Archive for March, 2011

Heat Pump Filter Care

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

On the whole, heat pumps are efficient, durable and effective. They are built to run all year round without needing any more maintenance than your average furnace or air conditioning system and they have an average lifespan comparable to those other types of home comfort systems as well.

That’s not to say that there aren’t things you can do to keep your heat pump in good working order, however. Keeping up with the professional maintenance visits is an important step to take along these lines to be sure, but there are also some other things you can do on your own as well to help ensure the continued efficiency and health of your heat pump system.

Proper filter care is an important part of keeping your heat pump working the way it should. If you don’t have a heat pump yet but are thinking of getting one, make sure you have the installation technician show you where the filter is located and how to replace it.

If your system’s already been in place for some time, you can still find out how to care for the filter from your annual maintenance technician or you can probably even find it on your own by taking a close look at your heat pump. The filters are meant to be removed on a regular basis so they’re typically not hard to get to. However, you should always be sure that all of the power to your heat pump is turned off before you open it up to try and find, replace or clean the filter.

Most heat pump filters are meant to be changed or cleaned about once every 90 days or so. However, the specific requirements for each system can vary considerably, so you should be sure to find out what is recommended for the model of heat pump that you have.

Also, you’ll want to know what type of filter you have so that you can purchase the appropriate replacement. The model number for each filter should be clearly printed on it, so simply slide your current filter out and make note of the number so that you can purchase the correct type as a replacement.

Most heat pumps have replaceable filters, but some still do have permanent filters that are meant to be cleaned and then returned to service. If you have one of these types of filters, be sure to read the instructions for cleaning carefully before proceeding.

What Are Your Heat Pump Options?

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Once you’ve decided that a heat pump really is the best option for your home, you’ll still have a lot of options to consider. There are actually quite a few types of heat pumps and they can vary considerably in terms of their energy efficiency and other available features.

For instance, you can choose to go with a heat pump with a one-speed, two-speed or multi-speed compressor. Single speed compressors are only capable of operating at full capacity. That means that they’ll certainly be able to keep your home warm, but they may be working harder than they need to at some points.

A two-speed or multi-speed compressor, on the other hand, can be adjusted to more appropriately fit the heating and cooling needs of the moment. There will certainly be times when you don’t need your heat pump to be going all out, and the ability to regulate this level of performance can benefit you in several ways.

It will allow you to maintain a more consistent indoor temperature to be sure, but it will also reduce the overall wear and tear on your heat pump over time. If your heat pump doesn’t have to run all out all of the time, it simply won’t wear out as fast, and that will save you both money and frustration in the long run. It’s also worth noting that heat pumps with two-speed or multi-speed compressors are more easily integrated into a zone control system if you have one in your home.

However, regardless of what type of compressor your heat pump has, you’ll also have to examine the various heat pump models available to determine what their actual energy efficiency ratings are. Each heat pump actually comes with two ratings, one for heating and one for cooling.

The heating season performance factor (HSPF) reflects the heat pump’s heating efficiency, while the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) is a measure of its cooling efficiency. The higher both of these numbers are, the higher the efficiency of the unit. But you don’t necessarily need both numbers to be as high as possible to get the best heat pump for your home.

If you’re going to be using the heat pump more for cooling than for heating because of the climate where you live, you’ll want to make sure the unit you get has as high a SEER as possible, but you won’t have to worry too much about the HSPF. But if you’re going to need more heating than cooling, you should pay more attention to the HSPF than the SEER.

Green Thinking for Green Thinkers

Friday, March 25th, 2011

There are a lot of media stories about exciting new green buildings: LEED-certified buildings, net-zero buildings, buildings made out of recycled shipping containers, homes in New Urbanist communities, even “ultra-small” homes. But a new home can be pricey. Fortunately, though, all these innovative green ideas can be applied where you live right now. In fact, going green in your existing home might even be better for the environment than building a brand-new home.

