We all know about how stack effect works in homes, but during presentations, I’m always surprised by how many hands are raised in response to the question: “How many of you think you can make a house too tight and cause problems with indoor air quality?” Generally, at least three-quarters of the room raises their hands. Really? My colleague Joe Kuonen says that getting a house so tight that you need to ventilate is a feat worth celebrating. “Now, we can get fresh air from a place we can trust,” he says. Where do most of our homes get their fresh air? From places we cannot trust, like crawl spaces.
Barron Heating AC Electrical & Plumbing Blog: Archive for the ‘Health’ Category
Finally, we can pack away our coats, gloves and winter boots and pull out our baseball hats, shorts, and tee shirts – spring is here!! If you’re like most homeowners you have a laundry list of things you want to accomplish this season: spring clean your home, finish those pesky projects you’ve put off all winter, get your lawn ready for the neighborhood barbecue, and much more. But don’t forget, spring is also the perfect time to focus on the quality of your indoor air. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the air in the typical home is up to five times dirtier than the air outdoors. Keeping your air as clean as possible helps to reduce asthma and allergy symptoms and improve your overall health.
Here are a few simple tips to improve the air quality in your home this spring:
- Do your spring cleaning – pay particular attention to those areas we tend to skip during our normal cleaning. Dust the heat registers and return vents in each room, as well as ceiling fans. Vacuum upholstery and drapes. When dusting, use a damp or treated cloth to avoid kicking up dust particles and dust mites while you work. Lookout for staining, wet spots or visible water drips so that any issues are caught and dealt with immediately.
- Remove your shoes when you enter your home. The soles of your shoes pick up all sorts of dirt and toxins from outside and track them through your home.
- Check your HVAC air filter and replace it if dirty. A clean air filter protects your system from dust buildup.
- Wash your bedding in hot water every week, and vacuum your mattress to remove highly allergenic dust mite debris.
- Control clutter in your home to reduce the amount of dust and allergens in your air.
- Replace your kitchen sponges every week, or use washable cloths instead. Sponges may have as many as 100,000 bacteria per square inch.
- Bring Mother Nature inside. Plants add oxygen into your home while actively working to reduce Carbon Dioxide levels to improve your air quality.
- Call your trusted home performance trained contractor today to schedule a spring HVAC maintenance appointment.
You may also be interested in:
Asthma Triggers and Information
The Right Ventilation Keeps the Home (and you!) Healthy
Have you ever wondered why some rooms are not as comfortable as others, and sometimes an entire floor can be uncomfortable? This can be very frustrating however, the good news is it can be fixed. There are many reasons why this happens, but the most common issue is air flow. When an HVAC system is installed there are a lot of assumptions made and very few checks and balances to ensure the system is working properly.
The first step is to find an HVAC contractor who is trained, understands how air flow works in the home and is able to measure and test. The easiest repair is simply what is called air balancing. Dampers should have been installed when the house was built, but unfortunately many homes are lacking them. If your home is missing dampers, they can and will need to be added.
Your contractor will provide what is called a room by room load calculation to determine how much air flow is required to the rooms. He or she can then do simple steps to ensure the proper amount of air flow is being directed to each room.
The most important part of testing is to ensure your duct system is in good working order. It must be sized properly and free of any duct leakage. Both these problems can rob a home of the precious air that is needed to be comfortable. Duct systems can be repaired and sealed to make sure the right amount of airflow is being distributed throughout the house. In some cases it is necessary to replace the entire duct system to guarantee proper sizing, insulation and no duct leaks. A good duct system is key to making your home more comfortable and providing your family with the clean healthy air.
And there is another benefit. Unlike any other repair you do in your home, fixing your ducts can actually help pay you back. A good duct system will use less energy and save on monthly utility costs.
Is all this talk about Energy Upgrades and Home Performance getting you down because you’d love to make improvements to your home, but lack the finances to make it happen?
Believe it or not, we were in the same boat (even though we both work in the industry). We were aware of the enormous benefits of a weatherized, insulated, and efficiently heated home for years before we finally pulled the trigger. I always just assumed we couldn’t afford it! I was completely in the dark about just how many financing options were available. That’s our home in the photo above, being tested for all things Home Performance related. That very home is now fully sealed/weatherized/efficiently heated/ventilated/basically every upgrade we could think of, for just under $100/month with the financing we received!
What types of financing are available and how to begin?
There are 4 basic types of financing for Energy/Home Performance/Heating upgrades.
