If you receive a high electric bill in the winter and if you heat your Indianapolis area home with an electric heat pump and if you notice your heat pump runs 24/7, you might presume the heat pump is the problem. The trouble is, you normally have to call your heating contractor to see if the heat pump is working properly. Well here is a do it yourself test to check the heat pump, to see if it is working properly. This test is so easy, you will find yourself checking the heat pump operation every time you pass by. It’s almost as alluring as checking wet paint!
Before we start, I suggest you read an earlier blog (follow link) where I explain that it is normal for your heat pump to run non stop in cold weather. But even though your system is supposed to run often, you should know that a heat pump compressor can fail and the outside unit will still appear that it is working since the outside fan is still running. So how do we know the heat pump is doing its thing?
From the link above, you know a heat pump is two to four times more efficient than your backup electric heat. If your heat pump compressor fails and your backup heat takes over, the heat pump fan never shuts off and 6 weeks later you get a high electric bill, three times what it should be.
Here’s how to test if your heat pump is working. The outside unit is connected to the inside furnace by two copper refrigerant lines. One is the size of your thumb, the other the size of your little finger. In the winter, when the outside unit is running, feel the larger of the two copper lines. It is probably covered by a black foam insulation, so you will need to get under this foam to feel the metal pipe. This line should be very warm to the touch. It will not burn you, but on most winter days above 20 degrees, you will want to pull your finger off pretty quick. This pipe is carrying lots of heat. The heat was absorbed from the outdoor air and is now being sent to your home.
If the line is not hot:
- Is the outside unit running? Can you get it to run by raising the thermostat? Is your thermostat improperly set to emergency heat? If you cannot get the outdoor heat pump to run… and this is not what you want to hear… it’s broke.
- Is the heat pump in a defrost cycle? (That’s when steam is coming off the unit.) If so, wait until it’s done and test later.
- Do you really have a heat pump? (An air conditioner is not supposed to run in the winter.) Call Precision Comfort Systems and let’s get your electric bills cut in half with a new heat pump!
If none of the above apply and the copper line is not hot, your heat pump is probably not working. The indoor electric furnace has taken over and this is costing you two to three times what you should be paying. Call Precision Comfort Systems now and we will find out exactly what is wrong.
Repeating from my last blog (but it is very important and worth a second post):
Some nasty advice is given, even among heating contractors who do not know any better, that you should use the emergency heat setting on your thermostat and “give the heat pump a break when the weather gets cold”. Well take it from me. This switch named “em. ht.” is misnamed. It has nothing to do with getting extra heating capacity or being a special setting for a cold day. It should be named, “DOUBLE OR TRIPLE MY BILLS!” When you switch to “em. ht.”, you turn off your heat pump and now the more expensive backup furnace (toaster coils) are heating your home at two to three times the cost. Don’t do this! Allow the heat pump to run and love it. New heat pumps are very efficient and they are designed to run non stop when you need it most so your heating bill is normal. Even older heat pumps are much better than the electric furnace.
If your heat pump is too old, then its ability to move heat may be less than what it should be. Call Precision Comfort Systems, your Central Indiana heat pump specialists, to evaluate your current heat pump. We can tune it up or eventually replace it so you are getting the most from the current heat pump technology.
Hot, humid summer weather… you know it’s coming! The only good thing about the Indianapolis area getting hot and humid is… we all have something to talk about. And what’s more, almost all of us will finally agree on something; It’s HOT and we love our air conditioning! At Precision Comfort Systems, our Indianapolis air conditioner, AC service calls have been increasing. The AC service department has been busy responding to all the No Cooling calls in Westfield, Noblesville, Fishers, Carmel and the other communities surprised by our early heat this year. Much of the time the service technician spends on an AC service call is answering questions like, “Is it OK if my AC is running non stop?” “How can I lower my high air conditioning bills?” Where should I set my AC thermostat temperature?”
Precision Comfort Systems AC service technicians are the best and they know the answers to most air conditioning questions. But I thought I would help them out by answering some of the most common air conditioning and summer comfort questions. Here are the questions we hear the most during the hot summer weather:
Why does my air conditioner never turn off on the hot days? It’s OK. In Central Indiana, air conditioners are sized for normal summer conditions of 15 to 20 degrees warmer outside than inside. So if it gets 20 degrees warmer outside than your thermostat setting, you will most likely see your AC running all the time. But even in extreme weather if you can cool your home 20 degrees less than say 100 degrees, your will still maintain a reasonably comfortable temperature for mid and late afternoon. And then by evening it should start to catch up. If you cannot maintain at least 15 degrees cooler than the outdoor temperature, Call Us!
