Boehmer Heating & Cooling Blog : Archive for May, 2011

How Can I Be Sure My Home’s Air is Safe?

Monday, May 30th, 2011

There are many ways to ensure your home’s air is safe to breathe, but the easiest is to have it tested regularly and to use proper filtration and ventilation. However, there are a lot of different filtration methods, so here are a few known to work best.

Air Filtration

If you have pets or a lot of plants, air filters are a great idea because they remove most of the larger particles that get into our air supply. This includes things like pet dander, pollen, mold, and other particles like dust. If you have allergies or someone in your home has asthma of any kind, this is the best way to be sure they don’t breathe anything they shouldn’t.

Air filtration is also very simple to install and inexpensive to maintain. Just be sure you opt for HEPA air filters. They are the best on the market and are certified to capture much smaller particles than any other filters, plus they tend to last quite a bit longer.

Air Purification

For big time air cleaning, you want to go with an electronic air purifier. These machines will actually ionize the air in your home to separate out smaller particles such as gas, smoke, or pathogens like bacteria and viruses. They can also capture some larger particles like mold and dust mites. The key to effective air purification is to use it in conjunction with a good air filter.

Also, consider the use of a good UV filter with your air purifier. UV filtration can be installed in your air ducts or vents to kill any unwanted pathogens as the air is circulated.

Testing and Cleaning

The final step is to make sure your air stays clean. Get detectors for big time contaminants like radon and carbon monoxide but also have your air quality tested every year or two to check for high levels of other contaminants.

If you have filters and ductwork, make sure they are cleaned regularly. Filters must be changed on schedule or they simply won’t work as intended. You should also maintain a powerful ventilation system that will keep a steady supply of fresh air coming into and out of your home. An energy recovery model is best to minimize heat and cooling loss from your comfort system.

Overall, your air quality can be maintained year round with a close eye to the maintenance of your equipment and regular testing.

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The Facts about Indoor Air Quality

Friday, May 27th, 2011

One of the least understood aspects of your home’s comfort system is the indoor air quality. Most people assume that once they have a good furnace and air conditioner installed, there’s nothing left to worry about. However, with the push in the last 20 years to reduce energy loss through poor insulation, most homes are sealed up tighter than ever before. This doesn’t just cause stuffy indoor air – it can actually lead to illness.

How Bad Can Indoor Air Quality Get?

Homes built in the 1980s were recommended to have one third of the ventilation of those built before. Today, the standards have returned to their original levels, but for many years, homes were built with poor ventilation and excessive insulation. The result is a space that holds the air in too well. Everyday contaminants and allergens like dust, pollen, pet dander, mold, or smoke cannot get out of your home and as a result, you can get sick.

In fact, some people even suffer from Sick Building Syndrome (SBS). This is when they feel ill constantly, with respiratory symptoms that have no root cause and are hard to diagnose. Often, it is because they simply breathe too many contaminants and too much stale air.

Fixing Air Quality Is Simple

The first thing needed to fix air quality is a good filtration system. Despite what many people think, simple filtration is not that expensive. There are big, powerful purification systems with advanced ionization units and UV lighting to kill bacteria and viruses, but most families are served well with a simple HEPA filter to remove things like dust, pollen and dander.

It’s a good idea to have your indoor air quality tested, however, just to make sure other contaminants are not present. High humidity can lead to mold growth, and poor ventilation can lead to exhaust or gas fumes in your home. A good carbon monoxide detector is recommended for the latter, but testing should be done to make sure nothing else is floating around.

Finally, make sure your home is properly ventilated. Standard ventilation tends to leak heated or cooled air outside, so many homeowners now opt for energy recovery ventilators. These systems have heat exchangers that transfer warm air between indoor and outdoor air.

However you want to fix your indoor air quality issues, know that there are plenty of things you can do with the help of a good filtration device and regular cleanings of your ductwork and vents.

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How a Thermostat Works

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Your thermostat is designed to closely monitor and maintain the temperature in your home. When you flip the switch, you want your furnace or air conditioner to respond immediately. So, it’s a good idea to learn how it works so that if there is a problem, not only will you know better what needs to be fixed – you can decide whether to call a professional in for help.

Thermostats shouldn’t need input from you other than to set the initial temperature. From there, they are automatic switches. A thermometer inside the thermostat measures the indoor air temperature. When it gets above or below the limit you’ve specified, it triggers the thermostat to send a message to your home comfort system and keep things nice and comfortable.

