1. How to Know if It’s Time to Replace Your Old Gas Heater

    Homeowners always want to know when it’s time to replace a furnace. With an appliance such as a furnace they don’t want to be caught flatfooted in the dead of winter when their furnace breathes its last breath, and their home ices over. So, when is the time for a furnace replacement? Find out more from your Chicago HVAC professionals.

    How Old is Old?

    In general, the average life of a gas furnace is 15 years. If your furnace has passed 15 years of service, and maintenance needs to be done more frequently, the writing is on the wall. That is, residential furnace replacement needs to happen soon. A general sign it needs replacement is it is not running as efficiently, and consequently your power bills are making a significant dent in your budget. Another way to know if your old gas furnace needs replacing is if you’re paying more than 15% it would cost to purchase a new furnace.

    How long do gas furnaces last? The cited 15- to 20-year average service of a furnace is not set in cement. Dependable furnaces can endure 20 to 30 years. To eliminate the guesswork of when you can expect your old gas heater needs replacement is to find the suggested average life of a furnace in your owner’s manual. Or an alternative method is to contact the manufacturer, and give them the model number of the unit.

    Different Temperatures for Different Rooms

    If a higher-than-normal power bill hasn’t caught your attention, then perhaps noticing temperature changes between rooms will. When an old gas heater is nearing the end of its lifespan, its increasing inefficiency can cause rooms to feel either warmer or colder, instead of the heat being evenly distributed across all rooms. Uneven temperatures registering from room to room can come about when a furnace has entered old age, and its antiquated ductwork no longer possesses the ability to register even heating from one room to another. Then furnace replacement needs to be considered.

    A Sooty Environment

    An old gas furnace entering the final years of its life can start to belch dust, dirt, even rust particulate matter. This not only is an insult to a well-kept home, but also poses an environmental hazard to family members, pets, and plants.

    If you see soot or rust accumulating near the furnace or its registers, this indicates the furnace is producing an excess of CO2. An increase in CO2 can create extreme dryness, affecting the interior of your home as well as its inhabitants, with symptoms such as dry eyes and irritated throats. It’s time to contact an HVAC contractor to find out if you need to replace your furnace.

    Noise Pollution

    Furnaces will typically make some sounds when they start up and shut down. However, if you find your furnace making more noise than usual, this may be an indicator furnace replacement is in the near future. The kinds of sounds to look for are: any noise that doesn’t sound right or is unfamiliar to you.

    Odor Problems

    Odd odors emanating from your furnace can be an indicator your unit is not operating correctly. Those peculiar odors can spell trouble for your household. If you experience a burning odor it could be traced to faulty wiring, or the wire insulation is burning. Don’t ignore strange odors; call an HVAC contractor to check your unit. Only they can tell you if you’ll need furnace replacement service from them.

    Running in Short Cycles

    If your furnace is struggling to stay on and shutting off too quickly, you may need to replace your furnace. But other issues that can be resolved without replacing your furnace include a grimy air filter, a dead battery, incorrect thermostat setting, or the fan control is not functioning correctly. As far as thermostat settings go, if you need to constantly adjust your thermostat, your furnace is signaling it is not functioning normally, and you may need furnace replacement in the home.

    Yellow Pilot Light

    It is wise as your old gas furnace ages into its golden years to check the pilot light regularly. You should see a blue flame, which means all is well. If you see the flame is yellow a problem exists. A yellow flame is an indicator the furnace is not burning hot enough, due to the thermocouple’s inability to heat to the required temperature. The result is the gas supply will shut down. At this point you might want to start researching the cost to replace your furnace.

    More seriously, a yellow pilot light could mean a deficiency in oxygen. A yellow pilot light can also mean carbon monoxide is present, a danger to family members’ health. Leaking carbon monoxide in the home is no joke. It is important to call in an HVAC professional immediately for possible residential furnace replacement service.

  2. Why is Your Furnace Blowing Cold Air?

    All gas, oil, and electric furnaces are sensitive and calibrated pieces of equipment. It only takes one or more components to be out-of-whack, or not tended to that creates problems. One of the more vexing and mysterious problems the Chicago HVAC specialists at Aircor see is when your furnace is blowing cold air when the heat is on. Or it could be the opposite: you feel cold air coming from vents when the heat is off.

    Whether you own a gas, electric, or oil furnace blowing cold air, troubleshooting why your furnace is blowing cold air instead of heat is where you should begin before resorting to calling in an HVAC contractor. Below we give some basic troubleshooting steps to help you figure out why your heater is blowing cold air in the house.

    Thermostat Setting

    At the top of the troubleshooting list is to first check your thermostat. If you notice the thermostat is set to ON, it is most certainly the problem. What’s occurring is your heater blower continues to operate, although your home has reached its maximum comfort level. The solution? Reset the thermostat to AUTO. Now the furnace will automatically shut off the blower once your home has been thoroughly warmed, and come back on when it needs to raise the temperature again.

    Overheated Furnace

    If your furnace is blowing cold air sometimes, it could be your central heater is overheating. What causes this to occur is the limit switch shut off the furnace blowers. It does this to stop the overheating, reducing the temperature to a non-dangerous level.

