Green Homes
Building for the future, today ā€“ combining the best of historical wisdom and modern technology.


The 7 Best Sandblasters for Home Use

 

Photo by Unsplash/Andres Nieto

Whether you're restoring old cars, renovating your home or cleaning rusted equipment, a sandblaster is useful to have at your disposal.

From art to manufacturing, these tools have a variety of uses available to people of all different occupations and hobbies. For instance, auto-enthusiasts use this equipment to blast car parts clean, excellent for restoration projects. 

When buying one of these tools, you want to make sure you get the best deal for your money. If you don't already use one regularly, you may not understand what things to look for, much less which equipment best matches your needs and budget.

To know what the best sandblasters tools for home are, you have to understand what makes them work.

Sandblasting Basics

If you want to make a smart purchase, you're going to have to learn a thing or two about what you're buying. Luckily, you can find in-depth sandblasting guides online that will help you learn more about the tools and how they work. To get started in the learning process, here are some basics you should know.

First off, it may help you to know how sandblasting work. Sandblasters remove debris from a surface by projecting tiny bits of material at high speeds. This material can be anything from actual sand to walnut shells. 

Compressed air forces the particles out of the nozzle of the sandblaster and towards your target surface. These particles then chip away debris like rust and paint as they hit the surface. While this process is generally the same across all sandblasters, there are three different kinds to look for — gravity-fed, pressure and siphon.

Gravity-fed blasters. In a gravity-fed sandblaster, the blasting material enters the barrel from a hopper on top. As material leaves the barrel, more falls in through the hopper. When you release the trigger, the opening beneath the hopper will close, so excess material doesn't block the barrel.

Pressure blasters. Pressure blasters use a canister filled with both compressed air and blasting material. When you pull the trigger, you release air and sand together from a single source. These sandblasters require far less maintenance but may cost more initially. 

Siphon blasters. Siphon blasters use the force of the compressed air to create a vacuum that will draw in blasting material through a hose and into the barrel. These tools are often more affordable and resilient.

The Best Sandblasters for Home Use

Now that you know the basics of sandblasting, here are seven of the best tools for home use.

1. Black Bull SFSB90

The Black Bull SFSB90 is a gravity-fed sandblaster that boasts a 7.5-gallon tank and a capacity of 90 pounds. This impressive size lends the blaster an equally remarkable amount of power. It can operate at upwards of 80 PSI for roughly two and a half hours, allowing you to use it long enough to blast virtually any surface you would need at home.

The heavy-duty blaster also comes with attached wheels and several different nozzles, making it both portable and versatile. It's no wonder why Toolzview and BestAdvisor both list the Black Bull SFSB90 in their top five sandblasting tools.

2. Generic Sandblaster Air Siphon Feed Blast Gun

While this sandblaster leaves something to be desired in its name, it offers competitive performance and durability. This siphon blaster's gun is made of die-cast aluminum and weighs less than a pound.

The Generic Sandblaster Siphon Blast Gun is astoundingly cheap, but it doesn't come with an air supply, so you'll have to buy one if you don't already own one. It does, however, come with four ceramic nozzles of varying sizes so that you can use it for any number of jobs.

3. Lematec Portable AS118

The Lematec Portable AS118 finds itself towards the top of the list for both Ezvid Wiki and Toolzview. This highly-portable gravity-fed blaster is small and lightweight enough to allow you to travel with or easily maneuver it while working,

While the 18-ounce hopper may not allow for long periods of blasting, you can refill it quickly and easily with most mediums.

4. Campbell Hausfeld AT122601AV

Mechanical Caveman's number one sandblaster pick, the Campbell Hausfeld AT122601AV, comes with a lightweight blasting gun, a ten-foot hose and a one-year warranty. While you will need to purchase an air supply and a container for the blasting material, the affordability leaves you some wiggle room to do so.

The siphon-fed blaster has a replaceable ceramic nozzle that can withstand almost any material you shoot through it, even after extended use.

5. Zendex SpeedBlaster

Another top ten list staple is the Zendex SpeedBlaster. Similar to the Lematec AS118, the SpeedBlaster is a portable gravity-fed sandblaster, though slightly heavier and certainly pricier than the Lematec. The hopper has a capacity of 26 ounces that can hold most blasting mediums.

This sandblaster is notably powerful for its size, with an optimal operating pressure of 100 to 125 PSI. Some users have complained about the SpeedBlaster's durability, meaning it may be best suited to smaller, infrequent tasks. 

6. Performance Tool M549 

The Performance Tool M549 is a gravity-fed blaster that comes with a 50-pound hopper and an aluminum blast gun. BestAdvisor's pick for most reasonably priced sandblaster, the M549, can be found for half the price of other large blasters, like the Black Bull SFSB90. 

Despite its size, this blaster doesn't produce an outstanding amount of power, and you may need to buy another, shorter hose. The lack of wheels cause portability issues for the M549, and its nozzle is not as reliable as other models.

7. Dragway Tools Model 25

The only blasting cabinet on this list is the Dragway Tools Model 25. Instead of a blasting gun attached to a hose, cabinets blast material within an enclosed space. The Dragway Model 25 comes with internal lights to ensure you can see your work better and hefty rubber gloves that allow you to handle parts while blasting.

The Model 25 comes with a gun contained in the cabinet, giving you control over the blasting process. This tool is great for small, intricate jobs, but can't be used for large surfaces, limiting its versatility. 

