How to lower the cost of electric water heating

This decision is an important one when building a new house: how can you manage the costs if you decide not to use a water heater fuel as natural gas or oil. If you decide that your house will have an electric water heater the increase in your monthly bills can drive you crazy, believe me.

Voltex® Hybrid Electric Heat Pump 80-Gallon Water Heater
Voltex Hybrid water heater tank (AO Smith)

First of all, you have to look for Energy Star systems, that can save you money because they have different functions. The Voltex® Hybrid Electric Heat Pump, for example (A.O.Smith) reduces water heating cost by up to 58% through an innovative design that pulls environmental heat while dehumidifying and cooling the ambient air at the same time.

It delivers good savings by generating heat through the heat pump technology instead of the heating elements. These tanks also offers user-friendly display, vacation mode to save money while you are away, and a heavy duty anode that protects your tank for 10 years. this model also has two heating elements that help the water heater recover quickly during periods of high demand. The tank has a 80-gal capacity, pretty nice number if you like to use your tub frequently.

If you are thinking about take advantage of the new solar panel credit program available by the government this can also help you in terms of electrical bill costs. Between financing and incentives, customers are usually cash-flow positive in their first year, and the system itself can be paid off after 3-5 years on average (depending on a lot of factors, of course – some some systems only break-even after 10 year, be aware of that).

Solar panels and energy bills: you can save a lot with them

Massachusetts has one of the strongest solar incentive programs in the country. In addition, federal tax credits and low-interest solar loans contribute to a positive cash flow. You can also sell some energy in the market, and have positive incomes that helps you decrease your bill expenses.


Foundation installed in 6 hours: time lapse video

Yesterday we installed the foundation of our home building in Clinton, MA. It will be a 2,500sf house, 4beds 3 baths with a finished basament, and one of the benefits for using the Superior Wall precast foundation is the concept of having all insulation features already installed.

In our project we preferred to use the X1 plus pannels, that generates an R-value of 21.3. The installation team did a great job, completing the installation of all panels in 6 hours (from 10am – 4pm).

The site work team there did a great support to compact the crane location – thanks again Phil Stenersen, and also Chris for the excavation work. From the Superior Wall by Weaver team thanks also to Joe, Garfield and Mitchell for the great job there – looks easier than portray seeing them working there. And also Nate West and Al Lunn for the office support during this whole process.

Great team work, that will keep the high-end quality representing our mission for every single Wise Home Building projects

Snow Loads on Roofs: take care of it

How much snow can a roof support? It depends on the way you design it.

Image result for roof with snow
Photo credit: click here

780 CMR Commercial Mass State Building Code Table 1604.11 provides snow load for roofs. The Ground Snow Load ranges from 45 lbs to 65 lbs per horizontal square foot depending on each community and the zone in which it is located. The Residential Code 5301.2(5) for 1 and 2 families’ ground snow ranges offer different values again depending on the community and zone of 25 lbs. to 50 lbs. per horizontal square foot. To determine the snow load for your specific community and zone refer to the chart.

A flat roof, gable roofs and roofs with multiple valleys and snow gathering points will vary the weight differential factors as will the number and type of roof coverings effect the value. First we have to presume that the structure has been constructed to sustain the minimum snow load requirements of the code.

The weight of snow/ice, not the depth, is critical in assessing a roof’s vulnerability. The water content of snow may range from 3% for very dry snow to 33% for wet, heavy snow to nearly 100% for ice. An inch of water depth weighs 5.2 psf. Thus, a roof designed to a carry a snow load of 20 lbs per horizontal square foot is expected to support nearly 12 inches of wet, heavy snow. If using the heaviest wet snow value for roof designed to sustain 40 psf of snow load then it can be viewed that it should be capable of supporting nearly 24″ inches of wet heavy snow. If the snow moisture content is less, the depth of snow for sustaining can be greater.

Please use this information as a tool to assist you . If you need more precise information please contact a structural engineer to measure your roof loads. Roof failures may not be solely attributed to built up snow, there may be other actions that occur that affect the roof structural stability and sustainability.


Septic system troubleshooting: the easy way to help you

Septic systems can represents a big problem for your house if they are not working properly. Here you have some practical rules to avoid bigger problems and also how to diagnose them early:

  1. Check the capacity of your septic tank: normally residential septic tanks range from 1,000 – 2,000 gallons, with the great majority of them being 1,500. So, they are easy to be filled up by liquid. A family of 4 people normally spend 150 gallons of water per day – so in 10 days your septic tank will be full, and the water will have to flow to the distribution box and then to the leach field. With no problems in the way a septic tank like this one here has to be drained every 18-24 months depending on your use
Image result for septic system
Diagram of a septic system (Photo credit: click here)

2. Don’t throw away solid waste in your sink / toilets: paper towel that are specific for septic tanks are available in the market, and you have to use just this type. If you have an in sink garbage disposal take care not to put meat and egg shelves on it. They can clog the filter in the tank.

3. If your grass are very green close to the septic access riser you probably have water from the sink in the ground – normally this is more visible during the spring and summer time, and it is a signal that the grass is being “fertilized” by the components of the waste material coming from the sink.

4. Toilet and drain backup – this is normally a late phase of a problem. Before that other signs were missed by yourself. Odor and liquid flushing near the riser is normally present before you notice a backup water in your sink or toilet. Call a service as soon as possible to pump your septic – they will also clean the filter, that is normally the problem if the septic system is a new one.

5. Distribution box problems: remember to check the trees close to the system. The tree roots could be blocking one or more pipes, or even the entire D-box sometimes. Remove roots and seal joints where roots entered if possible. Remember that an uneven D-box will not effect leach bed as severely, because water will find its own level through stone.


