Archive for October, 2012

Net-Zero Homes in Tacoma: An Exciting New Green Trend

Monday, October 29th, 2012

 

A net-zero home produces renewable energy equal to or greater than the energy the home consumes from public utilities.

Net-zero homes in Tacoma are part of the broader category of “green homes”(though non net-zero homes may still be considered “green” if they incorporate recycled building materials or other green technologies).

Net-zero homes are not the same as “carbon neutral” homes. Carbon neutrality can be attained for any home by purchasing carbon credits (often from geographically distant renewable energy sources) to offset the carbon emissions the home produces. Net-zero homes actually generate renewable energy on-site.

In regions of the world where homes must be heated or cooled for parts of the year, the design of a net-zero home is crucial. Net-zero homes minimize energy consumption by:

  • Taking advantage of natural elements such as sunlight, prevailing breezes, topography (for earth-sheltered building and geothermal systems), and vegetation.
  • Incorporating appropriate weatherization, insulation, and ventilation
  • Using “daylighting” such as skylights and solar tubes, high-efficiency light fixtures and bulbs, high-efficiency appliances
  • Reducing “phantom loads” of electrical power caused by electrical equipment on standby
  • Reclaiming and reusing energy whenever possible instead of venting it outside as in conventional homes; for example, in some net-zero homes refrigerator exhaust is used to heat water.

Net-zero homes also produce their own renewable power using solar, wind, hydronic, and/or geothermal “microgeneration” systems. The type of power generated will depend on climate and topography. Some net-zero homes are autonomous or “energy-autarkic” (i.e. “off-the-grid”) while others are connected to the grid and feed power back to the grid when it is not being used in the home.

While true net-zero homes generally must be specifically designed as such, it is possible to move toward net-zero energy usage for a conventional or existing home.

  • Make the “envelope” of your home as efficient as possible with appropriate insulation, weatherization, energy-efficient windows, passive solar, and ventilation.
  • Reduce energy demand by upgrading to high-efficiency furnaces (or heat pumps), air conditioning, lighting, and plumbing. Also, reduce “ghost load” from appliances on standby.
  • Add micro-generation capacity. For most North American homes, solar is the most appropriate choice, though residential wind turbines are also gaining in popularity. Some localutilities even offer assistance and rebates for installing solar.
  • If you are building a home, keep it as small as you can while still meeting your space needs.

And, the most important part of making your home as close to net-zero as possible: be disciplined about your daily energy use habits!

Give Sound Heating a call today if you have any questions about renewable energy.

Myths about Solar Energy in Seattle

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

Have you ever heard…

  • Solar panels don’t work in cold places
  • They are ugly and bulky and drive down property values
  • Solar panels break when it snows or hails

There are countless myths like the ones above about solar energy and how effective it can be for your Seattle home depending on where you live or what type of climate you have. However, most of these myths are just that – falsehoods and rumors spread from the days when solar power wasn’t a very effective energy source.

These days, solar energy is increasingly efficient and works in almost any climate if properly installed. Here are some other common myths you might hear about this popular alternative energy source.

  1. Too Expensive – While it is true that solar power is expensive, it is dropping in price rapidly. The cost of manufacturing has dropped to such that the cost per watt is between $5 and $8 – an all-time low. On top of that, most state governments and the federal government offer general rebates and tax incentives for having solar power installed.
  2. Constant Maintenance – If you want constant maintenance, stick with your fossil fuel based heating and energy sources. Solar panels and heating systems require less frequent maintenance than most other systems and last for up to 25 years.
  3. Inconsistency – Older solar panels were less efficient, only capturing 1-5% of the energy emitted by the sun. These days, solar panels are much better at capturing solar energy – ranging from 11% to a whopping 20% capture rate, which means they are incredibly effective, even in bad weather. For the record, that’s the same energy capture rate as your gasoline fueled car, but with none of the emissions.
  4. Making Back the Investment – Solar investment recuperation used to be a long process. These days, however, solar panels increase the value of your home, decrease your annual costs and give you peace of mind. The usual payback time is down to less than 20 years and even less if you sell your home.

Solar energy is one of the most efficient and effective ways to power your Seattle home today, despite the myths. Make sure you read more about it before making any big decisions.

For more information on solar energy for your Seattle home, give Sound Heating & Air Conditioning a call!

