Each year, thousands of Arizona residents email or call Rosie Romero’s radio show with questions about everything from preventing fires in their chimneys to getting rid of tree roots invading their sewer system. His goal is to provide answers that suit the specific lifestyle wherever someone lives in Arizona. Here are questions about home maintenance and improvement from the Tucson area.
Q: Will a desert willow tree thrive in the Tucson area?
A: Desert willows generally grow very well in Tucson. They’re very hardy down to 10 degrees in the winter. But anything colder than that could be a problem. Desert willows are a medium height tree that will grow to about 15 feet tall. You can prune it to keep it looking like a tree or grow it as a large bush.
Since these willows are shorter than many trees, you can use a pole trimmer to prune and shape them. The leaves of the desert willow do turn brown in winter and fall off the tree, but you can generally clean up the mess all at one time. They’re also a low-water-use plant that will produce beautiful orchid-like flowers during the warm weather season.
Q: I live in Green Valley. Originally, I was going to have a photovoltaic electric solar system put on my roof and I got permits for that, but then I decided to build another structure in my yard and put the solar panels on top of that. Do you know what kinds of permits I need to get from the county to do this?
A: Generally, it’s always easier to get county approval to put your solar panels on the roof than on another structure closer to ground level. Putting the panels on another structure probably means you have to get permits for the structure as well as the panels. Every jurisdiction is different regarding permits. So you should probably go back to the office where you got the first permits in order to find out what you need to do next.
Q: How can you avoid problems with disreputable contractors when buying a solar electric system?
A: As a first step, you should always check out any contractor on the Arizona Registrar of Contractors website. All you need is the name of the person or the company involved. The registrar’s records will tell you whether the contractor is licensed, bonded and insured and whether that company has any outstanding complaints. Beware of working with contractors that have only been in business for a short time because they may not have enough expertise to handle solar equipment.
One of the biggest problems that solar customers often experience is that some solar contractors overstate the production of energy; in other words they promise you that your panels will produce much more energy than is possible with the size of the system that you are buying. You need to check out their numbers with other bidders. You can also use information at a federal government website — pvwatts.nrel.gov — to calculate what your possible energy savings might be.
Q: I have a block home built in 1971, and I recently updated the air conditioning system, including upsizing the return air vents. But I have noticed squeaking, creaking and popping noises from the system whenever I start it up or shut it off. It always seems to continue for a while when I shut the system down. What’s going on?
A: Your ductwork may need some reinforcing or bracing. Talk to your air conditioning contractor about coming out to the house to make some adjustments. Your problem could be related to thermal expansion and contraction as the unit cycles. An inspection by a contractor could lead to appropriate modifications to help quiet your system.