A Closer Look At Programmable Thermostats

So you’re in the market for a programmable thermostat. Where to start?

The obvious answer is the internet. We’ll get there.

But first, if you live in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas or surrounding cities . . .

  • Call your local heating, ventilation, and air conditioning service or repair company. Ask questions — either during a winter or summer checkup — or just ask to talk with the owner, the head technician, anybody who can offer you insight and opinion. You’d be surprised how many people don’t talk with service and repair techs when they make house calls. These guys are great sources of information. They may not know everything about specific brands, but they can tell you what to look for, what brands they service or repair that fail, and what brands they’d recommend based on real experience.
  • Visit your local home improvement center like Lowe’s or Home Depot. They’re everywhere in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas. Browse the home heating and cooling section, look at the thermometers in stock, read the back of the box, ask salesmen questions. They probably won’t know as much as an HVAC service or repair tech, but they should get you started with specific brands. What are people buying? Better yet, what are people returning? Are thermostats easy to install? Heck, open the box and read the instructions.

Now, to the internet.

Search for programmable thermostats, or programmable thermostat reviews, or best programmable thermostats. Visit Amazon and read customer reviews. Follow links to popular consumer sites, blogs and review sites. Stop by your virtual Lowe’s and Home Depot and see what they have to say.

Messy, isn’t it? There’s a ton of information. So let’s whittle it down.

Types of Thermostats

  • WiFi or smart thermostats. These are relatively new and are covered in our next post.
  • Touch Screen. Big, fancy displays, easy to program, can be more expensive.
  • Programmable. This is what we are concentrating on today. They are readily available at Lowe’s, Home Depot, and top hardware stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, and you most likely will not need a service or repair tech to install.
  • Non-programmable. We’re not interested in these.

Programmable Options that Fit Lifestyles

There are three basic types:

  • 7-day: These are best if your daily schedule changes frequently. The kids may be home earlier some days more than others. Set different programs for different days.
  • 5-2 programming: Set the same schedule for weekdays, when you are away, and weekends, when you are home more often.
  • 5-1-1 programming: Set a standard program during the week, with separate schedules for Saturday and Sunday. Great for families with structured weekends.

These range in price, of course, but expect to pay at least $100 for a good, middle-of-the-line model from reputable manufacturers like Honeywell or Lux. These will have more features and functions that will help you program, change schedules, and save energy and money.

HVAC manufacturers like Lennox, Carrier, and Trane also brand their line of thermostats, but these may not be readily available in home improvement stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas. Call your HVAC service or repair company for models you cannot find locally.

Programmable Features To Consider:

  • Touch screen controls: We’re all getting better using small displays — think smart phones — so using a touch screen will be familiar. The key here is the interface. Is it easy to use? Can you remember how to program it or make changes? These range from black-and-white (or gray) to full color displays. Look for the right fit of features and functions for you. In the technology world, it’s easy to overbuy and never use the full capacity of what we purchase, wasting money in the long run.
  • Selectable program periods: We’ll get to this next.
  • Backlit displays: Handy in low-light.
  • Indicator lights: Helpful, if accurate. Some alert you to the furnace needing a new filter (based on time elapsed, not the actual condition or performance of the filter).
  • Battery operation and backup: Essential.
  • Remote control: Radio frequency control from anywhere in the house.
  • Programming lock: Great if you don’t want the kids to change the temperature inside, messing up program schedules and anticipated energy and cost savings.
  • Vacation mode: Set when you leave the house for an extended period of time, then push a button to revert back to scheduled settings. WiFi thermostats are really making impressive improvements here.

Setting Temperatures

This is what it’s all about. It’s why you’ve chosen a programmable model or to upgrade an existing, older thermostat. If you use the thermostat’s features wisely and consistently, you will see the most energy savings monthly.

Home comfort, of course, is left up to you and your spouse — not the kids. But let’s put aside preferences for a moment and establish an energy and cost-savings baseline.

According to Energy.gov, if you turn down the thermostat during the winter (or turn it up during the summer) seven to 10 degrees for eight hours a day your energy bills can be reduced by up to 10 percent annually. If you turn the thermostat down 15 degrees for eight hours, you can hit 15 percent savings. It’s usually 1 percent for each degree lowered for at least eight hours.

A good starting point in the winter for Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas residents is 68-70.

Common Misconception

Before we get to temperature strategy, let’s examine a common heating misconception. Homeowners think that a furnace works harder than normal to warm living areas after the thermostat has been lowered, resulting in little or no savings. Studies have shown that energy used to reheat the house is less than that used to maintain temperatures throughout the day at higher settings.

As soon as the temperature drops below it’s setting, it will lose energy to the surrounding environment more slowly. The lower the temperature, the slower the heat loss. So the longer the home remains at a lower temperature, the more energy you save.

Determining Programmable Strategy

Get out a piece of paper and pencil. Answer these questions:

  • What are your heating and cooling goals? Do you want to save money? Do you want a more sustainable lifestyle and use less energy?
  • What are your behaviors? Since it’s winter, let’s stick with heating. How warm do you — your wife, kids — like it in the winter? Toasty? Cool enough to wear sweats and use a blanket in a chair while watching TV?
  • What are the household activities? What are your and your family’s schedules? When are you home? When are you gone? Do you come and go? Do schedules change? Are their pets in the home? Does anybody — like a grandparent or a small child — require special consideration?

Now that you have some idea of your behaviors and activities, time to start programming. We’ll use 5-2 thermostats as an example; they allow you to program four basic times for weekday and weekend schedules.

Wake-up — 7 a.m.

Nobody likes getting out of a warm bed. Consider programming the thermostat to raise the temperature to 66, 68, or 70 degrees 30 minutes before getting out of bed. This allows the furnace time to turn on and start warming the living area prior to you getting up.

