Thawing frozen pipes

Thawing frozen pipesLike just about everything else, there’s a right way and a wrong way to thaw frozen pipes. Here are a few tips to keep your pipes from freezing in the first place. We also have some advice for thawing a pipe that’s already frozen.

Keep your pipes from freezing

The best way to deal with frozen pipes is to avoid them altogether. Heating your home can be expensive, and it’s tempting to “dial down” at night and when you’re not around. When the air temperature is super-cold (below freezing), your pipes can be at risk.

Pipes break when the water inside them freezes. Most plumbing is rigid, so the pipes are full of standing water when the taps are closed. This is good because a pipe that’s full of water doesn’t have any air. Air in the system could allow bacteria to thrive, and it could also change the water pressure.

Unfortunately, water expands when it freezes. In an open container, the freezing water has “head space” – room to expand. In a water pipe, there is no room for expansion. An ice blockage forms somewhere in your pipe and begins to exert enormous pressure – as high as 2,000 PSI – on the unfrozen water between the blockage and the tap. Traditional plumbing does not have enough material strength to hold back this unrelenting pressure. As the blockage grows, the pressure increases. Because the pipe is rigid, it cannot expand enough, and it will deform and split somewhere to relieve the pressure.

The first thing you can do to avoid frozen pipes is to keep your pipes warm! Insulate them to prevent cold air intrusions from affecting your pipes. Open sink cabinet and vanity doors to allow warmer air to circulate around your pipes. Open heat registers in the basement (if your pipes are below-grade) to let more warm air circulate around them.

Don’t turn the heat down when it’s super-cold outside. Yes, your utility bill will go up, but a higher heating bill beats flooding, water damage and mold.

Managing a frozen pipe

If a pipe freezes and it’s accessible, open the tap immediately to drain any water from the pipe. This may relieve some of the pressure, but you’re not out of the woods yet. Start warming the pipe from the tap and work your way toward the blockage. A good safe heat source is an incandescent light bulb. A hair dryer may also help loosen up a frozen pipe. Be especially careful if you use “heat tape.” Used incorrectly, it can cause a fire!

DO NOT USE AN OPEN FLAME TO THAW A FROZEN PIPE! That includes welding and soldering torches, cigarette lighters, charcoal lighters, tiki torches, candles or anything else fiery. Open flames caused 30% of house fires in 2017. It’s just not a good idea!

You may not initially know that a pipe has frozen, but lack of water should set off alarm bells! If you get no water from a tap, or a water appliance stops working, If you open a tap and get just a trickle of water – your pipe is in the process of freezing. Act fast to relieve the pressure and correct the problem.

On the other hand, you may know your pipe has frozen because it has already split and there’s water everywhere! In this case, turn off the water to that segment of pipe and begin the process of thawing. Start drying out anything that’s gotten wet. You may have to remove drywall, plaster, carpeting or flooring. You won’t be able to turn the water back on until the pipe is repaired, but at least you can limit the water damage.

Following up on a frozen pipe

Maybe you were able to get your pipe thawed out before it split. That’s a lucky break, but your pipe is probably still damaged. The pressure can weaken and deform your pipe – and maybe not in the place(s) you’d expect. Remember, 2,000 PSI is about 20 times the pressure your pipes are designed to handle.

Inspect your pipes for deformed joints, bulges, discolorations, little drips or anything generally weird-looking. Formerly frozen pipes that “burst” usually have a little slit someplace, often somewhere other than where the blockage formed. It will look like someone took a box cutter and made a slice in the pipe. (You’ll be able to find these more easily, because water will be spraying all over the place!)

Don’t forget to check any PEX hoses that supply water to toilets, sinks and appliances. These can freeze too! PEX resists freezing, but the fittings can get damaged. If you find a frozen PEX hose, take comfort in the fact that they’re cheap to replace.

If you’ve experienced a frozen pipe, or need help repairing freeze-damaged plumbing, contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to help!

Photo Credit: Cynthia Closkey, via Flickr

Your home’s energy efficiency can affect your health

Your home's energy efficiency can affect your healthA new Colorado School of Public Health study says that people living in drafty homes have increased rates of respiratory illness. The study looked at the impact of high air exchange rates on respiratory health among low-income residents. “Air exchange” refers to leaks that allow indoor air to escape and outdoor air to enter a home. Researchers found that drafty homes promoted a higher incidence of chronic coughs, asthma and asthma-like illnesses.

The researchers also found that the rate of air exchange directly correlated to the incidence of respiratory illness. The draftier the home, the more likely its inhabitants were to develop chronic breathing problems. One possible explanation for the results is that poor weatherization in older homes could trap industrial pollutants indoors.

