Lower Electric Bills with an A/C Misting System


Cool-N-Save A/C condenser misting paddle
Cool-N-Save A/C condenser misting paddle

Summertime is here and the living is easy. Except perhaps for that high electricity bill from the incessant cycling of the air conditioner. Sure, you’ve beefed up the insulation, sealed leaks and perhaps installed radiant barrier foil in the attic. But there’s more you can do; you may be able to lower your electric bills with an A/C misting system.

Can a Condenser Coil Mister Save the Day?

I have been intrigued by this concept for a while now and with the South Texas temperatures flirting with triple digits and rising utility rates I decided this was the year to implement it. I already understood the cooling power of evaporating water, having worked with cooling towers and chilled water systems while working as an Engineering Supervisor for Marriott.

 

But this is a different application although the basic science is roughly the same. The one I installed at my home yesterday is the Cool-N-Save basic kit. Their claim is that the mist will lower the temperature of the air around the coils by as much as 30°F. This means that your HVAC system will not have to work as hard, consequently becoming more efficient and saving you money. Have I saved money yet? I don’t know! I just installed it yesterday. But I do have historic data and I’ll update this post when I have some hard numbers.

Curious about the science? Heat flux, thermal flux, heat flux density, or heat flow rate intensity is a flow of energy per unit of area per unit of time. Call it what you will, heat flux is at its most efficient whenever the outdoor ambient air temperature is lower than the refrigerant flowing through inside the A/C coils. So the evaporative effect of the misting lowers the ambient temperature in the area around the condenser coils and bingo! Efficiency prevails.

How the Cool-N-Save Coil Mister Works

Cool-N-Save mister water filter
Cool-N-Save mister water filter

The basic kit comes with:

  • 1  Control valve and paddle
  • 3  2′ Misting arms (tubing from the control valve/paddle to the misting nozzles)
  • 3  Brass misting nozzles
  • 1  Cool Release water treatment filter (3 month life)
  • 1  20′ flexible water feed line
  • 1 Garden hose adapter

The only thing I added was a brass splitter with cut-off valves for my outdoor spigot so I can use the mister and garden hose concurrently.

A dedicated garden hose attaches to the supplied garden hose adapter whose tubing enters the filter. Another hose (cut from the 20′ line) connects the filter to the control valve on the paddle. The three misting arms connect to the control valve/paddle and dangle down three sides of the condenser respectively terminated by the misting nozzles. Use zip-ties in all the obvious places.

When the A/C cycles the fan in the condenser unit kicks off. This blows up the paddle and enables water flow to the misting nozzles. It’s that elementary, Watson. (Pardon the inevitable Sherlock Holmes reference.)

Regular readers of my energy efficiency  articles know that I stress incremental changes; it is generally many small to large changes, not just one huge one that will reap savings. An A/C misting system is my latest energy tweak. I’ll be back in touch with results.


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Best Way to Install a Misaligned Sink Drain During Remodeling


Snappy Trap sink drain
Snappy Trap sink drain

During new construction installing sink drains is easy-everything is configured to work together. During a kitchen or bathroom remodeling project it can be a completely different story. You can bet that things will not line up using new components.

Case in point: in the course of re-building in the aftermath of the flood due to Hurricane Harvey we’ve got new cabinets and sinks.  I needed to match up with the existing wall drainpipe. It came as no surprise that the hook-up was not the straight shot that the original was. I needed a solution.

A Flexible Solution for Connecting Drain Lines

After looking at a number of solutions I settled on the Snappy Trap. It seemed like the easiest to install and the price was right. It comes in several configurations-single sink, double-sink, etc.

In my case I used two single-sink kits since I have two drainpipe p-traps that converge into one drain. Of course, in a situation with a double-sink and one  drainpipe, the Snappy Trap 1 1/2″ all-in-one-drain kit for double bowl kitchen sinks will give the best results.

In any case, one of the important benefits over other systems is that with this product the flexible tube has a smooth interior. This prevents build-up and excessive odor.

