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Boston Heating And Cooling Tax Credits Are Still Available

Homeowners haven’t totally missed the boat on last year’s home heating tax credits. Boston home heating can hit you right where it counts – in the pocketbook – so programs designed to reduce the cost of modernizing your Boston home heating system are welcome, no matter how much they cover.

This year, the generous $1,500 tax credit for certain home heating modernizations is gone with the wind. You can still claim 30% of the cost of improvements up to $500. Covered improvements include home heating, certain hot water heaters, air conditioning units and biomass stoves. One additional catch is that if you’ve claimed $500 or more in energy-efficiency tax credits between December 31, 2005 and December 31, 2010, you’re out of luck for this particular opportunity. If you’ve claimed less than $500 in the past five years, your cap will be modified, based on how much in credits you have claimed.

What does this mean for the Boston homeowner? The credit is still valuable if you want to modernize your home heating system. Aside from the tax credit, switching to a high-efficiency home heating system can reduce heating costs by as much as 50%, so even without the full value of the tax credit, updating your Boston home heating system may actually end up putting money in your pocket within the space of a few years.

Other credits for home heating and cooling include a tax credit of up to $50 for the addition of an advanced Main Air circulating fan. This device gives a boost to the blower on your furnace, and helps move heated air efficiently through your ductwork. By circulating heated air into the living space faster, the furnace actually uses less energy and runs less often.

A tax credit of up to $300 is available for Boston homeowners who want to install an air source heat pump. Heat pumps are highly efficient at exchanging heated and cooled air, and can provide as much as four times more energy (in the form of heated or cooled air) to your home than they consume. Split systems with a Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) of at least 8.5, an Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER) of at least 12.5 or a Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio of at least 15 are eligible for the credit.

Thinking ahead to summer, homeowners can add central air conditioning in Boston and claim a cool $300 tax credit at the same time. Split systems that are rated with a SEER of at least 16 or an EER of at least 13 are eligible. Package systems with a SEER rating of 14 or better, or an EER of 12 or better are also eligible.

There are other credits still available for non-solar gas or electric hot water heating systems and gas, oil or propane furnaces. I’ll have more about these in a future post.

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Grey Water Recycling In Boston Can Save Money

The average American uses between 80-100 gallons of fresh water each day. For those of us who live in water-rich areas, we may not think much of our water consumption. For those who live in water-poor areas, grey water is taking on a new significance. Grey is the new green, which means you don’t have to live in a water-poor area to consider grey water as a potential source of savings. You can take advantage of grey water recycling systems in Boston to reduce water consumption and water bills, and improve the environment at the same time.

What is grey water? Grey water is any water that’s not fit for drinking, but that’s not contaminated with biological waste materials either. For example, waste water from your laundry system is considered grey water. Collected rainwater is also considered grey water because it hasn’t been purified for drinking.

Normally, grey water (so named because it tends to be cloudy) is washed down the drain and flows into the sewer. While grey water isn’t very appealing for drinking and cooking, it still has some marginal value for non-drinking applications like flushing toilets and watering lawns.

Some systems on the market today allow the homeowner to “recapture” grey water and recycle it for use in toilets. Why does grey water make a good use for this? If you look at how water is consumed in the average American home, you’ll immediately see why there’s benefit to separating potable from non-potable water.

All water that’s delivered to your home from the municipal water supply is potable. That means it’s safe to drink and use in cooking. Certain other water-consuming tasks require clean, potable water – like washing dishes. You probably want clean water to wash your clothes, too, and certain heating systems – like boilers – require clean water.

About 70% of the water you consume on a daily basis is required to be clean. This includes water for showering, drinking, cooking, washing and heating. The other 30 percent doesn’t need to be pristine to accomplish what you’re aiming for. This includes flushing toilets, washing your car, and watering your lawn. About 25% of the water you use each day comes from flushing the toilet. There’s no requirement that toilet water be potable, yet we use potable water to supply our toilets because that’s the only kind of water that comes from the municipal water supply.Likewise, when we water our lawns and wash our cars, we’re throwing drinking water on the ground.

