All posts by Washington Energy

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.

FINAL RGB Infographic ll-730 px_72 dpi

 

 

Share this Image On Your Site

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.

Why Utility Companies Provide Rebates

Why are there Utility Rebates?

Seattle City Light recently had a mail in offer for a free LED light bulb. It arrived in an attractive recyclable package with information about why this one bulb makes a difference. As they put it “conserving electricity is the most cost-effective way to meet our future energy needs”. In fact, utilities routinely offer their customers substantial rebates to encourage installation of a variety of energy saving equipment and measures for just that reason.

Outlet in blog post about utility rebates

Why Incent Conservation?

In our capitalist economy it might seem counterintuitive for a business to ask customers to use less. Doesn’t that mean less profit for the utilities? No, that won’t happen. As the population of Washington State grows, there will be more and more demand, especially for electricity. If they can keep up with that demand using their existing infrastructure, it keeps our rates low and they make more money in the process. Rebates cost a lot less than building new power plants and that’s a win/win.

A second reason that conservation is incented in our area is that our state has a law requiring utilities to conserve, (The Clean Energy Initiative). Without getting into the complexities, the law requires utilities to hit conservation targets and invest in renewable energy or face penalties.

Power Lines and Energy Conservation

How to Take Advantage of Energy Efficiency Rebates

In Western Washington, all of our major utilities offer home energy efficiency rebates of some kind. This includes all of the local electric companies, plus Puget Sound Energy and Cascade Natural Gas. You can see a list of current rebates across the region on our site. Rebates cover energy saving upgrades such as high efficiency heating and window replacement, insulation and air sealing, toilets, water heaters, home energy audits, plus geothermal and solar energy. The value of the rebates can be $10 to $1800 for appliances and much more for solar panels. Every year the rebates change as they continue to calculate the savings gained from each measure and reassess what they can afford to offer to incent those savings.

Here’s how most Washington State utility rebates work:

  1. The utility defines the qualifications under which they will offer rebates or grants. For example, the rebate for a ductless heat pump might be only on units placed in a main living area (Tacoma Power), or on a 95% efficient furnace (PSE).
  1. Each utility accepts qualified contractors into their program, who they verify are licensed for their trade. (In some cases they allow DIY projects to qualify).
  1. They train the contractors how to work with their specific program, including paperwork requirements, inspections, quality standards etc. Typically contractors who are qualified by the utility can take the rebate right off the invoice, so you are not paying and then getting a check later.
  1. Where required, the customer may be asked to fill out an application in advance of the project. For example: if you are a Seattle City Light customer and would like a ductless heat pump, there is an application to file first to determine that you qualify.

There may be a few hoops to jump through to get the larger incentives, including applications, pre-inspections, in-progress inspections, and post inspections, depending on the utility or the project. It is, however, free money, and your contractor can walk you through any requirements.

Washington Energy Services is a qualified contractor for all major Western Washington utility rebate programs and can help you save on energy efficient upgrades. For more information, contact us today.

Do You Really Need Air Conditioning in Seattle?

When you think of Seattle, you probably picture mild temperatures and overcast skies, which is the average weather forecast for most of the year. But when the summer heat reaches the high 80s and 90s, you’ll have been so used to the mild temperatures, that you might feel as if you’re baking in the sun, even indoors.

Air conditioning — more specifically central air conditioning — may not seem like a necessity, but recent summers in Seattle have changed many new residents’ minds.

Benefits of Air Conditioning

Air conditioning in Seattle offers a variety of benefits, whether they’re obvious and on the surface or not. If you’re wondering how central air conditioning can keep you comfy and save money in the summer, here’s the scoop.

  • Combats the hot days: Though most temperatures in Seattle are acceptably average, you can expect a minimum of 30 days during which temperatures will reach above 80 degrees. There were 45 days above 80 last year! Just a few years ago, Seattle saw a record temperature of 104 degrees, and there have been plenty of long, dry,hot streaks since then. A central air conditioning system in your home means you have the power to adjust the temperature to a consistent temperature when the heat gets unbearable.
  •  

  • Creates options: Installing air conditioning into your central air system is one of the smartest things you can do for comfort and efficiency, because it gives you the option of cooling automatically when you need it. Having air conditioning or a heat pump,as part of your central air system doesn’t mean you have to use it, but it’s there in case the temperature gets too much to handle.
  •  

