Archive for May, 2011

WaterSense Label

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Many people know about the EPA’s EnergyStar certification, which is a third-party certification system that verifies manufacturers’ claims about the energy efficiency of home appliances. The EnergyStar label has helped hundreds of thousands of consumers choose high-efficiency, cost-effective appliances for their homes.

The EPA has also developed a certification for plumbing fixtures, called WaterSense. WaterSense labels can be found on a variety of products, including:

  • Bathroom sink faucets and accessories
  • Showerheads
  • Toilets

While there are specific guidelines for each category of plumbing fixture, in general, the WaterSense label indicates that the product is at least 20% more efficient than conventional products in its category, without sacrificing performance or comfort.

The goal of the WaterSense guidelines is to make a real difference in the amount of water consumed in the U.S.  - and the numbers bear this out. Let’s take a look at what would happen if every household in the US installed WaterSense products in their bathrooms.

If every household in the U.S. installed WaterSense bathroom sink faucets, it would save 60 billion gallons of water and $600 million in water heating costs. If every U.S. household put in WaterSense showerheads, the US would use 250 fewer billion gallons of water annually and save $2.5 billion in water heating costs. And if every household in the US upgraded to a new, efficient WaterSense toilet, it would save 640 billion gallons of water a year.

More realistically, even if only 1 in 10 U.S. households upgraded to WaterSense products, we would save about 74 billion gallons of water a year and $1.5 billion on our water heating bills.

Like EPA EnergyStar products, WaterSense products can be found at most plumbing retailers.

The WaterSense label can also be applied to entire homes. Homes that have the WaterSense label have:

  • Efficient hot water systems that deliver hot water quickly to minimize waste and waiting
  • WaterSense plumbing fixtures
  • EnergyStar dishwashers and clothes washers
  • Regionally appropriate outdoor landscaping that requires minimal maintenance and watering

In addition, landscaping professionals can apply for WaterSense certification to show that they have training in water-efficient irrigation system design, installation, maintenance, and auditing.

How to Use AC Most Efficiently

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Air conditioning is definitely something most of us wouldn’t want to try and get through the summer without. And for a lot of people, because of medical or other conditions, it’s an absolute necessity. But just because you need to run your AC unit all summer doesn’t mean you need to suffer under the weight of astronomical cooling costs.

So if you’re interested in ways to save on cooling without sacrificing comfort, here are a few tips to get you started:

  • Get a Programmable Thermostat : When you come home at the end of a long day, you want your home to be cool and comfortable. But if you only have a basic thermostat, you would have to leave your air conditioning on all day in order to make this possible. Paying to cool an empty house is probably the last thing you want to do. But what is the alternative?Programmable thermostats offer the best solution in a case like this. These devices can be easily integrated into just about any home air conditioning system and they allow you to set different temperatures for different times of the day. That means you can have your air conditioning off while you’re not home and set it to come on a half hour or so before you get there. This way, you get the pleasure of walking into a cool, comfortable house without paying extra to keep it that way when you’re not home.
  • Incorporate Passive Cooling : The design of your home and how you use it can also have an effect on how hard your air conditioning system needs to work. Taking steps as simple as closing the blinds to block out the afternoon sun, putting up awnings and making sure that the exterior of your home is painted a lighter color to reflect sunlight rather than a darker one that will absorb it are all excellent ways to reduce the load on your air conditioner.
  • Supplement Your System : You can also take a good chunk out of your cooling bills by using things like ceiling fans in conjunction with your air conditioner. A ceiling fan can effectively lower the indoor temperature several degrees on its own, allowing you to set your thermostat a little higher.

Air conditioning is a major expense that most of us are resigned to paying, but there’s no reason to pay more than necessary with so many strategies available to save money.

Savings Found with Fan Coil Units

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

There are a lot of options on the market for your home comfort system, but not all of them are created equally. So, if you’re starting to research cooling devices, make sure you include every possible option in your search – you never know which one will turn out to work best for you.

One excellent cooling device is a fan coil unit. These are simple mechanisms, basically consisting of a fan and a cooling or heating coil. They can be installed in any type of building, from large commercial to residential, and are great for cooling all of those hard-to-reach places that traditional air conditioning systems just can’t reach.

Where the Savings Comes From

In addition to being extremely convenient, fan coil units are quite cost-effective as well. To begin with, their simple design makes them relatively inexpensive to purchase and install. In fact, they require very little labor when compared to just about any other type of cooling device, and that saves you a ton of money up front.