The System is Dishwasher-Friendly

The elbow that connects to the sink strainer tailpipe has a dishwasher drain connection nipple that points up at an angle so that there will not be any back flow up into the sink (see the picture below).

Snappy Trap sink drain with dishwasher connector
Snappy Trap sink drain with dishwasher connector

This is a convenient option but if you don’t plan on connecting a dishwasher, simply leave the cap on and you’re good to go.

Installing a misaligned sink drain during remodeling without hiring an expensive plumber is a thing of the past. If you’ve got some basic tools and some DIY common sense, dive right in. The hardest part is crawling in the cabinet.

 


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How to Select a Roofing Contractor


A new roof with a dormer
A new roof with a dormer

It’s simple. If you have a home you have a roof. Just as a residential fence protects your yard, your roof protects the interior of your home. Even renters need a roof although your landlord is generally liable for repairs like roofing and siding. But if you need to select a roofing contractor here are the things you need to know since a new roof is a rather large investment.

First, Decide on What Kind of Roofing Material You Want

You basically first have to choose between a metal or shingle roof. This is important because some contractors do it all but some simply focus on one kind of material. You don’t want a contractor to “practice” or “train new hires” on your dime.

Metal roofs will cost you more but they last longer and are very fire resistant. Consider this if your home is in the vicinity of fires spread by the Santa Ana winds.

Questions to Ask Potential Roofing Contractors

You can create a short list by going to a service like Angie’s List or Networx. You can also ask neighbors who have recently had roof service. After you have a short list it’s time to ask some questions.

  • Do you use nails or staples? Nails are far superior in windy conditions.
  • Have you ever had to deal with a mechanics lien? If so, it generally means he hadn’t paid his workers in a timely manner. Not a good thing.
  • Are you bonded? Do you carry Workers compensation and contractor’s liability insurance? The answer should be a resounding “yes.”
  • Are you willing to sign a binding contract? Life happens to all of us but nothing is worse than a roofing contractor pulling off the job halfway through to deal with something else.
  • How is your record with the BBB.

These are just some things you need to ask before signing on the dotted line. Protect yourself and your pocketbook.


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Top 10 Ways to Go Green

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Have a green home and lifestyle
Have a green home and lifestyle

Going green is as trendy as ever but did you know that it will save you money as well? You can do more than recycle; you can make small changes in all areas of your home and life that really add up. Here are the top 10 ways to go green on our list.

