All posts by Washington Energy

About Washington Energy

Washington Energy Services has provided home comfort solutions to Puget Sound homeowners since 1957.

Solar Power Adoption in Seattle

According to the group Solar Power Rocks which documents adoption of solar across the country, Washington State falls in the middle of the pack with a C grade. We’re only 26th in the nation in solar capacity. With our love of green living, and with local solar system producers right in our backyard, we could be at the forefront. What’s holding us back?

Solar Panels on House

Is it the weather? Nope, Seattle gets as much, if not more sun than Germany, the world leader in solar implementation. Even with our grey days, we get enough sun to effectively run solar systems.

Is it the availability of solar systems? We have plenty of imported and local system choices. Washington State is home to 35 manufacturers of solar systems and components. It’s a growing industry employing 2,400 people as of 2014.

Electric Meter

Is it the incentives? Washington State provides ample incentives including:

  • Net metering which allows you to give power back and take it off your bill. There are limits and requirements from each utility, but the idea is that you get credited for the power you produce at retail price, and your electric bill is only the difference (if any) between what you generated and what you used.
  • In-State Production incentives: In addition to net metering, you can earn a bonus payment starting at $0.15kwh up to $0.54/kWh (max $5000 per year), for use of made-in-Washington parts and systems. While China produces a large number of the solar systems available, Washington State wants to encourage us to use our local producers. By using solar modules and inverters that are made in state, you can collect these incentives. The local utilities may call these by different names and implement them on your bill slightly differently. For example, PSE calls the production incentive REAP (renewable energy advantage program). These incentives are set to expire in 2020. Some local community utilities have their own incentives as well.
  • One time benefits: From now until June 2018, when you install a solar electric or hot water system you can get a sales tax credit which varies with the size of the system. Smaller systems may get a 100% rebate on sales tax and larger systems can qualify for 75% tax rebate. Plus the federal energy tax credit gives you a tax credit for 30% of the system cost when you install before the end of 2016.

The number one reason that Seattle-ites haven’t jumped on the solar bandwagon is because the cost of electricity in our state is so low that the payback could take a decade or more.

Power Cost Comparison Chart

Source: SolarPowerRocks.com

According to Seattle City Light, “If we divide the initial cost of a system by the total electricity produced over 30-years, the cost of solar electricity (without incentives) is about 3 times what City Light residential customers now pay for electricity. With net metering and new federal and state incentives the economics of solar become more favorable”.

If you consider the benefits of net metering and plan to stay in your house, this investment may be a good one. As SCL points out, this should be looked at as “a long term investment for you and the environment.”

While many families have been reluctant to make the $15,000 to $25,000 investment in a solar system for their home, there are energy saving benefits from less expensive alternatives that could reduce your energy consumption. The Department of Energy’s recommendation for energy saving in older homes is to start with a home energy audit and ensure you have air sealing and insulating to code. These steps alone can reduce energy costs substantially.

Washington Energy is committed to enhancing the lives of our Puget Sound neighbors through energy saving solutions and helpful information. While we do not provide solar systems, we have many alternatives to make your home comfortable and energy efficient. For home energy audits, insulation, and more, contact us.

Avoiding the Home Buyer’s Blues

Homeowner with the Blues

Recent home buyers, you are not alone if you are singing the home buyer’s blues. In a 2015 survey conducted by Washington Energy Services among Western Washington homeowners*, a whopping 52% shared that their newly purchased home came with at least one issue that surprised them, and was not disclosed in the inspection or by the seller.

The major problems tended to be in the exterior (roof, siding, paint, windows), and plumbing. Many experienced mold or insect issues, heating and cooling systems that didn’t perform, and appliances that would not run. They discovered rooms with no heat, wiring problems, basements that flooded with the first rain and bad smells. There were also complaints about poor new home construction including squeaky floors and low quality materials.

In this day and age, the majority of home buyers are obtaining home inspections prior to purchase and making the sale contingent upon the outcome. So how could these home problems have been missed?

What’s in a Home Purchase Inspection?

Whether a professional performs it, or you do it yourself with a checklist, a home inspection typically includes:

  • Check appliances, heating and cooling system, plumbing fixtures and electrical outlets to see if they work.
  • Visual inspection of the home exterior, structure, pipes and electrical, noting the condition and type of materials and obvious signs of damage or water intrusion.

