Category: Major Systems

Bob Vila Radio: Water Heaters

If your water heater is nearing ten years old, it could be time to think about buying a new one. Consider these energy-efficient choices when shopping for a new water heater.

Most hot water tanks last about ten years, so if yours is getting close to that age, you might want to start thinking about your next one.

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

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



Check what’s called the “first hour rating” on a water heater—that’s how much hot water it can deliver in your hour of highest usage. A typical shower requires ten gallons of hot water mixed with cold to create a comfortable temperature.

If there are four people taking showers over the course of an hour every evening, you need 40 gallons of hot water at the ready. If you’d like to run the dishwasher or washing machine at the same time, the last one in the shower is in for a surprise if your tank only has a 40-gallon first hour rating.

You can get a bigger tank, but it’s a lot more cost effective and energy efficient to space out the showers or run the dishwasher at another time.

If you’ve become an empty nester, you can downsize your water heater and save some money. A family of four may need that 40- or 50-gallon tank, but once the kids move out, you should be able to go down to a 30-gallon model.

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

Chase Away Winter’s Chill with Radiant Heat

On those frigid mornings, wouldn't you love comfortable, even heat throughout your home, and a floor that's warm beneath your feet? Consider the benefits of a radiant floor heating.

Quik Trak Radiant Heat Flooring

Quik Trak Radiant Heat Flooring System at

Drafts got you down? If your goal is to achieve even, comfortable heat and warm floors, then you may want to look into installing a radiant heating system for your home.

Radiant heating systems, which are typically installed in or below the floor of your home, distribute heat evenly and comfortably. The heating coils first warm up the floor. The heat radiates gradually throughout the room, warming any furnishings and surfaces in its path—which then give off warmth in turn. Everything in the room becomes snug and toasty while the overall air temperature remains comfortable, not stultifying.

“Radiant heat holds many advantages over typical convective heating methods,” notes Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer “Radiant systems heat the whole room evenly, so there is no ‘cold at the floor, hot at the ceiling’ effect. They will even heat the surface of the objects in the room, greatly increasing comfort.”

Related:  Radiant Floor Heating 101

Quik Track Radiant Heat Package

Radiant heat Quik Trak system at

“Because airflow is negligible in a radiant system, there is less heat loss due to drafts, and in general the thermostat can be set lower while remaining comfortable,” O’Brian continues. “On top of that, the water temperature required for a radiant system is much lower than for traditional systems. A properly configured radiant system can save you big bucks on utilities.”

Radiant heat is not only comfortable, but also aesthetically pleasing, because all of the components are tucked away out of sight—there are no radiators, baseboard heaters, or hot air returns in view. Radiant heat is also silent, eliminating much of the banging, whistling, creaking, popping, rattling, and humming associated with conventional heating systems.

There are two primary types of radiant heating systems, hydronic and electric. Hydronic systems are the most common and use hot water passing through PEX tubing to heat a space. In contrast, electric radiant systems provide heat through electric cables or mats. Radiant heat can be installed in both new construction and in existing homes, and there are several different types of installations available, depending on the home’s construction. For example, hydronic tubing can be installed in a cement foundation when it is initially poured, or the tubing can be installed in an “over-pour” on an existing foundation. Tubing also can be installed in between the floor joists with or without plates, or it can be installed above the subfloor using a specialty product such as Quik Trak.

Rifeng Radiator Heat Manifold

Rifeng 7-Loop Stainless Steel Radiant Heat Manifold at

Radiant heat is also an energy-efficient option for many homeowners. Although the initial installation cost may be 10 to 25 percent more expensive than a conventional heating system, a properly designed and maintained radiant heating system can cost 25 to 50 percent less to run and maintain. Also, the life expectancy of a radiant heat system is typically 30 to 45 years, double or even triple the 10- to 25- year life expectancy of a traditional forced-air furnace. Radiant heat can also increase the value of your home at resale, because these systems are considered a highly desirable option among home buyers. offers a large selection of products and packages for installing radiant heating systems from the top manufacturers in the industry. For more information, including a radiant heat calculator, visit


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

Unsound Sounds: 7 Noises You Don’t Want to Hear From Your House

Our houses groan, creak, and pop on a regular basis. Here's how to tell whether that noise you're hearing could be a sign of something serious.


