Are you making choices that seem harmless about your homes heating and cooling system, like closing or blocking supply air vents with furniture, or putting off replacing the filter? If so, you’re not alone. However, those decisions may be contributing to comfort issues around your home, like higher utility bills and a shorter life span for your HVAC system. Here are a few common mistakes homeowners inadvertently make, along with ways to avoid them.
Improper Thermostat Settings: Setting the thermostat to extremes throughout the year can lead to higher energy bills and uncomfortable living conditions while you wait for the HVAC system to bring the house back to the desired temperature. Homeowners sometime think they are saving money when they set the thermostat back 8 to 10 degrees while they are gone all day. Programmable thermostats make this an easy habit to adopt. However, the problem that gets created is that at 5 or 6PM here in North Texas, is when our attics are the hottest. Asking your system to lower the temperature 8 to 10 degrees at this time of day, causes it to have to run non-stop for the next 3 to 4hrs to cool not only the air, but all contents of your home, furniture, floors and walls. This run time is at the peak electrical use for your home because you also begin to cook dinner, watch TV, wash a load of clothes, and run the dishwasher. All these tasks add heat to the home and humidity. Raise the temp on your thermostat no more than 3 degrees when you leave for the day. This will shorten your spikes in electric consumption each evening, increase comfort, and prolong the life of your system.
TIP: The best way to save on utility bills year round is to add Insulation to your Attic and/or Crawlspace.
Closing Supply Vents or Blocking Return Vents: Closing vents to rarely used rooms can reduce energy bills, right? Wrong. Closed or blocked vents create negative pressure, which can lead to hot, dusty attic air being pulled in through cracks around unsealed ducts and/or positive pressure which could be pushing conditioned air into attics or crawlspaces rather than into your home. An unbalanced HVAC system works much harder to maintain your temperature settings and causes increased utility bills and shortens the life of your HVAC system.
Cluttered Condenser Area: The outdoor condenser unit is designed to release the heat the refrigerant just absorbed and removed from inside your home, however this is only possible if it is allowed to receive the proper airflow. Dirty coils due to shrubbery, weeds, dust or a nearby cottonwood tree, along with other items within a couple of feet from the HVAC system, can hinder proper air flow. To help achieve peak efficiency, clear away plant matter and other debris on a regular basis, and have a professional clean the condenser coils once a year.
Dirty Air Filters — Regularly changing your home’s air filters should be a top priority to maintain your systems efficiency, internal cleanliness and enjoy better indoor air quality. Filters that are caked with dirt impede airflow, causing the HVAC system to work harder to draw air. This can cause the system to freeze up. Homes without indoor pets can change filters every 90 days, homes with indoor pets should change filters every 30 days.
Irregular Maintenance — Similar to vehicles, home heating and cooling systems require regular preventive maintenance to keep them operating safely, effectively, and efficiently. Add a professional maintenance agreement to your calendar and schedule Fall and Spring check-ups in advance so you don’t forget. You’ll be glad you did when you receive your next utility bill!
So which insulation is better; Cellulose or blown-in-Fiberglass? You can do the research and decide for yourself or take a moment for us to share a recent client experience.
In 2015, we received a phone call from a distressed home owner. He and his family had suddenly developed severe respiratory problems, making it very difficult to breathe the air in their home. They weren’t exactly sure what specifically was causing the issues, but they did know it had something to do with recent work he had done in his attic to address a rodent issue.
Prior to calling us, they had hired a pest-control company to come out to resolve the rodent issue. The pest control company’s solution was to vacuum out the old insulation, block the access points and install new, “pest-repelling”, cellulose insulation in his attic.
What is cellulose insulation? Cellulose is ground up, recycled newspaper that is treated with chemicals to make it fire-retardant and to repel pests; it does not totally eliminate them. Although it may be true that cellulose acts as a repellant, there is debate on how effective it is at repelling pests. More importantly, the chemicals cellulose is treated with can have detrimental effects to your health as well as create some major dust issues in your home. Unfortunately, both were the case for our new client.
The first thing we did was assign one of our Certified Energy Auditors and a Heating and Air Conditioning Technician to evaluate his home. Our team discovered that there was a considerable amount of dust and chemicals entering the home. We determined that the ductwork in the home was improperly installed and that the attic was not properly sealed. This was creating an unbalanced, negative-pressure condition every time the system would operate. The home’s envelope was vulnerable to attic air being pulled in by the heating and air conditioning system and the condition of the duct work.
Resolving the pressure issue certainly helped the situation but it did not eliminate the entire problem. Next, we recommended testing his indoor air quality to discover the root cause of his family’s respiratory issue. Our air quality test screens for harmful chemicals, toxins and air pollutants. The diagnosis of the air quality test indicated that the home had extremely high levels of formaldehyde!
Where was formaldehyde coming from???…… HIS NEW CELLULOSE INSULATION!
We recommended removing all of the cellulose insulation installed by the pest control company and providing him with a much healthier product, blown in fiberglass insulation. His respiratory issues were so bad; he didn’t bat an eye and left the rest in our hands to correct. All that expense just to fix a rodent issue which in turn created a much more serious problem, a health problem for his family!