Is my air conditioner size too small? It could be, but do not judge your AC size on the hottest day of the year. In Indiana, 95 degrees outside temperature is very rare. Normal is more like 88 to 90 for a hot day. If your AC will not maintain 75 degrees inside when it’s 88 degrees outside it may be too small or it may not be working properly. A Precision Comfort Technician can determine this and tell you the truth.
Do I need a new high-efficiency air conditioner or just an AC repair? We try our best to get the full life out of your current air conditioner. AC life expectancy is about 13 to 17 years (average 15 years). Some repairs can make a big difference and it is very much worth the cost of AC service. But eventually you need an honest technician to tell you when it’s time to upgrade to a new, higher efficiency, more dependable air conditioner.
What are some easy ways to save on air conditioning costs? Here are two very easy and free AC tips. On bright hot summer days, close the drapes or blinds on the sunny side of the home. Solar heat can account for 50% of your AC costs and air conditioning load. Also, if you are air conditioning today and you plan on air conditioning tomorrow, do not open your home tonight. The night air is cool, but it is still humid. Summer humidity in Indiana can cause you AC bills to double.
Where should I set my air conditioning thermostat temperature? This is a tough one. Summer comfort is very subjective for each of us. (I think we are more sensitive to temperature in the summer than we are in the winter.) The first thing to note is that your home thermostat(s) may not be perfectly accurate, so do not get too set on an exact number. Cool to your personal comfort level but keep these things in mind; 1) you normally only have the ability to cool 20 degrees from the outside temperature, 2) each degree you lower the thermostat you could add 10% to 15% to your air conditioning bill, 3) if you wait until late afternoon to “cool down” the home, the AC may not be capable of reducing the home temperature during peak conditions.
Hope this helps. Keep Cool! If your AC fails, call Precision Comfort Systems! We offer much more than AC service repair. When you’re having comfort problems, we offer an honest evaluation of your heating and cooling system as well as your entire home. Our trained technicians have the experience to find your problem, and it’s not always a new system. And don’t forget, we offer free second opinions!
Propane prices in Indiana have risen to unaffordable levels. Propane (LP gas) deliveries have been rationed. Some LP gas customers are even worried they may run out of propane fuel and not be able to live in their home. Propane heating costs in Indiana in 2014 are causing most propane gas customers to look for alternative means of heating their homes including using an electric portable heater.
If you heat with Propane and you have been forced to pay outrageous propane rates in Indiana, here is a very easy alternative to consider. Precision Comfort Systems in Westfield, Indiana always keeps their customers updated with the most current fuel cost information. The most important information you need now is to able to compare propane prices vs electric portable heater in Indiana.
Before I go any further, please understand that using portable electric heaters in your home is a reasonable alternative, but can be dangerous. You must follow safety precautions. These heaters are hot. They heat nearby surfaces to the point of combustion. If used properly, they can save you some money when compared to the current costs of propane gas. But please follow all precautions.
Below is a table with too many numbers. But here is a summary to help you understand how to use the table. Suppose you want to purchase one million units of heat. Each unit is called BTU. If your propane costs $4.00 per gallon and you use a 90% LP gas furnace, you will spend $49.38 for one million BTUs. See if you can find this number in the table below. At $5.00 per gallon, a 90% propane furnace will cost you $61.73 per million BTUs. In comparison, if your electric cost is $.09 per kWh, then you will spend $26.37 for one million BTUs, or about half price.
Does it matter what kind of electric heater you use? Yes and no. In terms of efficiency and cost to operate, all electric heaters are the same. See this information for more details. In terms of safety, yes some electric heaters are more safe than others. Review the features and choose a safe heater.
One last, very important thought. Heat pumps are not the same as a portable electric heater. For example, a geothermal heat pump, at $.09 per kWh, will provide heat for a mere $8.00 per million BTUs instead of $50.00 per million with your propane furnace. We are very busy right now upgrading propane furnaces to geothermal heat pumps, but call us and let us explain what it takes to finally free yourself from high propane prices in Indiana.
