woman sitting on the couch

The last thing on anyone's mind right now is HVAC.  It's too warm to need the furnace and too cool to need the air conditioner.  We do live in Indiana though so that can change in just 24 hours!  We want to provide some tips for things you can do on your own to keep your furnace and air conditioner running at its best.  We present the LCS Top Ten of Homeowner DIY HVAC Tips:

10.  During cold or hot months, keep the programmable thermostat set within 3 degrees of each setting.  A furnace and air conditioner will have to run for a very long time to make up the temperature difference.  If you have an electric furnace

and heat pump, the electric furnace will come on as well to reach the set temperature.  Since an electric furnace runs at a higher cost, it counters the savings that you might have had with the lower initial temperature.

9.    Keep the weed eater and lawn mower away from the control wiring of the air conditioner.  The wiring should not be hanging down but if it is, be careful when mowing and weed eating.  It's not a high voltage wire but if it gets cut with a weed eater or mower, you can get shocked and it can take out the air conditioner.  If the wiring is loose or hanging down, tie it up with electrical tape or have a technician tie it back when they're out doing annual maintenance. 

8.    If you are experiencing high utility bills, call the gas or electric company first.  Ask the utility company if there's been an increase in the therm or electric rate.  Ask if your bill compares to the average of others in your neighborhood.  You can get great information about what your utility bill should be running.  If there isn't a good reason for the higher bill, then it might be time to have a technician out to make sure the system is operating properly.

7.    Move furniture away from registers.  It's not uncommon to see a couch over a register or a bookcase pushed up against a register.  Not only can the heat dry out your furniture but it also prevents the air from properly traveling throughout the rooms.

6.    Keep registers open.  A very common problem in two story homes is a temperature swing between the upstairs and downstairs.  Homeowners try to fix this problem by closing registers upstairs or in some rooms.  Keep the registers open.  Closing registers can restrict air flow and cause the furnace to run hot.  This can ultimately shorten the life of parts inside the furnace such as motors.  It can also make the air conditioner freeze up by reducing the volume of air that the system needs to expel throughout the house.  This is comparable to running the system with a dirty filter.

5.    If you notice a noise, smell or problem, call on it right away.  If you notice something unusual, don't ignore it.  It's rare that an HVAC issue will go away or resolve itself.  Noises and smells often mean that a part is getting weak or going out.  A little critter could also have gotten inside. Address these issues before your furnace or air conditioner goes completely out.  It's no fun being without heat on a cold day or without a/c when it's hot out!

4.    Keep dogs away from the air conditioner.  Animal urine will degrade the a/c fins.  There's not much that can be done to fix the fins once this happens so it's best to make sure the fur babies stay away.

3.    Replace the batteries in the thermostat.  If the thermostat goes blank, check to see if there are batteries that need changed.  Not all thermostats have batteries, but if it does, it's likely AA or AAA batteries that need changed.

2.    Pick up leaves that are around the air conditioner or heat pump.  Leaves, cottonwood, branches, etc can gather around the air conditioner.  Keep these things cleaned away so the outdoor unit can breathe.

1.    CHANGE THE FILTER!  This is the number one thing to do to keep your furnace and air conditioner running efficiently!  A dirty filter causes restricted air flow and can ultimately cause the system to stop working.  If you have a 1" filter, check it once a month.  If you have a 4-5" filter, check it every 3 months.  It may not need to be changed at that time but it's good to check it to make sure.  It's also a good idea to keep extra filters at the house.  That way, you always have one on hand when it's time for it to be changed.  

A couple of other tips are to caulk or re-caulk around windows and doors.  It's also a great idea to check the insulation in your home.  If you don't have at least 12-15" of insulation in the attic, you'll want to consider adding more!

Keeping up on these things can not only save you money but can save you from the inconvenience of being without heating or cooling during those hot and cold months.  HVAC equipment is definitely an investment.  Protect your investment by following our Top Ten tips!

Tips For Staying Warm in Record Breaking Cold!

