Archive for March, 2011

Furnace Fan Doesn’t Run? Why Is That? What Should You Do?

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

There are several reasons that a furnace fan might stop working at one point or another. While many of these do require professional attention, there are probably some things you can check on your own before you go and call in the pros. After all, if you can address the problem on your own, it will at least save you from having to pay a technician to come out.

The first thing to check when your furnace is running but the fan isn’t turning is whether or not the fan is actually switched on. Certain models of furnaces have a separate switch to turn the fan on and off. While there is probably no reason that you would want to turn off the fan by itself, it’s worth taking a look just in case. If that really is the problem, you’ll be up and running and back to dealing with better things in no time.

If that’s not the problem, you might try looking to see if any wires leading to the fan are loose or the fuse is blown. If the fan has no power, of course, it won’t be able to work but the rest of the furnace likely would work just fine as long as it doesn’t run on electricity as well.

Of course, the problem very well may be beyond your power to solve on your own. Don’t despair though. Even though you need to call in a professional, that doesn’t mean that the problem will be expensive to fix. In fact, it may be as simple as replacing your thermostat or the motor for the fan itself.

Just because a fan isn’t working doesn’t mean that you’re going to be paying an arm and a leg to have work done on your furnace. If you can’t easily discover the problem on your own, however, or if you’re not comfortable inspecting this type of equipment at all, you’re generally better off just calling in an expert and letting them do the dirty work for you. Paying for simple furnace fan repairs is definitely preferable to having to pay someone to fix the fan and the stuff you broke yourself while trying to fix the fan on your own.

What Is a Cast Iron Radiator?

Monday, March 28th, 2011

Cast iron radiators are part of a type of home heating system that has been around for generations. While these types of systems have been largely displaced by newer forced air heating, they do still hold some distinct advantages over their more modern counterparts.

Cast iron radiators are heated as either hot water or steam is circulated through them from a furnace or boiler. As the cast iron heats up, it radiates the heat outward into the air and can thoroughly heat your home evenly and efficiently.

In fact, heating systems that use cast iron radiators are quite a bit more efficient at heating homes. They also don’t typically have the types of problems associated with certain types of forced air heating like hot spots, cold spots or generally uneven heat distribution throughout the house.

Cast iron radiator heating systems are also typically cheaper to install than forced air systems because they don’t require ductwork. Instead, a closed system of pipes links the radiators to the boiler, and those are much easier to put in place and generally take up much less space than ductwork does.

While radiators can also be made out of some other metals, nothing holds the heat as well as cast iron radiators do. It is also safer to heat cast iron to higher temperatures, so you don’t have to worry about keeping them on too long or running them in extreme circumstances. They also hold the heat extremely well, so they can continue to heat a room even after the heat has been shut off.

Of course, cast iron radiators are not a solution for keeping your home cool in the winter as some of the newer heat pumps and other central forced air heating and cooling systems are. If you have cast iron radiators in place, you’ll still have to invest in some type of air conditioning system if you want to keep your home cool enough in the summer.

Also, because they do get very hot, cast iron radiators can present a potential burn hazard, particularly to small children. However, there are many different types of radiator covers available that can both mitigate that risk and add a nice touch of style to any room in your home.

No Heat in the House? Things to Check and Do

Friday, March 25th, 2011

In general, when your heating system stops working, you’ll need to call a professional to come out and take a look. However, before you do that, there are likely a couple of things you can check on your own to ensure that there really is a problem with the system itself.

For instance, if it’s cold in your house and your heat isn’t coming on, check to make sure that the thermostat is set to a high enough temperature that the heating system would be triggered. Particularly if this is the first really cold day of the season, it’s entirely possible that your thermostat was turned down at some point and left there. And if the thermostat isn’t turned up high enough, the heat will never come on.

Also, it’s worth just taking a second to check and make sure that the power switch on the heating system itself is actually in the proper on position. For the most part, there would be no reason for you to turn this off, but it’s always possible it could have happened in any number of ways and it only takes a second to check.

Depending on the type of fuel source your heating system uses, it’s probably a good idea to check to make sure the supply is still available as well. If you use natural gas, check to make sure that the gas line is open, but don’t try to repair it yourself if it seems to be compromised. If you find something like that, be sure to call your gas company right away.

