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Category: Major Systems

What Tools Do You Need for PEX Plumbing Projects?

PEX revolutionized plumbing in more ways than one, including making it easier for pros and DIYers alike. Still, if you're new to PEX tubing, there's one tricky aspect to navigate at the outset—that is, choosing a method of connecting one tube to another, and arming yourself with the tools required for your chosen installation technique. Read on for all the details!


Homeowners rarely do their own plumbing, right? Wrong. Nowadays, intrepid do-it-yourselfers rely on their own skills and labor to get the job done. “This is a big shift,” according to Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with “Plumbing used to intimidate even those homeowners who really know what they’re doing.” Today? “There’s a whole different mindset,” says O’Brian, who chalks up the change to a relatively new plumbing product—PEX, or cross-linked polyethylene tubing, an innovative and increasingly popular alternative to conventional copper pipe.

Certainly, some purists remain convinced that you simply can’t do any better than copper pipe. But PEX tubing has many converts among both do-it-yourselfers and pros alike for a set of at least three strong, convincing reasons. First, there’s the fact that PEX costs less than copper pipe. Significantly less. Second, PEX offers superior freeze resistance, although only indoors. Finally, and most important: PEX makes plumbing easier than it’s ever been. After all, working with copper pipe almost always involves soldering—that is, fusing pipes and fittings together under high heat. Working with PEX requires nothing of the sort.

That said, if you’re only accustomed to traditional materials and techniques, or if you’ve never taken on a plumbing project before, there’s one thing you need to figure out first—the method by which you’re going to join one PEX tube to another. “There are basically four different types of PEX connections that you can make,” O’Brian explains. The reason it’s important to choose a connection method at the outset? Your choice largely determines the tools that you’re going to need by your side. Continue now for all the details on the four types of PEX connections and the minor-but-still-important differences between them all.



Right off the bat, know that each connection method involves its own special fittings and rings. No matter the connection method, the fittings and rings always perform the same essentials functions, but from one method to the next, their designs differ slightly. So too does the tool used to fasten the fittings and rings for a tight, complete connection. Therefore, crimping, perhaps the most common method, calls specifically for crimp fittings, crimp rings, and a crimp tool. Though not strictly necessary, O’Brian points out that to reduce the risk of leaks it’s also often handy to employ a go/no-go gauge. “That tells you whether you made the connection correctly or not,” he says. If you make a mistake? “Easiest is to use a de-crimping tool,” O’Brian says. If you don’t have one, “you can use a regular knife instead,” O’Brian concludes.



Next to crimping, clamping sounds like it wouldn’t be much different, and it’s not. For one thing, clamp connections rely on the exact same type of fittings as crimp connections. The rings are different, however, and instead of a crimp tool, you must use a clamp tool. Why choose clamping over crimping? One reason is that a clamp tool can do something a crimp tool can’t—self-adjust. Meaning, if your project involved PEX tubes of different sizes, you would need a different crimp tool for each size. A clamp tool, meanwhile, comes with adapters that enable it to size up or down to match that of the tubing. Another potential reason to choose clamping over crimping: Whereas crimp rings are copper, clamp rings are stainless steel. Because the latter better resists corrosion, clamp connections often perform better over the long term in direct-burial applications,” O’Brian says.



If you’re tackling a major plumbing project, consider the easy, speedy connection method favored by the pros. A proprietary system perfected by Milwaukee Tools—and possible only through use of tools made by the same company—expansion PEX connections stand out for reliability. “These types of connections are known for never failing in the field,” O’Brian says. The key? Expansion connections rely on oversize fittings, driven into place by the powerful ProPEX Expander Tool. Unfortunately, at nearly $400, the Milwaukee tool isn’t cheap. Even though the system saves time and effort, its cost turns off many DIYers, leaving its use largely limited to the trade. Another reason why expansion connections suit experienced pros but may not suit DIYers: It’s a pain to remove and reuse a fitting, and if you’re a novice, you’re more likely to make mistakes along the way.



