April 30, 2012

Turn Down The Water

What happens when you set your home thermostat too high?  Your furnace wastes money.   And, if you set your water heater thermostat too high, what happens?  Your washing machine, dishwasher and every faucet in the house wastes energy.   But more seriously, you or your family could suffer serious burns.

There are nearly 3,800 injuries and 34 deaths reported every year because someone is scalded in their home from excessively hot tap water, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).   Here are some tips for being smarter and safer with hot water.

Set it and don't forget it

Most water heater thermostats lack a dial that indicates precise temperatures, so it's tempting to just pick a random setting. But some heaters can deliver 160-degree water—10 degrees hotter than what causes third-degree burns on adults in only 2 seconds.

Instead of guessing, set the dial at the halfway mark and allow water to reach its standby temperature (after the burner goes off). Then run only hot water for one minute at the faucet nearest the water heater and test the temperature using a meat or candy thermometer. Retest and adjust the dial until water reaches about 120 degrees, which is a temperature suggested by the CPSC.

Make warm the norm

That 120-degree setting handles most household needs, such as bathing and laundry. (Few fabrics today require washing at the "hot" setting.) Dishwashers, however, require 140-degree water to effectively dissolve the detergent and clean dishes. When replacing your dishwasher, consider one with a booster heater that raises the tap water temperature. This feature pays for itself within a year if you lower your water heater setting, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, which offers these tips on reducing hot water use.
Even water dialed down to 120 degrees can burn young children. Faucets that help keep that from happening include:
  • Temperature-control faucets with adjustable stops that prevent turning the dial beyond a certain setting
  • Thermostatic-valve showers that monitor the mixed water and adjust the flows to maintain a constant temperature
  • Pressure-balancing shower valves, which reduce hot water flow to compensate for the sudden loss of cold water when a toilet is flushed or tap opened

April 23, 2012

Nationwide Radium Testing of Groundwater Shows Most Susceptible Regions are Central U.S. and East Coast

Groundwater in aquifers on the East Coast and in the Central U.S. has the highest risk of contamination from radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element and known carcinogen.
According to a study conducted by the USGS, radium was detected in concentrations that equaled or exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards in more than one in five wells tested in the Mid-Continent and Ozark Plateau Cambro-Ordovician aquifer systems, underlying parts of Ark., Ill., Ind., Iowa, Mich., Minn., Mo, and Wis.; and the North Atlantic Coastal Plain aquifer system, underlying parts of Del., Md., N.J., N.Y., N.C., and Va.

Radium is generally present at low levels in all soil, water, and rocks, including groundwater. However, the study found that if the groundwater has low oxygen or low pH, radium is more likely to dissolve and become present in the groundwater. Low oxygen conditions were prevalent in the Mid-Continent and Ozark Plateau Cambro-Ordovician aquifer systems, and low pH conditions were prevalent in the North Atlantic Coastal Plain aquifer system.

"Radium is a troubling contaminant in groundwater because it cannot be readily detected by taste or smell, nor are the analytical methods for measurement easily applied by non-experts," said USGS director Marcia McNutt. "This new-found correlation between radium contamination and low oxygen or low pH allows very simple tests to determine which groundwater sources are at risk from radium, and why."

Low oxygen or low pH conditions were associated with more frequent detections of radium in other aquifers as well.

"This is the first nationwide study to identify geochemical factors present in many aquifers, such as low dissolved oxygen or low pH, that make groundwater more susceptible to radium contamination," said Jeffrey Fischer, USGS hydrologist and a coauthor of the paper. "These simple geochemistry measurements are good indicators of where radium is likely to exceed a standard and can help managers and the EPA anticipate areas where radium may be elevated."

In most aquifers used for drinking water supply, radium concentrations were below EPA standards, especially in the western U.S.

Exposure to elevated levels of radium over long periods of time can increase the risk of cancer. Radium can enter the body in drinking water. It behaves similarly to calcium and can replace calcium in tissues, particularly bone. Long-term exposure to radium increases the risk of developing diseases such as bone and sinus cancer, lymphoma, and leukemia.

Radium is derived from the common long-lived radioactive elements, uranium and thorium, which decay slowly to produce radioactive elements like radium. Groundwater flowing slowly through pores or cracks in underground rocks and sediments can dissolve radium-bearing minerals as it moves. Three commonly occurring types are radium-228, radium-226, and radium-224.

1,266 wells were sampled by the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) from 1990 to 2005 and analyzed for radium-226 and radium-228 for comparison to the EPA drinking water standard.  A subset of 645 water samples were analyzed for the short-lived radium radionuclide, radium-224, which had not previously been measured in many parts of the nation, but is a concern in drinking water. A specific drinking-water standard has not been established for this form of radium. This study examined untreated water from the wells, and the findings represent the quality of water in aquifers before treatment.

