Preparing Your HVAC System for Summer

But before you start using it on a regular basis, you should take the time to prepare it for the summer season. Summer is right around the corner, and you know what that means, right? It won’t be long before you are relying on your home’s HVAC system and, more specifically, your home’s air conditioner to keep your house cool. But before you start using it on a regular basis, you should take the time to prepare it for the summer season. Here are some tips for getting your A/C unit ready for warm weather.

Inspect the outdoor condenser for your A/C system.

Did you cover your condenser to protect it from the elements during the winter? If so, now is the time to remove your cover and put it away until the fall. It’s also time to inspect the panels on your condenser to make sure they are intact and free of any debris. Additionally, you should check to make sure you don’t need to repair or replace the insulation that should be wrapped around your consensus’s suction line. In general, take a look in and around the condenser to make sure it appears to be in good working order.

Take a look at the indoor air handler unit for your A/C system.

Before you start using your A/C unit at the start of the summer season, you should change your air filter. You should also make sure the coil drainage hose is set up properly and ready to carry away any condensation once your A/C is turned on. It’s also a good idea to clean dirt, dust and debris from the air vents and return grills in your home.

Turn your A/C on and make sure it works.

Once you have inspected all of your A/C equipment inside and outside of your home, you should turn your HVAC system on to make sure everything works the way it should. If you hear any unfamiliar noises coming from your A/C unit or you don’t feel any cool air coming out of your home’s vents, you could have a hidden issue within the system. It’s better to find this out now when the temperatures are still mild outside rather than waiting for the first heat wave to learn that your A/C system is broken.

Want to make sure your HVAC system is in good working order? Give us a call today at 773-429-9711 to learn more about the mechanical services we include in our professional home inspections at First Choice Inspectors.

How Often Should you Replace Your Roof?

Roof Chicago is known as “The Windy City,” and indeed it is. Wind as well as the sometimes brutal winter weather can really take its toll on area roofs.

First Choice Inspectors often do roofing inspections in and around Chicago and Aurora, Illinois. After all, people need good roofs in order to live comfortably, without the harsh elements breaking into their homes through holes and cracks.

Roofs can be made of different materials and are often a product of the time and place when and where they were originally constructed. For instance, some people have wood roofs, while others have stone, metal, rubber or asphalt shingle roofing. First Choice Inspectors often get asked the question, “How often should I replace my roof?” The general answer is once every 20 to 50 years depending on the roofing material used.

For instance, most homes in the U.S. use asphalt shingles. These can last from 10 to 50 years, while most people end up replacing their shingle roofs every 20 years, on average. If you have a wood shake roof, that can last between 20 to 50 years, while tile or metal might last between 50 to 75 years. Some older homes using slate shingles should note that hard slate can last up to 200 years, while soft slate can handle between 50 and 125 years or so.

Oftentimes, how long a roof lasts depends on its thickness and the quality of its installation and materials.

A visual inspection of your roof is a good way to figure out if it needs a couple repairs or if it’s “too far gone” and needs a full replacement. It’s a good idea to have a professional from First Choice Inspectors come take a look at your roof and offer their expert advice on how your roof is doing currently and what challenges might lie ahead. The inspector’s knowledge of roofing can be very helpful to you when determining the answer to the question, “Is it time for a roof replacement?”

Call First Choice Inspectors at 773-429-9711 to book an inspection.

Signs Your Home Has Structural Issues

Home Inspections Does your home have “issues?” There are some key things to look for regarding signs of structural problems.

First, look at a home from far away. Go across the street, for instance, and take a look to see if you notice any walls leaning or tilting in ways that don’t look normal. How’s the ridge line of the roof and the nearby fascia line? If you see sagging, there could be trouble. Also, do you see any large cracks from your point-of-view? Large cracks are not good.

Next, get up close to the home and walk around its exterior. Take note of any areas where there is bowing inward or outward. Again, look for cracks. Are parts of the building moving apart from one another? For example, is the chimney coming unattached from the house or do you notice exterior decks coming loose? Over time, grounds shift and when that happens homes may need repairs.