This is especially true if your home or building doesn’t have ductwork installed already. In fact, the largest chunk of the installation cost for a central air conditioning system is the installation of the necessary air ducts. But because they don’t require air ducts to provide you with temperature conditioned air, fan coil units carry with them a much lower installation cost.

But the savings don’t stop there. Fan coil units are also extremely energy efficient to run. That means they’ll keep your monthly energy bills to a minimum as they provide hours of constant cooling even during the hottest parts of the year.

Fan coil units also save you money on your cooling costs because you can control each unit independently of the others. Unlike a central air conditioner that will cool your entire home to a particular temperature, you can use a fan coil unit to cool only the areas of your home that are in use at the moment. That means that you’re not wasting energy to cool empty space, and that can add up to a significant savings over time.

How Do I Find the Right Size Unit for My Room?

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

When buying an air conditioner, there are a lot of things you need to take into account. One of the most important is the size and power of the unit you choose. Air conditioners come in many different sizes, so if you really want to get the most out of your purchase, you need to do your research and pick one that fits your home like a glove.

Square Feet and BTUs

The best way to determine how large of an air conditioner you need is to match the number of BTUs the unit has to the square footage of the room you want to use it in. That means you need to know what room you’re buying it for before you make your purchase.

The number of BTUs needed goes up proportionately with the room size, so even if you don’t have exact measurements or if your room is oddly shaped, you can get a good idea of how large an air conditioner you need. For instance, a 400 to 550 square foot room is best served by an air conditioner with between 8,000 and 11,000 BTUs, while a room that’s only 250 square feet would probably be fine with a 6,000 BTU unit.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

One of the most common mistakes people make when buying an air conditioner is to assume that the bigger the unit the better it will work. The truth is that buying an air conditioner that’s too big for your room is just as much of a waste as buying one that’s too small.

A larger air conditioner will cost more, and it will probably make the room too cold. It will also cycle on and off more frequently than a properly sized unit and it won’t be able to properly control the humidity level, leaving you with a cold, damp environment. That’s not very comfortable.

Other Factors

The square footage is definitely the most important piece of data you’ll need before buying a new air conditioner for any room in your house. But don’t forget to take some other factors into account as well. For instance, if the room has particularly high ceilings or receives a lot of direct sunlight, you’ll probably need a slightly more powerful unit than the straight square footage would indicate.

If you’re not sure how certain features of your home will impact your buying decision, call a professional who can help you get a more exact idea of what it will take to stay cool.

What Are Limit Switches and How Do They Work?

Friday, May 20th, 2011

When you set the thermostat on your air conditioning system, you pretty take for granted that the system will maintain that temperature throughout your house. But did you ever stop to think about how it’s actually accomplished? The truth is that there are many moving parts that all play a role in keeping your home cool and comfortable, and one of these is the limit switch.

What Is a Limit Switch?

Although you’re probably not aware of it, you’ve encountered plenty of limit switches over the years. A limit switch is anything that stops an electric appliance under certain circumstances. The little switch that turns the light on in the refrigerator when you open the door and then off again when you close it is the perfect example of a limit switch. Another common one is the switch that stops your washer or dryer from running when you open the door. Limit switches are used for a variety of appliances and gadgets to not only save electricity but to keep you and your device safe.

Limit Switches and Air Conditioning

The limit switch on your air conditioning system is the link between the blower on your air handler and the thermostat. When the thermostat senses that the desired indoor temperature has been reached, it stops the air conditioner from producing any more cold air. At that point, it’s important for the blower to stop functioning as well.

If it doesn’t, the blower will continue to move and warm air rather than cold will begin circulating throughout your home. However, if the blower shuts off too soon, the cold air that’s still being generated by the air conditioner won’t be able to circulate. So it’s essential that the blower be switched off at the same time the cold air stops arriving. That’s exactly what the limit switch does.

While it’s only one very small part of a large machine, the limit switch in your air conditioner plays a vital role in keeping your home comfortable and in allowing your air conditioning system to function as efficiently as possible.

If you notice that your air conditioner is shutting off too soon or not soon enough, it may be because of a broken limit switch. Sometimes, the system simply needs to be reset, something you can do with the help of your owner’s manual. However, if your limit switch is broken, you should contact a professional to take a look and determine if it needs to be replaced.

