Doc, You Can Fix It Right?

From Doug Garrett of the EPA

With newer and smarter technological marvels hitting the marketplace daily, it seems reasonable to expect that something as basic as a house should do what it is intended to do. At a minimum, your house should be safe, durable, comfortable, healthy to breathe in, and energy efficient. But the fact is that you are quite likely to experience problems in your house such as mold, cold drafts, rotting roofs, polluted air, and high energy costs. Any one of these performance problems is an indication that your house is not performing as it should: It is sick, and it needs a diagnosis and cure.

While these performance failures are all distinct types of problems, they have a common cause. They stem from a failure to understand the complex, interactive system that is a home. Surprisingly, until the last 15 years, very little scientific research had been conducted into how homes and buildings actually function. Instead, builders and contractors relied almost totally on “knowledge” handed down through word of mouth in the trades. Then when things went wrong, they had little to tell them why. Their fixes were usually based not on an understanding of how homes really function, but on what was traditionally done. Sometimes these fixes worked; often they didn’t.

Compounding the problem, the traditional view of homes is that they are simply a set of components that are, for the most part, independent of each other. Too often, the separate components of a home are designed by people who don’t communicate with each other.  The architect designs for aesthetic appeal but not for energy efficiency or even for long lasting performance. The framer builds the frame of the home for structural stability but not for airtightness. The mechanical contractor designs and installs the heating, air conditioning, and ducts but rarely thinks of the occupants’ needs for fresh air. The common insistence on seeing these construction “specialties” as separate can cause a host of home performance problems.

In the last 15 years, there has been a revolution in the science of diagnosing and curing sick buildings. Through the process of applying scientific methods and instruments to the study of buildings, scientists have come to realize that buildings are like people. They must keep moisture out via a continuous watertight skin. They must provide clean, fresh air for the occupants while at the same time maintaining comfortable temperatures. They must not take in too many toxins, and when toxins do get in they must be expelled quickly. Houses must also be affordable to live in.

Perhaps the most important realization has been that buildings–like people–function as a system. Building scientists and home performance specialists–a small but growing group of well-trained professionals–have measured and documented how all the different components in a home interact with and affect one another. When one part goes wrong, it will inevitably effect other parts that may seem on the surface to have no direct connection. We have come to know that the different parts of a house are as interdependent as the organs of a living being. Houses should therefore be designed and treated so that all the different parts of the system interact in a way that is beneficial, and they should be treated this way when they are sick.

Breaking News: Neighbors found GUILTY!

Filter Side by SideThe verdict…MURDER

In the dead of winter, in the middle of the night, an HVAC crew was called in to investigate the demise of a furnace. The murder weapon was a dirty, neglected air filter.  The photos provided here offer proof in yet another open and shut case. Exhibits marked “A”, on the left, were taken of the customer’s air filters.  Exhibits marked “B”, on the right, are entered as visuals for comparison. They represent what an air filter SHOULD look like. Unfortunately, this was not an isolated case.

Making light of a serious situation is not the intention.  Attempting to get your attention IS.  As pointed out in the last monthly issue, and countless times prior, it is vital you change or clean your filter on a regular basis.  Not only will it save your equipment, it will save money on your utility bills.  The easier your system “breathes”, the easier it operates, and will cost you far less in the long run.

Think of it this way.  You and your furnace have one important thing in common: the need to breathe to survive.   The filter’s job is to catch dirt, dust, and debris, and functions as its “respiratory system”.  But your furnace lacks communication skills.  It cannot cry out for help.  Instead, it works as hard as it can until the very last possible moment. Then it collapses.  According to Energy Star, the number one reason a furnace fails or breaks down is due to neglect.

Looking again at Exhibit “A” and acknowledging that your furnace needs to breathe – realize that it simply cannot when the filter looks like the photo.  Ultimately, you are the one who would suffer, not only financially, but by breathing in all of the contaminates which a dirty filter harbors.  Your furnace does double duty.  It not only heats and conditions your house, but it also moves air and all of the pollutants floating through the atmosphere. Appealing to your health consciousness, having a clean furnace filter certainly contributes to cleaner air.

Did you know that one study revealed that indoor environment is up to five times more polluted than that of the outside?   More frightening are the research statistics showing the human body’s inability to fight off allergens and viruses as compared to those of previous generations. It’s no wonder that advertisements for allergy medications now address both indoor and outdoor usage of their products.  We believe this makes an even stronger case for doing what you can to ensure you and your family do not neglect the source you rely on for your indoor comfort needs.

In the Barrington case initially cited, the homeowner could not remember the last time the furnace filter had been replaced.  By the looks of it, it was a few years and at least one flood ago.  The negligence cost him dearly.  The furnace was dead, and for one simple reason – forgetting to change the filter.  It’s a shame, because the filter is the cheapest part you can replace on a system, and better yet, can be done without a service call.

We’re standing on our soap box again hoping you heed our advice.  Leave the dangerous and complicated components up to us, but do yourself a favor and check your filter.  Unsure if it is dirty or clean?  Replace it, just to be safe.  And healthier.  And more solvent for the upcoming holidays.

