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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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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Does Your Home Have Enough Fiberglass Insulation?

Loose fill attic insulation and fiberglass batts
Loose fill attic insulation and fiberglass batts

Of course, fiberglass insulation is the most common insulation in existing homes and new construction. It doesn’t require any special equipment to install and it’s more economical than spray foam.

What’s up with Soy Spray Foam Insulation?

Nope, not a joke. If you’re familiar with the fact that soy beans are easy to grow and do well in many climates, you’ll understand why it makes such a green and sustainable building material.

Soy spray foam insulation is sprayed on as a liquid which quickly expands and fills all voids, making a very air-tight building. And it’s water-based so there’s no questionable chemicals.

Now is the Time To Beef Up Attic Insulation

If your home is already built and occupied, insulating walls is problematic, but installing attic insulation is a snap. And it’s not so hot up there now to make it a miserable job.

But that stuff is itchy! That’s because the tiny fiberglass fibers stick into the pores on your skin. There are ways to handle it, though. You can wipe your arms down with fingernail polish remover. The active ingredient is acetone. Save big bucks by buying a can of it at the home improvement store.

I used to install a lot of the stuff in the summer when I was installing suspended acoustical ceilings and framing walls and hanging drywall. I lived in an apartment at the time. After work I’d just slip into my swimming suit and hop in the pool.

That took care of it. I suspect that it just washed off, although logically, it seems like the cool water would tighten up the pores. Whatever. It worked

Rockwool: the Insulation From Hell

Rockwool is the worst, no doubt about it. It’s also a fiber kind of construction material. It also has some glass-like chunks of stuff I can’t even speculate about. I just know they would dull the blade of a utility knife quicker than anything I’ve ever seen.

How Much is Enough?

Good question. It’s tempting to say as much as you can stuff up there, but there is a point of diminishing returns. Owens-Corning (the pink panther people) tell us “The amount of insulation to add depends on two factors – the amount and type of insulation already in place and the recommended R-value for your location.” Well, duh.

The minimum in the US depends of where you live but the average maximum that the government recommends is R-60. In the south, the minimum is R-30. It increases as you go north, finally getting to a minimum of R-48 if you live in, say, Nebraska or Minnesota.

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