All posts by Washington Energy

Top Home Trends of 2014

The sun is out and it’s home project season in the Northwest. If you’re looking for inspiration, we have researched the 2014 top trends in home improvement.

colorful comfortable home

1. Big color, lots of it.

According to Realtor.com, in 2014, bright colors “will be more of a focal point”, and “designers will start featuring vibrant accent walls, main paint colors and flooring” bringing color throughout the house.

We liked this trend and put a green wall in our offices which brightens things up for our employees.


Washington Energy Services offices displaying their values. Location: Lynnwood, Washington
colorful washington energy services office

2. Retrofit your home for comfort.

install a heat pump

In Seattle, our customers start with an expectation that the heating, cooling, windows or siding products we present them with will be energy efficient, but will they also improve personal comfort? A good example of accomplishing both goals is upgrading to a heat pump (ducted or ductless). Popular elsewhere in the US for many years, heat pumps are a recent energy saving trend in the Northwest. They provide efficient heating plus a comfort bonus of air conditioning, which we do seem to need lately.

home energy audits

Another trend we see is people requesting air sealing, which reduces unwanted drafts in the home, saving energy and keeping temps even. A great way to learn how to cost effectively improve your comfort is with a home energy audit. Audits are not just for energy saving!

3. Redesign outdoor living spaces and incorporate sustainable garden practices.

Okay, one benefit of the climate getting warmer is the potential for more barbeque days outside. It has also led to an increase in water conservation measures across the western US. While we don’t have water shortages here, we at Washington Energy believe in sustainability every day, not just when asked. Taking a thoughtful approach to what you plant and where, can save water, reduce your bills and still give you a beautiful look. Easy ways to start are incorporating native plants and using water conserving mulch, and any garden center can provide great information for your particular application. If you would like to learn more about sustainable gardening visit Built Green (www.builtgreen.net) or check out WSU for some interesting information on this topic. One great idea they discuss is creating hydrozones, where plants with similar water needs are grouped together. Extension.org – Planning and Design of Water Conservation

sustainable garden practices

4. Enjoy your garden longer by canning or pickling it.

This “#1 Food trend of 2011”, according to the Food Channel, is still hot, and we mean ‘hot’ as in spicier than ever. Pickles are the ‘artisanal’ treat you can easily make at home. It makes the time, effort and water spent growing veggies in a small plot more rewarding as you’ll enjoy them year round. Beyond the simple cucumber, pickled delights include asparagus, kohlrabi, fennel, beets, mushrooms, and peppers, many made in hot and spicy varieties. A favorite of ours is pickled hatch chili peppers from New Mexico. For the more adventurous, this could become a small business. You’ll need pickling spice, salt, jars, a large pot to boil water and put the jars in (a lobster pot is a good size), and you’ll definitely benefit from buying a simple kit that has rubber coated tongs and a basket for getting the jars into and out of the hot water, plus instructions for safe canning. Canning equipment and jars are sold in year round in stores like Fred Meyer, and during the fall season you’ll find them in most supermarkets too.

sustainable business practices

5. Kitchen remodels are back.

According to Angies list, “2014 homeowners are most interested in making strategic improvements to boost functionality, increase efficiency and take advantage of existing space.”  They cite some of the most popular changes in kitchens including opening up the kitchen by removing a wall or partial wall to give a greater feeling of space and to create an island area for comfortable entertaining. Other popular kitchen upgrades include hardwood floors, bamboo floors, and hidden cabinets that recess into the walls. Adding sliding patio doors to provide new ways to connect the kitchen to your outdoor living space can transform the usability of your space.

kitchen remodel

Homeowners are also expecting their kitchens to be wired for today’s electronics, such as charging stations or outlets inside cabinets for a clean look. Kitchen color trends are opposite the rest of the house. White, grey and neutrals are popular including white appliances. For more on kitchen design trends check out this article by. HGTV Top 17 Kitchen Ideas

We hope you found some inspiration for your summer home project in this list. For improved home comfort and energy upgrades, call Washington Energy at 800-398-4663.

