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Hail and More Hail, what to look for with roof damage

You’ve been through a hail storm this spring.  What should you do?  Call your insurance or a roofer for an inspection of your roof.

These are the things the inspector is going to look for.

Step one:  Obvious damages. IE:  broken skylights or cracked skylights.   Dented or damaged gutters. aluminum siding and vinyl siding.  Damaged or dented window frames or windows.  Trees adjacent to the roof with leaves stripped or damaged landscaping plants.  Cars parked outdoors are also a good easy way for the inspector to know how close he needs to look at the actual roof.

Step 2:  The next thing they look for is the more subtle damage to the shingles.  Hail damage looks literally like a “target”.  That is, there is a center where the hail hit.  This link is a good link for pictures of damage and there are some links on that page to read up on too.  See:  https://www.google.com/search?q=pictures+of+hail+damaged+roofs&rlz=1C1ASUM_enUS670&oq=pictures+of+hail+damg&aqs=chrome.2.69i57j0l5.8693j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
  The next thing the inspector will do is count the number of damaging hits per square 100 ft or some other arbitrary size.  Once the number of hits exceeds the minimum (another arbitrary number) then they decide if the roof is damaged enough for replacement.  Then they measure the roof and come up with an estimate.
Now, once you get the news from the adjuster, I’d ask who USAA works with.  These roofers are required to give warranties and have a good reputation with USAA.  I’d find that better than anything on Angies List.  Remember, even a bad roofer can buy ad space on Angies List and have wonderful reviews.  That’s exactly why I would not even think about believing everything you read on Angies List.  By the way, the BBB operates the same way.  I’d get a list of satisfied former clients from the roofer you are considering rather than any online review.
 Big companies like Cloud Roofing have been around for many years.  They are still in business for a reason.  They might be more expensive, but they’ll still be around years from now if an issue pops up.  Most reputable roofers have great ratings with their supplier of roofing materials.  GAF, Owens Corning and such will give the roofer some sort of preferred rating since they do so much work with that brand.  Fly by night outfits haven’t been around long enough to acquire that status.
  The actual work.  Now that’s were the rubber meets the road.  The contractor will remove all old materials.  Never roof over existing shingles.   They will install new vent pipe boots.  they can be lead, galvanized with a rubber insert or all rubber.  Most all will do the job well.  They just need to be new.  The rubber gets old and once disturbed, they won’t seal well again.  They do not cost much so not replacing them really isn’t a saving in the long run.
  The next thing will be the tar paper (Sometimes called felt paper) used under the shingles.  It comes in different weights.  15 pound, 30 pound ect.  Some has a cushion built in.  the heavier the better.  Believe it or not, the tar paper actually is what stops the water from penetrating the decking.    The shingles simply protect the felt paper.  It is fastened down with wide nails through a metal plate to the wooden decking.  By the way, once everything is removed, any wooden decking that is rotted or damaged should be replaced.  Things like the fireplace chimney, skylights and such will need to have new flashing installed before the shingles are attached.
  There are areas called “valleys” in the roof.  This is where two angles come together on the roof.  In the valley, there is wide metal flashing or sometimes a rubber mat that is placed in that valley as added insurance to stop water penetration.  After all, water gathers there and is routed down the trough that is formed by the valley.  That is an important step.  Some hide the flashing under the shingles, other have the metal exposed as in the pictures.  Both are OK and are more of an aesthetic thing than anything else as to which is used.
Then there is the edge of the roof line.  A “T” shaped metal strip should go around the face-board edge to act as a support and a drip rail.
This supports the edge of the shingle so it doesn’t droop.  It also will act as a drip rail when there is drizzle or fog and water flowing off of the roof is slow.  This helps stop damage to the face boards.  By the way, they could easily replace those bad face-boards while they have the roof off.  The shingle must extend beyond the metal edge by about 1/4 to 1/2 inch.
  After all that is addressed, then the shingles go on top of it all.  Most roofers these days use a nail gun.  If it is adjusted properly, it is just fine.  Hand nailing is better.  If too much pressure is used with the nail gun, the nail will go right through the shingle (or at least cut the shingle like a perforation) and not secure the shingle properly.  Three nails per shingle is the minimum required to fasten each shingle.  More is OK, but too many won’t really help and could actually damage things.
  At the peak of the roof.  The new and preferred thing these days is a ridge vent.  It is located at the very top of the ridge of the roof line.  It is a passive means of venting the attic and is safer that the turbo vents since there are no moving parts.  Some people have both.  At the very least, I’d be sure they add a ridge vent.  If you’d like to keep the turbo vents, you can, but they aren’t needed with the ridge vent.
   A great roofer will not only do all of the above, but they will be aware of the appearance of things and do things like paint the vent pipes or exposed flashing to make things look more finished.  It not a necessary thing,  but I think it reflects on the pride of workmanship the roofer does.
By the way, there are different styles and types of shingles out there.  the 3 tab is the most common.   http://www.roofer911.com/pics/shingle-roofing.jpg
 There is a heavier better looking shingle that looks like this:  http://stlroofingcompany.com/wp-content/uploads/105084544.jpg
  You might have to consult your HOA if you are changing styles or colors of shingles.
Best of Luck with your roofing repairs!
Mr. Fix It Mike

100% of my business if from referals

Why is that?  I strive to do the best work possible.  For those wanting to save money, often the cheapest fix is the most costly.   Pay that little extra and get the job done right the first time.   That is the way I do things.

