Home Reviews

Your Home is Both Refuge and InvestmentThis Pandemic reminds us that home is both refuge and investment.

At HPS, we have always promoted the home as serving two valuable functions for the family. First, your home is a refuge. A trouble-free, safe, comfortable place where you and your family can retreat, reconnect and reenergize. Second, your home is a financial investment, an asset that should be protected and kept at its highest marketable value at all times.

Since most of us have been confined at home to help control the spread of this pandemic, the last seven weeks have offered a good opportunity to assess how your home is serving you. Has your home been a comfortable refuge? Do you feel the home is in its top marketable condition?

Make your home both a refuge and investment

If the answer is no to either of those questions, it is time to allow HPS to provide some more help. Here’s how we do it:

Getting the home into top marketable condition is a matter of inspecting the home, preparing a list of defects, repairs and worn out items and creating a prioritized plan to get them fixed as quickly as your budget allows. Once the repair list is fixed, our quarterly Stewardship maintenance will help to keep the home in top condition.

To turn your home into more of a refuge for you and your family requires a more personal approach. Bottom line, you should love being in your home, even after seven weeks. If you don’t, the solution is to make a list of things that you don’t like or that irritate you or make you uncomfortable. Then let HPS help you create a strategy to change those things.

It’s amazingly easy to implement change once you have developed a plan to make your home is a refuge and investment.  Just let HPS follow through with quality planning, estimates and repairs!

The last several weeks have given us all an opportunity to learn more about our home. Let’s use what we’ve learned to better care for it. Contact HPS and let us help you create and implement a plan to take better care of this most valuable family refuge… and investment.

Disinfecting sheets are helping keep us safe from Coronavirus, but do NOT flush them down the toilet!


Are disposable wipes flushable?
Disposable wipes for everyone…

You’ve truly come a long way baby. Disposable wipe products are now available for use as enhanced toilet paper, antibiotic disinfectants, leather conditioner, glass cleaner, electronic equipment dusters, make-up removers and for many other applications. But seriously are baby wipes flushable? The short answer is no. All these products are super convenient and disposable, but none of these wipes should ever be flushed.

Super TP

It’s very common now for households to have baby wipes (aka flushable wipes) available in every bathroom for babies of all ages who like things shall we say, “super-clean.” Disposable wipes are soft, moist, nice smelling and leave you feeling really fresh. Because of these things they have become very attractive. Personally, I find them surprisingly cold.  They have for many now come to serve as a super enhanced toilet paper and naturally after use, they end up in the toilet.

To flush or not to flush

Unfortunately, your sewer system does not find them as nice as you might. Don’t trust the ads and labels that scream these baby wipes are safely flushable. Wipes may in theory be successfully flushed, but in practice they are actually not. This is thanks to the rough internal surfaces and uneven joints and connections found in everyday waste piping.  This means some of the wipes, that are flushed (like tampons) will hang up in the piping and seriously clog up the works. Wipes are especially damaging to systems that rely on sewage ejector pumps.  The wipes can sometimes get tangled up in the float switch and cause the ejector to overflow.  In the worst cases they can jamb up the pump itself.

are baby wipes flushable
Cosmetic remover wipes

Non-biodegradable

Flushed wipes are not “processable” by the municipal sewage treatment plant. This is because the wipes are not biodegradable. Most are made up of a high percentage of polyester plastic that will not break down for a hundred years or more. These disposed wipes end up increasing the amount of trash just like cigarette filters, plastic caps, condoms, tampons and other debris that are routinely flushed and have to be filtered out by the treatment plant. Once removed from the sewage stream, it has to be taken to the land fill.

Chemicals

Wipes are also loaded with all kinds of chemicals. If you flush these wipes, the chemicals end up leaching into the water stream. Many of these chemicals cannot be removed during the sewage treatment.

Are baby wipes flushable?
Read the disposable wipe label?

Septic tank issues

For homes served by a septic tank system, the problem is even worse. Nothing should ever be flushed into a septic tank that will not decompose in just a few hours. Flushable wipes do not decompose. They end up in the tank and clog up the solid side and can even hinder the pumper when it is time to clean the tank. This is also why kitchen garbage disposers should be used with extreme caution if you are on a septic tank system.

So what to do?

 

If you like the super cleanliness that the wipes produce (and who wouldn’t?) good alternates include toilets equipped with Toto’s “washlette” features, or good old-fashioned bidets. The French and Japanese always seem to be ahead of us when it comes to hygiene.

If you plan to stick with the wipes, you need to provide a separate trash can to dispose them in along with the tampons and other un-biodegradable bathroom products.

are baby wipes flushable
Toto toilet with optional Washlette seat
Alternatives to disposable towelettes
Toto washlette remote control

Is your washer contaminated with mold?

