Pipes and Plumbing: A Comparison of Common Piping Materials

You hardly ever see them, but the pipes in our homes are one of the biggest reasons we’ve achieved such a high standard of health and living in the developed world. Plumbing systems are the reason we can have water for hot showers and dishwashing, as well as fresh, clean drinking water at the turn of a faucet. Your plumbing helps you complete your chores, maintain your appearance, and stay healthy. That’s why when it comes to selecting pipe for new construction, a re-piping project, or even a simple repair, selecting durable, quality materials is extremely important. In this article we’ll discuss the pros and cons of three common pipe materials to help you make your selection for your next plumbing project.

Copper

Copper: When it comes to home plumbing, copper is by far the most common piping material that comes to mind. That’s for good reason, too – copper has a stellar reputation as a reliable and durable product. Copper can be used to supply both hot and cold water, and is corrosion resistant. Its main drawback is that is an expensive material when compared to the plastic-derived alternatives on the market. It’s also not recommended for do-it-yourself projects; it requires a fair bit of skill and patience to properly install and solder copper piping, so installing and replacing this type of pipe is best left to a licensed professional plumber. However, if you’re willing to invest the extra money, this material can last an exceedingly long time in home plumbing applications when it is properly installed and maintained.

PEXPEX: Over the past decade, PEX has been gaining in popularity for residential plumbing projects. “PEX” is shorthand for “cross-linked polyethylene,” a durable plastic material that can be molded into pipes and tubing. PEX costs significantly less than copper pipe per foot, and can be installed much more quickly. While PEX is corrosion-resistant and has been tested to withstand quick pressure and temperature changes, keep in mind that the use of PEX pipe in plumbing projects is still a fairly new concept in comparison to other materials.

CPVCCPVC: Like PEX, CPVC pipe is derived from plastics and is a cheaper alternative to copper, but it has been around on the plumbing scene for a longer period of time. CPVC pipe is versatile, with different types and thicknesses available depending on how you want to use it; hot and cold potable (drinkable) water and sewage piping are among the most common applications. Many plumbers and contractors debate the lifespan of CPVC, but CPVC is immune to galvanic corrosion and electrolysis, processes which can affect your water taste and quality in houses with metal pipes. Some people have complained of a “plasticky” taste in their water after installing CPVC pipes, but for those who are interested in do-it-yourself projects, CPVC is valued due to its affordability and the ease with which it can be cut into a variety of sizes for different projects.

Each type of pipe on the market has its drawbacks and advantages; it all depends on a number of details, from the type of piping you need to do down to the acid content in your area’s drinking water. If you’re building a home or decide that its time for a re-pipe, the best thing you can do is contact your local licensed and trusted plumber. Plumbers have the training and expertise needed to install your plumbing properly, which can lengthen any piping material’s overall lifespan. They can also answer more detailed questions about a variety of piping materials, and provide their professional opinion on which types of material are common and trusted for homes in your area. When in doubt, calling a trusted plumber like Home Comfort can bring you peace of mind on your next plumbing project
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Understanding HVAC Design: Manual J Load Calculations

blueprint

Installing a new HVAC system is a hefty investment; depending on the type of equipment you choose to have installed, as well as the size of your home, some new systems can cost as much as a brand new car or truck! With the price tag in mind, and the comfort of your home hanging in the balance, the overall design of your system can be just as important as the installation process itself. One particularly important component HVAC designers take into consideration is called a Manual J Load Calculation.

A home’s Manual J Load Calculation measures how much conditioned air each room of your home will need to maintain a consistent level of comfort during hotter and cooler periods of the year. It does this by taking into account a number of factors, including the size of the individual rooms, different types of surfaces, the location of your home’s duct system, and even the number of appliances in your home! Manual J Load Calculations help an HVAC designer determine how powerful your HVAC system needs to be to properly heat and cool your home.