Homes make strange noises. They’re built of many different materials — glass, concrete, wood — that expand and contract at different rates. But still, “The most noise your house should make is a popping sound, like your knuckles cracking, and only once in a while,” says Bill Richardson, former president of the American Society of Home Inspectors and owner of Responsive Inspections in Bosque Farms, N.M.

If your home is making noises that rival the best of Metallica, then it may be sending you signals that there’s a problem. We asked the experts to catalogue some of the more worrisome pops, hisses, groans, creaks, and knocks, and to tell us what they mean and how they can be remedied. Here are the top seven problem noises and how they can be solved.



The Problem: When most homeowners first turn on their heating system in the fall, they’ll often hear a little moaning and groaning as the heating system expands and rubs against the frame of the house, says Mike Kuhn, the New Jersey owner of a HouseMaster inspection service and coauthor of The Pocket Idiot’s Guide to Home Inspections. With a baseboard hot-water system, you can also expect “normal clinking and knocking,” says Kuhn. The circulator pump or pumps to the system, however, “should be silent when they run,” says Kuhn. If you hear knocking or clanking, typically located at the boiler itself, it might be a sign of impending failure of the circulator pump, he says.

The Solution: Get a repairman out to check on it, pronto.


racoon in the attic



The Problem: If you hear strange noises like scratching and possibly chittering coming from places where no one lives in the house, you could have mice, squirrels, raccoons, or even bats sharing your quarters, says Richardson. “Any kind of wild critter could be up in the attic,” he says. And these freeloaders aren’t just a nuisance: Bats can carry deadly rabies. In the Southwest, the droppings of mice can spread hantavirus. Some animals will tear up insulation to nest, or chew through siding or even electrical wires, causing fires.

The Solution: As soon as you suspect an intruder, get on it: Set traps. (Call in a pro if the animal is stubborn or large.) Finally, prevent the problem from reoccurring by sealing up the entrances to your house with steel wool, metal sheeting, caulk, and/or hardware cloth.

To keep raccoons away, put garbage in sealed, secured metal cans that can’t be tipped. Bring pet food inside. After pests have been removed, make sure vents and chimneys are securely covered with mesh or a grille, so those spaces can still breathe.



The Problem: “You definitely don’t want to hear water running if nobody’s using anything,” says Richardson. The sound could indicate many things — a busted pipe in a wall, under the floor, or even in the irrigation system. If you hear running water when you shouldn’t, “Shut the main off and see if the noise goes away. If it does, you’ve got a leak somewhere,” says Richardson — and a problem in need of fixing.

The Solution: Unless you’re really handy and ready to do surgery on your home, call in a plumber.


draining water heater



The Problem: A gas-fired hot water heater works pretty much like boiling a pot of water: A fire is lit and the water inside is heated until it’s ready for use. “A lot of sediment builds up at the bottom of a hot water tank, and that sediment works like an insulator,” forcing the burner to work harder, Kuhn says. The strange noise you hear is the bubbling sediment — and a sign that the tank is probably experiencing fatigue and may be facing premature failure, says Kuhn.

The Solution: Ideally, you should flush out your hot water tank every few months, using the drain valve near bottom of the floor. “However, nobody does it,” says Kuhn, because it can be a pain to do. If your water heater is already making these noises, draining it might help. “It could (work) a little bit longer, it could go a lot longer,” but the damage is probably done, says Kuhn.



The Problem: “What that can connote is that your filter hasn’t been changed,” says Richardson. “And your furnace is trying to pull in air from around it.” And that’s not good, he says. The furnace is working too hard. “What it will do is start sucking exhaust gasses from the furnace into the house.”

The Solution: Install clean filters regularly — “anywhere from three months to monthly, depending on atmospheric conditions,” says Richardson.



