Basnett Plumbing, Heating & AC Blog: Archive for January, 2012

Andover Heating Contractor Guide: Which Fuel is Right for Your Home?

Monday, January 30th, 2012

Andover homeowners all want to save money on household expenses and utility bills. We turn off lights when we leave the room, take shorter showers and make sure the kids don’t keep the refrigerator door open. These small habits help, but still we all want to save a little wherever we can, right?

One area where people are constantly looking for ways to save money is home heating. Everyone wants to be comfortable and warm in their homes, but that costs money, so homeowners are always on the lookout for the most effective and cost efficient way to keep the house warm.

What is the most cost effective fuel for home heating?

Is it natural gas, electric, fuel oil or propane? How about less conventional heat sources like wood or geothermal pumps?

We all wish there was one easy, all-encompassing answer to this question, like a heating magic bullet that would keep every family warm and happy for pennies on the dollar. Unfortunately, there isn’t. It depends on too many factors for any one solution to work for everyone.

Probably the biggest factor that plays a role in the cost of a particular fuel is its local availability. Resources are available differentially, so that while one option might be cheapest for a family of five in Andover, Massachusetts, the analysis is entirely different for a single person in Kearney, Nebraska.

What is the most cost effective option for you?

That is a better question, but still not one that is necessarily easy to answer.

To figure it out, you need to carefully analyze several factors:

  • Local availability (see above)
  • Local climate
  • Size of your home
  • Your family’s needs
  • Existing heating equipment
  • Your budget

Armed with this information, you can do a careful comparison of the options available to you. For assistance you can use an online calculator to compare fuel costs, such as this one from the Energy Information Administration or this one from Hearth.com. Or, if all else fails, call a contractor for a professional assessment.

Comparing fuel costs and choosing the right solution for you may take some time, but the savings can be well worth it.

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Still River Heating Guide: Inspecting Your Furnace Heat Exchanger for Leaks

Friday, January 27th, 2012

Like all the heating and cooling components in your Still River home, your furnace needs regular maintenance and annual checkups performed by certified HVAC technicians. Here are some things that a professional heating maintenance technician can do to make sure your furnace is functioning safely.

One of the main concerns with any type of furnace is the potential for carbon monoxide gas leaks, which can be fatal if not detected. The heat exchanger is designed to prevent dangerous flue products from leaking into the home; therefore, it is important to inspect the heat exchanger for any cracks or excessive corrosion.

There are a few methods for introspecting a furnace heat exchanger for leaks and potential repairs (again, best performed by a professional HVAC technician):

  • Visual Inspection of the Furnace Heat Exchanger. Use a strong flashlight to visually check the heat exchanger thoroughly for cracks or open seams, particularly in areas that are susceptible heat or mechanical stress. Some seams may have been joined improperly during manufacturing, so be sure to check all joints. Also check for rust or corrosion in areas exposed to any type of moisture. Make sure you can gain access to all the parts of the heat exchanger. If you see any cracks, holes, or severe deterioration, your heat exchanger needs a professional repair. Ultimately, you may not be able to see all the parts of your heat exchanger, so further testing is recommended in addition to a visual inspection.
  • Flame Test. You can also observe the flame after the furnace is first turned on to detect potential damage to the heat exchanger. Turn off the furnace for at least five minutes, and sit close enough to the furnace to observe the burner flame. Have someone turn up the thermostat, and watch the flame for any changes in color or irregular patterns in the flame. If the flame makes any sudden changes, this could mean that the heat exchanger is damaged. Keep in mind that like the visual test, the flame test cannot determine damage to your heat exchanger alone.

In addition to increasing efficiency and lowering your heating bills, inspecting your furnace will ensure that your heating system operates safely throughout the winter. Along with having your heat exchanger inspected, we recommend that you test all the carbon monoxide detectors in your home on a regular basis, as well as changing the filter every month and cleaning out the ventilation system.

If you need further assistance, or suspect any leaks in your furnace, you will need to schedule an appointment with a Still River HVAC technician. Keep your home warm and safe this winter.

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Pepperell Heating Repair Question: How Do I Check a Gas Furnace Draft Pressure Switch?

