Water Heaters 101

 

Tankless Water Heaters

There have been some major changes recently in terms of how people heat water in their homes. The vast majority of people still use a conventional tanked water heater, such as a chimney vent or power vent water heater. However, we’re seeing many people deciding that they want to move to a tankless water heater. Tankless water heaters provide unlimited hot water. They are also substantially smaller than tanked water heaters (about the size of a suitcase hanging on your wall). People are enjoying the switch to a tankless unit because of the amount of closet space they can free up.

I don’t think that there’s a downside to tankless water heaters. However, there are some important considerations about the way they operate that homeowners should understand. First of all, my father brought to my attention that he likes to wash dishes by keeping the warm water running low and slow into the sink. That’s not the way that tankless water heaters operate. When you call for a certain flow amount of hot water, the tankless water heater kicks on and starts working. If you just turn the tap on slightly, it’s not going to tell the system that there’s a call for hot water and it won’t turn on.

Next, you might have to install tankless water heaters further away from your existing water heater’s location because of venting requirements. It may take a little bit longer to get hot water because the system doesn’t have a tank for storage. Once the system is told that there’s a need for hot water, the burners will come on and the system will provide unlimited hot water. If you have two people bathing and someone doing laundry at the same time, the system will maintain providing hot water at every spigot. However, it will reduce the volume of hot water so it can keep up.

New Technologies & Lifespan Considerations

We’re also seeing the implications of the federal government’s new regulations for electric water heaters. When homeowners move to a larger tanked electric water heater, they now have to use a hybrid heat pump water heater. It uses the same principles as a heat pump that you’d use to heat your home. While it’s running and creating hot water, it’s doing the job much more efficiently than an old tanked electric system that was basically using a toaster strip to heat up the water.

In terms of average lifespan, tankless water heaters have been around for a long time. They have a fairly proven track record. Hybrid heat pump water heaters use the same type of tank as a standard water heater. The big question is how long the heat pump portion will last. We haven’t been installing these systems for long enough to know (nobody has). However, since the heat pump uses tried and true technology, we think they will probably have a lifespan as long as traditional water heaters.

One big caveat is that the quality of water can dramatically impact the lifespan of the water heater. If you’re in a situation where your water is hard, acidic, or high in iron, it can cause a problem with the water heater over the long run. If possible, you should address your water quality issue to prolong the life of your components.

You can also maximize the lifespan of your water heater by making sure it undergoes regular maintenance. Most people think that a water heater is an appliance that doesn’t require any maintenance. That’s certainly not the case. First, the water heater should be drained/flushed on a regular basis to clear any sediment buildup. Second, the water heater manufacturer suggests that you open the temperature and pressure relief valve once a year to make sure it’s functioning properly.

With all the variety of water heater technology available, there’s always a cost/benefit analysis you can do to figure out how efficient the system is and what kind of payback you’ll see in the long run. If you’re thinking about getting a new water heater, or if you want to make sure your existing water heater is properly maintained, give Boulden Brothers a call or contact us online.

Do-It-Yourself Electrical Work

 

There are plenty of DIY projects that a homeowner can do comfortably. However, there are certain kinds of projects that people shouldn’t even think about attempting to do on their own. If someone wants to install a dimmer or replace an existing switch/outlet, it’s possible to do the job safely with some preparation. That being said, you still need to use great caution. For instance, you’d want to make sure that you don’t get an unwanted surprise when you think you’re working on a circuit that’s turned off only to find that it actually still has power. Even at home voltage, the outcome can be disastrous.

The average person probably doesn’t have expertise about adhering to code. Electrical codes change quite regularly (most of the time, for safety reasons). Unless you’re dealing with a very minor repair, the task is probably outside of most people’s ability to perform safely. I think I’m pretty handy, so I’ll change lights, install switches, and do minor things like that. But when it comes to the electrical panel, I won’t even get a screwdriver near it to take the cover off. Anything that involves changing out breakers or managing circuits is probably beyond what a homeowner can do safely.

