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Recently a lot of the people in Northern Colorado experienced extended power outages due to a spring blizzard. During the couple of days that the power was out I was astonished by the number of people I talked to that were confused about what they could and could not do without power.
When our houses lose power one of the most important things we can do is go around and unplug things. There are a couple of reasons for this, but before we get into that I am going to cover what happens when the power goes out.
On a normal day with power on everybody is happy watching television, running lights, enjoying cold beverages from the fridge and frozen items from the freezer. Oh yeah don’t forget enjoying a nice warm house because the furnace is working properly or the air conditioner has been keeping it cool in the summer. All of these things draw a constant drain on the electrical grid. For the power companies to keep everybody happy, they have to supply a certain amount of power to the grid to keep it at a constant level. Here comes Mother Nature with a powerful blizzard or a tornado that is going to knock out a hundred or so power poles. When this happens that constant amount of power being supplied to the grind for these locations suddenly goes to nothing, all people effected have no power. Here comes our wonderful power companies with there had working lines crews and they run around during the freezing cold weather working there butts off for 18 hour shifts to get everything fixed. Ok now it is time to turn it back on. Keep in mind all of those people that did not turn off a bunch of appliances in their houses. As the power comes on everybody’s appliances and lights are getting power at the same time. Remember the amount of electricity that is normally fed into the grid is supplied at a rate to give all of the customers a constant amount of electricity when normal life is going. For a split second after the power is turned on life is not normal because everything is not running, the power is on and we have a huge surge of electricity in the lines until things start turning on. Because it takes more electricity to start up motors and appliances than it does when they have been running for a while the surge that just went into the lines is now being sucked down because of everything trying to start up at once, (this is what we call a brown out stage). The brown out stage last for up to a few minutes in some cases depending on how long the power was off and the amount of people effected by the area. Ok now we have a brief understanding of what happens when the power goes off.
When we lose power and leave everything plugged in and the power comes back on it exposes our appliances to surges and spikes when it is turned back on and then exposes them to the brown out stage which is low voltage for a couple of minutes. Electrical motors do not like low voltage, electronic equipment do not like surges and spikes. If we unplug most or all of our appliances off during outages it helps to protect our appliances and also helps to stabilize the grid quicker when the power is turned on. I install special thermostats that will automatically keep the furnaces and air conditioners off for about 5 minutes after the power has been turned back on. I can also install surge protectors on furnaces and air conditioners that will shunt the high voltage and keep it from killing those expensive circuit boards and variable speed controllers that are installed in our high efficient equipment.
Ok now back to what we can and cannot do during the period that we don’t have power. If your water heater is natural gas or propane and is not plugged into an outlet it will work the same as it always did. If you have an on demand water heater it will not work. For those of you that have electric water heaters bummer. If you are on a well for your water your well needs electricity to pump the water so even though you have hot water you cannot get it out of the facet. As long as you are not on a well you can take showers and baths as normal providing you don’t have lift stations for your sewer which is a whole other issue. All plumbing fixtures will work normal. If you have a gas stove you can use your cooktop for cooking but you never want to use it for heating your house. Cooktops put of a small amount of carbon monoxide and with extended use could cause a build up inside the house. While we are on that subject never use any appliance like a kerosene or oil heater inside the house that is not vented to the outside. If you have a generator you can plug in some appliances and alternate them to keep freezers and refrigerators cold. You can also use a generator to power up your furnace if it is done correctly. Never run the generator inside the house and always use the largest and shortest extension cords possible. Use your gas fireplace and gas freestanding stoves for heat even though the fans won’t work it is ok, as most of these appliances are designed to operate with or without the fan. Use your car charger to charge cell phones and keep in mind as long as you don’t need to turn the key on to get power to the plug that little cell phone is not going to drain your battery in your car. If you have to turn the key on then the other stuff that turns on in the car will drain your car battery. If you have to start the car to recharge the battery every now and then make sure to pull it out of the garage.
Lighting, if you are going to use candles for light and most of us are, make sure to keep them away from anything that can start a fire.
Ok well I am sure I missed something but this will help to keep people safe, happy and help you get the most out of life when your power is out.
Don’t forget to thank the hard working power company people that are working to get the power back on. They really do have to work in some of the most horrible conditions and it is extremely dangerous work.
Remember first thing is to unplug your appliances.
get asked all the time from people “Do I need to get my ducts cleaned”. In a short answer yes your ducts should be cleaned at least once every 10-15 years.