Approximately 50% of the nation relies on groundwater as their primary drinking-water supply. NAWQA is the only source of nationally consistent monitoring data and information on chemical contaminants in groundwater. The program also conducts regional and national studies of the susceptibility and vulnerability of the nation's most important aquifers.

The study, titled "Occurrence and Geochemistry of Radium in Water from Principal Drinking-Water Aquifers of the United States" by By Zoltan Szabo, Vincent T. dePaul, Jeffrey M. Fischer, Thomas F. Kraemer, and Eric Jacobsen, is published in the journal Applied Geochemistry.

The article and a USGS fact sheet about this study is available online.

Learn how you can protect not only your water but your family as well with a simple water purification and treatment solution.  Click HERE for more information.

April 16, 2012

How To Landscape Around Your A/C Unit

Even though the compressor is the workhorse of the air conditioner, it can be an eyesore to your home and property.  Here are some landscaping suggestions:

Decide if you want to work with edging such as rocks or a fence.  

Choose plants that are taller than the height of the compressor (standard is 1-2 feet).   

If you choose immature plants, keep in mind how tall and wide they will be when they reach maturity. Mixing and matching shrubs with bushy perennials will help fill in the area and provide continuing color and greenery throughout the year.  

Select perennial plants or shrubs that require little to no maintenance and will stay or return each year.  

Astilbe grows in most plant hardiness zones. The plant reaches up to 29 inches in height and has a lush green foliage lasting throughout spring in summer. Puffy plumes of color in your choice of pinks, reds and whites appear throughout the summer.  

Hydrangea that reaches up to four feet in height. The hydrangea blooms in your choice of bright colored pink, white or blue spheres -- throughout the summer into early fall.

Place plants at least 3 feet away from the compressor.   Overcrowding of plants and shrubs will block air flow in and out of the compressor -- leading to overheating and permanent damage to your central air system.  

April 10, 2012

Going Green With Your Plumbing

Times are changing as the idea of “Going Green” becomes more and more popular and prevalent throughout the world.   Knowing what footprint you are leaving upon our environment is not only important but consciously doing something to help preserve our natural resources for future generations, is the responsibility of us all.  You can begin in your home.

1. Install low flow shower heads to cut back on the amount of water that is used while showering.

These are called energy efficient shower heads because they decrease energy consumption due to less water being heated.

2. Install low flow toilets.

They use less water per flush than a more traditional setup, roughly 1.6 gallons of water per flush.  Older models use as much as 3.6 gallons. A low flow toilet can save thousands of gallons of water per year, per household.

3. Install faucet aerators.

They break down the flow of water into small drops, allowing usage of less water while still maintaining effectiveness for washing your hands, etc.

4.   Install an efficient hot water circulator during your remodel.
Tankless  water heaters are great for endless hot water but think about including a circulator as well.  Nobody wants to siphon water from their hot water lines when flushing their toilet or watering their lawn. So do your research and ask questions because your families comfort and lifestyle will be affected for years to come.

Don’t do it because you don’t want to pay a plumber to install the proper equipment.  Do it because you’ll be doing your part to help save on a natural resource that is being depleted insurmountably.

April 3, 2012

Should You Replace A Working A/C System?

Now that Spring has officially arrived and we know the temperatures will stay warm, we'll begin the task of making sure the lawn is mowed and fertilized, the vegetable garden is weeded and hoed and our landscapes are adorned with beautiful flowers and pruned shrubs.

Don't forget your air conditioning system as well.  We've already experienced how crazy Mother Nature has been lately.  One never knows what the Summer has in store for us.  While most might think, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it,"  there are still  "fixes" that don't have anything to do with being broken.  They are called upgrades and improvements.

If your system is over 8 years old, you have an energy hog on your hands.  Air conditioners always go out at the worst time possible, so be sure to schedule a checkup before the summer swings into full gear.  Even if you don't need to buy a new unit, you'll be comfortable during the hot months knowing your unit isn't about to kick the bucket.

If you do need to replace your unit, consider this fancy little acronym SEER, which stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio.  The higher the number, the more energy efficient the unit is, which means the more money you will save on your energy bill.  The number to look for is 16-23.  They have a higher upfront cost, but will save you $$$$ in the long run.

