Thursday, September 25, 2008

12 Ways to Cut Your Heating Bill and Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

Whether your home is heated by gas, oil, or electricity, your hard-earned money and the earth’s precious natural resources could literally be going out the window. How? Your windows, chimney, and even your air conditioning window unit could be sucking the heat (or cold) right out of your house all year around. Roughly two-thirds of your energy bill goes into heating spaces and half of that energy is wasted. The following are 12 environmentally-friendly tips to help you lower your heating bill and conserve energy—from the basement to the attic.
1.Insulate your basement, attic and integral garage. Put insulation above unheated spaces. This means that if your basement is unheated, you’ll add insulation to the ceiling, which will keep the floors of your home a little warmer. In the attic, insulate the rafters or unventilated crawl spaces.

2.Insulate old water heaters and exposed hot water pipes. Heat could be escaping from older water heaters. As hot water runs through uninsulated pipes, it can cool. Buy insulation wrap and reduce your electric bill by as much as 20 dollars a year. (And, once that old hot water heater breaks, replace it with a more energy-efficient model.)

3.Turn the water heater down. Keep your hot water heating under a comfortable 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

4.Turn down the thermostat. Lowering the setting by 1 Celsius degree during the winter can save about 10 percent in energy use. Likewise, if you have air conditioning, raising the temperature by just a few degrees can reduce energy in the summer.

5.Install a programmable thermostat. You can set it to automatically control the temperature. If you aren’t home during the day, why keep your house warm and toasty?

6.Change furnace air filters every few months. A dirty filter can block warm air. If you have an old furnace, consider replacing it with a new energy-efficient model. This will save you money in the long run.

7.Take advantage of natural heat and light. During the day, leave the blinds open to let the warmth of the sun in. Use less electric lighting and instead work with natural light.

8. Close your window coverings at night. This will keep the heat in. If you have curtains or drapes, line them to keep the cold out.

9.Seal drafty windows. If you have single-pane windows, hang storm windows or seal them with plastic to keep the heat in. Double-pane windows are best for energy conservation, so if it is time to replace your windows, choose these. Additionally, caulk or weatherstrip any other openings.

10.Seal doors and close other openings. Feel a draft coming from your door? If you’ve already caulked and weatherstripped, consider putting a rolled up rug or towel in front of your door to stop the draft. Also, remember to seal the hatch to your attic, close your fireplace damper, and remove window air conditioning units. Heat could escape your house from there.

11.Use a humidifier. During the winter months, the air is very dry. Adding a humidifier to your home will cause cooler temperatures to feel warmer.

12.Turn on the ceiling fan. In the winter, reversing your ceiling fan will push warm air down.

Green to the extreme? Consider a different heating method.

*Under-floor heating is one of the most energy-efficient traditional methods. It has one of the highest Energy Star ratings.

*If you are willing to break away from traditional methods, look into solar water heating.

*Consider supplementing your traditional heating system with wood or pellet stoves. Though they are a blast from the past, they have a smaller carbon footprint than other kinds of heating systems. Before installing any wood or pellet burning stoves, check local regulations.

by Julie Young

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Choose Hues Carefully: How Mood Can Be Altered With Color

By Eva R. Marienchild

Did you know that color around your home, as in the paint you use, or the color of your sectionals - even the knick-knacks you’ve placed on bookshelves - influence your mood? There is absolutely no controversy about the fact that color can make you feel everything from serious … to scintillating.

Whether you’re intent on revamping the entire house, or just touching up a few rooms, consider choosing from the following “theme” colors:

Create a Business Mindset

When you invite clients over, have a deep plum or darkest blue on the walls and accessories. You might want to add prints on the walls that exhibit quite a bit of this color, too.

It will impress your prospects. In addition to encouraging business talk, most people associate these colors with conservatism - or stability - and wealth.

These hues will also help you get down to business, when you’ve been awarded that contract!

To Increase Concentration

If you need to focus and productivity is your issue, you’ll want to choose a golden curry color. Stand next to the swatch, if you’re in a design or paint store, and see if you feel energized, and motivated to work!

If your work is more intellectual - writing, editing, research, or the like - go for the deepest eggplant purple. Use a fringe shawl or a throw, in that color, to cover a sofa or ottoman, if you’ve got one.

Note: Do not go "off" that color scheme by even a thread. There are many tints of purple but, for these purposes, you do not want to throw in, say, a bright purple or a violet.

Here’s why: bright purple and/or violet stimulate the recollection of pleasant memories. You might even get a bit nostalgic. There are many places for such a mood, but a work station, for intellectual endeavors, isn’t one of them. Again, stick to dark eggplant for creative, brainy work.

To Resolve Controversy

When Dad and brother are at odds, ask them to take it to the special room you’ve dubbed the “Conflict Resolution Den”, where you’ll remove all the breakables, and let them each have their say. This room will have been painted a soothing, welcoming color, like a deep, rusty red, a rosewood, or a pumpkin color. Also, tones with a hue of pink in them will soften the ambience … and make the mood more accepting.