The Problem: If you’ve got a well for your water, you’ve got a well pump — either in the house or above the well in your yard. “If you are sitting in your house and hearing the pump switch click on and off, you may have a problem,” says Kuhn. The pump pulls water from the well and into a holding tank, where it’s stored for your use. If you’re hearing it when you, say, turn on the faucet, something may be wrong. The pump “should not operate every time there is a call for water. The wear and tear would cause the pump to fail prematurely,” he says. It’s likely that you have a leak in the system. “The leak is either going to be in the well equipment itself, or in a fixture” — for example, a leaky toilet — that is causing the holding tank to drain, says Kuhn.

The Solution: First, check your fixtures for leaks. Then, if needed, call a plumber familiar with well systems.



The Problem: If your home has gas, a strange noise that sounds like hissing could indicate a gas leak, says Richardson. Sometimes you can hear a hissing outside at the gas meter, or at a home’s outdoor gas light post—places where the line could have corroded, he says. “You should be able to smell it, but you never know.”

The Solution: If you you smell gas around the gas main, don’t mess with the gas shutoff unless you absolutely know what you’re doing, because any mishandling or spark could make things much worse, says Richardson. If you hear the noise and smell the gas, immediately evacuate the house and call the gas company.

What Would Bob Do? Draining a Water Heater

Drain your water heater regularly to keep it running efficiently and safely.

How to Drain a Water Heater


I just drained my water heater for the first time since it was installed back in ’89…24 years ago! The water came out very clean, with no sign of sediment, so I stopped after about five minutes. Does this mean that my heater has no sediment?

It’s smart to drain a water heater every year, no matter what type of storage tank water heater you own. Sediment builds up over time within the appliance, compromising its energy efficiency and leading to clogs in fixtures throughout the house. The fact that you witnessed clean-looking water come out of your tank does not necessarily mean you’re in the clear. To remove sediment, you must drain a water heater not just for five minutes, but for as long as it takes to empty out completely.

In the future, follow these steps to drain a water heater:

1. Check the pressure-relief valve.
Before you drain a water heater, check its pressure-relief valve—the means by which the tank keeps from bursting due to excess pressure. How do you ensure that the valve is functioning properly? Switch off the power to the water heater. (If the unit runs on electricity, simply turn it off. If it burns gas, then switch the heater over to “pilot” mode.) Next, trip the lever on the valve in the cold water supply line. Finally, to minimize mess, position a bucket under the pressure-relief valve. Once you have opened the valve, listen for air and look for water. If you experience either, that means the valve is working as designed and you proceed to the next step. (Note that if you open the pressure-release valve and nothing happens—no hissing air, no dripping water—then it probably needs to be replaced.)

How to Drain a Water Heater - Valve


2. Run your drain line.
Run a garden hose from the water heater drain to the exterior of your home. If the tank sits below grade (say, in the basement), you’ll likely need at least two lengths: one that runs from the tank to a portable pump, plus another that runs from the pump to the outdoors. If your water heater is located anywhere besides the basement, then gravity ought to do the trick. To be on the safe side, give the water in the switched-off heater ample time to cool down (allot several hours) before opening the drain valve. Note that taking a long, hot shower proves an effective strategy for speeding up this part of the draining process!

Related: Why You Should Consider Installing a Tankless Water Heater

3. Flush your tank.
After opening all the hot water faucets around your house, proceed to open the water heater drain valve. (Now is the time to activate your pump, if you’ve chosen to use one.) Let the tank drain completely, then turn on the water supply (short bursts of water may help to dislodge any sediment buildup). If sediment slows or obstructs the flow of water from the drain valve, get it out of the way: In other words, remove the drain valve, so the sediment can exit through a larger opening. With the valve removed, a long screwdriver or dowel may assist you in dislodging sediment. Keep several large buckets on hand to capture the outflow.

