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Wifi thermostats, are they worth it?

Wifi thermostats, are they worth it?

In a world where everything is trending toward being programmable and connected, it seems that nothing is overlooked. Yes, we already have smart phones and tablets to keep us connected when we’re on the go, DVRs and Smart TVs so that we never miss a show, and now, the latest emerging device to help us stay connected and, ideally, save money at the same time: Wi-Fi thermostats.

Yes, Wi-Fi thermostats. Specifically, they’re thermostats that are able to be controlled via your home’s wireless router. So in other words, you can control your thermostat where ever you can get an Internet signal. So if you’re at work and want to dial down the heat (because why wouldn’t you – if you’re at work nobody at home is benefiting from it), you can do it from your smart phone (there’s an app for that!). On vacation and realize that you left the air conditioning on so that your home is a crisp 68 degrees? Get online and dial it up to conserve the air conditioning your home receives when no one’s around to benefit from it. Maybe you’re heading home from the gym and want to dial up your A/C so that your home is cool the minute you step inside? Again, just amp up the air conditioning from your mobile phone as you leave the gym.

You get the picture – Wi-Fi thermostats allow you to control your home’s temperature from anywhere in the world, just so long as you have an Internet connection. This is a stark contrast from conventional thermostats, which can only be controlled when you’re inside the home. The thought behind Wi-Fi thermostats is that they can help you save money on energy bills by programming and controlling your thermostat so that it’s only working to make your home comfortable when you most need it. In a world where the average homeowner spends some $2,200 annually on energy bills – about half of which is attributed to heating and cooling costs – installing a programmable, Wi-Fi thermostat can save you some $200 per year. That adds up big time over the years.

So to answer the question posed in the title of this article – Yes, Wi-Fi thermostats are indeed green. They essentially conserve the amount of heating and/or cooling your house receives. And in addition to putting money back into your pocket, they also help the environment. That’s win-win, especially in today’s world where green technology isn’t always associated with lower prices, but more so carried out because “it’s the right and responsible thing to do.” In fact, one of the biggest complaints against so-called “green” technology is that the up-front costs outweigh the long-term payoff. Wi-Fi thermostats, on the other hand, while they cost anywhere from $40 to $300, can pay for themselves within the first year of installation. And that’s even before considering having such technology installed in your business or a larger commercial infrastructure, where the savings can potentially double – or even triple – compared to a single-home household.

And to put a cherry on top of it all – Wi-Fi thermostats are also extremely easy to use. In fact, many models are easier to program and maintain than a DVR unit.
Now that’s a green technology with a high payoff.

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5 A/C Tips To Help Save Energy In The Summer

5 A/C Tips To Help Save Energy In The Summer

Summertime means high energy bills for many homeowners. If you’re concerned about increased cooling costs, consider these five simple A/C operating tips to keep your bills manageable this summer:

  • Change air filters regularly: The filters in your air conditioner help keep your air clean, but they are also important for efficiency. Your A/C has to work harder to blow air through a dirty filter, and you can reduce cooling costs by changing your filter whenever it gets dirty. During summer, this typically means providing a fresh filter every one to three months.
  • Use your thermostat wisely: Every degree higher you set your thermostat saves you money, so you should try to keep the settings as high as you can without sacrificing comfort. A good way to do this is with a programmable thermostat, which automatically adjusts your air conditioner use based on your daily routine. For example, you can keep cool while you’re home in the morning and evening, but maintain a higher temperature while you’re at work or asleep.
  • Cool off with fans: A fan can’t completely replace the air conditioner in most homes, but it can significantly reduce the burden on your A/C unit. The average ceiling fan uses less electricity than a light bulb, and creates a cooling breeze that allows you to cut costs by running your air conditioner less.
  • Keep the heat out: The less heat you allow into your home, the easier it is for your air conditioner to keep you cool. You can accomplish this by providing shade for windows and glass doors, using ovens and stoves only on cool mornings and evenings, and replacing incandescent light bulbs with fluorescents, which produce less heat and use less energy.
  • Schedule annual maintenance: An annual service call for your air conditioner boosts efficiency, trims cooling costs, and lengthens the lifespan of your HVAC system. The best time for maintenance is spring, before the cooling season gets under way.

