Fall maintenance is an important part of the annual furnace start-up procedure. The best alternative is to schedule seasonal preventive maintenance with a qualified HVAC contractor. This ensures your heating system receives a standard set of checks and maintenance for safety, efficiency and performance. (In many cases, annual preventive maintenance is also required by the manufacturer’s warranty.) The trained eye of an HVAC technician can also spot any minor problems that might become major malfunctions later in the season, when the system’s under heaviest heating load.
In addition to professional maintenance, here are three critical maintenance functions to do yourself before you start the furnace for winter.
- Change the filter. The air filter in the system is probably left over from summer and likely clogged with dirt. A dirty filter restricts airflow through the system, which affects everything from energy efficiency to optimum heating performance and even safety—insufficient airflow can overheat and crack the furnace heat exchanger.
- Inspect the vent pipe. Verify that the furnace vent is intact from the unit all the way to roof. Look for any disconnected or loose segments everywhere the vent is routed, including through the attic. Also make sure the vent pipe hasn’t become obstructed—bird’s nests or falling leaves can block proper venting. An obstructed vent pipe can cause dangerous fumes including deadly carbon monoxide gas to flow into the living spaces of your home. If you find any loose segments or obstructions, don’t start the furnace. Call a qualified HVAC service provider.
- Make sure all heating vents are open and unobstructed. The duct system is balanced to provide optimum air volume to every room. Closing individual vents in certain rooms unbalances airflow throughout the entire ductwork. Rooms further away from the furnace may be excessively chilly while rooms closer to the furnace may become overly warm. Tweaking the thermostat to compensate only results in more energy consumption and wear and tear on the furnace.
For qualified fall maintenance to prepare your furnace for another winter, contact the HVAC professionals at Apollo Heating, Cooling and Plumbing.
AFUE is an acronym that expresses the energy-efficiency of natural gas and oil-fired furnaces. Short for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency, it’s the primary metric used to help consumers compare the efficiency of new furnaces in order to determine which provide the most savings in combination with the best heating performance. When shopping for a new furnace, you’ll find its AFUE rating prominently displayed on the Department Of Energy’s yellow EnergyGuide sticker affixed to every new unit.
Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency is simply a percentage that tells you how much of the fuel consumed by a furnace produces usable heat vs. the amount of heat lost in the combustion process. All gas and oil furnaces lose some heat — mainly in the form of hot gasses exhausted up the furnace vent pipe.
Standard vs. High Efficiency
The federal minimum Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency for a standard-efficiency gas furnace is 80. That means 80% of the heat generated actually warms your house while the balance — 20% — is lost in the combustion process. High-efficiency units known as “condensing furnaces” incorporate additional technology like a secondary heat exchanger to recover lost heat and offer ratings as high as 95 percent.
Is High Efficiency Always Better?
High-efficiency furnaces come with an initial purchase price substantially higher than a standard AFUE-80 model. While these units produce more heat with less fuel consumption, savings from lower operating costs may still take some years to compensate for the higher upfront price. Whether the extended payback period makes good financial sense or not depends largely on the length of your local heating season and how long you plan to live in the home.
What About Electric Furnaces?
Since electric furnaces have no combustion losses, all are rated with an AFUE of 99%. However, this nearly perfect efficiency doesn’t mean electric heating is more economical. Because of the substantially higher cost of electricity vs. natural gas in most regions of the country, electric heating is always more expensive.
For more about using AFUE to shop for your next heating system, contact Apollo Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Plumbing.
Wherever combustion occurs, hazardous carbon monoxide gas is the natural by-product. This includes your gas furnace, stove or water heater, the engine of your automobile, a charcoal grill or even firewood burning in the fireplace. Carbon monoxide (CO) in sufficient concentrations is fatal, and in an average year about 500 people in the United States die from inhaling it. Thousands of others are sick enough to require a trip to an emergency room and subsequent hospitalization.
Most local building codes today require CO detectors in every home, at least one on each level of the house. Here are some of the reasons why CO can be such a threat:
- It’s odorless, colorless and invisible. If your house was slowly filling with deadly CO at this very moment, without a detector you would most likely be totally unaware of it. Many people who die from exposure to this gas are found in bed, having gone to sleep for the night without any knowledge whatsoever that the hazard was present in the house.
