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Do I need a water softener?

by bplusw 0 Comments

Hard water is water that has a high concentration of dissolved minerals, particularly calcium and magnesium. As water moves through rock and soil, it dissolves small amounts of minerals and retains them.  These two minerals bind themselves together and form scale, or mineral deposits.  This build up of mineral deposits can cause lots of damage.  Once the scale sticks to a surface it is difficult to remove.  Although hard water is safe for consumption,  it can really take a toll on  your appliances and your home plumbing.

Mineral deposits can shorten the life span of appliances, particularly your dishwasher, water heater, and washing machine.  Most detergents don’t lather well in hard water which reduces a detergents ability to clean.  It can leave a film or spots on dishes, as well as leaving clothes yellow and dingy as well.  Just think!  If hard water leaves a residue on your bathtub, dishes and clothes, it probably leaves one on you too!

The mineral build up in hard water can also have a devastating effect on your home plumbing.  It can cause a misleading drop in water pressure, requiring more time to get things clean.  Sometimes the build up doesn’t just clog your line, but wear through your plumbing, causing leaks inside and outside the home.

What Can You Do?

by bplusw 0 Comments

The questions “What plumbing repairs are safe for the average home owner to handle on their own?” and “What repairs should only be handled by a professional?” were recently asked of us.  When I asked the for the general consensus of our licensed plumbers, one jokingly replied, “I recommend that most people just take their hoses off the outdoor spout before winter!”  That is surely an exaggeration, but our plumbers agree that there are only a few plumbing tasks that should be tackled by the average Joe.  Some are relatively easy, like plunging a sink or toilet, replacing a flapper in a toilet or changing a toilet seat.   Others may become more than you bargained for, require specific tools, or take much more time than anticipated.

Some people would argue and say that they are mechanically inclined enough to complete more difficult tasks, and that may be true.  Even if you are skilled enough to complete it, you may run into additional problems that you are not equipped to handle.  Just today we had a customer call that tried to replace a bathroom sink on their own.  When they removed the sink, they discovered the supply lines to the faucet had a leak and the shutoff did not work.  They had to shut off the water to their house and call us to repair it.  So their simple DIY plan ended up costing them over $200.

Another consideration to factor in is tools.  Plumbers have tools specific to their tasks.   Many businesses rent tools to the public, such as sewer machines.  But using a sewer machine can be dangerous, if you aren’t used to operating one.  The cables can easily wrap around your arms and pull you.  An experienced plumber is aware of this and is also familiar with what blockages in the drain feel like and when it’s necessary to add or pull back on the cable.

Time is a valuable commodity!   People begin a DIY project with a certain time frame for completion in their mind.  Often, not having the right tools, or additional problems take a minor project and turn it into a major one, involving multiple trips to hardware stores!  Calling a licensed plumber can ensure that your project is not only done correctly, but in a fraction of the time it takes a non professional.

Our plumbers had many funny stories of DIY projects that they had to finish.  The best was this.  A man decided that he was going to replace the faucets on his bathroom  sink.  His wife came home from work, to find her husband in the bathroom with the entire bathroom sink apart and lying on the floor with various parts and pieces surrounding it.  She walked out of the room and returned with a $20 bill.  She told him to go buy himself a drink.  While he was gone, she called one of our plumbers to fix it!  That sums up why it is best to leave plumbing to plumbers!!

 

 

If you are experiencing higher than expected heating bills read on…

We’ve experienced many calls, from concerned customers, thinking their heating systems aren’t working properly. We understand this concern and have done some investigation that you might find useful. Here’s what we discovered…

Back in October Vectren predicted a 3% increase in heating bills this winter, that was with anticipation of a ‘normal’ winter weather.  Well, we all know -30 windchill is not the ‘norm’.  Natural gas customers can expect to pay approximately $30 to $50 more compared to the same time last year. That’s nearly a 20% increase.

An article, in the IBJ, goes on to say that not only does the 18% colder than usual weather drive up this demand, but prices for natural gas spiked in recent weeks as demand rose amid frigid weather. Citizens Energy expects bills to be about $178 for its average customer, which is up from about $132 in January 2013, the Indianapolis utility says in this article.

We submitted a question to IPL (or parent company AES.com) inquiring as to increases for electrical heat pump systems.

B&W asked – “To help our customer’s determine if they have a service issue with their total electric heat pump systems, approximately what should be the increase in your electric bill just due to the winter weather compared to last year. We are getting calls from people thinking they have a service problem because their electric bill increased. Some have had issues and some have not. I am trying to find a guideline to help homeowners avoid unneeded service trips. If their bill increased $40 or 15% would it be reasonable to assume it was due to the weather?”