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Geothermal Systems In Ontario

Geothermal Systems In Ontario

Ontario’s need to conserve electricity may prove good news for the geothermal industry.
It comes down to the simple reality that conservation is considerably easier than expanding generation, reported Andrew Pride, vice president, conservation, for the Ontario Power Authority to 97delegates attending the fourth annual Ontario Geothermal Association Conference and AGM, held at the Hockley Valley Resort near Orangeville, Ont. Nov. 14-15.

But while things like air conditioning, household appliances and lighting have all benefited from OPA energy efficiency rebate programs, little attention has been paid to the potential savings from properly designed and installed ground source heating and cooling systems, noted Pride. “Geothermal hasn’t had its appropriate share of attention – let’s change that.”

OPA programs like Save-on-Energy – which offers rebates for the installation of energy efficient HVAC equipment, lighting, etc. – could be expanded to include ground source, he added.

Geothermal systems have a major benefit for the electrical utility in that they are all electric systems – the backup heat is typically electric, as are the pumps. “We can make things happen if they make sense for everyone,” said Pride. He suggested forming a working group with the OGA to pursue the issue.

This was welcome news to OGA members. Ground source heating and cooling “has been disregarded many times as a technology that is experimental, though it is in fact a proven, reliable technology when installed properly,” noted OGA vice president Jim Bolger (Waterloo Energy Products).

Making waves

Geothermal heating has surged and waned over the years, sometimes boosted by short-term rebate programs.

Industry pioneer David Hatherton (WaterFurnace, Next Energy), who was honoured with the first OGA/HRAI Lifetime Achievement Award, remarked that “this is my fifth major wave.”

“You get in the troughs and people start pulling together,” he added. “There’s a new opportunity with the (establishment) of the OGA to design our own program… Hopefully, this time we can create our own wave.” Pointing to the lengthy list of geothermal experts speaking at the conference, he noted that: “There’s a whole depth of knowledge that wasn’t there before.”

A lack of unity and an inability to get the right information out to the public and regulators has been a problem for the industry, said Steve Smith (Enertech Global), part of a panel discussion on how to move the industry forward. “HRAI and OGA have made one heck of a step to moving forward with this,” he added.

The OGA formed a permanent partnership with the Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Institute of Canada (HRAI) last year in which HRAI will handle the day-to-day administration of OGA and provide other support as required. It was a no-brainer for HRAI, noted Martin Luymes, HRAI director of programs and relations, because HRAI members wanted to see the organization become more involved in geothermal.

HRAI has also approached geothermal organizations in Alberta and B.C. with the goal of holding the first meeting of a national geothermal council by June, 2014. Luymes admitted, however, that those groups are “not convinced they should be part of a national group.”

The other key goal for the OGA/HRAI alliance is to convince the Ontario government “to create a more supportive environment for geothermal,” added Luymes.

Representatives from the OGA and HRAI subsequently met with OPA staff in December and were encouraged by the openness of the discussion, reported Luymes.

Real world success

Delegates heard a real-world success story from Gary Clarkson, senior project manager for Diversicare Canada, a company that operates retirement and assisted living homes – 39 buildings across Canada. They are typically five to seven stories high with 120 to 160 units.

Twelve years ago the company needed more buildings and management wanted “to go as green as possible as long as it doesn’t cost too much money,” recalled Clarkson. And while reducing operating costs was important, the company also believed green technology would “give us a leg up with municipalities,” something that has since proven true.

However, it wasn’t easy. The company’s original foray into geothermal was a design-build project. It became a nightmare, said Clarkson. “There was nobody keeping the geo contractor honest. We felt like we were getting smoke blown up our butts.” A consulting engineer hired to certify the project refused to sign off on it.

However, Diversicare didn’t abandon the technology. Four years ago the company joined the OGA and found a consultant that specialized in geothermal. And the properly designed and engineered systems installed since that time have worked properly with a payback projected at seven years.

He said the company sees the biggest resistance to geothermal from engineers at the request for proposal stage. They look at it with a simple payback calculation.

“What they don’t understand is that it’s not just the price of the borehole field.” The use of geothermal allows a redesign of the whole building. It no longer requires the structure and access for cooling towers. It reduces maintenance costs. It provides heat for snowmelt under the sidewalks.