Compare Propane (LP) Gas Heating Costs to Electric Heat
Past LP gas Cost/Gallon
Recent 2014 LP Cost/Gallon
Current Electric Costs
|LP Cost per Gallon||Cost per million btus: 80% or 90% LP furnace||LP Cost per Gallon||Cost per million btus: 80% or 90% LP gas furnace||Electric Cost per kWh||Cost per million btus:
Any electric element
The cost of propane gas (same as LP gas or Liquified Petroleum Gas) has always caused high heating bills in Indiana. But in 2014, Indiana propane prices doubled and this caused rationing and sent homeowners in search of alternatives. Some homes are keeping their LP gas furnace because they are unaware of the energy efficient alternatives. But the propane gas homes that change to a better heating system are now seeing savings of thousands of dollars per winter.
The solution is a geothermal heating and cooling system. Geothermal energy is the least expensive option to heat and cool your home. It is well known that a geothermal system can cost more to install than a new LP gas furnace, but the energy savings will easily pay off the difference in just a few years.
Precision Comfort Systems can estimate your savings when you change from a propane gas system to a geothermal system. You simply need to tell us how much you spent on LP gas the past winter, your propane cost per gallon and the efficiency of your current furnace.
For an example of the savings seen with geothermal read this from a recent blog.
Do not pay your propane supplier to fill your tank at the current high propane costs. Let us compare your current high LP gas cost to geothermal. In the meantime, you may even consider using a portable electric heater to save money. Read this about propane costs vs. electric heating costs.
Note: the following is an updated version of some very important information regarding the recent LP gas shortages and related high propane prices. Are you heating your home with propane (LP) gas? Considering the high propane prices in Central Indiana, you need to read this to save some serious money. The price of LP gas in Hamilton County, Indiana, was previously around $2.50 per gallon. This was creating heating costs of $2000 per year. But now with the recent LP gas shortage the costs could be double! Imagine how far ahead you would be if you could keep $1500 to $3000 of this expense every year?
Propane heat is one of the most expensive ways to heat your home. But what alternatives do you have? Here is an easy way to make a quick comparison between different heating systems and fuels. From your past heating bills we can estimate how much heat your home needed last winter. The unit of heat we use is called a BTU. (A BTU is a very small amount of heat so you need several million of these BTUs each winter.)
Let’s say your home needed 65 million BTUs last winter. Your 90% LP gas furnace can make one million BTUs for $30.86 if the gas cost is $2.50 per gallon. So your winter fuel bill ends up being about $2000 because 65 million X $30.86 = $2006. But the current high propane prices could double this cost to $4000 per winter! Does this unreasonably high propane bill sound familiar for your home?
Geothermal saves $1000 to $2000 per year!
A geothermal heat pump in your home will not change the amount of heat you need. But the geo system can make (actually, move) the same one million BTUs for a mere $7.53 if the cost of electricity is $.09 per kWh. So now your winter heating bill is 65 X $7.53 or $489. Do some quick rounding and you can see about $1500 per year in geothermal energy savings! In a more extreme example, your furnace may only be 80% efficient and your electricity may only cost $.075 per kWh. Now your geothermal heating savings is over $1800 per winter!
Note: The above prices were listed before the recent LP gas shortage. With the current high propane prices, you could easily save $3000 per winter.
And the geothermal air conditioning savings are added to the winter savings!
Precision Comfort Systems will help you with all your options and even update you on the 30% geothermal federal tax credit. We can help you decide if your next propane furnace repair is a wise decision. Maybe it’s better seen as a good opportunity to invest in a new system. Before you spend more money on your next propane tank refill, or your next furnace repair, or even your next air conditioner service, call the heating and cooling specialists at Precision Comfort Systems. 317-867-2665.
Emergency Heat sounds like a wonderful feature for a heating system. It sounds comforting to push the “Power Boost” button during the blizzard. Especially in times of a winter emergency as defined by our central Indiana weather personalities on TV. I am waiting for the day I hear, “… that’s right Bob, we are bracing for our first 2 to 3.6 inches of snow tonight and we will be tracking it throughout your evening TV shows and by the way, you should be rushing to your thermostat and switching into Emergency Heat as soon as possible!