Choosing the Best Sandblaster for Home Use

Now that you know which sandblaster will work best for you, what are you waiting for? Don't let that home project sit around and collect dust.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on GRIT, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog, Productivity Theory, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

The Best Types of Leveling Tools

 
Photo by Unsplash/Jim Quenzer

Doing home improvement jobs on the homestead means you'll need the right equipment for the job. A well-stocked toolbox makes you feel accomplished and ready for anything — the best attitude to have for being self-sufficient. One of the most helpful devices you can have is a leveling tool. 

Levels tell you whether a vertical or horizontal surface is straight by using a vial. The vial contains alcohol and a small bubble.

When the level is aligned with the horizontal surface and the bubble is in the middle of the vial, it means the surface is straight. Though bubble levels — also known as spirit — are the most common type, you have plenty of other options. Here are a few of them, including the best brands for your DIY needs.

1.  Automatic Levels

Also known as tilting levels, these devices help you judge a difference in height over long distances. It sits on a tripod-mounted telescope and uses crosshairs to determine a height difference between two objects. People most commonly use this leveling tool for surveying, foundation work and landscaping. 

The Sokkia B40 24x Automatic Level is an excellent option, providing stability against shock, vibration and numerous weather conditions. Its magnetic damping system ensures an accurate reading even if the surrounding environment is unstable. You can purchase it online at Engineer Supply, Amazon or Top Precision.

2. Digital Levels

These are the best leveling tools for you if you like a bit of technology in your workspace. Though most electronic levels still contain a bubble, they're a step above the kinds that only use vials. They have the added accuracy of digital readings, which can give you correct measurements down to the decimal point.

Pro Tool Reviews recommends  with seven auto-calibrated measuring modes. Jump right into work instead of spending time calibrating your device. Use the hold function to lock your measurements and receive horizontal and vertical readings simultaneously.

3. Laser Levels

Next to digital, laser levels are incredibly accurate. They project red lines across the room to judge how horizontal or vertical an object is. Because these use light instead of a bubble or spirit, it may be hard to see the lines in the daytime.

Break one out during the evening or night, and you'll get its full use. The Lino L2P5 gives you every function you'd possibly need from a laser level, including self-leveling abilities and an exact 90-degree angle.

Within this category, you could also choose a spot laser or cross line laser. Both lend themselves well to household work, ideal for the homesteader wanting to do projects without huge professional tools. A cross-line device projects a figure of a cross onto the wall to ensure both the vertical and horizontal aspects are level. The spot laser only projects horizontal lines and has more limited abilities.

4. Torpedo Levels

Torpedo levels are tapered at the ends and smaller than the ones you'd find on a construction site. These are ideal for at-home use and DIY projects — they're small enough to fit comfortably in your toolbox or pocket. Some come with magnets on the back for hands-free use when you're in a tight spot.

Wirecutter recommends a variety of torpedo levels from Sola as the best leveling tools for DIY use. The Sola PH 22 Flooring Level and Sola PT 25 are currently unavailable, but the MM 5 25 is still up for purchase. It comes with a higher price, but it's suitable for homesteaders who frequently do DIY projects. It's sturdy, magnetized and has easy-to-read vials — and you can use it in dim lighting.

5. Post Levels

If you need to measure a deck or post, this is the tool for you. These levels have somewhat of an "L" shape and typically have three bubble vials, two for each wing and one on the spine. Its form enables you to level two planes at once. Most types use a set of magnets to let you attach it to the object you're working on. They also tend to have a band on the side so you can strap it onto your work station.

The company Johnson Level sells an Orange Post and Pipe level with reflective backing on the vials for clear visibility. You can buy this device online from Home Depot or Walmart.

6. Angle Levels

Measure any angle between zero and 90 degrees with this device. It's excellent for measuring the slant of drainage pipes, which is convenient if you need to do plumbing work around the house. Most types feature a digital display informing you of how many degrees the object you're measuring is. They usually have two bubble vials to assist with measuring. 

Try the Pittsburgh 16 Inch Digital Angle Level from Harbor Freight for an accurate display. It has a backlit LCD screen for easy viewing in the later hours, and it can go up to 225 degrees in 0.1 increments. It has a much broader range than the typical 90-degree limit, making it a superior choice for home and construction work.

7. Bull's Eye Levels

Use one of these with a tripod to gauge horizontal surfaces like counters or tables. You can also use this tool for finding the horizontal plane of a tripod. Bull's eyes work two-dimensionally, which is fitting for carpenters who often need to measure tabletops and flat objects.

Kevin Kelly from the website Cool Tools recommends the Bullseye Bubble Level from Starrett. This one fits for various applications — like your workbench or washing machine — and it's wonderfully cheap. Most bull's eye varieties have simple designs like this one, but they work as efficiently as any other kind. 

Pick the Best Leveling Tools for Your Homestead

Selecting the best leveling tool will have you ready to take on any job without stress or difficulty.

Say goodbye to your days of guesstimating whether an object is straight and get the perfect measurements every time. This tool can take your homesteading to the next level and help you complete projects without a hitch.

Kayla Matthews writes and blogs about healthy living, sustainable consumption, eco-friendly practices and green energy. In the past, her work has also been featured on GRIT, Mother Earth Living, Blue And Green Tomorrow, Dwell and Houzz. To read more from Kayla, follow her productivity and lifestyle blog, Productivity Theory, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Hand-Built Yurt Home from Scrap Material Offers Debt-Free Living

The following post is an excerpt from Tiny Homes, Simple Shelter (Shelter Publications, 2012) by long-time MOTHER EARTH NEWS contributor Lloyd Kahn. In this book are some 150 builders who have taken things into their own hands, creating tiny homes (under 500 sq. ft.) — homes on land, on wheels, on the road, on water, even in the trees. Here is the story of one of these builders, Scott Evans. You can rent this home as a holiday rental at Big Sky Retreat.

