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Let’s talk toilets

Will your next toilet keep you flushed with satisfaction?
by Ron Rothenberg, HomeBase Real Estate,


I’ve been potty-talking lately as I’ve asked all the plumbers, contractors, home inspectors I meet about toilets. I talked to many neighbors about this topic, too, and found that more interest swirled around this subject than I would have imagined.

I was interested because we were replacing our tenants’ bathroom and our bathroom and were trying to get a handle on the bewildering array of toilet styles, valves, capacities and ratings.

I did find that most people are pleased with their newer toilets even if they were badly disappointed with their first generation low-flow toilets. If you have to flush your high-efficiency toilet twice each time, it’s no longer a high-efficiency toilet.

The good news is: Green toilets HAVE gotten a lot better.

The choices became clearer when I found that there was an almost unanimous consensus that the best toilets are made by a Japanese maker, Toto toilet.

Toto has the patent on an ingenious flush valve that flushes the water cyclonically, giving you both a good flush and keeping the walls of the bowl cleaner longer, even with toilets so water-efficient they only use 1.28 gallons per flush (gpf). Other toilet makers will soon be licensing their patent, but for now the best flush award belongs totally to Toto. Watch it flush once and you’ll be bowled over by the difference.

You will not find them at Home Depot or Lowe’s. You will find them at local and regional plumbing supply stores. We shopped at the showroom at Republic Plumbing Supply in Framingham has the whole line.

Toto doesn’t make much in the way of dual-flush toilets, but they do have a few good 1.28gpf toilets and the water use on that commode should be about the same as a 1.6gpf toilet with a dual-flush valve.

For our tenants’ unit, we got a Kohler Scout model from Home Depot. It’s not bad, and they claim it can flush a whole bucket of golf balls at one time. I’m hoping no one in my house will ever think of testing that claim, but I have since learned there is more to flushing than just the ability to flush bulky things.

The flush ratings of toilets aren’t as wonderfully useful as they sound, unless you regularly flush golf balls down the toilet. They are based solely on the amount of bulk a toilet can flush.

There are other things to consider, such as how clean the inside walls of the bowl will stay without additional cleaning.

When we put in a new bathroom last summer, we didn’t replace the 12 year-old toilet in our bathroom because we couldn’t find exactly the toilet of our dreams: a dual-flush with cyclonic flushing, etc., so we reused the old toilet, retrofitted for dual-flush, and it’s still a fine flusher.

As soon as toilet technology catches up with my desires and there’s a 1.28gpf, dual-flush, cyclonic toilet, I’ll be the first in line at the store to buy that commodious commode.

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Where are the awnings of yesteryear?

Where are the awnings of yesteryear?

Shade: nature’s own (almost free) energy saver

by Ron Rothenberg, Homebase Real Estate

“Awnings can directly affect energy use by simply blocking the sun. heat gain through windows is one of the main reasons why buildings need air conditioners… In some climates you can save 20 to 25% of your cooling energy just by using awnings.”John Carmody, Director, Center for Sustainable Building Research, University of Minnesota

When I was a boy in the 1960s, I can remember how swiftly each Springtime would transform most of the houses on my street: the snows would recede, the trees and bushes would fill in, and awnings would appear in front of many windows.

Each Spring we’d go through the awning ordeal: go up to the attic, get the heavy canvas awnings and their metal frames down. We’d take them out in the yard and wash them, pass them out the window and secure them to their posts, run the ropes through the grommets. We’d check to see that the vents were clear, so the awnings wouldn’t overheat.

In exchange for all that one-time work, you’d get a much cooler, shadier house all summer, without using air conditioning. If we had air conditioning, we would have saved a fortune on it.

Ironically, during the 1980’s when there were high tax credits for high-tech energy saving methods, people started to ignore the awnings. People started replacing their old windows and being concerned about solar-heat gain and heat loss through the windows, but they forgot how much more effectively your windows can lower your heating and cooling bill in tandem with low-tech awnings.

