How Your Home’s Heating System Works | Dallas/Fort Worth

It’s surprisingly simple how a heating system works in your Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas home.

In a previous post we established a baseline understanding of home heating systems, particularly how they are rated for energy efficiency, which is important for troubleshooting performance issues and knowing when to call a service or repair tech to discuss retrofitting or purchasing new equipment.

Now we examine how your home heating system works.

It’s surprisingly simple:

  • The heating system takes in cold air.
  • It cleans it with an air filter.
  • It heats it with a gas burner and a steel heat exchanger.
  • It distributes the warm air via a blower motor through the ductwork into the home.
  • Bingo. Once the heated air cools in various rooms, it returns to the furnace through return air vents and ductwork.

The next time a contractor from an Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas company sends out a service or repair tech for a winter (or spring) checkup, ask him to take you on a quick tour of the process.
Components

Draft Inducer Fan

Modern furnaces rely on a fan to create a draft up the chimney, rather than heat produced by a roaring flame from the burner.

Ignitor, Gas Valve

This creates a high-voltage spark or glows red hot to ignite the rush of gas to the burner. Its electromagnet is energized and opens to permit gas flow after it receives a signal, which happens after the thermostat and all other controls are energized.

Burner

There are no moving parts. Just the burner, with a row of tubes, that allow fuel and air to mix at the proper ratio so they can burn at the highest efficiency possible. That’s important for energy conservation and controlling costs.

Heat Exchanger

The principle is simple. Heat the metal plate with a gas flame and pass air over it. The heated air is then distributed to the house and the flue gas, or waste, goes out the chimney.

Furnace Blower

A fan creates pressure inside the furnace so the cool air is pulled in to be heated and the warm air produced is pushed into the ducts for distribution. Modern forced-air systems are far superior to old gravity heating.

Cold-Air Return

Once warm air cools, it returns through a series of ducts and the process begins again. If return air ducts are insufficient, the house can become slightly pressurized and heated or cooled air is driven out and energy is wasted.

Obviously, you will want an Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas contractor to send service or repair technicians to your home, ideally at the start of the winter, to inspect the components and performance of the heating system.

It’s best to keep tabs on the overall condition of the equipment, which is why heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) service and repair professionals and manufacturers recommend twice-a-year service checkups to start the winter and summer heating and cooling seasons.

Conventional Furnaces vs. High Efficiency

Now that you know the basic operation of a home heating system, it’s time to understand the differences between conventional and high-efficiency furnaces.

First older gas furnaces use a pilot light (images) as an ignition source. A regulator supplies a small flow of gas to keep a short flame burning so it would be ready to ignite the gas when it was time to heat the home.

More modern and efficient furnaces use a “glow stick” (images) made of silicone nitride as an ignition source. Electricity passes a current through the glow stick when the furnace calls for heat.
Standard Gas Furnaces

Standard gas furnaces rely on natural gas or propane as the energy source for generating heat. When the temperature in the home falls below the set point on the thermostat (68 degrees, for example), the electric pilot light (images) automatically ignites to begin the heating process.

The burner (images) utilizes the gas to generate heat within a combustion chamber (images) inside the furnace. This heat passes into a heat exchanger (images). When a fan (images) blows air onto the heat exchanger, it is heated and the warm air is blown through a series of ducts (images) into the home. Exhaust fumes from the combustion process exit through a gas flue or chimney (images).

High Efficiency Furnaces

High efficiency furnaces (images, diagrams) function the same but use a second combustion chamber, which captures exhaust gases and moisture before it exits into the flue.

The second chamber condenses the gaseous by-product to form a liquid, then extracts any remaining heat, which is then transferred into a second heat exchanger. That heat supplements the primary heat exchanger for additional warmth.

What little waste remaining is exhausted through a small flue or pipe, making the entire heating process much more energy efficient.

When considering retrofitting or replacing heating equipment, it’s well worth talking with a service or repair tech in the Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas area about the advantages and cost of a high efficiency system over standard furnaces.

Benefits

High-Efficiency furnaces will have significant impact on a home’s energy consumption. According to Energy Savers, homeowners who switch from an older furnace with a 56 percent AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency) rating to a 90 percent rating can reduce annual carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 1.5 tons per home.

As expected, higher-efficiency gas furnaces cost more than standard models, but they will be more economical over time, especially if you are upgrading from a low AFUE-rated product.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) estimates that homeowners can save $27 for each $100 they currently spend in fuel by updating from a 60 AFUE furnace to 95 percent AFUE.

According to Energy Star and the U.S. Department of Energy, homeowners who buy a gas furnace with a 95 percent AFUE can receive up to $1,500 in federal tax credits, although this varies. Check with trusted service and repair techs in the Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas area, who, if they are good as they say they are, they should already be aware of incentives.

Here’s another way to look at standard vs. high efficiency: Even if your furnace is rated at 80 percent AFUE and it produces a monthly gas bill of $279, about $56 of that bill has fueled nothing. It’s wasted heat that has gone up the chimney and wasted money..

Next up: troubleshooting your heating system before calling that Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas contractor.

Troubleshooting Heating System Fort Worth — Part 2

Uneven heat. It may be the No. 1 complaint among homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas all winter.

Many people who have multi-level homes, including town homes, apartments, and brownstones, deal with uneven heat at one time or another. The furnace is running, appears to be in fine order, but one room or floor is warmer than the other. Often noticeably so.

The mystery of uneven heat generates more calls to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractors in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas than most other service and repair issues all winter.

This post examines uneven heat. Why it happens. And what can be done about it. Before calling a service or repair contractor, examine what’s going on.

Common Causes

Are vents blocked or closed off? If there is a specific room that doesn’t seem to stay warm, the first thing you’ll want to do is check that all of the air vents are open and clear of obstructions. Sometimes homeowners close vents in rooms that are not used much and forget to open them when it’s used more frequently.

Look to see if a heavy piece of furniture is blocking a vent. Homeowners re-arrange the furniture in rooms and a piece of furniture may be blocking a vent, so the room may not be receiving enough conditioned air to keep it warm. Move the furniture if you can, or perhaps move it off the wall a bit to increase air flow.

Is the furnace filter dirty? Blame everything that goes wrong with an HVAC system on dirty air filters! It’s true. This is perhaps the best place to start sleuthing, according to 100 percent of service and repair techs and three out of four dentists. If the filter is clogged, it will restrict the amount of air that circulates in the home and some rooms may receive more warm air than others. An easy fix: replace the air filter.

