Do my air ducts need cleaning?

Do my air ducts need cleaning?

Do my air ducts need cleaning?

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Whether you are heating your home in the winter or cooling it in the summer, almost all of the air that you and your family breathe passes through your air ducts. The air filter in your circulation system – which you should regularly replace – catches most of the dust and particulate matter that would otherwise continue circulating through your home, but dust finds a way, and inevitably builds up in the ducts.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, there is no reason to think that duct cleaning prevents health problems if there is a normal amount of dust in the ducts. This is because most of that dust adheres to the duct surface. If your ducts contain mold, vermin or an excessive amount of dust, however, you should get them professionally cleaned.

The first sign to look for is dust or debris blowing out of your air ducts. If you see this, get a flashlight and a camera with a flash. Remove the vent cover using a screwdriver and stick the camera as far down the duct as possible to snap a few photos.

If the photos reveal bugs, vermin or droppings, you should absolutely have your ducts cleaned. The same goes for any kind of mold, which can happen as a result of dampness in your insulation. If this is the case, you may be looking at getting your ducts replaced. An excessive amount of dust is also a good reason to get your ducts cleaned, but remember that some buildup on the inside of the ducts is normal.


The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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2 great ways to save money by getting organized

2 great ways to save money by getting organized

2 great ways to save money by getting organized

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It's officially spring, and households all over the U.S. are getting into spring cleaning. When you're cleaning out the dust and cobwebs out of the dark corners of your home this year, consider spending some time getting organized. An organized home isn't just easier to navigate – it can save you money over the course of the next year.

Tip #1: Turn your clothes around
If you have trouble getting rid of old clothing, try this tip on for size. Take all of the clothes hanging in your closet and turn them so that the open part of the clothes hanger faces you – exactly the opposite of the way you would normally hang something. Now, over the next six months, every time you wear something and go to put it back, put it back the normal way.

After six months, anything that you haven't worn yet will still be facing the other way. Sell these clothes at a second-hand store for a quick buck, or donate them for a tax write-off next year.

Tip #2: Plan meals in advance
If your family is like most American families, you probably regularly throw out food that has gone bad. A smart way to avoid this waste is to plan out seven full meals for the next two weeks and make double what your family will eat. This will help you to buy exactly what you need, limit grocery store trips and cut down on cooking time so that you can spend more time with your family.

What are your favorite ways to save money by getting organized?


The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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5 ways to save money on your spring cleaning

5 ways to save money on your spring cleaning

5 ways to save money on your spring cleaning

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It's that season again - the weather is getting warmer, the plants are sprouting and it's time for you to start spring cleaning. The amount of dust, dirt and grime that can build up in the average home over the course of a winter is truly staggering, and it can take a lot to get it all clean.

While doing your spring cleaning yourself is certainly cheaper than hiring a professional cleaning service to do it for you, the costs can add up surprisingly quickly. By being a little bit strategic about your cleaning, however, you can keep these costs to a minimum.

1. Don't be fooled by the new
Cleaning companies know that shoppers have a lot of work cut out for them in the spring, so this is when they tend to push their "new and improved" product lines, and often for a substantial markup. As much as "dual cleaning action" might make your tried and true cleaners look dull by comparison, you should keep in mind that the effect on your home is likely to be pretty similar. By staying loyal to the brands that have worked for you in the past, or being even more adventurous and choosing the occasional "off-brand" cleaner, you can save a bundle.

2. Make homemade cleaners
If you are willing to take a little bit of time to really "clean up" on savings this year, you may want to learn how to make your own cleaning products. EarthEasy has a comprehensive list of homemade cleaners that aren't just cheaper than commercial products – they're also much better for the environment. Even better, most of them are made using products that you probably already have around the home, like white vinegar, lemon juice and baking soda.

3. Conserve water and energy
You may not associate your energy bills with your spring cleaning tasks, but a number of cleaning chores are energy and resource intensive. Washing dishes, doing laundry and vacuuming can all cost you a pretty penny at the end of your billing cycle.

One way to reduce this cost is to make sure that your washing machine and dishwasher are fully loaded every time you use them, eliminating wasted water and energy. Many homeowners assume that washing dishes by hand is better from an environmental perspective than using their dishwasher, but according to TreeHugger, this isn't the case unless you can wash an entire load of dishes in under three minutes.

Another way to reduce the environmental impact associated with these appliances is to invest in energy-efficient appliances. These appliances will save you money over their lifetime, but that's only if they keep working, so don't forget to invest in a home warranty as well.

