Category Archives: A/C Maitenance

Breakthrough in Duct Sealing Prompts Questions and Planning

While reading my favorite AC heating forum this morning, I found a link to a Nov. 7 article on the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE) website. The article describes new duct sealing technology that could be a breakthrough in energy conservation – one that could save home and building owners in the U.S. up to $5 billion per year.  There is a link to the article at the end of this blog post.

Leaky ducts waste a lot of energy – estimates show that 25-40% of the cooled or warmed air (and the energy that produced it) gets wasted in transit. For the average homeowner, this translates to $50-70 per month in utility costs.

After the initial excitement of saving this much energy leveled off, I began to think of questions to ask, or situations where sealing an existing duct system might not automatically be a wise move, or could be done out of sequence.

Get the correct sequence for energy saving improvements
To be clear, making sure that ducts are sealed correctly is a top priority, and will save lots of energy. However, HVAC system improvements need to be performed in the correct sequence. So, before going to the effort and cost of having existing ducts sealed, here are some related issues an owner needs to find out or plan for:

Age of other main HVAC components
How old are the other outside and inside main components: compressor, condenser, heat exchanger and air handler? If those components are nearing the end of their economic life (generally around 10 years or older), they might need to be replaced first. Then, if main components get replaced, the existing ducts may need replacement with them — so that they are the correct size and other specifications. Here’s a critical point: one size does not fit all with HVAC systems and ductwork!

Were your existing components and ductwork correctly sized originally?
Even if the other main components will not be changed soon, is the existing ductwork the correct size for your current situation: existing components, your home or building envelope, your climate and other particulars? If equipment or ducts were not correctly sized or configured originally, sealing the ducts will not be a total solution. Ironically, the sealing of leaky, undersized ducts could trigger other previously obscured issues or complaints with your AC or heating system.  One example: if your AC or furnace was oversized, sealing ducts could cause your AC or heating system to cycle on and off too quickly.  Excessive on-off cycling involves unnecessary energy use, equipment wear, and comfort complaints.  So in this scenario, you pay twice: once to get your current ducts sealed, and then you pay again to fix the pre-existing problems in your system — problems that the duct sealing brought to light.

In summary, absolutely do get your ducts sealed, but get your ducks in a row before you sign on the dotted line. Choose the right contractor, and they will explain the optimum sequence of energy improvements for your situation.

Link to article
Read the full article on the duct sealing breakthrough on the U.S. Energy Department website.

 

More Problems With Extended Warranties On Home AC Heating Systems

Sometimes a confluence of events inspires me to write a blog post.  Today’s post — which is about problems with extended warranties on AC, heating and related equipment and services — has three contributing sources that all came together recently.

  • Last week, I’ve read a lot of chatter on some HVAC forums about HVAC contractors who are having problems getting third warranty providers to honor (pay for) warranty work needed by homeowners under their extended warranty policy.  The scope of the problem seems fairly serious.
  • Yesterday, I visited the home of a friend, a mechanical engineer who is meticulous about writing specs for work done at his home.  He recently bought a new AC heating system that came with a 10 year parts and labor warranty: 5 years parts and labor from the manufacturer, and “the company who installed it arranged for an additional 5 years parts and labor as part of the package”.
  • Then driving home, I listened to one of my favorite syndicated radio shows, the Clark Howard Show. He generally discourages listeners from buying many types extended warranties. Clark’s advice (and I’ll paraphrase here) is to not buy an extended warranty (which is a type of insurance policy) unless the consequences of not buying it could turn into a major financial problem.

Before going further, and as this topic relates to heating and AC systems, I would make a distinction between an extended warranty offered by the equipment manufacturer and ones offered by third parties.

The most important factor is getting the equipment correctly sized and installed. Next, let’s talk about maintenance. Regular maintenance such as timely filter changes and yearly servicing, will cause AC and heating equipment to need fewer repairs, last longer and waste less energy.  In the overall budgeting, we rank scheduled maintenance ahead….way ahead… of an extended warranty.

Now, we’ll add our knowledge about the AC and heating industry to Clark’s general advice.  By the time you factor in any deductibles and the time required to haggle with them, a (possible) future expense you could incur from not buying extended warranty on a AC and heating system would not likely be a major issue for most homeowners.  For extended warranties, you either pay cash up front, or it is somehow “built in” to the package price (along with interest you are paying). Either way, you are paying for something you may not need or be able to use later.

Summary

  • The overall value of extended warranties in AC and heating equipment is questionable…clearly, a buyer beware situation.
  • For your budget priorities, we recommend that you get top quality work on the sizing and installation of the new equipment. Then, focus on filter changes and a yearly maintenance plan as higher priority than an extended warranty.
  • If you are going to buy an extended warranty, find out which company actually underwrites the policy. Look for one with the manufacturer behind it.

Additional Resources
Link to Clark Howard’s website and video about extended warranties.

 

Heating and AC Maintenance Agreements

Most residential heating and AC Companies offer annual maintenance agreements. These go under a variety of names, such as planned maintenance, customer loyalty program, yearly service agreements, and so on. Though they go by many names, the overall premise of maintenance agreements is fairly simple: you sign up for a once or twice a year tune-up of your heating and AC system. For this, you get a deeply discounted price for that planned service, plus discounts on future parts and/or labor, preferential scheduling, and other benefits. During periods of extreme cold — such as those much of the U.S. just went through — preferential scheduling of repair work can be a big benefit. Of course, if there is so much snow that their trucks can’t run, nothing happens until the roads are clear.  On the financial benefits, some service companies let you build up credits and roll them over to following years and apply them to major repairs or a new system.

