Air Ducts: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

how to take care of your air ducts


Your air ducts are one of the most important systems in your home, and if the ducts are poorly sealed or insulated they are likely contributing to higher energy bills.

Your home’s duct system is a branching network of tubes in the walls, floors, and ceilings; it carries the air from your home’s furnace and central air conditioner to each room. Ducts are made of sheet metal, fiberglass, or other materials.

Ducts that leak heated air into unheated spaces can add hundreds of dollars a year to your heating and cooling bills. Insulating ducts in unconditioned spaces is usually very cost-effective. If you are installing a new duct system, make sure it comes with insulation.

Sealing your ducts to prevent leaks is even more important if the ducts are located in an unconditioned area such as an attic or vented crawlspace. If the supply ducts are leaking, heated or cooled air can be forced out of unsealed joints and lost. In addition, unconditioned air can be drawn into return ducts through unsealed joints.

Although minor duct repairs are easy to make, qualified professionals should seal and insulate ducts in unconditioned spaces to ensure the use of appropriate sealing materials.


  • Check your ducts for air leaks. First, look for sections that should be joined but have separated and then look for obvious holes.
  • Duct mastic is the preferred material for sealing ductwork seams and joints. It is more durable than any available tape and generally easier for a do-it-yourself installation. Its only drawback is that it will not bridge gaps over ¼ inch. Such gaps must be first bridged with web-type drywall tape or a good quality heat approved tape.
  • If you use tape to seal your ducts, avoid cloth-backed, rubber adhesive duct tape — it tends to fail quickly. Instead, use mastic, butyl tape, foil tape, or other heat-approved tapes. Look for tape with the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) logo.
  • Remember that insulating ducts in the basement will make the basement colder. If both the ducts and the basement walls are not insulated, consider insulating both. Water pipes and drains in unconditioned spaces could freeze and burst if the heat ducts are fully insulated be-cause there would be no heat source to prevent the space from freezing in cold weather. However, using an electric heating tape wrap on the pipes can prevent this. Check with a professional contractor.
  • Hire a professional to install both supply and return registers in the basement rooms after converting your basement to a living area.
  • Be sure a well-sealed vapor barrier exists on the outside of the insulation on cooling ducts to prevent moisture condensation.
  • If you have a fuel-burning furnace, stove, or other appliance or an attached garage, install a carbon monoxide (CO) monitor to alert you to harmful CO levels.
  • Be sure to get professional help when doing ductwork. A qualified professional should always perform changes and repairs to a duct system.


Carbon monoxide (CO) detectors are required in new buildings in many states. They are highly recommended in homes with fuel-burning appliances such as natural gas furnaces, stoves, ovens, water heaters, and space heaters. An alarm signals if CO reaches potentially dangerous levels.

Learn more about minimizing energy losses in ducts and insulating ducts and other areas of your home.

How to Maintain Your Lawn and Your Mower

A well-kept lawn is a source of great pride and joy for the American homeowner. Despite how much credit we like to take for our fresh-cut grass, we often don’t give the tool that allows us to get the job done enough tender loving care.

How to maintain your yard

Roof Types, Vocabulary and Things You Should Know

When replacing an old roof or building a house from scratch, you may quickly find yourself confused by the number of unfamiliar terms used when looking at the different roof types. This infographic from Homes & Land explains the basics of roof vocabulary, materials, construction and general things you should be aware of before you dive into a roofing project.

roofing 101

Tips on Lowering Your Home’s Carbon Footprint

The effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions starts at home. Carbon dioxide accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, and electricity makes up the largest portion of CO2 emissions. This means that in order to lower your carbon footprint, you must look to the electricity-hungry appliances in your home with a critical eye.

Some of the worst electricity-guzzling culprits are the desktop computer and clothes dryer. In order to cut down on wasted energy, consider drying your clothing on a line outside in the warmer months. For appliances and devices that are entirely necessary, keep in mind that unplugging them when not in use can save you money, and send less carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Remember, just because a device is not turned on, does not mean it isn’t using power. Make a habit of unplugging your countertop appliances all at once so you don’t forget.