  1. Go Organic in your garden and lawn. First of all, stop it with all the pesticides. Monsanto’s Roundup is in trial right now for allegedly causing cancer. The active ingredient glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” according to the World Health Organization. Stop it with the “weed and feed” products as well. Sure, the herbicide ingredient will kill some weeds but they can also kill shrubs and trees if applied in the drip zone. Just broadcast organic fertilizer and agricultural dried molasses in the spring and fall. This will encourage deep root growth of your lawn grass which means less watering, saving money. It is also recommended to apply beneficial nematodes to eliminate fleas in the larval stage.
  2. Green Your Kitchen. Back off with the chemical cleaning products. Instead, use non-toxic or plant-based cleaning products. They perform just as well as your chemicals but they are safer for your family, better for the environment, and save money. For example, baking soda is non-toxic and can be combined with a bit of water to clean tubs, sinks and other surfaces. Vinegar is great for cleaning glass. Got bugs? Use orange oil spray instead of pesticides.
  3. Improve Your Energy Efficiency. Anything you can do to lower your electricity bill is a good thing. Today’s homes are built with tighter exteriors than older homes so strive for that. Spring for an energy audit to identify problems if you want; otherwise just do common sense things like adding insulation and caulking windows. This will really save you money when utility costs spike.
  4. Go Green in the Bathroom. Wasting water is not only bad for the environment but is also costly. Switch to low flow toilets. Next eliminate the drips; a single dripping water faucet can waste 212 gallons of water a month. Ka-ching! And, there is no point in leaving the water running while you brush your teeth. On, off, on, off.
  5. Make Some Energy Tweaks Around the House. One of the easiest things to do is to contact the Direct Marketing Association to take yourself off many companies’ mass marketing mailing lists for up to five years. Unplugging things when not in use stops “phantom loads” with most appliances that use power such as VCRs, televisions, stereos, chargers, computers, and kitchen appliances.
  6. How to Save When Shopping. Most people don’t realize how they can save and go green when out and about. First, don’t load up on bottled water for drinking when you are out doing your chores. Instead, carry a reusable water bottle. You will save money and create less scrap plastic. For the grocery store take your own reusable bags. When the industry went from paper to plastic they didn’t do the environment any favors. Also consider buying things in bulk. This saves on both packaging and money.
  7. Focus on an Environmentally-Friendly Workplace. Being green isn’t only possible at home; the workplace is important as well. Encourage workers to have a plant or two in their space; they act as natural filters to improve indoor air quality. If your company ships products, use environmentally-friendly packaging materials and reuse boxes when possible. Set your office printers to print double-sided. This is an simple way to reduce paper consumption by up to half.
  8. Traveling the Green Way. If you are only going a short distance, consider walking or riding a bike. If you can run to work and shower there, even better. Compared to driving a car, this will save money and improve your health. Use public transportation or carpool when possible. Not only will you have a greener commute but you can catch up on some reading.
  9. Food can be Green too. We all have to eat so why not do it the green way? Buying locally grown food is a good start. Did you know that food generally travels between 1,500 to 2,500 miles from farm to your kitchen? Moving food that distance results in high energy consumption and less local agricultural investment. If you took our advice on going organic in tip #1 above, grow your own veggies, fruit, and herbs.
  10. Consider Passive Solar ConceptsPassive solar has been getting quite a bit of press lately but many people don’t really understand it. Basically it means considering the sun’s energy when building or modifying your home. With new home construction, it is important to position the structure so that you get the morning and afternoon sun where it benefits you the most. Thermal mass is also an important concept. In colder climates materials such as concrete and brick hold heat well and can be used in living areas to reduce heating costs. Solar collectors, both passive and active can be incorporated into a home’s design. Solar water heaters can vastly lower your energy bills and your impact on the environment.

These tips on ways to go green can greatly reduce your carbon footprint and save you money. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in global warming or climate change; who doesn’t enjoy extra cash?


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Puzzled by Your Home Electrical Issues?



A properly-labeled circuit breaker panel
A properly-labeled circuit breaker panel

Almost everything we do in our homes and work-spaces involve electricity. From refrigerators to night-lights, electricity is involved at the most local level. Today, most of us take it for granted since it has always been there.

But it hasn’t always been there, which for most of us is a difficult concept to grasp. A political hot-potato has always been how power is generated. Coal, gas, solar energy, or nuclear? It is hard to get a consensus.

One of the only constants is the bleating from the NIMBY states (Not In My Back Yard). California comes to mind–send us our power but don’t make it here; it;s not “clean”. Hypocrites.

So, with all that in consideration, here are a few of my musings on the subject of power, power, power.

Electricity is Delivered Through Conduits

It doesn’t just show up like an expected relative. No, it enters your home through the main line into your circuit breaker box. From there it is routed where it needs to go depending on where it was designed to go.

Whenever you move into a home it is advisable to always map your electrical circuits before trouble transpires. When an issue arises you will need to know where things start and where they go, so to speak.

Depending on the age of your residence, your local electrical code, and the type of devices you install, the means of delivering that electrical power may vary.

How to Save Money on Your Power Bill

One of the big problems concerned with your home electricity is that the cost tends to be in flux. Unless you are a big fan of studying natural gas and coal futures it is hard to predict when the price will rise. The  best thing you can do is maximize your home’s energy efficiency in advance. Here are a few money saving tips to consider.

