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In depth information on do it yourself home property maintenance, covering all aspects of residential home, commercial, business, and apartment building repair, remodeling, and renovation projects Featuring tips, advice, how-to and step-by-step information to help you maintain and improve the value of your business building and home.

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Air Conditioning and Air Conditioner Cooling Information

 

It might surprise you to know that buying a bigger room central air conditioning unit won't necessarily make you feel    more comfortable during the hot summer months. In fact, a room air conditioner that's too big for the area it is supposed to cool will perform less efficiently and less effectively than a smaller, properly sized unit.

 

This is because room units work better if they run for relatively long periods of time than if they are continually, switching off and on. Longer run times allow air conditioners to maintain a more constant room temperature. Running longer also allows them to remove a larger amount of moisture from the air, which lowers humidity and, more importantly, makes you feel more comfortable.

 

Sizing is equally important for central air-conditioning systems, which need to be sized by professionals. If you have a central air system in your home, set the fan to shut off at the same time as the cooling unit (compressor). In other words, don't use the system's central fan to provide circulation, but instead use circulating fans in individual rooms.

Cooling Tips

  • Whole-house fans help cool your home by pulling cool air through the house and exhausting warm air through the attic. They are effective when operated at night and when the outside air is cooler than the inside.

  • Set your thermostat as high as comfortably possible in the summer. The less difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall cooling bill will be.

  • Don't set your thermostat at a colder setting than normal when you turn on your air conditioner. It will not cool your home any faster and could result in excessive cooling and, therefore, unnecessary expense.

  • Set the fan speed on high except in very humid weather. When it's humid, set the fan speed on low. You'll get better cooling, and slower air movement through the cooling equipment allows it to remove more moisture from the air, resulting in greater comfort.

  • Consider using an interior fan in conjunction with your window air conditioner to spread the cooled air more effectively through your home without greatly increasing your power use.

  • Don't place lamps or TV sets near your air-conditioning thermostat. The thermostat senses heat from these appliances, which can cause the air conditioner to run longer than necessary.

  • Plant trees or shrubs to shade air-conditioning units but not to block the airflow. A unit operating in the shade uses as much as 10% less electricity than the same one operating in the sun.

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About Central Air Conditioner Efficiency

Central air conditioners use electric energy to pump heat out of your home and dump it outside. They distribute cooled air throughout your house and remove moisture from the indoor air.

The efficiency of Central A/C units is governed by U.S. law and regulated by the U.S. Department of Energy. Every A/C unit is assigned an efficiency rating known as its seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). The SEER is defined as the total cooling output (in Btu-British thermal units) provided by the unit during its normal annual usage period divided by its total energy input (in Watt-hours) during the same period.

The SEER is displayed on a yellow label affixed to the A/C unit. Higher SEERs are better. The minimum SEER allowed by law for a central A/C is 10 for a split system or 9.7 for a single-package unit. The best available SEER is about 18, while many older units have SEER ratings of 6 or less. Most consumers should look for a SEER of 12 or higher when buying a new A/C system.

  • Central A/C units are more efficient than window or through-the-wall units. They are also out of the way, quiet, and convenient to operate.

  • High-efficiency A/C units save money on your utility bills.

  • High-efficiency A/C units result in fewer environmentally harmful emissions.

    In an average air conditioned home, air conditioning consumes more than 2000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, causing about 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide and 31 pounds of sulfur dioxide to be emitted at the power plant and, at average electricity prices, costs you about $150. In high-cooling climates those numbers can be doubled or even higher.

Clean-Up Your Humidifier

It is always a good idea to give your portable humidifier a good cleaning before the winter season gets here. As you know, a humidifier adds moisture to the dry air inside your home during the months you use the heater. Every so often it is advisable to remove the mineral scale that builds up on the electrical heater element and in the reservoir pan. If this is not done the water will not vaporize as efficiently and eventually it will stop working. Afterward, clean off additional scale about every month to keep it running efficiently.

Materials Needed:

  • Bottle of white vinegar

  • Utility knife

  • Toothbrush

Tip:  Most portable humidifiers can be cleaned by following these directions. Your humidifier may be different, so check your owner's manual.

Step 1: First you will need to unplug the humidifier and empty the water tank. Remove the humidifier head to get to the reservoir pan. Empty any water that is left in the pan, as well as loose mineral scale that may be left in the pan. Rub off any excess scale with your hands and rinse thoroughly with water.

Step 2: Fill the reservoir pan with white vinegar and place the humidifier head back on top of the pan. Leave the humidifier unplugged and let the heating element soak in the vinegar overnight to let it loosen the mineral scale.

  • Caution:  Be careful when working around the heating element so damage doesn't occur. It is not necessary to chip mineral scale off it with any tools to get it clean.

Step 3: The next day, scrape off any mineral scale that became loose overnight after soaking. Using a utility knife and a toothbrush it should come off easily. Keep in mind while cleaning that a good job doesn't mean restoring the cables to their original condition.

Caution:  Be careful when working around the heating element so damage doesn't occur. It is not necessary to chip mineral scale off it with any tools to get it clean.

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Cooling Off
By: Paul Bianchina

One of the most popular amenities in today’s homes is the ceiling-mounted paddle fan. For circulating heat, cooling a room, lighting up a space, or just as a pleasant decorating touch, paddle fans offer something for just about every home, taste and budget.

