Home Reviews

How to care for your stainless steel appliances

This may sound silly, but even stainless steel needs love. Well, maybe not. But if you can’t give it love… at least you might want to give it care.

Homeowners guide to maintaining stainless steel
Stainless steel BBQ

What is stainless steel

Stainless steel is a truly wonderful material and it is surprisingly new to the industrial world. It’s made from a very precise alloy of iron, nickel, chromium and carbon. The term alloy refers to metals made with blends of various elements such as this. What makes this steel alloy so special is its resistance to corrosion. Corrosion resistance comes from a chromium content of at least 10.5%, mixed with small amounts of molybdenum. Apparently, rust doesn’t like that mix.

Steel’s resistance to corrosion and pitting increases with higher amounts of chromium and molybdenum. Unfortunately, there are limits and some drawbacks to going too far with this. Increasing the amounts of chromium and moly too much can weaken and increase the brittleness of the metal. This means that there is no single magic bullet, or “best” alloy when it comes to stainless steel. The result is a multitude of special stainless grades. All these come with infinitely varying chromium and molybdenum ratios to address the many applications and environments they must operate in.  Choosing, or even creating the right grade of stainless steel for the job is an important and exacting metallurgical science.

In the beginning 

In 1913 Harry Brearley led a team of scientists in Sheffield, England to develop the first stainless metal alloy.  Since then, more than 250 stainless steel grades have been created to meet various needs.  Of all those grades, there are five basic types: Ferritic, Austenitic, Martensitic, Duplex and Precipitation steel.

The most exotic stainless

There is a sixth and fairly exotic family of stainless called Superalloys. As a homeowner, you can basically ignore these. Superalloys are much stronger and more durable than the others. They are also hard to make, very rare and thus come with extremely high prices. Space exploration, nuclear weapons and submarines apparently all need superalloys. I’m sure our military loves the stuff. However, homeowners needn’t care about it unless you are planning to build a DIY nuclear accelerator in the back yard.

The homeowner’s guide to common stainless grades

Here are the main grades of stainless steel that homeowners should know about:

304

This is a common grade of stainless steel that you see every day. 304 contains a minimum of 18% chromium and 8% nickel. It is ferrous (magnetic) and used in the manufacture of many mass market household appliances like refrigerator skins, BBQs and even the bodies of the Delorean automobile.

316

This is a slightly higher quality “marine” grade. 316 contains 16% chromium, 10% nickel and 2% molybdenum. Molybdenum helps resist corrosion from chloride (salt). Metal parts exposed to the ocean or other salt environments are perfect for 316 material.  316 stainless makes great food machinery, precision tools, surgical instruments and even jewelry. It is commonly built into boats and extremely durable outdoor rated appliances. The most durable BBQ’s are made with this type of stainless steel. See how to buy a BBQ.

Homeowners guide to stainless steel
Stainless steel brewing chamber

409

This material is not attractive and does not polish well.  409 stainless is the material of choice for engine exhaust systems. It is also used in applications where corrosion resistance is desired and aesthetics are secondary.  

420

420 stainless has a higher carbon content than some and is thus stronger and harder. Flatware, cutlery, surgical and dental instruments, scissors, tapes and straight edges are all made from 420 stainless steel.

430

430 is not very hard or hardenable, but it has good aesthetics, corrosion resistance and formability. It is one of the few stainless materials that can be easily rolled into flat sheets and formed into shapes. Dishwasher interiors, chimney liners, wire lashings, auto trim and other decorative products are all made from 430 stainless steel.

440

Known as razor steel, 440 is a very hard and high grade stainless used for fine cutlery, knives and razor blades. 440 can be sharpened without losing its hardness, and is unaffected by food, acids and other corrosive materials. These characteristics make for long wearing, durable sharpness which is ideal for cutting edges. 

904L

This is an extremely high quality, non-ferrous stainless steel. It has a bright, beautiful appearance combined with good machining properties. It is used for the manufacture of one the most sought-after wristwatches in the world, the Rolex Stainless Steel Daytona. Critical parts for top-secret US military machinery and submarines are made from 904 L stainless. Unfortunately I can’t tell you about those.

Homeowners guide to stainless steel maintenance
Rolex Stainless Steel Daytona

General care

When first manufactured stainless steel is ultra tough, but contamination can adversely affect its surface during later fabrication. Debris, dirt residue like free iron, grease and machining oils can all collect on the surface. These are usually microscopic and can go unseen to the human eye. These pollutants weaken the metals resistance to surface corrosion and make it more susceptible to degradation. This microscopic contamination can allow stainless steel to corrode and explains why some low-cost products will develop “rust spotting”.

Passivation

A process called “passivation” or pickling can return some corroded stainless steel surfaces back to original specifications. Passivation aggressively removes the contaminants from the surface and neutralizes any unwanted electrical charges. It then washes the material in a protective bath, and coats it with a sealer. The process is labor intensive, but it purifies and protects the surface of the stainless steel and allows the metal to protect itself. Years ago I developed a good formula for the passivation of high-quality outdoor stainless steel railings and other materials. We use it at HPS frequently for our clients with homes exposed to marine environments. If you are interested in the “pickling” process, the recipe for it can be found here.

Stainless steel passivation
Polishing stainless steel

Cleaning

Do not scrub stainless steel with an abrasive. Appliances with stainless steel have a very uniform, machine applied finish. It is surprisingly easy to scratch. Any use of an abrasive will mess up the machine marks and permanently ruin the finish. Simply clean stainless steel with mild detergent, water and a soft cloth. 

Also, never, ever use steel wool to clean stainless material. Its abrasiveness will ruin the machine finish and also embed microscopic particles of iron onto the surface. These particles will begin rusting almost immediately and destroy the finish. As tough as stainless steel is, the cosmetics are delicate. If you scratch or mar the surface, you may have to replace the part. Refrigerator and dishwasher fronts are often the victims of damage thanks to kids or overzealous housekeepers. It is possible to replace the damaged front “skins” on some of these appliances, but it can be expensive. Perhaps it would be better to just place a magnetic reminder over the damage. It should say “Don’t scratch me!”

Cooling Off A Hot Attic

Cooling a hot attic
Your attic is hot! Here’s how to cool it off

Most of the U.S. is broiling under a heat wave at the moment. From the Midwest to the East Coast a sweltering parade of 100-degree days seems to be marching across the country without end.  Severe weather is the norm these days, and when times are hot like they are right now, it’s nice to have a cool home to retreat into. But if the interior of your house is roasting too, you’ll be glad to learn there are some hacks that can help with cooling it down. Let’s start with cooling down your attic.

What is an attic?

An attic is an uninhabitable space in your home that lies directly below your roof and above the ceiling framing of the top floor. On homes with tall, steep-pitched roofs, the attic spaces can be very large and voluminous. Homes with low pitched roofs will have very small and cramped attics.

Attics spaces are there to provide access to these areas for inspection, maintenance and service. Building codes require access to attic spaces but deem them uninhabitable because they lack things like insulation, floors, escape windows, climate control, fire resistance and other basic elements needed for safe human occupancy.

Conditions

Cooling a hot attic
A clean, empty attic space

Since attic spaces are not inhabitable, they are usually left rough and unfinished. Attics spaces contain exposed framing, insulation, roof nails, electrical wiring, plumbing pipes, and heating ducts. On rare occasions a conscientious builder might have installed a bare bulb work light and some planking to traverse across the ceiling joists safely.  That’s about it for attic amenities.

Attics are required by code to be passively ventilated to the outdoors, meaning outside air is encouraged to flow through the attic freely. If properly designed, fresh air will move in through screened openings around the eaves at the perimeter, then out at the upper areas of the roof through the natural movement of convection. Convection basically means hot air rises.

Since air flows freely through the attic, pollens, dust, smoke and any other pollutants in the air migrate in as well and accumulate onto the interior surfaces. Any insects and animals able to find their way through the screened eave vents or any openings in the siding will also take up residence there. Because of all this, an attic space is a place most people prefer to avoid.

Heat generation

Under ideal conditions and with perfect ventilation, air would naturally flow through the attic at a pace that would keep the space very close to the same temperature as the outside air. This would be similar to how your house would feel if you kept the windows and doors open all the time. On hot days the rooms would be hot and on cold days the rooms would be cold.

