Archive for September, 2011

How Do I Know If Solar Panels Will Work On My Home? A Question From Maple Valley

Friday, September 30th, 2011

When undertaking any home improvement project, there will be challenges making sure the new features fit well with the existing construction. Solar panels are no exception. You may want to install solar panels on your Maple Valley home, but will the two work together?

There are ideal conditions under which solar panels can be used, and striving to create these conditions will often present some challenges. Fortunately, in most circumstances, there are some easy adjustments you can make to ensure your new solar panels work as well as or better than advertised.

The Big Three

There are three major factors which play in to solar panel performance more than anything else. First is orientation, or where the house has exposure to the sun. Ideally, solar panels should be mounted facing south to maximize efficiency. They can also work when facing some easterly or westerly directions, albeit with some performance loss.

For maximum exposure to the sun, solar panels should be mounted at an angle that matches the latitude at which your home sits. You also want to avoid any obstructions. The path from the sun to the solar panels should be as clear as possible, with minimal shading or obstructions to interfere with the panels collecting light.

While these represent ideal conditions, it is rare that a home will meet all of them as it sits. Fortunately, there are solutions to such problems, with the most comprehensive one being a ground mount. With a ground mount, a small structure is specially built and secured it to the ground, with the solar panels mounted on it. This is an especially good fix if you have problems with your orientation and roof angle. If the problem is shading or obstructions, that can be fixed simply be cutting down or trimming trees in the way.

Other Challenges

Independent of these major variables, other issues can come into play when determining if solar panels will be a good fit for your home. You have to worry about geography and weather, your energy needs, and the insurance costs of adding solar power to your home.

While these challenges exist, as you can see there are generally ways around each of them. Consult with a contractor or other expert, who can help you decide if solar panels are a good fit for your home.

How Do I Check a Gas Furnace Draft Pressure Switch? A Question From Kent

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Since Fall has started, it important to be prepared for the upcoming winter in Kent. It is a good idea to get yourself ready by learning some basic information about your home’s heating system. For instance, there are many reasons why a gas furnace stops working and in many cases, a homeowner can perform some simple diagnostics to pinpoint the problem. Finding the problem is one thing – fixing it is another. When in doubt, don’t try it yourself. Call a qualified professional.

But let’s look at one possible problem and solution you may be able to perform yourself – testing the draft pressure switch. The draft pressure switch on a gas furnace allows an electrical current to pass through to ignite the furnace. The pressure switch monitors the draft conditions and won’t allow the furnace’s gas valve to open unless draft is correct.

If the switch is malfunctioning, so too will (or will not) the furnace.

The best way to locate the switch is by consulting with your owner’s manual or by going online and simply typing in the words “gas furnace draft switch.” It is identifiable by its round size and is bolted to the outside of the furnace. It should be nearby the draft inducer motor because the two are connected by a metal tube. The tube may sometimes be the culprit, too. A tube that is blocked with condensation may cause the switch to go bad.

To check for proper function, first turn off power to the furnace, either by shutting down the “on’ switch at the furnace or shutting off the circuit breaker.

Use a volt ohm meter to check if the switch is opening and closing properly. Start by zeroing out the meter’s probes by touching the tips together. Using the dial (could be analog or digital), set the meter to 24 volts. Ground the black probe by attaching it to any metal part of the furnace. Then place the end of the red probe on the metal tube connecting the draft pressure switch to the draft inducer motor.

If the switch is working properly the meter should read at least 24 volts, or very near that. If the reading is short of 24 volts, the switch is not working correctly. At that point you may decide to replace it or call a professional to do the task (recommended).

Always remember that there are many sources which will help you diagnose and repair a problem, especially those available through the Internet. If you search YouTube.com you will find many videos advising you on how to repair certain components. Use all of the resources available to you and keep the phone number of a qualified and professional heating and cooling contractor nearby.

Possible Causes of Poor Heating Performance with Your Boiler: A Guide From Renton

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Fall is approaching, have you turned on your heating system yet? If it isn’t working, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a mechanical engineer to troubleshoot – and possibly diagnose – the problems with your Renton home’s boiler.

The good thing about boilers is that they are typically reliable and long-lasting. There aren’t a lot of working parts that can break down and cause problems, compared to other home heating equipment. When problems do arise, they are usually related to the expansion tank or circulating pumps. But a problem can be much simpler – like a tripped circuit breaker.

The most common problems can be noise, no heat, or poor/erratic heating. Before calling a qualified heating and cooling professional, take a moment to see if you can figure out the what’s wrong.

