Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Great Plumbing Myth!

Plumbing Myth: Using Baking Soda and Vinegar to Clear a Blocked Drain.

You can find it everywhere…even government (cities mostly) entities promote the use of baking soda and vinegar to clear a blocked drain. The common claim is that the mixture will somehow magically change grease and sludge in the drain into soap and glycerin…freeing the blockage and leaving your drain fresh and sparkly clean! Is it true? Could this grade school science project be a complete replacement for all plumbers and commercial drain cleaners? Let us embark on a scientific journey to find the truth behind this popular mixture!

The key ingredient in vinegar is acetic acid (ethanoic acid). The amount of acetic acid in table vinegar is usually 4 to 8% in common table vinegar (mildly acidic). Baking soda is essentially sodium bicarbonate, an amphoteric compound that is slightly alkaline. The mixing of the two creates a reaction (rush of bubbles) that we all remember when we were in school (the erupting paper mache volcano?).

The two chemicals (acetic acid and sodium bicarbonate) when mixed form a new chemical called carbonic acid…commonly found in carbonated beverages. Carbonic acid in this form however is very unstable and immediately breaks down and turns into carbon dioxide (the bubbles) and water. After all the carbon dioxide escapes all that is left is sodium acetate and water. Sodium acetate is commonly found in foods we eat…such as salt-and-vinegar potato chips.

My point in this lengthy explanation? None of the chemicals…before, during, or after the mixing of the baking soda and vinegar will help clear a clogged drain. None of the acids is strong enough to break down hair or soap. Heck, we eat this stuff every day! So what could it be?

Commonly during chemical reactions heat is created…maybe, it is the heat. Our reaction is known as a neutralization reaction and they are exothermic in general. However, there are a couple conflicting processes going on in this reaction that may actually cause the temperature to DROP!
·       Evaporation of the liquid occurs as the carbon dioxide escapes (remember the bubbles?). Evaporation absorbs heat.
·       Rapidly expanding carbon dioxide cools as it expands…this is known as Joule-Thomson cooling. A visualization of this can be seen with the common computer-cleaning product, canned air. Hold the nozzle open and see how cold it gets…freezing…very quickly!

Ok, so it is not the baking soda, the vinegar, the chemical process, any chemical, or the heat that will open a clogged drain. I am sorry to report that the science simply does not support the use of these household products as effective in clearing a clogged drain. If anything, it may clog it further as the remaining solids from the chemical reaction could form a grey sludge.

But wait!!!! There is still a great use for this in your kitchen…including your drains!

Baking Soda and white vinegar is great in sanitizing and getting rid of odors. It can help keep clear drains clean and keep them smelling fresh. In tests run at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Pairing the two killed virtually all Salmonella, Shigella, or E.Coli Bacteria on heavily contaminated food and surfaces when used in this fashion, making these two natural cooking ingredients more effective at killing these potentially lethal bacteria than chlorine bleach or any commercially available kitchen cleaner.

My suggestion…1/2 cup of baking soda, add ½ cup of vinegar in your drain (that is not currently clogged). Place the stopper on the drain if applicable. Wait 30 minutes or so and rinse down the drain with boiling water. Wait a few more minutes and flush completely with hot water from the tap to rinse down any remaining solids. This should help keep your drain clear and keep it smelling fresh.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Clogged Toilet?

Eventually, we all will have to deal with it…the dreaded clogged toilet. There are a lot of myths and facts on the subject. Drawing on my own experience and research, I will share some of these simple drain issues (I am sure you can barely contain your excitement!).

When dealing with a toilet that will not flush there are some toilet basics I am going to share to help you understand how toilet draining works. A standard toilet has a 2” drainpipe. This pipe is usually formed in a curve that is not unlike the curves on a road travelling through the mountains. This is called a trap, and the reason for this trap is to, well, trap water so that sewer gases do not come into the home. Good idea, right?

In any event, we have a 2” curvy pipe that leads into the sewer lines that are traditionally 3 or 4-inch lines. With that in mind, the vast majority of clogs in toilets are in the curved portion of the two-inch pipe in the toilet, because once the waste reaches the sewer line there is a lot more room…and less chance for a back up. The best way to clear this, in my experience is with more water. Take a large bucket and fill the toilet with water very quickly. Careful not to overflow the toilet though! This rapid addition of water creates agitation and the weight (water is very heavy!) will usually clear the blockage. If this does not work at first... Watch the water level in the bowl. If the water level slowly goes down, this is a good sign. Try adding more water (quickly) again.

