Wait! 5 Steps to Take Before Switching on the Air Conditioner

Signs of spring abound in the city. The temperature’s rising, the days are growing longer, and the snow has finally melted away.

Know what that means? Soon, it will be time again to fire up the air conditioner! But before you do that, you should ensure the unit is ready to operate efficiently.

Take these steps before switching on the air conditioner for the first time this spring.

Before You Begin

As a safety precaution, you should always shut the power to the air conditioner off before you inspect it. Turn off the condenser at the main panel or pull the outdoor disconnect for the unit on the outside wall.

Step 1: Inspect the Air Vents

The system must be able to draw and expel air unobstructed to run at peak efficiency. Anything blocking the air vents inside or outside the home will force the air conditioner to work harder and consume more energy.

Before switching on the air conditioner, give the air vents around your home a once-over inspection. Make sure all are opened.  Remove any blockages, open any dampers that are closed or move any furniture over grilles to make way for air to flow freely.

Step 2: Change or Clean the Air Filter

Once you’ve dealt with obstructions for the unit, it’s time to inspect the air conditioner’s filter.

Like a furnace, your air conditioner uses the same air filter to keep dust, debris, and airborne allergens (like pollen) from entering the unit. The air conditioner filter gets dirty fast, especially if you share your home with a few furry friends!

Most manufacturers recommend replacing the filter (or cleaning it, in the case of a reusable filter) at least once every three months. The top of the season is a great time to do this. Starting the year with a clean filter will help ensure the air conditioner performs at its best from the beginning.

Step 3: Check the Condenser

Next stop: the condenser unit. Pull on your rubber boots and head outside to assess the situation.

Located along one of the exterior walls is the air conditioner condenser unit, which resembles a fan in a large, metal box. Leaves and branches often accumulate in the condenser over the winter. Some unlucky homeowners have even found squirrels or rodents taking up residence there!

In any case, this debris will have to come out before you turn on the air conditioner. Debris around or inside the condenser can clog the coils, and anything that obstructs the flow of air will cut down on efficiency.

Once you’re sure the unit is off, you may detach the grilles to carefully remove debris and clean the coils. Be careful not to bend the delicate fins and coils. You can also wash the condenser with a hose and nozzle but do not use a pressure sprayer. Any stubborn debris that remains after a gentle cleaning is best left to a professional.

If there are trees and shrubs around the condenser unit, it’s worth investing in a protective cover that will keep it clean and tidy over the winter.

Step 4: Spot Wear on Pipes or Wiring

While you’re outside, take a moment to inspect the lines that run from the house to the air conditioner condenser. Are there any areas where insulation appears to be worn or missing? Are any frayed or damaged wires?

If it’s just the coolant line missing insulation, you may be able to repair it yourself with insulation tape or insulated pipe sleeves. However, any issues beyond that are worth a service call. Leave the air conditioner off until you’ve had it inspected.

Step 5: Test It Out!

Vents? Check. Filter? Check. Condenser? Check. If you don’t spot any issues, it’s time to turn on the breaker and set the thermostat to cool.

To test whether your air conditioner is working, go outside to check the condenser again. You should see the fan spinning and hear the compressor humming, and there should be warm air coming out of the unit.

Within 10 to 15 minutes, you should begin to feel the air inside your home drop to a comfortable temperature.

The Easier Route: Book a Tune-Up

It’s never too soon to book an air conditioner tune-up ahead of the cooling season. We’ll check each component of your cooling system to ensure it’s ready to perform when the weather gets hot.


Image: geographica

Century-Old Cleaning Hacks to Try This Spring

We could all use a little extra inspiration to take on the spring cleaning that lies ahead. Instead of buying expensive new cleaning gadgets, why not try something different? Our grandparents always give tried-and-true advice, and these spring cleaning hacks are no exception!

Wake Up Early and Plan Ahead

You can accomplish a lot if you get up just a little earlier each day to tackle your spring cleaning chores. We’re often tired by the end of the day, so it is a good idea to make a list and work through your tasks first thing in the morning.

Make Your Own Cleaning Products

Grandma didn’t have all the fancy cleaning supplies we use today. As it turns out, many items in your kitchen will clean your home as effectively and will be kinder to the environment than commercial products. Invest in a bottle of white vinegar and you can tackle a ton of cleaning projects around your home.

