Category: Major Systems


How To: Prevent Drain Clogs

Drain clogs can be a drag, but with simple monthly maintenance, you can keep things free and clear. Check out these quick tips for keeping the plunger tucked away and the plumber at bay.

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How to Prevent Drain Clogs

Photo:dreamstime.com

Here’s an unpleasant thought: Our household drains see all sorts of horrors on a daily basis—hair, dirt, grime, and food waste, just to name a few. Add up everything that passes through our sinks, bathtubs, and toilets, and clogged drains become an inevitability even for the most careful and conscientious of homeowners. The question isn’t whether the drain might clog; it’s only a question of when it’s going to. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just a few minutes’ worth of regular maintenance can go a long way toward putting drain problems in the past.

Instead of dealing with multiple cleansers, tools, and elbow grease, there’s one product in your cleaning caddy that can keep clogs at bay with little more than once-a-month use. Known primarily as a tried-and-true solution for clearing up slow drains (and no-drains), Liquid-Plumr® Full Clog Destroyer™ also proves highly effective as a preventive measure. By regularly using this powerful gel, you’re dissolving life’s lingering, undetected leftovers before they turn into problematic buildup—and wiping out accompanying foul odors along the way.

No matter whether your home has older (and, therefore, probably narrow) pipes or if your brand-new house’s plastic pipes flush out all the dirt, soap, body oil, hair, and worse that a family of five can produce, your plumbing needs regular upkeep if you want things to go with the flow. Liquid Plumr® Full Clog Destroyer™ works on all septic systems and pipes, including those made of PVC and plastic as well as old-fashioned materials. So, there’s no need to worry about doing damage to those delicate systems—which, given the rigors they’re put through every day, are probably anything but delicate! Given a choice between a few minutes’ worth of simple maintenance from time to time and the stress (and expense) of dealing with backed-up pipes, prevention is always the better option. So, add these three quick steps once a month to your bathroom or kitchen cleaning regimen to keep the plunger—not to mention the plumber—out of sight.

How to Prevent Drain Clogs - Full Clog Destroyer

Photo: liquidplumr.com

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Liquid-Plumr® Full Clog Destroyer™
- Hot water

STEP 1
Once a month, slowly pour two cups of the clog destroyer down your sink, tub, or shower drain—even into your toilet, if needed. If you’re using a 32-ounce bottle, then one-half of it should do the trick for each drain; if you’ve stocked an 80-ounce bottle, one-fifth of the container is all you need for each job.

STEP 2
Now, let it sit for 15 minutes. If you already have enough buildup that some water is left standing in your sink basin, the gel will cut right through it; just wait a little longer until the drain is clear before proceeding to the next step.

STEP 3
Flush the product away with hot water. (If your sink is equipped with a garbage disposal, turn on the motor for a few seconds while running water the entire time.)

A few minutes spent once a month on this almost zero-effort maintenance task keeps drains running clear, meaning that you can file away the plumber’s card for another day—or, ideally, never.

How to Prevent Drain Clogs - Sink Drain Detail

Photo: dreamstime.com

This article has been brought to you by Liquid-Plumr®. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


The Cooling and Heating Option You Haven’t Considered—Yet

If you've had it with your inefficient, inconvenient cooling and heating system, maybe it's time to think about an entirely new approach to household comfort. A Zoned Comfort Solution™ incorporating ductless technology offers both cooling and heating in a streamlined, energy-efficient way that might just solve your comfort woes.

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Zoned Comfort Solutions - Library

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

It’s astonishing: Technology has revolutionized so many aspects of day-to-day life over the past 50 years, yet home air conditioning systems haven’t changed much at all. Walk into any American home in 2016, and you’re likely to find the same type of central system that probably kept the home comfortable decades earlier. Despite its long run as the dominant mode of indoor climate control, central or forced air has never been perfect—far from it. The main drawback? Ductwork. For homeowners, the only thing more frustrating than those bulky, rigid metal or flexible ducts that hog otherwise usable space is the fact that ductwork tends to leak, often severely enough to compromise overall system efficiency by 20 percent or more. That means, in order to make up for the energy loss, the cooling and heating system must work harder and longer to maintain the target indoor temperature. Homeowners, meanwhile, pay the price for the extra energy consumed because of the system’s imperfect design. No wonder people often complain that it costs a small fortune to cool and heat their home. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way anymore.

Today’s homeowner can choose from an array of exciting, next-generation climate-control options, many of which eliminate ductwork and deliver unsurpassed efficiency. Of them all, Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating (Mitsubishi Electric) stands out in a class of its own, with a technology that combines energy-smart design with customizable options. Mitsubishi Electric offers the best of both worlds. In the realm of energy efficiency, a Zoned Comfort Solution can save homeowners up to 30 percent or more on monthly utility bills in comparison with traditional forced-air systems. As for household comfort, a system provides an unprecedented high degree of control, enabling homeowners to not only conserve energy, but to enjoy a significantly different experience, one that assures total comfort and practically redefines it. Other systems cause homeowners to sacrifice comfort for savings, or savings for comfort. The technology behind a Zoned Comfort Solution, however, entails no sacrifice at all. And word is getting around: Already popular in Europe and Asia, these systems are swiftly gaining converts here.

 

INSTALLATION AND OPERATION

Zoned Comfort Solutions - System Diagram

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

Zoned Comfort Solutions from Mitsubishi Electric take a fundamentally different approach to cooling and heating, and it starts with the basic system design. In contrast with traditional systems, Mitsubishi Electric systems are simple, compact and streamlined. In fact, a Zoned Comfort Solution includes only two major components—an outdoor condenser and an indoor unit (or units). Instead of ducts, a pair of refrigerant pipes narrow enough to fit through a three-inch hole connects the indoor and outdoor units. Whereas the installation of a ducted, central system would entail extensive, time-consuming remodeling, these systems are nonintrusive and, as a result, a great deal easier to put into place. Technicians often complete installation within a single day. Another key point of distinction: Forced-air systems operate intermittently, turning on and off, over and over, in a cycle that consumes a great deal of energy (and makes a lot of noise). Zoned Comfort Solutions, by contrast, conserve energy (and stay quiet) by operating continuously at a low power level.

