Shooting the Breeze: How to Clean Air Ducts

Shooting the Breeze: How to Clean Air Ducts

If you’ve started to notice dust gathering quickly on your furniture, or have lost an item or two down a floor register, you may find that cleaning out your air ducts is an impending necessity. Fortunately, air duct cleaning isn’t that difficult with the right tools, and can quickly become a regular DIY chore. Not only is it easy, but you can also save yourself a good chunk of cash by not having to hire a professional. Check out our step-by-step process below on how to clean air ducts.

Supplies Needed:

  • Broom
  • Cleaning brush
  • Screwdriver
  • Heavy-duty vacuum
  • Furnace filter

How to Clean Air Ducts

  1. Start by turning off all the power connected to your air conditioning and heating system. You don’t want it to suddenly turn on while you’re cleaning.
  2. Using clean rags or paper towels, cover the supply registers (the openings that supply heated air into each room). Doing this will prevent any dislodged dust from drifting into the rooms as you work, doubling your workload.
  3. Unscrew the covers or grilles on your air ducts from the walls. Take your cleaning brush to brush out the grates thoroughly. These are a big spot where dust can build up and is generally the most noticeable spot for it to collect. If there is any grimy or oily residue you may want to use a bit of warm water and dish soap to really clean them off.
  4. Knock loose any old buildup of dust in your ducts by using the handle of the brush and tapping on every accessible part of the duct. This will help dislodge dampened dust from the ducts.
  5. Using one of the hose attachments on your vacuum, vacuum out the duct as best you can. The attachment will allow you to get to those hard-to-reach places as you are working through this DIY duct cleaning process. If you don’t have a heavy-duty vacuum, consider renting a shop-vac for this project. Your average household vacuum may not be powerful enough to get deep into the crevices of your air ducts. Since mold and mildew can also build up in your ducts, make sure that if you do rent a vacuum that the hose is long enough for you to reach deep into the ducts.
  6. Next on your DIY air duct cleaning list is to clean the grilles in your ceiling. Since these are above you, it may be wise to wear some protective eyewear and a handkerchief to avoid inhaling any dust or having it get into your eyes. Using a ladder, climb up with your brush to wipe out the outside of your grilles. Then remove them with the screwdriver and vacuum them out just as you did the ones in the wall. If you don’t have a ladder, grab a broom and use that to dust away the build-up.
  7. If your heating system is powered through a furnace, you will want to clean out the return air boot and blower compartment. This step is important in our how to clean air ducts process as the ducts alone aren’t the only part of your heating system to get dust buildup. To clean these, remove the panels from the front of the furnace to access the blower compartment and return air boot. Use your vacuum to sweep away any dust that has built up in them.
  8. Clean off your furnace fan while you have the panels off the front of the furnace.
  9. As one of the final steps in how to clean air ducts, you will want to replace your furnace filter. A clean, new filter can help cut down on the amount of dust that blows into your home. Better filters will need to be changed often, but they also extend your blower motor’s lifespan since it won’t have to run hotter to get air to the fan through a clogged filter. To know how often you need to change the filter, you will need to take into account your home’s situation. This includes whether you have pets and the region you live in.

Knowing how to clean air ducts is a very useful tool for homeowners. Doing so can ensure the air in your home is clean, preventing allergies or asthma attacks. It can also help you save money on air conditioning and heating, plus knowing how to do it yourself can help you save a few bucks. However, if you are moving into an older home or have an exceptionally large issue with dust, you may need a bit of professional help in the beginning. After one good clean though, it will be easier to stay up on yearly, bi-annual, or even quarterly cleans.

Can’t See the House for the Trees? Here’s How to Trim a Tree Properly

Can’t See the House for the Trees? Here’s How to Trim a Tree Properly

Whether you’re looking to scale down a large-growing species or give a shaggy tree a bit of a haircut, smart trimming can improve any tree’s appearance. Some trees can even show off their beautiful flowers or attractive bark better when effectively pruned. Take the time to learn how to trim a tree to give your landscaping a refresher.

Trimming Small Branches

Follow these steps to learn how to trim a tree by a single branch.

  • You’ll need to start with a sharp and clean pruning tool.
  • Acquaint yourself with the parts of each tree: The branch bark ridge is the area between the trunk and branch that is raised just a bit higher than the branch. The branch collar is the portion of swelled-up area under your branch that connects it to the tree.
  • Locate where you want to cut, you want to aim a bit beyond the branch collar so you’re not cutting the collar itself but are close enough to not leave a stub.
  • For slim branches — about 1-inch or smaller in diameter — you want to locate the spot slightly past the branch collar and cut there at a 45 to 60-degree angle to the bark ridge.
  • If your branch is thicker, follow the three-cut rule: start about 10-15 inches above the branch collar and cut halfway into the bottom of the branch. Then, move just a couple inches past your first cut and cut into the top side of the branch letting the branch fall. Finally, make your final cut just past the branch collar.

