The Professional Choice

A companion overview to the popular "Ask Mr. Handyman" radio program airing on Christian Talk Radio, KCRO 660AM Saturdays @ 9:30AM.

Monday, January 17, 2011

January Maintenance tasks

There is not a whole lot of winter time maintenance to tell all of our listeners about except a few items to be aware of. The amount of snow we received last year in the Omaha area lead to many homes with ice damming, roof leaks, interior damage and insurance claims. It should be a high priority to get the snow removed from the lower 3 ft of roof to prevent the damage.

Other maintenance tasks that should be accomplished this month include:

1. Change or clean the furnace filter (should be accomplished each month. Save money with the type you can clean and reinstall. I would advise to purchase two, one to clean/let dry and the other installed in the system and rotate them.)

2. Check the operation of your whole-house humidifier. Inspect the unit to be sure it is not leaking water onto the furnace or floor and be sure the wick (filter looking device) is not clogged up with too much calcium deposits.

3. Clean and inspect any room-type humidifiers you may have throughout your home. They also have a wick that should not contain so much calcium deposits that it restricting the flow of water. Keep an eye on a humidistat in your home to be able to tell if either humidifier type is working. If you do not have a humidistat you can purchase an inexpensive one at a local hardware store. Many times they are attached to a thermometer. (the kind that show temperature, humidity and barometer, see photos of older and newer style units). The goal is to keep the humidity near 35% through the winter but it also depends on your comfort level.

4. VERY IMPORTANT! Inspect your home for leaks, build-up of ice on the inside of the home and for any visible gaps or cracks in the foundation, walls, siding or drywall. Especially look in the basement around the pipes that protrude to the outside of the home (water spigots). If any are frozen and split they can be isolated (shut-off and/or add a valve to keep them from flooding the basement when they defrost later). The whole point of this inspection is to limit further damage by noticing something that has the potential for failure.

Here are other tasks that usually get neglected and can be completed easily in January:

Take photos or videos of all of your personal property like furniture, stereo equipment, computers, bedroom sets etc. If you ever have a fire or other major damage you'll have a record of the items in your home. Make a listing of model and serial numbers of appliances, tools, electronic equipment etc. Also make an account of #'s of clothing items, CD and DVD listings, etc. It will be so much easier dealing with the insurance company with a good record of your household items. Make a couple copies and have relatives store them for you or keep it in a safety-deposit box.

Set up your annual savings plan to tackle your home maintenance and repairs. Industry experts suggest 1-3% of the home's value per year should be set aside for maintenance. To figure out your home value you can visit the county tax assessor's website (Douglas, Sarpy and Pottawatomie counties are online). Multiply that figure by .01 to .03 to get the annual savings amount. Take that new number and divide it by 12 to get the monthly amount you should put aside to have that kitty of money for home maintenance and repairs. I'd keep it in a separate savings account so you'll be less inclined to spend it for other items. If your home is new or very well maintained I would save near the 1% figure; If it is older or not well maintained I would save at the 3% level.

REMEMBER: Spend hundred$ now in maintenance or thou$and$ later in repairs. The sooner you notice maintenance needs the less likely it will turn into full repairs. It is usually about a 10:1 ratio. What you could spend for $100 in keeping the home maintained will cost you $1000 to have repaired if the maintenance is neglected. Visit this site monthly and complete (or have someone like Mr. Handyman complete) the maintenance for you to save you thousands over the life of your home.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Preventing Ice Dams


With the possibility of snow piling up in the next few weeks ICE DAMMING has become a very big problem in the Omaha Metro area. Ice damming happens when snow is not removed from the lower 3 ft of roof line. These lower feet of roofing are over the eaves of the roof where there is no insulation or warmth underneath. What happens is the upper part of the roof starts to melt (due to the sun, poor insulation or inadequate ventilation in the attic) and the moisture drains down to the lower section that will not melt (in these temperatures) and gets "dammed up." Basically water pools above the ice and backs up into the home (comes through the roof). Roofs were made to drain off water, not pool water.

Extensive damage can happen in homes if ice damming occurs. Replacement of ceilings, walls and insulation can be very costly alone without considering carpeting, wood floors, furniture etc. Insurance will probably cover some of these costs but deductibles, replacement time, time off work, coordination hassles etc. will make it well worth the expense to prevent ice damming in the first place.

Fresh snow can be pulled off the edges of the roof with a roof rake, or snow rake. They are available at some of the local hardware stores. I have never found one at any of the "big-box" stores, but if the need is there I would not be surprised if they started carrying them. If you wait several days before you attempt to pull the snow off with a snow-rake you may have a more difficult time ahead of you. The snow may build up ice crystals and be very tough to remove.

