Cree Shimmer Wall: A Symbol of Raleigh’s Innovation

Raleigh Convention Center - Cree Shimmer Wall

Located near the fabulous arts, entertainment and dining areas of downtown Raleigh, and wrapped within world-class architecture, the Raleigh Convention Center was designed to showcase the City of Oak’s innovation, technology and responsible development. Billed as “A Center That Defies Convention,” the crown jewel of the project is, of course, the magnificent Cree Shimmer Wall which adorns the outer facade of the building, welcoming the tens of thousands of commuters who pour into the downtown area every day. But while everyone from visitors to longtime residents can appreciate the wall’s glimmering beauty, few know that there’s an incredible story behind the wall – literally.

As one of the nation’s leading tech hubs committed to sustainability and energy, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Raleigh Convention Center would embody many of those ideals. The building is LEED Silver certified, built with many innovative recycled materials, and modeled to maximize energy efficiency with open space architecture. And the HVAC system is a world-class design, intended to minimize water waste and heating inefficiencies.

In fact, the Newcomb-installed HVAC system was tasked with heating, cooling and venting no less than half a million square feet of a $222 million dollar building with three different stories and plenty of unconventional architecture and open space. The main ballroom alone holds over 15,000 people theater-style, and the entire building requires no less than 6,800,000 BTUs of capacity per hour from the state-of-the-art HVAC system.

But with its prime location in the cultural and artistic heart of downtown Raleigh, the Convention Center needed more than just incredible function; what about the form? It’s true that Raleigh is famous for its technology and research innovation, but the city wanted to show off its artistic side, too.

Thomas Sayre of the Clearscapes architecture firm was brought in and quickly developed a brilliant idea to cover the building’s 10,000-square-foot wall with a beautiful work of art depicting the city of Raleigh’s symbol, the oak tree. Over 80,000 light and dark aluminum squares were connected and the mammoth flowing “wall” of technical creativity was hung over the facade of the Convention Center, facing most visitors as they enter the city’s downtown area and presenting a sparkling oak tree to everyone who passes by.

The brilliant display reflects sunlight and drifts in the wind magnificently, but the city didn’t stop there. Durham LED lighting company Cree added 56 LED diodes to create fabulous light shows once the sun goes down, giving the facade an incredible high-tech look and display that make it one of the hallmarks of Raleigh’s downtown. And with that, the Cree Shimmer Wall was complete. Not only was the building’s  complex HVAC system now properly protected, but it was done so with a beautiful work of art that functionally allowed the wall to breath and contort with the elements.

The wall is so dazzling that many onlookers are sure it must have cost the city a fortune, or at least be extremely technologically advanced. But that’s where they would be wrong. “It’s a completely low-tech thing, it’s just the wind,” says Sayre.

“That is what makes the wall so uniquely, Raleigh,” says Laurie Okun, the Director of Sales and Marketing at the Raleigh Convention Center. Sure, they had the technological and engineering resources in the area, and of course there were plenty of artists happy to help, but what really set the project apart was how the creators meshed form with function and kept everything environmentally friendly and simple.

“We call it our ‘Smart Angle,’” says Okun. Now every visitor or new business owner who enters the downtown area will first be greeted with the beautiful Convention Center and symbol that is Raleigh, and it couldn’t have been done without the collaboration and innovation of Cree, Clearscapes, Newcomb, the Raleigh Convention Center and all of the great artists and public servants who were involved.

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Newcomb Was Family: A Trip through Newcomb’s History with Helen Mangum


Old-Newcomb-Office-1When Helen Mangum says there’s no better company than Newcomb and Company, she’s passionate. She sits forward in her chair as she talks about her more than 50 years with the business, bright-eyed and spry, reliving the experience as if it were the most fun of her life. And it was.

Helen was the lifelong executive assistant (or, as she points out, “…secretary — we just called them secretaries back then!”) to Charles Allen “Bo” Newcomb, Newcomb and Company’s founder and father of the current president, Robert Newcomb. She saw every bit of the company’s growth from an 11-person team in one cinder block room to a thriving business employing hundreds of people across the state. To her, Newcomb is family.

In January of 1956, just two years after Bo returned to Raleigh with an electrical engineering degree from the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey and got his fledgling company off the ground, Helen walked in Newcomb and Company’s doors for the first time. Air conditioning was a very new technology, and it was rare in Raleigh homes. “In fact,” she explains, “for the first four or five years, most of our business was just heating.”