Is it extraordinarily cold around windows and doors? Rooms with doors and windows that open to the outside are harder to keep warm than interior rooms. Cold air can leak through unseen openings and lower a room’s temperature without the homeowner being aware of a problem. Prevent this by sealing doors and windows with caulk and weatherstripping.

Ductwork

Poorly distributed heat may not be an equipment problem but an issue with ductwork. Start with a visual inspection of the ducts. Perhaps a box in the attic fell on a section of duct. Or a critter made a mess of it.

Leaking duct connections. Sections where ducts join can fail if they are not joined properly or the ductwork is super old. There are special tapes and joint materials that ensure a proper seal. If connections leak you’re losing heat and money.

Leaking return vents. Ductwork and vents should be sealed where they join. Return air can spill into the walls, the attic, or below the floor if there are loose connections. These are costly leaks.

Damaged or fallen insulation. Air traveling through an attic can rapidly lose temperature if ducts are uninsulated. All ducts installed in unheated areas should have secure insulation.

Damaged ductwork. Flexible ducting is used in attics and, because they are flexible, the ducts can be kinked or even collapse in sections, which chokes off airflow and reduces circulation.

If you have not had an HVAC inspection in a while and are experiencing uneven heat and/or air flow, chances are none of the above will make much sense. Call a contractor in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas (or call several, the goal is to find one you trust) and schedule a service or repair call. Ask if the technician is familiar with the issues you are having.

If the service or repair tech finds it’s a larger air flow issue, you may want to schedule an evaluation of the air distribution system where an “auditor” — or someone trained in air balancing — will use a variety of diagnostic tests, including static pressure and blower door and duct blaster tests, to find the problem.

(Quick aside: This is a reason why it’s important to find an HVAC contractor in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas you trust. It will have talented and experienced service and repair techs on staff, and you will not have to look for another company to handle special assessments.)

Zoning System

Sometimes the shape and orientation of the home plays a role in how heat is distributed. While architects and builders have good intentions, sometimes they make decisions that result in negative implications far down the road.

For example, where is your thermostat located? It’s typically on the first floor, preferably in a well-trafficked and accessible location. The thermostat’s job is to read all the temperatures — downstairs and upstairs. When it gets warm enough (or cool enough in the summer) the thermostat shuts off the unit and may not pay attention to what the temperature is upstairs. As a result, it’s not warm enough upstairs. Or it’s too hot there and not warm enough downstairs.

One solution to this problem is using a “zoned system,” which divides your home into at least two heating/cooling areas so that the furnace and air conditioner heat and cool the “zones” at different temperatures.

This usually requires installing electronically controlled dampers in the ductwork. These dampers are like valves opening and closing to control the air flow of heated and cooled air throughout the home. If you have only one thermostat, a second will be installed so that each zone is controlled by individually.

Installing a zoned system is not inexpensive (perhaps $3,000, depending on the home’s circumstances and needs and contractor selected). Discuss this option with the company you previously selected in the Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas area.

Ductless split

Another possibility is adding a ductless split. It’s essentially and air conditioner without the ductwork. These small room-based units pass cold air through small air handlers mounted on the wall. The homeowner controls the temperature independently in each room the air handler is installed.

Costs for ductless air conditioners start about $1,500 per unit. Definitely call your Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas contractor to see if this is even an option for you.

Wrong-size furnace

You may have no idea about the HVAC equipment in your home, town home, brownstone, or two-story apartment. Most people do not. Sometimes furnaces (or entire systems) can be improperly sized. If the furnace is too small (or aged and not performing as well as it once was) it might not be powerful enough to provide adequate heat to every room. If the furnace is too big its heating cycles may be too short, which restricts its ability to heat the entire home evenly.

A second heating and cooling system may be needed, which can cost about $7,000 depending on many variables.

Other Suggestions

Some service and repair techs recommend closing the register in the room with the thermostat.

Others recommend leaving the fan in the “on” position. It keeps the temperature a little more even because air is continuously circulating throughout the home. It’s mixing all the air between the upstairs and downstairs. This approach concerns some homeowners who think running the fan continuously is a huge power draw and will add significant cost to the monthly bill.

Troubleshooting Heaters | Fort Worth, TX

We’ve established a baseline understanding for home heating systems, how they work, and the basics of standard efficiency vs. high efficiency. Now let’s troubleshoot what can go wrong before calling a service or repair tech.

It used to be that problems with older furnaces often started with a troublesome pilot light. That you could fix yourself.

Modern gas furnaces are both more efficient and complicated from those of 10 or more years. Smart systems involve auto-test air inducers, electronic ignition sensors, pressure switches, and exhaust flow monitoring. These can require professional assessment, necessitating a call to an Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractor.

In this post we look at common problems and furnace repairs you may need to make with a conventional furnace. At the end of the post we take a quick look at repairing high efficiency condensing furnaces.

Problem: Gas Furnace Produces No Heat

Possible Causes

  • Thermostat set too low and not calling for heat (check thermostat is in heat mode and has appropriate setting)
  • Thermostat not working (try moving settings up or down by several degrees, listen for unit to start working, check a register for air flow; clean thermostat contacts if it’s non-digital; make sure battery is not dead)
  • Circuit breaker or fuse controlling the furnace is tripped or blown (what to do)
  • Natural gas or propane control valve is closed (Do you know where this valve is located? If so, check to see if it is open or closed. If there is an issue, call a service or repair tech or maybe even your natural gas company for Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas.)
  • Pilot light is out (non-electronic ignition) (YouTube video)
  • Hot surface ignition problem, intermittent pilot ignition problem (you can troubleshoot and repair these yourself but you might prefer calling a service or repair tech)

Problem: Gas Furnace Does Not Produce Enough Heat

Possible Causes

  • Dirty furnace air filter (replace)
  • Gas burners may be dirty or need adjustment (you probably want to call a contractor in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas, while the service or repair tech is cleaning and making adjustments, observe the process, and ask questions — it might be something you can take care of it if happens again)
  • Obstructed air flow to combustion air chamber (ensure furnace has adequate combustion air — see comment above)

Problem: Gas Furnace Turns On and Off Too Quickly

Possible Causes

  • Dirty furnace air filter (replace filter, something you should be doing regularly)
  • Blower motor problem (oil blower motor lubrication ports, usually at the end of the shaft; check for proper belt tension, belt depresses about one inch at center; tighten belt; replace frayed belt) (You may prefer calling an HVAC contractor in the Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas area for blower motor issues.)
  • Thermostat problem — heat anticipator (what this is)