The inspector runs all the faucets and flushes the toilets. He or she tests the plugs in the bathroom to see if they are GFI plugs. They go up on the roof and down in the crawlspace. They determine if the dishwasher functions, but not how well it cleans. An inspector will identify damage and note it in a report.

This is a visual inspection so it does not usually include testing of equipment beyond establishing that it turns on. It does not include insect, mold or radon inspection, air quality measurement, alarm systems, fireplace masonry, energy cost evaluation, code compliance or identification of sewer or plumbing issues beyond visible leaks or clogged drains.

Home Inspector

Home inspector qualifications and background matter

Many people say that if you use an inspector suggested by the realtor, they will be in cahoots to promote the sale. That conflict of interest is hard to determine, but checking the background and experience of an inspector is easy, and a good idea. In Washington State, inspectors are licensed, and unless they were in business before 2009, they have to pass a licensing exam with both a written and field test. Washington is one of only a few states to require this higher level of licensing.

Other Helpful Inspections

If you are buying an older home and want to increase your knowledge before you buy, you might want to add some of the following additional inspections to your buying process. These are each less than $300 and could save you much more in surprise repairs.

A plumbing inspection done by a licensed plumber can augment your home inspector’s report, especially if you request toilet leak testing and a camera inspection of your sewer line. Toilets are often a source of water loss and expensive water bills for the home, and an easy test can pinpoint if they need repair. The sewer line is the most expensive part of the plumbing to fix. It may clog and backup into your house, or unseen from above, be crushed by tree roots in the yard. A camera inspection allows you and the plumber to see just what is going on, and gives you an opportunity to ask the seller to take action.

Heating and cooling systems, water heaters and gas fireplaces can be inspected by a licensed HVAC professional in a diagnostic service. If the owner has had a recent maintenance service, you can request a record of that service and see if any issues were found.

Another type of inspection to enhance your knowledge as a home buyer would be a home energy audit. A home energy audit is a comprehensive series of tests which look at the house as a whole system including heating, cooling, ventilation, indoor air quality, insulation, gas combustion safety, damage from water intrusion, and energy use. While the audit is most often used by people preparing to make energy efficient upgrades, it could be a great benefit, especially to home owners buying an older home.

Washington Energy provides plumbing inspections, HVAC diagnostic services and home energy audits with their licensed and highly skilled technicians. Contact us for more information or to find out more about the NW Energy survey.

* 2015 NW Energy Survey, conducted among 1065 Western Washington adult homeowners.

Air Conditioning History and Timeline

Ever since the discovery of fire, heating has played an essential role in the design of human living spaces. But it’s a little different with air conditioning.

Nowadays we have a hard time imagining the sweltering hot temperature of some locales without the luxury of a cool breeze from the central air conditioner blowing in our face. But in fact, people lived for centuries without cooling appliances.

When did the need for cool air indoors arise, and where does the invention of air conditioning units fall in history?

Early Air Conditioning Unit

Early use

Though they had nothing like modern-day air conditioning, human beings used little tricks to cool themselves since ancient times. Though dates aren’t known for some of the early methods of cooling air, there’s evidence of the use of air conditioning science that dates back millennia.

Ancient Egypt: Some evidence suggests that ancient Egyptians understood the power of evaporation for cooling purposes. They were one of the first people to use a rudimentary form of air conditioning by hanging wet cloths in doorways to create an evaporation cooling effect. When the wind blew past such hangings, it produced a fresher breeze.

Ancient China: Air cooling can be traced back as early as 180 AD in China, and the time of Ding Huan. Huan invented a hand-cranked rotary fan that produced a breeze.

Ancient Rome: This Mediterranean empire created many ingenious inventions that made life easier: the aqueduct was one of the most famous. Aqueducts were used to pump water to various parts of the city, and even to individual homes. There is evidence of aqueducts that were routed inside the walls of wealthy Roman homes to circulate water and cool the air.

1758: Benjamin Franklin and his colleague John Hadley, professor at Cambridge University, gave a presentation on their investigation of the effects of evaporative cooling. They stated that evaporating inconstant liquids (such as alcohol)on the surface of water can cool an object to freezing.

1820: English inventor Michael Faraday successfully performed a similar experiment using ammonia, which was the volatile liquid used in the first modern air conditioning unit.

1830s: Dr. John Gorrie, an American physician, began work on the first mechanical cooling apparatus ever recorded. It blew air through a cloth doused in ice-cold water. Though large and bulky, and requiring an unearthly amount of ice water to work, it had the power to cool a room by as much as 20 degrees.

