Should You Upgrade to a Programmable Thermostat?

ThermostatWhile it is one of the most basic components of heating and cooling systems, the thermostat is an essential component in heating and cooling. In recent years, programmable thermostats have become popular, and many homeowners have decided to make the switch from traditional thermostats to a smarter, programmable thermostat. Here are a few of the benefits of programmable thermostats and why it may be time to have one installed.

More Control

While some traditional thermostats offer features that make them more controllable, only programmable thermostats can truly offer the flexibility needed to achieve precise settings. For example, a digital thermostat can be programmed to increase the temperature while away from the home or office, and then automatically decreases the temperature so the home or office will be cool and comfortable upon returning. By enabling operators to set the temperature however they wish, programmable thermostats are great for those who want to tweak their temperature settings as finely as possible.

Saves Money By Operating More Efficiently

The upgrade to a programmable thermostat will cost money, but you'll be able to recoup you expenses in a short period of time. The temperature does not always need to be set at a particular number, and having programmatic features enables homeowners to use significantly less energy. Whether the goal is to save money or to reduce the unit's impact on the environment, programmable thermostats can go a long way toward reducing energy consumption.

Convenience

Many programmable thermostats have interfaces designed to allow them to be accessed from remote locations. Some can be accessed over the Internet, and some can even be monitored and adjusted from smartphones. This convenience allows homeowners to save trips to the home or office or to change the temperature if plans change.
Published in ABC Blog
If your home has a gas furnace, it’s important to learn how to check your unit for potential problems before they become a major problem.  Troubleshooting your gas furnace can help you to avoid costly repair bills that may arise if potential issues are left undiscovered.

How To Turn On Your Gas Furnace

Typically, a gas furnace is operated through the same thermostat as the air conditioner.  This means that when the weather turns cold, you can simply turn your thermostat to the ‘warm’ or ‘heat’ setting and then adjust the temperature to your liking.

How To Inspect and Change Your Furnace Filter

To check the filter, open the cover of the unit and then remove the filter.  You can use a vacuum cleaner to remove the surface dust from a plastic filter, then simply wash it and dry it before replacing it.  Always operate the furnace with a filter in place.  You will need to replace a cardboard filter every few months, or as recommended by the filter manufacturer.

How To Test Your Heating Systems's Airflow

Check each room in your home by feeling for the airflow that comes from the furnace blower.  If airflow is insufficient to parts of your home, you may want to have a professional check your ductwork to ensure if it is sufficient for air delivery.

If Your Gas Furnace Fails To Ignite

A inoperable pilot light is one of the main reasons that a gas furnace will fail to ignite.  To ignite the pilot, turn the gas cock off and then push the pilot reset button while turning the cock to ‘pilot’.  Get a match and light it, then hold it near the furnace pilot to relight it.

Furnace Troubleshooting Checklist

Cleaning the system every couple of years helps the unit to run more efficiently and last longer.  During an annual heating system inspection your technician will lubricate the furnace ports and bearings, reducing the amount of energy the unit needs to operate.  Your technician will also clean the furnace burners if they appear dirty.

Removing Vent Blockages

Cleaning the vents and ducts will remove blockages that can interfere with heat flow in the home. In the winter, ice can block the outdoor vents. Make sure to turn off the unit before you attempt to remove the ice.

How To Stop Air Leaks and Prevent Heat Loss

If you notice air leaks emanating from your system, use caulk to seal off any gaps. In addition, placing weather stripping around doors and windows will keep your home from losing heat, which makes your furnace run more often.

What To Do If You Smell Gas

If you ever smell gas coming from the furnace, leave the area and call your gas company right away.  Avoid lighting matches or using any electrical appliances until you are safely away from the area.
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Your home's central air conditioner is a power-hungry and complex machine that can fail at any time without warning. However, there are a few simple ways you can identify air conditioner problems that could tip you off to a potential problems before the unit fails completely.   

Some of the early warning signs of potential air conditioner problems are:

Excessive Noise

One of the most common complaints we hear is that the air conditioner is making a wailing noise. Left unchecked, the minor annoyance can quickly grow deafening when the unit is operating at full capacity. Loud noises such as these are generally caused by a fan belt becoming dislodged over time. Your technician will check the bearings in the motor, as they may require lubrication or replacement.

Frozen AC Coils

Another issue that often arises is frozen coils. Frozen coils and ice can impede the operation of the unit, creating blockage in the circulation of Freon and air. Heat pumps often contain heating elements to reduce this problem, but sometimes the unit doesn’t cycle quickly enough. Recalibrating the unit can eliminate this problem.

Precipitation

An air conditioner that is leaking water inside your home can cause significant water damage as well as mold and mildew. If your AC unit no longer drains away condensation effectively, it could be the result of a rusted out condensation pan or blockage in the drain itself. Check the pan and drain lines for signs of leaks.