    What’s behind an overheated central heater? Most likely, it is a grimy filter. An obstructed filter will limit airflow, motivating your gas, electric, or oil furnace to take more time to heat the living spaces, causing overheating as a result. You can replace the filter and find out if it resolves the issue. If you own an oil furnace, changing the filter is more difficult and a dirty job, so contacting an HVAC pro to do it for you is the better option.

    Since we’ve mentioned oil furnaces, another reason for your oil furnace blowing cold air is the oil tank may be empty. Without fuel to light the burners the oil furnace will be blowing cold air instead of heat.

    Pilot Light Issue

    If your central heater is not blowing hot air in the house an unlit pilot light may be the cause. There are three approaches to dealing with an unlit pilot light:

    1. Try relighting the pilot light. If the flame catches and remains burning, then problem solved!
    2. Pilot light won’t fire up? Check the gas valve switch to see if it is on. If it’s on, inspect the pilot light to see if debris has accumulated and clean it. Cleaning the pilot will permit gas to flow to it.
    3. If the pilot light ignites but goes out again, the thermocouple is at the heart of the matter. Adjustment or replacement needs to happen. You’re mechanically inclined? Go for it. Otherwise get in touch with a heating contractor.

    Condensate Drain Lines

    If you’ve purchased a high-efficiency furnace the condensate drain lines may be plugged up, keeping the burners from initiating.

    Burner Problems

    If your oil or gas furnace burners have built-up dirt it could also prohibit the burners from igniting and the furnace blowing cold air.

    Ductwork Problems

    The ducts of your central heater could be causing the problem of the blower not blowing hot air in the house. Causation might be holes and leaks in the ductwork has allowed warm air to escape and the furnace blowing cold air instead of heat.

  3. Most Common Heating Problems in Winter

    Your furnace is instrumental for your survival in these harsh and windy Chicago winters—it might just be the only thing that will keep your toes from turning into icicles. But the moment you truly need your furnace is usually the moment that it breaks down. So what is most likely to go wrong with your furnace?

    In this blog, the Chicago HVAC team at Aircor will take a look at the most common furnace problems during the winter season. Keep these problems in mind so you know exactly when to call your HVAC service team!

    Loss of Heat

    It’s a problem, alright. A sudden loss of heat in your home is obviously a huge issue in the winter months, and it can be caused by a variety of malfunctions: a loss of power to your furnace, a pilot light or ignition system failure, or a blown fuse, for example. A loss of heat could also be caused by a lack of communication or a miscommunication with the thermostat, which can trick your furnace into thinking the heat is supposed to be off when it’s supposed to be one.

    Whatever the case, a loss of heat defeats the purpose of a heater—call your local furnace repair team to get your things sorted out.

    Overcycling

    Your furnace cycles all the time—that’s how it saves energy and maintains the desired temperature within your home. However, your furnace can cycle too much and too often due to clogged air filters or thermostat problems, which can make make your home way too hot or not hot enough. Plus, too much cycling can put strain on the components of your furnace, leading to component damage.

    Replacing your clogged air filters should be your first course of action if you’re dealing with frequent and repeated cycling—but if that doesn’t solve the problem, it’s time to call the furnace maintenance professionals.

    Inconsistent Room Temperatures

    You walk into your kitchen, and it’s hotter than a billy goat with a blowtorch—but when you walk into your bedroom, it’s colder than a polar bear’s toenails. What gives? One of the most common heating problems during the winter is inconsistent room temperatures—an issue that is usually caused by air leaks and poor insulation throughout the home. Seams that allow cold air in also let warm air out, which could be the reason you’re feeling varying temperatures from room to room. To fix this problem, using caulking solution to seal up seams and prevent air from entering or leaving your house, and make sure your doors are properly aligned and sealed with weatherstripping so you’re not letting all of that HVAC air out of your home.

    If your home is seaworthy, but you’re still dealing with inconsistent temperatures from room to room, you probably have a vent issue on your hands. Call the heating repair team in your area so they can take a look.

    Banging, Cracking, & Other Noises

    Furnaces will always make a little bit of noise—that’s just what moving parts of machinery do. However, if your furnace is making unusual noises aside from the normal hum, such as rattles, whistles, or loud banging, it could be a sign of a problem with your furnace. There are approximately 7849349672 reasons why your furnace could be making strange noises, including broken or faulty components, clogged air filters, thermostat issues, or ignition and pilot light fails, to name a few—have a heater maintenance crew check things out to find the real reason your heater is being so loud.

    Carbon Monoxide

    Carbon monoxide development is a fairly common problem with furnaces—and it’s also a deadly problem. When cracks develop near the heat exchange of your furnace, carbon monoxide leaks out—and this colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas can only be detected with a carbon monoxide detector once it enters your home.

    Cracks usually develop after 10 to 15 years of furnace use—it’s important to have a heater service technician inspect your furnace every year so you can avoid potentially fatal consequences.

    When do I need a new furnace?