But in a move that would become characteristic of our innovation, Newcomb took a gamble. Bo Newcomb bet that the thriving new trend would win over the sweltering South … and won. “By the early 1960s, A/C took off. Everybody wanted their house air conditioned,” Helen says, grinning. “In fact, I’ve often said that it was much easier to satisfy a cold customer than a hot customer. People who hadn’t had air conditioning for 50 years would have it for two weeks, and if something went wrong, they wanted someone to come fix it immediately. Right now! They just couldn’t wait!”

And Newcomb “was just as excited as our customers were,” she continues. “We were just so excited to say, ‘We’re installing air in so-and-so’s house today! It was fun!’”

Back then, Helen was a one-woman (and only-woman!) show, fielding every call from every customer, dispatching service providers, keeping the books, scheduling, and in general making sure the business grew in an orderly fashion.

That great pride in her work and in her company still shows. “There was nothing any prettier than a balance sheet in my handwriting. That was pretty work,” she says. “A full year’s work in one sheet, but countless hours getting it onto that sheet. That was pretty work.”

Time brought her new assistants, and the advent of technology turned her balance sheets digital. Newcomb was growing, and Raleigh with it — in the 60 years of Newcomb’s existence, Raleigh has grown from around 65,000 people to more than 400,000. And as Helen says, “we worked hard” to get there. But as the decades have progressed, we’ve kept the small-town values that made us a success in the first place: dedication to good, honest work. Work that people like Helen can continue to be truly proud of.

“There’s no one better,” she says. “Loyalty, pride in our work, and just [doing] a good job. Just a good job” made Newcomb the Triangle’s, and now Wilmington’s, most trusted home service company.

Helen retired in 2009 (do that math — that’s 53 years!), but she’ll tell you that her years at Newcomb meant the world to her. That Newcomb was “protective — like a family.” That Bo Newcomb and every Newcomb employee were “superb.”

At Newcomb today, we strive to make every customer feel about our service the same way Helen feels about her long career with us. We want you to experience superb service from a company dedicated to doing the right thing by every person we encounter, customer and employee alike. We want you to find out what’s kept Newcomb growing and thriving for more than 60 years: employees like Helen, good home service advice, expertise in our industry, and values that matter.

“We were one big happy family,” says Helen. We still are. And we’ll treat you like family, too. If you need home services, give us a call today, and be a part of our history.

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Warning Signs Your AC is Getting Ready to Go Out

newcomb-consultationIt’s that time of year again — residents of the sunny South take refuge in their living rooms in the hottest part of the day, thanking their lucky stars for the invention of air conditioning. During the summer, A/C units work overtime, trying to keep homes a comfortable twenty degrees or so cooler than the temperature outside. Is yours working too hard? If you pay attention to these six warning signs, you might catch minor problems before they become heated issues.

1) No cool air.

Let’s start with the obvious: if the air blowing through your vents isn’t cool, you’ve got an issue. Turn off the A/C until you can get a repairman to your house. You may have a refrigerant leak, which could have several root causes, including blockages in your refrigerant lines that will become more severe if your system keeps operating.

2) Poor airflow.

If your airflow feels weaker than usual, it’s probably not just your imagination. Call a repairman and get it checked out. The problem could lie with your unit’s blower fan, or there could be more malignant issues like blockages in your ducts.

3) Water leaks.

In an A/C unit, condensation is simply part of the process. This moisture forms inside your air conditioner, and a drain tube shunts it away. If that tube is damaged or blocked, the water has nowhere to go, and pools will form next to your unit. (If your unit is located on the roof, the first you’ll hear of this may be a leaky ceiling, so double-check your A/C unit occasionally during the hot season to avoid those costly roof repairs!)

4) Bumps and bangs.

If you have to explain to your kids that the scary noise they hear is simply the A/C turning on, you should probably call in the pros. Loose parts or a bad motor could be causing those spooky sounds, and either way, you need to address the problem before it gets worse and interferes with the operation of your A/C unit.

5) Bad smells.

Wondering about that musty scent permeating your living room? Mold or other growth inside your air ducts may be to blame. If your air smells unpleasant, it’s probably not healthy to inhale, so call in reinforcements to diagnose the problem. (If you smell something even more unpleasant, like burning metal, it’s wise to turn off your A/C and call a repairman immediately!)

6) Inaccurate thermostat.

The problem with your A/C might not lie with your A/C. If your thermostat isn’t communicating correctly with your unit, it’ll be hard for even the most industrious blower to stabilize the temperature in your home.

Newcomb and Company has been the Triangle’s most trusted A/C experts for more than 60 years. If your A/C’s acting up, we’ll cool you down. Schedule a service today because your comfort is our business!

