Home Tips

HVAC Home Tips For Atlanta Homeowners

Most U.S. homes are heated with either furnaces or boilers. Furnaces heat air and distribute the heated air through the house using ducts. Boilers heat water, and provide either hot water or steam for heating. Steam is distributed via pipes to steam radiators, and hot water can be distributed via baseboard radiators or radiant floor systems, or can heat air via a coil. Steam boilers operate at a higher temperature than hot water boilers, and are inherently less efficient, but high-efficiency versions of all types of furnaces and boilers are currently available.

Understanding the Efficiency Rating of Furnaces and Boilers

A central furnace or boiler's efficiency is measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). The Federal Trade Commission requires new furnaces or boilers to display their AFUE so consumers can compare heating efficiencies of various models. AFUE is a measure of how efficient the appliance is in converting the energy in its fuel to heat over the course of a typical year.

Specifically, AFUE is the ratio of annual heat output of the furnace or boiler compared to the total annual fossil fuel energy consumed by a furnace or boiler. An AFUE of 90% means that 90% of the energy in the fuel becomes heat for the home and the other 10% escapes up the chimney and elsewhere. AFUE doesn't include the heat losses of the duct system or piping, which can be as much as 35% of the energy for output of the furnace when ducts are located in the attic, garage, or other partially conditioned or unconditioned space.

An all-electric furnace or boiler has no flue loss through a chimney. The AFUE rating for an all-electric furnace or boiler is between 95% and 100%. The lower values are for units installed outdoors because they have greater jacket heat loss. However, despite their high efficiency, the higher cost of electricity in most parts of the country makes all-electric furnaces or boilers an uneconomic choice. If you are interested in electric heating, consider installing a heat pump system.

You can identify and compare a system's efficiency by not only its AFUE but also by its equipment features.

Old, low-efficiency heating systems:

  • Natural draft that creates a flow of combustion gases
  • Continuous pilot light
  • Heavy heat exchanger
  • 56% to 70% AFUE.

Mid-efficiency heating systems:

  • Exhaust fan controls the flow of combustion air and combustion gases more precisely
  • Electronic ignition (no pilot light)
  • Compact size and lighter weight to reduce cycling losses
  • Small-diameter flue pipe
  • 80% to 83% AFUE.

High-efficiency heating systems:

  • Condensing flue gases in a second heat exchanger for extra efficiency
  • Sealed combustion
  • 90% to 98.5% AFUE.

Retrofitting Your Furnace or Boiler

Furnaces and boilers can be retrofitted to increase their efficiency. These upgrades improve the safety and efficiency of otherwise sound, older systems. The costs of retrofits should be carefully weighed against the cost of a new boiler or furnace, especially if replacement is likely within a few years or if you wish to switch to a different system for other reasons, such as adding air conditioning. If you choose to replace your heating system, you'll have the opportunity to install equipment that incorporates the most energy-efficient heating technologies available.

Other retrofitting options that can improve a system's energy efficiency include installing programmable thermostats, upgrading ductwork in forced-air systems, and adding zone control for hot-water systems.

Replacing Your Furnace or Boiler

Although older furnace and boiler systems had efficiencies in the range of 56% to 70%, modern conventional heating systems can achieve efficiencies as high as 98.5%, converting nearly all the fuel to useful heat for your home. Energy efficiency upgrades and a new high-efficiency heating system can often cut your fuel bills and your furnace's pollution output in half. Upgrading your furnace or boiler from 56% to 90% efficiency in an average cold-climate house will save 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year if you heat with gas, or 2.5 tons if you heat with oil.

If your furnace or boiler is old, worn out, inefficient, or significantly oversized, the simplest solution is to replace it with a modern high-efficiency model. Old coal burners that were switched over to oil or gas are prime candidates for replacement, as well as gas furnaces with pilot lights rather than electronic ignitions. Newer systems may be more efficient but are still likely to be oversized, and can often be modified to lower their operating capacity.

Before buying a new furnace or boiler or modifying your existing unit, first make every effort to improve the energy efficiency of your home, then have a heating contractor size your furnace. Energy-efficiency improvements will save money on a new furnace or boiler, because you can purchase a smaller unit. A properly sized furnace or boiler will operate most efficiently, and you'll want to choose a dependable unit and compare the warranties of each furnace or boiler you’re considering.