Do your clothes smell terrible no matter how much you wash them or what kind of detergent you use? It’s not likely your clothes. Rather, there could be nasties in your washing machine where it’s probably growing hidden colonies of mold and bacteria.

I’m talking mainly about front-loading washing machines. These are some of the most popular models from the biggest appliance companies[1]. They can harbor a mildew called Erysiphales that makes your clothes and towels stink, and it is tough to get rid of! Because, bacteria lurks in the detergent drawer, rubber seals, and inside the washer drum itself. 

Front load washing machine gasket
Looks clean right? Wrong!
Mold growing in washing machine
Hidden mold growing in washing machine

So, what is the problem with front loaders?  On top-loaders any moist air naturally rises out of the machine and it quickly air dries. But a front-loader is built around a sealed environment, so the water and the moisture stay trapped inside. It’s a very humid environment … and it’s perfect for growing mold.

In front-loader machines too, the rubber door gaskets are designed in a way that always traps moisture and lint materials. This design provides all kinds of places that are hard or impossible to clean or sanitize so inevitably grows mold.

I’ve read that some “experts” claim you just need to leave the appliance door open when not in use. Not true! Others recommend wiping down the door seals in your machine with a 10 percent bleach solution. This might work fine on areas you can see. Unfortunately, there are many folds and weep holes in the seal that make it impossible to thoroughly clean. In the worst cases you may need to replace the entire door seal. This is a labor-intensive task and can be expensive.

The problem is obviously difficult to cure so it is best to prevent. About the best you can do is religiously wash your washing machine once a month from the time it’s new. Then always dry the seal and leave the door open to allow air to circulate. These preventive measures are about the only ways you can keep your washing machine gunk-free and reduce your family’s exposure to mold, germs and infections.

Here’s an effective cleaning process you can follow:

  • Physically clean and remove any soap or lint build-up from the rubber gasketing all around the door. Use a rag and a cleaner that contains bleach or a 1:10 solution of bleach and water, or a 1:1 solution of vinegar and water. This is not easy because there are many folds and holes and they go all the way around the seal.
  • Fill the bleach dispenser with liquid bleach and run the empty washing machine through a cleaning cycle set to “sanitize”. If you’re sensitive to bleach, use baking soda and vinegar instead. Dilute and pour in 1/2 cup of baking soda and 2 cups of distilled white vinegar. 
  • Leave the door or lid open overnight after the cleaning cycle is complete. Make sure the interior has completely dried out before you do your next wash.

Be especially diligent about sanitizing your washer if you live with an elderly relative, a newborn, or if you have an ill family member. Also be wary of public washing machines and machines kept in humid environments such as garages or sheds, since these are the perfect environments for bacteria to thrive. 

Carefully choose wash settings on a case-by-case basis depending on how your clothing became dirty. Regular home laundering will adequately remove normal levels of grease, dirt and other soil. However, if fabrics are contaminated with blood or body fluids, the laundering process should be enhanced with disinfecting solutions such as hydrogen peroxide, bleach, or Borax, and in water that’s at least 160°F. Many newer washers have a “sanitize” setting that will bring the wash water up to these higher temperatures. 

Germs such as E. colisalmonella, and Klebsiella oxytoca can cause pneumonia, skin infections, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, especially in people with compromised immune systems.

Odor causing bacteria will even grow on the clothing itself.  Some, like Micrococci, can give you BO. It likes to live on polyester and wool but is less likely to grow on fleece and viscose. Polyester textiles seem to be a great place to live for Micrococcus, for Enhydrobacter, and for Propionibacterium. These all play an important in creating bad odors from excreted sweat compounds. Another bacteria, Staphylococcus epidermidis grows like mad on both cotton and the polyester textiles used in popular lines of fitness clothes.

Washing machine mold
Hidden mold in your front-load washer
Washing machine mold
Washing machine mold

Want a permanent stink-free solution?  You can get an old fashioned, top-load washing machine. These almost never have the mold problems associated with the front-loading units. Or, there is a cheaper and even more effective germ killer people can employ to keep pathogens and nasties out of their clothes: an old fashion clothes line. One of the best germ killers is simple exposure to the sun. That way you can get rid of your dryer entirely.

