Boehmer Heating & Cooling Blog : Archive for December, 2014

The Composition of Snowflakes: Are No Two Alike?

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

“No two snowflakes are alike.”

This is a statement nearly every schoolchild has heard at least once, either while crafting unique snowflakes with a sheet of folded paper and some scissors or while learning a lesson on the science of snow. While even most scientists don’t quite understand what causes a snowflake to form such complex and beautiful columns and points and branches, one thing is for certain, the composition of snowflakes guarantees that no two will ever be identical.  However, it is possible for two snowflakes to appear to be nearly exactly alike.

A snowflake begins to form when a piece of dust catches water vapor out of the air. Water is created when two hydrogen molecules attach to an oxygen molecule. The two hydrogen molecules are angled from one another in such a way that they form a hexagonal shape when they come together during the freezing process; thus, a snowflake begins as a simple hexagonal shape or as layers of hexagons called diamond dust. The emergent properties that follow from the original hexagon are what differentiate one snowflake from another, as the humidity, the temperature in the air, and many other factors (some of which remain unclear to scientists) allow each snowflake to form in an entirely unique way with a seemingly endless variety of shapes.

However, in 1988, a scientist named Nancy Knight claimed to have located two that were the same while studying snowflakes as part of an atmospheric research project. And it appeared to be so; when put under a microscope, the emergent properties looked nearly identical. But while it is feasible that two snowflakes can appear to be exactly alike on the outside, they are never identical on an atomic level. Deuterium is an atom that appears attached to about one in every 3000 hydrogen molecules in the air. Because there are millions of atoms that make up a snowflake, the random assortment of deuterium in any two snowflakes—even in two that so very closely resemble one another—simply cannot be the same.

Here at Boehmer Heating and Cooling, we’d like to remind you to grab a cup of cocoa and relax with your family this holiday, perhaps by crafting some unique snowflake creations of your own. We wish you a very happy holiday season, from our family to yours!

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How the Reversing Valve Works in Your Heat Pump

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Have you ever wondered how your heat pump can offer both heating and cooling? It’s because of a special component called a reversing valve. This valve is a bit complex, which is why, should a problem develop with it, it’s best to hire a professional for repair. Without the reversing valve, your heat pump wouldn’t be able to heat and cool. So how does this component work? Let’s take a look.

Two States: Excited and Relaxed

The reversing valve is a cylindrical metal tube that has 4 valves; there is a slide inside the tube that moves back and forth when your heat pump changes modes. A small electronic component called a solenoid sits on top, and helps the valve slide back and forth as needed. Every valve has two states: excited and relaxed. The manufacturers decide which state matches which mode; for example, Manufacturer A may make the excited state the cooling mode for their reversing valve, while Manufacturer B makes relaxed the cooling mode. These assignments are permanent, so once they are made for a particular valve, they will stay that way for the life of the valve.

As the homeowner, all you have to do to change modes is press a button on your dual-mode thermostat. When the cue comes from the thermostat to change modes, the solenoid activates and starts to slide the valve in the direction opposite of where it is. As the valve change direction, so does the flow of the refrigerant; this directional change of the refrigerant is what physically changes the modes. But it is the reversing valve that allows for this change to happen.

Common Problems with Reversing Valve

Like other components, the reversing valve can develop some problems. The most common one is a “stuck” valve. Reversing valves can become stuck in a specific mode (i.e., heating or cooling) or in-between modes. A second problem that can develop with reversing valves are refrigerant leaks. Unfortunately, refrigerant leaks can’t be repaired when they are inside a reversing valve, so the valve needs to be replaced.

If your system is having trouble switching modes, there is a good chance something is wrong with the reversing valve. If you are experiencing this kind of trouble with your heat pump in your home in Whitehall, call Boehmer Heating & Cooling today and schedule an appointment for our professional heat pump service.

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What Is an Energy Audit?

Thursday, December 11th, 2014

Looking to save some money on your monthly bills? The first step to take towards a more efficient home is scheduling a home energy audit.

A home energy audit is used to determine which parts of the home are responsible for lost energy. When you run your heating or air conditioning system, heat may escape or enter through the walls, causing your unit to work much harder than it needs to and using a lot of energy in the process. Not only does this hurt your wallet; it also makes the people in your home feel far less comfortable.

Most homes have small holes and cracks in various areas, which may only seem to be a small issue. However, if you were to put all of these holes together, it could create a gaping opening the size of a hula hoop. Furthermore, many homes are poorly insulated, meaning that heat can easily move through the walls and ceilings. In the summer, this means that too much heat enters your home, and in the winter, the heat created by your furnace or radiant system can effortlessly escape.

A home energy audit is used to determine which components of your home are responsible for energy loss and a whole host of other problems. A technician will examine various parts of your home with a series of tests and inspections to determine what parts of the house contribute to energy loss, allergies, illness, poor HVAC performance, stuffiness, humidity, and more. After inspection, the technician will let you know what type of service will help alleviate the issues in your house. They may recommend that you schedule any of the following services:

  • Air Sealing
  • Insulation Services
  • Duct Sealing
  • Ventilation
  • New HVAC Replacement or Repair
  • Mold Remediation
  • Indoor Air Quality Installation

It’s important to know about the state of your home, not only for your utility bills but also for your health. Faulty gas furnaces and stuffy garages can allow poisonous gases to leak into your home. Or, a musty and humid room may give way to mold development, causing family members with asthma and allergies to suffer and sometimes leading to sudden illness.

Our audit includes a visual inspection, utility bill analysis, HVAC inspection, infrared scanning, a blower door test and more, so that you can rest easy knowing you’re saving as much money as possible and that your family remains comfortable and safe.

Call Boehmer Heating & Cooling for a comprehensive energy audit in Pittsburgh.

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What Can Happen if Your Heat Pump Loses Refrigerant

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

The heat pump is one of the most efficient types of home comfort systems available for both heating and cooling. More and more, people are making the switch to heat pumps since they require little energy to run and may last longer than many other types of AC systems. However, like any type of electro-mechanical unit, a heat pump requires maintenance in order to run properly and offer the best performance. And one of the key steps of heat pump maintenance involves checking the refrigerant levels.

The term “heat pump” is a bit confusing as it leads many people to believe these are mostly used for heating purposes. However, the design of a heat pump is much closer to that of a standard home air conditioner. Heat pumps use refrigerant to cycle throughout the major components of the system in order to carry out heat exchange. In the summer, a heat pump uses refrigerant to absorb heat from the air in your home and move it outdoors. In the winter, it uses refrigerant to absorb heat form outside, even in very cool weather, to bring into the home.

As you can see, refrigerant, a chemical blend with the ability to convert easily from gas to liquid state and vice versa, is vital in heat pump operation. When refrigerant leaks, you simply cannot get the heating and cooling power that you need as the heat exchange process is jeopardized. But sometimes, the diminishing heating or cooling power is still tolerable, which leads many to believe they can continue to run their system on low refrigerant.

However, you should keep in mind that this is simply not an option. If you continue to run your heat pump at all with leaking refrigerant, you can damage a couple of key components. For one, you may force the indoor coil to freeze over during the evaporation process. But more importantly, you could damage the compressor, one of the most important (and costly) parts of your whole unit.

Only a trained and certified professional can work with refrigerant safely. Call Boehmer Heating & Cooling whenever you experience problems with your heat pump in Brentwood. We know how risky it is to wait for repairs so we’ll get the job done quickly and professionally.

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