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10 Reasons to Heat your Walkway; No More Excuses

First, how a heated walkway works? 

The science behind the heated walkway is quite simple. A heating element is installed underneath the pavement to warm the surface above freezing to melt snow and ice. The heat is radiant so the pavement itself is heated by the heating element below. Heat placement is very accurate so energy usage is very efficient.

Driveway and walkway warm enough to melt snow as it falls

Driveway and walkway warm enough to melt snow as it falls

Can heat be added to your walkway? 

Yes. In fact it's easier than most people will believe. In most cases where the walkway is paved with paver bricks or stone, the walkway can be pulled up temporarily to install the heating element. Once the element is installed and tested the brick or stone can be relaid. With an average 30' walkway this process can be done in as quickly as two days. When the pavement is asphalt or concrete the existing pavement cannot be reused. 

Paver bricks laid over heating element

Paver bricks laid over heating element

Now to the real facts. Why every walkway should be heated.

1. No More Shoveling

When the surface temperature is kept above freezing, falling snow doesn't have a chance to accumulate. It melts right away. 

2. No More Slip n' Falls

If you've ever slipped on black ice and fallen, you know that you can't be too careful when it comes to ice. 

3. No More Salt/Mess

Ice melt products like rock salt and calcium chloride are harmful to your pets, landscape, drinking water and your home. Using less of these harsh elements will greatly benefit your family, home and our environment. Plus, you can forget racing to the hardware store to pay a premium for the last bag of rock salt ever again!

We all know what this looks like tracked into the house!

We all know what this looks like tracked into the house!

4. No More Snow Banks

Melting snow is so much more effective than piling the snow. As piles settle, melt and refreeze they last well into spring and a lot of times they're on the gardens we've waited all winter to see bloom. 

5. No More Damage

We all hate shoveling that first snowfall when the ground hasn't yet frozen. It never fails that the first scoop or two is more bark mulch than snow, which will need to be raked up in the spring.

6. No More Wasting Time with Clean Up

This goes without saying but it helps the list - if your driveway is plowed or snowblowed (or also heated), that process is pretty well mechanized/automated but shoveling the walkway is a "time suck." Just think about getting home from work to see that the walkways took care of themselves, essentially inviting you into your home. What a time savings!

7. No More Worries for the Handicapped or Elderly

We dread thinking about it but in the event of an emergency timing can be the difference between life and death. Emergency response personnel can plow through a snowy driveway but may struggle with the walkway if it hasn't been maintained. A clear walkway provides quick access for the EMT or assisted living scenarios. 

8. No More Down Time or Chiro Appts. 

Have you ever overdone it shoveling? What about shoveled all afternoon because the weather man just said another foot is expected to fall in the next 24 hours? You know how you feel for the next few days, slow and sore, right? You put off the gym in exchange for a visit to the chiropractor. How about, instead of days of rest you continue about your days as usual, completely unaffected by the snow piling up everywhere but your warm walkway.

9. No More Waste

A heated walkway draws electricity at a rate required to melt snow. If the walkway is set to maintain 35 degrees and during a snowstorm the ground temperature is 30 degrees, the walkway will only draw the electricity that it needs to bring the surface up the five degree difference. Then if the following day is sunny and the walkway surface temperature maintains a temperature above the set temp of 35 on it's own it won't draw any electricity. As an additional level of control, heated walkways are wired to a master switch that can override any automation.

10. No More Excuses

Commercial applications have been in operation for many years with great success. The technology for residential applications has only improved as well as become more cost effective. Now is the time to add this safe, intelligent improvement to your home. It is sure to add value to your home and regulate some of the unexpected costs winter weather brings with it.

Add the same radiant heat to your driveway and/or other paved surfaces...

Don't let a lack of preparation ruin your winter, you probably enjoyed it at one time. 


How to Insulate Your Windows with Shrink Wrap - the Best Money You'll Spend this Winter

Winter cold is back and if you have old windows it may seem like the wind is blowing right through them. 

