Category: Major Systems


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


Meet the Brighter Alternative to Traditional Skylights

Traditional skylights are no longer the sole option available to homeowners eager to bring light into dark spaces. Learn the many reason to opt for a tubular daylighting devices instead of traditional skylights.

Photo: Solatube International

There’s nothing quite like natural light to brighten the rooms of a home. For one thing, sunlight’s free, so making good use of it can cut down on electricity costs. For another, exposure to sunlight tends to boost people’s moods, and can even improve health. And when compared to fluorescents and other often unflattering types of lighting, natural light shines in its ability to draw out and intensify colors, enhancing the effect of your decor.

These are among the chief reasons that homeowners have in the past chosen to install skylights, which are, in effect, windows on the roof. But a traditional skylight is no longer the only option. These days, many homeowners are attracted to the significant advantages of a tubular daylighting device (TDD).

Illustration: Solatube International

Not only are TDDs more versatile than traditional skylights, but they also eliminate one of the problems that frequently plague skylights—leaks. Tubular skylights emit light through a small dome, not through a pane of glass, which results in their being far less prone to moisture seepage. Further, because TDDs are installed around structural components like joists and rafters, they can be accommodated without extensive renovation work. That means tubular skylights can often be installed faster—and for less money—than traditional skylights.

TDDs look virtually identical to ordinary lighting fixtures. In fact, a visitor who notices an installed TDD may not even realize that the light he’s seeing isn’t artificial. Solatube International—a global leader in daylighting systems—goes a step further, offering a wide range of decorative fixtures that ensure the company’s TDDs look perfectly at home in any decorating style.

Solatube even offers a Daylight Dimmer that lets you adjust the brightness. Plus, the company has developed a hybrid TDD with integrated LEDs that provides energy-efficient electric light for nighttime use (or when the weather is cloudy). That way, you don’t have to include a separate artificial lighting system in the room—the skylight alone can provide all the lighting you need.

Finally, TDDs may require less maintenance than a traditional skylight. The domes are designed to minimize the chance of leaves or debris building up around or on top of them, and because the domes are self-cleaning, you don’t need to make any dangerous trips to the roof.

Now that you know more about the advantages that TDDs have over traditional daylighting, are you beginning to see the light?

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


A “Charged” Debate: Portable vs. Standby Generators

If the region where you live is subject to more than the occasional power outage, consider investing in either a portable or standby generator. These guidelines can help you choose between the two.

Photo: shutterstock.com

Major storms in recent years have spurred many homeowners to consider whether it might be wise to purchase a generator. If your area witnesses only brief, infrequent electrical outages, then you can probably continue to live quite happily without a generator. But if you’re losing power more frequently and for longer periods of time, then perhaps it makes sense to invest in a machine that produces electricity on demand, so you’ll be prepared for the next inevitable power failure. If you’ve researched the subject at all, then you know there are two main types of generators: portable and standby. Besides the obvious fact that both provide power, these two types of generators have remarkably little in common. The following can help you understand the important differences before selecting a generator for your home.

Portable generators: Labor-intensive but affordable
Smaller portable generators cost between $500 and $1,500, and are capable of powering your home’s essential appliances. These are considerably less expensive than standby generators—and all in all, they are fairly user-friendly—but a portable generator does require manual operation and close monitoring. What does that mean? For one thing, you must be at home to start the generator. So if you leave for vacation the day before a power outage, you’re likely to return home to an array of hazards and headaches ranging from a flooded basement (due to a failed sump pump) to a refrigerator full of spoiled perishables. By contrast, a standby generator—as you’ll read in the section below—offers the peace of mind of knowing that no matter where you are when the power goes out, the generator will come on automatically.

Further inconveniences of operating a portable generator stem from the fact that most such machines are powered by gas. Because a typical tank holds a finite quantity of gas—say, three or six gallons—you must periodically fill it, even during the worst winter weather. More seriously, due to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from engine exhaust, a portable must be placed at least ten feet away from the house, in an enclosure that protects the generator from the elements but also encourages the free movement of air. As tempting as it may be to run the generator in the garage with the garage door open, this is strongly discouraged. An open garage door does not provide adequate ventilation. Make sure you factor into your generator project budget the cost of a store-bought or DIY enclosure.

Photo: generac.com

Standby generators: Hands-off but expensive
Whereas a portable generator can handle the electrical demands of just a handful of appliances, a standby generator is brawny enough to power all the appliances your family has grown accustomed to using. So while the rest of the block is in darkness, your house would continue humming along as if nothing had happened.

Standby generators are quieter and safer than portables, and they operate automatically—you don’t have to lift a finger. Of course, that convenience doesn’t come cheap. Including professional consultation—which can be crucial in determining the appropriate-size generator—and installation, an average system costs about $10,000.

Making the price tag more palatable is the fact that standby generators tend to last a long time, about 15 years. And upon home resale, these machines recoup about 50 percent of their cost. Although maintenance is necessary every two years, licensed professionals can help ensure a unit’s reliability. And for some families, especially those who have vital medical equipment running in the house, the reliability afforded by a standby generator is virtually priceless.

Which type of generator is right for you? That largely depends on your needs. In choosing between a portable and standby generator, try to strike a balance between what is essential for your comfort and safety, and what your budget allows.

 


Bob Vila Radio: Water Hammer

If you hear a banging or thumping in the water lines, it's water hammer—and it's annoying. Here's an easy for any homeowner to remedy the issue.

