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Thursday, 15 June 2017
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Are you a wiz when it comes to air-conditioning facts?  If you’ve been reading our posts or listening to our podcasts over the last year or two, this should be a snap!  Get out a piece of paper and a pencil so you can track your answers, and test your knowledge below.

 

                           Let's get started: Question 1

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Posted on 06/15/2017 7:40 AM by Bob Duthie
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Thursday, 01 June 2017
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There will come a time in the life of every HVAC system when it will need to be replaced. See our post on repair or replace to get tips on how to tell whether your unit is a candidate for replacement. Once that decision is made, it is wise to get a couple of quotes.  Replacing an HVAC unit is definitely not a do-it-yourself project!  It takes an experienced estimator, specially trained installers, and special tools. Plus, in most shops, installers are not repair technicians, as different skills are involved. In this video, we follow along while one homeowner gets an estimate to have the HVAC unit replaced during the remodeling of a 1950’s era house in West Nashville, and a second homeowner in a 1928 home has their second floor unit replaced.

 

  1. The first step is to perform a survey to be able to estimate the work to be done. Tommy Gentry, Service Specialist, has a conversation with the homeowner.
  2. When the survey is complete, Tommy writes down all data and gives the homeowner a price. Once the homeowner accepts the price, Tommy makes arrangements for the installation through the scheduler, allowing for all needed parts to be available, and on a day convenient for the homeowner. In this second case, it was 3 days from the date of the estimate until the job was completed.
  3. The truck arrived at 8:30am loaded with all the parts and gasses required. The HVAC unit being replaced was on the second floor of the house. Care was taken to lay down cloth mats over all the carpets and floors in the HVAC unit’s path.
  4. Next, the refrigerant was removed from the outside unit with an electric pump, and loaded into a recycle can. A pressure meter is used to determine when all the refrigerant has been removed. It is illegal to let refrigerant escape into the atmosphere due to its harmful environmental effects. This refrigerant, called R-22, can be cleaned and used for repairing older units. New HVAC units use a different type of refrigerant, R-410A, which is more environmentally friendly. Since federal law has phased out production of R22, making prices skyrocket, it is worthwhile to capture it so it can be recycled.
  5. Next, demolition of the inside unit began. The power was turned off, the power wires to the unit were cut, and the thermostat was disconnected. It was now safe to cut the copper refrigerant pipes. All pieces of the old unit were removed and carried out.
  6. The new inside unit was installed and all the connections were made. A special propane torch was used to make the copper refrigerant line connections.
  7. The outside unit was completely disconnected and the parts were carried away.
  8. The old HVAC base pad was removed. The ground was leveled underneath and a new base pad was installed that was much sturdier than the old one. Having a level pad is essential to the HVAC unit’s operation.
  9. The new outside unit was installed on the new base pad, and the power and control wires were connected. As before, a propane torch was used to connect the copper refrigerant lines.
  10. Now it was time to test the refrigerant lines for leaks. Nitrogen under pressure was introduced from a container. Nitrogen is an inexpensive inert gas. It is used for testing rather than using actual refrigerant – in this case R-410A refrigerant - because if there is a leak detected, it would all have to be removed, the leak fixed, and fresh expensive R-410A installed. In his case, there were no leaks so the job continued.
  11. The electric pump was used to remove the nitrogen and the pink container R-410A refrigerant was installed.
  12. The new system was tested in both heating and cooling modes, and worked really well.
  13.  The last step was to load all the trash on the truck and haul it to the recycle yard.

Let Interstate AC Service help you make wise investments when it comes to heating and air-conditioning. If you live in the Nashville or surrounding area, give us call at 615-832-8500.

 

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Posted on 06/01/2017 7:48 AM by Eddie Hutton
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Monday, 15 May 2017
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audio, podcast, Solar ACSunlight is a free and limitless source of energy. Solar energy produces no air pollution or hazardous waste. Solar-powered air-conditioning makes sense since it’s typically hottest when the sun is shining… and that’s when air-conditioning use is most in demand! Switching to solar could reduce your heating and cooling costs by half. 

Solar energy, residential solar, solar panels, photo-voltaic cellsSolar air conditioning refers to any cooling system that uses solar power, which is typically supplied by photo-voltaic (PV) cells, engineered into solar panels. Solar has been around a long time, and many products are now in the 4th (or later) generation.  They are available for both residential and commercial applications. Here are just a few of the types of solar air-conditioners to choose from:

 

Solar window unit, Air-conditioning, off-gridOff-Grid: Units that run 100% on solar power run on DC power. These are referred to as “off-grid” because they do not require power from the utility company, e.g., they don’t have to be plugged in. An example of this type are solar-powered window air-conditioning units. They operate on DC power only (from solar panels), and use external battery backup (usually good for about 8 hours operation). The battery is so that the unit will continue to function even when the sun is not shining, like at night. A window unit is expensive – $2-3,000 – but it can be used totally “off-grid” which means there are no energy costs during operation.

Solar, mini-split, hybridHybrid Systems: Hybrid systems use solar power when available and supplement that with regular electricity (AC power) as needed, and do not require batteries. During the day, solar power provides 90% of the system’s electricity. At night, it switches over to regular grid power. Examples of this type include room-sized/area-sized units, like a mini-split, or whole-house units, like a hybrid heat pump. One advantage of hybrid systems is that they can also provide heat during the winter.  [Check out our previous posts on mini-splits: What You Need to Know About Mini-Splits, Cooling an Add-on Space, Saving Energy and Improving Comfort] .

Lennox, SunSource, Hybrid HVAC, Solar-readySolar-Ready Systems: These are systems made like “traditional” central air-conditioning units, in that they use 220V AC power, but some of the electricity feeding it can be obtained from solar panels. The Lennox SunSource Home System is one such system. The more solar panels you add (from 1 to 16) the more money you can save in energy costs. You can start small and expand over time, adding other appliances, such as the home’s water heater, making a total home energy system.

Misconceptions

There are many misconceptions when it comes to solar. For example:

  • Solar panels do not have to be in full sun to operate. They also operate in partial sun or shade. 
  • Solar panels do not have to go on the roof. They can go just beside the outdoor unit. 
  • Hybrid solar units are not bigger than normal air conditioners. In fact, because of their more efficient design, the compressor can actually be smaller than in a traditional unit. And a smaller compressor consumes less electricity!
  • Solar units are actually more efficient the hotter it gets outside, because more energy is collected in the thermal hybrid collector.
  • Installation costs are comparable to that of conventional units, and prices of solar units have come way down.
  • Using solar does not compromise comfort in any way, and the units do not look awkward or obtrusive. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a solar-powered unit will increase your home’s value substantially and can help your home sell faster!

Advantages are Environmental, Economic, and Comfort

There are numerous advantages to solar.

Eco-friendly, Energy Star, environmental, Solar
  • Solar air-conditioners are quieter than traditional units. The ones that run on DC power – such as the hybrid mini-splits – are so quiet that you can walk right up to it and not even know it’s on.
  • Solar units last a long time. Most have at least a 10-year warranty (with some parts having more), and some manufacturers have performance warranties of up to 25 years.
  • Most hybrid or solar-ready units offer seasonal energy efficiency ratios or SEER values in the 21-26 range, as compared with traditional HVAC units which have SEER values around 14.  [See our post: What’s your SEER? Does it Matter?]
  • Solar units are typically Energy Star certified, very efficient, and prevent greenhouse gas emissions.  Plus, they use the new R-410A refrigerant, which is more environmentally friendly.

ROI, Return on investment, payback, solar costROI: Fast Payback

The payback period for a complete system (solar-powered heat and air) is about 2-5 years. With tax credits, the cost of installation can be paid for within the first 6 months of operation! Plus, many vendors offer interest-free financing. The federal solar tax credit, also known as the investment tax credit (ITC), allows you to deduct 30% of the cost of installing a solar energy system from your federal taxes. The ITC applies to both residential and commercial systems, and there is no cap on its value. The 30% tax cut was extended through 2019, and then gradually decreases each year from 2020 through 2022, where it levels off at 10%. Solar costs, make money, selling energy back, ROIWhat’s more, a solar-powered home can actually earn money: if your house is not using all the power it is generating, you may be able to sell excess power generated back to the utility company!

It is easy to see that if you get tax breaks for installation, the system saves you half on your energy bills and you can sell energy back (making money from the system throughout its lifetime), that a 2-5 year payback can actually be quite realistic.

**Interstate AC Service is not a reseller or installer of solar panels.

Count on Interstate AC Service to help keep you up-to-date on the latest technologies. If you live in the Nashville & surrounding area, know you can rely on us for all your heating and air-conditioning needs.

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Posted on 05/15/2017 8:10 AM by Tony Anderson
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Monday, 01 May 2017
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Interstate AC Service has expanded and renovated its facility at 1877 Air Lane Drive in Nashville, Tennessee. This video provides a tour of the new facilities and talks about the work that goes on there. There is also a new look to our company website; it's been re-designed to make it even easier to use.

 

Near the intersection of I-40 and Briley Parkway in Nashville, you’ll find the offices of Interstate AC Service at  1877 Air Lane Drive.  This building has been home to our facility since Interstate AC Service was founded in 2004, but has undergone transformations over the years.  When we moved into this building 13 years ago, we shared it with an ambulance company, but by 2015, the ambulance company moved out, and the rapid growth of Interstate AC Service meant more space was needed. The old building was completely renovated and expanded.  The building is two-stories high in back and one-story in front.  We expanded the parking area for our trucks and staff, and provided an improved working environment for our employees. Walking through the glass enclosed entryway, you are now in the reception area with a corridor leading to a large conference room. On the way to the conference room, you pass by the break room. The corridor walls are decorated with beautiful Nashville scenes... very appropriate as we are a Nashville-based company! This one shows the Legislative Plaza, War Memorial Auditorium and State Capital building. Catherine Taylor, our Controller, admires this photo of Nashville’s Parthenon. In this corridor are photos of the old train station which is now the Union Station Hotel.  Tommy Gentry is a Service Specialist with many years’ experience designing residential HVAC systems and providing cost estimates.  The group of offices by the wall are for our commercial sales experts.

The nerve center of our new offices is this room dedicated to our dispatch staff. Our dispatchers are the first people our customers talk to and we value the trust you put in us.  Tony Anderson is one of the founders of Interstate AC Service, and he engineered the renovation of the new facilities. This corner office is occupied by Swaney Powers. He is in charge of our repair and installation work force. Every Monday morning, all our technicians arrive in their trucks to have parts and refrigerants replenished, engine oil changed, and any necessary truck maintenance. While that is going on, Swaney meets with the technicians, discusses process improvement, and helps resolve problems. On the second level, you’ll find the accounting area.  They keep the books, prepare invoices, and make payments. Catherine Taylor keeps this area of our business running smoothly. The commercial group is also on this floor and has space to spread out the large drawings required for retail and office building projects. Out in the yard is warehouse space and lots of parking. Our digital sign towers above the yard and is visible to drivers on I-40 heading west.  It can display a variety of messages.

A New Look to our Website, too! 

To go along with our new offices, we also have a new look to our website.  We’ve made it easier for mobile users, reduced the number of tabs, and the amount of text. Our HVAC News column contains over 118 information-rich posts, which include more than 45 videos, dealing with many aspects of HVAC.  Looking for tips to save money? Fixes you can do yourself? The latest in HVAC technology? Chances are, we have a post for whatever you’re looking for… and if not, let us know and we’ll write one!  Our website is visited by thousands of users from all over the world each month. We are proud to help educate HVAC owners and share our expertise with you.  Sign up as a subscriber and have the HVAC News delivered direct to your inbox. 

 

Thank you, Nashville, for letting us serve you.  1877 Air Lane Drive is the only place we’ve called home, but it feels even more so now.  We look forward to continuing to serve Nashville and the surrounding area, helping you with all your heating and air-conditioning needs.

 

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Posted on 05/01/2017 6:03 AM by Eddie Hutton
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Saturday, 15 April 2017
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Storm, lightning, weather, HVAC damage, protectionpodcast, listen, audio, storm damageIn Middle Tennessee, destructive storms are not only the norm, but becoming more frequent.  Tennessee has already had more tornadoes so far this year than all of last year or the year before!  Your HVAC system is the single most costly system in your home – not just in yearly maintenance and energy costs, but also when it comes to replacing it.  Although you cannot prevent tornadoes, snow/ice storms, wind, hail, rain, lightening, and floods, you can help prevent some of the associated HVAC-related repair or replacement costs by taking a few precautions.  This post will provide useful tips for protecting your HVAC before and during a storm, as well as tips for dealing with some common problems after the storm has passed.

Before the Storm

In the spring (before “tornado season”) and in the fall (before snow and ice hit), go through this checklist:

HVAC placement, concrete pad, anchor, level, drainage, stormAnchor the outdoor unit. Your outside AC equipment should be installed on a level, raised, pad.  Ensure water does not pool near the unit during a heavy rain by ensuring downspouts are routed far away from the unit, that there is an adequate gravel border around the pad, and the land is sloped for optimal drainage.  

storm damage, projectiles, lawn furnitureRemove projectiles.  In Nashville, it is not uncommon to find your neighbor’s lawn furniture blown into your yard after a storm, or to have tree limbs fall on your property.  Secure or store any loose items from your yard such as lawn furniture or grills that can be blown into the outdoor unit. Remove or trim all bushes, trees and dead branches that could fall onto the unit in a storm.

hail guard, storm protection, HVAC precautions, hailInstall hail guards.  It has become commonplace for Tennessee to get hail along with rain and winds. Impacts from hail can be particularly damaging to the fins and refrigerant coil of the condensing unit.  Hail guards are thick metal “netting” that can stay in place year-round and still allow operation of the system (unlike covers!). They can be installed with hinges so they can be easily removed for servicing the unit. 

pipe insulation, foam insulation, electricalPrevent electrical shorts.  Be sure to cover and secure any wires between the outdoor unit and the house so that they are not exposed.  If they get wet or frayed, they could short out!  Over time, even insulated wires can deteriorate by normal sun and temperature changes.  Styrofoam “noodles” with hollowed out centers for wrapping around wires) are one way to keep the wires protected, and they can easily be cut to any length and taped shut with weather-proof tape.

Install surge suppression.  Storms often cause electrical disturbances or fluctuations in power (so-called “surges”).  To protect your HVAC equipment, install a high-quality surge protector that will automatically turn off your HVAC system to protect it from damage if there’s a spike in the line voltage. Consult an electrician to install a surge protector at the circuit breaker box. This can prevent expensive repairs due to blown fuses, burnt capacitors, and fried compressors.

Install a sump pump, if necessary.  Basement floods are a major cause of HVAC system problems. Protect your equipment by installing a sump pump to automatically detect and remove water. Consult a water-proofing professional to address your foundation and basement issues.  Keeping the basement and crawlspaces dry will also prevent mold from being drawn into the ductwork.

During a Storm

With all the weather alerts provided by various media – on TV, on our phones, and audible sirens – we often have at least a few minutes advance notice of impending destructive weather.  First and foremost, you need to seek shelter, but if time allows here are some steps you can take to prevent HVAC equipment damage:

  • breaker box, electrical, storm preparation, turn HVAC offTurn it off.  Avoid using your HVAC during a storm. Power surges might cause damage to its electronics. Shut off your heating and cooling system at the thermostat first, then at the circuit breaker. This ensures your AC or furnace will not inadvertently turn on during a storm, possibly damaging the coils or fins.
  • AC cover, compressor, outdoor unit, hail protection, HVAC coverCover it.  Most outdoor condensing units are not sheltered from the weather. Air conditioner covers (usually made of heavy canvas or vinyl) are relatively cheap, available online, and offer good protection from hail storms and snow and ice.  However, the system must remain off while it is covered.  Prior to turning your equipment back on after the storm, you must remember to remove the cover and any debris that has gathered on or around it.  Tip:  Do not use a tarp or other protective cover that completely covers the unit, as it can cause moisture to build up inside the unit or attract animals seeking shelter.  Leave at least a foot of space around the bottom of the unit to allow it to breathe.

After the Storm has Passed

HVAC damage, fins, hail, storm damageAfter the storm has passed, do not immediately switch the HVAC unit back on!  First, inspect your outdoor condensing unit for any signs of damage.  Look for cracks, impacts from hail or flying debris, harm to any of the refrigerant or electrical lines, and remove any debris that has fallen in or around the unit.  Check if there has been any movement or shifting of the unit off the pad, or if flooding and erosion has now caused the system to be un-level.  If you see any of this, call a licensed professional to inspect your system before turning it back on. If any power lines have fallen nearby your unit, do not approach the HVAC unit or turn it on until they are cleared.

But, What if…?

The more typical scenario is that the storm caused a power outage, and when the power was restored, the HVAC did not come back on as expected.  If this is the case, then after visually inspecting the inside and outside units and seeing no damage, follow these steps:

  1. Check the thermostat, to be sure it has power. Turn the thermostat off and then back on, wait a couple of minutes, then change the temperature to a setting that would normally trigger the unit to come on, and give it a few minutes to cycle.  If the unit still does not come on, then turn it off at the thermostat and proceed with step 2.
  2. Check the circuit breaker.  If it has been tripped, flip it off, wait a minute, and flip it back on again.  Then re-try step 1.  If the unit comes on for a short period and then goes off again, or if the circuit breaker is immediately tripped again, proceed to step 3.
  3. Call an HVAC service professional.  If there is evidence of a melted or burned fuse at the fuse box, contact a licensed electrical professional.  In either case, leave the unit turned off until help arrives.

electrical damage, lightning, electrical short, storm damageIn the event there has been visible damage or the unit has been hit by lightning, make photos of the damaged unit for your insurance company. Most insurance policies cover power surge damage to HVAC units and their associated electronics (thermostat, etc.).  Also, if there is any question, contact an HVAC professional so that something small does not turn into a major expense.  For example, replacing a damaged capacitor is an inexpensive repair but if it is ignored, it can lead to a failed compressor which is an extremely costly replacement.

 

Whether you need help preparing for a storm or dealing with its aftermath, know you can rely on Interstate AC Service to find the most affordable, effective way to deal with the problem.  If you live in the Nashville or surrounding area, call on us at (615) 832-8500.