However, if you use oil as a heat source, take a quick peek at the levels in your tank. There’s always the possibility that you used more than you thought you did or that a delivery was missed for some reason and so your heating system simply has no fuel to run on. Similarly, if your heating system runs on electricity, make sure that the fuse wasn’t blown or that it’s not just too loose to provide an adequate power supply.

If you’ve covered all of these basic troubleshooting bases, it may be time to take a closer look at the heating system itself. On just about every type of system there should be some type of reset switch or button. Follow the instructions to press this button and engage the reset process, but be sure to only try this once. If that resetting doesn’t work, it’s time to back off and call in some professional help.

What Is AFUE and Why Should I Care?

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

If you’ve been shopping for a furnace, chances are you’ve noticed that each furnace has its own annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating. These generally range from 80% to the high 90% s and the higher the number, the more fuel efficient that particular furnace is.

But what does this number really mean and just how much should you care? Well, the AFUE rating should actually have a significant impact on your furnace purchasing decision, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll always choose the furnace with the highest efficiency rating either.

For one thing, you’ll have to recognize that not every type of furnace is capable of running at the highest efficiency levels. Oil furnaces, for instance, can’t compete with the super high efficiency gas furnaces on the market today. That’s not to say that an oil furnace might not be the best choice for you under certain circumstances, but it does mean that you should take a close look at your furnace usage before you make a decision.

If you do choose a gas furnace, you will of course have the option of getting one that can reach up to 97% or so efficiency. However, that may not always be the best choice either. If you live in a place where with very harsh, long winters and you’re going to be using your furnace heavily, then it’s definitely worth investing in a higher AFUE furnace that can save you considerable amounts on your monthly heating bills.

But if you don’t use your furnace too often as your area has more mild winters it’s probably not worth it for you to invest in such a high efficiency product. That’s because the higher the AFUE of the furnace, the more expensive it is to purchase and install. Certainly you’ll save money every month because you’ll be getting more heat out of the fuel you’re paying for. But if you don’t use your furnace all that much, the savings really won’t be that substantial.

Don’t forget that a furnace with an 80% AFUE rating is still quite energy efficient. And once you get up that high, you have to use your furnace a lot for the difference between 80% and 90% to really become apparent. So if you don’t use your furnace heavily during the winter, it will take you many, many years to make up for the higher purchase price of the 90+% AFUE models.

What is a Downflow vs. an Upflow Furnace?

Monday, March 21st, 2011

When you go looking to buy a furnace, you may well be surprised by how many different elements go into making a good purchasing decision. There are simply so many different kinds of furnaces available now and they each are more appropriate for certain situations. That means that finding the one that’s right for you is less about finding the one best unit than it is about finding the one that is the best match for your particular circumstances.

This applies to the type of fuel the furnace uses, its energy efficiency, and whether it’s an upflow furnace or a downflow furnace. Energy efficiency and fuel types are probably things that you’re more or less familiar with. But what are we talking about when we classify a furnace as an upflow or downflow model?

Well, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. These terms refer to the direction the air flows as it is taken in and heated by the furnace. So in an upflow furnace, the cool air is taken in at the bottom, warmed, and then expelled at the top. A downflow furnace, on the other hand, takes in cool air at the top and expels heated air at the bottom.

While this is all very exciting, it may still not be obvious what impact this will have on your decision about what type of furnace to buy. The main thing you’ll have to think about when you’re deciding between an upflow and a downflow furnace is where the furnace will be placed in your house.

An upflow furnace is generally installed in the basement so that the heated air is directed towards the parts of the house you want cooled and so that the furnace can be appropriately vented outside of the house. On the other hand, a downflow furnace would be installed in your attic for the same reasons.

So where you want to have the furnace installed is probably the biggest thing to take into account as you’re comparing these two types of equipment. Of course, whether you pick an upflow or a downflow furnace, you’ll still have to select the appropriate AFUE, size and fuel source to best meet your needs. But making the choice between upflow and downflow can at least make it easier to narrow down your options.