What is Emergency Heat and when should you use it? An Emergency Heat switch is found on most electric heat pump thermostats. Sometimes it is abbreviated as “Em.Ht.” and sometimes it is called Auxiliary Heat (Aux.Ht.). Gas furnaces do not have this feature. The Emergency Heat switch is very easy to understand; it simply turns off your heat pump. But you do not want to do this unless you enjoy electric bills that are twice what they should be.
Your heat pump is a very efficient means of heating your home. Read my previous blogs about heat pump efficiency. All heat pump systems in Indiana also have backup heating coils to assist the heat pump in very cold weather. The backup coils are similar to a much less efficient, portable space heater or the type of heat coils you would see in an old toaster. Electric heating coils are only about one-third as efficient as the heat pump. But fortunately they only account for about 15% to 20 % of your home’s total winter heating needs in Central Indiana. The more efficient heat pump is responsible for most (80% to 85%) of your winter heating. Unless of course you make the mistake and turn off the heat pump!
Do not turn off your heat pump! Some nasty advice is given, even from heating contractors who do not know any better, that you can use the emergency heat setting on your thermostat and “give the heat pump a break when the weather gets cold”. Well take it from me. This switch named “em. ht.” is misnamed. It has nothing to do with getting extra heating capacity or serving as a cold day setting. It should be named, “DOUBLE OR TRIPLE MY BILLS!” When you switch to “em. ht.”, you turn off your heat pump and now the more expensive backup furnace (toaster coils) are heating your home at two to three times the cost.
Don’t do this! Allow the heat pump to run and love it. New heat pumps are very efficient and they are designed to run non stop when you need it most so your heating bill is normal. Even older heat pumps are much better than the electric furnace. Heat pumps are so efficient that even if you need to raise the thermostat a degree or two on the worst winter days, you will still be better off in the normal heating mode and not switching to emergency heat.
If your heat pump is too old, then its ability to move heat may be less than what it should be. Call Precision Comfort Systems, your Central Indiana heat pump specialists, to evaluate your current heat pump. We can tune it up or eventually replace it so you are getting the most from the current heat pump technology.
When are you supposed to use this switch? If you find that your heat pump is not working (read how to test this on your own) then you can switch to emergency heat until a technician from Precision Comfort Systems can visit your home. Or perhaps a part needs to be ordered. Our technician may leave your system in the emergency heat mode for a short time until the heat pump can be repaired.
What if it is very, very cold? Cold weather is still no reason to turn off your heat pump. A heat pump is slightly less efficient in cold weather than it is in normal 20 to 30 degree winter weather, but it is never less efficient than the backup heat. So switching to Emergency Heat will always increase your bills. And most heat pumps will, in the normal heating mode, automatically use all the electric backup heat if necessary to heat your home. You do not get extra heat when switching to emergency heat. (If your heating contractor has custom wired your system to “save” some backup heat capacity solely for the Emergency Heat setting, there is no reason to do this and it should be changed back.)
Most important, be sure you have someone servicing your heat pump, that understands heat pumps. Call Precision Comfort Systems, your Central Indiana heat pump specialists, to service your heat pump.
Should my heat pump run all the time? My old furnace didn’t! If you subscribe to the old school (that would be the bigger-is-better school) your old oversized furnace was probably super-sized for the unlikely event that the next ice age will be here soon. The old goal is for your monster furnace to only run about half strength at minus 24 degrees. And the engine in that muscle car of yours is not even close to max at 120 mph, but that’s when we normally back-er-down, cause that’s when the girls start to get a bit nervous. So what’s the deal with that heat pump running all day and all night as soon as the temperatures is in the twenties? Are heat pumps gimpy?
If you’re more familiar with a large furnace cycling off and on for most of the Indiana winter, then a heat pump running constantly, 24/7 makes you suspicious that something is wrong. Do not worry. This is exactly what the heat pump is designed to do. Heat pumps are very energy efficient. They do not have the over-sized capacity of your old furnace but they consume much less energy and the more they run, the more cheap heat you’re getting. Think of it this way. Since a heat pump is simply moving heat (instead of making heat like most other furnaces) and since we can move heat at a much lower cost than we can make heat, then why not maximize the amount of time we run the energy efficient heat moving machine?
