Archives for May 2011
There are now inexpensive thermostats available at the big box stores such as Home Depot that enable you to access your homes thermostat over the internet. Why is this valuable? Picture this scenerio; you rush to the airport and escape the cold Chicago winter for your Florida vacation home, life is good. Oops, you forgot to set your thermostat for the forecasted deep freeze coming later in the week. The sub zero tempertures will burst every pipe in your house. What can you do? Panic? No need. You simply fire up the old laptop and access your thermostat from 30,000 feet. The visual on your laptop screen for the 3M stat looks just like the thermostat hanging on your wall. Problem averted, vacation time! The uses for this technology is limitless. Vacation homes, rental property, assisting aged parents to name just a few. We’ve attached a link that has some good info. Check it out.
Photo courtesy of Google Images.
This is a device I recommend you try. It is easy to use and install. Watch video below for more information.
Have you ever wanted how much electricity your home is using at a given time?
Now you can! With the PowerCost Monitor™ you are able to see your whole home’s electricity use in real time and what that electricity use truly costs. With this information, you’ll be able to identify where to save electricity, and in turn save some cash.
ThePowerCost Monitor™ WiFi Edition brings the power of personal, real-time energy usage feedback to your computer. Once installed, the PowerCost Monitor™ WiFi Edition automatically sends detailed information about your power usage to your Microsoft Hohm™ energy insight portal or your Google PowerMeter portal. Once fully integrated the PowerCost Monitor™ WiFi Edition gives you highly personalized energy information, while showing you where and how you can save energy and money; providing your family with flexibility in monitoring and understanding how much energy your household is using and how much it is costing you.
Why we love this product: Just like the original, this version of the PowerCost Monitor™ provides excellent, real-time information on your home’s energy use. It is a great way to target where the most energy conservation needs to take place in your home.
Why you’ll love this product: This WiFi edition makes the PowerCost Monitor™ perfect for tracking your energy consumption patterns over time, so you can really identify which habits cost you the most on your energy bill. Plus, you won’t need an electrician to install this great tool. Simply install a sensor unit to the outside of your electric utility meter and you’re ready to start monitoring your energy!
About this product:
Independent studies have confirmed that most families using the PowerCost Monitor™ can save up to 18% in energy consumption and dollars. The benefits of the WiFi edition of the PowerCost Monitor™ are:
• Logging in to your Microsoft Hohm™ account or Google PowerMeter account allows you to view current and historical energy usage and energy costs
• Engagement with the website community to get energy saving tips
• Monitoring your home’s energy usage to learn how to reduce your carbon footprint
• Works with accessible wireless broadband on a PC desktop or laptop
• WiFi information is secure and protected
Your PowerCost Monitor™ WiFi Edition Includes:
- An easy to install Sensor Unit that you can simply attach to the outside of your electric utility meter. Once fastened in place, the sensor reads the amount of electricity the household is consuming in real-time and transmits the information using wireless technology to the Power Monitor, located inside the home.
- A WiFi Gateway, AC adapter, and a Mini USB enabling personal data feeds to your Microsoft Hohm™ or Google PowerMeter energy insight portal
- A wireless, durable, in home Power Monitor that resembles a small digital clock. With a range of up to 100ft from the sensor unit, you can place it just about anywhere in your home – in the kitchen, on your nightstand or conveniently placed on the wall in your hallway. Anytime of the day, you can look at your Power Monitor to see:
- How much electricity your home is using in real time
- How much money you are spending on electricity as you consume it
- The highest amount you spent on your energy usage in a 24 hour period
- The time, the temperature at meter location, signal strength and the battery strength of both the display and sensor units
- User manuals for easy installation
On the display you will be able to see:
- What your electricity is costing you at any moment in either kW or $
- Cumulative energy use which you can reset at any time
- Outside temperature
- Digital clock
- Status of the battery
- A usage emulator that advances at the same rate as your outside meter
- An appliance button that allows you to see kW or $ associated with a specific appliance or action
- You can predict a total usage for 30 days based on your current usage in either kW or $, which will help you estimate your utility bill in advance
- See your own energy consumption patterns
- Track and compare your home energy usage over time
- Compare your energy usage to others in your area through the Microsoft Hohm™ or Google PowerMeter energy insight portals, and connect with your community
- Uncover the connection between your energy habits and your power bill
- Compare energy usage and costs at different times of the day, week, month and year
- Track your energy savings as you make changes and use less energy
- Connect with others and learn while sharing your experience
Sensor Unit Power Requirements
- Normal Conditions: 2 Alkaline AA 1.5 volt (LR6 type)
- Extreme Cold Weather: 2 Lithium AA 1.5 volt (L91 type)
- Expected Battery Life: Up to 12 months
Display Unit Power Requirements
- Standard: 2 Alkaline AA 1.5 volt (LR6 type)
- Optional: 9.0v 300mA wall adapter
- Expected Battery Life: Up to 12 months
- Frequency: 433 Mhz
- Range: Approx. 30 meters (100 ft)
- Updates from Sensor to Display Unit: Approx. every 30 seconds
- +/- 5%
- Residential North American Electromechanical and Electronic Meters
- Not compatible with all net-metering meters
Power Monitor Wireless display unit:
- 7.2 inches tall
- 3.2 inches wide
- 1 inch deep
Picture courtsey of Google Images.