If there is a problem, I can explain it to you and provide you with only the things you need to fix the problem.  That is where I save you money.

Give me a call or text:   210-452-5816

Email: mikearmstronghomeservices@gmail.com

If you need references,  I can provide you with a very long list of clients to talk to.

Thanks for stopping by!

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Spring has sprung once again in 2016!

10 Home Maintenance Tips for Spring

After a long, dark winter, spring’s bright sun and warm winds are, well, a breath of fresh air. The only downside? All that sunshine spotlights your leaf-filled gutters, cracked sidewalks and the dead plants in last year’s flower beds.

Check for loose or leaky gutters. Improper drainage can lead to water damage to your foundation. Make sure downspouts drain away from the foundation and are clear and free of debris.

Low areas in the yard or next to the foundation should be filled with compacted soil. Spring rains can cause yard flooding, which can lead to foundation damage. Also, when water pools in these low areas in summer, it creates a breeding ground for insects.

Using your finger or wooden dowel to probe the wood trim around windows, doors, railings and decks. Make repairs now before the spring rains do more damage to the rotted wood allowing water to get behind windows and door frames.

From the ground, examine roof shingles to see if any were lost or damaged during winter. If your home has an older roof covering, you may want to consider repair or replacement. The South Texas summer sun can really damage roof shingles. Shingles that are cracked, buckled or loose or are missing granules need to be replaced. Flashing around plumbing vents, skylights and chimneys need to be checked and repaired by a qualified roofer.

Shingles that are worn enough to see fiberglass fibers showing should be replaced immediately. Once the fiberglass is exposed, it acts as a sponge to hold water against the roof decking that can cause significant damage.

Examine the exterior of the chimney for signs of damage. Have the flue cleaned and inspected by a certified chimney sweep. Burning unseasoned wood can lead to a faster buildup of creosote. A big fire hazard in a chimney.

Inspect concrete slabs for signs of cracks or movement. All exterior slabs except pool decks should drain away from the home’s foundation. Fill cracks with a concrete crack filler or silicone caulk.

Remove firewood stored near the home. Firewood should be stored at least 18 inches off the ground at least 2 feet from the structure. Wood on the ground can be a breeding ground for termites, destructive insects such as wood ants as well as rodents.

Check outside hose faucets for freeze damage. That can appear as swollen or cracked hose bibbs and supply pipes. Look at the areas that transition from the siding materials to the foundation for water or mold. That can be a sign of a broken pipe inside the wall. While you’re at it, check the garden hose for dry rot.

Have a qualified heating and cooling contractor clean and service the outside unit of the air conditioning system. Clean coils operate more efficiently, and an annual service call will keep the system working at peak performance levels. Change interior filters on a regular basis.

Check your gas- and battery-powered lawn equipment to make sure it is ready for summer use. Clean equipment and sharp cutting blades will make yard work easier. A little care here can save you the cost of replacing high dollar yard equipment.

For all you property managers out there…….

I am a reliable handy man who can fix the problem right the first time.  I’m not always the cheapest, but then, why would you be looking for a replacement for your current contractor?  Most time cheapest translates into: “More hassles.”  I have a number of property managers I’ve worked for.  Many for nearly 30 years.  You don’t keep someone for that long if they are a constant source of hassles.  Give me a call.  It would be my privilege to work for your company.

Thanks!

 

Mike

Spring is Just Around the Corner!

   It’s a great time to get things fixed up for the new year.

Painting, drywall repairs, carpentry, replace a door or more?    I can do that!

Fix a water leak, replace a water heater, replace a toilet or other minor plumbing issues?  I can do that!

Want to add a new ceiling fan, add security lights or other electrical improvements?  I can do that too!

Pressure washing,  exterior painting, fence repair and more.  Don’t see what you need here?  Give me a ring, I probably do that too.  I do all sorts of handyman projects.  Getting ready to sell or rent your home?  I can get the place made ready by fixing all those little problems before they become big problems.

Computer acting up?  Slow, reboots randomly or clogged up with viruses and spyware problems? Those problems are right down my alley.

Honest, fair and hard working.  I’m not the cheapest.  My work is better than that.  I fix things right the first time saving you from the costs of fixing things twice.  You don’t stay in business for nearly 30 years doing poor work. References available.  I’m on Angie’s List too!

Give me a call today as set an appointment!  Thanks for visiting!

 

 

 

The Enemies Within Your Home – Help Prevent a War.

Keeping your home safe from an attack from the elements, insects and vermin is a constant battle.  Thankfully, it doesn’t have to be a battle for your time 24/7.   The least obvious signs of attack are from water.  You might remember from your high school chemistry days that water is the universal solvent.   Water is also almost universally prevalent because of its necessity to life. These two facts mean that, left unchecked, water can literally destroy your home.   Water can enter your home from the roof, a poorly sealed window or door jamb, a vent that has lost its cover, or from a plumbing leak.

