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Reduce Fossil Fuel Use: Consider an Air-Source Heat Pump

If you are looking for a way to reduce your fossil fuel use while saving money, an air-source heat pump (ASHP) might be a valid option. While this technology has long been popular in warmer southern climates, the colder winter temperatures in the north make it more challenging to extract heat from the freezing outdoor air. Despite this, technological advancements over the past few years have made ASHPs an efficient source of heating in colder climates as well.

ASHPs move heat into a building by circulating a liquid refrigerant between an indoor handling unit and an outdoor radiator. The heat pump heats the liquid by first pressurizing it, pumping it inside from outdoors, and then circulating it through the home’s heating system. The liquid is then depressurized and cooled, after which it travels to the outdoor radiator where the process begins again. ASHPs can also be used to cool buildings through a similar process in which the warm inside air is cooled by the refrigerant, which has been depressurized. The liquid is then sent outside and pressurized, as well as being cooled by the ambient outdoor temperature. The Department of Energy provides a more detailed explanation here of the many different types of ASHPs for those of you who are interested in the more technical aspects of the process.

Energy and Cost Savings
When installed properly, ASHPs can produce between one and a half and three times more heat energy for a home than the electrical energy they use. The Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships found that by replacing entire units in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions with air-source heat pumps, the annual savings are approximately 3,000 kWh or $459 when compared to electric resistance heaters and 6,200 kWh or $948 compared to oil systems. When they are used to displace oil, meaning that the oil system remains but is used less frequently, the annual savings is around 3,000kWh or $300. These prices of course depend on the current costs of electricity and oil. The federal government offers a tax credit for ASHPs and a number of states offer rebate programs.

The Right Heat Pump for Your Home
There are a number of options when it comes to choosing the right ASHP for your home, but the most commonly used in retrofits are ductless, mini-split heat pumps because they do not require a ducted heating system. According to the Department of Energy, this type of heat pump also provides a way to heat room additions without extending or installing distribution ductwork. The main advantage to using this type is that one outdoor unit can be connected to as many as four indoor units (meaning it can be used in four different zones or rooms). The typical installed cost ranges from $3,000 to $5,000.

It is also important to choose the right model – one that matches your climate. The traditional way of determining this is by using the EnergyGuide label, which denotes the model’s heating and cooling efficiency. Heating efficiency is determined through the heating season performance factor (HSPF) and cooling efficiency is determined with the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). Because the HSPF does not include low temperature testing below 17 degrees Fahrenheit, Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships developed the cold-climate ASHP specification, which requires manufacturers to report down to 5 degrees Fahrenheit. You should consult these ratings when choosing your ASHP.

Peaker plants are often coal-fired like the plant pictured here.

What is Peak Demand and Why You Should Help Reduce It

As a multitude of ominous sounding heat related events, such as heat waves and heat domes, reach farther north and last longer each summer, more and more people are being forced to use their air conditioners for extended periods of time and are noticing the effect on their electric bills. While there is not too much we can do to control the day-to-day weather, we can control our electricity use and help utilities manage electric demand. This in turn reduces electricity costs while also limiting greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel intensive peaker plants.

Peak Demand
Peak demand represents the greatest demand for electricity from consumers. This usually occurs between 3 and 7 PM during weekdays in the summer when people are running their air conditioners in their offices to fight the afternoon heat, as well as trying to cool down their homes after work. It is the responsibility of the utilities to providing electric consumers with a reliable supply of electricity, despite these fluctuations in demand. As a result, in times of peak electric demand, power generators resort to using peaker plants to meet the need. Because it is expensive to build an efficient power plant, especially one that is only needed during a few weeks of the year, these peaker plants are often less efficient, making the electricity they produce more expensive and worse for the environment than that produced by base load power plants.

What You Can Do
There are a number of things you can do to reduce your electric demand during peak events and more utility companies are working with customers to encourage and incentivize reductions. Ask (or do some research on) your utility to determine if they offer any demand response programs. Many utilities offer incentives to participate in programs where they are able to cycle home appliance energy use to reduce demand. These programs require a home to have a smart meter and smart appliances that can be controlled remotely by the utility. Because residents may view this as rather intrusive, some utilities work with companies like OPower to offer programs that simply alert customers to the occurrence of a peak event and list ways in which demand could be reduced if choose to participate.

If you would like to reduce your electric usage during peak times, here are a few different options: turn the temperature on your air conditioner up a few degrees; wait until after the event to do your laundry or run your dishwasher; and cook your dinner outside on a grill instead of turning on your electric stove or, better yet, make a cold soup or salad. A more involved option is to have an energy audit done on your home to determine other energy efficiency measures that can be taken.

