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Home maintenance tasks you shouldn’t blow off

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By James and Morris Carey, Columnists
Here are a few tasks you should consider maintaining on a regular schedule:
1. Check furnace filters: The purpose of the filter on a forced-air furnace is to keep dust, soot and other contaminants from collecting on the interior workings of your furnace. In addition, a high-quality filter will cut down on airborne dust and particulate matter that is blown into your living area.
Once the filter has been sufficiently coated with this grime, it causes the furnace blower to work harder, making it more costly to operate and shortening its life span. A clean filter will help the furnace run more efficiently and save on operating costs.
Corrugated replacement filters offer more filtration surface area and thus can be denser without impairing furnace operation. Never use a furnace filter that will allow salt to pass through. Buying replacement filters by the case will cut down on the unit price.

2. Check water filters and softeners:
Water filters are a great means of improving water quality (smell and taste). The secret to keeping water quality high is replacing filters regularly. The frequency depends upon the type of system and the condition of the water.
Whole house filters, point-of-use dispensers and icemaker water supplies can each be changed in a matter of minutes. Besides providing better quality water, a clean filter will improve flow.
Although a water-softening system is reasonably maintenance-free, every now and again the brine solution becomes clogged at the base of the brine tank, preventing the solution from being siphoned into the resin tank.
You know this is the case when your brine tank is full of salt and your water doesn't have that slick feel. Check your owner's manual for information on how to flush the brine tank, or call a service person to do it for you.

3. Clean the dryer duct and filter:
Clean the lint screen thoroughly after every load. If it's filled and clogged with lint, the air won't circulate and the clothes won't dry. The dryer runs far longer, which wears it out faster and wastes energy dollars.
Use a duct cleaning brush to clean the dryer duct at least twice annually. Oh, and never open your dryer door in the middle of a cycle. It could trigger a heat fuse that can only be reset by an appliance repairperson.

4. Clean and freshen sink drains:
Foul odors from a sink drain can make your home both unpleasant and uninviting. To keep sink drains in your home running freely -- and absent of odor -- try these methods: 1) Run hot water through the sink after each use; 2) Throw a handful of baking soda into the drain and follow it with hot water; 3) Pour a cup of vinegar into the drain and let is sit for a half-hour. Then chase it down with very hot water.
For the disposal, grind a half of a lemon.

5. Test smoke detectors:
All smoke detectors and alarms have a "test button." Unfortunately, the test button only checks for battery life. The test button does not check whether the detector itself is operational.
Use canned smoke twice a year to thoroughly check your detector, no ladder needed. Once a month, use a broom handle to push the test button. If you don't hear anything, replace your battery. Once every year or two brush or vacuum the detector surface to keep dust out of the mechanism.
Replace your smoke detector -- working or not -- after 10 years. By the way, test your carbon monoxide detectors each and every time that you check your smoke detectors.

6. Water heater maintenance:
Check the pressure and temperature relief valve (PTR valve) every few months. The PTR valve opens to release pressure buildup in the water heater when the temperature or the pressure gets dangerously high, thus preventing a possible explosion.
To test the valve, simply raise and lower the test lever, at the top of the valve. Hot water should rush out of the end of the drainpipe. If no water flows through the pipe or you get just a trickle, replace the valve.
Mineral deposits and sediment at the valve seat may prevent the valve from seating after a test. This will allow water to continue to leak from the water heater until the PTR valve is replaced. Don't be disappointed if you discover that replacement is necessary.
You have discovered that a device that is supposed to protect you from an explosion wasn't working. Clean and flush your gas water heater every other year. Use a chemical such as mag-erad to dissolve sediment. Simply draining the water heater will not properly flush the sediment unless the sediment is first dissolved.

7. Test GFCI receptacles:
The ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) was developed to prevent electrical shocks. All GFCI receptacles have test buttons. You should test each receptacle in your home at least once a month. If the test doesn't trip the breaker, replace the GFCI immediately.
For tips from James and Morris Carey, go to or call the listener hot line, 800-737-2474, ext. 59. The Careys are also on KRKO (1380-AM) from 6 to 10 a.m. every Saturday.
Story tags » Home Improvement

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