Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Start of the Heating Season

Fall brings about many changes here in Minnesota. The old joke about the weather, the one that goes like this: "If you don't like the weather, just wait a minute because its bound to change.." seems to be most appropriate in October and November.  One change we often ignore, with the exception of complaining about it on Facebook or Twitter, is the need to turn our heat on in the house.

You may heard me talk about it in the past but this is the time of year us heating professionals call "The Shoulder Months". Its the time of year when we require our heating systems be running but the outside temps are still relatively warm; its not nearly as cold as what's to come.

This "shoulder" season often has us paying more to heat our homes than it should. Most boilers and furnaces are grossly over-sized for the load put upon them during these warmer months. In fact, unless you have very new equipment installed in your home you are most likely operating within these inefficient conditions and paying the price each month.

Let me be clear, this does not mean your heating appliance is necessarily the wrong one for your home, it's just likely that it is only capable of using the maximum amount of energy each time it turns on.  This is not a efficient way of supplying comfort to your indoor environment.

The newer, higher tech boilers and furnaces we install today are capable of monitoring the outdoor temperatures and indoor temperatures and using that information to adjust the amount of energy needed at any given time.  It's very much like cruise control in your vehicle. With cruise control your car will only demand of the engine what is needed to remain at the speed you desire. When the road course changes (hills, both up and down) the computer in your car will adjust the output of the engine to accommodate the change. When a boiler is told to turn on, and with this simple technology, it too realizes the change in weather and adjusts its output accordingly; it does this so that you are never paying for more energy than is needed at any given time.

This is a standard level of technology for all the boilers we install, whether new or for replacement. If you have any questions or would like to know more please contact us. We'd be happy to assess your heating system to make sure you're comfortable and operating as efficiently as possible.  

Monday, August 12, 2013

Don't Flush The Wipes!

A bathroom product that has only been on the market for a few years is gaining popularity everyday and its not from plumbing and drain cleaning professionals.  These "flush-able" personal cleaning wipes are marketed as safe for your plumbing system and offer additional ways to stay clean after bathroom duties. Well, in my opinion, they're not safe for your plumbing system or whatever your plumbing is connected to outside your house. Check out this story out of San antonio, TX showing just what comes of those wipes and others that are flushed down the loo everyday.

The problem is, most people have no idea or aren't paying attention when purchasing the wipes off the store shelf. I will not endorse any of the products, nearly none of them have lived up to their claim of disintegrating like standard toilet tissue. That's a problem. An expensive problem you don't want to deal with, ever. If you have a septic system stay as far away from these wipes [unless you bag them and throw them out with the trash] as you can. Septic repairs most often result in having your property dug up and the system replaced to a tune of tens of thousands of dollars.  All because of a wipe?! Yes, its totally possible.

Check out this short video on this very subject by experts is testing products, Consumer Reports.

Monday, April 29, 2013

All Shook Up!

"Why does my house seem to come alive and resent me whenever I turn a faucet off?" -Longtime Aune Plumbing Customer and friend.

What my friend is referring to is the noises that sometimes follow the shutting off of a faucet at a sink or the workings of a dishwasher or the like.  The term you may have heard before pertaining to this situation is "Water Hammer".  Here is a diagram depicting water hammer and how it happens:

Water hammer, or the actions and results arising from certain piping situations is really the transfer of noise and vibration from water inside your plumbing pipes.  Often the noise and vibrations show their ugly, annoying face in the form of rattling pipes.  Have you ever noticed when washing clothes that when the washer is filling and stops there is a noticeable thud? The same question can be asked of a toilet filling or a dishwasher, all are related to the same root cause.  Water hammer is common in any plumbing system and can go undetected, which is fine but, when detected it is often to the ire of those living with it. In rare cases it can be the cause of further property damage due to water leaks but, again this is rare.

When water flows through a pipe because a faucet or valve is opened it seems to be happy.  After all, its only doing what it knows to do, flow.  But this process can take a turn for the worse as soon as some of that water is told it cannot continue on with it journey when a valve stops the party (flow)...and BANG!  Madness ensues with rattling pipes and noises in protest; the end result is frustration for you as a homeowner with your new found angst and annoyance but this does'n always mean you'll have to "just live with it"...

