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3 Tips to Save Energy and Extend the Life of Your Water Heater

Water Heater Energy Saving TipsWater heaters are some of the biggest power guzzlers of the home appliance world. If you're trying to cut your energy usage, it's wise to develop power-saving strategies to deal with the hungriest power gobblers on your grid.

Replace your aging water heater if it's approaching the end of its useful life. A new energy-smart water heater may be all you need to see your power bill shrink. No matter which kind of appliance you own, help your old or new water heater work more efficiently—and last longer—by following the tips below.

Know the Limitations of Your System
Each type of water heater has its drawbacks and limitations. Traditional water heaters use energy to heat water even when no one needs hot water. Tankless water heaters often can't keep up when multiple hot water–dispensing fixtures are running at the same time.

Gas-fired water heaters work during power outages in some cases, which is a plus. However, tanks on standard gas water heaters corrode faster if the gas fire is kicked on more often than normal due to heavy daily usage.

When it comes to life expectancy, traditional water heaters last anywhere from 8 to 20 years depending on the model and how well it's maintained. It's not unusual for tankless heaters to last 20 years at the minimum and much longer when properly serviced.

Work With What You've Got for More Energy Savings
When you know your system's limitations, you can take energy-conserving steps to work around the weaknesses. For example, ask your appliance service tech to install a timer on the water heater, so it only heats water during pre-set times. When the household is sleeping, or you're all away at work or school, the water heater isn't using any fuel or power. Modern smart water heaters have built-in power-saving controls that run the water heater according to your patterns of use.

If you don't have a smart water heater, set a schedule for the use of hot water so your tankless or traditional gas heater isn't overwhelmed by household demands. Stagger shower, cooking, and laundry times to reduce the draw on the system. Limit shower times and switch to cold water for clothes washing to save even more hot water and energy.

Insulate pipes, walls, and ceiling in the area where the water heater sits to reduce temperature loss due to cold drafts. Lower the water heater temperature to 120 degrees in Summer, and all year long if you can stand it, to lower your power bill and extend the life of your appliance.

Have Your Water Heater Inspected Annually
No matter which type of water heater you own, it's important to have the system inspected at least once a year by a certified HomeSmart technician to check for problems. You may not notice small issues, but those little details can become big problems in a hurry.

Two things that should be checked once a year in a standard water heater are the anode rod and the overflow valve (plumbers call this the T & P valve for "temperature and pressure".) If either of these components fail to do their job, you face serious leaks or even flooding from the water heater.

Anode Rod
A traditional water heater is normally composed of a thin layer of glass over steel. When the glass inevitably cracks, the steel is likely to corrode or rust out, causing a leak. Corrosion of other components makes the water heater work less efficiently.

The anode valve is called a sacrificial rod because it collects the corrosion that would otherwise end up on the steel tank and other parts of the water heater. The anode rod needs to be changed out every three years as it grows more corroded. Some types of environmental conditions and water sources can cause the anode rod to corrode and need replacement more often.

T & P Valve
The T & P valve lets off the "steam" of the water heater, so to speak. What it actually does is let off small amounts of pressurized hot water when the water inside the tank gets too hot and pressure builds. If the T & P relief valve is letting out water too often, you may need to adjust your water temperature down a few degrees. Or the valve may be failing and subject to a full leak soon.

If you want to maintain your current hot water temperature but don't want to overload a relief valve, have a HomeSmart service technician add a hot water expansion tank to your system (contact us for a free estimate). This smaller tank takes on the excess water so you don't risk leaks or blowouts and you still have the hot water you need when you want it. Remember, too, that the water released by the relief valve is costing you money to heat and waste.

Contact the appliance professionals at HomeSmart From Xcel Energy today to schedule expert installation, repair, and maintenance of your water heater. We offer the best brands and a 100% quality guarantee on appliance installations.

How to Keep Your Family Safe and Cozy Until the Furnace Is Fixed

keep-family-warm-during-furnace-repair.pngKeeping household members warm and cozy in frigid temperatures is difficult enough without adding a furnace crisis. While you wait for your furnace-repair service to arrive, take steps to ensure that family members are comfortable and safe.

