Category: Major Systems


Bob Vila Radio: 3 Popular Paths to Radon Reduction

To safeguard the air quality in your home, ensuring the continued health of your family, it's critical to act swiftly if testing reveals unsafe levels of radon. Read on to learn more about a few of the most commonly pursued mitigation options.

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If radon tests have found unacceptably high readings in your home, there are at least a few effective ways to address the potentially hazardous issue.

Radon Mitigation Systems

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Listen to BOB VILA ON RADON REDUCTION or read the text below:

One popular choice is to install a mitigation system, which combines a small outdoor unit with a special fan located inside the house. The outdoor unit creates suction, which encourages interior air to enter the fan. The fan, in turn, sends the exhaust through a vertical vent stack, positioned on the home exterior, which terminates at the roof line. Another option is to route the stack through the home interior, up to the attic, where a fan pushes the exhaust into the outdoor air.

If the radon level are particularly high, then, in addition to removing radon from the air, you may also need to remove it from the earth beneath your home. Doing so typically requires what’s known as an active de-pressurization system, or ASD, which creates a vacuum in the soil underlying the foundation.

Concerned about radon? Consult with a professional trained and experienced in radon mitigation.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


3 Aggressive Ways to Cut Down Your Energy Bills

You're certainly not the only one who dreads opening utility bills. However, there are many people who do so with little fear of sky-high fees. Want to be one of them? Keep reading!

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Photo: warmboard.com

Does your blood pressure rise and fall with the ups-and-downs in your monthly energy costs? Particularly during heating season, utilities account for a sizable portion of the average household budget. Indeed, no matter how much you spend to keep your home up and running, chances are good that you would like to spend less—much less. Of course, bargaining for lower rates with your local utility companies isn’t really a viable proposition, but that doesn’t leave you without any expense-limiting options. On the contrary, there are countless do-it-yourself ways to take a bite out of your bills—defeating door and window drafts, for instance, or outfitting light fixtures with the latest high-efficiency bulbs. However, while such measures may be penny-wise and, especially in combination, effective, it’s best to harbor only modest expectations for the sort of improvements you can accomplish in a weekend, for next to nothing. Significantly reducing energy costs typically requires a commensurately significant investment, whether of time or money or both. Plenty of homeowners go forward anyway, though, recognizing that large-scale, energy-smart upgrades offer exceptional bang for the buck long-term. Intrigued? Learn the details about three of the most successful ways in which homeowners like you achieve radical results.

ATTIC INSULATION

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Venture up to your attic and take a look around. One question: Is there insulation? If not, then rest assured it’s not your imagination—your energy expenses really are going through the roof! For lower heating and cooling costs, attic insulation isn’t elective; it’s essential. According to the Department of Energy, proper attic insulation decreases the amount you spend each month to keep your home comfortable, not by a few pennies, but rather 10 to 50 percent. Bear in mind that if your attic already has insulation, you may be able to secure greater savings simply by adding more. How much is enough? A rule of thumb is that if the existing insulation doesn’t reach high enough to conceal the floor joists, then you would likely benefit from an additional layer. That’s straightforward enough, but it’s important to remember that different types of insulation provide different levels of effectiveness. To make an informed choice, you must consider R-value, a scale that measures the ability of a given insulation product to block the passage of heat and cold. The appropriate R-value for your home largely depends on its geographic location, but generally speaking, if you’re adding new insulation over a pre-existing layer, experts recommend insulating up to R38. For a previously uninsulated attic, go with a higher R-value, ideally R60. Whether you handle the job yourself or hire a professional, there’s no doubt that over months and years, attic insulation stands to dramatically improve your bottom line.

 

TANKLESS WATER HEATER

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Traditional tank-style water heaters work at all times to keep a volume of water heated to the target temperature, even in the middle of night when there’s nobody awake to shower or run the dishwasher. That’s a major reason why heating water can account for as much as 30 percent of the average monthly energy expenditure. If you were planning to replace your water heater soon, it may be wise to consider a relatively new and appreciably more efficient technology—the tankless water heater. Also known as an instantaneous water heater, a unit like this operates strictly on demand. That is, instead of storing and constantly re-heating a 40- to 80-gallon tank of water, it fires only when a plumbing fixture or appliance calls for hot water. Compared to older, less energy-smart models, tankless water heaters are 24 to 34 percent more efficient, according to the Department of Energy. In addition, besides being much more compact in design (small enough to mount on the wall, in fact), tankless units tend to last longer too, sometimes twice as long as their predecessors. With a superior lifespan and a lower operating cost, tankless water heaters more than make up for their somewhat higher upfront cost. The downside? If you live in a busy home where multiple showers and appliances may require hot water at once, then, to meet your gallons-per-minute requirement, you may need more than one unit. Otherwise, a tankless water heater can save you thousands over its lifetime.

