Saturday, March 31, 2012

Dysfunctional Driving: Headlight Flashing Fix.

For nearly a year and half since I got my Buick Rendezvous, I've had the lovely experience of having bright lights flashed in my eyes. Usually, this is by some mouth breather who waits until the last second until they put on their brights. Needless to say, I would utter a few colorful sentence enhancers at these drivers because after all, I was driving with my low beams on. I did notice that the beams were a bit high though and my headlights were falling apart and scratched badly enough to diffuse the light every which way. Since these needed to be done anyway, I replaced the assemblies and after some issues with the wiring, got them to work.

Problem was, I drove home and another person flashed their brights at the last second. Utterly frustrated and continued the drive home. Finding a dumpster, I drove in front of it about 15 feet and noticed the beams were aimed high. Opening the hood, I noticed there was an adjusting screw on each assembly. The car was on a level surface and had a full tank of gas, so I turned the screws until the beam centered about the height of the headlight. It helped there was a weld seam on the dumpster to aim the beams to and in less than five minutes, I had the headlights aiming toward the road and not the trees, nor the eyes of oncoming drivers. Thus far, no more well meaning highway vigilantes flashing their brights in mine. I can still see the road and my brights work fine. Maranatha!

Dealing with Deal of the Day Websites (as a business owner).

First of all, I'm not a business owner. Nevertheless as a trained business consultant and someone who has worked in getting new customers using said deals qualifies me to give such advice. This doesn't mean that it will work for every situation, so I offer no guarantees for stellar results. You didn't pay me, so don't expect much from this.

Deal of the day websites, in a nutshell work with companies to offer really low prices on a product or service. Usually, the customer pays a certain dollar amount and the website owners take half of the proceeds; the business owner takes the other half. Ideally, said business owner can upsell the customer or at the very least expose said customer to the product and service to win them over. The customer gets a great deal and the website owner also gets their cut. Should be a win/win/win for everyone, right? Not necessarily.

Problem is that all D.O.T.D. customer are aware of the true cost of the good or service. The cost to get a customer is $300 give or take a few dollars. If you want to participate in one of these "deals" my experience is that you will still spend about $300 to get each new customer depending on the volume. There's probably some statistical formula for this, but statistics were never a strong suit, so you'll have to trust me on this one. I believe this has benefited the firm I work for, but you have to remember that you're likely selling your service for a cut rate. The customer is going to expect cut rate prices for everything. Likely he or she will balk at anything deemed "expensive" or "full price;" and many will even turn down essentials (your furnace has a cracked heat exchanger, or your control board is fried) to retain their "deal."

If this is the type of service you're offering, you're probably going to find an opportunity for the guy who can undersell you, or more likely for the D.I.Y. homeowner who will order the part on the Internet. Again, in my experience, these are not the customers you want. You don't want customers to undercut your business, but those who want you to do it for them. Isn't that what we all want? The best way I've found to get customers who are on the fence is through discounts. After all, you've discounted the basic service. As the saying goes, half a loaf is better than none at all. Ideally a smaller discount should be in order, and limiting the amount of those who can participate will also help if attitudes really go south. Give the customer your best product and service for the money and never forget to make them aware that they're getting a screaming deal. Maranatha.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Fix for Crabgrass?

Spring has sprung, and for anyone calling themselves a handy person this means working in the yard, or some facsimile thereof. Personally, yard work is better hired out, but I'm neither rich nor old so onward. Okay, yard work isn't that bad; not at all. However, we've all heard the stories about crabgrass; one comic strip from my youth even depicted it as stronger than armor. Be as it may, it's still the bane of everyone who's tried to keep up a yard. It's ugly, doesn't feel good on the feet, but it is hardier than any other weed out there. There's also a very limited window on which to deal with this lawn pest, you have to use crabgrass control and hope that it works. I use chemicals to deal with dandelions as the trailer park I live in will write me up for letting them propagate. Fortunately, there's no such sanction for crabgrass, but it doesn't make it any less appealing in my book. I disdain the use of chemicals to control the crabgrass, mainly due to the expense but the environmental impact of these is also a cause of concern. We live right next to a couple ravines and creeks run through both.

The one thing that crabgrass cannot live through very well is through heat. You'll need a bottle of MAPP gas and a torch with a spreader head on it. I used a plumbing torch and MAPP gas to grill mine to a golden brown (really a charcoal black). Again, use common sense. Do this after it rains and not if the surrounding grass is dry. You will cause a grass fire, guaranteed. Don't think you're saving time by using a big propane tank with fire straight out of same either. Great for ratings, but will likely result in a call to the authorities.

Try to work from the edges to the center. The trick is not to injure the surrounding grass too much and cook the crabgrass until it shrivels. After a couple days, it will brown and hopefully die. You can do this when it's begun to tassel and get seeds, but it's better to kill it in the spring before it has a chance to get too established. Another bit of advice; try to stay away from the fume plume when burning this stuff. Have fun. Maranatha!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

When to Replace Your Furnace.

Furnaces are called durable goods for a reason; because they hopefully will last for a few years. Typically, the homeowners expect them to last between 30 and 40 years, but the truth is that a furnace will wear out between 10 and 15 years. Just because your furnace is still "running" at two and a half decades doesn't mean that you've beaten the odds. What it really means is that you're heating your home with a ticking time bomb. The picture on the left is out of a 25 year old furnace and the center should tell it all. The front of the heat exchanger is cracked and said crack has begun to open up. Although the carbon monoxide readings were zip, zero, zilch, this was still dangerous because of the potential for this gas to end up in the living space.

