Author: geek1

What Thermal Imaging can do for Energy Efficiency in your home.

Thermal Imaging is used for a variety of purposes. The basic process is using a camera capable of seeing IR(Infra Red) spectrum of light. In the simplest example above, I’ve used a handheld Thermal camera capable of 60 x 60 thermal pixel resolution, and it provide a slightly higher visual resolution so you see a bit more detail of the object. Also shown is the centre point temperature, listed on top of the image, and the max and min temps shown on the bottom left corresponding to the 2 other targets that float around the image finding the extremes. There’s also the emissivity coefficients setting, but that’s getting overly complicated. This particular camera doesn’t lock the thermal image colours to specific temperatures, but simply fades between them to help identify colder and warmer spots. This is the Feature that we will focus on for home energy loss identification. You can also see the colour spectrum this camera uses on the bottom right, for coldest to warmest (left to right). Using the thermal image of this BBQ Barrel, I can quickly identify it’s hot and cold spots, and some actual temps of specific spots by using the centre crosshairs, and it looks like 190.1 degrees C on the lid means its ready for the burgers. ūüėé

Above we have a visual image of a back door next to a window on its left, and the max temp appears on the right side of the door above the light switches, and the min temp appears to be in the window on the left. When we view the Thermal image on the right, we can clearly see the temp ranges of the window and bottom of the door are similar colour and therefore similar temperature. We can also see other cold spots near the doorknob and in the corner, left of the door. Upon closer physical inspection we find quite a draft at the bottom of this door, plus poor seals on the sides. It might be worth noting that trying this test in the heat of the summer would work best if this home was also air conditioned, but it’s not, so the winter is the best time for this testing. The Hot spot (max:71.2F) above the light switch is caused by the switch being an electronic dimmer, and it actually generates a bit of its own heat. This door needed some serious attention to cut down these potentially costly leaks of energy.

Now let’s take a look at a more complicated scenario, the image doesn’t appear to show any significant hot or cold spots to focus on. This is actually a great image of a well insulated front door. What is very telling is that both the hottest and coldest spots are both up along the ceiling/wall junction. And we also see a warm spot at the light switch location, as this switch is actually a smart switch with lcd display, it generates some heat. I like the fact that we don’t see any lines, between the colours, around the majourity of the door frame. Upon physical inspection of the door, we discovered good seals all around the door, and no drafts.

Using a thermal imager for energy loss detection is one of the many valuable tools available. Since thermal cameras are so much cheaper than they used to be, easily available for as little a few hundred $, some might think about getting their own. If you happen to be a handy person, you can rent a high quality Thermal camera for very little and do some of your own investigation for leaks of heat/cold loss. If you want a quality review of your potential energy losses, then you will want to engage an Energy Auditor with experience, to help find the most cost effective areas of focus. Thermal imaging is only one of many tools an experienced Auditor uses. They will pay for themselves quite easily.

Unexpected demand for our services, and what we plan to do about it

As the demand for our services has increased far greater than any of us imagined, we obviously need to make some changes.¬†Before anyone gets concerned, these are changes we always anticipated, but weren’t expecting so soon.

Because customer service is of primary concern to us and of course our customers, we will continue to focus on this fundamental right. Here are a few of the changes we will be implementing:

  • Prioritizing customers needs into 3 categories: Emergency, Time sensitive/constrained, and Whenever available,
  • Add a booking option to allow for scheduling of our team, by our customers online,
  • Add additional “How-To” links and articles to help you solve some of your issues on your own, or with the help from a friend,
  • Increase our staff of experts: I have been working with and evaluating the services of other like minded trades people in our neighbourhood who have the same values we cherish at Up a Notch.
  • Reach out to our customers and partners to identify other resources they have engaged that also exceeded their expectations.

I want to assure all our current and future customers that your needs will continue to be met, and remember that working together is truly the most efficient and cost effective way for us all to move forward.

Cheers, from all of us at Up a Notch, and thx to all of you for believing in a better tomorrow and choosing us.

 

Why we converted our Natural Gas water heater to a tankless Electric on-demand

Why should we put in more efficient appliances?

