Dear Ken: We have had lots of lightning strikes in our area, so I want to know about lightning rods. -Whitney
First, the odds of any one home being struck by lightning are infinitesimal – virtually zero. Even though a rod and cable system is not a panacea for every potential strike on or around your home, it does offer some peace of mind. A direct hit will still do damage, but the cables will direct the current flow quickly and directly back to the earth, where it wants to go anyway. That will minimize damage to the structure and help protect the people inside.
For non-direct hits, a good grounding system is vital. Most homes don't have a large enough copper wire leading from the electric panel to water piping and to a ground rod. Check with an electrician for the latest code requirements. Surge protectors also will help. You can install them on the electric, TV and phone lines coming into the house plus computers and other delicate – and expensive – electronic equipment.
Dear Ken: Would there be much cooling difference between an attic fan and a whole house fan? Also, what about energy rebates? -Bill
They both help, but I like the whole house fan better. It not only purges the day's heat from the attic, but it also lowers the temperature in the living space as well, as you draw in that cool evening air. The attic-only fan works mostly in the daytime during the hottest hours of the afternoon. It's thermostatically-controlled, but some folks disable that function and install a plain switch, so it can be run manually after sundown. It will, indeed, lower the interior attic space temperature, and that helps keep the bedrooms cooler so you can sleep.
Of course, as always, there are tradeoffs. The smaller attic fan simply hangs on the end wall blowing out a gable vent (although there are versions you mount under the sloped roof deck). The whole house fan requires framing changes in the roof truss system, and, perhaps, some sheetrock work and painting. But either one will lower your air conditioning costs and help make your nights more restful.
I'm not aware of any rebates available for these devices, but keep checking the websites of the state and federal Departments of Energy and your power provider.
Dear Ken: I have a 1968 boiler, and want to know if I should replace it to gain energy efficiency. It does work fine, but am I wasting money? –Pat
If it's chugging along like it has for more than 40 years, and isn't giving you any trouble, I would do some arithmetic before I ripped it out and replaced it. It's not economically justifiable to save energy regardless of the costs, unless your only motive is to save the planet – not your pocketbook.
Here's an example of what I mean: Suppose your heating bill is $150 a month for six months each year. And suppose you want to install a new $5,000 boiler to gain another 30 percent in efficiency (the minimum standard for new ones, around 80 percent; minus yours, which is in the neighborhood of 50 percent). That's a saving of about $270 a year. Divide that into $5,000 and you get 18.5 years before you start saving any money at all. Of course, that time will shorten up if gas prices start to climb again. If you plan on staying put for a long time, it could be worth it. But if you move, you won't have amortized the capital cost, and so the new buyer will get all the benefits (this same calculation applies to hot air furnaces, but their payback time will be less).
For now, keep your boiler in tiptop shape by having it looked at once a year, and insulate the hot feed pipes under house with Styrofoam, so they don't leak energy unnecessarily.
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 9 a.m. Saturday and is carried on KRDO, AM 1240 and FM 105.5. Visit www.aroundthehouse.com