Premier Indoor Comfort Systems LLC Blog : Archive for May, 2011

Mechanical or Forced Ventilation vs. Natural Ventilation

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Just about everyone can agree that effective ventilation is essential to maintaining a healthy indoor living environment. But exactly what does this entail? There are quite a few ways to circulate air throughout your home, and each method is appropriate for a specific situation.

Benefits of Natural Ventilation

Natural ventilation, of course, can be achieved simply by opening a window. But there’s actually a lot more to it than that. If you really want to ventilate your home through natural means, then you’ll have to learn to take advantage of the differences in pressure in different areas of your home.

One way to do this is to use cross ventilation. This means opening windows or doors on both sides of your home and allowing the outdoor air to blow through, carrying stale, indoor air out the other side. A more sophisticated version of this is stack ventilation.

In a two-story home, stack ventilation can be achieved by opening the windows on the bottom floor on one side of the house and on the top floor on the opposite side. Because of the differences in outdoor air pressure, air will be sucked in through the lower floor windows and out through the upper ones.

Why Natural Ventilation Is Not Always Practical

These types of natural ventilation can be extremely effective when it comes to both cooling an indoor environment and removing indoor air contaminants. Unfortunately, allowing outdoor air inside unimpeded allows outdoor contaminants easily as well.

On particularly hot or humid days, natural ventilation can’t reduce the indoor temperature enough to make it comfortable indoors. While a light breeze is enough to take the edge off on a moderate spring or summer day, more is needed when the weather is extreme.

Types of Mechanical Ventilation

When you think of mechanical ventilation, you probably jump right to large central air conditioning systems. But that’s certainly not the only type of effective mechanical ventilation available. In fact, mechanical ventilation can be performed by just about any type of fan on the market, and while operating a fan is certainly more expensive than opening a window, it’s still much more affordable than running an air conditioner all day long. Fans can also be used in combination with natural ventilation to achieve better results than either system could on its own.

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Breakdowns – How to Handle an Overloaded AC

Friday, May 27th, 2011

The last thing you need on a hot summer day is for your air conditioner to suddenly cut out. Without the cooling power it provides, your house will get uncomfortable quickly. Fortunately, once you know why this happens, there are several things you can do about it.

Why Air Conditioners Cut Out

The most common reason for air conditioner failure is an overabundance of pressure in the unit. This happens because the coil gets too hot, causing the pressure to rise in the entire device. As the pressure rises past a certain point, an automatic safety shutoff system is engaged. If you can stop the coil from heating up to this point, you can keep your air conditioner running.

How to Keep Them Running

Of course, this is easier said than done. Since your condenser unit with the coil inside is located outside in the heat, it’s only natural for it to get hot during the day – especially an extra hot day when you’re using your air conditioner a lot. You also need to be careful not to put anything over or up against your outdoor condenser unit.

While this may block the sunlight, it will also keep heat in the system and prevent the air conditioner from removing exhaust naturally. So in order to keep your air conditioner as cool as possible, make sure there is nothing up against the vents or impeding air flow in any way. Once you’ve done this, try and find a way to provide shade for you air conditioner without placing objects near the device. Blocking out direct sunlight is the best way to keep your air conditioner cool as long as you can do it without interfering with the system’s natural air flow.

Getting it Back On

If your unit does cut out on you, don’t despair. The best thing to do is to wait about a half hour to give your unit a chance to cool off on its own. Then, spray the coil and other overheated areas with a fine mist of cool water. This should lower the temperature enough that the system can come back on without any further complications.

If the problem persists despite the work you’ve done to keep it cool, you may want to call in a professional to take a look and make sure nothing is broken or worn inside to cause the overloads. Most of the time a little maintenance will take care of the problem, but if not, you’ll want to get repairs done quickly to avoid a full breakdown.

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What to Do Before Turning on AC For First Time

Friday, May 27th, 2011

The weather is starting to heat up and you are eager to flip the switch on your air conditioning system for the first time. It’s been sitting there since spring, waiting to be used, but now you wonder if there are any tasks that should be completed before its first use. Depending on the type of system you had installed there are a few things you should keep in mind before you cool down your house. They include:

  • Outdoor Cleaning – First, make sure the outdoor unit (if you have a central AC system) is cleaned up nicely. Clear away any leaves, remove the cover and check the system for any growth or debris that might have gotten under the cover. Check the air supply registers to make sure they are open and either replace or clean your filters depending on whether they are permanent or disposable.
  • Check Your Thermostat – The thermostat should be checked before you start using the system. To do this, set the system to Auto-cool and then lower the thermostat setting to one degree lower than the actual temperature in the room. If the system turns on, the thermostat is working properly. Let it run for a few hours to make sure this stays consistent.
  • Clear Away Winter and Spring Dust – Now that your system is running, make sure you check the filters for any buildup of dust that was in the ductwork. Over the off season, your ducts might develop a layer of dust and debris, especially if your heating system doesn’t make use of them. The filters might clog quickly as a result.
  • Check for Water Leaks – Your condensate overflow drain should work properly as well – check for any potential leaks during the first 48 hours of operation. Even a small leak should be checked immediately to avoid potential problems as summer cooling season kicks in.

