Thursday, February 23, 2017

Wi-Fi and Programmable thermostat

Control your Home Comfort with a Programmable Thermostat

This past week I bought a wifi thermostat to replace the programmable thermostat that controls the first floor of my home. During installation I found out that currenting wiring is not compatible with my new wifi thermostat. This is going to become a common issue issue as wifi thermostats become cheaper and more common in homes.  The big question is what is the difference between a programmable thermostat and a wifi thermostat and what is the benefit.

Programmable thermostats are a great way to help you save on your energy usage and tailor your heating and cooling to your needs.  Most programmable thermostats allow you to schedule a week schedule with 4 time point throughout each day. This allows you to schedule when your heat or cooling will turn on for during the weekdays and the weekends and at what time each day. The best times for the schedule to run would be before you wake up, when you leave for work, before you return home, and before you go to bed. Programmable thermostats give you an added level of control over standard dial thermostats that have one static temperature unless you change it on your own. Having to change the temp on your own doesn’t let you wake up to a warm house in the morning or unnecessarily heat a home when no one is home.

Wi-fi or smart thermostats are part of the connect home or the internet of things (IoT). These allow you ask smart hubs like an Amazon Echo or Philips hub or Siri to change the temperature of the room without ever going to the thermostat itself. They have the same features as a programmable thermostat like scheduling but in some cases also feature geo-fencing and adaptive scheduling, where it learns your routine.  Geo-fencing allows the thermostat to know when you leave your home or a pre-defined area, this will force it into away mode where it’ll use less energy to heat or cool your home. Once you get back into that area your thermostat will go to your home temperature allowing you to step into a warm home.

Thermostats like the Honeywell Lyric, the Nest, and ecobee all require a common wire to help to power the thermostat. Most older heating and cooling systems don’t have this wire, some do but may not be used prior to your wifi thermostat needing them.  The wiring for you heating or cooling system will feature anywhere from 2 to 5+ wires that control whether heat or cool air is called. Each wire controls something, for a system that is just heating you’ll find two wires that are being used the red and white wire. For heating and cooling systems you’ll more than likely see four wires being used the red and white for heat and the blue and green to control fans and turning on the ac.  If there is a fifth wire, that is the common wire. The common wire is there to help with the add electrical need of the thermostat. In some cases you can move the fan wire which is usually yellow or green to the common but the fan will continuously blow. If you are worried about installing a new wi-fi give your heating and cooling company a call to have them install it.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Ice Damns

Keeping your Attic Cold in the Winter is important

One of the best ways to see if a home is properly insulated is the amount of snow on a roof.  The less snow on a roof the worse the insulation is, or the less cold air is getting in through vents.  Heat rises, as you heat your home the heat created by your heating system, eventually making it way into your attic.

As your attic gets warmer and warmer the snow on your roof can start to melt from the bottom up.  In some cases it won't melt all the way through to the top or water will start to work it's way down your roof into more snow. This water can refreeze, melt, refreeze over time and create an ice dam. New water won't have anywhere to go as it hits the dam and in some cases will start to leak back in your roof or into rooms if you have roofs directly over rooms in your home.

A good way to fight against ice dams is to make sure that cold air can get into your attic or that hot air can escape.  This can be done by properly insulating your attic, this will help to keep warm air in your home from traveling up into your attic.  You can also make sure that vents are allowing in cold air and allowing hot air to escape without warming the attic.

While it is odd to think that keeping a part of your home cold during the winter is important, this could help save you thousands of dollars in home repairs.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Being More Energy Efficient in the New Year

What is your New Year's Resolution?

Many of us make resolutions to lose weight, get that promotion at work, find our soul mate, or to save or spend less money in the New Year. If your resolution is the later a great place to start is your home.

Some of these suggestions might involve an up front cost but will save you money over several years. There are many appliances, devices, and products that we use on a daily basis in our home that could be eating up your money. From your water heater, to your heating system, light bulbs, tv's, and other electrical devices.

