Category: Major Systems


Bob Vila Radio: Emergency Generators

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

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

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Listen to BOB VILA ON EMERGENCY GENERATORS or read the text below:

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

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

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


The Do’s and Don’ts of Window Fans

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

How to Use a Window Fan

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

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

How to Use a Window Fan - Front

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DO

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

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

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

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

DON’T

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

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

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


Bob Vila Radio: Installing a Condensate Pump

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

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

How to Install a Condensate Pump

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

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

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

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


Bob Vila Radio: Wisdom for Window Fans

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

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

Window Fan Tips

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Listen to BOB VILA ON WINDOW FANS or read the text below:

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

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

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

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

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


Bob Vila Radio: Fend Off the Power Surge Scourge

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

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

How to Choose a Surge Protector

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

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

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


Buyer’s Guide: Portable Generators

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

Best Generators - Control Panel

Photo: generac.com

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

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

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

Best Generators - Driveway

Photo: generac.com

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

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

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

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

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

 

Generac GP7500 Electric Start Portable Generator

Best Generators - generac gp7500e

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

 

Westinghouse WH7500E Portable Generator

Best Generators - westinghouse wh7500

Photo: norwall.com

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

 

Yamaha EF2000iS Portable Inverter Generator

Best Generators - yamaha EF2000iS

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


Meet the Brighter Alternative to Traditional Skylights

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

Photo: Solatube International

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

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

Illustration: Solatube International

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

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

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

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

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

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


A “Charged” Debate: Portable vs. Standby Generators

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

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

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

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

Photo: generac.com

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

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

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

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

 


Bob Vila Radio: Water Hammer

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

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

Water Hammer

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

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

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

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


Art Cool Mini-Splits for Comfort—and Decor

Making a room cool doesn't have to involve loosing a window. Today's mini-split air conditioning units are the smart alternative to traditional window units, delivering comfort and decor all in one.

ArtCool-LG

ArtCool

Summer has arrived, and with the inexorable heat comes the inevitable hunt—for the perfect air conditioner, that is. Homeowners in search of a functional and fashionable alternative to conventional air conditioning units may want to consider a mini-split.  Mini-split air conditioning systems eliminate the need for the extensive wiring and ductwork required for central air systems, making them perfect cooling devices for older homes and new additions.  They also alleviate many of the problems associated with standard window units, namely they are quieter, don’t have to be removed “off-season,” and don’t present a bulky and unattractive appearance in the window. And, if it’s appearance that you are concerned with, LG’s Art Cool Mini Splits were made for you.

Art Cool LG Mini Split

ArtCool LG mini-split air conditioner at SupplyHouse.com

“The Art Cool series is a unique take on the tried-and-true mini split air conditioning formula,” explains Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. “While being functionally the same (and in the same price range as standard mini split systems), they offer a more visually pleasing indoor unit that can actually enhance room decor,” he adds.

LG’s Art Cool line basically consists of two options, both of which come in either air-conditioner-only or heat-pump models: Art Cool Mirror units feature a flat panel surface with smoked charcoal mirror finish, creating a sleek, contemporary silhouette; and the Art Cool Gallery unit provides a 20-by-20 inch square panel that works like a picture frame—allowing the consumer to insert their own artwork or photograph. Both units mount securely on a vertical surface with screws.

Mini-split air conditioning systems typically consist of two separate units: an interior evaporator with a fan and cooling coil, and an outside condenser unit; the two pieces are connected by a refrigerant line set. Mini-split systems are available in single room configurations, which consist of one indoor unit and one outdoor condenser, as well as multi-room configurations, which have two to four indoor units connected to a single outdoor condenser. Most mini-split indoor units are mounted on the wall, although there are some ceiling-mounted versions.

ArtCool LG Mirrorfinish

ArtCool LG Mirror Finish

The LG Art Cool Gallery unit is available as a single zone system in either 9,000- or 12,000-BTU sizes; the Mirror units are available in either single- or multi-zone systems. Choosing the appropriately sized unit is dependent on several factors, including the regional climate, whether the mini split system will operate as a cooling unit only, or a combination of cooling and heating, the number and type of rooms, the number of windows per room and the average number of people occupying the room at a single time. SupplyHouse.com features a useful air conditioner sizing calculator to help consumers determine the correct amount of air conditioner BTUs needed for a given room, or set of rooms.

Typically, mini-split air conditioners will require professional installation by an HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) contractor, because the outdoor unit must be hard-wired to a dedicated circuit breaker and the correct amount of refrigerant must be used in the lines.

Online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of mini split air conditioners and accessories from the top manufacturers in the industry.  To learn more about the LG Art Cool systems, view the video below, or visit SupplyHouse.com.

 

This blog has been sponsored on behalf of SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.