Preparing Your Home For Winter- 7 Essential Steps

 

The fall season is upon us. Temperatures are dropping and days are shortening. Before long, many of us will be turning on our heaters after a long while in anticipation of the winter months ahead.

Winter preparations for homeowners and apartment dwellers are as involved or as simple as you wish to make them, with almost every strategy designed to save you cash by seizing advantage of the expected temperature changes. While some strategies save more money, others take more time. Below, therefore, we take a look at 7 ways of preparing your home for the winter as follows:

 

1. Clean your baseboard heaters and air vents

Depending on the heating present in your home/apartment, you either have baseboard heaters or air vents. In both instances, careful cleaning of either of these before the onset of winter can save you a lot financially.

For baseboard heaters, simply wipe them and remove any accumulated dust, especially on the inside and you are guaranteed to have them running much more efficiently. Since most baseboard heaters come with a removable front, take this off and thoroughly but gently clean the inside. For those with air vents, remove their grates and wipe off all debris and dust within reach as this stuff is what often slows down airflow.

 

2. Replace weather stripping around doors

If you run your hands around an outward-facing door’s edges on a cool day and experience the resultant cool air flow from the outside, then you are looking at an airflow problem and one that is likely to cost you money especially during the winter period. Even if the air inside your apartment/home is heated, the warm air will inevitably flow outside through the door’s edges before being replaced by cold air from outside which you then have to heat again. The result: heating costs will definitely go up.

The solution to this problem is to install strips around external door edges. And since most stores sell weather stripping kits, the actual installation is quite easy. Just close the affected door(s) and hold the weather strips in place before attaching them- either by hammering them in with nails or by some other attachment method. Doing this should prevent warm air from exiting your home during the winter thus dramatically cutting down your energy bill.

 

3. Seal any rooms not in use

If you have rooms that are irregularly used or unused in your home/apartment, seal these off well in advance of the winter. Simply close any vents, turn off baseboard heaters, and put a towel or blanket along the door’s bottom in order to minimize airflow. In case you need to utilize the room(s) for any activity during the winter, you can undo the foregoing steps.

If unused rooms become cold, that is a welcome thing as the cooler unused rooms are, the less cash you will have spent heating them. Over the winter months, these savings on heating can tally up quite nicely.

 

4. Reverse ceiling fan direction

In winter, you want your ceiling fans pushing hot air downwards so ensure that they are doing this well by standing underneath. On most fans, there is a switch that reverses blade direction so just turn on this switch. When this is done correctly, warm air should be pressed downwards from the ceiling thus keeping warm air inside your house for longer periods which in turn should reduce the pressure on your baseboard heater or furnace.

 

5. Reprogram your thermostat or install a programmable one

Ideally, during the cold weather, you will want to lower your home’s temperature while you are sleeping or no one is present. For instance, you may want your home temperature to drop between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. every night time when people are asleep or between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. on weekdays when dwellers are either at work or school. This way, you will not be paying for your heater/furnace to be on while people are sleeping or not at home therefore reducing your energy costs.

As much as you may remember to adjust your thermostat several times during the duration of the day, a programmable one should handle these adjustments automatically. Simply program it so that no heater/furnace is running during the aforementioned hours, or just running enough to keep your home’s temperature at an appropriate level. That way, your heater stands to run less especially during those specified time periods, drastically cutting your energy costs.

 

6. Install insulated windows

Insulated windows are beneficial in two ways: they create a warmer window surface while on the inside and prevent heat from escaping outside. This makes insulated windows much less drafty and prone to condensation problems, the latter of which occurs when warm, moist inside air comes into contact with a cold surface. The best insulated windows usually have a high R-factor (which measures heat transfer resistance) and a low U-factor (which measures insulation levels). It is advisable to consider these measurements for the entire window as the frames and edges of a window transfer more heat, so some window manufacturers list ‘center window’ ratings of their windows which can be somewhat misleading.

 

7. Winterize air conditioners and water lines

When water freezes and then expands, it can result in problems in many of your home’s water-bearing systems. The solution, however, is fairly simple: switch off the water shut-off valve of your air conditioner (if it has one) before draining its pipes and hoses and making sure that no water has pooled inside the equipment. For those with window units, remove these for the winter months before sealing the window(s) at the edges. Lastly, turn off outside spigots and ensure that hoses are drained before being stored.