Ventilation Grills

One of the most common causes of air conditioner failure is blocked grills. Annual maintenance to clean the unit's fins, fan, motor and other parts of dirt and debris will allow the unit to operate at peak efficiency during the hottest weather.

Other AC Problems

If the air conditioner simply isn’t cooling, more advanced diagnostic tools may need to be applied. Is the fan or compressor running without the other? Does the unit work only part of the time? Does it over cool or not cool enough? Questions such as these can help you give your technician a head start in quickly zeroing in on the source of the problem, so be sure to take a second to observe operation before you turn of power to the unit and call for service.

Generally most problems can be identified from the details above. If, for instance, the unit shuts off before the room is a comfortable temperature, it may not be cycling enough air through the thermostat to take a measurement. This could be due to poor calibration or a blocked sensor.

A Freon leak can render the machine weak or ineffective, especially if recharging the gas supply doesn’t solve the problem. The thermostat could be broken as well, which usually means it has to be replaced. Finally, the A/C unit may be short-circuited to the ground, causing circuit breakers to fail every time the machine turns on. Be sure to provide a  description of the problem to your technician to help him solve your problem as quickly as possible.
Published in ABC Blog
Saturday, 28 January 2012 17:17

Solving Common Gas Furnace Problems

Solving Common Gas Furnace Problems

Hi, my name is Eric Noack. I'm an HVAC technician at ABC Plumbing, Heating, Cooling, and Electric.  In this month's blog article I'm going to talk about some of the most common gas furnace problems we encounter and some of the things to look for when your gas furnace is not heating properly.

The following are some of the topics covered in my series of videos on furnace problems at About.com.

Thermostat Problems

The first thing to check is the battery. Most digital thermostats have a battery indicator on the display. If you see an icon in the display asking for a battery, follow the manufacturer's instructions and replace the battery with an appropriate size.

If you see no display at all, check the power to the furnace. This particular thermostat has a sealed battery in it, and it's not replaceable.

If you've checked the battery, you've checked the power supply, and your thermostat is still not operating properly, it's likely that you're just going to have to replace your thermostat. It's important to understand how your thermostat operates when it's normal, when everything is right. If you're familiar with the proper operation of your equipment, then it's going to make it easier if you notice something acting unusually and you can call ABC a proper diagnosis.

Mismatching Furnace and Thermostat

Your home's gas furnace needs to be paired with the correct thermostat to work properly; if it isn't, you could run into problems.

Thermostats have to be matched to the system based on the type of furnace that's used and the capacity and capability of that furnace. The best way to make sure you're going to have a thermostat that matches your system is to get it from an HVAC professional.

Electronic Ignition Furnace Problems

To determine what type of ignition system you have, open the front of the furnace and initiate a call for heat. Observe what happens in the burner area. If there's a very small flame that starts first, and then ignites all of the main burners, that's an intermittent pilot type of ignition. If the ignition happens and the main burners come on immediately, then that's a direct ignition.

Once you determine which type of ignition system you've got, if you see it operating in a way that's not correct, it's best to call an ABC service technician as soon as possible. It's important that your are is aware of how the system is supposed to operate when everything is normal. So that way when things do change, you can be aware of it and call for service before it becomes a bigger problem. It's going to help maintain the equipment, keep it lasting longer, keep it safe, and also reduce your energy costs.

Furnace Has a Noisy Operation

Squeaks, rattles, and rumbles are some of the things that we hear from furnaces. In the case of a squeak, it can be related to a motor failing or just making noise. Rumbling and rattling can be caused by an out of balance blower wheel caused by debris or just age or just being dirty. Early gas furnaces used a motor with a belt to drive the wheel. That's the blower that moves the air into the house. All modern furnaces use a direct drive blower that's permanently lubricated. It doesn't require any lubrication or maintainance on that.

Squeaks and squeals can also happen from air leaks. There can be a leak in the duct work or around the furnace somewhere that's allowing a small amount of air to leak in or out causing a whistling or squeaking sound. If you suspect that a high-pitched squealing or whistling noise could be coming from the air flow, what you want to do is check some of the gaps or joints where the sheet metal is connected. Those are the likely sources where that can happen and it can be simply sealed up with tape or a piece of putty or something like that. Sometimes something as little as this door being out of alignment can cause a squeal or a squeak and you can just move it a little bit or just make sure it's firmly placed where it should be.

So when you look at the burners on a furnace, you can kind of judge the condition. If you see any kind of dust, lint or other kind of dirt in the furnace, that could be clogging one of the burners and causing excess noise in a furnace. In that case, it's really important to get a professional out to do a proper cleaning on the furnace for you. Knowing a little bit about your system and being educated about it is the best way to stay on top of it and avoid breakdowns. A lot of times when homeowners hear the system operating in an unusual way, they can have us come out and take care of it before it becomes a bigger issue.

