1. How to Finance Your New HVAC System: The Choices are Plentiful

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    Buying a new HVAC system, or any kind of energy-efficient product can cost anywhere from $2,400 to $7,000 approximately. Such a major investment will pay off in the future as lower energy bills will compensate for your initial investment. Plunking down so much cash could give you pause, especially if you believe your current HVAC system can make it another few years. But many kinds of financing assistance are available to help you pay for a new HVAC system.

    Manufacturer Rebates Help with Financing

    Many different kinds of rebates exist for homeowners wishing to buy an updated HVAC piece of equipment. Oftentimes an HVAC manufacturer will provide a rebate on a new HVAC system you’ve purchased. These rebates will help to defray the expense of a new HVAC model as well as the cost to install your new HVAC unit. Your local utility company may also offer a rebate on an energy-efficient HVAC unit.

    Manufacturer Financing

    HVAC companies want to sell you their products, and are willing in many instances to provide financing. Financing can come through the use of a credit card that helps you make the most affordable monthly payment towards the purchase of a new HVAC system. There may also be promotional deals, a line of credit (if you qualify), and the tools to manage your account online. Another incentive some HVAC manufacturers provide for financing is you will not be penalized for paying off your purchase early.

    More Financing Choices

    Manufacturer and utility company rebates are only part of the financing picture. The federal government through its partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), offers federal grants and tax credits to assist you in upgrading your present heating or cooling systems, to make them more energy-efficient, as well as the installation of an energy-efficient new model.

    Following is a run-down of federal and state programs that you can apply to to receive grants, or tax credits on an upgraded or new HVAC system:

    Government and Green Energy

    If you invest in solar-powered and geothermal energy the federal government, in its efforts to encourage the use of green-energy products, will allow you to deduct the cost of upgrading your HVAC system to environmental-friendly sources of clean energy, instead of relying on fossil fuels.

    Energy Star Tax Incentive

    Energy Star, a program promoted by the EPA and DOE, is the best known and well-received energy tax credit you can use to apply for deductions on your annual income tax return. The Energy Star Tax Credit can be given to anyone that has bought a new AC unit, as much as $300. But a note of caution: it is not available for every AC unit on the market. So please be sure to inquire of your heating and cooling installation technician that your new heating and cooling units qualify as eligible for the Energy Star credit.

    Limited Federal Energy Tax Credits

    We say limited because Congress did not renew the many federal energy tax credits that are incentives for consumers to purchase new energy-efficient products. In particular Congress let the 25C Residential Energy Tax Credit for high-efficiency HVAC products fall by the wayside.

    But there still exist some grant programs, administered by the federal government, which will generously compensate consumers for new HVAC products. For example, those who live on fixed or low incomes, and find it necessary to buy a new HVAC unit are eligible for the Weatherization Program HVAC Tax Credit, funded by the DOE. DOE will pay 100% on the purchase of a new heating and cooling system. In addition eligible homeowners can be the recipients of grants to help pay for weatherization services. This can include new window installation, or installing weather-stripping around doors. Weatherization grants on average are $6,500, plus the DOE throws in the weatherization services for free.

    The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers a Community Entitlement Grants (CEG) program in urban areas with populations ranging from 50,000–200,000 homes. HUD’s mandate is to replace outworn AC units with energy-efficient models.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds the Housing Preservation Grant Program (HPGP). The focus of this initiative is to offer financial help to homeowners, who want to make repairs or remodel their homes. HPGP targets communities, whose population is under 20,000.

    State-Sponsored Programs

    There exists no one-size-fits-all tax credit program for state governments to administer. Each state legislates its own version of an energy tax credit program. In many states the energy tax credit is targeted to assist homeowners in upgrading their heating and / or cooling systems. The energy tax credit can also be utilized to install a new green-energy HVAC unit.

    Still More Financing Options

    Yet another financing option for you to consider is a home equity line of credit. Find out from your mortgage holder if you meet eligibility requirements for a line of credit. The financing terms will be set according to the equity you have built up in your house, and the state of your finances.

    Also an option exists to get a personal loan from a bank at which you’ve been a long-standing customer, another way to go to finance a new HVAC system. A financial adviser is the best person to review your carefully-assembled documentation and decide what kind of loan will work best for you, and whether the loan will be secured or unsecured.

    The housing department, a local agency in your area, is also a good resource as well for a low-interest loan. What the housing department does is first decide if you meet its eligibility requirements for a new HVAC system. If you qualify the housing department will secure the loan for you with the lender. You may benefit from a lower interest rate as lenders will risk less in offering you this type of secured loan.

    You may find financing for your new HVAC system right in your own backyard from HVAC companies, who’ve provided you with price quotes. Find out if they offer financing (major contactors usually do). If you’re in relatively good financial shape you may qualify for terms, comparable to a personal loan from a bank.

    The Steps to Financing Your HVAC System

    The first order of business is to decide how much cash you can lay out to spend on a new heating or cooling system. If your present system has gasped its last breath, or you’re wanting to get a new HVAC system for its energy-efficiency benefits, many choices are out there by which you can finance a heating and cooling system.

    To position yourself to find the prime choices, your credit score must be above average, and your income adequate enough to meet the monthly payments, as well as covering your other current debts.

    If you’ve jumped through these hoops successfully, assemble a monthly budget containing an itemization of expenses. From this aggregate of monthly expenses make a decision on what you think you can comfortably afford.

    To prepare what might be asked of you when contacting various loaning institutions for a financing loan do the following:

    • Assemble your most recent pay stubs from the last few months. For those who run their own businesses, a copy of your last year’s tax return will suffice to prove income eligibility.
    • Look into your credit report to see that your payment status is current on every account. For debts that are paid in installments make extra payments on the ones you can to lower your debt in relationship to your income. Any invalid accounts you run across on your credit report, contact all three of the largest credit bureaus to request removal of those accounts. Support your request by providing documentation that substantiates why those accounts should not be on your credit report.

    Letters of reference from energy companies that you have a history with of making utility payments on time will prove you are a responsible bill-payer. This would only need to be done if you either have a low credit score, or have not built up enough of a credit history. If you have established enough of a credit history with other creditors include this in your loan application.