Windows are one of the biggest jobs on the spring cleaning list. You can make a perfect window-cleaner by mixing 1 cup of vinegar, 2 cups of water, ¼ cup of rubbing alcohol, and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. You can add several drops of orange or lemon essential oil for a nice scent.

But don’t stop there! You can use vinegar to clean your showerhead by pouring some into a small plastic bag and wrapping it around the fixture. Leave it overnight and wipe away any residue in the morning. You can also mix 1/2 cup vinegar with 1 cup of water and a generous squeeze of lemon juice for a countertop grease-and-grime cleaner.

Banish Dust

If your home is due for a duct cleaning, you may find yourself dealing with more than the usual amount of dust this season. Here are a few cleaning hacks to help you manage:

  • Always dust surfaces with a damp cloth. Add a few drops of essential oil such as orange, lemon, or lavender for a nice scent. Begin at the top and work your way down when cleaning.
  • Use an old pillowcase to clean dust from ceiling fan blades. Cover the blade with the pillowcase and you won’t get dirt and dust everywhere!
  • You can apply a small amount of car or floor wax to your air vents to help prevent dust from building up on the vent itself. However, that won’t do anything for the dust inside your vents — only a professional duct cleaning can effectively tackle that job.

Polish to a Shine

Extra virgin olive oil will do a great job of cleaning your leather furniture. If your pets have left tiny scratches, you can fill them with a little matching colour shoe polish. Mix some with a little lemon oil, and you’ve got yourself a furniture polish, too!

Maybe you were lucky to have inherited some silverware. Plain white toothpaste can polish that silver to a shine. White toothpaste will also clean the jewellery to a sparkle!

Get Rid of Bad Odours

Got musty odours in your closet? Hang a bundle of white chalk to chase away musty odours and dehumidify your closet. Got stinky shoes? Put half a fresh onion in a small bowl of water and place it near your shoes overnight. Believe it or not, the onion will absorb bad odours without leaving an onion scent.

Clean Toilets Overnight

Cleaning toilets isn’t anyone’s favorite task. Here’s an effortless way to clean them overnight while you are asleep! Sprinkle Borax in the toilet bowl, and then spray white vinegar over it. In the morning, just flush for a clean toilet.

Borax has incredible whitening and cleaning properties, and was used widely in the 19th century. You can also add some to your laundry for a boost and decrease the detergent you use.

Deodorize Carpets

Back in the day, it was common to lug rugs and carpets outside to give them a good whack with a broom to knock off the dust. But there is an easier way! You can remove nasty smells from your rugs and carpets by sprinkling baking soda over them for at least 15 minutes before vacuuming.

Welcome the Sunlight

Before dryers, all laundry was hung out on the line to dry. There is nothing finer than the smell of bed sheets that have dried on the clothes line. Take advantage of this natural dryer and save on your hydro bills!

Above all, if you’re not bothered by pollen, make sure to open your windows wide on those first warm sunny spring days and let all that fresh air in to your home. Fresh air is essential for ridding your home of bacteria, mildew and bad odours.


Image: geographica

Is Your Home Ready for Spring Floods? 6 Ways to Prepare

Spring is a time of year when many homes are at risk of flooding. Southern Ontario has already seen more its share of floods this past year, and officials in many areas are already warning residents to prepare for more.

Unfortunately for us, the conditions that lead to flooding are becoming more and more frequent in this part of the world. If the past few years have taught us anything, it’s that preparing for floods in Ontario is no longer simply a precaution; it’s a necessity.

Here are things you can do now to prepare for the spring melt and minimize the risk of flood damage to your home.

Shovel Snow Away from the House

When the snow around your house starts to melt, water can seep into the concrete foundation. That becomes a problem if the temperature suddenly drops. When this moisture freezes and the surrounding soil expands…crack! You’ve got a leak.

It pays to pick up the shovel and clear away any snow that has built up around the house, especially in stairwells and window wells.

Clean the Gutters and Downspouts

Between the melting snow and April showers, your gutters get a good workout in the spring. But they can’t do it with ice and debris weighing them down. These blockages will cause water to pool and run off the side of the house, damaging the roof and foundation.

You should also ensure the downspout extends far enough from the wall to let water drain away from the house.

