Innovative solutions for creating healthy, efficient, eco-friendly homes

Water Conservation Products Troutdale OR

Use compost when planting to add water-holding organic matter to the soil. Layer organic mulch around plants to reduce evaporation and save hundreds of gallons of water a year in Troutdale.

Solar Oregon
(503) 231-5662
1231 NW Hoyt St Ste 402
Portland, OR
Northwest Solar Solutions
(503) 639-8192
PO Box 230939
Tigard, OR
RS Energy
(503) 570-9425
20915 SW 105th Avenue
Tualatin, OR
Solar Power Provider, Installer,

Super Green Homes
(541) 302-1949
394 Kalmia St
Junction City, OR
Hers Rating

Applied Mechanical
(503) 649-7257
3544 SW 209th Ave
Beaverton, OR
Giranda Energy and Red Ball Solar
(360) 936-6219
28606 SE 30th Circle
Camas, WA
Solar Oregon
(503) 231-5662
1231 NW Hoyt St Ste 402
Portland, OR
Impact Battery
(866) 668-3163
2088 Robinson Road
Grants Pass, OR
Solar batteries

Northwest Solar Solutions
(503) 639-8192
PO Box 230939
Tigard, OR
Eco Energy Systems Inc
(503) 635-4860
16869 65th Ave # 297
Lake Oswego, OR

A Baker's Dozen of Water-Conservation Tips

Provided By:

Park & Co., a Phoenix-based marketing firm, created the Water - Use it Wisely campaign on behalf of several Arizona cities, to develop and reinforce a universal water-conservation ethic. The following water-conserving landscape tips are courtesy of the website at

Collect the water you use for rinsing produce or from cleaning your fish tank and reuse it to water houseplants.

Use compost when planting to add water-holding organic matter to the soil. Layer organic mulch around plants to reduce evaporation and save hundreds of gallons of water a year.

Direct downspouts and other runoff toward shrubs and trees, or collect and use for your garden.

Next time you add or replace a plant, choose a low-water-use plant for year-round landscape color and save up to 550 gallons each year. Or consider landscaping with xeriscape trees, plants and groundcovers (no or very low water required).

Orient your sprinklers so they water your lawn, not the sidewalk, and minimize evaporation by watering during the early morning hours, when temperatures are cooler and winds are lighter.

Choose a water-efficient drip-irrigation system for landscaping and avoid planting turf in areas that are hard to water, such as steep inclines and isolated strips along sidewalks and driveways.

Adjust your lawn mower to a higher setting. Longer grass shades root systems and holds soil moisture better than a closely clipped lawn.

Reduce the amount of grass in your yard by planting shrubs, and cover ground with rock and granite mulching.

Avoid installing ornamental water features and fountains that spray water into the air. Trickling or cascading fountains lose less water to evaporation.

Buy a rain gauge to track how much rain or irrigation your yard receives. Check with your local water agency to see how much rain is needed to skip an irrigation cycle.

Don't water your lawn if it doesn't need it. Proper lawn watering can save thousands of gallons of water annually.

Avoid overseeding your lawn with winter grass. Once established, ryegrass needs water every three to five days, whereas dormant Bermuda grass needs water only once a month.

Aerate your lawn. Punch holes in your lawn about six inches apart so water will reach the roots rather than running off the surface.

� Copyright 2000 Park Wed, 01 Jan 2003 00:00:00 By Smart-Homeowner Staff Warm-Air Heating

� The Romans had sub-floor chambers that allowed warmed air to flow about the building by natural convection. Early European heating systems employed stoves or fireplaces with integral air passages. Warm-air heating systems as we now know them emerged from the Industrial Revolution in the early years of the 19th century, when William Strutt invented a warm-air furnace with a cast-iron fire chamber, which was jacketed with a brick surround and connected to distribution ducts. Steam-driven fans were added to the larger systems, with the fans constructed on site. Planned in 1855, the fans for the House and Senate wings of the Capitol were 12 and 16 feet in diameter.

Insulating your warm-air ducts provides thermal and acoustical benefits. You can either insulate existing ductwork yourself or use ducts with the insulation built right in.

