• Gas Fireplace Innovations to Add Decorative Spark
    During these shut-in days of winter nothing warms the spirit like an indoor fireplace, and in 2011 consumers have an amazing choice of high-tech fireplace features and adaptable, energy-efficient technologies.

    SPARK Modern Fires, for example, is a company that first introduced the innovative "fire ribbon" gas fireplace a few years ago. Since then this kind of fireplace unit has created quite a sensation. A fire ribbon is basically a gorgeous fireplace that showcases the natural allure of flames dancing across beautiful stones or attractive glass. There are all kinds of colors, shapes, designs, and configurations to suit your individual taste and decorative personality.

    You may have seen these in movies or celebrity magazines because many of the sleek and contemporary styles are found the homes of the rich and famous. There are gas-fueled fireplaces enclosed on two sides by clear glass, for example, so that the fireplace acts as a room divider or wall and the sparkling fire can be viewed from either side. The feature adds a spacious and airy ambience - even in smaller condos or studio apartments.

    Others are installed so that a ribbon or linear band of flames is visible inside the wall or even in the middle of a table or counter top - where it creates a stunning and magical focal point.

    The exhaust vent to ensure safe operation can be run through any exterior wall or up through the roof, so the options for installation are plentiful and flexible. When using a direct vent fireplace you can install it with no need for either a chimney or hearth. There are also retrofit systems that can be installed in an existing masonry fireplace for those homeowners who used to burn wood and want a more energy efficient fuel. Or you can buy vent-free systems that work even without an exterior vent.

    Once you choose your unit you can further enhance the experience by selecting your own palette of colors of shimmering glass or organic stone. Some look like lava, others like glistening ice, and there are also those that resemble ocean pebbles, stained glass, or semi-precious jewels.

    So if you want to jazz up your home and make it more fun to stay inside during frigid weather - without raising your utility bills - consider the benefits and decorative possibilities of a new gas fireplace.

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  • New Year’s Resolutions that Help You Live a Greener Lifestyle
    Almost everyone makes vows in January to spend more time burning calories at the gym and saving money at the mall by avoiding those impulsive plastic-fueled shopping binges that max out credit cards. But one way to save money is to burn less energy at home, because that not only lowers monthly utility bills but it also helps you feel much better about lowering your carbon footprint to preserve our precious natural resources.

    The first place to start - which is also one of the most easy and affordable - is with caulking and insulation. Then make sure that all the light fixtures in the home use energy-saving compact fluorescent lighting bulbs (also known as CFL's), LED lights, or other types of non-incandescent bulbs that carry the Energy Star symbol.

    One interesting option that many homeowners are not aware of is that it is possible - and not that difficult - to transform a home that is exclusively powered by electricity over to natural gas. Most people believe that unless the home already has gas connections that this kind of retrofit is nearly impossible, but every year lots of homes make the switch and start enjoying the less expensive bills and other conveniences and comforts of a natural gas home.

    Your gas company will help guide you through the entire process and manage the logistics, and usually there are rebates and other financial incentives to help pay for the upgrade. To learn how it all works just call Washington Gas or visit the company's website for more details and information.

    Last but not least, exercise your green thumb by growing houseplants. Ask your local nursery to help you choose varieties that do well indoors but also like to be watered on a regular basis, because watering them is the key to hydrating your home - which in turn keeps your skin moisturized in winter. If the water you pour in a flower pot evaporates into the air that adds indoor humidity. But if the plant drinks it before it evaporates that works too. When the plant performs its magical photosynthesis it uses carbon dioxide and purifies the air in your home. So what's good for your plants is also good for you. It's a perfect example of how a greener lifestyle inspires nature to reciprocate and make our lives a little bit healthier.

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  • Ready for Energy Efficiency. Now What?
    So you've decided that creating a more energy efficient home is your task for the coming year. You're converting to natural gas. It's a worthy task, but one that can get complicated, so it's best to know the ins and outs of the process before you begin.

    Of course the first step is choosing the right gas appliances for your home, budget, and situation. There are various things to consider on this front, especially the annual fuel utilization (AFUE) rating of the appliance, which tells you how much heat is creates compared to how much it wastes. High-efficiency appliances cost more than lower-efficiency models, but the cost savings will make up for it.

    Once you're ready to go, check in with your gas company to determine if gas is available to your home. Next, choose a reputable HVAC contractor to do the installation. Have the contractor provide the proper paperwork to the gas company, which will probably include information such as the number, type, and BTU rating of the appliances you're installing; the gas pressure required; and distance between the street and the desired location of the meter.

    Determine the price tag, which, in addition to the price of the appliances and the contractor's services, may include some portion of the cost of installing a service line, meter, and regulator. If you must submit a contribution for the latter items, you will be able to agree to appropriate terms before payment is required.

    Once that's all settled, the gas company will obtain the required permits and easements. Next, the company's underground contractors will prepare to install gas service by marking public underground utilities. You must mark any private underground utilities like sprinkler systems and outdoor lighting systems. After gas service is in, the company will install your meter and your contractor will put in the interior piping and equipment and have it inspected.

    If you're located in the Washington, DC, area, you may be eligible to take advantage of Washington Gas's limited-time special offer: Receive $1,400 off the cost of converting to natural gas, with no interest and no payments for six months.

    Before you go, here's one final tip on the installation process: Make sure your contractor confirms with the gas company that your gas service is in fact in place before you rip out your old appliances. Otherwise you could be spending a few chilly nights at home.

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