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Heating options for your home

Heating options for your home

The 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

Spring is the Season To Save on Heating and Cooling!

If you want to save money on heating and cooling equipment, right now is the time to act! Here are two great programs that you can take advantage of immediately!

Early Furnace/Boiler Replacement Programs

Once again, MassSave is offering excellent rebates on the installation of qualifying furnaces or boilers that replace old, working equipment! That’s right – MassSave will pay you between $750 and $4,000 to retire your hard-working-yet-inefficient furnaces and boilers. The incentives on boilers apply to new equipment with an AFUE efficiency rating of between 84% and 90%+. Incentives also apply to ECM-equipped furnaces rated at an efficiency of 86% or better for fuel oil, or 95% or better for propane or natural gas.

The incentives are available to both homeowners and non-homeowners of currently occupied properties. The incentives cannot be used to convert from one fuel type to another, and they are not available for new construction. Additionally, working boilers must have been in service for at least 30 years, and working furnaces must have been in service for at least 12 years.

To start the process, a qualified installer must conduct a site visit between April 1, 2015 and August 31, 2015 and the qualifying new equipment must be installed and invoiced on or before October 30, 2015.

Air Source Heat Pumps

Great news! The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (Mass CEC) has extended the rebate period for qualifying air-source heat pumps. Rebates of between $750 and $3,750 are available until May 31, 2015. The rebate amount depends upon the type and size of heat pump you purchase and install.
Heat pumps offer a high-quality, cost-effective way to heat and cool a whole house, or a portion of a home. They’re often used to provide supplemental heat in areas with no ductwork, in additions, basements and attics.

With this program, you can combine the rebate you receive from the Mass CEC with other rebate programs offered through MassSave and CoolSmart. The program is a great way to maximize your savings on the purchase and installation of a heat pump. You also get the added benefits of lowered heating and cooling costs, and greater comfort throughout your home.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating is a certified Trane Comfort Specialist and a Mitsubishi Diamond Dealer. We offer a number of qualifying options!

For more information about either (or both) program(s), please give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911.

High-Efficiency Heating Equipment Q & A

At Boston Standard Company, we’re all about high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment. High-efficiency appliances can reduce your operational costs and open up options that traditional heating and cooling equipment doesn’t provide. Here are a few common questions and answers from our own Joseph Wood about high-efficiency boilers and furnaces, in case you’re thinking ahead for this coming winter.

Heating accounts for as much as 50% of a home’s energy costs in places like Boston. Can a high-efficiency furnace really help lower my heating costs?

JW: Absolutely. You can reach only about 80% efficiency with traditional chimney-vented equipment, so if you want more from your heating dollar, a high-efficiency furnace can get you as much as an extra 15%. When you account for the ability of high efficiency products to modulate the gas valve, you could very easily save in excess of 25% over what you’re currently spending with an older, less-efficient furnace.

My furnace is more than 40 years old, but it still works! Should I just wait until my current furnace quits, or are there other reasons to consider replacing it now?

JW: Sometimes producing heat and working properly are considered to be the same thing, but they’re really not. A system could produce heat, but could also produce high levels of carbon monoxide, for instance. That’s definitely not proper operation! When combining efficiency, safety and reliability, there are many reasons to consider replacing a boiler or furnace before it fails.

In addition, there is a great program from the gas utilities, the “Early Boiler Replacement Program.” There’s also an Early Furnace Replacement program. For those that take advantage of this program, you get a minimum of a $2,000 increase in the rebate. In my opinion, getting paid extra to replace an older, inefficient system is great, and you get new equipment on “your terms,” instead of having to deal with a broken boiler or furnace in the dead of winter! If you plan to take advantage of this rebate program, you need to start the ball rolling before September 30!

If I replace my furnace, what other costs – besides the new furnace itself – do I need to consider?

JW: Most high efficiency appliances require annual service and check-ups. Annual maintenance is the key to maintaining the high-efficiency operation (and money-saving ability) of these appliances. Maintenance on high-efficiency equipment can range from $200-$500 annually depending on system. If you have asbestos from previous installations, oil tanks or other similar issues, those should be considered as well.

The price of heating oil only seems to go up. What kind of savings can I expect if I move from oil to natural gas? If I convert, what other things do I need to think about? Are there other benefits to conversion?

JW: The gas utility claims savings of 30%, which isn’t far from what I normally suggest as well. While every year the temperature and cost of fuel will undoubtedly fluctuate, owning equipment that is 15% or more efficient than equivalent oil products will always be a good idea. Many customers appreciate things that have nothing to do with money when they convert to natural gas…. No more oil smell! No more running out of oil!

Are there any tax advantages to installing a high-efficiency furnace now? Are there any rebate programs I can take advantage of?

JW: There are tax programs that are available for high efficiency upgrades that start around $300 for a high efficiency product and go up from there. Right now, the biggest rebates are found through Gas Networks. You can receive more than $10,000 for commercial projects! Most homeowners would expect to see between $1,900-$4,400 in rebates for converting to high efficiency equipment, depending on the installation requirements.

DOE Stays Implementation of 80%-Efficient Furnace Phase-Out

The Department of Energy announced last week that it will temporarily hold off on enforcement of the agency’s phase-out plan for 80%-efficient furnaces in Massachusetts and 28 other states. The change in plan comes as the result of pending industry litigation that is not expected to be resolved prior to the proposed May 1, 2013 start date.