Important Indoor Air Quality Tips When Remodeling in Seattle

Monday, October 15th, 2012

Remodeling your Seattle home is a big step. As you plan the layout of your new bathroom or the size of the bedroom being added to the second floor, make sure you take into account the effects your changes will have on the indoor air quality of your home. Here are some specific things to keep in mind:

  • Water and Moisture – When you build on to or remodel your home, one of the most common problems is excess moisture. The grade may not be built to handle the extra space or you may find that moisture is harder to block from your home than expected. However, it’s vital that any additions are as water tight as the original construction. Mold and mildew, as well as dust mites and other humidity and moisture borne pollutants are major health concerns.
  • Ventilate Properly – Most people assume that the best thing they can do is close their home up tightly to block out pollutants. But, indoor air can be as much as 100 times more polluted than outside air if it isn’t properly ventilated. Stagnant, stale air filled with dust, pollen and dander among other things is not healthy, so extend your ventilation system to support your new addition.
  • Proper Flooring – The floor you choose when remodeling has a major impact on indoor air quality. You want to ensure any water that gets on the floor, especially in bathrooms can be removed without it penetrating to the wood underneath. Properly sealed tiles and fixtures are a must.
  • Unsafe Building Materials – Modern materials are generally safe, but if your home was built before 1978, consider the risk of flaking paint or old insulation before you start demolishing a room for remodeling. Lead paint in window frames and doors can be a major risk if it flakes and enters the air and asbestos can be found in insulation in walls, wiring and pipes.

Remodeling is a big step, and likely you have a lot of things on your mind, but don’t forget to include the air quality in your calculations, both during and after the construction. The EPA has a fantastic resource on indoor air quality in home remodels to help you determine what things you should watch for in each room of the house as you make changes.

For more information on how to improve your Seattle home’s indoor air quality, give Sound Heating & Air Conditioning a call!

Winter Colds and Flus in Bellevue – Can Your Air Quality System Help Them?

Monday, October 8th, 2012

In the thick of the winter cold and flu season in Bellevue, it’s hard to overcome the constant feeling of misery that illness can bring to your home. Endless sniffles, stomach aches and fever not only make you feel horrible; they can put a kink in your daily routine, making it harder to get work done or take care of your family.

But, a good indoor air quality system will help when it is properly maintained throughout the year. Here are some tips to cut into the duration of a particularly nasty cold or flu.

Humidity and Air Circulation

When the humidity gets exceptionally low, your body gets dehydrated more easily, especially in your skin. This can lead to trouble fighting off colds and flus, especially if they are very strong. A good humidifier increases humidity to a comfortable level that’s ideal for the immune system. Air circulation is equally important as it keeps fresh air coming into your home throughout the winter.

A good air circulation and ventilation system retains the heat your furnace or boiler produces so your energy bill doesn’t rise too high either.

Air Purification

The next step in purification is to reduce the number of air borne pathogens that can make your illnesses worse or spread them to other people. There are constantly bacteria and viruses floating through your home, either on people or in the debris carried by your home’s indoor air.

A good air purifier ionizes the air and removes things like dust, pollen and mold. The air purifier then destroys the bacteria and viruses with the use of UV lights. This kind of system won’t stop you from getting sick when you leave the house and interact with people on the train or at work, but it will slow the spread of illness in your home and help people recover much faster.

Cleanliness Breeds Healthiness

The key to staying healthy in the winter is to stay active and keep your home clean. With the help of a good home air quality system, you can remove the unwanted contaminants and debris that clog up indoor air and ensure everyone in your family is safe and comfortable all winter. It’s a great first step in the process of finally stopping the endless winter cold and flu cycle once and for all.

For more information on how to improve your Bellevue home’s indoor air quality, give Sound Heating & Air Conditioning a call!

What Are Flue Gas Spill Switches?

Monday, October 1st, 2012

While some components of a heating system make sense to the average Olympia homeowner – think blower fan, thermostat and air ducts – others are more esoteric and prone to bouts of head scratching.

So, you may find yourself asking “what the heck is a flue gas spill switch?” Read on for the answer.

As you know, gas heating appliances produce heat by means of combustion. The gas line feeds gas into the appliance, the gas is ignited, and the burning gas produces heat. It’s a simple concept that goes all the way back to our caveman ancestors building fires to keep warm, and it is the same process in gas furnaces, boilers and water heaters.

In addition to producing the cozy heat we love in the winter time, this combustion process also releases gases. Known collectively as “flue gases,” some of these – carbon monoxide being the most notorious – can be very toxic. This is why we have flues or chimneys in our northwestern homes– to give these gases a means of egress.

A flue gas spill switch is designed to shut down the furnace if these gases start seeping out. It is made up of a sensor or series of sensors that detect heat outside the flue, not unlike the flame sensor in your furnace. If flue gases start to escape and pass by the sensor, the sensor heats up and signals the furnace to shut down. This cuts off the power and gas, so that no more flue gases can leak into the home and create a health concern.

If your furnace has been abruptly shutting down, it could be your flue gas spill switch trying to tell you that you have a leaky or cracked flue. If this is the case, you want to have it repaired right away. The constant off and on is not good for the furnace, and more importantly, those flue gases can be exceptionally hazardous to your family’s health.

To schedule a maintenance appointment today, give Sound Heating & Air Conditioning a call!