  • Keep your HVAC system in tip-top shape. Having it tuned up twice a year, when the seasons are changing is one way. Calibrate your thermostat; it might not be accurate. Change out your return air filter once a month or as recommended.
  • Consider your old tank water heater with a tankless water heater. There will be some up front costs but you will save money in the long run. Why pay too keep water heated in a tank when you are not using it?
  • Install blown insulation in exterior walls. This generally applies to older homes when insulation was not as big a home construction factor as it is today.
  • Install a radiant barrier in your attic. This is an excellent way to keep your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
  • Install ceiling fans. This is a great way to keep the conditioned air where you need it when you need it. It is easy to install ceiling fans and they are inexpensive. Just remember to have the air blowing down in the summer and up in the winter.
  • Check your doors and windows for leaks. This should be done at least annually and some caulk and door sealing strips is generally all you need.

Hopefully this article helped you to understand your home electrical issues and save some money on your utility bills. Got more tips to share? List them in the comment section below.


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5 Ways to Refresh Your Walls on a Budget


Colorful walls & energy efficient windows
Colorful walls & energy efficient windows

Face it; contractor-built walls are just plain boring. There’s a reason for that. Actually, there are a couple of reasons. First, it is frugal to blast cheap texture through a hopper for a conventional orange peel texture. Secondly, that blah flat white paint? It is uninspiring but also frugal and allows for new homeowners to upgrade easily to a more attractive color and sheen.

Let’s take a look at some of the options we have for refreshing those tired, boring walls.

  1. Upgrade Your Texture

Contractor-applied texture is great for hiding drywall joints that were not properly finished but it is just a bit boring. Upgrading your wall texture is easy. I like to use a specialty roller like the one pictured below with watered down drywall compound (mud).

Use a drill and a ribbon mixer to thin the mud. It should easily drip off the mixer when the proper consistency is reached.

A texture roller
A texture roller

You can also used a regular paint roller with the nap of your choice for a less pronounced effect.

2  Paint Your Walls to Make Your Room Appear Larger

Not all homes are as large as we want them to be. Older homes can be notoriously small, especially stairways and halls; not a good thing for the claustrophobic among us. But rest assured that there are ways to open up that space.

Lighter color paint, especially in brighter sheens like eggshell and gloss create the illusion of more space. Wallpaper with vertical patterns give the illusion of more height.

3  Paint Over Old Paneling

Dark paneling may have been quite the thing in the 50s and 60s but today it looks old and dated. Removing it can be messy especially if adhesive was used. Luckily, it is easy enough to paint over wood paneling.

If it has vertical grooves, you will need to skim those with drywall compound and lightly sand the surface before texturing and painting.

4  Install Crown Molding

Polyurethane crown molding
Polyurethane crown molding

Installing crown molding will give even the drabbest rooms a touch of class. You’re not limited to wood either. Today you can find it in polyurethane and PVC which makes it easy to work with.

Fancy door trim styles
Fancy door trim styles

5  Install New Door and Window Trim

Contractor-grade door and window trim is just boring. In just a few hours you can remove it and replace it with trim that will give your walls a shot of style and class.

Kits are available at stores like Home Depot. All you will need is:

  • Tape measure
  • Miter saw or radial arm saw
  • Stool or ladder
  • Finish nail gun or hammer and nails
  • Nailset
  • Spackling
  • Paint and brush
  • Painter’s tape

I hope the above tips on refreshing your walls on a budget proved inspirational and informative. Got any tips of your own? Share them with our readers in the comment box below.


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Glass, Ceramic, and Porcelain Floor and Wall Tile



A glass tile wall with an accent strip
A glass tile wall with an accent strip

Article updated on 7/9/18

Tile is a very advantageous building material. It’s durable, inexpensive (usually), available in a huge range of styles, and easy to install with a few tools. Here are a few of the most common types of wall and floor tile that you are likely to encounter.

As with any new or remodeling construction project, it is important to approach it methodically and go in with a solid plan. Consider your construction budget, the living area and of course your style and tastes.

Glass Wall Tile

Glass tile is a great solution for shower walls and counter top  back splashes. The photo above is a bathroom shower glass tile installation that I recently did during a re-build following the Great Flood of ’18 (Hurricane Harvey).

This tile is clear glass with a colored paper backing which means it’s somewhat transparent at some angles and lighting conditions if the colors or marks on the underlying wall vary. Because of this it is important to apply a suitable white primer before applying the tile. Also, use white thinset as an adhesive.

