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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!

6 Benefits of Air Purifiers

Take a long, deep breath. The air you just inhaled, and now are exhaling, distributes oxygen from your lungs to your bloodstream. Unobstructed breathing is essential for your survival, helping your body with basic functions and maintaining your respiratory health. 

Take another breath. Imagine now that the air in your lungs is full of allergens and pollutants. The more you breathe these contaminants, the more they irritate your lungs. Over time, you become more susceptible to respiratory infection, allergic reactions, and asthma attacks.

A Colorado Homeowner's Guide to Carbon Monoxide Detection

You work hard to protect your home from external threats such as storms and intruders. But what about internal risks?

Guide to Carbon Monoxide Detection for CO HomeownersCarbon monoxide gas can be one of the most significant hazards a household may face, especially because the gas is invisible and odorless. In a previous blog, "Everything You Need to Know About Carbon Monoxide Poisoning," we discussed common sources of carbon monoxide and the effects of exposure to this harmful gas.

In this blog, we expand on what you as a homeowner need to know about carbon monoxide detection.

How Is Carbon Monoxide Detected?
In your home, carbon monoxide protection comes in the form of a carbon monoxide detector. These detectors work a lot like your smoke alarms. Essentially, when carbon monoxide is detected, the device sounds an alarm so you can take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your family.

Individual carbon monoxide detectors may use different methods to detect the gas. Common types of detection include:

  • Biomimetic-Biomimetic detectors contain a gel that changes color according to the contents of the air it comes in contact with. When the gel is exposed to carbon monoxide and consequently changes color, the alarm goes off.
  • Electrochemical-An electrochemical detector monitors the electrical currents in the air. The presence of carbon monoxide changes the current, triggering the alarm.
  • Metal oxide semiconductor-Metal oxide semiconductor detectors contain a specialized silica chip that is sensitive to carbon monoxide. When the chip senses carbon monoxide, the alarm trips by changing the electrical resistance within the device.

 The type of detection you need may depend on which sources of carbon monoxide are in the vicinity of the detector. Consult with the HVAC experts at HomeSmart from Xcel Energy to determine which detector type (or types) you need in your home.

What Are Your Legal Obligations as a Homeowner?
In 2009, the Lofgren and Johnson Families Safety Act was signed into effect as the result of several carbon monoxide-related deaths. As a homeowner in Colorado, you have a legal obligation to install and maintain carbon monoxide detectors in your home if you have any of the following:

  • Fuel-burning appliances
  • Fuel-burning heater
  • Indoor fireplace

If you have a garage space that has been remodeled, sold, or rented since July 2009, that space must also have at least one carbon monoxide detector.

Each detector is required to be installed within 15 feet of the doorway to a room used for sleeping.

Where Else Should Carbon Monoxide Detectors Be Placed?
In addition to the minimum legal requirements, you may want to place other carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home to decrease the risk of exposure.

Experts recommend installing at least one detector on every floor of your home where people sleep. If you have multiple sleeping areas on the same floor of your home, each area needs its own detector.

People are most vulnerable to the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning while asleep, so start by placing detectors in bedrooms.

You may also decide to include detectors in your kitchen, home office, and dining area as needed.

What Type of Carbon Monoxide Detector Do You Need?
Carbon monoxide detectors come in come in several varieties. In addition to how the detector senses the presence of carbon monoxide, each detector is either powered by batteries or by your home's electrical current.

Battery-powered carbon monoxide detectors are similar to your smoke alarms. These detectors can be attached to any wall or ceiling, as long as they're out of the reach of any children or climbing pets in your home. If you install battery-operated detectors, you will need to test the batteries twice a year and replace them as needed.

Carbon monoxide detectors that use your home's electrical system for power may need to be professionally installed. These models can cost more to put in, but they tend to last longer than their counterparts.

Discuss your budget, detector placement, and priorities with a HomeSmart technician to determine which type of detector you need. You may decide to use a combination of different detector types depending on the condition of your electrical system, your home architecture, and other factors.

How Do You Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors?

