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Three Steps to Better Indoor Air Quality

1. Understand the Problem

While most people would think twice before eating from dirty dishes or drinking impure water, surprisingly few take the steps necessary to understand the quality of the air inside their own home. Yet, indoor air pollution inside the typical American home is typically 2-10 times higher than outdoor air pollution and by some estimates is responsible for as much as 50% of all illnesses. In fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers indoor air pollution the number one environmental health problem in the United States.

Some facts to consider:

  • For every 1,500 square feet of living space your home acquires about 40 pounds of dust per year. Dust is the primary means for mites, bacteria, viruses and germs to enter your lungs (the average pillow’s weight is 50% dust mites!)
  • Everything from cigarette smoke to gas stoves, from naturally occurring radon to the chemicals used in household cleaners creates harmful gases that linger indoors for lengthy periods of time.
  • Due to the out-gassing of carpets, mold, mildews, mites and fungi in the typical American home, a baby crawling on the floor inhales pollutants equivalent to 4 cigarettes every day!
  • o More Americans are taking steps to seal their homes in order to increase energy efficiency. One side-effect, however, is that less air is exchanged with the outdoors and pollutants can build to dangerous levels. A heavily-insulated home, for instance, can contain pollution levels as much as 200% higher than ordinary homes.
  • o The EPA estimates that nearly 60% of all American homes are “sick”–this means that the air inside them is considered hazardous to breathe.

Recognize Your Options

The first step is to improve the quality of air inside your home is to have a professional Indoor Air Quality expert test and evaluate it. Once you have all the facts, and have discussed the finding with a professional, there are three proven means for improving your home’s Indoor Air Quality:

  • Source Control–This simply refers to taking the steps necessary to decrease or eliminate the causes of indoor air pollution in your home. Those with a gas stove or furnace should have a professional check vents for proper air draw and pipes and fixtures for leaks which, however small, can create hazardous, potentially deadly, buildups of fumes over time. Other means of remediation may include restricting cigarette smoking from your home or at least requiring that smokers do so near a ventilation source. Switching to “green” cleaners and increasing the frequency of vacuuming and dusting are also relatively easy and inexpensive means to improve indoor air quality. Your IAQ professional will help by making Source Control recommendations geared to your particular property.
  • Ventilation–Sure, opening the windows can help, but weather conditions don’t always make this possible and even when the windows are open the actual exchange of air with the outside may be relatively small due to a build-up of positive pressure indoors. For this reason, the EPA recommends that homes, particularly newer, well-sealed homes, use some form of mechanical ventilation to ensure a certain level of air exchange with the outdoors. HVAC systems and exhaust fans both play an important role in this regard but since neither is typically left on all the time homeowners may want to consider additional measures. There are variety of systems on the market designed specifically to increase the air exchange rate between the inside of your home and the outdoors. Your IAQ professional will help by making Ventilation recommendations geared to your particular property.
  • Air Purification – While Source Control is inarguably the most important step to improve indoor air quality, the addition of an air purification system is certainly the most underutilized. Many homeowners fail to realize that the panel filters used by most HVAC systems are designed to protect the equipment, not the people inside the home, from airborne pollutants. Older ducts systems can actually decrease the IAQ by providing a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. As such, more and more Americans are opting to employ some type of indoor air purification technology in their home. In fact, air purification is a growing industry–estimated to increase by over 5% per year until at least 2012.

Know Your IAQ Systems

There are a variety of indoor air purification technologies available to the consumer. Each has distinct advantages and disadvantages. For this reason it is best to consult with a professional who can provide accurate testing and then recommend the most suitable air purification system, or combination of systems, for your particular indoor environment.
Some of the most common types of Indoor Air Purification technologies include:

HEPA (High Efficiency Particular Air) Filters–These powerful filters are capable of 99.7 percent effectiveness in eliminating allergens and most types of bacteria but will not remove gases and fumes, including those produced by cigarettes, stoves and many household cleaners.

Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradiation (UVGI) Lamps–long used in laboratories and hospitals for their ability to kill disease causing micro-organisms, a home UVGI light system can make a valuable contribution to increasing indoor air quality. The lights are typically placed within the HVAC system or ducts and so are not visible to the home’s occupants. While they do destroy a host of dangerous micro-organisms, UVGI systems do not actually remove particles or gases from the air and are less effective against mold and bacteria.

Ionizer Purifiers–these units use electricity to create charged ions which attach themselves to airborne pollutants which are then drawn into a charged collection plate that can be periodically cleaned. Ionizer Purifiers are available as portable units or can be permanently mounted (in which case they are called electrostatic precipitators). Disadvantages include the production of trace amounts of ozone and, in some units, a popping noise from the electrostatic charge.

Humidifiers and Dehumidifiers–to achieve a healthy home it is essential to maintain the proper level of humidity–too much moisture in the air can lead to the growth of mold and harmful bacteria, too little allows particles to remain airborne and can lead to increased instances of illness. A trained IAQ professional can measure the level of humidity in your home and make recommendations for the right system to regulate it.

The Truth about Mold

There’s Good Mold and There’s Bad Mold

Molds are the “bleu” in bleu cheese and Roquefort. Molds improve our wine. They produce penicillin and antibiotics and are used widely in the food and beverage industry. Without mold and mold’s decaying mechanism, the natural environment would be overwhelmed with large amounts of dead organic matter.

Despite many harmless and beneficial molds, some molds can be toxic and pose health threats to humans. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cautions that all molds can cause health problems under the right conditions. The word “toxic” refers to mold that produces hazardous compounds, or mycotoxins.

Often included in the list of toxic molds is Stachybotrys Chartarum, a greenish-black mold, which can grow on high-cellulose, low-nitrogen materials such as fiberboard, drywall, paper, dust, and lint – all of which are found in homes – when these materials become wet.

There is evidence that mold exposure can cause the following symptoms:

  • Allergic reactions, including irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat.
  • Flu-like symptoms, including fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and diarrhea.
  • Worsening of asthma.

How to Minimize Mold Growth

Mold is a natural byproduct of the fungi family that thrives when organic substances and water combine under certain circumstances. Mold reproduces via spores that can remain dormant, yet viable, for years. They “come alive”again in the presence of moisture.

HVACR mechanical systems are not generators of mold; their metallic surfaces do not provide the organic matter mold needs to grow. However, systems that are not well maintained could support mold growth. It’s important that your system:

  • Is designed and installed correctly.
  • Is properly and regularly maintained.
  • Controls the moisture in your building
  • Uses good filtration methods to keep your air clean.

Preventing Mold

  • Consider augmenting your air conditioner with a dehumidifier. These systems pull the moisture from the building, thus minimizing growth.
  • Don’t turn your air conditioner off for long periods of time during the summer. In humid climates especially, moisture levels can become quite high in buildings, which can permit mold to gain a foothold.
  • Install insulation and vapor barriers to prevent condensation on cold objects such as water pipes, beams, and plumbing fixtures.
  • Keep sinks, showers, tubs and other wet areas free of standing water.
  • Demand architectural, design, and construction methods that prevent water from entering your home in the first place. Areas of concern include improperly pitched roofs, poorly designed balconies, windows, doors, improperly installed flashing, inadequate vapor barriers, and thin stucco.
  • Inspect the building exterior at least once a year and repair caulking, roof flashing, and all breaches in the building envelope.
  • Purchase a preventive maintenance agreement (PMA) from your ACCA member contractor. A technician will thoroughly inspect the HVAC system, including duct work and filters, twice a year and make any repairs or adjustments necessary. A PMA will save you money in the long run by reducing major repairs, extending the life of the equipment, helping to inhibit mold growth, and ensuring that the system is working at optimum efficiency. If you notice any water pooling or dust in between semi-annual PMA visits, call your professional ACCA member contractor at once.
  • Inform your HVAC contractor of your mold concerns and point out locations of suspicion or evidence of mold.
  • Educate your family or building occupants about mold, its dangers, and prevention.

