Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Heating and Air Conditioning

One of the things I always look at when buying a house, something I have had the pleasure of doing twice, is the heating and air conditioning units to see what their condition is like. So when I looked at this house, I noticed that the air conditioner looked to be ancient and the heater looked to have been replaced but still a couple decades old. Of course the owner said both worked in tip top shape and had no problems heating or cooling the house.

We moved in on the hottest day of the entire year as it turned out and turned the thermostat down to try and keep the place reasonably cool despite the open doors. The temperature inside immediately started climbing. When the moving trucks were gone, the air conditioner kept on running through the night and into the next day only bringing the temperature down 5 degrees in that time. Since all our stuff had been sitting in a hot moving truck all day and was a large heat sink, I figured it might take some time but on the second day, the air conditioner was still running.

Thinking it was low on freon, I called in a guy to check that which he did and said was fine but in the course of that, we found that the coils were completely plugged with several inches of grass clippings. I cleaned those off and the air conditioner functioned fine the rest of the summer. But while the heating and air conditioning guy was there, I had him inspect the rest of my system and learned some bad news. The heater was indeed over 20 years old and worse, when it had been replaced, the coils which should have been replaced at the same time hadn't been due to whomever cutting corners. So the new heater was trying to use 40 years old inefficient coils to exchange the heat. Overall, my system was found to be about 75% efficient.

Not wanting to spend lots of money on a heating system on the hottest day of the year, I let things ride for awhile. But when fall came and I kicked on the heat for the first time, the fan started up and sounded like a jet engine of a place that was taking off a runway. The system runs pretty well and has easily kept our house warm despite the 40 year old coils in the heat exchanger largely due to it being twice the size it needed to be. I could see it in my bills as they were almost as high as I normally saw in my old house in the dead of winter. To top it all off, the whole house humidifier on the side of the plenums didn't work. I found the wire controlling it cut and fixed that but it still didn't work. I traced it to the valve, the most expensive part of it, being bad. Not only that, it was ancient and didn't work well judging from all the rust I saw inside the plenums where water had run. I finally made the call and said the system needed to be replaced.

After doing some figuring, it was really a no brainer. A brand new two stage burner heating system 98% efficient would pay for itself in energy savings in about 16 months. (Note: This is after tax rebates from the government and refunds from the energy company.) A new air conditioner could pay for itself in about the same time frame. This would also include the cost of a new whole house humidifier, something my skin, throat and sinuses crave during winter. The guy said he could have the new equipment by the following week and it would take two days to complete. I said go for it.

Four weeks later, the day we ended up heading to the hospital, they showed up ready to work. I left the door unlocked and said have at it. They did their thing and did a beautiful job of the installation of both the air conditioner and the heater along with the whole house humidifier though I am still waiting on the promised new thermostat which is much better quality than my box store special and can run a two stage heater efficiently. My current thermostat can run one stage of the burners but not both. As turns out to be the norm for this outfit, they promised me they would be out on Monday to install the thermostat and here it is Wednesday before Thanksgiving and still no word of them. Fortunately I haven't paid them a cent yet so I have the upper hand. The new system works great, doesn't sound like a jet engine taking off. My throat and sinuses are whispering sweet I-love-you's to me as I speak. The only thing that remains is to see the effect on my heating bills to verify that the payback will happen as quickly as calculated.


Vince said...

They reckon if you have a truly efficient heating system, if you then add a solar panel or two can drop another 20% from the fuel bill. There is a sorta multiplier where each degree of lift in the temp provided by the sun the less use of the tank of kerosene.

Ed said...

Vince - I would like to get to solar panels someday. Just too many fish to fry first!

jambaloney said...

hey ed!

it's not hard to imagine the previous owner hid this from you - glad you were able to get a replacement...still, it would be nice to have both barrels working before valentines day!

is it all electric?


Ron said...

I grew to hate forced air heating when we lived up north... but we didn't have a fancy system.

I can say that I very much like the woodstove these days.

Ed said...

Jambaloney - Everything is working though not as efficiently as they would with the proper thermostat. The heat is natural gas and the air conditioner is electric.

Ron - I love the direct heat of woodstoves and grew up with them. But with forced air, I don't have to worry about pipes freezing when I want to go somewhere for the day, or coming home to a freezing house, having to stoke the fire and waiting hours to get warm. But saying that, you are quite a bit farther south so the cold isn't nearly as bad as it is up here when the fire goes out in mid February.

Ron said...

In our situation, the house is well-insulated, sealed, and passive solar. We can easily be gone in the worst of winter for 5 days or so before worrying about freezing. At that point, we have electric heaters that can keep it all thawed.

Generally, though, the woodstove is easy. When it gets chilly, we light it.

Ed said...

Ron - Yeah, it is amazing how a couple hundred miles can make that much of a difference. Up here, I have yet to see a home that wouldn't freeze up after a couple days of below zero temperatures and no heat.

For that reason, I've always thought that I want to retire in the mountains of northwest Arkansas. It seemed like the best mix where it doesn't get so darn cold during winter but yet the summers were somewhat tolerable.

Ron said...

Summer here this past year was miserable, but hopefully that proves to be the exception going forward.

Woody said...

Yea! for heat.