If we can recapture some of the “grey water” – from showers, laundry, car washing, hand-washing, etc.) we can use this non-potable water to reduce our fresh water consumption significantly. We can also capture rainwater that runs off the roof of our homes for later, controlled use in the garden and on our lawns.

The benefits of grey water recycling are tremendous. First, you can get two or more uses out of water before it gets returned for purification. You can also cut down on your water bill by using rainwater (which is free) and grey water for functions that don’t require high quality water. By limiting your consumption of the highest quality water, you can help ensure that the clean water supply is both sustainable and cost effective as the population changes.

If you would like more information about grey water recycling in Boston, please contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to show you how you can put grey water recycling to work in your home.

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Macerating Toilet May Be Ideal Boston Plumbing Solution

If you want to add a new toilet, but shrink at the thought of adding plumbing, Boston homeowners rejoice! A macerating toilet may be just what you’ve been looking for. Before you break any concrete or open up a floor, consider this elegant solution that will allow you to add a toilet in any room of your home without adding any significant plumbing.

Adding fresh water lines to a room in your home is easy. Adding a waste line… not so much. Adding a toilet in the basement can be a major hassle because it normally requires you to break the concrete foundation and add a waste pipe under your home. Don’t forget the vent stack! On upper levels, a traditional toilet requires a hole in the floor for waste disposal, a new soil pipe, (which could be hard to disguise on the lower floor(s), a new vent stack and a fresh water supply.

A macerating toilet can be installed just about anywhere, even in tight spaces like attics and closets, or under a stairwell. They’re the ideal solution for adding a toilet to a basement, where you have good access to your home’s fresh and waste water lines. Macerating toilets are relatively quiet and use less water than a conventional toilet does. (Most macerating toilets use about 1 US gallon per flush.) They’re also 100-percent safe for septic systems.

Macerating toilets don’t work quite the same way conventional gravity-fed toilets do. A macerating fixture operates much like a garbage disposal does. While some units still have the fresh water supply at the back of the toilet to flush out the waste and clear the bowl, a box at the base of the toilet catches the waste and grinds it into a liquid slurry. A pump forces the waste liquid into your existing soil pipe via a small-diameter pipe that can be concealed easily in a wall, or in the case of a basement, run overhead. Some models conceal the macerating unit behind an access panel in the wall; other designs incorporate the pump and allow direct access to the mechanical unit. You can even find one-piece (tankless) designs that attach directly to the wall, like a commercial toilet would.

A macerating toilet is more expensive than a conventional toilet, but if you’re planning to add a bathroom to your home, the savings you’ll see from avoiding extensive plumbing rework will more than make up for the cost of the fixture. Generally, you can expect to pay anywhere between $700 and $1,000 for a macerating toilet fixture, but when you compare this to the increased plumbing costs associated with adding a conventional toilet, the macerating toilet turns out to be a really fast and economical way to increase the number of toilets in your home.

If you’re interested in adding a macerating toilet, or just want more information about the process, call us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to help you choose and install the right macerating fixture.

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Boston Standard Plumbing Honored By Angie's List

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating is relatively new, but we are dedicated to providing the best residential plumbing and heating services in Boston, and we’ve recently received some great news! We have received a 2010 Angie’s List Super Service Award. The award is given annually to companies that have maintained a consistently high service rating and that are in good standing with Angie’s List. Approximately 5% of companies on Angie’s List qualify for the Super Service Award each year.

You can call Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating around the clock, because we provide 24-hour service in the Boston area. When you call after-hours, your call will be answered by one of our professional plumbing staff. We don’t use an answering service. You don’t have to wait for a call-back, and we can respond to your plumbing emergencies fast! We work year-round so you can even get reliable, professional help with your plumbing, heating and cooling on holidays.

The 2010 Angie’s List Super Service Award is the second major recognition that Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating has received. Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating was also named the “Best of Boston 2010” for its heating and cooling services by Boston Magazine and maintains an A- rating from the Better Business Bureau of Boston. All of these recognitions mean a lot to the staff at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating because each of these ratings are based on the reports our customers have provided.

