Tips for Your Home Category
The end of the cooling season doesn’t mean the end of AC maintenance. Before you put your air conditioner to bed for winter, a few simple maintenance tips will help ensure that it’s ready to keep you comfortable when you wake it up again next spring. Seasonal start-up is often the time when system problems occur, often because basic end of season AC maintenance was neglected months ago when the system was shut down. Here are some things to take care of now:
- Power down the central air conditioner unit. This ensures that nobody turns the system on at the thermostat accidentally during the winter by selecting “Cool” instead of “Heat.”
- Remove the system air filter and replace it with a fresh one. Central A/C and heating systems share the same filter. Don’t start the winter heating season with a dirty air conditioning filter left over from the summer.
- Inspect the condensate drain pan. Situated under the indoor air handler, this wide flat pan collects condensation dripping off the evaporator coil while the air conditioner’s running. Make sure there is no standing water in the pan. Residual water left in the pan will spawn algae and mold growth over the winter. If you notice standing water, that usually means a clog somewhere in the condensate drain system. Contact a qualified HVAC service provider to restore drain function.
- Clear the outdoor unit. Make sure there are no fallen leaves or branches in the fan opening on top. Also, clear away weeds or other vegetation to leave two feet of open space on sides. Consider a commercially-available vented A/C cover that slips over the unit to protect it during the winter, available in sizes to fit your air conditioner.
- Check it during the winter. Don’t allow heavy amounts of snow or ice to accumulate on the unit. If it’s located in an spot where icicles falling from the eaves above may strike it, place a piece of plywood or other protection atop the unit.
Need professional advice or help for end of season AC maintenance? Contact Apollo Heating, Cooling , Electrical and Plumbing.
Whether this winter is severe or something less, efforts to control energy costs will always pay off. Taking proactive control of those factors you can do something about will produce both immediate and long-term benefits. Lower monthly costs, greater indoor comfort and less wear and tear on your heating system are among them. Here are some effective ways to control energy costs this winter:
- Program the thermostat. Make sure your programmable thermostat is set to reflect the different comfort requirements and household occupancy patterns of winter. Nights are longer, allowing you to set a longer sustained overnight temperature for sleeping. Mornings are colder and require pre-warming the house. Kids back in school and parents working often permit programming lower temps during daytime spans when the house is empty.
- Change the filter. This is a year-round task but particularly important in winter. A dirty filter restricts system airflow. Adequate furnace airflow is necessary to continuously circulate the proper volume of heat to maintain a comfortable temperature. When airflow drops below specs, the furnace runs longer to compensate and heating costs spiral up. Another reason to maintain proper airflow: it protects the furnace heat exchanger—a critical and very expensive safety component—from overheating and cracking.
- Open all vents. Closing heating vents in under-utilized rooms doesn’t save money. Your furnace doesn’t know that vents are closed and still runs just as long to maintain the household thermostat setting. In addition, closing vents unbalances the distribution of heat through the entire ductwork. Rooms further from the furnace may become chronically chilly—causing occupants to crank up the thermostat—while rooms closer to the furnace may be uncomfortably warm.
- Stop air leakage. Heat energy naturally moves from a warmer zone into a cooler zone. That means that air leaks around doors and windows are costing you money as indoor heat escapes to the outdoors. Check for cold drafts around doors and windows that indicate worn weatherstripping. Replace with new foam or vinyl weatherstripping.
For more advice on how to control energy costs this winter, contact the heating professionals at Apollo Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Plumbing.
Can you maintain proper indoor humidity levels without the use of a dehumidifier? The Environmental Protection Agency recommends keeping household humidity levels below 60% for a healthy, comfortable indoor environment. It’s often a challenge to stay in that recommended range, however, particularly in climates like ours here in southern Ohio, where outdoor humidity often exceeds that limit. In these cases, you’ll probably want to consider a home dehumidifier.