Press connections are another type known and loved primarily by people who make their living as plumbers. As people who live by the old adage, “time is money,” pros appreciate the no-fuss system particularly for its ability to speed the installation of plumbing systems in new construction. Another proprietary method, press connections are to Viega as expansion connections are to Milwaukee Tools. To rely on press PEX connections, therefore, you need not only Viega-made fittings and rings (Viega calls them “sleeves”) and a Viega-made PEX Press Tool, but also—for best results—with Viega PEX tubing as well. It’s not impossible to pair run-of-the-mill PEX tubing with Viega fittings and rings, but as O’Brian says, experts typically recommend “keeping it all in the family.” The above video from provides further details in addition to demonstration.


In any case, no matter your chosen connection method, bear in mind that pros and experienced DIYers keep several additional tools close at hand for PEX projects. For instance, to create clean cuts in the tubing, consider a PEX cutter. “A utility knife can do the job in a pinch, but with the right tool, you get better results more quickly and with less hassle,” O’Brian says. Also, O’Brian suggests a clip gun, whether a manual or pneumatic, if the task at hand entails fastening PEX to studs, joists, or subfloor. Finally, for especially long runs or installations involving many different runs, O’Brian recommends purchasing a simple, low-cost uncoiler. That way, O’Brian concludes, “Instead of having to make a special effort to keep the tubing neat and organized, it stays by your side, always ready to go.”


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5 Things to Know About Adding Central Air

If you've been thinking of upgrading to central air conditioning but have been alarmed by the costs and the necessary renovations, here are 5 reasons why it may be time to look at newer, more flexible air-conditioning options.

5 Things to Know When Considering Central Air


In most parts of the country, air conditioning is a necessity of modern life. Even so, many consumers hesitate to invest in a whole-house cooling system. Some are concerned that they’ll be forced into a compromise between everyday comfort and skyrocketing energy bills. Others are reluctant to sacrifice aesthetics in order to accommodate bulky or unsightly components. While older, traditional central air-conditioning systems may have a ton of drawbacks—inefficient operation, unattractive components, intolerable noise, and expensive installation and maintenance, for starters—today’s options answer these common complaints with solutions that are worth a second look. Modern central-air systems take an adaptable approach to cooling, employing a variety of technologies—including high-velocity flexible ductwork and mini-split configurations—to create effective and practical ways to cool an entire home. Advances in air-conditioning technology mean that today’s central systems can offer homeowners a welcome respite from summer’s sweltering sun without their having to forfeit an entire paycheck to cover utility or maintenance costs, and without having to compromise on visual appeal.

Are you ready to live more comfortably this summer and beyond? Consider the following ways a new central air-conditioning system could transcend your biggest concerns.

1. Operating costs aren’t what they used to be.

In the past, the cost of running central air conditioning was the biggest turn-off for homeowners. Fortunately, energy efficiency of new models has improved significantly over the course of the past 10 to 15 years, in some cases by as much as 40 percent. Measured and rated by the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER), the older systems’ cooling performance tended to range between 4 and 10 SEER. (Higher numbers indicate greater efficiency.) HVAC units produced after 2006, however, must rate at least 13 SEER, and some options even go as high as 26 SEER.

A big contributor to today’s substantial increase in energy savings? Ductwork improvements. Older, rigid metal ducts were notoriously leaky, often compromising the overall efficiency of the system by up to a whopping 25 percent. Newer technologies, like those developed by industry leader The Unico System, utilize a network of small, flexible mini-ducts that are constructed to minimize air leaks. Measuring just two to two-and-a-half inches in diameter, the Unico System ductwork has one-third the surface area of conventional ducting, and the mini-ducts feature nylon inner cores that are sheathed in closed-cell insulation to prevent energy waste, thereby saving homeowners money on their monthly bills. In combination, these features mean that Unico ducts lose less than 5 percent of the cooled air the system circulates! On top of that, the Unico System’s design also removes up to 30 percent more humidity from a room than other central-air systems, so the air feels cooler. When there is less humidity in the circulating air, homeowners can set the thermostat higher than they typically might and still achieve the same level of comfort. As a result, the system requires less energy (and less money) to run, even in the hottest of months.

