At Winkelman Heating & Air Conditioning, we want to help you save money on your energy bills and prevent any sudden system failures by sharing our collective knowledge with you. For that purpose, we have compiled the most common HVAC questions in the FAQ list below. If you can't find the issue you are looking for, you can check out our blog or pick our brain at any time by contacting us.
Air conditioner size is measured in tons and a one-ton air conditioner provides 12,000 BTUs per hour of cooling capacity. As a very rough rule of thumb, 12,000 BTUs per hour is enough to cool about 500 square feet and an additional 6,000 BTUs will be needed for each additional 500 square feet. However, many factors also affect your cooling needs including climate, insulation, home layout, and sun exposure, so you should only use this as a starting point.
Both undersized and oversized air conditioners provide inefficient cooling that will increase your energy costs and decrease your comfort. To ensure that your air conditioner is properly sized, you should have a trained HVAC technician visit your home to assess your cooling needs before you select a new air conditioner.
Air conditioner and heating ratings are designed to help consumers compare HVAC systems from different manufacturers by providing standard measures of output and energy efficiency.
- SEER, or seasonal energy efficiency ratio, measures the energy efficiency of a cooling system. A higher SEER rating means more cooling for the same energy usage.
- MERV, or minimum efficiency reporting value, tells what size particles an air filter will trap. A MERV of 20 means an air filter traps even the tiniest of particles and would commonly be found in filters for scientific clean rooms. The best residential air filters are usually around MERV 12 and filter out most common household pollutants.
- HSPF, or heating seasonal performance factor, measures the energy efficiency of heat pumps in heating mode. Like with SEER, a higher HSPF means more heating for the same energy usage.
Many HVAC system manufacturers offer factory warranties of up to ten years. These warranties will often transfer to the new owner when a home is sold. In addition, many HVAC dealers offer their own warranties to supplement the factory warranties.
To find out whether your HVAC system is under warranty, you will need the serial number. This can be found either on the outside of its metal casing or just inside its access door. Be sure to write down the serial numbers for both the inside and outside units if you have a split system. You can then look up the warranty by the serial number on the manufacturer’s website or by calling the manufacturer. For dealer warranties, you will usually need to call that dealer directly.
It is almost always a good idea to replace the outdoor unit and indoor unit at the same time. This is because they were specially designed to work best when paired together. Replacing only the outdoor unit or indoor unit is possible but may result in a loss of energy efficiency. It could also place additional stress on the system and shorten the lives of both units.
In addition, if either the outdoor unit or indoor unit has worn out to the point where it needs to be replaced, the other unit will likely also be near the end of the useful life and need to be replaced in the near future. With that in mind, the benefits of replacing both units at once will far outweigh the cost savings of only replacing one.
The three types of cooling systems each provide their own unique advantages.
- Central air conditioning provides highly efficient cooling via a duct system connected to a central blower unit. It is easy to use and can keep an entire home at a comfortable temperature.
- Heat pumps are combined heating and cooling systems that are only slightly less efficient than central air conditioners when in cooling mode. While they are more expensive to operate than gas or oil furnaces when in heating mode, the increased energy costs may be offset by the lower installation and maintenance costs of having a single heating and cooling system.
- Ductless systems can be both air conditioners and heat pumps. Instead of one central system using ducts, each room or small group of rooms has its own independent system. The installation and maintenance costs of a ductless system may be higher, but the energy savings of only running heating or cooling in a single zone can be significant.
A properly maintained air conditioner is capable of lasting for decades, but the current ENERGY STAR recommendation is to consider replacing an air conditioner if it is more than 10 years old. There are two main reasons for this. First, air conditioners wear out over time and extending their lives will inevitably mean expensive repairs and part replacements. This money could be put towards a newer, more reliable air conditioner instead.
Second, federal regulations and manufacturer competition have led to huge improvements in air conditioner energy efficiency over the past few decades. Even when maintained to be operating at maximum energy efficiency, an older air conditioner may still use 30% more electricity than a newer air conditioner to reach the same temperature. The energy savings from a replacement may quickly offset the replacement cost.
Modern energy efficiency improvements have primarily focused on making buildings airtight so that uncomfortable outside air doesn’t get in and comfortable inside air doesn’t escape. It wasn’t until recently that engineers realized that these energy efficiency improvements were having a very bad impact on indoor air quality and circulation. When all air leaks are sealed, the pollutants that build up in a home from cooking, cleaning, and other everyday activities have no way to escape and fresh air doesn’t come in.
