Calculating Radiant Infloor Operating Costs, Water Heater vs Boiler

My Radiant infloor system uses RAUPANEL which delivers 32BTU's per square foot at 110 degree water.

I am looking to upgrade my radiant heating system from a water heater to a boiler and I wanted to get a rough idea on the estimated fuel usage so I could narrow in on how much if any money I would save from this upgrade.

Right off the bat let me say I do not encourage in any way shape or form running radiant in floor off a water heater. The only reason I am doing it currently is because my heating load is so small and I could not afford to install a boiler at the time. A typical boiler install can easily run you $5-$9k depending on what boiler you choose so using my water heater to heat the small zone of radiant in my home made sense. Its worth noting that hooking radiant infloor up directly to your domestic hot water heater can make you sick, damage your water heater and just plain cause you grief. So if you do not know how to do it the right way,  don’t! Call an expert!

NOTE: Although I am sharing the math on how I do the calculations I will move quickly so if you have questions or if I am not overly clear on the math leave me a comment

To figure out the cost of operation, my first step was to do a heat loss / heat gain calculation. Using some free software, I was able to calculate my heating load to be 10,400 BTUS for the area in my home being heated by radiant infloor. Now that I have this information we can use a slick little formula to calculate the estimated fuel usage and from there I can calculate my cost to heat it based off local fuel rates. The formula is as follows;

EFU = (Heating Load x 24 x DD x CF) / (AFUE x Q x DTD)

This formula translates to

Estimated Fuel Usage = ( Heating load X 24 x Heating Degree Days X Heating Degree Days Fuel Correction Factor ) / ( AFUE X BTU Content of Fuel X The Design Temp )

As noted earlier I am heating with a water heater currently so I needed to get the AFUE of it with some math. Based off of a 90 degree rise in water from ‘city water temp’ to ‘heated water temp’, an input rating of 36,000 BTUS and the gallons per hour recovery rate of 30.5 ( both numbers are on the side of your water heater ) the AFUE of my water heater is 63.3% ( calculate your own with this tool )

Another critical element is the BTU’s you get from the fuel you get. For reference here is the BTU content of fuel for the most common fuel types;

  • Fuel Oil = 138,500 BTU per gallon
  • Gas = 100,000 BTU per therm
  • Propane = 92,000 BTU / gallon
  • Electricity = 3,413 BTU / kw

I heat with Natural gas so I get 100,000 BTU per therm of gas. Lastly, I went and snagged my degree day data which translates to the number of heating days between October and April that number is 7566. You can get the number here for your own location

My Design temp in my home is 70 degree indoor and the design outdoor temp for my area is -2 so that makes my heating Design Temperature 72.  Now our formula looks like this;

EFU = ( 5,400 BTUS X 24 X 7566 X .640 ) / .633 X 100,000 X 72 )

Which becomes this once we do the multiplication / division;

EFU = ( 627,554,304 ) / 45,57,600 ) = 137.69 therms

I now know that my estimated fuel usage to heat my living room is 137.9 therms. This is fine, but my gas company does not bill me in therms they bill me in cubic meters or m3. So I need to convert the therms to cubic meters and I did so using this online tool. This now tells me that in a year I will use 380 cubic meters of natural gas fuel every year to heat my living room radiant project.

Dollars and cents wise that works out to $106.20 a year including tax, delivery, etc. Now we have the fun part of looking at what would the cost be if I upgraded my water heater to a boiler. My boiler would have an average AFUE of 95% instead of 63.3% so my new formula would look like this;

EFU = ( 10,400 BTUS X 24 X 7566 X .640 ) / .95 X 100,000 X 72 )

Let’s break that down into a smaller number;

EFU = ( 627,554,304  ) / 6,840,000 ) = 91 therms

176 therms converted to m3 or cubic meters = 252 which makes my final heating bill with a condensing 95% efficient boiler $79.00

So my heating bill would drop from $106.00 to $79.00. That is an annual saving of $27 dollars. So how long would it take for my upgrade to pay for the condensing boiler? Well over 10 years keeping in mind that I have also not calculated any of the electrical costs associated with heating my home.

One key thing to make a note of here however is the fact that I am only heating one room in my house. If I was heating my entire home my heating requirements and fuel usage would be much higher.

