How to Choose an Air Filter

Air filters are silent sufferers – no one thinks about them because they usually don’t break or make noise. Yet, they’re an important part of your HVAC system – not only helping keep your equipment clean and free of debris, but also helping to keep indoor air clean by capturing particles like dust, pollen, mold spores and animal dander.

Like any filter, they should be changed regularly – every 1 to 3 months. Spring is an ideal time to replace them because long weeks of winter weather, mean closed homes and recirculated air that becomes especially full of dust and debris.

Getting the right filter

Different equipment requires different filters, and there are also types of air filters which serve different purposes.

Lower cost air filters

  • Washable filters, like their name states, can be washed and reused. This is their main advantage. However, they have a low MERV (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) rating because they are designed to protect from large dust particles, but not pet dander, bacteria, or smoke. If they are not meticulously maintained, they can even accumulate extra fungi and bacteria.
  • Fiberglass filters are not reusable, but they are inexpensive and easy to replace. They have a lower MERV rating as well and are designed more to keep your air conditioner clean than your indoor air clean.

Higher performance air filters

  • Pleated and polyester filters are similar to fiberglass filters but have a much higher MERV rating. Where fiberglass filters remove less than 10 percent of indoor irritants, pleated/polyester filters remove up to 85 percent. They are especially good for catching dust particles.
  • HEPA filters are the most expensive filters because they remove over 99 percent of irritants in the air and are especially good for people with severe allergies or for use in hospitals. There is a downside to their great filtering efficiency — they can actually restrict air flow and potentially cause damage to your residential HVAC system.

For more information about HEPA filters, or if you’re unsure which filter is best for your home, contact a qualified HVAC technician. Not only is it important to choose the proper air filter, and change it regularly, but it’s equally important to have it installed properly for correct air flow.

Vacation Tips for Your Home

There’s a lot to plan when you go on vacation. If you have time, it’s helpful to make a comprehensive ‘to-do’ list that includes general household tasks to keep your energy costs down while you’re gone.

To conserve or not to conserve

Should you turn off your HVAC system while you’re away? Turning it off while you’re away may seem like a good way to save on energy costs, but while your house won’t be populated — it won’t be empty either.

In the warmer months, keeping a minimal temperature setting can protect your empty rooms from:

  • Mold and mildew growth
  • Musty odors
  • Peeling paint
  • Warped wood furniture, cabinets, or floors

Additionally, it can keep high temperatures from spoiling food in your pantry or placing stress on your refrigerator/freezer. Heat can also be detrimental to sensitive electronic equipment.

Keeping a steady temperature (about 5 degrees higher than a comfortable temperature in warm months, and 5 degrees lower than comfortable in cooler months) can also help keep pipes from bursting if temperatures outside happen to drop below freezing while you’re gone.

Tip: A programmable thermostat is a convenient way to check the temperature in your house from a remote location – and even slowly adjust it to a comfortable setting over a couple of days before your return.

Tip: Don’t close off all your vents and registers because it can cause efficiency issues for your equipment; make sure they’re all open before heading out.

CHECKLIST OF FURTHER SUGGESTIONS

There are several things you can do that will save you money on your energy bill and ensure peace of mind when it comes to prepping your house for your absence. Follow this checklist:

Check windows and doors

Make sure you close and lock all doors and windows. Not only does it ensure security, it’s another way to make sure your HVAC runs as efficiently as possible.

Tip: Do, however, open all your interior doors. This keeps the air circulating throughout the house and avoids creating hot spots where plants might die, or cold spots where a pipe might burst.

Turn off water

Go ahead and turn off the water line that supplies your washing machine and toilets; you could avoid an unexpected leak while you’re out of town.

Change water heater setting

Adjusting the temperature on your water heater still prevents water in the lines from freezing if temperatures drop while you’re away, but it won’t spend energy keeping water you’re not using hot in the tank.

Timers, motion detector check

If you have them, make sure motion detectors are in working order. Set your light timers to turn on and off in different rooms.

Use a surge protector

Installing a surge protector (if you don’t already have one) is an inexpensive – yet effective – way to protect your HVAC equipment and any other costly electronic equipment from an unexpected storm or power surge.

