Q: When should I repair old equipment, and when do I need to replace it?
A: When you're frustrated with an equipment breakdown, it can be tempting to find the least expensive "quick fix" to get on with your life in relative comfort. That "quick fix" may be the least expensive now, but it may not give you the most valueor cost you the leastin the long run.
Paying for repairs to an old or inefficient system often simply prolongs the inevitable. An older system that breaks down once is likely to break down again...and again. That means more emergency service calls or, worse yet, the risk of damage to your home or to other components of your heating and cooling system. There's also an ongoing cost factor to consider. Restoring your old system will only bring it back to its current level of energy efficiency. After you've recovered from the repair bills and the frustration of system breakdowns, you still won't save on your energy bills.
Even six-year-old heat pumps and air conditioners are considered grossly inefficient by today's energy efficiency standards. So are most furnaces built before 1980. You could save up to 60% on your energy bills with new high-efficiency equipment. That's why installing a new heating and cooling system can actually pay for itself in energy savings within a relatively short time.
When one component of your system breaks down unexpectedly, it's easy to focus on repairing or replacing that component only. But each part of your system works in tandem with the others to boost efficiency and reliability, so it helps to keep the big picture in mind.
Replacing your old furnace with a new higher-efficiency model, but leaving your old mechanical thermostat in place, for example, won't allow you to enjoy all the efficiency advantages the furnace has to offer. Likewise, if you install a new furnace, but don't get a humidifier, the air will seem cooler, forcing you to operate your new system at a higher temperature to be comfortable. Plus, you can often save on installation costs if you have several components of your system (for example, a furnace and an air conditioner) replaced at the same time.
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Q: What do I need to know before I purchase a home comfort system?
A: Quality & Reliability. When you buy a new car, the quality of it helps determine how well it will perform and for how long. A heating and cooling system is really no different. Purchasing a brand name that has a reputation for quality and reliability can save you headaches and extra expense down the road. Ask Sullivan Plumbing about the brand's reputation for quality and its record for reliable performance.
Efficiency Ratings. Make sure you ask Sullivan Plumbing about the efficiency rating for the furnace, heat pump or air conditioner. It will tell you how efficiently the unit uses fuel (gas, oil or electricity). Furnace efficiency is measured as AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency), and ratings range from 78% to about 96.6%. Furnaces with AFUE ratings from 78% to 80% are considered mid-efficiency; ones with AFUE ratings above 90% are considered high-efficiency. Air conditioners and heat pumps have cooling efficiency ratings from 10 to 17 SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio). Heat pumps also have heating efficiency ratings from 6.8 to about 10 HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor). High-efficiency units have efficiencies of 12 SEER and 7.5 HSPF or above.
One other point to keep in mind is that your heat pump or air conditioner is a "split system," which means that there is an outdoor unit (condenser) and an indoor unit (evaporator coil). If you're replacing an existing system, both units should be replaced to make sure your new condensing unit gives you optimal performance, efficiency and comfort. In general, the higher the efficiency of the unit, the more it will cost but the less fuel it will use to heat or cool your home. So, the cost to replace your old, inefficient unit (or to move up to a higher efficiency model) is paid back through lower utility bills.
Other factors that need to be considered are sound ratings, comfort features, and warranties. Let the professionals at Sullivan Plumbing evaluate your current situation, and make recommendations for improving it.
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Q: What should I know about carbon monoxide?
A: Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, which is produced during incomplete combustion of fuels such as natural gas, LP, wood, oil etc. A properly functioning gas appliance produces harmless water vapor and carbon dioxide, which are vented out of the house. But if a heat exchanger is cracked, a flue pipe is plugged or if the pilot light doesn't have an adequate amount of oxygen, the natural gas won't combust properly, causing deadly carbon monoxide (CO) to develop.
When this colorless, odorless, tasteless gas (commonly referred to as the silent killer) is inhaled, it enters the bloodstream, and robs blood cells of oxygen. The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning mimic the flunausea, headaches, dizziness, fatigueand long-term exposure can eventually lead to unconsciousness or death.
One way to check the "health" of a natural gas appliance is to look at the color of the pilot light. The flame should be at least 80 percent blue. If the flame is mostly yellow, it could be producing carbon monoxide. Have the unit checked by a professional immediately. But remember that CO can be produced even if the pilot light is blue, so invest in an annual professional tune-up. To protect your family, invest in a high-quality carbon monoxide detector. Similar to a smoke detector, these electronic alarms alert you to dangerous levels of CO. Carbon monoxide is lighter than air, and rises to the upper levels of your home, so install the detector close to bedrooms and living areas.
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Q: How long will Freon be available?
A: Freon is a brand name of the DuPont Corporation for the refrigerant gas that makes refrigeration systems work. There are different types of refrigerant, but the most common one used in residential units is refrigerant 22.
Production of refrigerant 22 is regulated by international controls under the Montreal Protocol and in the United Sates by the Environmental Protection Agency. It has a long life ahead of it as it is scheduled to be in production until the year 2020, and should be around several years after that because of the inventory that most manufacturers will have at that time. The EPA requires recovery of all refrigerants for recycling purposes, which should also help provide for an adequate supply of Freon. There are, however, some dates that you should be made aware of:
- January 1, 2004: Production to be reduced to 77% of 1997 consumption.
- January 1, 2010: Manufacturers can no longer use Freon in air conditioners.
- January 1, 2020: No more Freon can be manufactured.