What to Do When Your AC Unit Freezes Up

What to Do When Your AC Unit Freezes Up

In the middle of August, during a heat wave, while the sun is beating down, the last thing you want is a busted air conditioner. One of the first signs of AC trouble comes in the form of ice. Blocks of ice or even icicles can form around your AC unit and can not only cause leaking and block the outflow of cold air, but also serious damage to your unit, causing it to break completely. Whether your home has window units or central air cooling, a frozen AC unit is a common problem that, luckily, has common solutions. We’ll explain a little bit about how your air conditioner works, what causes it to freeze up, and some important ways you can fix the problem and ensure that your summer lifesaver keeps providing cooled air all season long.

How Does Your Air Conditioner Work

Without going into too much physics, it’s important to know that your air conditioner runs on a simple scientific principle: when gas expands, its pressure — and therefore temperature — decrease. On the other hand, when gas compresses, its pressure and temperature increase. This thermodynamic fact explains how air conditioners work. The refrigerant inside of your air conditioner’s evaporator coil expands, causing the temperature of the coil to decrease. Your unit pulls in your home’s warm air, runs it past the cold coil, and it comes into your house cool. The refrigerant absorbs the heat, or energy, from the air and releases it outside.

Your AC unit is a perfectly balanced physics masterpiece that keeps you comfortable inside your home no matter how hot it is outside. But, when that perfectly balanced physics masterpiece isn’t as balanced as it should be, you get problems: namely, your AC freezing up.

Why Is Your AC Freezing Up?

There are, in general, only a few things that could cause your AC unit to freeze up.

1. Not Enough Air Flow

Our elementary physics lesson above makes it clear that for an AC unit to work properly, there has to be a sufficient amount of air flowing through the unit to exchange the heat from the expanded refrigerant inside the evaporator coil. The condensation that occurs around the coil is usually whisked away by the exchange of heat. But if the unit isn’t receiving enough air, that condensation doesn’t heat up. Instead, it freezes.

2. Not Enough Refrigerant

An integral part of a successful air conditioner is the refrigerant that courses through the evaporator coil. Not only does it expand to create the cold coil, but it carries out the heat from your home’s air and releases it outside. If your unit is running low on Freon, then it is forced to expand more to fill the space. The more it expands, the colder it becomes. Air conditioners are programmed to work best at certain temperatures, so making sure the coil doesn’t get too cold is important. If the refrigerant expands too much and the coil temperature drops too low, the coil freezes and builds up ice that threatens water damage, complete blockage, and a non-functioning AC unit.

3. Mechanical Failures

Sometimes your frozen AC unit is the result of a mechanical failure. The most common part to break is the blower fan, which helps to suck out the warm air from your home and replace it with the new cold air. Because colder air is denser, it doesn’t flow as easily as warm air, so the fan is essential in getting cold air out. If the warm and cold air don’t switch places, a pressure problem within your unit can cause a backup, leading to the formation of ice.

What to Do When Your AC Unit Freezes Up

Now that you know what might be causing the air conditioner problems, it’s time to decide what to do when your AC unit freezes up.

1. Clean Your Air Filters

The most common cause of an air conditioner freezing up is the lack of airflow. The most common solution to this problem is to clean the air filters. You don’t want dust and other airborne irritations to get into your AC unit, so your air filters collect them and keep your unit safe. This means, however, that the filters need to be cleaned regularly to make sure that the dust isn’t blocking your home’s air from getting in.

2. Add Refrigerant

If your air filters are clean, the next thing to do is ensure you’ve got enough refrigerant in your system. Check your owner’s manual or consult an HVAC professional if you’re unsure how much or what kind of refrigerant you should put in your air conditioner.

3. Check for Mechanical Deficiencies

The blower fan can prevent the cold air and warm air from changing places and cause a frozen air conditioner. But there is more that could be broken. After checking for a fully functioning blower fan, check to make sure there isn’t a kink in your refrigerant lines, preventing it from reaching the evaporator coil. If that looks to be in place, take a look at your duct work. There could be a blockage restricting air flow.

Tips and AC Maintenance to Avoid a Frozen AC Unit

It’s always best to prevent a frozen AC unit before it happens, so make sure to take care of your air conditioner so that it can take care of you all summer long. Make sure to never run it when it’s cold outside, as that will throw the pressure out of balance and cause freezing. And make sure to clean your coils regularly. Dust can prevent water from absorbing fast enough, which can cause faster ice build up. Along with cleaning the air filters regularly, make sure to keep the rest of your air conditioner clean for optimal performance.