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

There are many reasons why a furnace stops working and in many cases, a Pepperell homeowner can perform some simple diagnostics to pinpoint the problem. Finding the problem is one thing – fixing it is another. When in doubt, don’t try it yourself. Call a qualified professional.

But let’s look at one possible problem and solution you may be able to perform yourself – testing the draft pressure switch. The draft pressure switch on a gas furnace allows an electrical current to pass through to ignite the furnace. The pressure switch monitors the draft conditions and won’t allow the furnace’s gas valve to open unless draft is correct.

If the switch is malfunctioning, so too will (or will not) the furnace.

The best way to locate the switch is by consulting with your owner’s manual or by going online and simply typing in the words “gas furnace draft switch.” It is identifiable by its round size and is bolted to the outside of the furnace. It should be nearby the draft inducer motor because the two are connected by a metal tube. The tube may sometimes be the culprit, too. A tube that is blocked with condensation may cause the switch to go bad.

To check for proper function, first turn off power to the furnace, either by shutting down the ‘on’ switch at the furnace or shutting off the circuit breaker.

Use a volt ohm meter to check if the switch is opening and closing properly. Start by zeroing out the meter’s probes by touching the tips together. Using the dial (could be analog or digital), set the meter to 24 volts. Ground the black probe by attaching it to any metal part of the furnace. Then place the end of the red probe on the metal tube connecting the draft pressure switch to the draft inducer motor.

If the switch is working properly the meter should read at least 24 volts, or very near that. If the reading is short of 24 volts, the switch is not working correctly. At that point you may decide to replace it or call a professional to do the task (recommended).

Always remember that there are many sources which will help you diagnose and repair a problem, especially those available through the Internet. If you search YouTube.com you will find many videos advising you on how to repair certain components. Use all of the resources available to you and keep the phone number of a Pepperell heating and cooling contractor nearby.

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Carlisle Plumber’s Guide: History of Plumbing

Monday, January 23rd, 2012

Everyone in Carlisle knows that water runs downhill, right? That’s because of gravity. And that simple theory was the key milestone in the history of plumbing. As far back as the days of the Roman Empire, people were using gravity to move water from its source to where it was used. There were no systems of piping back then and no way to pressurize a means of transporting water from one location to another.

The beauty of the gravity movement was how the Roman engineers achieved it – through the use of aqueducts. These aqueducts carried water from higher elevations in mountains to the cities below. Some of them were outdoor architectural marvels but most of the water was carried through underground tunnels. The gravity that carried the water was achieved by a slight pitch in the tunnel or aqueduct. It is estimated that as much as 300 million gallons of water found its way into Rome every day.

The fall of the Roman Empire brought the demise of this elaborate system but other plumbing marvels followed in the decades and centuries to come.

The means of transporting water changed from aqueducts and tunnels to something that was very abundant in the early stages of developing countries like the United States – namely wood. Hollowed out logs were the forefathers of modern iron pipes. These wooden pipe systems were found in the northeastern U.S. in the 1800s. Unfortunately, wood exposed to water soon deteriorated and rotted – and also left a bad taste to the water.

Iron and steel water pipes began to show up in the late 1800s in the U.S. These pipes were characterized by their heavy weight. The next generation of piping was made from copper. This material was introduced in the early 1900s and became commonly used by the middle of the century. Eventually, plastic was used to replace copper and steel. It is less expensive and just as durable.

Of course, any type of indoor plumbing was deemed a luxury for the “common” homeowner in the 1800’s and 1900’s. Indoor plumbing was not a standard and as late as the 1940s and 50s, many homes still utilized the good old fashioned outhouses as toilet facilities. That happened, in part, because towns did not have central water pumping and treatment facilities – and there were no city sewer lines to tap into. And the cost of indoor plumbing was out of some household budgets.

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Boiler Tips from Reading: Basic Boiler Maintenance

Friday, January 20th, 2012

The boiler in your Reading home is a sensitive piece of equipment that needs routine maintenance and repairs. Regularly maintaining your boiler is especially important for safety reasons. Many boiler malfunctions and accidents are due to neglecting some of these basic tasks.

