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Modesto, CA Ensure Your Heating and Cooling is Running Efficiently

Modesto, CA Home Improvement Guide


Heating and Cooling
Air Conditioning Contractors; Air Conditioning Equip & Systems-Repairing; Heating Contractors; Heating Equipment & Systems; Heater Sales & Service

A heating and cooling system is one of the most expensive appliances to purchase for a home. It also represents as much as half of the energy used inside the home. Ensuring the system is working optimally does more than provide comfortable temperature levels year round, it could save you hundreds of dollars every year.

Making smart choices about the heating, cooling, and ventilation in your home can be confusing. There are a number of products and solutions to choose from, along with many variables to consider. To help narrow the choices, rely on the expertise of a heating and cooling contractor. Rely on an expert to explain complex terminology and handle the intricate layout of the ducts and system. Use the tips and guidance found in this section to uncover the basics of heating and cooling. Research what options are available so you feel comfortable discussing them with your contractor. Also, learn how to find a contractor you can trust who will steer you in the right direction and start saving you money immediately.


Repair or Replace
Heaters Sales & Sevice; Air Conditioning Equipment Systems & Repairing; Air Conditioning Contractors; Heating Contractors

When the heating and cooling system breaks down or is running inefficiently, determining whether to have it replaced or repaired can be difficult. Many factors should be considered in the evaluation to find the optimal solution. Long term, newer, more energy-efficient heating and cooling systems pay for themselves. However, the required out-of-pocket cost may be difficult to handle at the time. Review the following considerations to help you make your decision:

  • What is the cost of the repair vs. replacing the system?
  • What is the age of the system?
    • According to Energy Star, a joint effort between the EPA and US Department of Energy, to maximize efficiency, an air conditioner should be replaced every 10 years. A furnace or boiler should be replaced every 15 years.
    • Work with the dealer to determine the immediate (1-3 year) savings if the system is replaced.
  • Are the necessary repairs currently under warranty?
  • How long do you plan to live in the current home?
    • As savings is earned over time, the longer you stay in the home, the more value a replacement unit represents.
    • If the system is older and should be replaced, a potential owner may require it be installed prior to buying the home.
If the following signs are becoming apparent, they indicate it is time to invest in a new heating and cooling system.
  • Energy bills are continually increasing and equipment is breaking down frequently.
  • Certain rooms of the house are hotter or cooler than others. This indicates the equipment is not functioning properly, there are problems with the ducts, or insulation is inadequate.
  • There are humidity problems in the home. Problems in the system cause excess dry air in the winter and humid air in the summer.
  • There is excessive dust in the home. A significant amount of dust is a sign there is problem with the duct work. Particles from the attic, crawl spaces and basements are distributed through the ducts and leak out through holes in the duct work.
  • The system is excessively noisy. If guests are scared when the furnace turns on or pets hide when they hear the air conditioner, it could be a sign the system needs repairing.


Hiring a HVAC Contractor
Air Conditioning Contractors; Heating Contractors

As a heating and cooling system is one of the largest investments in a home, make sure the size of the system fits the home. Hiring a qualified HVAC contractor not only makes this decision easier, it saves you a significant amount of money.

Take Inventory
Begin the process by reviewing the system that is currently installed. Write down the make and model, the age of the system and its maintenance history. Include specifics about how it is currently working, if rooms are uncomfortable, if it turns on and off frequently, or if it is excessively loud. Providing current details helps the contractor understand the needs and accurately assess the situation.

Licensed and Insured
Make sure the contractor you choose is licensed and insured. Requirements vary by state. Do some homework to learn what your state requires and verify that the HVAC contractor is certified and licensed. Request to see the license and verify their experience. Contractors should expect the request and be happy to comply. Licensing ensures they are trained and tested by the state and insurance protects you should anything go wrong as a result of their work.

Research Offers
Special rebates and offers are often available for energy efficient heating and cooling systems. Check government and energy provider websites to verify existing offers that could save you money. Ask potential contractors about these offers as well.

Get Referrals
Ask family, friends, and co-workers if they know a qualified contractor. Local trade organizations and MyYP.com, the Valley Yellow Pages online directory, can help find dependable contractors in your area. Visit the Ventilating Equipment-Sales & Installation, the Heating Contractors, the Air Conditioning Contractors and the Air Conditioning Equipment & Systems Repairing headings to locate contractors near you.