I can think of many examples across all of our trades where someone tried to do a DIY project and ended up making the situation way worse than when they started. Someone tried to make a toilet repair and ended up with a flood. People will also try to put thermostats on their furnace and end up wiring it incorrectly. All of a sudden, the board on the furnace is blown out, resulting in the need for a major furnace repair. We frequently get situations where a client will call and say their husband or wife tried to install something and now the whole circuit doesn’t work. Nothing in the room turns on anymore. It would have cost them much less (not just money, but time and frustration) if they would have just called us instead of trying to perform the task themselves.

I wouldn’t say that electric mishaps occur as often, because people are less willing to attempt electrical work. However, I’ve certainly heard my share of mishaps over the years. If you have any doubts about tackling a DIY job, play it safe and smart. Call a qualified professional instead. Boulden Brothers can help you with any task that you’d want a residential electrician to perform, from changing an outlet or switch to instilling dimmers, lights, or ceiling fans. We can help if you have a problem with your electrical panel or if you need a new panel installed. For people with very old homes, you might have fuses instead of a panel. We’ll be able to make sure your home has adequate electricity, all the way up to installing standby generators.

Unfortunately, many house fires each year are related back to a faulty electrical system. Be smart and safe when it comes to DIY projects. Whenever you’re dealing with electrical issues, get a qualified professional to make sure the job is done right. Contact the Pros at Boulden Brothers by giving us a call or contacting us online.

What To Consider When Purchasing a New HVAC System

 

As the weather warms up, you might be coming to the realization that you need a new HVAC system. The most important day in your system’s life is the day that it’s installed (not the day that it was manufactured). If installed correctly, the system is likely to operate efficiently and have a long life. If not installed correctly, that’s when the problems start to creep in. The most critical thing you have to think about as a homeowner isn’t the brand or efficiency rating of a new HVAC system—it’s who’s going to be installing it.

We strongly recommend that you pay attention to the quality of the company, the caliber of the service technicians, and the training they undergo to make sure they do the job right every time. Remember, the quality of installation is the most important thing you need to consider. It’s critical that the installer pays attention to manufacturer’s specs for airflow. They should also be following all codes for safety. If you assumed that every contractor pulls permits and installs the system to code, you’d be sadly mistaken.

Another way that you can separate the good installers from the bad ones is by finding out if they’ve committed to purchasing the proper tools. At Boulden Brothers, we use all electronic gauges. When we’re putting the refrigerant charge in for the first time, we know that we’re using the absolute best tools on the market to make sure we’re doing it correctly. Companies that still use manual gauges can’t get close to the proper charge, especially at times of the year when it’s cold outside. Tools like electronic gauges are expensive, so not every company is willing to make the investment.

What Happens When You Contact Boulden Brothers?

The first thing we do is set an appointment for a project specialist to go out to your home. They will engineer the job to make sure that the type of system you want is an ideal choice for your home. Importantly, we perform an engineering load analysis where we determine the heat loss and heat gain for your home to make sure that the system we’re installing is the proper size. (Not all contractors do this.)

First, we perform the calculation by looking at things we know for sure: the size of the windows, the number of doors, and the direction that each wall of the house faces. Since we can’t always see the insulation, we have to make an estimate. We also look at whether the house is on a slab, crawlspace, or attic. It’s a fairly long list of items we pay attention to in order to come to a decision. Once we gather all the data, we enter it into a computer or manual calculation sheet. It will tell us the size of the system that’s ideal for your home.

When it comes to most things, people tend to think that bigger is better. That’s not the case for HVAC. You’re not going to get the maximum comfort unless you system is properly sized. On the other side of the coin, if the system is too small, it will not have the capability to heat or cool your house when the weather reaches extremes.

Then we’ll look at the ideal size of the system in combination with your house’s engineering. Maybe your house can accommodate a high efficiency furnace, standard efficiency furnace, or heat pump. In terms of efficiency, you can go from the government mandated minimum up to almost double, depending on the size of the system. You’ll have to decide what’s most important: operating cost, initial investment, or even the highest efficiency regardless of the payback. Everyone has a different motivation when it comes to deciding the efficiency that they prefer in an HVAC system.

There are usually four or five options that could work in a client’s home. It’s confusing if you’re presented with so many options, so part of the process we take is to narrow down the choices by getting an idea of what’s most important to you.