Tip: We all have those ‘vampire appliances’ that leak energy — items like televisions, lamps, and electronic equipment. They are usually plugged in continually and leak energy even when not in use, so unplug them before you go.

Having a checklist is a great way to take care of all the tasks and help you have a worry-free vacation. If you’re unsure which taps to turn off or how to reset the temperature on your water heater, you can contact a local service technician to give everything a quick ‘once-over’ before you leave.

 

Heating and Cooling Tips for New Homeowners

A new home is an exciting and complex undertaking. There are a lot of components to understand and care for — and perhaps one of the most important is your HVAC system. Even knowing a little can save you a lot on your energy bills over time.

Do you need a new furnace or air conditioner?

If your ‘new’ home has equipment already installed, it’s important to know how old it is, and whether it was properly serviced. If the previous owner had it maintained regularly by a professional HVAC company, it’s easy to get inspection reports and find out whether or not there were any problems or repairs.

Proper installation is important

If you’re buying – most systems are good and work as advertised – if they’re properly installed. The two main reasons new equipment won’t perform as expected include:

If your unit is too large, it won’t be able to remove humidity adequately. If your unit is too small, it will not be able to reach and/or maintain a comfortable temperature level.

Ducts that have leaks, or are improperly installed, can cause you to lose anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of your energy.

Getting certified HVAC professionals to properly install and charge your heating and cooling system is crucial if you want your equipment to deliver on its rated efficiency.

However, new or existing, there are several things you can do to make sure your HVAC system runs efficiently and lasts as long as possible. These include:

Know your thermostat

Believe it or not, your thermostat can be your best friend. By scheduling your heating and cooling levels into a programmable thermostat, you can customize energy use around your regular weekly schedule. Program your heating and cooling to more energy efficient levels when you’re away at work, and have them automatically adjust to more comfortable levels for the hours you’re usually at home. It’s a simple way to save on your energy output. You can do this manually, but it’s difficult to remember. It’s probably worth getting a new, programmable thermostat if you don’t already have one.

Change air filters

Changing your air filters regularly is a bit like changing the oil in your car regularly. It helps your system heat and cool more efficiently, and saves you money. Clean filters also reduce allergens in the air. If you think you’ll forget, get this service as part of a regular maintenance contract.

Get regular maintenance

Having regular maintenance is a good idea for many reasons — not the least of which is that many equipment warranties require it. Additionally, regular maintenance keeps your equipment running smoothly, may avoid an expensive (and inconvenient) breakdown, and can extend the life of your equipment by as much as 3 to 5 years.

Use window treatments

Snug, energy efficient windows are ideal — but you can also significantly reduce the amount of work your air conditioner has to do by simply keeping curtains/blinds/shutters closed during the day to block out the sun’s heat during warm months. Likewise, having insulated drapes or other window treatments closed overnight during cold months can help keep the heat in and the cold out, and reduce the work your furnace or heat pump has to do.

 

 

 

What to Know About Blown-In Fiberglass Attic Insulation

The great majority of your home’s energy expenses come from heating and cooling. And just like you lose most of your body heat through the top of your head, you can lose most of your home’s heating/cooling energy through your home’s attic. Insulating your attic reduces the amount of energy you need to keep your home at a comfortable temperature, so you can help reduce your energy costs by insulating your attic.

Insulating your attic with fiberglass

Fiberglass has been the popular choice for insulating homes for several decades. It consists of plastic filaments fortified with recycled glass spun into fibers. The glass slows the spread of heat, cold, sound and can reduce residential energy costs by up to 40 percent.

And because fiberglass is, well, glass, it is also moisture-resistant. It is not an environment that promotes fungus or mold growth.

Is fiberglass safe?

When properly installed, fiberglass is considered safe. And because it is made with glass it doesn’t burn or absorb water.

However, being glass, there are a few precautions you should take when being around it or handling it.

Safely handling fiberglass

When fiberglass insulation is moved or disturbed, it releases tiny particles into the air. If they get on bare skin they can lodge into pores and cause itching, rashes, or irritations. If they are inhaled, they can result in coughing, nosebleeds, and/or respiratory problems. So if you have to handle it in any way, be sure to wear gloves, long-sleeved shirts, pants, goggles, and a respirator-type mask.