To Humidify or Not Humidify. That is the Question

humidifierBased on my recent stack of emails and calls surrounding the mystery that is a humidifier I thought it fitting to play “Myth Busters” and shed some light on the situation. Apparently there is great mystery and misconception surrounding humidifiers and de-humidifiers. Lets start at the beginning and move our way through it so that you can be an expert when it comes to your homes humidification.

At the most basic of levels humidifiers are attached to a furnace and add humidity during the winter months. This humidity cuts down on static shocks,  helps eliminate dry and runny noses, can improve your indoor air quality, and makes your house feel warmer. Although they are not code in this area they are a fantastic idea.

De-humidifiers are typically run in basements during summer months and drain into a floor drain or need to be emptied periodically. In our climate they help to remove dampness and the mustiness of basements.
Humidifiers need to be looked at once a year to replace the pad, and ensure proper water flow. Most houses in this area are on well or have very hard water. This hard water can reek havoc on the water lines for the humidifier. Neglect of humidifiers is the number one cause of their demise. By simply taking care of them yearly you can avoid the nightmare stories and water issues that can occur.

A great way to ensure your hard wood floors do not start to spilt, or hardwood furniture does not start to deteriorate is by adding the right amount of humidity. Homes with lots of hard wood or that run their fireplaces a lot tend to suffer if their humidifier is not operating properly.
How they work is by taking water from your homes water line and running that water across a pad. A fan blows across the pad and humidifies the air stream as there is a call for heat. Typically you want the humidifier set at 35-40% humidity. Depending on the construction of the house you may need to add more or less humidity.

The best indicator on humidity levels is actually your windows. If you notice water or dew building up along the bottom of the window you can turn the humidity dial back down. You can even turn the thermostat down a couple more degrees that you would think. Humidity makes the air feel warmer, and lets you set the thermostat back a few degrees. Everyone home and situation is different but and ideal system could run at 68* and feel like 70*.

Some of the best stories I hear are how happy people are after they add a humidifier. Especially the people who had great old practices for trying to add humidity. Some people would simply keep a gold fish bowl in the kitchen and hope the evaporation would do the trick. Other people would even leave a small Tupperware of water next to the floor vents and hope there was a moisture transfer. Know what I have learned these stories are great for a good chuckle. The homeowners who had these rituals always get the last laugh now!

April Showers Don’t Always Just Bring May Flowers

Tom-MaintSpeaking of the things around your place that should get a look at with the arrival of spring, there is one more that can have a serious impact on both your wallet and your health. It’s your air conditioning system. Whether you like to keep the air conditioning on from now until fall or just use it on really hot days, there are serious consequences based on the equipment’s condition.

At Corcoran Heating and Air Conditioning we have learned, and hope to pass onto you, the importance of both the system’s actual performance and what its contribution to the overall health of the indoor environment will be. On our end, we can check that your home’s or office’s or restaurant’s system is not over or undersized and can breathe properly. If either of those isn’t correct it will lead to higher utility costs, more parts failures and greater mold growth. When a building is closed up to the outside elements and the air conditioner is simply cranked up to mimic a comfortable day, we are subjecting ourselves to a potentially very sick indoor environment.

Our entire company is continuing to get smarter and more advanced in our approaches to maximizing your comfort and health. At every opportunity we are training ourselves and staff to deliver the best solutions for each and every short or long term problem with air conditioning systems. To that end, we will be passing on even more ways for you to improve your systems overall performance.

A checkpoint list that we follow – follows! For those of you who have been loyal maintenance clients you can expect the same expert service and performance testing we have been implementing. For those of you who are on the fence about whether or not to have your equipment maintained and performance checked by us, this information may help. We have compiled a checklist of what the best HVAC contractors in the industry are capable of. It is offered so that you can compare what we offer as compared to other programs available to you.

Quality Maintenance and Performance Verification should include the following:

  • Chemically clean and thoroughly wash condenser coil(s).
  • Thoroughly clean or replace standard air filter(s).
  • Lubricate motor and fan bearings, and other moving parts as necessary.
    Inspect evaporator coil.
  • Clean and inspect condensate drain lines and fittings.
  • Calibrate thermostat.
  • Inspect, tighten, and test all electrical connections, including the disconnect switch.
    Inspect all cooling system electrical wires, connectors, and terminals.
  • Test system starting and running capacity.
    Test all controls, switches, relays, transormers, contactors, motors, and fans.
    Measure starting and running amperes, line voltage, and control voltage.
  • Test for proper airflow and air delivery.
    Perform static pressure duct testing.
  • Inspect and adjust all safety controls.
    Monitor refrigerant pressures and temperatures.
  • Make recommendations for lowering operating costs and improving comfort and performance.
  • Wear protective shoe coverings and keep areas clean.
  • Carry highest level of licensing and insurance for all employees.

As usual we will continue to deliver these to our existing residential clients as well as the appropriate additional steps on the commercial side. As a bonus this spring we wanted to make the process even easier by offering a monthly payment option if that better suits your budget. Pay us for half the cost of the total agreement and we can break up the rest of the cost over the next year by automatic charges to your credit card. If that interests you, either Brenda or your technician can show you your exact monthly cost.
Spring is here and, as always, we will fill up fast. Make sure you get hold of Brenda when you are ready to get your spring maintenance taken care of.

To Download our Maintenance Agreement: Click Here