Frequently Asked Air Conditioning and Heating Questions
The temperature in the house is fine, but the indoor fan runs all the time. What's wrong?
Sometimes homeowners turn the fan switch to "On" versus "Auto" which causes the indoor fan to run continuously. Turn the switch to "Auto" and the fan should stop running continuously.
Is there any advantage to setting my thermostat fan to "On" so the fan runs constantly?
Yes, there are a couple. The first is that you get constant filtering of the air in your home. The second is that because the air is moving, you have a more even temperature throughout the home. However, continuous fan mode during the cooling season may not be appropriate in humid climates. If the inside of your home feels uncomfortably humid, it is recommended that the fan be used in "Auto" mode.
Why is a matched system important?
A matched system is important for a variety of reasons. One is comfort. When all our components are properly sized to your home, you can control exactly how much heating or cooling you need so you can relax. Also, a properly sized matched system enables every component to perform as designed, meaning proper cycle times are maintained, humidity is controlled, and system sound is minimized. Another reason matched systems are important is efficiency. Most people buy systems that are too large for their homes, meaning they pay to heat and cool space that isn't even there. A matched system outlined by a dealer who has completed a load calculation for your home provides just the right amount of heating and cooling you need so you get the most value for your utility dollar.
The air coming from the registers feels cool when my new heat pump is set for heating. Is there a problem?
While a heat pump is perfectly capable of effectively heating your home, the temperature of the air coming out of the registers is heated to about 90 to 95 degrees, depending on the outdoor temperature. This temperature is approximately 20 - 25 degrees warmer that the indoor air temperature and will warm your house. It is, however, below body temperature (98.6 degrees) and can feel cool when someone puts their hand in the airflow.
What is the purpose of auxiliary heat?
Under normal operating conditions, the auxiliary heat is brought on automatically by the thermostat when the indoor temperature drops during heat pump operation. There are also times during cold, wet weather when the outdoor coil may ice up and your heat pump will go into a defrost cycle. This is nothing more than reversing the process back to cooling mode. Cooling mode makes the outdoor coil hot and melts any ice. The defrost cycle should only last a few minutes and then return to heating mode. During the defrost cycle, your comfort system is in cooling mode and the supply air is cool. To offset this cool air, the auxiliary heat will be energized during defrost. A mist or fog may be visible from the outdoor unit during defrost.
How long does a typical furnace and air conditioner last?
On average, a furnace or air conditioner will last 10 - 20 years. Sometimes it pays to replace the old system sooner because of the higher efficiency (lower gas and electric bills) provided by newer equipment. Life expectancies can vary greatly. The major factors influencing life expectancy are proper installation and regular maintenance. Maintenance is a must to maximize efficiency and protect your investment.
What goes into installing a new system?
If you install a new system, most of the items from the "What happens when I replace my old system?" will need to be installed as well. Beyond equipment, the most important component installed with a new system is the ductwork. Ductwork is composed of two parts, supply and return. Supply duct is attached to the outflow of the new system, delivering air to each zone in a home. The amount of air reaching each zone is determined by the size of supply ductwork connecting it to your system. James Thomas Air will help you determine the size of all the supply ductwork in your home. The second part of the ductwork, the return duct, attaches to the inlet of the new system and draws air out of the spaces to be heated or cooled. Attached to the return duct is the filter. The filter should be placed as near to the furnace or air handler as possible. Ductwork can be either ductboard, flexible duct, or metal and must be properly sized in order to evenly distribute the proper amount of air to each room.
My electric and gas bills are high. Will a new furnace and air conditioner lower my bills?
YES! A new 13 SEER air conditioner or heat pump could save you as much as 50% on your operating cost of the system. 13 SEER is the minimum efficiency standard allowed by law. Depending on your current operating costs, high efficiency systems could save you even more. Newer gas furnaces are 30 - 40% more efficient than some older models. With rising gas prices, this could mean big savings.
What is SEER?
This stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. The size of an air conditioner is rated in BTU or Tons, however the efficiency is rated in SEER. This ratio is calculated as cooling output divided by the power input for the average U.S. climate. It's like MPG (miles per gallon) in a car - the higher the MPG (or SEER) the lower the gasoline (electricity) bill.
What is a heat pump? Is it better than an air conditioner?
A heat pump is an electric powered piece of equipment that both heats and cools your home. In the summer, a heat pump is no different than an air conditioner. In the winter a heat pump operates in reverse and heats the indoors. Heat pumps need auxiliary heat (electric heat or gas furnace) to help them when it is very cold (below 42 degrees in the North Georgia Mountains) or when the thermostat is moved more than 2 - 3 degrees at a time. The initial investment for a heat pump is higher than for an air conditioner, and the ductwork must be exactly right for proper operation. One common complaint of a heat pump is that the air coming out of the registers is not hot enough (compared to a gas furnace). With all their drawbacks, heat pumps will reduce the winter heating bills. However, the savings compared to heating with gas is dramatic and you will probably want to stay with a heat pump.
Is it OK to install a different brand of furnace (or air conditioner) to work with my existing air conditioner (or furnace)?
Most brands of equipment will work with others as long as the coils and blowers are the proper size. You may, however, experience some loss of efficiency and capacity.
How does James Thomas Heating and Cooling determine the size of furnace and air conditioner to install?
Our Comfort Consultant will measure your home and calculate the actual heating and cooling load on your home (calculation based on window size and direction, walls, ceiling, floor, appliances, insulation, etc.) This will determine the proper size of equipment that is needed. This will be compared to your current equipment and ductwork and will be adjusted based on your lifestyle, etc.
Some rooms in our house are too hot (or cold). Can this be fixed?
Certainly. There are a variety of causes for airflow problems. Sometimes the problems are due to a dirty filter, coil, and/or blower which results in reduced air flow passing through the air handler and causing the air to die off in the outer branches of the duct system. From time to time the duct work comes loose and a minor reattachment repair can solve the problem. In a lot of cases, there are duct design issues. In these cases, a professional from James Thomas Heating and Cooling should be called in to troubleshoot the situation. Solutions can range from some simple air balancing to replacement of ducts to advanced climate control systems such as a zone system.
How do I pay for my new system?
For installation of new equipment, we do not require any down payment, however we ask for payment the day we complete the installation (unless other arrangements have been made in advance). We accept cash, checks, VISA, Mastercard, and Discover. We also offer financing through a local financing company and often run same as cash specials to customers with good credit.
In terms of preventative maintenance, why can't my air conditioner and furnace be checked at the same time instead of one in the spring and one in the fall?
They should be checked and cleaned to ensure they are operating efficiently, properly, and safely. We recommend checking the air conditioner in the spring and the furnace in the fall so that we can fully operate the system to check its operation. When checking your refrigerant level in your air conditioner, we obtain a more accurate reading at higher outdoor temperatures.
Should I have a new programmable thermostat installed with my new system?
Programmable thermostats are an excellent tool to save energy. You can program the thermostat so that it raises and lowers the temperature automatically to coincide with your needs. They are particularly effective when your household is on a regular schedule and the program operates continuously. Aside from lowering your energy bill, a programmable thermostat offers additional comfort (i.e. Wake up to a warm bathroom.)
What can I do to maintain my furnace?
Your forced-air heating system will perform more efficiently (i.e. save you money on energy bills and repair costs) if you...
- Inspect filters once a month and replace them when they are dirty.
- Make sure air supply and return vents in your home are not obstructed. Make sure nothing is in front of them or on top of them such as furniture, curtains, boxes, toys, etc.
- Check chimney and venting systems once a year for secure fittings, leaks, corrosion, or damage.
- Keep area around furnace clean and clutter free. Keep at least 3 - 4 feet totally clear all the way around your furnace.
- Do not block the source of furnace combustion air by enclosing furnace in a small closet or by making the room it is located in too air tight. The furnace needs to pull air from its immediate surroundings.