According to the Center for Sustainable Building Research at the University of Minnesota an awning can reduce solar gain (that’s heat added to the inside of your house by the sun) by 77% on west-facing windows, and up to 65% on south-facing windows. In the winter, when you want the solar heat, you just take those awnings off or roll them up.

The savings from awnings occur during peak usage hours, so you can get by with a smaller air conditioner than you would need otherwise. From a societal standpoint, utilities could get by with fewer and smaller generating plants if everyone would use awnings.

According to the report by the Center for Sustainable Building Research, the further north you go, the more energy can be saved by awnings. For a home in the Boston area, according to the Center’s tests, it took 855 kWh to cool their test houses without awnings. With awnings it took only 651 kWh to cool a house with approximately equal window orientation. For houses with mostly south and west facing windows the savings was more dramatic: it took 965 kWh to cool the house without awnings, 677 kWh to cool the house with awnings. That’s a 30% savings. You can reduce peak demand in a house with a mostly westward window orientation by as much as 40%.

You can read a summary of the report at:

or the entire report at:

When you’re thinking about new windows, or just trying to improve the energy performance of your old windows, consider getting attractive awnings for your home. They’ll improve the energy efficiency of your home far more than just new windows alone.

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How big is your boiler?

When it comes to efficiency, size does matter.

by Ron Rothenberg, HomeBase Real Estate

The heating systems in most homes I see are much too big for the job they have to do.

If you have a boiler that’s too large, it will cost you more throughout its shortened life.

Copyright: elenabsl / 123RF Stock Photo

You’ll throw more up-front money at your heating system AND it will have a shorter life because it will short-cycle more than it should. Short-cycling is when a boiler starts, uses all its extra capacity to catch up with heat demand and then stops. The too-big boiler is wasting its life starting and stopping rather than running efficiently. Running a smaller boiler for longer periods is actually more efficient.

Old boilers were oversized, and so many new boilers are oversized.    Installers use rules-of-thumb to size boilers,and they tend to overestimate. They are afraid of undersizing a boiler and getting that “my house is too cold” phone call next winter.

Of course, most won’t do the actual heat-loss calculations to ensure that you get the right size, it’s easier just to overestimate. The homeowner will probably never notice.

Hot-air furnaces tend to be even more oversized and that will make them inefficient and also noisier than the right-sized furnace.

The correct way to size any heating plant is to use the Manual J Load calculation.   Getting an installer to do this generally requires at least an act of Congress, but it’s just an arithmetical calculation that closely approximates your home’s heating loss on one of the coldest days of your winter, based on your floor space, ceiling height, number of windows, number of outside walls in a room, insulation and your climate, etc.


The calculations are actually simpler than they sound, and you can get help from your computer – try a web based calculator at or a program you can buy for $49 at HVAC-Calc Software.

Whether you do it or the installer does it, you shouldn’t get a new boiler without having someone do a load calculation.

Don’t forget that some day you may be using your heating plant to heat your domestic hot water, too, so be sure to figure that in.

My house came with a 135,000 BTU/hour boiler – that was first sized 80 years ago when the house was built, when there was no insulation in the walls, no thermal windows, very little insulation in the attic, and oil cost very little.

When I went to replace it, various plumbers wanted to put in boilers from 125,000 BTUH – 170,000BTUH which seemed too big, considering that the 135,000 BTUH boiler had been doing the job for so long, even before most of our energy improvements.

I eventually got a 105,000BTUH boiler – that’s probably a bit more capacity then we need now, but I plan to add an indirect water heater to that system soon, and have the boiler heat our domestic hot water, too.

Size does matter, and I’m always surprised at how little homeowners and installers thought about right-sizing their heating plant.  


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Shower me with warmth only

I’ve had a new energy-saving device for over a year, and I love it, and it has more than paid for itself a few times over, and it only cost me  $20.00 at the Mass Save store website.

