Category: Major Systems


5 Ways to Solve Underwhelming Water Pressure

Troubleshoot your low water pressure problems with these helpful fixes that increase force and improve flow, so you and your guests can enjoy the holidays without a hitch.

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Increase Water Pressure - Showerhead

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Starting or ending a long day with a weak shower is deeply unsatisfying. Still, when other around-the-house fixes rank as higher priorities, sometimes you just learn to live with poor water pressure. Even though you may tolerate a trickle, you should probably treat friends and family eager to visit for a long weekend to something better. Don’t let low water pressure ruin your reputation as the host with the most! Resolve to finally achieve a healthy flow of water—for you and all of your future houseguests—by trying any of the following solutions, ranging from quick fixes to extensive projects.

Increase Water Pressure - Faucet

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First things first: Contact your neighbors to see if they are experiencing similarly low water pressure. If so, the source of the problem may be with the city’s municipal water system. Just like your home’s piping, these systems are subject to leaks, clogs, buildup, and corrosion. Before calling your local provider, you can test the city water pressure yourself using a water pressure test gauge with a hose connection. Simply screw the device onto a hose faucet and turn on the tap, having first made sure that the rest of your home’s faucets and any water-using appliances (for example, the dishwasher and washing machine) are turned off. According to experts, a 45 or 50 psi is on the low side, 60 is a good reading, and 80 or above is too high. After you have either ruled out or confirmed a citywide pressure problem, you can decide what steps to take next.

Clear the Clogs

Over time, your pipes can develop a buildup of mineral deposits. In extreme cases, the diameter of the pipes decreases until they become clogged, preventing the water from freely flowing through, and leaving you with a pitiful drip in the shower or a paltry trickle from the faucet. While extreme cases can require that you replace sections of pipe, you can at least take care of clogs at your system’s exit points by dissolving any minerals that are gumming up the works inside your faucet fixtures and shower heads. Simply place an open zip-lock bag filled with  vinegar over your shower head or faucet, tie it in place with some string, and leave it overnight to soak. Rinse off your cleaned fittings the next morning, and put your bathroom back together. If this trick doesn’t work and you believe you have a more severe mineral clog inside the pipes, call in a plumber to assess and correct the problem.

 

Open Wide

The next solution requires little more than a few minutes of investigative work. Your house has a main water valve, usually located near the meter, which controls the flow of water into your home’s pipes. Find the valve and check to see if it’s completely open. Sometimes the valve gets accidentally turned during routine repairs and maintenance without the homeowner’s knowledge. If, for example, your drop in pressure coincides with recent work you’ve had done on your home, your contractor may have turned off the main water supply and at the end of the job only partially reopened the valve. The result: restricted flow and reduced pressure. Fortunately, the valve is easy for you to adjust yourself; calling in a plumber is unnecessary.

 

Replace the Regulator

Many homes that rely on public water have a regulator, located either at the meter or where the service line enters the home, that ensures that water doesn’t rush through the pipes. When the regulator goes bad, the water pressure will gradually drop, causing a loss in velocity that affects some or all of the fixtures in your home. To solve the problem, reset or replace this part, or hire a plumber to do the work for you.

 

Look Out for Leaks

Cracked or damaged pipes may result in water leaks that siphon off water as it travels through your pipes, leaving you with just a trickle at the tap. To determine if your main pipe has any damage, make sure all faucets indoors and out are shut off, then turn off the water valve in your home and write down the number that appears on your water meter. Return in two hours and take the meter reading again. An increased reading is a sign of a leak—and a sign that it may be time to call in a professional.

Galvanized steel pipes are particularly vulnerable to corrosion over time, so if you decide to upgrade, choose superior plastic or copper pipes. You should feel no pressure to DIY this particular fix: Replacing pipes requires the skills of a professional plumber. While it’s a costly project, pipe replacement will do more than improve your showering experience. In addition to boosting water pressure and minimizing the chance of future leaks, swapping out old plumbing for new can reduce the risk that corrosives will contaminate your drinking water, resulting in better quality H2O.

 

Give It a Boost

It may turn out that the problem isn’t you, it’s the neighborhood. That’s no surprise: Gravity and distance are two main factors that negatively impact water pressure. If your household water supply is forced to travel uphill or over a great distance from the municipal water source, its pressure may be hindered. To increase the flow rate of the water when it reaches your home, consider installing a water pressure booster pump. Just be aware that this handy solution is a bit of an investment: The pump runs about $300 at your local home improvement store, and this price doesn’t include the cost of installation (best left to a master plumber) and the potential increase in your monthly electricity bill.


