Q. In an old column, you advised a homeowner to install a thermal insulating blanket on his water heater to conserve energy. I strongly disagree for the following reasons:
• Manufacturers void their warranties if the labels on their water heaters are obscured.
• Modern water heaters are internally insulated. No significant energy is saved by adding a blanket. In fact, the cost to have a plumber install a thermal blanket is about $250. And tests show that the added blanket only saves an average of $8.35 per month.
The water heater in my home has no blanket, and the outer casing is not even warm to the touch. My stereo gets warmer than that, and with the $250 savings, I could buy a lot of CDs. Why should I waste my money on a worthless blanket?
A. On your first point, we are agreed. A thermal blanket should not cover the labels on the water heater. When installing a thermal blanket, there should be cutouts to provide access to the safety information and other specifications printed on the fixture casing. In this way, plumbers and others can obtain essential data, and the manufacturer's warranty will not be questioned.
Unblanketed water heaters, such as the one in your home, lose heat slowly but continuously, even though they are provided with internal insulation. The gradual dissipation of heat may not produce discernible warmth on the outer casing, but try this test: Install a thermal blanket on your water heater, wait several hours, and then place your hand between the blanket and the water heater. The considerable warmth you will feel is the energy that would have been gone with the wind.
As for the cost of a thermal blanket, any plumber who would charge $250 to install a $15 wrap should have to stand in the corner. And why would anyone need a licensed plumber to perform this small bit of unskilled labor? Instead, you can apply the blanket yourself in less than half an hour, with cutouts for the labels. Given the $8.35 monthly savings you specified, your initial investment would be recouped in less than two months. After that, you could buy an audio CD every two months with the continued savings.
Q. If I remove the ceramic logs from my fireplace and burn wood logs instead, is it safe to use the preinstalled gas log lighter?
A. The answer to your question depends upon the type of fireplace. Some gas log fireplaces are actually wood-burning fireplaces with gas logs installed. Other fireplaces are manufactured strictly as gas-burning fixtures.
When restoring a conventional wood-burning fireplace to wood log use, it is often necessary to replace the burner hardware. Some gas-log burners, and particularly the flex connectors, are not rated for direct exposure to fire. In those cases, all or portions of the gas hardware should be replaced.
With fireplaces specifically designed to function as gas-burning fixtures, wood burning would constitute a major fire hazard.
To ensure that a fireplace conversion is safe and legal, alterations should only be done by a qualified fireplace contractor or a certified chimney sweep.
• To write to Barry Stone, visit him on the web at www.housedetective.com, or write AMG, 1776 Jami Lee Court, Suite 218, San Luis Obispo, CA 94301.
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