Category: Major Systems


Home Security 2.0: Design and Install Your Own Smart System

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

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Photo: sagebyhughes.com

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

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

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

Photo: sagebyhughes.com

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

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

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

Photo: sagebyhughes.com

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

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

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

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

 

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


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.

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Small Duct High Velocity HVAC Efficiency

Photo: absolutegreenhomes.com

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

Photo: unicosystem.com

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

Photo: unicosystem.com

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 BobVila.com.


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.

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Pilot Light Out - Adjusting Water Heater Temperature

Photo: fotosearch.com

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

Photo: fotosearch.com

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.


Cool Tools: A Barely-Lift-a-Finger Cure for Any Clog

Whether your drain is thoroughly clogged or you're just trying to keep water moving swiftly through the pipes, this new clog-busting formulation may be just what you're looking for.

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Photo: fotosearch.com

Homeowners are accustomed to dealing with all types of uncertainties, but there are at least two things you can consider inevitable—annual property taxes and the occasional clogged drain. Neither are welcome, of course, but thankfully you don’t have to deal with either one on your own. Accountants exist to make tax time as painless as possible, and for the most stubborn household clogs, there’s Liquid-Plumr® Full Clog™.

A new addition to the Liquid-Plumr® line of clog-conquering products, Full Clog Destroyer™ stands out for its special gel formulation, which makes it not only more convenient to use, but also more powerful. Here, there’s no need for the old bucket, mop, and plunger routine. Full Clog Destroyer™ cuts right through standing water and in remarkably short order clears away the gunk that’s built up gradually in the drain.

How long does it take for buildup to create a frustrating, fixed-in-place, full-on clog? Like so many other questions related to the home, the answer depends. A host of variables come into play, but generally speaking, there are two main considerations. One is the age of your home or, more specifically, the age of its plumbing. The second is your lifestyle, including your day-to-day habits and whether or not you share your home with one or more pets.

Photo: liquidplumr.com

Live in an old home? As the adage says, “They don’t make ‘em like they used to.” It’s often true—but not always in a good way! Steel pipes were once the norm, but decades ago, plumbers switched to copper or plastic because steel corrodes over time. In these older pipes, as the interior diameter of the pipe gets smaller, blockages become more common. But even severe blockages are no match for Full Clog Destroyer™, and if used regularly, the product can actually prevent clogs from occurring.

Old homes may be most susceptible to drain problems, but newer construction isn’t immune. Think of everything you send down the drain, either on purpose or by accident. Indeed, everything from body oils to soap residue can create a clog, especially in combination. But perhaps nothing obstructs pipes quite like hair—pet hair most of all, simply because there’s so much of it. Fluffy and Fido are delightful, sure, but they’re not doing your plumbing any favors.

No matter the cause, a drain clog can ruin your day, turning a normal routine into a nuisance. To quickly and easily return your sink or tub to its normal operation, keep Liquid-Plumr® Full Clog Destroyer™ stocked at all times. That way, you’re never far from a fix. Simply pour two cups of the gel down the drain, then walk away, letting the product sit for at least 15 minutes. Later, return to the drain and rinse with hot water. That’s all it takes!

In the case of a tough clog, let the product sit overnight, or pull out all the stops and pour in the entire 32-ounce bottle. Rest assured, it’s safe to use for any conventional plumbing system involving steel, copper, or plastic pipes. (It’s safe for septic systems too). You can even use Full Clog Destroyer™ in your garbage disposal, if you’d like, whether you need to clear accumulated debris, remove foul odors, or simply keep the unit operating smoothly.

Certainly, homeowners sometimes encounter issues that deserve the care and attention of an experienced plumber—but a drain clog? It may be a pain in the neck, but Liquid-Plumr® offers a painless solution that really works. Combining the convenience of a pourable gel with the effectiveness of an old-school plunger, Full Clog Destroyer™ enables you to avoid unnecessary costs and hassles by resolving slow or stopped drains on your own, easily and fast.

Photo: fotosearch.com

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


A Premier HVAC Option Even Your Designer Can Love

Enjoy quiet, unobtrusive comfort in every season without any sacrifice of style, square footage, or aesthetics. Learn more about this flexible HVAC technology that can make it all happen!

