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Could Renewables Be a Threat to Natural Gas?

Many homeowners use electricity as their primary source of power, however, there are some who turn to natural gas. Whether this choice is due to a preference or an availability, there are both pros and cons to using natural gas. Recently, our HVAC installation experts came across an article by Paulo Santos that discusses the rise of natural gas and the effect renewables could have on it. We thought we’d share:

“Commonly, I’d say most of us expect U.S. natural gas (UNG) to see increased usage over time. Coal is on its deathbed, nuclear power is seeing blowback since the Fukushima disaster, and U.S. natural gas seems perennially cheap. Adding these things together seems to indicate that, over time, we’ll see increased natural gas usage. This might/should push natural gas prices upward. To this, I would add that the development of LNG export facilities, like those built by Cheniere Energy (LNG), provide potential for increased natural gas demand.

Well, this all sounds good, but I am about to describe a risk that’s not as often considered. It’s a risk that looms pretty large, and whose materialization has already been seen elsewhere.

What Is This Risk?

The risk has a name: renewables. Renewable sources of energy, which are most often used to produce electricity, include things such as solar generation or wind generation. Why are renewables a risk? Let me explain:

Approximately 38.3% of the natural gas consumed in the U.S. is used to produce electricity. Residential plus commercial users consume ~30.1% of the natural gas, and their consumption has been rather stable over time. Industrial users consume ~31.5% of the natural gas, and while their usage has been growing recently due to cheap natural gas, it can be said to be stable over a longer time frame. As a result, demand for electricity generation has been responsible for all natural gas consumption growth in the U.S.

Now, it is this demand for electricity generation which is at risk. The risk comes from the fact that renewables (ex-hydroelectric) are growing quickly, and have gone from 7.1% of all power generation in 2014 to 9.5% in 2017 (ttm). This happened in the context of stable electricity generation. Electricity generation in the U.S. in 2017 (ttm) is lower than it was back in 2011.

Renewables (ex-hydroelectric) are often what’s called “must run.” That is, if solar or wind is generating power, the grid must take it. Someone else has to shut down. On the other hand, natural gas generation is most often both the “marginal producer” (the last to come in when prices are higher, the first to go out if they drop) and a flexible producer (one with the ability to ramp up and down quickly). As a result, added generation of the kind renewables offer mostly tends to displace natural gas generation. Therein lies the risk.

Compensating for this effect are, at times, political factors, such as a drive toward shutting down coal by subjecting it to more stringent emission rules. However, with the Trump administration this political drive isn’t there, and won’t be there for several years. The result, of course, is that as renewables grow through time, natural gas is, again, the prime victim. Also, in case you think this is fantasy, there is an actual precedent as the exact same thing happened in Europe.

Renewables’ development is further along in Europe compared to the U.S. But it should tend to catch up. As a result, the dynamics above might well be in out full force as we speak. Indeed, natural gas demand (ttm) for power generation has been heading down for a year or so already. There’s obviously the possibility that this was simply due to weather. Still, the inexorable growth in renewables generation is a fact, so even if it wasn’t structural this past year, it can turn structural at any time.

Conclusion

The growth in renewable power generation poses a direct threat to natural gas volumes and prices. As a result, this threat can impact natural gas E&P companies. This is because of the loss of volumes and pricing. It can also impact pipelines, which supply natural gas to the market. This is because of the loss of volumes and the increased risk from possible E&P failures.

This isn’t a merely theoretical threat. We’ve already seen its impact in Europe, where natural gas volumes fell a lot. Ultimately, pricing also fell a lot, and indeed has fallen below the cost of landed U.S. LNG. Right now, Europe is stabilizing on account of political action leading to the closure of nuclear and coal power plants. However, such political action does not seem likely right now in the U.S.”


28 Safety Tips for Your Labor Day

It’s time to get ready for the last vacation of the summer – that’s right, Labor Day is this weekend and whether you’re hosting a Labor Day party for family or friends or hitting the road for a road trip, there are several things you can do to stay safe:

Grilling Tips

  • Keep children and pets away from any type of open flame.
  • Position the grill so that it’s in a well-ventilated area and away from trees, bushes, the house, and anything else that can catch fire.
  • Always use long-handed utensils and wear protective, fire-resistant gear when grilling.
  • Follow the instructions in the grill’s owner’s manual.
  • Have a fire extinguisher ready to extinguish flames if they get out of control.
  • Never leave your grill unattended.

