Serving Greater Lynchburg

Furnace Air Filter Tips

Furnace Air Filter Tips

Furnace Air Filter

One of the most common questions customers ask is, “How often should I replace my furnace filter?” The answer is usually once a month. However, there are a few other things to consider when replacing your furnace air filter. Here are some helpful tips.

1. Buy filters in bulk and store them near the furnace

Having replacement filters near your furnace will reduce the tendency to procrastinate and wait too long between filter changes. Also, buying a bulk package of filters is usually less expensive than purchasing individual filters.

2. Always use the correct size filter

A poor-fitting furnace filter allows dirt and debris to get around the filter and contaminate the air in your home. It can also lead to clogged air conditioner coils, reducing the efficiency of the unit and shortening the lifespan of the compressor and other components.

3. Install the filter facing right direction

Most filters have arrows indicating the direction of air flow. Putting the filter in backwards can cause the filter to work less efficiently and in some cases may cause the filter to buckle, allowing air around the filter.

4. Always turn of the power at the breaker rather than the thermostat

This will ensure that if you come in contact with any wiring near the filter enclosure you won’t get shocked.

5. Furnace filters are not air cleaners

While basic furnace filters will keep most of the dirt and debris out of your air ducts, they are not going to keep the air free of contamination. If your home has excess dust, pet dander, smoke or other contaminants, you should consider a high quality home air filtration system. These HEPA filters are designed to capture the smallest particles that can pass through most 1-inch furnace air filters.

Have questions about your furnace filters or your home’s heating and cooling system? Call Hickey Plumbing, Air and Electrical. We are always here to help answer your questions.

Preventing Kitchen Drain Problems

Preventing Kitchen Drain Problems

Kitchen SInk

Most kitchen drain clogs occur gradually over time as grease and food waste slowly accumulates. As the pipe narrows you may notice that sinks take longer to empty, or that there are gurgling sounds. These are the early signs of a clogged drain that you should not ignore. Thankfully, you can keep your kitchen drains flowing and prevent problems by following a few simple rules.

1. Keep grease out of drains

Grease, oil and fat are among the most common causes of clogged drains. You may get away with pouring grease down the drain for a while without noticing any problems, but over time grease accumulates inside the pipe and slows the drain down. This is a problem because grease creates a sticky surface for food waste to cling to the inside of the drain.

The safest way to dispose of oil and grease is to pour it into an empty container and put it in the freezer. The frozen grease can then be thrown into the trash. Thicker grease can be wiped off with a paper towel and thrown into the garbage.

2. Don’t overload the disposal

While garbage disposals are a great convenience, it’s important to realize there are limits to what they can grind at once and not rely too heavily on your disposal to get rid of food waste. Put food waste into a compost pile or the trash prior to rinsing dishes into the sink.

3. Don’t put starchy or stringy foods down the disposal

Food that becomes sticky and expands when wet, such as pasta, potatoes, rice, and so on, can cling like glue to the inside of pipes and create very stubborn clogs. Other food waste you should avoid putting down drains include stringy waste like banana peels, orange peels, and pineapple rinds.

4. Maintain your drains

A little bit of preventative maintenance can make a big difference. When using your disposal always run plenty of cold water, and keep the water running for 30 seconds after turning off the disposal. You can also keep your kitchen drain in good condition by pouring half a cup of baking soda down the drain followed by a cup of vinegar. After the solution stops fizzing, rinse out the drain with a few cups of boiling water. The chemical reaction will cut through the lighter layers of gunk that can accumulate over time.

5. Call a professional for tough clogs

If your kitchen drain has clogged, it’s best to avoid store-bought chemical drain cleaning products. Many of them contain hazardous chemicals such as lye that can be harmful to your plumbing system and your family’s safety.

If you notice that your drains are emptying slowly, give the plumbers at Hickey Plumbing, Air & Electrical a call. We can help clear the toughest clogs quickly and safely.