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Photo: absolutegreenhomes.com

You’ve deliberated over every detail, large and small, from the flooring underfoot to the lighting overhead. But if you’re anything like the average homeowner, there’s something fundamental that you’ve largely ignored—heating and cooling. Everyone knows that without adequate climate control, our homes wouldn’t be the comfortable havens we’ve come to enjoy and expect. But few consider that, to a surprising extent, the HVAC you choose has an impact on the design of your home.

A conventional forced-air system requires a network of bulky, full-size air ducts that not only hog otherwise usable living space, but actually force changes in the architecture and interior design of your home. That’s because, in order to route the ductwork from room to room, builders and remodelers must curtail room dimensions or employ special accommodations, such as soffits and chases. These are, in effect, aesthetic decisions that you don’t get to make for yourself; the forced-air system decides for you.

Further, because they’re quite large, standard forced-air ducts terminate in equally large, highly conspicuous in-room air vents. You can pour a great deal of money and effort into cultivating a beautiful interior, but so long as you rely on run-of-the-mill HVAC, those vents are going to stand out, drawing attention away from the design features you so carefully chose. Additionally, traditional forced-air involves not only unwelcome sights, but due to its noisy performance, unwelcome sounds as well.

There is, however, good news: Though forced-air systems have dominated the market historically, another home climate-control option has been gaining in popularity over the last 30 years. For those homeowners who demand a comfortable environment with no sacrifice of aesthetics, there may be no technology more appealing than the Unico System. A high-velocity HVAC system renowned for its flexible mini ducts, Unico offers a solution that bends to meet your needs, not the other way around.

It doesn’t matter whether you are building new or modernizing a centuries-old heritage home. Whatever your situation, you can install the Unico System, because it’s characterized by a virtue that the older setups lack—versatility. Compact and nonintrusive, Unico puts almost no limitations on the architecture or interior design of your home. Rather, the innovative system fits seamlessly into virtually any context, operating away from view and all but silently to maintain the target temperature year-round.

Photo: unicosystem.com

The quality of any HVAC system depends on its individual components, and that’s certainly true of Unico. Critical to the success of the technology are its tubular, bendable mini ducts. Measuring no wider than four inches, these bear very little resemblance to the full-size ducts to which you are accustomed. Historically, ductwork has been made of rigid metal, but the Unico ducts are flexible enough to bend around things like studs and joists while remaining entirely hidden behind walls and ceilings.

In other words, however you wish to design your home, the Unico System adapts, thanks not only to its snake-like ductwork, but also to its space-smart air handler. Small enough to fit into an opening only a couple of feet tall or wide, the unit packs up to three times as much power as a comparably sized conventional air handler. All told, Unico System components occupy less than a third of the space needed for a traditional installation, all while providing efficient, total comfort.

Engineered around the principle of invisibility, the Unico System takes its commitment to discretion down to even the smallest details. For instance, at the point where its mini ducts feed conditioned air into the living space, the system eschews ugly grillwork in favor of sleek, unobtrusive outlets. The outlets are available in either slotted or circular shapes and in a variety of finishes. To get the best possible match for your decorating scheme, you can choose from the company’s broad range of standard styles, or you can opt to have the outlets custom painted or stained to your specifications.

When you’re in a home that’s heated and cooled by Unico, you don’t see much evidence of the HVAC system, and you don’t hear much of it either. While traditional forced-air makes no small amount of noise, Unico runs at a whisper-quiet level. That’s because its ducts feature an outer layer of insulation that promotes not only energy efficiency, but sound attenuation as well. The air handler, too, features sound-deadening insulation and anti-vibration pads. The result? When the system is running, you don’t even notice.

Up until now, enjoying a comfortable home has meant putting aside your own preferences in order to accommodate the HVAC system. But with Unico, you don’t need to make any sacrifices. Whether you have a bold, creative vision for new construction or want to preserve the charms that made you fall in love with your home in the first place, the Unico System delivers on a deceptively simple promise: Finally, you can live in a home that both looks great and feels uncommonly comfortable all year round.

Photo: unicosystem.com

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


So, You Want to… Install a Water Softener

If you're fed up with limescale on your fixtures and dishes coated with white spots, it may be time to invest in a water softener. Get the cold, hard facts about hard water and what you can do to correct it.