Upgrading your gas water heater to a boiler will definitely save you money but do not look at it from the standpoint of ‘return on investment’. Do it for other reasons like reliability, durability and lower cost of operation in general.

I will be upgrading to a boiler as soon as I finish adding JAGA low temp radiators to the remaining floors in my home because my little water heater will not be able to do the job and it’s not exactly efficient using an appliance that is 63% efficient. If I want to go full bore I will go geothermal and install a Water to Water unit that will provide me with hot and chilled water so my JAGA radiators can provide cooling and heating.

ecobee3 Thermostat Displaying Wrong Temperature? Here is Why!

The ecobee 3 Smart Thermostat the coolest thermostat since the last cool thermostat? via ecobee.com

Ironically yesterday my wife and a reader had the same question on the exact same day prompting this really quick post about your ecobee3 and the temperature that it displays.

‘the ecobee is displaying the wrong room temperature no way is it 69 in here right now’

Of course my wife is NEVER wrong on anything, period and in this case she was also not wrong.

Yes the thermostat said 69 and it was not 69 in the room where my thermostat was installed it was actually a ridiculously warm 78. Is my ecobee3 broken? Is the ecobee3 flawed and reporting the wrong temperature? Is the ecobee3 installed in a really bad location?

No to all three.

The ecobee3 is doing exactly what it was designed to do because it has a remote temperature sensor attached to it installed in our bedroom. The bedroom sensor is also set as the control sensor so when I look at my thermostat it is actually displaying my bedroom temperature not the temperature in the rest of my house.

When I walk up to my thermostat it says 69 but it is in fact 78 and that makes perfectly good sense since in my settings I told the ecobee3 to use the bedroom temperature to control the ecobee. So my thermostat is overheating the home to try to heat a badly ducted bedroom.

Side Note: Clearly I do not want the rest of my house being 78 just so my bedroom can be 78 because that is just ridiculously warm. Remember that the ecobee sensors do not replace proper zoning nor does it correct poor furnace duct work which is my issue ( Read more on this topic : ecobee 3 Remote Sensor Fail )

The other option for the ecobee was to set it so that instead of it looking only at my Bedroom it will do the average between the bedroom and my main floor. That should make our bedroom more comfortable and also stop the crazy overheating that is happening right now.

Now my thermostat is typically reading 71 degrees. My upstairs bedroom is 67-69 degrees and my main floor is around 73 degrees on average. So again my thermostat is NOT showing the temperature at the stat it is showing the average temperature between the bedroom and the mainfloor where my thermostat is installed.

These settings are much more ideal but at times we are still a bit warmer then we would like to be so there is definitely more I can do. Normally the human body can not notice a difference of 2 degrees so ideally I want to try to get my ecobee3 sensors to read within 2 degrees of each other which is tricky since the sensors as cool as they are, do not have magic beans in them.  IE it wont replace zoning and can not overcome my horrible duct work which I consistently whine about.

Another thing I could look at is adding more sensors for more temperature averaging. One ecobee3 remote temperature sensor per floor to give a true operative mean temperature across all three floors. The ecobee3 wont try to heat to the worst condition it will simply average all three floors which would certainly work better then any other thermostat I have used.

Moral is simple. ecobee3 = best smart thermostat on the market. Use it right, know how it works and you will likely end up alot more comfortable then you were before.

Update: January 8ths 2013: As of a few days of running my thermostat using temperature averaging my home as a whole is much more comfortable. The mainfloor is 4 to 5 degrees warmer because of it but from a comfort standpoint its much better. 

5 Second Water Savings Tip for Your Home

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I love to blog about energy savings for around my home. Mainly because I am all about saving money. Recently I did a write up on a 5 minute project that can save you 5,000 Gallons of Water and fellow blogger YWWP posted a comment noting that he has an even easier water saving solution which I am calling the 5 second water saving tip.

His tip was simple. He writes quote;

one quick solution: All washbasins have a controller to water flow below it. It is always turned to full 100% water flow. If it is rotated little to reduce water flow to wash basin, it will save water.

He also did up a photo demonstrating how to do it which is not rocket science. Go under your sink, find the valve and turn it off slightly.  There is however a pretty big catch on whether this will work for you or not.

water-saving-wash-basin-water-flow-optimization-project

 

He notes in his comment that all sinks have this but unfortunately that is not true. In my own home of my 5 sinks only my kitchen sink has this. So I have no ability to do it in the rooms that count most, like my children’s bathroom where they waste so much water washing their hands for 3 hours at a time.