There are many products available today that can help rid the water hammer problems you may experience. The first would be pipe fasteners or supports. If plumbing pipes are accessible, a complete inspection of proper supports is in order since thins is the number one reason the noises you may be hearing are so prevalent.

 These simple little devices are often called "Tube Talons" by us plumbers; since that is the name given them by the manufacturer it seems just about right we should call them that...

Seriously, they are simple to install and very effective at keeping pipes where we want them; secure and not flopping around like the time my uncle Jim decided to test out the taser that one fateful night with his buddy after a couple five too many frosty cold ones.

If you have copper piping the spacing between talons is around 6' for 1/2" & 3/4" tubing.  PEX or CPVC tubing should be strapped every 32" to properly secure it.

Other devices available are used either at the source of hammer or installed to treat multiple sources as a whole home remedy.  Below are individual water hammer arrestors installed at the connection of the plumbing system to a clothes washer.  Since clothes washers have a fast-acting electronic solenoid valve that allows flow of water to the machine [and stops it], water hammer often arises from this exact spot.

The washer hoses simply thread onto the arrestor that is then attached to the machine.  The arrestor has a small air bladder in that brass tube sticking out of the top.  When the flow of water suddenly stops the bladder helps adsorb the shock and turbulence created inside the pipe [the angry water]. These devices can help the problem and lesson the effects but this may not help in every situation. Similar devices are available for installation at the connection point of a dishwasher [another fast acting solenoid water valve].

Usually treatment is most effective by installing a "whole house arrestor".  In this case a small bladder tank, designed and sized for this particular use and your home specifically, is installed near the point of entry of your home's water supply.  It may look similar to this:

 When sized & installed properly this type of arrestor can help absorb the shock in the piping system well.  Couple this with the proper support of piping and even the installation of arrestors like the one installed at the dishwasher or clothes washer and you should be able to relax a little as the noises will likely be eliminated altogether.

If you are experiencing a water hammer problem in your home and would like to explore the possible remedies, please call, email or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Have a great day and thanks for reading!

Monday, March 18, 2013

Honey! My shower is cold!

If you've ever been caught in the middle of lathering up or ready to rinse the shampoo out of your hair only to be shocked by the sudden blast of ice cold water spewing from the shower head during your morning shower then you've no doubt experienced a water heater failure.

What most homeowners do not realize is tank water heaters have a life expectancy of about 5-10 years (Depending on factors such as use patterns, water quality and build features. Mileage may vary).  Another often overlooked factor that contributes to water heater failure is maintenance.  Yes, you should be maintaining your tank water heater annually.  Didn't know that? Well, most people don't so you're not alone.  Here are some tips on keeping that all too relied upon appliance running for a little longer, and if your wondering about replacing your water heater you can click here for info about the different types of water heaters and what may work best for your home.  

Tank water heaters are quite simple to understand.  I've always described them as not much more than a huge pipe; after all that's pretty much what they are.  Add an electric heating element or gas burner to that pipe and voila, you've got yourself a run-of-the-mill tank water heater.

When cold water enters the tank it is deposited near the bottom so that the less dense, hotter water rises to the top and when a faucet is opened it is delivered.  This process repeats itself every time hot water is needed.

Another process that repeats itself is the deposit of minerals and sediment in the bottom of that "huge pipe".  As water is heated chemical reactions are underway that separate certain minerals from your water.  Those minerals [all water has them, some more than others] are then left to bask in the glory of that huge pipe, or tank, as their final resting place.  It's sort of like spending the day on the beach, only in this case the beach is your water heater and the minerals aren't good summer getaway guests; they will likely cause poor performance and premature failure if not taken care of properly.