1851: Dr. Gorrie patented his ice-cooling invention, which by this time was used specifically in hospital rooms.  It was revolutionary in creating a healthier environment for treating yellow fever and other ailments.

 

Modern air conditioner

The first modern air conditioners arrived at the turn of the 20th century, and involved several rudimentary models. Thanks to innovations that came with the industrial revolution, we can enjoy cooling effects that dramatically improve our quality of life.

1902: Willis Carrier invented the first air conditioner reminiscent of today’s models. This discovery was driven the need for cooling in certain manufacturing processes. Working with the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Co., who needed an efficient way to cool paper during printing, Carrier invented a machine that blew air over cold coils to produce the cooling effect. The machine de-humidified and cooled the air so paper would stay smooth and the ink fresh. This machine had the ability to cool air significantly and lower humidity levels by nearly 55 percent.

1911: Carrier presented his Rational Psychometric Formulae, which is the fundamental science used behind air conditioning technology today.

1914: The first in-home air conditioning machine (made by Carrier) is installed in a Minneapolis mansion. It was seven feet high and 20 feet wide. Up to this point, air conditioning had only been used in hospital or manufacturing settings.

1915: Carrier joined a group of engineers from the Buffalo Forge Company to establish the Carrier Air Conditioning Company of America, which created air conditioning units for other manufacturers.

1920: Carrier and his engineers discovered a replacement for toxic ammonia in their cooling system: the much safer coolant dyeline. They also made the units significantly smaller so they could be placed in department stores, office buildings, and railroad cars.

1930: The White House and several executive office buildings were equipped with air conditioning.

1931: H.H. Schultz and J.Q. Sherman invented the first window unit air conditioner at an extremely steep cost.

1950s: Air conditioners became extremely popular in suburban homes during the middle of the century, and records show there were roughly 74,000 air conditioners installed during this time.

1953: The popularity of air conditioners had risen so much there were more than a million requests for air conditioning, and the supply could not equal the demand.

1957: Quieter air conditioning units were produced, thanks to the invention of the rotary compressor, which created the same effect with greater efficiency.

1970s: Central air conditioning was implemented in most commercial buildings in large cities, and many air conditioning companies popped up to help meet the demand.

1990s: Energy used for air conditioning doubled over the span of 10 years, which made it necessary to produce more energy-efficient units in response to modern environmental laws.

2007: The percentage of US homes with air conditioning reaches 86 percent.

2010: The percentage of homes with air conditioning in the Puget Sound area was estimated at only 14%.

2015: Today, in excess of 100 million US homes have air conditioning, and that number is growing all the time. Carrier and their top quality Bryant brand, remains the top seller of air conditioning systems.

 

The future of air conditioning

Future of Air Conditioning - couple with salesperson

Improvements continue to be made in air conditioning systems, with a bright future ahead that promises even more efficient cooling. As the EPA continues to improve its energy efficiency standards, so do air conditioning companies who wish to comply and save consumer as much money as possible.

One innovation that’s slated to arrive in the near future is the magnetic air conditioner, which works with the magneto caloric effect. Magnetic materials heat up when exposed to a magnetic field and cool down to extremely cool temperatures when the magnetic field is removed.

This new air conditioner is meant to be more environmentally friendly than traditional air conditioners, as well as more energy efficient. Prototypes are currently being tested, and are not yet available for mass marketing.

Until the time when newer products come out, you can enjoy the top-of-the-line products we sell here at Washington Energy Services. Browse our collection of Bryant heating and air conditioning units and maintenance services, and contact us with any questions.

2015 Top Home Trends for a Green Makeover

Planning a summer upgrade to make your home more beautiful and comfortable? You don’t have to give up on saving the planet. Going eco-friendly on home projects is easier than it used to be, as more manufacturers have responded to the demand for healthier, safer products. Here are some great ways to up your “green” when doing a home makeover.

Painted Bright Bold Room

Bright Bold Rooms

One of this year’s top home trends is to add a blast of color. But can stinky paint really be environmentally friendly? The smell of fresh paint in a renovated home or apartment can bring back memories… of headaches. Traditional interior house paints give off strong airborne chemicals not only while you are doing the painting, but for years afterwards. These are called volatile organic compounds or VOC’s. They are known to cause headaches, dizziness and other illnesses, and contribute to indoor air pollution.