2. Homeowners can have complete control over comfort.

It’s time to abandon the “all-or-nothing” approach associated with traditional central air conditioning. Now that many systems offer the ability to create zones controlled by separate thermostats, energy can be focused on cooling only those areas of the home that are occupied at a given time—or, in some cases, the ones that need it most. This setup is ideal for addressing the needs of a multilevel home, which rarely requires cooling on every floor, as well as those additions or “bonus rooms” that remain stubbornly hot compared with the rest of the house. In addition to permitting targeting of cooling efforts, a zoned system also provides maximum comfort for all members of the household by allowing them to adjust their own zone or room’s thermostat to the ideal temperature. Turning off or adjusting the temperature in unused rooms can translate into substantial savings on monthly utility bills.

5 Things to Know When Considering Central Air


3. Your home’s aesthetics can remain unblemished.

In search of relief from the heat, homeowners who lack a whole-house system are often forced to sacrifice natural light to awkward window air conditioners. In the past, central-air systems didn’t always promise a huge improvement in terms of aesthetics and curb appeal, often relying on overly conspicuous or flat-out unattractive registers indoors and bulky compressors outside. Fortunately, today’s technology places a premium on blending into the existing home environment, making these newer systems perfect for style-conscious homeowners and historic home preservationists alike.

For example, the Unico System’s small, discreet room outlets ensure that your interior decor won’t be disrupted by ugly metal registers that may streak or stain over time. Instead, these unassuming outlets are simply round covers five inches across or slotted half-inch-by-eight-inch rectangles. Both are available in a wide array of colors and finishes, including options that can be painted or stained, in order to blend in with virtually any decor. Installed in unobtrusive locations—on the ceiling, through the floor, or on the wall—they’re practically undetectable.

4. Newer systems offer a cooling option for nearly any space.

Previously, if you wanted to put in central air, you had no choice but to sacrifice the architectural integrity of your home. Full-size, rigid metal ductwork used to funnel central air conditioning traditionally took up a lot of valuable real estate, making installation in an existing home virtually impossible without extensive remodeling to add dropped ceilings or soffits.

But today, you don’t have to put up with a system that steals square footage from your living space. New technology like the Unico System fits where other conventional cooling and heating systems cannot and requires minimal renovation. The modular air handlers and coils can be easily installed into attics, ceilings, crawl spaces, and closets, while the flexible mini-ducts (remember, they’re just two to two-and-a-half inches in diameter!) can be routed through existing ceiling, floor, or wall cavities between joists and around any other obstructions. The Unico System also features a remarkably space-efficient air handler that can fit into an opening only a couple of feet tall or wide. Altogether, the Unico components need less than a third of the space required by a traditional forced-air system to deliver comparable performance. The streamlined design makes the Unico System a noninvasive option in buildings that have no ductwork, inadequate ductwork, or little space for ducting, such as older, historic homes and newer, architecturally sensitive designs.

5. Finally, installation can be quick and convenient.

Thanks to an ability to fit anywhere, today’s systems bypass the gut renovation involved in installing a traditional central-air system in an existing home—as well as some of the labor and expenses that go along with it. The Unico System adapts perfectly to any type of residential setting (historic homes, condominiums, apartments, you name it!) without requiring contractors to open up walls, ceilings, or floors. That means the overall process causes less disruption to your household activities, creates less mess, and takes less time from start to finish. Comfort is truly within reach.

Adding central air conditioning to an existing home may require some creative construction and out-of-the-box thinking, but recent technological advancements mean that homeowners don’t have to settle for less. With modern technology like the Unico System, adding central air can be a beneficial, economical, and relatively easy proposition.


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

How To: Shop for PEX Tubing

For many plumbers, it's clear that PEX tubing wins out over copper pipe, in terms of affordability, freeze protection, and ease of installation. But since there are multiple types of PEX, navigating the marketplace can be a challenge. For help understanding the options and their relative merits, we spoke to veteran PEX vendor Read on!