Electrical Tips

  • Don’t use electricity around water, including the pool, sprinklers, hot tub, etc.
  • Inspect your extension cords for frays or other damage before using them.
  • If you’re hosting a party, make sure your guests stay away from power lines or electrical transformers near your home.
  • Keep your power tools safely locked away in your garage or shed.

UV Tips

  • Always wear sunscreen with at least 30 SPF to protect your skin.
  • If you’re sensitive to sunburns, wear a hat and try your best to stay in the shade.
  • Stay hydrated – the sun can dehydrate you quickly.
  • Remember that UV rays bounce off of sand, concrete, and water.
  • If you do get burned, apply aloe to the burn on a regular basis.
  • Keep in mind the strongest UV index is between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Swimming Tips

  • Always swim with a buddy.
  • Check the weather before you decide to go in the pool, lake, or ocean.
  • Make sure children in or near the water are under supervision at all times and are nearby.
  • If you have a pool at your home, make sure it’s secured with barriers.
  • Never leave children unattended.
  • If it looks like rain, get out of the water as quickly as possible to avoid lightning strikes.

Road Trip Tips

  • Always have a first-aid kit and back-up food and water supplies in your trunk.
  • Before you leave, check your tire pressure and your fluids.
  • Never drive when you’re tired or if you’ve been drinking.
  • Make sure someone back home knows your destination, route, and itinerary.
  • Always wear your seatbelt.
  • Don’t text and drive. If you need to navigate, have a passenger do it for you.

Why OMS Is Great for Office Buildings

Get the Best

For more than 40 years, Oliver Mechanical Services has been offering HVAC and electrical services to the area’s office buildings to help make sure they run smoothly. We offer professional, factory-trained technicians and the latest materials and technologies to take care of all of your installation, repair, and maintenance needs.

Employee Production

When you run a business, one of the most important things you should do is keep your employees happy. When you have happy employees, you have hardworking employees, and much of the time that happiness comes from a comfortable work environment. After all – it’s hard to work well in a place that’s constantly too hot or too cold.

At Oliver Mechanical Services, we can make sure that your office environment is the right temperature all year round. We offer high-quality, energy-efficient HVAC systems that are designed to meet the needs of any size office building. With a new installation, we can help you save money on your monthly or quarterly energy bill and if your current system is in need of a repair, we can fix it quickly to get you back on track. We even offer custom-made ductwork that can help your HVAC system run at optimal efficiency.

Don’t let an old or inefficient HVAC system ruin your office building’s comfortability and hinder your employee work production. Contact us today to get things back to working well.

Electrical Issues

Office buildings have lots of different electrical needs, from telephone wiring services to computer hookups and more. If you’re in need of an electrical service, let our professionals take care of it. We can address virtually any electrical issue you may have – even if it’s as simple as a retro-fit lighting installation for your lobby, parking lot, cafeteria, or bathroom. We’ll take care of it quickly.


10 Fun Facts About the 2017 Solar Eclipse

What to Expect During the Event

As you’ve likely heard, we’re less than one week away from an iconic total solar eclipse. The event will happen Monday, August 21st beginning around 9 a.m. PDT in Oregon and ending around 2:50 p.m. EDT in South Carolina. Here are some fun facts about the big event:

One

The last total solar eclipse to span the length of the continental U.S. was on June 8, 1918, which means your parents and even your grandparents have likely never seen one.

Two

The eclipse’s “path of totality” refers to the exact path that the moon’s shadow creates over the Earth. It’s only in this path that you can see the sun completely covered by the moon.

Three

People in 14 different states will be in the path of totality: Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina.

Four

The moon will travel at various speeds (from 3,000 mph down to 1,500 mph) as it crosses the U.S. This means totality will last anywhere between 2 minutes and almost 3 minutes, depending on where you view it.

Five

Solar eclipses happen on average 1-2 times per year, but many don’t pass over populated areas.

Six

When the moon completely covers the sun, those in the path of totality will experience a darkness similar to dusk and will be able to see stars, the planet Venus, and the sun’s corona (the aura of plasma that surrounds it).

Seven

Only one major city will have a great view of the eclipse: Nashville, Tennessee.

Eight

The United States is the only country that will be lucky enough to experience totality (other countries will be able to see only a partial solar eclipse). The last time this happened was on January 11, 1880.