Furnace Blower Does Not Turn Off

The first thing to check is the fan switch on the thermostat. "Auto" means that the fan should only be running to try to heat or cool the home to try to match the thermostat setting. If you see the thermostat fan switch set to "on," or "low," "medium," or "high," then you're going to have continuous fan operation.

The next thing to look at is your furnace filter. If you find a clogged filter, it may have caused damage to the limit switch. What the limit switch does is it senses the temperature inside the furnace. If it sees a temperature that's too high, then it shuts off the fire as a safety and only will allow it to come back on once it's cooled sufficiently. If the filter has been clogged for too long, then it may have damaged that switch to the point where it needs to be replaced. In this case, the furnace high limit is a small button type device that's got two wires connected to it. Every furnace is a little bit different. Some of them have more than one limit, and some of the limits look very different. If that limit switch is failed, it's very important to find the source of why it failed and not just replace the switch. It's a very important safety issue.

Furnace Cycles On and Off Too Frequently

If you notice the frequency of the heat cycles becoming too short, that's an indication of a problem with your system. The first thing you want to check is the fan switch on the thermostat. In this case, it's up here in the display and it says "auto." Now, "auto" means that the fan should only be running to try to heat or cool the home to try to match the thermostat setting. If you see the thermostat fan switch set to "on," or in this case "low," "medium," or "high," then you're going to have continuous fan operation.

If your filter has been in the furnace for a long time and its gotten very clogged, it can cause the furnace to what we call cycle on limit. That means that instead of heating continuously, the flames turn on and off because the unit is overheating due to that clogged filter.

The important thing with filters is watching the air flow direction. There's always an arrow that tells us which way the air should flow through the furnace. On most furnaces, people have drawn arrows that tells you which way the air flow direction should be.

Furnace Does Not Produce Enough Heat

One of the most common sources of this kind of problem is a clogged filter. It's very important that you check your filters regularly and change them frequently for good furnace operation and best efficiency. The second possibility is that the furnace was not sized properly, meaning that it doesn't have enough capacity to keep the home warm. It's important that a heating and air company size the equipment for the capacity needed to keep your home warm. Another possibility, though it's pretty rare, could be that your burners could be clogged to the point where it's not allowing the furnace to create enough heat and meet its full capacity.

Furnace Does Not Heat

Some possible causes of that are: thermostat not adjusted properly, the power going to the furnace could be shut off, the gas going to the furnace could be shut off, or the pilot light could be out. A couple things to check with the thermostat: Now, the first thing to remember is that everybody's thermostat is going to be different. In this case, when the red light is on, that means that it's in heat mode, so it's ready to heat the house. The next thing to check is to make sure the set point is higher than the room temperature. So if we raise that set point above the room temperature, that's going to turn the heat on.

Furnace Pilot is Out

Some of the common sources of a lost pilot light are a failed thermocouple, a strong draft, or a clogged orifice to the gas supply to the pilot light. A thermocouple is a device on a standing pilot system that proves the flame to the gas valve and allows gas to keep flowing as long as there's a flame sensed. It's probably best if you have a professional check it out, clean it and verify that it's working properly. Now, the thing to keep in mind is most modern furnaces don't use a standing pilot light anymore.

Published in ABC Blog

If you’re a typical Chicago area homeowner, you spend about $2,000 each year on energy bills—and more than half of that amount goes to heating and cooling your home. It makes sense to look carefully at your home's heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems to see whether there are changes you could make to reduce your energy bill and improve your comfort.

Automatic Energy Savings

Chicago IL Programmable ThermostatsOne of the easiest ways to increase the efficiency of your furnace and air conditioner is to use a programmable thermostat. You can save around 10% a year on your heating and cooling bills by simply turning your thermostat back around 10°–15° for eight hours a day. A programmable thermostat makes it easy to set this up automatically, so that your home heating or cooling system uses less energy while you are sleeping or not at home. You could save nearly $200 annually with an optimally programmed thermostat.

But doesn't reheating my house use more energy?

A common misconception is the belief that turning your thermostat down at night in the winter will end up using more energy because you'll have to heat the house back up in the morning.
Not true! The reality is you are "losing" less heat to the environment when you don't keep your home as warm and thus have to spend less money heating your home...especially when you are sleeping, you won't even notice the difference!

Other Advantages to Programmable Thermostats

  • Can automatically monitor and adjust your humidity levels
  • Can tell you the temperature outside
  • Can be larger and backlit for ease of reading
  • Can automatically cycle the air in the home to create even temperatures throughout.


Published in ABC Blog
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