There’s a lot of talk about reducing fossil fuel use, lowering our carbon footprint, and being more efficient by using common sense and renewable energies. Canada is a fossil fuel rich country, and one of the largest exporters of fossil fuels, the last I checked, we were at #5 in the world, here’s a more indepth read of the details if you are into that stuff. If you have school aged children, you are likely to have heard them talk about climate science and hopefully that have taken home some facts and practical solutions for you and your family to use today, to help us all for future generations. You have also likely read a lot of media on the subject, and we are obviously being told that we must reduce our ecological footprint. I thinks its a good idea to first have some idea of what our lifestyle does to the planet, or as a 1st world civilization, how much we consume of our natural resources. A great place to start is with the¬†global footprint calculator created by the Global Footprint Network.¬†This simple tool provides you with a quick view of your families impact on the environment and approximately how many planet Earth’s you need to sustain your lifestyle. What’s super interesting is when you make some simple changes in your lifestyle, you can really cut down.¬† So enough about the main reason to switch off of Natural Gas, let’s get into more detail.

What options are there for my old ng water heater?

Our very old, 30+ years, 40 gal/180l natural gas water heater finally gave up, by evidence of water leakage. This water heater was not efficient, used a simple gas fired boiler system with a constant pilot light, it would be rated on the lower end of the efficiency scale at maybe 65%. This is nowhere near any Energy Star rated appliance they make these days. Now here in BC, natural gas is pretty cheap and it heats really well for the $, but as a limited resource and a releaser of carbon into our atmosphere, its not something that should be used if possible. We want to capture carbon and keep it in the ground.

So an obvious choice is to put in a much higher efficiency ng water heater.

  • The most efficient ng water heaters are called high efficiency condensing hot water heaters, these recycle the waste gases and make these appliances as much as 98% efficient, that’s pretty damn good, and you really can’t ask for much better.
  • They do have moving parts, fans and smaller 1 1/2 – 2 inch inlet and exhaust pipes made from PVC pipes sticking out of the sides of homes. You have likely seen a home with steam coming out the side from a small white pipe, this is mostly the steam from the ng condensing water heater or furnace.
  • These highly efficient wh’s have a cost that’s appropriate for the technology, and as they are more complex, they can wear out before their typical 5 year limited warranties, where parts are usually covered, by labour isn’t. A quality unit is likely to cost you around $3,000. Installation another $1000 if this is your first high efficiency ng heating system.
  • As a water heater with a tank reservoir of a fixed size, your consumption at any given time is limited to its capacity, so a 200 litre tank is a good size for a family of 2-4 depending on your hot water usage.
  • Physical size of a water heater can be significant, take the size of the unit itself, then the service clearances required for possible repairs or adjustments, then add the inlet and exhaust piping required.
  • Having a tank with preheated hot water does make it’s availability quite instant, depending on how far the tank is from the needed source. Hot water will be ready as soon as it reaches the tap, in our home, the ground floor bathroom is only 15 feet of plumbing away from the heat source, so that takes 3-5 seconds.
  • Hot Water tanks eventually run out of the heated water, and you’ll start to feel this as a gradual change from the warmth you felt earlier.
  • Installation generally requires a Plumber/Gas fitter and Electrician, but most plumbing companies do all these trades.

Another option is an electric hot water tank.

Electric water heater
Basic Electric tank hot water heater

Switching from Natural gas to electric heat will require some changes, and your home will need to have the overall capacity to support this additional electrical load. Older homes used to have a 60 amp service to the home, most of these would have been upgraded to at least 100 amp for insurance purposes, and the average new home has a 200 amp service. If you are on the lower end of the scale, you’re going to need to have it checked. BCHydro deployed smart meters to much of BC, so if you have a smart meter, you can see your actual consumption online, check out this link on Understanding your electricity use at BC Hydro, you’ll need to have a free login to see your specific details. In addition to your basic daily consumption, you can opt in and purchase a power monitor that reads your smart meter directly. I’ll discuss that in another post.

  • Electric hot water tanks are also quite efficient, most rated at ~93-96%, simply due to the fact that they have no moving parts and limited powered technology, and when well insulated, limited heat loss when not being used.
  • You eliminate the need for a natural gas supply or exhaust chimney for burning of the fuel. So this cuts down on the physical footprint and airflow considerations.
  • You will need to add a new electrical circuit from 20-40 amps at 230 volts ac and the associated electrical wire to the water heater from your electrical panel, similar to the size needed for an electric stove.
  • The cost of these units is much less than $1000, and installations should less than $500 depending on the Electrical wire effort.
  • A Plumber and Electrician would be needed for a new Electric water heater, or in general just a plumber if its a swap, as most plumbers hold a license that allows them to switch the wires from one water heater to another. but always ask who else is required for installation from your main contact.

