Why Cold Temperatures Can Wreak Havoc on Your HVAC Unit

Don’t let the next winter storm take you by surprise.

Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) units are built to withstand the snow and ice, but every unit has its limits. Many units in our area were pushed past those limits during Winter Storm Grayson last week. The storm rolled through January 3rd and 4th and left a half foot or more of snow piled up in eastern sections of North Carolina. Wind gusts topped 70 mph in some areas!

Even if you’re aware of the extreme importance of interior HVAC care, specifically the changing of the air filters, switching to programmable thermostats, and getting the system inspected annually by a professional, you should never lower your guard when it comes to your heater and air conditioner. The care of the outside HVAC unit is crucial, especially since snow and ice can have a lasting effect on your system well into the spring and summer.

Ice Build Up

Not all incidences of snow and ice build-up is an emergency situation. In fact, in a heat pump, it’s a normal part of operation on extremely frigid days. Heat pumps operate via a refrigerant that absorbs temperature from the Earth’s atmosphere. When the refrigerant absorbs heat, excess moisture builds up on the processing coils. When outside temperatures are at or near zero degrees, that moisture freezes up almost instantly. The system may run a little more sluggishly on those very brutally cold days, but it will return to normal as the temperatures rise.

Falling Snow and Ice

A “normal” ice buildup on heat pumps and HVAC systems is pretty rare because units are manufactured to take into account this moisture freezing with an automatic defrost setting. When ice buildup is detected, the unit switches to a heat distribution mode to melt ice off the coils—all while back-up heat keeps your house warm. Sometimes thermostats will display “auxiliary heat” or “aux heat” on the wall display in your home when this occurs.

It generally takes 30 minutes for the defroster to do its job, but it needs air flow to do so. When snow builds up around the outdoor unit and ice forms on top of the HVAC, components can’t breathe and the defrost cycle will not work—raising electricity usage, but, more importantly, putting unneeded strain on the entire system. And this is also true for units covered in such things as leaves, shrubs, and ivy—so, make sure you keep the area around units clear year-round so they can breathe and function properly. Keep in mind that when it is approximately 35 degrees outside, the unit can no longer efficiently transfer ‘heat’ from the outside air into your home, making it more difficult to keep your home warm.

Any Lasting Damage?

So, we know that snow and ice causes inefficient operation, but other problems with the unit can appear as well. When a unit is encased in ice, an emergency shut-off is triggered as the system freezes up. With no heat coming into your home, the water pipes are more likely to burst and cause major damage.

Even though the components of your outside unit are designed to withstand the elements—hot or cold—it may still be possible for heavy ice to bend the aluminum fan and coil fins. If this happens, you’ll most likely know because of the noise the unit will make! Another concern during weather extremes is the workload placed on unit components—they may be working twice as hard with limited airflow which can cause a burn out or short circuit.

Planning Ahead

Protecting your HVAC system from extreme weather starts at installation and should continue throughout the life of the unit. Follow these guidelines to keep things running smoothly:

  • Your outdoor unit should not be installed directly on the ground. They should instead be elevated to keep them out of possible snow or standing water. Apex Heating and Air does this as a standard part of our installation procedure.
  • Consider building a wind barrier with shrubs or a fence, but remember to keep them far enough away for servicing and air flow.
  • Keep the unit at least 18 inches away from the exterior wall of the house to increase air passage and to avoid drifting exposure.
  • Monitor your heat pump and outdoor HVAC systems in the winter. Snow buildup should be shoveled away, gutters should be cleaned, and ice should be melted away with warm water to prevent possible damage to the system. If it’s so cold that the warm water will refreeze, let the defrost cycle run once or twice or call one of our service technicians.

A Few Suggestions

With winter hanging around for the next few months, thermostats are working overtime. That means high heating costs for many of us, but there are ways to keep those bills as low as possible.