If you notice any problems other than those listed above, you should call a service professional immediately. Ideally you will have your system inspected in early-mid spring to ensure it is ready for the summer, but even so problems can develop between inspection and first running. Electrical issues especially should be checked immediately.

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Saving Energy with Air Conditioners

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Air conditioners can definitely make it easier to get through a particularly hot and sticky summer. But they are also pretty expensive to run, especially if you live in an area with long, hot summers. Fortunately, there are quite a few things you can do to help your air conditioner keep your home cool without running up those astronomical energy bills.

  • Think about Your Thermostat – Most people set their thermostat at one temperature and leave it there. But does it really make sense to pay to keep your home cool all day long when no one’s home? Instead, try turning up the temperature when you leave the house and then again at night before you go to bed. It’s likely you won’t notice the difference and even an adjustment of a couple of degrees can make a big difference.
  • Multiple Climate Zones – When you are home, of course, you want to set your thermostat to a temperature you’ll be comfortable with. But that probably still means you’ll be cooling a lot of empty space. Installing a multi-zone system allows you to set different temperatures for different parts of your home. You can keep the spaces you use regularly cool and comfortable without wasting money paying to cool the unoccupied parts of your home.
  • Ceiling Fans – It might seem silly at first glance to use a ceiling fan at the same time as an air conditioner. But the truth is that using a ceiling fan to compliment your air conditioning system can actually save you a lot of money. Ceiling fans use next to no electricity to operate and they can make the house feel a few degrees cooler. With that added help, you can turn your thermostat up a few degrees without sacrificing indoor comfort and save yourself quite a bit of money – more than enough to cover the cost of running the ceiling fan.
  • Keep Things Sealed – Making sure your house is well sealed and insulated is another important way to keep your energy usage down during the summer. The more cool air that escapes, the harder your system has to work and the more energy it will use.
  • Proper Maintenance – Keeping up with the recommended maintenance for your air conditioning system is the best way to make sure it maintains the highest possible level of energy efficiency. Over time, it will ensure your system stays efficient longer as well – well beyond the initial lifespan estimates.

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Green House Gasses and Air Conditioners

Friday, May 20th, 2011

There’s simply no way around it: the air conditioner you probably depend on all summer is emitting a constant stream of greenhouse gasses contributing to the warming of the Earth. While it’s true that the coolants used today, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), are much less damaging than the chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) initially used in air conditioning, they are still harmful to the environment.

Environmentally Friendly Coolants

Recently, research has led to the development of more environmentally friendly coolants. One in particular, HFO-1234yf, is scheduled to be introduced for use in the air conditioning systems of all GM cars beginning with the 2013 models. This is a step in the right direction, but much more needs to be done to address this growing problem before it’s too late.

Electricity and Carbon Dioxide

The use of environmentally friendly coolants will only go so far towards curbing the environmental impact of air conditioning. That’s because air conditioners are universally powered by electricity, and electricity is almost universally produced by the burning of fossil fuels like coal. When coal is burned, it generates a great deal of carbon dioxide, a substantial pollutant on its own.

An Intensifying Cycle

Of course, the more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses are introduced into the atmosphere, the hotter the planet will become. And as the average temperature rises, air conditioning will be used more and more to combat these effects. This is a cycle that could quickly spiral out of control if something is not done to disrupt it.

What You Can Do

There are several things you can do if you’re concerned about how your air conditioning usage impacts the environment. First of all, make the switch as quickly as possible to HFO-1234yf or a similarly environmentally-friendly coolant when it becomes available. And remember that the air conditioning in your car counts too.

You can also go a long way towards reducing your contribution to greenhouse gas emissions by keeping your overall energy consumption down. Try relying on other, natural methods of cooling your home as much as possible. And when you do turn on your air conditioner, make sure you use all of the energy being consumed as efficiently as possible.

