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5 Cool Trends in Smart Home Technology

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

Smart home technology is moving forward by leaps and bounds and can help you save money in your home. Computerized systems and the internet allow you to connect to your home or business remotely and more easily. While there are hundreds of new products on the market, here are just a few super cool new trends in smart technology for your home.

Ultimate Universal Remote Control

New devices that actually help you control your home’s appliances, lighting and temperature from a remote location are gaining popularity. While it’s important to have the latest eco-friendly products in place to help curb utility costs, connecting to them on another level is where a universal remote control comes in. Wouldn’t you like to control your thermostat, close your vents and see what’s happening inside your living room while you’re away? With new devices, much like the one created by Nest, you can. Many of your smart home products can be programmed into one device and controlled with the touch of a button. Ask your Ragsdale professional about integrating your existing eco-friendly appliances into a home automation portal to help you better manage your home.

Smart Leak Detectors

What exactly is a leak detector? It’s a device in your home that senses when a leak has occurred within your plumbing system. It detects the flow or presence of water and alerts you as soon as it happens. It can also detect floods caused from storms or outside water contamination. These detectors can be programmed into your main home automation hub to notify you about a flood while you’re away.

Programmable Thermostats

Programmable thermostats are nothing new, but they’re always trending in the HVAC industry. This is because technology is improving and it’s becoming easier to connect your thermostat to your smart phone or iPad-sharing apps. Look beyond preset programming to control temps. Now, you can connect to even more features including:

  • Adjusting temperatures from within another room in your home or remotely
  • Carbon monoxide detectors that send alerts to your phone app
  • Smoke detectors that talk to you and send alerts to our phone app
  • Dimming lighting control for every light that is connected to the main control home automation hub
  • Individual room temperature data and heat loss statistics and reports

Being able to have more control over your thermostat while your miles away makes it easier to adjust your monthly budget accordingly.

Smart Plugs and Switches

Now is the time to talk to your Ragsdale technician about upgrading your home’s electrical system. If you’ve recently had your electrical box and wiring updated, ask about incorporating smart plugs and switches. This new technology trend is consistently improving. These tech-savvy items will allow you to remotely turn off electronic devices, lamps and other appliances at any time and from any place with the touch of a button. Connect to your home automation portal for even more energy savings and access to your home while you’re away.

Lighting

While electronic devices plugged into an outlet can be turned on or off remotely, so can the lights and ceiling fans throughout your home. It starts with installing eco-friendly bulbs and fixtures. Go beyond programmable lighting to lighting that can be dimmed and controlled remotely. It all starts with a hub unit that wirelessly controls devices throughout your home. This is an advantage if you want to turn on lights or dim them at any time of the day from any location.

Now is the time to be more in control of your home’s power and energy, and how efficiently it’s being maintained. Contact Ragsdale for a complete home technology consultation.

Is It Energy Efficient to Change My Thermostat Temperature?

Tuesday, March 14th, 2017

Changing your thermostat temperature throughout the day can save energy and reduce your bills. Though some people believe it’s more energy efficient to maintain an even temperature, raising or lowering the thermostat setting by a few degrees usually reduces the energy you use. However, the effect isn’t the same across all heating systems

Programmable Thermostats

The most energy efficient method of adjusting the temperature inside your home is to use a programmable thermostat, which can reduce your energy bill up to $180 a year. At night, when everyone’s tucked up in bed and during the day if no one’s home, there’s no sense in keeping your home toasty.

A programmable thermostat manages the heating and cooling of your home according to your family’s schedule, which you input into the device. You can program your HVAC thermostat to raise the temperature of your home in the mornings and evenings, when your family is at home but not in bed.

Urban Myth

The idea that changing your thermostat temperature isn’t energy efficient is an urban myth. According to Energy.gov, some homeowners won’t adjust their HVAC thermostat because they believe the furnace has to work harder to raise the temperature in a cool house than it does to maintain a constant, even warmth in the home.

