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

Net-Zero Homes: An Exciting New Green Trend

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

A net-zero home produces renewable energy equal to or greater than the energy the home consumes from public utilities.

Net-zero homes are part of the broader category of “green homes”(though non net-zero homes may still be considered “green” if they incorporate recycled building materials or other green technologies).

Net-zero homes are not the same as “carbon neutral” homes. Carbon neutrality can be attained for any home by purchasing carbon credits (often from geographically distant renewable energy sources) to offset the carbon emissions the home produces. Net-zero homes actually generate renewable energy on-site.

In regions of the world where homes must be heated or cooled for parts of the year, the design of a net-zero home is crucial. Net-zero homes minimize energy consumption by:

  • Taking advantage of natural elements such as sunlight, prevailing breezes, topography (for earth-sheltered building and geothermal systems), and vegetation.
  • Incorporating appropriate weatherization, insulation, and ventilation
  • Using “daylighting” such as skylights and solar tubes, high-efficiency light fixtures and bulbs, high-efficiency appliances
  • Reducing “phantom loads” of electrical power caused by electrical equipment on standby
  • Reclaiming and reusing energy whenever possible instead of venting it outside as in conventional homes; for example, in some net-zero homes refrigerator exhaust is used to heat water.

Net-zero homes also produce their own renewable power using solar, wind, hydro, and/or geothermal “microgeneration” systems. The type of power generated will depend on climate and topography. Some net-zero homes are autonomous or “energy-autarkic” (i.e. “off-the-grid”) while others are connected to the grid and feed power back to the grid when it is not being used in the home.

While true net-zero homes generally must be specifically designed as such, it is possible to move toward net-zero energy usage for a conventional or existing home.

  • Make the “envelope” of your home as efficient as possible with appropriate insulation, weatherization, energy-efficient windows, passive solar, and ventilation.
  • Reduce energy demand by upgrading to high-efficiency furnaces (or heat pumps), air conditioning, lighting, and plumbing. Also, reduce “ghost load” from appliances on standby.
  • Add micro-generation capacity. For most North American homes, solar is the most appropriate choice, though residential wind turbines are also gaining in popularity. Some local utilities even offer assistance and rebates for installing solar.
  • If you are building a home, keep it as small as you can while still meeting your space needs.

And, the most important part of making your home as close to net-zero as possible: be disciplined about your daily energy use habits!

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How Can You Improve Your Home’s Air Quality?

Monday, June 27th, 2011

One of the easiest ways to protect the health of your family is by maintaining high air quality in your home. Without good air quality, you run the risk of contracting Sick Building Syndrome or making other problems like allergies or asthma worse. Depending on what type of air quality system you already have in place, there are many things you can do to improve your air quality.

Filter Changes

The easiest way to improve air quality is to maintain the equipment you already have. Specifically, change your filters regularly. Filters each have a specified period of time for which they will last. However, if your home has high levels of larger contaminants like pollen and dander, you may need to change your filter more often.

Beyond filter changes, make sure your filtration device uses high quality HEPA filters, capable of stopping debris as small as 0.3 microns.

Cleaning Your Ducts and Equipment

Another easy way to reduce the load on your air quality system without paying for new filters every two months is to clean the equipment and the ducts in your house. Ductwork quickly gets clogged with dirt, dust, and other debris being blown by your furnace and air conditioner. If you have a boiler and radiant heat system this is less of an issue, but you should still check your air vents and any air conditioner units in your house for excess dirt and debris buildup.

Your air quality equipment should have a specified timeline for regular cleanings – usually every six months to one year depending on the size and quality of the equipment. A lot of this cleaning can be done by you, but for advanced cleaning or parts replacement, you may need a professional.

New Equipment

Finally, you can buy new equipment that does a better job of removing contaminants from your indoor air. If you have only a simple air filter, consider getting a purifier as well to remove other contaminants like smoke and gas. If you have a smaller piece of equipment that works well but longer keeps up with the entire house, there are larger purifiers on the market that can handle a bigger space. Additionally, proper ventilation can help with your indoor air quality if you don’t currently have enough fresh air circulating through your home.

No matter what your problem, there is a solution you can work toward to keep the indoor air quality of your home high.

