Are Smart HVAC Systems Worth It?

Are Smart HVAC Systems Worth It?Your Hampton Roads home is a complicated environment. You and your family use different parts of it at different times of day, your schedules likely change from day to day, and the weather outside changes, as well — not to mention that you may have days when no one is home and days when you have guests, and other such changes in habitation. Optimizing your heating, cooling, and airflow across all of these factors is a big task, and that’s what a smart HVAC system is designed to do.

A smart HVAC system may include systems designed to do the some or all of the following things:

  • Zone your home so that different areas can be heated or cooled independently. For example, with a home zoning system, you may be able to turn up the cooling on the kitchen and the crowded living room for a party, while turning back the air to a guest bedroom that’s not in use.
  • Learn your schedule and respond to it. Smart thermostats can learn what temperatures you like during different parts of the day, and on different days — for example, maybe you don’t need the home heated or cooled when everyone is off at work or school, but want your home to reach a comfortable temperature waiting for you as soon as you arrive after a hard day’s work.
  • Notice your home’s occupancy. Smart ventilation systems can detect how many people are in a room, and direct more airflow there as needed. And some smart thermostats have motion detectors which can set your home automatically into vacation mode if you’re away for a while.
  • Manage your home humidity. With a humidifier and a dehumidifier run by a smart sensor, your home can remain at a balanced humidity level all year long.

If you’re curious about whether you should upgrade to a smart HVAC system, call your local HVAC experts at Russell’s Heating & Cooling!

Our goal is to help educate our customers in Chesapeake, Virginia and surrounding areas about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems).  For more information about smart HVAC systems and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Guide or call us at 757-750-1831.

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Your Attic: Does it Waste Energy and Money?

Your Attic: Does it Waste Energy and Money?The attic in your Virginia home might fill a number of roles. It might be an unfurnished crawl space, home to ducts and insulation, or a beautiful loft guest bedroom or workshop. But however it’s designed, it also occupies a spot where it’s the interface between your indoor and outdoor temperatures — and because of that, it’s often a culprit if your home is wasting its energy dollars.

During the hot summer months, the roof of your home absorbs heat from the sun. That heat radiates downwards into your attic — which, because attics are often poorly ventilated, can raise the temperature of attic spaces well beyond the outdoor temperatures. That excess heat, in turn, radiates down into your home.

In the winter, a different problem occurs. Warm air, heated by your furnace or air pump and circulating through your home, rises into your attic space and can escape through small air leaks. This carries away the energy — and the money — you’ve put into keeping your home cozy.

There are a few strategies you can use to protect yourself from attic energy loss:

  • Seal air leaks. Not only do air leaks let heated air escape from your home, but if the air escaping (or infiltrating) is humid, it can carry moisture into walls, insulation, or other hard-to-reach places. This can encourage mold and fungal growth, which can damage your attic’s structure and trigger allergies.
  • Insulate. Insulation in your attic will prevent it from gaining heat in summer, and losing heat in winter. It will also slow the rate of heat transfer between the attic and your living areas.
  • Ventilate. An attic fan can push out any hot, stuffy air during the summer, drawing in fresh air to replace it. This can combat the dangerous temperatures attics may reach.
  • Install a radiant barrier. Radiant barriers are lightweight ways to prevent passive solar heat gain.

To learn more about how you can make the attic in your Hampton Roads home work for you, give Russell’s Heating & Cooling a call today!

Our goal is to help educate our customers in Chesapeake, Virginia and surrounding areas about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems).  For more information about attics and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Guide or call us at 757-750-1831.

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What is the Benefit of a Zoning System?

What is the Benefit of a Zoning System?Using a single thermostat to control your entire HVAC system may be costing you in terms of comfort and energy efficiency. If you find it hard to keep different areas of your home at a comfortable temperature and you’re paying high energy bills, consider having a zoning system installed. Zoning the HVAC system can be done during home construction, when older equipment is being replaced, or as a retrofit to an existing system.

