How to Protect Your Indoor Air Quality

How to Protect Your Indoor Air Quality

Poor indoor air quality in your Mobile, Alabama, home can lead to asthma attacks, allergies, watery eyes, headaches, nosebleeds, fatigue, nausea, trouble concentrating, and more. It could even increase your risk of cancer. People who stay inside a lot, therefore, get more exposure to indoor air pollutants are usually more vulnerable. They include children, the elderly, and the sick. Here are some of the factors that affect indoor air quality, along with ways to make the air inside your home safer and cleaner.

Moisture Levels

Too much moisture can attract pests and encourage mold growth. Many people are allergic to dust mites and cockroach droppings, and both bugs thrive in high humidity. Some types of mold produce harmful mycotoxins, and they usually grow in water-damaged walls, ceilings, and insulation. If humidity is high, mold can grow inside your HVAC ductwork and then spread to the rest of your home. Mold often causes a musty smell and stains on the walls, ceilings, and insulation where it grows.

Repair leaks in your roof and clean or replace any water-damaged furniture or building materials before mold or pests appear. Use an inexpensive gauge called a hygrometer to measure the humidity in your home. Hygrometers are especially useful in areas that tend to have high humidity, like the bathroom. Use a dehumidifier if moisture levels are high, and remember to empty and clean it regularly.

Ventilation

If your home doesn’t have enough ventilation, pollutants will accumulate instead of escaping. Keep furniture away from vents and use exhaust fans in your kitchen and bathrooms to remove moisture and unpleasant odors. Use a mechanical ventilation system with a filter to bring fresh air into your home without introducing pollen, dust, dirt, and other pollutants. Many of these devices also have a heat exchanger that heats or cools fresh air to lower energy costs.

Household Chemicals

Many common household products including air fresheners, pesticides, hair products, cleaners, detergents, paints, and varnishes contain volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. Many of these chemicals are thought to be carcinogenic. Labels on a majority of products only list fragrance as an ingredient, not the particular chemicals used, so it’s difficult to know which brands are safe.

Whenever possible, choose mild, unscented cleaners and detergents and avoid aerosol sprays. Instead of using commercial air fresheners, use natural essential oils or make your own potpourri or herbal sachets with rose petals, lavender, cinnamon, or other ingredients. Use paints and solvents in a well-ventilated area, and go outside if you start to feel nauseated or dizzy.

Most dry cleaners use perchloroethylene, a carcinogen in animals. Therefore, if dry cleaning has a chemical smell, ask your cleaner to remove it. Also, the glues in particle board and fiber board often contain formaldehyde, another carcinogen, so you shouldn’t use them in enclosed areas. In addition, treated wood has pesticides and other harmful chemicals, so you shouldn’t burn it indoors.

Heating and Air Maintenance

Regular maintenance for your HVAC system provides several benefits. With routine maintenance your technician thoroughly inspects, cleans, and tunes your system which:

  • prevents expensive problems
  • improves indoor air quality
  • reduces energy consumption and therefore power bills
  • helps your system last longer

Have your HVAC system inspected at least once per year to keep it working at peak efficiency, and install a carbon monoxide detector if you use a fireplace, gas furnace, or wood stove. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that comes from combustion. It keeps people from getting enough oxygen, and in high concentrations, it can cause unconsciousness and death.

Choose air filters with a high minimum efficiency reporting value, or MERV rating, to remove dust, pollen, pet dander, mold spores, and other pollutants effectively. You should also check your filters at least once per month and change them when they get dirty. Add an air filter monitor that measures air pressure differences and tells you exactly when to change your filter. Some monitors can even connect to your smartphone or tablet.

Air Specialty has over 20 years of HVAC experience. We can install a variety of products to improve your indoor air quality, including humidifiers, dehumidifiers, ventilators, and ultraviolet lights to kill mold and bacteria. Our affordable repair and maintenance plans will keep your system in great condition. Call us at 251-545-3337 for 24-hour emergency service.

Image provided by Shutterstock

Making Geothermal Energy Work For You

Making Geothermal Energy Work For You

By harnessing the energy buried in the earth, a geothermal heat pump can heat or cool your Eight Mile, Alabama, home efficiently and reliably for decades. Learn how a geothermal heat pump works and how it can conserve energy resources, keep your home comfortable in both summer and winter, and save you money.