Ask for References
Contractors should be willing to provide a few customers for you to call to verify the quality of their work. Call the references and ask them if they are happy with the job, and whether it was completed on time and within budget. Was the contractor reliable and would they recommend them to family and friends?

Schedule an Evaluation
Anticipate the contractor wanting to schedule a time to come out and evaluate the system. A good contractor should start by visiting the home and collecting information about the current system. They should evaluate the current insulation and measure ceilings, floors, windows, and walls. The duct systems should be inspected to discover leaks and measure current airflow. Obtaining these measurements is crucial to determining the size of system your home requires. Be weary of any contractor who uses square footage alone to size up the system. Installing a system that is too large is not always a good thing. Properly sized systems provide better comfort levels, humidity control, cycle on and off less often, and cost less to use.

Obtain Bids
Request bids from two or three contractors and evaluate each bid side by side. Be cautious of choosing a bid based solely on cost and opting for the lowest price. Lower pricing often means less efficient equipment that will cost you more long-term. Review the bid to verify the type of system recommended and make sure the product and brand meet current energy efficient guidelines. This saves you money each month on your energy bill. Also review warranties to make sure you and your system are protected.

Get It in Writing
When you are ready to sign the agreement, make sure everything you discussed is in writing. Use the contract as a means to guarantee the job you agree to is the one you receive. Make sure it includes costs, product model numbers, work schedule and warranties.


Heating and Cooling Efficiency
Heating Sales & Service Heating Equipment; Air Conditioning Equipment & Systems; Air Conditioning Equipment & Systems-Repairing

Ensuring a heating and cooling systems is running efficiently and optimally does more than provide a comfortable atmosphere for those at home, it also significantly reduces the energy bill. As half of the energy of a home is used by heating and cooling, keeping it running efficiently is a good investment. Use the following steps to ensure the efficiency of your system and start saving today.

Change Air Filters
Dirty air filters slow down the flow of air and make the system work harder than it should. Check air filters frequently, at least every three months, or every month in winter and summer months, and change them if they look dirty. Clean filters prevent dirt and dust from building up in the system, preventing the need for maintenance or premature failure. Change out filters a minimum of every three months.

Seal Ducts
Thirty percent of the efficiency of your system is based on the quality of the duct work. As air travels through ducts from the system to rooms, a significant amount of heating and cooling is wasted in attics and crawlspaces where seams are open or leaks have formed. Sealing these seams, cracks and leaks with a duct sealant (mastic) or metal backed-foil tape keeps the air from escaping and directs it to the proper areas.

Yearly Check-Up
Performing a yearly check-up on the system identifies problems early, preventing long term energy loss and potential system failure. This ensures the system runs optimally and efficiently.

Programmable Thermostat
Installing a programmable thermostat reduces energy costs by running the system only when it is needed. Schedule the thermostat to turn off while you are at school and work, and turn on again prior to returning home. Keep lower temperatures during sleeping hours and then raise them prior to waking for the day. This keeps energy costs low, saving an average of $180 per year, while maintaining maximum comfort levels.


Heating and Cooling Maintenance
Air Conditioning Contractors; Heating Contractors; Heating Equipment & Systems; Air Conditioning Equipment Systems & Repairing; Furnaces Repairing & Cleaning

Scheduling annual maintenance on furnaces and air conditioners keeps them running well and eliminates potential problems. Don’t wait until it is time to turn them on due to excessive changes in outdoor temperatures. Do a pre-check of the system in spring and fall and avoid the busy winter and summer months when contractors are in high demand. While some things can be done yourself, it is better to call out a professional to annually check the system. Some of the things they look for include the following:

System Controls
Ensure the system turns on and off on command and begins its necessary process of heating and cooling.

Thermostat Settings
Verify that heating or cooling systems react to thermostat temperature changes.

Electrical Connections
Measurements are taken to ensure proper voltage and all connections are tightened.

Lubricate Parts
All moving parts are checked to eliminate friction which increases electricity usage.

Proper Drainage
A clogged drain leads to water damage and higher humidity levels inside the house.

Heating Maintenance
Heat Exchanger: Gas lines, pressure levels, flue pipes, and connections are tested to ensure they are working properly.