In fact, maintaining an even temperature in your home isn’t energy efficient—your home loses more heat when it’s warm than when it’s cool. If you set back your thermostat for part of the day, you don’t use up more energy to warm your home up than you saved.

Exceptions to the Rule

On the other hand, certain heating systems do work best when the thermostat setting stays the same. Heat pumps don’t work as efficiently when the temperature is set back, resulting in more energy wasted than saved. However, some companies offer programmable thermostats for heat pumps that make the systems more efficient.

Other heating systems like radiant floor heating and steam heating take so long to adjust that setting back the temperature isn’t effective. However, a specially designed programmable thermostat can start the system at the right moment so your home is warm when you need it to be.

Though there isn’t one solution for every system, it’s usually more energy efficient to adjust your thermostat temperature to match your family’s heating needs. For more answers to your heating questions, contact Ragsdale.

Furnace Leaking Water? What You Need to Know

Friday, March 10th, 2017

A steady drip or puddle underneath your furnace can be quite worrying. You might wonder if the water is a sign of a serious fault or if your furnace is about to break down. While a furnace leaking water probably isn’t an emergency, you should call a technician to take a look at the problem, and clean up the water while waiting for him to arrive.

Why Do Furnaces Leak Water?

Furnaces produce water through combustion, and moisture in the air also forms condensation on them. Sometimes, the water can’t escape or drain away as it should and it drips out or pools on the ground. Your furnace could be leaking for several reasons:

  • It’s a high-efficiency gas furnace and condensation is leaking out or its drainage is blocked.
  • The flue on your standard-efficiency furnace is the wrong size.
  • Your whole-house humidifier is leaking into the furnace.

Is a Leaking Furnace an Emergency?

A furnace that’s leaking water can be an emergency, if you’re worried or feel unsafe, you should shut it down while you’re waiting for a technician to fix the problem.

A leaking furnace isn’t something you should ignore. Your home owners’ insurance isn’t likely to cover water damage due to lack of maintenance. If you can reach the puddle, mop it up and place a shallow tray underneath the furnace to catch the drips.

Can You Fix a Leaking Furnace Yourself?

A furnace leaking water could be a simple problem or a sign of a serious fault. Blocked drainage can redirect water where it isn’t supposed to go—back into the furnace—and a leaking humidifier can destroy your furnace by causing an electrical fault. Another serious problem is a cracked condensation pipe, which can quickly turn into a big leak. This can be a serious problem especially if the furnace is loced in an attic or adjacent to a finished area of your home.

Ask a technician’s opinion on the problem and book an inspection. When the leak is fixed, make an annual service appointment. Regular servicing helps prevent leaks from reoccurring and keeps your furnace in top shape and operating at maximum efficiency.

For more information on leaking furnaces and to book a repair, contact Ragsdale.

Home Maintenance: How Do I Know if I Need New Wiring?

Thursday, March 9th, 2017

For most people, electrical wiring stays hidden away in their walls, out of sight – at least, until something goes wrong. So how do you know when the electrical wires and cables in your home are getting worn out and may need to be replaced? Here are several signs that you may need to check your electrical work for replacement.

Flickering and dimming lights

This is one of the most common signs that something is wrong with a house’s electrical components. Look for lights that flicker, dim and hum regularly, especially in the same location. If changing the bulb doesn’t make any difference, that’s an indication to look further and see which components need to be replaced.

Weird outlet behavior

Generally, anything wrong with your outlets is cause for concern. If outlets are humming on their own, or have char marks around the outlet sockets, then it’s time to think about an inspection. Outlet problems can be a sign of dangerous, faulty wiring inside the walls that can cause electrical fires if ignored.

Frequent tripping circuit breaker

Sometimes breakers trip naturally, especially if a lot of appliances are running at the same time. However, if a breaker isn’t overloaded but it’s still frequently shutting down, something else may be wrong – the electrical system in that area of the house may be damaged, or the breaker itself could be malfunctioning.

