“THE WORK NEVER ENDS” is a common homeowner’s lament. But do you really know what’s needed to keep your house in top form? There’s a lot of misinformation out there, and maintaining your home incorrectly could cause damage — to the building, its contents, and your wallet — in the future. Here are some of the biggest misconceptions.
MYTH Ceiling fans turn only one way.
“Some people have them in reverse mode by accident,” says Bill Stack, the energy-efficiency spokesman for the utility company NStar. In summer, make sure the fan pushes air down; in winter, change the rotation direction so that it draws air up. You’ll find the switch near the blades, or on the remote if you have one. “You should be able to tell which way is right just by standing underneath it,” Stack says.
MYTH You can test that your smoke detector is working by pushing the button.
All that tests is whether the alarm sound is working; it has nothing to do with whether the device itself will sense smoke. A better way to do your annual test is to hold a blown-out match or two under the unit. And remember to replace the batteries once or twice a year: Smoke detectors are installed in 58 percent of homes that have fatal fires, but they are working in only 37 percent of those fires.
MYTH You shouldn’t run the garbage disposal dry.
Tom Kraeutler, host of the New York-based syndicated home improvement radio show The Money Pit, used to be a home inspector, and when he tested the in-sink systems, he says, “usually someone would yell at me, ‘You can’t run that without water!’ ” He swears it’s not true. “They run perfectly well for hours on end,” Kraeutler says. “It’s just one of those silly things people think is true but it’s not.” Another myth is that simply throwing a lemon wedge into your disposal will keep it clean; lemon does smell good, but ice or baking soda and vinegar do a better job of scouring away any gunky buildup.
MYTH Duct tape is the best choice for sealing ducts.
“What everyone thinks of as duct tape is not efficient and will lose its adhesion in a few years,” says Brian Kimble, a department supervisor in the Natick Home Depot. The better choice is metal-foil tape or air-duct mastic.
MYTH Grass that turns brown is dead.
Not so, says Kraeutler. “It’s just dormant. It will come back if you don’t destroy it.”
MYTH If you cut your grass very short, you won’t have to mow as often.
According to the education nonprofit The Lawn Institute, grass that is mowed down to nothing “wants to rapidly grow back what it has lost.” This damages the root structure and makes your lawn more vulnerable to drought and heat.
MYTH The lower you set your thermostat, the faster your house will cool.
“Thermostats are dumb,” says Kraeutler. “They’ll just keep going till they hit that number, no faster.”
MYTH You shouldn’t turn the thermostat on the air conditioner up or the heat down when you go out.
There is some truth to this one, Kraeutler says, in that “if you turn the cooling or heating off then back on again, it will have to run longer than if it’s steady Eddie.” But really it’s a matter of — pardon the pun — degree. When you go to work, adjusting the temperature by just a small amount can save you some money and help the earth, and it won’t, as many people believe, make the unit “work harder” when you get home. When you’re gone for a few days or more, it’s a different story: Turn your AC off or your heat just high enough to keep the pipes from freezing.
MYTH Stone countertops are indestructible.
It depends on the material; marble and soapstone, for example, are softer stones and more susceptible to blemishes. But even granite countertops are billed as scratch- and heat-resistant — which is not quite the same thing as “impervious.” If you set a hot pan on a stone counter for more than a second or two, the stone can be scratched or scorched or expand, which might cause a depression that can’t be fixed without replacing the entire countertop. Acids, too, are bad for stone countertops; some household cleaners, for example, can dull the finish over time, and even orange juice and tomato sauce should be wiped up promptly.
MYTH Asbestos, mold, radon, and termites are catastrophes.
“Mold — sometimes it’s a big deal, sometimes it’s not,” says Kraeutler. Most types of mold are not dangerous to most people, and an area of less than 10 square feet is “considered a DIY project to remove,” according to Kraeutler. Asbestos, he says, does not have to be eliminated if there’s no chance it will become airborne — such as in unbroken siding. Radon can simply be vented away from the house, usually at a cost of less than $1,500. Termites can be controlled and the damage they do repaired, according to Jay Rizzo, a principal of Tiger Home Inspection in Braintree. All are almost always fixable. As Kraeutler puts it, “Don’t think the house is marked for life as a bad house.” Continued...