The dark side of energy efficiency

The darker side of energy efficiencyIn the middle of the winter, it’s easy to find the drafts in your home. Sealing drafts can improve your energy efficiency, but there are some important considerations to think about. Building contractors talk about the “thermal envelope.” If you haven’t heard the term, it refers to the “tightness” of a building’s enclosure. The tighter the enclosure is, the less air travels between the building’s inside and its outside.

Energy efficiency requires ventilation improvements

Gaps can naturally occur between the foundation and the home’s structure. They also commonly occur in the attic, where the roof joins the walls. Windows, doors, vents and other openings degrade the thermal envelope. These hidden openings enable air to travel freely between the home’s exterior and interior. That means your warm air in the winter, and cool air in the summer will dissipate. This raises the cost of your heating and cooling bill, and admits unwanted moisture into your home.

Conventional wisdom said that these gaps helped to control the growth of mold and mildew. That is true. But it also means that older homes are draftier, leakier and cost more to heat and cool. If you decide to seal drafts in your home (which will decrease your energy usage), test your home’s ventilation! You may need to add supplemental ventilation to avoid moisture build-up and other problems.

Your water heater can’t go it alone

One of the big targets for energy efficiency is upgrading the furnace. Older furnaces aren’t energy efficient, so they consume a lot of fuel. Traditional furnace designs vented the by-products of combustion out the chimney. (“By-products of combustion” = carbon monoxide.) Newer heating equipment may instead vent flue gases out of the side wall of the home. This may have implications for your water heater and you!

A furnace is a big piece of equipment, and it can create a generate a big draft in the chimney. This air movement enables the flue gases to escape the chimney. If you have a gas water heater, it may also vent out the chimney. It probably leans on the furnace to create enough draft to expel its products of combustion safely. If you upgrade your furnace but leave your water heater standing, your water heater may not be able to generate enough draft to clear the chimney of noxious gases.

This can set up a dangerous situation known as back drafting. Back drafting allows the nasty, noxious gases to pool in the chimney, or worse, escape into the house. This can cause carbon monoxide to accumulate in the house. Major danger!

There are a few solutions for discouraging back drafting when your water heater is the last man standing. Your heating and cooling professionals will want to line your chimney when they upgrade your furnace. This reduces the inner size of the chimney and allows the water heater to create a better draft. You could also upgrade your water heater to a “power vent” model. A power-vented water heater mechanically creates draft in the chimney to avoid carbon monoxide buildup.

Heating and cooling professionals can help!

Air sealing, insulating and upgrading your heating and cooling equipment all save money, but they change your home’s environment. It’s very important to avoid the unintended consequences that can come about from tightening your thermal envelope.

At Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating, we can help you choose the most efficient heating and cooling options. We can also help you ensure that your home remains safe and comfortable, while also saving you money!

Call us at (617) 288-2911 to schedule an appointment today!

Photo Credit: David Singleton, via Flickr

When should you replace your plumbing?

When should you replace your plumbing?As plumbers, we naturally think that plumbing is a good thing, but all good things must come to an end. We’re not saying that plumbing is going away anytime soon, but the clock is ticking on your pipes. You might not think about it much, but the plumbing in your house wasn’t designed to last forever. How long should your plumbing last and what should you know about failing pipes?

Straight talk about replacing plumbing

The lifespan of your plumbing depends upon your pipes. Here’s a guide to help you think about (and plan for) replacement of your home’s plumbing.

Brass

Brass plumbing has a rated lifespan of 80-100 years. Original brass plumbing in homes built between World War I and World War II is now reaching the end of its useful life. Brass has been used in plumbing fixtures for a long time. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc. Varying the amounts of these major components can make the resulting brass harder or softer. Brass can also contain small amounts of other metals like aluminum, lead and arsenic. For plumbing applications, lead is absolutely forbidden, however some lead may still be present in older brass fixtures. Lead plumbing solder was common before 1977, and brass can increase the amount of lead that leaches into the water.

If you have brass plumbing, make sure you have no lead in any fixtures or solder joints. If you do find lead, at the very least, eliminate the offending fixtures. Remove old solder and replace it with lead-free solder designed especially for plumbing applications.

