Keeping Up Appliances
Giving Yourself More Time with the Appliances you Love
When you get your first car, you learn about oil changes and air filters–or you end up replacing your car. But when you get a house, you are kind of on your own taking care of your appliances. It’s like we think appliances will just last forever. But sadly, we find out exactly how much pain it is to replace them and how awful it is to live without them when they break down.
Luckily, there ARE things you can do to lengthen the life of your appliances. They require almost no tools or previous experience, and can be accomplished by even the most novice home do-it-yourselfer.
Fridge First: Clean your coils! Refrigerator condenser coils can be above, behind, or beneath your fridge. To clean, you may have to remove the kick plate or slide your fridge out to get to the back. (Unplug your fridge and don’t forget to plug it back in when you’re done!) You can use a handheld vacuum to remove dust if the coils are easily accessible. For coils under your fridge, buy a coil brush. They are cheap at the hardware store. I still remember when I bought mine….I have to say, it is so fulfilling to catch those dust-bunnies! Once de-linted, your refrigerator will be on easy street.
Also, keep the gasket seals clean around the doors. Every crumb and drip of stickiness breaks down the plastic and reduces the seal. Soap, water and gentle cleaning is easy and helpful.
Dryer Exhausted? A clogged dryer exhaust is inefficient and a fire hazard. Loosen the exhaust tube clamp on the back of the dryer and wiggle it off, then vacuum to remove the lint. Easy. While you are behind the dryer, check the exhaust hose and, if possible, the vent leading outside for lint. Once cleaned, simply reattach the exhaust tube. (This cleaning is especially important if you love dryer sheets as the chemicals on dryer sheets mixed with piled up dust, increase the fire risk.) Look for socks while you are back there.
This may seem obvious, but pay attention to the amount of clothing your dryer recommends. Overloading is the quickest ticket to a broken belt. And when your kids start doing their laundry, teach them how much is too much. Otherwise, they will cram that baby full and you will be stuck calling a serviceman.
Uber Clean Washing Machine: The best thing you can do for your washing machine is read the manual. Manuals always have a procedure list to keep your machines clean. I ignored my manual until I got a front loader. The rubber seal on the door is susceptible to mold and stink! I found that out the hard way. If I had read the manual I could have prevented ugly, disgusting stains and slimy stench.
Give your washing machine a bath occasionally by using a hot water wash and wiping down the door after the last use of the day to remove moisture. Using the amount and type of detergent recommended can do wonders. Too much detergent won’t get your clothes any cleaner and may damage the washer.
Dishwashers: Unless your dishwasher has its own built-in disposal, dishwashers are not designed to remove large food particles. Think about it…where would big chunks go? Not far at all! A quick rinse and swipe with a sponge across your dishes can make your dishwasher’s work easier and spare you the mess of a back-up. If your dishes aren’t coming out as clean as they should, check the drain. Maybe it needs to be cleared.
Hard water takes a huge toll on dishwashers. The little jets required to clean dishes are easily plugged, making the dishwasher useless. If you remove the spinning arm under the top rack, you can usually see if the holes are plugged with calcium. I have cleaned mine with a straight pin or by submerging in vinegar for several hours, but in the end, I needed a systemic water softener. If that’s not available, look for products that will soften your water with each load.
Once I got a used dishwasher on the local online free-deals page. The guy said it leaked and didn’t clean. After we cleaned out the hard water accumulation, it cleaned. Then we checked the seal all the way around and found and removed a tiny 1\2 inch screw which somehow ended up in the seal strip near the door hinge. Leak fixed. My lesson here is: slow down and look carefully. With a little faith and patience and you might find the problem. (Truth be told however, I once called the repairman only to be shown that something on the top shelf of my dishwasher was in the way of the door closing which prevented the dishwasher from starting. So I also learned the hard way!)
Water heaters: Most water heaters can be flushed annually to achieve maximum efficiency and keep clear, unplugged lines. Calcium and lime build up inside your water heater over time and insulate the water against the flames which are trying to heat it, forcing the heater to use extra time and energy to do its job. Sediment builds over time, and you just can’t get it all out after it has accumulated for years. You can flush it yourself. There are many step by step tutorials like this one.
Oven and Stoves: Does your oven door have a tight seal? A bad seal can leak 20% or more of the oven’s heat, leading to longer cooking time, burned out elements, and hot kitchens. Check the rubber (or fiberglass) seal around the door for breaks or cracks, and replace the seal as needed for optimal oven performance.
This may be an old wives tale, but an old wife told me not to leave my electric burners on the maximum setting indefinitely. So instead of leaving your burner on HI, I turn it down a touch after I get the heat going. I do this faithfully, but I don’t know if this is really better for my burners or not. Where are the Myth-busters?
Okay, so I’m saving the biggies for last. AC and furnace checks are a little more intense, but still do-able. Here is a list of several things to consider in keeping up your AC and furnace.
Air Conditioning and Heating
Did you know your filters need to be changed at least once a month in the peak seasons? A clogged filter restricts air flow, decreases efficiency, and worse. In an AC unit, a clogged filter can lead to a solid freeze even in the middle of a hot day. Buy a stack of filters for the whole season so you have them on hand, and write the date on the one in the unit so you’ll know when they need to be changed. Swap them when you pay your bill or on the first of the month.
No Sudden Changes
Big temperature swings up and down overwork your AC or furnace and gulp electricity. It’s just plain hard on the units to reheat or recool a whole house every day. It’s easy breezy for them to keep up an even temperature. Invest in a digital programmable thermostat that can make temperature adjustments gradually and automatically before you get home or when you are waking up. There are few things nicer than to walk into a cool house from the hot outdoors, or into a toasty house from a frigid outdoor evening.
Keep it Clean
We never MEAN to stack stuff around our furnace or in front of an air return, but most of us have done it. Make sure your units have free access to air. Since it’s AC season, inspect the area around your unit for any debris, bushes, shrubs or vegetation that could potentially prevent air from flowing into the system. Mow grass away from the unit. Make sure there are no mice, bugs, and especially ants on the electrical component. You can even power off your AC and rinse the unit lightly with a garden hose once a year to help with dust.
How do I know if I have enough coolant?
Checking the coolant/refrigerant sounds complicated but it isn’t. To test, insert a meat thermometer into both the vents that blow and suck in air. There shouldn’t be more than a 16 – 20 degree difference in temperature. Reading too high or too low? Call a professional.
Cover Your Bases
A well maintained furnace or central air conditioning unit should last 20 years. Since they are hefty investments, protect them by scheduling regular maintenance checks. I am really frugal but even I spring for the check-up because I don’t want to carbon monoxide my family.
Even though it’s hot, now is a great time to schedule your furnace check. Have it done by September so you’ll be ready for an early cold snap. Ask your HVAC groups when they offer seasonal specials at good prices. Sometimes you can have both systems checked at the same time to save a visit fee.
What great ideas or nightmares do you have to share?
Thanks to American Home Shield for letting us cherry pick their suggestion list. Protecting your budget from unexpected costs is simple with home warranty plans from American Home Shield. A home warranty is a one-year service contract for the repair or replacement of covered home system components and appliances that typically break down over time. American Home Shield offers home warranty plans for as little as $2 per day.
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