  2. 13 Energy-Saving Tips to Lower Your Utility Bills

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    It’s easy for heating costs to shoot through the roof during the year’s coldest months. But there’s a lot you can do to increase the energy-efficiency of your home, using simple materials and straightforward procedures. But one area you can’t stint on in terms of cost is your heating system, our number 2 tip to help increase energy-savings in the long run. Otherwise read on to see what proactive measures you can take to make your home the most energy-efficient it can possibly be.

    1. Keep Your Heating Appliances and Heating Systems in A-One Condition

    Take proactive measures to maintain your heat-burning appliances and heating systems. For wood- and pellet-burning stoves and heaters you can perform a couple of maintenance steps: (1) for substance-burning appliances clean the flue vent on a regular basis, and (2) use a wire brush to routinely clean the interior of the appliance.

    For your heating systems as well as your gas fireplace put in a service call to an HVAC repair and maintenance technician. The expense will be worth it because with a comprehensive check and tune-up of your HVAC systems you will extend the life of them, and in addition save hundreds of dollars in repairs and power bills over time.

    The HVAC repair and maintenance technician will perform such tasks as an inspection of your heating system or gas fireplace, preventive maintenance, and note what components, if any, need repairing or replacing. They will also perform a safety check, such as seeing if there appear to be at all carbon monoxide or gas leaks. Some HVAC manufacturers will void the warranty on your equipment if yearly and ongoing maintenance is not done.

    1. Calibrate the Thermostat

    During the day and when you’re away from home for extended periods get in the habit of re-calibrating your thermostat to 10 to 15 degrees lower. If you tend to be a forgetful sort there are programmable (also known as smart thermostats) that can do the job for you. Smart thermostats can give you a cost-savings of at least 10% or over on your power bill. A standard smart thermostat costs as low as $25 and under. If you want to save even more buy a premium-model thermostat. Its price point will set you back at over $200, but additional cost-savings on your power bill at 12% for heating and 15% for cooling can compensate for the initial outlay of cash.

    Here’s a factoid to encourage your efforts to save on your heating bill: it’s a falsehood if you set the temperature lower on your heating system that it will struggle more to warm your home, thus increasing your energy bill. The opposite is true: you will experience cost-savings.

    1. Seal Leaks around Your Home

    There are many places in your home where cold air can enter. Sealing such things as ductwork, the open spaces around pipes, chimneys, and recessed ceiling lights will prevent cold air from entering your home.

    Examine the ducts to see if their corners and seams have loosened. If you use a forced-air heating system that is standard in most homes approximately 20%–30% of heated air is lost flowing out holes, leaks, and coming-apart ducts. The solution is to use an appropriate sealant on them to rectify the problem.

    1. Use the Sun to Help Heat Your Home

    Even though the temperature is frigid outside your home you can use the heat of the sun, penetrating southern-facing windows during daylight hours to provide heat to your home, preventing the need to turn on your heating system as often. At night you can draw the drapes closed to protect your home from windows that have grown cold. Don’t forget to clear tree branches loitering close by your window as well as plant life, obscuring the sun to optimize the benefits of sunlight to heat your home.

    1. Shield Your Windows and Doors

    Did you know cold and drafty windows in your home can account for 25% heat loss? This is an area that begs for intervention and insulation from the elements, invading your home’s interior. There are two methods to solve the problem: (1) a weighty clear plastic sheet or (2) a clear plastic film taped to the pane to form a tight seal, to be installed on the interior side of the pane. Don’t forget to include sliding-glass doors also. The cost-savings on your power bills, using these preventive measures will amount to approximately 14%. Clear plastic film is well under $10 for a 63 x 84-inch roll, found at your home improvement center. If you still feel a draft you can double-down by using close-fitting protective drapes, even close-fitting shades.

    1. Weather-Strip Your Windows and Doors

    Replace old and ragged weather-stripping around your windows and doors because the worn-out material is producing drafts, and allowing cold air into the interior of your home. Statistics reveal 7%–12% heat loss comes from doors and windows not properly protected. What happens is people bump up their heating system to stay warm and inadvertently bump up their power bills as well. The loss of warm air–whether or not the heating system is set higher–forces it to struggle more to heat your living spaces. As an alternative method you can caulk around your windows and doors. Be aware weather-stripping needs replacement every three or four years because of punishment from the elements. And caulking can become weatherworn also.

    1. Adjust Your Door Thresholds

    Are you aware that your entryway door can cause you to lose heat? The way to know if this is the case is to check for daylight under the door. If you see light this means the door is not flush with the threshold enough so air is passing underneath the door. A simple method exists to contract the opening to prevent cold air and drafts from trespassing into your home. If you have a threshold metal strip or other material the strip contains screws you can use to change the width of the opening and close the gap. All you need to do is unscrew the hardware enough to block out the light coming through.

    1. Electrical Boxes a Site for Drafts

    Your outside walls are one of the prime places where drafts can enter your home through your electrical boxes. Insulation may be haphazardly installed, creating pockets where air can travel behind the box and from end-to-end.

    To resolve the air leaks caused by the faulty installation of insulation do the following:

    Take off the cover plates and use acrylic latex caulking for sealing small pockets. If the opening is large foam sealant is the material you should use. To protect outlets or switches from allowing cold air to pass through them also, cover them with an inexpensive foam gasket and put the cover plates back on. Protecting this equipment from cold air drafts will pay big returns in the months and years ahead in cost-savings on your power bills.

    1. Seal Spaces in Your Outside Walls

    We’ve already talked about the need to caulk around pipes, protruding through drywall, plywood, or other material used to hold them in place inside your home. The same applies to pipes on the outside of your home, as well as power cables and gas lines. They frequently contain spaces around them incompletely sealed with caulking material. The problem is caulking doesn’t last against the weather elements. In time caulking will start peeling, cracking, and separating from itself. Endangered caulking is vulnerable to cold air flowing through its worn spots. Eroded caulking will permit vermin to get inside your home. Use an expanding foam sealant to cover the openings.

