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HVAC Frequent Questions
We often get many of the same questions from customers just like you. To learn how we usually respond, select from the list of questions below to see answers to most of these heating and air conditioning questions below.
Heating systems come in all sizes, types and fuels. You can check out a brief history of heating. In residential systems there are basically two different distribution systems, forced air (ductwork) and radiation (baseboards). These systems can be fueled by one or more of the following: electricity, natural gas, LP propane, oil, hot water, steam, geothermal, heat pump or wood.
For most purposes you can categorize home heating systems into two broad categories, furnaces and boilers. Generally speaking furnaces heat air and use a system of fans and ductwork to move that air around the house. Boilers heat water and use a circulator pump and piping to move the water through radiators, thus heating the home.
Furnaces come in all shapes, sizes, efficiencies and fuels. The most common furnace in urban areas is a forced air, natural gas unit. In rural areas, or areas that do not have access to natural gas pipelines, furnaces often use propane or electricity to produce heat. Regardless of the fuel all residential furnaces work on the same principle. A fuel is burnt in a heat exchanger to produce heat. Air is then passed over the heat exchanger where it picks up heat, the air is then delivered to the house through a ductwork system.
Furnaces are often classified according to efficiencies. You'll often hear furnaces being referred to as Standard, Mid and High Efficient units. The efficiency is determined by the furnace's AFUE . According to the Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Energy a Standard furnace is one whose AFUE is below 70%, a Mid Efficient furnace is one whose AFUE is between 71% and 82% and a High efficient furnace is one whose AFUE is above 90. When a furnace is installed in a basement it is considered an "Upflow" furnace, meaning the cooler air from the home enters the base of the furnace, and exits out the top of the furnace. The furnace is connected to a series of metal boxes and pipes, which is the ductwork. The very first metal box on the top of the furnace is called the PLENUM. If you have air conditioning the evaporator coil is installed in this plenum.
If a furnace is installed on the main floor of a home and the heat comes from floor registers, it is a downflow furnace. In a downflow furnace the cool air from your home enters the furnace at the top and the warmed air exits at the bottom.
- Clean or change your furnace filter
- If your furnace or boiler has a pilot light, make sure it is on.
- Some homes are equipped with a "FRESH AIR INTAKE" that brings in fresh air from the outside for combustion. If your home has one, make sure it is not blocked and clean the outside lint trap.
- Set your furnace to the "heat" position and turn up the thermostat.
- Allow your furnace to run through a couple of cycles to make sure it is working properly.
- Do a quick visual inspection of the furnace area to make sure there are no items that could interfere with air flow or combustion.
- Call us to arrange for a professional cleaning and inspection.
YES! Your heating system is a finely tuned piece of machinery that is designed to squeeze the most heat from your energy dollars. Your heating system operates for months on end and if one of the components of that system is not working in harmony with the rest of the furnace, you are losing efficiency and money.
Annual maintenance inspections often spot small problems before they become large, and very expensive repairs.
Annual maintenance can also spot dangerous operating conditions that could lead to the production of carbon monoxide, which could be a potentially deadly situation. A comprehensive annual safety inspection and precision tune up takes time and should be performed with care.
How often you change your furnace filter will depend on the type of filter you use, and how you operate your furnace. Select the type of filter you use from the list below to find out what you should be doing?
DISPOSABLE FILTERS - Disposable filters should be changed every 6 to 8 weeks. A lot of people try cleaning these filters but they are not really meant to be cleaned and may actually become even less efficient. Disposable filters are not very efficient and provide only a basic amount of air cleaning. If you run your furnace fan continuously, cleaning should be performed every 3 to 4 weeks.
WASHABLE FILTERS - Washable filters should be cleaned every 6 to 8 weeks for normal use. If you run your furnace fan continuously, wash filters every 3 to 4 weeks. When you wash your filter be sure to inspect it for wear and tear.
HAMMOCK - Hammock filters are not meant to be washed and should be replaced every 8 to 10 weeks. When you purchase a replacement hammock filter it may be a little larger than the metal frame it's attached to. Install the filter on the frame and then trim off the excess.
ELECTROSTATIC AIR CLEANER - Electrostatic air cleaners must be cleaned monthly. To clean them first vacuum the nylon media and then rinse the filter with water. Be sure to rinse the filter in the opposite direction from the air flow. Electrostatic air cleaners are very difficult to get very clean so as your filter gets older, clean it even more often. When cleaning inspect it for damage and wear and tear.
ELECTRONIC AIR CLEANER (EAC) - The most important thing to remember about electronic air cleaners is to keep them clean. EACs are very efficient until the cells get dirty and then lose a lot of their efficiency. When cleaning the cells be careful not to break any of the thin wires that run along the outside of the cells. If one of these wires break, the cell current will be broken and will not work. Do not forget to clean the small prescreens as well.
LARGE PLEATED MEDIA FILTER - This is the easiest filter to clean. All you have to do is replace the media cartridge annually. Arrange to have your cartridge replaced at the same time as you have your annual maintenance performed.
CENTRAL Air Conditioners - Central air conditioning units will cool a large area by using an air distribution system. The most common application is to add a central air conditioning unit to an existing forced air furnace. The air conditioner unit (condenser) is placed outside and is connected to the evaporator coil, inside the furnace's ductwork.
VARIATIONS - Attic installations. In some warmer areas central air units may be installed with their own ductwork. In these cases a blower coil is used to circulate air through the ductwork. The ductwork can be installed in the basement or attic.
SPACE Air Conditioners - Window or room air conditioning units are designed to cool a small room only. Usually these units are placed in a window and are removed after the Air Conditioning season is over. Sometimes window air conditioners can be permanently installed through a wall.