It’s an Evolve showerhead, and it saves energy and  solves the problem of how to get a warm/hot shower without wasting water.  If you’re not a qualified Mass Save customer, you can get the showerhead through other outlets, at a higher price.

You turn the shower on, and it runs until the valve senses that the water is 95 degrees F. Then the flow slows to a trickle – with a distinctive sound that you can hear. Once it starts trickling you get in the shower, pull the cord, and you get a nice, warm shower. No guesswork or waste involved. You will have to show your guests how to use the shower, though.

MassSave has several models available for NSTAR and National Grid electric customers on their website.

There are three variations:  one is a valve that  goes between the shower pipe and your current showerhead – that’s only $11.00 or so. The other is just a showerhead, the third is a showerhead with an extension hose. That last one is only about $20. It’s very attractive: it looks better than my old showerhead. So far, it works flawlessly, but that’s only based on about four years of service.

Now, I’m off to take a nice warm shower.

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Send me free money Utility Company, OK?

And who couldn’t use some of that?

by Ron Rothenberg, Homebase Real Estate


I love rebates. I even love filling out rebate forms. I love saving money. I especially love receiving checks and gift cards.


Right now, I’ve got a $715 gift card burning a hole in my pocket. I got it from the gas company for converting one of my heating systems from oil to gas. The rebate is for a gas boiler they sold to me at a discount already.


Pretty soon I’ll have a $400 rebate card for replacing my traditional water heater with an indirect tank, that will last a lifetime, rather than need to be replaced every 10 years.

 All these things they’re stuffing my pockets for doing, are things that were worth doing anyway.

 I also see lots of homes with second refrigerators in their basements. That’s costly for a lot of reasons – usually they’re older, inefficient refrigerators, regularly adding $15-$30 per month to your energy bill. Refrigerators are the appliance in your house that uses the most electricity, and older (>10years old) refrigerators can use up to four times as much energy as newer ones.

 And usually, there’s nothing in the extra fridge, or maybe just a few cans of beer. Yes, I know you need an extra fridge for that big party every few years, but do you realize how much it’s costing you? Why not just get a bigger, more efficient refrigerator upstairs the next time you buy one?

 Right now (8/18), if you’re an Eversource customer, you can call 1-866-527-SAVE they’ll cart away your old watt-guzzling fridge, and give you a nice check or gift card for $50.  They’ll even give you a rebate of up to $200 when you buy a new energy-efficient fridge.

Almost makes me wish I had a second fridge.




National Grid incentives:

For Homeowners (updated September 1, 2018):

How much energy is your home wasting? Find out with a no-cost home energy assessment, which is the first step toward lowering your energy bills. This opportunity is available for homes with 1-to-4 units.You may qualify for 75% off approved insulation improvements. Plus, you may be eligible for no-cost targeted air sealing of drafty areas in your home. Insulation and air sealing may save you up to 20 percent on your heating and cooling bills each year.To get started, take this quick Online No-Cost Home Energy Assessment of your home. By completing the online survey, you’ll learn if your home is a good candidate for an in-home assessment. If your home is a good candidate, you will receive a call to schedule one.Or, if you’re ready to schedule your no-cost Home Energy Assessment today, please call 1-866-527-SAVE (7283).

Save $50 on ENERGY STAR certified electric clothes dryers.

ENERGY STAR® certified electric clothes dryers use 20 percent less energy than standard models. That translates to big savings on your energy bill. And you’ll save even more with a $50 rebate from National Grid. For a list of qualifying products, click here. Then apply for a rebate online or by mail.

Questions? Please call 1-800-662-9222.

Downloads:  Rebate Form (146.0 KB WWW)

Apply for 0 percent financing on insulation, heating, and other upgrades.

Customers who have a no-cost home energy assessment from National Grid can apply for a 0 percent loan to assist with the installation of qualified energy-efficient upgrades. Loans may be available for up to $25,000 with terms of up to 7 years on home improvements including:

  • Attic, wall, and basement insulation
  • High-efficiency heating systems and water heaters
  • Solar water heaters
  • ENERGY STAR® certified replacement windows
  • Central air conditioning systems
  • Central heat pumps
  • Mini-split heat pumps, and more!

