Changing your habits can save money on energy bills*

*Your mileage may vary.

A recent study by researchers at the Australian National University showed that behavior has the potential to save 10%-25% on residential energy costs. Saving 10%-25% on energy costs sounds good, especially since the average Massachusetts household spends more than $2,500 on energy costs each year. That means optimizing your energy consumption could reduce your energy bills by $250-$625 per year.

Now, for the bad news. Another equally relevant Israeli study showed that providing people with a lot of personalized energy consumption data had no positive effect on their behavior.

At all.

In fact, study participants who had been given very detailed information about their energy consumption actually used more energy than those who just received general tips on how to reduce their utility bills. Those with the most information about their specific energy habits could have easily spotted costly consumption behaviors. Yet, the exact opposite outcome occurred, even after adjusting for external factors like weather changes and weather extremes.

It’s easy to focus on the “save money on energy bills” part of the headline here (especially when $625 is at stake), but it is harder to succeed at the “changing your habits” stuff. So, if knowledge can’t help you when it comes to changing your energy consumption patterns, is there a strategy that can work?

How to lower your energy bills

“Automating” energy-saving habits is one way to change your actual energy consumption. That would include using a programmable thermostat- which won’t forget to turn the heat or A/C down. Motion-sensing light switches and timers also ensure that the lights get turned off when they’re not in use. Today, lighting won’t account for much of your home’s electric bill, as long as you have switched to LED bulbs. (If you haven’t, switch!)

Another major behavior change involves your buying habits. When you have to replace an appliance, look for EnergyStar-compliant models. Likewise, using WaterSense-compliant faucets, showerheads and appliances can reduce your water consumption significantly. These appliances and fixtures will cost more up-front, but they will quickly repay you in the form of lowered operating costs. You may also need to reconsider replacing appliances that still work well, but consume a lot of energy. This situation can happen easily with freezers and refrigerators. By replacing energy-hogging major appliances even though they may still work, you can reduce your utility bill significantly.

Take the time to seal the drafts and gaps in your home’s “thermal envelope.” Improperly insulated and sealed gaps can leak a lot of air into (and out of) your home. Closing these gaps will reduce your winter heating bill and your summer cooling bill.

Consider using fans to cool your home at night. Typically, the temperature drops after the sun sets. Bringing naturally cooled air into your home with fans can reduce the temperature and save money. But there’s a big caveat here. The humidity is a major factor. If the humidity is high, you’re better off leaving cool-but-wet air outside. You’ll ultimately spend less to cool the drier air that’s already in your home.

Your heating and cooling equipment consume most of your energy

Finally, take the time to understand how much your heating and cooling systems actually cost to operate. It’s very tempting to let an older, less efficient system run. A new, high efficiency replacement could pay for itself in just a few years through sharply reduced operating costs. A newer, high-efficiency system can help you lock in savings, while your older less efficient model locks in your expenses.

If you’d like more information about reducing your heating and cooling costs, give us a call at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to show you how you can take advantage of rebates and tax incentives to lower your energy consumption affordably.

Photo Credit: Nan Palmero, via Flickr

MassSave Heating and Cooling Rebates Available for 2019

MassSave is offering new rebates and incentives on residential heating and cooling products and installation. Now is a good time to consider upgrading, replacing or converting your heating and cooling equipment.

New heat pumps, furnaces or boilers can save money on your heating and cooling bills year-round. If your home heating and cooling equipment was installed before 1992, your savings could be even larger. The new rebate programs also allow you to save on conversions from one fuel type to another.

Just a note about the acronyms and abbreviations you’ll find below:
AFUE: Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency
EER: Energy Efficiency Ratio
HSPF: Heating Season Performance Factor
SEER: Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio

Here is a look at some of the new rebate programs.

Air conditioning

The available air conditioning rebates are based on the size and the efficiency of the air conditioner. If you have an old ducted air conditioning system or you want to install a new one, you can claim a rebate of $50 per ton rebate. This assumes that your new air conditioning system has a SEER ≥ 16 and an EER ≥ 13.

Air Source Heat Pump Rebates

You can claim a rebate of $350 per ton on air source heat pumps that have a SEER ≥ 15 and a HSPF ≥ 9.

If you would like to use an oil or propane system in combination with an air source heat pump, you can also claim a rebate of $1,000 per ton on an air source heat pump with a SEER ≥ 15 and an HSPF ≥ 9 if the replacement system also features integrated controls. Integrated controls manage the selection of either the oil/propane system or the air source heat pump, depending on the outside temperature. You could instead claim a rebate of $1,600 per ton if the selected air source heat pump meets the Cold-Climate Air-Source Heat Pump Specification V3.0 and features integrated controls.

