Category: Major Systems

The Little-Known Importance of Attic Fans

Want to keep your house comfortable year-round while protecting the attic and roof from a battery of hazards? An attic fan may be just what you're looking for.

Attic Fans


It’s midsummer, and for hours and days, sun has been beating on the roof of your home. Measurements have shown that, given the right weather conditions, typical roofing materials can reach up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit. That heat eventually transfers from the outside of the roof to the sheathing. From there, it penetrates the insulation and roof framing materials, raising the temperature of the attic to a precarious extreme.

But summer isn’t the only season during which the attic faces a threat. In winter, when windows are shut tight, there’s considerably less ventilation for the humidity generated by cooking, laundry, and showers. With nowhere else to go, that moist air accumulates in the attic, where it can bring about a battery of risks.

Indeed, no matter the time of year, there are good reasons to give extra attention to your attic and the stresses that it undergoes.

A blisteringly high attic temperature isn’t uncomfortable only for the unfortunate soul standing in the unfinished space. If it goes high enough, the temperature in the attic can influence other rooms and make them hotter. Such inefficiency forces the air conditioning system to work harder than would otherwise be necessary, and of course, you must pay for that extra effort when the energy bills arrive every month.

Beyond the extra cost, trapped heat and moisture can end up doing real damage to your home by fostering mold growth. In extreme cases, excess moisture can even rot away portions of the key structural framing found in the attic.

Another possible consequence of runaway attic temperatures: The most common types of shingles—asphalt shingles—are plenty capable of withstanding heat when it comes from the sun. But when heat comes into contact with their undersides, those same shingles can fail prematurely.

Fortunately, there’s a straightforward solution to heat and moisture problems on and under the roof. For money savings, a more comfortable home, and reliable protection for your roof (both its structure and shingles), consider installing an attic fan. Designed to reduce both heat and moisture, a roof-mounted attic fan operates by a simple principle. The fan pulls warm air out through a roof vent, drawing in cooler outdoor air through existing vents located along the soffits (on the underside of the roof overhang). That exchange of stale, warm air for fresh, cooler air relieves the added pressure that had been put on the air conditioning. Now, the system can run more efficiently—and you can pay less on your monthly utility bill.

In the past, attic fans were always hardwired into the home and powered by electricity. Many homeowners saw that, while the attic fan may have been saving them some money, those savings were being erased by the cost of installing and operating the fan. Thanks to industry innovators like Solatube International, Inc., that’s no longer an issue. You can now keep all your savings by installing the Solar Star attic fan, which runs not on your home’s electrical system, but on free and abundant natural sunlight.

Attic Fans - Solatube Diagram


The Solar Alternative
Even as it keeps your attic cool and dry, the Solar Star requires no hands-on operation or maintenance. In fact, it’s likely that you’ll never even notice it’s running. For one thing, Solar Star has been designed and manufactured to resist everything nature might throw its way, from wind and rain to snow and hail. Its power source—a series of small photovoltaic panels—is located right on the exterior cap of the fan. Made of durable composite, the cap reliably shields the more vulnerable components, ensuring powerful ventilation year-round. The brushless motor and lightweight, noncorrosive fan blades work in concert to keep the operating noise level down to a whisper. While you may not be aware of the fan’s operation, you’re very likely to notice the benefits of having chosen Solar Star to regulate your attic temperature.

Solar Star only becomes more effective with its add-ons. One such option is a thermal switch that automatically activates the fan once the attic temperature reaches a certain threshold. A similarly handy extra: If you live on a shady lot and worry that Solar Star won’t get enough sun to operate throughout the day, check out the add-on solar panel. An ingenious solution to the problem of tree cover—and for that matter, cloud cover—the supplemental panel can be placed on the sunniest part of your roof to ensure continuous operation. It’s ironic: Problems caused by the sun—ranging from mere discomfort to devastating damage—can be solved with a Solar Star that relies on the sun!

Attic Fans - Solatube Cutaway


A Year-Round Solution
While most discussions of attic fans tend to focus on their summertime benefits, ventilation can be critically important in winter too. After all, that’s when the moisture created by the humdrum events of daily life—showering, for instance, or doing the laundry—rises up through cracks and gaps only to wind up in the attic. If trapped and unable to vent, attic moisture can invite the growth of mold, or cause damage to insulation and framing.

There’s also another less obvious but more potentially destructive problem—ice dams. The attic space is usually warmer than the outside, or roof, temperature. This heat transfers through the roof structure and can melt snow accumulated on the roof.

From there, melted snow trickles down until it reaches the eaves. Because the eaves do not come into contact with the attic space, they are colder and cause the melted snow to freeze. This forms an ice dam, a ridge of ice near the edge of a roof, adjacent to the gutters. Later, when more snow melts, the ice dam prevents the water from running off the roof. With nowhere else to go, it can get behind the shingles and cause an extensive, expensive leaking and roof damage. Because Solar Star equalizes indoor and outdoor temperatures, it can counteract the formation of ice dams as well as protect the home in myriad other ways.

One Size Fits All?
For maximum effectiveness, a Solar Star attic fan must sized to supply adequate ventilation for the space. How much ventilation does your house need? That depends on the size of your attic. Solar Star attic fans come in two sizes and can be installed in multiples to meet ventilation demand. The RM 1200 model works best for small attic spaces in moderate to mild climates. The more powerful RM 1600 makes a better choice for large attics and less temperate, more extreme climates.