For Boston homeowners, that’s good news because it provides some additional time to consider the purchase and installation of 80%-efficient furnaces. We don’t know when enforcement of the new plan will begin, but the DOE is committed to phasing out 80%-efficient furnaces as soon as possible.

For the consumer, the option of having an 80%-efficient furnace often means saving money on the purchase and installation costs of a new furnace, and a reduction in operating costs if the 80%-efficient furnace replaces an older, even less efficient model. While it’s true that 90%-efficient furnaces cost less to operate than 80% efficient models do, they also come with a steeper price tag and more costly installation requirements. In some cases, the amount of time required to see real savings from a higher-efficiency furnace is actually longer than the payback period for the less efficient 80% model!

In addition, very high efficiency furnaces require special venting preparations that increase the cost of installation. These preparations include the need to install a chimney liner (if it’s going to be used for ventilation) or suitable ventilation ports for your high-efficiency furnace.

Because the furnace exhaust port carries heated air, CPVC (chlorinated polyvinyl chloride) is normally used for heated exhaust applications. When heated (even to a relatively low temperature), PVC piping can release toxins into the air and water through a phenomenon known as “PVC outgassing.” CPVC is manufactured differently, and is rated for use in applications where temperatures may reach 200°F. CPVC is somewhat more expensive than standard PVC, but both PVC and CPVC are substantially less expensive than metal piping made from stainless steel (for exhaust) or copper (for hot water).

The bottom line for homeowners in Boston: furnace replacement choices will become more limited very soon! Once the DOE regulations go into effect, it will be impossible to purchase or install a lower-cost, lower-efficiency furnace. Homeowners will need to absorb the increased purchase and installation costs associated with higher-efficiency furnaces and may find that their homes cannot provide the required ventilation for high-efficiency furnaces.

If you’re considering the installation of a new gas forced-air furnace, and would like to know more about your current options, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 for a consultation. We can assess your home and provide you with a range of product and financing options.

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Still Thinking About An Oil-to-Gas Conversion in Boston?

Last week, I talked about how heating oil and natural gas compare from several different standpoints. We get a lot of interest from homeowners who would like to convert their Boston residential heating equipment from heating oil to natural gas. While there are many benefits of making such a conversion, there’s one consideration that many homeowners overlook – until they’re confronted with a major repair to their chimneys!

We tend to take a chimney for granted. Chimneys are generally built at the same time the house is, and in very old homes, the chimney may have been used to service three or four different kinds of heating technologies. The purpose of the chimney is to give certain products of combustion, which are toxic, a safe exit from the home.

Over time, the chimney deteriorates. The outside of the chimney is exposed to weather, including cold air, water, snow and ice. The inside of the chimney is repeatedly heated and cooled, which causes problems with temperature-related expansion and contraction. Add on top of that potential hazards from wind and storm debris, and repairs that may not have used the proper mortar, and you have a repair in the making.

But these hazards don’t take into account what happens inside the chimney day-in and day-out. The inside lining of the structure, which is traditionally made of terra cotta tile – can be damaged by water, sulfur and household solvents. These chemicals, along with water, break down the surface of the chimney lining. This damage occurs whether you use oil or gas as a heating fuel. Once the surface is damaged, the chimney lining deteriorates and small pieces of debris begin to accumulate at the base of the chimney. Advanced deterioration of the lining can cause the chimney to admit soot and toxic gases into the living space of the home.

Conventional chimney maintenance requires regular inspection and cleaning. Periodically, the outer mortar must be repaired, too. Ultimately, the chimney must be relined when the deterioration to the inside lining becomes significant. As you may have guessed, relining a chimney isn’t cheap! It’s also one of those repairs that can’t be put off, and since it has to be done right, it is best done by someone who lines chimneys for a living.

It sounds like there are no alternatives to relining the chimney, but that’s not true! An exhaust process known as direct venting can come to the rescue when heating equipment is replaced. Direct venting is a technique used with high-efficiency gas heating equipment to conduct toxic gases directly out of the home and without using the chimney. Furnaces, boilers, water heaters and gas fireplaces can all be direct-vented. Fresh air intake and exhaust ports are installed and connected to the natural gas appliance. The appliance then vents the toxic products of combustion directly to the outside of the home, instead of using the chimney.

Direct venting requires the creation of a couple of small holes in an exterior wall of the home. The intake and exhaust ports use these holes to make a direct connection between the gas-burning equipment and the outside environment. In most cases, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe is used for these ports because it’s inexpensive and easy to replace. Some homeowners prefer to use stainless steel exhaust ports to avoid potential problems with PVC outgassing – the subject of an upcoming post.

If direct vent equipment is used exclusively in a home, there’s no need for a chimney, and the existing chimney can be sealed. You’ll still want to have the chimney inspected periodically for exterior damage and mortar deterioration. (After all, a chimney is literally a “ton of bricks” standing inside your home!) Direct venting, when done in conjunction with heating equipment replacement, can save you money in the long run by eliminating the need for annual chimney inspections and expensive relining or repairs.

For more information about oil-to-gas conversions in Boston, or direct venting heating equipment contact us at (617) 288-2911 for a consultation.