Everything You Need To Know About Smart Thermostats

What is a smart thermostat?

A smart thermostat is an internet-connected thermostat that can be controlled remotely. The “smart” part of the thermostat is computer programming that learns how you use it, and adjusts to things like time of day and the seasons to be as energy efficient as possible..

Join the Internet of Things

By connecting your home’s climate control to the internet, smart thermostats like the popular Nest allow you to control your home’s heating and cooling from anywhere with a smartphone app.

Smart thermostats bring your home’s heating system to the internet age. Traditional home thermostats haven’t changed much since they were invented over a hundred years ago. They’re highly inefficient, leading to higher heating and cooling costs.

A smart thermostat learns the patterns of your home, including factors like sunrise and sunset, seasonal patterns, and even when the house is inhabited. This means it can effectively trigger your heat or A/C only when its really needed.

Older “programmable” thermostats can be set to imitate many features of a Smart Thermostat but proved too complicated to use. Government studies show that most homeowners have no program set on their home thermostat, making them less efficient than even the old mercury models.

Benefits of Switching to a Smart Thermostat

 

  • Save Money: Smart thermostats are the most efficient way to cool your home if you take advantage of their features. Nest Laboratories reported the average energy savings for users who enabled their Summer 2016 Seasonal Savings algorithm was 80%.

 

  • App control: The biggest problem with older energy-saving thermostats was their complicated settings process. Smart Thermostats are as easy as checking a Facebook post. User-friendly apps offer far more control over energy use than old thermostats.
  • Real-Time Energy Tracking: With old thermostats, there was no way to know how efficiently they were running until a bill came in. Smart units allow homeowners to see simple energy audits through the attached apps—no more expensive surprises.  

 

 

Smart Thermostat Features

    • Smart Scheduling Wizards: Apps for smartphones and PCs make it easy for homeowners to set a schedule and temperature preferences.
    • Learning Algorithms: Smart thermostats learn from the user. For example, many people turn their thermostat down a few degrees at night. A smart thermostat would notice that behavior and begin making the adjustment automatically after a few weeks.
    • Seasonal Adjustments: Smart thermostats will automatically adjust patterns of heating and cooling based on the change of the seasons
    • Occupancy Detection: Heating or cooling an empty house is a major reason for wasted energy and high power bills. Smart thermostats can learn when a house is usually occupied and act accordingly.

 

  • User Feedback: Most smart thermostats are designed to consistently provide the homeowner feedback, such as monthly reports on energy savings automatically sent to the homeowner’s email and suggestions for more efficient use.

 

  • Remote Control: Smart thermostats can be controlled from anywhere with an internet connection. Say you leave the AC running and leave on a road trip. With an old thermostat, you’ll come home to a painful electric bill. With a smart thermostat, you can easily turn it down or off—and if you forget, the thermostat will probably do it for you automatically!

 

 

Do smart thermostats really save money?

Yes, if you use it properly.

Nest, the leading manufacturer of smart thermostats reports that their average user saves $145 a year on heating and cooling. Other manufacturers are less open about their user data, but the average savings reported by real users is 10% to 20%, with the savings in heating costs being greater than that in A/C costs.

Tips to Save Money with A Smart Thermostat

 

  • Set reasonable temperatures. Keeping a house at 65°F in a heatwave or 78°F in a sub-zero blizzard is going to be expensive no matter what thermostat you use.

 

  • Seal drafty windows and doors.  If cold air is leaking out the door, you’re losing money. Smart thermostats also can’t close open windows.
  • Upgrade older A/C units. If your A/C unit is over 10 years old, you could save up to 40% on cooling costs by upgrading to a newer model. A smart thermostat will get the best performance out of a newer A/C unit.

 

 

Questions about Thermostat Installation?

The team at Prime Electrical Services are on call to answer any questions you may have about residential electrical work.

If you are considering upgrading to a smart thermostat, call 888-471-9083 or visit their website to schedule a consultation.


Why does my circuit breaker keep tripping?

Why does my circuit breaker keep tripping?

Circuit breakers are safety devices built into your home’s main service panel. When something goes wrong with your home’s circuits, they cut the flow of electricity to prevent a fire. This usually means lights out for part or all of your house.

 

The team at Prime Electrical Services has over 20 years of experience with residential wiring. Call us at (888)-471-9083 to schedule a consultation.