Leave/Day: 9 a.m.

Program the thermostat to drop again an hour or two after waking up. If the home is vacant a bulk of the day, consider dropping the temperature six to eight degrees for as long as you can — four, six, even eight hours. More if you can. That means 68/70 becomes 60/62.

Return: 4 p.m. (if kids are home), 7 p.m. (if it’s just you/spouse)

Turn the thermostat up 30 minutes prior to your expected return. If you prefer a toasty evening cooking, watching TV, entertaining, consider bumping the temperature up to 70, 72 (or more) for the hours before going to bed. Those six hours use a bit more energy but for far less time.

Bedtime: 11 p.m.

Lower the thermostat 30 minutes before you anticipate going to bed. Since you will be sleeping under warm blankets and, maybe wearing warm night clothing, consider that six, eight, 10+ degree temperature drop for at least six hours. Keep a robe or slippers bedside if you need to get up during the night.

Hold

Programmable thermostats offer a hold feature, which lets you override the current program. Say you’re unexpectedly home for a few hours during the day, or you decide to work from home and the thermostat is at 60 degrees. The hold feature allows you to raise the temperature back to 68 for a few hours (you can determine this) before resuming the normal schedule.

A word of warning: Use the Hold feature sparingly. Overuse can mess up anticipated energy and cost savings that have been carefully crafted into a weekly schedule.

With awareness and a little bit of effort, using a programmable thermostat can help you easily squeeze eight to 10, even 12 to 14, hours a day at lower temperatures to save energy and money. It’s a lot easier here, in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, than it is in the Northeast or Upper Midwest.

In the Next Post

Life is unpredictable and families are coming and going at all times of the day. Programming the thermostat isn’t so easy to meet energy and cost-savings goals. Enter the WiFi “smart thermostat.”

Lower Your Energy Bills with a Programmable or Smart Thermostat

Thermostats are not sexy. They’re nondescript boxes mounted to a wall inside your home or business in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding cities that no one pays attention to unless Mom is too hot, Dad is too cold, or you need to have your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system serviced or repaired.

And yet, the thermostat may be the most important device in your home. A properly set, actively maintained thermostat is the one contraption that can save 20 percent each month on your energy bills while, at the same time, conserving energy and promoting a more sustainable lifestyle.

But the technology most homeowners are focused on are fast internet connections and sexy devices like high-def TVs, Blu-ray players, smart phones, tablet computers, and laptops that entertain or allow you to be productive at home, away from work. No one asks for a new thermostat for Christmas.
In the first of a multi-part post, we examine the under-appreciated thermostat. We will begin with the programmable thermostat, then look at manufacturers and models available to homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and the surrounding area, and at strategies to get the most out of your investment.

Lastly, we’ll look at new “smart thermostats” that are also available locally to homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, as well via the internet. These are more costly and complex options.

The Thermostat

A thermostat is simply a temperature-sensitive switch that controls an HVAC system, including a furnace. When the temperature inside the home drops below or rises above the thermostat setting, the internal switch turns “on” and the furnace or AC runs to warm or cool the house to your desired setting.

In older homes like ones found in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, thermostats are small plastic boxes mounted to a wall with two pegs sticking out of the top, allowing the homeowner to adjust the temperature up or down by simply moving the pegs. These devices require you to manually move the pegs to set warmer or cooler temperatures at that exact moment. No automatic adjustments are made while you’re at work or asleep.

In today’s technology-driven world, these basic thermostats are inconvenient, inefficient, and are a missed opportunity to use technology to conserve energy and save money.

Enter the Programmable Thermostat

The programmable thermostat is a device that regulates a home’s temperature based on different settings you specify for particular times of the day. It has been in the home for decades but has largely been ignored. Once set up (assuming it’s even set up properly) it’s forgotten.

But, due to many technology advancements over the past 10 years — and due to rising energy costs and the desire to use less energy — significant changes have been made that warrant homeowners to consider:

  • replacing non-programmable thermostats with programmable devices
  • replacing older-model programmable thermostats with newer models that come with improved features and functions that help regulate your home’s energy use and for homeowners to save money
  • upgrading to internet-connected, advanced “smart thermostats” when purchasing a new HVAC system

Why Use a Programmable Thermostat?

If you live in an older home in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas and the surrounding area — or if you have an aging programmable model with limited features and functions — it will certainly behoove you to upgrade to a current programmable thermostat for these benefits:

  • Comfort you can depend on. ENERGY STAR-rated thermostats are accurate within +/- 2 degrees and are manufactured by well-known and trusted brands like Honeywell.
  • Money savings. Just using pre-programmed settings ENERGY STAR thermostats can save you at least $100 a year in energy costs.
  • Features, ease of use. Programmable thermostats now include backlit keypads, making it easier to program or view in low-light situations, touch pad screen programming, even voice commands.
  • Easy programming. Programmable thermostats store and repeat multiple daily settings (four or more settings) with a manual override (hold) that will not affect the rest of the daily or weekly program. This is particularly important to homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas because weather in North Texas can be so unpredictable.

Before Choosing a Programmable Thermostat

If you are updating an HVAC system, a programmable thermostat is included with your purchase, but this is usually a low-end model. At the time of the sale or installation ask the salesman or service tech what additional options are available — from more advanced programmable models to new “smart thermostats.”

If you choose to upgrade an existing programmable thermostat, there are many variables at play, including the age, size, and infrastructure of your HVAC system, including electrical concerns.

It’s best to ask a service tech or repairman what your options are and how to proceed, which can be done at the time of a winter or summer service checkup. The internet is full of information, options, brands, models, and how to instructions, but how does it all apply to you and your unique situation?