To get started, call 1-866-527-7283 to schedule a no-cost home energy assessment. A representative will review the results of the assessment, let you know which improvements could be eligible for financing, and give you all the paperwork you need.

Save $40 on ENERGY STAR certified room air conditioners

ENERGY STAR® certified room air conditioners use 10% percent less energy than non-certified models. On average, efficient room air conditioners cost less than $70 per year to run. That translates to big savings on your energy bill. And you’ll save even more with a $40 rebate from National Grid.  For a list of qualifying products, click here.  Then download our rebate form to apply by mail, or apply online.

Questions?  Please call 1-800-662-9222.


For Renters:

Save up to $25 on a 7-day programmable thermostat.

Ideal for homes and apartments, 7-day programmable thermostats allow you to preset higher temperatures in the summer and lower temperatures in the winter when you’re away from home or asleep. As a result, they can lower your energy bill by up to $180 a year! National Grid offers a $25 rebate to help make this energy-saving equipment more affordable for you.

This rebate is available for customers who heat their homes with natural gas. Electric customers who heat their homes with oil or propane are also eligible. To apply, first purchase your thermostat, then mail in our rebate form or apply online.

Questions? Please call 1-800-232-0672.

Downloads:  Rebate Form (1.0 MB WWW)

Save up to $125 on a Wi-Fi thermostat.

Whether you’re on vacation or on the go, you can control your home’s temperature remotely from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop and save up to $180 a year in energy costs.

Purchase a Honeywell, ecobee, or Simple wireless enabled thermostat at a hardware store or have a contractor install one for you for a $125 rebate. Wireless thermostats from other manufacturers are eligible for a $100 rebate. Download our rebate form or apply online here.

Questions? Please call 1-800-232-0672.

Downloads:  Rebate Form (1.0 MB WWW)

Energy-efficient services for multifamily buildings.

Energy assessments can help your multifamily building work smarter.

National Grid offers on-site energy assessments to identify energy efficiency opportunities for buildings of five or more living units. Based on your assessment, you may be eligible for incentives on insulation, heating and cooling, lighting, appliances and more.

Call 1-800-594-7277 to learn more, or if you are a resident, ask your building owner or property manager to call us or visit this site.

Properties with more than 5 dwelling units owned or operated by a non-profit entity or public housing authority may be eligible through the Income-Eligible Multifamily Retrofit Program. For more information, visit or call 1-617-348-6425.

Programs to help you manage your energy expenses.

Do you need assistance? We’re here to help.

If you are an income-eligible resident of Massachusetts, we can help you manage your energy costs. Based on your income level and household size, you may be eligible for programs that offer fuel assistance, utility discount rates, and energy efficiency services. Energy efficiency opportunities may include:

  • Adding attic, wall, and/or basement insulation at no cost
  • Evaluation of your existing refrigerator, clothes washer, and other appliances if applicable to see if they are eligible for a rebate or replacement
  • Evaluation of your existing heating boiler or furnace to see if it may be eligible for a rebate or replacement

To find out more, please call 1-866-537-7267. Or visit this webpage for more information and to see if your household is eligible.

Or, if you are a property owner of a multifamily facility with five or more units and 50% of your residents are income eligible, you may qualify for our Income-Eligible Multifamily Retrofit Program. This makes existing buildings more energy efficient and can provide savings for both owners and tenants.

Savings by the gallon.

Get special discounted pricing on energy-saving low-flow showerheads. Enjoy up to $15 off through our online store.

Simple changes to your shower equipment can save you up to $145 in energy costs a year, per showerhead! Energy efficient showerheads can regulate flow, conserve water, and reduce water heating costs.

Purchase online at a discounted price and start saving now.

For Landlords: