How to Test Your Furnace for a Gas Leak

October 16th, 2012 by Dave 1 comment »
 

Furnaces can at times spring a leak. This leak will emit toxic and highly flammable natural gas into your home degrading your health and safety. It is incredibly important to fix the leak as quickly as possible before the problem escalates and gets out of control. Simply smelling gas in the house does not necessarily confirm the leak, and even still, you don’t know where the leak is coming from. Luckily, Air Conditioning Chicagoland has devised a simple way to locate a gas leak in your home.

Finding the Gas Leak

  • Make Sure there is a Leak: Often times after HVAC work has been performed on your furnace, the smell of natural gas may linger for a time. Open your windows and let your home air out. If the smell persists, you can be sure that there is a leak in the home.
  • Turn the Gas Off: If there is a leak, then you want to stop the flow of gas immediately. Turn off the gas to your home and prepare the following testing method.
  • Create a Soapy Solution: This is best achieved by mixing water with some kind of soap that will bubble up. Dish-washing soap will be your best bet. Mix the substances until you have a bubbly solution.
  • Apply to Gas Fittings and Tubes: Take an ordinary paint brush and apply the solution to your furnace gas fittings, tubes, or anywhere you may suspect the gas to be leaking.
  • Turn the Gas Back On: Turn the gas on and look at your fittings of your furnace. If the solution is creating bubbles, then you have found your leak.
  • Call an HVAC Company: Call your local HVAC company to come and plug the leak. If you live in the Chicago area, then this would be Four Seasons Heating and Air Conditioning. Do not try to fix the leak yourself

Even if you cannot find the source of the leak, yet still detect the odor of natural gas it is important to call a certified HVAC professional to come have a look. The technicians will be better equipped to find the leak then you are at home. The important thing is to get it fixed.

Translating Furnace Sounds

October 11th, 2012 by Dave No comments »
 

A furnace can be at times a fairly loud machine. And like cars, when we hear a noise that seems out of place we tend to wait a while before taking action. “Maybe the noise will go away?” In the same way a mechanic who hears certain noises will be able to pinpoint the issue with the car, the same can be done with a furnace. You just need to know what to listen for.

Furnace Sounds and What they Mean

  • Moaning Noise: This noise means that the motor bearings are probably worn down. Schedule a maintenance check and see if a certified technician recommends you replace your motor.
  • Low Constant Train Noise: This could also indicate worn motor bearings.
  • Whining Noise: this type of noise tends to indicate an air leak somewhere in the furnace. Trouble is, that this air leak can be in any number of locations. Air leaks could be a serious issue and a repair should be scheduled immediately.
  • Loud Rattling: If you hear this noise about a half minute before the blower starts turning, then you may have a cracked heat exchanger. Turn off your furnace immediately! A cracked heat exchanger could leak carbon monoxide– the silent killer– into your home.
  • Clicking and Swoosh Noise: This usually means there is a leaky gas valve. Turn off your furnace and immediately call an HVAC tech to come out and find the leak.

In the end, no abnormal noise is good, but there are some worse than others. Hopefully this will be able to help you diagnose issues with your furnace before they turn into serious problems. Remember, any repair work done on a furnace should only be done by a certified professional. These machines deal with fire and toxic gases, a lot could go wrong for the uninformed Do-It-Yourselfer.

 

The 4 Components of a Gas Furnace

October 9th, 2012 by Dave No comments »
 

Knowledge is power, and when it comes to the heating and air conditioning industry this is especially true. Most American homes have either a furnace, air conditioner or both, yet there is some much we don’t know about these expensive, energy-guzzling machines. This blog aims to correct that fact by shedding so light on the HVAC equipment we use every summer and winter. This entry is going to focus on the furnace. Realistically, I can’t just tell you everything there is to know about owning a furnace in one go. It would take a whole (probably boring, though enlightening) book to write it out. SO, piece by piece the mysteries of HVAC equipment will be revealed to you. Today we will discuss the four major components to a furnace.

 

The Four Major Components of a Gas Furnace

  • Thermostat: Though not attached or located inside the actual furnace, the thermostat is no less important than any other component. For without a thermostat, you are likely to waste a tremendous amount of money and energy trying to heat your home blindly. The thermostat detects the temperature of the air, and based on your desired comfort level will automatically turn on and off the furnace to maintain a certain temperature. More sophisticated furnaces can be programmed to have certain settings based on the time of day or day of the week. Using this style of thermostat can drastically save you money and remove the need to constantly fiddle with the thermostat.
  • The Burner: This is where the actual heating takes place. It is sealed in a separate combustion chamber and receives air from a vent to the outdoors. This is very important because many exhaust fumes created in the burner are poisonous and must be sealed away.
  • The Heat Exchanger: The heat exchanger sucks air from the living space so it can be heated. When this air is warmed to the desired temperature it is passed to the blower.
  • The Blower: The blower is simply a large fan the blows the warmed air through a separate duct. The blower is powerful enough to send this air throughout the entire home from one location.

