Valentine’s Day is almost here and many of us will try to find the perfect greeting card, gift, or night out to show appreciation to our loved ones. While these offerings may provide a brief spark in your relationship, may we suggest a more permanent Valentine’s Day gift that will enhance your home and bring you and your loved one closer for much longer than a holiday? . . . . A Fireplace!

On chilly winter nights, nothing adds as much ambience to your home as a roaring fire. Year-round, a fireplace adds beauty, dimension, and a focal point for your room. While there are a number of federal and local regulations that restrict the construction of old-fashioned masonry fireplaces in new and remodeled homes, there are a number of EPA-certified wood-burning fireplaces that provide the richness only a real wood fire can impart and, at the same time, curtail the particulate matter in the smoke by as much as 70%. Two are shown in the photos at right. Additionally, there are a number of ways to retrofit an existing wood-burning fireplace to comply with current regulations. Most will require glass or metal doors and an insert or retrofit to contain the particulate matter. See the list of EPA-certified Fireplacesfor more information.

Renaissance Rumford EPA

Gas fireplaces are also a great option if you do not want to be concerned with obtaining a consistent supply of dry, seasoned, firewood or with cleaning the ashes from the fireplace. In the past, gas fireplaces failed to provide anything close to the experience of a wood burning fireplace. Today, there are a number of greatly-improved gas and electric fireplaces options from which to choose. See the EPA Website for a list of EPA-certified choices.
To help our customers sort through the maze of options and regulations, Hammerschmidt Construction has teamed with Blaze Fireplacesbecause of their expertise and superior customer service.

Blaze will walk you through the five steps of selecting the right fireplace for your space and make the installation easy and enjoyable.

    1. Is a fireplace or fireplace insert needed? A fireplace insert is installed in the existing wood burner. A regular fireplace is installed in the framed opening.
    2. Are you looking for a traditional or modern style?
    3. Are you using the fireplace for heat, and if so, how much heat will be required?
    4. What options (log set, brick, doors and control functions) would you like installed?
    5. Review the flue piping and the installation parameters.

 

Blaze Fireplace is a family-owned and operated full service contractor and supplier of fireplaces, mantels, insulation, and garage doors. Blaze provides onsite consultation, installation, service, warranty, and after-sales support. Their 6,000 sq ft designer fireplace showroom features more than 60 active burning fireplace displays and over 40 mantels. The Blaze San Francisco Office and Showroom is located at 101 Cargo Way in San Francisco, CA 94124 Phone: 415-495-2002.

We’re entering the season for parties and holiday get-togethers at your house. As visitors make their way up the walk, what kind of first impression does your front entryway make? If you’re thinking about replacing your doors, you’ll want to read our discussion below.

The front entry to your home is one of the first things a visitor notices. The doorway, as the home’s focal point, will greatly influence the perceived value of your home. It also becomes an opportunity for you to make a unique statement about the character of your home.

A Material Choice
Exterior doors are generally available in three different materials: wood, fiberglass/composite, and steel. As you are making your choice, factors to consider are cost, endurance, climate, energy-efficiency, usage and finish. If you prefer natural wood because of the warmth of its appearance, keep in mind that wood requires regular maintenance to protect it from the weather. Today’s manufactured wood doors usually have an engineered wood core that provides stability. Fiberglass/composite and steel doors are designed to withstand the elements and provide easy-care. In addition, these doors can convincingly resemble wood grain.

The Insulation Factor
Doors are an important part of the overall insulation picture for your home. A flimsy, poorly fit door can allow a regular, unwelcome flow of cold or hot air into your home, negatively affecting your energy bills. Your fiberglass/composite or steel door should have an energy-efficient and environmentally-safe core. Consider purchasing an entry door system with the components–such as hinges and weather stripping–all designed to work together efficiently.

The amount and kind of glass used makes a difference. You may want a lot of glass to improve your view, or to increase your indoor lighting. On the other hand, security and privacy may be more important to you, and therefore you want a door with minimal glazing. Either way, choose an ENERGY STAR qualified door with a double layer of glass, a low-E coating, and argon gas between the glass panes.

 

Decorate with Doors
Use your doors as a design element, coordinating them with the architectural style of your home to make the whole picture attractive and appealing. Doors come in virtually every style, from Victorian to Rustic. Glass can be etched, beveled, leaded, frosted, stained, textured or tinted. Obscure glass is valued for transmitting light and maintaining privacy at the same time. Doors may have inserts in many shapes. Large glazed doors, often with sidelights and transoms, are currently very popular. Some doors are painted, some stained, and some have baked-in color.

By carefully selecting your entry door, you can create a welcoming appearance for your entire home, while adding value and energy savings at the same time.

In the case of Bosch and Takagi, the answer is, pathetically, “Not much.” These companies, both with historically-stellar reputations for quality and service, have allowed the quality of their products and the value of their word to– pardon the pun– tank.