Here are some common reasons breakers trip:

Overloaded Circuits

Every circuit in your home has a limit to how much power it can safely draw. This power is measured in amps. Usually, half a dozen outlets will share a 15 to 20 amp circuit breaker.

Running electricity causes wires to heat up. If the circuit breaker didn’t trip when a 15 amp circuit tried to use more, the wires would keep heating up until something caught fire or melted.

So how easy is it to overload a circuit?

Surprisingly easy. A toaster can draw up to 9 amps. Many heavy kitchen gadgets like stand mixers and food processors can draw closer to 12 amps.

If your home is an older construction with 15 amp breakers, cooking a family meal or making cookies can easily use enough electricity to trip a single circuit.

The short-term solution to this is to be careful about how many appliances run at once. The long-term solution is to have an electrician either break your kitchen into multiple circuits or install a larger circuit breaker if your lines can safely handle it.

Overheated Appliances

When modern electrical motors break down, the circuits that run them usually just die. Older tools tend to be a bit more sturdy. An old Craftsman jigsaw won’t just burn out if the motor is dirty or damaged—it will keep drawing exponentially more amps until it either catches fire or a fuse blows in the tool.

Older fuses and circuit breakers can also be fairly unreliable. The old toy train under a Christmas tree may not look very dangerous, but the 1950s era transformers that run them have enough power to spot-weld a metal screwdriver to the tracks before their fuses blow.

On coffee pots and toasters, it is usually cheaper to replace them than to repair them.

Expensive tools and large appliances should be serviced if they’re overheating.

Either way, this is one of the most dangerous ways for a circuit to trip. Once an appliance starts overheating, it’s just a matter of time before the breaker doesn’t trip in time to stop a fire.  

Short Circuits

When a hot wire comes into contact with another hot wire, it creates a “short” that will instantly trip a working circuit breaker.

Usually, shorts are caused by damaged plugs and cords. Puppies chewing a lamp cord, vacuuming over a phone charger, and yanking plugs out of the wall like you’re Indiana Jones cracking a bullwhip can all strip the plastic casing on electrical plugs. Once this happens and two wires touch, there will be a dramatic short the next time its plugged in.

A short circuit can be recognized by the shower of sparks, and a small scorch mark on whatever outlet you tried to plug into.

If the cord is a standard detachable power cord, there is little point in repairing it. Toss the cord and get a new one at your local home improvement store.

If the cord is integral to your appliance, you will need an electrician to safely repair it.

Under no circumstances should you wrap a cracked electrical cord in black tape. That’s not a fix—it’s a recipe for a house fire.

Ground Faults

Ground faults are what happens when a live wire touches a grounding wire. Power surges where it shouldn’t go and a circuit breaker trips to cut the flow.

This can happen with damaged outlets, loose wires in a light fixture or ceiling fan, or damaged power cords.

A ground fault is a lot like a short circuit, but with fewer sparks and less chance for a fire. However, the problem is usually harder to identify. As with short circuits, only an electrician should try to repair this damage.

A Bad Breaker

Sometimes it seems like your breaker is tripping for no reason. There wasn’t any big appliance plugged in, no damaged wires are visible, and it seems like a gremlin is just playing tricks to ruin your day.

While it’s always possible the problem is a bad wire somewhere out of sight, this is most likely the case of a bad circuit breaker.

Breakers have a lifespan of around 40 years according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Homes built in the early 1980s are at the upper limits of their circuit breaker’s expected lifespan, and homes built before that are long overdue for new breakers.

While a breaker failing closed is just annoying, a breaker that fails open can easily cause a house fire. If you’re unsure of the condition of your circuit breakers, an electrician should be called in to look at your service panel.

Circuit breaker problems? Call an electrician!

Think of circuit breakers like a warning sign. If they’re tripping, something is going wrong with your home’s circuits. Like a check-engine light on your car, it’s time to call the professionals before something gets seriously damaged or catches fire.

The team at Prime Electrical Services has over 20 years of experience with residential wiring. Call them at (888)-471-9083 to schedule a consultation.


Why It’s a Good Idea to Upgrade to a 200 Amp Service Panel

Give Your Home An Electrifying Upgrade

What’s the capacity of your service panel?

