Category Archives: Home Building

Heating and Cooling Systems

Central Cooling

The most common central cooling system is a split system, which includes an outdoor cabinet containing a condenser coil and compressor, and an indoor evaporator coil, usually installed in conjunction with your furnace or air handler. The compressor pumps a chemical called refrigerant through the system.  Heat is transferred from air in your home to the refrigerant in the evaporator coil, thus “cooling” the air. Your cooling system is usually combined with your central heating system because they share the same ductwork for distributing conditioned air throughout your home.

Central Heating

Central heating systems have a primary heating appliance, such as a furnace, typically located in your basement or garage. All furnaces consist of four main components:

  1. Burners that deliver and burn fuel
  2. Heat exchangers
  3. A blower
  4. A flue that acts as an exhaust for gaseous by-products.

Depending on your situation, region, and needs, you can choose from heating systems running on either gas or oil as fuel, or a hybrid packaged system that can use both fuel types. Air from your home blows across the heat exchanger to be warmed. It is then blown through a system of ducts to distribute around your home. During warm seasons, your heating system works with your central air conditioning. Air is cooled as it is blown over your air conditioning unit’s cooling coil and then sent through the same air ducts through your home.

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps are designed to move heat energy from one location to another.  They typically pull heat out of the air or ground to heat a home or building, but they can be reversed to cool a building.  They transfer heat very much like air conditioning units transfer heat with refrigerant. One of the biggest advantages of a heat pump is there’s no need to install separate systems to heat and cool your home.  In moderate climates, heat pumps work very efficiently because they simply transfer heat, rather than burn fuel to create it.

System Efficiency

Heating and cooling systems are rated according to their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). SEER indicates the relative amount of energy needed to provide a specific cooling output. Many older systems have SEER ratings of 6 or less. Look for the ENERGY STAR® and EnergyGuide labels — qualified central units are about 15% more efficient than standard models.

Air Conditioning Troubleshooting Tips

  • Check to make sure your thermostat is set in the “cool” position.
  • Ensure that your outdoor air conditioning (condensing unit) is running:
  • Check the circuit breakers in the circuit breaker box (or electrical panel), most likely mounted to an outside wall in the back of the house. Are they in the “ON” position?
  • Check the outdoor unit “disconnect switch” to make sure it is in the “ON” position. The disconnect switch is located near the outdoor unit. (Typically, a grey 8″ wide x 6″ high x 4″ deep box mounted to the wall).
  • Ensure that the blower motor in your air conditioner is running. (If the thermostat is in the “cool” position, the air conditioner blower should be running.) If it’s not, check to make sure the on/off switch on the air conditioner is in the “ON” position. Sometimes a switch is located at the top of basement steps.
  • Be sure that you have changed your filter in the air conditioner recently. Your filter should be changed every month.
  • Check all return air grilles to make sure they are not blocked by furniture.
  • Check all supply air registers to make sure they are open and blowing air. (The return air grilles are normally located on your walls and are wide and flat).

Gas Furnace Troubleshooting Tips

  • Check to make sure that your thermostat is set in the “heat” position.
  • Make sure that the temperature setting on the thermostat is set above (or higher than) the indoor temperature showing on the thermostat.
  • Ensure that there is power to the furnace: Try turning the fan to “ON” using the fan switch on the thermostat to test for power to furnace.
  • Check the circuit breakers at the electrical panel to make sure they are in the “ON” position.
  • Check the SSU switch (it looks like a light switch on a gray box located at the furnace) to be sure it is in the “ON” position.
  • Replace the furnace filter if needed. All 1-inch thick furnace filters should be replaced monthly.  Purolator 2-inch-thick and other high-capacity pleated filters can most likely be changed every other month; 6 times per year.
  • If the system is running but you have not changed your filter, the filter may need to be replaced.
  • Check all return air grilles to make sure they are not blocked by furniture.
  • Check all supply air registers to make sure they are open and blowing air. (The return air grilles are normally located on your walls and are wide and flat).

Heat Pump Troubleshooting Tips

  • Check thermostat settings. Is the heat pump set on the desired mode and temperature?
  • Ensure the unit has power and breakers have not been flipped.
  • Clean or replace the air filter in the indoor air handler.
  • Ensure the outdoor unit is not blocked and has free airflow on all sides.
  • Your heat pump may need a tune-up. Having your heat pump serviced regularly by a professional, qualified HVAC technician can provide higher efficiency operation and more reliable comfort. One service typically offered during routine maintenance is cleaning your outdoor coil. If the coil is extremely dirty, your system may have trouble keeping up with demand.