Besides driving up running costs, the stop-and-start operation of forced air systems also results in unpleasant, rollercoaster-like temperature variations. With Zoned Comfort Solutions, it’s a much different story. The technology can accurately monitor the ambient temperature and modulate output based on the demand because the unit is in the space it is conditioning. At the same time, the indoor unit fan ensures controlled, even air distribution throughout the space, preventing any areas from becoming too hot or too cold. That means, no matter where in the room you sit or stand, you always experience the set temperature. Want to switch from cooling mode to heating mode, or vice versa? It takes only the push of a button.

When cooling, the Mitsubishi Electric system collects heat from the home and expels it outside. When heating, the operation reverses and the INVERTER-driven compressor harvests heat from outdoor air and brings it inside. In any season, even at extreme temperatures (down to -13 degrees Fahrenheit), you can rely on a Mitsubishi Electric Zoned Comfort Solution to provide a comfortable and efficient combination.

 

ZONING AND WI-FI CONTROL

Zoned Comfort solutions - HVAC House Diagram

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

Some homeowners choose to install a Zoned Comfort Solution in one room only—typically, a peripheral space that rarely feels comfortable, such as a sunroom or attic bedroom. More common than ever before is for homeowners to select the Mitsubishi Electric system for whole-home climate control since the system allows you to establish different cooling and heating zones within the home. A zone can be one room, a set of rooms, or an entire floor—you decide. Whatever configuration you choose, each zone gets its own thermostat and can be controlled separately from all the other zones. What does that mean? For one, it means that, finally, family members with different temperature preferences can all be comfortable simultaneously. At last, thanks to the Zoned Comfort Solution, you can put an end to thermostat wars.

You can also put an end to wasteful spending on home temperature control. In a single-thermostat home, any adjustment takes effect across the entire house. If you want your bedroom a bit cooler before bedtime, you must pay for the energy consumed to cool not only the bedroom, but every room in the home. Ultimately, all-or-nothing cooling and heating fails to accommodate the reality that different rooms are occupied at different times. By enabling you to target temperatures on a room-by-room basis, zoning ensures that you never again need to pay for cooling or heating an empty room.

Empowering homeowners to save even more, Mitsubishi Electric also offers its kumo cloud™ app for temperature control. Available for any iOS, Android, or Fire OS smartphone or tablet, the kumo cloud app enables homeowners to monitor and adjust settings for their Zoned Comfort Solution anytime, anywhere. Are you worried that you left the system on when you ran out of the house? Simply pull out your smartphone to check. Sure, you can always program a Mitsubishi Electric zoned system to run on a set schedule, but mobile control lets you take charge if there’s a change of plan. Are you heading home early? You can turn on the air conditioning before you get there, so your home will be cool and comfortable the moment you walk in the door!

 

DESIGNER SERIES

Zoned Comfort Solutions - Designer Series Line

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

Finally, by its commitment to design, Mitsubishi Electric suggests a new look for cooling and heating. In years past, systems often were anything but eye-catching. Now, with the release of its brand-new Designer Series, Mitsubishi Electric proves that a climate-control system can be more than a simple utilitarian add-on; it can instead become a sophisticated thread in the fabric of home design. Stand-out performance and sleek aesthetics are not mutually exclusive, after all! Boasting a slim profile, with crisp, beveled edges, and a sharply delineated, rectangular shape, the finely proportioned Designer Series Zoned Comfort Solution comes in a choice of three colors. In light-color interiors, the white model blends in so well that it can almost escape notice. On the other hand, the black finish, meshes best with darker decor, while silver offers a lustrous look, perfectly suited to the clean lines and minimalist sophistication of stylish modern homes—a perfect pairing with stainless steel accents and appliances. The Designer Series makes it easier than ever before to live in harmony with household appliances. In fact, you might even find yourself admiring its aesthetic impact.

 

Cooling and heating isn’t what it used to be, and that’s a good thing. With a system from Mitsubishi Electric, you can experience the most comfortable home climate control of your lifetime, while saving money on utility bills every month. It’s a win-win. And now, with appealing design options and game-changing features like zoning, Mitsubishi Electric’s innovative cooling and heating technology inspire you to view home climate control in a whole new light. In the past, plenty of homeowners have had frustrating, unsatisfying relationships with their space- and energy-wasting systems, but today, with a compact, efficient and customizable Zoned Comfort Solution from Mitsubishi Electric, a much more rewarding option is possible. You no longer need to sacrifice your preferences in deference to the whims and limitations of your increasingly outmoded air conditioning system. Zoned Comfort Solutions are designed to meet your needs–not the other way around—and isn’t that the way it should be?

Zoned Comfort Solutions - Dining Room Installation

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

This article has been brought to you by Mitsubishi Electric. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


The Window AC Alternative You Need to Know About

Are you tired of heaving that heavy old window unit into position every summer? Are you sick of the loud thrumming, endless cycling, and spiking electricity bills? Maybe it's time to switch to a technology that offers efficient, quiet, all-season comfort.

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Mini-Split Air Conditioners

Photo: istockphoto.com

It’s the time of year when, if you listen carefully, you can practically hear the sighs of homeowners again facing the prospect of a sizzling summer with relief provided by nothing more than a window air conditioner. Make no mistake: Under certain circumstances, there’s no more sensible option. Because they’re portable and relatively easy to install, window units are perhaps the best temporary cooling solution available. But when viewed over the long haul, window ACs become much less attractive. For one thing, they are expensive to operate. Sure, there’s no beating the low up-front purchase price, but when they’re used frequently, even the latest energy-smart models run up the utility bill. In addition, window units obstruct the view to the outdoors and block natural light from entering the home. They are noisy, too, and on the ground floor at least can pose a security risk. And then there’s that annual ritual of dragging them out of storage, hoisting them into position, securing them safely into the window—and then, come fall, repeating the process in reverse. The list goes on. No wonder so many homeowners seek a different approach.