Ready to Entertain?

For a sparkling good time, go for either a limeade (sort of like a Lime Ricky color), or a raspberry, or even a plum rouge. Again, try standing next to the swatches in the design or paint store. You should feel bubbly, but with a purpose. This is a terrific color for a room that is going to be used to hold dinner parties in. It’s sure to attract stimulating conversation!

For Homework

If your children - or you - need a study room, you can’t go wrong with steel grey. To break up the grey, you can throw in aspects of dusty coral - a muted, soft hue. You might also want to add small throw pillows, or add desk accessories, in this tone. A different variation is to opt for gauzy silver - a less bold look.

Try a periwinkle or a toasted olive color - or a combination of both colors - when you are baring your soul to your significant other. These colors encourage frankness. You might also want to add nut brown accessories - anything the color of pecans. A large plant holder in that color would complement the periwinkle blue or toasted olive very nicely, and would contribute to the give-and-take.

Age and Color

Is there someone in your household who is over 65? Studies have shown that, in many people that age, the lens of the eye undergoes a bit of an alteration. As a result, “cool” colors like blue, blue-green, green and purple are seen with a yellowish or murky cast. Direct lighting should be used, to help the person see properly.

Try to avoid combinations of any of these cool colors, as that seems to worsen the problem.

Suggestion: If your loved one complains that colors seem fuzzy to her/him, try a bright lime on the wall, and a few lime-colored accessories, instead. That stirs up feeling of aliveness and activity. As an added benefit, it’ll make the person feel appreciated - like an important part of the household, again - and take their mind off their changing sight.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Hydronic Radiant Floor Heating

Long ago, the Romans used radiant floor heating in their bathhouses. For centuries, the Koreans heated their royal palaces and traditional homes in this manner. Today, radiant heating technology has been improved and can be used in all or part of our homes.
What is radiant floor heating?
Radiant floor heating is a method of heating your home by applying heat underneath or within the floor. Comparable to warming yourself in the sun, this type of heating warms objects as opposed to raising the temperature of the air.
There are three types of radiant floor heating: hydronic, electric and air. This About Your House document focuses on hydronic (water) radiant floor heating.
Brought to North America post World War II, the first generation of North American systems met with several mechanical failures. The introduction of carpeted floors reduced the system efficiency. Today, significant improvements have been made in both the heating component and the system design.
Hydronic radiant floor heating is a system of plastic or metal tubes/pipes laid within a floor that carries hot water into specific rooms or “zones”, dispersing the heat through the floor surface.

The cooler water returns to the heat source where it is reheated and sent out again in what is known as a “closed-loop system”. The pipes can be encased in a concrete slab, a concrete or gypsum cement overpour, laid into thin grooved panels that nail on top of a subfloor, or suspended below a wooden subfloor using metal fins fastened under the floor surface. The heat output is determined by pipe spacing, water temperature, flow rate and floor covering. The heat output must be calculated to meet the heat loss demands of the home.

One type of tubing commonly used is a new leak-resistant, non-toxic, high temperature, flexible piping called cross-linked polyethylene (PEX). PEX is a durable tubing that doesn’t become brittle over time and isn’t affected by aggressive concrete additives or water conditions. PEX has been used in Europe since the 1970s and was introduced to North America in the early 1980s.

Is this type of heating available in both new and existing homes?
Yes. While the system can be easily designed and installed in new construction, homeowners wishing to renovate may incorporate hydronic radiant floor heating throughout the home, given certain conditions exist:
--the building structure can support the additional weight of the concrete/cement overpour, or
--the underside of the subfloor is accessible, or
--if being added to the basement, there is enough height for a concrete overpour above the insulation. (If the concrete floor is already insulated below, additional insulation is not necessary.)
Entire House Versus Selected Rooms
Homeowners can chose to install hydronic radiant floor heating throughout the house, or in selected rooms. The most popular rooms with this type of heating are the bathroom, kitchen and living room–rooms where the most time is spent. If only selected rooms have this type of heating, then a separate heating and ventilation system is required to heat the remainder of the home. The system can also be “zoned” so that there are temperature controls for each area.

Prior to the installation of a system, a qualified floor-heating specialist should make a heating-load estimate of your home on a room-by-room basis. The heating-load estimate will assist in an efficient system design. By placing the tubing in specific patterns and spacings, the system can accommodate the insulation of the room/home and flooring choices.

Once designed and installed, a copy of the design should be given to the homeowner, should pipes/tubing need to be located at a later date. When renovating, extra care must be taken that piping or tubing not be punctured.

Exposed surfaces that conduct heat well are best for radiant floor heating, such as finished concrete or ceramic tile. It should be noted that if any later flooring renovation is undertaken, the hydronic radiant floor heating installer should be notified to make any required adjustments to the heating system. For example, the water temperature of the heating system would need to be adjusted if there was a change from a bare or painted finished floor slab to ceramic tile, or wood flooring or to carpet with underlay. Wood flooring and thick carpets act as an insulation blanket, restricting upward heat flow and reduce the efficiency of the system.