    While we’re on the topic of pipes, did you know water pipes, located under your kitchen and bathroom sinks are also vulnerable to letting in drafts and cold air? The simple solution is to scoot back the escutcheon ring (only there for aesthetic purposes, and ineffective at obstructing air currents), and fill the exposed spaces with expanding foam sealant.

    1. Chimneys a Problem Spot for Air Leaks

    Chimneys are one of the best areas in your home where you can save money on your energy bills. When the fireplace isn’t being used, warm air travels up the chimney to the outside. If you close your chimney flue, it cannot completely block warm air from escaping from your home. The easy solution to this issue is to purchase a chimney balloon. By inflating an appropriately-sized chimney balloon for your chimney, and placing it in the chimney well, you will receive double your investment in one year at an initial cost to energy-savings ratio.

    1. Insulate Your Access Attic Door

    Although your attic may be adequately insulated, vulnerability exists in which warm air can travel through the access door (also known as the hatch). Warping of the attic hatch, or its being blocked by an object will not let the door lie flush against the jamb. This creates pockets, allowing air to come inside the attic. The solution to this problem is to create a tight seal to protect against cold air by tacking fiberglass batt insulation to the interior sides of the attic access door. If you can’t, for any reason, make the door about the jamb secure buy a latch-bolt device to seal the access door firmly.

    1. Unblock Your Heating Registers

    Heating registers must not be blocked by any object, especially heavy objects like furniture resting on them. Placing any object on heating registers hinders heat flowing into the room. Contrive to make your rooms’ arrangements as free of blocking the heating registers as you can.

    1. Lock Your Doors and Windows against the Cold

    Closing your windows and doors is not enough to keep cold air from seeping into your comfortably warm rooms. When you lock your windows and doors you create an air-tight seal where they make contact with the weather-stripping. Make sure to lock your windows early in the day before they freeze in place. Otherwise you will have a devil of a time trying to move them to lock them.

  3. What Allergens are and How to Keep Them Out of Your Indoor Air

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    After a cold, rainy, snowy winter homeowners are more than ready for springtime’s promise: blooming flowers, fresh, green grass, and trees reclaiming their leafy lushness. But along with spring comes allergy season, which continues on into summer. And for those who suffer from seasonal allergies or asthma spring is the most uncomfortable season of all. But here’s the good news. You can control the allergens populating your home with some DIY maintenance, and sometimes a little professional help from an HVAC specialist.

    Allergens and their Reason for Existing

    Allergens are an airborne phenomenon. They infiltrate your home, landing on any and all surfaces. But it’s not just allergens coming from outside; it’s inside too where the air can hold particulate matter from such allergens as:

    • Pet dander
    • Dust mites
    • Mold
    • Cockroach droppings

    This particulate matter suffuses the air in your home, causing difficulty in breathing and the allergy symptoms of:

    • Coughing and sneezing
    • Red and irritated eyes
    • Scratchy throats
    • Runny noses

    How to Deal with Allergens in Your Home

    Maintaining your cooling system is crucial to managing the allergens that may have already been populating the air in your home. This is what you can do to rid yourself of annoying allergens that have invaded your home:

    • To effectively manage the allergens swimming in your indoor air, buy the best-quality heating system filters as your primary line of defense in catching allergen particulate matter. Go for a MERV 8 rating or higher, which will do the best job of capturing particulate matter from the air, decreasing their numbers. Be vigilant in checking the filters on a monthly basis, and change them at a minimum of three months throughout the year. If you allow dirt and dust to build up on your heating system, air filters will stop absorbing the allergens, and decrease the efficiency of your cooling system.
    • Dust and debris can also accumulate around both the indoor and outdoor cooling units. What occurs is the cooling unit draws in air from outdoors through the AC unit, causing the allergen-filled air to spread everywhere in your home. Monitor your indoor and outdoor AC units for the appearance of dust and debris often. Use a broom, vacuum, or dust cloth to clean the area around the AC units to decrease the allergen buildup.
    • It’s not just dust and debris that causes allergies. Mold is also a culprit in the war against allergen invasion, because it takes hold in humid and moisture-filled climates. What is particularly dangerous about mold is beyond causing allergies to worsen; its appearance can lead to serious ailments as well as death. To find mold hiding in your AC examine the ductwork, evaporator coils, air handler, and condensate drip pan and drain. This maintenance task must be performed on a monthly basis to keep on top of mold growth. If mold hasn’t overtaken your cooling system, you can probably handle its removal yourself, but for a significant buildup of mold, it is best to contact an HVAC specialist.
    • Another maintenance task involves dusting the dust registers and return vents on your cooling system. When you’re dusting your home do the registers and return vents first so you don’t overlook them. Necessary to understand is the return vents spread the cooling system’s air. So if the vents are not dust-free neither will your home be dust-free also. Don’t dust with a dry rag. This will only spread the dust mites around and re-populate the air. Use some furniture polish on the rag to keep dust mites from spinning into the air and eventually into allergy and asthma sufferers’ systems.

    Guidelines on How to Choose the Right Air Filter

    A misconception people carry around about ordinary HVAC air filters is they can deal with allergens that fill the air. Not so. HVAC filters only do the job of protecting the cooling system from attracting dust, so the AC can operate efficiently. The air filters may displace some dust, but they are not capable of capturing the particulate matter that contributes to allergy symptoms.

    HVAC air filters are made of paper, an inadequate material to trap particulate matter. Paper filters can only handle larger particle matter such as dust that lands on motors and fans, compromising the AC’s efficiency. What occurs when smaller particulate matter contacts paper filters is they bypass the fibers and spread throughout the ductwork, getting blown out into your air, re-populating it.

    Allergy air filters are made to capture micro-particulate matter. Named high energy particulate air filters (HEPA), they contain many condensed layers of fiberglass material, and are capable of catching nearly 100% of small particulates such as dust, pollen, and smoke to keep the air free of them.

    However, you can’t buy just any HEPA filter and expect to clear your air of allergens. A rating system known as the minimum efficiency reporting system (MERV) has 12 tiers of air filters, the highest of them able to remove the most microscopic particles. According to some experts, opt for a rating of 10 and up in order to do a thorough job of eliminating all the particulate matter that permeates the air, contributing to allergy and asthma symptoms.