In reality the attic space is much different than rooms in your home.

Inside your home, the outside walls and ceilings of the rooms are insulated, and the wood framing is covered with drywall. In the attic there is no insulation from the exterior (roof) and no drywall on the framing. This allows much more heat gain in the attic as compared to the interior of your home. The reason is that heat is transferred into the attic from the sun as well as from the temperature of the outside air.

Radiant heat from the sun

It works like this. The attic starts out the day with a volume of air that is about the same temperature as the outside air. As the day progresses, sunlight radiates down on the home heating up the surface of the roof.  As the roof surface temperature rises, this heat transfers (conducts) down through the sheathing and rafter framing.

Thermodynamics and heat gain

Now the roof structural members and sheathing in the attic space are hot and they begin to transfer heat to their surroundings. They do this in a couple of ways. 1) heat radiates from the roof framing down through the attic and heats up anything it comes in contact with including stored boxes, the ceiling framing, furnace ducts, wiring, ceiling insulation, dust, dead rodents, etc.  2) All the hot items in the attic (framing, sheathing, toys, boxes, insulation, dust etc.) now begin to conduct (or transfer) heat to the surrounding air molecules that come in contact with it. This all happens fairly quickly.

The process described above produces heated air much faster than it can be exchanged through ventilation. The result is an extremely hot attic.

The sun’s radiant heat is the engine for all this, and the process continues as long as the sun is shining on the structure. Even after the sun goes down, the hot items in the attic will continue to radiate and conduct heat keeping the air inside warm long after the outside temperature has cooled down.

Convection

Once the air in the attic has become hot, another thermodynamic process called convection occurs.  Convection is the characteristic that makes hot air rise and cool air sink ,and it is at this point where a good ventilation system comes into play. As the air inside the attic becomes hot, it will rise to the highest point in the roof and escape through any vents placed there for that purpose. (Continuous ridge vents are good for allowing hot air to escape at the place it collects.) As the hot air escapes out the top, cool air will be sucked in at the lower eave level to replace it.

Unfortunately, radiant heat causes the temperature of the attic to rise faster than the air can be exchanged through passive ventilation (convection).  Large mechanical fans aiding the ventilation process may help some (by moving the hottest air out faster), but that will not prevent the radiant process from continuing to elevate the temperature of the entire attic structure and all its contents.  In other words, faster air exchange (convection) may reduce the temperature of the attic air, but that will do little or nothing to cool the structural elements and contents because they are continually being heated by the radiant process.

So what’s wrong with a hot attic?  

A hot attic it makes for a hotter house. This results in higher cooling bills and the need for thicker insulation above the ceiling. Another problem is any ducting in the attic will be heated and the heat will transfer into any the duct and warm any cool air moving through it and into the home. Also, any equipment in the hot attic will have to work harder to do its job and thus the life will be shortened. No heat sensitive items can be stored in a hot attic.  You will be tempted to purchase an attic fan.

So how can you make a cooler attic?

Step one: Ventilation

Thanks to the radiant heat affect, attic temperatures on a 100-degree day can reach 170 degrees or more. That is certainly too hot, but how hot is OK? At the very best, conventionally ventilated attics can never be cooler than the outside air temperature. This is because the attic is essentially open to the outside air.  If the air outside is 100 degrees in the shade, your attic cannot ever be cooler than that. But even 100 degrees in your attic would be much better than 155, so how can we move the temperature in that direction?

Passive venting

The easiest way to start is to maximize the passive ventilation in your attic. Make sure you have the most ventilation your home can handle. Code requires 1 square foot of vent opening to 150 square feet of attic space. I personally don’t feel that is near enough because the total volume of air that needs to be exchanged can vary quite a bit with the pitch of the roof. In addition, locating the vents is just as important. You will need as much square footage of vent at the apex of the roof as at the perimeter eaves. Put in as much as you can.

Mechanical fans

Cooling a hot attic
Attic fan

If you plan to use an attic fan to exhaust hot air out of the attic, make sure you have enough incoming air vents around the perimeter to accommodate the extra flow. Otherwise you can create negative pressure in the attic that will suck expensive conditioned air out of your living area.

Good ventilation improves the convection process. It helps to move some of the overheated attic air out and replace it with fresh “outside” temperature air.  But this is not enough. Now we have to deal with the cause of the heat gain.

Step two: Radiant barriers

Once you have mastered the ventilation problem, the next step is to install radiant heat barriers. These barriers will help to reduce the heat gain created by the sun and prevent it from radiating from the roof throughout your attic. Radiant barriers are very effective in hot climates and especially effective when heating/cooling air ducts are located in the attic. Studies have shown these barriers will reduce a/c cooling costs 5% to 10% in hot, sunny climates. The reduced heat gain may even allow for a smaller air conditioning system.

Installation

Installation is fairly easy when building a new home. Simply drape the barrier between the roof rafters. Placing the material just under the sheathing will minimize dust accumulation on the reflective faces. Retrofitting barriers later can be more difficult. Space is tight when working in the attic and there will likely be framing, braces, wiring, plumbing ducts and other obstructions to work around.

It’s important to allow an inch or so of air space clearance between the attachment points and the bottom of the roof. The radiant foil will heat up, and the air space will allow the heat to migrate up and ventilate out. A couple of safety notes: Radiant foil will conduct electricity, so avoid making contact with bare electrical wiring. The foil may also interfere with cell phone reception. Please refer to the reflective insulation trade association as they offer other information and excellent installation tips.

Radiant barriers create invisible shade

What the reflective barriers do is halt the heat from the roof area from radiating down to the other interior areas and contents of the attic. The heat stops at the upper reaches of the roof framing. The barriers shield the area below that would normally themselves become heat sources (ceiling joists, cross braces, equipment, boxes with Christmas decorations and ducting etc.) that would then conduct heat to the air and make the attic hot.

cool a hot attic
Attic radiant heat barriers installed

As discussed above, these solutions work. Radiant barriers will immediately reduce temperatures in your attic. The improvements will be significant, perhaps 20-25% lower than temperatures prior, but as mentioned earlier the temperature in your attic using these methods will never be lower than the outside air temperature. If the outside temperature is 110 degrees in the shade, your attic will always be hotter than that.

 

Cooling your attic
A very hot 170 degree attic

A conditioned-space attic…the ultimate solution

If you want a truly cool attic, you can convert it to conditioned space. I have used this option personally several times and highly recommend it. It requires some work and has a cost but it is worth it.  A conditioned-space attic will keep the entire home cooler in summer, warmer in winter, while prolonging the life of any attic mounted equipment, and improving air quality in the home.

Creating a conditioned space attic means sealing up all eave/roof ventilation openings, removing the insulation between the ceiling/attic space then adding foam insulation to the underside of the entire roof system down to the wall plates.  This turns your roof and attic into a kind of thermos and the air in the attic area becomes (conditioned) the same temperature as the interior of the home.  This idea is not new but some building departments are not yet aware. Check the building codes in your area.

The key to a successful conditioned-space attic is to heavily insulate the roof diaphragm and completely seal it.  Any air allowed to migrate will eventually find a cold place on which to condense and cause mold/dryrot. This sounds simple enough, but the frame of a highly complex roof has many places that might allow air to pass through.

High-tech foam

The solution that makes the conditioned space attic possible is spray foam insulation. Foam insulation is a chemical product created by mixing isocyanate and polyol resin. When these chemicals come together they form millions of tiny air bubbles and quickly expand up to 60x. The bubbles in the foam create extremely high insulation qualities per inch and the finished solution blocks the three primary forms of heat transfer, including radiant heat. Simultaneously it fills and seals any voids in and around the framing and allows no air/moisture filtration. This is a perfect storm solution for roof applications. 

cool a hot attic
Spray foam insulation

On my projects, I like to use a closed-cell foam product blown on by hydrofluoroolefin (HFO) to avoid any environmental or global warming impacts. Closed cellfoam provides a higher R-value per inch and is completely air/moisture tight.

