Your home's energy efficiency can affect your health

Your home's energy efficiency can affect your health

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

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

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

Improving your home’s energy efficiency

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

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

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

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

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

The darker side of energy efficiency

The dark side of energy efficiency

In 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

Should you replace your heating system, and if so, with what?

Should you replace your heating system, and if so, with what?

We’re fast approaching heating season. If you have an older heating system, chances are pretty good that it’s inefficient. Depending upon how old your heating system is, it may not be more than 30%-40% efficient. For these systems, that means 60% or 70% of the fuel input gets “lost ” on its way to heating your home.

Another way to put it is that for every $100 you spend on operating these systems, $60-$70 is wasted. That’s hard to accept, isn’t it? If this is your system, it means one of two things: either you could be a whole lot warmer during the winter, or you are burning a lot of cash to stay warm.

You wouldn’t pay $100 at the gas station for $30 worth of gas. It doesn’t make sense to spend $100 on heating for $30 worth of heat, either. High efficiency heating equipment can shift your efficiency rating from less than 40% to 80%, 90% or even 95%. That means that up to 95% of what you’re spending gets returned to your house in the form of heat. You’ll spend much less to stay warm this winter if you install a new, high-efficiency heating system.

If you’re planning to replace your old heating system, a high-efficiency system should be a must-have on your list. While the cost of a high-efficiency system may be greater than a less efficient model, it will also cost less to operate year after year. The small margin you pay up front can produce thousands of dollars in savings over the lifetime of the equipment.

You should also think carefully about the fuel that operates your heating system. Today, most homes in Massachusetts use either natural gas, fuel oil or electricity. About 6% of Massachusetts homes use propane, wood, solar or some other fuel type. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages.

Electricity is the least popular way to heat a home because traditional electric heat systems can be expensive. One excellent way to save money on electric heat is to consider adding an air-source heat pump. An air-source heat pump can provide standalone heat efficiently. You can also use an air-source heat pump to provide supplemental heat (and cooling) to your home without switching away from your primary heating system.

Today, nearly 30% of Massachusetts homes use heating oil as a primary fuel source. Heating oil can pose environmental challenges that other fuel systems don’t. Heating oil is a commodity, so consumers are subject to the “spot price” of heating oil at the time of purchase. Buying heating oil off season is one way to save money, but if you run out of heating oil mid-winter and need to refill, you can end up paying a significant premium for heat. Many people who use heating oil are considering converting from heating oil to natural gas. The price stability of natural gas is the primary reason. Efficiency and environmental concerns are other primary motivators for making the switch.

Just over half of the homes in Massachusetts use natural gas to heat their homes. Natural gas is delivered to the home “on-demand” from a utility company. The price of natural gas has been relatively stable over time, and burning natural gas for heat reduces the impact of heating on the environment.

However you choose to heat your home, switching to the most efficient equipment on the market today will help recover the cost of your investment, and reduce your energy consumption for years to come.

If you’d like more information about high efficiency options for heating your home, please gives us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911 to set up a consultation.

Photo Credit: Alex Gorzen, via Flickr

A Dandelion in your lawn might not be a bad thing…

A Dandelion in your lawn might not be a bad thing…

No homeowner welcomes the sight of a dandelion in the lawn. Google spin-off, Dandelion, aims to change the way you think about having a dandelion – or more precisely – a Dandelion buried underneath your lawn. And the company is hoping that their Dandelion geothermal heat pump spreads like dandelions, especially in states like Massachusetts.

Dandelion announced earlier this year that it was bringing an affordable geothermal heating and cooling system to market. The systems aren’t available yet in the Boston area, but the company says it will offer a $20,000 heating and cooling unit soon.

If $20,000 sounds like a lot of money, it is. But consider that a geothermal heat pump could set you back a cool $100,000 less than a decade ago. The significant price drop can put geothermal heating into the reach of many homeowners, especially with rebates and incentives.

The company hopes to replace a lot of Massachusetts’ 800,000 residential heating oil and propane heat systems. Geothermal systems are 3 to 5 times more efficient than oil heat in terms of operating costs. In addition to reducing costs, the systems are more environmentally friendly.

How do geothermal and ductless heating and cooling differ?

Like an air source heat pump, geothermal systems provide both heating and cooling. Geothermal systems require ductwork, however. If your home doesn’t have ductwork (or can’t accommodate ducts), a ductless heating and cooling system may be the better option. Ductless heating and cooling systems offer the same heating and cooling benefits, along with high-efficiency operation.

A geothermal system uses a heat pump and buried pipes to move heat to or from your home. The pipes form a closed loop, and are filled with an antifreeze solution. Ground temperatures below the frost line remain in a relatively stable range between 50°F and 60°F year-round. In the summer, the heat pump transfers heat from the air in your home to the antifreeze solution. It then pumps the heated solution into the closed loop, where the heat dissipates into the earth. In the winter, the system takes the relatively warm solution and combines it with ambient heat to heat your home. Like ductless heating and cooling systems, a geothermal system can operate as a home’s primary or supplemental heat source.

Geothermal and ductless heating and cooling systems offer an economical alternative to more expensive heating methods. Ductless heating and cooling systems are less expensive to install and provide year-round comfort, even in below-zero temperatures.

If you’d like more information about ductless heating and cooling options, or you’d like to consider an oil-to-gas conversion, we’re here to help! Call us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to discuss heating and cooling options that can save money on your utility bills all year!