Remember: never climb the ladder to clean your gutters unless you have even footing and proper safety equipment. If it’s not safe, this job is one best left to the professionals.

Clear Out Drains, Ditches and Catch Basins

Ditches, culverts, and catch basins can fill up with broken branches and other debris over the winter. If you can’t clear them yourself, you can do your part by calling your municipal services to let them know of the blockage. Taking this step will help ensure the drainage system on your street is best-prepared to deal with heavy rain and melting snow.

Check Your Sump Pump

Have you tested your sump pump lately? You’ll only need it in a worst-case-scenario, but you should make sure the pump is in good working order. Depending on how serious the flood risk, you may consider investing in backup battery power so the pump can continue to work in a power outage.

Stock Up on Clean Water

Homes in rural areas often rely on a well as their primary water source. These wells are at risk of contamination when a flood washes in. If your home uses well water, turn off the tap during a flood and stick to bottled water until you can test your well for contaminants.

Clear Out the Basement

Does your home have a high risk of flooding? If the answer is yes, there may be little you can do to stem the coming tide. But you can minimize the damage and make the potential clean-up safer.

First, cut the power to the basement, and clear out any sharp objects or chemical products that could pose a hazard. You should also remove any food, furniture, or other objects you wish to salvage from the basement. After a flood, it is best to throw away any food that has come in contact with flood water, even if the container is sealed or the food is dry. Any objects made from wood or textiles will be difficult to save once they’ve been through a flood.

Finally, if you live in town, inspect the backflow valve to ensure it will shut automatically in the event of a sewer backup.


Image: Anna Nikonorova

5 Steps to Keeping Pets Safe in Freezing Temperatures

Dogs and cats may be furry, but that doesn’t mean they can face winter alone. Frostbite and hypothermia are just as much as concern for animals as for you and I.

Here are five steps that will help to keep pets safe in freezing temperatures.

1. Don’t Leave Your Pet Outside During Extreme Cold

This one seems like common sense, but it’s easy to become busy and forget just how fast the temperature drops this time of year. Aside from bathroom breaks, dogs should not spend an extended period away from the warmth of your home in freezing temperatures. Cats who ordinarily spend much of the time outdoors will have to live the life of a house-cat until the weather warms.

If you must walk your dog, keep it short and never let them off-leash. It is all too easy for a dog to run off and get lost when the visibility is poor. Frostbite can harm ears and paws quite easily, and both young and elderly animals are at particular risk of death from prolonged exposure to cold.

If you bathe your pet, make sure they are completely dry before venturing outside.

2. Don’t Rely on Dog Houses to Provide Protection

A dog house will not keep your pet sufficiently warm. While it might provide a moderate degree of protection from harsh winds, these flimsy structures do not shield the animal from extremes in temperature. Even if your pet customarily sleeps outdoors, let them stay inside this time of year.

3. Use Sweaters and Coats

Even if you are only letting your dog out to relieve itself, take the time to dress them in a coat or sweater. While this is particularly important with short-haired breeds, it really should apply to all dogs for safety’s sake (ease off on the clipping until springtime). Bring a towel along to dry off any other spots on the animal that get wet.

4. Use Paw Protection

Your pet’s paws need protection. Not only is the cold bad for them, but the salt we use to melt ice can also burn their paws.

You can buy small, pull-on booties to protect your dog’s paws from salt and help keep them warm. If booties are not available, use petroleum jelly instead. Trim any excess fur around the dog’s foot to prevent ice sticking in between their pads.

Once inside, wash the dog’s paws with water and check the pads and between toes for inflamed or cracked areas. If you find salt anywhere else, clean those spots as well.

5. Don’t Leave Pets in the Car

We all know the dangers of leaving dogs and cats inside cars during the height of summer, but the same holds true this time of year. An unattended vehicle will trap the cold inside and become the equivalent of an icebox in no time. Limit winter car rides as much as you can, and if you must take your pets along for a ride, never leave them alone in the vehicle


Image: Jaromír Chalabala

7 Things Your Winter Storm Kit Needs

Winter storms are a fact of life here in Ontario. Each year, Mother Nature brings us at least one wallop of a storm that knocks out the power, sends trees toppling, and glazes the roads with a slick sheet of ice.

That’s why your home should have a winter storm kit with essentials to keep your family safe through an extended power outage.