For the past few years we have been using these fantastic universal multi-tap dual run capacitors from AmRad Engineering , Palm Coast Florida. Simply put, just one Turbo 200 capacitor replaces more than 200 individual capacitors! Think of the inventory you can eliminate, it’s a no brainer. They also make a smaller verzion the Turbo 200 Mini and the Large Turbo 200X that goes up to 97.5 mfd! They also manufacture universal start capacitors as well as a regular line of single and dual capacitors. Our technicians and our customers love that they’re made right here in the USA! If all thats not enough to make you rush out and stock your trucks with them, they also come with an industry leading 5-year warranty. They’re not inexpensive but they are high quality parts. Who among us doesn’t mind being known for using top shelf american made parts. What’s it worth to not have a callback in less than a year to replace the cheapo two dollar Chinese capacitor you thought was a good deal. Even if you don’t use the Turbos try out their regular caps we have had great success with these quality parts. It’s pretty impressive when you can offer a five year parts warranty on your invoice. Check them out at this link.
Picture courtesy of Google Images.
Selecting a Contractor, Big or Small?
How do you decide whether to go with a company that claims to be the biggest in town or one where the owner personally worked up your estimate and will be on site as part of the install team putting in your new system? It bears mentioning that there are both good and bad seeds in large and small size companies so the onus is on you to do your due diligence. Where to look? One place you’re likely to get some mixed signals is sadly the manufacturer’s websites. Why? Many reasons, for example when you put your zip code in the mfg.’s dealer locater the companies that pop up first will not be the ones closest to you nor are they the best contractors but rather the ones who have paid a fee to be a preferred dealer. That’s not all bad and there is some value there, but use it only as one piece of information in selecting your contractor. Here’s another reason why. The name of the game is sales, manufacturers want to move boxes, they want to sell their equipment, they want it out of their warehouse and on the side of your house or up in your attic or down in your basement depending upon which part of the world you call home. Manufacturers look favorably upon contractors that move more of their boxes than those that don’t. The point here is bigger isn’t always better just like system sizing. The bigger companies are not necessarily better or worse. However many of the bigger companies faceless entities, divisions of large national corporations with no owner on site. Why does this matter to you? Suppose you have an ongoing problem after the installation that you cannot seem to get resolved. It can be extremely helpful to visit face to face with the person whose name and reputation is on the line and on the business. Although we personally prefer to use smaller “mom and pop” shops ourselves when we hire other trades you should still expect the smaller contractor to be professional, drive a neat lettered truck and be wearing a company uniform. If they show up in a mustang convertible wearing a tank top, shorts and sandals send ’em to the beach.