If you live in the Capital District Region in upstate New York, give us a call today.  We'll be happy to inspect your system for you.  518- 462-5454

March 26, 2012

10 Ways To Get "Green" Tax Breaks

Uncle Sam wants you to green up your act! The United States government is offering tax incentives and credits to people who renovate their homes with energy-saving technologies and/or buy hybrid vehicles. These technologies usually save money, and with an added tax break, you'll be raking in the dough.  Here are ten ways to claim federal tax credits and incentives by doing eco friendly stuff:

1. Buying a hybrid, a car that runs on alternative power, or a lean-burn diesel vehicle can net you a tax break of $250-$3,400. This refund is dependent on the amount of gas saved by the engine and the overall weight of the vehicle. If you buy two hybrids, you get two tax breaks.

2. People who buy and install energy-efficient windows, insulation, roofs, doors, air conditioners and central-heating units can receive a $500 tax credit.

3. If you have a swimming pool or hot tub heated by solar power, you can recoup thirty percent of your expenditures, unless it exceeds $2,000. In those cases, you would just get a refund of 2k.

4. You can recoup 10% or $200 from a green exterior window or skylight installation as long as they meet IECC standards.

5. Replacing exterior doors with eco-friendly ones will net you 10% or $500 dollars back.

6. With a metal, Energy-Star roof you can reclaim 10% or $500.

7. Certain types of insulation will allow you to recoup 10% or $500.

8. Greening up your central air-conditioning unit, utilizing geothermal heat pumps, installing air source heat pumps, putting in a gas, oil or propane water heater or an electric heat pump water heater will entitle you to garner a $300 dollar tax credit for each qualifying improvement.

9. A gas, oil, propane furnace or hot water boiler installed in your home will make you eligible for a $150 tax credit.

10. An advanced main air circulating fan allows you to claim a $50 refund. Every state has its own tax breaks. Make sure to utilize those as well. If you plan to go green, check the tax code first.

Made available through http://money.howstuffworks.com/personal-finance/personal-income-taxes/green-tax-breaks.htm

March 12, 2012

Sump-Pumps ~ Are They Necessary?

Spring time means melting snow, heavy rain and whatever else Mother Nature decides to throw our way.  Weather patterns have changed dramatically over the years, which leads homeowners never knowing what to expect.  Flooding is damaging and once it begins, there is little you can do to hold it back.

Even if your basement isn't prone to flooding, it would be wise to make sure your sump pump is operating at maximum effectiveness.

Do you have a sump pump?  Do you have it tested annually by a plumbing professional in order to ensure it is and will run properly when you need it?

If you don't have one and uncertain how it works - well, it's  used to extract accumulated water and generally installed in the basement just under the ground in a hole referred to as the Sump Pit. When the sensor in the pit (often known as the "float") fills with water above a certain level, the sump pump automatically turns on and drains out the water.  

Homeowners often opt to install an emergency backup sump pump just in case the main sump pump runs out of power or breaks down for any reason. Emergency backup sump pumps are used not only in the event of power outages or when the main sump pump fails, but when the water load is too big for your main sump pump to handle as well. Emergency backup sump pumps run on batteries and can be real lifesavers during power outages. These specific types of emergency backup pumps are used only for backup purposes and come with rechargeable batteries which last as much as 6 to 7 hours.

What's the big deal? Besides the damage a flooded basement can do to flooring, drywall, and framing in the basement, mechanical systems such as electrical panels, water heaters and heating systems are at risk in the event of a flood. A sump pump can literally save you thousands of dollars in repairs, not to mention the loss of personal property you may store in the basement. If structural damage isn't enough to convince you of the importance of a properly functioning sump pump and an emergency back-up system, be aware that excessive moisture may contribute to serious health problems. Moisture leads to mold, which can be extremely hazardous to your health. Additionally, extreme moisture can cause fungus to build up and destroy the wood in your home leading to the infestation of wood destroying insects such as termites.

Often times, sump pumps and backup pumps are not something you think about until it's too late. Therefore, be proactive. If you are considering purchasing and installing a sump pump, we recommend you consult advice from a plumbing professional who can show you how a small investment today can literally save you hundreds of dollars down the road.

February 25, 2012

What To Look For When Hiring A Plumber

Hiring a plumber for any job, big or small, can make even the most confident consumer shrivel with fear.

The fact of the matter is that hiring a plumber is not always as easy as it sounds. You may think that everything is okay just to learn that you either spent too much money, or hired the wrong person for the job.

The following tips may not be well known, but they can help you hire the right plumber for the job:

1. Group together all of your repairs so the plumber only has to visit your home one time. You can save a lot of money by doing this, while also ensuring that all of the repairs are made without delay.