Increasingly, fed-up homeowners are embracing mini-splits like the iSeries, a new offering from category leader Unico. Already well established in Europe, Asia, and parts of the United States, mini-split technology offers perhaps the best alternative to window ACs, not least because of the system’s compact, streamlined design. In contrast with extensive, elaborate setups that hog space and require renovation for installation, the iSeries consists of just two discrete components. One goes outdoors and the other is mounted on the wall in the room you want to cool. The two units are connected by twin refrigerant tubes small enough to fit through a narrow hole in the exterior of the home. As it’s so unobtrusive, the completely ductless iSeries installs with remarkable ease, usually within a single day. Impressive as that may be, the typical homeowner appreciates the system’s other benefits even more—its exceptional energy efficiency, its top-flight performance, and its versatility.

 

EFFICIENCY

Mini-Split Air Conditioners - iSeries Inverter

Photo: unicosystem.com

The Unico iSeries helps minimize utility bills by sidestepping at least two of the most energy-hungry aspects of traditional HVAC. For starters, mini-splits involve zero ductwork. That’s critical, because ducts are notoriously leaky, often losing enough energy to compromise the efficiency of the overall system by a whopping 25 percent or more. Therefore, simply by virtue of being ductless, the iSeries wastes less energy (and fewer dollars). Plus, instead of turning on and off, over and over, in a cycle that drives up operating costs, the iSeries saves by running continuously at a low power level. You hear it time and time again: Cooling costs a small fortune. But thanks to systems like the iSeries, that no longer needs to be the case.

 

PERFORMANCE

Mini-Split Air Conditioners - iSeries High Wall Unit

Photo: unicosystem.com

To be sure, there are many compelling reasons for a budget-conscious homeowner to remove the window AC and put in a mini-split like the Unico iSeries. Ultimately, the iSeries appeals not only because it’s efficient, but because it combines efficiency with stand-out performance. When you spend time in a room cooled by a window AC, you’ll notice that the farther you move from the unit, the less comfortable you feel. The iSeries, in contrast, maintains a uniform temperature thanks to two of the system’s features. First, because the high-wall unit mounts within the conditioned space, it can monitor the ambient temperature and automatically adjust its output to match the demand at any given time. Second, thanks to an integral fan that promotes even air distribution, hot and cool spots are eliminated. One final key point: Whereas window units are known to make a racket, the iSeries generates no more than 23 decibels of sound in the course of operation. What does that mean? It’s as quiet as a whisper.

 

VERSATILITY

Mini-Split Air Conditioners - Unico Diagram

Photo: unicosystem.com

A single window AC can cool only one room, but the iSeries can do a whole lot more. Certainly, you can use the Unico mini-split to cool one designated space, but you can also employ the technology for whole-home climate control. Configurations vary, but fundamentally, with multiple indoor units working in concert with one or more outdoor inverters, you can extend the efficiency and performance of the iSeries to any number of “zones” within your home. Whether a zone comprises one room or an entire floor, it can be controlled independently from the others. That way, you can target climate control to certain areas so you don’t end up paying for the energy consumed to cool unoccupied spaces—something homeowners with central air often must do. Likewise, if one family member likes things a bit cooler, you can set the thermostat down a couple of degrees in the zone that includes his or her bedroom, while keeping the temperature higher in the rest of the house. In other words, zoning gives you a fine degree of control.

 

As if all these features weren’t enough, the impressively versatile Unico iSeries has one more trick up its sleeve: It offers both cooling and heating. To cool a space, the technology pulls heat from the home and expels it outside. For heating, the system operates in reverse, drawing heat from the air surrounding the home (even at temperatures as low as -35 degrees Fahrenheit) and sending it indoors. This capability makes the iSeries an especially wise choice for cooling spaces in the summer that also tend to feel too chilly in the winter. Just think—one system can keep you comfortable not only at the peak of summer, but year-round!

Mini-Split Air Conditioners - Sunny Window

Photo: istockphoto.com

This article has been brought to you by Unico System. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


What Type of In-Floor Heating Is Right for You?

If you've been looking for an effective alternative to forced-air heating, radiant heat may be the answer. But should you opt for an electric or hydronic system? Read on to learn more about the best applications for each type.

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Types of Radiant Heat

Photo: warmboard.com

Spring has arrived at last. But don’t let the warmer weather fool you into forgetting all about the challenges of winter. If your heating system failed to keep you comfortable during the coldest months, things aren’t going to be any different next year—that is, unless you proactively make a change. As you assess your HVAC system, you may very well determine that your frustrations stem from the performance limitations and high operating costs of conventional forced air. Indeed, plenty of people have already reached the same conclusion. That may be why increasing numbers of homeowners are choosing, in one form or another, radiant heating.

One type of radiant system relies on a network of cables installed between the floor and subfloor. Electricity heats the cables, and the cables, in turn, heat the floor. Electrical systems are ideal for providing supplemental heat in a small room, such as a chilly master bathroom, not least because they are easy to install and incur relatively low up-front costs. Heating an entire house with electric radiant heat would be exorbitantly expensive, though, given that such setups rely completely on electricity, which—needless to say—doesn’t come cheap. For that reason, electric radiant systems can be considered a comfort luxury perfect for heating the floor, but not the home.

The other type—hydronic radiant heat—works in a completely different way. By circulating boiler-heated water through tubing below the floor, hydronic systems deliver cost-effective heating for the whole home, and offer a qualitatively different experience than forced air. Whereas forced-air systems heat inconsistently and incompletely, hydronic radiant heat provides encompassing warmth and ensures consistent temperatures from one wall to the other and one room to the next. Ultimately, electric radiant heat succeeds as a supplement, but hydronic competes with and surpasses traditional whole-home systems.

