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Archives for February 9, 2018

Networx: Tips to get the best HVAC service

Be a savvy homeowner. Find out the facts about heating and air conditioning — installation, repair, and maintenance — before you call a contractor for help. You’ll not only save money and hassle, you’ll also get the best HVAC service for your home.

HVAC installation

Do your homework. Read about the different types of heating or cooling systems, such as central air and ductless mini-split A/C. Research various makes, looking at their energy efficiency ratings, as well as checking out expert and homeowner reviews online. While you’re at it, find out what permits your state requires for furnace installation or replacement.

Work with what you’ve got. For example, the type of air conditioning you can retrofit will be determined by whether you already have ductwork in place for a forced-air furnace. An upcoming major renovation, like a bathroom remodel, means you’ll have more leeway to install underfloor heating. One often-overlooked point is the configuration of your house — how much space do you have for a furnace, for instance, and will technicians need to maneuver the appliance down a tricky flight of stairs?

Get multiple quotes from HVAC professionals. Ask for written estimates so you can scrutinize the fine print. Compare not only price, but also important details such as equipment model number (not just brand name) and warranties on both parts and labor.

Check out your HVAC installation contractor. Before you hire an HVAC service pro, read his online reviews and Better Business Bureau profile. You might contact references and/or do a background check too. Make sure any contractor you hire is licensed and insured according to local government regulations, with up-to-date credentials.

HVAC repair

Troubleshoot heating or cooling problems before you pick up the phone for HVAC service. You may save two precious commodities — time and money — by fixing the problem yourself. At the very least, you should be able to point your HVAC pro toward the source of the problem, which will help ensure you get the right repair at a reasonable price.

HVAC maintenance

Change or clean your furnace or A/C filter regularly. This easy DIY task improves efficiency, protects indoor air quality, and may extend the life of your equipment. Tackle the filter at least once every 3 months, more frequently during periods of heavy HVAC use; when there is construction or serious air pollution locally; or if you have pets in the home.

Call a pro for regular heating system tune-ups. Have the components of your oil-fired boiler or heat pump cleaned and inspected annually. A gas furnace usually needs inspection and cleaning every two years. Schedule tune-ups for late spring or early summer — generally the slow season for heating experts — rather than the first really cold day in your area, when HVAC service contractors will be beyond busy.

Have your air conditioner professionally checked once a year too. While A/C is simpler to maintain than a furnace, it deserves its share of annual TLC. Cleaning, lubrication of moving parts, and tightening electrical connections will all help your system to perform at its peak.

Don’t neglect your ductwork. If your heating and cooling circulate via ducts, as in most American homes, ask your contractor to inspect the ductwork for mold, debris, damaged insulation, and leakage (which leads to costly energy loss). Have any problems repaired promptly.

Consider a regular maintenance contract. HVAC service contracts are a convenience for homeowners who are too busy or absentminded to schedule regular checkups; some also guarantee priority treatment if your system fails. Contracts vary widely in what they cover, so read the specs carefully and shop around for the plan that suits your needs.

Check out your HVAC maintenance contractor. You’ll be basically relying on this individual or company to keep your family comfortable year round, so make sure you hire a reliable pro. Use the same vetting process as for the installer. Compare prices and services competing contractors offer. Availability is equally important — what happens if your systems conks out on a holiday weekend?

Use a specialist. Consumers often find they have a better experience when they deal with an HVAC service specialist, rather than a mega contracting company that claims to handle heating, cooling, electricity, plumbing, water heaters, sheet metal, etc., etc.

— Laura Firszt writes for

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Gardening: Is it warm enough to plant summer veggies?

The weather has been lovely, no other word for it, and there is a whiff of spring in the air. Are you as excited as we are? But keep calm, we’ve still got a bit of winter to get through.

Here are some things you can do in the garden, and a few you shouldn’t.

