Oil Heating Efficiency Tips

Service your system annually: Oil combustion produces soot that insulates heat exchanger and flue pipe surfaces over time and must be removed. This is part of an annual service routine that includes nozzle and filter replacement, safety control testing, and a combustion efficiency test (measurement of stack temperature and flue gases plus a calculation). Ask your serviceman for the efficiency test result: if it is less than 80%, ask why? If it cannot be increased with minor tuning/changes, it may make economic sense to consider replacing your heating system. New systems typically produce 85%+ efficiency test results.

Consider replacing older systems. If your system is over twenty years old, and efficiency is low, consider replacing it. It’s not unusual for homeowners to experience a 20% fuel saving after upgrading from an old system to a new high-efficiency system.

Ask your serviceman if your nozzle can be ‘downsized’. Smaller nozzles allow the system to run longer while burning the same amount of fuel, thus increasing the on-time and operating efficiency. This is a no-cost option.

Inspect your oil tank regularly for any sign of leakage. Oil tanks tend to leak from the bottom first; run your hand under the bottom to detect any areas of dampness. If you suspect water in the oil (particularly with outside tanks), ask your serviceman to ‘dip’ your tank. This test will reveal the amount of water, if any, sitting on the bottom of your tank. If necessary, it can be pumped out to prevent corrosion. Some newer tanks have the outlet at the bottom of the tank to ensure that water is removed as soon as it forms, thus preventing corrosion. Contact your fuel oil supplier for details.

Make sure the air filters are replaced/cleaned as required on warm air distribution system. With hot water distribution systems, fix leaks promptly and ensure air locks are not compromising water movement.

Tips for Equipment upgrades and replacements:

  • The difference in cost between good equipment and poor equipment is surprisingly low, make sure to buy a high-quality product. Check out our manufacturer’s page.
  • Don’t buy a brand that isn’t commonly serviced by local dealers. They turn out to be more expensive in the long run.
  • Today efficient systems use less fuel, keeping heating bills down. They can pay for themselves within 5 to 8 years.
  • A new heating system is one of the top five investments you can make in your home. This is an excellent advantage when selling your home.

Winterizing The House

Winterization Tips from Gary Dymski at Newsday

Do it now, before it gets colder

Once we had a roof leak. It happened in the dead of winter, with several inches of snow blanketing our shingles. What a mess. Once we had drafty windows and doors. It was virtually impossible to caulk exterior cracks and weather- strip crevices in the rain that fell constantly that late fall.

Once we had a faulty outdoor faucet – with no shutoff valve – that dripped and dripped. When it froze, yuck. Get the idea?

With the weather still cooperative, now is the time to prepare your home to withstand a more unreasonable Mother Nature. You need not be a construction professional to “weatherize” your home. Inspecting exterior systems – roof, windows and doors, foundation, plumbing, electric and heating – can be performed by the most inexperienced homeowner. You just need to know what to look for. (That’s where we come in.)

You might start by making a checklist; every home is different. If you have old windows and doors or a moist basement, make those priorities.

To help with your checklist, we’ll review some areas of the home – interior and exterior – that should be examined seasonally. In addition, we’ll provide some Web addresses where you can get repair and maintenance information.

Of course, some work is better left to the professionals. For example, tuning up your furnace, repairing your masonry chimney or fixing a leaky roof might be out of your realm. But these areas can be inspected visually by homeowners for signs of failure.

If you have the time, you’ll likely save yourself loads and loads of trouble later on – because something always goes wrong at the worst possible time.

1. Roof

Start with a visual inspection. If you can safely (crucial term) walk on your roof, look for missing or broken shingles, missing flashing (the metal coverings around openings and between valleys) and sagging gutters. If you can’t walk on your roof, perform the inspection with a pair of binoculars.

Remember, the gutters and downspouts also part of the roof system. Although this often is a job for late fall, your gutters might be clogged now with old leaves, twigs and other debris. Clean out and repair gutters. You might have to repeat the cleaning process later in the fall, after most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. Rotted wood often lies behind sagging gutters. If these damaged fascia boards aren’t replaced, interior leaks could follow.

Another overlooked part of the roof is the chimney. All chimneys should have a cap, which keeps debris, animals and moisture from entering the opening. On masonry chimneys, look for loose bricks and mortar or missing bricks. If you can’t make the repairs, find a reputable mason.

