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Frequently Asked Questions

Air Conditioning

What is "SEER"?

The seasonal energy efficiency ratio is the amount of cooling that a heat pump (or air conditioner) delivers per every dollar spent on electricity. In other words, a higher SEER unit uses less electricity. A 12 SEER unit uses ½ the electricity of an old 6 SEER unit. After January 1, 1992, the minimum SEER allowed in our industry for residential equipment is 13. Currently Congress is considering raising the minimum efficiency to 16 SEERS.

How important is SEER?

The least efficient unit available today is a 13 SEER system. This unit is probably 40%-50% more efficient than a 15-year-old air conditioner. A 13 SEER unit uses 10% less electricity than a 10 SEER and a 16 SEER uses 30% less electricity than a 10 SEER. Usually the higher SEER (more expensive) systems are quieter and have a better warranty.

Do all 13 SEER air conditioners perform the same?

When comparing different brands of air conditioners, a 13 SEER 3-ton brand “A” will offer the same COOLING operating costs as a 13 SEER 3 ton brand “B”. However, one brand may do a better job of removing moisture from the air. The better the moisture removal, the more comfortable you will be-even at a warmer temperature. An air conditioner that is over-sized (too large) will cool a home very quickly but, due to the shorter “run” time, it will not remove as much moisture. A slightly undersized air conditioner that must run more often will provide a more comfortable home, better humidity control, and at a lower operating cost.

What is a "ton" of air conditioning?

One ton of air conditioning is 12,000 BTU. A BTU is short for British thermal unit and is the amount of heat that will raise or lower one pound of water by one-degree Fahrenheit. It is important to note that actual capacity is not constant and will change based on outdoor or indoor temperature. The published rating of a unit is based upon capacity when the outdoor temperature is 95 degrees F. and the inside temperature is 80 degrees F.

Also, some manufacturers may call their unit a 3 ton system even though it only delivers 34,000 BTU. Another manufacturer may be offering 37,000 BTU’s with their 3 ton unit.

How often should filters be cleaned or replaced?

Filters should be replaced/cleaned once per month. Many “high efficiency” air filters have a longer useful life. Most of the electronic & electrostatic filters must be cleaned a minimum of once per month. Allowing a filter to become clogged with dirt will raise the operating costs of the system and can actually cause damage to the compressor.

Is a heat pump less efficient in the summer than a regular air conditioner?

A 12 SEER heat pump and a 12 SEER air conditioner would cost the very same to operate during the cooling season. There is no difference during the cooling months.

I've heard a lot about new refrigerants. What are the facts?

Residential heat pumps and air conditioners contain a refrigerant called R-22 which is classified as an HCFC. This is an environmentally safe and efficient refrigerant that will be available as long as your new system will last. There are some rulings being made by the US Environmental Protection Agency which require changes be made to refrigerants but not until the year 2020. Manufacturers will be producing units using R-22 until the year 2010 and the refrigerant itself will be available until 2030.

Manufacturers are testing many new refrigerants (and have been doing so for over 10 years). There are currently two frontrunners as possible replacements for R-22. One is called R-134 and the other is R-410A. One manufacturer who markets equipment under three different names has chosen to offer R-410A refrigerant in some units and they have given this refrigerant a “name”-Puron. Several manufacturers offer “Puron” or R-410A systems at the present time.

What is the difference in a Manufacturer's Limited Warranty and an Extended parts and labor Warranty?

A limited warranty covers specific parts (i.e. compressor, coil, electronics, etc.); therefore, it is limited by the language in the warranty. Extended warranties are generally purchased in addition to the equipment. Extended warranties cover all parts and may also include the labor for the service call. An extended warranty protects you for unexpected and unbudgeted service calls for the duration of the warranty. Be aware that no warranty includes maintenance, shipping costs, and related parts (parts not provided by the manufacturer). Most labor warranties do not include labor for diagnostics. Most of the better manufacturer’s now require proof that routine maintenance has been performed on the equipment. If a contractor offers a labor or long parts warranty, you should remember that it is only good as long as the dealer is in business.

What size system do I need for my home?

There are many things which will determine the size (capacity) system your home requires. Some of these are: square feet to be cooled, local climate, humidity, number of windows, size of windows, type of windows, insulation factors, direction your home faces, heat producing appliances, and even the number of people who will be in the home. There are several different types of analysis that will help determine the proper unit.

When do I know it's time to replace my system?

