Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Hydronic Radiant Heating – Letting the Heat Rise, Not Your Bills

The concept behind hydronic radiant heating reads like part science fiction, part wish list fulfillment for anyone that’s ever dreamed of a better, cheaper, and more energy efficient way of heating their home. Imagine being able to use hot water instead of hot air to heat your home. And, imagine heat coming from the very floor itself to create warmth rather than relying on heater vents in your floors and ceilings.

Such is the capability of hydronic radiant heating. Water that’s been heated by a boiler runs through plastic water pipes inside a slab of concrete, radiating heat upwards. You can use this technology under virtually any type of flooring, including wood and carpet. The resulting “radiating” effect means that you can stay warm even if there’s a window open in winter.

Health Benefits
As it turns out, having a hydronic heating system installed in your home could also be beneficial for your health. Skeptical? Think about it. Traditional heating systems move the air in your home around. This causes dust, dirt, and germs to circulate. Essentially, this is how a lot of people get sick, especially those who are more susceptible to allergens. 

Those who are sensitive to these materials can also have respiratory ailments, such as asthma, that become exacerbated when relying on regular vented heating systems. But, when heat is radiated upwards from the floor, nothing gets kicked up into the air. That means less dust, dirt, and germs that can impact your health.

Savings vs. Costs
Hydronic radiant heating has been shown to cut energy consumption by between 20 and 40 percent. These savings are substantial! The only downfall is the fact that installing a new system could run you upwards of $13,000 (lower estimates are closer to $7,000). 

Eventually it will pay off but this is a sizable outlay in costs. So, this means that if you want to eventually see a return on your investment, you shouldn’t install a hydronic system unless you’re planning on remaining in your home for quite awhile.

Green Reasons
Needless to say, money isn’t everything. There are environmental reasons to do whatever is in your power to limit your carbon footprint and cut back on your consumption of energy. 

Because these systems provide better heating coverage with less effort, you are going a long way in terms of saving on inefficient heating processes. A hydronic radiant heating system helps accomplish this by having the versatility to be powered by electricity, gas, or solar sources. 

Silent Night
If you are thinking about installing such a system, then you may be able to enjoy a truly “silent night” for the upcoming holidays. Unlike traditional heating systems where the heater kicks on and off all night, a hydronic heating system is quiet and non-disruptive. In fact, it will be as quiet as a mouse.

Winter may be fast approaching, but there’s still plenty of autumn left for you to get busy shopping around to find the best hydronic heating system. There’ll be more to come about hydronic radiant heating in the near future. In the meantime, if you want more information, post your comments or questions below. We’d love to hear from you and provide the answers you are searching for.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Keep it Low: Eco-Friendly Flow Shower and Faucet Fixtures

The bathroom’s the place where most of your water goes down the drain. So, what better place to start on your water conservation efforts? A low flow shower head can cut your water use in half, but that’s not where the savings end.

You can even reap the additional benefits of slashing your energy costs substantially: the less water used, the less water there is to heat. Makes perfect sense, right? But, before you call your friendly plumber or attempt to take it on yourself with a jolly jaunt down to the nearest home improvement store, there are a few more things to consider and a few questions you’d probably like answered.

Don’t Low Flow Shower Heads Deliver a Weaker Stream?
You’d think this was the case since the flow is low, but the truth is no, they don’t. Low flow shower heads give you the best of both worlds by delivering the same amount of water pressure – which is about 80 psi – that older style shower heads deliver. The only difference is that low flow shower heads use technology to put out a concentrated flow of water with minimal waste. 

Old shower heads can put out up to seven gallons of water per minute, causing immense waste and driving your water and utility bill through the roof. However, a low flow shower head can cut that down to as low as one gallon of water per minute. Imagine being able to take a longer shower and still save water.

The Two Types of Low Flow Shower Heads
There are actually two different types of low flow shower heads: aerating and non-aerating. Here’s a quick breakdown of how they work to help determine the one that is right for you.

  • Aerating – These shower heads limit the amount of water output by introducing air into the stream, delivering a misty spray. The mixture of air enables the shower head to still provide you with the same amount of pressure that you’re used to in older shower head models but with less actual water wasted. This is the most popular type of low flow shower head on the market. The only complaint about these has come from some who say the air has a tendency to cool the water. The good news is that the actual temperature difference is minimal.
  • Non-aerating – Although less popular, non-aerating shower heads have a lot to offer too. Because air isn’t mixed into the water stream, this eliminates the previously mentioned cooling effect on the water. The non-aerating shower head keeps up a high level of water pressure by delivering the water in pulsing flows that have a resulting massaging effect.
How to Test Your Shower’s Efficiency
You can perform a do-it-yourself experiment that will tell you how many gallons of water your shower is putting out per minute. Simply place a gallon-sized container in front of your shower head and time how long it takes to fill up. 

A low flow shower head should not fill up the container any sooner than 25 seconds. Here are some calculations to test efficiency:

  • 15 seconds = 4 gallons per minute.
  • 10 seconds = 6 gallons per minute.