Here are a few mistakes you might be making and how to fix them:

  • Turning up a thermostat too high to heat a cold house quickly. When coming home to a cold house, it might be tempting to turn up the heat to try and warm things faster. But thermostats don’t work like an accelerator on a car, and turning the heat up to blistering levels won’t warm your home faster. Be patient and save money.
  • Turning the thermostat way down at night. It’s best to avoid extremes with your thermostat. If you let the temperature fall dramatically overnight, it’s going to require a lot of work from your system to warm things up in the morning—costing big bucks when the electric bill arrives.
  • Overworking a thermostat that has its limits. If you want the house to be 70 degrees, and your thermostat is only reaching 66 degrees, turning the thermostat up to 74 degrees to make up the difference could force your furnace to work beyond its capability. Instead, call Apex Heating and Air to find out what’s causing the problem. Heat could be escaping somewhere in your home or the furnace may be faulty.
  • Heating an empty house. Since we can now control pretty much everything from a phone app, the easiest way to save money is to install a system that can be adjusted remotely. Heating an empty home is a huge waste of money, so a programmable thermostat can save hundreds of dollars every year.
  • Leaving curtains closed on sunny days. While you’re away, open the curtains to allow as much warm sunlight as possible to heat the house. Solar warmth can go a long way not only in heating a house, but can help give the furnace a break during the warmest hours of the day.
  • Leaving some windows pushed up, but not locked in place. Loose or slightly open windows may allow warm air to escape (along with your hard-earned money). Enable the locks to create a seal that will keep the warm air where it belongs.

Just like shoveling snow or salting walkways, make maintenance of your HVAC system a priority this winter.

For more information on HVAC system maintenance, call (919) 467-8823 or (919) 367-0102 or click here.

About Apex Heating and Air Conditioning

Founded in 1969, Apex Heating and Air Conditioning Inc. provides complete sales and service of heating and cooling products. As a Factory Authorized Carrier® Dealer, the company is proud to offer top-notch customer service and expertise. Whether you’re in need of routine service for your HVAC system, or you require installation of a new heating or cooling system, the knowledgeable staff will work with you to ensure you’re given the information you need to make the best decision for your family or business.

(Sources: U.S. Department of Energy; The Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration NEWS; The Weather Channel; AC & Heating Connect; and The Weather Company.)

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HVAC Maintenance Contract: An Ounce of Prevention Can Save Money

As much as half of the energy used in your home goes to heating and cooling. Making smart decisions about your home’s HVAC system can have a huge effect on your utility bills—and your comfort.

We all know the saying, but how many of us actually take it to heart? A bit of prevention is truly important when it comes to the comfort of your family and your peace of mind.

Your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system is the hidden hero in your home: It works to cool or heat your home to your specifications 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But how often do you really think about your HVAC? Probably not often… until it quits working.

Don’t Put It Off

Each year that your HVAC system misses a proper maintenance service can raise your cooling and heating costs by as much as 30%. Think of it like your dental appointments: If you don’t go in every six months to have your teeth cleaned, you can expect plenty of cavities and expensive repairs. It’s the same principle with your HVAC system—neglect will lead to much bigger problems down the road.

Here are just a few reasons to schedule regular maintenance:

  • Up to 80% of all air conditioning and heating system failures could be eliminated if problems that led to the failures were discovered and corrected in a timely manner. Annual maintenance can identify and prevent such problems before they occur.
  • If your system has as little as a 10% refrigerant undercharge your HVAC operating costs can increase by as much as 20%. A 23% refrigerant undercharge could result in as much as a 52% efficiency loss.
  • Each 0.01 inch of dirt on an evaporator coil can increase operating costs by 5%.
  • Every equipment manufacturer recommends annual maintenance to ensure proper system operation. Some manufacturers (and all home owner warranties) require proper maintenance be performed for these warranties to be honored.
  • Maintenance checks can maximize performance and keep your system running at as high as 95% of its original ­efficiency.
  • Studies show that a maintenance contract may increase the life of your heating and air conditioning system significantly. In some cases doubling the life of a system!