4. Finish up.
Once the water coming out of your tank appears to be running clear, turn the supply off once more. Then close the water heater drain valve and turn on the cold water supply. Remember also to return the pressure-relief valve to its initial position. Shut off the hot water faucets around your house (which you had turned on in Step 3) and, finally, restore the power to your water heater, which is now free of sediment.

Chimneys 101

The chimney might not be a part of your home you consider very often, but keeping it in good working order is a critical part of ensuring a safe and healthy home.

How a Chimney Works


Why would Kris Kringle choose to squeeze his considerable girth through one of the narrowest and most soot-covered passageways in the home? The answer: Who the heck knows? One thing is certain, however. For those homeowners with a fireplace, safe and hassle-free evenings spent around the hearth depend not only on a proper understanding of how a chimney works, but also on a commitment to maintaining the chimney. Santa’s entrance comes in two styles:

Related: Fireplace Maintenance Checklist

Built of either brick or stone, traditional masonry chimneys include a firebox (where the wood burns) in addition to a flue, which is the air shaft running through the interior of the chimney, from the firebox up through the roof. At its top, a chimney of this type features a crown to deter critters and prevent water damage.

Prefabricated chimneys have a firebox and cap, but they vent through a simple pipe (not through a flue set within a chimney). Compared to a traditional installation, prefab chimneys are more affordable but less durable. Plus, repairing them can be complicated once component parts are no longer available.

How a Chimney Works - Diagram


Whether traditional or prefabricated, all chimneys are fitted with a damper—that is, a moveable metal plate. When open, the damper allows smoke from the fireplace (along with heat and harmful gases, such as carbon monoxide) to exit the house. During the summer or on cold winter nights when you are not using the fireplace, the damper closes in order to help maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.

A standard throat damper installs above the firebox and is operated by a handle, while a top-sealing damper mounts at the top of the flue. The latter opens and closes by means of a stainless steel chain, extending down the chimney. When closed, the top-sealing damper serves double duty, not only keeping in heated air, but also keeping out animals, loose debris (e.g., leaves), and precipitation.

Rising heat creates an air current that carries heat, smoke, and toxic gases with it along an upward trajectory. Known as drafting, this fundamental principle of convection prevents your house from filling with smoke and hazardous exhaust. Larger flues create stronger drafts, generally speaking, but in any case, eliminating creosote deposits and other clogs ultimately safeguards against chimney problems.

Flue Liners
Mandatory in some states, flue liners enhance the safety and performance level of chimneys in a couple of ways. One, they prevent the overheating of combustibles adjacent to the chimney. Two, they make the chimney more resistant to the corrosion typically brought about by byproducts of burning wood.

There are three main types of flue liners:

  1. Clay tiles, commonly used in masonry chimneys, are inexpensive but known to split apart under intense heat. Those cracks must be repaired, as they enable toxic gases to enter the home.
  2. Especially with owners of old homes, stainless steel or aluminum flue liners are a popular choice today, because they are easily installed even in chimneys where an older liner already exists.
  3. Highly effective but labor-intensive (and thus more expensive), cast-in-place liners are the product of heat-resistant concrete applied against the walls of a chimney or an existing flue.

Chimney Fires
Without regular cleaning, a highly flammable substance known as creosote may build up within the flue, making the chimney vulnerable to high-heat fires. Burning at temperatures around 2,000°F, chimney fires are capable of extending beyond the chimney itself and into other, more flammable parts of the home. Though prefabricated chimneys are built to withstand very high temperatures, they can be so damaged by chimney fires that replacement becomes necessary.

Keeping the chimney clean prevents house fires. For that reason, if you frequently make use of the fireplace in your home, it’s highly recommended that you employ a certified chimney sweep on an annual basis. Many homeowners remember to make an appointment when turning the clock back during mid-autumn.

Quick Tip: Fireplace Doors

Find out how easy-install fireplace doors can reduce your wintertime heating bills.

You can lose a lot of heat through your chimney, even with the damper closed. Installing fireplace doors is a great way to eliminate that draft. They’re easy to install. Most models attach by tension, with simple hardware that doesn’t require drilling or damaging your fireplace brick.