Shopping

When shopping for a paddle fan, there are several things to take into consideration. Perhaps the most basic decision is one of size, which is governed by the size of the room and the intended use of the fan. A small bedroom with a low ceiling, for example, might only need a three-blade, 30" fan (the size refers to the overall diameter of the fan blades), while a large living room with a high vaulted ceiling might be better served by a fan that has five blades and is 48" or even larger.

Along with your decision on the size of the fan is the choice of overall length, which is the distance that the fan hangs down from the ceiling. The shortest fan is the ceiling-hugger, which mounts close up against the ceiling in rooms that don’t have much ceiling height. For taller ceilings, the fan can be mounted on an extension pole – common pole lengths are six and 12 inches, although other lengths are available as well.

Except for some fans at the low-end of the price spectrum, almost all of today’s units feature a reversible motor. Reversible motors allow the fan to rotate clockwise or counterclockwise – since the fan blades are angled, like an airplane propeller, that means that the fan has the capability of either pushing air down or pulling air up. Suppose, for example, that you have a home with a high vaulted ceiling and operable clerestory windows. In the winter, you can use the fan to push trapped heat at the top of the vault down into the room. In the summer, the motor is reversed to pull warm air up toward the ceiling and out the windows.

Another desirable and increasingly common feature is a multiple or variable speed motor. This allows you to adjust the speed that the blades rotate, increasing or decreasing the amount of air being moved by the fan. Hand-in-hand with the multiple speeds is the type of control that the fan comes with. The simplest controls are pull chains, one of which turns the fan on or off and also increases rotation speeds, while a second chain activates the lights if so equipped. Motor rotation is selected with a switch mounted directly on the motor.

More expensive fans typically have wall-mounted controls, which allow you to turn the fan on and off, control speed and direction, and activate and even dim the lights – a real advantage for fans that are mounted high up on a vaulted ceiling.

Another choice is whether or not you want a light kit. Most fans are sold without a light attached, but are prewired for the light kit to make installation easy. You can add the light immediately, or at any time in the future – several sizes and styles are available, ranging from a basic one- or two-bulb drum light to three, four or five lights on individual arms.

With all that decided on, the final selection comes down to one of appearance. You’ll find fans in polished brass, antique brass, chrome, and any of a variety of colors. The blades can be purchased in white or any of several wood tones, some with wicker accents. There are lots of different light styles available, and you can also get specialized fans with football or baseball lights, cartoon pictures, and lots of other styles to fit any type of room.

Installation

Lighter-weight fans can be mounted directly to standard ceiling boxes in place of the original ceiling light. Larger fans, especially ones with light kits attached, can be quite heavy, and are often too much weight for a standard box. In those cases, specially reinforced or braced boxes need to be used – consult with the dealer where you buy the fan for their recommendations on the proper type of box to use.

Fans with multi-function switches may require multiple wires between the fan and the switch so consult the instruction booklet or talk with your dealer before completing any wiring installations.

Cooling Your Home: Don't Sweat It

As the mercury rises, so can the costs of keeping your home cool. And while news reports about high energy prices may have you in a sweat, the Federal Trade Commission has some tips to help you save money while keeping your home cool this summer.

  1. Do an energy audit to help detect waste and gauge the efficiency of your current cooling system. Your utility company may offer free or low-cost energy audits, or you can conduct your own. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) offer tips and checklists. The home "walk-through" can help you spot areas that need attention or problems that, if fixed, could save you money. For example:

    ·   Check your attic, attic stairway, attached garage walls and basement to make sure your home is insulated to DOE-recommended levels for your geographic area. When inspecting and buying home insulation products, look for the R-value. The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power.

    ·   Have your central air conditioning (AC) system serviced each spring.  Your utility company may provide this service.

    ·   Hire a professional to seal and insulate leaky ducts, and to ensure that the airflow distribution system serving your equipment is operating at peak efficiency.

    ·  Clean or replace AC and furnace filters once a month or as needed, and seal holes around plumbing and heating pipes.

    ·  Install a programmable thermostat. You can save money by keeping your house warmer than normal when you're out, and keeping the setting at 78 F when you're home.

    · Install drapes, shades, blinds or another window covering. Keeping them closed during the day blocks the sun and the heat from the sun's rays.

    · Prune back shrubs and remove debris, like grass and leaves, that may block airflow to your air conditioner.

    · Plant a tree. Landscaping is a natural way to shade your home. Well-placed trees and shrubs not only deliver shade, but also add value to your property.

    · Shade room air conditioners from direct sun to reduce their workload. Clean the filters once a month and replace them as necessary to promote energy efficiency. Lower the setting when you go out to reduce operating costs.

    · Apply a reflective coating to your roof. Dull and dark-colored home exteriors absorb 70 to 90 percent of the sun's energy. Light-colored surfaces reflect most of the heat away from your home.

     

  2. If you're buying a new air conditioning system, make sure it is sized correctly (bigger is not always better) and installed properly for cost-effective use. When selecting a new unit, be sure to consider high-efficiency models. While energy efficient appliances may cost more up front, they may save you money in the long run. To compare models, check the black and yellow Energy Guide labels, which the FTC requires on most major appliances, including central and room air conditioners. The labels provide useful information about products' energy efficiency and estimated annual operating costs. Air conditioners with higher energy efficiency ratios are more energy efficient.