If this method does not work, add water like before and pull out the old plunger. The added weight of the water helps the plunger’s efficiency. Again, be careful to not allow the water level in the bowl to rise too much…that could me messy!

One thing I always try to avoid, and never advise is the use of a metal “snake”. These are found at most hardware stores and usually made of a spring steel material. The reason you do not want to use a snake is that most toilets are made of glazed porcelain (or similar). The metal scratching against it can damage this glazing. Among other problems, it could make the surface rough in the trap…causing more clogs!

If these things do not work, I recommend contacting a professional. Savannah Renovations may be able to help! If you have a plumbing problem, give us a call at 912-675-5569 and if we cannot help, we can put you in touch with someone who can!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Radiant barriers and radiant insulation: Real energy science or real scam?

Over the years, the subject of radiant barriers and radiant insulation has crossed my radar from time to time. Until now, I have not done any proper research or given it serious consideration. This past week however, I saw an ad in the local newspaper touting 75% savings and radiant insulation being more effective than twelve inches of insulation. So, I looked into the hype and science and I have come to the following conclusion:

Are radiant barriers and insulation real or just a fraud? Yes and No. I guess I should explain my position…

Radiant barriers and insulation work by reducing thermal transfer of heat from the roof itself and the attic floor. During the day, the shingles heat up and conductively heat up the supporting structure of the roof. These temperatures become very high and the heat from the roof deck and supporting structure radiates into the attic heating up the insulation on the ceiling of the home. Through this conductance and radiant heat, a greater load is placed on the air conditioning unit(s) to keep the home (structure) cool.  Basically, the radiant barrier reflects the heat back to the roof and reduces heat gain in the attic…more importantly, the heat gain to the insulation.

The science seems sound, but is it effective?

This is where the whole subject gets foggy. By definition, radiant barriers reflect RADIANT heat. With that information, I can immediately eliminate some installation procedures and barrier types. For example, some installers claim placing the radiant barrier directly below the shingles is acceptable and effective…Impossible! In order for a radiant barrier to work there ABSOLUTLY must be an AIRSPACE otherwise conduction takes over and immediately discounts any benefit of the radiant barrier. Studies done for the Department of Energy show the effectiveness of radiant barriers and insulation and two major installation procedures appear to be the most effective:

  • Installing the radiant barrier on the floor of the attic: The idea is that this method is effective in two ways. First, it reflects the heat from the roof deck upwards. Second, it reflects the interior energy downwards. Personally, I do not like this method because it creates hazards and in a study done by Oak Ridge National Laboratory the barrier looses its effectiveness as dust accumulates on the barrier. In addition, a study done by Texas A&M noted that reflective barriers work best when they directly face the radiant energy. The attic floor is not directly facing the roof deck so efficiency is lost. It creates hazards by covering the ceiling joists, potentially creating a hazard if one were to need to access the attic. If you cannot see the joist, you may just fall through the ceiling! Also, many homes have their utilities (electric, water, etc.) running through the attic. Reflective barriers contain metal…a conductor! Need I say more?
  • Installing the radiant barrier or insulation to the bottom of the roof deck: In my opinion, this is the most effective method that should yield the greatest efficiencies. The insulation directly faces the radiant source. Second, if attached to the bottom of the rafters there is an adequate space for the radiant heat to be reflected back towards the roof deck. In addition, this space will allow for the least accumulation of dust allowing the barrier/insulation to work at its greatest efficiency for the longest period. Finally, the placement should eliminate most, if not all contact with electrical lines reducing risk.

Without making this article a 400-page novel, I will summarize some of my points.

Yes, radiant barriers and insulation are effective. However, through the independent and government studies I have seen that I deem to be accurate any number over a 10% reduction in heating/cooling bills is difficult for me to swallow. The Department of Energy states “…radiant barriers can lower cooling costs between 5%–10% when used in a warm, sunny climate.”