Types of Radiant Heat - Cutaway Detail

Photo: warmboard.com

INSTALLATION
Typically, electric radiant systems include three components—heating cables (often woven into plastic mats), a temperature sensor, and a thermostat. Laying the cable can be a do-it-yourself project, as it’s mainly a matter of using thinset to mount the cables on the subfloor. Likewise, the electrical work requires nothing more than basic know-how, but you’re best off hiring an electrician unless you really know what you’re doing. All in all, if you were planning to put in a new floor anyway, perhaps as part of a room remodel, then including an electric radiant mat will probably add just modestly to the overall project budget.

Hydronic systems, in contrast, involve a boiler, pump, and fuel lines as well as panels that slot beneath the floor. In other words, hydronic systems are substantially more complex. For that reason, HVAC technicians must be involved from the early planning stage all the way through to final installation. Yet manufacturers are actively engaged in making hydronic systems more accessible. For instance, Warmboard now offers a line of radiant panels specially designed for retrofit applications. Measuring less than an inch thick, these slimmer panels facilitate installation within the confines of any existing residential structure.

EFFICIENCY
Electric radiant systems typically operate on a timer. If not, they operate via a thermostat, which causes them to activate whenever the floor temperature reaches or dips below a certain preset minimum. In limited applications, electric systems tend not to run up the energy bill. But if an electric system were installed throughout the home and relied upon as the primary heat source, it would cost a fortune. Put another way, electric radiant systems are affordable so long as they are used as intended, as a means of warming otherwise uncomfortably cold flooring.

Hydronic radiant systems, meanwhile, can not only heat the entire home, but do so at least 25 percent more efficiently than forced air. That efficiency is due in large part to the fact that radiant heat involves zero ductwork. Notoriously prone to leakage, forced-air ducts often lose enough heat in transit to compromise a system’s overall efficiency by as much as 50 percent. Because it’s ductless, radiant heat maximizes homeowner savings by minimizing, if not completely eliminating, heat loss.

PERFORMANCE
Whether electric or hydronic, radiant heat boasts a number of compelling advantages. For one, in stark contrast with the jet engine-like roar of a forced-air system, radiant heat operates silently. Also, with no in-room vents or bulky, space-hogging ducts, it stays out of the way, invisible, never impeding your decorating scheme. Finally, and perhaps best of all, radiant heat does nothing to diminish indoor air quality. While forced-air ducts collect and then distribute dust throughout the home whenever the system activates, because radiant heat is ductless, it’s also practically dustless, making it particularly appealing to those who suffer from allergies, asthma, or are simply committed to maintaining a healthy home.

Although they share much in common, however, electronic and hydronic radiant systems are as different as apples and oranges. Electric radiant heat can be a welcome addition to a room that the primary heating system (for example, forced air) fails to keep comfortable. Hydronic radiant heat, on the other hand, not only matches but surpasses the performance of traditional whole-home installations. The technology has already taken hold in Europe and Asia, and though it hasn’t yet exploded in the United States, it gets more popular with each passing year. There’s a simple reason why: Hydronic radiant heating systems combine high efficiency and unparalleled comfort.

Types of Radiant Heat - Sleeping Dogs Lie

Photo: fotosearch.com

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


Don’t Run Your Boiler Without This One Key Component

If your steam or hot-water heating system unexpectedly runs low on water, don't let a bad situation get worse. Make sure your boiler, home, and family are kept safe from harm with this indispensable device.

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Photo: supplyhouse.com

The average homeowner rarely gives the boiler a second thought—until there’s a problem. Fortunately, as the engine that drives a steam or hot-water heating system, boilers generally deliver safe, reliable performance. But they’re not problem-free. On the contrary, boilers are prone to a range of issues. The most serious boiler failure also happens to be the most common, according to the National Board of Boiler and Pressure Vessel Inspectors. It’s a condition known as “dry firing,” and its consequences can be not only damaging but dangerous. In fact, dry firing “can turn your boiler into a ticking time bomb,” says Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with SupplyHouse.com.

Of course, steam and hot-water heating systems are complex in design, but dry firing typically stems from a simple cause—a burst pipe, for example, or a loose fitting. Because boilers require a sufficient volume of water to operate as designed, any interruption in the flow of water to the unit results in overheating. Making matters worse is that without water, a boiler cannot do its job to heat the home. So, unaware of the low-water condition in the boiler, a chilly homeowner might turn up the thermostat, causing the appliance to get even hotter. If the dry firing continues, it can irreversibly damage the boiler, or worse, it can cause the boiler to become a volatile hazard.

Photo: supplyhouse.com

It’s important to note that not every boiler runs the risk of overheating to the point where it can harm itself, the home it’s supposed to heat, or the people who live there. Boilers can be protected by a simple, inexpensive low-water cutoff (LWCO). An LWCO device actively monitors the water level in the boiler, then cuts power and shuts down the system if the level drops below a safety threshold. Experts view the feature as virtually standard. “In the same way that you wouldn’t buy a car without a seat belt,” says O’Brian, “you shouldn’t run a steam or hydronic heating system without a low-water cutoff.” He continues, “If your boiler doesn’t include an LWCO, think seriously about adding one.”

There are two main types of low-water cutoff devices. One, called a “floating” LWCO, features a buoyant ball that rises and falls with the level of the water. If the water gets down to a precariously low level, the device cuts power to the boiler. The alternative, an electric model, monitors the water level by probing its conductivity and shuts off the system when the level gets too low. Both options are worthy of consideration, whether you have a steam or hot-water boiler. But that’s not to say all low-water cutoffs are interchangeable. One function in particular determines whether or not a given LWCO would be suitable for your boiler—the way in which the device resets once water returns to the boiler.