Types of PEX Tubing


For much of the latter 20th century, household plumbing systems depended on copper pipe—a difficult-to-master building material whose price only rose along with the ever-increasing demand. Today, many pros (and do-it-yourselfers) prefer to use tubing made of cross-linked polyethylene, or PEX. In addition to being cheaper than copper, PEX boasts the added advantage of being bendable. That means, compared to straight, rigid copper, PEX requires fewer connections and fittings, enabling installers to get the job done more quickly and with relative ease. Furthermore, once in place, PEX tends to fare better over the long haul, because durable plastic resists the mineral buildup and corrosion to which copper often succumbs. Even better: PEX stands up admirably well to freezing temperatures, unlike metal pipes that freeze and in severe cases, burst open. In other words, “for many plumbing applications, you can’t do any better than PEX,” says Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with leading online vendor

Yet for all its advantages—and despite its soaring popularity across the building and remodeling industry—PEX remains poorly understood by the average person. In part, that’s because cutting, crimping, and clamping the material requires specialty tools to which many are unfamiliar. However, according to O’Brian, those who are new to PEX often get tripped up, not when installing the tubing, but rather when choosing which type to install. After all, PEX comes in more than 20 different varieties, each of which boasts its own set of pros and cons, and its own set of ideal applications. When shopping for PEX, therefore, “you must carefully consider the requirements of the project,” O’Brian explains, and from there, “decide which PEX product would make the best match for the task at hand.”  To be successful, O’Brian concludes, “You need a basic understanding of the four main types.”


PEX-A The strongest, most durable, and most flexible option, PEX-A boasts the unique ability to recover from kinks. Normally, if a section of tubing were to become damaged or deformed, you’d have no choice but to remove and replace it. But with PEX-A you can use a heat gun to restore it to its original state. Overall, and for tight spaces in particular, “it’s hands-down the best,” O’Brian says.

PEX-B As you may have guessed, PEX-A commands the highest price. If you’re planning a project that involves, not tight turns, but long, straight runs, you can save money by opting of the next best option, PEX-B. Trading flexibility for rigidity, “PEX-B excels in a number of common applications,” O’Brian says. But there’s a downside to its stiffness: “PEX-B breaks where PEX-A would bend,” a fact that not only limits its utility, but also complicates the installation process at times.

PEX-C “PEX-B and PEX-C are pretty interchangeable,” O’Brian says. If there’s a practical difference between the two, it’s their relative hardness levels. “PEX-C is the softer of the two,” O’Brian continues, and for that reason, “it’s more vulnerable to kinks.” On the plus side: Because a different manufacturing process goes into PEX-C, it typically costs less than PEX-B. If you’re taking on a demanding project, though, bear in mind that to an extent, “you get what you pay for,” O’Brian says.

PEX-AL-PEX The most expensive of the bunch, PEX-AL-PEX, also known as aluminum-barrier PEX, features a special construction—namely, an aluminum layer that goes a long way to help the tubing keep its shape once bent. That means PEX-AL-PEX eliminates the need for the installer to employ tie-downs every few feet. In addition, because the aluminum layer doubles as an oxygen barrier, PEX-AL-PEX often plays a role in heating systems whose components would corrode if exposed to oxygen.

Note that each type of PEX tubing comes in a range of sizes, some as narrow as a quarter inch, others as wide as three inches. That said, for many plumbing and heating applications, building codes often specify the use of half-inch tubing—“the same diameter that would be required if copper pipe were used instead,” O’Brian points out. The fine print here is that half-inch PEX tubing tends to deliver a higher flow rate than identically sized copper piping. If the results of your project hinge on achieving a specific flow rate, be sure to consult a conversation chart like this one from Also, remember that experts don’t recommend PEX for any use that would leave the tubing exposed to sunlight. “PEX isn’t UV-resistant,” O’Brian explains. “After only a month in the sun, it starts to turn get brittle.” Finally, O’Brian cautions, remember that “PEX is freeze-resistant, but it isn’t freeze-proof.”