Either model can be installed on all types of roof materials and mounted in one of three ways:

• The sleek and unobtrusive low-profile mount is ideal for most pitched-roof applications.

• If a roof accumulates a great deal of snow, go with the high-profile mount, which raises the solar panel and fan well above the roof plane.

• The pitched-roof mount orients the solar panel to maximize exposure to the sun.

Indeed, with attics of any size or roofs of any profile, there’s a way for Solar Star technology to provide powerful, effective ventilation. And it’s well worth mentioning that if your attic already happens to be fitted with a passive vent, you can turn it into an active, solar-powered ventilation system with the IM 1200. Unlike the others in the Solar Star line, the IM 1200 mounts indoors, directly behind the passive vent opening. Whatever your needs, Solar Star can match them.

Dollars and Sense
Accurately sized and properly installed Solar Star ventilation can trim your energy bills by as much as 25 percent. Also remember that until 2016, the federal government is offering a 30 percent tax credit for systems that rely on solar photovoltaic technology. Consider those savings alongside what you stand to save from month to month. Right now seems like a fine time to start protecting your attic and roof from year-round stresses, while also enhancing your family’s comfort!

Attic Fans - Roof Mounted


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

Protect Appliances and Electronics Against Their Silent Killer

Though a power surge might only last a split second, it can easily ruin the sophisticated but delicate circuitry that now exists in everything from computers to refrigerators. While some of your equipment may be protected from damage, chances are that most of your critical appliances are totally vulnerable to devastation. Find out how to protect all those appliances and electronics that you've spent a small fortune to bring under your roof.

Whole House Surge Protection from Intermatic


Look around. From the refrigerator in the kitchen to the computer in the den, our homes are chock full of appliances and electronic devices. Who knows? Maybe their prevalence symbolizes something about the central role of technology in today’s world. But for the average homeowner, all of those impressive gadgets and gizmos represent something else, something more personal and immediate: a hefty financial investment. Just think of everything you own that either plugs into an outlet or is hardwired into your electrical system. Now think of how much it all cost! Having put thousands of dollars toward creating a comfortable, convenient, and entertaining place to live, any conscientious homeowner wants to protect what he owns. But maintenance efforts too often focus on the obvious problems, the ones you can plainly see—a dusty TV screen, for example, or a dirty microwave. We forget that, because they run on electricity, our appliances and electronics are vulnerable to an invisible threat: dramatic power fluctuations and surges. Indeed, most people never even think about surge protection—that is, until it’s too late.

“Surges are the silent killer,” explains Kim Durkot of Intermatic, a leading manufacturer of energy management solutions. That’s because while adequate surge protection eliminates the threat, the average homeowner has instituted either no protection or too little protection. After all, power strips can only safeguard what you plug into them. So if you’ve been careful to plug your stereo into a power strip, then it’s safe. But what about your washer and dryer? As Durkot says, “Think about the can lights that cost $50 each, the garage door, the gaming consoles—these are some of what’s typically not plugged into a surge strip.” Sure, you can buy a power strip for every room, but you be overlooking that many critical appliances don’t plug into the wall; they are hardwired directly into the electrical system.

Homeowners who want a comprehensive solution invariably choose a whole-house surge protection. Such devices connect directly to the electrical panel in your home and from there, guard all of your equipment, whether it’s plugged into the wall or hardwired. When surges occur, the surge protector absorbs the excess electricity, never allowing it to reach and cause damage to the belongings you love, rely on, and spent a small fortune to purchase and bring under your roof.

Whole-House Surge Protection from Intermatic - Electrical Illustration


Though you can protect your home from power surges, you cannot prevent them. They are virtually inevitable. It’s a common misconception that surges only occur as a result of lightning. To be sure, it’s wise to shield your stuff against damage from lightning, but you might be surprised to learn that lightning plays a role in the minority of cases. 60% to 80% of electrical surges occur, not because of storms, but as a result of everyday activities. According to Durkot, even “turning on the coffee maker” or “running the vacuum cleaner” can upset the steady voltage flow in the electrical system. Outside factors contribute, too. From “power grid switching by the electric company” to a “car accident striking an electrical pole down the street”, any number of seemingly unrelated events can impact your home and its contents. So if you thought the odds of a power surge in your house were on par with a bolt of lighting hitting the roof, it’s time to reassess your exposure to the genuine risks.

Homeowners with conventional whole-house surge protection don’t have to worry—most of the time. The device might work faultlessly for some time, but no matter what type of protection you’ve got, every surge take its toll. Specifically, the main components of a surge protection system, the metal-oxide varistors (MOVs), are rendered ineffective by successive surges. So eventually there would come a point when the homeowner would have no choice but to replace the entire system. And that’s assuming he even noticed a replacement was necessary. Plenty of homeowners think they’re protected, when in fact their systems have, in effect, expired. That’s what sets apart the Intermatic Whole House Surge Protection Device with Consumable Modules. Unlike inferior products, the design of the Intermatic device accounts for the fact that MOVs do not last forever. Cleverly, the company uses consumable modules that the homeowner can quickly and easily replace when necessary. “Because the modules can be replaced by the homeowner,” Durkot points out, “there is no need to purchase another main unit, no costly calls to the electrician, and no lapse in protection.”