 

When water enters through the roof, it’s not always because you need a new roof.  Poorly flashed areas, leaves piling up inside gutters, and damaged roof vents, as well as damage to your shingles, can provide a path for water to enter.  Once inside, the roof decking can become soaked and start to rot.  The leak left long enough can begin to penetrate roof trusses and studs in the ceiling.  That can lead not only to structural damage, but can also provide a fertile place for mold to grow.   If the leak is bad enough, water can begin to soften sheet rock on the ceiling and walls.  Sheet rock can begin to sag or fall as well as provide another place for mold to grow.

 

Wind damage to roof can provide a path for water to enter.

 

Rotted wood in rafters caused by water.

 

Extreme damage to sheet rock from water penetration

 

Water damage to siding from leaves piled up against house.

 

Hidden mold damage behind wall paper from water penetration.

 

Repair costs can quickly add up to large sums of money.  Mold can be dangerous to your health.  It is even possible that your homeowner’s insurance could drop your coverage until expensive mold remediation has been done to remove the mold.   Gutters clogged with leaves can wick water behind the gutter and begin to destroy the face-boards at the edge of your roof.   While getting up on your roof is the best way to inspect it and the gutters, you can look at the roof or gutters from the ground with binoculars as you look for damage such as loose shingles or potentially damaging piled up leaves.     Another way to inspect for water penetration is to take a strong flashlight up into the attic and look around plumbing vent pipes, fireplace chimneys and roof vents.  Sometimes the signs of water penetration are subtle but can be found with a diligence and close inspection.

 

Note the rusty nail heads under a weather protected patio roof.

 

Note the mold and shriveled wood behind face board.

 

 

When you discover evidence of water damage, it is imperative you get the water stopped before the damage becomes extensive.  If climbing around on your roof isn’t your thing, get a qualified roofer to inspect for the source of water.  A good roofer will be able to take pictures of the entry point and damage and show you photographs of these problem areas.  Sometimes flashing is left out or improperly installed  and/or improperly caulked.  Water will not be redirected away properly if the flashing is missing or improperly installed.  Wind damage can take place in valleys or areas that are not visible from the ground.  Squirrels, rats and other animals have been known to chew through wood or enter through vents, compounding the damage to the roof structure.

 

When water first enters wood, it causes the wood to swell, breaking the seal of painted and/or caulked areas.  Water enters from the original area as well as the newly compromised painted surface, further damaging the wood and eventually making the paint peel away.  If there is no way for water to drain away from the wood, it will compound the damage by allowing wood to rot and give mold a serious foothold on things.   Once the source of the water is found and corrected, scrape away old, peeling paint and prepare the surface for new caulk and paint.  If the damage is extensive, replacing damaged wood with materials that do not rot, such as Hardi-plank, is the way to go.  Vinyl and aluminum siding may save you from having to paint, but it can harbor wood destroying insects and slow the evaporation of water that gets behind the siding, promoting more damage than it prevents.

 

Insects are another serious problem.  Soft, rotted wood, openings in caulked areas, and poorly sealed openings are easy paths for insects.    The most damaging insects are termites.  These little creatures have an insatiable appetite for wood and wood products.  Infestations can become so severe that you may find dirt falling from the ceiling or ceiling-mounted light fixtures where the openings were caused by the termites.  I’ve seen termites eat the paper backing of sheet vinyl on floors around toilets and bath tubs.    Termites will eat the paper on the sheet rock too.   Sometimes they eat through the painted surface, and that is where the dirt may fall from.

Termite damage on sheet rock.

There are many types of termites.  Generally speaking,  most live underground and are attracted to moist areas.   Termites need to have a controlled, humid environment.  That is what helps to reveal the termites if you know what to look for.  When termites discover a source of food and it is above ground, they have to bring their controlled, moist environment with them.   They do this by making mud tunnels on the surface of areas they have to traverse getting to the food source.  You can perform a visual inspection around the foundation of your home looking for these tunnels.  You can make life tougher for them by keeping tall grass, landscape bark chips and the like away from the foundation of your home.  Overgrown grass and debris near the foundation of the house can help hide the tunnels coming up from the ground and also protect the tunnels from damage.

Typical termite mud tunnel on wood. Termites can build these tunnels on virtually any surface.

 

If you were to disturb a tunnel, this is what the termites would look like.

 

In addition to building tunnels on the outside of your home, termites can enter through openings in the foundation.  Moisture around these openings can really help attract termites.   P-traps for bathtubs and showers are often in openings made for them as the foundation is poured.    Once everything is connected, the openings will be filled with concrete or heavy tar.  Cracks in the concrete fill can open up allowing the termites to enter the home.  The heavy tar may dry out and shrink and pull away from the concrete foundation and provide termites safe passage into your home.  Modern houses have the ground treated for termites before the foundation is poured making openings in the foundation less appealing for the termites to enter.  The treatment is good for less than 10 years.  To lure the termites away from your home, bait traps can be implanted in the ground around the perimeter of your home.   These bait traps are effective in treated and untreated areas.   Should you discover termite activity in your home, steps must be taken to eradicate them.   Poisons are injected into the ground around the home.  Sometime the infestation is bad enough that holes must be drilled into the foundation so that the poison can be injected under the foundation.  If the infestation is extreme or the termites are an especially aggressive variety, the home must be enclosed in a huge “tent” and the home fumigated.  The cost for the treatment is substantial, but the cost to repair the damage can be much worse.  Left undiscovered for a long time, termites can be so destructive they can render the supporting lumber to a state of near uselessness.