Problem: Blower Does Not Turn Off

Possible Causes

  • Thermostat set to continuous operation (inspect thermostat, change fan setting)
  • Faulty fan limit control switch on furnace (call service or repair tech and have replaced)

Problem: Gas Furnace is Noisy

Possible Causes

  • High-pitched “squealing” sound may be caused by slipping blower belt or motor or shaft bearings needing oil
  • Low-pitched “rumbling” may be caused by poorly adjusted pilot light if this problem occurs with the burners off
  • Low-pitched “rumbling” may be caused by dirty gas burners if this problem occurs with the burners on
  • For these you probably will call a service or repair tech in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas

Problem: Furnace Pilot is Out

Possible Causes

  • Pilot lights go out due to strong drafts, dirty orifice, or dirt in the gas tube (what to do if a gas furnace pilot light won’t stay lit)
  • The thermocouple may be faulty and is shutting off gas supply (what these look like) (repairing and replacing)

Problem: Electronic Ignition Furnace Issues

Possible Cause

Newer furnaces do not rely on a standing pilot to ignite gas burners. Electronic ignition occurs one of two ways — intermittent pilot or hot surface ignition.

Repairing a High Efficiency Condensing Furnace

The main difference between a standard furnace and a high efficiency condensing furnace is the heat exchanger technology used to extract heat from the combustion process. As a result, these have a few more troubleshooting considerations.

Problem: Weak Flame or Vent Obstruction

Check to see if the furnace combustion problem is caused by an obstructed air supply pipe by removing the burner compartment cover which will provide free air flow to the combustion chamber.

Check for obstructions in the air intake vent pipe such as leaves or nests. Clean out with a sink auger , a common plumber’s tool.

If this is too much for you, call a service or repair tech in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas.

Weak Flame, Exhaust Gas Re-circulation

Direct vent two-pipe systems can have air intake and exhaust vents improperly installed outside the home, which causes “short circuiting.” The air intake and exhaust fans may be installed too closely and exhaust vent gases (water vapor, carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide) are drawn back into the combustion air intake vent. Since the fresh air combustion intake has been compromised with exhaust gases, air reaching the furnace does not have enough clean oxygen for proper combustion.

No Ignition — Clogged Condensate Drain

Additional reasons for no ignition is a clogged flue condensate line. It will often trip the furnace’s pressure switch. If the drain is clogged by debris, improper draining, or by frozen condensate, the pressure switch will not allow for normal operation. Ignition problems may be intermittent and can start and stop as the restricted air flow drains away over time but can reappear if the problem is not fixed.

No Ignition – Clogged Flue Vent

The pressure switch can be tripped by an obstructed exhaust flue gas vent pipe. A sagging or improperly sloped exhaust vent can collect condensate water and restrict air flow resulting in a tripped pressure switch.

Understanding Heating & Air Conditioning | Fort Worth, TX

We’re past the midway point of winter in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, heading toward Spring, but that doesn’t mean the heating questions stop coming.

In fact, two keep popping up.

Why doesn’t my heater seem to be heating enough?

Why is it colder downstairs and warmer upstairs?

These are usually followed with, How does the heater work, anyway?

We’ll get to these answers over a few posts, but first let’s establish a baseline understanding of home heating systems so we know what we’re dealing with, especially when it comes time to troubleshoot before calling a service or repair tech.

The Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas Profile

Most U.S. homes are heated with either furnaces or boilers. In Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, these are mostly powered by electricity or natural gas.

Texas leads the nation in total energy production, primarily crude oil and natural gas — the state provides nearly 30 percent of the nation’s natural gas reserves. Texas also produces more electricity than any other state, generating almost twice as much as the next state.

You’d think this production would lead to the lowest energy prices in the U.S., but that’s not always the case as residents of Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas and Texas in general pay some of the higher rates, which directly impacts homeowner’s pocketbooks. The rising cost of energy is a reason why local heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) contractors and service and repair techs are constantly asked about upgrading older equipment with newer, higher-efficiency systems.

While Texas’ winter isn’t as extreme as, say the Northeast or upper Midwest, it can get surprisingly cold, more in week-long spurts than consistently weeks at a time.

(Quick aside: The maximum temperature in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas in 2014 was 104 degrees — not too bad, really, all things considered, it’s been worse — with the mean at 93 degrees. The coldest temperatures in 2014 ranged from 15 to 25 degrees.)

Oddly, some reports contend that because of the climate profile of Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, more heating days are required than cooling. This may be because the north Texas climate features many spring and autumn days when home heating and cooling may not be necessary.

What all this means is that the demands places on heating and cooling systems in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas are significant and consistent from late spring, through the summer, and into the early fall, then from the start of winter into early spring.

Understanding Furnaces and Boilers

Back to heating systems.

Furnaces heat air and distribute it through the house using ducts.

Boilers heat water and provide either hot water or steam for heating. Steam is distributed via pipes to steam radiators and hot water can be distributed through baseboard radiators or radiant floor systems or can heat air via a coil.

We’ll get into how these operate in another post, followed by how to troubleshoot performance issues.

Efficiency Ratings

Let’s first understand efficiency ratings and how these define the performance of your heating system.

If you don’t know your current system’s efficiency rating, the text time a service or repair tech comes to the house for a twice-a-year checkup, ask. He might not even know. If so, get the make and model of your heating equipment and you (or the contractor) do some internet research and find out. Once you know, write it down, either on the furnace itself with a Sharpie or put it in a note on your phone.

The furnace may say, for example, Trane XT80, and the installation guide may say “high efficiency,” but what the heck does that mean? How does it impact the quality of heat in your home and your pocketbook to operate?

Central furnace and boiler efficiency is measured by annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE), which is required by the Federal Trade Commission. It’s a geeky way to measure of how efficient the appliance is at converting the energy in its fuel (electricity or natural gas) into heat over the course of a typical year.

It’s really quite simple: An AFUE of 90 percent means that 90 percent of the energy in the fuel becomes heat for the home and the other 10 percent is waste that escapes up the chimney or elsewhere.

AFUE does not include the heat losses of the duct system or piping, which can be as much as 35 percent depending on location (attic, garage, or other partially conditioned or unconditioned space). If you do not know if your overall system is efficient or not, have the service or repair tech inspect during the winter or summer checkup or schedule a whole-house energy assessment.