Tour the First Home in Cleveland Built Without a Furnace

Learn how one happy couple just couldn't pass up a striking house that incorporated energy-efficient building technology and the comfort and precision of Mitsubishi Electric zoned heating and cooling systems.

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You are reading one installment in a 10-part series devoted to exploring Mitsubishi Electric ductless heating and cooling. See all.

While visiting their son and his family in Cleveland, Marty and Jocelyn Schaffer went out for a drive. Along the way—much to their own surprise—they bought a nearby house. Here’s how it happened: On a street in the historic district of Wade Park, a unique building seized their attention. They soon discovered it was the PNC SmartHome, developed by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The concept house had completed its run as a museum exhibit and was now being offered for sale. The Schaffers, long interested in high-performing, energy-saving design, arranged a tour for the same day. Three hours later, they made an offer, and within 30 days, it was official. They are now the proud owners of an unusual dwelling, a home in Cleveland built without a furnace.

As a certified passive house—a home built to the world’s most demanding residential energy standards—the PNC SmartHome pulls off a remarkable feat of efficiency, in no small part because its indoor climate control needs are met not by a central forced-air system, but by a system from Mitsubishi Electric US, Inc. Cooling & Heating (Mitsubishi Electric). Working in concert with the energy-smart hallmarks of passive house design, such as airtight construction, advanced insulation, window technology and heat recovery ventilation, Mitsubishi Electric enables the Schaffers to enjoy lower utility bills from one month to the next. In fact, compared with a conventional home, the PNC SmartHome consumes up to 90 percent less cooling and heating energy!

What makes a Mitsubishi Electric zoning system so efficient? First of all, it requires a relatively small amount of electricity to power its normal operation. Second, the system sidesteps the notorious inefficiencies associated with traditional installations and their leak-prone ductwork. Believe it or not, air ducts commonly lose enough energy to compromise overall system efficiency by up to 25 percent. Mitsubishi Electric achieves superior efficiency by distributing air directly into the conditioned space rather than through a network of ducts. However, of all the groundbreaking features that distinguish Mitsubishi Electric, none manages to save more energy (or provide more practical benefits) than its zoning capability.

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In a typical home with a central system, one thermostat governs the temperature of the entire house. But with zoning capabilities, the Schaffers get room-by-room customization. That’s because their PNC SmartHome contains multiple zones, each independently controlled. Instead of cooling or heating the entire house in order to bring comfort to one room or floor, the Schaffers can target the zone they are occupying. So, for example, they can warm the bedrooms on the second story while opting to save energy—and energy dollars—by not running the system on the empty first floor. In addition to cutting energy consumption and costs, there’s a bonus: Thanks to a Mitsubishi Electric zoning system, people with different temperature preferences can finally all be comfortable at the same time. No more thermostat wars!

Precision control really matters, for so many reasons. Performance matters too—for the Schaffers and for everyone else. Fortunately, without any sacrifice of efficiency, a Mitsubishi Electric zoning system delivers cooling and heating of a caliber greater than common central forced-air systems. Many homeowners find traditional forced-air systems frustrating, because from the ground up they are designed to cycle on and off. The inevitable result? Uncomfortable temperature swings. Rather than working in stop-and-start fashion, systems from Mitsubishi Electric operate continuously, actively adjusting their output to match the demand at any given time. The temperature does not waver from the temperature set on the thermostat. Whether it’s the PNC SmartHome or your own home, a Mitsubishi Electric zoning system ensures a steady, stable environment.

Cleveland isn’t known for extreme weather, but its warm and humid summers and cold winters mean that for several months of the year, the Schaffers rely on indoor climate control. Whereas most cooling and heating appliances supply one or the other, the versatile Mitsubishi Electric system provides both. In cooling mode, it draws heat from inside the home and deposits it safely outside. Then, whenever the temperatures drop in late fall, the system automatically reverses the action, causing the system to collect heat from the outside and bring it indoors. That’s right: Even at temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit, Mitsubishi Electric systems equipped with Hyper-Heating INVERTER™ capability can collect heat needed to keep the home toasty warm throughout the coldest days of the year.

Historically, climate control has forced homeowners to choose between savings and comfort, but the Schaffers didn’t have to make any sacrifices. Thanks to the passive house design of their PNC SmartHome and to the high-efficiency operation and precision control delivered by Mitsubishi Electric, the Schaffers have the best of both worlds: year-round cooling and heating provided by a zoning system that outperforms older technologies even as it keeps the monthly energy bills lower than average. Sure, cutting-edge passive house design may not be available or desirable for everyone, but no matter where you live, you have the option to choose a Mitsubishi Electric system of your own.