How a Geothermal Heat Pump Works

Using energy stored in the earth, a geothermal heat pump can both heat and cool your home. It works like a traditional air source heat pump in that it transfers heat into or out of your house to keep it at a comfortable temperature. However, unlike an air source heat pump, a geothermal heat pump isn’t exposed to the outside air — its heat transfer takes place under the ground.

A geothermal heat pump is made of an indoor heat unit and the outdoor underground component. For the outdoor part of the system, loops of plastic pipe are buried several feet under the ground. A blend of antifreeze and water circulates through the plastic pipe, transferring heat between your home and the ground outside.

When heating your home, the heat pump absorbs heat from the ground and transfers it to your home. When the unit cools your home, the heat transfer happens in the opposite direction and heat moves from your home to the outdoor component into the ground.

Efficiency

Geothermal heat pumps are some of the most efficient heating and cooling units on the market today. The reason for this high efficiency is because a geothermal heat pump utilizes heat below ground where the temperature is more stable than the outside air.

A few feet below the earth’s surface, temperatures stay around 50 degrees Fahrenheit year-round no matter how warm or cool the temperature on the surface. Transferring heat at this temperature requires much less energy than that used by other systems.

Unlike a fuel-burning system, there is no combustion in a geothermal heat pump — which means no waste. When heat is produced using fuel, there is always some heat and gas that goes to waste. A geothermal heat pump is powered by electricity and does not produce emissions, allowing it to reach higher efficiencies than fuel-burning heating systems.

Reliability

Because the outdoor component is not exposed to the weather like an air conditioner and doesn’t produce heat using combustion like a furnace, a geothermal heating system is a lot more durable. You can be confident that your family will stay comfortable during the hottest days of summer and the coolest days of winter.

A geothermal system typically has a longer life span than a traditional heating or cooling system because it has fewer moving parts and because it is protected from the elements. Maintenance for a geothermal heating system is also minimal when compared with traditional HVAC units.

Cost

The durability of a geothermal heat pump coupled with its energy efficiency translates into ongoing cost savings for homeowners. A geothermal heat pump uses less electricity than an air source heat pump, costing less to heat and cool your home than a typical air conditioner or furnace.

Despite the efficiency advantages of geothermal energy, the upfront cost of installing a geothermal heat pump is expensive. The unit requires the installation of a series of pipes underground, which makes these systems some of the most complicated to install. It’s important to make sure you have a qualified HVAC contractor install any geothermal system to ensure it will heat and cool your home properly.

After it is installed, the continual costs savings from the high efficiency of a geothermal unit can add up quickly. Energy savings from your geothermal heat pump could pay for the unit in as little as four years.

At Air Specialty, our technicians are proud to install and service geothermal heat pumps in the Eight Mile, Alabama, area. Thinking about putting efficient, reliable geothermal energy to work in your home? Call 251-545-3337 to speak with one of our experts about your geothermal heat pump options today.

Image provided by Shutterstock

Furnace vs Heat Pump: Which is Better for My Home?

Furnace vs Heat Pump: Which is Better for My Home?

The debate between furnaces and heat pumps is a common one, but is one really better for homeowners in Semmes, Alabama? They will both heat your home, but they do so through different methods, and a heat pump has the advantage of providing cooling as well. Size, features, efficiency, and cost are also important factors. Deciding whether or not a furnace or heat pump is best for your home comes down to making an informed decision based on system performance and your needs. You will need to consider how both furnaces and heat pumps work, and the pros and cons of each.

Conventional Furnace

A conventional HVAC furnace works with a duct system to get warm air to various rooms in your home. To generate heat, a furnace burns fuel (often natural gas, but sometimes oil). These heated gases then pass through a heat exchanger in coils. Air from your home blows over these heat exchanger coils, heating up the air, and then redistributing it through your home via the duct system.

Furnace Pros

  • Reliability: Over the years, furnaces have been designed to be more efficient and to provide the right levels of heating comfort.
  • Durability: Modern systems are being designed to be more durable. With proper use and maintenance, they can last much longer than older model furnaces. They also last much longer than heat pumps and require less maintenance. They can also withstand the rigors of unpredictable winters.
  • Performance: Furnaces provide better heating performance and are ideal for regions that see harsh winters. A heat pump doesn’t work as well in extreme temperatures.