Regardless if you are putting in a new HVAC system or just upgrading to a better programmable thermostat, you will want to ask the service tech or salesman questions like these:

  • Does the thermostat and its clock draw power from the system’s low-voltage electrical control circuitry instead of a battery? If so, is the clock disrupted when the furnace cycles on or off or power to the home is interrupted? Thermostats with battery back-up is preferred by homeowners.
  • Is the thermostat compatible with the electrical wiring found in the current unit? If not, can the HVAC company and service tech help with electrical issues or will an electrician be needed?
  • Can you install it yourself?
  • Are the programming instructions for the model you are considering easy to use and remember?

While those are “techy” questions, there is another set of questions you should ask yourself that will inform and impact your decision to purchase a particular brand or model of programmable thermostat. These include:

  • What is everybody’s heating and cooling needs in the home?
  • What is everybody’s schedule for waking up, getting ready for work, who is home during the day (if anybody), and going to bed?
  • Where are activities most concentrated in the home and during what times?
  • What is your energy budget and savings (or sustainable) goals for the winter, spring, summer, and fall?

In the Next Post
We will take a look at manufacturers and models of programmable thermostats in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding areas in addition to strategies of how to program for best results.

Energy Saving Winterizing Tips | Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas

In two previous posts we looked at easy, low-cost and more difficult, time-consuming, and somewhat costly winterizing tips and tricks to save energy costs in your homes in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas and surrounding cities.

Today we provide an at-a-glance list of things – some fun, some serious – you can do by location in and around the home, which can save on service and repair calls.

Obviously, a great place to start is having a winter service checkup of your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. In lieu of a service call, you can do these things in and around the home.

  • Around Windows and Doors
  • Caulk inside and around window and door trim, sealing where the frame meets the wall or window woodwork joints.
  • If windows will be opened, use weatherstripping or temporary flexible rope caulk.
  • Weatherstrip exterior doors, including doors leading from attached garages into the home and porches.
  • Add a door sweep or Draft Snake to each exterior door.
  • Replace broken glass.
  • Re-putty loose panes.
  • Replaced aged or cracked windows, especially if single-paned.
  • Install storm doors and windows.
  • If your home has sliding glass doors, examine the bottom seal for cold-air leaks.

Consider having an in-home service assessment from a home store or a windows and doors specialty company.

In Living Areas

If you don’t use the fireplace, plug the flue with an inflatable plug; if used, makes sure damper is closed tightly. These can be purchased at home stores or fireplace stores in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding cities.

  • Use paintable (or colored) caulks around the bath and kitchen cabinets on exteriors walls.
  • Use foam-rubber gaskets behind electrical outlets and switch trim plates on exterior walls.
  • Use non-vinyl “blackout curtains” to block cold.
  • Reverse the direction of the ceiling fans.
  • Move furniture off return vents.
  • Use throw rugs on bare floors.
  • Buy organic, thermal long johns for everybody in the family.
  • Wear layers of organic, breathe-able, warm, comfortable clothing with socks and slippers.
  • Here’s an old remedy: put ground cayenne or ginger in your socks (and mittens while outside) for a little added warmth.
  • Another old remedy: Wrap hot baked potatoes in flannel and place in bed 15 minutes before you get in. Your bed will be warm – and potatoes will be ready for breakfast hash browns.
  • Open curtain and shutters to let the sun in during the day, close at night to keep cold out.
  • If you like using the fireplace, consider installing an insert that will direct the heat into the home instead of sending it up the chimney. These can be purchased at home and fireplace stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding cities. In-home inspections and service calls are available from some vendors.
  • If you spend more time in one or two rooms, consider purchasing space heaters to heat small areas while turning down the heat for the home.
  • Keep all closet doors closed, unless they contain water pipes. No need to heat unused portions of the home.
  • Replace caulking around any tubs and showers.
  • Use the oven for baking during colder hours to help heat the home.

Around the Exterior

  • Caulk or re-caulk around all penetrations where lines enter the home – electrical, phone, TV, cable, technology, gas, dryer vents, water lines. Stuff fiberglass insulation in larger gaps before caulking.
  • Caulk or re-caulk around all windows and door frames, reducing air infiltration, even rain.
  • Check dryer exhaust vent hoods. If it’s missing a flapper or doesn’t easily close, replace with a tight-fitting model. A dryer vent seals to prevent cold air from returning. There are also attachments to vent your dryer inside your home so you don’t waste heat and humidity for non-gas-powered machines. These can be purchased at home and appliance stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding cities.
  • Remove window air conditioners during the cold months, or cover them tightly.
  • Caulk cracks in overhangs of cantilevered bays and chimney chases.
  • Plant evergreens around the home; they are excellent wind barriers. A wind break can save up to 30 percent in energy costs.
  • Stop by the local feed store and buy straw bales to place around the foundation, especially if you have pier and beam.
  • Cover your water heater (if in garage) with an insulating blanket. Do not do if it’s gas-powered.
  • For brick homes, check the mortar. It may need repair.
  • Seal any foundation cracks.
  • Close off rooms not in use and shut off vents.
  • Replace worn or missing shingles.

Consider having an at-home service inspection and evaluation from a foundation company in the Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas areas.

In the Attic

  • Seal all holes between the heated space and the attic.
  • Weatherstrip and insulate the attic access door.
  • Seal around plumbing vents in the attic floor and in the roof.
  • If pre-1950s home, seal top of interior walls anywhere you can peer down into the wall cavity, using strips of rigid insulation with edges sealed with silicone caulk.
  • Throw old styrofoam into the attic. Spread old coolers and packing materials around the attic and let them insulate.

If the home has folding attic stairs, insulate the door with a cover of some sort.
Consider using a professional HVAC service in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding areas to make adjustments and repairs as needed, particularly if they are in an area you don’t want to mess with.