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


4 Reasons to Ditch Your Furnace for Radiant Heat

Chances are your home uses forced-air heating. While this type of system may be the most common, it has always suffered performance drawbacks. Today, with the availability of better-performing technologies, many homeowners are considering a switch. Find out why so many homeowners are dissatisfied with their forced-air heating—and what they're replacing it with.

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Visit any assortment of American homes built in recent years and, though you’ll probably see a range of architectural styles, all are likely to have only one type of HVAC system—forced air. For decades—ever since it first rose to prominence in the wake of the Second World War—forced air has remained a default choice. Indeed, many homeowners are so accustomed to forced air that they mistakenly believe it’s the only way to keep a home comfortable in the cold months of the year.

Given the ubiquity of forced-air heating, it’s often the case that when homeowners complain about their heating—its hit-and-miss performance, its high monthly costs—they are, without necessarily knowing it, criticizing forced air in particular. But throughout Europe and Asia, and increasingly in the United States, homeowners are discovering an alternative in radiant heating. A new technology with ancient roots, radiant heating surpasses forced air in a number of persuasive, important ways.

Keep reading for more information about why so many homeowners are fed up with forced air, and then learn how radiant heating improves upon that increasingly outmoded technology. The bottom line is, radiant heating offers a wholly different—and more comfortable—experience, and operates at least 25 percent more efficiently than its predecessor, representing a dramatic step forward in home heating. It may even change your assumptions about what in-home warmth can be.

THE DRAWBACKS OF FORCED AIR
A forced-air system works by blowing furnace-heated air into a network of supply ducts, which in turn deliver the air to the various rooms of the house. Once it cools, the air re-enters the ductwork through return registers, finally reaching the furnace, where it will be heated and circulated again. Though this technology is widespread, the notoriously inefficient operation and uneven heating of such systems can be traced back to fundamentally flawed aspects of their design.

Uneven heating. In a room heated by forced air, it’s warmest right near the vent. In fact, it might very well feel a little too warm there. Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, you could easily find yourself needing a sweater and a blanket to keep warm. Simply put, hot air is difficult to control. It is not evenly distributed and it will always rise to the ceiling or second floor. So, in the end, your comfort basically depends on your location relative to the nearest vent, or whether you are upstairs or down.

Noisy operation. Traditional forced air calls no small amount of attention to itself. It cycles on and off, creating not only uncomfortable temperature swings, but also a great deal of noise. When the system kicks on, warm air roars into the room and interrupts conversation (or sleep) before, minutes later, grinding to a halt. Then, once the room has cooled down to a threshold point, another loud blast invades—and this annoyance continues all winter long.

Poor air quality. Though intended to channel warm air through your home, ductwork also often ends up collecting and distributing dust and other impurities, including germs. At the same time, the air recirculation that occurs in a forced-air system inevitably leads to stale, dry conditions. You’re probably no stranger to “scratchy” indoor air in the winter. But such unpleasantness is not inevitable. Rather, it stems directly from a heating technology that relies on warm, blown air.

Energy inefficiency. Why does home heating cost those with forced-air systems a small fortune over the winter months? A primary explanation is that ducts are imperfect. Their tendency to leak—even if only through the joints that connect sections—compromises overall system efficiency. To make up for the heat loss, the furnace must work harder and consume more energy to maintain the target indoor temperature. You’re essentially paying extra to correct the flaws of the system.

Technology has improved by leaps and bounds in nearly every avenue of life, including HVAC, and savvy homeowners are beginning to look beyond traditional forced air—a search that has led them to radiant heating. Though it’s been around, in one form or another, since the days of the Roman Empire, radiant heating hasn’t always been a viable whole-home heating option. But today, thanks to contemporary manufacturers like Warmboard, many would argue that radiant heat now outperforms its peers.

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THE RADIANT HEATING ALTERNATIVE
While circulating air plays the central role in a forced-air system, water serves a largely similar function in hydronic radiant heat. In a radiant system, after water is raised to a target temperature by a boiler, it’s pumped through a network of tubes that are set into panels beneath the flooring of the home. The water-fed tubes transfer heat to the panels, which then radiate heat outward to materials and objects in the room—first the floor, and then the furniture and people occupying the living space.