    Homeowners are often unsure about whether it’s time to repair or replace their furnace—and ultimately, it’s up to a furnace maintenance professional to make that call. That’s where Aircor can help. Our furnace technicians can install, repair, and replace furnaces and make sure your air is warm, clean, and safe. Schedule an appointment with us today!

  4. Why Is My House So Cold?

    Brrrrrr! It’s not just cold right now—it’s Chicago cold. The Midwestern breeze can slice through the best parka or wool socks, and it can certainly break into your home. But how, exactly, does all that cold air get inside? Why is it that your house always seems cold, even when you’re cranking up the heat?

    In this blog, the Chicago HVAC professionals at Aircor will take a look at steps you can take to keep your house warm. Spoiler alert: you’re probably overlooking at least two thirds of these steps. Take care of these tasks, and your home will become warmer instantly, which will increase your level of comfort and lower your energy bill to boot!

    Step 1 – Check Your Windows & Doors

    If your home was built before 1990, it probably doesn’t have any sort of energy efficient windows or doors—and that could be a big reason why your home is seemingly cold all the time. Doors and windows with poor seals can let cold air in and warm air out, which makes your crank up your heater, and in turn, your energy bill—you’ll need to seal up these areas in order to keep all that hard-earned warm air you paid for inside of your home.

    While a complete window replacement would be the most effective option, replacing the seals on the bottoms of your windows and using thermal curtains will help slow down the rate at which cold air enters your home, and it’ll make sure you don’t have to turn up your heat quite as high when things cool off in the evenings. Be sure to realign your doors and replace their weatherstirpping as well—a drafty door is the most common culprit for air leakage in the home.

    Step 2 – Close Your Fireplace Damper

    Your fireplace damper opens and shuts to direct the flow of air from the inside to the outside—so when you leave it all the way open when you don’t have a fire in your firebox, all of the warm air in your home is literally being pulled up and out of your chimney. Easy solution here: go ahead and shut that damper all the way—but don’t forget to open it back up whenever you’re about to make a fire. Otherwise, you’ll be in for a smoky surprise.

    Step 3 – Change Up Your Ceiling Fans

    What if we told you that you could change the direction of your ceiling fans? Would you believe us? You should—changing the direction of your fans has a direct effect on how heat is dispersed throughout your home. Turn your fans clockwise, and you’ll push your warm air straight up toward the ceiling—not ideal when you’re trying get warm in your bed. But turn that bad boy to counterclockwise, and the blades will push your hot air down exactly where you want it. Mmmm… warm.

    So how do you achieve the magical feat of switching the direction of your ceiling fans? It’s easier than you think: just take a look at the middle of your fan, find the tiny switch, and flip it between clockwise and counterclockwise. Easy AND breezy.

    Step 4 – Install a Whole House Humidifier

    Your home should rest at around 40-45 percent humidity during the winter—but oftentimes, your heating system can suck the moisture out of your indoor air, which can actually make cold temperatures feel even colder. To solve this problem, place humidifiers throughout your home, or even better, have a whole house humidifier installed to make sure your home is perfectly humid in every room.


    That’s it for Part 1 of our series on why your house is so cold. Stay tuned for Part 2, and check out our other blog posts in the meantime!

  5. Tips for Home Comfort (And Energy Savings) This Winter

    Winter is coming here, and your comfort in your home is as important as ever. But how do you keep your home warm and cozy when that icy Chicago wind rolls through? In this blog, the Chicago HVAC specialists at Aircor will give you a few tips for keeping your home perfectly toasty this winter. With the right tools and strategies, you’ll enjoy your time in your home and save money on your energy bill to boot!

    Keep things insulated.

    The biggest battle you’ll face during the winter isn’t just about keeping the cold air out—it’s about keeping the warm air in. If your home is full of cracks and gaps, you’ll be losing all of that comfy and cozy air, and you’ll force your HVAC unit to work harder in order to produce a suitable amount of heat. This can cause damage to your HVAC system, and it’ll spike your energy bill, too.

    To prevent this problem, you’ll need to seal up the cracks and keep your home properly insulated. First, use caulking solution to seal up draft-prone seams around vents and pipes. Next, adjust your doors and use door stops and seals to ensure tight fits between doors and frames (this is a common area for drafts). Finally, use thermal curtains on your windows to slow the rate at which cold air enters your home. These steps will make your home more airtight than ever before, and will ensure your HVAC system doesn’t have to work too hard to heat up your home.

    Practice proper thermostat habits.

    For every degree you set your thermostat over 78 degrees in the summer, you’ll save around seven percent on your energy bill—per degree. Those are huge savings! The same concept still applies in the winter as well—so instead of jacking your heater up to 85 degrees to keep things warm, try keeping your thermostat at around 68 degrees while you’re at home.

    We get it—68 just doesn’t sound toasty enough. But it’ll keep your home at a consistently livable temperature, and you’ll save plenty of money in the process. The closer you set your thermostat to the outdoor temperature, the less energy you’ll consume—and that could save you 15 to 20 percent per year on your bill!

    Install a programmable thermostat.