As mentioned in our November 2010 blog, these agreements help HVAC contractors level out their work flow — they usually have you schedule the planned tune-ups during the spring and fall, when they are naturally less busy.  Unlike extended warranties, which may (or may not — depending on who offers them, and the fine print such as exclusions and deductibles) provide much value, preventive maintenance on your AC and heating system can more than pay for itself in fewer emergency repairs and lower utility bills.

If you choose wisely up front – see how to choose a good HVAC contractor here – there is not much down side risk to these agreements.  If the company were to change management or slip up on its quality of service, you usually would not be obligated for long enough to be a problem. However, the benefits, such as a more comfort, a efficient A/C system, and a safety check for carbon monoxide from your furnace, provide tangible and ongoing value.

If you have an opinion on or experience with this topic, please share it so others can learn from it.

Get Ahead Of The Crowd On Your Furnace And Heating

On a regular basis, I read HVAC industry publications and a forum. This week, I was reminded of another reason home and building owners need to plan ahead for their heating and AC needs. By planning ahead I mean basically two things: 1- interview and select the local HVAC service company you want to use when it comes times to repair or replace your furnace, boiler, heat pump or central heating system. 2- Get on an annual maintenance program with that local company. Before going further, I’ll drill into these a bit more.

Make Your Selection When Companies Are Not Busy
By selecting a local service provider ahead of time, you can make your selection when you are not in a hurry, and your local AC heating companies are not slammed with their seasonal spikes in business. Therefore, you should make your choice during a time of the year that is not hot or cold in your area. Or if it is hot or cold, try to make it after the first few days of hot or cold weather arrive, because that’s when more systems fail or previous failures get noticed.

Annual Maintenance Plans Prevent Emergency Repairs, Save Energy and More
Unlike extended warranties, that require a good bit of scrutiny to choose good values from poor ones, an annual maintenance plan on your AC heating system should pay for itself many times over.  The main benefits: 1– prevents small problems from turning into major repairs in the equipment or your home or building, 2– can save on energy or fuel costs and lower your monthly bills. 3– looks for gas leaks, carbon monoxide, and other potential safety issues.

Anyway, back to the HVAC forum from this week, here’s a summary of what I read: In spite of relatively high unemployment around the U.S., a surprising number of heating and air conditioning companies are having a difficult time find qualified technicians. Some HVAC  business owners even described going to high school vocational programs to start the selection and grooming process early for future technicians. The heating and AC company owners gave several possible reasons for this phenomenon. Their explanations included: candidates having necessary aptitude to work with their hands, increasing  need for technical HVAC training, physically challenging work environment (in attics, under floors, etc.), parental focus on white collar type training and jobs over skilled labor/ blue collar, and relatively low pay for the amount of training and type of physical working conditions involved.

The above facts, coupled with the topic of our previous blog about HVAC and plumbing vocational training in prisons, really convinced me that interviewing and selecting local service providers ahead of time and using their annual maintenance program is the way to go.  If you choose this route, there are many useful resources on this site to help you.

Have You Cleaned or Changed Your Home Air-Conditioner Filter lately?

On our short list of the highest impact, easiest actions you can take to save money on your monthly utility bills, changing the A/C filter in your house or apartment is near the top.  It’s the number 3 item to be exact.  Filter changes are easy and inexpensive enough that we could have just as easily given them the number one spot, though.

Depending on the type of filter element(s) in your system, the time interval between changes usually runs one month, but can be longer on some types of filters.  All air filter elements need to be changed or cleaned on a recurring basis, though.  In addition, they all have the following attributes in common:

  1. Changing or cleaning your AC filter on a regular basis will save you money on your energy bills
  2. Keeping clean filters will also save you money and time with lower repairs and related costs
  3. When your HVAC system works more efficiently,  you likely be more comfortable indoors
  4. In addition to protecting the A-C and heating equipment, filters are available that take out allergens and other contaminants that can adversely affect your health
  5. To keep track of changes, and in case multiple people are involved in filter maintenance, it’s a good idea to make and post a simple reminder grid with the following items:
  • Change/Clean Frequency
  • Dimensions of Filter (length, width, thickness)
  • Number of filters in the system
  • Location of filters
  • Type of filter and, if applicable, brand
  • Where to purchase or order filters
  • Whether or not the filter is user (owner) serviceable
  • Date of last change or cleaning

We hope this reminder helps save you energy and be more comfortable. We look forward to reading your comments and suggestions.

Maintenance or repair of your AC and heating system: pay a little now or pay a lot more later

Would any reasonable person wait until the engine of their car seizes up to think about checking or changing the oil? Of course not. In addition to the inconvenience, repairing or replacing a car engine costs a lot more than an oil change. Therefore, most people have their car serviced two or more times each year or at certain mileage intervals.

Why then, do so many people wait until their home or building air conditioner won’t cool or their furnace won’t ignite to call their HVAC service company? Not only do they have to pay more for repair or replacement than they would have for air conditioning or heating system maintenance. On the first really hot or cold day in their area, people who skimp on having their A/C and heating system maintained usually line up behind their neighbors who did the same. They might even have to stay home from work to meet the service company when repair calls get backed up.

Having your HVAC system put on a yearly schedule of having the A/C serviced in the spring and the heater tested in the fall saves money and time. The monetary savings aren’t limited to repairs either. A good example is found in the way air conditioners run. A home A/C system will run and produce cool air, even if the refrigerant (often known as Freon) is somewhat lower than optimum. However, it won’t run or cool nearly as efficiently as it would at optimum levels. The result: you can save on utility bills every month, plus have fewer or lower cost repairs and save time with a well-tuned system.

With the direct cost of oil bumping $110 per barrel (not to mention the indirect costs and concerns) we should save on fossil fuels and electricity every place we can. Since nearly everyone uses heating and cooling daily, scheduled HVAC maintenance is an ideal place to start. Do it now and you will avoid the summer rush.