For more on fireplaces, consider:

Hot Fireplace Inserts
Fireplace Maintenance Checklist
Quick Tip: Make Your Fireplace More Efficient

How To: Troubleshoot Your Furnace (in 9 Quick Steps)

The next time your gas furnace stops pumping out the heat, before you call in the pros, try to troubleshoot the problem yourself using this handy checklist.

Furnace Troubleshooting - Diagram


Now that winter’s nearly here, it’s time for a pop quiz: You wake up in the morning and there’s ice on the dog’s water dish. What do you do?

If you had trouble with that one, it’s time for a quick lesson on furnace troubleshooting. Here are nine easy tasks you can perform yourself, before you call in a repairman, to try and get your gas furnace—the nation’s most popular type—to start kicking out the heat again.

Step 1: Make sure the thermostat is set to “Heat.”
“This sounds obvious, but it’s true: a lot of people don’t have their thermostat set right,” says Bobby Difulgentiz, director of product management for Lennox International. So the first step in troubleshooting your furnace is to double-check that the thermostat is set correctly. “Many thermostats have to be physically set to “Heat,” says Difulgentiz. That switch can easily get moved—say, during dusting. He also advises to make sure the set point is at a temperature that will actually turn on the furnace.

Give the furnace a minute or so for the fan and the heat to kick on. If it’s still not on, set the thermostat to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. That way it won’t turn on and off repeatedly while you’re troubleshooting.

Step 2: Filter out trouble.
Filter-related failures are probably one of the most common furnace problems out there, primarily because homeowners forget about the filters, says Difulgentiz.

Filters clean the air headed into the furnace and the heated air sent back into the house. A dirty, clogged filter limits the airflow, eventually causing heat and pressure to build up in the furnace. Newer, more efficient furnaces are sensitive to the problem and will often shut down before a dirty filter causes more trouble. For other units, the furnace will continue to run but with less heat output and reduced efficiency, he says.

Furnace Troubleshooting - Filter


How do you know if this is your furnace’s problem? First, check your filter for obvious dirt. Don’t try to skimp by cleaning and reusing cheap hardware-store filters, says Mike Bonner, a heating and cooling technician and instructor with 35 years of experience who now offers helpful advice at Gray Furnace Man. They have been sprayed with an oil that catches dirt, and once saturated they are no longer effective. “I recommend that homeowners replace their filters once a month,” says Bonner. “A monthly routine will be much easier to remember than every two months—and it’s that important.”

Related:  Gas vs. Oil—Which Furnace Is Better?

Another way to determine that you may have a filter failure: Listen for a whistle. If the furnace can’t get enough air through the filter, it pulls air through any opening it can. A whistling sound is an indication of a problem.

Step 3: Change the batteries? 
Some thermostats are wired to the house’s electrical system, while others use batteries. How is yours powered? Sometimes those that use batteries will flash a low-battery symbol when they need a replacement, but the signal often goes unnoticed, says Bonner.

Step 4: Do you have juice? 
You need to know if the furnace is getting electricity, so check. Most thermostats have a switch for the fan that says either “On” or “Auto” (which means that the fan turns on when the equipment comes on). Throw the switch to “On.” “If the fan comes on, then you know you’ve got power to the furnace. If it doesn’t, you know you’ve got other problems,” Bonner says.

Step 5: Find that circuit breaker.
Still haven’t found the problem? Here’s the next step in furnace troubleshooting: Go to your home’s breaker panel and look for the circuit that controls the furnace. You’re looking to see whether it’s thrown to the “Off” position, or whether it’s in the middle. (In some panels the switch shows red.) Some electricians do a poor job of labeling—or correctly labeling—appliances in the house. Don’t see the furnace listed? “You’re looking for the one switch that seems in a different position from all the others,” says Bonner. “To fix it, throw it all the way off, then back on.”

