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Humidity: Why Your Home Needs Your HVAC System As Much As You Do

HVAC systems help regulate home humidity levelsWe all know that uncomfortable feeling of entering a space that has too much humidity. Nobody likes that sticky sensation of high humidity in summertime – when the murkiness of the air means breathing becomes difficult, and we can never really dry off after our showers. On the other hand, a space with too little humidity can make our skin feel dry and our throats constantly parched. And believe it or not, our homes hate unbalanced levels of humidity just as we do.

Fortunately, a good, well-maintained, indoor climate control system can be one of your greatest allies in making sure that your home maintains a comfortable level of humidity. You want balanced humidity all year long for the sake of your home and household, and here’s why.

What can excessive humidity do to my home?

Mold

  • A presence of excessive moisture, particularly on your HVAC system or pipes, can indicate unacceptably high humidity in your environment. This moisture facilitates mold growth, which is both damaging to your house and a serious health risk to your household.
  • This can be especially disastrous in your duct work where mold colonies can spread via airflow, but you’re most likely to find mold issues in basements or crawl spaces. Storage spaces which aren’t kept dry are also another problem zone.
  • Allowing mold to spread throughout your flooring or walls can ruin the very substance of your home, creating soft and decayed surfaces.
  • Mold should never be allowed to grow unchecked. White or black, alive or dead, it should always be eliminated and disposed of immediately on detection.

Dryness

  • Allowing an environment to stay dry for too long can cause ruinous damage to anything made of wood, such as furniture or flooring, due to the warping effect that prolonged dryness has on wood.
  • Dryness can also damage the paint on your walls along with the more sensitive veneers found on antiques. Beware of the damage that dry air can have on any objects crafted of paper, such as photography and books.
  • In order to keep any plants in your household healthy, maintaining a reasonable level of humidity is necessary.

In addition to these problems caused by improper humidity, you could also experience additional property damage to clothing, electronics, musical instruments, paintings, and more. Homeowners should be well aware of the complications that can be caused to personal health and property by not carefully monitoring these levels.

Be particularly conscious during the warmest parts of Summer, when humidity naturally fluctuates high. Allowing your cooling system to do its part will not only keep you comfortable, but also remove this excessive condensation and keep your home safe from the damage of moisture. However, note that your heater can make your environment too dry during constant use in winter.

You can opt to counterbalance this dryness with a humidifier or by programming your heater to only operate during the coldest moments of the day. In addition, many professional services offer indoor air quality solutions to humidify or dehumidify your environment as necessary. When your air conditioner isn’t enough in reducing humidity in particularly extreme climates, seeking out these services can be a lifesaver in preventing moisture-related damage in your home.

But no matter the climate you live in, humidity can always be a problem if you don’t have your system regularly inspected to make sure that everything is as clean and well-maintained as it should be. Humidity can be an incredible source of frustration for homeowners, but knowing how to use your system and when to seek out indoor air quality services can keep your house safe from these problems.

This post was written by Jason Wall, an HVAC technician of more than 23 years representing Griffith Energy Services. While he spends most of his days serving residential and business clients, he also enjoys writing and reaching out to other professionals to learn and share alike.

 


Race To The Bottom: Is There A Better Way To Bid?

Special Guest Blogger: Bill Wilhelm, Commercial Maintenance Agreement Specialist

Many companies, building owners, and municipalities use a bidding process called RFP (or Request For Proposal) to get pricing for HVAC service agreements. In many cases the only criteria is that the vendor with the lowest price wins the bid. It sounds good, right? This keeps everybody’s numbers sharp and because the owner gets the lowest cost for their services, they win. Or do they?

In my experience, with this type of bid, there are usually one or two high bids, one or two low bids, and a group of bids in the middle. It is my opinion that the high bids are usually from companies who did not seriously research the RFP and are throwing in a safe number. The middle pack are usually the vendors who got it right. The low bids tend to come from the guys who made a mistake or a vendor who is just trying to survive by working for wages.

The Problem…

The problem is: the vendor who made a mistake and missed something to win the bid will most likely need to make up the shortfall by marking up additional services higher than usual or by cutting corners on their HVAC services. And a lot of times, cutting corners on preventative maintenance leads to expensive equipment failures. The guy who is working for wages is often one step away from closing shop or does not employ qualified technicians. I can’t speak for you, but neither vendor would be my choice to handle my critical building assets.

Getting the Best Service

So, if you don’t go strictly with the lowest bid, how do you get the best service for the best value?