Call an HVAC Technician

If you’re not comfortable troubleshooting, or attempts to find the issue don’t resolve the problem, it’s time to call a trained HVAC technician. Some HVAC issues are best left to the experts.  Frozen coils, water leaks in an indoor unit, an outdoor unit that will not shut off, and strange and/or loud noises are a few examples that call for a pro. Calling an HVAC technician will ensure that your repair is done safely and correctly the first time, reducing the risk of needing more costly repairs down the road.

Choosing Insulation for Your New Home

Building a new home is an exciting process, but the many decisions that come with it can feel overwhelming. When you’re comparing options, it may not always be easy to determine which option is the best for your family. That’s where we come in. We help you get through the process with as little stress as possible.

There are several options for home insulation. In this article, we’re going to break down the types we recommend for our North Carolina homeowners and why it matters.

Why Insulation is Important

Building insulation is material added to exterior walls, attics, basements, and crawl spaces to create a thermal barrier for the house. It’s important because it provides protection from outside conditions. It blocks outside heat when it’s warm, and traps inside warmth when it’s cold. This makes your home more comfortable and it’s cost-efficient because it conserves energy.

R-Value

The effectiveness of insulation is measured with an R-value. R-values indicate how well a specific type of insulation protects from heat transfer. Things like an insulation material’s density and thickness will affect its R-value. A higher R-value will provide more protection than a lower one.

Types of Insulation

We recommend one of these four types of insulation for our new homeowners.  They are listed below from highest rating to lowest rating.

Spray Foam Insulation

Spray foam insulation is the most protective of the insulation types recommended for Horizons East Homes.  It is more costly than other options, but delivers these key benefits in return:

  • Highest R-value per inch on the market (R-6).
  • 40% more airtight than other insulations and provides an excellent moisture barrier.
  • Designated flood-resistant material by FEMA
Blown-in Insulation

This cellulose (wood or paper-based) product is often made from up to 85% recycled materials and can be considered eco-friendly.  It’s less expensive than spray foam and provides these benefits:

  • Also called loose fill, it conforms to spaces and provides good airflow sealing
  • Treated with Borates, a Class-1 fire retardant
  • Typically rated around 3.5, comparable to fiberglass
  • Quick and easy to install, but if it becomes wet, it’s slow to dry.
Spider Insulation

Spider insulation is a fiberglass system that is sprayed into spaces in a damp form, using a mold-resistant glue.  More economical than the two previous types, it provides these benefits:

  • Fills spaces and gaps well
  • No dry times or settling times
  • Resists mold growth
Batting Insulation

One of the most common and inexpensive options for insulating a home, this is a good option if you’re looking to keep costs within budget and have a durable solution in place.

  • Fiberglass insulation batts are cut to size and installed between studs or joists
  • Durable, moisture and fire resistant
  • Lower R-value

If you’re looking to build in North Carolina, our team is happy to help. For more homeowner tips, visit our blog.

How to Care for Your Countertops

How to Protect Your Countertops

There are some general rules of thumb you can follow to protect your countertops, no matter which type you have.

  • Wipe away spills as soon as possible, especially if spilled food is acidic or has coloring or dyes
  • Avoid standing or sitting on stone countertops
  • Always use a cutting board when preparing food
  • Use trivets to protect your counters from hot dishes while cooking

How to Clean Your Countertops

Granite

Granite is one of the most popular choices for kitchen counters. It is resistant to bacteria, comes in a wide variety of styles and colors, and is a beautiful addition to any new home.

  • Clean daily with warm soap, water, and a microfiber cloth or sponge
  • If stained, make a paste out of baking soda and water and use a microfiber cloth to remove the stain – don’t scrub
  • Don’t use vinegar, windex, or bleach on granite (this will dull the granite and weaken the sealant)
  • Plan on having a professional reseal your granite countertops every 2-4 years

Quartz

This increasingly popular option is engineered to be durable and doesn’t require a sealant because it is nonporous.