You can claim a credit of $150/ton on a ductless air source heat pump, provided the selected system meets the Cold-Climate Air-Source Heat Pump Specification V3.0.

If you already use an air source heat pump and an oil/propane system in combination, you can claim a rebate of between $500-$1,500 if you add qualified integrated controls to your system. You can claim one $500 rebate for each zone, up to a maximum of $1,500.

Natural Gas Furnace and Boiler Rebates

If you want to install or replace a warm-air furnace, you can claim a rebate of between $950 and $1,250, depending upon the efficiency of the new system. To qualify for this rebate, the replacement furnace must be at least 95% efficient and must be equipped with an Electronic Commutated Motor (ECM) or an advanced furnace fan system.

If you want to replace a forced hot water boiler, you can claim a rebate of $2,000 on boilers with an AFUE ≥90% and outdoor reset controls. On new boilers with a AFUE ≥95%, the rebate climbs to $2,750, provided the new unit also has an outdoor reset control.

On combination condensing boilers/on-demand water heaters, you can claim a rebate of $2,400, provided that the new boiler has an AFUE ≥ 95% and is a single-unit device.

If you do not want to replace your boiler, but you’d like to make it more efficient, consider adding an outdoor reset control. An ORC can be added to an existing unit to help make your home more comfortable on milder winter days that don’t require maximum output from your boiler. Outdoor reset controls can lower your heating costs between 5% and 30%, depending upon the boiler and temperature conditions. If you have an oil or propane boiler, you can claim a $100 rebate on an after-market ORC. If you have a natural gas boiler, you can claim a rebate of $225.

If you’d like more information about these rebate programs, or would like to know how you can take advantage of them, please contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to explain your options, make recommendations and start the installation and rebate processes.

Photo Credit: Tekmar

Use a licensed contractor for plumbing repairs

When your home needs plumbing repairs that you can’t (or don’t want to) tackle yourself, you normally hire professional help. Anytime you hire a professional to do repair work, it will cost you more than it would if you did the work yourself. That’s a given. But you should verify the qualifications of your plumbing repair professional before you let them in your door.

Recently, a property owner in Connecticut contacted a home warranty company to perform covered repairs on a leaking water valve. The company provided a contractor, who came to the property and performed the repair.

Unfortunately, the contractor wasn’t licensed to perform plumbing repairs, and his work resulted in a small house fire. Molten solder ignited some debris under the home’s boiler, which was next to the washing machine with the faulty valve.

The home didn’t burn down, and no one was injured, but the home required significant repairs as a result of the fire. Fire officials investigating the blaze determined that the contractor had no current licenses. Further, they found that the state had revoked his previous licenses in 2006.

Checking up on your contractor

Massachusetts requires any person performing plumbing repairs for compensation to have a current license and insurance. Professional plumbers must undergo extensive training that includes both classroom education and on-the-job training before they can be licensed. Plumbers in training must work under the license and supervision of a master plumber. In addition, they must carry special insurance to provide plumbing services.

Massachusetts makes it easy to check the credentials of any person who provides plumbing services. If you have a plumbing problem and want to hire a plumber, please take the time to verify the person’s professional license status.

This tool enables you to select the type of professional license you want to verify. In the case of plumbers, we are certified by the Board of State Examiners of Plumbers and Gas Fitters. (Second from the bottom on the pull-down list.) Enter the contractor’s name and the system will verify that the professional is currently licensed. You can select the licensed professional from the list and see the status of the person’s license. In addition, in the Public Documents section below the individual’s record, you can check for any negative actions.

The price of a repair shouldn’t be your only consideration. To protect the safety and well-being of your home and family, check a contractor’s credentials!

If you need help with a plumbing or heating and cooling repair in your home, contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’re licensed, bonded and insured and we’re happy to help!

Thawing frozen pipes

Like just about everything else, there’s a right way and a wrong way to thaw frozen pipes. Here are a few tips to keep your pipes from freezing in the first place. We also have some advice for thawing a pipe that’s already frozen.

Keep your pipes from freezing

The best way to deal with frozen pipes is to avoid them altogether. Heating your home can be expensive, and it’s tempting to “dial down” at night and when you’re not around. When the air temperature is super-cold (below freezing), your pipes can be at risk.

Pipes break when the water inside them freezes. Most plumbing is rigid, so the pipes are full of standing water when the taps are closed. This is good because a pipe that’s full of water doesn’t have any air. Air in the system could allow bacteria to thrive, and it could also change the water pressure.

Unfortunately, water expands when it freezes. In an open container, the freezing water has “head space” – room to expand. In a water pipe, there is no room for expansion. An ice blockage forms somewhere in your pipe and begins to exert enormous pressure – as high as 2,000 PSI – on the unfrozen water between the blockage and the tap. Traditional plumbing does not have enough material strength to hold back this unrelenting pressure. As the blockage grows, the pressure increases. Because the pipe is rigid, it cannot expand enough, and it will deform and split somewhere to relieve the pressure.

