Storing a humidifier for the spring

In my last post, I talked about the proper techniques for safely storing an electric heater. And with spring already in full swing in many parts of the country, it's also time to think about storing small, house humidifiers to make room for the dehumidifiers that are more useful when the warm weather hits.

Last weekend, I stored both my electric heater and house humidifier, and just as with the former energy-saving device, it helps to ensure that device is well-prepared for storage. To start, first empty your water tank or reservoir and rinse the tank with warm water. After giving it a thorough scrub, allow this component to dry.

While the tank is drying, remove the device's current filter. Give the filter a good look. If it seems too dirty, wash or discard the item. (Washing the filter is relatively straightforward, but if it is made of paper you will need to purchase a new one. Plastic filters as well as those made out of other materials can be simply cleaned with household products).

Next, empty any excess water from the humidifier, check the nooks and crannies of the machine to make sure you aren't storing the device with added moisture, as it could cause the machine to be unoperational come next fall. Another step you can take is to disinfect the humidifier. (However, I usually perform this action when taking the device out of storage).

Once your machine is dry, find a cool, dry space to store your humidifier. Closets and basements may be the best, and by storing them in these locations, you can ensure your unit is at the ready come fall or a sudden cold spell.

Storing your space heater for summer

While electric heaters can be a great energy saving device in the winter, warming small rooms with efficiency and helping to lower your heating bills, they aren't much use in the summer. As a result, I packed my units up last week when the weather hit 70 degrees. But, while relatively, straightforward there are some tips and tricks you can use to ensure your electric heater is safely stored for use next fall.

To store your space heater, first turn off and unplug the unit. If it was on previously, ensure that it has enough time to cool down before putting it into contact with a potentially flammable item. (While efficient, space heaters have been known to cause fires when handled improperly or without regard to the information inside their manuals).

Next, ensure that the space heater's exterior is cleaned and that all the parts seem to be in working order. (This eliminates the chance that you'll open it up next year and notice you need to purchase a replacement). Then, clear out an area in the attic, closet or garage where you store your small energy-saving devices, taking down any electric fans, dehumidifiers and other spring items to make room.

If you have the original box, I recommend using this to store your electric heater. By keeping the original box, you can ensure you know how old the machine is, the basic directions for its use (even if you lose the manual) and the information that can help you return the item or purchase a replacement part if necessary.

In pinch, however, garbage bags can be just as effective, keeping out the dust, germs and critters that could be proliferating in the attic. I usually wrap my device in a garbage bag before putting it in the attic, as you can never be too careful with storage.

Increased Freon costs could be mitigated with new air conditioners

In yesterday's post, I touched on the topic of how, due to a change in government regulations regarding the chemical refrigerant Freon, the cost of refilling an air conditioner tank with this necessary component is set to increase. However, I wasn't able to tackle the topic in depth.

As a result, I wanted to explain in more detail how old Freon, known colloquially as R-22, is being phased out. The government says this is because it contains hydrochlorofluorocarbons, gases that have been linked to depleting the earth's vital ozone layer.

But, despite the this plan of action, the government is allowing older units to be services with R-22. As such, consumers with older air conditioning units are not required to stop purchasing this type of Freon, should they need to refill their air conditioners this summer. However, due to the lack of availability of this type of Freon, the price for a replacement is expected to increase.

Some sources have estimated that the price for R-22 Freon will increase from $40 per pound to around $100 per pound, and since an air conditioner typically takes between five and 10 pounds of the gas, the total cost of a refill is predicted to rise from around $100 to as much $400.

"These are direct costs that we are paying to buy this refrigerant and we have no choice but to pass this along to the consumer," Ed Miller, president of Florida-based Snyder Heating and Air Conditioning, told the Florida Times Union in a recent report.

As a result, consumers could benefit by simply purchasing a low-cost air conditioner from a discount online website if they need to replace their old unit's Freon. Since newer models use the more readily available R-410A, this could equate to lower costs when this new machine needs to be serviced down the line.

Price for air conditioning service triples in Florida

In a recent post on this blog, I discussed the growing issue of child safety as it pertains to the proper maintenance of air conditioners. In particular, I highlighted one story about a town that had experienced a rash of air conditioning-related theft, with children stealing the Freon inside many of these energy-saving devices for nefarious purposes. And while some readers may have felt that this was an isolated incident, the ramifications of this problem, along with recent changes by the Environmental Protection Agency, are already having an effect in Florida.