  • As one of the easiest countertops to care for, quartz resists stains and scratches, and is not negatively affected by acidic foods.
  • Clean daily with warm soap, water, and a microfiber cloth or sponge
  • Gently scrape any excess buildup of dirt or food with a putty knife
  • Don’t use bleach or harsh chemicals because it may damage the surface

Cultured Marble

Cultured marble is a more affordable counter option than natural stone and it beautifully imitates natural marble. Like quartz, cultured marble is manufactured to be durable and doesn’t require a sealant.

  • Clean daily with warm soap, water, and a microfiber cloth or sponge
  • For gloss finishes, completely avoid abrasives
  • For matte finishes, abrasives are ok when you’re trying to get rid of a stain
    • If stained, make a paste out of baking soda and water and use a microfiber cloth to remove the stain – don’t scrub
  • To maintain the surface’s shine, apply a protective coat of wax every few months

Formica (Laminate)

 The most common brand of laminate countertops is Formica. With laminate countertops, you have more freedom in choosing cleaning products and they are typically easier to maintain than natural stone countertops.

  • Clean daily with warm soap, water, or household cleaner and a microfiber cloth or sponge
  • Avoid acidic cleansers or bleach
  • If stained, make a paste out of baking soda and water and use a microfiber cloth to remove the stain – don’t scrub

If you’re not sure which type of countertop you have, regular dish soap and water will work on almost any surface. The most important thing you can do is clean spills right away to avoid long-term staining or damage to the surface’s finish. Also always avoid scouring pads if you’re unsure of your counter’s surface.

If your countertops are shiny, they are likely sealed so you should avoid using harsh abrasives. You can use baking soda and water for tough spots rather than a scouring pad, but we recommend taking it slow and being careful not to scrub.

For more home maintenance tips, visit our blog.

Homeowner’s Guide to Concrete

Concrete is composed of water, aggregate (rocks and sand), and cement which acts as a binder.

Expansion, Contraction and Cracking Concrete

All building materials expand and contract when exposed to changes in temperature. Concrete expands when temperatures rise and contracts when temperatures fall. Whether it’s a front porch or a highway, concrete expands and contracts along with weather changes and that can lead to cracks. Concrete is extremely strong, which is great for construction, but because it is so strong and the concrete cannot flex during temperature changes, it must crack. It is normal to expect some amount of cracking in any concrete project.

Homebuilders and concrete masons do everything they can to prevent the cracks from forming by placing concrete joints in each project. These joints (like the spaces you see in sidewalks) are meant to help control cracking by encouraging the concrete to crack along specific lines.

Types of Concrete Finishes

If you’re looking to use concrete for your driveway, porch, or slab foundation, there are several options for you to choose from.

Slick Finished Concrete

Usually used for garage floors, slick finished concrete has a smooth surface and like its name suggests, is slick. This option is popular for big box stores and other retail spaces because it is easy to clean.

Broom Finished Concrete

Broom finished concrete is quite literally textured by dragging a special broom across the concrete’s surface while it dries. This effect is visually appealing and provides great traction.

Exposed Aggregate

This finish exposes the little rocks used in the formation of the concrete. A solution is used to remove the top layer of cement and smaller sand particles, revealing the rocks beneath. It provides a decorative look and adds traction.

Stamped Concrete

Stamped concrete is a beautiful finish that is created using large rubber mat stamps in a variety of shapes and patterns. It is a nice option for patios and around pools.

How to Prevent Cracks

Like all driveway paving material, there is some maintenance that should be done if you’re looking to extend the life of your concrete driveways and porches. The best things you can do for your driveway are to seal, clean, and reapply sealer as needed. Sealer helps keep water from seeping into your driveway and then freezing and expanding. We recommend sealing your concrete driveway every two years or so.

In the winter months, it is helpful to use sand for traction rather than deicing chemicals or salt. Harsh chemicals and salt can both cause damage of your porch or driveway’s surface.

If you’d like to learn more about home construction and maintenance, our blog has some great guides.

How Season Changes Affect Your New Home

Image: Wayfair

There is a big learning curve if you’re a first-time homebuyer. We’re here to help you learn the basics of home maintenance so that you can spend less time stressing about how to care for your home and more time doing the things you love in your new space.  One of the first things we tell our North Carolina homebuyers is that seasons have a significant impact on your house. Here we explain how and why that happens.

