The expert service technicians at On-Time Elmer are committed not only to meeting your heating and cooling needs, but also to informing you about how the technology of our industry works. We’ve worked hard to put together this comprehensive Technology and Information section in order to help you make an informed decision.
The four biggest factors in your home’s comfort are:
- Cleanliness/freshness of air
- System Control
To most people, temperature is both the beginning and the end of any discussion involving comfort. To On Time Elmer , simple temperature management is only the beginning. To achieve superior indoor comfort, you’ve got to start with the basics — heating or cooling — as the foundation for your system. We offer four main product families for heating and cooling:
- Heat Pumps
- Air Conditioners
Cleanliness/Freshness of Air
Dusty, dirty homes at any temperature can cause feelings of discomfort to many people, especially allergy sufferers. And, the air in today’s tightly-sealed, well-insulated and energy-efficient homes can become stale as the same indoor air is circulated and re-circulated. The fact is, with dust, pollen, pet dander, mold, skin flakes, chemical fumes, cigarette smoke, Radon gas and more, the air inside your home can be even more polluted than the air outside. On Time Elmer can alleviate these problems and therefore add another level of comfort with the following products:
- Air Cleaners
Humidity is a funny thing. In the winter, dry air can cause static electricity, itchy skin, damage to home furnishings and more. Adding humidity is a good thing because it makes the air feel warmer and more comfortable while minimizing damage to furnishings. In the summer, it is preferable to remove humidity so indoor air feels cooler and less sticky. On Time Elmer ‘s answer? Improved comfort through humidity control.
Some of the common comfort complaints from homeowners include: inconsistent temperatures from one room to the next, up and down temperature swings, constantly adjusting the thermostat, and more. System controls of varying degrees of sophistication can help with these issues, offering straight temperature control, programmability that allows setting a “comfort schedule,” temperature and humidity control combined, and dividing the home into zones which can be controlled separately. On Time Elmer provides this kind of control.
The system that is right for you will depend on a number of factors: your budget, your comfort expectations, physical factors such as what type of system currently exists in your home, the unique features of your home, and more. Below, you can explore the system options available and some of the key factors that affect your choice.
- Types of systems
- Key Accessories
- System Control
- Key factors that affect your choice
Types of systems
For the basics of heating or cooling temperature control, you typically will have four system options. Below is a list of those options followed by the approximate percentage of U.S. homes using that particular system.
- Gas Furnace/Air Conditioner (60% of homes)
- Heat Pump (25% of homes)
- Small Packaged System (5% of homes)
Additional comfort comes from having clean, fresh air as well as proper humidity levels inside. These products will fine-tune your system to help improve your overall comfort and the efficiency of your indoor comfort system.
- Air Cleaners
Most people are familiar with the basic thermostat. But, system control is more than picking a temperature and walking away. It includes being able to program a comfort schedule for different times of day, setting humidity levels, and even setting different temperatures for different areas of the home. Here’s how:
- ThermidistatTM Control
- Zoning System
Key factors that affect your choice
Some of your home comfort decisions will be made for you based on some of the physical considerations involved, including:
- Your home
- Your existing system
- Your geographical region
- Energy sources available
Everybody’s home is different. Some are big, some are small. Older homes are not as tightly sealed as new ones, which means efficiency is reduced. The number and size of windows, what direction the home is facing, number of mature trees in the yard and many more factors can affect your comfort, and may play a part in deciding what type of system is best for you. Your local heating and cooling contractor should have the expertise to assess any unusual circumstances surrounding the specific needs of your home.
Your existing system
If you are replacing an existing system, there are physical and financial reasons to stay with the same type of system. For example, if you currently have a boiler, it will be very expensive and physically challenging to install the ductwork you need for a forced-air furnace or heat pump.
If you want a new type of system because you were dissatisfied with your comfort, remember that a new system will bring newer comfort technology and energy efficiency. Also, your comfort problem could be related to other issues, such as improper ductwork, system balance, cleanliness or freshness of air, humidity control and system control.
