Beat the Summer Heat by Keeping Your Cool

Many people don’t realize this, but maintaining your air conditioning system is important to help avoid costly repairs or breakdowns at times when it matters the most, like when the temperature is in triple digits outside. Dirt and neglect are the top causes of heating and cooling system inefficiency and failure. That’s according to Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and improve energy efficiency. To ensure efficient system operation, it’s important to perform routine maintenance beyond simply changing the filter every month.

You can do this by calling in a licensed contractor to do annual pre-season check-ups. Ask neighbors, friends, and family for HVAC contractor recommendations. Check the status of the contractor’s license with the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) before you hire at www.cslb.ca.gov. Contractors get busy once summer comes, so it’s best to check the cooling system in the spring. Energy Star recommends the following typical maintenance efforts:

  • Check thermostat settings to ensure the cooling system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.
  • Tighten all electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors. Faulty electrical connections can cause unsafe operation of your system and reduce the life of major components.
  • Lubricate all moving parts. Parts that lack lubrication cause friction in motors and increase the amount of electricity you use.
  • Check and inspect the condensate drain in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump (when in cooling mode). A plugged drain can cause water damage in the house and affect indoor humidity levels. If plugged, the drain can cause water damage in the house, affect indoor humidity levels, and breed bacteria and mold.
  • Check controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation. Check the starting cycle of the equipment to ensure the system starts, operates, and shuts off properly.
  • Clean evaporator and condenser air conditioning coils. Dirty coils reduce the system’s ability to cool your home and cause the system to run longer, increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment.
  • Check your central air conditioner’s refrigerant level and adjust if necessary. Too much or too little refrigerant will make your system less efficient, increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment.
  • Clean and adjust blower components to provide proper system airflow for greater comfort levels. Airflow problems can reduce your system’s efficiency by up to 15 percent.

And remember—don’t be pressured into buying a new system, especially if it’s unnecessary. CSLB has issued warnings about upselling scams. Before replacing your system, read CSLB’s guidelines. For more tips on how to heat and cool efficiently, visit https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=heat_cool.pr_hvac.

DCA is Here to Help All Year Long

Just because National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) has ended doesn’t mean you aren’t protected. As #NCPW2017 wraps up, DCA wants to remind consumers that our resources and programs are available any time of year. This past week, we’ve shared details on many of them.

An informed consumer is a protected consumer: consider yourself empowered! Learn more at www.dca.ca.gov.

Also, see our complete list of free publications at www.dca.ca.gov/publications/publications_list.shtml, subscribe to our award-winning magazine, Consumer Connection, and follow us on Facebook and on Twitter @DCAnews.

DCA’s Umbrella Has You Covered

National Consumer Protection Week spotlights free resources, programs to help consumers

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Consumers: Do you feel empowered? You will after this week!

The California Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) is proud to be a partner during the 19th annual National Consumer Protection Week (#NCPW2017), a coordinated campaign that encourages consumers nationwide to take full advantage of their consumer rights and make better-informed decisions. This year, it runs from March 5 through 11, so stay tuned to this blog and follow us on Facebook and Twitter for great tips all week!

Here are some of the ways DCA helps:

Licensing for protection

We all know someone who’s had a bad experience with an unlicensed or unscrupulous contractor who does sloppy work, lacks proper insurance or takes money upfront and disappears or leaves the job incomplete. That’s why you’ve heard our mantra “check the license” repeatedly, because this is one way consumers can help protect themselves from frauds, scams and financial harm. Licensing tells you that the person you are dealing with has met certain qualifications and levels of competency and offers a remedy if a service is not delivered or work is not acceptable. Through its boards, bureaus, committees and other entities, DCA regulates many industries and the people licensed to work in them.

Check a license or file a complaint against a licensee by calling our Consumer Information Center at (800) 952-5210, or visit www.dca.ca.gov.

Consumer education, enforcement and special programs

Through award-winning consumer publications, social media, blogs, Senior Scam StopperSM events from the Contractors State License Board and other special programs like the Auto Body Inspection Program from the Bureau of Automotive Repair and the Veterans Come First Program from the Bureau of Security and Investigative Services, DCA staff educates consumers by giving them the information they need to avoid unscrupulous or unqualified people who promote deceptive or unsafe services.

DCA also advocates consumer interests before lawmakers and enforces consumer laws. Our enforcement staff works with the California Attorney General’s Office and local district attorneys to fight fraud in the marketplace. In fact, many investigations are initiated by consumer complaints. If DCA determines wrongdoing, it can place licensees on probation, or suspend or revoke licenses.