Heat loss/ Heat gain Calculations
How do you know you have the correct size furnace and air conditioner for your home? The answer is heat loss / heat gain calculations. When done correctly they are extremely valuable in determining the correct amount of Btu’s required to heat and cool your home. The key word is correctly. Conversely when done incorrectly all kinds of bad things can happen. The old garbage in garbage out cliché comes to mind here. There is so much information that needs to be collected and input that the room for error is huge. On the plus side these calculations are now done on computers increasing accuracy and saving time. Unfortunately there is no shortcut for collecting all the information from the house you want to run the load calculation on. Doors, windows, walls, ceilings and insulation must all be measured and condition noted. Ductwork must be measured and inspected for proper sizing, noting its condition and insulation r-value. The type of building and construction materials must all be known such as: amount and type of insulation in the walls and attic, type of windows and which direction they face, their frame material and number of panes, etc. There is more but you get the picture. The challenge is in older homes you don’t have access to a lot of this information, for example what type and r-value insulation is in the walls if any? So what happens is guesses are made; often uneducated guess’s made erroneously. An experienced estimator who has been in the industry for years and knows construction can usually get it right and do just fine. Problem is most estimators do not fit that profile. The point is I can take the same house and enter it into my computer load calculation software using different insulation values and construction materials to name just two variables and come out with two completely different size furnace and air conditioning systems.
Bottom line, never were the words Garbage in garbage out more fitting. . Your contractor should perform a heat gain / loss calculation and use it only as one of many pieces of information to properly size your equipment.
Installation, where the rubber meets the road…
Every company claims to have the best guys to install your new system. But how do you really know? This is a little tricky as you won’t see the install crew until they show up to install your system and even then you won’t know what kind of work they do. Your best defense here is a good offense and that means references, references and more references. When you ask for references get a variety, preferably from jobs completed in the last two to 18 month. This will also give you an idea on how your prospective company treats its customers after the sale. The most important day in the life of your system is the day and the way it’s installed. I’ve seen the best equipment fail prematurely due to poor installation practices and also observed lower end equipment exceed its design life due to a properly done installation.
Today most major Air Conditioning manufacturers offer a 10-year parts warranty if the equipment is registered online with them within X number of days of installation usually 45-60. You want to be sure this is done. Secondly you should be able to purchase (from your contractor) a 10-year labor contract offered by the manufacturer during the same time period. It’s generally a good idea if the price is right, usually 300-500 dollars depending on the equipment. Most Air Conditioning contractors offer a standard one year labor warranty with their installations, this can sometimes be negoiated up to two as part of the negoiation process with the salesman.
Get multiple bids from small and larger contractors
Go with a brand name manufacturer.
Stay away from contractors that sell private label equipment.
Use the manufacturers website to have some understanding of their products. But not necessarily to pick your contractor.
Ask friends and family for referrals.
Ask to see the results of the heat load calculation and receive an explanation as to how the contractor arrived at the size of the system they want to install.
Thoroughly check the references you receive from your contractor.
Get a ten year parts and labor warranty, someday you’ll be glad you did.
Lastly it should be common sense but it needs to be mentioned, use only licensed and insured contractors just ask and they should gladly show you their credentials.
HVAC Replacement Estimates
1. Ask for references from friends, neighbors and or co-workers. Do not buy from door to door solicitors, especially after a big storm has just blown through.
2. Lennox, Carrier, Trane/American Standard have Dealer locator’s on their web sites. Stick with the big three major brands. Their technical/engineering support and parts availability will pay off in the long run. Angie’s List and Service Magic are other sources.
3. Ask to see the Contractor’s license and insurance, requirements vary by state. If you live in a $750,000 house and the contractor only carries $500,000 worth of liability insurance, he is not the contractor for you. Some states you can look up complaints and current license info on line.
4. Ask for and call recent references. Be sure to ask enough questions to make sure they are real. What type equipment did you have installed, did they show up on time, did they clean up when job was completed, stick to original estimated cost, happy with service, anything wish they had done differently, anything not happy with or don’t like, etc.? You can’t compare prices, no two jobs or houses are the same.
5. Give the estimator / salesman time to do his job. He needs to measure your home, look in your attic and or basement. He also needs to ask you a series of questions about what you may want in a new system. Do you have someone in the home with allergies? Are you a light sleeper, and want a quiet system? Do you have fine antiques and want a humidifier? Are you moving soon, and want the cheapest thing you can your hands on? Do you have some rooms that are hot and others that are cold? Do you like to eat dinner in your recliner, and the vent is pointed right on your plate of food, cooling it off every night, you hate that? Guess what? The contractor’s not a mind reader. We can fix all these problems, but you have to tell us about them first. Allow two to three hours. Yes, I know if you get three bids that’s six to nine hours of your time and you have to hear the salesman crack the same joke about your Peyton Manning life size poster again and again.
