The Best Whirlpool Smooth Stove Top Cleaner

We finally replaced our old open element range with a new Whirlpool smooth ceramic top stove model. We immediately discovered that if you spill anything on it at all that you get some really stubborn stains. The recommended product that came with the range would barely even do anything at all. So, to make a long story short all you have to do is sprinkle a small amount of automatic dishwasher detergent (great value brand from Wal-Mart gets consumer reports highest rating by the way) and a little water then gently scrub with a green scotchbrite pad and it cleans up just like new. After figuring this out I keep a spray bottle of solution (2-3 tablespoons of detergent in 12 oz water more or less) handy and cleanup is a snap.

This same solution also works great for other tough cleaning jobs like the stainless steel exterior of the gas grill. This solution of automatic dishwasher detergent does a great job of loosening and removing stains, but it will leave the surface hazy unless you follow up with a damp rag or a glass plus type of multi purpose cleaner.

By the way, the instructions that came with our stove say to only use the factory recommended cleaner, and a clean soft cotton cloth or some such malarky, but after several months of using my method our smooth top stove looks like new. Who knows what they are thinking at Whirlpool.

Just in case you had any desire to know – Automatic dishwasher detergent uses enzymes which are biological catalysts to drastically speed up the chemical reaction of breaking down fats and proteins. Since the stubborn cooked on stains on your stove top are from foods containing fats and proteins, then dishwasher detergent is just the ticket. So, this isn’t just the best whirlpool stove top cleaner, also keep it in mind for all kinds of food stains including blood. As with any strong cleaner use with caution and at your own risk.

How to Fix a Toilet That Runs On

Repairing a run on Toilet is an EASY do it yourself fix!

Looking down at the contents of a typical toilet tank

This is what you see when you look down into your typical toilet tank. The yellow thing at top left is the flush valve also known as a “ballcock”. The gray thing in the middle is the flapper valve. By the way, despite the rust stains in these pictures, the water in the toilet tank is completely clean. This is not a nasty job.

Toilet supply connections

Typical supply connections. Continue reading “How to Fix a Toilet That Runs On”

How to Mud and Tape Drywall

If you’re patient, you can make a professional quality drywall repair.

Taping and Finishing Techniques:

You only need to learn two very simple techniques in order to learn how to mud and tape drywall. For either technique the knife blade is held to the drywall at an angle, and the knife is moved in the direction that the handle is leaning as though you were trying to force the mud into the drywall (which you actually are). The steeper the angle, and the harder you press, the thinner the coat of drywall will be. Leaving the desired amount takes a little bit of practice, but it’s pretty easy to learn. I recommend that you do practice (on a scrap of plywood or drywall) before you start the actual repair.

Step One – Taping

Bedded drywall butt joint

A flat joint that has been taped with mesh tape and the initial skim coat of joint compound. Notice that the skim coat is so thin that you can clearly see the tape through it.

Step Two – Bedding

2) Bedding – The point of a bed coat is to actually leave an even layer of mud on the entire area, and not just in the low areas. Do it just like you would a skim coat, but instead of removing most of the mud use a shallower knife angle and lighter pressure to leave a reasonably smooth, opaque layer.

Note that you can do a thin (skim) coat that is smooth, but a thick (bed) coat will never be really smooth, so don’t worry about “craters” in your bed coat, and don’t worry much about them in the skim coat either.

Bedded drywall butt joint

Bedded flat joint. The bed coat has to be thick enough to embed the tape and fully cover it. That is why the bed coat is always a little bit rough. You can’t spread mud thick and smooth at the same time.

Bedded drywall butt joint

Closup of the bedded joint. This amount of roughness really is fine during the bedding stage so don’t worry too much, all of those low sposts will fill in during the final skim coat. It is far worse to wipe off too much mud in an attempt to make it smooth. However, you don’t want big protruding humps of mud, because those would have to be sanded down – lot’s of work, and mess.

Step Three – Skimming

1) Skimming – To do a skim coat, first with a clean knife, load your knife with a moderate amount of joint compound and apply it to the drywall in a layer that is thick enough to be opaque. That is, you shouldn’t be able to see any texture of the drywall, and the mud will be 1/16″ to 1/8″ thick. Then use the knife to remove almost all of the mud. This will leave a smooth layer of mud that is so thin that you can see the drywall through it, but it will fill in any low places and bring them up flush with the surface.

Bedded drywall butt joint

Profesional drywall finisher applying mud to a flat with a paint roller in preparation for the final skim using a 12″ knife. For smaller jobs you will usually just apply the mud using the same knife that you are wiping down with. For your information – premixed joint compound will wash completely out of your clothes, but setting types like durabond might not.

