Category: Major Systems


Bob Vila Radio: How to Hush a Noisy Radiator

If your steam-heat radiator is keeping you up all night, banging and clanking, here are a few quick fixes.

Steam-heat radiators may be good at keeping you warm, but their banging and clanking can also sometimes keep you up at night.

Noisy Radiotor

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Most steam radiators are connected to a pipe that’s fitted with an intake valve. That pipe doesn’t only feed steam in; it’s also supposed to release the steam that’s condensed into liquid water. When enough water accumulates to block steam from entering the radiator, that’s when you hear noises.

So if your radiator starts serenading you, try tilting the radiator slightly toward the intake valve. You can do that by inserting a couple of shims under the end that’s opposite the valve.

If that doesn’t work, it could be the steam is losing heat and condensing before it even gets to the radiator. Think that’s your problem? Try insulating the pipes.

Another possible cause: The steam vent on the radiator isn’t working properly. Replace it.

Chances are one of those fixes will work and you’ll soon be getting your shut-eye.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


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.


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.


Want Hot Water Fast? Switch to a ManaBloc Plumbing System

Reduce your monthly utility bill and cut down on wasted water with a cutting-edge plumbing system.

Manabloc Systems

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If you’re building a new house or replacing the aging pipes in your existing home, consider the benefits of a ManaBloc plumbing system. This is a relatively new—and, yes, somewhat revolutionary—way to plumb water lines. What is it? Well, think of an easy-to-install, not-likely-to-leak ManaBloc as a sort of Grand Central Terminal for the drinking and bathing water in your house. It channels water from your well or your municipal supply via plastic tubes, not metal pipes, to the kitchen faucet or bathroom shower head or wherever the water needs to go. What’s truly remarkable is that for each plumbing fixture, there’s a separate, dedicated delivery line. The result is an energy-efficient, cost-saving plumbing system that reduces water waste and performs even better than many traditional systems.

Manabloc Systems - Diagram

Photo: supplyhouse.com

What really made the ManaBloc system possible was the advent of PEX tubing. “In the days of copper, it was not feasible to install a system like this,” explains Daniel O’Brian, an expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “That changed with the rise of flexible tubing options, most notably PEX.” PEX tubing allows for faster and more-efficient water flow. It’s also less expensive and more versatile than copper because, first and foremost, you can actually afford to run a separate line for each fixture. Second, due to its pliability, PEX tubing is easy to fit behind walls. Finally, the ManaBloc is designed so that fixtures that have lower water volume requirements can be served by tubes that have a smaller diameter. This flexibility saves water and, by extension, saves the homeowner money.

A ManaBloc distribution manifold comes preassembled with three water intake ports and anywhere from 14 to 36 distribution ports, which hook up to either 3/8-inch or 1/2-inch distribution lines. Each color-coded port (red for hot, blue for cold) has its own dedicated shut-off valve, giving you complete control over the plumbing system from one central location. “If anything starts leaking around the home or needs to be repaired,” O’Brian says, “you know exactly where you need to go to shut off the water.”

ManaBloc connection fittings are sold separately and come in three styles: compression fittings, crimp fittings, or PEX press fittings. Compression fittings do not require any special tools, while crimp fittings require a crimping tool (a special ManaBloc wrench can help properly tighten the connection). ManaBloc plumbing packages are readily available and include everything you need to get going right away.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of ManaBloc distribution systems and accessories, and features a variety of instructional videos that explain the basics of shopping for, installing, and using ManaBloc systems:

 

 

 

 
This is a sponsored post on behalf of SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Bob Vila Radio: Emergency Generators

If you've been thinking about purchasing an emergency generator, don't wait until after the lights have gone out. Start your research now.

We used to think of late summer and early fall as the storm season, but with all the unpredictable weather lately, it’s best to be prepared year ’round. For many people, part of being ready for anything is to own a generator.

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What type of generator should you choose—portable or stationary? Here are some points to consider…

Most portable generators crank out somewhere between 3,000 and 10,000 watts. That’ll probably be enough to run most of your lights and plug-in appliances, but only the large portables can feed power-eaters like central air or electric ranges. Portables are relatively inexpensive, though, and they’re a good bargain if you just want to power the essentials.

Stationary generators, on the other hand, are permanently installed outside the house and run on propane or natural gas. The largest standby generators put out 15,000 watts or more and can virtually power your whole house. That power doesn’t come cheap, though. Expect to pay $5,000 to $10,000 plus installation.


The Do’s and Don’ts of Window Fans

Though not a substitute for air conditioning on the hottest summer days, you can stay cool and comfortable for much less money month to month by learning how to use window fans strategically.

How to Use a Window Fan

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Air conditioning is responsible for as much as one third of the electricity consumed in summer. These are energy-thirsty appliances, and energy ain’t cheap. That’s precisely why, instead of blasting the AC continuously, many switch to window fans when possible. Though powerless against humidity, fans are much cheaper to run and on many warm-but-not-miserable days, they can make you considerably more comfortable. No, there isn’t really a wrong way to use a fan; any breeze helps. But these tips can help you use fans more effectively, reducing your reliance on air conditioning and lowering your summertime utility bills.