Heat Pumps vs. AC Infographic

We’ve done it!

Washington Energy Services has answered the #1 HVAC question asked by our customers:

What are the differences between a heat pump and air conditioner?

Heat Pumps or AC Systems Infographic

Heat Pump vs AC’s – An infographic by the Green Team at Washington Energy

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Things to Know When Adding Air Conditioning to Your Home

Tips for Avoiding Uneven Cooling with AC

“Why is the upstairs not as cool as the downstairs and what can we do to even it out?“ This has become a popular question as Seattle is having more 80 degree days, and adding air conditioning is getting more common. We custom install AC systems throughout the Puget Sound and have tips to maximize your overall cooling comfort.

Your House was Built for Heating

Northwest houses, even ones built recently, are built with ductwork that supports efficient heating, not cooling. (Many older homes weren’t built with enough ducts even for the heating.) The majority of Northwest homes don’t have sufficient airflow in upper floors of the house for effective cooling. Our ducts aren’t large enough and they are in the wrong spots. It takes a lot of cool air to overcome the heat gain on higher floors. Case in point, your registers are most likely in the floor, because hot air rises through the room. But cold air sinks! So that cold air is fighting gravity to get to you. In southern US homes, where cooling is the major season, their registers are in the ceiling.

Say No to Vent Closing

Many people want to try to even out cooling between floors by shutting the registers downstairs in hope that more cool air goes upstairs. This is not a good idea and does not work. Your system was sized to fit your house based on having those registers open to provide air flow to and from the equipment. Shutting one or two in a whole house is okay, but more than that and you put undue static pressure on the equipment. Said another way, this could damage your coil and greatly shorten the life of your AC equipment. Think of it like driving your car with the parking brake on!
vent

Tips to Improve Upstairs Cooling

If you have a big remodel of your upstairs in mind, that would be the time to permanently solve this issue by adding or enlarging duct work through the walls and ceiling. Another option, especially good for larger homes, is to have two separate heating and cooling systems – one for each floor. These are expensive solutions, and if this type of remodel is not in the plan, we have more practical tips:

1. Start your AC Early in The Day

Heat rises so by the time you get
home the natural forces will make your upstairs hotter than the downstairs. Cranking the AC will start the process of cooling it down, but the upstairs will take longer because it had a chance to get hotter. Newer air conditioning systems are energy efficient, so the extra electricity used from running it on low during the day vs cranking it up when you get home, will be minimal. And you are giving it a better chance of overcoming the heat gain throughout the house.

2. Insulate your Attic and Upstairs Walls

Insulation will keep the cool air in, and proper sealing and caulking of bathroom fans, windows and balcony doors will keep heat outside. Insulation is a great year round energy saving investment and there are excellent utility rebates to help you do this affordably.

insulation seattle

3. Add a Solar Attic Fan

Adding a solar attic fan can affordably drop your upstairs a few degrees by pulling cool air upstairs and sending the hot air out of the roof. It will help to even out the temperature in a cost effective way.

attic-breeze-solar-fan

4. Add a Return Air Vent to Improve System Air Flow.

This is less expensive than new ductwork and may make a small improvement.

5. Get Good Blinds

Keep heat out. Get good blinds, particularly on the south and west sides of the house, and keep them shut during the day. Keep windows closed until evening. Remember that heat will rise, so leaving windows and blinds open downstairs will disproportionately heat the upstairs.

6. Consider a Ductless Heat Pump

For an old Craftsman house where the upstairs has little to no ducting and is too cold in the winter, and too hot in the summer, consider a ductless heat pump for the upstairs, as it will independently heat and cool that area without the need for ductwork.

pg5

Whatever you choose, Washington Energy Services is Puget Sound’s leading contractor providing tailored home comfort solutions including: energy efficient air conditioning, heat pumps, ductless split systems, insulation and solar attic fans. Are you planning to add air conditioning to your home? Contact us for a free estimate and stay cool this summer.