With a conditioned-space attic there are no vents to the outside air. The removal of screened vent openings eliminates the infiltration of dust, smoke, pollens, insects, rodents and birds as well as heat and cold. Eliminating dirty air migration from the attic greatly improves air quality in the home.

Summary

Designing a cool attic can be tricky and requires a basic understanding of thermodynamics and how air and moisture migrate through a home. The combination of sufficient ventilation and the ability to control radiant heat gain are keys to success. Before you go out and spend money on fans or barriers take time to study your roof and attic to come up with a reasonable plan. Using this guide will help you have a cooler summer.

 GFCI’s help keep you safe, but don’t last forever!

It is always a bit frightening to learn that something meant to make your life safer has a deadly dark side. Today’s surprise villains are GFCI protected outlets… and they are everywhere. These outlets are a mandated part of your home electrical system and are designed to keep you safe from shock. They do a great job too, as long as they are working. Unfortunately, GFCI’s can silently fail leaving your life at risk. Regular service as described here can reduce the risk of failure, but most homeowners will never know, because although GFCI’s are mandated, proper maintenance is not.

shocking news about GFCI's
Pop-up GFCI outlet

Purpose of GFCI

GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. These are special electrical outlets in your home that stop the flow of electricity if any abnormal current flow takes place. Their purpose is to prevent a possible electric shock.

Starting in 1971, the electrical codes have required you to have GFCI outlets in your kitchen, around the backsplashes, and in each bathroom in your house. They are required in any potentially wet location. Also, any exterior outlets around your house, are required to be connected to a GFCI-protected circuit.

Types

There are two types of GFCIs. GFCI “circuit breakers” and GFCI “receptacles”. GFCI receptacles are used extensively inside the house where they are safe from weather and easier to reset.  Circuit breaker types work better for protecting exterior outlets since they can be better sheltered in a service panel. The main disadvantages of GFCI circuit breakers over receptacles are cost and inconvenience (resetting). The advantage is circuit breaker types will typically outlast GFCI receptacles as they are not exposed to the rigors of the outdoors.

Most homeowners have had to “reset” a GFCI outlet at some point? You can do this by pressing the RESET button after it has tripped. GFCI’s can sometimes trip because of power surges, electrical storms, or just by overloading the circuit. The fact is, unless they have tripped, you probably don’t really think much about them. That could be a dangerous error.

How GFCI’s Work

A normal 120-volt outlet in the United States, has two vertical slots and then a round hole centered below them. The left slot is slightly larger and is the “neutral,” the right slot is the “hot”. The hole below them is called the “ground.” If an appliance is working safely, all electricity that it uses will flow from hot to neutral in exactly equal amounts.

A GFCI outlet monitors that current and if there is any imbalance in the flow, it trips the circuit. The GFCI senses any mismatch (as small as 4 milliamps,) and interrupts the circuit almost instantly (one-thirtieth of a second.) These specs are important because at around 10 milliamps, human muscles will lock up from electrical shock, making them unable to release whatever is causing the shock. Just two seconds of sustained current can cause death.

Mechanics

Shocking news about GFCI's
GFCI breakers w/blue test buttons

When the reset button is pressed, the spring-loaded contacts close, allowing current to pass. An internal solenoid connected to a sensing coil keeps the contacts closed.

 The sensing coil surrounds (but is not electrically connected to) the hot and neutral conductors. In normal operation, the current moving down the hot conductor returns up the neutral conductor and the currents are equal and opposite and cancel each other out.

Any fault to ground, caused for example by a person touching a live component in the attached appliance, will cause some of the current to take a different return path, creating an imbalance in the current flow.

This imbalance causes a current in the sensor coil which then releases the spring-loaded contacts and cutting off the electricity supply to the appliance.

All this happens in milliseconds, greatly reducing the chances of a dangerous shock being received.

The test button allows the correct operation of the device to be verified. This simulates a fault by creating an imbalance in the sense coil. If the GFCI does not trip when this button is pressed, then the device must be replaced.

GFCI Outlet Service Life

GFCI outlets don’t last forever. This means that some of yours may no longer be protecting you as they should. Functional GFCI outlets likely save thousands of lives every year by preventing electrical shocks from wet hands, improper use of extension cords, touching bare exposed wires etc. But only if they are working.

The average GFCI outlet has a service life of only 10 years. If your home is older than that, there’s a good chance that at least some of your GFCI outlets aren’t working properly. If your area is subject to corrosion, high humidity and/or frequent storms or power surges, it is possible for GFCI outlets to become non-functional in 5 years or even less.

Compounding the problem, contractors and developers often buy GFCI’s in bulk which usually nets the most cheaply made units on the market. Using higher quality receptacles will give a longer life span so buy specification grade, commercial grade, or hospital grade. These are much higher quality GFCI’s for just a few dollars more.

Testing your GFCI

Failed GFCI outlet

The best way to see if your GFCI outlet is still doing its job is to test it. To do so, the outlet must be powered up. An unpowered GFCI outlet can’t be tested, and it won’t allow you to reset it until it’s powered.

The simplest way is to press the TEST button on the outlet. Doing this creates a fault to ground and interrupts the flow of electricity. This in turn pops out the spring-loaded RESET button. You can then press the RESET button to reconnect the circuit and resume normal operation. Common GFCI outlets have a red TEST button and a black RESET button, though newer outlets may look different.

Press the TEST button and if the GFCI doesn’t trip, replace it as soon as possible. If your test causes the outlet to trip but the RESET button won’t reset, that means it needs to be replaced (it probably wasn’t protecting you anyway). A GFCI outlet can’t be reset if it’s not getting power so check that the breaker isn’t tripped before deciding that the GFCI outlet is faulty.

You should test your GFCI outlets ay least quarterly. It’s extra work, but it really could save your life.

Outlet Testers

The best way to test a GFCI outlet is with a device that actually creates a ground such as this Triplett Plug-Bug:

GFCI outlet tester

I get them for my entire crew here for under $7 on Amazon. Just plug it into the outlet, press the button on the tester and see whether your GFCI outlet trips. Testers like this one have Indicator lights to show whether any outlet (GFCI or standard) is wired properly. It can identify common problems like an open ground, open neutral, open hot, or reversed wires. Sometimes an outlet will not look like a normal GFCI but the when tested the circuit will go dead. In that case you either have a GFCI breaker in the main panel, or the outlet you tested is “downstream” from another GFCI outlet located somewhere else. If so you will need to search for the breaker or outlet and reset.

Replacement Protocol

There is no way to take outlets apart to make repairs.  If they are found to be defective they must be replaced. Here is the replacement protocol HPS recommends to their clients: Use a tester to check and verify GFCI operation every quartier. For the first five years replace one at a time as needed. After five years when one fails, replace them all.  

I save money by buying high quality GFCI outlets in quantities. I recommend these 15A GFCI outlets by Eaton. Eaton makes great quality products but what I really like is that these GFCI outlets do a regular self-test. A blinking red LED indicator means they’ve reached the end of their service life and need to be replaced. If you don’t have HPS. or can’t remember to manually test your GFCI outlets regularly, using these self-testing versions are a good option. NOTE: Make sure when ordering to match color with your existing outlets and switches.

Safety First

Testing your own GFCI outlets is definitely something any homeowner can (and should) do. Replacing a GFCI outlet that has reached the end of its service live is something average homeowners should leave to a professional licensed electrician.  If you ignore this advice, just know that with any electrical work, it’s important to follow safety procedures such as shutting off the circuit at the breaker and testing all wires in an outlet box before touching anything. This is particularly important in boxes that contain more than one outlet and/or switch. Never assume that a wire is dead. Always use an electrical circuit tester before touching anything. If you don’t have one, you can get a circuit tester in a set with a GFCI outlet tester for less than $15. These are good tools that every homeowner should have.

Summary and Recommendations

GFCI outlets wear out and fail after a few years much like smoke and CO detectors. It is highly likely that some of your GFCIs have failed or are way past their intended service life. With your own tools, you can safely test your GFCI outlets. Have a licensed electrician replace any failed outlets. Another problem to avoid is locating a master GFCI (a GFCI controlling a number of non-GFCI outlets) in a closet or some other difficult to find location.  These can be time consuming and frustrating to find when tripped.