The researchers suggest that weatherization efforts directed toward lower-income homes could produce a double benefit. In addition to lowering heating and cooling costs, air sealing older homes could also reduce healthcare costs in urban areas. Researchers also said that improving energy efficiency in homes near major roads could yield similar results. Improving indoor air quality is important, since Americans spend approximately 21.5 hours per day indoors.

Improving your home’s energy efficiency

One obvious benefit of improving your home’s energy efficiency is lowered heating and cooling costs. By sealing leaks around foundations, windows and doors, you can minimize the exchange of indoor and outdoor air. By keeping your heated or cooled air in place, you can reduce the amount of energy needed to make your home comfortable. You can also help control the moisture content of your home’s air.

Your home does require some ventilation! Without proper ventilation, moisture and “indoor pollutants” like smoke particles can hang around your home. Over time, this can lead to poor air quality, and can promote mold and mildew growth. If you’re serious about sealing your home, it’s best to work with an efficiency professional. One standard test is called a blower-door test. This measures the amount of air your home exchanges with the outside. If your home exchanges too much air, you’re wasting energy on heating and cooling. If your home exchanges too little air, you could experience problems like mold and mildew.

One option to reduce air exchange is to heat and cool with a ductless air-source heat pump. Because these devices don’t rely on a blower motor, they don’t affect the air exchange rate like a furnace can. More heated (or cooled) air stays in your home, making your home more efficient.

If you’d like more information about ductless heating and cooling options, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to discuss energy efficient options for your home.

Photo Credit: Clean Energy Economy For The Region, via Flickr

What you should know about plastic plumbing products

What you should know about plastic plumbing productsPlumbing is meant to last a long time. Traditional metal plumbing products – brass, copper, galvanized steel – all offer decades of service life. Once installed, these materials can deliver trouble-free operation for 70-100 years. More recently, plumbing manufacturers have turned to <plastic plumbing products to address cost and performance issues in traditional metal plumbing. But what should the consumer know about plastic plumbing products, and is it safe to install in your home?

Three most common kinds of plastic plumbing products

Before we launch here, one kind of plastic plumbing product deserves a special mention. Polybutylene plumbing (PB) is a plastic that was used commonly in the 1970s. It is flexible, freeze-resistant and inexpensive – until it breaks. (Then it can get very expensive.)

There’s no nice way to say this: it’s junk. Dangerous and unreliable junk.

If you have it in your home, make plans to retire it sooner rather than later. The original PB products are no longer sold, but plenty of PB pipe remains in service. Currently, there is no known way for homeowners to recover the cost of replacement, and your insurance company likely will not cover damage caused by its failure. Homes with PB plumbing are likely to be worth less on the market than homes without it. In other words, replacing PB plumbing will be a very good investment.

On to the better stuff…

PVC pipe

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe is a rigid, white plastic pipe. People think of it as “new”, but it was actually discovered in 1872. The original formulation was very brittle, and it wasn’t until 1926 that chemists discovered additives that would correct this characteristic.

You can use PVC for both potable and drain/waste/vent applications. It has an expected lifespan of 100 years. PVC is also durable and inexpensive, which makes it a natural choice for new installations and plumbing repairs. PVC pipe doesn’t use the same sizing system that copper tubing uses. If you’re using PVC to replace copper, you need to be aware of this when selecting the appropriate materials and fittings for your projects.

Metal piping relies on solder and fittings to create joints and turns or bends. PVC is rigid, like metal, so it also requires joints to connect pipes or change directions. Unlike metal pipes, PVC uses special cements to join pipes and fittings together. The cement softens the plastic, then hardens it again to create a solid, leak-proof connection.

PVC isn’t recommended for hot water applications that exceed 140°F. That’s hotter than most “default” water heater settings, but your water heater is fully capable of exceeding this temperature. (It’s not recommended. Most codes require special fittings if your water heater normally exceeds 140°F and you can be scalded in a second or two at this temperature.) If your control thermostat gets bumped or creeps around from vibrations, hotter water is going to have a bad impact on PVC plumbing. PVC is also very susceptible to UV damage, and it will freeze. Having said that, PVC is a good choice for cold water systems, vents and drains.

CPVC

CPVC is PVC’s suaver and more attractive brother. Chlorinated polyvinyl chloride (CPVC) is every good thing that PVC is and a little more. Unlike PVC, it can handle hotter temperatures – up to 200°F. It’s more flexible than PVC, more colorful than PVC and stronger than PVC. It still freezes, though. In addition, some codes place height limitations on PVC and CPVC applications.