    While setting your thermostat at a reasonable temperature is fine and dandy while you’re home, what happens when you’re not home? For some folks, coming home to an icy cold house is fine—but for others, well, they’d rather run that thermostat all day long (and pay the price for it) so they can come home to comfortable temperatures.

    Fortunately, there’s a better way: using a programmable thermostat. Instead of leaving your thermostat running or icing out your entire home, you can use your smartphone or other mobile device to create a schedule for your thermostat so you can have a comfortable home and maximum energy savings. Schedule your thermostat to turn off (or to a lower temperature) right before you leave for work, and then 20 minutes before you get home at the end of the day, schedule it to turn up the heat a bit so you can walk inside and take your shoes off without your toes freezing solid. You’ll save 7-10 percent on your energy bill, and you’ll always have the comfortable home you desire!

    Have your HVAC system serviced.

    It doesn’t matter how perfectly insulated your home is, or how efficient your thermostat usage is—if your HVAC system hasn’t been cleaned and serviced for awhile, you’re not going to get the warm air you want, and you’ll end up paying a premium on energy. You need experienced HVAC professionals to keep your HVAC system in good shape—and that’s where Aircor can help. Our friendly HVAC technicians can prepare your heating system for winter so you can maximize your savings and stay comfortable all winter long. Get started with us today!

  6. AC Tips: Before Calling an Air Conditioning Repair Technician

    Warm weather is not far off, specially in Chicago where oppressively hot days are the norm, you want to make sure your air conditioning unit will be able to handle the job of keeping your home cool. You especially want to avoid an emergency repair call if you can. The best way to reduce the odds of needing an HVAC air conditioning repair technician to come to your home that has now become a sweat lodge is to take some proactive steps to maintain your air conditioner unit in top working order to forestall its needing repair work done on the dog days of the year.

    If your air conditioning unit is not functioning, before you call an HVAC air conditioning repair technician to come out and find out what the problem is and possibly do repairs, here are some steps you can take to troubleshoot your air conditioner system beforehand, and maybe solve the problem yourself.

    Has the air conditioner unit not turned on at all? Don’t panic. Check out the following:

    Circuit Breaker

    It’s possible the circuit breaker has tripped. Are you running more than one appliance, using your lights and TV? Too many household items running at the same time can cause an overload of juice, causing the circuit breaker to shut off. Checking the circuit breaker to see if it has tripped, and returning the lever to its on position—if it has—will make you heave a sigh of relief you don’t have to spend money on repairs.

    Thermostat

    Inspect your thermostat to see if it has shut off, or only the blower fan is operating. A battery-operated air conditioner may only need the batteries replaced.

    Filters

    A grimy and blocked filter will interfere with air flow and lower cooling efficiency. Sometimes a filter that has gotten dirty and clogged can cause your air conditioning unit to form ice. Regularly inspect your filters and change them often to prevent the air conditioner from malfunctioning.

    Buildup of Ice

    Built-up ice on your AC air conditioning will interfere with its cooling feature. There are two methods to dealing with ice buildup: 1) shut the air conditioner unit off and operate the fan to aid in melting the ice fast. 2) turn off the air conditioner unit and wait for the ice to melt in due time.

    Ducts

    Check your ductwork to ensure you’re getting enough air flow. Dirty ducts will certainly impede airflow, so clean them if they need it. And while you’re checking your ductwork, look to see if a register has inadvertently been completely closed. Even a partially closed register will obstruct airflow to the ducts. 

    General Cleaning

    The entire AC air conditioning unit may just need a good cleaning to get it operating again. Consider giving the air conditioner unit a thorough cleaning before you determine it needs repairing. For the outside air conditioning unit, conscientiously wipe the fan blades and condenser fins. Caution: don’t try to clean the air conditioner unit while it is running.

    If it turns out your HVAC air conditioning system is actually out of commission, call an HVAC air conditioning repair technician to come out and discover what the real problem is. They will do a complete inspection of your air conditioner unit, pinpoint the problem or problems, repair them, and have your air conditioner unit up and running in no time.

  7. AC air conditioner Installation

    Aircor-Air-Conditioning-Repair-Chicago-HVAC-cooling-contractor

    If this is your first outing when it comes to installing a new air conditioning system in your home, this article will give you some basic information on:

    • The cost of installing an AC air conditioning system
    • Selecting and sizing a unit
    • What load calculations and BTUs are and why they matter
    • What EER and SEER are and how they influence air conditioning efficiency
    • Why ductwork is an essential component of air conditioner units

    Cost

    Depending on whether you need a central air conditioner unit installed or a window central air conditioner add-on, you can expect to pay as little as $150–$300 for a window unit, or as much as $7,000 for a central air conditioner unit (this figure depends on the square footage of your house). If your house needs ductwork you can about double your cost. The total expenditure for the job will depend on the type of system you choose.

     

    System Types

    Central Air Conditioning Unit

    This system uses a one-two punch, combining ductwork with your heating system to air condition your entire home.