4. Have a yard sale
As you clean out your closet, basement and all the other parts of your house that have become cluttered with junk over the course of the last year, you may find yourself with a glut of excess stuff. While it may be tempting to just let sleeping dogs lie, you could go a long way toward clearing up some clutter and make a buck or two by hosting a yard sale.

Hosting a yard sale is dead-easy – just pick a date, make a few cute flyers to post up and haul your unwanted home goods out onto the lawn. One man's trash is another man's treasure. If you really want to be popular with the neighbors, offer some free coffee, or even a mixed drink!

5. Get into upcycling
At TotalProtect®, we love upcycling! What is it? Upcycling is kind of like recycling, only instead of sending a limited list of used materials to a recycling facility where they will be used to make more consumer products, you alter or re-purpose things that you no longer want into useful or beautiful things for your home.

There are endless potential upcycling projects out there, but PlanetSave has a list of some neat ideas to get you started. We love their magazine mirror frame, and their wine cork bulletin board is too cool. If you come up with more good ideas, let us know!

Once you've finished the exhausting – but totally worthwhile – process of spring cleaning, you may find yourself with a little bit of extra time on your hands to continue making responsible decisions. If you followed the above advice, you might even find yourself with some extra cash on hand. Put your money to work for you by investing in a TotalProtect® Home Warranty, which will protect your appliances and home systems. A home warranty may even increase your confidence as a homeowner.


The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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DIY: Deep cleaning a carpet

DIY: Deep cleaning a carpet

DIY: Deep cleaning a carpet

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Let's start by giving credit where credit is due: The vacuum cleaner is a truly wonderful invention. It's easy to take the humble vacuum cleaner for granted, but imagine what life would be like without one. Every rug in your home would have to be periodically taken outside and beaten. With a club. By hand.

There are some things, however, that a vacuum cleaner simply can't do. A vacuum won't get out all of the stains that build up in your carpet over time and it won't get all of the dirt, dust and allergens that get trapped in your carpet. For that task there is the carpet steam cleaner, a brilliant invention that uses hot water, specialized cleaners and enzymes to deep clean your carpet.

Sure, you could hire a professional to clean your carpet every few months, but as a frugal, well-informed homeowner, why not take over the reins of this project yourself? Roll your sleeves up and let's get started.

What you'll need

  • Standard vacuum cleaner
  • Vinegar
  • Borax (optional)
  • Salt (optional)
  • Hot water
  • Carpet steam cleaner
  • Carpet shampoo (optional)
  • Enzyme cleaner (optional)

Step 1: Prepare the carpet
Start by removing all of the furniture that goes on top of your carpet and picking up any items too small for a vacuum cleaner. It's important that the carpet be as clean as possible before you start steam cleaning, otherwise you'll be working all day.

Next, vacuum like crazy. The more you pick up with your vacuum cleaner, the better. Take your time and go over everything several times to get rid of as much dust, dirt, hair and particles as humanly possible.

Step 2: Prepare deep stains
Deep stains can be removed in one of two ways. Using natural cleaners is better for the environment, and possibly for your indoor air quality, but some people feel that natural cleaners don't do as good a job. Cleaning chemicals, like carpet shampoo and enzyme cleaner will cut through stains like nobody's business, but it is important to leave windows open to let them vent to the outside.

Apartment Therapy recommends using natural cleaners. Mix equal parts salt, borax and vinegar into a paste. One-fourth cup of each is probably sufficient. Apply the paste to deep stains and allow it to dry for several hours. Once dry, vacuum the cleaner away along with all of the dirt it trapped.

DoItYourself prefers cleaning chemicals. Simply spray the affected area with carpet shampoo and allow it to sit for about 20 minutes. The stain will still be there, but it should come up easily with the carpet cleaner. Enzyme cleaners may be even more useful, as they actually digest odorous substances.

Step 3: Ready the steam cleaner
It is important that the steam cleaner be filled with hot water, though many will heat the water for you. Before beginning, read the instructions on your cleaner carefully. You can add carpet shampoo to the cleaner if you wish, or simply use hot water. If you have a particularly dirty carpet, but would prefer to avoid the chemicals, consider adding one cup of white vinegar to every 2.5 gallons of hot water.

Step 4: Steam on
The majority of steam cleaners come with two modes – one to release hot water and cleaning product, and another to suck the water back up, along with all of the trapped dirt. Take your time, especially with the second function. The more you suck back up, the cleaner your carpet will be. If you find yourself with extra time on your hands, consider doing another pass for an especially soiled carpet.

