4 “Invisible” Items That Can Affect Your Utility Bills

It’s easy to assume that you can govern your energy and water expenditures purely by using household appliances and fixtures sparingly. But there are a great many other factors that come into play as well, some of which occur well out of range of your watchful eye. Here are four household components that may be undermining your efforts to control your utility bills.

1. Plumbing Weaknesses

As long as your showers and sinks seem to run normally, you probably give little thought to the mass of plumbing pipes running invisibly through your walls and under your front lawn to the street. But these pipes can fail slowly, one tiny leak at a time — not enough to create a noticeable drop in water volume, but enough to waste significant amounts of the stuff over time, raising your water bill in the process.

fixing plumbing

  • Have your plumber inspect your underground sewer line every year, especially early in the year when new tree roots threaten to damage the pipes. A fiber optic cable threaded inside the pipe can send video images of any hairline cracks or breaks.
  • If you live in a house with relatively old plumbing, ask your plumber to inspect the pipes behind the walls, replacing any lengths or joints that display leaks.

2. Electronics on Standby

No matter how vigilant you are about switching off electronic gear when no one is using it, you may be burning all kinds of extra wattage in this items 24 hours a day. That’s because most electronic components, such as DVD players, game consoles, TVs, receivers, and computers, never stop drawing power as long as they’re plugged into a functioning outlet.

The amount of “invisible” power these components waste while in standby mode can vary wildly — from a single watt all the way up to 50 watts for some items.

To minimize the trickle of excess electricity, unplug any electronic item you rarely use or won’t be needing for a while. Be aware, however, that you may have to re-set the clocks on these devices when you plug them back in.

3. Inadequate Insulation

What kind of insulation does your home have, and how thoroughly was it distributed when the home was built? Many homeowners never bother to glance at their attic insulation or wonder what they have lining their walls.

A variety of insulation materials are commonly used in home construction, including mineral wool, fiberglass, cellulose, natural fibers and polystyrene — each of which has its own R-value (a measure of insulating power). Ask a contractor whether the type of insulation in your home is sufficient for your needs.

insulation

If you need different or additional insulation, you can have new material placed right on top of the existing insulation. Insulation typically comes in rolls, batts, solid boards, or loose-fill materials that are blown or pumped through a machine onto the roof or wall surfaces.

4. Hidden HVAC Problems

Your central air conditioning may keep your home reasonably cool, but how hard is it working to achieve that effect?

  • If the HVAC has a dirty air filter, it may be expending more electricity than it normally would to draw air through it via the fan. This not only boosts your energy bill, but over time it will also wear out the HVAC motor.

dirty filter

  • If your HVAC system is low on refrigerant, the fan may blow constantly in a futile effort to get the temperature down to the desired thermostat setting. Have your service technician check the refrigerant level and top it off if necessary.

cheking refrigerant

Don’t let this assortment of invisible enemies create all-too-evident problems for your budget. Check each of them out — you may find some major opportunities to cut your long-term utility costs!

How To Cut Building Material Costs Without Sacrificing Quality

If you are a contractor who frequently builds new or remodeled homes for individuals, then you will likely meet quite a few people who do not want to spend a great deal of money on the construction. Labor and material costs are both expensive, but you do not want to reduce your own profits to meet the budgetary constraints of your customers. This means that you need to think of unique ways to reduce material expenses. Keep reading to learn how you can do this easily without allowing craftsmanship to suffer.

Invest in Recycled Concrete Materials

If you need to build a foundation or a walkway for a home, then you will need to use cement materials to create the concrete. Cement materials are generally considered cheap, but you will need a great deal of cement and aggregate material to form a solid structure. You can reduce these costs substantially by looking for recycled materials to use.

Contact a Demolition Business

Concrete materials are typically recycled after a home or building is demolished. Generally, the concrete is broken up into large pieces and it is transported to the recycling facility or to a new build location. The material is then crushed and cleaned so that the powder can be reused as cement to make new concrete. In some cases, the material is broken down into pebble sized pieces and the material is used as aggregate instead.

demolition company

Many demolition companies cut their costs by recycling concrete and you may be able to purchase some of the broken up materials before they are transported to the recycling business. These large or medium sized chunks of concrete make great pavers for walkways or other structures built around a home. Look for a demolition project in your town or city and see if the deconstruction contractors are willing to provide you with concrete pieces. If the business has already signed a recycling contract, then contact the recycler to see if solid concrete or crushed cement can be delivered to your work site.

Use Plywood Instead of Drywall

If you need to build the inside walls of a home, then you probably think that drywall is the best material to use. Unfortunately, drywall can be expensive and it can take some time to secure the seams and joints of the material to produce a clean and finished look. You can reduce both your material costs and labor costs by using wood instead of drywall. Wood materials are as thick and sturdy as drywall, but you do not have to worry about easily damaged materials and uneven seams.

plywood

Find the Right Wood

There are a wide variety of plywood and other types of wood materials that you can use to construct walls inside a home. If you want to use traditional materials, then consider purchasing oak or maple plywood that is either three-eighths or one-half of an inch thick. Look for large sheets of the material that are at least four feet by eight feet, so you will spend less time securing the materials to the walls.

If you want to reduce costs further, then consider buying wood materials that are not made out of solid pieces of wood.  Particle board,  strand board, fiberboard, and melamine are all good choices. Consider using thin boards that are one-quarter of an inch thick to reduce costs even further.

If you decide to use particle board materials, make sure to add several coats of paint to the wood afterwards to reduce the textured appearance of the material. You may also want to talk to the homeowner about hiring a painter who can apply faux painting techniques to transform the texture into an aesthetically pleasing surface.

types of wood

If you are a construction professional who builds homes for customers, then you might run into budgetary concerns if homeowners do not have a great deal of money to work with. This may cut into your profits, so consider using inexpensive materials that are just as strong and durable as the ones you typically use.

