Author Archives: Donna Boyle Schwartz

About Donna Boyle Schwartz

Donna Boyle Schwartz is a well-known home furnishings writer and editor, working with leading magazines and newspapers for more than 30 years. Donna is vice president/creative director of DDS Enterprises, a consulting firm concentrating on editorial projects and original research; the company also operates a full-service recording studio specializing in archival audio restoration. An enthusiastic DIYer, she has a shed full of tools and a house full of projects. Check her out on Google+!

Art Cool Mini-Splits for Comfort—and Decor

Making a room cool doesn't have to involve loosing a window. Today's mini-split air conditioning units are the smart alternative to traditional window units, delivering comfort and decor all in one.

ArtCool-LG

ArtCool

Summer has arrived, and with the inexorable heat comes the inevitable hunt—for the perfect air conditioner, that is. Homeowners in search of a functional and fashionable alternative to conventional air conditioning units may want to consider a mini-split.  Mini-split air conditioning systems eliminate the need for the extensive wiring and ductwork required for central air systems, making them perfect cooling devices for older homes and new additions.  They also alleviate many of the problems associated with standard window units, namely they are quieter, don’t have to be removed “off-season,” and don’t present a bulky and unattractive appearance in the window. And, if it’s appearance that you are concerned with, LG’s Art Cool Mini Splits were made for you.

Art Cool LG Mini Split

ArtCool LG mini-split air conditioner at SupplyHouse.com

“The Art Cool series is a unique take on the tried-and-true mini split air conditioning formula,” explains Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “While being functionally the same (and in the same price range as standard mini split systems), they offer a more visually pleasing indoor unit that can actually enhance room decor,” he adds.

LG’s Art Cool line basically consists of two options, both of which come in either air-conditioner-only or heat-pump models: Art Cool Mirror units feature a flat panel surface with smoked charcoal mirror finish, creating a sleek, contemporary silhouette; and the Art Cool Gallery unit provides a 20-by-20 inch square panel that works like a picture frame—allowing the consumer to insert their own artwork or photograph. Both units mount securely on a vertical surface with screws.

Mini-split air conditioning systems typically consist of two separate units: an interior evaporator with a fan and cooling coil, and an outside condenser unit; the two pieces are connected by a refrigerant line set. Mini-split systems are available in single room configurations, which consist of one indoor unit and one outdoor condenser, as well as multi-room configurations, which have two to four indoor units connected to a single outdoor condenser. Most mini-split indoor units are mounted on the wall, although there are some ceiling-mounted versions.

ArtCool LG Mirrorfinish

ArtCool LG Mirror Finish

The LG Art Cool Gallery unit is available as a single zone system in either 9,000- or 12,000-BTU sizes; the Mirror units are available in either single- or multi-zone systems. Choosing the appropriately sized unit is dependent on several factors, including the regional climate, whether the mini split system will operate as a cooling unit only, or a combination of cooling and heating, the number and type of rooms, the number of windows per room and the average number of people occupying the room at a single time. SupplyHouse.com features a useful air conditioner sizing calculator to help consumers determine the correct amount of air conditioner BTUs needed for a given room, or set of rooms.

Typically, mini-split air conditioners will require professional installation by an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) contractor, because the outdoor unit must be hard-wired to a dedicated circuit breaker and the correct amount of refrigerant must be used in the lines.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of mini split air conditioners and accessories from the top manufacturers in the industry.  To learn more about the LG Art Cool systems, view the video below, or visit SupplyHouse.com.

 

This blog has been sponsored on behalf of SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


5 Things to Consider When Choosing a Wood Floor

With the variety of woods, colors and finishes available today, shopping for a wood floor can be a bit overwhelming. Here are five things to know and consider when choosing the perfect wood floor for your home.

Bellawood Cumaru Hardwood Flooring

Bellawood Cumaru Solid Hardwood Flooring at Lumber Liquidators.

Homeowners evaluating new flooring owe it to themselves to consider the benefits and beauty of wood. Wood floors are comfortable, durable and surprisingly affordable, and nothing quite compares to the character and warmth they bring to every room in the house. While there are a myriad of choices available, not every type of wood flooring is suitable for every application. If you are shopping for a wood floor, here are five things to keep in mind.

Type of Wood Flooring
There are primarily two types of wood flooring products—solid hardwood and engineered hardwood. Solid wood flooring is milled from solid wood logs, and is joined with a traditional tongue and groove along both the long and short edges. Solid wood is available prefinished or unfinished, in strips and planks ranging in thickness from 5/16″ to 3/4″. Strips are 1-1/2″ to 2-1/4″ wide and planks are 3″ to 8″ wide.

Engineered wood flooring is comprised of multiple layers of plywood and composite material, and topped with a layer of solid hardwood. Engineered wood flooring comes in thicknesses ranging from 3/8″ to 3/4″ and from 3″ up to 10″ wide; the hardwood layer on top ranges in thickness from .6 millimeters to 4 millimeters.