Copper

Copper has a rated lifespan of 70-80 years. Many homes built in the 1960’s and most homes built after 1970 have copper plumbing. Original copper plumbing in homes built around and immediately after World War II is now likely reaching the end its useful life. Copper carries a certain mystique about it. People believe that copper plumbing will last forever. It doesn’t. The actual lifespan of copper may even be significantly less than 70-80 years. In practice, copper plumbing can deteriorate rapidly after just 20 years of service.

Copper plumbing fails for a couple of important reasons. First, the “clean” side of your plumbing is under constant pressure. This constant pressure takes its toll on the joints and connectors in your system. You may begin to see leaks and drips, especially if the pressure from the source is too high. Municipal water transmission systems often have a pressure of 100-150 PSI. The recommended pressure for a residential system is lower – more like 80 psi. The extra pressure can really wreak havoc inside your home. You can reduce the water pressure from the source by installing a pressure regulator. The regulator will help ensure that your pipes and fixtures aren’t overwhelmed by sky-high PSI.

Acidity and copper

Copper can also fail when the pH of the water falls below 6.5. The natural pH of water falls somewhere between 6 and 8.5 depending upon the source. The lower the water’s pH, the more acidic it is. Acidic water can react with copper and deteriorate the pipe. Damaged pipes will shed copper into the water. Your body needs minute amounts of copper to be healthy, but large doses can be toxic.

A healthy body has mechanisms to prevent excessive copper storage, but in some people, these mechanisms may not work properly. Copper toxicity can cause gastrointestinal problems, liver and kidney damage, psychological problems and low blood pressure. In addition, some research shows that people who suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease have increased free copper levels in their bloodstreams. This does NOT mean that copper causes Alzheimer’s Disease. (In 2018, the cause of Alzheimer’s Disease remains unknown.) It might just mean that Alzheimer’s Disease damages the body’s mechanism to eliminate excess copper.

There is no known health reason to remove copper pipes in good condition from your home. You should replace any copper pipe that is showing signs of damage or deterioration, regardless of its age. If your water is chronically acidic, copper piping might not be the best choice for your home. Water that normally has a pH greater than 6.5 won’t deteriorate your copper pipes.

Galvanized steel

Galvanized steel has a rated lifespan of 80-100 years. Original galvanized plumbing in homes built between World War I and World War II is now reaching the end of its useful life. Galvanized steel pipes (also known as “galvanized” pipes) are zinc-coated steel pipes. The zinc coating helps to prevent the pipe from deteriorating. This kind of pipe is commonly found in homes built before 1960.

The zinc coating on galvanized steel doesn’t last forever. After decades of exposure to water, the coating will fail and the pipes will begin to rust. As the pipe deteriorates, its inner diameter reduces, and rust may flake off. Rust particles can end up in the water, or they can clog faucet filters. They can also leave rust stains on toilets, sinks and tubs. The narrowing diameter of the pipe can also cause water flow and water pressure problems for attached fixtures.

A potentially larger issue is that the zinc coating on galvanized pipes made between 1880 and 1960 contained impurities including lead. It is possible to find lead in the water carried by galvanized pipe, even when there’s no other lead source in the system. In systems where lead pipe or lead-containing fixtures were attached to galvanized pipe, the galvanized pipe may have caught and retained lead particles. Deterioration of the pipe eventually releases these lead particles and the water can test positive for lead contamination. Given enough time, a deteriorating galvanized pipe will rust through and require replacement.

PVC pipe

The rated lifespan of PVC pipe is 50-70 years. Some testing shows that PVC pipes could potentially last 100 years or more. Although PVC pipe seems like it’s “new,” PVC was actually first used in Germany in 1932. It arrived in US homes in 1952, so PVC pipe that pre-dates 1968 is approaching the end of its useful life. True PVC pipe is rated for safe use only with cold water. CPVC pipe, a chemically similar cousin, is rated for use with both hot and cold water service. Some PVC pipe made before 1977 could potentially leach harmful chemicals into fresh water. PEX pipe – which is a flexible plastic hose – can also be used to connect fixtures to plumbing systems. Plastic pipes of any kind (PVC, CPVC, PEX) that are labeled “NSF-61” or “NSF-PW” have been certified as safe for carrying drinking water.

Lead

There are no safe ways to use lead in plumbing. Lead poses a serious human health hazard and can cause permanent damage and death. Lead should be removed from plumbing systems immediately, regardless of its age or condition.

(That’s all we have to say about lead.)

