Friday, March 28, 2014

HVAC Air Duct Cleaning: Necessary or Not?

A popular HVAC "maintenance" item that seems to get a lot of attention is that of duct cleaning. It seems like a logical maintenance activity but cleaning the air ducts in your home’s HVAC system may not be as good an idea as it intuitively seems.

Let's explore some of the issues.
Do ducts get dusty? Yes.
Is that normal? Yes.
Should you regularly clean your ductwork? No.

Unlike dryer duct cleaning which should be regularly checked and cleaned, no independent objective organization recommends HVAC duct cleaning as an essential part of routine HVAC system maintenance.
In fact the Environmental Protection Agency states the “EPA does not recommend that air ducts be cleaned except on an as-needed basis because of the continuing uncertainty about the benefits of duct cleaning under most circumstances.”
It also states…“Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts.  This is because much of the dirt in air ducts adheres to duct surfaces and does not necessarily enter the living space.”

Now I’m not saying duct cleaning is a bad idea, just that it is not necessarily good or even, well, necessary in most cases. In this link I'll show you a picture of the interior of ductwork from my home built in 1937. The duct has never been cleaned. See what you think.

Properly performed, duct cleaning can be useful in limited situations such as if the ducts are filthy or infested with mice or other vermin, or if you see evidence of significant visible mold growth in the ducts or on the mechanical components of the HVAC system that come in contact with air. But cleaning normally dusty ducts provides no real value.

Frightening “before” and “after” duct photos may make great discount coupon photos but chances are rare that your ducts are in bad shape. If your ducts are seriously filthy enough to require it to be cleaned, then you should clean the entire HVAC system (more on that later), not just the ducts themselves.

Please understand that duct cleaning uses specialized tools to agitate and dislodge dirt in the ducts to make the dirt and other contaminants increasingly loose and airborne before they are vacuumed out. Sometimes the ducts are cut for tool access and needs to be carefully resealed. Then a powerful vacuum system is used to remove the loosened dirt and contaminants. If this is not done properly you can do more harm than good.
For example, if the vacuum hose / containment system is not sealed tightly and exhausting contaminants to the outside, or if a HEPA filtration system is not used in an interior vacuum system, you can wind up releasing dirt and contaminants into your home’s interior. As part of the duct cleaning process, your ducts may have service holes cut into it for tool or vacuum hose access that may not be properly sealed after use, or HVAC system components could be taken apart and damaged or not reinstalled properly, and so on.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Kitchen Update

DIY – Update Your Kitchen With a New Tile Backsplash!

If you want to give your kitchen a facelift, consider replacing or adding a new tile backsplash. This can give your kitchen a bright modern appearance without a lot of effort. The nice thing about adding a new backsplash is that it is not very hard to do. If your existing backsplash is painted drywall, it’s quite straightforward. Even if you have an old tile backsplash, it is still not difficult – just messier in the beginning.
Planning the Project
If your existing backsplash is painted drywall, you can install your new tiles right over the top. Just sand the area to rough up the surface and get ready to install. If you have an existing tile backsplash, your best bet is to remove it totally. This will involve actually cutting the existing backer (usually drywall) and getting rid of both it and the attached tiles. For the best results consult with a professional to determine if you need to replace the drywall before installing the new tile. Pro-Fix Home Repair can help answer all of your questions.
Determine the length of your backsplash, and then measure the distance from the top of the counter to the bottom of the wall cabinet to calculate the area you’ll need to cover with your tiles (length x width = area). Now that you know how much space you have, figure out your tile pattern. Use graph paper and draw a scale outline. The most common tiles used for backsplashes are 4 x 4, 6 x 6 or 3 x 4 subway tiles. You could also use 1 x 1 tiles attached to a back mesh if you like the appearance better–the choice is yours.  Find the one that best fits your style. Just be sure that the tiles are glazed when you get them; this will help prevent stains, moisture and grease from ruining your tile. When you calculate your tile quantities, don’t forget to add about 10 percent for cutting and waste.
Installing the Backsplash
  1. Remove the stove and range hood and anything else that will be in your way when you are working on the backsplash. Shut off the power to any outlets or switches and remove the cover plates.
  2. If your tiles are going to be running over any gaps (like where the range will be), install a temporary ledger board along the base of your tile line to help hold them in place during installation.
  3. Mark the visual focal point of your layout and use a level to draw a starting line through it. You’ll use this to line up your tiles vertically. Now, lay out your tiles on the countertop or the kitchen floor so you can follow the pattern.
  4. Starting at the center, begin the bottom row by applying tile mastic (a ready to use tile adhesive) or thinset mortar to a small section of the wall using a grooved trowel. Put the edge of the first tile on the vertical line leaving a gap of about 1/8″ on the bottom – this leaves space for a bead of caulk later in the process. Press and wiggle the first tile into place, then put in a temporary 1/8″ spacer (vertically for easy removal when the mastic dries).
  5. Install the second tile using the same process. Continue installing tiles working away from the centerline, wiggling them into place and putting spacers between each. Follow your pattern and install any decorative/highlight tiles as part of the field.
  6. When you get to a place where you need to cut or trim a tile (under a countertop, end of a row, around an electrical outlet), cut the tile as part of the installation – don’t leave an opening and plan to come back.

Cutting a Tile
Cutting tile can be a hard task; the easiest way to cut a tile is using a tool called a scoring cutter. Using one is a two-step process – mark the tile where you want to cut it, then place the tile in the tool and score a mark in the tile surface. Then, using a sharp motion of the tool handle, the cutter will break the tile along the scored line.
Cutting openings for an electrical outlet can be more challenging. Depending on where an electrical outlet fits into your pattern, you may be need to cut two tiles using the scoring cutter, and then use tile nippers to cut out the opening and put them on each side of the outlet.
After the tiles are installed and the mastic has been allowed to set up overnight, it’s time to grout. Use a sandless grout (to avoid scratching the tile surface) and mix it according to manufacturer’s directions. Apply the grout using a rubber float. Push it well down into the gaps between the tiles, then holding the float at a 45-degree angle remove the excess.
Finishing Up
Allow the grout to set up for about an hour and then clean off the hazy surface on the tiles. Use wet sponges, rinsing them often in clean water to wipe away the film. Buff the tiles with a clean dry cloth to bring out their natural beauty. You will likely need to install box extenders to your electrical outlets before you can reattach the cover plates.  Finally, apply a bead of tub and tile caulk (the same color as the grout) all along the bottom seam where the backsplash meets the countertop.
Following the steps above will help you install a new backsplash into your kitchen. Make sure you pay attention to details and follow each step, but if you happen to come across a problem, the professional craftsmen at Pro-Fix Home Repair can finish the project for you, or help you along the way. 
And for assistance with all of your home’s repair and inprovement needs, Pro-Fix Home Repair stands ready to help.  Contact them by calling 770-575-2533.
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