If you have a noisy boiler it might be because of two things – a faulty circulating pump or water trapped in the return lines. If the pump breaks it will make a loud noise when its motor runs. Water can be trapped in the return lines, which may require “re-pitching” the lines to allow for a flow back to the boiler. You may be able to adjust the flow by positioning hangers on the piping but replacing a pump is better left to a professional.

If your boiler is producing no heat, it could be because of something as simple as a circuit breaker being tripped or a fuse being blown. Check your circuit breakers and fuse and reset or replace if necessary. Is your boiler thermostat in the heat mode? It should be but if it isn’t, make the switch. If your boiler has a standing pilot you should check to see if it is lit and if not, re-light it.

Other problems would take a professional to fix. For example, no heat can be traced to low water levels in the boiler. The boiler should always be half-full of water and if it isn’t, it is likely because of leaks or a faulty pressure reducing valve. Don’t try and fix the problem by yourself.

Low water levels may not cause the boiler to lose its heating capabilities, but may cause fluctuations in its heating capacity. Again, it is advisable to call a professional to diagnose and fix the problem. Poor heating can also be traced to mineral deposits in the boiler. Consult your owner’s manual on instructions how to flush out the boiler.

As always, read the owner guide or operating manual for your boiler. You should get some good tips on proper maintenance and troubleshooting. And have the phone number of a qualified professional taped to your boiler – just in case.

The Top 8 Mistakes Homeowners Make with Home Maintenance: Some Advice From Eatonville

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

Maintaining your Eatonville home is important, but it must be done properly. Learn these common maintenance mistakes so you can avoid making them yourself.

  1. Forgoing an Annual HVAC Inspection -Your home’s heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) system should be thoroughly inspected each year. This is vital to keeping your house comfortable and energy efficient.
  2. Improper smoke and/or carbon monoxide detector maintenance – Smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors should not just be installed properly, but also maintained properly. Test them monthly and replace drained batteries immediately.
  3. Ignoring manufacturer instructions – Not only instruction manuals are they important for proper installation of important equipment in your home, they also contain maintenance recommendations and schedules. Adhering to these instructions protects your investment in your home.
  4. Not replacing filters regularly – Speaking of regular maintenance, remember that the air filters in your furnace and air conditioning units need to be replaced regularly according to manufacturer recommendations.
  5. Not keeping gutters clean – Speaking of water damage, clogged gutters can overflow and cause problems in a hurry. Clean gutters and downspouts at the start of spring and regularly as needed.
  6. Insufficient cleaning (filters, ducts, vents, carpets, furnace room) – Keeping filters, vents and ductwork clean extends the life of your ventilation equipment and keeps energy costs down, as does vacuuming regularly and keeping your furnace room free of debris.
  7. Hasty measuring during repairs and renovations – The old saying goes, “measure twice, cut once.” Failing to measure twice when you are making repairs or renovations in your home can lead to a lot of frustration and waste of costly materials.
  8. Skimping on labor costs – Paying cheap rates for poor labor will cost more down the road when you have to hire another contractor to fix the first one’s mistakes.

There are other ways to err in home maintenance, but this list covers some of the more common doozies. In general, as long as you are careful, diligent and not afraid to call in professional help when needed, you will be just fine.

Things You Should Have Inspected: A Guide From Snoqualmie

Wednesday, September 21st, 2011

Life would be great in Snoqualmie if we could just depend on things to work and last without requiring any sort maintenance or upkeep. Unfortunately, that is not the case. As good as modern manufacturing and engineering are, our devices, appliances and machines still need attention in order to stay in peak condition.

The Body Is a Machine

To illustrate this, think about the human body. We put a lot of wear and tear on ourselves, which can lead to minor illnesses, injuries and the like, especially when combined with the effects of aging. One way we attempt to stay ahead of the game is to get an annual physical. Once a year, we pay a visit to our doctor to make sure everything is in tip top shape. He checks everything out, lets us know what’s going on, helps us treat anything that may be acting up and then off we go, ready to go for another year.

And So Is Your Furnace

Likewise, your furnace needs annual attention as well. Although newer electrical furnaces can go up to three years without regular maintenance, gas and oil models should be inspected every year, as should older systems. During an annual inspection, an HVAC professional will:

  • Clean out fuel lines, keeping every flowing freely and efficiently.
  • Check for parts that are wearing out or need to be replaced.
  • Clean and inspect the heating ductwork as well as the vents.

These simple and routine maintenance tasks can extend the life of your furnace by years, keeping your home warm and your heating costs low.

The Best Time for Inspection

The best time to get your furnace inspected is in the late summer to fall months. Although you may still be trying to squeeze every bit of enjoyment from those last warm days, the cold weather comes not far behind, and you will want your furnace ready when that happens. A fall inspection ensures that your furnace will be all set when those temperatures start to drop, so your family won’t have to tolerate any chilly nights.