It’s dead-simple to replace a module. “Anyone who has ever replaced an ink cartridge in a printer can replace a module in the system,” says Durkot. When the LED status lights on the device indicate that the module must be switched out, the homeowner simply snaps in the new one. The process takes about 30 seconds. It’s not the sort of task you need a professional to do on your behalf. The only time to involve an electrician is when installing the base unit. In a typical home, installation takes 60 to 90 minutes. When the alternative would be to purchase (and pay for installation on) a new surge protection device every time the old one terminates, you can see why the Intermatic option makes so much sense. Though its upfront purchase price may be somewhat higher, it proves its value over the long term.


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

Next-Generation Ductless HVAC Brings Home Total Comfort

Homeowners have always been frustrated by the intermittent and uneven heating and cooling of traditional forced-air HVAC. Even in the process of running less expensively, today's cutting-edge ductless systems deliver superior, customizable comfort.

Ductless HVAC Benefits - Kitchen Comfort


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

In today’s energy-conscious world, homeowners understand the critical importance of efficient heating and cooling. But if you’re upgrading your HVAC system, though it’s important to understand the yearly operating cost of a given appliance, it’s also critical to understand what it means for your comfort level. After all, lower utility bills are attractive only so long as they do not come at the expense of your ability to enjoy time spent in your home. Of course, we’ve all grown accustomed to imperfect heating and cooling. Traditional forced-air systems have frustrated homeowners for years, being both expensive to run and inconsistent in performance. Next-generation technologies promise superior efficiency, and among those, Mitsubishi Electric stands out for its assurance of total comfort. Thanks in large part to their innovative ductless design, Mitsubishi Electric systems are able to save homeowners 30 to 40 percent on monthly heating and cooling bills compared with forced-air systems. Yet, even with dramatically lower energy consumption, Mitsubishi Electric still manages to deliver unparalleled comfort.



Ductless HVAC Benefits - Bedroom Comfort


In a forced-air system, conditioned air intermittently blasts right into the room, but in a wholly undirected way. By contrast, a Mitsubishi Electric ductless system distributes air through an indoor unit whose fan ensures controlled, even distribution throughout the square footage. Plus, because the indoor unit actually mounts within the space that it’s conditioning, the system accurately monitors the ambient temperature and regulates to match the heating or cooling demand. Working in concert, fan distribution and continuous adjustments succeed in preventing any areas from becoming too hot or too cold. The stop-and-start operation of forced-air systems leads to rollercoaster-like environments, while Mitsubishi Electric ductless systems offer smooth and steady climate control.



Ductless HVAC Benefits - Room by Room Comfort


Some homeowners choose a ductless system to provide supplemental climate control in those peripheral rooms that rarely stay comfortable—an attic bedroom, for example. Equally common is for the ductless technology to serve the entire home. Here, rather than designate a single thermostat to control the temperature in all rooms, on all floors, Mitsubishi Electric makes it possible for the homeowner to establish zones. For each zone, there’s a different indoor unit, and for each indoor unit, there’s a different controller. That means that, in a multizone home, the master bedroom can be set to one temperature and the living room to another. Heating and cooling no longer entail the discomfort of a one-size-fits-all approach. Zoning can accommodate the temperature preferences of every member of the household.



Ductless HVAC Benefits - Air Quality Comfort


According to the Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air pollution ranks among the top five environmental health risks. Astounding but true: The air in our homes often contains more airborne hazards than the air outdoors. Mitsubishi Electric ductless systems combat contaminants through advanced multistage filtration. Not only do these filters remove irritants and allergens like dust, pollen, and dander, but they also reduce viruses, bacteria, and odors. Remember that in conventional HVAC systems, the ducts often end up collecting and spreading impurities. Mitsubishi Electric offers a breath of fresh air, by comparison. Rather than compromise it, a Mitsubishi ductless system works to improve indoor air quality, providing peace of mind and a healthier, more comfortable living environment.


In the average home, heating and cooling contributes more than anything else does to the family’s utility bills, so it’s hard to overstate the importance of choosing an efficient solution. Fortunately, like most other technologies, HVAC has progressed by leaps and bounds in recent years. On the leading edge, options like Mitsubishi Electric ductless systems simply need much less energy than their predecessors. But the best part about a Mitsubishi Electric system is that, even as it runs less expensively, it still manages to outperform older heating and cooling appliances. There’s no longer a need to sacrifice comfort for savings, or vice versa. With a system from Mitsubishi Electric, you can experience the most comfortable climate control of your lifetime, very likely for less money per month than you’re currently paying.

Ductless HVAC Benefits - Open Plan Comfort

Photo: Mike Crews Photography

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

Home Zoning: The End to All Your Thermostat Wars

Over the decades, HVAC technology has rarely made it easy for people to save money without compromising comfort. That's all changing, with the advent of new concepts and improved technologies that, especially when combined, truly serve the interests of the average homeowner.

Zoned Radiant Floor Heating


When you stop and think about it, doesn’t it seem strange that, in the typical residence, a single thermostat controls the temperature of the entire house? After all, no matter the size of your family, its members cannot possibly occupy every room at every moment of the day. And yet, in order for the upstairs bedrooms to feel comfortable on a winter night, you must heat not only the bedrooms, but every other room too. Flash-forward to noon the following day: Though no one has visited the second floor for hours, the heating system has kept the vacant spaces at 70 degrees. It’s a waste of energy and, for the budget-minded homeowner, the stuff of nightmares. Plus, it’s impractical, as it ignores the simple fact that different people prefer different temperatures. If your spouse likes it warmer, and you like it cooler, then, in a one-zone system, no matter the set temperature, there’s always going to be someone who feels not quite at ease.

