Geothermal in below zero temps

Just a quick  blog entry, before our very cold below zero weather sets in this weekend. Yes, your geothermal heating system is the best in the world. That is… it is the most efficient system you could have chosen for your home. But some geothermal owners confuse efficiency with capacity. Even though geothermal is very efficient, we still size these heating and cooling systems just like all the other systems.

What does this mean? When does my geothermal heat pump, my standard heat pump or my gas furnace no longer keep my home at the 72 degrees that I normally request?

The industry standard for Central Indiana (guidelines from the Air Conditioning Contractors of America) is to maintain 70 degrees when it is 2 degrees outside. We say, 2 degrees is the “design temperature.” So this means a properly sized heating system would be able to maintain a 68 degree temperature difference. But we normally plan for and size for colder weather. With a Precision Comfort heating system, you should be able to maintain 70 degrees even in temperatures below zero.

How far below zero?

Every home is different and other variables like wind and solar heat will influence this. As you know (look at the date of this blog entry) our forecast is for -15 degrees below zero with a 24 mph wind. If your home is exposed to the wind, you may not be able to maintain 70 degrees in your home at these conditions. As long as you are staying in the sixties during these extreme conditions, your system is likely working perfect, as designed.

Should you have purchased a larger system with more heat capacity? No. We size for 99.9% of all winter hours in Central Indiana. If we sized systems for the extreme (as the weatherman said today… “Barbaric Cold”) then it would be much too large in all the other normal hours.

Be patient and the weather will warm to normal.

When to use Emergency Heat on a heat pump

Emergency Heat setting can double billsEmergency 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.

Miracle Amish heater savings?… Not!

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.

Time to close crawl space vents

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.

Indiana hot weather air conditioner service

Hot, humid summer weather… you know it’s coming! The only good thing about the Indianapolis area heat and humidity is… we now 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 air conditioner service department has already 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!

How to Cool Hot Upstairs rooms with a new AC

The hot summer days and especially the nights bring back one of the most common home comfort problems: a hot upstairs. Despite your air conditioner repair man saying the AC is tuned up and running properly, the bedrooms on the second floor are so hot, many in the family choose to sleep downstairs. Better yet, if you have one, you may find relief 10 to 15 degrees cooler in the basement! How can a home’s air conditioning system become so imbalanced? How can you fix a hot upstairs during a hot Indianapolis summer? How can you improve the air conditioning in the second floor rooms?

First let’s mention the things that will not help your hot rooms in the summer:

  •  A new air conditioning system will not likely help.
  • An air conditioning system tune up will not help.
  • Closing all the downstairs registers may help the hot upstairs a little, but your air conditioning system may suffer from inadequate airflow.
  • Attic fans are overrated and can cause more problems sucking air conditioned air out of your home.
  • More attic insulation helps, but only if you have very little now. Adding more to an adequate amount will do very little.
  • Ceiling fans are a mild consolation. They circulate the warm air but do not cool it and even add a little heat to the room.

So what is the solution to a hot upstairs where the second floor rooms need more air conditioning? You need a heating contractor that understands air duct design. Most HVAC dealers replace heating and air conditioning systems, but do not design and install new, premium air distribution systems in new homes. Precision Comfort Systems is the top choice for Indianapolis area builders when it comes to a balanced home air conditioning system. Let Precision look at your air conditioning system to see what changes are needed in your duct system to finally improve your hot upstairs.

When is the right time to do this? The ideal time is when you purchase a new air conditioner and or furnace. Thus the reason for the title of this blog… How to Cool Hot Upstairs rooms with a new AC. Do not make the mistake of simply buying a new air conditioner without having a duct design specialist examine your duct system. The first 10 feet of your duct system can be the most important factors and a Precision Comfort specialist will always consider your total home comfort when quoting a new air conditioning system. We even offer a complete home inspection that can identify other major sources of your summer discomfort.

Are you ready to get serious about your hot upstairs? Call Precision and let’s look for a new duct route to the hot second floor rooms. Let’s see if a second, high efficiency air conditioner can be used for the upstairs. Let’s see if we can add a zoning system to the entire home. You need a Precision air distribution design specialist when you buy a new air conditioner!

