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Air Conditioning

How often does air conditioning need to be replaced?

You'll hear a lot of variation on this question, however most modern air conditioning units will last between 10-15 years if they are properly maintained. That maintenance is the real key to reducing the costly expense of replacement. Keep in mind as well that newer systems designed to minimize work load and provide energy efficient cooling can last even longer if properly maintained. If you have your cooling unit serviced annually and check it yourself periodically, anywhere from 15-20 years is possible.

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What are signs of wear and tear on an air conditioner?

If you notice that your air conditioner is starting to wear down, it doesn't always mean replacement is necessary. However, some issues are more severe than others. The first sign will be an increase in electricity use to run your air conditioner. You may also notice that the cooling unit starts to turn on and off frequently, cooling your house unevenly as it pumps different amounts of air into different parts of the house.
If you have a newer model that is less than 5 years old, most issues should be handled through regular maintenance of your air conditioner. Have your coils cleaned, ducts vacuumed, and cooling units checked at least once a year.
However, if you have a unit that's more than 10 years old, a replacement unit may serve to alleviate these problems and cut down on you energy use, as most new models are far more efficient than those made 10 or more years ago.

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What type of air conditioner should I get?

There are a number of different types of air conditioners, though most homeowners will decide between ductless split units and a packaged air conditioning systems. A ductless split system allows you to use a single compressor and pipe the coolant into any room in your home with individual wall-mounted cooling units. For smaller homes or limited cooling needs, a split system is more cost effective and flexible.
For larger homes a packaged system will be needed, which will require the installation of vents and ducts that pipe cool air from an outdoor compressor. The installation is more invasive, but combined with a zone control system you have far more control over the individual temperatures of each room in your house.

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I want to use my AC less. How do I keep it off longer during the day?

To make sure your air conditioner comes on less often, set the thermostat to a higher temperature. For every degree you raise your thermostat above 72 degrees (up to 78), you will save 8% of your energy costs. Additionally, block direct sunlight from the east and west with awnings, keep the doors and windows sealed while the air conditioner is operational and do not use heat producing appliances during the day when ventilation is less available. By trapping the cool air and ensuring it remains in your home for longer, your machine won't need to work nearly as hard.

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What is required with a new system installation?

When air conditioning technicians prepare to install a new air conditioner, the total work will depend on the type of system decided upon as well as the available components. Homes without installed ductwork will need new ductwork, often made with metal or fiberglass, installed. During the estimate period, trained technicians will determine the size and scope of ductwork required and what, if any, additional work will be required. After installation of your ductwork, the air conditioning unit can be installed and calibrated. Regular maintenance should also be scheduled at this time to keep your cooling unit in working order and your ducts clean.

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What should I set my thermostat at to save the most money?

This question depends largely on what you feel most comfortable with in your home. Most families will set their thermostat to 68 degrees in the winter. Businesses often set theirs as high as 72 degrees to make customers who have been out in the cold more comfortable. Keep in mind that maintaining good humidity can reduce the need for heat and allow you to maintain a lower thermostat setting.

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My heat isn't working. Can I use an electric burner or my oven to heat the house?

Never use a non-heating appliance to heat your home. If you have electric heat, the risk of someone getting burned or a fire starting is high. If you have gas, you may even risk a gas leak or the possibility of a fire. If you do not have heat, call a professional immediately for emergency service on your heating system. If your lack of heat is due to electricity or gas outage, call your utility provider and then leave your home to find somewhere safe with heat.

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What should I do with my windows in the winter?

It depends on how they are maintained throughout the year. If you have screens on your window throughout the summer, remove the screens and replace them with storm windows to help prevent heat loss. Sealant tape or insulation can help to block any loss as well. If you have an air conditioner or fan unit in your window, remove it during the winter and seal up the space.

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What is the difference between furnace and boiler heat?

A furnace operates by heating air within the furnace unit and then circulating it through your home through a blower via ducts. The warm air is transported through vents in the rooms of your house to keep you warm.
A boiler is different in that it heats water to just short of boiling (about 180 degrees) and then circulates the hot water throughout your home through pipes in radiators or baseboard heaters. There are also steam boilers that will heat the water beyond boiling and use the resulting steam to heat your home via radiators.

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How many years will my boiler or furnace last?

