Archive for June, 2011

How Do I Check for a Dirty Evaporator Coil?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

The evaporator coil is an essential piece of your air conditioning system. It absorbs heat from air that passes over it, and that air then travels into your home to cool it. So if your coil is dirty or isn’t functioning properly, the cooling power of your air conditioning system is diminished. Fortunately, this problem is fixed easily by cleaning the evaporator coil. You can do this on your own or have a professional come in to take care of it.

Signs of a Dirty Evaporator Coil

The most obvious sign of a dirty evaporator coil is an overall drop in system pressure. As long as you know what constitutes a normal pressure for your system, you should be able to tell if the current pressure is below that level. If it is, a dirty evaporator coil is probably your culprit. You can also check the static pressure in your system to see if that is low, but this requires specialized equipment.

Even if you don’t notice any particular signs that your air conditioning system isn’t working properly, it’s a good idea to clean your evaporator coils once a year or so. This can help prevent any larger problems from developing in the future.

Finding Your Coil

Probably the hardest part of cleaning an evaporator coil is reaching it. Unlike your condenser coil, which is located in your outdoor condenser unit, the evaporator coil is found inside near the air handler or furnace. If you have the owner’s manual, there should be detailed instructions telling you where the coil is and how to safely access it.

Alternately, you can have an HVAC technician show you what to do the next time they come out to work on your system. Whatever you do, though, make sure that power to your AC unit is completely shut off before you start working on it. Once you’ve gained access to the coil, use a brush or vacuum attachment to remove any debris or sediment you find there.

The Importance of Maintenance

Cleaning your evaporator coil is only one part of the regular maintenance required to keep your air conditioning system in good working order for the foreseeable future. There are plenty of things you can do on your own, but it pays to have a professional come out once a year or so to check out the entire system and make any necessary repairs.

Do I Need Surge Protection for My HVAC?

Monday, June 27th, 2011

You probably know that to keep your HVAC system in good working order you need to keep up with regular maintenance. This includes things like changing air filters, cleaning out air ducts and clearing debris from both inside and outside the system. Surge protection for your system may not be something you think of immediately, but like those maintenance tasks, it’s an important part of keeping your equipment functioning properly over time.

How Surge Protection Works

Surge protection essentially shuts off your system in the event that power levels in the system rise suddenly and unacceptably. When a sudden increase in electricity occurs, any electronic device is at risk. But, unlike your stereo, your HVAC system costs thousands of dollars – no one wants to lose something so valuable to a surge that could have been prevented. That’s why a surge protector is so vital for your system.

The surge protector monitors the levels of electricity coming into your HVAC system. In the event that a surge occurs for any reason (faulty wiring, a lightning strike, etc.), the surge protector will immediately cut off power to the HVAC unit and shut all of the equipment down.

A Sizeable Investment

Your HVAC system was not an impulse buy. This is a collection of equipment that you probably spent a good deal of money on and that you rely on to keep your family comfortable throughout the year. When you look at it that way, it’s easy to see why it’s worth doing anything you can to protect your investment. Installing a surge protector is a relatively minor expense compared to the money and inconvenience it could save you by preventing serious damage to your HVAC equipment.

Proper Restart

Once a surge protector shuts off your HVAC system, you’ll need to restart it properly. The best thing to do is talk to the contractor who installs your system. They can walk you through the restart process step by step to ensure you know exactly what to do. After going through all that trouble installing a surge protector, the last thing you want is to make a mistake when turning it back on.

If you don’t already have a surge protector in place, call an HVAC professional today and learn what your system needs to be fully protected. It’s a small expense and a quick installation, so there’s no reason to put it off any longer.

Inverter vs. Conventional Models

Friday, June 24th, 2011

When trying to pick out the right air conditioner for your home, you’ll probably stumble across mention of inverter technology. Air conditioners using inverter technology are quite similar to conventional air conditioners in many respects, but they have some distinct advantages under certain circumstances.

What’s the Difference?

A conventional air conditioner is set up to switch on when the indoor temperature reaches a particular level. When it comes on, it introduces cool air at a constant speed until the desired temperature is reached and then it shuts off completely. Your indoor environment remains more or less the same temperature, but you will be blasted periodically with a lot of cold air. While the air conditioner is off, the air in the room gradually warms up until the temperature gets high enough to trigger the air conditioning system to come on again.

