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

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

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

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

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

    The Age of Your Heating System

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

    The Increase in Your Energy Bills

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

    The Frequency of Repair Work

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

    The Functioning of Your Thermostat

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

    The Functioning of Your Burner Flame

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

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

    The Noisiness of Your Heating Unit

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

    Your Family’s Health

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

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

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

    Air Quality

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

    Decision Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Non-Business Energy Property Credit

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

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

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

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

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

    • Biomass fuel stoves

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

    Residential Energy-Efficient Property Credit

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

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

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

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

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

    Only weatherization professionals can do the installation.

    • Wall Insulation

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

    • Attic Insulation

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

    • Furnace Duct Sealing

    Must be installed by an approved weatherization professional.

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

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

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

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

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

    Capital Improvements, Tax Basis, and Capital Gains

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

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

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

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

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

    *Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Air Filters, Pilot Light, and Thermostat

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

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

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

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

    Ignoring Maintenance

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

    When You Need a Professional

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

    Furnaces Don’t Live Forever

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

    Emergency Measures

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

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

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

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

    Service Contracts and Their Benefits

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

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

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

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