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Planning for a Warm Winter with a New Furnace

As the cold winds of winter start to bear down on us, we all start to think about heating our homes during the long cold season ahead – or we think about the improvements that we need to make once winter has ended to prepare for the next one.

To see what decision you should make, first, you may want to have someone visit and assess the condition and efficiency of the furnace you have. An outdated furnace can be needlessly expensive – if your furnace was installed before 1992, it’s likely you’re losing 30% of your heating investment immediately! So it’s worth looking at something newer with an improved annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating from 80% to 95%. This is how much fuel is converted into heat.

Choosing the Right Furnace for Your Home

For most Mainers, oil, propane, and natural gas are the fuels that are used most commonly in combustion furnaces. All have their benefits, and each has its other considerations. Ultimately it comes down to assessing what option is best for your home. There is no perfect or one-size-fits-all choice when it comes to choosing your best heating method.

Typically if you’re in an older home and need a safe and reliable way to heat your home, an oil furnace is a solid option. Propane furnaces are good choices for people who don’t want to use oil, or who may want to change over to natural gas. If you’re living (or building) in a place that offers natural gas as an option, then a natural gas furnace may be the most sensible option.

 

We’ve created a list of some of the benefits and drawbacks of oil and gas furnaces and fuel sources. Careful consideration of the best option for your home will keep your costs low and your family warm for years to come.

Oil Furnaces

  • Oil is conventional, and the most common fuel for heating and is time-tested.
  • Oil is an incredibly safe heating option. Risks of fires or other combustion-related events are exceptionally low.
  • Oil furnaces are typically more affordable than those using other fuel sources. If your heating system needs immediate replacement and upfront cost is the primary determining factor in your decision, then an oil furnace may be a good option.
  • Oil furnaces are slightly less fuel efficient than other options, as much as 10% lower in their AFUE.
  • Oil requires regular deliveries and a storage tank.
  • Oil furnaces require additional maintenance, including cleaning and changes of oil filters, as well as chimney attention due to the residue left behind.

Gas Furnaces (Propane or Natural Gas)

  • Gas furnaces (both natural gas and propane) are typically more expensive than oil furnaces at the start, however, in the long term, they convert a higher proportion of their fuel supply into heat than oil burners do.
  • Propane and natural gas are the cleanest options for combustion-based home heating.
  • Furnaces that use propane or natural gas can often be directly vented outside rather than needing a chimney and typically require less maintenance.
  • Both propane and natural gas are excellent utilities to have installed in the home as they can also power a gas stove, fireplace, or even some appliances.
  • Propane requires tanks that are refilled; natural gas arrives directly 24/7 through an underground.
  • Many propane furnaces can be easily converted to liquid natural gas (and vice versa) by a professional.

Cost is complicated – over the long-term, natural gas is often the most cost-effective heating method, but it’s also between 10 and 20% more than conventional oil furnaces, especially if a gas line must be run to a home or if propane must be set up for the first time.

Other Options

Of course, there are many other options which can figure into your heating plan, including geothermal, solar, heating and cooling pumps, and any combinations of these. An energy-efficient home will also make a significant difference and may be a great move forward as you consider your heating options.

Making the Decision

If you are going to consider a new furnace installation, it’s wise to consult a professional to help determine the best heating system for you. There are often also public and private rebates and financing to help with the cost of upgrades – it’s worth exploring your options!

THE WRIGHT’S GO TO WASHINGTON

Customer Corner

by Holly Haining -Zulieve

What’s on your Priority List?

A person in the United States is expected to move 11.4 times in his or her lifetime.  Though I consider that to be overly ambitious (unless you are military) it speaks to the fact that life is a progression of ever changing needs that dictate what we look for in a living environment as we go along.  So it’s safe to say that when we are in our sixties, we look at a house through a completely different lens then when we were in our thirties.  For instance, in our sixties instead of asking the number of bathrooms, or if they feature granite countertops, we’re apt to consider the location of the bathroom (hopefully near the bedrooms).  Instead of being blinded by the beauty of a large garden landscape, we probably stop to consider how much work or the cost it would require to maintain.  Instead of worrying about the proximity of schools and shopping, we are more concerned with the location of the closest hospital.  Instead of requiring the ambiance of a fireplace, we may pay more attention to the homes central heating system, and whether or not it’s adequate to keep us comfortably warm, effectively and efficiently over the long haul.