According to a March 23 article in The Florida Times-Union, the price of a Freon replacement for a residential or commercial air conditioner has increased substantially since last year. This price rise is due in part to the phasing out of old Freon because of its negative effect on the environment.

The news source indicated that the price jump for Freon, a type of chemical refrigerant that helps convert the hot air in these machines, will affect all air conditioners that were manufactured before 2010.

"What it means is they have tripled to quadrupled their price on Freon for a service call," Tom Karol, a service technician with the Jacksonville-based business Don's Air Conditioning, told the media outlet. "That's a hell of an expense."

Since the cost of Freon is expected to remain high for some time, homeowners who are in the market for an air conditioner may want to consider many of the low-cost new models available from online discount retailers. By looking for a lower price now and securing a more recent model, homeowners can avoid the high cost of replacing an essential part of this system down the road.

Understanding the different capacity levels of dehumidifiers

In some cases, a 100-degree day can be tolerable enough for a walk or a jog. However, when humidity is high and the air is filled with water vapor, it may feel like you're walking up a mountain, even when you're just going to get the mail. But, while dehumidifiers can help you get through the summer weather, they also have other advantages.

"High humidity may spur mold and mildew growth, which can exacerbate allergies and rot your walls," Jen King, a spokesperson for The Home Depot, said in a statement.

As a result, many homeowners may be considering purchasing an air conditioning for when the summer months finally arrive. One of the biggest choices facing buyers comes when they need to decide what type of capacity their dehumidifier should have. Fortunately, this choice usually boils down to three options: large-capacity, medium-capacity and small-capacity models.

According to experts, small-capacity dehumidifiers may be best for small apartments or areas that are damp rather than wet. These models usually hold between 25 and 40 pints of moisture a day. Medium-capacity models, by comparison, remove 45 to 50 pints a day, which can handle more moisture with less daily maintenance.

Large homes may need the largest capacity humidifiers, however. For example, since I have a two-story home, I needed to look for a model that held 75 pints a day. While this may not fill up every 24 hours, it does reduce the amount of daily upkeep I need to adhere to. However, always remember that these units can be a breeding ground for germs and bacteria, so it's best to clean them regularly regardless of their size.

Air conditioning units could hold hidden dangers for children

Now, in past posts I've established that I'm not the most modern guy. Sometimes, this has its advantages. For example, I can fix my own cabinets, house humidifiers and can change my oil. Still, I often find myself perplexed by what I hear in the news.

When I was younger, I would have loved to have an air conditioner. All I had was an electric fan, no matter how hot the temperature was. And while I still own this energy-saving device, I now use it to cool my house more quickly, which reduces my summer cooling expenses.

In Virginia, however, some children are taking apart air conditioners so that they access the freon inside. According to the news reports, local school teachers first got wind of the potential problem when they noticed the Freon in an air conditioner was mysteriously empty.

"When you inhale the gas, [it] creates an extreme state of intoxication," Wayne Frith, a member of Substance Abuse Free Environment, a Virginia-based substance abuse prevention center, told local TV news source WWBT. "It's like being very, very drunk in a matter of a couple of seconds."

In order to increase the safety of local children and help businesses and private citizens protect their valuable energy-saving devices, some companies are providing air conditioning owners with free child safety locks. Kevin Kirsh, who works for Midlothian Mechanical, one of the providers of the locks, says he views his actions as a public service.

Kirsh says that since replacing the Freon inside an air conditioning unit can cost hundreds of dollars, they are a simple solution to a complex problem that is harming more than simply the wallets of local residents. As a result, homeowners around the country may be wise to pursue similar steps that could keep their air conditioning units and children safe.

Dogs don’t need air conditioning units, report says

Americans spend billions of dollars on their pets each year making sure Fido and Max or Sparky and Mittens are properly vaccinated and comfortable in luxury bedding. (On second thought, I admit, I'm not even sure about the billions. I'm not even going to look up the number, I'm sure it would make me queasy).

Don't get me wrong, I love animals. Our old dog Blue used to sleep outside in a first-rate dog house that I spent weeks perfecting. But, some people seem to go overboard with the process of making their pet comfortable in my opinion. For example, a recent article featured on the tech news site Gizmodo indicated that some homeowners are now spending more than $500 for air conditioning systems for outdoor dog houses.

Now, the product reviewed by the source – the Climate Right's portable AC/heater isn't made especially for dogs. It can also be used in other small outdoor spaces such as campers, sheds and tents. But, since dogs are equipped to handle the elements, even the extreme heat, experts say that using air conditioning may not be a cost-effective way to ensure that your dog is happy during the hot summer months.

