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.

6 Quick Troubleshooting Tips For Your A/C

You’re in your home, but all is not as it should be: the temperature is creeping up near 80 despite your AC running at full blast. Here are some quick tips you can try to fix the problem yourself.

Clean the Filter

Dirty filters restrict airflow, causing your AC to both use more energy and not cool as well as it should. Filters should ideally be cleaned every month, so if you can’t remember the last time you did it, this is the first step to fixing your home temperature problems.

Plug Leaks

If you have a window unit, make sure it’s seated properly in the window so warm air isn’t streaming through. Even a tiny crack can have a profound impact on your indoor temperatures. Even for central air, double check all your doors and windows and look for drafty spots.

Keep the Thermostat Clear

If your TV or a lamp is too close to your thermostat, it can throw off the temperatures your AC is working to fix. Make sure there’s at least a few feet between the thermostat and any heat-exuding furniture.

Close the Windows

As good as your view is, the sun streaming in through a window can add a lot of undesired heat to your home. Pull the blinds and curtains during the day, and perhaps even consider investing in heavier blackout curtains to really keep the sun out: you might save the money spent on your electrical bill alone.

Invasive Gardening

The compressor of your central air unit needs about 2-3 feet of unobstructed space for adequate airflow. The most common offender here is bushes or other plants crowding the area. While we appreciate your desire to camouflage the sometimes unsightly block of an AC unit, it’s worth keeping it clear so it can do its job.

No Annual Checkup

Like any piece of heavy machinery that gets constant use, your HVAC unit needs occasional checkups and maintenance to fix things that naturally go wrong. Ideally you’ll get a visit from your local professional every 6 months, before the warm and cold seasons begin, but an annual checkup should be the bare minimum. He’ll check out all the moving parts, make sure your refrigerant levels are where they should be, and if necessary, provide you repair options that will surely be cheaper than waiting for a catastrophic failure leaving you without AC in 95 degree heat.

4 Things Your HVAC Guy Wants You to Know

HVAC_Ventilation_ExhaustChange Your Air Filter

If this tip is your first hint that you might need to change your air filter, you might need to change your air filter. If you’re going for maximum efficiency, consider changing it every month in the summer and every other month in the winter. A clogged filter will make your HVAC system work harder to get yoru home to the proper temperatures, costing more energy and stressing out parts enough to require earlier, more costly maintenance.

Keep It On Auto

Most thermostats have an “Auto” setting to let it decide when best to turn on and off to keep your home around the temperature you’re aiming for. Manually switching it on and off can create large temperature variations that cause it to work harder, wearing down your HVAC unit faster.

Keep Your Return Air Vent Clear

Most homes with basements have something called a return air vent. These are vents that take already cooler air and cycle it to the rest of your home since it doesn’t need as much cooling from the air conditioing unit, increasing efficiency and reducing costs. If your return air vent is blocked, say by a large appliance, it won’t work as well. If your home has a basement and does not have such a vent, ask your HVAC professional about getting one installed on your next maintenance check.

Give It A Once Over

It’s an easy thing to look right past, but go lay eyes on your air conditioning unit every once in a while. Over months and years, it might get clogged with dirt, weeds, or other debris. If your air conditioning unit is right by a dryer vent, it might also be sucking up extra dust and lint that form a solid block of fabric along the outside. Remove obvious debris and spray the unit down with a hose every once in a while to keep it free of clogs.