Once you've finished with a section of carpet, touch it with your hand to check its dampness. All of your hard work will be undone if the carpet is too damp and starts to mold. The carpet should still be lightly damp, but shouldn't leave significant moisture on your hand.

Step 5: Let it dry
The carpet needs to dry completely before you begin walking on it. Leave windows open – if weather permits – and give it several hours. According to Apartment Therapy, it's okay to bring furniture back when the carpet is still only mostly dry, but it helps to put aluminum foil under the legs to avoid wood stains bleeding onto the wet carpet.

Once you have finished cleaning, do the responsible thing and dispose of the water from the machine correctly – especially if you used chemical cleaners. Many stores that rent steam cleaners will allow you to return them full so that they can safely dispose of these chemicals.

Another responsible choice would be to invest in a home warranty. A TotalProtect® Home Warranty protects you from the potential cost of repairing or replacing your large appliances and home systems.


The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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Fireplace maintenance happens in the spring

Fireplace maintenance happens in the spring

Fireplace maintenance happens in the spring

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Fireplace maintenance is essential for ensuring that your family and home are safe throughout the winter season. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, fireplaces are responsible for an average of 25,000 house fires every year. While your family probably doesn't kindle as many fires during the warmer months, this is the perfect time to conduct some essential fireplace maintenance that you are unlikely to do in the winter, when it is more dangerous and less pleasant to be walking about on the roof. By following this guide now, you can be sure that your family is safe, cozy and warm all through the next winter. And, who says the occasional spring fire is a faux pas?

Have your chimney swept
Creosote is a chemical that builds up in chimneys over time as a result of multiple fires. Creosote is dangerous – it can ignite, causing a chimney fire – which is why it so important to sweep your chimney or hire someone else to do it at least once every year, according to MSN Real Estate. It is also worthwhile to check for cracks, loose bricks and missing mortar in your chimney, which can all result in costly problems. Flue liners should also be inspected to ensure that they are in working order.

According to WiseGEEK, it will be easier and possibly cheaper to hire a chimney sweep in the spring and summer, as there is significantly more demand for the service in the months leading up to winter. Ask around to ensure that you are hiring a genuine professional.

Up on the roof
The U.S. Fire Administration advises that homeowners to take the time every year to clean around the top of their chimney. Needles, sticks and leaves can build up and potentially cause a fire when they encounter rising hot air from a fire. It is also worthwhile to check that no branches have started to grow too close to your chimney, as this also presents a significant fire risk.

If your chimney isn't already protected by a spark arrester – which is a mesh screen that goes on top of the chimney – it is important that you invest in one to prevent rising sparks from escaping and potentially starting a fire, according to MSN Real Estate. Experts also recommend preventing water from entering your house through the chimney with a chimney cap.

While up on your roof, look down through the chimney and have someone open and close the damper, which is a metal flap designed to keep cold air out when your fireplace is not in use. Look to see if the damper is closing all the way – if not, you may be spending too much money on heating and cooling your house due to escaping air.

Clean your firebox
Many homeowners neglect to clean their fireboxes as frequently as they should, letting soot build up. Not only is this a fire hazard, but soot can negatively impact your indoor air quality. Ideally, you should clean out your firebox weekly if you have regular fires during the winter, according to MSN Real Estate. Open the damper before shoveling soot into a non-flammable container in order to remove it from your home – this will allow airborne ash to exit your home. Don't use a vacuum cleaner to clean your firebox unless you haven't had a fire for at least a week – coals can stay hot enough to start a fire for several days.

During the winter months, when you are regularly using your fireplace, leave about an inch of soot behind when you clean out your firebox. Ash works as an insulator, meaning that heat will be retained longer.

Protect your home
Protecting the interior of a home is perhaps the most important part of fireplace maintenance. With that in mind, make sure that you have a hearth rug and a fire screen to keep sparks from starting a house fire. A spark screen works just like a spark arrester, but fits in front of your fireplace and prevents sparks from leaping into your home. A hearth rug is a non-flammable rug that goes in front of a fireplace, and will keep your floor from catching fire in case a spark does make it through.

Protecting your home from a fire should be one of your top priorities. Another priority may be avoiding high, unexpected expenses. A TotalProtect® Home Warranty can help with that by reducing the liability you face as a homeowner for broken appliances and home systems down to a low, monthly payment.


The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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