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How to Take Care of Your A/C When You’re On Vacation

Mature couple arriving home from a vacation indoors

It’s that time of year again — sun, fun, and adventures await! Your family may be beach bound, headed to the hills, or perhaps just off to visit distant friends or relatives. Wherever you’re going, we hope you have a blast. And we also hope that coming home again is as easy and painless as possible.

You do many things when preparing for a vacation to ensure that your re-entry into your routines will be seamless. You have a friend pick up your mail, empty the trash, check the locks, leave food out for the cat…the list goes on and on. And if you’re a homeowner, it goes on even longer. You need to make sure your appliances are shipshape before you ship off to parts unknown.

Newcomb and Company can help you do that. Here’s a top five must-do list on caring for your A/C when you’re out of town.

1) Re-set your thermostat. Leave your programmable thermostat at a higher temperature setting than usual to limit your A/C’s use and save yourself some money on energy bills. But don’t turn your unit off entirely; a quiet compressor could be signal to prospective thieves that you aren’t home, and you don’t want sensitive items like laptops or houseplants heating up unnecessarily.

2) Check your filter. This is another money-saving technique; a clean filter optimizes your air conditioner’s efficiency. You should check your filters on a regular basis, and if you’re in the habit of checking them every time you head out of town, you’ll have set up a good routine.

3) Take a look at your compressor. Is it free of debris: twigs, pine straw, grass clippings? Make sure the area around it is clear of potential blockages that could get inside the housing and interfere with the condenser coils or the fan.

4) Check your drain pan. If your drain pan is full of water, you could have a clogged drainpipe. The humid conditions inside your A/C’s refrigerant coils and pipes are the perfect breeding ground for algae and mold. Not only do these growths hinder the flow of water in your drainpipe, they create unhealthy air flow in your home — and that’s no fun to come home to!

5) Call for regular maintenance. To ensure that issues with your A/C don’t interfere with your vacation, have an expert perform regular maintenance checks. Newcomb can help prepare you for a relaxing vacation with fast, professional A/C maintenance. Schedule a service today!

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How to Drain and Flush Your Hot Water Heater


No modern convenience is more luxurious than a long, hot shower. But while you’re relaxing under the spray, do you consider its source? If your hot water heater hasn’t been well-maintained, mineral deposits like rust may have built up inside it. They make that long soak somewhat less than the squeaky-clean experience you were hoping for.

Poor hot water heater maintenance also hurts you in the energy conservation department. In a gas heater, mineral deposits will act as a barrier between your water and the gas burner; your water will take more energy — and more money — to heat. In an electric heater, deposits may build up on the heating elements, reducing their efficiency. Imagine an icicle slowly forming, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what a dirty heating element can look like!

Luckily, it’s easy to drain and flush your hot water heater. You don’t need to do it very often; every one to two years should be enough to keep your water running ship-shape and your budget in balance.

Step 1: Determine the type of hot water heater you have.

If you have an electric heater, look for your breaker box. It’s usually a small, gray box with a swinging door attached to a wall, often on the inside of your home. It will be filled with switches. Older homes may have a fuse box instead of a breaker box. This box will be filled with small tubes with glass or metal ends.

If you have a gas heater, look for the thermostat. It’s a knob that will be located outside the heater and near the gas pipe’s entry-point. The knob will have three settings: Pilot, On, and Off.

Step 2: Turn your heater off.

If you have an electric heater, flip the breaker switch or unscrew the fuse that controls it. If you have a gas heater, turn the thermostat to Pilot. If a pilot setting is not available, switch the unit off. Contact a professional if you are unable to clearly determine whether the unit is off.

Step 3: Turn off the water supply to your heater.

Locate a valve near the cold water pipe inlet at the top of the hot water tank. Rotate this valve clockwise to halt the water supply. Some valves only require one turn, but some may take several. Make sure your valve is entirely turned off. Note that you don’t have to turn off the water main to your whole house; just the cold water inlet at the tank will do!

Step 4: Attach a garden hose to the drain valve at the bottom of the heater.

Most drain valves look like the end of a regular hose. Sometimes they are round dials with a threaded aperture; sometimes they are hidden under a removable cover. Attach your garden hose to the drain valve. At this step, you should also release the pressure valve located near the drain valve to let extra air out of the tank.

Step 5: Place the end of the hose in a bucket or extend it to a yard drain, sump hole, or ditch. Open the drain valve.

Voila! Your hot water tank will drain through the garden hose. Remember that the water draining will still be hot. Cheaper hoses or buckets may be damaged by hot water, and it could burn you if you touch it, so be careful. It would be best to allow the water to cool down before draining if you have time.