Zoning System Basics

A zoned HVAC system uses motorized dampers installed in the ducts to create independent heating and cooling areas or zones. Programmable thermostats are placed in each zone, and they’re wired to one central control pad. Once zoning is installed, you can program the thermostat in each zone individually according to your schedule and use of different rooms. The control panel responds to each thermostat by opening the appropriate duct dampers and signaling the HVAC equipment when heating or cooling is called for.

Benefits of Adding a Zoned System

HVAC zoning is always an advantage in multiple-story or larger homes. You can also benefit if your home has features that make it harder to heat or cool efficiently. These include cathedral ceilings, large windows, a finished living space above the garage or in the attic, or a loft or sunroom. A zoned HVAC system can bring you benefits such as:

  • Enhanced comfort. You’ll have greater control of the temperature in different living areas, so it’s easier to maintain a comfortable temperature and you’ll experience fewer hot and cold spots.
  • Energy savings. Zoning paired with programmable thermostats allows you to fine tune your heating and cooling energy usage and cut up to 30 percent from your consumption. If you upgrade to a new system with a variable-speed air handler, you can save even more.
  • Prolonged equipment lifespan. Key components like the A/C compressor and air handler don’t have to work as hard when your HVAC system is zoned, and this can extend their useful lifespan.

To learn more benefits installing a zoning system in your Hampton Roads-area home, contact the comfort pros at Russell’s Heating & Cooling today.

Our goal is to help educate our customers in Chesapeake, Virginia and surrounding areas about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems).  For more information about TOPIC and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Guide or call us at 757-750-1831.

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Common A/C Condensate Drain Issues

Common A/C Condensate Drain IssuesOver the course of a summer, it’s not uncommon to experience condensate drain issues. A clogged drain harbors mold and bacteria, and if it can’t drain at all, the water can create untold damage to the area around the air handler.

All air conditioners condense water out of the air as part of the cooling cycle. When warm indoor air blows over the evaporator coil inside the air handler, the cold refrigerant flowing through it condenses the moisture in the air.

The water drips off the coil into a drain pan that sits just below the coil, where it flows into a pipe for drainage. When there is any kind of obstruction, the free flow of water can slow or stop altogether. Water will back up into the drain pan and flood it.

Dirty air filters and lack of professional maintenance are the most common causes of condensate drain problems because:

  • Dirt enters the air handler and collects in the drain pan and on the evaporator coil. As water condenses on the coil, it pulls the dust and dirt with it that may eventually plug up the drain.
  • Mold, algae or biofilms can grow inside the drainpipe that obstruct the flow of water.
  • Occasionally, bugs may also enter the pipe for shelter and water.

If your drain has stopped flowing, remove any debris in the drain pan. Check both ends of the pipe and remove any visible blockages, or use a wet-dry vacuum to suction out the pipe. If you can’t reach the blockage, you may need to contact your HVAC technician who can use special tools and chemicals to clear the pipe. It takes far less effort to clear a drainpipe than fix the damage a leaking air conditioner may cause, in both time and money.

It’s easy to ignore the condensate drain for your air conditioner, but checking it periodically and having it cleaned professionally avoid the serious problems a clog creates. To learn more, contact Russell’s Heating & Cooling, serving homeowners in the Hampton Roads area of Southeastern Virginia.

Our goal is to help educate our customers in Chesapeake, Virginia and surrounding areas about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems).  For more information about condensate drains and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Guide or call us at 757-750-1831.

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The Benefits of Two-Stage Cooling

The Benefits of Two-Stage CoolingWhen you turn on the air conditioner in your Hampton Roads home, it can’t adjust its cooling to the amount you really need. Instead, what happens is that it will cool your home with all it’s got until your home is slightly overcooled. Then, the system will shut off until your home goes back to slightly over-warm. This inelegant solution can lead to temperature swings and inconsistent noise coming through your ductwork. However, there is a better way of cooling: a two-stage cooling system.