Water heaters are a great place to start, with a lifespan of 7-9 on average and taking up 25% of your home's energy consumption, an update could help to reduce your monthly bills.  When looking for a new water heater it is important to take in consideration your needs or demands for hot water. How many people are in your home, what type of fuel source do you have in your home, how your want your water to be heated. For oil customers with 1-2 people in your home you have an option of adding a tank-less coil to your boiler for on-demand hot water. You can replace an aging storage tank with either an indirect or direct heated water heater. An indirect water heater pulls heat from your heating system to heat the water, this is a very popular way that can accommodate a family of 4+ depending on the size of the tank. A direct water heater has it's own burner similar to your heating system that only heats the water in the tank and doesn't waste energy by heating up the entire heating system. Direct water heaters are the most energy efficient form of oil water heaters, but can be the most expensive in terms of up front costs.

If you have propane or natural gas or are looking to add gas to your home water heaters are a great way to get your feet wet with gas. Options for Gas fired water heaters are tank-less, direct, and indirect. A tank-less water heater while similar to a tank-less coil for oil customers but is a stand alone product instead of being installed existing equipment. A tank-less water heater does provide on-demand hot water but does not provide enough heat for multiple applications. This means you wont be able to take a shower and wash your clothes at the same time. Modern water heaters like all technology advance to deliver better output while using less energy if your water heater is more than a decade old you should look into replacing it.

During the months of November through March or April we use our heating systems almost none stop to stay warm and comfortable, so why would you still use a 30, 40, or 50 year heating system.  Modern heating systems take up less space, provide zones for your system, and use less energy. All of these allow for you to save money over the life of your system, with regular maintenance. Zones are a great way to save when paired with programmable thermostats. Zoned allows you to heat different parts your home to different temps or completely turn off certain areas. You can create zones based on floors or room by room. Programmable thermostats are a great way to reduce energy consumption from fuel and electricity. You set create times of the day when your heat will get to a certain temp while your home and then can drop the temp while you are away from the house. This allows you to heat your home only when you're home.  More advanced thermostats like the Nest or Lyric use geo-fencing, when get a certain distance away from you home your thermostat will assume you aren't home anymore and reduce the heat.

Another great way to reduce your homes energy is with LED light bulbs, LED bulbs use a fraction of the electric as incandescent  bulbs while being brighter.  Many home improvement stores sell LED bulbs in bulk but the most cost effective way to get energy efficient bulbs to have a home energy assessment done by Mass Save. It is a free service that takes between 1 and 3 hours to perform. They replace all of your older bulbs with new LED bulbs, yes it's free like actually free. They take a look at your insulation throughout your walls and your attic. All of these can help you to save money over years.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

What to do when you home doesn't react well to winter weather

There is a lot that can go wrong with your house in the cold.

Winter has arrived here in the northeast right on time compared to last year when it didn't show up at all and the year before that when it showed up a month late. When the cold weather comes so can a lot of problems around your house.

As we know water freezes at 32 degrees, this can happen in your home even if you have the thermostat set at 50, 55, 60, or even 65.  The pipes that carry water throughout your home can freeze and cause a great deal of damage. The rate and chances of your pipes freezing depends on the inside temp and the outdoor temps and weather conditions. On a typical winter day where the temp is in the twenties or thirties as long as you keep your house somewhere in the 60's and have decent insulation you'll have a pretty low risk of any pipes freezing inside your home. 

Once the temps start to drop in November you should close any outdoor water taps and bring in any hoses. Make sure to go inside and turn off the water supply to the tap as well, this will keep water further away from the cold temps.  Pipes that are exposed outside have the greatest risk of freezing. This can create a leak in an area of your home that you might not go to frequently, allowing for water damage to spread more than in a more occupied area of your home.