Washington Energy named #1 in HVAC; Puget Sound Energy Efficiency Leader Awards

Washington Energy Services is honored to win PSE’s new Energy Efficiency Leader Award and rank as the #1 HVAC contractor in the Puget Sound Area.

June 2014 PSE Award

PSE’s Leader Awards recognize companies based on how much energy and money they have saved PSE customers. Our HVAC and Windows installations in 2013 saved an equivalent of powering 52 electric homes plus 112 natural gas homes for a year, plus a good deal of savings in energy efficiency rebates. Check out what PSE had to say about this award.

 

 

 

A Mom’s View of Home Improvement

We asked several local moms “if money was no object, what would you like to have, or do to improve your home”.  We found their ideas and stories to be great for our Puget Sound community at large. While every answer was different, topics of comfort and convenience for the children, and ease of use for themselves in caring for the family, were common themes. Here are five of their stories (and yes, these are real people and their real stories):    

Christine from Lynnwood, WA I would love to have air conditioning for the warmer days. I have a window unit in my room that we rely on, because with my youngest (2 1/2) wanting to go outside, I have to keep the front of the house closed so she can’t escape! A more efficient heating and cooling system would take less money to run, and be a more even temp all year round instead of us constantly adjusting the heating.   We should probably have better insulation to help keep the cool air in instead of out the roof. And insulation in my garage so that it doesn’t cook us to do laundry in the summer, and you don’t need to wear a snow suit in the winter.   And doors with better handles and extra security for my little one that likes to try to get out of the house or go into rooms that she is not allowed in (she figured out how to pop the childproof handles off the doors!)    

MaryEllen from Mill Creek, WA Definitely a tankless water heater so that I can have more hot water to get everyone showered more timely in the morning, get my towels washed in hot water and actually have hot water to do my dishes after all this! Having a 50 gallon water heater I have to wait for it to recover before we can move to the next thing. I would also like all new EnergyStar kitchen appliances that use less energy and run quieter.   Even though I have nice, relatively new vinyl windows, I would like to change out a few of the picture windows to have more sliders with screens to allow fresh air in when it’s wanted. We don’t really need A/C in the summer (yet!), but more breeze would be helpful.

Tanya from Mountlake Terrace, WA My kids are grown now, but when they were younger I wished I had a bigger washing machine, quieter appliances all around, and having 3 kids a husband and a dog, I really wished I had a tankless water heater. Looking back I could have used better insulation as well, that would have also prevented the neighbors from hearing the yelling “stop putting that up your nose” “Homework isn’t an option!!”  “chocolate milk is NOT ok to take into your room!!” etc.    

Ilana from Mulkilteo, WA I would like to keep germs filtered out to help my kids stay healthy for a longer period of time. Maybe a UV system to take viruses out of the air and a better furnace filter might help. I am not very good about changing the filter on my heating system and probably should do that more often.   Where we live there are lots of big trees and we can get power outages during windstorms. I would like a generator that could power the whole house in the event of a power outage.    

Jessica from Snohomish, WA If I were going to make improvements to my home and money was not object, I would definitely put in an enclosed sunroom with an indoor steam room and dry sauna for my sons asthma and eczema.   We have been in our home for 15 years and air conditioning is one of our favorite upgrades. The first floor of our home remained cool during summer months but, the 2nd floor was stifling with no breeze. We put in our air conditioning 5 years ago and I would say that has been our best investment.  While all the neighbors are sitting out on their porches at 11pm at night with fans going and windows open or with portable air conditioners, we are in our house in bed sleeping with the cool air. It is refreshing to come in to the house after a hot day and being able to relax in our home. The kids are also not cranky because they are cool and all of their friends want to come to our house for some relief to the heat. We also installed hard wood floors and I think they are a must in the NW with kids, pets and our fabulous NW weather. Easy clean up and they look beautiful.   If you have a mom POV you’d like to share with us, find this article us on Facebook or reply to this post below. Happy Mothers day! Washington Energy wishes all mom’s a comfortable and happy holiday.