 

The Wright’s go to Washington

MCES customers Sharon and David Wright knew they needed a more manageable home.   Their old house in Otis was very large and became far too much for the couple to care for.  The search for lower maintenance was satisfied in October of 2017, when the couple found and bought a house in Washington.  The quaint 1980’s Cape Cod reproduction fit a lot of their requirements.  For one thing, it is much closer to the VA Hospital in Togus where Sharon’s husband David must pay regular visits.  The 2 hour trip from their old house in Otis was impractical at best.

Heating System Considerations

Since the Washington house had no central heat (just a pellet stove), the Wrights were unable to leave for any extended period of time.  Luckily, Sharon and David had a previous experience with MCES when they lived in Waldoboro before moving to Otis.   At that time MCES foreman Tim Harriman just happened to be their neighbor.  When they needed service, Tim introduced them to MCES.  Soon after the move to Washington, Sharon invited Tim and his wife Kris over to see the new house.  During dinner and while getting reacquainted, they casually discussed the need for a central heat source to supplement the pellet stove.  Tim suggested they call the MCES office and ask Sales Manager Gina Philippon to provide an estimate.  After Gina assessed the couple’s lifestyle, their particular needs and considered the limited space in the basement where the heating unit would be located, she suggested a Maytag warm air furnace.  The Maytag system was the best overall fit for their needs and lifestyle.

There’s a solution for nearly everything.

Besides the central heat issue, the Wrights had a few other concerns which they posed to MCES.   Sharon had noticed brown sediment in the toilet every day and feared that it would continue to stain new fixtures.  A water test determined the water was high in manganese and iron, so Gina recommended installing a Water Right® Impression + Water Conditioning System.  MCES regularly recommends Water Right® products because they are considered the best equipment in the industry.  For the Wright’s situation, MCES installed the Impression Plus Series® that provides clear, soft water.  The system features an easy to read, backlit LED screen and user friendly console that allows the homeowner to monitor all operating functions. Now the Wrights enjoy water that is conditioned, won’t stain fixtures and is great to drink.

 

 

 

 

And then – there’s the issue of bathrooms.

The Wright’s house had the all too common issue of a bathroom located on the second floor with a deep bath tub and no shower.   Creating a safe and accessible showering area for the Wrights proved difficult due to the roof line and limited space.  According to Gina “It took weeks to find the exact right fixture and shower base.  Because of the space constraints we needed every tiny bit of space available to make this work. “  Gina conducted an extensive search for an exposed shower system rather than the normal valve that’s roughed in behind a wall.   An exposed system would save room and allow for just the right amount of space needed. Ultimately, Gina found a Hansgrohe brand shower valve unit that turned out to be the perfect answer.  It not only fits the space, but is also quite handsome.  Gina also took considerable thought to come up with just the right shower base to fit the odd space.

The Report Card….

With the heating system installed and the water treatment in place, once the electrical work is completed, the upstairs bathroom will be completely finished. Technician Eric Morgner installed all of the plumbing, including the water softener and furnace.  Technician Brian Warren installed the electrical and lighting and reworked some of what was there to make it safe and more convenient.  When asked to grade her overall experience with MCES thus far, Sharon offered these comments “Things have gone well and people show up in a timely manner. Gina has been great in making these transitions happen and the technicians have been very pleasant and polite.” Though the furnace has been very recently installed, Sharon says she has had to use the furnace a few times, and is happy with the performance.

Sawyer’s Island Retreat: Raupanel Radiant Heating System~ By Holly Haining-Zulieve

An Installation of Raupanel Radiant Heating System on Sawyer Island: If you are reading this article you probably live in Maine, either part or full-time, so you’re a Mainer, whether native or by spiritual osmosis.  I get it, I understand having moved away and come back, and it gets me too.  It is that ethereal, mysterious magnetism that draws people back to this place.   Hence the old saying, “True Mainers Venture Out, but Never Really Leave.”  This affliction if you will, undoubtedly has affected our customer Bob Barris.  Bob was born in Maine, but his family moved to Chelmsford, Massachusetts when he was very young.  He still spent every summer at the family’s cottage up here in Ocean Park.  These seasonal vacations in Maine only served to increase and strengthen his sense of attraction and connection to the state he emotionally and spiritually never left.  After graduating from Suffolk University, Bob mused that, “I would still find myself driving up to Maine every weekend to visit friends.”