Most of the things your kit requires are inexpensive and easy to find. Here’s what you need to make a basic winter storm kit for your home.

1. Water

We take for granted the fact that we have clean drinking water available to us on demand. That’s not always the case after a winter storm. Water pipes can freeze and burst in freezing temperatures; storms can force stores to close, or the sudden demand can dry up their supply of bottled water.

A winter storm kit should include at least six litres of drinking water for each member of your household, or two litres per person for three days. Be aware that sweet beverages like pop and juice are no substitute for water, as the sugar and caffeine will increase your thirst rather than quench it.

2. Food

A power outage limits your options when it comes to cooking. Not everyone has a wood stove, and it is never safe to use a gas or charcoal stove indoors. If the storm shuts down your local restaurants and grocery stores, you could find yourself without much to eat.

In the event of a winter storm, you should have at least three days of food that doesn’t spoil. Good options include canned meats, canned fruits or vegetables, energy bars, dehydrated foods, peanut butter, and cereal.

As for the food in your refrigerator and freezer? An unopened fridge should keep food cold for about four hours; a full freezer will stay frozen for about two days, while a half-full freezer will keep for one day. If you’ve thought about placing food outside in the snow to keep it cold, think again; the sun’s rays can thaw it even in frigid temperatures.

3. Flashlight

These days, many people use their cell phone’s flashlight application instead of a real flashlight. That won’t do in a winter storm, as you’ll want to save your phone’s battery life to keep in touch. Instead, your kit needs a wind-up or battery-power flashlight. An energy-efficient LED flashlight will usually last the longest.

4. Emergency Cell Phone Charger

Cellular phone networks are typically more reliable than landline phones in the midst of a fierce winter storm. But a cell phone is only useful if it has power. Given how quickly these devices’ batteries can drain, you should have an alternative method of charging your cell phone when the power goes out.

Solar and wind-up chargers are an option, as are portable power banks. Another way to charge a cell phone during a power outage is with a car charger. Having an emergency charging option will help you stay connected to the outside world while you’re hunkering down.

5. Wrench or Pliers

Do you know how to shut off the gas to your home? What about the water? Knowing how to cut the utilities can be vital in some winter storm emergencies, like a burst pipe or structural damage.

Your winter storm kit should include a pair of pliers or a wrench you can use to turn the shutoff valves for your gas and water connections. Of course, these aren’t very helpful unless you know how to use them. Take time to learn how to cut the connections in case of emergencies.

6. First Aid Kit

Most people who invest in a first aid kit will (fortunately) never have to use it. But that doesn’t make it any less important. Help may not reach you as quickly when the road conditions are bad, and a power outage increases the risk of minor injuries like scrapes and falls.  The Canadian Red Cross sets out a list of must-have items in a first aid kit here.

7. Spare Blankets

Warmth is as essential as food and water. Even if you have an alternative heat source (such as a wood stove or a space heater), your winter storm kit needs to include warm, dry blankets for everyone in your family. The extra layer of insulation can make a huge difference in their safety and comfort.

Image: Kulkaan75

What Everyone Needs to Know About Their Gas Fireplace

Much as we complain about winter here in Ontario, there are some upsides to frosty weather. Cozy fires are one of them. A fireplace can be a comfortable heat source and a fond gathering place, and gas fireplaces offer both benefits at the click of a button.

But many people aren’t sure what to think when it comes to gas fireplace safety. Are gas fireplaces safe? Are they environmentally friendly?

Here are 8 things everyone should know about their gas fireplace.

1. Safety Screens are a Must-Have

Many gas fireplaces have a tempered glass window to provide a view of the flames within. Though this glass can withstand high temperatures, its surface becomes extremely hot.

The glass window of a gas fireplace can reach a temperature of 200°C (400°) within only six minutes of the fireplace roaring to life and can remain hot to the touch over an hour after it turns off. At this temperature, burns can occur in a split second. The glass is especially dangerous to young children, who are naturally curious about fire and may not understand the risk.

Safety screens are a critical part of gas fireplace safety. Since 2015, all gas fireplaces sold in Canada with a glass front must come with an attachable safety screen. But many older models lack this important safety feature. Safety screens are a must-have purchase for anyone who has a gas fireplace in their home.