How Green is a Seattleite?

Being green has never been easier or more popular.  In fact, the trend is often times used as a tool for people to shape their identity and now so more proudly than ever.  Some are sporting recyclable grocery totes like a Louis Vuitton. With green awareness so high, certain cities are owning it more than others with Seattle among the top. But at what level are the people of Seattle truly practicing the way of life versus using it to look “cool”?

 

How green is a seattleite infographic?

How Green Is A Seattleite? – An infographic by the Green Team at How Green Is A Seattleite?

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Top 10 Ideas for Investing your Tax Refund in Home Upgrades – No Matter What Size your Refund Is

Home Improvement

Recently CNN Money reported* that the average tax refund this year is $3034, up 3% vs year ago. The last year we could find for Washington State specific data was 2011, at $2788**. Those are nice big refunds. So what can you do with it?

On most top 5 lists of “what to do with your tax refund”, you will find things like paying off debt, and fixing up your home. Updating your home is a great way to spend a tax refund. You get the enjoyment of living in an updated space and the investment benefit of increasing the value of your home.

Here are some ideas that can work for small, medium and large tax refunds, combining more comfortable living with greater home value:

 

Small refund- up to $500.

 

  1. Update your bathroom with new plumbing fixtures. A new modern faucet can transform the look of the sink or tub and create an up-to-date feel throughout the whole room. Add a water saving 1.6 gallon toilet and this mini-remodel will provide savings on your water bill (average is $200 / year vs older toilets). You’ll have more of that tax refund to spend on new towels and cushy bath mats.
  2. Freshen your inside air by having the heating system cleaned and serviced. Breathe easier with a duct cleaning, filter change and furnace maintenance. You improve the lifespan and productivity of your equipment and take all the dust and allergens out of your system.
  3. Up your safety with a water leak protection system. This affordable monitoring device will detect leaks and shut off your main water supply, potentially preserving your house and valuables. Tank water heaters of over 8 years old are prone to failing and leaking without notice. Dishwashers, washing machines and even water lines under the kitchen sink can fail as well. These leak protection systems are not just water alarms, and you’ll want to use a licensed plumbing or water heater contractor to install it.

 

Medium refund- $500 up to around $3000

 

  1. Tankless water heaters start at about $3000. Truly a case of affordable luxury meets improved resale value! Tankless water heaters fit natural gas or propane heated homes and provide 15% energy savings when water use remains constant. But more importantly you’ll get to fully fill that tub, or take a shower after the kids are done, without waiting for a tank to refill.
  2. Get cozier with insulation. Insulation will keep the house cool in summer and the heat in during winter. Not a sexy way to spend your refund but you’ll feel the difference in comfort.
  3. Give your house a facelift – with a new front door. From traditional to modern there are entry door looks to fit every style. Or maybe it’s a new patio door you’ve been thinking of. Doors have the #1 return on investment (along with siding) so you’ll be adding to the resale value of the home.
  4. Update your landscaping. Curb appeal works on more than just new buyers, it can lighten your mood when you come home to beautiful natural surroundings. Local landscape and yard service providers can ensure the job gets done right without you lifting a shovel. To make dollars stretch, buy new plants and materials yourself at the local nursery, and just hire the service providers for the literal, dirty work.

 

Large refund- $3000 and more

 

  1. Window replacement. . The technology that is used to manufacture windows continues to improve and 50 year old windows are not as quiet, insulating and energy saving as today’s models. You won’t be able to replace a whole house full of windows for $3000, but it will contribute significantly. Or if you have a mix of old and new windows, this is a great time to finish the project.
  2. Ensure your comfort year round with a whole house standby generator. You’ll only need it when the power goes out, but when it does, you’ll still be watching TV and your lights and appliances will still be on.
  3. Make your fun space a comfortable space. Heat and cool your garage, basement or addition with a ductless heat pump. It’s your bonus room but why not be comfortable year round, without the safety risk of plug in space heaters. Ductless heat pumps don’t require adding expensive duct runs in the walls and provide energy efficient heating and cooling. They can be a main heating source for a home, or supplemental for just those areas that aren’t in your heated space. Don’t worry if you don’t have gas to your garage, these run on electricity.