The first thing you can do to avoid frozen pipes is to keep your pipes warm! Insulate them to prevent cold air intrusions from affecting your pipes. Open sink cabinet and vanity doors to allow warmer air to circulate around your pipes. Open heat registers in the basement (if your pipes are below-grade) to let more warm air circulate around them.

Don’t turn the heat down when it’s super-cold outside. Yes, your utility bill will go up, but a higher heating bill beats flooding, water damage and mold.

Managing a frozen pipe

If a pipe freezes and it’s accessible, open the tap immediately to drain any water from the pipe. This may relieve some of the pressure, but you’re not out of the woods yet. Start warming the pipe from the tap and work your way toward the blockage. A good safe heat source is an incandescent light bulb. A hair dryer may also help loosen up a frozen pipe. Be especially careful if you use “heat tape.” Used incorrectly, it can cause a fire!

DO NOT USE AN OPEN FLAME TO THAW A FROZEN PIPE! That includes welding and soldering torches, cigarette lighters, charcoal lighters, tiki torches, candles or anything else fiery. Open flames caused 30% of house fires in 2017. It’s just not a good idea!

You may not initially know that a pipe has frozen, but lack of water should set off alarm bells! If you get no water from a tap, or a water appliance stops working, If you open a tap and get just a trickle of water – your pipe is in the process of freezing. Act fast to relieve the pressure and correct the problem.

On the other hand, you may know your pipe has frozen because it has already split and there’s water everywhere! In this case, turn off the water to that segment of pipe and begin the process of thawing. Start drying out anything that’s gotten wet. You may have to remove drywall, plaster, carpeting or flooring. You won’t be able to turn the water back on until the pipe is repaired, but at least you can limit the water damage.

Following up on a frozen pipe

Maybe you were able to get your pipe thawed out before it split. That’s a lucky break, but your pipe is probably still damaged. The pressure can weaken and deform your pipe – and maybe not in the place(s) you’d expect. Remember, 2,000 PSI is about 20 times the pressure your pipes are designed to handle.

Inspect your pipes for deformed joints, bulges, discolorations, little drips or anything generally weird-looking. Formerly frozen pipes that “burst” usually have a little slit someplace, often somewhere other than where the blockage formed. It will look like someone took a box cutter and made a slice in the pipe. (You’ll be able to find these more easily, because water will be spraying all over the place!)

Don’t forget to check any PEX hoses that supply water to toilets, sinks and appliances. These can freeze too! PEX resists freezing, but the fittings can get damaged. If you find a frozen PEX hose, take comfort in the fact that they’re cheap to replace.

If you’ve experienced a frozen pipe, or need help repairing freeze-damaged plumbing, contact us at Boston Standard Company at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to help!

Photo Credit: Cynthia Closkey, via Flickr

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

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

The Lowdown on Wi-Fi Thermostats

If you’re looking to lower your utility costs, there are a lot of things you can do. One place to start is at the thermostat. While you can save money in the winter by turning down the heat, some people are turning to high-tech thermostats to save some cold, hard cash.

Smart thermostats can help you reduce utility costs without reducing comfort. You can now find Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats in a wide price range. If this is the direction you want to go in, you’re sure to find a lot of options.

Ecobee Wi-Fi Thermostat

Ecobee currently offers several Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats to help control your utility costs. The Ecobee 4 is the company’s top-of-the-line model. It features a built in Amazon Alexa device and remote temperature sensors to help monitor cold spots in your home. The built in Alexa service means that you can control the temperature with voice commands, but you can also make a grocery list, update your calendar and get whatever other information you’re looking for. The Ecobee 4 is also compatible with Google Home devices. It can also control humidifiers, dehumidifiers and other heating and cooling support equipment

The Ecobee 4 also comes with a remote temperature sensor, but you can add more to your setup. The sensor does more than track temperature. It also monitors humidity, occupancy and proximity. That means you can tell the thermostat to prioritize heating and cooling for the occupied rooms in your home.

The Ecobee 4 has a list price of $249 and comes with a single remote sensor. A two-pack of remote sensors is an additional $80. You can also control this device with your smartphone or an Apple Watch. In addition, MassSave is currently offering a $125 rebate on Ecobee thermostats, which you can self-install or hire a contractor to do it for you. (Limit 3.) If having a built-in Alexa is overkill for you, the rebate-eligible Ecobee 3 ($169) is almost identical on functions but doesn’t have an integrated Alexa device.