Furnace Cons

  • Risk: Even though furnaces today are built to be safer and more efficient, there is always the risk of a carbon monoxide leak. This risk can be minimized with regular maintenance and replacing old or damaged furnaces. Carbon monoxide detectors in your home are very important.
  • Efficiency: Although modern systems have greatly improved in performance, a heat pump can still save you more on your energy bills.
  • Air Quality: From the combustion of gases to the system of ductwork, central heating systems can have a greater negative impact on your indoor air quality than a heat pump.

Heat Pumps

In contrast to a forced-air system, a heat pump moves rather than produces air. Warm air is moved out of the home in the hot months, and into the air outside. A heat pump can also function in the reverse, cycling in warm air while cycling out the cool air during the winter months.

A heat pump consists of both an indoor unit and outdoor condensing unit. Heat pumps are known for efficiency since they don’t expend the energy or fuel to produce their own heat.

Heat Pump Pros

  • Efficiency: Since a heat pump doesn’t rely on fuel and just moves air around, it saves you a considerable amount on the utility bill. You also get heating and cooling in one unit.
  • Installation Cost: It costs less to install a heat pump since it doesn’t need the ventilation system a furnace requires.
  • Safety: Without the risk of carbon monoxide leaks, a heat pump is safer for your home.

Heat Pump Cons

  • Effectiveness: Since a heat pump only moves air, it doesn’t have the power of a furnace and won’t function as well in extremely cold regions.
  • Supplemental Heating: A heat pump may require additional heating support when it can’t provide sufficient warmth.
  • Maintenance: Split between two units, the heat pump may require more maintenance than a conventional furnace.

The Verdict

Both a heat pump and furnace can provide warmth in the winter. A heat pump, however, can cool your home during the hot summer months. Even if you consider cost and efficiency, the system that works best for your home will depend on the unique conditions of your home and region.

It is a good idea to consult your HVAC technician who will consider factors such as the size of the home, the number of occupants, and the typical weather conditions of the area to determine the best system.

The pros at Air Speciality, Inc. can help you to make the best decision according to your needs and budget. Whatever decision you make, we also provide the right systems and installation solutions. Call us today at 251-545-3337 with your furnace or heat pump questions. We look forward to serving your HVAC needs.

Image provided by Shutterstock

6 Fall Maintenance Tasks that Save You Money

6 Fall Maintenance Tasks that Save You Money

maintenance

Semmes, Alabama residents are lucky to enjoy more favorable weather at the beginning of fall, with much cooler temperatures starting in November. It is important to prepare your home for the season ahead with simple maintenance tasks. This helps to ensure your home and systems are in good condition to face whatever winter may bring.

Stocking Up on Filters

Furnace filters will need to be changed regularly or as soon as they become dirty. Dirty filters restrict airflow and reduce system efficiency. Maintain your filters so that your system can operate at peak efficiency.

Changing Your Ceiling Fan Rotation

Most people associate fans with cooling and not heating. While ceiling fans do create a wind chill effect when they are rotating in the right direction, they can also warm your home if you simply reverse their rotation. As cool weather sets in, turn your fan to the reverse or clockwise setting.

Using the fan along with your heater will allow you to leave the thermostat at lower temperatures. Moving clockwise, the fan pushes warm air down from the top of the room, and helps to keep the warmer air circulating to keep you more comfortable. Using the proper fan setting will keep your home comfortable with minimal heating, particularly in that transition period before it becomes really cold. Using your fan instead of or along with the furnace will help you to conserve more energy and save money.

Cleaning the Gutters

Clogged gutters prevent proper drainage and may lead to leaks. Don’t wait until melting snow is seeping into your home, or damaging the foundation of your home. Clean out your gutters in the fall when the weather is still comfortable. If it has been a while since you performed this task, you may find a lot of dirt and debris waiting for you. Taking care of this DIY weekend job now will prevent more expensive problems later.

Sealing Your Home

Air leaks will let warm air slip right through the cracks this winter. These leaks can also allow cold air to enter your home. Seal them up now to avoid further energy waste, and so that you will be ready for winter. Install weather-stripping around your windows, and use caulk to seal any cracks in windows and doors as well.

Your ducts can let a great deal of air escape too. It is estimated that as much as 20 percent of the air moving through your ductwork is lost to leaks. Seal and insulate your ductwork to keep warm air in where it belongs. Not only will this keep temperatures comfortable, but you will save money, too. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, this investment will save you $120 or more every year on your energy bill.