Photo Credit: Sharon, via Flickr

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.

R-22 Refrigerant Cost Might Leave You With Sticker Shock!

The price for R-22 refrigerant has increased significantly in the past year, and that’s a trend that’s most likely to continue. If you have an air conditioning unit that uses R-22 refrigerant in Boston, you could be in for an unpleasant surprise the next time your unit needs a recharge.
The production and distribution of R-22 is carefully controlled by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA is responsible for ensuring that the United States complies with the Montreal Protocol, an agreement designed to reduce the use of refrigerants that are known to harm the Earth’s ozone layer. The EPA’s regulatory approach includes rationing the materials used to make R-22, and controlling how much gas can be imported in any given year.

Late last year, the EPA needed to make an adjustment to the allocations it had proposed for the years 2012-2014. The adjustment was necessary in order to meet the terms of a settlement between the EPA and two R-22 producers whose allocations from 2009 were improperly calculated.

The end result is that most manufacturers and importers received sizably smaller allocations for 2012 than they expected, and the allocations will be reduced through 2014.
What does this mean for the consumer? Basically, it means consumers will be paying higher prices for R-22 refrigerants in the foreseeable future. Although the total amount of R-22 on the market in 2012 hasn’t changed, the amount of refrigerant that each producer can make has decreased. Further, the amount of R-22 is being slowly-but-surely reduced.

In 2011, manufacturers were prohibited for the first time from shipping new air conditioning units charged with R-22 refrigerant. Thanks to a loophole in the law, manufacturers were able to ship the units “dry-charged” – without any refrigerant at all. Once the units reached the consumer, the consumer would pay an installer to “recharge” the empty unit, skirting the regulation and preserving their opportunity to use what many consumers view as a more capable refrigerant in their air conditioners.

Right now, with the price of R-22 having increased by nearly 2.5 times seemingly overnight, that strategy may not have much of a payout, but the escalating cost of R-22 may provide a little extra incentive to take better care of R-22 units that are still in service. Routine maintenance is the best, most cost-effective way to ensure that your R-22 unit works as efficiently as possible. Having a technician on hand to make sure your R-22 unit is properly maintained reduces the chance that you’ll encounter a catastrophic system failure that will send your R-22 unit to an early retirement.

The market alternative to R-22 is a refrigerant known as R410A. While some industry professionals say that the newer refrigerant isn’t as good at cooling as R-22 has been, it appears to be adequate for most Boston-area applications, given that Boston doesn’t typically suffer from excessively high summertime temperatures. Unfortunately, R410A isn’t a direct substitution for R-22. Units are designed to work with one refrigerant or another, but you simply can’t put R410A into a unit designed to work with R-22.

If you have a central air conditioning unit, routine maintenance is a must. You’ll save time and money by ensuring that your unit operates as efficiently as possible, and you’ll prolong the life of your unit. Don’t expect to catch a break by skipping maintenance for a season or two. Your unit can lose 5-10% of its efficiency every time you skip a maintenance cycle!
Contact Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911 to schedule a maintenance appointment for your central air conditioning unit. We’ll perform all routine maintenance recommended by the manufacturer and we’ll check your system for leaks and other performance problems.

Like Boston Standard Plumbing on Facebook, and look for a special announcement here to find out how you can save $50 on any service over $100 from Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating through the end of April and help your neighbors in Boston at the same time.

Air Conditioning That Cools While Looking Cool

Without air conditioning, Boston summers may be something of a mixed blessing. Window and ceiling fans may not move air efficiently enough to keep your home comfortable at the peak of the season. The cost of adding air conditioning may put this “luxury item” out of reach for many homeowners. If cost isn’t an issue, the thought of installing (and removing) window air conditioners or unattractive through-the-wall units may be too much.

If this situation describes you, you may want to consider an option now available from LG called the LG Art Cool ductless air conditioner. The LG Ductless Art Cool system can be configured to offer single, dual or triple zone control, mounts on the wall and requires only a 3″ hole in the wall to connect to an outdoor unit. Best of all, the LG Ductless Art Cool units hang on the wall and can be customized with any artwork that suits your taste. The end result? A low-profile, wall-mounted air conditioning unit that looks like a painting and cools the room at the same time.

The cooling units provide either 9,800 BTU or 11,500 BTU of cooling power and uses R410 A refrigerant. In addition, the units feature a self-cleaning indoor coil, a plasma air purifying filter, three-way cooling, automatic or manual operations, 24-hour on/off timer, evaporator frost control and corrosion protection for the fins. Optionally, LG makes a version of the Art Cool ductless units that can be attached to a heat pump unit to provide zone heating during the winter months.

Ductless air conditioning systems are an excellent option for historic homes, rental properties, and for homeowners who suffer from dust and pollen allergies. Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating provides a wide variety of options for cooling your Boston home. We can install, maintain and repair ductless and ducted systems to ensure that you stay cool when the weather warms up. If you would like more information on ductless air conditioning systems, heat pumps, or the LG Art Cool air conditioning (or heat pump) systems, please contact Boston Standard Plumbing at (617) 288-2911.

We provide excellent heating and cooling services throughout the greater Boston area and can help you add a cool touch to your Boston home. Contact us today and find out why Boston Standard Plumbing’s heating and cooling services were named the Best of Boston 2010 by Boston Magazine.