Common Misconception about the HVAC System in Newer Homes

With most all newly constructed homes comes freshly installed flooring, crisp cabinets and high expectations. But what about the air handling system of the home—the largest source of energy? Despite popular belief, the duct work and HVAC system of a newly constructed house may not be in top-notch condition and immaculate, like the rest of the home.

Since a common misconception among homeowners is that the HVAC system of a new build is clean, NADCA urges homeowners of new-construction builds to hire a company with a NADCA certified technician on staff to inspect ductwork and the air handling system of the home. HVAC ductwork is sometimes one of the first systems to be installed in a home and construction dust and drywall dust can make its way into a system during the building process.

Homes undergoing renovations can be exposed to similar amounts of dust and debris, which can impact the functionality of the air conveyance system. NADCA urges homeowners who are renovating their living space to consider the following:

  • Install high-efficiency disposable filters before beginning the renovation process and change them frequently.
  • If you hire a contractor, ask that the return vent, supply registers, and diffusers be sealed and the HVAC system is shut off during renovations that include demo work or other dust-contributing activities.
  • Discuss with your contractor ways to minimize the amount of airborne dust within your home.
  • Ask that poly-plastic barriers be installed and HEPA-filtered negative air scrubbers be used in the work area to “scrub” clean the air and keep dust from migrating to other areas of the house.

After the work in your home has been completed have a NADCA certified air duct cleaning company come in and evaluate the condition of your ductwork, it may still need cleaning.

What Is In Your Duct Work?

If you have duct work in your home, you have probably not given much thought to what is inside them. The average American home is about 35 years old, that is a lot of time for things to accumulate inside the duct work. While cleaning we often find small toys and food that has fallen down into the vents, here are some stories from fellow duct cleaners of the crazy things they have found.

                A few years ago, during a cleaning job, we found a box behind a register that contained $400 of Confederate money. We gave it to the homeowner, and she gave it to her children, who cashed it out. That $400 of Confederate money ended up being worth $100,000!

We got a call from a customer saying they had a mysterious odor in the home. Our technicians went into the home and they definitely smelled something very strong but couldn’t find anything obvious at the start. Finally, they took off the vent covers and found a dead skunk!

We were cleaning ductwork and in the basement of the establishment, there was a kitchen with a grill. Right above that was the bulkhead with an air duct blowing right over the grill, which we were cleaning. We took off the supply duct, shined a light in there and, low and behold, there was a giant, dead rat. In the course of cleaning, the gentleman befriended us and offered to make us lunch on the grill. We politely declined the offer.

We had posted a video of a cleaning job to our social media account and someone commented on it, “Wow, did you see the dollar bill get sucked in there?” The trunk line was really full of all kinds of junk, so I thought “Well, I’m not surprised that there was a dollar bill in that mess.” Later on, someone commented, “That wasn’t a dollar bill, that was a $100 bill!” I went into the truck and sifted through all the garbage to try to find it, but no luck.

We did a cleaning on an old rail car and found a pre-Civil War whiskey bottle stashed away in the ducts of the rail car. The bottle is now sitting in a museum somewhere.

All these stories and more can be found on NADCA’s website.

Give Your Home a Good Deep Clean

In the spring we start opening the blinds and the windows to let in all that fresh air and light but with that light streaming in you can now see the dust floating through the air in your home.  Having your air ducts cleaned can be like a breath of fresh air, cleaning out all that dust. Below are a few facts you should know when it comes time to have the ducts in your home cleaned.

Air ducts are going to get dirty.

Pet dander, dust, chemicals, and other contaminants are pulled into the HVAC system, where they can build up and possibly contribute to health problems. This is especially true for people with respiratory conditions, autoimmune disorders, or allergies.

Clean air ducts can save you money.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, 25% to 40% of the energy used for heating or cooling a home is wasted. Contaminants in the heating and cooling system cause it to work harder and shorten the life of your system. A clean HVAC system doesn’t have to work as hard, so it uses less energy.

