Frequently Asked Heating Questions

question markIt’s the eve of New Year’s Eve and our brief respite from the cold weather has ended once again. Many people in Austin heating their homes find their furnaces and heat pumps working harder than ever today and with any luck, those heaters will continue to do so without incident throughout the rest of this winter. Whether the rest of winter turns out to be mild or harsh for us in Austin one thing is for certain, it wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if it wasn’t for our HVAC systems. But for many, beyond the knowledge of how to work the thermostat much surrounding the heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in our houses remains a mystery.

The goal of this tip is to eliminate some of that mystery. Today we’re going to investigate a grab bag of commonly asked questions that a lot of experts and HVAC service people hear on a regular basis from their customers concerning their heaters and heating in Austin. Some of these facts will prove useful and others will simply satiate some curiosity but regardless we’ll take a look at some questions regarding a wide array of topics related to the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning of the home.

Q #1: How Important is Changing Air Filters and How Often?

Air filters are a small and inexpensive but indispensable part of your HVAC system for any who have a duct-based system, which is the grand majority of you. The filters do exactly what their name suggests, filter air. This is important both for the quality of the air you breathe and the long lifespan of your heating and cooling units. But air filters don’t work forever. In fact, their usability is quite limited time-wise. The more dust they pick up the dirtier they get until they are too dirty to hold any more particles.

That’s why you should think of air filter replacement as an essential duty in your home maintenance routine. Regular filter replacement helps your heating and cooling system operate at peak levels and improves indoor air quality. It is important to change filters regularly to ensure proper airflow and to keep your home free from dust, allergens and germs. Depending on the type of filter you have, you may require weekly or monthly filter replacements. You can check the manufacturer’s instructions to get an exact number but most professionals will recommend you wait no longer than every other month to change your air filters.

Not all air filters should be disposed of after a month or two though. Washable filters are also a thing. If you have washable filters, they should be cleaned once a month. Your local HVAC service technician can recommend a replacement schedule that delivers the optimum efficiency and filtration for your specific system. Knowing whether or not your filters need a change right now is easy. A simple visual check is all that it takes. Just use a screwdriver to remove the vent cover of the intake air vent in your home. It is recommended that you visually check filters and filtering equipment monthly. If filters look dirty, they need to be cleaned or replaced.

Q #2: What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and How Can I Prevent It?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that is produced whenever fuel is burned, such as in cars, trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, and relevant to HVAC, furnaces. The gas is dangerous to humans in large doses and due to the fact that one can’t detect it with one’s own senses, it can start to cause problems up to and including death before one might even realize what the cause is.

There are many symptoms that are associated with carbon monoxide poisoning. The most common symptoms are headaches, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” If you breathe in a lot of carbon monoxide it can make you pass out or kill you. People who are sleeping or drunk can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before they have symptoms. According to some recent statistical analysis, each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visits the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.

The best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to detect a leak before it becomes dangerous. The best method of detection is to use a carbon monoxide detector in a central location. A carbon monoxide detector is a device very similar to a smoke alarm. It monitors the air for carbon monoxide and emits an alarm if a specific level is detected. Ideally, you should have at least one detector adjacent to every living area, centrally located, or on each floor in your home. Carbon monoxide detectors are best when used in combination with a maintenance plan. In other words, you’ll want to have carbon monoxide detectors and you’ll want to have them inspected each year along with your routine heating maintenance check to make sure they’re in working order before you start running your furnace day after day. If you just have one carbon monoxide detector then make sure it is not very far from your furnace so that it can detect a leak early on.

If the carbon monoxide detector goes off, turn off the furnace, open the windows, leave the house and call a technician to come and find and fix the source of the leak before turning the heater back on again.

Q #3: How is Heater Efficiency Measured?

To understand the ins and outs of heating efficiency you first have to learn the term AFUE. AFUE stands for annual fuel utilization efficiency. Gas furnaces are rated according to their annual fuel utilization efficiency, or AFUE. The higher the AFUE rating is, the more efficient the unit. Natural draft furnaces or boilers typically have an efficiency rating of about 80 percent. Many heater manufacturers, like Lennox, have developed more efficient furnaces to operate at up to a 98-percent efficiency rating; meaning 98 percent of the energy costs you are putting into your furnace are being used to heat your home, unlike natural draft furnaces that only use 80 percent of your energy costs.

Like the first word in the acronym suggests, an AFUE rating is not a purely accurate, real-time measure of how much fuel the heater is using and how much heat is being produced at any given moment, rather it is an estimate of the average fuel utilization across a year. It attempts to represent the actual, season-long, average efficiency of that piece of equipment, including the operating transients. One useful feature of AFUE is that it doesn’t include units but instead is always stated as a percentage making it easy for the layperson to understand. For example, a 90% AFUE for a gas furnace means it outputs 90 BTUs of useful heating for every 100 BTUs of natural gas input (where the rest may be wasted heat in the exhaust). A higher AFUE means higher efficiency. It’s as simple as that.

Federal regulations now require manufacturers to include this efficiency indicator with every new furnace sold to help consumers compare energy efficiency. Although they're more expensive than their non-label counterparts, Energy Star-certified heating products have achieved high energy efficiency standards, saving homeowners more money in utility bills in the long run. Various regions and the federal government provide their own guidelines for HVAC efficiency. Us in Austin fall under the category of the Southern region and as such the minimum limit for gas-based furnace efficiency is 81% AFUE as of January 1st of 2015. Meaning all new gas furnaces sold in Texas can have an AFUE of no less than 81% efficiency.

Q #4: What is a Two-Stage Furnace?

A two-stage furnace is a type of furnace meant to achieve much higher levels of efficiency than a standard furnace and the difference is in how much power the furnace draws and how hard it works. Essentially, two-stage furnaces have two intensities, or two stages, as the name suggests. The first puts out less heat but also draws less power. The second has the furnace working at full capacity. For most climates, the first stage operates the majority of the time and runs at about 65% of the furnace's full capacity. When the temperature outside becomes extremely cold and the first stage is not sufficient enough to heat your home, the second stage kicks on to provide the additional heat requirements. This allows warm air to be distributed into your home more evenly, which helps to reduce air fluctuations.

Two-stage furnaces also help to increase energy efficiency on moderate-temperature days since they will, in most cases, remain in the low stage. They also provide a higher level of comfort due to a steady flow of warm air on the coldest winter days. And for us in Austin, this becomes even truer as even in the midst of winter we don’t often experience extremely cold temperatures.

A two-stage furnace is a great option for many who are looking for a more energy-efficient heating solution. It provides the right amount of heat to efficiently satisfy your home and family's needs. In addition, a two-stage furnace is much quieter since it doesn't operate at 100% capacity every time it runs and creates less carbon dioxide emissions for the environment.

If you are in the market for a new gas furnace, then without a doubt, a variable-speed, two-stage furnace is worth looking into. And the same applies to heat pumps. Many are available with two-speed compressors and variable-speed air handlers for the ultimate solution to the balance between comfort and efficiency.

Heating Questions and Heating Repair in Austin

Now we’ve had four commonly asked questions related to heating answered. There are of course many more frequently asked questions out there, some of which may be directly addressed in a subsequent tip of the day. For now, just remember that if you have any pressing questions or concerns about your own heater then feel free to call on AC Express.

AC Express is an Austin heater repair company whose experienced technicians can help you with anything from routine preventative maintenance to new heater installation. We operate all throughout the Austin area from Hutto and Manor to Lago Vista and Taylor. For the best heater repair in Austin, call today!