An inverter, on the other hand, comes on powerfully at first to achieve the desired temperature, and then reduces its fan speed gradually to maintain that temperature without shutting off completely. This method of cooling maintains the desired temperature more consistently than a conventional system can. It also requires a lot of careful measurements, not only for how much cooling power is needed in your room, but for the speed at which the cool air will dissipate from that room.

Initial Installation

One big reason that more people didn’t opt for an inverter air conditioning system in the past was that the initial installation cost was often considerably higher than that of a conventional system. However, advances in the technology have made inverter air conditioners much more affordable in recent years. Digital programming, more accurate measurements and efficiency in every aspect of the field are responsible for the drop in price.

Savings over Time

While inverter air conditioning systems are still typically more expensive than their conventional counterparts when it comes to initial cost, they provide excellent savings over time that can more than make up for the difference in purchase price. This is particularly true in areas where air conditioners are not running at full blast constantly.

When they are both maxed out, a conventional air conditioner is more efficient than an inverter. But when the temperature is such that a conventional model would switch on and off all of the time, an inverter will easily outstrip it in terms of energy efficiency.

To ensure you get the right model for your home, carefully calculate the difference in installation costs, the amount of cooling your home needs and the current efficiency of your cooling system. If everything lines up perfectly, an inverter system may be right for you.

Is it Cost Effective to Use a Ceiling Fan and AC at the Same Time?

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

There are a lot of ways to keep your house cool in the summer, and chances are you’ve incorporated more than one of them into your home already. For instance, ceiling fans are great and can really keep you comfortable in moderately hot weather. But when the heat and humidity really start to pick up during the dog days of August, you need something a little more powerful to take the edge off, and that’s usually some type of air conditioner.

One or the Other?

If you’re like most people, you switch off your ceiling fan when the AC comes on. After all, the air conditioner is powerful enough to cool the house on its own. So is it really worth it to expend energy running another, secondary cooling device?

In fact, it is. Ceiling fans in particular use very little energy. Yet they’re quite effective at making your home feel cool and comfortable. So there’s really no reason not to take advantage of their benefits while running your AC.

Cutting Costs

You might be surprised to learn that far from being a waste of energy, using your ceiling fan and AC at the same time can actually save you money. That’s because the cooling power of the fan allows you to turn up the thermostat on your AC unit a couple of degrees without compromising your comfort levels.

And turning up the thermostat on the AC just that small amount will translate into pretty substantial savings on your monthly energy bills. That savings will more than pay for the cost of running the ceiling fan, and you save money.

Better Air Circulation

Running the ceiling fan with the AC on or off is always helpful in terms of promoting good air circulation throughout your house. And the more air circulates, the more comfortable your indoor environment will be. Good air circulation is also important because it helps to minimize the number of air contaminants that build up inside.

More Efficient Heating

The benefits of ceiling fans don’t stop with cooling either. In fact, you can run them in reverse to help maintain even heating in the winter. Essentially, there are few investments you can make that will serve you better throughout the year than a ceiling fan regardless of the other home heating and cooling systems you have in place.

Mechanical or Forced Ventilation vs. Natural Ventilation

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Just about everyone can agree that effective ventilation is essential to maintaining a healthy indoor living environment. But exactly what does this entail? There are quite a few ways to circulate air throughout your home, and each method is appropriate for a specific situation.

Benefits of Natural Ventilation

Natural ventilation, of course, can be achieved simply by opening a window. But there’s actually a lot more to it than that. If you really want to ventilate your home through natural means, then you’ll have to learn to take advantage of the differences in pressure in different areas of your home.

One way to do this is to use cross ventilation. This means opening windows or doors on both sides of your home and allowing the outdoor air to blow through, carrying stale, indoor air out the other side. A more sophisticated version of this is stack ventilation.

In a two-story home, stack ventilation can be achieved by opening the windows on the bottom floor on one side of the house and on the top floor on the opposite side. Because of the differences in outdoor air pressure, air will be sucked in through the lower floor windows and out through the upper ones.

Why Natural Ventilation Is Not Always Practical

These types of natural ventilation can be extremely effective when it comes to both cooling an indoor environment and removing indoor air contaminants. Unfortunately, allowing outdoor air inside unimpeded allows outdoor contaminants easily as well.

On particularly hot or humid days, natural ventilation can’t reduce the indoor temperature enough to make it comfortable indoors. While a light breeze is enough to take the edge off on a moderate spring or summer day, more is needed when the weather is extreme.