Radiant barriers and insulation are one of the most cost effective ways to add efficiency. Generally, the materials and installation are less expensive than adding other insulation types.

Radiant insulation is better than a radiant barrier. This is due to the added insulation between two layers of barrier. The additional cost is minimal.

Studies also show that the major effects of radiant barriers and insulation are for reducing summer cooling bills in warm, sunny areas. The effect on winter heating bills is immeasurable in most cases and may even cause the heating bill to increase as the radiant heat from the roof deck is not warming the attic.

With all of this, my biggest gripe is with the manufacturers and installers that make huge energy savings claims. I have no idea why an installer would want to hurt his or her reputation or possibly even be sued from making these incredulous claims of energy savings.

Back to the newspaper ad…

“…cut your heating and cooling bills by 75% guaranteed.”

Really? Who is going to guarantee that? The installer? The manufacturer? I do not even know what to write about this. It is such an outlandish claim that I cannot imagine what is included with the installation to generate a 75% reduction in heating and cooling bills. Has such a reduction ever been documented?

“…delivers more energy savings than twelve inches of additional fiberglass insulation.”

I really have a hard time with this one. Again, from what I have read, this amount of additional fiberglass insulation should yield a much greater savings. I am not a scientist or a lawyer, but maybe there is something in the way this entire statement is worded that does not make it completely untrue.
So why do the manufacturers and installers feel the need to beef up their claims of such a great effect? My guess…this is needed to justify increasing the price of the product and the installation. I have no idea what companies that install this product charge their customers, but I have a feeling it may be more than it should be.

My bottom line…radiant insulation installed should run about one dollar per square foot installed. Depending on the particular structure and the potential difficulties, I can see no reason why it should ever be over $1.50 per square foot installed. Anything over this price almost completely nullifies your return on investment based on the research I have seen.

The studies and literature I based this article on:

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Important things to know when hiring any home service contractor

The term “Licensed and Insured” is, in most cases technically incorrect….or at least can be misleading. There are no special licensing requirements for many home service contractors in Georgia (painters, flooring installers, repair and maintenance contractors, etc. have no state licensing requirements beyond the essential business license). General contractors must be licensed by the state and must prove and carry liability insurance. If you call upon a licensed general contractor to complete a small remodeling, painting, etc. project be prepared for a hefty bill….and here is the real kick in the pants; He is simply going to call a sub-contractor and add his/her management fees!

Any repairperson or contractor you bring into your home or business should definitely have a business license and carry liability insurance. You should positively ask to see it because if you do not, you the homeowner are liable for any injuries or damage caused by the contractor and their employees! You are even liable for any sub-contractor’s employees and their injuries and actions! For example, you hire a contractor…say “Joe’s Handyman Service” to complete some drywall and painting in your home. Now let’s say Joe decides to hire “Mike’s Drywall Company” to prepare the walls for painting. Mike’s employee “Henry” is on the ladder sanding the drywall and he falls injuring his back and leg. Joe does not have insurance or a business license…neither does Mike. Guess who is responsible for all of Henry’s medical bills and time missed from work? YOU, the homeowner are 100% liable! Savannah Renovations, LLC carries a one-million dollar property liability policy and two-million in injury insurance brokered through Morris & Templeton Insurance.

You should always request a quote or estimate from your contractor. This is good for both the home/business owner and the company you are hiring. This works well for both parties to understand the pricing, payment schedule, and the exact expectations of the work to be completed. Verbal agreements can be acceptable if you have worked extensively with the contractor in the past; however, it is always best to have something in writing. This is often one of the most difficult jobs of being a contractor. I view it as Justitia (Lady Justice) holding the Scales of Justice. On one side of the scale is high quality (higher cost) and on the other is reduced-standard (lower cost) job in the estimating process is to find the correct balance. Let’s face it…you are not going to get a 1,600 square foot addition to your home for 500 bucks and a case of beer! I try my best to evaluate each customer and listen carefully to their words as they describe what is wanted and needed. I look at the quality of construction of the home or business to pick up clues as to the cost of construction and quality levels that currently exist. Armed with that information, I gather material pricing and estimate times, add overhead expenses and an estimate is born. I think all contractors do try to offer the best prices that we can…but in every case, there is a line that we simply cannot or will not cross. There is a point where money is lost…there is also a point where what is asked for could damage a companies reputation.