Save Money on Energy Bills by Winterizing Your Home

There are dozens of tips and tricks on the Internet to help you winterize your home and save money on heating bills. But these are mostly scattered throughout the blogosphere in random lists and can be confusing.

In an effort to help homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas and surrounding communities save money this winter we’ve collected and organized the best tips and tricks into two posts.

Today’s second post is dedicated to things you can do that takes a little bit of effort, time and/or money to accomplish.

Replace Worn Caulk and Weatherstripping

Depending on the age of the home, leaks can be a big drain on energy efficiency. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates energy leaks can impact home energy bills by 5 to 30 percent a year.

Obvious spots for energy leaks are under doors and around windows. And, if you happen to have one, chimneys.

It’s best to give your home a once-over, examining all caulking and weatherstripping, particularly where two different building materials meet. Examine along all window frames, where exterior doors meet frames, and anywhere outside meets inside. Oftentimes caulking has shrunk and cracked with age, reducing its efficiency. Weatherstipping ages, tears, becomes frayed, and the sneal is no longer snug.

There are a few simple tests to look for leaks. One is using an insense stick. Move a lit stick along the walls and windows. Where smoke wavers, air is leaking in. Another not-as-convenient method is having someone on the outside use a blow dryer around each window while you hold a lit candle inside. If the flame flickers or even extinguishes, caulk or weatherstrip around the frame.

Depending on the size of the home, it will take a while for the inspection but service and repair is a moderate cost. Basic caulk ranges from $6 per single tube to $20 for a four pack at the big box home stores in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding communities in North Texas. Weatherstripping also ranges from $6 to $20, depending on amount and manufacturer.

Use Plastic Sheeting

During your once-over inspection, make note of the offending areas for service and repair. For the worst offenders, consider installing plastic sheeting for added protection.

Clear plastic sheeting ranges in thickness from 2-mil to 6-mil. Use 6-mil. The home and hardware stores in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and neighboring cities carry a variety of sheeting, ranging from $25 for a 25-foot roll to $100 for a 100-foot roll.

How you attach the sheeting to the window frame is up to you. Use a staple gun, pieces of duct tape, even velcro strips. The goal is to make a reasonably tight seal with minimal impact to the frame.

Insulate Pipes

As you are doing the once-over service inspection, don’t forget the check out the pipes. If they are warm to the touch, they’ve a good candidate for insulation. Use the same touch test to see if the electric (not gas-powered) water heater needs insulation as well.

Choose the insulation with the highest R value, a measure of its heat-blocking. Pipe insulation is often R-3 to R-7, with the higher number providing better protection. This type of insulation, which is “pre-slit” to fit around pipes, is cheap and easy to work with. Just measure and cut with a utility knife. The insulation runs between $2 and $10 at most home and hardware stores in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding communities.

Add Insulation

Speaking of insulation, consider adding some to your attic and, if you have an older home, to the inside walls.

This requires a bit more preparation and understanding than giving your home the once-over for leaks and examining caulk and weatherstripping. If you feel your home is under-insulated – and many are as builders spec to code, not beyond – you may want to call the big home stores or specialty companies in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and neighboring cities for an often-free inspection and service call. They should give you an honest assessment and plan of attack.

Many companies offer “blow-in” insulation, which is less muss and fuss for the homeowner but can be a bit more expensive, depending on the quality of the material used. Ask the home-visit inspector to give you a quote for “blow-in” insulation.

If you want to do it yourself, this type of insulation also uses an R-rating – R-30 to R-38 are commonly found at home stores in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding areas. Rolls range from $50 to $100, depending on quality and amount. Just be careful handling and installing the insulation as it can be a health hazard.

Also, there may be tax credits available. The federal government will reimburse you for 30 percent of the cost, up to $1,500, for highly efficient insulation.

Seal Ducts

This is best accomplished during your start-of-winter service inspection. Make sure the technician examines the duct seals. He will be looking for leaks and sealing the ducts, not cleaning them. There are duct-cleaning services, but unless your home has air quality problems, most don’t need ducts cleaned.

The American Solar Energy Society estimates properly sealed ducts can save homeowners up to $140 annually as improve air quality with better protection against mold and dust.

Install Storm Doors and Windows

This is a biggie in terms of cost, time, and experience needed for installation. But installing a storm door, as one option, can increase energy efficiency by 45 percent by sealing drafts and reducing air flow.

Depending on the age of the home, you may prefer to replace worn doors and windows, certainly a costly option but one that will pay off in energy savings and aesthetics. Energy-saving technology continues to improve and there are many more options for homeowners today than even five years ago. We’ll look at solar screens and energy tech in future posts.

Home stores and door and window specialty companies throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, have hundreds of options to choose from, will send service technicians to the home for assessments and installation quotes, if desired.

Tax credits may be available for Energy Star-certified products.

Get Your HVAC System Ready with these Winter Energy Saving Tips

There are dozens of tips and tricks on the Internet to help you winterize your home and save money on heating bills. But these are mostly scattered throughout the blogosphere in random lists and can be confusing.

In an effort to help homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas and surrounding communities save money this winter we’ve collected and organized the best tips and tricks into two posts.

Today’s is dedicated to things you can do with little effort and are very low cost. A future post will look at what you can do that takes more effort and will cost more out-of-pocket.

Get Your HVAC Serviced and Winterized

We’ve already covered why you would have your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) serviced at the start of the winter and what this actually entails. But it is worth repeating, especially here in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas and surrounding cities. Our winters are so unpredictable, they come on the heels of usually brutally-hot winters, and our HVAC systems are taxed to the max.

A low-cost (sometimes as little as $65) service inspection will review the condition of the HVAC equipment, a technician will make needed adjustments and recommend any additional service or repair. A little prevention can save big bucks as the winter progresses.

Use Draft Snakes!

