_ For decades, thermostats were pretty simple: put the needle on the temperature you wanted, and the heating and air conditioning system would do its best to ke…Read More
Heating is something that most of us don’t think about much. When it’s cold and snowing, the only discomfort most of us have to deal with are short walks from the car to a heated building. When we get inside, it’s wonderfully warm again. And if it’s a little cold in the house, simply turn up the thermostat.
With as cold as it gets here in Beltsville and the surrounding area, everyone needs heating. After all, the idea of “go put on another sweater” only goes so far when the temperature is below freezing outside. But what happens when the heat isn’t there? What do you do when your boiler breaks, or when your furnace stops blowing? And when you get your heating bill and it’s twice as much as last month, does that indicate that there’s something wrong with your furnace? Today we’re going to answer all of these questions, as well as a few more.
The Importance of Heating
Let’s be honest: we like to be warm in winter. We don’t know of anyone who sits around in the 25-degree house in January and is perfectly happy to do so. But having heat is about more than just being comfortable when the weather gets cold. Here’s what can happen when the heat goes out in Maryland? (which kind of sounds like a Billy Joel song, now that we think about it):
The Cold Can Be Deadly
How many cold-related deaths do you think occur in Maryland in an average year? You might think that there are the one or two deaths you hear about at the beginning of the season, but in fact there can be dozens of deaths a year. There were 34 freezing deaths in Maryland in 2016 and 20 in 2015. Sometimes it’s people who are sleeping outside or in cars, such as the homeless. But homes with broken heating units can also lead to deaths, especially for the elderly. That’s what makes regular furnace preventive maintenance so important.
Frozen Pipes Can Ruin a Building
We’re all fans of indoor plumbing, and we’re pretty sure no one wants to go back to the days when you had to go outside to the outhouse. But the convenience of water pipes indoors means that a lack of heat could lead to the pipes freezing and breaking.
If you wake up one morning and discover that the heating system in your house is no longer working, be sure to call someone for furnace repair right away before your pipes freeze. There are many factors that determine whether your pipes will freeze or not — such as location of your pipes and the length of time the heat has been off — but outside temperatures of 20-degrees and a broken HVAC system are two factors that can lead to a burst pipe and a flooded kitchen.
Business Efficiency Can Plummet
When we were discussing the importance of air conditioning, we talked about how customers are affected by the heat of summer and are actively looking for a place to cool off. The reverse is true in winter, when customers are looking for a warm, inviting place to shop. A cold store isn’t going to keep anyone around for long.
Heating can also vastly improve how efficient office workers are. Imagine coming into work and finding a broken or inefficient heating unit, with employees having to wear gloves to type…you might as well just send them home for the day. Here’s how Fast Company put it:
“Cornell University researchers conducted a study that involved tinkering with the thermostat of an insurance office. When temperatures were low (68 degrees, to be precise), employees committed 44% more errors and were less than half as productive as when temperatures were warm (a cozy 77 degrees). Cold employees weren’t just uncomfortable, they were distracted. The drop in performance was costing employers 10% more per hour, per employee.”
It’s obvious that the temperature of a business can seriously affect how efficiently it works. If you are having any problems with your HVAC system, be sure to call a certified heating repair technician today.
Ways To Heat A Building
When it comes to heating, the options are much more varied than they are in air conditioning. Let’s take a look at the most common types of heating used in home and businesses, both in Maryland and across the country.
How they work: Furnaces burn a fuel, either natural gas or oil, and that heat is transferred to a heat exchanger. A fan blows air across the heat exchanger, and the warmed air is distributed throughout the house to vents via the ductwork. Furnaces are sometimes called forced-air heating units.
Where they’re found: Furnaces are the most common means of heating homes in the United States. The type of fuel used, whether it’s gas or oil, is often determined by the cost of the fuel in a particular area of the country. Furnaces are an excellent option for houses, because the warm air keeps it’s warm on the short journey throughout the house.
The benefits: Furnaces are very common, so finding furnace repair is easy to do. Furnaces are getting more fuel efficient all the time, so new furnace installation can end up saving you money in the long run.