If your power is working, electric space heaters are one option to keep your home toasty. But if you don't have a small space heater or the ability to get one, there are other methods to make your home and family feel warmer.  (Space heaters can also pose a safety hazard if not operated properly).

Identify At-Risk Household Members
Small children, elderly adults, and people with suppressed immune systems have a difficult time regulating body heat. It takes only a few hours of body chill to cause health problems if a person has problems with thermoregulation. When your furnace fails and one of your family members is vulnerable in this way, consider relocating to a hotel or friend's home until your furnace is working again.

Healthy children will generally keep themselves warm with their physical activity, but caregivers must ensure they are dressed properly in dry clothes. Look for open places in their outfits along the waistline and lower calves. These "leaks" make kids feel chilled by exposing bare skin, so encourage kids to add long pairs of socks and long-tailed, tucked-in shirts to their ensembles to close up the gaps.

Also at risk are any household members who must repeatedly go outdoors to perform tasks or chores, regardless of age. Wind and moisture compound the risk of hypothermia, so ensure that people going outdoors are able to take frequent breaks to warm up, get out of the wind, and remove any wet clothing.

Take Advantage of Appliances
If you have power, your kitchen is a great place for family members to congregate. Remember: when the temperature is bitterly cold, every degree of heat counts. Roast a turkey, bake bread, or make lasagna. Keep the oven going, and it will provide a steady source of warmth.

Make chili in the crock pot and brew a pot of coffee to add more warmth to the room. Fill a stock pot with water and let it simmer on the stove, since humid air feels warmer than dry air. Make pancakes or grilled cheese sandwiches on your electric griddle to generate additional heat in the room.

Your clothes dryer is also a good source of indirect heat. As long as the dryer is close to where people are and is vented properly, it can add a few degrees of comfort to the living space when it's running on a heated setting.

You can also instantly warm up blankets, outerwear, and pajamas to give family members cozy garments and covers. Don't run the dryer empty, and do clean out the lint trap after each load, even if you're using the dryer only to heat clothes and bedding.

Pick Out a "Camp" for the Duration
In the old days, without modern central heating systems, families in cold environments moved into one room for the winter. A stove or fireplace kept that one room cozy. Choose a similar room in your home to turn into a temporary "camp." The room should be large enough for all to sleep and do seated activities comfortably in.

Block off any open doorways and drafty windows with blankets or plastic sheeting to conserve heat. Kids love to camp out on the floor, so cover it with sleeping bags and cushions. Let kids pile into the sleeping bags together and keep each other toasty as they sleep.

Plug in electronics that you know create excess heat, like old cabinet TVs, tower computers, and dorm fridges. You don't want to overload the circuits in the room, of course. But those hot electronic items can add a few critical degrees to your "camp" until you have proper heat again.

Contact the heating experts at HomeSmart From Xcel Energy to schedule an inspection of your furnace before you have a breakdown and need emergency heat. We offer many repair plans and even appliance replacement assistance for furnaces and boilers.

Upgrading a Noisy HVAC System? Understand the New Variable Options

If your old furnace or AC unit is loud and obnoxious, the blame most likely falls on the air handler. This is the enclosed series of components responsible for pushing cold or warm air into your home's ductwork. Air handlers come in all sorts of configurations to fit the specific needs of your structure.

Upgrade your HVAC System with HomesmartAn AC air handler may be as simple as three components hooked up to a power source: coils to draw in refrigerant from the outside unit, drip pans to collect condensation, and a blower-motor with a fan aimed at ductwork to force out the cooled air built up in the air handler. In old-style furnaces and AC units, the fans and motors are not the smoothest, most discreet operators.

"Variable" refrigerant, zonal, and fan-blower systems are now offered in new HVAC units. Electronically commutated motors (ECMs) are also fast becoming standard options in some lines of HVAC systems because they cut down on the racket that the old-school air handlers make. Both types of air-handling systems have their benefits. 