There’s a wrong way to clean air ducts.

When you hire a professional cleaner, ask if they’re a member of NADCA, a trade association of the HVAC inspection, cleaning, and restoration industry. NADCA members have signed a Code of Ethics and invested time and resources into industry-related training and education. They also have general liability insurance.

Beware of air duct cleaning scams.

You should be aware that some non-NADCA companies use scare tactics and bait-and-switch methods to squeeze money out of their clients or don’t clean the HVAC system at all, let alone to the industry’s standards.

How to Tell You’re Getting A Professional Air Duct Cleaner:

Is the company able to show proof of NADCA membership and certification? Is the contractor willing to conduct a thorough inspection of the HVAC system prior to performing any work and disclose any problems discovered? Will the contractor clean the supply and return air ductwork, the air-stream side of the heat exchanger and the secondary heat exchanger? After cleaning, are access panels properly sealed; blower blades and compartment clean and free of oil, dust, and debris? Point a flashlight into the cooling coil. Does light shine through? It should if the coil is clean. Check to make sure the coil fins are straight and evenly spaced, and the coil drain pan is clean and draining properly. After cleaning, do the filters fit properly and are they the proper efficiency recommended by the manufacturer?

For the original article visit NADCA.

What is a High-Velocity System?

As the temperatures rise, homeowners across most of the country face the same dilemma: whether to turn on the noisy air conditioning and suffer the skyrocketing energy bills or sit through a sticky, uncomfortable summer. There doesn’t seem to be much of a compromise, given that conventional forced-air systems dominate the heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) landscape in the United States; and for owners of historic, architecturally sensitive, or aesthetically challenging houses, these systems may not even be a viable option due to lack of space or the need for extensive renovation. Even window units—though they offer some reprieve—aren’t necessarily any more ideal: They block views, use energy inefficiently, generate unbearable noise, and can pose security risks if stationed in unlocked windows.

                However, there is an alternative! High-velocity or “small-duct” HVAC systems comprise flexible mini ducts that can be easily routed through existing space within walls, floors, and ceilings. Moreover, the uniquely small size of their parts plays a role in ensuring operational efficiency and lower monthly bills—but that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what the system’s smart design can offer.

                High-velocity systems work similarly to older HVAC systems, hot or cool air comes from a heating or cooling source. That’s usually a heat pump or compressor outside the home, then it travels through the house and enters the rooms through vents. For a high-velocity systems instead of the metal duct work uses small 2” flex duct tubing and small 5” round vents.

The hot or cool air then moves from the compressor or heat pump to a high-velocity air handler, this pushes the air through your home with more pressure than duct-and-vent HVAC systems. Because of this, the air circulates very quickly through the area it’s treating once it comes through the vents. This means the room gets to the temperature you want faster than with other systems. This makes for better climate control.  It also saves you money! Since it works quickly, the system doesn’t need to stay on as long, therefore, it uses fewer resources, or energy, to run and less the less energy it uses, the less you’re charged on your energy bills.

                Another great savings factor is the professional installation of a high-velocity HVAC system is so quick and simple that homeowners can start reaping its benefits almost immediately. Whereas the bulky ducts in most conventional cooling and heating systems require a fair amount of renovation—from the opening of drywall to the construction of soffits and drop ceilings—to incorporate them, a high-velocity system has the upper hand because of the compact size of its components. The flexible ducts can snake between beams and joists throughout existing cavities in ceilings, walls, or floors, while the modular air handlers and coils fit in any opening that’s just a couple of feet tall and wide in, for example, an attic or crawl space.

                If you are looking for a permanent heating and cooling solution in your home that doesn’t require tearing out walls, a high-velocity system might be the right choice for you.

Clean Your Dryer Vent

Each year about 2,900 fires are caused by the dryer in your home, it is estimated to cause 5 deaths, 100 injuries, and $35 million in property damage. Failure to clean your dryer is the leading cause of home clothes dryer fires and the majority of these fires occur in the fall and winter months with the peak season being January. Here are some helpful tips on how to avoid becoming one of these homes.