Here are some clothes washing tips:

  1. Clean your washing machine: Your washer holds moisture, which leads to bacteria, mildew growth and musty-smelling clothes. Clean and sanitize it monthly.
  2. Do not overload the washer: packing your washer may actually be preventing your clothes from getting clean. Part of what helps clothes get clean is their ability to move around freely and generate friction with each other. Wash smaller loads
  3. Add less detergent: More detergent doesn’t necessarily mean a better clean. In fact, too much detergent can cause your clothes to hold onto dirt and bacteria. Read the clothing label and carefully measure out the detergent.
  4. Rotate hot/cold water settings: If you wash everything in cold water to reduce energy use and hot water bills it may not always be the best choice for getting clothes really clean. For the fabrics that can handle it, washing clothes in the highest water temperature possible can kill odor-causing bacteria and result in a better clean. Always read clothing labels to ensure fabrics are hot-water safe.
  5. Use a deodorizer: A fabric softener doesn’t neutralize odors. The slightly acidic nature of vinegar acts as a great deodorizer. Add one or two tablespoons of vinegar per load to remove odors. It will also prevent fading. 
  6. Take clothes out to dry immediately: While your clothes are sitting in a dark and damp environment, bacteria and mold are setting up shop. Move your clothes into the dryer as soon as the wash is done. If you forget and they’ve been sitting more than two hours, run the clothes through a hot rinse cycle, then immediately dry them.
  7. Hang your clothes in the sun: The UV from the sun will kill most pathogens and the fresh air will make everything smell crisp and clean.

[1] Front loaders have become popular because they claim to be more efficient and they appeal to designers trying to eliminate the space required above the top-loader machines.

The world is ready for these new products that can prevent major water leak damage.

Catastrophic damage from accidental water leaks has been a major source of anxiety for both homeowners and insurance companies. As a result, new high-tech products for monitoring water use and the prevention of leaks are finally coming on line.

Moving plumbing into the home has certainly made modern living much more convenient. But this convenience comes with a very high risk of eventual water damage. To complicate matters, plumbing is not reserved for sinks, showers and toilets anymore. All kinds of appliances are now hooked up to a water source. Refrigerators, ice makers, water dispensers, humidifiers, dryers with steam, coffee makers, steam cookers, dishwashers and clothes washers all come with water hook ups.

More water connections means more risk of leaks

Leak prevention products
Water leak from burst pipe

As more appliances are connected to water sources in your home, the risk goes up that something will go wrong. When it does, many times the leak can go unnoticed for a long period of time. A broken refrigerator fill line can spew a lot of water and cause horrendous damage overnight while you are sleeping. We have seen entire homes destroyed by leaks that went unnoticed while the occupants were away

According to the Insurance Journal, water leaks from plumbing and appliance problems account for 20% of the claims filed with insurance firms.

For years HPS has been promoting water control systems for the protection of your home. HPS was one of the first to encourage the development of moisture sensors for use at mission critical areas of the home. We are also an advocate of proactively replacing bad or aged plumbing like corroded valves, old water lines, rubber washer hoses, water heaters over 10 years old etc. We have for years been lobbying insurance companies to support homeowners who wish to be proactive in preventing leaks. Finally now, some insurance companies are offering premium discounts of up to 25% for customers who install equipment for gas and water leak prevention.

Stopping catastrophes

Although the industry is still in infancy, today we have some effective products available for all the above leak issues. Many more products are on the way. One very effective solution that has been tested now for at least three years is called the whole house water flow monitoring system.  Computer based, these “Smart” products  learn the water use patterns for your home and will shut the water main if an anomaly is detected. A company called Leaksmart makes one of these products, as does Leak Defense System or LDS.

Moen is also offering an affordable monitoring system that can detect abnormal leakage and shut down the flow. The Moen/Flo water monitoring system https://amzn.to/392YVAp comes with leak detection and an automatic shutoff valve. It is also a “smart” system as it can monitor your system right from your home via any smart phone.

Typical water leak prevention system features

  • 24/7 protection: Turn your water on/off from the app manually, or will automatically turn off the water for you to protect the home from catastrophic water damage
  • Daily testing: Proactively monitors the home’s entire water system (including behind walls and in foundations) to identify leaks as small as a drop per minute (e. g. pinhole leaks, etc. )
  • Optimized water use: The devices optimize water savings by understanding the homes water use to each home
  • Dashboard: Monitor in real time how much water you’re consuming daily and set conservation goals to encourage saving water and money
  • Retrofit to existing plumbing: Adapts to 3/4″ to 1 1/4″ pipe diameter (consult a professional)
  • Smart compatible: Alexa skills, Google Assistant and IFTTT; no smart hub or system required; requires Wi Fi connection; requires standard AC/DC power connection

These are sophisticated products that will be trusted and relied upon to prevent disasters. Professional installation by licensed plumbers is recommended. Install time is only a few hours for homes that meet the manufacturers’ installation requirements. 

But wait!  Don’t run off and start buying parts just yet. These products must be installed by qualified plumbers. To assure warranty coverage, plumbing materials should always be ordered and purchased by the installer. Warning: There are parts on sale for these products at Amazon but they are often older, early generation products that are at least 5 years out to date. Many important advancements have been made since then so skip the bargains and get the best.

Contact us at HPS if you would like further general information or info on installation.