If You Suspect Mold in Your Home or Building

The first step is to alert your HVAC contractor and the builder (if the building is relatively new) regarding your concerns. The contractor or builder will inspect for mold. If there is mold, the next step is to identify its type and establish whether it’s toxic. If so, evacuation, abatement, and remediation may be necessary.

The identification of mold requires specialized testing and laboratory analysis. Partly because of media attention to mold issues, mold abatement has become a growth industry, often attracting less than reputable people who may cause more harm than good by not identifying toxic mold, improperly removing it, or charging you for work you don’t need. Check with your state environmental protection or public health agency to find out if mold remediation contractors are required to be certified and licensed.

ACCA member contractors are concerned about the quality of the air you breathe, too, and many have added indoor air quality services to their offerings. If your HVAC contractor does not perform mold analysis, abatement, and remediation, he or she may be able to refer you to a reputable company that is a trained and certified in this kind of work.

© Air Conditioning Contractors of America Association, Inc., www.acca.org. Reprinted with permission.

The NATE Patch

Look for the NATE Patch

Consumers demand technician excellence, and NATE-certified technicians deliver.

What is NATE?

NATE stands for North American Technician Excellence, and it’s the only nationwide certification program accepted by the entire heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) industry – contractors, manufacturers, the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), and technicians themselves.

Are all HVACR technicians certified by NATE?

NATE is a voluntary certification program designed to ensure that qualifying technicians have a core set of competencies and can be trusted by the consumers who hire them. NATE is the culmination of several years’ worth of work by ACCA and other industry organizations to establish one single, nationwide certification.

Over the past few years, NATE has grown considerably. More than 20,000 technicians have been NATE-certified and the list continues to grow. With a strong endorsement from the leading manufacturers of HVACR equipment, NATE certification is the standard by which all technicians should be judged.

Don’t you want third-party reassurance that the technician in your home is a capable, qualified individual?

Nearly 90 percent of consumers do. Ask your contractor if he or she employs NATE-certified technicians, and request that only NATE-certified technicians service your system. Some contractors choose to show off their NATE-certified status in ACCA’s online Contractor Locator, and others do not. Be sure to ask.

Is the NATE certification really meaningful?

Yes! The NATE certification is rigorous and voluntary. There are other third-party certification programs out there, but they have suspiciously high “pass” rates. NATE has the lowest pass rate and is the only nationwide certification program endorsed by the HVACR industry across all levels. Technicians, contractors, manufacturers, utilities, educators, wholesalers, and leading industry trade associations support NATE, and industry organizations such as ACCA have helped develop the tests to ensure they maintain high professional standards.

In short … ask for NATE-certified technicians. And look for the NATE patch!

© Air Conditioning Contractors of America Association, Inc., www.acca.org. Reprinted with permission.

The Air You Breathe

What’s in your air and what can you do about it?

Unfortunately, in today’s world, pollution is everywhere. And with the type of cleaning products, manmade goods, and activities undertaken within homes and buildings, indoor environments can become very uncomfortable. Even “fresh,” outdoor air has as many as 30 million dust or pollutant particles per cubic foot.

There are, however, measures you can take to lessen the effects of these particles in your home. Since the home is essentially an enclosed system, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HVACR) contractors are able to tackle pollution head-on by moving the air through a high-efficiency air cleaner.

What does an air cleaner do?

At its most basic level, an air cleaner filters out the particles that cause irritation, such as pollen, spores, dust, and other contaminates. In order for any air cleaner to work correctly, the particles need to pass through it. Hence, if the particles are not in the air stream (for example, they’re dust on furniture), an air cleaner won’t remove them. However, a good air cleaner will:

  • Remove allergy-causing particles that pass through it.
  • Perform well consistently.
  • Be economical to maintain.
  • Handle a large volume of air efficiently.

