Archive for May, 2011

How Long Does It Take To Install A Solar Power System In A Home?

Monday, May 30th, 2011

As with any major home improvement project, the process of installing solar panels takes a good amount of time. However, most of that time is spent on research, planning, and purchasing leading up to the actual installation. This is important to keep in mind, as investing in solar energy is nothing to rush into, and there is a great deal to be considered first.

Once all this preparation is done, the actual installation is usually brief, depending on how robust your system will be and any additional components needed. Some “extras” that may cause installation to take a little longer may include:

  • System Size and Capacity – Obviously, the time it takes to install a system will vary depending on how many panels need to be installed. Even so, most home systems will use few enough panels that the time difference is not substantial.
  • Ground Mounting – A ground mount is sometimes necessary when there isn’t a good place to install panels on the house itself. This can be due to roof orientation, less than ideal angles, or nearby obstructions. The additional variables and construction of a ground mount may take a few extra days.
  • Backup Systems – For homeowners who opt to have batteries and/or a generator installed as backup, installation will take a bit longer due to the added complexity. Backup systems require additional components and wiring, which takes some extra time.
  • Weather – Often an overlooked variable, the weather is important as installing solar panels involves working outside and at inclined levels. Bad weather can put workers in danger, so the work may be necessarily delayed.

For most simple home systems, installation will take only a few days. Even with more complex systems that incorporate some of the additional elements mentioned above, installation time should not be affected by more than a day or two. As long as the process goes according to plan and the weather holds, you could expect to have your system up and running within a week. For many, that timeframe is even less. Also, since the work is being done outside, you generally will not be disturbed, aside from some sounds of movement on the roof.

Although installation is a big part of the process of switching to solar, the time it takes is not significant when compared to the preparations that should be done beforehand. Installation should be a brief, albeit exciting, culmination of a longer planning process.

How Do Solar Cells Work?

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Rising energy costs and concerns over depleted resources have many people seeking out alternative energy sources for their homes. One popular solution is solar cells, which harness clean energy from the radiation of the sun to use as electricity. This technology is not terribly new, of course, having been used in calculators for years. A house is rather different from a calculator, though, so the prospect of using solar cells as a source of electricity lends itself to some questions, especially “how does it work?”

How it Works

As you might imagine, there is some complex science behind how cells really work. Rather than get down to the nitty gritty physics of it all, a brief overview should do. Essentially, the radiation from the sun is a tremendous energy source, emitting up to 1000 watts of energy per square meter of Earth in a single day.

The materials in solar cells make them photovoltaic (PV), meaning they are able to convert light to energy. When light strikes the PV cell, its energy is passed along to a semiconductor, thereby generating a current. There’s a good deal more complexity involved in the process but essentially that’s it.

Making It Work for You

There are a number of issues to consider and obstacles to overcome in installing solar cells that work properly, such as:

  • Angle and Orientation – Ideally PV cells should be directed south, at an angle that is as close to the latitude of their location as possible. All sources of shade and other obstructions must be removed for the sake of efficiency.
  • Storage and Backup – The sun doesn’t shine all the time, so you will need a backup system in place. Some options include connecting your home to the power grid, using deep cycle batteries to store energy for use later, or installing a backup generator.
  • Current Inversion – The current produced by the photovoltaic process is DC, so in order to be used like “regular” electricity from a wall socket, it needs to be converted to AC. This means installing an inverter as part of the system. Some PV cells come with invertors built in.

Installing a solar system can be a clean and budget-friendly idea, but it can also be somewhat complicated. Proper materials and installation are vital to proper functioning, so consult with a professional if you are in doubt.

Just Say No To Termites

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Termites can wreak massive destruction on your home thanks to their teeming numbers and constant feeding habits. The aggregate cost of termite damage in the United States has been estimated to be as high as a billion dollars annually. Although termites are destructive and persistent, there are steps you can take to stop them from damaging your home. Specifically, termites flourish in some very specific conditions, so below will be discussed some ways to control those in your favor.

Starve Them Out

Termites love to eat wood. To be more precise, they love any source of cellulose, which wood happens to be rich in. Once a colony finds a food source, it eats constantly, hence the large potential for damage to your home. Here are some suggestions for keeping cellulose to a minimum:

  • Use treated lumber for your home and for any other ground structures, such as decks or sheds. You can also consider resting such structures on concrete supports, instead of directly on the ground.
  • Keep stored wood away from your house, ideally in a shed. Additionally, do not bury left over wood as a means of disposal.
  • Keep your yard free of fallen limbs, dead trees, stumps or other wooden debris.
  • Do not use wood mulch on plants near your home. Instead, either move the plants further away, or check your local garden supply store for rubber mulch, which does not attract termites.

