Q: Our furnace is old. Are there certain parts of a furnace that tend to wear out a lot?

A: I know of one insurance company that says the motor and belt is the most likely parts to cause a fire within your furnace. This company will treat even an old furnace as new if the motor and belt are new. I am sure statistics will bear the fact that most fires are started with the motor and belt. Other parts that may wear out are the thermal couple and the glow plug igniter. Some other parts I always check include the filter and chimney. Finally if your older furnace has a humidifier it is most likely no longer working. I am not a big fan of humidifying your home in this way and well over half of the furnaces I check in this category have humidifier problems.

Q: Is it true that insurance is cheaper if we install an alarm system?

A: This is what I have been told by several customers but I honestly have not asked an insurance company. I would guess you would be a preferred customer if you have an alarm system that protects your home. These days it is easy to install a system that monitors your home for everything from moisture intrusion to low temperatures in the home due to furnace failure. These systems usually have the ability to call your cell phone with an alarm code that alerts you of the potential problems going on at home. With these advance warning systems it is much less likely that you will have an insurance claim so I suspect you would get a discount on your insurance premium.

Q: Last week our windows on the south side leaked during a driving rain. We rarely get rain from this direction and have never seen a leak here before. Do you recommend replacing the windows?

A: This sort of thing happened to me as well. I have lived in this home for over four years and never experienced any issues. All of a sudden there was a lot of water leaking in and around the window during the storm.  I immediately associated the leak with the driving wind and rain that night. I believe the water tightness of the window was adequate for all conditions except this one weird storm. I was not eager therefore to begin dismantling the window as I was sure the leak was not going to happen again. That situation was over two years ago and no and I have not experienced another leak in this window since. I recommend checking the window to see if there are any outstanding issues and if not than I would just leave it for now.

Q: Our house roof drains on our garage roof. Is this common and is it ok to do this?

A: I see this all the time. Builders are still doing this on new builds but I don’t recommend it. I can show you multiple examples of a roof that is otherwise in good condition but has a section under a downspout that has been ruined by the added water of an upper roof hitting it. In a heavy rain you can see the water pounding onto the lower roof. It is not surprising that this added water will shorten the life of the shingles. I often walk all over a roof and find an area that has only a couple years of life left while the rest of the roof would likely be fine for at least another ten years. To me it’s clear that draining an upper roof onto a lower roof is a bad idea.

Q: We are deciding upon which shingles we should buy for our roof. Do you have any suggestions?

A: From experience I would say you need to have shingles that are wind resistant in this part of the prairies. Just a few weeks ago we had winds in excess of 100 km per hour. An un-tarred 3-tab shingle will often blow off in such high winds. Architectural shingles seem to be better designed and seem to hold up better to the wind. Shingle manufacturers rate their product for normal use and I believe under normal circumstances they do live up to that rating. The problem is in the installation in my opinion. Installers and homeowners sometimes rush and miss a nail or two and that is all that is needed to create a problem. I have always tarred every tab when installing shingles. This process takes time and would not be possible in the winter. If possible I recommend adding tar to hold the shingles better as this alone will increase the longevity of the shingles. 

Q: Our insurance company asked us what size electrical service we have in our home. How can I tell?

A: The electrical system in your home has to be sized based upon the weakest link in the entire system. For instance if you have a 200 amp meter on the outside of the home, a service wire that runs from the meter to the panel which is only rated to 70 amps and a 100 amp main breaker you have a 70 amp service. A lot of people would report that service is 100 amps in this case but it is only 70 amps because the weakest link is the service entrance wire. If you loaded the system up to 100 amps you would overload the 70 amp wire and possibly cause a fire. It takes experience to determine the weakest link so I suggest you hire a qualified electrical contractor or call the electrical inspector for your area.

Q: We recently had a fire in our living room because we had too many plugs on one receptacle. Is there a way to know how much is too much?

A: Generally speaking it should be fine to plug one thing into each available receptacle. The problem is that too many people run extension cords and add receptacle adaptors that allow up to six devices to be plugged in at once. The receptacle is designed for only two devices so more than that is too many. There are a lot of things to consider of course such as the load but I always say if there is no place to plug something in you should move to another receptacle. From experience I would say most fires get started when extension cords are used and the homeowner tucks the cord under a carpet to hide it. The braided extension cord wire is not rated for much of a load so it gets warm when overloaded. If it is under a carpet it could burn the house down. The breaker doesn’t trip in this situation because the load is ok on house wire but the extension cord

I have been reading lately about the dangers of asbestos insulation in homes. Can you expand on this and explain where we might have asbestos?

Asbestos was used in many forms over the years. In fact Canada still exports asbestos to other countries. The majority of the asbestos in your home is likely either in your attic insulation or your flooring. In order for asbestos to be dangerous it must be friable or floating around the air where it can be breather in. Asbestos only affects the lungs so you must do your best to not breathe in high concentrations of asbestos fibers. If you suspect you have asbestos you can have it tested. I can send samples away to a lab in Ontario where the quantity and type of asbestos can be identified. I usually suggest the customer simply stay away from the asbestos containing material but if this is not possible you need to take precautions. Visit my website www.borderhi.com/category/general for more on this topic.

Our home has gray plastic water lines. Someone said these lines are likely going to leak. Our home is 30 years old, don’t you think if the lines were going to leak they would have already?

The lines you are talking about are likely poly “B” lines. While it is true these lines have had a poor history and many homes have flooded from this type of pipe, you need to consider a couple of things before you get too excited. As you said, your home is 30 years old and no leaks have developed to this point. The problems with Poly “B” was discovered early on and most of the failures happened in the first couple of years after the pipe was installed. I’m guessing that your poly pipe is fine but just remember to keep an eye on it. The affected poly pipe can be identified by the number PB2110. Even if you have PB2110 in your home you may have no problems if the fittings are copper and they are crimped with copper crimp rings. The majority of the problems with Poly “B” were in the connections between the plastic fittings and the plastic pipe.  visit http://www.polybutylene.com/poly.html  for more information.

Poly B fittings

I have a high efficient furnace. There is a drain line from the furnace where clear water comes out into the drain. Is it true that this water is pure and good for drinking?

No! The clear water coming from the furnace is very acidic and not safe to drink or allow your animals to drink. In fact the acid level in this water is so high it eats through copper fittings in just a few years. The water is a byproduct of the combustion process that takes place in the flue. With new high efficient furnaces we have discovered we can extract more heat from the combustion process by giving the hot gases a longer passage to go through. As the gases cool down they reach a point where the moisture in the gas precipitates out in the form of the water you see. This condensate should be drained into the floor drain where it can be safely drained away.