When shopping for high-efficiency furnaces and boilers, look for the ENERGY STAR® label. If you live in a cold climate, it usually makes sense to invest in the highest-efficiency system. In milder climates with lower annual heating costs, the extra investment required to go from 80% to 90% to 95% efficiency may be hard to justify.

Specify a sealed combustion furnace or boiler, which will bring outside air directly into the burner and exhaust flue gases (combustion products) directly to the outside, without the need for a draft hood or damper. Furnaces and boilers that are not sealed-combustion units draw heated air into the unit for combustion and then send that air up the chimney, wasting the energy that was used to heat the air. Sealed-combustion units avoid that problem and also pose no risk of introducing dangerous combustion gases into your house. In furnaces that are not sealed-combustion units, backdrafting of combustion gases can be a big problem.

High-efficiency sealed-combustion units generally produce an acidic exhaust gas that is not suitable for old, unlined chimneys, so the exhaust gas should either be vented through a new duct or the chimney should be lined to accommodate the acidic gas.

Maintaining Furnaces and Boilers

The following maintenance should be provided by a heating system professional.

All systems:

  • Check the condition of your vent connection pipe and chimney. Parts of the venting system may have deteriorated over time. Chimney problems can be expensive to repair, and may help justify installing new heating equipment that won't use the existing chimney.
  • Check the physical integrity of the heat exchanger. Leaky boiler heat exchangers leak water and are easy to spot. Furnace heat exchangers mix combustion gases with house air when they leak—an important safety reason to have them inspected.
  • Adjust the controls on the boiler or furnace to provide optimum water and air temperature settings for both efficiency and comfort.
  • If you're considering replacing or retrofitting your existing heating system, have the technician perform a combustion-efficiency test.

Forced Air Systems:

  • Check the combustion chamber for cracks
  • Test for carbon monoxide (CO) and remedy if found
  • Adjust blower control and supply-air temperature
  • Clean and oil the blower
  • Remove dirt, soot, or corrosion from the furnace or boiler
  • Check fuel input and flame characteristics, and adjust if necessary
  • Seal connections between the furnace and main ducts.

 

A quality, portable air purifier is one of the most effective ways to improve the health of your house. Shopping for one can be a daunting task. Because air purifiers are not all created equal, you need to know what to look for and what to avoid. Two things to consider are your budget and the size of your space. Most brands will clearly reveal the amount of square footage they effectively clean. With a little knowledge, you’ll be breathing a whole lot easier.

Look for a multistage filtration process. Air cleaning devices use a combination of several types of cleaning methods which can include:

  1. A Pre-filter
  2. Activated carbon / zeolite
  3. A HEPA filter / HyperHEPA® / Nano Coil
  4. Electrostatic filtration
  5. Negative ion generation
  6. Ozone
  7. Ultraviolet light

TIP #1: The Prefilter

A prefilter is essential to trap large particles such as dust, hair and pet dander. Be sure your unit has a prefilter and that you change per the manufacturers recommendations; usually once or twice a year.

TIP #2: Activated Carbon / Zeolite

Activated carbon is important because this part of the filtration process actually adsorbs toxic gas molecules like cigarette smoke, gases, odors, mildew and volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde and pesticides. It works by adsorption, not to be confused with absorption. “Adsorption” occurs when materials attach through a chemical reaction, ultimately, catching smaller dust particles than a HEPA filter. Zeolite is a natural mineral that can be added to absorb certain gas molecules including formaldehyde, ammonia and carbon monoxide.

TIP #3: HEPA / HyperHEPA® / Nano Coil Filtration

High-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters are 99.97 percent efficient in removing particles 0.3 microns in size or greater (ie: dust, pollen, mold spores). Look for a non-petrochemical, true medical grade HEPA filter. HEPA filters are paper-like filters made of randomly positioned fibers that create narrow passages with many twists and turns. As the air passes through, particles are trapped, clogging holes and making the grid smaller, which enables the filter to be even more efficient with ongoing use. The IQAir uses something unique called a HyperHEPA® to filter harmful ultrafine pollution particles down to 0.003 microns in size.