For whatever reason, Americans take it for granted that home heating has to be an expensive hit-and-miss affair—better than no heating at all, to be sure, but miles from perfectly comfortable. What many don’t realize is that, just as other technologies have seen incredible progress in recent years, so too has the heating world. Take radiant heating, for example. Though it’s been around for millennia, it hadn’t always been a technology that could rival forced-air as a viable whole-home heating option. But now, thanks to contemporary manufacturers like Warmboard, many would argue that radiant heat actually surpasses conventional forced-air heating for a host of reasons. Chief among them: Radiant floor heating lends itself much better to zoning. A multi-zone radiant system provides the alternative to heating an entire home to one temperature. Here, it’s possible to designate zones (individual rooms or sets of rooms), each capable of being independently controlled.

America’s Most Desperate Kitchens premieres July 1, Wednesdays at 8/7c on HGTV

Zoning Benefits
If traditional heating provides a one-size-fits-all solution, then zoning offers a tailored fit. Zoning gives the homeowner an unprecedented level of control, making it possible to save money and be more comfortable than ever. Just imagine owning a home whose sunny, south-facing portion always felt a few degrees too warm. Without zoning, there would be no way to dial back the heat here without making the other parts of the house too cool. Only with zoning is there a rational solution for such a seemingly simple problem: Lower the temperature setting for the sunny-side zone but maintain a higher temperature elsewhere. By allowing heating on an as-needed basis, zoning saves the average household up to 30% on monthly utility bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. But it’s not solely about savings. Zoning also gives a tremendous boost to comfort: Finally, family members with different temperature preferences can be comfortable under the same roof.

Managing Zones
Not so long ago, manual, non-programmable thermostats were the norm. Whether yours was a mercury or mechanical-contact model, you had three options: You could turn the thermostat up, down, or off. Identifying and acting upon money-saving opportunities required diligence, and many people simply didn’t have the patience. Now, thanks to programmable thermostats, you don’t have to remember to adjust the temperature setting on your way out the door. The thermostat remembers for you. In the context of zoned heating, programmable thermostats mean that you can set a different schedule for each different zone. Then, if you want, you can forget about climate control altogether, trusting that each zone would operate strictly according to the program you set for it. Indeed, programmable thermostats eliminate the potential hassle of coordinating different zones, while making it easy to capitalize on the savings that zoned HVAC makes possible.

Heating Zones
Technically, you can establish zoning with any type of heating system, even forced-air. But would you want to? Opting for conventional forced-air heating could undermine whatever savings or comfort you were able to achieve through zoning. After all, forced-air systems are notoriously inefficient, largely on account of their leak-prone ducts. Particularly when traveling through un-insulated spaces, traditional ductwork can lose enough energy to hinder overall efficiency by around 25%. That’s one reason why forced-air heating tends to cost a small fortune every month. At a fundamental level, there are weaknesses in the system design. What’s more: Forced-air heating has never been especially comfortable, because it creates uneven temperatures. As hot air rises in a typical two story home, the upstairs becomes too hot while the downstairs remains cool. Often, one’s comfort depends on his location relative to the nearest vent. Plus, because of the cyclical, stop-and-start operation of forced-air systems, temperatures end up fluctuating along an up-and-down, rollercoaster-like pattern. And if someone leaves a window open, all that heat being generated is wasted.

Unlike forced-air, radiant heating does not work counter to the benefits of zoning. On the contrary, the two work technologies work in concert to bring superior comfort, even while minimizing monthly energy bills. Because radiant heating panels install beneath flooring, warmth is delivered, not through a finite number of vents, but across virtually every square inch of space. So as you move to different parts of a room, or from one room to the next, the temperature never varies. Comfort reaches you silently, invisibly, and in a steady, even, enveloping way. Though radiant systems offer significant performance advantages, be aware that not all radiant systems are alike. Different radiant systems include different components, and those components can make a big difference. Focus on systems like Warmboard, which boast a high conductivity. Greater conductivity means less energy consumption, lower energy costs, and a quicker rate of responsiveness.

Fewer than ten percent of homes in the United States today are heated by a radiant system, but that’s changing. More and more homeowners are choosing radiant heating, not least because of its favorable relationship with zoning. For homeowners seeking efficiency and comfort—who isn’t?—zoning has meant a great step forward in home comfort. Together, radiant heating systems and zoning capabilities bring out the best in one another, and for once, it’s the homeowner who really benefits.

Zoned Radiant Floor Heating - Installation Closeup


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

Ditch the Ducts: Choose Ductless HVAC for Savings and Comfort

As technological advancements have reshaped so many other avenues of life, so too have they transformed the HVAC landscape. For years, homeowners put up with the pitfalls of traditional ducted heating and cooling. Now, thanks to newer ductless alternatives, cost-effective and customizable comfort have finally come within reach.