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How to Install a Water Softener - Mineral Deposit on Faucet Aerator

Photo: fotosearch.com

If everything you try to clean somehow ends up coated in a soapy film, there’s likely a rational explanation—hard water. Despite its alarming name, hard water happens to be a common phenomenon. It poses no health risks, but putting up with hard water can be, well, hard, because it affects the day-to-day life of the household in any number of ways. Your dishes might emerge from the dishwasher polka-dotted with hazy white spots. Fresh laundry can feel like sandpaper to the touch, and plumbing fixtures like faucets develop a chalky film. What’s going on here? Let’s trace the problem back to its probable cause.

Before reaching the municipal supply, water absorbs mineral content from rocks and soil—and generally speaking, that’s a good thing. In the case of calcium and magnesium, however, it’s not. High concentrations not only make soap less effective, but also gradually lead to limescale buildup, which, when it occurs within pipes, reduces water pressure and flow (and the problem only gets worse over time). Hard water also negatively impacts the efficiency and lifespan of any appliance that requires water for operation. You may not mind replacing a coffeemaker ruined by mineral deposits, but what about your water heater?

In addition to eliminating a slew of inconveniences, correcting a hard water problem can help prevent a variety of plumbing headaches that cost a bundle to resolve. Many homeowners never hear the term “hard water” until they’ve had to call in a service professional to make a repair. That’s unfortunate, because with hard water, it pays to be proactive. Keep an eye out for the telltale signs of hard water, of course, but even better is to conduct a little research. Start by contacting your municipality; many provide a free report detailing what’s in the local water. Alternatively, purchase a test kit online or at a home center.

Different testing methods measure water hardness on different scales, either grains per gallon (GPG) or parts per million (PPM). Remember, the question isn’t whether or not your water contains any calcium or magnesium, but whether concentrations of those minerals are high enough to affect your life and damage your plumbing. While trace amounts are to be expected, water with calcium or magnesium levels at or above 7 GPG or 120 PPM officially qualifies as hard. If it turns out that your home has hard water, follow the lead of other homeowners in the same situation and consider installing a water softener.

How to Install a Water Softener - Product Array

Photo: homedepot.com

There are many water softeners on the market, but almost all rely on the same principle—ion exchange, a chemical process that substitutes sodium (sometimes potassium) for the minerals that make water hard. A conventional system includes two tanks. One holds a bed of resin beads saturated with sodium. As water passes through the tank, any calcium and magnesium in the water exchanges places with the sodium. When the minerals attach to the beads, the sodium that had been on the beads enters the volume of water. In this way, by the time household water exits the system, it’s no longer hard.

Note: Water softeners add only trace amounts of sodium, a level safely within the recommended range for healthy individuals, but those with low-sodium diets may wish to opt for a salt-free water softener that employs potassium, not sodium. Another reason to choose a salt-free water softener is that sodium can be detrimental to plants. If you’re worried about the consequences of using softened water on your landscape, you can go salt-free or, as a budget-friendly alternative, connect a regular salt-based water softener to the hot water line only, while continuing to use (cold) hard water outdoors.  

Over time, the resin bed becomes flush with the minerals that have been drawn out of the hard water. At that point, the water softener must go through a “regeneration” cycle, during which the second tank pumps sodium-rich water into the first tank, restoring the resin beads to their initial sodium-saturated state. Upon completion of the cycle, the first tank returns to regular operation, softening the household water that passes through it. Whether or not the system provides water softening during regeneration—and whether it’s a manual or automatic process—depends on the sophistication of the appliance.

Fully automatic water softeners are the most expensive, but features alone do not dictate price. Size matters too. The correct size for a given home takes into account daily water use as well as the hardness of the water. A simple sizing calculation involves multiplying the number of household members by the number of gallons used per person, per day. Next, multiply the number of gallons consumed by the grains per gallon (GPG) figure. Then to accommodate for regeneration and days of heavy use, multiply your total by three. For the average four-person home, experts recommend a capacity of 33,000 GPG.

One last caveat: While a water softener can protect your home and make it more livable, there’s a difference between a water softener and a water purifier. If you’re unsure about the safety of your drinking water, contact your local health department, test it yourself, or send out a sample for to be expert-tested.