Once you decide where to place your carbon monoxide detectors, battery-operated models can simply be screwed to the ceiling or wall. Be aware of where your ducts and other hidden house systems components are to reduce the risk of damaging other home systems.

If you aren't sure you can safely install a carbon monoxide detector or you prefer a detector model that runs on your home's electricity, discuss your options with a HomeSmart technician.

Use this information to keep your Colorado household safe from the risk of carbon monoxide exposure.

Need new or additional carbon monoxide detectors? Work with the professionals at HomeSmart From Xcel Energy to ensure that you have the best possible protection for your home and family.

4 Heating Mistakes You Don't Want to Make This Winter

If you follow our blog, you already know the basics of having a warm, energy-efficient home this winter. You recognize the three most common furnace problems homeowners face, understand how to prep your heating system for the season, and know how to make the most of your programmable thermostat.

But even when you put all these tips to good use, it's still possible to make a few of the mistakes we list here. Maximize your heater this winter by avoiding these common mistakes-we promise you'll be happier with your home, your heater, and your energy bill if you do.

1. Cranking Up the Thermostat to Quickly Heat a Chilly Home

If you come home to a cold house, your first instinct might be to change the thermostat from 67 degrees to 78 degrees or even higher. Some homeowners reason that cranking up the temperature so drastically encourages the heater to work faster than it would otherwise so their home will get warmer faster.

However, thermostats don't actually work faster the higher they're set-they run at a consistent speed, no matter what. Turning your thermostat up to a very high temperature just forces the heater to run for an hour or more without a break in between. Your home will still heat slowly, and you'll waste money while you wait for it to do so.

Instead, use a programmable thermostat to turn your heat down to a cooler temperature while you're away. Set the thermostat to start heating the home by a few degrees thirty minutes or so before you usually get home.

If you don't have a programmable thermostat, consider getting one installed and zoning your home. Otherwise, just turn your thermostat up by a few degrees or more instead of drastically changing the temperature every time you come home. 

2. Turning the Thermostat Down Too Low

On the other hand, keeping your home too cold can cause similarly costly problems-or even more expensive ones. If you've never owned a home before or if you recently moved to Colorado from a warmer climate, you might not know that frozen pipes are a distinct issue facing homes in this area.

If you leave to visit family over the holidays and turn off the heat entirely, you might come home to find that your basement or crawlspace is flooded with stale water and that you now have to pay thousands of dollars to repair your pipes and restore your property.

During a cold snap, temperatures in un-heated homes can reach freezing degrees. If your pipes freeze, the water expands and bursts the pipes. To avoid this problem, keep your heater on when you leave on vacation, but turn it down to the low 60s or mid 50s so you don't waste money on heating a home you aren't in.

If leaving a gas heater on while you're away worries you, ask a neighbor to drive past your house every day or so and ensure that everything looks fine from the outside. But if you keep the heat down low and ensure your fire alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are in working condition, you shouldn't have anything to worry about.

It's also a good idea to add insulation to colder rooms in your house or rooms with exposed pipes, especially the basement and attic. You probably don't need to worry much about the pipes in your home's interior bursting in your absence-exposed pipes are at a much higher risk, and you can minimize your chances of disaster (and decrease the amount of heat you lose through thin walls) by putting in more insulation. 

3. Ignoring Your Ceiling Fans

Some homeowners think their ceiling fans are only good for the summer-but they can actually keep your home warmer in the winter. Remember learning that heat rises? If you reverse the way the fans spin (which means changing them from counterclockwise to clockwise), the fans create an upward draft that pulls and circulates the warm air back down through the room.

4. Waiting Too Long to Fix Heating Problems

We're mentioned this before, but the advice holds true in every season: the longer you wait to schedule a maintenance call for a given appliance, the higher your chances that the appliance will break down or wear out completely. If you run an old or broken heater, you'll also waste more money on energy bills than you have to. Don't wait until the end of winter to fix a struggling heater. Instead, call a professional to assess the situation.