History of GFCI code changes

Various GFCI code enactments: 

1971 Receptacles within 15 feet of pool walls 
1971 All equipment used with storable swimming pools 
1973 All outdoor receptacles 
1974 Construction Sites 
1975 Bathrooms, 120-volt pool lights, and fountain equipment 
1978 Garages, spas, and hydro-massage tubs 
1978 Outdoor receptacles above 6ft.6in. grade access exempted 
1984 Replacement of non-grounding receptacles with no grounding conductor allowed, pool cover motors and  distance of GFCI protection extended to 20 feet from pool walls 
1987 Unfinished basementsKitchen countertop receptacles within 6 feet of sinkBoathouses 
1990 Crawlspaces (with exception for sump pumps or other dedicated equip.) 
1993 Wet bar countertops within 6 feet of sink 
1993 Any receptacle replaced in an area presently requiring GFCI 
1996 All kitchen counters – not just those within 6 feet of sinkAll exterior receptacles except dedicated de-icing tape receptacleUnfinished accessory buildings at or below grade 
1999 Exemption for dedicated equipment in crawlspace removed

Details and actual codes can be found here…

https://www.nachi.org/forum/showpost….18&postcount=1

 

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Outdoor-Rated Appliances And Why you Need Them.

Entertaining outdoors at home is more fun and exciting than ever. And thankfully it’s not all about pools anymore! Outdoor living has become an all year activity.

Today’s back yard experience centers more around food and drink. And homeowners love kitchens.  As a result, pizza ovens, elegant BBQ’s and patio heaters are now the dream features for the average back yard. Even wine and tiki bars are coming back!

Outdoor rated appliances
Outdoor rated refrigerator

Patio cooking for family and friends has become a central event for many homeowners. And of course, good cooks demand every convenience. Disposals, dishwashers, refrigerators, ice machines, coffee makers and microwaves are needed. And since the entertaining and cooking tasks have moved outdoors. The need for outdoor-rated appliances has become important.  

Harsher conditions

The outdoor environment is much harsher than indoors.  And any appliances placed permanently outside are going to have to endure some bad weather. Everything from widely changing temperatures, fluctuating humidity, fog, sun, dust and wind will all attack any equipment outside. And insects and animals will certainly find your outdoor kitchen appliances to be a cozy place to raise a family.  This is why every patio kitchen needs outdoor-rated appliances.

Tougher specifications

Outdoor-rated appliances have been specially designed for outdoor use and are tougher and more durable than indoor units. They are more corrosion resistant and have protected wiring and plumbing. The exteriors are sealed to keep out gnawing rodents and nesting insects. And outdoor rated equipment also has better insulation and moisture protection. Especially for the electronics. They are essentially “hardened” to the outdoor environment.

Every manufacturer has different specifications. Meaning some are tougher than others. So be sure to check them carefully before buying.

Prices

All this “hardening” comes at a cost. As a result, prices for outdoor-rated appliances are a bit higher than their indoor counterparts. Fortunately, they also appear to come with better warranties. Some are even advertised with limited lifetime guarantees. Despite the slightly higher costs, preventing a rat from living in your pizza oven or chewing up your refrigerator is affordable peace of mind.

Availability

Outdoor rated appliances
Outdoor rated dishwasher

Specialty outdoor-rated appliances are available over the web from BBQ Guys and can be shipped to you in just a few days.  Some of the appliances currently available with “outdoor” ratings include:

  • Cooktop burners
  • Ventilation hoods
  • Dishwashers
  • Refrigerators
  • Freezers
  • Ice makers
  • Warming drawers
  • Pizza ovens
  • Sinks and bar faucets
  • Wine coolers
  • Televisions (SunBrite and Sealoc make products in 4k up to 75 inches. 

Check out BBQ Guys Outdoor Kitchens at BBQGuys.com!

I could not locate true “outdoor-rated” small appliances like microwaves or coffee makers. But many were available in a “marine” grade. The drawback to marine grade appliances is they have different dimensions and voltages making them less suitable for home use.  The point is basically moot anyway. The portability of small appliances like coffee makers, toasters, blenders etc. makes them easier to move indoors when not in use. And their low cost makes them less painful to replace if you don’t.

Summary

If you want your outdoor kitchen equipment to last longer than a week or two, you need outdoor-rated appliances. Normal appliances will not survive long outdoors, and doing so will void the manufacturer warranty.  If you are putting together a quality outdoor kitchen, don’t make the mistake of using the wrong kind of appliances.

Be sure to read my article on “outdoor kitchen mistakes to avoid.”

Tips For Safer Fire Pit Fun

Outdoor fire pits have become extremely popular over the years. Wood or gas burning fire pits are the contemporary version of the old campfires. Fire pits are attractive design features of the “hip” patio or landscape. Fire pits are less costly or imposing compared a spa or swimming pool and almost anyone can afford one.

Fire pit safety and maintenance
Gas fire pit

These are great features to retire to in the evenings for casual conversation with friends over a few glasses of wine. Most fire pits are self-contained, easy to start and safe. Some of the gas units are so easy to use they can be turned on with a remote control.

Some Service Required

As fun as these backyard features are, they are not (you guessed it) maintenance free! To help you, I have provided some important maintenance and use tips below and separated them into three sections: General, Wood Burning and Gas Burning.

Whether your pit is wood burning or gas, these are good tips to help make your time around the fire pleasant, safe and uneventful.

General Fire Pit Safety Tips

Maintaining outdoor fire pits
Corten steel fire pit
  • Only use your firepit outside in an open space with plenty of air flow. Never use your fire pit under trees, low-hanging plants, or on/near anything flammable. Do not allow your fire pit to become the cause of a wildfire
  • Read the owner’s manual thoroughly so you know how to use and take care of your fire pit properly.
  • Learn the rules and always exceed the recommended clearance distances to combustibles. 
  • Never use accelerants such as gasoline, lighter fluid, alcohol, or other volatile liquids to start a fire. Accelerants are very dangerous and can damage your fire pit. Spewing mouths full of rum onto the fire is dangerous and not advised, even during festive celebrations.
  • Never, ever use plastic materials in or around your fire pit. Melted plastic is extremely difficult to remove and will ruin the fire pit’s surface. Burning plastic also releases toxic fumes into the air.
  • Always keep water or a fire extinguisher close by in case of emergency.
  • Place a cover over your fire pit when it’s not in use. Covers prevent water, dirt, and debris from collecting inside the burning area, and will prevent unnecessary rust, freeze/thaw, wear and tear from inclement weather conditions. Allow the fire pit to cool completely before covering it. If you live in a region with harsh winters, it’s best to cover or store your fire pit in a dry, sheltered area to keep it in proper working order.
  • Never leave your fire pit burning while unattended. Always make sure children are supervised and kept a safe distance away from the fire at all times. Don’t allow children to play in the flames
  • To clean your fire pit, follow the instructions in the owner’s manual. Generally, you can use a soft cloth and mild soapy water to clean the surface and outside of the fire pit. Avoid harsh chemicals and cleaning agents, unless otherwise approved by the manufacturer.

Important Note

Fire pits are made for outdoors. Never, ever use them in enclosed spaces. Unventilated fire pits produce buildups of toxic smoke and harmful gases, like carbon monoxide that can quickly become deadly. Always use a fire pit in an open space with plenty of air flow.

Wood Burning Fire Pit Safety

maintaining your fire pit
Outdoor wood burning fire pit
  • Only use properly seasoned, dry, split wood for fuel. Do not burn trash or pressure-treated wood. Burning pressure-treated wood releases toxins and chemicals into the air that are harmful to your health and the environment.
  • Learn how to properly start a wood fire using tiny pieces of kindling, then small twigs with larger pieces above them. Use clean dry material and it will work great. Don’t use accelerants like gas or BBQ starter fluid. They are not safe and can even create a foul odor around your pit.
  • Use a screen or spark arrestor to prevent sparks and embers from flying out.
  • Plan for time to allow the pit to burn out. It is best to allow it to burn down and out naturally. Monitor the fire as it does but do not leave it unattended. Avoid quickly extinguishing a pit fire with water. The application of cold water can cause steam pressure and the changes in temperature can damage your fire pit. You can use sand to extinguish the flames. Sand will smother the fire without damage to your fire pit, but you will need to clean the sand out before using your fire pit again.
  • Allow ashes to cool overnight by spreading them out in a thin layer over the fire pit’s surface. Remove the ashes the next day using a shovel and place them into a metal bucket with a lid. Ashes can stay hot for a while, so having a metal bucket with a secure lid will prevent them from scattering around and possibly igniting a fire.
  • If you’re using a cooking grate to prepare food over your wood burning fire pit, always clean up properly to avoid a build-up of grease and other food residue on and around the fire pit and cooking grate. This is unsightly and will attract vermin.

