Keeping Cool with Fans in the Summertime

If you’re like many other Florida homeowners, you likely dread your summertime energy bills. Your air conditioner can account for up to 70% of those bills during the months of June through September. Fortunately, keeping cool with fans is certainly possible if you’re clever, and some of these tips might provide some energy savings, too.

Ceiling Fans – Push Warm Air Downward and Improve Circulation

While ceiling fans may no longer be a designer’s favorite accessory, the truth is that they’re important to energy savings. Keeping cool with fans requires using them appropriately, and when it comes to ceiling fans, the most important thing to consider is the direction. Make sure the blades rotate in a counterclockwise direction (forward rather than backward) so the downward airflow feels cool. Remember that hot air rises, so using your ceiling fan in this manner will ensure that the warmer air stays near the ceiling while only the cooler air circulates around your home.

Exhaust Fans – Remove Excess Heat from Kitchens and Baths

Exhaust fans are also vital to your home’s ventilation and comfort. These are typically found in kitchens and bathrooms where actions like cooking and showering generate excess heat and humidity. The exhaust fans pull that heat and humidity out of the home before it has a chance to circulate, which saves your air conditioner from the extra workload. While it’s true that exhaust fans do pull cooled air from your home at the same time, the reduction of heat and humidity more than makes up for this slight cooling loss. Keeping cool with fans is about knowing which fans to use at the right times, and you should always use exhaust fans when showering or cooking.

Box Fans – Ventilate Stuffy Areas

Keeping cool with fans in windows or perched on stands is also a possibility, especially if you’re working up a sweat. The cooled air in your home is drier than the outside air, and while this is what keeps you comfortable, you might still find yourself a little uncomfortable if you decide to walk on your treadmill for 30 minutes. A box fan creates moving air, and as the cooled air blows across your skin with increased force, it’s better able to evaporate the sweat. That’s why a box fan can make you far more comfortable when you’re working inside your home.

Cooling in a Pinch – Keeping Cool with Fans and Ice

When it comes to keeping cool with fans, there’s one trick that works better than any other – especially if there’s a room in your home that always seems to stay warm, or if you’re waiting for an HVAC technician to service your central air unit. This involves putting a large bowl of ice in front of a box fan and directing the airflow toward you. It’s basically the same principal as an air conditioner. The fan moves warm, humid air over the ice. Because the ice is cold, it creates a pocket of cool, dry air. As the air from the fan encounters the air around the bowl, it transfers some of its moisture (and therefore heat). This creates a cooling sensation on your skin, and it can truly work in a pinch.

If your energy bills are higher than you’d like, consider keeping cool with fans. Set your ceiling fans’ direction appropriately, make sure you’re using exhaust fans as needed, and consider using box fans to cool you down when you’re moving instead of turning down the thermostat. All of these will go a long way toward reducing your energy costs.

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Fresh Air vs Energy Efficiency – Is It Possible to Have Both?

Summer is right around the corner, and that means Florida homeowners will soon be sealing their homes and preparing for the long cooling season. While it’s always a good idea to stop air leaks to maximize your air conditioner’s cooling efficiency and minimize your energy bills, you might wonder whether sealing fresh air out of your home is doing more harm than good. The answers may surprise you.

Fresh Air vs Energy Efficiency in Sealed Homes

Energy prices are soaring, and that means Floridians are going out of their way to seal their homes and stop cooling losses. While sealing off your home can certainly help your air conditioner keep you cool during the summer months, it can also prevent the flow of fresh air. According to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), indoor air can be just as bad as – if not worse than – the air outdoors. Since most people spend up to 90% of their time indoors, this can be a real problem. That’s why it’s important to ensure that your sealed home has a supply of fresh air.

Heat or Energy Recovery Ventilators

When it comes to fresh air vs energy efficiency, there’s no reason why you can’t have both. Heat and energy recovery ventilators, referred to as HRV and ERV systems, respectively, allow fresh air without sacrificing cooling efficiency. They may be ducted in with your HVAC system, or they may be ducted separately if your home does not have existing ductwork.