    Split System

    The split system is of two types:

    • A ductless system
    • A two-unit system: one unit installed inside, the other installed outside

    Single-Stage and Two-Stage Cooling

    AC air conditioning units can also be categorized as single-stage and two-stage cooling. Reliant on the climate in your area, a single-stage or two-stage cooling unit will be recommended by the HVAC air conditioning repair technician.

    Single-Stage

    Single-stage runs at maximum capacity when the indoor temperature exceeds your thermostat’s setting. Then it shuts down until the temperature exceeds the thermostat setting again, cycling repeatedly in this manner. Single-stage is best for hot, muggy weather.

    Two-Stage

    Two-stage air conditioning units operate at maximum capacity, or two-thirds of maximum capacity. Depending on the temperature inside your home it will choose either single-stage or two-stage. Operating at two-thirds of maximum capacity will help save energy while simultaneously cooling your home. Two-stage is less noisy, produces purer air, and is cost-efficient.

     

    Home Size and BTUs

    BTU is an acronym for British Thermal Units, and are a factor in the type of air conditioning unit you’ll require for your house, based on its size.

    Another metric that relates to size is the load calculation. Load calculation relates to heat-gain affected by:

    • Climate
    • Insulation
    • Window / door locations
    • Direction your house faces
    • Square footage

    Load calculation breaks down into two types:

    • Whole house – uses ductwork already in place
    • Room-by-room – determines duct sizes for every room and the duct system’s configuration

    Good to know is if the air conditioning unit is undersized the unit won’t be capable of cooling the house completely when it’s sweltering outside. And the cost to run it will increase because it will take longer to cool down the space.

    If the unit is oversized, it will also be more expensive to run due to the need for more electricity. Lowering humidity will also be an issue. Cooling the air too quickly interferes with the volume of air circulation, which slows down moisture extraction, leaving the air feeling sticky.

     

    EER and SEER

    EER, the energy efficient ratio, applies to the cooling efficiency of air conditioning units. Each air conditioner is certified according to its EER.

    SEER, seasonal energy-efficiency rating, determines the number of BTUs an air conditioning unit will displace per watt of electricity used up. A high SEER rating of 13 and above means the air conditioner unit is cheaper to run, will usually be of higher quality, contains more safety features, is less noisy to operate, and less energy will be expended.

    You can typically expect to pay more for an air conditioner with a higher SEER. Federal government regulations now require new AC air conditioning units meet a SEER 13 minimum rating.

     

    Installation

    If you’re going to have either a central or split air conditioner installed, a HVAC air conditioning repair technician will be necessary for the installation process, Why a professional? A component of the air conditioning unit is refrigerant, a toxic chemical. Refrigerant cools the air and it can be only be handled by an EPA-licensed HVAC air conditioning repair technician.

    A HVAC air conditioning repair technician, who performs the initial assessment and determines the type of air conditioner you need, heads a team of assistant repair technicians. They will aid in doing the wiring, ductwork, and other operations necessary to install the AC unit. All of this will cost you more coin. Ask the HVAC air conditioning repair technician if purchasing the AC air conditioning unit yourself will cut corners on expenses. You could also ask them if the heating system ductwork already in place can be used to further defray your expenses.

     

    Ductwork

    Ductwork is necessary to support the air conditioning unit with air flow. If your home is relatively new you’ll have ductwork already installed. But if you’ve a much older home it’s probably outfitted with a convection heating system or baseboard heater sans ductwork. In this instance, in order to install a central air conditioning unit, you’ll need to also install ductwork and venting.

     

    Warranties

    Central air conditioners have a 5–15-year manufacturer’s warranty, covering equipment and parts. The contractor’s warranty, also included, covers labor when the air conditioner needs repairing.

    You can also purchase an extended warranty, but if you maintain your AC air conditioning unit religiously, the prohibitive cost of an extended warranty may not be necessary, saving you money.

  8. Take Advantage of Government Tax Credits to Install Energy-Efficient Systems and Green the Environment

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    The federal government provides incentives for installing energy-efficient HVAC systems. Its Department of Energy offers a package of energy-efficient tax credits for not only HVAC systems but also any other energy-savings enhancements, like storm windows and weather-stripping. The breakdown is as follows:

    Credit Maximum

    You may claim a lifetime credit maximum of 10% on your expenses to purchase and install an HVAC system, or any other energy-savings enhancements. The amount you can claim is capped at $500.00.

    Filing for the Lifetime Credit Maximum

    You can download IRS Form 5659 to file with your income tax return. Anything to do with the IRS; the devil is in the details, so don’t overlook any instructions, or you may not be considered eligible, according to their nit-picking bureaucratic processes

    Time Limit

    The time period to install an energy-tax-credit-eligible HVAC system expires on January 1, 2017. This means you must file by December 31, 2106.

    Documentation

    Keep the manufacturers’ warranties, certifications, and purchase receipts. You may need them to file the IRS Form 5659.

    Exceptions

    There are exceptions to the $500 credit limit and they are listed below:

    1. For a state-of-the-art main air-circulating fan the credit is capped at $50.00
    1. For an eligible oil furnace or hot water boiler, propane, and natural gas units $150.00 is the maximum you can claim.

