Using Less Energy To Feather Your Nest

Nest Labs was bought recently by Google, which also purchased Texas Wind Farms. Both companies are in the energy business. Nest manufactures Wi-Fi enabled smart thermostats and smoke alarms, while Texas Wind Farms produces clean, sustainable power.

Nest results mixed.

Nest claims it saves consumers about $175 a year in heating and cooling costs. In reality, these savings can be much lower because Nest aims to keep you comfortable, not keep energy use in check. Many people actually spend more using Nest than not using it, and Nest does not work at all with some oil pump heaters. Independent studies have found that programmable thermostats often result in higher energy consumption simply because people do not know how to use them properly. Nest does better than traditional programmable thermostats, but is not the magical device people expect it to be.

EnTouch for small business.

Large commercial office buildings have used energy-smart thermostats by Siemens and Howell for years, but their cost is prohibitive for small businesses. EnTouch aims to bridge the gap by offering a $5000 system that automates energy consumption by smaller facilities, such as restaurants. In most states, the largest non-industrial energy users are grocery chains; commercial freezers are notorious energy hogs. Equipment such as dish machines, commercial laundry machines, and ice machines all use significant amounts of energy. Replacing these systems and upgrading water-heating systems can produce energy savings without altering the way you do business.

Getting an energy audit.

Power companies are state regulated and most are under mandate to invest in energy programs such as solar power. In many states, residential and small business customers can have an energy audit done by the local power utility at a reasonable cost. Often there are rebates for the replacement of outmoded HVAC equipment, along with federal tax credits. Replacing a low energy efficient HVAC system is the first step in lowering energy costs. After that, consider adding insulation, replacing old windows and doors that are not air tight, repairing torn ducts, and painting a dark roof with a light, reflective coating. A thermostat would be toward the bottom of the list! A great thermostat system will save you money, but it can’t offset a low SEER system and its inefficiency.

Using alternative power.

If you install a solar or wind system, you can be eligible for federal and state tax credits. Often the cost to finance a solar system is about the same or less as your utility bill, so it in effect pays for itself if it provides more than 75% of your power needs. The break-even point is usually around 8 years, at which point your energy is basically free. While installing the panels on the south side of your roof will provide the most energy gain, installing on the western side will provide power during peak periods.

 

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The causes of high relative humidity in air-conditioned buildings

It can be very difficult, even for a pro, to track down the cause(s) of high relative humidity inside a home. A frequent cause is an improperly sized HVAC system. Your AC system needs to run long enough to pull moisture out of the air, not just cool it. So if your system is too big for your home, it will not run long enough and high relative humidity will result. Generally you need one ton of AC for every 600 square feet. Sizing a little small is actually better than sizing too big, and it will not be less energy efficient. It will have an easier time cooling and you will feel comfortable at higher temperatures, so you do not save money by increasing the AC tonnage.

Sometimes, after installing new hurricane impact windows, homeowners notice an increase in relative humidity. This occurs because the home is “too tight” and the AC is not running long enough. Your AC unit works by running so that the air passing by the cold coil condenses, thus dehumidifying the house. The AC needs to run at least 10 minutes to control humidity on a cold coil. If the house is very tightly built and insulated, and particularly if it has a lot of non-porous glass windows, it will not “breathe” and it will cool or heat faster than the AC system can pull moisture out of the air. This is compounded by moisture released from cooking and showering, as well as moisture trapped in carpet and wood paneling. In a very tight house, if it is 82 degrees outside, your AC won’t run very long to maintain a temperature of 76 degrees and you may have an issue with high relative humidity.

A leak in your ducts can also throw off your AC system.  In fact, a dirty AC filter can throw off your relative humidity, so that is one more reason to routinely change your AC filter on the first of every month. An improperly working thermostat can also be a culprit. There are also more serious situations, such as humid crawlspaces that release moisture up through a wood floor. This does not occur in the typical crawlspace, but can be an issue if there is a plumbing leak or other problem that causes ponding water.