While both types offer the same beauty of real hardwood, the primary difference between solid hardwood and engineered flooring is in the floor’s composition. “Since solid wood flooring is subject to expand and contract relative to a home’s humidity it needs to be installed on the ground floor or above grade,” explains Bill Schlegel, Chief Merchandising Officer for Lumber Liquidators. “Engineered flooring, which is more stable due to its multi-ply construction, can be installed on all levels of the home,” adds Schlegel, “making it perfect for basements and bathrooms where dampness and moisture can be issues.”

Select Red Oak Solid Wood Flooring

Select Red Oak Solid Wood Flooring at Lumber Liquidators

Choice of Wood Species
There are many different woods used in flooring, but some are harder and therefore more durable than others. “Day to day wear and tear is what concerns most people when shopping for a wood floor,” says Schlegel, “and the benchmark for hardness in the U.S. is Red Oak.” While Red and White Oak are the most common domestic wood floors, Hickory and Maple (harder than oak) and Walnut (softer) are also popular choices. Top selling exotic woods such as Brazilian Cherry, Brazilian Koa and Cumaru are among the hardest species available. “Naturally, the harder the wood, the better it will be for wear and installation in high-traffic areas of the home,” Schlegel notes.

Grain, Color and Appearance
Because wood flooring comes in so many different species, styles and finishes, it is fairly easy to select a floor to match any room décor. If you have a country-style interior, wide plank floors with highly defined wood grains and a distressed appearance will be a good fit.  For Colonial homes, consider wide, random plank width flooring in Oak and Maple.  For traditional interiors, hardwood flooring in widths of 2-1/4″ to 3-1/4″ in Oak, Maple or Walnut, or parquet flooring, will be smart choices. Virtually any type of wood can be used in a contemporary setting, depending on what stain or finish is used—for example pewter, dark charcoal or whitewash finishes can transform any wood species into a modern masterpiece.

Casa de Colour Select Pewter Maple Hardwood Flooring

Casa de Colour Select Pewter Maple Hardwood Flooring at Lumber Liquidators.

Type of Finish
The finish is the real determining factor in the overall appearance of a wood floor. The same wood species will look completely different finished in a clear gloss, versus a distressed, hand-scraped or wire-brush finish. “There are different gloss levels and finishing techniques that change the overall look of the wood floor,” Schlegel notes. “Our Bellawood solid and engineered wood flooring in a mid to high gloss looks completely different in a low gloss matte finish,” explains Schlegel; the latter imitating the look of an oil-rubbed European finish, but without the constant care and maintenance.  Distressed, hand-scraped or wire-brush finishes will also be something to consider when shopping for a wood floor.

Flooring is sold either “unfinished” or “pre-finished.” Unfinished floors are sanded and finished on-site, which provides for a consistent seal and prevents dirt and moisture from penetrating the seams between boards (floors typically receive one to three coats of sealant). Pre-finished flooring is factory-applied in a controlled setting, and typically receives seven to eight coats of sealant. “I definitely recommend pre-finished flooring, because it ensures a superior and consistent finish, and comes with a warranty,” Schlegel asserts. “All Bellawood pre-finished flooring comes with a 100-year, transferable warranty, which can be a selling point to future buyers—since the warranty transfers to the new owner.”

Cost and Installation
The cost of wood flooring depends on the type, the wood species and the finish. Typically, solid prefinished wood flooring runs from $2.49 to $12.69 per square foot. Prices on engineered prefinished wood flooring range from $1.69 to $8.79. The average cost of installation usually runs about half as much as the flooring but depends on the type of flooring and installation for your home.

Both solid wood and engineered wood flooring are installed by nailing, stapling or gluing planks to a subfloor. There are, however, a variety of new “click” engineered products available that can be installed easily and “floated” above the subfloor.

“Installation can definitely be an expensive proposition, especially with unfinished flooring,” says Schlegel, “but competent DIYers can save money by doing the job themselves and purchasing prefinished flooring.” Lumber Liquidators offers all of the tools and materials that a homeowner would need to install a wood floor.  He adds, “I recommend saving money on installation and buying a better floor.”

 

This article is sponsored on behalf of Lumber Liquidators.  Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


How To: Choose the Right Size Air Conditioner

Keeping cool this summer may be easier—and more affordable—than you imagined. The key to comfort is knowing what size air-conditioning unit will do the job effectively and efficiently.

window air conditioner

Photo: shutterstock.com

Temperatures are climbing. With the dog days of summer just around the corner, the perfect time to shop for a new air conditioner is now.

There are numerous factors to consider when you’re shopping for an air conditioner, including whether your home can accommodate a ductless mini-split system, a built-in wall assembly, a window unit, or a portable model. But all air conditioners have one thing in common: They must be sized properly in order to effectively lower the temperature and remove excess moisture from the air, resulting in a comfortable, cool indoor environment.

