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+!

How To: Choose an LED Bulb

These days, you'll find a dizzying array of new options in the light bulb aisle. The next time you're out hunting for a replacement, let this tutorial help guide your selection.

How to Choose an LED Bulb

Photo: supplyhouse.com

If you’ve gone out to buy a light bulb recently, chances are you’ve hesitated over the unfamiliar selection. Traditional incandescent light bulbs have gone by the wayside, having been replaced by a slew of newer—and seemingly quite pricey—energy-efficient options. Clearly, something has changed. So what’s going on? In 2007, the federal government passed the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), mandating higher energy standards. One target of these new regulations was lighting efficiency. While the typical consumer probably never noticed, the standard incandescent bulb is a real energy-waster; in fact, it wastes about 90 percent of the energy it uses. Efficient bulbs can produce the same amount of light with much less energy.

Among the field of new energy-efficient light bulbs, LEDs are swiftly emerging as a homeowner favorite. In part, that’s because they produce the most pleasing light. But you’ve got to be impressed by their stats too: LEDs operate five times more efficiently than yesterday’s incandescent. Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com, adds, “Another large advantage is projected lifespan. While incandescent bulbs last about 1,200 hours, you can expect an LED bulb to last up to 50,000 hours. That would be equal to having to replace 42 incandescent bulbs over the lifetime of a single LED.” That’s impressive.

Though LED light bulbs cost more to purchase (about $10 per, as of this writing), they and their efficient cousins are poised to save the average household about $50 annually, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. With such savings at stake, it’s no wonder everyone’s scrambling to understand the new products on offer in the light bulb aisle. If your head’s still spinning, consult the guidelines below for help in choosing an LED bulb that’s just right for your home.

How to Choose an LED Bulb - A-Type

Photo: supplyhouse.com

Watts vs. Lumens
Only a couple of years ago, we’d compare wattages in order to distinguish between the brightness of different light bulbs. Nowadays, what matters is the bulbs’ output in lumens. O’Brian explains, “Wattage really refers to power consumption.” Lumens, on the other hand, “actually measure the brightness of a light.” This isn’t change for the sake of change alone. The fact is that newer bulbs are so efficient that they render the old packaging system meaningless. O’Brian says that “while a 40-watt incandescent can give off around 450 lumens, a 7-watt LED can provide the same brightness.” It may be a bit confusing and inconvenient, but clearly, in today’s shifting landscape, lumens are the only measurement that counts.

To assist consumers in their watts-to-lumens transition, the American Lighting Association has issued guidelines for consumers seeking efficient equivalents to the incandescents they’re accustomed to buying:

• To replace a 40-watt incandescent bulb, choose a bulb that will produce 450 lumens.
• To replace a 60-watt incandescent bulb, choose a bulb that will produce 800 lumens.
• To replace a 75-watt incandescent bulb, choose a bulb that will produce 1,100 lumens.
• To replace a 100-watt incandescent bulb, choose a bulb that will produce 1,600 lumens.

Color Temperature
Anybody who’s worked in a fluorescent-lit office knows too well that brightness isn’t the only key factor. Equally important is color temperature—that is, how warm or cool the light appears. Color temperature is measured in Kelvin (K); the higher the number, the cooler the light. For example, “soft white” bulbs are rated up to 2700K, on the low side of the scale, producing a warm, relaxing glow. “Daylight” bulbs, rated from 5000K to 6500K, produce a crisp light suitable for laundry rooms, garages, and security purposes.

Shapes and Sizes
LED bulbs come in many different shapes, each of which has its own intended use. The most familiar bulb shape is known as “A-line”; these are what you’d use for, say, a table lamp. “Candle”-shape bulbs are designed for chandeliers and wall sconces, while “globe” bulbs are ideal for pendant lamps or any other application in which there isn’t a shade. Other popular shapes include floodlights, spotlights, and down lights.

Your Bottom Line
It’s certainly true that LED bulbs cost more than incandescents. The financial benefit of the efficient light bulbs comes over the long term, because LEDs cost about 75 percent less to operate and seldom need replacement. Think of it this way: Whereas running a 60-watt incandescent bulb costs about $4.80 per year, running an equivalent LED costs only a dollar.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of LED light bulbs from industry-leading brands. For more information or to view an assortment of LED bulbs, visit SupplyHouse.com now!

 

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


A New Tool in the Shed Promises to Replace All the Others

What if the key to an organized shed is simply to ditch all your tools? Well, all tools but one. Troy-Bilt's newest system can mow the lawn, blast leaves, throw snow and much more. It may be the last outdoor tool you ever buy.