Ductless HVAC


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

If you were to visit a handful of American homes built within the past 50 years, you would discover a variety of architectural styles and floor plans, but probably only one type of HVAC system. Indeed, among the mechanical components at the heart of the average home, there’s one ubiquitous sight—ductwork. Despite being so common, ducts are infamously imperfect: Their tendency to leak creates significant inefficiencies that force the heating or cooling appliance to work harder than necessary. And of course it’s the homeowner who ends up paying more in monthly utilities to make up for the fundamental flaws of the system design. Though traditional forced-air systems remain prevalent, heating and cooling technology has advanced by leaps and bounds in the years since ductwork came to the forefront. Today’s homeowners may choose from a suite of other, newer options, the most fascinating of which involve no ductwork whatsoever. Already popular in Europe and Asia, ductless heating and cooling provides year-round temperature control with unparalleled efficiency. That’s largely because, true to its name, ductless HVAC does not rely on ducts to circulate air throughout the home. A leader in the category, Mitsubishi Electric, offers a range of ductless systems that, relative to traditional forced-air, cost considerably less to run, even while delivering superior temperature control and comfort. So if you’re reassessing the HVAC in your existing home—or if you’re building a new home or an addition—consider the ductless alternative both for low operating cost and high performance.

Ductless HVAC - System Illustration


In contrast to the massive, elaborate conventional HVAC configurations to which we’re most accustomed, ductless systems are considerably more compact and straightforward. The most basic setup consists of two elements: There’s an outdoor condenser and an indoor unit, with a thin refrigerant pipe connecting the two. Whether recessed or mounted, the indoor unit contains a heat exchanger and fan with variable vanes, the latter to distribute warm or cool air throughout the space. In the warm months, the system collects heat from the home and sends it outside. In cold weather, the system operates in the opposite way: Even in the coldest temperatures, it gets heat from outside and brings it in. Mitsubishi Electric technology finds heat in below zero temperatures to heat your home.

Homeowners know the frustration and discomfort of HVAC systems that function intermittently and incompletely, leaving some rooms too hot or too cold. Rather than subject the environment to temperature swings, the Mitsubishi Electric ductless system actively adjusts its output to match the heating or cooling demand. In this way, it avoids the cyclical, start-and-stop operation that creates often unpleasant, sometimes extreme indoor temperature variations. By continuously regulating itself, the Mitsubishi Electric system maintains a steady, comfortable indoor climate. The temperature you set is the temperature you get.

Another advantage: In many homes, a single thermostat controls the temperature of the entire house. Mitsubishi Electric rejects the one-thermostat-for-all-rooms solution. Instead, the system enables you to establish different zones, each with its own indoor unit and thermostat. In a multi-zone home, different family members with different preferences can all be comfortable at the same time. In addition, whereas in the past you may have used a space heater or window air conditioner to normalize the temperature in a peripheral room, such as a media room, zoning makes it so that comfortable temperatures pervade every corner of the home.

Ductless HVAC - Zoning


Compared to the typical forced-air system, Mitsubishi Electric ductless systems consume dramatically less energy, enough to save the homeowner 30 to 40 percent on monthly heating and cooling bills. That’s partly because more compact ductless systems require comparatively less electricity to power their normal operation. But it’s also because ductless systems are, well, ductless. Whereas traditional ductwork can hinder overall HVAC efficiency by around 25 percent, Mitsubishi Electric suffers no similar disadvantage. After all, a ductless system distributes air, not through a network of leak-prone ducts, but directly from the indoor unit into the conditioned space. In effect, Mitsubishi Electric cuts out the middleman—ductwork—an entity that, like most middlemen, takes money out of your pocket without adding value.

Take zoning into account, too, and Mitsubishi Electric ductless systems become an especially energy-wise choice for the budget-conscious homeowner. Strange but true, in a one-thermostat household, it’s all or nothing: If you want heat or cooling in any room or section, you must heat or cool the entire home, even the rooms you’re not occupying. It’s as if your electrical system were configured so that turning on one light meant turning on all the lights. With a zoned system from Mitsubishi Electric, you can enjoy more rational—and yes, much less expensive—temperature control, paying for comfort only in rooms that people are actually occupying. Indeed, on the fundamental level of system design, newer and smarter ductless systems boast an efficiency edge over older, increasingly outmoded technologies.

The installation of a new ducted HVAC system would entail a weeks-long, large-scale remodeling effort. It’s no easy feat to fit ductwork into an existing structure. To do so, contractors must open up walls, ceilings, and floors, and in some instances, make alterations to ceiling heights, room dimensions, or even the home exterior. With home additions and new home construction, installation can be accomplished more quickly, with less hassle. Even then, the plans would need to make accommodations for the path and sheer size of the ductwork. It’s a lot of effort to go through in the name of an HVAC system that can so often be counterproductive, detracting from comfort while unnecessarily driving up utility bills. Owing to their compact, non-invasive design, ductless systems are a great deal easier to put into place. For each indoor unit, there only needs to be one refrigerant pipe running out to the condenser through a three-inch opening. Depending on the size of your home, technicians may be able to get your Mitsubishi Electric ductless system up and running within a single day.

In the past, pursuing year-round comfort meant compromise of one form or another. Now, with ductless climate control from Mitsubishi Electric, you don’t have to make any sacrifices. Go ductless and get started with high-performance, customizable climate control designed not only to keep you and your family comfortable year-round, but also to save you serious money each and every month.

Ductless HVAC - Head Unit


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

Bob Vila Radio: Why Is the Tap Water Brown?

It's jarring to see brown tap water in your kitchen or bathroom sink. Before you can make the faucet run clear again, you must first understand the cause of the problem.