Once you have your estimate, beware of the bargain.
Most people like to get the most they can for the best price. Who would not? If you do have a bid that is much lower than the others are, and you feel that the contractor is reputable and offering an honest service…you should at least ask questions. It is possible that one of the contractors missed something important, or is quoting on different materials. These are important things to know when you are paying for any product or service.

Be careful of front-loaded payment schedules.
If any company needs more than 10% to begin your project this should be a huge red flag! The only reasons they would need the customer to pay up front is that the company is not solvent (which is bad enough), or worse…it could be a scam called “spiking the job” where a company takes a large amount of money upfront. Then by completing a small amount of work can avoid criminal charges….leaving you, the customer to deal with the civil issue of trying to get your money back. Being a business owner, I can certainly understand that contractors fear not being paid. They also would like some sort of “commitment” on the part of their customer. However, I also know that if excellent service and quality are offered…customer dead beats are usually not an issue. As a matter-of-fact in seven years, Savannah Renovations has never had a delinquent customer!

My last thought for today…

Know exactly what you want and expect before work begins.
To put is simply…
“While you are at it” can be the five most expensive words in the English language!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Why do we forget about our home?

For the vast majority of people, our greatest investment is our home. We put more into that single purchase than anything else in out entire lifetime. It is one of the few things that we buy that increases in value over time. Our home is more than just an object; it is a reflection of who we are, where we have been…and where we will go. Over the years, a family makes lasting memories, cherished moments we take with us throughout our lives. I think most of us have an emotional connection to our homes…it is, well, our house. Our home.

Why then do we not put as much effort into our home as, say…our cars? Think about it…Everyone knows, and accepts, that our autos need to be cared for and maintained. Few people question $90.00 per hour (or more) to have their oil changed, tires rotated, brake pads and rotors checked and replaced. We all know that failure to conduct routine preventative maintenance will increase the chances that our car will stop working. Leave us stranded, put us in a difficult position, or worse…endanger our lives and that of our family.

When it comes to our homes, most of us turn on the hot water and assume the water that comes out will be hot. We do not think about the systems in our home that have to work day and night. Hot water heaters do last a considerable amount of time…but eventually every single one ever built will fail. It goes for our roofs, the air conditioner, heating systems, plumbing, and insulating efficiency. None does, nor can last forever. Unlike our cars though, we tend to wait until a catastrophic failure before we do anything about it. We wait until the hot water heater starts bellowing water, damaging other parts of our home before we act. We wait until it is 100 degrees outside and our a/c is blowing furnace-hot air before we have it serviced.


I think the answer to this question lies somewhere in a grey area. These critical components to our homes are designed to last many years. Because of this condition, we tend to forget they are there. We take that hot water in the tap for granted. We assume that our roof has many years left before the leaks begin. Money is tight and these items last a long time, so we push it to the back of our mind. I mean, who wants to shorten their Florida vacation by a day to apply that money into our home when everything seems to be working fine? Who really even wants to think about all this stuff?

That is when the light bulb went off in my head! (Albeit a very dim one)

I have spent many years honing my skills as a maintenance and remodeling expert. Why not apply these skills proactively instead of reactively?

SR Home-Care was born. It is really still in its infancy….but the general idea is this:

We have developed a comprehensive maintenance plan that has been crafted from research into mechanical/electrical systems, appliances, utilities, consumer agencies safety guidelines, and more. Each SR Home-Care package is tailored specifically for your home to sustainably control your home's condition, efficiency and cost. It combines the efforts of specialty contractors, inspectors, and handymen into a single powerful service, conveniently executed in quarterly appointments.

For more information, please visit:

We are still ironing out the specific details. Among them is how to reduce the cost of our packages. I have been considering offering a bi-annual package starting at $600 per year. This would include 2 inspections…an a/c check in the spring and a heating check in the fall. I also think that a commercial package could be helpful too for retail establishments.

Any suggestions or criticisms? I always welcome ways to improve Savannah Renovations and our services!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Painting and Preparation

Without a doubt, no interior home or office improvement project has a greater impact for the least investment than paint. A splash of color can instantly change the whole feel of a room. Fresh paint makes any space look cleaner and can give a wide variety of senses and emotions depending on the color and finish choices.