Flex System's New Do-It-All Yard Tool

Photo: Troy-Bilt FLEX System

Next spring, one yard care system is going to revolutionize the way homeowners stock their sheds. We’re used to such things as the lawn mower, leaf blower, snowblower and pressure washer all being separate machines, but the FLEX line, from Troy-Bilt, unites them all in a single, first-of-its-kind outdoor tool.

At its heart, the FLEX is a single engine designed to power a suite of attachments, each designed for a specific purpose. Choose only the attachments you want, foregoing the ones you don’t need. In addition to the four that currently comprise the FLEX roster, the company plans to develop the following in 2015 and 2016:
- Power broom
- Log splitter
- Water pump
- Chipper/shredder
- Generator
- Aerator
- Dethatcher
- Brushcutter

Each attachment will be sold separately, in à la carte fashion. The only component all customers need to buy is the power base. From there, it’s a question of need. If you live in a warmer part of the country, the attachments you choose are very likely to be different from those chosen by a homeowner in the Northeast.

FLEX System Lawn Mower and Leaf Blower units

FLEX System Lawn Mower and Leaf Blower units

The real advantage of the FLEX is how it frees you from having to store a bevy of single-function outdoor tools, each with its own bulky motor. According to Troy-Bilt, the FLEX line takes up to 60% less storage space than a traditional collection of the same equipment. Plus, there’s only one engine to maintain.

FLEX System Snow Thrower and Pressure Washer units

FLEX System Snow Thrower and Pressure Washer units

When the FLEX hits stores in March, the power base is expected to retail for $399, with a four-year limited warranty. Attachments will range from $279 to $499, each covered for two years. It may seem like a long time to wait, but we’ve waited so long to fit the car in the garage again, we can probably hold off a little longer.


Buyer’s Guide: Chainsaws

Once the province only of horror movies and lumber harvest, chainsaws are becoming more and more popular among homeowners who like to do landscaping. Read our take on the best the market has to offer.

Best Chainsaws

Photo: shutterstock.com

As much as chainsaws hold appeal for tool geeks and aspiring lumberjacks, they are also quite handy for the average homeowner, particularly those who like to do landscaping. Likewise, if you heat your home with wood, you may in fact already own a chainsaw. There are number of types and sizes on the market today, ranging from light- to heavy-duty. Choosing the best chainsaw isn’t a matter of buying the top of the line (that’d be “too much tool” for most). Making the right selection starts with an honest assessment of your needs—that is, for what purpose are you buying a chainsaw? Keep in mind its intended uses, and you can dramatically narrow down the field of options. That’s not to say power and size are the sole considerations; factors like noise and fuel type are also worth weighing. Read on to learn what distinguishes different chainsaws, so you can understand the market and choose the best chainsaw for your specific purposes.

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Size/Power: The size of a chainsaw hinges on its bar length—that is, the distance from the cutting tip to the housing. In effect, the bar length is the cutting area; the larger the cutting area, the larger the jobs you can confidently tackle. Bar lengths run as short as six inches or as long as 20 inches (the former would obviously weigh less than the latter). At least in gas-powered models, another measure of chainsaw power is engine displacement—that is, the engine size. A higher number indicates a more powerful engine (but here, too, recognize that the larger you go, the more weight you’ll have to lug around while you’re working).

Best Chainsaws - Cutting

Photo: shutterstock.com

Fuel Type: Quintessential chainsaws are gas-powered, but there are now many quieter, lighter—and yes, less powerful—electric models on the market. Some are corded, meaning in order to operate the tool, you must be in range of an electrical power source. Cordless chainsaws, meanwhile, run on rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. Though most lack the brawn to take down trees, battery-powered saws are more than serviceable for many common applications.

Exhaust: While electric chainsaws obviously do not release exhaust, gas-powered models emit carbon monoxide and other pollutants. In fact, California residents are only legally permitted to use chainsaws that run in compliance with certain environmental standards set by the state.

Noise: They’re loud! That’s the most frequent complaint made against chainsaws, and with good reason. At full tilt, gas-powered models can exceed 100 decibels. And believe or not, some electric saws are just about as noisy. There are some electrics, however, which operate at about 85 decibels. So if you have neighbors close by, consider choosing one of those quieter models. No matter your choice, remember to always wear hearing protection when working with such a loud tool.