Solar energy: problems to be solved

During the last 5-10 years we are listening that solar will become the cheapest source to produce power in many countries. Unfortunately this is not the reality yet here in the USA, despite many states are trying to push hard the system. California, for example, is thinking about a law that will put an obligation for every new home to have a solar panel system to generate energy. I can image how home builders there are afraid of this proposal – and probably the price for customers there to buy a house will jump more.

Image result for solar panels
Photo credit:

I am a big believer in solar energy, and in my opinion this has to be a matter of study. Nevertheless the panels are still very expensive, and even with some government incentives it takes a lot of time to have your money back. In Massachusetts, depending on your house will be built, you just will have your money back in no less than 7-10 years, depending on the amount of panels you installed.

Gas continues to be the cheapest way to move in terms of energy, even in the New England region (where the prices are among one of the highest in the US). But I think that if you can afford the price it is worthy. I have them here in my home (12 panels) and for a house of more than 3,000 sf I pay no more than 150 dollars per month during the summer time. Also, every quarter, I have a deposit of 250 dollars in my account, because of the energy that can be sold in the market. But when I remember that I’ve paid of it around 18,000 dollars I also remember that the investment will take some time to break-even (around 8 years in my case).

As I mentioned I am a strong believer of solar panel energy, but I think the companies and the government has to continue to put efforts to find the best way to provide customers a more affordable price.

OSB and Plywood: importance for a house construction

Oriented strand board (better know as OSB) is one of the main materials used in parts of our house construction. It is a type of engineered wood, formed by adding special adhesives and then compressing many layers of wood strands, in specific orientation. OSB looks like (and is) a bunch of wood chips glued together.

APA panels with trademark
OSB panel (photo from APA website:

Many constructors talk a lot about the differences between OSB and plywood, another important product that can be used in sub floors and walls. Building codes typically use the phrase “wood structural panel” to describe the use of plywood and OSB. Codes recognize these two materials as the same. Likewise, APA the Engineered Wood Association, the agency responsible for approving more than 75% of the structural panels used in residential construction, treat OSB and plywood as equals in their published performance guidelines. And wood scientists agree that the structural performance of OSB and plywood are equivalent.

Nonetheless the composition of each material is different. Plywood is made from thin sheets of veneer that are cross-laminated and glued together with a hot-press. Imagine the raw log as a pencil being sharpened in a big pencil sharpener. The wood veneer is literally peeled from the log as it is spun. Resulting veneers have pure tangential grain orientation, since the slicing follows the growth rings of the log. Throughout the thickness of the panel, the grain of each layer is positioned in a perpendicular direction to the adjacent layer. There is always an odd number of layers in plywood panels so that the panel is balanced around its central axis. This strategy makes plywood stable and less likely to shrink, swell, cup or warp.

Related image
OSB production (Wikipedia photo)

In order to produce oriented strand-board logs are ground into thin wood strands. Dried strands are mixed with wax and adhesive, formed into thick mats, and then hot-pressed into panels. Don’t mistake OSB for chipboard or wafer-board. OSB is different. The strands in OSB are aligned. “Strand plies” are positioned as alternating layers that run perpendicular to each other. This structure mimics plywood. Wafer-board, a weaker and less-stiff cousin of OSB, is a homogeneous, random composition. OSB is engineered to have strength and stiffness equivalent to plywood.

Performance is similar in many ways, but there are differences in the service provided by osb and plywood. All wood products expand when they get wet. The Structural Board Association (SBA), a trade association that represents OSB manufacturers in North America, has issued a technical bulletin outlining a plan to prevent this phenomenon. SBA correctly indicates that dry storage, proper installation, adequate roof ventilation and application of a warm-side vapor barrier will help prevent roof ridging, for example.

For the majority of the sub floor applications, both plywood and OSB are fine. Take care if you are thinking about using OSB as a sub-floor for tile. For wall sheeting both are good materials, and different builders will have different preferences. We prefer the use of OSB.

OSB products are improving a lot. Many companies are now reaching an excellent level of manufacturing, and you can avoid the problems from the past because of the new techniques involved in the process. But, until now, the worst enemy for the wood will continue to be the same: moisture and wet climates always will represent a threat for your house if your builder do not control the water exposure during the building process.


Do we have a bubble in real estate market?

Many people are asking this question, and for me we are not in a situation like that. At least in New England. Normally a bubble happens when you have prices going up without the demand going up during the same time. This is not happening (yet).

Wise Home Buidling Home free photo builder

In a country perspective, some data released yesterday was and indication of some relief. After falling for two straight weeks, mortgage application volume rose 2.5 percent in the week of July 2nd (seasonally adjusted) compared to the previous week. The increase was driven entirely by purchase applications. But the total volume is 4.3 percent lower than a year ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, due to continuing weakness in loan refinancing.

For this year the average mortgage rate will be around 4-4.5 percent, but we expect that the number will be around 5% next year, and after this period we maybe expect some decrease in mortgage application. Because of prior regulations the banks are siting in a lot of cash now, and if we don’t have more houses in the market it can be a problem in the near future.

The strong economic growth is one of the responsible for that situation, fortunately. More jobs mean more money available for people to apply for a mortgage, but the home inventory available in the market is very low.

That’s the biggest problem we have now: the low inventory of houses in the market. But also we have the inflation of some important products for building. Prices are going up in a lot of sectors. Last week I talked to a well-known lumber vendor that told me some prices went up more than 30% since last year.

Economic cycles are normal, and up and downs are expected every 8 to 10 years. We are now approaching this time in the US economy. Let’s see what the future brings.