You can also contact Caroline K. Graham at LeakSmart at (980) 205-5295, or grahamc@leaksmart.com for product specific information.

CALIFORNIA TITLE-20

AS of January 1, 2020, all General Service Lamps (home light bulbs) are subject to the 45 LUMENS PER WATT (“LPW”) requirements and any product that does not meet this standard is subject to “stop sell” restrictions prohibiting the sale within the State of California.  This means that any light bulb that does not provide at least 45 lumens per watt may no longer be sold in California.

The lamp groups below had been exempt but are now included:

  • Many decorative lamps (Torpedo and Flame tip)
  • Globes (G16.5, G25, and G30)
  • Three-way or multi-watt lamps (any)
  • Reflectors – R20, BR30, BR40 and Halogen PAR20, PAR30 and PAR38

Previously labeled as “stop sell”

  • PAR16 and MR16

What this means is that replacements for the above bulbs will only be available in LED versions.  Sometimes the color renditions of the new replacement LED’s do not match that of the existing bulbs. If you would like a uniform appearance we recommend replacing all non-conforming bulbs at once with replacement LED versions.


Ten Reasons Every Home Needs a Back-up Generator

back-up generatorAmericans use a lot of electricity. Last year in fact the total was almost four trillion kwh. That is more than 16 times greater than the electricity used in 1950. This is why a back-up generator  is becoming an important option for the modern home. 

Over the last seventy years electricity has moved from being a novel and interesting source of light, to an essential and often life supporting part of modern life. Americans are more reliant now on electricity than ever for their health, heating, cooling, refrigeration and for appliances, computers, electronics, tools, and even cars and public transportation systems.

When the power grid goes away, we are in trouble. This is why every home needs a back-up source of power. 

The ten most important reasons you should have a back-up generator:

  1. Life support: breathing machines, C-pap’s, powered wheelchairs, home dialysis and other medical devices need power either directly or through batteries that must be recharged.
  2. Water: Homes that rely on wells use electric pumps to extract and distribute water to the home.
  3. Food preservation and cooking: Without power the refrigerators and freezers in your home can only keep food from spoiling for a couple of days. If you only have an electric cooktop you will definitely want a generator or some alternative way to cook. Perhaps a propane or gas camp stove would help.
  4. Drainage: Sump pumps require electricity to move water out of low-lying areas to prevent flooding. These are especially important during heavy storms when the power is most likely to be disrupted.
  5. Sewer systems: Basement sewage ejector pumps, or septic system elevator pumps will stop working in a power outage.
  6. Communications: Your power may be out, but your phone may still work if the cell tower is on. Use a generator to keep your phone charged and internet modem working.
  7. Hot water: Gas and electric water heaters need power for circulation.
  8. Security: Security cameras and alarm systems need power.
  9. Heating systems: Most high-efficiency furnaces have electronic exhaust and fan blowers as well as igniters.
  10. Spa: During a power failure with below freezing temperatures, an electrically heated outdoor spa will actually stay warm for about three days. After that, it will quickly cool and begin to freeze around the 7th day. A generator can help keep the spa from freezing and bursting pipes.

If you own a home, you need a back-up generator! So get one, and install and use it safely. Your life may depend on it. Here’s how to select the appropriate generator for your needs.


Selecting a Generator For Your Home

Selecting a good generator for your home can be a lifesaver! If you’ve ever experienced a prolonged power outage, especially during extreme weather then you understand how dependent modern life has become on the electrical grid. When the power is gone, many things you took for granted are no longer there. And this usually happens during the harshest weather conditions. Darkness and extreme temperatures can make every minute without power uncomfortable and can actually endanger children and the elderly. Add in shock, spoiled food and lost communication, and an inconvenience can suddenly spiral into a disaster.

You may not be able to prevent the natural disasters that can take down the power grid, but help is available. It’s called an emergency generator. These are proven and practical appliances that produce back-up electricity, making your home livable until your power grid can be restored. The process of selecting and installing a generator can take time so you need to get started now.

If you think you can just go into your local hardware store when your area is already in the grips of a major power outage, you are already in trouble. You may not be able to get to an open hardware store and if you did you would find the generator isle well picked-over by the time you got there

The time to act is now, Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late! Emergency generators are for disasters, so plan to get one before the next power outage happens. Here’s how:

Determine your needs

Make a list of what appliances you cannot live without during a power outage. Which appliances and devices you’ll want to use is entirely up to you. Your list might include medical devices, refrigerators, certain lights, a source of heat, etc. Most homeowners will certainly prioritize their refrigerator to avoid food spoilage. If you are tough and resilient, you might only need a few hundred more watts to power some lights and chargers for electronics.

If you have a larger budget, there are generator systems that can keep your whole home running without skipping a beat.

See my post on why you need a generator for a good list of items you might need.