On Demand or Tankless water heaters

The On Demand technology, or tankless as it may also be called are sometimes used interchangeably, but you do need to read the details carefully. The Typical On-Demand unit simply heats water only when you ask for it, meaning the water stays cold in the system and therefore uses no energy to maintain a set temperature.¬† These On-Demand units also require a minimum flow to activate the heating of the water, this can be a blessing and a curse if not considered. There are Electric On-Demand and Gas On-Demand, much like the tanked versions, they have similar attributes to Electric vs Natural Gas tanked models. Some On-Demand units incorporate a small tank reservoir and maintain that tank’s temperature at the set point you choose, which makes them more like a tanked system, but as the tanks are very small, as little as 1 litre to 10 litres, there physical size is much smaller. The smaller tanked versions really fit into the above 2 hot water tank categories and allow for smaller needs like a cottage of small shop shed. The true Tankless On-Demand units are available in many sizes from a small 250watt bathroom sink heater to extremely large commercial and institutional units in both electric and gas models. Due to the additional needs of Gas fired units, they don’t tend to be available in the smallest size ranges as the electric versions can be as small as a soda can. There are also some units that claim to be tankless but hold the internal components and water at the set temperature, this allows the units to provide more instant hot water at a cost to your energy use.

On-demand tankless electric water heater

  • True On-Demand units only heat water when you ask for it, doesn’t heat the water in the unit unless it detects flow, and if the flow isn’t enough, it stays off.
  • The On-Demand style also uses a much smaller physical footprint, usually being installed on a wall, and servicing is simpler, front and bottom access is usually all you need clearance for.
  • The technology involved with these on-demand units does have some moving parts, generally a dial which to set the temperature, and at least a flow valve to register the flowing of water. Some models include flow control valves which ensure that the heat is applied evenly and if demand exceeds the units capacity to heat it, the unit will reduce the flow to ensure constant temperature control.
  • Depending on you demand, these units can require significant power to keep the water hot when 2 showers and dishwasher need to run at the same time, our unit services 2 full bathrooms, 1 very busy kitchen, another unused kitchen at times and a laundry room.
  • Typical sizing for Electrical On-Demand units are 24Kwatt to 36Kwatt for a family of 4-6 people, where a 24kw system needs 2 x 50 amp circuits and a 36kw system needs 3x 50 amp circuits. If you understand the math here, the smaller 24kw unit can consume up to 24000 watts / 240 volts ac = 100 amps, that’s pretty much the full availability of the older homes if they’ve been upgraded to at least 100 amps, In actual fact the units don’t actually use that full 100 amps every time they are used, but on first demand, it’s possible.

    power Mon wh stepping
    Power Monitor showing Water heater power stepping
  • Electric on-demand units only apply enough energy to maintain your set point temperature, and employ a stepping process when turning on the energy to heat the water. The graph to the right is showing the actual power consumption of our test home with approx 700 watts of standby power and the rest is the On-Demand 24kw Electric Tankless water heater power draw. The scale range shown is actually from 12,000 watts to 13,600 watts, which is the typical draw when the ground floor shower is being used. You can see that the heaters power use steps up and down as is needed to maintain our constant temp of 115 degrees F. The peak of about 13,500 watts is only around half of this water heaters maximum capacity of 24,000 watts. When both showers or a shower and the dishwasher are demanding hot water, we see the range adjust to much higher levels.
  • The On-Demand units are also controlled by waterflow and therefore have a minimum flow requirement. Our test home also has another resource saving feature known as a water pressure regulator, used to reduce the city of Vancouver’s street pressure from around 75-90 psi down to about 45 psi. And as the home is much older, built in 1924, so is the 1/2 inch copper plumbing, and the buildup inside the plumbing associated to scaling and minerals in the water. Plus the addition of low flow shower heads, water restrictor washers, and a pressure balancing shower valve, when other cold water demands reduce the showers cold water pressure, it also reduces the hot water pressure to maintain similar cold/hot flow and temperatures, which we have found, can be below the Turn on point of the water heater. I’m not going to tell what kind of sounds come from a shower when the water goes cold.
  • When water flow isn’t an issue, and you aren’t storing hot water in a tank, these tankless units provide a seemingly endless supply of hot water. This feature has allowed our home to now enjoy a bath without having to boil extra water on the stove to sufficiently fill the upper floor soaker tub. But with this new feature it also no longer limits the length of showers that our family takes. This in itself can be a majour problem and totally negate the original energy saving plan you had when you choose this option. We used to end our showers early in fear of running out of hot water, we no longer live with this fear, and so time in the shower isn’t really counted anymore.

