Category Archives: Thermostat Setbacks

Hey! It’s Hot Out There! — A conversation with@KWCHDeedee

Interview

 

 

DeeDee from Channel 12 KWCH called Friday morning looking for someone to talk about holding the line on cooling costs as the summer heats up.  We met Friday afternoon at a home in NW Wichita. This 4 year old home was larger than most in the Wichita area. 1800 SF on the main floor with a full basement. The Heating and Air is provided with a ‘Geothermal’ Heat Pump.  This system uses the 55 degree water under ground to provide heating, air conditioning and during these oppressive heat days in July, 2016 – de-humidification.

When I got there, the HVAC techs were there working on the system. It had shut off. The temperature in the home was 80° F and the relative humidity inside was in the lower 50% range. They reported the system was now running and during my time with DeeDee we felt and saw the system working. After a couple of hours, the temperature had dropped to 78°F and the relative humidity was down to 48%. The outside conditions at 2:30 pm, while I was there were a temperature of 98° F and a relative humidity of 45%.  Remember that humidity is relative, thus a higher temperature has the capacity to hold more moisture.  At 8:30 am Friday morning the outside temperature was 81° F and the relative humidity was 75%. Much higher than the inside RH at the same temperature when I arrived.

Not Comfortable

Not Comfortable

I think everyone was glad that the air conditioning had been restored.

DeeDee wanted some quick, easy to do, items for any one to help hold the electric bill down during the hot days of summer.  So we went around the home and we looked at some simple, low cost, easy to implement changes that could be made. These would work in you home as a home owner or in a rental home or apartment. We also looked at several improvements that should be considered.

Where does our energy get spent? Here is a graphic that was in my training text.
HHPie

The variations in percentages are due to differing house sizes, energy costs and types, and lifestyle choices.

Under the quick and easy category, people usually look at lights, electronics, and the thermostat.  Each of these requires the person in the home to do something. Turning out the lights, or turning the TV off, or setting the thermostat higher in the summer.  All of them save energy and thus lower your bill.

I classify all of these and others under the heading of Conservation. Then there are those that fall under the heading of Efficiency. These are things like adding insulation to your home, replacing your weatherstripping on doors/windows, or replacing a furnace / ac unit that is over 15 years old.

The difference: Conservation is changing how people work! Efficiency is changing how things work!  Both are important.

A quick summary of the summer conservation items would be:

  • Turn things, like lights and electronics, off when you aren’t using them.
  • Turn the temperature in the house up and turn a fan on.  Ceiling fans are great. If you need some ideas on ceiling fans, I wrote about them.
  • Reduce or eliminate excessive heat sources in the home. Turning off lights is great. Changing an incandescent to a CFL or LED saves energy and reduces the heat put into the home.
  • Another Heat Source is the Water Heater.  Turn it down to 120 degrees. Most people take a shower at 105° F. A 50 gallon tank with a medium flow shower head will provide 1 person with a shower of more than 30 minutes, with a typical mid efficiency recovery time.
  • Cooking inside produces heat and moisture.  Use a kitchen exhaust fan to remove both of those. They make your AC work longer.
  • Use the fan in your bath room to remove the heat and humidity when you shower.
    • if your fans noise level bothers you, replace them with a quiet fan. In Wichita the bath fans are selected and furnished by the electrician. The code requires 50 CFM to be removed from the bathroom.  Since electrician’s are trained in volts and amps, our common practice, means the person selecting your bath fan will bring the least expensive one. You might consider telling your builder on a new home, to have the HVAC contractor bring a quiet fan that will actually remove 50 CFM.
  • Move tasks that generate heat, such as baking a cake or washing and drying clothes to cooler parts of the day. In the morning or after nine at night are good times.
  • Use a clothes line to dry clothes, instead of the dryer.  In the summer do not dry them inside. That will just increase the humidity and make your AC work more.
  • At least one area electric utility has a demand charge for using electricity in the hot day times of the summer.  It is not Westar Energy. If you use another electric Utility, check your bill inserts, check their website, call customer service, and know when not to use electricity. A demand charge is an extra charge for usage during a specific time. Instead of 15 cents, you could be paying several dollars per unit.