Make Sure Your Gas Furnace Is Ready

If you have a gas furnace, it is smart to contact your gas company for a fill-up before the cold season really sets in. This will ensure you are not left without fuel when you need it most. It is a good idea to fill-up now while the cost is lower. The price tends to increase closer and during the season when the demand is greater. Your HVAC technician will help you to determine whether or not you need to fill up.

Scheduling Your Annual HVAC Maintenance

You should have an HVAC professional service your heating system once a year. The ideal time for this is in the fall before you turn it on for the first time. Schedule your appointment early and you can beat the seasonal rush, and ensure your system is in good condition to keep you comfortable all season.

During this maintenance visit, your HVAC professional will check the filter, look for leaks, tighten loose parts, and thoroughly clean the furnace. He will also look for any signs of leaks or other likely problems. These regular tune-ups can save you from costly repairs later on and give you a chance to address issues early in the season before you find yourself in a freezing home.

If you are ready to schedule your HVAC maintenance visit this season, contact Air Specialty at 251-545-3337. With the proper care and attention, your home will be clean, sealed, and perfectly prepared to keep you comfortable in any weather.

Image provided by Shutterstock

Thermostat Problems Lead to Inefficient Operation

Thermostat Problems Lead to Inefficient Operation

When problems arise with your cooling system, your comfort level can plummet quickly. While there are many possible causes, it is a good idea to start with the thermostat. Sometimes just a simple adjustment can resolve thermostat problems, restore comfort and save energy.

Cooling System Doesn’t Start Up

Your cooling system’s failure to start could be the result of something simple that you can handle, or may be the sign of a major system problem that will require expert services.

  • If the display on the thermostat isn’t lit, the device isn’t receiving power and cannot signal for the air conditioner to cycle on at the right time. Try installing new batteries or look for a blown fuse or tripped breaker in your main electrical panel.
  • Alternatively the thermostat could be affected by an accumulation of dirt, dust, soot, cigarette smoke or cobwebs which can coat the electrical and mechanical components. Shut down the thermostat at the breaker so you can remove the thermostat’s cover to check for any particles that might be interfering with normal function. Any buildup will need to be carefully and thoroughly cleaned. Many systems, intelligent or smart thermostats in particular, might have very delicate or sensitive panels or circuits, so it is best to leave maintenance tasks to the professionals to prevent damage to the system. Your professional HVAC technician will have the right tools to perform delicate work.
  • It is not very likely that parts within the thermostat will come loose, but if that should happen, it could interfere with its ability to function effectively. Your HVAC technician will tighten any component that has come loose, or replace any corroded parts.

Thermostat Setting and Room Temperature Don’t Match

There are times when the temperature of the room may feel different than what the thermostat is reflecting. This can make it very difficult to find the right settings for comfortable indoor temperatures. In addition, this inefficient cycling can result in an increase in your energy bills.

  • Once you are sure the thermostat components are clean, verify that the thermostat is level on the wall by using a carpenter’s level just above or below it. Whether the thermostat is not straight because of poor installation or an accidental bump, or loose screws, a simple adjustment may be enough to correct the temperature inaccuracy. This is generally the case for older thermostats and those that are mercury-based.
  • The thermostat’s location could also be a possible factor. Your thermostat must be placed in an area where it does not receive direct sunlight, is not exposed to a heat source or cold drafts, or dust. These conditions will cause the thermostat to give incorrect readings. For example, if the thermostat is receiving direct sunlight, it will register this as the room temperature and cycle on for cooling. However other parts of the home might already be cool, and would not need any further cooling, resulting in energy being wasted. If your air conditioner is in an area where it is exposed to elements that affect its reading, it is a good idea to consider changing its location so it can accurately regulate the temperature and no longer waste energy.
  • An old thermostat is also likely to function inefficiently. An upgrade will improve comfort and also give you access to a variety of new features with many practical capabilities. Features such as remote access, vacation programming, and energy use tracking, are designed to make the systems more user-friendly and functional.

Frequent On and Off Cycling

Depending on the type of thermostat you own, it could be a matter of the thermostat’s settings. Some thermostats allow for cycle rates to be set for a certain number of cycles per hour. The heat anticipator regulates the cycling of the heater, shutting off the heat at a certain point. This is to prevent the rest of the house from reaching undesirable temperatures before the thermostat is able to reach the set temperature. If the anticipator is not properly calibrated, it could also affect the cycling periods. The anticipator can be ideally set to prevent your house from being too hot or too cold for long periods, and to prevent frequent on and off cycling.