Over the past few years, major paint brands such as Sherwin Williams and Benjamin Moore have developed lines of “no” or “low” VOC paints. These are water based paints with less than half of the VOC’s of regular paint (0-200 grams vs regular paint at approx. 400). Benjamin Moore’s Natura® paint line claims zero VOCs which would make it the greenest paint. To learn more about VOC’s and find safer paints, go to the handy Greenguard Certification site. GreenGuard helps consumers to “identify interior products and materials that have low chemical emissions, improving the quality of the air”. It is a division of UL (Underwriters Laboratories), the non-profit who tests and certifies US appliances and equipment for safety.

 

Insulate With Plants

Adding insulation to save energy is great for conservation as it is, but that benefit increases when using cellulose insulation. Cellulose is the most eco-friendly insulation because it is made of up to 85% recycled paper.

Instead of harmful chemical fire retardants and insecticides, it is typically treated with borate, a natural compound (from boron), that does the job. Boron is safe and is an essential micronutrient used by plants to enable them to grow and flower. Borates are now commonly used in wood building materials, including decks, siding, furniture, and in this insulation. As an additional eco-benefit, cellulose insulation is “blown in”, literally hose fed into your space, so there is no waste created in the install process.

Insulation being blown in through a hose

 

Lighting Inspired by Nature

Decorative fixtures can transform the look of your home. Many designers and lighting retailers highlight natural styles and functional art derived from the world around us. These styles from nature use wood, shells, mica, rattan or wicker, and glass. They are both beautiful and promote the use of renewable materials.

Rattan Lamp for natural lighting

Whether its wall sconces, chandeliers, recessed spot lights or lamps, energy saving can also come from the bulbs you choose. All of today’s bulb choices are more energy efficient than the old incandescent bulb. LEDs are the most efficient at 75% energy savings and also the longest lasting, lighting your way for 25 years. LED light is a different color, and can seem brighter and cooler than the old 60, 75 or 100 watt bulb. Manufacturers now put helpful labels on them such as “equivalent to a 75 watt bulb” but that only refers to wattage, not light color. If you prefer the traditional warmer light of incandescent bulbs, try eco-incandescent light bulbs. These have 28% energy savings vs old incandescent bulbs, but have the same color, sizes and price point.

 

Recycled or Renewable Doors

Recycled Fiberglass Door

According to Remodeling Magazine’s 2015 study, replacing your entry door is the number one home upgrade to increase resale value . There are several eco-friendly replacement door options, starting with Fiberglass doors. Fiberglass is made of a combination of vinyl, which is a plastic, and silica from sand, which is natural. This makes for a partially green but really strong, long lasting door. One that is ready for our Northwest weather.

Wood is a beautiful, renewable door material but wood doors are not always 100% green. ‘Solid–core’ doors have a fiber composite or non-wood core inside of a wood veneer exterior. This makes the door less prone to warping, but the tradeoff is that the core materials may include chemical adhesives or plastics. ‘Solid-wood’ doors are typically made up of wood panels that are glued together. Recently, zero VOC and formaldehyde free glues, plus water-based insect and rot treatments have become available, increasing the benefit from choosing wood. Rogue Valley wood doors are made from sustainably managed forests, adding an additional layer of environmental conscientiousness.

Looking for a DIY project? Vintage wood doors can be beautifully refinished. Used wood doors with classic hardware can be found at local Seattle resale retailers such as Second Use Building Materials, Earthwise Salvage, Ballard Reuse, and at Re-Store, which is now located in Bellingham.

Washington Energy offers energy saving products and services including insulation and doors. Contact us to learn more.

Love it, Leave it or Fix it

Whether you love it or hate it – one thing is certain, home improvements and repairs come with the territory. Homeowners in Western Washington revealed what made their lists in 2015 in our Northwest Energy Survey.

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10 Signs You Need New Siding

House with new siding

Unless there’s an obvious gaping hole, most homeowners don’t make it a priority to replace their siding. Unfortunately, that might be a mistake. Siding doesn’t last forever, and when it starts to get old and crack, it can lead to costly repairs. Though you probably don’t want to tackle this time consuming and costly renovation, the safety, energy efficiency, and value of your home depends on it. Here are some of the most common signs that your house needs new siding.

 

  1. Frequent Need of Paint

How long has it been since you last painted your home? If it’s been less than five years, and you are seeing damage, there’s a good chance your siding needs to be replaced. A home with good siding can keep its paint for ten years or more, but damaged siding can cause the paint to chip, peel, and crack prematurely.