That said it is still a great tip and one you should do if you can. The only thing I would add is take the time to actually calculate how much water you are saving in your home. It is quite easy with a simple cup of water.

The steps I would do are as follows;

Measure the Water: With the tap in its normal full position fill a 1 cup measuring cup while TIMING it.

Do The Math : 1 Cup is 0.625 gallons of water. Divide that number into how long it took you to fill the cup. So if it took you 3 seconds its .625 divided by 3 seconds. Multiply that number by 60 seconds to figure out how many gallons of water you are using in a minute.

Make Your Adjustment: Make the valve adjustment above and repeat steps 1 and 2 and write down the number. Subtract the two and you now have your water savings.

Here is a quick hypothetical example.

  • I fill 1 cup of water in 3 seconds.
  • The Math is 0.626 divided by 3 seconds times 60 seconds = 12.52 gallons per minute

I now adjust my flow rate with the valve by 25% and my new numbers are;

  • I fill 1 cup of water in 7 seconds
  • The math is 0.626 divided by 7 seconds times 60 seconds = 5.35 gallons per minute.

If I subrtract those two nubmers I find that this 5 second fix is saving me 7.17 gallons per minute. Now please note I made up the amount of time it takes me to fill a cup just to give you an example of the math to do. You should not honestly have a sink that is putting out 12.52 gallons per minute unless your house was built in 1950.

Try the fix, do the math and figure out how much water this 5 second fix is going to save you. Thanks to YFWW for sharing it.

 

 

Adding a Character Count to WordPress Admin with JQuery

jquery update excerpt

Recently I was asked to add an excerpt count to the admin area of wordpress. Specifically we added a character count to the excerpt field as well as a bunch of custom fields. The goal of the project was to make sure that all the writing team for the site understood that 170 chars MINIMUM was required in the excerpt field as well as the custom field.s

The code to execute this project was quite simple to do. In the theme functions.php file I created a new function called excerpt_count that uses Jquery to count the characters in the excerpt field and update it on each keystroke change.

First step is we need to declare a document.ready function so that once the ‘Add Post’ in the wordpress admin is done loading it will fire our Jquery Function. So in our functions.php file in our current THEME folder we do it Like so;

function excerpt_count()
{
      echo '<script>jQuery(document).ready(function()
      {
	
      });
	</script>';
}

So now that we are telling the admin that we want to load a jQuery function once the page has loaded and is ready we need to tell it what to do. in this case we want to insert into the page a new field that auto updates as writers add content to the ‘excerpt’ field. That code looks like so;

function excerpt_count()
{
      echo '<script>jQuery(document).ready(function()
      {
       jQuery("#postexcerpt .handlediv").after("<div style=\"position:absolute;top:14px;right:50px;color:#FC0707;\">All excerpts must be 150 Chars Minimum. <strong style=\"color:#000\">( <name id=\"excount\">0</name> chars. )</strong></div>");
     		
	</script>';
}

The above code now waits for the page to load, tells the page to run our JQuery code that inserts into the page a note on the Excerpt length that looks like the photo below.

wordpress auto updating excerpt count

The next step is we need to make the number update. That is done by watching for keystroke changes and updating the excerpt length accordingly. We obviously only want to watch the excerpt field for changes not the entire page or as people type the article it would also change the number. So now we add a simple function that as the user types every time they lift their finger off a key it counts the value or length of the excerpt field and updates our new div ‘excount’.

function excerpt_count()
{
      echo '<script>jQuery(document).ready(function()
      {
			jQuery("#postexcerpt .handlediv").after("<div style=\"position:absolute;top:14px;right:50px;color:#FC0707;\">All excerpts must be 150 Chars Minimum. <strong style=\"color:#000\">( <name id=\"excount\">0</name> chars. )</strong></div>");
     		jQuery("#excerpt").keyup( function() 
     		{
     			jQuery("#excount").html(jQuery("#excerpt").val().length);
   	  		});
	  });
	</script>';
}

The final and most important step is to now tell WordPress where to call this function. In my case I am only using this on the Add New Post page. So we add one last line that tells it where to load the function. You could obviously put this also on the main posts list page, the edit page, wherever you want to edit excerpts. ( Something I will likely do ).