So essentially the way a furnace works is that the thermostat tells the furnace when to activate. When it does, the burner ignites and the exhaust fumes are vented. Air from the home is sucked into the heat exchanger, warmed and sent back into the home. Though it is a complicated machine, the premise is very simple. Take the air already in the home and warm it up.

 

Window Physics

October 4th, 2012 by Dave No comments »
 

Windows are one of those things that gets much less respect than it deserves. Many people see them as simple panes of glass on the wall to allow a view of the outside world. However, when it comes to energy efficiency, when it comes to making the best use of the of the conditioned air (whether heated or cooled) windows are just as if not more important than the insulation in our walls. Remember, as advanced as they have become, windows are just glass, and glass doesn’t have inches of fluffy warm insulation to keep the energy in. So, windows are the soft spots in the envelope of our home and it is important to understand and upgrade our windows in terms of energy efficiency.

Heat Loss Through Windows Occurs in 3 Ways

  1. Air can seep out of physical cracks in the window itself. This is called Air Infiltration.
  2. High school physics and chemistry taught us a few things about the nature of heat and energy. Heat always moves from a hot spot to a cold spot in an attempt to even out. The heat in your home will travel through the glass itself to the outdoors. This is called Conduction or Radiation.
  3. Cold air sinks and warm air rises. Now, when the cold air, cooled by the window pane, sinks it creates a current pulling more air down across the window and then continues the trailing air. This is known as convection.

 

So, modern windows are built to try and counter these aspects of physics. Windows are sealed better to decrease air infiltration. In addition to that, many modern windows are actually multiple panes of glass. Some are even as much as three panes. This increases the insulation and keeps the home warm. If your windows are more than ten or fifteen years old, you can benefit for updating your windows.

But How Much Can This Lower Costs

Well, as a macro-example of the benefits of window retro-fitting, the empire state building upgraded all 6,514 windows on the building. This lowers the energy costs of the building by 400,000 dollars a year! While you can’t expect those kind of savings in your home, you can expect to save money. You can expect these windows to pay for themselves over time in savings.

5 Ways to Lower Heating Costs this Winter

October 2nd, 2012 by Dave 1 comment »
 

It’s now time for this blog to switch gears from cooling to heating. All those articles you saw about ac maintenance tips, lowering cooling costs, and freon will now be reversed to the yang side of the spectrum. In that spirit, today we will be discussing ways to lower heating costs as opposed to cooling costs. You’ll find that many of the principles to lowering cooling also apply to lowering heating costs. It is all about using wisely and making sure what you do use it put to maximum effectiveness.

Five Ways to Lower Heating Costs

  • Open Those Curtains: In the summer it is important to keep the curtains closed during the day, but in the winter the opposite is true. You want that sun to shine into your home to warm it as best as you can. Close those curtains at night to limit drafts!
  • Bathroom Fans: Limit your use of bathroom fans. It is okay to use them while you are showering or using the bathroom to limit smells and humidity, but when you are leaving the bathroom make sure to turn them off. A bathroom fan will suck up all the heat in your home in nearly no time at all. This makes your furnace burn longer to maintain the warm temperatures in your home.
  • Turn Down That Water Heater: This is a universal tip and will save money both during summer and winter months. When water heaters come “out of the box” they will be set higher than they need to be. Usually they are set to 140 degrees, but really only need to be at 115-120 degrees. Doing this will save you around $100 dollars a year without really affecting the amount of hot water in your home. That’s a lot of savings for pushing a couple of buttons.
  • Turn Down the Thermostat: As a side note, the linguistic metaphors of “up” and “down” when referring to thermostats can be rather ambiguous. What I mean here is to lower the thermostat from say 75 degrees to say 65 degrees. Each degree lower will save you 8% on heating costs.
  • Put on a Sweater: Seems simple enough right? If you just wear clothing to keep you warm there is no need to turn on the heater. Buy a warm sweater, curl up with a blanket, and buy some wool socks to keep your feet warm. Long Underwear while looking fairly dorky is incredibly warm and comfortable. It seems so simple, but you’d be amazed how determined people are to just wear a shirt around the house in the winter.