In this picture, with the burners on you clearly see where the flames touch the crack and could direct gases inside. Last April, I had to replace my furnace over a blow out in the heat exchanger, even though the carbon monoxide readings were zip, zero, zilch. The customer wanted to know if we could solder or weld the crack, but this is against the law to do and contraindicated. Once the heat exchanger is cracked or compromised, the heating contractor HAS TO SHUT IT DOWN.

Rust is another huge problem with older and even some newer units that have been exposed to moisture, deferred maintenance or even poor installation practices. The unit below is less than seven years old and a condensing furnace. This means that water has to drain because the exhaust doesn't get hot enough to vent it out the chimney. The furnace had never had any maintenance done prior to this or this would have been discovered a lot sooner. Apparently, the installer hadn't secured a clamp to the drain hose below that plastic elbow and water had gotten past it. the result was a rusted clamp, and a potential for the partition between the blower (living space) and the seal burner compartment to perforate. This would have created a potential for combustion gases to enter the living space. Probably more an argument for maintenance than replacement, it still stresses the need to find these problems before the damage becomes an ultimate issue. This is death or injury to the customer and others in the living space.

More common is the older furnace with a corrosion problem. Basements tend to be wet and lack ventilation, so the humidity is going to be higher. If you live next to an ocean, or the rust belt, you realize that cars and trucks are going to rust out and so most tend to replace them. In fact it's the body and not the mechanicals on a vehicle that deteriorate it to the point that it's no longer safe to drive. I owned a car that literally broke in half in front of the police station because of this, and I had continual problems with exhaust gases getting inside the trunk and the car because of the rust holes. Many of us drive cars with rust, but this still doesn't make it right, because these can cause safety problems sooner or later, but I digress. Furnaces are no different and any loss of structural integrity will make them unsafe. Cabinets can and do collapse and cause electrical shorts and fires, but the more likely scenario is that the blower compartment will perforate and allow gases to seep in, asphyxiating the people in the house. I saw this furnace, an accident waiting to happen with a bottom with no structural integrity whatsoever.

Regrettably, the picture to the inside got lost, but the bottom was perforated to the point you could put a finger through it like a needle going through cloth. I declined to perform maintenance on this gem because of the liability involved. I could have ripped the bottom out with my bare hands and even a misplaced tool could have opened it up. Like the heat exchanger, there's no good fix for excessive rust other than replacement. Car owners will frequently replace rusted panels on a car, but this isn't practical to do on a furnace and could expose anyone performing this to liability. By the time a panel is fully rusted, the rest of the structure is also involved. You can paint over it or use a treatment, but for the most part the rust will return. I've done and seen enough bodywork done that confirms this. Even taking it down to bare, undamaged metal is not going to cure it. Again, this is done on cars, but the process is still expensive and time consuming. This is why classic cars are so expensive too, because of the work involved. Unlike cars, furnaces do not appreciate in value and in fact are valueless the moment you cut the side out to put in the return. I've been to a lot of houses and seen fewer and fewer people driving 20 year old cars or watching 20 year old TVs (I've seen VERY few TVs over 3 or 4 years old in fact, most are in the trash). Most of us have the latest computers, kitchen appliances etc, but few of us pay much attention to the time bombs in our basements, mechanical rooms, attics, etc. Not only are your utility bills higher than they should be, the health risks to you and your family are there every time you switch on the thermostat. Maranatha!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

What is a Fair Price?

The short answer is that a fair price is one that allows a contractor to stay in business and compensates him and his employees in a manner commensurate with the work performed. This means many things to many people, but to the guy sitting behind the desk making decisions, it means being able to have money to pay the bills and keep the lights on. To everyone else working under him, it means being able to be paid fairly, whether or not to go on vacation, or even to make the car or house payment. A doctor expects to be paid for his or her services, so does an auto mechanic, or a lawyer. So why is it that anyone would consider my services of those of any other home service professional to be worth breadcrumbs? I don't make as much as a dentist, much less a doctor. I imagine even the dental hygienists make more an hour than I do. I don't have an issue with that, but are merely stating a fact. I do not own a house, nor a boat, and my cars are nearly a decade old. My clothes are whatever I can scrounge up, while my wife and kids take priority.
My boss is a good man, with a good heart, who wants to do the right thing at every turn. Neither he nor his wife drive a new car. They each have a good head on their shoulders, their priorities are dead on and they take care of their people. God Bless them!
When you complain to the clerk about high fuel prices, you do nothing but make their lives miserable. These people earn less in a week than you might make in a day. When you complain about a price that I clearly showed you to my boss, you're doing nothing but cheapening my livelihood and those of others who depend on fixing your home to stay solvent. Yes, it's expensive to call a serviceman over to fix a broken appliance, but think about this. Does a doctor make house calls for what he or she charges? Does an auto mechanic (not many)? Sure the parts and labor are expensive, but can you find the parts and fix the problem yourself? Probably not. Think about this, I'm in your house for about an hour or two and I have to assess years or even decades of wear and tear on a piece of equipment that in many cases is just as complicated as an automobile. I also have to fix it in one trip or you'll be screaming to my boss.
Even something as simple as an ignitor costs money each time it changes hands. The government taxes it every time it's sold from the manufacturer to wholesaler to the retailer. It costs money to handle and transport it each time as well. When I drive over and remove your old one, and take the one out of my truck stock, I expect to get paid for it and so does my boss.
If you've ever worked, you expect to get paid. Anyone waiting on you should also expect to be paid a fair price. When I go to a restaurant, for example, I pay 20 percent of the bill as a tip. If I can't afford the bill and a tip, I eat a cheaper meal or buy a sack lunch, end of list. Whether or not someones broke, the price has to stay the same or everyone will be broke and out of business. Either find a cheaper way to fix it or find an alternative, but beating someone up on price isn't helping anyone.