The final working code that goes into your themes functions.php file will look like so;

function excerpt_count()
{
      echo '<script>jQuery(document).ready(function()
      {
			jQuery("#postexcerpt .handlediv").after("<div style=\"position:absolute;top:14px;right:50px;color:#FC0707;\">All excerpts must be 150 Chars Minimum. <strong style=\"color:#000\">( <name id=\"excount\">0</name> chars. )</strong></div>");
     		jQuery("#excerpt").keyup( function() 
     		{
     			jQuery("#excount").html(jQuery("#excerpt").val().length);
   	  		});
	  });
	</script>';
}

add_action( 'admin_head-post.php', 'excerpt_count');
add_action( 'admin_head-post-new.php', 'excerpt_count');

$20 + 3 Minutes Low Cost Low Flow Toilet Conversion

How to Install HydroRight Dual Flow Toilet Adaptor

Low flow toilets are all the rage and the main reason is that they can save you water. In my own home I have three ‘porcelain thrones’ and started doing some investigating into replacing them with the dual flush low flow toilets in order to save me some water and in turn some moolah

Each toilet would cost me $289.99 if I bought them at Canadian Tire.  So converting three of these would cost me in total $867.00. Is it worth it? Well the first question is how much water and in turn money will I save by doing this.

I am all about being green but I also want to do it responsibly and intelligently. Find the least expensive and least cost prohibitive method to not only go green but save money! First step, lets figure out exactly how much water I would save from upgrading my toilets and spending $867.00

CMHC has a very nice writeup on low flow and dual flush toilets and they state quote;

Dual-flush toilets perform well in comparison to 6-litre and 13-litre toilets based on water consumption rates, saving an average of approximately 26 per cent more water than single-flush 6-litre toilets when used in replacement programs. Despite some complaints about bowl streaking, all survey respondents indicated they liked the dual-flush option. Caroma is currently investigating the bowl streaking issue.

So lets use their number of 26% water savings to figure out how much a low flow toilet could save me. Normally on the base of the toilet or inside the tank they stamp the water usage for the toilet but in my case it is missing. Since my house was built after 2000 I know that my toilet is using likely around 1.6GPF ( Gallons per flush ) because of building code standards that were implemented in 2009.This works out to be 2,920 gallons per year of water used just from flushing the toilet.

So for three toilets if we upgrade to a dual flush low flow toilet I could save 760 gallons of water per year. The math to calculate the water savings for my dual flush toilet is as follows;

2920 ( Annual WaterFlow ) * .26 ( 26% savings ) = 760 gallons of saved water.

In an earlier post where  I shared how to save 12,000 gallons of water per year I calculated my cost per gallon of water and it was $0.0159 cents PER gallon of water. So now lets calculate how much I can save every year;

750 gallons ( 26% in water savings ) * $0.016 ( cost of water per gallon ) = 12.00

Now lets do a quick look at the economics of installing a low flow toilet. I would need to spend $867.00 to upgrade all three of my toilets to save $36.00 a year. What is the return on investment? It is 24 years. Water conservation is great and all but I am not made of money and to invest almost $900 is a bit much when the return on investment is 24 years.

Fortunately with a little snooping around you can find an even better solution.

dual flush low toiletI bought  a Dual Flush HydoRight Toilet Converter Model HYR270 for $20.00 at Canadian Tire that comes with a 5 year warranty and requires no tools and literally only 5 minutes to install.

It offers me the same water savings as replacing my toilets at a fraction of the cost.

I did not install it on all three toilets in my home yet because I want to be sure it works and does not have any negative side effects.

The return on investment for this no tools, 5 minute installation is just over a year. The fact the product has a 5 year warranty just makes it an even easier choice. The system will have paid for itself 3 times over by the time the warranty runs out.

The way it works is quite simple as you can see from the photo below. You remove your existing flapper / chain and arm and replace it with the Hydroright. It literally just slides into your toilet and you tighten a tie wrap and voila. Complete. It has a flush for ‘liquids’ and a flush for ‘non liquids’ which as my photo below illustrates is why you save so much water.