When the system starts giving you more problems than seem cost-effective to fix, particularly when major components such as the compressor start making unusual noises or otherwise indicating need for service. When faced with major repairs, consider that a new system will eliminate costly repairs and will save money on your monthly power bill because of the increased efficiency.

Should I keep running my old system until it wears out or replace it sooner?

Because newer equipment usually is more energy efficient than older central air conditioning or heat pump systems, you may actually save money by replacing your old system before it wears out. In some cases, the money you save in reduced utility costs might pay back your purchase price of a new system years earlier than you might think.

How about a little data on SEER ratings. My unit is 15 years old and I have no idea what the actual efficiency is?

There are three main ways to determine the SEER of equipment: (1) find the model numbers of your present equipment and check them with a local contractor (such as Wall-Turner Company). (2) estimate the SEER based on the average SEER units produced approximately when your system was installed. (3) check the energy efficiency label on your outdoor unit if it was produced after 1989.

 

In the first method, contractors can then consult manufacturer data or the ARI directory which lists all models of equipment by manufacturers that certify their equipment.

 

In the second method, for air conditioners and heat pumps produced in 1981, the first year SEER criteria was used, the average ratings were 7.78 (A/C) and 7.51 (H/P) respectively. By 1987, SEERs reached 8.97 and 8.93 respectively.

 

By 1994, ratings increased to 10.61 for air conditioners and 10.94 for heat pumps.

 

Remember that The National Appliance Energy Conservation Act of 1987 set a federal standard of 10.0 SEER minimum for air conditioners and heat pumps made after January 1992. The fact that, two year later, the average was 10.61 shows that the best air conditioners available were only slightly better than 11 SEER in 1994.

 

In the third method, residential central air conditioners and heat pumps covered under Department of Energy test procedures and manufactured on and after June 7, 1988 , are required to have labels containing energy efficiency information.

Should my home be humidified?

That depends largely on your personal needs. Humidification is definitely helpful in many homes during a 6-8 week period during the coldest winter weather. In the coldest weather insufficient moisture in the air often is responsible for such assorted problems as stuffy noses, sore throats, more dust than usual, cracks and dried-out joints in wood furniture, and static electricity. A good humidifier can cost $350-$600.00. It will be used only during the winter months and you will need to “clean and start” the humidifier in the fall. When spring arrives, you must “drain, clean, and shut-down” the humidifier or it could become a breeding ground for mold during the summer.

Furnaces

What is "AFUE"?

The Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency. In a general sense, it is a measure of the amount of heat that you actually get inside of the home compared to the amount of heat that is being used by the system. As an example, a 100,000 BTU, 80% AFUE gas furnace will provide 80,000 BTU’s of heat into the home if it runs for one hour. The other 20,000 BTU’s of heat will go up the chimney as products of combustion.

How important is AFUE?

The least efficient gas furnace available today has a AFUE of 78%. All furnace manufacturers today build two efficiency ranges of gas furnaces. Their standard gas furnace will be between 78%-81% efficient (called “80% AFUE”) and their high efficiency gas furnace will be between 90%-96% efficient (called “90% AFUE). To be practical, most homes will have some factor that will justify one efficiency range or the other. In very few homes are both efficiency ranges equally practical.

 

The 80% AFUE gas furnaces require some type of masonry or metal vertical chimney. A home with an existing chimney is usually a candidate for the 80% AFUE furnace. A home that currently has no chimney (ie, existing heat pump home that may be switching to natural gas) or a home that has a very old defective chimney, probably would be the best candidate for a 90% AFUE gas furnace. Other factors also play into the choice.

What air conditioner works best with a gas furnace?

Any efficiency air conditioner (or heat pump) will operate with a gas furnace. There is no one type or efficiency that is “better”. In most parts of the country the heating system runs more than the air conditioner and is, therefore, the more expensive item to operate. For this reason, We recommend that your choice of a furnace is more important than the air conditioner. You will benefit from purchasing the best, lowest operating cost, gas furnace. If this stretches the budget, then purchase the more standard model air conditioner.

What is a "ton" of air conditioning?

One ton of air conditioning is 12,000 BTU. A BTU is short for British thermal unit and is the amount of heat that will raise or lower one pound of water by one-degree Fahrenheit. It is important to note that actual capacity is not constant and will change based on outdoor or indoor temperature. The published rating of a unit is based upon capacity when the outdoor temperature is 95 degrees F. and the inside temperature is 80 degrees F.

