Archive for the ‘heating’ category

Infrared Quartz Heaters

February 12th, 2013


What are your feelings about infrared quartz heaters? Which brands have you tested? I have one and it seems to provide all the energy representations made. Is it true that this technology was developed for the space station and utilized in the space shuttles?



I have never tested any of the electrical heaters or quartz heaters and can’t comment on any specific brand. But wow, there seems to be a lot of marketing for electrical space heaters these days. I am an engineer who studied some of that thermodynamics and heat transfer stuff in college. If the claims are too good to be true, they are not true.

The fact is, you can’t create or destroy energy; you can just change it from one form to another. Electricity has just so many BTUs per kilowatt hour. You can convert electricity to heat with a cheap electrical resistance heater, a light bulb, or an electrical burner on the stove with the same result and always the same amount of energy.

Because we are all trying to save energy and money, all the marketing for the new space age or high tech electrical heaters sounds great; and we want it to work. But it can’t defy the laws of physics. Any type electrical heater will provide the same amount of energy for the amount of electricity used.


Natural Fireplace Maintenance

February 8th, 2013


We have a natural fireplace, not gas. Can you tell us the maintenance we should be doing on our fireplace? What is the maintenance on a gas fireplace? Should we be having our chimney cleaned out by a professional? Is this necessary?



F005 - Masonry FireplaceFor a typical wood burning fireplace, you should have the chimney cleaned and inspected every several years. The cleaning depends on how often you burn wood. If you burn most weeks, clean the chimney every year. If you burn a few times per year, clean the chimney every few years.

With a gas fireplace the maintenance is limited because the products of combustion are relatively clean. The fireplace logs should not be producing excessive soot and they should be checked along with the chimney flue every couple of years.

With either fireplace, you should also make sure the damper is closing tightly when you are not in use. You should make sure the damper opens fully and latches open when you build the fire. Outside there should be no bird or animal nests in or around the chimney.

For a masonry chimney, the cap should be solid and overhang the structure of the chimney. The structure should be solid without salt stains or surface spalling. For a framed-in metal chimney, it should have a cap that directs water away from the flue with limited rust. The box should be in good condition just like the siding of your home.

With either type of chimney, I think it is important to have a rain cap on the flue. They keep water and animals out of the chimney flue. When in doubt about chimney or fireplace issues, have a professional check it out.

Furnace fan, to distribute heat throughout the house?

January 31st, 2013


I have a two-story house with a basement, built in 1952. Is it a good idea to turn the furnace fan on, to distribute the heat throughout the house?

– Marian


H014 - Warm Air Furnace Fan and MotorYes and no. If you have a problem with a cool area when heating or a warm area when running the air conditioning, operating the fan continuously will even out the temperatures in your home. The downside is this will cost electrical energy to run the fan and cause some wear and tear on the fan. However, you can run a fan on a newer, high efficiency forced air furnace with an ECM or variable speed motor for little cost – about 1/10 the cost of a typical fan motor. Finally, I think your first step is to have a contractor inspect and adjust your system. At times, duct dampers can be adjusted to correct cold spots and air flow problems. Often you need to make a spring and fall damper adjustment for a two story home.

– Mr. Fix-It

Water Heater Turning Off Each Morning

September 22nd, 2010


Recently my hot water heater started turning off each morning. I’ve been hitting the “reset” button, and it goes back on and works just fine. However, this has occurred about three times over the past week. It’s not a particularly old water heater, and we don’t use enough electricity to trip the box. What might be causing this problem?


I assume you are resetting the overload button on an electric water heater. You either have a heating element problem, thermostat problem, overheating, or an overload problem. I suggest you contact a plumber or electrician before you are out of luck and have no hot water. In general, you should not reset an overload more than two times if you don’t know the actual problem causing the trip.

Energy Efficiency Improvements – Where to Start?

August 21st, 2010


I have some funds to do energy efficiency improvements to my old (1950’s) home, but I don’t know where to start. The home is well maintained, but has had no energy improvements. It seems that every contractor has the best product, and there are many claims about huge energy savings. The government rebates and tax credits just seem to complicate the issue. Where do I start?


There is no simple answer. I can outline where to logically start, but I think your home deserves an evaluation and some scientific testing before you start spending.

I suggest you contact Focus on Energy. Their goal is to provide information, resources and financial incentives to help improve energy efficiency in Wisconsin. The state program is well known throughout the country.

I used the Focus on Energy program called “Wisconsin Energy Star Home Program” when I built a new home. They gave advice on construction details, and worked with the builder on energy efficiency. The results were fantastic.

For existing homes like yours, they offer a service to scientifically evaluate your home and the systems in your home at a very reasonable price. Their consultants can test for leaks, review your equipment, and use a computer model to identify the best areas to invest.

Overall, you should look at the easy energy improvements and your old equipment. If you have a furnace that is over 25 years old, put that at the top of the list. If the attic insulation has never been improved over the original three to six inches, that should be high on the list as well. Insulating the top of the basement wall, using low-flow plumbing fixtures, fluorescent lamps, and a set-back thermostat are simple changes with a great payback.

An evaluation by the Focus on Energy is the best first step. They also offer a new interactive website at Ask Focus on Energy. They will answer your questions and refer you to a large database of answers. If you have a unique question, one of the experts can respond.

Wood Fireplace Sucks The Heat Out

February 9th, 2010

How do you make an old wood fireplace energy efficient and prevent heat-loss? Can you use a wood stove insert in the existing fireplace? I have a half-cord of wood remaining, but hardly use the fireplace since it’s so inefficient and sucks the heat out of the room.


You got it, a masonry, wood-burning fireplace is only good for wasting heat up the chimney. While the ambiance is great, an old wood burner will not help heat your home.

A wood burning insert will certainly improve the situation and provide some heat. But, you need a special installation/liner and you also need to routinely clean the flue. The combustion gas moves up the flue at a much lower temperature, and more deposits form.

Your best bet is a gas-fired, sealed insert that is vented with two pipes up the old chimney. This has an air intake and sealed combustion so it does not draw any air from your home. It is a true heating appliance. They look great too.

Housewrap on a Detached Garage?

December 18th, 2009

Hi Tom,

We love your Saturday morning show and listen whenever we can! We are in the middle of building a new detached garage. What is your opinion on installing housewrap like Typar? The garage will be mostly unheated, but in the future I may insulate the walls and use temporary heat occasionally. I was thinking that the Typar may be an extra wind-break, but I am not sure if it is risking a moisture problem since it will mostly be unheated.

Thank you!!

Keith and Rika


Housewrap should be used under the siding to provide a moisture barrier. All siding leaks and you need to keep moisture out of the wall framing. The housewrap will also provide a wind barrier if you ever provide heat in the garage. The housewrap will not be a moisture problem for the garage with or without heat. If you ever do heat the garage on a constant basis, the interior finishes should include a vapor barrier under the first layer of finish on the heated side. This stops interior moisture from penetrating the wall structure.