The outside temp greatly effects the chances of your pipes freezing, last February we saw temps drop below zero. But it's not always the temps that causes pipes to freeze, but the wind if there is wind.  Most of the coldest days that we've experienced aren't in fact that cold, when you just look at the temperature. The actual temp and the "feels" like temp can we very different if there is a strong amount of wind, produce a wind chill.  This past week (December 12-18) we saw real temps in the single digits with feels like temps dropping in the double digit negatives. When there are strong winds constantly hitting your home any pipes that are in those walls are very susceptible to freezing if there isn't proper insulation present. The constant wind against your home can greatly reduce the temp to the point where water can freeze.

Some other areas of your home that are prone to pipe freezing are surprising not found your basement. Most homes have the heating system in your basement this means that heat come off of your system heats the room that it's in. This of course doesn't mean that pipes in your basement won't freeze, be on the watch for pipes that are far way from the heat source and close to the exterior of your home.  Some of the most prone areas are kitchens and bathrooms that are on exterior facing walls.  While your kitchen or even your bathroom might be toasty, your pipes are nicely tucked away in a cabinet blocked from heat.  

On cold windy nights keep an eye on your pipes and if your are fearful of your pipes freezing, open up your cabinet doors to let heat in. Also open up faucets to allow for hot water to flow through your pipes preventing them from freezing. If your pipes do freeze it's best not to try to unfreeze them yourself. Contact a trained professional to unfreeze your pipes. Unfreezing pipes on your own can lead to bursts or damage from quick changes in temps for your pipes.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Best of Central Mass

What does it mean to be the best?

On December 1st the Telegram & Gazette, a local newspaper here in Worcester held it's first Best of Central Mass awards. These awards covered several different categories from best restaurant, to best university, to best home store, to best heating and cooling company, and many more.  What does it mean to be the best though?

For each category it could mean something different but when you're voted on by the residents of the region then it means that you're doing something right.  People and more importantly customers know your name and know that you do something better than others that do the same thing as you.

For the winner of the Heating and Cooling Company, ckSmithSuperior it means that they provide a needed service to thousands of homeowners and businesses in Central Mass better than dozens of others.  The competition, pun intended is hot in Central Mass for heating and cooling companies. With a lot of companies providing it hard to pick out who does it the best when at the end of the day the oil or propane that is delivered is the same.  So what makes ckSmithSuperior better than it's competitors?

Attention to detail would be a good way to sum it up. Details from how a phone call is handled to cleaning up after an install to catch small issues found during preventative maintenance. People expect that you will provide them with the basic service your business provides, like heating oil or propane. Price is another that while doesn't make a company the best or not but how that price is validated. If customers feel like they are paying too much for the service you certainly won't be viewed as the best. When you provide services that customers value along with attention to detail, this is a recipe for being the best.

The staff at ckSmithSuperior would like to thank those who voted for them for the Best of Central.

heating oil

Friday, November 25, 2016

Propane for the entire Home

What comes to mind when you think of propane?

New England is one of the most popular places in the country for oil heated homes, Propane is much more popular in the midwest and the west coast. That leaves many of us to associate propane with one of it's arguably best uses, grilling. 

Propane can be used for a number of things throughout your home, from heating your entire home, to heating your water, keeping your pool open longer, drying your clothes, cooking your dinner, and much more.  The question for many oil or electric homes that have an interest in converting to propane is, what is involved? To convert any home to propane, first you'll need a tank. Similar to oil, propane heat requires a tank to store the gas that is used by your home's equipment. A difference between oil and propane in terms of the tank is the location. Propane tanks have to be located outside of the home while oil tanks traditionally are found in the basement of the home. Having a tank installed where one wasn't in the case of electric to propane involves running pipe from the outside tank into your home to your heating system or other applications. If your are switching from electric whole house heat to propane heat you'll have to remove your existing heating system and have a new one installed. For converting to propane from oil you'll need to have your oil near or at empty before it is removed. Once the tank reaches this level it will be dismantled and removed from your home. Like electric heat you'll need to get a new heating system to heat your home once you switch to propane.