The minimum AFUE rating for non-condensing, fossil-fueled warm-air furnaces is currently 78 percent. For boilers the rating varies according to fuel used and the heating medium. A minimum AFUE rating is between 80 and 84 percent.

You can also identify and compare a system’s efficiency by not only its AFUE rating by by equipment features.

Old, low-efficiency systems:

  • natural draft creates a flow of combustion gases
  • continuous pilot light
  • heavy heat exchanger
  • 56 to 70 percent AFUE

Mid-efficiency heating systems:

  • exhaust fan controls the flow of combustion air and combustion gases more precisely
  • electronic ignition (no pilot light)
  • compact size and lighter weight
  • small diameter flue
  • 80 to 83 percent AFUE

Higher-efficiency heating systems:

  • condensing flue gases in a second heat exchanger for extra efficiency
  • sealed combustion
  • 90 to 98.5 percent AFUE

Now, with an understanding of the current heating system, you can consider retrofitting or replacing equipment, if needed, or plan for it for future upgrading.

Retrofitting

Furnaces and boilers can be retrofitted to increase their efficiency. This is where you should work closely with a trusted HVAC contractor and service or repair specialist to determine if your system is retrofittable, what the cost will be, and whether it’s worth doing — particularly if it’s older equipment.

Replacement

If your furnace or boiler is in the range of 56 to 70 percent AFUE, which is really old and inefficient, upgrade. Modern conventional heating systems will significantly cut fuel bills and your furnace’s pollution in half.

Let’s look at it in terms of money:

  • Upgrading from a 60 percent AFUE-rated system to 85 percent will save you $29.41 for every $100 spent, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. If you bump up to a high-efficiency 90 percent AFUE system, you’d save $33.33.
  • Even if you have a 70 percent system now, which is bare minimum, you could save between $17.64 (85 percent AFUE) to $22.22 (90 percent AFUE).

Again, this is where you should work closely with a trusted HVAC contractor and service or repair specialists to determine replacement strategy. Can you just upgrade the heating system or do you need to replace the entire HVAC system?

Smart Home Gadgets

Most homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas — and probably 99.99 percent of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) service and repair specialists in the area — have never heard of the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held annually in Las Vegas every January.

CES features a plethora of consumer products, new product announcements, and the next BIG thing. The past few years have highlighted tablets and netbook computers, connected TVs, Ultra HDTVs, driverless car technology, and all sorts of stuff that probably never made it to market. But that’s not the point.

The point is CES often predicts the next BIG thing. And, aside from wearable technology like fitness wristbands and watches, home automation is considered the next BIG thing, including smart thermostats and other HVAC products, lighting, and home security, more so than self-watering pots for houseplants and connected crock pots and coffee makers.

Because we have examined smart thermostats in recent months and their advantages or disadvantages for homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, not to mention their impact on service and repair professionals, we’re going to take a look at CES and what’s coming in home automation.

And while many homeowners are skeptical of home automation at the moment, and service and repair techs are wary, smart, connected products like thermostats and home automation is coming. Just look at what Lowe’s is doing.

Lowe’s, the home improvement chain with 1,754 stores in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and a large presence in the Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas area, had a ginormous presence at CES, complete with mini homes erected in their booth area.

Why?

For starters, home automation crosses boundaries. It’s technology. But it’s technology that impacts the home; it’s just not in the home.

The early days of home automation was expensive, confusing to install, maintain, and troubleshoot, and was mostly for home tech geeks with money, patience, and know-how. But with the advent of the internet, home Wi-Fi networks, smartphones, and cheap (or free) apps, home automation is making its way up the innovation adoption curve from early adopters to the early majority.

And where will homeowners learn about these products? Possibly from HVAC contractors and service and repair specialists, but most likely from home improvement centers like Lowe’s and Home Depot and consumer electronics retailers like Best Buy.

“We see everything in the home being connected over time,” Anne Seymour, Lowe’s executive in charge of the Iris Smart Home Platform, told ZDNet recently. The Isis Smart Home products are on display and sold in stores throughout the Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas areas.

“We want to make sure consumers connect devices in ways they want to,” she said. “As a home improvement retailer we’re offering the fullest breadth of connected devices as possible.”

The key for Lowe’s is educating the consumer, which actually impacts HVAC contractors and home service and repair techs. How?

When homeowners begin inquiring about smart thermostats, or need help installing one, who will they turn to? Their regular HVAC contractor or service or repair tech? That would be the smart thing to do as they know the intimate details of a home’s heating and cooling ecosystem. Or will they turn to the place that sells the smart devices, like Lowe’s?

So it’s valuable for homeowners, contractors, and service and repair specialists to begin to understand home automation and what’s coming, even if it’s messy, in early stages, and not all here yet.

Here are a few companies and products to get you thinking:

Nest Labs: We’ve discussed the Nest smart thermostat at length. Bought by Google last year, Nest is perhaps the most well-known smart product in terms of mindshare for homeowners and service and repair techs, even here in the Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas area. What’s interesting to note and watch is what Nest does next. Nest announced at CES 15 new partnerships that include, among others, lighting companies like Lutron, Insteon, and Philips Hue. Nest isn’t just going to focus on smart thermostats and HVAC equipment. It, and parent Google, want to take control of your home.

Honeywell, manufacturer of the Lyric smart thermostat, giant in the HVAC industry, and a direct competitor of Nest, is also expanding beyond smart thermostats and to introduce a home security infrastructure that includes “awareness” cameras and motion, smoke, and intruder alarms.

Footbot will monitor indoor air quality for particulates, gases such as Co2, as well as temperature and humidity.

Alarm.com took home CES’s Mark of Excellence Award for its geo-services technology, which allow its smart thermostat to automatically adjust based on whether or not the smartphone belonging to residents are within close proximity of the home. Alarm.com’s smart thermostat also communicates with sensors placed around the home, so the temperature level is not dictated by the room where the thermostat is installed (like Nest and others). This would be of particular interest to homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas when that late-afternoon sun bombards one side of the house.

Big Ass Fans (yes, that’s the name) has ceiling fans that work together with a smart thermostat to help regulate temperature and comfort in the home. As and example of connecting beyond the obvious, one fan even connects with fitness bands and sleep monitors to provide comfort based on one’s actual body comfort, not just the room’s.