How to Install HydroRight Dual Flow Toilet Adaptor

Below is a video for those who are not sure how to install it. The video is 3minutes long and illustrates just how easy it is to install this slick little water savings device.

Combating Solar Gain With An ecobee3

The ecobee 3 Smart Thermostat the coolest thermostat since the last cool thermostat? via ecobee.com
The ecobee 3 Smart Thermostat the coolest thermostat since the last cool thermostat? via ecobee.com

I last wrote about the new ecobee3 smart thermostat in an article titled ‘ecobee 3 Room Sensors Fail‘ and in it I took a deliberate swipe at people who are confusing the ecobee3 remote sensors as a zoning system.

ecobee 3 has marketed the remote sensors as a means to keep the rooms you live in more comfortable but some have taken that to mean it can heat rooms that are poorly ducted or suffer from an inadequate air conditioner or furnace.

The ecobee3 can not fix an over heated or an under heated room due to a poor system installation. Period.

It can however help with an age-old problem that has also been discussed before on this site, solar gain. In my home my ecobee3 is installed in my dining room and the room we spend most of our time in is our living room. The obstacle is two-fold. First off I could care less what the temperature in my dining room is since me and my family only go in that room 3 times a year for holidays. Secondly why is it dictating the temperature in my home?

The room we spend 70% of our day the living room is wall to wall glass and is heated with the REHAU RAUPanel system. So on the very sunny days this room becomes extremely hot but my thermostat in the dining room just keeps pumping heat into the room since it can not actually see the operative air temperature in my living room. Up until now I had no simple out of the box solution to fix this.

The ecobee 3 is my new simple solution.

Included with the thermostat is a wireless remote sensor which enables me to in under 10 seconds setup monitoring of a specific room in my house. The sensor not only monitors temperature but can tell occupancy.

By placing the ecobee 3 wireless remote sensor in the living room and setting it to average the temperatures between the remote sensor and my dining room thermostat I have a bit better control over the solar gain that is happening in the room. Even more significant because the sensor also has a motion detector built into it the device will turn my heating / cooling on or off whenever the room is occupied by me or my family.

This is a perfect use case for the remote sensor because I am not trying to overcome a heating or cooling system problem I am trying to solve an environmental issue of lots of sun over heating the room. Those of you who think you can make your back porch warm with a remote sensor need to leave well enough alone and hire a contractor but for those looking to combat solar gain or even make a well ducted room a bit warmer in the winter or cooler in the summer the ecobee 3 is for you.

The ecobee 3 comes with 1 free remote sensor and they also will sell you sensors in packs of two in case you decide to use them in other rooms.

Why I am Removing My Low Flow Shower Head

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Last weekend I decided to go green and install a low flow shower head in my master bedroom. It was an easy decision since the city supplied me with a low flow shower head at no charge. Unfortunately it has had less than impressive results on a front I did not expect.

This 5 minute project to install a low flow MOEN shower head  will save me $94.00 a year and on top of that it will save 2,993 gallons of water every year making me such a green fellow. You can read about all the math and how it works in my previous article.

I will be removing this MOEN low flow shower head for one simple reason, its horrible. The shower head drops our water flow from 2.5gpm to 1.5gpm and my wife complained almost immediately she was not able to wash her hair properly. Initially my response was ‘oh come on’ but after a week even I have had enough of it.

The lack of water pressure is making our normally ‘strong hot morning showers’, long,dreary and depressing hot showers. I compare it to a warm drizzle dripping down my back and it is frankly unbearable and depressing.

I am all for conserving and saving water but it is absolutely not the right choice when it causes issues with my wife and more importantly makes my nice hot morning shower a joke with a bad punch line.

The important thing to note here is that I am not giving up on water consumption I am just going to save water without the inconvenience of a miserable shower. After I install my 2.5gpm RAIN shower head this weekend I am going to install a Smart Plus Hot Water Pump which will save me 12,000 gallons of water per year and $194.00 a year which is over double the financial savings of my annoying Moen Shower head and six times the water savings.

The irony is that I did a writeup on the Taco Smart Pump months ago and instead of doing that I chose to do a shower head. Why? Great question let’s go back to the start. The shower head was free, it installs in literally 5minutes and saves significant water. Unfortunately for me it sucks which is why I am removing my low flow water head and will instead invest 1 hour in my mechanical room to a Smart pump installation.