Even if you’ve just installed a new boiler, the safety valves and settings should be checked by a professional on a regular basis to prevent a breakdown or hazard. We recommend that you schedule a boiler inspection and cleaning at least once a year. Call Basnett Plumbing & Heating if you have any questions about boiler maintenance.

A service technician will measure the pressure, drain and remove sediment buildup, test the efficiency ratings, and make sure your boiler is set at the right temperatures. Regular maintenance can also help you determine whether or not you need a boiler replacement. By keeping track of performance levels, you will be able to tell when it’s time for an upgrade.

Other tasks performed during an annual maintenance visit include cleaning and lubricating all the components, checking for any leaks or clogs, and testing gas boilers for any carbon monoxide intrusion. If you have any gas appliances in your home, you should always have carbon monoxide detectors and test them once a month.

Boiler pressure is something that you can check often on your own. If you aren’t sure how to read the pressure gauge, or if you aren’t sure what the right pressure should be, just call one of our technicians to walk you through this process.

Always call Basnett Plumbing & Heating if you have any problems with the boiler in your Reading home. We are here to help and answer any questions you may have.

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Boxborough Plumber’s Guide: How to Shut Off Your Water Supply

Wednesday, January 18th, 2012

In the case of a plumbing emergency, the last thing you want to do is watch as more water continues to pour into your Boxborough home through a burst pipe, broken appliance or busted water valve. So, the first step should always be to turn off your main water supply valve. Here are some tips for finding that valve and getting the water supply off as soon as possible.

Finding Your Main Water Supply Valve

The valve is almost always located in one of two places. It will either be outside at the entry point for the water supply to your house or it will be located in your basement or garage between the inlet and the main water line. In some cases, it may be even be under an access panel in basement. However, this is less common than the first two options.

Once you find the main water supply valve, turn it off to immediately stop more water from entering your home. If you notice that water is continuing to enter your home, you have a problem before the entry valve and should call the city immediately because one of their pipes might have burst.

Shutting Off Individual Appliances

In many cases, the problem is related to a single appliance. If this is the case, you don’t necessarily need to turn off the entire water supply – just the supply valve for the specific appliance or fixture. Every major water fixture and appliance in your home should have its own shutoff valve in an easy to reach place. This goes for every sink, toilet, shower, dishwasher, and washing machine in your home – not having those valves can be dangerous.

Once you have turned off your water supply, it’s time to call a plumber. Make sure to keep track of everything you do (take notes if you can) and supply that information to the plumber both on the phone and when they arrive. It will help them diagnose and solve the problem much faster.

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Happy Martin Luther King Day from Your MetroWest Boston Area Plumbing and HVAC Contractor!

Monday, January 16th, 2012

Happy Martin Luther King Day! Today we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. and all of his great accomplishments. This holiday is also a reminder about how we all can be a force for good in our community. Even a small act, like helping a neighbor, can make a big difference in someone’s life. Take some time today to make your community a little better!

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Lunenburg HVAC Tip: DIY Home Maintenance

Friday, January 13th, 2012

If you own a home in Lunenburg, there are a lot of fun ways you can stay on top of regular maintenance without hiring a contractor. Sure, there are some tasks only a Lunenburg contractor should perform, but there are plenty of others you can take care of with a little spare time on the weekend.

  • Fixing Leaks – Unless it’s in a main line or in your sewer, you can usually fix a leak or clog in your pipes by yourself. Replacing a faucet, snaking a line, or taking apart a fixture should still be done with the help of manufacturer’s guidelines, but as long as you turn the water supply off correctly, you should be okay taking things apart and making quick repairs.
  • Yard Installations – Short of digging it up (always have it checked for gas and electricity lines), you can do pretty much anything on your own in the yard. This includes composting, landscaping, adding a barbeque pit or upgrading your back porch.
  • Painting – Feel free to paint anything in or around your home without the help of a pro. Just make sure to use proper ventilation and to ensure that you remove any old paint carefully. If you’re not sure about the age of your paint, it should be tested for lead before you chip it clean, especially if you have children.
  • Replace Appliances – Old appliances can be removed and replaced relatively easily as long as you have someone to help you get rid of the old ones. Also, if you have a gas stove or other appliances that run on gas, always have them checked by a professional. Never unplug gas lines without someone there to ensure the gas supply to your home is off.
  • Tiling – Tiling is something anyone can do, but make sure you’re ready for the time commitment. Especially if you plan on putting tiles on a wall, it’s easy to make a mistake and ruin good tiles or good walls. Also, proper sealing around water fixtures like a bathtub or sink is vital. If you’re not sure, call a plumber to help.

