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Posts Tagged: home maintenance

Take these important steps before you crank up the heat

Posted On: Filed Under: Heating No Comments on Take these important steps before you crank up the heat

 

For any heating system (furnace, heat pump or boiler) timely maintenance can make a difference, up to 10% savings in heating costs. And importantly, if you have an older furnace, you’ll want to see how much life it’s got left in it, so it doesn’t leave you stranded in the cold.

All heating equipment manufacturers and EnergyStar.gov recommend annual professional maintenance of heating equipment (a “tune up”). And for gas standby generators, it’s required for the warranty.

Why do they call it a “tune – up”? Because it has the same function as the tune-up, oil change or mileage based maintenance you might get for your car.

EnergyStar recommends these heating system maintenance guidelines (and we agree!):

  1. Change your air filter regularly
  2. Get a tune up of your HVAC equipment by a qualified technician that includes:
    • Check of thermostat and any programmed settings
    • Check electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors
    • Lubricate moving parts to avoid wear.
    • Inspect condensate drain in furnace, AC or heat pump.
    • Check system controls, starting cycle and shut off.
    • Clean and inspect air filter
    • Inspect flue piping
    • Check gas connections, pressure, combustion and heat exchanger.

For expert maintenance services like these, call Washington Energy Services at 800-398-4663. Our 37 point furnace maintenance costs $159 and extra pieces of equipment can be added at a discounted rate. We service all major brands of heating equipment. Home Energy Audits are also available.

 

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Check these 7 things before you buy a new home

Posted On: Filed Under: Heating, Cooling, Plumbing No Comments on Check these 7 things before you buy a new home

 

A good home inspector is going to cover all of the basics; including making sure the faucets work, checking the electrical panel, and we hope, looking at the age and condition of your water heater. But you’d be surprised at how light most inspections are.

They don’t go deep in several major home systems like plumbing, heating and cooling because the inspectors are a) only there for a short time, b) not licensed or trained in those systems or c) because they would need specialized equipment. Unfortunately, a failed heating system or side sewer pipe can cost thousands of dollars later. So, if your inspector doesn’t cover these (and most don’t), we recommend that you do.

Check the main drains and sewer line.

Water may run easily inside the house but between you and the street may lie tree roots, collapsed or rotted pipe and potential for huge costly re-piping projects. A plumber can video inspect your sewer line to ensure you know what’s out there. The main drain may also need periodic cleaning, and if the seller hasn’t done it in a while, they can check and perform that too.

Taste and look at the water

Inspectors typically turn on taps and let them run while doing other reporting. Have a look at the first faucet or tub opened after it’s been sitting a while. If the water comes out with any rust, coloration or smell, that could indicate your pipes are bad.

Open the windows

Or more accurately see if they open or have been painted shut, are stuck or have broken parts.

Test the heating/air conditioning systems

Ask if they have had recent maintenance. Make sure they blow hot or cold in addition to just turning on. Look at how old that system is. Heating systems last about 15 years. If it’s that age, consider that you may need the funds to replace it soon.

Look under the carpet, especially in the basement

Check for mold and mildew and look at the condition of the floor below. Mold is a serious health concern and goes beyond the mere cost of replacing carpet.

Check the strength of the deck

So much inspection effort focuses on the inside of the house. If there is a deck, look for rusted nails and screws that may be weakened, and look at the wood itself for cracked boards and rot.

Inspect the chimney

Especially if you have a wood burning fireplace, a chimney inspection can save lives, not only from fires but carbon monoxide. Your general inspector may measure moisture around the chimney, which is good for finding cracks, but a professional chimney contractor can do a more thorough review of the overall condition and safety.

Don’t be shy in asking sellers to provide specialized inspections, plumbing or maintenances before closing on the sale. This is very common. And if they won’t you certainly can yourself. Sadly, some realtors may try to push you into not doing this because it can add negotiations.

When I purchased my Seattle home, I negotiated a furnace maintenance and chimney inspection into the purchase agreement as a condition of the sale. That gave me peace of mind. But even with that, my water heater tank burst within a week of moving in and the main drain backed up into the basement within 3 months. I didn’t have this list!