  • Heat Recovery Ventilator (HRV) – This is more common in cool climates. These systems take air being exhausted from a furnace and recirculate it back into the home after cleaning it, which boosts furnace efficiency. Essentially, the incoming air is warmer than the outside air, so it doesn’t take as long for a furnace to sufficiently heat it.
  • Energy Recovery Ventilator (ERV) – An ERV system is a bit different. Its job involves regulating humidity inside the home by balancing the humidity between the outdoor and indoor air. In hot climates, like in Florida, the ERV allows fresh air to enter your home, but it removes some of the humidity first. Just like an HRV boosts heating efficiency, and ERV can boost cooling efficiency. First, less humid air feels cooler, so you can boost your thermostat a few degrees without noticing very much. Next, because your air conditioner won’t have to work so hard to remove the humidity, it’ll work more efficiently. This way, the fresh air vs energy efficiency debate is put to rest. It’s possible to have both proper ventilation and an efficient cooling system.

There’s no need to fret over fresh air vs energy efficiency. Thanks to technologies like heat recovery ventilators and energy recovery ventilators, it’s possible to have both. Moving air is vital to your health, as is keeping cool in the hot summer months. Thanks to these unique systems, it’s possible to have both.

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Your air conditioner is made of two major parts – the indoor unit, which is called the air handler, and the outdoor unit, which is called the condenser. Most of the time, people only replace a condenser unit when the entire air conditioning system is outdated, inefficient, or not cost-effective to repair. However, there may be times when you need to replace only the condenser unit, too.

The Number One Reason to Replace a Condenser Unit

The condenser unit contains two things that are vital to the operation of your central air conditioner – the compressor and the evaporator coils. Simply put, the compressor’s job is to compress refrigerant that has expanded inside copper lines as it absorbed the heat inside your home, allowing it to reenter your home and absorb more heat. If your compressor goes out, your air conditioner simply cannot cool. The fan may run, but the air coming from your registers will be room temperature, at best. Many times, and especially when it comes to older units, it’s best to replace the entire condenser rather than purchasing another compressor.

Should You Replace a Condenser Alone?

If your compressor has gone out and you’ve found it’s more economical to replace the entire condenser, you might find yourself wondering if you should just replace your entire central air system. You might want to consider replacing only the condenser in the following situations:

• Money is very tight and you’re unable to finance a new central air unit.
• The system is no longer under warranty and you’ll be forced to buy the new condenser yourself.
• The inside portion (air handler) was just replaced and was being used with the old condenser.
• Your air handler still works well and has been well maintained for its entire lifespan.
• The system is efficient enough to keep your home cool, so you aren’t paying exorbitant energy bills.

Should You Replace the Entire System?

Remember that not all condensers and air handlers were designed to work well together. These two pieces must work in harmony to provide efficient cooling. There are times when you may want to consider replacing the entire central air system.  These include:

• When your system is more than 15 years old and is considered inefficient by today’s standards.
• If the system was in the home when you bought it and you aren’t sure whether it was properly maintained.
• If you’ve spent hundreds on repairs within the last few years.
• If a sale price makes it more economical to purchase the system as a whole rather than purchasing just the outdoor component.

Of course, you should never replace an air handler if the one inside your home was recently installed and is considered efficient, and you should never replace a condenser if the one you have is still under warranty. Otherwise, these guidelines can help you make the right decisions for your comfort and your wallet – both in terms of your energy bills and your overall purchase.

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Shading Your Condenser Unit – Does It Help?

Florida summers can get oppressively hot. Not only does the sun beat down for hours at a time, but the humidity makes things even more uncomfortable. In fact, there are days when it may seem as if your air conditioner is working nonstop. Recently, there’s been some speculation that shading your condenser unit – the outdoor part of your air conditioning system – can improve your unit’s efficiency. Here’s what you need to know.

What Does the Condenser Do?

The condenser unit is the part of your air conditioner that sits outside your home. It contains the compressor, the condenser coil, and a few other bits and pieces that are necessary for removing the heat and humidity from your home. In short, its job involves pushing the heat from inside your home outside into the open air. When it’s very hot and muggy outside and the air is already saturated, it can be very difficult for the condenser unit to efficiently discharge that heat. That’s why shading your condenser unit may be quite beneficial.