Dry Them Out

Just like other pests, termites require a source of water to live. Even with bountiful cellulose around, a termite colony cannot take hold without water. Here are some steps you can take to limit the chances that they will find a water source around your home:

  • Fix all leaks promptly, no matter how small they seem at the time.
  • Fill in any dips or depressions in your yard to prevent water from pooling.
  • Likewise, repair any cracks or holes in your driveway. These can promote termite growth by both collecting water, and improperly draining water toward your home, making the trip easier for the termites.
  • Keep the area around your home free of brush and other heavy vegetation, which can cause areas of heavy moisture, acting as a safe harbor for hungry termites.
  • Clean all gutters and other drainage lines and keep them in good repair.

These preventive measures will go a long way toward keeping your home free of destructive termites. Additionally, you should have your home checked by a professional for signs of termites annually.

Whole House Air Quality System. What Is It? When and Why Do You Need It?

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

There are many ways to control the indoor air quality of your home. The easiest way to is to clean your vents and ducts. This reduces the number of pollutants like mold and dust that get into your air each day. In some cases, however, you may need something more powerful and that’s where a whole house air quality system comes in.

What Does Whole House Air Quality Provide?

There are many filters and purifiers on the market that can be operated in a single room such as your living room or the bedroom of your child. However, if you have a more substantial contaminant problem, a whole house system actually attaches to the source of fresh air.

Most whole house systems integrate directly into the ventilation ducts and fans of your house. This ensures the air is purified and cleaned as it enters your home, not after it has circulated for some time. Air cleaners are also integrated into ducts where UV lighting and ionizers can remove bacteria, viruses, smoke and exhaust fumes that come in from outside.

Your furnace and air conditioner will also be filtered above and beyond standard manufacturer filtering, ensuring there are less contaminants traveling through your ducts to start with.

When Do You Need It?

The upgrade to a whole house system isn’t just for those suffering from dust, pollen and pet dander. These can easily be removed with regular cleaning of your ducts and a HEPA filter in each room affected. However, if your home tests high for various gases, exhaust fumes, or molds that are beyond your control, a whole house system is a great way to protect yourself.

In particular, these systems are useful when the contaminants come in from outside. Most indoor contaminants can be removed with careful maintenance of your comfort system, but if your neighbor has a leaky exhaust pipe or if you live near a busy highway, you can’t do much about it other than to filter the air as it comes inside.

Choosing a whole home air quality system starts with knowing what you need to filter. So, proper air testing is highly recommended. After testing, make sure your current systems will integrate well with the new air quality controls. If everything works properly, you’ll be well on your way to fresh, clean air in no time.

Indoor Air Quality Options

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Maintaining high indoor air quality is always worth investing time and money in. After all, if the air inside your home isn’t healthy, it can cause all kinds of health problems for you and your family. The state of the art home heating and cooling systems we have today make it possible to enjoy a perfectly temperature controlled indoor environment all year long, but they also trap indoor air pollutants and contaminants inside without proper ventilation.

Choosing a System that Works

Luckily there are a number of great products out there designed to remove these pollutants before they cause you and your family discomfort or illness. Before you run out to buy a new system, however, you should first consider what each has to offer and what pollutants you need to remove. You might have some idea about this already, but the best thing to do is talk to a professional who can help assess your indoor air and determine which types of contaminants are most prevalent in your home.

Different types of indoor air cleaners are better at targeting different types of contaminants. For instance, HEPA filters can remove up to 99.97% of particulate contaminants that measure 0.3 microns or larger. This includes things like pollen, pet dander, dust mites and mold spores, so if these are the things you want to target, an indoor air system that uses HEPA filters is probably right for you.

However, if you’re more concerned with getting rid of smoke odors and cooking fumes, you probably want a system that targets even smaller particles. Air ionizers are more appropriate for these types of indoor air quality issues, as they can effectively remove much smaller particles than most HEPA filters. On the flip side, ionizers aren’t as efficient at removing the larger contaminant particles, so if you want to target both small and large contaminants, you need a system that combines both of these technologies.

Bacteria and viruses are also a problem when they find their way into your indoor air and they can be particularly tricky to get rid of. HEPA filters and air ionizers both have trouble completely eradicating these pathogens, but UV germicidal lights can be incorporated into your indoor air cleaning system to tackle biological contaminants effectively.

No matter what type of home air quality problem you have, there is a system on the market that will target and remove the pollutant. The key is to know which pollutants effect you the most and which products will do the best job of removing them from your home.

What Is a Whole House Pressurization Test and Should I Get One?