Here are three things to think about when comparing dehumidifiers to keep your home humidity in the optimal range:
Individual room dehumidifiers are sized according to the amount of water vapor, expressed in pints, that the unit extracts from the air in a 24-hour period. For typical households with humidity in the range of 60% to 70%, a 30-pint unit is sufficient for a 300 square foot room while large spaces of 1,000-square feet need a 60-pint unit. In very damp houses with 80% humidity, the above size figures increase to 40 pints and 70 pints, respectively.
To reduce the number of times you’ll have to empty the dehumidifier’s water tank daily, the general rule is: the bigger, the better. For example, a 30-pint unit with a 10-pint water tank will require emptying three times a day. However, a 60-pint unit with a 15-pint tank will need to be emptied four times per 24 hours.
Whole-House Vs. Room Unit
Portable room dehumidifiers reduce humidity in a limited space only, plus require manual emptying of the tank. A whole-house dehumidifier, on the other hand, removes humidity from the entire air volume of your home as it passes through your heating and cooling ductwork. The unit condenses water vapor out of the air and conveys it down a drain line connected to your household plumbing. The humidistat that controls operation can be set like a thermostat, then automatically maintains the desired indoor humidity according to your setting.
For more advice on comparing dehumidifiers in order to choose the right dehumidifier for your needs, contact the indoor air quality professionals at Apollo Heating, Cooling Electrical and Plumbing.
Simple steps you can take with drain pipes to avoid frozen pipes can also help prevent the repeated annoyance of a frozen drain. When freezing temperatures persist for a length of time—particularly when they are below 32 degrees Fahrenheit day and night—both water supply lines and drain pipes may freeze. Just as with any other type of drain blockage, a drain pipe that is obstructed by ice will not drain water freely.
Here are three things you can do to avoid frozen pipes.
- Insulate exposed segments. Anywhere you can access spans of drain pipe—such as in the crawl space or basement—cover these segments with foam pipe insulation. Supplied with a slit down the length of the segment, this slip-on insulation can be placed on the pipe without disconnecting the plumbing. Where the drain pipe goes underground in the crawl space, it’s a good idea to insulate the pipe at least twelve inches below the soil to reach the frost line—the point where the pipe is unlikely to freeze.
- Keep cold air away. Look for any gaps in the exterior wall of the house that allows frigid outdoor air to reach drain pipes and other plumbing routed inside the wall spaces or the crawl space. Small cracks can be sealed with exterior caulking. Larger gaps, such as those where plumbing pipes penetrate the exterior wall, can be filled with expanding spray foam insulation that comes in a can. Still bigger openings in the wall need to be permanently patched with wood or siding.
- Fix dripping faucets in the house. Drain pipes that don’t contain any water can’t freeze. Though drain pipes are typically installed in a way to empty all water into the main sewer line, one or more dripping faucets creates an ongoing presence of water throughout the span of the drain pipe. If temperatures drop low enough, the drain may freeze.
For more advice about what you can do to drain pipes to prevent freezing this winter, contact the plumbing pros at Apollo Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Plumbing.
Because this is not the season to be stuck without hot water, take time to properly prepare your water heater for winter. The water heater’s typically the most frequently replaced major appliance in the house. Many last less than 10 years. One of the things that can help extend water heater service life is seasonal maintenance. Here are some suggestions to prepare a water heater for winter and ensure you have plenty of hot water for the cold weather to come.
- Set the water heater thermostat to 120 degrees. Temperatures higher than that pose a danger of scalding and don’t get hot water to you any faster when the pipes in the house are cold, anyhow. Also, the higher the temperature of water inside the water heater tank, the quicker it loses heat while on stand-by—particularly during winter if the water heater is located in a cooler location like a garage or utility area. Rapid tank heat loss means the water heater cycles on and off more frequently to compensate, consuming more gas and increasing operating costs.