System Components
There are three components to this heating system: a heat source, a distribution piping system and controls. The heat source in hydronic radiant floor heating is usually a boiler or a hot water heater, but other heat sources can be used too. The energy used to heat the hot water can be natural gas, oil, electricity, propane, wood or solar hot water collection.

A circulator pump near the water supply manifold moves the water from the mixing valve to the supply manifold into the distribution piping system (tubing) inside the floors. Properly designed, this delivers even heat to rooms. A properly designed radiant floor system will not exceed 29ºC (85ºF).

To select how warm or cool a room or home will be, controls are required to set the system to a particular temperature. A manifold system with thermostat or aquastat switches typically located in an accessible wall cavity provides a series of simple valves that are used to regulate the flow of water through each zone. There is a caution not to exceed the recommended maximum temperature as it could warp solid hardwood flooring and cause stress to the system.

There are three choices of installation:
1. Slab-on-grade system: One example of a slab-on-grade system is PEX tubing attached to a wire mesh or clipped onto rigid Styrofoam insulation. Concrete is poured over the piping or tubing at the ground “grade” level. The slab must be insulated from the exterior side of the floor all the way to the slab edges.
2. Thin slab system:
a) The floor heating tubing is fastened above the subfloor and is covered with lightweight concrete or selflevelling gypsum cement underlayment. The floor ranges in thickness from 3.2 to 3.8 cm (1.25 to 1.5 in).
b) Another version is to sandwich the tubing between the subfloor and the finished floor. This raises the floor only 1.3 cm (1/2 in). There are a variety of new underlayment panels that hold the tubing in place and incorporate aluminum transfer plates to improve heating performance.
3. Dry or “Plate” system: Tubing is attached to the underside of the subfloor, also known as a belowdeck or joist space dry system. In cold weather climates, tubing should be attached with aluminum transfer plates and both well insulated for improved performance. Without the insulation, the warmth will disperse into the basement. It is also possible to have an abovedeck dry system, where heat transfer plates are supported by sleepers.
It is recommended that a licensed contractor install the heating system.

An approximate cost of an installed hydronic radiant floor heating system by a licensed mechanical contractor can range from $600 to $800 per approximately 100 square feet. This cost can be more or less depending on specific heating requirements and energy efficiency results. In addition to the heating system, a mechanical ventilation system is required in the house.

Maintenance and Repairs
It is recommended that annual maintenance be done on mechanical equipment such as the pumps, hot water heater, controls etc. If there was a problem or failure, it is commonly found in these mechanical parts. It is recommended that the installer be contacted for annual maintenance.

For repairs to the system, the homeowner should contact the installer. Be sure to have your design plan available for tubing location.

To avoid unnecessary repair work, all equipment must be used and maintained in the manner in which it was designed and installed. Homeowners disconnecting controls or moving pumps can find themselves requiring repairs and possibly voiding their warranty.

While the heat source in a properly maintained system can last for as long as 30 to 40 years, PEX pipes set in the floor are expected to last more than 50 years. (Some test results indicate life expectancies of 200-300 years.)


Radiant floor heating provides even, comfortable, warmth as there is less air movement with this type of system. There are no drafts with this type of heating, unless it is through the building envelope. The thermal mass (concrete floor) evens out the temperature fluctuations. The floor is warm to the touch.

Many manufacturers claim that radiant floor heating is more economical to operate because the temperature setting may be set to 20ºC (68ºF) rather than the usual 21-22ºC (70-72ºF) as required by other types of systems. A study by CMHC (Thermostat Settings in Houses with In-Floor Heating, #01-106) has shown that people tend to keep their thermostats set the same as if they had a forced air system. Even so, the warmest air is at the floor where it is desired (and not at the ceiling) and there is reduced heat loss through the ceiling and walls.

Zoning a variety of rooms with the options for different temperatures has the potential to reduce energy consumption.

Energy Source Compatibility
Since radiant floor heating has a low operating temperature, a wide range of sources can be used to heat the water–a ground-source heat pump, a condensing or non-condensing boiler, solar or even district heating.

The system is quiet because a properly-sized circulator pump, used to slowly move the water, is almost inaudible. The loudest sound in the system is usually the gas or oil burner.

Unlike conventional forced-air furnaces, radiant floor heating has no ducts or radiators to contribute to dust collection or movement. Note: duct work is required for the mechanical ventilation system or air conditioning.
For residents with allergies, the reduction in dust movement may be beneficial.

Room Function
Hydronic radiant floor heating is virtually an invisible system. Without baseboard heaters, forced air registers etc, furniture layout is not restricted by the heating system. Bathrooms or special use areas with hard floor finishes are well suited to this type of heating.