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Air Conditioning

How often does air conditioning need to be replaced?

You’ll hear a lot of variation on this question, however most modern air conditioning units will last between 10-15 years if they are properly maintained. That maintenance is the real key to reducing the costly expense of replacement. Keep in mind as well that newer systems designed to minimize work load and provide energy efficient cooling can last even longer if properly maintained. If you have your cooling unit serviced annually and check it yourself periodically, anywhere from 15-20 years is possible.

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What are signs of wear and tear on an air conditioner?

If you notice that your air conditioner is starting to wear down, it doesn’t always mean replacement is necessary. However, some issues are more severe than others. The first sign will be an increase in electricity use to run your air conditioner. You may also notice that the cooling unit starts to turn on and off frequently, cooling your house unevenly as it pumps different amounts of air into different parts of the house.

If you have a newer model that is less than 5 years old, most issues should be handled through regular maintenance of your air conditioner. Have your coils cleaned and cooling units checked at least once a year.

However, if you have a unit that’s more than 10 years old, a replacement unit may serve to alleviate these problems and cut down on you energy use, as most new models are far more efficient than those made 10 or more years ago.

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What type of air conditioner should I get?

There are a number of different types of air conditioners, though most homeowners will decide between ductless split units and central air conditioning systems. A ductless split system allows you to use a single compressor and pipe the coolant into any room in your home with individual wall-mounted cooling units. For smaller homes or limited cooling needs, a split system is more cost effective and flexible.

For larger homes a central system will be needed, which will require the installation of vents and ducts that pipe cool air from an outdoor compressor. The installation is more invasive, but combined with a zone control system you have far more control over the individual temperatures of each room in your house.

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I want to use my AC less. How do I keep it off longer during the day?

To make sure your air conditioner comes on less often, set the thermostat to a higher temperature. For every degree you raise your thermostat above 72 degrees (up to 78), you will save 8% of your energy costs. Additionally, block direct sunlight from the east and west with awnings, keep the doors and windows sealed while the air conditioner is operational and do not use heat producing appliances during the day when ventilation is less available. By trapping the cool air and ensuring it remains in your home for longer, your machine won’t need to work nearly as hard.

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What is required with a new system installation?

When air conditioning technicians prepare to install a new air conditioner, the total work will depend on the type of system decided upon as well as the available components. Homes without installed ductwork will need new ductwork installed, which is often made with metal or fiberglass. During the estimate period, trained technicians will determine the size and scope of ductwork required and what, if any, additional work will be required. After installation of your ductwork, the air conditioning unit can be installed and calibrated. Regular maintenance should also be scheduled at this time to keep your cooling unit in working order and your ducts clean.

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How Does Geothermal Heating and Cooling Work?

Geothermal heating utilizes the same type of heat pump as an air source heating and cooling system. But in this case, the heat pump extracts energy from the ground using a series of pipes and an antifreeze/water mixture. The water is circulated through those pipes to gather heat and then transferred back to the heat pump. The heat pump then takes the heat from the fluid and transfers it to air which is circulated through your home via air ducts.

Once the compressor unit transfers the heat to the air in your home, the coolant mixture is returned to the pipes in the ground to gather more heat and restart the process. It works smoothly over time and therefore ensures you have a steady source of heat in your home.

The best part about a geothermal heat pump is that, like a standard heat pump, it can be used in reverse during the summer. During the warmer months, heat is absorbed from your home by the compressor unit and then transferred to the fluid in your geothermal system to be distributed into the ground outside. A good geothermal system will serve you well year-round.

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How Much Does Geothermal Installation Cost?

The cost of geothermal installation can vary greatly depending on the size of your home, the composition of the ground around it and the climate in which you live. It’s generally more expensive than a standard heat pump or forced air heating system, however, due to the cost of initial drilling and installation.

That added cost is almost always converted into savings after a few years, though, due to the very low fuel use of the system. Once a geothermal system is installed, it not only works steadily for years, but it uses almost no outside energy other than what’s needed to run the compressor and air handler.

One of the main costs of installation is the drilling. For most homes, a horizontal installation allows you to draw enough heat from the ground to keep your home comfortable in the winter. This involves placing anywhere from 100 to 400 feet of piping beneath your property. A horizontal installation requires no drilling, just labor for the digging. However, for colder environments or larger homes, vertical pipe installation is an option, and that requires a much deeper hole to be drilled in the ground.

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How Efficient Is a Geothermal Heat Pump?

Geothermal heat pumps are between 50% and 70% more efficient than traditional furnaces or radiant heating systems. They are also 20% to 40% more efficient than traditional air conditioning systems. So in the winter or summer you will save money using a geothermal heat pump instead of your traditional system.

This amount can vary quite a bit depending on the size and location of your home, as well as the type of fuel you currently use for heating.

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How Do I Know Which Type of Installation I Need?

Most homes use a closed loop installation, but is vertical or horizontal piping best? Many factors will determine which style works best for your home. Horizontal installations work well for homes in areas that do not freeze for a large portion of the year. Frozen ground can still be used for heating, but the volume of heat you can gather is much lower in horizontal systems.

Vertical systems may also be recommended if you don’t have much space on your property. Because anywhere from 100 to 400 feet of pipe is needed for a horizontal system, a decent sized yard is necessary. Vertical systems are good for urban or tightly packed suburban areas where you can’t dig up a lot of ground.

