Category: Major Systems

The Window AC Alternative You Need to Know About

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

Mini-Split Air Conditioners


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

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



Mini-Split Air Conditioners - iSeries Inverter


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



Mini-Split Air Conditioners - iSeries High Wall Unit


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



Mini-Split Air Conditioners - Unico Diagram


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


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

Mini-Split Air Conditioners - Sunny Window


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

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

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

Types of Radiant Heat


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

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

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

Types of Radiant Heat - Cutaway Detail


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

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

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

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

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

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

Types of Radiant Heat - Sleeping Dogs Lie


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

Don’t Run Your Boiler Without This One Key Component

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



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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Problem Solved: A Cutting-Edge Cure for Household Hassles

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



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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

Is Your AC Safe from Brownouts and Power Surges?

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

HVAC Surge Protection - Air Conditioner Compressor


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

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

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

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

HVAC Surge Protection - Compressor Defender


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

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

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

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


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

Is Your Air Conditioner Going to Survive the Summer?

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

Air Conditioner Troubleshooting


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

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

Air Conditioner Troubleshooting - Compressor Unit Profile


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

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

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

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

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

Air Conditioner Troubleshooting - Thermostat Action Shot


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

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

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


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

Clanking Pipes? Restore Quiet with a Water Hammer Arrester

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

Water Hammer Arresters


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

Water Hammer Arresters - Sioux Chief Model


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Security 2.0: Design and Install Your Own Smart System

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



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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

Green Your HVAC: A Small-Duct System Can Bring Big Savings

Keep your home cool in the summer and warm in the winter with an innovative, efficient, and nonintrusive system that's as suitable for retrofitting as it is for new construction.

Small Duct High Velocity HVAC Efficiency


For homeowners who have witnessed their energy bills rise ever higher over the years, heating and cooling represents a constant push-and-pull between livability and affordability. While there’s no disputing that HVAC systems are necessary to ensure year-round comfort, it’s unfortunately also true that these systems are household energy hogs, accounting for about 50 percent of the monthly utility bill.

Thankfully, there’s good news: The march of technology has brought new HVAC options to the fore, and the next generation of indoor climate control offers the best of both worlds—that is, unparalleled comfort delivered efficiently enough to minimize the cost of operation. There are many alternatives to traditional forced air that are worth considering, but there may be none more intriguing than the Unico System.

With its barely noticeable vents and whisper-quiet operation, the Unico System calls no attention itself—that is, until the utility bill comes in the mail with a pleasing total that attests to the system’s efficient operation. Installed at the heart of several award-winning, envelope-pushing green homes—in the Department of Energy’s Builders Challenge and Race to Zero competitions, for example, and the annual GreenBuild Expo—Unico System has earned a reputation for energy-saving, eco-friendly HVAC innovation.

Small Duct High Velocity HVAC Efficiency - Unico Floor Outlet


There are multiple ways in which Unico promotes efficiency. First, the small, flexible ducts are virtually leak-free, while the full-size metal ducts in a run-of-the-mill HVAC system create a huge potential for leakage. In fact, air leaks and thermal loss can compromise system efficiency by 25 percent or more. By contrast, Unico’s mini ducts feature nylon inner cores and are sheathed in closed-cell insulation. In combination, the added layers eliminate air leaks and thermal loss, and in so doing prevent the waste of energy.

Second, the system leverages the principle of aspiration, ensuring that the conditioned air draws in the ambient air to bring about an even temperature across the entire home. The house stays neither too hot nor too cold, so homeowners save by not having to turn the thermostat up or down, depending on the season, in order to combat discomfort. Even a few degrees matter to the bottom line!

With the Unico System, in the summer homeowners can actually set the thermostat a few degrees higher than usual. That’s because the system employs advanced cooling coils, which remove up to 30 percent more humidity than conventional AC. Lower humidity, of course, means greater comfort, but it also means savings, with each one-degree increase in the set temperature translating to a 3 percent cut in energy use. Over time, the savings really add up.

Small Duct High Velocity HVAC Efficiency - Unico iSeries Outdoor Unit


For maximum efficiency, consider the new iSeries, a system that allows you to use Unico’s ducting, or a ductless high-wall split, or the two together. Driving the iSeries is the inverter unit, which works in an ingenious way. In the winter, it harvests heat from the outdoor air and sends it indoors. In the summer, it does the opposite, expelling heat from the home. Able to either heat or cool, the inverter effectively replaces both the furnace and AC compressor.

