A few things you should know about your heating/cooling system

A few things you should know about your heating/cooling system

I have no problem having a “hot” wife, but when that means the air conditioner is not working correctly it can be a problem. I just spent my Thursday servicing our heating / cooling system, and there are a few things the average homeowner should know about his/her HVAC system. Every repair is not a replacement.

  • Most problems with your HVAC system are electrical, not refrigerant based. Periodically, refrigerant will seep out of your system, but that means you have a leak. Most problems are related to things like sequencers, switches, transformers, capacitors, etc.
  • If you change your filters regularly, you will lengthen the life of your air handler. I would urge you to avoid the Hepa filters that are designed to keep allergens down. They starve your air handler of the vital air it needs to thrive. I had to replace my office rooftop unit a few years ago because I installed two of the most restrictive Hepa filters I could find. My secretary had allergies. So, I changed them to aid her. It cost me $10,000 in replacement costs. Now, I change the filters every month or two, and I have no problem. A $1 filter will last 30-60 days. You can buy them in bulk and change them regularly. Air is the lifeblood of your system. Cut if off, and you’re setting yourself up for big bills.
  • If your AC suddenly seems to not work, place your hand over a vent and see what the air flow feels like. If the air is barely coming out, you may have an A coil plugged. If you checked your filters and they were clean, look to the A coil for a blockage. If you have a dog that sheds, he might be the culprit. Hair that passes the filter will pack on the bottom side of the A coil (inside your air handler). AC works when the refrigerant coil (A coil) cools and then air passes by it to bring cool air to your rooms. If dog hair passes your filter, it will pack on the bottom of the A coil. When enough packs in that area, it will restrict air flow. Before a technician replaces your blower motor (which will not solve the problem), have him check the A coil for blockage.
  • If you see water on the floor around your air handler, you likely have a condensate blockage. On many systems, there is a condensate line which collects the water the unit is pulling out of the air. The water is sent to a drain, directly outside, or it is sent to a condensate pump which will pump it outside or into a drain. There is a tendency for mold to form in the opening of the line where it meets the air handler (most likely a white PVC line). If that line is installed correctly, it is likely to have a cap on top that can be removed for cleaning. You can pull that cap off and use a small tip to vacuum out any mold build up (a typical pipe cleaner will work too). If you can drop a small piece of a chlorine tablet in that line (don’t block the water flow, keep it small) it will keep the mold from forming.
  • Check the visible coils to your exterior heat pump or air conditioner. If you see a build up of dirt, leaves or other substance on the coils, you can buy a can of an aerosal coil cleaner at most big box home improvement stores. Turn the system off, spray the coils, let it foam and then rinse it off with a garden hose. You don’t want to have the spray on full force. Let the cleaner just rinse it off. Let it dry, and turn the system back on.
  • Don’t put a cover directly above your outside unit. It needs room to let air escape through the top.
  • Don’t pack boxes and other storage items around our interior air handler. This is especially important if it is a gas unit. The unit needs to breathe. If you rob it of air you stand the chance of releasing carbon monoxide into your home. Don’t ever block the unit. I’m installing a door in a rental we manage because whoever finished the basement put a wall 10″ in front of the unit. It’s nearly impossible to change the gas igniter.
  • In the cold months, if you have a gas furnace and you notice that you suddenly have no heat, it is most likely a gas igniter. They tend to crack during the summer cooling period. If you pull the door off the front of your unit, you will see multiple ports where long tubes run from front to back. They are the gas tubes. In one of those ports is a little gray/black porcelain igniter. If it has formed a crack, it will have a faint white line across it. It’s a $20 repair if you do it yourself. It’s $150+ if you have it done.
  • If the system is not working at all, check the breaker. They do go bad. We inspected a client’s system last summer. The HVAC tech that he called wanted to replace it at $3000. He asked us to give him a second opinion (we don’t service HVAC equipment typically, but this was a old client). The breaker running the system had gone bad. It was a $75 repair.
  • If you hear a banging outside when your outdoor unit is running, your fan motor or fan blades have likely gone bad. It will normally be obvious.
  • Pay the bucks to have your system serviced once a year by a good tech if you feel uncomfortable doing it yourself.