- Insulate exposed sections of cold and hot water pipes. Buy slip-on foam pipe insulation at a home center and place it anywhere you can reach the cold water supply line leading to the water heater and the hot water line leading away from the heater. Also, any other accessible segments of hot water pipe elsewhere in the house should be insulated, as well. This prevents freezing in winter and aids water heater performance by reducing heat loss.
- Drain and flush. Mineral sediment present in the water supply accumulates inside water heaters. It’s a major cause of higher water heating costs and shorter water heater life expectancy. A qualified professional plumber can drain the heater tank, flush out sediment accumulation, as well as verify proper function of the temperature and pressure relief (TPR) valve, an important water heater safety check.
For qualified service to prepare a water heater for winter, contact Apollo Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Plumbing.
Weatherstripping is one of the household materials that keeps warm air inside in winter and hot air outside in summer. Usually foam, vinyl or rubber, it’s typically installed to close the gap between two moveable surfaces. Weatherstripping is usually found along the edges of a door and the door jamb to form an effective seal against air leakage when the door is closed. It’s also usually present on the bottom of the door to close the gap between the door and the threshold. Weatherstripping is also found on double-hung windows to seal between the sash and the window frame and between the central V-channel and the sash.
Because weatherstripping is placed between two moveable surfaces, as the door or window is opened and closed friction and wear occurs over time and replacement is normally required. Here are several common types of weatherstripping.
- Peel-and-stick foam. This is the least expensive option and also the easiest to apply. Typically made of non-porous closed cell foam it can be used around door frames, on the top and bottom window sashes and to seal attic hatches and small openings. Foam typically wears away fastest due to friction and will need to be replaced more often.
- Self-adhesive rolled vinyl. This is pliable material that can be stuck to most door frames and window sashes, but may not adhere well to metal surfaces. Its cost is low to moderate and durability exceeds foam but is not as good as other options.
- Tubular vinyl or rubber. Compresses as the door or window closes against it to form a very effective air seal and is very durable. Usually it must be manually stapled or tacked in place—not self-adhesive—and the cost is moderate to high.
- Door sweep. Installed to close the opening beneath the bottom of a door and the threshold, it consists of an aluminum or stainless steel plate with a brush made of vinyl or rubber to seal the gap. Door must be removed for installation. Cost is moderate to high.
For qualified handyman services to replace worn weatherstripping in your home, contact Apollo Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Plumbing.
Is a ductless HVAC system a viable alternative for heating and cooling individual rooms in your home? Every day, ductless heating and cooling units are gaining market share in this country as more people decide that the answer is “Yes.”
The system consists of a compact, low-profile indoor air handler incorporating a coil and blower fan mounted on the wall or ceiling of the room. This unit connects via a narrow refrigerant conduit to a downsized outdoor heat pump behind or next to the house, about the size of a large suitcase. In winter, like any heat pump, the system extracts latent heat from outside air, concentrates it with a compressor, then conveys it indoors to the air handler where the coil and blower disperse heat into the room. In summer, the system reverses and cools the room by extracting indoor heat and conveying it outside to be released in outdoor air. A single outdoor heat pump unit can link to up to five ductless air handlers in separate rooms.
Ductless HVAC provides three advantages.
- In homes without ductwork for central heating and cooling—or where extending existing ductwork to additional rooms isn’t financially feasible—a ductless system permits low-cost, highly effective heating and cooling of individual rooms without relying on outmoded space heaters and clunky window air conditioners.
- Leaky, inefficient ductwork loses at least 25% of heating or cooling in most homes. Because a ductless system delivers heating and cooling without ducts, operation is more energy-efficient at lower cost. Ductless comfort control is also more accurate as each room has its own dedicated thermostat to individualize temperature to that space.
- Installation of ductless HVAC is far less intensive and disruptive than installing ducts and vents that require major construction. All that’s required are a three-inch hole in an exterior wall to route the refrigerant conduit outdoors, plus mounting the indoor air handler on a wall or ceiling. A two-person team can easily install a ductless system in a single room in one day.
