Tuesday, October 6th15.5°C
About The House

Good electricians and bad

Home inspectors are in a unique position to view homes of all sizes, shapes and ages. 

As homeowners are hurtling through the age of convenience, their electrical system may not keep up with their desire for new appliances or gadgets. This is when the homeowner decides whether or not they are the electrician. 

I realize that for most homeowners, hiring a professional to completely maintain their home is out of the question, but when it comes to electrical system alterations, I am not a big fan of people working on their electrical systems when they are not qualified to do so. Unlicensed electrical work can often jeopardize the home. More importantly, bad electrical work can harm equipment and people.

Today’s contemporary home has plenty of electrical capacity, ample safety devices, and reliable components to meet current rigorous demands. It’s rare when an inspector uncovers a problem with a new installation. The same can’t be said with older homes. Quite often I see system alterations to convenience items, discoloured wall outlets, flickering lights, and switches that are warm to the touch, not to mention poor workmanship and materials. 

Your electrical panel is the heart of your electrical system. For best practice, the rule of thumb is that it should be inspected once every four years. Why? Because it is a mechanical system, it won’t last forever, and problems do crop up. 

The good news about a bad electrical system alteration is poor work can always be fixed by a pro. Usually there is no harm done, although the fix can be inconvenient and sometimes costly.

Licensed electricians know electrical codes. A big part of their profession is keeping you safe by doing the work right from the start. So please, don’t be the electrician . . . unless you are one.


Air conditioner manufacturers generally build dependable, high quality products. If it seems that your air conditioner isn’t keeping up with cooling demands then there are some things you should do before you call an a/c technician.

In order for your air conditioner to meet cooling demands efficiently, the home should be buttoned up; make sure that all of your doors and windows are closed. If not, then you are cooling the great outdoors as they say.

Your a/c uses your furnace fan to move air through the home. That means that it is pulling air through the furnace filter during the cooling season. If the filter is plugged, air flow will be restricted. Two things are going to happen, you won’t get sufficient air movement and the demand will cause the system to work harder.

Speaking about sufficient air movement, make sure all of the duct registers are open. Closing the ducts ultimately backfires that will restrict air flow and the system may not be able to keep up. Don’t be tempted to close ducts in areas that aren’t in use to save money. These rooms will become warmer and the return air from the room will be sent back to the a/c system where demand will be even higher and to make cool air and likely cost you more in the end.

If you allow vegetation to grow into the condenser unit outside that will restrict air flow. The condenser unit moves a ton of air, make sure that the coils and fins are clean. Remember, the coils and fins are delicate and damaging them may cause adverse conditions, if you’re not sure that you can clean them have a Pro do it. When filters and air conditioning coils to become dirty, the air conditioner will not work properly, and the compressor or fans are likely to fail prematurely.

When it comes to the bigger problems like refrigerant leaks, control failures, poor electrical connections, corrosion, and sensor problems it is time for a technician to come to your rescue. Anytime your air conditioner fails or you suspect something is mechanically wrong, contact a professional to help you diagnose the problem.

Container workshop

There is a surplus of unused shipping containers sitting on docks around the world. The reason being is that it’s likely that it’s cheaper to send goods in new containers than to co-ordinate and ship a used one back for redeployment.

In areas where wood framing materials are scarce, it makes sense that it is cheaper to use a converted shipping container for a similarly scaled structure out of wood framing. The result is a wave of awareness that the containers can be repurposed into a home, studio or a plain old storage shed.

While there have been plenty of attractive and innovative examples of modular shipping container homes, their set size is typically their largest shortcoming. With the help of the internet and a CAD program, the talented and resourceful DIY’er can design every last detail of an ISO shipping container right down to the millimeter.

For those that desire the help of a Pro, we have companies right here in Kelowna that furnish container homes that are CSA approved for installation anywhere in Canada. Once converted, locally made container homes feature doors, windows, insulation, vinyl panelling, lighting, heating, air conditioning, ventilation, and data hookups. Once inside, you’ll find modern plumbing, water-heaters, three-piece bathrooms, kitchen, and living spaces.