Have you latched the window shut and still wonder why you can feel cold air or notice a candle flicker?

Have you latched the window shut and still wonder why you can feel cold air or notice a candle flicker?

  • Single Pane
  • Poorly Fitted
  • Poorly Sealed
  • Old Construction
  • Bad Seal

If your windows are any of the above you may think about an affordable, air tight solution that is - 

Shrink Wrap

The images below are an example of old single pain windows in a house that has become an apartment building. When these windows were installed they were intended to have an outer storm window installed for the winter months that would serve as a barrier against wind, and weather. By today's standards, even the original storm windows wouldn't serve their purpose as well as shrink wrap.

Last winter these windows were shrink wrapped and the tenant noticed an immediate difference in overall comfort and temperature in the apartment. Heat usage was decreased by more than 80% from one months heat bill to the next. 

It's Easy - Here's How

With simple tools like a scissors, knife and hair dryer you can have a standard window shrink wrapped before the next weather on the 1's comes on. 

  • Start with a clean, dry surface. In these images I use the window sill and inner frame so that the blinds can be used. An easy installation uses the outer window frame. 
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  • Apply the double sided tape to the window frame and sill. Cut as close to each corner as you can. 
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  • Remove backing paper. Tweezers or the scissors may help in finding a corner.
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  • Apply film slightly taut starting at the top then to the bottom and both sides (in a cross cross pattern). Stretch film and smooth out wrinkles as best you can. 
  • I found it easier to trim before shrinking however the instructions advise the opposite. Trimming before shrinking allows for any mistakes to be fixed before it's too late. Try both ways and see which works best for you.

It took me some time to figure out what all the numbers and symbols on the hair dryer meant. Every hair dryer is different but they definitely aren't meant to be a tool for the trades. 

  • Using high heat and low fan speed heat the film and watch it shrink. You'll notice that  the shrinking happens at what look like seams. Work along these seams.

The above image shows the film not quite taught but is a good example of the seams where the shrinking is happening the greatest. 

Two people can make short work of this process if one works on applying the tape and film and the other trims and shrinks. Once the hair dryer gets hot the film shrinks very quickly. Be aware that keeping the dryer still can melt the film. Always keep moving.

If you're wondering how it comes down in the spring...

Ta-Da!

  • Find a corner and pull. 

Sure it can be a fragile product but in most cases it will last the winter and come down easily when you're ready to let the fresh air in. 

Insulating your windows can prove effective in keeping your home warmer even if your windows are newer. Think for a minute about how your walls are insulated from the outside air. In most homes, even older homes with insulation, there is at least 4" of siding, wood, insulation and drywall. Your windows are mere fractions of an inch thick and consist of two panes of sealed glass filled with gas. Add a layer of plastic a few inches from the window and you slow the heat exchange or energy loss that much more. In short, even the best windows are likely the weakest link in your home's battle against the elements. A few dollars on shrink wrap could save hundreds on energy usage. It's natural for air to move in and out of your home, the key is to control or limit the heat loss as air moves through it. 

Cost 

In the case of this apartment with seven windows and a large slider the shrink wrap kits cost less than $15 and took about an hour. 

"Sure-Fire" Kindling

Whether you use fire starters, twigs or scrap wood this way to kindle a fire is sure to get you thinking.

If you read yesterday's post about efficient wood stove use you know I was going to give more detail about my proven kindling method. 

Start with Seasoned Wood

Seasoned, split pine kindling, when considering the alternatives, has proven for me to be the most cost effective, sustainable and hassle free way to start fires in both wood stoves and open fireplaces. I realize that this method relies heavily on access to pine firewood. 