If you are building a new house you need to request that your HVAC company cover all the openings in the system as they are installed so construction debris does not get into the ducts during normal construction. If the builder says “we cannot because we need the heat to continue to do the work”, the response from you should be. “Ok, you can use my system to heat the house during construction however when the job is finished you pay to have the ducts professionally cleaned and have the furnace blower pulled and cleaned”. When cleaning blowers on older homes I can tell if the house was built during the winter because the blower wheel will be coated with sheet rock dust and paint.
Ducts only need cleaned every 10-15 years. If you think about it the debris that gets into the supply or hot air registers has to try and vibrate its way into the ducts against the air stream. You can clean you supplies by using a vacuum. 1st take off the registers then stick the vacuum hose in and move it around as far as you can. Be Careful of the sheet metal screws sticking into the ducts they are very sharp. The return grilles can be removed and you can clean the first part of the returns also. The returns are where it gets ugly however this air must travel through your filter before it will get recirculated. Use a quality pleated air filter and you will catch the majority of this. Duct cleaning companies will tell you it should be done every 3 years or so. If they have never been cleaned get them done then get on the 10-15 year sch. I worked on a house this week that had 2″ thick carpeting of dust and debris in the return ducting. The picture below is the filter I removed from there system. To there credit the house was really old and ducts had never been cleaned.
How to keep from getting scammed by duct cleaning companies. 1st check the companies out BBB, Angie’s List, local Chamber of Commerce, Consumer advocacy groups. Get referrals from other people and ask them how the company did the work. Ask them what the final cost was. Don’t go with the cheap companies that advertise that they will do it for under $200. If you only pay $200 or less you will get a pretty cheap job. The good companies should send out someone to look at the system and give you a price. If they don’t send someone out before they start cleaning be sure to agree on a price before they start the work. I once read an article about a duct cleaning company that always advertised the job to be under $200, there average ticket price at the end of the job was over $1200. Don’t let them up sell you. Good companies should give you before and after pictures for free. Be careful with disinfecting and sanitizing make sure the stuff they use is non toxic and will not harm you. We don’t need more chemicals floating around the houses. If they show you your blower wheel and explain it should be cleaned they should not charge more than $150.00 for this. This is extremely important. Make them show you there equipment and explain how it works. Make them show you the empty filters and bags before they begin and show it to you again when the job is finished. The scammers love to show up with the equipment already full then when they are done they show you all the stuff they got out of your system when it really came from someplace else. Unless the ducts are extremely dirty it will probably not save you any money on your utility bills however it might save you some money on your medical bills if you have someone living in your house with asthma, allergies or other respiratory illnesses.
Be prepared, do your homework and have them cleaned if needed.
Here is a great video of a company scamming an older lady that got caught.
After they have been clean be sure to use the proper size filter, use a good quality filter and replace it on time. This will help to keep your system clean and operating properly which will save you money and keep your ducts clean for years to come. If you are in question of how well your filter is working for you or don’t think it is installed properly, have a local HVAC company come out and look the furnace over and ask about the filter.
Back to sterilizing duct systems. We do sell a system sterilizer that will constantly sterilize your indoor air and using cold plasma. For more information on this type of system go to http://gpshvac.com . The plasma generator we use is GPS-2400. So now you can have hospital clean air in your own home.
Keep your Ducts in a row.
Heat Pumps do work in the cold Northern
The new higher efficient heat pumps will do a great job of heating your house down to as low as 20 deg. F. outside. Then as the air outside continues to drop the system needs to be able to switch to an alternative source of heat. We will get more into that below see Dual Fuel. Using a heat pump down to about 20 deg. is also extremely efficient.
Insulation: the very 1st thing everybody needs to do before having a new HVAC system installed is make sure your insulation meets efficiency standards. It does not matter how efficient of a furnace, heat pump or air conditioner you have in your house if your insulation is poor you will not save much money on bills. Insulation is one of the cheapest ways to save on your utility bills. About 3 years ago we had our attic insulation increased from a R-19 which was standard when our house was built, up to an R-50. What a huge difference this made in our home. Our utility bills were already cheap but they still dropped by about 40% after the insulation. If your windows are poor quality that is another good place to put your money. We have to keep in what is in and out what is out.
