HomeSmart from Xcel EnergySM

Tips For Improving The Air Quality In Your Home

If you spend a lot of time indoors enjoying television with your family, avoiding excessive summer heat, or working on home improvement products, you're not alone. Most Americans spend approximately 90 percent of their time indoors, and a lot of that time is at home. Improving your home's air quality probably isn't at the top of your list, but it should be.

Poor indoor air quality can exacerbate existing conditions, including asthma and allergies, and it may even make your family sick with another serious illness. Help ensure that your family's health isn't compromised by indoor air pollution, and instead, here are a few simple ways you can improve your home's air quality.

Invest in Quality Air Filters
One of the best and most cost-effective ways to improve the air quality in your home is to change the filters on your furnace and air conditioner—especially if they are several months old or of a lesser quality. Air filters are rated based on the MERV, or minimum efficiency reporting value, rating. The higher the MERV score, the more particulates and pollution your filter will capture.

For example, many hospitals will utilize filters that feature a MERV rating of at least 16. However, you need to purchase a filter that you can afford and that will eliminate as many pollutants as possible while not compromising the efficiency of your HVAC unit. If you purchase a filter with a high MERV rating, it requires more power to push air through the filter, which can make it difficult for your HVAC system to run properly.

Instead, contact HomeSmart to speak with a home comfort specialist who can provide a free installation estimate and can help you determine which air filter is the best for your needs, budget and HVAC system.

Become a Clean Freak
You may consider yourself a neat freak, but sometimes, you need to go the extra mile to reduce the allergens throughout your home. Here are a few simple cleaning tips that can help you improve your home's air quality:

  • Invest in a new vacuum. If you don't have one already, invest in a vacuum with a HEPA, or high-efficiency particulate air, filter. Vacuum all your carpets at least twice a week to reduce the number of allergens that become trapped in the fibers.
  • Sweep often. In addition to vacuuming, make sure to sweep your floors several times a week. Pay special attention to the areas in front of your doors. These areas are where the allergens found outside can be carried into your home.
  • Grab a damp rag. Instead of grabbing a feather duster, wipe off the surfaces throughout your home with a damp rag. Feather dusters simply move the dust in your home into your air. A damp rag will actually eliminate the dust and dust mites.
  • Wash your sheets often. The average mattress is home to anywhere from 1 to 10 million dust mites. Washing your sheets at least once a week on a hot setting will help keep these numbers down.

Additionally, don't forget to wipe down your blinds and drapes weekly, as well. This chore will help reduce the numbers of allergens and dust mites, as well.

Maintain a Healthy Moisture Level
Ideally, your home should maintain a humidity level of between 40 and 50 percent. Purchasing a quality home humidifier can help keep the moistures levels in check, but you still can't be sure if your home is at the ideal humidity level with this product alone.

The best way to monitor the moisture levels inside your house is with a hygrometer. A hygrometer is an inexpensive tool that can be purchased at home hardware and home improvement stores and is used to monitor the humidity inside of your home.

After installing the hygrometer in your home, adjust the dehumidifier, as needed, until your home features a humidity between 40 and 50 percent.

For a free estimate on a new home humidifier, contact HomeSmart at 1-866-837-9762 to set up an appointment for a free estimate with a home comfort consultant.

Purchase an Air Purifier
One of the most effective ways to eliminate allergens inside of your home is with an air purifier. There are several air purifiers available, including whole house models that are attached to your HVAC system, or portable units that can be moved to different areas of your home.

The type of air purifier that is best for your needs is dependent upon several factors, including the type of filtration system featured on the unit and your budget. A HEPA air purifier is a great option for many homeowners because they are so effective at removing several different types of particulates.

Another option is a UV air purifier. These types of purifiers are often combined with a HEPA filtration system that eliminates particulates from the air and kills several different types of airborne viruses and bacteria.

If you aren't sure which type of air purifier is best for your needs and budget, don't hesitate to contact HomeSmart to set up a free appointment with a home comfort consultant, 1-866-837-9762.

Improving your home's air quality is critical, especially if someone in your household is suffering with allergies or asthma. If you have any further questions about how you can eliminate allergens throughout your home, don't hesitate to contact the professionals at Home Smart Colorado

Take Care When Moving Refrigerators and Freezers

Standard-size refrigerators and freezers are the heaviest and bulkiest appliances to move. They also require special care, whether you're moving them from room to room or into a new home.

Because freezers and fridges are so bulky and heavy, it's best to find a few strong, willing friends or hired hands who have experience moving large appliances. If you plan to move the fridge or freezer yourself, say for a kitchen/dining room remodel, or cleaning, you should remember a few rules.

Empty and Thoroughly Clean the Fridge or Freezer
Before you prepare your refrigerator or freezer for moving, you need to take all of the food and medicine out of the appliance and clean it as throughly as possible. Even a short move into a different room will jostle glass jars and other containers. You'll end up with a bigger mess to clean.