Bedded drywall butt joint

Here, he’s wiping it off. Note that he is using a shallow angle and considerable pressure. This is the last application of joint compound prior to sanding. This coat is just as thin as the first skim coat, and smooths out most of the roughness of the bed coat. It’s relatively easy to make a very thin coat like this smooth. However, a do it yourselfer will probably have to do more than one “final” skim coat to achieve really good results. By the way, he is working from left to right in this picture.

The Process:

Allow each coat to completely dry, until it no longer has any give at all when you push on the mud lightly with your finger tips.
1) Fill up all cracks and voids with mud and Skim the excess off of the surface.
Allow to dry.
2) Lightly sand to remove any high spots or crumbs.
Light sanding is almost like “wiping” you really shouldn’t have to work very long or hard at it. Be careful not to sand the paper and make it fuzzy, but if you do it won’t ruin anything at this point.
3) Apply self stick mesh tape,
Apply tape over all of the cracks or voids that don’t have continuous drywall under them. Rub it down so that it lays nice and flat everywhere. Try not to overlap the tape, and certainly don’t allow more than 2 pieces of tape to overlap at any one place.
4) Apply a Skim coat of joint compound over the entire repair.
Use either a 4″ or 6″ knife. Allow to dry.

Bedded drywall butt joint

Flat taped area around a fiberglass tub. Areas like this get a very thick layer of mud to fill in large gaps before they are taped. However once the hole is filled with joint compound it is then taped and skim coated for the initial finishing coat. This is identical to how you do a repair. Lightly sand again as in step 2

5) Apply a Bed Coat centered over the tape

Use either an 8″ or 10″ knife. If you have tape joints that cross each other or otherwise form an angle with one another, such as the corners of a square patch, then you will notice that you can produce a nice reasonably smooth bed coat in one direction, but when you bed the joint that crosses the first one, then the first bed joint gets kind of messed up. Don’t worry too much about it at this time; just do the best you can. Try to finish each joint with a single smooth stroke of your knife. Again, don’t sweat the details too much at this point. Allow to dry. Lightly sand again as in step 2

6) Apply a Skim coat of joint compound over the entire repair

Use a 12″ knife. You want to use that big knife to feather the repair out in all directions starting from the high point that you made with the bed coat in step 7. That is when you strike off (remove) most of the mud one end of your knife will be riding on the slightly thicker bed coat right over the tape joint, and the other end will be on the drywall. Don’t use too much pressure so that the 12″ knife will bridge the gap and leave a layer of mud that is just thick enough to fill in the low place between these two points. Allow to dry. Lightly sand again as in step 2

7)Take a good look at your work
If the patch was just a single straight tape joint, then it probably looks pretty good at this point. If you see low spots and/or craters, then you probably need to do another thin skim coat using a 6″ or 8″ knife.

It may take several cycles of skim coats and sanding to achieve the desired result, but you can do it, even with no previous experience.

The final step is to sand thoroughly, until the repair is as smooth and flat as possible.

You should be aware that a drywall repair is always a multi part process, and is usually going to stretch over more than one day, and you will need a few specialized tools.
Drywall tools


1) Mud Pan or Hawk – This is what you use to hold the drywall joint compound while you work with it, and to clean your knife while you are working. Instead of buying a pan or hawk you can also use a scrap of wood or drywall that has at least one good straight edge to wipe your knife on.

2) Drywall knives – You might think of these as “putty knives” If the repair you are doing is very small (smaller than a quarter) you can get by with one 4″ knife, but if it is any bigger then you will need 3 knives:

  • a) Either a 3″ or 4″ or 6″ knife for taping
  • b) Either a 8″ or 10″ knife for bedding
  • c) A 12″ knife for the skim coat
  • 3) Sandpaper or a sanding sponge

    4) You might also need a utility knife, and/or a drywall saw.

    Professional quality tools will help you to more easily get high quality results, and I would always recommend that any time you make a tool purchase that you buy the best quality that you can afford. Good tools are an investment that will last a lifetime if properly cared for. However, if you are on the cheap, you can actually get very good results with plastic drywall knives.


    1) Drywall tape – Either paper tape, or mesh tape will work, but mesh tape is easier to work with.

    2) Drywall Joint compound – “Premixed” lightweight joint compound will work just fine, but I recommend that you use “setting type” joint compound which comes as a powder that you mix with water, because it dries faster, doesn’t shrink, and it will last almost indefinitely on the shelf if you keep it dry. Be SURE that you get the “easy sand” type if you use setting type joint compound, because the kind that does not say “easy sand” should be labeled “so danged hard that you can’t sand it at all”. Setting type joint compound is also rated by how long it takes to harden. There are 20, 45, and 90 minute varieties. I do not recommend the 20 minute variety for the do it yourselfer, because it hardens too fast, and if you mix more than a very small amount you can’t use it up before it becomes unusable.

