signs of a plumbing leak. If you find any of these conditions, please call a plumber or the warranty department for assistance immediately.
    7. Vigilance:
      Know your home. By keeping an eye on things, most problems can be repaired before they cause major damage.When mowing, it is a good time to visually inspect the exterior of the home. If you have your lawn serviced by someone else; take the time to walk the exterior of your home at least once a month. Look for anything out of the ordinary. Anomalies in the siding, caulking trim, etc. may be early indicators of foundation movement.Your home will usually let you know when something’s not right! Contact RVision Homes if you believe your foundation is moving abnormally.
    8. Maintaining Your Foundation and Concrete Flat Work
      Your foundation has been designed by an engineer to withstand the plasticity of your soil, based on the soils investigation done prior to construction. It is critical for you to try and maintain even and uniform moisture content around your home. Uneven moisture content could cause one part of your home to move at a different rate than the remainder of the home. For this reason, in periods of drought it is important to water completely around the foundation, and to maintain proper grade and drainage so that excess water runs away from the house.In some situations it may be necessary to install perimeter perforated drain lines to remove this water. Similarly, your foundation should be protected from large trees, particularly hard woods. These trees have massive root structures and can cause substantial upheaval. We recommend a minimum of ten feet separation from canopy of tree, although more is better.Exterior concrete should always be watched for areas where water is accumulating next to and potentially under the concrete. Water under the concrete can cause cracking and depressions. Cracks and separations at expansion joints should be filled with a concrete silicone caulk. Care should be taken to avoid heavy vehicular or equipment travel on your flatwork. It is designed to carry the load of typical passenger vehicles, not dump trucks, concrete trucks, etc.

Window Maintenance

  1. Caulking to Prevent Water Leaks
    Often, water leaks at a window result from a breakdown in the connection between the frame of the window and the frame of the house. To prevent leaks, the window should be caulked where its frame meets the exterior siding. If the window is surrounded by wood trim, all gaps between the trim and the siding (and the trim and the window frame) should be sealed with a high-grade polyurethane caulk. Take special care to seal the top side of the top piece of trim. Puddling water at this location causes many window leaks.
  2. Stopping Air Leaks
    A window that leaks air can also mean excessive energy loss — and cost. Summer or winter, you don’t want your house to leak air, especially if you spend your hard earned dollars warming or cooling it.Test a window for leaks by holding a lighted candle near all its joints and connections. If the candle flickers, you have an air leak. Areas to check include:

    • Where one section of the window meets another
    • Where the windows meet the frame
    • Where the frame meets the wall

    You seal air leaks in the same way that you seal water leaks — by caulking exterior leaks and replacing weather stripping. Also, foam sealant can be injected between the frame of the window and the frame of the house. This is a major deterrent to air infiltration and also prevents water from leaking into the house.

  3. Preventing Condensation on Glass, Frames and Sills
    Condensation around windows can result when a window leaks air. Cold outside air mixes with warm inside air and creates a wet layer of condensation over the entire window. Condensation can actually form enough moisture to cause wood to rot. And don’t forget mildew. Condensation is basically a feedbag for mildew. Condensation can be reduced by:

    • Sealing air leaks
    • Replacing single-pane glass with double-pane “insulated” glass
    • Using wood frame windows
    • Using storm windows

If you have insulated windows and you see rainbows or condensation between the two sheets of glass, then your window has failed and should be replaced. The frame can remain, but the glass must be replaced. Here it is important to shop for the best guarantee. Where there are many who are ready to “sell to you” to get their piece of the almighty buck, there are a few who do offer a lifetime warranty. Study this aspect of your purchase carefully. A failed insulated window is expensive to replace at $150 and up.

General Maintenance Checklist

This checklist covers some basic, necessary maintenance items for most homes. It is by no means all-inclusive. Some items may not be applicable for the type of home and home features you have.