It's not often that we experience negative degree weather in Indiana!  This weekend sure has been fun with all the snow and new temperature experiences!  Well, fun unless your furnace goes out!  Here are a few quick tips to make sure that you and your family are warm and cozy inside:

  • Change the filter:  In Indiana, furnaces are made to effectively run down to about 3 degrees outside.  In temperatures below that, you may see that your furnace falls behind a little.  To help the furnace out, make sure there is a clean filter inside.  If the furnace is running on a dirty filter, it will have an even harder time keeping up.
  • Don't change the temperature on the thermostat:  Leave your thermostat at one temperature.  For example, maybe you usually keep the temperature at 70 degrees during the day but 65 degrees at night.  In this weather, it's going to be hard for your furnace to make up that 5 degree difference.  Turn your thermostat to a temperature setting and leave it there.  If you have a programmable thermostat, put a "hold" on the desired temperature so it's not fluctuating.
  • Turn the thermostat to "Emergency Heat":  If you have a heat pump and electric furnace, you'll see "auxiliary" heat show on your thermostat.  This is because heat pumps are inefficient in extremely cold weather so the electric furnace also runs to supplement the heat pump.  With temperatures below zero, the heat pump is not helping at all, so turn the thermostat to "emergency" heat.  This will manually lock out the heat pump.  The electric furnace will run by itself to heat your home.  Just remember to turn the thermostat back to regular heat mode when outdoor temperatures warm up a bit.  You don't want the electric furnace running by itself all of the time because of the cost to run it.
  • Clear snow away from the heat pump:  Clear away any snow drifts from the heat pump.  The snow will restrict air flow and prevent the heat pump from operating properly.  It may also prevent the heat pump from going into defrost mode, meaning the heat pump could ice up.
  • If your furnace does quit, call right away: It will take no time at all for the temperature inside to drastically drop if your furnace happens to quit working.  Call for HVAC help right away!  There are a lot of homes without heat so it may be a few hours before a technician will be at your door anyway.  A delay in calling will only increase that wait time.

Feel free to contact us if you have any questions regarding your HVAC equipment!  Keep an eye on our Facebook page as well for other tips and posts.


HVAC Repair or Replace: 5 Considerations

Heating and Air Conditioning is one of those necessary evils.  It's much more fun to spend money on a new TV rather than a new furnace!  At some point though, you may be faced with the ultimate HVAC decision:  Repair or Replace?  Here are a few things to consider when you are faced with this decision:

  • What is the age of your current system?  Most equipment comes with a 10 year manufacturer warranty on parts.  The average life expectancy of a furnace and air conditioner is 12-15 years.  That's not to say that it won't last longer than that...it's just an average.  If the part is under warranty, it's most often going to make more sense to have the repair done.  If the part is not under warranty, then you may want to factor in the age of the equipment with the repair cost.  For example, if you have a $200 repair on a 15 year old furnace, it may certainly make more sense to take your chances and make the repair.  Now, on the flip side of that example, say your furnace is 15 years old and you're looking at a $500 repair.  You could have that repair done and not have another problem for a few years.  You could also make that repair and a few months later, have another part go out.  Before you know it, you have $800 into a 15 year old furnace.  Since there is a risk of other parts failing on older equipment, it may be worth considering replacement.
  • Energy Efficiency:  Your HVAC system uses a considerable amount of energy as compared with other appliances in your home.  If you have an older system, it's very likely that new equipment will be more efficient, resulting in lower utility bills.  Let's use the example of a $500 repair on the a 15 year old furnace.  If you're considering replacement, factor in the savings if you go from an 80% efficient furnace to a 95% efficient furnace.  Think about it in this way:  For every $100 that you spend to heat your home with an 80% furnace, $80 is heating your home and $20 is going out the flue.  For every $100 that you spend to heat your home with a 95% furnace, $95 is being used to heat your home and only $5 is being lost.  Air conditioners and heat pumps also vary in efficiency.  This is definitely something to think about when considering repair versus replacement.
  • Financial Incentives:  Are there financial incentives to upgrade to a new, more efficient HVAC system?  Currently, there is a federal tax credit and various utility rebates available for the installation of high efficient furnaces, air conditioners and heat pumps.  The qualifications and dates do change so it's important to see what, if any, are available.
  • Length of Time in Home:  How long are you planning to live in your home?  If you are planning to stay in your home for awhile, you might have different factors to consider than if you are planning to sell in the near future.   If you are thinking about selling, definitely compare costs.  A repair might be the way to go simply because you don't want to spend money in a home that you are selling.  However, replacing the HVAC equipment might be a good investment because it will make the house more appealing to potential buyers.  If you are planning to stay for a while and are looking at a costly repair, it might make more sense to upgrade and get a new 10 year parts warranty.
  • Comfort:  HVAC equipment and technology have come a long way over the past several years!  Furnaces are now available with variable speed motors which are not only more efficient but also produce a more even and comfortable heat in the winter and coolness in the summer.  Programmable and/or WiFi thermostats are designed to reduce temperature swings, provide the ultimate control over your system and save on energy usage when you are not home.  Finally, there's the noise.  Maybe your HVAC equipment is loud because something is out of balance.  That could very well be an easy repair!  If not, consider replacing it with equipment that is quieter.  There are some systems that are so quiet, you cannot hear them run!