    3) If you are repairing an actual hole that is no larger than 6″ square you can use a self adhesive drywall patch, if the repair is larger, you will probably need to put in a piece of drywall using drywall repair clips. If you are only repairing a crack or dent, then you don’t have to worry about it. However, joint compound is only intended to be used in thin layers (usually a total of about ¼” for the entire repair), so don’t try to reconstruct a gapping hole with only join compound.

    Drywall and Mudding tips:

    1) Keep your knife clean throughout the process.

    2) Always do a good job of cleaning and drying your tools between steps.

    3) Mix a drop or two of dish washing liquid with the mud. It will allow you to get smoother results.

    4) If you use pre mixed joint compound, to avoid contaminating your material with bits of dried mud, use a knife to scrape all of the mud that you can off of the sides of the bucket, smooth out the top of the leftover mud, then cover the surface with saran wrap before tightly replacing the lid. A tiny bit of dried mud mixed with what you are trying to use will make it almost impossible to get good results.

    5) Usually “pre mixed” joint compound is too thick and you will need to add a little bit of water to thin it.

    6) Always allow the previous work to dry thoroughly before you continue.

    7) Sanding drywall creates a lot of fine dust, and you should take appropriate measures to protect yourself from breathing it.

    8) An expert drywall finisher will accomplish good results in fewer steps, and probably won’t need to sand much, if at all, between coats, but this isn’t intended for the expert.

    9) If the effort it takes to learn how to mud and tape drywall seems like a lot of trouble, then keep this in mind; a pro will probably charge you at least $200-$300 for a repair like this, because of the multiple steps and return trips.

    Bedded drywall butt joint

    Bedded butt joint showing a little (acceptable) roughness.

    Bedded drywall butt joint

    Profesional drywall finisher skim coating a flat using a 12″ knife.

    Bedded drywall butt joint

    An inside corner that has been taped with mesh tape and the initial skim coat of joint compound.

    How to replace a Clothes Dryer Element

    If your electric clothes dryer runs but doesn’t get warm then you probably need a new heating element.

    This is an Amana brand dryer. Apparently all Amana and Speed Queen dryers use the exact same parts and repair procedure. I would consider this a very simple clothes dryer repair that is well within the reach of just about anyone who would be willing to tackle it. Estimated time required is 30-60 minutes. The Part was about $40.

    Replacing a dryer element

    These are the only tools that you need for this job: A 5/16″ nut driver, wire stripper, electrical tape, and flashlight.

    Replacing a dryer element

    First, unplug the dryer.

    Replacing a dryer element

    Those screws that are just visible at the bottom front corners are the ones you need to remove to open the cabinet.

    Replacing a dryer element

    This is the new heating element.

    Replacing a dryer element

    This is the other side of the new heating element.

    Replacing a dryer element

    Here I’m using my handy dandy Enders brand 6 in 1 screw driver as a 5/16 nut driver to remove the access panel.

    Replacing a dryer element

    Putting a two by four under the front edge of the dryer makes it a lot easier to get at these screws.

    Replacing a dryer element

    Off comes the access panel…

    Replacing a dryer element

    First glimps inside of the clothes dryer…

    Replacing a dryer element

    That black plastic blower housing doesn’t have to come off, but removing it only involves 3 screws and greatly improves access.

    Replacing a dryer element

    Replacing a dryer element

    Replacing a dryer element

    Here’s the view inside. Way back on the left is the old element. Plenty of dryer lint in there… Vacuming it out would probably be a really good idea.

    Replacing a dryer element

    The dryer element is only held in place by two 5/16 screws that are easily accessable. Although access does involve laying face down on the floor and reaching about as far back as I can reach.

    Replacing a dryer element

    Here is the new element on the right and the old one on the left. If you look close you will notice that the wires aren’t plugged into the correct places on the new element. It is quite easy to switch them around when they are side by side like this.

    Replacing a dryer element

    This burnt insulation means that I have to replace the female spade connector. Luckily my replacement part came with two pre-made “pigtails” for just such occasions.

    Replacing a dryer element

    Cut the burnt part of the wire off.

    Replacing a dryer element

    Strip about 3/4″ of both wires…

    Replacing a dryer element

    Twist them together and then trim to about 1/2″. Be Sure and twist clockwise so that the splice will tighten when you screw on the wire nut.

    Replacing a dryer element

    Screw on the wire nut as far as it will go. BTW the wire nuts came with the new element.

    Replacing a dryer element

    Since a clothes dryer is subject to vibration it is a good idea to secure the wire nut with a few turns of electrical tape.

    Replacing a dryer element

    All connections are made and the heating element is ready to install. I recommend that you do plug in the wires and make the connections before installing the element, because it’s pretty hard to reach back in there after it’s in place, and the wires don’t get in your way at all.