Pella, the window and door people and a big part of improving a home’s “energy envelope,” is debuting SmartSync sensors and a “connecting bridge” that controls and connects window and door sensors, garage door sensors, motorized blinds and shades — all of which can impact a home’s comfort and energy performance. While a big complaint of home automation products is that most of them are proprietary and don’t “talk easily” to other products by different manufacturers. Pella is using the Wink smart home control app, used by other leading brands like GE, Honeywell, Dropcam, Kwikset, Schlage, and Quirky.

Elgato showcased its upcoming Apple HomeKit-based products for monitoring your home from an iPhone or iPad. Eve products use Bluetooth Smart technology and sophisticated sensors to analyze the home. Access data on air quality, temperature, humidity, air pressure, and energy and water consumption from the Elgato Eve app.

Sentri adds a deeper level of management. Going beyond just home security, Sentri delivers a window into the home’s environmental state by tracking temperature, air quality, humidity, and light in the home.

Oort is introducing smart bulbs, switches, outlets, air quality sensors, small beacon tags, and an electrical socket with an energy meter.

Most of these products are not available for Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas to view in person. Some are not even available online yet.

But they’re coming. Might as well get familiar.

Home HVAC Resolutions

It’s almost February 2015. A little late for New Year’s resolutions. But this isn’t an ordinary “lose weight,” “get my finances under control,” and “get a job” New Year’s resolutions list.
These resolutions are for your Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas home. It’s for those important systems like heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and energy conservation, which impact comfort, pocket book, and well-being.

Commit to these home resolutions and keep the service and repair techs at bay and energy costs under control.

The timing couldn’t be better. We’re about to turn the corner, leave winter behind, and head into spring. And everybody knows who lives in the Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas area knows what that means: The Heat is Coming.

So lets resolve to . . .

1. Schedule an HVAC Check-up

  • It’s like going to the doctor for an annual physical. Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas HVAC contractors say “do this!” all the time, and sometimes it feels like they are pushing it on homeowners because they make money, but it really is one of the smartest things you can do for your home at a relatively low cost.
  • Know what shape your heating and cooling system is in before the cold or heat arrives.
  • Know that all mechanical components have been properly reviewed, calibrated, and set up for what’s coming.
  • By having the HVAC system serviced prior to the start of a season, it will help you budget for any repairs that might be needed or coming. Know that 50 percent of service calls are due to no maintenance.
  • Know that properly inspected, serviced, and tuned systems will save you money by reducing electricity or natural gas usage, which continues to go up, not down, from year to year.
  • Know that if the HVAC system is humming along happily, it saves wear and tear, extends the life, and limits those (sometimes) costly service and repair visits.

2. Vow to Get an Energy Assessment

A home energy audit, or energy assessment, helps pinpoint where your house is losing energy, what it’s costing you, what you can do about it, and how you can save money.

Do not assume that if you have a relatively new home there are no opportunities to save energy and money. Energy-saving technology is rapidly growing and is reaching the awareness of homeowners who are increasingly eager to conserve energy and save money.

By making efficiency upgrades identified in a home energy audit you easily can save 5 to 30 percent on your annual energy bill, according to Energy.gov.

What you need to decide is if you want to conduct a do-it-yourself energy audit or spend a few shekels and have a professional, certified service tech or auditor in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas do it for you.

3 Get Rid of that Old Thermostat

Even if your home already has a programmable thermostat, how old is it? It might be worth replacing as thermostat technology has greatly improved over the past few years and make replacing older models worthwhile.

The Department of Energy notes that homeowners can save an estimated 10 percent per year on heating and cooling costs by using a newer programmable thermostat and by automatically resetting temperature during the day when you’re away or asleep with no sacrifice in comfort.

That estimate in savings jumps to 20 percent, even 25 percent, if you invest in the newfangled “smart” thermostats like the Nest 2.0 from Nest Labs, although these are more expensive.

If you are unsure of options, ask the repair or service tech during a checkup about your HVAC system and for recommendations. You can also visit a home improvement center in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas, where standard to advanced programmable thermostats run $50 to $150 and “smart” models are $250.

4. Reduce Energy for Water Heating

Most homeowners don’t realize it, but water heating is a large expense, accounting for 14 to 18 percent of utility bills. Make sure your water heater is no higher than 120 degrees.

  • Install low-flow shower heads.
  • Install temperature-sensitive shower valves.
  • Insulate your water heater with a “jacket” if it’s more than five years old to reduce heat loss from the tank.

5. Become Aggressively “Energy Aware”

When an Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas contractor performs a whole-house energy assessment, you’ll get eye-opening details about where your home is energy inefficient. While most of what you will learn involves HVAC equipment, insulation, and improving the “energy envelope” of the home, but you’ll also become more aware energy leaks and what you can do.

Some simple suggestions:

Use power strips for all electronic equipment

Most electronics these days use what is called “phantom power” to remain in “standby mode” even when powered “off.” While initial savings are minuscule, these add up to significant savings over months and years, depending on the amount of equipment and energy efficiency.

For example, plug the TV, “cable box,” DVR, DVD player, and other attached devices (receiver for surround sound, a powered sub-woofer, and streaming devices like an AppleTV or Roku) into one power strip. Place the strip where you can easily and conveniently reach with one finger or toe to turn on and off.

Notice how each piece of equipment reacts when you use a power strip. Are they immediately available? That’s desirable. Or do you have to wait for something to “boot up.” That’s less desirable but if they’re not immediately needed it makes no difference. Experiment. Learn. It might be an easy way to save money and conserve energy.

Use energy-saving lighting

About 10 percent of home energy costs does to lighting. By just replacing five most frequently used lights with energy-efficient ENERGY STAR bulbs you could save $75 a year in energy costs.
Buy ENERGY STAR appliances

It’s not a hollow marketing ploy to get you to buy ENERGY STAR appliances and electronics. A home’s electronics account for close to 20 percent of the monthly energy bill.

Replacing old appliances and electronics with ENERGY STAR products, which use advanced energy-saving technologies, throughout the home could save nearly $750 in energy costs over the lifetime of the products. As an example, ENERGY STAR clothes washers now use 40 percent less energy than conventional models.

6. Change the Air Filter!

Electric Heating Systems

While many homes in the Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas use natural gas for heating, electric heating is probably the most common because it is readily available.

Electric heat, though, is not always cost efficient around the U.S. because, in many areas, electricity is market driven and may be cheaper in some parts of the country than in others. Much depends on local electricity rates.