 

RADIANT HEATING

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The Department of Energy reports that of all the energy consumed in the average home, 50 to 75 percent stems from heating and cooling. That being the case, there’s strong incentive to review the systems on which you rely to maintain a comfortable home. That’s never more true than in the winter, when costs often increase. Though there are many types of heating technologies, chances are that yours is a forced-air system. Since first becoming popular in the mid 20th century, forced air has dominated, for better and worse. Due to its ubiquity, it’s very often the case that when homeowners complain about the high cost of home heating, they are often unknowingly condemning, not so much heating in general, but forced-air systems in particular. Indeed, forced air has changed surprisingly little over the years, never overcoming the performance drawbacks that frustrate homeowners for a host of reasons, including financial ones.

Why does it cost a small fortune every month to heat a home with forced air? A primary explanation is that forced-air systems are designed around elaborate networks of ductwork that channel heated air from the furnace to the conditioned rooms of the home. On paper, there’s no problem, but in practice, ducts prove imperfect. Particularly on runs through uninsulated space, ducts are notoriously prone to air leaks. Even if those leaks occur only at the seams between sections of ductwork, they are enough to compromise overall system efficiency by up to 25 percent. To make up for the heat loss, the furnace must then work harder, for longer—that is, consume more energy—in order to maintain the temperature that you set on the thermostat. In other words, you’re essentially paying extra on a month-to-month basis for the forced-air system to correct its own serious, fundamental design flaws.

Here’s the good news: While forced-air technology has remained stagnant, other systems have made enormous, transformative strides. Take, for instance, radiant heating. Though it’s been around, in one form or another, for thousands of years, it’s only relatively recently that it’s improved to the point of becoming a viable alternative. Already, radiant heating enjoys wide acceptance in Europe and Asia, and increasingly, as more or more American homeowners look beyond forced air, it’s gaining ground here at home. Perhaps most appealing is that radiant heating offers a qualitatively different experience by delivering even, “everywhere” warmth, both silently and without any of the airborne dust and particulates that forced-air systems collect and circulate. That said, for as much as radiant heating makes home heating vastly more comfortable, it also manages to attract converts for yet another compelling reason—efficiency.

Involving no ductwork whatsoever, radiant heating maximizes energy savings by minimizing heat loss. In fact, according to a study conducted by Kansas State University and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, radiant systems operate at least 25 percent more efficiently than forced air. Not all radiant technologies are the same, though. To be sure, on the level of system design, radiant always comes with advantages. But individual system components can make a big difference for your monthly bills. So when assessing your options, look closely at the material composition of the radiant heating panels that form the backbone of any such system. Some panels are made of gypsum concrete, which works reasonably well but usually responds too sluggishly to be effective in a home. That’s why Warmboard constructs its panels with aluminum, 232 times more conductive than concrete.

Aluminum actually transfers heat so well that in a Warmboard system, the boiler can heat the water to a temperature 30 degrees lower than what other radiant systems would require. In this way, you can save an extra 10 to 20 percent every month, and thats ‘s top of what you’d already save by opting for radiant! So while forced air may have been the default choice for decades, homeowners looking to slash their ongoing costs have every reason to contemplate a switch.

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


How To: Replace a Light Switch

For any confident do-it-yourselfer, it's easy to replace a light switch. But as with any project involving electricity, it's essential to exercise caution. Read on for the details on getting the job done safely and effectively.

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How to Replace a Light Switch

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Thanks to the simplicity of their design and function, light switches seem to last pretty much forever despite daily use. Indeed, most of us rarely give a second thought to these humble, hardworking components, but there are certainly instances when you’ll want to replace them. Perhaps you just want a better-looking or more functional switch, or maybe the switch is acting up, either emitting sparks or making a popping noise. Whatever your reason for replacing a switch, your first impulse may be to call the electrician. After all, as with any home repair that involves electricity, it’s always wise to err on the side of caution. Yet, so long as you observe basic safety measures, you can probably replace a light switch on your own, saving the hassle and expense of hiring a professional. Chances are that your toolbox already contains the necessary tools, so aside from a new switch and the following instructions, you need only a spare hour to complete this small project.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Replacement light switch
- Screwdriver
- Wire stripper
- Needle-nose pliers
- Non-contact voltage detector, multimeter, or other voltage-testing tool  (optional)

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STEP 1
Before getting started, go to the electrical panel and cut power to the light switch in question. If the breakers in the box are unlabeled, use trial and error to determine which one governs the circuit that includes the switch you’re replacing. To do this, first flip the switch on. If it controls a ceiling fixture, make sure the light goes on; if it controls an outlet, plug a lamp into the outlet and make sure it goes on. Then, one by one, toggle each breaker and check the ceiling fixture or test lamp to see if it goes off. (Enlist a friend or family member to help so you can avoid having to make multiple trips back and forth.) Once you have identified the right breaker, move it to the “off” position. Next, to make absolutely certain there’s no electricity reaching the light switch, remove the faceplate and hold a non-contact voltage detector within about a half inch of the switch’s screw terminals (typically located on the right side of the switch). (If you’re using a different type of voltage tester, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.) If the detector does not register a current, it’s probably safe to continue to the next step, but before you spring ahead, it can never hurt to test the detector by trying it on a nearby outlet that you’re certain is receiving power.