  • Clothes dryer do’s
    • Installation
      • Have your clothes dryer installed by a professional.
      • Make sure the correct electrical plug and outlet are used and that the dryer is connected properly.
      • Read manufacturers’ instructions and warnings in use and care manuals that come with new dryers.
    • Cleaning
      • Clean the lint filter before and after each load of laundry. Don’t forget to clean the back of the dryer where lint can build up. In addition, clean the lint filter with a nylon brush at least every six months or more often if it becomes clogged.
      • Clean lint out of the vent pipe every three months.
      • Have your dryer cleaned regularly by a professional, especially if it is taking longer than normal for clothes to dry.
    • Maintenance
      • Inspect the venting system behind the dryer to ensure it is not damaged or restricted.
      • Put a covering on outside wall dampers to keep out rain, snow and dirt.
      • Make sure the outdoor vent covering opens when the dryer is on.
      • Replace coiled-wire foil or plastic venting with rigid, non-ribbed metal duct.
      • Have gas-powered dryers inspected every year by a professional to ensure that the gas line and connection are together and free of leaks.
      • Check regularly to make sure nests of small animals and insects are not blocking the outside vent.
      • Keep the area around the clothes dryer free of items that can burn.
      • If you will be away from home for an extended time, unplug or disconnect the dryer.
  • Clothes dryer don’ts
    • Don’t use a clothes dryer without a lint filter or with a lint filter that is loose, damaged or clogged.
    • Don’t overload the dryer.
    • Don’t use a wire screen or cloth to cover the wall damper. They can collect lint and clog the dryer vent.
    • Don’t dry anything containing foam, rubber or plastic. An example of an item not to place in a dryer is a bathroom rug with a rubber backing.
    • Don’t dry any item for which manufacturers’ instructions state “dry away from heat.”
    • Don’t dry glass fiber materials (unless manufacturers’ instructions allow).
    • Don’t dry items that have meet anything flammable like alcohol, cooking oils or gasoline. Dry them outdoors or in a well-ventilated room, away from heat.
    • Don’t leave a clothes dryer running if you leave home or when you go to bed.

Follow these helpful tips to help ensure you and your home stay safe.

Home Basics: Air Handler and Condenser

Owning a home can sometimes seem overwhelming, especially if you don’t understand how everything in your house works. For example, did you know that your air conditioning unit has more to it than just that piece that sits outside? You probably have an air handler in your basement or attic. Today, we are going to talk about the different parts of your HVAC system and where you might find them.

                So, lets start with that piece that sits outside of your house, you probably think of it as your “air conditioner”, this is your condenser. A condenser turns certain chemicals from a gas to a liquid by cooling it. This process happens repeatedly in order to cool the home. The condenser (in conjunction with the compressor) primarily works with a substance called refrigerant. The compressor turns that refrigerant, typically Freon, into a liquid. That liquid begins to travel through the condenser coils, and eventually the heat can escape. From this point, the liquid heads to a different part of the air conditioning unit (the evaporator) as a highly pressurized gas that is now cooler.

                The newly cooled air is then pushed throughout your home by your air handler, it is located in the attic, basement or a dedicated closet, and may closely resemble the shape of a gas furnace. Depending on the design of your home, an air handler may be a principal indoor component of your heat pump system. Depending on the season, the circulated air is either cool or hot; your air handler assists in regulating the circulation of indoor air and the temperature of the air in your home that you have set on your thermostat or control system. Your air handler consists of an evaporator coil, blower motor, air filter and the electrical and electronic components required to deliver enhanced levels of indoor comfort.