Even so, the proper electric furnace or “electric heating strategy” can be highly efficient, depending on a home’s structure, “energy envelope,” insulation, and other variables. It may also make sense to use electric heating for a home addition if it’s not practical to extend the existing system to the new room(s).

Regardless your home’s heating source, it’s always worthwhile to have a service or repair tech from an Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas contractor to examine the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system for ways to make the whole home more efficient.

This post briefly examines electric heating, including whole-home main electric heating systems, in-floor radiant heating, baseboard electric heating, convection heaters, and portable room heaters.

Whole-House Electric Heating Systems

There are two main forms of whole-home electric heating systems — forced air and radiant heating . By default you probably know which one your home has as you pay the monthly electric or gas bill. However, you may not know anything about it so it’s advisable to call that service or repair tech in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas to schedule a the recommended twice-a-year checkup.

With forced-air, heat is pushed out from the heat source and with a furnace the heat is delivered to the rest of the home via a series of ducts. When the heater is smaller, forced air is expelled using a fan to warm a room.

Electric furnaces are more expensive to operate than other electric resistance systems because of duct heat losses and the extra energy required to distribute heated air throughout the home (common for any heating system that uses ducts for distribution).

Blowers or large fans in electric furnaces move air over a group of three to seven electric resistance coils, called elements, which activate in stages to avoid overloading the home’s electrical system. A built-in thermostat called a limit controller prevents overheating.

Radiant heat emits heat that radiates into the room to provide warmth. A network of baseboard, convection, or other types of radiant heaters form a home’s main heating system.

There are various sizes and models of electric heaters on the market, from wall or ceiling-mounted units to larger furnaces and space heaters, and many are available at Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area home improvement centers like Lowe’s and Home Depot.

When choosing a main heating system, or whether retrofitting one, it’s important to purchase the proper size of heater rated for your home. A service or repair tech can recommend the correct equipment size and, in some cases, help with the best products for your home and area.

In-Floor Radiant Heating

In-floor radiant heating is considered one of the most energy-efficient ways to heat a home, but it must be planned and installed when the home is being built. These systems are available in whole-home units or can be used for smaller projects such as bathroom or bedroom floors. There’s nothing like having warm, toasty floors during cold winter days and nights.

If you are planning to build a new home in Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas, you may not have a lot of HVAC options, although it’s certainly worthwhile to ask. Many builders are offering “green” or “energy efficient” upgrades and adding radiant heat, even to a few rooms, may be possible.

Baseboard Electric Heating

These are also known as zone heaters. The most common type of room heating units are baseboard heaters, which require a 220-volt installation. You can install one in each room, if desired.

You’ll need a qualified electrician to install or make sure that, if you are using an Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas HVAC contractor, the service or repair tech is certified for electrical work or the company has an electrician on staff.

No ducting or furnace is required for baseboard heaters, which makes them an ideal heating source for smaller and older homes. They come with either onboard adjustable or wall-mounted thermostats to control the heat.

Working with a repair or service tech is important for the placement of the heaters, which are usually mounted underneath windows. The heater’s rising warm air contrasts with falling cool air from cold glass windows. Baseboard heaters are seldom located on interior walls because standard heating practice is to supply heat at the home’s perimeter, where the greatest heat loss occurs.

Convection Heaters — Energy Efficient Baseboard Heaters

Convection heaters are often referred to as a type of baseboard heating, but they have differences in heating technology and can have some installation variations.

The main attraction for convection heaters is energy efficiency compared with traditional baseboard models. They use up to 30 percent less energy to heat a room.

Portable Room Heaters

When homeowners think of electric heating portable “space” heaters often come to mind. They are convenient because you can plug them into standard wall outlets and carry from room to room as needed.

Most portable heaters generally are rated for small rooms and are not as energy efficient as 220-volt baseboard or convection heaters, but portability and convenience help add a little more heat to a room when needed.

Some home energy experts even recommend turning down central heating systems by as much as eight to 10 degrees for at least eight hours a day and use portable heaters in rooms as needed to offset the cooler temperature.

Portable Infrared Heaters

This is a new breed of electric heater that uses infrared technology to produce heat. Many models are designed to look like a side table more than a heater, allowing them to fit stealthily into a room’s decor and furnishings. They are bulkier and not as easy to move as portable heaters, although some models have wheels.

As infrared heaters are relatively new, there are mixed opinions regarding their energy efficiency at this time.

Electric Fireplaces

While wood-burning and gas fireplaces are mostly considered “decorative” heat, electric fireplaces have become popular in recent years. They can add a focal point and warmth to any room where a standard electrical outlet is available.

If considering an electric fireplace, size it small for ease of transfer if this is desired, or choose a size to provide the amount of heat needed for the room size.

While HVAC contractors in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas may not be knowledgeable regarding all electric heating options, the service and repair techs will know your home’s heating needs and can assist in the selection of the proper equipment.

A Closer Look At Programmable Thermostats

So you’re in the market for a programmable thermostat. Where to start?

The obvious answer is the internet. We’ll get there.

But first, if you live in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas or surrounding cities . . .

  • Call your local heating, ventilation, and air conditioning service or repair company. Ask questions — either during a winter or summer checkup — or just ask to talk with the owner, the head technician, anybody who can offer you insight and opinion. You’d be surprised how many people don’t talk with service and repair techs when they make house calls. These guys are great sources of information. They may not know everything about specific brands, but they can tell you what to look for, what brands they service or repair that fail, and what brands they’d recommend based on real experience.
  • Visit your local home improvement center like Lowe’s or Home Depot. They’re everywhere in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas. Browse the home heating and cooling section, look at the thermometers in stock, read the back of the box, ask salesmen questions. They probably won’t know as much as an HVAC service or repair tech, but they should get you started with specific brands. What are people buying? Better yet, what are people returning? Are thermostats easy to install? Heck, open the box and read the instructions.

Now, to the internet.

Search for programmable thermostats, or programmable thermostat reviews, or best programmable thermostats. Visit Amazon and read customer reviews. Follow links to popular consumer sites, blogs and review sites. Stop by your virtual Lowe’s and Home Depot and see what they have to say.

Messy, isn’t it? There’s a ton of information. So let’s whittle it down.