With two-stage cooling, your A/C compressor has both a high and a low setting, rather than simply on and off. This means that it can more closely approximate the amount of cooling your home actually needs. You can further refine the cooling by looking for a two-stage air conditioner which incorporates a variable-speed fan: typically, the fan also has only an “on” and “off” setting, whereas a variable-speed fan allows your HVAC system to deliver just the amount of airflow your house needs.

But the benefits of two-stage cooling go beyond noise reduction and temperature stabilization. With a two-stage compressor and a variable-speed fan, air is circulated more continuously through your home. This, in turn, means that air is continually being drawn through your HVAC air filter, as well as any humidifier, dehumidifier, or air cleaner you’ve installed. In this way, you can actually see benefits to your indoor air quality.

During the winter, you can enjoy the same benefits by installing a two-stage furnace as well. The principle behind a two-stage furnace is the same: a high setting and a low setting allow you home to use the energy-saving low setting during the milder times, while the system can still kick into high gear when the temperature drops too low.

If you’d like to learn more about how to-stage cooling and heating can work for you, don’t hesitate to call us at Russell’s Heating & Cooling!

Our goal is to help educate our customers in Chesapeake, Virginia and surrounding areas about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems).  For more information about two-stage cooling and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Guide or call us at 757-750-1831.

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How to Understand A/C Ratings

How to Understand A/C RatingsSince cooling systems use a good deal of energy, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) requires that manufacturers test them to determine their air conditioner ratings for energy consumption. The DOE sets minimum standards for central systems and portable units, and the process by which their ratings are determined is similar.

The SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio) and EER (energy efficiency ratio) both indicate air conditioning efficiency, but the SEER only applies to central systems. Both portable and central systems carry EER ratings. When looking at new central systems, it’s just as important to understand the EER as it is the SEER to understand system efficiency.

How They’re Rated

Engineers find the SEER rating by running a cooling system for an extended period and measuring its energy use to cool a space to 80 degrees F when the outdoor air is a constant 82 degrees. Testing for the EER rating involves turning the outdoor temperature up to 95 degrees, which is an important aspect of home cooling since summer temperatures frequently reach into the 90s. A high EER rating indicates the system copes well with hotter weather.

Minimum Ratings

The DOE raised the minimum central air conditioner ratings to 14 in 2015, which means that such a system used 10 percent less electricity than one with a SEER rating of 13 under testing conditions. Replacing an older unit whose efficiency rating is even lower is likely to save even more energy, since cooling systems tend to lose efficiency as they age.

You may need to ask your HVAC contractor to identify the EER rating for you on the systems you consider, since it’s usually not readily apparent. The SEER rating is always prominently displayed on the packaging and equipment. A system with a high EER rating may have upgraded features that also raise the SEER.

Understanding air conditioner ratings is vital when selecting a new system. To learn more, contact Russell’s Heating & Cooling, providing trusted HVAC services for the Hampton Roads area of Southeastern Virginia.

Our goal is to help educate our customers in Chesapeake, Virginia and surrounding areas about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems).  For more information about air conditioner ratings and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Guide or call us at 757-750-1831.

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Do Ceiling Fans Improve Cooling Efficiency?

Do Ceiling Fans Improve Cooling Efficiency?You can improve cooling efficiency in your Hampton Roads-area home, but it could be costly, and might even require upgrading to a new high-efficiency air conditioning system. On the other hand, less expensive options are available, including using ceiling fans to relieve some of your A/C’s workload. A ceiling fan blowing air onto occupants of a room creates a cooling effect that complements the work of your cooling system.

When a ceiling fan’s blade rotation is set to counter-clockwise, it blows air downward. The moving air helps remove heat energy from a person’s skin, creating a cooling effect. This happens without any change in the room’s temperature. It’s similar to the wind-chill effect you experience in the winter: A stiff breeze can make 40 degrees feel like below freezing.

