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If you have a gas furnace as many of us do in Oklahoma, you have a heat exchanger. This portion of your heating system is heated by the open flame that is inside your unit. It is porous, allowing air to pass through it, similar to a radiator. Cool air passes through it is heated by the heat exchanger and then passed along to your vents. I think just about everyone has had to relight their pilot light at one point or another because the air coming out of their vents was cold. That pilot light is what ignites the furnace portion and heats the exchanger.
Sometimes the heat exchanger cracks or even rusts with age. Newer units have safety mechanisms in place that account for this, but it's usually the older units that time is catching up to. Many of these units predate current safety mechanisms to account for heat exchanger issues.
First, a cracked exchanger can allow the exhaust gases from your open flame to mix with the air passing through the exchanger. This ultimately leads to carbon monoxide, an odorless killer, blowing out your vents. If left unchecked, the exchanger can actually leak enough carbon monoxide to be deadly.
Second, the heat exchanger can have air pulse back through to the burner, causing a flame rollout. We are called out on no less than 3-5 instances per season of flame rollout. This is a major fire hazard and a good reason to be careful of what you store next to your furnace. Any flammable substance only increases your risk.
Damaged heat exchangers are difficult to detect. There are carbon monoxide tests, but often it will take a scope to detect the problem. We always recommend that you have a qualified company perform the inspection. As a reminder, our Maintenance Plans offer seasonal inspections of both your heating and cooling. Many of our clients sleep easily knowing that everything is in order and their families are safe.
After a blistering summer like the one we have just experienced, we are all aware of the threshold where our air conditioner starts losing to the outside temperature. Those of us that are extremely fortunate can keep up at 105 degrees. Many homes simply can’t keep up though. The fact of the matter is most air conditioners in Edmond, Oklahoma homes are tuned to operate efficiently up to an outside temperature of 95 degrees. If you think about it, the vast majority of the time this is more than adequate, so I’m definitely not advocating changing the tuning. There are other ways to increase the efficiency to cope with higher temperatures, though.
First, let’s examine the premise for how an air conditioner works. At the same time indoor air is passing through the evaporator coil, liquid freon is circulating through the tubing of the evaporator coil. As the Freon circulates thru the evaporator coil the freon absorbs heat from the indoor air by the time the Freon leaves the coil it is converted a gas. The freon flows back to the outside air conditioning unit where it condenses back to a liquid and starts the process all over again.
So this begs the question, if my thermostat says 80 degrees, and my air conditioner is cooling that air to 55 or 60 degrees, why is my house not getting cooler? The answer has to do with a loss of efficiency. The first culprit is that your house is losing cool air through air leaks and inefficient windows quicker than the air conditioner can replace it. A quick audit of your house can lead to some immediate improvements, and with some investment, better windows can be installed that will make a difference. There’s another option that you don’t really hear as much about, though.
Most homes built in the last 20 – 30 years have their ductwork in the attics coupled with overhead vents. On a summer day where the outside temperature reaches 105 degrees or hotter, the attic in a typical Edmond home can reach 140-160 degrees. It is an unfortunate part of our profession that we are experts in this as we are in attics all summer. Hopefully your ductwork is wrapped with insulation. A quick peak in your attic will tell you for sure. Most people don’t realize the amount of heat exchange that can happen on a 20 foot duct run. The 20-25 degrees can all but be mitigated before it even reaches the vent! Even in properly insulated ducts there is always some degree of loss in efficiency.
What’s the solution, then? Lower the temperature in your attic. If you are able to lower the temperature in your attic closer to the outdoor temperature, the amount of loss will be all but eliminated with proper insulation. We have found the best solution is to install an electric motor vent fan in your attic. These fans can easily be installed on the roof or even the gable end. If you already have a passive whirly bird vent, we can use the existing hole to install the electric fan with little effort. This solution will blow out the 140+ degree air and replace it with the air outside. We are confident this simple, almost too good to be true upgrade, will make future summers more bearable without costly upgrades.
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Chances are, the larger your home is the more difficult it is to regulate the temperature to the satisfaction of everyone. The result is a room that is always too hot in the summer or a space that seems cold and drafty in the winter. This can lead to a duel with the thermostat as you attempt to find the best balance of comfort between the problem areas and the rest of the house. There is an easier solution, though.
You might consider a zoning damper system. This solution involves strategically installing motorized doors than can restrict airflow to certain rooms in your home. How are these motorized doors different from the manual types built into most ceiling vents? They are managed by a master control board linked to additional thermostats in the house, which creates multiple zones. This means that one zone can be set to 68 degree and another one be set to 72. When the HVAC unit is activated because a zone is out of sync with the setting on the thermostat, the vent closes to all zones that are fine and fresh air flows only to the problem area.
The most common solution is a two zone system, but more can be added to accommodate almost any home layout. You’ll find a zone damping system is much cheaper than installing a completely separate unit for the second zone and more energy efficient as well. Most homes built in the last two decades will accept multi-zone modifications with little modification. Older homes are on a case-by-case basis, but we’ll be happy to perform an onsite evaluation free of charge. Enjoy a more comfortable season by getting your home zoned today!
Every so often we see a story on the news about lives lost due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Each time our heart skips a beat because we have to wonder if loss of life could have been avoided. In many homes, the HVAC system is very likely the culprit of carbon monoxide poisoning. That’s why it’s so important to have your HVAC unit inspected both in the summer and the winter. Sure you can check both aspects in one visit, but breaking it up into an AC tune-up in the spring and a heater tune-up in the fall allows us to catch major issues much quicker. Something as simple as a bird nest built over the summer could block the exhaust, causing it to back up into your house. It’s true that you can smell natural gas due to an additive that the local gas company injects into the supply that you can actually smell, but that doesn’t apply to the exhaust fumes because the additive has already been consumed in the ignition process. Other likely issues include storm damage to the vent cap on the roof or wear and tear on the exhaust fan motor causing it to seize. All units should have a safety system in place to detect unsafe situations and stop the system from operating, but even these can fail from time to time, especially in older units.
Besides having your heater serviced on a regular basis, it’s important to have adequate coverage in your house of carbon monoxide sensors. It’s especially important to have them near bedrooms and for the best detection, keep them at the same height as you are when you are sleeping. The most common myth is that they should be placed high next to the smoke detector. Smoke rises, but carbon monoxide doesn’t. It mixes evenly with the air, so the most logical point of detection is at nose level. There are units that actually plug into an outlet which can be good, as you don’t have an issue with dead batteries. To cover all situations, though, purchase both types so you still have protection in a power outage. A good habit with both fire and CO sensors is to change the batteries in the fall regardless of whether they need it or not.
As a reminder, we offer a worry-free maintenance program that includes a spring and fall checkup designed to catch issues throughout the year before they can cost you more in repair bills or worse, loss of life. Perhaps we are being a little dramatic, but then again, maybe this friendly reminder will save a life!