Windows and doors are essentially openings in your home, so they’re also places where you’ll likely find problems. Look for cracked window panes. Check to see if windows and doors open and shut properly.

Indoors, you should pay close attention to the floors under your feet, noticing any soft spots or unusual sloping areas. Are floorboards creaking? Do you notice any loose floor tiles?

Structural issues are bound to come up with homes as they age. Just like people, homes need some “fixing up” the older they get.

Call First Choice Inspectors at 773-429-9711 if you’d like your Chicago-area home professionally inspected for structural issues.

Save Money on Your Energy Bills This Fall and Winter

Save Money on Your Energy Bills This Fall and WinterWe’re about a month into fall and already the temperatures are dropping and homeowners are preparing to hunker down for another cold winter. This time of year energy bills can suddenly become far more expensive, particularly if your home isn’t adequately protected against the elements. By taking some preventative measures, however, you can keep your energy bills to a minimum and save yourself a tidy sum by the time spring rolls around.

Start by Sealing the Gaps

Take a walk around your home’s exterior and keep a close eye out for any gaps around window panes and door jambs. Seal these gaps with caulk to prevent heat loss during the winter. If you have a fireplace, make sure that the damper is closed whenever it’s not in use. You can also purchase insulating film from your local hardware store to seal off windows for the season. Just make sure it’s pulled tight across the window and securely adhered to the window frame to prevent heat leaks.

Use the Sun to Your Advantage

Keep the curtains on south-facing windows open during the day to allow the sun to naturally heat your home. Once the sun goes down, close the curtains to trap that radiant heat inside at night. This will also provide an extra measure of insulation against any gaps you may have missed when sealing your windows.

Have Your Furnace Serviced

Maintaining your furnace will prevent mechanical breakdowns and ensure that it operates at peak efficiency during the winter. Be sure to change your furnace filter regularly, and have an HVAC technician perform a thorough inspection once a year.

Bundle Up

This is perhaps the most effective and underappreciated step you can take to keep your utility bills low during the winter. It costs a whole lot less money to put on an extra layer of clothing than it does to keep your thermostat 5 degrees higher all winter. Keep your thermostat set as low as you can tolerate, and set it back further when you’re sleeping or out of the house. You’ll acclimate to the lower temperatures before you know it, and you’ll thank yourself come springtime.

Stay tuned for more home improvement tips and tricks from Chicago’s premier home inspection company: First Choice Inspectors.

Pest Proofing Your Home

Pest Proofing Your HomeSummer is coming to a close, and before we know it the days will be getting short and the nights will be getting cold. As the weather begins to cool off, you might start to notice some uninvited critters taking up residence in your home. Most of these pests are just a nuisance, but a few (termites, for example) can do serious damage to your home. This is the perfect time to fortify your home against pests before they start coming in to get warm and find food.

Seal Gaps Under Doors

Installing door sweeps under your exterior doors will not only keep bests out, but also help to insulate your home during the winter. If you have a garage, make sure the door is fitted with a vinyl or rubber seal to keep critters out as well. To seal sliding doors, simply line the bottom of the track with a bit of foam weatherstripping.

Repair Window Screens

Now that you’ve sealed up the doors in your home, it’s time to address the windows. Check window screens for any rips, tears and holes. You can pick up simple patch kits from your local hardware store for just a few dollars. Be sure to check for gaps around the edges of the screen frames as well.

Seal Utility Openings

Large openings such as dryer vents can be sealed with some steel wool. Smaller openings such as holes for wiring, outdoor faucets and gas meters can be sealed with caulk or pipe putty. Cover attic and crawl space vents with hardware cloth to keep out birds and rodents.

Move Your Wood Pile

Wood piles are bound to attract burrowing insects. If you keep your wood pile next to your home, it won’t take long for those insects to find a way in. Stack wood away from your home instead to create a buffer between you and the insect activity.

