Home Maintenance and Care
Maintaining your home is a concern of everyone who makes an investment in a home. This information was designed to highlight some of the major areas of concern on your residential dwelling that require regular maintenance to insure maximum life and performance of the structure and components.
Homeowners often assume the concrete and steel that supports their home is the sole component of the foundation. Actually, a home has two foundations. The first and most important foundation is the soil beneath you home. The second is that hunk of concrete and steel known as the slab.
It’ s the soil not the slab that requires maintenance and care. We normally think of the soil as stable however, it is not as stable as we may think. The soils beneath the slab consist of sand silt and clay. The clay in the soils in the Greater Tulsa Area behaves in an erratic manner when the amount of water in the soil changes. Just as a sponge swells when wet and shrinks when dry so do the expansive clay soils that support the slab. The pressures exerted by expansive clay are enormous and have been measured in several tons per square foot. The swelling pressure can easily lift a house foundation. Movement of the soil under the slab can damage even a well-designed foundation.
As a result, the wet soil will raise the foundation in the center and the dry soil will shrink at the outer edges, allowing the weight of the house to lower the perimeter. Properly designed and constructed slab-foundations can accommodate movement from the soil it rests upon due to seasonal moisture variations. However, when severe dryness or unusual wetness occurs, maintaining a constant moisture level at the perimeter of the dwelling is critical to prevent slab damage. An uneven moisture concentration will cause differential movement of the soil, which can damage the slab. Exaggerated weather changes combined with improper soil sloping, trees, roof drainage and sun exposure is all effects occurring on a regular basis that alter the soil moisture levels under the slab.
Proper maintenance of the soil under the slab foundation comes down to three areas: watering the soil around the perimeter of the foundation to prevent shrinkage from excessive drying of the soil, drainage to prevent swelling and decreased bearing capabilities from over saturation of the soil in isolated areas and control of vegetation so that trees for example do not contribute to drying the soil during dry periods preventing shrinkage.
The purpose of a watering program is to maintain a constant level of moisture in the soil around and under the slab foundation.
The best way to water a foundation is to place a soaker hose 18 to 24 inches away from the edge around the perimeter of the foundation where soil is exposed to slab.
Where shrubbery is present the hose should be placed outbound of the shrub because watering between the shrub and slab will encourage root growth towards the slab. Watering is not necessary where large areas of concrete are adjacent to slab, such as patios and driveways, covering the ground preventing evaporation.
The hose should not be placed against the foundation. When soil has dried and cracked, water can travel along the cracks for several feet in all directions. If the soil around the foundation is dried and cracked then water placed next to the foundation will run through the cracks and accumulate at the bottom of the stemwall (the thick portion of the foundation that transfers the load of the house to the footing). In some cases, an accumulation of water in the soil at the base of a slab foundation can cause the soil to loose some of its load bearing capacity. If the soil looses enough of the load bearing capacity, the house will sink into the ground.
If water is ponding and running off the surface then the volume of water should be decreased. Since the center of the slab is always wet, the clay in this area will exist in an expanded condition. Your goal is to keep the perimeter in the same condition.
The purpose of a drainage program, like watering, is to maintain a constant level of moisture in the soil around and under the slab foundation. The related problem to soil drainage is soil ponding causing swelling and/or loss of bearing capacity in isolated areas. The goal is to divert rainfall from the roof and yard away from the perimeter of the dwelling and lot to prevent ponding. The most widely accepted practice is to have 4 inches of slab clearance and for the soil adjacent to the slab to be graded so that it has 6 inches of fall in 10 feet or to property line if it is closer than 10 feet. The sloping away from the foundation will create a swale around the perimeter of the structure. A swale is a ravine graded usually towards the front of the property directing rainfall or surface runoff water to storm sewer drainage.
Unfortunately, these standards are rarely maintained as modifications to landscaping and grade erosion occurs over the years. Restoration of desirable ground slope is an important maintenance task and is one that most homeowners can accomplish without needing a contractor. When providing adequate slope, soil should not be placed above the concrete slab. Raising the soil levels to brick veneer or siding will allow water penetration and/or undetected wood destroying insect’s entry to dwelling. If low elevations of the dwelling prevent proper installation of surface drainage under surface drainage may be necessary.