- If your system operates on propane gas, regularly check your propane gas percentage to make sure you do not run out.
What can I do to maintain my air conditioner or heat pump?
Regular maintenance will extend the life of your equipment and reduce repair costs. Here are some simple tasks that should be done.
- Keep debris, grass clippings, dirt, and leaves away from outdoor unit.
- Use a hose to clear the aluminum fins from airborne debris (be careful, the fins bend easily. Use a regular hose without a spray nozzle, and a very soft brush with light to no pressure).
When should I replace my furnace?
Furnaces eventually wear out just like any piece of machinery. Your professional HVAC service technician will see certain indicators that tell them your furnace is wearing out. Some of those symptoms are:
- Frequent pilot light outages
- Delayed ignition
- Yellow flame or wavering flame
- Excessive soot or corrosion
- Too much or too little heat
- The smell of sulfur or burnt eggs
Frequently, equipment owners start considering replacing their units when the frequency and costs of repairs become a bigger headache than the cost of replacing the unit.
How do I select the right heating/cooling system?
First, make sure the unit is properly sized. Your Comfort Consultant will provide a load calculation for your home. Also your contractor should provide an energy analysis to determine operating cost. Next, consider any comfort issues in the home. Some products can reduce air stratification and uneven temperatures from room to room. If you have allergies, an indoor unit with an ECM motor will allow you to circulate the air in your home continuously while filtering the air for about the same cost as operating a standard light bulb. Finally, know your budge parameters and the efficiency of the system being proposed. Does the system offer a payback? In other words, will the monthly savings over time offset the cost of the new unit or efficiency option being considered? There are many factors to consider when selecting a new heating and/or cooling system.
How can we improve the efficiency of an existing heating and cooling system without replacing the furnace or the air conditioner and without adding more insulation?
First and foremost is MAINTENANCE. The equipment needs to be cleaned and serviced by a licensed professional at least twice per year. Studies have shown that lack of proper maintenance can reduce equipment efficiency by 5 - 10%. In addition, most of today's filters need to be changed a minimum of every 90 days, and don't skimp on the filter. You should use a filter that has a high efficiency rating to help keep your air and equipment clean. After thorough cleaning of your equipment, the service technician will adjust the Freon levels in your air conditioner to the manufacturer's specifications. An over charged unit is just as bad as an under charged unit when it comes to energy consumption. On the heating side, the burners should be cleaned for maximum performance, as well as adjusting the gas pressure, and cleaning the blower wheel. Program 8 hour or greater blocks of time and no more than 7 degree adjustments are recommended.
How often should I have my air ducts cleaned and inspected for repairs?
In the majority of homes, cleaning and inspection once every three years is adequate. The type of air filter you are using and the frequency of maintenance on your heating and air conditioning equipment can have a significant effect on the duration between cleanings. The purchase of a good quality air cleaner will protect your heating and air conditioning equipment, duct system, and your home, while scheduled maintenance will extend the life of the equipment and increase its efficiency.
Should I set my thermostat at a constant temperature during the summer months or should I turn it off while we are away and then turn it on when we are home? Which is more efficient?
During the summer months I would recommend you set your thermostat back during the day when you are not home. However, I would not recommend that you go over your desired temperature more than five to seven degrees. An exception to this rule is if you live in a singlewide mobile home. The insulation is so poor that you would save more by turning off the unit when you are away. Another recommendation would be that you have a programmable thermostat installed that would automatically change the setting for you. Our customers have saved as much as 30 percent on their utility bills just by setting the temperature back when no one is home.
My furnace uses propane gas and is blowing cold air, is there anything I should check?
Check your propane tank to make sure you have gas. To check the tank, flip open the dome lid on top of the tank. Look at the gauge. It will have numbers (percentages) from 0 to 100. Make sure the needle is not on zero.
James Thomas is a heating and air conditioning specialist serving Blue Ridge, Ellijay, and other North Georgia areas.