For healthy air, a home’s air should be completely replaced roughly every three hours. In a well-sealed, energy-efficient home, a ventilation system is the best way to achieve this. Using a heat exchange ventilation system will help minimize the temperature difference between the outside air being drawn in and the inside air being expelled so that any increase in heating or cooling costs is minimal.
ENERGY STAR recommends setting your thermostat to 78 degrees. This allows your air conditioner to remove humidity from your home while maintaining a good level of comfort. Lowering your temperature by just one degree for eight hours per day adds one percent to your energy bill.
To achieve greater savings, raise your thermostat by five degrees before you leave for work each day, or install a programmable thermostat to do the same. This simple step can cut 5 percent from your energy bill. Contrary to popular belief, it takes less energy to cool your home by five degrees when you return than it does to maintain your home at the same temperature all day.
Most home air conditioning systems provide a single level of cooling rather than varying their output based on the current inside temperature. To maintain the set temperature, they turn on when the temperature is above the thermostat setting and turn off when the temperature is at the thermostat setting. The length of time your air conditioner remains on will largely depend on the outside temperature; more cooling will be needed on a hot day, and that means a longer running time.
If your air conditioner is frequently turning on and off even on hot days, it may be too large for your home. While this may sound like a good thing, an oversized air conditioner doesn’t properly remove humidity, may not remain on long enough to cool the rooms farthest from the thermostat, and may wear out faster.
Air conditioners naturally create condensation as their evaporator coils chill the air and remove moisture from it. However, most of this moisture should evaporate, and the rest should flow out of the drain pipe without ever being noticed. If an air conditioner is leaking water, first check to see if the drain pipe has been knocked loose or is leaking around the pipe connections. If that isn’t the source of the leak, take off the drain pipe to make sure it isn’t clogged with dirt or other debris. If that still doesn’t solve the problem, the leak may be due to improper installation, pump problems, or air leaks. Contact an HVAC technician for an inspection and repair.
There are three common causes for an air conditioner freezing up:
- Low outside temperature. Air conditioners don’t work well when the outside temperature reaches the low 60s or colder. Most of the time, this won’t be a problem because you won’t need to run the air conditioner when outside temperatures are this low. However, if heavy cooking or other activities have left your home unusually warm, you may need to open the windows instead of running the air conditioner.
- Air flow problems. Air conditioners often freeze up when enough air doesn’t pass over the evaporator coils. Dirty or blocked air filters are the most common cause. Replacing the filter and allowing the air conditioner to thaw before restarting it should correct the problem.
- Incorrect refrigerant levels. If an air conditioner freezes up on warm days and the filter is fine, the refrigerant level is probably too low or too high. This problem can only be corrected by a trained HVAC technician.
If you are worried that the refrigerant levels in your current air conditioner may not be correct, our trained technicians will be happy to inspect your system, fix any leaks, and add refrigerant as needed. If you have heard about the R-22 phaseout, there is no need to take action to change to a different type of refrigerant. New air conditioners are already being manufactured with more environmentally-friendly types of refrigerants. Existing air conditioners will be able to be recharged with R-22 into the future. Although R-22 supplies will eventually run out, this will happen long after any air conditioner using R-22 is due to be replaced.
An air conditioning tune-up provides three key cost savings:
- Lower energy bills. Over time, an air conditioner needs minor adjustments to restore it to maximum energy efficiency. Without regular maintenance, small problems will develop, and each of these problems may increase your energy bill by several percentage points.
- Reduced need for repairs. Most air conditioning repairs are needed due to a part wearing out over time. Often, when one part wears out, it stresses other parts and causes additional damage. During a tune-up, small problems can be detected and solved with an inexpensive fix before they develop into a big problem that will require an expensive repair.
- Longer system life. One of the biggest factors in deciding when to replace an air conditioner is repair costs. Regular tune-ups that reduce the need for repairs will allow you to keep your current system running longer.
Ducts can become filled with dust, mold, and other debris over time. These pollutants can reduce your indoor air quality and trigger asthma, allergies, and other illnesses. Dirty ducts may also reduce your airflow and increase your energy bills by forcing your air conditioner to work longer and harder. Duct cleaning ensures that your ducts are free of pollutants and that clean air is able to freely flow from your central blower to each room of your home.