U.S. Department of Energy says drafts waste 5 to 30 percent of energy use. A super-simple solution is to roll up an old, thick cotton towel and place under a drafty door.

A slightly more elegant and nostalgic solution is to bring back the Depression-era Draft Snake, an interesting piece of functional Americana more popular in the North than in a warmer region like Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding cities. Even so, it gets cold and drafty during the winter here too.

You can buy non-personable, get-the-job done draft snakes, or draught excluders as they are also known, from Amazon or a local DIY box or hardware store throughout North Texas.

Or, for the more crafty types, you can make personable, often funny Draft Snakes out of scraps of fabric, filled with sand or kitty liter for heft, with either hot glue or some simple sewing. Add googly eyes for a touch of humor. Head over to Pinterest for loads of clever ideas or Good Housekeeping.

Use Plastic or Bubble Wrap to Cover Drafty Windows

Use heavy-duty, clear plastic on the window frame or tape it to the inside of a window frame to help reduce cold infiltration. If sealed tightly, vision will not be hindered and you won’t even know there’s plastic over the window.

A less aesthetic option is to cover your windows in bubble wrap. It may look odd but light will still come through and cold drafts kept out.

Heavy, clear plastic or bubble wrap is available in bulk from big box stores, hardware stores, or even office supply stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas.

Change Furnace Filters

We’ve already discussed the importance of changing furnace filters, but it’s worth repeating. Dirty air filters restrict airflow, increase energy demand, and cost you money. A new filter costs $10-$50. Replacing a filter can be done by you or during a winter-prep service call.

If you have a hard time remembering to buy new filters, consider purchasing a permanent HEPA filter, but it can be costly (up to and beyond $1,000 for some).

Opinions differ over the value of permanent vs. disposable air filters. Some say disposables trap only 10 to 40 percent of debris. Permanent, electrostatic HEPA filters trap almost 90 percent and are better at dealing with bacteria, viruses, pollen, and mold. Avoid buying the HEPA-like filters as they are often marketing slight-of-hand and less effective. Even if you splurge on a permanent filter, remember to clean according to manufacturer recommendations.

Reverse Ceiling Fans

Who remembers to reverse ceiling fans? Few people. But most ceiling fans come with a little black switch on the housing that reverses the blades into a clockwise rotation that pushes the warm air (warm air rises) back into the living area. Believe it or not, reversing ceiling fans can cut heating costs by as much as 10 percent. (And for those wondering: counterclockwise rotation produces cooling breezes.)

Use the Thermostat

Here’s an interesting energy stat: For every degree lowered during the cool months, you’ll save between 1 and 3 percent on your heating bill. This degree (pardon the pun) management is made easier with a programmable thermostat. We will look at thermostats in depth in future posts.

For now, programmable thermostats are readily available throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and neighboring communities for as little as $50. They can be installed a technician during a service call, if needed.

A family can save as much as $180 a year with a programmable thermostat, not bad considering households spend 50 to 70 percent of their energy budgets on heating and cooling. If you turn the thermostat down 10 to 15 degrees for eight hours while you sleep under warm blankets, you can save around 10 percent on heating bills.

Use a Space Heater. But . . .

When you knock degrees off the thermostat, of course the living area will feel cooler. A winter myth is that portable space heaters are energy hogs. They can be an energy-efficient option when used to heat only a small area, like next to a favorite chair while watching TV or in a small room. DO be aware of safety when using space heaters: NEVER use with an extension cord, clear a 3-foot clearance zone around the heater, and don’t forget to turn it off.

Avoid Using Wood-burning or Gas Fireplaces

These are popular not only in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas but, really, everywhere except maybe the desert. Who doesn’t like the glow and snap-crackle-pop of a fire in the fireplace? Fireplaces, though, are primarily “entertainment-oriented” and “aesthetic” appliances and not designed to heat large areas.

Fireplaces can be incredibly energy inefficient if not properly monitored or serviced. Make sure the damper is closed snuggly and no cold-air drafts sneak into the home when not in use. It’s easy to light a fire, let it burn out, and forget to close the damper.

Turn Down Water Heater

This is one you never think about. Conventional water heaters are set at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but most households only need a setting of 120 degrees to be comfortable. Lower by 20 degrees and save 6 to 10 percent on energy bills.

Our Next Post

The above were some best of, basic tips and tricks to winterize your home to save money during the winter. Next we will look at some things that you can do that will require either a bit more effort or money to accomplish, including finding and sealing leaks, caulking and weatherstripping, and adding insulation.

Winter HVAC System Tune Up Service

winter-hvac-tune-up-service-dallas-fort-worth-arlington

For most of us checking anything mechanical isn’t any fun. That’s why we take our cars in for 60,000- and 100,000-mile checkups. The pros have the right equipment and the know-how. We don’t.

The same can be said for our homes here in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and North Texas. While checking the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system may be a tad easier than servicing our vehicles, it’s actually quite difficult.

The esteemed publication This Old House rates doing a fall furnace maintenance as “difficulty: hard,” time-consuming (at least three hours required), but low cost (between $30-$50). For a few more bucks (many winter service and repair checkups start about $65), the job is done quickly, efficiently, effectively, and you don’t get your hands dirty.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about a gas system or an oil-burning forced-air furnace. You don’t need to look for carbon soot, water vapor, carbon dioxide, cracks, inefficiencies, or anything else.

Still not convinced? Check out the Maintenance Checklist from Energy Star. Electrical connections. Moving parts. Gas. Burners. Heat exchangers. Yikes!

This is why it’s best, and surprisingly cost effective, to schedule annual before-winter-arrives and before-summer-gets-here checkups to make sure that your HVAC system is performing efficiently, as expected, and not costing you any more money than necessary.

While winter service and repair checkups vary according to companies throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and neighboring communities, the following items are what’s essentially done for low cost and no hassle.