  3. Ask your utility company about a budget billing plan to protect against sudden or unexpected price increases. Your provider takes the amount of energy you use during one year and divides your monthly payments into equal parts. At the end of the season, you pay any outstanding balance or your provider credits any overpayment to your next monthly bill.

  4. If you're on a fixed income and have trouble paying your utility bills, contact your utility company. They, or your state or local government, may have energy assistance plans to help you pay your energy bills.

Protecting Your Cold Cash

When energy prices rise, so does advertising for a host of energy-saving products and services - including some that are overpriced or just plain bogus. Be wary of devices, gadgets and energy-saving products that promise drastic reductions in home cooling costs or extreme energy savings. For example:

  • Read the energy-saving claims carefully and, if possible, get independent information about a product's performance.

  • Be wary of unsolicited offers from door-to-door salespeople and high pressure personal or telephone sales pitches from contractors offering air conditioning systems, windows, roofing, and other home improvement projects.

  • Make sure that a contractor is licensed and reputable: Ask your friends and neighbors for referrals; ask the contractor for customer references; and check out potential contractors with the Better Business Bureau, state and local consumer protection officials, and your state licensing agency. The FTC's Cooling-Off Rule gives you three business days to cancel a contract if you sign it in your home or at a location other than the contractor's permanent place of business.

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Dehumidifying and Drying Air Info

If you frequently smell musty odors or feel damp spots on the floors or walls of your basement, laundry room, or storage area during warm, humid weather, you need a dehumidifier.

The recommended humidity level inside your home during the summer is around 40-50%, and very humid conditions over an extended period can leave you uncomfortable and adversely affect your home. Musty smells, peeling wallpaper, warped wood, rusting tools, blistered paint and moisture dripping from pipes are signs of excessive humidity. These conditions are most common during spring and summer.

Dehumidifiers remove excess humidity by drawing moist room air over cold refrigerated coils. The moisture in the air condenses into droplets as it passes over the cold surfaces in the dehumidifier and into a container. "Dried" air then returns to the room at approximately its original temperature. For best results, the unit should be located in an area closed to outdoor air and where air movement in and out of the unit is not restricted.

Here are some features to look for on many of today's models:

  1. Automatic turn-off switch that shuts unit off when container is full

  2. Signal light indicating that container is full

  3. Adjustable "fill" control that stops unit at the desired "fill" level

  4. Automatic humidistat that maintains the desired humidity level

  5. Automatic defrost control which shuts compressor off when freeze-up develops and turns it on again when ice is melted. (This occurs when temperature and relative humidity are low.)

  6. Combination dehumidifier/heater to warm a room that tends to be chilly frequently

  7. Quiet-running compressors and fans

  8. Easy-to-reach controls

  9. Easy-to-clean grille, condenser coil and container

  10. Rustproof, spill-proof container with built-in handles for portability

  11. Drain-hose fitting to let water run continuously to a convenient drain

  12. Wheels or rollers for easy mobility

  13. Rust-resistant cabinet.

While control or built-in features may increase a model's convenience of operation, they also raise its price. Consider each option carefully before you decide it is worth purchasing. But the most important consideration is "water removal capacity," the number of pints of water removed from the air in 24 hours.

Energy efficiency is important in dehumidifiers. Differences of only 85 watts may add 20 kWh daily to your summer electric bill. Some models let the fan run continuously to circulate air back to the humidistat. Since in most situations the moisture content will be the same throughout the enclosed area being treated, this may be an unnecessary energy expense.

Place the dehumidifier at least 6 inches from the nearest wall where air can flow freely to and from all sides. Avoid locating it in a room corner or near a large piece of furniture. Shut all doors and windows to the area to be dehumidified.

For the first few days of operation, turn the humidistat, if the model has one, to drier or "extra dry." This aids moisture removal from furnishings as well as room air. After the area has dried, adjust the humidistat to your particular comfort level.

Before you empty the water pan or bucket, turn the machine off and also disconnect the power cord. This eliminates any possibility of electric shock if you spill water and there is a fault in the grounding
system of the unit or your home wiring. Be sure the area, the unit, and you are dry before you reconnect the cord.

Dehumidifiers operate most effectively at air temperatures about 70 F. At temperatures below 65 F frost may form on the coils (which are kept cold to condense as much moisture as possible). If this happens, shut it off, and wait for it to defrost before running again. Frost cuts down air circulation so the dehumidifying process does not work, and may damage the coils. This problem usually occurs in cool basements in spring or fall; check the appliance if temperature hovers near that point.

As water condenses out of the air, heat is given off, raising the temperature slightly in the area around the appliance. This warmer air results in a lower relative humidity.

Cleaning

Dehumidifiers need little upkeep or care. The following simple procedures are sufficient:

Always unplug the power cord before cleaning the unit. For regular cleaning, dust the grilles or louvers with a soft brush or the dusting attachment of a vacuum cleaner. Either dust the cabinet or wipe it with a damp cloth. Every few weeks, scrub the inside of the water container with a sponge or soft cloth and a mild detergent to discourage the growth of mold, mildew, or bacteria. At least once each season, remove all dust and lint from the cold coils with a soft brush.

