Furnace FAQ

Heating season is just beginning but the questions about furnaces are rolling in!  We thought it might be helpful to post and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about heating season and equipment.  Here we go!

1. Is it safe to turn my furnace on before maintenance has been completed?  The answer is YES!  A good cleaning and tune-up on the furance is needed to keep it running as efficiently as possible.  However, it's not necessary to have this service done before the furnace is turned on for the first time each year.  It's just important that it's done once a year.  We actually recommend turning the furnace on before it gets too cold outside.  That way, if there is a problem with the furnace and you are without heat, you can get it taken care of before it's really cold.

2. There was an odor when I turned my furnace on the first time.  Is this normal?  Dust will collect and settle in the furnace during the summer months when it is not being used.  When the furnace is fired off the first time, the dust will burn off the heat exchanger.  Some people describe it as a burning smell.  This is normal and will go away after the furnace has cycled a few times.  If an odor continues though, it's best to get it checked out.

3. How often do I need to change my filter?  Is it the same filter that I changed for the air conditioner?  An HVAC system consists of a furnace (either gas or electric) and either an air conditioner or heat pump.  Each system has a filter that needs to be changed regularly.  It's the same filter whether you are using the furnace or air conditioner.  If you have a 1" filter, it's recommended to check the filter once a month and change as needed (usually once a month or once every other month).  If you have a media filter- 4" or 5"- it is recommended to check the filter every 3 months and change as needed.  Changing the filter is very important!!  A dirty filter can restrict air flow enough to make the furnace or air conditioner stop working.

4. I have a heat pump and a furnace.  Do I need to turn the heat pump off and furnace on?  All you need to do is turn your thermostat to Heat.  Your heat pump will turn on in heating mode.  Your heat pump will heat the house until it reaches a certain temperature outside.  This is called a set point and is already set on your heat pump.  For example, if your set point is 32 degrees, than once the outdoor temperature gets that cold, your furnace will automatically turn on.  If you have a gas furnace, your system will automatically switch from using the heat pump to using the gas furnace.  If you have an electric furnace, the furnace will kick on at the same time to help the heat pump maintain the indoor temperature.  This is all done automatically so there's nothing you need to do to make this happen!

5. There seems to be something wrong with my furnace.  What do I do?  There are a couple of things that you can do on your own.  Check your filter.  If the filter is dirty, change the filter, then turn the furnace off and back on.  Also, check the batteries in your thermostat (if applicable).  If the thermostat screen has gone blank, it could just be batteries.  If you still have a problem, then give us a call and we'll be happy to set up an appointment.

If you still have a question about your furnace, please don't hesitate to ask!  We want you to stay warm and comfortable in your home.


HVAC Filters: Adding Simplicity and Convenience!

We talk about filters a lot.  We send out filter reminders.  We randomly ask if you've checked your filter.  One might say we are obsessed with filters!  There's a good reason though:!  Regularly checking and changing your filter is the easiest and most cost effective way to ensure that your system operates properly.  Here's an email we received from a customer this week:

"Hi Renee!  You guys installed our new furnace and air conditioner last year.  We just turned the air conditioner on for the first time and it's not working :(  I'm not sure what it could be since it's new.  Can you come over to take a look at it?"

So we get to their house that day and diagnosed the problem:  A dirty filter!  The filter was so dirty that it actually tripped the safety device causing the air conditioner to not run.  Once a clean filter was inserted, the system was fine.  The next email said:

"Hi Renee!  How embarrassing :)  Thanks for coming over so quickly!"

If a dirty filter is the culprit, you could very well spend $79 on a service call that could be fixed with a $5 filter.  We have an online filter program that makes checking and changing your filter simple and convenient.  There are two parts to the program:

Filter Reminder- You can elect to receive an email reminder to change your filter.  The type and size of filter that you have will determine the frequency of your reminders.  For example, if you have a pleated 1" filter, you would receive an email reminder every other month.  If you have a media filter, you might receive an email reminder every six months.  If you check your filter and find that it doesn't need changed yet, there is a snooze feature allows you to reset the reminder for a later date.

Filter Purchase- Rather than driving to the store and hoping the filter you need is in stock, you can order your filters online!  We will provide you with a code that is specifically for your filter.  You'll go to the website www.filterfetch.com and enter your code.  A picture and description of your filter will display.  Filters are sold in a case which is a year's supply.  So for example, if you purchase a 1" pleated filter, the case is likely six filters.  If you have a media filter, the case is likely 2 filters.  Once you enter your code, simply click Buy Now!  Pricing is competitive with home improvement stores and shipping is free.  Filters are delivered to your door in just a few days.