Termites infestation in studs of a wall.

 

Damage extensive enough that structural supports will need replacement.

 

To deter termites from moving into your home, keep grass trimmed away from around your foundation.   Be sure that water leaks are repaired as soon as possible.  Do not store firewood or other materials close to your foundation.  These materials attract termites and can hid them a long time before you discover damage they might make.  An occasional termite inspection by a licensed pest control company can be a bargain compared to the damage termites can cause.  Once termites are discovered and eliminated, repair damaged areas immediately to help deter the return of termites.

 

 

Fire ants, Carpenter ants and other aggressive ants can damage your home nearly as much as termites can.  When ants build mounds against your house, they can enter and destroy wood inside walls.  Fire ants are especially bad because the bite humans.  They are attracted to moisture and electricity on top of the wood destruction.  Many a service call for air conditioning problems find fire ants in the contactors of the HVAC unit outside of your home.   Fire ants also love to eat the insulation off of the wires inside the condensing unit causing more headaches.   If the contactor gets clogged with dirt or dead ants, your air condition compressor  may not be able to start up.  In the hot Texas summers, that can add plenty of misery to your day.  To reduce ant incursion, treat ant mounds with baits and poisons.   Keep food stuffs in sealed containers.  Remove crumbs from counter top and pantry areas.   Fix small water leaks that may attract the ants to your home.

 

Typical Fire Ant.

An example of a HVAC condensing unit Contactor.

 

Squirrel, Mice and rats can reek havoc with electrical wiring, eat food in your pantry and are very unsanitary as they travel through your home spreading germs everywhere.   While roaches are not as destructive, they more than make up for it with the germs and  diseases they carry.   Rodents can enter your home in many ways.  Often a water heater closet, laundry room or HVAC closet are not sheet rocked well leaving openings that rodents can enter.  Some times they get past screens in soffit or attic vents.  The easiest way to find evidence of rodents is by their droppings.   There will also be tell tale signs of chewing around openings they pass through.   Rodents can spend time in your garage too.  In winter, they will look for someplace warm.  Your car is a prime candidate for occupancy.  Rodents can chew through wires, duct work and plastic parts in your car.  The damage can add up quickly and could even start a fire in the garage or your car.  To help prevent the entry of rodents, screen any holes around pipes or vents and in weep holes in brick.  Check the screens of existing soffit vents, eave vents, power ventilators in the roof and other areas that rodents could enter through.    Make your exterior landscape less appealing by keeping tall grasses mowed.  Tall grass is a great place for mice and rats to travel through undetected.  To reduce rodent invasion, treat areas with baits and set traps for them.   If you are queasy about handling spring loaded traps, there are glue traps available that the rodent can crawl inside of and get stuck making it easy to dispose of the trap,   Keep food stuffs in sealed containers.  Remove crumbs from counter top and pantry areas.

 

Wires chewed by rodents. Bare wires can be a source of danger and fire.

 

Mice and rats can enter through the smallest of holes aound your home.

 

Rodent droppings are unsanitary & can even produce bad odors. There is one less mouse here to cause anymore problems.

 

Other crawling bugs that are potential problem makers include roaches, certain spiders and scorpions.  Baits, poisons and Diatomaceous earth are ways to deter these bugs from entering your home.  As with rodents, look at small openings around the home and keep tall grass away from your foundation.   Although rare, even honey bees can make a home inside a wall of your home.  Don’t try to remove them yourself.  Hire a pest control company that can handle removing the bees properly.  It is possible that the bees could be the more aggressive africanized  bees.

 

Keeping an eye out for all these potential wars isn’t really that hard.  A walk around inspection looking for something different from the last inspection is an easy way to spot trouble early.   Any good handy man can help you find and fix places of entry should you decide you would rather have someone else look for these places.  In San Antonio, call me @ 210-452 5816 or you can text me or even ask questions on this website from the “contact me” tab.  Thanks for reading!  Please visit my sponsors too.

 

 

 

 

Your Home – What’s Underneath It All

In South Texas, there are two kinds of homes:  Those with foundation problems and those that will have foundation problems.    Why is that?  It is a combination of costs, soils and lack of care of your foundation.  The vast majority of us are busy enough that we assume that the foundation of our home is something that needs no maintenance.  You don’t need to paint it or replace it like the roof on your home.   So it’s pretty much out of sight, out of mind.

Let’s talk a bit about what a foundation does and some of the ways it’s made.  The foundation is the support structure under your home.     In older homes,  a pier and beam foundation is utilized.  The pier and beam foundation is literally an array of piers made of cedar posts or concrete posts buried in the ground or bricks set on concrete footings.  A series of beams span the piers to support walls and the frame work of the home.   In colder climates where the ground freezes frequently, a concrete perimeter foundation is used often in conjunction with a basement.   In a perimeter foundation, beams span the perimeter and the house is built on the beams.  Currently, foundations in South Texas consist of a poured concrete slab.   The concrete slab is reinforced with steel bars called “rebar” or with tightly-stretched steel cables or even a combination of the two.   The steel cable version is called a “post tension” foundation.