Always plug a dehumidifier into a three hole grounded outlet. If there is none where you want to put the unit, make sure you install one properly. Using extension cords is not advised because if an extension rests on a damp floor or if water spills on it, is a shock hazard. If you must use an extension cord, be sure it has a three-hole receptacle and three-prong plug for grounding.

If a three-hole, grounded outlet is not available, convert it following our instructions and grounding properly. This is particularly important for a dehumidifier because it may be operated on a damp floor that could conduct electricity and because it collects water, which could spill and cause an electrical accident. Never remove the third prong from a dehumidifier plug ; to do so invites an electrical accident.

A dehumidifier's fan motor should either be permanently oiled or easy to reach for oiling; the refrigeration system motor is sealed and never needs oiling.

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Dehumidifier Tips

Nothing turns a hot day more oppressive than high humidity. In rooms that don't really merit an air conditioner, or to cut down on the use of an air conditioner, simply run a dehumidifier to make living more bearable.

The recommended humidity level inside your home during the summer is around 40-50%, and high indoor humidity can make you uncomfortable and adversely affect your home. Musty smells, peeling wallpaper, warped wood, blistering paint and moisture dripping from water pipes indicate excessive humidity and the need for a dehumidifier.

Dehumidifiers remove excess humidity by drawing moist room air over cold refrigerated coils. The moisture in the air condenses into droplets as it passes over the cold surfaces in the dehumidifier and into a container. "Dried" air then returns to the room at approximately its original temperature.

To get the most out of a dehumidifier, clean its coils every year and frequently remove the collected water. Keep the unit clear of windows and doors where dehumidified air will leak out. Finally, to get maximum airflow, position it away from windows, walls and large furniture, like sofas or dressers.

Do You Need a Swamp Cooler?

A common and economical form of residential evaporative cooling is a "swamp cooler," which uses a vertical pad of cellulose fiber, a system for delivering water to the top of the pad, and a fan to draw air through the porous pad as the water runs down the pad and is absorbed. As dry air moves over the wet pad, water evaporates, and the air gives up its heat. The air moving from the wet pad into the home is cooler than the outdoor air.

The moisture content of the supplied air is increased, which may not matter provided the air is cooled sufficiently. Evaporative cooling works best in dry climates.

Humidifier Information

The drying effects of home heating are constantly at work in the winter. For the sake of comfort and health an indoor humidity levels between 30-50% is recommended.

As outdoor temperatures drop, humidity levels indoors should be lowered. The humidity is right for you when the room feels "comfortable". Signs of low humidity are static electricity, a physically uncomfortable dry feeling, plants that wither and die, and a cold feeling even though the room temperature is relatively high.

Cleaning

First and foremost, follow the manufacturer's instructions to clean a humidifier. It is important to clean the humidifier regularly to remove lime scale caused by water minerals which collect on the belts, the water reservoir and other parts that come in contact with the water.

Regular use of a liquid water conditioner solution will help to control odor and simplify cleaning. Some units have dispensers which store and then dispense the solution directly into the reservoir water.

As air passes through the pad, some particles of dirt are trapped; also, the pad may become heavy with hard water particles which collect on the fibers of the pad as the water evaporates. Even if the interior liner and other functional parts are made of non-corrosive materials, rust can result from iron in the water.

The pad, liner and other interior parts need to be cleaned frequently. Be careful when putting parts back together so no malfunction will occur. Some humidifiers have drain outlets--others have to be operated until all the water is removed before cleaning.

Cleaning the humidifier outdoors or in the basement with the use of a hose may make it unnecessary to take the pad off the holder, but there is the possibility that water may get into the motor or controls. Plastic parts may be damaged if hot water is used to fill the tank. Pads may wear out or become ineffective. Once-a-year replacement may be warranted.

Between operations, the unit should not be stored or left for long periods with water in it. Undesirable odors from the growth of fungus and bacteria can develop.

It's the Humidity

One can easily make the case for humidifiers in winter. Moist air has dual benefits--it holds heat better, reducing your utility bills, and it reduces nasal congestion as well as dry throats and noses. Still, you can overdo it--humidity levels higher than 50 percent can cause mildewing and fungus spores. (So keep the humidifier's filter and water clean--the appliances can actually spread airborne mold.) A sure sign of too much humidity is condensation inside the home on windows and walls. To get the most out of your humidifiers, put them in a high-air-circulation area (next to an air register or fan); avoid using them in already naturally humid zones such as kitchens and bathrooms.

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Tips for Lowering Your Central Air Conditioner's Energy Usage

  • Set your thermostat at 78 F or higher. Each degree setting below 78 F will increase energy consumption by approximately 8%. Be careful, however, that if you're A/C is oversized the diminished run-time from raising the thermostat setting may result in too-high indoor humidity in some locations.

  • Use bath and kitchen fans sparingly when the air conditioner is operating to avoid pulling warm, moist air into your home.

  • Inspect and clean both the indoor and outdoor coils. The indoor coil in your air conditioner acts as a magnet for dust because it is constantly wetted during the cooling season. Dirt build-up on the indoor coil is the single most common cause of poor efficiency. The outdoor coil must also be checked periodically for dirt build-up and cleaned if necessary.