 

Follow these tips and you’ll start to see a significant reduction in heating costs this winter. Why spend the extra money when simple non-invasive lifestyle changes can be made to drastically reduce your expenses. Heating can quickly become needlessly expensive. Don’t spend more than you have too. There’s plenty more tips where this came from. Keep checking back throughout the fall to prep for the winter ahead.

Window AC Units in the Fall

September 27th, 2012 by Dave 1 comment »
 

Summer is over and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can prepare for the winter ahead. Sure we may get one more burst of warm weather or have an “Indian Summer” as they call it, but for the most part we have cold weather ahead. If you, like so many Americans, use a window air conditioner in your home, then it is time to consider bringing it inside.

Removing a Window AC Unit Safely

This is a three person job. Two people need to be in the building physically moving the unit. This is especially important if your unit is larger or heavier than most. With two people you can ensure that you won’t drop it. However, if the worst occurs and it does fall, you’ll want someone on the ground level making sure people stay back. Do Not Catch the Unit! Just let it fall. It is not worse breaking bones or worse to prevent damage to a machine. Make sure to have a screw driver handy to remove the screws that keep the unit in place.

If it Can’t be Removed…

Then you need to try and cover it up. It will drastically increase your heating costs to have an open window. You will need to purchase a commercial cover for your window air conditioner and seal it as tightly as possible. You can also make one out of a water heater insulation jacket.

Keep all the parts together in a box and store it someplace dry. You will want to clean it before storing and the instruction manual should detail this process. Once this is all done you can check this off your fall to-do-list and move onto the next task.

 

5 Plants that Will Improve Your Air Quality

September 25th, 2012 by Dave 1 comment »
 

Winter is well on its way, and with it comes several concerns. The most glaring of which is heating your home, but there is a secondary concern that spawns from heating a home. During the winter it is only natural to close all the windows and seal the home from the frigid outdoor temperatures. It keeps the house warmer and reduces heating costs, however, when shutting your home off from the outside air, you force your family to breathe in the same recycled air over and over again. Sure, air filters are great for removing contaminants and dust from the air, but they can only do so much. Our job then becomes taking a bit of the load off our filters. One easy and aesthetic choice for improving air quality is to include a variety of house plants in your home.

Why Houseplants?

There are a couple reasons to include plants in your home. The first and most obvious is that they look great! Plants add a splash of color and life to a rather dismal and barren winter landscape. Second, and the point of this article, they can remove rather hazardous chemicals in the air and keep everything fresh and clean.

5 Air-Purifying Plants

Golden Pothos (Scindapsus aures): Golden Pothos is also known as  the Devil’s Ivy. It is a vine and thrives in indoor conditions, but can also be planted outdoors. It is perhaps the most effective plant at removing chemicals such as formeldahyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene, and benzene.

  • Devils Ivy is incredibly easy to care for. Keep it in the shade away from direct sunlight and it should be fine.
  • If it receives the appropriate amount of sunlight the leaves will be dark green, with more sunlight they can turn speckled or in extreme situations yellow or white.
  • It can be trained to grow horizontally.
  • It is very easy to propagate. Cut at least four leaves down on a long vine. Leave this in water for several weeks. As soon as roots begin to grow it can be planted again.

Aloe (Aloe vera): We’ve all heard of this plant. Its name is plastered on almost every sunscreen or burn cream bottle and chances are you’ve used it dozens of times on your own skin. However, keeping it in the home can also remove chemicals such as formaldehyde (one of the top five worst chemicals in your air) and benzene.

  • An Aloe Vera plant has to be kept in a spot free of drafts that remains sunny and warm.
  • It only requires minimal watering. Once every couple of weeks should do it.
  • It can be toxic if ingested by small animals. Keep it away from dogs and cats.

Gerbera Daisy (Gerbera jamesonii): This is a beautiful flower that originates in south Africa. It is bright orange in color and very effective at removing benzene and trichloroethylene from the air.

  • Reproduces asexually so if you wish you can create more yourself with only one plant.
  • Give it lots of sunlight to encourage blooming
  • If conditions are right it can bloom all year round.
  • Keep it slightly moist at all times, but not sitting in water.

Chrysanthemum (Chrysantheium morifolium): Also called Pot Mum,this plant is effective at removing all the major chemicals in the air. That list includes benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene and ammonia. This is just a wonderful flower for air quality.

  • Toxic if eaten by dogs, cats and even horses.
  • Comes in yellow, white, purple, or red
  • Keep between 60-70 degrees F

Peace Lilly (Spathiphyllum): Another plant that is an absolute monster for air quality. It reduces concentrations of all the major chemicals. Benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, toluene and ammonia are all snuffed out by the Peace Lilly. Not to mention, it is also beautiful.

