Dirty ductwork is a top culprit in indoor air quality issues, allergy flare-ups and the colonization of indoor pests. Build-up in the ducts may permit mold growth, and allows allergen-filled air to circulate around your home. Here are six ways that you can work on preventing dirty ductwork to keep indoor air clean and healthy.
Heating and Air Conditioning Information
The attic in your home contributes more to its energy efficiency than any other place under the roof, making adequate attic insulation a must-have for keeping heating and cooling costs under control. The roof has around-the-clock exposure to the weather, and heat is constantly entering or leaving from the roof’s surface. Bringing the insulation up to recommended levels slows this thermal transfer, translating to lower HVAC bills.
Benefits of Attic Insulation
Because heat constantly seeks cooler temperatures, improving the attic’s ability to resist temperature change lowers energy costs. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) reports that half or more of the average household’s annual energy costs go toward keeping the home comfortably warm or cool. More insulation reduces those costs.
Another benefit is a quieter indoor environment. Sound waves won’t penetrate through the ceilings as easily, and if you live in a noisy neighborhood, increasing the insulation will block some of the sound transmission.
Most homes in the Houston area have fiberglass batt or loose cellulose inside the attic. Both work effectively to slow heat transfer. The DOE estimates that 10 to 20 inches of these types of attic insulation provide an adequate buffer for heat transfer. However, since summers are so hot in the Houston area, it’s better to go with a higher R-value for fiberglass products than the DOE recommends.
Recent studies have shown that fiberglass products lose some of their insulating capabilities as the attic temperature rises. The Building Science Corporation studied the ability of fiberglass batts to resist heat transfer as temperatures rose. They found that fiberglass batt with an R-13 rating lost R-value as temperatures climbed. The R-value fell to 11 when attic temperatures rose over 140 degrees. Unless your attic has good ventilation, it can approach this temperature on a hot, sunny summer day.
If your home’s attic doesn’t have enough room for these levels of insulation, you can opt for other products that have higher R-values. All insulation products are rated by their ability to resist heat transfer, and the number following the “R” indicates how many hours it resists temperature change. Ten inches of fiberglass or cellulose insulation have R-values of 30, giving you 30 hours of protection.
Foam products have higher R-values per inch of thickness than cellulose or fiberglass whose R-values are 3 per inch. Sprayed closed cell foam has the highest R-value at 6.2 per inch. Rigid foam sheets have R-values that range from 4 to 6.5 per inch.
Doing the Job
Some homeowners opt to install the attic insulation themselves, since it’s widely available at home improvement centers. Blown-in insulation requires a special blower that most home centers rent for a small charge. However, if your attic has any of these characteristics, you may want to have a professional contractor take on the project:
- Bare, exposed wires in the attic
- Cramped space
- Limited fresh air ventilation built into the attic
- Dryer and ventilation fan vents that exit inside the attic, not through the roof
- Moldy insulation or wood rot in the attic or roof
- Dusty areas that indicate loose ductwork for the HVAC system
Each of these issues needs to be addressed by a professional, especially wiring, mold, ductwork leaks and poor ventilation.
Installation and Creating Barriers
If you opt to install the insulation yourself, read the product’s instructions carefully. Be sure you wear all the protective gear the manufacturer recommends because these products can irritate the skin, respiratory system and eyes.
When installing more fiberglass batts over existing batts, lay them perpendicular to the old ones to create a better barrier. Don’t compress the existing or new batts, since the R-value for this type of insulation will go down when it loses some of its loft by squeezing it into tight spots.
You may encounter recessed lighting fixtures that protrude into the attic. Check to see that they’re insulation contact (IC) rated if you want to cover them. If they’re not, create sheet metal or wire mesh barriers to keep the insulation off them. The mesh should be fine enough to prevent any loose fiberglass or cellulose attic insulation from sifting through and landing on the wires.
For assistance with evaluating your need for attic insulation and trimming your energy bills, contact ACS Absolute Comfort. We’ve provided exceptional HVAC services for Houston area homeowners since 2007.
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The Houston area climate requires an HVAC system that can keep up with both the cooling and heating load, operate efficiently to save you money, reduce carbon dioxide emissions, and provide you with a high level of comfort. If you’re thinking about replacing an HVAC system with a newer, more energy-efficient system, here are a four major considerations to think about before committing to a new furnace, air conditioner or heat pump, to ensure you get the system that will best suit your needs for the next 10-20 years.