Furnace Troubleshooting - Switch


Step 6: Throw ANOTHER switch.
Furnaces have another switch, simply known as the “furnace switch.” It’s a power switch that often looks like a regular light switch. It can be located either on the unit or—because electricians often work before the furnace is installed—on a wall nearby. Often this switch is unlabeled. If installed correctly, the switch in the up position is “On.” Unfortunately, this switch can sometimes be mistaken for a light switch and accidentally turned off. Throw this switch and give it a few minutes, as some furnaces have a few minutes’ delay.

Related:  Is It Time to Replace Your Furnace?

Step 7: Break the code.
Furnaces built about 1990 or later have a tiny window where a light shows through. That light can not only tell you whether the furnace has power, it can flash a code to help you know what’s going on.

If you’ve flipped the furnace switch off, then back on, note the sequence of the flashing light. Then open the furnace’s access panels (there are usually two). Inside one will be a key that tells you what the code means. That meaning will be useful information to tell a technician if the furnace still won’t start after you replace the panels.

Step 8: Follow the light. 
“If your furnace has a pilot light—anything less than 20 years old won’t—there are instructions in your owner’s manual for how to relight the pilot,” says Bonner. A modestly capable homeowner should be able to do it. You’re dealing with fire, however, so don’t do anything you’re not comfortable with.

Step 9: Now you’re desperate: Check the gas valve
If all else fails, check the furnace’s gas valve to make sure that it hasn’t somehow been turned to the “Off ” position. Any gas furnace has a “gas cock” that has to be located within six feet of the furnace, Bonner says. This is usually never touched, but you could check it. Another way to double-check: If you have more than one gas appliance, find out if it’s working. If it is, you know that the gas line into the home is OK.

Looking Forward
So when should you give up troubleshooting your furnace yourself and call in the cavalry? That point varies for every homeowner. “When you get uncomfortable, call somebody,” Bonner says.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure: Lennox’s Difulgentiz recommends that someone come out twice a year—in spring to check on the air conditioner before it gets a workout, and in autumn to make sure the furnace is running efficiently: “Typically it’s not that expensive,” he says of such maintenance visits. “It’s a good thing to do, with such a high-dollar item in your house.” For about $100 or so, a technician will eyeball the system, oil the motors, run a safety check, and clean the flame rod on the newer furnaces to make sure the flame is there.

Adds Bonner: “If your furnace is located in a laundry room, I would definitely service it every year, because we have chlorine and phosphates and all sorts of odd chemicals in the laundry room. They get into the flame and the flame chemically changes them” and the resulting chemicals can damage the guts of the furnace, like the heat exchanger, he says. Also, there’s substantial lint in a laundry room. If a heat exchanger breaks, carbon monoxide could leak into a home, Bonner points out.

Radiant Surfaces: Heat Where You Least Expect It

In existing homes, it's easier to install radiant heating in the walls and ceiling than under the floor, yet it offers the same—and in some cases even better—benefits.


Photo: Warmboard

Think “radiant heating” and you’re likely to think of floors. But did you know that radiant heat panels can also be installed in your ceiling and your walls to offer the same clean, quiet, even heat for which the floor system is known? In fact, in the 1950s and ‘60s, electric radiant ceilings were quite popular. As the price of electricity climbed, however, these panels became too costly to operate. Fortunately, there are new systems out there, like those from Warmboard, Inc. Warmboard radiant panels hold flexible tubing that carries warm water from your home’s gas furnace or oil burner and transfers that heat to the interior of your home.  The result is exquisite comfort.

A Smart and Affordable Retrofit
For existing homes, it is often cost prohibitive to install radiant floor heating because of the labor and materials involved in ripping up and replacing the floor. For homeowners wanting to keep their existing tile or hardwood floor, but still benefit from radiant heat, wall and ceiling applications can be installed less intrusively and for a lower cost.

Related:  Radiant Floor Heating 101



Warmboard panels are particularly suited for wall and ceiling installations because of their compact size and efficiency. The company’s Warmboard-R panel is just 13/16 inch thick, so it doesn’t take up much additional space when it’s installed. For wall retrofits, all that is generally required is removal of the original drywall, installation of the product, and reinstallation of the drywall. If this causes the wall to move out too much, homeowners oftentimes create a framed panel on the wall or install wainscoting to add decorative appeal.