It will vary depending on the type of system, the amount it's used and the environment where you live. However, most heating systems will last for 15 years and if well maintained, they will often last between 20-25 years. High quality equipment that has been well maintained and cared for over the years may even last longer than that.

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Can I use a wood stove or fireplace to supplement my heating?

If you have a stove or fireplace, in a den or living room, it can help to reduce your heating costs in that room. However, it will only work if the thermostat reading is taken in the vicinity of the fireplace. If there are thermostats in bedrooms or the kitchen where the heat is not fully circulated, your heater may still turn on and use energy.
If you use a fireplace in the winter, make sure you have it properly cleaned and maintained at least once a year. A dirty fireplace or clogged flue can result in carbon monoxide buildup or the spread of fire in your home.

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What is Hydronic Radiant Heating?

The idea behind radiant heating is simple. Using a boiler, you heat up water or create steam (though it is almost always water). The hot water or steam is then circulated throughout the house in pipes and tubes that go directly to radiators, baseboard heaters, or beneath floorboards, releasing the heat they gathered in the boiler.
Many people prefer radiant heat because it is quieter and more even, allowing for a comfortable heating experience instead of the feeling of stale heated air coming through vents.

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What are the benefits of hydronic heating over using a furnace?

With hydronics, you can enjoy a more even heating experience. What that means is it's easier to control the temperature zones between each room in your house, controlling how warm it is from one room to the next. You can also use hydronics to heat the sidewalks or driveways around your home, melting snow and ice during the winter instead of having to manually remove it.
Because there are no vents installed with radiant floor heating, you also have the benefit of being able to move your furniture and appliances anywhere without worrying about blocking a vent or causing a fire hazard.
And because radiant heating has residual effects and rises more slowly than air, you will use less of it to heat a comparably sized room, in effect lowering the operating costs of your heating system.

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What kind of air conditioning is best with hydronic heating?

Because your hydronics heating system utilizes below floor tubing, air conditioning must be installed separately, not using the same system parts. To do that, you can choose to use a ductless split air conditioners to pipe in cold air from an outdoor condenser. You can also install a packaged air conditioning system that utilizes ducts, though the additional ductwork installation is best done in conjunction with the installation of your hydronics piping.

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Will it cost more to install a hydronics system?

The cost of hydronics installation is slightly higher than furnace air heating. However, because hydronics heating is more efficient in retaining heat in a room, and because of the easy addition of zone controls, money is saved in the long run as your boiler will use far less energy than a traditional gas or electric furnace. On average, a hydronic heating system will deliver energy bills about 1/3 less than a traditional heating bill.

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Where is hydronic heating best suited?

Hydronic heating works in almost any building type, though it is best suited for residential buildings and homes. Sometimes, very large homes or complexes will utilize multiple boiler systems to ensure adequate heat throughout the coldest months of winter, but with high efficiency modern boilers, even that may not be necessary.

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Do hydronics work well with other types of heating?

Hydronics can be installed in addition to warm air heating as well as a heat pump if you already have another heating system in place. The addition of hydronic piping in the floor and outside is something only this form of heating can provide and makes a great supplement to a traditional heat source from your furnace.

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Indoor Air Quality

How does the air quality outside affect my house?

Regardless of how well you think you've sealed your home, air will circulate from outside and come indoors. So, if you have a strong source of pollutants near your home, such as a busy highway or an airport, you are more likely to have air quality issues inside your home. The concentrations, however, will be relatively low, which means it is very feasible to control and remove those pollutants with effective air filtration.

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What gasses should I be looking for in my indoor air?

The most worrisome gas you might encounter in your home is carbon monoxide. This colorless and odorless gas can build up due to a leak of exhaust from one of your appliances and can even cause death when ignored. That's why a carbon monoxide detector is so highly recommended. Other gasses, however, can also cause health problems of varying severity if left unchecked.
Nitrogen dioxide is both poisonous and combustible while various solvents and perfumes can frequently cause health issues if proper ventilation is not present when they are used. You may also have pesticides or smoke build up in your home that can cause tremendous issues for those with asthma or common household allergies.

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Which type of air cleaner is best for my home?