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

If you have a forced air heating or cooling system in your home, you also have a system of ducts through which that heated or cooled air circulates. And most people don’t give a second though to those ducts. After all, if your heating and cooling systems are working, the ducts must be doing their job, right?

Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. If ducts are not working properly, the whole system will be in trouble, even when you don’t realize there is a problem. That’s why a pressurization test is so important – it provides peace of mind knowing that your home’s ductwork is not only properly installed, but that it doesn’t need any special repairs.

Why Pressure Matters

Your duct system depends on proper pressurization to evenly and efficiently distribute air throughout your home. Leaks, cracks or clogs in the system can disrupt that pressure and lead to uneven or inadequate movement of air through your ducts. This causes problems you may not notice, so if you haven’t had your ducts checked for proper pressure in a while, it’s worth looking into.

Improper pressurization causes symptoms like hot or cold spots in your home or an overall drop in the effectiveness of your home heating and cooling system. When loss of pressure is due to a leak that lets in unfiltered air from outdoors it can also lead to a decrease in indoor air quality. Often these symptoms are easy to ignore. But by doing so, you only allow the situation to get worse.

A whole house pressurization test is the best way to determine the state of your home duct system. By using high tech diagnostic equipment, home HVAC professionals check over your entire system to determine whether you have a pressurization problem. If so they can then quickly pinpoint the source. Once that’s done, the repairs are usually quite simple and you’ll get much more out of your home heating and cooling system than you did before.

Even if no symptoms of improper pressurization in your ducts have presented themselves, it’s worth having one of these tests performed. Especially if you don’t know when the system was last checked, a whole house pressurization test can help uncover small problems before they turn into bigger ones. And the peace of mind this provides is well worth the day it takes to perform the test.

Mold…What if I Have Mold?

Monday, May 16th, 2011

No one wants to find mold. But, even if you’re not aware of it, mold is probably lurking somewhere in the damp, dark crevices of your home. And mold is particularly likely to grow in homes with improperly regulated humidity. Luckily, because we know that, there are quite a few things we can do to stop the growth of mold in its tracks and save your home from unsafe air quality and the damaging effects of those little spores.

The Dangers of Mold

As mold grows, it can do damage to your woodwork and other areas of your home. It also contributes to indoor air quality issues because mold spores are a significant indoor air contaminant. Many people are allergic to mold spores, so if you or someone else in your household has experienced allergy symptoms that you can’t explain, mold spores are a likely culprit.

If you find out there is mold in your home, don’t panic just yet. There are some things you can do to address the problem and get mold out of your house for good. Your main task will be getting rid of the mold that is already there. This isn’t necessarily easy because of the areas mold tends to grow in. But, even with the proper air quality treatment, your home and health is still at risk if you don’t target that existing mold fast.

Stopping Mold in Its Tracks

Just getting rid of existing mold won’t solve the problem, though. Mold keeps coming back as long as there is an environment to support it – and that means moisture. Mold requires water to grow, so the chances are that if you have a mold problem in your home, you also have a humidity problem. Getting your indoor humidity under control will make it much easier to remove and keep mold out of your home for good.

There are plenty of good humidification systems on the market today. They can be easily integrated into your home heating and cooling system and provide great, consistent humidity control. Make sure you get one that’s large enough for your home. An indoor air quality professional can help you make that determination. Once you have a good humidification system in place, you’ll notice a huge difference in your overall indoor air quality, and hopefully the problem won’t return anytime soon.

Spring Drainage Reminders

Friday, May 13th, 2011

The good news is that it’s spring time, and the dreary cold of winter is behind you. The bad news is that there’s water everywhere—a lot of it. Between the melting snow and the spring showers, the water on the ground can accumulate quickly, which can lead to problems for your home and family if it is not drained properly. Below are some reminders that can help avoid a disastrous basement flood.

Start High

Your roof is a good place to start. You should check your roof in the spring anyway, so here’s your chance to take care of two birds with one stone. Start by checking for loose or damaged shingles that may cause leaks. Repair all leaks immediately, no matter how small they seem at first. Once you have taken care of the shingles, inspect the eaves for deterioration. This can be the first sign of leakage or gutter damage.

Start by cleaning out all the gutters. They’ve had all autumn and winter to accumulate leaves and ice, so a good cleaning is vital. While you’re up there clearing out the gutters, check them for any damage—bent or broken pieces, popped rivets, etc. Make any necessary repairs. Once you are done with the roof gutters, inspect the downspouts. Make sure they are clean and free of clogs, and that you have splash blocks in place at each one to keep water draining away from the foundation.