In a steam system, opt for a low-water cutoff with automatic reset. The reason? It’s not uncommon for water levels in a steam boiler to fluctuate in the normal course of operation. An LWCO may shut off the boiler if the water level drops too low, but once the level returns to a safe minimum, automatic reset allows the boiler to start back up again. In a hot-water boiler, on the other hand, a low-water condition is usually a sign that there’s a problem in need of attention. For that reason, the recommendation is to pair a hot-water boiler with a manual-reset LWCO. That way, homeowners are prompted to address the root cause of the interruption before they reactivate the boiler.

Ambitious do-it-yourselfers with plumbing experience may be able to install a low-water cutoff on their own, without the help of a pro, but for everyone else, O’Brian advises hiring a contractor. For help choosing the right device for your specific boiler and heating system, contact the experts at SupplyHouse.com—and don’t delay. After all, given that these devices can head off potentially calamitous consequences, low-water cutoffs may be, as O’Brian says, “the most important home safety feature that you’ve never heard of.” Until now.

Photo: supplyhouse.com

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


Problem Solved: A Cutting-Edge Cure for Household Hassles

Harness the power of smart technology to solve irritations and inefficiencies, both big and small, all around your home.

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Photo: sagebyhughes.com

You live and learn—theoretically. But I’ve lived in my creaky old house for nearly 20 years, and I still haven’t mastered all its frustrating quirks. There is, however, one lesson that I absorbed early in my tenure here: Always turn the light on in the entry hall when going out for the day. Why? For some obscure reason that may have made sense to the builder (or previous owner), or perhaps for no real reason at all, there’s no light switch near the front door. That means that if I return after dark, I have to walk a dozen timid paces through the pitch-black foyer, risking life and limb along the way, before reaching the switch on the far wall. Hence, my simple workaround—just turn the light on before leaving. Unfortunately, experience has proven that, at least for me, it’s not so easy remembering to do that.

Time after time, preoccupied with where I’m going and what I’ll be doing, I get into the car, turn on the engine, exit the driveway, and proceed down the block. Then, as I pull up to the stop sign at the corner, I suddenly seize the steering wheel and ask myself, “Sarah, did you leave the light on?” I occasionally remember having done so, but much more often I’m not really sure. When there’s time, I drive back home to double-check, cursing myself for being so absentminded. If I’m running late, though, I have to drive on, cursing myself for the same reason. Why am I telling you this? Well, if what I’m describing sounds at all familiar, you may be interested to learn how I finally put this problem to rest. Spoiler: It wasn’t by pinning a note-to-self on the door (already tried that).

The solution: Home automation. It’s a hot topic these days, with many calling it the wave of future. Who knows? I’ve always harbored mixed feelings about the rise of digital devices in our lives, and I certainly never envisioned that smart-home technology would be of use to me personally. As I learned more about it, however, I discovered that the phrase “smart home” can mean very different things to different people. Some appreciate technology for its own sake and would embrace home automation whether or not it was truly practical. Others—me, for instance—appreciate technology only for its problem solving. What made me a believer? It wasn’t that automation magically made me remember to leave on the light. It’s that now, thanks to SAGE by Hughes, I no longer need to remember.

Photo: sagebyhughes.com

Brand-new SAGE by Hughes encompasses a suite of easy-to-use home automation and security products. In contrast to many of the expensive, elaborate whole-home systems that are out there, SAGE offers a modular solution, which means that you can choose the components you really want and ignore all the others. The modular system design also means that if in the future you decide to change or add onto the system, SAGE makes it easy to do so. The system can even move with you when you relocate to a new home. SAGE works with you, so you can use the technology to create your own personalized solutions. And that’s just what I did—after opting for the SAGE Automation Kit, I set out to settle my long, highly irritating struggle with the hall light.

Surprisingly, after all those years of cursing that hall light, solving the problem ended up being pretty painless! In any SAGE setup, no matter where you install the components or how you plan to use them, there’s one central piece—the hub. The heart of the system, the hub connects to your TV, which in turn becomes the command center where you configure and monitor the SAGE system. (If you choose to download the free SAGE app to your smartphone or tablet, you can also interface with the system whenever you want, wherever you may be.) Once I had the hub plugged in, I moved on to installing the SAGE Light Switch (the video instructions were nice to have, but not vital). Finally, I swapped out the standard bulb in the hall light fixture and screwed in the Internet-enabled LED Light Bulb. All told, the setup took only about 20 minutes.

With the hub, switch, and bulb taken care of, I sat next to the television and, following the intuitive prompts, used the SAGE remote control to sync up the Light Switch and bulb with the hub. Excited now, and a bit curious, I pulled out my smartphone, opened the SAGE app, and inspected the menu. A tap or two later, and I was turning the bulb on, then off again. A few more taps, and I was adjusting the brightness of the bulb. I walked out to the driveway and tried again—success!

Photo: sagebyhughes.com

Whereas it used to drive me bonkers, I now go days at a time without even thinking about the hall light. If it does happen to cross my mind, it’s only because I’ve pulled into the driveway at night and found that, sure enough, there’s a light on in the foyer, welcoming me home. In addition, I enjoy the comfort of knowing that if there’s ever a change of plan, no matter where I am—under the covers in bed or at my desk at the office—I can always pull out my smartphone to turn the lights on or off remotely, with just a tap. I’m even thinking about expanding my system to include switches and bulbs in every room, and possibly even incorporate the Deadbolt Lock. That way, I could make the lights in, say, the kitchen, den, and bedroom all turn on instantly and automatically the moment I unlock the door. Pretty cool, no?

I haven’t gotten that far yet. For the moment, I’m still experimenting with the SAGE Automation Kit, which, alongside the Light Switch and LED bulb, also includes the Appliance Switch. Any appliance that I plug into this clever device can be remote-controlled via the SAGE app (or through the TV in my living room). At least for now, rather than pairing the switch with a single appliance, I’ve been using it for a range of different purposes. Recently, I connected it to the slow cooker in my kitchen and, after putting in all the ingredients, left for work. If I’d begun cooking right then and there, the meal would have been overcooked by the time I got home. By starting the cooker around noon, from miles away, simply with a tap in the SAGE app, I was able to ensure a delicious dinner, cooked to perfection.

