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Ask Dirk: What Should I Do Before Calling for Service?

You’ve turned on the heat and nothing happens. No click. No warm air flowing through your vents. And it’s cold inside. Should you immediately call for service?

Roper's Heating and Air Conditioning ServicesWhile some situations require a call to the technician to set up a service appointment, not all do. There are some simple steps you can take to troubleshoot possible problems to save yourself time and money before calling for service.

Check the thermostat

You’d be amazed how often settings on the thermostat cause issues that result in a technician visit. Take a moment and check your settings before calling. It could be that someone messed with the settings or something wasn’t set correctly.

Newer HVAC control panels can be complicated. If you’re having problems with your thermostat control pad or don’t understand it, ask your technician to walk you through it again during their next visit.

Check Batteries if Applicable
If your thermostat uses batteries and you find it isn’t lighting up, dead batteries could be to blame. Replacing these batteries yourself is simple and doesn’t require a visit from a technician.

Check Circuit Breakers
If the batteries are OK but your system still isn’t working, check the circuit breakers or fuse box. Make sure fuses to your system haven’t burned out or make sure your circuit breakers haven’t been tripped. Sometimes a jolt of electrical energy can trip a breaker, so it’s worthwhile to investigate the circuit breaker or fuse box before calling for help.

While your furnace most likely uses gas (or heating oil) to provide heat, it requires electricity to run. So, if your power is out, your furnace will not operate.

Check filters
Your filters should be changed every couple of months. This is especially true during months of heavy use, like cold winters. If your furnace unit doesn’t seem to be blowing sufficient air through vents, or if it’s cycling on and off without warming your home to the desired temperature, it could be the result of a dirty filter. Regularly changing filters will help your system last longer and operate more efficiently.

Check Indoor and Outdoor Switches
Most units have a way to disconnect the power. In our area, the furnace (or air handler) is usually plugged into a normal-looking household outlet, while the outdoor unit typically has a disconnect mounted on a wall near the unit. Occasionally a child or pet will accidentally hit one of these switches, so if that’s a concern, check these switches before calling for service.

If you’ve completed all these steps and still don’t have heat, it is time to call for technician service. Mention to your technician that you have completed this checklist and they will take it from there.

— Dirk

Have a question for Dirk? Send it to dirk@roperHVAC.com and he’ll try to answer it in an upcoming column.

2019-01-14T10:09:34-07:00January 14th, 2019|

Ask Dirk: Do I need fresh air in my home?

A Nevada Appeal reader reached out to me with a question about the need for fresh indoor air. Since it’s a great topic for all of us during windows-closed season, I’ve shared my response here.

If you are worried more about air leaks causing your energy bills to soar, the U.S. Department of Energy (www.energy.gov) provides information on DIY home energy audits. If you’re just wondering if you need fresh air in the house, in a word, the answer is yes, you need fresh indoor air in your home. The question becomes, how does it get in besides opening windows?

Fresh air

Ironically, leaks in the building envelope provide fresh air to the home. A certain amount of fresh air needs to come into the home to keep the air healthy; however, a well-sealed home is too tight, and doesn’t leak enough, to provide the needed fresh air.

That can be remedied with a heat-recovery ventilator or an energy-recovery ventilator. This provides two important benefits.

First, you control the source of the fresh air that comes into your home. Rather than air leaking in through cracks and crevices, with some coming from the crawlspace and the attic (not my favorite sources of fresh air), air comes in through a duct from a place you choose for fresh air.

Secondly, it’s more energy efficient than just bringing outside air in. Indoor air that is exhausted passes through a heat exchanger, conditioning the outside air being brought in.

Pressurization

I’m a fan of maintaining a slight positive pressure inside the home. In this situation, air will leak out through the various places that it currently leaks in. So now you’re bringing air into your home from a source that you’ve chosen, and reversing the flow so that air now “leaks” out into your crawlspace and attic, instead of leaking in from those places. Depending on your situation, this can be accomplished by adjusting airflow through a heat-recovery ventilator or an energy-recovery ventilator, by bringing outside air into your return air duct, or a number of other approaches.

Duct leakage

Need more fresh air in my home

If your home is like the majority of homes in our area, your return air runs through the attic. The blower in the furnace pulls air through the return ducts, creating low pressure in them. Improperly sealed joints in the ducting allows attic air to be drawn into the ducting and it is subsequently distributed through your home.

Your supply ducts are most likely in your crawlspace. Here the duct leakage adds positive pressure to the crawlspace, which helps force air from the crawlspace into your living space (often through gaps around the heating registers in your floor).

Ducts that aren’t stretched tight, or that turn corners without proper technique, create more positive pressure in supply ducts, and negative pressure in return ducts, making the aforementioned issues more pronounced.

Other air losses

Kitchen hoods, bathroom fans, and clothes dryers exhaust air from your home, significantly increasing the rate of infiltration. If they are seldom run or run for short durations, this may not be a huge problem. Providing make-up air when these exhaust sources are running can significantly improve the situation, though.