AES Response:  “Thank you for your recent inquiry. Yes we would attribute the recent increase in bills due to the record low temperatures that we have been experiencing recently as heating and  cooling attribute approximately 50% of your bill.” -Customer Service, AES

We hope this helps you understand the increase in your heating bills and can save you from scheduling a service call that may not be necessary.  We are here for you if you do need help. Stay warm, and don’t hesitate to contact us at 317.243.3581 if you would like to schedule a service call, or if you have any questions on how your heat pump should operate or perform.

Source Links:

New Years Resolutions for your Home (Part 2 of 2)

We hope you are on your way to achieving your New Years resolutions and goals.  Earlier this month we encouraged you to add home maintenance into your New Years resolutions.  We are now adding ways to increase your home safety as well as  recommendations to save money on your home.

Increase your homes safety.

  • Check your smoke detectors and ensure you have a carbon monoxide detector.  Carbon monoxide detectors should be located where your family sleeps.
  • Schedule maintenance for your furnace and AC units.
  • Consider a home management system such as Nexia Home Intelligence.  http://www.americanstandardair.com/products/nexia-home-intelligence.html This wireless technology can manage your home from your computer as well as your mobile device. Adjust temperature, lighting, and even security with the added  Schlage® Home Security Kit.
  • Schedule a “Homeowners 101 Inspection” inclusive of “Home Comfort Audit” and “Plumbing Inspection”. The more you know about your home the better especially in cases of emergency. Call 317.243.3581 for more information.
  • While vacationing

    • If your water softener regenerates on a timed schedule, and not demand, consider putting it on bypass.
    • Most water heaters have a vacation mode. This will keep the water heater pilot lit, but it will not continually heat water you are not using.
    • Use light timers inside and outside. (Nexia Home Intelligence has this feature)

Reduce costs and/or save money on your home:

  • Check that your homeowners insurance is up to date. Here are some issues that our customers have had in the recent past.   Some policies have added basement back up or sump pump failure exclusions.  You may have had the same policy for 20 years but the insurance company sends updates and policy information periodically. If you are like me you don’t always read the fine print. Pull the policy or call your agent and check.  If you are currently renting your old residence , be sure your agent is aware of this change. We have had  more than one customer that did not realize renting out a house you could not sell changes everything to the insurance company.
  • Vow to install a programmable thermostat and save money. Why heat or cool your home when you aren’t there? Adjust the temperature back to your comfort level when you’ll be there.
  • Increase your home value by making upgrades such as a bathroom remodel or new kitchen sink. (Be sure and consult with your homes insurance provider as many upgrades may cause adjustments to your policy.)
  • Contact a home comfort expert to compare the energy costs of your current heating system to a new energy efficient system. For many systems there are utility and manufacturer rebates that can reduce your initial investment.

We hope you found this article helpful. Don’t hesitate to contact our team at 317.243.3581 with any questions you may have.

 

New Years Resolutions for your Home.(Part 1 of 2)

With a new year comes New Years Resolutions.  While health goals top many lists don’t forget to set some goals for your home.  It is probably your largest financial investment anyway, so protect it.  We’ve included 3 major areas and will divide them into a two series blog.  Below we cover many plumbing and heating maintenance tips that go unnoticed.   Later this month we will add part 2 sharing many cost saving and energy efficient goals for your home as well as increasing your homes safety.

Monthly:

  • HVAC filters should be checked.  Filters 1” or less should be changed.  Depending on conditions, in your home, the larger media filters may last 3-6 months.  Did you know burning candles can plug your filter in just a week?
  • Every home owner should know where to find the main water shut off, water meter pit (if on city water) and natural gas shut offs.

Quarterly:

  • Test smoke/carbon monoxide detectors and replace batteries.  Carbon monoxide detectors should be located where the family sleeps.
  • Clean all shower heads. (Simply tie a bag of vinegar and let sit, when removed, lightly scrub with small brush or an old toothbrush.)
  • Check your plumbing shut off valves so that they open and close properly.

Seasonally:

Winter – 

  • Prevent your pipes from bursting by leaving a slow drip (of warm water), when temperatures outside are freezing, and open your cabinet doors.
  • Make sure your humidifier is working. An HVAC tech can test the humidity in your home.