5 Popular Plumbing Myths

5 Popular Plumbing Myths

5 Plumbing Myths

There are many things we do around the home simply out of tradition or because they are considered helpful advice by so many people. When it comes to plumbing, some of this advice can actually be more harmful than helpful to your home’s plumbing system. How many of these tips do you believe?

1. Grinding Ice Cubes Will Sharpen Disposal Blades
Grinding ice in a disposal can help remove the grime that accumulates inside the chamber, but it won’t sharpen the blades. Why? Because garbage disposals don’t have blades; they have impellers with teeth that grind up waste using centrifugal force. The best way to keep a disposal in good shape is to avoid pouring grease or oil down the chamber and to always run plenty of water during and after grinding.

2. Run Hot Water When Using the Garbage Disposal
It’s certainly true that grease dissolves more readily in hot water. However, as it cools down it will more readily stick to the pipe surface farther down the drain. Running cold water allows the grease to remain in a solid state so it’s more likely to travel all the way down the drain without sticking to the pipe. Running cold water can also help your disposal last longer by preventing the motor from overheating.

3. Put a Brick In the Toilet Tank To Save Water
While placing a brick in the toilet tank will reduce the volume of water used to flush by displacing water, it’s not a good idea. First, newer toilets are already designed to use a minimal amount of water. Limiting the amount of water will reduce the force of the flush, which can cause plumbing clogs in the drain line below the toilet. In addition, with less water pressure per flush, a second flush is often needed to do the job, wasting water. Finally, a brick can deteriorate inside the tank, creating debris that will wear out rubber and plastic parts.

4. But It Said They Were Flushable…
As “flushable” wipes have become more popular in recent years, so have clogged drain pipes. The fact is they simply don’t break down as readily as regular toilet paper. Save yourself a big mess and a visit from your plumber… don’t flush anything down the toilet except plain toilet paper.

5. Water Softeners Add Unhealthy Levels of Sodium To Drinking Water
One of the ways a traditional water softener works is by flushing hard water through rock salt. This does increase the amount of sodium to between 10-300 milligrams per quart, depending on how hard the water is. However, by comparison a quart of milk has 488 milligrams of sodium. So the amount of sodium in softened water is low. If you’re looking for softened water without adding sodium, consider a reverse osmosis water treatment system.

What Causes Drinking Water Contamination?

What Causes Drinking Water Contamination?

Drinking Water Contamination

Water quality is an important consideration for homeowners in the Greater Lynchburg area. Whether you get your drinking water from a well or your local municipal water system, it’s important to regularly test your water to ensure it’s safe and healthy to consume. Even if there are no noticeable changes in the taste, color or hardness of the water, unsafe levels of contamination may exist.

While water treatment plants are required to meet EPA standards for contamination levels, it’s up to homeowners to ensure that their well water is safe. Ground water contamination can occur from human activity such as agriculture, mining, and industrial production, as well as naturally occurring sources such as minerals and organic matter in the soil.

Here are some of the things that can contaminate drinking water:

Harmful microorganisms include viruses, cryptosporidium and giardia, all of which can lead to gastrointestinal illness such as diarrhea, vomiting and cramps.

Disinfection Byproducts
Chlorite is a byproduct of drinking water disinfection. In can cause anemia and nervous system effects in infants and young children. Bromate and haloacetic acids are other byproducts of water treatment and have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.

Inorganic Chemicals
Inorganic chemicals include arsenic, asbestos, barium, cadmium, copper, chromium, lead, mercury, nitrates and other chemicals. These contaminants can occur naturally in soil that comes in contact with water, as well as from industrial and agricultural byproducts. Even in very small quantities many organic chemicals can cause serious health problems.

Organic Chemicals
Organic chemicals include benzene, dioxine, toluene and other chemicals that can be found in industrial waste and agricultural pesticides and herbicides.

If you’re concerned about your home’s drinking water, call Hickey Plumbing, Air & Electrical. If water tests show that the water has elevated levels of contamination, or high mineral content causing hard water, we can provide effective solutions for cleaner water, including water softeners and whole home water treatment systems.

