Tips

FURNACE - A/C MAINTENANCE AND FILTRATION TIPS

Repair person

I have been cleaning, repairing and installing only residential furnaces and a/cs exclusively since 2001.

I get the same questions and I see the same problems year after year, visit after visit even though I always explain and show my clients what, how to and why to do it.

I will write it here for everybody to see and I might revise it from time to time as I too am always learning, unlike some other guys in the trade I don’t know everything.

But one thing I learned well is this:if you want to greatly reduce furnace and a/c problems and achieve the best possible comfort and efficiency keep your furnace and a/c clean and dry !!

Let me explain further. Always use a decent filter and by that I mean a filter of merv 8 to 11 and change it often enough so it’s never plugged up with dirt and dust. Which usually is 2-3 times a year if your fan is set to automatic so it’s not running 24 hours a day (see:should I be running my fan all the time section).

If your fan is running all the time you should be replacing that filter every 2-3 months. These frequencies refer to a one inch disposable filter. If you have a 4 or 5 inch paper filter then you should be replacing it every year on auto mode or every 6-8 months if the fan is running 24/7.

These frequencies will heavily depend on the conditions inside your home and these are:traffic,number of occupants, smoking, pets, home renovations and greatly on how clean your home is to begin with.

Don’t ever think-despite what you might have been led to believe- that an expensive filter -and I am talking about $20-30 each for a one inch filter-will ever make the air in a dirty home clean or it will protect you from allergies due to household dirt and dust. Don’t waste your money. If you want to breathe clean air in your home keep it clean and air it out whenever possible. That restores oxygen levels indoors and its healthy.

If you have a washable filter make sure it’s a good one and not one of those blue-green mesh filters that have holes you can stick a finger through. You can get decent washable filters for 30-60 dollars at you know where, but I prefer disposables. For $15-20 a year ($5 a filter) you get very good protection without restricting airflow and nothing to wash. I’ve found that the vast majority of people don’t ever wash these filters properly or often enough. Very dense (very expensive) filters will restrict air flow even when new and even more so as they get dirtier. That can cause big problems sometimes and it will always make the furnace or the a/c work harder. If you feel you must use such filters you must change them even more often.

If you have one of those electronic air cleaners with the cells you have to wash, just throw it away. Despite lab tests that say it kills all the germs and viruses and allergens and stops all the dust , I am sure that by now you know that it’s not true. Unless you wash that thing properly and at least weekly it will never perform as designed.

Take it out and use a disposable paper filter Merv 8 or 11. You’ll be happy you did and you’ll save yourself the trouble of washing it . Also you’ll keep your furnace cleaner and it will thank you for it. Keep the two small prefilter screens that come with it, place them on the side that’s close to the furnace and in front of them place one of those paper filters. You don’t have to attach it with nothing, it will stay there by the fan moving air through it. Replace as needed.

People always ask me which way to insert the filter in the filter rack adjacent to the furnace. All filters have a directional arrow on their cardboard frame. That arrow must point towards the furnace. Simple. Also what I like to do is to write with a marker the date I put the filter in on the side of the filter that is exposed to the outside of the filter rack or visible to the outside. That way by just passing by I can see easily when I put it in and if I should be replacing it. EASY ! Back to maintenance tips now.

WE COVERED KEEPING THE FURNACE CLEAN. Now how to keep it dry.

If you have an a/c you have on top of the furnace a condensation drain for that a/c.

It’s a plastic or copper pipe half to an inch in diameter that takes away the condensation produced by the evaporator coil of the a/c during the air cooling process. It’s the moisture from the air in your house that turns into water when it comes in contact with the cold evaporator coil on top of the furnace.

The condensation drain can be draining into the floor drain, into a condensation pump, into a laundry tub or in some instances directly outside through the wall.

Sometimes over the years this drain may become slow due to sludge buildup or –as it’s often the case - It can be completely plugged usually at the point of connection to the coil. As a result the condensation (water) produced during the cooling process fills the evaporator pan and flows freely into the furnace causing rusting, and in many cases destroying sensitive electronic and electric components such as computers, ignition modules, gas valves, relays and even motors.