Dispute resolution

When a dispute arises between a customer and a business in certain industries under DCA’s jurisdiction, alternative methods are available for resolving complaints without going to court in which the involved parties can work out a solution with the help of a mediator.

Who we are what we do

Learn more on our website at www.dca.ca.gov or get our publication titled, Who We Are & What We Do. For a free printed copy, call the DCA Publications Hotline at (866) 320-8652. Find more consumer resources at https://oag.ca.gov/, https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/, www.ncpw.gov and #NCPW2017.

The Rain is Back—So are the Cons

GUERNEVILLE, CA - JANUARY 11: A resident paddles his kayak through floodwaters in Guerneville. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

GUERNEVILLE, CA – JANUARY 11: A resident paddles his kayak through floodwaters in Guerneville. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

California had a weather event last week. And whatever the forecasters called it—Atmospheric River, Pineapple Express, La Niña—it meant that a lot of water came crashing down on California, causing floods, mudslides, avalanches, and other water-related havoc on a state that has, in the past 5 years, experienced historically low levels of precipitation.

And just when homeowners are starting to see things dry up a bit, the rain is back again this week to serve up another round of chaos.

Don’t get Californians wrong—we are grateful that the drought may be over.

Unfortunately, there are others who are grateful for the weather for another reason—they wait for disasters like this to con homeowners into giving them money. They promise a quick solution to help disaster victims clean up, then take the money and run.

A tree lands on a house in Forestville on January 9. (Photo: ABC7/Laura Anthony)

A tree lands on a house in Forestville on January 9. (Photo: ABC7/Laura Anthony)

The Contractors State License Board (CSLB) is warning homeowners not to take the bait. Check a contractor’s license number online at www.cslb.ca.gov or by calling (800) 321-CSLB (2752). Here are a few tips from CSLB to help keep you out of a scam:

  • Get at least three bids.
  • Make sure all project expectations are in writing and only sign the contract if you completely understand the terms. Never sign a blank contract!
  • Confirm that the contractor has workers’ compensation insurance for employees.
  • Never pay more than 10 percent down or $1,000, whichever is less. Don’t pay in cash.
  • Don’t let payments get ahead of the work.
  • Don’t make the final payment until you’re satisfied with the job.
  • Your contractor must notify you of your right to cancel within three days of signing a contract

There is another group of criminals posing as door-to-door home repair contractors who operate all year long. These scammers, which CSLB refers to as“traveling contractors,” rip off homeowners with painting, paving, and roofing scams. Fortunately for consumers, they are usually easy to spot—if you know what to look for. Check out CSLB’s Traveling Contractor Scams tip sheet for a list of red flags.

Another thing to remember: If you’re going through your insurance provider for repairs, the provider may require that you use a certain contractor, so make sure to call first and find out.

Annual Furnace Tune-ups Can Help Improve Comfort and Efficiency

As much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling, so makingshutterstock_70184671 smart decisions about your home’s heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can have a big effect on your utility bills and your comfort, according to Energy Star, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that helps businesses and individuals save money and protect our climate through superior energy efficiency.

That’s why caring for your HVAC system is an important step to help avoid costly repairs or complete breakdowns at inopportune times, such as when everyone’s over for a holiday dinner. A cleaned, lubricated, and properly adjusted furnace runs more efficiently and uses less energy, and furnace manufacturers typically include language in their product warranties requiring proper maintenance to ensure coverage. Most importantly, an improperly working system could be a safety hazard.

Energy Star says a typical maintenance check-up should include the following:

  • Checking thermostat settings to ensure the cooling and heating system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.
  • Tightening all electrical connections and measuring voltage and current on motors. Faulty electrical connections can cause unsafe operation of your system and reduce the life of major components.
  • Lubricating all moving parts to prevent friction in motors, which increases the amount of electricity you use.
  • Checking and inspecting the condensate drain in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump (when in cooling mode). A plugged drain can cause water damage in the house and affect indoor humidity levels.
  • Checking controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation, and checking the starting cycle of the equipment to ensure the system starts, operates, and shuts off properly.
  • Checking all gas (or oil) connections, gas pressure, burner combustion and heat exchanger. Improperly operating gas (or oil) connections are a fire hazard and can contribute to health problems. A dirty burner or cracked heat exchanger causes improper burner operation. Either can cause the equipment to operate less safely and efficiently.

DIY maintenance includes inspecting, cleaning, or changing air filters once a month in your furnace and/or heat pump—ask your HVAC contractor to show you how if you don’t already know. A dirty filter can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure.