Inspired by Lloyd Kahn and Shelter to build my family a home from recycled materials, I then looked around for a way to make a more decent living on land once farmed. I ended up getting a design for a wooden yurt from Bill Coperthwaite. The plan was to build a small building that might be rented out for holiday purposes until my son was old enough to live in it. Situated in a redundant quarry, the site has a 180-degree view of Dartmoor and surrounding Devon countryside.

What emerged was greatly inspired by Bill, but somehow hybridized into something else inspired by the many characters and artisan builders out of Lloyd’s books, along with my excessive use of recycled and scavenged materials, an inability to follow plans or ask for help, lack of money, and sheer stubbornness — you get the idea.

The yurt is 20 feet in diameter, has a Scandinavian-inspired built-in bed with wardrobe and cupboards, a sloping shower room, a tiny kitchen, and a living room with built-in sofa and more storage, all constructed with scrubbed and sanded old scaffolding boards or dismantled pallet wood. Details are mainly driftwood or sanded-down branches found in my own woodlands.

The cedar-shingle roof has a circular skylight and is now one of the most attractive elements — but one that suffered from falling in on me twice during construction. It’s definitely my favourite detail in the whole building, but I am convinced that it’s only held up by a wing and a prayer.

When I was a teenager in 1980s Britain growing up with British building regulations, the only people I knew who built their own homes were the very wealthy with their professionally trained architects using nothing but solid bricks and mortar. I refused to join in with any convention (or rat race) and turned instead to buying my own small parcel of woodland and living in a caravan for 13 years: the best decision I’ve ever made.

Finding Lloyd’s Shelter in a cranky Devon bookshop was one of my luckier moments and then, buying when I was so broke, I discovered that anyone with determination might eventually build a home — inspirational!

Photos courtesy Shelter Publications


Lloyd Kahn is a sustainable living visionary and publisher of Shelter Publications. He is the author of natural building books, including Home WorkTiny Homes, Simple ShelterTiny Homes on the MoveShelter II , Builders of the Pacific Coast, and The Septic System Owner’s Manual (All available in the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Store). He lives and builds in Northern California. Follow Lloyd on his blogTwitterand Facebook, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

How to Sell Your Eco-Friendly, Renovated, or Smart Home  

agents  

This is Part 2 of Why Sustainability Information Matters in Real Estate. Read Part 1: Buying a Home? Why Sustainability Information Matters. In this series, Realty Sage's Founder, Kari Klaus, asked sustainability expert Miriam Gennari, President of MetroMakeover LLC, and real estate agent with Ikon Realty in Annandale, Va., to share her story in a 3-part series about working in the emerging eco-real estate industry — the challenges, the opportunities, and the details about her career choice.

You have probably heard that the most important factor when selling your home is pricing it, right?

While pricing your home competitively is very important, it doesn’t make much of a difference if you aren’t marketing it accurately to justify the price, nor does it make a difference if you don’t have the most knowledgeable professionals “pros” to assist you through the transaction. 

If you have recently upgraded your home or if you have an eco-friendly home, marketing those premium features accurately and finding the right pros who have the experience and knowledge working with your type of home is incredibly important to getting your return on your investment.

The Right Pros

“Knowing a house has value because of sustainability is one thing, selling it is quite another.”

Miriam Gennari, VA, MD and DC Realtor and sustainability expert with metromakeover at Ikon Realty

Qualifying your listing agent. Typically, people look to referrals from a friend or neighbor, to a well-known agent in the neighborhood, or from an advertisement. But none of these means help you to really qualify your listing agent to market your home accurately and knowledgeably. 

“Most surprising” Gennari explains, “is that most Realtors working opposite me do not understand the value of sustainability, therefore their clients rely on me as their resource even though I am representing the other side of the deal.  People are eager to learn about the value and benefits of an eco friendly home and love to brag about it once they become aware.”

A skilled and knowledgeable agent will take the time to ask you all the right questions about the unique and important details about your home.

”If a homeowner decides to invest in solar, energy star appliances or environmentally-friendly and recycled materials,” Gennari illustrates, “and their real estate agent does not understand the value of those features, the homeowner never sees the reward of their effort.“

Here are two steps you can take to help you qualify your agent. Take stock of your home’s features. By going from room to room, write down the improvements you’ve made, and seek out the documents and receipts on those improvements. Once you have your list, ask your agent questions about these features and find out how knowledgeable they are about marketing them.

One of the best ways to get you started with the process of finding a qualified agent is to fill out a simple, 5 minute, online questionnaire at Realty Sage Pros regarding the features that your home has.

This online tool contains a database of local real estate agents that are carefully matched to your needs, based on their unique experience and knowledge of your home's features. You receive up to the top 3 agent matches to choose from. There is no obligation, no contracts, and no fees for you to conduct your local agent matching.

Qualified appraisers. Once you accept an offer on your home, the buyer’s lender will need an appraisal of the home. Be careful! If your home is high-performing and/or certified, it should be appraised by an expert who can properly evaluate your home.

According to Vivint Solar, qualified appraisers will know how to utilize the Residential Green and Energy Efficient Addendum that appraisers can attach to a standard appraisal. This addendum gives appraisers additional space to account for an increasing number of green technologies and advancements in today’s homes--from water conservation to Energy Star appliances, and of course, solar panels. Find green qualified appraisers at the Appraisal Institute.