Determining which system will have just the right amount of power to maintain the temperature in your home is important, mostly because of our human tendency to overestimate our energy needs. There are plenty of newer homes on the market that have an HVAC system that is simply too powerful for the size and layout of the building. In some cases an over-powered system can be just as bothersome as an under-powered system – over-powered systems may encounter a problem called “short-cycling,” which means that the system is so big that it can heat or cool your home too quickly, causing the system to turn on and off at a frequent rate. Short-cycling can waste energy, and in some cases can shorten the overall lifespan of your system, costing you even more on top of your initial investment. Determining your home’s heating and cooling needs with the Manual J Load Calculation is a smart way to help you choose an efficient and long-lasting system for your home.

Choosing an efficient HVAC system doesn’t have to be a daunting experience. Call Home Comfort today and our team of HVAC estimators and designers will help you make the most of your heating and cooling investment.

Works Cited:

http://www.energyvanguard.com/hvac-load-calculations/

Easy Use, Easy Maintenance: Electronic Air Cleaners at Work

Here at Home Comfort, we take indoor air quality seriously. These days most people in the United States spend up to 90% of their time indoors, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lists indoor air pollution as one of the top five environmental health risks we face today. With energy-efficient homes insulated and sealed tighter than ever against fresh outside air, the quality of the air inside a person’s home is often filled with far more pollutants than the air outside, even if you’re using a high-quality air filter and changing it regularly. For those who are concerned about allergens and indoor air pollutants, and would like to take an extra measure to ensure the cleanliness of the air in their homes, installing a whole-home electronic air cleaner may help.

Electronic air cleaners take the job of a normal air filter for a ducted heating and cooling system and take it to the next level. Rather than simply trapping particles in a tightly-knitted, mesh-like media, electronic air cleaners trap particles by giving them an electrostatic charge them as they pass through the filter, causing them to stick to a collection surface rather than passing through the your duct system and into your home. To see an electronic air cleaner in action, check out the video below. It will show you a demonstration of American Standard’s Accuclean™ Whole-Home Air Filtration system at work.

Besides their efficiency, electronic air cleaners have a simple cleaning process. And, since the filters are washable, you can save money in the long run rather than purchasing disposable filters every few months. If you click on the video below, you’ll see a demonstration for cleaning the Accuclean™ system:

Basically, if you can vacuum your carpets, drapes, and furniture, you can clean this air cleaner regularly with no trouble!

If you have a ducted heating and cooling system and like the idea of an efficient, easy-to-maintain air filtration system, give our estimators at Home Comfort a call. We can match the right electronic air cleaner model with your home or business.

Works Cited:

http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/airclean.html

Decoding HVAC Jargon: HSPF Ratings Explained

hspf

Welcome back to our series on common terms in the HVAC industry! Last week, we discussed the meaning and importance of SEER ratings. We mentioned that an air conditioner’s SEER rating is especially important for naturally hot climates like Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. But if you live in a mild climate like states in the Northwest, you should know the meaning of an equally-important HVAC term: the “Heating Season Performance Factor,” otherwise known as a unit’s HSPF rating.

When it comes to weather, places like Western Oregon and Western Washington tend to sit right in the middle of things. This area’s periods of hot summer weather are less intense and usually won’t last as long as the Southwest’s, where air conditioning may even be needed year-round. And unlike the Midwest, whose winters last longer and are very cold, Northwest winters are relatively mild. This makes the Northwest an ideal location to install and utilize heat pumps, which perform heating and cooling operations within a single unit depending upon the demands of the weather.

That being said, cooler weather is definitely more prevalent in this area, which makes the HSPF rating potentially more important to consider than the unit’s SEER rating when shopping for a heat pump system. After all, if you expect your heat pump to be warming your home far more often than you expect it to be cooling your home, its HSPF rating could make a greater difference on your utility bills than the unit’s SEER rating.