Our customers never plan for a plumbing emergency, but we always do. We carry a large stock of repair parts in our trucks, so we’re prepared to handle emergencies whenever they occur. The professional staff at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating are licensed Master and Journeyman plumbers. We’re also fully trained and ready to provide heating and cooling repairs.

You’ll see a difference in the level of service we provide at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating from the moment we enter your home. Plumbing emergencies can be messy and unsanitary. That’s why we use dropcloths and disposable shoe covers to protect your home and flooring while we work. We clean up the messes we make while we’re working in your home, so you don’t have to. When we’re finished, we only leave behind professional plumbing and heating repairs, and hopefully, satisfied customers.

Contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating for help with your plumbing and heating problems. You can reach us at (617) 288-2911 anytime.

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Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating: Toilet Flush Technologies, Part 1

Power outages remind us of how difficult life can be without modern conveniences, but going without one relatively recent addition to modern households can be downright torture! I’m talking about the modern flush toilet. In Boston, there are a variety of toilet technologies in use, from the very old to the most modern. As Boston plumbers, we see it all.

Toilets have been around for a long time. Archaeological evidence from Britain as far back as the 31st century BC shows us that some households at that time had hydraulic toilets. Virtually all homes in the Indus Valley had flush toilets connected to underground sewer systems in the 26th century BC. Flush toilets were also used throughout the Roman Empire until the 5th century AD, when the Roman Empire fell, and flush toilet technology was for the most part, lost in the Western Hemisphere.

In about 1200, an Arabic inventor developed a combined sink basin and flush toilet. The user would use the toilet, wash his hands and then drain the waste water to flush the toilet. (These water-saving toilets are making a comeback in Asia and Europe today.)

But where did the modern toilet come from and how exactly does it work? Today’s toilet is the product of a lot of small innovations on the user’s end, and the creation of modern sewer (or septic) systems. Most of the important inventions involved valves that started and stopped the flow of water; waste containment systems or sewers; and traps that both hold the water in the bowl and prevent noxious sewer gases from escaping into the living space.

In the 1880’s in Britain, Albert Giblin and Thomas Twyford designed different toilet systems, which Thomas Crapper built. Unbelievably, there is no relationship between Thomas Crapper’s name and the word “crap.” “Crap” (whose meaning hasn’t changed a bit) entered the English language long before Thomas Crapper entered the world!

Crapper popularized (but did not invent) the siphon flush system, which we still use heavily today. Additional innovations have allowed the use of pressurized water to empty the bowl more reliably, provide shorter recharge times between flushes and supply a self-cleaning mechanism to keep the bowl in good shape. These pressurized systems are most often used in commercial appliations.

Most residential toilets are of the gravity-fed variety. Basically, these toilets have a tank of water suspended above the bowl. The amount of water in the tank varies, based on the age of the toilet. The newest toilets use anywhere between 1.28 and 1.6 gallons of water per flush. Older toilets may use more than 5 gallons per flush.

Each gallon of water weighs 8 pounds. The toilet tank has a strong flapper valve at the bottom, which prevents water from leaking into the bowl. When the flush handle is depressed, the wide flapper valve at the bottom of the tank opens and the tank water rushes like mad down into the bowl. With older toilets, the more water you have in the tank, the more sustained pressure you can create in the bowl. The newer toilets operate differently, and as you’ll see in my next post, they’re just as effective at clearing the bowl as the older water-hogs are.

A trapway, which is built into the porcelain of the pedestal, is set at a very sharp angle and makes an upside-down U-shaped bend. You can see the trapway built right into the porcelain if you look near the base of the toilet almost directly under the tank. When the water in the bowl reaches the height of the inside curve of the U bend, a siphon is created and the wastewater is sucked out of the toilet and down the soil pipe.

On the topside of the toilet, the water rushes out of the tank and lowers a float valve. When the float valve reaches a certain angle, it opens a fresh water valve to refill the tank with clean water. Meanwhile, the flapper valve at the bottom of the tank closes to hold the fresh water in. As the water level in the tank rises, the float valve rises, too. When the float valve reaches a certain, pre-set level, the fresh water valve closes and the toilet is ready for the next flush.