2. Be Careful When Cleaning

Like any surface in the home, the fireplace’s glass window can use a good cleaning from time to time. However, you should always follow the manufacturer’s guidance on how to clean it properly. An important rule of thumb when it comes to cleaning a gas fireplace is never wipe the glass with a damp cloth while it’s hot, as doing so can cause the glass to crack.

3. Not All Gas Fireplaces Are Equal

On the whole, gas fireplaces are clean and energy efficient. They produce far less carbon monoxide and other emissions than their traditional wood-burning counterparts. But not all gas fireplaces are equal.

There are important distinctions between gas fireplace models that impact their efficiency and performance. Some gas fireplaces are classified as ‘decorative,’ while others are heaters by design. Be sure to note the difference when comparing gas fireplace efficiency ratings.

4. Keep Flammable Materials Away

One of the perks of choosing gas over a wood-burning fireplace is the absence of red-hot sparks. However, just because the fire cannot escape doesn’t mean it presents no hazard.

The fireplace’s glass, metal, and ceramic components reach extreme temperatures during use. Some objects can ignite if left too close.

You should leave at least three feet of space between a gas fireplace and flammables like furniture, curtains, pet beds, or rugs. Use caution when it comes to decorating the mantle for holidays; always follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Never place or hang anything on the fireplace that isn’t meant to be there.

5. Bigger is Not Always Better

Nothing is cozier than a roaring fire. But when it comes to heating a home, bigger isn’t always better. A high-output fireplace in a small room can cause discomfort rather than coziness.

There are many factors to consider in choosing the ideal size of gas fireplace, including the home’s layout, insulation, airtightness, and other heat sources. Taking these issues into account, a well-located fireplace can meet up to half a home’s heating demand.

6. Beware of Carbon Monoxide

Gas fireplaces are safe. But as with all gas appliances, they do produce carbon monoxide. If something goes wrong, carbon monoxide put the home’s occupants at risk.

It’s not always easy to tell when theres a carbon monoxide leak. Carbon monoxide has no colour, smell, or taste, and the early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are subtle. Therefore, carbon monoxide detectors are a critical part of gas fireplace safety, even if you don’t use the fireplace often. Ensure your home has at least one on each floor.

 7. Don’t Use It During Renovations

Planning to undertake a home renovation this winter? Avoid using your gas fireplace during that time.

Drywall dust and other debris can accumulate and cause fan, motor, or burner damage. Plus, it’s never wise to have the fireplace on when there are flammable materials like drop cloths and paint cans nearby.

8. Get an Annual Tune-Up

Overall, gas fireplaces are safe and energy-efficient. But like all parts of your heating and cooling system, they require service to perform at their best. The best way to guarantee your unit runs safely and at peak efficiency is to schedule a fireplace inspection with a professional. A skilled technician will also polish the inside of the glass and clean the fans to ensure good circulation.


Image: Paul Maguire

Helping Others Is In Our DNA – You Can Help AtlasCare Give Back

When he opened the doors to Atlas Service Co. on Toronto’s Yorkville Avenue in 1932, Harry L. Bach had a modest vision: to provide an honest, reliable service for customers he cared about, while doing his best to care for the community around him.

Today, we still do our best at AtlasCare to give back those in our community who could use a helping hand.

Harry’s Story

Harry went into business at the dawn of the Great Depression. No-one knew how long it would last. To survive, Harry knew people would need to come together and help one another.

This was back in a time when “corporate social responsibility” was not a marketing term, and “giving back” was not a way for businesses to define their brands. Harry and his wife Grace helped others simply because that’s who they were and what they believed was right.

Along the way, Harry and Grace created a strong and trusted company, which would grow to become one of central Ontario’s largest and most respected independent indoor home comfort specialists. I was honoured to eventually purchase Atlas in 1986.

Our Commitment to Care

Much has changed in our industry in the past 85 years. Harry would probably be perplexed by the sophisticated computer systems and technologies that go into a modern furnace, boiler or air conditioner. However, he would certainly recognize those core values of honest service and care for the community.

Those values remain so embedded into our DNA that when we updated the company’s brand in 2008, it was only natural that we evolve our name just slightly – from Atlas to AtlasCare

It was such a small yet critically important change. I hear from our customers nearly every day that our team lives by that promise to provide care.

