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!

Need help? Call now.

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!

Need help? Call now.

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.

Need help? Call now.

April Showers and Drainage Solutions


April showers bring May flowers — and drainage problems. Flat yards, yards with dense soil and yards below the water table can all experience issues with flooding or standing water, especially during spring rain.

Water, water, everywhere!

Not only is standing water unsightly, it’s bad for your lawn, your landscaping and your house. Drenched flowers aren’t happy flowers; expensive plants can be ruined by over-watering and root-rot. Once parts of your yard have turned into a swamp, it’s hard to dry them out again, and you could end up with perpetual mud-pits and mosquito-breeding grounds. Standing water next to the house could become very expensive if it damages your foundation or seeps down into your crawl space to cause mold or fungus growth.

What to do?

When your house was built, the yard was probably graded in order to let water runoff from your downspouts and from rainfall flow into the gutters. However, grading isn’t always done properly, and it doesn’t always work forever; heavy rainfall can change your landscape and create low spots. Don’t rely on grading to do all the drainage work for you. You can install drains to ease your standing water issues.

French drains

French drains are excellent solutions for surface water problems. They’re simple to make; you dig a trench to any depth, fill it with gravel, and allow it to collect water that can percolate through the soil at a slow rate. If you have gravel walkways or planting areas, you can install French drains underneath them; otherwise, you put roofing felt over the French drain and then replace the soil over that. Finally, grade the surrounding area to direct water toward the drain.

Underground drainage

If your soil is hardpan or clay, grading the site here and there probably won’t work very well. You need a full-scale drainage solution that includes underground pipes that direct water to the edges of your yard and down to the storm drains. These pipes can be connected directly to your gutter downspouts, or fed by trench drains. If you’re on a large site or outside the city and don’t have access to storm drains, you can direct your underground drains to a sump — a large hole filled with gravel that acts like a large French drain, allowing water to seep slowly into the more porous soil underneath the hardpan.

Drainage kits

Some home-improvement stores offer drainage kits with instructions for how to create French, underground, and other types of drains. With enough help, these can be do-it-yourself projects.

Act now!

If you see standing water in your yard, don’t wait. A little puddle can become a big pond overnight, and then you may be stuck with more expensive solutions — especially if the water has started seeping into your crawl space. During the heavy rains of April and May, it’s wise to keep a close eye on the lower levels of your home. If they start to seem damp, call Newcomb and Company before your yard issues become house issues!

Need help? Call now.

4 Types of Air Filters: Which Do You Choose?


How do you choose an air filter?

If you’re like many homeowners, you simply go to the hardware store and pick whichever filter fits your return air duct. But while this method saves you time in the store, it may not save you money or improve your health; ill-fitting, overly restrictive, or inefficient filters can run up your energy bill and produce poor air quality in your home. With a little education, you can make more discriminating choices.

Before you choose an air filter, you need to learn about Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) ratings. MERV ratings tell you the effectiveness of your air filter. They are measures of the number of particles a filter can trap as compared to the total number of particles it’s trying to filter. That may sound complicated, but it just means that if you put two air filters in the same room, the one that traps fewer particles has a lower MERV rating than the other.

It seems like knowing MERV ratings would make a filter simple to choose, right? After all, higher efficiency seems preferable to lower efficiency. But there’s a catch. It may sound like a contradiction, but high efficiency air filters can sometimes make your HVAC system less efficient by blocking too much air flow across the heat exchanger. This means that the system can’t heat or cool enough air to control the temperature correctly in your house. Your energy bills could increase, and you could risk damage to your furnace due to overheating.

The best filter for your home is one that removes the most pollutants from the air while allowing your HVAC to perform at peak condition. Older HVAC systems or those with leaky ducts may need filters with lower MERV ratings. It could take you some experimenting to find out which filter works best for you. Luckily, most of your choices are relatively inexpensive.

Fiberglass filters

Fiberglass filters are one of the most popular kinds. They’re often blue; you’ve probably seen them in hardware stores. These thin, flat panel surfaces are composed of a dense fabric of glass fibers, most of which run perpendicular to airflow. They tend to have the lowest MERV ratings, often between 1 and 4.

While fiberglass filters do an excellent job of protecting your HVAC unit from large dust particles, they’re not the best filters to use if you have allergies. They will not trap mold, pollen, or other smaller particulate irritants.

Pleated filters

Pleated filters comprise folded sheets of cotton or polyester-blend fabric. They are folded accordion-style, so that more fabric surface can fit into a smaller area. The more pleats, the more easily air can pass through this filter. That’s a good thing, because this kind of filter is often high-efficiency, and older HVAC systems can be overtaxed by trying to pull air through it.

If you find a polyester filter with lots of pleats and a MERV value of 6 or greater, it can be an ideal air filter solution that removes many pollutants from your home while keeping your HVAC system in top working condition.

Disposable electrostatic filters

Electrostatic filters usually have MERV values of 10 or greater, so they’re very effective at de-contaminating the air inside a home. They contain multiple layers of polyester blend materials, framed by a polyester mesh. These filters create their own static charge! As air passes through positively-charged outer material, particulate matter becomes charged, as well. It is then attracted to the negatively-charged inner material. That’s how electrostatic filters trap all kinds of particles, including mold and pollen. Smokers or residents with allergies or asthma may be attracted to this kind of filter. However, electrostatic filters can be on the pricey side.

Washable electrostatic filters

These filters are similar to their disposable brethren, but are usually framed in aluminum, cased in aluminum mesh, and made of washable material. They’re incredibly cost-effective; their average price is around $20, and you only have to replace them every 3-5 years. To maximize their effectiveness you need to wash these filters every three months or so.

There is some debate as to whether washable filters actually live up to the hype. They can have MERV ratings of 10 or greater; on the other hand, they aren’t always high efficiency, and it’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference. If they’re not fully dry when you replace them in your air exchange, they can grow mold and bacteria that is then circulated throughout your home. If you choose a washable filter, be sure to check its MERV rating, clean it regularly, and dry it thoroughly.

If you still have questions about the type of air filter that’s best for your home, call Newcomb and Company. We’re happy to talk to you about your HVAC system and your air quality needs.

Need help? Call now.

Teach Kids About Energy Conservation With These Tips


It’s never too early to teach kids good habits, and energy conservation is a great place to begin. You’ll teach your kids to live in a way that puts less stress on the environment, and you’ll lower your energy bill, too.

While there are lots of things kids can do to save energy at home, we’ve identified a few quick wins to get you started:

  • In the kitchen: Make sure your kids are closing the refrigerator every time they reach for a bite. If it helps, tell them that every time they leave the fridge open, their favorite snacks and drinks will get warm. Room-temperature chocolate milk, anyone? We didn’t think so.
  • Around the house: Still using incandescent bulbs? If so, have your kids perform an inventory of the ones you still have around your house. When they discover all of the ones still in use, show them how to replace old bulbs with energy-saving CFLs or LEDs.
  • Screens, screens, screens: Make sure kids know that their devices – from tablets to video game consoles – don’t need to be on all the time. When phones are fully charged, they can unplug them or even turn them off to avoid having to charge them later. The same goes for other devices that are always plugged in, like TVs and modems. Tell your kids unplug these items at night or before they leave for school.
  • In the bathroom: Have your kids take showers instead of baths – and set a timer! Kids can get in the habit of bathing in less than ten minutes, but they’ll need a little motivation.

To learn more about conserving energy at home, contact Newcomb and Company. For over sixty years, we’ve helped North Carolina residents lower their energy bills and take advantage of energy efficient heating and air conditioning technology.

Need help? Call now.