Learn about still more advantages of a ductless HVAC system by contacting the pros at Apollo Heating, Cooling and Plumbing.
Patterns of household energy consumption vary according to season, so it’s not surprising that winter has it’s own distinctive energy saving tips. Many useful energy saving tips cost you nothing, others require a small investment that will likely pay for itself after a few Ohio winters—both in added comfort and lower energy costs.
- Adjust the thermostat. If you’re using a programmable thermostat, while the house is occupied winter temperatures should range between 68 and 70 degrees. Most people feel comfortable at that temperature in winter and it’s also the most energy-efficient setting to warm the house to after lower overnight temperatures.
- Take advantage of the sun. Keep drapes and blinds on the sunny side of the house open during daylight hours to admit solar energy through window glass. Heat energy escapes back out through windows just as easily at night, however, so as the sun goes down close drapes and blinds to keep heat in the house.
- Utilize ceiling fans. If you have one, switch the directional setting to the “Clockwise” or “Reverse” mode. In this setting, the fan pulls air up from the floor and across the ceiling. This pushes the layer of rising hot air that naturally accumulates at the ceiling back down into the room to warm occupants.
- Seal air leaks. If the feel cold drafts around doors, replace worn weatherstripping in the door jamb and/or the rubber threshold that seals under the door. Also replace worn weatherstripping between moveable surfaces of windows. Look for air gaps anywhere plumbing pipes or electrical conduits enter the house and where vents pass through the ceiling. Straight gaps or cracks 1/4 inch or less wide can be filled with silicone caulk; for larger, irregular openings you can use spray foam insulation in a can.
- Light wisely. If you’re still using any conventional incandescent bulbs, replace them with compact fluorescent bulbs or LEDs. Thinking of stringing lights for holiday decorations? Buy LED strings that last longer and use less electricity.
Contact the professionals at Apollo Heating, Cooling and Plumbing for more winter energy saving tips
Extending the life of an HVAC system is doable. So, unfortunately, is shortening its expected service life. The combined average life expectancy of an air conditioner and furnace averages about 15 years. Typically, the furnace lasts longer than the A/C. However, that 15-year estimate is based on the assumption that both systems are professionally installed, receive regular maintenance and are operated according to manufacturer’s recommendations. If that doesn’t happen, all bets are off.
To increases the odds of extending the life of an HVAC system, avoid these mistakes:
- Unqualified installation. Every new furnace or air conditioner should be properly sized to the BTU requirements of the home before installation. This means an accurate load calculation must be performed by a professional HVAC contractor. Over-sized and under-sized units not only under-perform in heating and cooling and cost more to operate, they tend to wear out much sooner.
- Skipping annual check-ups. Your furnace or air conditioner manufacturer’s warranty probably requires yearly professional maintenance. That’s because it’s vital to maximize expected service life. Each unit should get seasonal preventive maintenance from a qualified HVAC technician at the outset of the heating and cooling seasons, respectively.
- Ignoring important upkeep. As the homeowner, you can contribute to longer service life by changing the system air filter monthly—an easy DIY procedure that’s also inexpensive when you buy replacement filters in multi-packs. A dirty, clogged filter reduces system airflow. Low airflow not only raises operating costs, it also over-stresses vital system components like the air conditioner compressor and furnace heat exchanger. Early failure of these very expensive parts may mean early replacement of the entire unit.
- Inefficient operation. Use of an outmoded manual thermostat often means the the furnace or air conditioner is cycled on and off much more frequently. This adds to system wear and tear, shortens expected service life and consumes more energy. A digital programmable thermostat automates temperature changes with fewer on/off cycles to maintain a more comfortable indoor environment at lower cost.
Ask the experts at Apollo Heating, Cooling and Plumbing for more advice about extending the life of an HVAC system.
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.