Photos Courtesy Owens Corning

Control of most of the early heating systems required the manual adjustment of dampers and firing rates and valves. In 1885, Professor Warren Johnson patented a thermostat that used compressed air to operate steam valves. The Johnson Controls, Honeywell and Siemens companies of today emerged from this early thermostat work. Although warm-air-type systems have been around for a long time, the technology has advanced dramatically in the past 20 years. Heating systems are so quiet and unobtrusive that we take them completely for granted, and that means many homeowners and homebuyers are saddled with the wrong systems. Why Should I Use Warm Air? There are many decisions to be made when buying or building a house, everything from the color of the roof to the style of the doorknobs. It is common for the owner to make the aesthetic decisions on the assumption that the contractor can better handle the technical decisions, and it seems reasonable to expect the contractor to be the expert. Unfortunately, decisions that are good for the contractor are not always as good for the owner.

� For example, it may be in the contractor's best interest to install the same, inexpensive bathroom fan he has always used; it probably satisfies the code and gets the job done. But he doesn't have to live with the noise. There are quieter, more energy efficient choices that would better satisfy the homeowner. On top of that, building science is changing at a rapid rate, but because buildings look pretty much the same as they have for a long time, contractors don't always see the need to keep up. The heating or HVAC (heating, ventilating and air-conditioning) system is one of those unromantic components that will greatly affect the comfort of the house, but the choice of installation is almost always left up to the contractor's best judgment. The HVAC system's effect on home comfort is far greater than the shape of the tub in the bathroom or the type of tile in the kitchen.

� The most basic reason to choose a warm-air heating system is if the house is also going to be centrally air-conditioned. The same ducts and air handler may be used for both systems. If there is a concern about air quality, an air system may be filtered and humidity controlled. Fresh, outside air may be added to the conditioned air and circulated throughout the house.

� Quite often a warm-air system will be the least expensive system. Components of a Warm-Air System Generally, warm-air heating refers to heat transferred to the air in the room. A wood stove is a warm-air heater. A warm-air heater becomes a furnace when it is jacketed and provided with ducts or passages to transfer the heated air to other rooms. Most systems are forced warm-air systems, which include a blower to push the air around. So a typical forced warm-air system includes a system for heating the air, a system for pushing the air, a system for guiding the heated air to the spaces that need it, and a control. These four elements need to work in harmony for the house to be comfortable, and although there are similarities between systems and houses, each house should be treated individually. When warm-air heating systems are poorly designed, they are very uncomfortable, like wearing a pair of shoes that doesn't fit. Often systems are sized to satisfy the worst possible conditions, a cold snap that happens once in a hundred years.

� Only 7 percent of the homes in a recent Vermont study were properly sized. Forty percent had systems that were twice as large as necessary! Since conditions are generally more temperate than the worst case, oversized systems don't operate as efficiently. The system should be sized by calculating the heating load of the house, room by room. This requires knowing the construction of the room, including the insulation and the type of windows and doors, calculating the area of the surfaces and their ability to resist the flow of heat.

� Calculating or estimating the natural ventilation rate (air leaks) is often a major component of the heating load. A contractor should be able to show the owner his calculations, commonly using a process known as Manual J (a standardized, systematic process for determining the heat load in a house). Part of the heating process is to warm not only the air and the people but all the other components in the building - the walls, floors, ceilings, furniture, plants, fireplaces, etc. All of these components work as a "thermal battery," soaking in the heat when they are colder than the surrounding air temperature and giving up their heat when the surrounding air is cooler. The total heat load for all the rooms provides the basis for sizing the furnace and the air handler. Sources of Heat There is a variety of sources to heat the air. Coal is not very popular in the residential market these days, but oil or gas burners are quite common.

� These can be used to heat the air directly or to heat water in a separate tank, which is then circulated into the air handler. The air might also be heated with a heat-pump system, either air-sourced or ground-sourced. Heat pumps are the primary means for cooling the air, and to date they have not been as efficient at heating the air, relying instead on backup electric coils to bridge the temperature gap. This is part of the reason why heat-pump systems are less common in the U.S. Northeast, but immensely popular in southern regions, roughly south of Washington, D.C. An air-sourced heat pump extracts heat from the surrounding air. For example, a room air conditioner pumps the undesirable warmth from the room air to the outside.