On the Web: National Roofing Contractors Association ; Chimney Safety Institute of America ; Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association .

2. Siding

Whether vinyl, wood or brick, the exterior covering of your home can fail over the years. Vinyl can warp and buckle. Wood can crack, split and rot. Brick can loosen and decay. These failures can allow moisture through walls, eventually causing serious problems. Again, a visual inspection can save you headaches. Replace and repair damaged siding. Remove dirt, grime and mold. For repair
information, visit the Web sites listed below.

On the Web: Vinyl Siding Institute ; The Engineered Wood Association ; MSN House and Home .

3. Windows and Doors

Cleaning, caulking and weather- stripping should be priorities. On older windows, you might have to replace glass, scrape peeling paint and dried caulk, and remove rotted wood. Signs of wood rot include crumbling and wood that is spongy soft. Use insulating window film to cut down on drafts. With newer vinyl windows, caulking, cleaning and installing new weather-stripping should suffice.

On doors, squirt squeaky hinges and hard-to-turn locks with liquid graphite. Tighten loose hinge screws; replace missing ones. To check weather-stripping, close the door and, from the inside, run a lit candle across the edges of the door. If the flame flickers or goes out, you have a draft. Another detection method is to have a helper on the outside shine a flashlight around the edges of the door while another person examines the edges from the inside. If light shines through, there’s an opening to seal.

On the Web: DAP ; U.S. Department of Energy ; LIPA ; 3M Co. .

4. Foundation

Start outside. The soil around the foundation should slope away from the home for proper drainage. If you haven’t done so in a while, adding new top soil to create a slope is probably a wise move. Poor drainage around the foundation is a major cause of basement leaks and flooding. Use a masonry caulk to fill all cracks. Also, move any debris, firewood and outdoor furniture away from the home. In the winter, cluttered areas around the foundation can provide rodents and other furry creatures with sheltered nests. Repair cracks in concrete walkways and steps, and seal the asphalt driveway before colder weather arrives.

On the Web: The Concrete Network; Rutgers Cooperative Extension

5. Heating & Cooling

Cover, store and clean portable air- conditioning units. Outdoor condensing units for central-air systems can be hosed cleaned of debris and covered with tarps. Turn off the power to these units at the service panel.

Before the air gets cold, start your furnace with the house windows open. As it runs, look for leaks or condensation in the exhaust vents that run outdoors. Rusted vents are a sign that exhaust is not being directed out of the home properly. Be aware of any abnormal odors or smells. Change filters; check owner manuals for their locations and directions. Consider having an older furnace – 10 years or older – annually inspected and tuned by a professional heating and cooling technician.

Don’t forget your clothes dryer. Use a shop-style vacuum to suck up old lint collected behind the dryer, and remove the exhaust vent and remove any lint clogs. Lint that collects on the exterior vent also should be cleaned away.

6. Plumbing

Shut off the water to exterior faucets – these faucets should have a shutoff valve – and then open the faucet about a quarter turn. Pipes in basements and crawl spaces should be protected from cold air. Adding fiberglass insulation, sealing cracks and crevices with expanding foam and insulating pipes with foam tubes could prevent pipes from bursting this winter. Faucets exposed to high winds and prone to freezing should be protected with specially designed foam covers (available at hardware stores and home centers).

7. Trees

Trim tree branches away from your rooftop and exterior walls. In the event of an ice storm or heavy snow, you don’t want broken or falling branches to damage your exterior.

8. Outdoor Lighting and Outlets

Test Ground Fault Interrupter Circuit outlets. Plug in a hair dryer or other small appliance, then press the black button on the outlet. If the appliance turns off, then restarts when the red button on the outlet is pressed, the circuit is working correctly. Or use a testing device that runs about $10 at hardware stores and home centers. A faulty outlet could spell trouble when you’re hanging holiday lights.
Also, reset automatic timers for outdoor lights.

9. Garage Door

Clean and lubricate the tracks on your garage door. Use an all-purpose lubricating oil and wipe with a clean rag to remove dirt, grime and debris. Then, lubricate the track with a white grease. Tighten all screws and brackets. Replace worn cables, too.

10. Miscellaneous

Replace batteries and check if smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors are working properly. If needed, buy new units.