Another great benefit to this program is ensuring that you have the filter that is made for your filter cabinet.  Filters that are purchased at home improvement stores will work but they are often not the exact fit that is needed for optimum filtration.

It's that simple!  Participation in the program is completely free.  Feel free to contact us for more information or to obtain a code for your filter!


Is a New Lineset Necessary When Replacing an Air Conditioner?

We provided a quote for a new air conditioner recently and the customer asked this:  "All I want is a new air conditioner.  What is a lineset and why did you quote that?"

That's a great question!  First, the lineset is what carries the refrigerant from the coil in the air conditioner to the coil in the furnace.  Now, why would we quote a new lineset with the new air conditioner?

You may have heard that there are two types of refrigerant.  If you have an older air conditioner, it likely uses R-22 refrigerant.  New air conditioners use R-410 refrigerant.  R-22 is being phased out by the EPA because there is chlorine in it which contributes to ozone depletion if it leaks out of the system.  Eventually, all air conditioners and heat pumps will use R-410 refrigerant.  R-410 is an ozone friendly refrigerant.

These two types of refrigerant contain different oils and do not mix well.  R-22 contains mineral oil which doesn't mix well with POE oil, which is in R410.  Therefore, running R410 refrigerant through a lineset that once carried R22 refrigerant will eventually be detrimental to the system.  It will ultimately shorten the life span of the compressor.    Ideally, the best option is to run a new lineset so there's no chance of the two different oils mixing.  If a new lineset is not an option for whatever reason, a flush can also be done.  This is a chemical used to flush out the R-22 that ran through the lineset.  It is effective, however, it's not likely that 100% of the oil will be flushed out.  Therefore, we recommend a new, clean lineset when possible.

During the quoting process, the technician will look at the placement of the current lineset to determine if a new lineset can be run.  There may be some measures that have to be taken, such as a new bulkhead, to install a new lineset.  In the end, this is still important to consider the lineset to ensure that your new system is running top-notch for years to come.

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions about the two types of refrigerant, the phasing out of R-22 or linesets!


Indoor Air Quality- Reducing Allergens In Your Home

Spring has sprung!  The birds are singing, the grass is green and the pollen count is high!  There's not much that can be done to control the outdoors but what about the air inside your home?  Is it possible to improve the air quality in your home to control allergens?  You bet!  We have a few suggestions and tips:

  • Regularly change your filter.  A good filter reduces allergens such as dust mites and pet dander.  Filters may be fiberglass or pleated and range in size from 1" to 5".  Filters also have a rating system called Merv Rating which determines the effectiveness of a filter.  The smallest particles are captured with filters with a high Merv rating.  A Merv 16, for example, will allow fewer particles to pass through than a Merv 10.  It may be worthwhile to look into a media cabinet or a better filtration system for your home to reduce allergens.
  • Close the windows and turn on the air conditioner.  The air conditioner naturally dehumidifies the house, creating a cool, dry air.  Allergens such as mold and dust mites tend to thrive in warm, humid spaces so running the air conditioner can help to keep allergens under control.
  • Control the humidity in the house.  If humidity levels are still high , it might be time to consider a dehumidifier.  Dehumidifiers pull excess humidity out of the air, creating a cool and dry environment.
  • Consider a UV Light.  UV Lights are effective in controlling airborne allergens, mold, mildew, viruses and bacteria.  UV air cleaners break down these allergens and dramatically improve indoor air quality.

Indoor air quality is an important topic!  There are many things that can be done to reduce the allergens and improve air quality.  Feel free to contact us for recommendations in your home!


Why Is My Air Conditioner Low on Refrigerant Every Year?

There seems to be a belief among some homeowners that air conditioners have to be filled with refrigerant each year.  Homeowners begin to think it's normal to have an HVAC company come out to top off their refrigerant.  If this sounds familiar, read on!  It's time to solve this refrigerant mystery!

If you have to have refrigerant added to your air conditioner or heat pump each year, then you have a leak somewhere in your system.  Refrigerant is not supposed to leak out or evaporate away.  The leak could be in the line set, in the coil or in the condenser itself.  The amount of refrigerant that you lose will depend on the size of the leak.

What happens if you don't do anything about the leak?  Well, eventually the air conditioner will freeze up and quit working.  It may be hard to believe but your air conditioner could turn into a block of ice on a 90 degree day!  This is quite the inconvenience because the system has to be turned off so the ice can melt before a technician can even work on it.  It doesn't take long to get hot in the house when it's 90 degrees outside!  In addition, a system that runs without the correct amount of refrigerant is like a car that is driven low on oil.  Will it operate?  Yes, but it's highly likely that damage will occur from the system running year after year low on refrigerant.

