December 20, 2014

$300 Million? When Will the Rebates Start?

Our article about the government’s $300 million dollar rebate program which is part of Obama’s economic stimulus package hasn’t begun and consumers across the nation are wondering if it is ever going to happen.

Unlike the $3 billion clunkers rebate blitzkrieg that boosted new-vehicle sales last summer, this program has proceeded more slowly and is aimed at longer-term household investments. It’s also being run differently, with each state deciding what kind of equipment will qualify for rebates.

The federal Department of Energy said last summer that only residential appliances that carry the Energy Star designation would qualify for a rebate. It suggested that rebates could be applied to water heaters, refrigerators, central air conditioners and other big-ticket appliances.

After talking with several people familiar with the program, it now appears details will be released by the end of the year on exactly the types of equipment each state will include in its rebate program as well as the amount of the rebates.

If you can’t wait for your state to start its program, you might want to look into the possibility of getting a Federal tax credit by visiting the government’s energysavers.gov.

Broken Appliance? Do You Repair it or Not?

Having a broken appliance is annoying, not knowing whether or not to fix it is frustrating. We’ve found some questions to ask yourself before you decide what to do, along with appliance lifespan estimates and some simple maintenance advice. Read on.

10 questions to ask:

- Is it really broken? The trouble may be a short in the plug, a tripped circuit breaker or a bad surge-protector outlet. Check the troubleshooting section of the unit’s instruction manual for the most common problems and solutions.

- How old is the appliance?

- Have you had trouble with the unit before? If it’s performed well, it might be worth fixing instead of replacing with something unproven.

- How much will it cost to repair the unit?

- What would a similar appliance cost?

- Are there any hidden costs to purchase (removal, installation, disposal, tax, etc.)?

- How difficult is it to replace the appliance (is it a built-in)?

- What additional features will I get with the new appliance?

- What energy savings will I get with the new appliance? Will they offset the cost of a new appliance versus repair?

- What tax credits are available for purchasing an energy-efficient unit? Will they offset the cost of a new appliance versus repair?

Average life of appliances:

Industry experts say washing machines tend to break down the most because they take the most beatings and contain many moving parts.

- 10-15 years for refrigerators and freezers.

- 10-20 years for ovens and ranges.

- 10-15 years for dishwashers.

- 10-15 years for clothes washers/dryers.

- 10-20 years for water heaters.

- 15-20 years for central air-conditioning unit.

Preventive maintenance:

- Clean the condenser coils on your refrigerator annually and check door seals to ensure they are airtight.

- Check air filters monthly and replace as needed.

- Replace washer fill hoses every five years.

- Avoid overloading the washing machine.

- Have the exhaust duct on the clothes dryer inspected and cleaned once a year. Clean the lint filter before each use.

Appliance Maintenance Tips- or Avoiding an Appliance Disaster

It can happen to anyone, anytime. The washer overflows, the dryer doesn’t dry or -gasp- the fridge stops cooling. Many common household appliance problems can be avoided by following some basic maintenance routines. Regular maintenance will prevent prevent breakdowns, saving you money on costly repairs, or even higher insurance costs if you have water damage.

Here are some common household appliance maintenance tips and the cost comparisons for maintenance, use and damage :

1. Clothes dryer
Even if you clean your clothes dryer’s lint trap with each load, a surprising amount of lint makes it past the trap. Clogged air vents and ductwork not only lead to dryer inefficiency, and an estimated $300 additional to operate yearly, but could also spark a fire. Each year dryers cause some 12,700 residential fires, 15 deaths and 300 injuries, according to a 2007 report by the U.S. Fire Administration. In 70 percent of the cases, “failure to clean” was the leading cause. Second-floor laundry facilities pose another risk: The USFA calls these locations “hazardous” because they often require longer ductwork, with bends that could trap lint, rather than immediate outside venting. Improper ducting made of light foil or plastic can also ignite more readily and should be replaced by semi-rigid or rigid aluminum, or galvanized steel ducting.

Top tips:

* Once a month use your vacuum cleaner’s fine nozzle to suction the lint slot.
* Once a year unplug the dryer, disconnect the vent tube and vacuum it out.
* If your dryer doesn’t vent directly outside, consider hiring a professional duct cleaner.

