Q- How do I know what size HVAC system I need?
A heat loss (winter) and gain (summer) analysis, commonly known as a “Manual J”, is the mathematical method for determining the BTU’s needed for a specific home in a specific climate. It is what engineers and professional contractors do on a daily basis to ensure comfort, safety, and efficiency.
Square footage and cubic footage are important, but insulation values, window quality, and air leakage rates are also a big part of the equation. The act of finishing a basement and insulating the walls can reduce the heat loss by 20% but have no significant affect on the air conditioning BTU’s.
Following the loss/gain calculation, there is more math to be done, as the BTU’s required to heat and cool require a specific amount or airflow to disperse the energy effectively. The ductwork is just as important as the heating & cooling equipment and should always be evaluated by a professional contractor prior to making an investment.
Q-When should I replace my furnace?
While the average life expectancy of a furnace is 15- 17 years, the best way to know when to replace your furnace comes during annual interactions with your HVAC Technician during the preventive maintenance, otherwise known as a tune-up or clean & check. A licensed certified hvac technician will be able to listen to your heating & cooling concerns, make suggestions & offer solutions, and assist in planning ahead with you to make your investment on a proactive basis, the best experience so there are no unexpected surprises or expensive surprises. You must have a relationship in place with a company you can trust to do this correctly.
Q- When should I replace my air conditioner?
The life expectancy of an air conditioner varies from climate to climate, the average age at replacement is 13 years. Your personal threshold for discomfort in sticky weather may cause you to replace your system every 10 years, or even when a major repair is needed. Medical conditions, empty or uncomfortable areas or your home, and a few other factors cause many home owners to add a supplemental ductless heating and cooling system and see how many years they can get out of their central cooling system.
Q- How much does it cost to replace a furnace and/or air conditioner?
The range can be anywhere from $6000 to $18,000 depending on a variety of factors. Fortunately, we all realize that we get what we pay for. A reputable contractor will have a relationship with a reputable financing company- most families pay for their 15 years systems over 24- 36 months without interest.
Factors like whether the property is owner occupied or leased, what kind of energy savings folks are looking for, whether or not they are staying there for more than 5 years, and even the need for higher air quality can all factor in to the total investment.
Keep in mind that the actual cost for the installation is going to be the same if you pick a $1500 unit or a $3000 unit, so consider your budget (including future energy savings) carefully and get the best unit you can afford. Installation of any unit requires several hundred dollars in related materials, highly skilled professionals, licenses/ taxes/ and insurances, vehicles, an office/shop facility, and the support of a trained staff. Companies that do not have these systems in place struggle to back their work when something fails under warranty.
Q- Why is my heater making strange noises?
Most heaters have two electric motors driving fans that can become restricted or out of balance due to dirt or airflow restrictions. The result is vibration that will produce noises wherever two surfaces are close enough to rub together. Continuous rattles, rumbles, squeaks, humming, (people use so many describing words for these) are going to need to be traced down, and the root problem corrected. Louder noise, such as booms, bangs, and anything that shakes the house is a very serious situation. Whenever you are in doubt, turn your heater off and call a professional contractor for help.
Q- Why is my AC system leaking water?
The primary function of an air conditioner is to remove sticky water from the air and put it into a drain. When sized correctly, the cooling affect is often secondary or incidental. Many times, the drain can become obstructed from dirt, especially if the air filtration system is poor.
The other reason an ac leaking can be more serious- ice! When refrigerant levels are low and/or airflow is restricted the AC coil by your furnace or air handler freezes. When this happens, water collects & turns to ice and grows larger than the drain system, then defrosts. This water can infiltrate dark places and grow mildew, or even affect electronic components, damaging your hvac system. Inspect carefully with the power off and good a flashlight to see where the water is starting from. Many times, a hand from a hvac pro can save you lots of frustration.
Q- What to check before you call an HVAC company
When your heating or cooling fail there may be something simple wrong. If you are comfortable checking a few things yourself, put on some working clothes, get something to kneel on, and grab your flashlight. The first thing to check is your air filter. Be sure it’s been changed recently & is free from dirt & debris. You can also check the thermostat & ensure there is power coming from the unit. Lastly, check the outside intake, a pvc pipe coming out of the house for venting. Ensure this is free of snow, ice, debris & any obstructions so air can flow properly from your hvac unit. Beyond that, it’s best to call a professional contractor to make sure your hvac equipment is operating properly & safely.
Q- How often should I replace my filter?
Air filters get dirtier faster the more they are used, a good rule of thumb is to inspect them once a month, even vacuuming off larger debris to make the filter last longer. Filters may need to be changed more often during extreme weather, and a clean filter is always a good idea going into the real heat of summer or the icy grip of winter. After all, keeping up on the air filter is the easiest way to prolong the life of your system and keep energy bills down.
Typically, 1” filters need to be replaced every month, regardless of what the packaging seems to say. Beware of the small words “up to” before the “3 months”. Spending more than $3 on a 1” thick filter usually means too much airflow restriction and trouble waiting to happen.
5” to 9” air filters typically last 6 months, and dramatically lessen the resistance to airflow. Owners like these because they never break down and are only in need of changing every 6 months once you have a brand-new air purifier installed.
Electronic Air Purifiers are a must for those with allergies and asthma. They provide an extremely high clean air delivery rate and lessen the environmental impact by keeping large paper filters out of landfills. They do require a monthly pre-filter cleaning, and a deep cleaning every 6 months.
Regardless of filter type, a “filter replacement” at each 6-month mark should be done with the power off, the blower compartment door removed, with a good light and vacuum on hand. This is the best time to inspect the inside of the furnace and also the return air duct (through the filter rack) for larger debris and even deceased critters. If you ever lose a family pet, remember to look in this same area, they often find their way into the ductwork.
Q- How often should I get my HVAC system serviced?
HVAC system service should be performed at the changing of the season from heating to cooling, and cooling to heating. Generally, two times per year will allow for faulty parts to be found prior to breaking. Air quality issues such as dust mites, dust, counter surface bacteria and fungus growth can be a great thing to discuss with your hvac technician. During regular maintenance it’s important to use this as an opportunity to discuss concerns and heating, cooling & air quality options & solutions. In the long run, preventive maintenance still provides the lowest cost of ownership over the life of a system.