Spring –

  • Check for plumbing leaks inside and out.  A slow trickle can increase your water bill.  You can also turn off the water and look at your meter.   If you see activity then call a plumber.
  • Your humidifier should be off.
  • Prepare your AC system by scheduling a service/maintenance.
  • When you use your outside faucet for the first time in spring, carefully check inside your home to verify it did not freeze and burst over the winter.
  • Test your sump pump, make sure there is nothing in the pit. Dump water in the pit and verify the pump clears the pit.

Fall- 

  • Unhook your hoses outside to prevent freezing.
  • Test your sump pump.
  • Schedule maintenance on your furnace.

Upgrades to consider.

  • Consider a home water softening system.  Your hair and skin will appreciate it.  Also, sediment build up on your fixtures and in your toilets and water heater will be greatly reduced.
  • Just changing the kitchen sink and faucet can make the entire kitchen look new.
  • Contact a home comfort expert to compare the energy costs of your current heating system to a new energy efficient system.  For many systems there are tax credits and utility rebates that can reduce your initial investment.
  • A whole home humidifier greatly reduces static and improves comfort.  Besides the benefits to your family did you know a whole house humidifier extends the life of your wood furniture?

We hope you found this article helpful. Share your comments on any other tips you include in your home maintenance.  Stay tuned for part two later this month on home safety and money saving tips for your home.

Happy New Year!

Cold Weather Tips and Suggestions

Looks like we aren’t going to have our typical mild winter here in Central Indiana. Since the weatherman is predicting the coldest temperatures in twenty years, you might have forgotten what to do to keep your home warm and your pipes from freezing.  Here are your reminders.

Plumbing

It is usually the combination of wind and temperature that causes plumbing water lines to freeze.  Sometimes the water line you least expect to freeze is the one that does.  Here are the most likely areas for concern in your home.

Crawl Spaces:
Make sure the vents are closed and any other openings are closed.  You want as little outside air to get in as possible.

Garages:
Make sure the garage door stays down as much as possible.  Every time it gets cold we get a call from a homeowner and someone in the family left the garage door open.  If your garage is not heated, and you have plumbing in the walls or in the garage, find a way to add some heat.  Be sure to follow all safety guidelines if using a portable heater.  We can add infrared radiant heat that you can turn on when you need it.

Laundry Rooms:
In most homes the laundry room/area is on an outside wall.  Unfortunately there is no way to run a steady stream of water to prevent freezing at the washing machine; if there is a valve to shut off the water to the entire area, we would recommend turning it off until the temperature rises.  If there is not a way to turn off the water then move your washer to get as much heat to the area as possible.  Turning it off at the washer hoses will not solve the problem if the lines in the outside wall freeze.

Sump Pumps:
Often sump pump discharge lines freeze in this weather.  If your sump pump doesn’t run all the time, then you’ll just wait for weather to return to normal…just make sure the discharge line is clear when the ground begins to thaw. We have seen lines that are still partially frozen even when the temperatures starts rising.  Also, expansion from freezing and thawing can cause some discharge lines to break prevent proper drainage of the sump pump.  If your sump pump does run most of the time due to an underground spring or high water table then you may need to run a temporary line for the discharge.  Also, Be sure your check valve is working or the water will not leave the pit.

Other things to Know:

  • Leave a steady stream of hot water running for all faucets located on an outside wall.  The hot water freezes first.  Leave the cabinet doors open too.  You want as much heat in the area as possible.
  • Do you know where the main shut off to water for your home is?  Is the valve in working order?
  • If you are on city water, do you know where your meter pit is located?  If the lid is cracked and there is not snow to insulate your entire water service could freeze.
  • The water coming into the home is much colder than the summer.  You may not have as much hot water as you do doing the warmer times of the year.
  • Electric thawing machines can only be used on metal pipes.

Snow Birds

If you are one of the lucky snowbirds that leave this winter wonderland and head for the sunshine, here are a couple of tips so your house survives the winter.

  1. Turn off the water to your home, either at the main valve or the meter pit.
  2. Turn your water heater to pilot/vacation if it is gas, or turn the power off if it is electric.
  3. Turn your water softener to vacation or off .
  4. Open all the faucets in the home to relieve any pressure
  5. Consider a weather alarm. There are a wide variety of types and prices. The basic type mount a light in a window and if the light is flashing your neighbor knows there is a problem with your heat. If you want something more sophisticated, there are alarms that will call or text you when there is a problem.

