Hi! from Randy at Inquiring Eye Home Inspections!

Introduction
The following is your bi-monthly newsletter. Each newsletter is written by me and addresses topics that are relevant in the homes we all work with on a daily basis. March’s newsletter contains two smaller articles, but both are on topics you may not have had any contact with as of yet.

One article addresses an item required in any home built since 2002, an “Arc Fault Circuit Breaker.” This circuit breaker is designed to help prevent electrical fires caused by “electricity arcing” in wiring in homes. In 2002 they were required for all bedroom circuits. In 2008 that was further expanded to include all accessible receptacles in the rooms of a house. So, no matter whether you’re representing a listing or buying client, of a new home, this is a subject you should become more conversant in.

The second article is on “Tankless,” or on-demand hot water heaters. This is a component found in many European and Japanese homes but is a relative newcomer here in the United States. This hot water generation system provides hot water without the need for a reservoir or “back-up” storage tank, to provide an ample supply of hot water of a home. The article also discusses some cons of the system as well.

Enjoy your reading and again if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to call or email me back. Topics of interest are also appreciated.  

Arc Fault Circuit Breakers

Over 40,000 fires are caused by arcing and sparking every year because of damaged household electrical wiring. These arc-related fires can create sparks and temperatures that approach 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. These fires claim over 350 lives annually and injure many more. With recent technology, many of these fires are now preventable. A device identified in the 1999 National Electric Code called an Arc Fault Circuit Breaker is designed to provide this added protection from unsafe wiring conditions. When unwanted arcing occurs, it generates high temperatures that can ignite combustible items such as wood, paper, cloth and carpets. This electrical arcing can occur in damaged or inadequately insulated wires or cords. Potential damage may occur when the older wire insulation has deteriorated or grown thin by bending, stressing, the lines or the build up of excess heat. Other causes include; puncturing the wire insulation when home owners hang pictures, or electricians piercing the cable when securing the wiring to framing, poorly installed outlets and switches, appliance cords caught in doors or under furniture, when household furniture is pushed against plugs in outlets, or when electrical cords are exposed to excessive amounts of heat from home heating systems and sunlight.

 


An Arc Fault Breaker responds differently than the typical circuit breaker in an electrical panel. A conventional breaker “faults” or responds to overload conditions or short circuits. An AFCI is selective in that it protects against conditions that produce erratic current flow. An AFCI continuously monitors current flow and is able to sense between normal and unwanted arcing conditions. When an unnatural condition is detected, the control circuitry trips the internal contacts, de-energizing the circuit, (shutting off the power). Arc Fault breakers are a portion of conventional circuit breakers – serve a dual purpose- combining traditional overload and short circuit protection as well as arc fault protection. An Arc Fault should not occur during normal arcing conditions, which can occur when a switch is opened, (turned on), or when you see an arc when a plug is pulled from a receptacle. It should be noted that AFCI’s will detect most, but not all, arcing conditions.

As of January 1, 2002 AFCI’s were required in all outlets for bedrooms in new residential construction. This area of the home was first identified as the source of many electrical arc related fires. As of the NEC Code for 2008 Arc Fault Breakers are required for all non GFCI outlets within a residential dwelling. Arc Fault breakers should also be strongly considered for use in older homes where the electrical wire insulation has the potential to be compromised or the wire insulation does not meet today’s heat resistance standards.

AFCIs vs. GFCIs

The AFCI should not be confused with the GFCI or ground fault circuit interrupter. The GFCI is designed to protect individuals from severe or fatal electric shock caused by contact with water while the errant electricity is seeking a ground source (through a person). The AFCI protects against fires caused by arcing faults. The GFCI also can protect against some electrical fires by detecting arcing and other faults to ground but cannot detect hazardous across-the-line arcing faults that can cause fires.
 
Tankless Hot Water Heaters

Here in the Northeastern United States, we use a variety of methods to heat our potable hot water for use in showers, dishwashers and clothes washers. The most common residential hot water heating systems are a direct fired oil, gas, or electric storage tank-type water heater. Other methods may be an indirect fired hot water heater, or tankless coil hot water systems. Both of these systems rely on a gas or oil fired boiler to provide the heat for warming the water.

No matter which method you use for heating hot water, these systems can account for upwards of 30 % of your total energy consumption. These traditional storage tank methods or boiler heated hot water systems provide a reservoir of hot water to be constantly heated for later consumption. These systems all rely on aquastats (thermostats designed for use in water) to maintain the hot water at a predetermined temperature. As a result 10 to 20 % of the energy used to heat hot water can be consumed in maintaining that constant temperature in your storage system. This ability to have a constant reservoir of hot water is called “standby losses.”

However, in Europe and Japan, many residences use a tankless (no storage tank present) hot water heating system. These hot water heating systems are called “on demand” hot water heaters. Here in the United States, tankless water heaters are a relatively new phenomenon and just starting to gain popularity. Because they have been popular overseas for so much longer, the top brands of tankless units are from Europe and Japan.

Tankless water heaters are compact heating units that provide hot water as it is needed, and have no storage tank present. These tankless systems come in two varieties; a whole house unit that is designed to provide hot water for the entire house, from a central location, or a point of use system that has less capacity and is designed to heat enough hot water for use at one or two fixtures. Tankless water heaters are available in natural gas, propane and electric models. Tankless water heaters are rated by the maximum flow rate at which a desired temperature rise is met. They are available in a variety of capacities providing a hot water flow rate of between 2 to 5 gallons per minute. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. Either a gas burner or an electric element heats the water.
 

In general, gas tankless heaters have larger capacities to deliver hot water than their electric counterparts, and are the most common fuel supply source. Remember, natural gas must be available in the street to be able to utilize it as a fuel. Propane would provide a natural gas alternative. Gas tankless water heaters, use high-powered burners to quickly heat water as it runs through a heat exchanger. Natural gas and propane units also need proper venting of the combustion bi-products which will add additional cost to there installation, or may not be viable under certain styles of construction.

Electric tankless water heaters do not heat water as quickly as natural gas, which usually makes them ill-suited to be used as a central water heater as a primary source. Electric tankless water heaters require a high electric power draw. As a result, the electric service from the street to the house should be evaluated to guarantee that the service is of sufficient quantity (size) to handle all of the house’s electrical needs.

Other considerations:
Manufacturers of tankless water heaters are fond of proclaiming their products’ ability to provide an endless amount of hot water, but surveys of users complain of inconsistent water temperatures. Nor do tankless water heaters deliver hot water instantaneously. It takes time to heat the water to the target temperature, and just like storage water heaters any cold water that has been standing in the pipes needs to be drained, or used, from the pipes first before hot water will be received.

Whole house “on demand” units are really only optimal for smaller houses or households where the occupants have staggered schedules and there is a staggered demand for hot water. Bathtubs may need to be filled slowly if the heater cannot keep up with the hot water demand.

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