 

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Posted on 04/15/2017 2:00 PM by Tony Anderson
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Friday, 31 March 2017
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PodcastWith heating and cooling accounting for roughly 50% of your home’s energy consumption, things that decrease your monthly energy costs or help your HVAC to be more efficient are the best investments you can make.  Here are the 5 best ways to optimize your HVAC investment:

1.  Adding Attic Insulation

attic, insulation, investmentClose to 30% of your energy costs are due to heated air rising and escaping out the attic (during cold weather), and warm air coming in causing your air-conditioning to work harder (during warm weather). Laying insulation is an easy DIY project which can be done in a weekend with fairly inexpensive materials. It is the one most cost-effective thing you can do to improve comfort and lower your bills year-round. Tip: When laying insulation, don’t forget the attic access door, including weather stripping!

2.  Upgrade Your Thermostat

thermostat, temperature, Nest, Smart thermostatUsing a programmable thermostat is one of the best investments you can make to your HVAC system. By automatically setting the temperature down a few degrees when you are away and while you are sleeping, you could save up to 10% per year on energy costs year round, without sacrificing comfort. Upgrading your thermostat can be a DIY project, with companies like Honeywell and Nest offering installation tutorials on their websites, and it takes only minutes. Some new thermostats can be controlled using a smartphone or voice control, and can learn your habits or sense when you’re home, and adjust the temperature accordingly. Tip: Check out our posts on the new crop of thermostats here: Smart Thermostat Comparisons, Giving Away Smart Thermostats, Honeywell Wi-Fi Thermostat Case Study, Smart Thermostats, and Results of Our Smart Thermostat Poll. Let us know if you need help installing one!

3.  Get Your HVAC Serviced

HVAC service, maintenance, fall, spring, tune-upMoney Magazine states that regular HVAC system maintenance is one of the best investments you can make.  A professional inspection twice per year can find and fix minor problems before they turn into major ones, and makes sure your system is tuned up to operate most efficiently. Get your system checked before air-conditioning season in the spring, and before heating season in the fall. The bottom line is that regular HVAC maintenance saves you money!  Tip: The easiest thing you can do to help maintain your system is to change out the filters on a regular basis. See our posts: Air Filter Fundamentals, Selecting an Air Filter, Are More Expensive Air Filters Better?

4.  Replace Your HVAC System

Replace HVAC, Upgrade HVAC, R22 refrigerant, valueIf your system is more than 10-12 years old or has become a maintenance hog, you’re best served by investing in a new HVAC system. Since the R-22 refrigerant used by older systems has become increasingly expensive and scarce, an upgrade to a new unit that uses R-410A coolant makes sense. Plus, a new HVAC unit will offer greater efficiency, making your monthly bills much lower (see our post What’s Your SEER?). If you are buying or selling a house, there is no doubt that an up-to-date HVAC system is an attractive value – and an old HVAC system a significant deterrent. On the fence about replacing your system? See our posts Repair vs. Replacement, and Repair/Replacement – What’s the Real Question?

5.  Beyond the HVAC System

ceiling fan, HVAC value, temperatureSome of the best HVAC investments are things you can do which will lessen the need for your HVAC to work so hard.  Using ceiling fans will allow you to raise your thermostat 4 degrees without sacrificing comfort. Replacing windows with energy-efficient ones, and using caulk and weather stripping around windows and doors will save energy year-round. Replace your incandescent light bulbs with LED lights, which generate less heat. Use curtains or blinds inside and landscaping (trees) outside to lessen the amount of sunlight into the home, particularly on south-facing windows. This can save you up to 25% on summer energy costs. Despite what you may think, closing vents actually strains an HVAC system, resulting in more energy use, not less, so keep them open! Need to section off an area of your home? Consider zoning (see our post Is Zone Control for your HVAC the Answer?).

 

Let Interstate AC Service help you make wise investments when it comes to heating and air-conditioning. If you live in the Nashville or surrounding area, give us call at 615-832-8500.

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Posted on 03/31/2017 10:13 PM by Tony Anderson
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Wednesday, 01 March 2017
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podcast, Zoning, Zone Control, HVAC Retrofit, Temperature controlDo you find the second level of your home stays too hot while the first floor stays too cold? Tired of fighting over the thermostat or lugging a space heater from room to room? Do the large windows or vaulted ceilings in your home cause pockets of hot and cold air?  It is not uncommon for even a well-maintained central HVAC system to have difficulty maintaining a comfortable, consistent temperature throughout a home. Zoning can solve a variety of these problems, plus offer up to 30% increased efficiencies, which translates into lower energy bills for you. A zoned HVAC system is a cost-effective alternative to having dual air systems (2 central HVAC units) that need separate furnaces and air conditioners for different areas of the home.Zone Control, HVAC systems, Temperature Control

Zoned systems have become very popular on new home construction, but they can also be added to existing homes. Just about any forced-air system can be retrofitted for zone control.  In this post, we’ll talk about what’s involved in retrofitting your single HVAC unit into multiple zones.

How Zoning Works

Zone control, HVAC zoning, duct dampers, thermostat, furnaceMultiple electronic thermostats – one in each zone - are wired to a control panel, or they may communicate with the control panel wirelessly.  Electronically-controlled dampers are installed in the ductwork and wired to the control panel.  Each thermostat continually reads the temperature in that zone and if it’s too low or too high, it sends a signal to the control panel to close or open the damper to that zone, thus regulating and controlling air flow to that  zone.

Saving Money

save money, green solution, HVAC efficiencyNot only is system zoning helpful for houses with inconsistent room temperatures, but it's also great for saving energy by not heating or cooling areas of the home where it’s not needed. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, system zoning can save homeowners up to 30 percent on a typical heating and cooling bill. Maybe you have a whole area of your house that is seldom used now that your son/daughter has gone off to college, so why pay to heat and cool it? Maybe you’re having to turn your current system way up just to keep the lower level warm enough, while the upper level is sweltering. System zoning allows you to save money by running temperature-controlled air to rooms only when it is necessary.

Planning the Zones

House zones, zone planning, HVAC zonesThe number of zones your home needs will affect the way you set up the system. In a two-zone system, with the zones being fairly equal in size, each zone's ductwork must be capable of handling up to 70 percent of the total CFM (cubic feet per minute) of air produced by your HVAC system. In a three-zone system, the zones need to be as close in total area as possible. In this case, each zone's ductwork should be able to handle up to 50 percent of the total CFM. Retrofitting more than 3 zones in a home may require ducts to be enlarged and/or to install a static pressure relief damper (also called a bypass damper), which will make retrofitting much more costly. So, when retrofitting, you’ll typically want to keep it to only 2 or 3 zones. Of course, if it’s a new install, the sky’s the limit, and it’s not unusual to have each room as a separate zone.

Not a DIY Project

not DIY, DIY not, Not do-it-yourselfAdding zoning to an existing HVAC system is not a DIY project, so you’ll want to consult an HVAC professional.  Depending on your duct layout, you may need to re-work the ducts to add a second zone.  But, before spending money on a zoning retrofit system, there are several things you can and should do which may help address many of these uneven heating and cooling issues, and may even eliminate the need for zoning.  We’ll talk about these in an upcoming post.

 

If you live in the Nashville or surrounding areas and have questions about whether zoning is an appropriate solution for you, give us a call at 615-832-8500. We’re here to answer your hardest questions and to help make your home a little more comfortable.

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Posted on 03/01/2017 8:05 AM by Tony Anderson
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Wednesday, 01 February 2017
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During the cold months of winter it’s important to think through and plan for how you will stay warm and keep your home warm during a winter power outage. We’ve put together 4 ideas to help you with this.

1. Choose one room... and stay there as much as possible.

Instead of trying to heat the whole house, focus your attention on heating just one room of the house. Keep doors closed off and put towels under the door to seal off drafts. Choose a room that is the least drafty and has the most windows for natural heat from the sun, ideally on the southwest side of your house.  

Having everyone together in a small space will provide an additional amount of body heat for warmth. To make it fun for the family, and provide an extra layer of comfort, set up the family tent. An indoor campout is also a great way to keep the kids entertained.

 

2. Add layers… to you and your room.

One way heat can easily escape your home is through your cold floor. Add additional layers of rugs and blankets to the floor of your chosen ‘warm room’ to insulate. Adding air beds and mattresses to floors is also a great way to have an additional layer between you and the floor and provide comfort for sleeping and sitting. Add a layer of blankets and pillowcases over your windows and doors to prevent drafts and for additional insulation. You can use painters tape or duct tape to seal the blanket over the window.

Layers of clothing are essential during a power outage. One reason is if you need to go outside to shovel snow, let the dog out or other emergency reasons, you’ll want to protect your innermost layer of clothing from moisture. Hats and other head coverings are an essential layer that must not be neglected. Most of your body heat loss is through your head. So keep it covered at all times, even while sleeping.

 

3. Use an alternative heat source… but safely

The good news - depending on the outside temperature, it usually takes several hours for the inside of your home to cool after after a power outage. For short term power outages, you may not have to worry about additional heating. For longer term outages, you can use your wood stove or fireplace for heat. However, DO NOT USE kerosene heaters, BBQs, or any outdoor type heater inside. These can create poisonous gases such as carbon monoxide which could kill.

If you do decide to use a supplemental heating source it’s important to keep the air circulating because these heating sources need air to work properly. Finally, it’s important to never leave your heating source running when you are asleep.  

Some other alternative heating sources include:

  • Sun light

  • Add extra heat before you loose power if you know there’s an outage possibility.

  • Run a bathtub of hot water.

  • Open flames like candles, but use caution!

 

4. Hop in the car for a quick warm up and battery charge

Your car can be a great place for a quick warm up. It’s also a great way for the family to get some time out of the house. You can also use your car to charge up your phone, computer or other devices. Be sure to take your blankets with you to the car to give them a warm up also. Just remember to NEVER run the car in an unventilated area.

 

 

If you need help with your HVAC and live in the Nashville and surrounding area, please call on us at 615-832-8500. The professionals at Interstate AC Service are here for you.

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Posted on 02/01/2017 1:18 PM by Tony Anderson
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Tuesday, 03 January 2017
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The cold months of winter arrive this week. After the deep freeze we experienced last week, it looks like Middle Tennessee may be in for a challenging winter in 2017. During these long, cold winter months your furnace will work much harder and will require more energy than any other time of year. Fortunately, there are some steps you can take now to make your HVAC more energy efficient and save you money during the winter months!

1. Change the filter.

This is one of the easiest ways to make your furnace more energy efficient. If your filters are dirty the furnace will have to work harder to heat the home. Here's a helpful resource we put together for choosing the right air filter for your home. We recommend filters with MERV ratings between 8 and 11. They seem to be the most cost-effective.

 

2. Locate and take care of drafty areas in your home.

A good exercise is to get near a drafty area, close your eyes and imagine dollar bills leaving your home along with the heat. In our previous blog post, 4 THINGS YOU CAN DO NOW TO PREPARE FOR WINTER we took you through some of the most drafty areas of your home and provided some tips on sealing them to prepare your home for winter. Managing your drafts can result in energy savings during the winter months

3. Lower your thermostat while sleeping or away from home.

If you do not yet have a smart thermostat you will need to do this manually. There's really no need for your HVAC unit to work hard when everyone is sleeping or no one is home. The Department of Energy says You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day- a normal workday!

There are further steps you can take to continue to reduce energy costs in your home but just starting with these 3 will get you off to a good start!

If you need help and live in the Nashville and surrounding area, please call on us at 615-832-8500. The professionals at Interstate AC Service are here for you.

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Posted on 01/03/2017 2:19 PM by Tony Anderson
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Tuesday, 13 December 2016
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We hate to be the bearer of bad news (maybe good news to a few of you) but Winter just happens to be right around the corner. Yes, in this the year 2016, winter will come roaring in like a lion on December the 21st. Also known as 4 days before Christmas! We don't want you to be blindsided by this event, so today we're giving you 4 simple steps to take RIGHT NOW to prepare your home for the upcoming cold winter months.

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Step 1 Get your fall maintenance check up

The best defense against heating problems is to make sure your system is maintained year-round. Having heating equipment serviced before the heating season can reduce your heating bill and prevent repairs, breakdowns, and ensure your system is operating well.

Step 2 Prepare those hard to heat spaces

Our second recommendation for winterizing your home is to go ahead and prepare those hard-to-heat spaces! We all have that one or 2 rooms that just don't heat as well as the other rooms because of various reasons. For these spaces it's a good idea to go ahead and figure out how you're going to provide extra heating elements. Some options would be adding a furnace with blower or fireplace, inconspicuous baseboard heating or radiant floor heating. Read our complete guide here about heating local spaces.

Step 3 Preparing your windows, doors and other exterior structures.

Check for a good seal and weatherstripping. Problems with these can make doors and windows drafty and cause unnecessary heat loss. If you have storm doors and windows, the time to replace your current screens is now! Don't have storm windows? Try plastic wrap and weather tape to prevent drafts! Finally, check the wood around doors and windows for signs of rot or decay, cracks, gaps or broken glass and replace or repair if needed.

Step 4  Be sure overhead fans are rotating in the right direction.

Finally, make sure overhead fans are switched to the reverse or clockwise position, Doing this will blow warm air down to the floor leading to energy efficiency and comfort. This will in turn make room feel warmer, and you can lower the thermostat temperature! The only exception to this rule is if your ceiling fan is mounted on a two-story cathedral or a vaulted ceiling, the fan is too high to create this effect so it can stay in counterclockwise setting year round.

If you need help with winter preparation and live in the Nashville and surrounding area, please call on us at 615-832-8500. 

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Posted on 12/13/2016 10:04 PM by Tony Anderson
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Wednesday, 23 November 2016
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There are many conflicting opinions online about getting your air ducts cleaned. In fact the EPA says there is currently no research on the benefits so they are careful not to make a recommendation either way. Since we are your resource for all things HVAC, we'd like to give you the honest facts- good, bad and ugly, that will hopefully help you make your difficult decision more easy.  


3 Good Reasons for Duct Cleaning

1. It never hurts to improve your air quality

petEverything in your home will get dirty. Homeowners regularly invest time and money in cleaning dust, dirt and other allergens from many surfaces of our home and removing toxins from our water system. In addition to normal dust and dirt accumulation, any of the following environmental factors will eventually affect your air quality:

  • pets
  • cigarette or cigar smoke
  • water contamination or damage to the home or HVAC system
  • home renovation or remodeling projects

2. Potential Energy savings

When your HVAC system is clean, it doesn't have to work as hard to maintain the desired temperature. As pollutants pile up in the system, it has to work much harder, using more energy and costing more to work properly. When your ducts are cleaned out, your HVAC unit uses less energy and leads to improved cost-effectiveness! 

3. Mold in these components could be making you sick

Contaminants and air pollutants, such as dander, dust, and chemicals are pulled into the HVAC system and re-circulated on average about 5 to 7 times per day. Over time, this recirculation will cause a buildup of these pollutants in the duct system. These pollutants affect the health of young children and the elderly more than anyone. This is why the National Air Duct Cleaners Association recommends homeowners clean their ducts once every three to five years. Furthermore, if you have allergies or asthma, autoimmune disorders or other respiratory health issues they recommend you consider having it done almost annually. 

 

The Bad and Ugly Side of Duct Cleaning

Duct cleaning is a costly and messy process. To do it right all of the components will need to be removed and everything will need to be cleaned. This includes the supply and return air ducts and registers, grilles and diffusers, heat exchangers heating and cooling coils, condensate drain pans (drip pans), fan motor and fan housing, and the air handling unit housing. This is a very time consuming and costly process. Just running a spinning polyester brush  through the ducts will leave 30% or more of the dirt in the ducts. 

If you choose to go ahead with duct cleaning, now may be a good time to schedule it. Right before winter is one of the best times to get your air ducts cleaned out as your ducts will be blowing the most air during the winter months. 

**Interstate AC Service does not  provide duct cleaning services.

f you live in the Nashville and surrounding area, please call on us at 615-832-8500. The professionals at Interstate AC Service are here for you.

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Posted on 11/23/2016 10:01 AM by Tony Anderson
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Saturday, 15 October 2016
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You rely on your HVAC all year long. But now is when your HVAC is relying on YOU to take the necessary steps to keep it healthy all winter long. Here are six things you should do right now to prepare for the heating season ahead:

1. Change the air filters

The ones with MERV ratings between 8 and 11 are the most cost-effective (see our post Selecting an Air Filter). Not only will you boost your indoor air quality and reduce energy costs, but dirty air filters are the primary reason heating systems fail.

2. Clean-up

Keep your outdoor unit free of leaves, grass, and debris. Clean the coils with a garden hose (see our post The Low-down on Coil Cleaning). Make sure your indoor unit (furnace) is not covered with debris, too. Do not store anything flammable - paint, paint thinners, rags, glues, gasoline, cleaning solvents, and other chemicals - near your furnace. Keep at least 2-3 feet of clearance all the way around your indoor and outdoor units.

3. Address air flow issues

Make sure all the registers are open in all rooms, and that they are unblocked by furniture, drapes or debris (see our post on Vents, Registers & Grilles). Find and seal leaks everywhere throughout your home: leaks in your HVAC's ductwork, leaks around windows and doors (weather-stripping), around plumbing (caulking), and electrical outlets. Leaks especially in the ductwork as well as blocked vents make your HVAC work harder and could cause it to fail earlier. Plus, it wastes energy and money, and decreases your overall comfort.

4. Check the condensate drain line

Water that condenses during the operation of a heat pump or furnace is pumped into a drain line. Verify that the drain line is clear and that there is a clean reservoir in the pump. Bacteria and algae often block the condensate from draining, so clean it with bleach and add a few drops of an algaecide. Keep the drain line from freezing, too. If this drain gets backed up or frozen, your heat will shut down and could cause expensive repairs (see our post Fall Maintenance Secrets Condensate Drainage).

5. Time to switch

If you used a dehumidifier during the summer months, turn it off. If you have a humidifier, turn it on. If you don't have one, get one (see our posts Why Worry about Humidity in the Winter? and  Whole-house Humidifiers).