Heating

 Most heating systems in our area are designed to keep it 70 degree inside when it’s zero outside.  If the temperature falls below zero, your heating system may not keep the temperature as selected on your thermostat.  During these times it is important to do some or all of the following:

  1. Check your filter, even if you think you replaced it a couple of weeks or a month ago, it’s probably been longer than that.  Installing a clean filter is the most important thing a homeowner can do to help keep proper operation & efficiency of the system.
  2. Your heating system will probably run continuously for extremely long periods of time so it’s critical that all of your registers are open and not obstructed by furniture or household items.
  3. Leave your blower running continuously in the on position, this helps even out the air temperature though out the home, your heat will still turn on and off as needed. B&W and American Standard Heating and Air Conditioning recommend this for a more comfortable indoor climate.
  4. Old wood burning fireplaces can actually cool your home by allowing warm air to escape up the chimney.  You will be losing more heat than the fire generates.
  5. Be careful burning candles, many of them produce soot which floats in the air and collects on the furnace filter, this can causes the filter to malfunction.  Burning candles can also leave a black soot residue in your home.
  6. It is a good time to change the batteries on your digital thermostat.
  7. You lose a lot of heat through uncovered windows.  Do what you can to cover or insulate windows and sliding glass doors.  If you have a smoker in your house that opens a window to smoke tell them when the temperature drops this low to go outside or quit smoking.
  8. If you have a heat pump and see the little symbol that indicates your auxiliary heat is on, it is okay.  It is working just as it should. It is not necessary for you to manually switch your heat to auxiliary.

From the Professionals in the Big Black Trucks

Tips for staying warm outside.

Many of us have been told at one time or another, “Put on your hat! 80% of heat loss is from your head, so cover up.” This popular myth has been shown to be untrue, it is a good idea to cover your head along with other body parts, to reduce chances of frostbite, hypothermia and more.*  Our home comfort experts want to share tips for you (and your family) to stay more comfortable while outside this season.

So, what should you wear outside to keep warm?

  • Layers – inner for moisture control, insulating outside for wind/water/elements, remove layers as needed to avoid sweating.
  • Shoes with grips for icy conditions. We’ve also found a video demonstrating helpful hints to be more stable on the ice. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=heDei0TuT8w
  • Accessorize for warmth by wearing gloves.  Mittens are ideal for longer periods of cold temperatures as they heat of your body will keep them warmer, but depending on your activity gloves may provide better mobility. Consider keeping both in your pockets and switch as needed for your winter activity.
  • Scarves are fashionable and functional in more ways than you may realize. While warming the neck and face, they also assist in warming the air as you breathe in.  If you suffer from asthma or other respiratory conditions you’ll appreciate breathing in warmer air. **
  • Don’t forget sun and wind protection.  Tis the time of year for chapped lips and yes you can get a sunburn (aka windburn) in the winter months.

Here are a few other tips to keep warm while outside.

  • Avoid drugs, alcohol and tobacco. These substances have been proven to reduce the bodies natural ability to respond to cold temperatures.*
  • Keep a thermos of a hot beverage and/or soup handy.  While scientifically this does nothing to increase body temperature, it sure does feel good (and doubles as a hand warmer).  A hot drink or soup is comforting on a cold blustery day and synonymous with childhood memories of fun in the snow.
  • Keep moving to warm up. Increased circulation will make your day outside more enjoyable plus the added health benefits of moving.

Go ahead, make those snow angels, go sledding, cross country skiing, build a snowman or simply enjoy the fresh air outside. We hope you found a few of these winter tips helpful.

Source:

*http://shs.osu.edu/blog/medical-mythbusters-do-you-really-lose-80-of-your-body-heat-from-your-head

** http://www.healthcommunities.com/asthma/tips-winter-asthma.shtml

 

 

 

 

10 Tips to Welcome your Holiday Guests

Tis the season to entertain.  Since comfort is our speciality our staff put together tips to ensure your guests are comfortable, while visiting, during the holidays or winter season.  Have your family members help you prepare by dividing this list along with your home cleaning, organizing and holiday meal planning.  The more you can get done in advance means the more time you’ll have to enjoy your guests and the holiday season.