Improve Air Quality and Comfort With Ventilation Fans

Improve Air Quality and Comfort With Ventilation Fans

Bathroom Exhaust Fan

There are many areas of the home that can benefit from improved ventilation. Do you find that you’re opening windows in a bathroom that gets too steamy? Does your kitchen get so smoky it sets off your smoke alarms? Does your living room have high ceilings that make it too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer? The solution to all these problems is improved ventilation.

Here are a few of the most common ventilation fans found in homes to improve ventilation.

Ceiling Fans

Ceiling fans are one of the most popular electrical upgrades we install at Hickey Plumbing, Air & Electrical. It’s easy to see why; ceiling fans are stylish, quiet, and can improve the comfort of practically any room while using very little electricity.

While a ceiling fan doesn’t physically cool the air, it does provide evaporative cooling on your skin, which makes it feel more comfortable. In rooms with high ceilings the fan circulates the warm air downward in the winter months to improve comfort and make your heating system work more efficiently. With options like led light kits and remote controls, it’s worth replacing an old unit to take advantage of the energy savings and convenience options.

Bathroom Fans

If your bathroom exhaust fans are more than five years old, or have begun making loud noises, it’s a good idea to have them replaced. Old, worn out fans can be a fire hazard. Installing a larger capacity fan can also help clear the air, preventing excessive humidity and mold.

Bathroom fans are also helpful in laundry rooms, where clothes washers and driers can generate a lot of heat and humidity in enclosed spaces.

Attic Exhaust Fans

Most attics are not connected to a home’s ventilation system for heating and cooling. This is where an attic ventilation fan can be a big help by moving stale air to the outside, which in turn helps your home’s heating and cooling system work more efficiently,

Cooktop exhaust fans

Whether you have a gas or electric range, proper ventilation is important for reducing smoke, humidity and fumes from accumulating to unhealthy levels. Have an island cooktop? Consider an automatic pop-up ventilation fan.

Ventilation and exhaust fans can make your living space a lot more pleasant, comfortable and healthier. Hickey Plumbing, Air & Electrical can help with all your home electrical upgrades, including ceiling fans, bathroom fans and more.

7 Electrical Hazards Around the Home

7 Electrical Hazards Around the Home

Overloaded Outlet

Electricity causes around 50,000 residential fires and kills or injures thousands every year in the U.S. Thankfully, most electrical hazards around the home are easy to avoid by using common sense and ensuring that outdated electrical systems are updated to the latest electrical code requirements.

Here are a few of the top home electrical hazards and tips on what you can do to protect your family and property.

1. Overloaded Outlets

Each outlet in your home is rated to supply a certain amount of power. Adding power strips to increase the capacity of outlets can lead to overloading and tripped circuits. If you’re unsure how much power an outlet can handle, ask your Hickey Plumbing, Air & Electrical technician. Installing additional outlets to handle additional demand is always the safest option.

2. Extension Cord Misuse

When it comes to extension cord use around the home the most important thing to remember is that they are meant for temporary use. When using extension cords follow these rules:

  • Don’t chain extension cords together
  • Regularly inspect cords for damage and replace cords if they are frayed or have loose plugs
  • Never use extension cords as a substitute for permanently installed wiring
  • Do not use extension cords where they can be a tripping hazard
  • Keep extension cords out of standing water

3. Electrical Outlets or Appliances Near Water

In many older homes it’s not uncommon to find outlets in kitchens, bathrooms and outdoors without ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI). This increases the risk of accidental electrocution.

Have Hickey Plumbing, Air & Electrical install GFCI outlets where they are required by the electrical code. GFCI outlets with “test” and “reset” buttons should be tested regularly to ensure they working.