Safety Features: Chainsaws are dangerous, plain and simple. They cause thousands of injuries each year. Some of the best chainsaws feature such safety features as a trigger lock, which stops the cutting action the moment you release the trigger. Also, look for anti-kickback chains, which prevent snags and minimize jolting. Finally, there are double-acting chain brakes that protect the hand from moving toward the cutting area. Focus only on models whose design prioritizes your safety.

Accessories: A range of other miscellaneous features may be found in the chainsaw market. Some may be irrelevant to your needs, but others may provide a compelling reason to select one tool over another. Look out for side-mounted or tool-free chain tensioning, for instance; that makes it easier to adjust chain tension on the go. Also handy are see-through oil and gas tanks, self-oiling chains, and spring-assist starting. The latter reduces the pulling force needed to get the tool going—what a relief!

On electric models, built-in circuit breakers prevent the motor from burning out. Corded models need heavy-gauge weatherproof extensions and a ground fault circuit interrupter. Cordless models, meanwhile, are most convenient when they come with an extended-life battery (or an extra).

To help take some of the guesswork out of the shopping process, we’ve identified a few of the top-rated chainsaws available today. These recommendations are based on the criteria listed above, on ratings by leading consumer testing sites, and on reviews written by actual people. Check out the best chainsaws:

 

Husqvarna 450 18-Inch 50.2cc X-Torq 2-Cycle Gas-Powered Chain Saw

Best Chainsaws - Husqvarna

Photo: amazon.com

The Husqvarna 450 was rated by Consumer Search as the best chainsaw among gas-powered models. Amazon shoppers give it 4.2 out of 5 stars, reserving praise for its power and ease of use. Reviewers say it’s “easy to use,” “quiet,” and “powerful,” cutting through hardwood “like a knife through butter.” The Husqvarna 450 offers a Smart Start feature and is CARB-compliant. The unit has a 50.2 cc motor powers and a 20-inch bar. Other features include a Low Vib vibration dampening system; combined choke/stop control; a centrifugal air cleaning system; chain brake; and snap-lock cylinder cover. Price: $357

 

Black & Decker LP1000 Alligator Lopper 4.5 Amp Electric Chain Saw

Best Chainsaws - Alligator

Photo: amazon.com

The electric-powered Alligator Lopper excels at cutting branches up to four inches in diameter. For that reason, Amazon shoppers gave it 4.7 out of 5 stars. One reviewer calls it his “new favorite tool.” Another says it’s “ideal for 99% of the cutting I need to do.” With a 4.5 amp motor powering a six-inch bar, the Lopper boasts powerful clamping jaws that grab and cut in one easy motion. Plus, metal guards protect the cutting chain, allowing for safe use. Price: $79

 

GreenWorks 20322 DigiPro G-MAX 40V Li-Ion 16-Inch Cordless Chainsaw

Best Chainsaws - Greenworks

Photo: amazon.com

Designated the best cordless unit, receiving 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon, shoppers praised the Greenworks G-MAX as “comparable to gas-powered chainsaws” in power and importantly, “easy to use.” Powered by an interchangeable 40-volt lithium-ion battery system, the chainsaw delivers higher performance and a longer run time than other cordless options, with a single charge allowing for up to 100 cuts. Additional features include a 16-inch bar length, auto-oiler lubrication system, chain brake, and low-kickback chain for safety. Price: $194


How To: Prevent or Eliminate Closet Moths

Storing clothes for the off-season? Protect your wardrobe from moths using these simple, effective tips.

How to Get Rid of Moths

Photo: shutterstock.com

Tineola bisselliella, the common clothes moth, wreaks havoc on wardrobes, destroying shirts and socks, pants and sweaters, without your even noticing there’s a pest problem. Once clothes moths find their way to your natural fabrics, the insects lay eggs and the situation worsens, with hatched larvae hungrily feeding themselves on wood, silk, fur and cotton. The best way to get rid of moths is to never allow an infestation in the first place. Prevention is key; eradication can be a real chore. We’ll cover both. Whether you’ve discovered clothes moths in your home—yikes!—or are hoping never to see one, follow the advice outlined below.

PREVENTION
Take the following precautions to ensure that your store clothing remains free of moths:

• Since food stains attract moths, be sure to launder all clothing before putting it away, particularly if you’re storing garments for the off-season.

• If you plan to leave clothes untouched for a few months, store them in airtight bins or vacuum bags.

• Install lighting in the closet and keep an efficient LED bulb going at all times. Clothes moths prefer dark environments and are likely to shy away.

• Once per season, clean the interior of the closet with an all-purpose cleaner, paying special attention to corners, shelves, and baseboards.