Here’s the key: To maximize air movement in the home, you need both in-blowing and out-blowing window fans. These are not the oscillating fans you might place on a desk or bedside table. If you do not own and would rather not buy a specially designed window fan, a standard box fan does the trick—but you’ve got to set the unit securely into the window opening. And at minimum, you need two window fans: one whose blades are drawing air into the home, another whose blades are pushing air out. It’s not rocket science, but it is basic building science. Keep these do’s and don’ts in mind as you plan and tweak your fan strategy.

How to Use a Window Fan - Front

Photo: shutterstock.com

DO

Strength in Numbers. The more window fans you have working, the better. Aim to set up an equal number of in- and out-blowing fans. If you have an odd number, configure the extra one to pull air in. That creates a slight positive pressure indoors that may help discourage bugs from entering the space.

Prime Placement. Position inward-blowing fans on the shady side of your house, outward-blowing fans on the sunny side. Do this no matter how many stories your house is. But if there are multiple floors, the ground-level fans should pull air in, while the upper-level fans should push rising warm air out.

Size Matters. If you have a choice, always opt for the largest-size fans that can fit in your windows. Whether by fabric window treatments or panels of plywood, try to block the open-air cavities on either side of the fan unit (specially designed window fans come with integrated seals for this exact purpose).

The Stack Effect. Leverage what’s known as the stack effect. After sunset, set the ground-level fans to bring in cool night air, while trusting the upper-story fans to expel warm air. In the morning, when the house is at its coolest, remove the fans and shut the windows. The insulation in most modern houses can retain cool air for hours. Once the sun sets, re-open the windows and start your fans up again.

DON’T

The Nose Knows. Avoid situating in-blowing fans near waste bins or parking areas (your driveway included). That way, you won’t invite in unpleasant odors and toxic exhaust fumes.

Ups and Downs. Cooling with fans can lead to wide fluctuations in temperature, and in some cases such extremes can damage antique furniture or musical instruments made of wood. To be on the safe side, closely monitor items like this for signs of a problem.

There are always going to be days when air conditioning strikes you, not so much as an optional luxury, but more like a bare necessity. On other days, though, you may be able to get by just fine with the help of window fans, particularly if you position them strategically throughout your home. Stay cool out there!


Bob Vila Radio: Installing a Condensate Pump

Installing a condensate pump is a no-brainer for homeowners tired of seeing water pool around their HVAC components. Here's how it's done.

High-efficiency heating and air conditioning systems produce condensation, and that condensation needs to go somewhere besides your basement floor.

How to Install a Condensate Pump

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If you have a floor drain near the unit, just use plastic tubing and good old gravity to get the water from the outlet port of your unit to the drain. If you don’t have a drain nearby, you may need a condensate pump to get the water to a drain. That’s especially true if the drain is higher than the outlet port.

Once you’ve located the outlet port where the water exits your unit, attach PVC pipe to route the water from there down into the condensate pump (which will need to be lower than the outlet port). Then attach plastic tubing—one end to the exit port of the condensate pump, the other to the drain.

Be sure to check the pump periodically to make sure it’s operating as it should.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Wisdom for Window Fans

With energy costs rising as rapidly as summer temperatures, it pays to switch off the air conditioner whenever the weather isn't sweltering. Here's how to get the most bang from the minimal bucks needed to operate window fans.

After spending a warm summer day picnicking or at the beach, who doesn’t love to come home to a comfortably cool home?

Window Fan Tips

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Sure, air conditioning is great. But with electric bills keeping pace with rising temperatures, the costs of keeping cool are a real concern for most of us. Window fans can be a great way to help beat the heat. Here are a few window fan tips for a cooler home on a budget that won’t make you hot under the collar.

Position inward-blowing fans on the shady side of your house, outward-blowing fans on the opposite side. A further note about window fan placement: When possible, it’s best to move air in the direction of the prevailing breeze.

Pursue what’s known as the stack effect. In a multi-story home, that means using window fans to pull air into the bottom floor, while pushing rising warm air out windows on the upper floors. Early in the morning, when the house is at its coolest, close the windows to retain that cool air. When night falls, open the windows again.

One more thing: Don’t forget to pull the fans out of the windows when rain is in the forecast.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Bob Vila Radio: Fend Off the Power Surge Scourge

A spike in electricity can fry your electronics. Protect your beloved gadgets and gizmos with a surge protector. Here's how to choose one.

These days, we’re increasingly sharing our homes with electronic devices. Many of them are pretty pricey, and that includes computers, home theater setups, and sophisticated AC or heating systems. One characteristic most of those devices share is that they have circuit boards that can be easily damaged by power spikes.

How to Choose a Surge Protector

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The best way to avoid such calamities? Surge protection. Here are some tips on how to choose: Look for protectors that have a “joules rating” of 700 or higher. Joules ratings tell you how much power the protector can absorb before it fails. You’ll also want a protector that has a “clamping voltage rating” of 400 volts or less. Clamping voltage describes how much voltage the unit needs to sense before it begins absorbing energy.