CPVC is available in both Nominal Pipe Size (NPS) and copper tubing size (CTS) standards. It does not use the same cement that PVC uses. CPVC is also good for both potable and drain/waste/vent applications, and it can handle hotter water.

Most CPVC products are also vulnerable to UV light. UV light is used in the manufacture of PVC and CPVC, so it can also “undo” PVC and CPVC materials. Direct exposure to sunlight can eventually cause the materials to break down.

Now for the bad part – CPVC is a lot more expensive than PVC. (Five to six times more expensive, to be exact.) Despite the increased expense, CPVC is recommended for hot water systems and some relatively low-temperature exhaust applications.

Some homeowners prefer plastic piping because it is quieter than traditional metal plumbing. You’ll still hear some noises, but you’re not likely to hear the same kind of banging and knocking that you can get from metal plumbing products. It’s not good to mix PVC and CPVC in one run, largely because the cements for each material differ. The performance characteristics also differ; it’s best to stick with one type or the other.

PEX

PEX is a soft, flexible plastic pipe. The PEX designation stands for cross-linked polyethylene. This product – which is about 50 years old – can be used for plumbing, heating and cooling. When used in plumbing, it can withstand temperatures to 180°F.

You may already have some PEX in your home. It’s often used to connect water supplies to sinks, toilets and appliances.

When used in plumbing, PEX does have some distinct advantages. Because it’s flexible, it can be used in places where traditional materials could prove problematic. It’s a lower-cost option in many cases. It also resists bursting and freezing. It doesn’t require joints the same way that rigid systems do, so it’s easier to install. PEX is also very quiet compared to rigid pipe. (No “water hammer” from appliance valves.) You can join PEX lines with tools and fittings, as opposed to soldering or cementing pieces together.

PEX plumbing often provides options for remodeling and addition construction, where it may be difficult to add rigid plumbing.

PEX applications can be used in low-rise buildings (under 3 stories), but it’s only used on the clean side of a plumbing system. You’ll still need to use PVC or traditional drain materials on the “dirty” side of your system. Certain specialty PEX formulations can also be used in heating and cooling applications.

Plastic plumbing continues to evolve, and as a homeowner, you’ll likely be seeing more plastic plumbing as time goes on. Using the correct products for your plumbing applications will go a long way to ensuring that you have good results.

If you’d like more information about plastic plumbing products, or are thinking about replacing your traditional plumbing with a plastic alternative, please contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911 for a consultation.

Photo Credit: mel0808johnson, via Flickr

When Should You Call A Plumber?

When Should You Call A Plumber?Indoor plumbing is possibly the most influential invention of the modern world, and most of the time, it just works. But your plumbing does require maintenance at times. Many people don’t recognize the signs of a developing plumbing problem and get caught off guard by an unexpected repair. Here are a few trouble signs to look for.

Three reasons to call a plumber

Low water pressure. Low water pressure is a sign that something’s wrong with your water supply. Usually, “city water” arrives at your home under a lot of pressure. Municipal systems need higher pressure to ensure that the water get all the way to everyone’s taps. This means – if anything – that your water pressure should be on the high side.

When your water pressure is low, that’s a sign of trouble. If a nearby municipal supply line breaks, it will affect your water pressure. Contact your local water authority for further directions. The utility may instruct you to turn off your home’s main water valve while they’re repairing the break. Additionally, they may instruct you to boil drinking water to kill any harmful organisms that may have invaded the system. They may also ask you to open all of your taps once they’ve resolved the break to flush the lines.

If the municipal supply lines aren’t broken, then the trouble is in your pipes. Mineralization and corrosion inside your pipes and plumbing fixtures can reduce the overall flow of water to your taps. This is usually a condition that develops over a long period of time. Initially, you might not notice pressure or flow problems at all. If pressure problems affect only one particular tap, simply replace the affected fixture with a new one.

If all taps exhibit low pressure, you could have a major leak or your pipes could be corroding inside. Corrosion and mineral buildup reduce the diameter of the pipe and restrict water flow. These conditions can eventually completely seal a pipe. Mineral deposits can be dissolved, but corrosion is permanent damage, so you should replace the affected pipe.