Physical signs of damage and fraying

Not everyone gets a chance to look at their electrical wiring, but it’s often visible during renovation and repair projects. If the wires can be seen, take a closer look: Watch for any signs of damage, age, cracking, and fraying. These signs point straight toward a replacement.

Old materials and installation

Electrical wires that are a few decades old may need to be replaced, not only to keep up with local codes but also to improve safety. Even older aluminum wiring is a sign that electrical components are severely outdated (or may have been damaged by pests). Like everything else, wiring ages.

Electrical wiring is important to the home – but it can also be a fire hazard. If you think something may be wrong, contact Ragsdale and let us known what’s happening. We can provide inspections and find out just what the problem is — and what solution will fix it.

Photo Source: Flickr

When Household Electrical Cords Rip: Repair or Replace?

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

Have you noticed a tear or damage to an electrical cord? If cords rip and wires can be seen, then that cord is a fire hazard (and may soon stop working). It’s time for cord repair or replacement – but which one, and where to begin? Let’s talk about whether to repair or replace a damaged cord, and what’s best to know before starting.

Repair or replace?

  • Phone charger cords: Phone charger cords frequently tear and come apart. But since they are so affordable, it’s usually a good idea to replace them entirely, especially with versions that are more durable.
  • Extension cords: Extension cords need to do tough work in often dangerous environments. You can replace the plugs if they fail, but if the cord itself is damaged, you should probably get a new, tougher cord.
  • Lamp cords: Lamp cords are tricky because they can’t easily be replaced without some delicate wire splicing. Reinforce and repair if you can.
  • Large appliance cords: These cords have heavy-duty jobs to do, and you probably won’t be able to keep track of them if they start to break down. Replace them when possible, especially if the cord is a separate accessory that can be easily detached. Large appliance cords such as those found on dryers and stoves should be replaced by a qualified eletrician.

Replacing cords

When your electrical cords rip, first look for replacement parts or full replacement cords. Always go to the manufacturer for this. This is no guarantee that any other product is up to specifications or quality, so stick with the manufacturer of the device every time. If the manufacturer doesn’t make a cord replacement, then ask an electrician or related expert what sort of cord to look for. You can always take the cord into a store to ask about finding a match.

Do you have more questions about when your electrical cords rip, or what to do when something goes wrong with an appliance? Contact Ragsdale today with your questions and how we can help out!

Photo Source: Flickr

Routine Maintenance for Heating and Cooling: Here’s What You Need

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

It’s a good idea to have HVAC maintenance performed every year; maintenance twice a year is commonly advised. But what does this general maintenance look like? Here are the top steps to consider.

Filter check

Standard 1 inch filters should be replaced every 2 to 3 months. Better media filters need to be replaced once or twice a year, especially if they are dirty. Filters need to be replaced with the right size, and facing the correct direction, so details are important here.

Refrigerant Check

A professional inspetion should include checking your heat pump or air conditioning unit for proper refrigeration (Freon) levels and insuring that a leak is not present.

Electrical connections

Professional technicians should test electrical connections and voltage to make sure there is no damage from an electrical standpoint and that everything is to specified tolerances. Any sensors or safety switches should also be tested.

Cleaning

Dust and dirt can inhibit the performance of your HVAC system, especially when it coats fins and coils where heat is transferred. Clean all dust and debris away to improve performance. If your system uses any drains, the drain piping should be checked to make sure there are no blockages.

This is also the part of the process where units are inspected for any damage or parts that need replacement.

Ignition/burner adjustments

Gas and oil heating systems use ignition components and pilot lights that may need to be professionally adjusted to fix problems or increase efficiency. Electrical heating elements aren’t as dependent on position, but should be inspected for any sign of wear or damage.

Tightening up components

It’s a good idea to check screws, fasteners, and any other attachments. Oiling and tightening these will prevent vibration, noise, and possible future damage – plus, it’s an easy fix.

Air ducts and flues

Every maintenance visit should include an inspection of your ductwork and related components. This often involves some crawlspace work to look for any cracks or gaps. If ducts are especially dusty or moist, they should be cleaned out and renovated to avoid problems.