Initially, the buildings were designed with backup boilers. However, they proved unnecessary and were replaced with heating coils in the DHW tanks for the few days in the middle of winter when extra heat was needed.

The buildings with geothermal are averaging 20 percent less energy use than those with conventional boiler/cooling tower systems, which on a large building is significant.

“Even with this data, our board of directors is still split on (geothermal),” says Clarkson. He hopes that two identical new buildings currently under construction – one with geothermal and one with a conventional system – will remove all doubt.

For more information on the OGA, visit www.ontariogeothermal.ca.

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Choosing the right tankless water heater

Choosing the right tankless water heater

Tankless water heaters are proving themselves to be the wave of the future in water heating with benefits such as never ending hot water, reduced utility bills, and longer, more useful lives than conventional storage tank heaters. Choosing the correct tankless water heater for your application does require some research and planning. Our goal here is to help you determine the best strategy for “going tankless” which will take many factors into account.

Proper Sizing

To properly size a tankless water heater you need to determine your maximum momentary water requirement. In other words, you need to think about when you will be demanding the most hot water. Maybe in the morning there could be a shower running and a bathroom faucet. Tankless water heaters will provide continuous hot water, but they can only provide so much at one time. Each product page on our site will provide you with all the information needed to make the right decision.

  1. Flow Rate Performance: The flow rate performance (FRP) of tankless water heaters are rated by measuring the gallons of hot water that can be output per minute while raising the temperature of your ground water by X° F. Typical high volume tankless water heaters have a FRP of up to six gallons per minute at a 60 degree rise. Smaller heaters have an FRP of around three gallons per minute at a 60 degree rise.
  2. What are My Hot Water Requirements? We have built a tool into our site to help you determine how much hot water you need. Select your maximum momentary usage by inputting how many of each plumbing fixture would commonly be running at the same time. Select your state (the calculator knows the average ground water temperature in your state) and hit calculate to learn how many gallons of hot water you need. The calculator assumes that the tankless water heater is set to 120° F to give you this calculation. Compare your hot water requirements with what each tankless water heater can provide. This is how you size your tankless water heater.

Gas or Electric

Gas powered tankless water heaters run off liquid propane or natural gas. Every model is available in either configuration. You must have a gas line running to your point of installation. Electric tankless water heaters most often will be hardwired into your electric system and have specific circuit breaker requirements. You need to consider convenience and your hot water demands when making a decision.

Most customers considering going tankless are replacing a current storage tank water heater; some are incorporating a tankless unit into a new construction. For those replacing a storage tank, you already have an energy source and the plumbing in place to power a tankless water heater whether it ran on gas or electricity. It would be easier overall to replace a gas storage tank with a gas tankless; and an electric for an electric. Do not consider this a “rule”, however; there are circumstances where it would make sense to switch from one to the other. For example, maybe there are no single electric units that will meet your needs; you would need to seriously consider getting a gas powered unit.

For those installing a tankless water heater into a new construction, you have fewer restrictions. Cost and water requirements will be your main considerations. Electric tankless water heaters are generally less expensive but they also have less capacity than their gas powered counterparts. Also think about your locate energy rates for gas and electricity, one might be less expensive.

Heater Placement Strategies

Deciding where to install your tankless water heater is a very important consideration. There are different strategies to consider; each has benefits and shortcomings. The floor plan of your home and your hot water requirements will dictate the best course of action.