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To Zone or Not to Zone my Home Comfort

Friday, June 24th, 2011

There are a lot of decisions to make related to your home comfort system. You must decide what type of heating you want, how you’ll implement air conditioning, and then how to keep all of that heated and cooled air clean and healthy in your home.

On top of everything else, you have the option to implement zone control in your house to provide multiple comfort levels for each member of your family. Zone control systems are growing rapidly in popularity because they allow home owners to enjoy an enhanced level of comfort throughout the day, while not negatively impacting any one person.

For example, if it’s chilly outside and you need to turn your heater on, that doesn’t mean everyone in the house wants the thermostat set to 72°F. There are a few reasons for this. You may be in the kitchen, working over the stove or doing dishes where there is plenty of heat to keep you warm. More warm air coming through vents or radiators isn’t going to make you comfortable.

The second floor of a home traditionally needs less heat because warm air on the first floor rises and fills that space. The same is true in the summer when cool air settles in lower floors. Having a zone control system allows you to set specific temperatures in each room which are then controlled by your home heating system. You can even turn off the heating and cooling in a specific room like your office or the attic if it will be empty for long periods of time.

Other Considerations

A zone control system is good for comfort, but also for the overall air quality of your home. Too much conditioned air moving through your ducts carries more allergens and contaminants into your home and causes your air quality system to work harder. Your ventilation system will be asked to work harder as well.

Ideally, a good home air quality system is designed to use as little conditioned air as possible to keep everyone comfortable. A zone control system does this very effectively. When talking to a professional about a new installation, check to find out about programmable thermostats as well. These can make it easier to set and forget the temperature in rooms that are only used for a few hours each day.

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Filters

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Installing air filters in your home is a great way to make sure the air your family breathes every day is safe and free of contaminants. But you shouldn’t just go out and buy the first air filter you see. When it comes to quality air filtration, HEPA filters are the industry leaders, and for good reason. They can remove up to 99.97% of indoor air contaminants that measure 0.3 microns or larger, a phenomenal success rate unmatched by any other filters on the market.

Proper HEPA Filter Practices

To be effective, even HEPA filters need to be installed and maintained properly. Consulting with an HVAC professional is the best way to ensure that the air filtration system you get is completely compatible with your home heating and cooling system. The filter must also be installed in the appropriate place so it can catch the most contaminants. Especially if you have a forced air heating and cooling system, there are a lot of potential locations for your filters. A good HVAC professional can help you determine which spots will serve you best.

Changing Your HEPA Filters

Once your filtration system is in place, you should maintain it properly so it continues to catch and remove all those unwanted particles from your indoor air. Keeping up with the proper filter changing schedule is a big part of this. Every HEPA filter comes with manufacturer’s recommendations on how often the filter needs to be changed. Prefilters often need to be changed more often, sometimes even once every 90 days, so you should find out if your system has one of these as well.

Many HEPA filters only need to be changed once every year or two, but the conditions in your home can make it necessary to change them more often. For example, if your home has a lot of dust or other specific air contaminants, you may need to change your HEPA filter as often as once a year.

Both HEPA filters and prefilters are quite easy to remove and replace. If you’re not sure how to do it, have your technician show you the next time they come out for a routine maintenance visit or when they put install the system. As long as you replace your filters regularly, you should have no trouble maintaining high indoor air quality with a HEPA air filtration system.

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Save by Buying Low, Buying at the Right Time

Monday, June 20th, 2011

Buying a new HVAC system is a big step and a big investment. You know you will be spending a considerable amount of money, but it is worth it to get the right system for your home. However, that does not mean you should not shop around and compare prices before you buy. Prices in this industry are far from static, and you could get a great deal if you do some research and know what you are looking for.

Of course, you first have to have the luxury of being able to shop around. If your HVAC system has broken down completely, you will be much more limited on what options you can explore and how much you will pay for the system that you want.

But if you know that you are going to be replacing your existing HVAC system sometime soon, the best thing you can do is to start looking around at what is on the market now. Get a feel for the type of system that you want, the features that are important to you and what it will cost you to get all of that in one package deal.

You can also compare the prices for the same system offered by various retailers and installation companies. While it may seem like the same system should cost the same everywhere, this is often not the case. Also, different places may be offering special discounts or installation specials at different times, and you want to put yourself in the best position to take advantage of that.