Ceiling Fan Benefits Include:

  • Energy savings as you raise the temperature setting on the thermostat a few degrees without any loss of comfort for people in the room where the fan is operating. On milder days, turn off the A/C when operating a ceiling fan. All of this results in lower utility bills.
  • Less stress on air conditioning equipment. As is the case with any mechanical equipment, the less an A/C gets used, the longer it lasts without breakdowns or needed replacement.
  • The environmental benefits of reduced electrical use and lower carbon dioxide emissions from the air conditioning system.

It’s important to remember, however, that if nobody’s in a room where the ceiling fan is operating, its cooling effect is nullified and you’re just wasting electricity. Unless the fan is also creating desirable air circulation between rooms, turn if off when you leave the room.

Ceiling fans also can aid heating in the wintertime. Turn the fan blade rotation switch (usually located on the fan housing) from counterclockwise to clockwise, and it will blow air upward. That upward breeze will displace warm air that collects near the ceiling, and push it down into the room where people can feel it.

For more advice on improving cooling efficiency in your Hampton Roads-area home, please contact us at Russell’s Heating & Cooling.

Our goal is to help educate our customers in Chesapeake, Virginia and surrounding areas about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems).  For more information about ceiling fans and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Guide or call us at 757-750-1831.

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HVAC Tips for Back-to-School Season

HVAC Tips for Back-to-School SeasonAs kids go back to school, the activities in your home will inevitably change. You can use this opportunity to make energy-saving changes. Follow these tips to boost the performance and efficiency of your HVAC system and save money in the long run.

  • Clear the area around your outdoor HVAC unit – As fall approaches, there may be a buildup of weeds, fallen leaves, and other debris around your outdoor unit. This will make your system work harder to pull air in. Keep two to three feet of the area around the unit clear of any obstructions to allow better airflow.
  • Replace your filter – A dirty air filter will degrade your home’s air quality and the overall efficiency of your HVAC system. Make sure you replace your system’s air filter at least once every three months. Consider buying a high-energy pleated filter to capture even the smallest biological contaminants that a traditional filter would miss.
  • Unclog the condensate drain – Mold and algae can grow inside your condensate drain and clog it over time. A plugged drain can cause elevated indoor humidity levels and water damage. Unclog the drain by using a mixture of bleach and water. You can avoid future clogs by pouring the mixture down the drain every six months.
  • Install a programmable thermostat – A programmable thermostat places optimal comfort and energy efficiency in your hands. It automatically adjusts the temperature to suit your family’s schedule and lifestyle.
  • Seal your ductwork – Poorly sealed ducts contribute to high energy bills. Check your pipes and ducts for holes and gaps. Use expanding foam to seal them.
  • Call an HVAC professional – The surest way of making your system work at peak efficiency is having it inspected by an HVAC professional. He will carry out the necessary repairs and tune-ups during the inspection.

These simple steps will go a long way to making your home more energy efficient. To get more eco-friendly tips for your HVAC system and home, contact us at Russell’s Heating & Cooling. We’ve been proudly serving the Hampton Roads area of Southeast Virginia since 1977.

Our goal is to help educate our customers in Chesapeake, Virginia and surrounding areas about energy and home comfort issues (specific to HVAC systems).  For more information about HVAC tips and other HVAC topics, download our free Home Comfort Guide or call us at 757-750-1831.

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Here’s How to Troubleshoot Your Air Conditioner

Here's How to Troubleshoot Your Air ConditionerWhen problems develop with your air conditioner, your home can quickly become uncomfortably warm and sticky. The following tips for troubleshooting common A/C problems can help you solve minor issues on your own or know when to call in an HVAC professional.

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Here’s What the Info on the EnergyGuide Label Tells You

Here’s What the Info on the EnergyGuide Label Tells YouAs a homeowner in the Hampton Roads area of southeast Virginia, there’s always the chance for inclement weather. This means you rely on the performance of your HVAC system to keep you comfortable without breaking the bank or the units. When you do need a new system, you can compare more than just the first cost. Using the yellow EnergyGuide label, you can compare lifetime costs including estimated energy usage.

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