My bath fans vent into the attic. Is that a problem?
Yes, that is an issue but it is because we had quite a long time where proper home ventilation wasn’t well understood so there was a lot of poor choices being made. One of these not so good choices that lead to some unintended consequences was dumping humid bath exhaust air into an attic, be it hot or cold outside. Although it has been customary to ventilate attics themselves for a long time the vast majority of attics, even new ones, are most likely underventilated. Couple that with people adding insulation in attics in older homes (often covering soffit/eave vents) and you have a real potential issue with the attic having enough air circulation to properly exhaust humid air. The easy solution and is now code specific is to move the bath fan discharge from the attic to somewhere on the exterior of the home where it cannot find is way back to the attic. Skilled builders understand the concept and requirements to rid attic spaces of excess moisture and will advise accordingly. If you do have existing equipment dumping into the attic, this is something that would be wise to tend to sooner rather than later.
What are water heater venting options?
First of all, there are two common types of water heaters, natural gas (perhaps propane) and electric. Electric water heaters don’t burn any fossil fuel obviously so they do not need to be heated and can be placed virtually anywhere that’s conditioned space in a home. Gas water heaters on the other hand are fuel burners so they have a venting requirement to the exterior. This is also applicable to the newer “on-demand” water heaters. Conventional (old school) water heaters are still installed all the time and can be relatively energy efficient. They do require a through the roof vent via a special double wall metal pipe or placement into a masonry chimney. A variation of the conventional style water heater is called a power vent heater. This unit looks a lot like its conventionally fired/vented cousin but it’s combustion gas temperature is much cooler (more efficient burner and heat exchange). As a result, the power vent can be handled by a PVC vent pipe, either through the wall or through the roof in an unprotected fashion. The vent gases are simply not hot but warm to the touch. See below for a final gas fired option; the “on-demand” water heater.
What is a variable speed blower fan?
Older furnaces in homes basically have two blower fan modes, on and off. Over the past 20 years or so motor and control technology has changed and advances have been introduced into the residential marketplace. Now we have better control and more options on how, when, how much and where we move air throughout a home. This is especially important in older homes that might not be as well insulated, either in specific area or all over the house. Since many of us live in both a heating and a cooling climate, these variations in a house can cause big temperature (comfort) differentials. Multi-speed or variable speed blowers do wonders at moderating temperature swings inside with extreme outside temperature swings and can be even further maximized when coupled with automatic dampering or zoning within a home. This results in even better overall comfort control. Nothing like this comes without a price but this is a good option to consider before contemplating adding additional equipment to perhaps condition additional space added onto an existing home.
What about these water heaters that never run out of water?
On-demand water heaters aren’t real new but they are picking up some market penetration lately as manufacturers and advocates claim their energy savings far surpasses their high initial cost and annual maintenance requirements. Properly sized they do a nice job of providing plenty of hot water but they must be balanced to the projected user load or problems might occur such as only warm water delivery on too small a unit or cold water “plugs” on oversized or improperly located units. Research is necessary before investing in these units for understanding the cost as well as the benefit in the short and long term. It should be noted that the only units really worth installing for any family is a gas fired model which will require venting to the exterior. The idea behind the on-demand school of thought is that you only really heat what you use unlike tank fired models that stores the warm water until it’s needed. Both approaches have pros and cons and the pro remodeler and his/her plumber can certainly advise you towards making the right decision for you and your family.
Is there a minimum or ideal size of electrical service?
We are using so much more electricity today than in the past and the size of main electric distribution panels is showing that increase. Two generations ago an average size home would have been built with a 60 amp fuse box. One generation ago most homes had a 100 amp service, 150 tops. Now few homes have much less than a 150 amp service and most upgrades go to a minimum of 200 amps with a 40 space distribution panel. This is a result of the electric code requiring more individually controlled/dedicated circuits, more protected circuits and us using more electric in everything that we do. Although service changes are not that inexpensive they do have a good return on investment for you in the short term (piece of mind) as well as at resale time when prospects are always alert to the need for service upgrades if necessary. If in doubt, talk to your remodeler or his/her electrician as to the necessity for any upgrades to your electrical service. With this aspect of your home, it is always better to be safe rather than sorry.
How long does an AC compressor usually last?
The air conditioning compressor is the unit that is located outside your house. It has a motor and fan in it as well as a compressor and cooling fins that surround the fan housing. This is the power plant for your air conditioner. The copper lines that run from the outdoor unit to the furnace carry the refrigerant to the coil that’s in your furnace. No real moving parts are inside other than the blower fan. The compressor unit needs to be maintained, keep clean and the lines need to stay charged (full of refrigerant at a specified pressure). If that is all maintained well then an AC unit will last many years, often over 20 years or more. Best insurance to minimize the chances of a premature replacement is to have it regularly serviced by a competent HVAC contractor. Also, keep grass, leaves and plantings from getting anywhere near or on the cooling fins. Overheating will ruin a unit generally faster than anything.
How do I find out the size of my electrical service?
Most electrical panels will have a prominent main breaker near the top. This breaker should have a number stamped on the breaker. This number is the maximum amperage that your panel can handle. If you have two panels, they each will have their own amperage, just add the numbers together to get to the total. Typically older homes have 100 amp service or less, while todays homes almost always need 200amps to support all of our electronic appliances, lighting and devices.
Do I need a sump pump?
Short answer is not easy here because a question needs to be answered first. Do you have water or moisture related issues in your basement or crawl space? If yes, than a drainage system tied to a mechanical sump pump might be the best way to de-water or dry out the below grade areas that are wet or damp. If you don’t have visible water seeping into the space and the floor appears fairly dry than maybe all you need is a dehumidifier. A remodeler could perform an inspection as well as a few tests to determine how wet the area actually is and whether a sump pump and/ or dehumidification is a good decision. It is always well advised to look for the sources of water first of all. Start at the roof, follow the gutter and how they tie to the downspouts and confirm the underground conduits are getting water well away from the foundation. Then look at the grading around the house. You want positive drainage away from the foundation walls with no low areas or ponding. Finally, make sure that hose bibbs, hoses and sprinkler systems are not leaking. Nine times out of ten, this takes care of any basement water issues and might even get you off the hook from needing to go the expense of installing a pump.
How do I find out the correct size of a water heater to suit our needs?
This is where the law of supply and demand is played out in a home! Water heaters come in all sizes but common for most homes is a 30, 40 or 50 gallon heater. Gas water heaters generally recover (create more hot water) faster than their electric counterparts but the base size is probably more of an issue to insuring adequate supply. Demand is all a function of how much water is needed and how fast. High demand times where multiple showers are occurring or laundry and showers, etc are occurring at the same time will put much more demand on a heater than those same activities spread out throughout the day. You can overdo it with water heaters too. Too large a unit will be wasteful because you have all those gallons of hot water in reserve, not really being utilized. This can be a problem for tank type water heaters in that the unit must still keep those gallons of water warmed and that takes additional energy. Best bet is to seek input from the pros if you are unsure of what is the best decision and type and size to suit your family’s needs. Nobody likes to run out of hot water!