Place any medicine, drinks, or cold food you plan to keep in a cooler with ice. All frozen food should be prepared or donated to others. If you have a large freezer, begin using up the frozen food inside at least six weeks before moving. Planning ahead allows you to use as much perishable food as possible.

Once the food is out, remove the shelves and drawers; wash them; and allow them to dry. Take a picture or label shelves and drawers as you remove them so you remember where they go. For a truck or van relocation, you can place the shelves back inside and tape them to the appliance walls. Or, pack them securely wrapped in boxes.

Use a mixture of baking soda and water to clean all of the walls and shelves inside the appliance. Dry thoroughly. Even a small bit of rotting food will make the fridge or freezer stink when it's turned off, so be sure to get into all of the nooks and crannies.

Defrost the Appliance In Advance
You may get away with leaving the freezer full of frost and ice, but only take this route if you think you can have the appliance moved in under 30 minutes. After this point, your drain pan will become overwhelmed and start leaking water everywhere as you roll the appliance to its new spot.

If the refrigerator or freezer will be taking a trip in a moving van, pickup, or other vehicle, you should fully defrost the frozen sections a day or so in advance of the move. If you wait too long, the defrost process may not be complete. Then, all the leaking water will end up soaking the bottom of boxes in the moving van or truck.

Because the amount of frost buildup may cause the drain pan to overflow, locate the drain hose and set it in a shallow pan to catch overflow. You can also place towels around the base of the fridge to soak up excess drainage.

Have Freezers and Fridges Disconnected Properly
If you own a simple electric refrigerator with no ice maker, all you have to do is unplug the appliance after you empty and defrost it. However, if you have a gas-powered fridge or freezer, or if you have water lines attached to the refrigerator, the disconnection process will be a bit more complicated.

Any gas appliance should be disconnected and re-connected by qualified technicians. There's too much potential for things to go wrong when gas lines are involved for you to take care of this job yourself. Possible problems include gas leaks, line damage, and fitting issues. A certified HomeSmart service technician should handle tasks related to the gas lines.  The same holds true for any complicated plumbing disconnections.

Move the Appliance Properly and Wait to Use It
Freezers and refrigerators shouldn't be tipped on their sides, since this allows compressor oil to flow into the lines that hold the coolant. If you absolutely must tip a freezer or refrigerator in its side, make certain the compressor is on the bottom. Secure the compressor with bolts if it isn't encased in housing.

You should also tape the refrigerator doors shut when moving the appliance. If the doors are secured, they won't get caught on a corner, bash a dent in the wall, or fly open and harm anyone. Some experts recommend rolling up a towel and placing it in the doorframe before taping the door shut. This keeps the door slightly open and allows ventilation into the appliance.

Don't use the appliance right away after it's been moved. Wait at least 24 hours to let any oil drain out of the lines. It sometimes takes a few days for a recently moved refrigerator or freezer to cool efficiently after it is plugged in, so be patient.

Contact HomeSmart today if you're having problems with a recently moved refrigerator or freezer. We can also service appliances and the HVAC system in your new home.

3 Tips to Save Energy and Extend the Life of Your Water Heater

Water Heater Energy Saving TipsWater heaters are some of the biggest power guzzlers of the home appliance world. If you're trying to cut your energy usage, it's wise to develop power-saving strategies to deal with the hungriest power gobblers on your grid.

Replace your aging water heater if it's approaching the end of its useful life. A new energy-smart water heater may be all you need to see your power bill shrink. No matter which kind of appliance you own, help your old or new water heater work more efficiently—and last longer—by following the tips below.

Know the Limitations of Your System
Each type of water heater has its drawbacks and limitations. Traditional water heaters use energy to heat water even when no one needs hot water. Tankless water heaters often can't keep up when multiple hot water–dispensing fixtures are running at the same time.

Gas-fired water heaters work during power outages in some cases, which is a plus. However, tanks on standard gas water heaters corrode faster if the gas fire is kicked on more often than normal due to heavy daily usage.

When it comes to life expectancy, traditional water heaters last anywhere from 8 to 20 years depending on the model and how well it's maintained. It's not unusual for tankless heaters to last 20 years at the minimum and much longer when properly serviced.

Work With What You've Got for More Energy Savings
When you know your system's limitations, you can take energy-conserving steps to work around the weaknesses. For example, ask your appliance service tech to install a timer on the water heater, so it only heats water during pre-set times. When the household is sleeping, or you're all away at work or school, the water heater isn't using any fuel or power. Modern smart water heaters have built-in power-saving controls that run the water heater according to your patterns of use.

If you don't have a smart water heater, set a schedule for the use of hot water so your tankless or traditional gas heater isn't overwhelmed by household demands. Stagger shower, cooking, and laundry times to reduce the draw on the system. Limit shower times and switch to cold water for clothes washing to save even more hot water and energy.