Once you have your list completed, you will need to determine your wattage requirements. Electrical loads are measured in watts. Each appliance uses a certain wattage, so as you compile your list of essential appliances, you’ll need to note the wattage of each. Some appliances will list a normal use and surge use wattage. Use the surge numbers to avoid overloading your generator. Owner’s manuals are great sources for this information. If you don’t have the manuals, you can make an estimate, by using the Department of Energy’s appliance energy calculator.

If you want a more accurate count, hire an electrician to conduct load measurements of every appliance on your list. You will certainly want to do this if you are considering a whole-house, back-up generator system. For smaller generators this is unnecessary since we will add in a fudge factor at the end to make sure your needs are fully met. You do not want to run short of power during a disaster.

Generator types:

When selecting a generator, they can be categorized in two basic types, Portable and Stand-by.

Selecting a generatorPortable generators:

The first and most common type is the portable generator. Portable generators tend to be smaller, lighter and more easily portable so that they can be delivered and operated wherever needed. Since they are portable, they must be manually connected to your electrical system when there is a power outage. You may need to have heavy-duty extension cords ready as portable generators must remain at least twenty feet away from your structure. A special connection or transfer switch may also need to be installed by an electrician in order for you to quickly connect the generator to any built-in appliances during. Portable generators normally run on gasoline or diesel so you will need to safely store enough fresh fuel (and some oil just in case) on hand to get you through the emergency.

Portable inverters:

There is a second choice available in portable generators called inverters. Inverters are much lighter and quieter than portable generators and they use the same fuel sources. Inverters are quite popular as portable power units and are often used for camping or RVing as well as for emergencies. The most powerful inverter generators only produce around 6,000 watts which is much less than the largest portable generators although they can be daisy chained together to satisfy higher wattage if needed. If you like a quieter and more versatile power unit an inverter may be worth the slightly higher cost. I personally have two Honda 2200 units for our RV that I have used several times for emergency.

Stand by:

Selecting a generatorStandby generators are the big boys. These are large heavy-duty systems that are permanently wired to your electrical panel. During a power outage these units automatically kick in and begin providing electricity. They can be designed large enough to handle an entire structure or just a few important circuits. The key function of the standby system is it is automatic. Therefore, a standby system will need to be professionally designed and installed. In addition, a fuel source must be considered that can be relied upon during the forecasted length of an emergency. Natural gas and propane are the most common fuel sources chosen for standby generators because these fuels have longer shelf lives compared to gasoline or diesel.

Extension cord safety

If you opt to use extension cords, it is important that you read information about proper cord safety. Also read the generator manual carefully to determine the exact length, gauge and plug type you’ll need for each cord. Because your generator must be at least 20 feet from your home, these cords will be very long. Major appliances like refrigerators will require special cables. There are functional and safety considerations to take into account when using extension cords. It’s a good idea to include their costs before making a final purchase decision.

Once you have set up your perfect emergency generator, you should practice using it and make a detailed plan of action for an actual emergency. This way you will know exactly what to do when an emergency arises. Remember, during a disaster you may be in shock or perhaps distracted or otherwise not thinking at your best. A good place to start is by following the advice in your owner’s manual.

Other important considerations

Some other important considerations to make when selecting a generator include the place you will store the equipment, and where to set up the portable generator for operation. Also, how and where to ground the generator, how you’ll protect the generator from the elements and where you can safely store your fuel reserves.

Most importantly, generators will require periodic maintenance. The most sophisticated standby generators make this easy by conducting automatic test runs. These tests perform diagnostics and will even send you text messages when service is required. Portable generator systems require you remember and perform a maintenance schedule. Whatever maintenance is called for, DO IT! There is nothing more useless than an emergency piece of equipment that does not work during the emergency. See safe generator operating rules.

See Part 1 in this series: 10 Reasons Every Home Needs a Back-up Generator


Moen thinks better lighting makes a better disposer… I agree!

Better lighting makes a better disposer
Moen EX Series Garbage Disposal

Every now and then someone comes up with an idea that is so cool you wonder if all the prior product engineers were just sleeping at their jobs?  This idea did not come from a kitchen designer or an architect or even a clever custom builder. The innovation came from some design genius at plumbing fixture manufacturer Moen.

Where all homes look the same

At HPS Palo Alto we have a company joke that goes: “No matter how different homes appear from the street, they all look the same under the sink.” Well thanks to Moen, that’s not true anymore. Now every homeowner can see what’s really going on under there.

The great innovation for this new disposal has nothing to do with improving the process of grinding garbage in your sink. The innovation is the addition of light. Lights on the lower motor unit, inside the cabinet… under the sink.