Luckily, manufacturers are starting to make energy-efficient appliances standard. Replacing your current appliances with Energy Star versions can save you thousands of dollars on your energy bill over several years. Until you are in a position to replace your appliances, there are some efforts you can make to reduce your usage of your current ones. For example, planning meals in advance can decrease your need to use the oven and stove. Boil several eggs at once rather than that single day’s portion, and be mindful of not preheating the oven too far in advance of your food prep.

Adopting these measures, both large and small, is enough to reduce the size of your household’s carbon footprint.

Reduce your homes carbon footprint

Everyday Poisons in Your Home

Did you know, millions are unintentionally poisoned each year, and a majority of those are children under 6-years-old? Some extensive research was performed into everyday poisons in people’s homes, and uncovered some very interesting findings.

everyday poisons in the home

HVAC Maintenance: Get Your Ducts in a Row

Your home’s heating and cooling systems help keep you comfortable during the oppressive heat and the bitter cold, and they must be properly maintained in order to do so.  Be sure you are aware of warning signs of potential problems and that you follow the proper upkeep and maintenance to ensure that your HVAC system is operating safely and efficiently.

heating and cooling maintenance


Don’t Get Burned: Warning Signs of Potential Problems

  • Your energy bill goes up without increased use
  • Any sounds such as clunking or knocking
  • The air in the home is too humid or too dry
  • Certain areas of the home are hotter or cooler than others
  • HVAC breaker keeps tripping
  • If your furnace is more than 15 years old, or if your air conditioner is more than 10 years old it may be time for a replacement

Keep Your Cool: Upkeep and Maintenance

  • Make sure fuel-burning heating equipment is vented to the outside without obstruction
  • Replace the HVAC filter at least every 90 days
  • Keep intake and output vents clean and clear of debris and dust
  • Have your heating and air conditioning systems inspected by a qualified service professional at least once a year to make sure they are running at optimal efficiency and to diagnose any potential problems.
  • Some heating appliances may produce carbon monoxide (CO), a poisonous gas that is tasteless, colorless, and odorless.  Protect your home with CO alarms and test them monthly to ensure they are working properly.

Hire a Home Inspector That Works For You

Hiring a home inspector


Purchasing a home is no doubt one of the most important purchases you will make in your lifetime, so you should be sure that the home you want to buy is in good condition. A home inspection is an evaluation of a homes condition by a formerly trained expert. It is the best consumer protection service available. During a home inspection, a qualified home inspector will take an in-depth and impartial look at the property you plan to buy.

The home inspector will:

* Evaluate the physical condition of the home including: the foundation, structure, construction and mechanical systems.

* Identify items that should be repaired or replaced as well as alert you to areas that may pose a potential problem for you in the future.

* Estimate the age and current condition of the all of the major systems such as the roof, electrical, plumbing, heating, air conditioning equipment, structure and finishes.

After the home inspection is complete, you will receive a written report of the findings from the home inspector, usually the same day as the inspection.

Finding a Qualified Independent Home Inspector

As a homebuyer, it is ultimately your responsibility to carefully screen and select a qualified home inspector. I will stress that it is “your” responsibility, and not your real estate agent’s. After you actually purchase your new home, your real estate agent will not be responsible for paying the unexpected repair costs that result from a non-thorough or “patty cake” home inspection. Any unexpected repair costs will be your responsibility.

Understanding the Home Inspector / Realtor Relationship

For your protection, it is strongly suggested to hire an independent home inspector, instead of a home inspector who is recommended by your real estate agent, and here’s why:

Most home inspectors regularly solicit real estate agents for work, in the hopes that the real estate agent will exclusively recommend his or her home inspection services to all of the real estate agent’s clients. Agents work with many home buyers throughout the year, and each home buyer will eventually need a home inspection in order to close the sale. In the past, it originally made sense for an agent to find one or two home inspectors that he/she could regularly recommend to clients. However, this  agent / Home Inspector relationship carries a rather large conflict of interest along with it.

Here’s why:

(a) Real Estate Agents make their commission when their client actually purchases the home.

(b) A client will only purchase the home if they find the home’s condition acceptable. (Among other reasons)

(c) A negative home inspection can stop a home sale dead in its tracks as well as the agents commission for that sale.