How can an air cleaner help with allergies?

A good air cleaner reduces or removes the irritants that cause allergic symptoms. You may choose a portable air cleaner for smaller spaces or a whole-house air cleaner that works in conjunction with your forced-air system to provide cleaner air throughout your home.

What kinds of residential air cleaners are out there?

There are basically two: furnace-mounted, whole-house units and portable single-room units. Both types of cleaners have different models with varying methods of cleaning the air and capacities for doing so. Your dwelling may help determine the right unit for your needs. A room air cleaner may be best in an apartment, for example, while a whole-house unit might work better with a furnace and air conditioning system. It’s important to note that both room and system air cleaners come in a variety of models, and that not all models use the same technology to clean the air.

Each kind of air cleaner has its pros and cons, which may differ depending on your air-cleaning requirements. Take a look at what your needs are based on your dwelling and allergies and talk to your professional HVACR contractor about the best kind for you.

What are the most effective air cleaners?

Media Air Cleaners

These units use high-efficiency pleated filters, or “media,” to remove about 99% of larger particles, including many allergens. With irritants in the spore and pollen range, they are as effective as HEPA filters but not as effective in filtering out the super-small particulates such as bacteria, viruses, and respirable dust. Media air cleaners are cost effective compared to HEPA filters because the filters are usually less expensive and generally need to be replaced only every one or two years.

HEPA Air Cleaners

HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) cleaners also use high efficiency pleated media to remove particles. To be designated HEPA, an air cleaner must remove 99.97% of all particles 0.3 microns in size (such as dust and mold spores). Due to high cost, operational complications, and other problems, HEPA units are usually seen in residential applications as one-room, portable units. When media in these units need to be replaced, it’s often relatively expensive to do so. Some require charcoal filters that need to be cleaned frequently. Warranties for HEPA cleaners are normally one to three years.

Electrostatic Air Filters

Electrostatic air filters are not recognized as true high-efficiency air cleaners. However, they are generally recognized as being more effective than the standard one-inch throw-away filters. Electrostatic air filters depend on the movement of the air through the filter to give particles a weak electronic charge. Usually, these models are less than 20% efficient, with some models having efficiencies below 5%. They need to be cleaned often, sometimes weekly, to maintain air flow. Electrostatic air filters have warranties ranging from one year to lifetime.

Electronic Air Cleaners

There are two types of electronic air cleaners. Both electrically charge particles and attract them to a collection material. The standard electronic air cleaner will collect charged particles on a specially designed “plate.” Most electronic cleaners can obtain 95% efficiency or higher on various particles when the collection plates and ionizing wires are clean, but they can lose some efficiency as they collect dirt.

A newer technology in electronic air cleaners is called “electronically enhanced media” combining elements of both electronic and media air cleaners. Particles are electrically charged and then collected by the massive air cleaning media of a traditional high-efficiency cleaner. Because the replacement of the media is simple and there are no plates to clean, efficiency is maintained throughout the media’s life. Electronically enhanced media air cleaners are 99% effective in the removal of numerous particle categories. Electronic air cleaners enerally have warranties of one to five years.

© Air Conditioning Contractors of America Association, Inc., www.acca.org. Reprinted with permission.

Preventive Maintenance

Preventive Maintenance = $avings!

Take care of your HVAC system, and it will take care of you.

Preventive Maintenance Agreements (PMAs) are agreements between you and your Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) quality contractor for scheduled inspections and maintenance of your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system.

PMAs are generally scheduled for the spring and fall to maintain peak efficiency, help keep utility bills lower, extend the life of your HVAC system, and avert failures. Sometimes PMAs are referred to as “planned maintenance agreements,” “start and checks,” or “preventive service agreements.” Most agreements offered by ACCA contractors cover an inspection of the entire HVAC system and routine maintenance (such as replacing or cleaning filters).