Better lighting makes a better disposer
Moen illuminated garbage disposal

Shedding light on a bad situation

So what’s the big deal with that? The big deal is that this new product illuminates an area that in most households is quite frankly a total wasteland. The under-sink cabinet is normally a dark, possibly smelly and damp area, stuffed with unused cleansers, old rubber gloves and an open box of rusting SOS pads. Moen is shedding light on a shabby and neglected area of most homes. I don’t think better lighting makes a better disposer, but hopefully it will lead to taking better care of under-sink areas.

If you’ve read the Home Preservation Manual’s section on disposals, you know that I am not a big fan of the way most of them have been marketed. What I love about this one is the product is less about the grinding and more about the light.  How it took so long for anyone to come up with this one is a mystery… but I’m glad it happened.

If you want to clean something up…shed some light on it. Thank you Moen! Now could you also make one for my crawlspace?

EX Series 1HP Moen Illuminated Garbage Disposal:

  • Motion sensing technology activates 6 LED lights when cabinet door is opened
  • 1 horsepower VORTEX motor has professional grade grinding power to tackle the toughest kitchen scraps
  • Universal Xpress Mount fits Moen and most existing 3-bolt mounting assemblies, including InSinkErator® brand*
  • High speed 2800 RPM VORTEX permanent magnet motor reduces jamming
  • SoundSHIELDprovides sound deadening insulation
  • 10-year limited warranty with in-home service
  • Compact design is lighter weight and frees up valuable (and visible) space under the sink
  • Continuous feed technology with stainless steel grind components
  • Compatible with properly sized septic tanks

Not only does better lighting make a better disposer, it will make you a better homeowner. Order one here:

Rain chains are destructive to your home.

Here’s why…

The roof, flashings, gutters and downspouts on your home all play different but important roles in shedding and controlling rain water off of and away from your home.

The rain shield system

The roof and flashing systems are the first lines of defense. They serve to shed the water and to keep it from penetrating into the structure by moving it downhill via gravity to the roof edges.

The gutters are the next defensive line. They capture the water as it sheds off of the lower edges of the roof. Once the water is collected, it is moved (again by gravity) through the slightly-sloped gutter to a downspout opening in the bottom.

Next, it is the downspout’s job to deliver the water downward in a safely-controlled manner either to the ground or to a drain system.

The weak link

Rain chains are used frequently on homes as a substitute for downspouts. This usually takes place in locations where a normal downspout would be ugly or just doesn’t work mechanically. The main issue I have with rain chains is they do not control the water very well.

In theory rain chains provide the water a pathway to trickle out of the gutter and then run down the length of the chain to the ground.  Unfortunately, rain very seldom happens in trickles or during nice calm, wind free days.  Usually rain happens during storms with wind blowing and water flowing.

Rain chains cause damage
Heavy duty rain chain installation at valley

In storm conditions rain chains are useless and no better than if they were not there at all. Water is usually blown all over the structure in a wide arc of destruction.  If it lands on the ground, it may end up in places you do not want it, like at the base of your foundation. I have seen a lot of damage to siding, windows doors and foundations caused by relying on rain chains.

Rain cups, the better option

An alternative, and much better solution is to utilize “Rain Cups” instead of chain. Rain cups are a vast upgrade in both looks and in how the water is controlled during its decent to the ground. You can search for Rain cups on the internet by looking for custom or decorative rain chains.

Rain chain alternative
Rain cups

Rain cups come in a vast array of decorative materials and shapes. Get large cups 3-4” in diameter or larger if your area is subject to heavy rains. Don’t get cheap versions with tiny cups. These are as worthless as chains and not worth the time to install.

Rain chains
Use appropriate sized rain cups for the application

Rain cups fit under the downspout opening in the bottom of your gutters. They normally come pre-assembled, with instructions and are fairly easy to install, but you will need a tall ladder so be careful. Anchor rain cups at the bottom so they cannot be blown around in strong winds and cause damage. Anchoring can be done simply enough with a stake or even a heavy rock placed in the bottom cup.

Summary

If you already have rain chains or are considering them for your home, I highly recommend you abandon the idea and go with a rain cup version instead. Rain cups control the water well and can be a very attractive addition to your home. They will even create a pleasant water feature during an otherwise gloomy storm if placed in a good location. Check out the video below to see some 3″ copper rain cups in action.

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Extension cord safety tips for homeowners.

Extension cords are common household items that almost everyone takes for granted. So I was surprised recently to learn just how dangerous extension cords can be. Inspired, I went home to check mine out.  As I suspected, my cords were all ancient and ratty. It was time to head to our local “big box” to get replacements.

