How to Protect Your Pipes from Freezing

Frozen water expands, and as anyone who has suffered frozen pipes knows, ice is a powerful force that can break open most containers, including metal ones. Keeping your pipes from freezing in the winter is an essential task for New England homeowners, but fortunately there are some basic approaches to minimize the risk.

 

Before the storm

Foam insulation sheaths can be wrapped around water pipes to protect them from the cold air. The most vulnerable pipes are ones located inside exterior walls, run through an unheated portion of the house like a garage, and those that connect to an outdoor opening like a spigot.

Another option is to wrap heat tape around the vulnerable pipes. Heat tape is a flat ribbon that is coiled around the pipe like a corkscrew and uses electricity to keep the pipe warm, like an electric blanket.

Special heat lamps can also be aimed at pipes in cold sections of the house. Typically, these lamps will have a light that shines on the pipe. This makes it easy to check up on. If the light isn’t on, the lamp isn’t working.

Of course, adding heat tape or a heat lamp to your home means there will be an ongoing cost in the form of higher electric bills. Prices depend on the local power costs, but expect to pay between $40 to $60 each month for every 100 feet of heat tape.

If you’re going to leave your home for an extended time during the winter, such as a week-long vacation, then keep your heat on and set it to no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. You can also consider shutting off the main water supply and draining all the water out by running the faucets dry and flushing the toilets.

Plumbing pipes aren’t the only ones that can freeze. The pipes in a hot tub, a hot water heating system or any other type of pipe can freeze if the unit or its pipes are exposed in a cold space.

Many hot water heating systems allow you to use antifreeze to protect the system from freezing. Check your heating system’s manual and specifications to find out how,. If you do decide to add antifreeze, it needs to be checked each year to make sure it’s still working.

Remember that the best way to solve a plumbing emergency is to prevent it from ever happening.

 

During the big freeze

When a cold night comes, you want to keep the air around your pipes as warm as possible. For the pipes in your garage, keep the garage doors closed to keep out the chilled air. If the pipes in your kitchen are at risk, however, you need to use the opposite approach. Keep your kitchen cabinets open to allow heated air to flow over your plumbing.

You can consider letting your water run at a slow stream just above a drip if the inside of the house is extremely cold, such as if you lose electricity but your plumbing still runs. This movement will stop water from staying in prolonged contact with the pipes. While there will be a cost in the form of a higher water bill, it’s much lower than the cost of burst pipes.

 

Dealing with the aftermath

If things warm up and you notice any new plumbing problems, such as a decrease in water pressure, have a look at all of your pipes. Look for icy build ups around a section of pipe or visible cracks.

If you do discover the worst and you’re in our coverage area, call us as soon as you can so we can contain and fix the problem. We can be reached at (978) 433-5373.

If you want to try to thaw out a frozen section of pipe yourself, don’t use open flames like blowtorches or lighters. Instead, try a hair dryer or wrap an electric warming blanket around the frozen section.

Plumbing Maintenance and Repair in Central Massachusetts, Lowell, Harvard, Groton, Pepperell, Nashua

Why a home emergency is the worst time to call a plumber

Look, we get it. No one wants to call a plumber until their bathtub won’t drain or they’re wrapping their dishtowels around a spraying pipe. You’d rather spend your money on a beachside vacation, a nice restaurant or Christmas gifts for your kids. Plumbers are there to fix problems, right? So why call one when everything looks fine?

That’s a huge misconception, and one that costs a lot of people more money than it saves. You might avoid being forced to wade through your basement or take your grimey plunger to the kitchen sink if you check up on your plumbing system now.. The best person to do that is a plumber.

Fortunately, a lot of plumbing problems can be avoided with skilled maintenance and upkeep. We have four licensed plumbers on staff that can help thwart issues before you even know they’re there. If we catch it early, you won’t have water damage to deal with and fewer parts to replace. It can also save you from having to endure some awful experiences like backed-up pipes or showers with low water pressure.

Calling a plumber to perform routine maintenance is a normal part of being a homeowner. The cost of having a certified expert plumber check your home is tiny compared to the destruction that can follow an unchecked problem. That’ll leave you more money for plane tickets, steak tartare and plastic figures.

Call Wilson Brothers today at 978-433-5373 to learn more about our plumbing and maintenance services.

Dehumidifiers Pepperell, Groton, MA

Dehumidifiers decrease moisture and increase comfort in the home with or without an air conditioner

Do you sometimes feel as though you are living in the middle of a swamp?  Does your hair frizz to the point of looking like a hornet’s nest of entangled curls?

More than the number on your thermostat, the combination of heat and humidity can determine your comfort … or in the case of high humidity … your discomfort in the summer.