There are a lot of choices when it comes to a new HVAC system. We’ll be there for you every step of the way. If you want to get your system installed properly, give Boulden Brothers a call or contact us online. You’ll be sure that your new system is in good hands on it’s most important day.

How to Improve Indoor Air Quality

 

It’s a tough time of year for people who are suffering from asthma and/or allergies. Many of us assume that we can just stay inside during the worst days of allergy season. Unfortunately, the EPA has said repeatedly that the air quality is actually worse indoors. Poor indoor air quality leads to irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. You can also get headaches, dizziness, or fatigue. That’s bad for everyone, but it certainly exacerbates the effects of asthma and allergies (especially in kids).

Polluted air has been proven to cause 94% of all respiratory problems. People don’t think about it often, but about around 40,000 dust mites can live on a single ounce of dust. (It’s not just the dust mites that are the problem. They leave nasty waste behind, too.) The average person inhales about 3,500 gallons of air each day. Accounting for size, children actually inhale more particles than adolescents or adults.

What active measures can you take to ensure that your home’s air quality is up to par? We recommend a product called MicroPower Guard. It’s an electric filtration system that’s dramatically more efficient than a run-of-the-mill dime store filter. It works by sliding into the space of your HVAC system’s existing filter. It fits right into systems designed for a standard 1” thick filter. (Sometimes we might have to make small changes so that your system will accommodate the filter.) It also requires power, so we either wire it directly into the HVAC system’s control board or simply plug the unit into the nearest wall outlet.

Maintenance of the MicroPower Guard filters is straightforward. It has a portion that needs to be replaced quarterly (under average use) and a portion that can be cleaned.

There’s no doubt about the benefits of good air quality. Boulden Brothers can take a look at your home’s HVAC system and recommend the best choice for you. Everyone in your family will experience the health benefits, especially if someone suffers from allergies or asthma. It also extends the life of your HVAC system and allows it to operate more efficiently.

Remember, a very small amount of dirt clogging your HVAC system can dramatically reduce its efficiency and lifespan. At the very least, make sure that your filter is maintained regularly. To learn more about the available micro-filtration options for your home, give Boulden Brothers a call or contact us online.

Transitioning Your HVAC System

 

As we approach the spring, homeowners often get into spring cleaning mode. It’s a great time to open up all the windows in the house and let in the fresh springtime air. Unfortunately, people tend to forget that opening up the windows also opens up the house to everything that’s outside (like pollen and allergens). How can homeowners enjoy the fresh air while still having a way to prevent allergens from circulating throughout the home?

1. Pay attention to your filter.

A good filter is critical to prolonging the life and maximizing the efficiency of your furnace. It’s also very important to the health of everyone in your home. On average, people inhale about 3,500 gallons of air each day. When considering the size of the average child, they inhale more particles comparatively than adolescents or adults. Polluted air is the cause of 94% of all respiratory problems.

How often should you be maintaining your filter? It really depends on the type of filter you have. Some filters need monthly, quarterly, or semi-annual maintenance. Refer to the documentation or ask a professional if you’re in doubt. If the filter isn’t maintained as often as necessary, it will eventually become ineffective. Your system will have a reduced life and decreased efficiency. It may also allow more allergens to be distributed throughout the house.

2. Regularly maintain your air conditioner.

The air conditioning manufacturers and the United States Department of Energy are most knowledgeable when it comes to air conditioning systems. They recommend that all air conditioning systems are maintained annually. There are some things that the homeowner can perform by themselves, but most maintenance requires a qualified professional.

Homeowners can clean the outdoor coil with a water hose to remove as much dirt and dust as possible. We advise against using a brush on the coil. A qualified professional will be able to use chemicals that are more effective at removing any accumulated debris. It’s also a good idea to make sure that weeds and other vegetation don’t grow too closely to the unit. (They can restrict airflow.)

A professional will get into the unit and check that all the electronics in the system are working properly. They’ll cycle the system through all of its operations. They’ll also make sure that the unit has a proper refrigerant charge so it’s running at optimal efficiency. We go through a multipoint checklist to make sure that the unit is ready for its next cooling season.