When you’re shopping for an appropriately sized air conditioner, a number of factors come into play, including the general climate and average summer temperatures in your region of the country; the square footage of the room or rooms to be cooled; the installation location in the wall, window, or ceiling; the number of people typically occupying a room; and the amount of insulation in the home. An air conditioner that is too small for a given area will not be able to cool the space efficiently, while an air conditioner that is too large will tend to cycle on and off too rapidly, wasting energy and impairing the unit’s ability to remove humidity from the room.

Air conditioners are rated by their seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), and their capacity is expressed in British thermal units (BTUs). The BTU rating gives an indication of how quickly and effectively a particular unit can cool the room where it is located. Most home air conditioners sold in the United States range from around 5,000 BTUs to more than 20,000 BTUs.

mini split

LG mini-split air-conditioning unit from SupplyHouse.com

“The BTU—or British thermal unit—is the amount of heat required to raise or lower 1 pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit,” points out Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “Since we measure all of our heating and air-conditioning units in BTUs, it’s important to know how many BTUs your living space requires so you don’t buy a unit that is too large or too small. Another common measurement that heating and air-conditioning units are assigned is ‘tonnage.’ But don’t let this confuse you—one ton is just 12,000 BTUs!”

Correctly sizing an air conditioner for a given room requires a tape measure and a few simple calculations. The first step is to determine the size of the room where the unit will be installed. SupplyHouse.com offers a handy sizing calculator to determine the correct amount of BTUs needed for a given room or set of rooms. The calculator requires the dimensions of a room, in length and width; the type of room, such as kitchen or bedroom; the number of people typically in the room; and finally, the exposure of the room—whether it is very sunny or shaded. Once you plug in the appropriate information, the calculator will determine the correct size air conditioner in BTUs. If you are cooling two adjacent areas, or if your room is odd-shaped, determine the square footage of each space as if it were a separate room, and then add the two measurements together to get a total amount of BTUs.

Energy Guide Label

Photo: Energy.gov

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, another rating that homeowners should consider when purchasing a new room air conditioner is the Energy Efficiency Rating, or EER, which represents the cooling capacity of a unit in BTUs per hour divided by the watts of power consumed at a specific outdoor temperature (usually 95 degrees Fahrenheit). The EER rating is found on the yellow Energy Guide label on the air conditioner, and it typically ranges from 8 to 11.5. An EER rating of 10 or higher is the most efficient and will yield the highest savings on monthly electric bills. A higher EER also helps the environment by reducing greenhouse emissions.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of mini-split air conditioners and accessories from the top manufacturers in the industry, and features a variety of informative tools and instructional videos on its Web site. Visit them here.

 

This post is sponsored by SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Pro Tips: Saving on Remodeling Costs With Deconstruction and Salvage

If you're planning some renovations, you may be able to save money—and help the environment—if you opt to start your project with deconstruction rather than traditional demolition. Let a pro walk you through the pros and cons.

Photo: Sunsetgreenhome.com

Renovations, regardless of whether they are large or small, can be costly endeavors. You may, however, be able to recoup some money by considering the benefits of “deconstruction”—donating your used building materials—or by stretching your remodeling dollars by shopping “salvage”—buying someone else’s donated materials. The benefits of either choice extend well beyond just the homeowner, because these practices reduce the amount of demolition debris that ends up in landfills and provide jobs for laborers involved in the dismantling process.

“Many homeowners can profit by donating used building materials,” explains Kim Erle, a LEED Green Associate accredited by the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), the credentialing arm of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Erle isn’t just an expert on advising homeowners on green building and renovation, she is the living embodiment of the deconstruction movement. “We lost our home in Long Island during Hurricane Sandy and were faced with demolishing and rebuilding on an extremely limited budget,” she explains. “I founded the Sunset Green Home project, a LEED-registered project that will seek Platinum certification at completion.”

Although deconstruction cost Erle about twice what a traditional demolition would have cost, the charitable donation ended up fully offsetting the cost of the demolition. “The whole process is what I like to think of as doing well by doing good,” says Erle. First, it keeps a high proportion of the used materials out of the landfill, which is better for the environment. Second, it makes used materials available to homeowners who have a need for replacement items but may not be able to afford new materials. And third, it potentially provides green job training and experience for entry-level workers. “It’s a triple-bottom-line home run,” she adds.

Sunset Green Home Deconstruction

Photo: Sunsetgreenhome.com

Erle notes that deconstruction is financially beneficial on small-scale renovations too. “Jeff Carroll of Details, the company that deconstructed our home, tells me that the cost differential between using a deconstruction firm, which salvages the usable materials, and a demolition company, which tears out the materials without regard to salvaging them, is even lower for small jobs like kitchen and bath remodels,” she adds. His crew can remove a kitchen or bath in just about the same time that it would take a demolition company to do the job.

As project leader and homeowner on the Sunset Green Home project, Erle has firsthand experience of the benefits and cost savings of deconstruction and salvage. Is it right for you?  Here are her top tips to keep in mind should you wish to follow her lead:

Get started early! You may do better financially by deconstructing and donating your unneeded building materials. But deconstruction takes planning, so make sure to give yourself enough time.