Now, this is not meant to be an accusation of any agents or Home Inspectors. However, in this relationship, the Home Inspector may feel stated or unstated pressure from the agent. There may be pressure to deliver a positive home inspection report or the agent may pressure the home inspector to produce an inspection report in less  time at the expense of performing a more thorough home inspection. After all, the agent could easily replace the Home Inspector with another who may tend to write more lenient reports. To be honest, there are many other Home Inspectors who would line up for a chance to get a steady flow of new clients from the agent.

The Bottom Line: Spending Hundreds May Save Thousands

When you make a purchase agreement on a home, you should insist that the contract state that the offer is contingent on a professional home inspection conducted by a qualified independent home inspector of your choice. Independent home inspectors are hired by you, and they do not have a “cozy” relationship with the real estate agent. Hiring a qualified independent home inspector could help stop you from buying a house that will cost you thousands of dollars in repairs down the road. Only after the independent home inspection is complete and you are satisfied with the results of the home inspection, your real estate purchase offer can proceed.

Solar Panels – What You Need To Know

All about solar panels


This was originally featured on –

There are three main types of solar panels.

Residential solar panels, though all silicon-based, come in three types and have their own pros and cons.

Polycrystalline panels are the simplest to manufacture and therefore the cheapest, although they can suffer in high-temperature climates and are slightly less efficient than their monocrystalline counterparts (although typically not enough for the average homeowner to worry about). These guys are bright blue and really stand out, as opposed to monocrystalline panels, which are uniformly black. Monocrystalline panels are longer-lasting, the most efficient, and perform better in low-light conditions, which makes them a little more expensive.

Black monocrystalline panels are generally more expensive than their blue polycrystalline counterparts, but they’re also more efficient and more durable.

Thin-film panels, while growing in popularity, are the least efficient of all and require more soft costs. That said, they are light and flexible enough to be transformed into individual solar-powered roof shingles — so cool, and very much an indication of what to expect from solar in the future.

Solar shingles — roof shingles with integrated thin-film solar cells — serve two purposes and look nicer, but they aren’t as efficient as traditional rigid silicon panels. Monocrystalline PV panels are more expensive than polycrystalline panels, but are more efficient, so you’ll need fewer monocrystalline panels to produce the same amount of power.

Most people share their solar energy with their utility companies — but you can keep it all to yourself.

Net-metering is the most popular and cost-effective way to store electricity. It hooks your solar panels back into the power grid, so if your home needs more energy than your solar array can manage, it will automatically pull it in. On the flip side, when your system produces more than you are using, the excess flows back out in the grid — spinning your utility billing meter backward as it goes.

The other option is off-grid, where your electricity is all stored in a large battery bank on your property. The average US home uses 911kWh per month — about 40 batteries worth, which can add upward of $16,000 to your whole setup. That said, storing your energy off-grid means you can have electricity in even the remotest areas, or when the grid fails in a power outage.

You can score a pretty sweet deal on solar right now.

The federal government and various states and municipalities have a ton of subsidies to help transition communities into energy independence and reduce greenhouse gases. One of the most well-known incentives is the the Solar Investment Tax Credit (ITC), a federal 30 percent renewable energy tax credit, which has been extended by Congress through 2019.

Dr. Lombardo sees an even brighter future for solar: “Prices for PV are dropping, and at the same time, energy costs are increasing. When more utilities install smart meters, they’ll implement time-of-use pricing, which means electricity will cost more during peak demand times like late afternoon. A PV array is a great way to reduce your energy bill, since PV will generate much, if not all, of your electricity during those peak hours.”

Be sure to check your specific area for other types of incentives that can range from rebates to tax breaks to low-interest loans. The NC Clean Energy Technology Center has a nifty search tool for incentives by your ZIP code.

The Bottom Line

Adding solar energy to your home is a great — but massive — investment, so it’s important to pick powerful and efficient panels from a reliable manufacturer.

Take Action

Do the math. If you’re planning on moving before you recoup your initial investment, solar panels don’t make a lot of financial sense. You can use a solar savings calculator to estimate your return, or crunch the numbers yourself to determine your monthly savings. First, divide the monthly output hours of your system by the kilowatt-hours you use per month to find what percentage of your bill solar would cover. (You can find your kilowatt-hours on your electric bill.) Then, multiply your electric bill by that percentage to see how much you could save a month — although assume it will typically be less since you won’t always have perfect solar conditions.