Annual inspections and maintenance are important for health and longevity, both for you and your furnace. You can even schedule your physical and your furnace inspection around the same time so you don’t forget. Make an appointment for your car while you’re at it, too. That makes three things you won’t have to worry about during those cold winter months.

To Zone or Not to Zone My Home Comfort: A Tip From Bellevue

Monday, September 19th, 2011

There are a lot of decisions to make related to your Bellevue home’s comfort system. You must decide what type of heating you want, how you’ll implement air conditioning, and then how to keep all of that heated and cooled air clean and healthy in your home.

On top of everything else, you have the option to implement zone control in your house to provide multiple comfort levels for each member of your family. Zone control systems are growing rapidly in popularity because they allow home owners to enjoy an enhanced level of comfort throughout the day, while not negatively impacting any one person.

For example, if it’s chilly outside and you need to turn your heater on, that doesn’t mean everyone in the house wants the thermostat set to 72°F. There are a few reasons for this. You may be in the kitchen, working over the stove or doing dishes where there is plenty of heat to keep you warm. More warm air coming through vents or radiators isn’t going to make you comfortable.

The second floor of a home traditionally needs less heat because warm air on the first floor rises and fills that space. The same is true in the summer when cool air settles in lower floors. Having a zone control system allows you to set specific temperatures in each room which are then controlled by your home heating system. You can even turn off the heating and cooling in a specific room like your office or the attic if it will be empty for long periods of time.

Other Considerations

A zone control system is good for comfort, but also for the overall air quality of your home. Too much conditioned air moving through your ducts carries more allergens and contaminants into your home and causes your air quality system to work harder. Your ventilation system will be asked to work harder as well.

Ideally, a good home air quality system is designed to use as little conditioned air as possible to keep everyone comfortable. A zone control system does this very effectively. When talking to a professional about a new installation, check to find out about programmable thermostats as well. These can make it easier to set and forget the temperature in rooms that are only used for a few hours each day.

IAQ – Ultra Violet Lighting: A Tip From Des Moines

Friday, September 16th, 2011

With a state of the art home comfort system in place, complimented by a high tech indoor air cleaner, you may think you’re set to take on climate and contaminant related challenges to your air quality in your Des Moines home. But you’re probably missing one thing, and that’s the ability to remove living contaminants like bacteria and viruses from your indoor air.

Unlike non-living particulate indoor air contaminants, bacteria and viruses are not easily caught by indoor air filters or ionizers. They often slip through and continue to circulate again and again through your home, greatly increasing the likelihood that you and your family will get sick. They also tend to reproduce, so the longer you go without eliminating these germs, the more of them there will be.

Killing those Germs for Good

Fortunately there is a technological solution to this indoor air quality problem. The inclusion of ultra violet lights into your air purification system not only specifically targets bacteria and viruses; it helps to slow the spread of disease when someone in your home gets sick.

UV germicidal lights are extremely effective at removing all types of living contaminants from your indoor air. Unlike HEPA filters and air ionizers, UV germicidal lights don’t try to remove these contaminants by trapping them. Instead, they kill them outright, making sure that the germs can’t stick around to reproduce or work their way free of the containment system.

Installation and Maintenance

For most indoor air contaminants, you want to have someone test your air first. However, with bacteria and viruses, you can rest assured that they are always in the air around you. It often only takes a smaller number of pathogens to make someone ill.

Most UV germicidal lights are easy to integrate into your existing indoor air cleaning system. They are usually installed just past the filters so they can catch the germs without other indoor air contaminants getting in the way. And best of all, UV germicidal lights require very little attention or maintenance.

Simply put them in place and let them do their work. You should schedule a routine maintenance visit every so often to make sure that no part of your indoor air cleaning system needs to be repaired or replaced. But other than that, installing UV germicidal lights in your home allows you to relax and enjoy a completely contaminant free living environment.

How a Thermostat Works: A Guide From Covington

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Your thermostat is designed to closely monitor and maintain the temperature in your Covington home. When you flip the switch, you want your furnace or air conditioner to respond immediately. So, it’s a good idea to learn how it works so that if there is a problem, not only will you know better what needs to be fixed – you can decide whether to call a professional in for help.

Thermostats shouldn’t need input from you other than to set the initial temperature. From there, they are automatic switches. A thermometer inside the thermostat measures the indoor air temperature. When it gets above or below the limit you’ve specified, it triggers the thermostat to send a message to your home comfort system and keep things nice and comfortable.

