PickHVAC Tips: Electricity resistance heat is the most expensive heating type. You don’t want one of these unless you’re heating less than 30 days per year. The upfront cost of an electric furnace is much lower than the cost of a gas furnace. However, operating costs are two to three times higher. If winters are cold where you live, you’ll waste your upfront cost savings in just a few years of high electric bills.
If you believe that the AC's not working or you're getting little or no cold air, check these three things first. Make sure all the registers in the house are wide open. Then be sure the furnace filter is clean. Then go outside and clean off the condenser coils (Photo 2). If several registers were closed or the filter was clogged, the reduced airflow could have caused the evaporator coil to ice up and stop cooling your home. If you've changed the filter and opened all the registers and you're still not getting airflow at the registers, deice the A-coil. Move the thermostat mode switch from “Cooling” to “Off” and move the fan switch from “Auto” to “On.” Let the blower run for at least 30 minutes or until there's good airflow at the registers. Then turn the AC back on to test it. If it works for the next 12 hours, you've solved the problem.
Ground source, or geothermal, heat pumps are similar to ordinary heat pumps, but instead of transferring heat to or from outside air, they rely on the stable, even temperature of the earth to provide heating and air conditioning. Many regions experience seasonal temperature extremes, which would require large-capacity heating and cooling equipment to heat or cool buildings. For example, a conventional heat pump system used to heat a building in Montana's −70 °F (−57 °C) low temperature or cool a building in the highest temperature ever recorded in the US—134 °F (57 °C) in Death Valley, California, in 1913 would require a large amount of energy due to the extreme difference between inside and outside air temperatures. A few feet below the earth's surface, however, the ground remains at a relatively constant temperature. Utilizing this large source of relatively moderate temperature earth, a heating or cooling system's capacity can often be significantly reduced. Although ground temperatures vary according to latitude, at 6 feet (1.8 m) underground, temperatures generally only range from 45 to 75 °F (7 to 24 °C).
PickHVAC Tips: Installing the right size central air conditioner is extremely important. Have a load calculation done to ensure proper sizing. ACs that are too big aren’t as energy-efficient as they should be, and they cycle on and off too much. This creates over-cooling and temperature imbalance. Units that are too small run constantly in very hot weather and can’t keep your home cool. When an air conditioner is properly sized, it runs at optimal efficiency and indoor comfort.
These factors are included in a "Manual J" calculation. Contractors who make these calculations before recommending a size can take a couple of hours collecting the information and making the calculation. If your contractor doesn't do it, there are services that will do it for around $99. If you're feeling particularly on the ball, there are also free online calculators.
You've probably noticed many appliances boasting an Energy Star Certification. What this means is that manufacturer voluntarily built the product to help reduce greenhouse gases and meet non-regulatory guidelines offered by the Environmental Protection Agency. To earn an Energy Star rating, a product or system must be tested by a third party that has been recognized by the EPA for meeting their testing qualifications.
Knowing what you should be paying for your HVAC equipment and installation is essential to getting a fair deal. Most HVAC prices aren’t advertised. Contractor strategy is to get a salesperson into your home to sell you on a package of equipment, accessories and installation. This makes comparing systems difficult, and some sales pressure might be applied.
The AC contactor (relay) and start/run capacitor(s) (see illustration below) fail most often and are inexpensive. So it's a safe bet to buy and install those parts right away, especially if your air conditioning service unit is older than five years. The condenser fan motor can also fail, but it runs about $150 — hold off buying that unless you're sure that's the culprit.
If you hear clicking that is followed by a hum or buzz, you’re probably hearing the fan motor attempting to start without the boost it needs from the capacitor. You can almost always conclude that the capacitor has failed. Sometimes you can get the compressor fan spinning (clockwise) by pushing it with a thin stick or long screwdriver poked through the grille. But the chances are good that this might work for one cycle, but the capacitor will fail next time the AC goes on. It’s best to replace the capacitor.
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