� A house heat pump pumps any heat available in the outside air into the house, reversing the process to cool the house during hot weather. As the air gets cooler, the heating efficiency of the heat pump goes down. A ground-sourced heat pump uses the generally constant temperature of the earth as a source for both heating and cooling. And far more efficient cold-weather heat pumps are beginning to appear on the market. Such systems can optimize both heating and cooling needs. Less commonly, solar-energy or wood-fired systems may be used to generate heat. Some low-heat-load homes can use the water heater as the source of heat for the air handler, although in particularly cold weather, this may reduce the temperature of the water that is delivered to a shower. The Air Handler The air handler is essentially the box that houses the blower and the heat-transfer system, and it connects to the distribution ductwork. The blower consists of a wheel attached to a motor in a scroll-type housing that looks like a seashell. The air enters the middle of the wheel and makes a right-angle turn as it is pushed out into the ducts. Blowers are where a lot of the technology is going these days.

� Some systems have multi-speed blowers that save a great deal of energy by automatically operating on the lowest speed necessary to satisfy the heating requirements in the house. Some systems have ECMs (electronically commutated motors), electrically efficient motors that use much less energy than a standard motor and therefore cost less to operate. Such motors can be allowed to run constantly at a low operating cost, filtering the air in the house and keeping the temperatures stable in all rooms. Don't locate the system (particularly the air handler) in a place where you store paints, cleaning products or other chemicals. Fumes will be drawn into the system and circulated around the house.

The Ducting If the contractor has done her homework and used the Air Conditioning Contractors of America's Manual J to calculate the heating load of the house, she should be able to use the room-by-room calculations to determine the size of the duct run to each room, the size of the opening in the room, and the type of diffuser or grille that she is going to use. Ideally the system will have a supply and a return grille in each room. It's one of those basic laws of nature that says that if you push one cubic foot of air into the room, you have to take one cubic foot of air out.

� The best way to do that is to push one cubic foot of conditioned air into the room directly from the air handler and take one cubic foot of unconditioned air directly back to the air handler. The goal is for the duct system to effectively contain all the air moving back and forth from the air handler, interrupted only by the rooms to be conditioned. It has been common practice, however, to provide supply runs to each room but to use the rooms themselves as the return duct and install single, central return openings in a hallway. This works well until someone closes a room door, then the pressure balance of the system becomes -- unbalanced. That can cause a variety of problems, from uncomfortable conditions to mold growth. Unfortunately, balance cannot be completely restored by "undercutting" the door.

� Now that transoms are less than common, the only real solution is to provide a return duct for each room, leave the door open or provide a pressure-relief vent through the wall. It's very important that all the ducting joints be carefully sealed, ideally with a substance known as mastic. (Never expect traditional, fabric duct tape to seal a duct joint. This product is good for pretty much everything but the task it was named for.) Leaks in the ducts will not only cause pressure imbalances and waste heated or cooled air, they may also suck in outside air if the ducts are installed outside the building envelope in unconditioned spaces. Any ducting installed in unheated spaces must be insulated with special duct-insulating materials or using duct made of insulation board, known in the trade as fuzzy duct or duct board. Duct board will not only insulate the conditioned air, it will also reduce the sound of the system. The inside surface of the board should be coated so that the fibers are not transferred to the air. (Duct board is not as easy to clean as traditional, sheet-metal ducting.) Some shorter duct runs can be installed using flexible ducting, but it shouldn't be used for long duct runs, and it should be installed fully extended and as straight as possible. Air is essentially lazy. It will always follow the easiest path. If the ducting is smooth and straight, the air will move along it with ease and little loss of energy. As the ducting becomes smaller, rougher and more circuitous, the flow of air gives up its energy, and a smaller volume of air is delivered.

� Sometimes this may be used to the homeowner's advantage in designing the system. A smaller opening in a room means the air comes out at a higher velocity and will move farther out into the room. (Like putting your thumb over the end of a dripping hose.) There are some systems that use very small ducts, 2 inches in diameter, called high-pressure systems, that can be installed where bigger systems simply won't fit. Since the ducting is the delivery component of a warm-air system, parts of the duct runs need to be blocked off or opened up using motorized dampers, in order for the system to be zoned. The ducting system needs to be designed like a tree with separate branches extending into the areas to be zoned.

� The dampers are then opened and closed to allow conditioned air to flow through these branches. A well-designed system should have the inlets and outlets in each room located so that people don't feel drafts and don't hear the system cycling on and off. As homes get tighter, they also get quieter, and a noisy HVAC system can be very disturbing. The Control The basic function of a thermostat is to make a contact that turns on the furnace when the temperature drops. The ubiquitous Honeywell round thermostat has been around since 1953, and until recently, it included a mercury bulb that made the contact. Set the knob to the temperature, and the furnace cycles on and off satisfying that setting. Night-setback thermostats have been around since the beginning of the 20th century, and electronic thermostats surged onto the scene in the 1970s.