  • Toxic to cats
  • Cleans best at one plant per 10 square meters.
  • Needs little sunlight and thrives in shade.
  • Water once a week

These plants will keep your home looking great and produce welcome oxygen for your indoor air. You can breathe knowing that these plants have your back soaking up those vicious chemicals and keeping your lungs clean. Plants are far easier to take care of than pets so there’s really no reason no to get one. Turn your thumb a little green and enjoy the benefits of these potted plants in your home.

The Trinity of the Cooling System

September 21st, 2012 by Dave 2 comments »
 

Good things come in threes. Whether that is the number of Star Wars movies (we won’t talk about the second triplet) or scoops of ice cream, the statement stands true. Air conditioners are no different; there are three key components to your cooling system. Many people think of just the box outside your house, but there is much more. All of these components are essential to cooling your home, miss one and you’ll be sweating.

The Cooling Trinity

The Air Conditioner
This is the box you see outside your home making all that noise. This is the heart of the cooling system. It takes in the hot air and runs it over the cooling coil, lowering the temperature. It is important to change the air filter every month and every cooling season to schedule a maintenance check with your HVAC company.

Ductwork
The ducts are the veins and arteries of your cooling system. They transport the cold air throughout the home making sure every sport that requires cooling gets it. Just as a leaky vein could cause problems in your body, leaky ductwork will raise cooling costs and make the system run less efficiently.

Thermostat
The thermostat is the brain of your cooling system. It tells the ac unit outside when to turn on and when to turn off. Fancier thermostats can be programmed to certain parameters during the weekdays and weekends. This can ensure that maximum efficiency of your unit and correct the human error of leaving the unit on while you are not home.

The cooling system is a delicate balance of all three components. If any of these pieces aren’t operating at full efficiency the whole system will suffer and the bills will go up. Keep your cooling system healthy with proper maintenance and vigilance.

Leaky Ductwork

September 20th, 2012 by Dave No comments »
 

The ducts of your home transport the cool/hot air from your air conditioner or furnace to the desired locations of your home. So it is very important that these ducts are in tip top shape and completely sealed. Leaky ducts can increase your energy bills by up to 20% according to Energy Star, because the temperature controlled air will be leaking into your walls, basement, and other areas that just don’t need it. This means your AC unit or furnace is operating longer to get the temperature to the desired setting.

How Do I Tell if my Ducts are Leaking?

  • Hire an Expert: This is the easiest and most reliable way to tell if your ducts leak. The technician will be able to quickly tell if and where the problem is occurring. The only problem is that this costs money.
  • High Energy Bills: Are you not running your AC or Furnace that often yet have abnormally high energy bills? While this can be caused by several things, one of those causes could be leaky ducts.
  • Hot or Cold Zones: This is caused by the air not reaching the desired location indicating a leak in the ducts.
  • Use a Smoke Pencil: A smoke pencil is a small device that spits a little cloud of smoke when activated. Turn on your AC and use the smoke pencil around your ducts, if the smoke blows away you’ll have located a leak.

Before you tear down your walls searching for the leak, contact an expert and ask for help with this situation. They will have the know-how and experience to get to those hard to reach places. There’s no need to make a small problem into a disaster.

Methods of Ventilation

September 18th, 2012 by Dave 1 comment »
 

Last Friday we talked about all the hazardous chemicals that could be floating about in your home. One of the key ways to get rid of these vicious little compounds is through ventilation. Now, ventilation is an ambiguous word. Did I mean open a window? Well, as it turns out there are a few different ways to go about venting your home and increasing air quality.

Venting Your Home

  • Natural Ventilation: This is the most common and most obvious method. Just open the window, open doors and close the screen. This is only really an option during a small “window” (hah) of time throughout the year. Only when temperatures are mild can this be a realistic option. However, there also may be small air leaks throughout your home. While these may help bring in fresh air, they will increase your heating and cooling bills as the expensive temperature controlled air leaks out of all the little cracks and crevices.
  • Location Ventilation: This term refers to ventilation of a small area. Typically this is carried out through exhaust fans over the stove or in the bathroom. They are great for getting rid of moisture after a shower or the cooking smells and gases. Do not, however,  run these fans too long as they can actually reduce the energy efficiency of your home by reducing the humidity too much.
  • Whole Home Ventilation:  This Requires a device called an energy recovery ventilator. It pumps in fresh air and pushes out old air while reducing humidity at the same time. This can be a very effective way of keeping pollutants out of your home all year round.

An energy recovery ventilator may not be entirely essential. However, if you detect any of the top five worst chemicals in your home, then it may be your best solution to getting things such as radon, formaldehyde and other toxic beasts out of your air and lungs,