Insulate pipes, walls, and ceiling in the area where the water heater sits to reduce temperature loss due to cold drafts. Lower the water heater temperature to 120 degrees in Summer, and all year long if you can stand it, to lower your power bill and extend the life of your appliance.

Have Your Water Heater Inspected Annually
No matter which type of water heater you own, it's important to have the system inspected at least once a year by a certified HomeSmart technician to check for problems. You may not notice small issues, but those little details can become big problems in a hurry.

Two things that should be checked once a year in a standard water heater are the anode rod and the overflow valve (plumbers call this the T & P valve for "temperature and pressure".) If either of these components fail to do their job, you face serious leaks or even flooding from the water heater.

Anode Rod
A traditional water heater is normally composed of a thin layer of glass over steel. When the glass inevitably cracks, the steel is likely to corrode or rust out, causing a leak. Corrosion of other components makes the water heater work less efficiently.

The anode valve is called a sacrificial rod because it collects the corrosion that would otherwise end up on the steel tank and other parts of the water heater. The anode rod needs to be changed out every three years as it grows more corroded. Some types of environmental conditions and water sources can cause the anode rod to corrode and need replacement more often.

T & P Valve
The T & P valve lets off the "steam" of the water heater, so to speak. What it actually does is let off small amounts of pressurized hot water when the water inside the tank gets too hot and pressure builds. If the T & P relief valve is letting out water too often, you may need to adjust your water temperature down a few degrees. Or the valve may be failing and subject to a full leak soon.

If you want to maintain your current hot water temperature but don't want to overload a relief valve, have a HomeSmart service technician add a hot water expansion tank to your system (contact us for a free estimate). This smaller tank takes on the excess water so you don't risk leaks or blowouts and you still have the hot water you need when you want it. Remember, too, that the water released by the relief valve is costing you money to heat and waste.

Contact the appliance professionals at HomeSmart From Xcel Energy today to schedule expert installation, repair, and maintenance of your water heater. We offer the best brands and a 100% quality guarantee on appliance installations.

How to Keep Your Family Safe and Cozy Until the Furnace Is Fixed

keep-family-warm-during-furnace-repair.pngKeeping household members warm and cozy in frigid temperatures is difficult enough without adding a furnace crisis. While you wait for your furnace-repair service to arrive, take steps to ensure that family members are comfortable and safe.

If your power is working, electric space heaters are one option to keep your home toasty. But if you don't have a small space heater or the ability to get one, there are other methods to make your home and family feel warmer.  (Space heaters can also pose a safety hazard if not operated properly).

Identify At-Risk Household Members
Small children, elderly adults, and people with suppressed immune systems have a difficult time regulating body heat. It takes only a few hours of body chill to cause health problems if a person has problems with thermoregulation. When your furnace fails and one of your family members is vulnerable in this way, consider relocating to a hotel or friend's home until your furnace is working again.

Healthy children will generally keep themselves warm with their physical activity, but caregivers must ensure they are dressed properly in dry clothes. Look for open places in their outfits along the waistline and lower calves. These "leaks" make kids feel chilled by exposing bare skin, so encourage kids to add long pairs of socks and long-tailed, tucked-in shirts to their ensembles to close up the gaps.

Also at risk are any household members who must repeatedly go outdoors to perform tasks or chores, regardless of age. Wind and moisture compound the risk of hypothermia, so ensure that people going outdoors are able to take frequent breaks to warm up, get out of the wind, and remove any wet clothing.

Take Advantage of Appliances
If you have power, your kitchen is a great place for family members to congregate. Remember: when the temperature is bitterly cold, every degree of heat counts. Roast a turkey, bake bread, or make lasagna. Keep the oven going, and it will provide a steady source of warmth.

Make chili in the crock pot and brew a pot of coffee to add more warmth to the room. Fill a stock pot with water and let it simmer on the stove, since humid air feels warmer than dry air. Make pancakes or grilled cheese sandwiches on your electric griddle to generate additional heat in the room.

Your clothes dryer is also a good source of indirect heat. As long as the dryer is close to where people are and is vented properly, it can add a few degrees of comfort to the living space when it's running on a heated setting.

You can also instantly warm up blankets, outerwear, and pajamas to give family members cozy garments and covers. Don't run the dryer empty, and do clean out the lint trap after each load, even if you're using the dryer only to heat clothes and bedding.

Pick Out a "Camp" for the Duration
In the old days, without modern central heating systems, families in cold environments moved into one room for the winter. A stove or fireplace kept that one room cozy. Choose a similar room in your home to turn into a temporary "camp." The room should be large enough for all to sleep and do seated activities comfortably in.