In 1978, Bob took an opportunity to permanently move to Saco, a beautiful town in Maine’s southern coastal area.  Perhaps it was fate that brought Bob, a self- proclaimed “water guy” to a particular Maine beach on a particular day in 1983, where he would meet “Deb,” a woman with a passion for the water equal to his.  Not surprisingly, they became husband and wife. Bob was a pioneer of the Maine windsurfing movement and after their marriage, the two spent many years windsurfing up and down the east coast until Bob’s asthma no longer allowed him to tolerate the freezing Atlantic waters.  No matter and true to form, the Barrises satisfied their water “fix” in a 30’ Ericson sailboat. Having never sailed before, they individually learned to sail (funny story for another time).  They joined a Yacht Club (Maine Ericson Owners Association) and found themselves sailing some of the most picturesque waters in the world.  During those early days of sailing they discovered Linekin Bay where the Yacht Club’s annual two week sailing cruise always departs.  Ultimately they purchased a circa 1980’s house with frontage on Sawyer’s Island.  Unfortunately, the home required extensive updating, including a new heating system.

Bob points out a picture he keeps of MCES Install technicians Tim Harriman and Robert Desrosiers.

Bob searched for a suitable HVAC company, limiting his options to relatively large companies that could provide full service.  Enter Mid-Coast Energy Systems and Sales Manager Gina Philippon, with whom Bob was very impressed right out of the gate.  According to Bob, Gina guided him through  the entire process.  She was extremely thorough in her assessment of his needs, and the best tack to achieve those needs in the most cost effective manner possible.  When it came time to decide on which  option to choose, Bob and Deb drew on their previous experience with radiant floor heating, the superior comfort it would provide and its lack of unsightly baseboards.  Bob was particularly impressed with the RAUPANEL system which was recommended by MCES, including its above the sub-floor Installation and unique hot water tubing design all of which provided super heating distribution at maximum efficiency.

Gina Philippon explains the features and benefits of a RAUPANEL Radiant heating System.

According to Bob, on top of the company’s well established reputation in its field, its personalized service was a bonus and final factor that sealed the relationship.    Bob admitted that he spent considerable time on the project hovering around Tim Harriman, (MCES master plumber who has been with MCES for 30 years) who Bob jokingly said “did not even mind me looking over his shoulder.”

 

Today, with the job done and all mechanical systems tucked neatly out of sight, all visitors see is a lovely appointed home with spectacular views.  Through the front door entrance visitors are met with beautiful hardwood floors leading up to sweeping views of the bay.  Front and center, an inlaid compass rose made of intricately cut hardwood and brassannounces ‘a sailor lives here.  The glossy floors are toasty warm underfoot while providing a visually seamless and appealing flow throughout the house, all without detraction from the hidden heating system.

Bob & Deb were so impressed by MCES’ commitment to consumer education and personalized service; they asked MCES to also maintain their generator and water treatment systems.   During this interview, Bob had a question about the water treatment system.  Again, Gina expertly explained how the entire treatment system functions, including the maintenance schedule causing Bob to say, “That’s exactly why I love you guys … you take the time to explain how mechanical systems work;  what service is required and why, so I never have to resort to blind faith.”  He added that everyone at MCES was always attentive to his needs and schedule, and arrived quickly to address any issue that arose.

And so, along with becoming a true Mainer, Bob Barris has also become far more than another satisfied customer, and more like an enthusiastic spokesperson.  Gina Philippon concluded that, “It is fantastic when a customer says that if anyone wants a referral, tell them to call me!”  How great is that?

RADIANT HEAT: The Good, The Bad and the Inefficient: Not all Radiant Heating Systems are Created Equal ~ By Gina Philippon

RADIANT HEAT – Not all Radiant Heating Systems are Created Equal-

What could be better on a cold, windy winter day than a cozy warm floor to walk on?  Radiant heated floors are considered to be one of the most comfortable, steady and efficient ways to heat your home.  But not all radiant heating systems are created equal.

Example of a dry panel radiant installation.

HOW IT IS INSTALLED:  There are many different ways to install radiant heat.  Tubing can be tied to box mesh and poured directly into a concrete slab or basement floor to create a thermal mass.  This method referred to as “radiant slab” is the least expensive means of installation.  It is also the slowest to respond to adjustments of the thermostat due to the mass of concrete that needs to either heat up or cool down.  The recommended way to control a radiant slab is to “set it and forget it.”