Prevent Breakdowns

A lack of regular maintenance is one of the most common reasons for system failure during high-demand times of the year. Without regular service, factors such as dirt and dust buildup or worn and poorly-lubricated parts are more likely to cause serious issues that diminish or halt its function.

Issues like this will be addressed during a routine tune-up, ensuring your air conditioner is clean and that every part is in good working order. Maintaining the condition of your home’s HVAC system will ensure that any possible issue related to a lack of regular attention will not lead to an inconvenient breakdown.

Reduce Repair Costs

The larger the repair, the higher the cost. Addressing any repairs while issues are small is a much more effective way to keep your costs down, and scheduling regular tune-ups can help you accomplish this.

When your system is checked twice a year, the technician can catch problems while they’re still small—not after they’ve grown in size and scope. By bringing these issues to your attention promptly, they can be taken care of while their associated costs are minor, reducing your overall expenses.

Lower Your Electric Bills

In addition to lowering the costs of repairs, regular tune-ups can also lower the cost of daily operation. Factors such as dirt and wear are some of the most common causes of poor efficiency, which can cause your system to require more energy to provide the same amount of heating or cooling. In some cases, neglecting twice-yearly maintenance can lower efficiency by as much as 5% each year.

Because they keep your system clean, lubricated, and in good working order, regular tune-ups will ensure your air conditioner won’t suffer efficiency losses when you can least afford them.

What You Can Do

After an HVAC professional services your system, there are a few steps you can take to keep it running smoothly. Most important is changing the air filter. Energy Star, a branch of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recommends changing your furnace filter at least once every three months. A clogged air filter will restrict air flow, which can reduce efficiency and increase your exposure to environmental contaminants.

HVAC professionals also recommend using a programmable thermostat. Using a programmable thermostat to reduce your home’s temperature seven or eight degrees for eight hours a day (whether during the work day or at night) can save you up to 10% on your energy bills, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Keep in mind, regularly scheduled maintenance isn’t just about safety, it’s also about preventive maintenance. An example is catching a problem before your furnace quits working in the middle of the night in the dead of winter when getting on a crowded schedule may be difficult. And, if you have to call someone to show up on a Sunday evening because the furnace died, you will most likely end up paying emergency rates on top of the repair expenses.

Make Your Next Move

Since your HVAC system is among the most complex systems running through your home, it’s important that you hire a qualified professional to perform inspections and services. That’s where we come in! Apex Heating and Air Conditioning hires only NATE Certified employees.

A Yearly Preventive Maintenance Contract from Apex Heating and Air Conditioning will help ensure your system is operating at peak performance, will minimize costly emergency repairs, and can extend the life of your equipment. The lifespan of an average unit without maintenance is 10 to 12 years, but, with annual maintenance, it can be as much as 15 to 20 years!

Plus, you can receive $25 off first year maintenance contracts for one- to two-unit systems and $30 off for three-unit systems.

For more information on HVAC system maintenance, call (919) 467-8823 or (919) 367-0102 or click here.

Founded in 1969, Apex Heating and Air Conditioning Inc. provides complete sales and service of all make and model heating and cooling products. As a Factory Authorized Carrier® Dealer, the company is proud to offer top-notch products, service and expertise. Whether you’re in need of routine service for your HVAC system, or you require installation of a new heating or cooling system, the knowledgeable staff will work with you to ensure you’re given the information you need to make the best decision for your family or business.

(Sources: U.S. Department of Energy; Energy.gov; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Energy Star; Fox Business Network; and GateHouse Media, LLC.)

HVAC Professionals: 4 Ways to Help Your Customers Get Ready for Winter

The transitioning seasons present a prime opportunity to provide valuable information to new and existing customers. That chilly winter weather will remind them to make sure their systems are running at maximum efficiency. Sharing some steps homeowners can take to get ready for the season ahead helps position you as an expert and ensures your customers know where to go when they need help.