Energy Consumption

The HVAC system is most likely the single biggest use of energy in your home. In commercial applications where refrigeration is applied (combined with the HVAC systems), huge amounts of energy are used in the building. In fact, over a third of the energy used in the United States is used to heat and cool buildings.

According to the Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE), up to 50% more energy can be saved with proper installation, sizing, and maintenance of commercial central air conditioning and heat pumps. Although the CEE study did not measure residential systems, a compelling case can be made that proper maintenance can save homeowners up to 50% as well.

Out of Sight, NOT Out of Mind

The cliche “out of sight, out of mind” is often the reason for neglected maintenance on your HVAC system. HVAC systems are usually installed where they aren’t seen, such as in a section of the basement, a closet, on rooftops, or in mechanical rooms, making them easy to ignore. The systems are simply taken for granted, until they fail. Decreased efficiency, utility overpayment, discomfort, loss of productivity, premature replacement, and higher repair costs are the result.

Getting your HVAC system checked twice annually is just as important as changing the oil in your car every 3,000 miles!

What should you expect your ACCA member service technician to do during a PMA visit?

  • Check system functions, safety controls, and adjust the operating sequence where appropriate.
  • Inspect electrical components and connections and repair/replace or tighten as required.
  • Ensure proper airflow and change dirty air filters.
  • Inspect pumps, lubricate and check flow rates where appropriate.
  • Clean and lubricate motors as required.
  • Examine belts, adjust and align as required.
  • Inspect, clean and balance blowers as required.

Spring Visit (preparation for summer season)

  • Clean inside coil, condensate pans, condensate traps, and condensate lines to prevent obstructions.
  • Clean outside coil and straighten fins for efficient operation.
  • Check refrigerant levels and if low, find the leak and fix it. (According to many equipment manufacturers, a 10% refrigerant loss will result in a 20% decrease in system efficiency!)

Fall Visit (preparation for winter season)

  • Clean the burner assembly.
  • Remove soot from fireside of burner.
  • Clean and check operation of humidifier.
  • Inspect the heat exchanger for cracks.
  • Adjust air-to-fuel ratio of burner and perform combustion analysis.

Note: For heat pump applications, winter season inspections repeat a number of the summer procedures plus several additional checks. Maintaining semi-annual PMAs for heat pumps is also important.

What’s Your Bottom Line?

Savings: PMAs typically more than pay for themselves through higher efficiency, lower utility bills, and contractor discounts. PMA customers typically receive a discount on all parts and services performed during the entire year.

Peace of Mind: Predictive maintenance will mean fewer system failures and a longer life for your HVAC equipment.

Priority Service: Should a system failure occur during the heat of the summer or the cold of the winter, customers with PMAs generally receive priority service.

Continuity: Many ACCA contractors assign technicians to specific customers. That way, you get to see and know the same service technician, and he or she becomes more familiar with you and your equipment.

© Air Conditioning Contractors of America Association, Inc., www.acca.org. Reprinted with permission.

Maintenance Tips

Keeping your heating and cooling systems in good working order means your utility bills will be lower, your home will be more comfortable, and you’ll need to call for repairs less often.

Maintenance Scheduling

Schedule a maintenance service call before the heating season starts. If there are any problems with your system, it’s better to find out before it’s freezing outside! Do the same for your cooling system before sweltering season begins. Our maintenance customers always receive priority service during peak heating and cooling seasons.

Filters

Replace your heating and cooling air filters every month that they’re in use. Operating your system with old, dirty filters means energy is wasted and your system may even be damaged. While you’re at it, check and clean the filters in your home’s air cleaners and humidifiers.

System Checks

If you have a forced air heating system check your furnace’s blower compartment and blower coils. Vacuum them if you see dirt and dust there. You should also check fan belt tension, and lubricate fan and motor bearings.

