Category archive - Energy

How’s the Heat with the Hot Water?

How’s the Heat with the Hot Water?

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Let us now say a prayer for forced air heating systems. They were good for awhile and kept many Westchester homes warm through the years, but let’s now leave these noisy relics in the dust and embrace the wonders of hot water heating systems. To say nothing about the ease of control, hot water heating offers a more evenly held heat and a more palpable heat, seeing as it is based on moisture rather than dry air. Hot water heating makes any home more comforting and welcoming during winter.

The furnaces used in hot water heating can be powered by gas, oil, coal, wood, or electric coil. Typically gravity fed or pumped, the heated water in the boiler travels up to the radiators, and as they disperse the heat, the cooler water travels down to the boiler to be reheated. More expensive systems even have hot water tubing under the floorboards, which provides uniform heat.

The radiators, however, are the key component and there are three basic types. First, there’re cast iron radiators, which are actually still very efficient despite their basicness. Radiators fitted with metal covering are similar but often include tubing covered with fins that provide additional convection heat. These fins increase the surface area of the heated parts, and boost energy efficiency. Lastly, there are baseboard heaters, which are more prominent in modern homes and actually provide the most efficient heating on the market. Along with the fins, the placement ensures whole room is heated from the bottom up, which is far more economical.

The issue is that hot water heating systems eventually get air in them and most don’t offer vents. As such, Westchester homeowners must “bleed” their hot water heating systems occasionally to ensure efficient use of heat. System valves are easily opened with a key wrench and all you have to do is put a cup, can or bucket under the valve, and open it up. Eventually, water will start running out of the valve, hence the bucket. In multi-story buildings or houses, it’s best to start on the top floor and make your way down, continuing until all floors have been taken care of.

There’s really only one more thing you have to do, and that is to drain out all the water in the system yearly. Begin by turning off the water supply valve, allowing the water cool completely down before moving ahead. Next, find the release valve on the boiler and attach a hose to it. Run the hose outside and completely drain the system, unless you can’t run a hose outside, in which case use drain the system via filling and emptying buckets. This process gets rid of the built-up minerals and rust in the system. Afterwards, open a bleeder valve on the highest radiator and refill the system. This way, your Westchester home will remain cozy and you won’t be nervous about the energy you’re using unduly jacking your energy bill up.

Warming Up to HVAC

Warming Up to HVAC

HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and there isn’t a residential or commercial building in the nation that doesn’t have some version of HVAC. Without it, all Westchester homeowners would be at the whims of Mother Nature all year. At the end of the day, however, the comforts of heating and air conditioning are lesser to the hygienic needs of air circulation HVAC provides. Trust me, if any part of your HVAC system falters, it’s not hard to notice.

Like your Westchester neighbors, you should always get to know your HVAC systems. Homeowners know where the thermostat is and can see the vents, but, for most, that’s where their knowledge of HVAC ends. Following the vents will lead you to your heating and cooling systems and knowing how they should be operating will help you prevent malfunctions and identify them. And like most things, some light reading is needed. Central heating/AC systems come with a guidebook and, yeah, I’d rather be reading Elmore Leonard too, but reading it will help you figure out where to find vent entry points and other useful information. In fact, any manufacturer will surely have it available to download via their website. If your unit is outside, you should clear it of any debris as regularly as once a week.

Back inside! In many cases, vent filters need regular upkeep; once a month is totally respectable. Pop open the vent at the entry point and check to see that the filter isn’t caked with dust. You should also replace your filters twice a year, once in summer and once in winter. Any home improvement store worth its salt will have filters in stock.

Vent areas where moisture is prevalent can also lead to mold. Scrubbing off the mold with a solution made with equal parts bleach and water will solve that issue and evaporator coils wipe down at 10-15 times a year. After rain or snow, be sure to check for any standing water and tend to it immediately. It’s also important to keep an eye on the fans, as they tend to accumulate dust and grime. Fans should be wiped down bi-weekly, or monthly at the very least. If at all possible, it should become as normal as mowing the lawn.

These are easy ways to avoid problems, but there are some things that just require training and that professional touch. Every two years or so, get a certified HVAC technician to give your entire system the once over and they will give it the real buff and shine, to ensure circulation efficiency in your Westchester home. In these bitter days of winter, heating is crucial and a little cleaning beats icicles on the ceiling.