What makes the iSeries so efficient? Most important, it avoids one of the energy-hungry hallmarks of traditional HVAC. Typical systems operate intermittently, turning on and off, on and off, in a constant cycle. Although it seems counterintuitive to saving money, the iSeries runs continuously, but at a lower power level. This minimizes energy consumption—and in the process, achieves a remarkably high Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER).

Indoors, an iSeries high-wall mounted unit auto-adjusts its output to match the demand, while its fan distribution ensures even coverage. Best of all, if you choose to install multiple indoor units, the iSeries allows for zoning. That means that you can establish different zones rather than setting one temperature for the entire home, so you can economize on climate control in those parts of the home that you’re not occupying. This is such a simple, effective way to save!

It’s a common homeowner complaint: HVAC costs an arm and a leg. But in light of the latest technology, that may no longer hold true. Nonintrusive, versatile, and efficient enough to help homes achieve LEED, National Green Building, HERS and Zero Net Energy certifications, the Unico System proves once and for all that comfort and savings are not mutually exclusive. In the past, homeowners had to sacrifice one or the other—but not anymore.

Want to find a Unico-certified installer in your area? Visit the Contractor Locator now!

Unico Infographic

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

Solved! What to Do When Your Pilot Light Goes Out

Is your hot water suddenly running ice cold? Don't panic! Head down to the water heater to check the pilot and relight it. But first, learn the basics here.

Pilot Light Out - Adjusting Water Heater Temperature


Q: I jumped in my shower this morning and, holy cow, was it cold! After a quick inspection, I discovered that my water heater’s pilot light is out. Should I try to relight it?

A: That depends on why the light blew out. The issue may have been something as simple as a draft, a dirty pilot orifice, or a worn-out part—or the extinguished pilot light could be a sign of something more troublesome. First, sniff out the potentially larger problem: Do you smell gas? If you do, leave your house and call the gas company! Otherwise, keep reading to determine how you can fix the problem by yourself. (Note: Unfortunately, if your water heater has an enclosed burner chamber, you’re probably out of luck as far as a DIY fix; only a professional plumber should access an enclosed burner chamber.)

When a pilot light blows out, you can usually relight it. A downdraft in a vent pipe on a windy day or even the breeze through an open window can be enough to snuff out a pilot light. Relighting instructions are similar for most water heaters, and you can find them permanently affixed to the side of your unit.

Pilot Light Out - Relighting a Water Heater Pilot Light


In order to relight the pilot, remove the access cover at the bottom of the water heater. Both the control knob and the water temperature knob should be in the “Pilot” position. While depressing the control knob, light the pilot light with a long match or wand lighter. Once the pilot ignites, continue holding the knob down for a full minute to bleed air out of the line. (For a water heater with an automatic igniter, the relighting process is virtually the same. Instead of using a lighter or match, though, you’ll push the striker knob repeatedly while depressing the control knob until the pilot ignites.)

Relighting the pilot light may or may not be all you need to do to start up your water heater once more. Depending on what happens after the pilot ignites, proceed with one of the following:

• If the flame remains lit, you’re good to go! Simply replace the cover plate, turn the control knob to “On,” and select the desired temperature on the water temperature knob so that you can return to a refreshing hot shower.

• If the pilot light flickers and goes out soon after relighting, clean the pilot orifice. A dirty pilot light orifice hinders gas flow, but the fix is simple. First, shut off the gas to the water heater (look for a valve on the gas line that supplies the unit). Remove the pilot orifice fitting, which is located under the access cover, by twisting it to the left. Then, unscrew the orifice itself from the fitting. Once the fitting has been disassembled, clean all surfaces with a cotton swab dampened with rubbing alcohol. After reassembling and reattaching the fitting, relight the pilot light as described above.

• If you’re able to light the pilot light, but it goes out when you release the control knob, the thermocouple probably needs replacing. The thermocouple is a safety device that shuts off gas flow if it senses the pilot light is out, but when damaged it loses its regulatory ability. This fix is a bit more complicated than the first two, but a replacement is inexpensive—often less than $20.

This piece, which resembles a copper tube, connects the control panel to the burner assembly, which is located behind the access panel. Before attempting to disassemble anything, shut off the gas to the water heater. Next, release the burner assembly by using an adjustable wrench to detach the thermocouple tube, the pilot light tube, and the gas supply tube from the control panel—the burner assembly should slide right out. (Hint: Because there are various sizes and types of thermocouples, the best way to get an exact match is to take the damaged thermocouple with you when buying a replacement.) After replacing the damaged thermocouple with the new one, slide the burner assembly back into place, reattach the tubes, and then relight the pilot light as described above.