If you wish your home could be LEED-accredited, focus on energy conservation and indoor air quality in your existing home. Upgrade to a high-efficiency furnace and air conditioner and consider adding central air filtration to your heating and cooling system. Install Energy Star appliances and WaterSense plumbing fixtures. For remodeling projects, use VOC-free paints and natural materials.

If you wish you had a “net-zero” home, consider geothermal – and insulate. Geothermal systems use 70% renewable energy and protect you against spikes in oil and utility prices. To increase your energy savings still more, tighten the “thermal envelope” of your home by identifying and sealing hidden air leaks and adding insulation.

If you wish you lived in a “recycled” home, get to know your local salvage yard. Many communities have “architectural salvage” shops and recycle/reuse areas in their landfills. When you do your next home improvement project, go shopping at your landfill first. This is not only great for the environment; it’s also great for your budget. Plus, you’ll end up with a creative, unique home. (Of course, make sure that you don’t re-use items containing lead, asbestos, or other contaminants.)

If you wish you lived in a New Urbanist community, start walking and biking in your own community. Experiment with replacing some of your car trips with walking or biking trips. If you find that your community isn’t pedestrian- or bike-friendly, work with local politicians to change this. Learn about your local public transportation options to see if you can fit them into your lifestyle. If you’re in the market for a new home, make location and proximity to work and shops a primary consideration.

If an “ultra-small” home looks like fun but seems impractical as a long-term residence, consider reducing the size of your own living space. If your kids are grown, it may be time to downsize to a smaller home that uses less energy. If you’re building a new home or an addition to your current home, build only what you need. Sometimes the greenest building decision you make can be deciding to build less.

(The “Not So Big House” website (http://www.notsobig.com) is a great resource for those interested in downsizing while maintaining a high quality of life.)

Ice in Central Air Conditioning: Why Is This a Problem?

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

If your air conditioner does not seem to be working as well as it should, your natural first reaction is to go out and take a look at the compressor to see if there is anything you can do quickly to correct the problem. Of course, you cannot assess the situation unless you know what you are looking for. For instance, if you see ice forming on the condenser coil or anywhere else on the air conditioning system, you will know you found the likely source of the problem.

Ice can form in your air conditioner for a number of reasons. The most common one is that your refrigerant levels are low. Since this refrigerant is contained in a closed system, a deficiency in refrigerant means that there must be a leak somewhere in that system. Only a certified professional can refill your refrigerant and determine where the leaks are in the system to make the necessary repairs.

Another reason that ice can develop in your air conditioner is because the air is not flowing fast enough through the system and across the coils. This can happen because of a problem with the fan or because there is an actual physical impediment to the air flow. Regardless of the reason, the ice will form because without adequate air flow the condenser coils will get too cold.

These coils are typically kept just above freezing by the constant flow of air across them. When the air passes by them at this temperature, the moisture from the air condenses on the surface of the coil. But because the coil is not quite freezing, the water then runs down into a collection pan. When the coil is too cold, however, the moisture from the air will freeze on the coil before it can run off.

This ice actually manages to insulate the coil and keeps it from properly cooling the air or removing any additional moisture. If left unattended, the ice in your central air conditioning system can cause real damage to the unit. Plus, it is not allowing the air conditioner to do its job and cool your house down. So if you notice any amount of ice at all beginning to form on any part of your air conditioner, be sure to call for professional service right away.

What Is the Energy Star Label?

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Any time you go out and buy any type of appliance, you probably notice that some have a distinct mark that signifies them as Energy Star appliances. That sounds like a good thing, of course, but what does it actually mean? Should you always buy an Energy Star model over another type?

The Energy Star label was originally developed to help consumers more easily recognize appliances that are more energy efficient than the average. In order to obtain an Energy Star seal of approval, any device must meet very strict guidelines when it comes to energy efficiency.

