Extending the life of your water heater

By Jon McCreath, NPI Property Inspector, Emerson, Georgia

drain_water_heaterExtending the life of your water heater is something most homeowners don’t think much about.  Draining your water heater tank is something that you should do every year, and it only takes about 5-10 minutes.  How can this procedure extend the life or your water heater?

Over time, any type of water heater tank will build up sediment- which has three harmful effects on your home’s hot water system.  First, the sediment takes up space, effectively making your water heater smaller.  Second, the sediment can insulate the bottom of the tank in a gas water heater where much of the flame’s heat is absorbed into the water, or even cover a lower element in an electric water heater causing a reduction in heating efficiency.  Third, the sediment scratches the glass lining of water heater tank, resulting in exposed metal – which leads to rust and eventual tank failure.

You can extend the life of the tank and increase the efficiency of the system by simply draining a couple gallons of water off the bottom of the tank.
1. Shut the unit down, either by turning the gas valve to “pilot” or “off”, or flipping off the breaker to an electric unit.
2. Turn off the cold water supply line, usually located on the right side as you face the unit.
3. Attach a garden hose to the drain valve on the water heater tank, and run it to a drain.
4. turn on a hot water faucet somewhere in your home to allow the water to flow, and then open the drain valve toward the bottom of the tank.

Check the color of the water that drains- at first it may appear dark, but after just a few gallons it will become clear.  At that point, you can close the drain, and turn off the hot water faucet you had turned on previously.  Turn the cold water supply back on, turn the power or gas supply back on, and you’re done!  The next time you turn on a hot water faucet, there may be a couple of air pockets, so don’t worry if you hear a bit of noise as the noise should abate quickly.

While it may also be a good idea to have your water heater examined by a professional on a regular basis, draining your tank is relatively easy and can save you some money while helping to extend the life of your water heater.

McCreath PhotoJon McCreath is a professional National Property Inspections home inspector in northwest Georgia. If you live in the area, call 404.426.3661 to schedule your home inspection with Jon.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an assessment of your home.

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I’m a Guy; I Can Fix Anything

By Roland Bates, President, NPI/GPI

Man Hanging Light Fixture_shutterstock_190995362To preface this article, I need to explain that a ballast is a crucial component of a fluorescent light fixture. It controls the amount of current that flows to the bulbs and provides the current to start the bulbs.

That said, the ballast went out in one of my two kitchen lights a couple of months ago. My lovely wife asked me to replace it. As a guy, I was thinking that if one out of two lights work, what’s the rush? It turns out women don’t think that way.

I am pretty comfortable doing electrical wiring. Thus, I went to the hardware store and purchased a new ballast and installed it. Ignoring the instructions, and certain that I had wired it correctly, I turned the light on and off numerous times to make sure it was working and then went to do other things.

Fast-forward four or five weeks later: The ballast I replaced quit working. The hardware store obviously sold me a defective ballast. So, I purchased another new one and installed it. Again, I turned the light on and off numerous times to make sure it was working, and went then I went off to do other things.

Four or five weeks later: The same ballast quit working yet again. Now I want to sell my stock in the hardware store. What kind of operation are they running, anyway? After installing a third new ballast, I glanced at the installation instructions, which previously I had just thrown away. I had wired it correctly each time; however, in big, bold, red letters it clearly stated, “Upon initial installation, leave the light burning continuously for at least 48 hours to allow the ballast to ‘season.’” Whoops.

Did I tell my lovely wife that my failure to read the instructions cost me all that extra grief? Nah, no guy is going to do that.

Roland PhotoRoland Bates’ high energy, willingness to work hard and optimistic outlook are the cornerstones of success for NPI and GPI. His easy manner and family attitude inspire a friendly and close atmosphere at the company. Before he founded NPI/GPI in 1987, Roland owned a general contracting company, where he worked for eight years as a general contractor. Prior to that, he spent five years as a property claims supervisor and regional claims manager.

To find an NPI or GPI inspector in your area, click one of the links below:

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DIY Home Owner Mistakes

By Ken Roleke, NPI Franchise Owner, Tucson, Arizona

Roleke Blog

As a home inspector, I regularly see improper work done by do-it-yourself home owners and house flippers. Some of it is cosmetic, which my home-buying clients are more likely to notice on their own, but much of it involves improper building system repairs, which can have dire consequences

Some home owners get pretty ambitious in an effort to save money, and the results bring to mind the old saying, “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.”

For instance, in the cosmetic realm, a home owner may know how to properly space the grout joint between tiles, but he starts the layout with a full-size tile on one side of a room instead of the center, leaving a sliver-sized piece on the other side. Or, he may install the baseboard first, and then the tile, leaving a grout joint all around the perimeter. If a home owner goes so far as to change a kitchen or bathroom layout, then it is common to see cabinet drawers that do not open fully because they hit the door trim. We also see bathroom doors that do not open fully because they hit the toilet.