Nano Coil Technology removes 99% of airborne contaminants, reduces bacteria and kills cold and flu viruses. It’s five times better than HEPA in clearing the air of pet hair, fur, dander, dust and mold. This technology cleans microscopic particles down to 0.05 microns.

TIP #4: UV-C Light

An ultraviolet C lamp emits short-wave ultraviolet light that kills airborne microorganisms captured on the HEPA media surface. UV-C light is the same technology used by hospitals for sanitization, killing 99.9% of germs, which can cause colds or flu. 

TIP #5: Avoid Ozone Producing Filtration

Electrostatic precipitators remove pollutant particles by charging them as they pass through and collect them on an oppositely charged metal plate or filter; producing some ozone as a byproduct. Even small amounts of ozone, a lung irritant, are not recommended.

The negative ion generator is a unit that changes the electrical charge of its surroundings. It attracts particles and dust, which then drop out of the air onto the floor near the unit. The dust or pollen is taken out of the air, but these particles are then stuck to the wall or items in the room that the air purifier is cleaning. The particles can easily become loose and circulate the air again. Some negative ion generators also emit potentially harmful levels of ozone as a byproduct and should be avoided.

Ozone generators release ozone (O3), a toxic gas, into the air and produce relatively large amounts of this gas by design. While ozone in the upper atmosphere protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, ground-level ozone (smog) is an irritant that can worsen asthma and compromise your ability to fight respiratory infections. It is not a very stable molecule; it reacts readily with other chemicals that may be in the air, forming new compounds that can be more dangerous than the ozone itself. These purifiers should be avoided completely.

Choosing the right air purifier for your home doesn’t have to take your breath away.  By following these 5 simple steps, you’ll be breathing a sigh of relief (and cleaner air) in no time. If you'd like to learn more about air purifications, cal Self Heating & Cooling at 678-909-6377 to schedule a free in home estimate.

Tips for Lowering the Cooling Costs of Summer

Summer means starting up your home’s air conditioning system. Unfortunately, it can also heat up your utility bills.

Energy tips:

  • Have the system checked by a professional to make sure everything is running at peak efficiency. 
  • Check the level of insulation in your exterior and basement walls, ceilings, attic, floors, and crawl spaces. Check for holes or cracks around windows and doors and for open fireplace dampers. Also, look out for unsealed ducts in your attic, basement, and crawl spaces.
  • Make sure nothing is blocking the system’s air return inlet, such as a piece of furniture or a rug. This could decrease the air conditioner’s performance.
  • Look for ways to use natural light to reduce the time your lights are on, and replace your bulbs with the newer, high-efficient light bulbs and lamps.
Call us today, at Self Heating and Cooling, to schedule a HVAC system maintenance, to ensure your system is running efficiently this summer. 

Regular maintenance is the tried-and-true way to maximize the life of your air conditioner. It’s also the best way to get optimal and efficient performance from any cooling system. The more efficiently your air conditioner operates, the more money you’ll save on electric bills, and the more comfortable your indoor environment will be.

Why Is Air Conditioner Maintenance So Important?

Cooling systems are like cars. During the warm months, they labor day in and day out. Without regular care, they lose their ability to keep you cool. A critical component of every air conditioner is the condenser coil. When the condenser coil gets dirty, it causes problems that affect performance and can damage other parts of the system.

What Are Condenser Coils?

Condenser coils are situated in the outdoor unit of your air conditioner. As refrigerant removes heat from your home, it turns into a gas. It then travels to the condenser coils. As the refrigerant gas passes over the coils, it is cooled and changes back into a liquid. It is then recirculated back into your home to cool the air and remove more heat.

What Happens To My AC When The Condenser Coils Get Dirty?

Condenser coils get dirty in the process of cooling the refrigerant. Dirt from the air outside is absorbed into the outdoor cooling unit and begins to build up on the coils. The bigger the buildup, the harder it is for the cooling system to perform. Electric bills increase and indoor comfort decreases because the system needs more energy to keep up with the demand for cooled air. If the condenser coils become too coated with dust and dirt, they can no longer convert the hot refrigerant gas back into a liquid. This can cause your system to stop producing cool air, even though it’s still running. Then the compressor might overheat, causing air conditioner breakdown.

How Can I Maximize The Lifespan Of My Air Conditioner?