Maintenance cost:

* Dryer vent cleaning kits: $20
* Professional duct cleaner: $75 to $200
* New ducting: $15

Average cost of home dryer fires:

* $9,176

2. Washing machine
Today’s high-efficiency front-loading washing machines are gentler on clothes, but complex mechanical and electrical components make them tougher on your wallet when something goes wrong. With estimates from $450 to $600 to repair a broken drum, it may be more cost-effective to buy a new washer.

But the biggest disaster with any washing machine is flooding from a burst water hose, which can release 650 gallons of water per hour. Burst hoses top PEMCO’s list of homeowner’s insurance claims, resulting in an average $4,000 to $6,000 in damages. “If the owner is home and they catch the leak within an hour, it’s usually on the low end,” says PEMCO spokesman Jon Osterberg. “The bad-case scenario is if they’re on vacation. In some of the higher end homes with second-floor laundry facilities, you can reach $100,000 in damages.”
Top tips:

* To keep the drum spinning smoothly for years to come, for starters, use only high-efficiency, or HE, detergent. “The suds that are created by nonhigh-efficiency detergents will get in and wreak havoc on the drum and drive system,” says Dave Chowanec, Sears product category engineer for laundry products.
* Once a month, run an empty hot water wash to break down any built up residue.
* Excessive vibration can also damage the drum. If you hear or see the machine shake, it’s unbalanced. Check for level, but more importantly, check the machine’s stability by rocking it from corner to corner. “All four legs should be firmly touching the ground and locked according to the use manual,” says Chowanec.
* Once a month, check your washing machine hoses for bulges or tears, especially at connection points where kinks can form and crack. Manufacturers suggest replacing hoses every three to five years, regardless of wear. It’s no more complicated than attaching a garden hose. Steel braided “no-burst” hoses can also fail, and because of the meshing, tiny tears may be more difficult to catch. When not in use, turn off the water valves leading to your machine. For ultimate peace of mind, install an automatic water valve shut off system activated when it senses an excessive surge in water pressure.

Maintenance cost:

* Carpenter’s level: $15
* New hoses: $10 to $20
* Automatic shut off system: $130 to $200

Cost of Energy Star-rated front-end loader:

* $620 to $1,850

3. Sump pumps
Sump pumps usually protect your basement from flooding, but they can fail unexpectedly. Homeowners insurance usually doesn’t cover damages from sump-pump overflow. Sump pumps often vibrate when they run, so the float mechanism can get stuck.

“This will either make it run all the time or it won’t run at all,” says Ray VinZant, the expert behind Roto-Rooter’s “Ask the Plumber.”

“The float has to be able to rise up when the water level rises. If it doesn’t, the pump won’t come on.”

Because sump pumps drain ground water and sediment, clogged intake screens and discharge pipes also contribute to their failure. While battery backups offer a measure of protection if your primary pump fails or if there’s a power outage, they aren’t foolproof. Most backups last five to seven years. An old battery might only run three hours in an outage, instead of the stated six.
Top tips:

* Once a year, pour a gallon of distilled white vinegar into the basin to break down calcium deposits on the expeller and pump.
* Unplug the pump and remove any material clogging the intake screen.
* Check the float switch operation: Pour enough water to turn the pump on and make sure it drains. “If you hear a grinding noise, the pump may be on its last legs,” says VinZant.

Maintenance cost:

* Gallon of vinegar: $2

Cost:

* For a six-hour battery backup: $100 to $150
* For a high-end 7.5 hour sump pump system that includes a low-battery alarm: $475

4. Water heater
An old or corroded water heater can cause substantial damage. “Don’t forget you have a water heater,” says Randy Schuyler, who operates WaterHeaterRescue.com.
anode-rods
“Some day you’ll hear the water running when you know nobody is using any and you’ll find a major flood in some part of your house that wasn’t meant to be a wading pool.”

Sold with six- or 12-year warranties, PEMCO Insurance suggests replacing your tank every 10 years. Roto-Rooter caps the useful life at 15 years. Look at the first four digits on the heater’s serial number to find the month and year of manufacture.