Your geographical region
Although there are exceptions to every rule, geography can play a role in what type of system will work best in your home. Here’s the general idea:
- Colder regions – Furnace or Boiler/Air Conditioner combo
- Warmer regions – Heat Pump or Air Conditioner w/ supplemental heat
- Regions with land or space issues – Small Packaged Rooftop systems
Energy sources available
Some systems simply won’t work if the proper energy source isn’t available or too expensive to consider. The three most likely energy sources for your comfort system are electricity, gas or oil.
- Electricity – If you have no gas or oil service, you will need to go with an all-electric system, which means a heat pump or air conditioner. You may be able to have a gas line installed at your home, but that could be an additional cost. In some areas, electrical rates are so low that an all-electric system can still be the best option even if gas or oil are available.
- Gas – If natural gas is available, furnaces and boilers become options for you. You may still opt to have an all-electric system if that suits your home or your personal preference.
- Oil – If natural gas is available, furnaces and boilers become options for you. You may still opt to have an all-electric system if that suits your home or your personal preference.
Shopping for bottom line price is easy. But, will the lowest priced system end up costing you money in the long run with higher operating costs or by needing to be replaced sooner? Will the lowest priced system provide the comfort you expect?
Comparing energy efficiency of different brands of heating and cooling equipment is relatively easy. Although the rating systems are standardized, allowing you to make a fair comparison, there are three different rating systems used. Each rating is used for a specific type of product(in other words, all furnaces use the same system, heat pumps use a different system, an so on). They are:
- AFUE (gas heating)
- SEER (cooling)
- HSPF (heat pump heating)
- Matching Your System for Optimum Efficiency
AFUE (gas heating)
The efficiency of a furnace is measured in a rating known as AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency). A lot like your car’s miles per gallon rating, AFUE tells you how efficiently the furnace converts fuel (gas or oil) into heat. An AFUE of 80% means that 80% of the fuel is used to heat your home, while the other 20% basically goes up the chimney.
The government mandated a minimum AFUE rating for furnaces installed in new homes is 78%. (In contrast, many furnaces manufactured before 1992 had AFUE ratings as low as 60% — so nearly half the fuel was being wasted.) Furnaces with AFUE ratings of 78% to 80% are considered “mid-efficiency”; those with ratings of 90% or higher are known as “high efficiency.” The maximum furnace efficiency available is around 96.6%.
In general, a higher efficiency furnace usually means two things:
- Higher price
- Lower monthly operating cost
If you have an older furnace (with an AFUE of about 60%), you could save up to 60% on your heating bills by replacing it with a new high-efficiency furnace. So the cost to replace your old, inefficient furnace is paid back through lower utility bills.
On Time Elmer can use heating data from your area to help you determine about how long it would take you to recover the additional cost of a high-efficiency model in energy savings. (Of course, after the payback, you continue to save on your energy bills for the life of the system.)
Cooling efficiency for air conditioners and heat pumps is indicated by a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating, which tells you how efficiently a unit uses electricity. The higher the number, the greater the efficiency.
The typical SEER rating of units manufactured prior to 1992 is about 6.0.Now, the government mandated minimum is 10.0 SEER. High-efficiency units have a SEER of at least 13.0; the maximum available is about 17.
HSPF (heat pump heating)
Heat pumps also have heating efficiency ratings, indicated as an HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor). In general, the higher the HSPF rating, the less electricity the unit will use to heat your home.
The government mandated minimum heating efficiency standards for new heat pumps is 6.8 HSPF. Most heat pumps manufactured before 1992 have HSPF ratings below 5.0. Today, an HSPF of 7.5 or higher is considered “high-efficiency”; the maximum available is 10.0.
Higher efficiency in heat pumps and air conditioners usually means higher cost but lower utility bills. If you live in a warm and/or humid climate, you will probably see the higher cost of a high-efficiency air conditioner or heat pump paid back (through lower utility bills) in a few short years. Ask On Time Elmer to help you determine about how long it would take you to recover the additional cost in energy savings. Of course, after the payback, you continue to save on your energy bills.
