Baking cookies in a cold house

When I was younger, I remember going to grandmother’s house to bake. She was a great baker, and we made everything she could think to teach me. Of all the cakes, cookies, and treats we made, my favorite recipe was always her cut out cookies. It was a recipe that she learned from her mother, and my mother learned it from her. From scratch, we made the dough and the icing. We would spend hours mixing ingredients, rolling out the dough, cutting the shapes, and then decorating the finished cookies once they had cooled. As much as I loved the baking, there was one thing that I loved even more about it. My grandmother lived in a very old house. The heating system was ancient and did not work as well as modern heating systems. However, my grandmother was old and got to the point where she didn’t want to make any more big purchases. She didn’t see a real point in upgrading her heating system. The one she had worked well enough, and she saw no problem with using it for the rest of her life! Whenever we baked, though, the house was always warm and cozy. With the oven on for hours as we busted out batch after batch of cookies, the kitchen filled with warmth. When we were done baking, my grandmother would leave the oven door cracked so that the heat continued to circulate throughout the room. I just have such fond memories of warm, cozy nights and eating those cookies. Even though my heating system operates just fine, I find myself doing the same thing at my own house. Whenever I make something in the oven during the winter, I always find myself cracking the oven door for a little extra warmth and thinking of my grandmother fondly.

HVAC update

Routine air conditioning check

The weather is finally starting to warm up, and I couldn’t be happier! This winter felt so long, and it feels like I’ve been looking forward to summer from the moment it ended. As the weather begins to warm up, I have to schedule my routine air conditioning check. While I love the sunshine and warm air outside, I still like to keep my house cool and comfortable throughout the summer. The warmth is only enjoyable when you can have relief from it when you need it. That’s why I always make sure that I have the local heating and cooling company come to service my air conditioning unit annually. When I first became a homeowner, I didn’t think to do these types of little things, and it really caused me problems in the long run. When I went to fire up the air conditioning for the year, the air was musty and contained a strange odor. After a few days of making an unusual sound, the air conditioner stopped working all together. I called a heating and cooling company, and they told me that the damage was irreparable. I had no other choice but to update to a new model. When I got my new air conditioning unit installed, I vowed to take better care of it. The heating and cooling serviceman set me up with a basic service plan that included annual services on both the heating and cooling units. I’d rather spend a little extra money on annual services than to face costly and inconvenient problems with cooling in the future. Not to mention, I want to make sure that I keep my air conditioning equipment in top shape so that I don’t have to replace it for at least 10 to 20 years.

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Finally deciding to replace air filter after landlord’s painting experiment goes haywire

I don’t like my landlord very much, although we seem to get along for the most part.  Even though I have encouraged him to contact me if he ever has a request or needs to tell me something, he tends to show up unannounced to my house with contrived reasons. Plus, it typically amounts to something random and trivial like fixing the fence or regrouting my bathroom.  I appreciate the work he does, but I also like it when someone values and respects my privacy and personal space. So when I came home from work one evening and found him painting in my garage, I wasn’t shocked as much as I was annoyed. He told me that he was repainting the ceiling and walls and would be back the following day to refinish the floor.  After he left I went outside to inspect his work and noticed that he had gotten a little bit of paint on the outside of my air handler which hangs from the ceiling near the attic access ladder. Since he showed up unannounced, I didn’t know to turn off my air conditioner while he worked; when I got back inside, I realized immediately the smell of paint slowly permeating the indoor air.  Unfortunately, the paint odor had sufficiently contaminated the entire house. Hoping that I could at the very least improve my plight, I bought an odor control charcoal filter. The activated charcoal on the surface absorbs odors in the air passing through. Although it didn’t fully remove the paint fumes, it improved the air quality drastically. And after a month of running the air conditioning with the odor control filter, the paint smell is completely gone.