  1. Monthly (on or around the first day of the month)
    • Test and clean/dust smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
    • Test GFCI/GFI receptacle/breaker and outlets
    • Replace/clean heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC) air return filters
    • Check grout/caulking in tile and marble in wet areas (showers, sinks, etc.); repair as needed
  2. Quarterly (on or around the first day of January, April, July, and October)
    • Check range hood charcoal filter; replace/clean as necessary; repair as needed
    • Check caulk seals between countertops and walls and on any laminated surfaces; repair as needed
    • Check, and adjust as necessary, thresholds, door sweeps, and weather-stripping on exterior doors to maintain air tightness
    • Oil all moving parts and tighten nuts and bolts on garage door(s) and tracks; check garage door opener(s) and sensors
    • Remove leaves, debris, and snow from window wells
    • Check dryer vent exhaust for lint blockage; clean as needed
    • Thoroughly check showers and wet areas for mildew
  3. Annually
    • Inspect and repair kitchen appliances
    • Inspect roof penetrations – roof jacks, appliance flues, etc.
    • Check and repair damaged window screens
    • Inspect and clean bathroom and kitchen exhaust vents
    • Inspect attic areas for improper storage of materials
    • Inspect doors and windows for proper operation
    • Inspect overhead garage doors and openers
    • Inspect for improper storage of chemicals and hazardous materials inside and outside of dwelling
    • Inspect fencing and gates
    • Annual termite inspections by a licensed professional
    • Change or sharpen lawnmower blades
  4. Spring and Fall Maintenance (on or around the first day of April and October)
    • Clean gutters, downspouts, and roof eaves to remove leaves and debris
    • Check connection between dryer and vent exhaust; repair as needed
    • Check washing machine hoses and connections for cracks and leaks; repair or replace as necessary per manufacturer
    • Have an HVAC professional inspect and calibrate your heating and cooling system (start of heating and cooling season)
    • Vacuum/clean window and sliding door tracks; lubricate with silicone spray
    • Assess all exterior paint and caulk; check exterior caulk seals around windows, doors, etc.; repair as needed
    • Drain and flush out hot water heater and verify that pressure relief valve is working (carefully follow manufacturer’s instructions)
    • Inspect and maintain the flow of all swales, and culvert and drainage inlets and outlets
    • Verify no standing water in crawl spaces, all insulation is intact, and heating/cooling supply lines are secure
    • Before the first freeze, disconnect exterior hoses and devices from hose bibs; if possible, shut off water to bib and drain
    • Inspect foundation
    • Verify sprinkler system is functioning properly and adjust/repair as needed
    • Flush out the sprinkler system in spring; prior to winter, flush out and drain the sprinkler system
  5. Summer (on or around the first day of July)
    • Verify HVAC condensate drain is flowing freely while air conditioning is running
    • Verify the float switch or overflow pan on a second-floor air handling unit is clear of obstructions and functioning properly
    • Verify main water cutoff valve is accessible and functioning properly
    • Have professional chimney sweep inspect and clean fireplace flue/chimney; check caulk around fireplace facing and repair as needed
    • Apply water-seal treatment to all outdoor exposed wood (power-washing wood first may be necessary)
    • Inspect roof for loose or missing shingles or flashing
    • Clear/clean weep holes in brick siding
    • Service septic system
  6. Winter (on or around the first day of January)
    • Remove ice buildup, snow, or any debris from roof when needed (to prevent leaking)
    • During extreme cold, leave indoor faucets located on exterior walls dripping to prevent pipe freezing

Home Design for All Ages

With an entire generation of Baby Boomers about to retire, homebuilders are adding touches to their home designs to suit an aging population. Even healthy Boomers will welcome thoughtful modifications if they choose to care for their aging parents at home or have frequent visits from grandchildren. Here are a few simple things you may want to consider to help create a safe and comfortable home for everyone.

These recommendations are common-sense modifications that can be useful to anyone, young or old. When you are ready to build, ask your builder if some of these suggestions are available in their house plans. You never know when you or a loved one may need them.