For more information about the building supplies available to you, make sure you go to sites of local building materials suppliers.

What Do You Need To Think About Before Installing A Solar System?

Solar panels are a big investment in your future. Installed properly, they can pay for themselves in less than a decade and continue to provide free power for another decade. This makes it seem like this would make their installation an easy decision, but there are several things you should look into before making the decision to proceed with the installation.

What Regulations and Tax Breaks Are Applicable to Your Situation?

Government regulations are going to affect your solar installation in two ways. Regulations about how and where you can install your panels might make it more difficult to install the panels.  On the other hand, tax breaks and rebates will help offset the initial cost of the panels and their installation. While your installer should be familiar with the local codes, it doesn’t hurt to have a look at them yourself.

In some communities, the local government will not be your biggest obstacle. Many homeowner’s associations have strict rules about what can be on your roof. If you don’t want to run afoul of this group, you should be proactive. Talk to them before you start the installation. See if you can get an exception or come to some sort of resolution. If you are still having difficulty, go to your state or local government. Some states are blocking HOA’s from preventing the installation of solar panels.

How Hard is it Going to Be to Get Panels on Your Roof?

Just because you have permission to install your panels does not mean it is going to be easy. You still need to get your electrical system adjusted to work with multiple power sources, and you need to install the brackets on the roof.

Dealing with the electrical issue is relatively simple—hire an electrician. They will install an inverter that will take the power from the panels and convert it into a form your home can use. If you want to be able to use the panels to charge a battery backup, then they will also need to put an automatic bypass into the system so that the power from your home does not leak back into the grid.

Most solar panel systems are designed to be installed on asphalt shingle roofs, and that is the system that installers will be most familiar with. If you have a tile or slate roof, you will need to purchase a mounting system that is designed for that style of roofing.

electrician checking solar panels

If you can’t find an installer with experience dealing with unusual roofing materials like slate, don’t worry. You should be able to find a roofing company that can assist in the installation. You will need to spend some extra money to get two sets of installers, but it is worth it if it keeps your solar installation from destroying your roof.

What Are the Rules of the Power Company’s Buyback Program?

Solar systems are most effective in the middle of the day, when the sun is at its brightest. The problem is, this is also the time of day where most people are away at work. You could put a large bank of batteries in your basement, but this is prohibitively expensive.

batteries for solar system

What most people do instead is to sell their excess power back to the grid during the day. At night, when the panels aren’t producing, they buy power from the electric company as normal. Most states mandate that power companies have some sort of program to support this, but not all. If excess power goes to waste during the day, it could seriously damage the breakeven point for your panels.

Before you even start putting solar panels on your roof there are quite a few things you need to consider. Since each of these items could result in your panels becoming a poor investment, skipping this step is certainly ill-advised.

Directional Drilling Safety – Reducing Vehicle And Worker Accidents

If you are a drilling contractor, then you may consider using directional drilling techniques to reach oil or natural gas encased in the earth. Directional drilling requires tracking and the precise drilling of numerous deep channels.  This means you will need to hire a relatively large crew of workers to help you. If drilling is completed near roadways or highly populated areas, then you will need to make sure your employees are properly protected from passing cars as well as equipment driven within the work zone.

Set Strict Workwear Regulations

If you have owned a drilling business for a number of years, then you probably supply your workers with reflective vests and brightly colored safety gear. If you purchase general use vests, then you may not be protecting your workers properly. Safety vests are actually rated and placed in different categories based on the types of activities or dangers the worker will face. In your work area, class 1 vests are required, because vehicles will likely not drive faster than 25 miles per hour around your workers.

safety vest

If you want better protection though, then invest in class 2 vests instead. These vests come in fluorescent colors like bright orange, yellow, or green.They fit over clothing or uniforms and you can find flame-resistant varieties for your workers who come close to hot drills. Make sure to find vests that feature six inch wide reflective strips across the front. This will help with visibility. Require your workers to wear their vests as soon as they enter your work site.

Carry out site inspection regurlarly 

Drilling sites must be inspected for any safety concerns through out the day to identify any safety concerns. Necessary actions must be done immediately to minimize risks of accident.

site inspection

Invest in an Exercise Program

Your employees are likely to work long hours. Early starts and late evenings may be common and this can lead to fatigue. Fatigue can be amplified by poor eating habits, excessive weight, and dehydration. Fatigue can cause poor concentration and reaction times, and this can lead to accidents. Offer water and coffee to your employees and also set up an exercise regimen instituted in the morning. Exercise increases blood flow to the brain to help it function better, and activity can help your employees lose weight, which will reduce long-term fatigue.

Starting a Good Program

Aerobic exercise is considered best to elevate the heart rate so that blood can flow more quickly through the body. This type of activity is also considered low impact, and this keeps muscle cramps and strains to a minimum. Fast walking is stress free as well, so set up a circular path around your work site so that employees can walk. Instruct individuals to swing their arms to help increase the heart rate during the activity. Ask employees to walk for 15 minutes or measure the path and make sure each individual walks about one mile each morning.

doing exercise

If you do not have a clear path to set up a walking space, then ask employees to complete basic exercises for 15 minutes. Jumping jacks, leg lifts, sit-ups, and squats are all good choices. If your workers are more physically fit, then add burpees, push ups, and jump roping to the routine.

If you have taken on a large directional drilling job, then you will need a support staff to help you. If it is your job to enforce safety on your work site, so follow the tips above to keep workers from being injured by vehicles around the work area.