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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

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

People Are Noticing Energy-Conscious Boston

People Are Noticing Energy-Conscious Boston

People Are Noticing Energy-Conscious Boston

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy has recognized Boston’s energy saving efforts as first in the nation. This is the second consecutive year Boston has been given this designation. A host of state and local policies and initiatives that are designed to help residents reduce both energy and water consumption puts Boston on the top of this list.

Energy efficiency means that homeowners, commercial property owners and governmental authorities can heat, cool and light buildings, deliver clean water and provide more efficient transportation at a lower cost. Those savings can provide the opportunity to fund other quality-of-life initiatives that make an area more attractive to businesses and residents over the long haul.

Boston was awarded 82 out of 100 points, and was the only US city to score more than 80 points on the Council’s annual report card. One initiative that earned major points for Boston was the city’s requirement that medium- and large-sized buildings report energy and water usage, and undergo an energy assessment every five years. Beyond simply reporting consumption, buildings that don’t meet stated efficiency targets must make energy improvements.

Boston also scored favorably for its climate action plan, which aims to cut the city’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050. A factor in this goal is the increased use of mass transit, in order to reduce the number of vehicles on the road in the city. Another part of the climate action plan involves engaging residents to make them more aware of their greenhouse gas emissions and to provide ways in which residents can make their homes and commutes more energy efficient.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating can help you reduce your home’s carbon footprint in a variety of ways. We currently participate in a number of rebate programs designed to reduce the cost of switching to more energy-efficient heating and cooling equipment. We can also help you reduce your home’s clean water consumption, and take advantage of federal and state tax credits designed to encourage energy efficiency. If you’re interested in switching to a cleaner, more cost-effective fuel source, we can help you there, too!

If you would like more information about your home’s current energy consumption, or would like to learn how you can save money and reduce your fuel consumption year round, please contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911 anytime. We can conduct energy assessments and help you choose the best, most efficient and most cost-effective heating, cooling and plumbing equipment for your home or business.

Photo Credit: linder6580, via FreeImages.com