How and How NOT to Market a Home's Features

Focus on renewable energy, energy efficiency and cost savings

Solar: you have it. Did you know that not all solar systems can transfer to a new homeowner? If you have solar panels, it’s important to double check your solar agreement, before you market your home as a “solar home.” If you cannot transfer the system with the sale of the home, then you will need to disclose that to any potential buyers, upfront.  If you’re unsure about whether you can transfer your solar system in the sale of your home, check your agreement and review these tips

Your agent should also know how to market the benefits of a solar system, including how to discuss them with potential buyers. Check out these tips on, How to Host an Open House with Solar Panels

Solar: you don’t have it.  Even if you don’t have solar, don’t skip out on the opportunity to market your home’s potential to add it! If you don’t have solar, consider getting an estimate to show buyers the potential of adding solar once they own the home. Go to PickMySolar.com (a Realty Sage Affiliated Partner) and simply insert your home address to get started on an evaluation. 

Energy audits. If your home is energy efficient, then you need to show it off. The best way to do that is by investing in an energy audit, which typically costs anywhere from $200 -$600, depending on the size of your home and your location.  Find energy auditors near you.

Tax incentives and rebates. Use tax incentives and rebates to finish your home renovations before you sell. But, if you are unable to get around to doing so, make sure that buyers are made aware of these tax incentives and rebates towards potential renovations so that they don't feel the financial pinch when considering these improvements for themselves. An eco-friendly agent will know how to help advertise specific rebates and tax incentives for things like solar systems and appliances that buyers may not be aware of. Knowing this, the agent can explain to the buyer, how that outdated refrigerator is something that they could replace with their own preference! Renewable energy tax rebates can be found on energystar.gov.

State tax rebates for appliances. On major sites like Home Depot and Lowes, you can find state rebate options appearing alongside the appliances. 

eco rebates

Out with the Old Real Estate Ways

“Having information on how the property was built, upgraded and maintained as well as its performance is often overlooked by many agents who focus on the photos and only the fundamentals,” Gennari says.

While there are a growing number of homes with third-party certifications, there are still many more homes without a certification that have high performing and high tech features which are very beneficial to homeowners--sometimes even more so than a certified home. Make your home stand out.

Customized marketing materials and documentation. One of the best ways to make your listing standout is to highlight, not bury, the premium features your listing has. Most agents mention the homes’ features in the comments section of listings, where it is difficult to notice and even harder to understand the benefits of such features. 

Agents can customize their marketing materials by promoting the features upfront. One option to do this is through the automated custom marketing materials and Sage Score certificate option on RealtySage.com. Input your property into RealtySage.com and disclose all of its features, and any energy score ratings it may have. Then, select the “Sage Score and Marketing Materials package” at the end of the process. You can continue to edit the property features, photos and description as needed. So, once you purchase a marketing materials package, you can update it at any time. 

Marketing Materials

Using real estate sites in a new way. One of the most influential ways to distinguish your home from others is through the online marketplace. While most sites have widespread appeal, they offer very little opportunity when it comes to distinguishing your property from others. Gennari illustrates, "No two homes are exactly the same, even if they were built with the same specs by the same builder. Things like Energy Star appliances, maintenance records and general upkeep play a big role in the value of a home.” 

other sites

Here are examples of homes with eco-friendly features, certifications and smart technology, that are noticeable only by reading through the agent’s comments. 

RS Platform

On the other hand, when using sites like RealtySage, you can add your listing for free, and your eco-friendly features, certifications and smart technology information will appear ON your listing.  

How Not to Market Your Home’s Features

Greenwashing. Showcasing the benefits of your upgraded and eco-friendly home is important, but don’t overdo it!  Make sure that you are not “greenwashing” the marketing of your property by overly emphasizing its eco friendly features or their homeowner benefits.

According to a  Washington Post article “The practice is called “greenwashing,” and home shoppers need to be on guard: It means a house is being marketed as environmentally friendly and energy-saving when it doesn’t deserve that description.

Greenwashing is a growing issue in real estate as multiple studies demonstrate that consumers are attracted to — and will often pay premiums for — homes that are highly efficient in saving on utility bills.”

So, don’t allow your home to be marketed as “energy efficient” when you’ve only swapped out 3 incandescent light bulbs for 3 LED ones! Being honest about the improvements, and educating buyers about their potential benefits like cost savings, comfort, and eco-friendliness, is the best way to win over new home buyers. If you’re considering selling your home, taking a few additional steps to help make sure that it is marketed more accurately, and that you have the most knowledgeable professionals to help you through the process. These steps will give you the best opportunity to sell your home quickly and with the best possible return on your investment.


Kari Klaus is the founder of RealtySage.com, a data-driven real estate platform which overlays sustainability intelligence onto home listings. Read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Air-Source Heat Pumps Q&A

Photo by Oak Ridge National Labs

Homeowner Peter Callaway documented his experience converting his household to a heat pump system in a region that relies predominantly on fuel oil for home heating. Here, Peter follows that two-part series with a Q & A to help others determine whether air-sourced heat pumps are the right fit for their home heating.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS: Why did you do this installation?

Peter Callaway: Because home heating and cooling, including hot-water heating, is one of the biggest sources of a family’s carbon footprint — up to 60 percent. I was burning oil and gas from November to April heating my home in New York State and using oil all year long just for hot water. From June to September, I’m running air conditioners. Heat pumps use about half the electricity for cooling that air conditioners do and a quarter the electricity that electric heaters do. So, by using a 100-percent renewable electricity supply together with heat pump-based heating and cooling, I can eliminate fossil fuel use entirely while lowering energy use costs.