Here is some additional information on this topic.

How to design new home heating and AC

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!

 

Hot Upstairs in the Hot Summer Weather?

Do you have a hot upstairs during the summer air conditioning season? I’m sure it is of little consolation for me to tell you that you are not alone and that this is one of the most common air conditioning problems we hear about. What should you do if your upstairs is much hotter than the downstairs? Do you need a more efficient air conditioner or a larger air conditioner? Before I suggest solutions, let’s discuss why the upstairs is so uncomfortable during hot summer weather.

Cooling the upstairs of a two-story home is a challenge for many reasons. The downstairs is usually closer to the air conditioner fan and it gets most of the airflow. The thermostat is usually downstairs, it senses the plentiful cool air in the downstairs, and shuts off the air conditioner before the upstairs is cool. The upstairs has a hot attic above it. The ducts to the upstairs are commonly undersized considering the extra distance from the fan.

Another very significant factor is when a home has any two-story room (foyer, great room, etc.) that allows much of the downstairs heat to flow into and gather in the upstairs. Worse yet, homes with an upstairs open loft or balcony may have sitting areas in this heat collection zone. The cool conditioned air delivered to these open rooms will often fall to the downstairs via the quickest route possible and add to the premature cooling of the downstairs thermostat.

Here is the bad news first. A new high efficiency air conditioner or a larger air conditioner will not help this imbalance. Do not accept a sales proposal based on this claim. The most common reason for the hot upstairs is the lack of air flow to the hot rooms. They are normally farther from the furnace than the downstairs rooms and need larger ducts. If your ducts are accessible, we may be able to make some changes to help cool your upstairs better. Good duct design during home construction is what Precision Comfort Systems is known for. We can apply our new home design experience to your home if your ducts are accessible.

Here are some tips if we cannot change the duct system:

  • Close all the blinds upstairs during the day.
  • Close basement registers. Close the downstairs registers closest to the thermostat but do not close all the downstairs registers.
  • Try running the AC fan in the “continuous” mode. If it helps great, but if it is only a slight benefit, remember that the fan is costing a bit more to run all the time.
  • In the rooms that are two stories high and open to the upstairs, try a ceiling fan to counter the upward heat flow. In other rooms, use ceiling fans only when you are in the room and only if they help. They cost money to run.
  • Check your attic insulation. Many attics need more insulation added after many years of storage, maintenance traffic and sometimes even weather damage to the old insulation.
  • Call Precision Comfort Systems to see if your home is an easy candidate for a zone system or maybe even a new, second air conditioner dedicated for the upstairs. This is the ultimate fix if your home layout allows it.

 

Crawlspace vents can cause Moisture Problems

Opening and closing the crawlspace vents and understanding moisture control is one of the most conufusing topics for homeowners. So, what should you do when you need information? Google it! Well I’ve done this I can see how it could get very confusing. There are too many opinions and some are too technical to understand. So we need some simplified tips.

Why is Precision Comfort Systems interested in this? As your Indianapolis area comfort specialists (serving all of Central Indiana) we are expected to control the humidity in our customer’s homes. You need a source that understands moisture science. Here are some important clarifications.

