Monday, February 28, 2011

Tips to Cure the Low-Phosphate Detergent Blues

Last year, in a move to generate positive environmental change, 16 states instituted restrictions on a chemical called phosphate that’s found in dishwasher detergent. The reason? A study discovered that high levels of phosphate were having a negative impact on fish and plant life in reservoirs and rivers, decreasing the amount of oxygen in the water. In an effort to combat this, the allowable percentage of phosphorous was lowered to 0.5 percent.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. A few months after these changes went into effect, consumers in these states began noticing that their dishes didn’t appear to be as clean as they used to be. Apparently, for all of the harm it does to the environment, phosphate has certain elements that severely cut out grease and grime.

The 16 States that Have Banned High Levels of Phosphate
·        Illinois
·        Indiana
·        Maryland
·        Massachusetts
·        Michigan
·        Minnesota
·        Montana
·        New Hampshire
·        Ohio
·        Oregon
·        Pennsylvania
·        Utah
·        Vermont
·        Virginia
·        Washington
·        Wisconsin

It’s not easy being green. Adding to the challenges of environmentally minded people who want to do what they can to limit pollution while keeping their dishes sparkling clean is the fact that many feel they have to run their dishwashers twice to achieve the desired effect. But this only results in additional water and energy waste. So what’s an eco-conscious person to do?
If you live in one of the impacted states, you’re probably experiencing the low-phosphate detergent blues… but don’t despair. There are actually some steps you can take to help your dishes turn out the way you want them to the first time through.
Rinse your dishes before placing them into your dishwasher. It’s not necessary to hand wash all of your dishes. Besides, doing this is actually more wasteful than letting your dishwasher do the job for you, but you can greatly improve cleanliness of your dishes by giving them a once-over and not shoving them in there while they’re still covered with food.
You’ve probably seen the variety of additional products at your local supermarket right next to their supply of dishwasher detergent, but have you ever stopped to look at them? Lemi Shine is one such product that you can use as a rinse aid that’s been known to have a dramatic impact on the clean quality of your dishes. What’s even better, Lemi Shine is an environmentally friendly product put out by Envirocon Technologies.

Use dishwasher detergents with “green” labels. The fact is there are some companies that have been making non-phosphate detergents for years and it’s the major detergent corporations like Procter & Gamble that are just now trying to play catch-up. While they’re busy doing that, you’ll have a far easier time getting the sparkle back into your kitchen cupboards by using established brands that have been working for years to perfect the delicate balance necessary to produce eco-friendly products that can actually clean your dishes.
If you live in a state that hasn’t yet passed environmental laws to limit the amount of phosphate in your dishwashing detergent, you can still take action to support these changes and bring them to your state by switching to an eco-friendly brand today. After all, voting with your wallet is a sure-fire way to bring about change for the better.
Do you have any additional tips or suggestions to help dishes come out sparkling clean in the post-phosphate world? We’d love to hear them. Post your comments below.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Proper Care and Feeding of Your Sacrificial Anode

There are some terms in the everyday lexicon of plumbers that would probably cause the average person to crinkle their brow in confused contemplation. One of these terms is “sacrificial anode”—an odd coupling of words that sounds as if it’s been torn from the pages of a bad SciFi Channel screenplay. 
But, sacrificial anodes are very real, and you’ve probably even got one in your home. If you own a tank water heater, you definitely do. But, don’t let your imagination get the best of you. They’re actually a very good thing to have.

What in the World is a Sacrificial Anode?
Contrary to the mental image you’re probably getting, a sacrificial anode is nothing more than a small magnesium or aluminum rod that sits inside of your water heater tank. Its purpose, quite simply, is to corrode. But, its aims are altruistic, not counterproductive. 

It works through an electrolytic process that attracts corrosive elements to itself and thus away from your water heater tank, sacrificing itself to keep your water heater’s inner workings rust free and living up to its name. Most standard home water heaters have only one sacrificial anode, but, depending on size and purpose, can have anywhere from two to five. In time, the anode rod corrodes away to nothing and has to be replaced.

What’s the Risk of Not Replacing My Water Heater’s Anode?
Put simply, a failure to replace your sacrificial anode greatly decreases the lifespan of your water heater by allowing it to fall victim to premature corrosion. This type of corrosion can lead to a ruptured water heater. By some estimates, regular replacement of anodes can double the life of your water heater. Although replacement timeframes are dependent on a number of factors (how hard the water is that passes through your water heater, what temperature you set your water to, and how often the water heater gets used, and the quality of your tank’s manufacture), it’s recommended to replace the anode every three to four years.

Recognizing the Signs
Your water heater may be telling you it’s time to replace the sacrificial anode if you notice either of the following: A reduction in your hot water pressure and/or your hot water has an odd sulfur-like smell.