How does it work? Now that we have our house sealed up and were are not leaking out our conditioned air, lets get down to business. If you have Natural Gas or Propane in your house you can do what we call a dual fuel system. This is when we install or use your existing furnace and add a high efficient heat pump to it. You gain a high efficient air conditioner in the process. We set up the controls so we have an outdoor sensor. When the outdoor ambient temp. drops below our balance point (read on) your furnace will automatically turn on and heat the house. Any time the air outside is above the balance point your heat pump will run the heat the house. If you don’t have natural gas or propane you will use an electric furnace as your back up. Either way using the new heat pumps with R-410a will save big time on utility bills. The Balance point is established by entering btu’s of equipment, cost of kilowatt per hour of your electricity, cost of natural gas or propane, location in the world. We plug this into a computer formula and it will tell us what the balance point is. The heat pump actually pulls the heat out of the outside air and transfers it to the indoor air of your house. It is amazing how much heat you can pull from 20 deg outside air. The use of high efficient heat pumps and refrigerant that operates at higher pressures allow the system balance point to be much lower than it used to be. If it is a ground source heat pump or a geothermal system it pulls the heat out of the earth or water, what ever is being used for the ground loop. Geothermal is a hole different animal and that will be covered in another blog.
Controlling the system. There are many thermostats on the market that will control a dual fuel system. We can set us systems with super cool high definition screen programmable or non programmable thermostats. We can also set up systems to be controlled by a fairly simple programmable or non programmable thermostat. See the thermostat section of this website under products for a sample of the thermostats available. What ever way the system is set up it should be completely automated and not require any extra effort on the home owners part. Every now and then you have to go knock the snow off the top of the outdoor unit if it has not melted yet. This does not happen very often but is does happen.
Accessories. With your system you can have humidifiers, dehumidifiers, air cleaners and ultra violet lights installed to increase the overall comfort of your home.
So if you ever decide to upgrade your
HVAC system consider a heat pump it will
cost a little more upfront but the savings
can be huge!!!!
Many times unfortunately we have to tell a customer that they have a cracked heat exchanger. Usually the first words out of there mouth is we have a carbon monoxide (C.O.) detector and it has never gone off. Not all C.O. detectors are created equally and some are pretty slow to alarm.
First, lets explain what the heat exchanger is and what it does. A heat exchanger on a furnace is a piece of metal designed to carry the hot flue gases from the burner to the vent and keep the flue gases from entering the air being distributed over the heat exchanger by the blower. As the blower pushes the air from the return air compartment to the supply distribution plenum it passes over the heat exchanger. As the air passes over the heat exchanger it picks up heat from the heat exchanger (H.E.) and the air gets pushed into the conditioned space. As the air passes over the H.E. it cools down the H.E. and keeps the metal from getting too hot. If we don’t move enough air over the H.E. over time it will crack or become defective because of excessive expansion and contraction. They will also fail from just being old.
There are many different ways a heat exchanger can crack some are extremely dangerous and others are a little dangerous, (they are all dangerous).
In the older types of furnaces (pre 1980) that have a cold rolled steel heat exchanger the cracks usually develop in the back close to the location that the factory welded the seam together or toward the front by the factory welded seam, or they can develop in the middle of the heat exchanger going up a side usually near a ripple or wave in the metal. Some of these types of cracks can become very large. I have seen them big enough that you could stick part of your hand through them. These are very dangerous and can cause very high levels of C.O. to escape into the conditioned space. Because these furnace depend on the natural draft of the vent to pull the fumes up and out of the house when they crack they will usually leak some C.O. out into the air stream.
In the newer types of furnaces with a induced draft blower, (little blower that blows air into the vent that carries the fumes out of the house). The cracks can develop in all different locations some furnaces have particular problem areas. When these H.E. crack the distribution blower will create a disturbance on the burners. This disturbance is easy to see if you know what you are looking for. The disturbance alone will usually cause the furnace to start producing carbon monoxide. (Yes I said start producing). The good thing about these types of furnaces is the draft inducer motor assembly usually creates a negative pressure inside the H.E. and pulls air into the crack then vents it to the outside. They are also usually equipped with some safety switches that can sense this and will shut off the furnace.
When a furnace is burning clean and the vent is drawing correctly it will produce a very little amount of C.O. When they start burning dirty the C.O. level being produced will go up very quickly. As long as there is not a crack in the H.E. or a problem with the venting the high levels of C.O. will be carried out of the house through the vent. I saw one today that the levels of C.O. were over 600 ppm in the flue. This furnace was old and had some problems.
That being said if there is any question about how a furnace is operating it should be checked by a professional that has the proper equipment. They should check the draw on the vent, observe the heat exchanger visually, test for C.O. levels around the furnace and in the flue. There are many other things they should check but these are some of the most important safety items to check. Then if everything comes out ok you will be good to go.
Have a great winter, keep your filter clean and stay warm. Winter is on its way !!!!