Warm Walls
To get a nice, enveloping heat in any room, you can install radiant panels in the bottom four-foot section of your walls. If you have a room with high ceilings, however, you can extend the range of the installation up to eight feet. It’s important to insulate properly behind your radiant walls, so be sure your contractor is familiar with this requirement and installs the system properly.

Also, when planning the location of your radiant panels, remember that the system works best with a “line-of-sight” layout. This means you’ll be most comfortable with the least number of barriers between you and the wall in which you install the system.

Warmboard Ceiling Installation


Warm (and Cool) Ceilings
To get the most out of radiant ceiling heat, it’s recommended that the system be installed on flat ceilings that are between 8 and 12 feet high. While Warmboard offers better-than-average conductivity, panels installed on the ceiling must also be properly insulated.

A secondary benefit of installing radiant panels in your ceiling is that in the warmer months, your system can be designed to pump cool water through the tubes, lowering the temperature of your ceiling to about 60 or 70 degrees Fahrenheit. As warm summer air rises, it will hit the ceiling, cool, and fall, creating a natural convection cooling system. With this setup, in order to avoid condensation, it is recommended that a dehumidification system be put in to lower the humidity of the air.

Related:  6 Things You Didn’t Know About Radiant Floor Heating

Overall Benefits
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, radiant panels have the quickest response time of any heating technology. Because the panels can be individually controlled for each room, that quick-response feature can result in cost and energy savings when rooms that are infrequently occupied are suddenly put into service.

In addition to this benefit, radiant heat also provides even heat, unlike the on-and-off blasts from forced hot air systems or electric baseboards; heat that is quiet, which is not the case with clanging radiators; and heat that contributes to an allergy-free environment, because there are no ducts or fins to gather dust and other substances that can irritate airways.

Note: People worry about hanging things on walls in which radiant panels are installed. While keeping radiant panels installed below a 4-foot height generally reduces the concern, taller installations will require some planning.  To make sure you don’t puncture tubes when nailing picture hangers into a radiant-heated wall, take a photo of the system before the finishing drywall is put up, so you know where the tubes are. Then, use a tape measure to mark their locations and annotate the distances on your photo. Then you’ll be able to stay warm and comfortable in a truly artful way!

Water Heaters 101

When it comes time to replace your home’s water heater, you’ll have hundreds of models from which to choose. To make the right decision for your family, consult this primer on the many water heater options available today.

Types of Water Heaters - Maintenance


The water heater is the home’s unsung hero, reliably operating behind the scenes to make possible many of the modern conveniences we take for granted—hot showers, washing machines, dishwashers, and more. If your existing water heater has outlived its useful life and it’s time to replace it, consider the virtues of a high-efficiency model, typically designated by an Energy Star rating. Not only does an efficient water heater conserve H20 (good for the environment), but it also saves energy (good for your wallet). While installation is best left to the professionals, one job that you can certainly do yourself is choosing among the different types of water heaters on the market.

Conventional Storage Water Heater
This, the most common type of water heater, includes an insulated storage tank that holds a quantity of heated water, anywhere between 30 and 80 gallons. What powers the appliance? That depends largely on the services already present in your home, but any of the usual suspects—natural gas, liquid propane, oil, or electricity—can be the fuel source for this type of water heater. Inside the tank, a gauge reads the temperature of the water, and when it drops below a preset level, the unit kicks on to bring the water temperature back up. That process of continual heating goes on 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even when you’re sleeping or away on vacation. So, in effect, you’re paying to heat water that isn’t used. But whenever you do need hot water, it’s there waiting and ready in sufficient supply. Conventional storage water heaters come in many sizes; a small tank suits the modest needs of a bachelor, while larger tanks meet the demands of a family with multiple children.