    It’s not enough to buy the right HEPA filter. You must also replace them often, at least every two months, particularly when the pollen count is high. You might even need to replace them more frequently if you live in an area that is vulnerable to higher allergen populations. However, using the appropriately-rated HEPA filter provides only 50% of the solution to decreasing allergens swarming the indoor air. You must as well attend to cleaning the other parts of your cooling system where dust and pollen can accumulate on blower fans and ductwork.

    Here’s a tidbit of information you should know about. The air in your home recycles through your cooling system up to seven times a day. Without the use of HEPA filters and maintenance of your cooling system, allergens, dust, and mold become long-term residents in your cooling system, sometimes for years. If this is the case you probably need the professional assistance of an HVAC specialist to check–and if necessary–clean your ductwork. It won’t cost you a penny to have your ductwork inspected. The HVAC specialist during their inspection can show you what dust buildup has occurred, and also if there exists any mold or mildew hiding in your ductwork, aggravating allergy symptoms. Seeing what’s there will surely give you the motivation to keep your cooling system well-maintained and allergens at bay!

  4. How to Deal with Humidity in Summer and Winter Months

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    You’ve gratefully left the cold winter months behind you, and are now moving into summer, in which you face a new set of weather challenges, the wilting and leaden heat, drowning you in perspiration. You will look to your AC system to be your best buddy in keeping you comfortable when temperatures soar into the 80s and higher during the day, and remain in the upper 70s during the evening hours. If you live in a humid climate, a surfeit of moisture suspended in the air can make your home feel even hotter than it actually is, affecting the comfort level of your home.

    Because your AC system’s job is to, not only cool the air, but also remove oppressive humidity levels from it, your AC unit is working overtime to provide the comfort you seek, and in the process wearing out its components faster. If your AC system has some years on it, its efficiency has started to wane, and its effectiveness is jeopardized. The result is an increase in your power bills, and a hot, sweaty environment.

    If you’ve purchased an AC system that is not the appropriate size for your living space this also affects the AC unit’s ability to cool your home adequately, including extracting the excess moisture humidity causes from your muggy indoor air.

    Three evident signs that point to humidity as the problem, causing your AC system to function less efficiently are:

    1. A feeling of moisture permeates the air
    1. Your home has a damp or musty odor in certain areas
    1. Your windows are fogging up

    If these symptoms are present your air is holding more humidity than it should for your home’s comfort, and the humidity level must be brought down to bring cooling relief. The best method for dealing with heavy moisture in the air inside your home is to purchase a dehumidifier, which can be attached to your AC system by an AC installation technician. The dehumidifier will partner with your AC unit to draw excessive wetness from the air, pulling it into the air ducts throughout your home. The benefit to having a two-pronged comfort system is the management of temperature and humidity simultaneously within your home.

    Adjunct vs. Stand-Alone Dehumidifiers

    You are not limited to adjunct dehumidifiers; you can also buy an unattachable dehumidifier. The drawback to this choice is you will need to manually adjust the humidity-level device. However, the benefit of an unattachable dehumidifier is the option of only turning it on when it’s necessary to further cool your home.

    With an attachable or unattachable dehumidifier, plus your AC unit, your combined comfort system will gain in efficiency, giving you the perfect level of comfort during scorching and humid summer days, and stifling, hot and sticky nights, permitting you to sleep more comfortably.

    Single-Speed vs. Multiple-Speed AC Systems

    Apart from using a dehumidifier to lessen the humidity of your indoor air, another option exists to deal with the intense heat and humidity of the summer months. And that is purchasing a modulating-speed AC system instead of a fixed-speed AC. A fixed-speed AC unit operates at one speed only. With a modulating-speed AC system there are models manufactured with two or more speed-adjustment levels. A modulating-speed AC system will adjust the temperature levels, according to whether less or more cooling is required at any given moment. A modulating-speed AC unit will also eliminate hot or cold spots in your home.

    Another consideration for thinking about buying a modulating-speed AC system is your comfort during sleep hours. A fixed-speed AC unit, which provides a steady airflow, can create too much cold as it turns on, or too much heat when it shuts off, affecting sleepers’ body temperatures. You find yourself waking to throw off the covers from too much heat, or pulling them back on from too much cold, interrupting a sound night’s sleep.

    Another sleep annoyance is the sound of the AC unit as it cycles on and off. It’s been said the noise from the AC unit can even travel as far as your neighbors’ homes next door. With a modulating-speed AC system the airflow is less strong, and the unit stays on longer, permitting more accurate temperature control. One other advantage of a modulating-speed unit is there are fewer turn-ons and turn-offs, reducing noise pollution.

    Humidity, Mold, and Dehumidifiers

    The clamminess or stickiness of overly-humid air creates the conditions for the appearance of mold. An AC fixed-speed unit can exceed the recommended level of 50% humidity, attaining in some instances humidity levels as high as 60%, increasing the odds of toxic mold growth. Modulating-speed models never exceed 50% humidity levels. And modulating-speed units’ ability to keep temperatures fluctuating, according to the needs of users, and the moisture content low enough to prohibit unsightly mold taking hold within the home, is a strong selling point. If you haven’t guessed already mold is much more than an eye-sore, reflecting on the attractiveness of your home; it also risks the health of people. Too much mold growth can cause serious illness or even death to the sufferer.

    Winter and Humidifiers

    You may be surprised to learn humidity isn’t just a problem during the summer but also during the winter months. The reverse effect of humidity, compared to the hot weather months, is cold air is not capable of retaining enough moisture. As a result when moisture levels are too low, the air can feel much colder than the thermostat indicates. The lower the humidity level the colder the air will feel despite the thermostat’s indicator.

    The problems that come with drier and colder air are the uncomfortable effects of dry, itchy skin and eyes, dehydrated nasal passages, and increased discomfort of the sinuses. Flooring and furniture can also become targets of not enough moisture in the air, developing cracks on their surfaces. Your home’s temperature should range from 70–77 degrees. If you find you need to turn the thermostat even higher than the maximum comfort level that’s a sign the humidity level is very low.

