1. 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!

  2. Most Common Furnace Issues

    Is there are a word more brutal than brutal? If so, that’s the word you’d use to describe winter in Chicago. With January and February temperatures diving below zero, and that Windy City wind chill making things even colder (down to -20 degrees in some cases), staying warm in winter is incredibly important throughout Chicago and the surrounding areas.

    But if your heating system or furnace isn’t working properly, you’re going to spend more on heating than you’d like, you’ll put your system at risk for damage, and you won’t have that warm and comfortable air that keeps your boogers from turning into icicles. That’s cold.

    So what problems are most likely to happen to your furnace during the wintertime? What should you look out for in order to avoid heating issues in your home? In this blog, the Chicago HVAC specialists at Aircor will discuss the most common issues that arise with furnaces and heating systems. Be sure to call your heater repair team at Aircor if you encounter any of these problems throughout the chilliest months of the year!

    Wear & Tear

    Furnaces are made of plenty of mechanical components like belts, bearings, and fans—and if any of these pieces break down or malfunction, your system is going to experience overheating, no heat, or intermittent heat. That’s just the way it goes—parts of machinery will break down over time after heavy use, and you’ll need for them to be replaced. If your system breaks down due to wear and tear, get in touch with your local heater repair team for a quick fix.

    Dirty or Clogged Filters

    Replacing your filter(s) is one of the most important things you can do to keep your furnace healthy and your indoor air clean—you should ideally replace filters once a month, or once every two months in seasons where you don’t use your furnace as much. But if you wait longer than that, you’re putting your heating system at risk for damage, and you’re compromising the quality of your indoor air. Keep some spare filters on hand so you can always change them on time, and have the heater maintenance guys in your neighborhood clean your system so it runs smoothly and produces clean and comfortable air.

    Pilot or Ignition Control Problems

    Pilot and ignition control systems are the two most common systems in furnaces and HVAC units today—and if they aren’t working properly, there’s a chance you end up with no heat at all. Unfortunately, the components have a higher likelihood of malfunctioning than most parts of heating units. Whenever you turn on your thermostat to request heat, these components are supposed to kick into motion—but if they don’t, you’ll need to give your local furnace repair team a shout.

    Thermostat Malfunction

    A faulty thermostat can cause a wide variety of problems for your heating system—it can create heating malfunctions that can lead to the constant stream of heat, intermittent heat, or no heat at all, and it can stop your fan from functioning, which means you’ll be producing heat without a fan to direct that heat through your home. If you think you might have a thermostat malfunction, you’ll need to call the HVAC repair professionals to sort things out.

    Lack of Maintenance

    You could spend thousands of dollars on the latest and greatest furnace or heating system—but it won’t mean a darn thing if you don’t keep it properly maintained. Deciding to ignore routine maintenance for your furnace has its consequences—it can make your furnace work harder to produce heat, which can spike your energy bill, it can diminish the indoor air quality of your home, and it can even cause costly damage to your heating system, which will be much more expensive than routine maintenance. If you’re going to keep your furnace and energy bill in good shape, you need the best in HVAC maintenance professionals—and that’s where Aircor can help. Our experienced HVAC team offers heating installation, maintenance, and repair services throughout Chicago—so no matter what issues you have with your heating system, you’ll stay warm throughout the brutal Chicago winter. Don’t wait until the brutally cold weather sets in—schedule an appointment with Aircor today!

  3. When It’s Time for an Air Conditioning Tune-Up

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    HVAC air conditioning tune-ups are a necessity to keep your air conditioning humming along. And as a matter of course air conditioner tune-ups should be performed twice a year, particularly in the spring before the hot and humid days of summer arrive.

    If you’ve been lax about scheduling a tune-up for your air conditioner you could be caught unawares in the middle of a heat wave, when your air conditioner has to work its hardest to keep your home cool. If it’s dirty and neglected and straining to cool your home, a breakdown is not surprising.

    Before you find yourself in the middle of an air conditioning crisis, here are some signs you can be aware of when your air conditioner is showing signs of strain, and threatening to break down:

    • If you’ve been operating your air conditioning unit day and night, and not getting relief from the heat, check one of the supply registers by putting your hand above one of them. The chances are the air will feel warm. This is an indicator your air conditioner is undercooling your home, or maybe not cooling it, period. If you find the air is cool enough but the airflow is weak, this means cool air can’t spread throughout your home. Two reasons could be the cause of the problem: a leaky duct or a worn-out filter.
    • Do you find the air conditioning is shutting on and off too often? We’re talking about a span of a few seconds. When this occurs the air conditioner is not able to remove excessive moisture from the air, leaving you with humid and stifling air. The constant turning on and off causes more wear-and-tear on the air conditioner components.
    • Are you feeling too hot in one room and too cold in another? Aside from poor insulation, direct exposure to the sun, or windows that let in too much air, your air conditioner might be the cause.
    • If you discover an outdoor air conditioner part that looks like it is leaking, the cause could be an obstructed or damaged drain tube. Although not considered a grave problem, the longer you delay getting it repaired, the more likely you will develop a mold problem.
    • If you’ve had your air conditioner a number of years you’ve become acquainted with how it should behave. Any deviation from the normal sounds of its operation should be a red flag you need a tune-up sooner rather than later. Typical sounds your air conditioner is malfunctioning are squeaking, shrieking, scraping, or some sound that hasn’t shown up before. Irregular sounds demand you schedule an appointment for an air conditioner tune-up immediately before a serious problem develops.
    • If you are becoming aware of musty odors emanating from your air conditioning, mold is growing in some unknown part of your air conditioner. If you smell sharp or burning odors, the cause might be burnt-out wire insulation. The only way to take care of this problem is to call for an air conditioning tune-up. The HVAC air conditioning repair technician will know how to rid the air conditioner of the odors and repair whatever has caused them.

    If you’re finding yourself needing to dust more frequently, it could be a dirty and undermaintained air conditioning unit is at the root of it. When dirt and dust have been allowed to accumulate on the air conditioning unit parts, the air blower will blow the built-up dust into your air. An HVAC air conditioning repair technician can come out, and do a thorough cleaning of all the air conditioning parts, which will have the air conditioner running like new again.

  4. 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.

  5. AC air conditioner Installation

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    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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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.