  • Check the refrigerant charge. The circulating fluid in your air conditioner is a special refrigerant gas that is put in when the system is installed. If the system is overcharged or undercharged with refrigerant, it will not work properly. You will need a service contractor to check the fluid and adjust it appropriately.

  • Reduce the cooling load by using cost-effective conservation measures. For example, effectively shade east and west windows. When possible, delay heat-generating activities, such as cooking and dishwashing, until evening on hot days.

  • Over most of the cooling season, keep the house closed tight during the day. Don't let in unwanted heat and humidity. Ventilate at night either naturally or with fans.

Tips for Lowering Your Room Air Conditioner's Energy Usage

  • While fans cannot replace air conditioners, they can provide supplemental cooling, especially on mild summer days. Substituting fans for air conditioners can reduce energy use by 60% or more.

  • Consider installing a programmable thermostat if you do not have one. You can save as much as 10% on your cooling bill by simply turning your thermostat back 10 to 15 degrees for 8 hours. You can do this easily using a programmable or a setback thermostat.

  • Set your thermostat as high as comfortably possible in the summer. The less difference between the indoor and outdoor temperatures, the lower your overall cooling bill will be.

  • Don't set your thermostat at a colder setting than normal when you turn on your air conditioner. It will not cool your home any faster and could result in excessive cooling and, therefore, unnecessary expense.

  • Room air conditioners must be installed on a flat, even surface so that the inside drainage system and other mechanisms operate efficiently.

  • Set the fan speed on high, except on very humid days. When humidity is high, set the fan speed on low for more comfort. The low speed on humid days will make for a more comfortable home by removing more moisture from the air.

  • Consider using an interior fan in conjunction with your window air conditioner to spread the cooled air more effectively through your home without greatly increasing electricity use.

  • Don't place lamps or televisions near your air-conditioning thermostat. The thermostat senses heat from these appliances, which can cause the air conditioner to run longer than necessary.

  • It is important to install the unit in a shaded spot on the home's north or east side because direct sunshine on the unit's outdoor heat exchanger decreases efficiency.

  • Plant trees and shrubs to shade air-conditioning units but do not block the air flow. A unit operating in the shade uses as much as 10% less electricity than the same one operating in the sun.

  • Room air conditioners should be covered or removed and stored in winter.

  • Check your unit's air filter once a month and clean or replace filters as necessary. Keeping the filter clean can lower your air conditioner's energy consumption by 5% to 15%.

  • Clogged drain channels prevent a unit from reducing humidity, and the resulting excess moisture may discolor walls or carpet. Channels usually can be cleared by passing a stiff wire through them.

  • Holes in the seal between the air conditioner and the window frame allow cool air to escape from your home. Moisture can damage this seal, so inspect the seal annually to ensure it makes contact with the unit's metal case.

Maintaining Your Swamp Cooler

Need help? Here are some tips about maintaining your swamp cooler for maximum performance. Filters ought to be replaced when they get built up heavily with lime or scale. Most blower motors need to be oiled at least once a year with a few drops of oil. Larger units that have a pulley-drive blower should be oiled at the bearings of the blower cage shaft, too.

For maximum efficiency, doors and or windows should be left open while the swamp cooler is operating to allow hot air to be replaced with cooled air.

Programmable Thermostats

Unless you've got money to burn, during the winter you turn your heat down while sleeping, when you leave for work and when you're on vacation (that is, of course, when you actually remember to turn the thermostat down). While that keeps your heating bills down, it also means suffering through having a chilly house when you wake up and when you come home from work.

But it doesn't have to be that way; a programmable thermostat allows you to preset your home's heating patterns. Think of it as an alarm clock for your furnace. A programmable thermostat is as easy to install as an old-style thermostat; just remember to turn off the power before you install it. One tip: If you haven't figured out how to stop your VCR from blinking "00:00", you better study the thermostat instruction manual very carefully.

Cooling Your Home Naturally

Keeping cool indoors when it is hot outdoors is a problem. The sun beating down on our homes causes indoor temperatures to rise to uncomfortable levels. Air conditioning provides some relief. But the initial costs of installing an air conditioner and the electricity costs to run it can be high. In addition, conventional air conditioners use refrigerants made of chlorine compounds, suspected contributors to the depletion of the ozone layer and global warming.

But there are alternatives to air conditioning. This publication provides some common sense suggestions and low-cost retrofit options to help you "keep your cool"—and save electricity.

Staying Cool

An alternative way to maintain a cool house or reduce air-conditioning use is natural (or passive) cooling. Passive cooling uses no mechanical methods to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature.

The most effective method to cool your home is to keep the heat from building up in the first place. The primary source of heat buildup (i.e., heat gain) is sunlight absorbed by your house through the roof, walls, and windows. Secondary sources are heat-generating appliances in the home and air leakage.

Specific methods to prevent heat gain include reflecting heat (i.e., sunlight) away from your house, blocking the heat, removing built-up heat, and reducing or eliminating heat-generating sources in your home.

Saving Energy

Using any or all of these strategies will help keep you cool. Even if you use air conditioning, many of these strategies, particularly reflecting heat and shading, will help reduce the energy costs of running an air conditioner.

However, adopting all of these strategies may not be enough. Sometimes you need to supplement natural cooling with mechanical devices. Fans and evaporative coolers can supplement your cooling strategies and cost less to install and run than air conditioners.

