Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Green Organic Family’s New Eco-Friendly Home – Part 2- Switching to a Tankless Hot Water Heater (And Manufacturer’s Giveaway!)

It’s a gorgeous, sunny morning, and I’m enjoying a hot cup of tea, while watching the sunrise through the glass French doors of our patio.  It’s great to be home in our new place.

As I mentioned in Part 1 of our story of settling into our new home, we made lots of changes around our new house to make it green, and to make it ours.  After the kitchen, the next biggest project was switching to a tankless hot water heater.

In our old rental, we were at the mercy of a very old, very small, conventional electric hot water heater.  No amount of begging or pleading with the landlord could convince him to change that out, with something bigger and more efficient.  So, that meant that every evening turned into a carefully orchestrated plan, as to who was going to bathe first, and when.  What time do the dishes have to be done, to allow for the 30 minutes for the hot water to recover?  Nope, can’t do laundry right now… Green Organic Girl has to take her bath.  Then when you finally got into the shower, it was a mad rush to get finished, before the hot water suddenly ran out.  It was totally unnecessary, daily aggravation, and wasted energy spent on that aging hot water heater.  So, along with plans for a functional, modern kitchen, another must-have for our new home included a tankless hot water heater. 

Tankless hot water heaters are exactly what they sound like: there is no holding tank, and instead, the water is heated to a preset temperature as it passes through the unit.  These units pass on tremendous energy savings, as they don’t sit there, warming water all day long, while everyone is at work/school, or asleep.  When the computer inside the heater senses that a hot water faucet has been switched on, it sends a signal to the heating element.  In the short trip the water takes through the unit, it instantly goes from cold to hot.  Once running, the supply of hot water is virtually endless.  Depending on the size of the unit, various other things can share in the hot water at the same time, without interrupting each other (i.e. run a sink, while someone showers, at the same time).

We absolutely love our tankless hot water heater, and we’re happy to report no issues with it.  The water comes out at a steady temperature, and at a steady pressure.  It’s only on when we need it, and that works out great for our busy family.  It’s one of those things you wish you had done a long time ago, and we’re sure glad we did.  We did have some hiccups with our installation, but that was mostly due to atypical factors, like rules set out by the HOA governing our neighborhood.  This is what we had to go through…

During the whole time we were house-hunting, our plan was always to upgrade the electrical service, to accommodate an electric tankless hot water heater.  In our area, most of the homes we were looking at, were built with 100 amps of service coming in.  For the size of tankless hot water heater we were looking for, one that could accommodate two faucets running at the same time, we would definitely need to upgrade to at least 200 amps of service, in order to power one of these heaters.  While these units do save on electricity, because they’re not running all day long when not needed, when they do run, they draw a lot of power.  That’s a must, when the water needs to be heated an extra 60 to 70 degrees in an instant.

It was shortly after we closed, when we were finalizing renovation plans with our contractor and electrician, that we were told just how much an electrical upgrade would cost: somewhere in the ballpark of $5,000.  That’s just for the electrical upgrade; not including the heater and plumbing work (about another $1,000).  Thankfully, that’s when our team of professionals suggested the slightly more affordable Plan B: going with gas. 

After coordinating a new plan with our contractor, electrician, plumber, and now the gas company, we were set!  Well, not exactly.  Welcome to the HOA.  According to the HOA, we weren’t even allowed to install an outside vent for my over-the-range microwave hood, let alone run a gas pipe up the side of the house.  It took a little brainstorming by our professionals, but eventually, a workable plan was formed: A brand new Rinnai tankless gas hot water heater would be installed up in our attic, taking place of the old electric tank already up there.  As the heater would be up in the attic, it would simply require a vent through the roof for the exhaust, and the gas could be fed through a pipe, running up through the middle of the house.  Looking good so far…

The gas company showed up, drilled a hole, and started feeding a pipe up to the attic.  It got up there.  Well… almost.  I guess it’s good to know that we have a firewall between our upstairs and the attic.  The pipe couldn’t make it through the firewall.  Thank goodness for our ingenious contractor. Our two bathrooms are perfectly positioned, one on top of the other, and built in the same layout in our house.  Our contractor then came up with the brilliant idea of drilling holes right through our bathroom floors, and tucking the pipe in the back corners of the bathrooms, and later covering it up with drywall and paint.  It worked out perfectly!  It even softened up the look of those corners in those two rooms.  Extra bonus ;)

All in all, it took a lot of coordination and labor, on the parts of the electrician, plumber, and gas company, but everyone worked well together, and the rest of the install went on, without a hitch.  When the gas was fed through, and the heater switched on, it was like magic.  All that time and effort was worth it.  We’ve been enjoying endless, instant hot water since ;)  Green Organic Dad even went as far as hooking up a UPS to the water heater.  Even though it’s gas-powered,  the computer inside still runs on a teeny bit of electricity.  In this way, when we lose power, either during a typical regular power outage, which happens frequently down here, or during a hurricane, the water heater will still have enough power to click on and off, as needed.  Smart thinking, hubby ;)

We are extremely happy with our decision to go tankless.  We now have steady, on-demand hot water, and the added energy savings of not cooking a whole tank of hot water 24/7.  Hubby did do a lot of research, and spoke to a lot of professionals, before deciding on our Rinnai brand of tankless water heater.  It’s one of the better ones out there, with a smart regulating computer inside, that knows just how many of its burners to fire up, depending on the water flow.  That gives us peace of mind that not all the jets are burning, if a certain little one has just a trickle of water going, to wash her hands.  We can also precisely set the temperature, using digital controls, so we know it definitely won’t come out scalding hot.  Rinnai is Japanese-made, and it’s also the brand featured on HGTV.  We love ours, and highly recommend it to our friends considering going tankless. 