What if you don't want to buy a new heating system but you're looking to break away an electric water heat, this is a great way to introduce yourself to the benefits of propane. Propane water heaters come in different variants, tank, hybrid, and tankless. Tank storage water heaters are most common in homes, they either use heat generated from you home main heating source to heat the water or have their own burner and heat independently. A tankless water heater does not have a tank and heats water as it enters your home and send it to the source that is calling for it.  Both of these water heaters have their pros and cons. A tank water heater is better for a family or a home that many have more than one need for water at a time, but will require regular reheating of the water in the tank. A tankless never has to reheat the water, but if you are running the dishwaster, washing machine, or the shower at the same time then you're going to have cold water somewhere.

Another great way to add propane to your home is with a space heater or a fireplace insert. These can add a little bit of heat during the fall and spring months where you don't want to turn on the heat but you are on the cold side. Space heaters are also great for a three season room or a garage. While fireplace inserts remove the cleaning needed with a traditional fireplace and provide instant light capabilities. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

What do to do when inclement weather hits

What to do when the weather is frightful

With hurricane Matthew hitting the Caribbean and Accuweather publishing it's winter weather prediction for the country. Calling for frequent storms in the northeast it can lead some to wonder what they should do when bad weather strikes.

In the event of a snow storm or a blizzard like what we saw in 2013 the most important thing to do is to stay inside once the storm starts. As we all know road conditions can deteriorate quickly, in most cases it is best to let the storm run it's course. 

To prepare for a blizzard it's important to have an emergency kit for your home in the event that you lose power. The kit should include a flashlight, a first aid kit, non-perishable food, batteries, matches in a waterproof container, toothbrush and toothpaste, soap or body wash, paper papers and plastic utensils, water, sleeping bag, manual can opener, and pet supplies.  Now you many only be without for a few hours and all of these supplies many seem like overkill, it is better to be on the safe side and plan for a prolonged outage.  It is also a good idea to have a few board games or a deck of cards around to keep you entertained in case any battery powered electronics die.  In advance of the storm make sure your cell phones are fully charged in case you need to make a phone call.

In the event that you lose power during a snow storm there are few things that you can do to keep any perishable items in your fridge or freeze from getting ruined.  First keep your fridge or freezer closed as long as you possibly can, opening it will let any cold air out and greatly increase the need for the next step. If you are worried that the temperature has begun to rise too much you can transfer the contents of your fridge or freeze outside into the snow.  There are some downfalls to this, one being if left out for awhile the food could attract wild animals. If you suspect that your power will return soon than leaving your fridge or freeze contents shouldn't be too much of an issue.

The most fun of course comes from the clean up after a snow storm. Personally I love snow and don't mind shoveling out my driveway that much, it's a good workout but there are some things that I detest.  Ice is by far the thing I hate the most about winter, of course I shouldn't complain that much if I love snow.  Slippery steps, walkways, and driveways all can and usually do happen as snow melts and water spreads back on to your nicely cleared paths.  Some sand or melt away is a great way to battle against this, keep in mind that some melt away many "burn" the paws of your dog so be mindful.

Another part of the clean up is the prolonged clean up and preventative measures we take to ensure that no damage is done to our homes.  A common issues are ice build ups or dams. My parents had a lot of fun with this a few years ago. Ice damn happen when water is trapped inside or under ice or snow and then seeps into your home, creating a lot of damage.  A first step against this would be to properly insulate your attic, if heat can't escape as easily through roof, since heat rises ice dams won't form as easily.  Another not so favorable way to prevent against ice dams would be to clear snow off of problem areas on your roof. This should be done only if your are comfortable with climbing a ladder and shouldn't be done alone in the event your fall or the ladder falls. Some helpful tips for ice dam prevention can be found here.