Nine

When totality occurs, animals will become confused and think it’s night time – birds will fall silent, spiders will take down their webs, crickets will chirp, bees and ants will return to their nests, and mosquitos will start biting.

Ten

Those of us in Pennsylvania aren’t lucky enough to be in the path of totality, but we’ll be able to see the moon covering 75%-80% of the sun.

Remember, never look directly at the sun during a solar eclipse. Even if the moon is covering part of it, it can still permanently damage your eyes. Make sure you have the right glasses if you want to look directly at the eclipse (sorry, sunglasses aren’t protective enough).


When to Clean Your Air Ducts

Enjoy Fresh Air on a Regular Basis

When it comes to air ducts, there’s no set amount of time you should leave between cleanings; duct cleaning should be done on an “as-needed” basis and in general, is good to do every couple years.

How dirty your ducts get depends on many factors including: your home’s location, the size of your home, how many people live there, if family members smoke, if you have pets, etc.

The warm or cool air that blows out through your vents travels around your home and picks up airborne particles like dust, dirt, dander, mold, pollen, allergens, tar and nicotine (if members of your family smoke cigarettes). The air is then pulled back into your HVAC system and is recirculated over and over. As these particles travel through your home’s ducts, some get trapped and build up. Over time, the traveling air picks these particles up and before you know it, you’re breathing in more and more particles that could harm your health.

By cleaning your home’s ductwork, you’ll not only reduce your chances of illness, you’ll also improve the lifespan of your HVAC system and reduce your energy costs. In addition, to keep your home’s air even more clean, be sure to change your HVAC filter every one to three months (depending on the type). For help choosing a filter, see our blog “How to Choose the Right HVAC Filter.”

At Oliver, we have a team of air duct cleaners that can remove harmful buildup and have you and your family breathing clean air in no time. If you’re not sure if your ducts need cleaning, give us a call today for a free over-the-phone estimate or schedule an appointment.


The Power Plants That Produce the Most Electricity in the U.S.

Powering the Country

Today’s nuclear energy facilities produce 64 percent of America’s clean, carbon-free electricity and there are several around the U.S. that are notable for producing the largest amount. Here, our electrical experts explore the power behind the top nuclear (and one hydroelectric) power plants:

Palo Verde Nuclear Station

Power generated in 2015: 32,525,595 mWhs

Located in Tonopath, Arizona about 45 miles west of Phoenix, this nuclear power station is the largest power plant in the U.S. by net generation. Its average electric power of 3.3 gigawatts can power the homes of around four million people and it’s actually the only large nuclear power plant in the world that’s not located near a large body of water.

Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant

Power generated in 2015: 27,669,694 mWhs

located on the Tennessee River near Decatur and Athens, Alabama, the Browns Ferry Nuclear Station was built in 1966 and is named for a ferry that operated at the same site until the middle of the 1900s. Its three boiling-water reactors were the first in the world to produce more than 1,000 megawatts (or 1 billion watts) of power and it’s currently the second-largest power producer in the U.S.

Oconee Nuclear Station

Power generated in 2015: 21,939,740 mWhs

This nuclear power station sits on Lake Keowee near Seneca, South Carolina and has produced more than 500 million megawatt-hours of electricity. Operated by Duke Energy, the Oconee Nuclear Station is the first nuclear station in the U.S. to have achieved this level of energy production and unlike many other stations, it relies on a hydroelectric station instead of a diesel generator for backup power.

West County Energy Center

Power generated in 2015: 20,428,360 mWhs

One of the newest power plants in the country, the West County Energy Center was built in 2009 and reached build completion in 2011. Located in Palm Beach County, Florida, this natural gas power plant is one of the cleanest of its kind in the U.S. In addition, the plant uses reclaimed water as its primary water source.

Braidwood Nuclear Station

Power generated in 2015: 19,740,011 mWhs

Head to Will County in northeastern Illinois and you’ll find the Braidwood Nuclear Station. Serving Chicago and its surrounding areas, this power plant is the largest nuclear plant in the state and is owned by Exelon. Built in 1988, the plant sits on 4,457 acres and when both power units are put together, they can power the homes of more than two million people.

Byron Nuclear Generating Station

Power generated in 2015: 19,478,139 mWhs

Also in Illinois and also owned by Exelon, the Byron Nuclear Generating Station is located in Ogle County about two miles east of the Rock River. This power plant has two powerful units that produce a comparable amount of energy to the Braidwood Nuclear Station and its twin cooling towers rise nearly 500 feet into the air.