Shop often and befriend someone at the resale store. If you’re hoping to purchase and install salvaged kitchen cabinets, for example, it may take some time and several trips to the salvage store to find exactly what you need. Make sure to give yourself a longer lead time to increase the likelihood that you find your dream kitchen. You’d be surprised at the treasures that are available.

Try to use a nonprofit deconstruction firm. Details, the company we used to deconstruct the Sunset Green Home project, is a nonprofit firm with the mission of workforce development. Therefore, the company can receive as a donation and “consume” all the materials of a deconstruction project in fulfilling its mission. Using a for-profit deconstruction company will still result in a donation of reusable materials, but  any materials that can’t be salvaged—for example, insulation that is removed when a wall is taken down—would not be considered part of the donation.

Habitat Restore

Photo: habitatmwgw.org

Don’t forget about energy efficiency and environmental impact. Life-cycle costs and ecological impact matter. It may cost more over the long term to install an inexpensive, salvaged—but inefficient—appliance than to purchase a new one with a higher initial cost, but that over time has significantly lower operating costs and resource use. For example, a new washing machine uses considerably less energy and water than an older model. Depending on its age, a salvaged washing machine may not prove to be cost-effective over the long term.

A DIYer who has materials to donate can contact Habitat for Humanity, which operates ReStores nationally (and in Canada) through its affiliates. Niche players can be identified through Internet searches—in the New York City area, for instance, Build It Green NYC has warehouses in two of the city’s boroughs.

For a time-lapse video of the Sunset Green House deconstruction project, click here.


How To: Eliminate Fruit Flies

Fruit flies driving you mad? Get rid of them for good by using common sense and some simple home remedies.

How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies

Photo: shutterstock.com

A terrific way to maintain good health is to stick to a diet chock-full of fruits and vegetables. But few things spoil the appetite more quickly than a cloud of flies lingering over the fruit bowl. Sometimes it seems like these tiny pests are everywhere—in garbage cans, hovering around sink drains, and near potted plants. Fortunately, there are several effective, nontoxic ways to get rid of fruit flies. You can keep them at bay, even during the height of summer, with the following time-tested tips and tricks.

PREVENTION
Like so many other household problems, fruit fly infestations can be prevented. We’ll get around to telling you how to get rid of fruit flies after they’ve invaded your living spaces, but first, here’s how to keep them from feeling welcome to begin with:

• Avoid bringing home any fruits or vegetables that are bruised; these often contain fly eggs or larvae.

• Store soft fruits in the refrigerator in a paper bag. (Hard-skinned fruits may be stored in the open, so long as they haven’t ripened to the point of softness.)

How to Get Rid of Fruit Flies - Detail

Photo: shutterstock.com

• Being that garbage cans and recycling bins are fruit fly breeding grounds, it’s recommended that you empty and clean these containers as often as you can. If possible, do so on a daily basis.

• If you store containers of condiments (for example, ketchup) and cooking essentials like vinegar in your cabinets, make sure to keep the jars’ rims and lids clean. Store these products in the refrigerator if there’s room.

• Wipe down counters and eating surfaces promptly after mealtimes, leaving no food or drink residue.

• If you’d rather not hand-wash dishes and utensils immediately after use, place them in the dishwasher.

• Clean sink drains with a bottle brush and a grease-cutting cleanser, followed by a hot water rinse.

• Launder dish towels and hand towels regularly; dry your mop thoroughly after you’ve finished with it.

• In the summer, use fine-mesh window and door screens to prevent fruit flies from gaining entry.

ELIMINATION
Oh, no! Despite your best efforts, fruit flies have found their way into your home. You’re surely annoyed, but the situation need not persist. Try this: Fill a small container with a teaspoon of cider vinegar, two tablespoons of water, and a drop or two of fruity-smelling dish soap. Place the container near where the pests have been most active. Although you may need to refresh the trap nightly for a period of three or four days, sooner rather than later you should notice that the fruit fly population has dwindled or disappeared.

Alternatively, drop a piece of rotten fruit into a glass jar. Next, puncture the pointy end of a cone-shaped coffee filter and place the filter on top of the glass jar. Watch as flies pass through the hole to pursue the fruit into the jar only to end up trapped by the filter. Release your prisoners outdoors, repeating the process as often as needed.

An equally effective approach is placing a piece of rotten fruit into a bowl of wine or wine vinegar. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, then use a fork to poke very small holes through the plastic. So long as those holes you make aren’t overly large, the flies won’t be able to escape.

Keep in mind, too, that rubbing alcohol kills fruit flies more or less instantly. If things have gotten out of hand—or if you feel like doing a little hunting at home—fill a spray bottle with alcohol and direct it toward any hovering fruit flies you encounter. Don’t get any of the alcohol on your fruit, though—it causes fruit to spoil.