Does the water coming out of your faucet look a bit like the Mississippi River after a rainstorm? There are at least a few possible explanations of this common problem.

Brown Tap Water


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

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

The most likely culprit is rust leeching from an aging galvanized iron pipe. If you mainly notice the discoloration first thing in the morning—or after being away from your home for a while—chances are it’s a supply line. That’s especially true if only one faucet in your home is spewing the brown stuff.

Before you replace any pipes, though, call the local water department to see if anyone else in your neighborhood has reported the same issue. If so, the discoloration may be due to a water-main break (or hydrants being flushed). In either of those cases, you could expect the discoloration to clear in an hour or so.

There are still other possible causes of brown tap water. For instance, if the murky water is coming only from your hot water tap, it would be wise to check the water heater. If it’s more than a decade old, chances are it’s seen better days and needs to be replaced.

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!

Control the Temperature of Your Home—From Anywhere

Thanks to a new generation of internet-enabled thermostats, you can now enjoy an unprecedented level of control over the temperature of your home—and the size of your monthly heating and cooling bills.

Wi-Fi Thermostats


Smart-home technology has been developing for years now, with forward-looking manufacturers pioneering ever more ingenious ways of connecting formerly static household components to the dynamic Web. In our vision of the high-tech future, thermostats, of all the systems and appliances contained within the average home, may not have leapt to mind as the product category most likely to benefit from cutting-edge advancement. Then again, though not very glamorous, thermostats are critically important, and not simply for home comfort. Considering its crucial function against a background of rising energy costs, one might view the humble thermostat as our first line of defense against skyrocketing heating and cooling bills. Aware of its central role in daily life—and of how much room for improvement there was—companies like Honeywell set out to revolutionize the thermostat for the digital age, and they’ve succeeded spectacularly. Today’s models offer an unprecedented degree of fine-tuned, customizable control. Whereas the thermostat was once a liability in the typical family’s fight to spend less on utilities, it has finally become a valuable—even indispensable—asset.

For decades, whether your thermostat was a mercury or mechanical-contact model, you had three options in its operation: You could turn it up, turn it down, or turn it off. With those limitations, manual thermostats made it quite difficult for the average homeowner to save any money. To do so, he needed to make several strategic thermostat adjustments throughout the day, every day. Many people didn’t have the patience or simply didn’t remember to dutifully capitalize on each savings opportunity. That’s why programmable thermostats were such a welcome breakthrough. For the first time, the budget-conscious homeowner could forget about the thermostat altogether, knowing the heating and cooling appliances would run on the precise schedule he had set. In winter, the heat would automatically go down when the homeowner left for work in the morning. In the summer, the air conditioning would click on 10 minutes before he typically arrived home. Taken together, those small advantages made the programmable thermostat not only a vehicle for reduced monthly bills, but also a tremendous convenience in day-to-day life.

Wi-Fi Thermostats - Connect Comfort App


The next great step forward in thermostat technology has arrived—Wi-Fi compatibility. Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert with online retailer, explains, “Wi-Fi thermostats offer the same functions and features as standard programmable thermostats—with one major difference. They communicate with your home wireless network, allowing you to monitor and control your system remotely.” In other words, it’s now possible to set your thermostat over the Internet. In some cases, you can even do so using a mobile device. For instance, customers may download the free Honeywell Total Connect Comfort app for smartphones or tablets as a companion to Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostats. With the app, you can set the home climate from anywhere, at any time, whether you’re on the couch or on the go. While thermostat programming remains a money-saver and a comfort convenience, family schedules are always prone to sudden alterations. With Wi-Fi thermostats and the unprecedented level of control they afford, you can instantly adjust your thermostat to accommodate all such inevitable changes.

“Perhaps even more important,” O’Brian continues, “is that your Wi-Fi thermostat can alert you to problems with your equipment.” At first glance, that functionality may not sound so impressive, and with luck, you would never have to avail yourself of it. But make no mistake: In HVAC, as in life generally, knowledge is power. Perhaps the value of system monitoring can be best understood by way of example. Picture this: Your home furnace stops working in the dead of winter, while you’re away on a weeklong vacation in Florida. In the past, furnace failure might have spelled disaster—frozen pipes and the extensive, expensive damage they bring. But if your home were equipped with a Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostat, and if your smartphone had the Honeywell app, you would receive a message alerting you to the problem. Certainly, it would not be happy news, but at least you could take action to protect your home from harm. In the end, heating and cooling appliances don’t simply make the home comfortable, they protect it as well. That being the case, it’s in the homeowner’s best interest to understand the system status at all times.

You don’t need to be an expert to install a Wi-Fi thermostat—far from it. As O’Brian explains, “Wi-Fi thermostats are, for the most part, direct replacements for standard thermostats.” Therefore, swapping one for the other falls within the capabilities of most reasonably savvy do-it-yourselfers. If you’re intent on avoiding a call to the electrician, do a little research before making any purchases. First, check the wiring of your existing thermostat to see if it’s serviced by a dedicated common wire. If so, then you can easily put in most Wi-Fi thermostats—that is, assuming you already have a router and wireless network. If the electrical box does not include a common wire, then you might opt to focus on those Wi-Fi thermostats that do not require one. Alternatively, you could hire a pro to update the wiring. The point is that by understanding the wiring you’ve got and the wiring a given Wi-Fi thermostat needs, you can be sure to choose the right product for you.

Visit online retailer for a large selection of Wi-Fi thermostats from leading manufacturer Honeywell.