How much water can that be? On a hot humid day the a/c in a average home can produce as much as 20-30 gallons of condensation !!

So a small simple dirt build up can cost big bucks and take years away from the life of a furnace.

HOW TO TAKE CARE OF MY AIRCONDITIONING SYSTEM

This is really simple.

SHOULD I COVER THE A?C IN THE WINTER?

I say you should be covering the top of it only. That could be with a piece of plastic or in my case a piece of plywood. Why you ask? Because if you use one of those plastic covers during the warmer spring and fall days and while the a/c is covered condensation will build up in there. Spiders and other bugs will make their home there and most importantly some components and electrical contacts will rust,even the a/c grills themselves. Now you will ask me why they sell a/c covers? I ‘ll let you think about the answer on this one.

If you have a humidifier turn it off at the humidistat and close the air flow bypass. Another point a very important one I would like to make here is the floor registers. Sometimes (too many really) I go to homes and people complain of poor cooling and I even find the a/c all frozen up. Why? People think that by closing the vents on the first floor the will push more air upstairs. Good luck!!

The first thing that happens when you do that is that the static pressure inside the ductwork system increases because now the air can’t move through as easy When the static pressure in a duct system increases the airflow proportionately decreases!! If you don’t believe me look it up in your furnace manual, where it shows airflow rates in relation to ductwork static pressure. As a result you are now moving less air through the furnace and ductwork system and most importantly through that evaporator coil on top of the furnace. As a result the a/c doesn’t work as good as it should or could and eventually it will a lot of times start to freeze up because there isn’t enough heat load on it.

This in turn places great stress on the a/c ‘s compressor outside because now it’s moving liquid refrigerant and not heat loaded vapour as it’s designed to do. It’s also now using more electricity producing no cooling of value to you since that coil is frozen and all the air stops at the furnace.you feel no air coming up through the vents. Eventually sometime perhaps during the night the a/c will stop working. All the ice that built up on the coil will melt. If that condensation drain is plugged up it will drip all over the furnace and the floor. Many times that happens even if the drain is clear, because there is a lot of water. This will happen every time you restrict air flow either by closing vents or by having a dirty furnace filter.

You can-and perhaps should close most of the vents in the basement, as it tends to get too cold down there. But don’t close any vents on any other floor. Remember! The more air you can move through that furnace and ductwork system, the faster you will achieve comfort whether you are heating or cooling a home.

During the heating season airflow obstructions will cause the furnace to overheat. This will cause damage to the furnace and even worse you are paying for energy that is of no real benefit to you. Depending on your type of furnace most of the heat produced will either go up the chimney or stay inside the furnace and the ductwork close to it. It won’t come upstairs ! During the cooling season airflow obstructions except the problems I mentioned above will also cause lack of dehumidification. That means that moisture will not be extracted from the air inside the house at the rate it should. So the a/c is working nonstop and you can’t achive comfort and you are paying money for electricity for nothing.

Again we reach the same unavoidable conclusion: the more air these machines move the better they perform!

The newer furnaces in the past few years have achieved better efficiency scores just because they have bigger better blowers and as such move more air per minute. Sometimes you may have undersized or oversized equipment, poorly designed ductwork (a very common problem) or equipment that is too old and has lost it’s efficiency like bad compressors, motors out of rpm range, furnaces with plugged up secondary heat exchangers etc. In these cases the equipment is propably way past it’s prime and it’s time to replace it.

Don’t neglect these very important appliances. They don’t ask for much if you think about it. Keep them clean and dry. Call a good trustworthy experienced technician every 2-3 years to take a look and clean and check them. Experience has proven to me time and again that the cleaner a furnace is the longer it lasts and with fewer problems. It may save you money down the road not only in repairs but in efficiency and that is very important.

If you have any questions call me. I don’t charge for phone consultations and I will do my best to help you even over the phone.(within reason of course).

 

PARTS INSURANCE OR PARTS PROTECTION: Should you have it?

