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You might be surprised by how much you can lower electricity costs without spending a fortune upfront on solar panels or geothermal heat pumps. Those big-ticket investments are good ideas, but until you have the money, follow some of these guidelines to lower electricity costs:
- Change the filter in your heating and cooling system several times per season. Clean filters reduce the power that your fan motor has to put out to move air through your ductwork, so spending a few dollars per month on new filters is a wise investment.
- Summer weather isn't far off here in South Bay Peninsula and Santa Cruz, so now's a good time to tune up your air conditioner. Be sure weeds and trash are cleared from the fins of your outdoor A/C compressor. It will run more efficiently if it stays shaded from the summer sun, so consider planting some shade trees or building a fence on its south side.
- Change out the incandescent bulbs in your most-frequently used light fixtures for more efficient CFL or LED bulbs. Incandescent bulbs will be phased out over the next few years, so it's a good idea to start installing the newer bulbs now.
- If you have an electric water heater, install a timer to turn it off during the hours you don't need hot water. There's no need to pay to keep a tank of water hot when nobody's using it.
- Turn off lights in unoccupied rooms. If your family can't seem to get the hang of flipping the switch, install motion-sensing switches that do it for them.
- Unplug vampire energy hogs that consume power even when they're turned off, such as printers, DVD players and cellphone chargers.
- Open windows in mild weather and turn off the heating and air conditioning. Use a programmable thermostat to adjust your heat down or your A/C up when everyone's asleep or nobody's home.
More and more people are relying on heat pumps to keep their homes comfortable, and why not? These systems are an efficient and cost-effective way to heat or cool your home. If you have a heat pump, or are interested in having one installed, there are some easy steps you can take to ensure the highest level of heat pump efficiency.
- Make sure that all the registers are clear. Any curtains, furniture or debris that blocks the airflow will decrease your units efficiency.
- Keep the air ducts well-maintained. Make sure ducts are properly sealed and sufficiently insulated.
- Be aware of the sun. During the cooling season, you want to do whatever you can to block the sun from entering your home. During heating season, however, you want to let the sunshine in.
- Keep outdoor unit clear of ice. It's normal for the outside unit to produce small amounts of ice, but keep an eye out for a large buildup of ice that may damage the system. Also make sure that run-off from your roof is not hitting your unit, as this can lead to dangerous amounts of ice.
- Use fireplaces only sparingly as the fire tends to draw in cold air while the chimney allows warm air to escape. Be sure that flues are properly closed when not in use.
- Use exhaust fans only when necessary.
- Use insulation, storm windows and caulking to seal your home.
- Keep the indoor fan set to AUTO -- this is the most efficient setting.
- Keep appliances, TVs, computers and anything else that produces heat away from your thermostat.
- Always leave the power on to your outdoor unit.
- Check the air filters regularly to ensure that they are clean and placed properly.
- Keep your unit maintained.
With spring here and the hot summer of Silicon Valley not far behind, it's time to start thinking about scheduling your yearly air conditioner tune-up. Preventive maintenance on your air conditioner will keep it operating safely and efficiently all summer long, saving you money on energy costs and potential repairs. Preventive maintenance by a qualified HVAC professional will include these key points:
- Check refrigerant levels and test for leaks.
- Measure the flow of air through the evaporator coil.
- Tighten electrical connections.
- Lubricate the moving parts of the system to prevent friction.
- Test the system controls to ensure your unit starts, operates and shuts off properly.
- Check the thermostat for accuracy.
- Check the belts for damage.
- Check the air ducts for loose connections and damage.
- Clean the condensate drain to prevent mildew, mold and water damage.
- Clean and adjust the blower components.
- Check your air filter monthly and replace it when it's dirty. The air filter prevents dust from building up inside your air conditioner, which can hamper its efficiency and cause damage to the unit. A dirty filter will prevent the optimum flow of air to your system and can cause overheating.
- Keep the outdoor condensing unit free of obstructions, including grass clippings, weeds and other debris. Hose down the condensing unit once a month to remove dirt buildup.
- Make sure the vents in your rooms aren't obstructed by furniture, which can decrease the airflow and reduce the efficiency of the unit. Never close off more than 20 percent of your registers to save on energy costs.
- Use your ceiling fans to help you feel cooler in the summer. Be sure to turn them off when you leave the room to save on electricity costs.