    The dryness and coldness of an atmosphere that is lacking enough humidity requires a humidifier instead of a dehumidifier. A humidifier can also be attached to your heating system to enhance its performance and lessen the need to run it harder and less efficiently. And you will save on your power bill because it won’t be necessary to raise your thermostat too high to compensate for the deficiency of moisture, contributing to the much cooler air lower humidity levels create.

    As you can see humidifiers and dehumidifiers, working in tandem with your cooling and heating units, are essential components to achieving the correct balance of moisture in your air during the hottest and coldest months of the year.  Your home’s comfort level will be enhanced, the health of your family protected, as well as your home’s contents.  Isn’t that reason enough to invest in them?

  5. Repair or Replace Your Furnace? The Facts to Consider in Making a Decision

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    As a homeowner, you understand the need to do maintenance work on the infrastructure of your home: a fresh paint job every few years, or repairing or replacing your roof are a couple of examples of what it takes to maintain the value of your home in anticipation of the day when you may sell it. Repairing or replacing your HVAC system is another area of concern in maintaining your home and its contents in A-one shape. At some point in time you will need to decide on whether you can continue to make repairs on your heating system to keep it operating longer, or is it time to invest in a new HVAC system, whether it be a new furnace or air conditioner. In this blog we will talk about how to decide to repair, or replace your HVAC heating system.

    Your Furnace’s Age

    Let’s consider how old your heating system is. The lifespan of a furnace varies, according to which HVAC experts you ask. Some say you can expect your furnace to last 10 to 15 years, while others estimate the lifespan to be 15 to 20 years. If your furnace is at least 10 years or older you may need to start repairing it more often.

    Here’s another way to look at it. Replacement of your heating system might be in order if it has exceeded 75% of its lifespan. Which means if your heating system has aged 15 years and you need to spend $750 for a repair it’s not worth it. Better to update to a new model and cash in on the savings you’ll experience with tax credits, rebates, and lower energy bills. Go for broke and don’t be content with a model that has 80% energy-efficiency; buy a model with 95% energy-efficiency. It only makes sense when you realize a model that has almost 100% energy-efficiency is going to pay you dividends in spades. But it’s up to you to decide; we’re only putting out information to help you decide if repair or replacement is better, depending on the age of your system.

    Old Technology vs. New Technology

    Another consideration on whether you should repair or replace is outmoded technology. Older-model technology can’t offer the kind of efficiency and savings on your energy bills newer HVAC models can, plus newer models come with the most advanced features to make the heating system’s operation easier and more convenient.

    Expense to Repair

    Consumer Reports puts out guidelines that say–among other considerations–that when repairs are costing you more than 50% of the expense of a new heating system, it is about the savings to you in the long run that makes it wiser to invest in a new heating system. Besides new heating systems arrive with a warranty to protect you against spending money on repairs if there are any problems while the heating system is under warranty.

    Municipal, State, and Federal Tax Credits

    In purchasing a new heating system you can save even more because you’ll be eligible to receive local and state tax credits. Even a federal tax credit is available, depending on the model you choose. These incentives could add up to as much as 30% of the purchase price of your new higher-efficiency heating system. Factor in savings of 20% to 40% on energy costs, and you can begin to see it’s a no-brainer.

    Here’s another piece of information to chew on. If your old heating system dates from the 1970’s its efficiency rating is around 65%. With current heating system models the efficiency rating jumps to 97%. At this high rate of energy-efficiency that will lower your energy bills significantly; the new heating system will pay for itself over time.

    Power Company Rebates

    There are more savings to be had if your local utility company offers a rebate for buying an energy-efficient heating system. And when you purchase a newer, more efficient model you’ll save on your monthly power bills.

    Environment and its Impact

    If you want to leave less of a carbon footprint it’s wise to upgrade to an Energy-Star-certified heating system that meets, or goes beyond federal regulations on what constitutes energy-efficiency. A fact you should know about: HVAC systems (both heating and cooling) make up approximately 50% of the energy use in your home.

    In an effort to try and stop the depletion of the ozone layer the federal government and the Environmental Protection Agency has authorized phasing out R-22 refrigerant by the year 2020. Buying an R0410A heating system will support the environment as well as help you not spend more money on repairing your old heating system. As R-22 refrigerant becomes less available due to the phase-out it will be more expensive to buy.

    System Performance

    If you’re having to repeatedly re-set the thermostat to remain comfortable; rooms are heating unevenly; the heating system is becoming noisy with sounds like clattering or knocking, snapping or squeaking; or the blower either runs continuously, or repeatedly shuts off-and-on; it’s time to consider replacing your heating system. These symptoms are all signs of a heating system that hasn’t long to go before it expires.

    Effects on Family Health

    An aging heating system may start to show cracks. When this occurs toxic gas, known as carbon monoxide, can infiltrate your home, causing family members to experience nausea, dizziness, headaches and other symptoms flu-like in nature. An emergency such as this requires immediate action to save your family’s health. Throwing open all the windows and doors in your home and leaving the house is vital. Next, you must get the gas shut off by contacting either your fire department or utility company. This is where a service contract can come in handy, because you will be able to get an HVAC repair technician to your home immediately. A service contract usually contains a priority maintenance clause, which means service repair technicians are on-call to provide emergency service 24/7. Better to get the problem taken care of right away than to spend a night in an expensive motel room. Once at your home the HVAC repair technician can advise you whether your heating system only needs repair, or if now is the time to replace it.

    Dry or Dusty Air

    An older heating system is unable to freshen the air, or increase its moisture content to ensure the comfort of you and your family during the winter months. Symptoms of a malfunctioning heating system include a feeling of staleness or stuffiness in the air; the worsening of indoor allergies; or a feeling of dryness in your throat, nose, and on your skin. These indicators mean it’s likely the time to buy a new heating system. Other signs that mean you might need a new heating system are frequent buildup of dust; static shocks; plants that are unhealthy; creaking floorboards and furniture, or a piano that needs more frequent tuning.