Turning electronics off, such as your TV or computer, also involves the various accessories.  Computers have a printer, and sometimes other items that are plugged in. Along side your TV is a cable box, a DVD player, and other plugged in accessories. using a smart strip will help. A smart strip is a power strip that is controlled by the main device in the group.  So you plug your computer into the primary, and the printer, the monitor and other accessories into the other plug ins.  Now when you turn the computer off, the smart strip shuts the accessories off.  The same with the TV, or a game center.

The longer term changes you make to your home, cost more, and can have a larger impact.  These are the efficiency items.

  • Buy Energy Star certified appliances when you replace your refrigerator, washer and other appliances.
  • If your refrigerator or deep freeze is over 12 years old, I would strongly recommend that you look at replacing it.  The technology is changing fast and competition is holding prices down. Those made in the last 2 years use considerably less electricity then older models.

The largest portion of your energy use from the Pie Chart (above) is heating and cooling your home. The chart shows 45 – 55% of your energy use for this.

The simplest, and easiest to work on, would be the insulation in the attic. Others would include replacing less efficient equipment, considering the use of an exterior solar shade, or other improvement. After the work is done, you can sit back and enjoy your home.

Exterior Shade is a great thing, sometimes easy to do. Trees placed with shade considerations are great. Sometimes the builder can build some shading features into the home.  A wider eve for example. 30 inches instead of the standard 24.  Then the gutter, all work to extend the shade. The link below is to an Infrared image of shade from some builder included features.

Follow Up Thought for Friday’s Summer Cooling Tips.

We did take a look in the attic.  I found an attic that could use some attention. Some levels were in the 14 inch range, some were in the 10 inch range. One place had obvious density problems.  Insulation should be installed consistently level, certainly not lumpy. The fibrous insulation, fiberglass, cellulose, or rock wool, must be installed to the density specified by the manufacturer.  If not, you are not getting what your paid for.

attic

This is the attic from the KWCH video camera. I am reaching into a hole in the insulation and I can see the ceiling at the bottom of the hole.

I found no insulation card in the attic.  I can tell it is fiberglass and it is white. In the past two weeks, I’ve seen 5 different types of white fiberglass insulation.  If you install Johns-Manville Fiberglass, the three products I’ve seen in the past two weeks require 20 inches, another 16 inches and another 11.25 inches of thickness.  These depths would provide an R-49 level of insulation. This has been the requirement for attic insulation in our climate zone.  Since there is no legal requirement for insulation in South Central Kansas, most new homes are insulated to R-30 or less.

Call IR

This was the Infrared Image you saw in DeeDee’s video. I have reproduced it here with the visual light picture to help understand what it is showing.

I would like to thank DeeDee and Betty and Jack Call for their hospitality and seeing their home. I offered the Call’s a no charge Utility Usage Analysis for their hospitality. I will go back with that when I get the gas and electric usage from the utility companies.  Jack expressed some interest in adding some insulation to his attic so I will get some quotes for them to consider.

You can view the story DeeDee wrote and the video shown on the 6:00 news at the KWCH website.

Water Pipes Freezing and Cold Weather is Predicted — What should I do?

When the recent cold snap with below Zero temperatures approached, I had several calls about the potential for freezing pipes and what a homeowner could do.  This blog post has compiled all those answers and some other information for easy access.

Things you should know about your water pipes.

Location:  Where are they?  Interior walls?  Exterior walls?  Typical plumbing runs pipes through the wall to the cabinet under (or behind) the sink, shower or tub.

If it is an interior wall, you have less chance of those pipes freezing, then if they are in an exterior wall.

Location:  Where do the pipes enter your home?  Into a basement?  Into the crawl space? Under your mobile home?

This can be a problem area.

The weather forecast says “Your Water Pipes Might Freeze Tonight! Knowing where your pipes are enables you to take some simple preventative action.

Open the cabinet doors by the pipes on exterior walls.  This allows the warmer air from the room into the cabinet area.  Check to see and remove any cleaners etc that a child or pet might get into.