That means keeping your unit in good shape to maintain its energy efficiency and making sure that your home is properly sealed and insulated so your air conditioner doesn’t have to work overtime maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature.

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What is the COP and Why Is It Important?

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

If you’ve been researching air conditioners, you’ve probably seen all sorts of numbers associated with each model. One of these numbers is the Coefficient of Performance (COP). While it’s good to gather as much data as you can before you make a purchasing decision, you also need to know what that data means if it’s going to help you make the best selection possible.

Measuring COP

Calculating the COP for any air conditioning model is relatively simple. The number you see displayed on the box is the ratio of energy input to cooling output. For the most part, the air conditioners you’re probably been looking at have a COP of between 2.5 and 4.0, although newer models are beginning to appear with COPs of up to 5.0.

The higher the COP, of course, the more efficient the air conditioner, so it makes sense to take this number into account when you’re making your purchase. You should also keep in mind, though, that the COP is not a constant measurement. The warmer it is outside, the lower your unit’s COP will be. However, this is standard across all units, so a relative COP comparison is still a viable evaluation method.

If you’re not sure what COP you should look for or whether a lower number will be effective for your home (especially if you only need to cool a small space), you should talk to a professional who can help you match the right COP level to your particular living space.

Improving Efficiency

While it’s always a good idea to get an air conditioner with the best energy efficiency ratings possible, that’s not the only thing you can do to reduce your energy usage and keep your cooling costs down. For instance, there are plenty of ways to keep your home naturally cooler without even turning on the air conditioner.

Even when you do need to flip it on, anything else you can do to reduce the indoor temperature will make it easier for your air conditioner to keep your house comfortable. So put up some awnings, run the ceiling fan and close the blinds to block out that harsh afternoon sun. The more you can do to reduce your indoor temperature naturally, the less your air conditioner will have to do, and the lower your cooling costs will be.

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Who Invented Air Conditioning?

Monday, May 16th, 2011

For hundreds of years, people have been trying to figure out how to stay cool in the heat of the summer. But it wasn’t until 1902 that the first modern air conditioner was put into service in Brooklyn, NY. Since then, many adjustments and improvements have been made to make air conditioning available and convenient for people to use in their homes and cars. But through it all, the basic principles used in that first air conditioner have remained constant.

The Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company

The heat and humidity in New York in the summer isn’t something to be taken lightly, but it posed particular problems for the owner of the Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing and Publishing Company. The conditions inside his facility were such that the paper used was warping and the dimensions fluctuating, causing the printing to constantly come out misaligned.

To try and solve this problem, he hired the Buffalo Forge Company, which itself had just hired Willis Haviland Carrier, a recent recipient of a Master’s Degree in Engineering from Cornell University. Carrier approached this problem by trying to find a way to cool air by passing it over cold coils in the same way air was heated in those days by passing it over hot coils.

As it turned out, this process worked to reduce both the temperature and the humidity in the area and Carrier’s first air conditioner began running at Sackett-Wilhelms in July of 1902.

The Next Steps

As the potential for this new technology became more and more apparent, demand for Carrier’s device grew in all sectors of the economy. Employers were delighted by the way air conditioners increased the productivity of their workers during the hottest months of the year, and in order to keep up with demand, Carrier eventually founded the Carrier Air Conditioning Company which still exists today.

The coolants used in the earliest air conditioners were generally either highly flammable or toxic, and often both. In order to make air conditioning safer and easier to use, a safer coolant needed to be introduced, which was what drove Thomas Midgley, Jr. to develop Freon in 1928. Freon was initially made up of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), but as the disastrous environmental impacts of those chemicals became apparent, usage shifted first to hydrogenated chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and then to the hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that are predominantly used today.

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How Do I Check for a Dirty Evaporator Coil?

Friday, May 13th, 2011

The evaporator coil is an essential piece of your air conditioning system. It absorbs heat from air that passes over it, and that air then travels into your home to cool it. So if your coil is dirty or isn’t functioning properly, the cooling power of your air conditioning system is diminished. Fortunately, this problem is fixed easily by cleaning the evaporator coil. You can do this on your own or have a professional come in to take care of it.

Signs of a Dirty Evaporator Coil

The most obvious sign of a dirty evaporator coil is an overall drop in system pressure. As long as you know what constitutes a normal pressure for your system, you should be able to tell if the current pressure is below that level. If it is, a dirty evaporator coil is probably your culprit. You can also check the static pressure in your system to see if that is low, but this requires specialized equipment.