Parts insurance or protection plans are offered by some companies.

How this works is that you pay a monthly non refundable fee on an annual basis and in return the service provider will replace any part of your furnace or a/c that may fail within that period for free. Usually major parts such as the furnace’s heat exchangers or the a/c’s compressor are not covered.

We don’t offer such plans and we don’t believe that they are beneficial to the consumer. The reason is that if you pay the price for the average annual protection plan for let’s say 10 years the money you would have paid is enough to buy a new furnace installed !! And what are the chances that all your furnace parts will fail within that 10 year period?

Even if they do it’s unlikely that you’ll be saving any money. But let’s give an example here:

Average replacement cost of the five major components of a high efficiency furnace

SINGLE STAGE 92.1% ---------------------------------------------- TWO STAGE VARIABLE DC OR ECM 95% PLUS

blower motor psc-$350-400 --------------------------------------- dc variable speed blower motor-$850-1100

computer or ignition module-$350-550 --------------------------$350--550

gas valve -$350-400 ----------------------------------------------- $350-550

ventor motor-$ 300-550 -------------------------------------------$350-900

ignitor-$150 ----------------------------------------------------------$150

total=$1,500-2,050 ------------------------------------------------- $2,050-3,250

(Note here from these parts prices that an extra 3-4% in efficiency between furnaces can cost a lot more in parts later. Interesting.)

These prices are our own based on our previous experience and they are prices installed.

The average protection plan costs $20 a month for a furnace or $240 a year plus tax=271.20 x 10 years=$2,712.00!! Or the price for a new furnace installed with 10 years parts warranty and two years labour warranty.(our price)

Some people have the impression that if they have a protection plan they will get priority service if needed. If you were in the business which customer you’d get first to? the one that doesn’t have to pay you, but has to wait for you until you get there and won’t call anybody else because he’ll have to pay them ,or a new customer that will pay you good money to get there plus money for you to fix it?

Another point I need I have to stress here-and an important one- is the fact that those service providers that offer parts insurance also pay a healthy commission to their technicians for every furnace they can sell. Starting to see what’s going on here? Every time that technician will come to your house to fix something his first efforts will always go towards either trying to sell you a new furnace especially if your existing one is up there in age or if they can’t convince you they usually will condemn it. The latter happens way too often. And sadly with seniors as victims most of the time ☹

That way the company doesn’t have to spend money on your old furnace or the technician to repair it, they sell you a new one at their always inflated prices (which can be shocking at times and at the discretion of the visiting salesman who is always lurking nearby) and they tie you up with another ‘’protection plan’’ and the cycle goes on and on....or even worse quite often they will offer you a payment plan that extends up to 15 years with 20% + in interest and by the time you pay it off not only it will have cost you three times the furnace price but it will almost be time to replace that furnace again.

From our experience a furnace in its lifetime will need approximately $600 to $1,200 in repairs and we’re talking for high efficiency furnaces here. An ultra high would be somewhat more than that but not more than $1,000 to $1,800.these are worst case scenarios. If you have a furnace you know by now how often it needs a repair or a part. Not too often. Well that depends on who comes there to see it☺.

If you spread that out to 20 or so years which is the average lifetime of a furnace it’s about $30 to $90 a year, and by no means is it financially justifiable to pay 3-6 times that for a ‘’protection plan’’.

Let’s not forget also that the last 3-4 years the majority of furnace and A/C manufacturers offer free of charge to the consumer ten years parts warranty. That includes all parts and usually heat exchangers have 25 years to lifetime warranty.

We – as a company- offer two years unconditional labour warranty free with every installation.

I am sure that you all have either heard horror stories of customer abuse by ‘’big’’ companies or you may have fallen victim to their insatiable corporate greed. It’s simple economics really. Some companies spend millions of dollars annually for advertising, executive salaries, buildings, trucks, office staff and other overhead expenses. That has to be reflected in their prices.