Drain problems

Drains are a critical part of your plumbing system. A malfunctioning drain can pose a serious health and safety risk. Drains can clog for a number of reasons. Bacteria and organic films grow in your drains. As they accumulate, they can catch hair and other debris. Add a steady flow of soap residue, and you have the makings of a great clog. Chemical drain cleaners may dissolve a clog, but they can also damage your pipes. You can mechanically snake out the drain to remove the clog, or you can use enzymatic drain cleaners. Enzymatic drain cleaners literally eat the clog and clear the drain. You could also perform periodic drain maintenance by dumping a cup of baking soda down your drain, followed by a cup of vinegar. This combination will kill the organic growth in the drain and help keep it flowing freely.

Clogs aren’t the only problem you can encounter with a drain. Leaks (which are always bad), mineralization and corrosion can also slow or stop drains. In addition, chemicals you dispose of down the drain can damage them, and drains can also freeze. Breaks in your main drain can also cause sewage backups and spills, which are never pleasant. Powdered detergents can also reconstitute in drains, causing partial or complete blockages.

Most homeowners are well equipped to deal with a run-of-the-mill clog. Larger drain problems – like leaks, breaks, and non-organic blockages may require more tools and expertise to address!

Wet spots, peeling paint, buckling floors=plumbing leak

Plumbing leaks can occur anywhere, but they’re not always easy to find. Often the first sign of a leak is a water spot that appears on a wall, floor or ceiling. Leaks can be slow and steady, or they can cause floods. Leaking toilets can damage the surrounding floor. You may not notice this until the tile or floor covering gives way. Leaking fixtures in the shower or behind the wall can also cause a steady stream of water to escape. Over time, this water can promote mold growth and rot on walls and floors. Addressing the leak is Job #1. Once you’ve identified the leak and repaired it, cleaning up the damage comes next.

Leaks can be DIY repairs, depending on what’s actually leaking. If you have copper plumbing but you have no experience with soldering, you may want to call a plumber. The fire danger here is very real. The National Fire Prevention Association says that plumbing torches are one of the top ten causes of residential fires every year. In fact, nearly 30% of residential fires between 2010 and 2014 in the United States involved torches. About half of those fires started in the bathroom! Licensed plumbers are trained to solder in tight spaces. We also carry insurance that will protect you and your home from unnecessary risks.

If you’re experiencing any plumbing problems, we’re here to help. Call us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to diagnose and repair your plumbing problems!

Photo Credit: IndyDina with Mr. Wonderful, via Flickr

The Joys (and Heartbreaks) of Aging Plumbing

The Joys (and Heartbreaks) of Aging PlumbingLast week, we provided some insight into polybutylene plumbing, and why it’s a good idea to part company with it. Today, we’ll look at aging plumbing in general, and what you can expect as your plumbing gets older.

Plumbing is one of those things you take for granted until something goes wrong. Some common challenges emerge for property owners as a plumbing system ages. Here’s a look at what you might run up against, and how to deal with it.

Even plumbing gets old

No matter what your plumbing is made from, it gets old, just like everything else. Plumbing systems are under pressure (literally) every day. Sooner or later, that constant pressure will cause your plumbing to leak, break or stop performing as designed. Other conditions can also deteriorate your plumbing.

The water crisis in Flint, MI showed that municipal water systems can be vulnerable to changes in water treatment. Anti-corrosives, disinfectants and other chemicals added to the water can contribute to the deterioration of your pipes. Unfortunately, this happens from the inside out. You may not know you have a problem until you’re mopping up a lot of water!

Copper, galvanized steel, brass and plastic all get old. One good way to protect your home from unexpected damage is to know how old your plumbing is. Brass and galvanized pipe have a rated lifespan of 80-100 years. Copper will last 70-80 years. PVC will last 50-70 years. These are all ideals, of course. Conditions in your home, or the characteristics of your municipal water supply can radically change the life expectancy of your plumbing. (Usually not for the better.) If you live in an old home and you know your plumbing is old, a plumbing inspection can help determine the condition of your system. If your plumbing is already giving signs of its age – corrosion on the outside of the pipe, rusty water, poor water pressure, bad smells or tastes – you could be due for some major plumbing repairs.

If your plumbing is in reasonably good shape, it’s worth the effort to have your incoming pressure measured and adjusted. Municipal water is delivered at a higher PSI than your pipes can manage. Regulating the supply pressure can save on “normal” wear and tear.

When your sewer isn’t happy, nobody’s happy

No one wants to think about the sewer. Having been there, we can say that it’s not a nice place. It is, however, a necessary place, so it makes sense to take good care of your sewer. Having your sewer professionally inspected is probably the nicest thing you can do for your sewer and for your home. Sewer breaks announce themselves by back-flowing raw sewage into your home. In places you don’t want raw sewage. Like your kitchen. (It’s even hard for us to think about, but it happens.)