Repairing or replacing your furnace and/or air conditioner can be quite an investment.  Think about what's important to you when making the decision!


It's Time for a Whole House Humidifier!

Have you noticed that your skin feels a little dry and itchy?  Are you getting shocked by everything you touch in your house?  Are your plants looking a little wilted?  Are you waking up in the middle of the night with a nose bleed?  Do you notice cracks in your hardwood floors?  If you said "yes" to any of the above, then you are a victim of harsh winter air! There has to a solution to these problems, right?

We like to think there is a solution for everything!  One of our technicians was in a house yesterday in which there were cans of water on every register.  That's one way to get humidity in the house!  I'm sure you're also familiar with portable humidifiers.  Keep a portable humidifier filled with water and you will certainly be able to add humidity to that one room. However, the best solution is a whole house humidifier.

What is a whole house humidifier?  A whole-house humidifier is installed on the ductwork next to your furnace.  The humidifier distributes moisture throughout the entire house.  A sensor is located either in the humidistat control or on the thermostat.  When the humidity level in the house drops below the set level (usually 30-40%), the humidifier will run.

How do I care for a whole house humidifier?  The best thing about a whole house humidifier is that it requires very little maintenance!  While a portable humidifier has to constantly be filled with water, the whole- house humidifier operates on its own.  Annual maintenance is recommended to clean it, check the wiring, check/tighten the valves, clean the drain and change the pad.  If you have hard water, it might be a good idea to clean the drain and change the pad twice a year.

What's the difference between having a humidistat and a thermostat to control humidity?  Whole house humidifiers come with a manual humidistat.  The sensor is located in the humidistat.  The humidistat is manually set to control the humidity level in the house.  Some thermostats also come equipped with a humidity sensor.  In this case, the thermostat would replace the humidistat.  The advantage to this would be in accuracy of humidity levels.  A digital thermostat is always going to be more accurate than a manual humidistat.

Are some humidifiers more efficient than others?  Humidifiers are measured by how many gallons of water are used each day.  Most humidifiers will use either 12 gallons per day or 18 gallons per day.  Steam humidifiers are the most efficient, however, it is very strongly recommended that very high quality water be used with steam humidifiers.  Calcium and lime will build up much faster in a steam humidifier due to the extremely hot temperatures that the water runs at.

Please don't hesitate to contact us with any other questions you might have about whole house humidifiers!  There's no doubt that once you have a whole house humidifier, you'll wonder how you ever lived without one!


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!


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!


What Should I Look For in an HVAC Company?

Let's face it: replacing the HVAC system is usually the last thing someone wants to do!  Replacing a furnace and/or air conditioner is an investment in your home.  People often think about the brand of equipment, equipment efficiency and the budget, but what about the company that will install the new equipment?  Did you know that many brands of equipment are comparable in features, but how well it works is really dependent on how well it's installed?  What should you look for in an HVAC company?  Here are a few things to consider:

Most importantly, is the company insured and bonded?  In the off-chance that something should happen during the install, such as an injury or property damage, does the company carry liability insurance and a bond to cover the damages?  Another example, straight from John Moore Insurance Agency, is this: the installation of your new HVAC system takes two days so the company leaves material in your garage with the intent of installing it the following day.  If that material gets stolen or vandalized, would that be a claim on your personal insurance policy?  Not if you've hired a company that is insured and bonded!