Clean Burners: Dirty burners and cracked heat exchangers cause the equipment to operate less efficiently and are a safety hazard.

Cooling Maintenance
Condenser Coil Maintenance: Ensuring coils are clean keeps the system running efficiently, prolonging the life of the system and reducing energy.

Refrigerant Levels: Check levels to ensure they are optimal for the system. Too much or too little makes the system run less efficiently and causes premature system wear.

Blower: Inspect wheels and wiring to ensure proper airflow levels are maintained.


Furnaces, Boilers, and Heaters
Furnaces Heating; Furnace Repairing Cleaning; Boilers; Boilers Repairing & Cleaning; Heaters Sales & Service; Heating Equipment Systems

The majority of the homes in the Unites States are heated by either a furnace or boiler. Furnaces work by heating air and then distributing it through the house via ducts. Fuel sources for a furnace include natural gas, propane, oil, electricity, wood, or wood-based pellets. Natural gas furnaces are the most popular fuel source found in homes today and until recently provided the most fuel efficiency. That is changing however, as electric furnaces are becoming increasingly more efficient. Boilers work by heating water or creating steam as the source of heat. The steam is distributed through pipes to upright radiators, baseboard radiators or radiant flooring.

Efficiency Ratings
The efficiency of furnaces and boilers is measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE). This measurement represents how much of the energy the appliance creates is actually used or consumed. For example, a 90% AFUE signifies that 90% of the energy created is used to heat the home. The remaining 10% escapes via the system or up the chimney depending on the appliance. The AFUE measurement does not include heat that is lost via duct work or pipes. This can sometimes account for a 30% loss depending on the efficiency of the ducts and pipes. The Federal Trade Commission requires that all new appliances provide a minimum AFUE. An electric furnace must maintain an AFUE of 78%, a gas-furnace 80% and a gas-fueled steam boiler is 75%. However, many heating manufacturers far exceed these levels of efficiency. As an electric furnace or broiler has no flue loss via a chimney, therefore AFUE ratings are often 90-95% for these systems.

Regardless of the heating method you choose for your home, ensure it is efficient and running properly. This keeps your family warm while using the least amount of energy and money.

Replacing a Furnace or Boiler
If your furnace or boiler is in need of replacing, ensure the new system is highly efficient and the right size for your home.

Efficiency: Choose a model with the highest AFUE possible based on your climate. Colder climates require a higher-efficiency system with an AFUE of at least 85% or higher. Milder climates have lower annual energy costs and don’t require the same level of efficiency. Maintaining the 78% FTC requirement is sufficient.

Review the Energy Star® label as guide to determine the estimated annual cost to run the system. This label also serves as a comparison guide to determine the system that is right for you. Work with your contractor or heating system dealer to determine the actual annual saving you can expect from a particular system.

Ensuring maximum efficiency for your home cuts fuel bills in half and reduces the amount of harmful, carbon dioxide emissions released per year.

Proper Size: Older furnaces and boilers found in homes today are oversized. Newer models provide modern efficiencies and are modified to match the capacity needs of each home. A properly sized furnace meets the needs of the home and keeps it warm on even the coldest days of the year. An oversized system cycles on and off too frequently, wasting valuable energy as it excessively warms up and cools down. A smaller system becomes overworked and still fails to keep the house warm on cold days. Determining the right system for the home should be left to a heating and cooling contractor. They will conduct measurements and electronic evaluations to determine what is required based on the size of the home, number of windows and insulation levels.

Heat Pumps:
In moderate climates, heat pumps provide an energy efficient alternative to furnaces, boilers, and air conditioners. Instead of using fuel combustion, heat pumps use a small amount of energy to move heat from one location to another. Heat pumps pull heat from the air or ground to warm a home, and reverse the process pulling cold to cool it. This makes heat pumps a unique system in that it can do the job of both a furnace and an air conditioner.

Working on the basic principle of heat transfer, there are different types of heat pumps.

Air-Source Heat Pump: As the most common type, an air-source heat pump removes heat from the outside air and pumps it inside passing it through refrigerant-filled coils. Fans then push the heated air throughout the home. When it is needed for cooling, the opposite process occurs. Instead of pushing heat throughout the home, the fans reverse the flow of air and push the hotter air outside.