R-Value of fiberglass

R-Value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist to heat flow. A higher R-Value means a higher resistance. For example, an inch of wood has an R-Value of 1, whereas an inch of blown-in fiberglass insulation has an R-Value of up to 3.4.

Loose-fill fiberglass

Most people think of fiberglass in rolls of pink or yellow sheets. Fiberglass insulation also comes in bags as loose fill. A specially-designed electric blower is used to install fibers or pellets of insulation, and offers several advantages:

  • Allows installers to blow loose insulation fibers with the correct depth and density for optimum coverage
  • Provides a convenient delivery system for attics where there’s low headroom clearance
  • Fills gaps and spaces on the unfinished floors that many attics have
  • Coverage is especially useful in attics with irregular joist spacing, or spaces with a lot of obstructions to work around
  • Increases the efficiency of existing insulation because it settles in and fills gaps easily

When properly installed, fiberglass provides an insulating layer that slows the passage of moisture, heat, and sound. Blowing in loose-fill fiberglass also seals air spaces to prevent air movement and heat loss. A trusted HVAC professional can explain different insulation materials and methods and help you decide which is best for you.

 

Should I Have My Air Ducts Cleaned?

Air almost continually flows through your ducts, bringing warm or cool air to every room in the house. In addition, it circulates the air we breathe to keep it dry and comfortable. However, anyone with hard furniture surfaces in their home, is familiar with that near-constant layer of dust. We’re continually removing dust, but it’s a losing battle. This is especially true when everything is closed up for long periods during times of extreme weather temperatures outside.

Add to that, our growing awareness of the effects of indoor pollution and its potential contribution to ill health.

That said, there are several options to consider for improving indoor air quality. Here we’ll consider one option in particular – cleaning the air ducts. If they haven’t been properly installed, they can accumulate dust, debris, pollen, mold, and other contaminants through leaks or holes.

To clean or not to clean – that is the question

Having dusty registers does not necessarily mean the whole system has deposits of heavy debris. It may mean you simply need to clean your registers.

However, if someone in your home suffers from allergies, there may be a benefit to having your ducts cleaned. If your home has any moisture in the ducts, there may be biological contaminates growing, which could be getting distributed through the house.

While studies are inconclusive about the impact of air duct cleaning on health, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have any piece of equipment cleaned occasionally, provided it’s done properly.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends having your ducts cleaned in the following circumstances:

  • When there is visible mold growth inside hard surface ducts or other components. Since many sections of your HVAC system may not be accessible, a service provider can do a proper inspection and show you where there is any mold growth.
  • When ducts are infested with invading rodents or insects.
  • When ducts have excessive dust/debris that is being released into the home through the registers.

Components of duct cleaning

Cleaning air ducts is a more complicated process than you might first think. It needs to be done by trained and certified professionals, and should include not only the ducts, but all the components of your system, including:

  • Supply and return air ducts
  • Registers
  • Diffusers
  • Heat exchangers
  • Heating and cooling coils
  • Drip pans
  • Fan motor and housing

 The right service provider is crucial

If you decide to clean your ducts, make sure to use a qualified service provider who will clean all components properly. Otherwise the parts left uncleaned will simply re-contaminate the whole system. Or worse, inadequate cleaning can release more dirt and other contaminants from stirring things up than if you’d left them alone.

Trained and certified HVAC professionals will comply with NADCA or NAIMA air duct cleaning standards. These include:

  • Inspecting for asbestos prior to cleaning.
  • Using equipment that either sends particles outside – or has HEPA grade filtering.
  • Brushing properly to dislodge the dust and debris.
  • Sealing and re-insulating access openings they used so the system is airtight afterward.

It’s important to know about the potential benefits and complications of duct cleaning so you can ask your service provider the right questions.

Controlling Home Humidity All Year Long

The air we breathe looks empty, but it’s not. It’s full of very small molecules –including molecules of water. When temperatures are warmer, those water molecules move around and are more likely to vaporize, making water vapor in the air. In colder temperatures, molecules are more sluggish, so the water molecules stay whole (or freeze if it’s cold enough).