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Energy leakage in windows has warming the house in winter a constant uphill battle

I work in commercial building as an electrician.  Because of the cold and frigid climate that I live in, my work is always seasonal.  I have had to prepare for layoffs every winter but it’s painful losing so much of your income during the most dangerous time of year.  I constantly struggle with getting better performance out of my air conditioner and furnace. I have bought special filters that are supposed to increase airflow and I always stay on top of my bi-annual maintenance and system service.  But regardless of my efforts, I just couldn’t figure out how to warm my house from November to March without exhausting my budget at the beginning of the month all winter long. I had my technician inspect the rest of my house and his conclusion surprised me.  He told me that I had really old and leaky windows. No matter how efficient or powerful my furnace may be, he insisted that I have a considerable uphill battle to reckon with unless I change my windows. What he didn’t realize is that I had no conceivable way to buy new windows for my house, especially after he ran a quote by a local glass and window dealer that nearly gave me a heart attack.  Thankfully, the technician suggested I used plastic shielding for my windows. I remember my parents using it while I was young, they would stretch it across window panes inside the house and seal it off with double sided tape. Apparently it creates an air bubble that improves heat insulation while running your furnace. Although it wasn’t a perfect fix, my electric bill is now measurably lower.  Every bit of improvement counts.

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Overwhelmed each year with pre-winter home maintenance

Some years I wonder if the preparations around the house done in advance of winter are more painful and troubling than living through the climate intensities of the season itself.  I’m considering moving down south where it’s warm because of this stress that’s thrust upon me every year. Not to mention the financial burden in keeping everything working in perfect order ahead of the oncoming cold weather.  Last year was the worst year for me yet. I had put off getting my HVAC system inspected and decided to wait until the last minute—in early October, a mere weeks away from needing regular use of my furnace. I scheduled to have it inspected the same week as my roof.  The decision I made put me through one of the most trying times in my life. I was told one day that I needed a new roof or I’d run the risk of a cave-in with the expected snowfall from November through March. Then, just a few days later I was told that I needed a new furnace and several patches repaired in my ductwork in the attic above.  Aside from the repair costs, which in total went well over $15,000 for the entire house, the hardest hurtle in this experience was the daunting feeling of helplessness as I scrambled to make arrangements for borrowing the funds. Then I was hoping and praying that I could get on the service schedule with contractors to have both areas of my house fixed before the weather got any colder.  I barely had the roof finished when the first snowfall came in early November. Thankfully, I had my new furnace in place by then, but the stress alone was enough to do me in for the rest of the winter season.

HVAC service

Finding a special cleaner that doesn’t damage evaporator coils

My mother loves cleaning with bleach.  Ever since she accidentally gave herself food poisoning at 25 from not cleaning up properly while cooking raw chicken, she has stuck with using exclusively bleach to clean everything.  I have memories of waking up with splitting headaches on Saturday mornings only to notice a few moments later the thick smell of bleach fumes permeating the house. Just having the air conditioning running simultaneously was always enough to circulate those toxic odors into every room in our house within minutes of my mother starting her four hour long cleaning sessions.  After moving out for college, I swore I’d find alternatives to bleach for the rest of my life and try to never come in contact with it willingly again. I quickly took to using vinegar or hydrogen peroxide for anything desperately needing deep sanitation, like old, dirty clothes or surfaces with human waste remains. Anything else I simply tackle with baking soda, water, and a bit of soap to give everything a nice aroma.  I was visiting my mother recently when I pulled into her driveway and saw her busy cleaning something inside her garage. She was towards the back, and once I was close enough, I realized that she was on a ladder with her head and arms inside her HVAC air handler. I asked her what she was doing and she replied that she was sanitizing the inside of the air handler near the evaporator coil to remove mildew buildup. I stopped her as soon as I could and explained that she should never use bleach on her evaporator coil.  The cleaner is so corrosive that anytime it comes into contact with metal surfaces it starts to oxidize and rust them at a molecular level, even before the damage is visible to the naked eye. Before long, enough corrosion will appear to damage the coil beyond use and possible repair. For this reason, special cleaners for air conditioner and dehumidifier evaporator coils can be found at most hardware stores.