Uniform heating. By virtue of the expanse of panels underlying the flooring, radiant heat delivers warmth across virtually every square inch of space. So, no matter where you’re positioned in a room, or even as you’re moving from one room to the next, you can expect the temperature to remain consistent. Plus, in contrast to forced air, there are no uncomfortable swings in radiant heating; the comfort concentrates not in the air above you, but near the floor, at the level you actually inhabit.

Peace and quiet. Many homeowners insist that appliances like dishwashers ought to run quietly, but they seem to have lower expectations when it comes to home heating. People may assume that noise and heat go hand in hand, but they do not. Radiant systems deliver steady, all-encompassing warmth, and they do so in complete silence. In other words, you will be aware of your heating system only because you’re so comfortable, not as a result of the noise it’s making.

Superior air quality. For allergy sufferers and others concerned about indoor air quality, radiant heat can be like a breath of fresh air. First of all, the design of the system involves zero ductwork, which results in a dramatic reduction in the amount of dust wafting through the home. Second, radiant heating operates in a way that does nothing to detract from the moisture content of the air. That means you can bid farewell to the dry conditions that cause red eyes, sore throats, and dry sinuses!

Energy savings. Because it’s ductless, radiant heat maximizes energy savings by minimizing heat loss. Not all radiant systems are alike, however. They all offer efficiency, but the right components can make a big difference in your monthly bills. Take Warmboard, for instance. Its panels are made not with sluggish concrete, but rather aluminum. Because aluminum conducts heat so effectively, these panels require the least energy of any radiant system and reach the set temperature more quickly as well.

Though radiant heat is still relatively rare in the United States, that situation is changing. More and more homeowners are ditching forced air and switching to radiant heat, because the newer technology excels where forced air falls short. Whereas home heating used to entail a choice between comfort and savings—and certain negatives were seen as unavoidable—radiant heat proves that you don’t have to settle for anything less than even, “everywhere” warmth that remains silent and dust-free while dramatically lowering energy bills.

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


Bob Vila Radio: Safe Outdoor Holiday Lighting

Your uncle's eggnog isn't the only holiday hazard to be wary of. If you're adding strings of holiday lights to the landscaping on your property, don't ignore the following basic precautions.

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If you’re planning to add holiday lights, not only to the tree in your living room, but to the trees and bushes outdoors, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

String Holiday Lights Safety

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First, be sure to plug your string lights into an outlet equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), a protection that cuts power to the circuit if voltage spikes to a dangerously high level. That effectively eliminates the chances of an electrical shock causing a house fire. So if you put on a holiday display year after year, you may want to think about installing a permanent GFCI outlet on your property. Though intended for temporary use, portable GFCI outlets are commonly available at hardware stores and home centers. Another good idea: Invest in extension cords with a built-in voltage detectors. Combined with GCFI outlets, such cords further reduce the chance of an overloaded circuit jeopardizing your home and holiday spirit.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


Kickspace Heaters 101

This winter, bring warmth to your coldest rooms by installing space-smart heaters that will make their presence felt—though not necessarily seen.

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Kickspace Heaters - White Bathroom Unit

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Every home has one—a room that never feels quite comfortable in the winter, no matter the set temperature. To supply extra heat to these chilly areas, some homeowners use space heaters, reasoning that warmer, habitable spaces justify the likelihood of higher utility bills. Others choose to install baseboard units instead, taking on an up-front expense in hopes of saving energy costs down the line. The catch? Baseboards are bulky; a lot of times, they simply don’t fit.

Fortunately, there’s another option to consider—namely, kickspace heaters. Also known as toe-kick heaters, these often-overlooked components deliver the best of both worlds, cost-effective heating in a compact package. Their modest size means that in a room with a challenging layout, one that would not accommodate a baseboard unit, a kickspace heater may be able to fit in seamlessly, installed at floor level beneath cabinetry or even inside the wall or floor.

According to Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with SupplyHouse.com, “Kickspace heaters are designed to be inconspicuous.” In fact, their name refers to the hidden spot where they are frequently installed—that is, the inset cavity along the bottom edge of bathroom vanities and kitchen base cabinets. Here, kickspace heaters remain largely out of sight, working virtually invisibly to supplement the warmth provided by the main HVAC system.

Kickspace Heaters - Wood Kitchen Unit

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There are two types of kickspace heaters in common use today. Though alike in many ways, they are separated by a single yet crucial design variation. Both draw in cool air from the surrounding area and gradually return it to the room after raising its temperature to a preset level. Both types of heater warm the captured air by exposing it to a set of heated coils. Here’s the point of distinction: A hydronic unit heats up those coils by pumping in water from the boiler or hot water heater. In the other type, the coils are heated by means of electricity. You probably wouldn’t be able to tell the two apart by their performance, but when it comes to installation, each has different basic requirements.

