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While today’s central air conditioners offer superior efficiency and reliability, a few common AC issues are still often responsible when problems occur. The average central air conditioner installed today can be expected to provide reliable cooling performance for 12 to 15 years or more with routine annual maintenance. Despite this long service life, however, certain shortfalls may recur that require extra attention. Here are three common A/C issues you may encounter along the way and how they are typically resolved.
No system parameter is more critical than adequate airflow. Declining efficiency, sub-standard cooling and increased wear and tear result when airflow falls below specs. Common causes include:
- Dirty air filter. The filter should be changed monthly during the cooling season. It’s an easy DIY task that takes just a few minutes. Ask your HVAC contractor to show you how if you don’t know.
- Closed or obstructed vents. If individual supply or return vents are shut or inadvertently blocked by furniture or other obstructions, system airflow suffers. Check all vents to verify they’re fully open.
- Leaking ducts. Residential ductwork is often leaky, typically losing 20% or more of airflow due to deteriorated joints and other issues. Ducts should be inspected and pressure-tested to determine extent of leakage. Sealing options are available to restore normal airflow.
Insufficient refrigerant circulating in the coils impacts A/C efficiency, cooling effectiveness and humidity extraction. Low refrigerant almost always indicates a small leak. A qualified HVAC technician using leak detection technology can repair the problem, then restore proper refrigerant level.
Both under-sized and over-sized air conditioners deliver poor performance, waste energy and often have shorter expected service life. Before selecting a new A/C, make sure the system accommodates the home’s cooling load. Conducted by a qualified HVAC technician, “sizing” involves a standardized survey to identify the unique thermal requirements of a house. Industry-standard software crunches this data to determine the exact A/C BTU capacity required for optimum cooling and lowest operating costs.
For professional advice and service to resolve common AC issues, contact Apollo Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Plumbing.
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 Home 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 Home 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 Home Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Plumbing.
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 Home Heating, Cooling and Plumbing for more advice about extending the life of an HVAC system.
A whole-house water treatment system connected to your home plumbing system protects all the water entering your house—not just selected individual faucets. That’s because water quality is an issue that affects the entire household. While many people are concerned about the quality of water they consume, the water you bathe in and wash clothes in may also raise health concerns, as well as harm your plumbing system at large. Here are three specific reasons to consider installing a water treatment system in your home:
- Questionable quality. If you get your water from a local municipal source, chances are it meets the government standards for quality. The question is: Are those standards high enough to meet your standards for your family’s health and safety? Long-term effects of chronic exposure to low levels of contaminants like chlorine, lead, pesticides and others —which meet official permissible limits—may still be a concern to you, however. To ensure a higher standard of water purity for your family than what the acceptable standards offer, consider water treatment for your plumbing system.
- Hard water matters. Municipal water in some locales is hard; i.e., it contains a high quantity of dissolved minerals. Most mineral content is not considered a health threat so water utilities aren’t required to reduce mineral content of water. However, hard water can be an ongoing annoyance: soap won’t suds, shampoo doesn’t rinse, glasses and cutlery look dull and foggy and white laundry turns somewhat gray. In addition, mineral deposits accumulate inside household water supply lines, causing low water pressure. Mineral deposits inside pipes also accelerates corrosion, leading to premature pipe ruptures and potential water damage.
- Aesthetic issues. A rusty tint due to high iron content and/or gritty sediment are common in some areas and not a health threat. However, these and other visual effects do make water appear less appetizing and inviting. A home water treatment system filters out impurities before they reach the faucets and fixtures in your house.
Do you have questions about your water quality? Ask the professionals at Apollo Home Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Plumbing about water treatment for your plumbing system.
Your sewer drain system is vulnerable to invasion. Trees growing near the underground sewer line on your property send out long feeder roots in search of nutrients. Because a sewer pipe contains water and organic waste it’s a prime target for these small but powerful roots. Many older homes were built with sewer piping that is especially prone to the effects of tree root intrusion—clay pipes with mortar-filled joints and concrete pipes, in particular. However, almost any pipe with seams can be invaded by aggressive tree roots. Once they intrude into the pipe, clogs form due to expanding root growth and expensive, messy sewage backups into the house are the inevitable result.
The best control of tree root issues is prevention. Here are some things you can do to stop tree root infiltration of the sewer drain system before it happens.
- Be aware of the path of your underground sewer line (a plumber can tell you where it is.) Avoid planting trees directly above or near the pipe.