- Early symptoms of exposure to the gas are very non-specific and often dismissed as a common illness such as the flu or simple fatigue. However, symptoms can rapidly advance from the seemingly unimportant to the fatal. The amount of CO exposure that causes tiredness and a headache is only slightly less than the amount that can cause rapid unconsciousness followed by death.
- Long-term exposure to only trace levels of carbon monoxide is also dangerous. It can cause brain damage, heart trouble, memory and cognitive issues, and behavioral changes. The very young and the elderly are especially susceptible to danger from both short- or long-term exposure.
Test your carbon monoxide detector twice a year by pressing and holding the “Test” button on the face of the unit until the alarm sounds. If the unit does not respond, replace it immediately. If the detector is battery-powered, install fresh batteries twice a year.
Avoid the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning by having life-saving detectors installed in your home. Contact Apollo Homefor more information.
If you keep your home long enough, eventually you’ll be confronted with the decision to either repair or replace the furnace or heat pump. The combined expected service life of these units averages about 15 years, and many gas-fired furnaces are still on the job for up to 20 years. Nevertheless, like all mechanical devices, furnaces and heat pumps incur wear and tear over that time span. They are also steadily left behind as more energy-efficient units with higher performance specs are constantly coming on the market. How do you decide whether now’s the time to repair or replace the furnace or heat pump? Here are some suggestions for making the right call:
At some point, fixing a malfunctioning furnace or heat pump isn’t worth it anymore. Certain big-ticket repairs are deal-breakers when it comes to hanging on to existing units. For example, the price of replacing a cracked heat exchanger in a gas-fired furnace is seldom a cost-effective choice once the unit is over ten years old. In the case of a heat pump, a failed compressor—the most expensive component in the system—in a ten-year old unit should be the signal to buy a new unit rather than repair the existing one.
A 20-year old furnace came new with an AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) rating of about 70 percent. A new unit today comes with a minimum 80 percent AFUE, and high-efficiency models with AFUE ratings above 90 percent are also available. Repairing and continuing to hang on to a furnace with 1990s efficiency in the year 2016 is a money-losing proposition. Upgrade now and start reaping lower monthly heating costs from day one.
Particularly with older gas-fired furnaces, safety issues may arise with defects involving the heat exchanger or combustion. Because furnaces produce toxic gases including carbon monoxide, it’s better to stay on the side of caution and not compromise safety by continuing to repair failing, outmoded units.
Ask the HVAC pros at Apollo Home for more advice on whether to repair or replace your furnace or heat pump.
Winter’s a good time to think about energy-saving upgrades. It’s a fact that any measures that increase energy efficiency of a home also tend to enhance household comfort and even help the environment. This is especially true in winter, as higher operating costs due to increased energy consumption—as well as the frequent discomforts of a chilly house—sometimes seem to be an annual tradition. It doesn’t have to be that way. Identifying a few opportunities to make energy-saving upgrades to your home can pay off in lower expenses and help keep the house cozier, too. Here are three potential upgrade targets:
Increase Attic Insulation
Heat rises. In winter, that’s bad news if you don’t have sufficient attic insulation. Rising furnace heat conducts through the ceiling and is lost into the attic. However, you’ll still get the bill for it. Most homes are under-insulated by today’s higher standards. Attic insulation is easy to upgrade by simply adding to the existing level. Different layers of insulation—such as fiberglass batts and cellulose loose-fill—may be mixed to arrive at the recommended depth.
Install A Programmable Thermostat
Manual control of your heating system is inefficient and results in temperature swings between too-hot and too-chilly. A programmable thermostat automates temperature adjustments to match your daily household patterns, saving energy as well as keeping indoor comfort consistent. Many of today’s programmable models are also internet-connected, so you can monitor home temperatures and change programmed settings remotely with a phone app or browser format. Energy savings from utilizing a programmable thermostat will usually pay for it after one year of use.
Upgrade Your Blower
Conventional furnace blowers incorporate single-speed motors that squander electricity and don’t produce optimum indoor comfort. New variable-speed ECM (electronically commutated motor) blowers run consistently across a wide range of speeds programmed to match household heating requirements. Consistent variable output eliminates the temperature swings of on/off blowers, while the ECM technology consumes only about 25 percent as much electricity as old-school conventional blowers.