Start with the Basics: Examine (and replace) the Air Filter

You certainly can do this. But you’d be amazed at the number of people who simply forget. Or, in some cases, don’t want to climb into the attic to change the filter(s) in the heat exchanger(s).

Some systems require a filter change every three months. Some experts recommend a filter change every month in the winter. New units may require a change once a year. No matter the frequency, people usually forget to swap a dirty filter with a clean one on a regular basis, which can impact performance and clean air quality.

An advantage of scheduling an annual winter HVAC checkup in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas and the surrounding area is talking to the technician. Yes, you can swap the filter yourself. But while the tech is in your home, ask questions, look at the existing filter’s condition together. How dirty is it? When should you change it? Is monthly change really needed or just twice a year? Discuss your home’s unique conditions: Do you have pets? Does anybody smoke? How’s the quality of air? Take advantage of the tech’s knowledge and advice.

And here’s another helpful hint: Write down the size and manufacturer of the air filter. Keep it in a place that’s convenient, like the side of the refrigerator. Better yet, start a “home maintenance” note in your smartphone or take a snapshot of the filter and leave it in the Camera Roll. That way, when you’re at Home Depot and Lowe’s in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas and surrounding cities you won’t have to strain the brain to figure out where you left that scrap of paper.

Another hint: Buy two filters. One for now. One for later. Technicians visit many homes during the course of a day and work on numerous makes and models. They don’t carry filters for every system they service. This way, you’re guaranteed of having a new filter on hand when the technician knocks on your door.

Needed Adjustments

Inspect and service the furnace motor. Identifying damage or maintenance needs ensure that not only will the furnace function properly during the winter months but that its life of operation is extended as much as possible. A serviced motor will burn less overall energy.

If left without lubrication, the motor can also damage itself due to increased friction and wear. The tech will add a drop or two of oil to the blower motor or as much as the owner’s manual recommends. (An aside: How many home owners actually read an HVAC owner’s manual? Your tech does.)

Adjust blower belts. Tighten loose belts. Loose belts mean your heater works harder to reach desired temperatures. Belts can dry and fray, especially in the heat of Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding cities, and cause the system to heat slowly.

Are blower doors sealed? These doors ensure that combustion gasses produced exit the home safely. If not, carbon monoxide — the so-called “silent killer” — may be present. It’s undetectable by humans. Consider installing a carbon monoxide detector, something a tech can help you with.

Check and service exhaust flue. Is it clear of obstructions? Is it in good condition? Another way to keep combustible gasses out of the living space, essential to home safety. It depends on the installation location, but if the furnace is in an enclosed space does it get enough air? Appliances such as furnaces and water heaters need ten cubic feet of air for one cubit foot of natural gas to operate efficiently.

  • Look for cracks in the heat exchanger
  • Measure the gas pressure, test gas connections
  • Inspect electrical switches, contacts, safety switches
  • Remove clogs from burners, guaranteeing heat production will be efficient all winter long
  • Adjust the supply registers, particularly important in larger homes or small businesses. Hot air rises, cold air falls. Open a few supply registers on the first floor and close a few on the second floor. It will help the system heat more effectively.
  • Safety check. It’s kind of obvious, but a lot of living happens in a home during the year, and moving stuff around is just a part of life. Make sure that no flammable solvents, paint, gasoline, or cleaning solutions are left next to or near the furnace. A quick review of the surrounding area could prevent disastrous fires.
  • Check and service ductwork. A quick visual check should be performed annually. If further or more extensive analysis of ductwork is needed, additional fees may apply. Periodic cleaning allows for efficient heating and fresh, clean air. A thorough inspection insures that there are no punctures, troublesome dents, or failing parts. Poorly performing ducts blow wasted warm air, which increases heating costs.
  • Calibrate thermostats. More on thermostats in an upcoming post.

As your can see, conducting a winter service of your home’s HVAC system is a little more involved than just changing the air filter and, due to the unique weather conditions in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas this time of year, an excellent low-cost way to make sure your family stays toasty warm.

HVAC System Tune Up Service

hvac-system-service-arlington-tx

Why should you have your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) unit(s) serviced at the start of the winter, especially here in North Texas?

It’s not as if Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding cities face the extremes of Minnesota, Ohio, and other northern states. And yet, the winter months here can take their toll on your HVAC system just as much as the frozen north.

Up north it stays mostly cold during the winter months with days or even weeks of ice and snow mixed in during the season.

Here in North Texas, as you know, the temperatures range from cool in the 60s to downright cold in the 20s. One minute your HVAC system may be dormant — or even providing cool air in some cases — and the next it’s blasting heat because the temperature suddenly dropped 40 degrees from the time you went to lunch to your drive home from work. That can put a lot of strain and wear and tear on mechanical components.

Not only does North Texas fluctuate temperature-wise, the winter elements of ice and snow are much more inconsistent than in the north. One year it may be bitter cold, like it was last winter, with little or no ice and snow. Another year it may ice up a couple of times in Arlington or Fort Worth but the overall temperatures are mostly mild in the region. We’ve had snow at Thanksgiving or not until early March.

The up-and-down, inconsistent winters in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding communities takes its toll on heating systems that go from 0 to 60 on a moment’s notice at any time from November to March.

And here’s something else to think about when considering service and repair. HVAC systems in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas and surrounding cities work non-stop from nearly April to October, often handling 30 to even 60 days of 100 degree-plus temperatures during the summer. How much wear and tear have these mechanical systems already accumulated before you even flip on the heat for the winter?

Winter in North Texas will again be unpredictable.

According to some weather prognosticators, we’re in the midst of a “mild” El Nino cycle. The National Weather Service forecasts for Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and neighboring communities a “chance for above normal precipitation” with a “chance for below normal temperatures,” which means it probably will be wetter and colder this winter.