Air Conditioners and Energy Use by Percentage

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

It?s no secret that air conditioners use up a lot of electricity and can add substantially to your energy bills during those warm summer months. But did you know that they actually account for an estimated 11% of the total energy used in all buildings in the US each year? This is a staggering figure and makes it easy to see why it?s best to invest in the most energy efficient system possible.

Keeping Your Consumption Down

There are plenty of reasons to try and keep your energy consumption down. You want to save on your energy bills, and the less energy you use, the better it is for the environment. The best and most straightforward way to go about this is to purchase only highly energy efficient appliances and equipment, and that includes air conditioners.

Because air conditioner usage accounts for such a substantial part of the total energy used in this country, putting more energy efficiency models into use is the best way to cut that usage down.

Supplementary Cooling

However, there are other ways to reduce the workload of your air conditioner. For instance, you can use a ceiling fan to maintain good air circulation and keep your home cool. Using a ceiling fan with an air conditioner, even on the hottest days of the year, allows you to turn up your thermostat a bit to conserve energy while still enjoying a comfortable indoor environment. And because ceiling fans use so little energy to operate, you’ll come out ahead on your energy bill.

Passive Cooling

There are also several passive cooling methods you can employ to keep the temperature in your home down. Blocking out sunlight is the most important of these, so keep your blinds closed on any windows that receive direct sunlight, particularly in the early afternoon. Alternately, you can have awnings put up, which allow you to block the direct sun while still keeping the blinds open.

Shade is another effective passive cooling device. Planting trees around your home to block out the sun at the hottest times of day is a totally energy-free way of keeping your home cool and reducing the workload on your air conditioning system. The less your air conditioner has to work, the less energy it consumes and the lower your energy bills will be.

Breakdowns ? How to Handle an Overloaded AC

Monday, May 16th, 2011

The last thing you need on a hot summer day is for your air conditioner to suddenly cut out. Without the cooling power it provides, your house will get uncomfortable quickly. Fortunately, once you know why this happens, there are several things you can do about it.

Why Air Conditioners Cut Out

The most common reason for air conditioner failure is an overabundance of pressure in the unit. This happens because the coil gets too hot, causing the pressure to rise in the entire device. As the pressure rises past a certain point, an automatic safety shutoff system is engaged. If you can stop the coil from heating up to this point, you can keep your air conditioner running.

How to Keep Them Running

Of course, this is easier said than done. Since your condenser unit with the coil inside is located outside in the heat, it?s only natural for it to get hot during the day ? especially an extra hot day when you?re using your air conditioner a lot. You also need to be careful not to put anything over or up against your outdoor condenser unit.

While this may block the sunlight, it will also keep heat in the system and prevent the air conditioner from removing exhaust naturally. So in order to keep your air conditioner as cool as possible, make sure there is nothing up against the vents or impeding air flow in any way. Once you?ve done this, try and find a way to provide shade for you air conditioner without placing objects near the device. Blocking out direct sunlight is the best way to keep your air conditioner cool as long as you can do it without interfering with the system?s natural air flow.

Getting it Back On

If your unit does cut out on you, don’t despair. The best thing to do is to wait about a half hour to give your unit a chance to cool off on its own. Then, spray the coil and other overheated areas with a fine mist of cool water. This should lower the temperature enough that the system can come back on without any further complications.

If the problem persists despite the work you?ve done to keep it cool, you may want to call in a professional to take a look and make sure nothing is broken or worn inside to cause the overloads. Most of the time a little maintenance will take care of the problem, but if not, you’ll want to get repairs done quickly to avoid a full breakdown.

What to Do Before Turning on AC for First Time

Friday, May 13th, 2011

The weather is starting to heat up and you are eager to flip the switch on your air conditioning system for the first time. It?s been sitting there since spring, waiting to be used, but now you wonder if there are any tasks that should be completed before its first use. Depending on the type of system you had installed there are a few things you should keep in mind before you cool down your house. They include:

  • Outdoor Cleaning ? First, make sure the outdoor unit (if you have a central AC system) is cleaned up nicely. Clear away any leaves, remove the cover and check the system for any growth or debris that might have gotten under the cover. Check the air supply registers to make sure they are open and either replace or clean your filters depending on whether they are permanent or disposable.
  • Check Your Thermostat ? The thermostat should be checked before you start using the system. To do this, set the system to Auto-cool and then lower the thermostat setting to one degree lower than the actual temperature in the room. If the system turns on, the thermostat is working properly. Let it run for a few hours to make sure this stays consistent.
  • Clear Away Winter and Spring Dust ? Now that your system is running, make sure you check the filters for any buildup of dust that was in the ductwork. Over the off season, your ducts might develop a layer of dust and debris, especially if your heating system doesn’t make use of them. The filters might clog quickly as a result.
  • Check for Water Leaks ? Your condensate overflow drain should work properly as well ? check for any potential leaks during the first 48 hours of operation. Even a small leak should be checked immediately to avoid potential problems as summer cooling season kicks in.