    We hope this information has been helpful to you in making a decision on either repairing or replacing your HVAC heating system.

  6. How to Decide if Your Furnace Needs Repair Now or Later

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    Summer’s nearly over with fall nipping at your heels. Those of you who live in cold country know the air can begin to turn sharp and chilly even in September. You’re debating with yourself whether to schedule some maintenance repairs on your heating system now, or wait until the days and nights become frosty, demanding you start using your heating system.

    If your heating system is over 10 years old, and it’s starting to require more repairs beside the usual maintenance we hope you’ve been performing, don’t put off getting a tune-up, either by doing it yourself, or having an HVAC professional come out to check on the state of your heating system. It’s a good time of year to find out if your heating system is ready for the rigors of winter’s freezing temperatures. The worst-case scenario–if you don’t make sure your heating system is in good shape for winter–could be, while under the yoke of winter’s fierce ice- and snow storms, causing possible outages, you could be stuck toughing it out until a heating repair technician can get to your home, and bring comfort to it. Unless you’ve got a service contract with a priority maintenance clause in it, don’t hold your breath waiting on a repair technician. They’re probably over-worked with calls coming in from other homeowners in your community in the same predicament.

    With all this being said, it’s just not repair and maintenance work you need to think about, but if you actually need to purchase a new heating system because the aging one you have now could completely go out-of-commission. Then you’ll be left with hurriedly trying to decide on what kind of heating system to get (should you go with a standard or state-of-the-art model?), and quickly putting in an order. How soon can it be delivered? Better make it a rush delivery, like next day, you hope? And then you must make an appointment to get your new HVAC unit installed, and how soon can that happen? There are so many variables at play if your old heating system can’t chug another mile.

    Here are some reasons to consider replacing your heating system now before old man winter is stomping at your front door:

    The Age of Your Heating System

    The heating system that has been well taken of over time starts to lose heating efficiency somewhere between 10 and 15 years. During this period you may notice you’re scheduling more repair work. If this is the case for you, start to research and shop for a new heating system well before you start exhaling clouds of cold air.

    The Increase in Your Energy Bills

    Compare your utility bills with last year’s and the year before. If you see a marked increase taking place that is getting higher and higher than normal, it’s time to contemplate buying a new heating system. Steady, upward increases in your utility bills are an indicator your heating system is losing efficiency, particularly if regular maintenance has not been performed on your heating system over the years.

    The Frequency of Repair Work

    Repairs are likely going to need to be done for any aging heating system once it hits the 10-year mark. Yet if you’re shelling out $100 or more to prolong the life of your heating system too often you should be heading to your home improvement center, or HVAC showroom to check out the new heating unit models in advance of winter’s wrath.

    The Functioning of Your Thermostat

    Many heating system problems can be chalked up to a disconnect between your thermostat and the heating unit. You can troubleshoot this issue easily by making a tour of your home. Do you notice that rooms are being heated unevenly? Are some very warm while others are very cold? Are you forever needing to calibrate your thermostat to stay comfortably warm? If this is true your thermostat is probably on the brink of conking out once and for all.

    The Functioning of Your Burner Flame

    Take a look at your burner flame to see if it’s burning correctly. You should see a steady, intense blue flame. If the burner flame is yellow and fluttering it is not burning correctly, and leaking a potentially deadly gas, carbon monoxide, into the air. There are other indicators that carbon monoxide is present in the air:

    • Appearance of soot around your heating system
    • Lack of an upward draft in your chimney well
    • Abundance of moisture occurring on your walls, windows, and cold surfaces anywhere in your home
    • Appearance of rust build-up on pipe connectors, flue pipes, or appliance jacks
    • Water leaks emanating from the chimney, flue pipes, or vent bases
    • Rust build-up on the vent pipe outside your house

    The Noisiness of Your Heating Unit

    If your heating system has been making odd sounds like banging, snapping, clattering, and squealing, your heating system is on its last legs. At the same time you may notice the heating-unit blower running non-stop, or shutting off and on over and over. These are other signals your heating unit is headed for the recycling center sooner than later.

    Your Family’s Health

    Your family’s exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can cause nausea, dizziness, headaches, and other symptoms associated with the flu. This can happen if your old heating unit has formed cracks that permit the lethal gas to permeate your home. The possibility that carbon monoxide has spread through the air in your home demands quick action. This means pushing all the windows open as well as the doors, and leaving immediately. Call the fire department so they can come out to turn off the gas. Or you can call the gas company to do the same.

    Once you’re back inside your home contact an HVAC company to service your heating unit and advise you if a repair can be done, or you need a new heating system.

    It’s not only your family members, who are being affected by an ancient and ill-running heating system; your whole indoor environment is affected as well: dust is amassing quickly all over any exposed surfaces; you are experiencing static shocks; your plants are dying; and your wood floors and furniture splintering.

    Air Quality

    Older-model heating units don’t have the capability to freshen your indoor air and humidify it. So if you find the air in your home musty, or lacking ventilation it’s because your old heating system hasn’t the capacity to ventilate the air or freshen it. You’ll notice these and other signs of a decrepit heating system during the winter months. You’ll also note that your indoor allergies are worsening, and maybe you’re experiencing the drying-out of your nasal and throat passages, as well as dry, itchy skin.

    Decision Time

    The foregoing are all possible omens of a heating system in its decline. So should you wait until next season to buy a new heating system, while you keep the old one limping along with whatever band-aid repair has been made to it?

    The decision to be made is should you repair your heating system if it has been determined that a repair is all it needs? Or is it actually time to purchase a new heating system? With all the information we’ve provided in this blog, you can make a considered decision to either repair or buy before disaster strikes, taking into account the signs of an inefficient and creaking system. Or if you’ve done well by your heating system, and little or no repairs are needed, then you can probably delay the decision to buy a new heating system until the following year.

  7. How You Could Gain Using: Home Improvements, Tax Credits, Tax Basis, and Capital Gains

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    Most homeowner that files an annual tax return contrives to get a refund from the IRS, as large a refund as possible. You almost want to dream up deductions, but that’s tax fraud, darn it. However, there are ways you can take deductions by investing in home improvements.