The time of year can also affect the price of the system you are looking at. Buying a heating system in the middle of the summer, for instance, is often a good way to get a great deal. So if you plan ahead a little bit, you can make out big when you see the deal you were looking for.

Staying on top of the market is the best way for you to see how the prices on different systems change over time and you will be in a great position to grab a good deal when it comes up. You can also often get good deals on HVAC systems that are close to being replaced by a newer model. Just make sure that the newer model does not offer too much more than the previous year’s and you will likely come out ahead.

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Do I Need Surge Protection for My HVAC?

Friday, June 17th, 2011

You probably know that to keep your HVAC system in good working order you need to keep up with regular maintenance. This includes things like changing air filters, cleaning out air ducts and clearing debris from both inside and outside the system. Surge protection for your system may not be something you think of immediately, but like those maintenance tasks, it’s an important part of keeping your equipment functioning properly over time.

How Surge Protection Works

Surge protection essentially shuts off your system in the event that power levels in the system rise suddenly and unacceptably. When a sudden increase in electricity occurs, any electronic device is at risk. But, unlike your stereo, your HVAC system costs thousands of dollars – no one wants to lose something so valuable to a surge that could have been prevented. That’s why a surge protector is so vital for your system.

The surge protector monitors the levels of electricity coming into your HVAC system. In the event that a surge occurs for any reason (faulty wiring, a lightning strike, etc.), the surge protector will immediately cut off power to the HVAC unit and shut all of the equipment down.

A Sizeable Investment

Your HVAC system was not an impulse buy. This is a collection of equipment that you probably spent a good deal of money on and that you rely on to keep your family comfortable throughout the year. When you look at it that way, it’s easy to see why it’s worth doing anything you can to protect your investment. Installing a surge protector is a relatively minor expense compared to the money and inconvenience it could save you by preventing serious damage to your HVAC equipment.

Proper Restart

Once a surge protector shuts off your HVAC system, you’ll need to restart it properly. The best thing to do is talk to the contractor who installs your system. They can walk you through the restart process step by step to ensure you know exactly what to do. After going through all that trouble installing a surge protector, the last thing you want is to make a mistake when turning it back on.

If you don’t already have a surge protector in place, call an HVAC professional today and learn what your system needs to be fully protected. It’s a small expense and a quick installation, so there’s no reason to put it off any longer.

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How Do I Check for a Dirty Evaporator Coil?

Wednesday, June 15th, 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?

Monday, June 13th, 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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What Is a Chilled Beam System?

Friday, June 10th, 2011

If you’ve been researching new ways to cool larger office or industrial spaces, chances are you’ve come across information on the chilled beam system. These systems are not suitable for residential use, but they can be extremely effective in other types of applications. They’ve been used more extensively overseas, but are rapidly gaining ground in the US.

How They Work

In a chilled beam system, cooled water is sent through pipes into a beam that runs across the ceiling of an area. The water chills the beam, which in turn passes that chill to the air in the room. As the air in contact with the beam cools, it also becomes denser and sinks, thereby making room for warmer air to rise from below and contact the beam. In this way, air is both cooled and circulated throughout the room.

Active vs Passive

Chilled beam systems are available in both active and passive implementations. Passive systems rely solely on the natural convection currents to circulate air and bring warmer air into contact with the beam. Active systems, on the other hand, make use of a central air handler and ducts to bring new air into contact with the beam and circulate air around the space to be cooled.

Passive systems, of course, use less energy than active ones, but their application is also more limited. Active chilled beam systems are still much more energy efficient than many other types of industrial or commercial cooling systems and they can be integrated into many more types of spaces.

System Advantages

Energy efficiency is certainly a very attractive feature of chilled beam systems, but they have several other solid selling points. For one thing, chilled beams operate extremely quietly because of their lack of moving parts. This also makes them much easier and cheaper to install and maintain. And because of the simplicity of their design, chilled beam systems don’t require that a large amount of space be devoted to a machine room or control center, making them an excellent choice when space is at a premium.

Limitations

Of course, chilled beam systems aren’t without their drawbacks. For one thing, these systems can cost quite a bit more than other more conventional systems because they must be imported from overseas. There is also a limit to how much cooling they can accomplish because if the temperature of the beam itself drops below a certain level, condensation will begin to form.

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Mechanical or Forced Ventilation v. Natural Ventilation

Wednesday, June 8th, 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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