Ceiling fans make you feel cooler. Their effect is equivalent to lowering the air temperature by about 4° F (2° C). Evaporative coolers use about one-fourth the energy of conventional air conditioners but are effective only in dry climates.

Many utility companies offer rebates and other cost incentives when you purchase or install energy-saving products, such as insulation and energy-efficient lighting and appliances. Contact your local utility company to see what it offers in the way of incentives.

Programmable and Automatic Thermostats

In our modern, high-tech society, we don't think much about some of the electronic gadgets in our homes. Take, for example, the ever-present thermostat--a staple of American households for decades. It usually takes the shape of an unassuming box on the wall, but that modest device controls the comfort of your family on the coldest day in January and the hottest day in July.

What is a Thermostat?

It is a temperature-sensitive switch that controls a space conditioning unit or system, such as a furnace, air conditioner, or both. When the indoor temperature drops below or rises above the thermostat setting, the switch moves to the "on" position, and your furnace or air conditioner runs to warm or cool the house air to the setting you selected for your family's comfort. A thermostat, in its simplest form, must be manually adjusted to change the indoor air EE.

General Thermostat Operation

You can easily save energy in the winter by setting the thermostat to 68 degrees F (20  degrees C) when you're at home and awake, and lowering it when you're asleep or away. This strategy is effective and inexpensive if you are willing to adjust the thermostat by hand and wake up in a chilly house. In the summer, you can follow the same strategy with central air conditioning, too, by keeping your house warmer than normal when you are away, and lowering the thermostat setting to 78  degrees F (26   degrees C) only when you are at home and need cooling.

A common misconception associated with thermostats is that a furnace works harder than normal to warm the space back to a comfortable temperature after the thermostat has been set back, resulting in little or no savings. This misconception has been dispelled by years of research and numerous studies. The fuel required to reheat a building to a comfortable temperature is roughly equal to the fuel saved as the building drops to the lower temperature. You save fuel between the time that the temperature stabilizes at the lower level and the next time heat is needed. So, the longer your house remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you save.

Another misconception is that the higher you raise a thermostat, the more heat the furnace will put out, or that the house will warm up faster if the thermostat is raised higher. Furnaces put out the same amount of heat no matter how high the thermostat is set--the variable is how long it must stay on to reach the set temperature. In the winter, significant savings can be obtained by manually or automatically reducing your thermostat's temperature setting for as little as four hours per day. These savings can be attributed to a building's heat loss in the winter, which depends greatly on the difference between the inside and outside temperatures.

For example, if you set the temperature back on your thermostat for an entire night, your energy savings will be substantial. By turning your thermostat back 10 degrees F to 15 degrees F for 8 hours, you can save about 5% to 15% a year on your heating bill -- a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long. The percentage of savings from setback is greater for buildings in milder climates than for those in more severe climates.

In the summer, you can achieve similar savings by keeping the indoor temperature a bit higher when you're away than you do when you're at home. But there is a certain amount of inconvenience that results from manually controlling the temperature on your thermostat. This includes waking up in a cooler than normal house in the winter and possibly forgetting to adjust the thermostat (during any season) when you leave the house or go to bed.

Thermostats with Automatic Temperature Adjustment

To maximize your energy savings without sacrificing comfort, you can install an automatic setback or programmable thermostat. They adjust the temperature setting for you. While you might forget to turn down the heat before you leave for work in the morning, a programmable thermostat won't! By maintaining the highest or lowest required temperatures for four or five hours a day instead of 24 hours, a programmable thermostat can pay for itself in energy saved within four years. Programmable thermostats have features with which you may be unfamiliar.

The newest generation of residential thermostat technologies is based on microprocessors and thermistor sensors. Most of these programmable thermostats perform one or more of the following energy control functions: They store and repeat multiple daily settings, which you can manually override without affecting the rest of the daily or weekly program. They store six or more temperature settings a day.

They adjust heating or air conditioning turn-on times as the outside temperature changes. Most programmable thermostats have liquid crystal temperature displays. Some have back-up battery packs that eliminate the need to reprogram the time or clock in case of a power failure. New programmable thermostats can be programmed to accommodate life style and control heating and cooling systems as needed

Types of Automatic and Programmable Thermostats

There are five basic types of automatic and programmable thermostats: electromechanical, digital, hybrid, occupancy, and light sensing. Most range in price from $30 to $100, except for occupancy and light sensing thermostats, which cost around $200.

  • Electromechanical (EM) thermostats, usually the easiest devices to operate, typically have manual controls such as movable tabs to set a rotary timer and sliding levers for night and day temperature settings. These thermostats work with most conventional heating and cooling systems, except heat pumps. EM controls have limited flexibility and can store only the same settings for each day, although at least one manufacturer has a model with separate settings for each day of the week. EM thermostats are best suited for people with regular schedules.

  • Digital thermostats are identified by their LED or LCD digital readout and data entry pads or buttons. They offer the widest range of features and flexibility, and digital thermostats can be used with most heating and cooling systems. They provide precise temperature control, and they permit custom scheduling. Programming some models can be fairly complicated; make sure you are comfortable with the functions and operation of the thermostat you choose. Remember-- you won't save energy if you don't set the controls or you set them incorrectly.

  • Hybrid systems combine the technology of digital controls with manual slides and knobs to simplify use and maintain flexibility. Hybrid models are available for most systems, including heat pumps.