    A whole host of federal, state, and local tax credits are yours for the claiming, and in this blog we will talk mainly about two:

    1. The Non-Business Energy Property Credit
    2. The Residential Energy Efficiency Property Credit

    Non-Business Energy Property Credit

    This credit allows you to take off 10% on specified energy-efficiency products that you have installed on your primary residence’s property. The credit stipulates your primary residence must be in the United States in order to be eligible for the credit.

    There are exceptions to this rule, in that some eligible energy-efficient products installed on your property you can claim the total cost of. The amount of the credit is flexible according to the type of property you purchase and install. The tax credit contains what is called a maximum lifetime credit capped at $500.00. Again, there are stipulations as to how this tax credit may be used, for example of the $500.00 limit only $200.00 of it is allowable for storm windows. But that’s how it is with the government that cherry-picks the way it is going to distribute the credit through certain federal agencies.

    Eligible energy-efficient enhancements under the Non-Business Energy Property Credit include (sans labor or installation expenses):

    • Insulation that protects against winter heat loss, or summer heat increase.
    • Outside windows, doors, as well as skylights.
    • Storm windows and doors (installation can only be done on specified kinds of windows and doors).
    • Roofing materials (metal and specified asphalt types) that protect against winter heat loss, or summer heat increase.
    • Other energy-efficiency property outlays along with contractors’ labor costs, including preparing, assembling, and installing such items as:
    • Electric heat pumps
    • Propane-, natural gas- and hot-water heaters
    • Propane, natural gas, and oil furnaces
    • The current technology for central air-circulating fans used in propane-, natural gas-

    and hot-water heaters and propane, natural gas and oil furnaces.

    • Biomass fuel stoves

    Again the limits on the maximum lifetime credit of $500 are categorized according to the type of energy-efficient product purchased and installed.

    Residential Energy-Efficient Property Credit

    This tax credit permits homeowners to take off 30% when they purchase green-energy products that are installed in the interior and exterior of their houses. Environmental-friendly equipment must fulfill energy-efficiency specs that are spelled out on the residential property credit form. Following is a list of qualifying equipment.

    • Small-wind energy
    • Geothermal heat pump
    • Fuel cell
    • Solar electric and water heating

    No cost limits are placed on many kinds of property under the Residential Energy-Efficiency Property Credit. Only fuel cell property has a cap of $500 according to maximum kilowatts of one-half of the property.

    Not just tax credits but rebates under the Residential Energy-Efficiency Property Tax are allowed. Rebates will cover the expense of the project but not beyond. Here is an itemization of eligible equipment:

    • Natural gas boilers (hot and steam). They must rate at 88%- and 82.5%-plus AFUE* ratings
    • Natural gas furnaces 95% AFUE+ (water, tankless water, indirect water heater 88% AFUE+)
    • Smart thermostats (programmable units and auto-scheduling units)
    • Air Sealing

    Only weatherization professionals can do the installation.

    • Wall Insulation

    Rebates can only be given for wall insulation that includes air sealing also. An approved weatherization professional must install these.

    • Attic Insulation

    Must be combined with air sealing and installed by an approved weatherization professional.

    • Furnace Duct Sealing

    Must be installed by an approved weatherization professional.

    The rebates on such property equipment range from $20 to $600.00. In some cases rebates are calculated according to square footage.

    The Residential Energy-Efficient Property Credit does not necessarily mean every property type is capped. Happily, if your credit runs over the taxes you owe, you can roll over the difference and apply it to the following years’ income tax return.

    You may say to yourself, these tax credits are all well and good, but is there anything else out there that can help me with the cost of buying and installing HVAC equipment, including alternative-energy products? Yes there are. You can get manufacturer rebates and manufacturer financing; federal grants; state-sponsored programs; an equity home improvement line of credit; bank loans; and financing from HVAC companies themselves. Pretty good, I’d say, and worth the time and effort to help you–at the very least–partially offset your investment costs in energy-efficient equipment.

    Yet there is one more way by which you can cut your expenses involved in home improvement projects. Selling your house. It’s delayed gratification I know, but it’s another opportunity when the time comes to pay yourself back for all those home improvements.

    First, let’s separate the wheat from the chaff. Home improvements are all those items that are added to your home’s tax basis. Such things as a new AC unit, water heater, furnace, and roof, for starters. But repair costs are not part of the tax basis equation, so let’s dispense with that.

    Capital Improvements, Tax Basis, and Capital Gains

    Home improvements, known as capital improvements, are added, like I referenced earlier, to your home’s tax basis, the selling price of your home. The present law stipulates that the initial $250,000 profit on the sale of your primary residence ($500,000 for marrieds) is tax-free. This may sound like manna from heaven, but according to tax experts, who understand the tax code, this generous exception may not suffice to protect the profit from your home’s sale. Therefore, it is essential to maintain meticulous records of all the home improvements you’ve invested in over time.

    If you want to find out the amount of profit you will receive when you put your house up for sale, add up all the expenses incurred, along with what you paid for your house. Then tack on the dollar amount of every home improvement you’ve made since you’ve lived in your home and reach a sum total. The sum total will be your adjusted basis. Now look at the difference between your adjusted basis and the sales price the home was bought for. If you end up making a profit and it is over $250,000 ($500,000 for marrieds) that capital gain could be taxable.

    Knowing this information in advance will help you to decide how much money you want to sink into capital improvements, in order to avoid exceeding the capital gains limit when you sell your home.

    There is more to this game than we’ve discussed here. Many variables play into the capital gains scenario: increased housing prices, a home business, and rental income are among some of them. Consulting with your tax accountant is the action to take ahead of the time you decide to sell your home. They will be able to advise you on all the finer points of home improvements, tax basis, and capital gains.

    We strongly recommend you to visit your taxes professional for more information on this options and others that might be available for you.

    *Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency

  8. How to Deal with a Furnace Breakdown During Severe Weather

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    Chicago residents, you know what the winter months are like: frigid temperatures, driving winds—especially hazardous wind chills—and whiteouts. The freezing temperatures that come with snowstorms, and whose effects are felt even after the storm have to be taking serious.