A video inspection of your sewer line can reveal breaks, tree root invasions and other problems that will not go away or take care of themselves. Clay sewer pipes last about 50 years. Cast iron sewer laterals can last 50-75 years. PVC and cement sewer pipes last about 100 years. Again, all of these lifespans are ideals. Your sewer pipe will be affected by the actual conditions in and around your home. It’s also important to remember that some materials (like cast iron) mineralize and corrode over time. This corrosion reduces the diameter of the pipe, which at some point, is going to cause problems! That’s why it’s important to watch your sewer pipe closely. Having it video inspected every five years or so will give you plenty of advance notice of an impending failure.

Repairs aren’t always all that

Some homeowners are pretty handy. Others – not so much. But that doesn’t always stop the dyed-in-the-wool DIY’er from performing repairs. “Temporary” repairs often end up being permanent, which can invite trouble down the road. Over time, these repairs may need to be redone. If your plumbing is a patchwork of original work and repairs, or a mix of materials, you could experience an increased rate of plumbing failure. If this describes your home, having a professional plumber evaluate your system can actually save you money in the long run. By performing more comprehensive repairs, you can eliminate temporary solutions and ongoing battles with low-quality patches.

If you’d like us to evaluate the condition of your plumbing, or help you avoid major plumbing problems, contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911 to schedule an assessment.

Photo Credit: Nate Vack, via Flickr

Polybutylene plumbing can come back to haunt your house

Polybutylene plumbing can come back to haunt your houseMost people don’t think about their plumbing until they have a plumbing problem. If you have polybutylene pipe in your home, you have a plumbing problem! Polybutylene pipe (PB) is a plastic plumbing product that was commonly used between the early 1970’s and the mid-1990’s. PB was an attractive plumbing option because it was resistant to freezing. It could be used for either interior or exterior applications. It was flexible, and it was inexpensive.

The problem with PB plumbing is that the plastic deteriorates over time. Every material deteriorates over time, but PB plumbing breaks down much faster than it was supposed to. Materials engineers also discovered that the pipe deteriorated randomly when it came into contact with some water treatments. Over time, small fractures caused by water additives can grow. Eventually, these fractures compromise the pipe. That leaves homeowners with PB plumbing vulnerable to sudden bursts, leaks and the resulting damage.

You might think that PB plumbing sounds ripe for a lawsuit. And it was. Lawyers in Tennessee filed Cox v. Shell Oil Co., in 1995. In that class action case, the courts awarded a settlement of $950 million, which allowed affected homeowners to replace their PB plumbing with something else. Homeowners who had PB plumbing installed between 1978 and 1995 were eligible to collect.

So far, so good – except that many homeowners with affected plumbing did not file claims under Cox. To complicate matters, new home buyers may have purchased homes with PB plumbing, not knowing that their properties contained faulty plumbing. Home inspectors may not have recognized PB plumbing for what it was, but insurance companies did not make that mistake. In other words, insurance companies will not pay to replace PB plumbing today because it is known to be defective.

Homeowners currently pay for polybutylene plumbing replacement

This “perfect storm” left unsuspecting homeowners with PB plumbing on the hook for major plumbing repairs, simply because they did not know that their homes had faulty plumbing, or that any potential claims they – or a previous owner – could have filed under Cox were already barred.

In late 2017, lawyers in Arkansas filed a second lawsuit on behalf of homeowners who had PB plumbing, but had been excluded for one reason or another from filing a claim under the Coxsettlement. Unfortunately, the court threw out that suit in such a way that it cannot be resurrected. In short, homeowners who still have PB plumbing in their homes are on the hook for the repairs.

So, how do you know that you have PB pipe? PB pipe is a plastic gray, blue, white, silver or black pipe. It’s stamped with “PB2110” and it was available in sizes between ½” and 1″. It is not rigid, like conventional copper, galvanized steel or even PVC piping. You might see copper or other metallic fittings on the ends or near joints in the pipe. PB pipes were used only on the “clean” side of a plumbing system, so they would be attached to the meter, sinks, showers, exterior hoses, pool plumbing and laundry equipment. It wasn’t used on the “dirty” side of a plumbing system, so you will not find it attached to drains or toilets. It was also not used on vent stacks.

Should you opt for polybutylene plumbing replacement?

You may have purchased a home with PB pipe unknowingly. No laws require home inspectors to identify PB plumbing, and there’s no good way to test the integrity of the pipe. If you have PB plumbing in your home, getting it replaced is a good way to protect yourself from unexpected water damage that won’t be covered by your homeowner’s insurance. The cost of replacing your plumbing won’t be cheap, but it will cost less than repairing the damage from an unexpected plumbing leak out-of-pocket.