  • Coil:  The indoor coil or evaporator coil is a crucial component of the refrigeration cycle.
    • When your home requires cool indoor air, the coil is cold and removes humidity as the indoor air passes over it. This makes the conditioned air feel cooler throughout your home.
    • When your home requires warm indoor air, the coil is warm and transfers heat to the air that passes over it. This makes the conditioned air feel warmer throughout your home.
  • Blower Motor: The blower moves the air to the connected ductwork to circulate it into your indoor spaces. The blower motor may be a single speed, multi-speed or variable speed model.
  • Air Supply and Return Plenum Connections: Duct work is connected to your air handler by a plenum to
    • “supply” or deliver the conditioned heated or cooled air to your interior spaces
    • “return” the air to the air handler that needs to be heated or cooled
  • Filter: Before your air conditioned or heated air enters your ductwork, it passes through an air filter. The filter is intended to minimize the number of particulates circulated throughout your home, accumulate in the duct work, and land on the indoor components of your heat pump system.

The air is circulated through your home via ductwork, this involves the air being sucked from throughout the house into the heater/air conditioner, where it is heated or cooled, and pushed back through ducts into the living space. Both intake and output of air is critical to smooth-operating ductwork, not to mention heating, cooling, and indoor air quality.

Now that you know the basics of residential ductwork and air handlers, you can ask questions and speak intelligently with your contractor to be sure that you’re getting the system that’s right for you.

Winter Home Heating Tips

With the cold temperatures dropping below zero outside we seek shelter in the snug coziness of home. But how snug is it? Does your home’s warmth begin to sneak away the moment the furnace cycles off? Where is that warmth going, and how can we entice it to stay awhile? Short of an expensive weatherizing remodel, there are plenty of simple, affordable (or free) tricks to make your indoor refuge tighter and more fuel-efficient.

  • Use blinds or curtains and the sun to your advantage

Open any curtains or blinds on south-facing windows during the day to light in the sunlight and naturally heat your home – even the little bit of winter sun can make a difference.  Cover all windows after dark to create a simple but effective insulating layer. The thicker the coverings, the more effective the insulation. Window treatments can also reduce heat gain in summer by up to 45%, slashing air conditioning costs. If you buy dual shades (reflective white on one side, heat-absorbing dark on the other) they can be reversed seasonally to soak up that winter sun and repel summer heat. If you have particularly drafty windows you may want to consider covering them in a heavy duty, clear plastic sheet to help keep out the cold.

  • Adjust the thermostat

If you program your thermostat down 10 degrees during the time you’re sleeping or not home, you will save up to 15%. Yes, the furnace must briefly work hard to return to the target “comfort zone”, but the down-time while you’re sleeping or absent more than offsets those short bursts. If you’re still adjusting your heat by hand and trying to remember to turn it down when you go to work every day — who needs another task to remember when you’re rushing out the door? Install a programmable thermostat, your new thermostat should last for decades, saving you money every day.

And when you’re home, consider challenging your usual comfort-zone habits. Within the 60-70F zone, each degree you lower your thermostat setting will save you about 2% on your yearly energy bill: that’s 10% between 65 and 70F! More Americans are choosing to wear an extra sweater around the house as energy-conservation awareness grows, not to mention tighter budgets in many homes. Warm slippers and comfortable fleece are some of the best energy-savers you can wear. The fuel we save today will be there to keep us warm tomorrow.

  • Raise the humidity

The winter air is very dry, we get chapped lips and dry skin, but did you know that the dry air can make you feel colder. By increasing your home’s humidity to a comfortable level, you can make 68F feel as comfortable as 75F. You’ll also be decreasing your susceptibility to winter colds and sinus infections: dry air makes your mucus membranes more vulnerable. Easy non-technological ways to increase humidity include adding (well-watered) houseplants, using indoor drying racks for laundry (adding to your savings by reducing dryer use), and placing shallow containers of water on heating elements such as radiators and wood stoves. Even leaving a water-filled baking dish in an unobtrusive spot such as on top of the refrigerator will help — you might be surprised how quickly evaporation empties the vessel.