 

The “lightweight over-pour” is a way to achieve the same mass on upper level living floors.  The tubing is fastened to the subfloor and a light weight gypcrete is pumped onto the floor covering the tubing.  Once cured, it will perform in a similar way to the radiant slab described above.

 

 

⇐Pictured here is the most common method of installing radiant heat on levels above the basement is known as “staple-up.”  In a staple-up installation aluminum heat transfer plates, with a track to accept the tubing, are fastened to the under side of the floor in the joist cavity.  The tubing is placed into the track and once heated, the aluminum transfers the warmth evenly over the floor.  Thin bubble wrap insulation with a reflective coating is installed under the tubing to encourage the heat up towards the floor. The response time is faster than a slab or over-pour installation but still relatively slow. “Staple-down” is similar but as the name suggests, it is installed over the sub flooring rather than under.

Another method which is becoming more popular is the dry panel radiant heating system which installs as the sub-floor.  Similar to staple-up, it has a track and aluminum plates. This product is in direct contact with the finish flooring so it provides rapid response while maintaining low temperature efficiency.

NOT ALL RADIANT SYSTEMS ARE EQUAL.   There is a radiant floor and then there is a radiant floor done right.  Frequently MCES has bid on radiant installation projects to be told that our price was significantly higher than competitors.  What is the reason for the difference?  We do it right.  Tubing can be fixed to the underside of flooring without plates which saves significantly on materials and labor but the water temperatures must be much higher to adequately heat.  The installation cost savings will be negated over time by increased operating cost and fuel consumption.  One manufacturer produces a radiant tubing specifically designed to be used without plates and is rated for 180° supply water.  The efficiency of a system like this is poor compared to a high-efficiency installation method. And we here at MCES are all about efficiency!

Whether you want to add a radiant floor zone to your existing home, trouble shoot a problematic system or are building new and want the comfort and convenience of a radiantly heated home, you can trust MCES to recommend the REHAU family of radiant products and to install it right!

 

HUNKERING DOWN: Do’s and Don’ts for Winter ~ By Bob Hardina

Do’s & Don’t for Winter – For many years we would get together for the last visit of the summer to my grandparent’s home in Wallingford, Vermont. As that final weekend drew to a close we would begin the annual ritual of “Hunkering Down.”  We would close down the second floor of the house, bank the perimeter of the house with hay and plastic and get the last load of wood into the basement.  The storm windows would be hung and the parlor would be closed off for the winter. Doors would be closed and the space under the doors sealed with draft dodgers, those fabric strips filled with sand.  For the winter, grandma and grandpa would occupy their bedroom and bathroom, the dining room and the kitchen.  If we returned for Christmas the second floor of the house would be opened again for kids to sleep, dormitory style under piles of blankets and quilts.  By this time we hope that you have performed your own “hunkering down” ritual. If not, we suggest the following.

Perform a windy day “walk around” to check around baseboards and windows for air leaks.  Seal them up.

Ignore the public service announcement to leave a faucet dripping on cold nights.  Dripping faucets may keep water lines from freezing but you run the risk of freezing the drain line.  To keep water lines from freezing eliminate any drafts that may blow on them.  Keep kitchen cabinet doors open to allow air to circulate.  Don’t put a light bulb under the kitchen sink.  It’s better to take the fan you use during the summer and direct the air flow to the piping under the kitchen sink or bathroom vanity.   If you prefer to burn wood, resist the temptation on the coldest of days.  Wood stoves and fireplaces will prevent your boiler from running leading to potential freeze ups.  On those bone chilling days, let your heating system do what it should and run.

Air leaks where vertical walls meet the floor are common in older houses.  If you finally get tired of winter and opt for a week or two in a warmer climate, turn the heat in your house down slowly, especially if you have a hot water baseboard heating system.  If you pack the car and turn the heat down when you leave, no water will circulate in the baseboard heating units.  The wind will blow and the baseboard piping will develop an ice block.  It only takes a few minutes for the ice to block the flow of water. On a cold windy day, your heat distribution system could be frozen before you get to the end of the turnpike in Kittery.   We’ve seen it happen more than once. There is a lot of excellent information available on the internet.  Search for, “Make your Home Winter Ready.”  You’ll find a wealth of information.

Hunkering down is a great way of experiencing the “Three C’s” of winter: Enhance your comfort, save your cash and avoid a catastrophe.

Winter well friends.