 

 

Perimeter or T Foundation

 

Slab Foundation

 

Rebar and wire

 

 

If you are building a home, you might be able to choose the style of foundation on which your home would be built.  Since you cannot change the type of foundation you already have, you need to know the advantages and disadvantages you are faced with, as well as how to take care of your foundation.  The number one enemy of foundations anywhere and of any type is:  Water.  In South Texas, the general makeup of the soil is clay.  Clay soil swells and gets “gluey” when wet.  Soft, mushy soil wouldn’t seem like the best choice on which to build.  When dry, clay soil shrinks and becomes cracked.    It is not uncommon for many other soils to behave similarly to clay soil when wet or dry.   Because of this, the slab foundation has become the foundation of choice.  More on that as you read.

A pier and beam foundation is less affected by the movement of the soil because of the limited contact with the soil.  When the pier and beam foundation is affected by this movement, a foundation company can send a worker to crawl under the home and add  or remove shims between the piers and beams to level the home again in compensation for the movement.  A damaged or rotted pier can be replaced relatively easily, too.  Standing water will have a greater effect and undermine the piers more rapidly over time.   If the foundation area is not well ventilated, mold and other problems can develop.  Termites can build tunnels up the piers and get into the wood of the house.  It’s not that easy to make corrections with perimeter and slab foundations.

Since the perimeter foundation is almost never used in South Texas, I won’t cover its advantages and disadvantages here in depth.  Basically, these types of foundations are affected less by soil movement than from frozen soils.  They are problematic in areas where the water table is high.  The walls  can sweat, making it difficult to have a dry basement.  High water tables are not much of a problem in Texas, save for the coastal areas.  Frozen soils in Texas are not much of a problem either, as long term sub-zero temperatures are not a frequent occurrence.

The slab foundation has a number of advantages.  It can be poured on level ground or forms can be set up in such a way that slab foundations can be poured on the side of a hill.  Before slab foundations are poured, a groove is dug around the perimeter for the footing.  Then, the fill is arranged in such a way that “beams” are formed in the fill material.  If you could flip the cured foundation over, it would appear much like the inside of an egg carton with dividers between the hollowed areas.  In those beams, reinforcing bars and wire or steel cables are used to help strengthen the  concrete.   Pulling the cables tight after the concrete has set will further strengthen the slab.  This is called active reinforcement.    Here is a short video of the cables being pulled tight.  http://youtu.be/rNJGaiGYzAc?t=7s      When the cable is tightened, there is roughly 16 tons of clamping force.  Re-bar is passive reinforcement, and only adds strength when the concrete is put under a stressful load.

 

 

Post Tension Cable sticking out of the slab after it was tightened.

 

 

The slab is designed to “float” on the soil.  This makes the slab less susceptible to cracking by the soil expanding and contracting.   The solid construction has fewer openings for water and termites to penetrate.  Vapor barriers put down before the concrete is poured limit the amount of water penetration from the soil below.  Vibrators are used in the perimeter and dividers to remove air bubbles before the concrete sets, making a denser and stronger concrete.  Even the concrete itself can be tailored with additives that make the concrete stronger and more resistant to water damage.  With all that, you might wonder why there would ever be foundation problems.

Many things contribute to foundation problems.   Initial cost is the biggest factor.  Builders often only take a few soil tests in a given subdivision.   Soil tests are expensive and would add thousands to the cost of each house.  Using overly large amounts of concrete and reinforcing steel also can become cost prohibitive.   If your home happened to be built over one of these test sites, it probably will have the correct combination of concrete and steel in the foundation that would be nearly problem-free.   If your home was built over a softer area, your home will be more prone to issues.  What can cause issues with your foundation?   Rarely, cables are not tight enough, an insufficient amount of re-bar was used or the concrete was not cured correctly.  If any those things were the case, the foundation may have a greater tendency to crack or shift.   The biggest cause of foundation issues is water.  Imagine flexing a piece of metal back and forth until it breaks;  the foundation is exposed to the same type of force over time when the clay expands while wet and then contracts again when dry.

You can take steps to limit the extreme swings in moisture levels.  Other development around your home may expose it to more water.  Take a look at your yard.  It needs to slope away from the house in some direction.  If you find the landscape places your home in an area where water collects or drains away slowly, you should take steps to provide a way for the water to drain away more quickly or be diverted around your home.   Low spots should be filled or graded to move water away from the foundation.   Gutters should be utilized to direct the flow of rain water away from the foundation of your home.   Dripping hose bibs should be replaced before too much water collects in one spot.  Another source of water is the condensation drain for the air conditioning (HVAC) in your home.  You should add an extension to the drain pipe to move the water away from the foundation.  You don’t have to glue the extension to the drain pipe, you can just slip it over the drain pipe and then remove it to mow or trim the yard.  Reinstall it afterwards.   During extreme dry periods, use a soaker hose around the foundation and let it drip for about 6 hours once a week.