Types of Mechanical Ventilation

When you think of mechanical ventilation, you probably jump right to large central air conditioning systems. But that’s certainly not the only type of effective mechanical ventilation available. In fact, mechanical ventilation can be performed by just about any type of fan on the market, and while operating a fan is certainly more expensive than opening a window, it’s still much more affordable than running an air conditioner all day long. Fans can also be used in combination with natural ventilation to achieve better results than either system could on its own.

Window and Through Wall Units: Benefits and Disadvantages

Friday, June 17th, 2011

When you’re trying to decide what type of air conditioner to get for your home, you’ll first have to determine whether a central air conditioning system or smaller individual unit is best for you. These smaller air conditioners are generally installed either in a window or through the wall of your home, and they can provide excellent cooling under the proper conditions.

If you’re still on the fence about what type of air conditioner is right for your home, here are a few items to consider:

  • Ducts: If your home already has ductwork installed for a central forced air heating system, it should be relatively easy to hook up a central air conditioner. But if there are no ducts currently in place, your installation costs will be a lot lower with window or wall mounted units.
  • Portability: Most window units are designed to be removed and stored at the end of the summer, so you can have your windows back and not have to look at that unit all winter long. Through wall units aren’t generally removable, but because they don’t take up window space and provide a more thorough seal against the elements, that’s not as much of a concern.
  • Aesthetics: With both window and through wall units, you’ll have something protruding into your room at least a few inches. These types of units are hard to hide, particularly when compared to the simple air ducts that central air conditioning systems use.
  • Flexible Sizing: No matter how big or small your room is, you should have no trouble finding a window or through wall unit to match it. A central air conditioning system needs to be sized to fit the entire house. If you’re only inclined to use air conditioning in two or three rooms during the hottest months of the year, you may not want to pay to cool the entire house all of the time. Smaller units provide that type of flexibility.
  • Affordability: Installing a central air conditioning system, even if you already have ducts in place, is a large undertaking and likely to cost you several thousand dollars up front. On the other hand, small window and through wall air conditioners are available for as little as $200 and you can buy more whenever you’re ready to spend that extra money. You can also usually install a window unit yourself, and the cost of having a through wall unit installed is minimal compared to that of a central AC unit.

What Is SEER?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

If you’ve been looking at air conditioners, you’ve probably noticed that they all seem to have a SEER rating. But what does this actually mean?

The SEER, which stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, is a measure of how energy efficient a particular air conditioning model is. So when you’re shopping around for the best deal on an air conditioner for your home, this is something you’ll absolutely want to pay attention to.

Interpreting SEER Ratings

The SEER rating system is relatively simple: the higher the SEER, the more energy efficient the product. But because a higher price tag typically comes with a higher SEER rating, it’s important to know just how much more efficient a higher rated unit will be. It helps you decide whether paying significantly more for a higher rated unit is worth it in long term savings. Will it actually save you enough each month to make up for the difference in price?

Evaluating Your Energy Usage

A big factor here is how much you will use your air conditioner. If you live in a place with very hot and humid summers where the air conditioning runs constantly, you’re probably best off with the highest SEER you can find. When you consume that much energy to keep your home cool, you want to get as much as possible out of it, and that’s what a high SEER model can do for you.

On the other hand, if you live in an area that doesn’t have the harshest summers, you may be better off with a slightly less efficient (and therefore cheaper) model. Keep in mind, too, that the actual percentage increase in energy efficiency goes up by smaller and smaller increments the higher in SEER ratings you get. For instance, while a 10 SEER unit may be almost 20% more efficient than an 8 SEER model, a 12 SEER is only about 10% more efficient than that 10 SEER.

Finding the Right Balance

The best way to decide what SEER rating is best for you is to determine the annual cooling costs with your current unit and then calculate your savings in dollars based on the percentage each model would improve your efficiency. If you don’t currently have an air conditioner, this can be a bit tricky, but a professional contractor or air conditioning salesman can help you estimate your total monthly cooling costs with the various units.

How to Stay Affordably Cool This Summer

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Putting in a high quality, energy efficient air conditioning system is a great step to take when you are trying to keep your house cool and comfortable all summer without paying a fortune in cooling costs. Many of the latest air conditioners are able to use very little energy to provide powerful cooling power to your house no matter how big it is.

But if you are really serious about keeping cool and keeping costs down, there are plenty of other things you can do to give your air conditioning system a hand. It might seem silly, but putting in a little bit of effort around the house can save you quite a bit in the long run.

For instance, since you are paying to keep the air in your house cool, it is a good idea to make sure that the air you are cooling stays in your house. Sealing off unused doors and windows with plastic is an excellent precaution to take to ensure that no cooled air leaks out through the cracks and door jambs. Also, you will want to check for any other openings that could create a draft and allow cool air to escape or warm air to get in.