3. Stay ahead of the weather.

The first time a homeowner turns on their air conditioner is usually the first day that it’s hot outside. If you’re going to contact a qualified professional like Boulden Brothers for a maintenance check, don’t wait until the beginning of the season. That’s when all the heating and air conditioning companies are overrun. Turn your system on while it’s just getting warm outside. That’s a simple proactive measure that you can take to stay ahead of the rush. That way, you’ll be sure that your system is ready to provide cold air.

To properly maintain your air conditioner, give Boulden Brothers a call or contact us online. We’ll make sure your system is ready to go when the weather gets hot.

Summer Efficiency Tips

 

The summer months usually mean increased demand for electricity. Are high utility bills inevitable? Not necessarily. There are a few things you can do to improve your home’s efficiency.

  1. Check the thermostat.

One of the best things you can do is install a programmable thermostat. It automatically maintains a comfortable temperature while also making the most out of your daily habits. Also, take some time to adjust it to the highest temperature that you still feel comfortable. It could be 72 or 73 degrees, but keep in mind that you save 3% to 5% for every additional agree that you raise the thermostat. Raising the setting from 70 to 73 degrees could mean 9% to 15% savings on your energy bill during the summertime.

Air conditioners do two things for your home: they remove the humidity and cool the air. The difficulty comes when people open their windows on a mild, humid day. They’re letting all that humidity into their homes. Later in the day when they turn on the air conditioner, it has to work harder to remove the humidity.

  1. Close off unconditioned areas.

If you have an unconditioned area of your home, it’s really important to make sure it’s closed off. If not, you’ll have hot air moving from that room into the rest of your home. Maybe it’s a screen patio that you converted into a three season room by installing windows. You want to make sure you shut the door because your air conditioning system was probably not designed for that additional cooling load. You’d be overworking the system to keep the entire area at temperature.

  1. Use your fans.

If you have a ceiling fan, turn it on. Fans provide you with much better air circulation. They also give the comfortable sensation of air moving across your skin. As long as the air isn’t humid, you’ll get a feeling that the room is a bit cooler.

  1. Keep the heat out.

Make sure that any holes/cracks in the windows and doors are sealed. Also, keep the blinds, shades, and drapes closed. If you have a side of your home that’s facing directly into the sun, this is going to have a dramatic impact. Anything you can do to keep the sun’s heat from entering your home will have a measurable effect on your energy usage.

  1. Make sure the AC is working efficiently.

If something’s out of whack in your air conditioning system, it might still be able to cool your house. Unfortunately, it’s going to take more energy to get the job done because it’s not working at optimal performance. When a technician visits your home, they will go through all the steps involved in our cooling tune-up to determine if everything is operating optimally.

If your unit is running for a long time, that may or may not be a sign that something is wrong. Newer units are designed to run for longer, but that’s how they are most efficient. They may be saving you money, since that’s how they’re designed to run.

We now have a monitoring system that we can install on a home’s air conditioning unit. It will tell you if the system is operating within the manufacturer’s specifications. It has the ability to monitor performance 24/7. It’s checking to make sure everything is running optimally, and it also makes sure all components are working properly every time the system cycles through. It will alert us by text message or email if it notices that a component is operating out of spec or is about to fail.

If you notice any irregularities that need to be addressed, give Boulden Brothers a call or contact us online. We’ll assist you to make sure that your HVAC system is running at peak efficiency.

Water Conservation Tips

 

Water conservation isn’t just good for the environment—it’s also a great way for homeowners to save money on utility bills. Here are some tips that will keep both you and mother nature happy.

  1. Install efficient products.

New products that use tried and true technologies are a great way to save water. High efficiency shower heads are fairly common. In many cases, they can give the user a feeling of higher pressure. Dual flush toilets are also very water efficient. They have a light flush and heavy flush mode and are rated in gallons per flush. Pay attention to the rating on the label before buying a new appliance. That way, you’ll know exactly what to expect.

  1. Use eco mode.

Many dishwashers, washing machines, and other appliances have a built-in eco mode. If you have the opportunity to take advantage of it, it will attempt to conserve water and electricity. You should give the setting a try to see how much it can save. You might find out that it works well in certain situations or use cases. Experiment to find out if it works well for you.