Types of Thermostat

Thermostats come in two forms –electromechanical and electronic. An electromechanical thermostat is the simplest and has been used for decades to regulate temperature in homes. It has a simple strip or coil of metal that expands as the temperature rises and contract as it lowers. A mercury thermometer is placed on top of the strip. The coil’s movements cause the vial to tip as the temperature changes. There is a pair of electrical contacts on either end of the vial. The mercury can absorb that electrical current when the electrical contacts touch the thermometer. The mercury then acts as a switch to turn on your comfort system.

An electronic thermostat simply has an electronic sensor that measures the indoor air temperature. You set a temperature for your room and when it changes significantly, the switch inside your electronic thermostat is triggered, causing it to turn on your comfort system.

Ways to Upgrade Your Thermostat

Most homes only need the bare minimum in their thermostats. However, there is some very exciting technology on the market these days that can add quite a bit of value to your system. Not only can you install a programmable thermostat, you can opt for zone control systems that allow multiple thermostats in different rooms of your home.

Programming allows you to set temperatures for certain times of the day. This is especially great if you are gone from the house for long periods of time each day. Why heat or cool a home when it is empty? And if you have multiple people with different temperature needs, zone control temperature control allows you to set specific temperatures for specific rooms in your home – a very enticing option for large families or multi-story homes.

How Much Can I Expect To Save On Energy If I Have A Solar System? A Question From Fircrest

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Everyone in Fircrest knows about the benefits of solar energy for the environment. It reduces carbon emissions, preserves nonrenewable natural resources, reduces dependence on oil, etc. That is all well and good, but in tight economic times the question always comes down to one thing: how much will you save. People want to know how much going solar can really save them on costs, and if you are reading this, then you are probably wondering the same thing, and with good reason.

Savings Are Variable

Somewhat disappointingly, that’s the answer. There a number of factors to consider in the cost of using solar energy and the subsequent savings, and after considering all of them you may decide solar isn’t right for you. There is no one right answer, but below you can see some guidelines which ought to give you a better idea:

  • Energy costs for an average American household are estimated at about $195 per month, and rising at a rate of about 3.75% each year.
  • The cost of installing a solar panel system is between $8 and $12 per watt (or $8,000 to $12,000 per kilowatt).
  • If your family uses 7 kilowatts of electricity per month, a solar panel system to offset 100% of your energy use will cost about $63,000. You can opt to get a less robust system to offset, say, 50% of current usage, however, for a lower cost. This is not set in stone either. Costs fluctuate depending on where you live and current component prices.
  • Despite the high initial cost, many solar systems are under warranty for 25 years, meaning you can expect them to last at least that long.
  • Depending on the utility price structure in your area, using solar for 50% of your household energy consumption may reduce costs by as much as 60%. Over 25 years, assuming the steady rate increase of 3.75%, your savings can be upwards of $60,000.

Keep in mind that these are only rough estimates. Research utility costs in your area and get estimates before installing. Solar energy calculator utilities are available online. You may find that there is a definite savings with solar, or that you can use a smaller system to offset a portion of your energy use. Or, you may even find that solar energy is not the right option for you. The important thing is to do your homework and choose the home energy solution that is best for you and your family.

When Should You Check Your AC Filters: Some Pointers From Eatonville

Friday, September 9th, 2011

The filters on your air conditioning unit are vital for keeping out the dust and debris that make things like illness, allergies and air quality worse in your Eatonville home. And it’s important that you take personal responsibility for checking those filters. Sure, you have a professional visit your home once a year to check the air conditioning, but you should also check the system yourself on a semi-regular basis for possible filter degradation.

Monthly Checks

So, how often should you check? Think of it this way. There is no such thing as checking too much, but you can easily not check often enough. So, we recommend checking your filter at least once every 4 weeks. It may not always need to be changed during that four week checkup (sometimes it can last 6 weeks or longer), but it’s good to take a peek.

Why is this so important? Because filters that haven’t been checked and changed as needed have a habit of building up excess sediment and debris. Not a problem when it comes to actually working, but a huge problem when it comes to your energy bill. The harder a system has to work to keep you house cool, the more energy it draws and the more you pay to have cool air in your home. And it will break down much faster as a result of overwork and dirty filters.

Changing an AC Filter

If your filter is ready for a swap, here are some quick tips to get the job done:

  • Find Your Filters – If you don’t know where your filters are, ask your contractor on the next visit or look near the return grills by the thermostat.
  • Remove the Filters – Open the latches and pull the old filter out to check it. You should be able to see clearly through a permanent filter and a disposable one should still be white. If this isn’t the case, it’s time for a cleaning/replacement.
  • Clean the Area – Clear the grill and area of any debris and sediment that might make the filter worse after replacement.

Proper filter maintenance only takes five minutes and it will save you money every month you run your AC – not a bad deal for a few minutes’ work.