Barron Heating AC Electrical & Plumbing Blog: Archive for the ‘Understanding Energy Efficiency’ Category

How important is a “Home Energy Checkup”?

Wednesday, January 20th, 2016

Only if you believe that a “leaky home” can waste money

And you should! Whether you are heating or cooling your home, leaky homes can waste your hard-earned dollars!

The best way to evaluate your home is to have it professionally tested. Home energy assessments, home energy audits and home energy check-ups are all pretty much the same thing. The important element is to choose the right type of professional contractor to perform any one of these evaluations of your home.

As explained in this video from the U.S. Department of Energy, a home energy checkup is a series of tests and inspections to help determine how your home can be more efficient. Finding the source of inefficiencies in the home will help you understand how you could be wasting money. It is common to find problems in most homes like:

  1. insulation
  2. trap doors/access doors to attics
  3. lighting
  4. appliances
  5. dirty filters
  6. leaky duct work
  7. airflow and sources of air leakage in the home

The good news is that all of these problems areas can be fixed! Many times, homeowners are tricked into purchasing new heating or cooling systems that can cost thousands of dollars. But it is quite common that a new system is not what the homeowner needs. What’s worse is that the new system will not operate as efficiently as expected because the true source of inefficiencies in the home have not been addressed. It is common that homeowners can save more money in the long run by doing a little bit of investigative work on the front end.

So why wait until those energy bills start adding up?

You may also be interested in:
Solving Drafts (and Other Common Problems) with Duct Repairs
The Importance of Sealing Attic Penetrations 

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Which is the BEST HVAC brand?

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2015

Government and utility consumer protection authorities unanimously agree that your satisfaction depends much more on picking the right contractor than a particular equipment brand.

One question we are asked time and time again is “What brand of furnace or air conditioner should I buy?”

Once a homeowner becomes more informed about the secrets of the HVAC industry, they always realize that the brand question is almost irrelevant.

Regardless of brand, today’s equipment is very well made. Modern air conditioners and furnaces are similar to modern televisions. It’s almost impossible to buy a bad TV nowadays. All the major brands make really excellent products that rarely break down. Like a TV, modern heating and cooling equipment is also very well made and dependable.

Unfortunately, the comparison stops there. When you buy a TV you can take it home, unpack it and plug it in. While a TV works right out of the box, a central air conditioner, heat pump or furnace must be very carefully selected and installed in order to work as the manufacturer intended. It can’t be just plugged in. Unfortunately for consumers, the installing contractor is the weak link in the chain.

A replacement HVAC system is NOT a plug-in appliance. It is much more like a home renovation project – which depends much more on the contractor than on the renovation materials used.

Government and utility consumer protection authorities unanimously agree that your satisfaction depends much more on picking the right contractor than a particular equipment brand. Energy Star says a good contractor:

  1. Will ask lots of questions about how the old system performed, and what you are hoping the new system will do.
  2. Will measure and inspect your home and recommend the right size system for your home.
  3. Will inspect or test your existing air duct system, explain the possible impact your old ducts will have on your new equipment, and provide upgrade options.
  4. Will explain multiple options for equipment efficiency, comfort and noise reduction features, warranty – and brand.
  5. Will install and commission your new system properly to best industry practices.

Buying a new heating and cooling system is a big investment – both upfront and long term due to utility and repair costs. Invest the time to become an informed consumer. Focus on the contractor and their business practices, not on the equipment brand or brands they happen to prefer and recommend.

If you are in the market for a new system, give us a call. We’d be happy to come out and chat about your needs, and explain how we follow the best industry practices so that you are 100% satisfied!

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The Importance of Air Sealing Attic Penetrations

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014
Can light sealing by CAZ Energy Services. Photo: Hunter Hassig

Many times when homeowners are looking at home improvement solutions for cold spots or high energy bills they think insulation. While insulating your attic and crawl space sub-floor up to code standards is very important for whole home comfort and energy efficiency it is insufficient on its own. This is because in almost every home there are numerous holes in the ceilings that allow air to move freely between your attic space and the conditioned living space of your home. Insulation is a thermal barrier NOT an air barrier. To further illustrate this think of insulation as a sweatshirt. It will keep you warm on a calm day but on a windy one you will need a wind breaker or rain jacket to stay comfortable. Air sealing those holes in your ceiling that lead to the attic creates a consistent, level air barrier that acts as a wind breaker for your home.