Ultimately, no plumbing lasts forever! If you’re considering replacing your plumbing, or you’re beginning to see signs of deterioration in your plumbing, please give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to evaluate your plumbing and make recommendations about repairs or replacement.

Photo Credit: Patrick FInnegan, via Flickr

Brown Friday: Tales from the Thanksgiving front

Brown Friday: Tales from the Thanksgiving frontBelieve it or not, the day after Thanksgiving (known as Brown Friday in plumbing circles) is one of the busiest plumbing days of the year. While that’s good for us, it’s not good for you. Who wants to deal with plumbing problems on Thanksgiving? In most cases, you can avoid inviting us to your home for the holiday by observing a few simple rules.

Preparing your toilet for holiday gatherings

Most holiday plumbing problems involve either the toilet or a drain – sometimes both. Let’s start with the toilet. If your toilet isn’t in great shape to begin with, adding 20 relatives to your bathroom isn’t going to help much. Your toilet might not be in great shape if you use the toilet as a water-driven garbage can. The only things that should find their way into your toilet are human waste and toilet paper. Don’t flush anything else – grease, cigarette butts, “flushable wipes,” sanitary products, diapers or even Kleenex down the toilet. Throw these items in the trash, and encourage your guests to do the same.

Check the toilet for leaks BEFORE your guests arrive. Toilets can leak from the tank into the bowl, or from the bowl onto the floor. (Yuck!) If your toilet is leaking from the tank to the bowl, you’ll want to fix this, but it’s probably not an urgent repair. You can get a flapper valve kit for the toilet at any home improvement store. They’re not hard to replace, and they can stop a running toilet in its tracks. Also, if the flush handle is loose, tighten it.

If your toilet is leaking from the bowl onto the floor, that requires attention immediately. The most likely cause of this kind of leak is the wax ring that seals the toilet to the soil pipe. If your toilet leaks when you flush it, or you notice unpleasant smells in the bathroom, you may need to replace the wax ring. Fix this kind of problem before your guests arrive.

Have a plunger on hand in every bathroom in your home.

Keep an eye on the kids to make sure they’re not sending Aquaman out on a reconnaissance mission.

Clear off the tank lids for quick access, just in case. Also test the shut-off valves for each toilet. If they work, great! If they don’t, replace them! They’re cheap, which is both why you’ll have to replace them periodically and also why you can afford to replace them when they break.

Keep your drains running clear

The first rule of having a plumber-free holiday is don’t dump the turkey grease down the drain. If you’ve ever let turkey (or chicken) drippings get cold in the pan, you’ll notice that poultry forms a gelatinous goo. This goo formation isn’t limited to your pans. It actually happens in your drains, too. It’s pretty effective at sealing off a drain, which can lead to backups and other problems. You may be thinking that hot water will help you. It will not. Hot water cools off as it moves through the drain. Your gooey turkey grease might melt in one spot, only to reconstitute farther down the drain, where the hot water can’t reach it. Hot water won’t solve your problem; it will only move it out of reach.

To get rid of turkey grease, pour it into a container with a lid and toss it in the trash. Old soda bottles, Gatorade bottles, milk jugs, etc., work fine for this. Some people reserve the turkey stock by refrigerating it. This causes the fat to rise and congeal. Skim the fat off the top and use the stock for soups or gravy. You can store stock in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. You can also freeze it and use it whenever you want.

Be very selective about what you put down your garbage disposal. Certain foods – like celery, eggshells, coffee ground sand vegetable peels don’t do well in the disposal. Worse, they don’t do well in your drains. (Especially when they combine with turkey grease.) Also avoid sending pasta, potatoes, flour and rice down the drain. They can reconstitute in a cement-like way in your drains. Also, when you run the disposal, give it some extra water to make sure your food scraps make it all the way out to the street.

Clear your drains before your guests arrive. If your kitchen or bathroom drains are already running slow, don’t borrow trouble. Clear your drains using a healthy shot of baking soda with an equally healthy vinegar chaser. This combo will kill any organics that are growing in your drain, allowing other debris to move along. You can also use an enzymatic drain cleaner overnight to accomplish the same thing. If your drains are super-slow, you may have to manually clear them with a snake to get the water moving again.

If you run into big trouble, we do offer on-call service contracts for all of your plumbing and heating needs. Give us a call at (617) 288-2911 and we’ll be happy to help.

Photo Credit: Mr. TinDC, via Flickr.com

Thinking about a pot filler for Christmas?