Change Those Filters

It seems obvious to the HVAC pro, but for your prospects and customers, a reminder to change the filters in their home ensures that this routine maintenance task actually gets done. Reminding customers to change filters gives you something to talk about on social media and allows you to engage without asking for anything in return. Plus, if your customer gets a peek at those nasty, used-all-summer filters, they may be prompted to give you a call anyway!

Get an Inspection

The cold weather is an excellent reminder that the heating system will soon be in use. If you offer a maintenance plan, using a blog piece or even an ad pointing out the importance of a seasonal inspection is a must. For the homeowner, an inspection provides much-needed peace of mind that their home heating system will be ready to use and reliable. For the HVAC contractor, an inspection gives you the chance to make sure that your client has everything they need and to catch little problems before they become big problems. If you do discover an issue, you’ll have time to get the HVAC parts and supplies you need before your customer spends a single cold night at home.

Check for Drafts

Heating a home accounts for about 30% of the entire energy costs during a single winter month, so drafts can get expensive in a hurry. For homeowners, spotting the ways warm air could escape the home helps keep that house comfortable and energy efficient. For HVAC contractors, prompting customers to proactively check for drafts is an easy engagement point and presents you as the expert you are.

Get an Indoor Air Checkup

Those clean filters only go so far. And customers who have allergies or are concerned about indoor air quality definitely need to consider a tune-up. Plus, those who get a pre-season tune-up won’t have to wait in line when the cold arrives and can have peace of mind that their family members with allergies can breathe with ease. For contractors, having a supply of compressor parts and ductwork supplies on hand allows for instant response to customer demand.

The changing seasons are a tangible reminder of the need to comfort the home and care for the equipment within. For contractors, the new season provides a valuable opportunity to boost brand awareness, engage with potential customers, and make sure your markets knows that you’re there for them when they need you most.

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Prevent Heating System Surprises this Winter

Neglecting HVAC maintenance ensures a steady decline in its performance while energy use steadily increases.

The main purpose of preventative maintenance is to keep your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system up and running all season long with no surprise breakdowns—all while operating at top efficiency. You rarely see your HVAC system, so it’s easy to forget about it and its importance.

Imagine doing the same with your car: Without scheduling regular oil changes, rotating the tires, or performing basic tune-ups, you can’t expect it to last very long. Your HVAC system is the same way! The price or brand name of the system’s manufacturer doesn’t matter—it’s a complicated piece of mechanical equipment and requires occasional tune-ups. A smart homeowner can greatly reduce the incidence of repairs by keeping on top of annual maintenance.

Now that summer has ended, it’s the perfect time to prepare your HVAC system for the cold with a bit of TLC.

DIY Preparation

Homeowners should schedule a professional HVAC system maintenance once in the spring for cooling equipment and again in the fall for the heating system. Between these visits from the professionals, plan to complete a few maintenance tasks yourself. The following DIY tasks can help keep your equipment running smoothly until the next visit from the pros:

  • Before the first frost, test your heater to see if it runs. Contact a professional if you don’t feel any warm air coming from the vents.
  • Check the pilot light if you have a natural gas system. The flame should always be clear blue. A yellow or orange flame could be a sign of a problem.
  • Change your furnace filters each year. Dirty filters cause the unit to work harder to push the warm air through the filter, causing your unit to run less than efficiently and possibly break down.
  • As with air conditioning, make sure there are no drapes, furniture, or plants blocking the vents. Proper flow of air from the vents will ensure that the heat coming from the system will reach all spaces that need it.
  • Clear any obstructions from outside vents to allow for proper air flow.

Prep You Should Leave to the Pros

With the change of the seasons, your heating system needs more than just regular maintenance. A professional service technician will provide a complete maintenance inspection and recommendations based on the condition of the equipment. His understanding of the most common winter failures can provide a starting point to help determine whether a repair or replacement is needed.