Examining Your Electrical System In New Homes

Examining Your Electrical System In New Homes

A home inspector’s work is never done. Whenever a new home is being prepared for purchase, an inspector will likely be scheduled to inspect the house and perform a number of check-ups: outstanding code violations and safety issues are their bread and butter. As laborers, however, they are human and can miss certain problems, and electrical issues are their most prominent blunder. Studies made in the last few years have suggested that 20% of U.S. homes have a wiring problem of some sort. Some of these problems can come with a serious price tag, so it’s good to know what to look for, as a double check for busy home inspectors.

When it comes to old homes, undersized electrical services are the norm. When they were built, there was one television in the home, usually, and no one knew what an internet was. So, make sure the electrical panel is capable of supporting your electrical needs, whenever dealing with an older home, by making sure the amps on the electrical panel are 200 or more. If you are a technology lover, you may even need an upgrade from 200. And in these older homes, it’s not uncommon to find the entire home wired with fiberglass-insulated wires. These fiber-insulated wires are famous for fraying and can bring on rodent infestation in certain cases. If you find any wires in your basement that go through joists, inspect them for any sign of damage, including fraying.

If you are planning on keeping some of the seller’s appliances, smart move but do your homework. Find out when the appliances were purchased and if they have ever been serviced. This will ensure that this gesture isn’t just to raise the price a bit or cut down on moving costs. Some appliances require dedicated circuits straight from the electrical panel, so it’s important to check that your panel has dedicated wiring to the stove, fridge,  microwave and dishwasher. One should also be sure to buy or borrow a voltage tester to ensure each electrical outlet in the home is grounded and working popularly; plug-in testers are best for these scenarios. Check the electrical outlets to make sure each one has a ground prong and then use a plug-in voltage tester to make sure they are grounded. Most homes now require a three-prong outlet and, in areas that are prone to moisture (bathrooms, kitchens, exteriors etc.), GFCI outlets must be installed. This will also gauge whether the polarity is wrong and if you have lost neutral or feed.

To quickly check your lights, install new light bulbs in all of the permanently installed fixtures in the home. Do the bulbs dim or blink when you put them in? This will check for voltage drops or loose connections in those particular circuits. And whenever dealing with a junction box, take a look inside but do NOT touch the wires inside. Do not touch the wiring, just look at it to see if the connections look good. If a connection looks faulty or loose to you, call an electrician in to check or, after turning off the breaker, carefully inspect the connections yourself. This is also an opportune time to check that the home has an adequate amount of smoke detectors (one on each floor, outside bedrooms, smaller rooms and/or kitchens) and a carbon monoxide detector. To check if they work, simply install a new battery (usually a 9-volt) and run a test.

Finally, if you find any scorch marks on any outlet or if it smells like something burnt, then that circuit has gone through a dead short. Ask whether the circuit was repaired and if the plate or outlet was replaced, and if the seller is dodgy, ask a professional electrician to double check. Some of these things will, in fact, be checked by more attentive inspectors but when buying a new home, its best to check for issues early, before you get a slew of extra electrician bills tagged onto the original price.

Correct Composting for Caring Gardeners

Correct Composting for Caring Gardeners

There are many facets to living Green that, at first glance, seem a little annoying or even outright preposterous. Why exactly should I pay substantially more for a light bulb that looks like a curly fry if my neighbor is already doing it? Is it really that important that I resize all my doors and windows, and install bamboo instead of hardwood floors? Well, the light bulbs are, at the end of the day, easy to replace and last longer, so it’s worth it in the long run. As for the bamboo and the house-wide resizing, they really are for the best but aren’t urgent and do require some planning.

In between these two ends of the Green-living spectrum lies the relatively simple act of composting, which, despite its reputation as an activity solely for those with dreadlocks and more than one piece of Phish merchandise, is a hugely beneficial practice that takes very little time to enact and keep up. For gardening enthusiasts and anyone even remotely interested in sustainable living, it should be a no-brainer. Oh, and did I mention it’s incredibly simple?

So, what is a compost pile? To put it simply, it’s waste, piled on top of waste, for the purpose of making the waste usable. Most of this is natural waste: dead leaves, branches, twigs, grass clippings, fruit scraps, old vegetables, vegetable waste and, lastly, coffee grounds. The committed composter maintains a healthy, even balance between the “brown” (leaves, branches, twigs) and the “green” (everything else), and regularly waters the pile.  This makes an ideal mixture of carbon and nitrogen, which are the major elements in compost.