Thinking about a pot filler for Christmas?A pot-filler is a luxury item that you can find in a higher-end kitchen. A pot filler is a swinging, articulated faucet that sits above your stove. Because it’s articulated, it can reach virtually any burner, and can help you fill a pot of water quickly. It also eliminates the need to carry a full pot of water from the sink to the stove.

Depending upon the design of your kitchen, the trip between the sink and stove might not be a big deal. But if you cook a lot, or use large pots while you’re cooking, a pot-filler can be indispensable. You can use the pot filler for more than filling pots, too. Some pot fillers have a flow rate of up to 4 gallons per minute. You can use it to water large houseplants, fill water bottles and other awkward containers (think portable humidifiers). When you’re not using the pot filler, it rests neatly against the wall.

To add a pot filler, you’ll need to add some plumbing. (Most kitchen designs don’t run water near the stove.) Once the plumbing is in place, adding a pot filler is as simple as adding a faucet. The pot filler is a cold-water-only fixture and you don’t need a drain, so the setup is simple.

A second water source in a busy kitchen can make a lot of sense. When you’re cooking, the sink tends to fill up with dirty dishes and food scraps. As you approach showtime, it can be difficult to get near the faucet! A pot filler can save the day, allowing you to get water, even when the sink says “No!”

Pot fillers are also handy for outdoor cooking areas. If you have a professional-grade outdoor kitchen, a pot filler can save trips back to the indoor kitchen. It’s also a great source of drinking water for your outdoor gatherings.

The fixtures range in price from about $150 to over $1,000. That doesn’t include the cost of the plumbing, but once you put a pot filler in your kitchen, you’ll wonder how you ever got along without one!

If you’d like more information about adding a pot filler to your kitchen, or you’re planning a remodeling project and you want to include a pot filler, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911 to set up a consultation.

Photo Credit: mel0808johnson , via Flickr.com

Chimney liners – What you need to know

Chimney liners – What you need to knowIf you’re planning to install a high-efficiency furnace, one likely item on your to-do list will be to line your chimney. Chimney liners aren’t just a good idea – they’re required to help maintain the proper performance of your chimney.

Gas-fired appliances need to vent to the outside to avoid a build-up of carbon monoxide. In the past, gas furnaces and water heaters used the home’s chimney to provide adequate ventilation. Newer, high efficiency furnaces may vent out the side of the home’s foundation rather than up the chimney. If they use the chimney for ventilation, the chimney as built may be too big to work properly with a newer gas furnace.

If you plan to vent any appliances through the chimney, a chimney liner may be in order. There are three good reasons to line an existing chimney. First, unlined chimneys actually constitute a serious fire hazard. Studies have shown that heat moves through (not up) an unlined chimney rapidly. This means the chimney can transfer heat from the masonry to adjacent woodwork inside the home. In National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) tests, an unlined chimney caused adjacent woodwork to ignite in less than 3.5 hours! In fact, the standards folks at NIST called unlined chimneys “little less than criminal.” Those are some pretty harsh words, but they can give you a lot to think about. If your chimney is unlined (which would be common for an older home), you may want to invest in a chimney liner even if you don’t intend to replace the appliances that use your chimney.

The second reason to line a chimney is to protect it from your appliances. Combustion is a messy process. It can leave behind some caustic by-products that won’t do your chimney any favors. Over time, these caustic chemicals can eat away at the brick, as well as the mortar that holds your chimney together. Which brings us right back to Reason #1 to line your chimney. If the mortar inside your chimney deteriorates, the chimney will become even better at transferring heat to the surrounding structures. This naturally increases the risk of fire. A liner can both slow and reduce the transfer of heat to nearby structures, decreasing the risk of fire.

The third reason to line your chimney is to ensure that it drafts properly. A chimney is like a big straw that draws exhaust gas from your home. It also drafts air into your home, which your gas-fired appliances need. Big chimneys don’t draft well. A chimney that’s exceptionally large might draft either ineffectively or perhaps not at all. That could cause carbon monoxide to build up in your home. A chimney liner can help size your chimney properly for your appliances and help ensure that your home and appliances are vented properly.

Most chimney liners are made from one of three materials: clay, metal or resin. Clay tiles are the most common type of chimney liner. While they’re the least expensive way to line a chimney, they may not perform well in adverse conditions. (“Adverse conditions” = chimney fire.) They also might not work well with new, high-efficiency gas fired equipment.