How to Replace a Light Switch - In Progress

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STEP 2
Now that you’ve taken off the faceplate, proceed to remove the screws that fasten the switch to the wall. Next, pull the switch out from the wall and inspect the wires feeding into it. If those wires loop around the terminal screws on the side of the switch, simply loosen the screws to free up the wires. If, however, yours is a newer switch, the wires may connect not to the terminal screws, but through holes in the back of the switch. (These are known as “back-wired,” “backstabbed,” or “push-in” switches.) To remove the wires, gently tug on each one while inserting the flat blade of a small screwdriver into the slot beneath the hole where the wire enters the housing.

As you work, be sure to keep track of which wire goes where, especially if the wires aren’t color-coded. The black or red “hot” wire attaches to the brass screw (or goes in the hole on the same side as the brass screw). Meanwhile, the white “neutral” wire connects to the silver screw (or goes in the hole on the same side as the silver screw). Finally, note the location of the ground wire. This green or bare copper wire is usually attached to a green terminal screw on the light switch, so you’ll need to unscrew it. Sometimes, the ground wire is connected to a screw on the electrical box itself, in which case you can leave it alone.

STEP 3
If necessary, use a wire stripper to expose about a half inch of both the hot and neutral wires. Now, get the new light switch ready, using its on-off labels to help you orient the unit right-side up. Next, starting with the hot wire, begin attaching the wires to the new switch. If you’re connecting the wires to terminal screws, twist the exposed portion of the hot wire into a clockwise loop, fit the loop over the brass screw (with the tip of the wire pointing away from the room), then tighten the screw. If, however, the switch has push connectors on its rear side, simply guide the hot wire into the appropriate hole.

STEP 4 
Move on to attaching the neutral wire to the light switch, using the same technique you used to attach the hot wire. If the ground wire had been connected to the old switch, complete the wiring by attaching the ground. If the ground wire had been (and is still) connected to the box, let it be. Once all the wires are hooked up, push the switch back into the electrical box and secure it to the wall with screws at top and bottom. Finally, return to the electrical panel and restore power to the light switch. Test to make sure it works, and if it does, screw the faceplate back into position.

A parting word: If you’re replacing a regular light switch with a dimmer, you can follow the process described above, but remember: Not all dimmers are created equal. For a successful installation, double-check that your chosen dimmer has sufficient wattage to control your fixture. Add up the maximum wattage of the bulbs you wish to put on the dimmer, and make it a point to seek out a dimmer switch with a wattage rating above the calculated total.


A Fast and Low-Cost Way to Prevent Frozen Pipes

This winter, invest some time and money in installing a product that can protect your home from the inconvenience and potential damage of frozen pipes.

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Heat Tape Freeze Protection

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Homeowners who live in seasonally cold climates dread having their pipes freeze. At the very least, a frozen pipe can block the flow of water through the house; at worst, it can burst open and leak gallons upon gallons of water. Horror stories of devastating damage can trigger a fever pitch of anxiety, but frozen pipes are a rational concern for many, especially those who live in homes where the plumbing runs through unheated space. While there are several effective ways to minimize the risk, permanent fixes often involve the sort of work most people would hire a contractor do—rerouting a pipe, say, or outfitting an exterior wall with new insulation. In the short term, however, if you’re looking for fast, inexpensive freeze protection, “heat tape really comes in handy,” says Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with SupplyHouse.com. Despite its name, heat tape isn’t an adhesive at all. Rather, it’s a type of electrical cable that, when wrapped around or snaked through a pipe, applies a controlled amount of heat to prevent freezing.

Heat Tape Freeze Protection - Pipe Tracing Products

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“If in the past you’ve had issues with certain pipes freezing—in the crawl space or attic, underground or outdoors—it’s only prudent to take steps to prevent a recurrence,” O’Brian explains. By installing heat tape around a vulnerable pipe, he says, “you can make sure that, no matter the weather, the pipe never reaches the freezing point.” The only tricky part is the timing: “Heat tape isn’t going to work unless you have it installed before the temperatures plummet.”

Besides the importance of early preparation, O’Brian stresses that there are a variety of heat tapes on the market, each offering different features. Most are self-regulating and, thanks to a built-in thermostat, adjust their heat output in response to the ambient temperature. As the temperature goes down, self-regulating cables put out more heat. When the temperature rises well above freezing, the cables turn off automatically, ensuring both safety and energy efficiency.

In the past, heat tapes were often hardwired into the electrical system of the home, but today “most are plug-and-play,” O’Brian states. “You plug one end into an outlet and position the rest according to the manufacturer’s instructions.” Note that some outlets are safer than others. In fact, for heat tape, O’Brian recommends using only ground fault circuit interrupter (GCFI) outlets, which are designed to sever the electrical current in the event of a power spike or loss.

Assuming there’s a GCFI receptacle in proximity to the pipe, installing heat tape can be a simple do-it-yourself project for the average homeowner. “It’s critical to read and understand the specifications provided by the manufacturer,” O’Brian says, but generally speaking, “it’s a straightforward job.” Most commonly, cables are wrapped around the pipe with a few inches of space left between each wrap, although some heat tapes are designed to run along one side of the pipe, affixed by means of electrical tape.