Condenser coils should be cleaned every year before the warm weather kicks in. Coil cleaning is included in an A/C tuneup. You can do your part by keeping the area around your outdoor unit clear of dirt, foliage and debris. Ask your technician to also clean the A/C evaporator coils. These coils are located in the indoor A/C unit and should be kept free of dust, smoke and grease extracted from indoor air. These particles can pass through the indoor air filter and collect on the evaporator coils. As the residue builds, it can impede the efficiency of the system, causing higher energy usage. Invest in the best air filter you can afford and keep it scrupulously clean, especially if you have pets. Prepare for every summer by scheduling air conditioning maintenance.

You bought a home! Congratulations! Whether this is your first time purchasing a home or fifth, it’s important to be familiar with the systems that control its comfort levels before for they need a major repair. Doing so allows you to perform the preventive maintenance the HVAC system needs, recognize sign of trouble and avoid newbie mistakes. In turn, your HVAC system will reward you with energy savings and reliability.
 
 
Know your HVAC System:
 
Does your home have central air conditioning, heat pumps, mini-split systems or a boiler? After learning exactly how your home is heated and cooled, find out what type of fuel it uses, such as electricity, oil, propane or natural gas. Other important things to learn about your HVAC system include its:
 
Age: While some HVAC systems seem last decades, most start experiencing problems after 10 or 15 years.
Efficiency rating: Heating and cooling systems have SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio), EER (energy efficiency ratio), AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency) or HSPF (heating seasonal performance factor) ratings. The higher the rating, the more efficient a unit is.
 
Warranty: In addition to learning the warranty’s term, learn what actions might accidentally void it.
 
Maintenance inspection results: If the previous homeowner took good care of the HVAC system, they hired a professional to maintain it annually. Ask for the inspection reports to learn about the types of issues the system experienced to be aware of problems that might occur.
 
Change the air filters: One of the simplest, most effective ways to keep your HVAC unit in top shape is to change its air filters as often as the manufacture recommends. The frequency can range between one and six months. Some thermostats will remind you about filter changes.
 
The area around outdoor units: Maintaining the landscape does more than make your yard look beautiful, it also helps your HVAC system perform well and have proper airflow. Shrubs, trees, plants and other foliage should be about three feet away from the unit. It is also a good idea to keep garden tools, supplies, furniture and toys away from it. As leaves and pine needles fall on and around the unit, clear them away. The same goes for snow.
 
Take care with ice: It is okay if a little bit of ice forms on an HVAC unit during the winter. If larger sheets or blocks of ice form during the winter, or you notice ice formations when the weather is warmer, call a professional right away. Do not pour warm water on the ice to melt it.
 
Don’t close vents: In an attempt to save money on heating and cooling costs, some homeowners close the vents in rooms they don’t use often. This action will actually increase your energy costs because your system will have to work harder to maintain the comfort levels in your home. For this reason, professionals recommend that you never block vent registers with furniture, books, blankets or other objects. If you only want to heat or cool certain areas of your home, talk to an HVAC expert about creating different zones.
 
Annual HVAC maintenance: Hire an HVAC service to perform maintenance services on your heating and cooling units once a year. The tune-up will keep your system in optimal condition and alert you to small problems that could become major repairs. A good time of year to schedule maintenance is during the spring or fall, before the weather gets too hot or too cold.
 
Mind the ductwork: When your homes constantly seems dusty, has uneven temperatures, smells musty, feels too humid or has unusually high energy bills, hire an expert to clean and inspect the ductwork. Leaks in ductwork negatively affect an HVAC system’s performance and send conditioned air into spaces that you don’t use, like between the walls.
 
Find a reputable HVAC company now: Don’t wait until you need a repair to search for a company that you can trust. Searching for one in advance gives you time to research and vet different contractors. A good company is one that has served your area for several years, provides emergency services, and specializes in a variety of home comfort systems.
The HVAC system is one of the features that attracted you to your new home. Maximize its life and your energy savings by keeping it in good shape. If you ever have questions about your heating and cooling units, never hesitate to get in touch with Self Heating & Cooling. We’ve proudly served the metro-Atlanta area since 2001, and can’t wait to become your trusted HVAC expert.
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1700 Cumberland Point Dr
Marietta, GA. 30067
Phone: (678) 909-6377
Fax: (678) 909-6378

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