Air conditioners can seem intimidating, especially when they begin to show signs of failure like freezing up. But with a quick physics lesson and a little bit of care, you’ll know what to do when your AC unit freezes up. If these tips and tricks don’t help, it may be time to replace your unit. Always contact an HVAC professional for major problems and have your units inspected regularly to ensure proper function and efficiency so that you can stay cool even in the hottest weather.

How to Unclog a Shower Drain

How to Unclog a Shower Drain

Nothing will ruin your morning shower faster than looking down and realizing you’re standing in a puddle of grimy, lukewarm water. You may have also noticed that your shower takes forever to drain or an unpleasant odor emanating from the drain.

You’ve most likely got a clogged shower drain. But before you pick up the phone and call a plumber, there are a few things you can do to try and unclog it yourself and avoid a costly repair bill. This article will show you how to unclog a shower drain with a few simple tricks and some common household items.

The most common cause of a clogged drain is a backup of hair and soap scum, but dirt and minerals in your water can also get stuck in the drain over time and cause a clog. Sometimes, tree roots can cause a pipe to crack underground and contribute to the blockages.

How to Unclog a Shower Drain: 8 Quick Tips to Save You Money

1. Run Boiling Water Through the Drain

This is probably the simplest method of clearing minor clogs and backups. The heat helps soap scum and dirt break up easier and can often clear small clogs. Make sure that your pipes are metal, not PVC because boiling water can loosen the joints in PVC pipes and cause leaks. You can also do this as part of your weekly maintenance to prevent future clogs.

2. Experiment with Vinegar and Baking Soda

These common kitchen supplies when mixed together can often dissolve hair and soap blockages without the need to use harsh or toxic chemicals. Pour the baking soda down the drain first, wait a few minutes and then add the vinegar. Let it sit in the drain for a couple hours and rinse it (and hopefully the clog) down the drain with boiling water. This mixture is also an effective way of cleaning your shower drain on a regular basis.

3. Grab the Toilet Plunger

You probably have one of these lying around the house already and in some cases it can work on clogged drains as easily as it does on toilets. Plungers are often an effective way to clear blockages caused by hair, just make sure to clean loose hair off the drain cover after every shower to prevent future problems. If your drain cover is missing, you can purchase a replacement at any hardware store.

4. Remove the Clog By Hand

If the previous methods haven’t worked or you can see the clog, removing the clog by hand may be a quick, easy solution. Take off the drain cover and pull out the blockage. Make sure to wear gloves because it’s going to be a dirty job. This method won’t work on soap or mineral buildups so you may still need to use another method to fully clear the clogged drain.

5. Utilize a Hook

If you can’t reach the clog by hand, you can try using a hook fashioned from a wire hanger to snag the blockage. This is a fairly effective method for clearing hair clogs but again, it won’t work on other types of clogs.

6. Use Chemicals

Most supermarkets and hardware stores sell a variety of drain-cleaning products designed to dissolve soap scum and mineral blockages. Make sure to follow the directions carefully as these are typically made with very strong chemicals that can cause burns and respiratory problems if they contact the skin or you inhale the fumes. Also make sure you do not mix different products together because they can create a poisonous gas when combined.

7. Try a Plumber’s Snake

Also called a “toilet jack” or an “electric eel”, this tool can be rented from some hardware stores if you don’t already have one. It consists of a metal “rope” wound inside a drum that you push down the drain until you reach the clog. Turning the handle spins the “rope”, which can often break up the clog, allowing it to be washed down the drain. A plumber’s snake will clear most blockages, however, it is not very effective against clogs caused by the roots of plants or trees.

8. Call a Plumber

If none of the above methods have cleared your clogged drain, it’s time to call in the professionals. This is definitely not the cheapest option but may be the only way to fix the problem.

Preventing Future Clogs

Now that you’ve learned how to unclog a shower drain, there are some things you can do to prevent the clogs from reoccurring.

1. Buy a drain protector

For a couple of dollars you can buy a protector that will catch hair and other small objects and prevent them from washing down the drain and causing a clog.

2. Install a secure soap dish

Soap can cause loose hair to stick together into larger clumps and make it harder for it to wash down the drain.

Prepare and Prevent a Clogged Shower

Keep in mind that you can also use any of the methods described above as preventative maintenance to ensure that your drains stay clear and most of them will work on a clogged sink too. Remember, prevention is always better than the cure, and in the case of a clogged drain, much easier on your wallet as well.

The Dangers of Standing Water

The Dangers of Standing Water

It’s happened to all of us at some point: a clogged drain leaves behind a sink full of smelly water, a heavy rainstorm turns your front yard into a lake, or your neighbor moved out and abandoned his swimming pool full of nasty water and dead plants. Now you’ve got a real problem: standing water.

