Reducing “stress” on your HVAC equipment this spring.

With spring finally starting to approach it is a wonder just how hot it may get this summer. Will we have a overly hot summer, or more milder temps? Hard to say, but after this last winter my money is on the long hot summer.

With April being a month dedicated to stress awareness I thought what better way than to look at something you may not expect would suffer from stress. Your indoor comfort is directly affected by the stress your HVAC equipment and ductwork will be up against this spring and summer. To help reduce the stress on not only your equipment but on your sanity and pocket book here are some steps to take.

Change or clean your filter.

One of the simplest and cheapest ways to help directly reduce the stress your equipment will be facing. These long cold winters keep our houses closed up and furnaces running constantly. Spring cleaning is the perfect time to get your filters checked, changed, or cleaned.

Beware of overly price filters that promise high capture rates without doing your research. If you have a 1” filter we recommend the fiberglass disposable and addressing allergy concerns with RGF lights. For 5” filters you should stick with Honeywell or Air Bare filters. And for most electronic models they require a thorough cleaning every 1-3 months depending on your space. Some of the newer models require cleaning and replaceable filters that need to be changed regularly.

Uncover your units

OK, first off it is rare that we would ever tell you to cover your units. Certain locations and commercial locations, but typically outdoor units are built to be outdoors. The problem with covering them is that they make a great home for a local family of mice or rodents. Rodents who like to snack on the insulation of wiring inside the condensing units.

Unblock your vents

Thankfully it is time for spring cleaning which means decluttering and cleaning things out. We recommend by starting with things that have piled over supply and return vents. The easier the air can move through a system the less stress on the unit, and the overall happier with your equipment you will be. The necessary stress has many monetary issues as well. If you do want to close vents in rooms you do not use, check to see if there is a damper in the ductwork as opposed to just closing the grill. Switching the dampers in the majority of cases better diverts airflow at the source.

Once it gets a bit warmer, clean the coils

Taking a hose to your outdoor units at home or at work is a bring stress reliever for your equipment. The outdoor coils are vital for the transfer of heat from inside to outside. Which is what makes air conditioning a reality. These outdoor coils have many small groves air must travel through. Grooves perfectly sized to get packed with derbies, pollens, and vegetation. The more build up on the equipment the worse off the system will be.

Now these are all things you can do yourself, and we do recommend it. We also recommend that you get things looked at professionally once a year. During a professional inspection and efficiency adjustment we can ensure the equipment is on the right track for the upcoming season. As well as point out ways that you can improve on comfort and system performance. We are excited to show those savvy clients interested how to get the most out of their systems this summer.  Just give us a call!

Technical Corner: Why De-Humidify?

Many clients ask this question during the oft en rainy late spring and early summer. They want to know not only if they should be running de-humidifiers, but what are the risks if they do not and which systems and settings are the best. Good questions, so why not delve into the matter right now so that everyone can benefit from our suggestions?

Fact is: our area is wet. Most home-owners who have basements and crawlspaces have either experienced flooding, know some-one who has, or are worried about it. No, this article is not about flooding but mentioning it is an important reminder of how much water our homes and other buildings are up against. Where there is water, heat, and stagnant air – there is higher humidity. Structures with sump pumps, floor drains, flooding potential and hosts of other water sources such as washing machines and lower level bathrooms face high humidity levels and the potential of related issues.

Our recommendations: The easiest solution is to run a small portable plug in model in an area of multiple mechanical or water sources. Based on the model, you can set the desired humidity point and fan speed. may be a little greedy, but I have a lot of ground water, and am happy with the results thus far).  If the unit can be put in an area near a ground drain – all the better as most come with (garden) hose adaption options which can be run to it along the floor. If not, other units are available with water capture containers which stop the de-humidifier from running when the water reaches a certain level and will restart aft er being emptied. When shopping for one of these portables, know your basement’s square footage and look for a unit with adequate coverage. Also look for one which not only handles the basement square footage, but performs with low electrical usage.

For more extreme humidity issues there are whole house de-humidifier options. The same companies that bring you humidifiers will most likely have a full line of ductable de-humidifiers. These units interlock with your current air handling equipment and are ducted to condition specific areas of concern. We can get into more details on these if your situation requires.