For more about energy-saving upgrades to make this winter more efficient and comfortable, contact Apollo Heating, Cooling and Plumbing.
When you shop for a filter for your furnace, you may wonder what the difference is between lower-cost and higher-end filters. Generally speaking, the denser the filter, the better job it does of keeping dirt and other particles out of your equipment. So what’s the right filter for your furnace? Read on for some information that will help you choose.
HVAC system filters are rated by the MERV, or minimum efficiency reporting value, system. Manufacturers sometimes use their own rating systems, but MERV is the industry standard.
Homeowners who choose the cheapest fiberglass filters, usually rated MERV 1-4, are providing minimal protection for their HVAC systems from the largest dirt and debris particles. Nor do these filters do much to improve indoor air quality.
Higher-rated filters keep smaller particles out of the HVAC system. They also capture more allergens and other particles that might be recirculated into the home’s air, causing respiratory problems. Better quality filters for the home are usually pleated, providing greater surface area to trap particles, and are made of a cotton and polyester blend. They generally last longer than cheaper filters; depending on how dusty the home is, they may be used for as long as three months before changing the air filter is necessary.
Filters rated MERV 5-7 do an adequate job of keeping most airborne particles out of the HVAC system and the home’s air, including mold, dust, pollen and textile and carpet fibers. Filters rated between MERV 8 and 12 are recommended for the typical home, while filters rated MERV 13-20 are too dense for most residential HVAC systems, and cannot be used without significant modifications to accommodate airflow.
Temperatures in your home can vary from room to room, from level to level and even from one spot in a room to another. The causes of uneven temperatures are many, and solutions can vary, from regular air conditioner and furnace maintenance, to installing the right size HVAC system for your home. The following remedies may cure cold or hot spots in your home.
Do-It -Yourself Solutions
Correct uneven temperatures with simple solutions such as these:
Change air filter. Dirty air filters slow down airflow so that conditioned air can’t reach rooms in the volume needed to cool or heat. Check your filter and change it regularly.
Unblock registers. Have you placed furniture or other obstructions in front of or on top of air registers? Try moving the obstructions and see if the situation improves.
Check return vents. Check return vents for dirt and dust buildup. Use the brush attachment on the vacuum to clean the vents.
Reverse ceiling fan blades. If your ceiling fan blades can be reversed, switch them to go in a clockwise direction in the winter. This pushes warm air from the furnace down to floor level.
Adjust dampers. If your system has dampers, try adjusting them to provide the right amount of conditioned air in each room or level of the house. Do not close them completely.
Correct HVAC sizing. Unfortunately, HVAC systems are often sized incorrectly, resulting in uneven heating and cooling of the home. The best time to correct this is when you are looking to replace the furnace or A/C. Have your consultant accurately gauge the correct heating and cooling load, what size equipment is needed, and how much ductwork capacity is needed by using industry software called Manuals J, S and D.
Inspect ductwork. When you schedule A/C or furnace maintenance, have your ductwork inspected for holes and loose segments. You may even repair them yourself with mastic sealant and foil tape.
For more on A/C and furnace maintenance and other solutions to uneven temperatures, contact Apollo Heating, Cooling and Plumbing. We’ve served Greater Cincinnati since 1910.
A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing, especially when it comes to trying to fix your own furnace. Modern furnaces are more complicated than in the past, and repairs require a high level of technical expertise. You also risk voiding furnace warranty with DIY repairs. Here are the five top reasons why you should leave furnace repairs to the pros.
DIY Furnace Repairs: Why You Should Avoid Them
- A professional has more experience and knowledge than the untrained DIY-er, so more likely can pinpoint a problem quicker. You may think you know what’s wrong, but furnaces are complex, and there may be an issue you haven’t even guessed at.
- Every year, at least 100 people die in this country after trying to fix their own furnaces. The fatalities are mostly from exposure to carbon monoxide. Only persons trained in handling combustion-powered appliances should do repairs or installations that might involve CO leaks. It’s odorless, and victims of CO poisoning often don’t know they’re in danger until it’s too late.