If you need plumbing or heating system inspection, Washington Energy Services provides these services, and we can fix or replace what you uncover, including plumbing and drain cleaning, re-piping and heating systems. Just call 800-398-4663.

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What is the government up to with our furnaces

Posted On: Filed Under: Heating, Furnace No Comments on What is the government up to with our furnaces

You may have heard that there is national legislation that was proposed that would require all new furnaces sold in our area to be high efficiency (90%) gas furnaces. This legislation is facing some opposition, and for the right reasons – to protect you the homeowner.

For now, the industry awaits the Court’s ruling on the proposed settlement, so that the DOE can start over again on writing new standards for furnaces. However, should the Court reject the settlement the case would go to trial. At that point there are two possible outcomes. One is that the legal challenge would prevail and the rules would be officially stricken from the books. But if the rules are upheld and remain in place after a trial, then under this motion, the rules would take effect six months later.

Why would it be so bad to require a high efficiency furnace? Well, on the surface, that doesn’t sound so awful – getting a high efficiency furnace would lower your energy costs. BUT, the government didn’t think this through. Yes, the difference in cost of a high efficiency furnace would pay for itself with energy savings over the life of the product. However there are 4 huge issues that could end up costing you far more, even 2x as much for a furnace under this plan. Here are the issues. They may sound technical but we’ll explain them:

  1. Equipment space constraints.
  2. Venting requirements
  3. Condensate drainage
  4. Credit availability

The new law would require us to sell only high efficiency (90% AFUE) furnaces. They require different space, venting and drainage vs lower efficiency, non condensing, (80% AFUE) furnaces. Even today, new construction houses in our area are being designed with lower efficiency 80% furnaces.

While installing a high efficiency furnace is no problem for many homeowners, there are plenty of homes with limited space for furnaces; under staircases, in attics, and in the middle of the house footprint. The high efficiency furnace may not fit into those spaces, or have a path to vent properly. (Venting means get fresh air from the outside and send exhaust out).

We see this all the time in our business, especially with our old Seattle housing. If homeowners have no option to choose an 80% furnace replacement, this could require relocating the equipment, and finding appropriate space to vent it. You may need to redesign the ductwork or re-route the gas line and electric power. At worst case, this could require a major remodel. Or if your current furnace shares a vent with your other appliances, it may be necessary to separate them, and add new vents or line old chimneys that are being used for venting. High efficiency furnaces require a drain pipe to carry exhaust liquids (condensate drainage) to a sewer line. That can be an issue if you have a concrete basement floor without drain access. All that adds up to more cost for the homeowner, and some customers may not have access to enough credit for the larger payment. For those who can’t afford this new standard in heating, will they turn to wood burning stoves, electric space heaters and other highly polluting, non-efficient options?

Don’t get us wrong, we love being green and want everyone to get a high efficiency furnace, but we don’t want to take away options from homeowners who can’t fit one in their home or can’t afford it. If this legislation is enacted in May, we’ll be sure to post on our website all about it. We do recommend if you are thinking about replacing an 80% furnace that’s in a tight space that you consider buying a new one now. Just in case. We’re not saying that to make money off you, after all, the 90% furnace costs more. Call 800-398-4663 for a free estimate.

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New technology provides a water leak rescue

Posted On: Filed Under: Plumbing 2 Comments on New technology provides a water leak rescue

 

A property manager or homeowner can do a lot to prevent water issues by knowing the current condition of their appliances, fixtures and piping, and knowing who they can call and depend on to get the job done quickly and effectively when something does happen. By replacing key heavy use items such as water heaters and water lines proactively, you can avoid some risk. You probably do that today. What is new is that water emergencies and potential damage can be greatly reduced by applying new technology – a unique water leak protection and notification system called Plumber’s Choice. Sounds big but it’s a small device that can detect a leak, shut off your water and notify you by email.