What was the straw that broke the camel’s back and triggered the leap to heat pumps?

My local energy system servicer told me that my furnace was old, inefficient, and rusting out and could crack open at any moment and dump foul liquids all over my finished basement floor. It made no sense to replace it with a new, 50-year oil or gas-fired furnace, knowing that science is telling us we have to stop burning fossil fuels immediately. Also, I learned that air-source heat pumps are now available with extra low-temperature technology that make the geothermal component unnecessary.

How did you become so sure you could rule out the geothermal piece?          

I saw graphs in a Fujitsu technology magazine that showed the difference between the old technology and the new, air-source, extra low-temperature technology that works down to minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit. I talked to a contractor who installs Mitsubishi heat pumps that work down to minus 13 degrees. A check of the manufacturer’s website confirmed the claims. Last winter, the outdoor temperature in Cold Spring, N.Y., where I live went down to -2 degrees and the heat pumps still kept the house nice and warm.

For those that are still a bit wary of the low temperature claims can you keep the old system as a backup?

Yes. Heat pump systems don’t occupy the same space as conventional baseboard or radiator/hot water oil/gas furnace systems. The compressor/evaporator units are placed on the outside of the house, while the air distribution components can be placed anywhere indoors, often high up on a wall or in the ceiling. Therefore you can keep your old system as backup and dispose of it when you have gained confidence.

How did you find a reliable local contractor?

Use online HomeAdvisor or Angie’s List or ask my neighborhood Facebook page. For homeowners in New York, you can also find an installer using NYSERDA’s list of participating heat pump contractors.

But what about the capital cost? Are heat pumps too expensive for most people?

Yes, prices are comparable to buying a new car. However, unlike a car that loses value until its virtually worthless after 10 years, heat pumps were designed to last a minimum of 15 years in the 70s and 80s and are expected to do much better today — 20 to 25 years — and they do the job of the system they replaced at 25 percent cheaper operating cost. So if you spent $4,000 per year heating and cooling using oil or gas and conventional air conditioners, you’ll save about $1,000 per year using heat pumps while producing no greenhouse gas emissions. This is a permanent, significant reduction in the cost of heating and cooling your home that can grow in size as you implement energy efficiency improvements as identified by your energy efficiency audit. As we get deeper into the inevitable process of eliminating fossil fuel use, homes already equipped with heat pump systems will likely experience increased value.

OK, but for oil and gas HVAC systems to be replaced by heat pump HVAC systems at scale, won’t the price need to come down?

Yes, and the only way that will happen is if the Federal and state governments make it part of a National and State energy policy and replace oil, gas, and coal subsidies with clean energy product subsidies and put a tax on fossil fuel production.

What about product and service quality?

I bought from a contractor who is a certified Fujitsu dealer. I feel that I have a high quality product and get quality but expensive service.  There are two kinds of service plan coverage. The first is required and that is the semi-annual tune-up and cleaning before the winter season of heating and before the summer season of cooling. Deep cleaning of coils and fins and inspection for mildew is very important and is an expensive extra. Frequency of deep cleaning depends on environmental conditions.

The second kind of coverage should be optional and that is more like an insurance policy against system failure. The manufacturer should provide a warranty that covers the cost of failed components within at least the first 7 to 10 years, but you may have to pay your contractor labor costs for coming out and doing the work. This kind of insurance can be expensive and can wipe out any savings in HVAC running costs. Make sure your contractor doesn’t roll both kinds of service into a single expensive package and make sure that you have the option of choosing the semi-annual preventative maintenance service only. Know what’s covered and what’s not and be sure it’s what you want before you sign.

How likely is it that temperatures will go below 0 degrees in the Northeast U.S. region and if they do, what will you do?

According to WeatherUnderground.com, the average minimum winter temperatures for nearby Stewart Airport is 4 degrees, with the highest minimum 10 degrees, and the lowest minimum -5 degrees. The XLTH technology used by Fujitsu (and others) is designed to provide 100-percent efficient heating down to 0 degrees, tailing off to 0 percent by -15 degrees. Based on these data, I figure I will never need backup heating because Cold Spring, located on the river, is always about 5 degrees warmer than Stewart. But just in case, I maintain a backup propane gas insert heater in the basement. I also have a couple of standalone electric heaters. I also have inserted a diverter unit into my electric drier exhaust so that all that hot, moist air in the winter isn’t wastefully blown outdoors. The diverter has its own lint filter, so that recirculated air is double filtered.

OK, but some people may still be nervous about a very low probability extended period of  minus 15 degrees weather and large electricity bills for use of the standalone heaters and maybe the heat from one propane fireplace may not be enough?

These homeowners will need to consider the additional expense of adding a geothermal loop as provided by companies, such as Dandelion, which makes the heat pump output virtually independent of outside air temperature.

These systems use a single air distributor for one large room. How do these mini-split units achieve even heating and cooling?

The heat pump air distributor is equipped with horizontal louvres that direct air up or down or anywhere in between. Behind them are vertical louvres that swing left or right or anywhere in between. Using the remote control you can independently set these two sets of louvres in a fixed position or set them to scan automatically. After running on AUTO for a while with your selected settings, your rooms will settle to the conditions you prefer.

What about your hot water heat pump heater? How is that going?

It does a great job and I like the fact that it has four modes of operation: heat pump only, electric only, hybrid and vacation (allows the temperature to drop to the safest level without compromising the unit). The biggest pleasant surprise is a bonus in the summer: It draws heat and humidity out of the basement air and transfers all those condensation BTUs into your hot water, so you’ve got significant additional air conditioning.

