handymandanThe Handyman Dan blog is based on the collective experience of handy owners, handy persons (not to be sexist), and trade contractors who have some experience maintining, repairing annd improving our Concord Village residences.  In these articles, you will find lots of tips and tricks and lessons learned, and special insights to the care and maintenance of our units.  Over time, we hope to profile some of the "Best Improvements" that people have made to their units.


I noticed recently that about 80% of the units in the complex do NOT have their porch-lights turned on at night.  This is no doubt because it costs money to leave lights on, so many of us turn off ANY lights we are not currently using.  The problem is that when people are allowed to lurk in front of our homes in the dark, our neighborhood is not secure.  Also, if you are coming home late at night and fumbling with keys, you and your home are vulnerable if there is no porch light on.

LEAVE THE PORCH LIGHT ON!  For about 20% of our neighbors, their solution is just to leave their lights on at all times.  The problem with this is that there is a cost.  Assuming a 60 watt bulb (the maximum our old fixtures could use) and 730 hours a month, a bulb running all the time uses about 43.8 Kw (kilowatt hours) of energy (60 x 730 / 1000).  In Arizona, it costs us about 7-10 cents per Kw depending on the time of day and the plan you are on (night-time is much lower on some plans).  Assuming 10 cents, therefore, it costs us about $4.38 per month for the added security of leaving the lights on ALL of the time, not a bad investment in personal security.

SECURITY & ENERGY MINDED ALTERNATIVE: Many people in the community have one of the new porch light fixtures installed starting with the 2011 rehab, which has TWO significant benefits over the old fixture.  First, the new fixture can handle 100 watt bulbs for increased porch security, and second, the new fixture has room to install photocell light sensor bulb adapter.  By installing a 100 watt CFL bulb and a light sensor, we aren't wasting energy during the daylight hours and we are getting nearly twice the brightness as a 60 watt bulb for a third of the cost (100 watt CFL bulbs only use 23-26 watts).   Assuming that the light is now on for only 300 hours in the summer and 400 in the winter, a 100 watt CFL bulb will cost between 60 and 80 cents per month to operate at night-time only.

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NOTE: This article was created from notes from an A/C installer who recently installed a new control unit for one of the owners.  It has not been double-checked for the various types of A/C units and installs in our complex.

One of the simplest and most cost-effective upgrades that you can do to improve the energy efficiency of your home is to upgrade your thermostat to an electronic control.  A modern thermostat will allow you to automatically set the temperature based upon time of day and day of week, and could save hundreds of dollars each year in heating and cooling expense.

It is quite simple to install almost any electronic thermostat with our the fairly simple heat pump A/C units used at Concord Village.  Before fully disconnecting your old control unit from the wall, remove the face plate and mark the main control wires, which are indicated as O-G-RH (and possibly Y+C) letter markings on your existing thermostat.  If you find that your colors and wires differ from the list below, use the colors that are actually connected to your old thermostat, and follow the instructions carefully on your new thermostat.

  • (O)range - Changeover valve control (switches between heating and cooling)
  • (G)reen - Fan control relay 
  • (R)ed/RH - Power for Heat Pump - usually the XXX wire (some control units have both an R and RH connection, and usually include a jumper to link them)
  • (C)ontrol Wire (optional) this is usually the BLUE wire if connected, but it could also be the WHITE wire. 
  • (Y)ellow - 1st stage compressor contactor (controls air conditioning system and 1st stage of heat pump) - we have included this because some control unit in the complex have this wire installed -- need to do more research here...
The control wire is only needed on some very advanced thermostats which need extra power to transmit data wirelessly to a computer, etc.  Because these features were uncommon when our units were built, this control wire may not be connected properly to the A/C unit on the roof, and if connected later, the installer may have used either the extra blue or white wire (usually blue).  Since control wires may not exist or may not be hooked up, most digital thermostats also have batteries in them to power the display, so if you are not using a control wire and your A/C stops working and the display goes blank, you probably just need to change the batteries.


The EPA recommends that you hire a professional to clearn the air ducts in your home at least once every 5-7 years, and suggests that you hire someone who cleans ducts according to the standards of the National Air Duct Cleaning Association (www.nadca.com).   Many homeowners in areas that are prone to dust/wind storms, especially those who suffer from allergies or asthma, do a duct clearning every two years.  At Concord Village, units with fireplaces or which still have the original doors and/or windows are particularly prone to dust buildup.

Because dust inside your vents is not readily visible, the easiest way to check for build-up in your air ducts is to remove the filter and hold a digital camera inside the cold air return and shoot down the path of the vent with the flash on.   To check room vents without removing the vent covers, hold the camera up to slots take another picture in each room.

Just like carpet cleaners, many air duct companies offer a very low advertised  price of $50-100, which basically only covers vacuuming out a fixed number of vents, but when they arrive on site, they try to upsell you on other sometimes important services and the price quickly escalates to $300-500.   Several CV owners have shopped around and have found a few reputable local companies who offer excellent full-service clearnings with minimal upsells, and some have even agreed to offer fixed prices for thorough clearnings of our Concord Village A/C ductwork, and you will find them in the neighborhood directory.

Between professional cleanings, you can keep the dust levels down in your A/C system just by replacing your filters often.  Also, you may want to your vacuum cleaner hose to clean out your cold air returns every time you open them to replace your filters.   Also, to keep mold spores from spreading, you may want to sanitize the duct walls inside your cold air return vents (behind the filter) with a natural sanitizing spray.