Electrical panels are one of those things that just work until they don’t. Most homeowners know how to reset a circuit breaker that trips, but few people besides electricians give the industrial grey box in the garage or laundry room much thought until the lights go out.

Next time you’re near your service panel, take a look inside. There will be one large breaker separate from the others. It should be marked as 80 Amp or higher. This is the maximum capacity of your entire home’s electrical system, in amps.

Why do amps even matter?

Amps are a measure of how much electricity can flow through a circuit. Your home is divided into multiple circuits, which all meet at the service panel.

Both the individual circuits and the master service panel have a limit to how much electricity can flow through them before they overheat.

Circuit breakers in the main panel cut power to individual circuits if they start to draw more current than is safe.

But most older breaker panels can’t handle anywhere close to the sum of all your home circuits. So on an older breaker panel, when you plug in a hair dryer, a coffee pot, then somebody goes to make toast, it’s lights out. Too much power has been drawn from the whole system, even if no single circuit was overloaded. The culprit is a low capacity service panel.

Advantages of a 200 Amp Service Panel

Safety

An upgraded service panel can let your home electrical system use more power safely. Even if you aren’t tripping the breakers right now, a 100 amp panel in a modern home is running far too close to capacity to be safe for long term use.
As a rule, no electrical circuit should sustain loads of more than 80% the maximum capacity. The extra amperage capacity is a safety buffer electrical engineers build into home circuits so that a sudden power spike doesn’t dangerously overload wires and outlets.

This means that in a 100 amp system, you shouldn’t draw more than 80 amps. Out of this capacity, 15 to 20 amps will be used for home lighting. Another 20 amps will be used for an air conditioner or heater.

Before you’ve even turned a radio on, that’s halfway to your home’s safe capacity. Add a few computers , smartphone chargers, a television, and youre evening power draw will be easily over the safe limits of the system.

What happens then? A best case scenario is a breaker trips when the system hits the absolute limits of the system’s safe working capacity. In an older system, it’s also possible that an electrical fire could be sparked by an overloaded outlet or light fixture.

More Circuits

Even if your current system has a total capacity to meet your home’s needs, the individual circuits are often limited. Smaller service panels have less room for circuits, and those circuits are usually rated for lower amp draw than larger panels.

This can come in handy in a couple of ways.

By dividing your house into more circuits with less things attached, you can run more gadgets on the same electrical capacity.

This can really come in handy if you ever use power tools. Having your workshop split across two circuits can let you run larger tools, and if you ever work on projects with a friend or your kids, it can let you run multiple shop tools at once without overloading any circuits.

Room to Grow

If you’re considering any major home upgrades like a backyard pool  or a basement bar, upgrading to a 200 amp service panel will give your power to spare. It’s also a good starting point if you’re planning to upgrade your office or home theater, which can be major power sinks even with modern equipment.

Upgrade your service, not just your panel!

After your service panel is upgraded, there’s a step you can take to get even higher performance from your home electric system.

Just by upgrading to a 200 amp panel, you’ll be able to take full advantage of your 100 amp service without losing 20% to safety limits.

If you want even more power, most homes can be switched to higher amp service. This can give you a safe working capacity of 160 amps in your home, with a 40 amp reserve for high-draw situations like Christmas lights or an electric snowblower.

How much power do you need?

200 Amps is the minimum recommended service panel size in full size modern homes. Some situations will require significantly more. Larger homes or homes with a machine shop or car lift in the garage can require as many as 400 amps. It’s best to ask your electrician for advice on this, but this formula can give you a ballpark idea of what you need:

  1. Multiply your living space in square feet by 3. This is your lighting and electrical outlet needs (in watts)
  2. Add 1500 watts to that for each circuit that mainly runs appliances, like in laundry rooms and kitchens.
  3. Add the real wattage of any dedicated circuits, like air condtioners and pool pumps.
  4. Set aside the first 10,000 watts. Find 40% of what’s reamining, and add that to 10,000. This is how many watts your home will draw.
  5. Divide your calculated watts by 230. The quotient is how many amps your service panel must provide to safely meet your energy needs.

Now, remember what we said about 80%  being the maximum safe capacity. If you calculate a number higher than your current service panel, an upgrade is in order. But if that number is greater than 80% of your current panel’s maximum capacity, an upgrade will still be needed for safety purposes.