Metal liners are usually made from stainless steel or aluminum. Aluminum liners don’t perform as well as stainless steel liners do. In fact, they’re not recommended for high-efficiency applications. Stainless steel performs very well, but it can be expensive. Finally, you can choose a custom-fit resin liner for your chimney. A resin liner is “built in place” and form fits to your chimney. It is lightweight, resist etching and reduce heat transfer. They can also help improve the structural integrity of your existing chimney. Resin liners are permanent and they work well with all fuel types.

An alternative to lining your chimney is to vent your furnace, water heater, boiler and other appliances directly through the foundation wall of your home. This strategy will enable you to abandon your chimney altogether. You can leave an abandoned chimney in place, provided that you cap the holes previously used by your equipment. You may also want to cap the chimney at the top to prevent water, animals and other undesirables from entering the chimney. Before you abandon your chimney, you may want to have it inspected by a professional. If your chimney is in dangerous condition, it may be worth your while to either stabilize it or deconstruct it altogether.

While we don’t do chimney lining, we can recommend chimney professionals as part of a heating or water heater replacement project. Give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to set up a consultation!

Photo Credit: Ben Freeman, via Flickr.com

Trick or Treat: Exploding toilets are neither!

Trick or Treat: Exploding toilets are neither!Just in time for Halloween, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has a scary story about exploding toilets! Nothing good happens when the words “toilet” and “explosion” find themselves in the same sentence. This is no exception.

Certain (mostly) commercial toilets that use a pressure-assisted flush unit are at risk of explosion. The Sloan Series 501-B Flushmate II pressure assisted flushing system could rupture, causing damage to the toilet and user injury. Sloan, the manufacturer, recalled a similar device – The Series 503 Flushmate III – in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

Flushmate II products manufactured from Sept. 3, 1996 to Dec. 7, 2013 are on the CPSC’s no-flush list. The manufacturer says it has received notice of nearly 1,500 incidents of the device bursting while in use. 23 people have sustained largely non-serious injuries, although one person required surgery on their foot. In addition to the recall of US units, the company is also recalling Canadian units for the same issue.

The failure occurs at the time of flushing. A weld seam can burst while the unit is at full pressure. This can cause the tank lid to lift, dislodge and shatter. Consumers have reported both impact and shatter injuries related to the failure.

Consumers may have purchased the affected units between 1996 and 2015 at Home Depot, Lowe’s, online or through national retailers. The units were also pre-installed in toilets made by American Standard, Corona, Crane, Kohler and Mansfield.

In the meantime, don’t use a toilet equipped with an affected system. Read the complete Flushmate II recall notice, and contact the manufacturer for a replacement.

Seriously, there’s (probably) no reason to be afraid of your toilet. If it bothers you though, call us at Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911. We service all commercial and residential toilets.

Even ones that explode.

Happy Halloween!

Photo Credit: Phil Kalina, via Flickr

There’s still time for fall furnace maintenance

There's still time for fall furnace maintenanceIf you heat your home with a gas forced-air furnace, now is an excellent time to complete your fall furnace maintenance. The temperatures have dropped a bit, but preventative maintenance always beats repairs, right?

A heating and cooling professional can evaluate, clean and maintain your furnace to ensure trouble-free operation throughout the heating season. If you have a high efficiency furnace, this annual check-up is especially important. Regular use can wear (and damage) your furnace’s heat exchanger. A broken heat exchanger can allow poisonous carbon monoxide gas into your home. Carbon monoxide gas is a colorless, odorless gas that can sicken and kill you and your family.

Routine maintenance by a trained heating and cooling professional can spot potential problems before they harm you or your family. The heat exchanger isn’t the only cause for concern in your furnace. Other important components include the blower motor, the thermostat, the ducts and vents, and your fan. Any of these components can reduce the efficiency of your system, or cause a breakdown.

In addition to inspections, routine maintenance includes cleaning your heating system, which enables your furnace to work more efficiently. Regular removal of dust, ash and debris that accumulates through normal operation can actually save you money all winter long!

Regular maintenance also includes evaluating the electrical connections, the controls, belts and other moving parts of your furnace. These parts can deteriorate quietly, leaving you with a surprise mid-winter repair.