Vacuum a carpeted closet as often as once per week. Allow dirt and dust to accumulate, and you’re extending an open invitation to clothes moths.

• A lot of people hate the smell of mothballs. If you’re one of those people, consider natural repellents, including red cedar chips and ground black pepper.

How to Get Rid of Moths - Infestation

Photo: shutterstock.com

REMOVAL
Damage to your clothing provides unmistakable evidence of a moth infestation. But if you’re not sure whether or not there’s an issue, keep an eye out: Clothes moths are typically light gold or buff-colored, with a half-inch wingspan (their larvae, meanwhile, look like small white worms). If despite your best efforts, you discover moths have invaded your closet, don’t despair. You can solve the problem in relatively short order with some elbow grease:

1. Vigorously brush (or even vacuum) your clothes, then launder (or dry-clean) all damaged garments—that is, the ones that are salvageable. For best results, wash all affected clothes in hot water—at least 120 degrees—for at least 20 minutes. (You can also try freezing garments for several days). If you encounter any items that’ve been damaged beyond repair, seal them in plastic garbage bags, then remove the bags from your home as soon as possible.

2. Vacuum the floors, shelves, and walls of your closet, paying special attention to the nooks and crannies that may be concealing larvae. Next, spray the closet with insecticide specially formulated for moths. Suitable products are those containing pyrethrum, chlorpyrifos, allethrin or permethrin as the active ingredient.

3. Prevent future infestations by storing clothing in airtight containers or vacuum bags. For extra protection, use a moth repellant, whether mothballs or a natural substitute. You also may want to try moth traps; these are adhesive-lined cardboard enclosures baited with artificial pheromones. The virtue of traps is that that they can help you monitor moth activity, giving you a sense of the problem’s severity. In some cases, it may be wise to call in a pest control specialist.


How To: Paint IKEA Furniture

If your IKEA furniture has seen better days, or it's outlived your love of its look, maybe all it needs is a new coat of paint?

How to Paint IKEA Furniture

Photo: shutterstock.com

Years ago, you purchased particleboard furniture at IKEA. Maybe it’s begun to show its age, or maybe you simply no longer like the color. Either way, you can—contrary to popular belief—renew your furniture’s lease on life with a fresh coat of paint. The work demands a certain amount of preparation; paint projects always do. But it’s eminently possible to get the job done successfully, transforming the look of the Lack or Expedit you’re still not (or never will be?) ready to part with.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Cleaning supplies (clean cloths and dishwashing detergent)
- Fine- and medium-grit sandpaper
- Oil-based primer
- Oil- or water-based paint
- Paintbrush

STEP 1
When you set out to paint IKEA furniture, start by pulling off all the removable pieces. That includes such things as shelves and doors (components that are easier to paint separately) and hardware, such as hinges and knobs. Label each piece as you set it aside so that once finished, you’ll know what goes where.

How to Paint Ikea Furniture - Detail Shot

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
Next, use a clean cloth to wipe down all surfaces with a mixture of warm water and a small amount of dishwashing detergent. The aim here is to eliminate any built-up grit. As you clean the particleboard, be very careful not saturate the material. Clean only the laminate portions of the furniture, not the pressed wood. Once you’ve finished, go over the piece with a dry cloth to remove any lingering soap residue.

STEP 3
Having allowed the IKEA furniture enough time to dry completely, proceed to sand the surface with 120- or 140-grit sandpaper. Here, scuff the laminate enough so that the primer coat can adhere. Steer clear of sanding too aggressively, which can leave the surface uneven or cause the particleboard to deteriorate.

STEP 4
When you’ve finished sanding, wipe the sanding dust off the furniture and vacuum the work area so that the dust doesn’t find its way back. Now, with a quality paintbrush, apply a coat of oil-based primer and let it dry.

STEP 5
Sand the furniture a second time, this time with 400-grit sandpaper. Clean the sawdust off the furniture and work area before applying the second coat of primer. Before you proceed to the next step, be sure to wait a few days—or as long as a week—for the primer to fully cure.

STEP 6
Lightly scuff the primed surfaces with medium-grit sandpaper, wipe away the sanding dust, then apply the first coat of paint in the color of your choice. Do so in a thin layer, allowing a day or two of drying time.

STEP 7
Lightly sand the first coat of paint, wipe away the sanding dust, then brush on the second, final coat. Give it a couple of days to dry, reassemble the furniture, replace the hardware, and you’re all done!


Prevent a Crisis: This Fall, Give Your Furnace a Tune-Up

Don't get left out in the cold! A little maintenance and attention now can keep your furnace chugging away all winter long.