Expansion and Contraction

Every home deals with the unfortunate phenomenon of expansion and contraction. Changes in temperature cause the materials used to build homes to expand in warmer weather and contract in colder weather. This is true of concrete, siding, wood, etc.

Humidity  

Humidity also causes home maintenance issues. For example, fluctuations in humid air causes wood to swell when humidity is high and shrink when humidity is low. This can affect your doors, baseboards, wood floors, handrails, mantles, and cabinets.

Seasonal Décor

This may be surprising, but seasonal home décor can actually do some damage to your house. For example, large, heavy wreaths can cause your doors to come out of alignment. Hanging up your holiday lights can also damage gutters or shingles (and eventually lead to roof leaks).

Common Problems

These are some common problems homeowners face due to season changes:

  • Slight cracks around windows
  • Drywall nail pops
    • A nail pop is slight bump in a wall where the nail has worked itself to the surface
  • Driveway cracks
  • Slight drywall cracking where boards or corners meet
  • Sticking doors

What You Can do

It’s important to keep in mind that minor shrinkage and swelling is unavoidable. A normal amount of wear and tear on a home should be expected throughout the year and especially as seasons change. Even so, there are a few preventative measures you can take.

  • Try to keep the house at an even temperature all year
  • Manage humidity by using your exhaust fans and monitoring indoor relative humidity with a hygrometer
  • Clean and seal/reseal your driveway every few years
  • In the winter months use sand on your driveway for traction rather than salt or chemicals
  • Avoid placing overhead wreath hangers on your doors, use command hooks instead – over the door hangers, wreaths, and other door decor can cause doors to come out of alignment and not shut properly
  • Try using light clips to avoid puncturing or lifting roof shingles while placing holiday lights

We suggest consulting with a licensed and experienced contractor for any issues as they arise. If you’d like more home maintenance tips, check out our blog.

Laminate vs. Luxury Vinyl Floor Comparison

 

If you’re looking for the right flooring for your home, you may be wondering what the difference between laminate and luxury vinyl is. Laminate and luxury vinyl can both look like hardwood, ceramic tile, or even stone at a more affordable price point. So, what’s the difference? We’ll lay it out for you here:

Laminate

Laminate comes in planks and uses the floating method of installation. Laminate can be installed over wood subfloors or concrete floors. This means it can be installed on any level of the home, including the basement. Laminate can be cleaned with a broom, dry mop, or steam mop. Wet mops are not recommended because laminate is susceptible to water damage. For this reason, it is not suitable for areas with high levels of moisture, which could warp or permanently damage the flooring. Laminate is fade-resistant and comes in a variety of styles, textures, and colors.

Luxury Vinyl

Because luxury vinyl is made of vinyl, it has a firm and elastic construction. Luxury vinyl comes in tiles and planks, so it’s sometimes called LVT or LVP. Either one can be installed using floating or glue methods. Like Laminate, luxury vinyl can be installed over wood subfloors or concrete floors. This means it can be installed on any level of the home, including the basement. Unlike laminate, wet mops are okay to use on vinyl because it is water-resistant.

Luxury vinyl is quieter and softer underfoot. To help these floors last, close blinds and curtains during peak sunlight hours. Luxury vinyl is susceptible to heat from the sun’s rays so keeping the blinds closed protects the structural integrity of the vinyl. Luxury vinyl is resistant to stains, water, mold, and mildew, making it a great option for bathrooms and basements. Some Luxury vinyl options are even completely waterproof. It also comes in a wide variety of styles, textures, and colors.

At Horizons East, we recommend luxury vinyl plank for your home because it’s more durable, more family and pet friendly, and comes in a wider variety of styles.

20 Terms Homebuilders Use

Jargon in any industry can be confusing. This is true for the construction industry as well. If you’re interested in building a home, here are 20 terms homebuilders use to help you have a seamless home building experience.