Plumber’s Choice is manufactured by QMI, of Vancouver, BC, Canada. They’ve been making these products for years under the name Water Guardian, and now it’s available in the US. As soon as your water heater starts leaking, this product will sense the water, automatically shut it off and an audible alarm would sound. These systems can be installed for your dishwasher, water heater, washing machine, furnace, and plumbing fixtures. You name it they have it covered. They remotely shut off your main water or just your appliance water, depending on how you set it up. The device then wirelessly sends the homeowner, property manager or even a contractor an email message so you can react as quickly as possible and snub out any water damage.

The water leak protection system can benefit single family homes, but is an even greater value to apartment buildings and condominiums where one leak could affect multiple residences and property managers may not be on site. One of our customers told us this true story. She was a tenant on the 18th floor of an apartment building. At 2am the phone rang and it was the front desk in the lobby. Water was coming out into the lobby and did she have a leak? The surprised tenant stepped out of her bed onto a soaking carpet and quickly they summoned the manager on call. Her dishwasher was stuck mid-cycle and in just a few hours, water ran through every single apartment in the line below for all 18 floors before hitting the lobby. The tenant had no liability, as it was the building’s equipment and not user error. As you might guess, the rest of the story involved repairs and claims throughout the building. This could have been completely mitigated by the Plumber’s Choice products.

Washington Energy Services is the local representative for Plumber’s Choice and qualified to install these systems. For more information on multi-family applications contact Account Manager, Tyler Heagle at 425 766 2319. For single family home installations, please call our service center at 800-398-4663.

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Heat pump maintenance

Posted On: Filed Under: Ductless heat pump, Heat pump No Comments on Heat pump maintenance

 

Common problems with heat pumps include low airflow, leaky or noisy ducts, temperature problems, using the wrong refrigerant charge, rattles, squeaks and grinding noises. If you can, try to isolate the location of the problem. Is the airflow only low coming out of one register, or do all registers have low airflow? Is the offending noise coming from the air ducts or within the heat pump unit itself?

There are a few things you can do to identify and possibly fix a heat pump problem before calling for professional help. First, if the unit isn’t working, try resetting the motor on the unit. Check the pump ignition system for problems, and make sure you don’t have a tripped circuit breaker or blown fuse. Check the thermostat to make sure it is working properly. Change the filter if it’s dirty, and make sure there are no airflow blockages. If the air ducts are making noise when they expand and contract, you could try putting a dent in the side of the duct to make the surface more rigid. Rattles may be fixed by fastening loose parts, and if you’re hearing squeaks inside the unit, you may need to replace or adjust the fan belt connecting the motor and the fan. A grinding noise may indicate that the bearings on the motor are worn out, which will require the help of a professional to fix.

Because heat pumps can contain hazardous materials, don’t try to fix a major problem with your heat pump without professional assistance, as you may cause a chemical leak or injure yourself handling a broken device.

A heat pump should last between 10 and 30 years.  Keep in mind that technology may change before your heat pump has worn out. New technologies may make heat pumps safer or more efficient, so you may wish to keep an eye out for new kinds of heat pumps.

For more information:

How heat pumps work

Pros and cons of heat pumps

 


Article by: Cowan, Laura.  “How Heat Pumps Work”  13 May 2009.  HowStuffWorks.com. 18 May 2011.

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Pros and cons of heat pumps

Posted On: Filed Under: Heat pump No Comments on Pros and cons of heat pumps

This is because moving heat from a very cold area to a hotter one takes more energy than moving heat between two areas with a more moderate temperature difference. There’s more heat available outside in a moderate climate than in a cold climate. It’s important to note that even in a cold climate, there’s still heat in the outside air to be pumped indoors, but the unit needs to work harder to extract the heat that is available. Supplemental energy may be required to make the heat pump produce enough warmth to comfortably heat your home when the temperature falls below freezing.
The heat produced by heat pumps isn’t as intense as the heat produced by a gas or oil-burning furnace. Some people used to traditional furnaces are uncomfortable with the milder heat produced by these systems. Other people prefer the warmth produced by heat pumps, because heat pumps distribute heat evenly throughout the house, meaning there are no cold spots. A heat pump also should turn on and off less often than a gas furnace, and most systems have eliminated the blowing of cold air through the vents that used to occur when the system temporarily switched into reverse to defrost the coils.