Ever hear a banging noise when you shut off faucets in the house? The problem could be what plumbers call “water hammer.”

Water Hammer

Photo: shutterstock.com

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Listen to BOB VILA ON WATER HAMMER or read the text below:

That’s when a cushion of shock-absorbing air—which is supposed to reside in vertical air chambers of your plumbing system—becomes depleted. That causes water racing through the pipes to slam against fixtures when they’re shut off. There’s your noise.

Try this: First, close the main valve that supplies the house. Next, open the faucet that’s highest in the house. Do the same for the faucet that’s lowest. Be sure to flush all the toilets. As water drains from the pipes, in goes the air.

As soon as water stops draining from that lowest faucet, shut it off, then reopen the main valve. That forces air out of the system, except for where you want it: in those shock-absorbing air chambers.

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.


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.


How To: Install a Window Air Conditioner

With these simple tips, it's a breeze to install a window air conditioner quickly and securely!

Whereas putting in a central air conditioning system typically requires a professional crew, installing a window air conditioner is a cinch. Even a self-described hopeless amateur ought to have little trouble here. In fact, you’re likely to become somewhat of an expert on the process, being that most homeowners choose to remove window air conditioners at the end of the summer and reinstall the units the following year. Bear in mind, however, that not all window designs are meant to accommodate such a large, unwieldy box. The following instructions apply only if you wish to install a window air conditioner in a sash or double-hung window.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Window air conditioner
- Drill
- Screwdriver
- Insulating foam strips

STEP 1
Window air conditioners are sold in a variety of sizes, and each model has a different cooling capacity, rated in BTUs. Many online calculators exist to help you identify the number of BTUs needed to efficiently cool a room of a given size. BTUs aren’t your only concern, however. You also need to be certain that the unit physically fits in your window. Before you shop, measure the width of the window opening and don’t purchase any air conditioner whose housing wouldn’t leave about two inches of wiggle room on either side.

How to Install a Window Air Conditioner - Exterior

Photo: shutterstock.com

STEP 2
Once you’ve purchased and unpacked an appropriately sized air conditioner, you’re ready to install it—but first, grab a friend. Two pairs of hands are best for all but the very smallest air conditioners. Before you move on, attach any provided rails, flanges, or accordion-style panels (or wings) according to the manufacturer’s instructions, using the provided screws. Now your first step is an easy one: Open the window! Open it wide enough to accommodate the height of the air conditioner. Next, pick up the unit and rest it on the bottom of the window frame. Have your helper hold the unit in place while you see to the remaining tasks.

STEP 4
Most window air conditioners are designed with two flanges—one that runs along the top of the unit, another along the bottom. These flanges facilitate the installation process and improve the air conditioner’s stability. After positioning the bottom flange so that it abuts the windowsill, proceed to lower the window sash (which you had raised in Step 2) until its bottom rail meets the top flange on the unit. The air conditioner should now be held in place by the top sash, but have your helper keep hold of it lightly until you’ve completed the next step.

STEP 5

Your air conditioner probably came with one or two small angle brackets that must be used to secure the two sashes together, preventing them from slipping apart or from being accidentally opened, either of which occurrences could cause the air conditioner to fall out of the window. Place the angle bracket against the top sash where it meets the top of the bottom sash. Mark where the screws should go, drill pilot holes, and tighten the screws using a screwdriver. Extend the accordion-style panels (which you attached in Step 2) and secure them to the window using the manufacturer-provided screws. At this point, make sure that all screws that came with the unit have been secured according to the instructions.

STEP 6
The last step is to seal the opening between the upper sash and the lower sash, which has been raised to accommodate the unit. Your air conditioner should have come with a foam insulating strip. Cut it to length, then fit it snugly into the gap between the lower sash and the glass panes of the top sash. If your unit didn’t come with an insulating strip, you can—and should—buy one at your local home improvement center and install it.

Additional Tips
- If you choose to remove the air conditioning unit before the winter, remember to store it upright in a dry location.

- If your air conditioner came with L-brackets, be sure to put these in place before lifting the unit into the window.


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.


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.


Bob Vila Radio: The Insulation Perimeter

Insulate your home to minimize the amount you pay each month to heat and cool it. These three tips can help you prioritize to-do-list items.

With energy costs ever on the rise, more homeowners are thinking of adding insulation to reduce energy use. Here’s what you need to know as you consider your options.

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Listen to BOB VILA ON THE INSULATION PERIMETER or read the text below:

Insulation Perimeter

Photo: lowes.com

First, see if your utility company or state energy department offers free or low-cost energy audits. An energy audit will help you identify which parts of your home are most in need of help, helping you prioritize the work you need to do.

If you do need to add insulation, remember that the goal is to create an energy-efficient perimeter around your living space. For example, you don’t need heat or air conditioning in an unfinished attic, so insulating the attic floor establishes the perimeter there. If your attic is finished, however, it doesn’t make sense to insulate the floor—your perimeter will be at the ceiling level.

Also keep in mind that proper insulation doesn’t mean airtight. Your home still needs to breathe, and it has an optimal number of “air changes per hour” depending on its size and the number of occupants. Your energy auditor will be able to tell you the home’s ideal number of air changes per hour, and how many it’s currently getting. Eliminating drafts will help close the gap and get you closer to the ideal.

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