- DIY furnace fixers run the risk of starting fires or causing an explosion from leaking gas. Professional technicians have equipment to detect leaks, and the right tools to repair them. More than likely, it will take more than a screwdriver, channel locks and duct tape to successfully repair a furnace, so unless you’re ready to make a big investment in specialized equipment, you’ll actually save money by calling a pro.
- You may think you’re saving money by doing the repairs yourself, but you could make a malfunction worse if you lack proper training. You’ll probably have to call a professional later anyway, and it may cost you more to fix the damage caused by the DIY repair.
- Voiding furnace warranty is another reason to let the pro do it. A manufacturer won’t honor a warranty unless all repairs are done according to the agreed-upon terms.
For more on voiding furnace warranty or other hazards of DIY furnace repair, contact Apollo Heating, Cooling and Plumbing. We’ve served our Greater Cincinnati-area customers with pride for more than a century.
With cool weather just around the corner in the Cincinnati area, now is the perfect time to make sure that your furnace is properly prepared. Here are a few home maintenance tips for your furnace that can help get the heating season off to a good start.
Change the Air Filter
The air filter not only helps to remove dust and other pollutants from the air, but it also protects your furnace and keeps it running efficiently. Typically, an air filter is changed as part of your annual service visit, but you should also check it yourself each month during the heating season and replace it, when necessary.
Program the Thermostat
If you have a programmable thermostat, you may need to adjust its settings before the cool weather arrives. Choose a comfortable temperature for the periods when you are at home and awake, keeping it as low as possible.
For each degree you reduce the standard temperature, you can save up to 3 percent off your heating costs. For periods when you are away from home or asleep, set the thermostat 10 to 15 degrees lower to reduce your heating costs by up to 20 percent. If have a manual thermostat, replace it with a programmable model to enjoy similar savings.
Clean the Air Vents
Remove the vent covers in each, and vacuum any dust or debris out of the air ducts to help improve your indoor air quality. Open all the vents and make sure they are not covered by furniture, curtains or other objects that could inhibit airflow.
Inspect the Furnace
Clean the area around the furnace and kook for obvious signs of problems, such as holes in the vent system, dirty burners, cracks in the heat exchanger, or a frayed fan belt. If you notice any of these problems, have your system professionally inspected.
For more home maintenance tips concerning HVAC systems, talk to our team at Apollo Heating, Cooling and Plumbing. If your furnace has seen better days, and requires extensive repairs, be sure to call us first to learn about our affordable furnace replacement options.
Pinpointing the best time to replace your furnace isn’t necessarily a cut-and-dry decision, sometimes typical of decisions related to heating and cooling installations in Cincinnati. Because this climate can be extremely cold in the winter, heating systems work hard. Sometimes replacement is a clear-cut necessity, but more often, it’s a combination of its performance, heating costs, and your comfort that may prompt an upgrade. Here’s how to tell if you need a brand new heating installation in your Cincinnati home.
The furnace is more than 15 years old. As mechanical systems age, they experience wear and tear, and their energy efficiency starts to drop. Although a new furnace requires a financial investment, it’s one that will pay you back in lower heating costs.
- Your heating bills keep rising without an appreciable change in the weather or your comfort preferences.
- The furnace starts making strange noises inside the blower compartment. They can signal motor or heat exchanger failure.
- The furnace needs frequent repairs. When the mechanical and electrical parts inside the furnace need to be replaced with some frequency, it’s time to consider a heating and cooling installation in Cincinnati. Not only is the lack of heat uncomfortable while you wait for a repair or the replacement parts, the investment in new parts and labor may not be worth it, especially if your heating bills keep rising.
- It has signs of rust or a cracked heat exchanger. Any sign of rust inside the blower compartment is a red flag that replacement may be imminent. If your carbon monoxide (CO) detectors go off after the furnace starts or shortly after it stops, call your HVAC contractor immediately after turning off the furnace. A cracked heat exchanger may be emitting CO in to your air.
- Lack of professional maintenance or running your system with a dirty air filter can crack this vital part. A cracked heat exchanger almost always requires a furnace replacement, unless a warranty covers parts and labor for repairs.
If you suspect it’s time for a new heating and cooling installation in Cincinnati, contact Apollo Heating, Cooling and Plumbing, providing trusted HVAC services since 1910.