2. Request a written estimate before the work starts. Many consumers never do this because they take the plumber’s word for it.  There is nothing wrong with trusting your plumber, but to protect both parties this is something you definitely want to do. Every reputable plumber will offer to give a written estimate before getting their hands wet.

3. Select a plumber that is insured and licensed. When you choose a plumber on a whim, such as by an ad in a local paper, you never know what you are going to get.  During your initial conversation, ask the plumber if they are insured and licensed. This can go a long way in easing your stress.

4. Ask how their rate is calculated. Are you being charged a flat rate for the entire project? Or will you be paying an hourly rate? This is an important question, but one that many forget to ask. 

5.  Don't be afraid to ask for references or inquire if they're part of a consumer organization that provides them.  This can be helpful in your selection especially if they are A+ rated.

These four tips may not be discussed all the time, but they can help you immensely when hiring a plumber. If you implement these tips, while also using your common sense, you will hire the right plumber and have all your problems fixed in no time at all.

February 23, 2012

Is Bacteria Your Body Can't Resist In Your Water?

In some cities, residents are turning up with unexplained antibiotic resistant infections.  Researchers have discovered that these infections may be caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria in their water supply. Unfortunately, the problem only worsens at the water treatment plant.

Water treatment plants typically will use “good” bacteria to digest waste, as part of the treatment process. Antibiotic resistant bacteria enters the water supply due to the misuse of medications, agricultural chemicals or cleaning products, and generally die off as part of the water treatment process.  Sadly, the genetic material for these “bad” bacteria will mingle with that of the “good” bacteria, forming an entire reservoir of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in water.

While multi-stage filtration by water treatment plants will capture much of the antibiotic resistant genetic material, researchers have been able to detect enough of the harmful bacteria in water to warrant further research. In the meantime, if you’re concerned about the effects of antibiotic resistant bacteria in your water, think about installing a system that will protect your home and family and assure that the water you're drinking isn't harmful.  Our whole-home system is the solution and our Easy Water Bacteria Shield uses the natural power of UV light to deactivate bacteria, viruses, cysts and other dangers in your water.

February 15, 2012

What Is HVAC?

Enjoying a finished attic space in the summer sounds like a nice idea, but the room is like a sauna. Can anything be done to make the top floor as cool as the first and not cause the utility bills to skyrocket? Yes! Choosing an efficient system and making sure that ducts are well sealed are critical steps to keeping every room of the house cool.

Air conditioning is a component of the HVAC (heating, ventilating and air conditioning) system. The air-conditioning unit sits outside of the home and pumps liquid refrigerant (a liquid that cools something -- often referred to as "Freon") into the air-handling unit (AHU), the unit inside the home that generates heated or cooled air. The AHU generates cool air and forces it through the home via supply ducts and into rooms. (Ducts are passageways, usually tubular and made from sheet metal, flexible material or rigid insulation, that deliver air from the AHU throughout the home, and also return air from the rooms back into the AHU for re-circulation.) Meanwhile, the slightly warmed refrigerant travels back outside to the air conditioner, where it's cooled and re-circulated.

It's important to note, however, that even a high SEER unit may not perform well if the overall HVAC system, including how the air is distributed through the home, hasn't been well planned. As part of the HVAC system, duct work plays a critical role in delivering cool air to the rooms. A state-of-the-art air conditioner is only effective if the air it cools reaches the family.

February 9, 2012

The Silent Killer

Defective furnaces, fireplaces, flues, space heaters, ovens, oil heaters and any gasoline-powered engines are most frequently responsible for accidental carbon monoxide (CO) poisonings. When improperly vented, malfunctioning systems and appliances like furnaces and air-conditioners can slowly fill your home with CO.

In the United States, CO leaks are known as the "silent killer" responsible for an estimated 500 deaths a year and more than 15,000 trips to the emergency room. However, as CO poisoning often goes unreported, the number of instances is most likely much higher. 

What Can You Look For?

CO is dangerous because there tend to be no noticeable symptoms if an individual's CO levels are at less than 10 percent in the bloodstream.  Above 10 percent, CO poisoning symptoms may mimic the flu or a cold. At that level, symptoms may include:
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Mild confusion
  • Irregular breathing and heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Coughing
Take note especially if everyone in the home is experiencing at least some of the symptoms, and pay particular attention if pets exhibit symptoms, since animals cannot get the flu.
When CO levels exceed 20 percent, the poisoning can be fatal.

What Should You Do?

If you suspect that you or members of your family are suffering from CO poisoning:
  • Evacuate your home; get everyone outdoors immediately.
  • Call 9-1-1 from another location.
  • Report it to the fire department, even if everyone is feeling better.
Be prepared.  Be safe.