Consider your roof. Since the bulk of the bill comes in the form of soft costs, make sure your roof has 15–25 years of lifetime left. If your roof needs to be replaced sooner than that, you could be saddled with removing, then re-installing, your panels. And before any of that, contact the company that installed your roof to check if adding solar panels may void its warranty.

Shop around for an installer. “A good installer will perform a complete financial analysis, including payback period,” adds Dr. Lombardo. “They will also investigate local, state, and federal incentives, help the customer complete the necessary paperwork to obtain those incentives, and factor those into the financial analysis.” Hobson agrees: “It’s worth noting that there are many quality solar panels, regardless of their technology type. However, consumers should think beyond the panel to find an installer with a positive track record for residential projects.”

Pay to Play Home Inspectors Are Unethical

pay to play home inspectors


As an ethical home inspection company, we have seen a lot of things in this industry that are just not right. On top of the list are real estate companies that charge home inspectors to be on their “preferred list of home inspectors” or “preferred vendors” list. What’s that? You were not aware of this unethical practice? Don’t feel like the lone ranger. Most people are completely unaware of this very real problem.

So who are these unethical real estate companies?

You might be surprised to learn that the real estate companies who practice this “pay to play” charade just happen to be some of the largest real estate companies in the country. There is plenty of big money involved and while we will not name names, we can tell you that some of the companies who actively practice this are among the top 10 real estate companies in the country. Enough said.

So how are they getting away with this?

Home inspectors are specifically banned from offering compensation to Realtors for inspection referrals by all licensing authorities as well as all home inspector organizations throughout the country. So how is this particular practice being allowed to continue? The people involved call it “advertising”. They are walking a VERY thin line, but somehow to date are getting away with it, and making plenty of money in the meantime, often times at your expense. Many of these pay to play real estate companies are charging home inspectors anywhere from $600.00 to $1,500.00 per year to be on these lists.

The real estate companies argue that it is no different than placing an ad in the Yellow Pages or the newspaper. We beg to differ. When a potential home buyer places his or her trust in their Realtor, they are also placing their trust in their Realtors home inspector recommendation. If a Realtor is recommending a home inspector simply because they paid to be on a list, then that is wrong and it is a serious conflict of interest. To many in this industry, “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” is not just a quirky antidote, it is a way of life. If you still are not convinced that this is a serious issue, think of it this way. When using one of these pay to play home inspectors, where do you think their allegiance lies?

What can you do to protect yourself from this unethical practice?

There are several things you as a potential home buyer can do to protect yourself as well as your investment.

First, try enlisting the services of an independent Realtor that is not affiliated with a large corporate office. Many of todays independent Realtors used to work for these large companies and have decided to go out on their own due to the unethical practices employed by these large corporate entities. Many independent Realtors are sincerely looking out for their clients best interests and are more apt to give you the personal service you expect.

Second, find your own home inspector. Yes, you do have a choice when it comes to hiring a home inspector. You are not bound to your Realtors recommendations (they will only give you three names out of potentially hundreds of home inspectors in town). If the Realtor tries to talk you out of hiring your own inspector to go with one of their “preferred” inspectors, that alone should be viewed as a waving red flag. You are absolutely free to choose whoever you want to inspect your new investment. Ask friends, family members and co-workers for home inspector recommendations. Anyone who has had a positive home inspection experience will be quick to tell you about it.

Third, get online. The internet continues to be one of the best sources available for finding true real estate professionals. Remember to check their websites and reviews. Online reviews have grown in popularity in recent years and home inspectors cannot run from bad online publicity.

Last but certainly not least, check with the Better Business Bureau and Angie’s List for reputable home inspectors in your area.

What can be done to stop the unethical practice of pay to play?

Currently there is absolutely nothing in place to stop this practice. There is plenty of big money involved and as you might expect, anytime it is questioned, it quickly gets swept under the carpet using the “it’s simply advertising” explanation. The only way this unethical behavior will stop is if legislation is put in place to stop it, and the only way that will ever happen is if people get involved. Why is it important to get involved? Think of it this way. The next time you need a home inspection, how important will it be to you to receive a thorough and unbiased home inspection with no hidden agenda?