While people may ask to just have refrigerant added, that's really not the best option.  The cost of R-22 refrigerant is rising dramatically.  This is because R-22 is being phased out and R410 is taking it's place.  So if you have an older HVAC system that uses R-22 refrigerant, it might cost you double or triple what it's cost in the past to just add refrigerant.  There's no warranty on refrigerant either so if you have it added and it leaks out a week later...you're just thrown away that money.

A leak search is going to make sense for a lot of people.  The goal is to do a leak test to find the leak and make that repair.  There are a couple different types of leak tests that can be completed.  The location of the leak will determine the cost of the repair.  It's not cheap...but then again neither is just adding refrigerant.

The only time it may not make sense to do a leak search and repair is if the air conditioner is very old (13-15+ years old). At that point, it may be time to compare the cost of a leak search and repair to the cost of replacing the unit.

Feel free to contact us at anytime if you have questions about your own system!


Air Conditioner Maintenance- Is It Worth It?

One of the most frequently asked questions we get is:  Is it worth it to have maintenance done on my furnace and air conditioner?

The answer is YES.  Here's why:

Either your furnace or air conditioner is running just about every day of the year.  Sure, we'll have a few days in the spring and fall in which it's pleasant enough to turn the HVAC system off and open the windows, but for the most part, the furnace or air conditioner is running.  Any piece of equipment that constantly runs is going to need cleaned and tuned up.  Think of your car, for example.  How well would it run if you never changed the oil, never rotated the tires or never had the 30,000, 50,000 or 75,000 mile tune-up?  Same holds true for your furnace and air conditioner.  While it may run without ever being cleaned or tuned, it will also have to work harder and it may not run as efficiently as it could.

There are some repairs that can be prevented with regular maintenance.  While completing maintenance on the air conditioner, for example, the technician may see that the capacitor is swollen.  The capacitor could then be replaced at that time.  This would prevent a later service call charge as well as the inconvenience of being without air conditioning and having to be home for the repair to be made.  With a furnace, you might encounter a dirty flame sensor.  Flame sensors are cleaned as a part of maintenance which can prevent a furnace shut down which would have been prevented with regular maintenance.  Forgetting to change the filter is another common problem.  The furnace overheats or the air conditioner freezes up simply because the filter is dirty and restricts air flow.  Filters can be changed as a part of your maintenance plan or the technician can simply remind you that it's time to change the filter.

The furnace and air conditioner will certainly run better when annual maintenance is completed.  That's not to say that a repair won't ever be needed or that every repair can be prevented.  Customers with an annual maintenance plan receive additional benefits as well.  These include $10 off service call, 15% off repairs, 15% off indoor air quality products (such as thermostats, humidifiers, filters, UV lights, etc) and no overtime rates.  In addition, if a repair is needed within 30 days of either maintenance service, the service call would be waived.

HVAC is definitely an investment in your home.  Regular maintenance is the best way to protect that investment!


Use HVAC to Handle the Spring Temperatures!

If you can wear a winter coat and a pair of shorts in the same week...then you must live in Indiana!  Temperature swings are nothing new for Indiana residents.  While it may seem the only way to control the inside temperature is to turn the HVAC system on and off, there are actually some other solutions.  Here are a few tips to regulate the temperature inside your home this spring:

  • Use your programmable thermostat.  People often want to turn their HVAC system off when it warms up a bit.  Keep your HVAC system on and your normal program set.  During those warmer days, the system will not run if the temperature you have set on the thermostat is met.  However, by keeping your system turned on, it will automatically kick on when the temperature falls below the set point.  This will ensure that you maintain a comfortable temperature in your home.  In addition, it will reach the set temperature more efficiently than if the system is completely off.  When the system is completely off, the temperature may drop several degrees below set point.  It will have to run and run and run to reach the set temperature again.
  • Get a programmable thermostat with auto-changeover capability.  Auto-changeover means the HVAC system will automatically switch from the furnace to the air conditioner.  Last year on this date, March 19th, Indianapolis had record-setting temperatures.  The high was 82 degrees and the low was 64 degrees.  If your thermostat is set to 72 degrees, the furnace may have to run in the morning and evening to maintain that temperature, but the air conditioner may be needed in the afternoon.  With auto-changeover, the system will automatically switch from the furnace to the air conditioner and back to the furnace!
  • Keep the temperature set a little higher than normal.  Since humidity is down, 73 degrees in the spring is more comfortable than 73 degrees in the summer.

Spring 2013 is sure different from last year!  The warm-up can't be too far away, right?  Enjoy the spring months and stay comfortable!


Solar Energy and HVAC- Is It Worth Considering?