Hardware and wiring typically accompany new kickspace heaters in tidy, prepackaged bundles. So, at first blush, it may all seem easy enough to set up. That’s not really the case, though, according to Daniel O’Brian of SupplyHouse.com. He warns, “Installation isn’t something to take lightly.” Rather, it requires the services of a qualified pro, no matter whether you choose a hydronic unit or an electric one. Of the two, hydronic units are pricier to install, because they call not only for electrical work, but for plumbing modifications as well. “If you don’t have a good handle on the skills involved,” O’Brian emphasizes, “don’t attempt to do it yourself. There are just too many risks.”

O’Brian also offers the reminder that even in mild climates, kickspace heaters are not suitable as whole-home heaters, if only because they offer limited coverage. “They are designed as, and work best when used as, complements to the central heating,” he says. It is important to note, however, that a kickspace heater doesn’t need to operate in lockstep with the main HVAC system. On the contrary, kickspace heaters are typically set up to be independent and separately configured. That arrangement gives the homeowner precision control over the temperature of the room in question, particularly when the installed kickspace heater is a model that offers multiple fan speeds.

For many, heating can be as much a source of frustration as comfort. If chilly rooms are undermining your enjoyment of your home, reclaim your spaces with a cost-effective, inconspicuous kickspace heater. Need help making your selection? Visit the experts at SupplyHouse.com. A leading vendor in the category, the company offers products from all major manufacturers, including Beacon/Morris, Cadet, Broan, and Slant/Fin. Have a happy, warm winter!

Kickspace Heaters - Components Isolated

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


How To: Troubleshoot a Leaky Washing Machine

Sometimes you need to play detective to determine the source of a washing machine malfunction. Use the following clues to help find the cause of your leaky washer, so you can decide if it’s a DIY fix or you need to call in a pro.

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Did you know the average American family washes eight loads of laundry a week? That translates to more than 400 loads of wear and tear each year! It’s no wonder that our washing machines develop leaks and inefficiencies over time. Fortunately, many symptoms that lead to a waterlogged room can be treated without a visit from a professional. So, if your overworked appliance has left you with a puddle all over your laundry room floor after your last load, check out the following leads to determine if it’s one of these most common problems—in both top- and front- loading washers—that require a DIY fix, not a service call.

Washing Machine Leaking - Loaded Washing Machine

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SCENARIO #1: You just built a pedestal for your washer and dryer, and now your newly situated appliance is spilling water out during the cycles.
An unbalanced machine can cause the entire appliance to shake while it spins and agitates your clothes. The result: Some water spills out and accumulates on your laundry room floor. If you catch the leak in time, adjusting your washing machine pedestal or evening out the floor to stabilize the machine could do just the trick. Just be sure to use a level!

 

SCENARIO #2: Water is leaking from behind the washer, which you recently installed yourself.
Check to see whether you removed the manufacturer’s temporary plastic drain plug from the new purchase—or if you accidentally left it place when attaching the drain hose. A left-behind drain plug is no problem. Simply turn off the waterline, pull out the plug, and reattached the drain hose.

 

SCENARIO #3: You observe water escaping during the “spin” cycle.
When you’ve ruled out that it’s not an accidental oversight of leaving the plastic plug in after installation, carefully inspect the hoses for other signs of clogs, loose connectors, or other damage.

A clogged drain hose prevents water from properly flowing down the drain pipe resulting in a backup of H2O, which has nowhere to go but onto your laundry room floor. This common problem often looks like a leak, but it’s actually a blockage. Tackle this easily by softening the clog with hot water and fishing it out with a straightened wire hanger, much like you might a clogged shower drain. Then rinse simply by turning the water back on.

Loose connections between the hoses and the valves could also cause water leak back there. First, turn off the water supply. Then pull the appliance away from the wall to check and tighten the connection of the drain hose, the water hose to the washer valves, and the connections of the water hoses to the inlets.

If not clogged or loose, it might be a damaged drain hose leaking from the connection between the pump and the back of the washer. It’s important to keep enough space between the washing machine unit and the back wall; otherwise the hose may rub against the wall, causing damage to the hose due to constant friction. Inspect the hose thoroughly. If you spot a worn out area or a leak, replace the hose and carefully move your appliance back into place.