Air quality can suffer in many ways.  High humidity is that clammy feeling on your skin that remains even when the temperature of the room is appreciably lower. Left unchecked, high humidity leads to moisture buildup that can create problems within the home, including stale air and musty odors, warped wood, peeling paint and mold.  Daily activities, such as cooking, cleaning and showering can add as much as 25 pounds of moisture to your home.

Dehumidifiers Pepperell, Groton, MA

In addition, your home can become a breeding ground for insects.  Dust mites thrive and mold and mildew grow, which can trigger asthma and allergies

Another sign that a whole-house dehumidifier may be needed is when your air conditioner is struggling to create sufficient cool air.

Dehumidifiers range in size from portable, one-room units to whole-home solutions that tie into the home’s HVAC system. A portable dehumidifier may do the trick, but installing a whole house dehumidifier integrates directly with home heating system so that all the indoor air is dehumidified.  The moisture that is removed from the air empties into a drain pipe to a sump pump, utility sink or to the outdoors.

Select a dehumidifier that can hold ten pints of water for a 500 sq.ft space.  Add four pints of capacity for every additional 500 sq.ft. If you wish to dehumidify a 1,000-square-foot basement, you’d need a unit with a 14-pint capacity.

Be certain your dehumidifier is Energy Star-certified.  These units use about 15% less energy than conventional units.  That means a savings of about $175 over the life of the dehumidifier and avoids roughly 2,800 pounds’ worth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Dehumidifiers improve indoor air quality by providing a continuous flow of fresh, dry air in the home.  This results in an energy-efficient solution and keeps mold growth at bay all season long.

A whole-home dehumidifier from Aprilaire automatically extracts the right amount of humidity from the home. The Aprilaire Wi-Fi Thermostat provides simple, automatic control of excess moisture which allows for better monitoring and control of humidity. The system is quiet and requires just a simple annual filter cleaning to keep it well-maintained.  If you are fortunate enough to have a Mitsubishi ductless heat pump system, then you have a dehumidifying mode option which will reduce moisture and add comfort.

Call Wilson Brothers today at 978-433-5373 to learn more about Aprilaire whole-home humidifiers and Mitsubishi Heat Pump Systems.  Visit our website to find out how dehumidification means comfortable and healthy indoor air.

Wilson Brother Green Heating Solutions

Should I turn my heat off during the day?

Saving on energy costs is a serious concern, especially in the winter.  Even though the cost of oil is lower than in the recent past, it always makes sense to save money on the fuel we use to heat our homes.  I am often asked about the value of turning the heat down, only to have to turn it up again.  People wonder if this wastes more energy than it saves, making the furnace or boiler work harder.

A thermostat doesn’t work like a gas pedal, where pressing it down hard makes the engine work harder. Your thermostat tells your heating and cooling systems when to operate and when to stop – never how intense to work. A heating system bringing the room from 60 degrees to 70 degrees works just as hard at any given moment as one bringing the room from 50 degrees to 80 degrees.  The only difference is at what point the system stops itself.

When it comes to heating systems, it never makes sense to leave them running when the heat isn’t needed. You can turn them down or off when not in use and you will conserve energy (and save money).

The idea of saving energy by only heating rooms when needed is the entire idea behind smart thermostats, ones that you can program when the heat comes on and when it shuts off.  This way, you can program the thermostat to turn the heat down at 8 am — around the time you leave in the morning — and tell it to raise the temperature in the room around the time you return home, so you can come home to a warm house.

In addition, you can create zones within your home using multiple thermostats so that each zone can be programmed individually.

Smart thermostats also let users savm, be heating costs at night when family members are in their beds in just two or three rooms and the rest of the house is empty. Most people tend to sleep deeper and longer in a cool roout want to wake up to a warm house. The same principle applies.  Program the thermostat to turn down when it is bedtime and turn up again just before the family gets up in the morning.

By using a smart thermostat, you can reduce heating costs twice in the same day – when the family goes to bed and when they go to work or school.

When to shut down your air conditioner for the season

Much like Christmas lights, many homeowners don’t know when it’s time to shut down their air conditioning system for the season. Even with the end of the hot summer days, some people delay shutting it down just incase they get hit with an unexpected hot fall day, but no one wants to have to wade through snow to put a cover on the outdoor unit.

Weather fluctuates from year to year, so there’s really no good day to mark on the calendar in advance.

Our recommendation is to link the task to some other change of seasons task you’re already doing. For example, when you put away your patio furniture, cover your swimming pool, untie your hammock, winterize your lawnmower or put your motorcycle battery on a trickle-charger.

Alternatively, you could wait for the first frost to hit. That’s a dead give-away that you won’t need to cool the house anytime soon. If you find yourself turning the heat on and you haven’t prepared your cooling system for the season yet, it’s time to get on it right away.