4. Outdated or Faulty Wiring

The telltale signs of electrical problems to look for include dim and flickering lights,  sizzling and buzzing sounds from your electrical system, and circuit breakers that trip repeatedly. Contact Hickey Plumbing, Air & Electrical immediately if you notice any of these warning signs.

5. Overloaded Electrical Circuits

If resetting tripped circuit breakers in your home is a common occurrence, it’s a sign that the circuit or wiring are defective, or that the circuit is not rated to handle the required power load. If a circuit has tripped, don’t take chances. Have Hickey Plumbing, Air & Electrical inspect the circuit to determine the cause.

6. Unprotected Outlets

The National Fire Protection Association reports that injuries involving electrical outlets sent an estimated 5,500 people to hospital emergency departments in 2015.

If there are young children in the home, install tamper resistant receptacles (TRR). TRRs are designed to prevent electrical shock by deactivating the outlet when anything other than an electrical plug is inserted.

7. Inoperable Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide Alarms
Working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms can mean the difference between life and death. Test the alarms regularly and replace the batteries annually. Detectors have an expiration date printed on the case. Be sure to replace the unit before it has expired.

Why You Should Update Un-grounded 2-Prong Outlets

Why You Should Update Un-grounded 2-Prong Outlets

3-pring grounded outlet

While 3-prong grounded outlets have been required in the electrical code for decades, it’s not uncommon for older homes in the greater Lynchburg area to still have two-prong outlets.

What Is Electrical Grounding?

Grounding is a way of allowing excess electricity a safe route from an appliance back to the ground by way of an electrical panel. Electrical grounding is needed if there is a fault in the wiring system, such as a short circuit, to allow electricity to safely exit to the ground without causing harm to anyone in contact with the electrical appliance.

3-Prong Outlets Are Not Always Grounded

In some cases two-prong outlets are replaced with three-prong outlets, but without the necessary rewiring to add a ground. This is often done to make it more convenient to use three-prong outlets, but it does not provide the safety benefits of a grounded outlet. A lack of grounding can be identified by using a plug-in circuit tester.

According to the National Electrical Code when a grounded type outlet is installed a new ground wire must also be installed by a licensed electrician. There is an exception to this rule when the outlet is protected with a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI).

One of the hazardous situations where an un-grounded outlet can be unsafe is when using a surge protector, such as the outlet strips commonly used to protect computers. When a power surge is detected by the surge protector, it needs the ground wire to redirect the surge until it can trip. Without the ground wire the surge protector will destroy the sensitive electronics that it is meant to protect.

If your home has two-prong outlets and older wiring, play it safe and have Hickey Plumbing, Air & Electrical upgrade your wiring and outlets to protect your family and your home.

Why Does My Air Conditioner Run So Often?

Why Does My Air Conditioner Run So Often?

Central Air Conditioner

If you’re noticing that your air conditioner is running much longer than usual, it’s important to consider all the factors that determine the length of a cooling cycle. The air temperature outside, the size and condition of air ducts, the amount of insulation, and the condition of the weather stripping around windows and doors are just a few of the factors that will determine the length of the cooling cycle.

How Long Should a Central Air Conditioner Run?

Outside Temperature
The cooling cycle will last until the temperature set at the thermostat is reached. It shuts off at that point and starts again when the house begins to warm up again. If it is just a few degrees warmer outside, it may run for a few minutes. If it is very hot and humid, with a 30 degree difference between the thermostat setting and outside temperature, it may need to run much longer to reach the desired temperature.

Air Ducts and Circulation
Because a central air conditioner performs best when cooling the entire house, it’s important to keep all vents and doors open in every room when possible. Closing off rooms will not save energy, it will only make the AC work harder. Keeping your AC properly maintained, including changing the filter regularly, will also ensure that it’s performing at peak efficiency.

AC Sizing
Air conditioners perform best when they are properly sized for the space they are cooling. The size of an air conditioner is measured in BTUs. One BTU is equal to the amount of energy needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. If your air conditioner has more BTUs than necessary, it will cycle more frequently. If it has too few BTUs, it will run much longer per cycle.