Types of Thermostat

Thermostats come in two forms –electromechanical and electronic. An electromechanical thermostat is the simplest and has been used for decades to regulate temperature in homes. It has a simple strip or coil of metal that expands as the temperature rises and contract as it lowers. A mercury thermometer is placed on top of the strip. The coil’s movements cause the vial to tip as the temperature changes. There is a pair of electrical contacts on either end of the vial. The mercury can absorb that electrical current when the electrical contacts touch the thermometer. The mercury then acts as a switch to turn on your comfort system.

An electronic thermostat simply has an electronic sensor that measures the indoor air temperature. You set a temperature for your room and when it changes significantly, the switch inside your electronic thermostat is triggered, causing it to turn on your comfort system.

Ways to Upgrade Your Thermostat

Most homes only need the bare minimum in their thermostats. However, there is some very exciting technology on the market these days that can add quite a bit of value to your system. Not only can you install a programmable thermostat, you can opt for zone control systems that allow multiple thermostats in different rooms of your home.

Programming allows you to set temperatures for certain times of the day. This is especially great if you are gone from the house for long periods of time each day. Why heat or cool a home when it is empty? And if you have multiple people with different temperature needs, zone control temperature control allows you to set specific temperatures for specific rooms in your home – a very enticing option for large families or multi-story homes.

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How Do I Reduce Dust in My Home?

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Dust is everywhere. There is no way to stop it from occurring, so instead we turn to cleaning and filtration to keep the amount of dust circulating through the air to a minimum. Luckily, there are quite a few things you can do, even without installing new equipment, to reduce your dust levels.

Duct Cleaning

First on the list is regular duct cleaning. You dust your furniture and your floors, so why not clean out your ductwork? Properly cleaned ductwork is very important because of just how much stuff can build up in there over time. Imagine regular air flow in an enclosed space that never gets cleaned. How much dust and debris do you think could build up over the course of a year? Hint: it’s enough to keep a steady flow of dust in your indoor air.

Professional duct cleaning is important and should be done once every year or two depending on how often you use your home comfort system. However, you should also clean in and around the vents and ducts in your home where you can reach. This can be done weekly and will help immensely to reduce dust.

Filtration

Most air filters equipped with high quality HEPA filters work extremely well to remove dust from the air. Because HEPA filters can capture particles as small as 0.3 microns, they won’t just remove dust, but pollen, pet dander and even mold. Mold especially is a problem that occurs in far greater frequency in homes without filtration.

Simple air filtration is an affordable solution to a lot of different contaminants, so it’s a good fit for any home. However, there are more powerful systems as well that will reduce both dust and pathogens like bacteria – these purifiers use ionization to draw particles from the air electronically.

Humidity

Humidity imbalance can cause dust problems as well. Low humidity leads to more dead skin and dust in the house, while high humidity causes the development of dust mites. Properly regulating your humidity to slightly less than 50% will create a perfect environment in which less dust is created and circulated in your home.

The best way to reduce dust is to take a three pronged approach to indoor air quality. Cleanliness is always first on the list, but after that don’t neglect the value of filtration and proper humidity control. When used properly, these three things will ensure dust never bothers you again.

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What Is LEED Certified?

Friday, May 20th, 2011

If you’ve been looking into purchasing a home or having any type of major construction done, you may have run across the term LEED Certified. Of course, contractors boast of so many certifications these days that it can be tough to tell which you should pay attention to and which you shouldn’t. But the LEED certification is definitely one that’s worth taking into account when you’re choosing a contractor and planning out your project.

The Benefits of LEED Certification

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The standards and guidelines for obtaining LEED certification were put together by the U.S. Green Building Counsel in order to improve construction practices and help buyers find property that meets higher standards in a variety of environmentally significant categories.

For instance, a LEED certified home boasts better water and energy efficiency than the average home that is not LEED certified. It also was put together using techniques designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve indoor air quality, making it both the healthy choice for you as the consumer and the environmentally responsible one.

When you purchase a LEED certified home, you’re not just helping the environment either. You’re also helping yourself in a variety of ways. That’s because a home that meets LEED certification standards for energy and water efficiency will help you generate smaller energy and water bills each month. That translates to huge saving over time, so even if you pay a bit more initially for your home, you’ll get that money back many times over as time passes.

LEED certification isn’t just something you should pay attention to when you’re buying a new home. Any construction project you undertake for your existing home can also benefit from these guidelines and standards. For that reason, it’s worth seeking out a contractor who can provide services in line with LEED standards. These types of improvements and techniques need to be incorporated in your home improvement project from the initial planning stage, and a contractor familiar with LEED standards will have no trouble doing just that.