HSPF is also more important than SEER in the Northwest if you plan on claiming tax credits for purchasing and installing a heat pump system in your home. Oregon’s residential energy tax credit applications for both ductless and traditional air-source heat pumps both currently require the system in question to have a minimum HSPF rating of at least 9.0. In contrast, neither of the applications have a minimum SEER requirement. In an area where summer seems to speed by in the blink of an eye, it’s easy to see why focusing on maximizing your system’s heating efficiency would lead to bigger energy savings.

For those who can’t or aren’t interested in claiming tax credits after purchasing a heat pump system, it’s still a good idea to take a look at the system’s HSPF ratings to anticipate how much energy it will use during heating season. Keep in mind that the lowest HSPF rating available on the market is 7.7, but that trusted HVAC sources like energyvanguard.com recommend buying a heat pump with an HSPF rating of 8.0 or higher if you anticipate your system operating in heating mode the majority of the time.

And of course, just like a professionally, properly installed air conditioner will typically perform truer to its advertized SEER rating, your heat pump is more likely to live up to its advertized HSPF rating if it’s installed by a trained and licensed mechanical contractor like Home Comfort. We’ll help you choose and install the perfect heat pump system for your home.

Energyvanguard.com, “Know Your Terms – Heat Pump Efficiency Ratings SEER & HSPF”Works Cited

www.oregon.gov, “Heat Pump Systems”

www.oregon.gov, “2013 Residential Energy Tax Credit Rates”

 

Decoding HVAC Jargon: SEER Ratings Demystified

Jackson-7.30.2013

Industry-specific jargon can be rampant in just about any field, and the heating and cooling industry is no exception. Here at Home Comfort, we sometimes even need to catch ourselves and make sure to explain when we tell friends we work within the HVAC industry; after all, not everyone will know off the top of their heads that “HVAC” is shorthand for heating, ventilation, and air conditioning. For the next few weeks we’ll be decoding some much-used but infrequently-explained terms that you may hear in a discussion about heating and cooling technology.

When it comes to central air conditioning, one of the most common industry-specific terms you might see in an advertisement will be the unit’s “SEER” rating. It comes up in radio, television, and newspaper advertisements all the time – next to a splashy photo and company logo, you may see something like: “We have 20-SEER air conditioners in stock!” In addition, a savvy friend or neighbor may have told you that it’s not worth your while to buy an air conditioner with a SEER rating of anything less than 13. But what, exactly, does SEER stand for, and what do those numbers really mean? Gaining a greater understanding of SEER ratings and their applications can help you make a more informed decision the next time you go out to shop for a central air conditioning unit.

Let’s start with what the term “SEER” stands for. SEER is an acronym which stands for “seasonal energy efficiency ratio.” This term was defined and developed by the Air-Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration Institute, an organization that sets the standards for the heating and cooling industry in the United States. SEER is a mathematical calculation that divides the unit’s entire cooling capacity during normal periods of operation by its entire electric energy input during the same period of time. Simply put, the higher a unit’s SEER rating is, the less electricity the system is using to keep you cool. And if the system is using less electricity to keep you cool, it usually means that the unit is more energy-efficient. A system’s SEER rating is especially important to families living in warmer climates, such as Arizona or Texas, where air conditioning season typically lasts much longer than other parts of the country.

If you’re going to use your knowledge of SEER ratings to your advantage, you should also know some industry and government standards. First, keep in mind that in 2006, the United States government issued a requirement that all air conditioning models manufactured from that point forward have a minimum SEER rating of 13. If you have a unit manufactured before 2006, there is a chance that its SEER rating may not be that high. And while a SEER rating of 13 meets government standards, an air conditioner cannot be labeled an ENERGY STAR® model unless it has a SEER rating of 14 or higher.

Finally, in order to make sure your central air conditioning unit is living up to its full SEER-rating potential, it is important to have a licensed and trained mechanical contractor help you select and install your new HVAC system. A mechanical contractor like Home Comfort will make sure that your air conditioner is matched with the right HVAC components and installed properly, so that you can be sure your air conditioner is operating as efficiently as the advertisements claim it to be.