One System to Save You Time and Money—and Water

By installing an on-demand recirculation system, you can get hot water from your taps quickly, without wasting too much water, energy, or money. Is one right for your home? Read on to find out.

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Photo: supplyhouse.com

You’re standing over the kitchen sink or next to the shower, all the while waiting, waiting, and waiting for the hot water to arrive. Believe it or not, throughout the day those scattered moments of running the water add up to a substantial volume. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates that the average household wastes as much as 12,000 gallons per year due to delays in hot water delivery. And of course, water isn’t the only thing going down the drain—dollars are too.

The root of the problem is, the hot water within the pipes serving the fixtures at the farthest reaches of your home gradually cools down. So, when you call for hot water it’s the now-cool water in the pipes that comes out first. To save time and money, not to mention water, many homeowners choose to install something called an on-demand recirculation system. The technology includes a pump, installed at the water heater, which speeds the transmission of hot water to the point-of-use fixtures located farthest away. The system also incorporates a valve that sends back to the water heater any water in the hot-water lines that has cooled down below a certain threshold.

It’s an ingenious solution, particularly given the inefficient way conventional plumbing conveys hot water to fixtures like sink faucets and shower heads. Recirculation sends cooled water back to the water heater to be reheated and reused, and the system pump ensures rapid delivery, so you can enjoy instantaneous hot-water comfort.

An on-demand recirculation system “does one thing and one thing only,” says Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with SupplyHouse.com. “But it’s not a question of how many roles it performs,” O’Brian continues, “it’s question of how beneficial its functionality can be.” Given the importance of kitchen and bath fixtures in the home, O’Brian concludes, “Recirculation stands to improve your quality of life little by little, every day, by replacing frustration with comfort and convenience.”

Photo: taco-hvac.com

Are you intrigued enough to consider installing a recirculation system in your home? If so, keep in mind that there are two main types, each with its own set of installation requirements. Simply put, one type requires a separate plumbing line for cooled water returning to the water heater, and the other does not. The distinction may sound subtle, but in a retrofit application, it’s the difference between easy, nonintrusive installation and a much more ambitious project requiring opening up walls and putting in new plumbing.

Because of the installation work they entail, systems involving a dedicated return line are best suited to new home construction. In existing homes, O’Brian advises, focus on kits like the Hot-Link from Taco. “Installing the Hot-Link can even be a do-it-yourself project for a handy homeowner,” says O’Brian. “Simply install the pump at the water heater, and mount the valve under the sink—no under-sink electricity needed.” A thermal disk within the valve serves as the brain that dictates system operation.

Before making a purchase, be sure you understand the configuration options for the recirculation system you are considering. Different systems offer dramatically different settings. For instance, “some systems are designed to run continuously, never stopping,” says O’Brian, and that can be “a huge waste of energy.” More sophisticated models, O’Brian says, “operate based on a timer or even a motion sensor, keeping down costs by activating only when you actually need hot water.”

The most basic recirculation systems start at around $150, while fully featured retrofit kits like the Taco Hot-Link run in the $250 to $400 range. Of course, as in any product category, there are a number of models on the market, each of which comes with its special set of advantages. Do you need help selecting the right system for your home and your needs? The online retailer SupplyHouse.com offers a wide selection, and its experts are always on hand to offer best-in-class customer assistance.

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


This Winter, Stay Snug in EVERY Part of Your Home

Eliminate those chilly spots in your home, those uncomfortable spaces where the heat just never seems to make it, with an innovative, efficient heating system from Unico.

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Ductless Heat Pumps - Unico System Cutaway Diagram

Photo: unicosystem.com

The Unico iSeries pairs an efficient outdoor unit with at least one indoor wall split. Ideal for providing heating and cooling to additions, garages, and other unique zones, the iSeries may also be part of a whole-home installation from Unico.

It’s a fact of life in many homes: Though the heating system may be doing a fine job overall, one room or a couple of them stubbornly remain chilly, failing to reach the same level of comfort enjoyed in the rest of the home. Whether the problem plagues the attic bedroom or a garage-turned-workshop, homeowners try any number of would-be solutions, but it’s usually a frustrating quest. Space heaters, for example, may be convenient, but they can also be very expensive to run (not to mention a fire hazard). Piling on layers of sweaters and blankets? That may do the trick in a pinch, but it’s hardly a permanent fix.