This article will explain what standing water is, where it comes from, the risks it can pose to you, your family, and even your pets, and most importantly, how to get rid of standing water.

What is Standing Water?

Standing water, or stagnant water, is water that doesn’t move or flow. It is a collection of water that stays in one place until it becomes smelly and dirty. It can be any size, from a bucket left under a leaky drain to a poorly-maintained swimming pool or even an entire backyard.

Standing water can come from either clean or contaminated sources. The most common sources of clean standing water are water supply lines that bust or leak and rainwater leaking into your home through roofs, windows or other unsealed areas. Although this water is clean to start with, it can quickly become a real problem if it is not addressed immediately.

Standing water coming from contaminated sources, such as flooding and sewage backups, is an immediate problem. This water is already filled with parasites, bacteria, and mold, and poses serious health risks to you, your family, and your pets.

Health Risks of Standing Water

Water that has been sitting still for a long period of time is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, mold, and parasites. Many types of bacteria thrive in moist environments and can cause serious illness in humans and animals. Mold can begin to grow in as little as 48 hours in the right conditions, and mold infestation has been known to cause respiratory illnesses in both people and animals.

Standing water also attracts insects and rodents. Mosquitoes use shallow pools of standing water as a breeding ground and have been found to carry diseases such as malaria, West Nile virus, Zika virus and some forms of encephalitis that are easily passed to humans.

Standing water inside your home can attract vermin searching for watering holes and nesting space. Rodents such as rats, mice and possums can spread disease through their waste or by biting and scratching if you come into contact with them. They can also cause massive amounts of damage to your home as they gather and build nests.

Standing water inside the home can pose a health risk and wreak havoc on the home structure itself. During severe storms, floods, or other disasters, broken water pipes can allow water to accumulate in places that are not always immediately visible, such as basements or under floors. The growth of bacteria and mold in these hidden pools can cause illness in the people exposed to it. If left untreated, this can lead to rot and structural damage inside the home.

How to Get Rid of Standing Water

The key to minimizing the damage caused by standing water is speed. Removing the water and preventing it from reappearing as quickly as possible will greatly lessen the negative impact of standing water both inside and outside your home.

1. Remove The Water 

Remove the stagnant water as soon as possible. Use rags or towels to clean up small areas of standing water. Utilize pumps or wet/dry vacuums for larger regions of standing water. If the area is too large for you to handle on your own, call an emergency plumber.

2. Dry The Affected Area

Dry the entire area as quickly as possible to prevent mold growth and structural damage.

3. Remove Damaged Materials

Water can weaken structural materials such as drywall and woodwork. Carpeting and carpet padding can deteriorate and lead to increased mold growth. Any material damaged beyond repair should be removed as soon as possible.

4. Find the Source of the Damage and Repair It

Find whatever allowed the standing water to accumulate in the first place and fix the problem. If you don’t, it is highly likely the standing water will return.

5. Clean, Sanitize and Restore the Affected Area

Proper cleaning and sanitation of the affected areas will prevent future growth of mold or bacteria as well as remove any odors left behind by the water. Finally, restore the damaged area by replacing drywall, carpet, repainting, etc.

Standing Water Outside the Home

Stagnant water outside your home can be almost as destructive as water inside the home. You face all the same health risks regardless of whether the water is in your basement or your backyard.

There is less risk of structural damage with a flooded yard, but standing water can wreak havoc on your landscaping. Typically, standing water outside the home is caused by poor drainage, issues with soil quality or landscaping features that hinder water absorption. A professional landscaper can identify any issues and suggest both short- and long-term solutions.

Stagnant water can cause a lot of headaches and cost you a lot of money if it is not addressed promptly. Educating yourself about the causes of this problem and addressing maintenance issues to prevent water from infiltrating your home will ensure that your home remains a healthy environment for you and your family.

Everything You Need to Know About Ventless Fireplaces

Everything You Need to Know About Ventless Fireplaces

If you’re like many homeowners, you’ve always dreamed about having a warm, cozy fireplace in your home. Whether you want a fireplace as a supplemental heat source to cut down on expensive utility bills, or purely as an aesthetic addition to your family room, you’ve probably already considered the costs and hassles associated with having one installed. Or perhaps you’ve included one on your “must-have” list when shopping for a new home.

Traditional wood-burning fireplaces and newer gas-fueled fireplaces require an exhaust flue or vent to remove toxic smoke and fumes from the home. Not to mention, the cost of installing the necessary venting has crushed many homeowners’ dreams of ever having a fireplace in their home. Don’t give up on that dream just yet because there is an alternative: the ventless fireplace.

