Ken's latest blog post:
Dear Ken: I put in a new humidifier this winter and it doesn’t seem to be doing any good. Am I expecting too much? Dan
Maybe. Humidifiers in our climate have to work pretty hard to get the humidity level inside the house to much more than about 35 %. Our ambient, wintertime outdoor humidity is so low here, that simply opening the door to the garage to bring in in the groceries can undo several hours of your humidifier’s efforts.
But let’s examine your particular installation. Did you plumb the unit into the hot water supply? This is a common mistake; many folks simply run the little feed pipe to the closest water pipe, and sometimes that’s a cold one. Hot water evaporates much more quickly than cold, so check out which is the case at your house. Also, how do run this humidifier? Remember that it only operates when the furnace fan is running, so click that little switch on the thermostat from AUTO to ON. Yes, you’ll waste a little electricity, but the relative humidity inside your house will rise quickly.
For those considering a new humidifier, look for one that has a built in computer. When wired properly, this unit will take control of the furnace and switch the fan on--regardless of the heat setting—when the humidity gets too low.
Dear Ken: I have a 1964 house and it has only two slot electrical outlets. I bought new three prong ones, but there is no ground wire. What should I do? Lori
For most of the outlets in your older home, the two-hole ones are fine as is, as long as whatever you plug into them—like cell phone chargers, lamps and stereos—have only two prongs. However, any device with a three prong cord—like computers or power tools—MUST be grounded. In the kitchen and laundry, all the appliances—microwave, disposal, dishwasher, frig and washer—must also be connected to a three prong grounded outlet. For these applications, an electrician will have to “chase” a ground by running a wire from the outlet box to the nearest cold water pipe, or they may decide to put in new cable.
However if you are lucky, your 1964 house may be wired with conduit—as was common back then. This is a series of pipes running inside the walls, carrying the wires to all your switches and outlets. Since the pipes are grounded to the panel, you won’t need to add any more wires to end up with the proper, grounded configuration (but be sure to run this by an electrician).
Your house was built before GFCI protection was invented. These are the outlets with those little test buttons that offer great protection around plumbing fixtures. Install them in the baths, around the kitchen sink, garage and outside. No special wiring needed, just insert them in the existing openings to protect you.
Dear Ken: I bought a new water heater. Should I still put a blanket around it? Ray
I would. All water heaters radiate heat from their metal tanks to the surrounding air. Since it takes more energy to heat water than air, it’s a good idea to keep as much heat in the tank as possible. (Some manufacturers discourage this practice because many folks do it wrong. Then they get complaints about poor performance.)
But here’s how to do it right. Use a prepackaged water heater blanket you can buy at the home center or discount store for $15 or so. It is usually a fiberglass “blanket” wrapped in plastic. You’ll have to cut out sections here and there to accommodate your particular tank. The main water heater control, the pressure relief valve and especially the air intake grilles must stay uncovered. This last one is a big deal because new water heaters take their combustion air in at the bottom.
Speaking of water heaters and energy: remember that new energy efficiency standards take effect in April. The feds will require this “blanket” to be included and wrapped inside the tank. So water heaters will become fatter and—of course, as with all these changes—more expensive. So if yours is 15 years or older, you can save several hundred bucks by purchasing one sooner rather than later.
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