The Most In-Demand Outdoor Living Features

When designing and furnishing an outdoor room, help customers sort through their options.

A struggling economy isn’t stopping homeowners from transforming their backyard patios into fully furnished outdoor rooms, complete with propane-fueled kitchen appliances, dining areas, and open-air home theater systems.

A May survey by the American Society of Landscape Architects found that outdoor living features are as popular as ever. The centerpiece of nearly every outdoor room is a grill, rated by 97.4 percent of the landscape architects who responded to the Residential Landscape Architecture Trends survey as “in demand” this year. Not far behind are fireplaces or fire pits, at 95.8 percent, and lighting features, at 93.1 percent. Pools and spas — often available with propane heaters — also rank high on the list, along with other water features, such as waterfalls and bubblers.

And while the traditional focus of the landscape architect’s business is gardens and landscaped spaces, the survey shows that outdoor living spaces, such as kitchens and entertainment spaces, are requested from these pros almost as often.

“It starts with the grill,” Shreveport, La., remodeler Jeb Breithaupt of Jeb Design/Build says. “Everyone wants the grill and the smoker.”

But while many homeowners clamor for outdoor kitchens, they may not know the extent of the options available. Larry Smith, a marketing manager for grill manufacturer Danver, says that the only reason many homeowners hold back when it comes to bedecking their outdoor rooms is that they don’t know enough about the array of high-powered grills, fireplaces, fire pits, pizza ovens, and other cooking appliances designed for safe outdoor use and storage.

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Preparing for New Furnace Efficiency Rules

A U.S. Department of Energy mandate set to take effect in less than a year will affect the minimum efficiency for residential furnaces sold in the northern half of the country. To prepare for the changes, construction professionals should make sure they understand the impact of the ruling on the types of products and installation techniques that will be available for their projects.

“Space heating is, by and large, the largest end-use load in residential buildings,” James Lyons, a research engineer with Davidsonville, Md.-based research firm Newport Partners, says. “And you’re looking at a dramatic change in the standard equipment that goes in homes in the northern half of the U.S.”

Set to take effect in May 2013, the Energy Department’s direct final ruling mandates that all furnaces sold and installed in heating climates must be at least 90 percent efficient as measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency, or AFUE. Furnaces in this efficiency range are known as condensing furnaces. Because they extract 90 percent or more of the available heat from their combustion gases, the water vapor in those gases condenses into liquid water and must be managed and drained.

The ruling will have a significant impact in many markets around the country, according to Jim Lowell, a furnace product manager in the Residential Solutions division of Ingersoll Rand, maker of Trane furnaces. While high-efficiency furnaces are relatively common in some northern regions, other areas, such as greater Chicago, have a large installed base of 80 percent efficient [noncondensing] furnaces.

“If [they've] got a large number of homes that already have noncondensing furnaces and they take the path of least resistance, they’re going to stay with those noncondensing furnaces for the most part,” he says. “What’s going to happen next year is that’s an option that’s going to go away.”

The good news? Contractors affected by this law won’t see any products they’re not familiar with. Contractors in northern climates have likely already installed condensing furnaces, which require a condensate management system and vent through PVC piping instead of metal. For remodeling customers, however, replacing the obsolete venting in their home with a new venting system may add complexity to their project.

To help their customers understand the new rules, pros can highlight the advantages of high-efficiency furnaces, Lowell suggests. “The biggest part of the story is the efficiency that a consumer will get from a higher-efficiency product and the savings that they will get,” he says. “In many cases, they will find that they can get a payback within the life of the furnace, and consequently it’s a smart economic choice to upgrade to a more efficient furnace like this.”