 

 

Winter places heavy demands on our homes, as well as on homeowners who wish to keep their houses warm without the additional burden of high energy bills. In preparation for the cold months ahead, homeowners should thus winterize their homes both on the inside and outside by following the above laid out essential measures. Almost anyone can take these seven simple steps, with each process almost guaranteed to lower your energy costs over the winter.

Step-By-Step Maintenance For Your HVAC System

Heating, ventilation, air conditioning is a technology that has grown to be popular in homes, hotels, hospitals, and industrial and office buildings. HVAC is meant to provide extra environmental comfort and much needed clean indoor air by regulating conditions in line with humidity and temperature. To do all this, it uses air from outside. It usually consists of a furnace and AC which performs both heating and cooling. There is an outside unit that includes a compressor and a condenser oil and a central unit comprising of a blower and evaporator.

Just like many other machines and electronics, your HVAC system also needs frequent maintenance to enable it to be in top shape and run smoothly. You need to have a checklist that will allow you to monitor the performance of your HVAC system. It sucks to wake up one morning and find that your HVAC system is not working anymore. Having a maintenance plan will extend the system’s life and improve its efficiency in the long run. Prevention is better than cure. Some maintenance routines are complex and may need the services of HVAC companies to look at the mechanisms and wiring and do the necessary repairs and inspection. Some tasks can be done regularly or immediately as is the case of pre-season maintenance while others may be done annually to will ensure smooth performance and easy operation.

Taking care of your HVAC system not only safeguards it, but it also protects the beneficiaries i.e. you and your loved ones. Some of the advantages of HVAC system maintenance include:

a.) Avoids surging energy bills which will save your money.

b.) Better performance.

c.) Prevents system failure.

d.) Extending lifespan/longevity.

By following the following steps to maintenance on your HVAC system, maximum performance for your system will no longer be a thing for pros only.

 

1.) Upgrading or changing the filters on a regular basis.

Replacing filters is a crucial step that is usually ignored by many people. A perfectly working filter traps pollutants like dust. Some filters are reusable while others need routine checking and replacement. Washable filters require cleaning every single month. Lack of changing filters leads to dirty filters which force the system to lag in performance hence a decline in indoor air quality. Dirty filters cause wear and tear to the HVAC system and make it use a lot of energy. Studies show that replacing a bad filter can decrease your HVAC system energy consumption by approximately 5-15%. The frequency of changing filters may vary from one system to another but the recommended period is 1-3 months. Summer and winter are the seasons where you are most likely to use your HVAC system. For such seasons, therefore, it is advisable for you to check and replace the filters at least every month due to high usage. Apart from high usage, if you live in a very dusty neighborhood or if you own a pet or pets, you will be required to replace the filters every month. Typical filter locations are on ceilings, walls, and furnaces and in the air conditioner.

 

2.) Cleaning Evaporator and Condenser Coils.

Due to constant use, the condenser coil and evaporator coil collect dirt which tampers with airflow. Dirt also causes insulation of the coils hindering absorption of heat. The constant dampness found in evaporator coils provide a favorable environment for the growth of mold. Over an extended period, the mold can accumulate and eventually plug the drain which will necessitate unplugging. The microbial growth is not easy to clean and therefore it is good to use an appropriate cleaning product and applying antimicrobial treatments. The treatments are available at home improvement stores at an affordable cost. A soft brush can come in handy when first removing dust off the coil. The condenser coil is damaged speedily due to the presence of dirt. In spite of this, it does not adversely affect the indoor air quality but can lead to increased energy efficiency. Annual cleaning can take care of maintenance on your HVAC system.

 

3.) Getting rid of debris.

Such waste may include pollen, twigs, and leaves that are rampant especially during fall, spring and summer seasons. You can do this weekly or after a fortnight and remove the debris that may fall on top of the HVAC system cabinet. Remove the fan cage on the outside compressor using a screwdriver. You can either use your hand or a vacuum cleaner to remove leaves and other unwanted debris from the interior. An adequate space roughly two feet away from the heating unit is necessary.

4.) Cleaning and straightening the fins.

Use a fin-cleaning spray from your nearest store to clean the fins and remove build up dirt. After ensuring that the fins are clean, use a fin straightening tool popularly known as a “fin comb” to straighten bent fins. Bent fins can lead to reduced efficiency on your HCAV system.