 

Also, some manufacturers may call their unit a 3 ton system even though it only delivers 34,000 BTU. Another manufacturer may be offering 37,000 BTU’s with their 3 ton unit.

Should a thermostat be set to "auto" or "on"?

When the thermostat is set to “auto”, the fan operates only when the temperature requires it (whenever the cooling unit or heating unit is running). When set to “on”, the fan operates all the time. You may want the fan to run all the time to do its best possible job of filtering the air.

What is the difference in a Manufacturer's Limited Warranty and an Extended parts and labor Warranty?

A limited warranty covers specific parts (i.e. compressor, coil, electronics, etc.); therefore, it is limited by the language in the warranty. Extended warranties are generally purchased in addition to the equipment. Extended warranties cover all parts and may also include the labor for the service call. An extended warranty protects you for unexpected and unbudgeted service calls for the duration of the warranty. Be aware that no warranty includes maintenance, shipping costs, and related parts (parts not provided by the manufacturer). Most labor warranties do not include labor for diagnostics. Most of the better manufacturers now require proof that routine maintenance has been performed on the equipment. If a contractor offers a labor or long parts warranty, you should remember that it is only good if the dealer is in business.

What is the difference between manufacturers products?

First, you are probably aware that most manufacturers market their gas furnaces under several different brand names. Often these furnaces are identical. Carrier markets under several brand names including Bryant. Rheem markets under the name Ruud. American Standard markets under their own name plus Trane. The list goes on and on. The differences between truly competing gas furnaces can be significant. The thickness of the metal used for the equipment jacket (quietness), the thickness of the heat exchanger (quality), the construction of the inner parts of the furnace (quietness), quality of the internal components, warranty, insulation, packaging, availability of parts-all are areas where a gas furnace can be made into a quality product or just a commodity.

My gas furnace is no longer heating properly. What is the most likely problem?

Most of our “replacement” gas furnaces are sold because the old furnace developed a crack in the heat exchanger. The crack is seldom visible to the untrained eye. Sometimes it is not visible to the most experienced technician but he is able to make a judgement call based upon the operation of the system. Maybe the pilot light keeps going out. Maybe a safety switch sometimes cuts the furnace off. Then the homeowner resets the furnace and it seems to work for a few days. Both of the above could be due to a cracked heat exchanger. As the “crack” gets larger, the chance that the furnace will malfunction becomes much greater. If the homeowner fails to see the symptoms, eventually a technician will be called for repairs.

What is a cracked heat exchanger?

The heat exchanger is the area of the furnace where “heat” is exchanged-from the fire at the gas burner to the air that is recycled into the home through the duct system. The heat exchanger is sealed so that the products of combustion from the gas burner never come into contact with the air that goes back into the home. When a “crack” develops, the seal between the two sides has broken and the products of combustion (including carbon monoxide) can mix with the air going into the home.

When do I know it's time to replace my system?

When the system starts giving more problems than seem cost-effective to fix, particularly when major components such as the gas valve or heat exchanger fail. When faced with major repairs, consider that a new system will eliminate costly repairs and will save money on your monthly power bill because of the increased efficiency. The average life of a gas furnace is 18-20 years. We recommend that any gas furnace over 12 years old only be repaired as a last resort. The newer models are so much more efficient that often they will help pay for themselves with the fuel they save.

Should I keep running my old system until it wears out or replace it sooner?

Because newer equipment usually is more energy efficient than older central air conditioning or heat pump systems, you may save money by replacing your old system before it wears out. In some cases, the money you save in reduced utility costs might pay back your purchase price of a new system years earlier than you might think.

What is the best type of system to meet all indoor comfort needs?

The best system depends on many variables, including family size, house location, design, and utility costs. The optimum indoor comfort system might include high efficiency air conditioning, high efficiency heating, high efficiency air cleaning, air purification, and humidification.

Should my home be humidified?

That depends largely on your personal needs. Humidification is definitely helpful in many homes during a 6-8 week period during the coldest winter weather. In the coldest weather insufficient moisture in the air often is responsible for such assorted problems as stuffy noses, sore throats, more dust than usual, cracks and dried-out joints in wood furniture, and static electricity. A good humidifier can cost $350-$600.00. It will be used only during the winter months and you will need to “clean and start” the humidifier in the fall. When spring arrives, you must “drain, clean, and shut-down” the humidifier or it could become a breeding ground for mold during the summer.