Wi-Fi Thermostats - Devices


This post has been brought to you by Its facts and opinions are those of

Bob Vila Radio: The Importance of Water Shutoff Valves

When plumbing problems arise, knowledge of water shutoff valves helps to keep the situation under control.

Protect your home with a little added insurance—insurance that doesn’t cost a nickel—by making sure everyone in your household understands at least one thing about plumbing: water shutoff valves.

How to Find Water Shutoff Valves


Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Listen to BOB VILA ON LOCATING WATER SHUTOFF VALVES or read the text below:

After all, knowing where the valves are—and knowing how to operate them—can keep a burst pipe or leaky connection from turning into a big, expensive mess.

Valves usually have either spigot-type handles or a lever. In either case, turn clockwise to turn off the water. You’ll find shutoffs under sinks and toilets, behind the washing machine, and at the top of your hot water heater. Valves for tubs and showers are often tucked behind wood or plastic access panels, but sometimes you’ll find them in an adjoining closet or hallway.

Of course, the most important valve everyone should know about is the main shutoff valve that supplies the whole house. It may be located either inside the house or out. Valves that aren’t used frequently can develop mineral deposits that make them hard or even impossible to turn, so check yours periodically to make sure they work. It’s also a good idea to tag them appropriately.

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.

Is Radiant Heat Right for Your Dream Home?

If you're constructing a new home—or even just expanding with an addition—you want only the best for your new space. So why choose a heating system you're not going to love? This is the perfect time to consider a radiant heating system, which costs less to run than a traditional setup, but provides what those old familiar systems can't—total comfort.


Are you designing a home from scratch or even building an addition onto an existing home? Either affords a rare opportunity. You get to decide not only how the living space will look, but also how it will feel—drafty or uniformly comfortable, chilly or pleasantly warm. Depending on where you live, the heating system you select might mean the difference between annual dissatisfaction and total contentment. Unlike a wall color that can be altered countless times with relative ease, an HVAC system is a decision homeowners have to live with for decades. So now is the time to ensure your comfort for years to come.

Growing up with, and mainly having been exposed to, one or another traditional heating system, most of us are accustomed to living with the real limitations of radiators, baseboards, and forced-air vents. Unfamiliar with the alternative, it’s as if we take for granted that home heating has to be hit-and-miss. Well, just as other technologies have advanced by leaps and bounds, HVAC has advanced too. And though it’s been around, in one form or another, for thousands of years, radiant heating has improved to the point of becoming a viable whole-home option well worth your consideration.

Increasing numbers of consumers are choosing radiant heating for a host of reasons—its unparalleled energy efficiency, for example, or its indoor air quality benefits. But most important of all is the total comfort that radiant heating affords. Its “everywhere” warmth produces a qualitatively different experience than traditional systems provide. Indeed, radiant heating may change all your ideas about what home heating is and can be.


In a room with a radiator, baseboard, or duct register—that is to say, in most rooms in America—it’s warmest right near the heat source and cooler farther away. That’s why you may find yourself needing a sweater when you’re lying on the sofa, then wanting to shed the extra layer when you’re sitting at the desk. Because radiant heating installs beneath the flooring, it delivers warmth across virtually every square inch of  space. So when occupying different parts of a room, or when moving from one room to the next, you can always expect the temperature to remain the same. In the end, you simply stop noticing the heat’s on.

In contrast, traditional systems constantly call attention to themselves. Take, for instance, today’s most common type of heating—forced air. When the system kicks on, heat roars into the room and continues for a period of time before grinding to a halt. Then, some minutes later, when the room has cooled down to a threshold point, another loud blast invades. With radiant, there are no blasts and no variations—simply steady, even, all-encompassing heat. Plus, whereas other systems make enough noise to interrupt conversation or wake you up at night, radiant heating operates in complete silence.

Some people assume home heating has to involve dust and dry air. That’s not the case, although it may be what these people are used to. After all, forced-air systems kick up a lot of dust. Though intended to circulate warm air, ductwork also ends up distributing dust and other allergens, sometimes even spreading germs. In addition, ducted heating tends to lower the humidity level, in effect drying out the indoor air and creating stuffy, scratchy conditions.

Radiant heating is a breath of fresh air, by comparison. Because the system heats the home from panels installed beneath flooring, there’s zero ductwork. That means a dramatic reduction in the number of airborne particles potentially exacerbating allergies or causing discomfort. At the same time, radiant heating operates in a way that does nothing to detract from the moisture content of the air, so you can say goodbye to those red eyes and that sore throat!


Traditional heating systems are notorious for their inefficient design. Forced-air heating offers a prime example: As warm air journeys from the furnace to the conditioned space, there’s ample opportunity for the heat to be lost, even if it’s only through the joints that connect two sections of ductwork. To make up for the lost heat, the furnace must work harder—that is, consume more energy—to maintain the target temperature. So you’re essentially paying for the system to work overtime to correct its own flaws. Radiant heating, on the other hand, maximizes energy savings by minimizing heat loss.

That said, not all radiant systems are alike. Yes, all offer advantages over traditional heating, simply by virtue of their design. But different radiant systems include different components, and those components can make a big difference in your monthly bills. In some radiant panels, hydronic tubes (or electric coils) are embedded in a slab of gypsum concrete. Though it’s not without virtues, concrete is too sluggish, too slow in its response time to be an effective component in a modern heating system. That’s why industry leader Warmboard makes panels not with concrete, but with highly conductive aluminum.