Potential Benefits of Shading Your Condenser

In theory, shading your condenser reduces the air temperature around it, thus making it easier for the unit to discharge the heat picked up inside your home by the refrigerant. While this certainly sounds good – in theory – there are a few problems with this idea. Shading your condenser unit will reduce the amount of direct sunlight it receives, which is always a good thing, but it will do very little to actually reduce the temperature around the condenser, which is what has the biggest impact on the overall efficiency of the condenser. For example, if shading your condenser drops the air temperature by two degrees, this isn’t going to do much to improve the discharge of heat.

It May Cause Problems

Next, it’s important to think about the potential problems that shading your unit might cause. After all, it’s not very easy to just plant a big shade tree, which means some homeowners often result to building structures designed to create shade right over the units themselves. This may seem effective, but in all actuality, it disrupts the amount of airflow inside the condenser and can decrease its lifespan. Simply put, you should never, ever place anything over the top of your condenser unit that could impact the amount of air the unit can pull in.

Is It Still Worth It?

With all of this information in mind, is shading your condenser actually worth the trouble? Per a study from the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC), the average savings homeowners can anticipate when they properly shade their condenser units (placement under a shade tree or on a side of the house that receives the most shade during the day) is less than 3%. This often doesn’t justify the potential problems that creating shade in other manners may create. The FSEC recommends placing condensers in an unobstructed location on the north side of buildings for the best results.

Shading your compressor may sound like a good idea, but the truth is that it doesn’t provide as much energy savings as you might believe. Shading does little to reduce the air temperature surrounding the unit, which ultimately determines its efficiency in discharging hot, humid air from inside your home. Rather, go for a longer-term solution, such as properly locating your condenser, to enjoy the best possible efficiency and the longest lifespan.

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How to Clean Your Ducts: Is DIY a Good Idea?

If you change your air filter regularly, then chances are good that your ducts aren’t really all that dirty. However, no matter how meticulous you are, dust and debris from inside your home can fall into your registers and leave a buildup behind. If you’re curious about learning how to clean your ducts, it’s certainly possible to do it yourself. Here are some steps along with some information about when to call a professional.

Clean Your Ducts: A Step-By-Step Guide

To properly clean your ducts – and to protect yourself and your family as you do so – use the following few steps.

  1. Cover your supply registers. You can use paper towels, cling wrap, aluminum foils, or even plastic shopping bags. The goal is to keep dust and dirt from blowing through the registers as you clean them.
  2. Turn on your unit’s fan. At the thermostat, set the fan switch from “auto” to “on”. This will keep the blower running continuously.
  3. Make sure your air filter is clean and in place. This ensures that none of the dust you manage to knock loose will end up in the fan motor.
  4. Tap your ducts with a tool like a (new) toilet brush. Use the bristled end to absorb the force of your tapping, and do tap quite firmly, but not hard enough to knock the ducts loose or otherwise damage them.
  5. Clean your registers. Using your vacuum, capture any dust on the grates of the vent, then remove the grate and vacuum inside as far as you can reach. Do this for every register in your home.
  6. Clean your air return register. This is the larger grate that sucks air in for the air conditioner to cool. Use your vacuum with a brush attachment to clean the grate, then unscrew it from the wall and vacuum inside as far as you can.
  7. Replace your air filter. Finally, it’s important to make sure you replace your air filter when you’ve finished cleaning.

When to Call a Professional to Clean Your Ducts

While you can usually clean your ducts yourself a couple times each year and keep them free of harmful debris, many homeowners feel more secure when they contact HVAC technicians for professional duct cleanings. Unlike the tools you have available in your home, these individuals use commercial-grade tools and products to completely remove any dirt and debris that may be lodged inside. In fact, in some cases, these companies may dismantle parts of your ductwork to get a more thorough clean. Companies do charge for this service, and the prices will vary due to the location of your ducts, the amount of ductwork in your home, and the amount of time it takes to complete the job.

It’s important to clean your ducts from time to time to keep them free of dirt and debris that may otherwise be blown around your home, and this is especially true if anyone in your house deals with allergies or sensitivities. While you can certainly do it yourself, a professional can provide a more thorough service.

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