Archives for Furnaces and Coils

Should You Turn Your Pilot Light Off This Summer?

pilot lightAs the weather warms up, it is time to put your gas fireplaces and furnaces to rest for the summer. Since it will be several months before you need to fire up the heat again, it is worth considering turning off your system’s pilot light.

Deciding to Turn it Off or Keep it On

Turning off the pilot lights on gas fireplaces and furnaces when not in regular use can save energy and money. First, your pilot light burns gas, costing you money and potentially eating up the surrounding area. If you switch your pilot light off, your air conditioner won’t have to work as hard to reverse the heating effect of the pilot light.

Your furnace only uses a small amount of gas to power the pilot light. Turning the pilot light off, only saves a few dollars each month. If you don’t mind spending a few cents a day, don’t mess with it. However, as utility costs continue to rise, you may decide every dollar saved is worth it.

Reasons to Leave Your Pilot Light On

Trying to decide whether it is worth turning your pilot light off for summer can be difficult. Here are a few basic questions to ask yourself.

  1. Does my gas company charge a minimum service fee? If the gas company has a minimum monthly charge, it may be better to keep your pilot light on. Keeping your pilot light running is unlikely to burn enough fuel for you to exceed the minimum charge. You probably won’t see any savings on your summer gas bills if you don’t meet the minimum charge.
  2. Do I know how to relight my pilot light? Cold weather often returns unexpectedly. If this happens, you will want to relight your pilot light immediately so you have access to heat. During cold weather, it may take a few days for a technician to make it to your house to professionally relight the pilot.
  3. Is my furnace located where insects could easily move in? If your furnace is located in a basement or other dark secluded spot, turning off your pilot light could seem like an invitation for them to set up house in your furnace. In this case, leaving the pilot light burning is probably in your best interest.
  4. Do I plan on scheduling regular fall maintenance? If you are committed to scheduling fall maintenance, so that a professional can check the state of your equipment, including your pilot light, you may consider switching it off.

Other Ways to Save on Utilities

If you decide turning of your pilot light isn’t worth the hassle, there are still other ways to save energy during the summer. Here are a few ideas to save money this summer.

  1. Turn your thermostat up a few degrees. Energy.gov reports that adjusting your thermostat by only a few degrees will allow you to see an energy usage reduction of 5 to 15 percent on your annual bill.
  2. Use blinds and curtains. By covering your windows, especially south-facing windows, to block out hot sunlight, you can lessen the amount of heat that enters your home.
  3. Install a smart thermostat. You can program a smart thermostat to automatically adjust the temperature to be cooler during the hours that you are home. Customize the settings to keep temperatures comfortable for sleeping or watching television with a higher setting for when you aren’t home. This will offer you significant savings over the course of the summer.
  4. Schedule spring maintenance with a qualified technician. Professional maintenance will ensure your entire unit is functioning properly and efficiently. Call your local technician to schedule an AC tune-up before the heat gets extreme.

Turning Off Your Pilot Light

If you decide you still want to switch off your pilot light for the summer, it is a fairly simple process.

  1. Determine whether your fireplace or furnace actually has a pilot light. Some systems don’t have a pilot light that constantly burns.
  2. Locate the flame. Before you switch off the pilot light, be sure to locate the flame. This will make relighting it much easier when the time comes.
  3. Turn off the light. Often, turning off the pilot light is as simple as turning a knob to “off.” For other systems, you may have to push a small lever out of the way in order to turn the knob. Whatever you do, don’t force the knob. This could result in costly repairs. If you have trouble switching it of, leave the light alone or call a qualified technician for assistance.

 

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How to Fix a Noisy Furnace

noisyWhen your furnace is working properly, you can almost forget it’s there. It just quietly does its job of keeping you warm when it is cold outside. A noisy furnace is not only aggravating, it can be a sign of a significant problem.  

If your furnace is making any loud or unusual sounds, it is important to figure out the cause as soon as possible. Continuing to use a faulty furnace could cause major damage that could require extensive and expensive repairs. Be sure to turn off the power and gas to your furnace until you can isolate the source of the noise, and call a local heating professional for help.

Identifying the Cause of a Noisy Furnace

The noises coming from your furnace can help you pinpoint the problem. You may need to describe the sounds your noisy furnace is making to the repair technician so he or she can properly diagnose the problem.

