Category: Weather + Safety

Keeping Your Heating and Cooling System Running Smoothly

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By Fran J.Donegan

Keeping your system running smoothly not only makes your home more comfortable, but also affects your monthly operating costs. Poorly maintained heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems (HVAC) work harder, wasting energy and money.

Another great reason to keep HVAC systems at peak performance: When they fail, they tend to fail at the worst possible time, like the coldest night of the year or the middle of a sweltering heat wave. Problem is, most other failures will happen at the same time, that’s when HVAC contractors get backlogged, making it extremely difficult to get your issue resolved quickly.

Preventative Maintenance is Key!

Preventative maintenance is the key to keeping HVAC equipment running at peak efficiency. There are some important steps you, as the homeowner, can take.

First, find a reputable, qualified HVAC company to service your system annually.  You should schedule your system check-ups (also referred to as a tune-up or “clean and check”) just before the start of each heating and cooling season.  Experienced technicians can often spot issues before they cause a breakdown.

Depending on the type of HVAC you have, a typical professional maintenance appointment will take 30-60 minutes and includes items such as:

– Checking and tightening electrical connections

– Checking components for wear or defects

– Inspecting accessible duct work for leaks

– Taking critical system measurements (temperatures, pressures, electrical readings, etc.) to ensure they meet manufacturer specifications

– Calibrating thermostat and conducting a full system operation sequence

– Checking carbon monoxide levels (heating season)

– Checking accessible gas lines for possible leaks (heating season)

– Measure refrigerant levels – improper levels can negatively impact performance, efficiency and levels, and low refrigerant levels may indicate a leak. (cooling season)

– Inspect the condensate drain for clogs, flush/clear if needed (cooling season)

– Check and replace or wash filters (you will usually need to provide a replacement filter—be sure to have this ready for your appointment)

– Provide you with a checklist of items completed and a report on the condition of your system, its components and performance

– Make recommendations for needed repairs and optional system enhancements

During a heating system check-up, the technician will typically focus on the indoor unit (furnace and blower equipment). If you have a heat pump, they will also check your outdoor unit.

During a cooling system check-up, technicians will service the outdoor unit (condenser coil and compressor) as well as the indoor unit (blower and evaporator coil).

Understanding Equipment Efficiency Ratings

For gas burning heating equipment, the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating measures how much fuel a furnace or boiler converts to heat and how much is wasted. It is not unusual to find old furnaces with an AFUE below 70 percent, which means that over 30 percent of the fuel is wasted. High-efficiency furnaces available today can achieve AFUE ratings of above 98 percent.  That could mean a reduction in heating bills of 20 to 30 percent.  Other benefits of high-efficiency furnaces include quieter operation and enhanced parts warranties.

For cooling equipment, the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) measures the energy efficiency of cooling systems—the higher the number, the more efficient the equipment. Federal regulations require a minimum SEER of 13 or 14, depending on where you live, but market today’s high-efficiency cooling equipment can achieve SEERs of more than 20.

So what does regular maintenance have to do with efficiency? Well, let’s relate it to your car:  the longer you go without an oil change, the lower your gas mileage gets – that’s because over time, build-up and residue on your car’s internal components negatively impacts their performance.  Your HVAC system is no different.  In fact each year that your equipment is not properly maintained, it can lose up to 5% of its efficiency due to build-up of dirt and grime on internal components and operation at below optimal levels

There are a number of things you can do on a regular basis to help maintain an HVAC system.

1. Change your air filters on forced-air systems at least every three months but check them monthly. If your house is excessively dusty or you have pets or other sources of airborne pollutants, you may need to replace filters more frequently. Higher efficiency filters will keep more of the smaller particles from building up on your system’s components. The type of filter to use and directions for changing it can be found in the manual that came with the system. If you don’t have one, ask an HVAC contractor for advice or visit the manufacturer’s website.

2. Make sure that furniture does not block heating and cooling vents, baseboard heaters and radiators and do not close registers to redirect air to other areas/rooms.  If registers are blocked or closed, the system has to work harder to provide you with the comfort you want, placing a strain on the system.

Five Fire Hazards You Should Watch Out for During the Holiday Season + Every Day

(source: Home Advisor)

As it gets colder outside, we make the inside of our homes and offices warmer, resulting in an increase chance of fires from various possible hazards. In addition to space heaters and personal warmers, which are a common fire hazard, here are other common causes of fire.