Should you be unlucky enough to start experiencing large cracks in the concrete or drywall in your home, it would be a good time to get in touch with an engineer that specializes in foundation repair.  If you wait until doors no longer operate properly, or large diagonal cracks form at the corners of doors or windows, the damage will be harder to correct and a lot more expensive to repair.  Don’t confuse small hairline cracks that follow a straight line with foundation issues.  They are probably caused by small settlements in the foundation or even the studs inside of the wall becoming drier.

Here is a short list of things to look for:

1.  Uneven or sloping floors

2. Cracks in exterior walls and bricks

3.  Displaced or cracked mouldings

4.  Cracks in floor, floor tiles or foundation

5.  Doors and windows do not operate properly

6.  Separation of doors, windows and garage doors

7.  Spaces between wall and ceilings or floors

8.  Walls separating from house

    Here are some pictures of damage:

Concrete floor damage in garage.

 

Diagonal crack in drywall.

 

Exterior crack in brickwork.

 

While these are extreme examples, you see some typical places where these problems can develop.

 

If you have found these signs, it’s time to call that foundation engineer.  Even though I am not an engineer, I have seen examples of repairs that have not been done correctly/completely when I have been hired to repair damaged sheet rock.  For example, if one corner of your home is settling, the usual fix is to dig down to a more solid area and install piers or steel beams to support the area after it has been leveled.  While that will keep that corner in place, your foundation can no longer float as it was designed to do.  In most cases, the proper repair would be to install piers under all areas of the foundation so that the slab can be supported completely.   It is a costly repair.  Once cracks form in the foundation, termites can enter and pipes in the slab may be damaged allowing water to be trapped under the slab.   So, after the foundation repairs, you should keep an eye open for insect damage too.

By following those few steps to manage water around your foundation, your home can stay in the “will have problems later” column and out of “have problems now.”

Thanks for reading.  Please visit my sponsors.  If you have questions, please e-mail me using the form on the “Contact Me” page.  I’d be happy to try and answer them for you.  If you need a handy man in San Antonio, please call or text me @ 210-452-5816

MrFixItMike!

 

 

 

Your Window to the World – Your Computer. How to Keep it Open.

 

 

E-mail, shopping online, banking, social media threads, web browsing, game playing, movie watching, photo editing and more.   Think of all the things you do on a computer these days – you have come to lean on your computer more and more.   Your computer has become a vital component in your life. Perhaps it has become too slow as you ask it to do more and more all at the same time. What would happen if it suddenly stopped working? Is your important data backed up somewhere else?  Then, there are the dangers of being online.  You expose your computer to a melee of viruses, Trojan horses, worms, back door, and keystroke-logging spyware that can steal sensitive information, corrupt files and wreck your computer’s operating system.  Some of these nasty problems can even spread to others from your computer.  Innocent-looking e-mails can be infested with these viruses and spyware.  Getting a little nervous yet?    You should be.  It’s easy to avoid these problems with a little perseverance and care.  Here are few tips to help keep your machine running smoothly.

1.  Find an anti-virus program and keep it updated!  Microsoft Security Essentials (http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows/products/security-essentials) is a good program and it’s free.  If you feel you need to purchase a program, Norton Internet Security is currently in favor.  (http://www.symantec-norton.com/)    You should never run more than one anti-virus program at a time.  They will see each other as a threat and cause problems with your machine.

2.  Find a good anti-spyware program.  Both products outlined above include an anti-spyware feature.

3.  Use a secure web browser such as  Google Chrome or Firefox.  Internet Explorer 9 is not bad either.  These browsers can spot spoofed web sites and warn you or block them before they can damage your computer.

4.  Avoid installing “Tool Bars”.  Some come disguised as “shopping helpers”.  A toolbar is supposed to be something handy. Many of the toolbars distributed today are handy, but only for advertisers. They can alter search engines such as Google’s or Yahoo’s and add hits to those companies that have ordered them.  These alleged helpers are helping themselves to your internet habits and personal data.  The can direct your search for products or information that may not give you the results you are looking for.   These tool bars can harbor worms and Trojan horses that, once they are in your computer, they can disable your anti-virus software and allow even more bad guys in.

5.  If you should suddenly get a screen that states “your computer is infected”  DO NOT CLICK on it.  Instead immediately press Control, Alt and Delete keys on your keyboard all at the same time.  The task manager will pop up and you can close that page without allowing the bad guy in.   Learn what the real warning windows of the anti-virus software you have installed on your computer look like.  Often these programs will simply tell they have stopped something and ask you if you with to delete or quarantine the problem.  For more info, see:  (http://www.microsoft.com/security/pc-security/antivirus-rogue.aspx)

                                                            Screen shot of the Task Manager

6.  You will never receive an e-mail from your bank, the IRS, a credit card company, your credit union, USPS, E-bay, Amazon, Craig’s List or any other legitimate company asking for your password or other sensitive data.  Never!   No matter how authentic the e-mail may appear, do not enter your sensitive data.  Call the bank, credit card company or whoever seems to have sent the e-mail.  All these companies have that data already.  If not, they should call you.  Be suspect of calls from these companies also.  You should ask for a name and extension number and call back.