However, just letting in air from outside in the summer is not the only way that the heat can get in. The sun is powerful in the summer and the more you can block of it, the cooler your house will be. So make sure that your blinds are closed to block out the sun, particularly in the afternoon. Morning sun is not nearly as powerful as the sun you get towards the middle and later part of the day.

All of these steps will help to take the pressure off of your air conditioning system and allow it to get its job done with a minimum of energy expended. And that will certainly save you money every month. You can save even more, though, by adjusting the temperature on your thermostat a bit as well.

Most air conditioning systems are set to a default temperature of 72°F. While this is probably quite comfortable for you, it is likely that you would be equally as comfortable at 75°F. In fact, you probably will not even notice the difference. But that small adjustment can actually save you quite a bit on your monthly cooling bills.

Winter Colds and Flus: Can Your Air Quality System Help Them?

Friday, June 10th, 2011

In the thick of the winter cold and flu season, it’s hard to overcome the constant feeling of misery that illness can bring to your home. Endless sniffles, stomach aches and fever not only make you feel horrible; they can put a kink in your daily routine, making it harder to get work done or take care of your family.

But, a good indoor air quality system will help when it is properly maintained throughout the year. Here are some tips to cut into the duration of a particularly nasty cold or flu.

Humidity and Air Circulation

When the humidity gets exceptionally low, your body gets dehydrated more easily, especially in your skin. This can lead to trouble fighting off colds and flus, especially if they are very strong. A good humidifier increases humidity to a comfortable level that’s ideal for the immune system. Air circulation is equally important as it keeps fresh air coming into your home throughout the winter.

A good air circulation and ventilation system retains the heat your furnace or boiler produces so your energy bill doesn’t rise too high either.

Air Purification

The next step in purification is to reduce the number of air borne pathogens that can make your illnesses worse or spread them to other people. There are constantly bacteria and viruses floating through your home, either on people or in the debris carried by your home’s indoor air.

A good air purifier ionizes the air and removes things like dust, pollen and mold. The air purifier then destroys the bacteria and viruses with the use of UV lights. This kind of system won’t stop you from getting sick when you leave the house and interact with people on the train or at work, but it will slow the spread of illness in your home and help people recover much faster.

Cleanliness Breeds Healthiness

The key to staying healthy in the winter is to stay active and keep your home clean. With the help of a good home air quality system, you can remove the unwanted contaminants and debris that clog up indoor air and ensure everyone in your family is safe and comfortable all winter. It’s a great first step in the process of finally stopping the endless winter cold and flu cycle once and for all.

Allergies: Different Products that Can Help with Different Problems

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

One of the biggest problems related to indoor air quality is allergies. When not treated properly, excess dust, humidity, bacteria, mold, and other contaminants can cause a number of allergy problems, especially if anyone in your home has asthma and is particular sensitive to a contaminant.

Luckily, there are quite a few products on the market designed to reduce the effect of indoor allergens and help you feel comfortable all year long.

Filters

HEPA air filters are designed to capture incredibly small bits of debris in your home. They remove things like dust, mold, debris, pollen, and pet dander before they can trigger an allergic reaction. The best filters are all HEPA certified and are available either for a single room or for your entire home. The size of your home and the amount of contaminants you have will ultimately determine which filter is best for you.

Purifiers

For those with allergens beyond dust and pollen, purifiers are a good next step. Air purification is done electronically, utilizing ionization technology to remove things like gas and smoke as well as bacteria and viruses that get into your indoor air. Anyone suffering from even a mild bout of seasonal allergies can be made very uncomfortable by these types of contaminants. Advanced purification systems also come with UV germicidal lights to kill bacteria and viruses.

Ventilation

While capturing the bad stuff in your air is important, so too is getting new air into your home. Allergies are triggered as much by stale air as by the allergens in it. So, a good ventilation system is important. Simple fan units work very well for many families, but if you want to avoid the loss of heated and cooled air during the most extreme weather in your area, an energy recovery ventilator is a good alternative to straight fan ventilation.

Humidity

Finally, humidity is a big issue for many families. Dryness in the winter can make colds and flus worse and excessive humidity in the summer is a haven for things like mold. A good humidifier removes humidity when it gets too high and adds moisture to the air during the winter when it gets too dry.

Always do your research before choosing an air quality system for your home. It’s important to choose components that will help you overcome whatever allergies you face, throughout the year.