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At what temperature should I set my thermostat to save the most money?

This question depends largely on what you feel most comfortable with in your home. Most families will set their thermostat to 68 degrees in the winter. Businesses often set theirs as high as 72 degrees to make customers who have been out in the cold more comfortable. Keep in mind that maintaining good humidity can reduce the need for heat and allow you to maintain a lower thermostat setting.

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My heat isn’t working. Can I use an electric burner or my oven to heat the house?

Never use a non-heating appliance to heat your home. If you have electric heat, the risk of someone getting burned or a fire starting is high. If you have gas, you may even risk a gas leak or the possibility of a fire. If you do not have heat, call a professional immediately for emergency service on your heating system. If your lack of heat is due to electricity or gas outage, call your utility provider and then leave your home to find somewhere safe with heat.

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What should I do with my windows in the winter?

It depends on how they are maintained throughout the year. If you have screens on your window throughout the summer, remove the screens and replace them with storm windows to help prevent heat loss. Sealant tape or insulation can help to block any loss as well. If you have an air conditioner or fan unit in your window, remove it during the winter and seal up the space.

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What is the difference between furnace and boiler heat?

A furnace operates by heating air within the furnace unit and then circulating it through your home through a blower via ducts. The warm air is transported through vents in the rooms of your house to keep you warm.

A boiler is different in that it heats water to just short of boiling (about 180 degrees) and then circulates the hot water throughout your home through pipes in radiators or baseboard heaters. There are also steam boilers that will heat the water beyond boiling and use the resulting steam to heat your home via radiators.

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How many years will my boiler or furnace last?

It will vary depending on the type of system, the amount it’s used and the environment where you live. However, most heating systems will last for 15 years and if well maintained, they will often last between 20-25 years. High quality equipment that has been well maintained and cared for over the years may even last longer than that.

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Can I use a wood stove or fireplace to supplement my heating?

If you have a stove or fireplace, in a den or living room, it can help to reduce your heating costs in that room. However, it will only work if the thermostat reading is taken in the vicinity of the fireplace. If there are thermostats in bedrooms or the kitchen where the heat is not fully circulated, your heater may still turn on and use energy.

If you use a fireplace in the winter, make sure you have it properly cleaned and maintained at least once a year. A dirty fireplace or clogged flue can result in carbon monoxide buildup or the spread of fire in your home.

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Indoor Air Quality

How does the air quality outside affect my house?

Regardless of how well you think you’ve sealed your home, air will circulate from outside and come indoors. So, if you have a strong source of pollutants near your home, such as a busy highway or an airport, you are more likely to have air quality issues inside your home. The concentrations, however, will be relatively low, which means it is very feasible to control and remove those pollutants with effective air filtration.

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What gasses should I be looking for in my indoor air?

The most worrisome gas you might encounter in your home is carbon monoxide. This colorless and odorless gas can build up due to a leak of exhaust from one of your appliances and can even cause death when ignored. That’s why a carbon monoxide detector is so highly recommended. Other gasses, however, can also cause health problems of varying severity if left unchecked.

Nitrogen dioxide is both poisonous and combustible while various solvents and perfumes can frequently cause health issues if proper ventilation is not present when they are used. You may also have pesticides or smoke build up in your home that can cause tremendous issues for those with asthma or common household allergies.

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Which type of air cleaner is best for my home?

The type of air cleaner you use will largely depend on what types of pollutants are found in your home. Most homes will have a decent amount of common allergens like pet dander, dust and mold, but some might also suffer from gasses, exhaust fumes, or smoke from outdoor sources. If testing or observation shows that you suffer from the latter even in a small amount, an electronic air cleaner may be the best solution for your home.
However, if your primary issues are stuffiness and a build-up of dust during the winter and summer when the house is sealed up, a mechanical filter is not only less expensive, it can work incredibly well if it has HEPA certification.

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What health problems could my family face from indoor air pollution?

While the majority of problems related to indoor air pollution are relatively minor, severe issues can develop when ventilation remains poor or the contaminant levels rise too high. Specifically, irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs is very possible as is the flare up of asthma and seasonal allergies, and possibly the development of infections in the sinuses, lungs and throat.

How much of an effect the pollutants in your house have will vary greatly depending on the age and general health of your family. Some people are very resistant to pollutants and may feel fine. However, even if you don’t feel the effects of poor air quality, it is taking its toll on your body, forcing nearly every part of you to work harder at sorting out the oxygen needed from the air and getting it to your vital organs.

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What can I do right now to fix the air quality in my home?

If you’re currently considering an air filtration system but want to take action now to avoid any potential illnesses in your family, there are some things you can do.

To start with, remove any pollutants you can control. Tobacco smoke, paint, solvents, and industrial cleaners are all heavy contaminants that are not recommended for indoor use. You can also have the vents and ducts checked and cleaned in your house. Patching leaks in your roof and basement can reduce the impact of water damage and the build-up of mold and mildew as well.

Overall, however, cleanliness and ventilation will have a great impact on the common pollutants that build up in most homes. And finally, there is filtration.

The only real way to be 100% sure that your home is free of unwanted pollutants is to install a filtration system that removes all of the contaminants that float around in your home, including bacteria and viruses.

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