preventive maintenance Category

Choosing the Right Temps to Set Your Programmable Thermostat

programmable thermostatKnowing how to set your programmable thermostat means making seasonal adjustments at the appropriate times every year. Cold weather, shorter days and longer nights, as well as the different patterns of household occupation during winter, call for changes to programmed temperatures. System energy efficiency and monthly operating costs—as well as indoor comfort and convenience—all improve when you know how to set your programmable thermostat to suit the season.

As winter arrives, here are some guidelines for programming seasonal-appropriate temperatures:

How to Set Your Programmable Thermostat for Waking Hours

Most occupants of a home will feel comfortable on a winter morning with an indoor temperature between 68 to 70 degrees. This is also the most energy efficient range to warm the house up after a night of lower temperatures. Program the temperature 30 minutes before wake-up time and leave it at this level as long as people are in the house.

For Leaving Home

Program a temperature setting 15 degrees below the Waking Hours temperature beginning a half-hour before the time the last person normally leaves the house for the day. That temperature should be maintained for the entire span of time the house is unoccupied during the day for optimum efficiency and lowest costs.

For Coming Home

Thirty minutes before the time the first person usually returns home for the day, program the temperature to return to the Waking Hours temperature.

For Bedtime And Sleeping Hours

One hour before the time the last person normally turns in for the night, set the programmable temperature to 60 to 62 degrees. Maintaining that temperature throughout the overnight period saves energy as the furnace operates most efficiently when a single setting is sustained over an extended time.

On Weekends

Most people’s waking/sleeping hours and household occupancy habits change over the weekend. Take advantage of your programmable thermostat’s separate Weekend settings to input temperatures for Saturday and Sunday.

Seasonal Maintenance

Most programmable thermostats are battery-powered. Install a fresh battery once a year, ideally at the same time you make the seasonal adjustments for winter.

More questions about how to set your programmable thermostat? Ask the experts at Apollo Home Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Plumbing.

Protecting Your Home: Understanding Placement of Downspouts

placement of downspoutsDownspouts form a connection between the roof and the basement of your house. That connection is rainwater shed by the roof that infiltrates basement walls, causing a chronically wet basement. Water seepage into basements is a major problem that deteriorates basement structure and can make the interior basement space unusable for many purposes, as well as a source of mold contamination and other moisture-related issues. This is why placement of downspouts is so important.

One inch of rainfall on a 1,000 square foot roof equals over 600 gallons draining through gutters and into downspouts. Homeowners may expend large amounts of money and time on attempts to seal basement walls against water seepage. Often, proper placement of downspouts is a more cost-effective method that achieves better results simply by reducing the volume of roof runoff soaking into the ground.

Here are some guidelines for placement of downspouts:

  • As a general rule at least one downspout should be placed per every 40 linear feet of gutter. This ensures adequate drainage to prevent overflowing gutters during heavy rain. An overflowing gutter cascades onto the ground below, forcing water into the ground immediately adjacent to the foundation wall and exacerbating seepage into the basement.
  • Downspouts should not discharge where water may pool close to the house and foundation. Paving stones or walkways that aren’t properly pitched away from the exterior wall can act like dams that cause water to back up next to the structure and greatly increase the amount of ground seepage and infiltration into the basement.
  • If downspouts cannot be relocated to a position where water drains properly away from the house, downspout extensions should be installed. These should be long enough to move the discharge point of water a minimum of four feet away from the house.
  • Where neither of the above options is doable, a downspout should be placed where it can be connected to an underground pipe that routes water far from the house into the yard or into the municipal storm sewer (if local laws permit.)

For more advice on proper placement of downspouts to prevent basement seepage, contact Apollo Home Heating, Cooling, Electrical and Plumbing.

Early Signs of CO Poisoning

signs of co poisoningCO 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:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath or labored breathing.
  • Nausea and loss of appetite.
  • Dizziness

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.

Air Conditioner Troubleshooting: When You Need a Pro

air conditioning troubleshootingIf 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.

Is Your Breaker Box Out of Date?

breaker box out of dateThe electronics you’ve added to your household in recent years may be high technology, but is your home’s aging breaker box out of date? It may belong to a low tech era. If your house is more than 25 years old, chances are it’s still equipped with a main electrical service panel and circuit breakers that aren’t adequate for the electrical demands of today.