    Replacing a dryer element

    The new element is in place. Now just replace the black plastic blower housing, the front access cover, remove the 2 by 4, and plug ‘er in. Total clothes dryer repair elapsed time, about 30 minutes, If you don’t run into any snags.

    Your Dryer isn’t like this? Try looking here for Dryer Disasembly how to’s on other brands.

    Financing a Home Improvement Project

    Improving or updating your home – whether it is an addition, updating a kitchen or bath, or finishing the basement – improves your quality of life and increases the resale value of your home. These kinds of projects can cost tens of thousands of dollars, but there are several financing options available. To choose wisely you need to consider several factors:

    • how much you need to borrow.
    • how much equity you currently have in your home.
    • how much value your project will add to your home.
    • whether you need the money all at once or would prefer to draw on it as necessary.
    • whether you want to make amortized payments or follow a more flexible schedule.
    • your comfort level with placing a second mortgage on your home.

    Your first steps should be to get pre-approved by a lender to determine how much you can spend, and to get an estimate from a qualified contractor to determine if your project is feasible with the financing that is available to you. Then here are your financing options:

    A home equity loan

    Works much like a conventional mortgage. You borrow a lump sum that is secured against your home, and is repaid over several years. Usually, the interest rate and monthly payment usually remain fixed throughout the term of the loan. This option requires an additional payment on top of your first mortgage and usually carries a higher interest rate than refinancing your mortgage. However, the closing costs may be lower and it can be right if you prefer not to refinance and you need the money for your renovation all at once.

    A home equity line of credit

    A HELOC is a good choice if you will need to pay for your project in stages. In this case, the lender agrees to advance you money up to a specified limit, and you access the money as needed with an ATM card or checking account, making it easy to pay contractors. Monthly payments can be lower than those of a home equity loan, since you have the option of paying interest only on the money you withdraw. The other important difference is that HELOCs carry adjustable interest rates, while home equity loans typically have fixed rates.

    Refinancing your mortgage

    An option to consider if you already have equity in your home and you are planning a major renovation. For example, if you want to borrow $45,000 to build an addition and you have $120,000 left to pay on a $200,000 mortgage, you may be able to take cash out by raising the principal on your mortgage to $195,000. This would allow you to pay for the entire renovation up front. Depending on the terms, your monthly mortgage payment might remain the same; only the length of the loan will be extended. If your project will be an addition (as opposed to simply redecorating) lenders may approve you based on the projected value of your home after the project is complete.

    A personal loan or line of credit

    May be all you need for a smaller project. The fees to set these up can be lower than those for refinancing your mortgage or your equity. The drawbacks? Personal loans are not secured with your home, so they carry a higher interest rate. But depending on the rate, they are usually more economical than using a credit card. However, interest on your mortgage or home equity loan may be tax deductible whereas interest on a personal loan is not.

    Choosing a Contractor

    Full Disclosure – I’m a general contractor. I’ve worked in both the custom and speculative markets for clients and for myself. This article is based mostly upon my opinions and experience, but it also reflects a consensus from within my community. If you don’t get anything else from it just remember one thing – Check References – if you do that you will be way ahead of the game.

    Before you can choose a contractor you will need to decide what Kind of contractor you want, and why. At one end of the spectrum of contractors you have the Full Service General Contractor. The Full Service General Contractor does way more than just construction. They also:

  • Produce a detailed proposal, and firm price that will be very helpful for securing project financing.
  • Manage specialty tradesmen such as electricians, plumbers, tile setters, etc
  • Manage and usually furnish general construction workers who will perform tasks that are difficult to sub-contract out like foundation lay out, clean up, general labor, as well as specialty skilled trades when sucuring a specialized subcontractor isn’t appropriate.
  • Furnish workman’s comp, general liability, and sometimes builders risk insurance
  • Manage payroll for everyone who works on the job
  • Procure and manage materials
  • Pull building permits
  • Deal with codes inspectors
  • Plan and Schedule all of these elements as well as keep You the customer on schedule “time to get that light picked out!”
  • Quality assurance – make sure that everyone is doing a good job
  • Incur liability – For example if your house burns down because of faulty wiring, the general contractor will incur the liability for negligence (if it was involved) in case the electrician is unable to for any reason. This is a major reason why a full service contractor costs more.
  • Contract with you to do your project for a firm price or at least a well estimated one.
  • Furnish a warranty – if you act as your own contractor you will usually not get much if any warrantability from tradesmen.
  • The General Tradesman

    On the other end of the spectrum of contractors you have the General Tradesman. The General Tradesman will generally perform all or most of the construction personally or with the help of 1-3 others. This crew will work on your job pretty much continuously from start to finish. Other than construction the General tradesman may not do any of the other things that a Full service contractor does. They may Only work by the hour or on a “cost plus” basis, making the final cost pretty hard for you to predict. They will probably want to be paid up to current once a week. The General tradesman may not be licensed or insured, which may or may not be quite legal.