Answers about Low Flow Devices
Who said conservation had to be a challenge? If you still have questions about what type of low flow shower head will best suit your needs, feel free to contact us with any questions. 

Have you had experience with both types of low flow shower heads? Tell us what you think about each so others considering a new shower head can make a more informed decision.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Boiling Down the Misconceptions: How Solar Water Heaters Work

You’ve already read about the benefits of solar water heaters – how they can save you money on your monthly electric bill as well as how they can lighten your carbon footprint and even save water in the process. But, you may be curious as to how these eco-friendly devices work?

The Big Misconception
First up, though, let’s get a few misconceptions about solar water heaters cleared up. One of the most common is the assumption that they operate by gathering solar energy from the sun and converting that electricity to power your water heater. This isn’t the case. 

A solar water heater is a much simpler organic machine. If there can be such a thing as an organic machine, then the solar water heater is it. The technology is so simple that some people have actually taken to building their own solar water heaters. Although for optimum efficiency, savings, and safety, it’s recommended that you hire a professional to get you set up.

Scooping Up the Sunrays
The concept behind solar water heating is sort of like what happens when you leave a container of bottled water in the sun for a long time except using technology to ramp the effects up by a thousand fold. Solar water heaters use panels and an absorber plate located on your roof or in your yard to collect the sun’s rays.

This traps the heat that’s generated and transfers it to the water that runs from your home’s water supply through glass-encased tubing. This physically warms the water, which is then transferred back into your home. The process of using solar power to directly heat the water contained inside the tubing is the most simplistic approach. However, there are other methods that utilize anti-freeze to generate even more heat, transferring that heat to the water that’s kept inside a well-insulated holding tank.

What’s Next?
What happens next is that the heated water inside the external holding tank is pumped directly into your home water heater, so essentially you’re delivered gallons upon gallons of pre-heated water that’s ready to be used.

You can opt to use tubing that moves the hot water into your home through natural convection or more efficiently through an electric pump. But, if you’re trying to limit your electricity usage, that approach sort of defeats the purpose.

More Misconceptions
There are enough misconceptions about solar water heaters to fill a few books, but if you listen to the naysayers, you’ll never make any progress. We’ll address some of these claims in future blog postings. In the meantime, if you’re interested in using the sun’s free rays to heat your home water but have additional questions, please feel free to submit them below.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Solar Water Heaters: Determining Your Solar Resources

One of the first steps to deciding whether or not a solar water heater will work for you is by taking a look at the technology and understanding how it works. You should never simply take a leap of faith based on attractive-sounding buzzwords like “solar energy” or “energy savings” without first doing your homework. 

This means determining if the environmental benefits and potential savings are truly worth the investment. But, if you’ve already done that and have liked what you’ve seen so far, it’s on to step two, which consists, surprisingly enough, of looking up.

Looking Up and Out
In order to determine if installing a solar water heater is right for you, you first need to assess if your geographical location is conducive to making full use of the sun’s powerful rays. 

If you live in an area of the country that sees heavy cloud cover year round, you may not get the maximum benefits that someone who is living in Arizona would get, for example.

But, even if you don’t live in a geographical location that receives direct sunlight, it’s still possible for you to make use of what’s called “diffuse solar radiation.” This is also known as the amount of energy from the sun that is still received under cloud cover. 

It’s just a matter of employing the right kind of technology to make use of your natural resources. Looking up and out may not be enough, though, and isn’t something that can be eyeballed. However, by contacting a solar energy supplier in your area, you can have them perform an analysis of your location to help you decide if you will get all the expected benefits of going solar.

Common Sense Considerations
Since most solar water heating systems have to be installed on the roof to take full advantage of the sun’s energy, here are a few additional considerations to toss around before making a full-on commitment to installing a solar water heater. 

These tips will help you decide what works for your specific location:

  • The hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. are the peak time for your solar panels to collect the greatest amount of solar energy. If your roof does not see direct sunlight throughout the entire year during these crucial hours, a solar water heater may not be economically feasible.
  • For the best results, your rooftop should face within 15 degrees of due south.
  • Ensure your roof is in good enough condition to accommodate installation of solar panels. If it isn’t, consider taking care of this repair first.
  • There are solar collection systems that can be mounted on the ground if your roof doesn’t meet the above criteria. However, it is important that this area receive complete sun during the peak solar collecting hours specified above.

If you’ve come this far and are still determined to do everything within your power to harness the sun’s energy to heat your water, you probably deserve a gold star. The fact is that it’s not easy to make conscious decisions to conserve, especially in the face of some of the hoops you have to leap through. 
But, when you take into consideration the ecological and financial savings you could be tapping into, you might just find your labors well worth the effort.

Solar Water Heater Questions
Be sure to post your questions here if you are still not sure about whether a solar water heater will work for you. We’d be happy to answer any of your concerns.