How To: Choose a Water Heater

Whether tank or tankless, water heaters can dramatically impact your home's comfort and costs. If you are looking to replace an existing unit, the type, size and efficiency of the one you choose will be important.

Water Heaters

Illustration: SupplyHouse.com

While we often take a hot shower or bath for granted, it’s important to note that up to 20% of a household’s annual energy expenditures come from heating hot water. That makes it the second largest utility expense in the home, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, averaging around $400 to $600 per year.  If you are looking to install a new hot water heater—or replace an existing one—the type, size and efficiency of the unit you choose will have a big impact on its performance and long-term savings.

There are a number of different types of water heaters to consider from heat pumps to solar-powered units, but the most common are tank and tankless. Traditional, tank-style water heaters are large metal cylinders that keep hot water stored and on reserve for when it may be needed. Since they typically range in capacity from 40 to 60 gallons and are generally about 60″ tall by 24″ wide, they are often installed in a basement or laundry room.

Tankless units, also known as “on demand” water heaters, turn on only when hot water is required. With no holding tank, the system is not only more compact—typically 20″ wide by 28″ long by 10″ deep—but more efficient since it is not storing a reserve of hot water (or compensating for its subsequent heat loss). Tank-style water heaters are usually less expensive than tankless units, but tankless models generally last longer: a traditional water heater usually lasts 10 to 13 years, while tankless water heaters can last up to 20 years.

Takagi Tankless Water Heater

Takagi Tankless Propane Water Heater at SupplyHouse.com

Regardless of whether the unit is tank or tankless, water heaters generally fall into two categories: direct-fired or indirect-fired. Direct-fired means that the water in the tank is heated directly by the heat of a flame; these units are generally used in homes with warm air furnaces. In direct-fired heaters, fuel is burned in a combustion chamber under the water storage tank, then hot flue gases heat water in the tank.

An indirect-fired water heater gets hot water from a boiler or furnace, which heats water that is then transferred through a heat exchanger located in the storage tank. The energy stored by the storage tank allows the furnace to turn on and off less often, which can save energy and money.

The fuel source is another important consideration when selecting a water heater.  While there are hot water heaters compatible for gas, oil, electric, propane, and even solar, each has its own advantages and disadvantages.  Natural gas units, for instance, produce hot water quickly and are available in various sizes and models, but require venting through a chimney or wall. Liquid propane water heaters have similar venting requirements, but also require a storage tank and regular fuel deliveries. Oil water heaters produce hot water faster than any other method, but there are fewer models from which to choose. Electric water heaters are easy to install and do not require special venting, but they require more energy in comparison to other energy sources.

AO Smith Water Heater

AO Smith 50 Gallon High Efficiency Gas Water Heater at SupplyHouse.com

If you are replacing an existing water heater, you may be able to tackle the job yourself.  “Replacing an old water heater with a newer comparable model is something a DIYer may be able to accomplish,” explains Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “Provided the venting, voltages, and fuel type match up, you would simply shut off the gas and electric, isolate the heater, drain the tank (carefully as the water may still be hot), disconnect it from the system, and swap it out for the new one.”

“Be mindful that the connections from an old unit to a new one might not be in the exact same place, so some re-piping may be in order,” O’Brian continues. “Compare the spec sheets of your new unit to the locations of the connections on your old model to get an idea if there are any changes necessary for a straight swap.”

“A new install of a water heater requires running gas lines, electrical, and setting up proper ventilations,” O’Brian adds. “As such, it should generally be left up to a professional.”

SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of water heaters and accessories from the top manufacturers in the industry. To learn more about water heaters, watch the video below or visit SupplyHouse.com.

 

This post has been brought to you by SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Expansion Tanks: What Are They and Why Are They Important?

When water is heated, it expands, increasing the pressure in closed heating systems. Over time, these pressure fluctuations can damage the system's components. An expansion tank is designed to alleviate this pressure and extend the life of your system. Here's how it works.

Expansion Tank Diagram

Expansion Tank Diagram: SupplyHouse.com

Homeowners looking to maximize the efficiency and life expectancy of their heating and cooling systems may want to consider installing an expansion tank as an easy and inexpensive means of regulating water pressure and preventing costly damage to other components, including pipes.

An expansion tank is designed to relieve pressure in both potable water and closed hydronic heating systems. It ensures that constant pressure is maintained within the pipes so they do not get damaged from excess pressure. “An expansion tank in a heating system is an invaluable component that protects the entire system from the increased pressure and volume caused by heating,” asserts Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com.

“When water is heated, it expands,” O’Brian explains. “In a closed heating system there is only so much space in the pipes and the boiler. If the water is taking up more space and has nowhere to go, the pressure will increase and possibly damage the system, generally at its weakest points, until a leak or even a burst pipe results. An expansion tank is designed to relieve the stress, thereby increasing the life of the components in your entire heating system.”