  • First and most important… liquid water is different than water vapor. If any part of your home has liquid water problems, you need some help from experts in drainage, plumbing, pumping, water proofing and maybe all of the above. Fix all liquid problems first! Then you can read the rest of this post.
  • Next, if you have air conditioning and if any part of your cooling system is in the crawlspace, you have even more reason to understand moisture. If you live in a humid summer climate, you cannot allow humid air to come in contact with your cooled surfaces. This will cause condensation and voila… now you have a liquid water problem.
  • Here is the simplest way I know to help you understand  and visualize what to do with your crawlspace: TREAT YOUR CRAWLSPACE AS A CONDITIONED BASEMENT. By “conditioned” I mean heated, cooled, dehumidified, insulated and closed off from the outside. Treat this area under your home just as you would treat an extravagant basement entertainment room in a luxury home. Would you open a window to this area on a hot summer day and expect to stay comfortable? No. The outside air is the source of moisture in the summer.
  • A legitimate question is: “So why does my crawlspace have vents? I close them in winter and now you suggest I close them in the summer.” The answer is, crawlspace venting is a leftover design from a time with little air conditioning or perhaps a design borrowed from a drier climate. In fact, even in Central Indiana we do have a few summer days that could be considered drying days and then a little fresh air could benefit this area. But most summer days have enough moisture in the air that as soon as it passes into the cool crawlspace, the air temperature decreases, the moisture content is now closer to 100% saturation and much of the masonary and wood surfaces in your crawlspace are cool enough to condense the water vapor to liquid.
  • And then you turn on the AC to help comfort your home and your problems increase by creating very cold AC system parts. After a few days of continuous condensation your basement may look and smell like Open crawlspace vents can cause moisture problems in humid midwest climatesthis…

I could go into more science on specific humidity, dew point, wet bulb temperature, etc., but the above is really all you need to know. Close and seal the vents in your crawlspace walls. Condition the crawlspace area as if it were a short little basement entertainment area. You may need to add a dehumidifier to help out the air conditioner. I go into more about solutions in the next blog entry: Damp Crawlspace or Basement Solutions.

Damp Basement or Crawlspace Solutions

Continuing the topic from my last blog, Crawl Space Vents can cause Moisture Problems, let’s discuss some solutions. What is the best way to reduce humidity in a basement or crawlspace?

Believe it or not, many Indianapolis area homes will solve their humidity problem in one easy step. If you have crawl space vents, these vents are likely the source of your crawlspace or basement moisture. If you have a central air conditioning system to cool and dehumidify your home, the most obvious solution to your humidity problem is to simply close the louvers on these vents. But this may not be enough. The vents are no doubt caked with grass clippings, dirt and spider webs. And even if they are clean, they will not close well enough to keep the humid summer air out of your crawlspace. So if you want to make them airtight, seal them from the inside with a tight fitting foam or plastic material. Once a basement or cellar or crawlspace is closed to the Indianapolis humidity, your air conditioner will better dehumidify this space.

While you’re down in that moist crawlspace, make sure you have a good layer of plastic across the entire floor. The overlapping edges of the plastic should overlap at least 12 inches. This will minimize the moisture coming from the ground into your home.

So step one is to reduce the source of moisture. Step two is to use the air conditioner wisely. Normally a good air conditioner that is working in a relatively tight environment will adequately dehumidify a home. The more outside air leakage there is, the harder it becomes to do this. So during hot humid weather, keep the home closed. Even if a single evening cools off a bit, it may be best to keep the home closed instead of bringing in a new load of humidity overnight.

Step three is to help out the air conditioner with a dehumidifier. Many homes with a basement will need a dehumidifier. Again, these are designed to dehumidify a closed space, not your entire neighborhood. So keep the area closed off from the humid Indianapolis weather. Ideally, you can drain your humidifier directly to a permanent, reliable (does not clog easily) drain. This eliminates the task of emptying the bucket.

Step four is for those of you who are interested in the best solution for whole house dehumidification; (fittingly named) the whole house dehumidifier. Call Precision Comfort Systems today. We pride ourselves in recognizing homes that are in need of a custom solution to basement, crawlspace or general home humidity problems. For example, let’s say you have a very energy efficient home; high performance low-e windows, air tight construction, good doors, and maybe you even enjoy the benefit of trees shading your home. Well despite your low air conditioning bills, think about it. Your air conditioner may not be running enough to dehumidify. You need a separate, custom solution to properly dehumidify your entire home.

Long term, high humidity in a home can lead to some very unpleasant problems. We’re no health experts, but we do know the mechanical solution to moisture problems. Click the ”Contact Us” button and let’s get you and your family dried out. Call us before you walk down the basement steps to find…Open crawlspace vents can cause moisture problems in humid midwest climates

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