Confusing marketing

I was confronted by a wall of products at the store. So many that it stopped me in my tracks. The options were staggering. Adding to my confusion was heaps of mysterious and sometimes misleading information spread all over the packaging. Accordingly a new cord can be purchased in several versions including with a UL listing, 3-wire design, Multi-outlet, indoor only, outdoor weather resistant, 13amp, 1625 watt, 16/3, 125V, designer, basic, NEMA, reinforced blades, oil resistant, vinyl jacket and tangle-free. The cords were available in 3’,6’,10’, 12’, 15’, 25’, 50’, and 100’ lengths, and I could have them in white, brown, green, black, yellow, blue, pink, orange or red.  Even pink.

I got to thinking that if I am having this much trouble buying an extension cord, how in the world is the average joe ever going to able to do it? So, in this post, I am going to take you through my learning process and explain a few important and surprising things I discovered about extension cords. Hopefully it will help you.

Safety first

Construction sites are dangerous places, so the US government Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has established regulations to help make them as safe as possible. One area of concern is working around electricity. After falls, electrical related injuries are the second leading cause of accidental death at work.  For this reason, has developed electrical safety procedures that prevent electrocution on the jobsite.

Homeowners can also benefit from these safety regulations. Let’s start with some simple OSHA best practices around extension cords. Since we all use extension cords at some time or another, these simple rules will help provide a much safer household for you and your family.

extension cord safety
An extension cord waiting to become an accident

A lot of people consider extension cords as little more than objects of convenience. When we need one, most of us are in the habit of grabbing any cord available.  Think back and you will probably remember times you used a cord with bent or broken prongs, exposed wires, missing ground plugs, or frayed jackets.

It is easy to overlook problems when in a hurry but we really need to think smarter about these products. Ignorance in this case can get you killed. Power cords are actually electrical tools. Tools that are used to provide a safe, flexible and extended high voltage electrical source for your power equipment. They need to be serviceable and in good condition.

Five OSHA Rules

Here are five really important OSHA extension cord rules you must learn and teach your family to follow:

Rule 1

Only use extension cords with GFCI protection. GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter and it will disconnect power if a potentially dangerous situation occurs. A GFCI compares current flowing through the cord and disconnects the power of there is a “leak” or imbalance of 4-6mA.  GFCI’s are not expensive and can be real life-savers. I recommend using extension cords with built-in GFCI’s. Otherwise you must have a GFCI outlet or circuit to plug into. Be certain  since not every outlet or circuit in your home is protected this way.  If you are on a job site or some other area where certainty about GFCI protection is in doubt, you can simply use a cord like this with a “built-in” GFCI device

Rule 2

Use only one cord per tool up to 100 feet in length. Do not exceed 100’ feet. If a project requires more than 100 feet in distance, a temporary power distribution box will need to be installed. Never plug one extension cord into another.  This mistake can lead to fires, equipment failures and electrocution. A cords’ power ratings vary by wire size and length. Plugging two cords together reduces their current capacity in half which will result in voltage drop and overheating. Purchase heavy duty cords with 10-12 gauge wire. This avoids worrying about voltage drop problems. This gauge wire will handle any of your power tools without problems even at 100’ lengths. Forget about buying or using cheaper cords made with smaller gauge wire.

Rule 3

Do not use a damaged cord. A damaged and repaired cord is easy to spot as it will likely have tape on it. The cord may still work, but it is a violation of the OSHA regulations. Do not patch damaged extension cords. The only acceptable repair to a damaged cord is to cut off the damaged area and install a new male or female end. This may shorten the cord, but is safe and acceptable. Take care to protect you cords. It is easy to damage them by dropping tools or materials on them, by driving over them or pinching or kinking them.

Extension cord safety
Repaired extension cords are a no-no

Rule 4

Do not secure extension cords to walls or ceilings using metal nails or staples. Metal fasteners can easily damage the relatively soft flexible jacket of the cord.  Slight impacts, pinching or bending can damage the cord. Even pulling on the cable can wear through the jacket accidentally.

Rule 5

Do not run cords through doorways or under rugs. This rule helps avoid two causes of problems: trips/falls and traffic damage to the cord.  Lay the cords around the edges. Avoid laying cord across the room. Use cord protectors if they are exposed to any kind of traffic or abuse.

Extension Cord Safety Summary

  1. Every extension cord needs a GFCI
  2. Never plug one extension cord into another
  3. Do not repair damaged extension cords between the ends
  4. Do not hold extension cords in place by metal nails or staples
  5. Avoid running extension cords through doorways
  6. Learn how to properly coil and store your cord

Here are some references to extension cord safety put out by OSHA:

https://www.osha.gov/oshstats/commonstats.html

Recommendations:

For work get a 50’ or 100’ 12-gauge cord with a built in GFCI. An illuminated end feature can save a 200’ walk to and from the receptacle to check for power. Get a cord with high quality terminations (ends) and a heavy-duty protective jacket.  Keep your cords safe. Don’t allow heavy objects to run over them and store them properly when not in use. Forget clever and expensive coiling and storing products. Learn from Dirt Farmer Jay how the pro’s coil and store extension cords… https://youtu.be/eTpbh2zJGhA  

Cords are rated for hard or extra-hard usage per the National Electrical Code. The ratings must be indelibly marked along every foot of the cord. Examples of these codes are: S, ST, SO, and STO for hard service, and SJ, SJO, SJT, and SJTO for junior hard service.