Then, there is your data.   Important data should be backed up somewhere outside of your computer.  A USB thumb drive can be used if the files are small enough.  Burn larger files to a CD or DVD.  Very large files can be backed up to an external hard disk.  There are even online storage sites that can store your data for you.  If you have more than one computer, use software such as Drop Box (www.dropbox.com) to synchronize your data to the other computer. I use Google G-mail to store some data.  You get up to one gigabyte of storage for free.  You just email the data to yourself and it will stay in our G-mail account until you delete it.  Hardware fails.  The hard drive in your computer could die.  Other components could fail.  A virus could wipe out your data.  Even a power surge could corrupt your data and render it unusable.  I have worked on many, many computers trying to recover data after hardware has failed.  Sometimes the data can be recovered.  It is an expensive proposition and may not work for all the lost data.  Back it up!

                                    USB Thumb Drive (Top)                                

                                   External Hard Drive (Bottom)

 

 

So the worst has happened.  A virus has infected your computer.  What do you do now?  You could try a few online programs designed to remove viruses.  If you can even download one, the virus may not allow you to install the removal tool.  It’s time to see me or another professional computer repair person.   If you do manage to install the removal tool, there are steps you need to take before you use the tool.  Turn off the System Restore in Windows while you remove the offending bad guy.  If you don’t turn off the system restore, the bad guy will simply hide in the system restore files and reinstall itself.  Turn the System Restore back on once your are certain that your system is clean of the problem.

 

If your computer is slow, it may be infected as viruses run in the background and use up system resources.  Or your computer may just need some help.  If your hard drive is getting full, that can slow down the computer.  Consider adding a second hard drive or replacing your existing drive.   RAM is what your computer uses to perform the tasks you ask of it.  Additional RAM could save you from replacing your computer sooner than necessary.

If your computer is older it may not have the capacity to add a hard drive or add more RAM.  Selecting a new computer, or better yet, have a custom built computer made for you can be a solution.  These days, processor MHZ speed is not as important as it used to be.  Without getting technical, today’s processors handle data faster with greater amounts of memory that’s built onto the chip, called on-die memory (cache).  The latest processors feature more than one core.  If you really want power and some future proofing, consider a processor with a dual, quad, hexi (6), or even an octocore (8 cores!) chip.   Figure out your needs so you can procure the right system.  If you are into playing games or performing heavy tasks such as video editing, you will need a lot of hard drive space (500 Gigabytes or more), a lot of RAM (8 gigabytes or more), a separate video card and a multi-core processor.   If you are just surfing and word processing, a dual core chip and a smaller hard drive and less RAM will do the job.  As for Microsoft operating systems, Windows 7 Home is the preferred choice.  Windows XP is being phased out by Microsoft as well as most software and hardware manufacturers.

 

Should your computer be acting strangely, blue screens, shutting down on it’s own or other unexpected activity, you may have  issues related to hardware.  A weak power supply or perhaps swollen and leaking capacitors on the motherboard or other circuits could be the issue.  These problems are best left to expert technicians as there could be serious loss of data or even a fire.

Note the small black and silver "cans". You can see swelling and leaking electrolyte from the tops of several of the capacitors.

 

 

If you have problems with your machine and don’t want to tackle difficult problems such as a virus, Spyware or other electrical failures, I can perform such tasks and make the proper repairs.  If you want to upgrade, I can do that too.  If you want a nice new machine without all the bloatware mass-produced machines come with, I can build a computer that fits your needs as well as your budget.

 

A simple but serviceable case (above)                 

A serious performance case (below)

 

Thanks for reading.  Drop me an e-mail if you have questions.

Mike!

 

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Not Just Your Home: the Toaster, Too.

The lowly toaster.  It’s there for you every morning.  Then, one morning as you are rushing off to work, it stops working.  How about your refrigerator?  Everything is cool, right? Washer, dryer and many other appliances are expected to do their thing without disappointment.  Like your car that needs an oil change routinely, if it is neglected, bad things can happen.

Of course, most of your appliances cost a fraction of what your automobile may cost, and they don’t take you to work or other important places.  Because of that they end up relegated to the “back burner” of things to worry about.  Think of what you have invested in all of your appliances.  Washer, dryer, refrigerator, dishwasher, and other things, including that toaster.  It adds up to thousands of dollars.  What if you had to replace them all at once?  See where I’m going?

Every mechanical  device needs some sort of service.  Let’s start with that refrigerator.  Down below or perhaps behind it, there are coils that exchange the heat for cold.  Air movement is necessary for the exchange to happen efficiently.  If these coils are covered in dust, the heat exchange begins to become compromised.  Soon, the compressor must run longer, adding wear and tear to its life.  More electricity is used, up to $10 extra a month.  If the compressor fails, your food becomes spoiled and you get to go out and buy another refrigerator.   All you have to do is take a few minutes every couple of months and vacuum out the pet hair and dust.  While you are checking behind the refrigerator,  check that ice maker supply line, filter, and bib for water leaks.