Variable Ventilation Versus Traditional HVAC Blowers
In modern whole-house and split HVAC systems that use variable types of technology, blower fans are set up to respond to the temperature on the main thermostat as before if desired, or they may be set individually for each room.

If you want more heat in the dining room and less in the hallway, separate fans help accomplish this, either through a master control or custom setup. In extreme hot or cold conditions, fans are set to run at a low-flow rate so they don't have to blow excessively hard to increase or lower room temperatures.

Traditional HVAC blowers cycle on and off in response to the main thermostat. If you have a too-small system, the unit will stay on for extended periods of time to meet the comfort needs of the household. This leads to a shorter HVAC system life and large power bills. Having a system like this also means you live in a house that's always making a blowing noise.

If your HVAC unit is too large, it may cycle on and off frequently, requiring a power surge each time the motor kicks back on to heat or cool the home. The heat or cooling may be extreme right before it kicks off, and then you may begin to feel hot or cold again as you wait for the unit to fire up once more.

People with these kinds of HVAC units find themselves turning the volume on their TVs up and down often, adjusting the sound in response to their home's intermittent, loud air handler.

Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) and Variable Refrigerant Volume (VRV)
VRF/VRV systems are becoming popular in multi-level buildings and commercial buildings in the U.S. due to the many benefits of the technology. This cutting-edge HVAC style is nothing new to other parts of the world, however. VRF/VRV units have been popular in sustainability-conscious Europe and Japan for decades. That's because VRF/VRV systems give you ultimate control of the climate in your home. They do so while also saving you energy.

The terms "VRF" and "VRV" refer to a shared refrigerant system throughout a structure. If you use a VRF/VRV to run a heat-pump system in your home, you can provide individualized heating or cooling to each room. Different zones can have more or less heat or cooling without adding more compressors. One compressor manages an entire home or small office building.

In a VRF/VRV heat-recovery system, you can have both heating and cooling out of one unit. This is a great option if you need a cool room for computers and a hot room for proofing bread or raising exotic pets but also want the main areas of the home to be kept at a normal temperature.

Because the refrigerant is shared throughout the system in a heat-recovery unit, rooms that need cooling give up heat to warm up rooms that need warmth, and the too-warm rooms return the favor by sending back their chill.

Electrically Commutated Motors (ECMs)Traditional HVAC units operate on AC current, but DC motors are often far more efficient. An ECM is a motor that converts AC current to DC voltage to offer more efficient blower operation. The ECM is efficient at a variety of speeds, and it makes less noise than traditional motors.

ECMs also have the ability to do gradual starts and stops, and this saves energy. Slow stops also avoid the pitfalls of having excess condensation in units, which can lead to mold and other problems in ductwork and air handlers.

The ECM's ability to run at a variety of speeds makes it ideal for custom HVAC applications. Many home systems with ECMs allow you only limited speed adjustments, but the motors are still more energy saving than traditional motors. HVAC systems with ECMs are a more budget-friendly choice than some of the more advanced variable HVAC technology. One of the ECM-type units is a wise choice for anyone who wants to be a greener HVAC consumer.

Whether you want a new AC unit or an energy-efficient heat pump, HomeSmart From Xcel Energy has products to make your home your haven. Contact us today for all of your heating and cooling needs—we also offer free in-home estimates on brand-new high efficiency equipment!

6 Benefits of Air Purifiers

Take a long, deep breath. The air you just inhaled, and now are exhaling, distributes oxygen from your lungs to your bloodstream. Unobstructed breathing is essential for your survival, helping your body with basic functions and maintaining your respiratory health. 

Take another breath. Imagine now that the air in your lungs is full of allergens and pollutants. The more you breathe these contaminants, the more they irritate your lungs. Over time, you become more susceptible to respiratory infection, allergic reactions, and asthma attacks.

A Colorado Homeowner's Guide to Carbon Monoxide Detection

You work hard to protect your home from external threats such as storms and intruders. But what about internal risks?