For help choosing the right type of PEX for your next project, get advice from leading vendor, or watch the video below for further details on the considerations involved in selecting among the options available.

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Winter Comfort Starts with Spring Remodeling

If you're getting ready for a spring renovation project, this may be the perfect time to opt for a new HVAC system that will ensure wintertime comfort and help reduce your monthly heating costs.

Radiant Heat Planning


With the cheerful arrival of spring, the frigid, finger-numbing weather we endured mere weeks ago suddenly seems like a distant memory. But don’t fool yourself: If you were uncomfortable at home last winter, it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself in the exact same spot again. That’s why, if you plan to embark on a home remodeling project in the coming months—if you’re doing a gut renovation, putting on an addition, or even building a brand-new home—you have a golden opportunity ahead. You have a chance to decide not only how your living space will look and function, but also how it will feel day to day, because this will be the perfect time for you to switch up your HVAC system. What you decide to do now will have an effect that last decades. Your system choice matters!

Contractors typically default to recommending a conventional forced-air system. This isn’t surprising. Forced air has dominated the market for decades, so it’s the HVAC system that pros—and their homeowner clients—know best. In fact, forced air has been so deeply entrenched in the industry for so long that few even consider other technologies. That’s a mistake. In recent years, a host of new technologies have leapt onto the scene, and the most intriguing of all may be radiant heating. Popular around the world but still relatively unknown here in the United States, radiant heating offers a radically different winter comfort experience, one that improves on forced air in numerous ways.

Read on to learn more about the benefits of radiant heating, and why more and more homeowners are choosing it as an alternative to the more familiar, but flawed, options.



Underfloor Heating


Don’t be mistaken: You may be hearing about radiant heating for the first time now, in 2017, but it’s nothing new. In fact, the technology traces its beginnings back to the homes of noblemen in ancient Rome. It’s only recently, however, that after years of optimization by industry leaders like Warmboard, radiant heating has become not only a viable whole-home heating option, but a best bet, one that fuses high performance with high efficiency. The key to it all: Radiant heating doesn’t operate like any other system. Instead of distributing heat through a vent or stand-alone unit, it does so across the full square footage, from the ground up. How does it work? Boiler-heated water cycles through tubing set into radiant panels under the floor. The tubing heats the panels, and the panels then radiate heat gently into the room. The result? You get “everywhere” warmth—a very different experience from patchy, imperfect forced air.



Underfloor Heating vs. Forced Air


Does this sound familiar? You hear the heating system kick on, and a rush of hot air enters the room. Comfort arrives, but it disappears just as quickly as it came. That’s a key frustration with forced air. The heat shuts off when the conditioned space gets sufficiently warm, then turns on again once the temperature cools. In this way, as a result of its on-again, off-again operation, forced air creates uncomfortable, yoyo-like conditions. The fact that warm air rises only exacerbates the problem. Put it all together, and you can see why forced air fails to create consistent comfort. Meanwhile, radiant heating excels where the older technology falls short. For one, it concentrates heat not near the ceiling, but at floor level, where you need it—and can feel it—the most. And thanks to their under-floor placement, panels provide even heat across every inch of space, both within each room and from one room, and one floor, to the next.



Underfloor Heating Benefits


One way or another, traditional heating attracts attention, whether through unsightly components, distracting noise, or poor indoor air quality. Radiant heating, however, goes entirely unnoticed. In part, that’s because radiant panels are literally out of view. But radiant systems are concealed not only from the eye, but also from the ear: The technology operates silently—that’s right, silently! Also, consider that while forced air circulates dust, germs, and other impurities—lowering indoor humidity in the process—radiant heating neither spreads airborne pollutants nor fosters the dry, scratchy conditions that prove a nuisance (and sometimes pose health risks) during the long winter months. Think about it this way: In a home with forced air, you can’t help but remain at least dimly aware of the heating system and its shortcomings. Radiant heating, in contrast, enables you to forget about your heating system and focus on the more important things for a change.