I once heard a professional painter tell me, “Anyone can paint…few can paint well”. Over the years, through trial and error, and some guidance from some excellent and experienced professionals, I have learned a few things about providing a great outcome when painting.

The foremost consideration in any paint work is preparation. If the proper time and effort is not spent on preparation of the walls and trim, the result will be disappointing. It is not uncommon for me to allocate more than 50% of the total time I estimate to be set aside for the groundwork. Some of the things that need to be done for great painted surfaces are:
• Shut off the power to the room.
• Remove all the outlet and switch covers. Apply tape to all the outlets and switches to keep from getting paint on them. If there are any light fixtures, loosen or remove them and tape accordingly.
• Remove all loose paint. Use scrapers and coarse sandpaper and be sure to remove all loose paint. If you do not, it will peel up either during the priming/painting or in the days/weeks following painting.
• Fill all holes with a good quality spackling compound. Be sure to fill the holes completely and on larger holes, I use a grid type joint tape or hole repair material. This helps keep the spackling from cracking.
• More sanding! This time use a fine grit sand paper or sanding block. Use your hand to feel the wall; your eyes can fool you here. On larger holes, be prepared to reapply the spackling compound and sand again. Keep following this process until you see and feel a completely smooth surface.
• Check all the molding in the room for damage. Base moldings are damaged frequently from furniture. Repair these holes using good epoxy wood filler. Use the same process (minus the grid tape) as used for the walls. Did I mention the sanding? Sometimes more than one application is required to get the desired result.
• If there are any cracks in the walls use a quality caulking to fill the cracks. In most cases, these wall cracks are caused from the shifting and settling of the home and are normal. However, spackling and/or joint compounds are brittle when dry and any future movement in the wall will cause the finish to chip off and the crack to reappear looking worse than before. High quality caulking has enough elasticity to stretch (to a point) as the home continues to shift.
• Clean the walls with a diluted light detergent, then rinse with clean water and a sponge. Be careful on this step as joint and spackling compounds are water based. This means that if you apply a heavy hand with the water you can actually dissolve all your hard work! If done properly this step will further improve the finish on the walls.

Following these steps is far more than half the battle of a wonderful paint finish. Of course, you could always call Savannah Renovations, LLC at 912-675-5569 and I would be more than happy to provide an estimate. “Wink, wink…nudge”…that is a hint. Happy painting!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Where do we start?

What is Savannah Renovations? We are a residential and commercial maintenance, repair, and remodeling company. We cover a wide range of services and serve clients in the Savannah, Hinesville, Statesboro, and Rincon areas. We have been in business since 2003. More information can be found on our website at: .

I know; sounds like countless companies out there. In every city and town, there is a cornucopia of apparently similar service companies. I have given this a lot of thought and initially I considered that through hard work, skilled craftsmanship, and excellent customer service, Savannah Renovations would quickly become notable. I have generated a small following of loyal customers, but through the years, I realized that we have to do more. There is more to a successful business than “word-of-mouth” advertising. Sure, a customer may mention to a friend or relative the service and quality received from Savannah Renovations, but from that mention to a new customer is a long road that is not always followed.

That is when I realized that Savannah Renovations has to take action to separate itself from the vegetable soup of actual and perceived competitors. A homeowner or business owner needs to feel comfortable choosing Savannah Renovations. The actions I have chosen to accomplish this separation to this point are:
• Creating and updating a real website with our own domain name (
• Applying for and being accepted as a member of the Better Business Bureau. I felt that it would be a great boost to have an independent organization verify our credentials and adhere to the BBB business practices. This info can be found at, .
• Acquiring a more than adequate insurance policy. Savannah Renovations currently has a one-million dollar liability policy for property and two-million in bodily injury insurance.
• Making ourselves available to the public through facebook and this website. People have the ability to contact us directly and evaluate our work and business ethic before making any decisions concerning Savannah Renovations.

There are more ideas and actions on the horizon, but I think we are off to a great start. Most importantly, I always want to remain loyal to our tenets: Skilled artisanship, hard work, honest pricing, and excellent customer service.

Comments, criticisms, and suggestions are always welcome!