A Comparative Study and Analysis of Residential Heating Systems, conducted by Newport Partners, analyzed 15 heating systems to compare metrics such as annual energy costs, CO2 emissions, and simple paybacks for higher first cost. The study found that a heating system with a 95-AFUE high-efficiency propane-fueled furnace is less expensive to install than heating oil, air source heat pump, and ground source heat pump alternatives. The high-efficiency propane-fueled furnace actually achieved a slightly lower first cost than the 78-AFUE standard-efficiency propane furnace because of its reduced venting costs. The high-efficiency furnace also saved $430 in annual energy costs compared with the standard-efficiency furnace, and propane furnaces produced 15 percent fewer CO2 emissions than oil systems of the same efficiency. To analyze the results in your own market, use the interactive Comparative Heating Map, below.

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Miami boat show to showcase world’s first propane outboard engine

Lehr, a manufacturer of green lawn-care equipment, will launch the world’s first propane autogas-powered outboard engine today at the Miami International Boat Show. “Propane is domestically produced. It’s cheaper. It’s not a marine pollutant. It can’t get into the water. It produces a small amount of hydrocarbon compared to gasoline. It doesn’t deplete the ozone,” said company CEO Bernardo Herzer. The Miami Herald (free registration) (2/16)

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Propane throughout the Home

Cooktops and ranges. Unlike electric units, which take time to heat up and cool down, instant gas heat gives you more precise temperature control and heat distribution. Choose from a wide variety of propane-fueled cooking appliances, including convection ovens, deep fryers, indoor griddles, and grill tops with sealed burners for easy cleaning.

Clothes dryers. A propane dryer dries clothes faster than an electric dryer, and the moist heat is gentler on fabrics. Propane dryers can even help relax wrinkles and static cling. Some models save up to 65 percent in costs over electric dryers.

Outdoor appliances. When you think about outdoors and propane, grilling may be the first thing that comes to mind. But with modern advances in flexible piping, you can easily extend the benefits of propane to a wide range of outdoor appliances, such as lighting, and patio, pool, or spa heaters — even outdoor refrigerators and hearths.

Generators. With a generator connected to your home’s propane supply, you can rest easy knowing that emergency power will be there at the flip of a switch. If you already have a gasoline-powered generator, a do-it-yourself conversion kit makes it easy for that unit to operate on propane — a safe, reliable energy source that won’t gum up an internal combustion engine.

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All-American energy, close to home

Nearly 90 percent of U.S. propane supplies are produced in the United States, making propane a truly domestic energy source. Propane is readily available in virtually any location. Qualified technicians are available to install underground or above-ground propane storage tanks and safely run all connections to household appliances. Whether you live in the mountains or by the sea, you can find a steady supply of clean, efficient propane close to home.

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Rinnai Financing

Just announced!  Now you can have all the comforts of a Rinnai system and pay for it later.  Rinnai is offering special financing to qualified customers.  You now can finance the complete job along with the installation of your Rinnai products.

Contact us and we can explain all the details to you.

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Propane and the Environment

Propane is an environmentally friendly fuel. It is an approved, alternative clean fuel listed in the 1990 Clean Air Act as well as in the National Energy Policy Act of 1992. Propane is one of the lightest, simplest hydrocarbons in existence, and as a result Is one of the cleanest burning of all alternative fuels.

New propane-fueled vehicles can meet the very tough Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle {ULEV) standards, and one model even meets the Super Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle {SULEV} standards.

Burning coal to generate electricity releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the atmosphere. Per pound of fuel burned, coal emits more than twice the amount of carbon dioxide as propane does. By using propane gas Instead of electricity, consumers can cut emissions and help preserve the environment.

Propane gas is nontoxic, so it’s not harmful to soil and water. Because propane does not endanger the environment, the placement of propane tanks either above or below ground is not regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency {EPA).  According to the EPA, much of the sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere, which produces acid rain is attributable to coal-fired, electricity-generating facilities. In contrast, neither the process by which propane is produced nor the combustion of propane gas produces significant acid rain contaminants.

Propane is one of the cleanest burning fuels, and it doesn’t strain the electric grid, so it reduces the risk of power outages.

Breathing propane gas is not harmful to humans. The sulfur odor is added for leak detection.

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