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How to choose a furnace filter


Information from the Environmental Protection Association:

Most mechanical air filters are good at capturing larger airborne particles, such as dust, pollen, dust mite and cockroach allergens, some molds, and animal dander. However, because these particles settle rather quickly, air filters are not very good at removing them completely from indoor areas. Although human activities such as walking and vacuuming can stir up particles, most of the larger particles will resettle before an air filter can remove them.

Consumers can select a particle removal air filter by looking at its efficiency in removing airborne particles from the air stream that passes through it. This efficiency is measured by the minimum efficiency reporting value (MERV) for air filters installed in the ductwork of HVAC systems. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, or ASHRAE developed this measurement method. MERV ratings (ranging from a low of 1 to a high of 20) also allow comparison of air filters made by different companies.

Flat or panel air filters:


Filters with a MERV of 1 to 4 are commonly used in residential furnaces and air conditioners. For the most part, such filters are used to protect the HVAC equipment from the buildup of unwanted materials on the surfaces such as fan motors and heating or cooling coils, and not for direct indoor air quality reasons. They have low efficiency on smaller airborne particles and medium efficiency on larger particles, as long as they remain airborne and pass through the filter. Some smaller particles found within a house include viruses, bacteria, some mold spores, a significant fraction of cat and dog allergens, and a small portion of dust mite allergens.


Pleated or extended surface filters:

o Medium efficiency filters with a MERV of 5 to 13 are reasonably efficient at removing small to large airborne particles. Filters with a MERV between 7 and 13 are likely to be nearly as effective as true HEPA filters at controlling most airborne indoor particles. Medium efficiency air filters are generally less expensive than HEPA filters, and allow quieter HVAC fan operation and higher airflow rates than HEPA filters since they have less airflow resistance. They are a good choice for most makes of standard residential furnaces.

o Higher efficiency filters with a MERV of 14 to 16, sometimes misidentified as HEPA filters, are similar in appearance to true HEPA filters, which have MERV values of 17 to 20. True HEPA filters are normally not installed in residential HVAC systems; installation of a HEPA filter in an existing HVAC system would probably require professional modification of the system. A typical residential air handling unit and the associated ductwork would not be able to accommodate such filters because of their physical dimensions and increase in airflow resistance.

Some residential HVAC systems may not have enough fan or motor capacity to accommodate higher efficiency filters. Therefore, the HVAC manufacturer’s information should be checked prior to upgrading filters to determine whether it is feasible to use more efficient filters. Specially built high performance homes may occasionally be equipped with true HEPA filters installed in a properly designed HVAC system.


Electronic air cleaners:
There is no standard measurement for the effectiveness of electronic air cleaners. While they may remove small particles, they may be ineffective in removing large particles. Electronic air cleaners can produce ozone — a lung irritant. The amount of ozone produced varies among models. Electronic air cleaners may also produce ultrafine particles resulting from reaction of ozone with indoor chemicals such as those coming from household cleaning products, air fresheners, certain paints, wood flooring, or carpets. Ultrafine particles may be linked with adverse health effects in some sensitive populations.

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Your smoke alarm may fail 55% of the time

Ionization versus Photoelectric smoke alarms

In 1977 around 22% of homes had at least one smoke alarm. By 2009 around 96% of homes have at least one alarm. However statistics have shown that although the total number of fires has been reduced, the actual fire death rate risk, i.e the number of deaths per 1000 fires, has not changed much during this time period.


The two main types of residential fires are:


1. Fast flame such as cooking fires


2. Smouldering fires where injuries are mostly from smoke inhalation.


Currently there are two types of smoke detectors available in the market place, Ionization and Photoelectric and there are very real differences in how different smoke alarms types perform in real world fatal fires.


Ionization type detectors are by far the most common and are probably present in about 95% of homes. They use a small amount of radioactive material to charge air. Particles in the air disrupt current flow and set off the alarm. They detect small particles best, less than 0.3 micron. Unfortunately significant research has shown that this type of detector responds too slowly to the smouldering fires responsible for most residential deaths. Since they are also notorious for nuisance tripping from cooking, shower steam etc. they are also more likely to be disabled. Statistics show that Ionization alarms can fail to adequately warn occupants about 55% of the time. This is because although they are good at detecting small, fast moving particles, they are poor at detecting large slow moving particles and relatively insensitive to colour and density changes.


Photoelectric alarms use an LED light source and sensor. Smoke particles in air scatter light into the sensor and set off the alarm. They detect large particles best; 0.5 micron and up.With photoelectric alarms the occupants will receive significant warning about 96% of the time.


Recommended safety upgrade – I recommend that ionization alarms regardless of age be relaced with photoelectric smoke alarms. Photoelectric alarms have been shown to be far more reliable in most real world fire scenarios. A mixture of both types in your home may be advisable but combination units are not recommended.

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Choosing a home inspector

Buying a home is an important decision and one of the most expensive purchases that most people will ever make. There are no money back guarantees or return policies. Once you buy a home you are on your own to repair and maintain it. Hiring a professional home inspector can help you identify potential problems or major expenses before you make the commitment to buy.

What is a Home Inspection

A home inspection is one of the best ways to understand a home’s condition, habitability and safety. The inspector will conduct a visual inspection of the major systems and components of the home to assess their age, their condition, their safety and their useful life. He will identify components which are installed incorrectly or not performing properly. He will also look for evidence of past repairs or identify areas where repairs may be needed in the near future.
The exterior inspection includes:
• Roof, Chimney, Flashings, Valleys, Siding, Trim , Windows, Storms
• Landscaping, Grading, Drainage, Gutters, Downspouts
• Driveways, Patios, Decks, Porches
• HVAC systems
The interior inspection includes:
• HVAC systems, Plumbing systems, Electrical systems
• Walls, Floors, Ceilings, Windows
• Structure
• Attic, Insulation and Ventilation
A home inspection does not provide warranties or guarantees but is designed to help you make an informed decision about buying your home.

Choosing a Home Inspector

Home inspection is a discipline that requires special training, knowledge and communication skills. Since the industry is presently unregulated it is important to choose an inspector wisely. Ask about membership in Provincial Associations such as the Ontario Association of Home Inspectors (OAHI) where set standards and continuing education have to be maintained and a strict Code of Ethics followed.

Ask about background and experience. Seasoned professional home inspectors will be full time home inspectors, not renovators or contactors. Ask about the level of membership. A Registered Home Inspector is the highest standard in the Ontario Association.
An inspection should take approximately 3 hours to complete and your inspector should encourage you to attend and ask questions. An inspection can also be an excellent learning experience about your new home. Following the inspection the home inspector should provide a written report within 24 hours of the inspection reviewing every major home system.

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Dryer vents could be a fire hazard


What is the proper way to vent a clothes dryer?


Here are some facts from the United States Fire Administration.

Dryer exhaust should vent directly outside the home. In some new homes, washers and dryers are placed in non traditional areas of the house, including upstairs bedrooms, hallways and closets. These new sites generally require longer dryer vents in order to reach an outside wall and may contain sharp turns and bends that snake through the home.


                 Dryer vents should not be longer than the equivalent of 25 feet ( five feet is added to the actual        vent length for each 90 degree bend in the vent).

                 When lint has to pass through an exhaust that is under a floor or through walls and is more than 6 feet long, it is almost impossible for all the lint to be propelled out of the vent.

                  Lint can also accumulate in pockets along the vent where it is harder to reach and clean.

Smooth walled metal duct is the best choice. In fact, almost all manufacturers now state in their manuals not to use plastic flexible dryer ducts between the vent and the clothes dryer. Many existing homes as well as some new construction, continue to use plastic flexible ducts. The plastic itself can provide additional fuel for a fire. Even flexible foil vents are not the best choice for venting clothes dryers. Flexible vents can sag, allowing lint to build up and catch fire if it comes in contact with a sufficient amount of heat. If a fire starts beneath the dryer when the motor overheats, then the drafts from the dryer can pull that fire up into the duct and venting, allowing a house fire to develop.

To avoid problems, make sure you disconnect, clean and inspect the dryer and venting at least once a year, or hire a professional company to clean the dryer components.

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