  1. Spec Home – a “speculative” home that a building company constructs without a purchase contract with the hopes of selling once they’ve started. Some spec homes are complete; others can still be personalized with the buyers’ choices for finishes and fixtures.
  2. Lot – a measured amount of property (land) with fixed boundaries.
  3. Survey – a land survey determines the boundaries of a person’s land.
  4. Framing – the process of putting up a house’s frame which is the supporting structure that acts as the skeleton of a house.
  5. Plumbing Rough-In – the stage of construction where plumbing systems are installed before walls and ceilings are closed.
  6. Footings – these are concrete and rebar reinforcements to support a home’s foundation
  7. Punch List – a to-do list created by the general contractor, project manager, or homebuyers of things that need to be fixed by the contractor. A punch list would include things like missing trim or paint touch-ups
  8. Split Level – a house in which various sections of the floor plan have different floor and ceilings heights.
  9. Balusters – The vertical posts in stair railings
  10. Amore edge – a decorative edge of a countertop
  11. Fireplace surround – the structure or decorative finish around a fireplace
  12. Slab Foundation – a concrete “slab” foundation is a flat, level base of a home
  13. Drywall– also called plasterboard, gypsum board, and sheetrock, drywall is a large building material used in the construction of interior walls and ceilings
  14. Tray Ceiling – also called an inverted or recessed ceiling, a tray ceiling is a decorative ceiling design with a raised section that resembles an upside-down tray.
  15. Wainscoting – paneled wooden lining of an interior wall, usually the lower three or four feet, which differs from the top portion of the wall.
  16. Board and Batten – a type of wainscoting with vertical wood boards spaced evenly around a room.
  17. Builder Warranty – many builders offer a one-year warranty on materials and a ten-year warranty on structural issues. New homebuyers will also have warranties provided by manufacturers and other service providers such as roof warranties, pest control warranties, or appliance warranties.
  18. Certificate of Occupancy – a certificate issued after all inspections have been made by the local jurisdiction establishing that a home can be occupied. Until the CO is issued, no one can move into a new home.
  19. Change Order – a written document that modifies the original plans for the home’s features, floor plan, or finishes. Change orders may add to the price of the home and the length of time it takes to build it.
  20. Closing – also called the “settlement”, closing is the final step in the home financing process. Closing day is when all papers are signed and the ownership of the property transfers from one owner to the next.

We hope this helps you with your home building journey. If you’d like to learn more about the home building process, you can contact us here.

 

Hand of a carpenter pointing at a wood plank destroyed by termites isolated on white

Termites and Your New Home

 

There are two words no homeowner wants to hear: termite damage. Discover why having termites can be so costly; make sure your new home is protected and that you’re doing everything you can to prevent an infestation in the future.

Termite Damage

For many people, purchasing a home is their largest investment. Termites can literally eat their way through that investment, causing thousands of dollars in damage per home. There are several different types of termites and they can attack your home from different entry points. They feed on wood, but they can also consume plant-based materials like fabric and wallpaper.

What makes termites especially unnerving is that they can go undetected for years. By the time they’re found, the damage may already be done.

According to the National Pest Management Association, termites cause more than $5 billion in documented damage each year. Some damage may go unreported however, because homeowner’s insurance doesn’t typically cover termite damage. Those without a warranty through an exterminating company will be paying out of pocket and not through a documented claims process.

Pre-construction Termite Treatment

To protect your new home, a preconstruction termite treatment is applied by an exterminating company. This pretreatment establishes a warranty with that exterminating company. After closing, the homeowner keeps up the warranty with the exterminating company and they work together to keep termites out of their new home.

A termite warranty is an agreement between an exterminating company and a homeowner. Typically, the homeowner pays for a yearly inspection and the exterminating company provides treatment and control if termites are discovered. The warranty may also provide protection if termites are found. This would include either repair of damages or a retreatment covered by the warranty. For a termite warranty to remain valid, the homeowner must keep up with yearly inspections.

In addition to a termite warranty, there are steps you can take to prevent an infestation in your home:

  • Reduce food sources
    • Store firewood away from the house
    • Keep landscaping mulch at least six inches away from your foundation OR replace mulch with a cellulose-free option
  • Remove access
    • Seal off all entry points including cracks, crevices, and gaps around pipes with caulk, foam, or weather stripping
    • Keep hedges and trees trimmed at least 18 inches away from the home
  • Reduce Excess Moisture
    • Reduce moisture in and around your home
    • Repair leaky faucets, pipes, and AC units
    • Ensure downspouts and gutters are working properly
  • Know the Signs
    • Inspect lumber before your DIY project
    • Routinely inspect the foundation of your home for signs of mud tubes
    • Keep your eye out for swarmers – these termites have wings and they look like flying ants

With a good termite warranty in place and a little preventative care, your investment in your new home will be protected and enjoyed for years to come.