Scraping or Grinding

If you hear the sound of metal moving against metal, it is most commonly caused by one of two issues.

  1. A loose blower wheel. The blower wheel is attached to the blower motor shaft by a screw. Occasionally, a blower wheel will work itself loose and rub against the blower housing. The result is a metallic grinding or scraping sound. If left unchecked, a loose blower wheel can cause damage to the housing.
  2. A broken motor mount. A broken motor mount will cause the blower wheel to make contact with the housing. It could sound like metallic rattling or scraping.

Thumping or Vibrating

Excessive thumping or vibrating is caused by a blower wheel that is out of balance. When the blower wheel is off balance, it can cause the motor to run out of balance as well. Left unfixed, this problem can quickly escalate and cause more damage to the internal mechanisms of your furnace.

Squealing or Screeching

A high-pitched squealing sound is usually caused by insufficient lubrication, although it can also be caused by a loose fan belt. The noise can usually be remedied by either tightening the belt or applying oil. Make sure to contact a professional for expert help with these small jobs.

Banging or Popping

Loud banging or popping when the furnace starts or stops is caused by the metal ducts flexing. This could be a sign that you have a clogged filter or closed vents. Try changing your air filter and checking to make sure your vents are open and unobstructed before contacting a repair technician. If the noise continues, it could be sign that you have undersized ducts.

Rumbling.

If you furnace makes a constant low rumbling noise, it could be a sign that you have a bad burner. If you hear a low rumbling when your furnace is running, turn off your unit and contact a professional for help.

Fixing a Noisy Furnace

If you are experiencing rackety noises from your furnace, it is best to contact a professional to rule out any major or potentially dangerous problems. Attempting to repair your furnace yourself could cause more damage and even lead to accidental injury.

However, there are a few simple repairs that any homeowner can tackle on their own.

Replace Your Filter.

Replacing an old filter with a new one is one of the simplest cures to minor furnace noise. Here are some basic step-by-step directions for replacing your furnace filter.

  1. Select an appropriate filter. There are several filter options available. Low-quality filters need to be replaced more frequently, so it may be worth the extra money to invest in a high-quality filter. If you are unsure which filter to use in your furnace, contact your owner’s manual for dimensions and guidelines.
  2. Switch off your furnace. Before you begin the process of replacing your furnace’s filter, be sure to turn off your unit to prevent any accidents.
  3. Open the furnace access panel. The access panel is usually located on the side of the furnace near the bottom of the unit.
  4. Remove the old filter.
  5. Position the new filter. After the old filter has been removed, it should be easy to slide the new on into position. Be sure to carefully follow the airflow arrows marked on your filter.
  6. Replace the access panel.
  7. Turn on your furnace.

 

If your furnace continues to make excessive noise after you have replaced the filter, it is time to call in the professionals. More serious repairs require mechanical know-how and experience. A certified HVAC technician can help you diagnose and fix a noisy furnace so you can rest in peace, quiet, and comfort.

 

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Troubleshooting Guide for a Short-Cycling Furnace

routine hvac maintenanceWhen your furnace is functioning properly, it will regularly cycle on and off to maintain a comfortable indoor air temperature. As the temperature drops below the setting on the thermostat, the furnace will come on and produce heat. When the desired temperature is reached, the thermostat will cause the furnace to shut off. This cycle repeats many times throughout the course of a day, as your furnace works to keep everyone in your home comfortable.

What is Short-Cycling?

Short-cycling occurs when the furnace turns on and off repeatedly in a short period of time. The system may turn on for a few seconds, or even a few minutes, and then shut off again.

This rapid cycling is generally ineffective at sustaining a satisfying temperature. It can also be expensive as the rapid cycling uses more energy. Short-cycling can also reduce the lifespan of your heating system, putting undue stress on the starter and other internal components.

A properly-sized furnace turn on and off anywhere from three to eight times in an hour. The number of times your furnace cycles on will depend on the outside temperature, if your home is well-insulated, as well as other factors.

In extremely cold weather, a properly functioning furnace will typically run for several minutes before shutting off. If your furnace only runs for less than a minute or two, it could mean your system is “short-cycling.”

What Causes a Short-Cycling Furnace?