Breaker Box Out of Date? The Signs…

Upgrading the breaker box doesn’t mean you have to rewire the entire house. Breaker boxes are a separate component installed and readily replaced without the expense of changing existing wiring. But, how do you know if the breaker box in your home may be out of date? Here are some scenarios that can help you decide:

  • Circuit breakers trip often without any known cause. This could be a safety issue in addition to an inconvenience and should be brought to the attention of a qualified electrician immediately.
  • After circuit breakers trip, they will not remain reset for long. If a reset breaker simply trips again in a few moments and there’s no short or other malfunction on the circuit, this is another sign that the panel itself may be defective and requires upgrade.
  • You need to unplug or turn off certain appliances in order to turn on others or you may trip a circuit breaker. A properly sized breaker box should be able to accommodate all electrical demands in the house at all times, plus offer some reserve capacity for future demands.
  • Burning odors or smell of hot wiring around the breaker box. If you smell an acrid, burning odor from the panel and/or notice that circuit breakers are hot to the touch, call an electrician immediately. Faulty outdated service panels are implicated in more than 2,000 house fires a year.
  • You have plans to remodel or add extra rooms in the future. Adding additional load to an already outdated breaker panel is a guarantee of future electrical problems. Make upgrading the panel part of your renovation project.

For a professional evaluation of your home’s breaker box and current electrical demands, contact the electricians at Apollo Home Electrical, Heating, Cooling and Plumbing.

Preventing Frozen Pipes: Plumbing Winterization Tips

It seems like only yesterday we were writing about spring HVAC maintenance, but it’s now time for a few plumbing winterization tips. Here in Cincinnati, the low temperatures average below freezing for at least three months of the year.

plumbing winterization tipsOf course, a severe cold snap can happen at any time between fall and spring. Damage caused by winter temperatures can range from a frozen garden hose to a major supply line rupture that inundates your home with hundreds of gallons of water.

Since no one can predict when the winter’s first cold front will roll in, please take time to review plumbing winterization tips.

Before Freezing Weather Strikes

  • Know the location of your main water shutoff valve. Test it to make sure it operates easily. If it’s excessively hard to turn, consult a plumber.
  • Wherever you can access water supply lines (including hot water lines) in or under the house, insulate these pipes with slip-on sleeves of foam plumbing insulation.
  • Disconnect all garden hoses, drain the hoses and store for the winter. Shut off, drain and freeze-proof outdoor faucets. Install insulation kits on any standard faucets.
  • Look for any outside openings where cold, outdoor air can enter a crawl space or exterior wall and contact plumbing pipes. Cover these openings with wood or foam board.
  • If you have an underground sprinkler system, drain the system per manufacturer’s instructions.

During Freezing Temperatures

  • If temperatures drop below 28 degrees, keep the thermostat above 55 degrees, 24 hours a day. Make sure heating vents are open in all rooms. Also, open closet doors and cabinets to allow warm air circulation.
  • Locate faucets in the house furthest from the main water line and open each faucet to allow a continuous trickle of water during frigid overnight temperatures.
  • If you suspect a frozen pipe – very low or no water pressure is a red flag – turn off the main water shutoff valve and call a plumber. Don’t wait for the pipe to thaw to verify that it has ruptured.

For more plumbing winterization tips or other professional service, please contact Apollo Home Heating, Cooling and Plumbing.

DIY Drain Cleaning? 3 Things That Could Go Wrong

Once you confront a household drain that won’t clear with a common plunger, it may be time to seek professional drain cleaning from a qualified plumber. The fact is, other DIY options all have potential drawbacks, and may, at the least, only delay seeking the trained expertise required to open the drain. In the worst case scenario, do-it-yourself attempts may damage plumbing and cause added repair expense. Here are three common DIY strategies that may only make things worse:

professional drain cleaningOver-Reliance On Caustic Chemicals

Residential plumbing isn’t fabricated to withstand the effects of sodium hydroxide or sulfuric acid—the two most common chemical drain openers. These substances are formulated to dissolve organic clogs; however, repeated use can also deteriorate galvanized steel, copper, and PVC, the most common drain pipes in residential use. The worse the clog, the more likely it is that chemical drain cleaners will damage your pipes. Since there’s no water flow through a totally obstructed drain to dilute the chemical, the pipe is subjected to concentrated exposure to any caustic substance poured down the drain.

Damaging Power Snakes

It happens when inexperienced do-it-yourselfers rent power snakes to unclog drains. These industrial-strength units put a great deal of stress on aging residential pipes or joints, and in untrained hands, may actually rupture drain lines. Instead of resorting to the heavy-duty snake, a qualified professional plumber dealing with a clogged residential pipe may opt instead for hydro-jetting equipment that uses high-pressure water jets to clear clogged drains without traumatizing the plumbing.

Mistaken Diagnosis

Water accumulating in a tub or sink may not actually be the result of a clogged drain pipe that you can clear yourself. An obstructed sewer line out in your front yard may cause drain water from elsewhere in the home to back up into other fixtures. All the plunging, snaking, and drain cleaning chemicals in the world won’t open the drain, because the problem’s in your sewer.

Avoid the downsides of DIY approaches by contacting Apollo Home Heating, Cooling and Plumbing for professional drain cleaning.