Highest Efficiency technologies like Heat Pumps, Hybrids and Thermal Solar

As the industry tries to expand its customer base, improve on efficiencies and provide consumers with more options, or perhaps simply to survive, they develop new products that do even more than we ever could imagine. The driverless car is already on the streets today, so why wouldn’t we expect state of the art tech in a water heater? The Heat Pump technology has been around for quite a long time, and as the cost of energy increases, the heat pump concept makes more sense. Almost all refrigerators and air conditioners use a heat pump to cool, but this same process works for creating heat too. The latest technologies today include some very impressive Heat pump/Electric hybrids and Thermal Solar/ Electric hybrids. As these units are in the arena of bleeding technology, as in they are integrating multiple systems into a single unit, they do expose the user to some additional risk, but time will heal this initial challenges and some of the manufacturers will bubble to the top, and other will not.

 

 

To understand the basics, a heat pump effectively extracts heat from one medium and compresses it with a gas to cool it, and in reverse, decompressed a gas to expel the cold. So the standard A/C unit in the window of an apartment does this whole process inside the single box, taking the heat out of the apartment, and blowing it outside. The Heat Pump water heater system, works generally the same way, in which you extract heat from air or solar panels, and use that heat to make your water hot. Keeping in mind that you must run a powerful compressor to move the gaseous material from one location to another such as a small radiator inside your car to the larger Condensing Radiator on the front of your car, aka a condenser.

I’m going to reference 2 units that are available today and are very good options for some of us right now. The Rheem Professional Prestige Series: Hybrid Heat Pump and the SunPump.¬† These 2 units differ as the Rheem unit is a replacement for your domestic hot water where the Sunpump is designed for your radiant floor heated home or a replacement for your hot water boiler system. Both use Heat Pump technology, one extracts heat from solar panels, the other extracts heat from air. Much like an office of building A/C unit has cool air radiators in the office and a heat condenser on the roof of the building with a gaseous connection between them, the Sunpump operates in a similar way, except it uses silent solar panels on the rooftop instead of a big box with a huge fan. And much like an apartment A/C unit in the window, the Rheem Hybrid Heat pump exchanges the heat through the air right on top of the unit itself, so if you don’t need any cold air inside your home, you simply run the air exchange pipe outside. Both of these units also have Electric heating elements for backup on extremely cold situations.

gas water heater
Natural Gas Water Heater

The Rheem Hybrid Heat Pump is a direct replacement for a normal Hot water heater with a tank, as it has it’s heat exchanger on its top, its likely going to be a little bigger than the unit you have today. And this unit will need some larger ducts to allow for the flow of fresh air, generally speaking you would connect both intake and outlet outside your home, but you might want to take advantage of the output cold air inside you house if its a hot summer day, or possibly extract the warmer inside air on the outlet in colder climates. These little tricks make this unit versatile, as the intake and output air is in no way contaminated, it’s simply used to help move the heat from one place to another, or in a water heater’s case cold from one place to another.

The Sunpump is a replacement for an existing boiler system that is generally much larger and has the capacity to also store some of the save heat

Sunpump

in a Hot water tank. The Sunpump extracts heat using roof mounted solar(evaporator) panels, and extracts the heat from the sun, and outside ambient air and condenses it to product the heat that is stored inside the appliance. although the Sunpump doesn’t currently connect directly to your hot water supply, that feature shouldn’t be far away and currently it’s a simple hot water heat exchanger hookup to your existing or stand alone water heater.