One kind of regular maintenance you can perform is changing the furnace filter. Regular filter replacement can improve the efficiency of your system and save operational dollars. You can purchase disposable filters at any home improvement store. Look at your existing filter or consult the owner’s manual to find the right size for your furnace.

Routine furnace maintenance: furnace filters

A couple of notes about furnace filters: too much of a good thing can be … well, too much. Furnace filters have a MERV rating – Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. The higher a filter’s MERV rating, the smaller the particle it will trap. On the surface, having the filter trap as many minute particles as possible sounds good, right? Except that it might not be. Having such a restrictive filter in your air handling system can reduce air flow excessively. Essentially, you’re putting a pre-clogged filter into your furnace.

An overly restrictive filter can actually damage your furnace by making it work harder to pull air through the system. You can find MERV 16 filters, but do you want them? A MERV 16 filter will trap 95% of smoke, sneeze and bacteria particles. The LEED standard (for building efficiency) recommends a minimum of 8 MERV. The US Department of Energy recommends a MERV rating of no more than 13. Unless your furnace manufacturer recommends a higher MERV-rated filter, do not exceed the DOE recommendations.

Second, you can find “vent” filters for your cold air returns. Vent filters can prevent larger particles (including dust, pollen, carpet fibers and pet hair) from getting into the duct work. Vent filters don’t seriously restrict air flow, but they can prevent larger debris from getting into your furnace. Like furnace filters, you would need to replace vent filters every 30-90 days.

Finally, most filter manufacturers recommend changing your furnace filter every 90 days or less. Inspect your furnace filter monthly and change it when necessary. Don’t allow a filter to sit in your furnace for more than 90 days.

Schedule your fall furnace maintenance now!

Call us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 to schedule your fall furnace maintenance. We’ll be happy to help you keep your furnace in excellent condition all winter long!

Photo Credit: Mike Gifford, via Flickr

How well do you know your kitchen sink?

How well do you know your kitchen sink?You probably spend more time at your kitchen sink than you spend thinking about your kitchen sink. The kitchen sink is a hub of activity and a vital part of any household. It can also be a hub of unpleasant activity that can cause problems in your happy home. Today, we’re going to take a few minutes to look at your kitchen sink and how to care for it.

Your kitchen sink is most likely mounted to a countertop. Most kitchen sinks are made from stainless steel, porcelain-coated cast iron, resins, acrylic, copper or some kind of stone (or stone composites) like quartz, granite, or marble. The durability of the material is important because sinks can be bacterial reservoirs. The less durable the material, the more often you’ll need to replace your sink to avoid problems that bacterial growth can cause.

Underneath your sink is the sink drain. A sink drain consists of the pipe that run from the drain hole that’s visible in the sink to the main drain in the house. Directly under the sink, you’ll also see a p-trap – a curved piece of pipe. The p-trap is an essential element of any drain. The p-trap retains a bit of water, which forms a seal. This seal prevents gases from further down the drain from escaping into the house. The plumbing code requires p-traps in drain lines. If your sink doesn’t have a p-trap, or your p-trap is damaged, you’re going to encounter some really unpleasant smells.

Many kitchen sinks also feature a garbage disposal. A dishwasher may also be integrated into the garbage disposal or sink drain. No one disputes the utility of either a garbage disposal or a dishwasher, but they can also be a source of problems for your kitchen sink and drain.

Kitchen sink do’s

Do clean your sink regularly. Cleaning the sink surface can help reduce bacteria and odors, remove food particles and prevent staining. If you stack dirty dishes in the sink, clean the sink after washing the dishes. Also clean the sink if unprepared foods – raw meat, eggs, etc., come into contact with it. Sanitize the surface with bleach to kill bacteria and remove stains.

Do use the right cleaning products on your sink. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for caring for your sink, based on the materials it’s made from. Surface scratches can eventually lead to a breakdown of the sink surface. This can promote rust and surface cracks, or encourage staining.

Do look for leaks. Your faucet can leak, sending a stream of clean water into the sink. Your drain can also leak. Unlike the faucet, the drain leaks dirty, potentially hazardous water. Drain leaks can be sneaky, so periodically check the drain for leaks. Signs include scale build-up, obvious water accumulations or water stains, and mold or mildew growth under the sink. Drains can leak if the sink mounting flange is not set well, or the plumber’s putty underneath it is deteriorating. Couplings around the drain stem and p-trap can also deteriorate or loosen.