Some building owners are now using a RFP process that is not solely based on the lowest price. They have found after some hard lessons that in the big picture there are many factors that contribute to the best value in an HVAC vendor. Recently, I spoke with an experienced purchasing agent for a large university who shared with me their process for determining the best choice for an HVAC vendor . They use a weighted criteria formula to evaluate all the vendors who responded to their RFP for HVAC service and maintenance.

Some of the criteria they used were:
PRICE – 50%
REFERENCES (THEY REQUIRE 10 FROM SIMILAR BUILDING OWNERS) – 40%
YEARS IN BUSINESS – 5%
SIZE OF THE COMPANY – 5%

They provided a number of hypothetical service calls for the vendors to provide pricing on and requested the minimum estimated hours for the preventive maintenance, information about the vendor’s guaranteed response time, and hourly HVAC service rate. All of the above criteria was then used by a committee to choose the vendor who would provide the best service at the best price.

I think this is a great way to best evaluate and choose a qualified vendor. Although every building owner should develop their own specific criteria, I believe that using a system like this will serve you far better than just choosing the lowest bid. It is fair to the building owner and fair to the companies who are committed to providing proper service to their customers. Bid evaluations like this will make our industry better!


Guest Blogger – Home Is Where the Health Is: Dust Mites and Your Health

Thanks to our friends at Thompson for putting together this great piece on dust mites!

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While they are too small to detect with the naked eye, dust mites can cause big health problems for people with asthma or allergies. These microscopic creatures thrive in warm, humid environments where there are dead skin cells from people and animals to feed on – in other words, they thrive in many ordinary households. In particular, they like bedroom carpeting and household upholstery. As many as 40,000 dust mites can thrive in one ounce of dust, with each releasing about 20 fecal pellets per day.

What Could Happen

So what’s the big deal? Out of sight, out of mind, right? Wrong. Exposure to dust mites and their waste products can trigger asthma attacks and allergy symptoms in people with these conditions. According to the Alliance for Healthy Homes, exposure to dust mites in childhood may even cause certain children to develop asthma.

Dust mite levels often go down in the winter when humidity levels drop; however, many people with breathing problems use humidifiers in the winter, which can make humidity levels even higher than they are in the summer, thus worsening their dust mite and related health problems. Of course, too-low humidity levels can cause breathing problems as well. Indoor humidity levels should ideally be between 35 and 50 percent for optimal air quality and protection from mites.

How to Get Rid of Them

Some things you can do around the house to get rid of dust mites include weekly hot-water laundering of bedding, covering mattresses and pillows with allergen-resistant covers, and regularly vacuuming and steam cleaning carpets. In humid environments, it may be especially difficult to get rid of dust mites.

While doing things like laundering bedding frequently can help reduce dust mites, if anyone in your household suffers from allergies or breathing problems, a whole-house air filtration system is the best way to zap dust mites, as well as other allergenic particles, toxic compounds, and infectious agents that your family’s air supply may be harboring. Air filtration services can also be used to provide optimal indoor humidity levels.

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This post written by Thompson Electric, Plumbing, Heating, & Cooling. Check out more posts from the Thompson Home Is Where The Health Is blog here!


Temperature Talk: 5 Common Gas Furnace Problems (and Solutions) – Guest Blog

Welcome back to our guest bloggers series! Today’s post comes to us courtesy of Thompson Plumbing, Heating, & Cooling. Thompson is located in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky area, and graciously allowed us to republish this list of five problems people commonly encounter with gas furnaces. We hope that these tips are helpful in keeping your home comfortable this winter!

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It’s that time of year — temperatures have dipped and you’re using your heating system on a regular basis. Unfortunately, many people find that their natural gas-powered furnace isn’t operating properly once they start using it again in the fall or winter. The problem may be fixed with something as simple as relighting the pilot light or replacing the filter, or you may need a more complex furnace repair. Here are five common gas furnace problems, along with possible causes and repairs.

1. Furnace is not producing heat.

Possible causes include a broken thermostat; the thermostat being set too low; an out pilot light; a blown fuse or circuit breaker; a closed gas valve; or electronic ignition problems.

Depending on the cause of the problem, you may need to make sure the thermostat is in “heat mode” and adjust it up a few degrees; relight the pilot light; replace a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker; troubleshoot the thermostat; or troubleshoot electronic ignition problems.

2. Furnace is not producing enough heat.

This may be caused by obstructed airflow or dirty or misaligned gas burners. In some cases, airflow is obstructed by a dirty furnace air filter, and if it is replaced, the problem is solved.

To troubleshoot the problem, try replacing the air filter, and if that doesn’t solve the problem, have a technician come out to clean/adjust the burners and make sure airflow to the combustion air chamber isn’t obstructed.