What that translates into for you as a consumer is a lower monthly energy bill when you buy Energy Star appliances. Of course, once they have obtained an Energy Star labels, manufacturers can charge whatever they want for their product, and it is not unusual to pay more for a model that is certified an Energy Star.

However, as long as the potential savings over time that you will get by using the Energy Star model as opposed to one that is not as energy efficient outweigh the difference in initial purchase price, it is worth it to spend a bit more on the Energy Star model.

Keep in mind, though, that just because a produce meets the Energy Star guidelines for energy efficiency does not necessarily mean that it is a superior product in terms of quality or overall effectiveness. Plus, not all Energy Star appliances are created equal. You should still do your research and pick out the product that will both save you the most money and has the best chance of getting the job done right.

Another benefit to Energy Star products is that, because they use less energy when they run, they also have a smaller impact on the environment than a model that uses a greater amount of energy to perform the same tasks.

Overall, it is definitely worth taking a closer look at all of the Energy Star options out there when you are purchasing an air conditioning system or any other type of appliance. Using less energy is always a good thing both for your bank account and for the planet. But you also want to make sure you are actually getting the best product for your money.

What Are the Benefits of Having a Ceiling Fan?

Friday, March 18th, 2011

There are definitely some days every year that would be pretty miserable to get through without the benefit of a central air conditioning system in your home. And since you have a central air conditioning system in place, it may seem silly and unnecessary to think about having ceiling fans put in as well. There are actually quite a few benefits of having ceiling fans, however, regardless of what kind of central air conditioning system you have or how powerful it is.

Ceiling fans are not too expensive to put in and they take very little energy to run. But the breeze they produce can have a powerful cooling effect on a room. In fact, running a ceiling fan can make you feel up to eight degrees cooler than you would otherwise.

While this certainly is not enough on a really hot day, it can actually be plenty when the weather is not all that hot. But even if you have your central air conditioning turned on, you can still benefit from running your ceiling fan. That is because the cooling effect of the ceiling fan can allow you to turn up the thermostat for your air conditioner, resulting in a considerable savings on your cooling bill.

Because ceiling fans are so cheap to run, they can complement central air conditioning systems nicely and will provide significant savings over time. Running an air conditioning system alone can certainly keep you cool and comfortable all summer long, but it will also cost you considerably more than if you were to throw a ceiling fan into the mix as well.

And that is not all a ceiling fan can do to help you stay comfortable all year long. In fact, ceiling fans can also be of use in the winter because they help to return the warmer air to the lower parts of your rooms. Warmer air will naturally rise, meaning that your heating system will have to work harder and harder to keep the air in the lower part of your room warm. But with a ceiling fan in place, that warmer air will be re-circulated throughout the house to keep you warmer and help keep your energy bills down at the same time.

How Does Central AC Work?

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

We pretty much just take the fact of central air conditioning for granted these days. It is present almost everywhere and it is hard to imagine getting through a long hot summer without it. But if you are like most people, you probably do not actually know how central air conditioning works. While you can certainly take advantage of it without understanding it, the basic concept is pretty simple.

Basically, central air conditioning systems are composed of an outdoor unit that typically houses the compressor and condenser and an indoor unit that manages the flow of air throughout your house or other building. This indoor unit is typically either an air handler or a furnace, and it directs the flow of air through a series of ducts that feed into the various rooms of the house.

The cool air originates in the outdoor unit and is blown into the house, gradually absorbing heat as it goes, and that air is then returned to the outdoor unit to be re-cooled. What actually happens in the outdoor unit involves the cycle of a type of refrigerant from a gas to a liquid and back. In the condenser area of the outdoor unit, the pressure on the refrigerant is lessened and it is able to absorb heat from the air returning from the house.

This gas, while warmer than the liquid refrigerant, is still quite cold and acts to cool the air being passed back into the house. As that refrigerant moves along to the compressor area, the gas is converted to a liquid and is forced to release the heat it had been holding. In that way, the air conditioner is able to remove heat from the inside of your house and release it outside.