  • Central air over single unit: Besides providing you with even and consistent cooling, a central air conditioning system will ensure many more benefits over a single room A/C. If you have a studio apartment, a single air conditioning unit should be sufficient for your needs, but if your home is bigger, central air is a great choice. Today’s central air conditioners are far more energy efficient than having 3 or 4 separate room air conditioners and without the noise and blasting of air. Central air disperses cool air into each room equally, so you’ll be running the air conditioning system for a shorter amount of time before the whole house is cool. In addition, central air conditioners last 10-15 years with maintenance, which is longer than most single room A/C’s.
  •  

  • Added security: On days when your option is run the air conditioning or suffer in boiling heat, a cooling system provides you with added safety. You don’t want to leave your windows open and risk a burglary, especially in the Seattle area, and an air conditioning system will allow you to keep them closed while you stay cool at the same time.
  •  

  • Improves allergies: Along with a security risk, opening your windows also invites dust, pollen, and other allergens into your home, which can make you and your family sick. Central air reduces the need to open the windows, and filters the air, which lowers the risk of allergy attacks during the warmer months.
  •  

  • Adds value to your property: If it ever comes to selling your home, you hope it will be as appealing as possible. One of the ways to ensure this is to add a central cooling system, which is especially attractive to home buyers in the Seattle area. You will be able to raise your asking price and invite more potential buyers to your door.

 

How to choose your cooling system

Once you’ve established a clear desire for air conditioning in your home, you’ve got to decide which option will be the best for your specific circumstances. There are several things to consider when you’re trying to decide on the best cooling system for your home.

Here are a few of the most important.

  • Your home: Consider the type of home you live in. If it’s a condo, you’ll need HOA approval to make changes to your central air. Often these buildings have electric resistance heat and so the approval may be for ductless heat pumps. Seattle is also famous for old Craftsman or pre-war homes, which can present a considerable challenge for most central air installers. We at Washington Energy Services can help you install heat pumps or central air conditioners that will work with just about any home, however, no matter what its age is. Both heat pumps and air conditioners provide cooling and are good choices for our area.
     
    If you have a larger home with multiple levels you might need to evaluate getting two smaller central air conditioners vs. one big one. Though the initial cost of a single unit is cheaper, it can cost you more in utility bills, since it will have to work extra hard to cool every room in your house. Having two smaller units can also provide greater cooling control.
  •  

  • Proximity: Your home’s proximity to other structures may play a role in the type of central air options you have. If that’s the case, your contractor will help you choose a central air system that meets the sound and noise ordinances of your area, and fits in the space you have. Most cities around the Puget Sound have noise ordinances.
  •  

  • Power resources: Verify your access to electrical resources. Many older homes have limited ability to add major appliances at the level of a central air conditioner. If that’s the case with your residence, a ductless heat pump may be the right fit for you, since it requires less electrical service, or for a central air unit, new electrical service can often be added. Your AC installer will know what to look for.

 

How to maintain energy efficiency

One of your biggest concerns with regard to central air is probably your ability to maintain energy efficiency. You don’t want to see your utility bill jump hundreds of dollars each month because of your new central air system. The good news is that today’s modern air conditioners are much more energy efficient than even 10 years ago. In addition, you can take other steps to improve your energy efficiency.

  • Set your thermostat:
    Thermostat set to 78 degrees
    For optimal efficiency, reset your thermostat at 78 degrees instead of 72. Although that may seem a little warm for Seattle, it will ensure your air conditioning doesn’t turn on until it’s absolutely necessary, and it will save you plenty.
  •  

  • Start early:
    Run air conditioner early in the day
    You might think it’s counter intuitive to run your air conditioning all day even if you are not home, but this is a great way to save energy. It allows the A/C to keep the house cool and run at lower speed (using less power), vs. starting up at full blast when you get home during the heat of the day.
  •  

  • Improved lighting: While you’re redoing your central air, think about also improving your light fixtures for more energy-efficient processing. Shop for LED bulbs which can last for up to 25 years and save dramatically on energy vs incandescent bulbs.
  •  

  • Keep the oven off: Do your best to keep the heat down in your house by keeping your oven off during the day. As much as possible, do your baking and cooking at night, and use a microwave, toaster, or outdoor grill for daytime cooking.
  •  

  • Weather-proof your home:
    Weather-proof your home
    Keep the hot air out of your house through sound weatherproofing. Close your blinds during the day to keep the beating sun out, and open them at night to allow cool air to seep in. Also, have your caulking and insulation inspected to ensure that no air is leaking into your home around your windows.