3. Blower always running

The thermostat may be set to the “fan continuous” setting, or, in cases where the thermostat has no fan setting, your furnace may have a faulty fan limit control switch.
To fix the problem, you might only need to adjust the thermostat fan setting, or it may be necessary to reset or replace the fan limit control switch on your furnace.

4. Furnace coming on and off too quickly

This behavior could be caused by a problem with the heat anticipator in the thermostat, a problem with the blower motor, or a dirty furnace air filter.
Start by replacing the air filter. If this doesn’t solve the issue, you may need to adjust the thermostat heat anticipator or troubleshoot the blower motor. The blower motor may need to be oiled at lubrication points, or have its belt adjusted (if it is too loose) or replaced (if it is frayed).

5. Noisy Operation

You may be able to determine the cause of a loud furnace by the pitch of the sound it is making: a high-pitched noise may indicate shaft bearings need oiling or that the blower belt is slipping; a low-pitched sound can mean that the pilot light is poorly adjusted or that the gas burners are dirty.

To troubleshoot, try oiling blower motor lubrication ports and checking for proper belt tension and that the belt is not frayed. You can also try adjusting the pilot light and having a furnace service technician clean or adjust your gas burners.

In many cases, troubleshooting and furnace repairs will require the services of an HVAC systems professional. Even if your gas furnace seems to be operating fine now, it’s important to schedule an annual heating tune-up to ensure that it will continue to function properly throughout the entire cold season.

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Thanks again to Thompson for contributing this article! To learn more about the Thompson company, please visit their website.


Help Seniors Winterize Their Homes (Guest Blogger: Melody McHugh of ComfortKeepers)

Welcome to the first in a new series of posts!  From time to time, we will be bringing you articles written by members of our local community and the HVAC industry. We hope that you enjoy this new perspective on issues that affect our lives and our homes. Today’s post comes from Melody McHugh, who writes for the “All About Seniors” and ComfortKeepers blogs. She has a real passion for promoting the welfare of the elderly, and we greatly appreciate her sharing these helpful tips with us:

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Winter months can be particularly harsh for seniors, especially for those who live in northern states where temperatures are coldest. It is important that the ones you love stay safe during the winter season. Their safety includes not just dressing appropriately for the weather but also making sure their homes are in good shape to face the dangerous drops in temperature.

Depending on where your senior loved one lives, you may have very little to do to ensure winter safety in and around their home. However, for the colder regions, that to-do list may be quite long. The following are a few pointers to help you get started when visiting your loved ones this season.

Exterior
Install weather strips around doors and caulk windows to keep cold air out and warm air inside. Insulate exposed pipes to protect them from freezing. Seal any holes in the house’s foundation to keep animals from crawling underneath the house for shelter. Clean out gutters and ensure spouts are clear so any water flows away from the house. For locations that expect extended temperatures of 32 degrees or below, install additional insulation in the attic for protection. Check to make sure all snow and de-icing equipment is in working order. Ice-melt salt or sand is handy and provides additional safety during icy times. Drain gas from mowers and water from garden hoses.

Interior
Make sure the furnace is in good working order and clear any materials that may become a fire hazard.  Install carbon monoxide and smoke detectors and store enough batteries for both. Have other heating units inspected and serviced. Clean the fireplace and leave wood in easy reach for seniors to use. If your loved one does not already have one, purchase a fire extinguisher and teach him or her how to use it.

Emergency Preparations
Now is also a good time to create bad weather emergency kits for the home and even the car. For the house, make sure there are plenty of extra water bottles, candles, matches or lighters, flashlights and batteries in case of a power outage. Canned food and other non-perishable items should be stored for this purpose, as well. Keeping flashlights on the bedside table in case of such emergencies is also a good idea.

Emergency kits for cars are just as essential. While you do not want to store water in the car during freezing temperatures, you can keep a to-go bag by the door for outings. Inside this bag include plenty of water, some snacks or other easy-to-eat non-perishable food, flashlights, batteries, and a cell phone charger for the car. Packing a warm change of clothes or a blanket may be a good idea. Better to be safe than sorry if your loved one’s car happens to slide off of an icy road. At least the senior will be prepared to wait for help.

If you live away from the senior in your life, now may be a good time to contact an in-home care agency, such as Comfort Keepers®, to check on your loved one and ensure  he or she  is safe during the winter. These agencies have qualified staff that can help with grocery shopping, light housekeeping, and can even provide transportation to appointments or other errands.  Most importantly, someone will keep an eye on the senior living alone, providing crucial care and much needed socialization during cold wintery days.
References
Weintraub, Elizabeth. Winterizing your home. Preparing your home for winter. Retrieved on October 30, 2011, from http://homebuying.about.com/od/buyingahome/qt/92607_WinmterHom.ht


 

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