O.K. How long should we run de-humidifiers and what if we don’t? The answers are easy: all rainy season, and all summer long. If not, that musty odor caused by high humidity hangs around, as does an ideal environment for mold to grow. It’s frightening to know that it only takes as little as forty-eight hours, some water, and a food source to cultivate breeding ground for a great crop of this not only pesky and odorous, but potentially health risky crop of troublesome mold.

If you have other questions we haven’t covered or concerns about your specific situation, feel free to give us a call. Or – ask our technician when he is out doing your annual maintenance.

Also make sure to Google your de-humidifier model number along with the word “recall” to ensure your model has not been recalled. There are a large number of portable units that have been recalled due to potential fire risks.

Even The Hospitals Aren’t Safe!?!

If you are one of the millions suffering from the latest strand of flu virus, you may just as well stay home.  According to Northwest Community Hospital as well as press releases from other institutions, you will simply be turned away. That is true even for your children under the age of 18.

Hospitals understand just how easily the virus spreads from person to person or through ventilation systems, and how resistant it is to common medications.  They are worried about the havoc the flu virus will wreak on their patients, who are very susceptible to contracting it.

In this age of viruses and flu bugs that mutate and seem invincible to current treatments, it is more important than ever to recognize how big an impact our ventilation systems can have on our home or business.  It also serves as a reminder of what steps we should be taking to strengthen our immune system by improving our physical condition.

Maybe the first issue to address is taking care of ourselves so we can build up defenses in order to stay healthy.  There are no magic formulas or hidden insider secrets to achieve this.  Eating right and exercising thirty minutes every day has proven to cut the chance of getting sick by half, yes half!

It’s harder during the winter – everything is!  But it’s not impossible.  The body can create as many good habits as bad ones given the chance.  Habits are said to become routine if given thirty days of repetition.  Experiment with this by waking up at a specific time for the next month, and then see how your body reacts in the following month.  You should find you’ve conditioned yourself to awaken at that same time.  It’s a strategy that fitness centers have embraced, and the reason why so many offer the first thirty days of membership for free.

If you’ve gotten hooked into a one year gym membership, no matter by what means, put it to good use.  According to, “thirty to sixty minutes (physical activity) a day lowers blood sugar and blood pressure, boosts HDL (good cholesterol) and can reduce the protein that contributes to blood clots”.

As long as we can’t hibernate, we may as well feel better, live longer, and enjoy an overall better quality of life.   Making a habit of being active is the cheapest and quickest solution to help prevent illness and disease.
Eating habits can be changed too.  Start simple.  If you think you need 3 teaspoons of sugar in your coffee, condition yourself to get that spoon out of the bowl after 2.  Remove the salt shaker from your table and leave it in the basement or rent a storage locker for it.  There’s enough sodium in most foods, anyway.  Grab the 1% milk at the grocery store. In a few days, you won’t notice the difference between it and either 2% or whole milk.  We’ve all read the benefits of fruits, vegetables, fish, etc.  Start believing a lot of this is true.

I’m not your mother so I won’t tell you that you have to do anything.  On that note, I’ll end this portion of the lecture.

Next up is advice about properly filtering and venting a home or office.  Start by understanding what you are trying to accomplish.

Are you looking for a cleaner home?  The first and easiest place is to start with replaceable filters.  The one inch filters are designed to be replaced every thirty days, while the five inch filters are designed to be changed every three to six months.  A common, replaceable filter is designed to capture airborne particles such as dog hair, dander, dust and other non-living particles present in the indoor air.

If allergies plague your family, there are high level HEPA self-contained filtration systems which are mounted to the home duct work or available as standalone units. These add a higher capture rate for harmful air born particles and are ideal for use in extreme allergy cases or in situations where household members are susceptible to illness from outdoor air which means the house needs to be closed up for most of the year.  These systems do put extra pressure on your equipment’s static pressure by restricting airflow.  Call me for this type of application.  It really needs expert analysis of your current duct system.

Are you looking to take the next step or for additional suggestions to keep your home cleaner and its indoor air safer and healthier?  A newer and easily added option is the RGF germicidal lamp.  It can be easily added to most HVAC systems and is ideal for killing living bacteria and viruses in the air stream.