How they work: Boilers are essentially special purpose water heaters. But instead of distributing water to sinks and showers and having that water go down the drain, boilers distribute that heat to registers around a building, then return the cool water to the boiler where it’s reheated again. Like furnaces, boilers use natural gas or oil in order to heat the water. Boilers can also be used to distribute water through plastic pipes under the floor, a system called radiant floor heating.
Where they’re found: Boilers are found in homes and in large buildings.
The benefits: Some people prefer boilers because air isn’t blowing throughout the house as it does with furnaces. Furnaces will often gather dust and pollen in the vents and then distribute that particulate matter throughout the house, and that boilers don’t have to worry about that. Boilers also don’t dry out the air like furnaces do, and they’re much quieter because they don’t have the on-off cycles of a typical furnace.
How they work: Geothermal heating systems are a type of heat pump. Geothermal pipes are buried underground in the yard outside the home and employ the constant temperature of the soil in order to regulate the temperature inside the home. The landscape and soil composition will determine whether you use vertical boreholes or a horizontal “loop” to take advantage of the ground’s temperature.
Because geothermal uses the constant temperature of the ground, it’s a source of heating and cooling, so there’s no need for a separate furnace and air conditioning unit.
Where they’re found: Geothermal installation occurs in homes of homeowners who have the ability to dig up their yards and install the systems. They are also found in large buildings (such as forward-thinking schools) that have the amount of property necessary to install large underground systems.
The benefits: While geothermal is expensive to install and requires the surrounding yard to be torn up, the benefits are considerable. Because there is no fuel involved, energy savings will end up paying for the system in a surprisingly short amount of time. With fuel savings of between $400 and $1500 a year, it typically pays for itself in about 3-7 years. Since they last for 25 years or more, it could pay for itself many times over. (There might also be tax savings. Some tax savings expired in 2016, but these may be renewed depending on who is in political office at any given time.)
Geothermal is also the most environmentally-friendly method of heating and cooling a home. All it takes is a little electricity to power the pump. There’s no environmental cost associated with producing natural gas (fracking) or oil production (drilling and refining). There are also no emissions.
Other Types of Heating Systems
The three most common types of heating in America are furnaces, boilers, and heat pumps (including geothermal). But there are other forms of heating that people use for various reasons. Let’s take a quick look at the options, even if we don’t service all of them.
Ever since mankind huddled around a campfire to keep warm, wood has been a source of heat. But today, few American homes use wood as the primary heating source, and there are good reasons for that. Bringing wood into the house means opening the home’s door and losing warm air, while the log pile can attract rodents and insects. It’s just a lot of work!
Unfortunately, wood burning fireplaces are also incredibly inefficient. While they might be nice if you’re sitting close to them, the flue you’ve opened to allow the smoke to head up the chimney makes them heat losers. Not only is most of the heat produced by the logs going up the chimney, but it’s also sucking the air out of the room that is produced by whole-house heating units such as furnaces or boilers.
Wood Pellet Stoves
Wood pellet stoves use tiny, highly-compressed, recycled wood pellets that burn very efficiently and produce almost no smoke. The pellets are poured into a hopper and burned throughout the day, and an electric blower distributes the air to the room.
While wood pellet stoves are exponentially more efficient and environmentally friendly than traditional log fireplaces, they do have some drawbacks. First, they have to be vented to the outside, either via a chimney or other pipe. Second, they aren’t distributing the heat to the entirety of a home, so they’re best used in small spaces such as basements or in cabins.
Gas fireplaces are nice to have in a home, but in truth they’re more of an ambiance booster than it is an efficient means of heating a home. They certainly do look nice on a cold winter’s day and can heat the space immediately around it, but gas fireplaces are always supplemented by some sort of whole-house heating system.
There are two basic types of space heaters: electric heaters and gas heaters. We won’t get into them too much here, but it’s important to know that they both have drawbacks. Electric heaters can tip over and be a fire concern, and unvented gas heaters can cause carbon monoxide dangers. If you must use a space heater, make sure to do a great deal of research as to which one is safest.
How to Choose Your Whole-House Heating Unit
If your primary heating unit is at the end of its life, then it’s almost certain you’ll end up replacing it with the same type of heating unit. Ductwork used in furnaces won’t work with pipes used with boilers, and vice versa. If your interest is in something simpler like replacing an oil furnace with a gas furnace, we’d be happy to discuss that with you.