There are several things that will cause a furnace to short-cycle. This can be a potentially serious problem, so isolating the cause quickly is the first step to resolving it. Some potential causes include:

  • Inadequate airflow. Dirty air filters or blocked air vents can restrict indoor airflow and cause your thermostat to register temperatures incorrectly. Replace air filters regularly and check to make sure your air vents are not restricted by drapes, furniture, or clutter.
  • Improper thermostat location. Thermostats are easily affected by drafts from windows and doors, as well as the cooler temperature of an exterior wall. Be sure your thermostat is mounted on an interior wall in a regularly used room.
  • The heating unit is the wrong size. If your heating unit is too large for the space being heated, it can cause the furnace to cycle on and off continuously. A qualified heating technician will help you calculate the proper unit specifications for your home.
  • A damaged furnace. If a furnace overheats, a safety switch will automatically cause it to shut off as a preventive measure. However, the thermostat will cause the unit to turn back on in an attempt to maintain the temperature inside your home. Then the cycle repeats itself. A crack in the heating exchange or dirty coils will cause a unit to overheat. These problems require attention from a qualified technician.

The Importance of Regular Maintenance

As your furnace heats your home, it causes regular wear on the unit’s internal mechanisms. Regular maintenance will help reduce the wear and tear on internal parts and ensure your unit runs safely and efficiently. Scheduling an annual check-up with a local HVAC professional will help prevent potential problems. Ultimately, regular maintenance will save you money on your energy bills and prevent expensive repairs before they occur.

During a regular maintenance visit, a qualified technician will inspect your unit for cracks, corrosion, leaks, or other potential problems. Regular professional maintenance will prevent a short-cycling furnace and optimize your system for the cold winter months.

 

 

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Large and Small Ways to Control your Heating Bill

save moneyAs we hunker down and brace ourselves for the coldest months of the year, conscientious homeowners are probably thinking about how they can reduce their heating bill. The cost of keeping your home cozy and warm can be an expensive endeavor. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways, both large and small, that you can trim some of that expense without sacrificing comfort.

Whether you need a few simple and easy ways to reduce your heating bill or if you want to pull out all the stops and make big changes, you will find something helpful in the action steps listed below.

Baby Steps to Reducing Your Heating Bill

Even if you don’t have the time or money to make big changes to heating system, there are still small changes that will save you money.

  1. Turn down your thermostat setting. This is the easiest and fastest way to start saving money on your heating expenses. By turning your thermostat down just a few degrees, you can save big on your next bill. As a general rule of thumb, for every degree you turn down your thermostat (and leave it there) you save between 1 and 3 percent of your heating bill.

    So throw on a nice warm sweater if you have to, but turn down that thermostat to start saving money.

  2. Use the warmth of the sun. Only a fool would turn down free heat. If you have windows that face the midday sun, open up the blinds and let in the natural warmth of the sun.

  3. Don’t be afraid to use a space heater. Space heaters are designed to heat small spaces. While space heaters have a reputation for being expensive to run, used correctly they can save you money on your heating bill. If you know that you will be in one area of your home, you can add some extra heat to that area with a space heater. Meanwhile, go ahead and turn down the thermostat a few degrees. Unoccupied areas of your home may be cooler, but the room you are in will still be warm and cozy.

    Using a space heater occasionally will keep you from having to maintain a comfortable temperature in the entire home when it isn’t necessary.

  4. Use an electric blanket. By using an energy efficient electric blanket, you will feel more comfortable sleeping at a cooler temperature setting. You may even decide to use the blanket to warm your bed by turning it on 15 minutes before bedtime. Then you can turn it off and still feel warm and comfortable as you fall asleep without raising your electric bill.

Larger Steps to Reduce Your Heating Bill

  1. Seal your home’s drafts. You can easily places where cold winter air enters your home by using a handheld draft detector. If you don’t have access to one of these handy devices, you can use your hand or even a candle.

    Once you’ve located any draft sources, take steps to seal them. Use caulk on leaky windows and weather stripping on gaps around doors.

  2. Get a tune-up for your furnace. Regular cleaning and equipment adjustments can make a huge difference in how your heating system runs. By scheduling a regular annual furnace tune-up, your heating system will run more efficiently. This is also the best way to catch potential problems before they turn into expensive repairs.

  3. Replace your attic insulation. Think of your attic insulation as a cozy blanket that helps hole warmth inside your home. Quality attic insulation is your home’s best defense against unnecessary heat loss.