  • Pine Firewood is often sold as "Camp Wood" by the bundle
  • A quick craigslist search is sure to turn up results too
  • Or do what I do and take down any unwanted pine trees and split it to dry for next year
Seasoned Pine Firewood

Seasoned Pine Firewood

Pictured above is about 25 cubic feet of coarsely split pine firewood that has been left to season for about twelve months. Pine seasons (dries) much quicker than hardwoods. This stack of firewood was processed for use in the backyard fire pit. What's left here will be used as kindling for fires inside. 

Split it

You can process your kindling with a maul, hatchet or splitting ax. Dry pine splits very easily (unless it's twisted and full of knots). A good system for manually splitting involves the use of both a blade or wedge and a heavy hammer or sledge. With the wood stood up or held firmly against a heavy object on the ground hold the ax or wedge against the wood with one hand and strike with the hammer in the other hand. Dry, straight grained wood should pop when split so a few short swings will do it. 

My process involves a hydraulic wood splitter. 

Making finer splits with the hydraulic wood splitter

Making finer splits with the hydraulic wood splitter

Smaller wood requires less energy to burn. The goal is to make small strips that will easily catch fire when lit over a bed of crumpled paper. 

  • Finely split hardwood can be used as kindling but it will take twice as long to catch and processing can be more challenging  

The key to successful firewood processing, whether it be kindling or cord wood is to handle the wood as little as possible. From the splitter the kindling should go directly into a wheelbarrow or barrel. The light porous nature of softwoods like pine give them characteristics like a sponge. Now that you've processed clean, dry kindling it would be a shame to leave it on the ground where it would surely draw moisture. 

Keep it Dry

25 cubic feet of pine firewood makes 4 full wheelbarrows of kindling

25 cubic feet of pine firewood makes 4 full wheelbarrows of kindling

Hurry up and get it inside!
  • You can leave your kindling outside but be sure to cover it tightly or store it under a cover. A damp day can put enough moisture in your kindling that starting a fire will take more time. 

Stack It

I wheel the kindling right over to an open cellar window and drop it in to be stacked. A neat, dry stack of kindling ensures a quick lighting, warm fire at a moments notice. Not quite as quick as cranking up the oil heat but a lot quicker than looking for dry sticks in the backyard and cheaper and cleaner than those nasty fire starter fuel bricks. 

Burn It and Enjoy It

Operating a Woodstove - Efficiently

Did your new house come with a woodstove? 

Check First

It's a little late now that the cold is upon us but every stove or fireplace should be thoroughly inspected and cleaned in the off season to ensure safe operation all winter. Nevertheless you need the heat so here's a list of things you can check today.

  • Using a strong flashlight, look inside the stove and if able, up the chimney (AKA stove pipe).
  • Look for blockages or heavy buildup of ashes, soot and or creosote. Use your best judgement - if you wouldn't be able to breathe through it, your fire probably won't either. 
  • Clean out what you can with a brush or whisk broom and dusk pan. Assuming the ash is cool sprinkle on your gardens as a fertilizer. 
  • Check the firebrick and hearth stones for cracks or missing pieces. The firebrick is a heat resistant stone that insulates the metal shell of the stove from unwanted stress due to heat. Eventually the firebrick will break down and need to be replaced. Cracks can occur from throwing heavy pieces of firewood against them. 
  • Clean glass, first try a wet rag, if ineffective go to glass cleaner - a very effective last resort should be oven cleaner. (Once we get your stove operating correctly it should burn clean and require less maintenance)
  • Make sure the door seals properly. The "dollar bill test" works well. 
    • Take a dollar bill or similar piece of paper. Dollar bills are less likely to rip than paper.
    • Place the bill in the door and close it.
    • Now pull the bill out from the door.
    • If it slides freely your door isn't sealing properly.
    • If it doesn't slide open the door, move to another spot, shut door and try again.
    • A good seal won't allow the dollar bill to slide out when you pull.
  • If your door seals properly your stove will work as it should and you will be able to control the burn rate with the air control valve and damper. 
  • If your door isn't sealing, don't use your stove until you replace your gaskets or adjust your door. 
  • Check around the stove to be sure there is at least a foot of space around the entire unit and no flammable materials or surfaces nearby. Stoves should be set upon a brick or stone floor with a similarly built wall to deflect heat and stray sparks. 
  • Once you're comfortable with your stove, open the door up, you're ready to burn!