Gas Burning Fire Pit Safety

Maintaining your gas fire pit
Outdoor gas fire pit
  • Before each use, make sure there aren’t any combustible materials and flammable liquids close by.
  • Before each use, inspect the burner and plumbing system to make sure they are in good shape and not leaking or in disrepair.
  • Keep the vent openings and surrounding areas free and clear of webs, dirt and debris at all times. Bugs, dirt, and buildup can block the flow of gas and cause a fire.
  • For safety purposes, have the fire pit, gas supply, plumbing and any remote or chimney system inspected once a year by a licensed professional. Any maintenance needed must be done by a qualified service technician.
  • Don’t burn solid fuels, like leaves, sticks, wood, paper, plastic, trash, or food in a gas fueled fire pit. These items will damage the unit and the burnerand can lead to disaster.
  • Never cook food over a gas fire pit. Falling debris, grease and residue will permanently damage the media stones and burner, which can be difficult and expensive to replace.
  • Over time dirt and soot will accumulate on the burner and media. Check them regularly and follow the instructions for cleaning or housekeeping in your owner’s manual to remove any buildup. It is a good idea to be sure the fire pit has cooled completely and the gas supply is turned off before starting any cleaning process.
  • If there is standing water in the fire pit or the media stone material is wet, drain the water out and let it dry completely. If water gets into the gas line or burner it can constrict the flow of gas, reduce the overall flame levels and corrode the system. 

Summary

Armed with these fire pit safety tips and maintenance procedures, we hope you will spend some quality time relaxing around the old fire with your friends!

Pre-finishing a wood deck

Pre-finishing a wood deck
Boardwalk deck

Over the last year I’ve posted a number of articles on wood deck construction. If done well, wood decks can be beautiful, permanent extensions of your home’s living space connecting the outdoors. They can also become outdoor kitchen and BBQ areas. I have a special interest in wood decks because witnessing their premature failure was one inspiration for this website.

Unfortunately, many decks are built almost as afterthoughts and not designed or constructed to endure the punishing elements they will be subjected to. As a result, too many wood decks (some  constructed with very dear materials) end up in the land fill before their time.

Battling the elements

The deck’s protective coating is it’s first line of defense in battling the elements. In this post I’d like to show you how to apply a finish to a new wood deck during installation. Installation is the best time to apply the first coats of finish because it is the only time you will ever have complete access to all six sides of the decking boards. You’ll only get one shot at this so take your time and do it right. 

IPE

In this example we are preparing to install IPE material. I love IPE because it is absolutely gorgeous. It is also insect resistant, hard wearing and stable (very dense, few twists, knots, splits etc.).  All these things of course make it very desirable and expensive. It is also a rainforest product. And even though we only use FSC certified lumber, I still feel IPE deserves special treatment and honor by only using it in the most well planned and executed applications.

Pre-finishing a wood deck
IPE decking
IPE Oil

 

One drawback to IPE is that it will require re-coating the surface finish every 18-24 months to in order to maintain the rich color. If not recoated the surface turns a weathered gray color much like teak.  Applying a good finish to begin with makes subsequent applications much easier. We use IPE Oil purchased here from Amazon. If we need to add color (this is sometimes needed for follow up applications) we can use Sikkens stain products also available here from Amazon.

Process

I’ve included a video here of the initial stain and finish process. This was a large installation so the crew set up a system to handle long pieces in high volumes. Even with all the people and infrastructure in place it is a slow process to handle and put the first coat on these boards.  The process goes like this:

  1. wipe each board clean and sand all sides and remove dust.
  2. place in dip tank to soak for 5 minutes.
  3. work the oil solution into the grain and grooves with brush.
  4. wipe off the excess oil.
  5. stack the finished boards on “finished” stickers for drying and eventual use.
  6. Once the boards are installed, they will be sanded again and a final coat will be applied and wiped down.
  7. Be sure to store any oily rags in a sealed, water-filled can of water to avoid a fire.

Before the finish process, these boards were pre-grooved on site. The grooves are used to accommodate the invisible Tiger Claw fastener system that attaches the planks to the structure. This hardware leaves the surface blemish free. If y0u like a surface free of fasteners, the Tiger Claw product can be had here at Amazon.

If you are reusing older boards or using brand new boards that have aged or become dirty you will need to clean them first. Do this by washing and scrubbing them with a deck cleaner material and rinse, followed by a wood brightener.

Drying

Stacking the material and allowing it to completely dry is important. This way the material can be handled easily during installation. The drying rack stickers must also be finished with IPE Oil because raw wood stickers will absorb the finish from the boards and leave permanent unattractive white lines on them. Wood decking must be sealed on all sides including the cut ends of every board. End sealing is especially important for pre-finishing a wood deck with IPE lumber.

pre-finishing a wood deck
Pre-finished deck boards on drying rack
Pre-finishing a wood deck
Sanded deck prior to final coat

 

 

Prefinishing your deck boards will add years of life to the end product and reduce the regular maintenance time considerably.  Special thanks to ProStaff Painting in San Carlos CA for their help with this project.  

Do you have a wood deck project coming up? Feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions?

 

Why attic fans don’t work well and what to do instead!

 

With the summer season upon us, now is a good time to review an uncomfortable topic. Hot attics, and why traditional exhaust fans don’t work well enough to cool them off! Continue reading to learn why…or just skip ahead to learn how to cool them off here.

A very hot problem

Last week we had some warm weather for the first time this year. One of our clients called to say that their second floor was extremely hot and requested we install a larger and more powerful attic fan. The client had decided a new fan was needed to replace a solar unit they had installed several years ago. The solar fan  “didn’t seem to be working as it should.” Compared to the rest of the house, the second-floor rooms were extremely hot and impossible to live in during the afternoon and evening.

Attic construction

Why attic exhaust fans do not work
Attic exhaust fan

On inspection, I found the villain in the attic exactly as the customer described.  A single, roof mounted, solar powered attic exhaust fan. It was working.

There was no other ducting or HVAC equipment in the attic. Insulation was a 6”-8” layer of blown-in fiberglass on the top of the ceiling, plus random pieces of R-19 fiberglass batts tossed askew atop the blown-in material, but not fully covering the space.

The 2×6 roof rafters with 4” skip sheathing, and ½” plywood shear was all fully exposed to view. 6”x24” eave vents were installed around the perimeter every 8’ and vents were clear and unblocked by the insulation. The temperature of the roof sheathing inside the attic was 147 degrees. The 45’x24’ (approx. 4500 cubic foot) attic space was very hot.

I explained to our client that the idea of attic fans to remove hot air from the attic area might seem logical. But they actually might need a bigger and better solution

Anatomy of attic heat

Imagine yourself laying in the sun on a beach in Cancun. All is good for about 5 minutes then you start to feel hot. You go and get a big fan and set it up to blow air over you. Ah, feels better for about another 5 minutes. Soon even the blowing air feels hot, so you exchange the fan for an air conditioner and let that blow cold air on you. Feels great now so you stay out in the sun till you notice that your skin is red and blistered and burned to a crisp.

What happened? You got zapped by UV rays, a form of invisible radiant heat! It’s why you can still get a terrible sunburn even on a cold or cloudy day. Radiant heat zips right through cold air without any affect and cooks your skin. So, what does that have to do with your house?