Did you know that HVAC systems can be powered by solar energy?  This isn't terribly new, but the way solar can power your HVAC has evolved over the last few years.  Is it something that could be an option for you?  Is it worth it?

Indiana is known for its drastic temperature swings and four seasons.  For this reason, many people assume that Indiana doesn't get enough sunshine to really take advantage of solar power.  While the energy savings in Indiana may not be as significant as the energy savings in Florida, it is still something to consider.

While an HVAC installation is an investment, the federal tax credit and utility rebates are still  in effect for high efficient equipment and solar energy.  Through December 31, 2016, the federal tax credit for solar systems is 30% of entire installation cost with no maximum allowance.  If there is an excess tax credit, that excess is generally carried over to the following tax year.

In addition, solar usage has come a long way in just a few years!  When solar first came on the market in the HVAC industry, it was basically a single solar panel that attached to the outdoor unit.  It's a little different today.  Since we are an independent Lennox dealer, I'm going to discuss this in terms of Lennox equipment.  Some models of high efficient Lennox equipment are "solar ready."  This means that the new equipment can be installed and the solar panels can either be installed at the same time, at a later date, or never!  Up to 15 panels can be installed for each air conditioner or heat pump.  You can even start with just one or two panels and add more at a later time.  The solar energy generated is first used to power the air conditioner or heat pump.  If the HVAC system is not running, that energy is then used to power other appliances, lighting and electronics.

A communication module also sends data to a website so you can monitor your system at any time!  Data that is accessible on the website include energy production, system performance and environmental benefits.

So, is it something to consider?  We'd say so!  It's worth learning about to see if a solar investment makes sense for you and your home or business.  Contact us anytime for more information or with questions!


Thermostats: Basic to High Tech...The Choice is Yours!

Remember when it was a simple task to buy a child a toy?  The biggest choice in deciding on a doll, for example, was the clothes it was wearing.  My niece asked for a doll for Christmas, but it was a specific doll that could crawl, laugh, cry, eat and need a diaper change.  I looked at dolls for what seemed to be an eternity before finally deciding on one.

Believe it or not, you might feel the same way when you look at thermostats today!  Most thermostats are digital.  Outside of that, there are lots of options to choose from.  To make it a little less overwhelming, check out our feature breakdown below to help you make the best choice for your home or office:

Basic Thermostat:   A basic digital thermostat will accurately control the temperature in your home or office.  This type of thermostat has buttons which can move the temperature up and down.  It is not programmable so the buttons are used to manually change the temperature as needed.  It's ideal to have a thermostat that shows two readings:  a set temperature (what you want it to be) and an inside temperature (what it actually is).

Programmable Thermostat:  A programmable thermostat is a digital thermostat designed to allow the user to set programs to control the temperature of the house or office.  There are two types of programmable thermostats:

  • 5/2 Programmable:  This type of programmable thermostat allows Monday-Friday to be set on one program and Saturday-Sunday to be set on another program.  This is a great option for people who have a set work schedule Monday-Friday.  Here is a sample program for a 5/2 thermostat:  6am temperature set to 70 degrees (comfortable when you wake up in the mornings).  8am-5pm temperature set to 65 degrees (lower temperature when no one is home to save on utility costs) 5pm-11pm temperature set to 70 degrees (comfortable while at home).  11pm-6am temperature set to 67 degrees (save on utility costs while sleeping).  A different program could then be set for Saturday and Sunday when you are home during the day.
  • 7-Day Programmable:  This type of programmable thermostat allows a different program to be set every day of the week.  This is a great option for people who have flexible work schedules.  You may work from home one day, volunteer at your child's school one day and work in an office one day.  This type of programming allows each day to be scheduled according to your time at home and away.

There are some additional differences to these types of programmable thermostats.  A 7 day often has a touchscreen, whereas a 5/2 programmable will have buttons.  Some thermostats may also show the indoor humidity level.  This is a great feature to quickly know if you need to adjust your humidifier.

Wi-Fi Thermostat:  This is a digital, programmable thermostat which has Wi-Fi capability so the thermostat can be controlled through a phone, tablet or computer.  This is a great option for people who travel or for those that simply enjoy having the latest technology!  Additional features available on a Wi-Fi thermostat compared to a programmable thermostat include weather forecast, humidity control (meaning the humidifier can be controlled through the thermostat), usage charts, and alerts.  HVAC equipment manufactures are even offering Wi-Fi thermostats that can communicate with high efficient equipment.  One of the biggest benefits to this is an alert that will be emailed to you if there is a problem with the system.

Technology has come a long way!  What's the best fit for you?  We install all types of thermostats so please don't hesitate to contact us if you have questions!