Winterize lawn and garden equipment and have your small-engine mechanic tune up the snowblower. Fill gas tanks, and use a squirt of fuel stabilizer to make sure the gas is ready for winter, too.

Replenish your battery supply and make sure you have a working portable radio and flashlight. After the big blackout and Hurricane Isabel, who knows what winter will bring?

Copyright Newsday, Inc.

Central Air Conditioning Tips

Q: Are regular check-ups worthwhile?

A: We recommend annual air conditioning check-ups in the spring. Although regular checkups will not absolutely guarantee that a unit will continue to work perfectly throughout the season, they will reveal most small problems that can lead to major, far more expensive problems if left unattended.

Q: Is there anything a homeowner can do to maintain the air conditioning unit?

A: Yes. The first thing to check before turning on your unit is to make sure the condensing unit located outside is not covered up. The unit needs to draw air into the system in order to have something to cool and blow out inside, but the process is hindered if it cannot pull enough air in from outside.
Many homeowners call because their air conditioner isn’t cooling their house, only to find they forgot they had temporarily stacked lawn furniture, bags of leaves and lawn clippings, etc. around their outside unit over the winter. Some people intentionally cover their condenser to “protect” it from the elements during the winter, although these units are designed for outdoor installation and require no protection at all.

If you have a problem with your AC, try checking these items before you call for service:

  • Is the thermostat switch set to proper positioning-cooling? Is the set-point below the room temperature?
  • Is your furnace plugged in or is the power switch turned on? The air-conditioner needs the furnace to circulate the air.
  • Is the air-conditioning disconnect or breaker turned on? If you know how to check the fuses, see if there are any blown. If you do not know how to check the fuses, call a technician.
  • Is the condensing unit running? (The condensing unit is the outside portion of the air-conditioner.)
  • Is the condensor coil clean? If not, read the instructions that came with your air-conditioner on how to clean the coil, or call a technician. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO CLEAN THE CONDENSOR WITHOUT TURNING OFF THE POWER.
  • Air-conditioners are designed for a 20 degree temperature differential. When it is 100 degrees outside, be happy if it is 80 degrees in your house. A temperature swing greater than this is unhealthy.

Here are some basic Air Conditioner maintenance tips:

  • Run your air conditioner for a few minutes now, before you need it. If you wait until the first hot day to discover is isn’t working, you may have to wait for service.
  • Change the filters regularly. Dirty filters restrict air flow, reducing efficiency and worse case, can cause the evaporator to ice up. Disposable fiberglass filters should replaced.
  • Electrostatic or electronic filters need to be washed regularly.
  • Be sure all access panels are secure, with all the screws in place.
  • Clean obvious obstructions such as newspaper, leaves, etc. from around the exterior of the unit.
  • Be sure the thermostat is set in the cooling mode. Just setting the dial below room temperature will not activate the air conditioning if it is set in the heat mode.
  • A thoroughly cleaned air conditioning unit will operate at top efficiency. However, homeowners are strongly discouraged from using a hose and water to try clean it themselves because of the very serious risk of electrical shock and possible shorting of electrical components.
  • Like most anything you own, you will find that regular maintenance sooner is far less costly than repairs or even replacement later.

Energy Saving Tips for Your Pool Heater

  • Purchase an energy efficient model.
  • Use a pool cover when pool is not in use. This can reduce heat loss by as much as 50%.
  • Lower thermostat to 70 degrees when pool is to be unused for three or four days. You will save money on fuel consumption and help conserve energy. If you are vacationing for a couple of weeks or shutting down for winter, turn the heater off completely, including any pilot light.
  • Keep the temperature at the lowest comfortable position. Keep a thermometer in your pool. It will pinpoint accurately the temperature most comfortable for you. Each degree more heat than needed could add more to your monthly fuel cost and use up more energy than necessary. Mark the “comfort setting” on the thermostat dial. This will prevent accidental or careless over-heating and waste of energy.
  • Remember to not turn up the heater to maximum, (it will not heat any faster.) But set it at a known setting for your desired maximum temp.
  • Drain heater completely prior to freezing weather. Freezing water inside the heat exchanger can result in costly repairs
  • Get an annual maintenance checkup. Your best prevention is to have a skilled technician do the job. The cost is minimal and the service will keep your heater working efficiently for many years.