Warmboard panels so effectively transfer heat into the home that the boiler can actually get away with heating the water in the system to a lower temperature than other systems would require—30 degrees lower. In fact, Warmboard requires the least energy of any radiant system on the market. With your boiler not having to work so hard, you save 10 to 20 percent on energy costs from month to month—and that’s in addition to what you’d already be saving by having chosen radiant over traditional heat. With radiant, you always get comfort; with Warmboard, you get comfort at a comfortable cost.


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

Add Central AC to Your Old House—Without Erasing Its Charm

Old houses are notoriously difficult to retrofit with central air conditioning, and installation can often compromise the home's space and character. Consider the advantages of a mini-duct system, which can cool—or heat—unobtrusively without the need for extensive remodeling.

Mini Duct Air Conditioning


If your home was built before the advent of air conditioning, you’ve likely bemoaned the fact that, for all its historic charm, the structure can’t accommodate this marvel of modern-day comfort, at least not with ease. Sure, in many homes, central AC wouldn’t be impossible to retrofit, but doing so would entail a sacrifice of space or architectural integrity, or both. So, rather than take drastic measures, you’ve settled for and have been living with a seemingly necessary evil—window units.

Sound familiar? If so, there’s something you need to know: Mini-duct HVAC, such as the Unico System, brings state-of-the-art cooling to virtually any home, no matter its age, without necessitating any sacrifice of space or style on the part of the homeowner. Whereas conventional ductwork typically requires a large amount of demolition and remodeling, flexible mini ducts snake though existing wall cavities and ceiling joists, fitting unobtrusively, almost invisibly, into even the tightest nooks and crannies.

Sure, window units may have sufficed in the short term, but if you’re tired of those window-rattling, expensive-to-run eyesores, it may be time to seek out a permanent solution. Relatively few manufacturers are known for mini-duct HVAC, but with a track record of heating and cooling some of the most prestigious historic homes in the United States—Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, D.C., for instance, or Truman’s Little White House in Key West—the innovative Unico System stakes a strong claim as the very best in the business.

Mini Duct Air Conditioning - Room Vents


Size Matters
The Unico System cools—or for that matter, heats—any home, no matter its age or physical configuration. Where conventional HVAC components simply cannot fit, Unico slides right in, thanks to remarkably compact air handlers and highly versatile, unobtrusive ducts. Measuring only two or two and a half inches in diameter, these supply tubes are specially designed to travel behind walls, between joists, and through cramped spaces of the existing structure. Whereas traditional, full-size ductwork can usually be accommodated in older homes only through remodeling, the Unico System bends to the structure’s nuances, allowing you to hold on to your existing square footage and retain the distinctive characteristics that make your home so special in the first place.

Also critical to the Unico System is the air handler, whose blower and coil are the source of the conditioned air responsible for establishing and maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature. Here too, Unico has managed to pack energy-efficient, first-rate performance into a remarkably compact housing. Able to squeeze into an opening only a couple of feet tall or wide, Unico’s air handler can deliver up to three times as much cooling power as a conventional unit with a similar spatial footprint.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind
You’ve seen commonplace air conditioning vents before. If you’ve read this far, it’s safe to assume that you wouldn’t be eager to see such ugly grillwork strewn across the interior of your home. Perhaps needless to say, the Unico System—conceived and engineered around the principle of invisibility—doesn’t settle for traditional metal registers. Instead, its mini ducts terminate in unobtrusive outlets, which can be located wherever they would be least noticeable in a given room—on the ceiling, floor, or wall. Plus, those outlets come in a wide variety of styles so you can choose a style that integrates seamlessly with the colors and textures of your decorating scheme. For a custom look, choose unfinished wood outlets, as those can be painted or stained to your precise specifications. In the same way that Unico requires no major remodeling, it similarly requires no sacrifices in your interior design. Indeed, a successful Unico installation is one you barely see.

Performance Art
Central air conditioning typically pushes a high volume of cool air into the conditioned space, creating a sort of turbulence that causes drafts and creates both hot and cool spots. In short, temperatures vary as you travel from room to room or even as you move about one space. The Unico System sidesteps those all-too-common problems by moderating airflow so that, when air enters your living spaces, it draws the ambient air into its stream. The result is a draft-free environment with a wholly consistent temperature. That’s another way in which Unico remains invisible: Because its effects are entirely uniform, you don’t even notice the system is on.

With most air conditioning systems, you know they’re running because, if nothing else, they make noise. That’s not the case with Unico, whose components are carefully insulated not only for efficiency, but also for sound-attenuating purposes. The mini ducts include nylon inner cores that, besides preventing condensation and thermal loss, manage to quiet the movement of air to a whisper. The air handler, too, operates within a sheath of closed-cell, sound-deadening insulation. Taken together, those details mean that you not only don’t see or feel intrusive evidence of an air conditioning system at work, you can’t hear evidence either.

If you’ve been dreading the idea of living through yet another summer in a steamy house with a series of cumbersome, rattling window units as your only source of relief, it may be time to reconsider your assumption that central air conditioning isn’t a possibility in your place. No matter when your home was built, it can be catapulted into the present day with high-performance, virtually invisible, state-of-the-art HVAC from Unico.

Mini Duct Air Conditioning - Coffered Ceiling


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