  • Occupancy thermostats maintain the setback temperature until someone presses a button to call for heating or cooling. They do not rely on the time of day. The ensuing preset "comfort period" lasts from 30 minutes to 12 hours, depending on how you've set the thermostat. Then, the temperature returns to the setback level. These units offer the ultimate in simplicity, but lack flexibility. Occupancy thermostats are best suited for spaces that remain unoccupied for long periods of time.

  • Light sensing heat thermostats rely on the lighting level preset by the owner to activate heating systems. When lighting is reduced, a photocell inside the thermostat senses unoccupied conditions and allows space temperatures to fall 10ø below the occupied temperature setting. When lighting levels increase to normal, temperatures automatically adjust to comfort conditions. These units do not require batteries or programming and reset themselves after power failures. Light sensing thermostats are designed primarily for stores and offices where occupancy determines lighting requirements, and therefore heating requirements.

Choosing a Programmable Thermostat

Because programmable thermostats are a relatively new technology, you should learn as much as you can before selecting a unit. When shopping for a thermostat, bring information with you about your current unit, including the brand and model number. Also, ask these questions before buying a thermostat:

  1. Does the unit's clock draw its power from the heating systems's low-voltage electrical control circuit instead of a battery? If so, is the clock disrupted when the furnace cycles on and off? Battery-operated back-up thermostats are preferred by many homeowners.

  2. Is the thermostat compatible with the electrical wiring found in your current unit?

  3. Are you able to install it yourself, or should you hire an electrician or a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor?

  4. How precise is the thermostat?

  5. Are the programming instructions easy to understand and remember? Some thermostats have the instructions printed on the cover or inside the housing box. Otherwise, will you have to consult the instruction booklet every time you want to change the setback times?

  6. Most automatic and programmable thermostats completely replace existing units. These are preferred by many homeowners. However, some devices can be placed over existing thermostats and are mechanically controlled to permit automatic setbacks. These units are usually powered by batteries, which eliminates the need for electrical wiring. They tend to be easy to program, and because they run on batteries, the clocks do not lose time during power outages.

Before you buy a programmable thermostat, chart your weekly habits including wake up and departure times, return home times, and bedtimes, and the temperatures that are comfortable during those times. This will help you decide what type of thermostat will best serve your needs.

  • Nighttime Heating: Using a programmable thermostat, you can automatically turn down
    your heat at night or when you are not at home. 

  • Nighttime Cooling: In the summer, you can save money by automatically turning your air-conditioning up at night.

Other Considerations

The location of your thermostat can affect its performance and efficiency. Read the manufacturer's installation instructions to prevent "ghost readings" or unnecessary furnace or air conditioner cycling. Place thermostats away from direct sunlight, drafts, doorways, skylights, and windows. Also make sure your thermostat is conveniently located for programming.

Some modern heating and cooling systems require special controls. Heat pumps are the most common and usually require special setback thermostats. These thermostats typically use special algorithms to minimize the use of backup electric resistance heat systems.

Electric resistance systems, such as electric baseboard heating, also require thermostats capable of directly controlling 120 volt or 240 volt line-voltage circuits. Only a few companies manufacture line voltage setback thermostats.

A Note for Heat Pump Owners

When a heat pump is in its heating mode, setting back a conventional heat pump thermostat can cause the unit to operate inefficiently, thereby canceling out any savings achieved by lowering the temperature setting. Maintaining a moderate setting is the most cost-effective practice. Recently, however, some companies have begun selling specially designed setback thermostats for heat pumps, which make setting back the thermostat cost effective. In its cooling mode, the heat pump operates like an air conditioner; therefore, manually turning up the thermostat will save you money.

A Simpler Way to Control Your Environment

The best thermostat for you will depend on your life style and comfort level in varying house temperatures. While automatic and programmable thermostats save energy, a manual unit can be equally effective if you diligently regulate its setting--and if you don't mind a chilly house on winter mornings. If you decide to choose an automatic thermostat, you can set it to raise the temperature before you wake up and spare you some discomfort. It will also perform consistently and dependably to keep your house at comfortable temperatures during the summer heat, as well.

About Room Air Conditioner Efficiency

Room air conditioners use electric energy to pump heat out of your home and dump it outside. They distribute cooled air throughout your house and remove moisture form indoor air.

The efficiency of room A/C units is governed by U.S. law and regulated by the U.S. Department of Energy. Every room air conditioner is assigned an efficiency rating known as its energy efficiency ratio (EER). The EER is defined as the cooling output (in Btu per hour) divided by its energy input (Watts) at specified indoor and outdoor temperatures.

The EER is displayed on a yellow label affixed to the A/C or its packaging. Higher EERs are better. The minimum EER allowed by law is between 8 and 9, depending on the capacity and type of unit. The best available EER is about 13.

  • High-efficiency room air conditioners save money on your utility bills.

  • High-efficiency room air conditioners result in fewer environmentally harmful emissions.

An average air conditioned home consumes more than 2000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year for cooling, causing about 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide and 31 pounds of sulfur dioxide to be emitted by the power plant. At average electricity prices, that costs about $150. A high-efficiency A/C unit can reduce energy consumption (and environmental emissions) by 20% to 50%. The most efficient air conditioners on the market are up to 70% more efficient than the current average room air conditioner.