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Moving into temperature controlled apartment building has its drawbacks –

For the first few years after graduating from college, I was struggling to pay off student loans and living off a very tight budget. I lived in a series of cheap and horrible apartments. These apartments all had one thing in common. They featured outdated and inefficient heating and cooling systems. I’d need to adjust the thermostat as low as I could tolerate it in the winter, and bundle up in layers of sweaters. In the summer, I’d try to go without air conditioning completely. I couldn’t afford to operate these ancient heaters and air conditioners, and I worried about air quality and safety. About a year ago, I got a significant raise at work. I’ve finally paid off all of my student loans and can afford nicer living accomodations. I chose an apartment building that is entirely temperature controlled. There is exposed ductwork across the ceilings and multiple vents and a thermostat installed in each room. The heating and cooling system operates almost silently and maintains very even and gentle comfort. Since the utilities are included in my rent, I set the thermostat to my preference. I no longer shiver because I can’t afford heat. However, I don’t get to decide whether the system is operating in heating mode or cooling mode. There are times during the fall when the outside weather is sunny and unusually warm. Because the system is set to heating mode, I have no access to cooling. Since none of my windows open, the apartment gets overheated and stuffy. I have the opposite problem in the spring. If the weather should turn unexpectedly cold, I can’t turn on the heat.

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Whole-home humidifier trims cost of heating –

I live in the northern region of the country, and the cold weather is a big part of life. We endure temperatures down to twenty-five below zero, and the wind chill makes it feel even colder. It can be dangerous to spend any length of time outdoors. I make sure to bundle up in layers of sweaters, wool coat, knitted hat and gloves whenever I shovel the snow from the driveway. I prefer to hide in the house. I typically start up the furnace sometime in early September, and it runs constantly until the middle of April. Heating the house accounts for more than half of my annual energy expenses. Trying to keep a comfortable home without draining the budget is a challenge. To reduce strain on the furnace, I’ve installed a whole-home, steam-style humidifier. Dry air feels colder than properly moisturized air. During the winter, the outside air becomes super dry. Inside, with the furnace blasting heat, the lack of humidity becomes problematic. It forces higher thermostat settings, putting wear and tear on the heating system. Dry air also sucks moisture out of home furnishings, causing damage to hardwood floors, moldings and antiques. Static shock, chapped lips and frizzy hair are consequences of insufficient humidity. There’s also health concerns, such as headaches, dry nasal passages, sore throat, itchy eyes and aggravated symptoms of asthma and allergies. Fortunately, the whole-home humidifier solves problems with comfort and indoor air quality. It introduces necessary moisture and allows customized settings. The humidifier requires only annual maintenance, operates quietly and was definitely a worthwhile investment.

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COOL ANNIVERSARY

 

Our parents’ golden wedding anniversary was coming up and we wanted to make it really special for them. They had worked so hard and made so many sacrifices for us, that they deserved only the best. My sister and I were the ones elected to find the venue, and we knew it had to be spacious for all our children and many of our aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews would be present.

                  One thing my sister and I were almost paranoid about was the quality of the air conditioning. We had seen so many functions spoiled for lack of a good working HVAC unit, that we were determined it would not happen this time. A friend told us about a place they had recently had a great party so we decided to check it out. It seemed okay at first glance. The spacing was adequate, the venue clean, if slightly isolated. When we enquired about the HVAC system, the guy actually took us into his utility room and showed us a spanking new HVAC unit. He powered it on so we could feel it work and `the air was great. Our next question was whether or not there was a back up electricity, in case of a power cut. There was, so the AC was guaranteed to work.  With things apparently in place for a cool anniversary celebration, we paid him the deposit.

              Everything went perfectly. The food and music were excellent, and the great air quality supplied by that HVAC system left nothing to be desired. I hope that place will be available when my son gets married next year.

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THE MANAGER

 

I have never been much of a competitive person myself, but I can clearly see the importance of competition in business. When there is not at least one other choice, the business holding the monopoly will do anything, and I mean anything. Since customers have no other company of that sort to turn to, that single company has no motivation to do well by their customers. That was what happened in my case, simply  because we have only one HVAC company in my town.

                With my guests due shortly and my HVAC unit barely functioning, I really needed a tune-up for my HVAC system. It would have been horribly embarrassing to have them sweating in the house. So when no technician turned up after I had made an appointment, I decided to try to speak to the new manager of the AC company we had been doing business with for so many years. I was put on hold for so long and for so many times that I decided to make a personal trip down to that HVAC store. I arrived early the morning after. The thought of my friends arriving before we had adequate AC service was driving me wild.

            I had to wait for almost an hour in that HVAC store, before the manager turned up. When I told him how my AC tech appointment had been messed up, and how desperately I needed my AC tuned, he promised to send me a tech by Friday. I tried to pin him down to a time and date but couldn’t.

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