When a thermostat needs to be cleaned or isn’t sitting level, it can malfunction and signal the air conditioner repeatedly as well. Similarly, any loose or worn connection will affect the thermostat’s ability to cycle effectively.

To prevent damage to your thermostat, it is best to contact a professional. Routine maintenance is one effective way to keep your thermostat in good condition.

Contact Air Specialty at (251) 545-3337 if you need to have your thermostat replaced or repaired. We have been providing service to the Mobile, Alabama area since 1993, and have developed the expertise and knowledge to provide solutions you can count on every time.

DIY Checklist for Summer – HVAC, Air Quality, and Insulation

DIY Checklist for Summer – HVAC, Air Quality, and Insulation

Air Specialty  HVAC

Summer is the perfect season to spend a little time taking care of home maintenance tasks, and this should include ensuring your HVAC system is functioning efficiently. The investments you make will pay dividends in the form of greater home comfort, lower utility bills and lower long-term maintenance costs.

Keep Your HVAC System Running Efficiently

You can do many of these projects yourself, but some will require professional assistance from an HVAC contractor. Keep safety in mind and ask for help for any work beyond your level of expertise. Tasks most homeowners can tackle include:

  • Changing the air filter. A clean filter keeps dust and pet hair out of the internal parts of the HVAC system. A clogged filter puts unnecessary strain on the air handler, which increases energy costs and decreases equipment life.
  • Removing obstructions to A/C ducts. For proper airflow balance, keep the supply and return ducts open in every room. Do not block them with furniture or carpeting. Closing the vents will not save energy. Clean dust from the outside of registers and straighten any bent fins.
  • Cleaning the outdoor A/C unit. Remove leaves and other debris from around the outdoor unit so air can flow freely through it. Trim grass and shrubbery away from the unit, and consider building a fence or planting trees to shade the unit from summer sunlight.

Keep Indoor Air Clean

Air trapped inside a closed-up house can be more polluted than outdoor air and can threaten your family’s health and comfort. Here are a few things you can do to improve your indoor air quality:

  • Eliminate mold. Plumbing leaks and high humidity can lead to mold growth, especially in closed off areas like the crawl space or damp areas such as your bathroom. Get plumbing problems repaired quickly. Inspect the attic for signs of roof leaks and get them repaired to prevent mold growth and damage to insulation. Use mild bleach to remove existing mold from indoor surfaces.
  • Use vent fans. Install and use vent fans in bathrooms and the kitchen to remove odors and steam from inside your home. Talk to your HVAC contractor about possible solutions if the air conditioner does not adequately control your indoor humidity.
  • Consider a whole-house air purifier. Your HVAC contractor can discuss air cleaning systems with you. Portable air purifiers or UV light systems and HEPA filters in the ductwork can keep mold spores, dust and pet dander from circulating inside your home.
  • Grow plants indoors to freshen your air. Ornamental plants such as a Boston fern or a Pothos, add beauty to your indoor space while also improving the air quality.

Seal Air Leaks and Upgrade Insulation

You can reduce the strain on your heating and cooling systems and save money on utility bills by stopping energy loss from air leaks and insufficient insulation.

  • Seal and insulate ductwork. Have your HVAC pro inspect your ductwork for damaged joints and leaky seams. Repairing leaky ductwork and insulating ducts that run through your attic or other uninsulated spaces can result in significant savings.
  • Check attic insulation. If the top edges of your attic floor joists are visible above the insulation, you probably don’t have enough attic insulation for our hot Alabama summers. Add insulation by blowing in loose-fill cellulose or rolling out fiberglass batts. This is a dirty job that requires knowledge and attention to detail, so it might be best to hire an insulation contractor to do it for you.
  • Seal leaks around doors and windows. Use expanding foam insulation or caulk to fill holes and cracks in your home’s exterior walls, around door and window frames and wherever plumbing or electrical wiring enter the home. Replace worn weatherstripping around the moving parts of doors and windows so they seal tightly when they are closed.

Call your HVAC pro to inspect and perform routine maintenance on your cooling system. Learn more about HVAC system maintenance provided by Air Specialty or contact us at 251-545-3337 to schedule an appointment today.

Carrier FAD NATE Certified BBB 24/7 Emergency Services