Swamp Cooler Installation

Need help? Here's some more information about swamp coolers.

By controlling the airflow (fan speed), the temperature in the building may be controlled. Since the supply air is not re-circulated, For maximum efficiency, doors and or windows should be left open while the swamp cooler is operating to allow hot air to be replaced with cooled air. This can also be accomplished with ducts or fans.

Because an evaporative cooler is continuously evaporating water, it naturally requires a water supply. In addition, the salts in the supply water don't evaporate, and gradually increase the salt concentration in the tank. The salts then precipitate out on the pads, causing water to drip onto the roof. To overcome this you need either a continuous bleed or a salinity meter and a pump-out valve.

Where water is high in mineral content, a bleed-off system often is used on the water circulation system, constantly dumping part of the water and allowing the refill valve to replace it with fresh water.

Keeping It Real Cool

Air conditioners may cool your body, but if you're not careful they can burn your pocketbook. To make sure your window unit is running at its most efficient, unplug it and open it up for inspection. Immediately inside the air conditioner's grille, you'll find a filter, which should be cleaned regularly with soap and water, or replaced if it's ripped or otherwise damaged. Just behind the filter lie the evaporator fins, which frequently get layered with dust; simply vacuum them off. Now, put the unit back together and go back to "thinking cool thoughts," legendary pitcher/pundit Satchel Paige's cure for hot weather.

Central Air Conditioner Buying Tips

  • The type and size of air conditioner you need depends on your climate and cooling loads. Evaporative coolers are practical in hot, arid regions such as the southwest. For other regions, compressor-driven air-conditioning systems are the only choice.

  • When you are shopping for a central air conditioner, look for a SEER rating higher than 12.0.

  • If you already have a forced-air heating system, you may be able to tie an air conditioner into existing ducts, depending on their size and your home's relative heating and cooling loads. A good HVAC contractor can do the calculations for you.

  • Proper sizing and installation are key elements in determining air conditioner efficiency. Too large a unit will not adequately remove humidity. Too small a unit will not be able to maintain a comfortable temperature on the hottest days. Improper unit location, lack of duct insulation, improper duct sealing, and incorrect refrigerant charge can greatly diminish efficiency

  • When buying a central air conditioner, look for a system with a fan-only switch so you can use the unit for nighttime ventilation to substantially reduce air-conditioning costs; a filter check light to remind you to check the filter after a predetermined number of operating hours; and an automatic-delay fan switch to turn off the fan a few minutes after the compressor turns off.

  • Look for a unit with quiet operation.

  • If you need or want to replace your existing air conditioner's outdoor (compressor) unit, make sure the indoor (blower coil) unit is compatible with the new outdoor unit. A highly efficient outdoor unit will not achieve its rated efficiency if paired with an older blower coil.

Tips for Buying a New Room Air Conditioner

  • When shopping for an air conditioner, first determine which type of system best suits your needs- central air conditioning or room air conditioning. Central air conditioners are designed to cool an entire house, while room air conditioners are usually window-or wall-mounted units that only cool the immediate area.

  • Three types of room air conditioners are available: (1) window models that can be installed in most double-hung windows; (2) casement window models that are used in narrow, vertical windows, usually requiring the removal of a window panel for installation; and (3) built-in models that are encased in a sleeve installed in the wall.

  • Proper sizing is very important for efficient air conditioning. A bigger unit is not necessarily better because a unit that is too large will not cool an area uniformly. A small unit running for an extended period operates more efficiently and is more effective at dehumidifying than a large unit that cycles on and off too frequently.

  • When determining the appropriate size air conditioner for your home, consider the dimensions of the area to be cooled. Based on size alone, an air conditioner generally needs 20 Btu for each square foot of living space. Other important factors to consider when selecting an air conditioner are room height, local climate, shading, window size, etc.

  • Verify that your home's electrical system can meet the unit's power requirements. Room units operate on 115-volt or 230-volt circuits. The standard household receptacle is a connection for a 115-volt branch circuit. Large room units rated at 115 volts may require a dedicated circuit and room units rated at 230 volts may require a special circuit.

  • If you are mounting your air conditioner near the corner of a room, look for a unit with an airflow in the desired direction for your room layout.

  • Look for a unit whose filter slides out easily for regular cleaning.

  • Select a unit with logically arranged controls, a digital readout for the thermostat setting, and a built-in timer.

  • When considering several comparable units, select the unit with the higher EER.

  • If you need to mount the air conditioner at the narrow end of a long room, then look for a fan control known as "Power Thrust" or "Super Thrust" that sends the cooled air farther into the room.

 

      Content Source: DOE, Central Air Conditioning and Cooling Information

                                       Michigan State University Extension

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Phil can help you fix your own property’s mold problems at low-cost, more safely, and better-in- results than what is done by many mold inspectors and mold contractors.  How can Phil help you?

     1. Read Phil’s five plain-English,
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     2. Buy do-it-yourself, affordable mold test kits, mold lab analysis, video inspection scope, mold cleaner, and mold killer, for the  successful toxic and household mold inspection, mold testing, mold species identification and quantification, mold cleaning, mold removal, and mold remediation to find mold, kill mold, clean mold, and remove mold from your residence or commercial building.
    
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