An Ounce of Prevention
There’s great truth to the old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” But, in the case of a sacrificial anode, a few ounces could be worth a lot more than just a pound. Replacing the anode in your hot water heater now while there’s still time to prevent the buildup of hazardous corrosion will save you a lot more than the simple cost of buying a new water heater.
You’ll also be saving hundreds of dollars in emergency plumbing repair fees. You will also maximize your valuable time. Taking a day (or more) off work to stay home and deal with a ruptured water heater can be a great waste of accrued vacation days. You can also save thousands of dollars in home repair and replacement of personal belongings that could suffer water damage from a ruptured water heater.
Although you can check and replace your water heater’s anodes on your own, in order to avoid certain complications, such as having a severely deteriorated anode break apart in the tank before it can be fully removed, it’s suggested to have a professional plumber take care of it for you. If you think your anode may have sacrificed its last breath, contact a representative of Pete’s Plumbing to arrange for an in-home visit.

Did you find this article helpful? Do you still have questions? Add your comments below.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How to Beat the Winter Cold with Minimal Pain and Suffering

Winter is by far one of the most difficult times of the year to be eco-conscious. Put simply, it’s the one time of year when an abundance of hot water seems to be the difference between surviving and really living – when the warmth that radiates from the depths of your home’s furnace offers a sense of safety and separation from the elements outside. 
If you’ve been braving the bitter chill of winter while steadfastly sticking to your efforts at cutting back energy and water waste, good for you. If not, it’s time to buck up and get  back on track. Here are a couple of tips designed to help you do that with minimal discomfort.

Set Your Hot Water Temperature
You can control the temperature threshold of your hot water by simply turning a dial located on your water heater. Since few of us rarely ever utilize a full-on blast of piping hot water, the need to maintain specific hot water temperatures should be dictated by your appliances and not your showering preferences. Some dishwashers and washing machines require a certain temperature for optimum performance, so be sure to check the manuals of all your hot water appliances before turning the heat down too low. 
The standard maximum setting for water temperature on water heaters is 120 degrees Fahrenheit. If your hot water temperature is set any higher than that, you’re risking two things: a serious accidental burn from scalding and a whole lot of wasted energy. Lowering your water temperature a few degrees can save you from burning excess fossil fuels and is something you’ll hardly notice. If you’re one of those people who wastes both water and energy taking lengthy showers because you just don’t want to face the chill that awaits you, here are a couple of tips to ensure a lowered hot water temperature doesn’t make your daily winter showering experience a nightmare:
  • Install towel warmers to keep your bath towel toasty while you bathe. These can also be used to dry wet towels and are preferable to the far more costly and wasteful overuse of your clothes dryer.
  •  Consider hydronic or electric radiant under-floor heating. If this is far too expensive a proposition for the entire home, you can have these systems installed on a per-room basis.
  • Purchase a hot air fan or bathroom radiator. There are companies who specialize in these and manufacture them specifically for your bathroom so you don’t have to shower in fear of being electrocuted.
Thermostat Savings
It’s easy enough during the fall months to keep your thermostat settings from inching too high, but once a cold snap hits, it’s almost impossible to break the compulsive cycle of checking the temperature every 30 minutes and giving the dial a small tap towards warmer temperatures. But, did you know that every single degree you turn your thermostat up or down in the 60-70 degree range represents a whole five percent in heating costs? 
Think about how much easier coping with 65 degree indoor weather versus 70 degrees would be if you knew that you were saving 25 percent on your energy bill. The optimal suggested thermostat setting for cold winter days is 68 degrees,but if you can tough it out and keep it even lower, you’ll be saving money and burning less fossil fuels. This might not be easy for everyone to do. Not all of us were born with cold blood, after all. To help make things easier, here are a few tips:
  • Wear warm clothing around the house. This doesn’t mean you have to walk around looking like you’re about to head outside for a ride up the nearest ski lift, but it might mean you’ll have to do away with some habits you’ve picked up along the way like walking around the house barefoot or kicking back in shorts and a t-shirt. Try it out. You might be surprised what adding a pair of socks, sweatpants, and sweatshirt to your “relaxation” wardrobe can do for your warmth, your bills, and the environment.
  •  If you’re leaving the house, set your thermostat at 55 degrees. There’s no sense in heating the house if you’re not going to be there to enjoy it. Why not simply turn it all the way down below 50? First of all, if you’re gone long enough – like on vacation – keeping your house that cool could do damage to your pipes. Plus, by the time you’re home and ready to heat things up again you’ll have to burn so much fossil fuel to get your home temps back up to livable standards that you’ll end up defeating the purpose of turning it down in the first place.
How do you stay warm during winter without driving your energy bills through the roof? Share your experiences, tips, tricks, or suggestions in the comment box below.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Hybrid Water Heaters vs. Tankless Water Heaters: What’s the Difference?

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably got a devoted interest in water and energy conservation but only a vague understanding of the technologies that help achieve that aim. But, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Most of us understand what tankless water heaters are supposed to do, but not many know the difference between tankless water heaters and their hybrid cousins. Here’s a breakdown on the differences between the two.

Energy Savings: Hybrid vs. Tankless
Most people’s general understanding of the savings that hybrid technology can bring stands in stark contrast to the reality of these two alternative water heater options. Both offer significant energy savings over traditional water heaters, but hybrid water heaters edge out the tankless type to deliver the biggest overall savings – as much as 60 percent over traditional gas and electric water heaters. In comparison, tankless water heaters save you between 25 and 50 percent. That’s certainly nothing to sneeze at and is a contribution that, over time, can go far in decreasing your carbon footprint. But, when compared, hybrids offer greater energy savings.