You can view and purchase the full line of home automation and security solutions at SAGEbyHughes.com. Besides being a storefront, the website provides access to customer service, an array of instructional videos, and helpful advice in plain English on how to get the most utility out of the kits or individual components you ultimately choose. The ordering process isn’t complicated—like the products themselves, it’s all very intuitive and seamless. As you browse, go ahead and consider your life at home and the often irritating hassles we all encounter every day, sometimes multiple times a day. Does the new world of automation offer a solution to these annoyances? Maybe, like me, you’re going to find that the little problems and inefficiencies that once seemed inevitable are simply no match for the best of digital technology.

Photo: sagebyhughes.com

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SAGE by Hughes. The opinions and text are all mine.


Is Your AC Safe from Brownouts and Power Surges?

This summer, consider installing a simple device that can protect both your air conditioning system and your family's comfort from the ups and downs of the power grid.

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HVAC Surge Protection - Air Conditioner Compressor

Photo: fotosearch.com

It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of electronics and appliances in our lives today. We are sounded by equipment that beeps and whirs, blinks and buzzes. From the systems that provide our entertainment to those that keep our homes comfortable year-round, the great advances in technology over the last century have made life easier, more enjoyable, and simply better all around, in ways both major and minor.

In the typical home, one finds a host of appliances, each designed for a different purpose. Despite their variety, most of these appliances have one thing in common—a need for a steady, uninterrupted electrical current. That’s a problem. To a far greater extent than most people appreciate, the power grid isn’t perfect, and when it inevitably hiccups, it endangers the appliances you depend on and for which you spent a small fortune.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, power disturbances cost homeowners a whopping $79 billion each year. The reason? Power surges, brownouts, and blackouts do not discriminate—and appliances, no matter their sticker price, are equally vulnerable. If a power surge fries your coffeemaker, you might not hesitate to replace it. But what will you do if a power surge ruins your central air conditioning system?

Spikes, limits, or breaks in electricity pose a particularly acute risk for a key component of a conventional central air conditioning system—the compressor. Typically situated in the yard, the compressor performs the pivotal role of controlling the flow of refrigerant through the system. In effect, it’s the engine that drives your air conditioning. Perhaps needless to say, compressors don’t come cheap, and replacing one requires the services of a pro (another charge).

HVAC Surge Protection - Compressor Defender

Photo: intermatic.com

Homeowners would be wise to protect their investment in central air conditioning, particularly given the fact that a power disturbance may strike at any time, incurring considerable out-of-warranty costs. While there are various options for safeguarding your system from damage, many homeowners choose to install the innovative Compressor Defender™. Easy to set up—it can be fully operational in 10 minutes—it provides years of defense against all types of potentially destructive electrical events.

Available at Lowe’s, the Compressor Defender™ takes the hit so your air conditioning equipment doesn’t have to. With the Compressor Defender™ standing guard, you can avoid the hassle and expense of AC replacement. And almost as important, the Compressor Defender™ lets you count on your central air conditioning to keep your home comfortable through the hottest months of the year, no matter how many surges or brownouts the summer season brings.

Like other devices of its kind, the Compressor Defender™ isn’t invincible. With exposure to multiple power disturbances, its internal metal-oxide varistors gradually deteriorate, although thanks to its state-of-the-art TPMOV® Technology, the Compressor Defender™ eliminates many potentially hazardous failure modes associated with older, increasingly outmoded electrical protection options. Another improvement: Compressor Defender™ reports on its own status, via LED indicators, letting you know when the unit must be replaced. That way, you find out before it’s too late.

Bear in mind also that the Compressor Defender™ comes with a three-year warranty covering all electronic, connected equipment parts up to $7,500. Simple and effective, with painless maintenance requirements and a no-nonsense warranty, the Compressor Defender™ removes worry. And with the power grid under increased strain due to mounting electricity demand and the upswing in extreme weather, don’t we all want a little peace of mind?

 

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


Is Your Air Conditioner Going to Survive the Summer?

Take a little time now, before the season of heat and humidity really kicks in, to evaluate the health and efficiency of your AC.

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Air Conditioner Troubleshooting

Photo: fotosearch.com

With the winter finally passed, savvy homeowners around the country are preparing for another summer of sizzling, sweltering heat. A comprehensive seasonal maintenance routine includes a long list of must-dos, but when it comes to the health and comfort of your home and family, there’s at least one especially critical task that you shouldn’t delay. Right now, before the mercury rises any higher, make sure that your central air-conditioning system still has what it takes to deliver peak performance.

Before you evaluate the health of your system, however, take the time to determine its age. Air conditioners last between 12 and 17 years, on average, so if yours has been in place for more than a decade—or if you simply don’t know when it was installed—the equipment “may already be on borrowed time,” says David Kenyon, a product manager with Sears Home Services. Do you suspect that your air conditioner may be on its last legs? If so, check for the following signs, which often indicate the need for repair or replacement.

Air Conditioner Troubleshooting - Compressor Unit Profile

Photo: fotosearch.com

Excessive Noise
Air conditioner troubleshooting sometimes requires the expertise of a technician, but even typical homeowners can easily discern if the system has been making excessive noise. Indeed, “standing next to the appliance can tell you a lot about its condition,” Kenyon says. Grating and grinding, rattling and whining—any such sounds indicate the possibility of damage to one or more internal components. “If things don’t sound right,” Kenyon concludes, it’s wise to contact a professional.

Unusual Patterns 
Central AC operates on a cycle. “It runs for a specific amount of time, then rests for a specific amount of time,” Kenyon explains. If the system rarely rests, or if it constantly turns on and off, it may be improperly sized or excessively strained. Either situation may lead to discomfort or inexplicably high energy bills. The good news: “Long and short cycling are common issues,” Kenyon says, and their resolution often leads to “a more livable environment and lower monthly operating costs.”