Keeping up an ideal level may not be easy for most people, but as in most things, one need not be ideal in practice to see results. Set your compost pile or bin in a dry, shady spot in your backyard. Place it as close to a water supply as possible, as you will want to moisten the materials as you add them; it’s even suggested that you place a tarp over the pile or bin to ensure the mix will remain moist.

Whenever adding new materials, try to break down larger pieces into much smaller material, through shredding or other means; this will help ensure healthy, regular breakdown throughout the pile. And, if possible, the top of the pile should be mostly “brown” material. Mix the material regularly, either with a pitchfork, a shovel or even your hands and make sure to put fruit waste about a foot beneath the top of the pile, as well as grass clippings. Mixing should occur about 3-4 times a month to distribute air and moisture.

The bad news is that compost can take up to 18 months to reach its desired state, but this is only in rare cases. Most of the time, if you tend to it correctly, the process of composting should be ready in 2-6 months. When the bottom of the pile is a dark, damp color, you’re ready to use your compost, whether it be for agriculture, horticulture or even to lessen the impact of erosion on topsoil. There are various things that should not be put into compost (diseased plants, pet waste, lawn waste treated with pesticides recently) and a little research will provide a longer list of these things to watch out for. But even with stipulations, the act of composting offers several beneficial results, not the least of which is healthy soil for gardening, regular, if minor exercise and a simple way to help the earth with little to no damage done to your wallet.

Light Fixtures to Light Up Your Life

Light Fixtures to Light Up Your Life

Being a rather huge movie buff, the importance of lighting has always been something I’ve taken an interest in, especially in homes. The type of light fixtures you put in each of your rooms is integral to the mood of that room and the overall personality (and style) of your home. Whether it happens to be recessed, chandelier, wall sconces, pendant, or soffit, it says something about what use you want to get out of the room and what atmosphere you want it to capture. And, like most things, both of these facets can change rather quickly, so if you’re looking to get more ambitious with your DIY home repairs, it’s a good starting place for electrical work.

For tools, you merely need the new light fixture, wire cutters, a flathead screwdriver and something to stand on (depending on where they are placed and/or your height). Get to your power supply and shut down power to that part of the house, as to ensure no one gets zapped or worse. If there are decorative glass covers surrounding the light bulbs, remove them along with the light bulbs and only then unscrew the old fixture – there should be easy-to-spot screws holding it to the wall and the electrical box. In some cases – it’s more common in older fixtures – you will also have to unscrew mounting brackets that are helping to hold the fixture in place.

Take special care to notice how the wires are connected to your old fixture: they will like be either connected with the screws on the existing fixture or there will be wires coming out of the fixture that are directly connected to the wires in the electrical box. Have a pen and paper handy to write things like this down and when you disconnect the wires, also note color or size of the wires so you can easily attach the new fixture.

Once you have the information down and your old fixture has been set aside (or has found its new home in the garbage can), it’s time to connect the new fixture. If it connects with the screw, the black screw should go with the brass screw while the white screw should be connected to the silver screw; the ground wire (green or copper) will connect to final screw, which is usually colored green. As for direct wire connections, use the wire nuts provided with your fixture and just connect colors correspondingly (black to black etc.). Screws will be provided with the fixture to mount the new fixture in the designated spot and then all you have to do is flip on the power to test.

If there’s a problem, or if electrical work is (understandably) the one area of home improvement you’d rather leave to the professionals, it’s best to find a trusted electrician to check it out/do the work. Otherwise, this should make it easier if you ever want to change the lighting in your living/entertainment room in time for movie night.

Fixing Those Pesky Flickers

Fixing Those Pesky Flickers

The first thing most people do (rightly) when they see a bulb flickering is try to replace it, or just chalk it up to bad weather or a momentary dim from a momentary glitch. Most of the time, this is all a flicker denotes but some flickers (think a three-to-four-second flicker) can become annoyances and represent a fault that requires either immediate or forthcoming repair.  Now, to be sure, we’re not talking about the expected dims that can come from CFL bulbs (the twirly, spiral energy-saving ones) connected to dimmer switches, but rather repetitive flickers that usually coincide with other electrical usage.