  • If you have a steam system, check the shut-off valve for leaks.
  • Bleed hot water system radiators at least once a year.
  • Don’t keep clutter near your furnace. It’s a fire hazard, and may keep your system from operating efficiently.
  • To make sure you’re getting the most out of your heating system, keep the heating registers and vents throughout the house free of dust, dirt, and pet hair by vacuuming them at least once a year.
  • Listen for odd sounds when your heating or cooling system kicks in. If you hear anything unusual, get in touch with your service professional so you can head off problems before they become serious.
  • In winter months, set your ceiling fan at its slowest speed and reverse it in order to gently push warm air down from the ceiling without generating a breeze.

Indoor Air Quality

According to the EPA, the air inside the average home is up to five times more polluted than the air outside. Pollen, dust mites, dirt, and mold spores in your home’s air can cause minor health problems like eye and nose irritation, dizziness, and headaches. Indoor air pollution can also cause more serious problems like respiratory illness, as well as aggravate allergies and asthma. There are three ways you can improve the air quality in your home:

Source Control

You can eliminate many pollutants like dust and pet dander by careful household cleaning. Making sure your heating and air conditioning systems are well-maintained also helps remove pollutants before they reach your home, and cleaning air duct systems may be helpful in keeping your systems maintained.

Improved Ventilation

You can decrease the concentration of indoor pollutants by increasing the quantity of air circulating. Open windows and doors, and use window or attic fans. Bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans move indoor pollutants out of the room, and increase the outdoor ventilation rate at the same time.

Air Cleaners

Well-maintained and efficient air cleaners can significantly lower the amount of pollutants in the air. Their usefulness varies considerably, depending on the type of cleaner (table-top models will probably be less effective than a whole-house system), and on the strength of the indoor pollution source

Save Money and Make Your Home More Comfortable: Home Energy Audits

Do-It-Yourself

1. Find the air leaks–

First, close all your windows, doors and flues and turn off your furnace and water heater. Then turn on all your exhaust fans–this will help pull air from the outside. Now, walk around your home and feel for drafts in the following areas:

  • Doors and windows
  • Fireplaces
  • Corners, baseboards and areas where the wall and ceiling meet
  • Pet doors and mail lots
  • Window AC units
  • Electrical outlets and plates
  • Pipes

If you have trouble, try wetting your hand or use a lit incense stick and watch the trail of smoke for indications of drafts.

2. Check your insulation–

in the attic you should find both insulation and a vapor barrier underneath it. If your basement is heated, there should be insulation in the walls, around pipes, the water heater and ducts. If your basement is unheated you should also find it installed underneath living areas. Of course, there should be insulation in your walls as well. To check, turn off the electricity in your home, remove an electrical outlet plate and push a stick (a chopstick works really well) into the gap–resistance indicates insulation.

3. Heating and Cooling Equipment–

these energy draining systems have come a long way in terms of efficiency, size and noise levels. If your equipment is more than 15 years old, you can most likely save as much money in lower utility costs over a couple years as you spend replacing them with a new, quiet efficient system. Plus, new tax credits and incentives [anchor to Tax Incentives Info below] make replacing older units a logical choice. Regardless of age, all HVAC equipment should be serviced annually by a certified professional to maintain efficiency.

4. Think about your lights–

replacing incandescent bulbs with fluorescents and/or LEDs not only dramatically reduces the amount of energy it takes to light up your home, it also significantly reduces the amount of heat produced and creates less work for your AC system. Avoid halogen lamps which produce a great deal of heat. Install dimmer switches where they can be used and motion sensors on exterior lights.

Professional Audits

A professional home energy audit is relatively inexpensive and provides invaluable information. After a thorough survey of your home, a licensed and certified professional can suggest measures geared specifically to your property that will make your home more comfortable and reduce utility bills.