Step 6: Open a hot water faucet in your house.

Turn on a hot water faucet in a sink or tub. This will insure a vacuum is not created in the line when you flush your heater, so that your tank drains more fully.

Step 7: Check the quality of the water.

Is the water coming from your hot water heater clear, or cloudy? If you’re draining into a bucket, is there sediment at the bottom? If you see any signs that your hot water heater needs more flushing, close the drain valve, open the cold water valve, fill the tank halfway and then repeat the draining process. Do so until the water from the tank runs completely clear.

Step 8: Finish up!

Once the water from the tank is running clear and clean, it’s time to reverse the process. Close the drain valve and remove the hose. Open the cold water valve and allow the tank to fill back up with water. Release the air pressure valve, close it again, and turn the power or gas to the hot water tank back on. Keep the interior faucet running until your hot water is running clear again, with no spurting or air bubbles.

Congratulations! You’ve successfully drained and flushed your hot water heater.

If you need more help or advice on hot water heaters, call Newcomb and Company at 919-862-3000. We’re experts on maintaining pipes and drains of all kinds!

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How to Clean and Maintain Your Drains and Garbage Disposals


The last thing you want when you come home is to find your sink backed up from a clogged drain or malfunctioning garbage disposal. The bad news is that, by the time the water’s rising and bringing bits of last night’s dinner with it, there’s nothing to do but call the plumber and cross your fingers. The good news is that there are quite a few things you can do to avoid that fate! Keep your drains and garbage disposals clean and flowing freely with these quick and simple steps.

Continue reading “How to Clean and Maintain Your Drains and Garbage Disposals”

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How an HVAC Maintenance Agreement Can Save You Money

Financial consultant presents bank investments to a young couple
Financial consultant presents bank investments to a young couple

An HVAC system purchase is a big decision. If you’re thinking about taking the plunge, you’ve probably got a lot on your mind, and you don’t want to make a mistake. What size system do you need? Should you choose gas, electric, or a dual system? Does anyone in your home have allergies, and will that affect your choice? What’s your budget?

If you haven’t already, add “Should I get a maintenance agreement?” to that list. Although it may be hard to convince yourself to spend up-front money on preventive maintenance for which you don’t yet see a need, remember this: HVAC maintenance agreements can save you a lot of money in the long run. Here’s how.

A well-maintained system is less likely to need emergency repair.

Bi-annual service visits will give your service technicians an opportunity to stop problems before they start. HVAC equipment doesn’t break for no reason; very often a chronic issue that’s hard for a homeowner to spot becomes worse over time, and finally results in damage. Inspections can reveal small faults like wear and tear to a belt or leaking refrigerant, and repair those problems before your HVAC grinds to a very expensive halt. Remember: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Regular service increases your home’s energy efficiency.

Let’s say you have a hole in your ductwork or leaky refrigerant. That means your system is working overtime to keep your home at the right temperature, and your electric bill is headed sky-high. Regular preventive maintenance will ensure that your energy efficiency stays up to par, saving you money on your gas or electric bills.

Your manufacturer’s warranty covers only well-maintained equipment.

A manufacturer’s warranty is invaluable. Replacement parts for an HVAC system — or, in a worst-case scenario, replacement of the whole system — can be incredibly expensive. That’s why your manufacturer probably provided you with an equipment warranty that will help with the cost of repairs or replacement for a certain period of time. But there’s a catch: the terms of the warranty usually require proof that your system has been regularly maintained. A maintenance agreement gives you proof of regular service in one simple document, ensuring that if your equipment breaks, you’ll be covered as your warranty specifies.

Regular maintenance extends the life of your HVAC system.

How long do you want your HVAC system to last? Ten years? Twenty? An HVAC system is like any other major home purchase; you want it to last as long as possible in order to get the most value out of your investment. Regular maintenance will increase your equipment’s lifespan so that you won’t have to worry about an expensive replacement for many, many years.

Maintenance agreements offer discounted services throughout the year.

HVAC maintenance agreements include regular service calls and basic system maintenance during those visits. But did you know that they usually also include discounts on other services? A Newcomb and Company agreement offers you a 15% discount on a range of services, regardless of when you may need them. Diagnostic charges, after-hours calls, and basic maintenance necessities are all discounted — even if the need for them arises before your next scheduled service visit.

As you’re pondering your HVAC system purchase, rely on Newcomb and Company for expert advice. We’ve been providing homeowners and businesses with expert service since 1954, and when you give us a call, you’ll benefit from that wealth of experience and knowledge. We’ll tell you all about our maintenance agreement and how it will work to your advantage as you embark on this next home adventure.

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