Matching Your System for Optimum Efficiency
There’s one other factor that affects the efficiency of your air conditioning or heat pump system: the indoor coil. (Your heat pump or air conditioner is a “split system,” which means that there is an outdoor unit, or condenser, and an indoor unit, or evaporator coil.) If your condensing unit is not matched with the proper indoor coil, it may not give you the stated SEER and/or HSPF ratings and could even develop performance problems. (It’s kind of like putting two new tires on one side of your car and leaving the old, worn-out ones on the other side. You’d probably be disappointed with both the performance and the miles per gallon you get.) When you’re replacing an existing system, make sure you replace both units so your new condensing unit will give you optimal performance, efficiency and comfort.
With the proper maintenance and care, your heating and air conditioning equipment will operate economically and dependably. There are a few simple, routine maintenance operations you can do to help ensure the best performance and comfort from your system.
Before you perform any kind of maintenance, consider these important safety precautions.
- Disconnect all electrical power to the unit before removing access panels to perform maintenance. Please note that there may be more than one power connection switch.
- Although most manufacturers take special care to prevent sharp edges in the construction of our equipment, it’s best to be very careful when you handle parts or reach into units.
- Check the air filter in your furnace or fan coil every 3 to 4 weeks. A dirty filter will cause excessive strain on your furnace, air conditioner or heat pump. Replace your filter when necessary, or clean it if you have the reusable type. (If you have a reusable filter, make sure it’s completely dry before you re-install it.) The prefilter and collection cells of an electronic air cleaner should be cleaned at least two or three times per year.
- Clean dust off of your indoor coil. With a vacuum cleaner and soft-brush attachment, you can remove any dust from the top and underside of the coil. Make sure you only do this when the coil is dry. If you can’t get the coil clean this way, call On Time Elmer for a service visit.
- Keep your outdoor condensing unit free of debris. If you keep grass clippings, leaves, shrubbery and debris away from your outdoor unit, it should only require minimal care to operate properly. Check the base pan (under the unit) occasionally and remove debris, to help the unit drain correctly. If the outdoor coil becomes dirty, use a brush or a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment to clean the surface. To clean dirt that is deep in the coil, contact On Time Elmer .
- Take special care of outdoor condensing units in coastal environments. If you own a house located near the gulf coast, you can help preserve its optimal condition with a little extra care. Gulf mist and breezes carry salt, which is corrosive to most metals. Although the newer units are made out of galvanized metal and are protected by top-grade paint, you can add life to your unit by washing all exposed surfaces and the coil approximately every three months.
- Make sure your outdoor unit stays in a level position. If the support for your split-system outdoor unit shifts or settles and the unit is no longer level, re-level it promptly to make sure moisture drains properly out of the unit. If you notice that water or ice collects beneath the unit, arrange for it to be drained away from the equipment.
- Inspect your furnace’s combustion area and vent system before each heating season. If you find dirt, soot or rust, your system may not operate properly or at its peak efficiency. Call On Time Elmer and do not operate your furnace until it is professionally inspected and/or repaired.
- Have oil-fired boilers inspected annually. Call On Time Elmer before each heating season to replace your oil filter cartridge and conduct a thorough inspection of the unit’s operation.
- Clean your humidifier at the beginning of every heating season. Review your owner’s manual for the proper procedure to clean the external and internal components of your unit. The evaporator pad should also be replaced before each heating season. If the water in your area is hard or has high mineral content, you may need to clean or service your humidifier more frequently.
- Clean the core and air filters on a ventilator at least every three months. You can vacuum the core of an energy recovery ventilator as long as it is dry and the outdoor temperature is between 60 F (16 C) and 75 F (24 C). Heat recovery ventilator cores can be soaked for three hours in a solution of warm water and mild soap and then rinsed. Ventilator air filters are washable: just use a vacuum to remove the heaviest accumulation of dust and then wash them in lukewarm water. Replace them after they are completely dry.