Check the Ground

Next, take a walk around the yard, keeping an eye out for any depressed spots which may cause water to pool or drain back toward the house. Fill these spots in and seed them. As an added benefit, this will help keep mosquitoes under control. When you are putting out your sprinklers, make sure they are aimed such that they do not spray the house. The water can pool around the foundation and leak into the basement.

Repair any holes or ruts in your driveway, especially if it is gravel. This will keep water running down and off the driveway, rather than pooling or flowing back toward the house.

This may all seem like a lot. Basically there are three simple principles to keep in mind in order to keep your house safe from flooding and water damage. Repair leaks promptly, keep drainage routes clean, and water should always stay away from the foundation.

When in doubt, just keep those principles in mind, and you’ll go a long way toward keeping the basement dry.

Keeping Your Home Toxic Chemical Free

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

So, you have decided you want to try to go chemical free in your home. Whether you want to be friendlier to the environment at large or just foster a healthier home environment for yourself or your kids, eliminating toxic chemicals is a big step. Below are some tips to help you go about it the right way.

Removing Toxins

The first step is to eliminate some of the major toxic chemicals that may already be in your home. First, make sure your home’s ventilation system is functioning properly. Clean vents regularly and inspect the system and change the filter annually.

Consider using a water purification system to remove chemicals like chlorine — which is used to kill microbes in many water systems — as well as drug residues and heavy metals. Remember as well that lead is a dangerous toxin, so have your home inspected for it. Remove and replace any paint, pipes, or other materials made of lead. This is especially important if your home was built prior to 1978.

Finally, have your home checked for radon and asbestos. These are both harmful toxins that can easily be breathed in without being noticed. Check for radon especially if your home has a finished basement, or if your family spends a significant amount of time in the basement.

Keeping them Out

Now that you have expelled these contaminants from your home, look for ways to avoid inviting other potentially dangerous chemicals in. Most of us use toxic chemicals every day without even realizing. To help keep these toxins out of your home, you should look for cleaning supplies that are chemical-free. Companies that manufacture and distribute chemical-free cleaning products include Method, Seventh Generation and Ecover.

You can take it a step further by using DIY cleansers. Baking soda, lemon juice, vinegar and salt are all useful in household cleaning and are much safer for children and pets than chemical-based products. Drain clearing products contain extremely harsh chemicals that can contaminate water supplies and even damage your plumbing. A combination of baking soda, vinegar and boiling water can be just as effective without the toxicity.

Finally, use soap as an alternative to chemical air fresheners. Simply leave a few bars around the house in strategic locations. The soap will absorb nearby odors. For added effect, use scented soap.

Start with these simple steps and you will be off to a good start in keeping harmful chemicals out of your home and away from your family.

7 Tips for Creating A Durable Home With Less Maintenance Needs

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Owning a home is a joy in and of itself. There is an undeniable satisfaction that accompanies being the master of your own domain. Unfortunately, that also means being the master of all the maintenance in that domain. Being proactive in doing regular, preventive maintenance is the best strategy to keep your house in shape and reduce costs, but that can grow tiresome.

So, it behooves you to try to create the most durable home possible by using materials that require less maintenance. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as a maintenance-free home – the term “sweat equity” exists for a reason – but here are some tips to make your home more durable:

Flooring:

  1. Carpet is very durable and, with advances in stain resistance technology, easier to keep clean than in the past.
  2. For homes with small children or pets, ceramic tile is a good option, as it easier to clean than carpeting and is also very durable.
  3. Use treated lumber for outdoor decks, and add a water seal after building. The former will deter termites; the latter will prevent rotting due to water damage.

Roofing:

  1. Choose the right shingle for where you live. Asphalt shingles come in a variety of thicknesses, each designed to withstand more wear. You might also consider shingles made of another material, such as metal or clay, where appropriate.
  2. For areas that get a lot of snow, consider a sheet metal roof. Usually made from aluminum or steel, metal roofs stand up better to harsh winters. Snow also slides off the metal easier, meaning less time clearing snow off the roof in the winter.

Windows:

  1. Energy-efficient windows help keep the elements out, putting less of a strain on your heating, cooling and ventilation systems, so they will require less maintenance. They also contribute to lower energy costs.
  2. Select window frames made from durable aluminum or hardwood, both of which are less likely to deteriorate and need repair over time.

Sealants and insulation are other areas where you have the opportunity to choose more durable materials. You should consult a professional on these, however, as not all materials are appropriate for all applications. For example, cellulose insulation works well in walls, but should not be used to insulate ducts and pipes. Be sure to go with a solution that is not only durable, but appropriate for the task at hand. Consult a professional with these or any other questions you may have.