But if you’re building a new home or are renovating an old one, there’s always the chance that you can use that opportunity to get the HVAC system you’ve always wanted. If that’s the case, contact JC & JC HVAC Mechanical Contractors and we can answer all of the questions you have. We want to help you get the most efficient and comfortable heating system for you.
At JC & JC HVAC Mechanical Contractor, we can service just about any make, manufacturer, and type of heating equipment. But we can also install new heating and cooling equipment with the latest and most cost-efficient HVAC systems available. There are three basic reasons people come to us with their heating installation needs.
Unfortunately, every mechanical system breaks down eventually. Even if it’s well maintained and has been repaired many times before, heating and cooling units will eventually reach the end of their life. While they might be able to be “kept alive” for a little while longer, the cost of constant repairs makes it a wise economic decision to simply replace the entire unit and utilize financing to pay it off over time.
Efficiency is another reason that some people choose to replace their furnace. A top-of-the-line unit from 30 years ago will not be nearly as efficient as starter furnaces of today. Thanks to public demand and government mandates, furnaces are considerably more efficient. Even if the heating unit is working properly, sometimes the amount of energy they’re using can make someone, whether for environmental or financial reasons, decide that replacement is the best option.
Being on the East Coast and one of the original 13 colonies, Maryland has its share of old home and buildings. Some of these buildings have had multiple types of heating over the years, so when we’re called to replace the heating in an old house, we’re never quite sure what we’re going to find!
Remodeling is one of the few times that people actually change the type of heating system in the home, because during a remodeling project the entire house might be down to the studs. This allows a ductwork contractor to replace the boiler pipes with ducts, or gives access to the ground so that a geothermal heating and cooling system can be installed.
One of the most common needs for furnace installation is with new construction. Whether it’s a home or a business, every new building needs heat. Sometimes we’re called in to handle a single custom job that accompanies our ductwork design, and other times we’ll be installing furnaces in entire neighborhoods.
As HVAC installation experts, do you know what the best part about new construction is? It can be easier! All of the walls aren’t in yet, and we don’t have to worry about damaging doors, floors, and drywall. There might be a dozen or more houses to do at the same time, so there’s less travel. The downside is that we don’t get nearly the variety we do with repair and we don’t get to talk to the homeowner’s themselves or get to experience their gratitude when the heat comes back on.
Everything with moving parts breaks down eventually. That’s because the moving parts are wearing against each other, losing microscopic bits of metal every time the heating unit is in use. Even electrical components are subjected to physical wear, and items such as starters will need to be replaced. Rubber gaskets age, and tiny earthquakes and unnoticeable house settling can put additional pressure on your heating unit.
Unfortunately, the HVAC units tend to need repair on the coldest night (and hottest days) of the year. That’s because the extreme temperatures cause them to cycle on and off more often, pushing them to their limits. Here are the most common problems that cause systems to need repair.
Why Do Gas and Oil Furnaces Need Repair?
- Wear and tear over time can cause parts to rumble, squeak, or squeal, which could lead to problems such as fan failure.
- Heat exchangers can crack due to the constant heating and cooling process, which can stress the molecular bonds and cause them to break.
- Electrical switches are subjected to heat every time they are engaged, causing them to break. This could prevent the entire system from working or make the blower run all the time.
- In oil furnaces, the atomizing jets (the components that turn the oil into a fine spray to be burned) become clogged over time. This can put unnecessary stress on the system and cause it to break down or, at the very least, severely reduce efficiency.
Why Do Geothermal Units Need Repair?
- Pumps are mechanical systems, which mean that normal wear and tear can cause parts inside to give out. If the geothermal solution isn’t moving through the ground, it’s not going to provide any temperature benefits.
- Due to ground settling or improper initial installation, leaks can occur in geothermal systems. Considering the amount of effort it takes to install a geothermal system, you might expect it to be a huge deal, but it doesn’t have to be. The amount of yard that needs to be dug up to repair a leak is considerably less than during installation.
Why Do Boilers Need Repair?
- Boilers use water, which means that there’s always the chance of a leak occurring at a seam or gasket.