The type of air cleaner you use will largely depend on what types of pollutants are found in your home. Most homes will have a decent amount of common allergens like pet dander, dust and mold, but some might also suffer from gasses, exhaust fumes, or smoke from outdoor sources. If testing or observation shows that you suffer from the latter even in a small amount, an electronic air cleaner may be the best solution for your home.
However, if your primary issues are stuffiness and a build-up of dust during the winter and summer when the house is sealed up, a mechanical filter is not only less expensive, it can work incredibly well if it has HEPA certification.

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What health problems could my family face from indoor air pollution?

While the majority of problems related to indoor air pollution are relatively minor, severe issues can develop when ventilation remains poor or the contaminant levels rise too high. Specifically, irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs is very possible as is the flare up of asthma and seasonal allergies, and possibly the development of infections in the sinuses, lungs and throat.
How much of an effect the pollutants in your house have will vary greatly depending on the age and general health of your family. Some people are very resistant to pollutants and may feel fine. However, even if you don't feel the effects of poor air quality, it is taking its toll on your body, forcing nearly every part of you to work harder at sorting out the oxygen needed from the air and getting it to your vital organs.

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What can I do right now to fix the air quality in my home?

If you're currently considering an air filtration system but want to take action now to avoid any potential illnesses in your family, there are some things you can do.
To start with, remove any pollutants you can control. Tobacco smoke, paint, solvents, and industrial cleaners are all heavy contaminants that are not recommended for indoor use. You can also have the vents and ducts checked and cleaned in your house. Patching leaks in your roof and basement can reduce the impact of water damage and the build-up of mold and mildew as well.
Overall, however, cleanliness and ventilation will have a great impact on the common pollutants that build up in most homes. And finally, there is filtration.
The only real way to be 100% sure that your home is free of unwanted pollutants is to install a filtration system that removes all of the contaminants that float around in your home, including bacteria and viruses.

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Is Solar Power Right for Me?

It may very well be. While the truth is that solar power is not an option for everyone, it is quite viable in more areas than you may think. In order to take full advantage of solar power to heat your home or provide you with electricity, you need to have adequate sun exposure on a regular basis and enough space to put up the appropriate number of solar panels on your property.

In general, solar panels are installed on the roof, but they can also be placed at other points on your property if those get the right amount of sun. You should also keep in mind that you do not have to go all solar right away – or ever. Solar hot water heaters are a great addition to any home and are relatively inexpensive to install. However, they will save you quite a bit in the long run and you can always build on that installation to make use of solar power to satisfy more and more of your home energy needs.

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Can I Really Save Money with Solar Power?

Yes, you can. Once you have a solar power system installed for your home, you will pay virtually nothing in terms of energy cost for the systems you are running off of the solar cells. This may consist of only your hot water or it may include all of your electricity needs. Regardless, though, the solar power you can run these systems off of is free and will mean that you simply do not have to pay the power company for the energy you use.

Of course, it is true that having a solar power system installed can cost you quite a bit up front, but you will quickly recoup that cost with the monthly savings you will receive. In terms of the total amount that you will save, that will vary depending on a variety of factors related to your individual situation. To calculate that kind of savings, you will need to sit down and figure out how much you currently spend and what your total energy usage is now and in the future. Each person’s total savings will vary depending on their particular situation, but the savings will always be there in some form or another.

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How Much Maintenance Does a Solar Power System Require?

Solar power systems require very little maintenance, mostly because they do not have many moving parts. There is little opportunity for anything to go wrong with your solar power system simply because it is not particularly complicated to begin with.

However, that does not mean that you can completely disregard maintenance on this system altogether. A solar power system still needs to get some professional attention now and then, and it is also helpful if you can learn to do a few minor things that will help to keep your system in good working order for many years to come.

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How Long Will it Take to Install a Solar Power System for My Home?

Solar power systems are actually quite simple and relatively quick to install. Compared to other types of home energy systems, they have very few parts and require little intrusive work to put in place. Of course, the larger your system is, the longer installation will take. But it will generally never take longer to install a solar power system than it would to install any other type of home heating or power system. And solar power is definitely quicker and easier to install than geothermal, which requires substantial excavation on your property.

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The Sound Heating Maintenance Program

Planned maintenance to help your HVAC performance.

  • A plan to meet your budget
  • Comprehensive, multi-point inspections
  • Better peace of mind
  • Better system operation and efficiency

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