To efficiently and comfortably heat a home, a forced-air furnace relies on a series of timed component functions, good duct design and free airflow through the living spaces. Review the events involved in forced-air heating to help you understand the process, and appreciate the necessity for maintaining proper care of your system.
- When the temperature inside a home dips below the thermostat set point, the thermostat calls for heat from the forced-air furnace.
- A gas valve opens to allow fuel flow (natural gas, propane or oil).
- The fuel is ignited by an electronic spark or standing pilot light.
- When the heat exchanger reaches a certain temperature, the blower motor turns on, which pulls air from the living space into the air-return grilles.
- The cool return air circulates over the heat exchanger and absorbs heat.
- The blower continues to circulate the heated air through the supply ducts into the living spaces.
- The heating cycle continues until the thermostat set point is reached, or the high temperature setting on the fan limit switch is reached inside the plenum (a safety feature so that the plenum doesn’t become unsafely hot).
- Fuel combustion is stopped, but the blower continues for a few minutes until the plenum temperature drops below the lower temperature on the fan limit switch.
Setting your heat pump balance point correctly is a crucial step in maximizing the cost savings offered by this energy-efficient home comfort technology. However, with all the technical jargon and scientific principles involved in determining a heat pump balance point, it can seem to be an elusive concept. Most homeowners would prefer a comprehensive explanation presented in simple, easy-to-understand terms. There are two major factors that come into play with a heat pump balance point: heating load and heating capacity. They are often confused with one another, but they are not the same thing. Heating load is a term which defines the difference between your home's current temperature and the temperature to which you want to heat or cool it. In essence, it expresses how much heating or cooling your home needs. Heating capacity, on the other hand, is a metric which expresses how much heating or cooling your heat pump is capable of providing. In a heat pump system, outdoor air serves as the source of the thermal energy which is used to heat or cool your home. This makes the heating capacity of a heat pump system inherently dependent on the outdoor temperature. While the scientific principles behind the relationship between heating load and heating capacity are complex, what you need to remember is that a heat pump's capacity increases as heating load decreases, and vice-versa. The heat pump balance point, therefore, is the point at which heating load and heating capacity are equal. In most cases, this point is somewhere around 35 degrees. Why is this important? If the outdoor temperature drops below the balance point, you'll need a supplemental heat source to meet your heating load demands. This is typically only an issue in winter, when plunging temperatures increase your heating load but decrease the amount of thermal energy available to your heat pump in the outdoor air. If you have any questions about your heat pump balance point, or if you'd like to learn more about supplemental home heating systems, contact the home comfort experts at Valley Heating, Cooling and Electrical. Visit our website for in-depth information on most HVAC topics, or just give us a call at 408-294-6290. We proudly serve homeowners throughout South Bay Peninsula and Santa Cruz. Our goal is to help educate our customers in the South Bay Peninsula and Santa Cruz areas of California about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems). For more information about Heat Pump Balance Points and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Resource guide. Image courtesy of ShutterstockRead More
A frozen heat pump can't do anything to warm up your home, and it's a problem you don't want to face in the dead of winter, particularly if you don't have a supplemental home heating source. While this type of problem is a relatively rare occurrence here in northern California, shifting global climate conditions and more frequent instances of extreme weather increase the chances of a heat pump's coil freezing up. Knowing how to prevent this problem and what to do should it happen to you are essential. Low temperatures are invariably the cause of a frozen heat pump. Specifically, problems occur when a heat pump's coil freezes up. This happens when the refrigerant solution in the system reaches sub-zero temperatures, and the outdoor air lacks sufficient heat to prevent the moisture in the air from freezing up inside the coil. While heat pumps come equipped with defrost controls which ostensibly prevent this situation from occurring, they don't always work as advertised. This can be heavily dependent on whether your heat pump's defrost cycle runs on a timer or is triggered by the outdoor temperature sinking beneath a specified low point. Timer-operated defrost systems are, generally speaking, at greater risk of failure. Some people are also off-put by what happens when the heat pump's defrost cycle kicks in. The sounds can be loud and somewhat troubling and are accompanied by rising water vapor from the melted ice which looks a lot like smoke. To prevent a frozen heat pump, it's essential that you have your unit regularly and properly maintained. This will ensure that your defrost cycle runs correctly and that your system has the proper amount of refrigerant, both of which reduce the chances of your coil freezing up. However, if you do end up with a frozen heat pump, don't try to remedy the problem yourself. Call a professional. At Valley Heating, Cooling and Electrical, we're here to help if you have a frozen heat pump or are faced with any other home comfort concern. Visit our website for in-depth information on most HVAC topics, or just give us a call at 408-294-6290. We proudly serve homeowners throughout South Bay Peninsula and Santa Cruz. Our goal is to help educate our customers in the South Bay Peninsula and Santa Cruz areas of California about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems). For more information about Frozen Heat Pumps and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Resource guide. Image courtesy of ShutterstockRead More
UV lights encourage optimal indoor air quality any time of year. With ultraviolet rays targeting biological contaminants, you can rest assured that installing UV lights alongside your HVAC system promotes healthy indoor air. Learn how the system works and the benefits it offers.
