Consumer Awareness Guide: Central Air Conditioning
Jun 19, 2012
Are You Ready for a New Air Conditioner?
If you’re looking for a new air conditioning system you probably know there are many new energy-efficient types of systems available that can make your home more comfortable without draining your wallet during the summer.
Air conditioners are usually split into two categories; Ducted & Ductless
Central Air Conditioning Systems became very popular in Central PA in the 60’s when our local utility was trying to “give away” electricity at very low rates. Remember the old “Electric Home” logo the utility offered as a badge of good taste and wise energy consumerism? People bought electric furnaces and “Add-On” Central Air Conditioning. Of course, these homes were insulated to the standards of the times – and so were “some” of the air duct systems.
Prior to that, ducted systems were widely used on Natural Gas-fired and Oil-fired furnaces and rarely, if ever, would we see a duct system made of anything but sheet metal, totally bare of insulation. And, just as soon as the homeowner would add central air conditioning, the duct systems would start to sweat and often leave a trail across the basement floor. Of course, the humidity of the basement, along with the lower temperature of the air would cause the air to condense – just like the age-old example of the glass of ice water that puddles – same concept. Homeowners rushed to add a larger dehumidifier to run in the Summer cooling season, which helped to dry some of the nuisance puddles on the floor, but NOT on the ductwork.
Moisture draws dirt. Whatever becomes air borne attaches itself to its new moist duct system. The dirt becomes a “food source” for any microbial contamination in the air; mold spores, bacteria, fungi, dust mites, etc.
25 to 40% of the Air Conditioning or Heating is Lost through Ductwork! It’s true. It’s an alarming statistic and the #2 reason many central home air conditioning systems don’t provide the comfort and energy efficiency they could and should! Common symptoms of a problem duct system include; rooms that are too hot or cold – compared to other rooms, low airflow into the room, noticeable odors lingering in the air, excessive dust forming on furniture and light fixtures and finally, a furnace or air conditioner that cycles on and off repeatedly.
What makes it even worse, is the leaking ductwork that is installed in an attic or basement! Air leaks here either serve to lose the cool or hot air you paid to a space you didn’t intend to condition!
The place to start is to examine the Duct System – first off, was it properly designed? Does it provide the amount of air necessary to cool or heat the space intended? Is the duct system tight, or is there leakage? Using duct system air flow & leakage diagnostic tools, and performing Infiltrometer blower door test, the home owner will know!
Ductwork in the Attic? Often times when central air conditioning is added to a home, the ductwork is installed in the attic space. Sometimes the attic space is minimal and used for Christmas decorations and general storage, making access to the blower section difficult and inconvenient, especially when the times comes to change the air filter. Some attics don’t have lighting and some have a small access space called a scupper hole, usually located in the bedroom closet, to climb through.
Using a mastic compound on the duct joints is a great start to minimizing the loss of cooled air – and the infiltration of hot attic air when the system is off. Caulking and insulating around the penetrations where the air vents pop through the ceiling is highly recommended to prevent additional air loss and condensation from the warm attic air contacting the cold metal fittings.
Attic Joist Spaces are NOT cold air return ducts! It’s true. Interior wall cavities are often used as “cold” air return ducts – okay if they’ve been meticulously sealed (which MOST are NOT), but NOT in the attic! Hot attic air will be sucked into the return duct (along with any airborne particles, such as fiberglass insulation fibers) and either lodge on the filter, the air conditioning coil, the ductwork or worse yet, blown into the living space of the home for the family members to breathe!
Replace crushed ductwork. On the way to get the Christmas decorations and other valuables from the attic, flexible & fiberglass ductwork can take a beating. Often the jacket is torn or the duct crushed to a point where air flow is restricted and the room is not supplied with enough air to cool the space. Early flexible ductwork was made with a minimal amount of insulation and don’t meet today’s energy efficiency needs. Often times the joints in the duct sections separate, as the tape used to connect them dries out and loses its sticking ability. Cool air is then dumped directly into the attic space, rather than being delivered to the living spaces of the home – driving up the operating costs and health risks.
Years ago, the only choice was Window Air Conditioners! They were generally noisy, heavy and once placed in the window opening, darkened the room! They caused the electric bill to skyrocket, people to lose some sleep until they adjusted to the noise and since it was the bedroom, most people weren’t too unhappy with the loss of natural light! Now, home owners have a choice of a ductless air conditioning system!
Ductless Systems – The early days and where we installed them first! Ductless Systems really became popular about the time small business moved to computerization! Computers added heat to areas of offices that didn’t have enough air conditioning capacity to be cooled by the larger central ducted system. And of course, running the air conditioning system to cool the entire building to the desired “computer room” temperature was simply not energy smart and would create a cold office environment for the workers.
Early ductless system applications were computer rooms, telephone switching rooms and wherever additional offices were built within the facility. As a company grew in employees, office spaces, lunch rooms, vending machine spaces were added. Our Lunch Room was added and is comfortably cooled by a ceiling mounted ductless system. Other than seeing the indoor cooling section when you look up at the ceiling, our Co-Workers enjoy a space to take a break and refresh – simply not possible with a noisy window air conditioner running!