- Energy Upgrade-Specific Financing: This is probably your best bet if you qualify, and it is the route we went for financing. Check out Puget Sound Cooperative Credit Union’s ENERGY SMART loans. PSCCU is a co-op bank geared toward local, environmental, and energy-savings solutions. And, they have fantastic rates! Must be in WA State to work with them, but check with your local financial institutions to see if your state has a similar program.
- A traditional Home Improvement Loan. This will likely be a little more expensive, but still a great option, and usually a better rate than a personal loan. Check with your current bank for their home improvement financing options.
- Personal Loan. Again, check with the bank you already do business with. A lot of times, you’ll get your best rate there, because they know you and want to keep your business. Personal loans tend to be a little more costly than other types of loans.
- Larger HVAC and Home Performance companies oftentimes have banks they work with, and you can receive significant deals, discounts, and lower rates by going through them. If you live in our area (Whatcom, Skagit, Island, San Juan, and Snohomish counties), check out Barron’s financing. We make available a 7.5% 10 year loan through a local bank, and a 6 mo. same-as-cash deal (if you qualify) through a nation-wide bank. Check with your local HVAC company to see if they have similar programs.
- Your local Human Services Organization (Bonus option!), though this is less about financing and more about low-income options. Some folks can receive free or very low-cost Home Performance/Weatherization work through the Human Services organization in their area. Our local agency is the Opportunity Council.
What’s Your Return On Investment (ROI)?
Here’s the nitty-gritty. If you’re ready to make the leap with financing, you’re probably asking just how long will it take to break even (between what you’re paying each month and what you’re saving in energy bills)? The basic formula goes like this:
Total cost of the project (divided by) your estimated annual savings = ROI
For simplicity’s sake, let’s say your project costs $10,000 and that allows you to save $1,000 per year in energy bills. Your ROI will occur in 10 years.
Where does one get these numbers? Your HVAC or Home Performance expert can give them to you.
What About Rebates?
The three main rebate programs for energy upgrades and home performance in our area are through Puget Sound Energy (PSE), Cascade Natural Gas (CNG), and the Community Energy Challenge (CEC). Here are direct links to the Applications for Homeowners: PSE Rebates , CNG Rebates, and CEC Information.
Although finances are of primary importance for most people, there ARE other significant benefits to consider beyond the money saved.
- Peace of Mind: A new heating/cooling system and weatherization can set your mind at ease; allowing your family to relax without having to worry about shut-downs and repair costs.
- Health & Safety: There is ample evidence that people’s HVAC equipment and home are making them sick. An out-of-date, improperly-installed, or inefficient system can be very unhealthy, causing or contributing to myriad health-issues and diseases. And safety issues, such as carbon-monoxide leaks can be an immediate danger.
- Comfort: Most people want to create a warm, cozy, comfortable space for their friends and family. This is an undeniable benefit of investing in your home!
If this article has piqued your interest, I hope you will take a minute to contact your bank or HVAC contractor to get the ball rolling! You might be surprised by how affordable it is to create a cozy, efficient, healthy space!
Most of us are pinching pennies after the holidays. This means that home maintenance services that aren’t absolutely necessary often get pushed to the back burner. I’ve heard many folks (myself included!) wonder things like “Is annual maintenance really necessary for my furnace,” or “couldn’t I do that myself and save some money?”
These are great questions! Let’s demystify annual HVAC maintenance by going over: 1. Why an annual service might be important 2. Whether or not all HVAC maintenance is performed equally 3. What, exactly, your service tech (or, what a good one, anyway) should be accomplishing during their visit, and 4. Could annual maintenance be a DIY project?
Is annual maintenance important for your furnace or heating system?
The short answer is yes. But let’s not leave it at that.
Houses are like cars in many ways (except if you’re lucky, you don’t spend nearly as much time in your car as you do your home). So, why is it that most people agree regular car maintenance is critical, whereas it still seems up for debate that your home also needs scheduled care from a professional? Like a car, home heating systems are composed of many intricate parts that all have to work together to deliver healthy, warm, efficient, and cost-effective heat. And, like an inspection and oil change for your car, a regular inspection and maintenance for your furnace can undoubtedly extend the life of your heating system, and the overall health of your home.
Most people know what happens to a car without the routine recommended maintenance. But what happens to your home without an annual furnace maintenance?
A neglected furnace or heating system could result in:
- Utility bills going up. No one wants to spend more money on monthly heat bills than they need to. No one. A high heat bill is one major indicator that your furnace needs attention.
- Your furnace could need replacing sooner. ALL furnace manufacturers recommend a yearly service. Having to buy a new furnace could mean prematurely shelling out thousands of dollars to keep your family comfortable. If you can extend the life of your current system with under $150 per year, you probably should.