6. Get a fall maintenance check-up by an HVAC professional

Annual service is cheap compared to the cost of a breakdown. Both Money Magazine and Angie's List will tell you that getting regular HVAC maintenance tune-ups is one of the best ways to save money.  Plus, it could detect a potential health hazard, such as a carbon monoxide leak (see our posts Deadly Carbon Monoxide from Cracked Heat Exchangers  and Your Furnace Can Kill You!).

Doing just these 6 things in the fall will increase your HVAC's performance and efficiency, and help to prevent costly repairs.

For more tips on keeping your HVAC running smoothly, check out our website, podcasts, YouTube Channel, and download our Fall Maintenance eBook now. Here's to a fun and healthy fall!

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Posted on 10/15/2016 11:38 PM by Tony Anderson
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Saturday, 01 October 2016
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In our last post, we talked about some of the things to consider when calculating the peak cooling capacity for an add-on space. In this post, we'll discuss some options for providing cooling to your add-on space.

 

 

Window air conditioner

This option is usually the first one homeowners dismiss, and with good reason. Although it may be cheap to install, it is very costly to run, unsightly especially if you can easily see it from the front of your house - and noisy. If you are cooling a basement space, you might not even have a window you can use! Assuming your add-on space is conducive to using a window air-conditioner, you're still left with a heating dilemma, and more than likely will need to use either a portable room heater or add-on baseboard heat (see our post "5 Ways to Heat Local Spaces").

Tying into your existing central HVAC system

Often, adding ductwork to your add-on space in order to connect it to your existing central HVAC system can be difficult or impossible, but this can be a great solution for providing both heat and air-conditioning. But, even if you can do it, doesn't mean you should. Here are some things to consider:

  • Is your current HVAC system rated to carry the additional load or will adding the additional space mean your existing system will now be under-sized, making your whole house uncomfortable?
  • Will the add-on space need to be a separate zone, so you can control the thermostat independently of the rest of the house? This is often the case when your add-on space is in an area with vastly different needs from the rest of the house: a room that is only used occasionally, a room that is underground, or has lots of windows (a sunroom), or a room with special equipment or machinery.

To see if tying into your current HVAC system is a viable option, you'll need to consult an HVAC professional.

Ductless Mini-Split an Ideal Solution

A ductless mini-split is often an ideal solution for most homeowners because it by-passes the expense of ductwork and is extremely efficient to install and operate. Mini-splits are available as air-conditioning only units, or as a heat pump offering both heating and cooling. Here are just some of the reasons why a mini-split might be a solution for your add-on space:

  • Ease of Installation: It only requires access to an electrical outlet and a single small hole in the wall (about 3" diameter, to accommodate refrigerant lines) for the indoor wall-mounted unit. The majority of the system sits outdoors.
  • Energy Efficiency: Because there is no loss of energy through ductwork (which accounts for up to 20% of the energy cost), these systems are exceedingly efficient. While your typical central HVAC systems may have SEER ratings of 13 or 14, a ductless mini-split offers SEER ratings of 20 or more (see our post What's Your SEER?).
  • Zoning: A mini-split is ideal for a room that is only used occasionally or is closed off part of the time: if no one is in the room, there is no reason to pay to heat or cool the space. It is also ideal for a room that will have vastly different heating or cooling requirements from the rest of your house, such as a sunroom or attic bonus room. A ductless mini-split can even be added to a room currently fed by your central HVAC system, but is hard to heat and cool compared with the rest of your house.
  • Features: Many of the latest crop of mini-split systems offer a multi-speed compressor, wireless remote control, programmable timer, and many other innovations.
  • Easy to Maintain: Most have washable, re-usable filters. Plus, it is much quieter than even the quietest window air-conditioner, and there are health benefits by not having ducts, which can gather dust, debris, and mold.

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Posted on 10/01/2016 7:03 AM by Tony Anderson
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Thursday, 15 September 2016
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With real estate prices soaring in Nashville, many homeowners are opting to stay put and enhance their existing home rather than move. Perhaps you've decided to close in a garage to be used as living space, finish off a bonus room, add a sunroom, or turn basement storage into living space. Since these spaces were not part of your home's original central HVAC system, you're faced with a dilemma: what to do about heating and cooling these add-on spaces. In this post, we'll talk about some important considerations.

Location and configuration

 

Location and configuration of the add-on space matters when sizing the system.

basement remodel, add-on spaceCooling a basement which is partially or entirely underground will require less cooling capacity than cooling a room, such as a bonus room over the garage, which has a ceiling near the roof or attic, where heat tends to pool, and also has unconditioned space beneath it.

The number and type of windows and doors are also a consideratisuroom, add-on spaceon, as these are areas where cooling and heating energy is lost more rapidly.

​Does the add-on space get a lot of direct sun or is it protected by shade? Which direction does it face?  If you're enclosing a sunroom with large windows on many sides, it will require much more cooling than the other more traditional rooms of your house.

How high is the ceiling? Remember, you are cooling not just the square footage of the floor but the entire volume of the space.

Items such as this go into figuring the peak heating and cooling load for tAdd-on spacehe space.  Getting a system that is either too big (see our post "Think Bigger Is  Better? Not When it Comes to Cooling!") or too small can leave you feeling uncomfortable!  If you are in doubt about sizing an appropriate solution, you'll want to consult with an HVAC professional. No sense throwing money away on a system that won't do an adequate job.

How the space will be used

basement renovation, add-on space, remodelWill your add-on space be part of your regular day-to-day living space? Or will it be a room that might only be used occasionally, such as a guest room, or only used during certain seasons? Will the add-on space need to be a separate zone, so you can control the thermostat independently of the rest of the house?  This is often the case when your add-on space is in an area with vastly different needs from the rest of the house: a room that is underground (basement) or has lots of windows (a sunroom), or a room with special equipment or machinery. Will the room need just heating or just cooling or both? Knowing how the space will be used will aid you in selecting cooling and/or heating solutions that will be both functional and economical.

In our next post, we'll talk about the pros and cons of the various options for heating and cooling your add-on space.

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Posted on 09/15/2016 7:17 AM by Tony Anderson
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Thursday, 01 September 2016
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Counterfeit RefrigerantsPodcast, audioCounterfeit and illegally imported refrigerants pose real safety and health concerns to HVAC technicians and consumers, as we detailed in our earlier post (see Beware of Fake Refrigerants!).  In recent years, with the curtailment of the refrigerant R-22 and its subsequent rise in price, this problem has gotten worse.  Now, there is much more scrutiny by the various authorities such as the EPA, IRS, and customs officials.

The Industry Fights Back

Dupont refrigerant, Hologram label, Anti-CounterfeitDupont hologram label, Izon Refrigerant, Anti-counterfeitThe HVAC industry now has much greater focus on recordkeeping and knowing the source of all supplies. To fight against counterfeit labeling, one refrigerant manufacturer has added a patented security hologram that provides immediate visual verification that the refrigerant is a genuine DuPont product.  The Izon® label is a unique 3D security system and contains an embedded code that allows for greater product tracking and traceability (see more info here).  Some refrigerant suppliers have begun routinely testing the contents of refrigerant cylinders they receive, using a halide test or a portable refrigerant analyzer, to spot contaminants and counterfeit products before they wind up in a consumer's system.

What You Can Do

Here are some things you do, to avoid becoming a victim of counterfeit refrigerants:

  1. Price CheckPrice: If the pricing you are quoted seems too good to be true, it probably is. The going price per pound for R-22 is about $45-95, and for R-410a it is $30-70. Know what you're getting and whether the price includes installation. Get quotes from multiple suppliers. If one seems crazy low, it could be it is an illegal import or counterfeit.

  1. Selling to Consumers: Although you can find cylinders of refrigerant selling online for much cheaper, it is illegal for a retailer to sell directly to consumers or to anyone who does not possess EPA 608 certification. If they will sell directly to you without this certification or do not ask to verify your certification, that is a big red flag!

  1. EPA 608 CertificationKnow your Supplier/Contractor: How long has your supplier or contractor been around? What is their reputation? Can you get in contact with them when you need to? Seek online or first-hand reviews from their customers. Verify that your HVAC technician carries Section 608 certification from the EPA. If they can't or won't show you proof of certification, that is a big red flag.

  1. Refrigerant cylindersVerify the Cylinder: Look closely at the labeling of the refrigerant your technician is using. Product names such as R-22a, 12a and 290 should not be used in a residential HVAC system. Verify that the technician is adding refrigerant from a cylinder that is clearly marked to be the "right" kind (if your system needs R-22 that it says R-22 on it) and has the manufacturer's name on it.

  1. Refrigerant LabelLabel Your Unit: Always insist your contractor/installer label your unit with the type of refrigerant they added. If they did use a legal R-22 substitute, such as R-422D, make sure it is labeled as such. That way, the next technician working on the system won't put R-22 in your now 422D unit. 

Important Tip
Filling Refrigerant, HVAC Service, Freon If you're having to add refrigerant to your system, it means you have a leak (see our post Fix the Refrigerant Leak Now!). If you have an older HVAC system that uses R-22, consult a reputable HVAC technician to see if it makes sense to continue investing in your existing system or if you'd be better off replacing it with a system that uses the more environmentally friendly R-410A refrigerant. Unfortunately, R-22 charged units are not compatible with R-410A refrigerant, so you'll have to replace the entire system (to help you weigh the pros and cons, see our post Repair or Replace?). On the bright side, if you do invest in a new unit, it will be more environmentally friendly and energy efficient, so you'll save money on your monthly cooling costs… and those long-term savings can really add up!

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Posted on 09/01/2016 7:25 AM by Tony Anderson
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Monday, 15 August 2016
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Podcast, Fake Refrigerants, Listen

 

 

Fake Refrigerants, Counterfeit RefrigerantsCounterfeit and illegally imported refrigerants have existed in the HVAC industry for years. With R-22 increasing in price due to the government phase out (see previous post An Update on the Refrigerant R-22), people are doing anything they can to get their hands on cheaper solutions. Some refrigerants coming into the U.S. from other countries are not just imported illegally, but they are counterfeit, posing safety and health concerns to technicians and consumers. If you are having your air-conditioning system serviced, be alert to the various scams out there!

Unapproved Substitutes

EPA, Environmental Protection AgencySeveral companies have been penalized by the federal government for illegally marketing and selling other hydrocarbon products such as ES 22a as a replacement for R-22. (see  EPA vs EnviroSafe and EPA vs Northcutt).  According to the EPA,  use of ES 22a -  a refrigerant meant for window air conditioning units - creates the potential for explosion and fires, and is a serious risk to human health and the environment. R-22 air conditioners weren't built to handle the level of pressure or flammability these substitutes pose. In particular, R-22a, which uses propane, creates a fire hazard. Approved alternatives to R-22 do exist, such as R-422D, so check with your HVAC contractor.

Unapproved Additives

Duracool, R-22A, Additives, Fake RefrigerantsSome vendors have blended the refrigerant with flammable substances such as propane and butane, or with a pine-scented odorant (see R-22a Safety). These have been sold under the names OZ-12®, HC-12a®, and DURACOOL, to name a few. Use of flammable refrigerants as a retrofit in equipment that was designed for non-flammable materials presents risks to consumers, equipment, and service technicians, and will void your equipment's original manufacturer's warranty. There are stories where the compressor burst into flames, the technician sustained serious burns, and the siding was melted off the house!

Counterfeit Refrigerants

Counterfeit RefrigerantsSome counterfeit or contaminated refrigerants have counterfeit labels on the cylinders and packaging, so you can't tell what's actually inside. Contaminated refrigerants can cause a variety of issues, ranging from increased energy use and decreased cooling performance, to significantly reducing the operating life of your system, and causing injury and equipment failures.  Plus, many counterfeit  products contain ozone-depleting substances which are illegal. In China, 18 people were arrested from 4 criminal gangs, and 5 illegal production facilities were found, along with 11 storage warehouses and 2 sales offices. Over 28,000 canisters of fake R-134a and other refrigerants were confiscated along with 20 tons of raw materials (see report here).

Contaminated Refrigerants

Danger, Flammable, Contaminated Refrigerants, Methyl Chloride, R40Many refrigerants, including R-22, R-134a, R-404A, and R-410A, have been found to be badly contaminated (see report here). One of these contaminants is methyl chloride (also called R40 or chloromethane). It reacts with the aluminum and metal alloys used in the internal components of your HVAC system, causing corrosion and a volatile by-product that burns on contact with air. Exposure of the system's contents to air and/or moisture could result in production of a strong acid and violent chemical reaction. This contaminant was responsible for a fatal apartment fire in 2014.

In our next post, we'll tell you what the HVAC industry is doing to fight back and what you can do to avoid becoming a victim of fake refrigerants.

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Posted on 08/15/2016 11:30 PM by Tony Anderson
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Monday, 01 August 2016
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Cleaning the air conditioner coils is part of regular spring and summer HVAC maintenance and is something homeowners can do themselves. Dirty coils can adversely affect your air conditioner's performance, and when the heat index creeps up past 100 as it has the past few days you need to get every bit of cooling you can from your air conditioning equipment! Any debris on the coils increases the static pressure across the coils and reduces your system's efficiency. Clean coils can boost your cooling capacity by up to 30%!

Symptoms of Dirty Coils

The coils are the part of your system where the actual transfer of heat occurs. Anything that insulates them will not only impact efficiency, but also will increase operating cost, and increase the likelihood of equipment failure. If you find your compressor keeps getting louder with each passing month, or that the compressor is overheating and turning itself off (leaving just the fan still running), cleaning the coils is a great place to start to remedy the situation.

Start With the Basics

  1. Check around your outdoor HVAC equipment and eliminate all obstructions within 3 feet all around the unit. That means trimming bushes, weeding, and removing all debris. Don't allow the lawn mower to discharge grass clippings onto the unit, or allow mulch or leaves to bury the bottom few inches, because it will restrict airflow, which will decrease efficiency and damage the unit.
  2. Check to see whether any of the fins have been damaged by mowing equipment, hail, or other calamity. Fins are the fine metallic blades that surround the condensing unit. If they have been bent, crushed or have rocks lodged in them, this will need to be remedied.
  3. Check to make sure the foundation upon which the outdoor unit sits is level. This is typically a concrete pad, but could also be plastic or rubber. Often, due to settling, erosion or drainage issues, these can crack, sink or become unlevel.  This puts strain on coolant lines, and could bend or break copper or electrical lines, or cause water to puddle in the unit. Make sure the pad raises the unit out of the dirt and that there is adequate drainage around it, so that water does not pool near it during a hard rain.
  4. Don't forget that you must turn the unit off before cleaning it. This doesn't mean simply that the unit is not running (e.g., set to a higher temperature), but rather the unit should be turned off at the switch usually a separate 240V power box near the unit - or at the circuit breaker box.

With these things addressed, you're ready to start cleaning the coils.

Coil Cleaners

Many manufacturers make coil cleaning products to aid in dislodging the contaminants on the coils. Some coil cleaners come in foaming aerosol cans, others are liquids or powders that must be mixed with water and used in a pump sprayer, still others are solvent sprays. Generally, these coil cleaning products are highly acidic or alkaline, and are harmful when inhaled or when they touch skin, causing irritation and in some cases burns. If you plan to use any of these coil cleaning products, be sure you are not downwind of the spray and that you are wearing gloves and eye protection. And here's a tip: if you're using them in a pump sprayer, this stuff can eat out the seals, so you'll need to use a special heavy-duty chemical-rated sprayer.

> > > Note: All types of coil cleaners are strong chemicals and must be handled with care. The manufacturer's directions should be read carefully and followed precisely to provide the best results.< < <

What About Detergents?

Many coil cleaners are referred to as "detergents," but do not confuse this with dishwashing detergents or laundry detergents! Never use those types of detergents on your HVAC equipment, as most have chemicals in them that are corrosive to metals. The aluminum, copper and metal alloys used in the manufacturing of fins and tubing, as well as the unit's plastic blower wheel and diaphragm (in the case of mini-split systems), are more sensitive and must be cleaned with a safe, non-acid cleaner.

Technique Matters!

Whether you're using a coil cleaner or not, you'll need a water source.  Never use a pressure washer!  Doing so could damage the coil fins and disperse chemicals into unwanted areas. Instead, use a standard garden hose. Begin by spraying the water from the inside of the unit outward, rather than from the outside inward, to prevent pushing debris further into the unit. Once you are certain all the debris has been dislodged, you can do final rinsing in all directions. In cases where there might be a thick film of dust, pollen, and grass clippings around the unit, a shop-vac can be used to remove such debris before washing the coils.

Our Recommendation

We recommend coil cleaner chemicals only if you have several layers of oily grime and only if they are used by a professional. Here's why: These cleaners, especially the foaming kind, can spread into hard-to-reach areas. If they are not completely rinsed out, they can corrode the metal and damage the unit. Coil cleaners are tough chemicals that can not only burn holes in your clothes (which is why you must wear protective equipment), but can damage paint. Consistent use of these cleaners over time can dissolve the outer metal and diminish the life of the coil, so we do not recommend them for routine maintenance. We recommend using just a garden hose and water.

Results

After cleaning the external unit, and turning the A/C back on, you may notice that it is many times quieter than it was before. That's because the motor can work less and cool more efficiently. Few routine chores will pay off more handsomely, both in comfort and in dollars saved, than a simple coil cleaning. You'll also prolong the life of your air conditioner and have quieter operation. So what are waiting for?

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Posted on 08/01/2016 6:57 AM by Tony Anderson
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Friday, 15 July 2016
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By mid-summer, you may begin to notice your air conditioner is not cooling as it should and may even be freezing up with visible ice forming on the lines or the condenser coil. This can be a sign there is a refrigerant leak. Perhaps additional refrigerant (a so-called "shot of Freon") was added at the beginning of the summer and you were hoping it would last the whole season. Now faced with a costly repair, such as replacement of an evaporator coil, you look for a way to postpone this major expenditure. Perhaps you've heard about various sealants and leak repair kits available online and in stores, often marketed as homeowner DIY projects, for about $150. Sound like a viable option? We'll explore the pros and cons.

What is a Leak Repair Kit?