When you have ruled out all of the above as responsible for your leak, replace the fill hoses—damaged fill hoses can only lead to bigger problems if they don’t receive immediate attention. If a hole small enough to be missed upon visual inspection is the cause, the end result could cause significant water damage when the line gives way.

 

SCENARIO #4: It’s official: There’s nothing wrong with the drain hoses, but water continues to seep out during the “spin” cycle.
You’ve exhausted inspection of the hoses and it hasn’t solved the problem, so now it’s time to take a look at another potentially faulty part: the pump. A plugged pump occurs when dirt and other bits of debris (including miscellaneous pieces of fabric, like an orphan sock) build up in this appliance part and cause a blockage. If you’re lucky, an easy-to-clean coin trap accessible at the bottom of the machine will have caught the trouble-making debris; if your machine doesn’t have such a trap, simply remove the drain hose from its outlet and inspect back of your machine for a potential clog at this connection. Seals between the pump and the drain hose could also potentially cause leaks if too brittle or loose, so check to see that they’re secure as a preventative measure.

 

SCENARIO #5: Only a few minutes into the load, and soap bubbles are everywhere.
Oversudsing common occurs in either top- or front-loading machines, and it boils down to this to the amount of soap used. Repeat after us: Extra soap doesn’t mean extra clean. Instead, too much soap causes clogs in the overflow tubes, which could lead to leaks. Using the right detergent—and the right amount of it—is an easy preventative measure.
• Top-load washing machines with a water softening system need simply to use less detergent for future loads  in order to avoid oversudsing.
• Front-load machines, however, take a small amount of a specific high efficiency detergent. If that’s your appliance, check the packaging of your detergent bottle for an “HE” label to make certain you have the right supplies.

 

If you’ve ruled out all of the aforementioned causes and your washing machine still leaks, the problem is likely even larger and in need of a  professional’s skillset. A leaky pump and faulty basket gasket or worn out tub seal and bearing all require specialized replacement parts and extensive disassembling of the machine, so it’s best to call in a pro to deal with that leaking H2O.


Bob Vila Radio: Is It a Three-Way Lamp Socket?

The next time you return home from the flea market with a lamp under your arm, here's how to tell whether or not its socket can take a three-way bulb.

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How can you distinguish between a standard lamp socket and a three-way? It’s simple! Standard sockets have only two electrical contacts. The hot contact, a small metal tab, sits at the bottom of the socket, while the negative contact is the threaded metal shell (the one the bulb screws into).

Three-Way Lamp Sockets

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Three-way sockets look very similar. The difference is that next to the metal tab at the bottom, there’s a third contact—a bit smaller than the metal tab and set slightly off center. That extra contact matches a small ring-shaped contact on the bottom of a three-way fluorescent bulb. Such bulbs are characterized by having two filaments, not one. When you twist the switch on a three-way lamp, the first click illuminates a single filament. The next click deactivates the first and illuminates the second, this one with a somewhat higher wattage. The final, third click illuminates both filaments at once, giving you the brightest light.

If you’re looking to trim your electric bills, you might want to check out compact fluorescent or LED bulbs, many of which are made expressly to work in conventional three-way fixtures.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


Bob Vila Radio: Power Strips vs. Surge Protectors

There's really only one major difference between power strips and surge protectors. But when you're using either to power an expensive or essential device, that sole distinction matters more than you might think. Read on for the details.

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Not quite sure of the difference between power strips and surge protectors? You’re not alone. Home improvement centers report that many customers ask the same question. Perhaps it’s time to set the record straight?

Power Strips vs. Surge Protectors

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Power strips are basically extension cords with multiple receptacles. For most purposes, they work fine in supplying electricity to devices located near one another—so long as those devices are not expensive or essential for your daily routine. However, if you’re plugging in a laptop, modem, router or flat-screen TV, you may wish to opt for a surge protector. Because they provide a safeguard against power spikes, the latter makes the best choice for certain prized items. Note, many surge protectors look just like power strips, but you can always tell a surge protector by the specification stamped or printed on the housing (this indicates the level of protection the unit provides). Some newer surge protectors can even help cut your utility bills by temporarily powering down devices not in use—a great option for accessories you don’t use all day, every day.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


Create Your Best-Ever Holiday Home with Customizable Climate Control

With the holidays approaching, it's time to get ready for friends and family who will no doubt stop by for joyful celebrations or even overnight visits. This year, as part of your preparations, give some thought to your guests' comfort by installing a heating system that can accommodate a wide range of temperature preferences.

