10 Tips to Prepare You for the Winter Heating Season

Autumn is a time of transition. When the temperatures drop, the winds rise, and the leaves change color, it means air conditioning season is over, and the winter heating season is fast approaching.

10 Steps to Prepare Your Home for the Winter Season

In the coming months, your furnace and/or heat pump will be charged with the task of keeping your family warm and comfortable on even the coldest winter days. But there is more to home heating than just setting your thermostat at 70 degrees and letting it run night and day.

To get the most out of your heating system, you need to pamper it, customize it, and support it with smart home maintenance actions. You should get to work on all of this at least a month or two before heating season arrives to make sure your equipment is ready to function as efficiently as possible right from the first moment you need it.

Here are some pre-winter preparation tips that will put your HVAC system in prime working order and get your home ready for the long, cold months to come:

  • Plug or fill all potential sources of air leakage. Use caulk and weatherstripping to fill in and around windows, doors, pipes, electrical outlets, and other areas where small air leaks can lead to big energy loss.
  • Clean everything. When your home is shut up tight for the winter, your indoor air quality can deteriorate, putting your family at risk for respiratory disorders and other types of allergic reactions. To remove potential sources of contamination, clean your house thoroughly from top to bottom a few weeks before the heating season begins.
  • Inspect your insulation and add more if you find gaps. Attics and basements are areas of special interest. Spray-foam insulation is probably your best bet if you decide to add more insulation, since spray-foam will penetrate and fill cracks, crevices, and small openings wherever they might exist.
  • Check and clean all air vents. Over the course of the summer, your intake and output vents may become clogged with dust, dirt, and other forms of particulate matter. This can restrict air flow and reduce your HVAC system’s efficiency.
  • Add a humidifier to your home comfort arsenal. Humidifiers will help improve air quality, and moist air also feels warmer than dry air, which means you’ll be able to set your thermostat a few degrees lower than normal and still feel comfortable.
  • Reverse the direction of your ceiling fans. They should run clockwise (at low speeds) during the winter, drawing cool air upward and forcing warm air downward. The use of ceiling fans in winter can cut heating costs down by 5-10 percent.
  • Change your HVAC air filter. This should be done on a monthly or bimonthly basis during the winter months, depending on the quality of the air filter you purchase. You should avoid the cheap fiberglass models and look for something of better quality—like a pleated or electrostatic filter.
  • Install double-glazed or low e-glass windows. By adding an extra pane of glass or low-emissivity glass coatings, you can cut heat loss through your windows by as much as 40 percent.
  • Have your ductwork inspected and cleaned or repaired if necessary. Find a reliable duct cleaning company with good online reviews (there are scammers out there, so beware!), and make an appointment to have your ducts checked for leakage and/or excessive contamination.
  • Call your HVAC contractor to arrange a full maintenance inspection of your furnace and/or heat pump. A full inspection and tune-up for your furnace and/or heat pump should be a fixture on your autumn “to do” list.  A trained technician can find and repair small problems before they turn into gigantic mechanical failures, while performing basic maintenance procedures that can restore your equipment to tip-top working order.



Carbon Monoxide Detectors: A Simple Step That Can Save Lives

Each year, 20,000 people in the U.S. are poisoned by carbon monoxide, and approximately 400 people die, many in their own homes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Carbon monoxide detetectors - a simple step that save your life

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas, but it can be very dangerous to your health and sometimes fatal. You have no way of knowing if carbon monoxide is leaking in your home unless you have a carbon monoxide detector.

Not all states require homes to have carbon monoxide alarms, but installing one can be the difference between life and death.

Carbon monoxide is produced whenever a material burns. Homes with fuel-burning appliances or attached garages are more likely to have carbon monoxide problems. Sources of carbon monoxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), include these:

  • Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters
  • Leaking chimneys and furnaces
  • Back-drafting from furnaces
  • Gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces
  • Gas stoves
  • Generators and other gasoline-powered equipment
  • Automobile exhaust from attached garages
  • Tobacco

Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur when the gas is trapped in poorly ventilated, contained spaces where people are. If you breathe in too much carbon monoxide, your ability to absorb oxygen can be compromised, resulting in serious tissue damage.

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include a dull headache, weakness, dizziness, and nausea as initial symptoms. High-level poisoning can result in vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision, and loss of consciousness.

When carbon monoxide problems slowly develop in a home, victims often mistake their symptoms for the flu. When carbon monoxide levels are higher and develop more quickly, for example, from generators in homes, mental confusion can set in rapidly. Victims may lose muscle control without being aware of the flu-like symptoms and will probably succumb to poisoning if they are not rescued.

Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning in your home is as simple as installing a carbon monoxide detector in the hallway near every area of your home where people sleep. Carbon monoxide detectors are designed to alarm before potentially life-threatening levels of carbon monoxide are reached.

Here are other things you can do to reduce the chance of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home:

  • Have your heating system (as well as chimneys and flues) professionally inspected and serviced every year.
  • Do not use charcoal inside your house or your garage, vehicle, or tent.
  • In an attached garage, even if the door is open, never leave a car running.
  • Do not operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in a room where people are sleeping.
  • Do not use a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool in or near any house, garage, or other enclosed space.


Tips for Reducing Humidity Indoors

North Carolina summers are notoriously hot and humid, but when this humidity gets too high indoors, problems can occur. Recommended humidity levels indoors are between 30 and 50 percent, but can often exceed that during the hot summer months, especially during a particularly rainy season.

Tips for reducing humidity indoors

High humidity can cause many problems in your home such as mold, mildew, dust mites, rust, wood swelling and doors sticking, in addition to creating a generally uncomfortable environment. A humid home can also cause health problems, such as allergies with itchy eyes, sneezing, nasal congestion, coughing and difficulty breathing, and may worsen asthma.