Starting

Kindle fire with wood already added

Kindle fire with wood already added

Everyone has their own style of fire starting. You'll develop your own style if you haven't already. Much of it depends on how much time you have and what you have available for kindling wood. 

Kindling 

I split, dry and store my own wood which I cut from a small piece of woods in my backyard. Among the hardwood trees that I select for firewood I cut a few softwood trees like pine for kindling. I'll follow this post with a detail about that process as I'll be finishing up next years kindling pile this afternoon. 

I lay one piece of pine kindling in the stove towards the front parallel with the door opening. On top of that goes two pieces of kindling at either end laying perpendicular to make a U shape. Within the U I crumple a few pieces of newspaper or junk mail. On top of the paper pile goes more kindling perpendicular to the lower two pieces. As you can see we're building a small "cob" of kindling. I have my process whittled down to six pieces of pine about the diameter of a cucumber. 

  • There are many options for kindling; sticks, fire starter bricks, twisted up paper, cardboard or even a mix of all of the above. The key is dry! No matter what your kindling is, it needs to be dry. If this is your first year you can bet you'll have a better handle on kindling next year. I used scrap wood and wood flooring scrap as kindling my first season with the stoves. 

Light It! 

Be sure the damper is open and the air control is set fully open. Light the paper and allow time for the kindling to catch. 

  • Draft
    • There are a lot of contributors to how well or poor your chimney drafts. If you start the fire and smoke isn't immediately invited up the chimney your draft is likely poor and needs a little help. Open a window nearby to allow fresh air into the room that the fire will use to burn and feed the smoke up and out the chimney. If weather conditions or poor ventilation in your home make for poor draft, use this trick before starting your kindle fire.
      • Once your kindle fire is arranged and ready to be lit. Light a piece of paper in your hand and hold it above your fire and close to the chimney (with the damper open of course). 
      • The smoke from the burning paper should draw up the chimney indicating that you have a draft. 
      • If it doesn't, open a window or door and try again. 
      • Once you have a draft, Light It!

Once your kindle fire is burning on it's own, close the door down leaving a gap to allow air in. The fire will flicker and dance as it works to pull fresh air through the gap in the door. This is accelerating the burn getting us closer to a bed of embers when we can add fuel (firewood).

Firewood added in similar cob formation on top of embers from kindle fire

Firewood added in similar cob formation on top of embers from kindle fire

Once you have a bed of embers from your kindle fire you're ready to add wood. Pictured above is a mornings worth of fuel piled on a bed of embers. I start with smaller wood and each time I fill the stove add larger pieces. 

If you have time, encourage the fire before shutting the doors. 

If you have time, encourage the fire before shutting the doors. 

Using a bellows I may accelerate the fire once I add wood. Keep in mind that once you shut the door you'll be limiting the airflow to the fire. Shutting the door too early will make a smoky fire. 

Doors closed partially allowing air to be drawn in by the fire itself accelerating the burn

Doors closed partially allowing air to be drawn in by the fire itself accelerating the burn

Operating

Shut the Door

Now that the fire is burning evenly on it's own momentum it's time to seal it up. 

  • Close the door, don't latch it so tight that you'll need force to open it. Just seal it. 
  • Close the damper - if your stove have a two position damper (like mine) you have open or closed with no in between. If your stove have a damper on the pipe, don't close it all the way until you're sure you have a hot clean burning fire. Closing the damper helps keep the heat in the stove while allowing the smoke to draft out the chimney. Closing too tightly too early will smother the fire and possibly back drat your stove, filling the room with smoke. 
  • Regulate the burn rate with the air control. 
    • I elect to burn slowly, using the stove as a supplement to the conventional HVAC system in my home. Spend a week or so trying different burn rates to see what your home and stove require to heat efficiently. 
    • Allowing less air in the stove burns the wood slower making less heat. 
    • More air in the stove burn wood faster making more heat. 
    • Remember that more heat uses more fuel requiring more attention and higher costs.
  • Commit. Just like your cooking oven, the more you open the door the longer it takes to heat. Fill the stove completely and leave the door closed until it needs to be filled. 