Shopping for Filters Just Became More Affordable: Introducing Our New Local Pickup Option!

Back in May, everyone at Home Comfort was happy to announce the roll out of the new and improved version of our online filter store, with more brands, styles, and sizes to choose from than ever before. Changing your air filters regularly is an important part of the overall maintenance of your HVAC system, and we believe that stocking up on filters should be easy and affordable.

Last May we wrote an article about the benefits of having a case of filters shipped right to your door, and today we’re happy to announce that we’ve begun to offer our local customers an additional online purchase option. Now, when you add filters to your shopping cart, you have the option to bypass pesky shipping charges by selecting “Local Pickup” at the time of checkout. Simply shop for the filters you need, pay online with “Local Pickup” selected, and pick them up at our office in Eugene, Oregon. We’ll call or email you as soon as your order is ready. Like many retail outlets, our local pickup option simply requires showing a valid photo ID and your order number when you come to our office to pick up your purchase. To see the full details on how our local pickup option works, look for our complete policy under “Local Pick Up” on our terms of use page.

If you live near our Eugene office, consider trying this new option the next time you shop for filters. It’s simple, it’s affordable, and it supports the local economy – now that’s a sustainable way to take charge of the care of your HVAC system!

Solar Power in the Northwest: Possible and Practical

solarandhazeEven if you’re not an environmentalist, rising utility and fossil fuel prices are prompting most of us to change our behaviors, and start looking for practical alternative sources of energy. Some have traded in their SUVs for hybrid and electric vehicles; others have invested in new home technologies like high efficiency washing machines or LED light bulbs. As consumers, these products are certainly useful because they use far less fossil fuels than their older counterparts, and will cost us less on our energy expenses overall; but what about that free source of energy that’s always overhead? How about utilizing the power of the sun?

In the Northwest, especially for those of us that live west of the Cascade Mountains, this proposal is often met with blank looks or scoffs. “Isn’t it too cloudy out there?” is one of the most common protests to utilizing solar energy in the Northwest. It’s true that much of the Northwest really doesn’t see much of the sun before Memorial Day and after Labor Day; in fact, there are even parts of Oregon and Washington that have been classified as rainforests by climatologists.

However, this question represents one of the most common misconceptions about the viability of solar power in regions that experience a lot of cloud cover. We may not be able to see the sun when it is covered by clouds, but that doesn’t mean that the solar radiation the sun is constantly emitting isn’t reaching us here on the Earth’s surface. Whether you have solar panels installed in sunny Phoenix or rainy Seattle, the sun’s radiation can still be collected and used as a free energy source.

It’s true that installing solar panels can be an expensive project. Luckily, Oregon’s Department of Energy (ODOE) is a backer of this renewable source of energy, and offers tax credits and incentives for a variety of solar applications. You may even qualify for additional federal tax credits to help offset the initial cost.

solar_hot_water_If you’re interested in using solar power, but aren’t quite ready to retrofit your roof with solar panels for use throughout the entire house, ask a qualified plumbing contractor like Home Comfort about installing a solar water heater. Solar water heaters use a combination of storage tanks and solar collectors to heat stored water for use throughout the home. There are a variety of different brands and models on the market, and a professional plumber can help you select the best water heater for your climate and your family’s projected water use.

Deciding to convert more of your energy sources to solar power can be a big decision, but there are a lot of incentives, and plenty of professional assistance to help you make the switch and start saving money on your utilities. If you’re ready to learn more about how you can utilize this efficient and abundant energy source, check out the resources below or contact our knowledgeable staff at Home Comfort. We can help you get on your way to lower utility bills and a more sustainable lifestyle.

Works Cited:

http://www.nwwindandsolar.com/solar-power-in-seattle-and-the-northwest/

http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/solar-water-heaters

More Than Pink Fluff: The Home Insulation Decision

Pop quiz! What comes to mind when you hear the words “home insulation?”