There are a lot of ways you can have fun and fix up your house without paying for a professional’s help. But, remember not to take on jobs that are too much for you. If you aren’t sure how to complete a task or you want a second opinion, never be afraid to call a pro in for some help. Even if they just check your work, it will save you money and you get the satisfaction of having done the work yourself.

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Ayer Heating Tip: Hydronic vs. Forced Air System

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

Both hydronic and forced air heating systems can serve you well depending on the specifics of your Ayer home and your household heating needs. Certainly each of these types of home heating systems has advantages and drawbacks, but there is really no clear cut answer about which is better. All you’ll be able to determine is which one is best for you.

While current discussions about hydronics have come to focus on the applications for in floor radiant heating, this category of heating systems is actually much broader than that. Really, all the term hydronics means is that the system uses water to carry the heat throughout the house instead of air. This is what traditional radiators always did, and these types of systems are certainly still perfectly appropriate for certain types of homes.

Particularly if your home doesn’t already have ductwork installed, hydronic heating might be the best option for you because it doesn’t require ducts to get the job done. All you’ll need to have installed are pipes to carry the water to different parts of the house. These pipes are much easier than ducts to install and take up much less space overall.

If you’d like to include radiant floor heating as part of this system you’re certainly able to. However, using only this type of heating to heat your entire house is not particularly efficient or practical. Radiant flooring is particularly useful in basements because no matter how warm the air in the room is, the floor in these areas will still be cold.

However, if you do already have ducts installed in your home, it may make perfect sense for you to have a forced air heating system installed. While there are sometimes problems with the evenness of the heating experience that you get with these types of heating systems, proper installation of a high quality system can usually mitigate those types of issues.

Forced air heating systems are also convenient because they are made to work in concert with many types of central air conditioning systems. If you have hydronic heating and think you’d like to have a central air conditioning system as well, you’ll either have to install multiple window or wall units or have ducts put in anyway.

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Groton Furnace Pointers: Fuel Types

Monday, January 9th, 2012

In most cases, you’ll have a choice concerning what type of fuel you’d like your Groton home’s furnace to burn. For most people, this choice comes down to propane, oil or natural gas. The one you choose could significantly impact the cost of heating your home for many years to come, but it’s usually a pretty clear cut decision.

One thing to remember is that most furnaces that burn natural gas can also burn propane. If you don’t yet have a propane tank but are considering getting one, you might not have to make a final decision just yet. Although it’s generally better to set up your furnace for one type of fuel and then leave it that way, you will likely still have the option of converting later on if you should choose to.

If you do have access to natural gas, though, that’s probably going to be your best option. Furnaces that burn natural gas or propane are generally much more efficient than any other type of furnace on the market. You can get them with annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) ratings as low as 80% and as high as 97+%, so that ensures that you’ll be able to find the one to fit your specific situation.

If you’re facing particularly harsh and frigid winters, you’ll want to choose the most energy efficient option available to you and that’s pretty much always going to be a natural gas furnace. Of course, when you’re looking to decide between natural gas and propane as a fuel source, you’ll just want to compare the relative cost for each in your area. For some people natural gas is cheaper, while it’s propane for others. And since your furnace will operate at the same efficiency no matter which of these fuels you choose, you just need to choose the cheapest.

Oil is certainly an option as well, but if you’re looking for a very high efficiency furnace, you’re not going to find one that burns oil. That doesn’t mean that an oil burning furnace might not be a good investment for you. If you don’t have access to natural gas in your area and your heating load isn’t that high, oil might be a perfectly economical choice for you.

If you do opt for a super high efficiency furnace, but don’t have access to natural gas lines, propane is probably the way to go as opposed to oil.

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