Open a cold water faucet at the sink and let it drip slightly.  Moving water does not freeze. It doesn’t need to move a lot, just a little.  If you do this you may need to replace the faucet washer later. Small price compared to frozen pipes.

Don’t lower your thermostat temperature.  Bypass any setbacks on the thermostat. The amount of energy will be a minimal cost compared to frozen pipes.

Don’t leave home in the winter for any length of time *and* turn the heat down.

If your water supply comes in through a vented crawl space, close the vents.  Check to see that insulated pipes have intact insulation and that it is not wet.  Wet insulation is worse than no insulation. This also applies to mobile homes.

If your water supply comes in to a basement that is not heated, check as if it were a crawl space.

You get up in the morning and there is no cold water at one sink.

First try the other faucets to see if this is just at the one sink, or perhaps where the pipes come in.

Leave each frozen faucet open.  As the ice begins to melt, the water will begin to move and that is good.  Moving water will melt the ice faster.

How you identify the area where the pipe is frozen may vary, you will find it in an area that feels cold, and it seems logical to you that no heat is getting there.

You will have to search for the frozen section(s) of pipe. You can do this with your hand. If you touch the pipe and it is really cold,  you may be close or there.  Normally, water coming from a pipe that is under ground, will be between 50 and 55 degrees F. You will feel the difference with a frozen section or close to frozen section of pipe at 32 degrees.  You can also use a contact thermometer.

If you find no water at all faucets, then your frozen section is probably at a point of entry to the home. Older homes, prior to the 1940’s, that were built before running water was brought into the home, will have many varied places to look. If you have lived there very long, you probably already know. Otherwise, it will be in a basement or crawl space, or perhaps an exterior wall.  If you live in a home that is built on a concrete slab, your odds of a frozen entry pipe happening are minimal.

To Thaw the frozen section. Use heat!

Use a blower dryer, a heat lamp, some type of portable heater. You can use a towel soaked in very hot water, and wrung out well.

Do *not* use any type of open flame.  Pipes are almost always close to parts of the home that burn, and that is not a good thing.

Second, stay with your heat source and the frozen pipe.  If the pipe starts to leak during the process, you need to know so you can shut off the water.

When you get the pipe section thawed, and you have no breaks or leaks, great! If you get any type of leaking, get it fixed.

Prevention for the next cold snap.

You should follow the simple preventative steps listed earlier.

For a more permanent solution, you need to create a situation where the pipe section that froze is kept warmer. That means you add heat or insulation and stop cold air movement.

Pipe insulation from the big box or the hardware store could help.  Buy the correct size, it comes molded for 1/2, 3/4 and larger pipes.  This is a foam that you can easily compress.  So, fasten it snugly, but not tightly.  It should fit more like a nice sweater on your arm instead of a tight rubber band.  Since it is squeezable, it is open cell foam and will allow air movement through it. So I would wrap it with something to stop the wind. Tape would be easy, but you could use something rigid, like small pieces of plywood. For tape, you could use packing tape, or duck tape.

Depending on the location of the pipe section, some rigid foam, blue or pink board type, might work better. Typically this would be a pipe near an exterior wall, with room to put the insulation between the pipe and the wall.  You can fasten it to the wall.

Most of these will also benefit, and some instances will require additional heat.  So opening a cabinet door is something you might have to continue. Modifying any type of duct work is not recommended for directing heat at this type of problem.

This leaves those section in an unheated basement or a crawlspace.

You could add a heat tape.  Make sure you have easy access to this to turn it off after the cold snap and to turn it back on for the next one.  If you don’t, you will probably leave it on all winter and that is expensive. You also need to carefully check the sizing of any extension cord. If in doubt, hire an electrician to add an outlet, so an extension cord is not needed. Adding this type of fix is also something to keep your eye on and check regularly. It is a Fire Hazard.  I would not recommend a used heat tape.  Buy a new on and replace it annually, until you get a more permanent and safe resolution.

Permanent and Safe Solutions

These require some thought and planning. They may take a contractor to implement. You may find through the planning process, other problems that will be fixed.

Give me a call, if you have frozen pipes and want a permanent solution. I can develop a solution for you. Since I don’t sell the products you might use, I can come up with a solution that works for you! Not one that moves my merchandise.