When you avoid these four mistakes, you can look forward to enjoying your pleasantly warm home all winter long without dealing with the hassle of high utility bills, broken pipes, or terribly chilly rooms. If you want to get a new furnace or ask about a repair, contact a member of our capable team. We'll make your winter warm in no time.

3 Frequent Furnace Problems

As summer turns into fall and winter starts to creep closer, it's time to turn off your air conditioner and pay attention to your furnace. Hopefully, you've followed the advice on our blog post on how to keep your furnace in good repair during the summer. But if you didn't have time to maintain your furnace or if it's nearing the end of its lifespan, you might find yourself dealing with some of the following common repairs this winter.

If you experience any of these problems, though, don't worry too much. We'll talk you through why these problems happen and how a HomeSmart service technician can help.

1. Age That Leads to Inefficiency

Most furnaces are only built to last 20 years at most, though some sturdier models can last up to a quarter of a century. This means furnaces last longer than your air conditioner, which will probably only work efficiently for about 15 years, but they still need to be replaced at the end of their lifespan.

If you have an older furnace, you'll probably notice a few key problems, like:

  • The heater runs for a long time but just barely heats the room.
  • The heater takes too long to kick on after you turn up the thermostat.
  • Your energy bill is higher this winter than you remember it being in the past. When it runs, your furnace is loud enough that the noise is distracting.

No matter how well you've maintained your furnace, these types of problems are bound to develop as it ages. Don't feel guilty about its breakdown-all appliances experience normal wear and tear as their parts run, and after a few decades, it's normal for your furnace to experience the above problems.

If you've noticed these problems, you have a few options. You can choose to repair some of your furnace's oldest or least functional parts and perform typical maintenance like changing the filters. But if the cost of repairs exceeds the cost of purchasing a new furnace, you should bite the bullet and invest in a new model.

Your HomeSmart service technician can recommend the right type of furnace for your home. As with your air conditioner and water heater, you don't want to choose a furnace that's too big or too small. Otherwise, the appliance's efficiency will decrease. You might also want to pay a bit more upfront to invest in a unit with a high efficiency rating, especially if you plan to stay in the same home for several years. 

2. Pilot Lights That Go Out Constantly

Pilot lights are some of the most finicky components of your gas heater. If your light goes out once or twice, you can simply relight it as long as you take necessary safety precautions, like turning off the gas and electricity before you start. If you've never relit a pilot light before, ask your HomeSmart service technician to show you how to do it.

However, if the light goes out consistently, you probably have an issue with your thermocouple. A thermocouple senses whether or not your pilot light is producing enough heat. If the thermocouple's sensors are off, it can turn off the pilot light instead of signaling to the furnace that it's okay to turn on.

If your thermocouple is loose, a HomeSmart service technician might be able to tighten it, or you might need to replace the entire part. Thermocouples aren't very expensive, so replacing it shouldn't be a big problem.

If you suspect your thermocouple isn't working, you should get in touch with a technician quickly. Natural gas furnaces are dangerous when their sensors don't work correctly or when there are issues with the pilot light. Always make sure your carbon monoxide sensor is functional and has fully charged batteries.

3. Thermostats That Don't Work

If you change your thermostat but don't notice a corresponding change in temperature, you might need to replace your thermostat. But before you call a technician, check your filters. Have you changed the filter within the last three months or, if you have a pet or smoke indoors, within the last month? If not, change it immediately. This simple step could solve your problem.

You can also open the thermostat panel and see how dusty the inside is. Gently blow the accumulated dust off and see if that helps. If you have a more modern system, check the batteries. This seems like an obvious step, but it's surprisingly easy to overlook small issues like up-to-date batteries.

If none of these steps solve the issue, your thermostat could have a wiring problem that makes it unable to sense the temperature change, or it could simply be too old and winding down just like your furnace will.

Get In Touch With HomeSmart

If you're experiencing any of the above problems with your furnace, call HomeSmart and schedule a service call with one of our certified service technicians. These three problems are incredibly common, and we can offer quick, effective, and long-lasting repairs. Stay warm this winter by familiarizing yourself with the above issues and contacting us for help as soon as they happen.


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