6. Don’t fall for you have to buy tonight “discount”. Take your time. There is some reason they don’t want you to shop around. What are they afraid of?
7. Don’t fall for a huge discount. Dealers who advertise thousands off a system, they have just marked it up to mark it down. Same with a free furnace or other product giveaway. It is in the price somewhere. There are utility rebates and government tax credits on some systems. But even on manufactures rebates the dealers has to buy into those, so somehow some way the dealer has to figure that cost back into their price. Nothings free, you know that!
8. Get it in witting. I don’t mean on the back of a business card. Any and everything that is going to be done, list of what equipment you are getting, including warranties need to be written in a detailed proposal.
9. Ask lots and lots of questions. It is the contractor’s job to educate you. If that takes four hours and six, twelve phone calls or emails for you to feel comfortable then that’s what it takes. It’s your money and it’s a lot of money, it’s ok. Call, email, ask away, ask until you fully understand and feel good about what you are buying and getting!
10. When it comes time to compare your bids. Compare apples to apples. Same SEER rating and size, make sure they both include that extra duct run you wanted, or same type of upgraded thermostat or filter system. I recently bid against a contractor and when following up with the customer he told me I was a $1,000 higher another company. I asked if the other company had included the thermostat his wife liked so much or the Honeywell filter he wanted. He told me he wasn’t sure, he would call me back. About 30 minutes later he called me back. He said, “You got the job”, those *&#+%@ weren’t even going to replace my 20 year old furnace, can you believe that? I can’t imagine what that bid looked like, that this gentleman didn’t even have a clue as to what equipment was to be replaced or even what thermostat or filter he would be getting.
11. If the sales person suggests you skip the city permit or building inspector process beware. Or if they ask you to go pull the permit, my guess they have been banned in this city. Hugh red flag!
12. You need to know who is going to be installing your equipment. It probably will not be the clean cut, nicely dressed, well spoken, polite young man who sold you the system. Ask! Do you use sub contractors to install my equipment? Are they insured? Who will be supervising the crew? What type of background checks do you do on your installers? You do not want ex-convicts and drug attics around your family and valuables.
13. Any reputable company accepts checks, credit cards and offers financing options. They may offer a cash discount if you pay with a check or cashier’s check. If the company is asking for green money only, I am thinking something’s not on the up and up (IRS tax avoidance scam). Your payment check should be made out to the company not an individual employee’s name. Also, there is no reason for a big down payment. Your contractor should have accounts at all the supply houses to buy the necessary parts and equipment without needing you to pay for supplies upfront. Anything more than a $100 refundable deposit to show you are serious and hold your spot on the install board worries me about the financial reputation of this contractor. Are they on a cash only basis with their suppliers?
14. Lastly, your system should come with a 100% money back guarantee. If anytime within one year you are not completely satisfied they will come take the system out and refund 100% of your money. If there is anything you are unhappy with let the contractor know, most will bend over backwards to try to resolve any issues and make you happy.
85% of the contractors out there are good decent hard working people, 5% are stupid, and 5% are lazy. I hope I have done a good job of warning you about the other 5% that I wish it were legal for me to run over with my car.
Pictures courtsey of Google Images.
Insider Information / Trade Secrets:
In the first of this two part piece we’re going to talk strictly about residential single family homes and what to look for when you need or want to replace your current heating and cooling system.
Get Multiple Bids
To jump right in, I’ll take you with me inside an elite residential replacement sales class I attended a few years ago. The purpose in this particular segment of the class was to give salesman ( aka comfort consultants) comebacks to homeowners’ objections to buying a new air conditioning system from them. In this hypothetical role playing scenario the homeowners objection to buying tonight was that they wanted to get “other” bids to be sure they were getting a good deal. Sound reasonable? Not to a commisioned salesman. Comfort consultants are trained to do a one call close, or in other words get the signed sales contract on the spot. They don’t want to call you back in a few days, they want you in thier rearview mirror. Time is money, they want to be on a new lead in two days not the same one.