South Texas Project Nuclear Station

Power generated in 2015: 19,400,553 mWhs

Sitting on a 12,200-acre site on the Colorado River, the South Texas Project Nuclear Station is located about 90 miles southwest of Houston in Matagorda County. Beginning operation in 1988, the plant features two reactors that produce enough electricity to power around two million Texas homes. In addition, this plant is actually considered one of the safest places to work.

Limerick Nuclear Generating Station

Power generated in 2015: 18,904,377 mWhs

Sitting next to the Schuylkill River in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania is the Limerick Nuclear Generating Station. Also owned by Exelon, this power plant is built on a 600-acre site and its two reactor units began power the area in 1984 and 1989. Back in May 2006, president George W. Bush actually toured the facility and discussed the role of nuclear power.

Grand Coulee Hydroelectric Station

Power generated in 2015: 18,838,602 mWhs

The Grand Coulee Hydroelectric Station is the only power plant on this list that was built for hydroelectric power. Finished in 1942 in Washington, the facility features three powerhouses that actually make it the largest power station in the U.S. by nameplate capacity. When it comes to yearly production, it comes in behind other major plants because of the fluctuation of the Columbia River’s power.


3 Water Heater Maintenance Tips

Your water heater is one of the most important parts of your home – it’s used for everything from showering to doing laundry to washing dishes and more, which is why it’s important to maintain it. Learning how to do simple maintenance on your water heater can extend its lifespan and keep it running smoothly all year long. Here, our water heater experts share some tips:

Checking the Pressure Valve

Whether you have an electric water heater or a gas-powered water heater, you’ll find a safety devices called a temperature and pressure relief valve. It’s important to make sure this valve is operating correctly because if it’s not, it can mean an explosion.

First, turn off the power to the water heater and shut off the cold-water inlet. Next position a bucket of water underneath the valve and pull up the lever. (You should hear a rush of air and see some water vapor.) If water continues to flow out of the valve, drain the tank partway, unscrew the old valve, and replace it with a new one.

Replacing the Anode Rod

A water heater’s anode rod protects the exposed steel of the water heater when the tank is filled through a method called electrolysis. Because the rod protects from rust, it can become coated with calcium carbonate and should be replaced.

Start by connecting a garden hose to the tank’s drain valve and open the pressure relief valve and the drain valve. Let a few gallons of water drain out and close the drain valve. Next, look for the hex head of your anode rod on top of the heater or under the top plate. Once you locate it, fit a 1 1/16-inch socket onto the head and unscrew the rod. Examine it – if it’s less than 1/2 inch thick or covered in calcium carbonate, buy a new one, wrap its threads with Teflon tape, and replace the rod.

Flushing the Tank

As your water heater gets older, sediment will begin to settle in the tank and not only reduce the heater’s efficiency, but clog the lines. This is why you should flush your tank on a regular basis.

First, start by turning off the power to your water heater and shut off the cold-water inlet. Connect a garden hose to the tank’s drain valve and make sure the other end of the hose is in an area that won’t be negatively affected by hot water. Open the pressure relief valve, then open the drain valve. Let the tank drain completely and close the relief valve and drain valve. Turn the cold-water inlet back on and open up all hot water spigots in your home to refill.

If you’re uncomfortable working on your water heater, don’t hesitate to call our water heater experts! We can have your heater maintenanced in no time!


7 Air Conditioning Tips to Get You Through the Summer

We’ve hit the peak of summertime and at Oliver, we know the temperatures aren’t going down anytime soon. While you’re turning to your air conditioner to cool down your home, you may be putting more stress on it than necessary. Here are some tips from our air conditioning professionals to get you through the rest of the summer:

Fix Your Leaks

If your home is older, chances are there are several areas that are leaking your air conditioning out of your home. Check the seals around your windows and doors and make sure your attic is well-insulated. By replacing the weatherstripping (or the windows or doors themselves), you can create a better barrier between your home and the outside world that keeps your air conditioning inside.

Upgrade Your Model

Is your air conditioner more than 10 years old? If so, it may not be as efficient as it could be and in return, you’re likely paying more to cool your home than you think. The right air conditioner fits the size of your home and your family’s needs, so talk to one of our air conditioning professionals today to learn more about an upgrade.

