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Around the House: Safe electrical systems

By: Ken Moon
July 24, 2017 Updated: July 24, 2017 at 2:36 pm
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Dear Ken: There are some sites on the web that discourage hall fans because they can be dangerous. Can you give me your side? -Jim

First, they are quite effective. Our thin air cools quickly after sundown, and we get to pull it through the windows and exhaust it through the fan and out the attic. That not only cools down your bedroom but also purges the day's heat from the attic – so it won't leak back into the house. I have one in my home plus central air. The whole house fan reduces the need for the much more expensive A/C system. 

             These fans move large volumes of air, so you need only need to run it about 30 minutes. Moreover, there is a small risk to you and the family should you not use it correctly.  If you don't open enough windows and also run the fan too long, you risk drawing fumes – including carbon monoxide – down through the water heater flue. Open a few windows plus the patio door, so there's plenty of volume to satisfy the fan. Also, I recommend a timer control instead of a simple ON-OFF switch for the fan. Use a twist knob type-like you find in a motel bathroom. That way, if you fall asleep, the fan will shut itself off. 

Bottom line: When used correctly, these whole house fans are terrific here in our high elevation environment. They are "air conditioning" on the cheap, and you'll love yours.

Dear Ken: I have some old shutters. They are plastic and are sun-damaged, with some yellow and brown spots. How can I clean them? -Larry

If they are faded by the sun, you'll have to repaint them. Ask a name brand paint store for the right primer, over which you can lay on some regular exterior latex paint. 

If you want to clean them, use some warm soapy water and a stiff scrub brush. Sometimes the spots and stains won't wash off, so there's another approach. Use WD-40 as sort of a seasoning agent, which will dissolve most spots and brighten up the finish. But first try a test spot along one edge that won't show, so you can see the reaction before you do the fronts.

Dear Ken: Our furnace company wants to install surge protectors on the furnace and A/C compressor. They cost $179 and the company that makes them will pay up to $1000 in damages. What do you think? -Ellen

It’s basically a wager. The company is betting $1000 against $179 that lightning won't strike the house. I think it's a good bet for them, but lousy for you. Lightning strikes in any one particular location are so rare that you'll probably never recoup your money. 

Instead, check your grounding system in the house. You should have a fat, bare copper wire running from the electric panel to the water line where it comes in from the street. There should also be a bonding wire to the gas piping, cable TV and phone lines.  Also, check for one or two outside ground rods under the electric meter – although these are being supplanted by a connection to the foundation steel, usually on the inside edge of the garage foundation, called a Ufer ground. 

Have an electrician check the system if you have any doubts or yours is an older home. It’s much more likely that there will be a nearby strike that creates surface currents along the ground, and an adequate building grounding system will carry them back to the earth quickly and harmlessly.

Dear Ken: How much insulation should we have in the attic to stay cool?

The code generally requires 10 to 12 inches, which is equivalent to about an R-38. The new recommendation for the Rocky Mountain region is 14 to 15 inches, or R-48 to 50. Insulation is so cost effective – producing the most savings for the least money – that it pays for itself in just a couple of years. Plus, since there are multiple rebates from all levels of government and many utility providers, it makes sense to do it right now.


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