Improving the quality of your air

Depending on where the air is coming from, higher quality filters in your central heating and cooling system can help improve indoor air quality. Care must be taken not to overdo this. Filters that remove more particles from the air also restrict airflow. Whether the filter is in the ceiling or at the furnace, it can decrease the airflow and create extra wear-and-tear on your system.

You can also supplement filtration efforts through the use of high-quality, free-standing portable air cleaners.

If all else fails and you’re still worried about fresh air, open a window for a bit. You’ll feel better.

— Dirk

If you have a question for Dirk, send an email to dirk@roperhvac.com and we’ll try to answer it in an upcoming column.

2019-01-04T14:30:56-07:00December 29th, 2018|

Ask Dirk: 7 Reasons Your Air Filter May Not Work Correctly

Indoor air quality researchers tell us that particulate matter (PM), or particulates, which are invisible pieces of stuff floating around in the air, are bad for human health.

Particulates that are 2.5 micrometers (0.0000025 m) or smaller, abbreviated PM2.5, are worse than larger particulates because they can penetrate deeper into the lungs and more easily find their way into your blood. The biggest sources of PM2.5 in most homes are outdoor air that finds its way into your home, indoor smokers, and regularly burning candles or incense.

Opening windows or using local bathroom and kitchen fans may help dilute particulates, although if the wind is blowing or the pollen count is high, open windows may not help. Another approach is to filter these smallest particulates out of your indoor air using the heating and air conditioning system. Even using a forced air HVAC system, filtering the air may not be helping your indoor air quality. Here are seven reasons your HVAC filter may not be working efficiently.

Not enough runtime

Filters can clean the air only when air is actively going through them. For most people, that’s only when your furnace or air conditioner is running. The rest of the time, air cleaning is not happening.

One option is to put the fan switch on the thermostat in the “on” position instead of “auto.” This will work in some places, but at the cost of higher energy bills. Depending on the equipment you have, it’s possible to add $30, $40, or even more to your monthly electric bill.

Not enough flow

Clean filters - change often

A clean filter is a good filter.

Not enough flow may also be caused by ducts and filters that are too small. That increases something called “total static pressure” in the system, which reduces air flow. Not changing filters often enough also can result in high pressure and low air flow.

Air that can’t be filtered

Sealing your home to lower infiltration can help. Air that leaks in around doors, windows, around floor registers, and from other sources will bring particulate matter into your home. There is no way to filter air that infiltrates, so prevention is the cure.

No filter

No filter means no filtration. Maybe someone removed the filter because it’s difficult to reach or took it out and forgot to replace it. Without a filter, you also could be getting your duct work, blower, air conditioner coil, furnace heat exchanger and other components dirty.

Filter bypass

Installing a deep media filter that’s capable of filtering out the small particulates only functions if properly installed. If it isn’t, air coming into the system will go around the filter, instead of through it.

Improperly sealed ducts

While improperly sealed ducts can waste 20 percent or more of your heating and cooling, they can also cause dirty indoor air. This is especially true of the return air duct that takes air from your living space back to your furnace. In our area, these ducts are typically in the attic. They have lower pressure inside them since the furnace is sucking air through them, so leaks allow air from the attic (not especially nice air) to be sucked into the ducts. If your filter is in your furnace, some of the debris will be caught, but if it’s in your ceiling return air grille, air that’s sucked in from the attic will be delivered straight into your home without the benefit of filtration.

Low efficiency (MERV) filter

The standard rating system for filters is Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, or MERV. The higher the number, the more particulates are filtered out. Typical one-inch filters are around MERV 2.

Increasing your filter to at least MERV-10 will remove about half of the small particulates. A MERV-13 will remove more than 90 percent of that small particulate matter.

Use care when switching to higher MERV filters, they can restrict air flow, which can decrease your system’s efficiency and life expectancy. As always, filters in your HVAC system should be changed at least quarterly. Your technician can help you select the best filter to meet your needs, balancing the decision between air cleaning ability and keeping your equipment healthy.

2019-01-04T14:38:45-07:00November 7th, 2018|

Ask Dirk: Should I have my furnace serviced for winter?

With cold weather upon us, chances are you have turned on your furnace for the season and are enjoying the warmth it brings to your home.

So, if everything seems to be working fine, should I still consider having maintenance service? Absolutely. Here are my reasons why:

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of care

Your furnace system controls the temperature and moves air throughout your home to keep it comfortable while also filtering out dust and allergens. A yearly preventative maintenance inspection by a qualified service technician can keep your system functioning at peak efficiency by identifying problems from thermal stress, movement, or dust.