Periodically, check the drain couplings. Especially if you have a dishwasher or garbage disposal, make sure your drain couplings are tight. Vibrations from these machines can loosen the joints in your drains and cause leaks – or worse – a cruddy flood.

Do check the water shut-off valves periodically. Local shut-off valves are notoriously cheap. Check your valves periodically to make sure they can still shut off the water. If the valve shut-off spins continuously, replace it.

Do use cold water in the disposal. Hot water just allows grease to congeal farther down the drainpipe.

Kitchen sink don’ts

Don’t put grease down the drain.

Grease hardens when it cools and it makes a pretty effective stopper. Unfortunately, a grease plug usually doesn’t form in a convenient, easy-to-reach place. And unless you throw a bunch of grease down the drain at once, a grease plug forms slowly over time. To dispose of grease, pour it into a tin can and freeze or refrigerate it until it hardens. Then toss it out. You could also pour the grease into a plastic bottle or jar with a lid and trash it.

Choose what you dispose of carefully. If you have a garbage disposal, don’t put coffee grounds down the drain. Coffee grounds combine with other things in your drain (like grease), and turn into an impossibly hard substance. Also on the no-fly list: eggshells. Same problem; same result. In fact, avoid putting fats, oils, stringy vegetables, potato peels, pasta, rice, beans and non-food items down the disposal. Pasta, rice and beans all swell in water, so they take up a lot more room in the drain. If they collect in a place that’s normally wet, (even in their ground-up state), the diameter of your drain pipe will shrink.

Don’t use chemical drain cleaners in the kitchen sink. Chemical drain cleaners are really hard on your pipes. They’re also dangerous to you! To keep your drain clean and clear, you can put a cup of baking soda and a cup of vinegar down the drain. Let it sit for a few minutes and then wash it down the drain with hot water. You can also use an enzymatic drain cleaner to clear out the kitchen drain.

Don’t ignore drips and leaks. Even a small leak can do a lot of water damage.

If you have a household plumbing problem you’d like us to take care of for you, contact us at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to return your sinks and drains to good working order!

Photo Credit: espensorvik, via Flickr

Heating options for your home

Heating options for your homeThe change of season provides a good opportunity to think about how you heat your home. About half of the homes in Massachusetts use natural gas heat. This is part of a 50-year trend away from using heating oil as a primary fuel source. If you’re thinking about replacing your current heating system, there are a few things to consider.

Your overall heating and cooling objectives.

Do you simply want to update your existing heating and cooling system? Are you trying to reduce your energy consumption? Change your carbon footprint? Switch from one fuel type to another? Add air conditioning? These questions help determine which options best suit your home.

Efficiency.If you have a furnace or boiler that’s more than 30 years old, you’re probably wasting money on heating in the winter. Although some heating systems can last forever, that’s not necessarily a good thing – especially if your die-hard isn’t efficient. Replacing an old system with one that’s more efficient can reduce your carbon output and save money on operating costs, regardless of your fuel type.

Environment. The environment is a consideration for many people. Burning fossil fuels of any kind releases carbon into the atmosphere. Electricity is “clean” from the user’s perspective, but if it comes from a power plant that burns coal, that’s not a big win. Switching from fuel oil to natural gas can reduce (but not eliminate) your home’s carbon footprint. It can also eliminate the possibility of fuel oil spills in and around your home.

Very few homes in Massachusetts rely on wood for primary heat, but wood is carbon-neutral. Burning wood releases the same amount of carbon that the tree would release if it were rotting instead. Further, trees – which sequester carbon -are renewable resources. If you cut down a tree, but replace it with another tree, you’ve (at least in theory) provided a new carbon trap.

While wood is carbon-neutral, it’s not particulate-neutral. Burning wood releases waste particles (smoke, ash, creosote, etc.) into your chimney and into the air. Some communities are trying to limit the use of wood-burning stoves and fireplaces to improve air quality. Wood burning also increases the risk of an accidental fire.

Other “clean” energy resources include solar and wind power, but most homes have limits to how much power they can produce independently.

Fuel types.