Furnace Cleaning and Maintenance

Photo: trusthomesense.com

Don’t wait until temperatures plummet: Now is the absolute best time to perform basic furnace cleaning and maintenance. By tuning up your heating appliance, you can save the time and money that might have had to go into addressing a crisis—and of course, you can avoid the inconvenience (and downright danger) of leaving your family without heat during the coldest part of the year. Also, by performing these very basic furnace cleaning and maintenance tasks, you can actually prolong the life of your furnace and coax it into operating at maximum energy efficiency. Follow these steps now to keep the unit in tip-top shape through the winter.

Furnace Cleaning and Maintenance - Diagram

Photo: coservicetechs.com

Combustion Chamber
Before doing anything else, cut both the electrical power and fuel supply to the furnace. Accomplish the former by toggling the on-off switch on the unit itself. To do the latter, first find the fuel shutoff valve. (Depending on your fuel source—oil or gas—the valve should either be near the oil tank or on the incoming gas pipe.) Next, remove the door to the combustion chamber and proceed to vacuum the interior. Inspect the chamber for holes created by corrosion. If you find any, be sure to cover them with foil tape.

Blower Compartment
Lift off the door to the blower compartment and thoroughly vacuum inside. As you did in the combustion chamber, look here—and in the exhaust flue—for holes. Cover any holes with foil tape before replacing the door. Perform the same inspection on all ductwork, including the return air ducts, patching if necessary.

Furnace Filter
Basic furnace filters are designed to trap dust, dirt, and airborne particulates before they can enter the furnace and potentially damage its components. During heating season, clean or replace the furnace filter every one to three months (some filters can be cleaned, while others can’t). Note that because today’s homes are so tightly sealed, most indoor air circulates through the HVAC system. For that reason, it’s generally worthwhile to spend a bit more on a furnace filter that not only protects the appliance itself, but also enhances air quality by trapping bacteria and pollen as well as mildew and mold spores. If yours is an oil-fired furnace, remember to replace the oil filter as well as the air filter; the oil filter should be replaced annually.

Motor Bearings
Many older furnaces have two motor bearings and two blower-shaft bearings. Both sets need to be oiled at least once per year. Start by using a clean cloth to wipe the caps over the bearings. Next, remove the caps and apply two or three drops of lightweight machine oil to each bearing,being careful not to over lubricate. Finish by restoring the caps to their original positions.

Hire a Pro?
Although basic furnace maintenance can be handled by most homeowners, there are some instances in which it only makes sense to hire a professional—for instance, if you’ve noticed the furnace rumbling and can’t figure out why. Any of the below situations usually call for a consultation with a HVAC pro.

Excessive soot: If in the course of cleaning the combustion chamber you notice that an excessive amount of soot has accumulated, that indicates that the burners need adjustment or that the heat exchanger must be replaced. Call in a pro to diagnose and fix the problem.

Irregular flame: The pilot light flame should be blue, not yellow. If yours is faint or irregular, it can be a sign of dirty burners or a cracked heat exchanger. Again, hire a pro to diagnose and fix the problem. The hazards involved make such work ill-advised for do-it-yourselfers.

Short cycling: Is your furnace running for a short period of time only to shut off suddenly? That’s known as “short cycling” and may be caused by an out-of-whack thermostat or an overheating exchanger. Retain the services of a pro to investigate and solve the problem.


Is Now the Time to Replace Your Front Door?

Swap out your current front door in favor of one that not only looks better from the curb, but also functions better day to day.

Photo: pella.com

Everyone knows the importance of making a good first impression. Yes, that’s advice for first dates and job interviews, but it also applies to home design and remodeling. And while curb appeal depends on many factors—landscaping and siding, lighting and lawn care—the front door, the focal point of the facade, trumps the others in terms of importance. It also has essential daily functions to perform, keeping out the weather and intruders, while also resisting more wear and tear than most other components are subject to. Despite its prominence, we rarely think twice about the entryway. Perhaps it’s time that we gave it our full attention.

Properly maintained, a quality door can last for decades, but there comes a time when it makes more sense to replace it than to repair it. If you’re trying to figure out whether or not that time has come for your entryway, take a close look and ask yourself the following questions:

• Is your front door weathered, scratched, or dented?
• Are there cracks or breaks along the door’s edges or within its panels?
• Does the door let in drafts?
• Have you encountered difficulty getting the door to hang level on its hinges?
• Is it often a hassle to close and lock the door?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then it may be wise to consider front door replacement. Think about not only the problems that exist with your current entryway, but also the advantages to be gained from putting in a new one—improved appearance, energy efficiency, security, ease of operation and more. Best of all, research suggests that when you move out, you are very likely to recoup most of what you spend on a new door. According to the Remodeling magazine 2014 Cost vs. Value Report, front door replacement ranks as the single most cost-effective home upgrade, returning more than 95% of the investment!