    If you hope to have minimal dealings with managing your project (from planning to warranty) then you probably want a full service general contractor. If you don’t mind being a lot more hands on then you might consider a Tradesman type contractor. Or you might accept something in between (remember, it’s a spectrum).

    Now, here is the most important part: Check their References. Talking to recent past customers is without a doubt the best way to find out what you are getting into. Both types of contractors have their own inherent advantages (which should be obvious). But if you check their references, you will know what to expect. If a contractor won’t or can’t furnish references then don’t even consider them.

    The next most important thing is to get a written contract that specifies exactly what you and your contractor are agreeing on, no matter what type of contractor you hire.

    Keep in mind that you get what you pay for – or at least you don’t get what you don’t pay for. Any Contractor is obligated to perform the work in a competent manner, but if you hope to get other services then you should expect to pay for them. In other words, a full service contractor will probably cost more than a tradesman, but for more money you should also get more service.

    How to Plan your Remodeling or home Improvement project and select a Contractor

    Define your Goals

    Write down the ways in which your home does not currently meet your

    needs. Don’t worry about the design or budget of the project at this

    point. That will come later. Just write down the issues you are trying

    to resolve. Aside from what you need, also include anything that you just simply want. This is your dream list. For example:

    • “When we entertain the house is too small to accommodate our guests.”
    • “We’re tired of going up and down stairs to do the laundry.”
    • “We want a bigger more modern kitchen.”
    • “We want a bigger luxurious bathroom.”
    • “We need much more closet space.”
    • “I want a high tower from which to survey my domain.”
    • “We would like for our home to be more energy efficient.”
    • “We want to have a sunny, cheerful room that is appropriate for
    • houseplants, and family activities.”

    If you have many separate items on your wish list at this point, try

    to rank them by priority, and decide which goals are most important

    to you. If you are able to solve these problems then you will

    be more likely to be happy with the results of your project, and it

    will allow a professional to help you design a project which will be

    right for you.

    2. Determine your budget

    This may be the most distasteful, yet necessary part of the process. In

    order to evaluate the practical limits of your budget you need to consider

    several factors. Do you foresee selling your home in the near

    future? If so, you will probably be concerned with recovering

    your investment when you sell. If the total of what you paid

    for your home and the cost of remodeling is going to significantly

    exceed the value of the most expensive homes in your neighborhood then

    your project may not be economically feasible. However after

    five years or so other factors may be more significant. So, if

    you have no intention of moving soon then the issue is completely different. Location

    is everything, and if you love the location of your home and intend

    to stay put then any amount of investment to make it into the home

    you want may be justified. If you will be borrowing money

    for your project, then you should talk to your lender to get an idea

    of what your financial limits might be.

    3. Find a Contractor

    When it comes to finding a contractor, be an informed consumer. Before

    you even contact a prospective contractor consider calling the Better

    Business Bureau or the state board for licensing contractors to see

    if they have any unresolved complaints or actions against them. Once

    you have contacted a contractor ask them for references. Why

    even waste the time to discuss your project in depth if these factors

    might disqualify a candidate? A reputable contractor will be

    delighted for you to check up on their business in advance.

    “Horror Stories” about contractors abound. For example, the

    contractor who starts a job and then disappears for weeks at a time. Or

    the contractor who does a pretty good job, but then just won’t return

    for warranty work. Or the contractor who goes grotesquely over

    budget. Or the contractor who takes your money and then does

    an all around shoddy job. One thing all of those stories have

    in common. The customer didn’t check the contractors references. Don’t

    make that mistake and you probably will never have a horror story of

    your own.

    4. Get all questions answered up front

    Your contract should be specific, and may (usually should) include

    drawings, model numbers of appliances or fixtures, materials specifications,

    and a specification of all services which will be included. Also

    the rate for upgrades or additional work (AKA change orders) should

    be agreed upon. Just as important as what will be included is

    a list of any required commodities that the contractor will not be

    paying for such as electrical service, yard repair, owner supplied

    fixtures, owners responsibilities, etc.

    Definitions of Construction and Home Improvement Terms

    110/220 or 120/240?
    110 volt and 220 volt designations are old familiar terminology, but are no longer commonly used in either product design or by electric utilities. The 115 volt and 230 volt terminology comes from equipment design standards. Equipment is usually designed to operate at 115 or 230 volts with a plus or minus 10% acceptable variation. Utility companies deliver electric service at 120 / 240 volts plus or minus 5%.
    Thus, the correct terms are usually 120 and 240, but for practical purposes 110=115=120 and 220=230=240.

