Home & Garden

What makes your house work?

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If 'not me” is the first answer that pops into your mind, read on! Remember, knowledge is power – and when it comes to home maintenance – the more you know, the better. You may know enough to fix the problem … or enough to know it”s time to call in the professionals. It”s all in the knowing.

by Melissa Booraem

In the 1986 comedy, "The Money Pit," Tom Hanks and Shelley Long are suckered into buying a huge home at a low price, but the problems with the house don”t surface until they move in.

Structural, plumbing and electrical disasters are just a few of the problems in store for these unsuspecting homeowners who haven”t got a clue how their houses work.

You can be better prepared. We teamed up with HowStuffWorks.com and the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association to ask – and answer – that most basic of questions: What makes houses work?

ELECTRICITY
Let there be light
Here”s how it works: Electrical systems are made up of more than just a bunch of power lines and a jolt of electricity zapping into your home. The components include elements you can see such as the electrical box, switches, outlets and meter, as well as those you can”t see such as the inner household wiring. Luckily, a licensed contractor has already got those pieces working properly…at least we hope.

As you probably learned in Physics 101, electricity begins as an electron. Electricity is made at power plants by generators. The current that is generated is carried via high-voltage transmission lines that stretch cross-country. The lines move the electricity to a substation. Here the voltage must be lowered as the electricity makes its way through the distribution lines. Electricity connects to your house through a service drop. The power company monitors how much electricity you have used by looking at the meter outside your house. The service panel, probably located in your basement or garage, helps protect wires in a home from being overloaded. The wires in the walls are responsible for switches or outlets. You see the result of that when you flip a switch or plug in an appliance.

What every homeowner should know:

  • When your power goes out, check with a neighbor to see if it”s just your house or the entire block. If you notice others on your street still have power, you may have a faulty appliance. If one circuit in your house constantly tips, you may have an overloaded circuit.
  • Many televisions and computers are damaged when the power comes back on after being out. Surge protectors are cheap, available at local hardware stores and can help protect expensive equipment in a storm.
  • Three-wire extension cords are only for plugs with three-prongs. Never overload a cord by plugging in an appliance that draws in more watts than the rating on the cord.
  • Make sure branches and trees are clear of any lines leading to your home.

PLUMBING
What comes in, must go out

Here”s how it works: Gravity is the element that makes most plumbing systems work. Plumbing is made of two systems – one that brings new water in and one that takes used water out. The main components of the system are: water supply, drain lines, septic system and plumbing fixtures. The meter outside your house measures the water you use in your home. At some point as a homeowner, you will probably come face to face with the most common pluming disaster – the toilet.

There are three parts that work together to make the toilet function: the bowl siphon, the flush mechanism and the refill device. Did you know that you could flush the toilet even if the water supply is turned off from it? The trick is to have a couple of gallons of water in a nearby bucket. When you quickly pour water into the tank, a