Did you have any problems with your contractor and learn anything worth passing on?

Yes. The initial contract was negotiated verbally with the salesman and then handwritten and signed with a down payment. The agreement was contingent upon the use of the Fujitsu XLTH (extra low-temperature, high-heat) heating units and the free removal of the existing old oil furnace. The exact models to be used were not specified because that depended on detailed measurement of the heating requirement of the house which would take the time and expertize of a Fujitsu trained technician. The technician came the next day and produced a multi-page, detailed report which he shared with me and explained. The exact model numbers to be used were based on this report and included a 36,000 BTU XLTH heat pump. So far, so good.

As installation commenced, it was decided that maybe the 36,000 unit was not enough, because I have a cathedral ceiling and lots of large old leaky windows that need to be replaced To be on the safe side, I should probably go for the next higher model  at 45,000 BTU. I agreed, but the extra expense meant that I would have to postpone installing the basement heat pump for a year and keep the oil furnace for the basement.

Later, when it got below about 20 degrees in winter, I noticed the heat pump was not producing enough heat and I had to supplement it with the oil furnace baseboard heat. This was puzzling and disappointing until I discovered that the 45,000 BTU unit was not an XLTH unit. I confirmed by calling Fujitsu that it would be a couple of years before their 45,000 BTU XLTH unit would be available. Coincidentally, I was contacted by a third party customer satisfaction surveyor and found myself saying that I was seriously dissatisfied. This information got back to the contractor rapidly and they called me the next day and promised to fix the problem by replacing the 45,000 unit with two 24,000 XLTH units that would match the existing indoor units and ductwork, etc. The person who had done the technical assessment said he didn’t know that I wanted only XLTH models and that I wanted to get rid of the furnace. This was a costly lack of communication, because the 45,000 unit had to be thrown away and they could only give me $1,000 credit for it but, yes, they would now take out my old furnace and drain and seal off the old pipes (which they said was worth at least another $1000).

The lesson learned is get the contract fully developed to include verbal agreements with sales and typed up with all model numbers before signing and making a significant down payment. Also go over the contract with the installers the day they start.

Peter Callaway is a Philipstown, N.Y., Climate Smart Community Task Force member and veteran environmentalist in the Hudson River Valley region of New York. He took on this extensive heat-pump conversion project to respond to recommendation 42 of the Project Drawdown framework.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Converting from Home-Heating Oil to a Heat Pump, Part 2: Installation and Service

 


Photo by U.S. Department of Energy

This two-part series documents homeowner Peter Callaway’s experience in a region that relies predominantly on fuel-oil for home heating to convert his household to a heat pump system. This heat pump system supplanted fossil fuels used for Peter’s heating, cooling and hot water heating needs with a more renewable alternative.

Part 1 describes how the author took advantage of a free home energy audit to make energy-efficiency changes and explains why the switch to heat-pump technology was made and what benefits were expected and achieved. Learn how to estimate running cost savings based on a Central Hudson online tool and how to calculate actual savings from actual use. In Part 2, find out how to work with a contractor and get the job done, with Peter’s thoughts on cost, technology, and service contracts. The author does not intend this article to be a recommendation or endorsement for a particular technology or contractor.

Installing a whole-house, heat pump-based heating and cooling system is a complex and expensive job. You need to be sure to choose an experienced, well established and dependable contractor who will work closely with you and supply you with any information you need to be comfortable with this long-term investment. With the requirement to eliminate the use of fossil fuels as soon as possible, there will be new arrivals on the scene and mistakes will be made, so you need someone who will be happy with you staying on top of the design and installation.  

Where I live in New York State, the Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA) maintains a list of contractors certified to perform home efficiency evaluations and upgrades but at this time, I don’t know if they do the same for heat pump HVAC contractors. You can search for qualified contractors in your area using the Internet.

I responded to glossy brochure marketing information and chose Go Green Express, a business in the nearby city of Newburgh, N.Y., and which is a certified Fujitsu dealers (meaning their technicians are trained by Fujitsu and they must achieve a minimum number of installs each year). And although the end result is what I want, mistakes were made  and I paid more than I needed to because of those mistakes. I’ll help you avoid similar mistakes with recommendations in this text.

 I’ll give you my thoughts on the four stages of the install process. Those stages are: sales and contract management; detailed load assessment and exact configuration specification; installation; and service. With a large contractor, different people may be involved in all four stages and you need to be assured that effective communication takes place between all involved. A small contractor may employ the same people for all stages. For a new contractor, there may be disorganization and confusion and unexpected schedule changes and learning-curve mistakes.


Photo by Revision Energy

Tips for Negotiating the Contracted Work for Home Heat Pumps

Because houses come in so many shapes and sizes, heat pump components come with many different capacities and temperature capabilities. Units come with heat-moving capacities in thousands of BTUs (British Thermal Units), such as 8,000, 12,000, 16,000, 24,000, 36,000, 48,000 BTUs. There are outside units (see top photo above), which contains the evaporator, condenser and maybe the geothermal hookup and where the heat exchange takes place. There also are indoor units, or heads, where the heated or cooled air is distributed and filtered and the remote-controlled mechanisms are housed. These indoor units may be ducted or direct.