1. Replace It All? Or Just One Part?
If the indoor unit of your split-system A/C or heat pump is in good shape but the outdoor unit could use replacing, you might be tempted to replace only the outdoor unit.
In fact, replacing just one component of a split-system HVAC system can lead to serious and expensive operating problems down the road. Mismatched indoor and outdoor units won’t typically live up to the standards of efficiency you expect, and will likely result in the poor performance of both parts. And they may not work together at all.
Depending on the size of your new system and the condition of your ductwork, you may be able to use the existing ducts instead of replacing the whole duct system. However, it’s essential to have a professional evaluate the ductwork to determine if it’s sized properly for the new HVAC system and whether it’s in good enough shape to ensure the highest possible efficiency of the new equipment. Either way, the ductwork should be properly sealed and insulated to provide the highest level of comfort at the lowest possible cost.
2. What’s the Best Size?
Summers in the Houston area are famously hot, with average high temperatures in July almost 10 degrees warmer than the U.S. average. Any Houston area homeowner hoping to reduce electricity usage from running the central air conditioner needs to do a good job sealing and insulating the home envelope. This does not have to bust your budget, and a little investment will return immediate dividends in lower electricity bills. By sealing and insulating the home envelope, you can postpone replacing HVAC equipment or better prepare your Katy or Sugar Land area home for energy-efficient upgrades, too.
Your Katy Home’s Envelope
Sealing and insulating the home envelope means imagining that your home is wrapped in a protective bubble, where outside air stays outside unless you invite it in, and inside air stays inside, treated by your central air conditioner. The outside walls, floors, roof and ceilings make up your home envelope.
In summer, your home must repel heat infiltration while re-circulating cooled air from your central air conditioner. By sealing and insulating the home envelopesealing and insu, you not only save energy; you improve your home’s indoor air quality and make your family more comfortable.
Easy Steps for Sealing and Insulating the Home Envelope
While some work from a professional HVAC contractor may be needed, you can start sealing and insulating the home envelope yourself, with small steps:
- Seal windows, doors and other openings–this is the work of three or four weekends
- Insulate your attic, basement or crawlspace–you can do this yourself, at your own comfortable pace
- Insulate your walls as this may be the work of a professional insulation contractor
- Seal and clean your home’s ductwork as this may require professional assistance
Sealing and insulating the home envelope begins with sealing, using weatherstripping and caulk, and bringing in a professional to seal your ductwork.
Use weatherstripping around windows and doors to make these movable openings air-tight and waterproof. Do not overlook seldom-opened windows in garage, basement or attic, or the attic hatchway and outside basement doors. Some weatherstripping hints and tips:
- Mix and match materials based on durability; around doors, metals last longer; around windows, foam strips will suffice
- Be willing to try new materials; weatherstripping today comes in adhesive-backed foam, vinyl, springy metal and many other forms
- Start at the less visible windows at the back of your home; work your way around to the more visible front, so your skills improve as you work
- Do not feel you must get everything done in a day or weekend; every window and door you seal saves you energy dollars
For immovable openings that pierce your home’s envelope, use caulk. Caulk finishes the sealing part of sealing and insulating the home envelope. Caulk comes in many formulations and colors. Match the caulk to the job:
- Any spot where electrical wires or cables pierce walls or roof
- Around every window and door where casing meets exterior walls
- Around the chimney
- Kitchen vents, dryer vent and bathroom vents
- Where plumbing pierces the foundation or walls
- Where plumbing pipes pierce the roof
In your Houston area home, most of the ductwork is inaccessible. Here a professional HVAC contractor is helpful. The investment is well worth it, since leaky ducts waste as much as 40 percent of the conditioned air in them. A professional can do all this:
- Ensure connections between registers and ducts are sealed
- Inspect and seal flexible ducts
- Reattach loose seams and seal them with mastic
The second part of sealing and insulating the home envelope is improving insulation. Start in the attic. If you can see the joists, your attic needs more insulation. Purchase and roll out unfaced (no paper) fiberglass batt insulation at right angles to the existing insulation. You can also contract an insulation company to blow in an extra layer, making sure not to block the rafter vents at the roof edge.