If the float valve is not adjusted properly, some fresh water may leak into the tank. To prevent overfilling, there’s a relief tube that has a separate drain path around the flapper valve and into the bowl. If your float valve isn’t working properly, you’ll hear regular drainage into the bowl and the water level will rise. Once it fills the trapway, the water will drain out of the bowl.

On the other hand, if your flapper valve is leaking, you’ll still hear draining water, but periodically, your tank will fill for a short period, then shut off. The excess water will also fill the bowl. When it fills the trapway, the bowl will drain.

If you’re having trouble with a leaking toilet, and you don’t have the tools or the time to make a repair, contact the professionals at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating. We’ll be happy to fix your leak. We can even recommend water-saving toilets that we know you’ll be pleased with. Contact us at (617) – 288-2911 anytime!

In my next post, I’ll talk about new flush technologies and how they can save water without sacrificing performance.

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Draining A Boiler In Your Boston Home

In my last post, I talked about winterizing a property that will be vacant/unheated over the winter. In this post, I’ll talk about how to drain and winterize a boiler-based heat system in your Boston home.

If you have a boiler, you’ll need to turn off the heating source and drain the water from the system if you expect the home to be vacant during the winter months. Turn off the main circuit breaker that powers your boiler controls and if needed, extinguish any gas or fuel feeding the burner by closing off the appropriate valves, or extinguishing the pilot light. You’ll need to let the water in the system cool for two to three hours before you drain it. Turn off the main water supply for the boiler.

At the base of the boiler, you’ll find a drain port that looks like a garden faucet. Attach a garden hose to the drain and direct the water to a floor drain, utility tub or sump well. Because a hot water or steam heat system is pressurized, you’ll need to open the bleeder valve on the radiator located at the highest point in the house. Make sure all of the other radiators in the system are able to drain. Depending upon the size of the tank, the draining process may also take a while to complete.

At Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, we add anti-freeze to boiler systems to prevent residual water from freezing and to inhibit corrosion of the empty system. We can also assist with refilling a formerly inactive system and bleeding the air out of the radiators and pipes.

As a side note, boiler water doesn’t smell very good. This is not unusual and doesn’t indicate a problem, but it is the sign of a biologically active process. (Yes, some water-borne bacteria can survive boiling.) The smell may be stronger if the boiler water has been stagnant for awhile, such as might be the case during the summer. If the smell of the water is bothersome, open a window or use a fan to provide fresh air during the draining process.

Regular boiler maintenance is important. You should be draining a boiler about once each year. Doing so will give you the opportunity to spot corrosion problems, and will also allow you to refresh the rust inhibitor in the system. Proper boiler maintenance can extend the life of your tank, too.

When you need to drain the boiler for winterization, you don’t need to do anything special, however you may want to provide a little extra attention to the system when you refill and restart it. Rust inhibitor is a must, and bleeding the air out of the system will help reduce noise and uneven heating throughout the home.
At Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, we’re trained to maintain, winterize and restart boiler heat systems. If you want help or a consultation, please call (617) 288-2911. We’re available around the clock to help you with all of your heating needs.

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Lighting A Pilot Light

If your furnace or boiler has a pilot light, you’ll want to know how to relight it. Newer models usually have an electronic igniter and don’t use a pilot light, but plenty of “vintage” heating equipment is still in service. In a furnace, the pilot light and the thermocouple work together to keep the gas flowing or shut the main gas valve off if a problem occurs. If the pilot light goes out or doesn’t otherwise burn well enough to keep the thermocouple hot, the thermocouple will release and the main gas valve will close. When this happens, your furnace won’t turn on.

Downdrafts – air that is forced down the chimney from the outside by a high wind – can occasionally cause a pilot light to extinguish itself. This is normal and doesn’t indicate a problem.

Lighting a pilot light is a relatively easy task. Your furnace may even have a label that provides precise directions and diagrams for your particular model. If so, follow the directions on your furnace. If not, I’ve provided general directions for lighting a pilot light.