  • Get a professional 50’ or 100’ 12-gauge cord with a built in GFCI.
  • Get a cord with an illuminated end. These reveal instantly that power is flowing and will save a 200’ walk to the receptacle.
  • Protect your cords. Don’t allow them to become trip hazards or allow heavy objects to run over them.
  • Store your cords properly.

What makes excellent asphalt?

Six steps to excellent asphalt
Award winning asphalt driveway

Here are the six steps to excellent asphalt paving for your driveway. Our Oregon home was recently awarded First Place for asphalt pavement construction on a residential project. Apparently paving contractor Knife River submitted our project to the Asphalt Pavement Association of Oregon for consideration.  And it won!

I was not aware that there were awards given out for quality asphalt work. But then I was not even aware that paving companies had an association. It was refreshing to learn that these trades care enough about their work to actually compete over who can do the best job. Here is the criteria for judging the award explained to us by Executive Director John Hickey who personally inspected the work for the Association.

  • Attention to detail—even seemingly minor flaws sometimes make the difference between placing and not.
  • High-quality workmanship—criteria include:
    • Uniform texture—make sure there is no segregation
    • Smooth tight joints—both longitudinal and transverse
    • Smooth tight matches—on all intersections, curbs, and/or appurtenances
  • Ride! Smoothness is crucial for placing in the competition
  • Overall appearance—layout and design will have an impact
  • Degree of difficulty—some jobs are tougher than others to build
Six steps to excellent asphalt paving
PM Jill, and the award

Scope of work

For our home, the key driveway concerns were durability and drainage. We need to drive heavy trucks with big horse trailers on the driveway. Because of this the paving and sub-structure had to be able to support these loads. The site is also on a slope so good drainage had to be designed into the driveway. 

Contractor considerations

At nearly 50,000 square feet, our driveway was a large job (for us) so we wanted to get it right the first time. Knife River Corporation came strongly recommended by both friends and our general contractors. They are a substantial and capable company. Unfortunately, they were not the lowest bid. After some deliberation we decided to suck it up and pay the piper, and looking back now I am glad we did.  We came out winners in the end because I believe Knife River delivered way more value than their higher initial cost.

Our project manager, Jill Hawkins took time to do much more than just measure the surface. She evaluated the existing underlying base material, and shot grades to make sure we had proper drain slopes. In order to get the driveway to properly shed water by gravity, Jill found and removed some rocky areas before starting the job. This required use of a large jackhammer to remove a high spot. She also made sure that existing finished areas of the home were protected from harm during the work. Along 130′ of the driveway, the asphalt abuts a nicely finished concrete parking area and a rough boulder retaining wall.  

Installation

The installation team also worked hard to ensure a quality job. Joints were smooth and almost imperceptible. Edges were crisp and hand compacted. The paving machine operator never let the mix get cool or run out completely between loads. This made the transitions seamless and nearly invisible. Jill’s team actually invented a manual compaction method to get the paving tightly fit between the retaining wall boulders.  It was a bit painstaking for guys used to working with road graders and steam rollers. But the result was amazing!

Six steps to excellent asphalt paving
The awesome Knife River paving crew

Even the batch plant participated in the quality by making sure every load delivered was uniform and perfect.

Six steps to excellent asphalt paving
Asphalt paving day

Summary

Just like other parts of the project, the paving took care, forethought and cooperation to produce a quality result. Our gratitude goes out to Knife River corporation, Jill, her team and everyone else who participated in this quality job.

Six steps for excellent quality asphalt paving

  1. Good foundation material-base. Appropriate for the projected use.
  2. Good drainage, no pooling or standing water.
  3. Smooth transitions, invisible and imperceptible when driven on.
  4. Appropriate excellent mix, uniform in texture and well compacted
  5. Good installation methods and practices
  6. Maintenance (check back for posts on maintaining asphalt paving)

Learning to build a roof overhead was a great intellectual leap in mankind’s quest for decent shelter. Walls were a fairly easy idea and could be built intuitively with stones or timbers. But learning to construct a waterproof span over an open space took some innovation.

The first roofs were a simple layering of leaves. Then came combinations of leaves and sticks. Eventually we learned to apply materials like clay or dried mud to sloped timbers in order to shed water away. Finally trusses were invented that could span great lengths and support heavier (and more durable) materials like slate and tile. The evolution continues today with the use of steel and high tech waterproof membranes. Each new innovation allows for more and more architectural possibilities.


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