With the expected accumulation of more snow the rest of the winter I would highly advise you MAKE THIS A HIGH PRIORITY! The added weight of all that snow on a roof can cause a collapse let alone water leaking into the ceiling and walls. This amount of snow this early in the winter could be still on the ground (and roof) until April.


If you have some old panty hose laying around the house you could fill them with "Ice Melt" (must be calcium chloride, not rock salt) and lay them vertical on the ice dam. The point is to make several vertical breaks through the ice dam so melted snow has a place to drain off the roof. This is a great trick but the best overall method is to remove the loose snow right away.


Heat wire or heat tape is an effective method to prevent ice dams. A heated electrical wire is attached to the lower sections of the roof and is manually plugged-in or turned-on by the home owner to heat up that part of the roof to melt off the ice and snow. These are somewhat inexpensive (relative to costly repairs or your insurance deductible) but should only be used as a last resort in correcting the ice dam problem. The heated wire does not have a long life and the underlying issue causing the ice damming is still unsolved. I would only recommend using heat tape if all other methods of correction have been used and the issue is still not solved for a particular problem area (may be related to tree cover, shading, wind direction, etc.)
The best approach to solving ice damming should be attempted in the following manner for cost savings and the best long-term results:
1. Correct attic insulation issues
2. Correct attic ventilation issues (whole attic space should be same temperature as outside)
3. If the only time you have ice damming issues is after a very heavy snow - purchase a snow rake and use it immediately after a snow fall removing 3 ft up from the edge.
4. Use the pantyhose trick if you did not get the snow off the edge of the roof.
5. Install heat tape (do not wait until your roof is a solid sheet of ice to try to accomplish this task)
If you cannot do the work yourself or would like a professional to accomplish these tasks for you please give Mr. Handyman a call at 402-502-5212. We've had many, many requests to do these tasks in the last few weeks -thank you KCRO & KGBI listeners! We've also heard of other companies attempting to perform ice/snow removal for homeowners and causing roof damage. Be very careful who you hire.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ten Things Every Homeowner Should Know

1. Water Shut-off Valve Location - Every person in the home should know the location of the water shut-off for the whole house. Most sinks and toilets have a shut-off valve under the fixture but knowing how to kill the flow throughout the home is imperative if needed in an emergency. If a leak pops up shutting off the flow will limit the amount of damage, repair costs AND headaches.

2. Gas Shut-off Valve Location - Same issue as the water valve but with greater emphasis towards safety. A gas leak can cause a fire or explosion so shutting it off at the sign (smell) of a leak or other danger could have life or death consequences.

3. Electric Box Breaker Switches - Be sure everyone in the home knows the location of the electric panel. Each breaker should be labeled for efficiency and safety. This will save you frustration and time during electrical issues.

4. Repair water leaks ASAP - A huge percentage of home repair costs involves water damage. Once you have detected a water leak have it repaired immediately. The longer you let it continue the more dollars required for the repair.

5. Foundation Blocks and Concrete Slabs - One of the most costly home repairs is leveling the house. To help avoid this costly repair you should keep the slab nourished during spells of very dry weather. Install flowerbeds along the sides and keep them moist. If you have no flowerbeds then you should actually water the edges of the slab. Do not over water...just be aware that cracks in the dirt can be a sign of future problems in your home's foundation.

6. Install Gutters/Downspouts - Water should be directed away (4-6 ft) from the foundation, sidewalks or patio/driveway slabs. Just like too much dry weather is bad for your foundation...too much water is bad also. Never let water pool at base of house.

7. Keep Gutters Free Flowing - The gutters and downspouts cannot push the water away from the house (and away from the basement) if they cannot do their function. Clean the gutters and downspouts several times a year or install gutter protection (look at Gutter Stuff Pro on this blog).

8. Keep Debris Off Roof - If you have trees dropping leaves on your roof you need to clear them off. Water is will work its way through your shingles and ultimately through to your ceilings. When you see the water stains in your walls or ceilings, you should repair the leak immediately.

9. Weatherproof Your Home - Repairs to doors and windows is another costly area. When you take the time to caulk and weather strip your doors and caulk around all your windows (in addition to saving money) you will remain aware of developing issues. Your job is to know your home.

10. Know Your Neighbors - Chances are your home was built at the same time as your neighbors'. Keeping tabs on their home issues can go a long way in predicting issues at your home!