Stay tuned for more updates from the home inspection professionals at First Choice Inspectors

Avoid These Common Household Electrical Hazards

Avoid These Common Household Electrical HazardsSpend much time as a home inspector, and you’re bound to see some pretty frightening examples of DIY electrical work. From frayed extension cords to ancient knob and tube wiring, we’ve seen our fair share of electrical hazards over the years. Fortunately, most of these hazards can be quickly remedied in order to keep you and your family safe. Today, we’ll look at a few of the most common electrical hazards we encounter in our line of work.

Over Fused Circuits

This problem tends to happen in older homes whose electrical systems are still protected by a fuse box rather than a circuit breaker. Most circuits in your home should be protected by 15 amp fuses. Sometimes, when fuses blow, homeowners will replace them with larger 30 amp fuses. These large fuses constitute a fire hazard because they won’t blow before electrical loads reach dangerous levels. If you see any green 30 amp fuses in your fuse box, replace them with 15 amp fuses as soon as possible.

Daisy Chained Extension Cords

This is one of the most prevalent electrical hazards we see. It happens when homeowners plug multiple extension cords and/or power strips together in tandem in order to increase their length or number of outlets. According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), the improper use of extension cords is responsible for roughly 3,300 house fires every year. Extension cords should only be used as temporary solutions, and they should never be plugged together with other extension cords or power strips.

Worn or Corroded Wiring

This problem is especially common in appliances such as old light fixtures. If you suspect the wiring in an appliance is faulty, have it inspected by a qualified electrician and rewired if necessary. If you’re ever shocked by an appliance, unplug it and don’t use it again until you can have it repaired.

Covered Cords

In home offices, we’ll sometimes see electrical cords covered by carpets to keep them out of sight. This does help to organize your wires, but it can also cause them to heat up faster and potentially cause fires. Wires hidden under carpets also tend to get walked on and run over by rolling chairs more often, causing them to wear faster. Keep your wires organized with zip ties instead, and keep them out from under carpets.

Dryer Vent Safety 101

Dryer Vent Safety 101According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 17,000 house fires were caused by clothes dryers and washing machines in the United States in 2010. This accounts for roughly 4.5% of all the house fires in the country that year. Many of these fires were the result of clogged or improperly installed dryer vents that went unnoticed by homeowners. These vents are designed to remove residual moisture from your house during the drying process, but if neglected they can constitute serious fire hazards. Today, we’ll help you inspect and evaluate the safety of the dryer vent in your home.

Check Connections

Pull your dryer out and make sure that they dryer exhaust hose is, in fact, connected to the dryer. Typically the connection is located on the back of the dryer, but on some models it may be located beneath it. If the exhaust vent becomes disconnected, moisture will linger in your laundry room and flammable dryer lint will begin to accumulate within the back of the dryer. That additional moisture can promote mold growth in your home, while the dryer lint can easily cause fires.

Check for Kinks

Ideally, the exhaust hose behind your dryer shouldn’t be any longer than it needs to be. Long, loose lengths of hose are prone to kinks and twists that restrict the flow of air and moisture out of your home. As lint becomes trapped in the kinks in the hose and the airflow becomes further restricted, heat can build up in your dryer and eventually trigger fires.

Make Sure the Exhaust Terminates Outside

Sometimes, lazy installers will vent dryer exhaust into an attic or crawl space rather than the exterior of a home. Dryer exhaust must be vented outside and away from your home in order to avoid mold growth and minimize the chance of fire. Find out where your dryer exhaust terminates, and if it’s not outside your home take steps to have it rerouted as soon as possible. Please note that the total length of the exhaust hose should not exceed 25 feet in order to ensure adequate airflow.

The end of your exhaust vent should be fitted with a backdraft damper, but it should not be fitted with a screen. These screens accumulate stray lint and can become serious fire hazards if left unattended. Check the end of your exhaust vent periodically and clear any built-up lint deposits.