Underfloor Heating Savings


Your utility costs drop as soon as you start relying on radiant heating for cold-weather relief. Why? The technology offers several savings benefits, none more consequential than its elimination of the main inefficiency that plagues forced air. While channeling conditioned air from the furnace to living spaces throughout the home, the ductwork in a forced-air system can leak enough heat to compromise overall efficiency by over 25 percent. To make up for the loss, the furnace must work harder, for longer, which drives up costs. But radiant heating sidesteps the issue altogether, because it doesn’t involve any ductwork. So whereas heating your home with forced air often means paying more to compensate for the system type’s fundamental flaws, radiant heating eliminates wasted energy, ensuring that you pay only for heat you and your family felt and enjoyed. Isn’t that the way it should be?



Underfloor Heating Systems


Choose your radiant system carefully. All offer compelling advantages—and all offer a minimum of 25 percent monthly savings over forced air—but only one choice maximizes homeowner savings: Warmboard. Other systems encase their tubing in gypsum concrete. The problem? Concrete takes forever to heat up and cool down. Warmboard sets itself apart by swapping concrete for a combination of wood and, more importantly, aluminum. Not only does aluminum respond much more quickly than concrete, but it also transfers heat more effectively—so much more effectively that Warmboard can heat your home with water 30 degrees cooler than other systems. As a consequence, the boiler driving a Warmboard installation can conserve enough energy to save an extra 10 to 20 percent each month. Ultimately, radiant heating means total comfort, but with Warmboard, you get comfort at the most comfortable cost.


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

Cool Tools: A “Smart” Add-On for Faster, More Affordable Hot Water

This must-have addition to any hot water recirculation system will help you maximize the efficiency and minimize the cost of your hot water delivery.

Hot Water Recirculation System Controls


It’s almost second nature: You turn on the shower and go off to do something else, knowing full well that it will take a while for the water to heat up. Only when you see steam rising from the stall do you finally climb into the shower. A similar dynamic plays out in the kitchen, where you routinely let the faucet run for 10 seconds, 30 seconds, or even a minute—however long it takes for the water to reach the optimal temperature. Taken together, such instances of delayed hot water delivery waste a considerable amount of time. But there’s more to it than mere inconvenience. Every second you wait also wastes a considerable amount of water and, by extension, money. In fact, the Department of Energy estimates the average household fritters away—and pays for—12,000 unnecessary gallons of water each and every year.

Under the circumstances, many eco- and cost-conscious homeowners opt to install a hot-water recirculation system, a technology that performs two separate but equally important functions to speed the delivery of hot water through the home. First, a recirculation system introduces a pump adjacent to the water heater, which helps hot water travel more quickly to the faucets, shower heads, and water-consuming appliances farthest away from the source. At the same time, the system monitors the temperature of the water in the hot water lines, and when the water dips below a preset threshold temperature the technology snaps into action, returning the cooled water back to the water heater. “It’s an ingenious solution,” according to Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with “There’s only one problem, and for some, it’s a deal breaker.”

“A typical hot-water recirculation system works around the clock,” O’Brian says. That means the system draws power and pumps water all day, every day, whether or not you even need hot water. The result? “You get the day-to-day lifestyle benefits of instant hot water,” O’Brian says, but ironically, “operating a hot-water recirculation system adds more to your electricity bill than it subtracts from the bill from your water company.” More advanced recirculation systems gain energy efficiency by operating on a timer, but even these new-and-improved models come with a downside. “You have to reprogram the timer whenever your schedule changes, or when you host a houseguest who happens to be on a different schedule, or when the clocks change.” For many, “configuration proves to be more trouble than it’s worth,” O’Brian concludes.

Hot Water Recirculation System Controls - Taco SmartPlug


Enter the SmartPlug, a brand-new product from industry leader Taco Comfort Solutions. For homes already equipped with a corded recirculator pump, O’Brian says, “the SmartPlug is a no-brainer.” Why? It’s simple: The device improves the efficiency of the existing hot water system by as much as 94 percent and unlike a timer (or an aquastat), it requires nothing in the way of hands-on homeowner maintenance. Automatically, from one week to the next, the device records your usage patterns and allows the pump’s run cycles to activate only at those times of day when you’re likely to take a shower, wash the dishes, or perform any other domestic tasks that call for hot water. If and when your habits change, the SmartPlug adjusts automatically, all by itself. In the end, O’Brian says, “you get the best of both worlds—instant hot water and lower monthly bills.”