    In the category of energy-efficient eligible products items would include central air conditioners and geothermal pumps, as well as the items listed in 2. The cap is $300.00. But please check on all this information, which is the most accurate available to date. Because it’s hard to keep up with the IRS guidelines as they are subject to change without warning for the consumer.

    Energy Star

    Energy Star on its website lists guidelines on the HVAC systems the federal government covers. Not every Energy Star-certified product is eligible for the energy-efficient tax credit. Energy Star is a reliable resource you can turn to for the correct information, in lieu of some contractors, who remain ignorant of the finer points of the energy-efficient tax credit program. Don’t depend on them. They will say anything to make a sale.

    Energy Efficiency and Your Pocketbook

    With the incentive to upgrade to green-energy HVAC products it is possible to lower your energy bills as much as 20% yearly. The average annual savings amounts to about $200.00.

    Your initial outlay will cost you but keep in mind the energy-savings down the road that will bring a return on investment. For a high-efficiency heating system expect to pay about $3,500 inclusive of installation, whereas a conventional heating system will set you back around $2,400.

    Exclusions on Heating Units

    Purchasing an Energy Star-certified product does not guarantee you can claim the energy-efficient tax credit in all cases. There are standards to be met to get the energy-efficient tax credit. The annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating must exceed a conventional heating system’s AFUE. For Energy Star-certified oil furnaces they must rate at 85% energy-efficiency, while some gas furnaces need to burn fuel at 90% efficiency.

    The Department of Energy asks for even higher AFUE ratings to claim the energy-efficiency tax credit: for natural or propane gas furnaces 95% and oil furnaces 95%. Boilers must also consume energy at an AFUE rating of 95%.

    Central Air Conditioner SEER Ratings

    Cooling system ratings known as seasonal energy-efficiency ratio (SEER) and energy-efficient ratio (EER) are Energy Star standards. The ratings vary according to the type of system: split system ratings are SEER 16-plus and EER 13-plus. For package systems, SEER 14-plus and EER 12-plus. These efficiency standards can change without notice, so double-check them on the Energy Star website.

    Return on Investment

    It usually takes about 10 years in energy-efficient savings to compensate for the expense of investing in new heating and cooling systems. But this time period can alter significantly if there are changes in fuel prices. A value-added benefit, although not evident in your initial investment in an HVAC product, is the reduction of your carbon footprint on the environment, as well as a more comfortable indoor environment for you and your family.

    Another benefit to consider is when you sell your home. It’s not that the few thousand dollars you’ve spent to buy a heating system will translate to an increase in your home’s sale price. Potential savings will come in the form of a trade-off with some buyers. This means buyers may not ask that you repair your HVAC system, or bargain for a credit as long as your HVAC system is up to snuff.

    Other Energy-Efficient Tax Credits

    There are two categories under which you may qualify for a tax credit when you make home improvements:

    1. Non-Business Energy Property Credit
    2. Residential Energy-Efficient Property Credit

    Non-Business Energy Property Credit for Eligible Property

    Homeowners can deduct 10% on the cost of the following products, exclusive of labor / installation expenses:

    • Any energy-efficient insulation material
    • Storm windows and doors (conditions apply)
    • Energy-efficient roofing materials
    • Central cooling units (limit: $300)
    • Heating units (boilers) for hot water, natural gas, and propane
    • Heating units (furnaces) (limit: $300)
    • State-of-the-art fans (for propane, oil, and natural gas heating units)
    • Biomass fuel stoves

    Non-Business Energy Property Credit caps the lifetime credit at $500

    Here are some more energy-efficient items you can claim for a tax credit:

    • Storm windows (limit: $200)
    • State-of-the-art air-circulating fan (limit: $50)
    • Eligible fuels: oil furnace (propane and natural gas); hot water boiler (limit: $150)

    Residential Energy-Efficient Property Credit for Eligible Property

    Green-energy products are incentivized at 30% of the purchase price. This tax credit has no cap in many cases, the exception being fuel cell property, capped at $500 depending on kilowatt usage.

  9. Heating System Tune-Ups: Do You Call an HVAC Professional or do it Yourself?

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    The fall and winter months are when your heating bills start to climb to an unhealthy level. According to those, who track and compile data on energy usage the standard cost of providing heat to consumers was approximately $1,000 in 2010. Is it any wonder that folks are reluctant to raid their bank accounts for more money to get a professional tune-up for their heating systems? However, there are six good reasons to hire an HVAC repair and maintenance technician to perform an annual tune-up on your heating system.

    1. Airflow. If the airflow of your furnace is hindered it will have to work harder and require more repairs as it ages. Its life expectancy will also be cut short.
    1. Safety Concerns. The burning of fuel must be regulated for the safe and efficient operation of your heating system. Carbon monoxide, a potentially dangerous gas, can cause serious health conditions and even death in the most extreme cases. Its level must be checked to avoid harm to you and your family.
    1. Fewer Repairs. Finding minor problems during an annual checkup will put the kibosh on them, and avoid having them develop into bigger problems and more repair expense.
    1. Avoids a Major Inconvenience. Getting an annual tune-up done before the full impact of cold winter days and nights arrives will avoid having to put in an emergency call to an HVAC repair technician. You may have trouble finding a professional to come out as soon as possible because other people in your community may be having heating system breakdowns as well. Emergency repairs also cost more.

