Monday, July 12, 2010

Keeping on top of things

We all understand the importance of routine or preventative maintenance - to limit our risk of premature failure on large- ticket items, such as cars, furnaces, and air conditioning units. However, millions of dollars a year are spent replacing roofs that may have lasted a lot longer, had routine maintenance been done.
Roof maintenance is an important part of overall home maintenance and should get the same routine check-up that we give our heating and cooling systems. With any system, routine maintenance will help prolong the service life and keep it at maximum efficiency.
Many things can contribute to shortening your roof's life, including algae build-up. If your roof has dark spots, you may have algae. These stains are often confused for sap, soot, and rust. Algae needs inorganic material to support its growth, which it gets from the filler material in the asphalt/fiberglass shingles. Algae is found in approximately 75 to 80 percent of the United States, but grows best in warm, damp climates. If algae staining is the only symptom your roof is exhibiting, it may be professionally cleaned to add years to the life of your roof system.
Proper ventilation of the attic space is important to prevent premature aging of the shingles due to excessive heat. Proper ventilation also will reduce moisture build-up that can damage the wood components of the roof. An easy way to check for attic ventilation is to observe the attic space in the daylight with the attic lights off. Where you see daylight, you see venting. It is also important that you have cross ventilation. For example, if the roof has soffit vents (vents at the eves) and ridge vents, the air will flow from the soffit vents through the attic to the ridge vents. Cross-venting helps prevent hot spots in the attic. You may see soffit vents on the outside, under the eves, but may not see light in that area from the attic side. That commonly occurs when the attic insulation has covered the soffit vents. If this is the case, pull the insulation back until the soffit vent is open and look for light.
It is also important to have good insulation in the attic, especially if you live in a cold climate. Proper insulation will help prevent ice damming. Ice damming occurs when the heat from your house passes through a poorly insulated attic, thus melting snow or ice on the roof, allowing the melted snow or ice to run down to the lower edge of the roof where it can refreeze. As the snow or ice refreezes, it forms a dam. When the dam gets large enough, the water that is hitting it will start running back and under the shingles. This will cause the roof to leak and can damage ceilings and walls.
Here are some preventive maintenance tips that can help reduce leaks and avoid premature roof failure:
 Trim back any overhanging tree branches.
 Keep the roof free of debris.
 Keep gutters free of debris and in good working order.
 From the ground, with the aid of binoculars, inspect the roof for missing or broken shingles.
 Inspect all flashing around chimneys, valleys, pipes, and butting roofs.
 In your attic, with the aid of a flashlight, inspect the wood decking under the shingles for water stains.
 If you see signs of leaking, have it repaired right away.

If your roof is more than twenty years old, you should consider having it inspected by a professional roofer.
Remember your roof is a major system of your house. Deferred maintenance can be very costly.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Aluminum Wire Worries (Answer)

Hey Mike,
The large cable you see on the outside of the house is the service entrance cable. These cables are commonly aluminum, as are many of the 240 amp circuits in the house. These aluminum cables are made up of a number of smaller aluminum wires stranded together to make the larger cable. These wires are considered safe and up to industry standards. They should not be confused with single strand aluminum wire.

While single-strand aluminum wire is not always considered inherently dangerous, it has been attributed with an increased hazard of electrical shorts and fire at the connections. These connections generally are outlets, switches, and lighting circuits. In the main electrical panel, the single strand aluminum wire would be found in the 15 and 20 amp circuit breakers. This wiring is found in homes built between 1962 and 1973. Technology does exist to limit the problems at these connections. It is recommended that a qualified electrician inspect the connections to determine what type of remedy is best for the wiring in question.

The best way to be sure of the presence of single strand aluminum wiring is by having a standard home inspection. If a home inspector reports the presence of single strand aluminum wiring, it is necessary to consult a licensed electrician for further evaluation. A standard home inspection is designed to identify the presence of such things. If issues like this are present, it is important to consult a specialist in this field, to assure your safety.
Thanks for your question.

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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Aluminum Wire Worries (Question)

Hey Al,
We are currently house shopping, and I have a concern because I have heard that aluminum wiring is not something you want in your house. When I am looking at houses, I keep reading on the big cable that comes into the house the word “aluminum”.
Is aluminum in your house a bad thing or not?
How can I tell for sure?
I will post the answer tomorrow.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

Not Enough Circuits (Answer)

Hey Mattela,

I recommend that you consult the electrician doing your work. Or, if you are knowledgeable on wiring and the safety precautions of doing the work, you can do the work yourself.

My recommendation is to run two twenty-amp circuits. Put half of your outlets on one and the other half on the other. If you are doing this yourself, don’t forget to use 12/2 wires. For safety, never attempt a do-it-your-self electrical job without the proper knowledge of wiring methods and safety precautions.


Thanks for your question.

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Friday, May 21, 2010

Not Enough Circuits (Question)

Hey Al,

We just moved into a larger house with a workshop area. It is large enough for my tools, but it only has a 15-amp lighting circuit and no outlets. I am upgrading the electrical service to run my power tools.

I have a table saw, a bench grinder, a vacuum cleaner, a table sander, and a drill press. Between my son and I, we may run two of these tools at a time and I want the circuits to be adequate for this, without tripping breakers. I need to install six receptacles, but I need to know how many circuits to put them on and what amp breakers to use?

Can you help me?


I will post the answer tomorrow.

Please send questions to Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Chimney Cap (Answer)

Dear Amelia,

Chimney caps are protective coverings for chimneys that are usually made of aluminum, galvanized or stainless steel, or copper. Most have a mesh screening that serves as a spark arrestor and barrier against animals. They also prevent rain from entering the flue of the chimney.

All chimneys, even unused ones need a cap to keep out rain. The rain will soak into the masonry and bring moisture into your house.

Since this chimney is not in use, you can either use a chimney cap, or block the flue. A two inch masonry block can be caulked or cemented on the top of the flue to seal it completely off. This a more permanent fix.


Thanks for your question.

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Monday, May 17, 2010

Chimney Cap (Question)

Hey Al,

We recently purchased a thirty-year-old house that has been completely updated.

Our home inspector said that the chimney does not have a cap. He also said that the chimney was used for the old furnace and the old water heater. Both have been removed and replaced with new units that have their own venting system.

Since the chimney is no longer being used for anything, should I still put a cap on it?

Can you help me understand?


I will post the answer tomorrow.

Please send questions to Please put "Hey Al" in the subject box.