Think about how you take care of your car. Sure, most people can handle the little stuff – checking and topping off fluids, keeping tires inflated to the correct pressure, changing the wiper blades. But, to keep your car operating at its best, you need an occasional tune-up from a trained professional.
Your heating and cooling system is no different. To get the most performance and longest life from your system, it’s a good idea to have a professional perform routine checks in the spring and in the fall.
In the spring, On Time Elmer can typically check a heat pump or air conditioner for all or some of the following:
- operating pressures
- refrigerant charge
- filter condition
- fan motor
- crankcase heaters
- coils cleaning
- lubrication of moving parts
In the fall, you can expect On Time Elmer to check your furnace in the following areas:
- burner and pilot assemblies
- cracks in the heat exchanger
- check the pilot thermocouple
- examine the filter and check vent piping
- test the electronic ignition
- test the fan
- test the limit switch
- burner adjustments
- measure manifold gas pressure
- measure temperature rise
- carbon monoxide test
- set the heat anticipator
- check and adjust belt tension
- examine the draft diverter
- lubricate the fan motor
The answer is, “Yes.” Here are some simple procedures you can perform before going to the expense of a service call:
- Check disconnect switches (indoor and outdoor if you have a split system). Make sure that circuit breakers are ON or that fuses have not blown.
- Check for sufficient airflow. Make sure air filters are clean and that supply-air and return-air grilles are open and unobstructed.
- Check the settings on your thermostat. If you want cooling, make sure the temperature control selector is set below room temperature and the SYSTEM switch is on the COOL or AUTO position. If you want heat, make sure the temperature control selector is set above room temperature and the SYSTEM switch is at HEAT or AUTO. The FAN switch should be set at ON for continuous blower operation or AUTO if you want the blower to function only while the unit is operating.
In addition to the routine maintenance you perform, your home comfort system should be inspected at least once a year by a properly trained service technician. On Time Elmer can make sure your system operates safely and gives you the best performance at the lowest cost. You may also want to ask us about an economical service contract that covers seasonal inspections for a flat fee.
Should I Repair or Replace Old Equipment?
- Life expectancy
- Operating cost
- Looking at the big picture
Life Expectancy of Current System
When you’re frustrated with an equipment break-down, 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 value — or cost you the least — in the long run.
Paying for repairs to an old or inefficient system often simply prolongs the inevitable. It’s almost like putting a bandage on a serious injury. 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. So 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.
Looking at the Big Picture
When one component of your system breaks down unexpectedly, it’s easy to just focus on repairing or replacing that component. But each part of your system works 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 may 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.
Hot Weather Preparation
Things a homeowner can do during extreme hot spells:
- Keep grass clippings and leaves away from the outdoor unit. This keeps dirt and debris from getting into the system. It also keeps the airflow path clear.
- Keep furniture and carpeting away from grills and ductwork. If you block your air conditioning system’s ability to deliver air, you rob yourself of the cooling necessary to keep your home comfortable.
- Keep the west-facing drapes, shades or blinds drawn in the afternoon. Keeping the sun out will keep your home cooler.
- Run your dishwasher, washing machine and dryer in the evening hours.
- Don’t use your oven.
- Keep your fan running. It helps to keep the air moving.
- Don’t overrun an exhaust fan. It pulls the air conditioning out of the home.
- Use a programmable thermostat. This allows you to cool your home only when you need it.
- Zone your heating and cooling system. If you spend most of your time in one part of your home or if different people in your home want the temperature at different settings, then zoning can help you be more comfortable and save money on your utility bills.
- Use an attic ventilator. By pulling hot air out of your home, you keep your home cooler in the summer.
- Have your cooling system checked at least once per year by an ACCA member contractor. Your equipment works more efficiently when it is clean and running properly.
Going on Vacation?
- DO NOT turn off your air conditioning unit!
- Set your thermostat at 85 degrees. This keeps the air circulating in your home. High temperatures and humidity can cause damage to your home, your workplace and your health! Humidity can cause wallpaper to peel, floorboards to warp, and most importantly, mold and fungus to form in bathrooms, on furniture and in your air conditioning ducts.