How can I upgrade my service panel DIY?

Step 1. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT!

Step 2. Call a professional electrician.

Changing an electrical service panel isn’t like changing a fuse or wiring a new ceiling fan. It’s extremely dangerous. The electrician will be working with amperages that can be lethal. There is no room for error here. A service panel that’s wired wrong can start an electrical fire, and a loose live wire could electrocute a homeowner.

If your attempt to do the work yourself without a licensed electrician and proper permits, your insurance is not likely to cover any future claims related to the service panel. You could also be held liable for property damages or injuries if your DIY work causes a fire.

Find a Local Electrician

The best option for upgrading your home’s service panel is to hire a local electrician.

If you’re in Philadelphia or South Jersey, consider giving Prime Electrical Services a call. With more than 20 years of experience as residential electricians, the team at Prime can provide quick, professional service. Call 888-471-9083 to make an appointment.


How Much Power Does A Ceiling Fan Use?

How Much Power Does a Ceiling Fan Use?

Ceiling fans are a popular and energy efficient way to cool a home. This guide will explain how to make sense of all the numbers and understand how much power ceiling fans can use.

Why Watts Matter

What all fans have in common are electric motors rated by watts. That’s how much power is used to run the fan.

Ceiling fans come in all shapes and sizes. The most common sizes are compact 23 in fans for small spaces, mid-size 44 in fans for average sized rooms, and large 52 in fans for larger rooms. Specialty fans can be ordered in even larger sizes.

We averaged the wattage of some popular fans sold by Home Depot and Lowes as a guide on what to expect. The results were surprising.

As it turns out, there is very little correlation between the blade size of a fan and ceiling fan wattage.

  • The smallest fans we looked at (23 inch) averaged 54 Watts at full speed.
  • The largest fans we looked at (52 inch) average 58 watts at full speed.

There is barely a four-watt difference between the smallest and largest residential fans.

At lower speeds, the large fans even outperform the small fans in energy efficiency!

  • The small fans used 16 watts at their lowest setting
  • The large fans used 9 watts at their lowest setting.

At low speeds, small fans use nearly 2 times as much energy as large fans do to keep you cool.

Smaller fans do not use less power!

If you’re deciding on a new fan, don’t think that putting a smaller fan up will save on your electric bill. It will cost almost as much to run the largest fans Home Depot sells as it does to run the smallest!

EnergyStar fans can save big on electricity–put they’re pricey.

The Environmental Protection Agency certifies high-efficiency appliances as Energy Star rated. They even list the most efficient fans they’ve certified.

Some of these fans are incredibly low-power, with many using less than 30 watts at full speed. The only downside is cost. At a base model price of over 500 dollars, super high-efficiency fans like the Haiku line are more of a design statement than a budget-saving option.

Don’t Forget the Light Bulbs

The lights on a fan can seem like an afterthought. Even the government thinks so–the EPA doesn’t consider how many watts a fan’s light draws on their EnergyGuide tags.

But people should think about how the lights in a fan will affect its energy efficiency. Incandescent bulbs will add 60 watts each.  If the fan accepts standard A19 sized light bulbs, the most power efficient bulbs are LED replacements. A “60 watt” replacement LED will draw around 9 watts, so you can swap out four bulbs and use less electricity than a single incandescent.

What does it actually cost to run a ceiling fan?

Fans can cost anywhere from $15 to $150 a year to operate. It all depends on how often you use your fan. You need to find how many kWh a fan uses first, then you can see what it costs to run.

How to find ceiling fan kWh

There’s a simple formula you can use to figure out exactly what a ceiling fan (or any other appliance) costs to run in a year. All you need is the fans’s watts and your actual cost of electricity in kilowatt hours.

  1. Multiply the fan’s max watts by the hours per day you run a fan.
  2. Now you need to convert this number to kilowatt hours. Simply divide your number from the previous step by 1000. Now you know how many kilowatt hours your appliance uses in a day.
  3. To find out how much power the fan uses, multiply by 30 to find out how much energy the fan uses each month.
  4. Finally multiply this by the cost of electricity. Now you know what it will cost to run the fan you’re looking at every month.

Shopping for fans? Check the EnergyGuide labels.

All ceiling fans sold in the United States for residential use are required to display an EnergyGuide label. Unfortunately, many online stores don’t put these labels on the product page.

