September 27 2014

Shred Your Home’s AC Power Bill and Go Green

Contrary to what you might think, you do not have to allow the rising cost of energy to eat a big hole in your budget in order to keep your home reasonably cool in the summer. Some of the ‘old-fashioned’ remedies to ‘beat-the-summer-heat, like dressing cool, sipping iced-tea and sitting outside in the shade are OK, and even enjoyable, but there’s more proactive and effective things you can do too. Here’s a few thoughts on that subject.

You’re probably aware that lowering your thermostat will reduce your energy consumption but were you aware of exactly how much? The difference is amazing. Studies show that reducing your thermostat setting by only 1 degree can mean a 3% to 5% reduction in your air-conditioning (AC) bill. That’s worth considering, right?

Studies show that most people can be comfortable at 78˚F. Try it and pay more attention to how it actually feels rather than how you think it feels based on the number itself. Use a timer to make sure the temperature setting comes down at night and/or after you leave for work (if nobody is home).
Insulation is relatively cheap but very effective and easy to put in properly. Pay special attention to doors, windows and ducting throughout your home. A little money invested here will pay big dividends…. usually paying for itself in a year or three depending on how much you use.
Use fans as much as you can. They come in many different types, capacities and costs and they can make a big difference in the comfort of your home. Studies show that a good attic fan can reduce home cooling cost by by to 30%. The only environment which is not optimal for a fan is areas where the humidity is very high… although lots of people in those areas still like to use fans.
Don’t cool areas of your home if you’re not there. If you’re not using a room, either close off the ventilation or close the doors. Just be careful where your master thermostat is because if it’s in the room that you closed off, it will think it needs to keep working and you’ll keep on wasting money.
Keep your AC equipment clean. The filters are the primary element to pay attention to here and luckily cleaning them is very easy to do for most types of AC systems. You can usually do it yourself.
For some types of systems you will need a professional to clean the condenser unit. Also be aware that refrigerant levels need to be maintained and if they fall below whatever the recommended minimum is, you could be wasting up to 20% of your energy.
There’s also a fire safety and health safety factor to have keep your AC units clean too. Dirty systems are more susceptible to fires plus they can be a source of harmful mold.
If you’ve got older appliances in your home, be aware that they might be emitting more heat than the newer appliance on the market now. Check that out because cumulatively it could could be costing you money because of the increased load on your AC system. This applies to the types of lighting you use too so check that out.
Next, did you know that the color of your house has a lot to do with its cooling cost? It does. Also, the types of siding or roofing you use could be a factor. Check that out and make changes if you should and can.
Also, be aware that those drapes and curtains that some homemakers fuss over also can have a lot to do with insulating your home, especially on the sunward side of the house. Keeping them closed does help conserve energy because it traps insulative air.
Next, it’s more of a long term tactic but you should use outside trees, large and/or small, to insulate your home from the sun. Trees not only can save you money on your AC bill but they also look nice, they give you a place to enjoy (i.e. under them) outside and they’re good for the environment in general…. and they’ll help reduce the load on any AC equipment that they shade too.
If and when you go shopping for any type of AC related equipment, understand and look for the “Energy Star” rating. It does mean something. Better ratings will save you more money in the long run. There’s also another type of rating called an EER rating and another one called a SEER rating. Find out what they are if they’re relevant to your planned purchase.
As you probably know, Freon refrigerant gas is no longer allowed to be used (for environmental reasons). Now what’s used is usually R-410. Just to be sure, check to be sure you’ve got R-410, or whatever is the proper specification, for any new equipment you buy. Whatever is recommended for your equipment, that’s what you need to use because using anything else could be dangerous, could damage your equipment and probably won’t work as well anyway.
If you need to buy a new airconditioner, be aware of the major types of units and what their pro’s and con’s are:

  1. Room or window units
  2. Central units
  3. High velocity units
  4. Heat pumps
  5. Evaporative coolers (an older type system but one which can work very well in some situations.
  6. Hydronic systems (for heating or cooling)

Choosing the proper type of AC system has significance beyond just your comfort. Home AC costs represent approximately 5% of total electricity used in the US today. Plus generating that energy accounts for about 140M tons of carbon dioxide into the air every year. Choose your AC units wisely.
Don’t think that ‘bigger is better’ in selecting a good AC unit. It’s not. Make a careful determination on what you need and buy quality. That’s all you need to do. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from dealers but just ask lots of questions. And certainly talk to your friends about their experiences with different kinds of units.