What Is a Ventless Fireplace?

Ventless, or vent-free fireplaces are a low-cost alternative to a traditional fireplace because they do not require flues or chimneys and can be installed in spaces that would not support a traditional fireplace. Ventless fireplaces are also more energy efficient than their vented counterparts because the heat is not being lost through the flue or chimney. These free-standing units can be powered by natural gas, propane, electricity or alcohol-based gels and some models do not even require professional installation.

Ventless fireplaces are designed to be a cost-effective alternative to traditional fireplaces in situations where it is not feasible to install flues or chimneys or for those homeowners who do not want to deal with the mess of ashes and smoke created by wood-burning fireplaces. Next, we will look at how a vent-free fireplace works.

How Does a Vent-free Fireplace Work?

As we said before, ventless fireplaces can be powered by natural gas, propane, electricity or alcohol-based gels. While a vented gas fireplace that is fueled by natural gas or propane requires two vents — one to remove the fumes created by the burning gas, and one to draw fresh air into the fireplace — a vent-free gas fireplace using natural gas or propane has a regulator that produces a mixture of gas and indoor air for combustion. It burns more cleanly. This reduces the production of toxic fumes, limits the levels of combustion gases released into the room, and allows for the elimination of costly venting.

How Much do Ventless Fireplaces Cost?

Ventless gas-fueled models do require professional installation and can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 to purchase and install. Electric fireplaces, on the other hand, do not require professional installation, simply plug in the unit and start enjoying the benefits. You may even be able to turn it on with a remote control. Gel-powered ventless fireplaces also do not require professional installation and are often the cheapest option, although you do have to purchase the canisters needed to operate the unit. Regardless of which model you choose, make sure to research which type of fireplace will work best for the space you intend it to occupy.

Are Ventless Fireplaces Safe?

Most of the ventless fireplaces you will find on the market include built-in carbon monoxide detectors that monitor the air quality of the room. They are designed to shut off the fireplace automatically if carbon monoxide levels become too high.

Because ventless fireplaces do not utilize fresh air intakes and instead burn the oxygen in the room, most models also have oxygen detection sensors that will shut off the fireplace should the oxygen levels in the room drop to unhealthy levels. Some models even include an automatic ignition feature and automatic thermostats to control the heat output as well. For the more tech-savvy homeowner, some newer models even include a remote control to adjust the settings on your ventless fireplace without leaving the comfort of your couch.

Do Ventless Fireplaces Look Nice?

If you’re looking for a heating solution for your home that is both cost-effective and aesthetically appealing, you are sure to find what you’re looking for with a ventless fireplace. Manufacturers offer a wide variety of high-quality, decorative options to fit any budget and decorating scheme. Whether you’re searching for a more classic wood-burning stove look for a country home, a traditional wood mantel fireplace for the family to enjoy on a blustery winter evening, or a sleek, modern look for your high-rise apartment, you’re sure to find a ventless fireplace that works for you.

Pros and Cons of Ventless Fireplaces

While there are many benefits to having a ventless fireplace, there are some safety concerns that you should consider before purchasing and installing one in your home. Some states, including California and Massachusetts, have banned the installation of ventless fireplaces and they are not allowed in any HUD housing. Make sure to check with your local building authority before you purchase a ventless fireplace.

According to the National Association of Certified Home Inspectors (NACHI), ventless fireplaces may still release carbon monoxide into your home, although these levels are greatly reduced when compared to traditional fireplaces. It is still a good idea to install carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home in addition to any detectors pre-installed in your unit. Ventless fireplaces also produce water vapor as a byproduct of the combustion process and if not properly ventilated, can lead to increased mold growth.

Pros of Ventless Fireplaces

  • Ventless fireplaces are more affordable than vented fireplaces because you won’t have to install a flue.
  • No messy soot, ashes or smoke to deal with.
  • Free-standing units can be placed in any room, adding extra heat wherever you need it most.
  • More energy efficient than vented fireplaces so you’ll save money on utility bills.
  • Ventless fireplaces produce flames that are nearly identical to vented fireplaces-enjoy the same ambience at half the cost.

Cons of Ventless Fireplaces

  • Some fumes will still be released into your home, albeit far less than a vented fireplace.
  • Some states and municipalities have banned the installation of these units. If you are found to have a fireplace that is against local codes, you may be required to remove the unit and could even face fines for failure to comply with building codes.
  • The water vapor created by the burning gas can cause your home to feel humid or muggy and could lead to increased mold growth.

Consider Everything to Make an Informed Ventless Fireplace Purchase

The decision to purchase and install a ventless fireplace is one you should consider carefully, weighing the pros and cons and ensuring you are in compliance with local building codes. Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety tips. If you do your due diligence, you and your family can enjoy the benefits of a ventless fireplace for years to come.