Attic exhaust fans
Radiant heat transfer

The roof structure of your home is like your skin. Radiation from the sun heats the surface of the roof. From there, the entire mass of the roof (roofing, roof paper, nails, sheathing, rafters) warms up through conduction. Soon the roof’s structural mass is so hot that it will radiate heat on its own (like the sun). This radiant heat passes down through the attic space and hits the material on the surface of the ceiling structure (insulation, wood joists, drywall, ducting etc.). Very quickly the entire mass of the ceiling structure also becomes a giant heat radiator. This heat moves back up towards the roof again and will continue to radiate heat well after the sun goes down. If your ceiling is not sealed airtight and extremely well-insulated, much of this heat is going to radiate downward into your home too.

Hot air

Air in the attic that comes in contact with the surfaces of the hot framing, will become heated through conduction. This creates a kind of hot air sandwich formed between the roof and ceiling structures. The warming of all these surfaces is why the attic interior gets so much hotter than the exterior temperature.

Ventilation

Trapped air and heat in the attic would cause problems for some roofing materials. It could also cause  condensation leading to mold issues. This is why attic spaces are required to have ventilation built into the structure. Air openings are placed along the lower eave areas and the upper roof ridge or gable end. These openings allow fresher and cooler outside air to circulate naturally via convection up from the eaves and out at the gable or ridge vents.

Mechanical fans

This is where an attic fan can help. A mechanical fan working in an attic space equipped with adequate ventilation openings can move hot air out and increase the flow of air through the attic. This will indeed help reduce the temperature in the attic, but only marginally unless the incoming air from outside is substantially colder (not likely in the summer till nightfall) You also need to exchange the air quickly. For instance, if the attic is 150 degrees and you circulate air through it that is coming in at 110 degrees from the outside, then you can expect that the cooling effect may bring the attic temperature down to perhaps 125-130 degrees. The faster the air changes, the closer you can get to the incoming air temperature. But you cannot get lower than 110. There are formulas for this that engineers use in determining heat transfer and the proper amounts of air flow needed.

The problem with attic fans is in how they are marketed. Homeowners need to know that fans can only be effective if sized properly and mated with the proper amounts and placements of ventilation openings. Even then, they will not “cool” a home in the way most homeowners understand the term. Fans will only lower temperatures a bit in the attic, and will require some power to do so. Still, a little improvement may be better than nothing. If you consider using an attic fan, you will need to also decide (as with any solution suggested here) if the benefits are worth the cost in installation and operation.  This will be a topic for another article.

Equipment and ducting suffer greatly in a hot attic

A hot attic space is bad enough. But if you have equipment, ducting or piping up there, working in elevated temperatures, you can expect a stressful and likely shortened life for those items.

If you have ductwork, furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters, water piping etc. in your attic, it would be a good consideration to:

  1. Move the ducting and equipment to the crawlspace or the interior of your home.
  2. Meticulously seal seams and add reflective insulation around your ductwork
  3. Convert your attic to a conditioned space. Do this by moving a radiant barrier and insulation  to the sloped roof assembly. Spray foam insulation makes this possible but you will need to create and follow protocols to avoid trapped moisture and ventilation issues with the existing roof framing.

The point here is that if you have a hot attic space, it is going to shorten the life of any equipment residing there.

Fan problems

Even though an attic exhaust fan can incrementally lower the temperature of a very hot attic, using a fan does not stop the source-radiant heat. During the day, any cooler air brought in by the fan will be heated up immediately by the surrounding structure. Most fans cannot keep up. At night, after the sun’s radiation source halts, the structure will continue to be hot for some time.  Any cooler air brought in from outside will eventually lower the the attic structure temperature, but that will happen VERY slowly. As soon as the sun rises in the morning, the radiant heating process will start again.

In the example of our client’s solar fan above, the unit was way too small to have an effect. It was only rated at 1000 CFM meaning it would take forty five minutes to replace all the hot attic air with outside air just once. It could not keep up with the radiant heat gain.

In some worst-case instances, attic fans can actually create more problems than they solve.

  • If there are not enough soffit, gable or ridge vents, a powerful attic exhaust fan can pull the air from your home through the ceiling if it is not perfectly sealed off.
  • Strong attic fans can actually back draft furnaces or water heaters by pulling combustion gases out of their burners and into the home.
  • Good attic ventilation is excellent for preventing moisture and condensation but it is usually not enough for cooling in the summertime.

A retrofit example that works

I believe the best solution may be a combination of radiant barrier to stop the sun’s heat from warming up the attic structure to begin with along with proper ventilation, attic exhaust fan(s), insulation and air sealing.

1. Seal off any air leaks at the ceiling. This prevents air/dust movement from living space to attic. This will also prevent excessive moisture from migrating in and out of your attic.

2. Install additional insulation to bring the total to over R-30 everywhere-even over the access hatch. Cover the tops of any wood ceiling joists by at least 3 inches.

3. Make sure the eave, gable and ridge vents are wide open and unobstructed.

4. Install radiant barrier foil between the rafters. You will need to allow the foil to “sag” at least an inch below the sheathing to allow an air space. You can get radiant barrier foil from Amazon here.

A reader Ken from Tennessee sent in his experience:

On my attached pictures I’m showing around 30 degrees on the sunny side and only 3 degrees on the shaded side.. I have a ridge vent and roof edge vents, because the contractor forgot to put soffet vents onto the house. Pictures were taken on December 12 2015, in eastern Tennessee. No attic fan.

Southwest “sunny” side of roof no insulation 105 degrees 12/15
1 rafter bay over with radiant barrier 71.9 degrees 12/15

On the shady side of the roof, the results were as follows:

Northeast “shady” side of roof 78.9 degrees
Northeast side with radiant barrier 74 degrees

Summary

If you your house has a hot attic and ceilings during the summer, the solution is a system and not simply a powered attic exhaust fan or ventilator. To eliminate a hot attic you should consider a plan that includes radiant barriers and proper ventilation This is always best done when the home is under construction. Once constructed it may be difficult or impossible to retrofit this without major work to the structure.

What you must do is prevent heat from migrating down into the home. Your plan will likely require a completely sealed ceiling, a very thick layer of insulation, radiant barriers (reflective foil layers) above the insulation (preferably between the rafters) to block the radiation and isolate your hot attic from your cool house, additional ventilation openings and possibly a powered attic fan to remove warm air from the attic at the proper exchange rate.

Consider another, even better solution, the conditioned-space attic. Our client from above eventually opted to create a conditioned-space in their attic using a foam insulation applied to the pitched roof. This created a completely cool attic, dramatically reduced power bills and easy to maintain temperatures in the second floor rooms. Although their plan cost a bit more, this solution delivered a totally cool and comfortable second floor.  I will publish more details on this option later.

Clearing Clogged Drains 

Step by Step to a Solution.

By far, most calls to plumbers involve clearing plumbing drains or dealing with backed-up sewers. But not all backed up drains are alike. Some are easy to resolve like simply clearing hair out of a bathroom sink trap or unclogging too many artichoke leaves stuffed down a disposal. These may only require a couple of hand tools or maybe a snake (drain auger). If your handy or tend toward DIY then it may be a good investment to keep a small hand operated plumbing snake handy. Get a good one here from Amazon.

Do not use liquid drain cleaners. I have written entire articles on this topic of liquid drain cleaners. Clogged drains require a sound mechanical clearing solution not a poisonous liquid miracle.

Unfortunately, about 30 percent of the calls are more difficult than simply clearing plumbing drains and require more work and bigger equipment.

Clearing plumbing drains
Don’t use chemicals to clear your drains

Video cameras

Clearing clogged drains
Plumbing video camera
Clearing plumbing drains
Plumbing inspection camera

When clearing a plumbing drain, if the clog cannot be resolved after several attempts with a normal snake, alternatives need to be recommended. If the clog is stubborn and the drain water is fairly clear, we may recommend a video be taken of the interior of the clogged line.

A video can usually tell what type of material may be causing the line to fail. For instance, has the line has been blocked by a collapsed or disconnected pipe? Or is something solid, like a large root or some other obstruction blocking the line? The video may provide enough visual clues to determine the next step.  Even if the blockage is not visible, running a special video camera into the line will at least help determine the approximate location (distance and direction) of the clog.