But when? And does that mean ice or snow or both? A little or a lot? This is the perfect setup for additional wear and tear on your heating system, higher heating costs, not to mention icy road conditions.

So why should you have your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning unit(s) serviced at the start of the winter here in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and North Texas?

Peace of Mind

Know what shape your heating system is in before it gets cold and whatever hits us arrives.

Know that all mechanical components of your heating system — from the furnace to the thermostats — have been properly reviewed, calibrated, and set up for the coming months. Technicians know where to look and can spot difficult-to-see problems such as corrosion in the ducts, inefficient heating, worn parts, among other things.

Know that by having your heating system serviced prior to the start of winter it will help you budget the cost before the holiday season.

Know that, if any repair is needed, you’ll be aware of the extent and cost of repairs and can avoid emergency situations. Just like in the summer, emergency repair calls can become expensive.

Save Money

Here’s something to think about: According to some estimates, more than 50 percent of service repair calls are due to no maintenance. A little preventative maintenance can reduce costlier repairs.

Know that properly inspected, serviced, and tuned heating systems will save you money by reducing electricity or gas costs, which continue to go up in price, not down, from year to year. Remember that small repairs are much cheaper than major overhauls.

If your HVAC system is humming along happily, it saves wear and tear and extends the life of the system, which is especially important if the unit(s) is/are getting up there in age — 10, 12, 14 years old. Some estimates forecast 30 percent more longevity to units that have been regularly serviced and/or repaired.

If your HVAC system is older, its wear and tear is exponential, meaning the likelihood of something wearing out and failing increases each year. By having your heating system serviced (or repaired) annually, a technician is able to keep an eye on how all mechanical components function, age, and respond from winter to winter.

Being proactive helps prevent costly, emergency repairs when warmth is needed most during the winter. After-hours visits, especially during the holidays or inclimate weather, can be expensive.

Safety

Often overlooked, gas systems can leak and present safety concerns. The Center for Disease Control recommends you have your heating system serviced annually to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

An improperly tuned furnace may have incorrect gas pressure, dirty burners, or defective safety controls, which can result in excessive temperatures that can damage equipment or, worst of all, increase the possibility of a house fire if left unchecked.

Gas systems serviced regularly and repaired when needed lower the risk of explosion. While heating systems today are much safer than in the past, fire hazards do remain depending on age, installation location, and history of the equipment.

In another post we’ll look at what exactly is done during the winter service inspection.

Need New Windows? Think Energy Efficiency!

windowby Martha Gail Moore

Windows in our homes are our all-important look into nature or at least outside. But those glass panes could be a big reason your energy bills are so high. About 45% of energy used in homes is for heating and cooling, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.

So how do you choose the right windows for your home? Here are some tips to help you decide which windows would be best for your renovation and energy efficiency.

Factors to consider

  1. What does your city code require?
  2.  What are the available materials?
  3.  What’s your climate like?

What does your city building code require?

The first thing to do is to check the city building code requirements. Yes, if you’re replacing windows, you need a building permit.  Depending on your city’s energy conservation goals, this could mean more expensive windows. However, the energy efficiency over the life of the window will more than make up for the pricier windows.

What are the available materials? What is their energy efficiency?

How do you decide what material to use for the frames? You can choose from aluminum, composite, fiberglass, vinyl, or wood. Each of these has its good and bad points, from how well they insulate to how costly they are.  Aluminum is one of the cheaper options, but is not the most energy efficiency, since it conducts heat and cold more easily. Today, there are some very good options in vinyl and it’s easier on the pocketbook, too.

If your home has historical significance, it might make sense to keep the wooden frames. If keeping the integrity of your wooden windows is of utmost importance, then storm windows could be a good and economical option. They can be mounted either inside or outside the existing windows. Even insulating around existing windows and caulking can make a difference.

How do you choose the glass?  There’s an organization that has different ratings for windows called the National Fenestration Rating Council (NFRC). They require several ratings on the label that are really important things to check for. Two of the most important terms are the U-value or factor and the solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC). U-value measures the glass’s resistance to losing heat and how well it insulates, while SHGC measures how much heat the window allows through it. You want both these numbers to be low, e.g. between .2 and 1.3 — the lower the number the better.

A third term to look for is low-emissivity glass or low-E. Emissivity means the ability to reflect heat. This is achieved by applying a coating to the glass at the manufacturing plant. There are two methods and different materials are used in each one.

The method used in double-paned windows allows for more sunlight to pass through the windows and is superior in reflecting the sun’s rays. These windows are made with a special silver coating on the glass and they can be filled with argon gas between the layers for even further insulation. Single-paned windows also have a low-emissivity film applied to them, if the price of double-paned windows ends up being too costly.

What’s your climate like?

If you live in a rainy climate and need as much natural light as possible from your windows, visible transmittance (VT) might be very important to you. This rating shows the amount of light that the glass lets in.  Choose a higher number if you want the most daylight to be able to pass through the window. There’s also condensation resistance that is important if you live in a humid climate.

Another rating to check is the design pressure (DP) or wind rating. Depending on where you live and what your city code calls for, this could range from DP 20 to DP 50, the latter being glass that can withstand hurricane-force winds.

All the best-rated windows won’t do much to help reduce your energy consumption though if they are not installed properly. Get an excellent window contractor with references galore to install your windows.

Remember that the extra cost for energy efficiency in your windows will more than pay for itself in lower energy bills within as little as a few years.  Enjoy natural light and energy savings with new insulated windows.

Let us know in the comments section what you think the best windows are and how much they have helped you reduce your energy bills.