How to Clean Oven Racks

How to Clean Oven Racks

Cooking or baking food in your oven is a wonderful convenience but, try as hard as you might to avoid it, food spills. Cakes bubble over, grease spills out, and your oven is left dirty, smelling, and sometimes smoking from leftover debris. A self-cleaning oven can be a real time saver as far as the floor, ceiling, and walls of your oven go, but what about the racks? Dirty ovens include dirty oven racks, so read on to learn everything you need to know about how to clean oven racks.

Products to Clean Oven Racks

There are a number of great products you can purchase for oven cleaning and even specifically for cleaning your oven racks. Most oven, grill and rack cleaners can emit harmful toxins so make sure that you can clean your oven racks outside, where there’s a lot of open space and ventilated air. Lay down newspapers or old rags so as not to harm your grass, and always use rubber gloves to protect your hands. Let the product sit for at least ten minutes and then scrub away. Using a soft sponge, old toothbrush, or clean rag will make the work easier without harming the chrome on the racks. Spray the racks off thoroughly with a garden hose and you’re good to go.

You don’t have to buy specialty products or work with potentially harmful chemicals and toxins when cleaning oven racks. If you want to learn how to clean oven racks easily, at home, with common household products, read on.

DIY Processes to Clean Oven Racks

1. Dryer Sheets and Dish Soap

Perhaps the simplest answer to how to clean oven racks is using dryer sheets, a half cup of dish soap, and a bathtub. Lay a handful of dryer sheets on the floor of your tub, making sure to cover the entire floor. Place your oven racks on top, then fill the bathtub with warm water until the racks are completely submerged, toss in half a cup of dish soap then walk away. Let the soap and dryer sheets work their magic overnight and drain the tub the next morning. Using this method, there’s no harmful chemicals or offensive smells, and you can use the dryer sheets to scrub off any remaining food particles or debris.

2. Vinegar and Baking Soda

If dryer sheets aren’t easily available to you and you’re still wondering how to clean oven racks, try the classic combination of vinegar and baking soda. The chemical reaction between baking soda and vinegar that is such a hit at school science fairs is also a great way to clean your oven racks. Place your racks in an empty bathtub, cover in baking soda, then drown with vinegar. Let the bubbling die down before adding enough hot water to just cover the racks. Again, let this product work overnight, then drain the water and scrub clean with a sponge, towel, or old toothbrush. Rinse the racks off in the bathtub and return to your oven.

3. Ammonia and Trash Bags

If you’re looking for how to clean your oven racks with a little less scrubbing, the ammonia in the trash bag method is a good solution, though it does have other drawbacks. You’ll need ammonia, a few large trash bags, a garbage can, a garden hose, and protective hand and eye gear. Place one oven rack in each garbage bag, pour in half a quart of ammonia, then tie the trash bag tight. Place the whole thing in the trash can, outside, overnight. You can lay the bags flat so that the ammonia touches more of the rack, but you don’t need to. The fumes released from the ammonia overnight will penetrate every inch of the grimy oven rack. The next morning, wearing your protective gear and clothes you don’t mind ruining, remove the racks and spray down with a hose. You should see the grime come right off. Let them dry on a clean towel outside, then return them to the oven, ready for use.

4. Dishwasher Soap

Figuring out how to clean oven racks easily is sometimes as simple as a soak in the tub. First, lay an old towel down on your bathtub floor. This will prevent the oven racks from scratching the tub. Put your oven racks on top of the towels, then fill the tub with hot water until the racks are covered. Make sure the water is as hot as you can get it as the heat helps to break down the soap. Add a large scoop of powder laundry or dish detergent, or an equivalent amount of liquid detergent, and let the concoction work overnight. Drain the tub the next morning, scrub any remaining grease or grime off with a sponge or toothbrush, then rinse clean. Simple, easy, and much better smelling than the chemicals that come in the store-bought products.

Tips and Warnings when Cleaning Oven Racks

  • Self-cleaning ovens can harm your oven racks, so make sure to always remove them before starting a cycle.
  • If you are using ammonia or other chemicals, always protect your eyes and hands, and make sure you’re in a well-ventilated area so you don’t breathe anything in.
  • Use a towel or four sponges on the corners of your racks when using any bathtub method so that you don’t scratch the tub.

Clean Your Oven Racks Regularly

Oven racks are often forgotten, but the grime and grease baked into them can affect the way your food cooks and tastes. Use these tips on how to clean oven racks easily and that casserole that bubbled over yesterday will be a thing of the past.