Over long periods of time the minerals and sediment in your water can form a build-up on the bottom of the tank, causing problems such as lower storage capacity or overheating of the tank.  Whatever the side-effects, all lead to the ultimate demise and failure of the tank.  This usually presents itself in the form of a leaky tank.  Leaking tanks are not repairable and are your one-way ticket to a high cost replacement bill when you've not planned for such an event.  No one wants that.

Annual Water Heater Maintenance:
Step 1
All water heater manufacturers recommend flushing your water heater through the drain valve as pictured on the right.

Depending on your water quality [whether you have water conditioning appliances such as a iron filter or water softener] you might consider doing this more frequently.

Simply attach a garden hose to the threaded valve, or place a bucket under it as pictured, and drain the about one-third of the tank capacity.  This will do wonders at clearing out sediment and build-up of deposits on the bottom of the tank.

Step 2
Every tank water heater is equipped with a safety device called a "Temperature/Pressure Relief Valve".  Plumbers call it the "T&P" to keep it simple.  This valve acts as the water heater's own personal bomb squad in that it relieves excess pressure if there is a major problem like super-overheating or excessive thermal expansion without anywhere for the water to expand to. Click here for a complete rundown on its operation.

A simple visual inspection of the valve will tell you if there is cause for concern.  If you identify water dripping out of the valve outlet or obvious corrosion the valve should be replaced.  Manufacturers recommend "exercising" the valve annually.  This is done by gently lifting the lever, with a bucket placed under the drain tube outlet, to allow for water to flow freely.  This is said to help aid in removing any build-up on the valve seal.

Step 3

Take a look around your water heater.  Get a flashlight and inspect the area around the base where it sits on the floor.  Even old water heaters should look just about the same as they did when first installed.  So, if you see signs of rust or stains on the outer jacket they may be cause for concern as they are likely signs of a leaking tank or piping; both of which need to be addressed by a professional.

Also, make sure the area around your heater is free of clutter.  Keep stored house paint cans out of the utility room.  Make sure nothing is stacked on or leaning against the heater.  Your water heater is not a shelf or a clothes rack.  The safety hazards of storing combustible materials on or next to it are far too dangerous.

If you find anything that concerns you or any of the three steps listed above are out of your skill set please know that you can contact Aune Plumbing to address the situation. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hello Winter!

Winter is here. Maybe not officially but the outside temps have us relying on our heating systems daily again.  Here in Minnesota we tend to have the heat turned on for about 6-8 months. This results in an enormous strain  on the heating equipment in many homes. And while many people prefer not to bother with HVAC preventative maintenance on their home heating systems. Perhaps the old saying “out of sight and out of mind” prevails.  There are those too, who choose to have their heating systems serviced religiously. In either case breakdowns occur, combustion inducers or ignitors fail, pumps seize leading to a loss of heat, hot water or both. It is highly recommended to have all heating equipment serviced on a reqular basis. Small problems noticed during these annual service times help cut down on system operating costs, increase overall system efficiency and increase home heating system longevity.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

They're taking, and keeping more of your $$

For years now your local energy utility has been offering rebates, in the form of money or bill credit, for upgrading you old or inefficient home appliances.  This is nothing new.  Programs such as this help sweeten the deal when trying to make the decision between just replacing that old water heater or boiler or whether you should go with the next better model that promises to save you money as time moves forward.

Well, those rebates are getting less and less all the time.

Take a look at this email attachment I received this morning.  
In the second paragraph it states the proposed incentive for replacing that inefficient tank type water heater with a new high efficient tankless model is going to be reduced by 75%.  Yeah, you read that right.  In an age where great emphasis and marketing has the been pushing us all toward saving energy this utility company had decided they would rather you consider something more consumptive. After all, they stand to make less if you're using less. 

I know this the letter clearly states that these changes are just a proposal right now but there is little chance they will be redrafted to include more money for you.

Consider the present time as your best time to save money if you are in the market for a new water heater, boiler or furnace.  There's usually no going back to higher rebates if history repeats itself; if they're offering the money now then now is the time to get it. 