If you think (or know) you have PB pipe in your home and would like an estimate on replacement costs, please give us a call at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy recommend high quality replacement options.

Photo Credit: ilovebutter, via Flickr

Keeping heat in when the heat is on

Keeping the heat in while the heat is onThere’s no doubt that unusually cold winter temperatures are hard on heating systems. If your heating system is properly maintained, however, it should be able to manage colder temperatures without too much trouble. Nonetheless, keeping heat in your home can ease the burden on your furnace and make your home more comfortable.

Tips for keeping your heat in during super-cold weather

Don’t dial down at night. If you normally set your thermostat to 62°F, consider bumping it up to 64°F or even 66°F at night. A healthy furnace should be able to manage a drop in the mercury. At the same time, maintaining a higher temperature can prevent the unheated portions of your home from freezing overnight. If some pipes in your home are vulnerable to freezing, allow a trickle of water to run from the faucet. Moving water can help prevent freezing, and can relieve pressure in a freezing pipe.

Change your furnace filter. Keep your furnace happy by making sure it can breathe! Changing the furnace filter regularly can help ensure proper air flow to your heating system. In the fall, before heating season begins, have your furnace checked by a heating and cooling professional. Regular checkups can help ensure that you avoid unexpected breakdowns during the winter.

Seal drafts. Air leaks and drafts can make your home feel miserable. In addition to letting heated air escape, leaks can allow moisture in. The moisture level in your home has a lot of impact on your comfort level. Maintaining a proper humidity level can make your home feel warmer even when your thermostat turned down. Sealing drafts may not be a mid-winter task, but cold temperatures will sure help you find them! Windows and doors are likely leakers, especially if they’re older. You may also find generous gaps between your sill plate and the foundation. You may not use your basement for much, but that’s probably where your plumbing is! Frigid air slipping in at the sill plate can freeze your pipes, even when the heat is turned up. You can purchase spray foam insulation from a local home improvement store. It’s inexpensive and will seal these little spaces well.

Consider adding storm doors. If your home doesn’t have storm doors, consider adding them. Storm doors can create a little air gap between the outside and the inside. This little space can cut down on air leaks at the door.

Insulate! Insulation is one of the best ways to help your home retain heat. Many people don’t realize this, but insulation does break down over time. If you haven’t touched your insulation, an insulation professional can evaluate it for you. In many cases, you can simply add insulation to what already exists. If your insulation has been damaged by water or animals, you’ll want to remove and replace it. Replacing or adding insulation may not be a DIY job. Old insulation may have asbestos, formaldehyde or other unpleasantries hidden inside. Insulation that’s been damaged by animals may also be saturated with waste. A side benefit of contracting this work is that they’ll get the vapor barrier correct! Improper insulation work can lead to mold and mildew accumulation in your home.

Consider replacing your furnace. Mid winter probably isn’t the time to consider a voluntary furnace replacement. That being said, new high-efficiency furnaces can save a lot on operating costs. The added reliability of a new furnace also can give you peace of mind. If your current furnace was on the job in 1992, it’s probably time to consider a change. Furnaces older than this are not efficient at all. You can recover the cost of installing a new furnace through reduced operating costs in just a few years.

If you’d like more information about energy efficiency, or furnace repair or replacement, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to discuss your options.

Photo Credit: David Lewis, via Flickr

The Lowdown on Wi-Fi Thermostats

The Lowdown on Wi-Fi ThermostatsIf you’re looking to lower your utility costs, there are a lot of things you can do. One place to start is at the thermostat. While you can save money in the winter by turning down the heat, some people are turning to high-tech thermostats to save some cold, hard cash.

Smart thermostats can help you reduce utility costs without reducing comfort. You can now find Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats in a wide price range. If this is the direction you want to go in, you’re sure to find a lot of options.

Ecobee Wi-Fi Thermostat

Ecobee currently offers several Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats to help control your utility costs. The Ecobee 4 is the company’s top-of-the-line model. It features a built in Amazon Alexa device and remote temperature sensors to help monitor cold spots in your home. The built in Alexa service means that you can control the temperature with voice commands, but you can also make a grocery list, update your calendar and get whatever other information you’re looking for. The Ecobee 4 is also compatible with Google Home devices. It can also control humidifiers, dehumidifiers and other heating and cooling support equipment

The Ecobee 4 also comes with a remote temperature sensor, but you can add more to your setup. The sensor does more than track temperature. It also monitors humidity, occupancy and proximity. That means you can tell the thermostat to prioritize heating and cooling for the occupied rooms in your home.