Since electricity and water don’t mix, it’s a good idea to be cautious here. “Never let the cable overlap itself,” O’Brian says, “and take pains not to allow anything flammable to remain in sustained contact with an active cable.” Be sure to periodically inspect a heat tape installation, keeping an eye out for leaks in the pipe or frays in the heating cable. Some manufacturers call for the use of pipe insulation, at least in part to protect the heat tape from damage; others do not.

Before purchasing, confirm that the product you’re considering is appropriate for your situation. While some heating tapes are expressly intended for galvanized or copper pipes, others can be used with either metal or plastic. Lengths and voltages vary as well. “You can find heat tape in lengths from 6 feet to 300 feet, and from 30 watts to 500 watts,” O’Brian says, but rest assured that the experts at SupplyHouse.com will always be on hand to help homeowners make the right choice.

Heat Tape Freeze Protection - Product Isolated

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


5 Ways to Solve Underwhelming Water Pressure

Troubleshoot your low water pressure problems with these helpful fixes that increase force and improve flow, so you and your guests can enjoy the holidays without a hitch.

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Increase Water Pressure - Showerhead

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Starting or ending a long day with a weak shower is deeply unsatisfying. Still, when other around-the-house fixes rank as higher priorities, sometimes you just learn to live with poor water pressure. Even though you may tolerate a trickle, you should probably treat friends and family eager to visit for a long weekend to something better. Don’t let low water pressure ruin your reputation as the host with the most! Resolve to finally achieve a healthy flow of water—for you and all of your future houseguests—by trying any of the following solutions, ranging from quick fixes to extensive projects.

Increase Water Pressure - Faucet

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First things first: Contact your neighbors to see if they are experiencing similarly low water pressure. If so, the source of the problem may be with the city’s municipal water system. Just like your home’s piping, these systems are subject to leaks, clogs, buildup, and corrosion. Before calling your local provider, you can test the city water pressure yourself using a water pressure test gauge with a hose connection. Simply screw the device onto a hose faucet and turn on the tap, having first made sure that the rest of your home’s faucets and any water-using appliances (for example, the dishwasher and washing machine) are turned off. According to experts, a 45 or 50 psi is on the low side, 60 is a good reading, and 80 or above is too high. After you have either ruled out or confirmed a citywide pressure problem, you can decide what steps to take next.

Clear the Clogs

Over time, your pipes can develop a buildup of mineral deposits. In extreme cases, the diameter of the pipes decreases until they become clogged, preventing the water from freely flowing through, and leaving you with a pitiful drip in the shower or a paltry trickle from the faucet. While extreme cases can require that you replace sections of pipe, you can at least take care of clogs at your system’s exit points by dissolving any minerals that are gumming up the works inside your faucet fixtures and shower heads. Simply place an open zip-lock bag filled with  vinegar over your shower head or faucet, tie it in place with some string, and leave it overnight to soak. Rinse off your cleaned fittings the next morning, and put your bathroom back together. If this trick doesn’t work and you believe you have a more severe mineral clog inside the pipes, call in a plumber to assess and correct the problem.

 

Open Wide

The next solution requires little more than a few minutes of investigative work. Your house has a main water valve, usually located near the meter, which controls the flow of water into your home’s pipes. Find the valve and check to see if it’s completely open. Sometimes the valve gets accidentally turned during routine repairs and maintenance without the homeowner’s knowledge. If, for example, your drop in pressure coincides with recent work you’ve had done on your home, your contractor may have turned off the main water supply and at the end of the job only partially reopened the valve. The result: restricted flow and reduced pressure. Fortunately, the valve is easy for you to adjust yourself; calling in a plumber is unnecessary.

 

Replace the Regulator

Many homes that rely on public water have a regulator, located either at the meter or where the service line enters the home, that ensures that water doesn’t rush through the pipes. When the regulator goes bad, the water pressure will gradually drop, causing a loss in velocity that affects some or all of the fixtures in your home. To solve the problem, reset or replace this part, or hire a plumber to do the work for you.

 

Look Out for Leaks

Cracked or damaged pipes may result in water leaks that siphon off water as it travels through your pipes, leaving you with just a trickle at the tap. To determine if your main pipe has any damage, make sure all faucets indoors and out are shut off, then turn off the water valve in your home and write down the number that appears on your water meter. Return in two hours and take the meter reading again. An increased reading is a sign of a leak—and a sign that it may be time to call in a professional.

Galvanized steel pipes are particularly vulnerable to corrosion over time, so if you decide to upgrade, choose superior plastic or copper pipes. You should feel no pressure to DIY this particular fix: Replacing pipes requires the skills of a professional plumber. While it’s a costly project, pipe replacement will do more than improve your showering experience. In addition to boosting water pressure and minimizing the chance of future leaks, swapping out old plumbing for new can reduce the risk that corrosives will contaminate your drinking water, resulting in better quality H2O.