Even if you don’t notice any particular signs that your air conditioning system isn’t working properly, it’s a good idea to clean your evaporator coils once a year or so. This can help prevent any larger problems from developing in the future.

Finding Your Coil

Probably the hardest part of cleaning an evaporator coil is reaching it. Unlike your condenser coil, which is located in your outdoor condenser unit, the evaporator coil is found inside near the air handler or furnace. If you have the owner’s manual, there should be detailed instructions telling you where the coil is and how to safely access it.

Alternately, you can have an HVAC technician show you what to do the next time they come out to work on your system. Whatever you do, though, make sure that power to your AC unit is completely shut off before you start working on it. Once you’ve gained access to the coil, use a brush or vacuum attachment to remove any debris or sediment you find there.

The Importance of Maintenance

Cleaning your evaporator coil is only one part of the regular maintenance required to keep your air conditioning system in good working order for the foreseeable future. There are plenty of things you can do on your own, but it pays to have a professional come out once a year or so to check out the entire system and make any necessary repairs.

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What Are Limit Switches and How Do They Work?

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

When you set the thermostat on your air conditioning system, you pretty take for granted that the system will maintain that temperature throughout your house. But did you ever stop to think about how it’s actually accomplished? The truth is that there are many moving parts that all play a role in keeping your home cool and comfortable, and one of these is the limit switch.

What Is a Limit Switch?

Although you’re probably not aware of it, you’ve encountered plenty of limit switches over the years. A limit switch is anything that stops an electric appliance under certain circumstances. The little switch that turns the light on in the refrigerator when you open the door and then off again when you close it is the perfect example of a limit switch. Another common one is the switch that stops your washer or dryer from running when you open the door. Limit switches are used for a variety of appliances and gadgets to not only save electricity but to keep you and your device safe.

Limit Switches and Air Conditioning

The limit switch on your air conditioning system is the link between the blower on your air handler and the thermostat. When the thermostat senses that the desired indoor temperature has been reached, it stops the air conditioner from producing any more cold air. At that point, it’s important for the blower to stop functioning as well.

If it doesn’t, the blower will continue to move and warm air rather than cold will begin circulating throughout your home. However, if the blower shuts off too soon, the cold air that’s still being generated by the air conditioner won’t be able to circulate. So it’s essential that the blower be switched off at the same time the cold air stops arriving. That’s exactly what the limit switch does.

While it’s only one very small part of a large machine, the limit switch in your air conditioner plays a vital role in keeping your home comfortable and in allowing your air conditioning system to function as efficiently as possible.

If you notice that your air conditioner is shutting off too soon or not soon enough, it may be because of a broken limit switch. Sometimes, the system simply needs to be reset, something you can do with the help of your owner’s manual. However, if your limit switch is broken, you should contact a professional to take a look and determine if it needs to be replaced.

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Freon and Load Capacity – How Are They Linked?

Monday, May 9th, 2011

If you’re like most people, you probably don’t think too much about how your air conditioning system works. All you really need to know is that when you switch on the system, your house gets cooler. But if you’re looking to purchase a new air conditioner for your home, it’s a good idea to know how to select the right one to fit the space you’re trying to cool.

Air Conditioning Basics

Air conditioners use Freon as a coolant to remove heat from indoor air and transfer that heat outside. To do this, they cycle the Freon through a closed loop of coils. When the cold Freon enters the cooling coil of the air conditioner, it absorbs heat from the air passing by, thereby lowering the temperature of the air. That cooled air can then be transferred into your home and more warm air can be cycled past the cooling coils.

Air Conditioner Sizing

The more air your air conditioner can cool at once, the larger its load capacity. In order to keep a particular space cool, an AC unit has to have a large enough load capacity to accommodate that type of air volume. A unit that’s too small will obviously never be able to keep your room cool enough, but one that’s too big will have a similar problem.

The truth is that when it comes to air conditioner sizing, bigger is not better. It’s best to simply get as good an estimate as you can of what type of load capacity is ideal for the space you’re trying to cool and stick as close to that as you can.

Load Capacity and Freon

Of course, if you want your air conditioner to cool more air at a time, you’ll need more coolant. But simply increasing the amount of Freon in your air conditioner won’t make it cool any better. Freon is simply one of many elements that contribute to effective cooling. And the larger the entire system is, the more Freon is needed.

So more Freon technically contributes to greater cooling capacity, but it’s not enough to accomplish that all on its own. There is really nothing you can do to increase the load capacity of your air conditioner once it’s in place. So for best results, make sure you pick out an appropriately sized unit the first time around.

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