- Choose trees with naturally less aggressive root systems. Fast-growing tree species are particularly likely to send invading feeder roots into sewer lines. A local nursery or the horticulture department at a nearby college can provide information on non-aggressive tree species that grow well in your local climate.
- If you already have fast-growing trees on your property near the sewer line, consider removing them.
Replace Vulnerable Pipes
Old clay or concrete sewer pipes common in many areas can be replaced with seamless HDPE (high-density polyethylene) pipe in a trenchless pipe process that requires little excavation. With an extremely long service life and no seams that roots can exploit, HDPE pipes are very unlikely to experience tree root problems.
Get Regular Inspections
Every three years, have a qualified plumber inspect your sewer drain system utilizing micro-video technology to visually survey the entire interior length of the pipe. If evidence of tree root invasion is noted, early intervention can prevent clogs and backups.
For professional service to prevent sewer drain problems from tree roots, contact Apollo Home Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Plumbing.
CO poisoning, caused by exposure to carbon monoxide gas, can be chronically debilitating at low levels and quickly fatal at higher levels. Carbon monoxide, a byproduct of combustion in gas-fired furnaces, stoves, motor vehicles and even wood-burning fireplaces, is odorless and colorless and may accumulate inside a home without occupants being aware of it. This is why it is so important to know the early signs of CO Poisoning.
At up to 70 parts per million (ppm) of CO concentration in indoor air, most people will experience no symptoms. Between 70 ppm and 150 ppm, symptoms may be vague and easily dismissed as indications of any number of other illnesses. Above 150 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness and death from CO poisoning can occur in rapid succession.
Know the Early Signs of CO Poisoning
Because the effects of CO poisoning vary according to the concentration in the air and individual factors like age and general health, it’s important to be aware of early symptoms like these:
- Shortness of breath or labored breathing.
- Nausea and loss of appetite.
Specific Signs of CO Poisoning
Since these symptoms mimic early stages of other common illnesses, especially the flu, also be aware of these additional factors that are specific to CO poisoning:
- Symptoms disappear or greatly diminish when you leave the house for any length of time.
- Everyone living in the house reports symptoms instead of only one or a few individuals, as with common flu.
- Those who spend the most time at home have the most severe symptoms.
- The symptoms are not accompanied by other classic flu-like signs such as fever or swollen glands.
- Household pets may also become lethargic, lose appetite and show other unexplained symptoms.
The best protection from carbon monoxide is the proper number of CO detectors installed at the right places in the home. That means one per each level of the house plus one inside or directly outside every bedroom. Test detectors monthly and replace batteries twice a year in battery-powered units.
For more advice about recognizing the early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, and technology to protect your family from the consequences, contact the professionals Apollo Home Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Plumbing today.
If things go wrong with your cooling system, how much air conditioning troubleshooting should you attempt yourself? Where’s the tipping point when it comes to when to call in a qualified professional, instead? The fact is, technology incorporated in today’s central air conditioners is complex and beyond the expertise of the average homeowner. For this reason—as well as valid safety concerns and warranty restrictions, too—the list of DIY air conditioner troubleshooting is necessarily short.
Nevertheless, a few basic steps will at least eliminate obvious issues and narrow down the causes.
Air Conditioning Troubleshooting Tips Before You Call a Professional
A/C doesn’t start at all. First check the thermostat and make sure the system’s in “Cooling” mode. Also verify that the desired temperature setting is at least 5 degrees below the displayed room temperature. If everything appears correct, look inside the main electrical panel for any tripped circuit breakers. If you notice one, don’t reset it. Call a qualified HVAC contractor and inform them.
System runs but poor cooling performance, low airflow, etc. Inspect the system air filter. Does it appear dusty and dirty? Remove the filter and take it to a home center to buy a replacement. Install the new filter and check the airflow. Also, make sure nothing’s obstructing vents on the outdoor half of the A/C system: fallen leaves or objects someone placed on top of the fan grille can be the problem, as can encroaching weeds or other vegetation that obstructs side air vents. If the problem persists, you need professional help.
Leaking water. If you notice water around the indoor air handler, check the wide condensate drain pan situated underneath. Is standing water inside the pan? Overflow caused by a clogged condensate drain line is likely and will require a qualified HVAC technician to clear the clog. Another possible cause of leakage is ice forming on the evaporator coil inside the air handler. This is usually the result of a very dirty coil or low refrigerant level—both requiring professional service to diagnose and resolve.
If basic air conditioner troubleshooting hasn’t solved your cooling problems, contact a professional at Apollo Home Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Plumbing.