EHVAC Glossary of Terms
Aeroseal – A patented sealing process; the most effective, affordable, and viable method of sealing the central heating and cooling ductwork in your home.
AFUE – Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency, a rating that reflects the efficiency of a gas furnace in converting fuel to energy. A rating of 80 means that approximately 80 percent of the fuel is utilized to provide warmth to your home, while the remaining 10 percent escapes as exhaust.
BTU – British Thermal Unit. In scientific terms, it represents the amount of energy required to raise one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. One BTU is the equivalent of the heat given off by a single wooden kitchen match. For your home, it represents the measure of heat given off when fuel is burned for heating or the measure of heat extracted from your home for cooling.
CFM – Cubic feet per minute, a standard of airflow measurement. A typical system produces 400 CFM per ton of air conditioning.
Capacity – The output or producing capability of a piece of cooling or heating equipment. Cooling and heating capacity are normally referred to in BTUs.
Compressor – The heart of an air conditioning or heat pump system. It is part of the outdoor unit that pumps refrigerant. The compressor maintains adequate pressure to cause refrigerant to flow in sufficient quantities in order to meet the cooling requirements of the system.
Condenser Coil or Outdoor Coil – Located in the outdoor unit, the coil dissipates heat from the refrigerant, changing the refrigerant from vapor to liquid.
Damper – Found in ductwork, this movable plate opens and closes to control airflow. Dampers are used effectively in zoning to regulate airflow to certain rooms.
Downflow Furnace – A furnace that pulls in return air from the top and expels warm air at the bottom.
Ductwork – Pipes or channels that carry air throughout your home. Not to be confused with the kind that go “quack”.
Evaporator Coil – The coil that is inside your house in a split system. In the evaporator, refrigerant evaporates and absorbs heat from air passed over the coil.
Heat Exchanger – A device for the transfer of heat energy from the source to the conveying medium.
Horizontal Furnace – A furnace that lies on its side, pulling in return air from one side and expelling warm air from the other.
Humidifier – A device that injects water vapor into heated air as the air is expelled from the furnace.
Humidity – The amount of moisture in the air. Air conditioners remove moisture for added comfort.
HSPF – Heating Seasonal Performance Factor. Refers to the efficiency of the heating mode of heat pumps over an entire heating season. The higher the number, the more efficient the unit.
HVAC – Heating, ventilation and air conditioning.
ICM – Integrally Controlled Motor. A specially engineered, variable-speed motor used in top-of-the-line indoor units. ICM motors are more than 90 percent efficient versus 60 percent efficiency for conventional motors. Continuous comfort, quiet operation and ultimate system efficiency are the benefits of the indoor products graced with the ICM motor.
Packaged System – A piece of air conditioning and heating equipment in which all components are located in one cabinet. Used occasionally in residential applications, the packaged unit is installed either beside or on top of the home.
Refrigerant – A substance that produces a refrigerating effect while expanding or vaporizing.
Refrigerant Lines – Set of two copper lines connecting the outdoor unit and the indoor unit.
SEER – Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, a rating that measures the cooling efficiency of a heat pump or air conditioner. The higher the number, the more efficient the unit. A SEER is NOT a person who tells you future by reading his Crystal Ball.
Split System – Refers to a comfort system configuration consisting of components in two locations. Common examples include an outside unit, such as an air conditioner, and an indoor unit, such as a furnace and coil.
Switchover Valve – A device in a heat pump that reverses the flow of refrigerant as the system is switched from cooling to heating. Also called a reversing valve or four-way valve.
Thermostat – A temperature control device, typically found on a wall inside the home. It consists of a series of sensors and relays that monitor and control the functions of a heating and cooling system. Programmable thermostats allow you to program different levels of comfort for different times of the day.
Ton – A unit of measurement used for determining cooling capacity. One ton is the equivalent of 12,000 BTUs per hour.
Upflow Furnace – A furnace that pulls return air in from the bottom and expels warm air from the top.
Zoning – A method of dividing a home into zones, which enables you to control the amount of comfort provided to each.