Keeping the heat in while the heat is on

Keeping heat in when the heat is on

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

Tips for keeping your heat in during super-cold weather

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: David Lewis, via Flickr

Oil-to-Gas Conversion Can Save In Many Ways

According to the Energy Information Administration in Washington, DC, homeowners who use liquid fuels (heating oil, kerosene and propane) as well as homeowners who heat with electricity can spend as much as four times more than those who heat with natural gas. Boston homeowners who use these fuels really miss the opportunity to save on home heating costs!

Naturally, homeowners are wary of the cost of switching from fuel oil (or electricity) to natural gas, but MassSave offers a number of ways to reduce the initial cost of switching. In addition, by reducing the operating cost of a furnace or heater by as much as 75% per year, homeowners can realize the return on investment of switching in as little as two years!

Right now, Boston area homeowners can take advantage of rebates on the purchase and installation of high-efficiency furnaces and boilers through MassSave. The program provides rebates of up to $450 on qualifying warm-air furnaces, and rebates of up to $1,500 on qualifying forced hot-water boilers. In addition to these rebate programs, which will reduce the initial investment in new heating equipment, MassSave also offers a 0%, 7-year financing program to qualified homeowners.

The deal gets better for homeowners who itemize their federal taxes. Through December 31, 2013, homeowners may be able to claim tax credits of $150 on the purchase and installation of qualified natural gas furnaces and boilers. Qualified products include those with efficiency ratings of 95% or higher.

These programs reduce your initial investment in new home heating equipment, but year after year, the reduced operational costs during the heating season will really add up. The current price of natural gas makes it the most cost-effective way to heat a home. In addition, natural gas supplemental heating is also both highly efficient and cost-effective.

In comparison, the average cost of home heating oil right now in Massachusetts is about $3.80 per gallon, according to the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources. While this price is slightly lower than the average price for a gallon of heating oil was at this time last year, the savings are not expected to make a significant difference in the cost of heating a home this winter.

As an added benefit, an oil-to-gas conversion can eliminate the health hazards associated with home heating oil. Home heating oil is toxic, and exposures can cause serious irritations and illnesses. An oil-to-gas conversion will also eliminate the risk of hazards related to oil spills in or around the home.

For more information about MassSave programs, oil-to-gas conversions, home heating tax credits and ways to save money on heating your Boston home this winter, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We can provide up-to-date information on programs, qualifying products and help you see how affordable switching from oil to natural gas heat can be.

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DOE Rule Regarding 80%- Efficient Furnaces Set To Take Effect May 1

The US Department of Energy has issued Regional Efficiency Standards in the Northern Region (including Boston) that effectively prohibit the sale or installation of gas forced-air furnaces that are 80% efficient beginning May 1, 2013. This rule, if allowed to take effect, may have some undesirable consequences for consumers who purchase a new furnace in Boston after May 1. In some extreme cases, the regulations may actually prevent homeowners in Boston from installing the high efficiency furnaces the rule was intended to promote!

Essentially, the rule permits the installation of only high-efficiency furnaces – those above 90%. High efficiency furnaces operate somewhat differently than lower-efficiency models, and may have different installation requirements that will force consumers to spend more for heating equipment and installations.

The furnaces allowed under the rule must be vented to the outside of the home, using separate fresh air intakes and exhaust ports. An existing chimney may be used to vent exhaust gases from the furnace only if it has been lined with a special liner that reduces heat transfer to the surrounding home and prevents the corrosive byproducts of combustion from damaging the masonry.

High efficiency furnaces can also be vented to the outside of the home via PVC piping. PVC piping is less expensive than lining an existing chimney, but PVC is not without its own concerns. Heated PVC can release toxic fumes in a process known as “outgassing.” Stainless steel piping can be substituted for PVC piping, but the use of a stainless steel exhaust port requires a special adapter on the furnace, and adds to the cost of the installation.

In some historic homes, the high efficiency ventilation requirements may prove to be either cost-prohibitive or technically impossible. Historic homes, especially those with multiple tenants in a single structure, may not provide enough options for venting to the back of the building, out through the roof, or through an existing chimney. This may be especially true where other buildings stand immediately adjacent to a structure, and eliminate the possibility of venting out a sidewall.

The ventilation problem may be compounded over time if multiple tenants want or need to install new furnaces. As more tenants install new furnaces, fewer ventilation options remain for future installations. Without outside ventilation options, future installations may require the complete conversion of a home’s heating system to a technology such as electric heat, which does not require outside ventilation.

Several trade groups in the heating and cooling industry have offered an alternative solution, which has not yet been considered or accepted by the Department of Energy. The groups filed suit in a federal Appeals Court seeking an injunction to block the Regional Efficiency Standards in the Northern Region from taking effect on May 1. As of this writing, the Appeals Court has not considered arguments in the case. If the court does not act prior to May 1, the rule will be implemented as written.

If you are considering the installation of a high-efficiency furnace, your window of opportunity to purchase a lower-efficiency (less costly) option is set to close on May 1st 2013. According to the DOE rules, no 80% efficiency furnaces may be sold, purchased or installed after that time. While higher-efficiency units will save money on operational costs, they also cost more to purchase and install. The increased cost of these units may reduce or eliminate a more affordable option for heating your home and saving money at the same time.
If you are considering furnace replacement but want to buy and install an 80% efficient model, you may have only a limited opportunity to do that. Please call Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 immediately to schedule a consultation. We can explain purchase and installation options, and provide you with financing options that can help you determine the best heating choices for your home.

Somerville Residents May Be Eligible For No-Interest Heating Loans

Residents of Somerville may qualify for interest-free loans on replacement heating equipment for their homes. The program provides loans of up to $4,500 for income-qualified residents to replace inefficient or inoperable heating equipment. The loans are also forgivable in certain circumstances.

The Heating System Replacement Program is available only to Somerville residents on a first-come, first-served basis, and provides variable-amount loans for residents who qualify, based on household size and income levels. Using income guidelines developed by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, Somerville residents may qualify under the following household size/maximum gross income guidelines:

  • 1 person – $45,500
  • 2 people – $52,000
  • 3 people – $58,500
  • 4 people – $65,000
  • 5 people – $70,200
  • 6 people – $75,400

The loans are available only to homeowners who occupy their property as a primary residence. According to program rules, homeowners who receive one of the loans must retain ownership and occupy the improved property for at least three years following receipt of the loan.

Loan proceeds must be used to replace faulty or inefficient home heating equipment. Homeowners who qualify for the loan assistance can use the loan to perform an oil-to-gas conversion or replace an inefficient gas furnace with a more efficient one.

Loan assistance is limited, so Somerville residents who potentially qualify are urged to contact Walter Whitney, Housing Rehab Program Manager at (617) 625-6600 x2569 or

For residents of Boston, home heating replacement loans may also be available through MassSave. Like the loans in Somerville, these loans are also zero-interest loans with terms of up to 7 years, and loan limits of up to $25,000. Restrictions apply, so if you’re considering a replacement heating system for your home, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating for more information on how you may be able to take advantage of these financing options.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can address all of your home’s heating and cooling needs. Call us at (617) 288-2911 anytime for a consultation, or assistance with your residential heating, cooling and plumbing needs.