The bottom line is that using less electricity during peak events saves you money on your electric bill while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. So the next time you want to crank up your air conditioning at 5:30 PM after work, think about the coal-fired power plant in the middle of Acadia National Park in Maine that only runs on really hot days.

For more information see:
http://www.nj.com/business/index.ssf/2010/07/" target="_blank">http://www.nj.com/business/index.ssf/2010/07/

Furnishing Tips to Create the Illusion of Space

Since the economic downturn, millions of people have turned to renting over home ownership either because their homes were foreclosed upon, or because there was just no money to buy. In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, the number of folks choosing to rent increased by 22 million between 2006 and 2014. Because the bulk of these rentals are within large metropolitan areas, this shift can mean not only downsizing the volume of home furnishings, it means learning to decorate with an eye toward creating the illusion of space. Below are a few helpful home decor ideas from Visualistan.com that will not only make an apartment or smaller space look and feel larger, but will help to create a coherent, functional layout in any size home.

Before getting started with creating your space, it is always best to plan and sketch your layout first. This not only saves your back from repeatedly moving furniture, but it will allow you to visualize how things will look once in place.

When planning your layout, it is important to consider function before all else. Will this be a room where people regularly gather? And, if so, how many and to do what? Below are some basic industry guidelines that will help to create a physically comfortable and visually appealing space:

1) In any room, seating should never be more than 8' apart in order to ease conversation.

2) In the bedrooms, allow at least 24" between the wall and the bed.

3) In the dining area, make sure to leave 48" between the table and the wall or nearest piece of furniture for comfort in moving about. If there is to be no traffic in a particular area, 36" of space should suffice.

4) For any room where television watching is the primary function, the ideal distance between the set and the seating should be three times the size of the TV (measured on the diagonal).

Beyond pure function, when planning the layout, consider floating larger pieces like sofas, loveseats and chairs. By positioning furniture 3"-4" from the wall, you create the illusion that the wall is further away than it really is.

One final thing to consider when sketching out your plans is angles: Know that symmetry in furniture placement creates a formal feel, while asymmetry or angling lends to a more casual feel.

Once your furniture is in place, it's time to go about decorating. The following hints are tried and true ways of creating the illusion of space in even the smallest of rooms:

1) Reflect the room: Carefully positioned mirrors are an ideal way to draw light, color and space into a room. Face mirrors lengthwise to increase the effect.

2) Consider stripes: Adding stripes to sofas or rugs (also placed lengthwise) helps to visually elongate a room.

3) Go see-through: Using glass or lucite pieces always adds an airy, open feeling to any space.

4) Hang low: Placing artwork lower on the wall creates the illusion of a taller ceiling.

5) Vary lighting sources. Instead of relying on one overhead light or two main lamps (as is often done on end tables in bedrooms or living rooms), strategically place floor and table lamps throughout the space. This inevitably creates texture and variation as it draws the eye toward different corners of the room.

It goes without saying to always keep rooms free and clear from clutter and unnecessary items. If toys or paperwork are inevitably going to pile up, use clean-lined storage bins to keep them contained in between use.

Enjoy your new spacious living!

Quick Projects for the Holidays or Any Time

Looking for a great last minute project? Whether you are an ardent do-it-yourselfer, or simply wishing for a unique way to make your home more festive this holiday season, Memphis design maven Amy Howard has just made it a whole lot easier. You can find her At Home line of paints, stains, lacquers and other do-it-yourself supplies at select area Ace stores. Known for her quality products and simplicity in design, there are dozens of projects that can still be completed in time for the holidays.

The following two project ideas from Amy Howard are not only simple and elegant ways to spruce up your holiday home decor, they can both be wonderful gifts or accent pieces for any occasion at any time of year.

Gilded Tile Trivets
For this project, you will need:

• Amy Howard at Home Gilding Size
• Amy Howard at Home Gold Leaf Sheets
• Ceramic Tile
• Orange tissue paper
• Foam Brush
• China Bristle Brush
• Damask (or your choice) Adhesive Stencil Pattern.
• Amy Howard at Home High Performance Furniture Lacquer in Bright Idea

1) Start with a clean, dry tile (a gentle degreasing agent like Simple Green is recommended).
2) Apply stencil to the top of the tile and with the foam brush, apply a thin layer of gilding size. Wait for gilding size to come to tack (20-30 mins).
3) Once the size has come to tack, apply gold leaf sheets in a linear motion (up to down, left to right) to the entire surface. Be sure to overlap the edges of the gold leaf sheets approximately 1/2".
4) Once the gold leaf is laid, place orange tissue paper over the tile and burnish thoroughly, but gently by hand. Remove tissue paper and using the bristle brush, remove any shards or extra pieces of gold leaf.
5) It's now time to lift the stencil, spray with Bright Idea to seal and voila! In just a few minutes, you've transformed an everyday tile into an elegant trivet, perfect for holiday coasters or to wrap in bows to give as gifts.

