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Plumbing & Heating Glossary
Heating SystemsForced hot water is a very good way to heat your home and it offers many options. Hydronic (that’s the industry’s term for “hot water”) boilers offer more options than hot air or steam systems do.
Water is the most efficient way to transfer heat, and it allows us to use tiny flexible pipes to achieve great results. We can make improvements to your system without tearing up your house.
Hydronic systems make zoning easy, and the options of radiant heat – towel warmers, toe-space heaters, panel radiators and indirect domestic-hot-water tanks – open a world of comfort and convenience.
Indirect tanks use the same water that travels through your heating system to heat your domestic hot water, and that saves money. These tanks are like a Thermos. The best ones have a stainless tank that’s surrounded by dense, energy-saving foam. The heat loss from a tank such as this is miniscule.
With hydronics, we circulate the water through a home with small pumps called “circulators.” These work in a way similar to the motor on a Ferris wheel. Since a hydronic heating system is always full of water, the circulator just “turns” the big wheel, moving heat from the boiler to your radiators.
In recent years, circulators have gotten so efficient that systems which once used 100 watts of electricity to get the job done, now uses as little as 40 watts to do the same work. And the next generation of circulators will use as little as 6 watts of power. These will be available very soon. These new circulators are also smart. They know how many zones are calling and flow just the right amount of water to keep you comfortable, while saving lots of electricity.
Lately, boilers have been at the head of the race for efficient use of fossil fuels. Natural-gas boilers are versatile because they can modulate their output according to the heating needs of a home on any given day. They do this by sensing the outside temperature and lowering the water temperature accordingly. It’s like putting cruise control on your home.
I’ve seen savings of between 25 and 50 percent with this sort of boiler. They are remarkable.
Modern gas-fired boilers extract so much of the heat from the flame, that the byproducts of combustion, which would normally go up the chimney (why heat the sky?), are left over as condensation and flow to a drain. You don’t even need a chimney with these modern marvels.
And by the way, the nickname for this type of boiler is, “Mod/Cons.” That’s short for Modulating/Condensing.” You’ll probably hear that term as you talk to people, so I wanted you to know what it means. These boilers are as efficient as it gets nowadays, and we’re experts when it comes to installing and tuning them just right to save you the most amount of money.
On-Demand Hot Water HeatersOn-demand domestic water heaters have gotten very popular in the U.S. lately. Europeans have used these for many years because of the energy that they save. They heat the water instantly, and only when you turn on a faucet. They run on natural gas and vent out the side of your house (no need for a chimney).
Since an on-demand heater doesn’t store a large volume of hot water, it’s not a good idea to use these if you plan on running your showers and faucets, your dishwasher and washing machine, all at the same time. And since New England can have very cold incoming water during the winter, the output of an on-demand heater might seem a bit cool during those colder months.
Before making any recommendations regarding hot water systems, I’ll first ask how your family uses domestic hot water. Then we can decide if one of these units is right for you. If it is, you could save as much as 40 percent on the fuel it takes to heat your hot water, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Radiant heatAh, warm floors! Everyone loves these systems for their comfort, but have you ever considered how efficient they are?
Radiant systems heat with lower water temperatures than that needed by traditional systems, and that saves you money all winter long.
Your home loses heat because of the difference in temperature between the inside air and the outside air. Since radiant systems heat objects and not the air itself, the heat lost to the outside will be less. And a radiant system doesn’t create air currents the way a forced-hot-air system does, which can actually make you feel cool.
Try this: Blow some 98.6-degree air on your hand. Feels cool doesn’t it? You don’t get that with radiant. You’re going to find that it makes your home wonderfully cozy while saving you a lot of fuel.
Solar EnergyThe new solar products are incredibly efficient. Along with the traditional flat-panel systems, we now have collectors that work with vacuum tubes and grab heat from the sun even on cloudy days.
One of the best ways to use solar in New England is to heat domestic hot water. These new units do that so economically.
Water ConservationWater is such a precious resource and I think we’re going to be paying more for it in coming years. If you value water as much as I do, and would like to conserve it, switch to low-flow toilets and water-saving shower heads.
Today’s modern, water-saving fixtures are remarkably efficient, very clean, and they save so much water.
Did you know that your family probably uses 260 gallons of water each day (that’s the national average)? Fixing those leaking faucets is a great way to lower your water bill. A faucet that drips one small drop per second can lose 200 gallons per year. Add a running toilet to that and watch your water bill skyrocket.
If just 10 percent of all the homes in the U.S. had water-efficient toilets, water-saving shower heads, faucets and irrigation controls, we would save about 150 gallons per household annually.