Be aware that you will also need a special glass-cutting blade for your wet saw. Glass also chips easily so if you are making a narrow cut it is not only important to make a half cut and then flip it over and cut from the other direction but cut very slowly.

Ceramic and Porcelain Tile

Porcelain and ceramic tile is suitable for floor, kitchen back splash installation and wall applications. The difference between the two is susceptibility to water absorption due to content of materials and how they are fired and boiled.

The advantage of porcelain is that it resists moisture much better than ceramic so consider your application. It is also more costly in general.

Going Beyond the Ordinary; Tile Patterns

A 3D ceramic tile pattern
A 3D ceramic tile pattern

There is no reason that your tile installation project has to be bland. The photo above shows a 3D center area with a border tile pattern that I am currently working on. It is available through Home Depot and is the Twenties collection by Merola and the pieces are Diamond (for the 3D center), Corner, and Frame. And of course for the outside I’m using matching gray tile of the same size.

In my case they didn’t carry it at my local Home Depot store so I ordered online and picked it up there in a week or so. Free shipping!


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Maximize Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

These air leaks in your home also leak money.
These air leaks in your home also leak money.

One thing nobody likes to do is throw away money. But if your home is a perpetual slacker on its attempts to restrict energy usage, that is exactly what you are doing. As a general rule of thumb, the older a home is the less energy efficient it is. There are many reasons for this but the two main ones are:

  1. In days gone by, utility expenses were not what they are today. For one thing homeowners didn’t have all those confounded contraptions that we just can’t live without today.
  2. The building technology wasn’t what it is today. Our forebears knew nothing about tight envelopes, radiant barrier foil and passive solar concepts.

Keep in mind that in the long run it is not necessarily one big thing that will reduce your bills, but the sum total of a lot of smaller home improvements. Let’s look at a few, shall we?

Insulation is a Bargain

In most cases insulation is a good place to start, especially if you are a frequent rider on the climate change bandwagon. It gives you the most bang for the buck. Your attic should have the recommended number of inches for your location. Even if your home started with the suggested amount, remember that the fiberglass settles over time. If you want to take your savings a step further, roll out some radiant barrier foil over it.

Exterior walls are also a concern. This involves a bit more expense and hassle because obviously these walls are closed on both sides. The best solution is to hire someone to install blown insulation between the studs. Can you do it yourself? Yes, but a pro has the right equipment and knows how to make it look like there never was an intrusion.

Use Thermal Mass to Your Advantage

OK, the term thermal mass doesn’t mean what you might think it does; let’s not go there. Thermal mass simply refers to an object that absorbs and retains heat. Some examples are brick, concrete, ceramic tiles, and eco-friendly cork flooring.

In the winter of course, we want those objects to absorb heat during the day and release it at night. This can be accomplished by the sun coming through the windows or from areas where the home’s heating system affects the objects.

In the summertime the opposite is true; we want to shield these objects as much as possible.

Seal All Air Leaks

Checking for and sealing all air leaks in your home’s exterior is an easy, inexpensive project that can be done twice a year. Just pick days before the weather transitions from cold to hot and visa versa.

Possible leak culprits include windows, doors, even things like recessed light fixtures on your ceiling. The materials to put things right are inexpensive and readily available. Most likely things like caulk and floor sweeps will do the trick.

Keep in mind that the tighter your home’s envelope becomes, the greater the danger of radon is. What is radon? Radon gas is a radioactive, invisible toxic vapor that results from a natural process which is the radioactive breakdown of the uranium isotope. It pays to test for it.

Consider Installing Energy Efficient Windows or Window Film

Today’s higher-end windows are head and shoulders above those flimsy contractor-grade windows. Yes they will cost you more money but isn’t it worth it to be able to see outside and save on utility bills?

If your bank account isn’t flush don’t despair. Solar window film is an acceptable alternative. It won’t perform as well as the new super-windows but they will still make a huge difference. If you have tinted windows on your car you know what we are talking about.