A technician will:

  • Check for the correct amount of refrigerant;
  • Test for refrigerant leaks using a leak detector;
  • Capture any refrigerant that must be evacuated from the system, instead of illegally releasing it to the atmosphere;
  • Check for and seal duct leakage in central systems;
  • Measure airflow through the evaporator coil;
  • Verify the correct electric control sequence and make sure the heating and cooling system cannot operate simultaneously;
  • Inspect electric terminals, clean and tighten connections, and apply a non-conductive coating if necessary;
  • Oil motors and check belts for tightness and wear;
  • Check the accuracy of the thermostat;
  • And so much more.

As you can see, annual HVAC system maintenance is something you should take very seriously. Schedule a visit now to protect your family, improve efficiency, prevent possible breakdowns, and to save money! Heating and cooling systems seem to have a way of breaking down when the weather is at its worst—on the coldest night of a frigid winter or during a sizzling summer heat wave—times when your comfort system must work the hardest and you need it most. Conducting regular HVAC preventive maintenance with knowledgeable professionals is the best way to ensure trouble-free operation and optimum performance all winter long.

For more information on preparation for the winter months, call (919) 467-8823 or (919) 367-0102 or click here.

(Sources: U.S. Department of Energy; HomeAdvisor, Inc.; HGTV.com; HVAC.com; Direct Energy, Inc.; and HVACmaintenance.org.)    

Spring Cleaning Your HVAC System

Spring has sprung! There are birds chirping, warm breezes… and pollen in the air! Accompanying the warmer temps and colorful flowers is everyone’s least favorite part of the season — pollen — and with it comes allergies. By taking care of your home’s HVAC system you can ensure that the dreaded pollen stays outside, and you can breathe carefree inside. Plus, it’s always good to inspect your HVAC system at the start of any season. Preventative care now can eliminate more costly repair bills down the road!

Check out these tips for keeping your home pollen-free this season.

– Use the correct air filter. Typical air conditioner filters are designed to keep debris and large dirt particles out of the equipment and are not meant to keep plant spores out of your lungs. A high-energy particulate air filter (HEPA filter) will remove allergens from your home. For maximum effectiveness, change your filter every other month. Switch it out more often if you are located in an area with high pollen counts.

– Contact Us to Install a Whole-house UV Air Purification System. If anyone in your family suffers from severe allergies or has breathing issues, we offer a solution that can dramatically improve your indoor air quality. Our licensed installers can add a whole-house UV Air Purification System to your existing system to help eliminate harmful contaminants and improve the air in your home. Contact us today for complete details.

– Make sure your ducts are cleaned out. Pollen, dust, and debris can accumulate in your ventilation, cooling, and heating ducts over time. As air flows around your home, these contaminants also circulate. To keep your home pollen free and improve the air quality, make sure you have your air ducts cleaned out regularly.

– Check that your ductwork is properly sealed. If there are holes in your duct system, allergens and dust can easily invade the air in your home. Thoroughly sealing your ducts will prevent pollen from infiltrating your home’s ventilation system. Plus, build-up in your ducts can add up to 30% to your cooling bill.

– Consider a whole house humidifier. Humidifiers are designed to improve air quality in your home and can help minimize the effects of air particles, such as pollen, that get inside. These particles often need dry conditions to thrive and moisture in the air helps to eliminate them.

– Signup for our Annual Maintenance Contract. Did you know that having a professional service your unit 2 times a year can DOUBLE THE LIFE of your heating and air system? That’s a huge savings on your original investment, and can help minimize major service calls or break downs. Contact us today for complete details.

Clean ducts and air filters allow your HVAC system to run efficiently, decreasing energy costs and preventing your unit from failing prematurely. To avoid low air quality and extra costs this season, be sure to proactively contact your HVAC technician to pollen-proof your home. Remember – just because you can’t see airborne materials, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Contact us today for more information or an on-site consultation.