Extrol Expansion Tank

Extrol 4.4-Gallon Expansion Tank at SupplyHouse.com

Expansion tanks work by equalizing pressure throughout the system. An expansion tank is a small tank divided in two sections by a rubber diaphragm. One side is connected to the pipes of the heating system and contains water. The other side is dry and contains pressurized air, set at approximately 12 psi. As hot water enters the heating system, the pressure in the system increases. As pressure increases, the diaphragm in the expansion tank is pushed down. This compresses the air in the tank, creating more space for excess water to enter. This relieves excess pressure in the system and prevents pipes in the system from being damaged.

Installing an expansion tank is a relatively simple process that can typically be completed in less than an hour by a handy do-it-yourselfer. Some local building codes may require installation by a licensed plumber, however, so you should check with your municipal building department before proceeding with any installation.

Expansion tanks vary in capacity, ranging from tanks that hold as little as two gallons to large tanks that hold several hundred gallons. To determine the size needed for your system, online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a handy Expansion Tank Sizing Calculator on its Web site. Use it to determine the size and model of the expansion tank that’s best suited for your system.

Prices for expansion tanks start at about $30 for small residential tanks and climb up to $800 to $1,000 for larger, commercial tanks. Leading brands include Extrol expansion tanks, manufactured by Amtrol, which are used for hydronic heating systems; the Watts ET series and Bell & Gossett HFT expansion tanks, both designed for use with closed hydronic heating systems; and Therm-X-trol expansion tanks, for use with potable water open systems.

If your home already has an expansion tank in place, you may want to check it periodically to make sure that the tank is functioning. To check if the expansion tank is working properly, simply place your hand on the tank and feel its temperature. The top portion of the tank should feel warm to the touch, and the bottom portion of the tank should be room temperature. If the entire tank is warm, it is likely that the tank has completely filled with hot water, which occurs only if the diaphragm fails. If this happens, the tank must be replaced immediately.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of expansion tanks and accessories from the top manufacturers in the industry. To learn more, watch the video below or visit SupplyHouse.com.

 

This post has been brought to you by SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


How To: Choose the Right Gutters

There is so much to consider when choosing new gutters, including shape, material, and cost. But don't overlook performance and quality, which will over time reward you with reduced maintenance and lasting beauty.

LeafGuard

Photo: LeafGuard Brand Gutters

Gutters are a critical component of a home’s drainage system, and like many exterior features, they’re subject to wear and damage. An important item on your spring maintenance checklist should be to examine and clean out the gutters. Regular cleaning and maintenance will go a long way toward getting the maximum lifespan out of your gutters.

If, however, your gutters are showing signs of severe wear—cracks, holes, and leaks, for example—or if they’re sagging or pulling away from the house or have numerous missing, loose, or bent fasteners, it may be time to look into replacement gutters. Experts point out that water damage to the roof, fascia board, decking, or rafters is a sure sign that gutters are due for replacement. “Most ordinary gutters last about 10 to 15 years,” explains Robert Lowe, director of operations for Englert LeafGuard, originators and makers of the only one-piece, seamless gutter system with built-in hood. “Dangerous water leaks and overflows can cause tremendous damage to a home, sometimes before homeowners are even aware of the problem.”

There are many types and styles of gutters on the market today, with the primary materials being aluminum, copper, steel, galvanized steel, zinc, and vinyl. Aluminum is the most prevalent gutter material and offers several advantages over other types. Aluminum is lightweight, resistant to corrosion, and available in a wide range of colors—and it’s also often the least expensive option.

Copper Gutters

Copper gutters. Photo: shutterstock.com

Other choices among the metals include galvanized steel gutters, which are coated with a layer of zinc; these gutters are strong but may be prone to rusting. Steel gutters also are available with a coating of aluminum and zinc, which alleviates the rust problem but is more expensive. Zinc gutters, yet another option, are also strong and durable, and normally do not require painting or finishing. Copper gutters are an extremely upscale and attractive choice, but cost substantially more than other metals.

Another inexpensive option is vinyl, which is available in a wide range of colors to match many types of vinyl siding. Vinyl gutters are not as durable as metal, however; they break down over time with exposure to sunlight and will therefore need to be replaced much more frequently. Additionally, vinyl gutters typically come in 10-foot sections, and the rubber seals used to join the sections can become brittle and leak.

Most professionals note that aluminum gutters offer the best combination of style, durability, and price. “As far as replacement gutters go, you want seamless aluminum gutters with a minimum thickness of .025 inches,” asserts Lowe. “There also are numerous options for ‘toppers’ for those gutters; the most common are solid hoods and filters. The different toppers each have their good and bad points. The solid toppers are the best, because they use the reverse curve or liquid adhesion model, which works the best. The downside to these types of covers is the installation process, which is generally handled by a subcontractor. These products install under the shingles, which can cause problems with roof warranties.”

LeafGuard

Photo: LeafGuard Brand Gutters

Anyone in the market for new gutters not only has to choose a material, but also has to select among a range of shapes, or profiles. The most popular is the “K-style,” or ogee, gutter, which has a shape similar to decorative crown molding. Fascia gutters, another alternative, feature a smooth face that performs the same function as fascia boards, hiding the edges of the rafter tails from view. Half-round gutters have an open construction with the open side facing the roof. This style has fallen out of favor, because it easily clogs with debris and then overflows. European-style gutter systems are typically half-round gutters made from materials that weather naturally, such as copper.

