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