In the winter, a heat pump gathers heat from the outside and moves (pumps) the heat into your home. In the summer, a heat pump reverses the heat moving process and moves unwanted heat from the inside of your home and disperses it outside. Back to winter, for each dollar that you would spend in an electric furnace to get one unit of heat, a heat pump will use the same dollar of electricity and provide up to 3.5 times the amount of heat. As the temperature outside gets colder this efficiency decreases, but it is still a very efficient 2.5 times better than straight electric coils.
So why does my heat pump run non-stop, 24/7? Your heat pump is sized for your air conditioning needs and in Central Indiana, this means it will not meet all your heating needs. So here is what happens. In outdoor temperatures above 30 degrees, the heat pump should cycle off and on like a normal furnace. Somewhere between 20 and 30 degrees outdoor temperature, the heat pump will reach a “balance point” where the heat needed by the home is equal to the heat supplied by the heat pump. So now it will run all the time. As the outdoor temperature goes lower than the balance point, the heat pump will continue to run non-stop and occasionally backup electric coils will supplement the heat pump.
The heat pump is designed to run continuously to give you as much of the cheap heat as you can possibly get. This helps to minimize the more expensive heat made from the backup coils. But do not be alarmed when the back up heat runs on the cold days. As long as the heat pump is allowed to run as it is designed, the back up heat will only account for 10% to 15% of the entire Indiana winter heating needs.
Do not turn off your heat pump by switching to emergency heat! Read this on when to use emergency heat with a heat pump.
How do I know if my heat pump is working properly? Good question. If the heat pump stops working properly, the backup furnace will take over and this could double your bills. Read this on how to test your heat pump.
Even older heat pumps are much better than the electric furnace. However, if your heat pump is too old, then its ability to move heat may be less than what it should be. Call Precision Comfort Systems, your Central Indiana heat pump specialists, to evaluate your current heat pump. We can tune it up or eventually replace it so you are getting the most from the current heat pump technology.
Amish electric heater! Miracle heat! Amazing new technology! Free electric heater! Energy Saving fireplace heater! You’ve seen these full page ads in the newspaper and since they continue to show up, I can only guess that they are so successful that thousands of buyers are being ripped off every day. In fact, the soon to be disappointed are probably in a hurry to take part in this scam since it is a limited time only, free offer and their zip code is miraculously and thankfully included in the next region recently opened for new orders. Well in terms of electric heating efficiency, you guessed it… this is a not a new and amazing miracle heater.
Here is the 2013 update of my perennial, portable electric heater review. Since Precision Comfort Systems in Westfield is known as the heating and cooling specialists in the Indianapolis area, we get many questions about the energy savings claimed by full page ads featuring plug in portable electric heaters. Despite giving you enough text for a long breakfast read, most of these claims are very misleading. In fact, for many families, these plug in portable heaters can actually double their energy bill.
Here’s the truth. When you create heat with electricity, you have only a few options. Most whole house electric heating systems in the Indianapolis area are heat pumps. Heat pumps and especially geothermal heat pumps are fantastic! The only other electric heat option is to put electricity into some type of “resistant conductor” and this causes the conductor to glow warm and thus gives off some type of heat. You are already familiar with this type of electric heat. It’s in your toaster, your hair dryer, electric stove top and oven, electric clothes dryer, incandescent light bulb, heat lamp… you get the idea. I like to refer to it as simply toaster heat.
Here’s the science. All electric resistance toaster heat is exactly the same (poor) efficiency. You will always get (a relatively small amount) 3413 units of heat (BTUs) for each unit of electricity (kWh) you put in. No variations. No miracles. No new efficiencies from the Amish. Compare this to a heat pump at 2 to 3 times the efficiency or a geothermal heat pump at 3 to 5 times the efficiency. So adding one of these plug in portable electric heating units normally increases your family’s energy costs.
There could be one exception where you would save some money. If you can tolerate your home at a low (example) 55 to 60 degree temperature and then use a portable electric heater in a single, small room kept at 70, you might save some money. But this depends on the type of heating fuel and heating system you use. You may only break even for all the discomfort of a cold home.