If the first thing you pictured were huge, fluffy pink rolls of spun fiberglass, you’re not alone. After all, woven fiberglass has been the most popular home insulation method for the better part of the Twentieth Century, and is still a common choice today. But these days there are a lot more options to choose from! Whether you’re building a new home or planning a remodel, doing some research on the variety of home insulation methods on the market is a wise decision. In this post, we’ll discuss a few of the insulation methods used most often by the Home Comfort insulation team.

Knauf Ecobatt Glasswool Insulation

Sustainably-Sourced Insulation: First, if you care not just about the amount of energy your home insulation will save, but also about the sustainability of the insulation material itself, then insulation made from renewable materials is definitely worth looking into. Like traditional woven fiberglass insulation, renewable insulation materials like Knauf’s EcoBatt Glasswool™ products are thick, fluffy sheets of material that are secured in areas like the wall cavities of a home. The only major difference between renewable insulation products and fiberglass insulation are the materials used to create them. Instead of fiberglass, this type of insulation is typically made of materials like sand and recycled glass. Besides the fact that this insulation is made from mostly recycled materials, homeowners who choose this type of insulation often do so because they’re less likely to be made with potentially irritating chemicals like formaldehyde, phenol, or artificial dyes.

loose fillLoose-Fill Insulation: Loose-fill insulation is made from fiberglass like traditional insulation, but it doesn’t come in sheets and rolls. Commonly used in attics and hard-to-reach areas, this material is blown into the space with special equipment. This is a great option for remodels or insulation upgrades! However, those of us who enjoy DIY home improvement projects should take heed: due to the equipment required to apply this material, and the skill needed to install it evenly over the insulated space, this method of insulation is best left to a trained professional installer.

Sprayed-foam-insulation

Spray-Foam: Besides the fact that wall cavities covered in spray-foam look like
they’re coated with snow or marshmallows, spray-foam is also a cool insulation method because of its versatility and efficiency. Since the plastic spray-foam material expands upon application, it can fill tiny spaces that loose-fill, roll, and batt insulations might miss. This creates a tight seal against the air outside and helps to regulate the temperature inside your home.

Keep in mind that the spray is made from plastic-based chemicals and should always be applied by a professional. While the material is perfectly safe when fully dried, the chemicals can irritate the eyes, skin, and respiratory system while it is still wet. As you can see in the picture above, spray-foam installers use special equipment to apply the insulation and must wear skin and eye protection during the installation. Once the application is finished, however, the insulation barrier is both safe and energy-saving.

The comforting thing to keep in mind is that no matter what form of insulation you decide to use, the methods on the market today are held to strict efficiency standards, and, when installed by professionals, are safe for you and your family. It’s simply a matter of finding the right insulation for your lifestyle and budget.

Have more questions about home insulation? Need to start a project? Our insulation department at Home Comfort is ready to help. Contact us today to get started!

Works Cited:

http://ctsprayfoaminsulation.com/faq%CA%BCs/

http://www.ecobatt.us/eco_batt.html

http://www.knaufinsulation.us/content/jet-stream-ultra-blowing-insulation

Small Changes Can Lead to Big Savings: Cutting Down on Summer Water Use

sprinkler

Does your heart do a little somersault when you open your water bill after a long heat wave? Perhaps you’ve been feeling reluctant to fill up the plastic wading pool for your kids on a hot summer day; or maybe pranksters have been writing “wash me” in the dust on your car’s back window because you just can’t justify turning on the hose one more time this week.

In most parts of the U.S., there’s just no way around it. Between thirsty gardens, dusty cars, and a simultaneous desire to enjoy the beauty of the great outdoors and avoid heat stroke, we use more water during the summer months than any other time of year. A lot more, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA estimates that during this peak water use season, a household’s daily water use can nearly quadruple in comparison to an average, off-season day. The good news is that there are plenty of measures you can take to reduce the amount of water you use in your home without sacrificing the beauty of your garden or the fun of an old-fashioned water balloon fight.