All gutters come in either sectional or seamless constructions. Most do-it-yourself gutters are sold in 10-foot sections that must then be linked together with snap-in connectors. The drawback to sectional systems is that the joints eventually leak. Seamless gutters, on the other hand, have seams only at the corners. Seamless gutters are typically made of metal and are extruded to custom lengths by professional installers using a portable gutter machine.

 

LeafGuard Brand gutters combine many of the attributes recommended by professionals, according to Lowe. They also carry the Good Housekeeping Seal. “Patented LeafGuard Brand gutters allow homeowners to say goodbye forever to cleaning gutters clogged by leaves and debris, because the one-piece gutter system features a built-in hood that covers the gutter bottom and deflects leaves and other debris,” Lowe adds. “This unique, seamless design keeps debris from collecting in your gutters, which keeps rainwater running freely and safely away from your home—each and every time it rains.”

 

This post has been brought to you by Englert LeafGuard. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Spring Home Maintenance? Don’t Overlook Your Gutters

With all the home maintenance tasks that pile up in the spring, it's easy to forget about cleaning the gutters. Don't ignore this important chore! If you don't clear debris from your gutters, you could be heading for roofing, siding, and foundation issues in the months ahead.

Spring Gutter Cleaning

Photo: LeafGuard

Spring has officially arrived, and that means a whole host of outdoor chores for homeowners. One of the most important—but often overlooked—tasks is checking gutters for winter debris and damage.

A properly functioning gutter system protects your home from water damage by draining water from the roof and funneling it away from the house. When the gutters and downspouts are clogged, however, water can back up and damage the roof, fascia, soffits, and siding.

Experts agree that regular examination and maintenance will help reduce the need for gutter repairs and replacement. “One of the biggest problems we see with regular gutters is that the problems are hidden from view for most homeowners,” points out Robert Lowe, director of operations for Englert LeafGuard, a leading manufacturer of covered one-piece gutter systems. “From the ground it is very difficult to see inside of the gutter; therefore, most problems with built-up debris are noticed only when it is too late and damage is occurring.

Spring Gutter Cleaning - Damage

Photo: LeafGuard

“The most common problem is the obvious leaves and debris clogging the gutters, making the water back up over the top and damaging the fascia board, then the decking, the rafters, and in some cases the foundation of the home itself,” Lowe continues. “If you have ever experienced gutters that are pulling away from the house, or if you have to keep pushing the spikes back into the gutters to hold them to the house, these are tell-tale signs of fascia board damage. The problems need to be fixed as soon as possible because damage ramps up fast—as the gutter starts to sag, it can cause more water to run over, which in turn leads to more and faster damage.”

A simple way to check on a gutter’s performance is to wait for a rainy day and look to see if water is emptying from the downspouts. If water isn’t flowing freely from the bottom of a downspout, or if you notice water overflowing the edges of the gutter, there is debris clogging the gutters or downspouts or both.

According to Lowe, the easiest answer to most gutter problems is to clean your gutters on a regular basis. Most debris consists of small leaves and twigs that can either be scooped out by hand or removed with a handheld leaf blower or wet/dry vacuum. Flushing the gutters with a garden hose removes dirt and small particles. For denser debris, you may want to invest in a gutter cleaning tool. Most clogged downspouts can be flushed with a garden hose; use a plumber’s snake to break up those really stubborn clogs.  (Note: If you are climbing a ladder, be sure to follow safety measures.)

Gutter cleaning may be needed much more frequently than just once a season, especially if you live in an area where there are many trees. “The one problem we find, other than procrastination, is that you go out on a Saturday and spend all day cleaning the gutters and sealing up holes only for a windstorm to come the following week and blow more debris right back into the gutters,” Lowe says. “Most people don’t realize that more debris actually blows into the gutter system than gets washed in with rain.”

Spring Gutter Cleaning - After

Photo: LeafGuard

Other problems to look for when cleaning gutters include holes, corrosion, sagging sections, and loose, bent, or missing fasteners. Holes should be plugged or caulked immediately. Sagging is often the result of loose or missing spikes, which should be tightened or replaced.

In some cases, however, gutters may simply be too far gone and need to be replaced. “If you have problems with your gutters and you want to solve the problems once and for all, you have to ask the question, ‘What do I want my gutters not to do ever again?’ ” Lowe explains. “The top two answers should be, ‘I don’t want the water from my gutters to get to my house’ and ‘I don’t want to have to clean them again.’ ”

Lowe points out that LeafGuard Brand gutters solve both of these issues, due to the product’s patented one-piece design and seamless construction. “LeafGuard Brand by Englert is the original and only one-piece gutter system, with a built-in hood that covers the gutter bottom and deflects leaves and other debris,” Lowe says. “This unique, seamless design keeps debris from collecting in your gutters, which prevents clogs from forming; keeps water flowing freely; eliminates leaks and the threat of water damage; and makes climbing ladders to clean gutters unnecessary. LeafGuard Brand gutters eliminate the problems homeowners worry about, because these gutters will not let water go anywhere but out the front or down the downspout.”