Several factors lead to tank corrosion. Water sediment at the bottom of the tank builds up if not drained properly. Tanks also have something called a sacrificial anode rod, or rods, made of aluminum or magnesium-coated steel, that water eats away first instead of your tank’s inner walls. When these rods wear out, water begins to corrode your tank from the inside out.
Top tips:

* Because natural gas, water and electrical components are involved, be sure to take necessary safety precautions in maintaining your hot water heater.
* To extend a tank’s longevity keep the floor around the heater clean. “Some newer models are especially prone to dust, and may just stop working if their filters get clogged,” says Schuyler.
* Once a year check your water pressure. “Anything over 80 psi can wreck water heaters, other appliances and piping,” he says.
* Test the temperature/pressure relief valve by pulling up on the handle. “Replace it if it does nothing, or runs, dribbles or drips when the handle closes,” says Schuyler. “Under rare conditions, water heaters blow up. When they do, they may take walls, the roof and their owners with them.”
* “If there’s clearance above your tank, every few years, check the tank’s anode rod.” Schuyler says the single most important factor in whether a water heater lives or dies is the condition of its sacrificial anode. “For more than 60 years, it has been used as a key part of the rust protection of a tank, although few people know it’s there,” he says. The rod is made of magnesium or aluminum and screws into the top of your tank. Look for a hexagonal head — often covered by a plastic cap. “Replace it when six inches of core wire shows,” says Schuyler. If you have a water softener, check the rod annually. “Softeners can eat anodes in as little as six months.”
* To effectively remove sediment, Schuyler suggests expelling it under pressure by using a ball valve drain assembly and curved dip tube.

Maintenance cost:

* New anode and sediment removal kit: $80

Cost of an Energy Star-rated water tank:

* $500 to $600, not including installation

5. Air conditioning
Often a major expense, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, systems require yearly professional inspections and adjustments to ensure proper operation. Just a 10 percent leak in refrigerant could result in a 20 percent decrease in efficiency. Homeowners may save up to 50 percent in energy costs with proper HVAC maintenance, according to the Air Conditioning Contractors of America.

Top tips:

* Between spring and fall servicing, homeowners should replace their HVAC filters once a month. Change “three-month” filters just as frequently if your home is excessively dusty or you have shedding pets. Clean filters result in a 5 percent to 15 percent reduction in energy consumption, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
* To ensure the outside condenser unit has necessary airflow, keep it clear of debris and cut back foliage by at least two feet. Because evaporator and condenser coil fins can easily bend, forcing your system to work harder, comb them back into shape using a special fin comb, available through parts wholesalers.

Maintenance cost:

* Filters: $10 to $20 per filter
* Fin comb: $12
* Routine HVAC servicing: as low as $25

Cost of a high-efficiency HVAC system:

* Prices vary greatly depending on size, location of the unit, added ductwork and air handler, but can range from a few thousand to well over $15,000.

6. Refrigerator
Several factors can lead to refrigerator poor performance: Excessive dust and dirt can clog the condenser coils forcing the coolant to work harder; an unleveled refrigerator can knock the doors out of alignment, causing cold air and energy to escape, and a dirty door gasket can break the tight seal necessary to maintain your refrigerator’s efficiency. In refrigerators with water dispensers, a clogged filter can stop the automatic icemaker from working and produce discolored water.

Top tips:

* Twice a year pull out your refrigerator, unplug it and vacuum the coils located either in the front or back, more often if you have shedding pets. If possible, allow a 2-inch space around the top and sides to let the coils breathe.
* Make sure to check for level after maintenance.
* Clean the door gaskets with soap and water and check the seal. “The gasket should last the life of the refrigerator, but if it becomes warped or damaged replace it,” says Neil Pellicci, Sears engineering manager for refrigeration products.
* Replace the water filter every six months, (more often if you have hard water) or when the indicator light comes on.

Maintenance cost:

* New door gasket: $45 to $55, not including installation
* Water filter: $17 to $45, depending on make and model

Cost of an Energy Star-rated refrigerator:

* $500 for basic top-freezer to $3,000 for high-end side-by-side, not including installation

Routine recap

To help you keep track of these maintenance items, cut and save this schedule:

Monthly:

* Vacuum clothes dryer lint slot.
* Check washing machine hoses for wear and tear.
* Run an empty hot water cycle in front-end loader.
* Replace HVAC filters.
* Clean the floor around your water heater.