Today, ductless cooling and heating systems are a fit for many homes, including those without ductwork or a central air conditioning system! That added Sunroom or finished bedroom or home office in the Basement, the Great Rooms where family get-togethers happen – started the in-home trend for ductless systems.
Now, we install ductless systems as whole-house central air conditioning systems – eliminating the need for the labor-intensive and inefficient ductwork systems. Each room can be set to the occupant’s desired temperature setting and comfortably changed using the remote controls provided.
Quiet comfort is delivered from the indoor sections that are typically mounted in each bedroom – and connected using copper lines to an outdoor unit, called the condensing unit. Some condensing units accommodate several indoor units, but still provide the comfort and convenience of individual room controls – no fighting over the temperature setting of the second floor while freezing the first floor!
Ductless Systems reduce Oil Costs! With the high cost of fuel oil, home owners are moving to alternative heating sources and the most convenient and efficient is often a ductless heat pump. The ductless heat pump provides cooling in the Summer and Heating in the Winter – all the way down to coldest outdoor temperatures! Some home owners elect to keep their oil furnace for back-up heating, since they have some oil left in their tank in the basement. Eventually, the disbelief that the ductless system can handle the toughest Central PA Winters ends, and the tanks are removed!
Cape Cod Homes for the Growing Family – Many Cape Cod homes were built here in the Central PA, Harrisburg, Camp Hill, Mechanicsburg and surrounding areas – some brick, some aluminum or vinyl siding, some with stone. Some Cape Cod homes were built with a finished first floor and an unfinished second floor with the promise that as the family grew; the second floor could be finished off and heated by the same duct system that served the first floor. Years later when the family grew, home owners finished the second floors, opened the ducts to the new-found bedroom space and found the second floor heated just fine.
Cape Cod Problems – exposed! Along comes the popularity of central air conditioning and the Cape Cod homeowner indulges in the luxury of central air – only to be frustrated and disappointed in the temperature difference in the Summer. The cooling just won’t get there! The ductwork was too small, the heat from the roof keeps the ceiling so warm the air conditioner doesn’t do the job. The solution for many? Turn the thermostat setting down – nearly freezing the family members on the first floor, while the family members on the second floor are still NOT cool!
The family’s only other option was to invest in window air conditioners, which blocked HALF of the only window the room has! Since the kids were the lucky occupants of the second floor and happy to have their own rooms, often times the window air conditioners were left running – unless Mom or Dad went up each day to turn the air conditioner OFF – along with the bedroom lights! Window air conditioners were too expensive to operate all day long with no one in the room!
Finally, a Cool Second Floor with Daylight! Ductless Cooling systems put the air conditioning right where it’s needed most without blocking the windows and deafening the family members on the second floor! The indoor unit mounts on the wall and comfortable and quietly cools the room. The remote thermostat is programmed to allow the unoccupied room temperature to raise 10 degrees during the day, saving energy and utility costs.
The Number 1 Reason many new Air Conditioning systems don’t deliver on the promise…the system is NOT the right size! Many central air conditioning units are “fixed” output, meaning the unit will only remove a set quantity of heat from the home – the output is the output! The only adjustment in this case is having the unit cycle on and off, on and off, on and off throughout the day or night. An oversized unit creates a cold and clammy space because the air conditioner doesn’t run long enough to dehumidify the air.
High Efficiency Systems are available with output staging – most often 2 stages. And a few are variable output, which more closely matches the heat load of the space to the output of the central air unit, which helps dehumidify the air passing through the well-insulated and tightly-sealed duct system. Of course, if the ductwork runs through the attic or crawlspace, it will still lose some capacity.
New Technology Avoids the Contractor’s Biggest Mistake! The new ductless systems are equipped with new technology called “Inverter Drive” or “iQ” which is true variable capacity control! The units have humidity control and high efficiency filtration – all designed specifically to increase the comfort and efficiency of the system operation, while matching the cooling needs of the space.
Can it really be done in a day or two? Yes, it can and we do! We’ve been installing central air conditioning systems for years – and since we also have a commercial air conditioning business, we’ve been installing ductless systems for nearly as long. 42 years later, we’re still installing the latest technology, which is ever-changing, requiring more and more specialized training and dedication to technology. A smarter workforce is the answer many heating and cooling companies don’t seem to want to face. Maybe they’d rather the homeowner spend the extra thousands on ductwork, put up with the inconvenience of having strangers in the Customer’s home for an entire week? It sure makes it easier on the scheduling department!
Today’s smarter workforce simply isn’t interested in installing ductwork day in and day out. They’d much rather use the tools of their trade and do the higher-level work of installing refrigerant lines, wiring the new systems and doing a thorough system check-out when it’s ready to operate. Our Technicians are complimented for neatness, cleanliness and most of all their willingness to provide the homeowner with a complete understanding of their new system. All in all, these uncommon characteristics involve hours of training and a genuine interest in doing a great job for our Customers!
If Ductless is right for you, ask for the Installation Companies credentials; be sure the person coming out to your home has the required knowledge to answer your questions and provide full disclosure of where the units will be installed, what obligations and installation nuances you should be aware of – and remember to ask how long they’ve been installing ductless systems!