Note that while the SmartPlug defaults to its money-saving “smart” operation, there are two additional modes. In “pulse” mode, the SmartPlug maintains a steady, always-at-the-ready supply of hot water throughout the home—not by running the recirculation system all the time, but rather by running it intermittently (five minutes at a time with 10-minute breaks in between). Meanwhile, “vacation” mode kicks in whenever 36 hours pass without the SmartPlug detecting any hot water usage. As long as you’re away, the SmartPlug cycles the pump for 10 seconds a week to protect your pipes from corrosion. Otherwise, system stays dormant, which according to O’Brian, “goes a long way to help save energy dollars,” O’Brian points out. Upon your return, as soon as you start calling for hot water again, the SmartPlug seamlessly resumes, picking up right where it left off.

Perhaps best of all is that, according to O’Brian, “installation couldn’t be easier.” Start by plugging the device into an electrical outlet, then plug the recirculator pump into the SmartPlug. Next, attach the SmartPlug temperature sensor to the hot water supply line. That’s it. As O’Brian puts it, “Literally anyone can do it.” In part because of its no-hassle setup—but more so because the technology enables hot-water recirculation to deliver fully on its promises of convenience and cost savings—the SmartPlug has garnered more praise than you might expect for such a new product. In fact, at the 2017 International Air-Conditioning, Heating, Refrigerating Exposition, SmartPlug won not only the Innovation Award, but also Product of the Year.

Purchase Taco SmartPlug Instant Hot Water Control, $125.95.

Hot Water Recirculation System Controls- Taco Diagram


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Bob Vila Radio: Quick Tips on Preventing Chimney Fires

Don't let the cozy fireplace be the place where the fire starts. Keep reading to learn the proper steps to avoiding a chimney fire.

A wood-burning stove or fireplace provides warmth and ambiance, but it also poses some risks. The most serious? Chimney fires. Here are a few tips on how to prevent them.

Preventing Chimney Fires




First, to avoid the buildup of flammable creosote in your chimney, try to build smaller, hotter fires. The reason is that larger, looser fires often burn less efficiently, producing more smoke and thus, creosote.

Second: Don’t ever toss wrapping paper, cardboard, or pruning debris into a fire, because any such highly combustible materials can spark a chimney fire if there’s enough creosote to support one.

Make it a habit to use only well-seasoned wood in your fireplace. That’s the most important thing, aside from remembering to call in the local chimney sweep every fall.

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!

Bob Vila Radio: What’s the Deal with Duct Cleaning?

On its face, duct-cleaning seems like a sensible thing to do, and plenty of companies advertise the service. But are the benefits worth the price?

Is it really necessary to have the HVAC ductwork in your home professionally cleaned? Of course, people who provide the service often tout its home health and energy efficiency benefits, but many organizations in the industry maintain a degree of doubt.

Duct Cleaning



Listen to BOB VILA ON DUCT CLEANING or read below:

The Environmental Protection Agency, for one, argues that there’s no clear evidence of duct cleaning being beneficial—unless the ductwork harbors pests or mold.

Under normal circumstances, however, you shouldn’t need to augment your regular HVAC system maintenance with professional duct cleaning. Regularly changing the filter and having the system serviced a couple times of year keeps the dust at bay.

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!

Bob Vila Radio: The Lowdown on Low Water Pressure

Not getting enough water-pressure punch? If the problem extends to multiple fixtures throughout the home, solving it requires a little detective work.

Low water pressure: It’s a real nuisance, not least because of regrettable situations like having to slow dance in your shower to wash off the soap. If you’re tired of underwhelming output at each fixture in your home, here are a couple things you can try on your own first, before calling a pro.