With more homeowners turning to energy-efficiency upgrades to encourage a tighter, energy-saving home, concerns over indoor air quality increase. Without the aid of natural ventilation in the form of cracks or leaks in the home, indoor pollutants have nowhere to go. As a result, homeowners must provide mechanical ventilation, control the source of contaminants, and use UV lights—along with other forms of effective air-quality control—to improve conditions.
Ultraviolet lights in action
UV light systems are particularly effective at controlling a specific class of contaminants: biological. These include molds, bacteria and viruses. The UV rays penetrate the cell of a pollutants, permanently altering the DNA of the cell, making it impossible for the cell to replicate itself.
Two applications are commonly used in residential installations. Installing UV lights on the coil offers significantly improved coil efficiency, as the buildup of dirt and pollutants on the coil greatly decreases thermal transfer in all seasons. UV rays target pollutants on the coil, keeping it clean and operating efficiently.
When installed in the ducts, ultraviolet lights manage air quality by effectively targeting biological contaminants in the airstream. For optimal control over indoor pollutants, UV lights should be used alongside a high-efficiency filtration system, such as a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) device, which will target particles, odors and chemicals—pollutants UV rays cannot target.
A year-round solution
In winter and summer, biological contaminants are likely to aggravate health problems. Increased humidity during warmer temperatures can lead to problems with mold and bacteria. In winter, when temperatures are cooler, viruses are more of a concern. With ultraviolet lights on the scene, homeowners can breathe a little easier.
Contact Valley Heating, Cooling & Electrical today for more information about using UV lights in your home, or for answers to heating and cooling concerns. Visit our website for in-depth information on most HVAC topics, or give us a call at 408-294-6290. We proudly serve homeowners in and around South Bay Peninsula and Santa Cruz.Our goal is to help educate our customers in the South Bay Peninsula and Santa Cruz areas of California about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems). For more information about UV Lights and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Resource guide. Image courtesy of Shutterstock Read More
If you notice that your humidifier is leaking, don’t wait to call for help. Trying DIY fixes or waiting to see if the problem resolves itself can result in significant water damage to your home and a costly repair. If a humidifier is leaking, it’s never a good sign, as whole-house humidifiers should generally operate without fail—especially if you schedule annual service for the system. A humidifier that’s leaking water should cause you to contact an expert for help, right away.
Common problems that can cause a humidifier to leak include:
- Drainage problems – The humidifier’s drain line requires a certain slope to promote the proper draining of water out of the system. Improper slope can cause water to back up within the humidifier. Further, a blockage in the drain line can lead to a leaky humidifier. Drain lines aren’t constructed of very durable material, and typically require replacement every year or so. If you’ve neglected to maintain the unit, it’s likely the drain line needs replacing.
- Filter problems – Large amounts of water move through the humidifier, especially if you run the system frequently over the winter. As a result, sediment and minerals that exist in the water also move through the system. The filter, or water panel, should catch most of the sediment. However, to maintain proper operation, your technician should replace or clean the water panel annually.
- Valve problems – The solenoid valve meters the flow of water through the humidifier. When the humidifier is leaking, it’s possible that sediment buildup is blocking the valve, causing water to leak out of the unit.
- Pressure problems – To promote system health and performance, and to reduce the likelihood of a leak, the humidifier requires a certain pressure setting. Generally, this setting should hover around 125 pounds per square inch (PSI). Higher pressure settings cause leaks.
