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.

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.

Fall is in the Air

Fall is now upon us and it is time to start talking about the importance of professional air duct cleaning.  In the fall and winter months, your heating system will suddenly have a huge increase in usage and with this increase in usage anything that is inside your air duct is now going to be circulated around your home. Overtime, dust, pet hair, and other nasty bits of stuff accumulate inside your duct work, this can cause your system to overwork itself trying to move the same amount of air. When the air flow is restricted stress is added to your system, this stress leads to wear, malfunction, and breakdown within your system.

A good fall cleaning will help to eliminate all the dust, dirt, pollen, and any other pollutants which have collected inside of your home and duct work during the summer months. Especially if you have children, you know that there is an almost seemingly endless trails of mud, dirt, sand, water or sticky substances.  The National Air Duct Cleaning Association recommends that you have your air duct cleaned every 3 to 5 years, even more often if you have pets, this helps to remove the bad stuff before it becomes trapped in your home and continually recirculated throughout the home.

Removing the dirt and debris will help to reduce the number of allergy triggers within your home, helping to reduce the number of allergy flare ups from becoming a year-round problem. Hiring a NADCA certified air duct cleaner guarantees that you will being working with a company that uses the highest standards and the most aggressive cleaning methods.

Shortly after having your air duct cleaned you should notice a dramatic increase in the air quality of your home. The increase in air quality will help to cut down on the illness with in your home, saving your family from the number of colds and flues this winter. While many people get flu shots or take other preventative measures against getting sick however, few of us take the time to improve the air quality of our homes.

Even though both the decrease in energy bills and the increase in your health are both amazing reasons to have your air duct cleaned this fall the best reason of all – less dusting! That’s right, with the dust being cleaned out of your duct work the amount of time you will have to spend dusting will be greatly reduced.

While there are other benefits to having your air ducts cleaned, we have already talked about the most important, you save money, have a healthier, and cleaner home. If you want your home to be a cleaner, healthier home take the time and have your air ducts cleaned this fall.