Finally, if your electricity company allows it, get on one of those plans that averages your bill so you don’t get slammed on those peak months.

Shop Where It Matters!


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Should You Do Your Own Electrical Repairs or Upgrades?

This can be a tricky issue. Usually it boils down to:

  • Are you competent to complete the task?
  • Does the local electrical building code specify a licensed electrician and building permits?
  • What is the scope of the remodeling project?

Regular Maintenance or Full-Blown Remodeling Project?

We all have situations where we are simply fixing small issues. These usually involve tasks such as replacing GFCI receptacles in the bathroom or kitchen, replacing ceiling fans, and hard-wiring a new oven. These are likely considered regular maintenance.

These are all things that the average homeowner can handle. A project that goes beyond that may involve having to pull building permits and having the job inspected and signed off on. In this case you will likely have to hire a licensed electrician. Always check you local code to be sure.

For example, if you are doing a kitchen remodel, there is likely to be some electrical work. Kitchens are very electric-intensive because of all the appliances. Plus, there is the issue of water and electricity. They don’t usually play well together.

Bathroom remodels face similar issues. There might not be so many appliances but the water issue is at least, if not more, critical. With kitchen and bathroom issues you will likely have to hire a licensed electrician..

Preventative Maintenance for Electrical Repairs

We never know when electrical problems will arise. Who among us has had a circuit breaker or fuse trip in the middle of the night? (It’s always at the worst possible time, right?)

Anyway, now is the time to cover your backside, before fate slaps you upside the head. The most basic thing you can do is to map electrical circuits. This way, when you do have an issue in the wee hours or you are wiring an appliance, you will know just which breaker is involved. The builder made these decisions and they don’t always follow logic.

Speaking of the circuit breaker box, I always keep a padlock on mine. Why? Well, it just happens that one of the things that would-be burglars will do is to flip the main switch to cut power to your house.

Does this qualify me as a bona fide paranoia whacko? Perhaps, but at least I’ve got my (imaginary) ducks in a row (or mallards in a queue if you are reading this across the pond).

The bottom line of this post is that you should know which electrical projects you can and should tackle from both a legal and frugal standpoint. Stay safe and enjoy your kilowatts.

 


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Choosing and Maintaining Residential Fences

Almost all homes will benefit from a backyard fence. They offer privacy, they let your children and pets romp without running off, and they serve as a deterrent to would-be thieves and vagrants. If the home contractor did not install one during construction, it is up to you as the homeowner to take care of it.

Even if you already have a fence, it may be old and in extreme disrepair. Or perhaps you just don’t like the look of it and want a different style. Either way a new fence is a great home improvement project.

Types of Fences

But that is not a bad thing. There are many types to choose from. In fact, there are at least 10 types of popular residential fences. Just choose the one that fits your style and budget. Consider these:

  • Chain link. Not the most attractive but affordable, durable, and porous in those high wind areas.
  • Vinyl-coated chain link. This is a bit of an upgrade that allows for a wide range of durable colors.
  • Fence slat. A modification of chain link where plastic slats are inserted through the openings in the fence, offering privacy, security, and protection from the wind.
  • Aluminum fencing. Its benefits include low-maintenance and weather-resistance.
  • Wooden pickets. Very popular because they are easy to install and are attractive.
  • Post and rail. This will give your property a more country look, similar to the split rail type fence.
  • Decorative lattice. If you are going for an attractive style that you can train climbing roses on this might be the one for you.

Maintaining Your Fence

Seeing as how your fence lives outdoors in the elements, it will require some maintenance from time to time. Some types require painting, some require pressure washing and some require picket replacement.

If you have to repair or replace a section that intersects at a corner, you might wonder how to do it right. Not to worry; here is a detailed explanation on how to construct the section and tie a picket fence in at a 90° angle.

Fence gates can also be an issue. Not only are they subjected to the elements but they also get a lot or wear and tear from opening and closing. I found an easy solution to replacing my own gate recently using an Adjust-A-Gate Steel Frame No Sag Gate Building Kit.

In short, when it comes to fence choice and maintenance, you have decisions to make!

 

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