 

Give It a Boost

It may turn out that the problem isn’t you, it’s the neighborhood. That’s no surprise: Gravity and distance are two main factors that negatively impact water pressure. If your household water supply is forced to travel uphill or over a great distance from the municipal water source, its pressure may be hindered. To increase the flow rate of the water when it reaches your home, consider installing a water pressure booster pump. Just be aware that this handy solution is a bit of an investment: The pump runs about $300 at your local home improvement store, and this price doesn’t include the cost of installation (best left to a master plumber) and the potential increase in your monthly electricity bill.


Tour the First Home in Cleveland Built Without a Furnace

Learn how one happy couple just couldn't pass up a striking house that incorporated energy-efficient building technology and the comfort and precision of Mitsubishi Electric zoned heating and cooling systems.

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You are reading one installment in a 10-part series devoted to exploring Mitsubishi Electric ductless heating and cooling. See all.

While visiting their son and his family in Cleveland, Marty and Jocelyn Schaffer went out for a drive. Along the way—much to their own surprise—they bought a nearby house. Here’s how it happened: On a street in the historic district of Wade Park, a unique building seized their attention. They soon discovered it was the PNC SmartHome, developed by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. The concept house had completed its run as a museum exhibit and was now being offered for sale. The Schaffers, long interested in high-performing, energy-saving design, arranged a tour for the same day. Three hours later, they made an offer, and within 30 days, it was official. They are now the proud owners of an unusual dwelling, a home in Cleveland built without a furnace.

As a certified passive house—a home built to the world’s most demanding residential energy standards—the PNC SmartHome pulls off a remarkable feat of efficiency, in no small part because its indoor climate control needs are met not by a central forced-air system, but by a system from Mitsubishi Electric US, Inc. Cooling & Heating (Mitsubishi Electric). Working in concert with the energy-smart hallmarks of passive house design, such as airtight construction, advanced insulation, window technology and heat recovery ventilation, Mitsubishi Electric enables the Schaffers to enjoy lower utility bills from one month to the next. In fact, compared with a conventional home, the PNC SmartHome consumes up to 90 percent less cooling and heating energy!

What makes a Mitsubishi Electric zoning system so efficient? First of all, it requires a relatively small amount of electricity to power its normal operation. Second, the system sidesteps the notorious inefficiencies associated with traditional installations and their leak-prone ductwork. Believe it or not, air ducts commonly lose enough energy to compromise overall system efficiency by up to 25 percent. Mitsubishi Electric achieves superior efficiency by distributing air directly into the conditioned space rather than through a network of ducts. However, of all the groundbreaking features that distinguish Mitsubishi Electric, none manages to save more energy (or provide more practical benefits) than its zoning capability.

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

In a typical home with a central system, one thermostat governs the temperature of the entire house. But with zoning capabilities, the Schaffers get room-by-room customization. That’s because their PNC SmartHome contains multiple zones, each independently controlled. Instead of cooling or heating the entire house in order to bring comfort to one room or floor, the Schaffers can target the zone they are occupying. So, for example, they can warm the bedrooms on the second story while opting to save energy—and energy dollars—by not running the system on the empty first floor. In addition to cutting energy consumption and costs, there’s a bonus: Thanks to a Mitsubishi Electric zoning system, people with different temperature preferences can finally all be comfortable at the same time. No more thermostat wars!

Precision control really matters, for so many reasons. Performance matters too—for the Schaffers and for everyone else. Fortunately, without any sacrifice of efficiency, a Mitsubishi Electric zoning system delivers cooling and heating of a caliber greater than common central forced-air systems. Many homeowners find traditional forced-air systems frustrating, because from the ground up they are designed to cycle on and off. The inevitable result? Uncomfortable temperature swings. Rather than working in stop-and-start fashion, systems from Mitsubishi Electric operate continuously, actively adjusting their output to match the demand at any given time. The temperature does not waver from the temperature set on the thermostat. Whether it’s the PNC SmartHome or your own home, a Mitsubishi Electric zoning system ensures a steady, stable environment.

Cleveland isn’t known for extreme weather, but its warm and humid summers and cold winters mean that for several months of the year, the Schaffers rely on indoor climate control. Whereas most cooling and heating appliances supply one or the other, the versatile Mitsubishi Electric system provides both. In cooling mode, it draws heat from inside the home and deposits it safely outside. Then, whenever the temperatures drop in late fall, the system automatically reverses the action, causing the system to collect heat from the outside and bring it indoors. That’s right: Even at temperatures as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit, Mitsubishi Electric systems equipped with Hyper-Heating INVERTER™ capability can collect heat needed to keep the home toasty warm throughout the coldest days of the year.

Historically, climate control has forced homeowners to choose between savings and comfort, but the Schaffers didn’t have to make any sacrifices. Thanks to the passive house design of their PNC SmartHome and to the high-efficiency operation and precision control delivered by Mitsubishi Electric, the Schaffers have the best of both worlds: year-round cooling and heating provided by a zoning system that outperforms older technologies even as it keeps the monthly energy bills lower than average. Sure, cutting-edge passive house design may not be available or desirable for everyone, but no matter where you live, you have the option to choose a Mitsubishi Electric system of your own.

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


4 Reasons to Ditch Your Furnace for Radiant Heat

Chances are your home uses forced-air heating. While this type of system may be the most common, it has always suffered performance drawbacks. Today, with the availability of better-performing technologies, many homeowners are considering a switch. Find out why so many homeowners are dissatisfied with their forced-air heating—and what they're replacing it with.