These labels will tell you how much the fan costs to run a year using the average price of electricity. This is great for comparison shopping, so even if you plan to order a fan online, it’s a good idea to visit your local home improvement store.

You’ve found an energy efficient fan–get it installed!

With over 20 years of experience as Residential Electricians, the folks at Prime Electrical Services can professionally install a new fan where and how you want it. Visit their site or call 888-471-9083 to schedule an installation.

 


5 Causes of Power Surges and How to Protect Your Property

5 Causes of Power Surges and How to Protect Your Property

What exactly is a power surge?

At the simplest level, a power surge happens when the voltage in an electrical circuit spikes to a higher level than the circuit was designed to handle. A little bit of basic electrical theory will show why this is so dangerous.

The United States uses 120v AC for mains power. The AC stands for alternating current. This means the electricity moves in a sine wave pattern. The 120 volt label is actually an average, and the waves crest at 169 volts. Electrical systems, then, are built with the assumption that the voltage in the lines will never exceed 169 volts. Everything from the tiny printed circuits in computers to 20th Century electromechanical parts in radios and many older appliances are designed to safely operate within the assumption that the power from a wall outlet won’t exceed 170 volts.

When a surge of power exceeding the design goes through the system, the miniature wires and contacts in computers and televisions overheat and can literally fry computer chips in a puff of acrid smoke.

Larger-scale components like wall outlets can’t handle the surge either, since the surge of electricity will exceed what the wires can carry. Following the path of least resistance, the surge can cause arcs to nearby metal surfaces, short-circuiting appliances or even starting a fire.

What Causes Power Surges?

External Causes

Lightning Strikes

Electrical storms are a common and destructive cause of power surges. Lighting follows the path of least resistance–and that’s usually the power grid, designed to move electricity as efficiently as possible.

The glass insulators and inch-thick wires of an electrical substation can usually withstand an errant lightning bolt. Your home appliances aren’t so lucky. If a lightning bolt strikes the power lines near your house, millions of volts will temporarily surge through lines designed to carry 120. Unprotected circuits will be fried instantly.

Power Outages

Power going out with no warning can be dangerous in its own right to digital devices. But what usually does the most damage is when the power comes back on. Whether its a backup substation or an emergency generator kicking in, power comes back as a jolt before the sine wave evens out again. Delicate electronics are especially at risk.

Internal Causes

Air Conditioners

Have you ever noticed on hot summer evenings that the lights dim for a second when the A/C blower kicks in? That’s a power surge at work. While not as dramatic as lightning or a power outage, the same process is happening-the sudden demand for power causes a voltage drop, then followed by a surge while the system normalizes.

Power Tools

Shop tools like table saws and heavy lathes can cause surges just like air conditioners. If they trip a circuit breaker, they can cause a temporary power outage.

How to protect your home from power surges?

  • Unplug what you’re not using.

It’s a simple fact that a product can’t be hit by a power surge if its not plugged in to mains power. For sensitive and valuable equipment that isn’t frequently used, unplugging it is a cheap option. This won’t actually protect your electronics from power surges, but it will keep them from being exposed to power surges.   

  • Buy some surge protectors.

You can buy power strips or outlet covers that have built-in surge protection functions and circuit breakers. These are a good option when you only need a computer or a TV protected, but adding these to every outlet in a home would be prohibitively expensive and a bit of an eyesore. They’re only good for things on an outlet as well, so hardwired lighting and electronic equipment like in-wall speakers can’t be protected.

  • Get Whole Home Surge Protection

The best protection you can get against damaging surges, spikes, and overvoltage is a whole-home surge protector. It takes an electrician to professionally install these devices at your main service panel. These devices protect everything connected to your main breaker box, not just your outlets.

  • Upgrade Old Appliances

Power-hungry air conditioners and refrigerators won’t cause a dramatic overload like a lightning strike, but their continuous power surges can do more long term damage. If your fridge or A/C makes the lights dim when the compressor kicks over, it’s probably placing stress on the more delicate electronics of your home.

Do you have questions about surge protection or other home electrical issues?

The folks at Prime Electrical Services have over 20 years of experience as residential electricians. Whether you have questions about the best way to protect your home from overvoltage, are considering installing new electrical devices, or just want someone to check your home for vulnerabilities, they’re the team to call.