Like a friend of mine once said: ’’big companies have big invoices.’’ And believe me when I tell you this: we all pay pretty much the same money for furnaces and A/C s. The difference in our selling price though can be huge just because of the overhead these companies have, or more importantly on the profit they want to make from every sale.

So.. take care of your furnace (see our maintenance tips section)

Avoid parts protection plans, maintenance contracts, energy price protection plans(another scam!) and equal payments plans for gas and electricity (you’ll always pay more at the end) Don’t ever be intimidated by people coming to your door-or calling you- trying to sell you any of the above scams. Close your door to them and save your money!!

You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do and you have the right to refuse anything and anybody. By signing a contract or agreeing verbally to any of these scams you lose all your rights (and your money of course.) Also I see and hear a lot lately about really pushy salespeople going around knocking on people’s doors trying to tell them that they have to replace their hot water tanks.

I hear that these people won’t take no for an answer and they can be really intimidating at times. That is regrettable and shameful. Is a company that has to resort to such tactics a company you want to deal with? I think not! Close your door and save your sanity.(and your money of course.)

Don’t forget to check out our sections on furnace and a/c maintenance, filters, humidifiers , duct cleaning and other very useful tips.

OUR OPINION ABOUT DUCT CLEANING

What can I say about duct cleaning? What can I say about all those pesky telemarketers calling daily trying to sell you their ‘’amazing duct cleaning deals’’?

I will be brief on this one because most of you know it’s a scam.

Duct cleaning should be performed by a reputable company and only under the following conditions:

1) after major construction, but this can be avoided if you don’t use the furnace and a/c at all during the construction and subsequent clean up period and seal the vents at the same time.

2) if you are running the furnace fan 24/7 you will attract more dirt and dust into the ductwork system, but if you keep your home very clean that too will be minimized.

3) if you have a few pets, if you smoke a lot inside your home, if you have a lot of traffic inside your home and if your home is not clean. in these cases you will need to clean the ducts but not annually , every 3 to 5 years maybe. Also if you never had it done, maybe you should.

Another problem I have –and I want to warn you about- is the fact that most of these duct cleaning companies will come to your home offering to you an initial low price for their services. But once there they will always try to up sell you on some extras such as: deodorizers, sterilizers, sanitizers, ‘’special filters’’, humidifiers(always of poor quality and even poorer installation), furnace cleaning and even a/c coil cleaning.

At the end you might end up paying twice –or more-what they initially quoted you.

My biggest problem though is that often these companies will offer to clean the furnace for you for an extra charge of course. Let me tell you right here that only a licensed gas fitter is allowed to clean and inspect a gas fired appliance. When you are paying a person that has no gas licence to clean your furnace you are not getting your money’s worth. There’s much more to ‘’cleaning ‘’ a furnace that just removing some dust with compressed air. Somebody who doesn’t have a licence and is not familiar with these appliances cannot service, troubleshoot and diagnose any underlying problems obvious or not. Not only you’re wasting your money , but you may be endangering yourself and home.

Also another big one is that sometimes these guys do something wrong and after they leave the furnace won’t work. Make sure it works before you pay them and they leave !!

Another mistake I have seen is that sometimes these guys will shut close the duct dampers not only on the floor registers but also on the main duct take offs from the plenum. This really cripples airflow completely, and amazingly I have seen it happen a few times , because I was called to see why the furnace wasn’t working. How could it since the high limit switch that prevents overheating was blown due to zero airflow?

Also when it comes to a/c coil cleaning, unless you open up the ductwork and have full access to the a/c coil you can’t clean it properly. This can take some time and some skill. These guys usually cut a small hole above the coil and blow down from the top with the high pressure compressed air hose they use. This can –and usually it does- bend the thin fins of the coil thus reducing air flow and efficiency greatly, and still it won’t clean the coil!!

Because some clients ask me about duct cleaning and they indeed have to have one done due to the reasons I explained above, I do deal with a small company on a trust and not a commission basis. I do not get a commission, but I expect from them the best care and pricing for my clients. So far I have not had any negative comments.(and that’s why i still give them business).

They are based in Brampton but will go anywhere.

