Archives for Heat Pumps

Is A Heat Pump Right For You?

When it comes to heating your home, a forced air furnace isn’t your only option. A heat pump may actually be a better option, especially if you live in a moderate climate. First introduced in the 1940s, heat pumps are growing in popularity, and for good reason.

The Benefits of Using a Heat Pump

Quiet, safe, and efficient, heat pumps are an excellent choice for homes located in states with a more moderate climate. Here are just a few reasons to consider a heat pump to keep you cozy and comfortable all winter long.

  • Energy Efficiency. Running on good old fashioned electricity, the average heat pump is significantly more energy efficient than the average gas powered furnace.
  • Save Money on Your Annual Heating Bill. Electric rates tend to be less expensive than natural gas, at least in most areas of the United States. This means that operating a heat pump system will cost less on average than a gas fired furnace.
  • Cheaper Installation Costs. Because a forced air furnace requires an extensive ventilation system, installation can be expensive, especially in a home that isn’t already equipped with one. Installation of a heat pump system will usually cost less than the installation of a furnace in most situations.
  • Quiet Operation. In general, heat pumps do not make as much noise as a furnace. This will cause less disturbance in your daily home life, allowing you to easily enjoy activities like watching television and sleeping without being interfered by a loud heating system.
  • Safer Operation. Since heat pump systems don’t burn fuel to generate heat, there is no risk of dangerous carbon monoxide poisoning. Also, since there is no burning fuel, operating a heat pump reduces the risk of fire.
  • Heating and Cooling in One Option. A heat pump can also cool your home in the summer. By simply working in reverse, a heat pump pulls hot air from inside the house and transports in outside. This allows you to heat and cool your home using a single unit

How Heat Pumps Work

Heat pumps don’t actually generate heat. Instead, they work as a sort of heat transporter, constantly moving warm air from one place to another. Heat energy is present in all air, even air that feels cold. When the temperatures outside are frigid, a heat pump extracts even small amounts of heat and transfers it to the interior spaces of your home. When The outdoor temperatures rise, your heat pump reverses direction. Acting like an air conditioner, the heat pump transports the heat in the inside air and transports it outside.

Where Heat Pumps Work Best

There are several factors to consider when choosing between a forced air furnace and a heat pump. However, the most important factor is climate. In areas that typically experience mild winters, a heat pump will be significantly more energy efficient than a furnace.  

In areas that experience harsher winters, a heat pump could struggle to keep up. Many systems include an auxiliary heat source that kicks in when outdoor temperatures plummet. However, if temperatures remain low for extended periods, a heat pump will be far less efficient and effective than a traditional forced air furnace. Basically, the farther north you live, the more likely it is a furnace will do a better job of keeping your home warm and comfortable.

Geothermal Heat Pumps

Geothermal heat pumps can be more effective in colder climates. A geothermal heat pump draws heat from the relatively stable below-ground temperatures using a circuit of buried pipes. The major drawback to geothermal heating is the installation cost. The initial investment is expensive enough to deter most homeowners. Also, there are some locations where installation is impossible due to ground composition.

Discuss Your Options With a Professional

If you’re not sure which system is right for you, contact a qualified HVAC technician to discuss your options. An experienced professional can offer important insight into which system will work best in your climate and for your home. He or she can also help you better understand up-front investment and long-term operating costs.

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How to Interpret Energy Efficiency Ratings

AFUEKeeping your home at a comfortable temperature can be expensive. For the average homeowner, heating and cooling costs can total well more than half their monthly utility bills. Finding a system that keeps you and your family comfortable, yet operates efficiently is important for keeping expensive utility bills manageable.

If you are considering upgrading your current heating and cooling system, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by all the acronyms and numbers. These jumble of letters and numbers represent a system’s energy efficiency ratings.

A little understanding goes a long way in helping you make the most informed decision possible. Purchasing a new HVAC system, air conditioner, or furnace is a huge investment, and it will have a huge impact on your family’s day-to-day comfort.

Understanding the Different Energy Efficiency Ratings

Shopping for a new air conditioner or heat pump can be confusing. Every brand claims to be better than the competition. It is important to understand the different ratings so you can effectively compare your options and choose the best system to meet your needs.

SEER – Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio

SEER, or Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ration, is the measure of energy efficiency of cooling equipment. This figure is determined by dividing the cooling output of the system (measured in BTU or British Thermal Units) by the system’s electricity usage (measured in kilowatt-hours). Basically. SEER specifies how much electricity is needed to run the air conditioner compared to the cooling capacity.

A higher SEER rating means better energy efficiency. When comparing systems, even a small increase in SEER can greatly reduce your energy consumption, saving a significant amount on your annual utility bills.

The US Department of Energy sets SEER requirements. For northern states with cooler climates, air conditioners must have a  minimum SEER of 13. If you live in a state that has a typically hot summer, you will need a system with a SEER of at least 14.

EER – Energy Efficiency Ratio

Similar to SEER, EER (Energy Efficiency Ratio) is measured over higher temperatures and over an extended period. Usually, both SEER and EER ratings will be displayed on a cooling system. These numbers will help you understand exactly what to expect when it comes to performance and energy consumption.

HSPF – Heating Seasonal Performance Factor

Like SEER measures cooling efficiency, HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) measures heating efficiency. This number is calculated in a similar manner to SEER, by dividing the total heating needed by the total electricity used by the system. A higher HSPF indicates better heating efficiency.

AFUE – Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency

AFUE stands for Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. This number indicates the percentage of heat created for every energy dollar consumed. When fuel is converted to heat, a percentage of energy is always lost in the conversion. This number basically measures the efficiency fuel is transformed into heat.

For example, an AFUE of 80 means 80 percent of the fuel consumed is emitted as heat into the home. The remaining 20 percent to heat the home, while 20% is misplaced through venting or consumed in some other way. A higher AFUE signifies greater energy efficiency.

Energy Star

Created by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Energy Star is the government-supported symbol for energy efficiency. Products with the Energy Star label have met strict standards of energy efficiency. These products have been tested in a controlled laboratory environment by a neutral third party.

If you have questions about the energy efficiency ratings of your current heating and cooling system, contact your local HVAC professionals for help. If you are considering upgrading your current system, they can also help you determine which products are best suited for your home and your family’s specific needs.

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Snow, Ice, and Your HVAC Unit

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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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