Twice-yearly:

* Have HVAC system professionally serviced (in spring for air conditioner, fall for furnace).
* Replace refrigerator water filters.
* Clean refrigerator door gaskets.
* Vacuum refrigerator condenser coils (more frequently if you have shedding pets).

Yearly:

* Clean out clothes dryer vent and ductwork.
* Check washing machine for level and stability.
* Clean sump pump basin and intake screen.
* Flush deposit build up in sump pump basin with white vinegar.
* Check sump pump float and operation.
* Check water heater anode rod and temperature/pressure valve.
* Check your home’s water pressure.
* Drain sediment from water heater.

Planning Ahead for a New Heating System

The phrase “you don’t appreciate what you have until it’s gone” can apply to many things in life, but it’s particularly relevant when the heat goes out on the coldest day of the year.

In these situations, most homeowners will do practically anything to restore the indoor comfort level of their homes as quickly as possible – whether it’s paying for a quick fix or replacing an entire system. However, in the rush to prevent the family from shivering all night long, it’s easy to make a rash decision that could ultimately be a costly mistake in the long run.

According to Bill Cunningham, a home comfort specialist with Lennox – a leading manufacturer of heating, cooling and indoor air quality equipment – there are three common mistakes people tend to make when the air stops circulating at home:

Mistake No. 1: Thinking you’ll save more money by repairing an old, broken system instead of replacing it.

Repairs to an existing heating and cooling may be the least expensive immediate option, but Cunningham says that simply repairing an old system may cost you more in the long run since older systems tend to break down more frequently and consume more energy. Replacement often is a better option, because new heating and cooling systems are much more efficient than those from several years ago and they can save you money, time and headaches in the long run.

For example, by replacing an older furnace that is 60 percent efficient with one that is 95 percent efficient, homeowners can save approximately 57 percent on energy bills and up to $5,513 over a five-year period. In addition, new federal tax credits for energy efficient home improvements make buying a new system more affordable than ever.

Mistake No. 2: Buying a new system that is too big or too small.

“Bigger isn’t always better, particularly when it comes to heating and air conditioning equipment,” says Cunningham. A correctly sized heating and cooling system is crucial to your comfort and the efficiency of the system. According to Cunningham, an oversized system will cost you more to operate and may actually lower your comfort. In fact, an air conditioner that is too large for the home will cycle on and off more frequently than properly sized units, running up your utility bill, while also leaving rooms cold and clammy. Likewise, if the unit is too small, it will run too often and may be unable to heat or cool your home sufficiently. To help determine the proper size, it’s best to enlist the help of a reputable home heating and cooling contractor.

Mistake No. 3: Failing to take into account your long-term needs.

When buying a new system, be sure to consider that it is priced within your budget, but don’t compromise your comfort level, household energy efficiency or long-term savings by purchasing a system that will not satisfy your needs well into the future. Choosing a new heating or air conditioning system that’s right for your home is more than just a matter of comparing the initial purchase price and installation costs. The fuel costs to operate a home comfort system over its lifetime, which can span anywhere from 10 to 20 years, will likely be much more than the initial purchase price. Cunningham says purchasing a new furnace with an efficiency rating of 90 percent or higher, such as the Lennox G71MPP gas furnace, or an air conditioner with a seasonal energy efficiency rating (SEER) of 16 or higher can help offset fuel and operating costs over the long haul.

Recall: Heating System Thermostats by OJ Electronics Due to Shock Hazard

Name of Product: 208-Volt and 240-Volt Thermostats

Units: About 30,000

Importer/Distributor: OJ Electronics, of Chicago, Ill.

Hazard: The recalled thermostat’s floor sensor or its cable can be damaged from cutting, drilling, or nailing. This poses a risk of electric shock to consumers if the power supply is not disconnected.

Incidents/Injuries: None reported.

Description: The recall involves thermostats that have a built-in GFCI and are designed for use in under-floor heating systems. Thermostats included in the recall are connected to 208-Volt or 240-Volt power supplies (120V units are not included in the recall). They were sold under the brand names of Canisol, Danfoss, Elektra, Momento, OJ Microline, Raychem, Thermosoft, Warmly Yours and Warmup. The brand name is located on the front of the thermostat.