Here at First Choice Inspectors, we know how important it is for homeowners to stay mindful of this important maintenance item. If you’re concerned about the safety of your dryer vent, don’t wait for it to become a serious hazard. Give us a call today and gain the peace of mind of knowing your home is protected from dryer vent fires.

Service Your Furnace This Spring

Service Your Furnace This SpringNow that winter has receded, one of the last things that you may want to think about is your furnace. Rising temperatures, open windows and light breezes are far more appealing than thinking about maintaining and tuning your heating system, but that ounce of preventative maintenance and care could save you a tidy sum down the road.

After a full season of use, your furnace has probably accumulated dust, grime and dirt in the filter from blowing warm air throughout the home. One of the quickest and simplest maintenance jobs is to replace or clean the filter to keep your furnace running efficiently. The style of furnace you have will dictate both the style of filter and period of maintenance. Pleated furnace filters should be thrown out and replaced every three months, while permanent filters should be cleaned monthly. There are also electronic air cleaning filters which should be cleaned bimonthly. Performing this cleaning in the spring will have your furnace ready to go as soon as the temperatures drop again.

In addition, spring is a great time to inspect your full furnace system for any signs of wear that may have happened during the winter. This includes inspecting all ductwork and the casing around the unit itself for any holes or signs of blocked ducts that could be impairing your system’s efficiency or leaking carbon monoxide. A professional inspector should also check the thermostat settings, inspect electrical connections and lubricate any moving parts to ensure your furnace is ready to keep you warm when you need it.

A full professional tune-up involves a number of additional annual performance checks and services. These include analyzing the furnace’s combustion gases to compare to the manufacturer’s specifications, checking drainage systems for blockages or leaks, testing the amperage that the blower motor is drawing and comparing it to the default setting, and inspecting the fresh air intakes, burners and blower wheel for signs of rust, corrosion or debris. Inspecting some of these components may require partial or total disassembly of portions of your furnace, making a professional inspector or heating contractor the go-to solution if you’re not comfortable with performing those operations yourself.

Spending the time to make sure that your furnace is safe and running at peak efficiency is a great proactive step you can take today to keep yourself from being left out in the cold tomorrow. First Choice Inspectors offers a wide range of services, including furnace and air conditioning unit inspections. Call or email us today for a quote.

Don’t Forget These 5 Essential Spring Maintenance Items

5 Essential Spring Maintenance ItemsLong winters can subject your home to some serious wear and tear. Snowmelt can reveal all sorts of issues of varying severity that went unnoticed throughout the cold season. It’s important to take care of these maintenance items quickly in order to protect your home from further damage. The spring is the perfect time to get out and tackle these molehills before they become mountains. In this entry, we’ll look at a few simple steps you can take to protect and preserve your home this spring.

Clean Your Gutters

Your gutters serve an important purpose – directing rainwater safely away from your home. Clogged gutters can cause water to pool and pour down the exterior surface of a house, which can eventually lead to mold, mildew, and even rot. If you notice vegetation blocking your gutters, you’ll want to clean them sooner rather than later.

Get a Termite Inspection

Moisture from snowmelt can cause the wood around the base of your home to decay, creating an ideal feeding ground for termites. Often called “silent destroyers,” termites can wreak havoc on the wood framing in a home. If you notice any rot around the foundation of your home, a termite inspection should be a high priority on your spring to-do list.

Clear Dryer Vents

Clogged dryer vents not only reduce the efficiency of your dryer; they also constitute a fire hazard. Be sure to clear any lint from the inside of your dryer vent as soon as you are able to do so.

Inspect Your Washing Machine Fill Hose

While you’re cleaning your dryer vent, you may as well check the fill hose on your washing machine for any signs of wear as well. A broken fill hose can flood your laundry room with water in minutes. If you see any cracks in the hose, pick up a new one from your local hardware store.

Touch Up Paint

In addition to serving an aesthetic purpose, paint also helps to seal and protect your home from moisture damage. If you notice any paint peeling, be sure to touch it up with a fresh coat.

Concerned about the condition of your home this spring? Give us a call today for a consultation.