If you want to know more about maintenance or schedule professional work for your system, contact Ragsdale today and let us know how we can help.

Electrical Smells: Fire, or Something Else?

Tuesday, February 21st, 2017

Electrical smells are a sign that something may have gone wrong in your systems – but what? Here are some of the most common smells you are likely to notice and what they usually mean in the home.

A smoky or spicy smell

Sometimes you simply smell smoke – and it’s a good idea to find out what the source is. Unless you have a traditional wood fireplace, your home shouldn’t smell of smoke. Once you have cleared up the basics like kitchen overcooking, these smoky/spicy electrical smells are often caused by dust in your filters and heating elements. This can happen to nearly any type of heating device, where dust that has settled inside heats up and starts smelling (it even happens to computers). This smell usually fades, especially if you haven’t used the device in a while. However, in some cases, parts of your fan or motor could be burning because of overheating.

A bitter, metallic smell

This type of smell typically occurs in furnaces and means that your furnace components are getting a little too hot. When coatings wear off or components get too close to flame or hot air, they tend to start burning. It’s a sign that you need to shut down the furnace and see what the problem is. Consider calling in a technician for a more accurate look at what’s wrong. This smell primarily happens with older furnaces.

An acrid, burning smell

These are some of the most dangerous electrical smells to notice inside your house. It means that plastic is burning and requires immediate action. There are two common causes:

  1. Plastic near a heating element or motor has started to melt. Sometimes this happens to odd devices, including dyers and dishwashers, which have heating elements. The element or motor may need to be replaced.
  2. Wires are burning. This happens in old, frayed electrical wiring. It’s very dangerous because it can happen at sockets and outlets as well as in your walls. If the source is hidden, it could start burning. Determine the source and call the fire department if necessary. It’s worth noting that depending on coatings and composition, the burning plastic may also have a “fishy” odor.

While safety is important, you should also think about getting your electrical systems repaired or replaced when something goes wrong. Contact Ragsdale for fast, effective electrical repair.

Photo source: Flickr

Furnace Blowing Cold Air: What Should I Check?

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Is your furnace blowing cold air instead of warm air? Check these basic issues before calling in a professional technician!

Wait
This is an important step, especially if you have a new furnace or a new home. Sometimes furnaces (especially older models) take a few minutes to heat up and start creating heat where you can really feel the difference. But because the fan kicks on early, current-temperature air blows, which feels cold on the skin. Wait a few minutes to see if it begins to heat.

Check Your Thermostat
The most common cause of surprise cold air from your vents is a thermostat issue. Take a look at your thermostat and make sure of two things:

  1. It’s set at the right temperature. Anything from an accidental bump to mischievous kids can change your temperature settings. Make sure the thermostat numbers are correct.
  2. It is set to “auto.” Setting the fan to “on” will force it to blow cold air even when the furnace isn’t on. Set it to “auto” instead.


Look for Open Panels
All right, time for a look at the furnace itself! Check for any open or loose panels, and make sure any panels or doors are shut. A furnace blowing cold air could be caused by a partly-open panel, which sets internal furnace sensors into “danger” mode and prevents the furnace from lighting until everything is closed up.

Take a Look at Your Pilot Light (if applicable)
Some older gas furnaces use pilot lights to ignite the incoming stream of gas. If that pilot light shuts off, the furnace typically won’t operate – to avoid flooding the fire chamber with unlit gas. The pilot light probably needs to be ignited again. If you aren’t sure what to look for or how to do this, call up a professional and ask for an inspection.

Look at your Furnace Filter
You may know that most standard 1 inch furnace filters should be replaced several times a year. What you may not know is that leaving a dirty filter can have unfortunate consequences. If furnace airflow becomes too clogged up, the furnace will shut itself down out on safety protection, which leaves the fan blowing nothing but cold air. Replace those filters!

If you do need help with a more detailed problem, trust the technicians at Ragsdale, and call us with any of your heating questions!