Sold at: Various home improvement stores, tile shops and other retail shops nationwide from January 2004 through December 2008 for between $150 and $200.

Manufactured in: Denmark

Remedy: Consumers should not cut, drill or nail into the heated floor, and contact the manufacturer to arrange for a free in-home repair.

Consumer Contact: For additional information, contact OJ Electronics at (800) 380-6940 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday or visit the firm’s Web site at www.ojelectronics.com

Cool Off With a Room Air Conditioner -and Save Money

The hot, humid weather of summer is about to meet Americans’ continuing desire to cut costs this cooling season. Room air conditioners are a practical way to cool down when temperatures heat up, especially if you want to save money by only cooling the rooms you use the most.

New room air conditioners are significantly more energy efficient and now offer a variety of features, including varying fan speeds, remote controls, timers and different types of filters. The average room air conditioner manufactured in 2008 also uses 23 percent less energy than units made in 1990. ENERGY STAR units can save you even more.

Before going to the store to purchase a new unit, consumers should visit www.cooloff.org to search through a list of models that are AHAM-certified. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers tests and certifies room air conditioners in an independent lab to verify that the product performs according to the manufacturers’ claims.

To get the maximum benefit from a room air conditioner, consider two important factors — cooling capacity and efficiency. Many people size air conditioners incorrectly, purchasing an air conditioner with more cooling capacity than needed.

More is not necessarily better. A unit with too much capacity may cool a room so quickly that it won’t run long enough to lower humidity. This results in a cold, clammy feeling caused by chilly, humid air. More importantly, you will be wasting energy and lots of money.

Cooloff.org also offers a cooling calculator for consumers to determine the proper cooling capacity for their room. The Web site will also take you through a series of questions before recommending models that fit your needs.

Once you know what size unit you need, consider its operating efficiency. The higher the energy efficiency ratio, or EER, the more efficient the model. When shopping, you’ll also want to look for the “AHAM-certified” seal. Models certified through AHAM’s program have been tested and their performance verified by an independent laboratory, assuring consumers that the product will perform according to the manufacturer’s product claims for BTU’s per hour, amps and efficiency.

Once you have the perfect air conditioner for your home size, you’ll want to keep it running smoothly. Here are some maintenance tips from the AHAM:

* Turn off the unit and open doors and windows during cooler periods.
* Use the unit fan and portable fans to draw in cooler outside air and increase circulation.
* Use a higher (warmer) thermostat setting during peak periods or when the area is unoccupied. A 75 to 80 degree setting will cut power consumption by 15 percent.
* Don’t let heat build up all day and then try to cool areas quickly by turning the controls to maximum settings.
* Draw the shade or window blinds to reduce solar and outdoor heat.
* Regularly change or clean filters and check air flow for blockage or frost on evaporator coil.

Upgrade Your Heating and Air

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems are often out-of-sight and out-of-mind when you’re looking to buy a new home, moving into one or just making sure your current home is in good repair. However, updating your HVAC system now can increase the comfort and energy efficiency of your home, and might even qualify you for a tax credit.

With the passage of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, homeowners may be eligible for a tax credit if they purchase certain types of HVAC systems, water heating equipment, or make other energy-related improvements to their homes now through Dec. 31, 2010. More information about the tax credit is available at www.AmericanStandardAir.com and www.irs.gov.

How do you know what HVAC improvements are right for your home? American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning offers a quick overview of basic components to consider when purchasing a new system or planning an upgrade:

Outdoor units: air conditioner or heat pump
An air conditioner offers cool, quiet comfort during the hottest days by extracting heat and moisture from indoors. A heat pump does double duty, acting as both an air conditioner and a furnace. But unlike a furnace, it doesn’t burn fuel to create heat — it uses electricity to keep your home warm in winter, cool in the summer and comfortable all year long. A Heritage Hybrid Comfort System combines two different energy sources and automatically operates in the most efficient and economical mode. American Standard Heating & Air Conditioning’s line of Allegiance air conditioners and Heritage heat pumps range in efficiency from 13 to 20 Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, or SEER, the measure of cooling efficiency.

