Q. I found your article on properly preparing an unoccupied home for winter informative. I learned some valuable information from it. Is there a similar article out there for the reverse situation, where a Florida home is safely prepared for a summer vacancy?
A. Although I'm not a winter traveler, I have friends who maintain summer and winter residences, so I asked them to share their tips for "summarizing" a winter home. Here are some of their suggestions:
The home needs to be closed for security reasons, and yet the humidity and odors causing bacteria inside the house need to be controlled. Set the thermostat to 76 degrees and make sure the dehumidifier is left on. Leave at least one ceiling fan on low or add a timer to run a vented bath fan at least 12 hours a day. This will help control indoor humidity.
To prevent bacteria and odors from forming, remove all foods and leave the refrigerator door open. Also leave the dishwasher door open and clean the inside of garbage cans. In warmer climates, bacteria formation is a major issue that can be avoided with a little soap and water. Odors can also come from an open drain in the bathroom, kitchen and laundry. Close or add drain stoppers and seal them with blue painter's tape.
The warmer climate is also hard on batteries, so these should be removed from all the clocks, alarms, remotes, etc. However, some thermostats require batteries, so these should be replaced before closing the home for the summer. The electrical service will be left on to operate the alarm system, air-conditioning unit, dehumidifier and fans, but you can turn off the breakers to the range and oven, the microwave, refrigerator, water heater and pool equipment. Unplug TV sets, recorders and other nonessentials, including the garage-door opener, then secure the overhead garage door from the inside. Clean all outside furniture and decorative items and store inside.
In warmer climates the main water supply can remain on, but you might want to add locks to the outside hose faucets and turn off the individual water supplies to sinks, toilets and laundry equipment. Gas-powered mowers, carts, etc., should have "Sta-Bil," a fuel stabilizer, added to their gas tanks and then operate the equipment for a few minutes to prevent corrosion of the engines. Do not store gas inside the house or garage. Sta-Bil can be found at home and auto stores or online at sta-bil.com.au.
Now that the house is secured from the weather, the last thing to do is protect it from pest invasion. Have the home's interior and exterior treated for ants and other creepy, crawly creatures now and again when returning in the fall.
Q. You have written about spalling or flaking bricks and why they're that way.
You said a cap of stone, wood or metal is needed to keep rain and snow out. Would you please explain what kind of cap you're talking about? This is happening to the brick on the north side of my house in Texas.
A. Most all bricks will store water when exposed to rain or snowmelt. During the drying process, the stored water travels to the surface of the brick, and when the weather turns to freezing the stored water turns to ice, which expands and damages the face of the bricks.
This appears more often on bricks above grade on chimneys and retaining walls, but brick walks and patios with poor drainage can also be damaged by "spalling."
To prevent water damage to the brick surface and to the mortar joints of vertical walls or chimneys, a cap of precast concrete, limestone slabs, terra-cotta tiles or fabricated aluminum is often used much like an umbrella to protect the bricks below. The roof of a home helps protect the exterior bricks from the weather, but a wall capped with bricks will have multiple joints exposed to water entry.
Caps of stone, concrete or tile will also have joints along the top of the wall that will have to be maintained annually to prevent spalling.
The caps made of stone, concrete or tile should also have an overhang on each side of the wall to form a drip ledge to prevent water from cascading down the face of the brick. Aluminum can be formed to any shape needed to force water away from the brick's surface; however, certain metals can leave a stain on the bricks that would require additional maintenance.
Brick is a durable and architecturally pleasing product, but it must be installed properly and receive, at a minimum, an annual inspection for defects in the mortar joints and surface finish.
Q. We recently had our house inspected and repaired to save money on our heating and cooling bills. We were promised savings if we would let the company insulate, add new windows and tune up our furnace. Even though this has been a mild winter we have not noticed a significant savings and, in fact, the last electric bill was about the same as last year's bill. We are senior citizens and were given a seniors' discount, but I'm starting to think it was all a waste of money. Am I expecting too much too soon?
A. You are not the first person to ask me this question. With the costs of energy on the rise, there are those who will use the perceived energy crisis to increase their sales quotas. When a salesman tells you he can save you energy dollars by using his products, what he should be saying is you can reduce energy consumption by using his products.
Yes, you are consuming less electrical energy now, but the cost of the electric energy has increased since last year's bill. Without the added insulation and new windows, your electric bill might have been much higher.
The utility company bills residential customers by the kilowatt hour (kWh), which is 1,000 watts per hour of use.
As an example, a window air conditioner might be rated at 1 kWh, which means it will use 1,000 watts per hour of use. Using your utility bill, compare the number of kWhs you used last year with the number of kWhs used this year and you will probably notice that you are using less but paying more.
The costs to produce and deliver electricity will vary from state to state and even vary within a state, so use the average rates charged by your local utility. You can further reduce energy use by caulking and sealing around the new windows and doors and by adding an insulated cover and weather stripping to the attic access.
What is most important is to stop the airflow from the outside to the inside through cracks or other openings in walls, ceilings and floors. Airflow can be reduced from the interior by caulking around recessed ceiling light fixtures, floor registers, outlets and switch plates or any other opening on an outside wall. The idea is to separate the living area of the home from the attic and the foundation.
Using compact fluorescent bulbs can also lower energy use, and now that your furnace is tuned and in good working condition, make sure you change the filter on a regular basis. A dirty filter blocks airflow and wastes energy. You can also reduce energy use by 1 percent for each degree you turn down the thermostat.
Only time and the economy will reveal whether you made a wise investment, but my thinking is that you did.
• Dwight Barnett is a certified master inspector with the American Society of Home Inspectors. Write to him at d.Barnett@insightbb.com.
Scripps Howard News Service