Your air conditioning system is also generally hooked up to a thermostat, which is what controls when the unit switches on and off. You can set the thermostat at the temperature you would like to maintain inside your house and the thermostat will signal the air conditioner to switch on when the indoor temperature rises above that level. And once the indoor temperature is again below the preset level on the thermostat, the air conditioner will switch off again.

What Types of Air Conditioning Systems Are There?

Monday, March 14th, 2011

Picking out the right air conditioning system for you can actually involve a lot of steps. There are many factors to consider and you will need to understand how each type of air conditioning system functions to know what will be best in your house. Of course, before you can compare them, you need to know what the different types of air conditioning systems actually are.

Packaged air conditioning systems are probably the type that the majority of people are most familiar with. They consist of an outdoor compressor unit that is connected to an indoor air handler or furnace through ductwork within the house. The air is cooled by the compressor and then blown into the house where it is circulated through the ductwork by the air handler.

Packaged air conditioning systems are appropriate for most residential buildings and they come in a variety of sizes so that it is easy to match one to the size and dimensions of your home. However, these types of air conditioning systems do require ductwork, so if you do not already have it installed in your house, putting it in can add considerably to the overall installation costs.

If you do not want to have ducts put in or if you are only trying to cool a small space within your home, you may want to opt for a ductless mini-split system. These types of air conditioning systems are becoming more and more popular because of their excellent energy efficiency and flexibility when it comes to installation options.

Ductless mini-splits also require an outdoor compressor unit, but this is connected to one or more indoor units through refrigerant lines rather than actual air ducts. These refrigerant lines are much easier and less costly to put in place than ducts are, so mini-split systems can be installed for much less than a packaged air conditioning system in a home that does not already have ducts.

These ductless mini-split systems can include only one or many indoor units. Each of these units is controlled independently of the others, making it possible to maintain different temperatures in different parts of your home.

For larger buildings and commercial spaces, central air conditioning systems are generally the preferred option. They are set up essentially the same way as packaged air conditioning systems but on a much larger scale. However, just like packaged air conditioning systems, central air conditioners rely on ducts to get the cooled air to the various areas of the building.

Maintenance: Cleaning Your Conditioner Coil Will Save You Headaches Later

Friday, March 11th, 2011

You have plenty of things to clean all over your house. But do you really have to clean your air conditioner too? Well, if you want it to keep working well, you do. In fact, cleaning the coil of your air conditioner is a quick and easy process, especially if you do it on a regular basis, and it can save you a great deal of frustration later on.

Like any machine, your air conditioner needs a tune up from time to time in order to continue to function properly. While a lot of this is taken care of if you have an annual maintenance service performed by a professional, your air conditioning coil will benefit greatly by being cleaned more often than that.

In fact, during your annual maintenance visit, your air conditioning technician can easily demonstrate for you how to get to the coil and clean it. This is a relatively easy task that you can carry out every month or so when your system is in use to help ensure optimal health and functioning for your system.

Of course, your air conditioning system will still run whether you clean the coils on a regular basis or not. For now, that is. Allowing more and more debris to build up on the coil, however, can have a big impact on the overall energy efficiency of your unit. An air conditioner with a dirty coil will have to work harder to keep your house cool, and that will be reflected by an increase in energy consumption.

Also, an air conditioner with a dirty coil that is having to work harder to keep your house cool will wear out more quickly than one that is working properly without added impediments. The added wear and tear that this causes to various other parts within your air conditioner can cause them to malfunction and need to be replaced sooner than they should.

This means more costly repairs, even if they are minor ones. It also means that your entire air conditioning system will probably not last as long as it may have with proper care. You will have to replace it sooner, adding even more to the cost of having and running the equipment.

Cleaning your air conditioner coil regularly is a simple and effective way of helping to keep the entire system running smoothly and efficiently for many years to come.