Resolving the blockage

If the blockage is caused by a visible break in the line or if there is a solid root filling up the space, there will be no alternative but to dig up the line and replace it. On the other hand, if the blockage appears to be of grease, caked on dirt or some mass of smaller roots, then a Hydro-flush may be in order. A hydro-flusher is an expensive pressure washer. It consists of a high-pressure hose with an optional cutting bit attached to the end. It is then fed into the line and run through to the blockage. The high operating pressures will clear anything loose in the line and can sometimes cut through masses of smaller roots.  

Unfortunately, even a hydro-flusher it will not cut out large roots. It is important to note that if roots of any size are the problem, the clearing will only be temporary. When roots are present in the line it means they have an access point somewhere. Likely a crack or an open joint in the pipe. Even if you cut them out they will be back soon. When you find roots in your system, it is best to replace the line.

When clearing clogged drains is not enough

Replacing the drain line can be done by trenching, or trenchless construction. The choice usually  depends on the cost of avoiding obstacles in the way of the work. Trenchless can be a good option of the path of the line is obstructed with a lot of surface hardscape. Trenching by hand may also be required if equipment will cause damage.

Either way, a lot of work will be involved in replacing a sewer lateral from house to the street. If you have to do this work do not skimp on replacement materials or workmanship. Do the job right so you don’t have to deal with it again. Use the heaviest duty materials with well-sealed joints and the proper number of clean-outs in order to make future maintenance easy. Cut-back or block off all invasive tree roots. Backfill carefully around the new line with the proper material to achieve the required slope and avoid settling and dips along the length of the line.

Here’s to clog-free plumbing in your future!

This stainless steel “passivation”treatment reduces rust and corrosion and makes it look like new.

Nothing is sadder for a homeowner than to see expensive and gorgeous materials that have been left to corrode in the elements.  Stainless steel finishes are a good example. Most homeowners don’t know the basics of caring for these nice finishes and if you happen to live in a corrosive environment or close to the ocean, it really really can take a toll.

Here is a process we use at HPS Palo Alto, Inc. to clean, polish and passivate exterior stainless steel architectural finishes. This is a time and labor extensive process but is quite effective at returning weathered stainless back to original glory. This treatment should also be a mandatory specification for new stainless steel products and installations. Let your designer or architect know.

Stainless steel passivation
Before with heavy corrosion
Stainless steel passivation and polishing
After treatment

Material needed:

Stainless steel passivation
Stainless steel gate after treatment
  • Scotch Brite pads
  • Wichinox paste
  • Phosphoric acid (available in bulk from some commercial nursery suppliers)
  • Baking soda
  • Distilled water
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Molecular surface sealer (Everbrite Protectaclear)
  • Dust free absorbent cloth for drying and application of alcohol.

 

Warning!

Do not use this process on stainless steel sheet material with a factory machined finish. Always test first on an area that is least exposed to be sure that it meets with your aesthetic needs.

The stainless steel passivation process

Step 1

First wash and scrub the metal with regular tap water and a Scotch Brite pad. This will remove dirt, dust, bird droppings and any accumulated surface residue.

Step 2

Next vigorously scrub the entire surfaces with fresh pads along with a mix of 2 parts phosphoric acid and 10 parts distilled water. Scrub the length of the metal parts and go with the “grain” not across it.  Continue to scrub and polish the metal until all rust and corrosion has been satisfactorily removed. Do this in small sections at a time in order to not miss any spots. Heavily corroded and hard to access areas may need to be done several times.

Step 3

During the first step, apply Wichinox paste to any welds in the work area while the acid mix is still wet on the metal. The welds are the worst areas and the paste help to give the phosphoric acid longer to work its magic. Rinse off the acid mix from the rest of the work but leave the weld areas with paste for at least 15 minutes before rinsing.

Step 4

Mix baking soda and distilled water together in a ratio of about a box of soda to 5 gallons of water. Carefully wash all surfaces of the metal with the baking soda/water mix. This will completely neutralize any of the acid that may be left from the previous step. Scrub the welds if necessary with this mix using a clean toothbrush to remove all the paste. Rinse with a fresh batch of distilled water when done and allow to air dry.

Step 5

Wipe all metal surfaces with denatured alcohol and let dry. This removes all residue from prior steps including fingerprints, dust, oils, grease etc. and leaves the surface clean and ready for the sealer.

Step 6

When the surface is completely dry from the above step, and the appearance of the metal surface is completely satisfactory, then apply two coats of Everbrite Protectaclear sealer waiting 1 hour between coats.

Note:

The sealer is a wafer thin molecular protectant and it is completely invisible. It will last in harsh conditions and direct sun for about 2 years and keep the steel looking new and shiny. After two years the sealer will begin to break down and the steel will again be exposed and vulnerable to corrosion. The manufacturer recommends that the metal be washed again and a new coat of sealer applied every year. This way the bare steel is never again exposed to corrosion. The wash and re-coating process is much faster than the initial treatment.

Summary

If you like your expensive metal trim looking like new, this is the only reliable and lasting way to accomplish it.

Stainless steel passivation
Stainless rail after treatment

Dryer Duct Maintenance Issues

Your dryer duct is probably not something that you think much about. And really you shouldn’t have to as it is permanently built into your home. Unfortunately, clogged dyer ducts are the reason for a large percentage of dryer failures, malfunctions and warranty calls. This happens because your dryer duct needs regular maintenance and is likely not getting any. Most homeowners either don’t know how or the duct has not been installed to allow proper service.

Here’s how the dryer duct works. Your dryer extracts moisture from your clothes during the drying process and pushes this moisture out of the dryer through the duct to the exterior. As this warm moist air passes through the duct, condensation will occur as it makes contact with the cold metal duct walls. See more about washers and dryers here.

If there are lint particles in the moist air, they will stick to and slowly build up on the inside of the moist duct walls. The lint screen in your dryer is designed to keep this lint out of the air stream. That is why it is so important to keep the lint screen clean and from getting damaged or clogged.

Maintaining your dryer duct
Poorly maintained dryer lint screen

Even with proper cleaning of the lint screen, over the course of a year or so enough minute lint particles and dust will build up inside the duct to require service. The maintenance process includes pulling out the dryer, disconnecting the flexible duct connector hose, and then running a brush through the solid dyer duct all the way to the exterior of the home. This removes the lint from the duct walls and clears any blockages allowing the air to flow free again.

Proper ducting material

Proper built-in dyer ducting is made of smooth rigid metal, sealed air tight at all joints and with gentle curves at any bends. This is so cleaning brushes can slide through easily.

Flexible ducting used for this purpose is a code violation. Flex duct is not to be used for any built-in dryer vent ducting except for the final connection to the appliance. Code allows the total dryer ducts to be no longer than 14′ with two elbows.  For vent lengths exceeding 14′ and 2 elbows, a dryer booster fan should be added.

At HPS we occasionally see cheap flexible ducting installed, especially in “flipped” homes. When we see it we recommend immediate replacement so that the duct can be properly maintained down the road. If you have flex in your home, you should replace it with rigid. Your local HVAC contractor can do this for you.

We sometimes also see dryer ducts that terminate in the attic or crawlspace. This is a code violation and it allows moisture and lint to a accumulate in those areas. Elevated moisture and humidity is exactly what mold loves and an open duct is always a nice place for rodents to take up residence. More than once we have found dead rodents in the dyer duct. This is not a good way to have fresh smelling clothes coming from your dryer.

Maintaining your dryer duct
Flexible ducting is NOT for dryers
Maintaining dryer ducts
Dryer duct cleaning kit

Cleaning

Be sure to follow a regular service schedule so you don’t forget to do this. Download your monthly maintenance checklist for this month. Removing the dryer from its location is probably the hardest part of this exercise. Be careful not to damage the floor during the move.

Once out, you can clean the space behind and recover all those lost socks that went missing over the year. Use a flexible brush kit to thoroughly clean the entire length of the duct system from the dryer connection all the way to the termination on the exterior. You can use these brushes with or without a handheld drill. I recommend using the drill combined with a vacuum as shown in the video below. You can make a transition fitting like the one shown in the video for the vacuum and brush to work together from an ABS-Y fitting. Get the brush kit at Amazon here:

Check out this video on how to clean your dryer duct:

Summary

Inspect and make sure you have rigid ducting for your dryer, and have it cleaned at least once per year. Make sure you clean the dryer lint screen after every use of the appliance. Inspect the termination at the exterior and make sure the flapper closes securely and there are no shrubs touching. Rodents can use them as ladders into your dryer. Your dryer duct termination should look something like the one below and its should have a damper flap on the inside.  Get one here from Amazon.