Cost Considerations
If out of pocket cost is going to be the determining factor, your best option is to go with a hybrid water heater. Tankless water heaters can be extremely expensive and could take upwards of 10 to 20 years to pay off by way of monthly energy savings. Hybrid water heaters, on the other hand, are less expensive and deliver such dramatic savings that you’ll recoup your price of purchase within five years.

Adaptation and Size Considerations
Both tankless and hybrid water heaters present their challenges with regard to adapting to your existing water heater setup. Tankless water heater systems are a bit more complex to install and might require you to perform some retrofitting to your home. Depending on how your home is set up, you may have to make changes to your gas or electrical lines in order to accommodate a tankless water heater.

Hybrid water heaters can adapt far easier to existing home gas or electrical systems, but they require far more space than a tankless does and even more space than a traditional water heater. First of all, they’re much taller than the average water heater, towering at an average height of 7 feet. If your existing water heater’s already in a tight space, this could make swapping them out extremely difficult. In addition to that, in order for the hybrid’s heat pump to operate properly, you’ll need to house it in an area of your home that has about 1,000 cubic feet of empty unheated space. In comparison, tankless water heaters are extremely compact.

The Tankless Performance
Tankless water heaters have earned a reputation as being the appliance of choice for people who enjoy having an endless supply of hot water. But, there are some performance issues with tankless water heaters that you should bear in mind when making your selection. Because of the minimal water flow rate that’s required to heat the water, tankless water heaters don’t let you run a slow trickle of hot water. This translates directly to wasted water if you need hot water but all you desire is a trickle rather than a steady flow. Tankless water heaters are also known to come up against a bit of trouble providing enough hot water to meet the needs of larger homes.

Look for the Energy Star Seal
Regardless of what type of water heater you choose, always be certain that the unit you’re buying has an Energy Star label. This ensures that the system you’re installing meets federal standards set in place to ensure energy efficiency and minimal carbon emissions.
If you’re still not sure which choice is best for you, contact a representative of Pete’s Plumbing today to set up a consultation or simply to ask questions. Do you have any experience with tankless or hybrid water heaters? Tell us about your experiences below.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

When It’s Time to Replace Your Water Heater

Some people view waiting for the dead of winter to replace their water heater as akin to closing the stable door after the horses have bolted, but, in reality, there’s no better time to do it. For one, you never have to worry that your investment’s poorly timed – the availability of a constant flow of hot water will be a constant reminder of that. 
The truth is winter makes your water heater work harder. This is the best time to put it through its paces to determine if it’ll make it through another season. Not sure what signs to look for to tell you that your water heater might need replacing? These are the most common signs:

A noticeable loss of hot water. This is the most obvious sign that your water heater is nearing the end of its life-cycle and also the simplest to detect. If you’re beginning to suspect that your water heater isn’t living up to its old promises, don’t just take this as a sign that you need to shave your shower time from five minutes to three. It’s a great thing to be conservative minded and conscientious in your water usage and another thing entirely to suffer needlessly through a lukewarm shower on a winter’s day. If you’ve come to dread your morning shower, it’s time to replace your water heater.

Your water heater’s an old clunker. Electric water heaters typically last from 10 to 15 years while the life of their gas counterparts are a little shorter, ending their run after about 8 to 12 years. The longest lasting water heaters are tankless, which are estimated to be able to deliver up to 20 years of service. But, how do you know how old your water heater is if you can’t cut it in half and count the rings? It’s actually very simple. Take a look at the serial number on your water heater. The first series of numbers indicates its year of manufacture. Depending on your water heater brand, the serial number will start with a 2- or 4-digit number. Example: a serial number that begins with “1101” indicates a water heater made in November of 2001. A serial number that begins with only a 2-digit number like “99” will tell you that your water heater was made in 1999.

A leaky water heater. Signs of moisture or an outright puddle or pool of water found anywhere that it’s not expected is generally a sign of trouble for any appliance. But, in the case of a leaking water heater, if not fixed immediately or replaced, it could cause serious water damage to your home and even injury if anyone just so happens to be nearby when it decides to spring a leak. 
For this reason, it’s never a bad idea to check on your water heater from time to time, especially if it’s been showing its age as of late. Minor leaks can be fixed, but in order to ensure proper performance and prevent any serious issues down the line, it’s always recommended to replace your water heater if this occurs.
Your water’s dirty or giving off a bad smell. Of course, your first course of action if you detect this is to check with your neighbors to see if they’re experiencing the same thing. But, if you find that you’re the only one in your immediate area who’s been suddenly gifted with rust-colored water that you’d just as soon flush than drink, it’s time your water heater was given the old heave-ho.

If you’ve experienced any of the above, it might be time to call in an expert with Pete’s Plumbing to provide their professional opinion and give you an estimate on a new water heater, especially since they are running specials like $100 off a hot water heater installation now through March. Not sure you’re ready yet or have further questions? Post your questions below.