  1. Planning for the Future
    In the planning stage, you should make sure hallways and door openings are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair. Along those hallways, tap-activated glow lights provide better visibility and rocker-style light switches are easier to find and manipulate. Sliding doors provide easier access, whether in a bathroom or bedroom. If regular doors are used, use door levers instead of knobs for easier gripping and opening.If the home is split-level or two stories, easy-grip round handrails should accompany the stairs with rubber treads rather than carpeting to prevent tripping. In anticipation of a possible future disability, all stairs should be designed to accommodate an elevator seat.In the kitchen, make sure counter tops, cabinets and wall outlets are lower. Top shelves in most modern homes are only accessible with a stepstool, which raises the probability of accidents. Bottom kitchen cabinets should have shelves that slide out, easing access to those seldom-used appliances in the back. The countertops should have a wide enough overhang for a wheelchair-bound person to comfortably fit knees under it.
  2. NOT An Accident Waiting to Happen
    Because most home accidents occur either in the kitchen or bath, both of these floors should have a nonskid covering. If you have visions of drab, institutional flooring, don’t worry — many attractive designs are now available. If you prefer carpeting, it should be made of a tight weave rather than shag.Faucets in both kitchen and bath should have levers instead of knobs. Throughout the house, wall outlets should be higher and light switches lower. Wiring should be strung along the top of a wainscot or desk-high trim to accommodate computers. Tangle-proof cord containers should be used on any computer within the home. These can be built into the walls to prevent tripping and to make cleaning easier.Baths require a little more adaptation for senior adults’ safety. First, the tub should have two grab bars, one set vertically near the front for entering and exiting the tub, and one set horizontally against the back wall for support when turning and standing on one foot. In addition, it’s useful to have a small seat molded into the tub for use while soaping and rinsing.

    A spray nozzle with an extended hose makes rinsing easier. To prevent scalding, add a mixing valve that can be easily set at a comfortable temperature. Needless to say, some form of nonskid surface should line the inside of the tub, either a built-in textured surface or a rubberized mat.

  3. Small Changes Equal Big Returns
    Bathroom storage areas that require bending and stooping are less desirable than roomy, easy-to-reach shelves. A vertical cabinet with mixed-use shelves can replace under-the-sink storage.Extra lights in all areas improve visibility for people whose eyes are not as acute as they once were. The newer compact fluorescent lights are a pleasant and cost-effective alternative to regular bulbs. While their purchase price is higher, they cost less to operate and last from five to seven years so they don’t have to be changed often. Less changing means fewer opportunities for accidents from ladder falls.

How You can Save Water

Visit www.h2ouse.org for an array of water saving tips…from the EPA and California Urban Water Conservation Council that can be applied anywhere in the U.S. and even in your neighborhood. Water conservation saves you money and makes an important contribution to a better future. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Stop Leaks
    Check appliances and outdoor systems, such as sprinklers, for leaks. Get to know your water meter; it provides important information about consumption and leaks. Common leaks waste 10% of the water used in many homes.
  2. Replace Old Toilets
    Toilet flushing is the top water user in the home. If you haven’t replaced your toilets in 10 years or more, you’ll benefit from the new high-efficiency models.
  3. Buy An Efficient Clothes Washer
    Washers are the second-largest water user in the home. New “Energy Star” certified models might use up to 50% less water and energy per load.

Keep Your Home Safe From Pests

Sometimes the pests you see may seem worse than the ones you don’t. Whether you’re pestered by disgusting cockroaches, annoying ants, spiders lurking in every corner, or most any kind of troublesome pest, there are several things a homeowner can do which can help prevent pest infestations. To help keep your home safe from pests, take these precautions:

  • Seal cracks in your home’s exterior to keep pests like ants, spiders and cockroaches from getting inside.
  • Be sure all doors and windows are properly sealed with tight-fitting screens and weather stripping.
  • Don’t leave uncovered food sitting out. It will attract flies that will land on it and spread harmful bacteria.
  • Consider storing clothing in plastic boxes or pouches to prevent fabric pests from getting to them.
  • Ensure the attic and crawlspace have sufficient ventilation. Research has shown that proper ventilation creates an environment unsuitable for cockroaches and other pests. It also improves the heating and cooling efficiency of the home.
  • Do not allow pet food to sit out overnight, inside or outside.
  • Remove any piles of debris, stones, bricks, etc., around your home. They serve as a harborage for pests, especially rodents.