Nest Wi-Fi Thermostat

The Nest thermostat has been on the market for a while and is widely available. Most consumers recognize it as the “learning” thermostat. The device learns what your schedule is and adjusts your home’s temperature accordingly. For example, the thermostat can communicate with your smartphone to determine when you’ve left the house. (Creepy, no?)

As one of the first players in this market space, the Nest has staked its claim on market share and is backed by Google. (It also works with Alexa.) As with other Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats, the Nest doesn’t support all heating and cooling equipment. It’s important to know up-front whether you’re going to experience compatibility issues. The top-of-the-line “Learning Thermostat” can set you back about $250. You can also get a pared down Nest Thermostat E for $169. Like the Ecobee models, the Nest models can also support remote temperature sensors to provide better control over your living space. The Nest App for your smartphone allows you to control either device remotely. The Nest Learning Thermostat will provide additional information on the display, including time, current room temperature and weather information. The Nest E is a budget version so it doesn’t have this display feature.

Honeywell Wi-Fi Thermostat

If spending a lot on a Wi-Fi thermostat isn’t high on your list of things to do, consider a thermostat from Honeywell. The low-end Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostats look more like the traditional programmable thermostats, but they cost about $100 less than their high-end cousins. Honeywell also makes contemporary Wi-Fi thermostats with a touchscreen design, but these models come with a price tag that’s similar to the Ecobee and Nest models. The Honeywell 7-day programmable thermostat comes with a smartphone app that’s compatible with Android and iOS phones. It also allows access from a computer.

Using a programmable thermostat – whether it’s Wi-Fi enabled or not – will help you save money on heating and cooling costs. Programmable thermostats eliminate the need to remember to “dial down” when you’re away. They also help warm up your home before you arrive. With a Wi-Fi-enabled thermostat, you can also adjust your home’s temperature if your plans – or the weather – unexpectedly change.

If you’d like more information about programmable thermostats, Wi-Fi thermostat or you would like professional installation services, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing and Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to help!

Photo Credit: PickMy.Tech, via Flickr

Furnace repair: should you repair or replace your old furnace?

Furnaces never break at a convenient time. (Mostly because no one uses their furnace in the summer!) Worse, few homeowners plan for a furnace repair. The bill can represent a large expense, and some homeowners may wonder whether it’s better to repair or replace.

How old is your furnace?

Like most things, there’s more than one way to think about this! If your furnace is super-old, repair-v-replace may be a no-brainer. But what exactly qualifies as a “super-old furnace?” 1992 provides a good mile marker because the Department of Energy first started making furnace efficiency requirements then. Furnaces installed at that time had to be at least 78% efficient. That’s not to say that your 1992 furnace is still 78% efficient in the waning days of 2018. It’s not! Furnace efficiency deteriorates over time. Routine maintenance and repairs can help restore or preserve its rated efficiency, but your furnace just gets old.

The return on investment for furnace replacement

One way to answer the “repair or replace” question is by looking at the return on your investment. If your furnace was installed before 1992, it is wildly inefficient by today’s standards. You are spending money hand-over-fist to keep your old, inefficient furnace running. Replacing your furnace may have a high initial cost, but you can recover this through reduced operating costs. If this describes your situation, it’s worthwhile to sit down and calculate the point at which a new furnace will pay itself off. (It won’t take that long!) MassSave also offers low- and no-interest loans to cover the cost of furnace replacement. Believe it or not, you can still save money by borrowing to replace your pre-1992 furnace!

On the other hand, a repair cost is defined and it’s virtually certain to be less than replacement. However, repairing an older, less efficient furnace commits you to paying higher operating costs at least until the next repair. (When you have to make the repair/replace decision again.) Sometimes, repairing an old, inefficient furnace has a lower immediate cost, but a higher long-term cost. A higher operating cost could mean that you’re paying hundreds of dollars more per winter to keep your old furnace. That’s definitely not ideal!

The cost of fuel

If you’re using a more expensive fuel (e.g., heating oil), a breakdown could represent a chance to save big. Oil-to-gas conversion can reduce your home’s energy consumption, reduce your costs and let you switch to a cleaner fuel. The cost of heating oil this season has been relatively stable. (It’s actually dropped slightly since the beginning of heating season.) Price volatility is one reason, however, to consider switching to a lower cost fuel. Homeowners can spend 2 to 3 times as much per winter to heat with heating oil. Additionally, heating oil poses environmental quality dangers that other fuels don’t.

Ultimately, the repair-v-replace decision will be up to you. Making a lower-cost repair can help get you through the heating season. This may give you time to make a potentially big decision without being under pressure.

If you’d like more information about furnace upgrades, oil-to-gas conversions or calculating your savings on heating and cooling costs, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to schedule a consultation and show you how you can save on your heating and cooling costs.

Photo Credit: ewitch, via Flickr

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

Chimney liners – What you need to know

If 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