Category: Major Systems

Is Your AC Safe from Brownouts and Power Surges?

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

HVAC Surge Protection - Air Conditioner Compressor


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

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

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

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

HVAC Surge Protection - Compressor Defender


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

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

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

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


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

Is Your Air Conditioner Going to Survive the Summer?

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

Air Conditioner Troubleshooting


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

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

Air Conditioner Troubleshooting - Compressor Unit Profile


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

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

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

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

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

Air Conditioner Troubleshooting - Thermostat Action Shot


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

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

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


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

Clanking Pipes? Restore Quiet with a Water Hammer Arrester

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

Water Hammer Arresters


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

Water Hammer Arresters - Sioux Chief Model


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Home Security 2.0: Design and Install Your Own Smart System

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



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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Small Duct High Velocity HVAC Efficiency


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

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

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

Small Duct High Velocity HVAC Efficiency - Unico Floor Outlet


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

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

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

Small Duct High Velocity HVAC Efficiency - Unico iSeries Outdoor Unit


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

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

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

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

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

Unico Infographic

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

Solved! What to Do When Your Pilot Light Goes Out

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

Pilot Light Out - Adjusting Water Heater Temperature


Q: I jumped in my shower this morning and, holy cow, was it cold! After a quick inspection, I discovered my water heater’s pilot light 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 you see your pilot light out, you can usually relight it. A downdraft in a vent pipe on a windy day or even the breeze through an open window can be enough to snuff out a pilot light. Relighting instructions are similar for most water heaters, and you can find them permanently affixed to the side of your unit.

Pilot Light Out - Relighting a Water Heater Pilot Light


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

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

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

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

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

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

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.



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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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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.

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


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


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.



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 “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.”


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 offers a wide selection, and its experts are always on hand to offer best-in-class customer assistance.

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