Back to the Classroom
The sales trainers comeback was this: “Mr. homeowner I think we can both agree that if you get three bids the only thing you’ll get is three different prices, you won’t know anymore then than you know right now, and you’ll be out all that time and I appreciate how valuable your time is so tell me what I need to do to earn your business tonight?” The truth of this statement is, yes you will get three different prices, but the fallacy is saying you won’t learn anything. The fact is you will learn all you need to know by “interviewing” contractors as they are trying to sell you. Get five bids if that’s what you need to feel comfortable.
Go With One of The Big Three Manufacturers
Lennox, Carrier, Trane or American Standard. (Am.Std. and Trane are the same company.) There are other other big name hvac manufacturers that make good equipment but we have had the best luck with the above named companies. There are sales schools that teach hvac salesman to sell their company not a specific brand of equipment. The sales trainers claim the majority of homeowners have no idea what brand of equipment they have so sell them whatever YOU want. I say that’s a bunch of rubbish! The comfort consultants reason for being is to educate the homeowner with their knowledge of the industry. That at least should be your perspective, isn’t that why they’re in your home in the first place because you as a homeowner are not an air conditioning professional, it’s not your occupation, so you call a professional to look out for your best interests so you can make an educated decision on which brand, model and size system to purchase, not so a salesman can get a couple of extra commission points for selling you old inventory that’s been sitting in his companies warehouse. Every salesman will claim his company sells the best equipment, or let’s say he should claim. If by chance you find yourself sitting across the kitchen table from a salesman who confesses his company sells anything but the best, he may well be telling the truth. Conversation over, I’d pass on this outfit.
Don’t Buy a Contractor’s Private Label Equipment
Some contractors may even pitch you their own “private label equipment”. Watch out for these rascals. What this means is they’ve negotiated with a hungry, aggressive, generally lower end air conditioning manufacturer to buy a large number of units and in exchange have their own personalized nameplate attached for a fee. A few slick hvac companies and contractor consulting groups have promoted and practice this strategy. Our advice again is stick with the name brands and don’t get fooled by this ruse which is merely another trick to keep homeowners from shopping apples to apples. This is NOT high end equipment.
Don’t Buy Something You Don’t Understand
Thermostats: Make sure you feel completely comfortable with its operation. Again look for names you know. Honeywell makes some of the best on the market today. They’re easy to install, program and operate. They also make thermostats for some hvac equipment manufacturers who in turn put their name on them. How’s that for validation?
AirFilters / Cleaners: On the filter side ask the salesman if you will be able to purchase the filters from the big box stores or online. What you don’t want is a one off filter that you’ll have a hard time finding ( if at all) or be locked into buying from your installing contractor every time you need an air filter. Get the model number to the filter in writing on the sales contract and Google it.
U.V. or Ultra Violet Germicidal Lights: These lights have been built in literally hundreds of designs and configurations over the years most require the bulbs to be replaced annually. Here lies the problem, as these companies and designs come and go the replacement bulbs become obsolete, if you can’t replace the bulbs the unit can’t do its job and is junk. The only light I would buy would be one specifically made by or for the equipment manufacturer you’re buying. For example you purchase a Lennox system use their light.
Keep it simple and ask questions until you understand exactly what it is your buying.
That’s it for now but stay tuned for part two where we discuss heat gain/loss calculations as well as using contractor supplied references to your advantage and finally what to look for and expect on the day of installation. Stay cool out there…or warm depending where and when you read this.
So you just went to the big box home improvement store, bought a new programmable thermostat, installed it yourself. Only had to call the help line once, used less swear words than the kids swing set project and you can’t wait to see your next electric bill. Good Job! Helping to save the environment.
But wait! Don’t break the law. You can’t just throw your old mercury-containing thermostat in the trash or recycle bin. Even if it is not illegal in your state, please be environmentally responsible. When these thermostats are dumped into landfills the mercury glass bulbs become broken. Mercury then seeps into the ground water contaminating the underground aquifers which flow to creeks, rivers, and lakes and even sometimes become drinking water causing health problems for humans, fish and other wildlife.
To find a drop off site in the U.S.
To find a drop off site in Canada
Pictures courtsey of Google Images.