Upkeep administered in periodic, regular intervals can optimize the performance and significantly prolong the life of a water heater. Routine maintenance tasks include:

  • Draining and flushing the water heater twice a year to eliminate built-up sediment and minerals.
  • Testing the pressure relief valve to ensure it is in good working condition.

Before you begin any work on the water heater, remember either to turn off the power supply or to set the gas switch to the pilot position.


Types of Water Heaters - Tankless


Tankless (or Instantaneous) Water Heaters
In comparison with conventional water heaters, the tankless variety promises significant energy cost savings, because it heats water only upon demand. In other words, the only water that you end up paying to heat is the hot water you actually use. Sounds great, right? The downside is that tankless heaters are dogged by a low flow rate: Moving only two to five gallons per minute, a tankless cannot accommodate more than one household use simultaneously. So if you are running the dishwasher, you can’t take a hot shower. For that reason, many homeowners have installed multiple tankless units (feasible thanks to their compact design), each devoted to a different set of appliances and/or fixtures. Whereas a conventional water heater lasts 10 or 15 years, a tankless can be expected to function reliably for 20 years or more. That longevity comes at a cost, however; tankless heaters sell for about double the price of conventional models.

Hire a licensed plumber to flush the unit regularly (at least once a year) to eliminate accumulated mineral deposits.


Electric Heat Pump Water Heaters
Powered by electricity, this type of water heater works to intensify the heat it draws from the air, transferring that heat to a quantity of water contained within its storage tank. Because it works in concert with the environment, an electric heat pump system performs best in hot climates, where the technology can be up to three times more energy efficient than a traditionally designed unit.

For an electric heat pump water heater to operate at peak level, its air filters must be cleaned regularly. Otherwise, recommended maintenance is no different than with a conventional storage water heater.


Types of Water Heaters - Solar


A free and limitless energy source—the sun—powers solar water heaters, which are practical in any climate, contrary to popular belief. This type of water heater features two parts: a solar collector and an insulated storage tank. Sometimes, the unit installs on the roof; other times, in the yard. Active solar water heaters distribute water by means of a pump, while passive models rely on the force of gravity, not on manmade mechanics.

There are two types of active solar water heating systems…

- Direct circulation systems: A pump circulates water through solar collectors and into a storage tank (suitable for regions with no extreme cold).

- Indirect circulation systems: A pump circulates an antifreeze solution through solar collectors and a heat exchanger, the latter of which heats the water (popular in regions where temperatures reach freezing).

Passive solar water heating systems are less expensive, and there are two basic types…

- Integral collector storage systems: Solar collectors in the storage tank heat the stored water, which then flows into the home’s plumbing via gravity.

- Thermosyphon systems: Solar collectors heat from below, causing the heated water to rise, from which point it travels naturally into the home.

Assuming that a solar specialist provides routine maintenance every three to five years, you can expect this type of water heater to run for 15 or 20 years. With a solar hot water system of any kind, there are a number of inspection and upkeep tasks that homeowners can do themselves:

  • Regularly clean dusty or soiled collectors
  • Monitor the connections between a storage tank and its piping
  • Look for damaged insulation covering pipes, ducts, and wiring
  • Check the tightness of all nuts and bolts responsible for securing the collectors in place
  • In an active system, verify that the pumps are operating properly

There have never been more types of water heaters for a homeowner to consider. But if you reflect on your needs, determine how much you wish to spend, and weigh your level of commitment to energy efficiency, you should have no trouble choosing the right model for your home and family.

Quick Tip: Rumford Fireplaces

Rumford fireplaces boast a uniquely efficient design, resulting in more heat for those seated around the hearth.

Fireplaces are a nice feature in any home. Count Rumford fireplaces, known for their heat efficiency, are tall and shallow, reflecting heat back into the room. Constructed from fire bricks and refractory mortar, they will tolerate very high temperatures. The distinctive throat design connecting the firebox to the flue wastes less heated room air.

For more on fireplaces, consider:

Gas Fireplaces 101
Firewood Primer: Which Wood Burns Best?
10 Accessories for the Fashionable Fireplace