The good news is that just as technology has revolutionized other product categories, it’s also brought welcome innovation to the world of heating and cooling. As a consequence, homeowners may now choose from a wide array of compelling options. Perhaps most exciting are the ductless mini-split systems already popular in Europe and Asia, and winning more and more converts here. Whether they’re delivering climate control to one room or every room in the house, ductless systems like the Unico iSeries are efficient, high-performing, and versatile solutions for any home.

Ease of installation gives the iSeries a leg up. In most cases, chances are that extending or otherwise modifying your heating system would require significant renovation. That’s in no small part due to the significant bulk of traditional, full-size ducts. It’s no easy feat to fit ductwork into an existing home. Though the iSeries can pair seamlessly with the small-duct Unico System, it doesn’t have to involve any ductwork whatsoever. With a compact, streamlined design, the system lends itself to easy, noninvasive installation, enabling homeowners to sidestep the challenges a larger project would pose.

Ductless Heat Pumps - iSeries Outdoor Inverter Unit

Photo: unicosystem.com

The Unico iSeries outdoor inverter can support up to four indoor heating and cool units. It can also connect to the Unico System, which offers a non-intrusive, virtually invisible whole-home solution for year-round comfort. 

At its most basic, the iSeries includes two components—an indoor unit and an outdoor inverter. The latter works in an ingenious way. In winter, it harvests heat from the air—even when it’s -25 degrees outside—and sends it indoors. In summer, the system does the opposite, taking heat from the home and expelling it outside. In any season, the inverter achieves stellar efficiency by avoiding one of the energy-hungry hallmarks of traditional HVAC—cycling on and off. Instead, the iSeries saves energy (and dollars) by operating continuously at a low power level. It’s a common homeowner complaint that heating costs a small fortune, but with the efficiency of the iSeries components, that doesn’t have to be the case.

While the outdoor unit employs technology to save you money, the indoor unit does so to keep you comfortable. For starters, its fan eliminates hot and cool spots by ensuring even air distribution. And because the iSeries mounts within the space it’s conditioning, it can monitor the environment and auto-adjust its output to match the demand. Together, these features work to keep the temperature from deviating—in other words, you always get the temperature you expect. Older climate-control systems create rollercoaster-like temperature swings; the iSeries provides reliable, even warmth.

Ductless Heat Pumps - Unico Indoor Head Unit

Photo: unicosystem.com

Part of the iSeries ductless system from Unico, the indoor unit efficiently and quietly delivers heating and cooling to those peripheral spaces in the home that never seem to reach a comfortable temperature. 

Worried about noise? Don’t be. Besides being unobtrusive enough to mount in a tight or out-of-the-way part of a room—say, above the door—iSeries indoor units operate at a remarkably low volume. In fact, they are virtually silent, generating no more than 23 decibels—approximately the sound of a soft whisper. Traditional heating options call attention to themselves—they tend to be bulky and unsightly or cause a racket. In contrast, the discreet iSeries offends neither eyes nor ears. You don’t notice it working; you notice only that your once-chilly room now feels cozy.

The benefits of the iSeries become even more apparent if you install multiple indoor units, a perfectly reasonable choice given that one outdoor inverter can support up to four indoor units. You’re probably most familiar with heating systems where a single thermostat controls the temperature of the entire house. With multiple indoor units, however, you can establish multiple zones, controlling each one independently. That way, people with different preferences can all be comfortable under the same roof. Plus, you can turn off the indoor unit—saving energy dollars—in any zone you’re not occupying. For your comfort and your wallet, zoning makes a lot of sense!

If persistent indoor discomfort has led you to reassess your HVAC needs—or if you’re building a new home or addition—seize this chance to look beyond the familiar standbys. Cost-effective, nonintrusive, and remarkably versatile, the Unico iSeries may be the perfect solution that, until now, you never knew existed. Remember this too: Where you shiver in winter, you are likely to sweat in the summer. Because the iSeries delivers not only heating, but cooling as well, it can help you reclaim the areas of your home that you’ve been avoiding at certain times of the year. Who knows? Those rooms may become your favorite of all!