Photo: pella.com

Of course, deciding to replace the front door isn’t the only choice to be made. Exterior doors differ in size, architectural style, and accessories. They also differ in material, and for many homeowners, differentiating between wood, fiberglass, and steel often ends up being the most challenging part of the process. Selecting one is a matter of your budget, and of weighing the pros and cons of each material. Here’s what to know:

Heavy in feel and inviting to look at, wood doors are generally the most traditional, often including rich details and decorative, light-admitting glass inserts. Typically, they’re most at home in heritage house styles (e.g., Craftsman, Colonial, and Victorian), but since they are available in such a wide assortment of finishes, you can bet there’s a wood door out there that would work perfectly as the portal to your place.

Fiberglass doors are significantly more affordable than wood, but equally appealing to homeowners are their low maintenance requirements. And while wood doors last a long time, fiberglass doors are also quite durable, being resistant to dents and cracks, rot and rust. You can get them in a virtually any finish you can think of, which means that no matter what sort of house you live in, fiberglass remains a top option.

Now if security is the main thing you want, nothing beats steel doors. These are the strongest of all, deterring not only intruders but also fire and moisture degradation. Often forgotten, too, is that most steel doors contain an insulating foam core, which means they excel in energy efficiency. Pre-primed, steel doors can be finished with any exterior paint in the color that best complements the outside of your home.

Once you’ve chosen a material, there are plenty of ways you can customize your chosen front door. For instance, there are glazing options, such as glass inserts, sidelights, and transoms. And there also countless styles and finishes available in hardware—door knobs, handles, and lock sets. To see a comprehensive collection of all the different looks you can achieve in your entryway, visit the Pella Photo Gallery.

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


This Fall, Tune Up the Engine That Drives Your Hydronic Heating

At the heart of a hydronic heating system is the circulator pump. Check yours in fall to be sure it remains in good working order.

Circulator Pumps

Photo: supplyhouse.com

Colder temperatures mean one thing: Winter looms on the horizon, so the time has come to make sure that your heating system remains in good working order. For a hydronic system, maintenance must include the circulator pump, as it’s essentially the “engine” of it all and arguably the single most important component.

Though other parts are more vulnerable to failure, circular pumps are by no means invincible. “A number of things can go wrong,” explains Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. What types of problems should you look out for? Well, that depends on the design of the pump.

The main pump types are three-piece circulators and cartridge circulators. Of the two, three-piece circulators are more problematic. O’Brian says, “Three-piece circulators are more of an ‘old school’ style and have more replaceable parts, which need to be oiled on a regular basis, particularly at the start of each heating season.” Homeowners should listen for indications of a problem. ”If it suddenly starts making odd or annoying noises, something may be off,” O’Brian says.

Circulator Pumps - Replacement Cartridge

Replacement Cartridge for Taco Series 1600 Pumps. Photo: supplyhouse.com

Cartridge circulators, meanwhile, are water-lubricated. “These do not require oil and have very few replaceable parts,” O’Brian says. “Cartridge circulators may need a new cartridge every now and again,” but there’s not often cause to replace the pump itself. For that reason, cartridge-type circulators have become standard.

If a homeowner sees the day when his circulator pump must finally be replaced, it can be a simple DIY. But choosing the right replacement pump requires an understanding of several factors:

• Different pumps feature different flow rates. Measured in gallons per minute (GPM), the flow rate of a pump refers to the maximum volume of water it can circulate at a given head range.

• The head range is the number of feet a pump can raise or lower a column of water at atmospheric pressure.

• In a closed-loop hydronic system, the circulator pump can be cast iron, because the water used is de-oxygenated to prevent rusting. By contrast, in an open-loop hydronic system, where there’s a steady flow of oxygenated water, the circulator pump must be made of either bronze or stainless steel to prevent corrosion.

• Some pumps offer variable-speed functions that accommodate for changes throughout the day in a home’s heating load. Use a variable speed pumps in a zone valve system or with radiant heat that depends on a single manifold for multiple zones.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of circulator pumps from industry leaders Taco, Bell & Gossett, Grundfos, Wilo, and Armstrong, and features a variety of informative tools on its website, including this helpful video:

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


Today’s Homeowners Rediscover the Benefits of a Root Cellar

Store fruits and vegetables appropriately—in a cool, dark, well-ventilated storage area—and the fall harvest can last you most or all the way through the winter.