 

5.) Leveling the unit and maintaining the thermostat.

An unstable system unit can bring complications to the compressor that can ultimately lead to its failure. Avoid using shims that rot quickly. Save your system from wear and tear by regulating the thermostat during peak usage seasons like summer and winter. You can install a programmable thermostat. Avoid placing heat producing devices under a wall-mounted thermostat. It also helps when you avoid using your HVAC system needlessly especially in moderate weather. When you expect many friends in your house, lower the thermostat because many people in a room can cause higher temperatures.

 

6.) Seeking professional services.

As mentioned above, there are the basic routine tasks that can be carried out by non-professionals. However, there are some scheduled and more multiple measures that should only be done by licensed and experienced technicians. Sometimes your HVAC system can give your never-ending problems. If it gets to this, hire a well-trained technician to look into your system and fix the problems. Ensure regular check-ups at least once or twice every year before peak usage seasons. Among the things that the technician should focus on during maintenance on your HVAC system are:

• Ensure the refrigerant is in the proper amount and checks for possible leaks using a leak detector.

• Seal any duct leakage in central systems.

• Use the evaporator coil to measure airflow.

• Lubricating moving parts like the fan motor – lack of lubrication can lead to friction which increases power consumption.

• Examining burner assembly, gas connections and valves.

• Confirm that electric control sequence is in the right state (thermostat) – Inspecting systems control to establish appropriate start-up, operation, and shutdown of the HVAC system.

The Amazon of HVAC

HVAC has always been a traditional industry, one of the few remaining still focused on small local businesses, personal home visits by trained technicians, and a greater focus on mechanical know-how rather than computer wizardry. For that reason, online sales of any kind have often been taboo. But now, one company seeks to change that.

National Equipment Parts was started by Zeiad Hussein after being spurred by what he saw as a void in the industry. Searching Amazon itself for mechanical parts for HVAC systems was an unsatisfying venture: parts were often mislabeled or inadequately explained, if they were available at all. He started NEP to offer a better place to purchase such technical products as motors, thermostats, and humidifiers to both consumers and contractors.

Far from replacing traditional wholesalers, NEP seeks to partner with them as a fulfillment center and product catalog. This gives the distributors greater reach while allowing NEP to benefit from the substantial lines of credit the distributors have with customers, as well as their extensive inventory.

For now, the company operates out of one 10,000 square foot warehouse in Pennsylvania, but they hope to grow. The business serves about half homeowners and individuals and have contractors and builders.

Florida Hospital Left Without AC After Explosion

A hospital in Wesley Chapel, Florida was without air conditioning on Tuesday evening after a steam explosion in their maintenance room.

While none of the patients had to be evacuated from the hospital, many did have to be shifted to other facilities at the hospital while the problem was fixed. More than 125 patients were affected in all.

The maintenance room was unoccupied in the area of the explosion, so thankfully there were no injuries reported. In this case, skilled repair and maintenance technicians were able to get the system back online in only a few hours.

With midday temperatures approaching 90 degrees and patients already susceptible to health problems, the risk of a nonfunctional air conditioning unit to a hospital is significant. Many systems are riddled with failsafes and backups to avoid having patients subjected to substantial additional stress from high temperatures.

Solar Thermal Energy – The Forgotten Solar Power

It seems like such a silly thing to forget – the sun provides heat! – but solar thermal energy has long been overlooked as a potential source for climate control in buildings around the world, despite its numerous advantages. But that might be changing.

The chief advantages of solar thermal energy are the same as solar power: totally renewable, no fossil fuel usage whatsoever, extremely cost effective, and appropriate for both private residences and large public and commercial facilities.

Much of the technology behind solar thermal heating is similar to solar photovoltaic technologies – that is, the traditional electricity-producing solar energy everyone knows of. That energy is simply being channeled directly into heat, which as you might expect, can be a substantially more efficient process than converting it into electricity. The most common application is water heating, thanks to the relatively static and predictable nature of hot water heating and storage tanks. Hawaii is a common user of such systems on the residential scale, but their potential applications go far beyond tropical islands.

In the commercial and industrial sectors, solar thermal heating would primarily replace heating via combustion of natural gas, currently the least expensive fossil fuel on the market thanks to ample supply in the United States.