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Visit any assortment of American homes built in recent years and, though you’ll probably see a range of architectural styles, all are likely to have only one type of HVAC system—forced air. For decades—ever since it first rose to prominence in the wake of the Second World War—forced air has remained a default choice. Indeed, many homeowners are so accustomed to forced air that they mistakenly believe it’s the only way to keep a home comfortable in the cold months of the year.

Given the ubiquity of forced-air heating, it’s often the case that when homeowners complain about their heating—its hit-and-miss performance, its high monthly costs—they are, without necessarily knowing it, criticizing forced air in particular. But throughout Europe and Asia, and increasingly in the United States, homeowners are discovering an alternative in radiant heating. A new technology with ancient roots, radiant heating surpasses forced air in a number of persuasive, important ways.

Keep reading for more information about why so many homeowners are fed up with forced air, and then learn how radiant heating improves upon that increasingly outmoded technology. The bottom line is, radiant heating offers a wholly different—and more comfortable—experience, and operates at least 25 percent more efficiently than its predecessor, representing a dramatic step forward in home heating. It may even change your assumptions about what in-home warmth can be.

THE DRAWBACKS OF FORCED AIR
A forced-air system works by blowing furnace-heated air into a network of supply ducts, which in turn deliver the air to the various rooms of the house. Once it cools, the air re-enters the ductwork through return registers, finally reaching the furnace, where it will be heated and circulated again. Though this technology is widespread, the notoriously inefficient operation and uneven heating of such systems can be traced back to fundamentally flawed aspects of their design.

Uneven heating. In a room heated by forced air, it’s warmest right near the vent. In fact, it might very well feel a little too warm there. Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, you could easily find yourself needing a sweater and a blanket to keep warm. Simply put, hot air is difficult to control. It is not evenly distributed and it will always rise to the ceiling or second floor. So, in the end, your comfort basically depends on your location relative to the nearest vent, or whether you are upstairs or down.

Noisy operation. Traditional forced air calls no small amount of attention to itself. It cycles on and off, creating not only uncomfortable temperature swings, but also a great deal of noise. When the system kicks on, warm air roars into the room and interrupts conversation (or sleep) before, minutes later, grinding to a halt. Then, once the room has cooled down to a threshold point, another loud blast invades—and this annoyance continues all winter long.

Poor air quality. Though intended to channel warm air through your home, ductwork also often ends up collecting and distributing dust and other impurities, including germs. At the same time, the air recirculation that occurs in a forced-air system inevitably leads to stale, dry conditions. You’re probably no stranger to “scratchy” indoor air in the winter. But such unpleasantness is not inevitable. Rather, it stems directly from a heating technology that relies on warm, blown air.

Energy inefficiency. Why does home heating cost those with forced-air systems a small fortune over the winter months? A primary explanation is that ducts are imperfect. Their tendency to leak—even if only through the joints that connect sections—compromises overall system efficiency. To make up for the heat loss, the furnace must work harder and consume more energy to maintain the target indoor temperature. You’re essentially paying extra to correct the flaws of the system.

Technology has improved by leaps and bounds in nearly every avenue of life, including HVAC, and savvy homeowners are beginning to look beyond traditional forced air—a search that has led them to radiant heating. Though it’s been around, in one form or another, since the days of the Roman Empire, radiant heating hasn’t always been a viable whole-home heating option. But today, thanks to contemporary manufacturers like Warmboard, many would argue that radiant heat now outperforms its peers.

Photo: warmboard.com

THE RADIANT HEATING ALTERNATIVE
While circulating air plays the central role in a forced-air system, water serves a largely similar function in hydronic radiant heat. In a radiant system, after water is raised to a target temperature by a boiler, it’s pumped through a network of tubes that are set into panels beneath the flooring of the home. The water-fed tubes transfer heat to the panels, which then radiate heat outward to materials and objects in the room—first the floor, and then the furniture and people occupying the living space.

Uniform heating. By virtue of the expanse of panels underlying the flooring, radiant heat delivers warmth across virtually every square inch of space. So, no matter where you’re positioned in a room, or even as you’re moving from one room to the next, you can expect the temperature to remain consistent. Plus, in contrast to forced air, there are no uncomfortable swings in radiant heating; the comfort concentrates not in the air above you, but near the floor, at the level you actually inhabit.

Peace and quiet. Many homeowners insist that appliances like dishwashers ought to run quietly, but they seem to have lower expectations when it comes to home heating. People may assume that noise and heat go hand in hand, but they do not. Radiant systems deliver steady, all-encompassing warmth, and they do so in complete silence. In other words, you will be aware of your heating system only because you’re so comfortable, not as a result of the noise it’s making.

Superior air quality. For allergy sufferers and others concerned about indoor air quality, radiant heat can be like a breath of fresh air. First of all, the design of the system involves zero ductwork, which results in a dramatic reduction in the amount of dust wafting through the home. Second, radiant heating operates in a way that does nothing to detract from the moisture content of the air. That means you can bid farewell to the dry conditions that cause red eyes, sore throats, and dry sinuses!