If you feel you need a duct cleaning call me for their phone number.

I will post here a link (without permission of course) regarding duct cleaning. It’s posted by the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation and it tells the truth about duct cleaning. And you know it has to be reliable coming from them.

Here it is : http://www.epa.gov/iaq/pubs/airduct.html#deciding

OUR OPINION ABOUT TANKLESS WATER HEATERS

They are the newest thing lately and I get a lot of questions and requests about them from clients. But I stay away from them for a number of reasons.

First of all I see no real benefit in using them. I don’t see any substantial savings here on gas . My gas bill’s hot water tank portion is about $15-20 dollars a month with four people in my house. So why would I spend $2,500-3,000 for a fancy hot water heater when I bought the one I have for a few hundred?

The traditional hot water tanks that we all know have a minimal number of parts , no electronics, no motors. They have been proven very reliable over the years, and you all know that. And don’t forget if there is no power in your home they will still work! A tankless requires electricity and gas to work, so if there is no power you have no hot water.

They require almost zero maintenance and they can last 20 years or more sometimes with very rare if any breakdowns. I recommend you replace them every 15 years at least for efficiency reasons though. If you own it you can save $180-200 a year for rental charges and that’s where the real savings are.

If you buy a tankless you will pay probably around $2,500 or more and it will have breakdowns since they have many complex electronics, a ventor motor, an ignition system and a copper heat exchanger that can corrode fast depending on the water quality in your area. If you rent it you are looking at about $27 to 35 a month plus taxes (that’s $366 to $475 a year).where are the savings?

It seems that the last few years a campaign is aimed at the public trying to convince everybody that the environment is dying and we are all in danger and we should be spending a lot of money to conserve energy by buying expensive new appliances that save energy. I agree we should all be saving energy, but at what cost? I think we can do a lot more by simply not wasting it, and by that I mean using it when we need it and sensibly.

I will repost here (without permission of course) an interesting article regarding tankless water heaters .Follow the two links. They are very interesting and informative. They come from trustworthy , reliable sources.

TANKLESS WATER HEATERS NOT A GOOD INVESTMENT

Please take a moment and let us educate you with some facts about tankless water heaters. The reason as to why we do not suggest tankless systems is our long time experience dealing with these units.

For their own personal profits, many companies are not straight with you when it comes to tankless water heaters and they like to keep more than a few key points hidden from you.

Below, you can find some very useful information you would want to review before even considering tankless water heaters for your home or business. You can also have a look at the performance evaluation which was done by CONSUMERREPORTS.ORG and check out some more factual and experimental data. For further reference, you can read this Toronto Star article THESTAR.COM

1. There is NO big saving on tankless heaters This is a proven fact that the average gas savings with a tankless water heater for a regular-sized house is only about $60 - $80 per year. However - unlike most storage heater models that only operate on gas - tankless units also operate on electricity and you can count on higher electrical charges, with some models dramatically reducing your gas savings.

2. Upfront costs are too high The cost of installing a tankless water heater is almost three times that of a regular conventional water heater. Considering the little annual savings on gas, it will take MORE THAN 20 YEARS to pay off this difference

3. High cost of maintenance Traditional hot water tanks need almost no maintenance. The tankless ones, however, need to be maintained – at the very least – every two years. When you boil water, there is a high chance of calcium buildup. In a tankless water heating system, this happens inside the heat exchanger tubes, inhibiting water flow, dropping the water pressure and reducing system efficiency. To remove this buildup, you need to pay the technician at least $200 - once every two years – to flush out your system with some sort of an acid and using special valves and other relevant equipment. Taking the maintenance costs into account, not only you are left with no savings but you actually have to pay from your own pocket to have your system run properly. And do keep in mind that if you do not keep your tankless water heater maintained, the tubes will eventually become clogged and not only does the water pressure drop drastically, but so does the system efficiency!!

4. High cost of repair Tankless water heaters are complex systems that use many complicated and delicate mechanical and electronic elements. As compared with storage water heaters, there is a high chance of system breakdown and obviously they cost much more to fix.