Right now, the biggest impediment to thermal heating is reliability. Like solar electricity, the sun needs to be present on a consistent basis for thermal heating to work, and extended bouts of cloudiness can cause trouble. While creative cooling solutions for solar thermal heating exist, they are still relatively nascent compared to traditional electricity-driven sources. And finally, while solar thermal energy is capable of producing the heats needed in many manufacturing chains, the technology isn’t yet at the point of being as consistently reliable as easily stored, easily consumed fossil fuels.

The attractiveness of solar thermal heating will only increase as the technology improves, and many applications that already can expect large amounts of sun – such as desalination plants on sunny coastlines – are looking into it as a cheap, renewable energy source for their heating needs. As many industries move toward renewable energy sources, solar thermal energy will be right there with them.

Advanced Tips for Self-Repair of Your A/C

Air conditioners are complicated and potentially dangerous pieces of machinery. If yours is broken and you don’t have any technical experience, it is always best to call a professional. But if you’ve got some idea what you’re doing and just need a little bit of guidance, here are some things to look for to see if you can handle your malfunctioning system yourself.

Check the Thermostat First

Thermostats are usually battery operated, so make sure the battery in your thermostat hasn’t failed – the machinery outside might be in tip-top condition, but if the control unit isn’t telling it what to do, it won’t do anything. Even if the battery is fine, if you suspect the thermostat may simply be broken, buying a new one from your local home improvement store is cheaper than calling out a technician, even if you don’t buy the thermostat from him. It could be a good starting point to check.

Check Fuses

A/C units use a lot of electricity during the hot months, and it isn’t unheard of for them to trip a breaker with energy fluctuations too minor to affect most other appliances. Double check your breaker box, and if you have one, use a multimeter to check the fuses inside the disconnect block. It can be found next to your A/C unit. Even if you can’t fix any problems discovered yourself, you can really narrow down the time and effort involed if you call a professional later.

Check Filters

Filters should be checked once a month during the summer, and you might have to change it even more if you have shedding pets or frequently leave windows open. Also check that the vents on your air conditioner unit itself are not clogged or dirty – for example, some washer/dryer vents are near enough to the A/C that lint can clog the unit and cause serious problems. If any plants in your yard give out excessive debris it could also cause a problem.

Ductwork Condensation Can Cause Water Damage

It’s a core goal in building a home that moisture should be kept out as much as possible, and for good reason: it rots wood, rusts metal, and fosters mold. But solid walls and roofing can’t keep out one source of moisture you should be aware of: your ventilation system.

Condensation occurs when hot air, laden with water and very humid, comes into contact with a cold surface. Cold air can’t hold as much moisture as warm air, so the extra condenses onto the metal surfaces. It’s the exact same process that causes your cold drink glass to be covered with water droplets on a hot summer day. As the very job of your HVAC ducts is to shuttle around hot and cold air, it’s understandable that they can suffer from the same problem.

Water droplets from ventilation can be spotted almost immediately or may not make themselves until a serious problem has occurred. If you’re lucky, you’ll see droplets coming out of ceiling vents or notice small, unexplained water drops on walls and ceilings. If you’re not, you won’t know you have a problem until you discover mold or structural elements are sagging, buckling, or even collapsing due to rot.

Well-constructed ducts will have special ductwork insulation to keep temperatures within a safe range and avoid condensation. You should have your HVAC contractor check on your duct condensation if you suspect a problem, or add it to your annual inspection. Even a small crack insulation can cause condensation, and no matter what, proper insulation will improve the efficiency of your HVAC system.

If your insulation is in good shape and you’re still having condensation problems, the issue is likely with the climate of your home. Very humid areas have ductwork moisture as a common foe, especially if you like the temperature in your home somewhat high. While your A/C will have a dehumidifying effect on its own, adding a dedicated dehumidifier in the worst rooms in your home can make a big difference. You should also make sure your AC’s coils aren’t frozen over, as that can damage its ability to dehumidify. Finally, if you went all-out and bought a system took powerful for your home, it may simply not run long enough to properly dehumidify.

Letting moisture sit can turn a minor annoyance into a huge, costly problem quickly. If you ever suspect moisture, be sure to contact your HVAC contractor as soon as possible.