Types of Thermostats

  • WiFi or smart thermostats. These are relatively new and are covered in our next post.
  • Touch Screen. Big, fancy displays, easy to program, can be more expensive.
  • Programmable. This is what we are concentrating on today. They are readily available at Lowe’s, Home Depot, and top hardware stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, and you most likely will not need a service or repair tech to install.
  • Non-programmable. We’re not interested in these.

Programmable Options that Fit Lifestyles

There are three basic types:

  • 7-day: These are best if your daily schedule changes frequently. The kids may be home earlier some days more than others. Set different programs for different days.
  • 5-2 programming: Set the same schedule for weekdays, when you are away, and weekends, when you are home more often.
  • 5-1-1 programming: Set a standard program during the week, with separate schedules for Saturday and Sunday. Great for families with structured weekends.

These range in price, of course, but expect to pay at least $100 for a good, middle-of-the-line model from reputable manufacturers like Honeywell or Lux. These will have more features and functions that will help you program, change schedules, and save energy and money.

HVAC manufacturers like Lennox, Carrier, and Trane also brand their line of thermostats, but these may not be readily available in home improvement stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas. Call your HVAC service or repair company for models you cannot find locally.

Programmable Features To Consider:

  • Touch screen controls: We’re all getting better using small displays — think smart phones — so using a touch screen will be familiar. The key here is the interface. Is it easy to use? Can you remember how to program it or make changes? These range from black-and-white (or gray) to full color displays. Look for the right fit of features and functions for you. In the technology world, it’s easy to overbuy and never use the full capacity of what we purchase, wasting money in the long run.
  • Selectable program periods: We’ll get to this next.
  • Backlit displays: Handy in low-light.
  • Indicator lights: Helpful, if accurate. Some alert you to the furnace needing a new filter (based on time elapsed, not the actual condition or performance of the filter).
  • Battery operation and backup: Essential.
  • Remote control: Radio frequency control from anywhere in the house.
  • Programming lock: Great if you don’t want the kids to change the temperature inside, messing up program schedules and anticipated energy and cost savings.
  • Vacation mode: Set when you leave the house for an extended period of time, then push a button to revert back to scheduled settings. WiFi thermostats are really making impressive improvements here.

Setting Temperatures

This is what it’s all about. It’s why you’ve chosen a programmable model or to upgrade an existing, older thermostat. If you use the thermostat’s features wisely and consistently, you will see the most energy savings monthly.

Home comfort, of course, is left up to you and your spouse — not the kids. But let’s put aside preferences for a moment and establish an energy and cost-savings baseline.

According to Energy.gov, if you turn down the thermostat during the winter (or turn it up during the summer) seven to 10 degrees for eight hours a day your energy bills can be reduced by up to 10 percent annually. If you turn the thermostat down 15 degrees for eight hours, you can hit 15 percent savings. It’s usually 1 percent for each degree lowered for at least eight hours.

A good starting point in the winter for Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas residents is 68-70.

Common Misconception

Before we get to temperature strategy, let’s examine a common heating misconception. Homeowners think that a furnace works harder than normal to warm living areas after the thermostat has been lowered, resulting in little or no savings. Studies have shown that energy used to reheat the house is less than that used to maintain temperatures throughout the day at higher settings.

As soon as the temperature drops below it’s setting, it will lose energy to the surrounding environment more slowly. The lower the temperature, the slower the heat loss. So the longer the home remains at a lower temperature, the more energy you save.

Determining Programmable Strategy

Get out a piece of paper and pencil. Answer these questions:

  • What are your heating and cooling goals? Do you want to save money? Do you want a more sustainable lifestyle and use less energy?
  • What are your behaviors? Since it’s winter, let’s stick with heating. How warm do you — your wife, kids — like it in the winter? Toasty? Cool enough to wear sweats and use a blanket in a chair while watching TV?
  • What are the household activities? What are your and your family’s schedules? When are you home? When are you gone? Do you come and go? Do schedules change? Are their pets in the home? Does anybody — like a grandparent or a small child — require special consideration?

Now that you have some idea of your behaviors and activities, time to start programming. We’ll use 5-2 thermostats as an example; they allow you to program four basic times for weekday and weekend schedules.

Wake-up — 7 a.m.

Nobody likes getting out of a warm bed. Consider programming the thermostat to raise the temperature to 66, 68, or 70 degrees 30 minutes before getting out of bed. This allows the furnace time to turn on and start warming the living area prior to you getting up.

Leave/Day: 9 a.m.

Program the thermostat to drop again an hour or two after waking up. If the home is vacant a bulk of the day, consider dropping the temperature six to eight degrees for as long as you can — four, six, even eight hours. More if you can. That means 68/70 becomes 60/62.

Return: 4 p.m. (if kids are home), 7 p.m. (if it’s just you/spouse)

Turn the thermostat up 30 minutes prior to your expected return. If you prefer a toasty evening cooking, watching TV, entertaining, consider bumping the temperature up to 70, 72 (or more) for the hours before going to bed. Those six hours use a bit more energy but for far less time.

Bedtime: 11 p.m.

Lower the thermostat 30 minutes before you anticipate going to bed. Since you will be sleeping under warm blankets and, maybe wearing warm night clothing, consider that six, eight, 10+ degree temperature drop for at least six hours. Keep a robe or slippers bedside if you need to get up during the night.

Hold

Programmable thermostats offer a hold feature, which lets you override the current program. Say you’re unexpectedly home for a few hours during the day, or you decide to work from home and the thermostat is at 60 degrees. The hold feature allows you to raise the temperature back to 68 for a few hours (you can determine this) before resuming the normal schedule.

A word of warning: Use the Hold feature sparingly. Overuse can mess up anticipated energy and cost savings that have been carefully crafted into a weekly schedule.

With awareness and a little bit of effort, using a programmable thermostat can help you easily squeeze eight to 10, even 12 to 14, hours a day at lower temperatures to save energy and money. It’s a lot easier here, in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, than it is in the Northeast or Upper Midwest.

In the Next Post

Life is unpredictable and families are coming and going at all times of the day. Programming the thermostat isn’t so easy to meet energy and cost-savings goals. Enter the WiFi “smart thermostat.”

Lower Your Energy Bills with a Programmable or Smart Thermostat

Thermostats are not sexy. They’re nondescript boxes mounted to a wall inside your home or business in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding cities that no one pays attention to unless Mom is too hot, Dad is too cold, or you need to have your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system serviced or repaired.