With the same amount of water in the air, it can feel more humid in warmer temperatures and much drier in colder temperatures. That’s because when we talk about air humidity, we’re really talking about the amount of vaporized water in the air.

The need to manage humidity

We need a certain amount of moisture in the air around us. People are most comfortable when there’s a relative humidity level of 45 percent. When the air has too little moisture, it dries things out – like skin, mucous membranes, and the wood in your house. This causes your skin to feel itchy and uncomfortable, makes your nasal membranes more susceptible to bacterial microbes and causes your home’s wood to shrink and eventually crack.

Humidity and home heating

When it’s colder, the air has less humidity (vaporization) and it feels colder. In turn, your heating equipment has to run longer and work harder to heat your indoor air.

What to do:

Installing humidifiers to your HVAC system raises humidity levels throughout your home, making it easier for your equipment to heat the air. Not only does this significantly reduce the amount of energy needed to heat the air, it makes you (and the wood in your home) much more comfortable.

To increase moisture in the air you can also use portable room humidifiers, increase the number of live plants inside and place water basins near your heating system.

Humidity and home cooling

When it’s hot and air humidity is more apparent, the temperature feels even warmer than it is. Likewise, your air conditioning equipment has to work harder and run longer to cool the air. And even then, the air can feel clammy and heavy.

What to do:

Using dehumidifiers (ideally, installing them in your HVAC system) can lower the moisture level in the air, making it easier to cool and save energy. This will also reduce the clammy feel of moist air to make it more comfortable.

Utilizing room fans and exhaust fans is another way you can help reduce the amount of humidity in the air.

Your indoor air does need a certain amount of humidity for adequate heating and cooling – but it needs to be managed differently in different seasons. It’s beneficial for your comfort – and your health –  to try and control humidity levels alongside your heating and cooling efforts. Energy-wise, it costs a lot less to humidify (or dehumidify) air than it does to heat (or cool) it.

Programmable thermostat saves money and hassle

Do you struggle to efficiently heat and cool your home because it is larger? Try using a programmable thermostat. It gives you the ability to control the heating and cooling in your home 24 hours a day.

A programmable room thermostat makes it possible to make a single room comfortable without wasting energy throughout the entire home. Programmable thermostats are also great for when you are not going to be home. Just “set it and forget it.” Your house’s temperature adjusts to your needs without wasting energy.


Benefits of a programmable thermostat

Greater control

With a programmable thermostat, you can preset for daytime and nighttime temperature levels. When you’re away at work, you can program for less energy output during that time, then at a preset time, increase the heat or cool level. Your home is comfortable upon your arrival, but the heat or air conditioning does not run unnecessarily all day.

Energy efficiency

A programmable thermostat gives you precise control over your heating and cooling, helping to reduce wasted energy. The ability to preset temperature means you’re using less energy when you’re away from home.

Increased comfort

You can choose when your heat or air conditioning will work the most. For instance, for cool mornings, program your thermostat to kick up the temperature shortly before you wake. That way, house stays cooler overnight while you are sleeping, but is comfortable when you get up and head for the shower.

Easy to use

Programmable thermostats are easy to use. A basic programmable option can be installed in an hour and has preset temperature settings to help guide your programming.


Advanced options

There are more advanced programmable thermostats with advanced options. They have more of a learning curve, but their advanced features offer various levels of information that you can use to additionally control your home heating/cooling levels. These may include:

  • Highly sophisticated displays
  • The ability to program wirelessly from a remote location
  • A graphic user interface that displays outdoor conditions and humidity
  • An onscreen wizard to help determine usage based on simple questions: your answers enable the programmable thermostat to self-set accordingly
  • Portable controllers that enable you to adjust settings from any room in the house

Regardless of whether you utilize all the bells and whistles, a programmable thermostat can make your life easier, more comfortable, and more cost efficient.

Indoor Air Quality Is Important

Americans spend about 90% of their time indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency – and a good deal of that is at home, whether sleeping, getting ready to go to work, or resting after a long day.

You can’t control the air everywhere, but you can help improve the air quality in your home. Especially during cold and flu season, having cleaner, fresher air at home is a good way to help stay healthy.


Invisible culprits

Indoor air can sometimes have more pollutants than outdoor air, containing irritants like pet dander, pollen, bacteria, and viruses that linger in the air and rest on surfaces. These contaminants can contribute to drying out our skin and sinuses as well.