� Like many electronic devices, the electronic circuits are capable of performing many more tasks than most of us need them to do, and early digital thermostats were more complex to set than early VCRs. A lot of work has been done to build more user-friendly thermostats. There are even thermostat/humidistat combinations that will keep both the heat and humidity at optimum levels. If the system is designed to cycle on and off (with an energy-efficient fan, it may be set to run constantly), the thermostat needs to be located in a place that averages the conditions throughout the zone in which it is installed. If it is improperly located, comfort will be compromised, with some rooms never getting enough heat and some rooms overheating. Accessories One of the best features of a warm-air system lies in its ability to do more than just warm the air. The same system can be used to cool, filter and control the humidity in the air. If a house is located in a climate where cooling is as important as heating, the homeowner may choose to make a few compromises in the heating system to optimize both operations.

� A cooling load is a different calculation than a heating load. Humidity-control systems will add humidity to the air during the heating season, eliminating the problems of the dry and stuffy feeling in a house. If the air-conditioning system is designed properly, it will run long enough during the cooling season to dry out the air. (If the house feels clammy and is still too warm, the system may be too big and not able to run long enough to dry the air out.) Add-on filter systems from electronic to HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filtration will keep the air clean.

� A system with an energy-efficient motor allowed to run constantly will continually clean the air. The less efficient, lower-cost motors are energy hogs and probably should only be operated in the "auto" mode on the thermostat, cycling on and off as heating or cooling is called for. In a tight house, a homeowner may prefer to introduce fresh air directly into the return side of the air-handler and allow it to circulate throughout the house. There are air-to-air heat exchangers, or heat recovery ventilators (HRVs), available that can squeeze the heat out of the outgoing, stale air in the house and preheat the fresh air coming in. The stale air leaving the house (generally ducted from the bathrooms) passes through an exchanger core. The core looks like layers of a corrugated box.

� Every other layer is oriented 90° from the previous layer, exposed to either the outgoing or the incoming air. So the two streams of air never touch each other, but the warmth from the outgoing stream is absorbed by the core and passed to the incoming stream. The cores are often made from plastic. Some cores are made of special paper materials, allowing some of the moisture to pass from one stream to the other. These are energy recovery ventilators (ERVs). Some systems use rotating wheels to pass the heat and moisture from one stream to the other. An ERV can keep a leaky house from getting too dry. Most tight houses, however, are too humid and need to get rid of the excess moisture along with the stale air.

Maintenance - Keeping It Going Perhaps the simplest and most important thing a homeowner can do to maintain a warm-air system is to clean or replace the air filter monthly during the heating season. As the filter clogs, the air has an increasingly difficult time getting through the system, and it becomes increasingly less efficient. Basic filters are relatively cheap and readily available. Filters are rated by their ability to trap particles - the smaller the particle, the more difficult it is to trap and the more expensive the filter. It is also important not to use a filter that is too fine or too restrictive for the system. If there is a requirement for very clean air circulation (such as a HEPA filter), it should be taken into account when the system is designed.

� Ducts should be cleaned (even flexible ducting, if it is done carefully), particularly if the filters have not been changed regularly or if there is any reason to believe that there may be mold growing in the ducting (highly likely in a cooling environment). The hot air in the heating season can kill mold growth. An HVAC maintenance person may clean the blower blades (particularly if there is a dryer nearby), check any belts for wear and tension, clean the surfaces of the heat exchanger, look for signs of soot around warm-air registers (for gas or oil systems, this may be a sign of a cracked heat exchanger), and check accessory components. It is particularly important to check the cleanliness of a humidifying device, as it is a likely source for mold growth.

� Of all the ideas mentioned in this article, the most important is that you, the homeowner or buyer, should not relegate the decisions regarding your comfort systems to the bottom of your decision pile. That air handler in the basement may not be the most attractive or interesting element in your house (although there are some folks who go there first on their house tour), but it will have an effect on how you feel in your house each and every day you live there. As a smart homeowner, you have a lot of alternatives. In terms of your mortgage, for a few dollars more than a basic system, you can have a system that will cost you less to operate and be more comfortable every day.

� Paul Raymer is a member of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and a noted indoor-air-quality and HVAC expert based in West Wareham, Mass.

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