Photo Source: Flickr

Frozen HVAC: Should You Worry About a Frozen Outdoor HVAC Unit?

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Heat pumps (which draw in heat from outside to heat homes, and vice-versa) have an outdoor unit with an important fan and coils. If your winter gets a bit snowy or icy, you may be worrying about how this frozen HVAC unit can function. Here are a couple useful questions you can:

  • How cold is it? Usually, temperatures need to be well below freezing to impact the outdoor unit. Heat pumps have a “defrost cycle” that kicks in periodically and gives the frozen HVAC unit a break while thawing it out. Heat pumps tend to build up frost naturally, so they are used to thawing out after a minor freeze. However, if temperatures drop into the teens and stays there, pay close attention.
  • How thick is the snow layer? A couple inches isn’t much to worry about. Usually, the pump can use its defrost cycle to solve any problems, and a couple inches isn’t going to stop the fan or freeze the coils. But if you have a couple feet, you should think about pushing the snow off – and building barriers so that blizzards can’t slam all that snow into the pump.
  • Is the heat pump making any strange noises? A bit of rattling is common when switching to defrost mode. But if your outdoor unit is clunking away, groaning like it can’t move, or making other strange noises, it’s time to take a look. This is a sign that ice may have built up and caused some problems that could damage your system.
  • Is the defrost mode working? You can usually tell! When your unit stops and reverses, take a look outside. Rising steam is a good sign the defrost is on. You should also be able to see the fan moving. If you don’t see either of these signs, the pump could be malfunctioning.
  • Are there thick sheets of ice on the unit? Ultimately your big concern is ice so thick the pump can’t move or draw on any outside air. If thick ice is layering the entire unit (freezing rain or a melt/freeze cycle), ask a professional what to do.

If you’re worried about frozen HVAC units in winter conditions, give Ragsdale a call and explain what’s going on. We can suggest solutions and pay a professional visit to make sure there’s nothing to worry about!

Photo Source: Flickr

6 Steps Before Lighting Fireplace Units for Winter

Friday, December 23rd, 2016

Looking forward to a holiday fire in your fireplace? If you aren’t used to lighting fireplace units, take a moment to make sure you are prepared first!

1. Check your damper

In residential wood burning fireplaces, the damper slides shut over the chimney or flue to control airflow. Make sure your damper is opened and moves smoothly! You want it slightly open when you start a fire, open for a full fire, and closed with no fire.

2. Clean out your hearth and chimney

If there’s any soot or ashes, clean them out! If you have a gas fireplace, make sure it’s dust free. Also look for any cracks or damage in the hearth and patch if necessary. This is also true for your outside chimney, so think about (safely) climbing up and making sure there’s no chimney damage.

3. Look for signs of fire dangers

Get out a flashlight, and look for any thick soot or creosote build-up in your flue. If it looks like your chimney has not been cleaned recently then it’s to think about hiring a chimney sweep (yes, they exist!) before lighting fireplace units. Build-up is a common cause of chimney fires.

4. Make sure your chimney top is protected

Your chimney needs a cap on the top to prevent blasts of wind, snow seals, bird nests, and a whole mess of other problems. If your chimney doesn’t have a cap, seriously consider installing one before you try lighting a fire.

5. Protect your floor, too

If you don’t have much protection between your fireplace and the wood or carpet in front of it, think about buying a spark guard – a simple barrier that prevents sparks and embers from doing any damage. Sparks can fly surprisingly far out of a fireplace!

6. Check your pilot light (gas fireplaces)

If you have a gas fireplace, the pilot light needs to be on. Usually the controls are located in the grate below the fireplace. There should be a knob or switch that you can push, then turn to turn the pilot light on (like lighting a gas stove). Sometimes the directions aren’t always accurate, so don’t get too frustrated – call in an expert for a quick look if necessary! Meanwhile, make sure all the vents are clean.

For more info on safely heating with a fireplace, check with Ragsdale and ask us any questions you have!

Photo source: Flickr