Sunday, July 20, 2008

This Old Soy House

Several people have contacted us inquiring about the article from the July/August issue of This Old House with our story on soy foam insulation.

Well, the good folks from TOH have now put the Soybean: Innovative Insulation article up on their web site for your viewing pleasure.


Thanks for Tank and Tankless Heaters

Last weekend, Jim and I finished making the final connections for our tankless water heater. I was admittedly nervous since this is a used Takagi TK2 tankless water heater we had gotten off of Craigslist. So rather than just cutting out the old tank model, we installed a shut-off isolation valve on our old water heater and left it in place for now. That way, just in case we run into problems with the tankless and need to revert back, it's a simple switch.

Jim GillSo, once the new equipment was in place and water lines were soldered together and leak free, we flipped the switch on the tankless water heater. Water flowed in and no leaks! I turned on a hot water tap, and water began to flow through the tankless. Once the flow was high enough (more than 0.5 gallons per minute), the electronic igniter lit the flames, which we could see through a tiny window (Jim is pointing to it the photo). Then the exhaust fan kicked on to push the fumes out the special stainless steel venting. Shortly, there was hot water flowing through the tap! Yay!

In a tankless water heater system, the hot water takes a bit longer to reach the taps than a regular water heater would. This happens because there is no constant heat source heating water all the time, and no standby heat is transferred to the water pipes. This is a trade-off with a tankless water heater. Less fuel is needed to heat, but more water is used and wasted down the drain as you wait for the hot water. Fortunately almost all of our plumbing runs are relatively short, so we haven't noticed this isn't a big deal. It takes maybe an extra 20 seconds at our furthest plumbing fixture.

Anyway, we've now been living with the new tankless for a week. Sunday night, Jen was very happy to finally be able fill the bath tub with hot water instead of running out halfway through! But we noticed when taking a shower that the hot water fluctuated off for about two minutes (completely, so it was cold!) and then came back on.

Takagi TK2 Flame Sensor, Igniter, and BurnerI read the TK2 manual, did a bit of research, and found a great discussion on problems with Takagi TK2 water heaters. This gave me some good ideas such as cleaning water inlet filter, cleaning the igniter and flame sensor (next to the tiny burner window) as well as checking the temperature sensors in the water intake and outtake lines for any clogs. So I did all this. At first, looking at this thing with the cover off is quite intimidating, but if you try to look past all the electronic wires, it's relatively straightforward.

However, after all these maintenance tweaks, it seems we still have occasional problems with the shower. We still get hot water there (and everywhere else for that matter), and there is no problem if the shower is set to full-hot (not mixing with cold water). I wonder if this is mixing valve issue so we'll have to do a bit more investigation on the temperature fluctuations (and maybe even call Takagi) to get this figured out.

Anyhow, despite these initial problems, I'm quite pleased with the fact that the system works, and I'm really looking forward to cutting out the old tank-style water heater and getting some extra space in the small utility room / shop area in our basement. But we'll hold off on that until these issues are resolved, knowing that if needed, we can fire up the old beastly water heater at any time.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Get Your Paint On

As Jason mentioned a few posts ago, our time has come to attack the exterior of our home. We've done quite a bit of landscaping planting lots of pretty things, but we've done nada to the actual exterior of the house (aside from maiming it with new openings and a particularly nasty repair job to one window that was removed). So with the Village lighting a fire under our feet, we've gotten bids from four companies to do the painting. Now we just have to choose colors.

Ah, color choices. Always so intimidating. But our scope got limited b/c, according tot the quotes we rec'd, looks like we can't afford to get the vinyl siding painted. Which really is too bad - the best color schemes we've been playing with involved a new color on the siding. So the white will have to stay. So we ordered the Bungalow Exterior book, and using a very very old exterior shot (and hence none of our pretty flowers to get in the way!) have been playing around using Sherwin Williams Historic Arts & Crafts Collection - they have a really nifty paint tool that even gives the RGB values to duplicate the colors (great for Photoshop-ing your house).

Anyways, at midnight last night we decided to stop playing and just do. Not so sure what these are looking like in the light of day, but with the help of Bungalow Colors: Exteriors, we've come up with the following color schemes:

(click any photo to view a larger image)

Of course, there's also the option of keeping the stucco white, with a fresh coat on everything ... maybe adding green to the trim on the windows instead of just the brown ...

Inquiring minds want to know - which one do you like? Or do you abhor them all? We need second, third, twenty-seventh opinions. :)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Update on Real-Time Electricity Pricing

Although I just blogged on this topic last month, ComEd and Ameren's residential real-time pricing (RRTP) initiative just got a whole lot easier for consumers to use. One of Ameren's customers is also a web developer/electrical utility veteren, and created a handy-dandy web widget application that uses the information the utilities publish.

For those less technical, this means you can embed it in any "customizable" web portal, such as the iGoogle gadget. The widget updates with real time electricity prices from ComEd every 5 minutes or so, and as prices rise, the stoplight changes from green, to yellow, and of course red. I've quickly fallen in love with this.

But wait, there's more... For those Firefox lovers out there, he also create a custom toolbar, as well as a Vista gadget (currently available only for Ameren power info). This guy knows his stuff, and has in-depth knowledge of variable-rate pricing and tools and ideas to maximize it.

Anyway, this is exciting stuff for those of us in the RRTP program as the peak of the summer cooling season hits us. And if you're looking to save a few more bucks, I'd recommend using your cold basement air to cool your home and save your AC from coming on as frequently. This has been working well for us as long as it doesn't get too muggy out.