  1. Fix household drips and leaks.

It’s amazing how quickly a small drip can add up to gallons of wasted water going down the drain. It should always be a priority to get drips fixed if you’re trying to conserve water. If you think you have an underground leak on your main water line (even if it’s the city line), get it checked out.

  1. Shut off running water whenever possible.

Unfortunately, we tend to develop bad habits growing up that are hard to break. For example, lots of people leave the water running unnecessarily while brushing their teeth. If you have the water running the whole time, it’s going to add up to gallons and gallons wasted. Turn off the water while brushing your teeth, shaving, or washing dishes when possible.

  1. Maximize your lawn’s efficiency.

If you’re planning to water the lawn, the best time is in the morning or evening. That’s because you’re not going to get the evaporative effect that occurs during the middle of the day (when it’s hottest). You can even install collection tanks that store the water that drips off the roof during rainy season. Even though you can’t use it as potable drinking water, it’s great for watering plants.

Bonus: Use containers creatively.

People tend to turn the tap water on and let it run for a while to get nice cool drinking water. You could save a lot of water by putting a pitcher of it in the fridge instead.

When cleaning, it’s better to use buckets instead of running the water hose. A continuous spray will end up using large amounts of water.

If you would like to install highly water efficient products in your home, give Boulden Brothers a call or contact us online.

Digital Programmable Thermostats

 

The primary benefit of using a digital programmable thermostat is energy savings. If you haven’t made the switch to a digital programmable thermostat yet, now’s a great time.

Customized Usage

Digital programmable thermostats are especially useful if you leave your home during the day. They save power by turning the air conditioner/heater off when you’re not using it. Let’s say that everyone is at school or work on weekdays. After being properly programmed, the thermostat will adjust itself automatically. Just before everyone comes back home, it will get your home to the desired temperature. As a result, you can potentially see significant savings on your electric bill.

On the other hand, that means that if you stay at home all day with your thermostat set to 70 degrees, you probably won’t see any savings. It becomes way more efficient if it’s programmed to run the air conditioner or heater less during the day. Ideally, 8 hours a day when most people are out is a great opportunity for increased efficiency. It wouldn’t make much of a difference if you just turned the system off for an hour.

Thermostats on the market today are even smarter than they used to be. The technology has improved so that the unit will actually anticipate the amount of time it will take to bring your home back to temperature. Older systems used to go by a predetermined time prior to everyone coming home. New systems actually learn how long it takes to get the home to the desired temperature.

Apps, Reminders, and Alerts

New digital programmable thermostats are also more accurate. There’s no mercury in them, so you don’t have to worry about toxicity from that perspective. In terms of convenience, some systems even have a smartphone app that allows you to adjust the desired temperature at all points in the house. It also allows you to see what the actual temperature is compared to what it’s set to. It’s much easier to make sure it’s set exactly how you want, even when you’re away from home.

Select models give alerts when it’s time to change the filter, based on a set timer. (The alert isn’t based on run time of the unit.) Some models even give you an alert if a component in the furnace or air conditioner has stopped operating. That way you can call a qualified service provider to check it out.

Compatibility with Existing HVAC Systems

There’s a digital programmable thermostat that’s designed to work with any type of HVAC system that’s on the market now. Before making a purchase, it’s important to make sure that the type of thermostat you’re buying is compatible with your home’s system.

Boulden Brothers can guide you through the process. We’ll install the thermostat for you and make sure it’s going to be a great value for your home. If you want to install it yourself as a project, make sure you know what you’re doing. A word of caution, though: it’s common for people trying to install a programmable thermostat to cross the wires. It risks frying the board on your furnace or air conditioner. An inexpensive home project could end up becoming an expensive HVAC system repair due to the sensitivity of the circuitry on newer equipment.

If you would like to get a digital programmable thermostat for your home, give Boulden Brothers a call or contact us online.

Duct Cleaning

The typical homeowner would be surprised to find out just how dirty their ductwork really is. All kinds of filth can accumulate over time, which may not be healthy for you or your family. That’s why it’s definitely a good idea to make sure that your home’s ducts are cleaned every two to three years, depending on the home environment. (Duct cleaning should be performed more frequently if you leave your windows open or if your home environment has smokers and pets.)