It makes me proud, and I know it would make Harry proud.

AtlasCare Gives Back

This month, we are especially proud to bring back the Care to Share program. In honour of Harry’s legacy over 85 years, we’re giving away $8,500 to charities in our community.

Care to Share is a way for our customers, employees and neighbours to tell us about the great work of charities that mean something to them. By taking no more than one minute to complete our nomination form, you could help a cause close to your heart receive a donation of $1,000, $2,500 or even $5,000.

Take a moment to nominate a charity you care about. Our nomination period is only open until November 30th, so please don’t put this off. We’d love to see their name drawn for one of our donations.

It’s one small way for us to honour Harry’s fine legacy.

Image: highwaystarz

AtlasCare Celebrating 85th Anniversary By Giving $8,500 To Charity

If there is a charity that’s close to your heart, you can give them a chance to land $5,000.

Today, heating and air quality contractor AtlasCare launched Care to Share on its website and social media channels. The project invites employees, customers and community members to nominate as many different charities as they wish during the month of November. In a random draw, three charities will receive a cash donation of $1,000, $2,500 or $5,000. The unrestricted gift means the winning charities can allocate the funds as they see fit.

“We’ve reached an incredible milestone at AtlasCare. It has taken hard work with plenty of ups and downs, but one constant has been our commitment to providing meaningful care for our customers and community. This seemed like a logical way to celebrate our birthday,” says president Michael Grochmal.

Anyone can nominate a registered Canadian charity that serves the local market by completing a brief form on the company’s website – mybosco.com/care2share until November 30th at 11:59pm. Three winners will be drawn by December 6, with charities receiving their cheques before the holidays.


5 Hidden Fire Hazards in Your Home

Home is where most of us truly feel safe, but have you thought about just how safe your home actually is? While almost all of us think about the obvious hazards and have basic safeguards in place for them, many fires result from threats that the owners had not even considered.

Here are five hidden fire hazards in your home.

  1. Dryer Vent

Most people clean out the lint trap on the clothes dryer after every load. Unfortunately, that is not the only place that lint accumulates…and you can’t see or easily reach it.

As your clothes dry, lint that does not end up in the trap collects in the duct work and dryer vent hose. This reduces the unit’s efficiency and means more electricity to properly complete the task. However, the real concern is that lint is quite flammable and near sources of heat inside the machine. Thus, the more lint that builds up, the greater the risk.

Have a professional clean out the duct work and dryer vent hose annually. If possible, go with an aluminum hose rather than plastic, as the latter can also be a fire risk.

  1. Unattended Cooking

When people hear of kitchen fires, they probably think of cluttered and greasy food preparation areas in restaurants on the verge of being closed by the health department. In reality, even the cleanest, most well-organized kitchen in the world can be a fire hazard if left unattended during cooking.

Do not ever leave cooking alone for more than a very short period of time. Pots can overflow and spill their red-hot contents on the countertop or floor, food can burn and ignite objects nearby, and children or animals can move things close to active burners. Try to do your stovetop cooking at a time when distractions are minimal or non-existent.

  1. Retro Appliances

Many people enjoy shopping for old appliances at antique malls and garage sales. In an age when so many products are plastic and uniform in appearance, vintage things seem to have so much more character and visual appeal. Unfortunately, because they come from an earlier age, these machines do not represent the safety standards that we expect from products made nowadays.

Old appliances can easily overheat and start fires, thanks to old, frayed wiring. Have these re-wired to modern standards or use them only as unplugged conversation pieces.

  1. Hidden Electrical Cords

Speaking of frayed wires, we all know not to overload electrical outlets, but have you thought about electrical cords that are not in plain sight? Some homes use extension cords that are hidden under carpeting and constantly stepped on, leading them to fray and become dangerous. Also, some cords become looped or tangled, which eventually leads to the same problem.

It is a good idea to inspect your electrical wiring annually. Frayed wires can lead to fires start behind walls and dramatically spread before detection.

  1. Overheated Electronics

Many people like to have gaming systems and computers but don’t necessarily like the clutter that can go along with them. There is a danger to having such electronics hidden away in entertainment centres or closets: overheating and possible fire.

Arrange your electronics so that they have ample ventilation, and be sure to clean them periodically to remove dust, which can lead to clogging and overheating.

Image: porpeller