Leak Repair Kits, Easy Seal, Super Seal, Leak FreezeOften sold under the trade name Leak Freeze, Easy Seal, or Super Seal, to name but a few, these leak repair kits are typically composed of: (1) a chemical liquid in a syringe or canister and (2) a short hose injector or applicator. Most of these products are meant to be injected into the refrigerant in your system.  The premise is that the chemical will travel throughout the system wherever the refrigerant goes and seek out the leak and form a seal at those points. But do they really work? How easy is it for a homeowner to use these kits effectively? By using them, can you avoid a professional AC service call?

Understanding the Fine Print

If you read the fine print and detailed instructions that come with many of these kits, they tell you some very important information.

  1. They won't fix very big leaks, only very small leaks. Do you know the size of your leak?  You can't always judge by how often you've needed to add refrigerant in the past, because several small leaks throughout the system can exhaust refrigerant at the same rate as one single larger leak.HVAC repair, Refrigerant service port
  2. They require your system be at a certain pressure to use (for example, 40-50 psi). Do you know your system's pressure? This often requires sophisticated equipment and gages, so you might need to contact a professional anyway. In fact, when you read the fine print, most leak repair kits will say they are designed to be used by HVAC professionals only. Indeed, the instructions can be a bit tricky for someone who doesn't know their way around a low side service port!
  3. Know what you're getting. Many leak repair kits are made for car AC repair. not home AC repair. Some are meant to be added to the oil in your system, not the refrigerant. Most will only in work in units of a certain size (for example, between 1.5-5 ton) and cannot be used in very small, very large, or commercial (non-residential) systems, though there may be other products for those types of systems.

Important Caveats

Besides the fine print, here are three things you should be aware of:

  1. HVAC Refrigerant, R22, Recharging air conditioner, shot of FreonAfter applying the sealant, you still need to refill the system with refrigerant. Thus, you can't get around another AC service call and the expense of "another shot of Freon" which can run you $400 or more!  As you know, the cost of the "old style" (R-22) refrigerant has increased greatly in recent years because it is being phased out by government regulations.
  2. Many leak repair kit manufacturers recommend applying a drying agent (such as Easy Dry) since the air that has gotten into your system from the leaks will cause corrosion. So, this additional step and cost must be considered.
  3. There is no guarantee how long the leak repair will last. If you have an older system with small pinhole leaks, and the product is successful at plugging them up, the chances are very great that new leaks will continue to form and that in a short time, you'll need to do everything again: spend money on another kit and recharging your system with more refrigerant making you wonder why you're spending all this money again and again for only a temporary fix!

Testimonials Tell the Story

Testimonials from Leak Repair Kit UsersThere is no doubt that you can find testimonials from people who have used these leak repair kits some even HVAC professionals - and they say they got another 5 years of use out of the system, so they were very happy with the results. But it seems there are just as many testimonials of people who have had disastrous results. Most scenarios go something like this: The leak repair seems to work initially and the system is able to hold the refrigerant charge. A few weeks later, the system freezes up and ceases working entirely. The homeowner finds out that the chemical in the leak repair kit caused a clog in the coil or compressor and that this has damaged the system beyond repair. What was once a costly part repair is now a major expense of replacing the entire HVAC system. The buyer has remorse for having wasted time and money.

Our Take on Leak Repair Kits

Using one of these leak repair kits is a poor substitute for having an experienced HVAC technician who will take the time to find out where the leak is coming from, determine how big it is and the cause, and provide a recommendation on how best to repair or replace the affected part(s). We definitely do not recommend trying to use a leak sealant on a newer unit (one less than 10 years old) because the risk of causing more damage is too great. For very old systems where you're facing a total replacement anyway, perhaps the risk is not as great. But because it's at best a temporary fix, the time and money you do spend is just postponing the inevitable.

Armed with the facts, you can now make a better decision. As we always say at Interstate AC Service "Knowledge is Power." For more information on refrigerant leaks, check out our other posts on this topic:

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Posted on 07/15/2016 6:32 AM by Tony Anderson
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Friday, 01 July 2016
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Here at Interstate AC Service, we have a passion for green products and saving energy and thought you too would enjoy keeping abreast of the latest "green" gadgets. Water heaters account for 17% of your home's energy use, which is more than all other household appliances combined, so saving energy here can make a big impact on the environment and on your budget!

 

What is a Tankless Water Heater?

Tankless water heaters as the name implies, heat the water instantly as it's needed, without the use of a large "storage tank." By eliminating the need to keep a whole tank of water heated round-the-clock, just in case it's needed, you eliminate energy waste. You also reduce the air conditioning energy that is required to remove the waste heat around the water tank. A tankless water heater can be powered by electricity, natural gas, or propane, and can be 8-34% more efficient than traditional water heaters. Plus, because of their small size (about the size of a small suitcase), they can be installed anywhere, even a crawl space or attic.

Never Run Out of Hot Water Again

In many homes, running the dishwasher, laundry, and trying to take a shower at the same time is almost impossible without exhausting the capacity of the typical hot water storage tank. Tankless water heaters provide an "endless supply" of hot water because it is being made on-demand. When a hot water tap is turned on, cold water travels through a pipe into the unit. Either a gas burner or an electric element heats the water. As a result, tankless water heaters deliver a constant supply of hot water. You don't need to wait for a storage tank to fill up with enough hot water. A tankless water heater is best located near the place you want to use hot water, such as in the bathroom, kitchen, or laundry room. That way, little energy is lost getting the hot water to the point of use.

Caveats

A tankless water heater's output limits the flow rate to 2 5 gallons per minute, with gas-fired tankless water heaters having higher flow rates than electric ones. In a large household, even the largest, gas-fired model cannot supply enough hot water for simultaneous, multiple uses in different areas of the house (for example, taking a shower and running the dishwasher simultaneously). There are two ways to deal with this: install two or more tankless water heaters in parallel, or install a separate tankless water heater near each appliance that uses hot water. Installing a separate tankless system near each appliance achieves the greatest efficiency (up to 50%).

Installation & Payback

Proper installation and maintenance of a tankless water heater will optimize its efficiency. The initial cost of a tankless water heater is more than a storage-type water heater, and you'll need the skills of a variety of tradespeople. Tankless water heaters require reconfiguring the existing water piping, installation of a new 120-volt electrical receptacle, and for gas-powered units, installation of a double-walled vent pipe through a side wall as well as a larger gas line. Thus, the installation costs are much greater: $2K-5K for a tankless (costs are dropping) vs $900-1300 for a traditional water heater. Plus, for tankless systems, yearly maintenance is required by a qualified technician, so that calcium build-up does not decrease the unit's efficiency.

ENERGY STAR® estimates that a typical family can save $100 or more per year with an ENERGY STAR qualified tankless water heater, depending on water usage and energy costs (gas or electric) in your area. And tankless water heaters have a much longer life - more than 20 years - compared to conventional water heaters, which typically last only 10-15 years. But, because of the higher purchase and installation costs, payback periods are generally on the order of 20 years or more for a tankless system.

Is a Tankless Right for You?

Studies reported that the majority of homeowners who switched to a tankless water heater were very happy with it. As long as you realize the upfront cost, you'll definitely save energy, and have unlimited hot water with a tankless unit. To help offset the upfront costs, there are some Federal Tax Credits (available until December 31, 2016 on gas-powered units only), and manufacturer's rebates offered. Plus, if you're going for LEED certification for your commercial or residential building, tankless water heaters may help you get there.

**Interstate AC Service is not a reseller or installer of tankless water heaters.

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Posted on 07/01/2016 7:18 AM by Tony Anderson
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Wednesday, 15 June 2016
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Podcast, Listen, AC Myths, air-conditioningAir conditioning is a necessity in the south, especially as the temperatures soar into the 90's, and it is expensive! So we're here to debunk some air conditioning myths to help you stay cooler and save money this summer.

Myth 1:  Dropping the thermostat setting extra low will cool your house faster.

thermostat, cooling, myths, air-conditioningThis is generally not true. There are a few new variable speed air handlers on the market that can adjust their output to match demand. But most homes have a central air unit with just a single fan speed so it can only move warm air at a set speed. Your air conditioner will deliver cool air at the same rate no matter how low you go on the thermostat setting. If you turn the thermostat to 50 degrees when you want it to get to 72 degrees, your room won't get cooler any faster. By undercutting the desired temperature, you run the risk of wasting energy and money when you forget to set the thermostat back up.

Myth 2:  It's more efficient to leave your air conditioning running when you're not at home than it is to turn it off (raise the thermostat) and have to re-cool your house when you get home.

cooling efficiency, air-conditioning, energy use, AC mythWhile you're away, there's no need to keep replacing cool air with more cool air many times over. This just forces your A/C's compressor - the most energy-consuming element in your system - to operate constantly for the 8-10 hours you're gone. Turn your air conditioning down when you leave the house for extended periods and set a timer for about a half hour before you return home (here's where a programmable thermostat comes in handy!). During the cooling season, the longer your house stays at an increased temperature, the more energy and money you will save. One caveat: do not adjust the temperature more than 7-10 degrees. Otherwise, humidity can become a problem, especially within the walls and insulation.   

Myth 3:  Leaving a ceiling fan on will cool a room even if no one is in it.

ceiling fan, cooling, energy use, AC myths, air-conditioningFans cannot lower a room's air temperature. They create a cooling effect by causing evaporation on the skin. Fans cool people, not the air. Leaving your ceiling fan on when you're not in the room is a waste of energy and money. If you're in the room, however, you'll want to run the fan with the blades set to counter-clockwise, in order to create a downward breeze which will help you feel cooler. If a fan runs in a room when no one is there, no one is feeling its benefits. So it's just wasting energy. 

Myth 4:  Closing vents in unused rooms will boost efficiency.

vents, closed vent, air-conditioning, cooling efficiency, HVAC zonesThis only works if your home is already divided into separate HVAC zones, and you can control one zone independently of another. But most homes have the HVAC designed to distribute air throughout the entire house in a balanced fashion. If you close a register, the system keeps cooling and pumping without delivering the cool air to a usable space. You're basically paying to keep the inside of your ductwork cold! Worse yet, this may cause the compressor/condenser to cycle too frequently, and puts strain on the system, leading to accelerated wear and an early failure. Why risk this damage when it's not actually saving any energy?  If you only want to keep a single room cooler than the rest, consider a ductless mini-split air conditioner, or consider a zoned cooling system. A zoned system uses multiple thermostats that control dampers within the ductwork, allowing you to control room temperatures to suit your needs. Checkout our post about uneven heating and cooling for other possible culprits and solutions.

Myth 5:  Your air-conditioning unit will perform the same no matter where you install it.  

AC unit, installation, air-conditioning, AC myth, shadeInstallation is a key factor when it comes to efficiency. Try to install the outdoor unit in the shade or at least out of direct sunlight, on your home's north or east side, if possible. If you plant trees and shrubs around your unit for shade or simply for aesthetic reasons, make sure you don't block the airflow around the unit. When installing the thermostat inside your home, keep it away from heat sources, and away from lights and other appliances that give off heat, because it will make your unit run longer than it needs to. 

 

Cool Tip:  Any time you can turn a machine or light off, it will save energy. Lights are especially bad about heating up the air unless they are LEDs (check out our post "LED Lighting Lowers HVAC Costs"). You spend money to run the light and then have to spend more money on the air conditioning to counteract the heat it produces! So, when not in use, turn off the lights, appliances, and electronics.

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Posted on 06/15/2016 3:16 PM by Eddie Hutton
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Wednesday, 01 June 2016
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Podcast, audio, mp3, Refrigerant LeaksPerhaps you've read or listened to one of our earlier posts entitled "Fix the Refrigerant Leak Now!" so you know how expensive refrigerant leaks can be! With the phasing out of R-22, a "shot of Freon" (as it is often called), could run you $400 or more. And there's no telling whether that will last a couple of months or a couple of weeks! Plus, it is detrimental to the environment, causing a depletion of ozone in our upper atmosphere. If you recharge the system several times, the oil in the compressor will deplete enough to damage the compressor, and then you may require a major and expensive repair! A properly-working air conditioner does not consume or use up refrigerant, so if it is running low on refrigerant, there is a leak somewhere in the system. But where? In this post, we'll talk about the most likely culprits.

Schrader Valve

The Schrader valve, also called the core valve, or service valve, is the port you hook up to when servicing the system. That's why finding a leak here can be so elusive: while it is in use, it doesn't leak. It's only when it is not engaged that the leak can be detected. Often, this can be as simple as putting a soapy solution around it and watch for bubbles to form, or using an electronic leak detector. The Schrader valve can become leaky when debris gets stuck in it, or when the rubber o-ring deteriorates. It used to be that to swap out the valve with a new one required removing all the existing refrigerant in the system (pumping it down) first. But now there are some specialized tools that allow you to swap out this valve while the system is still under pressure. After swapping it out, the system can be topped off with refrigerant. Consider yourself lucky if this is the problem because it is easily repaired.

Condenser Coil, Evaporator Coil, or Accumulator

The evaporator coil picks up heat from indoor air, and the condenser coil releases heat into outdoor air, so these coils are essential for heat exchange. Either or both can develop leaks over time. In some cases, you may be able to hear the hissing sound emanating from the coil and can determine where the leak is. What's more likely is that the coil has developed microscopic "pin holes" in several places. That's because these coils are typically made out of copper, which is particularly susceptible to pollutants such as formaldehyde which is often found in our homes in flooring, furniture, hairspray, and cleaners. Formaldehyde turns into formic acid which causes corrosion on the inside of the tubing. Ironically, newer systems that meet the government's mandate for increased efficiency may be more susceptible to these kinds of leaks. That's because A/C manufacturers found they can raise the efficiency of their equipment by using thinner copper in their evaporator coils, thus allowing faster heat transfer. Some A/C manufacturers have switched to aluminum coils to lessen the probability of this type of corrosion. Heat pumps typically have accumulators made of steel, which will rust over time.  Any of these types of causes are very expensive to address because they require replacement of the coil or accumulator which is a very expensive part, plus it requires a complete depressurizing of the system (withdrawing all refrigerant or "pumping down").

Joints, Seals, Lines and Tubing

Vibration of running the system, as well as environmental pollutants, can cause joints, rubber seals and copper tubing to weaken, split, separate, or rust. A lawn mower or nail may have punctured a line. Steel parts will rust if not galvanized or made rust-proof. Age is also a factor, because the system is under high pressure causing the walls of the tubing to thin and weaken over time. These leaks can be hard to find and may require disassembly of the unit. To locate the source of the leak may involve injecting a tracer (a fluorescent dye) into the system and then re-checking the system about 10 days later using a UV lamp to see where the dye has leaked out. Once the source is found, the joint, connection, or hole in the tube can be fixed by re-soldering, cutting it out, replacing it or by-passing it. The diagnosis and repair of these conditions can be time-consuming and thus expensive.

A Dilemma

Depending on the age of the air conditioner or heat pump, and the type of refrigerant it uses, you may be faced with a dilemma: You may need to consider replacing it rather than repairing it. Weighing the costs can be tricky, so you'll want to read our post entitled "Repair vs Replacement." Keep in mind it is possible to repair one refrigerant leak and have another one develop in a different location shortly thereafter. Whatever you decide, doing nothing is not an option. Sure, the cost to repair or replace your system may be higher than simply adding another "shot of Freon," but not repairing a leak causes recurring expenses that will only escalate, risks major damage to your system that could be even more costly, and injures the environment.

DIY? Not!

Finding the source of a refrigerant leak requires the use of specialized tools and supplies, specialized training, and is something few homeowners can do themselves.  Recharging the system with refrigerant whether the "old" R-22 or R-410A equivalent, or the new refrigerant R-422 is definitely not something a homeowner can do since it requires a government license to order and use these refrigerants. Depend on the experts at Interstate AC Service to diagnose the source of your leak, fix it, recharge your system, and get your air conditioner operating at peak efficiency.

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Posted on 06/01/2016 6:05 AM by Tony Anderson
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Sunday, 15 May 2016
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It may surprise you to learn that indoor air pollution is among the top five environmental health risks. That's why we've been devoting a series of posts on air filtration.  If you've been watching and listening to our posts, you've heard us talk about the MERV ratings of air filters, and how to select the best air filter for your needs. As a general rule, prices are higher for filters with higher MERV ratings. But here is one instance when the buying the best, most expensive filters those with MERV ratings greater than 16 may do more harm than good.

HEPA Filters

Among the most expensive filters are HEPA filters. Higher efficiency filters with a MERV rating of 14 to 16, are sometimes misidentified as HEPA filters.  But true HEPA filters have MERV values of 17 to 20.  HEPA which stands for High-Efficiency Particulate Arrestance - is a special type of filter that, according to DOE standards, filters out 99.97% of particles down to 0.3 microns in size… that's 10 times smaller than a MERV 16 filter!  HEPA filters are typically used in biomedical applications to filter out bacteria and viruses. 

More Harm Than Good

True HEPA filters those with MERV ratings 17 and above - are normally not installed in residential HVAC systems. A typical residential air handling unit and associated ductwork cannot accommodate HEPA filters. They do not have enough fan or motor capacity to accommodate the large pressure drop across the dense HEPA filter material. If you install a HEPA filter in an HVAC system not specifically designed for it, it will make your motor work harder because it is getting too much resistance, and this will hamper your airflow, increase fan noise, and cause your system to fail earlier. Check with your HVAC manufacturer prior to upgrading filters to determine whether it is feasible to use more efficient filters.

Let's Get Real

According to the EPA, using medium-efficiency filters, such as those with a MERV rating of 12-13, are almost as effective as true HEPA filters at removing allergens, with much lower associated system and operating costs, and quieter fan operation.  Furthermore, many air particles never go through your HVAC filter system because they are deposited in your living space on your sheets, furniture, and carpet, for example.  So, you still need to change your sheets, vacuum, and do all those house-cleaning chores regularly to maintain your indoor air quality.

Things You Can Do

Here are some other simple things you can do to improve your indoor air quality:

  • Prevent mold by controlling moisture throughout your home.  That means turning on exhaust fans in bathrooms while showering, and making sure your basement and crawlspaces are dry.
  • Fix any leaks in your ductwork, in the roof, around windows and doors, and around plumbing fixtures.
  • Keep your home smoke-free. Do not smoke indoors, don't burn candles and incense, and use exhaust fans while cooking.