You can’t do anything to control the hot, humid North Carolina climate, but you can take several steps to reduce an overly humid indoor environment.

Here are some simple tips for reducing humidity in your home:

  • Make sure your home is airtight. Caulk any structural cracks or gaps and use weather stripping around doors and windows.
  • Cut down on those household tasks that produce water vapor. Take shorter showers and use cooler water. Cook using the microwave rather than the stove as much as possible. When boiling water, do not remove the lid.
  • Use energy-efficient ceiling fans to keep indoor air moving and keep the air drier.
  • Install exhaust vents in bathrooms and over the kitchen range.
  • Schedule an annual air conditioner tune-up with your HVAC contractor to perform maintenance that is crucial for the dehumidifying function of your AC.
  • Vent your clothes dryer outside.
  • Get rid of carpet, which holds in moisture.
  • Install a dehumidifier. A whole-house dehumidifier installed in the HVAC system can reduce humidity to a safe and comfortable level. Portable dehumidifiers are also quite effective, but have to be emptied daily.

How Do I Know My HVAC Technician is Well Trained?

What kind of training does an HVAC  technician need?How Do I Know My HVAC Technician

Every homeowner will at some time  have to hire a HVAC technician (usually through a Heating and Air Conditioning company) to maintain, repair, or replace his/her air conditioner or some of its components. To have peace of mind about the worker you are hiring and to ensure that your problem will be handled properly, it is helpful to know what kind of training and certifications air conditioning technicians are required to have.

There is no nationwide licensing requirement for HVAC technicians; the only federal requirement is by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) which mandates that anyone working with equipment containing refrigerants must have EPA section 608 Certification. This is part of the Clean Air Act.  There are four types of EPA Certification, and the technician must pass a written exam specific to one (or more) of these specialties:

  • Type I – for technicians who will mainly be servicing small appliances/equipment
  • Type II – for technicians chiefly servicing high pressure appliances/equipment
  • Type III – for technicians who service low-pressure appliances/equipment
  • Universal – for technicians who service many types of equipment

There are many trade schools, employer associations, and community colleges with training programs to help prepare students for the EPA exam.

States differ on their requirements for the training and certification of HVAC technicians, and some states have no license requirement, but leave it to municipalities to set and enforce their own rules and regulations. In North Carolina, HVAC Contractors must be licensed, but for hvac technicians, the number and type of certifications required depend upon the type of work the technician will be doing.

A technician may begin his training by working in an apprenticeship program which includes on-the-job training along with classroom instruction, or he may opt for a more formal program such as those offered by technical or trade schools that are accredited by HVAC Excellence, the National Center for Construction Education and Research, or the Partnership for Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration. The technician could earn certification or an associate’s degree through these accredited programs.

The nations’s largest non-profit certification program for HVAC technicians is NATE (http://www.natex.org/). The motivation for its founding in 1997 was a concern (at that time) that many of those who were installing and servicing HVAC systems and equipment did not have the necessary knowledge and experience. The high standards set by NATE for the training and knowledge needed by a technician to obtain certification contributed greatly to the high level of skill and knowledge that HVAC technicians have today. There are an estimated 32,000 NATE-certified HVAC technicians delivering exceptional service throughout North America. NATE certification is not a one-time accomplishment. To ensure that certified technicians continue training and updating their knowledge as new developments take place in the industry, NATE certification must be renewed every two years (as of 2014).

Many  Heating and Air Conditioning companies, as a part of their hiring practices, offer paid training for those who want to become HVAC technicians. Many also offer or require continuing training to ensure that  their technicians maintain or upgrade their knowledge and skills.


Does Your Air Conditioner Ductwork Need Repair or Replacement?

 Heated or cooled air circulates through your air conditioning ductwork to all the areas of your home to keep you comfortable. If air leaks out of the ductwork anywhere along the line, it can create problems for you: a system that has to work harder to reach the temperature settings on your thermostat, an uncomfortably cold or hot home environment, and higher utility bills.

Does Your Air Conditioner Ductwork Need Repair or Replacement?

An air conditioning system that is constantly running to match thermostat settings will need repairs more frequently, and it will wear out sooner. Leaky air ducts pull in dust, debris, and other particles from your attic and send them blowing through the vents into your rooms—resulting in diminished air quality in your home. If there is a hole or crack in an air duct leading to a particular room, that space will have hot or cold spots which make the room feel as if it is not being heated (or cooled) at all.

Leaky air ducts can lower the efficiency of your system by as much as 20-40% and that means higher energy bills as well. It doesn’t matter how good your HVAC system is if the duct system supporting it is not functioning as it should.

What to do?

Unlike a leaky water pipe where the dripping water is visible, a leaky air duct can be more difficult to find, especially since part of it may be concealed in areas you cannot reach. Should you have your air ducts cleaned?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there are no studies that prove health problems can be prevented by air duct cleaning. But your HVAC system will work more efficiently if there is good airflow in your duct system. If you have done extensive remodeling inside your home, generating a great amount of dust, it might be a good idea to have your ductwork cleaned, but, otherwise, it is not necessary to do so any more often than once every five years. If you are experiencing some of the problems mentioned earlier in this article; however, and your ductwork has been in place for a long time or has never been checked, it would be wise to have it evaluated.

A certified HVAC professional can evaluate and test your ductwork to diagnose any airflow problems that you may have. He can seal or add insulation to the ductwork depending on the problems he may find or advise you if the ductwork needs to be replaced.

Visit the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA) to see a residential checklist of NADCA’s recommendations for what the air duct cleaning process should involve. You can also find NADCA-certified air systems cleaning specialists here. A person who is not qualified (or certified) to clean ductwork can do more damage to your system than having nothing done at all.