Red Lacquer Mirror
Say Happy Holidays to your visitors by transforming an old or plain mirror into a brilliant, festive piece for the entranceway or foyer. All you need is a mirror, a bristle brush and a can of Amy Howard at Home High Performance Furniture Lacquer in Brisson Red. For the holidays, placing brass or mercury accents around the mirror lend to the feel of the season.

Winterizing a Vacant Home

Whether you are shoring up a shore house for the winter, battening down the hatches at your summer cabin, or simply planning to leave your home for an extended period this winter, there are a few must-do steps to take that will help ensure your spring or summer return is not met with disaster.

Plumbing System
The single most important chore is to prepare your plumbing system for freezing conditions by thoroughly draining all pipes and tanks. First, locate and turn off the main water valve, usually located at the water meter. If you are unsure where the valve is, simply call your plumber or do a little internet research to find it. Next, working from the top floor down, open all sink faucets. When in the basement, open laundry tub faucet (where all upper faucets eventually drain) and empty hot water tank. Return to upper floors, open all tub and shower faucets and flush toilets. After just a few minutes, all pipes and drains should be fully cleared and ready for the winter freeze. An added measure for homes in climates with extended freezing periods, pouring a little antifreeze into the drains is a good idea. Some homeowners choose to be extra cautious and blow air through the plumbing systems with an air compressor, but this can be a somewhat involved process. Calling a professional for this task is usually the best way to go, and generally only costs a couple hundred dollars if the system is drained beforehand. Don't forget to shut off the valve for outdoor plumbing (if it is separate) and drain outdoor hoses.

Heating and Power
Even if you plan to visit the home periodically, it is best to disconnect any propane tanks and all natural gas in the home (must be done by the utility company). It is always a good idea to leave the electricity on with light timers and motion detectors, as this discourages potential burglars, but if you must turn off the electricity, be sure that battery operated smoke detectors are functioning properly.

Other Indoor Considerations
To avoid critters setting up shop, be sure to close and seal (with plastic and/or duct tape) all fireplace dampers, dryer vents and, of course, any pet doors. Stuffing spaces around plumbing pipes (especially under sinks) with steel wool is a great way to keep out rodents and scattering mothballs throughout helps to deter a variety of pests. Finally, unplugging and thoroughly cleaning the refrigerator (and leaving the doors open) will avoid molds and mildew from growing.

Outdoor Considerations
Locate and remove any overhanging branches to avoid potential roof damage and clean gutters/downspouts thoroughly. Removing fallen leaves from under or near the home and storing firewood a safe distance away helps to keep mildew, termites and other pests from getting too comfortable. Scheduling regular plowing or snowblowing is always a good idea, as it sends the message that the home is not vacant for an extended period. It also helps to avoid potential liability if there are shared sidewalks or if the home is being shown by realtors.

If money is no object and security is a looming concern, you can consider outfitting your home with smart technology. Remote surveillance and control can help ease your mind and also be very convenient if you're not doing a full-on shut down. You can raise the heat before a visit and operate lights and a security system from wherever you are. Whatever your plans, following the simple steps listed above will avoid a whole host of potentially costly problems and allow you to relax over the winter months.

Modern Designs for Modern Families

Chances are, if you are about to purchase a home, you have for the most part been viewing variations on the same traditional interior layout that has been used throughout the last half century. Unless you are buying or designing a custom home, you are most likely looking at a plan designed for the average American nuclear family: a living room, dining room, den, kitchen, 2-3 baths, one master bedroom and 2-3 additional bedrooms. This basic plan has served families well for many generations, but as we move solidly into the 21st century, these designs are being called into question by contemporary home builders.

American families have become more diverse and lifestyles have changed. People are living longer, having fewer or no children and an increasing number of men and women are choosing to remain single. With these shifts in lifestyle and concomitant needs comes a necessary rethinking of traditional building plans. The following trends in home designed presented on BuilderOnline.com both illustrate and reflect the changing lives of families all over the U.S.

The concept of two master suites is growing and it really is a simple way to add comfort and luxury to even the most modest home. It can be wonderfully practical for in-laws or aging parents joining the household and a generous offering to guests visiting from out of town. It can also be a must-have for two adult friends or relatives choosing to share a home. View details and plan.