Ground-Source Heat Pump: This type of system absorbs heat from the ground or an underground water source and transfers it inside. The majority of ground-source heat pumps transfer heat through a refrigerant or water within buried pipes. The liquid within the pipes are continually pumped either through a closed-loop or open-loop system. A closed-loop system circulates the same refrigerant or water continually removing heat with each cycle. An open-loop system takes water from the source, cycles it through removing heat, and then sends it back to the source. This process is repeated continually, drawing fresh water from the source.

Absorption Heat Pumps: Working similarly to air-source heat pumps, absorption heat pumps use power from natural gas, solar, propane, or geothermal heated water, not electricity. Once used primarily for larger, commercial applications, these types of units are appearing in larger homes.

While heat pumps lower energy bills they do have some drawbacks. Because they draw heat from the air and ground, heat pumps do not produce enough heat when temperatures get below freezing. While there is still heat that can be pulled from colder air, the system has to work harder to warm things up. Often times the system cannot keep up with the temperatures to keep rooms warm enough.

The heat generated by heat pumps is also not as strong as heat generated from a furnace or boiler. If you prefer a more intense heat, a backup heat source may be required to supplement the heat pump.

Radiant Heating:
With radiant heating, heat is applied directly to flooring or panels within the ceiling or walls. Relying on radiant heat transfer, people or objects in the room are heated via infrared radiation or as heat is transferred directly from the heat source. This is similar to how heat is felt across the room radiating from a hot stovetop element.

Radiant Floor Heat: As the most common form of radiant heat, this type of heating uses electric cables or hot water tubes embedded in the floor as a heat source. Heating a room from the floor up, radiant floors distribute heat evenly, are quiet and very efficient. Radiant flooring is available in three different options, each with its own benefits and drawbacks.

    Air-Heated Radiant Floors: This option as the name suggests, uses air to distribute heat. As air cannot hold a significant amount of heat, this is the least effective option. Therefore, it is rarely used in residential homes. To make it more efficient, air-heated radiant floors are often combined with solar air heating systems. While this is beneficial during the day, it does not offer much advantage once the sun goes down, traditionally when the heat is most desired.

    Electric Radiant Floors: With this option, electric cables are built directly in to the floor. As electricity is the heat source, unless utility companies offer reduced rates, it is more costly to run. Using reduced rates between 9pm and 6am, the floor is heated during these off hours and then draws off the heat stored in the surface over the next 8-10 hours. In areas of the home where a traditional heating system cannot be installed, electric radiant floors provide an efficient heating system.

    Hydronic Radiant Floors: Using heated water tubes, this option is the most popular and cost-effective system. Heated water is pumped from a boiler through tubing laid directly under the floor. Through a system of zoning valves and thermostats, the flooring in each room is individually controlled.

    Installation: The process for installing radiant heat floor is basically the same regardless of whether cables or tubing is used. There are two types of installation processes: wet and dry. With wet installations, cables or tubes are embedded within a thick concrete slab or a thinner layer of concrete installed on the top of a sub-floor. As concrete has a high capacity to hold heat, it is ideal for radiant flooring. However, concrete is slow to actually heat which is inefficient on colder mornings and evenings. With wet installation, a constant temperature in the home is recommended to maximize its efficiency.

    Dry installation places the cables or tubing directly under the finished or sub-floor or it can also be sandwiched between two layers of sub-flooring. The cables or tubs heat the air between the space which radiates through the floor. As air is being heated, the temperature of the system itself needs to be more intense. Because it is easier and quicker to install, the dry process is often the preferred installation option.

Certain flooring is ideal for radiant heat floors as they hold heat longer adding to the overall heat efficiency. The most common flooring is ceramic tile as it stores heat for a longer period of time. Vinyl, linoleum, hardwood, and natural stone are also ideal for radiant flooring.

Radiant Panels: Typically made of aluminum, radiant panels are attached to walls or ceilings, using electricity or tubing to radiate heat through the room. Because of the possibility of leaking and water damage, tubing is used less frequently. Again, using electricity becomes more expensive but radiant panels provide good supplemental heating to rooms where conventional heating is lacking.