One more comment. By electrical code, if the advertised portable electric heater plugs into a normal wall outlet, it can only be 1500 watts maximum. So it is never “more powerful” than the same 1500 watt unit you can buy at the local discount store for as little as $12.00. (That’s right, only $12. That’s not a misprint. Compare to the $300 and $400 price for the quaint, country built, rip off heater.) If you really need a little “spot heat” in your home and do not mind a little increase in your energy costs, look over the choices in the discount store and upgrade to a heater that includes several built-in safety devices. Read more on Portable Electric Heater Safety.
Or, your best solution for any home comfort problem, call Precision Comfort Systems. We are the heating specialists that tell the truth.
This has been my annual portable electric heater review and now I will file it away until next year. With the outrageous profits being made in this scam, I’m sure the ads will continue. By the way, your zip code, regardless of the number, has just been added to the list of zip code areas from which we are now accepting calls.
With a name like EnergyManDan, you can imagine how frequently I am asked, “How can I save a lot of energy with minimal expense and minimal time invested?” Typical need. We all want the easy easy. Fortunately, there are a few energy saving measures that are actually this easy and valuable. One great example is to close your crawl space vents for the winter. When I drive through neighborhoods, I cannot help but notice how many homes still have their crawl space vents open. This is a huge mistake in terms of trying to keep your home comfortable and your energy bills low during the winter. Here’s the scoop.
Home foundations are typically a basement, concrete slab or a crawl space. Of these, normally the crawl space is the only one with vents to the outside. Venting the crawl space is no longer a good idea in our energy efficient homes with heating and air conditioning ducts in the crawl space. These spaces under the home should be considered a “conditioned space” which means they are heated in the winter and “conditioned” in the summer. This post deals primarily with winter heating but here is another post about summer.
Think of your crawl space as a short basement. It should be insulated around the perimeter on the inside of the crawl space walls which makes this a heated space in the winter. Many homes with a crawl space will have heating ducts in this area and these ducts perform best when they are in a warm space in the winter. Crawl space vents need to be closed, sealed and insulated to keep the cold winter air out of this area. Note that simply closing the louvers from the outside will seldom seal this opening properly. In addition to closing the louvers, you should go into the crawl space and seal the opening with a tight fitting plug and then add insulation.
Allowing cold air into an otherwise conditioned space can increase energy costs, cause the heated air in the ducts to be cooled, create cold floors and even add to the dryness of your home. If you close your crawl space vents and you are still having comfort issues, call Precision Comfort Systems. We are the home comfort experts in Noblesville, Westfield, Carmel and all other Indianapolis area communities. We discover the real reasons you are not comfortable!
Closing crawl space vents for the winter is an easy to understand energy saving measure. But what should you do with these vents in the summer? That concept is a more difficult topic and worthy of a separate blog or two. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right place for the answers to these questions. Here is more information on summer moisture problems from crawl space venting.
You are building an energy efficient home. Since you have taken the time to build it right, you deserve a heating and cooling system that is energy efficient, comfortable, reliable and designed with the most current science and software. You will not necessarily receive all these features if your current HVAC contractor does not utilize the best new home heating and air conditioning design standards.
One of the most important components of a comfortable home is the ductwork. These hidden pipes are the comfort distribution system for your family. This network of custom fabricated ducts should be professionally designed and sized in conjunction with an accurate heating and cooling load calculation. The heating and cooling loads not only determine the proper size HVAC system, they also determine the volume of air required for each room.
Precision Comfort Systems completes an accurate load calculation for your new home. Many times we are competing with other contractors and we find that a home needs (for example) only a 3 ton air conditioner, not the 4 ton system quoted by others. Our precise software will even allow us to turn the home to the worst case orientation (N, E, S or W) just in case the home is built again on a different site.
You need a precise load calculation to know the proper size for both your furnace and air conditioner. But total system sizing is only a portion of what we do right at Precision Comfort Systems. Based on all the insulation, construction and window information provided by the builder, we calculate exactly how much airflow (comfort) is needed in each room. We pride ourselves in delivering comfort to each room as needed, considering all the variables. This is what we are selling. Properly designed comfort to every room.
Precision Comfort Systems designs and services some of the largest homes in the Indianapolis area and we have the skills to satisfy the most demanding homeowners. When you need to decide on an HVAC contractor, remember this. You can purchase a new furnace and air conditioner any time in the future. They are both an easy commodity to compare and replace. But your internal air distribution system is likely the same system that will be used from day one to the end of the home’s life 100 years from now. Put some science into this important comfort component!