Spring Gutter Cleaning - Guard

Photo: LeafGuard

This post has been brought to you by Englert LeafGuard. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


A Few Things to Consider When Installing a Radiant Heat System

If you're thinking of installing a radiant heating system, you need to take a number of factors into consideration. Here's a quick rundown.

radiant heat

Over-pour radiant heat installation. Photo: stepbystep.com

Comfortable, even, and efficient, radiant heat systems are becoming a popular option for many homeowners today. But there are a number of factors that come into play when considering radiant heat, including the type of radiant system desired and whether the installation is for new construction or retrofit.

There are two basic types of radiant heating systems—hydronic and electric. Hydronic systems are the most common; these systems use hot water passing through tubing to heat a space. Electric radiant heat uses electric cables or mats for the same purpose. There are four basic types of radiant heating installations: in-slab systems that are installed in a new cement foundation when it is being poured; an “over-pour” installation, where the tubing is installed on an existing foundation and then covered by an additional layer of cement; joist track systems that fit in between existing floor joists; and wood panel track systems that can be installed over existing subfloors.

A number of specialized components are required for radiant heat installations, including the tubing itself. “When installing a hydronic radiant heat system, most of the time you’ll want to use an oxygen barrier PEX tubing to prevent rusting of the cast iron components in your heating system,” notes Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “This oxygen barrier tubing is what carries the hot water through the flooring or track system and transfers the heat to the space.” There are many brands of oxygen barrier tubing available, explains O’Brian, including Uponor, the highest quality, Rifeng, the least expensive, and ThermaPEX, which offers the best combination of price and quality. All of these brands of radiant tubing carry a 25-year warranty and require PEX tools and fittings for installation.

Rifeng manifold

Rifeng Stainless Steel Radiant Heat Manifold from SupplyHouse.com.

Another necessary component of radiant heat systems is the manifold, which serves as a hub from which the hot water from the boiler is distributed to different tubing loops throughout the house. These manifolds often come with special features, including balancing valves and flow meters, temperature gauges, shut-off valves, and actuators.

The main “engine” driving the radiant heat system is, of course, the boiler, and there are several options available depending on whether you are retrofitting an existing home or building a new house. “For new construction, a condensing boiler would be ideal,” O’Brian says, because the lower temperatures radiant systems require make efficient use of a condensing boiler’s capabilities. For a retrofit without a condensing boiler, he notes that “a mixing valve would be required to mix the hot boiler supply water with the cooler return water to achieve the desired radiant water temperature.”

Heat transfer plates are another important component, and these also differ depending on the type of installation planned. “Uponor Joist Trak panels or Ultra-Fin suspended panels are popular for retrofit applications because they are installed between joists—which is generally easier than ripping up the floor,” O’Brian points out. “For new construction, you could consider using Uponor’s Quik Trak or the similar Warmboard floor panels. Quik Trak is a low-profile option that can be installed on top of the subfloor, while Warmboard’s heavier, thicker panels can be installed as the subfloor. For installations in concrete, you would need proper slab insulation, and you’d likely want to use bend supports where the tubing leaves the slab to protect the tubing against possible friction due to expansion and contraction.”

QuikTrack Radiant Package

Uponor's Quik Trak Radiant Heating System package from SupplyHouse.com

While most of these components can be purchased separately, there are also specialized radiant heat packages that offer homeowners a simplified approach to an installation project. Radiant heat packages are available for installations ranging from 250 to 2,000 square feet and come in several styles, including Joist Trak, Quik Trak, slab, and suspended pipe applications. Slab packages are the least expensive, priced from $267 for 250 square feet to $2,132 for 2,000 square feet; suspended pipe packages range from $427 for 250 square feet to $3,570 for 2,000 square feet; Joist Trak packages start at $1,072 for 250 square feet and go up to $6,614 for 2,000 square feet; and Quik Trak packages are the most expensive, ranging from $1,532 for 250 square feet to $11,095 for 2,000 square feet.

There also are numerous accessories available for radiant heating systems. O’Brian recommends radiant thermostats that are compatible with a floor sensor. “Standard thermostats can cause the heat to overshoot the set point,” he explains. “Overheating can cause damage to wood floors and just be plain uncomfortable to your feet. With a floor sensor, you can either set a temperature for the floor to reach, or set a max temperature so the floor does not overheat.”

Online retailer PexSupply.com offers a large selection of products and packages for installing radiant heating systems from the top manufacturers in the industry, and features a variety of product calculators, informative articles, and instructional videos on its Web site. For more, visit PexSupply.com.

 

This post has been brought to you by SupplyHouse.com.  Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.