A whole house dehumidifier system is a last resort in severe cases where the humidity hovers around 65% or more. However, such a system will be necessary to prevent the growth of mold and wood rot.  The cost to install a single whole house dehumidifier is around $1,700 in 2013, but will vary depending on the size of your home, the difficulty in removing debris, and the existing wiring in your home.

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Understanding Relative Humidity and Your AC

Humidity – the amount of moisture in the air – is of tremendous importance for your comfort and for your health. It also impacts the energy costs of operating your AC system, the biggest energy hog in your home. When you reduce the humidity in your home, you also reduce the risk of mold and mildew growth. When humidity is low, you also feel cooler in summer and warmer in winter.

Humidity is a complicated topic.  There is always some moisture in the air. Relative humidity is the amount of moisture relative to the amount of moisture the air can hold. If the relative humidity is 50%, then it is half “full” of water. If the relative humidity is 100%, it cannot “hold” more water. When rain clouds form, they are at 100 % humidity, but the ground-level humidity could be much less.  If the air around you is at 100% humidity, it is holding all the water it can. It does not mean it is raining, just that the air is saturated with water!

When relative humidity is low, we feel cooler because sweat evaporates easily. People feel most comfortable when the relative humidity is around 50%. Your AC system is designed to de-humidify the air, so it is important that it does this properly or you will not feel comfortable even if the temperature is cool. You will also find yourself sneezing and coughing, because humidity promotes the growth of allergens. If humidity is too low, you will have a dry throat and be trouble by static electricity as well as dry, itching skin.

As air cools, it become less able to hold water. At a certain temperature, it will condense into water (the dew point) or ice (the frost point). The dew point varies depending on the relative humidity. Currently, (October), the dew point in South Florida is 65 degrees… meaning condensation will form at this temperature. In Maine, on the other hand, the dew point is now 40 degrees.

Normally, during hot weather, condensation will form on the outside of your windows if you run the AC very cold. This is because hot air can hold more water than colder air. When the air touches your cold windows, it condenses. Indoor humidity that is too low is more common during winter, because cooler temperatures and heating cycles lower moisture in the air more rapidly. In the summer, relative humidity that is too high is a more common issue.

Condensation on the inside of your windows is a sign that something is imbalanced in your AC system. Your AC system includes your entire home, so if you have leaky windows that will affect the relative humidity inside your home and how hard your AC has to work to remove moisture. You buy humidity gauges (hygrometers) for around $15 apiece to measure the amount of relative humidity in the air. Buy several, leave them in place, check the relative humidity, and then swap the positions to check the accuracy of your readings.  If the temperature is at 76 degrees, the relative humidity should be around 50%.  In the winter, it should be no lower than 30%.

Stay Tuned for our next post “The causes of high relative humidity in air-conditioned buildings…

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Product Highlight: Corrosion Grenade

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There are many perks to living near the coast: ocean winds, access to the beach, and a variety of water sports. What’s not a perk is corrosion that occurs when moisture attacks the aluminum fins on air conditioning units, causing them to become inefficient and costly to repair and replace.   This kind of corrosion is known as electrolysis or Galvanic Corrosion, where the weakest metal is damaged by a combination of electricity and the salt air. Since aluminum is the weakest metal in  most air conditioning systems, it is the first to be attacked by corrosion. It seems like an impossible problem to deal with if you live on the coast, but ADL Supply carries a product that can help you avoid such corrosion and keep your air conditioning system in tip-top shape for years to come: the Corrosion Grenade.

The Corrosion Grenade is made of 100% zinc and acts as a sacrificial anode to protect the other metals in the air conditioning system. What this means is that because zinc is the weakest metal in the air conditioning unit (which are mostly composed of aluminum, copper, and steel), it will bear the corrosion that the air conditioning unit would accumulate in its aluminum parts. With its simple screw-on application, the Corrosion Grenade will provide consumers and contractors alike with an easy solution to their corrosion problems.

 

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