Home inspections take me into neighborhoods throughout the valley. More and more I’m seeing containers converted into cabins, offices and workshops. It’s safe to say that in rural areas homeowners themselves are the ones that work on and improve their homes. In order to custom build his home himself, Terry set up with a dedicated shop. A used container was a great start. The story goes that the Regional District didn’t like the looks of Terry’s sea can at the end of his build and gave him an ultimatum. Well, with all of the love that came out of Terry’s shop, he finished the exterior and gave the container a home of its own.


Geothermal made simple

For the most part, construction techniques used to build today’s home have pretty much arrived. One emerging technology, geothermal heating and cooling, is sure to change the way we heat and cool our homes forever.

When you buy a home that incorporates a geothermal system, you will own a home that uses renewable energy. Geothermal systems promise tremendous savings over the long term as compared to such traditional sources of energy and you will have the peace of mind that you are a front runner of environmental sustainability. There is plenty of geothermal energy; it is always available, right beneath your feet!


How does geothermal work?

Simply put, geothermal systems move heat from one area to another. When you require heat, the geothermal system extracts heat energy from the ground, and moves it into the home. The exact opposite happens when you want to cool your home, with a flick of a switch; the geothermal system extracts heat energy from the air in your home and moves it into the ground.

At the heart of the system, inside your home, is a ground source heat pump. A series of fluid-filled underground pipes called a “loop” absorbs stored heat from the ground to the heat pump where it is converted into warm or cool air for your home.


The heating cycle

In the heating cycle, the refrigerant fluid in the loop absorbs heat from the underground and brings it to the ground source heat pump in the house. The ground source heat pump then heats the refrigerant fluid and sends it to a radiator of sorts. Air is blown through the radiator and then through the ductwork in your home to each room of the house.


The cooling cycle

The cooling cycle is basically the reverse of the heating cycle. The direction of the refrigerant flow is reversed. The ground source heat pump takes the heat from the air in the house and eventually transfers it directly into the ground.


Why use the ground for energy?

Outdoor temperatures fluctuate with the changing seasons but underground temperatures don’t. Four to six feet below the earth’s surface, temperatures remain relatively constant all year-round. A geothermal system capitalizes on these constant temperatures to provide “free” energy.

The ground represent a vast reservoir of renewable thermal energy stored from the sun. Geothermal energy is estimated to exceed all other energy sources combined by more than two thousand times.

At depths below 8 to 10 feet (2.5 to 3 meters), the earth's temperature remains at or near the average annual air temperature above. For every unit of electrical energy used by a ground source heat pump, a well-designed geothermal system can provide three to four units of heat energy to the building. This represents efficiencies of 300% to 400%. That means one unit of electricity produces up to 4 free units of energy from the ground.


Clean energy. No fossil fuels.

Unlike traditional ordinary systems, geothermal systems don’t burn fossil fuel to generate heat; they simply transfer heat to and from the earth to provide a more efficient, affordable and environmentally friendly method of heating and cooling. Typically, only a small amount of electricity is used to operate the unit’s fan, compressor and pump.

By their very nature, geothermal systems are environmentally friendly. Geothermal systems reduce the need to extract, transport, and burn fossil fuels, and require less generation and transmission of electricity than traditional heating and cooling systems. This translates into a direct reduction in the emission of pollutants and greenhouse gases and geothermal systems have none of the risks associated with carbon monoxide and open flames.


In short order, a geothermal system will pay you to own it

Because of their exceptional efficiency, geothermal systems are substantially less expensive to operate than tradition natural gas or electric resistance heating systems. “Annual energy savings for homeowners can be reduced from 30 to 70% in heating mode and 20 to 50% in the cooling mode compared to conventional systems” - Natural Resources Canada. The simple payback (the period of years before the savings in annual operating costs exceed the initial premium of an installation) ranges from 3 to 12 years. After that, it’s money in your pocket.

Read more About the House - Hugh Cairns articles

About the Author

When you need advice or guidance with DIY home improvement and repairs, Hugh Cairns can help you with the answers.

Home improvements can be rewarding, turn your home into a nicer more comfortable place to live, and increase its value.

Whether you are renovating your kitchen, converting a loft, giving a room a lick of paint or making improvements to your home’s energy efficiency, this column is here to guide you with useful information and key things to remember.

Do you have a renovation question or concern? Please feel free to send Hugh your questions. Contact him through www.subject2homeinspections.com


The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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