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Posted on 05/15/2016 5:07 AM by Tony Anderson
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Sunday, 01 May 2016
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Over the years, we've posted lots of great tips and answers to customers' questions on our HVAC News page and podcasts. Now we've compiled and edited all the posts dealing with spring maintenance (getting ready for air-conditioning season) into a single resource. We've included links to the videos and podcasts that first appeared with these articles. Download the PDF now. Our free gift to you to celebrate our 100th post since first post August 1, 2012.  Enjoy!

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Posted on 05/01/2016 7:02 AM by Tony Anderson
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Friday, 15 April 2016
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When you go to a hardware or big box store to purchase air filters you will find a bewildering array of products. 3M, for example, offers 9 different types of filters each with different ratings and at a different price, and then each of those comes in different sizes. It can be confusing, to say the least!  We'll help you make sense of it all, so you can choose the best air filter for your needs.

Size Matters

Size is perhaps the easiest decision: get the size filter that fits the filter holder built into your HVAC system. It should fit snugly, with no air gaps around the filter. Be aware that filters come in thicknesses of 1-inch to 6- inches, with the thicker filters having greater capacity to catch dirt without increasing resistance to air flow and increasing the time between required filter changes.  However, you cannot put a thick filter (4 or 6 inches thick) into your HVAC system if it's designed to accommodate only a 1-inch thick filter.

Rating Matters

In our previous post, we talked about the MERV ratings of filters.  MERV is an industry standard measurement of filter efficiency.  Individual manufacturers often have their own rating system as well.  3M's rating is called MPR, which standard for Microparticle Performance Rating.  As with the MERV rating, higher MPR numbers mean a greater percentage of particles and smaller particle sizes will be captured by the filter.  

Price vs Performance

How do you decide which MERV rating to get?  Generally, the higher the MERV (or MPR) rating, the more expensive the filter.  For example, the price of a MERV 13 filter is about twice the price of a MERV 8 filter of the same size. 3M offers multiple filters having a MERV 12 rating, but with different MPR ratings, and so even among filters of the same size and MERV rating, the prices can vary.  Which filter to buy depends on how much cleaning you want your filter to do. The lowest price filters at MERV 5 will remove dust, debris and lint. This is the minimum needed to maintain the health of your HVAC system's heat exchanger and coils.  A MERV 11 filter removes smaller particles such as pollen, dust mites, mold spores, and pet dander. A MERV 12 or 13 filter can filter some bacteria, viruses, and odors.  Since the prices jump up dramatically at MERV ratings higher than 11, and the increased efficiency is only minimally incremental, using filters with more than a MERV 11 rating is probably not cost effective, unless there is some particular medical need.  In the chart, those shown in the "green zone" in the cost column represent the best value on a price vs. performance scale.

 

 

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Posted on 04/15/2016 7:50 AM by Tony Anderson
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Friday, 01 April 2016
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Podcast, Air Filter, ListenYou've heard us preach over and over about how important it is to change your air filters on a regular basis. But there are so many to choose from these days and prices vary widely!  We'll help you make sense of it all in this and two subsequent posts on this subject.

What's the purpose?

Furnace filter, Air Filter, Duct filter, HVACThe purpose of an air filter is to keep the coils and heat exchanger inside your HVAC system clean. Dirty coils and heat exchangers can make the system work harder and cause it to be replaced earlier, so keeping the filter clean helps prolong the life of your HVAC system. Since the air in your house circulates past these filters, they also affect the quality of the air you breathe. People with allergies or asthma are especially sensitive to airborne particles like pet dander, pollen, mold and dust, and the right filter will filter out these particles.

What is a MERV rating?

Air Filters, Filtrete, MervWhen it comes to air filters, the most important thing to look for - besides the correct size for your particular system - is the MERV rating. MERV stands for Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. It is a measurement standard designed in 1987 by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to rate the effectiveness of air filters. The MERV rating is a number from 0 to 20, with most residential air filters in the 4-12 range. The higher the MERV rating, the more efficient the filter is, and the greater percentage of particles it can capture. MERV is an industry standard rating, so it can be used to compare filters made by different companies.

As a general rule, prices are higher for filters with higher MERV ratings. Often HEPA filters are rated in the range of MERV 17 to 20, and are the most expensive types of filters. But here is one instance when the most expensive may not be the best!  Most residential HVAC systems may not have enough fan or motor capacity to accommodate higher efficiency filters, such as those greater than MERV 16. Always check your HVAC manufacturer's recommendations.

Installation Affects Performance

How a filter is installed also effects its performance. If a filter is installed such that air bypasses the filter, its effectiveness will go down substantially, so make sure the filter is the right size and it's a snug fit. Plus, most filters are directional, meaning you have to install them facing the right direction. Check for the arrow which indicates the direction of air flow, and install the filter with the arrow pointing towards the duct. Here's another tip: If you have your HVAC system's fan set to "auto" then the air is only going past the filter when your system kicks on. By setting it to "on" the fan will continually move air across the filter, so the air you breathe will be continually filtered.

Most Important Thing

Date Filter, Filter Installation, Air FilterThe most important thing to remember about home air filters is to change them regularly. Even the highest-quality filter won't work if it is clogged with particles!  Check the filter manufacturer's guidelines, as different filters are meant to be changed at different intervals. Plus, if you're doing remodeling, there is construction going on, or you have pets, you will need to change your filters more frequently to compensate for the extra dust and residue in the air. Mark the date of installation along the filter's frame, so you can clearly see when it was last changed.

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Posted on 04/01/2016 7:02 AM by Tony Anderson
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Tuesday, 15 March 2016
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listen, Podcast, electronic air filter, electronic air cleanerNashville is known for its great music, hot chicken, and unfortunately, its sometimes poor air quality… largely due to ozone, pollens and particulates. Things linger in our air because middle TN sits in a "bowl" surrounded by mountain ridges and vegetation the natural wonders that give this area its beauty.  People who are allergy-sensitive know all too well that springtime is approaching!  Of course, you should be changing your air filters on a regular basis at least every 3 months. But, did you know there is more you can do to help the air quality in your home?  Consider installing a whole-house electronic air cleaner.

Honeywell Electrostatic Air Cleaner

What is an Electronic Air Cleaner?

Electronic Air Cleaner DiagramThis is a device that attaches directly into the HVAC ductwork feeding your whole house. As the name implies, this is an electronic filter not just some folded mesh encased in a cardboard frame like a typical air filter. It works by placing a negative electric charge on airborne particles and a positive electric charge on the media and, because opposites attract, it collects airborne particles like a magnet. To give you some perspective, typical air filters remove particles down to about 750-1000 microns in size, or about the size of the eye of a sewing needle. But, an electronic air cleaner can remove particles less than 10 microns in size a size so small it would require an electron microscope to see!  Particles of this small size stay suspended in air easily and account for 99% of the total number of particles in unfiltered air.

Low Maintenance

Cleaning the Electronic Air FilterBesides dramatically increasing your air quality, electronic air cleaners are low maintenance and economical. They can be easily removed from the ductwork, washed in your dishwasher or sink, drip dried, and re-installed. They do not have to be replaced every 3 months like typical air filters. Some systems offer an integrated LCD display or fault light to remind you when the filter needs cleaning. Runtime on these filters is not based on calendar days, but on the length of time your HVAC system runs. It is recommended that you leave your HVAC system's fan set to "on" rather than "auto" for maximum air cleaning benefit. Most electronic air cleaners come with a 10-year warranty and use about as much electricity as a 40-watt light bulb.  

Often Confused with Electrostatic Filters

Do not confuse electronic air cleaners with electrostatic air filters! Electrostatic filters have a charge applied to them at the factory which is supposed to last the life of the filter, but their efficiency is poor at best and degrades over time. Electronic air filters are made using either precipitator or polarized media technologies, both of which require a power supply. Electronic air cleaners have a continuous charge applied making them very efficient dust magnets!

Other Benefits

Electrostatic Air Cleaner DuctworkIn a previous post, we talked about duct cleaning. But, if you have an electronic air filter and well-sealed ducts, you should never need your ducts cleaned, as particles won't ever get the chance to deposit themselves in the ducts or build up over time. Additionally, your HVAC system's blower, air conditioning coils, and heat exchanger will be protected from particles and so will last longer and be more efficient. In fact, one electronic air cleaner manufacturer guarantees that if your indoor coil requires cleaning within 10 years of  installing their electronic air cleaner, they will pay to have it cleaned!

 

Don't Forget This

Whether you have a whole-house electronic air filter or not, you still need to change your air filters in your return air vents every three months!

 

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Posted on 03/15/2016 7:55 AM by Eddie Hutton
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Tuesday, 01 March 2016
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Depending who you ask, folks will either tell you that cleaning your ducts is a must or it's just a waste of money.  Who can you believe?  We're here to help you make sense of this difficult question. First, let's clarify what we mean when we say ducts.  In one of our earlier posts, we talked about the duct opening, called the register or vent.  We described how you can clean these yourself, by taking off the vent cover and using a small vacuum or cloth. But when we refer to duct cleaning, we're talking about the many yards of conduit or enclosed raceways that go between your HVAC system the heating and cooling source and the various room destinations the vent outlet.  Ducts are often hidden within walls, in attic or basement spaces, or in a crawl space. Duct cleaning requires specialized equipment and must be done by a professional… it is not a DIY project.

A Scam?

Duct cleaning is never recommended as routine periodic maintenance. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (the EPA), there is no scientific evidence that regular residential air duct cleaning improves air quality.  Checking and changing your system's filters on a regular basis, keeping your system well maintained, having regular inspections, and ensuring moisture doesn't get in are some of the most important things you can do to maintain good air quality and keep your ducts clean. 

A Symptom, Not the Problem

Dirty ducts are often merely a symptom and not the cause of the problem; thus, cleaning them does not eliminate the problem.  If you have mold, you have a moisture issue that needs to be addressed.  If you're not getting good air flow, there are many possible reasons, each of which should be explored.  Don't get talked into getting your ducts cleaned as a treatment for or prevention of allergies. Getting a good filter one that traps allergens - and changing it often is a simpler and more cost-effective solution. 

Benefits vs Risks

Just like when treating a medical condition, you must make sure the benefits are worth the risks.  Duct cleaning is a fragile operation, and can kick up particles or even cause your ducts to break. Duct cleaning services can run $600 a bit more or less, depending on the size of your house - and can take 3 hours or more.  Because ducts typically have bends, tape and screws, there are many places for dirt to get trapped and hide.  The only way to thoroughly clean ducts is to remove them and and clean the individual pieces. In that case, you may be better off just replacing the ducts. Eddie Hutton is one of our owners. Click video to see and hear how he sums it up.

If you're still on the fence about duct cleaning and live in the Nashville area, call and we'll be happy to come out and do an assessment.

**Interstate AC Service does not provide duct cleaning services.

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Posted on 03/01/2016 6:17 AM by Eddie Hutton
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Monday, 15 February 2016
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Podcast, HVAC service technician, parts replacementAs much as we try to provide do-it-yourself tips, it's just a fact of life that sooner or later you'll be at the mercy of an HVAC professional.  After all, HVAC systems are complex equipment requiring in-depth knowledge of electricity, plumbing and mechanical systems, specialized diagnostic equipment, state licensure and EPA certification.  When it comes to HVAC trades people, there are basically two types: the "parts replacer" and the "service technician."

The Parts Replacer

HVAC parts, parts replacementThis individual knows how to replace parts, but may not have the necessary advanced trouble-shooting and engineering skills or may not want to put forth that extra time and effort that may be required for your situation.  Has this ever happened to you?  You spend money to replace a part, only to have similar trouble just a week or two later, so they come out and replace a different part.  This could be a sign that no in-depth trouble-shooting was done initially to determine the exact cause of the problem, and the technician merely replaced the "most likely" part hoping that might fix it.  The parts replacer mentality can be very costly for the consumer!  You wind up buying things you might not need, and the real preventive maintenance is not done on the system…because it is just easier to let it fail and replace it later.

Tip:  Any time a part is replaced, make sure you see the old part that is removed, and the new part being installed.  You may not have a clue about the parts themselves, but at least you'll be assured that if you paid for a new part to be swapped out with old part, that it actually was!  Then, hang on to the old part, and if it turned out not to be the problem after all, ask for it to be reinstalled and demand a refund for the cost of its wrongful replacement.

The Service Technician

HVAC service technician, Interstate AC ServiceThis individual takes the word "service" seriously.  They spend the time and effort necessary to investigate the problem and find the best solution… and they know the best solution is not always to replace parts.  This individual takes the word "technician" seriously, too.  They are not afraid to tackle a difficult repair or to fabricate a part or to engineer a more optimal solution.  They realize that there is more to being an HVAC service technician than simply being able to replace parts.  Listening to the customer and being sensitive to their needs is just as important as the technical skills they possess.  These types of people actually protect your investment in your HVAC system and save you money in the long-run by keeping your system tuned and by preventing the need for parts replacement.  Sure you can replace a failed part, but not fixing the underlying cause of what made that part fail in the first place means you'll be spending more later.  This is why the lowest bid on a job may not always be the one you should choose.

Tip:  Always seek out a second opinion if a major expense is proposed, and don't be quick to opt for the lowest price.  Ask questions about what will be done: what parts will be repaired or replaced and the amount of time it will take.  Ask also if they will guarantee their work.  If they hem and haw at your questions, that's not a good sign!

In short, a parts replacer is reactive, while a service technician is proactive. Service technicians will use their advanced technical knowledge and equipment to correctly diagnose the problem and repair it the first time.  While parts replacers keep swapping out parts hoping to stumble across the correct solution. Which type of HVAC professional do you want working on your systems? 

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Posted on 02/15/2016 6:21 AM by Tony Anderson
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Monday, 01 February 2016
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Podcast, Heating Fixes, DIY, Listen, thermostat, furnace, filter, serviceIt always seems your heat will go out on the coldest day of the year!  Why spend money when you may be able to fix it yourself? Here are a few examples of do-it-yourself easy fixes:

Thermostat

 

Is the display on your thermostat blank? It could be because it needs a battery, or that the circuit breaker to it has been tripped or you've blown a fuse. Reset the tripped circuit breaker, replace the fuse, or replace the battery.  Other thermostat tips:

  • Make sure all the wires going to the thermostat are connected and not loose.
  • Check that the thermostat is in heat mode. This switch can easily get accidentally bumped while dusting.
  • For programmable thermostats, check that it is set to the correct day and time, including the AM or PM designation.  One customer bought a programmable thermostat to save money, with the intent to have the heat backed down while the customer was away at work, and have the heat cranked up at night when the customer was home.  When the customer started freezing at night, they mistakenly thought something was wrong with the heat, when the real culprit was they had the AM/PM designation backwards on their thermostat!
  • If you had a recent power outage, it could be that all of the settings on your programmable thermostat have been wiped out.  Often there is a battery backup in these units, so you may need to change the battery and then re-enter your settings.

Furnace

If the heat is out and you do not even hear the fan coming on (no air coming out of the supply registers), there may be no power to the furnace.  This is often due to someone flipping the switch accidentally while cleaning out the attic or basement (areas where the furnace may reside). The switch often looks similar to a light switch and easy to mistakenly turn off.  Just flip the switch back, and you should hear the furnace start up within 3-5 minutes. Other furnace tips:

  • Many thermostats get their power from the same electrical circuit that feeds the furnace system, so if your thermostat is blank, turning on the switch by the furnace may be the solution.
  • If the fan runs, but the air coming out is cold, you have a problem with the furnace (or heat pump) itself, and may need a service call.
  • Some furnaces have emergency cut-off switches that are activated when a door or service panel is removed. If the furnace door is not closed properly (such as after a filter cleaning), or has been accidentally bumped open, the cut-off switch will prevent the furnace from coming on.  Verify all access doors are properly closed.

Electrical

If the switch is on to the furnace and it still doesn't come on, it could be that the circuit breaker or fuse to the furnace (or heat pump) is tripped or blown.  Reset the breaker by turning it all the way OFF, then back ON. If the fuse for the furnace is blown, replace it with the same size and type of fuse.  Important electrical tip:

  • If a breaker keeps tripping or a fuse keeps blowing, contact a qualified electrician to inspect your system to determine why you are having problems.

 

 

Filters

A dirty air filter restricts air flow, and the system will work harder and build up pressure. Newer, more efficient furnaces are sensitive to this pressure build up and turn off before the dirty filter can cause further damage. At the very least, a dirty, clogged filter will reduce the heat output of your system. The simple solution is change the filter!   Important tip:

  • Don't try to just vacuum the existing filter and re-insert it. The material inside the filter will still be saturated. Just place the old filter in the trash and insert a new one each time… at least every 3 months.

If none of these DIY fixes addresses your problem, give us a call.  We're always here to help!    

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Posted on 02/01/2016 7:03 AM by Tony Anderson
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Friday, 15 January 2016
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You may be familiar with a space or room humidifier, but did you know you can get a whole-house humidifier? This is a device that gets mounted to your furnace's hot air supply. Warm air is sucked into the humidifier, where it absorbs moisture. Then, the now moisture-rich air is passed back through the vents of your home.

 

Benefits

Whole house humidifiers offer several advantages compared to room humidifiers:

Convenience: They condition the whole house evenly with a single unit, so you do not have to have space in every room to plug in and setup a separate room humidifier. Plus, furnace humidifiers are typically plumbed directly to a water line, so there is no need to constantly clean and refill a water reservoir, as is required with a room humidifier.

Maintenance: Maintenance is easy with a furnace humidifier: just have it checked and filter changed once at the start of each heating season.

Safety:  Because there is fresh water plumbed into a furnace humidifier, water doesn't sit around to accumulate mold.  Also, with room humidifiers, there is always the danger of someone tipping the unit over and splashing water everywhere.

Control:  A furnace humidifier can be controlled by a humidistat, which is a device similar to a thermostat that allows you to adjust or set the desired humidity output. This is a great way to avoid air that is too dry or too moist with a simple dial, panel or switch. Some units actually replace your existing house thermostat with a single, integrated humidistat/thermostat.

