Tips, Tricks, & Generally Helpful Knowledge
How Often Should I Change My Air Filter?
This is probably the question we get asked the most from homeowners, and it's an important one! A dirty air filter is more than just an item on your to-do list. A number of different problems can be prevented by this simple task.
Let's start with the basics. When your ac unit is running, it pulls air in through the return air, conditions it inside the evaporator coil or furnace, and then back out through your duct system and into your house, keeping you comfortable, and breathing cleaner air. As the filter allows air to flow through it, it catches particles that are moving in the air current. These particles are dust, dander, allergens, and all kinds of gross things we'd rather not think about. As more of these particles accumulate on the filter, there is less space for air to pass through. If left unchecked, this will eventually reach the point where airflow is so restricted, it will start to find new, easier ways inside your unit. This means through small gaps that may be present inside your return air boxes and ducting, your homes wall cavities, and even around the edges of your filter. This means that all those particles that are no longer being filtered out are now accumulating on your fan blades and motor, your heat exchange or elements, your evaporator coil, and the insides of your ductwork.
So to circle back to the question at hand: How often should the filter be changed? If you use a 1 inch thick filter, the most common size used in residential homes, we recommend changing it once a month. A lot of filters may say on the packaging to change every 90 days. Simply put, this is not a good idea. Buy a decent quality, pleated filter, and change monthly. If the filter is low to the floor, or you have pets in your home that shed, you may even need to change it every three weeks. A good rule of thumb is if it looks gross when you change it, start doing it sooner!
For those that use larger, 4-5 inch thick filters, we recommend changing them every 6 months.
Keeping a good routine is essential to the air quality of your home, the life of your unit, and the extra cash in your pocket.
Smart Thermostats- Should I Get One?
You’ve seen the commercials on tv, the online ads, and even the product adorning the shelves at your local hardware store. The latest, greatest smart thermostat. Wi-Fi enabled, self programing, and smartphone compatible, they certainly seem like an obvious choice for this day and age. But they come with a pretty steep price tag. Is it worth it? What are the benefits or disadvantages of having one? Can they really be installed by the average DIYer or will you have the additional expense of professional installation?
These are great questions that everyone should ask before investing in a smart thermostat for their HVAC system.
First off, the price. Ranging from $150 - $500, the options are seemingly endless, as are the claims. One well known brand, in the $250 range, reports average savings of 15% on the cost of operating your AC during the summer. How exactly does a smart thermostat do this? Well, lets think of your AC system as a car, and your energy bill as the gas mileage. In this scenario, the thermostat would be the driver of the vehicle. If the driver constantly speeds, your gas mileage will most certainly suffer. But if he slows down to a more reasonable pace when speed is not required, your miles per gallon will increase. You could consider a traditional thermostat like a teenage driver, and a smart thermostat like a more seasoned and mature driver. The smart thermostat saves energy by learning when to press the gas, and when to slow down. Times like during the day, when your home is empty, it will raise the setpoint of your air conditioner, so that it runs less, avoiding the energy consumption of fully cooling an empty home for hours at a time. Before you arrive home in the evening, the setpoint is automatically lowered so that you can be greeted by a refreshing atmosphere as you walk through your front door. Additionally, various models will have suggested setpoints or a visual reminder of how long your AC has 1) been running, 2) will run, or 3) an energy efficient indicator, much like the gas economy indicator equipped in most cars today. So, knowing how energy savings is achieved through a smart thermostat, we can now look at our own home and living situation to determine if installing one would accomplish the goal of a lower cost of operation.
The ability of a smart thermostat to accomplish this goal really depends on the lifestyle of the people in the home. Do you have a routine week, wake up at a particular time, leave and arrive home on a set schedule, and abide by an established bedtime? If so, you are in the prime situation to benefit to the fullest possible extent. The smart thermostat is able to learn your schedule, and know when you’re away, how long until you return, and the temperature you prefer to live in. Using this information, it can run your ac as little as possible, saving energy when you aren’t home while seamlessly keeping you comfortable when you are. The more consistent your timetable, the better it will work.
On the other hand, if your days vary from week to week, or you have constant in and out traffic throughout the day, the thermostat is left will little unoccupied time to work with. Also, a regularly changing schedule means that learning thermostats don’t have a solid basis on which to learn. You may have unpleasant hiccups with the programming, such as your home warming up to an objectionable temperature when you don’t want it to, or perhaps cooling your home longer than needed; actually using more energy rather than saving it. Your household schedule is probably the most important factor when deciding whether to spend the money on a smart thermostat. If you do decide that it would fit your budget and lifestyle, the next question to consider is, “install it myself, or hire a professional?”
Installing a smart thermostat can be a very straightforward process. It can also turn into a big headache, or cause damage to your ac system. First and foremost, ALWAYS turn off the breakers feeding your furnace or air handler before doing anything else. Thermostats use low voltage, but crossing the wrong wires can pop fuses, melt transformers, or possibly start a fire! Once you are 100% sure that the power to the ac unit is off (a common mistake is turning power off to the outdoor unit, and not realizing the indoor unit, usually in a closet, attic, or basement, is still powered on) you want to confirm what wiring your current thermostat uses. Take off the face of the thermostat to expose the wiring connections. Take a picture or write down what terminals are being used. There will usually be R, Rc, C, Y, W, O, B, and possibly more. The one that we are concerned with is the C terminal. Many older thermostats did not use this terminal, but you will need it to make a smart thermostat work properly. If you do have it connected, then changing the thermostat should be somewhat simple. Mark each wire color to the terminal it is on, and put the same wire on the same terminal on the new thermostat. And be sure to reference the instructions. Also, it is important to note that wire color doesn’t necessarily equate to the terminal letter. Many times, it will (ie yellow wire on Y terminal, or red wire to R terminal) but this usually is not the case for all connections. So keep track of where the wires were previously, and don’t make changes. Doing so could possibly damage your system, or even your brand new thermostat. Alternatively, if you check the connections of your existing thermostat, and notice that there is no c terminal, or no wire connected to it, wiring changes would need to be made. At this point, hiring a professional is the smart decision. Another thing to consider before you decide to install a thermostat yourself is that you must know what type of HVAC system you have. Heat Pump, Straight Cool w/ Electric heat, or Gas/Propane Furnace. If you don’t know this, you won’t be able to set up your thermostat correctly.
So, is a smart thermostat the next weekend project? Is it a good investment that will work well with your schedule? Will you be hiring an installer, or tackling it yourself? Hopefully you can answer these questions with more confidence now. And if you need any advice, always feel free to reach out via call, text, or email. Best wishes!