Considerations when making your choice for the right solution

So if your expecting me to tell you which option is right for you, I can’t, but here are some variables that will help you decide:

  1. If you don’t currently have natural gas in your home, it’s pretty simple, you are now down the path of electric, electric hybrid, or electric on-demand
  2. If you have Natural gas but don’t have a water drain nearby, then you’re either going electric or you’re stuck with a low efficiency NG water heater, high efficiency models use condensers which need a drain for water.
  3. If you want to save on cost of ownership investing in a Hybrid solution should pay off much sooner.
  4. If you want to save the planet for our future generations, you have 2 choices, Pay for Renewable Natural Gas or go high efficiency electric
  5. If you want to save space, or your needs are limited in size and real estate, the smaller On-demand units are the way to go
  6. If your home doesn’t have a nice new large 200 amp service breaker panel, you may want to stick with a water heater with a tank, so you can heat with less peek power draw, or the Natural Gas options.
  7. If you are building from scratch, talk to your designer and think about On-demand at each source, small electric units at each location simplify the home, you only run cold water plumbing to each area, you’re storing hot water and waiting for it to reach your tap, and this proven design works very well in many other countries.
  8. If you have or plan to have PV Solar panels, go electric.
  9. If you have or plan to have an Electric Vehicle, go electric and get PV solar.
  10. Very Important: Be smart, ask for advice and start with an Energy Audit to make sure you are spending your money on the right energy saving activity.

 

 

How a Smart Thermostat can help you: Save Energy, Improve Comfort and Save the Planet

The Smart Thermostat is not new, This technology has been around for decades, but more recent connected devices add a few more features that really add up to making things better.

Overview

We started with Thermostats that you could program different temperatures at different times of the day or week, then added in features like automatic Day-Light Savings time adjustment, Preheat features so temperature is ready when you need it, and then we add the internet of things(IoT) to the puzzle. Wifi/Network/WWW connected technologies now talk to each other and share information. Google, Apple, Amazon and many other companies are pushing to place their products in your home, to help you manage your life better.

For this discussion, we will be referencing the Generation 2 Nest Smart Thermostat. The most current generation 3 can be found here.

  1. The Nest Smart Thermostat is generally used to help you keep your environment’s temperature just right, when you need it, and more energy efficient when you don’t.
  2. Automatic Learning, during the initial 1-2 weeks, the Nest will ask you to change the temperature as you would on a manual thermostat, to learn what temperatures you desire when. From there, it will create a temperature schedule for your weekly activities. You can also manually edit this schedule on the Thermostat, or on the accompanying app.
  3. Connected to the Web, The Nest also connects to the WeatherUnderground Data Engine to gather your local weather, and uses this data to properly heat or cool your home. Nest also collects data to provide each user with a monthly energy report, lets you know how well you did on energy compared to other Nest users in your area, and across the country.
  4. Inter Connectivity, your Nest products are capable of sharing certain data outside their Nest Ecosystem, using web interfaces that let you coordinate multiple input and output devices. Open Source KAA and freeware IFTTT are 2 popular logic oriented web tools that let the geek in you shine. Using these web tools, we can trigger the Thermostat to warm up the house and turn on the Garage pathway lights when we open the Garage door from the Car remote, Or when we are 5km from home.  Connecting Smart light bulbs, door locks, switches, relays, sensors and environment details in a logical flow. If front door camera senses movement, turn on front door light, and send image capture to my iPhone. The Nest Family products like the Protect and Cameras also talk to the Thermostat to provide additional data.
  5. Set it and Leave it, all Smart thermostats try to automate what they can, or remind you of stuff you might need to do, like change the air filter in your furnace.¬†Our Nest reminds us to replace the air filter at an interval I chose, twice a year for our larger 4 inch thick filters, more often if you use smaller 1 inch filters. You really need to check them often, or if you have a newer Smart Furnace, it may watch the air filter performance and let you know its time to replace it. Other than the occasional manual adjustment, the Nest can basically manage your comfort control for you. If you leave the house, and the Nest doesn’t see any movement, it will switch to away mode automatically, you can adjust this, but super awesome feature if you might forget to switch your thermostat to away mode manually. Of course most have an App that lets you do that remotely, a great plan B, but I like that it just knows.
  6. Very customizable, most Smart Thermostats provide a slew of options and ways to configure your environmental needs. However, there are still more technologies on the horizon, better integration with Home Ventilation systems, and third party products to enhance your efficiencies. We can also await some new products from KAA, why shouldn’t the software developer start making hardware, briliant, watch for some cool products at KaaIoT.io
Conclusion

It’s pretty easy to see why turning your thermostat down will save on energy costs, but when you start to add all your home or office systems into an integrated network of devices that communicate, well, now we can start seeing some progress. Don’t get me wrong here, these devices will not solve all our problems, and because IoT is in it’s infancy, we’re going to have a lot more products to choose from. Many of the big companies will follow suit with their existing ecosystems, But I believe the Open Source options will make a strong running for the smarter World ¬†we need to live in.