Beat the heat

The best thing you can do to keep your air-conditioning system running properly is to perform preventative maintenance on the system at the outset of the summer.

Good news. It’s not too late to service your air conditioner and doing so may pave the way to a comfortable rest of the summer.

After you have had a technician service your air-conditioner system, you can take over with routine maintenance tasks.

The single most important maintenance task that will ensure the efficiency of your air conditioner is to routinely replace its filter.

A clogged, dirty filter significantly obstructs airflow and your equipment will work harder to meet demand. When the filter is sufficiently clogged, the furnace blower may not be able to send conditioned air to where it’s needed.

My friends in the air-conditioning service business tell me that the No. 1 solution to their most popular call, “my air conditioner isn’t working,” is to replace the dirty filter.

For central air conditioners, air filters are generally located where the air-return duct meets the furnace. Sometimes the filter is located in the furnace blower cavity.

Room air conditioners have a filter mounted in the grill that faces into the room.

Some types of cartridge filters are disposable, others are reusable after washing. From what I see in the field, the washable filters are not very popular.

With good intentions, homeowners buy the washable filters only to find that cleaning the debris that is sucked into them is unpleasant and not worth the work to clean them.

The plastic mesh filters, are usually ineffective. The mesh is not good at filtering out dust. Left unchanged, the power of the furnace blower usually sucks the dust out of mesh filters and blows it back into your home.

In my book, mesh filters are best used to catch rocks.

It’s the paper-pleated furnace filters that I like. The pleated pattern makes for a larger surface area. The range is from good to best.

A good, paper-pleated filter catches most debris and is suitable for most families and equipment needs. The best ones are more expensive and filter out allergens.

Once you reach the level of the highest-priced filters, it’s time to think about an air-purification system to meet your health needs.

Summer is the peak months for problems with air-conditioning equipment. Although there are several contributing factors to these problems, starting the cooling season with a service, and plenty of clean filters will give the best chance to beat the heat.


Homebuyers unprotected

Homebuyers are going unprotected

The quick pace of B.C.’s hot real-estate market in the Lower Mainland has been mirrored by record activity in the Okanagan.

It’s been a busy time, and things are changing fast.

Many occupations serving the Lower Mainland real-estate industry have been run off their feet meeting the demands of a booming market, with one exception – home inspectors.

In order to win bidding wars, thousands of Lower Mainland homebuyers have been pressured into making subject-free purchase offers in order to secure a home.

In doing so, consumers are going unprotected, risking their investments without a professional home inspection.

Industry insiders estimate as few as 10 per cent of homes changing hands in the Lower Mainland are now being professionally inspected prior to sale — down from 75 per cent from 12 months ago.

As many as 30,000 homes changed hands in the first five months of this year without a professional home inspection. The fear of losing a house is preventing prospective buyers from performing due diligence, putting themselves at serious risk.

In real estate, due diligence means taking caution, reviewing documents, procuring insurance, and inspecting the property prior to sale.

When there are too many issues with a property — and that means too much potential risk and cost — consumers can change their minds and look for a more suitable property.

Buying a house is unlike most things; you don’t get to return it for a refund if you don’t like it.

The spiraling trend of buying homes without good information could cause devastating consequences for thousands of vulnerable homebuyers unaware of the condition of the property they are purchasing.

This is especially true when most buyers’ funds are stretched to the limits just by purchasing the property, and there isn't any left over for unexpected repairs.

There is a simple solution — a cooling-off period for all real-estate sales in order to protect consumers. Providing the time for due diligence will afford the purchaser caution, time to review complicated documents properly and to receive a professional inspection report prior to sale.

Every home purchase is a huge decision and a cooling-off period will help prevent consumers from making serious mistakes with their life savings and possible financial ruin.

The B.C. government has the opportunity to correct this unnerving trend immediately by matching the same way they protect consumers purchasing real estate with pre-sale real estate contracts — with a similar seven-day cooling off period.

Down the hatch

Flooding in your crawlspace?

If you have a crawlspace, this is the best time of year to pop your head down the hatch  and have a gander. At the end of the snow melt, and with the spring rainy season underway, now is the time when the water table will be rising and your gutter and downspout system will be at work.

There are a number of circumstances that can cause a wet crawlspace, and they are usually related to something we are doing or haven’t done. 

First, it is ever so important that you have a well-designed and functional gutter and downspout system. It may be a surprise to learn that in our area, gutter and downspout systems are a voluntary method to protect our homes from water intrusion. 

One of the main purposes of your sloped roof is to move water off the structure. Your gutter system should catch roof surface runoff and send it to the downspout system where it should be diverted well away from the structure. 

Far too often I see plugged downspouts and gutters full of debris. Loose and sagging gutters can cause water to overflow and to deposit water directly at the foundation. 

Landscape grading is very important. Your landscaping should slope away (positive slope) from the structure, and experts tell us that the best drainage starts at a slope of 1” per foot for at least the first 6’ around the structure. Negative slope has the tendency to divert water back to the structure, where it has the potential to pond and infiltrate the sub-structure of your home.