Maintaining your dryer duct
Dryer exterior wall termination

www.homepreservationmanual.com is the place to visit if you want information on: maintaining your home; how to improve air quality; ways to improve the real value of your home; what are the best housekeeping services; the problems with handymen services; how to plan and execute home renovation and home improvement projects; tips for spring cleaning; tidying up a messy house; and generally how to be a better homeowner.

Make sure you download your monthly maintenance checklistfor this month.

Reminder

Stucco crack patching
Dealing with ugly stucco cracks

Just a reminder that the spring and summer months are a good time to patch up any cracks that might be showing up on your exterior stucco walls.  To learn more refer back to our article on Stucco Cracks.

Outdoor Kitchen Mistakes Homeowners Must Avoid


Homeowners avoid these outdoor kitchen mistakes
Outdoor kitchen mistakes to avoid

Last year a new client came to HPS to enroll a gorgeous new contemporary home into our Stewardship program. During our start-up inspection we were startled to find a BBQ island on the back patio that had caught fire and burned.  When asked about the fire our client reported that during his first cookout, the island had simply burst into flames. The expensive stainless BBQ was ruined, and its supporting base cabinet was a total loss too.

The original developer/contractor had disappeared, so our client asked us to fix it.  During the repair we uncovered a number of construction mistakes that ultimately led to the fire. I’ve shared these mistakes below to help future outdoor kitchen installers avoid similar results. Homeowners can add more value and enjoyment to their home by following these tips:

    1. The installation did not include an insulated BBQ liner/jacket

      Every built-in BBQ, especially if the counter boxes are built with a combustible material, should be installed with an insulated metal grill liner. This is a kind of protective metal jacket for your grill. Many outdoor kitchens have gone down in flames solely because an insulated grill jacket was not installed with the grill.

      Insulated grill jackets surround the BBQ and prevent heat from transferring into the cabinet structure. These devices will prevent any melting, burning, warping or fires. The jackets also provide the additional benefit of supporting and protecting your grills undercarriage from premature weathering and corrosion.

      outdoor kitchen mistakes to avoid
      Insulated BBQ jacket

      Many designers leave these protective liners out of the plans either because they don’t know about them, or they dislike their appearance. Cumbersome looking or not, they are an absolute necessity when building your outdoor kitchen with or without any combustible materials.

      Installing an insulated grill jacket will ensure your outdoor kitchen will last for many years of cookouts. NOTE: Not all BBQ brands offer these protective liners for their appliances. Make sure you purchase your grill from a brand that does, or plan to have one custom made for your application.

    2. The BBQ cabinet box was not fitted with vent panels.

      Outdoor kitchen mistakes to avoid
      BBQ cabinet vent panels

      When using a natural gas or propane BBQ, the enclosure cabinet must be properly vented to prevent an accidental explosion. During construction, the proper placement of the vents is critical. Install vent panels every four feet along the length of the structure to prevent any possible leaking gases from building up.

      The type of gas you are using will dictate where each vent panel is installed on the cabinet. If using natural gas (NG), make sure to install each vent panel as high as possible on the body of the island because natural gas rises. When using propane (LP), make sure to install the vents as low as possible on the cabinet since propane is a heavier gas that sinks. 

      Always use a licensed contractor who knows the codes for natural gas and propane installations. You might save a few bucks by attempting to do this yourself, or leaving out the proper vents entirely. But you could also end up having to replace your entire outdoor kitchen, or home, or possibly seriously injuring someone.

    3. Cabinet drawers blocked access to the plumbing

      Eight BBQ mistakes to avoid
      Outdoor BBQ cabinet drawers

      Having drawers in your outdoor kitchen cabinets can be very useful, but always consider the placement layout beforehand. Many outdoor kitchen owners  purchase drawers units for the cabinets, then realize they need to have access for plumbing. This is also a common issue with grills because the gas or propane plumbing requires access.

      When planning your outdoor kitchen, think carefully about the placement of your doors and drawers, and whether or not you can install appliances in the given space. Instead you may just want to use access doors that open into the existing void space of the island structure.

    4. Make sure the cabinet and appliances are outdoor rated.

      When equipping your outdoor kitchen, buy only appliances that are rated for exterior use by the manufacturer. Outdoor units are “hardened” to insure safety and durability when exposed to harsh weather. Indoor appliances are just not up to an environment that may subject it to humidity, heat, cold, blowing sand, rain, rodents and sunshine. In very short order, using indoor appliances outdoors will lead to problems. The appliances finish will become discolored or the unit may fail completely. You can be assured that your warranty will be nullified. It is also a good idea to order a custom cover for the entire countertop. This will protect it from the elements when not in use or during the off-season.

       

      Outdoor cabinets and enclosures also need to be constructed ideally of steel or concrete in order to remove the possibility of dry rot, fire or rodent access. You can order pre-fabricated outdoor kitchen cabinets from Amazon here.  Or here.

      Outdoor kitchen mistakes to avoid
      Make sure you have one of these
    5. Never install your cooking and cooling appliances next to each other.

      When designing an outdoor kitchen always separate the cooking appliances from the cooling appliances. Never install a refrigerator directly underneath or adjacent to your grill. Excessive heat means the refer will have to work much harder than it should. Overheating the internal parts can easily become a cause for them to fail sooner. If space is tight, install your refer at least one foot from your grill or side burner. Make sure a solid barrier is placed between the two appliances inside the island structure. A good layout will help your appliances operate at a reasonable temperature and as a result, last longer. 

      For safety purposes, design to prevent people from using the refrigerator with close exposure to the hot grill, either directly, next to, or above them.

    6. Know your appliances dimensions before making cut-outs.

      It is frustrating and expensive to have your cabinet spaces or countertops pre-cut for your appliances, only to find out they do not fit when it’s time to install them. Double and triple check the exact dimensions for the built-in pieces before making any cuts. If possible, it is always best to have the actual products on-hand to measure them for accuracy and a good fit. If you are using a stone slab countertop make sure the top fabricator templates the area just like they would for the kitchen. The rule of “measure twice and cut once” is especially important when working with stone.

      Outdoor kitchen mistakes to avoid
      Countertop cut too large for the BBQ-this allows debris to fall in creating fire risk
    7. Don’t forget to leave some extra counter space.

      Like most homeowners, you likely want to deck out your new outdoor kitchen with all sorts of appliances, for all kinds of cooking drink mixing and entertaining. However, not many appliances actually are rated for outdoor use. Mixers, coffee makers, microwaves etc. can all be ruined by a surprise rain, an errant sprinkler or even a heavy dew.  So don’t leave these non-rated appliances outside.

      Also, in all the excitement don’t forget the importance of empty counter space. It is best to leave plenty of empty counter space for things like food preparation, serving, eating and staging. When designing your outdoor kitchen, make sure you leave plenty of work space on the countertop for easy and convenient use.

    8. Do your research and choose reliable appliances

      There are tons of outdoor appliances on the market and it can be hard to choose the perfect products for you. Everyone wants great looking and functional appliances, but the important characteristic is durability. For that reason, its most important to do your homework before buying. An outdoor kitchen is something you want to last for many years, so it is crucial to select the perfect appliances when building.

Summary

Avoid the mistakes discussed above when designing your outdoor BBQ kitchen.  Take time creating a good appliance layout.  Read over any available customer and expert reviews. Research how well the appliance performs and only select products that are made for the outdoors. By doing your research beforehand, you will be much happier with your choices in the years to come. See How to Buy a BBQ. Contact me at info.homepreservation.com if you would like more information about planning and and constructing a quality outdoor kitchen area.


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  • maintaining your home
  • how to improve air quality
  • ways to improve the real value of your home
  • what are the best housekeeping services
  • the problems with handymen services
  • how to plan and execute home renovation and home improvement projects
  • tips for spring cleaning; tidying up a messy house
  • and generally how to be a better homeowner.

Make sure you download your monthly maintenance checklist for this month.

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