    This is why it’s a good idea to buy a service contract with a priority maintenance clause (PMC) included in it. With a PMC there are HVAC repair technicians on-call 24 / 7 to deliver prompt services in the event of an emergency breakdown of your heating system.

    1. Increases Operation Efficiency of Your Furnace. The cleaning and checking of your heating system’s burner and heat exchanger will keep it running safely and efficiently during those harsh and cold winter months.
    1. Honoring the Manufacturer’s Warranty. Many furnace manufacturers demand that you routinely perform maintenance work on your heating system, or else you will risk voiding the warranty. Having an annual tune-up done professionally by an HVAC maintenance technician will meet the requirement and keep your warranty in force.

    You’re saying okay, I get it. But can’t I do this myself? Well no, HVAC maintenance and repair technicians are the ones, who have the training and certifications necessary, to inspect your HVAC heating system; perform maintenance work; troubleshoot problems and repair them; and help you extend the lifespan of your heating system. And they know just what to look for during an inspection to keep you and your family safe from harm: for example, carbon monoxide levels if too high could leak the potentially fatal gas into your living quarters, causing serious health conditions and in some cases death. This alone is enough of a reason to get an annual tune-up of your heating system.

    We’re playing devil’s advocate here for a practical reason. You may be a homeowner, who can’t tell a screwdriver from a wrench, but if you’re technically inclined: for instance, you revel in working on your car; your mechanical skills could be easily transferred to doing a furnace tune-up, another mechanical job. If you’re gung-ho about learning how to do a tune-up on your heating system, here are some basic guidelines on the procedures.

    Heating System Infrastructure and How it Functions

    To start, let’s talk about what makes up your home heating system, and how it works.

    There are three components: (1) the heat sensor (commonly known as the thermostat), which calibrates your home’s temperature. As soon as the temperature decreases the (2) blower kicks in, which ignites the burner, creating combustion. The blower causes the air to travel over the (3) heat exchanger, which increases the heat exchanger’s temperature, delivering it all through your home, using the heating ducts. The cool air still in the room is cycled back to your furnace, using return ducts where the warming process begins again. The warm- and cool-air cycles keep on going until the temperature level reaches the thermostat setting you have selected. At this point the thermostat sends a message to the furnace to turn off.

    Take a Look under the Hood

    Begin by examining your furnace. If you find signs of black soot or traces of heater debris, it’s a bad sign. To troubleshoot this problem further, raise the thermostat to turn on your furnace, then inspect the burner flames. You should be seeing flames that are constant and blue. If you see flames that are either orange or yellow and fluttering, stop right there. It’s time to call in a heating repair specialist to solve either or both of these issues. If your furnace passes the soot and burner-flame test, you can move on to the next step, cleaning.

    Cleaning Your Furnace

    Lower your thermostat and let your heating system cool down. It’s also best to exercise caution and shut off your circuit breaker, which powers your furnace. Once your furnace has cooled completely pull off its side panels, and using a long-nozzle vacuum attachment suck up whatever dust has built up. You can use a moist cloth to remove dust from the blower fan blades, and other places too remote for the vacuum nozzle to access. If you’ve got an older-model furnace you need to examine your blower fan’s oil cups, which are placed at both terminals of the central shaft. Apply a little oil to them.

    Repairing Your Furnace

    Depending on your furnace model, it may contain either a direct-drive or a fan-belt drive. If the first is the case you need not do anything. If it’s the latter inspect the fan belt to see how it looks. Check underneath the fan belt to see if there are any cracks, a symptom of its being dried out by the heat. A deteriorated fan belt needs replacement at this point. Just make sure you purchase one with the same dimensions.

    Inspecting the belt’s tension is a simple procedure. Just press on it in a downward direction. If it is correctly adjusted you should see approximately a half-inch of motion. If over or below, you can calibrate the tension. Slacken the mounts on the electric motor, shifting the motor to obtain the correct tension.

    Reassembling the Furnace

    A piece of cake, you just put back on the side panels and turn on the circuit breaker.

    A Little Maintenance Tip

    During the cold months it’s good maintenance to replace your furnace’s filter every month. Be proactive though and start with a new filter before the weather turns cold.

    Even though you can perform an annual tune-up yourself, maintaining your furnace’s efficient operation, having an HVAC pro come out every three to four years is a wise use of your money. The reason for this is HVAC specialists are skilled in detecting components that can deteriorate as your heating system ages. Using specialized tools they can check to see if those components are still operating as they should.

    The bottom line is to use your best judgment when deciding whether or not to perform a tune-up on your heating system, or call in an HVAC repair and maintenance technician.

  10. Smart Thermostats Manage Your Home Environment for More Ease and Comfort

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    I don’t need to tell you that heating and cooling system utility bills are astronomically high. You already know. But did you know energy-consumption waste is the main culprit in driving up your energy bills? There are many steps you can take to lower your energy bill, among them sealing leaks to prevent cold air from entering your living space; using the sun to keep your home warmer during the day; shielding your windows and doors from drafts; weather-stripping to prevent cold air from entering, and more.