As a green-certified design + build firm, we have championed the installation of on-demand, aka “tankless” water heaters, since 2006. Unlike traditional water heaters, where a volume of water is continuously heated thermodynamically in a tank, tankless water heaters heat water only when the system is triggered such as when a faucet is turned on, a toilet A selection of antique water heaters is flushed or a washing machine is started. Bosch was the first brand of on-demand water heaters we installed.

A selection of antique water heaters

After experiencing problems with a number of the heaters, including one installed in our home– malfunctions such as repetitive days of ice-cold showers at 6:00 am after the unit worked properly the night before; error codes not listed in the service manual for which we were told, “It’s impossible, it just couldn’t happen,” and (this would be humorous if it wasn’t so painful) when, on a customer site visit, a Bosch field engineer denied hearing the banging noise emanating from a unit until he called the home office and a customer service agent told him she could hear it over the phone, Bosch did nothing. They did not repair or replace their malfunctioning products and never called to follow-up. The truth is they have no warranty.

Ultimately, we decided that the units had to be replaced. After reviewing the available options, we made the decision to install on-demand water heaters made by Takagi. Our research indicated that they made quality products and what appeared to be responsive support and a great warranty. At our expense, we removed the Bosch water heaters, paid for their disposal, and installed the replacement Takagi units purchased at the homeowners’ expense. These units seemed to solve the problem and we continued to install them in new projects.

Over the holidays, one of our customers, an engineer with Failure Analysis, called to let us know that his water-heater was behaving erratically. The heat exchanger on his year-old Takagi had started to leak and then failed. He and his family were without hot water for 1_ weeks. Takagi said that the reason the unit failed was not a manufacturing defect, but calcium build-up and that a scale prevention device (water softener) should have been installed to prevent this. Because we did not install one, the warranty was void. However, the installation instructions do not call for one. In the manual, in very small print on a separate page, you find in areas of hard water (not the case in Mountain View) a scale prevention device must be installed.

We called Takagi; spoke to them at length, asked them to test the water hardness (they did not) asked them to stand by their product if their directions were wrong and were told that corporate would not authorize the replacement. Close to 50 emails later, our client was able to convince Takagi that they should honor their warranty and replace the unit. The Takagi replacement process is slow, time consuming, and, get this, you have to pay for the replacement unit until Takagi confirms that the problem was due to a manufacturing defect.

A selection of antique water heaters

We now recommend that a scale prevention device be installed, regardless of water hardness, to prevent calcium build up and assure that manufacturers will honor their own warranty. While no one enjoys maintenance chores, the Housepure Secure water heater scale prevention device is compact and easy-to maintain- the cartridges need to be replaced once a year or when the gauge indicates. We will continue to research the performance of the various brands of on-demand water heaters in the literature and the real-time experiences of other contractors and report our findings in an upcoming issue.

You probably think of your kitchen as the room in your home where energy-efficiency really matters. However, your laundry room can also be a big guzzler of energy and water. The laundry room shown here is from the zero-energy Concept Home 2011 by BUILDER magazine with Martha Stewart. This show home demonstrates ideas that may be incorporated into a remodeling project, as well as a new home. Just a few of the ideas include:

  1. Choose Energy and Water Efficient Appliances

    Look for ENERGY STAR® qualified appliances to ensure they meet government standards. This helps conserve natural resources and saves you money on utility bills. For example, the Whirlpool efficient Duet washer installed in this laundry room can use up to 77% less water and 81% less energy over traditional top-load washers.

  2. Bring In Natural Light

    Use a tubular skylight to bring natural daylight into a windowless room. This helps decrease the use of electric lights, thereby decreasing your electric bill. A tubular skylight is thin enough to fit between roof rafters or trusses and ceiling joints. This interior windowless laundry room benefits from the addition of a VELUX Sun Tunnel skylight.

  3. Use a Ventilation Fan

    Install an ENERGY STAR® qualified ventilation fan to remove excess moisture from your laundry room while adding very little to your utility bill. The laundering process releases humidity into the room that must be properly ventilated or mold and mildew problems could result. The energy-efficient Broan-NuTone fan in the Concept Home laundry room costs approximately $1 per year to operate.

  4. Select Low-flow Faucets

    A WaterSense™ labeled low-flow faucet can provide the experience of a strong water flow, while cutting back on water usage. The utility sink in the Concept Home is fitted with a low-flow faucet by Kohler, which can deliver up to 45% water savings over traditional 2.75 gpm faucets. Sink water is also filtered and redistributed for outside irrigation.

  5. Provide On-demand Solar Hot Water

    Instead of a traditional tank water heater, the Concept Home runs on an on-demand hot water recirculation system. Water is heated by rooftop solar panels and then stored in an 80-gallon thermal tank. When demanded, the hot water is circulated through a loop under the slab to the required outlet.


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