    Inside homes pipes can burst, sometimes because the furnace has broken down. The worst of all possible scenarios, an out-of-order furnace, threatens to compromise the safety and comfort of your family.

    What can you do to deal with a heating crisis, or better yet avoid it altogether? First and foremost, you can maintain your furnace’s air ducts. Small sized ducts or even closed vents can increase the change of overheating your furnace and short cycling. When your ductwork is not allowing your furnace to move enough airflow because it is too restrictive, your blower motor, inducer motor and your heater safety switches could get damaged. It is important you call a furnace repair specialist to check perform a static pressure test to make sure they are not blocked. You could wait to have this maintenance performed, but if your budget can handle it, err on the side of caution. Remember a better airflow will make your furnace last longer and will make your home more comfortable.

    Have you ever run with a heavy load tied to their ankles? You probably do it when you are exercising but not every single day. The same logic applies to your air ducts, if you have a restrictive ductwork, a dirty filter or close some vents you are putting a heavy load on your furnace and problems are around the corner. You can prevent it by calling your Aircor, your Chicago premier heating and air conditioning service provider.

    If despite your conscientious upkeep your furnace does go out (and hopefully not during the worst of the winter weather), you can perform some DIY maintenance on it. What follows below are some possible reasons why your furnace may have gone out on you, and what solutions you can apply to get your furnace working again.

    Air Filters, Pilot Light, and Thermostat

    First find out if your air filters are blocked, if your furnace doesn’t give off enough heat. Another sign of possible blocked air filters is if the furnace shuts down almost immediately after the blower starts up. Changing air filters is an easy job. Replacement filters are usually available at your local hardware store, or a home improvement center. Your owner’s manual can guide you on how to replace the air filter.

    Another reason could be the pilot light that is causing your furnace to malfunction. This could also be an easy fix. Check to make certain your power source is on, and then attempt to turn the pilot light on again if the initial try wasn’t successful. Caution: do not try to re-ignite the pilot light, using a match as it can be risky.

    Drafts can cause a pilot light to turn off. Using a little weather-stripping can help to fix the problem. If these simple solutions don’t work, you will need to contact a furnace repair specialist.

    Yet another cause of a malfunctioning furnace could be a broken thermostat. The signs to look for are: your furnace is not responding to the temperature set; your rooms are heating unevenly; or your furnace continuously cycles on and off.

    Ignoring Maintenance

    If you neglected to perform regular maintenance on your furnace, this could also cause it to malfunction. Maintenance should be performed every time a minor problem pops up. If you allow smaller maintenance problems to add up, eventually the sum of them could overwhelm the operation of your furnace and cause a breakdown.

    When You Need a Professional

    It’s wise to call in a furnace repair specialist annually to check the refrigerant levels are appropriate; the air filters remain unblocked; and your furnace is receiving enough voltage. One additional step your furnace repair specialist may do is to perform a fuel combustion test to see if your furnace is burning fuel in an efficient manner. All these maintenance checks are designed to help avoid maintenance issues in the future.

    Furnaces Don’t Live Forever

    And it may be just that your furnace has outlived its lifespan. You can expect your furnace, or any other of your HVAC systems to last on average 10–15 years. But if you run your system hard, or don’t know how to perform proper maintenance that keeps your furnace from running at peak efficiency, its life expectancy can be cut short. It may simply be an issue of wear and tear, and a furnace repair specialist can advise you on whether it’s worth replacing some parts or the furnace itself.

    Emergency Measures

    In spite of your best efforts and considering the age of your furnace it blows during (heaven forbid) the worst snow storm of the season here are some tips to keep you and your family’s home as comfortable as possible until a furnace repair specialist can arrive to repair your furnace:

    Always keep the number of your HVAC company at your fingertips so you can place a call immediately for emergency service. This is particularly essential as your neighborhood may be experiencing the same issues, possibly delaying the time a furnace repair specialist can get to your home.

    Make sure you keep additional blankets stored away for just such an emergency as when your furnace goes out. Also keep a dedicated supply of batteries and flashlights plus a charged mobile phone for when you lose electricity.

    If you are without heat you want to make sure your pipes don’t burst because the water flowing through them has iced over and expanded, causing your pipes to give way. One way to keep pipes warm—where you can—is to open any doors that house pipes. They could be contained in your kitchen or bathroom cabinets. By exposing the pipes to your home’s warmth it will keep them from bursting, avoiding another catastrophe.

    Service Contracts and Their Benefits

    Having gone over all the preventive measures you can take to keep your furnace in good working order, the best of all proactive steps is to sign a service contract with an HVAC company. Its greatest benefit to you is when and if your furnace breaks down, during a severe weather event, the service contract guarantees you’ll have a furnace repair specialist out to fix your furnace in record time. Without a service contract in place, you’ll experience undue stress in trying to find a furnace repair specialist, who can come to your home as soon as you need them. With a service contract, a furnace repair specialist will arrive at your home earlier rather than later, to restore warmth and comfort to your home.

    Another benefit of having a service contract is it will save you money in the long run with regularly scheduled preventive maintenance. This kind of ongoing care will pay dividends by reducing your energy bills because your furnace operates more effectively. You will also avoid having to spend more money on repairs down the line, and regularly scheduled maintenance will lessen the possibility of a breakdown.

    What’s really important and worth its weight in gold is the priority maintenance clause that puts you on the fast track to getting emergency repair service during the height of a cold weather crisis. Under this clause an on-call emergency furnace repair specialist will respond to your circumstances around the clock.

    Isn’t it worth your peace of mind to have a heating system that you can depend on to handle the worst of what weather events may come your way? And when it does break down to have it up and running in record time because you’ve got a service contract to fall back on? It’s hard to argue with this kind of logic. You are the provider of your family, whether male or female, and your family looks to you for safety and security in the event of a winter weather crisis. Don’t you owe it to them as well as yourself to be proactive when it comes to the upkeep of your furnace? And to be the calm center in their lives when your furnace goes out because you’ve signed a service contract?