    Programmable Thermostats: Energy-Efficiency in Action

    One of the key ways to also conserve energy consumption is to calibrate your thermostat at night, and when you are away from home. Performing this step will save you anywhere from 12%–15% off your power bill. The drawback to manually setting and re-setting your thermostat is that you will still come home to a house that is uncomfortably cold or hot. This is why purchasing a programmable thermostat is a wise decision in terms of allowing you to designate at what times you desire your thermostat to be turned on and off, day or night, at home or away from home. Two other benefits of using a programmable thermostat are: (1) it will help to lower your energy bill and (2) lengthen the life of your HVAC units.

    Many consumers in general think a programmable thermostat and a smart thermostat are one and the same, but they’re not. Programmable thermostats can determine temperature regulation, which delivers the benefits of energy conservation, known as smart technology. However, a smart thermostat has an additional feature called auto scheduling, which allows you to program it. This means if the daily routines of your family are run on a consistent schedule, auto scheduling, using the settings you enter into the smart thermostat will take over, relieving you of manually needing to set and re-set your thermostat. In addition, if your family’s schedules are not predictable from one day to the next the smart thermostat will become aware of the comings and goings of family members, and adjust temperature regulation accordingly. In fact, as time passes the smart thermostat will monitor your home’s temperature with more accuracy. A smart thermostat has built-in flexibility in that you needn’t use the smart technology if it doesn’t suit your lifestyle.

    Temperature Management

    Top-of-the-line digital thermostats are masters at controlling temperatures of all HVAC units. The best models on the market support programmable fans on your AC unit. Once the compressor shuts down the programmable fan will continue to operate for a short duration, using the remaining cold air in your AC unit, or pull in fresh air from outside your house. This is energy efficiency at its best. Another smart thermostat feature is auto changeover, which permits the thermostat to switch back and forth between cooling and heating functions as necessary.

    Energy Savings through Efficiency Features

    Here are some pointers on what to look for in a smart thermostat to help save energy consumption:

    Temperature Deviation

    Standard digital thermostats have a deviation of one degree or less. This is beneficial in that you get optimal comfort but your HVAC unit will turn on and off more often, causing your HVAC unit to run harder, shortening its lifespan. In terms of energy efficiency you would be well advised to choose a digital thermostat, whose deviation is wider because it will consume less energy. And why? The temperature will alter more before the HVAC unit is initiated.

    One-Phase vs. Multi-Phase

    A one-phase digital thermostat is limited to just shutting on and off. But if this meets your needs, go with a one-phase digital thermostat. However, a multi-phase digital thermostat has three automated heating levels: low, medium, and high. It is programmed to automatically proceed from level one to level two to level three to quickly heat up your home as necessary, until the optimal comfort temperature has been reached.

    Energy Saving through Auto Scheduling

    Digital thermostats in general are made to save energy, their reason for being. But the best ones have auto scheduling. Not only can auto scheduling determine your family’s daily routines and habits, but can also monitor weather patterns in your area. The smart thermostat can also find out about your preferences.

    Geofencing

    Smart thermostats’ motion sensors permit your HVAC systems to identify and respond on days when you arrive home earlier or later than you normally do. The way the geofencing feature works is it secures an area around the perimeter of your house that integrates with the location of your smart phone. Your smart thermostat will switch to an away setting as you move beyond your house’s geofencing area and return to its usual setting, warming your home to a comfortable level by the time you enter your house. The benefit is that no energy is expended in cooling or heating your house while no one’s home.

    Home Automation System

    If you have a home automation system (HAS), find out if the smart thermostat you’re interested in buying will be compatible with your HAS. The smart thermostat’s Wi-Fi feature will integrate with your iPad or smart phone, enabling you to adjust settings whenever, wherever, or however long you are away from your home.

    DIY or Professional HVAC Installation?

    You have the choice to either have your smart thermostat professionally installed, or perform the installation yourself, even on the premier models. If you decide you’d like to take on the challenge of doing the installation yourself, your best bet is to seek out a manufacturer that provides self-installation tutorials. If you want to ensure you get the right smart thermostat for your HVAC units, look for a company that has an online tool to see if the digital thermostat you’re considering is compatible with the HVAC units in your home.

    Tech Support

    The best-quality smart thermostat companies provide a variety of resources to turn to, regarding the installation, operation, and troubleshooting of your digital thermostat. The customer care choices can range from email to phone to live-chat tech support. Some manufacturers also host online forums where you can interact with technical support professionals, as well as other users about software issues, or the operation of your smart thermostat. The more resources a company provides the better for you because you can draw from a breadth of knowledge to find the solution to any software problem you may be experiencing.

    Another strong selling point for buying the best digital thermostats is the length of their warranties, which can range anywhere from two to five years.

    Today energy-efficiency is important, not only in terms of lowering your power bills, but also in preventing your heating and cooling systems from working overtime, making them last longer.