Types of Whole House Humidifiers

There are many types of whole-house humidifiers:

  • Fan-powered humidifier units have their own fans separate from your heating unit's fan - that add moisture directly into your ducts.
  • By-pass humidifiers, on the other hand, work with your furnace's existing system to deliver enhanced moisture throughout your home.
  • Flow-through humidifiers are the most common, and operate by sending water directly through the unit to add moisture to the warmed air.
  • A reservoir humidifier uses an actual reservoir of water that then gets gradually funneled into the air to reach the ideal level of humidity. There is a filter that water flows through and your furnace's warm air blows through the filter.
  • A steam humidifier, as the name suggests, incorporates steam into the air that is evaporated from water. It is the most expensive type of humidifier, but also the most effective and allows more precise control of the humidity. They come in cold and hot water forms, injecting hot or cold steam into your supply line.

Important Tip: If you have two HVAC units in your house one upstairs and one downstairs you only need a single furnace humidifier on your downstairs unit, since humidity rises.

Costs

Costs for a furnace humidifier range from $350-$500 including installation.  Although some are marketed as do-it-yourself, we recommend calling a professional, since a water line and electrical line may need to be run for the humidistat and fan. Call Interstate AC Service for help at 615-832-8500.

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Posted on 01/15/2016 1:14 AM by Tony Anderson
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Saturday, 02 January 2016
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Winter is the time to worry about a lack of humidity in your home. This post explains how proper humidity levels improve your health and the health of pets, plants, and furniture, eliminates static shock, and decreases your heating bill.

 

In Middle Tennessee, we are all too familiar with the long, humid summers. But in the winter, the humidity is very low, and when indoors in heated space it's even lower, so that should be a good thing, right?  Not so!  If your indoor humidity is below 30%, you could actually be causing harm to yourself and your home, and increasing your energy bills while decreasing your comfort.

Humidity Affects Your Health

Low humidity can adversely affect your health. It can make your throat feel dry, aggravate respiratory ailments, increase respiratory infections including colds and flu, cause itchy, dry skin and even nosebleeds. Many doctors recommend whole-house humidification for allergy and asthma sufferers.

Humidity Affects Your House

Dry air can adversely affect other things in your home, too. It steals moisture from your plants, your pets, your furniture and all the wood in your home. Hardwood floors separate at the seams, furniture shrinks and cracks, doors warp and no longer fit their frames, wallpaper and paint crack and peel. 

Humidity Affects Electronics

Perhaps one of the most annoying effects of dry indoor air is static shock. Ever get "zapped" after walking across the carpet, or "zap" your pet or someone else? This static electricity can even wreak havoc on home computers and other sensitive electronic devices.

Proper Humidity Saves Energy

How does humidity save energy? Warm, humid summer air feels hotter than it actually is because of the moisture it contains. That same principle applies to your home in the winter. By keeping the relative humidity inside your home at an ideal level typically between 30-40% - you can turn your thermostat down a few degrees and actually feel more comfortable.

If you haven't already, subscribe to our podcasts or our HVAC News posts so you won't miss the next post in this series, where we talk about whole house humidifiers.

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Posted on 01/02/2016 6:59 AM by Eddie Hutton
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Tuesday, 15 December 2015
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Podcast, Heating options, Listen

 For a few months of the year, heat is essential in Middle Tennessee. Although central heating systems (a gas furnace or electric heat pump) are common, suppose you only need to heat a certain room or area of the house? Perhaps you've re-purposed a previously unheated space such as a garage, or you closed off part of the house in the winter and so only require heating in a smaller area. Maybe you have one room in your house that is just never warm enough, despite having central heat.  Well, there are many local heating options that can address these issues.  Local or room heating uses a separate thermostat for each room or area, and thus allows you to take advantage of adjusting just that area to the temperature you want, rather than setting one temperature for the whole house as you would with a central heating system.  Here are 5 local heat options to consider:

Radiant floor heat

This works by heating your floors from underneath, creating an environment that is heated evenly, quietly, efficiently, and without the drying effects of forced air. Check out our story "Say Goodbye to Cold Floors with Radiant Heating" for more. This is also a good supplemental option (used in conjunction with central heat) to increase your comfort level in areas where you may have cold floors, such as a bathroom, shower, or uncarpeted area.

Mini-Split

This uses a wall-mounted unit, called a cassette, that provides both heat and air-conditioning without ductwork.  Find out more about mini-splits from our previous blog story here, and in our post about Panasonic's Exterios mini-split which uses inverter and room occupancy technologies.  Mini-splits are available in different sizes and offer a variety of features, including remote control. They are quiet, since the "noisy" part is outside. Plus, compared to central heating systems, they are super-efficient because they eliminate ductwork, which is a source of heat loss.

Baseboard heat

These are typically electric metal heating elements that sit inconspicuously below windows along the baseboard around a room's periphery. They heat through convection, not forced air.  They are quiet, since there are no blowers.  Because they are installed near the floor and heat naturally rises, and they use no ductwork, they are efficient, too.

 

Portable room heaters

These are space heaters you can buy at any big box or hardware store. They can be plugged into any wall electrical outlet and can be carried from room to room as needed. There are many kinds and sizes with different types of on/off, timer, remote control, and fan features, and there are a variety of technologies used: radiant, convection, ceramic, infrared, quartz, or oil-filled (sealed).

 

Fireplace or wood stove with blower

These burn wood, wood pellets, or other biomass fuel (corn, nutshells, switchgrass, etc.).  By installing a blower, a huge portion of the heat that would otherwise go up in smoke through the chimney is captured and sent back into the room. The blower requires an electrical outlet for the fan and can be thermostatically controlled. It is important to note that in addition to having access to wood or wood pellets which must be stored on-site, this type of solution causes creosote buildup in the chimney and thus requires yearly chimney cleaning.  It also creates more atmospheric CO2 than some alternative solutions.

Be sure to check out the pros and cons of each heating solution before making a purchase. Whatever you choose, we wish you and yours a warm holiday season.

 

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Posted on 12/15/2015 6:03 AM by Tony Anderson
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Tuesday, 01 December 2015
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It used to be that if you had central heat, you had either a gas furnace or an electric heat pump.  But with energy costs and environmental concerns playing a more prominent role in our energy choices, high-efficiency, clean or renewable energy sources have taken off.  Geothermal or ground source heating meets all these concerns!  So it comes as no surprise that from now (program was established in 2009) through December 31, 2016 (more than a year from now), homeowners who install EnergyStar-certified geothermal heat pumps are eligible for a 30% federal tax credit.

 

Energy Efficiency

Geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) are among the most efficient and comfortable heating and cooling technologies currently available. EnergyStar-certified geothermal heat pumps are over 45% more energy efficient than standard furnace or heat pump options. Geothermal technology uses the earth's natural heat to provide heating, cooling, and often, water heating, too! GHPs equipped with a device called a "desuperheater" can heat household water. During the summer, the heat that is taken out of the house is used to heat the water for free. In the winter, water heating costs are reduced by about half. 

Clean Energy

Most importantly, geothermal is a clean energy technology you can feel good about. It does not burn fossil fuels, so it reduces our dependence on foreign oil. In fact, closed loop geothermal systems release essentially no emissions or toxic gases. Because there is an unlimited amount of heat generated by the Earth's core, it is a sustainable energy source.

Ways to Offset Costs

The costs for installing a geothermal system are pretty steep, so it's a good thing that Uncle Sam is willing to help out!  But, a geothermal system can pay for itself in 3-8 years and add significant resale value to your home. It may also be possible to include the purchase of a geothermal system in an "energy-efficient mortgage" that would cover installation costs and other energy-saving improvements to the home. When included in a mortgage, your investment in geothermal will produce a positive cash flow from the beginning. For example, the installation cost of a geothermal system may add $30 per month to each mortgage payment, but the energy cost savings easily exceed that over the course of each year.

Many Options

Besides the 30% federal tax credit, there are a multitude of other provisions and incentives available from federal, state, and local governments, power providers, and banks or mortgage companies. These include loan programs, rebates, property tax or sales tax incentives, and grants. Check these out at the  DSIRE website, or on the EnergyStar website run by the U.S. Dept. of Energy. While you're at it, check out our other posts on geothermal:

Tis the Season

The season for saving on geothermal goes through 2016. That means there are only about 270 shopping days left (excluding weekends and holidays)!  Get your 30% federal tax credit now and start reaping the cost benefits and environmental benefits every day. 

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Posted on 12/01/2015 4:01 AM by Eddie Hutton
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Sunday, 15 November 2015
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Holiday Feasts Eating

This time of year, your home becomes the center for family gatherings, Thanksgiving feasts, parties, etc., and your thoughts turn to holiday decorations, gift-giving and food. Here are some tips to help ensure a happy, warm, and safe holiday season.

 

 

​Fireplaces

While they set a delightful holiday ambiance, fireplaces can waste a lot of energy, as they pull warm air out of the house and force it out through the chimney.  Make sure the damper is closed and that if you do use the fireplace, do so for as short a time as possible.  Tip: Get your fireplace chimney flue cleaned yearly!​

Decorations

Do not block registers or air returns with furniture, drapes, or holiday decorations. This can cause uneven heating, and could even cause your HVAC system to fail. Try using the new LED lights this year as they use much less power and give off almost no heat. Tip: Use caution when decorating with candles and non-LED lights, as they are the common causes of home fires this time of year.

 

Vacations

 Traveling to visit relatives or to get away during the holidays?  Do not turn off your heat when leaving!  You may think you're saving money by not running the heat when no one is home, but if your pipes burst from the freezing and thawing, you could be coming home to a very costly mess!   Tip: Leave the heat on low, and have someone check your house while you're gone.

Room comfort

During cold weather, increased use of your heater causes the home and its interior air to become dry.  Using a humidifier can help add needed moisture to the air, reduce static electricity, and improve health issues like dry sinuses.  But did you know a humidifier can actually save energy?  That's because moist air holds heat, so you feel more comfortable at a lower heat setting.

Re-arranging 

furnace clutterTo allow for holiday decorations, parties, or overnight guests in your home, you might need to do some re-arranging. While you may want to store stuff out-of-sight, be careful not to store anything too close to your HVAC equipment.  Not only is it a safety hazard, but HVAC systems need air in order to burn properly and to draft, or carry the harmful by-products of combustion like carbon monoxide gases - out the flue. Tip:  Keep all clutter at least 3 feet away from your HVAC system.

Loss of heat

  A host's worse nightmare is that company is coming and you notice that the heat is not working.  Check out our post "No Heat? What Should You Do?" for things you can do to diagnose and fix many heating problems.  If all these tips fail to alleviate the problem, then call the professionals.

We wish you and yours a very happy, warm, and safe holiday season.  Let the (h)eating begin! 

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Posted on 11/15/2015 8:06 AM by Tony Anderson
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Sunday, 01 November 2015
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Fall and spring are great times to do small maintenance jobs around the house, before the extreme cold or hot weather sets in.  It is a good idea to make cleaning the vents and ducts part of your yearly spring and fall cleaning routine. After watching the video try out this fun Test your knowledge.

 

Follow these easy steps:

  1. Turn your HVAC system to the off position by flipping the switch on your thermostat, or turn it down to where the system is no longer running. You do not want the system blowing air (in or out) while you are cleaning it!
  2. Remove the vent cover or open the grill's latch to expose the duct.
  3. Do a visual inspection of the duct in case there is something that can be retrieved such as an earring, a coin, a pet toy, or other small object which has fallen in. Floor registers are particularly susceptible to things falling in.  Registers on the wall or in the ceiling are probably more susceptible to cobwebs. 
  4. Using your vacuum cleaner nozzle, a handheld vacuum, or a cloth, remove spider webs or any debris that may have fallen into the duct. Be careful not to damage the ductwork while cleaning it.
  5. Clean and replace the register cover.  Then close the grill cover back over the duct.
  6. Turn your HVAC system back on by flipping the appropriate switch on your thermostat.

Do this type of maintenance twice per year, as part of your spring and fall cleaning routine. In high-traffic and very dusty environments, or if you're plagued by lots of pet hair, you may need to do this type of maintenance each time you change your air filters, which for most folks is about every 3 months.

Fall and spring are great times to get an HVAC tune-up, too, to make sure you're ready for the upcoming heating or cooling season. And don't forget to change those air filters!


 

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Posted on 11/01/2015 3:06 AM by Tony Anderson
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Thursday, 15 October 2015
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AHome-for-salere you looking to buy a home or just recently purchased one? If you purchased an older home, perhaps it had significant updates new kitchen appliances or countertops, for example -  but what about the heating and air-conditioning systems?  Repairing or replacing your HVAC units can be a major expense to a new homeowner, not to mention a potential hazard! Here are some important things to consider.

Age of Systems

An HVAC system generally lasts about 10-15 years.  If the systems are older than that, perhaps you want to negotiate a deal with the seller for an update allowance. It is generally not a good idea to force the seller to install a new system as a condition of the sale, because the seller will be inclined to purchase the least expensive unit, which may not meet your needs.

Warranty

If you're buying a new house (new construction), check that your new home warranty covers the heating and air-conditioning systems. If you're buying a pre-owned home with a recently-replaced HVAC unit, ask the seller for a copy of the warranty.  If the seller had the systems under a yearly maintenance contract, find out of there are future maintenance visits due.

Gas Heat

If you purchased a home with a gas furnace more than about 10 years old, we strongly recommend you have it checked by a certified technician prior to the heating season.  This is because as we said in our last post  your furnace can kill you.  Even if your furnace checks out okay, be sure you have carbon monoxide detectors installed on every level of the home, near the sleeping areas, and in the garage. 

Smells

Perhaps when you attended the open house, they had some pleasant-smelling potpourri wafting through the house. Now that you've moved in, you notice it smells like dirty sox! This can be a sign of standing water in the evaporator coil pan or holes in the ductwork, either of which requires immediate attention. Don't just cover up smells, find the cause!

Sounds

Does the HVAC unit make harsh sounds when cycling on or off?  Is it really loud all the time while it's running?  If you're looking at the house on a nice spring or fall day when the air or heat is not actively running, you may be in for a surprise later!

 

Signs of Damage or Problems

By physically inspecting the HVAC unit, you can often see clues that something isn't right.  Is there rust anywhere on the system, ductwork, or flue?  Are there any cracked, dented, broken or exposed pipes, flues, or ducts?  Is there water leaking out of any part of the unit?  Do you see evidence that there has been a condensation leak such as constant dampness?  Is the indoor or outdoor unit covered in debris?  When the heat or air kicks in, do the house lights dim?  All of these conditions require attention by a qualified technician.

Performance

Is the airflow poor or weak in part of the house?  Does the heat blow cold air, or does the air conditioner blow warm air?  Does the thermostat work as intended?  Try to test these things before purchase or have them tested as part of a home inspection or HVAC maintenance visit.  Once you've closed on the house, it will be too late to request that these things be fixed by the seller, and it will be your problem.

 

Utility Bills

About half your yearly energy bills go towards heating and cooling.  Ask the seller to disclose their past utility bills.  This will give you an idea of how efficient the HVAC unit is, as well as how well the house is insulated.  If you've already moved in and find your utility bills vary drastically from what the seller had reported, this may be a sign of a problem as well.

What's Your SEER?

Visually check the unit itself for the SEER rating and Energy Star stickers.  If the SEER is less than 10, a new unit might be cost-effective.  The minimum SEER rating of systems now is 14 or greater.

We hope you found these tips helpful. Let us hear of any other questions/concerns you have, and subscribe to our blog so you won't miss out on useful tips that can save you money and help keep you and your family safe year-round.

 

 

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Posted on 10/15/2015 6:44 AM by Tony Anderson
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Wednesday, 30 September 2015
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Every year, many deaths are attributed to home heating hazards which cause fires, carbon monoxide poisoning, and other calamities. Here are some very important steps you can take to reduce or eliminate some heating safety hazards:

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Steps You Can Take

First, check the area around your furnace. Is there adequate clearance all around the system?  Or are you using the area for storage, thus limiting the system's air intake? 

Next, notice any leaks or moisture sources near the furnace, or signs of rust in the furnace.  Something as simple as condensation dripping from a cold water pipe onto the furnace can cause rust.  Rust on the inside or outside, or along any of the vents is a carbon monoxide hazard.  Other potential carbon monoxide hazards include animal or bird nests obstructing the flue, soot build-up, improper venting, and damage or deterioration to any vents.

Carbon Monoxide Dangers

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are an average of 430 deaths per year in the United States from unintentional, non-fire-related carbon monoxide  poisoning.  The older the furnace, the more likely there could be a problem. Carbon monoxide is a sneaky problem for many reasons.

  • First, carbon monoxide is colorless and odorless… it's not like natural gas which has the smell of rotten eggs!  Thus, it is difficult to know that you've developed a carbon monoxide leak. That's why it's nicknamed "the silent killer."
  • Second, your heat may be operating (keeping the house warm) so you do not know that your heat exchanger or vent is beginning to rust out and building up the deadly gas..
  • Lastly, low-level carbon monoxide poisoning mimics the symptoms of common winter ailments - such as the flu, or an over-indulgent night out, or even seasonal depression - so many cases are not detected until permanent damage to the body has occurred.  
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include: headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, shortness of breath, and eventually, loss of consciousness.  

Tips for Prevention

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, recommends these tips:

  1. Have all fuel-burning home heating systems inspected and serviced annually by trained service technicians.
  2. Install CO detectors with battery backup in hallways near each sleeping area and in the garage.  Test the CO alarms and replace the batteries every year.

Test your knowledge.

Following these important tips can keep illness or death from claiming your life or the lives of your loved ones.

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Posted on 09/30/2015 11:53 PM by Tony Anderson
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Tuesday, 15 September 2015
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Well, the short answer is, "it depends."  Ask yourself these questions:

What is included?