Installation of under surface drains is relatively expensive and is used only when methods of surface drainage are ineffective. When considering the use of under surface drainage, seek the help of a professional experienced in designing and installation of under surface drainage systems.
Roof drainage is the next concern to consider. If water flows evenly off the roof around the perimeter of the dwelling and directly away from the slab, drainage off the roof will not present any problems. The even flow of rain runoff assists in the prevention of soil drying. However, some roof designs have valleys that collect large amounts of water that are deposited in isolated areas adjacent to the slab foundation. In this case gutters are used to collect and remove roof runoff.
It is very important that the gutter downspouts be directed to positive drainage. Water ponding or accumulation at the base of a downspout will cause isolated swelling, erosion and/or loss of load bearing capabilities. Downspouts should be extended away 5 to 10 feet from the slab or splashblocks installed.
Distances and methods of diverting water from downspouts are determined by the expansive nature of the soils under and around the perimeter of the slab foundation. The goal here is to extend the downspout away form the foundation so that the discharged water does not affect the foundation.
The last concerns regarding drainage are isolated holes in the soil at the perimeter of the slab created by erosions or Fido, the family pet. Dogs will dig shallow holes next to the slab to keep cool during the hot summers allowing surface runoff to pond in isolated areas. Erosion of bare soil from surface runoff can also cause slopes and holes allowing water to pond in isolated areas. When these situations occur, sandy clay should be used to fill and then compacted and covered with grass.
The last area of concern is the control and watering of vegetation around the home such as trees and shrubberies. Trees and shrubberies offer definite benefits to the homeowner such as shade, energy conservation and improved home resale value. Trees and shrubberies will establish root systems under a foundation if necessary in order to satisfy their moisture needs. Vegetation removes moisture from the soil by transpiration, which means the drawing of moisture from the soil by tissue in the plants root system. Allowing trees and shrubberies to draw moisture from isolated areas beneath the structure will cause differential soil movement causing slab damage. Large trees are a bigger threat to cause soil movement than small trees and shrubberies. A large thirsty tree can pull several hundred gallons of water from the soil on a hot dry summer day. The effects of transpiration on the soil will vary depending on the expansive nature of the soil.
When planning or changing your landscaping remember that trees should not be closer than 20 feet from the structure and shrubberies should not be closer than 4 feet from the structure. Removal of a tree too close to the structure can have negative effects on the soil around and beneath the structure.
There are other methods such as root barriers, root pruning, limb pruning and aggressive watering that can be effective in dealing with large trees. If a large tree is too close, seek the advice of a professional to determine the proper method of dealing with the tree. Providing adequate moisture is essential to prevent root damage.
It is typically found that damage to the slab foundation is most severe in areas near trees. This is an indication that moisture requirements for trees are often not met. Water should be added to trees and shrubberies on the outbound side of the tree not between tree and foundation, in order to encourage root growth away from the slab foundation.
Most homeowners often neglect the roof covering when it comes to maintenance. For most homeowners maintenance of the roof covering and structure typically is non-existent until the roof starts to leak. Here are some tips to prevent roof leaks and to increase the life of your roof covering.
Keeping it clean
Most residential roof coverings are composition type materials. This means the roof covering is designed to shed the water off the roof by a continuous over lapping of shingles from the top of the roof to the bottom. The over lapping of the shingles are not sealed and any blocking of the flow of water across the roof from leaves or debris can cause leakage.
When clearing leaves and debris from your roof be careful not to damage the shingles by rubbing off the aggregate. Aggregate is small granules of rock that are attached to the surface of the shingle. Aggregate reflects the suns UV rays to prevent deterioration of the roof covering.
When using tools such as rakes or brooms to remove debris be careful to not touch or drag across shingles with tool as much as possible to prevent dislodging aggregate.
The leading cause of roof deterioration in northeastern Oklahoma is due to excessive heat exposure.