Trimming Small Trees

Knowing how to trim a tree can come in handy if you have small or young trees where you can easily reach each branch. The process is similar to trimming a single branch, with just a few key differences.

  • Before picking which branches you’ll be cutting, take note of the clock trick: Keep the branches that grow at 2 and 10 o’clock angles from the trunk and trim any branches that grow at a funky angle. Trim branches that grow across the interior of the tree from side to side.
  • When trimming a tree, experts recommend that you don’t remove more than a quarter of the tree’s canopy at one time.
  • Start by trimming away any growth around the roots or base of the trunk. Prune twigs and dead branches and cut out any weak, stringy branches that are growing in clusters.
  • Lastly, trim your branches following the steps above.

When to Call a Pro

If you’re wondering how to trim a tree, recognize that it can be a labor-intensive job that also requires a bit of know-how. You can definitely teach yourself how to trim a tree if the branches are eye-level and in close range, but if you need to climb a ladder, you may want to hire a professional, because they generally come with the right equipment to keep themselves safe reaching such high branches. Trimming a tree should also be avoided if branches are near power lines or are too heavy to let fall straight to the ground. Large branches may require a chainsaw or another power tool which could require some extra precaution and a more difficult learning curve.

How much does it cost to trim a tree? On average, a tree trimming service could cost between $80 to $350 per tree. A medium-sized tree may cost around $150 , with more difficult jobs coming in closer to $250. For larger trees such as oak or pine, you should plan on spending between $300 to $1,000 per tree.

Winter Trimming

Some trimming or pruning should be done on a seasonal basis, but this will depend on why you are pruning. For instance, light pruning and removal of dead wood can be done any time of the year. However, major pruning is generally done during the winter after the coldest part has passed when trees are dormant. This pruning will result in a fantastic burst of new growth come spring.

Summer Trimming

Summer trimming is meant to help direct growth through slowing down branches you don’t want. It can also be done to dwarf the development of a branch or tree. This kind of seasonal pruning should be done soon after summer growth is complete. Summer pruning and trimming can also help to correct defective limbs a bit more easily.

Beat the Heat: How to Cool a Room

Beat the Heat: How to Cool a Room

Staying cool during the warm months can be difficult (and that’s an understatement). But before you give up and just sweat your life away, there are some really great tips we’ve collected to teach you how to cool a room. Generally, knowing how to cool down a room can come down to a few basic areas: removing heat sources, lowering your body heat, or remove the hot air. Check out the following tricks to cool down any room in your home, whether you have AC or not.

Remove Heat Sources

Lots of items and appliances in our homes create heat. Targeting these heat sources can help make your home more livable when the mercury starts to climb. To learn how to cool a room down, start by removing some of these heat sources:

  • Appliances:
    You don’t need to actually remove these appliances, but it can help to reduce your use of them. Turn off the heat dry option on your dishwasher, stop using your dryer and instead hang-dry most of your clothes. Try to cook meals without using your oven or stovetop. Instead, opt for salads, sandwiches, smoothies, or grilling outdoors.
  • Light bulbs:
    All sources of light can give off some heat, so you want to use as few of them as possible. Alternatively, switching to more energy-efficient bulbs can provide some heat relief. Incandescent light bulbs create the most heat, so switch them out for LED bulbs.
  • Screens and computers:
    Using your laptop or computer can add heat to your rooms. Shut them off for the night or when you’re done working to help not only keep your room cool, but to lower your electrical bill too.
  • The Sun:
    Not surprisingly, the massive ball of burning gas that keeps our planet from freezing over can also be a big heat source within your home. When it shines through your windows it can really heat things up, especially in summer months. This is particularly true for windows that face west or south. You can install light-blocking shades or honeycomb blinds that will add a layer of protection against the sun’s rays.

Lower Body Heat

Sometimes you have to focus on yourself rather than looking for outside solutions. Try these quick tips to help with your own personal cooling:

  • Stay hydrated
    Drinking plenty of water before bed can help keep your body hydrated when sweating during the night. It also helps your body to stay cooler throughout the day.
  • Take a cold shower
    A quick cold shower can be an instant solution to the too-hot blues. Make sure to get your hair wet and let it air dry so you can reap the benefits long after the shower is over.
  • Use cotton
    Cotton sheets breath much better than other fabrics. Take it another step and get your sheet wet. Ring it until it’s damp and then place it over your body before bed. The slow evaporation will help keep you cool most of the night. Turn on your ceiling fan or place a box fan aimed at your bed to take this effect to the next level.
  • Go solo
    Body heat is a huge factor in staying cool, and we’re not just talking about your own body heat. Sleeping with a partner or child can make it harder to stay cool, so try going solo for a night or two. Sleep on the couch or have everyone run down to the basement and sleep on air mattresses to help stay cool.
  • Freeze your clothes
    It may sound crazy, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Place you clothing (specifically, your pajamas) in a large, air-tight, resealable bag, and then place it in the freezer for a few hours. When you take it out, your clothes will be pleasantly cold. Just make sure that there’s no moisture on your clothes before you freeze them — cold clothes feel good; icy, dripping clothes not so much.
  • Use a fan
    Sitting under a ceiling fan or in front of an oscillating fan help trick your body into believing the room is cooler than it actually is. Put a bowl of ice in front of the fan to create a cool, misty breeze. Grab a cold drink and let your body relax.

Remove Hot Air

How to cool a room? Well, if you can’t remove the heat sources or cool down your own body, then your last option is to remove the hot air itself. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Open the windows:
    Let any cool air in. Of course, if it’s hotter outside than in, you’ll want to keep them closed. Be strategic about this: open the windows in the early hours when it’s cooler outside then shut them in the afternoon.
  • Create convection:
    If you have double-hung windows, lower the top sash and raise the bottom sash in each window. This will help cool air to flow in through the bottom and for hot air to escape through the top sash.
  • Create a cross breeze:
    To accomplish this, focus on having airflow from one side in, and out another. You can do this in a bedroom if it has two windows by aiming a fan out one window with the second one open. For rooms with just one window, open up the window and find another room on the opposite side of the house to help flow from one room to another, creating a cross breeze.
  • Use Your Exhaust Fans:
    Kitchen or bathroom fans that vent to the outdoors can help remove heat as well — so turn them on! You can also turn large fans into exhaust fans for your whole house by aiming them out the window of the upper floors while keeping all doors open. This will remove the heat from the hot upper stories while drawing cool air in and up from the first floor.
Power Behind the Throne: How to Fix Your Toilet

Power Behind the Throne: How to Fix Your Toilet

Don’t feel like calling a plumber? You may not have to. Fixing toilet problems yourself is actually pretty easy. We’ll walk you through how to fix a toilet focusing on some of the most common problems every household experiences.

Fix a Running Toilet

A running toilet is probably the most common problem you’ll face. And the good news is that it’s a problem you can most likely fix yourself. This problem can happen either when the water level in the tank is too high, allowing water to flow over the top of the overflow tube and down into the tank. Or because the flapper isn’t sealing itself correctly in the opening of the flush valve. No matter the issue, the repairs are super easy. All refill valves have a specific method for adjusting the water level, and flapper valves are easy to replace or adjust. You can also fix this problem by doing any of the following:

  • Check for a faulty chain or flapper
  • Adjust the water level
  • Check for water-logged float
  • Replace a fill valve

Tighten a Loose Handle

Another common problem you can handle on your own is to tighten the flush handle when it gets loose or disconnects from your tank. You can solve this problem in two ways:

  • Adjust the flush handle mounting nut in the tank. It will have reverse threads that will require you to rotate it counterclockwise to tighten it.
  • Reconnect the lift chain or lift wire that connects the lift arm from the flapper.

Repair the Flush Valve

Some toilet repairs may involve your replacing your flush valve. Your flush valve is a brass or plastic fitting attached to the bottom opening of the tank in the center. This valve operates with a neoprene or rubber flapper or a float ball. To repair the valve follow these steps:

  1. Turn off your water supply and flush the toilet.
  2. Remove the old valve flapper or ball assembly along with the flush lever chain, guide wires, or anything else connected to the drain valve assembly.
  3. Take a sponge and remove any excess water in the tank.
  4. If your valve seat is brass, use steel wool or sandpaper to clear it of debris, then rinse with a soft cloth. Let it fully dry before moving on. You can speed up this process by using a hair dryer.
  5. Now, install your new sealant ring onto the drain valve seat. Depending on the kit, you may just need to peel the paper off from one side of the ring. Carefully center it over the opening of your cleaned valve seat. Press it gently to set it in place. Don’t press too hard!
  6. Grab the flapper ball valve assembly, and test fit the best location before removing the paper on the sealant ring. Position it at about a 45-degree angle so the tank ball can pivot freely and open fully when the chain lifts it. The chain should pull at an angle slightly back toward the hinge of the tank ball, or straight up. Once you’ve got the right spot, remove the paper from the sealant ring and place the flapper ball valve assembly over the sealant ring and press down firmly.
  7. Next, attach the lift chain by checking that the tank ball is closed, then make sure the toilet flush lever is down. Connect the chain attachment to the clip hole in the flush lever. Connect the clip to the plastic chain link allowing for a slight bit of slack in the chain. You can trim off any unneeded chain links. Leave a couple hanging from the clip.
  8. Finally, turn back on your water supply and let the tank refill. You may need to adjust the chain length through a bit of trial and error.