Most residents agree that air conditioning is worth the start-up cost in Seattle. It will help you and your family to remain secure and cool during the hot summer days.

Use the foregoing tips to help you keep your utility bill low while improving your quality of life. If you think you might like central air installed in your home before the hot weather arrives, contact us today for a quote or to get any of your questions answered.


PREPARE FOR THE HEAT
– STAY COOL –

10% OFF SALE


AIR CONDITIONERS, HEAT PUMPS, FURNACES AND DUCTLESS HEAT PUMPS

Includes Installation

AC Heat Pumps Furnaces

5 Ways to Get the Most out of your Tax Refund

By now most Americans have filed their taxes and are dreaming about where to spend their refund. Over 40% of us get a tax refund with an average of $3000(1). While many will use their refund to pay down debt, funding home improvement projects and investing in home upgrades is popular again now that housing prices are on the rise.

Assuming that you are receiving the average tax refund, here are 5 ways to maximize its impact when improving your home.

Money from Tax Refund

The Best Home Improvements for your Tax Refund Buck

    1. Take care of the essentials: Home appliances that use water, such as water heaters, dishwashers and laundry machines have a lifespan of 8-15 years. If they fail while in use, (and like toast falling butter side down they will), the flooding can cause a significant loss, insurance claims and aggravation. Proactively replacing old equipment can save money in the long run, and $3000 will provide for lots of options. You can upgrade your water heater to a tankless water heater and enjoy never ending hot water, or stay with a standard tank and have funds left over for other appliance upgrades.

 

    1. Get a home energy audit: A home energy audit is a smart way to identify how to spend the least to get the most in energy savings. Using technology to analyze energy use, air leakage and other problems with the home, the auditor can project your return on investment for upgrade projects and help you to prioritize. Energystar.gov (EPA) recommends hiring a professional auditor when you want to get specific recommendations for improving the efficiency of your home. The cost of a full audit is about $300.

      How do you know you’ll really get the energy savings modeled by the home energy audit?  Ask the auditor for a retest of the house after upgrades are completed. He or she can see if the new upgrades will provide the energy savings projected. In the Western Washington area, Washington Energy Services is among the companies that offer this service.
      Air leak with cat

 

    1. Stretch the refund with a rebate: Focusing on home energy upgrades that qualify for utility rebates can stretch that tax refund. In the Puget Sound area, utility rebates range from $10 to $1800. There are rebates for water conserving toilets and shower heads, laundry equipment, as well as heating equipment, windows, and insulation. All of the Washington State electric and gas utilities offer rebates, although many require use of their registered contractors to install the products. This is actually a good thing, since those contractors are well qualified, trained and vetted by the utility. You can expect utility registered contractors to guarantee their work and to do a great job.

 

    1. Up that curb appeal: When realtors report on the home improvement upgrades that add to house value, top of the list for return on investment is replacing the entry doors. The cost to have a beautiful new front door professionally installed starts at around $1800-2200, but doing so can provide 100% return on investment or more. The doors themselves can often be purchased for less at a DIY store, however fitting them with matching jambs and creating a problem free, tight installation can be challenging, even for a handy homeowner.Twin Lite Door Replacement

 

  1. Make your fun space a comfy space: A hobby room, workout space, garage or basement will give you more joy if you are comfortable using it. The furniture, colors, light and even air flow in your workspace can make a difference. Adding a single window for natural light is uplifting and typically less than $1000. If you find that you are too hot or too cold and it’s turning you away from using the space, a ductless heat pump can increase year round comfort. Ductless heat pumps provide energy efficient heating and cooling, and they run on electricity. Perfect for bonus rooms, basements and other rooms where duct work wasn’t run when the house was built.

Big or small, there are plenty of home upgrade ideas to suit every tax refund level. For more information on these and other energy saving ideas, contact us today.

Sources:
(1) Kiplinger finance 2013
Links
EPA.gov
Remodeling.hw.net – cost vs value 2015 report
WashingtonEnergy.com

10 Easy Steps You Can Take Towards Water Conservation

In California a four year drought has led to severe water restriction legislation and a tough time for farmers. According to scientists, it started to become drier across the west coast after the last strong El Nino, which was 17 years ago(1). This dry spell affects a wider area than just the southwest.

In Washington State, the snow pack has declined to 24 percent of normal this year. Governor Inslee has declared a state of drought emergency in 44% of the state. While the major municipalities of our state are not reporting problems with water supply, the areas in red below are part of the drought emergency and may be affected.

