Heating Systems 101 – Learning the Lingo

She Blinded Me With Science!

One of the toughest things about researching a new heating system is learning the tech talk. Your HVAC company will throw out all sorts of terminology assuming that you understand what they’re talking about. Some might even be happy that you *don’t* understand so they can confuse you and sound like experts. Well, no more!

This post covers the most common terms that you’re likely to run across. I’m sure I’ll miss some or confuse you, so please post questions if there’s anything you’d like clarified.

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What to look for in a new hot water based (boiler) heating system

I got a great question from a reader asking about replacing a boiler and water heater system. After writing a reply, I realized the information might be useful to others, so here goes!

If you’ve got an old boiler that you’re thinking about replacing, you might find all the terminology and technology a bit intimidating. Fortunately, these days, there are a quite a few safe, high efficiency, hot-water generating systems that can provide plenty of hot water for baths and showers as well as heating your home.

I’ve been using this type of system in my home for years, both oil and gas (actually propane, but for this discussion, they’re the same). They can be excellent and cost effective IF configured and controlled correctly.

Let me get something out of the way right away – I would *not* recommend an oil burning system. Even though oil has come way down in price, it’s simply not a great fuel for home heating systems for a number of reasons

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GE GeoSpring Heat Pump Water Heater

GEH50DEEDSR _ GeoSpring™ hybrid electric water heater _ GE Appliances

Intro

In July 2014, I purchased this GE GeoSpring heat pump water heater to replace my existing all-electric water that had sprung a leak. Admittdely, it was an impulse buy because Lowes was having a sale on them – probably to get rid of unwanted inventory because these have horrible reviews!

So why did I buy it? Because it was only a few hundred dollars more than a conventional electric water heater and I’d been wanting to get an integrated HPWH after my previous add-on HPWH died after just a year. Plus, based on the negative reviews, I felt that the people having problems were using earlier versions of the heater. So I’m crossing my fingers and hoping that it has a long, happy life.

Almost everything written in this article applies to all heat-pump water heaters. I’ll put the GE specific notes at the end.

What is a heat-pump water heater?

You may not know it but your refrigerator and air conditioner are examples of heat pumps. Through a process of compression, condensation and evaporation, they move heat from one place to another. In your refrigerator, that humming you hear when it runs is the compressor. The inside of the fridge is cold because the “heat” in the fridge is moved to the outside of the insulated box and blown into your kitchen. An air conditioner works exactly the same way – it cools the air inside the house and expels the heat outside.

The HPWH does the same thing except it uses the heat to warm the water in the tank. And the cold? If you feel the output behind the heater, you’ll see that the cold gets blown into the room. Heat the water, chill the room. Keep this in mind, we’ll come back to that later.

Why does a heat-pump water heater save energy?

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Tip of the day: pre-rinse in cold water

In this day and age, most of us have dishwashers, and yet there’s still quite a bit of controversy over how to wash dishes. Some wash every dish by hand. Some just throw them in the washer. Others wash the dishes by hand then put them in the dishwasher to make sure they get really clean?

This is an energy efficiency blog, so I’m going to look at this from an energy standpoint. If you live in New Mexico or elsewhere where water is in extremely short supply, you’ll probably have methods that are more water efficient.

You might have noticed that things just aren’t washing as well as they used to. You’re not imagining things! In fact, new soaps are “phosphate free” and people all over are complaining that dishes no longer come out clean. I certainly have. Here’s one article about the topic.

Because of this, more people than ever are hand-washing dishes. Either as a pre-rinse or giving up on dishwashers. So energy efficient rinsing is becoming even more relevant.

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How to prevent your boiler from stealing your money

Energy Kinetics System 2000

Energy Kinetics System 2000

In the last article, “Is your boiler stealing your money?“, I discussed why most boilers are ripping you off. Contrary to what almost every HVAC saleperson or tech will tell you, your boiler does not operate at 84% efficiency. It doesn’t operate at 80%! Heck, much of the year, it doesn’t operate at 50% efficiency!

To review, the reasons for this include:

  • High operating temperature
  • Minimal insulation
  • Infrequent use
  • → Outrageously high standby losses

In this article, I’m going to discuss how to do it right. But if you’re too lazy to read the entire article, stop right here and go to the Energy Kinetics website.

But first, I’m going to save you $10,000….

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Is your boiler stealing your money?

Boilers - notorious energy hogs

If you have a boiler, chances are, it’s wasting a lot of energy!

At today’s fuel oil costs, (~$3.50/gallon in March 2011), it’s more important than ever to conserve. This is definitely one of those cases where it pays to do your homework.

What if I told you there’s a good chance that your boiler is half as efficient as they told you? You wouldn’t be happy, would you?

Let me tell you a personal story. When I moved in my house, it had a relatively modern boiler, rated at 82% efficiency. It heated the houe and the water. I figured that was pretty good – no need to upgrade, right?

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The Energy Geek Video: American Standard FloWise Shower Head

American Standard FloWise Shower Head

Generic low-flow shower head

I admit it, I don’t often get excited about water saving. In the past, you may have used those crappy little low-flow shower heads that seemed to spray a mist of water rather than a nice shower. Those things set back the entire industry for years.

Shower heads today are a different story. I recently read some great reviews on Amazon.com about the American Standard FloWise shower head. This convinced me to give it a shot.

I bought the FloWise for about $40 on Amazon. I’ve added it to my store now that I’ve played with it and know it’s a “Geek-worthy” product.

Rather than just re-type everything I spent time producing in video, I’ll just give you a summary:

FloWise shower head

  • Cost about $40
  • Works great. Low-flow at 1.5 GPM (gallons per minute). Full-flow at 2.0 GPM
  • Saves about 40% on your shower water usage
  • Depending on your water heating costs, it will pay for itself in two years or less. In my case, it’s under a year. If you have kids who take long showers, it will pay for itself in less than 6-months.
  • Caveat: if you have really long, thick hair, this might not be for you. But for most people, it will work great.

Follow-up: Usage Recomendations

Having now had the opportunity to use this more, I wanted to give some usage recommendations so that you get the most out of your hot-water saving shower head.

First, be aware that when you first turn on the shower, it’s going to take longer for the shower water to get warm because there’s less water moving through the pipes. If you’re moving from an old, non-water saver head to this one, you may think something is wrong because it takes so long.

Whenever you take a shower, the water has to get all the way from your water tank to your shower, so if your old shower had moved 4 GPM and this one move 1.5 GPM, it’s going to take almost three times as long for that water to arrive. This can be a bit frustrating and it will make you feel like it’s wasting water when in fact both will use exactly the same amount.

In order to minimize the wait, I suggest turning the water on full hot initially and setting the shower head to one of the turbo modes. This will do several things. First, the hot water will heat up the pipe faster because more hot water will be flowing through the pipe. Second, it will get to the shower faster because just the hot water is running and because the shower head is letting more water through. Just remember to turn it to a comfortable temperature before you get in!

Next, and this is probably obvious, for most efficient water usage, use the shower on the default, low flow setting when you’re just rinsing your body and doing general cleaning. But when you wash your hair, you’ll probably want to turn it to one of the turbo modes to make it easier to rinse the soap out. I’ve got pretty long hair for a guy and for me it works pretty well. But like I suggested in the video, if there’s someone in the household with long hair, they might not find the amount of water to be satisfactory. Fortunately, my wife and I have separate showers, so she can have her own shower head and I can have mine!