 

 

 

* CNNMoney.com 3/6/14

** Governing.com/gov-data, source IRS

5 Great Ways to Celebrate Earth Day in Seattle

Earth day comes once a year, and while can do something every day to improve the environment and live sustainable, this day is a great reminder to plan our contributions.

Here are five great ways to celebrate earth day in Seattle.

1. Schools are a great place to celebrate Earth Day.

All around the world schools are planning educational programs in sustainability for that day. In the US, EarthDay.org is sponsoring a green schools campaign improving the facilities, food, even the schoolyards themselves. The Earthday.org website is the official location for all things Earth Day. Educators can log in to get involved. They’ve tracked over a billion “acts of green” and you can get in the action locally.

green hands raising

2. Don’t be Idle-ing.

We’re not talking about vegging out on the couch watching TV, we mean idling your car. If you are going to be waiting more than a minute, turn it off. Contrary to the old urban legends, restarting the car does not burn more fuel than leaving it idling. In fact idling for 10 seconds wastes more gas than restarting the engine! And for every 10 minutes your engine is off, you will prevent one pound of carbon dioxide from being released. Every year, idling cars and trucks product over 130,000 tons of carbon dioxide. This green action is easy… kick the idling habit.

green car icon

3. Clean the air in your home, starting with the basement.

Even with the windows closed, air does flow through your house, coming from the unconditioned spaces, such as attic or basement, into your conditioned space where you live. This air can bring in contaminants such as molds, bacteria, and allergens, and also chemical compounds (VOC’s) from paint cans, weed killers, and other things stored there. While the true way to improve air quality is to air seal your home, one step in the right direction is getting rid of unused products to reduce those compounds. A nice Earth Day clean-up of the basement could include donating those extra cans of paint and chemicals, or store them in a detached garage, away from the main part of your house. (Always observe temperature storage instructions on products).

cap4

4. Watch the water.

Water is a precious resource and while we have had a lot of rain lately, we see how the rest of the Western US is suffering. A plumbing inspection (request now for $39) can pinpoint potential water leaks in your home, which avoids problems later, reduces your water bill and saves resources.

conserve water icon

5. Check out the SeattlePi online list of Seattle area earth day events to participate in or contact your local park.

Most of the larger parks have activities going on.

tree icon

Seeing the light; Top 8 questions about the light bulb changeover.

As of 2013 Manufacturers stopped making incandescent 75 and 100 watt light bulbs, and now as of January 1, 2014, they have stopped making 40 and 60 watt bulbs. Fortunately, your choices for safe, energy saving bulbs with attractive light output are increasing fast.

FREQUENTLY ASKED LIGHT BULB QUESTIONS

1. Which bulbs are discontinued?

40 watt, 60 watt, 75 and 100 watt incandescent bulbs plus the T12 and T8 flourescent tubes used in overhead lighting. The new generation of energy efficient LED, CFL, (HE) high efficiency incandescents and deluxe fluorescent bulbs will fit in your existing fixtures. While it might freak you out to pay up to $7.50 for a light bulb, the payback in energy savings and longevity makes up for that.

led bulb

2. What will I see in energy savings?

Studies say that changing out 15 standard bulbs for one of the more efficient options will save you $50 per year on your electric bill. * That could be $50 million for Seattle area residents**.

3. What are these new 40 or 60 watt incandescent bulbs at the store?

These are typically labeled HE, for high efficiency. The high efficiency incandescent has a filament that is insulated by a gas to reduce heat loss, but will retain the visual light you are familiar with from current bulbs. These new bulbs will save energy, can be used with a dimmer switch, and provide familiar color.

4. Is this ban of incandescent bulbs only in the US?

No. Governments around the world are supporting this initiative.  George W Bush signed the US bill into law in 2007.