Welcome Guests
(Image source: addicted2decorating.com)

  1. Ensure your pathways  are clear of ice and snow and light the way by checking that your bulbs are in working order.  (If using salt on your sidewalks, consider walking your pet in the snow as to not irritate his/her paws, or consider dog boots.  Check your local hardware store for pet safe products.)
  2. Roll out the red carpet, or shall we say the welcome mat?  Offer a place for your guests to kick the snow off of their shoes outside and inside your door.  If you have a guest in a wheel chair look into renting (or purchasing) a portable ramp. http://www.accesstoday.com/
  3. Inside your home create a drop zone by having a coat rack or closet, with empty hangers, nearby.  Consider placing a bench or chair, for boots, to be removed.  Also, plan an area for purses and gift bags.
  4. Appeal to the senses.  Wether you have a candle burning, a pot of apples and cinnamon, or a plug in scent, nothing speaks holidays and warmth than a pleasurable scent.
  5. Warm your guests from the inside out by offering coffee, hot cider, cocoa or more as they enter.
  6. Adjust your programmable thermostat a few degrees down when you anticipate the oven heating up and a full home of added guests.  Plan this ahead as you may forget with last minute preparations for your guests.  Lay out a few throw blankets, around your sofas or in a basket, in case your guests prefer a higher home temperature. It’s hard to please everyone, but it’s much easier to set a few degrees low and offer a blanket to Granny than to cool down others.
  7. For overnight guests prepare a basket of towels and travel size necessities that may have been forgotten, like a toothbrush, shampoos, lotion, etc. (Consider adding a mint on the pillow before bedtime or a welcome note from your kids.)
  8. Check that your water heater is ready for the extra guests. If not, consider a larger capacity unit or make a shower schedule to ensure warm water for everyone. If you want to impress guests add one of our wireless Moxie Speakers to your shower head.
  9. Prepare a warm and welcoming breakfast in your crock pot for your overnight guests. We’ve tried this one and it’s fantastic (healthy too).  There are many online versions depending on your health goals and restrictions. http://www.theyummylife.com/Slow_Cooker_Apple_Cinnamon_Oatmeal
  10. Wrapping up our list. Keep some extra wrapping paper and tape accessible for any guests who bring a last minute gift without wrapping. (You may even want to plan an extra gift or two in your closet in case you forgot someone.)

We wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season, and hope you find our tips helpful. Feel free to post any of your comments or suggestions, for getting through the holidays with guests, here or on our facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/bigblacktrucks

 

Fall into energy savings, better hair and improved comfort with these 5 fall tips.

by bplusw 0 Comments

You deserve to be comfortable.

 

1.) Use a whole-home humidifier.

Do you hate static electricity?  With it comes uncontrollable hair, dry skin, clothes sticking in the wrong places and that dreaded shock when you touch something.  There is an easy solution to minimize these and more.  Use a whole-home humidifier.  Heated indoor air is very dry and needs to be humidified.  Actually, one of the driest places on earth could be your home.  I know…this sounds crazy, but the relative humidify of the Sahara Desert is 25%, Death Valley 23% and the average heated home registers 13-16% humidity level.  Shocking huh? (Literally) By adding moisture to your home you will reduce the static electricity.  A few other benefits to a whole-home humidifier include:

  • Increased Comfort:  Reduces dry throat and nose as well as itchy skin.
  • Improved Well Being:  Optimum humidity levels can help reduce the chance of upper-respiratory problems caused by dry air.  Ask your doctor!
  • Preservation:  Proper humidification levels will protect against shrinkage and cracking in furniture, moldings and hardwood floors.

2.) Replace your batteries. 

As time falls back on November 3rd don’t forget to replace batteries in your smoke detectors as well as your thermostat.

3.) Update your homes schedule.

Adjust your programmable thermostat with your daily schedule. By setting your thermostat from 72 degrees to 65 degrees for eight hours a day you can cut your heating bill by up to 10 percent according to the Department of Energy.  This is easily done while everyone is away during the day or even at night with an extra blanket.

4.) Pleats are in! 

If your furnace takes a 1” filter use the pleated type vs. the cheap fiberglass type.  A fiberglass filter is only approximately 3-5% efficient, which means 95% or more of the dirt & dust, in the air, will pass through the filter into a furnace and ductwork.  A pleated filter is more efficient & will need replaced more often, approximately every month, because it is catching more of the dirt & dust passing through the system.  This keeps the furnace running efficiently and helps extend the life of the system.

5.) Tune up your furnace this season.

Schedule a maintenance check and diagnostic testing for your furnace. Many wait to the last minute and awake in the middle of the night to a freezing home. Not only is this an inconvenience for you, but added cost to repair after hours. Have a professional perform an inspection and tune up to ensure your family is cozy this winter. Subscribe (by clicking here) to our newsletter for specials, promotions and even coupons, or call 317. 243.3581 for your service questions or needs.

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