If it’s time to replace your equipment, ask neighbors, friends, and family for HVAC contractor recommendations. Check the status of the contractor’s license with the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) before you hire at www.cslb.ca.gov. And don’t be pressured into buying a new system, especially if it’s unnecessary. CSLB has issued warnings about upselling scams. Before replacing your system, read CSLB’s guidelines.

For more tips on how to heat and cool efficiently, visit https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=heat_cool.pr_hvac.

 

 

Time To Prepare Your Home For Winter

homeguttersleavesBy now we’ve all heard the warnings from weather forecasters that this winter could be the wettest and harshest yet for California due to the “El Niño” phenomenon.

But just what is “El Niño” and how will it impact Californians?

According to Mark Finan, Chief Meteorologist at KCRA Channel 3 in Sacramento, there are a few misconceptions people have about “El Niño.”

For starters, “El Niño” isn’t a storm,” said Finan. “There’s no such thing as an “El Niño” storm.  “El Niño” is really a climate pattern. When water is warmer or colder than average, it alters the jet stream and can increase the chances of a wet winter.”

Finan added that while drought-stricken California needs a “wet winter,” there’s just no way of knowing exactly how much precipitation the Golden State will get.

“Southern California has a better than average chance–nearly 90 percent–of having a wetter winter this year”, said Finan. “It’s an area that is also prone to major mudslides. The Sacramento area and Central Valley is much different.  We have to contend with flooding.”

Whatever the course, Finan maintains consumers shouldn’t underestimate the threat of “El Niño.”

In other words, be prepared.

“Take the same precautions to protect your home and property like you’d normally do each winter,” said Finan. “That means clean out the gutters, downspouts, insulate exposed pipes, seal gaps and cracks around windows and doors, trim overgrown trees and inspect your roof for loose or missing shingles.”

And by all means, don’t wait until the last minute. The time to act is now, especially since several roofing companies and gutter repair businesses say they are swamped with service calls from anxious consumers.

However, don’t panic and rush into hiring just anyone to do work around your home.  Be aware of unlicensed, fly-by-night, handyman services. They may be looking to take advantage of homeowners who need to have repairs done quickly and they may do shoddy work or no work at all.  Remember, by law, repairs that cost more than $500 must be performed by a licensed contractor. Don’t be left out in the cold. To protect yourself and your property, always hire a reputable, licensed contractor.

The Contractors State Licensing Board (CSLB) is a great resource that allows consumers to check the status of a contractor’s license by either calling the Contractors State License Board at (800) 321-CSLB (2752) or logging online to www.cslb.ca.gov.

Here are some additional tips to help prepare your home for winter.

  • POWER UP: Invest in a back-up generator, particularly if you live in an area that’s susceptible to power outages.
  • KEEP AN EMERGENCY KIT HANDY: It should contain flashlights, blankets, bottled water, insurance documents (stored on a thumb drive) and other family contact information.
  • CONSIDER PURCHASING FLOOD INSURANCE: Even if you don’t live in a “Flood Risk” zone, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

 

Don’t Let Dry Rot Destroy Your Home

dry picOn June 16 in Berkeley, California, six students died after a balcony they were standing on collapsed. Inspection reports showed that the collapse was caused by dry rot. On July 3 in Folsom, California, a man was killed when a stairway at an apartment complex fell on him.  Dry rot is the suspected cause of the collapse.   Since then, dry rot has become a hot-button issue.

Dry rot is a type of wood-destroying fungi that compromises the structural integrity of wood due to a variety of factors, such as excessive moisture or conditions deemed likely to lead to (or cause) infestation or infection of the wood (e.g. leaking pipes or condensation).

For homeowners with raised, wooden decks and lofts who are also concerned about their safety, there are measures to take that can help to prevent or to repair structural dry rot damage.

AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION:

  • Regularly inspect your wood deck/loft carefully for cracked, warped or splintered boards to see if they are soft or moist and free from any insect infestation.  If you notice any signs of damage, it may be necessary to contact a licensed professional to determine what repairs, if any, are needed.  Making a small investment early on can save a lot of money and worry down the line.
  • CHECK FOR WATER LEAKAGEMake sure there aren’t any broken water pipes or sprinklers in your yard that allow water to seep under your deck or loft.
  •  WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS TURN TO A PRO: If all this sounds like too much work, you can always hire a licensed professional.  After all, they’re trained to observe and detect things that you might overlook.
  • WHO TO CALL: The Structural Pest Control Board is here to help. If you have questions about a structural pest control company and need to verify their license status, log on to www.pestboard.ca.gov or call (916) 561-8700. You can also contact the Contractors State License Board at (800) 321-CSLB (2752) or log on to www.cslb.ca.gov to check the status of a contractor’s license.