A professional home energy audit should include the following:

  • Use of a calibrated blower door–To the extent that is possible, the technician will seal your home and then using a special fan create negative pressure (don’t worry, nothing will be damaged) which will draw air inside. This makes it easier to detect leaks and reveals areas for improvement typically not noticeable.
  • A thermographic inspection–this specialized test will result in a color coded chart of your home indicating warm and cool spots. Using this information, the technician can suggest means of equalizing the temperature throughout your home–these may include installing additional thermostats, heating vents or humidifiers in key areas.
  • Inspection of ducts and HVAC equipment–if your ducts have leaks, or your heating and cooling equipment is operating below its peak performance level, the technician will determine the cause and suggest solutions.

Humidity

It’s All Relative

Proper humidity levels keep you healthier and more comfortable.

Your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system can do more than heat and cool your home. It can also keep the humidity at a comfortable level in winter and summer. It’s a delicate balance: if it’s too low, you’ll feel the effects of colds, respiratory infections, and asthma more, and some of the furnishings in your home will literally dry out. If it’s too high, you’ll be uncomfortable but mold and mildew will flourish. They love moisture!

Residential HVAC systems balance temperature and humidity. The best person to design a system appropriate for your climate and your comfort needs is a professional ACCA member contractor. He or she understands the science of your home and applies the principles contained in the ACCA design and technical manuals to the design, selection, and installation of an HVAC system that’s right for you.

ACCA manuals are the industry standard, often incorporated into local building codes and endorsed or recommended by the Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and equipment manufacturers.

Relatively Speaking…

Relative humidity (RH) is the percent of moisture actually in the air compared to the maximum amount of moisture the air can hold at that temperature. Cold air can hold less moisture than warm air. At 70°F, air can hold as much as 12 times the amount of moisture as 10°F air. That’s why it’s usually more humid in the hot summer months.

Winter Humidification

Most heating systems just heat the air, changing the temperature, not the humidity. Cold air is dry, and forced-air systems and heat pumps pull outside air for heating. When 10°F outside air is heated to 70°F, the humidity level in your home will be the same as the outside air’s, around 7%. That’s one reason your skin feels dryer, perhaps even chapped, in the winter. So in dry cold climates, you will probably want to add a humidifier to your heating system.

The effects of bacteria, viruses, fungi, respiratory infections, allergic rhinitis and asthma, and ozone production during the winter can be minimized by higher humidity levels. Studies have shown that wintertime levels of 68°F/60% RH are just as comfortable as 72°F/30% RH; so by increasing the RH and lowering the temperature, you will minimize negative effects while lowering your utility bills.

Because the outside air temperature and RH can change in a short time, even a few hours, a computer-controlled humidifier is probably your best choice. It will automatically adjust for these fluctuations to provide enough moisture for a healthy, comfortable home and minimize or prevent window and cold surface condensation.

Summer Dehumidification

Air conditioners pull moisture from the air (HVAC professionals call that “latent heat,” as opposed to “sensible heat,” the temperature) as they cool it, which is one reason you feel better in an air conditioned home. If they didn’t, you’d feel cold and clammy instead of cool and comfortable. In particularly hot and humid climates, however, you may need to augment the dehumidifying capacity of your system.

Very high moisture levels give you that “sticky” feeling and may lead to health problems resulting from the growth of bacteria, viruses, fungi, dust mites, and mold. Air at 78°F/30% RH provides the same level of comfort as does 74°F/70% RH air. In the summer, turning the thermostat up lowers your utility bills, so dehumidifying can save you money as well as add to your comfort.

Although your air conditioning system or stand-alone dehumidifier is designed to remove moisture and decrease the RH levels in your home, in very humid areas of the country, it may not be capable of lowering the levels below 60% RH. In such cases, your ACCA quality contractor may suggest alternative or additional equipment and control strategies.

It’s Your Choice!

The choice is yours: a comfort and health indoor air system, or a furnace/boiler and an air conditioner. Since more than a third of your time is spent in your home, it is important to make the right choice.

© Air Conditioning Contractors of America Association, Inc., www.acca.org. Reprinted with permission.

