Adding Water to a Steam Boiler

Add Water To Your Boiler to Keep that Steam Heat Humming

Add Water To Your Boiler to Keep that Steam Heat Humming

This bitingly cold weather is one more reminder to pay close attention to your heating system.  If you have steam heat you may need to add water to the boiler (and yes – it’s a boiler, not a furnace, if your heating system uses water).

During our last cold snap I spent two hours in an unheated foreclosure.  It took me all day to thaw.  The first thing I did when I left that frigid house was to return to mine to check on my boiler. 

I love steam heat.  I had it in my first house and it’s in my current house too.  Neither  boiler had an automatic feed so it’s up to me to make sure the water level is sufficient.  You would think I would know how to add water to a steam boiler by now.

But when I arrived home that day I wasn’t sure.  Could I add water to the boiler if the heat was on?  Would it hurt the boiler if I added water when it was hot?  Could I break the furnace?

Turns out when adding water to a steam boiler you want to turn off the heat and let the boiler cool.  Adding cold water to a hot boiler can crack the boiler – which will then require replacement – or worse, according to at least one article I read, cause the boiler to explode – eek!

Best practice I guess is to not wait until the coldest day of the week to check the water level in your steam boiler.  And if you want more help  with your steam heating system the very best resource is Dan Holohan’s The Lost Art of Steam Heating – it’s really the bible for homeowners with steam heat.

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Closets Too Shallow?

Children's Hangers Will Fit In a Shallow Closet

The Answer to Shallow Closets

Are your closets too shallow?   Can’t fit hangers in the closet?

Shallow closets are  a common problem in older houses and apartments.  At one time closets were designed to have a row of hooks inside – not a closet rod.   I’m not sure through what time period closets were built this way – I’ve owned two houses built in the 1800s and in each some of the closets weren’t deep enough for closet rods.

Sometimes short closet rods can be installed from front to back to the left or right of the door – that’s how the closets were adapted in my house.  It’s not perfect – those are pretty short closet rods – but it works.

The problem with a shallow closet is that when a closet rod is installed from end to end – as closet rods typically are – you can’t fit clothes hangers on the rod and still close the closet door.  Some homeowners remove the closet doors altogether but that’s not ideal.

Here’s an innovative fix to the problem of shallow closets – children’s clothes hangers.  Yup – that’s right – children’s clothes hangers typically will fit in the closet and allow for the door to close.

I picked up these kids’ hangers at the Container Store – a bargain at just 29 cents a piece.

Thanks to Tara for this innovative solution – all of us with shallow closets thank you!

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Upgrade Your Smoke Alarm Batteries

Looks like lithium smoke alarm batteries are selling well at Tags in Porter Square

Looks like lithium smoke alarm batteries are selling well at Tags in Porter Square

Upgrade your smoke alarm batteries the next time you change them.

A beeping smoke alarm has to be one of the more aggravating noises we’re subjected to at home.  A responsible, organized homeowner is encouraged to replace the smoke alarm batteries twice a year with the time change in spring and fall often suggested as the best time to change those batteries.  But many of us just wait for that obnoxious beeping before dragging out the ladder (after going room by room trying to figure out which dratted alarm is screeching).

If you want a more long term solution there are now long life lithium batteries available.  I spotted them at Tags in Porter Square the other day. 

The batteries are supposed to last for ten years and cost just $8.50 each.  The regular smoke alarm batteries aren’t cheap so $8.50 seemed like a bargain to take this task off the to-do list for a decade.  The sign at Tags suggests you’ll save $50 in smoke alarm battery expense over the life of the battery but peace of mind and fewer hassles is worth even more I think.

The next time that blankety-blankin’ beeping starts up I’m heading to Tags to stock up on lithium batteries.

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Your Empty House in Winter

Will your house be empty this winter?

Will your house be empty this winter?

Winter’s coming – with a snowstorm in October it becomes more difficult to ignore the impending cold weather.

An empty house in winter is a potential disaster in the making.  In the last few years, I’ve noticed a number of properties listed for sale at a fraction of their former value.  Not because real estate values have dropped but because the houses were severely damaged when the pipes burst during the winter.

Water cascading through a house is devastating.  Floors buckle, plaster comes down, fixtures and appliances are ruined.  A flood from burst pipes can easily result in $100,000 or more of damage or loss of value.

Ideally, you won’t leave your home empty through the winter.  Perhaps a family member or friend can stay in the house.  Insurance coverage for vacant properties is very expensive – because the risk is high.  My vacant property insurance came from Lloyd’s of London – with a price tag to match – when my house renovation was underway.  It’s worth it to have someone stay in your home – even if they’re camping out in an empty house.

Empty bank-owned properties are “winterized” by companies that drain the radiators and plumbing and shut off the utilities.  It’s by no means the best way to show a property – freezing cold, no lights, and tape over the toilets – but it does prevent damage.

At a minimum someone should be checking the house daily.  Make sure the heat is on and there’s plenty of fuel if you heat by oil.  Economizing on heat could be a very expensive way to save money if problems ensue.  If your heat is turned down too low and goes off for some reason the house will too quickly cool to a dangerous temperature when the weather is at its coldest. If the house is kept at 68 degrees and it’s down to 50 degrees when someone checks you can catch the problem before you’re in serious trouble.

If your house is vacant it’s time to start thinking about how to make it through the winter.

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How to Select a Pendant Light

Have you ever stood in a lighting store and wondered how to select a pendant light among all the beautiful choices?  Here’s a creative way to simplify the decision. This homeowner chose to install half a dozen different pendant lights over the dining area in a kitchen.  I love the look.

Click on the thumbnails for a larger view.

 ktichen with pendants and schoolhouse lights       Pendant lights

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New Law for Homes Heated By Oil in Massachusetts

New Massachusetts Law Governs Homes Heated By Oil

New Massachusetts Law Governs Homes Heated By Oil

New Law for Massachusetts Homes Heated By Oil  It’s not uncommon in Massachusetts for homes to be heated by oil.  In some areas or communities without gas lines most houses you’ll visit will have oil heat.

Everyone has their own preference, often based on what they’re accustomed to.  It shouldn’t be a matter of price since typically the price differential between oil and gas will vary over the years. I grew up with oil and like it as a fuel source – the oil company guys know what they’re doing – nothing like having somebody with experience show up when there’s a problem, the oil fuel companies compete so service tends to be better than that provided by a company with a monopoly, and I like the idea that oil doesn’t make a house blow up.

But oil can leak and an oil leak can be very expensive.  A new Massachusetts law covering homes heated by oil takes effect on July 1, 2010 and is intended to minimize the potential for oil leaks from the fuel line.

The law requires that an oil safety valve or a protective sleeve on the supply line be installed if not already in place. The law also requires that homeowner’s insurance policies offer coverage for oil leaks. The insurance coverage is not mandatory but must be made available to homeowners for purchase. 

More info is available at the MassDEP website or call your oil company.

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Cheap and Easy Way to Keep Out Drafts

It’s nippy in Cambridge tonight and I’m glad I finally finished one of my winter chores this weekend.

Some of my windows are a bit drafty and since I’m not a big fan of replacement windows (subject of a blog post to come!) these older windows are here to stay.

Pulling the shades down at night and letting the sun in during the day is a good idea. Some people do the plastic on the windows trick but I’ve always worried about taking the paint off when the plastic is removed in the spring. And insulated shades are a super idea that I’ve yet to implement. Window rehab would make a difference and weatherstripping would help I’m sure.

Rope caulk keeps out winter drafts

Rope caulk keeps out winter drafts

But if you’re not terribly handy or don’t want to spend a lot of money my method to stop the drafts is easy – and cheap. 

This box of flexible rope caulk that I picked up at Tag’s in Porter Square for $6.39 does the trick.  It’s as simple as can be to unroll the clay-like caulk and seal any cracks where the sill meets the frame of your windows.  A box or two will do you.

Maybe it’s my imagination but my house always feels warmer after I get the windows caulked. 

I first saw rope caulk on the windows of a Union Square condo I listed. It was springtime so we had to remove the caulk to open the windows. Afterwards I realized that the caulk and the tighter seal had meant the condo was quieter so if you’re on a busy street it may help to keep noise down too.

For less than $15 rope caulk can’t be beat as a wintertime fix.

Stay warm!

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