How to Conserve Energy and Save Money

by Martha Gail Moore

 

We’re more than halfway through this summer, and for much of the U.S. it has not been a particularly hot one, except in the West. But even if your neck of the woods hasn’t been as hot as previous summers, you can still conserve energy and save money. Here are three simple things you can do that’ll get both these important objectives accomplished.

Programmable Thermostat

First, install a programmable thermostat. If you’re the DIY type, there are lots of websites that can give you step-by-step instructions. Of course, you can call your local heating and air conditioning professionals, too. They could also do an energy audit. Then you could get really precise about finding where your biggest problems are and addressing the things that are consuming the most energy. But a programmable thermostat is a very good place to start. It works by adjusting the temperature to fit your schedule. It cools your home when you’re there and keeps it from getting too hot when you’re not. Programmable thermostats can save you up to 15 percent on your energy bill.

Fans

Second, install ceiling fans. Again, this can be a DIY project if you’re experienced in electrical work. You need accurate measurements of the room, including the height, before you head to the store to purchase the fans. Sales people can help you pick the right-sized blades for the room, and determine the best mounting solution for the type of ceiling you have.

If you already have a lighting fixture where you want the fan, this will be a pretty simple job. The most important thing to understand is that the regular electrical box needs to be replaced with a fan-rated electrical box. A ceiling fan requires stronger support for the added weight and motion of the fan. Be sure the blades of the fan are 10 inches or more from the ceiling, so they can adequately circulate the air. They also need to be mounted high enough from the floor so that a 6-foot-tall person doesn’t run the risk of injuring himself either.

If ceiling fans are not an option, even box fans or fans on a stand that oscillate can make a huge difference in helping you feel cooler in your home. What we’re aiming for here is to make our bodies feel cooler by the simple movement of air over our skin, because there’s a warm layer of air that surrounds our bodies. It’s what physiologists call the “boundary layer.”

Fans moving the air across our boundary layer can make the temperature feel like it is four degrees cooler than it actually is. The way you save money with this method is by turning your thermostat up and letting the fans circulate the cool air from your central air conditioner. Each degree higher that you set your thermostat saves you from seven to 10 percent on cooling costs.

For more temperate climates, fans can be all you need with the windows open in the fall and early spring. Always choose Energy Star products, because they pay for themselves very quickly by the energy you save. Another important tip with ceiling fans is to reverse the direction of the blades during the winter. Warm air rises and cold air sinks, so having the blades clockwise for the winter pushes the air onto the ceiling and then down the sides of the walls to the floor keeping you warmer. There’s a knob on the ceiling fan where you can switch the blade direction.

 Water Heater

Third, turn your hot water heater down. Adjusting the thermostat to 120 degrees is sufficient for showers, washing clothes, and
running the dishwasher. The Department of Energy says water heating is one of the biggest uses of energy in our homes. Of course, conserving water also fits into this course of action. The less water you use, the less water you heat.

 

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list of things you can do, these are certainly some of the biggest steps you can take to conserve energy. The more you do to save, the smaller carbon footprint you leave on the planet, too. Have a great rest of the summer staying cool, conserving energy, and saving money!

Are Your Ready for the Next Arctic Blast?

by Martha Gail-Moore

Weather forecasters have made predictions that the mercury will be plunging again soon. But frostbite within 10 minutes of being outdoors probably won’t happen again for quite a while.

Just about every state in the United States was affected from our record-breaking winter cold snap in decades during the first week of January 2014. You may be wondering how to not only keep your home warm, but keep those heating bills lower too as the forecasters predict another cold front later this month.

The polar vortex or the Arctic air that broke off from its usual domain of the Artic and Canada is not expected to push down into southern states again this time. But many got a wake-up call about their home’s energy efficiency.

It is becoming increasingly more important as weather extremes in both directions seem to be the new normal. What can you do about it? Start with a home energy audit to find drafts, which are often located in gaps along the baseboard of the flooring and the junctures where walls and ceilings meet. Outside the home, the places to inspect are holes or cracks in the mortar, siding, or foundation, and then doors and windows.

Definitely look for a certified energy auditor, which most heating and air conditioning  companies can supply. Also check with your local utility provider in case they offer discounted home energy audits or even free ones. They’ll also need you to provide the past year’s fuel bills.

They’ll be looking for how your house uses energy and locating the inefficiencies. The audit will consist of two parts: A home energy assessment and a computerized data analysis.

Before green lighting the company, you should check to see if the inspector is using the following pieces of equipment that are integral to a proper energy inspection:

  •  Infrared camera that will help assess air leakage
  • Blower door that helps find leaks and creates a 20-mile-per-hour
    wind after it has depressurized a house helping to determine how well
    the air sealing worked
  • Manometer to test how well appliances that have exhaust devices are functioning
  • Combustion analyzer to test flue gases in appliances with vented combustion and measure temperature and for carbon monoxide
  • Draft gauge that tests for any chimney drafts
  • Moisture meter that can detect the amount of moisture in materials and wood
  • Smoke-generating device for discovering where ducts may be leaking air.
The thorough exterior and interior inspections and subsequent repair work may seem like a lot of work, but the rewards in cost savings and better health could make it well worth it.  Once a few or all of the energy efficiency projects have been completed, it’s possible to save between 5 to 30 percent on your monthly energy bill. And on average, most homes leak the equivalent of a medium-sized window being open 24/7.

How concerned are you about your home’s energy efficiency? How was your recent polar vortex experience?

It definitely warranted one of my grandmother’s quilts and a woolen blanket on top of that. And I live in Texas!

Let us know in the comments if you are planning any energy audits of your home to improve energy efficiency after the recent winter storm.

Martha Gail-Moore is a web content manager and copywriter. In the interest of sparking the best collaborations possible, she keeps it fun and, therefore, calls her business Playfulworks. She’s interested in children, art, and healthcare for everyone. Follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/playfulworkswebcontentmgmt.