Solve a Slow Filling Toilet

This toilet repair has a few steps, but it’s still not overly complicated. The most common reason for a valve to no longer fill a tank or to slow down is a debris issue and how long your valve has been in use. Debris can build up with time in your water system. The valve body, shut off valve, or supply line can also restrict the flow of water and slow down the filling speed. Valves tend to have a good life for about 7 years, then they start to wear out. To flush debris from your water supply, follow these steps:

  1. Turn off your water supply and flush the toilet.
  2. Reach into the tank with one hand under the float cup and lift it. With that same hand, grab the gray shaft the keeps the float cup all the way up. Don’t let the float cup drop or let the valve shaft turn—keep them in place.
  3. Now place your opposite hand on top of the valve cap and place your thumb on the side arm coming out of the top. Turn the cap and lever counterclockwise about 1/8th of a turn to unlock. You can now lift off the lever and cap from the valve body.
  4. You can now inspect for debris on the seal and the portion of the valve that is still in the tank.
  5. Grab a cup and hold it upside down over the exposed valve and turn your water supply back on for about 10 to 15 seconds. The pressure can help release any debris inside the valve.
  6. Reassemble the valve by replacing the cap arm next to the refill tube. In order to lock it in place, press the cap down while gently turning the cap and arm clockwise.

If flushing the debris doesn’t solve your slow-filling problem, you may have to replace or repair the valve completely.

Extend the Life of Your Water Heater: How to Drain a Hot Water Heater

Extend the Life of Your Water Heater: How to Drain a Hot Water Heater

Have you noticed that your hot showers are getting shorter and less steamy? If this is the case, there’s a chance your water heater is losing some of its potency. But don’t worry, you don’t need to completely buy a brand new one or suffer through cold showers. You can easily learn how to drain hot water heaters and flush it to bring back some of its vigor.


Certain minerals like calcium and magnesium can build up over time in your water heater, causing you to need to drain the hot water heater. This is especially common in areas with hard water, and if you don’t counter the hard water with a water softener. This build-up reduces your hot water heater’s effectiveness, and can also start demanding more energy than usual to heat your water (driving your utility bill up). As such, it may be smart to start flushing and draining hot water heater once a year. And the fall is a great time to do it. This will extend the lifetime of your water heater, saving you from having to eat the cost of a replacement.

Supplies Needed:

Garden hose (yeah; that’s about it)

Note: some water heater tanks need to be completely full to avoid damage to the heating elements or gas burner. And of course, always read and follow all manufacturer’s directions and warnings for your particular water heater. If you don’t feel up to the task, contact a professional.

Step 1

Turn off your cold water supply valve at the top of the water heater.

Step 2

Turn off your water heater. If you have a gas water heater, turn the thermostat to the “pilot” setting. If you have an electric water heater, turn off the electricity from your main electrical panel. This is extremely important as exposed heating elements can burn out if the water level in your tank drops below the level of the hot elements. Water in the tank can remain hot for hours, so once you turn your water heater off, wait overnight before proceeding.

Step 3

Attach a garden hose to the drain valve of your water heater tank. This can be found near the bottom of the tank. Make sure to place the opposite end of the hose on the driveway or in a floor drain. You can also use buckets, just make sure to be careful as the water can be extremely hot as you work unless you’ve given it sufficient time to cool.

Step 4

Locate the nearest water tap to your water heater, preferably on the floor above. Doing this can help alleviate some pressure in the water heating system, allowing the water to drain far quicker from the tank.

Step 5

Now open the drain valve and let the water completely drain from the tank. Again, the water may be hot, so use caution. Once the water has completely drained from your tank, briefly turn the cold water supply back on. This can help stir up any remaining sediment. Turn off the cold water supply again, and then repeat the draining process again. You can continue to repeat this process until the water runs clear. Sometimes, there is severe sediment build-up which can block the opening of the drain valve. If this is the case, it may be best to call an expert for assistance.

Step 6

You can now close the drain valve and remove the garden hose, turning the cold water supply back on. Your water heater tank will start to fill back up. Remember to go back to the tap that you had opened up earlier; once cold water begins to flow from the tap, you can turn it off. You can now turn the electricity back on to the tank or the gas valve back on from the pilot position. Make sure to check the valve opening once it’s closed to make sure there aren’t any water leaks.

Knowing how to drain a water heater can come in handy, as installing a new water heater can cost anywhere from $795 to $2,800. The time it will take you to flush and drain the hot water heater is usually a better option than having to shuck out hundreds of dollars to replace it. Start flushing your water heater once a year to avoid needing to replace it, and helping extend its life.