If you notice any problems other than those listed above, you should call a service professional immediately. Ideally you will have your system inspected in early-mid spring to ensure it is ready for the summer, but even so problems can develop between inspection and first running. Electrical issues especially should be checked immediately.

Evaporative Coolers

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

If you?re looking for an effective alternative to a traditional air conditioning system for your home, an evaporative cooler is a great option to investigate. This is not new technology by any means, but evaporative coolers are rapidly gaining popularity these days for several reasons. While these aren’t the perfect solution for every home, they’re definitely worth taking a closer look at if you?re interested in cutting your cooling costs.

Here are some of the benefits of evaporative coolers:

  • Energy Efficiency ? Because they cool air through evaporation, evaporative coolers use much less energy than traditional air conditioners to achieve the same results. This will take a big chunk off your energy bills each month.
  • Competitive Pricing ? You can buy just about any size evaporative cooler for less than a comparably sized air conditioner. And just like air conditioners, evaporative coolers are available in a wide variety of sizes so you should have no trouble finding one to fit the space you need cooled.
  • Easy Installation ? Whether you opt for a smaller window unit or a larger centralized one, evaporative coolers are at least as easy to install as air conditioners if not more so. The smaller units are made to fit into windows just like a comparably sized air conditioner, and central evaporative coolers operate through the same air ducts as your central heating system. They’re easy to integrate into your home and often less labor intensive than a central air conditioner to install.
  • Complete Air Circulation ? With an air conditioner, you need to have your windows and doors sealed up tight to keep the cooled air from escaping. But because evaporative coolers work by cooling outdoor air as they bring it into your home, they require other doors and windows in the house to be open to function efficiently. As the evaporative cooler blows cooled air into the house, it pushes hotter air out, leaving you with a comfortable environment and a constant supply of fresh air.

Of course, evaporative coolers aren’t the right choice for every situation. They work extremely well in areas with hot, dry climates, but they have a harder time cooling your home when the air outside is hot and humid. They also require water to keep their cooling pads moist, and if you live in an area where drought conditions are common, it may be difficult to keep up with their water consumption.

What Is a Chilled Beam System?

Monday, May 9th, 2011

If you?ve been researching new ways to cool larger office or industrial spaces, chances are you?ve come across information on the chilled beam system. These systems are not suitable for residential use, but they can be extremely effective in other types of applications. They’ve been used more extensively overseas, but are rapidly gaining ground in the US.

How They Work

In a chilled beam system, cooled water is sent through pipes into a beam that runs across the ceiling of an area. The water chills the beam, which in turn passes that chill to the air in the room. As the air in contact with the beam cools, it also becomes denser and sinks, thereby making room for warmer air to rise from below and contact the beam. In this way, air is both cooled and circulated throughout the room.

Active vs Passive

Chilled beam systems are available in both active and passive implementations. Passive systems rely solely on the natural convection currents to circulate air and bring warmer air into contact with the beam. Active systems, on the other hand, make use of a central air handler and ducts to bring new air into contact with the beam and circulate air around the space to be cooled.

Passive systems, of course, use less energy than active ones, but their application is also more limited. Active chilled beam systems are still much more energy efficient than many other types of industrial or commercial cooling systems and they can be integrated into many more types of spaces.

System Advantages

Energy efficiency is certainly a very attractive feature of chilled beam systems, but they have several other solid selling points. For one thing, chilled beams operate extremely quietly because of their lack of moving parts. This also makes them much easier and cheaper to install and maintain. And because of the simplicity of their design, chilled beam systems don’t require that a large amount of space be devoted to a machine room or control center, making them an excellent choice when space is at a premium.

Limitations

Of course, chilled beam systems aren’t without their drawbacks. For one thing, these systems can cost quite a bit more than other more conventional systems because they must be imported from overseas. There is also a limit to how much cooling they can accomplish because if the temperature of the beam itself drops below a certain level, condensation will begin to form.