Is the company licensed in Marion County?  If you live in Marion County, the City of Indianapolis requires a permit to replace/install a new furnace, air conditioner or heat pump.  Only licensed companies can pull permits.  The purpose of this is to ensure that your installation is done properly and to code.  What happens if a permit is not pulled?  If code enforcement sees work being done and there is not a permit, work will be ordered to stop, a permit will have to be pulled and a fine paid.

Do you know of anyone that's worked with the company?  I think it's safe to say that we always feel more comfortable working with a company that was referred by someone else.  If someone thinks highly enough of a business to recommend them, then they've had a good customer experience and it's likely that you will too.  If you don't know anyone that's personally worked with them, check out their website or see if they have any customer reviews online.  Then, follow your gut!

What is the policy on service and warranty?  After the company installs your new HVAC system, are they also able to maintain and service it?  Does the company offer 24 hour service?  Is it easy to get in touch with them?  Will the company handle equipment warranties?  Ask questions!

So many times, homeowners think only about the equipment to be installed and price.  While these are important factors, it's just as important to choose the right company.  Experience, proper licensing and insurance, and reliability make all the difference.

 


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!


Is HVAC a Do-It-Yourself Project?

There are many things around the home that can be done by a homeowner.  We've occasionally been asked about HVAC being a "do-it-yourself" project.  Some questions we've been asked include:

  1. If I provide the furnace/air conditioner/heat pump, will you install it?  If the equipment is used, then no, we will not install it.  Someone might get a furnace from their brother's house or take an air conditioner from their rental home to install on another home or purchase a piece of equipment from Craig's List.  While the used equipment may work just fine, there are some risks to consider.  Was the equipment properly removed?  Is the equipment sized correctly for your space?  Does the equipment work?  How old is it?  If an air conditioner is not removed correctly, parts can be damaged.  The new owner of the air conditioner wouldn't know this until the air conditioner is re-installed.  If it doesn't work, the homeowner will still be responsible to pay for the installation as used equipment does not have a warranty.  Typically, if the equipment provided is new, we will consider installing it.  However, since we (LCS Heating and Cooling) did not purchase the equipment, we will not warranty it. In addition, it would also be the homeowner's responsibility to talk to the manufacturer.  If a repair is needed three years later, the homeowner would again be responsible for the warranty.
  2. If I provide the part, will you make the repair?  We will consider making the repair, but again there is risk involved for the homeowner.  Are you absolutely sure you got the right part?  Did you diagnose the needed repair correctly?  Are you able to return the part if it's not correct ?  Is there a warranty on the part?  As in the example above, if for some reason the part doesn't work or is not the correct part, the homeowner would still be responsible for paying for the installation.  He would also be responsible for any warranty issues that arise.
  3. Should I make a repair or install a water heater/thermostat/humidifier myself?  This is completely up to the homeowner.  These are items that can be purchased at home improvement stores.  A couple of things to consider:  Home improvement stores carry base models of these items.  Contractors purchase these items at supply houses and have accessibility to higher end models and different brands.  Warranties vary as well.  Equipment provided by contractors often has a longer warranty period than what can be purchased at home improvement stores.  Also consider your comfort level and time needed to install one of these items.  The time it may take to install that whole house humidifier may be worth hiring an HVAC company.

When it comes to major repairs or improvements in the home, we are always going to recommend hiring a company to help with those.   Homeowners have peace of mind when equipment or even a part is provided and installed by a licensed and insured HVAC company.  Peace of mind comes from knowing that if something goes wrong, the HVAC company will take care of it.  The homeowner will not have to contact the manufacturer, try to process a warranty, wait to have a part shipped, etc.    HVAC is often an investment.  Our advice is to protect that investment by considering all the factors and risks before making a decision to do it yourself.