Accumulation of heat in the attic space can often exceed shingle manufacturers recommendations in this area causing premature deterioration of the roof covering. Often the attic space is poorly ventilated causing super heating of the attic space greatly accelerating shingle deterioration and causing expansion and contraction of roof structure, flashings and fasteners. The best devices available today to cross ventilate your attic space are continuous ridge vents and continuous soffit vents.
If your home is not equipped with these devices consider having them retro-fitted.
Air Conditioning & Heating
With the high heat and humidity experienced in Oklahoma, air conditioning plays a major role in the level of comfort and efficiency of our homes. Most system maintenance requires the help of a licensed HVAC contractor; however the homeowner can prevent major repairs by applying a few simple maintenance tasks and by monitoring performance of the unit on a regular basis.
Keeping the system clean
Most any homeowner can tell you that keeping the return air filter clean or replaced when dirty on a regular basis is important, but few can tell you why. If more knew why that filter cleaning is important, more would not allow dirty filters to go unattended week after week and month after month.
Let’s talk for a minute about how an air conditioning system works. Cooling equipment transfers the heat that is inside the house to the outdoors using a gas called freon. It does this by expanding a liquid into a vapor. When a liquid changes to a gas it absorbs heat and when the gas changes back to a liquid it releases heat. The cooling equipment consist of three basic components the compressors, the condensing coil and the evaporator coil. The compressor forces the freon gas through the condensing coil where a fan circulates outside air over the coils which cause the freon gas to lose heat and transforms to a liquid. The liquid freon then is circulated to the evaporator coil where it is transformed back to a gas. At the evaporator coil a fan circulates air from the inside of the house across the coil and the heat in the air is absorbed by the liquid transforming to gas. The gas is circulated back to the condensing coil where the heat is transferred again to the outside air and the gas is turned back to a liquid.
The coils transfer the heat from the inside to the outside air. In order for the system to work efficiently the coils must remain clean and free of dirt dust and debris. Allowing the coils to remain dirty will cause inefficient performance and excessive wear and tear on the equipment. Bottom line is keeping the system clean is the same as putting money in the bank. Changing your filters regularly will help keep your evaporator coil clean. Having your heating and cooling systems properly serviced on an annual basis, by a licensed heating and air conditioning contractor is recommended safety and reliability.
Keep leaves and debris from accumulating around the condensing unit will allow proper air circulation around the condensing coils.
Keep a thermometer and hygrometer handy to monitor your equipments performance at registers regularly. A minimum of 15 degrees should be maintained between supply and return and the humidity inside should not exceed 55%.
Your air conditioning and heating system should be checked once a year by your licensed HVAC contractor for proper refrigerant levels, cleanliness of evaporator coil and cleanliness of condensing coil and proper operation and condition of the furnace. This inspection requires special gauges, tools and expertise to determine the proper performance and safe operation of equipment. Proper maintenance and care of your system will insure the lowest utility bills and fewest repair bills as possible.
Your plumbing fixtures and system do not require a lot of regular maintenance. However, if a drip or a leak starts get it fixed quickly. Allowing a faucet to drip for weeks can cause additional damage to the fixture making it more expensive to repair.
Occasionally inspect your traps under the sinks and tubs where accessible, sometimes leaks develop in these areas.
Water Heaters – The water heater usually located in the attic, closet or garage requires little maintenance but does need a serious look occasionally. Check for signs of leaks at water supply connections and make sure the vent pipe on top is not separated from the unit.
Check the auxiliary drain pan for debris or corrosion that may block the drain line in case of a leak. Locate where the auxiliary drain line terminates. The auxiliary drain line generally terminates next to the temperature and pressure relief valve drain line. If water ever exhaust from these lines you know there is a problem with the water heater and you probably will need to call the plumber.
Locate the water service valve and test it. This valve will shut off the water service to the unit in case the water heater develops a leak.
Locate the temperature and pressure relief valve. Most manufacturers recommend this valve be tested once a year by the owner.
To test your temperature and pressure relief valve first locate and inspect the valve drain line for damage and locate where the drain line terminates. Then simply lift the spring loaded lever allowing water to flow through the drain line. Check at termination of the drain line to see if water flow is restricted or drain line is clogged. If temperature and pressure relief valve will not open or valve will not reseat it must be replaced immediately. The temperature and pressure relief valve is a safety device that will prevent an explosion should the water heater malfunction.