Rear refrigerator coils

 

Dirty lower coils

 

That toaster;  I’ll bet you never even thought about it.  Inside the toaster, there are heating elements that do the toasting.  If the crumbs pile up, the sensor controlling the amount of toasting becomes inaccurate, and you may not have toast.  Instead, it might become charcoal or not toast at all.  Heating elements become stressed and may burn out.   There is a little tray under the toaster that you can pull out, empty those crumbs, and have consistent toasting. Shake it out over a sink or garbage can.   You’re thinking, ‘Come on, you think I’m worried about a toaster?’ Taking care of the toaster keeps you in the habit of servicing all of your appliances.  Don’t forget to unplug the toaster while cleaning. Keeping a clean toaster will help keep the bugs away too.

Crumb tray

 

Have you noticed that your dryer is taking longer and longer to dry your clothes?  Lint build-up doesn’t just occur in the lint filter.  Sadly, I have seen cases where members of the family assume someone else cleaned the filter and it doesn’t get checked.  A fire can occur if the lint filter is clogged enough.  Imagine the increase in electric bills, too. If the filter is clean and it still takes a long time to dry the clothes, there could be blockage farther down the path of the exhaust.  Check the duct connecting the dryer to the outside vent. Even the vent pipe could be clogged.  Over time, the blockage could be severe enough to damage the dryer and require an expensive house call to clean the duct work.  You can delay that visit, perhaps for many, many years just by cleaning that lint filter.

Typical dirty lint screen from dryer

 

Clogged exterior dryer vent

 

Do you leave the supply faucets for your washing machine on all the time?  In theory, you are supposed to shut them off when you are not using the washer.  Nearly all of us don’t shut them off when we should.  Usually the faucets are located behind the washer in a box.  Others may just be and exposed hose bib.  In any case, you should look them over for leaks.  The packing nuts can leak, and so can the washers inside the supply hose.  Water damage is one of the most silent and destructive sources of damage.  It’s easy to prevent such damage just by looking around for it.  If you have your supply faucets in a box on the wall, be sure the washing machine drain hose is inserted completely into the drain.   If the hose is is not completely inserted, back splash can occur when the washer empties.   Inspect those supply lines.  Bubbles and blisters are an indication that they are soon to be history.  Replace them with reinforced hoses.

Leaks can occur around the packing nuts of the supply valves.

Typical washer supply box

 

Reinforced supply hoses

 

Your air conditioning system is a high-dollar investment.  There is the cost of replacing the unit as well as the efficiency of the unit.  HVAC units can draw huge amounts of electricity.   It is very easy to service the filter regularly.  If you have pets, it’s even more important to change or clean the filter frequently.  The outside unit has no filter, but it does need cleaning to remove surface dirt from the coils annually.   Take a garden hose and gently spray the coils.  If you use a hand-held sprayer, you can damage the fins with the higher water pressure.  You may want to spritz a little coil cleaner in there before you hose the coils down.  Do not wash the coils while the unit is running.   Inside, the filter is usually located under the HVAC unit or sometimes located in a return air grill of some type.  Familiarize yourself with the location and change the filters monthly.  Be sure to replace the old filter with the correct size.  Don’t just look at the old filter for the size.  Sometimes people put anything that “fits” in the filter housing.   The wrong size filter can do as much damage as not having a filter in the unit at all.

Dirty A/C coils

 

Typical air handler.  Filters can be in a drawer below the unit.

 

Outside HVAC unit.

 

Typical air filter

 

Gas furnaces should only be inspected by a licensed HVAC tech.  There is too much potential danger in checking it yourself.  Heat exchangers can become rusted through and leak carbon monoxide into the air flow.  While we are on the subject of carbon monoxide, if you have gas heating, you should have a carbon monoxide detector install near the unit.

Dishwashers are overlooked more often than you might think.  There is more to a dishwasher than just piling the dishes into it.  You should inspect the seal that goes around the door and tub occasionally for debris and soap deposits.  The seal is soft. Over time, it becomes less pliable.  Debris and soap scum can permanently alter the seal’s ability to do its job.  You should pour a gallon of vinegar into the machine at least twice a year and run it empty of dishes with the vinegar in it.  There is also a product called “Dishwasher Magic” that you can use to clean the dishwasher.   Some dishwashers have a cleaning cycle.  Use it.  Keep the rinse agent filled and be sure that no build up interferes with the soap door’s operation.

Dishwasher door gasket

Vinegar works well to clean coffee and tea pots too.

The vacuum cleaner.  It has to suck up dust, dirt, and other undesirable things.  These days there are vacs with and without bags.  Bags are less convenient, but do a better job of capturing the dirt and fine dust.  Nearly all vacuum cleaner have HEPA filters.  These filters trap the finest dust particles.  With that, they clog the fastest.  If you notice a loss of effectiveness in the your vacuum’s operation, it’s most likely due to a full bag or clogged HEPA filter.  No one likes to spend a lot of time vacuuming.  One bad habit that goes with that is not checking the bags and filters.   Don’t forget to empty the bag-less units and check the HEPA filters on those machines too.

One style of a HEPA filter

 

There are many more appliances that you may have in your household.   Read the owner’s manuals for those appliances to see what services they may need.  After all, you purchased them to make life easier.  Taking care of them will allow them to continue to serve you well.  Thanks for reading!

Need a handyman to check these things for you?  In San Antonio, TX, call Mike @ 210-452-5816

 

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