Block off any open doorways and drafty windows with blankets or plastic sheeting to conserve heat. Kids love to camp out on the floor, so cover it with sleeping bags and cushions. Let kids pile into the sleeping bags together and keep each other toasty as they sleep.

Plug in electronics that you know create excess heat, like old cabinet TVs, tower computers, and dorm fridges. You don't want to overload the circuits in the room, of course. But those hot electronic items can add a few critical degrees to your "camp" until you have proper heat again.

Contact the heating experts at HomeSmart From Xcel Energy to schedule an inspection of your furnace before you have a breakdown and need emergency heat. We offer many repair plans and even appliance replacement assistance for furnaces and boilers.

Upgrading a Noisy HVAC System? Understand the New Variable Options

If your old furnace or AC unit is loud and obnoxious, the blame most likely falls on the air handler. This is the enclosed series of components responsible for pushing cold or warm air into your home's ductwork. Air handlers come in all sorts of configurations to fit the specific needs of your structure.

Upgrade your HVAC System with HomesmartAn AC air handler may be as simple as three components hooked up to a power source: coils to draw in refrigerant from the outside unit, drip pans to collect condensation, and a blower-motor with a fan aimed at ductwork to force out the cooled air built up in the air handler. In old-style furnaces and AC units, the fans and motors are not the smoothest, most discreet operators.

"Variable" refrigerant, zonal, and fan-blower systems are now offered in new HVAC units. Electronically commutated motors (ECMs) are also fast becoming standard options in some lines of HVAC systems because they cut down on the racket that the old-school air handlers make. Both types of air-handling systems have their benefits. 

Variable Ventilation Versus Traditional HVAC Blowers
In modern whole-house and split HVAC systems that use variable types of technology, blower fans are set up to respond to the temperature on the main thermostat as before if desired, or they may be set individually for each room.

If you want more heat in the dining room and less in the hallway, separate fans help accomplish this, either through a master control or custom setup. In extreme hot or cold conditions, fans are set to run at a low-flow rate so they don't have to blow excessively hard to increase or lower room temperatures.

Traditional HVAC blowers cycle on and off in response to the main thermostat. If you have a too-small system, the unit will stay on for extended periods of time to meet the comfort needs of the household. This leads to a shorter HVAC system life and large power bills. Having a system like this also means you live in a house that's always making a blowing noise.

If your HVAC unit is too large, it may cycle on and off frequently, requiring a power surge each time the motor kicks back on to heat or cool the home. The heat or cooling may be extreme right before it kicks off, and then you may begin to feel hot or cold again as you wait for the unit to fire up once more.

People with these kinds of HVAC units find themselves turning the volume on their TVs up and down often, adjusting the sound in response to their home's intermittent, loud air handler.

Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) and Variable Refrigerant Volume (VRV)
VRF/VRV systems are becoming popular in multi-level buildings and commercial buildings in the U.S. due to the many benefits of the technology. This cutting-edge HVAC style is nothing new to other parts of the world, however. VRF/VRV units have been popular in sustainability-conscious Europe and Japan for decades. That's because VRF/VRV systems give you ultimate control of the climate in your home. They do so while also saving you energy.

The terms "VRF" and "VRV" refer to a shared refrigerant system throughout a structure. If you use a VRF/VRV to run a heat-pump system in your home, you can provide individualized heating or cooling to each room. Different zones can have more or less heat or cooling without adding more compressors. One compressor manages an entire home or small office building.

In a VRF/VRV heat-recovery system, you can have both heating and cooling out of one unit. This is a great option if you need a cool room for computers and a hot room for proofing bread or raising exotic pets but also want the main areas of the home to be kept at a normal temperature.

Because the refrigerant is shared throughout the system in a heat-recovery unit, rooms that need cooling give up heat to warm up rooms that need warmth, and the too-warm rooms return the favor by sending back their chill.

Electrically Commutated Motors (ECMs)Traditional HVAC units operate on AC current, but DC motors are often far more efficient. An ECM is a motor that converts AC current to DC voltage to offer more efficient blower operation. The ECM is efficient at a variety of speeds, and it makes less noise than traditional motors.

ECMs also have the ability to do gradual starts and stops, and this saves energy. Slow stops also avoid the pitfalls of having excess condensation in units, which can lead to mold and other problems in ductwork and air handlers.

The ECM's ability to run at a variety of speeds makes it ideal for custom HVAC applications. Many home systems with ECMs allow you only limited speed adjustments, but the motors are still more energy saving than traditional motors. HVAC systems with ECMs are a more budget-friendly choice than some of the more advanced variable HVAC technology. One of the ECM-type units is a wise choice for anyone who wants to be a greener HVAC consumer.

Whether you want a new AC unit or an energy-efficient heat pump, HomeSmart From Xcel Energy has products to make your home your haven. Contact us today for all of your heating and cooling needs—we also offer free in-home estimates on brand-new high efficiency equipment!


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