  • Don’t be fooled into thinking that spring is here. It’s not, and Mother Nature has a cruel streak, dropping some cold weather on us just after we’ve put out some frost tender plants. So even if the home improvement stores already have summer veggies on the shelves, resist the urge to plant them in the ground. The soil still is too cold for summer garden plants.
  • You know those weeds you’ve been ignoring? You really can’t ignore them anymore. They are just getting bigger and putting down deeper roots. With a few more warm days, they’ll be setting seed. Go pull them right now.
  • OK, we realize that you’ve got the urge to grow something — we’ve got it too. So plant some seeds indoors and start nurturing them. By the time the soil warms in a couple of months, you’ll have some healthy seedlings to transplant.
  • Now that the promise of rain seems to have vanished, you can start working your vegetable and flower beds in preparation of spring planting. It’s not a good idea to do that when the ground is wet, but unless you’re running your irrigation, they should be dry enough to do a little work, aerating with a garden fork and working some compost into the top few inches of soil.
  • And while we’re talking about no rain in the forecast, we’ve been harping at you to turn off your irrigation, but you might want to turn it back on briefly. Check your plants to see if they need some supplemental water, and don’t forget your trees.

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5 garden tips for this week, Feb. 10-16

1 Timely suggestion: This week has Valentine’s Day, so here’s a friendly reminder to share your love, not only with chocolates but with produce from your garden. And, just for the fun of it, look around your yard for the annual weed that I always call the “I-Love-You Plant.” It has low, feather-like leaves close to the ground and wiry, upright, 20-inch flower spikes sporting lots of seed capsules that look like little hearts. To me it’s amazing that this plant only grows around Valentine’s Day. The real name is shepherd’s purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris), and it is a member of the mustard family — with edible leaves when young, good raw in salads or cooked as greens. But all those little seed capsules are truly heart-warming.

2 Feeding time: Feed camellias, azaleas, gardenias, roses and other shrubbery. All plants require nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium for growth — listed on the plant food label as a three-number formula showing the percentage of each element by weight. In general, nitrogen promotes leaf development, while phosphorus develops roots, flowers, fruits and seeds, and potassium permits plants to make optimal use of these nutrients and other minerals. Flowering and fruiting plants need a fertilizer blend with a higher percentage of phosphorus, while green shrubbery needs less phosphorus but a higher amount of nitrogen.

3 Juicy fruit: Strawberry season is here at last. Picking the ripest ones every day or two will prolong the harvest season. Don’t let them spoil on the plant, or your plants will stop producing early. Remember to feed periodically with balanced plant food to encourage growth, flowers and fruit. Oh, and maybe you can create your own chocolate-dipped strawberries for an extra fun and happy Valentine’s Day.

4 Citrus nutrition: In Inland areas — and elsewhere if not done already — apply the first of four annual feedings for mature citrus trees this week. Subsequent feedings should be done about six weeks later — in late March, mid-May, and late June. Each feeding should contain about a half pound of actual nitrogen. Here’s the formula to figure out how much to use, based on the percentage of nitrogen in the fertilizer (I use 16-16-16 fertilizer, which has 16 percent nitrogen plus other ingredients): actual nitrogen needed (1/2 pound) divided by percent of nitrogen in plant food (16/100) x 2 cups per pound. So that’s [(0.5/.16) x 2], which equals 6 1/4 cups of 16-16-16 fertilizer per mature tree each time I feed. For other types of fertilizer, just enter the percentage of nitrogen into the formula to find how many cups of plant food you should apply, and use this number each time you feed your trees.

5 Clean sweep: Hate the messy fruits dropped by olive trees, or those stickery seed balls on liquidambar or sycamore? Ethephon (Florel Fruit Eliminator), a natural plant hormone, prevents the formation of unwanted fruit on just about any leafy ornamental tree. Sprayed at blossom time, it works on carob, carrotwood, elm, maple, oak, pine, podocarpus and more. Purchase from many garden centers and home improvement stores.

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