  • Eliminate the drafts

A little bit of spray form and some weatherizing caulking can help to keep out the cold. Remember to check around your attic door, all electrical outlets, door thresholds, plumbing entrances, window frames, and chimneys.

  • Don’t forget your furnace maintenance

Remember to check your filters monthly and replace them anytime they look dirty; clogged filters can greatly reduce your furnace efficiency. Also remember to have your furnace serviced yearly, a yearly cleaning will make sure your system runs smoothly and there are no sudden emergencies.  If you have an older furnace you may not be ready to replace it, but an inexpensive parts-upgrade can make a big difference: if yours uses a standing pilot light (burning fuel uselessly for hours while your furnace is resting), switch it out for a spark igniter. In an oil furnace, installing a flame retention burner can improve efficiency by 10-15% by itself!

Winter is here and many people are using the heating system to beat the chill, but most of us make the same mistakes by not applying the useful tips to save the energy and cut down the electric bill. This article shares some of the useful tips to save energy.

Have You Changed Your Air Filter Recently?

If you have a forced air HVAC system in your home you might think that the filter is improving your air quality, however, your air filter might not be improving the air quality. Air quality researchers have established that all that stuff floating though your air is bad for your health. Particles in your air that are 2.5 micrometers or smaller are the worst for your health, they can penetrate deeper into your lungs and end up in your blood stream. The best way to fight these particles is to filter the air but most homes only rely on the filter inside their HVAC system to do the filtering. Below you will find the 5 reasons that the filter in your HVAC system might not be helping your indoor air quality.

  1. No Filter!

This one seems like a no brainer but if you don’t have a filter installed there is not much filtration happening. I know it seems strange, but it happens! Sometimes a filter will get removed because it is in a difficult spot to reach, like a crawlspace. Sometimes you take it out and mean to replace it, but it slips your mind. All kinds of things can happen that lead to your filter being missing; this is not only harming the air quality in your home, but all that dirt and debris is getting into your duck work, blower, coil, and heat exchanger. Once all that dirt is inside your system it then spreads it throughout your home and causes strain on your system.

2. Bypassing the Filter

It doesn’t matter how nice the filter is if you don’t install it correctly. An incorrectly installed filter can let the air pass right by instead of through and this means your air is not being cleaned.

3. Not Enough Runtime

This one is not something a lot of people think about; your system might not be on long enough to make a difference. Your filter can only clean the air while your system is running, if your system is off then no air is being pulled through the filter. The best thing you can do to combat this is make sure the system you have in your home is the correct size and focus on minimizing the stuff that would need filtered out. You can do this by adding a standalone filter to your home or by Aerosealing your ductwork.

4. Not Changing or Using the Wrong Filter

Each system has different requirements when it comes to how often you should change your filter but if you don’t change it at all not only is the air not being filtered your system now has to work even harder to pull in air causing stress. The same thing can be said if you use the wrong filter, a basic filter is mostly designed to keep out pet hair, spiders, or lost socks. If you truly want to filter your air you need to invest in a MERV rated filter and the higher the number, the more stuff you filter out.

5. Filter in the Wrong Place

This one might also seem like a no brainer, but you would be surprised what we find when going to clean a HVAC system.

If you over come these obstacles, you should see an improvement in the air quality within your home.

Bailes, Allison. “Air Quality.” How Your House Works, 2012, pp. 99–105., doi:10.1002/9781118286074.ch5

Keeping up the Humidity

This time of year, it is common to wake up with a dry nose, or a scratchy throat. Later in the day you might even experience nosebleeds, chapped lips, dry skin, or an increase of acne. You might also notice an increase in static electricity, creaks in hardwood floors, or hardwood furniture starting to crack, these are all symptoms of the air becoming drier during the winter months. Which brings us to the question, what can I do about it?

                Warmer air holds more moisture than cold air and in winter that cold air seeps into your home.  While you can turn up your heat an make your home nice and toasty again just turning on the heat doesn’t bring moisture back into the air, for that you need a humidifier. Most people choose to use a portable humidifier but if you have an HVAC system you can install a whole home humidifier.