If the contract is very cheap, it may be just a ploy to get a technician into your house and try to sell you something you don't need.  However, if the contract entitles you to a discount on parts or labor, or priority service or emergency/after-hours support, then it might be very well worth it!  If a system is going to break down, it will typically do so at extreme temperatures: the air conditioning will fail on a very hot, humid day, or the heat will fail during a prolonged stretch of frigid weather.  These are times when you can ill afford to be without a working system and when all HVAC companies are inundated with calls.  Without having a company that will put you to the front of the line, you might find the wait with any company you call will be measured in days, not hours!  Additionally, most HVAC companies will charge extra for after-hours support.  You could wind up paying up to twice the labor charges for getting your system serviced on a Saturday versus getting it serviced on Monday.  But in extreme temperatures, you may not be able to wait until Monday!  So, if your service contract entitles you to no additional up-charges for after-hours emergencies, the savings in the labor on just one visit could be worth it.

How old is your unit?

If you have a brand new unit (less than 6 years old), the chances of it breaking down might be less than if you have a unit that is more than 10 years old.  Also, if the unit is still under warranty, then it could be that some portion of parts and/or labor may be covered by the warranty.  But be aware that manufacturers may not honor the warranty if they think the unit has not been properly maintained by the homeowner. Having a service contract where you can prove the unit had regular preventive maintenance might make all the difference.  Certainly, if you have an older unit, or a unit with a history of previous failures, having a service contract might be a smart move!

How diligent are you in doing preventive maintenance?

If you're following the tips we provide on our HVAC News page, videos, and in our Fall Maintenance eBook, and are diligent about changing filters on time, cleaning the coils, keeping the condensate line clear, and doing other recommended tasks yourself, then you might not gain that much from having a service contract, especially if it only includes these same types of services.  Of course, some preventive maintenance tasks require special equipment, measuring devices, certifications or licensures (such as adding refrigerant to a unit), so there's no such thing as never needing service.  But if you're pretty handy and diligent about doing all you can, you certainly will lessen the chances of some things going wrong.

Consider Potential Savings

Annual maintenance is vital to keep your HVAC system in good working condition and at peak efficiency, so you'll benefit by (a) avoiding big repairs bills, since minor problems could be spotted before they escalate, (b) lowering your utility bills, since your unit will be running more efficiently, and (c) extending the life of your system, so purchasing a new system can be delayed. Like your car, it is cheaper to maintain it in good working order than to deal with large repair bills when it breaks down.   

Read  the Fine Print

Always read the contract, so you understand exactly what's included, and what's not.  For example, if you purchased a service contract from the gas company thinking it will cover your furnace maintenance, you may find it only covers repairs to the gas lines from the street up to the furnace; the gas company won't be coming out twice a year for tune-ups and regular preventive maintenance on your HVAC unit.

 

Consider the Company, Not Just the Price

Remember, the service contract is only as good as the service provider backing it up. Are they honest, trustworthy, and reputable? Are their technicians trained, certified, licensed and insured?  Do they have experience with the type of equipment you have?  Do they treat their customers with respect?  Do they have good online reviews by homeowners (or business owners) and by the Better Business Bureau (BBB)?  Have they been in business a long time?  If you base your service decisions solely on price, you may not be getting a good value for your money.

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Posted on 09/15/2015 7:39 AM by Tony Anderson
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Monday, 31 August 2015
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Heat pumps provide both heating and cooling, so they are very practical for Tennessee's climate. High-efficiency heat pumps also dehumidify better than standard central air conditioners, resulting in less energy usage and more cooling comfort in summer months. However, the efficiency of most heat pumps as a heat source drops dramatically at low temperatures, generally making them unsuitable for cold climates.

Technology Advances

The new crop of heat pumps offer technology advances that not only make heat pumps perform much better during extreme temperatures, but also double the efficiencies of 10 years ago. Indeed, the market has been heating up for heat pumps growing by double-digits in each of the last 2 years! Here are a few of the advanced features:  

  • Inverter Technology: varies the flow of refrigerant and adjusts the speed of the compressor according to the desired temperature and the current room temperature. By eliminating the cycling on and off of the compressor, efficiency is increased, and the temperature stays more steady.
  • Two-Speed Compressors: save energy, reduce compressor wear, and allow zone control (keeping different rooms at different temperatures).
  • Variable-Speed Blowers: allow the fans to keep the air moving, minimizing cold drafts, reducing noise from the blower, while also maximizing electrical savings.
  • Scroll Compressor: consists of two spiral-shaped scrolls - one remains stationary, while the other compresses the refrigerant. Compared to the typical piston compressors, scroll compressors have a longer operating life, are quieter, and provide 10-15°F warmer air when in the heating mode.
  • Back-up Burners: rather than using electric resistance heaters as a backup heat source during extreme cold weather, some manufacturers now use a combustion fuel source such as propane, natural gas, oil, coal, or wood, thus reducing the use of electricity.
  • Refrigerants: the new crop of heat pumps use the more environmentally-friendly and less costly refrigerants, and new refrigerant formulations transfer, hold and deliver heat more effectively. Plus, the copper tubing through which the refrigerant travels has grooves on it to increase surface area, which also boosts efficiency.
  • Computer-controlled motors and valves: consume less electricity and provide more precise control of the refrigerant flow.
  • Electronic, programmable  thermostats: many of which are now wireless or Internet-capable, allow additional savings and conveniences. Check out our previous blogs on thermostats.

What to Look For

Energy Star Label showing SEER and HSPF

When shopping for a new heat pump system, check the Energy STAR® label and compare the HSPF rating (heating season performance factor) which is an indicator of the efficiency of the compressor and the electric-resistance elements and the SEER rating (seasonal energy efficiency rating), which rates a heat pump's cooling capacity (see our post What's Your SEER?).  HSPF should be between 8 and 10 and SEER should be greater than 14. In both cases, the higher the number, the more efficient the unit.

 

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Posted on 08/31/2015 2:14 AM by Tony Anderson
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Saturday, 15 August 2015
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In a previous posting, we discussed the basics of vents, registers, and air grilles. This article deals with some of the various gadgets you may use along with your vents.  Keep those questions coming in we love to hear from you!  

What about magnetic vent covers or just closing the vents?

Magnetic vent covers are pieces of flexible material that sit on top of and cover the vent grille, effectively blocking off the flow of air. Most vent grilles also have a small knob which controls louvers, to allow you to alter the direction the air blows or to close the louvers completely to prevent air flow.  We recommend only using magnetic vent covers or closing the louvers in special circumstances and for as short a time as possible.  For example, if you have one room of your house you never use in the winter, then you can close the vents in that room to avoid heating it, and to force the heat into the other areas of the house. But you must make sure that the door to the room you are closing off stays closed and that the return air grille is not located in or near that room.  A better solution would be to create a separate zone for that room.

When should air deflectors be used?

Air defectors are typically clear plastic attachments to the vent or register grille that direct the flow of air in one direction. This is sometimes a good idea when the vent falls in an awkward place in the room in relation to drapes or furniture. It is far better to use a deflector than to use a vent cover or close the vent entirely. Always deflect the air into the room (towards the room occupants) and not towards an exterior wall or window. Remember that the deflector will also need periodic cleaning.

 

Are vent filters a good idea?

These are similar to air filters, and are typically made of a mesh material that allows air to pass but traps larger particles. HEPA vent filters may be helpful to people who are particularly sensitive to pollen, mold, pet dander, and other allergens. Some filters are impregnated with charcoal to help take odors out of the air. Other than some particular circumstances, vent filters are not generally recommended.  They impede the flow of air and make your system work harder than it needs to. If your objective is to keep the air clean of particulate matter such as pollens and dust, it is much more effective to put a good quality air filter on the return air grille than to insert filters into each individual register.  Keep in mind also, that filters only work when the HVAC blower is running (air is actively blowing).  The rest of the time, pollen, mold spores, and other allergens are all around, coming through doors and windows, and riding along on our clothes and furniture. For people who are ultra-sensitive, an air purifier might be a better solution than vent filters.

Vent/Register fans

Check out a previous post we wrote on register fans: Are Register & Duct Fans a Solution for Uneven Heating & Cooling?

Tell us about any gadgets you've come across, and what you like or dislike about them.  As always, we welcome your comments and feedback. 

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Posted on 08/15/2015 4:55 AM by Tony Anderson
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Saturday, 01 August 2015
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In Tennessee, the humidity can be unbearable at times, making air-conditioning a necessity.  Air-conditioning removes the excess humidity and thus makes us feel more comfortable. But signs your home suffers from excess humidity include: mold, mildew, dust mites, bacteria, rotting or warping wood inside your home (cabinets, wall beams, floors, furniture), or peeling paint; plus, the moisture attracts pests (even snakes!).  What can be done? Perhaps you've contemplated getting a dehumidifier, but even the best dehumidifier may not work effectively if too much outside moisture is seeping into your home.

Humidity Checklist

Before making an expensive dehumidifier purchase, be sure you have investigated these issues:

  • Check that gutters aren't clogged and that downspouts are directing rainwater at least 3 feet away from the house. Grade your property so that rainwater flows away from the foundation.
  • Keep the duct for your clothes dryer properly vented to the outside, making sure that it isn't clogged or leaking.
  • Run an exhaust fan when showering, and squeegee or wipe down shower walls afterward.
  • When cooking, use a range hood or exhaust fan that vents outdoors.
  • Use ceiling fans and room fans to keep the air circulated. This will help your air-conditioner be more efficient.
  • Look for leaks in your existing ductwork that need to be repaired. Leaks let cool air escape into the attic or crawl space. That air loss creates negative pressure inside, causing it to suck in humid air through cracks. See about getting your ducts tested and sealed.
  • Check your plumbing for leaks and condensation, especially in the basement, and insulate pipes.
  • If you have extensive water or drainage problems, it may require a sump pump and installing drains outside.

Basements & Crawlspaces are the Most Problematic

Most HVAC systems naturally pull air from the lower areas of your home upwards throughout the living space; thus a damp basement or crawlspace can affect your whole house. Crawlspaces, while they may have fewer cubic feet due to the lower ceiling height are actually harder to dehumidify because they require more airflow (air pressure) to circulate air.  This is why a good crawlspace dehumidifier costs more than an average home dehumidifier. Waterproof your crawlspace and basement, and ensure it is properly insulated.  Fill holes and cracks in concrete block with hydraulic cement and paint the concrete block with a water-proof coating like Dry-Lok. If your crawlspace has a dirt floor, create a vapor barrier to reduce the continual evaporation of moisture from the ground.

Is your HVAC to Blame?

Lastly, your HVAC system itself may be to blame for your excessive moisture problem! If you over-sized your system thinking it would make you cooler and not run as hard in the summer, think again! Air conditioners only dehumidify when they are running, and an oversized unit may not be running long enough to remove the moisture from the air (it cycles off too quickly). Check out a previous post we did on right-sizing your system entitled "Think Bigger is Better? Not When it Comes to Cooling!"

After you've addressed these causes of excess humidity, then you can see if a dehumidifier is needed. We did a post recently about central dehumidifiers, so check that out, too!

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Posted on 08/01/2015 3:44 AM by Tony Anderson
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Wednesday, 15 July 2015
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In Tennessee, the humidity can be stifling, especially in the summer! The average morning relative humidity in Nashville during the months of May through October is 85-90%yet the optimal comfort zone, as published by ASHRAE, is 30-60%. We're taught to seal up cracks and tighten up our homes so as not to waste energy, but tighter homes can also trap moisture, creating an unhealthy environment. Excessive humidity encourages the growth of mold, mildew, dust mites and bacteria, which in turn worsens allergies and respiratory ailments. In addition, excess moisture can lead to wood rot or warping of floors, beams, cabinets and molding, and cause paint to peel and wallpaper to curl.  If your windows are wet with condensation or you're having to run your air conditioner so much that you need to sleep with a blanket in the summer, then dehumidification may be necessary.

Portable vs. Central Dehumidifiers

Portable dehumidifiers treat the air in just one room and have a reservoir that needs to be emptied daily in most cases. Central dehumidifiers are connected to your home's heating and cooling system and treat the whole house. A central dehumidifier pulls air from every room in your home through the return ducts, removes the moisture, and then sends dry air back throughout your home. Unlike a portable dehumidifier, a central dehumidifier is located out-of-sight, is quiet, and hassle-free because you never have to empty a reservoir it is attached directly to your house plumbing.  A central dehumidifier is up to 4-times more energy-efficient than the leading portable dehumidifier (look for ones that are Energy Star rated). Portable systems can remove 5-7 gallons of moisture per day, while a central system can remove 40+ gallons per day.

Features, Functions, and Savings

A central dehumidifier measures the condition of your home's air to decide when to run and is automatically controlled. The desired humidity level can be set to a fixed percentage for a constant comfortable humidity, regardless of how the outside air increases or decreases in humidity. Although the method of control varies depending on the model and manufacturer, many whole-house dehumidifiers have user-friendly digital controls or remote controls. By using a dedicated central dehumidifier along with air conditioning, you can save energy because you'll be able to increase your thermostat in the summer by at least 3 degrees and be more comfortable.  Many dehumidifiers also provide ventilation and/or air purification, thus greatly increasing the quality of your indoor air and helping allergy sufferers.

The Downside

  • Central dehumidifiers can be expensive, ranging from $400 for a 1200 sq.ft. space, to $16,000 for a 2500 sq.ft. home.
  • Installation requires specific tools, electrical wiring and plumbing. It generally is not a do-it-yourself task. A trained HVAC technician would need to install it.
  • Because central dehumidifiers are built into the ductwork of your home, when you move, they will need to be left behind.

Moisture can lead to costly renovations or mold remediation, so a central dehumidifier may be a wise choice.  But even the best dehumidifier may not work effectively if too much outside moisture seeps into your home from leaky ductwork, a damp crawlspace or basement, improper drainage around your home, or an improperly-sized HVAC unit. You'll want to investigate and fix these issues before spending money on a whole-house dehumidifier.

 

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Posted on 07/15/2015 7:27 AM by Tony Anderson
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Wednesday, 01 July 2015
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It's summer and it's hot, and with the humidity it's way uncomfortable!  Your air conditioning may not seem to be cooling as well as it used to, or it seems it's having to work overtime to get it cool.  Well, you figure, it's nothing that a shot of Freon can't fix… how expensive can that be? Unfortunately, a lot!

You see, the federal regulations phasing out the "old" Freon known as R-22 means that there is a very limited supply of it.  Like anything driven by supply and demand, as the supply of R-22 has become more restricted and the demand has gone up, the costs have soared.  A shot of Freon a couple of years ago that cost you only about $50 could cost close to $400 now! Some folks have even nick-named R-22 "Liquid Gold." Plus, once 2020 rolls around, R-22 production will be phased out entirely, and will be illegal to import or export.

But there's a bigger issue here. The refrigerant R-22 exists in a closed loop constantly being recirculated inside your system. It is not consumed by the system, so, it should never need replacement.  If your system is running low on refrigerant, that means you have a leak!  Rather than continuing to pay the increased costs to replenish the leaking R-22, the better solution is to find a qualified heating and cooling company to find and repair the leak, wherever it may be.

After the HVAC technician has inspected your system thoroughly, you'll know whether it makes sense to continue investing in your existing system (fixing the source of the leak and replacing the R-22) or whether it makes better sense to purchase a new system.  New systems no longer use R-22 as a refrigerant they use the more environmentally-friendly R-410A, which is a LOT cheaper!  Plus, new systems have been mandated by the government to be more energy efficient, so you'll save money in the long run.

Unfortunately, you can't just put the new refrigerant (R-410A) into an old system designed for R-22.  They operate at different pressures, and your existing evaporator and condenser were not designed to operate at these increased pressures. Plus, R-410A systems require a different type of oil and expansion valve. So, it comes back to the age-old "repair or replace" question.

System leaks can not only harm the environment, but also result in increased operation and maintenance costs.  So, don't sink a few hundred dollars into Freon that will just leak back out!  Get that leak fixed now! 

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Posted on 07/01/2015 7:20 AM by Eddie Hutton
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Monday, 15 June 2015
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As we enter the summer months, high air-conditioning bills seem just as inevitable as death and taxes.  Something most people don't think about is that incandescent and halogen bulbs act as miniature space heaters, dumping over 90% of the energy they consume into heat… heating up your already-hot home. This means your air-conditioning has to work harder to keep you cool.  LED lighting uses a fraction of the energy consumed by traditional light sources.  They generate very little heat  (3 BTUs/hr vs. 85 BTUs/hr for incandescent bulbs) and remain cool during operation, thus easing the burden on your air conditioning system during hot weather and reducing your overall energy costs.  For every 60W incandescent (traditional) light bulb, you're spending about $13.86 more in cooling costs per year (based on Nashville/TVA's current electricity rate of 10.252 cents per kilowatt-hour) versus an equivalent LED bulb, so it can quickly add up!  Even when you consider the initial cost of LED bulbs (currently about $2.48 for a 60W equivalent bulb, compared to about $1.00 for a traditional 60W bulb), the payback period is just 6 months for a light that stays on 8 hours per day..  The savings come from reduced electricity to produce the light as well as the reduced cooling costs.  And just in case you're thinking that the heat generated from traditional lighting might be beneficial in the winter to help keep you warm, it's an extremely inefficient heat source, costing over 5 times as much as the typical gas furnace to generate the equivalent amount of heat.  Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) were promoted as an energy-saving alternative, but they're no match for LED lighting, and are falling out of favor.

LED stands for light-emitting diode. The light is generated by a semiconductor, creating an effect known as electroluminescence.

Residential Advantages

  • LEDs do not contain mercury or toxic materials. However, CFLs contain mercury, which makes them hazardous to handle and to dispose of.
  • LEDs are much more durable than incandescent bulbs because they will not shatter when jarred or hit, and are not sensitive to humidity.  Both CFLs and incandescent lights are fragile.
  • LEDs have a longer life than any other lighting source on the market.  This means reduced hassle and inconvenience of replacing burned-out light bulbs. You would need 42 incandescent bulbs (changing the bulb 41 times!) to equal the typical 50,000 hr lifespan of an LED bulb.
  • Because LEDs run so much cooler than other bulbs, they are safer.  Lighting a holiday tree or other lighting decorations using incandescent lights presents a fire hazard due to the extreme concentrated heat they produce.  Plus LEDs won't overload wall sockets by stringing multiple strands together.
  • LEDs are available in a range of hues, from remarkably bright white, to warm golden, to cool blue. 
  • LEDs offer design flexibility, and are available in unique styles and shapes. 
  • LEDs are an easy retrofit.  LEDs can be run with a dimmer (not true of most CFLs), which allows you to adjust the light level to suit your needs and create mood lighting.