    AFCI – Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter
    AFCI Breakers are designed to protect your home from fires which are cause by arcing as well as over current conditions. Normal breakers are only effective against over current conditions. Arc Fault Breakers are now required by new construction codes to protect receptacles which are located in bedrooms (and possibly other locations according to local codes variants). Arc Fault breakers may not be 100% effective against all fires caused by arcing because there is a certain amount of arcing which is normal, and the arc fault breaker would be unusable if it tripped every time that a normal arc were detected. For example if you ever noticed a spark when you unplug an appliance or flipped a wall switch, then that is normal arcing. Abnormal (and Dangerous) arcing often is caused by a poor connection, or damaged wire. Unfortunately, dangerous arcing “looks” an awful lot like normal arcing to the breaker, so it is possible for a fire to be started without tripping the breaker. Nonetheless an arc fault breaker, even if less than perfect, is a lot better than no protection at all. By the way, arc faults are one of the big reasons that electrical connections should never be made outside of an approved wiring device.

    Arc Fault Breakers like GFI devices have “test” and “reset” buttons and should be tested periodically according to the manufacturer’s specifications (usually once a month).

    Approved Wiring Device
    This term refers to any of a number of devices which are “approved” by Underwriters Laboratory or some other codes sanctioned testing organization for the purpose of mounting electrical fixtures and equipment, or for containing connections. Appliances and some fixtures are considered as approved wiring devices also. Wiring supply connections may only be made inside of approved wiring devices, and for several good reasons. The wiring device protects the connection from tampering, abrasion or other damage, and also protects the home from electrical fires which are most likely to start at connections.

    Buck Boost Transformer is a small single phase transformer which reduces (buck) or raises (boost) line voltage a small amount. The most common example is boosting 208 volts (derived from 3 phase service) to 230 volts (equivalent to single phase service) to operate a 230 volt appliance such as an HVAC compressor or fan motor from a 208 volt supply line. A buck-boost transformer does not alter the phase signature of the power supply.

    GFCI devicesGFI or GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) devices help to protect people from being shocked or electrocuted. They work by very quickly detecting a “Ground Fault” (for example the ground fault that happens when a person is being shocked, one caused by a short, or a voltage “leak” caused by dampness in and around electrical equipment) and interrupting the current. GFI devices are usually either in the form of a receptacle or a breaker, although some equipment (hot tubs for example) may sometimes have GFI protection built in, but not usually. A single GFI receptacle or breaker often protects many additional receptacles or fixtures, which sometimes causes confusion because a homeowner doesn’t know that a tripped GFI receptacle in another part of the house could be interrupting the current to a regular receptacle.

    In many codes jurisdictions an old fashioned two prong outlet can be replaced with a three pronged GFI receptacle in order to safely allow the use of modern appliances with three pronged plugs. GFI protected circuits and devices are usually found (and required by codes) outside, and in damp locations such as bathrooms, kitchens, and basements. Wet conditions around a GFI protected device may trigger the GFI and prevent it from being reset able.

    All GFI devices have “Test” and “Reset” buttons on them. The test button causes a ground fault within the device and trips the reset button causing it to pop out and protrude slightly, thus interrupting the current to any devices which are protected by the GFI in question. Pushing the reset button in until it catches will restore current to the circuit. If the “test” button fails to function as described then the GFI device must be replaced. As mentioned previously, a continuous ground fault (like one cause by excessive water around the electrical equipment) will prevent the GFI from being reset able, and must be remedied before the circuit will be usable. A nonfunctioning GFI device is an extremely dangerous situation, which must be remedied immediately.

    Line An electrical term which is short for “line voltage” and indicates wires which bring power into a device, and the terminals that such wires connect to. Incoming Power.

    Load An electrical term which indicates an additional electrical load, the wires that carry current from a device to the load, and the terminals on a device that such wires connect to. Outgoing power.

    Wild-leg Wild-wire or red-leg delta properly referred to as high leg delta is a type of three phase transformer winding connection sometimes found in older electrical installations. A transformer wound in this fashion will have four wires coming out of the secondary: the three phases, plus a neutral that is a center-tap of one of the windings. The voltages between the three phases are relatively the same; however the voltage magnitudes between a particular phase and the neutral vary. The phase-to-neutral voltage of two of the phases will be half of the phase-to-phase voltage. The remaining phase-to-neutral voltage will be 1.7 times the phase-to-phase voltage. Typically, the transformer is designed such that the ‘B’ phase is the ‘high’ leg. According to Article 110.15 of the 2005 National Electrical Code, panel boards connected to this type of transformer must explicitly identify as the high leg, preferably by coloring it orange. Generally the high-leg can not be used for loads requiring a neutral such as lighting because of the high voltage potential. In other cases such as three phase motors which do not utilize a neutral the wild-leg is irrelevant because it has the same phase to phase voltage potential as the other two legs.