- A furnace that hasn’t been properly cleaned can overheat, become clogged, start a fire, release carbon monoxide into your home (cracked heat exchanger), or simply make your furnace shut off. I don’t know about you, but I’d prefer a yearly maintenance to breathing carbon monoxide, yikes!
- Illnesses and allergies can be (and often are) caused or exacerbated by faulty or dirty heating systems. This is the air your family breathes, after all.
Are all Annual Maintenance calls performed equally?
Will these items listed above be addressed when you schedule a service call? Unfortunately, the answer is maybe. The service you receive can vary drastically depending on who you call and what you pay. One company can give your furnace or boiler a clean bill of health; whereas another company could come in a week later and find that a multitude of things were not properly taken care of.
There seems to be no industry standard for what is included in an annual maintenance appointment. Many companies offer a “basic tune-up,” a “comprehensive maintenance,” or something by a different name or somewhere in between. Your best bet is to ask the technician what they will be doing exactly. He or she should be able to quickly give a complete list of items they’ll be cleaning or checking; it should look something like the list below.
What exactly needs to be done annually?
This checklist is the minimum of what should be performed at a comprehensive service appointment. A good HVAC company will also take note of the home performance implications that arise. Technicians who are trained to identify home performance issues will recognize things like duct leakage, house leakage, excessive dust in the home or ducts, rodent issues, and other problems that won’t necessarily be resolved by routine furnace maintenance. Finding and addressing these home performance gaps will lead to a much more efficient, healthy, and warm home.
Basic Annual Furnace Maintenance:
- Test temperature rise through furnace
- Test all furnace safety controls for proper operation
- Test thermostat for proper operation
- Test and adjust furnace gas pressure if applicable
- Check furnace electrical connections and wiring condition
- Test furnace sequence of operation
- Clean furnace blower compartment
- Check and clean furnace burner compartment
- Check furnace blower wheel
- Check and clean furnace burners if applicable
- Inspect venting for rust and/or corrosion
- Check and clean flame sensor and pilot assembly if applicable
- Lubricate all moving parts if applicable
- Replace furnace filter
- For all fossil-fuel burning equipment: Carbon Monoxide Detection test performed in living area
Could the homeowner do all of this herself?
The homeowner could in fact do all of these things, but only if they know how to perform all or most of the items on the list above. I for one, don’t know anyone who isn’t an HVAC professional who can adequately execute all of these checks and cleanings. A heating professional should be able to complete and explain to you everything on the list above; which is what makes them worth the 100 to 150 bucks it costs to do it right!
Hopefully this post has helped to take some of the complexity and mystery out of the annual furnace maintenance. Keeping your annual appointment is all about preventative measures. Following recommended maintenance will likely keep you warm and healthy longer, and keep unexpected furnace shut-downs at bay!
The Chinese have a term ‘CHI’ that is defined as: The light, refreshing, uplifting feng shui energy that is beneficial to your health and well-being. We’d like you to consider your ‘CHEE”
They tell us that Good Chi, takes many forms, such as:
- The energy you experience walking by the beach (high amount of negative ions are beneficial to your health)
- The energy you experience in a lush forest (Japanese have the expression of “wood bathing”)
- In a harmonious interior environment with a good flow of feng shui energy, clean air and plenty of natural light.
At Barron, we can’t help you with the FengShui design of your home or suggest which local beach or forest might put your spirit in the best position to receive ‘good Chi’ (probably any of our great outdoor areas will do the trick)…but we can help in positioning your home to be in the perfect condition to control, clean and condition the indoor environment we will spend most hours of the day in.
Many homes can’t keep windows open during good weather due to allergens and outside air moving into the home and causing respiratory issues. This leaves a home feeling stuffy or uncomfortable. Then to make matters worse, when they lay down to sleep in the evening in a home that may be too warm or uncomfortable to provide the beneficial sleep…the home can go into a state (due to negative pressure) that brings a tremendous amount of dust, contaminants & allergens into the home. The contaminants enter through can lights, attic hatches, electrical switches or under wall plates and pollute the air we breathe. Ever wonder why you wake up more stuffy than when you went to bed?
At Barron, we appreciate the CHI but we’re more about the CHEE.
What’s CHEE? We’re glad you asked…
CHEE stands for the Comfort, Health Energy Efficiency of your home. Creating the perfect balance of those three is Barron’s specialty and what we feel is the key to providing the perfect indoor living environment. We work hard at good CHEE so that the path to your front door can bring the same feelings of peace and serenity that a walk on the beach or next to the forest can provide.
Take a look at the different Services we provide to improve the CHEE around your home as you work toward your own perfect balance. We’d love the opportunity to help.