Building Management Systems Surge Among Small Business Owners

The largest warehouses and real-estate-owning companies have long been using Building Management Systems, or BMS, to help manage their property. Such systems have a range of functions, the most relevant of which to HVAC companies being identification of problem areas in energy usage and tuning them to save the client money.

As technology has improved and new solutions have been devised, BMS have become options for owners of smaller properties. Energy usage and waste is only growing in awareness, and in some states like California more stringent laws and regulations bring it to the forefront of property owners’ minds on the daily basis. This provides a ripe opportunity for the adventurous HVAC company to expand into offering BMS systems to their clients.

BMS systems are essentially scaled up, more powerful versions of smart-home systems. Just as those home-level systems can help manage temperatures, lighting, and other home functions to help save energy, BMS systems can tune HVAC units, lights, security, and more to optimize energy usage and save on power costs. These benefits can be realized while minimizing human error and without the large facilities staff not usually present for smaller buildings.

One major customer for these newer, smaller-scale BMS systems is public schools. Nearly every public school runs on a tight budget, making any possible energy savings a significant win. Strip malls building owners and smaller medical facilities are also major clients, but anyone with a sufficiently large building has energy costs they’d like to reduce.

Challenges are mostly tied to cost and complexity, and solutions are innovative. One is the “system as a service” method, which has the company install the BMS system mostly for free and charge on an ongoing basis for continued usage of the system as well as some level of management of the system itself, reducing the need for trained staff.

Like smart homes for residential customers, BMS systems can be a lucrative new expansion for HVAC companies with a strong focus in commercial clients, and the market is only likely to grow.

Geothermal Heating & Cooling An Effective, If Overlooked, Option

Most buildings in the United States are temperature-managed with some variation of air-sourced heat pump. They vary widely in effectiveness and efficiency, but all function in basically the same way: take in air, heat or cool it as desired, and pump it into an enclosed space. But geothermal heating might be on its way to making a surge into more widespread adoption.

Geothermal heating takes advantage of a very convenient quirk of the Earth’s crust: just under the surface, sometimes as shallow as ten feet down, the temperature is a constant, comfortable 60 degrees Fahrenheit, give or take a few. Such a constant environment means that water can be reliably pumped down to an appropriate depth for cooling or warming then back into the climate-controlled building with far less effort by the overall HVAC system.

The primary downside of geothermal climate control is the high cost of installing the system in the first place. Since it requires digging underground, specialized systems not yet widely used, and some special quirks to the ventilation system, the installation costs are significantly higher than a traditional HVAC system. On the other hand, operational costs are 25-30% lower, so over the long haul you can save a lot of money on your electric bill.

Residential geothermal heating and cooling is growing in popularity, but slowly. Right now, the vast majority of residential properties utilizing the technology are located on the west coast, especially California. But as technology progresses, the equation will only get more in favor of geothermal. If you’re looking to build a new home soon and are willing to pay more upfront for long-term savings, considering installing a geothermal heating and cooling system.

New Thermostats Bring Useful Tech to HVAC

Every HVAC system will need replacing eventually. While new units have always come with better efficiency and more cooling and heating power, new customers can now take advantage of more luxurious technologies for only a small additional cost.

One of the easiest to grasp and most useful functionalities of new systems is remote control via your cell phone. The app lets you monitor and control your thermostat throughout the day, ensuring you never get home to a sweltering hot or freezing cold home – but allowing you to dial back how hard your HVAC system is working when nobody is around to feel the benefits, keeping your electric bill down. For those especially lazy Sunday mornings, you can even control your thermostat from bed to make everything a little bit cozier even once you leave the covers.

Newer thermostat models also have more complex functionality beyond increasing or decreasing the target temperature. Some smart units can tweak other aspects of your HVAC system to monitor and control humidity, for instance.

For the true smart-home enthusiast, high-tech thermostats are also often the gateway to other connected appliances in your home. Companies often have add-on systems that include everything from surveillance systems to garage door openers to video doorbells.

While some big box stores offer home automation systems that claim to be do-it-yourself, they can be tricky if you aren’t absolutely sure what you’re doing. Many HVAC systems and thermostats weren’t built to accommodate external devices and won’t work especially well even if the new product claims it will. For the best results, ask your HVAC technician during your next checkup.