Second or third marriages usually come with additional children - either living with or frequently visiting the home. Oftentimes there can be a wide range of ages and this can pose a challenge when it comes to privacy, comfort and functionality. One fabulous home, just under 3,000 sq. ft, features a third-story loft space (essentially a modern, finished attic). This space can act as a sanctuary or work area for older children who may be job-seeking or studying for academic exams. Alternately it can become a remote play area for younger children, keeping noise and clutter contained to a separate, private space. It also features bedrooms in close proximity to the master bedroom for those smaller children needing a closer eye.View details and plan.

A beautiful, one-bedroom Craftsman home like the one featured on Builderonline.com celebrates the child-free lifestyle with expansive, open space, large kitchens for entertaining and rooms built with libraries, offices or sanctuaries in mind. There is a "flex" room for when an extra bedroom is needed, but this 1778 sq. ft. house is more about raising a glass than raising a family. View details and plan.

These thoughtful designs should be considered when buying or renovating a home not only as an accommodation for your specific needs, but as a wise investment. The need for bold, unique alternatives to the status quo is rising and this could also mean adding significant resale value to your home should you choose to move in the future.

Storing Summer Gear for Winter

As most of us prepare to hibernate for the winter, so, too, should we prepare to put away our outdoor summer gear for the the cold days ahead. From furniture, to gardening tools to machinery, how we prep and store our seasonal items can make the difference between enjoying them for years to come and wasting money replacing them. Below are a few simple guidelines for maintaining and storing warm-weather items throughout the fall and winter.

Whether wicker, metal, plastic or cloth, it is critical that all outdoor furniture is clean and dry before being covered or stored. With upholstered cushions, we are all guilty of forgetting to put them away before they have been exposed to some measure of moisture. During the summer, this is generally not a problem because any mildew that may have grown will eventually be killed by exposure to direct sunlight. But, when storing your outdoor pillows and cushions for the winter, it is best that they are brought indoors instead of being covered - and it is very important that they are fully dried (especially when being stored in a dark basement or garage). Once dry, they should be beaten for dust, wrapped carefully and placed in the driest possible place.

Metal furniture should be cleaned with mild soapy water (Murphy's Oil Soap is a good choice) and be sure to drain any water trapped in the frames. Most metals can stay out with a secure cover, but it is recommended that steel furniture be brought in, if possible, because of the greater risk of oxidation and rust. Wicker furniture should also be cleaned, dried and stored inside and again, Murphy's Oil soap is a great option for keeping the wicker supple. Most wood can be left outside if properly sealed and cleaned, but leave some room for air circulation. Stone pieces - especially table tops exposed to repeated freezing - would fare best inside, but a sealant and a loose cover should do the trick in most cases.

Gardening tools:
While gardening tools are generally made to withstand all types of heavy use and the elements, if you wish to keep them at their best from year-to-year, they need to be cleaned and maintained at least once per year. Metal tools should be thoroughly cleaned with a wire brush, fully dried and hit with a quick shot of lubricant like WD-40 (paying special attention to hinges, bolts, screws and crevices). Wooden handles benefit greatly from a quick shot with low-grit sandpaper and a nice coating of neem or linseed oil. These simple steps will help to avoid cracking and splintering and will ensure you will have rust-free tools ready to go in the spring.

Landscaping machinery:
Since mowing is often a grueling chore for homeowners, it is tempting to roll the lawnmower right into the garage and not look back until the spring season. But, lawnmowers and other gas-powered machines benefit greatly from proper maintenance and this can save a lot of stress and money over the years. Here are a few recommendations from lawn mower experts, Briggs & Stratton:

1) Always remove the spark plug lead wire before performing any type of mower maintenance.

2) Remove, cover and store the battery. Starting with the negative terminal first, remove your mower's battery, clean any dirt, debris or corrosion, treat the terminals with a basic protectant and store in a clean, dry place.

3) Treat fuel tank. Gas-powered machines should never be left for months on end with partially full tanks (especially months with high precipitation). Moisture can gather in the tank causing rust that can clog the carburetor. It should either be run completely out of fuel or, better yet, filled to capacity and treated with a fuel stabilizer. If opting to fill and treat the fuel tank, be sure to run for a few minutes to allow the stabilizer to circulate throughout the carburetor. Store in a clean, dry place far away from furnaces or any other source of heat or flames.

Now that you've thoroughly cleaned and properly prepared your summer furniture, tools and machinery for winter storage, one final bit of advice is to park them behind not in front of your snowblower, shovels or generators as it won't be long before they'll need to come out to play.

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