    Home Maintenance Schedule

    Home Maintenance

    Regular maintenance is the key to keeping your home in top shape, preserving its value, and preventing problems like wet basements. Home maintenance begins when the home is brand new and continues forever. Therefore, it is best to make regular maintenance a habit from the very beginning. In addition to normal maintenance, you can expect to replace major systems of your home on a predictable schedule, so be aware of these expenses and plan for them.

  • Monthly Maintenance items
  • Every 6 Months Maintenance items
  • Annual Maintenance items
  • Spring Maintenance items
  • Summer Maintenance items
  • Fall Maintenance items
  • Winter Maintenance items
  • When things go wrong
  • Wet Basement
  • Life expectancy of major systems
  • Monthly

  • Inspect yard, landscaping for standing water or drainage problems immediately after (or during) heavy rain.
  • During moderate rain, inspect gutters and downspouts for leaks. If any leaks are noticed, plan on caulking them during dry weather.
  • Test smoke detector.
  • Change HVAC air filter.
  • Check under sinks for signs of leakage.
  • Test GFCI breakers and receptacles.
  • Clean or replace filter in range hood.

    Every 6 Months

  • Check and clean gutters and downspouts.
  • Check water supply lines and valves for leaks, including inside the water meter box.
  • Check around water heater and water service entrance valve for leaks. (you do know where your water service entrance valve is, don’t you?)
  • Inspect windows and screens, lubricate tracks and latch mechanisms.
  • Clean and inspect gutters and downspouts
  • Clean and inspect culverts and drainage tiles
  • Check for cracks in caulking around the following areas: sinks, bathtubs, toilets, faucets, countertops, ceramic tile, window sills, exterior door trim.
  • Familiarize yourself with the locations of main water and electrical cut offs, and their use so that in the event of an emergency (water is spraying all over the kitchen for example) you will know where to turn off the water and electricity.
  • Annual Maintenance items

  • Have HVAC system checked and maintained by qualified technician.
  • Check attic vents for blockage.
  • Inspect inside of attic for signs of roof leaks.
  • Check cabinet doors, drawers and hinges for alignment. Adjust and lubricate if needed.
  • Check and clean chimney if needed.
  • Clean exterior of house: siding, gutters, concrete slabs, decks etc. Be aware that some kinds of siding (vinyl for example) shouldn’t be pressure washed because of the possibility of forcing water into the thermal envelope of the house, no house is built to withstand careless pressure washing. Care should always be taken to restrict water from washing to the exterior of your home.
  • seal asphalt driveway
  • touch up paint/caulk interior
  • touch up paint/caulk exterior
  • Lubricate drawers, hinges, locks, garage doors, anything that has moving parts or is squeaky or sticky.
  • Spring Maintenance items

  • Lawns should be seeded or reseeded in late winter or as early in the spring as possible while nights are cold and the ground is wet.
  • Open foundation vents around beginning of April.
  • Clean and seal decks while nearby plants are still dormant to avoid damaging plants with sealer over spray.
  • Apply pre-emergent crab grass killer if desired. Follow manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Fertilize lawn and landscaping as soon as spring growth appears
  • Prune large trees before leaves appear, while branch structure is visible.
  • Middle TN is usually frost free by the middle of April, so tender bedding plants can be safely set out after this date. Wait a few weeks longer to set out warm weather plants such as tomatoes or peppers.
  • Clean gutters as needed to keep leaves from accumulating. Stopped up gutters may cause roof and foundation leaks, and serious long term damage to your home.
  • Summer Maintenance items

  • When over night temperatures are no longer cool stop applying fertilizer to grass
  • Summer is a great time to touch up exterior paint and caulk,
  • Seal asphalt driveway
  • Fall Maintenance items

  • Pay attention to weather forecasts and do these things before freezing temperatures to avoid expensive plumbing repairs
  • Remove garden hoses from outside faucets before freezing weather, even “frost proof” faucets will be damaged if there is a hose attached.
  • Close foundation vents, and check crawl space access door.
  • Clean gutters as needed to keep leaves from accumulating. Stopped up gutters may cause roof and foundation leaks, and serious long term damage to your home.
  • Remove leaves from lawn. If you pile them up and let them rot they make a great soil amendment for your flower beds or vegetable garden. Consider planting a natural screen around a corner of the yard for a compost pile to recycle your leaves, grass clippings, prunings, and other waste into excellent organic compost.
  • Apply lime to lawn if needed. Almost all soils in middle TN need lime, plus it is relatively cheap and very environmentally friendly. However some evergreen shrubs can be stunted or damaged by too much lime.
  • Winter Maintenance items