Common Issues with Sump Pumps

A sump pump is a silent sentinel that guards your home against water damage. Installed in a covered basin in the basement floor, the pump senses the presence of water and automatically activates, pumping water up and out of the house to a discharge point, usually located in the backyard. A properly-sized pump protects your basement from water intrusion due to external sources like rising ground water and localized flooding or indoor sources such as a broken water supply line.

sump pumpBecause a sump pump is installed out of sight and usually inactive, malfunction in the pump or its activating mechanism may occur without being noticed. The pump will then fail to operate when you need it most. Annual professional maintenance and testing by a qualified plumber is critical.

Here are three common sump pump issues:

Clogged Intake

Debris in the sump basin, including dirt and gravel from the surrounding pit or objects swept in from the floor, may clog the pump intake screen and interfere with proper operation. A qualified plumber can drain the basin, remove debris, and inspect and clean the intake screen as part of annual maintenance.

Defective Float Switch

A float switch energizes the pump when water in the sump basin reaches a preset level, then turns it off again when the basin empties. If the float switch fails to properly detect water, the pump will not actuate and basement flooding may occur. If it doesn’t turn the pump off, the motor will burn out. During regular maintenance, a plumber will pour a measured quantity of water into the basin to verify proper float switch “on” and “off” response.

Frozen Discharge Line

Residual water in the outdoor portion of the discharge line may freeze and obstruct the flow from the sump pump, causing basement flooding. The discharge line should always be routed on a slightly downward grade to allow residual water to drain completely out of the line.

For regular annual maintenance to prevent and detect sump pump issues in greater Cincinnati contact the professionals at Apollo Home Heating, Cooling and Plumbing.

Does Your Home Need a Bigger Breaker Box?

All homes either have a fuse or circuit breaker box into which all the wiring in the home runs. The purpose of the box is to house the fuses or circuit breakers that trip when the electrical load exceeds the circuit’s capacity. The fuse will burn out or the breaker will trip to prevent electrical fires.

breaker boxOlder homes are far more likely to need larger boxes, since decades ago, far fewer appliances and devices were in use than they are today. Now it’s not uncommon for homes to have multiple refrigerators or freezers, cooking appliances, hair dryers, and other high voltage appliances in use daily.

The Existing Box Is Full

Room air conditioners, refrigerators, and freezers may plug into a standard electrical outlet, but to be safe, they should be on a dedicated circuit. They may not run continuously, but when they share a circuit breaker with other outlets and switches, that particular circuit could be overloaded. If your existing box doesn’t have room, it’s less expensive and safer to replace the box with a larger one than it is to add another box, also called a subpanel.

Converting from gas appliances to electric is another common reason for adding more circuits to an existing box. Electric dryers, stoves, central air conditioners, and water heaters require their own circuit, since they draw considerable power.

A Burned Bus Bar

A bus bar in a circuit breaker box is a strip of copper or copper-aluminum alloy that may be damaged when the power load exceeds its capacity, from a power surge, or lightning strike. In order to use that circuit again, you’ll have to replace it with a new box. While it doesn’t necessarily require a larger box, it’s usually a good idea to increase the size to ensure that you’ll have room for expansion in the future.

The licensed electricians at Apollo Home Heating, Cooling and Plumbing can help you determine whether you need a larger breaker box for your home. We’ve provided trusted home services for homeowners in the greater Cincinnati area since 1910.

Understanding A/C: What’s the Difference Between Evaporator and Condenser Coils?

To most folks, the science behind air conditioning is pure magic. The process cools your house and that’s all you care about… until it stops working. However, a basic understanding of the process behind air conditioning will provide you with a better ability to troubleshoot problems. Evaporator and condenser coils are at the heart of this process.


Source: Freedigitalphotos

Why Refrigerant Is So Important

First, it’s important to understand how refrigerant plays a role in air conditioning. It easily transitions between liquid and gas, and when it does, it either extracts heat from the air or releases heat into the air. Pressure aids the process.

How an Air Conditioner Works

In a split-system central air conditioner, liquid refrigerant, also called coolant, is pumped into the home. It flows through an evaporator coil, which is either located in a dedicated air handling unit or attached to the furnace plenum.

Before the coolant flows into the evaporator coil, an expansion valve reduces pressure on the refrigerant, causing it to evaporate into a gas. As this happens, the refrigerant extracts heat energy from the surrounding air. The removal of heat from the air cools it off, and that cooled air is blown away from the coil and circulated throughout the home via a blower fan and air ducts.

At this point, the A/C pumps the gaseous refrigerant back outside to the condenser/compressor unit, usually located on a concrete pad next to the house. The compressor squeezes the gas, turning it back into a liquid. As the gas returns to a liquid state , heat is released into the outside air, blown away by an exhaust fan.

All air conditioning systems — central, portable and package units — operate on the same principle. Electric, air-source heat pumps cool homes in this manner as well, using a reversing valve to switches the process from indoor cooling to heating. When this happens, the indoor evaporator coil operates as a condensing coil during heating, and the outdoor condenser coil becomes an evaporator coil.

For more information on how evaporator and condenser coils cool your greater Cincinnati home, please contact us at Apollo Home Heating, Cooling and Plumbing.