5. Not much saving in space afterall To be completely frank, if you are replacing your old storage tank with a tankless heater, you are not likely to save much in space with the way many technicians go about their installations. To make it an easy job, the installer chooses a wall very close to the location of your old tank and he will use 2 one-piece plastic pipes from the old to the new water line connection. Then he will hook up the gas line and the new wires as well as the new venting system and you are left with very little – if any, in fact – saving in space.

6. Inconvenient The supply of hot water might be endless but dealing with inconsistent water temperatures is among tankless owners’ top complaints. Tankless water heaters do not deliver hot water instantaneously, either. It takes time to heat the water to the set point, and cold water in the pipes still needs to be pushed out. Ignition of the burner will also not take place, if only a small amount of water is needed.

7. Location of installed tankless heater is key When it comes to hot water tanks, you do not need to choose a specific installation location in the basement. However, tankless units have to be installed as close to both the water and gas meter as possible as their performance greatly depends on their location.

8. Tankless heaters need both electricity and gas to operate 90% of storage water heaters work with only gas and even in case of a gas interruption, you still have access to a tank full of hot water. With tankless models, however, not only during gas interruptions but even in times of power outages, you will not have a single drop of hot water and that can be something to consider as well. The reality of the matter is that there is no question in the fact that a tankless water heater operates more efficiently than a tank model does (about 15% that is), but since you are paying around $30 a month to operate a 50-gallon tank, your annual savings will not exceed $60 in this case. Now take into consideration the higher hydro charges and your maintenance fees - exceeding $100 annually and think to yourself whether it is economically justifiable. After all, one thing remains a FACT. Whatever your reason for going tankless, do not even consider tankless water heaters if you are under the assumption that you will end up saving ANY money. Installing a tankless water heater is one of the quickest and easiest ways for hvac contractors to maximize their profits. We at Olympic heating strongly recommend for you NOT to trade your hot water tank with a tankless water heater and hope to make business with you on products that we do back and believe in - especially economically.

SHOULD I BE RUNNING THE FURNACE FAN ALL THE TIME?

I get that question a lot. Here’s my answer based on research and experience. The advantages of running the furnace fan 24/7 are as follows:

1) you can maintain equal temperature and humidity throughout the house.

) you avoid stale air spots or rooms.

3) by doing so research says that you can save a few heating or cooling cycles daily thus saving some energy. (at least it works in the lab.. )

The disadvantages are as follows;

1) unless you have an ECM or DC variable speed furnace blower motor you will spend more in electricity-substantially more. The difference in annual electricity consumption between a regular PSC blower motor and an ECM or DC variable can be as much as $300 a year at 9 cents a kwh.

2) you will wear down that blower motor faster. Also the computer that controls it(if you have one)

3) you will attract more dirt in your duct system and if you don’t have a decent furnace filter into your furnace as well. In this case the danger of plugging up the secondary heat exchanger of a high efficiency furnace and the a/c evaporator coil is greater and very probable. That will eventually slow down air flow with the possibility of irreversible damage to the furnace and a/c and with reduced air flow comes greatly reduced comfort and efficiency.

4) you will need to change or clean that furnace filter more often. At least every 2-3 months (depending on number of occupants and pets in your home). If you want to run the furnace fan all the time keep in mind the above points.

If you want to run it sometimes but not always there are thermostats now available that will run the fan for a certain amount of time every hour, or some hours of the day, and some days of the week. That amount of time and frequency are selectable. The fan speed at which this will happen depends on your furnace.

If you want to read a study made by the Canadian government regarding the impact of ECM furnace motors on home energy consumption go here: http://www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/obj/irc/doc/pubs/nrcc38443/nrcc38443.pdf It explains –especially on the last pages – what happens if you use one.

Bottom line is that if you are in the habit of running the fan all the time you will save electricity if you use an ECM or a DC motor but you will use more gas for heating with an ECM/DC motor. Studies on the impact of ECM motors during summer cooling have yet to be made public-to my knowledge at least.