To light a pilot light, turn your home’s thermostat down or off. (Don’t skip this step!). Some directions tell you to turn the thermostat on and up to 75 or 80 degrees. If your thermostat is on and asking for heat, your main burners will ignite as soon as you light the pilot light. If you’ve never seen the main burner on your furnace ignite, it can be a little surprising to see that much flame! Personally, I don’t like that kind of excitement, and since the thermostat and the pilot light are independent, I see no need to get the thermostat involved at this point.

You’ll need a flame source, like a match or lighter. Pilot lights aren’t known for their convenient location. You’ll want a long match or even a butane barbecue lighter for this task because you may have to get the flame deep into the furnace to get the pilot light’s attention.

Access the pilot light on the furnace. It may be behind a little door or you might have to remove side or bottom panel on the furnace to expose the pilot light assembly. You’ll have to open the pilot’s safety valve manually, usually by pressing and holding a big red button or turning a knob to the “pilot” position and holding the knob in. (It’s usually a two- or even three-handed job!) If your pilot switch has been replaced, the button may be a different color, but it will be in a pretty visible location and it will probably be the only button around.

Light the match and put it near the pilot light. Once the pilot light ignites, you’ll have to hold the safety valve open for about a minute, while the pilot light heats the thermocouple. After a minute, let go of the button. The thermocouple should be hot enough to keep the valve open by itself. If the pilot light stays lit, button up the furnace. You’re done! Turn the thermostat up to your preferred setting and warm up.

If the pilot light will not light, stay lit or the thermocouple disengages repeatedly (you’ll hear a loud “CLICK” when the thermocouple lets go), you may have a bigger problem that requires professional intervention.

When the weather turns warm in the Spring, you can extinguish the pilot light on the furnace to save a few dollars on your gas bill each month. You won’t become wealthy by doing this, but there’s no reason to waste gas, either. If you decide to do this, be sure to turn the pilot light’s gas valve to the “off” position before you shut the system down for the summer. If you have a button rather than a knob, the valve will be a little thumb valve you can turn 90° and will be located somewhere near the pilot light. If the valve isn’t obvious, follow the gas line from the pilot light to the first valve you find, and might be located outside the furnace cabinet.

We’re always on call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, so even if you just need your pilot light lit, we can help. Contact us at (617) 288-2911 and we’ll be happy to lend a hand.

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Tis The Season To Stay Warm! Boston Home Heating Tips

Boston winters can bring surprises, including heavy snows and winter storms. Making sure your home is ready for winter before the snow flies is the key to staying comfortable all season long. If you’ve had your furnace or boiler inspected and all is well, here are a few more tips to keep your Boston home heating properly during the winter.

If you have a furnace, change your furnace filters regularly. Most manufacturers recommend changing furnace filters once per month. The furnace filter accumulates dust and other air particles that can reduce the air quality of your home. Changing the furnace filter keeps your home air quality higher, and improves the efficiency of your furnace. You can get reusable filters or paper-based filters. Reusable filters can be washed out and returned to service. Paper filters are used once and discarded.

If your furnace has a belt-driven motor, keep a spare belt handy. Usually, you don’t need special tools or training to replace a broken drive belt. If the belt breaks during the winter, you can quickly replace it and get your furnace back into service without a service call.

For boiler systems, make sure your radiator valves are open and adjusted properly to prevent parts of your home from becoming too hot or too cold. Test the valves to ensure that you can completely open and close them. If a valve is difficult to turn, or just plain stuck, it may need to be replaced.

For boilers, you can also consider installing an outdoor reset control (ORC). This handy little device will help your boiler maintain a comfortable temperature inside your home, and will help you reduce your energy expenditures. An ORC acts like a middleman between your boiler and your thermostat. By keeping track of the outdoor temperature and the indoor temperature, the ORC – not the thermostat – decides whether the boiler should fire up or not. When installed, an ORC can help prevent your boiler system from turning on too frequently and making your home uncomfortably warm.

Boston Standard Plumbing can help you with all of your heating and cooling needs. Contact us at (617)288-2911 and schedule an appointment today!

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Winterizing Your Boston Home Can Save Money, Time

As the fall temperatures turn colder, most Boston homeowners are thinking about winterizing their homes. This post has a few tips for helping to reduce heating costs by winterizing your Boston home. In future posts, I’ll help you winterize a home that is (or will be) vacant during the winter months.