  • Broadcast grass seed on or about last day of winter
  • Apply dormant treatments to fruit bearing trees
  • Prune and burn diseased or infested branches/foliage from plants and trees
  • If weather turns extremely cold (less than 10 degrees F) take precautions to avoid freezing pipes:

  • 1) Double check that foundation vents and crawl doors are tightly closed.
  • 2) Leave the doors open on cabinets that contain plumbing under the kitchen and bathroom sinks so that they can get some heat.
  • 3) In particularly vulnerable locations along outside walls (usually the kitchen sink) leave the water running a tiny bit if the temperature stays below zero for more than a few hours.
  • 4) If the water heater is in an unheated garage, monitor the temp in the area, and run a space heater if it is getting colder than 25 degrees.
  • When things go wrong

    Electric outlet doesn’t work.

  • Check for tripped breakers, and also tripped GFI or Arc Fault breakers. A GFI plug in another room could be causing the problem so check all GFI devices before you give up. GFI devices (both breakers and receptacles) should be checked monthly. Make sure that appliances like vacuum cleaners are turned off before you plug them in to avoid tripping arc fault breakers.Garage door opener won’t close door.
  • Make sure that the “electric eyes” are still aligned and the path between them is unobstructed. The opener safety feature will not allow the door to close if the two “eyes” can’t see each other.
  • Mold – Mold is almost always caused by excessive moisture or humidity. Moisture content of materials in a properly maintained home are so low that mold can not normally grow. However, moisture can come from:

  • roof or plumbing leaks,
  • condensation on uninsulated plumbing or HVAC ducts
  • spillage – especially in bathrooms and kitchens
  • Whatever the source of the moisture it must be remedied or your home may become unfit for habitation. If you detect mold inside your home you must take immediate action to find and remedy the cause.
  • Interior air quality – The homeowner must monitor interior air quality, and take immediate action to protect the health of habitants. Things that you can do to maintain or improve interior air quality include:

  • maintaining your furnace filter,
  • controlling humidity to prevent mold,
  • vacuuming carpets regularly,
  • using HEPA filters in both the vacuum and furnace.
  • Your central heat and air system acts as a whole house air filter, so consider turning the fan on all of the time to continually filter.
  • Keep doors and windows closed as much as possible during periods of high pollen count or air pollution.
  • Make sure that your dryer vents to the outside and that the vent is well sealed and unobstructed
  • clean the dryer screen after every load of clothes.
  • If you have carpets, consider replacing all or part of them with tile or hardwood floors.
  • The soil in house plants almost always harbors mold (that gets watered and fertilized right along with the plants) which is a source of spores in the interior air, consider moving house plants to a separate space or getting rid of them altogether.
  • One of the biggest things that you can do is to banish smokers out of the house.
  • These actions can greatly improve the quality of life for everyone in your family, but especially for allergy sufferers.
  • Wet Basement

    Regular maintenance can almost always at least improve and sometimes completely eliminate a wet basement without the intrusion and expense of basement repairs and remediation.

    The first line of defense for keeping your basement dry happens outside of your home. Keep rain and ground water away from your home by keeping gutters, driveway tiles drains and culverts clear and functioning as they were intended. Move foundation plantings (bushes) away from the house (five feet minimum) to prevent watering during dry weather from aggravating your wet basement and to allow air circulation. Establish and maintain a grade which slopes away from your basement at all points. Run downspout water away from the foundation (AKA basement) with splash blocks or piping, and then make sure that those pipes stay open!

    Your basement should have a perimeter drain system that was installed when the house was built. That system would have drain pipes which carry water away from the base of the foundation. Often the homeowner doesn’t know what or where they are and the perimeter drain tiles become clogged or crushed at the place where they come out of the ground. Needless to say they need to be maintained.

    Many basements don’t have adequate ventilation and may require a dehumidifier. A dehumidifier can often be placed so that the water that it collects can go down a drain so that it can run continuously when needed without having to be emptied. If this isn’t possible, a condensate pump can be used to pump the water out to accomplish the same thing.

    A wet or damp basement can be aggravated by any source of moisture including:

  • roof or plumbing leaks,
  • condensation on uninsulated plumbing or HVAC ducts
  • spillage – especially in bathrooms and kitchens
  • leaks coming under walk in or garage doors
  • Other than a fire, excess moisture is the quickest way to make a house worthless and ininhabitable (just ask a hurricane victim). Whatever it takes to prevent or remedy a water or moisture problem is time and money well spent!

    Life expectancy of major systems

  • Water heater3-10 years
  • HVAC units10-20 years
  • Roof – standard asphalt shingles15-20 years
  • Roof – 30 year shingles25-35 years
  • Exterior paint5-10 years
  • Asphalt driveway20-30 years