You can also have confidence in the contractor you pick if they carry LEED credentials because they’re not easy to get. Anyone who is LEED certified has put a lot of time and energy into obtaining those credentials and is likely just the type of contractor you’d like taking care of your next home improvement project.

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Old Equipment You Really Shouldn’t Keep

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

When you move into an existing home, there are many pieces of equipment that you may not want to keep. Some of them are just old and poor quality, while others cost you a lot of money and others still may be dangerous to you or your children. Before you settle into your space, make sure you have every one of your systems checked thoroughly for potential problems including inefficient heating, dangerous parts or environmentally unfriendly components.

Energy Cost

Number one on your list should be the cost of the energy needed to run your HVAC equipment. Furnaces and air conditioners in particular have become much more energy efficient in the last 10 years so older systems routinely cost much more money to operate than new ones. That doesn’t mean you should immediately rush out to replace your old furnace, but if it isn’t working properly or it’s costing you more money than you’d like, the cost benefit of a new system is often worth checking into.

Other things to check include your insulation, your air quality system, your ventilation system and anything used to heat or cool food in the kitchen – all of which may be less efficient than you might like.

Ozone Depleting Refrigerants

Older appliances like air conditioners may still use ozone depleting refrigerants that are no longer considered safe (or in some cases legal) for home use. If this is the case, not only does your system probably have a very low SEER rating, it likely isn’t good for the environment or your own health. So, have your system replaced as soon as possible to avoid potentially negative side effects.

Dangerous Equipment

Finally, there are those pieces of equipment that are dangerous. If you find that your furnace has rust around the edges, your gas lines are kinked, or you have a dangerously out of date heat pump in your backyard, it may be time for some replacements. In general, these systems will last for years longer than they are considered safe and while you probably cannot buy a house without a working and safe furnace and air conditioner, you should still have them inspected carefully and replaced as soon as possible if you suspect problems.

Good HVAC equipment is hard to come by – if your home has it already, you’re in luck, but if you happen to move into a place with poor quality materials and equipment, have it replaced as soon as possible. Your health and wallet will both benefit greatly.

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Why It’s Important to Think about Plumbing

Monday, May 16th, 2011

If you’re like most people, your plumbing is usually the last thing on your mind. Until something goes wrong, that is. And it’s pretty much guaranteed that you’ll have a clogged drain or leaky pipe in your home sooner or later. But while some plumbing problems are certainly unavoidable, there are quite a few things you can do to help keep them to a minimum and avoid larger plumbing emergencies later on.

Professional Checkups

For one thing, it’s a good idea to have your plumbing system checked by a professional every year or two. They can make sure that no roots interfere with the pipes in your yard and that things are generally flowing smoothly throughout the system. A professional inspection will also uncover any leaks, cracks or partial blockages that you may not have realized were there but that could cause significant damage later on if not dealt with promptly.

Do It Yourself Maintenance

In addition to professional inspections, though, there are some things you can do on your own. For instance, every season brings new challenges for your home plumbing. Many people know that there are dangers associated with freezing pipes in the winter, but did you know that there are things you can do all year round to help your plumbing work better?

Fall is the best time of year to start disconnecting outdoor faucets and checking them for leaks. If you take these steps before the really cold weather sets in, you’ll be able to get necessary repairs done well before freezing outdoor temperatures become a problem.

This is also a good time of year to check for proper insulation around pipes and to make sure your water heater is tuned up and ready to go for the winter. Sure, you use it all year round, but the colder it is outside, the harder your water heater has to work all winter.

Once spring rolls around again, there are plenty of other tasks you can take on to ensure the continued healthy functioning of your plumbing. For instance, you should check all of your outdoor drains and gutters to see that they’re clear of debris that could have built up during the winter. You can also flush out your water heater again to clear whatever’s accumulated over the winter and check any pipes and faucets for problems that may have developed during the cold months.

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New Filter Ratings – How to Evaluate Your Filter

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Every home has need of a handful of filters that provide with comfortable, affordable air quality and temperature control throughout the year. So, when buying a new filter or upgrading your current system to provide the right comfort level for your home, there are a few things to consider. First is the actual rating of your filters. Every filter is rated for a particular level of efficiency. The higher the rating, the more particles it catches, but also the more it will cost.

Air Filter Ratings

Air filters are rated with a number of scales but the only one that really matters is the HEPA filter rating. HEPA stands for high efficiency particulate absorbing. These types of filters are considered the best on the market. A HEPA filter comes with a number of options. The actual device that uses the filter will have an MERV rating that corresponds to how small of particles it can capture.