Before you install a heat pump, you will need to consider what kind of supplemental or backup heating you may need to use when the heat pump can’t work efficiently. Many heat pumps use supplemental electrical heating, but you might also use some kind of oil burner or an adapted gas furnace. Whatever type of heating system is common in your area is likely the most efficient and cost-effective backup method.

Heat pumps are better dehumidifiers than normal air conditioners, because these systems typically have a larger, flat return coil that conditions and dehumidifies more air than the corresponding coil in an air conditioning system. Air-source heat pumps have about the same dehumidifying capabilities as air conditioning systems. You will need to consider any humidifying or dehumidifying needs your home has and select your system accordingly.

Now that you know the pros and the cons of heat pumps, read on to learn what to look for when you buy a heat pump.

 


Article by: Cowan, Laura.  “How Heat Pumps Work”  13 May 2009.  HowStuffWorks.com. <http://home.howstuffworks.com/home-improvement/heating-and-cooling/heat-pump.htm>  18 May 2011.

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Choosing the right contractor

Posted On: Filed Under: Windows, Siding No Comments on Choosing the right contractor

 

If you’re like most people, you have a wish list of projects. But how should you evaluate contractors to do the work? Here are ten questions to ask your contractor before you start work on your home projects.

1. What is the contractor’s Better Business Bureau (BBB) rating?
Unlike online reviews, this rating is one that the company’s employees can’t fake. It is a good indicator of their customer service ethic. Click here for more info on Washington Energy Services.

2. Does the contractor provide any kind of warranty beyond that of the manufacturer? Whether you are buying a furnace, water heater, windows or siding, the product manufacturers have warranties. Some are better than others. But does your contractor guarantee anything? Labor? Overall satisfaction? And if so what are the parameters?

3. Can my contractor service my product down the road?
Often remodeling projects are run by general contractors who obtain and install products for you. But they are not in the service business. For example, if you have a tankless water heater installed in your new basement, who will be available to fix it or do the annual maintenance? Or, if you have purchased windows with a 20 year warranty, who will be doing the work when and if there is ever a claim?

4. Are permits required to perform this work and does the contractor get them?
Around Puget Sound each municipality has permit requirements and related costs. Even small energy appliances like water heaters require permits. Not all contractors take the time to get permits, leaving you on your own to obtain it.

5. What is the total cost of my project?
You might be surprised that this question is on the list. Unless you have a firm bid on paper with all costs included, you may find extra charges adding up beyond that phone quote or ad. This is particularly true of items purchased from chain home improvement retailers which then get installed by sub-contractors. The sub-contractors don’t know your home and there are usually charges for various adjustments they need to make during the installation. It is often recommended that people get multiple bids for large projects. Make sure those bids are complete.

6. Speaking of sub-contractors…who is going to do the project?
Many companies do not disclose that their “employees” are sub-contractors. These sub-contractors may do great work, or not, but they do not receive any training from the company you have purchased from, and may not have much experience. Is the sub-contractor licensed and bonded and are their people background checked? Make sure you know what you are going to get.

7. Who will I be communicating with about my needs?
Will I be able to have input into the job as it progresses? For more complex projects such as siding, windows, roofing or house painting, there may be decisions that need to be made during the process of the installation. Will a manager be on site and if so, how often? Today, great workers can come here from all over the world. If you are the kind of person who likes to ask questions as the job proceeds, you might ask if there will be someone on site during the work who speaks a language you can communicate in.

8. Can the contractor provide me references for similar projects that I may contact? Anyone who has had a contractor nightmare wishes they had done this first. Its great if you have a friend or neighbor who can recommend their contractor, but in many cases that is not available. Reading online reviews is not a good indicator these days of real performance. You never know what incentive the reviewer was paid, if it’s an employee, or if the disgruntled commentator was one versus the one hundred who were satisfied. Talking to another customer or even seeing photographs of other work that was performed can help.