For a complete list of energy rebates and their providers you can click here.  Here you'll find a comprehensive list of local utility companies and all the programs they offer, residential and commercial.  Programs ranging from water heating rebates to solar and geothermal. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Your Brother-in-law did what?

During my daily visits to area homes I often encounter plumbing and heating systems that have been installed or under-maintained in a way that has rendered them dangerous.  I'm not talking about a dirty furnace filter or a leaky pipe, no. What I'm referencing are situations where a qualified professional should have been hired to perform a job and [most likely] wasn't. Can you think of something in your basement that isn't quite right?  Maybe you had your uncle Ted hook up that clothes dryer when you moved in because he offered his handy work...and it has never worked like the sales guy said it would?  Maybe you or your significant other have taken on the task of installing a new fireplace when you finished the basement? Are you sure everything was installed according to the governing codes?

First and foremost, I only bring this topic up to address the concerns toward something being done in your home that may have the potential to harm you or your family.  In no way am I discounting the ability of anyone who chooses to take on a home project; I am however trying to shed light on the fact that there are some things that should be left to a professional.  If you're mechanical system [duct work or boiler] looks more like something that would be found in Dr. Frankenstein's laboratory after you and your neighbor decided to install a couple extra heat runs for that cold room in the basement, then it may not only be under performing it could also contain some safety concerns. I'll explain.

Often I find myself working in a basement where I will see improper materials used to vent a clothes dryer to the outside. Materials such as plastic venting strung halfway across a basement, making loops and turns a gymnast would be fond of.

 Or, and let's hope you haven't got one of these:
The "Dryer Heat Saver" has been showcased in its various forms and under multiple names all over the internet and on television.  It is not something you want in your laundry room, period.  It's concept is simple; reclaim some of the heat exiting your dryer and use it to heat the room.  An advertisement on the packaging says  "It connects to your dryer vent hose and deflects heat from your dryer into the room rather than wasting it outside.". Let me interject my professional thoughts on this for a line or two. Start rant here: You aren't wasting anything by allowing your dryer exhaust to exit outside, properly, as your dryer manufacturer intended and our Mechanical Code insists upon for your safety.  The very idea that this could be safe negated the understanding that the products of combustion [gas dryer] are not safe to inhale and could cause a fire or even death from carbon monoxide poisoning.  End Rant.  So, if you have one of these please remove it post haste.  Your safety is more important than a couple cents of saving at the end of the month on your gas or electric bill.

Back to the plastic dryer venting.  This stuff for example:
The Minnesota State Mechanical Code  states in section 504 that all dryer venting materials be UL Listed and installed according to the manufacturer's installation guidelines.  Plastic dryer ducting/vent tubes are not UL Listed and never will be.  They are a fire hazard due to their material of construction and their propensity to "clog" up with lint.  I find these all over throughout the metro are and beyond.  If you have one of these, replace it.  You can call a professional such as a plumber or an hvac technician.

You might expect the replacement to be one of these listed products:

Be sure to insist the replacement duct is a UL listed material and is not assembled using screws to hold it together; the screws catch lint and increase the potential of a fire.  Oh, with a duct system installed properly and employing the rigid pipe pictured above your dry time will decrease significantly saving you time and money!

Another are of concern I encounter often, actually, is in the same room.  Washing machine hoses, while may not present direct safety hazards, can cause you very big problems. 
I have seen the aftermath of a failed washing machine hose and let me tell you it's not pretty.  Oh, and they rarely fail when your home and have your tools on the ready with a spare sitting near by.  No, they often do it as the garage door shuts and you and the family are headed up to the cabin for the weekend.  The picture to the left is what I would call a near miss, it was taken before the rubber hose burst.  You can easily see the large bulge in the hose, I've seen hoses the size of a football.  I highly recommend a trip down to your local hardware or big box for a set of stainless steel constructed hoses shown in the next picture.  They'll run you about $20-30 but are worth their weight.
Next time I'll get a little more in-depth on the topic of hazards brought on by non-professionals performing work in your home.  Until then, thanks for taking the time to read this and have a great day!

Eric Aune, 
Aune Plumbing, LLC