We are happy to report, once the cellulose was replaced with blown in fiberglass, our new customer reported a comfortably happy and much healthier family!
*By calling a local company in your area to come in and perform a comprehensive, Home Energy Audit you are taking the first steps to having cleaner air to breathe as well as staying cooler and saving money.
What is unsealed duct work?
As your heart needs arteries and veins for carrying blood around your body, similarly, your heating and AC equipment requires duct work to spread out the conditioned air throughout the house. However in most homes, roughly 20 to 30% of the air that flows through the duct work escapes into the attic or crawlspace depending on its location through leaks in your unsealed duct work and system. The unsealed or leaky duct work can causes many problems with your system and increases your bills dramatically. Sealing of ducts is extremely important, however the level of importance goes up, if the ducts are located in an unconditioned area such as an attic, garage or a crawl space.
What causes duct leakage?
• Harsh weather conditions in unconditioned air spaces, like our Dallas area 160 degree attics
• The ducts become torn & worn out from excessive use in long Texas summers
• Improper installation, Laying on attic floors, insufficient insulation and improper sizing
• Damage caused by insects, pests, rodents and contractors stepping, sitting or crawling over.
Disadvantages of unsealed ducts:
• Enormous waste of energy, since about 10-30% of the of an average unit’s output is wasted due to duct leakages which wouldn’t occur if ducts are sealed properly. Energy losses can also occur when the central furnace fan is not running or operational. There are five ways through which an unsealed duct causes energy losses:
– Conduction: Hot 160 degree attic air outside the poorly insulated or unsealed ducts heats the duct walls, which in turn causes the cold air inside the ducts to become warmer than it should, causing your unit to work longer and harder to cool your home
– Air leakage: At times, the cause of these air leaks could be damaged or poorly connected unsealed ducts that allow conditioned air to escape into the attic or crawlspace instead of going into your home.
– Leaky supply ducts: In this case, the supply ducts are leaking, but the return ducts are fully intact. This causes energy loss in two ways; the energy loss caused, which does not go into the rooms and/or extra amount of energy required to heat up the cold air that leaked inside the house.
– Leaky return ducts: This is the opposite case where the return ducts hot air in summer or cold air in winter to get pulled into the system while the supply ducts remain intact. Since the return ducts operate at a higher pressure than the house supply ducts or the outside, cold air or hot air depending on season from the outside surroundings is pulled into this return duct. What happens then is that this cold air along with the air that came into the house through return registers, is heated in the furnace, which causes an imbalance since the amount or air that came in the house through the supply ducts becomes greater than what the return ducts took away from the house. To balance it out, cold air is pulled in and warm air leaks out.
• Unsealed ducts allow dirty and unconditioned air to be pulled back inside the house causing the air around you, to become polluted and turning into a health hazard. This dirty air can also cause instill dangerous dusts and microbes which can lead to lung and respiratory diseases. Dirty air can cause the inside of your system to age and fail prematurely.
• The energy waste caused due to unsealed ducts means your system runs longer than it should
• Rooms become stuffy.
• High summer and winter utility bills.
• Indoor temperature variations.
• Decreases life of heating/cooling systems.
How to seal a duct?
Since the ducts are often located inside walls, garages, attics and basements- it becomes difficult to repair them, but there’s always something that you can do about a situation. Firstly, a thorough investigation is to be carried about the location and intensity of the duct leakage. You can either choose to seal the ducts inside your house, on your own, or you can hire a professional, such as Efficient Home Solutions, to do this for you.
Conclusion: Even when your unsealed ducts are not damaged or worn out, they can be a cause for air leaks which again leads to all the problems stated above, such as high energy consumption, health risks, increased electricity expenses, etc. Effective duct sealing has a direct impact on your wallet, health, as well as on the environment as a whole.
If you’ve ever ventured into your homes unconditioned attic during a typical Dallas Winter or Summer, you understand why builders, from an energy perspective, don’t think of an attic as part of the home. The hot, humid and stagnant air creates a climate, even my seasoned service engineers can’t work in for more than about 20 minutes at a time. In the Dallas Winter months, the attic can get down into the teens. In homes across the Dallas Metropolitan area, poorly sealed and grossly under-insulated attics are making homeowners uncomfortable in their homes, and in their wallets, by causing unnecessarily high utility bills year round. Efficient Home Solutions recommends a short visit to your attic with a measuring tape or ruler, a camera, flashlight and a partner for safety. Things to look at while in your attic:
- Attic floor insulation level – use a ruler or tape measure to determine your insulation level by placing it on the sheetrock under the insulation and measuring the average depth in inches. Tip-if you can see the floor joists (studs) you probably need more insulation. Take a picture of tape measure down inside insulation showing the depth so you can send it to us for discussion. You’ll also want to be certain the insulation you do have is not blocking or clogging your soffit vents and preventing good attic ventilation.