It’s Time for a New Furnace

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Replacing your furnace is probably not something you want to think about. After all, a new furnace is a big investment and not something you probably have too much experience with. And sometimes having your current system fixed or tuned up is all you need to get your home heating situation back on track. But there are certain situations in which it makes more sense to just go ahead and get a new furnace rather than simply patching up the old one.

For instance, if you have to call for either minor or major repairs to your furnace on a regular basis, it’s probably time to consider investing in a replacement. All of those repairs cost money and chances are that the furnace you’re paying repeatedly to replace isn’t going to last that much longer anyway.

Rather than continuing to dump money into a furnace that just isn’t cutting it anymore, you’ll be better off making the investment in a new unit. The truth is, you’re going to have to do it sooner or later and by buying a new furnace now, you’re actually saving all of the money you would have spent on repairing the old one for another year or so.

Also, a furnace that requires such frequent repairs is probably not functioning all that efficiently either. When you replace it with a newer model, you won’t just save money on repairs. You’ll also likely notice a considerable savings on your monthly energy bills because of how much more efficient your new model is.

Even if you haven’t been repairing your furnace often, you may be able to notice some signs that the old unit isn’t quite up to the task anymore. If you’re suddenly having some significant humidity problems in your house or if your home isn’t being heated evenly, there’s a good chance your furnace is on its way out.

And, in fact, even if your furnace is functioning just fine but is more than 10 years old or so, it’s very likely you’d benefit by replacing it. That’s because the newer furnaces available now are so much more energy efficient than their predecessors that the savings you’ll incur monthly will quickly make up for the initial installation investment.

Of course, you don’t want to get rid of a good furnace if you don’t have to. But if your furnace is getting close to the end of its expected lifespan, you may very well benefit by putting out the money for a new one now so you can start saving right away on your monthly energy bills.

Space Heating vs. an Upgrade to Your Heating System

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

If your heating system isn’t really cutting it anymore, it may be time to take a step back and consider what your options are. After all, upgrading to an entirely new heating system is a big investment and a large project that will likely disrupt your life at least for a short period of time. However, under certain circumstances it’s the best alternative out there.

One option to consider when you’re unhappy with your home heating situation is supplementing your central heating system with space heaters. These are generally inexpensive and can be placed virtually anywhere in your house or taken with you from one room to another.

Especially if there is a small part of your home that your heating system just doesn’t seem to reach or that you want to keep a bit warmer than the rest of the house, space heaters can be an excellent option. They’re small, safe and portable and can easily keep a smaller portion of your home or room cozy and warm.

However, you’ll have to take into account the operating costs of a space heater as well as the initial investment when you’re trying to evaluate the overall cost effectiveness of this option. Most space heaters run on electricity, which often costs considerably more than oil or natural gas. If your home heating system runs on electricity anyway, this might not be so much of a factor. But if you have an oil or gas furnace, you could wind up paying significantly more to run space heaters as supplemental heat over time.

Also, it’s worth considering that new home heating systems are likely much more energy efficient than the system you currently have in place. Although the initial installation cost can be pretty substantial, you’ll wind up saving a very large amount on your monthly heating bills by upgrading to a newer model.

Plus, you’ll be getting a system that should be able to satisfactorily heat your home without the need for space heaters or other supplemental heat sources. This translates into a pretty hefty savings over time and that’s something you’ll certainly have to take into consideration when you’re evaluating your options.

How Much Will a High Efficiency Air Conditioner Save You?

Monday, March 14th, 2011

When it comes to your air conditioning system, the energy efficiency rating really does matter. While you may be paying a bit more for products with higher energy efficiency ratings to begin with, you will certainly save a significant amount on your monthly cooling bills in the years to come.

Before you can evaluate your options in terms of energy efficient air conditioners, however, you will need to know how their efficiency is represented. Most air conditioners come with what is called a seasonal energy efficiency rating (SEER). A higher SEER means a more energy efficient model, and likely a higher price tag as well.

But how much more energy efficient is a SEER 10 air conditioning unit as opposed to a SEER 11? Well, the truth is that it is about 7% more efficient. However, a SEER 14 will be 23% more efficient than a SEER 10, but only 5% more efficient than a SEER 13 model.

