Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Piping Hot Water!

Whether building a new home or replacing a worn out appliance, a staggering array of water heater technology is available for modern households. Water heater selection may seem like the dullest of tasks, but choose wisely and you can see tremendous energy savings. Because there are so many factors involved, including size, efficiency, fuel, and the expenses of both the equipment and energy source, some careful research will be helpful.

Water heaters are fall into two major categories: conventional storage (tanks) and demand type water heaters. Demand heaters, or tankless, lose some heat as the water circulates around the house. Storage tanks lose some heat at the tank, as well as during circulation. Since they use different energy sources for the heat, it is not a simple, straightforward determination that a lower amount of heat loss is better. Most homes use gas or electric for heating water, and a tankless water heater to replace a storage tank using the same energy source is simple and will be more efficient. The improved efficiency is more noticeable in households that use less hot water. This is simply because the water is not cooling off during storage if it is not held in the tank for long.

Solar water heaters in this region will have a storage tank and use an indirect method of heating the water; in warmer climates this may not be case since the water can be directly heated by the sun and circulate through the system. Because Maryland has temperatures below freezing, a heat conducting liquid is pumped through the solar collectors and into a heat transfer coil that heats the water. Since your solar heat is free, the loss of a portion in storage may make sense. Solar collection requires dedicated panels for heating this liquid, so the installation will be more complicated and expensive than simply replacing a gas or electric water heater tank.

Geothermal heat pump water heaters can be installed alongside a geothermal HVAC system if you are building a new home or replacing your heating and air-conditioning with one of these. Because the installation of a geothermal system is expensive, it is not likely to be a cost-effective choice if it is just a decision about the water heater, but as a pair these make great sense. These systems take heat from the ground during the winter or from the air during the summer and use it to heat the water.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Four Seasons on Your Deck or Patio

Now that it is the season to consider construction projects that may come to completion during the warmer months, this tends to be the time for homeowners to start dreaming of a new deck or patio. As you think about this while it is still chilly outside, it is exciting to consider how you will be using the outdoor space year-round. If you are not able to choose a project that includes masonry work with a large chimney as part of your back yard landscape feature, this is the season to get a chiminea, fire pit or fire table at a bargain price.

There are many table styles to choose from, including coffee table height, dining tables, and bar tables. The bar height tables obviously move the heat source up and away from the deck surface, which may be advantageous, and many of these will hold a propane tank concealed in the furniture design. Low fire pits and tables radiate heat in all directions, but smoke is also dispersed everywhere along with it if you are burning wood for your heat.

A chiminea or traditional fireplace will radiate heat forward and smoke up and away. Be cautious of the  hazards present when any of these are situated on or near wooden decking, with the danger from heat and stray embers.

Move free-standing heat features away from plants, trees, railings, walls and furniture. If the product is specified for use on a wood deck (check the manual to be sure), it should be placed on a pad of fire resistant tiles. Gas pits and tables are safer than wood burning ones, since they won't release hot embers to be carried away in the wind. With wood, be sure to use a fire screen. If you have one constructed or choose to make a basic fire pit yourself, it is also easy to make a spark arresting cover.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Energy Efficient Lighting

LEDs, or light emitting diodes, are currently the most efficient light bulb technology available. Compact fluorescent light, or CFL, bulbs are an efficiency improvement over incandescent lights as well, though not as efficient as LEDs. CFLs also contain a small amount of mercury is cause for concern for some people, especially if a bulb is broken and the mercury released.

The average American family spends one-fifth of their household energy expenses on lighting the home. This can be reduced by about 80% by switching from incandescent bulbs to more efficient LEDs (Forbes). This is not just better for the household budget, but also easier on the environment.

Many people have a bad impression of the color quality (also called temperature, though this doesn't have to do with heat to the touch) of the light that these new energy efficient bulbs produce. With LEDs you do have a choice in the matter, though.

LED bulbs have been widely adopted in commercial spaces, for street lighting, and in office buildings. Until recently, they have been considerably more expensive than customers are used to paying for light bulbs. As technological advances have been made in production, the falling cost is making them a much more attractive option.

When selecting bulbs, they are now labeled in lumens. This accommodates the modern lighting technology's differences in efficiency, where we used to select our bulbs by wattage when everyone was using incandescent lights. A helpful chart is available to anchor the terminology to the familiar incandescent light intensity; a 60 watt incandescent bulb would be 800 lumens.

LED lighting also has some true wow factors. You can buy them in strips, which are simple to cut to the needed length. These are ideal for kitchen and bath lighting under cabinets and toe kicks, for stairways, and also can be used for artistic lighting effects. Even better, some of these lights will last 20 years.

The National Resources Defense Council has a great bulb buying guide that compares different technologies, their green factors and their costs.

Energy Star offers a helpful interactive light selection tool as well, in particular for choosing different bulbs for different functions and locations.