Start with an air quality evaluation

While many homes don’t meet proper levels of air quality standards, the good news is that with through proper ventilation and air treatment, it can be vastly improved. A trusted HVAC company can evaluate any potential issues and help determine the best solution.

Improving indoor air quality

An indoor air quality evaluation involves diagnosing the indoor air pollution that could be affecting your family’s health, as well as making recommendations. This could involve a number of different options, including:


An evaluation process might also include discussing any health problems you or any family member may be experiencing in order to determine the most appropriate testing methods.

During the air quality assessment, if the possibility of mold is an issue, an HVAC professional can also determine whether comprehensive mold testing will be necessary.

 

Homeowner Tax Credits for 2017?

In the past, federal tax credits were available for energy efficiency improvements made to primary residences. Eligible upgrades included:

  • heating and cooling equipment
  • water heaters
  • windows
  • insulation and roofs

In most of the cases homeowners could qualify for these tax credits by meeting the energy efficiency requirements associated with ENERGY STAR certified products.

Those energy efficiency tax credits were enacted by Congress as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Also known as the Stimulus Bill, it expired in December of 2016, and there are no plans to reinstate these federal tax credits.

Residential energy efficient property credit today

Today, the only federal tax credits for energy efficiency improvements that remain in effect are for solar energy systems. According to the IRS this tax credit is known as the Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit (Section 25D).

The Residential Energy Efficient Property Credit is a credit of 30 percent of the expenditures (cost including installation) made by a taxpayer during the taxable year. Solar equipment that may qualify includes:

  • Qualified solar electric systems
  • Qualified solar water heaters
  • Qualified fuel cell property
  • Qualified small wind energy property
  • Qualified geothermal heat pumps

Solar credit

The credit for solar electric property and solar water heating property is extended for property placed in service through December 31, 2021. (The credit is only available for dwelling use, not for pools or hot tubs.)

Qualified solar water heaters must meet these requirements:

  • Must get at least half of its energy from the sun
  • Must be certified by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC) or a comparable entity endorsed by the government of the state where the equipment is installed
  • Photovoltaic systems must provide electricity for the residence, and must meet applicable fire and electrical code requirements

Homeowners may only claim spending on the solar water heating system of the household.

All ENERGY STAR certified solar water heaters qualify for the tax credit.


To apply for this tax credit, file tax form 5695 with your tax return.  For more information on homeowner credits and deductions visit IRS.Gov.

Heating System Maintenance Saves Money Over Time

The questions are familiar ones:

  • Do I really need to get my heating system tuned-up every year?
  • Can’t I just do it myself?
  • Why is it so expensive?

 

Everyone wants to save money whenever they can, but it’s better not to be ‘penny wise and pound foolish’ – meaning, you don’t want to save a little in the short run when it can cost big in the long run.

What you can do

There are, of course, certain things you can do at home to ensure good practices for your heating system, such as:

  • Change air filters
  • Check the ductwork connections
  • Check your system controls

However, there are times some pieces of the puzzle may not come together without the help of a trained eye.

What an HVAC technician should do

You can exercise and eat right to take care of your own body, but you wouldn’t want to try and read an X-ray or a CT scan to make a diagnosis. Some things should be performed by trained experts.

Likewise, there are maintenance issues with your heating system that should be observed and attended to by HVAC technicians who have special training and understand how the entire heating system works together.

Having your furnace or heat pump regularly serviced on a maintenance schedule enables everything to run at peak efficiency – and often spots problems in the making before they become bigger problems, avoiding breakdowns and reducing the need for preventable heating repairs.

Among the things HVAC technicians check on a routine maintenance program include:

  • Checking burners to make sure they ignite properly,
  • Seeing that the flame sensor works correctly and the burner flame remains lit
  • Removing and inspecting the blower wheel to make sure it is free of any blockage or debris
  • Checking the wiring for any corrosion or other damage
  • Checking carbon monoxide levels

It really does save money in the long run – and provide peace of mind – to have regularly scheduled maintenance. Cold weather means “game time” for warming your Houston area home – don’t try start the season with an “out of shape” heating system.