You’ll also want to have a look at the warranty. Many companies reimburse for devices that get fried while plugged into their protectors. Check the fine print. Another option—whole-house surge protectors. Many types are available, and they’re not all that expensive.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 75 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.


Buyer’s Guide: Portable Generators

Don't be left in the dark the next time a storm cuts the cord to your home's electricity. With our tips for buying and the best portable generators on the market, you can find the whole-home backup to fit your needs

Best Generators - Control Panel

Photo: generac.com

The storm hits. Power lines topple. And your home loses electricity for an hour, a day, or even a week. These inconvenient—and in some cases, downright dangerous—grid failures seem to be more and more prevalent with each passing year. Brief, infrequent outages are a nuisance and if nothing else, remind us of our complete dependence on electricity. But soon enough, the ordeal is over. However, if your area has been experiencing blackouts more frequently, or for more protracted periods, it’s well worth asking this question: If a major storm came rolling into your town tomorrow, would you be ready for the potential consequences?

An electrical outage doesn’t have to mean the suspension of your life until grid power is restored. You can take matters into your own hands, without spending a small fortune, using a portable generator. Deciding you want to buy one is only the first step. Next comes the process of determining which are the best generators to consider for your household. Read on for details on the main considerations to bear in mind as you navigate the assortment of options available today:

Wattage. Generators vary by the number of watts they are capable of producing. To narrow the field, first determine how many watts you are going to need. Only you can answer that; the answer depends on which appliances you want to feel comfortable running during a blackout. Make a list of those must-have appliances, and write down the number of watts that each one needs in ooder to start. Know that lights typically require 60 to 200 watts to start; a refrigerator needs about 600 watts; and a portable heater may need as many 1,500 watts. For many homeowners, a generator in the 5,000- to 7,000-watt range proves sufficient.

Best Generators - Driveway

Photo: generac.com

Fuel Type. That list of must-have appliances also bears on whether the best generators for you to consider are ones that run on batteries, gas, propane or diesel. Many smaller inverter-style generators are designed to run off a car or a deep-cycle battery, while most models suitable for residential use operate on gas.

Exhaust. Any portable generator that runs on gas, diesel, or propane produces exhaust. For that reason, such machines must be used outdoors, with protection from the weather, at least 15 feet from the house. If you live in California, focus on generators compliant with the standards set by the California Air Resources Board.

Noise. Portable gas-powered generators can be pretty loud. But some are built with noise-absorbing glass wool, special mufflers, and/or vibration-absorbing feet. If you anticipate noise being an issue, the best generators for you to consider are ones specially designed to do their work effectively, but quietly.

Accessories. Many things you’d assume are included with a generator must actually be purchased separately, and those incidental costs can add up. For instance, wheel kits sold separately range from $40 to $150. And if you want to wire the generator’s output to your electrical panel, you’ll need a $500 to $900 transfer switch. Before you buy a generator, make certain you understand what, if any, components are going t0 be missing.

If you’ve begun shopping for a generator, you’ve likely noticed there’s no shortage of options. To save you time and effort, we studied the rankings put out by leading consumer testing sites. And we waded through tons of feedback from people who’ve actually shopped for and used portable generators. We discovered a couple of things: While it’s not easy to identify which are the best generators, these are clear favorites:

 

Generac GP7500 Electric Start Portable Generator

Best Generators - generac gp7500e

Photo: northerntool.com

Shoppers at The Home Depot give 4.7 out of 5 stars to this 7,500-watt generator from industry leader Generac. The reviews praise the generator’s ease of use as well as its ample 8-gallon fuel tank, which enables the unit to run continuously for up to 12 hours. The battery for its electric start is included in the price; it features a low-tone muffler for quiet operation; and its fold-down locking handle and heavy-duty wheels make transportation and storage easy. Price: $999

 

Westinghouse WH7500E Portable Generator

Best Generators - westinghouse wh7500

Photo: norwall.com

From Westinghouse, a generator boasting 7,500 running watts and 9,000 starting watts garnered 4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon. With its 6.6-gallon fuel tank, it produces up to 11 hours of runtime, and it purrs along quietly, thanks to its specially designed muffler. Reviewers liked its color-coded control panel, but they loved that everything needed comes in the box. When the time comes to actually use the thing, you don’t need to scramble for any extra components. Price: $999

 

Yamaha EF2000iS Portable Inverter Generator

Best Generators - yamaha EF2000iS

Photo: acmetools.com

Dubbed the “Michael Jordan of inverter generators” (by TopGeneratorReviews.com), this 2,000-watt Yamaha received 4.6 out of 5 stars on Amazon. It runs—quietly—for up to 10.5 hours. And thanks to its sleek, briefcase-size design, the lightweight generator is eminently portable. Special features include the Smart Throttle Load, which contributes to overall fuel efficiency, and a handy oil-watch warning system that lets you know when to change the oil. Price: $1099