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Zoned Cooling and Heating - Kitchen Unit

Photo: Josh Pabst

You are reading one installment in a 10-part series devoted to exploring Mitsubishi Electric ductless heating and cooling. See all.

It’s going to be a busy holiday season. Cousins are driving in from out of town, and grandparents are staying for at least a week, possibly longer. You want everyone to have a great time, so you’re going all out: you’re cleaning the house, sprucing up the guest rooms and making your home look beautiful. Additionally, you’re pouring over recipes to ensure that every meal not only tastes delicious, but also appeals to your guests’ diverse tastes. In short, you are doing everything within your control to make sure your guests are comfortable. But there’s one thing you may not have considered yet: With so many people under the same roof, and with each person likely favoring a different temperature, is everyone going to be truly comfortable?

Zoned Cooling and Heating - Dining Room Unit

Photo: Michael Lee

Having pondered just about everything else, why hadn’t you thought about accommodating your guests’ varying temperature preferences? The reason may be, quite simply, that you didn’t know you could. For decades, the average cooling and heating system has taken a one-size-fits-all approach, with one thermostat controlling the temperature of every room in the house. Who knows how many disagreements have arisen in households whose members couldn’t agree on a single temperature—all because of that one limitation? Fortunately, cooling and heating have advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years. Thanks to the zoned systems pioneered by Mitsubishi Electric US, Inc. Cooling & Heating (Mitsubishi Electric), you can put an end to thermostat wars once and for all!

Of all the features Mitsubishi Electric systems deliver, one particular capability could have the greatest impact on the comfort of your holiday guests—zoning. In homes with traditional cooling and heating systems, only some people will be truly comfortable at any given time. Mitsubishi Electric, however, enables you to establish multiple zones. Each zone, whether it comprises of one room, a set of rooms, or an entire floor, can be controlled independently of the others. So, while you’re cooking Thanksgiving dinner or a Christmas feast in the oven-warmed kitchen, you can remain cool by keeping the room’s temperature relatively low. Meanwhile, in the living room, where the grandparents are being entertained by your children, you can set the temperature a few degrees higher. Indeed, everyone can enjoy his or her ideal environment.

The ability to select different temperatures in different zones ensures a higher level of comfort, but that’s not all. At a time of year when family finances are often strained, zoning provides another crucial benefit—an energy-saving opportunity. Because traditional systems operate in all-or-nothing fashion, one-zone climate control can’t capitalize on these same opportunities. To have cooling or heating in any room, you must run the system (and pay for the energy consumed) in all rooms, even the unoccupied ones. Imagine if the same principle were applied to a home’s electrical system, and turning on one fixture meant turning on every light in the house. A setup like that would be extremely wasteful, not to mention inconvenient. With zoning, Mitsubishi Electric offers a sensible solution.

The precision afforded by Mitsubishi Electric means that you only pay for the climate comfort you need and use. For instance, on New Year’s Day, as the family sleeps late in the bedrooms upstairs, you can set a lower-than-usual temperature for the spaces on the ground floor. After all, if the living room and kitchen are vacant, why spend the money to make them toasty warm? Later on, when household activity moves downstairs, you can cut back on heating the now-empty bedrooms. In this way, Mitsubishi Electric’s systems empower you to eliminate unnecessary energy consumption and, in the process, reduce your monthly utility bills. Room-by-room system management may seem straightforward and logical, but only zoning makes it possible. In the future, you may wonder how you ever lived without it!

Whereas traditional HVAC is inflexible, Mitsubishi Electric gives you virtually limitless options. If you choose, you can program the system to run on a customized schedule, making savings automatic and manual adjustments unnecessary. Of course, because schedules are prone to change—especially during the holiday season—the Mitsubishi Electric system easily accommodates changes of plan. Thanks to its kumo cloud™ app, you can configure the thermostat in your home from anywhere, via a computer or mobile device. Heading home from a chilly afternoon at the ice rink? Open the kumo cloud app on your smartphone and turn up the heat in advance of your arrival. With Mitsubishi Electric, you’re in complete control of creating a comfortable environment for you and your guests.

Happy holidays!

Zoned Cooling and Heating - Bedroom Unit

Photo: Mike Crews

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


Is Your Furnace Going to Survive the Winter?

Your furnace is your home's primary defense against the uncomfortable, potentially damaging effects of frigid weather. Before winter really kicks in, make sure your furnace is up to the task.