Guide to Carbon Monoxide Detection for CO HomeownersCarbon monoxide gas can be one of the most significant hazards a household may face, especially because the gas is invisible and odorless. In a previous blog, "Everything You Need to Know About Carbon Monoxide Poisoning," we discussed common sources of carbon monoxide and the effects of exposure to this harmful gas.

In this blog, we expand on what you as a homeowner need to know about carbon monoxide detection.

How Is Carbon Monoxide Detected?
In your home, carbon monoxide protection comes in the form of a carbon monoxide detector. These detectors work a lot like your smoke alarms. Essentially, when carbon monoxide is detected, the device sounds an alarm so you can take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family.

Individual carbon monoxide detectors may use different methods to detect the gas. Common types of detection include:

  • Biomimetic-Biomimetic detectors contain a gel that changes color according to the contents of the air it comes in contact with. When the gel is exposed to carbon monoxide and consequently changes color, the alarm goes off.
  • Electrochemical-An electrochemical detector monitors the electrical currents in the air. The presence of carbon monoxide changes the current, triggering the alarm.
  • Metal oxide semiconductor-Metal oxide semiconductor detectors contain a specialized silica chip that is sensitive to carbon monoxide. When the chip senses carbon monoxide, the alarm trips by changing the electrical resistance within the device.

 The type of detection you need may depend on which sources of carbon monoxide are in the vicinity of the detector. Consult with the HVAC experts at HomeSmart from Xcel Energy to determine which detector type (or types) you need in your home.

What Are Your Legal Obligations as a Homeowner?
In 2009, the Lofgren and Johnson Families Safety Act was signed into effect as the result of several carbon monoxide-related deaths. As a homeowner in Colorado, you have a legal obligation to install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in your home if you have any of the following:

  • Fuel-burning appliances
  • Fuel-burning heater
  • Indoor fireplace

If you have a garage space that has been remodeled, sold, or rented since July 2009, that space must also have at least one carbon monoxide detector.

Each detector is required to be installed within 15 feet of the doorway to a room used for sleeping.

Where Else Should Carbon Monoxide Detectors Be Placed?
In addition to the minimum legal requirements, you may want to place other carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home to decrease the risk of exposure.

Experts recommend installing at least one detector on every floor of your home where people sleep. If you have multiple sleeping areas on the same floor of your home, each area needs its own detector.

People are most vulnerable to the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning while asleep, so start by placing detectors in bedrooms.

You may also decide to include detectors in your kitchen, home office, and dining area as needed.

What Type of Carbon Monoxide Detector Do You Need?
Carbon monoxide detectors come in come in several varieties. In addition to how the detector senses the presence of carbon monoxide, each detector is either powered by batteries or by your home's electrical current.

Battery-powered carbon monoxide detectors are similar to your smoke alarms. These detectors can be attached to any wall or ceiling, as long as they're out of the reach of any children or climbing pets in your home. If you install battery-operated detectors, you will need to test the batteries twice a year and replace them as needed.

Carbon monoxide detectors that use your home's electrical system for power may need to be professionally installed. These models can cost more to put in, but they tend to last longer than their counterparts.

Discuss your budget, detector placement, and priorities with a HomeSmart technician to determine which type of detector you need. You may decide to use a combination of different detector types depending on the condition of your electrical system, your home architecture, and other factors.

How Do You Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors?

Once you decide where to place your carbon monoxide detectors, battery-operated models can simply be screwed to the ceiling or wall. Be aware of where your ducts and other hidden house systems components are to reduce the risk of damaging other home systems.

If you aren't sure you can safely install a carbon monoxide detector or you prefer a detector model that runs on your home's electricity, discuss your options with a HomeSmart technician.

Use this information to keep your Colorado household safe from the risk of carbon monoxide exposure.

Need new or additional carbon monoxide detectors? Work with the professionals at HomeSmart From Xcel Energy to ensure that you have the best possible protection for your home and family.

 

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