The Ecobee 4 has a list price of $249 and comes with a single remote sensor. A two-pack of remote sensors is an additional $80. You can also control this device with your smartphone or an Apple Watch. In addition, MassSave is currently offering a $125 rebate on Ecobee thermostats, which you can self-install or hire a contractor to do it for you. (Limit 3.) If having a built-in Alexa is overkill for you, the rebate-eligible Ecobee 3 ($169) is almost identical on functions but doesn’t have an integrated Alexa device.

Nest Wi-Fi Thermostat

The Nest thermostat has been on the market for a while and is widely available. Most consumers recognize it as the “learning” thermostat. The device learns what your schedule is and adjusts your home’s temperature accordingly. For example, the thermostat can communicate with your smartphone to determine when you’ve left the house. (Creepy, no?)

As one of the first players in this market space, the Nest has staked its claim on market share and is backed by Google. (It also works with Alexa.) As with other Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats, the Nest doesn’t support all heating and cooling equipment. It’s important to know up-front whether you’re going to experience compatibility issues. The top-of-the-line “Learning Thermostat” can set you back about $250. You can also get a pared down Nest Thermostat E for $169. Like the Ecobee models, the Nest models can also support remote temperature sensors to provide better control over your living space. The Nest App for your smartphone allows you to control either device remotely. The Nest Learning Thermostat will provide additional information on the display, including time, current room temperature and weather information. The Nest E is a budget version so it doesn’t have this display feature.

Honeywell Wi-Fi Thermostat

If spending a lot on a Wi-Fi thermostat isn’t high on your list of things to do, consider a thermostat from Honeywell. The low-end Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostats look more like the traditional programmable thermostats, but they cost about $100 less than their high-end cousins. Honeywell also makes contemporary Wi-Fi thermostats with a touchscreen design, but these models come with a price tag that’s similar to the Ecobee and Nest models. The Honeywell 7-day programmable thermostat comes with a smartphone app that’s compatible with Android and iOS phones. It also allows access from a computer.

Using a programmable thermostat – whether it’s Wi-Fi enabled or not – will help you save money on heating and cooling costs. Programmable thermostats eliminate the need to remember to “dial down” when you’re away. They also help warm up your home before you arrive. With a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat, you can also adjust your home’s temperature if your plans – or the weather – unexpectedly change.

If you’d like more information about programmable thermostats, Wi-Fi thermostat or you would like professional installation services, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to help!

Photo Credit: PickMy.Tech, via Flickr

If your toilet could talk…

If your toilet could talk…Toilets are arguably the most unsung of workhorses around your home. We don’t just expect toilets to work; we need them to work. But sometimes, they don’t work. If only your toilet could talk, what would it tell you about taking care of your toilet?

Taking care of your toilet

We’re pretty sure that taking care of your toilet would be high on your toilet’s list of things to discuss. Taking care of your toilet goes beyond just cleaning it now and then. Here are a few things to consider, if you plan to help your toilet out.

Check for leaks now and then. Toilets can leak in a number of places. A “good” leak is one that allows water from the tank to leak into the bowl. This is a “good” leak because the water doesn’t end up where it’s not supposed to go. Leaking toilets can cost a lot of money over time, however. These kinds of leaks aren’t always obvious, either. If your toilet fills up the tank on its own periodically, you’ve got a leak. If your toilet takes forever to fill, you’ve probably got a leak. If you can hear water draining down into the bowl, or into the soil pipe, your toilet is leaking. You can buy replacement valves for your toilet at your local home improvement store. You can also adjust the amount of water your toilet uses.

A “bad” leak allows water to escape the toilet. A leaking toilet can either flow out the bottom of the tank, or out the bottom of the bowl. Tank leaks are clean. Bowl leaks not so much. If your tank is leaking (and not just sweating), you may have to replace the tank. Check for cracks in the porcelain and look for flimsy gaskets. If water appears on the floor following a flush, remove the toilet and replace the wax ring on the bottom. You may also notice a “sewer” smell when you have a bad wax ring. Wax rings are cheap but they can cause a lot of damage when they give up.

When does your toilet need maintenance?

There’s not much involved in regular maintenance, except for cleaning. Be sure to use cleaning products specifically intended for toilets. Standard household cleaners can stain porcelain and crack the glazing. This will decrease the lifespan of your toilet. If you have hard water, use products to soften the water in your toilet. This will help reduce or eliminate mineralization and staining. Check the filler adjustment now and then to make sure your toilet isn’t consuming too much water. Make sure the seat is tight and fits well. Also check the flange nuts to make sure the toilet doesn’t move when it’s in use.