The panels heat up quickly and often raise the temperature of the room very quickly. Wall panels distribute heat more evenly as ceiling panels often keep everything above the shoulders warm but have a hard time reaching the floor level. Also, the closer you are to the panel, the more comfortable the heat.


Air Conditioning
Air Conditioning Contractors; Air Conditioning Equipment & Systems; Air Conditioning Equipment & Systems-Repairing

There are a variety of options available to cool your home on a hot day. Nothing feels better on a sweltering day than to walk into a nice, cool house. However, the luxury of cold air comes at a price. Air conditioning options often have a high price tag both to purchase and to run. Therefore, it is imperative to select an option that is ideal for your home and runs at a maximum efficiency.

Central Air Conditioning
A central air conditioner blows cool air from a central unit through duct work and into rooms via registers located in the walls, floors and ceiling. The cooler air circulates throughout the home and as it becomes warmer, return ducts and registers draw warmer air in and through the central air unit to be re-cooled. Along with cooling the air, central air conditioners also dehumidify and filter the air making it more comfortable and cleaner to breath.

Two different central air conditioner systems are available depending on your current furnace unit.

Split-System: With this unit, a condenser and compressor are housed in an outdoor metal cabinet, while an indoor cabinet houses the evaporator. Along with the evaporator, the indoor cabinet also houses the furnace or an indoor part of a heat pump. In a home that already has a furnace but no air conditioner, this is the most economical air conditioner to install.

Packaged System: In this unit, the evaporator, condenser and compressor are located together in one cabinet. Typically the cabinet is placed on the roof or a concrete slab next to the house. Often including an electric heating coil or natural gas furnace, this system eliminates the need for a separate furnace.

Size Consideration: Like a furnace, the efficiency of an air conditioner is based on its size relative to the needs of the home. Oversized systems run too frequently and under-sized units do not adequately cool the home.

A qualified air conditioning contractor can perform an evaluation on your home to determine the adequate size. Consideration should be given to the total square footage, the number of windows, the height of walls and ceilings, the heat of appliances, and the overall shade your home receives.

Efficiency: The efficiency of today’s central air conditioners is rated based on its seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). This indicates the amount of energy required to provide a specified cooling output. Older systems produce a SEER rating of 6 or less. Today’s standards require that all new central air conditioning systems have a minimum SEER rating of 13. By choosing a central air conditioning system with a 13 or higher SEER rating, energy bills are lower, placing more money in your pocketbook. As air conditioners are typically known as expensive units to run, ensuring this added efficiency provides the benefit of cooler air and increased savings.

Room Air Conditioners
If you live in a smaller home or a moderate climate, a single room air conditioner may provide a more efficient cooling solution. Room air conditioners cool a single room versus the entire house. Energy efficiency may not be gained in terms of cooling ability but it is considerably cheaper to run than a central air system. This is ideal for cooling a smaller space, turning it on and off as needed. Homes in moderate climates also benefit from a few room air conditioners placed in particular rooms to bring relief on the hottest days of the year. However, if overall relief to a larger home is needed, a central air conditioner is recommended.

Swamp Coolers
Using evaporative cooling, swamp coolers draw in warm humid air and condenses it into vapor which then cools the house. Swamp coolers are not as efficient in more humid areas as the air doesn’t evaporate well and thus doesn’t provide cooling. Drier areas, especially the Southwest, enjoy the efficiency of a swamp cooler which uses 25% less electricity than a refrigerated cooling unit.

Whole House Fans
An effective and efficient alternative to increasing air conditioner costs is a whole house fan. Using one-quarter the energy of central air, whole house fans use cooler outside air to reduce the overall temperature within the home. Typically placed in the ceiling between the upstairs rooms and the attic, a whole house fan draws cooler air from open windows and doors and pushes it out through the attic. As attic temperatures often reach 125 degrees and above, hot air is often trapped within this closed space causing the inside of the home to heat up as well. A whole house fan pushes cooler air through the attic, reducing the temperature within the space as well as cooling the inside of the house. By opening windows throughout different areas of the house, the whole house fan pulls air from multiple sources continually moving the air which always feels cooler than stagnant air.

Used in conjunction with central air conditioning, whole house fans keep homes cooler at night and early morning. This eliminates the need for running the air conditioner through the night and keeps the house and attic cooler during the day.

 
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