Life expectancy is one of those things that will vary widely from location to location. Obviously an air conditioning units in warm climates will probably need to be replaced more frequently than units in cooler climates. How close you are located to the ocean will also be a factor.
Generally speaking units in cooler climates tend to last 15 to 18 years. In warmer climates the range is usually 11 to 15 years. Of course you are going to find exceptions to these numbers, but these can be used as a general guideline.
Anything is possible, but if you do not have a centralized air distribution system, or ductwork, in your home, installing air conditioning may be difficult.
If your home is a bungalow and the basement is not finished, then the situation is not so bad. Ductwork and a new furnace or blower coil can be installed in the basement and your new air conditioner installed outside.
If your home is two story, or the basement is completely finished, it becomes more difficult. Ductwork can still be installed in a finished basement, but you will probably have to tear down some walls and ceilings, and have to build bulkheads to hide the new ductwork.
An alternative is to install the air conditioning system in the attic. There are units that are designed to be installed in attics and tight spaces. These units use a high velocity air system and the Air Conditioning is delivered from the ceiling. A major benefit is that the cool air is falling into the room, instead of being pushed up, making it more efficient.
Remember, we have Comfort Advisors that will come out free of charge and give you expert advice.
Provided they did a manual J load calculation, then NO!
There is sometimes a tendency to believe that BIGGER is BETTER. Sometimes that maybe so, but not in air conditioning units. Actually with central air conditioners, SMALLER is SMARTER. The first thing an air conditioner has to do to cool your home is to remove humidity from your home. If the air conditioner is too large, the air is supercooled before the humidity is removed. This will make you feel cool and clammy, much like a rainy fall day.
An oversized air conditioner will also come on more often for shorter periods of time. When this happens it is very hard on the compressor which can lead to premature burnout and it will use more electricity costing you more money on energy bills.".
The most important thing to look for when purchasing a central air conditioner, has nothing to do with the actual air conditioner and everything to do with the contractor you choose.
The best piece of equipment, if installed incorrectly, will not give you the comfort you deserve.
HVAC equipment, and Air Conditioning equipment in particular, requires that great skill and care be taken during the installation process. If just one braze or solder joint is not correct it could lead to leaks of refrigerant in to the atmosphere, and potential contamination in the refrigerant system. These items could be costly to repair, not to mention time consuming and an aggravation for you.
Turn your air conditioner OFF.
Call your service contractor immediately.
Refrigerant leaking is no simple matter. Gone are the days when it was more economical to just add more refrigerant to the unit and ignore the leak. Today it is against the law to knowingly allow an air conditioner to leak, and it is also very expensive.
This will depend on the type and make of your central air conditioner, however all central air units require some clearance from trees and shrubs to allow for air flow around the condensing coil. Generally speaking you should try and keep any items that may interfere with air flow at least 30" from your unit.
To keep dust from getting inside the delicate coils, try and keep a ground cover around your air conditioning unit. If your unit is near a flower bed, a heavy mulch on the bed will keep dust down.
Absolutely! Annual maintenance on your air conditioner can mean big savings on your Air Conditioning bills. Some studies have shown that proper annual maintenance can save you up to 30% on your energy bills. A well maintained unit will also last longer and break down less, saving you more money in the long run.
When choosing a contractor to perform your tune-up there are some things you should keep in mind.
- Can the contractor service your entire system? Having one contractor for your heating and one for your Air Conditioning system leads to confusion.
- Make sure you get a written checklist of the work performed.
- A comprehensive tune-up should take an hour to perform, anything less and you may not be getting value for your money.
- Ensure that your contractor is licensed to work with refrigerants. Most states and provinces now require that technicians take special refrigerant training.
In addition to professionally performed annual maintenance you also play an important part in keeping your system operating efficiently by making sure your furnace air filter is kept very clean. A dirty filter will affect the efficiency of a central air conditioning system much quicker than a furnace. Clean or change the filter regularly!
A comfortable main floor and a warm second floor is a common complaint with central air conditioning systems. This temperature variation is caused by the fact that cool air is heavy. Heavy air requires more effort to move, especially upwards. Your furnace fan has to work much harder to get the air up two stories. Additionally, cool air, unlike warm air, tends to fall, so that once you actually manage to get the air upstairs, it will naturally fall back to the first floor.
Don't despair, there are some things that you can do.
- Make sure your furnace fan is on the highest possible setting. Most furnaces installed today will have a multi-speed, direct drive fan motor. Have your service contractor check to make sure that the highest speed is being used for air conditioning. If your fan motor has belts and pulleys, check with your contractor about installing a larger pulley.
- Adjust the balancing on your ductwork to force as much cool air upstairs as possible. If your ductwork is accessible from your basement, and has dampers installed in each of the supply air runs, make sure the dampers for the upper floor are fully open. You can also close any dampers for rooms on the first floor that do not get much use, or are very small. Some examples may be a powder room, formal living or dining room. You should keep the dampers fully open for the kitchen and the main living or family area. If the ductwork is not accessible, or doesn't have any dampers, don't despair. You can balance the air flow by opening and closing the dampers in the supply air registers. If you cannot get a register closed, we have been told that covering the register with a telephone book works well. Don't forget to re-balance the ductwork system when you switch over to heating. During the heating system you want most of the warm air delivered to the first floor, it will rise on its own to the second floor.
- Use fans to help move cooler air. Placing a large fan at the top of the stairway can help to draw the cooler air up. A ceiling fan installed on the second floor can also be a big improvement.
- Check the return air grills. Make sure they are clean.
- Consider installing "High Wall" return air grills on the second floor.
High wall return air grills are installed near the ceiling, not near the floor. This enables the furnace to draw the warmest air from the top of the house back into the system. Your service contractor can give you more information and let you know if it is possible to install high wall grills on your system.