These items qualify as abuse

Toilets are designed to take a particular kind of abuse, but sometimes people go too far. Here are a few things you should NOT flush down your toilet.

Paper that isn’t toilet paper. Toilet paper dissolves in water, which is why it’s ok to flush it down the sewer. Other kinds of paper – Kleenex, paper towels, etc., – don’t dissolve. If it isn’t toilet paper, don’t flush it.

Disposable … things… Toilets aren’t trashcans, but that doesn’t stop some people from flushing trash. Q-tips, cigarette butts, sanitary products, disposable wipes, condoms, dead goldfish – none of these things are toilet-friendly. They all belong in the trash. If these items make it all the way to the sewer, they need to be separated out before treatment. In most cases though, they don’t make it all the way to the sewer. They sit in your soil pipe or in your sewer lateral. Given the opportunity, they will return to you. Don’t flush these things.

You have been warned.

Grease and food waste. Flushing grease down the toilet is no better than washing it down your sink. In fact, it’s probably worse. Grease can clog your sink drain in no time. If it clogs a kitchen sink, it will do the same thing to a toilet. Don’t put grease down either the toilet or the sink. (But especially not the toilet.)

Hot liquids
Toilets (and bathroom sinks) aren’t tempered. A rapid shift in temperature between the water and the porcelain will crack it. (And things won’t get better from there.) Use the kitchen sink to dispose of hot, non-greasy liquids.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating is here to help with all of your toilet maintenance needs. We can also recommend and install low-flow toilets to help you save water! Call us at (617) 288-2911 to schedule an appointment.

Photo Credit: Scott Beale, via Flickr

Furnace repair: should you repair or replace your old furnace?

Should you repair or replace your old furnace?Furnaces never break at a convenient time. (Mostly because no one uses their furnace in the summer!) Worse, few homeowners plan for a furnace repair. The bill can represent a large expense, and some homeowners may wonder whether it’s better to repair or replace.

How old is your furnace?

Like most things, there’s more than one way to think about this! If your furnace is super-old, repair-v-replace may be a no-brainer. But what exactly qualifies as a “super-old furnace?” 1992 provides a good mile marker because the Department of Energy first started making furnace efficiency requirements then. Furnaces installed at that time had to be at least 78% efficient. That’s not to say that your 1992 furnace is still 78% efficient in the waning days of 2018. It’s not! Furnace efficiency deteriorates over time. Routine maintenance and repairs can help restore or preserve its rated efficiency, but your furnace just gets old.

The return on investment for furnace replacement

One way to answer the “repair or replace” question is by looking at the return on your investment. If your furnace was installed before 1992, it is wildly inefficient by today’s standards. You are spending money hand-over-fist to keep your old, inefficient furnace running. Replacing your furnace may have a high initial cost, but you can recover this through reduced operating costs. If this describes your situation, it’s worthwhile to sit down and calculate the point at which a new furnace will pay itself off. (It won’t take that long!) MassSave also offers low- and no-interest loans to cover the cost of furnace replacement. Believe it or not, you can still save money by borrowing to replace your pre-1992 furnace!

On the other hand, a repair cost is defined and it’s virtually certain to be less than replacement. However, repairing an older, less efficient furnace commits you to paying higher operating costs at least until the next repair. (When you have to make the repair/replace decision again.) Sometimes, repairing an old, inefficient furnace has a lower immediate cost, but a higher long-term cost. A higher operating cost could mean that you’re paying hundreds of dollars more per winter to keep your old furnace. That’s definitely not ideal!

The cost of fuel

If you’re using a more expensive fuel (e.g., heating oil), a breakdown could represent a chance to save big. Oil-to-gas conversion can reduce your home’s energy consumption, reduce your costs and let you switch to a cleaner fuel. The cost of heating oil this season has been relatively stable. (It’s actually dropped slightly since the beginning of heating season.) Price volatility is one reason, however, to consider switching to a lower cost fuel. Homeowners can spend 2 to 3 times as much per winter to heat with heating oil. Additionally, heating oil poses environmental quality dangers that other fuels don’t.

Ultimately, the repair-v-replace decision will be up to you. Making a lower-cost repair can help get you through the heating season. This may give you time to make a potentially big decision without being under pressure.

If you’d like more information about furnace upgrades, oil-to-gas conversions or calculating your savings on heating and cooling costs, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to schedule a consultation and show you how you can save on your heating and cooling costs.

Photo Credit: ewitch, via Flickr