Energy savings. Because it’s ductless, radiant heat maximizes energy savings by minimizing heat loss. Not all radiant systems are alike, however. They all offer efficiency, but the right components can make a big difference in your monthly bills. Take Warmboard, for instance. Its panels are made not with sluggish concrete, but rather aluminum. Because aluminum conducts heat so effectively, these panels require the least energy of any radiant system and reach the set temperature more quickly as well.

Though radiant heat is still relatively rare in the United States, that situation is changing. More and more homeowners are ditching forced air and switching to radiant heat, because the newer technology excels where forced air falls short. Whereas home heating used to entail a choice between comfort and savings—and certain negatives were seen as unavoidable—radiant heat proves that you don’t have to settle for anything less than even, “everywhere” warmth that remains silent and dust-free while dramatically lowering energy bills.

Photo: warmboard.com

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


Bob Vila Radio: Safe Outdoor Holiday Lighting

Your uncle's eggnog isn't the only holiday hazard to be wary of. If you're adding strings of holiday lights to the landscaping on your property, don't ignore the following basic precautions.

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If you’re planning to add holiday lights, not only to the tree in your living room, but to the trees and bushes outdoors, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

String Holiday Lights Safety

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Listen to BOB VILA ON HANGING HOLIDAY LIGHTS SAFELY or read the text below:

First, be sure to plug your string lights into an outlet equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI), a protection that cuts power to the circuit if voltage spikes to a dangerously high level. That effectively eliminates the chances of an electrical shock causing a house fire. So if you put on a holiday display year after year, you may want to think about installing a permanent GFCI outlet on your property. Though intended for temporary use, portable GFCI outlets are commonly available at hardware stores and home centers. Another good idea: Invest in extension cords with a built-in voltage detectors. Combined with GCFI outlets, such cords further reduce the chance of an overloaded circuit jeopardizing your home and holiday spirit.

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!


Kickspace Heaters 101

This winter, bring warmth to your coldest rooms by installing space-smart heaters that will make their presence felt—though not necessarily seen.

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Kickspace Heaters - White Bathroom Unit

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Every home has one—a room that never feels quite comfortable in the winter, no matter the set temperature. To supply extra heat to these chilly areas, some homeowners use space heaters, reasoning that warmer, habitable spaces justify the likelihood of higher utility bills. Others choose to install baseboard units instead, taking on an up-front expense in hopes of saving energy costs down the line. The catch? Baseboards are bulky; a lot of times, they simply don’t fit.

Fortunately, there’s another option to consider—namely, kickspace heaters. Also known as toe-kick heaters, these often-overlooked components deliver the best of both worlds, cost-effective heating in a compact package. Their modest size means that in a room with a challenging layout, one that would not accommodate a baseboard unit, a kickspace heater may be able to fit in seamlessly, installed at floor level beneath cabinetry or even inside the wall or floor.

According to Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with SupplyHouse.com, “Kickspace heaters are designed to be inconspicuous.” In fact, their name refers to the hidden spot where they are frequently installed—that is, the inset cavity along the bottom edge of bathroom vanities and kitchen base cabinets. Here, kickspace heaters remain largely out of sight, working virtually invisibly to supplement the warmth provided by the main HVAC system.

Kickspace Heaters - Wood Kitchen Unit

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There are two types of kickspace heaters in common use today. Though alike in many ways, they are separated by a single yet crucial design variation. Both draw in cool air from the surrounding area and gradually return it to the room after raising its temperature to a preset level. Both types of heater warm the captured air by exposing it to a set of heated coils. Here’s the point of distinction: A hydronic unit heats up those coils by pumping in water from the boiler or hot water heater. In the other type, the coils are heated by means of electricity. You probably wouldn’t be able to tell the two apart by their performance, but when it comes to installation, each has different basic requirements.

Hardware and wiring typically accompany new kickspace heaters in tidy, prepackaged bundles. So, at first blush, it may all seem easy enough to set up. That’s not really the case, though, according to Daniel O’Brian of SupplyHouse.com. He warns, “Installation isn’t something to take lightly.” Rather, it requires the services of a qualified pro, no matter whether you choose a hydronic unit or an electric one. Of the two, hydronic units are pricier to install, because they call not only for electrical work, but for plumbing modifications as well. “If you don’t have a good handle on the skills involved,” O’Brian emphasizes, “don’t attempt to do it yourself. There are just too many risks.”

O’Brian also offers the reminder that even in mild climates, kickspace heaters are not suitable as whole-home heaters, if only because they offer limited coverage. “They are designed as, and work best when used as, complements to the central heating,” he says. It is important to note, however, that a kickspace heater doesn’t need to operate in lockstep with the main HVAC system. On the contrary, kickspace heaters are typically set up to be independent and separately configured. That arrangement gives the homeowner precision control over the temperature of the room in question, particularly when the installed kickspace heater is a model that offers multiple fan speeds.