The lamps have been tested and recommended for treating even severe viruses like H1N1.  Testing has been done in places where bacteria is easily introduced, such as in offices, health care facilities, hotels and even cruise ships.  It’s now trusted to be effective in the commercial UV treatment of food.  It is also used widely in hospitals and large industrial applications.

Personally, we have seen such positive results that we have no problem allowing people to test drive the equipment in their own place for ninety days.

If you do not notice results, we will take it out and refund your money.  That’s how much faith we have in RGF germicidal lamps.

Whether you’re in charge of a household or business, it is important to take time to protect it.  By stepping up efforts at the gym, or at the kitchen table – every effort to improve immunity to sickness and disease is worth the effort.

Take some time to investigate what you’re living with on a daily basis, and set up your indoor environment to match your body’s needs.  Each case is unique, and that’s why we don’t waste time on magic bullet solutions, but rather want to investigate your situation and your needs.

Why we test Static Pressure

They Check Your Blood Pressure Every Time You Go To the Doctor, Don’t They?

The truth is that the medical profession has used the simple act of checking a person’s blood pressure to tell an awful lot about that person.  The results of this basic test serve as a reliable indicator upon which the doctor can make his/her decisions for recommendations and remedies.  People with high blood pressure are instructed in ways to help lower that pressure in order to allow the heart to perform better while working easier.

Luckily, people much smarter than me have learned to adapt this system to the HVAC industry.  If you’re thinking your system doesn’t have blood, or for that matter, a heart, just hear me out. You see, we can actually take your duct system’s blood pressure.

Think of it this way.  Your equipment is the heart of your comfort system, and the ductwork is its veins and arteries.  When the blower turns on to move the air, it acts as the heart pumping air through your system’s veins.

Using the correctly calibrated tools along with the proper formulas, our technicians can check your duct’s ‘blood pressure’ performing a test done during routine maintenance and service or as a  measure implemented when helping to improve comfort issues or while replacing equipment. The higher the pressure in the ductwork, the harder the blower motor and other components need to work.  The harder they work, the shorter they’ll last, the worse they’ll perform and the less comfortable you will be.  Additionally, you will incur heftier utility charges trying to compensate for poor performance.

The pressure in your system should not be higher or lower than the manufacturer’s specified parameters.  You see, manufacturers of air moving equipment have a very specific static pressure they want their equipment subjected to.  They know that exceeding this pressure will affect how well their systems work or how much shorten the life span of it will be.

This information is not limited to those of you with a conventional forced air system.  Using the same principles and the right software, tests have been adapted to help with hydronic systems.  The same principles apply, only the testing and configuration changes.  On the hydronics side, boilers use pumps to force water through a series of piping to deliver heat or hot water to certain areas.  The more pressure in these pipes, the harder the pumps and boilers have to work.  Again, the harder they work, the worse they perform.

Improperly pumped and piped systems have a continual uphill battle trying to deliver hot water where it is needed.  This leads to radiators that never seem to work right, or areas of floor heating that never seem to do what they were intended to.

With proper diagnostics available, technicians can make better recommendations for improved performance.  Improvements can be something as simple as adding ductwork to relieve pressure thus increasing airflow, or reconfiguring pumping and piping configurations.  The diagnostics are also essential when determining the right replacement equipment – a new system that not only matches the load on the space but also corresponds to the right duct or piping delivery system.

So, why am I telling you this and why should you care?

Simple.  We have been performing this ‘blood pressure’ test for years along with the other top contractors in the industry.  By using these tests we have been able to save clients hundreds – if not thousands – of dollars.  We have the ability to provide clients with the right information so they can make modifications without having to change out equipment to get to the end goal; which is INCREASED COMFORT, EASIER EQUIPMENT OPERATION, AND MORE MONEY IN YOUR POCKET.

In some cases we are able to change blower speeds or make simple adjustments to offer these results.  In others, we actually have to make duct modifications to achieve optimum success.  But an investment in this area will not only improve comfort and ease pressure, it will also directly and immediately impact your monthly utility costs.  Every percent increase in efficient air movement is a direct decrease in gas, electric or water expenses.  In most cases, financial outlay to make improvements, replacement or corrections to your forced air or hydronic system will be offset by the money you save month to month.

The best part is that we perform static pressure tests during the course of all maintenance and service calls which show potential of high static pressure WITHOUT CHARGING YOU EXTRA FOR THIS VALUABLE INFORMATION.  We use the information to help our clients make the most informed decision possible.  You are free to live with the system you have and its’ current performance, or take the opportunity to help relieve the pressure.