More than any other factor, your choice of fuel will determine your lifetime operating costs. The price of natural gas has been relatively stable, so homeowners who heat with gas have enjoyed significant cost savings. Some homeowners are giving electric heat a second look, thanks to massive improvements in efficiency. If your concept of electric heat involves baseboard or space heaters, you haven’t been keeping up with the times! Mini-split ductless systems have become highly efficient and can produce enough heat to keep your home comfortable in winter. In addition, these systems can provide cooling during the summer months. They’re ideal as a primary or supplementary system in homes that don’t have ductwork, and they make zone heating easy. In other words, a ductless mini-split could make a nice case for itself among homeowners wondering what to do about their old boilers. The good thing about mini-splits is that they don’t have to replace your existing heating equipment. You could use a mini-split as a primary heat system but leave the boiler in place as a backup.

Regardless of your current heating and cooling plan, there are a number of energy-efficient options available to you. If you’re interested in learning more about the heating and cooling options available for your home, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911 for a consultation. We can show you how you can meet your heating and cooling objectives.

Photo Credit: National Renewable Energy Lab, via Flickr

Is this the year for an oil-to-gas conversion?

Is this the year for an oil-to-gas conversion?Nearly one-third of homes in Massachusetts use heating oil as their primary heating fuel. Historically, the price of heating oil has been hard to predict. For most of the 1990’s, each gallon of fuel oil cost about $1. In 1999, the price of heating oil began to rise significantly. It peaked in 2014 at more than $4 per gallon. Today, the price of a gallon of heating oil is about $3.25.

The variability of heating oil pricing is just one thing that homeowners consider when thinking about an oil-to-gas conversion. Convenience, the cost of conversion, availability and environmental concerns also factor into the decision to hold onto what you have or switch.

The most important consideration in oil-to-gas conversion

The cost of conversion is complex. It’s not simply about the sticker price of a new furnace. Initial costs are only one part of the lifetime costs of a furnace. In addition to your fixed costs, you also need to take into consideration the ongoing costs of operating the furnace.

For example, say a new 80% AFUE heating oil furnace costs $4,000 to purchase and install in an average-sized house. Homeowners paid an average of $1,700 to heat with oil in 2017-18, so we’ll assume an annual operating cost of $1,700. After 15 years, the homeowner will have paid $29,500 for heating with oil.

If the same homeowner installs a 90% efficient gas furnace instead, the expected install cost jumps to $6,000, but the annual operating costs drop to $900. After 15 years, the homeowner will have paid $19,500 for heating with gas. That’s a savings of $10,000 over heating oil.

Fifteen years is a generous lifetime for a high efficiency natural gas furnace. An oil furnaces can last for 30 years or more. So what happens when we calculate the cost of heating over 30 years – the life expectancy of the oil furnace? Keeping the fuel cost constant, the lifetime cost of each furnace looks like this.

The oil furnace, at $4,000, operated over 30 years will cost $55,000. The gas furnace – which gets replaced midway through the 30-year-cycle – will cost $39,570. This assumes that the initial furnace costs $6,000 and the replacement furnace costs $7,500. It also assumes that the second gas furnace takes advantage of technology to operate more efficiently, so the home’s gas consumption drops during the second 15 year-period to $850. Over the lifetime of an oil furnace, a natural gas alternative offers a savings of $15,430 (-28%) over 30 years.

The hidden cost of doing nothing

The example illustrates why keeping old technology might not be a good idea, even if it seemingly “costs nothing to do nothing.” An oil furnace built in 1990 may have been highly efficient by 1990’s standards. But technology improves over time, allowing newer furnaces to become more efficient. If you keep an inefficient furnace for 30 years, you keep that furnace’s inefficiency. You’ll end up paying a significantly higher operating cost for 10, 20 or even 30 years. As the example above shows, that can be a costly mistake.

The real cost consideration for a furnace is not the price tag of buying it and putting it in your home. The real question is how much does a furnace cost to operate over time? You’ll easily spend 2-13 times the furnace’s purchase price on operating costs over its lifetime. When operating efficiency determines the lifetime cost of a furnace, keeping an old, inefficient furnace simply doesn’t make financial sense.

The savings you’ll get from a natural gas replacement for an oil furnace can literally pay for the new furnace in just a few years. And if you set aside the money you’d have otherwise spent on running your older, inefficient oil furnace, you can use that cash to pay for a more efficient replacement gas furnace in 12-15 years. That allows you to continue reaping the benefits of lowered heating costs without having to finance the purchase of a new furnace.

If you’d like more information about oil-to-gas conversion, or you’d like to talk about replacing your older, less efficient furnace, call us at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911 to set up a consultation.

Photo Credit: Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, via Flickr