- Boilers move heated water throughout the house with the use of a pump. If parts of the pump wear out over time, it’s going to lead to a less efficient system or one that doesn’t work at all.
- Like furnaces, boilers also have electrical components which can wear out over time. If the switches break, the system may stop working entirely.
Because it’s initially included in the cost of the house, people often forget just how expensive the heating and cooling systems are. But when you break it down as individual items, the furnace or other heating device is one of the most expensive items that a person will buy in a lifetime, second only to vehicles.
Most people understand that a complex mechanical system like a car requires preventive maintenance throughout the year. And because the car is something they tend to use every day, it’s on their mind (especially when they look up in the corner of the windshield and see the oil change sticker!). But people have very little interaction with a heating unit in the home beyond touching a few buttons on the thermostat or replacing a furnace filter every few months (and to be honest, most of them forget to change the furnace filter until about six months have passed). Unfortunately, professional maintenance is completely forgotten until something breaks down.
Heating maintenance isn’t something you should put off. Here’s why:
Heating Maintenance Can Make Your System Last Longer
Like we said before, the heating unit is probably the most expensive single component in a building. With materials and installation cost averaging $4,000 or more, it’s not really something that you want to be replacing every 10 years. But if you neglect your system, you might have to replace the entire system sooner rather than later.
Small Repairs Can Prevent Larger Repairs
We keep comparing heating systems to cars for a reason: people know that cars need maintenance even if they don’t know exactly what’s going on. Let’s take oil changes for example; while not everyone knows why vehicles need oil changes, they are aware that something very bad can happen to the engine if they don’t.
The same goes for furnaces. Moving parts wear out over time, and lubricants lose their ability to keep parts from wearing against each other. The breaking of a small part can cause unnecessary wear on the larger parts, which leads to bigger and more expensive repairs.
When you have preventive maintenance performed on your heating and cooling units, the HVAC technician may be able to see if anything is about to wear out and break. If they replace it now, you’re much less likely to be left in the lurch some morning when you wake up to cold floors. Speaking of which…
Waking Up Cold Means More Than Just Discomfort
No one wants to wake up to cold floors underneath, but eschewing HVAC maintenance and needing heater repairs means bigger problems than just cold piggies. First of all, you have to worry about your pipes. You’re also going to have to take time off work while you contact an emergency heating specialist and wait for them to arrive (though you won’t have to wait long with us).
While every heating unit requires repair eventually, you’re going to need fewer repairs if you have it taken care of with simple HVAC maintenance. It certainly beats the pandemonium of calling for emergency HVAC repair.
Maintenance Increases Efficiency
When you have someone complete maintenance on your heating and cooling equipment, it’s going to perform better than it did before. Cleaning the unit and replacing filters means that the air or water is going to move through it more efficiently, which means you’ll be spending less on fuel and staying warmer on the coldest night. Burning less fuel also means you’ll reduce your carbon footprint and have a more positive environmental impact.
It Can Be Dangerous
In most cases, having a broken heating unit isn’t going to be dangerous. But there are some instances, such as a broken heat exchanger, that could release toxic gases and endanger anyone in the building.
Inviting an HVAC specialist into your home for furnace maintenance allows them to give your system a thorough checkup. If they notice something is wrong, or is about to go wrong, they can make the repair before those in your home are subjected to any danger.
Let Us Handle Your Heating System!
Because heating units tend to work well for long stretches, many homeowners and businesses simply take them for granted. But trust us, you shouldn’t! Being aware of what your heating system needs is an important part of making it last longer and run more efficiently. But how do you know what it needs? That’s where JC & JC HVAC Mechanical Contractors come in. No matter whether you need boiler installation, furnace repair, or geothermal preventive maintenance, we’re the Maryland contractors to call.
Everyone needs heating and cooling service eventually. Whether it’s basic furnace maintenance or having an entire boiler replaced, we’re here to provide Maryland with the best HVAC service available in the middle of a freezing winter or a boiling summer. When you need heating or AC service in the Rockville, Potomac, Silver Spring, Bethesda, Laurel, Germantown, or Beltsville, JC & JC HVAC Mechanical Contractors will be there to help. Contact us today!