5. Why legislate a change in light bulbs?

Huge Energy Savings. Traditional incandescent bulbs waste 90% of their energy producing heat instead of light. While that’s nice for your cat when it sleeps under a table lamp, it’s wasting energy. New bulbs use 28-85% less energy, and last up to 25 times longer. Here’s how the top ones stack up vs traditional incandescent bulbs. *

Type of Bulb Energy savings Lifespan vs old incandescent Approx. Cost
LED 80% less energy 25 times longer $7.50
CFL 75% 10x $4
Halogen 40% 3x $4
High efficiency incandescent 28% 3x $2

 

6. What about light bulbs that are used in grow lights for seedlings?

LED grow lights provide superior performance as they deliver more light output with less energy and heat production, and have a much longer useful life than current fluorescent or incandescent lamps. LEDs can be made in different colors to mimic the ranges of natural sunlight that drive maximum plant performance. These use standard bulb fittings, so they can probably fit into your existing grow light equipment. They come in a variety of wattages.

7. Should I use a CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) or an LED (light emitting diode), they both save energy, so what is the difference?

LED is our strong recommendation, and we suggest you turn down free CFL’s except for use as porch lights.

a. LED’s provide many benefits and prices are coming way down. They last longer than halogen or CFL bulbs, which is why they are used in headlights and TVs.
b.Importantly, LED’s do not have the toxic aspects of the CFL. The CFL bulb, while efficient, contains toxic mercury and disperses unsafe amounts of UV light. You cannot throw away a CFL bulb in your regular trash. Studies by reputable universities have determined that it is harmful to sit under a CFL bulb for extended time as the UV radiation can be detrimental.
c. The quality of light from either LEDs or Halogen bulbs is better than most CFLs. The CFL’s take time to warm up and share their light, plus most types cannot be used in a dimmer. The light that comes from these bulbs is not the same color as your current conventional bulb. It’s harsh… like turn on the lights in a bar at closing time harsh.

8. Are all incandescent bulbs going away?

The regular sizes mentioned are when retailer inventories are depleted, but specialty sizes such as appliance bulbs (for inside of your range hood or refrigerator), decorative fixture bulbs, 3 way bulbs, and other specialty bulbs will still be made.

 

Washington Energy Services has provided tailored energy saving solutions for Puget Sound area homes since 1957. For the best in energy saving products and services, call 800-398-4663 or click for more information.

 

* Reference: EnergyStar, Lighting choices to save you money, 2013.

** Based on an estimate of 1 million homes and apartments in Seattle and surrounding area.

 

 

Words of Wisdom from your Heat Pump

(courtesy of our Service Manager who has thumbs and can pen this)

Hello, heat pump here; did you enjoy your winter?

I have been working hard all winter, taking heat energy from outside and bringing it into your house. By the way, I have been delivering heat in the most efficient way for the PNW, saving you money on your utility bills.  To do that, I have been enduring wind, rain, sleet and even a little snow and whoa, what’s that bird leaving behind there!

I’m looking forward to providing you some air conditioning this summer too.  But to ensure that we get the winter wear behind us and are cool to cool, how about having a certified service technician come out and give me a tune-up.  Without it, I can lose up to 5% of efficiency per year and that costs more than the tune – up in the long run.

Here’s what the tech would do:

  • Remove dust, dirt and debris.
  • Test all operative parts in a 37 point diagnostic.
  • Go over my health with you.

It takes about an hour or so for a technician to tune me up.  They go through a 37 point diagnostic testing everything from the coil to the reversing valve to make sure everything is in tip top shape.  They will give you a detailed report on how I have been running and any issues that may reduce my useful life or lead to part failures.  It’s cheaper to maintain or repair than replace me.  If you could be so kind to give me a tune-up I promise to keep delivering the comfort, efficiency and reliability that you invested in!

Best,

Your Heat Pump

PS: My sister the Air Conditioner says, “me too”.

technician servicing heat pump