What to Do About Low Water Pressure




Water flows into your home through the main valve. Make sure it’s fully open! Also, check with your neighbors. If they’re experiencing low water pressure too—and especially if the block has seen any odd drainage issues—it’s well worth complaining to the municipality. An underground leak may be to blame.

If neighbors aren’t experiencing water-pressure problems, double-check that the main water valve in your home isn’t outfitted with a pressure reducer. A previous owner may have installed one to reduce water bills. By the same token, note that if and when you call in a plumber, he may recommend the installation of a water-pressure booster—a viable option for when all else fails.

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!

All You Need to Know About Ceiling Fan Direction

Want to save money and energy with your ceiling fan all year long? Give this advice a spin!

Ceiling Fan Direction


Since its invention in the late 19th century, its introduction to American homes in the 1920s, and its resurgence in popularity in the 1970s, the ceiling fan has been a saving grace during the dog days of summer. Even with the proliferation of air conditioning, a simple overhead fan still offers the instant satisfaction of a breeze in a stale room, making it feel cooler even though the temperature hasn’t really changed. Yet not everyone realizes that a ceiling fan can make a cold space feel warmer in the winter. All it takes is a change in ceiling fan direction, reversing the air flow to suit your needs according to the season.

The Spin on Summer
Popular for their ability to redistribute cool air throughout a room, ceiling fans turn counterclockwise and create a current that moves down and out, which then sends air back up along the walls. This creates a sense of coolness because cool air naturally pools near the floor while hot air rises—the blades redistribute the already-cool air near the floor up to a level where you can actually feel it against your skin.

That’s a boon to your pocket as well as your body, by lowering your utility bill. According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), if you use air conditioning, a ceiling fan will allow you to raise the thermostat setting about 4°F with no reduction in comfort. In temperate climates, or during moderately hot weather, ceiling fans may allow you to avoid air conditioner use altogether. For extra savings, the DOE also encourages turning fans off when you leave the room, because the devices cool people, not the air itself.

Pro tip: Ceiling fans are only considered safe in rooms with eight-foot ceilings or higher, but to maximize their efficiency, make sure your blades hang 10 to 12 inches below the ceiling and somewhere between seven and nine feet from the floor.

Changing the Ceiling Fan Direction


The Whirl on Winter
It might seem counterproductive to turn on a fan when what you want is to get warm, but in fact, a ceiling fan can help to maintain a comfortable temperature during the winter. A fan set to move clockwise (opposite the ceiling fan direction in summer) and run on low speed creates an updraft. That pulls cold air up to the ceiling and more evenly distributes the warmth the room receives from your central heat, space heater, or fireplace. The fan keeps things cozy throughout your living space instead of letting cold pockets settle anywhere.

Again, the temperature isn’t actually changing; it just feels that way—so, as in the summer, turn fans off when exiting a room. Ceiling fan manufacturers claim that if you do this consistently and correctly, you can reduce heating bills by up to 15 percent.

Pro tip: There are ceiling fans with built-in space heaters on the market, and while they may not save you energy or money, they can solve the problem of a perennially cold room when central heat just won’t cut it on its own. These units are pricey, however, about $250 on the low end.

How to Change Your Ceiling Fan Direction
Nearly every ceiling fan has a switch on the motor housing that changes the blades’ movement from counterclockwise (the standard setting) to clockwise, and vice versa. When winter’s chill hits your home, first check your wall panel (if you have one) for a reverse-direction setting, which is the easiest way to flip from summer mode to winter mode. Press it once and look up to make sure the blades are moving the way you want them to.

If there’s no wall panel option, turn the fan off and climb a sturdy ladder to reach the switch on the motor housing. If the switch isn’t immediately visible, check the top of the motor housing, above the blades; remember, it’s critical that the fan not be moving at all, lest you risk injury. Once you’ve flipped the switch, climb down and turn the fan on low, then give it a glance to ensure it’s running in the right direction.

Pro tip: Very few, if any, ceiling fans are made without a direction switch on the motor housing, so if you’re stymied, consult the manufacturer. And if you’re in the market for a new ceiling fan, make sure it has a direction switch and learn its location.