If not protected by a functional temperature and pressure relief valve, a water heater explosion can cause serious property damage or injury. If your water heater is new or just a few years old you can lengthen its life by flushing it a couple of times a year. Water enters and exits from the top of a water heater, therefore the tank acts as a trap and collects sediment from the water system over a period of time. After a few years this sediment builds up in the bottom the tank and the unit has to heat the water through the sediment which decreases the water heaters efficiency and recovery rate.
To flush your water heater, turn the thermostat to the lowest possible setting and the on, off , pilot knob on top should be turned to the pilot setting. Then turn a hot water valve on in a bathtub.
When all the hot water is gone connect a garden hose to the hose bib connection at the bottom of the unit and run the hose outside to safe place for drainage and open the hose bib valve. Then turn off hose bib valve, disconnect hose and return thermostat controls to original settings. Allow to flush for five or ten minutes or until sediment clears out. Then turn off hose bib valve, disconnect hose and return thermostat controls to original settings.
Gee, that’s a lot about water heaters but try taking a cold shower in the morning and you’ll be reminded of how much we depend on them.
People that have moved here from the northern states often chuckle when native Tulsans talk about cold weather. I don’t think I could really handle seriously cold weather and the houses in Tulsa and surrounding areas are not built to handle extreme cold weather, especially when it comes to plumbing. If the temperature outside drops below 32 degrees that means it’s freezing in the crawlspace.
Most of the damage to piping occurs at night when temperatures drop even lower. Outside hose bibs should also have hoses and flow valve attachments removed and non-freeze proof type bibs should have insulated covers installed to help protect them from freezing. If your home has a crawlspace water piping is installed in this area area and is subject to freezing. You should consider closing the crawlspace vents on the North and West sides of the home temporarily during freezing temperatures to help reduce risk of freezing and damages to the home. During bitter cold conditions you should also consider leaving some water running slightly at the interior fixtures to help prevent freezing of water in water supply piping.
The use of electricity in our home today is still an incredible discovery and one that we take for granted. Without it our homes would not be the comfortable, relaxing and entertaining sanctuaries we enjoy.
Our homes electrical systems require little if any maintenance. Due to the unique nature of electricity, safety when making repairs will often require the help of a licensed electrician. Make shift repairs or modification to the electrical systems in our homes often create dangerous situations that can cause serious or fatal injury to our bodies or property.
It is important to understand that the flow of electricity through our homes is not necessarily controlled but directed by a network of wire and devices designed to prevent the electricity from escaping on it’s pathway to an appliance or device.
Often, when inspecting homes, I find make shift repairs or improvements made by a homeowner or handyman that do not understand the principals of containment of electricity within the home. These types of modifications allow electricity to escape that can cause fire in a home or even result in electrocution of a person not expecting the hazard.
For most homeowners monitoring your electrical system for performance and safety is the major role in electrical maintenance. Examples would be watching for excessive heat at light switch cover plates, outlet cover plates or panel box dead front cover, circuit breakers that will not reset, circuit breakers that trip randomly, circuit breakers that trip due to apparent over loads, feeling a low shocking sensation when touching an appliance, switch or device and arcing at appliances, outlets, switches or junction boxes.
Any of these symptoms are indications of a defect in the wiring system that should be immediately addressed by an electrician.
Keeping your home updated with the latest in safety technology such as ground fault circuit interrupters, arc fault circuit breakers and surge protection will help keep your home as safe as possible for your family and equipment.
A handy inexpensive tool for testing outlets for proper performance and safety is a outlet tester with a GFCI tester. GFCI circuits on pool and spa lights and circuits around wet areas such as bathrooms and kitchens should be tested regularly.
If your home was constructed beginning in 2002, AFCI’s “Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters” are likely installed on bedroom outlet circuits. These should be tested at the breaker panel and are usually recognizable by either a blue or a green test button provided on AFCI type breakers.
When properly installed, an electrical system will provide years of maintenance free service to your home, however monitoring your systems performance and safety is an important part of home maintenance.