Common problems can include:

  • Dirty air filters restricting air flow and placing extra stress on the furnace
  • Dirty blower fan blades lowering air flow and making the blower motor work harder
  • Out of specification capacitor making the system work harder (and likely to fail soon)
  • Changes in performance over time as the equipment ages

An inspection can also find and repair less obvious problems like:

  • Loose blower belt
  • Improperly firing burners
  • Blocked condensation drain
  • Loose wiring harnesses

Yearly fall maintenance can save you time, frustration, and money when it’s done right by a trained technician. It may even prevent a mid-winter failure by nipping a pending problem in the bud.

Change those filters!

change those filtersNext to having your furnace checked annually by a trained professional, changing your filter is the most important thing to do to ensure your furnace’s longevity and performance. One of the biggest culprits behind equipment issues are dirty filters, which can:

  • Restrict airflow, putting additional strain on the fan motor that, after time, can make your motor burn out, your system overheats, your heat exchanger crack, or your equipment fail
  • Reduce comfort by affecting the system’s ability to heat your home
  • Reduce efficiency causing an increase in your utility bills
  • Drastically reduce your indoor air quality, which can aggravate allergies, asthma and other illnesses

Manufacturers typically recommend that furnace filters be changed every three months. Homes with smokers, pets, or situations that let more dust indoors will likely need to change their filters more regularly than other households.

Duct cleaning?

Since your furnace has air filters that keep dust away from your heat exchanger and reduce dust from entering your ducts and blowing back into your house, you may not need regular duct cleaning. The strong exception to this is if you see mold, insects/rodents or excessive dust coming from your vents; if you do, then a duct cleaning is in order.

Be sure to hire a competent contractor if you decide to clean your ducts, and make sure they guarantee that their equipment won’t damage your ductwork.

Your service professional also will be able to inform you as your system nears the end of its useful life. That way, you can be in control and replace your equipment at your convenience, instead of having to make a crisis replacement.

— Dirk

2019-01-04T14:27:16-07:00October 28th, 2018|

Ask Dirk: Should I humidify my home?

Living in Nevada, we are very familiar with the concept of low humidity, but what is it, really?

Humidity refers to the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere. Relative humidity, a term used by weather forecasters, measures the actual amount of moisture in the air compared to the total amount of moisture that the air can hold. An important factor in determining how much moisture air can hold is its temperature – colder air holds less moisture than warm air does.

Nevada’s low humidity

Here in Nevada, we often hover around 20 percent for relative humidity, so it feels dry because our air is holding one-fifth (or less) of the moisture it is capable of holding.

Winds along the west coast typically blow west to east which brings cool air (which holds less moisture) from the cool water onshore. Additionally, the Sierra Nevada blocks much of the moisture coming in from Pacific storms.

Home humidity
Since cold air holds less moisture than warm air does, there is less moisture in the air during winter time. To make matters worse, when humidity levels dip, the ambient air feels cooler and we turn up the heat. A properly sealed home will require less humidification, in addition to added efficiencies for your furnace.

portable home humidifier

If humidity levels in the home dip too low, your furniture and house can deteriorate. Wood floors, furniture and millwork may split and crack, paint could chip and electronics can be damaged. Additionally, dry, cracked skin and dry nasal passages may make it easier for germs and viruses to enter your system.

While you may not actually need a humidifier, it may make your home more comfortable by helping to reduce dry skin, itchy eyes and irritated nasal passages, and by reducing static electricity. Adding a humidifier to your home can remedy low humidity with varying degrees of effectiveness and cost.

Natural Evaporation
Adding moisture to the air is as simple as placing a vessel of water on top of, or next to, a radiator or other air heating system, or hanging wet clothes out on a drying rack or hanging in doorways. This is a very low-tech and low power method; however, the strength and humidity controls are limited and available moisture is dependent on the size of the vessel used or the amount of wet clothes left out to dry. Vessels must be frequently refilled and cleaned.

Portable/Room Humidifier
The most common type of humidifier is a portable one and there are two types: cool mist and warm mist, both of which use a reservoir to hold water. The cool mist uses a wick to absorb the water and a fan blows air through a moistened filter. As the air passes through the filter, it evaporates some of the water into the room. Warm mist humidifiers use a heating element that heats the water before dispersing it into the air. Portable systems are easy to use and they can be moved as needed. However, similar to natural evaporation, control and measure of relative humidity is limited, and the reservoir must be refilled about every 24 hours and cleaned regularly.

Whole House Humidifiers
For the most controllable humidity system, adding a whole house humidifier to your furnace will distribute vapor directly into the heated air and circulate it throughout the house using your normal duct system. The whole house system is the most effective and the most expensive option. With a whole house humidifier, you control humidity levels with a device called a humidistat (like a thermostat). This method has the greatest humidification capacity and provides the most control overall.

If you choose to humidify, remember to keep the unit clean and the water fresh on the portable units. A wise man once said, “Do your research before purchasing anything.” Might have been me, but it’s great advice anyway.

2019-01-04T14:28:56-07:00October 13th, 2018|