  1. Central Installation
    • Installing your tankless water heater centrally is great because your hot water will not have to travel too far to reach any application. However, central installation can sometimes get you in the position where you have to vent your heater vertically. Vertical installations are usually more expensive that horizontal installations because they require more pipe.
  2. Primary Application Installation
    • You may want to consider installing your heater nearest to your application that will require the most hot water. This would probably be your primary bathroom since the shower is quite often the largest consumer of hot water.
  3. Regional Installation
    • Some consumers with large homes and high hot water demands may want to consider purchasing multiple units to run different regions of their home. This strategy will usually allow you to vent each heater horizontally which will save you money.
  4. Combination Strategy
    • Some consumers may want to consider using a whole-house tankless water in conjunction with electric point-of-use tankless water heaters. The theory behind this strategy is that you would use your whole-house heater to supply you shower(s), and possibly appliances depending on your shower and the output of the heater you have selected. Smaller electric point-of-use tankless water heaters would be used to provide your kitchen sink, laundry sink, and possibly appliances depending on your specific configuration. Although this type of configuration would have a higher startup cost than purchasing a whole-house unit by itself, it does have some decided benefits. (1) Other applications will not draw hot water when you are showering. Depending on your shower and the max output of your water heater; if 1-3 other applications were drawing hot water while the shower is running; the shower will cool down and the other applications probably won’t be as hot as desired. (2) You will reduce heat loss from the water traveling long distance through your plumbing since your hot water heaters will be installed near the application.
  5. Outdoor Installation
    • Installing your tankless water heater outdoors can be appealing since you will not have to purchase a vent system. If you live in a warm climate; this definitely is an option you should consider. However, if you live in a cold climate, where the temperature can regularly get below freezing, this probably is not the ideal application. Water inside the heat exchanger can damage the heat exchanger when freezing occurs. Manufacturers will not warranty a product that is damaged by freezing

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Ontario College of Trades appoints new CEO

Ontario College of Trades appoints new CEO

Former Ontario Conservative MPP and cabinet minister David Tsubouchi has been appointed registrar and CEO for the Ontario College of Trades, replacing Bob Guthrie who has retired.

Tsubouchi is a lawyer and businessman and is expected to bring a strong knowledge of legal and regulatory environments, government, enforcement, business and consumer protection to his new role.

The College of Trades is the new industry-funded body responsible for apprenticeship and trade licensing in Ontario. It officially opened this past April and has 300,000 members.

For more information, visit www.collegeoftrades.ca.

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Preparing your furnace for the winter

Preparing your furnace for the winter

Regular maintenance along with periodic checkups by a licensed heating professional are essential for continued safe and efficient operation of your furnace. But don’t wait until the first cold snap hits to make sure your furnace is ready for winter.

Here are some simple steps you can perform, plus some things you can ask your contractor to do, to make sure your natural gas furnace will keep your home warm and comfortable all winter long.

1. Clean or replace the filter.
A clogged filter restricts the flow of heated air from your furnace, causing it to work harder and deliver less heat.

2. Check the blower belt and oil the blower motor.
Loose belts can increase furnace operating time. Replace frayed or cracked belts. Two or three drops of oil in the motor will keep it running smoothly. (Sealed blower motors require no lubrication. If you have questions, check your owner’s manual or call a heating professional.)

3. Make sure blower doors are replaced properly.
This keeps combustion byproducts such as carbon monoxide separate from the warm air circulated through your home.

4. Check to see that vents in the house are unobstructed.
Air in your home needs to circulate easily through the vents. Your furnace works less when heated air is not blocked and the cooler air can circulate back freely.

5. Check to see that the exhaust flue to the outside is clear of obstructions and in good condition from the furnace to the roof cap with all connections securely fastened.
You can check it by removing the flue cap near the furnace and water heater and looking through the flue to the outside. Make sure you replace the flue cap securely. If the furnace or water heater are in an enclosed room or closet, make sure they get plenty of air. These appliances need ten cubic feet of air for one cubit foot of natural gas to operate properly. Furnace rooms or closets should have door louvers or vents or a duct directly to the outside to provide sufficient combustion air.

6. Remove all flammable objects from around your furnace and water heater.
Boxes, clothes, paints, aerosols, gasoline, motorized yard tools, and any other flammable products should not be stored near the furnace or water heater.

7. Check to make sure your furnace, boiler and water heater have a green sticker (Utah residents only).
This sticker indicates your appliances are properly adjusted to safely burn local gas supplies and are working as efficiently as possible. As part of a complete annual checkup, your heating contractor can perform a Green Sticker inspection and make any necessary adjustments.

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NRCan introduces energy use measurement system

NRCan introduces energy use measurement system

You’ve heard it before – you can’t manage what you don’t measure. As a result, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) is introducing the Energy Star Portfolio Manager to Canadian engineers, contractors and building management personnel.

Developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Portfolio Manager is an online tool used to measure and track energy and water consumption, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. It can be used to benchmark the performance of one building or a whole portfolio of buildings, all in a secure online environment.

It is available at http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/home.

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