High Humidity
Professionally installed, properly operating AC works to keep humidity at a comfortable, healthy level. If you find yourself adjusting the thermostat down to a lower-than-usual target temperature, of if you discover mold and mildew where it never existed before, “there’s probably something wrong,” Kenyon says. “Your best bet is to work with a pro,” he says, ideally through regular checkups, at least twice a year, “not simply to solve problems, but to prevent problems from occurring.”

Poor Air Quality
In the past, “dust was a hallmark of home HVAC,” but over the years, filtration has improved by leaps and bounds. If at your house the cooling season is still the harbinger of red eyes, scratchy throats, or allergy or asthma symptoms, Kenyon advises that you should “at least replace the filter, or to go a step further, explore some of the new technology.” Meet with a local contractor to learn more about the latest healthy home air-conditioning options, or schedule a free in-home consultation with Sears Home Services.

Uneven Cooling
As you walk from one room to another, do you notice a marked difference in temperature? If so, the age of your system may be to blame. Uneven cooling was typical of “old, single-blower setups.” To put poor performance in your past, Kenyon says, “the sole viable option is to upgrade.” Nowadays, HVAC specialists like Sears Home Services install AC technology that’s been carefully engineered to maintain a consistent temperature across the entire house—”top to bottom and wall to wall.”

Air Conditioner Troubleshooting - Thermostat Action Shot

Photo: fotosearch.com

If your evaluation suggests that there may be a performance problem, whether major or minor, with your central air-conditioning system, don’t wait until the system fails at noon on a sizzling August day. Be proactive in addressing your concerns. The first step? Arrange a visit from a technician qualified to work on your specific type of air conditioner. Keep in mind that some pros specialize in only one type. Others, like Sears Home Services, perform maintenance on all makes and models.

With proper maintenance by a qualified provider, it’s often possible to ensure that your air conditioner fulfills its expected useful lifespan. But there’s no such thing as an HVAC system that lasts forever. As yours gets older and older, you can expect more frequent breakdowns, at which point “it may actually be more cost-effective to upgrade,” Kenyon says, not least because the latest air conditioners boast exceptional energy efficiency, often leading to lower cooling costs.

Additionally, it’s important to note that installing a new air conditioner can boost the value of your home. In fact, upon resale, homeowners often recoup much of the sum invested in bringing the system up to date, Kenyon says. Even so, any project that comes with a high price tag also comes with anxiety. Only compounding the stress is the fact that HVAC, essential as it is, remains largely mysterious to many homeowners. Choosing the right replacement can be an overwhelming prospect; it’s a decision that a homeowner really wants to get right. An important advantage of a company like Sears Home Services is that a project coordinator guides you through the process, from selection to installation. Plus, in contrast with many local contractors, the nationwide company demonstrates its commitment to customers by providing a Satisfaction Guarantee. No matter the scope of your project, there’s peace of mind in having a familiar, firmly established, decades-old service provider on the job, particularly when the comfort of your family is at stake.

Photo: fotosearch.com

This article has been brought to you by Sears Home Services. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Clanking Pipes? Restore Quiet with a Water Hammer Arrester

Silence the distressing sound of clanking metal pipes—and banish any worries about damaged plumbing—with one simple installation.

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Water Hammer Arresters

Photo: fotosearch.com

Have you ever been spooked by strange banging, clanking, or thumping sounds coming from your water pipes whenever you flush a toilet or finish a load in the dishwasher? No need to call in the ghost hunters. The cause of these startling sounds commonly goes by the name of  “water hammer,” although it’s also known as hydraulic shock. Both names refer to a pressure surge that results when flowing water is forced to stop or change direction suddenly when a valve closes at an end of a pipeline system. While the eerie noises may conjure up images of the supernatural, the problems this pressure wave can cause are all too real, ranging from vibration to a partial pipe collapse. Water hammer plagues many homes, but—lucky for you—it’s easy to address.

Water Hammer Arresters - Sioux Chief Model

Photo: supplyhouse.com

Homeowners often first notice water hammer issues soon after the installation of a new water-using appliance, such as a washing machine, dishwasher, or ice maker; the addition of any of these heavy water users may cause uneven pressure throughout the plumbing system. If the cushion of shock-absorbing air that is typically contained by your plumbing’s vertical air chambers is depleted, then the water rushing through your pipes will slam into the fixtures without something to soften the blow. As soon as you hear the telltale banging or clanking, try to equalize the air distribution throughout the system. Start by closing the main valve that supplies the house with water, and then open the faucet that sits highest in the house, for example, the sink faucet in the top-floor bathroom. Head downstairs and turn on the faucet that sits lowest in the house (perhaps the basement sink). Finally, flush all the toilets. As the water drains, air replaces it throughout the system—exactly what needs to happen in order to quiet the water hammer. When water stops draining from that lowest faucet and you’ve emptied the entire system, shut off the faucets and reopen the main valve to let water reenter.

If this equalization process does not stop the banging and thumping, check the water pressure. A high household water pressure will create more hammering and knocking noises. You can test the water pressure by screwing a pressure gauge onto an exterior hose bib or behind the washing machine. The magic number is 75 psi—more than that, and you’ll want to call a professional to install or replace a pressure regulator. Less than that, however, means that your household water pressure is within normal limits and you need to look elsewhere for a solution.

Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com, recommends a solution that’s readily available and not terribly difficult to install: a water hammer arrester. This regulator fits right into a home’s plumbing system to absorb the shock, stop the banging, and ultimately prevent pipe damage. When water and all the force behind it has no place to go, the arrester, using either a piston or air bladder, takes the hit—the air in the bladder compresses, slowing down and stifling the noise triggered by the water.