An entry level MERV rating is usually around 10 and will capture most major particles like dust, debris, dander and pollen. However, the highest rated HEPA filters have MERV ratings of 13 and can capture particulates as small as 0.3 microns 99.7% of the time.

Some filters are even capable of capturing viruses and bacteria, which are often much smaller than those other particles but can be caught in the debris field through the filter.

What You Actually Need

So, what does your home actually need? It depends largely on how much you need to filter out of your indoor air. Most HVAC providers can provide full testing of your indoor air quality and let you know if you need to target anything in particular. Most often, the contaminants you should worry about include dust, pollen and dander which mean a modest MERV 10 air filter is plenty.

However, if your air is filled with smaller contaminants like mold spores, a high grade HEPA filter is a must – not just for your comfort but for your health.

There are also other indoor air quality products you can get to supplement your indoor air quality system. These include air cleaners with electronic ionization, UV germicidal lights to target airborne pathogens and humidity control devices to create the ideal environment in your home. Whatever you choose, know that it is possible to keep your family comfortable year round.

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Things You Should NOT Do Yourself around the House

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Everyone wants to feel handy around the house and there are a lot of great things you can do to help keep your home and its various systems in tip top shape, but not everything should be on your to do list. Some tasks are dangerous or require special equipment and should only be performed by professionals. Here is a list of some such tasks and why you should avoid them:

  • Service a Gas Appliance or Furnace – If it involves a gas line, call a professional. This goes doubly so for live electrical work. You should always call someone who has the specific certification and licenses needed to work on your gas or electricity systems. They know the safety precautions and if there is a problem they will recognize it immediately and act fast to keep everyone safe.
  • Annual Maintenance – Filter changes, cleaning and other small jobs can be on your to do list, but big time maintenance done annually on your exhaust pipes, furnace or air conditioner should be done by a professional who has the equipment for it.
  • Duct Cleaning or Patching – You can clean the vents and the entry lines at your air handler just fine, but how will you reach the middle of your ducts without an industrial strength vacuum and duct cleaning system? Patching is similarly hard without the right equipment.
  • Remodeling of a Room – Unless you have the necessary skills and know what permits are needed, heavy duty remodeling of a kitchen, bathroom or new room should be done by someone with plumbing certification and experience.
  • Sewer Line Service – Always call an expert for anything related to your sewer or drainage system. They are not only complicated, but tend to be directly connected to city property and require a permit to work on. Even if you don’t break anything, the legal implications of this work require professional help.
  • Roofing Upgrades – Even just a patch on the roof should be handled by someone who is skilled and experienced in this type of work. They know the pitfalls of walking on an unsteady surface high above the ground and they can ensure the new roof will last for as long as is necessary.

There are a lot of fun things you can do around your home to keep it in good condition, but for the big stuff, always call a pro – if not for the sake of your home, for your health and wellbeing.

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What’s the Difference Between a Furnace and a Boiler?

Monday, May 9th, 2011

When it comes time to choose a new heating system for your home, there is a good chance your choices are limited. Most homes already have either forced air or radiant heat equipment installed so choosing something different would be costly and unnecessary. But, if you have a choice or are moving into a new home, here are some things to consider regarding the difference between furnaces and boilers.

What a Furnace Does

A furnace uses a fuel like gas, oil or electricity to heat a series of coils in the device. The furnace then uses a blower to push air across the heated coil and into an air handler where it can be distributed throughout your home. This is called a forced air system and requires a combination of ducts and filters to keep air moving smoothly and cleanly throughout your home.

If you have access to gas, a gas furnace with an AFUE of 90% or higher is one of the most efficient and cost effective ways to heat your home. These furnaces can also last upwards of 20-25 years with proper maintenance.

What a Boiler Does

A boiler is different in that it uses water as the heat carrying medium, not air. Boilers still need gas, oil or electricity to heat up the water in the system, though they often use less of it than a traditional furnace – depending on the age of the furnace and the boiler. After water is heated in the boiler, your radiant heating system carries the water to baseboard heaters or radiators throughout your home. This form of heat is preferred by many because it doesn’t require ductwork (which requires extra maintenance) or extra air filtering and it is more humidity friendly in a large home.

In terms of efficiency, both boilers and furnaces are efficient if you’re buying a new model. Capacity is also evenly matched. Boilers take the edge in comfort level and if you have the budget, you can install radiant floor heating which allows you to pipe hot water directly into bathroom floors or your living space so that you never again need to walk on cold floors. Another benefit of radiant heating is that the system will hold heat much longer and then release it over time instead of turning on and off a lot as a furnace tends to do.

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