For many, heating can be as much a source of frustration as comfort. If chilly rooms are undermining your enjoyment of your home, reclaim your spaces with a cost-effective, inconspicuous kickspace heater. Need help making your selection? Visit the experts at SupplyHouse.com. A leading vendor in the category, the company offers products from all major manufacturers, including Beacon/Morris, Cadet, Broan, and Slant/Fin. Have a happy, warm winter!

Kickspace Heaters - Components Isolated

Photo: supplyhouse.com

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


How To: Troubleshoot a Leaky Washing Machine

Sometimes you need to play detective to determine the source of a washing machine malfunction. Use the following clues to help find the cause of your leaky washer, so you can decide if it’s a DIY fix or you need to call in a pro.

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Washing Machine Leaking - Overflowing Washing Machine

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Did you know the average American family washes eight loads of laundry a week? That translates to more than 400 loads of wear and tear each year! It’s no wonder that our washing machines develop leaks and inefficiencies over time. Fortunately, many symptoms that lead to a waterlogged room can be treated without a visit from a professional. So, if your overworked appliance has left you with a puddle all over your laundry room floor after your last load, check out the following leads to determine if it’s one of these most common problems—in both top- and front- loading washers—that require a DIY fix, not a service call.

Washing Machine Leaking - Loaded Washing Machine

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SCENARIO #1: You just built a pedestal for your washer and dryer, and now your newly situated appliance is spilling water out during the cycles.
An unbalanced machine can cause the entire appliance to shake while it spins and agitates your clothes. The result: Some water spills out and accumulates on your laundry room floor. If you catch the leak in time, adjusting your washing machine pedestal or evening out the floor to stabilize the machine could do just the trick. Just be sure to use a level!

 

SCENARIO #2: Water is leaking from behind the washer, which you recently installed yourself.
Check to see whether you removed the manufacturer’s temporary plastic drain plug from the new purchase—or if you accidentally left it place when attaching the drain hose. A left-behind drain plug is no problem. Simply turn off the waterline, pull out the plug, and reattached the drain hose.

 

SCENARIO #3: You observe water escaping during the “spin” cycle.
When you’ve ruled out that it’s not an accidental oversight of leaving the plastic plug in after installation, carefully inspect the hoses for other signs of clogs, loose connectors, or other damage.

A clogged drain hose prevents water from properly flowing down the drain pipe resulting in a backup of H2O, which has nowhere to go but onto your laundry room floor. This common problem often looks like a leak, but it’s actually a blockage. Tackle this easily by softening the clog with hot water and fishing it out with a straightened wire hanger, much like you might a clogged shower drain. Then rinse simply by turning the water back on.

Loose connections between the hoses and the valves could also cause water leak back there. First, turn off the water supply. Then pull the appliance away from the wall to check and tighten the connection of the drain hose, the water hose to the washer valves, and the connections of the water hoses to the inlets.

If not clogged or loose, it might be a damaged drain hose leaking from the connection between the pump and the back of the washer. It’s important to keep enough space between the washing machine unit and the back wall; otherwise the hose may rub against the wall, causing damage to the hose due to constant friction. Inspect the hose thoroughly. If you spot a worn out area or a leak, replace the hose and carefully move your appliance back into place.

When you have ruled out all of the above as responsible for your leak, replace the fill hoses—damaged fill hoses can only lead to bigger problems if they don’t receive immediate attention. If a hole small enough to be missed upon visual inspection is the cause, the end result could cause significant water damage when the line gives way.

 

SCENARIO #4: It’s official: There’s nothing wrong with the drain hoses, but water continues to seep out during the “spin” cycle.
You’ve exhausted inspection of the hoses and it hasn’t solved the problem, so now it’s time to take a look at another potentially faulty part: the pump. A plugged pump occurs when dirt and other bits of debris (including miscellaneous pieces of fabric, like an orphan sock) build up in this appliance part and cause a blockage. If you’re lucky, an easy-to-clean coin trap accessible at the bottom of the machine will have caught the trouble-making debris; if your machine doesn’t have such a trap, simply remove the drain hose from its outlet and inspect back of your machine for a potential clog at this connection. Seals between the pump and the drain hose could also potentially cause leaks if too brittle or loose, so check to see that they’re secure as a preventative measure.

 

SCENARIO #5: Only a few minutes into the load, and soap bubbles are everywhere.
Oversudsing common occurs in either top- or front-loading machines, and it boils down to this to the amount of soap used. Repeat after us: Extra soap doesn’t mean extra clean. Instead, too much soap causes clogs in the overflow tubes, which could lead to leaks. Using the right detergent—and the right amount of it—is an easy preventative measure.
• Top-load washing machines with a water softening system need simply to use less detergent for future loads  in order to avoid oversudsing.
• Front-load machines, however, take a small amount of a specific high efficiency detergent. If that’s your appliance, check the packaging of your detergent bottle for an “HE” label to make certain you have the right supplies.

 

If you’ve ruled out all of the aforementioned causes and your washing machine still leaks, the problem is likely even larger and in need of a  professional’s skillset. A leaky pump and faulty basket gasket or worn out tub seal and bearing all require specialized replacement parts and extensive disassembling of the machine, so it’s best to call in a pro to deal with that leaking H2O.