 

 Candles

 

Candles
(source: Sortra.com)

Are you a candle fanatic unable to leave a store without bringing home nice-smelling goodies? Even if your candle consumption is on the moderate end, you probably burn at least one or two candles to set the holiday mood with fir tree or peppermint scents. But even one candle can cause a fire. Follow these tips to stay safe:

  • Never leave candles unattended, especially container-less pillar candles.
  • Don’t use real candles outside where wind and wild animals can easily knock them over – opt for flameless candles for your porch and walkway.
  • Place candles where children and pets can’t reach them and make sure that any flammable objects (lamp shades, Christmas trees, décor, etc.) are at least a foot away.

 

Fireplaces

Fireplaces

(source: Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co.)

Fireplaces have a tendency to gather people – not only because they are warm and toasty, but because there’s something magical about having friends and family converse over the flaming logs. Whether you have an indoor fire place, an outdoor one or a fire pit that you use for bonfires – be sure to follow the safety rules to avoid fires:

  • Perform annual chimney inspection and sweep to remove creosote buildup.
  • Never use flammable liquids, such as gasoline or kerosene, to start a fire.
  • Keep firewood on a safe distance from the fire.
  • Use the spark guard for indoor fireplaces
  • Don’t leave fire unattended and always extinguish it completely before going to bed.

 

Ovens, Ranges and Small Appliances

Ovens

(source: My Domaine)

For some people, holiday season means visiting family and friends and getting a taste of every turkey and deviled eggs in the neighborhood. But someone has to cook all this food! So if you plan on spending a great deal of time rotating between the stove and the sink, keep in mind these cooking safety tips:

  • Don’t leave your stove alone for more than 5 minutes.
  • Promptly clean any spills before they get caked onto the cooktop, as food remains can catch fire.
  • Do your best to stay organized and focused: don’t leave towels, wooden utensils or recipe books next to the burners.
  • Use timers to prevent your meals from burning and phone alarms to remind you there’s something cooking.
  • Never use oven or cooktop for domestic heating purposes.
  • Be careful with turkey fryers and grills – don’t use them indoors, in a garage or around flammable surfaces.

Winter Preparedness – Car + Driving Safety

Winter Preparedness – Car Safety

You may recall seeing those cars and passengers stranded on Lake Shore Drive, Chicago years ago. While you can’t change the weather and conditions, you can prepare and plan ahead. Plan long trips carefully, listening to the radio or television, or checking online, for the latest weather forecasts and road conditions. If bad weather is expected, drive only if absolutely necessary. Is your car winter ready?

Cars sit abandoned on Lake Shore Drive

Check or have a mechanic check the following items on your car:

  • Keep your gas tank full – in case evacuation is needed.
  • Do not drive through a flooded area – Six inches of water can cause a vehicle to lose control and possibly stall. A foot of water will float many cars.
  • Be aware of areas where floodwaters have receded – Roads may have weakened and could collapse under the weight of a car.
  • If a power line falls on your car you are at risk of electrical shock, stay inside until a trained person removes the wire.
  • Antifreeze levels – ensure they are sufficient to avoid freezing.
  • Battery and ignition system – should be in top condition and battery terminals should be clean.
  • Brakes – check for wear and fluid levels.
  • Exhaust system – check for leaks and crimped pipes and repair or replace as necessary. Carbon monoxide is deadly and usually gives no warning.
  • Fuel and air filters – replace and keep water out of the system by using additives and maintaining a full tank of gas. A full tank will keep the fuel line from freezing.
  • Heater and defroster – ensure they work properly.
  • Lights and flashing hazard lights – check for serviceability.
  • Oil – check for level and weight. Heavier oils congeal more at low temperatures and do not lubricate as well.
  • Thermostat – ensure it works properly.
  • Windshield wiper equipment – repair any problems and maintain proper washer fluid level.
  • Install good winter tires – Make sure the tires have adequate tread. All-weather radials are usually adequate for most winter conditions. However, some jurisdictions require that to drive on their roads, vehicles must be equipped with chains or snow tires with studs.

If there is an explosion or other factor that makes it difficult to control the vehicle, pull over, stop the car and set the parking brake.

If the emergency could impact the physical stability of the roadway, avoid overpasses, bridges, power lines, signs and other hazards.
(source: http://www.ready.gov/car; image: Reuters)