 

The duct cleaning process we use begins at the registers, which are furthest from the unit itself. We push the accumulated filth back to the unit. At the same time, we brush and vacuum as we go. When we’re almost done, we’ll spray an EPA approved sanitizer that leaves the duct system with a nice fresh smell. The end result is a very clean system.

The air filters in air conditioning systems do a great job of capturing lots of the particulate in the air. However, they don’t catch everything. Some of the finer particles can get through your filtration system. As a result, a certain amount of dust will eventually make its way into the ductwork and fall to the bottom.

Of course, you should have good filtration in place along with a regularly maintained filter. It’s also a good idea to leave the system’s fan set to ‘on’ instead of ‘auto’. That way, the air will continually circulate in your home. That means you’re constantly running air across the filter, giving it the opportunity to remove more of the particles. The best strategy is to combine these good habits with a clean duct system.

Benefits

If you haven’t ever had your ducts cleaned before, you don’t have a baseline of comparison. It’s not until you’ve had duct cleaning performed before you can see the difference. Airborne particles can contribute to respiratory issues like asthma or allergies. Dirt in the ductwork can also eventually accumulate on your heat pump or air conditioner coil. In turn, that will reduce the efficiency of those appliances.

Duct cleaning removes most of the dust and other particulates from circulation by the air in your home. While duct cleaning won’t completely eliminate the need for dusting, it will decrease its frequency. (Think about how much dust you’re introducing into your home on a regular basis.)

Of course, our system isn’t perfect—if it was, we’d be able to actually get into the ducts and see everything. However, the brushes we use are extremely flexible and do a good job of getting most of the particles. There are different areas of ductwork, like tight corners for example, that could be very difficult to reach with any duct cleaning system.

Remember, duct cleaning every two to three years is a great way to improve air quality and maximize your system’s efficiency. To learn more about Boulden Brothers’ duct cleaning services, give us a call or contact us online.

Water Conditioning Systems

 

Hard water is a problem in our area, but it’s not as bad as some other parts of the country. Lime scale is the most obvious sign that your home has hard water. That’s the white crusty substance that will accumulate on your faucets, sinks, tubs, and other plumbing fixtures. If your water has a large amount of calcium and magnesium, it’ll stay behind after the water evaporates. It doesn’t just make your fixtures look ugly—it also has the potential to affect their lifespan.

Why You Should Care

Hard water makes dish washers and washing machines work much harder. The soaps we use aren’t as effective. Clothes don’t come out as clean and they don’t stay bright for as long. Hard water makes your dishes look spotty and foggy after they come out of the dishwasher.

Hardness in the plumbing system will eventually restrict proper flow of appliances and build up inside of the pipes. It’ll also slowly clog up the rim of your toilet where water releases along the bowl.

When it comes to the water heater, hardness buildup will reduce its life and overall efficiency. When all that hardness falls to the bottom of a gas water heater, it means that the system will have to work much longer to heat up the water. That’s because it has to heat up the minerals before it can work its way up to the water itself.

What You Can Do

The best way to deal with hard water is to install a system to soften the water in your home. A water softener removes the calcium and magnesium from the water. It’s most noticeable to people when showering, bathing, or washing their hands. When you have soft water, you get a very silky smooth feeling.

It’s not because the calcium and magnesium prevents all the soap from being washed off. Instead, it’s actually because calcium and magnesium removes the natural oils from your body. Women will notice a difference in their hair, too. They’ll need to use less shampoo and conditioner. For cleaning products in general, you should be able to use half of what you’re accustomed to.

Options & Maintenance

Unfortunately, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every home. The ideal system is based on the size of the home, number of bathrooms, and size of the water lines. We tend not to size the water softener off of the number of residents in the home. Let’s say there’s a residence with only two people living there. If we were to install a softener sized for them, it might not be able to keep up with demand if the home is sold, if more people move in, or if family comes over for a holiday visit.

Maintenance depends on the quality of the water. In our area, hard water that comes from a well may contain a higher level of iron. Iron requires more maintenance, since it can potentially clog the unit. You need regular maintenance from a qualified professional to ensure that the unit is functioning correctly and there’s no excessive iron buildup.

If you notice the telltale signs of hard water, give Boulden Brothers a call or contact us online. We’ll be able to make a recommendation about the ideal water softener for your home.