If you are handy with tools, many of the items listed above are simple enough that the average homeowner can do them. If you’re uncomfortable doing your own repairs, keep the info above so you can ask the tech questions. They will be surprised that you know anything about your system, and they will less likely to take advantage of you.


Environmentally safe weed killer. It actually works.

With two dogs walking around my yard sniffing and chewing on everything in sight, I am a bit cautious about what I put on weeds and grass that I’m trying to get rid of.  This weekend, I tried a weed killing formula that I picked up online.  It’s not harmful to animals.  Actually, the smell is more  likely to run them off rather than inspire them to eat.

Take a gallon of white vinegar, one cup of salt and a few drops of dish washing detergent.  The dish-washing detergent is designed to help the formula adhere to the plants you’re trying to get rid of.  Put your concoction in a spray bottle or garden sprayer.  Thoroughly soak the plants you’re trying to get rid of and in the next few days they will be dead.  One not of caution, the formula also kills grass.  So, be careful if you don’t want that to happen.  Happy Sunday.


A dozen hours later.

Pay attention, life is making appointments for you.

I’m a firm believer that life is full of providential moments.  Unfortunately, we miss many of them because we’re so busy making a living that those providential moments slip right by.  I’m definitely guilty of that one at times.  Today, I was off to Harrisonburg, VA to teach about the importance of working with a Realtor at the VHDA seminar for first-time home-buyers.  My good friend and local lender, Mark Lynch, went with me to teach the lender and closing portions.

While Mark was sharing his portion, I received the following email from a recent buyer:

                          Hi Mike,

 I have a friend who is looking for a rental that would overlook a pond or lake.  Any ideas?


I put it in the back of mind for later when I was home and on my computer.  On the trip back, Mark and I talked about a lot of things, but one thing that popped up was a rental that Mark owns that needs to have some repairs done in order to get it back on the market.


Ironically, one of the most immediate repairs needed is electrical.  That’s right up my ally since I own an electrical contracting company.  So, we stopped by the property on the way home.  I looked over the needs, we made a basic plan of action and I snapped a picture with my phone and emailed it to my previous buyer with the message, “Like this?”  The property overlooks a large lake.  I held my phone up to so Mark could read the email.  It was providence.  Pay attention, life is making appointments for you if you’re paying attention.  

Blues House Comes to Winchester, VA, July 13, 2013

Blues House Comes to Winchester, VA, July 13, 2013

It’s almost that time again.  What time do you ask?  It’s almost time for the Habitat for Humanity Blues House festival again.  The Blues House is the largest Blues festival in the Northern Shenandoah Valley.  The annual festival is in its 14th year, and it has been a big hit every year. 

This year, the Blues House festival will be held on July 13th from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm.  The festivities will take place at the Eagles Club, 700 Baker Lane, Winchester, VA 22601, Aerie 824 Outdoor Pavilion.  The Eagles Club is located on the east side of Winchester just off of route 7 (Berryville Ave).  It’s easy to find, and there is plenty of parking for participants. 

This year’s line-up of artists include Pat Travers Band, The Ori Naftaly Band from Israel, The Skyla Burrel Blues Band, Skinny Velvet, Terry Oates and the Mudcats and special guest musician saxophonist Ron Holloway.  Charles Allman will sing the national anthem. 

It looks like another great show.  Tickets are available online.  Tickets are also available at local businesses or at the door.  Advance tickets are $10, and door tickets are $15.  Chairs are welcome, but please don’t bring a tent.  Food and beverage venders will be on site throughout the event.  Remember, no coolers and no pets allowed.  Bring your sunscreen, and have a great time while supporting your local Habitat for Humanity chapter.

Blues House Comes to Winchester, VA, July 13, 2013