Efficiency and Comfort

Tips for Maximum Efficiency and Comfort

Are you getting the most for your comfort dollar? Or are you paying to heat and cool the neighborhood?

Whether your comfort system is old or new, in a new or old home, in an apartment or a single-family home, there are many little things you can do to optimize its efficiency and minimize your utility bills. They’re definitely worth the small amount of time and expense they take, because in the long run, they’ll save you money.

Outside

Whatever the season, you want to keep your comfortable air inside the house. That means caulking and weather stripping doors and windows, around chimneys and flues, and anywhere else inside air can escape. Be sure to check for cracked or broken shingles, crumbling grout, and worn or torn vapor barriers, too.

Inspect the exterior of your home once or twice a year. A good way to remember is to do it when you have your regular, professional HVAC check-up because heating and cooling will be on your mind anyway.

If you’re building a new home or replacing windows, invest in vinyl-or wood-clad insulated (thermopane) windows and storm windows and doors. Then keep them closed whenever the heat or air conditioning is on!

Keep vegetation and debris well away from the outdoor unit of your system. They can block air flow, which forces the system to work harder to produce the same level of comfort. You’ll spend more now…and in a few years, when the equipment fails prematurely and you have to replace it. However, use vegetation to keep your home cooler in summer and warmer in winter. For example, plant a row of trees on the side of your home the wind usually comes from. They’ll act as wind blocks. Because deciduous trees lose their leaves in the winter, they’ll let in the sun’s light and warmth in winter; in the summer, they provide cooling shade. Do, however, be careful about how close you plant anything to the house, and take into account that trees and shrubs grow. They can block light, and in some areas of the country become highways for such pests as carpenter ants. A local landscape architect, reputable garden center, or the state or county extension agency can help with plant selection and placement.

Inside

Set the thermostat at the highest comfortable level in the summer and the lowest comfortable level in the winter. A change in one degree changes energy consumption by about 4%. Humidifiers and dehumidifiers can make a huge difference in how the temperature feels.

Install a programmable thermostat. It will automatically adjust the temperature at night or when you’re not going to be home for a long period of time.

Lights are a source of indoor heat, a problem in the summer. Wherever possible, replace incandescent bulbs and fixtures with compact fluorescents. They use a lot less energy, produce less heat, and last longer. Today’s fluorescents aren’t like those of only a few years ago – you can choose a warm, yellow light similar to incandescent light. You can use them in table lamps, ceiling fixtures (including ceiling fan fixtures), torchieres, and for indoor and outdoor lighting. Some can be used with dimmer switches, too. Avoid halogen lamps. The light is clear and bright, but they create a lot of heat.

In the summer, keep drapes and blinds closed on the sunny side of the house during the day. In the winter, open them to take advantage of solar heat but close them at night to help block cold air (even if you have insulated windows).

Insulate attics, crawl spaces, basements, and walls to the R value recommended for your area. Your HVAC contractor can tell you how much you need. Don’t forget to insulate duct work in un-conditioned space.

Use a gas fireplace or put glass doors on a wood-burning fireplace. (Be sure to check with the manufacturer first – some small fireboxes with zero-clearance flues cannot be outfitted with glass doors.) Keep the damper closed whenever you’re not using the fireplace.

In the summer, do household chores during the coolest part of the day if you can. Cooking, laundry, washing dishes, and heavier work such as vacuuming are examples. Check to see if your electric utility offers time-of-day pricing. That could save you even more money.

HVAC System

Check filters regularly and clean or replace them when needed. Your HVAC technician will tell you how often that’s likely to be based on the manufacturer’s recommendations and local air quality conditions.

Make sure room vents are working properly. Close them at least part-way in rooms you’re not using. Never block them with furniture, pictures, or window coverings. Consider a zoned system if your home has two or more stories or is very large. A programmable thermostat in each zone can save energy and money.

Then sit back, relax, and enjoy year-round comfort!

© Air Conditioning Contractors of America Association, Inc., www.acca.org. Reprinted with permission.