 

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


A Smart Add-On to Boost Boiler Efficiency by 15% or More

If an older boiler drives your heating system, there's a good chance you can achieve greater efficiency by augmenting the appliance with an outdoor reset control. Affordable and easily installed, the technology ensures that you spend no more than necessary to keep your home comfortable throughout the winter months.

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Photo: supplyhouse.com

This time of year, homeowners around the country bemoan the high cost of home heating and naturally seek out ways to reduce their costs. A point of frustration is that, while there’s no shortage of energy-saving measures to pursue, many offer only a modest payoff in relation to the amount of time or money required to put them into effect. That said, if yours is a hydronic heating system, you have a simple, affordable, and highly effective option at your disposal. Install an outdoor reset boiler control, and you can ensure that you spend no more than necessary to keep your home warm throughout the winter season.

To appreciate the value of the device, remember that hydronic systems are designed to output enough heat to compensate for the heat loss incurred on the coldest days of the year. Most of the time, however, temperatures are not so extreme, making it unnecessary for the boiler to run at maximum capacity. But while newer boilers are capable of self-regulating, but the typical older model “fires at full blast, even if it’s 50 degrees outside,” according to Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with SupplyHouse.com. That means, O’Brian continues, “You may be wasting a lot of money on heating that your home doesn’t really need.”

Photo: supplyhouse.com

When the alternative is to purchase a new boiler, many homeowners choose instead to install an outdoor reset control. The latter costs only a few hundred dollars, but works to make any existing, traditional boiler considerably more energy efficient. How? By means of a discrete, electronic sensor positioned on the home exterior, the device actively monitors the outdoor temperature. Then, based on its reading, a microprocessor calculates the heating demand and adjusts the performance of the boiler accordingly. That way, the boiler never runs harder or for longer than necessary to achieve the desired indoor temperature.

“Outdoor reset controls save money and increase comfort; it’s as simple as that,” O’Brian says. On the one hand, by modulating the boiler, the device increases the efficiency of the appliance by at least 15 percent, saving the homeowner no small amount on month-to-month utility bills. On the other hand, it leads to a more pleasant living environment by eliminating the dramatic temperature swings that inevitably occur in any home whose boiler goes back and forth between inactivity and full-capacity operation. “There’s a good reason why newer boilers have outdoor reset control technology built-in,” O’Brian points out.

Among the outdoor reset controls on the market, different models come with different features. For instance, some include an automatic boiler differential function, which helps homeowner save even more by preventing the heating system from short-cycling—that is, operating in inefficient bursts—when there’s a low level of heating demand. Others feature a “warm weather shut down” mode, which turns off the boiler on unseasonably warm days, when the outdoor temperature rises above a certain preset threshold point. The value of such features, O’Brian says, “depends on your needs and the climate where you live.”

The experts at SupplyHouse.com are always on hand to help homeowners choose the right product, but it’s important to note that installation is best left in the hands of professionals. Even if you’re a veteran home handyman, “there are a lot of variables to consider during installation, and any oversights can pose serious problems for the performance of your heating system or cause permanent damage to the boiler.” For homeowners, O’Brian concludes, it’s best to concentrate on the results of an outdoor reset control installation. “Compare your bills before and after,” he says. “You’ll like what you see.”

Photo: supplyhouse.com

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


3 Ways to Get Fresher Indoor Air This Winter

Stuffy, dust-heavy air need not be a fact of life in winter. This year, pursue a healthy, invigorating environment with a suite of improvements designed to help you breath easy at home.

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Winter Indoor Air Quality Solutions

Photo: fotosearch.com

This season, as temperatures drive lower and lower, it’s only natural for people to retreat into the safety and comfort of their warm, inviting homes. There’s only one problem: With the doors closed and the windows tightly sealed—in other words, with a lot less fresh air circulating throughout the home—many complain of dry, stuffy, and overall unpleasant conditions. Others harbor genuine health concerns, based on reports that a wide range of household products and furnishings release impurities that can linger in the air. Fortunately, if you wish to maintain a comfortable, healthy home, not only during the winter, but year-round, you’ve got a number of options. You don’t have to worry over choosing the right strategy, either. As homeowner awareness of the issue has risen in recent years, so too has the number of companies that address indoor air quality concerns. Sears Home Services, for instance, routinely offers free in-home consultations, with experienced professionals able to guide you toward an effective solution. David Kenyon, an HVAC specialist with the company, summarizes, “There’s no single approach that works every time.” The challenge is to strike upon the “correct combination” of measures that, working in tandem, “make a real, noticeable difference.” Read on to learn about three improvements commonly recommended by Sears.