Start by assessing your outdoor water use. How frequently do you water your lawn and garden, and what time of day do you usually turn on the hose? Many people will water their lawns on a hot summer day as a preventative measure, even when the grass is at no risk of drying out – which can lead to hundreds of gallons of wasted water. To avoid watering your lawn unnecessarily, the EPA recommends trying the “Step on It” test. The test is easy – before you start to water your lawn, simply walk across the grass. If you see footprints in the grass when you’re finished, your lawn is thirsty and needs to be watered. But if the grass springs back into place, put down the hose – your lawn probably doesn’t need the extra water right now.

To conserve even more water when it comes to your garden, be deliberate about your watering schedule. Instead of watering your garden in the middle of the day, do your watering first thing in the morning or just before sunset. A lot of the water you generously pour on your grass and flowers can be lost to evaporation if it’s done during the hottest part of the day.

To reduce water waste inside your home, take a look around and make a list of plumbing components that need to be repaired or updated. Consider this – your toilet alone can waste around 200 gallons a day if it is operating with a leak! Call a trusted, licensed plumbing contractor like Home Comfort to fix any leaking pipes or fixtures.

If you think it’s time for your plumbing components to be updated, talk to a plumber about installing a WaterSense-labeled toilet or a low-flow showerhead. These components are easy to install, and can use less than half the amount of water older fixtures were designed to use. The initial investment to stop the leaks in your home and update your fixtures can lead to big savings down the road. With small changes in behavior, and an investment in your home’s plumbing, you can take charge of your summer water bill.

Works Cited:

http://www.epa.gov/watersense/our_water/summer2011.html

http://www.epa.gov/WaterSense/pubs/indoor.html

 

Home Comfort Heating Wishes You a Happy (and Safe) Independence Day!

fireworks

Here at the Home Comfort office, our staff is counting down the hours and eagerly anticipating the relaxation and spectacle of another Independence Day holiday. We’re all about the heating and cooling business, but at such a beautiful time of year we’re making more creative plans to beat the heat than sitting locked up in our homes with the AC on full-blast. Some of us are planning fishing trips or barbecues by the pool; others are taking off for the numerous campgrounds in Oregon’s State Parks to relax by a pristine lake or river. While everyone has different destinations and activities in mind, it is a near-certainty that most of us will be enjoying fireworks in some form or another.

But before you stock up on sparklers at the fireworks stand, it’s a good idea to make an outline of your plans and be aware of some basic firework safety measures, so that you and your family can enjoy the holiday to its fullest extent. The Oregon State Fire Marshal urges residents and visitors to the state to remember the “4 BE’s” of firework safety:

Be Prepared: Read and follow the instructions on the back of your fireworks carefully, and always keep plenty of water handy. If you have pets, keep them indoors while lighting fireworks.

Be Safe: Have a responsible adult light the fireworks and only light fireworks outdoors. Never hold or throw lit fireworks, and make sure children view displays from a safe distance.

Be Responsible: Always soak used fireworks after use, and never try to re-ignite a firework that turned out to be a dud.

Be Aware: Use legal fireworks purchased from an Oregon-permitted firework retailer. Remember that fireworks are not permitted on beaches, State Parks, or State and Federal Forest areas.

(Tip: If you’re camping this weekend, consider driving to a nearby town to catch a local fireworks display instead of spending money on fireworks that can’t be used in the areas mentioned above. It’s a fun and wallet-friendly way to enjoy the beauty of a fireworks display on a grand scale.)

If you would like to view the Oregon State Fire Marshal’s “4 BE’s” flyer for more safety tips, click here. Fireworks-related injuries and property damage occur every year in Oregon, but if you take plenty of precautions you can help to make sure the most memorable part of your Independence Day holiday was the wonderful flashes and colors of a spectacular fireworks show.

From all of us at Home Comfort, have a fun and safe weekend!