Why it matters

Some units, not all but some, have an internal heating system for the cooling system’s condenser. This keeps some of the liquids in the machine from freezing during operation. Unfortunately, the warmth can make an attractive nest for field mice once the cold weather hits. During the summer, the field mice have plenty of warm places to dwell in, but once it gets cold out they get desperate and will enter a condenser unit.

Wilson Brothers technicians install an electric switch for customers in their electric panel marked “AC Condenser” that will stop all power from going to the condenser. Homeowners also need to go shut down their control panels for the season as well.

Go outside and shut it off, but unless that power switch is thrown, electricity will still get to the unit.

In addition, not enough people place outdoor covers on their condensers for the winter. The units are made to be outside year round and the refrigeration oils and other liquids can safely be left inside, but a cover is still needed to protect it from direct contact with ice and snow.

Use only true factory-made covers for your specific outdoor unit. Some people try to make their own covers with blue tarps and bungee cords. While that does create a barrier for the elements, it lacks the ventilation that the proper covers have. The tarps will trap air inside and create a small habitat with trapped moisture inside. The condensation will pit and corrode the electric contractors and damage the unit.

Five tips to get your A/C running at it’s highest efficiency

Air conditioning systems require regular maintenance to keep them working at highest efficiency, whether they are window units or central A/C.

The inner components can collect dust, dirt, and mildew, which can lower their operating efficiency and your home’s air quality. Check the manual that came with your unit and follow basic procedures to keep it working properly. Here are Five Tips to get your system working properly:

  1.  Make sure the air conditioner is installed at least two feet away from foliage and 10 feet away from your dryer’s vent. Trim foliage and clean up nearby debris to minimize dirt near the condenser unit. If you have an outdoor unit for central air, do not surround it with shrubs or solid fencing.
  2. Clean or replace your air conditioner’s filter every month during regular use. If you have dogs or cats indoors or if you live in a dusty area, you may need to change or clean it more frequently.
  3. Be sure the drain line of your central air unit isn’t clogged with mold and mildew, which can cause water to back up into the home. Pour a cup of bleach into the line’s access hole each spring. If a clog occurs, place the nozzle of your wet/dry vacuum over the line’s opening to suck it out.
  4. Wipe off the housing when it becomes dirty and then remove it. Sweep any debris away from the inner components with a paintbrush. If the aluminum fins are bent, contact a repair person to adjust them.
  5. Contact a service technician yearly to inspect the condenser and evaporator coils which may require chemical cleaning. The technician can also check the motor and electrical components to ensure that everything is functioning properly.
  6. If you have questions about proper air conditioning maintenance or to schedule an Air Conditioning Tune-Up, Lowell, Nashua NH, Burlington MA, Chelmsford MA from the All Season Comfort Specialists, call Wilson Brothers today!

800-498-5373 or 978-433-5373 

Ten tips to avoid and limit flooding damage

Spring has Arrived! (Thankfully)

With the melting of the huge amount of snow we experienced this winter combined with April Showers, the threat of flooding is always a risk.  Here are Ten Tips to help you control ground water around your house, which is the source of most basement flooding … AND to limit damage should you experience a wet basement. 

1)   Make sure your roof gutters are clean and clear of obstruction.

Spring Cleaning - gutter maintenance to avoid spring flooding, or leaks.

2)  Check the downspouts on your house.  Does water flow freely out of the bottom opening?  Make sure the water discharges a few feet away from the foundation wall and that it has an unobstructed path that leads it well away from the house.  Center splash blocks under downspouts so the water is directed properly.  If you have downspout extension pipes, make sure they are connected and pointed in the right direction to lead water away from the house.
3)  To prevent window wells filling with water, cover them with plastic well covers or a sheet of plywood that leans against the house.
4)   Make sure garden borders, debris and mulch do not create dams that hold surface water up next to the house.
5)   Inspect any exposed walls inside your basement.  Caulk any gaps or cracks.
6)   If you have a sump pump, make sure it is plugged in and working.  Check it by dumping a few gallons of water into the sump pit and confirm that it drains the water properly.  If you don’t have a sump pump, consider getting one now, especially if you have had problems with wet basements in the past.
7)   If you have an interior drain in the basement floor, be sure that it is clear.
8)   A backwater valve will stop water and sewage in an overloaded sewer line from flooding back into your basement.
9)   Pick up boxes and anything that is vulnerable to water and put them on shelves or put down oak pallets under boxes to lift them up a few inches or more off the floor.
10)   Remove important documents, files, photos, or memorabilia from the basement to avoid mildew or ruin if the basement does get flooded.