Washington State Drought Map 2015

 

With significant fires on the Eastern side of the Cascades and now drought declared in parts of Western Washington, it’s time to adopt new habits. Here are ten of the easiest ways to reduce your water use.

Not Your Grandmother’s Low Flow Shower Head

We recently asked Seattle residents about their water conservation habits, and 65% say they use low flow toilets or shower heads. If those just aren’t on your list, there are many other water saving techniques which can add up over time. Some good habits are:

  1. Limit the run time of the kitchen faucet. When you can soak, you save water.
  2. Have your plumber install an ‘Insta-hot’ instant water heater under your most used sink so you don’t have to run water to heat it up.

Dirty plates in the sink

  1. Despite what your mom said, rinsing dishes before putting them in the dishwasher is no longer necessary. Just scrape off food and newer model dishwashers will do the rest, plus use less water than you will in rinsing. Wait a day and run the dishwasher when it’s full. According to Water Use It Wisely(2), you can save up to 1000 gallons a month.
  2. Look for the eco-friendly label when purchasing appliances. Consider EnergyStar labeled high efficiency washing machines which can save up to 20 gallons of water per load. What EnergyStar is for appliances, WaterSense is for faucets, shower heads, toilets and more. WaterSense is part of the EPA, and certifies water conserving appliances. Just replacing one old model toilet with a low flow toilet can save you up to $200 per year in water bills and you’ll do your part for conservation. There are also rebates where WaterSense and our local water utilities have joined together.
    Shower Head
    While many of the first low flow products were too low and not enough flow. The manufacturers have learned and improved. The latest low-flow shower heads from the top names like Kohler, Moen and Waterpik get high marks for providing a good shower experience(4).
  3. Test your toilets for leaks and/or get a home plumbing inspection. Toilet leaks are one of the top water wasters. DIY TIP Toilet leaks can be easily checked by dropping a few drops of food coloring into the tank. If the water in the bowl turns color, then your flap is leaking and needs to be replaced.

Outside Water Management Ideas

  1. Xeriscape landscaping is the trend towards landscape design requiring little or no irrigation or maintenance. While this is popular in arid climates, a northwest version utilizing native plants and shrubs can eliminate the need for watering. Success is a combination of good design, where plants are arranged to benefit from the flow of water across the property, and hardiness, since our plants have to endure both drought and abundantly wet weather.
  2. Landscaping

  1. If landscaping is not your thing, consider not watering your lawn in the summer. Northwest lawns naturally turn brown and hibernate in the summer and while that won’t look lush, it’s not actually dead. The lawn will green right up at the first fall rains in September.
  2. Set a timer inside or use a hose timer when watering in the summer to remember to move the hose or turn it off. Save by not killing plants with over watering and keeping your water bill in check. Hint: plants are over watered when the leaves turn yellow.
  3. Consider rain barrels to support garden water use. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Our local hardware stores have them and can demonstrate proper use. Check with your water utility for offers and rebates on irrigation and water collection devices.
  4. On hot days, ice cubes can be a form of drip irrigation for hanging baskets, planters and potted plants.

There are many other ways to save water. Share your favorite with us.

Washington Energy has expert plumbers who can help with plumbing inspection and repair. Call 24/7 at 800-398-4663 or contact us online for help.

Find additional resources at Washington State Department of Ecology.

Sources:
(1) http://www.ecy.wa.gov/drought/index.html

(2) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/14/science/californias-history-of-drought-repeats.html?_r=0

(3) http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/the-best-lowflow-yet-high-pres-94173

(4) http://wateruseitwisely.com/100-ways-to-conserve/?view=list

(5) http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19900408&slug=1065353

10 Remodels That Will Make Your Pets Happy

For many people, pets are more than just faithful companions. They’re family, and when the current layout of the house isn’t ideal for the pets trying to live there, it may be time to make some adjustments.

For some, these changes will involve large renovations, and for others,small alterations to the layout of a particular room will do the trick. If you’re thinking about making some changes to your home that your pet will love, consider the following suggestions.

But first, take note: Remodels are messy and can even be dangerous for many animals, so if you’re doing anything bigger than a small addition, be sure to arrange a safe place for your pet to stay during the heavy work, so he or she can stay safe and healthy throughout the construction.

1. Pet doors

Cat walking through a pet door

Perhaps you already have one of these, but if you don’t, there are now energy efficient options. You certainly don’t want your pet to run away, but certain types can allow them to enjoy a measure of independence, and a “doggy door” might be just the thing. These can be added to existing doors or built right in when buying a new door. Good quality ones have a tight seal to keep the cold out when not in use.