Indoor units: furnace or air handler
A furnace works with an air conditioner to heat and evenly circulate air throughout your home. An air handler performs the same duties as a furnace in homes that use electricity instead of gas. It works with an air conditioner to circulate cool air in the summer. Or, when paired with a heat pump, it circulates cool air in the summer and warm air in the winter.

Air cleaner or filtration system

For even greater comfort, an air filtration system can be added to your furnace or air handler to filter out unwanted airborne particles. A whole-home air filtration system can remove the allergens from the air your family breathes, including dust, dander, pollen and bacteria.

Humidifier
A humidifier adds moisture to the air in winter and in hot, dry climates. It can be attached to your furnace and programmed to automatically turn off once humidity reaches a certain level.

Thermostat
A programmable thermostat automatically adjusts temperatures throughout the day, ensuring greater energy efficiency and enhanced indoor comfort.

How to Save Energy Today, Tomorrow and All Year

We’ve found your step-by-step guide to saving energy at home. Many of these suggestions are appliance related, but even if they’re not, saving energy is always a good idea. You can start today with these simple changes:

To Do Today:

    Turn down the temperature of your water heater to the warm setting (120°F). You’ll not only save energy, you’ll avoid scalding your hands

    Start using energy-saving settings on refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, and clothes dryers

    Survey your incandescent lights for opportunities to replace them with compact fluorescents (CFLs).

    These lamps can save three-quarters of the electricity used by incandescents. The best targets are 60-100W bulbs used several hours a day. New CFLs come in many sizes and styles to fit in most standard fixtures.

    Check the age and condition of your major appliances, especially the refrigerator. You may want to replace it with a more energy-efficient model before it dies.

    Clean or replace furnace, air-conditioner, and heat-pump filters.

    If you have one of those silent guzzlers, a waterbed, make your bed today. The covers will insulate it, and save up to one-third of the energy it uses.

This Week:

Visit the hardware store. Buy low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators, and compact fluorescent light bulbs, as needed. These can be purchased from any hardware or home improvement store. CFLs are now sold at some drug stores and grocery stores.

If your water heater is old enough that its insulation is fiberglass instead of foam, it clearly will benefit from a water heater blanket from the local hardware or home supplies store. (To tell the difference, check at the pilot light access (gas). For electric water heaters, the best access is probably at the thermostat, but be sure to turn off the power before checking.)

Rope caulk very leaky windows.

Assess your heating and cooling systems. Determine if replacements are justified, or whether you should retrofit them to make them work more efficiently to provide the same comfort (or better) for less energy.

This Month:

Crawl into your attic or crawlspace and inspect for insulation. Is there any? How much?
Insulate hot water pipes and ducts wherever they run through unheated areas.

Seal up the largest air leaks in your house—the ones that whistle on windy days, or feel drafty. The worst culprits are usually not windows and doors, but utility cut-throughs for pipes (“plumbing penetrations”), gaps around chimneys and recessed lights in insulated ceilings, and unfinished spaces behind cupboards and closets. Better yet, hire an energy auditor with a blower door to point out where the worst cracks are. All the little, invisible cracks and holes may add up to as much as an open window or door, without you ever knowing it!

Set your thermostat back (forward) when you can accept cooler (warmer) conditions. This generally includes night time and whenever you leave your home for several hours. Many people find it easier to use an ENERGY STAR programmable thermostat that will automatically adjust the thermostat based on your time-of-day instructions.

Schedule an energy audit for more expert advice on your home as a whole, or learn how to conduct your own by visiting the Home Energy Saver Web site.

This Year:

Insulate. If your walls aren’t insulated have an insulation contractor blow cellulose into the walls. Bring your attic insulation level up to snuff.

Replace aging, inefficient appliances. Even if the appliance has a few useful years left, replacing it with a top-efficiency model is generally a good investment.

Upgrade leaky windows. It may be time to replace them with energy-efficient models or to boost their efficiency with weatherstripping and storm windows.

Have your heating and cooling systems tuned up in the fall and spring, respectively. Duct sealing can also improve the energy efficiency and overall performance of your system (warm-air furnace and central air conditioners).

I know, it’s a long list, but taken one step at a time through the year it’s doable, and you will be making a difference not just in your pocketbook, but for the world.