Assuming your central air conditioner is properly sized for your home, it should be able to cool and remove moisture from the air in 7- to 10-minute cycles. If not there could be a problem.

Have questions about your central air conditioner? Call Hickey Plumbing, Air & Electrical. We’re here to help.

AC Not Keeping You Cool? Here Are A Few Things to Check

AC Not Keeping You Cool? Here Are A Few Things to Check

AC Not Cooling

With the hottest weather of the season upon us, you may be noticing that your home’s central air conditioner isn’t able to keep you cool enough during the steamy, dog days of summer. Before calling a Hickey Plumbing, Air and Electrical for help, there are a few things you can check first if your home is not staying cool enough.

1. Is the air filter dirty? It doesn’t take much dirt to reduce the airflow in a typical fiberglass or paper filter. Even if the filter looks relatively clean, if it’s more than a couple months old, replace it.

2. Is the airflow obstructed? Ensure that the supply registers AND returns are not blocked. Move furniture well away from vents to allow the air to flow. While It may seem like a good idea to close vents and doors in rooms that are unoccupied, it can actually make your AC work less efficiently as a result of having lower air volume than the system was designed to handle.

3. Reduce heat sources inside the home. Closing blinds on the south facing windows and skylights and cooking outside during the hottest days can make a significant difference in how much heat accumulates during the day. Also ensure that bathroom ventilation fans and range hoods are effectively removing humid air from the home.

4. Improve air circulation. While ceiling fans won’t lower the temperature of the air, they will move the cooler air down into the living space and provide some evaporative cooling to help make warmer rooms feel more comfortable.

5. The AC is maxed out. It’s important to understand that most central air conditioners are designed to deliver only a 20 degree temperature difference between outside and inside temperatures. If the temperature hits 100 degrees and the thermostat is set to 75, it’s going to be running almost constantly. In this case, turning down the thermostat is not going to cool the house down any further.

Need air conditioner service? Call Hickey Plumbing, Electrical & Air. We can help keep you home cool and comfortable all summer long.

When Should You Upgrade or Replace Your Electrical Panel?

When Should You Upgrade or Replace Your Electrical Panel?

Electrical Panel Upgrade

There are two common reasons homeowners choose to upgrade their home’s electrical panel. Typically, we get calls when a customer needs to add a new circuit for an appliance like a new range, hot tub, or a EV charging station. A panel upgrade is often needed when the existing circuits are unable to safely handle the additional loads.

Another common reason is the age of the panel itself. Electric panels usually need to be replaced every 25-40 years. Even if the panel has not reached this age yet there may be warning signs that it needs replacement. These signs include:

  • Flickering lights
  • Circuit breakers that keep tripping
  • A burning smell
  • Scorch marks or sparks coming from power outlets
  • Warmth around the electric panel

If you notice any of these problems, call Hickey Plumbing, Air & Electrical. We can inspect your electrical system, track down the source of the problem, and recommend solutions to ensure the system is working safely.

Even it the panel is in good working order and is not very old, it may not be able to keep up with the demands of today’s tech-filled home. With smart devices, continual phone and laptop charging and EV charging, there’s simply more demand for electricity than there was when the panel was installed 25 years ago. Do you find yourself using power strips or extension cords around your home? A lack of outlets is a common sign of a home with an undersized electrical capacity.

Fuse Box Versus Circuit Breaker Panel

The main difference between a fuse and a circuit breaker is that fuses are single-use. They work by melting when the current is too high. Replacing fuses is more costly and time-consuming than resetting a circuit breaker. Fuses can also present a fire hazard if not properly matched to the circuit.

While fuse boxes are no longer installed by electricians, they are sill found in some older homes and are a real safety concern. In some cases insurance companies will refuse to cover your home, or refuse pay out if you do get coverage, in the event of an electrical malfunction and fire. Having a fuse box in your home is one of the main reasons you should consider upgrading to a modern electrical panel.