My Nest Labs Thermostat – Week 1 Ends

 

 Last Saturday, I installed my new Nest Thermostat. You can read how that went   at http://bit.ly/yNhq3x .  It is billed as a “Learning Thermostat’, so I promised to let you know how the first week went.

Saturday and Sunday we just watched, as related in the previous link. On Monday night, we noticed the schedule had been filled in to some extent. The Nest was learning from our use over the weekend.

 

 

From the web interface here is the schedule the Nest thought we were following after two days of use.

Here is the schedule after I tweaked it a little. I filled in a few blanks and evened out some times.

My wife is somewhat more comfortable with the system.  She is checking it on her phone and even showing it to her friends. Last night she told me the wall unit is displaying some type of message. When I checked it today, the message said learning at home had started “Push Continue”. The next message said “Ready to Learn Away Schedule”, I pushed and the Nest will do it’s thing.  I’ll have to check regularly to see what it does next.

What have I learned so far?  The iPad or the Web Interface is the easiest for me to use to set and view the schedule. The phone is very handy to check the setting, to watch the outside temperature and to keep an eye on things.  On the smaller screen of the phone, turn from portrait to landscape view to see additional controls other than just temperature settings.  Under Settings – Technical, it will give you a reading of the interior Relative Humidity Level.

Monday through Thursday, we watched the settings change as scheduled.  The Nest was learning the settings for its ‘Away’ function.  Two times this week we have come home and found the Away setting triggered.  My wife is on my case. I need more info about exactly what that away function is.  I have the idea it should be like a vacation mode.  I am beginning to think it is more of a ‘not at home for a while’ mode. After reading a few other posts, I am wondering if it has to do with the function that turns the wall unit on, when you approach it?

Got up early Saturday morning.  I thought Tori might knock on the door selling those Wonderful Girl Scout Cookies! This is the weekend that Girl Scout Cookies can be sold! Headed out the door to see my dad and head for Woodturning Club.  Checked the Nest on the iPhone.  It is in away mode again!  So just 2 clicks and the temperature is set where I expected it.  LOML is still having a slow start Saturday.  Especially nice after her Fast Start Friday!  About 10:00 am from Turning Club, I checked the Nest and the temperature is up a degree.  LOML is up and around.

I just listened to the video on the Nest Site about the Learning Mode.  Away is when the Nest thinks the home is unoccupied.  During set up, you were asked to put in a Hi and a Lo.  So that is what is being used.

Following up on the video, I looked at the actual Nest!  The video went through doing everything from the thermostat, not from a remote device.  There are some differences in the interface, the ease of use was amazing.  You either turn the dial either way, or you push to click.  No double clicks.  The turning is not all that sensitive.  I actually under turned for a couple of tries. This is where you can change the Away Settings, not from a remote device. Right is a shot of the Nest with one click showing the menu.

 

 

One of the sub menus under Settings is Energy.  Here are two different shots of the Nest under the Energy Tab.

Sunday Morning, we were at church and the Nest went into away mode.  Nice to be able to control this on the phone.  The other blip was Sunday afternoon, the Nest lost the Wifi Connection. I ended up resetting the router. Nice to watch the Nest work as a regular non-Wifi thermostat also.

This is a thermostat that one week after installation, could be left with a parent living alone and a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease. In this case they could still run the ‘stat’ and see what they were doing.  You could observe from a distance, if you hooked up the wifi connection. Your parent could also control their thermostat. Here is the schedule that has been set from the tweaked schedule shown earlier. (These three images are from Laptop Screen Shots.) Also an image of the schedule on the iPhone.

 

I still like this item!  It is learning! It is easy to see the schedule on multiple interfaces.  It is not the small buttons with clumsy fingers, or a screen that is hard to read.  It is fairly intuitive.  If you do Time Share vacations, and come across one, it will not be a problem.

I have a few further thoughts on improvements, but those will wait and see if I can find some others. It also makes for another post.

And last but far from least, my neighbor Tori will get here!  I will get some Girl Scout Cookies.  Then I can show her my Nest Thermostat!