Doors closed, air control fully open to build heat

Doors closed, air control fully open to build heat

Loading

Coals

Coals

I know that on an average winter day if I load the stove before breakfast it will need to be filled at lunch. The above picture still has plenty of heat left and could keep the house warm for another hour or so, but I elected to fill it.

  • Open the damper
  • Open the air control
  • Wait a moment for some of the heat and smoke to draft (you get a face full if you're too quick)
  • Open the door(s) slowly as ash or coals may fall 

With a poker, lay out your bed of embers to accept the next load of wood. Being the afternoon fire I'll be loading with larger wood. The coals have plenty of energy to ignite the larger wood quickly. Smaller wood may be burned up quicker than I want. 

Stoke it Up! 

Stoke it Up! 

Fill your entire stove. I like the cob or crisscross pile because I find the pile stays together longer and you can get more in the stove. I have three large pieces of maple on the bottom and various sizes of ash and maples on the top. This wood was cut three years ago, dried in a pile for a year and has been piled in the basement for a season - its dry! 

Reviving a Fire

If you haven't gotten home to see a hot bed of coals to begin your next load you might be able revive the fire with whats there anyway. 

  • Begin by adding small pieces of firewood or if you're skeptical, kindling
  • When you set the wood in the stove, stir up the coals a bit, hopefully you see some red
  • Using a bellows or strong breath begin to add air to the pile of wood
  • The damper, air control and door should be open
  • As the coals grow redder be prepared to add paper 
  • Smoke is a sign of the reaction starting, soon you'll have a flame so be ready
  • Once you have a flame you're happy with, add wood and close the door
  • Leave the damper open until the fire looks strong - operating the stove with the damper open allows air to move through the stove faster which is what a growing fire needs

Resume Normal Operation

Considerations

  • Blower or Fan to circulate the hot air throughout the room or to other rooms
    • Heat rises and the nature of a wood stove is to heat like a radiator sending heat out to it's immediate surrounding. You may struggle getting the heat to those rooms on the other side of the house without something to encourage air movement.
  • Humidifier
    • Wood stoves and fireplace pull moisture with their draft. You'll notice your house getting drier and drier, eventually you'll see cracks in the paint and maybe even have joints separate. Some people complain of having their sinuses dry out. Monitor your homes moisture levels with a humidistat and implement a humidifier. 30 to 50% humidity is optimal. 
  • Wood Supply
    • All wood was once green and held moisture like sap and water. Wood can be dried in a number of ways, some more costly than other. For example kiln dried wood that is dried mechanically and quickly is sold at a premium due to the associated costs. Seasoned wood is cheaper in  that mother nature removes the moisture over time. Semi seasoned or "green" wood is cheapest but months from being usable fuel. 
    • Only store dry wood indoors unless accompanied by a dehumidifier to remove moisture from the air. 
    • Stack loose if you feel it needs more time to dry
    • Stack tight when ready to burn
    • Firewood will have some moisture or it would be dust. Moisture takes energy from the fire to evaporate the steam. Moist wood burns slow. A piece of wet wood won't ruin your day, in fact in a hot fire it may help slow things down. A pile of wet wood is better burned next year. 
    • Check out a similar post from January 2015 about firewood

Follow the above and you'll be operating your woodstove, effectively and heating your home efficiently

And as always feel free to take the information I've shared and create your own success. There's a lot of good information out there but nothing beats first hand experience. 

Good luck and enjoy!