With direct units (also called “mini splits”), there is one major air distributer that is mounted in a box high up on a wall in your main living areas (see photo below).  For bedrooms and bathrooms, there is most likely one central air circulation, or distributor, ducted unit in the attic connected to the outside condenser/evaporator, with 4- to 6-inch insulated pipes (ducts) to carry the hot or cold air to ceiling vents in each room. Because each room has a ceiling vent, you can save energy by closing them off completely or partially for rooms not in use. You can also, in effect, set each room to a different temperature by adjusting the hand-screw vent opening.

The most critical parts of a new installation are: the careful measurement of the spaces to be heated and cooled, an estimate of how well your home is insulated, and consequently, a combination of units and their capacities in BTUs, and the placement of components that will achieve the desired result. This is the job of the contractor’s top HVAC technical expert and probably cannot be done by the salesperson who will make the pitch for his equipment and make a rough estimate of what you need and what it might cost.

This means that you should not sign a final contract until the detailed measurements have been made. (You could sign a letter of intent and make a down payment with the salesman.) The final contract should be clearly and accurately typed up so the installer knows exactly what he needs to install. Don’t accept hand-written scribble by an overeager salesman. You and the installer might not be able to read critical information.

If you don’t plan to keep your old heating system as backup, or don’t want the added expense of a geothermal heat source and sink, then make sure that the contract explicitly states that you require the extra-low temperature technology needed for air source heat pumps, especially in the Northeast’s colder climate. Do make the sale dependent upon the free removal of your old furnace or boiler and draining and sealing off the old baseboard or radiator hot-water system.


Ductless indoor mini split unit

Improvements in Air-Source Heat Pump Technology

Up until a few years ago, air-source heat pumps were inadequate for heating in the colder parts of the country and a geothermal component was required. Air-source heat pumps could only provide heat when the outside temperature was above 15 or 20 degrees. Now, most leading manufacturers have improved technology and can provide heat without geothermal when the outside temperature is as low as 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Below zero, efficiency tails off to zero at about -15 degrees.

If you install the old technology, you will have to keep your old fossil-fueled system as backup for the seriously cold months. If you install the new, extra-low temperature technology, you can get rid of your old fossil fuel system entirely, except for maybe a propane heater in case of extended electricity outage.

Finally, if you have an older house with an old power-distribution board, be prepared to upgrade to a modern 200-amp board with plenty of 220-volt slots (the same used by electrical clothes driers and stoves), because heat pumps use 220-volt, two-phase power, not 110-volt single-phase.

A note on noise: The compressor units are mounted outside the house and no noise is audible indoors. Some pump noise is audible outdoors near the units. The indoor air-distribution units require variable-speed fans that can be manually set to low, medium, high or auto — running the fan continuously on high might produce noticeable fan noise.

Costs and Home Heat Pump Service

I was shocked when I first saw my service plan costs. Charges are based on the number of heat pump systems installed and assume twice-yearly service: during spring before summer cooling and fall before winter heating. There will also be top-priority response 24/7 emergency calls during severe weather.

I have four heat pumps now. The 36,000-BTU unit costs $46 per month, the first 28,000-BTU unit costs $28 per month, the second 28,000-BUT unit costs $17 per month and the hot water heat pump $17.30 per month. The total is over $1,300 per year compared with about $300 per year for a comparable oil-burning baseboard-heating system.

My biggest source of confusion was in understanding what work needs to be done on a regular basis to maintain efficient operation of the system. There appears to be two levels of cleaning. First and easiest is simply taking the filters out, cleaning and drying them, and putting them back or replacing them with new ones. Almost any person with a bit of DIY ability can do this.

Second is the much more important job of keeping the heat exchanger components clean. That is, the coils and metal fins that transfer heat in or out of your home. In a mini split, there is one in both the outdoor and indoor units. Air is constantly circulated over these components either transferring heat into the system or transferring heat out of the system. Air is inevitably somewhat dirty these days and may contain dust, pollutants, hair, pet dander, cooking fumes, possibly smoking fumes, etc. These pollutants tend to stick to the coils and fins and then mold tends to grow in the muck, especially in humid climates or outside in dry dusty climates. This accumulation of muck gradually reduces the efficiency of the heat exchange and it takes more electricity to get the job done.

Clearly you need to ascertain the circumstances of your particular installation and figure a “deep cleaning” schedule.  Deep cleaning involves removing the metal covers revealing the coils and fins, spraying them deeply with a special penetrating cleaning foam, leaving it for 15 to 20 minutes, then flushing it out with water. Easily done outside, but for those heads located up on your indoor walls, you’ll need a protective shroud and a funnel leading to a bucket. And you may have to be safely balanced on steps to reach the heads.

So the big questions are: How often should I schedule a deep clean? Are such cleans included in the service plan? If not, how much do they cost?

This is where the shock hit me. Deep cleaning was not included in the expensive service plan. I needed a head deep clean after two years of use, and it cost an extra $800 for ½ hour of work! I have three such heads in my house and one attic air-distribution head. How on earth do they clean that?

If you go online and do some research on deep cleaning, you can get detailed instruction on how to do it, but they still recommend that an expert do it for you. They do say that to keep you unit running efficiently and to ensure it lasts that you should do it once a year if you live in an area with lots of dirt in the air. These internet search results and the contractors recommend using air purifiers to keep accumulation of muck to a minimum, but Consumers Reports say that even the most expensive air purifiers only take out 30% at best and they can be noisy and use plenty of electricity (no heat pump advantage).

So it looks like frequency of deep cleaning will be a best guess based on likely pollutants present and degree of cleanliness of your home. The use of air purifiers may help a bit but will use more energy and require cleaning. Remember we got into this to reduce our HVAC costs and carbon footprint, but once you get into the details, it sure is a lot more complex and expensive  an undertaking than servicing a simple and cheap oil or gas burner or hot water baseboard heat system.