Check your basement or crawlspace next. Where your home’s wood structure sits on foundation walls, spray foam on the sill plate can be applied by a professional insulation contractor in less than a day. If any ductwork runs through the space, it should be insulated with rigid board insulation (fiberglass gets soggy when exposed to wet basement conditions).
If you ever want to replace your home’s HVAC system, your properly sealed and insulated home can employ smaller, less expensive equipment than it might otherwise, saving you money for years to come.
If sealing and insulating the home envelope seems like more than you want to tackle, contact us at ACS Absolute Comfort, where we will be happy to help.
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Dealing with the high costs of staying cool in the summer can be painful for families that are operating on a tight budget. Fortunately, there are ways to keep your home comfortable without seeing your cooling bills skyrocket. A professional air conditioning service is one way to help lower cooling bills. Here are five ways to save energy this summer to keep your home comfortable and efficient when the weather heats up.
Improving Efficiency With Fans
Many people feel that the ceiling fans in their home should only be used when it is not hot enough to turn on the air conditioning. These fixtures can actually be used in conjunction with other cooling methods to increase the efficiency of your home. You just have to know how to accomplish this goal without wasting energy.
The positioning and size of your ceiling fan is important when you want to increase efficiency in your home. It is estimated that using a ceiling fan when your air conditioner is on can allow you to raise the temperature on your thermostat by 4 degrees.
Keep the Oven Off
Using your oven during the summer hurts any efforts to efficiently cool your home because of the heat that circulates into the room when the oven is turned on. The best way to combat this reduction in efficiency is by keeping the oven off when the weather is hot. One solution is to opt for cold meals. Another way to avoid using the oven in the summer is by opting for the microwave instead. Not only will this reduce your cooling bills, but microwaves use substantially less energy than ovens. The cost savings related to cooling and energy can add up over the season.
Adjust To Higher Temperatures
Some people feel that they can only be comfortable in a building that has a regulated temperature of approximately 68 degrees. While this is considered to be a normal room temperature, most people are able to adjust their comfort level by acclimating to a higher indoor temperature. The most efficient thermostat setting in the summer that still allows you to cool down when you come inside is approximately 78 degrees. Consider adjusting to this temperature when the weather starts to warm up, and try to keep your air conditioning off when the indoor temperature hovers at or below this number.
There is a common misconception that an air conditioner should be set and kept at a steady temperature throughout the day. While it is recommended that you keep your air conditioner on when it is hot outside, setting it to 85 degrees when you are not at home improves efficiency and lowers your cooling bills.
Improve Air Conditioner Efficiency
Air conditioners need to be regularly maintained in order for these units to run efficiently. Homeowners should have their cooling system serviced annually to improve efficiency. Preventative maintenance appointments can be scheduled at the beginning and end of the summer to keep an air conditioner working as it should when the weather is hot.
Cleaning the system and replacing air filters when they become excessively dirty or damaged is one of the best ways to improve efficiency to keep costs down. Other tasks that are completed during a maintenance service appointment include inspection of the system, lubrication of connecting parts and safety checks.
Save on Laundry
Laundry can be washed in cold water to save on energy costs. Be sure to use a detergent that is specifically intended to be used in high-efficiency washers that can run an entire load on the cold setting. Additional savings can be enjoyed when the weather is particularly warm outside. Clothes can be hung outside to dry to reduce energy use by keeping the dryer turned off throughout the summer.
Get Help From ACS Absolute Comfort
Following these tips is the first step to reducing your energy bills this summer. You can save even more by investing in air conditioning repair when your cooling system is not running efficiently. Be sure to get your unit repaired as soon as you notice a problem to ensure that your cooling bills will not start to skyrocket. The cost of repair is typically much lower than the ongoing costs of using an inefficient air conditioner, and you will probably have to replace your system if you do not call a professional to perform maintenance.
ACS Absolute Comfort is a family-owned HVAC company located in Houston. Experienced technicians work to provide any air conditioning service that residents of Houston and the surrounding areas may need to keep their homes comfortable. Contact ACS Absolute Comfort today to schedule an appointment for air conditioning repair or preventative maintenance.