Pet experts indicate that simple methods such as setting up a wading pool outside or giving your dog frequent refills of fresh water are effective methods of keeping him or her cool.

Electric fans can also be beneficial, as they allow dogs to chose when they might need a refreshing breeze. Homeowners who keep their pets inside – and want to avoid relying on their air conditioning as much this summer – may want to use this method, as fans can help cool down rooms and disperse air conditioning more effectively when its in use.

Hawaii residents grapple with energy use

Hawaii may be renowned for its beaches and blue waters, but for many residents, the Aloha State is also synonymous with high energy bills, especially during the summer months, when locals turn to air conditioning units for relief.

Now, while many of us view this climate as a bit of a paradise – my wife and I took our second honeymoon there – those who live there often grapple with the high cost of electricity – as it is more expensive here than in any other part of the United States. (Oil prices have been hitting the country hard, as this fuel needs to be shipped their from across the ocean).

However, some utility operators are doing their best to help Hawaiians, especially those who are living with older, less efficient homes and air conditioners. For example, Hawaii Energy recently told The Maui News that it has conducted home energy reports for more than 60,000 residents as of this January.

Using a home inspection, residents can best determine how they can implement cost-effective methods that can help them achieve the kind of savings many Americans can enjoy by purchasing the right assortment of energy-saving items. For instance, the utility company estimates that the imitative has saved Hawaiians roughly $200,000 to date.

Still purchasing the items that can lead to energy-efficiency can be difficult. Many online stores offer the products Hawaiians need, but most don't offer the kind of flexible shipping policy or affordable prices. As a result, all Americans who are looking to purchase electric fans, air conditioning units or dehumidifiers may benefit from comparing shipping prices before buying these items online.

Consumers look for computerized control of their home utilities

It's no secret that computers have taken over most everyone's life. (My wife has a smartphone and routinely "tweets," even during dinner. I'm personally still clinging to phone that flips open, even though it seems like not that long ago, this was cutting-edge).

But, it seems like many Americans want computers to govern new aspects of their life, even their home energy use, according to a new study. The poll, which was conducted by Harris Interactive, found that roughly 48 percent of Americans would be open to installing a computerized dashboard in their home that controls their thermostats, house humidifiers, air conditioners and other energy-saving devices.

What's interesting thing about the study's conclusion, is that it asked Americans whether they would want this type of device, even if it had to be actively managed, say in the same way as a manual thermostat. Still, some consumers indicated they're just fine with the way they current monitor their utility costs.

Twenty-one percent of the respondents said they were unlikely to install this type of advice. In addition, 31 percent said they were neither likely nor unlikely to install the device.

The report indicated that one possible reason so many consumers would be open to this type of futuristic device is that nearly 70 percent would prefer to manage their home energy use themselves. An additional 9 percent wanted no control in the process, saying that they would prefer this to be managed by their utility provider.

However, given recent reports we've covered on this blog, such as the one that found that oil companies may have been tinkering with oil meters, indicate that this might not be the best decision.

The regional battle for energy efficiency

As a Northerner, there are certain things that I will acknowledge my neighbors to the south are better at. (Offhand, cooking barbecue comes to mind). However, while it may be tough to admit the supremacy of other regions of the country in certain matters (college football, baseball or basketball, for instance), the energy efficiency of each region isn't generally debated in such an open forum.

However, a new study finds that Americans in certain regions of the country may be more apt to engage in certain practices that can help them lower their energy bills.

On March 13, Harris Interactive released a new study that sought to determine exactly what types of energy-efficient products and tactics Americans were using at home. (In yesterday's piece, we talked a bit about how the study pointed out that many Americans aren't taking advantage of new programmable and manual thermostats).

Despite my original theories in this regard, the study indicated that there are regional differences between homeowners, sometimes big ones. For example, Southerners were almost twice as likely as Easterners and Westerners to change their air filters monthly (55 percent to 27 percent and 28 percent, respectively).

In addition, nearly 60 percent of Westerners reported that they use low wattage light bulbs. By comparison, only 48 percent of homeowners in the east said that they had opted for this home improvement upgrade. Likewise, Westerners were also more likely to have installed low-flow faucets, as 40 percent of these homeowners reported this action, compared to the 25 percent of Easterners and 23 percent of Midwesterners.

While the study doesn't conclude the region with the most energy-efficient homeowners (we all know the real answer is Northerners) it does shed some valuable insights on the habits you may want to adopt to keep your biggest investment from draining your wallet through monthly utilities.