See the studs, more insulation is needed
12” is Minimum efficiency & 22” is Maximum
Soffit baffles maintain good attic ventilation
2. From a safe and secure spot look around your attic with attic the light off and flashlight off to see if you see light from inside the homecoming from unsealed openings in canned lights and utility openings. Take a picture with the flash OFF.
Unsealed canned lights, very inefficient.
Unsealed light, can’t be Insulated over.
Sealed lights can be insulated over.
3. Is the attic access opening you enter your attic through in a conditioned space? If your attic access opening is located in a closet or hallway in your home and it is not sealed, you might as well consider it to be an open door or window allowing a direct pathway for air to move between the unconditioned space (your attic) and the conditioned space(your home) 24 hours a day. When your home HVAC system is running, the return air openings will pull air into your home from these opening. Sealing this opening will make a major difference in your Comfort, Utility Bills, and Indoor Air Quality. Efficient Home Solutions recommends the Attic Tent. What is the Attic Tent? It is the ultimate solutions invented to seal attic stairs, scuttle holes, knee wall doors and full-size doors. It was primarily designed to stop cold or hot (depending on the season) attic air from infiltrating your home through these openings. These openings are considered to be most home hot spots for energy loss.
Since heat naturally travels from hot to cold areas, hot air will enter and leave a conditioned home through leaks and holes, the largest of which are usually in the attic. To slow heat transfer in the summer from the attic into the home and in the winter from the home into the attic the most effective method is to maintain a high level of attic insulation(R-60 or 22”) and to seal up the envelope of the home as much as possible.
Call Efficient Home Solutions today for assistance in evaluating how your home’s attic measures up.
Call today 972-235-2600
What is a Service Agreement?
To put it simply, a Service Agreement with Efficient Home Solutions provides you peace of mind. It’s critical to have your furnace or heating system checked before turning it on for the first time of the season, to ensure no harmful gasses are seeping into your home. Likewise, it’s equally important to have your air conditioner checked out before it needs to kick into high gear and cool your home on those blistering hot summer days we’re so fond of in North Texas. The last thing you want is for it to be 105 degrees and your system dies on you without notice! With a Service Agreement, you’re allowing us the opportunity to check both your heating and cooling system each year, to ensure both are running as efficiently as they should be. Service Agreements have the ability to save you time and money, particularly since an un-maintenanced system doesn’t last nearly as long as one that is serviced on a routine basis.
Do you change the oil in your car?
Did you know your HVAC system works harder for you than your car or truck? You probably don’t think about it, but your heating and cooling system probably runs 12-18 hours a day, now that’s a lot of work! Depending on how well your home is insulated and ventilated, it could be running substantially longer than that, just trying to keep your temperature stabilized! For the most part, we’re all pretty good at getting our oil changed every 3,000 or so miles, so why is it that the one piece of equipment that works the hardest for us, is so often neglected? The answer is simple, out of sight, out of mind. We typically only think about our HVAC system when it’s not keeping us as warm or as cold as we want it to, and by then it’s too late, there’s already a problem that needs to be fixed right away!
Common Misconceptions About Service Agreements
We hear often that “This is a new system, I don’t need any work done” or “I don’t need my HVAC system checked because it’s still under warranty”. Both of those might be true statements, however, a Service Agreement doesn’t mean we are making “repairs” on your system. What we’re doing is cleaning it, and checking for any potential issues that could cause it to break down, or not run as efficiently as it should. Think of it like the changing the oil scenario above, you change your oil to lessen the possibility of problems with your engine, having a Service Agreement to check your system twice a year also lessens the possibility of problems with your heating and cooling system that could end up being quite costly. We also hear “I have a home warranty that covers my HVAC system”. That’s great, we’re glad you’ve made that investment. However, did you know that if you don’t have your system serviced on a regular basis, it voids that warranty? Oh, and the home warranty company, they don’t provide that service for you, you still have to call a reliable heating and cooling contractor to take care of this for you. Not only does it void your home warranty, but it also voids the manufacturer warranty that comes with your unit, so think twice about skipping out on this valuable service!
Efficient Home Solutions isn’t Just a Name, it’s a Promise!
With routine maintenance, your HVAC system from Efficient Home Solutions will run for years to come. We take pride in our work and offer many solutions to keep you comfortable all year round. There are times when you don’t necessarily need a new system, but you’re lacking enough insulation in your home to create that buffer from the outside elements. For your convenience, we offer FREE Attic Energy Audits, so you know what you’re getting into and the best way to keep your home as comfortable as possible.
If you would like to maintain the quality of your heating and cooling system and longevity, then regular maintenance is of the utmost importance. Give us a call to schedule a 29-point Winter inspection today! 972-235-2600 You can save money while upgrading to a new, more energy-efficient home. For a limited time you can receive No Interest and No Payment Until 2017* Or Low Payment Option With 7.99% APR* from Lennox® on your purchase of a qualifying Home Comfort System. *Subject to credit approval. See dealer for complete details. Like Us On Facebook! Schedule an appointment online! WWW.EHSHVAC.COM