Running heat pump-based HVAC systems may be more efficient and less expensive than using fossil fuels, but the servicing and maintenance of heat pump systems will negate savings. In my opinion, homeowners will have to want to use heat pumps to reduce fossil fuels and combat climate change rather than to save money or be more comfortable. Subsidies, tax credits and other incentives will be needed for mass adoption.


Peter Callaway is a Philipstown Climate Smart Community Task Force member and veteran environmentalist in the Hudson River Valley region of New York. He took on this extensive heat-pump conversion project to respond to recommendation 42 of the Project Drawdown framework.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Restoration Kitchen: A Journey of Home, Food, Family, History and Restoration

Restoration Kitchen Blog Series Intro

What happens when a backyard farming author, recipe developer, and advocate for Florida’s historic architecture buys a 110-year-old abandoned, historic "Old Florida" Victorian in nearly original condition but needing a lot of TLC? It's Restoration Kitchen! Author Kim Pezza offers MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers her unique combination of food, gardening, history and DIY restoration all tied up neatly in a fun and informative blog series. Read all the Restoration Kitchen posts here.

As I anticipate closing on my historic Florida home purchase, I already have begun to collect plants and seeds to put in at my new, old home. I will be putting in a backyard farm, however, because the yard area around the house remains almost unchanged from when the house was built over 110 years ago.

In my mind, I “need” to put the food gardens and trees and plants in, siting these backyard-farming components in ways that it will be seamless, not noticeable. And I believe that I know exactly (well, almost exactly) what I will be doing and how. But, this will be just one job among many in the restoration of this wonderful old home.

Garden Planning for an Historic Florida Home

But first: back to the food gardens. I've decided that I will most likely put a good many, if not all, of the food gardens in as raised beds. Partly out of laziness and partly because even though I will be putting the gardens in a “hidden” area from the main road, I really don't want to dig up the area. I also want to put in a few fruit trees, but going back to limiting myself as to where I am putting things, I am going to go with dwarf varieties of fruit. I will also leave the chain link up that is around one corner of the yard, for vines, such as berries and grapes. I'll also be putting in various vegetables, herbs (culinary and medicinal) and dye plants.

I will be starting to look for any heirloom plants of Florida as well. After all, you can't work at restoring an historic home and forget about adding heirlooms to the garden as well. I already have ‘Seminole Pumpkin’, a delicious squash that the Natives were planting before the Spanish arrived, to plant from seeds that I saved from a few pumpkins passed on to me.

I'm also considering how I might be able to use the expansive porch for growing. At this time, I'm thinking about using the lightest soil I can and hang pots and/or boxes from the railings. It would be good for some of the herbs and maybe even some potted strawberries. But that is also a little ways off, mostly because the railings, which are original to the house, are in need of minor repairs, including reattachment in a few spots.

Dragon Fruit Blossoms Potted Plant
Dragon fruit blooming in Florida climate

Existing Plants and Foraging Prospects

With the flora that is already on the grounds, it looks like there is little to nothing that is edible, but what is there is nice and, for the most part, I'm going to work with it. Especially the trees and plants that existed when the old postcard picture was taken of the property. Of course, there are a few things like the Mother in Law's tongue that needs to be thinned out and maybe even removed, depending on how long it has been there. If it is original, it just gets thinned out. If it was put in during the 1970s or later, it might be saying “bye bye”, and I'll give it all away.

There are also scattered plants right around the porch. One has berries, which I can't identify as of yet, so I'm not sure if they may be edible or not. My gut feeling is not for human consumption. However, if the birds can eat them, it will stay, with a major trimming and ongoing maintenance to keep it under control. There are also a few flowers, but really, the landscape right around the porch is scant — just like in the old postcard.

Even though I may keep it that way, if I find out the scant landscape around the porch is correct to the original, I still might put in “temporary” plants. It would be a great spot to put vegetable plants that, let’s face it, are only here with us for a short time. This way, I get the best of both situations: I can have the occasional plants around the porch, but as they will only be “visiting”, it will not destroy the original look of the landscape forever.

One thing that I will be looking for is a Florida apple tree. I believe that they will do well down where I am and really want to give it a try. I also want to put in an olive tree. Mulberry would also be nice, but where it would have to go due to their size will alter the landscape a bit more than I would want. So, I'll begin with these two, plus a couple small citrus that I have, and go from there.

Home Rooting Fig Tree Cutting
A fig tree cutting takes root

Consideration for Gardens During Home Restoration

But in all of this thought of the plants, gardens and trees, in reality, I'll only be working on and off on the gardens, waiting till I get done what needs done on the exterior of the house, mostly so I don't destroy the gardens during the work. However, the house restoration will not involve any drastic work, such as complete gutting or anything so extreme, so I can work on parts of the landscape and gardens slowly, and hopefully be ready to plant by fall (or even a bit sooner).

So, I do hope that you will be joining us in this journey, not only through this blog but through the other media I’ll have to come, including a Restoration Kitchen website, podcast, YouTube channel and hopefully ... well, let’s keep some surprises for another day!


Kim Pezza is the author of a series of popular backyard farming and food books, a recipe developer, and an advocate for preserving the architecture and agriculture of Florida. For her Restoration Kitchen series with MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Kim chronicles her Old Florida home’s journey to reclaim its past through the intersection of historically accurate DIY house restoration and traditional foodways. Read all posts in this series here.


All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.






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