(ran HP edition)
Question: We have an older home, but our appliances have been well-maintained so they're still working after many years. I know that our water heater is old, but it's doing a good job. Can I insulate it to help it hold the heat better?
Answer: Lots of people put what is called an insulating jacket around their water heaters.
For this easy do-it-yourself job, go to a hardware or building supply store and buy an insulating jacket that is the same size as your heater. You should be able to get the heater size off the tank's label.
The first step in installing the jacket is to turn off the electricity to the unit.
Wrap the jacket around the tank, cut it to size and tape it in place. Cut a window through the insulation to provide access to the thermostat.
Cut a piece of insulation to fit on top of the water heater and cut holes to allow the pipes and the pressure-temperature relief valve to stick through. Put the insulation cover on top of the tank and tape it into place.
This is a good time to check the water temperature setting on the tank. Most units are set at 140 degrees, which is higher than most people want or need. Your dishwasher instruction manual will list the recommended setting for that appliance, and you can adjust the setting as needed.
If your home has a gas, fuel oil or propane water heater, you need to be sure to buy an insulating jacket made for these types of units. It is important when installing the jacket to keep insulation away from the pilot light, burner area, valves or other parts of the tank where insulation could create a hazard. Never install insulation on top of a gas, fuel oil or propane water heater.
Question: We've been reading about the new fluorescent lamps but are concerned about their poor performance. My dad had a hardware store when I was a kid, and I remember those flickering lights and even the funny color cast they gave to everything in the store. Are they still this way?
Answer: Lots of people have memories of fluorescent lamps, which were popular for many years in commercial buildings. Those long, thin tubes, which had a tendency to flicker, make humming noises and give off unflattering light, were a familiar part of most stores and other buildings. However, in spite of their problems, they used a lot less energy than did incandescent bulbs, so they seemed to be everywhere.
Your question gets to the point of new technology and how we need to change our thinking sometimes. Today's compact fluorescent bulbs screw into most standard lamps and fixtures, don't flicker or hum and give off light that is close to true natural colors.
Their big benefit is their economy _ they use only about a fourth of the energy used by incandescent bulbs, and they last 10 times longer than incandescents, repaying their higher purchase cost over time with energy and replacement savings. An added benefit is that they give off a lot less heat than incandescent bulbs do, cutting down on the load on the air conditioner and the discomfort felt when sitting near light bulbs.
However, fluorescent bulbs can take anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes to fully brighten. You don't want to put them in places where you need immediate light.
Ken Sheinkopf is associate director for the Florida Solar Energy Center. Write to him at the Florida Solar Energy Center, 1679 Clearlake Road, Cocoa, FL 32922.