It’s fairly simple to figure out whether this fix might correct the noise issue. Open the valve or fixture you think has been causing a problem, then close it after it’s been flowing. If the pipes start banging, an arrester may be a worthy investment. “When a fixture opens up, water pressure blasts the water through the pipes out through whatever outlet you opened,” O’Brian explains. “If that outlet closes abruptly, as is the case with a lot of solenoid valves on washing machines, the water goes from ‘60 to 0’ in no time flat. With no arrester, this 20-car water pileup smashes into the valve and all the piping it was traveling through. A water hammer arrester will dampen the clangor and take the shock, protecting any delicate components that the water had been crashing into before.”

According to O’Brian, today’s market includes a range of types and sizes of water hammer arresters, most of which are simple enough for typical homeowners to install themselves. Some models for sinks and toilets screw directly onto the outlet of the stop valve and hook up to the riser; others are designed to attach to appliances like dishwashers and washing machines. Even larger models can regulate multiple fixtures using a rechargeable air bladder, but these units usually require professional installation.

Whatever your needs and budget, experts at SupplyHouse.com are ready to help you sift through the wealth of options—including those from industry-leading brands like Sioux Chief, Dahl, and Watts—to find the right model for your household. Getting that proper unit into position may spare you from both the unsettling noises and any larger plumbing problems that might have been coming down the pipeline.


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


Home Security 2.0: Design and Install Your Own Smart System

Let customizable, modular, and easy-to-use smart-home automation help you take control of your own home—turn on lights automatically, let you know whether you remembered to lock the door, alert you if there's an intruder while you're away, and even help you keep an eye on your pet in the backyard.

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Photo: sagebyhughes.com

Of all the rooms in the house, my personal office is where I spend the most time. Thickly carpeted and paneled in wood, it’s a tranquil, comfortable space. Here’s the catch: Some of its pros are actually cons. Because it’s located toward the back of the house, on the second level, the office sits apart from the majority of household activity, at least during the day. That means I can work undisturbed for hours at a time, but it also means that I don’t hear the goings-on downstairs. Is there someone at door? Has my wife gotten home from work? I don’t know unless I get up and go downstairs to check.

This frustrating lack of knowledge only intensifies when we go away for a few days, perhaps on a jaunt to our cabin. We’re left with plenty more, often quite worrying questions that I have no way to investigate. Is there a package waiting out on the front step, tempting a would-be thief? Or, wait a second, did I completely forget to lock the door? Has the place been ransacked for its valuables? We’re fortunate in that we’ve never had a problem. I’ve always been able to breathe a sigh of relief when we return home and find everything safe and untouched. Still, I’d like not to be so in the dark about the status and security of my greatest investment, my home.

Of course, one answer would be to bite the bullet and install a full-fledged security system, but the cost turns me off. Plus, I want versatility, and traditional security options aren’t known for their flexibility. I don’t want to end up overspending on bells and whistles that I don’t really need. That’s why, when I learned about SAGE by Hughes and its brand-new, innovative line of home automation and security products, I got excited. Its modular design would enable me to devise a solution customized to my needs, involving only those components that I’d actually use day to day.

Photo: sagebyhughes.com

SAGE by Hughes offers a full suite of sensors and cameras, locks and switches—indeed, all you could possibly need to make your residence smart and secure. You can install your chosen components all at once or, as I plan to do, add onto the system gradually over time. To get started, I chose not a set of individual components, but the SAGE Security Kit, a bundled package of essentials that I judged would be perfect for what I planned to devise: a system that would both reduce the isolation of my office while I’m working and provide peace of mind when we’re away on family trips.

First, I installed the Doorbell Sensor (with help from the step-by-step video instructions). The result? Now, it no longer matters if I don’t hear the doorbell, because an alert arrives on my phone, telling me there’s a visitor. Next, I installed the Door Sensor so that if someone enters the house, I know right away—again, thanks to a message sent to my phone. (Don’t worry—if you are expecting family members to be going in and out of the house all day, it’s easy to disengage the alerts.) Also in the kit: a Motion Sensor and an Indoor Camera. For now, I have both in the living room.

No matter the specifics of your individual solution, every SAGE setup has one thing in common—the hub. As the heart of the system, the hub connects to your TV, syncs all components, and becomes the command center. Here’s where you configure your SAGE and, by following intuitive prompts, define the rules that control its behavior. If, for instance, the Motion Sensor ever detects movement in the living room when I have set the system to vacation mode, the hub knows to activate the Indoor Camera and send me an instant notification.

Photo: sagebyhughes.com

Although I sincerely hope an alert never comes, what if one did? What if, on a day when I was traveling, SAGE alerted me to an intruder? Unlike other smart-home security options, SAGE offers a unique feature, MyLocal911, as part of its entirely optional $9-per-month Premium Service. Here’s how it works: If I have reason to believe my home is in jeopardy, I would immediately call the police. But if I’m at the family cabin, dialing 911 would connect me to the force nearest the cabin, not the force nearest the break-in. MyLocal911 simplifies the situation, connecting directly to the appropriate police station. Clever.

Already, after only a few weeks with SAGE, I’m thinking about adding more components. One possibility: Outfit the entry hall with the SAGE Light Switch and LED Bulb. That way, I can have lights turn on automatically whenever the front door opens after, say, 5 o’clock in the evening. Another idea: Install the Outdoor Camera so I can check to make sure the dog’s OK without having to go out into the yard. As the online purchasing process is as seamless as the system itself, it’s tempting to envision new ways to put the SAGE solution to work in my home.

I’ve been stunned to discover how easy (and frankly, fun) it can be to gain control over the household inefficiencies and anxieties that used to drive me batty. Now, I really believe it when I read an article or see something on TV about home automation being the wave of the future. I think of it like this: In recent years, technology has been making our lives easier and more enjoyable in so many ways. And now, thanks to systems like SAGE, we can use technology to solve those problems, large and small, that we encounter all the time in our own homes. It’s a bright future, indeed!

HURRY: Until April 30, 2016, you can enter to win SAGE by Hughes kits and components in the Easy Is Awesome sweepstakes—go now!

 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SAGE by Hughes. The opinions and text are all mine.