While all of these numbers can help give you some context in which to evaluate the various air conditioners out there, they can only go so far. Turning these percentages into dollars is what you really have to do when you are trying to figure out what your monthly or yearly savings will be.

So to give you a bit of perspective, imagine that your annual cooling costs come to around $480 with your current SEER 10 air conditioning system. If you choose to upgrade to a SEER 13, you will save somewhere in the neighborhood of $110. But if you opt for the SEER 14 instead, you will gain an annual savings of closer to $140 compared to your current bill.

Of course, the SEER of a particular air conditioner is not the only thing that will cause the price of the unit to rise, nor is it the only thing that can cause your monthly cooling costs to rise. Air conditioners also need to be matched to the size of the space they will be asked to keep cool.

If the unit you have is too small to effectively cool the area in question, you are likely paying more than necessary in terms of cooling costs for less than ideal results. Similarly, if your unit is too big, you will be paying too much no matter how high a SEER rating it has.

The Beauty of Zone Heating

Friday, March 11th, 2011

While it might not technically be a necessity, there are a lot of reasons why you might want to look into having a zone heating system installed in your home. Whether you’ve been using the same home heating system for a long time or are looking to have a new one installed, there’s never a bad time to have a zone heating system put in.

Most people think that the only thing that affects their home heating and cooling bills is the energy efficiency of their furnace or heat pump. However, that’s simply not always the case. Certainly, the more efficient your furnace or heat pump is, the lower your energy bills will be. But that doesn’t mean they’re as low as they could possibly be.

After all, if you don’t have a zone control system installed, you’re paying to heat your entire house every time you turn on the heat. Depending on the size of your house, that could mean you’re heating anywhere from two to 10 rooms or more that are unoccupied at the time. In fact, you could be paying to heat an entire empty wing of your home. And while you’ll pay less than you would if your heating system was less efficient, you’re still paying more than you need to.

With a zone control system, you can heat your home much more efficiently because you can control which areas of the house get the heat and which ones don’t. You can set multiple different temperatures for the different zones of your home, which allows you to keep the occupied areas warm while not forcing you to waste energy to heat unoccupied spaces.

Aside from the economic benefits of only heating the areas of your home that you need, zone control systems also can put an end to some of those contentious thermostat wars that go on in so many households. If the members of your household can never agree on what a comfortable temperature is, they can simply each set their own temperature for their own area of the house.

That way, everyone is happy and no one has to suffer uncomfortably. After all, you paid a lot for your state of the art home heating system. It’s only fitting that you should be able to get the most possible out of it.

Propane, Oil or Natural Gas: Which One Should I Choose?

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

In most cases, you’ll have a choice concerning what type of fuel you’d like your furnace to burn. For most people, this choice comes down to propane, oil or natural gas. The one you choose could significantly impact the cost of heating your home for many years to come, but it’s usually a pretty clear cut decision.

One thing to remember is that most furnaces that burn natural gas can also burn propane. If you don’t yet have a propane tank but are considering getting one, you might not have to make a final decision just yet. Although it’s generally better to set up your furnace for one type of fuel and then leave it that way, you will likely still have the option of converting later on if you should choose to.

If you do have access to natural gas, though, that’s probably going to be your best option. Furnaces that burn natural gas or propane are generally much more efficient than any other type of furnace on the market. You can get them with annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) ratings as low as 80% and as high as 97+%, so that ensures that you’ll be able to find the one to fit your specific situation.

If you’re facing particularly harsh and frigid winters, you’ll want to choose the most energy efficient option available to you and that’s pretty much always going to be a natural gas furnace. Of course, when you’re looking to decide between natural gas and propane as a fuel source, you’ll just want to compare the relative cost for each in your area. For some people natural gas is cheaper, while it’s propane for others. And since your furnace will operate at the same efficiency no matter which of these fuels you choose, you just need to choose the cheapest.

Oil is certainly an option as well, but if you’re looking for a very high efficiency furnace, you’re not going to find one that burns oil. That doesn’t mean that an oil burning furnace might not be a good investment for you. If you don’t have access to natural gas in your area and your heating load isn’t that high, oil might be a perfectly economical choice for you.

If you do opt for a super high efficiency furnace, but don’t have access to natural gas lines, propane is probably the way to go as opposed to oil.