How to Build a Root Cellar

Photo: shutterstock.com

Until fruits and vegetables were available year-round at the grocery store, the root cellar played a vital role in daily life. Today, backyard gardeners (and those who buy in bulk at peak season) are rediscovering the advantages of the root cellar—in essence, a pantry for long-term storage of produce like apples and potatoes. Though classic root cellars were dug into hillsides, there are plenty of more casual ways to achieve the same result. No matter your approach to making one, keep these considerations in mind as you work to ensure that your grown or purchased produce lasts as long as possible into the winter season.

Temperature
When you set out to build a root cellar, temperature outweighs all other factors in importance. The reason why root cellars are so often underground is that below grade, temperatures are not only stable but cool. Anywhere between 32 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal. Keep a close eye on the temperature, at least when you start. For help here, it’s certainly worthwhile to invest in a quality thermometer; choose one that tracks minimum and maximum readings over a set period of time.

Indoors, store produce low to the ground and close to the walls. Here, produce will remain a few degrees cooler than it would on a high shelf near the middle of the space. If your basement doesn’t get down to 32 or 40 degrees, follow in the footsteps of others who have dug below the basement slab in order to access cooler temperatures. The easiest method—though it has drawbacks—is to simply bury a produce-filled plastic or metal trash can in the yard, covering it closed with straw.

How to Build a Root Cellar - Potatoes

Photo: shutterstock.com

Ventilation
For a successful root cellar, the ventilation system must be designed so that it exchanges air without simultaneously raising the temperature. That can be accomplished by leveraging simple science: Warm air rises and cool air falls, so locate the intake on the low side of the cellar, while positioning the outlet near the ceiling of the storage area. A fan can force air through the intake, and if you are building the root cellar in your basement, a window can serve as the outlet. If possible, store produce in elevated crates for better circulation.

Humidity
Maintain a humidity level that’s high—about 90 to 95 percent relative humidity—but not so high that the root cellar becomes a dripping jungle. A dirt or gravel-covered floor may be moistened periodically with the addition of water. If humidity levels still fall short, try packing the produce in damp sawdust, sand, or moss. Along the way, track your progress with a hygrometer, a simple device that measures relative humidity.

Darkness
Because light can cause some fruits and vegetables to spoil more rapidly, keep the root cellar as dark as possible. If the storage area is going to inhabit your basement, plan to fully cover over any windows.

Size
A root cellar doesn’t need to be large. A five-by-eight space can hold up to 30 bushels—more than enough for most families. To maximize storage and to keep things organized, install slatted shelves along the walls.

Different types of produce have different storage requirements. If you’re serious about building a root cellar, research the recommendations for the specific fruits and vegetables you plan to keep there. With the general advice above, however, you should be well on your way to winter’s worth of healthy, fresh eating. Yum!

 


Buyer’s Guide: Best Dishwashers

Dirty dishes, meet your match. Today's dishwashers can handle the toughest grease and grime while using less water and energy than ever before. Whether you're finally moving up from hand-washing or are itching to upgrade, your dishwasher search starts now.

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When you’re planning a dinner party, it’s not long before you start picturing the pile of plates that will await you once your guests depart. Hand-washing your way through pots, mixing bowls, and place settings would take you—approximately—ages. At the prospect of all that drudgery, you might find yourself reconsidering the party. But before you call off your get-together, consider investing in a dishwasher. Having a machine to clean your dishes could save you an estimated 230 hours—that’s nearly 10 days!—per year.

Even if you already own a dishwasher, you too have a lot to gain by purchasing a new model. Today’s dishwashers use at least 40 percent less water than similar appliances manufactured 20 years ago. Besides conservation, there’s a compelling financial reason to upgrade: An Energy Star-rated dishwasher could save you more than $40 per year. The question really isn’t why should you buy a dishwasher; it’s why shouldn’t you?

On the market today are a generous variety of options, ranging from plain-Jane models with few frills to pricier, fully programmable “smart” models that do everything but load and unload automatically. Not certain where your needs fall in the spectrum? We’ve laid out a handful of key considerations to keep in mind.

Size and capacity. Dishwashers normally come in two sizes. The standard dimensions are 24 inches wide by 34 inches tall (34 inches being the height of most countertops and base cabinetry). Compact models are 18 inches wide. A compact washer is usually fitted with one or two racks, while a standard size holds two or three, enough to accommodate at least eight place settings. In any case, adjustable upper racks and removable baskets earn bonus points, as either feature goes a long way toward accommodating awkwardly shaped items. Dishwashers in custom sizes are available by special order, but be prepared to pay more.

