Has your AC ever stop working in the middle of summer when you needed it the most? Or, did your heater unexpectedly break in the middle of this year’s snowpocalypse? We don’t often think about our home’s HVAC systems until something goes wrong, but here are three questions you should be asking:
Do I Have a Carbon Monoxide Leak?
Known as the “silent killer,” Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. Common household items that can produce CO include gas-fired appliances like furnaces, fireplaces, dryers, ranges, chimneys, cars, and others. This toxic gas is created when materials containing carbon do not burn completely.
- There are various ways in which you can help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home:
- Have your heating system, water heater, fireplace and any other fuel-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician each year.
- When you purchase equipment, make sure it carries a seal of a national testing agency, such as Underwriters’ Laboratories (UL).
- If you’re using a space heater, ensure you are operating it in accordance with manufacturer specifications. Some space heaters have venting requirements and it is imperative that you follow them.
- Make sure your gas appliances are vented properly. Horizontal vent pipes such as those used for a furnace or water heater should slope slightly upwards as they go outdoors and should be sealed well.
- Always check your vents after a storm to make sure no debris or snow has built up and are preventing them from venting properly.
- Never use a gas range or oven for heating your home.
- If you have a fuel-powered generator, make sure it is set up at least 20 feet away from your home and never put the generator inside your house.
- Never “warm-up” or start your car inside a garage attached to your house, even if the garage door is open.
- Install a CO alarm! Make sure it is battery-operated or has a battery back-up, this will ensure it is operational even if there is a power outage or issue with your electrical outlet.
- Maintain your CO alarm. Change your batteries each time you change your clocks in the spring and fall. The CDC recommends replacing your CO detector every five years.
When you are purchasing a home, it is important to get an inspection done by a qualified HVAC technician to catch any potential issues or leaks specifically with your HVAC system. General inspections don’t often include a close look into your HVAC equipment and you want to make sure there are no issues before closing on your home.
Why is my electric bill so high?
According to the U.S Department of Energy, the typical US household spends roughly $170 per month on utilities or $2,060 per year. There are several areas in your home to take a look at when determining how to lower your utility costs. The best place to start is your central heating and cooling system. Depending on your area and lifestyle, it can account for up to 40% of your utility costs. The most common problems are poor installation, leaky ducts or attics, and the age of the equipment.
1. Installation: With your home’s HVAC system, the installation team is actually completing the manufacturing process in your home. In essence, it's like delivering your new car to your driveway in a shell and having someone install the transmission and motor at your home. If refrigerant charges are not correct, static pressure is high, the system was not properly sized with a heat load calculation, or if each piece was not matched correctly, you can get all kinds of unintended consequences (such high utility bills).
2. Leaky ducts and attic: If your system has to fight with leaky ducting, leaky attic, or little to no insulation, it will work much harder than it needs to. Meaning your home loses efficiency and you wind up paying more to cool your attic instead of your home.
3. Age of equipment: Of course at some point replacing your HVAC system will be the best solution and give you the highest return on your dollar when it comes to decreasing your utility costs. We have seen, on average, between a 20-50% reduction in utility costs from replacing a system that is 15-20 years old.
There are, of course, multiple factors that can cause high utilities when it comes to your HVAC system. Sometimes it’s as simple as a system that has not been serviced in years. A study performed by the Environmental Protection Agency found that over time, a professionally maintained system saved homeowners 20% in costs. You should have a licensed and insured HVAC contractor take a look at your system to see where any potential energy savings might be.
My AC is not working, what's going on?
The first step is to check if everything on your AC unit is running. First, check the thermostat to see if the settings are correct. When the thermostat makes a call for cooling it should activate the indoor blower and you should able to see the fan spinning on the outdoor unit. If one or both of those are not running, then look for tripped breakers or a power switch next to the furnace that may be off.
If the breakers are all on and the outdoor unit is still not running, then turn the thermostat off, wait 5 seconds and then return it to cool. If, after 5 minutes, the air conditioner does not come on, then it would be a good time to place a service call.
Is there water on the floor next to the furnace? If so, you may have a frozen coil which means you’ll need to check the furnace filter. If the coil is too dirty, it can ice up, restricting proper air flow. If this happens you’ll need to replace the filter and leave the system off for at least 6 hours so it can thaw. Afterward, turn the system back on (if normal operation is restored) and make sure to change or clean your filter monthly.
If everything is running and there are no signs of water near the base of the furnace, you will need a professional diagnosis to determine if the problem is electrical or related to the refrigerant circuit. Turn the system off at the thermostat and call your service provider and they’ll get to the bottom of the issue.