Use Your Fans

If you have overhead ceiling fans, you can use them in conjunction with your air conditioner to better circulate cold air around your home. Switch each fan to run counterclockwise so it pushes cool air downward. You can also use your fans during days that aren’t as hot so you save energy.

Don’t Keep Your AC Cranked

If it’s hot outside, your first instinct is probably to keep your thermostat low all day – even when you’re not home. Many people believe that by keeping the air conditioner running, it won’t have to work as hard to re-cool the home later. However, keeping your AC low means using energy that you don’t need to use and in return, racking up your electric or gas bill.

Get a Programmable Thermostat

To expand on our previous point, investing in a programmable thermostat can help you keep your home warmer while you’re away and cooler while you’re back. With a programmable thermostat, you can set your ideal temperature for certain times of the day so you only use energy while you and your family are at home.

Replace Your Filters

Spring and summertime pollen have likely built up in your air filters (as well as dust, dirt, dander, and other airborne particles). To maximize your air conditioner’s efficiency, make sure you replace your air filters on a regular basis. Our air conditioning professionals recommend replacing them every 2-3 months.

Close Your Blinds

While natural light is great, the sun can also heat up your home more than you’d like. If you have windows that face the sun, be sure to take advantage of blinds or curtains to help block out the heat. You’ll keep your home cooler and put less stress on your air conditioner to provide the cold air.


Our Most Common FAQs

We Can Answer That!

We know the world of HVAC and plumbing can be a little overwhelming for those who aren’t familiar with it. That’s why at Oliver, we’re happy to answer any questions (short or long) you may have about your home or business’s operations. Here are some of our most common FAQs, answered:

What’s the best air conditioner size for my home?

If the size of your home has changed through an addition or other renovations, or you have made enhancements that affect air flow (such as window or door replacements or changes to your insulation), it may be time to have a professional perform a new Heat Load Calculation on your home to assess the proper size air conditioner. If you are installing one for the first time, a Heat Load Calculation is recommended.

How can I even out the heating and cooling of my home?

You can partially close the registers in the room(s) that are too hot or cold in order to force more airflow into other rooms of your home. (It’s never a good idea, however, to close the registers completely.) Another possible solution is to invest in a furnace equipped with a variable speed blower motor. These furnaces are designed to overcome airflow problems and keep the airflow steady throughout the entire house.

How does an air conditioning system actually work?

An air conditioning system consists of 2 parts: an outdoor unit (where liquid refrigerant is contained) and an indoor coil (where the refrigerant is pumped into). As the air moves across the air conditioning coil, the refrigerant removes the heat and moisture from the air by condensing it on the cold surface of the coil. Thus, an air conditioner not only cools, but also dehumidifies the air.

When should I call a plumber?

This depends on your own skill level and experience in making repairs. If the repair could cause water damage if not performed properly, you may want to call a plumber. It’s also a good idea to call one if you have a problem that needs to be addressed immediately (such as a major leak).

How do plumbers find leaks?

Finding leaks is mainly a visual process: a plumber will inspect all of your pipes for leaks and may use a dye test kit to identify a leak in a toilet. We offer FREE dye test kits as a courtesy to our customers, just give us a call or use the Request Estimate form to let us know you would like one.

If I go away for an extended period of time, what temperature should I set my thermostat to?

We recommend 55 degrees. It’s low enough to save you energy and money but a good temperature to protect your pipes and other vital parts of your structure.

How often do my filters need to be changed?

You should change your standard furnace filter every 6-8 weeks. Use your own judgment as to when to change it, but don’t let the filter get clogged, as this can cut down on the efficiency and/or cause damage to the unit.

What can reduce the air quality in my home?

A wide range of particulate matter can be in your home’s air including dust, pollen, animal hair and dander, dust mites, mold spores, cooking grease, smoke, bacteria, viruses and other respiratory diseases. These types of contaminants won’t affect all people, but they can affect some pretty seriously.

Why should I invest in a maintenance plan?

Our maintenance plans provide peace of mind. When your HVAC system is running at its best, you’ll worry less about major damages or a shortened lifespan. You’ll also get priority service, savings on repairs, and no overtime charges.

Which HVAC maintenance plan is right for me?

It depends on the level of protection you’re comfortable with. Most of our customers choose our Gold maintenance plan because there are no charges for covered repairs. If you have new equipment, you may find that the Silver maintenance plan provides you with sufficient coverage.

If there’s a question you have that wasn’t answered here, visit our FAQ page or call our HVAC experts!


 

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