Industrial Lighting Advantages

  • For industrial lighting applications such as warehouses, high ceiling environments, parking garages, traffic lights, etc. ─ the conversion to LED lighting would save many thousands of dollars in operating costs due to reduced electricity consumption, reduced need for bulb changes, ability to withstand shock, vibrations, and impact, and reduced demand on cooling. Plus, they are "instant on" (don't have to warm up before emitting a bright light, quiet (no "hum" typical of high-powered fluorescent lights), and don't require ballasts.
  • LEDs are a "green" solution, due to their vastly reduced energy consumption, reduced waste, and reduced toxic hazards ─ a win-win for health, safety, and the environment.

It's time to convert to LEDs now!

  • Why make your air conditioning work harder than it needs to? LEDs provide significant long-term cost savings and help you keep cool.  
  • If you are looking for ways to reduce your utility bills, increase the energy efficiency of your home and business with aesthetically pleasing lighting solutions, LEDs are currently an outstanding solution.

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Posted on 06/15/2015 11:00 AM by Eddie Hutton
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Monday, 01 June 2015
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Repairing or replacing your heating and cooling system is one of the most critical decisions home owners face. Learn more in this short video or read the paragraph below

While there are no hard-fast rules to answer the repair or replace question, we've put together some general guidelines in an earlier post.  But perhaps the more important question is 'Do You Trust Your HVAC Specialist?' That's the REAL issue because most of us don't have the technical expertise to know whether their recommendations are sound.  Many HVAC companies pay their technicians on commission rather than an hourly rate, which means it's in their best interest to get you to replace your unit when a repair might be all you need.  Repairing often requires higher-skilled technicians, and they may need to spend more time troubleshooting the problem or retro-fitting a part. You want a company that can advise you reliably whether to repair or replace a unit based on what is in your best interest, not based on what is convenient or what earns them the most money.

If you're on the fence about whether to repair or replace your system, the best solution is to have a highly trained and qualified technician who will give you an honest assessment, and will spend the time to find the best solution to fit your needs. If you don't feel this way about your current HVAC technician, then you for sure need a replacement… a replacement of your HVAC service company, that is!

Read our HVAC News page, call us, and let us help you with what may be one of the most critical decisions for your home.

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Posted on 06/01/2015 5:49 PM by Tony Anderson
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Sunday, 17 May 2015
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Whether you call them vent covers, floor registers, or air grilles, this article deals with the part of your HVAC's ducts that you see in the various rooms of your house.  These may be located along the floor, baseboard, or wall, and vary in size depending on the size of the ductwork.  The purpose of a vent grille is to protect the ductwork from damage and tears from things falling into it such as a person's foot or from scratching by pets or sharp objects - while at the same time allowing air to pass. 

 

 

A Decorating Statement

It's become a high-end decorating statement to have vent grilles specially coordinated with your décor.  Whether you shop at Home Depot or a boutique home accessories store, you'll see vent covers in a variety of materials, colors, finishes and designs.  Materials can be brass, bronze, cast iron, metal, steel, or wood, and they can cost anywhere from $3.00 each to $100-200 each!  Regardless, they all serve the same function and there's more to them than just the aesthetic qualities. 

Air Flow Issues

First and foremost, ensure the vents are open and unblocked by drapes or furniture. Vacuuming or stepping on a floor register could inadvertently close the register, making your HVAC system not work properly, so if you're having uneven heating or cooling, the vents/registers are the first thing to check.

When should vent covers be replaced?

Vent covers only need replacing if they become damaged (bent), corroded (rusted), or will not stay open.  Otherwise, a periodic cleaning is all they need, using a cleaner appropriate for the type of material and finish.

How often should the vent covers be cleaned?

They should be cleaned whenever they need to be, but a minimum of twice per year fall and spring is ideal.  In high traffic or dusty environments, you may want to clean them each time you replace your air filters (minimum of every 3 months).

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Posted on 05/17/2015 7:45 PM by Tony Anderson
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Thursday, 30 April 2015
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If you are embarking on a home improvement project, such as painting a room, doing drywall repairs, or sanding/refinishing wood floors, steps must be taken to protect the ductwork from paint, sand/dust, flumes, tools, and damage.   Remove the vent registers prior to beginning work.  Then, cover the duct completely with a barrier material that can be taped all around (see photo).  A large plastic garbage bag also works very nicely. If there is danger of someone walking or positioning a ladder or tools near a duct that is covered in this fashion and thus falling in and damaging the duct put the vent grille back on top of the register.  If you have the high-end designer vents (brass, etc.), consider getting a couple of the cheap vent grilles to use temporarily during your home improvement project, so your "good" vent grilles won't inadvertently be damaged.  The last thing you want is someone putting a foot through the duct or tools falling in and tearing a hole in the duct!

Why it's so important

Tears in the ductwork or any holes require immediate attention. They will cause your HVAC system not to function properly, and your system will not cool or heat very well.  The conditioned air (the air you paid to heat and cool) will be leaking out and mixing with unconditioned air, which is then blown back through your house.  Not only is there a lot of lost energy - costing you extra money but your HVAC system will be over-worked and wear out quicker.  You may also develop a pest problem from crawling insects, rodents, or reptiles which can come through the holes in the ducts into your home. Over time, you may also develop an odor and moisture problem.  If you are experiencing any of these issues, a hole in your ductwork may be your culprit!

If you are building a new home or an addition, make sure the contractor seals all the ductwork before the drywall is installed. It is almost impossible to clean drywall dust out of ducts, so the best solution is to keep them protected from sources like this from the outset.  For more information on duct cleaning, see our earlier post.

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Posted on 04/30/2015 9:00 PM by Tony Anderson
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Wednesday, 15 April 2015
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Tim Thomas, VP Sales & Marketing, Culer, explains how a new space cooler works and saves energy.

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One of the oldest ways of conditioning air is evaporative cooling, which cools air through the evaporation of water, rather than through the use of compressors and refrigerants.   Evaporative cooling is how cars of the early 1950's were air-conditioned (see a previous post here).  A Nashville-based company called Culer has developed a new space cooler using a patented nozzle that combines water and air under low pressure to form extremely small particles of water.  When exposed to air, these water particles instantly evaporate and cool the surrounding air.  We interviewed Tim Thomas, VP of Sales & Marketing at Culer, to learn more.  Here's how he explains how their space cooler works. 

It takes a lot of energy to go from a liquid to a gas.  If you can cause evaporation, you are going to be very efficient at creating a cooling effect.   Air conditioners have to have a compressor to evaporate and then condense a refrigerant, so you are exchanging heat in a not very efficient manner.  Because it's a closed system it takes a lot of energy.  We use a low pressure pump to run a small fan inside.  Then, by using very fine water particles in a concentrated air stream, we are able make evaporation happen immediately.  The magic happens in the nozzles.  Our nozzles are what I call hydro-pneumatic:  they introduce both water and air in the same nozzle.  Based on the geometry we call flow blurring, atomization occurs inside the nozzle, and when water exits, it's already atomized.  It doesn't just rely on the pressure behind it.

How can a Culer be used in a home to save energy?  The Culer AC home series as a complementary product to an existing whole house HVAC system.  Instead of setting your air conditioner at 78 degrees you could raise it to 80-82 degrees.  Then place the AC series product in the room you are occupying, to cool that specific area or zone that you are in, thereby saving money because you're able to run your whole house system at a higher temperature.

There are several models of Culer products, each made for indoor or outdoor areas of different sizes. Our patented nozzles make our technology unique, and it is completely scalable. We can make products for the home all the way up to our professional unit, which includes six larger nozzles as well as a 30-inch fan that can handle up to 3,000 square feet and can be used in both indoor and outdoor locations. The features of the product are very simple. There is an on-off button and a control for a 3-speed fan.  The cooling effect activates the low pressure pump; this pressurizes the water which then goes up to the nozzle.  The dial in the middle allows you to fine tune the amount of water you introduce into the air stream.  For a very hot, dry environment you would set the dial to use more water, and for more humid areas you use less.  The port can be positioned up or down by 15 degrees, and rotated horizontally up to 180 degrees. To activate the unit, all you need to do is put one gallon of water in it.  For a single-port device, one gallon of water will last around 12 hours.  Pour one gallon of water into the fill port.  Put the cap back on and make sure it is sealed tightly as that tank will get pressurized.  It uses 12-volt DC power, which is compatible with any vehicle - whether it's a boat, an RV, or a standard automobile or truck -  and you can simply plug it into that vehicle's system.  The AC 200 has 2 ports and two atomizing nozzles that can be operated in independent directions, and costs only about 12-cents per day to operate.

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Posted on 04/15/2015 11:25 PM by Tony Anderson
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Tuesday, 31 March 2015
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After a long, cold winter, spring's bright sun and warm temperatures are more than welcomed in Middle Tennessee.  But the hot summer weather is just a few weeks away and you can bet by then air conditioning repair technicians will be plenty busy!  It seems if your air conditioner is going to go out, it will do so when you need it most on one of the hottest days of the year!  Want to save money and all the hassle of an outage?  Have a pre-season check-up!  That means getting your spring maintenance visit scheduled in March or April, and getting your Fall Maintenance visit in Sept. or Oct.  To remember to schedule your pre-season check-ups, plan them around the time changes in the spring and fall.

Of course, there is really no substitute for a professional HVAC inspection, as some things a homeowner just cannot do for themselves when it involves air conditioning.  For example, refrigerants can be sold and installed only by certified technicians. Testing voltages and pressures within the equipment requires special gauges, etc.  But there are a number of very important things a homeowner CAN do for themselves.

5 Springtime Tips

1.  Check and replace your air filters.

There are several types from which to choose, depending on your needs.  We recommend buying the highest MERV rated filters to cut down on spring allergy symptoms. Turn off the power to the unit before pulling out the filter so the blower doesn't come on and blow dust throughout the system. Vacuum up any dust in the air duct.  Orient the filter according to the instructions printed on it.  Replace the filter at least every 90 days, but check it monthly and if it looks dark or clogged, change it.  If you have pets, you may need to change your filters more frequently. Not replacing filters is one of the main reasons HVAC equipment begins to fail.

2.  Check and inspect the condensate drain.

The condensate drain line carries water condensation away from the evaporator coil, and if this becomes clogged or improperly connected to the rest of the drain system, your AC system can become flooded and you could have a very bad mess on your hands!  A plugged drain can cause water damage in the house (see real story below) and will cause your system to stop working. Check the condensate tube to make sure it isn't clogged by sludge and algae, especially at the drain port. If it's a flexible tube, it should be easy to pull off and clean.  Clean it with a 50% bleach solution.  Then, periodically throughout the season, pour a cup of bleach solution down the air-conditioner condensate drain to prevent buildup of mold and algae, which can cause a clog.  Watch our video on condensate drain maintenance here.

Real story:  We had one customer who had an air conditioning unit in the attic.  One day she walked into the bedroom to find it "raining" from the ceiling!  The condensate drain got plugged up and water overflowed, causing ceiling damage and requiring replacement of all the wet insulation in the attic.

If that customer had installed a float value and checked it periodically, they could have prevented the damage. If the condensate tube becomes plugged the pan will fill with water.  Lift up the float valve and it should shut off the unit and prevent an overflow.  

3.  Clear vegetation around your AC compressor outside.

To work efficiently, the compressor needs good airflow. Prune any plant growth that could block it. Check to make sure there is at least two feet (24 36") of clearance all around it.  Weekly during spring, summer, and fall remove debris such as leaves, pollen, and twigs from the top and sides of the outdoor unit. Don't allow the lawn mower to discharge grass clippings onto the unit. If the outdoor unit is crowded by a fence or shrubs, or if the bottom few inches of the coil is buried under mulch, air-flow will be restricted, which decreases efficiency, reduces the life span, and damages the unit.

Tip:  When doing your spring planting, allow room for long-term growth, 5 to 10 years down the line. If building a fence, make sure it can be easily opened or removed. The unit needs to be serviced regularly, and the technician may need access to all sides of the unit.

4.  Check the outdoor unit's foundation.

Ensure that the outdoor air-conditioning unit is on firm and level ground.  This is typically a concrete pad, but could also be plastic or rubber. Settling, erosion, flooding, or ice damage may occur throughout the year, causing the pad to crack, sink, or become unleveled.  This puts strain on coolant lines, and could bend or break copper or electrical lines, or cause water to puddle in the unit.  Before trying to level the unit yourself, contact a technician to properly disconnect the unit. Make sure the pad raises the unit out of the dirt and that there is adequate drainage around it, so that water does not pool near it during a hard rain.

5. Clean the condenser fins, coils and fan (the outside unit).

Dirty coils reduce the system's ability to cool your home and cause the system to run longer, increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment. The fan inside the condenser coil sucks air through the fins, and as a result, pulls dirt and debris with it. Fins are the fine metallic blades that surround the unit.  Clean the outdoor unit when the temperature is 60 degrees F or higher. Before cleaning it, be sure the power is turned off.  There may be a 240-volt power box near the unit which can be unplugged or turned off, or you may need to turn the power off at the circuit breaker. Using a garden hose, spray water on and through the unit, washing the dirt and grime off the fan and coils, cleaning the fins, and removing any debris like leaves or cut grass that may have become lodged in the unit.  If desired, you could also use a foaming coil cleaner (sold at most hardware stores), following the directions on the can.

Compressors can be fragile and so require special start-up procedures. First, make sure your inside thermostat is set to "off" (not in the "cool" setting).  Restore the power to the outdoor unit, either by plugging it in again or flipping the circuit breaker back on.  Wait 10-30 minutes before turning the thermostat into the "Cool" position. Listen for odd noises.

Tip:  If you switch off the air conditioner (at the thermostat) at any time, wait at least five minutes before switching it back on. Once off, the compressor needs time to "decompress." If you restart it too soon, you'll stress the motor. Many thermostats have automatic time delays built into the circuitry to protect the compressor from this problem.

The Payoff

Few routine chores will pay off more handsomely, both in comfort and in dollars saved, than a simple air-conditioner cleaning. The payoff: Summertime comfort and lower cooling bills. You'll also prolong the life of your air conditioner.  Having a pre-season check-up is the best way to ensure your HVAC equipment is operating at peak performance, and the best way to prevent future problems and unwanted costs.

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Posted on 03/31/2015 10:00 PM by Tony Anderson
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Sunday, 01 March 2015
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One of the reasons we write this HVAC News column is to empower you with information.  Many times that means telling you how to do things yourself to save money on your HVAC maintenance or energy bills.  But this time, we're emphasizing a few things you should never do because they can be harmful or cause injury to you or your HVAC system.  As we always say, knowledge is power!

  1.  Do not cover your outdoor HVAC unit.  Many people falsely believe they should cover their outdoor unit to protect it from the elements, like rain and snow.  The only time it may be covered is if it's turned completely off.  While the unit is on and operational, it must have good air flow all around it in order for it to operate, and you will damage the unit if you operate it with a cover on.  It's ok for the unit to be located underneath an overhang, as long as there are no obstructions for about 3 feet all the way around it.
  2. Do not use a de-humidifier in the winter or a humidifier in the summer.  In the winter, the heat removes the air's natural humidity, and the dry air increases static electricity, makes respiratory passages uncomfortable (aggravating allergy and asthma symptoms), causes itchy skin, damages the woodwork and wood flooring in your home (causing cracking/splitting), and increases your energy bills.  That's why you want to use a humidifier (not de-humidifier) during the winter. Here in TN, we naturally have high humidity in the summer so it would be counter-productive to use a humidifier in the summer, plus it would increase mold and insects.  Air-conditioning helps you feel more comfortable in part by taking the excess humidity out of the air, and using a de-humidifier (not a humidifier) can help even more!  
  3. Do not use your fireplace as your main heat source.  Some people think that in cold weather, it will help keep their house warmer if they use their fireplace in addition to their HVAC system.  This is dead wrong.  The fireplace causes already warmed room air to be sucked up the chimney and thus makes the house colder… and causes you to use more energy (increasing your utility bills).  The fireplace may be a nice touch for "ambiance" for a few minutes, but should not be used as the main heat source unless it is an emergency and all your heat and power is out.  Additionally, using the fireplace greatly increases indoor air pollution (particulate, soot, and toxic chemicals in the air), and can trigger allergies.
  4. Do not over-size your HVAC system.  When purchasing a new system, it is easy to think bigger is better, but not so when it comes to HVAC systems!  A properly-sized piece of equipment that's not too large is going to work much more efficiently in maintaining better and more even comfort in your home.  Check out our previous post about this issue here.
  5. Do not ignore small issues like smells, sounds, leaks or minor heating/cooling problems.  These have a way of becoming big problems before too long, and the longer the issue persists, the more money it may wind up costing you.  Money Magazine recommends the best thing you can do to save money is have regular maintenance of your HVAC system twice per year.  Don't bury your head in the sand and hope for the best.
  6. Do not block registers, air returns, or forget to change your air filters.  These are the number one reasons HVAC systems fail or have problems like uneven heating and cooling.  Set up a reminder on your computer or smartphone to change air filters a minimum of every 3 months. If you're blocking registers in an effort to deflect air to the rooms that need it most, then read our post on uneven heating and cooling solutions here.  It's better to get to the root cause of the problem than to deal with a symptom of the problem in this manner, as it will only harm your HVAC system and shorten its life if you block registers or air returns.
  7. Do not turn off your heat when leaving for vacation during the winter.  You may think you're saving money by not running the heat when no one is home, but if your pipes burst from the freezing and thawing, you could be coming home to a very costly mess!  In fact, it's a good idea to turn off the water to the house (via the main cutoff valve), and then open up all the faucets so there is no possibility of frozen pipes.  That's because if the power goes out while you're gone, the heat won't work and, if the outage is prolonged, any liquid in the house could freeze anyway. Turn the icemaker off in your freezer and drain the water line, and drain the water from the toilet tanks.

 

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Posted on 03/01/2015 6:50 AM by Tony Anderson
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