SHARES
Repairing vs. Replacing a Furnace

Photo: fotosearch.com

With snow flurries already flying in parts of the country, now is the time to take a close look at your furnace to assess whether it will be able to reliably serve you through the winter. If the appliance requires repair or replacement, it’s best to address the issue early, before the mercury plummets and frigid temperatures take hold. After all, “you don’t want to wake up to find ice in the dog bowl,” says David Kenyon, a product manager with Sears Home Services. To be on the safe side, Kenyon recommends expert furnace maintenance on a yearly basis, to ensure that the unit both delivers peak performance and lasts through its intended useful lifespan. That said, you don’t have to be a professional to assess, at least in general terms, the health of your furnace. Certain warning signs can be unmistakable. “Your furnace is probably trying to tell you something,” Kenyon says. Read on for some pointers on translating its message.

Lifespan Limitations
How old is your furnace? If you don’t know the answer—or if you believe the furnace to be more than 15 years old—chances are that its best days have come and gone. “The average heating appliance typically lasts for 10 to 14 years,” according to Kenyon. So it’s not out of the ordinary for a decade-old furnace to suffer performance problems. With regular maintenance and perhaps the occasional repair, it’s often possible to delay the inevitable. As Kenyon says, “Hire qualified, experienced technicians, and they may be able to coax your ailing furnace back into service.” But financially speaking, repair isn’t always preferable to replacement. Kenyon points out that in recent years, a lot has changed in furnace design and manufacturing. “The newer units are more efficient than ever before.” And with a furnace that consumes less energy, you can hope for lower monthly bills. Over time, Kenyon says, “those savings really add up.”

Repairing vs. Replacing a Furnace - Older Model

Photo: fotosearch.com

Performance Woes
A furnace in top condition performs at the high end of its efficiency spectrum. As the appliance deteriorates with age, however, so too does its efficiency, with the furnace consuming more energy to do the same job. “If your heating bills are higher than they were last year, it doesn’t necessarily mean your rates are higher this year,” says Kenyon. “It could be that your furnace needs attention.” Besides keeping an eye on the bottom line on your utility bills, Kenyon recommends taking notice of temperature variations from one room to the next. Uneven heating stems from a number of causes, but according to Kenyon, it’s often a signature of poor furnace efficiency. In addition, Kenyon suggests monitoring the operating patterns of your furnace. “Does it cycle on and off very frequently? Or does it seem to run all the time?” Either behavior indicates something may be amiss. A professional can help diagnose the problem, Kenyon concludes, noting that Sears Home Services offers in-home consultations free of charge.

Sights and Sounds
Some signs of furnace malfunction are subtle. Others are obvious, so long as you get close enough to see and hear the appliance at work. In his experience, Kenyon says, “A surprising number of homeowners rarely even go near the furnace.” But, he continues, simply “standing next to it can tell you a lot about its condition.” Check the surface for rust or corrosion. Listen for excessive buzzing, humming, or rattling. And if you observe any such signs of distress—or if the unit emanates an unusual odor—”don’t hesitate to have it looked at,” Kenyon says. “It may be nothing or it may be something, but to prevent a midwinter emergency, it pays to be cautious,” he advises. When arranging a service call, though, be sure to hire a technician who’s qualified to work on your specific furnace. Some pros specialize in only one type. Sears Home Services is different, Kenyon points out, because it performs maintenance on all makes and models—no matter where the unit was purchased.

When to Buy New
Near the end of its life, your furnace may be prone to frequent breakdowns. At this point, you need to decide whether to repair the unit or replace it altogether. As expected, Kenyon says, “a new furnace demands a sizable investment.” But as mentioned above, upgrading to a newer, more efficient unit often leads to lower monthly utility bills. So, Kenyon summarizes, “despite the upfront cost, replacing an old furnace could be cheaper than paying to repair an inefficient unit over and over.” In addition, Kenyon offers the reminder that, “Ultimately, your home is likely to feel more comfortable in winter with a new furnace supplying its heat.” If you decide to upgrade, know that choosing a new furnace can be overwhelming. An important advantage of a company like Sears Home Services is that, from initial selection to final installation, a project coordinator guides you through the process.

When both the comfort of your family and the integrity of your home are at stake, can you afford to take chances? Which brings up yet another reason that so many homeowners enjoy working with Sears Home Services. As a nationwide company with a decades-long history, Sears supports its work with a Satisfaction Guarantee—and your relationship with Sears will continue long after the workers pick up and leave your home. That way, you can enjoy full confidence that just as you are, Sears is committed to the success of your project. Stay warm!

Repairing vs. Replacing a Furnace - House in Winter

Photo: fotosearch.com

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