Spring Cleanup List Begins with HVAC
Spring cleaning is a tradition, but there are some other chores that should be part of your springtime routine, too. Most of them take only a few minutes, so get started!
- Check your air-conditioning and heating equipment before the beginning of a new season.
- Check and replace your furnace and air-conditioning filters every month. There are several types from which to choose, depending on your needs. Fiberglass filters last only one month, while the filters typically last three to four months. HEPA filters last up to six months and can be cleaned with a vacuum nozzle.
- Most air conditioners have a drainage hole on the base of the cabinet, beneath the evaporator fins. This hole needs to be kept clear in order for the air conditioner to work properly. It's a good idea each spring to use a paper clip or wire to poke through the hole and clear it.
- To keep a dehumidifier working properly, remove its housing and let the unit dry completely. Vacuum every accessible surface and crevice.
- Clean your bathroom fans once a year. Take the cover off, wash it in soapy water and clean dirt off the fan blades with a toothbrush. Be sure the power is off when you do this!
Common Air Conditioner Problems
One of the most common Air Conditioner problems is improper operation. If your air conditioner is on, be sure to close your home's windows and outside doors. For room air conditioners, isolate the room or a group of connected rooms as much as possible from the rest of your home.
Other common problems with existing air conditioners result from faulty installation, poor service procedures, and inadequate maintenance. Improper installation of a central air conditioner can result in leaky ducts and low airflow. Many times, the refrigerant charge (the amount of refrigerant in the system) does not match the manufacturer's specifications. If proper refrigerant charging is not performed during installation, the performance and efficiency of the unit is impaired. Unqualified service technicians often fail to find refrigerant charging problems or even worsen existing problems by adding refrigerant to a system that is already full.
Air conditioner manufacturers generally make rugged, high quality products. If your air conditioner fails, begin by checking any fuses or circuit breakers. Let the unit cool down for about five minutes before resetting any breakers. If a central air conditioner's compressor stops on a hot day, the high-pressure limit switch may have tripped; reset it by pushing the button, located in the compressor's access panel.
If your air conditioner is low on refrigerant, either it was undercharged at installation or it leaks. If it leaks, simply adding refrigerant is not a solution. A trained technician should fix any leak, test the repair, and then charge the system with the correct amount of refrigerant. Remember that the performance and efficiency of your air conditioner is greatest when the refrigerant charge exactly matches the manufacturer's specification, and is neither undercharged nor overcharged. Refrigerant leaks can also be harmful to the environment.
If you allow filters and air conditioning coils to become dirty, the air conditioner will not work properly, and the compressor or fans are likely to fail prematurely.
Electric Control Failure
The compressor and fan controls can wear out, especially when the air conditioner turns on and off frequently, as is common when a system is oversized. Because corrosion of wire and terminals is also a problem in many systems, electrical connections and contacts should be checked during a professional service call.
Room air conditioners feature a thermostat sensor, located behind the control panel, which measures the temperature of air coming into the evaporative coil. If the sensor is knocked out of position, the air conditioner could cycle constantly or behave erratically. The sensor should be near the coil but not touching it; adjust its position by carefully bending the wire that holds it in place.
When it's humid outside, check the condensate drain to make sure it isn't clogged and is draining properly. Room air conditioners may not drain properly if not mounted level.
Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioners
Ductless, mini split-system air-conditioners (mini splits) have numerous potential applications in residential, commercial, and institutional buildings. The most common applications are in multifamily housing or as retrofit add-ons to houses with "non-ducted" heating systems, such as hydronic (hot water heat), radiant panels, and space heaters (wood, kerosene, propane). They can also be a good choice for room additions and small apartments, where extending or installing distribution ductwork (for a central air-conditioner or heating systems) is not feasible.
Like central systems, mini splits have two main components: an outdoor compressor/condenser, and an indoor air-handling unit. A conduit, which houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, and a condensate drain, links the outdoor and indoor units.
The main advantages of mini splits are their small size and flexibility for zoning or heating and cooling individual rooms. Many models can have as many as four indoor air handling units (for four zones or rooms) connected to one outdoor unit. The number depends on how much heating or cooling is required for the building or each zone (which in turn is affected by how well the building is insulated). Each of the zones will have its own thermostat, so you only need to condition that space when it is occupied, saving energy and money.
Gas vs. Oil: Which Furnace Is Better?
Some people swear by oil heat. Others are equally enthusiastic about natural gas. For those who are considering a new furnace, here are some pros and cons about your options.
The first thing to look at when shopping for a furnace is the efficiency rating, commonly called Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE). The rating measures the efficiency of a machine’s combustion, where a higher rating signals a higher efficiency.
Most new oil furnaces have AFUE ratings between 80% and 90%, while their gas counterparts boast ratings between 89% and 98%. Although gas furnaces are more efficient than oil furnaces, that efficiency comes at a price—gas units are typically priced 10% to 25% higher than the same size oil furnace. All new furnaces are substantially more efficient than their counterparts of ten or more years ago, some by as much as 30%.
When it comes to fuel costs, however, the advantage tilts in favor of gas. While oil prices are more volatile and subject to the vagaries of global supply and demand, natural gas production is centered in the U.S. and Canada, securing a more stable supply.
Here is a look at some of the pros and cons of each type of furnace:
· Oil equipment provides more heat per BTU than other heating sources, but an on-site storage tank is required and oil must be delivered
· Oil furnaces are regularly and easily serviced by the delivery company (a service contract is required), but maintenance is more extensive due to dirt and soot buildup—chimneys must be cleaned and the oil filters changed frequently
· Oil furnaces cost less than gas furnaces, but efficiency is lower and fuel prices are higher than with gas systems.
· Natural gas furnaces have higher heating efficiency and their fuel costs less, but your home must be in an area where a gas supply is available.
· Furnaces require very little maintenance (no service contract needed), but gas provides less heat per BTU than oil.
· Furnaces are quieter and cleaner, but they cost more than oil furnaces.
Regardless of which type of heat source you prefer, use a qualified and reputable HVAC contractor and get several estimates before you make any major investment in your home. There are often public and private rebates or financing incentives available to homeowners who upgrade their systems, so make sure to explore all of your options before you buy.