Cycle selections. The number and variety of cycle selections will vary from washer to washer, and finding the best selection of cycles for your needs will often be the deciding factor in your purchase. A typical washer will come with settings for a “normal” wash cycle, which can run anywhere from 90 to 135 minutes, depending on the make and model of the machine; a“heavy” cycle for pots and pans; and perhaps a “light” (also known as “delicate”) cycle for stemware. Pricier models offer additional options, including a “rinse and hold” cycle; a cycle for china; and a heavy-duty sanitizing cycle. Some dishwashers also offer different drying cycles, and some feature a programmable delayed start option.

Water usage. Today’s dishwashers are required by law to use a maximum of 5.8 gallons of water per cycle. Some upscale dishwashers even include an “eco” cycle that utilizes less water than a regular cycle, while others are equipped with a sensor that determines how dirty the dishes are and adjusts the water usage and cycle automatically.

Energy efficiency. Models on the market today are required by law to carry an Energy Guide label that estimates how much power the appliance consumes per year as well as the estimated cost of running the appliance based on the national average cost of natural gas and electricity. Look for the Energy Star logo, which indicates that the unit exceeds the federal minimum standards for efficiency and quality.

Noise level. The noisiness of dishwashers is rated in decibels; the louder the noise, the higher the decibel level. Newer models boast thicker insulation around the dishwasher tub and noise levels around 45 decibels. (For reference, a decibel rating of around 50 is roughly equivalent to the volume of a conversation.)

Other bells and whistles. Popular extras available in today’s dishwashers include innovative spray arms to move wash water more efficiently, stemware clips to secure wine glasses, spray nozzles for cleaning bottles and jars, special cutlery racks, programmable controls, and child locks. A variety of exterior options can complement the look of your kitchen (or a pending remodel), including ever-popular stainless steel, mirrored finishes, or a variety of colored finishes, and some dishwashers can even be outfitted with insert panels to match and blend in with cabinetry.

Even if you shop with a checklist of ideal features in hand, finding a dishwasher that fits the bill in such a crowded market can be overwhelming. That’s why we’ve culled some of our favorite options to make your search even simpler, weighing the above factors against critical reviews on several of the top shopping sites. Here are the top-rated Energy Star-approved dishwashers you’ll want to have in your kitchen:

Bosch 500 Series Dishwasher

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Bosch SHP65T55UC 24-inch Pocket-Handle Dishwasher 500 Series
This 24-inch-wide unit garnered 4.3 out of 5 stars on Amazon. It boasts a 16-place-setting capacity and features a third rack for smaller items that fits up to 30 percent more in each load. This model offers five cycles and five additional wash options, including Sanitize to wipe out bacteria and ExtraShine to dry glasses—no need to follow up with a microfiber cloth for a spot-free shine. Meanwhile, its 44-decibel sound rating led reviewers to praise this model as “the quietest dishwasher ever.” Price: $899.

Electrolux Dishwasher

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Electrolux EI24ID50QS
Rated the best dishwasher of 2014 by Reviewed.com, this 24-inch-wide washer’s structure makes loading super simple. It boasts three easy-lift racks, nine stemware grips to secure glasses, and a cutlery basket that can split into two for flexible positioning wherever you find space. We think this model’s wealth of high-tech features makes up for the higher price tag. Among its slick offerings are a circular spray arm for more cleaning coverage, a smart soil sensor, a “clean” light to indicate when the load ends (because it’s that quiet), and a touch-sensitive control panel. Plus, its Fast Wash—one of nine cycles total—cleans a load in 30 minutes, perfect for those nights when you’re short on time. Price: $1,099.

Whirlpool Front Control

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Whirlpool Front Control Dishwasher WDF530PAYM
A favorite of Home Depot shoppers, who gave it 4.4 stars and a recommendation rate of 92 percent, this 24-inch-wide unit is both smart and budget-friendly. Its Sensor Cycle intuitively selects the best wash and dry settings for a specific load, saving time and money. Other cycles (there are a total of six) range from the typical normal to an overnight cycle that can tackle the toughest of sticky situations. This unit loads up to 15 place settings comfortably in its tall tub design due to features like a movable AnyWare Plus silverware basket; an adjustable (even removable) top rack; and a large-capacity lower rack that easily accommodates plates, bowls, and large dishes. Price: $549.