Consistent flickers are usually due to a poor connection in your wiring, affecting a singular part of your circuit. If an entire circuit is affected, the source of the problem will likely be in the breaker or, less frequently, the panel; the panel is a regular source for flickers on an entire circuit. But we’re talking about consecutive flickers coming from a single source. For an example, let’s say an overhead light is flickering every time you turn it on at night. The source of the problem will almost always be spotty connections coming from the light fixture, the switch box or the outlet. To help diagnose which one it is, one should mark when the flickering occurs and for how long. For instance, if it starts immediately as you flip the switch, the likely culprit is the switch box. It’ll make for an easier project, whether you’re trying to fix it yourself or you’re hiring a professional.

Though this seems like a minor issue, these problems almost always cause arcing, which can heat up connections or wires and lead to further problems either with the single fixture or the overall circuit if it goes unchecked. Smaller, fickle outages will likely be unable to be diagnosed until they erupt in an outright open. In any case, the rule of thumb here is to trust a professional electrician with these problems though, if you do go DIY, be sure to shut off electricity to the entire circuit if you’re attempting to replace or repair the wiring or connection.

Let’s Change the Light Fixture!

Let’s Change the Light Fixture!

The act of installing a light fixture is, at the end of the day, a relatively easy task to do by one’s self in the home improvement arena. By learning a few basic truths about electrical work, the job can be done with little more than wire cutters, a flat-head screwdriver and something sturdy to stand on. Oh! And safety measures, of course. Picking and putting up your new light fixture should be one of the easier electrical jobs an amateur DIYer can come to.

First things first: turn off the current. You can turn off the circuit breaker or, if you’d prefer, take out the fuse that supplies energy to the area you’re working in. It’s really your choice. Remove the glass covers on both your new fixture and any existing fixtures, as well as the light bulbs on the existing fixture. If you are indeed replacing an existing fixture, you must disconnect it from the electrical box. There should be one or more screws on the fixture that are used to mount it on the electrical box, behind the fixture; the mounting brackets must be removed as well.

Now, be sure to take down how the existing fixture has been connected to the electrical box; you’ll need this to connect the new fixture. For instance, the wires might be connected directly with the screws that are on the light fixture, or there may be wires that come out of it which are connected to the wires that are coming from the electrical box found within the ceiling or wall. Either way, you will have to disconnect these wires and remember how they are connected.

Once you’ve disconnected everything, attach the wires to your new light fixture. There should be three kinds of wires — white, black, green. The white is the negative, the black is the positive, and the green is the ground; the ground may also be copper. If connected directly to the light fixture, the black wire goes with the brass screw, the white wire goes with the silver screw and the green goes with the green screw. If the new fixture already has wire connections, you will have to connect these with the wires from the electrical box, which means you’ll be using plastic colored wire nuts in this case. When using this type of connection, nut and wire colors are corresponding (black with black).

After everything is connected, simply mount the new fixture to the electrical box with the screws that came with the fixture; in some cases, a mounting bracket may be needed. Put your covers on, screw in your light bulbs and switch your power supply back on, and you’ll be ready to go.

Westchester Nuclear Facility Shutting Down?

Westchester Nuclear Facility Shutting Down?

The Indian Point Energy Center, a nuclear power plant that produces almost a third of New York City and Westchester County’s electricity, may be facing closure. Environmental groups, as well as some lawmakers, are worried about the plant’s design and its potentially adverse effects on aquatic life in the area. As such, many groups are calling for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deny the Indian Point facility’s application for relicensing. However, many in the business and labor communities support Indian Point’s continued operation as a vital source of jobs and an important provider of New York and Westchester energy. Because of the essential role the plant plays in providing electricity over a large area, its closure would have major implications for New York and Westchester energy.

Even if the plant is relicensed, it faces a closure of up to a year to upgrade its cooling towers, as required by the state. So what will be the impact on those who use New York and Westchester energy? Analysts in the nuclear industry contend that the construction of electricity plants would not proceed quickly enough to compensate for the loss of the Indian Point facility. They also argue that New York does not have strong enough ties to out of state electricity producers to provide for New York and Westchester energy needs in the absence of the nuclear plant. This means increased energy costs for consumers in New York and Westchester.

What can homeowners do to protect themselves against rising energy costs and possible electricity shortages caused by the loss of the Indian Point facility? Making your home more energy efficient by insuring that it’s properly insulated, with no leaks or drafts, and upgrading appliances to more efficient models can be of significant benefit. Upgrading your electric service can also help your home use energy more efficiently, and insure that you have enough capacity to provide for all of your home’s electricity needs. While many steps, such as caulking leaks can be undertaken on a do-it-yourself basis, be careful to always upgrade your electrical service by a certified electrician.