Cracked and peeling siding

  1. Warping

If you walk around your house and notice that your siding is warped in certain places, your siding isn’t doing its job properly. Warped siding can indicate a small problem on the surface of your siding, or a widespread problem affecting the structure of your home.

Inspecting your siding for damage is a fairly simple task. For wood siding, bring along a sharp object such as a screwdriver. In areas where the warping is most prominent, poke your screwdriver under the siding cover and prod the boards to see how solid they are. If the siding is soft, it’s most likely a sign of decay.

 

  1. High Utility Bills

Even if you have made energy efficient improvements and feel comfortable in your home, it’s best to look at your utility bills from the last few years. If there is a significant or unexplainable increase in your heating and cooling costs over that time period, one factor could be the siding. Damaged siding and poor quality insulation can allow air to leak in from the outside, causing your heat or air conditioning to run more than usual. Replacing your siding can not only improve the structure of your home, but also get your utility bills back to a more reasonable rate.

 

  1. Mold

Any signs of mold, fungus, or mildew on your home’s exterior are sure signs of damaged siding. Mold indicates water infiltration, which will cause problems for both the exterior and interior of your home, including illness and structural damage.

Bubbled siding due to mold

  1. Dry Rot

Dry rot is a very serious problem that isn’t always easy to detect. Dry rot is a slow process that eats your siding’s body while leaving the top layer intact. The boards and structure of your siding may be crumbling away without you knowing it.

It’s always a good idea to check your siding for dry rot at least once a year by performing a simple test. Using the handle of a screwdriver or hammer, tap the siding’s surface to test for weakness and damage. Any part of your siding suffering from dry rot will need to be replaced immediately before it spreads.

 

  1. Starkly Faded Color

Today’s high performance siding holds color better than ever. On older vinyl siding, faded color is generally a sign of old age. If you notice fading color on your home’s siding, it’s a good indicator that it’s time to take a closer look for any siding damage that could lead to more serious problems.

If you have a type of siding called LP Inner Seal (by Louisiana Pacific), you may already be aware that this particular wood siding product is known to discolor and disintegrate prematurely.

Rot and mold in siding

  1. Bubbled Siding

Bubbles just under the surface of your siding are almost always an indication that water is or was trapped underneath. Siding’s main purpose is to keep water away from the walls to prevent internal rotting and mold problems. If there’s bubbling, this may also be evidence of mold or rotting, both of which should be addressed immediately.

 

  1. Interior Wall Problems

Another good indicator that your siding isn’t doing its job properly is the state of your interior walls. If there is a place on your walls where wallpaper or paint is constantly peeling off, there’s a good chance it’s due to water infiltration through damaged siding. This can be common around windows if the siding-window barrier isn’t caulked properly and often. If not addressed, this can start the wood to rot under your siding.

 

  1. Nature Damage

Nature can do quite a number on your home’s siding, and if you live in an area prone to frequent rain, high winds, hail, snow, or other storms, the chance of your siding wearing out quickly increases. Anytime your area experiences harsh weather conditions, inspect your siding for damage.

The same goes for areas full of wildlife. Woodpeckers, squirrels, rodents, and insects can all cause serious damage to your home’s siding. Frequent inspections will help you find any problem before it spreads, which will save you big on costly repairs.

 

  1. Loose or Cracked Siding

Poor installation, high winds, and other natural elements can cause your siding to crack or loosen over time. Loose and cracked siding cannot properly protect a home’s structure from damage, and should be addressed promptly.

 

Best Siding Options

Best siding

For optimized energy efficiency, increased home value, and improved appearance, we recommend these popular siding options:

Insulated Composite Siding: Composite or vinyl siding is very durable and comes in attractive styles that give your home the look of cedar without the maintenance. The best of these are insulated to provide additional energy savings and efficiency for the entire home. It reduces noise and saves you energy because of its insulated high R-value of 4.0, which is four times as efficient as traditional wood siding that has an R-value of 1.0. Today’s composite siding resists fading and has extensive warranties.

Fiber Cement Siding: This siding is one of the most popular types of siding to date, and James Hardie is the leader in fiber cement with over 5 million homes under its protective wing. It comes in any color you like and a variety of styles to meet any taste. Fiber cement siding is an excellent option simply because it won’t rot, crack, or warp, plus it is fire resistant.

If you’re in need of new siding, look no further than Washington Energy Services. We pride ourselves in delivering the best possible composite and fiber cement siding products to improve your home’s value and energy efficiency. For more information about the siding options we offer, contact us.