Once you do make a decision, and you’ve bought quality, be sure you have it installed and set-up by someone who’s qualified to do so. There actually are people who are ‘licensed’ to do such things. Don’t spend money on good equipment and then have it screwed up by trying to save a few bucks by having a non-professional or local part-timer install it.

Get it done right the first time also be sure you have a clear understanding of what your specific responsibilities are to maintain it. Maintenance contracts are a good idea if you can afford them and/or they are appropriate for your lifestyle. Also be aware that you should be able to get a reasonably accurate estimate, from the licensed equipment and/or installer of how much it will cost you to operate that particular unit in your home per year. It shouldn’t be a ‘wait and see’ deal, right?

September 07 2014

Condo Flood Recovery Checklist

Condominiums, AKA: “Condo’s”, are one of the most popular types of dwellings. People like condos because they’re usually good values on a per square foot basis, there are certain social advantages with the local condo community yet you still keep your privacy, there’s usually no upkeep because it’s all included in the price, they represent an investment, and they usually come with a lot of nice neighborhood amenities.

But there’s a dark side to condo’s too. What happens with something, some kind of accident, happens in your unit that ‘bleeds’ over to your neighbors? In a single,free-standing unit, if you have flood (for example), you pretty much handle it and suffer from it yourself. But if you have a water pipe bust in a condo unit and you don’t catch it very quickly, it’s pretty much inevitable that your condo neighbors are going to catch some of that water and suffer damage too.

So how can you protect yourself (if you can) from such possibilities?

The obvious answer is to not let such things happen. One could reasonably argue that the majority of home-systems accidents are because of lack of upkeep or maintenance. That’s much less likely in a condo situation for the simple reason that proper maintenance generally the rule rather than the exception. But what if something does happen. Is there any protection?

First of all, if you’re a condo dweller or unit owner you need to remember that there are two potential parties which could, in some circumstances be held liable for flooding originating in one condo and ‘spilling over’ to another condo unit. Those two parties are the condo association board members and/or the condo unit owner. In both cases, having the right insurance can protect the individual owner.

Another factor is that all plant, equipment and systems your you, the condo owner, originally purchased are usually covered by the insurance of the the builder. But…. any improvements which you make to the unit are your responsibility not only to operate but also to insure. This is something you’ll need to be very specific about when discussion condo insurance with your insurance agent and also with the person or entity from which you purchase your condo.

But, if you have determined that your condominium’s master policy does not cover damage that apparently started within your unit, your primary issue is still protecting your own interests and the answer is still…. adequate and proper insurance.

There’s no catastrophe, or type of flooding, likely to happen in a condo that couldn’t happen in a free-standing unit so insurance companies are certainly familiar with the issues involved. The only thing that’s different in condo insurance liability issue is determining who the responsible parties are. Usually the governing laws come from the state level and, again, your insurance companies take that into account.

Condo insurance is essentially the same as home-owners insurance. There is a statement of coverage, i.e. which of your belongings are covered and what property of an injured neighbor or damaged neighbor’s property is covered. There will usually be a deductible and/or some type of co-pay.

If and when something happens, you still need to immediately contact your insurance agent. An adjuster will come out, help you fill out any necessary paperwork, make his/her report, and submit the claim to the insurance company. Usually these adjusters are capable of making binding decisions on behalf of the company. That’s their job.

So… condo living is pretty much like any other type of living except that your neighbors live in much closer proximity so it puts a different priority on having proper insurance.