As an added bonus, Rinnai is just about to wrap up a giveaway, where you can win one of these wonderful tankless heaters for yourself!  Click here to go to their site for more info. ( ~ Giveaway ended 6/4/10 ~ )

Also, don't forget about the Federal Tax Credits running through December 31, 2010.  We're taking advantage of 30% back on the installation of our tankless gas hot water heater.  Click here to go to EnergyStar.gov for more info.

When it comes time to replace your water heater, I hope you and your family will consider going tankless, too :)

No promotional consideration was paid for this post.  This is a review of a personal purchase.
Image courtesy of Rinnai.us

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Green Organic Family's New Eco-Friendly Home - Part 1 - Our Green Kitchen Renovation

Happy Memorial Day long weekend, everybody!

It's been a while since my last blog entry, because we've been quite happily busy, settling into our very own new home.  

While the real estate market crash turned many of our friends upside down, it was a good thing for a lot of first-time home-buyers, like us.  Thankfully, we had a month-to-month lease, that gave us the freedom to take our time shopping around, and after several months and many showings, we finally put an offer in on a short sale.  That was an adventure in itself; enough to fill a whole book (which I may eventually write... Haha) ;) Short sales are notorious for being anything but short.  From start to finish, ours took over four months to close.  That's quick in the Land of Short Sales, but I can tell you, I had to rely tremendously on my prior experience as a mortgage loan analyst, and my current experience as a licensed insurance CSR to keep things on track.  For anyone even remotely considering entering a short sale contract, be sure you have some type of experience in some part of the real estate industry, or have a close friend or relative who does.  It's a bumpy road, and you really need to know the terrain, if you want to stay on track.  Most short sales do not have a happy ending (at least, not with the first few offers), but we're happy to report a happy ending to our short sale  adventure.  We now have a lovely home of our own, that's very close to work and school, and in a wonderful, family-friendly cul-de-sac.  We absolutely love our new home.

We're also very happy that we could finally make those green changes we've wanted for so long. that we couldn't do while we were still renting.  The rental we came from was quite old, had aging appliances, no insulation, leaky Jalousie-style windows, along with inefficient window air conditioner units, and we were just helpless to watch all that money gone down the drain (literally), when the utility bills came each month.  We had to get out of that vicious cycle, and now we have, with the greening efforts in our new home.  Already, we've seen a 40% reduction in our energy consumption; a massive difference on our energy bill.  For that, we have to thank the central air conditioning with its programmable thermostat, better insulation, and newer single-hung windows already in place when we bought the house, along with some of the additional energy-saving changes we made, like installing a tankless gas hot water heater, putting in LED lighting around the home, and choosing greener options for appliances, like our new Whirlpool Duet HE washer and dryer.  I love that my new washing machine saves on energy, water, and even on our soap, too!  We've been using BioKleen Premium Plus laundry powder for years; buying a case about once a year.  Now, with our new Whirlpool washer only needing one tablespoon per load, and my doubled-up wash loads in its giant 4.4 cubic-foot drum, my current supply of laundry powder should take us right through 2012!  LOL ;)

Our favorite part of the new house has to be our new kitchen.  My friends and family know how much I love to cook, and I couldn't wait to have a functional space of my own.  The existing kitchen in this home had only one counter and one row of cabinets above it.  The other side of the kitchen had barely enough space for even a bistro table.  We needed to change things up, and this was my tentative plan, guesstimating measurements, and making use of the Mark On Call app for my iPod Touch:
In reality, we ended up having more open space behind the bar stools, so my contractor had the great idea of carrying over the wall cabinetry above the window, and putting in a small pantry on the other side.  That really completed the look of the kitchen.  This is the finished product, making use of the existing sustainable bamboo flooring, stripping the existing wallpaper and painting the walls in "Rhythm of Red" by FreshAire; a No-VOC eco-friendly paint from The Home Depot, installing custom cabinetry and a 30% recycled content, solid-surface counter top (Encore from Samsung's Staron), adding a beautiful and durable Kohler cast-iron double sink, made from 93% recycled content, and mounting new super-energy efficient LED light fixtures under the cabinets, and over the peninsula.  Top it all off with some shiny, new, stainless steel appliances, like my new over-the-range convection microwave, and convection double-oven range, and this is truly our new favorite hang out :)








We couldn't be happier with our new kitchen.  We love having this new central hub for the whole family to convene.  The peninsula's huge counter top gives me plenty of room to prep meals and snacks, and Green Organic Girl loves hanging out with mom, with ample room on her side to paint, draw, do puzzles, and roll out her homemade play dough.   I love being able to look across the counter to see what she's up to, and the easy-to-clean solid-surface counter top makes life a breeze.  Green Organic Dad loves to come in and pull up a chair, and catch up on the day's events.  We love having this great space to eat and play, and be a family :)

More to come on our adventures in our new home!

Click here to go to Part 2 - Installing a Tankless Hot Water Heater.

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