    Over time, insulation breaks down and compresses, causing a loss in insulation volume. If your insulation is older than 10 years old, it may be time for replacement. If your attic insulation has settled and measures less than 12 inches thick, it is time replace or add to the existing insulation.

  4. Order a home energy audit. A home energy audit is an extensive test that produces a detailed report. Using the latest technology, a home heating professional will search for air leaks as well as any other sources of inefficiency and help you determine steps to maximize your home’s energy efficiency.

  5. Upgrade your heating system. If your furnace is more than 10 years old, it may be time to consider replacement. A newer system is probably the best way to achieve big savings on your heating bill. Be sure to talk to an HVAC professional about which options will work best for you.

 

Winter heating bills don’t have to be frightening. Whether you want to make big changes or take small actions, there are ways you can control your heating bill. If you have questions or need help implementing any of these strategies, contact your local HVAC expert for more information.

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Snow, Ice, and Your HVAC Unit

coolant

As cold weather begins to set in across the country, we often begin to worry about the threat of snow. When we think of snow, we often think about how it is going to affect the roads. We worry about schools being closed, or how dangerous the roads will be. However, we also need to be concerned about how snow and ice can affect our HVAC units.

Knowing How Much Ice is Normal

First, it is important to understand not all snow and ice build up on your HVAC system is harmful. In fact, if you have a heat pump, some ice on your outdoor unit is a normal part of operation, especially on extremely cold days.

Heat pumps work using a refrigerant that effectively absorbs heat from the surrounding air. As the refrigerant absorbs heat, moisture from the atmosphere builds up on the processing coils. When outdoor temperatures are extremely low, like at or below zero degrees Fahrenheit, that moisture instantly freezes, creating layer of ice.

While this ice may cause your system to run a bit slow during extreme temperatures, it isn’t anything to be concerned with. Everything should return to normal once the temperatures begin to rise.

Ice buildup, while normal, is still rather rare. Most modern units are designed with an automatic defrost feature. When the unit senses ice buildup, most systems will switch to a heat-distribution that works to melt the ice off ht coils. The process takes about half an hour, and  backup heat will keep your house warm during this process.

When Snow and Ice Can Cause a Problem

Some ice buildup on the outside unit is generally no big deal. However, when snow builds up around the outside unit or ice forms on top of the HVAC components, airflow can be restricted. This insufficient airflow causes your unit to work harder, causing stress on the system. It increases your energy use and wears on the system.

As snow builds up and ice crusts your outdoor unit it can trigger an emergency shut-off. While this is designed to save the unit from mechanical damage, it also cuts off heat to your home. During extremely cold weather, this puts your family in danger. It also increases the chance of burst pipes, which can cause extensive property damage and costly repairs.

It is important to remember your HVAC unit is designed to endure extreme temperatures and withstand the elements. However, snow and ice can build up on our system’s aluminum can or the coil fins. The extra weight could potentially bend those components, causing loud sounds and potentially busting them

Protecting Your Unit from Snow and Ice

Properly protecting your unit from harsh winter elements begins when your unit is installed and continues for the life of the unit. Here are some tips to help keep your system working, even when winter weather rages outside.

  • Make sure your unit isn’t installed directly on the ground. Instead, it should be at least several inches off the ground, high enough to be above normal snowfall. Northern climates may require units to be installed at higher levels than more temperate southern climates.  Most qualified HVAC technicians make sure this happens at installation. 
  • Use shrubs or fencing to create a wind barrier for your outside unit. Just remember to leave enough space for proper airflow and easy unit maintenance. 
  • To avoid a snow drifting and ensure proper airflow even in snowy conditions, your unit should be at least 18 inches from your home’s exterior wall. 
  • During winter weather, be sure to monitor your outdoor HVAC unit. If snow begins to build up around it, it’s time to shovel it away. 
  • Keep your gutters clean. If gutters are clogged, they may drip on your HVAC unit, causing ice to form as temperatures drop. 
  • Never chip away built-up ice. Using a pick or shovel to chip away at ice that has built up on the exterior of your unit could cause damage. Your best option is to let the defrost cycle run its course. You can always call an HVAC service technician if you have serious concerns.

WInter HVAC maintenance is really pretty simple. Just add inspecting your unit to your list of wintertime tasks, along with shoveling your driveway and salting your sidewalk. If you take care of your HVAC unit, it will take care of you, working hard to keep you and your family comfortably warm all winter long.

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