9. What local rebates or federal tax credits can I qualify for?
Can your contractor help you with these? There are numerous utility, municipal and federal rebate or tax credit opportunities and they change every year. For example, the Federal Tax Credits for Energy Efficiency are still around, though there is a $500 maximum for 2011. Many require specific forms and submissions. Click here for more info.

10. Is there a timeline to complete my project? 
Major projects such as finishing a basement or home siding can take several weeks to complete and require a variety of materials. One complaint often heard is “they started the project and now haven’t shown up for a few days. I don’t know when they are going to come back and no one is returning my calls.” I was once told that this is an old contractor’s trick to be able to manage several jobs at a time. Well, even if that were true, it doesn’t mean you have to accept it. Get a timeline in writing and a full understanding of all steps of the project, delivery dates for materials and work required, so you know what to expect. And make sure you exchange all relevant phone numbers with the contractor including personal cell phones.

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Healthy credit = great loan rates!

Posted On: Filed Under: Home energy audit No Comments on Healthy credit = great loan rates!

It makes sense to have your credit in the healthiest possible condition when you go looking for a loan. Here are some tips to help you polish up your credit score and possibly lower your interest rate:

  1. Pay all bills on time! Late payments really impact your score, and that hit can last awhile. If you are a “frequent forgetter,” set yourself up for automatic bill pay and never be late again.
  2. Have a good mix of credit. Having installment credit (mortgage, auto or student loans) mixed with revolving credit (credit cards) demonstrates your ability to handle both kinds of credit responsibly.
  3. Stay below 30% of available credit. This is called your “balance-to-limit ratio” or your “utilization rate,” and it’s the difference between the amount of credit you have available and the amount you’ve used. For example, if you have one credit card with a limit of $1,000, it’s best if you don’t charge more than $300—that’s a 30% utilization rate. Even better, don’t charge more than $100. The lower the ratio, the better, as far as your credit score is concerned.
  4. Don’t close “old” credit cards, particularly if you’ve kept current on payments and you’ve had the card awhile. The length of your credit history matters, so those “old” cards can be valuable. You might want to put small charges on these cards (and pay them off immediately) so the card issuer doesn’t close the account.
  5. Don’t open a bunch of credit cards to get a higher utilization rate. Having too much available credit can make you look risky, especially if you get a whole lot of credit at once—it might look as if you’re stockpiling credit in advance of expected trouble.
  6. Check your credit history! You can get a free copy of your history from each of the major reporters (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) once a year at annualcreditreport.com. Check for errors and report them to the agency immediately for correction.
  7. Be cautious of businesses that claim to give you a “free” credit history, but which may charge your credit card a subscription fee for credit tracking or other costly programs.

If your credit history is non-existent or tarnished enough that you find it difficult to get credit, there are ways to begin rebuilding. First and foremost, pay all bills on time, no matter who the bills are going to. Even your cell phone company reports to the credit agencies!

Second, consider a secured card—these are credit cards secured by money you keep on deposit with the card issuer. You can usually charge up to the amount you have on deposit. As you demonstrate responsible behavior, the limit will generally increase until you are able to get an unsecured credit card. These cards are reported to the credit agencies, so your stellar behavior will help you begin building or rebuilding a solid credit history and a great rate-earning credit score!

Article courtesy of Salal Credit Union. All Salal loans and accounts are subject to approval. This credit union is federally insured by the National Credit Union Administration.

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Weatherize now while the sun is out

Posted On: Filed Under: Doors, Windows, Heating, Insulation No Comments on Weatherize now while the sun is out

Maximize your energy benefits, with minimum work

Here are three things you can do to weatherize. There are lots more, but these give you huge benefit for the least amount of work, and money.