 

1. FURNACE MAINTENANCE

Winter Indoor Air Quality Solutions - Furnace Maintenance

Photo: fotosearch.com

“In terms of maintenance, the average HVAC system isn’t so different from a car,” says Kenyon. “For peak performance, the hardworking internal components often require replacement or repair.” Without care and attention, heating systems fail to operate as designed, and in homes heated by a furnace, indoor air quality may suffer. The reason is that, while every forced-air furnace contains a filter, not every filter works equally well to take dust, germs, and other particulates out of the air. If you haven’t checked yours in years, there’s a good chance that it’s a traditional fiberglass filter. While good enough to protect the heating appliance, such filters do little to protect the air you breathe. Newer, better-quality furnace filters catch even microscopic impurities, removing them from circulation. There’s a catch, though. Kenyon says that, compared to their fiberglass forebears, “high-efficiency filters must be cleaned or replaced more often, about every three months.” That’s one of the reasons why many homeowners schedule regular system check-ups with a provider like Sears Home Services. At your request, in addition to inspecting the appliance, technicians are able to clean or replace the filter, ensuring the furnace plays its part in purifying the indoor air.

 

2. DUCTWORK CLEANING

Winter Indoor Air Quality Maintenance - Ductwork Cleaning

Photo: fotosearch.com

If you’re like most people in homes with forced-air heating, you rarely consider the network of ducts engineered to channel air from the furnace to your living spaces. It’s well worth taking a second look, though, if you’re dissatisfied with your indoor air quality. According to Kenyon from Sears, “ducts are notorious for collecting and distributing irritants and allergens.” You can try to corral things like dust and pet dander before they enter the ductwork and spread, but “it’s always going to be a losing battle,” Kenyon says. After all, he continues, “dust is ubiquitous.” So what can be done to prevent ductwork from exacerbating indoor air quality problems? Grab a flashlight, choose a room, and, after removing the grate from the return register, peer inside to assess. If you notice an accumulation of dust and debris, “that may be why you’re sneezing all the time,” Kenyon says. It may be tempting to try cleaning out the ductwork on your own, but special tools and techniques are needed to do a comprehensive job. For instance, Sears Home Services utilizes truck-mounted suction equipment. If you’re convinced your dusty ducts are part of the problem, seek out a local pro or book online with Sears today.

 

3. AIR PURIFIER INSTALLATION

Winter Indoor Air Quality Solution - Air Purification Systems

Photo: searshomeservices.com

To remove the toxins that are invisible to the naked eye, health-conscious homeowners often opt for an air purification system, be it a standalone or an add-on to the central HVAC system. The upside of working with a nationwide company like Sears Home Services is that, unlike many smaller outfits, Sears routinely installs air purifiers of all types and, well versed in their differences, the company can help you choose the best approach for your home. “Different air purification systems rely on different technologies, each with its own set of pros and cons,” says Kenyon. Some use ultraviolet light, while others employ high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA). Still others—namely, photo catalytic oxidization (PCO) systems—combine multiple technologies in one. After an initial consultation and survey of your home, Sears specialists can handle the process from start to finish, recommending and installing a purification technology whose capabilities correspond to your specific indoor air quality concerns.

 

Kenyon concludes by highlighting the elusive, hard-to-pin-down nature of indoor air quality issues. “If a baseball flies out of the backyard and breaks a window, you can see damage. You can see the broken glass. You can see the problem.” When it comes to indoor air quality, though, “you’re dealing with a problem that needs to be carefully evaluated.” For that reason, if you doubt the purity of the air in your home, Kenyon suggests the modest first step of arranging a visit from a trained, certified professional, specializing in HVAC. “Once the problem is understood, then the solution follows not far behind.”

Winter Indoor Air Quality Solutions - Curtains and Blinds

Photo: fotosearch.com

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