                A whole house humidifier should not be confused with a portable humidifier. A portable humidifier is a device that you plug into the wall and place in the middle of a room. These humidifiers can only control the humidity of one room at a time, and they require frequent maintenance like changing the water and keeping the device clean. A whole house humidifier, on the other hand, is installed directly in your heating system’s ductwork. When your furnace is cycling and heating air in your home, that air is also humidified by the whole house humidifier. This means that every room in your home can enjoy humidified air by using a single unit.

A whole house humidifier is installed in your ductwork near your furnace, either on the supply or return end. The unit is also connected directly to your home’s water supply. Inside of the humidifier is a either a humidifier pad, a rotating drum or a steaming system that is used to distribute water to your home’s air. While the humidifier is running, water continuously runs down the humidifier pad, is collected by the rotating drum or is misted into the device, depending on your model. When air from your ducts enters the humidifier, it is exposed to the water inside. The water evaporates into the air, which increases the moisture levels of the air that exits the humidifier on the other side. While your furnace is running, a portion of the air that it cycles is directed into the humidifier. That air goes through the humidifier and joins back up with the rest of your home’s airflow. As a result, all the air that’s delivered to your home has higher moisture levels, which effectively raises the humidity in every room.

Fortunately, whole house humidifiers require very little maintenance. If your model uses a humidifier pad or filter, the media typically needs to be replaced about once per year. If you have a steam humidifier, it simply needs to be cleaned annually. When having your whole home humidifier cleaned ensure you use a HVAC company familiar with whole home humidifiers, when improperly maintained they can lead to mold growth inside your duct work.

Tips to Prepare and Protect Your HVAC System this Winter

Winter is well and truly upon us here in the New England area and it is time to think about how to keep your HVAC systems safe.  Winter elements such as extreme temperatures, snow, and ice can cause damage to your unit resulting in higher utility bills and possible system repairs or replacement.  There are a few things you can do to make sure your system runs smoothly and stays safe this winter.

                The first and most important step, as always, have an HVAC professional perform annual maintenance on your system. It is a consensus among HVAC professionals that most furnace breakdowns are due to the lack of maintenance. Think of it like your car, you have the oil in your car changed regularly why would your furnace not need the same care. Going hand in hand with system maintenance is the lifespan of your furnace, a well-maintained system can have a lifespan of 15-20 years. To us the idea of having to call your HVAC company for an emergency replacement in the middle of a storm sounds like the stuff of nightmares, so be on the look out for these signs your furnace might need replacement:

  • Your energy bill is on the rise
  • Your furnace is struggling to keep your home warm
  • Your furnace has become a money pit with costly repairs

Next, change your filter, a dirty filter will cause your furnace to work harder to push the air through your home. The filter for your furnace should be changed according to the manufacturer’s instructions, but in most cases, it is best to change them every one to three months. To better help your system circulate air throughout your home make sure to have those air ducts cleaned regularly. The National Air Duct Cleaning Association recommends that you have your air ducts cleaned every three to five years. A buildup of dirt in your air ducts can cause your furnace to overwork itself. Moving furniture away from air duct vents can also help the air flow throughout your home.

If your HVAC unit is located on the outside of your home, make sure you have your HVAC company service and cover the unit according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.  When winter weather hits make sure you take the time to clear the snow off the top and away from the sides of the unit. Before the snow starts for the winter take the time to make sure your gutters are cleaned to ensure snow and ice will not drip onto your HVAC unit.

Remember this winter if you want to save yourself money in the long run it is important to prepare your HVAC system for winter. Preparing your HVAC system for winter can lower your electricity bill, cut your energy usage, and extend the life of your HVAC system and it can all be done with the few simple steps we talk about above. For more information on the importance of duct cleaning and how it can help your family call us at (978)681-5023.