Gardens and irrigation systems are often poorly planned. Our local garden centres are chock full of small and beautiful plants seeking their forever home. The tendency is to place these vulnerable little plants at the safest place possible for their protection – right against the structure of your home. Most of the plants purchased require water to survive, so irrigation is a must. 

In the end with these little plants, a plentiful water source is placed against the structure, resulting in a high potential for water intrusion. In addition, as the plants reach maturity they have the tendency to shade and hold moisture on siding components, which can cause deterioration. The plants can also become a highway for insects and rodents.

A failed plumbing system can also cause headache. Intermittent water events can occur on the waste side of your plumbing system. Continuous water events on the pressurized side of the system can leak for long periods until they are discovered. 

Dampness in crawlspaces can increase humidity, which can deteriorate the wooden structural and framing components located below grade. Wet conditions can foster mould and rot, and we should not forget that termites and other unwanted pests are attracted to the moisture.

Right now is one of the best times of year to inspect your crawlspace. Your gutter and downspouts have been active, your irrigation system is likely on, and your plumbing system is functional and pressurized. It’s definitely time to go down the hatch.

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My god! They're all naked!

There are two kinds of people, those who have a fear of public speaking and those who don’t. 

If you don’t have any fear of speaking in public, good for you. If you do have a fear of speaking in public, then you suffer from glossophobia.

Glossophobia is the irrational and intense fear of public speaking. A glossophobic person is unable to control the overwhelming feeling of nervousness when speaking in public, and they may have a nervous breakdown when confronted with a big audience. This can leave both their personal and professional life disturbed.

The term glossophobia in itself seems innocuous. Chances are, if you were amongst friends and you suddenly just outright told them that you have glossophobia, most of them wouldn’t know what the term meant. If you told them that you suffer from the fear of public speaking, you’d be met with their psychological defence mechanism called ‘simple denial’. 

Once their skepticism subsided, and you convinced them that you really do suffer, you’d likely be met with their suggestion of the cure-all remedy: Toastmasters. It’s safe to say that your friends care, and it’s true that the folks at Toastmasters are wonderful people and can assist in the cure for public speaking fears. 

Once you’ve ’fessed up, you’re also likely to be met with other innovative suggestions from friends, like my home inspection colleague Mark Goodwin, RHI, who inspects in Squamish BC. 

Mark told me to “pretend the audience is naked”. 

Thanks Mark, that may be a great solution when you are addressing an audience of professional athletes or models, but I can tell you from experience that it didn’t work for me this past weekend in a convention hall with a few hundred home inspectors, most of whom were out of shape males in their fifties and sixties. 

It’s estimated that 75% of people suffer from speech anxiety, making it one of the most common phobias to exist, so the good news is, I’m not alone. 

That statistical finding doesn’t add comfort for long, though, because glossophobia ranks higher than the fear of death. The fear of death is necrophobia. If you have a bad case of glossophobia, it’s likely that you will wish for your own death before you have to give your next speech. 

Once you’re booked, it’s a long journey until you finish your speech.

Interestingly, one of the causes of glossophobia is a previous related trauma. Almost all glossophobic people are distressed about being embarrassed in front of a mass of people, and being a failure while speaking. The trauma can result from a previous distressful event that happened when speaking in public. Apparently, such incidents may not appear intense when they happen, but they can cause a longer lasting fear that can take the form of a phobia.

Glossophobia, along with other social fears, is thought to begin at around age 13. Mine began at age 15 when I ran for student council president against Lisa Schienbein. In a highly competitive battle, it was neck and neck between Lisa and me, in what was pretty much a popularity contest. 

Things went very badly for me, glossophobia-wise, when I took the stage to address the entire school. If there are 30 symptoms of glossophobia, I had 47 of them. Lisa, on the other hand nailed it. She eloquently parlayed all of her genuine kindness and positive hopes for the school, and made some pretty impressive promises. 

The good news is, I went first, and she was so good that everyone pretty much forgot about me at some point during her speech. Since that day, I have been ever so thankful for alphabetical order.

Fast forward 40 years later to the home inspector convention this past weekend, with another election, one that included my good friend and colleague Mark and six others. 

Mark Goodwin is a retired bobby - a British police officer - who began his professional home inspection career overseas before immigrating to Canada. He is a man of authority and integrity, and has the gift of the gab topped off with British wit. Obviously he offered the best and most dynamic election speech of the day, and since ‘Goodwin’ comes after ‘Cairns’, I went first and he, not I, was remembered.

I can trace my glossophobia all the way back to you, Lisa Schienbein. It’s been 40 years that I’ve suffered to various extents, but I do thank you for such a great speech that it caused the school to focus on you, and caused them to forget my clanger. 

As for you, Mark, thank you for your encouragement that resulted in one of my best speeches to a convention hall of naked home inspectors. 

Unfortunately, now I have a weird form of gymnophobia: An irrational fear of imagining convention halls filled with naked home inspectors.

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More About the House 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 does not warrant the contents.

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