Where exactly are these holes? According to The Homeowners’ and Trades Resource Center the three most common areas are wiring penetrations, plumbing penetrations and where your drywall meets up with the framing. Some other trouble areas include soffits, dropped ceilings, chases, vents, exhausts, bath fans, recessed lighting (ie. can lights), and ductwork in your attic. In order to seal small holes like those around bath fans, use silicone caulk or expandable foam. To seal bigger gaps like those found in dropped ceilings and soffits, use rigid foam or drywall (depending on local code) to bring that area to the same level as the rest of the attic and then seal around it with foam or caulk. Sealing these holes will not only save you money on your utility bills but will lead to a more even temperature in the house and many times improve indoor air quality as well.

Some content from:

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Are Windows a Priority?

Friday, December 27th, 2013

One of the first industries to jump onto the energy efficiency bandwagon was the window industry.  Claims of huge energy savings and increased comfort are touted by the industry as advantages to replacing old windows.  While these claims definitely have merit, according to a study done by Michael Blasnik & Associates window replacements fall low on the list of home improvements that will get you the most bang for your buck when it comes to energy savings.

I often hear customers protest, “But I know my windows are leaky.  I can literally feel the cold draft when I am near them!”  I usually reply, “I absolutely agree. But take a deep breath because that’s fresh, clean air!”

Homes need to breathe.  In the average home we like to see the all the air in the home change about 8 times per day (depending on occupancy and cubic footage of the conditioned space).  This air ideally comes from clean, outdoor air as opposed to polluted air that comes into the home after passing through musty crawl spaces, dusty attics and dirty garages.

So, what’s the verdict on replacing windows?  In some cases, such as extremely old, single pane or damaged windows, the expensive replacement may pay off in energy savings over their life time HOWEVER generally our customers find more bang for their buck in terms of CHEE (comfort, health, and energy efficiency) in sealing up leaky ductwork and sealing off air access to crawl spaces and attics.

Want to know more about where your home gets its air and opportunities for improvements to the CHEE of your home?  Read our blog entries on indoor air quality (IAQ), dust, and air sealing or call Barron to schedule a Whole Home Performance Test on your home.

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Understanding Efficiency Ratings of Furnaces

Thursday, March 21st, 2013

A central furnace or boiler’s efficiency is measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). The Federal Trade Commission requires new furnaces or boilers to display their AFUE so consumers can compare heating efficiencies of various models. AFUE is a measure of how efficient the appliance is in the energy in its fuel over the course of a typical year.

Specifically, AFUE is the ratio of heat output of the furnace or boiler compared to the total energy consumed by a furnace or boiler. An AFUE of 90% means that 90% of the energy in the fuel becomes heat for the home and the other 10% escapes up the chimney and elsewhere. AFUE doesn’t include the heat losses of the duct system or piping, which can be as much as 35% of the energy for output of the furnace when ducts are located in the attic.

An all-electric furnace or boiler has no flue loss through a chimney. The AFUE rating for an all-electric furnace or boiler is between 95% and 100%. The lower values are for units installed outdoors because they have greater jacket heat loss. However, despite their high efficiency, the higher cost of electricity in most parts of the country makes all-electric furnaces or boilers an uneconomic choice. If you are interested in electric heating, consider installing a heat pump system.

The minimum allowed AFUE rating for a non-condensing fossil-fueled, warm-air furnace is 78%; the minimum rating for a fossil-fueled boiler is 80%; and the minimum rating for a gas-fueled steam boiler is 75%. A condensing furnace or boiler condenses the water vapor produced in the combustion process and uses the heat from this condensation. The AFUE rating for a condensing unit can be much higher (by more than 10 percentage points) than a non-condensing furnace. Although condensing units cost more than non-condensing units, the condensing unit can save you money in fuel costs over the 15- to 20-year life of the unit, and is a particularly wise investment in cold climates.

You can identify and compare a system’s efficiency by not only its AFUE but also by its equipment features, listed below.

Old, low-efficiency heating systems:

  • Natural draft that creates a flow of combustion gases
  • Continuous pilot light
  • Heavy heat exchanger
  • 68%–72% AFUE

Mid-efficiency heating systems:

  • Exhaust fan controls the flow of combustion air and combustion gases more precisely
  • Electronic ignition (no pilot light)
  • Compact size and lighter weight to reduce cycling losses
  • Small-diameter flue pipe
  • 80%–83% AFUE

High-efficiency heating systems:

  • Condensing flue gases in a second heat exchanger for extra efficiency
  • Sealed combustion
  • 90%–97% AFUE

Posted by Wes Diskin

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