When your humidifier is leaking, don’t hesitate. Contact Valley Heating, Cooling and Electrical for expert help. Visit our website for in-depth information on most HVAC topics, or just give us a call at 408-294-6290. We've been serving South Bay Peninsula homeowners a since 1962.Our goal is to help educate our customers in the South Bay Peninsula and Santa Cruz areas of California about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems). For more information about humidifier leaks and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Resource guide. Image courtesy of Shutterstock Read More
One of the best ways to control the heat gain and loss in your home is by using materials that stop the heat transfer. When choosing home insulation, look for materials that offer safety and durability. Many times homeowners choose blown-in insulation for their attics and walls, since it's so easy and convenient to install. When choosing between fiberglass and cellulose, consider the advantages of fiberglass over cellulose. Settling Cellulose can settle as much as 20 percent over a few years, reducing its effectiveness. Insulation depends on air space between the particles to stop heat transfer. Fiberglass doesn't settle, so the R-value (the term used to describe how many hours the product resists temperature changes) stays the same over time from the day you install it. Homes in our region should have a minimum R-value of 25 in the attic, providing 25 hours of protection against thermal transfer. Over time, losing 20 percent of the R-value of 25 from settling alone drops the R-value to 20. Safety Insure your home's safety when choosing home insulation by picking the safest product on the market. Cellulose insulation is made from recycled paper and has to be treated with chemicals to reduce its flammability. Fiberglass is made from glass fibers that won't burn, and most building codes consider fiberglass insulation in walls as a fire barrier, as long as it isn't paper-backed. Water vapor retention Fiberglass cannot absorb water, while cellulose readily does. When cellulose is new, the chemicals provide some resistance, but over time, it will begin to absorb water vapor. As it does, mold can grow in your home. Insect damage Paper is a plant product and as such, it's vulnerable to insect damage. Fiberglass will not attract or support any kind of insect life. If you'd like to learn more about choosing home insulation, contact Valley Heating, Cooling and Electrical or call 408-294-6290. We've provided HVAC services for Santa Cruz, the South Bay and the peninsula since 1962. Our goal is to help educate our customers in the South Bay Peninsula and Santa Cruz areas of California about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems). For more information about choosing home insulation and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Resource guide. Image courtesy of ShutterstockRead More
Homeowners planning to upgrade HVAC equipment in their homes this year can take advantage of generous energy tax credits. As part of the agreement to come out of the fiscal cliff, these tax benefits are a bit of good news amid the realities of tax cuts and hikes. Find out if you can qualify for the energy tax credits, and the guidelines for purchasing equipment.
The terms of the credits are fairly straightforward:
- The total amount any one consumer can claim is capped at $500.
- Homeowners can purchase multiple items and combine the amounts to claim the $500.
- Equipment must be installed in a primary place of residence, not vacation or second homes.
- You can claim credits for installing equipment in a newly built or retrofitted home.
- Credits are retroactive. The original tax agreement for the energy tax credits ended in 2011; however, if you already installed HVAC equipment in 2012—and you still have the receipts—you can claim the credits on your next return.
- Equipment must be installed by the end of 2013 to qualify.
It’s important that homeowners carefully follow the terms of the energy tax credits. Not just any equipment considered high efficiency will qualify. Get familiar with the efficiency ratings HVAC equipment must meet, keeping in mind that these are minimums. You can always purchase equipment with higher ratings. Qualify for:
- $150 when you purchase a boiler or furnace rated 95 percent annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE)
- $300 when you purchase a heat pump water heater with an energy factor (EF) of 2.0, or an water heater powered by gas, oil or propane rated 0.82 EF
- $300 when you purchase an air-source heat pump rated heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF) 8.5 and seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER) 15
- $300 when you purchase central air conditioning rated SEER 16.
For help selecting or installing new HVAC equipment or accessing energy tax credits, contact the experts at Valley Heating, Cooling, Electrical today! Visit our website for in-depth information on most HVAC topics, or just give us a call at 408-294-6290. We've proudly served South Bay Peninsula and Santa Cruz homeowners since 1962.Our goal is to help educate our customers in the South Bay Peninsula and Santa Cruz areas of California about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems). For more information about energy tax credits and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Resource guide.
Image courtesy of ShutterstockRead More
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