For those of you who have not signed up for maintenance, would like to learn about the costs or steps involved – simply log on and check it out.  We now offer monthly payment plans if that’s your preference.

Wait, Home Improvements Could Be the Problem?

February’s groundhog teased us into believing that spring will come sooner than later this year.  Having lived in this area my whole life, I will not be holding my breath waiting for his prophecy to come true.  I understand that for many, many weeks there will be days in the 50’s immediately followed by half a foot of snow.  When spring comes, it will come – and I’m ready for it.

What have already arrived are the updated projections for the 2013 allergy season for our area.  Big surprise!  The prediction is for high numbers of cases with little relief for those who are the most sensitive.  After visiting a recent project, I thought it would be best to point out a contributing component to this problem.

The fact is, we are exposed to higher levels of pollutants, spending more time indoors, and then tightening our building envelope – in essence, trapping more and more pollutants in our homes.  Instead of combating the air quality problem, adding insulation, caulking cracks or sealing up ductwork adversely affects how our home breathes.  The tighter we seal the envelope, the less relief we feel.

There is a vital step being skipped which has only recently been detected by those in the know: the fact that in many cases of “improvement” adding the crucial ingredient of fresh air to the mix has been ignored.  Adding a duct from the return to the outdoors or installing a full ventilated HRV (Heat Recovery Ventilator) which mechanically admits fresh air and exhausts stale air will allow your home to breathe as it needs to.

Fresh air not only helps the mechanical operations and ensures safe drafting, but also affects filtration.  Duct systems that are too tight, and/or sized to outdated standards create high static scenarios which make it impossible to properly filter air. Poorly designed filtration also forces your systems to work harder than they were designed for, leading to costing you more money to operate them, and potentially creating premature parts failure.

The best way to ensure proper ventilation is by making certain this issue is addressed when making improvements to the envelope of your home.  Proper testing of the static levels of ductwork will lead to a simple mathematical calculation used to determine how much fresh air needs to be introduced.  The testing will also factor into the decision of whether fresh air can be ducted straight into the system or if an HRV is necessary for bringing in larger quantities of fresh air.

If ventilation, excessive dust, or uncontrollable allergy issues do arise, set your fan to the “ON” position.  This will help by continually filtering the air when there is not a call for heating or cooling.

Give us a call if you or someone you know has noticed issues after making home improvements.

Well Insulated Homes Bringing Air Quality Challenges

One of the main advantages of a well-insulated and well-sealed building envelope is that it takes less energy to heat and cool the home. An efficient building envelope keeps the conditioned air within the home that needs a smaller furnace and/or air-conditioner that is working less often — and this translates into real savings on the utility bills.

New construction and remodeling standards have been increased, along with new insulation technologies. These higher standards and a desire to keep your energy dollars in your home, and not leaking passed poorly insulated areas., brings a unique set of problem.

When a home is well sealed new problems begin to arise — the home becomes a plastic bag, which means any pollutants, such as dust, that may get in the home “stay” in the home. To solve this particular problem,the home needs to be ventilated, and this is where an HRV — heat recovery ventilator — comes into affect.

In recently renovated homes we have introduced the HRV technology to ensure we are introducing fresh air into the home, while taking the stale re-circulated air out. This vastly improves indoor air quality and overall indoor comfort. HRVs have been around for some time now, but are just recently being adapted.

An HRV pulls in outside air and exhausts the stale air from inside the home, and it does this in an efficient way by using the “exhausted” air to condition — or heat or cool — the incoming fresh air. For example, during the heating season the cold outside air is being tempered with the indoor air via the HRV and, therefore, you’ll be saving a good deal of heated air. The reverse is true in the cooling season. On average about 80% of the exhausted heat is recycled in a heat exchanger to keep the tempered air in.

It is much easier for a customer of a newly renovated home to notice the need for an HRV after the project is complete. It is not typical for contractors to offer this sort of sophisticated comfort techniques. If your home sounds like it may benefit from a system like this please call us today to discuss your particular situation. With each being unique, it is important for us to discuss your needs and desired outcome. Only then can we determine if this sort of a solution would be a good fit for you and your family.

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.