You could also consider adding pet-sized entrances to your indoor rooms. If you’re pet lives in the laundry room, it won’t be able to open the door for itself if you forget to open it before your leave. An indoor pet entrance is extremely convenient for any room your pet needs to get access to.

2. Feeding nooks

If your pet truly is one of the family, he or she might need a place to eat undisturbed. A corner in the kitchen may seem like a good spot, but it’s all too easy to knock over your pets’ water or food bowl, which creates a mess and wastes food.

Instead, set up an area in your designated pet room where the food and water bowls will be out of the way. For example, you could cut a small nook in your island and place the bowls on the floor there;or stash them in a low drawer that you can open when it’s time to eat.

3. Pet-friendly furniture

Dog sitting on a chair

If you truly love animals, you probably spend time cuddling with your pet on the sofa. And if that’s the case, one consideration might be furniture that can handle the traffic.

Look for sofas and chairs that have washable slip covers so it’s less of a challenge to keep them clean and free of pet fur. Also, furniture with durable fabrics that claws won’t be able to penetrate.

If your beloved companion is a rabbit, you might want furniture with metal legs rather than wood, so your animals won’t use them as gnawing or scratching posts!

4. Ductless heating

You want your heating and cooling systems to be energy-efficient, but you also want your animals to be comfortable throughout the day and night, even when you are not home. In order to make that happen, take a look at ductless heating.

This allows you to keep each room of the house at a specific and separate temperature, which is perfect for your pets, since some may require cooler temperatures than you, and others may prefer a warmer temperature in order to be content.

5. Pet room/nook

Cat in a Basket

Many family pets will adopt a sleeping area in your home, whether you want them there or not. . They deserve their own space, whether you designate a room just for them or a nook they can call their own.

Either way, you can make some significant improvements to that area in order to give them a comfortable resting spot beyond the typical pet bed or scratching post. You might provide an indoor doghouse complete with house structure to give puppy that feeling of his own secure space. Or provide a window sill extension with a cat bed for kitty. This gives them height off the floor, which cats equate with safety.

A pet area is a great way to let your pet know how much he or she is loved.

6. Light dimmers

Pets have a specific sleeping pattern they observe in order to stay healthy. For many, that can involve sleeping off and on throughout the day.

Keeping the lights on all day long can interrupt their sleeping pattern. Turn off any lights you’re not using, and consider adding a light-dimming or timer system to your current rooms so you can have the light on while you need it, but your pets can also get the rest they need.

7. Resilient flooring

A pet’s kingdom is the floor. Yet carpets are not necessarily the best flooring option for a pet, since they are easily snagged and stained.

For easy care, remove carpets and stick with hard-surface flooring. Many pets, especially dogs, actually prefer to rest on hard surfaces during the day because they tend to be cooler to the touch (or paws!).

That will also keep your carpets from getting suffused with hair, while at the same time providing a cool place for your pet to relax.

8. Washroom

Most pets aren’t big fans of bath time. But maybe they wouldn’t mind it so much if they had their very own washroom.

For small and medium-sized animals, you can set up a laundry sink with a hose. That way, you don’t have to bend over in a bathtub — or worse, use your freezing cold outside hose to wash your pet.

During warmer days, create an outdoor bath area just off your patio. Simply hook a shower head with a hose to your hot water heater and host your pet’s bath time outside.

9. Food storage

Though your pet would probably be happier if you let it eat out of the kibble bag all day long, that’s very unhealthy. The trick is to provide you with easy access to the pet food while at the same time protecting your critter from overeating.

Design a specific place where you can store animal food safely. For example, you could use a trashcan drawer.

10. Disguised litter box

You don’t want kitty to be forced to use the litter box outside. At the same time, you also don’t want it smelling up the house.

Serious pet parents have created a litter box that’s disguised as a small powder room off their garage. Add a kitty door and use high-quality cat litter to keep the room as nice as possible.If you’re not inclined to go that far and you do use an indoor litter box, consider incorporating a Guardian air PHI air cleaner into your furnace. This uses UV to kill germs and odors throughout your house, and will remove pet odor from the air.

You want your pets to be the happiest they can possibly be, and with each of the above remodels, this becomes more possible. But you don’t want to sacrifice energy efficiency in the process.

For questions or concerns with regard to how to integrate energy efficiency into your pet-friendly remodel, contact us today!