    1. Insulation. It may not be the most glamorous home project, but one of the best energy savers for the buck is insulation. Did you know that 80% of US homes built before 1980 are lacking in insulation? Upgrading insulation by about 50% can result in a 12-18% reduction in energy use and it will help you stay warm throughout the house. How do you know what kind of insulation you need? Insulation pros will measure your attic, wall, crawl space and floor insulation to determine whether you have the right amount (Yes, you can actually have too much.). The government has created specific code levels and you’ll need to meet those in order to take advantage of utility rebates and tax credits available. Is it a lot of work? It doesn’t take long, but it can require finesse. Thinking of unrolling the fiberglass yourself? Make sure you know how much to buy, what tools you’ll need and how to properly install it without stepping through your ceiling. Incorrect installation or over insulation can actually limit your home’s air flow and cause serious problems. Please review important safety tips like these from the DIY television network http://www.diynetwork.com/how-to/how-to-install-fiberglass-insulation/index.html. Right now, PSE customers can get up to $1400 in rebates on insulation, making it even less expensive to get it installed the easy way, by a professional.

 

  • Windows, doors and sealing. Okay, you’ve thought about it, but getting on a ladder to seal around the windows and doors is just not high on the priority list. A little caulk and a ladder – or maybe a call to a handyman. According to the DIY or Not website, Seattle homeowners can caulk six normal sized windows for about $60 (caulking gun and cartridges) or pay just $154 to hire a handyman. So much for the ladder! Now, if you have leaky single-paned aluminum frame windows or you have a big drafty gap on that old basement door, caulking is not going to be enough. New windows or doors are more expensive, but provide many benefits including greater comfort, even distribution of heat, higher resale value, plus energy efficiency. Some new window technologies are super green. For example, our newest vinyl window technology (SignatureMax) has the thermal protection of a triple paned low E window at the weight and light transmission of double paned. With its U Value of .21 you’ll be able to save on your heating bills and pick up utility rebates and tax credits.

 

 

  • Prepare your heating equipment for use. Manufacturers recommend annual maintenance and it’s not just for the benefit of the contractor who sold you the furnace or heat pump! Your heating system will run more efficiently and burn less gas or electricity if properly “tuned up”. Change to a clean filter before heating season starts. Everyone is trying to save these days, so why let your expensive furnace degrade when good maintenance can sustain it. With utility costs rising, it might pay to have your furnace evaluated when it gets to the 12-15 year mark. Furnaces typically last up to 15 years. If it is not running efficiently and/or you choose to upgrade to a new energy efficient model, you could save 15% -30% on your heating costs. Excellent incentives are available and a federal tax credit is still available until this December.

 

Washington Energy can help you improve your home energy efficiency, from insulation to windows; doors and furnaces or even furnace maintenance. To find out more, visit www.washingtonenergy.com.

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Getting your ducts in a row

Posted On: Filed Under: Air conditioning, Heat pump No Comments on Getting your ducts in a row

 

 Getting yearly maintenance performed on cooling equipment such as air conditioning or heat pumps.

Focusing on the air delivery system or ducts.

Can you imagine if you tried to eat soup out of a bowl with holes in it? You’d likely go hungry. EnergyStar ® says that 20% of the air that moves through a typical duct system is lost due to leaks, holes and poorly connected ducts – and that’s the average. This means the conditioned air is not being delivered to areas where it should be going.  So it’s easy to imagine how these leaks can affect utility bills and home comfort.

How do you know if you have poor performing ducts? You might notice your utility (gas or electric) actual usage is higher than expected. If you spent a lot of money on your high efficiency furnace or heat pump but still don’t feel comfy, this could be why. Or if some rooms with ducts in them are difficult to heat or are stuffy as air is not getting to them. Even if you don’t have air conditioning but run your furnace on a fan setting to cool your house you could benefit from better performing ducts.

What can you do? You can either do some sealing yourself or call a professional. To do it yourself, you can find some easy tips on the energystar.gov website. Many homeowners choose to work with a professional contractor. Heating equipment or service companies can now test for duct leakage and determine if your ducts need to be sealed. Duct testing takes about 1 to 2 hours.

I had my ducts sealed and insulated last year and have seen a dramatic increase in efficiency. My equipment does not have to run as hard to cool/heat my home. The increased efficiency means my equipment will last longer and save me even more money. Now, how is that a bad deal?

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