Of course, my main concerns during the home inspection are the building systems. Most weeks, I find plenty of electrical, plumbing, HVAC and roofing mistakes.

Upside-down outlets and switches and miswired three-way switches are common do-it-yourselfer mistakes. Three-prong outlets installed without a ground wire are more serious problems, giving the impression an outlet is grounded when it is not. Other things I run across are missing outlet covers, indoor outlet plates on exterior outlets, extension cords used for permanent wiring, and light fixtures that are not moisture-resistant installed in or above showers.

I always run each faucet in a house until hot water comes out, and I do this for two reasons: first, to see that the left side controls the hot and the right side controls the cold, as a do-it-yourselfer could switch the supply lines; second, just to make sure that hot water runs to that fixture.

Home owners doing DIY plumbing repairs often do something else you wouldn’t expect a professional to do — they connect dissimilar metals. This will lead to galvanic corrosion. You often see this corrosion at hot water heaters, with galvanized pipe connected to copper pipe without a dielectric union or other method to isolate the dissimilar metals from each other.

Hot water heaters, in fact, may be the most likely place to find DIY mistakes. Not connecting a tube to the temperature/pressure-relief valve or connecting a plastic tube instead of a metal tube happens all the time. Other things to look out for are no drip leg on the gas line, lack of or improper fresh air feed, and improper flue pipe or flue pipe connection.

There is a list of mistakes I have run across with dishwasher installations: Often the dishwasher is not secured to the countertop above because the original countertop has been replaced with granite, which is not easy to drill into. Sometimes a dishwasher is installed in the process of getting the house ready for sale but is never run until the home inspection, which is when I find leaks. And often, the knockout in the disposal is not removed, so water will not drain.

DIY home improvement projects are great — just know the limitations of your skills and don’t be afraid to call in a professional to help.

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Make Your Home More Comfortable: Improve Its Insulation

Insulation in Attic_shutterstock_95608564Did you know that most homes don’t have enough insulation? Insufficient insulation may be caused by uncompleted rooms or areas of the house, incorrect type of insulation, or improperly installed insulation. Regardless of the cause, the result will be that heat will escape your home in the winter and enter during the summer. If your home is properly insulated, you can save up to 10 percent on your annual energy bill.

Signs of Inadequate or Missing Insulation

  • Drafts: Air drafts coming in around doors, floors, windows and through outlets could be a sign that your home needs more insulation.
  • Icicles: Icicles hanging frozen from the roof edges and gutters could indicate that the home’s insulation is insufficient. Icicles mean that heat is escaping through the attic and melting rooftop snow, causing a freezing drip.
  • Leaky roof: A roof that has been leaking could have allowed water to soak insulation. If insulation has been wet, it needs replacing, as it will no longer be as effective and will most likely grow mold.
  • Excessively hot areas: In a two- or three-story house, you may have an upstairs floor that is excessively warm in the summer, which could be an indication that hot air is seeping through to the inside of the home.
  • Wall sweat: Walls will appear to “sweat” when there is no or insufficient insulation.

Types of Insulation
Insulation comes in a variety of types. Choose the one that works best for your home and the area you are insulating.

  • Foam board: Comes in sheets like a drywall sheet and can vary in thickness that range from one-half to 2 inches. Foam board allows moisture to escape, so it is used outside or under and between concrete — like basement walls and floors.
  • Blown-in insulation: This type comes in blocks, and a machine is used to spray it into areas, such as an attic. The machine breaks the insulation into small pieces so it is distributed evenly and accurately. You can hire an insulation company to blow insulation into your home, or you can purchase the insulation and rent the machine from a home improvement store and do it yourself.
  • Spray foam insulation: This insulation is available in smaller spray cans and typically used around windows or doors to seal small areas where air may leak through. You can also find larger quantities of spray foam to spray entire walls if you choose. Spray foam insulation has one of the higher R-values compared to some other types of insulation.
  • Rolls or batts of insulation: Typically made of fiberglass, this insulation is similar to blankets. To install, you cut off the length you need and lay it where you need insulation. Some people use a staple gun to affix the edges of the paper to wall studs. To insulate a floor, you can basically cut pieces to fit and drop or roll them into place.

Got Some Time This Weekend? Insulation Is an Easy DIY Project
Installing insulation is a simple weekend project you can do yourself. You may only need to measure, cut and stuff or roll the insulation between joists, but spraying or nailing insulation in place can be just as simple.

If you don’t have the time or the desire to attempt the project, hiring a professional to install insulation costs between $1.50 and $3.50 per square foot, depending on the size of the area, location in the home and type of insulation used.

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