The first step in getting your home ready for the winter is to take a good look at it, from both the inside and the outside. From the outside, you want to spot areas where cold air, snow, ice or water can enter your home. Damaged vents, cracked windows or windows that don’t fit well in their frames, leaks or holes in the roof can all cause your heating system to work harder than it needs to. Fix any damaged vents, but don’t cover them completely. The purpose of the vent is to remove moisture from your home. Sealing a vent will trap moisture in your home and cause mold and other air quality problems in your living space.

Check the vent stacks that exit your home through the roof or walls. Make sure the vent lines for your plumbing and heating systems are open and completely free of debris. High-efficiency heating units rely on outdoor ventilation to operate properly. Some vent stacks have mesh caps that prevent small animals, and debris from accumulating in the vent stack. If you have stack covers, make sure they’re in good shape.

As long as you have the ladder out, clear out the gutters and downspouts. This will help melting snow drain away from your home’s roof and foundation, and can help prevent leaks, ice damming and other water problems throughout the winter. It will also discourage the collection of moisture in or near the foundation of your home, which can lengthen the life of your heating and cooling equipment, your plumbing and your water heater.

If you have a central air conditioner unit, remove any leaves or other organic debris around the unit. Most central A/C units are designed to stand up to the cold weather, but keeping debris and drain lines clear can never hurt. If you have window air conditioners, remove them if you can. You can purchase covers for the units to keep snow and ice out, but for the sake of energy efficiency, the units should be removed, cleaned and stored for the winter.

Winterize your outdoor faucets. To do this, close the shutoff valve, usually located inside the home, near the spot where the faucet line exits the home. Disconnect the hose, if one is attached. Drain the hose and stow it away for the winter. Open the faucet valve from the outside and let any remaining water drain away. If the faucet handle is detachable, you may want to remove the key and store this for the winter, too. If you have a water supply line for an outdoor pool, shut this off at the valve and drain it by opening the faucet to let standing water escape.

If you have underground sprinklers, shut the water off at the inside valve and drain the system. You may have to blow air through the system to remove the water and dry the lines out. Do not leave standing water in your sprinkler system over the winter. You can damage the lines and heads if you do.

If you have storm drains on your property, keep them free of leaves and other organic matter that may accumulate in the fall. This will help melting snow drain away when the weather warms.

In the next post, I’ll give some suggestions for winterizing the inside of your home. In the mean time, if you have any questions or concerns about your plumbing, or need repair work done in advance of the colder weather, please contact us at (617) 288-2911.

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Boston Standard Plumbing Techs Are NATE Certified!

Last month, two of our technicians received the core North American Technical Excellence (NATE) certification and we have plans to certify all of our technicians within the year. Joe Wood, owner of Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating and Peter Balestra, who were NATE certified in May, will now pursue NATE HVAC certification. We’re also excited to announce that by the end of 2010, every professional member of the Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating staff will be NATE certified.

NATE certification indicates that our staff members are experts in residential HVAC, light commercial and commercial refrigeration. NATE certification is the only HVAC certification that’s recognized industry-wide, so having a fully certified staff recognizes the fact that our technicians are well trained and up-to-date on industry standards and best practices. A fully certified NATE staff will also enable Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating to be listed in NATE’s Consumer Contractor Connection.

To the consumer, the NATE certification means that a professional group within the HVAC community has recognized Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating for its technical proficiency in heating and cooling systems. Consumers can be confident that the NATE-certified professionals at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating are qualified to install, repair and maintain the heating and cooling systems they depend on to keep their homes safe and comfortable throughout the year.

To us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, NATE certification means that our peers in a professional organization have recognized our hard work and training, and they’re willing to recommend us to the consumers in Boston who need high quality, reliable heating and cooling services.

We’ll keep you up-to-date on our certification progress and welcome you to contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime you need a heating and cooling or plumbing professional. We do offer 24-hour emergency service and all of our “night” calls are answered by a Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating technician. We don’t use an answering service because we know that when an emergency arises, you want to talk with the people who can help you right away!

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