And yet, the thermostat may be the most important device in your home. A properly set, actively maintained thermostat is the one contraption that can save 20 percent each month on your energy bills while, at the same time, conserving energy and promoting a more sustainable lifestyle.

But the technology most homeowners are focused on are fast internet connections and sexy devices like high-def TVs, Blu-ray players, smart phones, tablet computers, and laptops that entertain or allow you to be productive at home, away from work. No one asks for a new thermostat for Christmas.
In the first of a multi-part post, we examine the under-appreciated thermostat. We will begin with the programmable thermostat, then look at manufacturers and models available to homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and the surrounding area, and at strategies to get the most out of your investment.

Lastly, we’ll look at new “smart thermostats” that are also available locally to homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, as well via the internet. These are more costly and complex options.

The Thermostat

A thermostat is simply a temperature-sensitive switch that controls an HVAC system, including a furnace. When the temperature inside the home drops below or rises above the thermostat setting, the internal switch turns “on” and the furnace or AC runs to warm or cool the house to your desired setting.

In older homes like ones found in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas, thermostats are small plastic boxes mounted to a wall with two pegs sticking out of the top, allowing the homeowner to adjust the temperature up or down by simply moving the pegs. These devices require you to manually move the pegs to set warmer or cooler temperatures at that exact moment. No automatic adjustments are made while you’re at work or asleep.

In today’s technology-driven world, these basic thermostats are inconvenient, inefficient, and are a missed opportunity to use technology to conserve energy and save money.

Enter the Programmable Thermostat

The programmable thermostat is a device that regulates a home’s temperature based on different settings you specify for particular times of the day. It has been in the home for decades but has largely been ignored. Once set up (assuming it’s even set up properly) it’s forgotten.

But, due to many technology advancements over the past 10 years — and due to rising energy costs and the desire to use less energy — significant changes have been made that warrant homeowners to consider:

  • replacing non-programmable thermostats with programmable devices
  • replacing older-model programmable thermostats with newer models that come with improved features and functions that help regulate your home’s energy use and for homeowners to save money
  • upgrading to internet-connected, advanced “smart thermostats” when purchasing a new HVAC system

Why Use a Programmable Thermostat?

If you live in an older home in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas and the surrounding area — or if you have an aging programmable model with limited features and functions — it will certainly behoove you to upgrade to a current programmable thermostat for these benefits:

  • Comfort you can depend on. ENERGY STAR-rated thermostats are accurate within +/- 2 degrees and are manufactured by well-known and trusted brands like Honeywell.
  • Money savings. Just using pre-programmed settings ENERGY STAR thermostats can save you at least $100 a year in energy costs.
  • Features, ease of use. Programmable thermostats now include backlit keypads, making it easier to program or view in low-light situations, touch pad screen programming, even voice commands.
  • Easy programming. Programmable thermostats store and repeat multiple daily settings (four or more settings) with a manual override (hold) that will not affect the rest of the daily or weekly program. This is particularly important to homeowners in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas because weather in North Texas can be so unpredictable.

Before Choosing a Programmable Thermostat

If you are updating an HVAC system, a programmable thermostat is included with your purchase, but this is usually a low-end model. At the time of the sale or installation ask the salesman or service tech what additional options are available — from more advanced programmable models to new “smart thermostats.”

If you choose to upgrade an existing programmable thermostat, there are many variables at play, including the age, size, and infrastructure of your HVAC system, including electrical concerns.

It’s best to ask a service tech or repairman what your options are and how to proceed, which can be done at the time of a winter or summer service checkup. The internet is full of information, options, brands, models, and how to instructions, but how does it all apply to you and your unique situation?

Regardless if you are putting in a new HVAC system or just upgrading to a better programmable thermostat, you will want to ask the service tech or salesman questions like these:

  • Does the thermostat and its clock draw power from the system’s low-voltage electrical control circuitry instead of a battery? If so, is the clock disrupted when the furnace cycles on or off or power to the home is interrupted? Thermostats with battery back-up is preferred by homeowners.
  • Is the thermostat compatible with the electrical wiring found in the current unit? If not, can the HVAC company and service tech help with electrical issues or will an electrician be needed?
  • Can you install it yourself?
  • Are the programming instructions for the model you are considering easy to use and remember?

While those are “techy” questions, there is another set of questions you should ask yourself that will inform and impact your decision to purchase a particular brand or model of programmable thermostat. These include:

  • What is everybody’s heating and cooling needs in the home?
  • What is everybody’s schedule for waking up, getting ready for work, who is home during the day (if anybody), and going to bed?
  • Where are activities most concentrated in the home and during what times?
  • What is your energy budget and savings (or sustainable) goals for the winter, spring, summer, and fall?

In the Next Post
We will take a look at manufacturers and models of programmable thermostats in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding areas in addition to strategies of how to program for best results.

Energy Saving Winterizing Tips | Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas

In two previous posts we looked at easy, low-cost and more difficult, time-consuming, and somewhat costly winterizing tips and tricks to save energy costs in your homes in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas and surrounding cities.

Today we provide an at-a-glance list of things – some fun, some serious – you can do by location in and around the home, which can save on service and repair calls.

Obviously, a great place to start is having a winter service checkup of your heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. In lieu of a service call, you can do these things in and around the home.

  • Around Windows and Doors
  • Caulk inside and around window and door trim, sealing where the frame meets the wall or window woodwork joints.
  • If windows will be opened, use weatherstripping or temporary flexible rope caulk.
  • Weatherstrip exterior doors, including doors leading from attached garages into the home and porches.
  • Add a door sweep or Draft Snake to each exterior door.
  • Replace broken glass.
  • Re-putty loose panes.
  • Replaced aged or cracked windows, especially if single-paned.
  • Install storm doors and windows.
  • If your home has sliding glass doors, examine the bottom seal for cold-air leaks.

Consider having an in-home service assessment from a home store or a windows and doors specialty company.

In Living Areas

If you don’t use the fireplace, plug the flue with an inflatable plug; if used, makes sure damper is closed tightly. These can be purchased at home stores or fireplace stores in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding cities.

  • Use paintable (or colored) caulks around the bath and kitchen cabinets on exteriors walls.
  • Use foam-rubber gaskets behind electrical outlets and switch trim plates on exterior walls.
  • Use non-vinyl “blackout curtains” to block cold.
  • Reverse the direction of the ceiling fans.
  • Move furniture off return vents.
  • Use throw rugs on bare floors.
  • Buy organic, thermal long johns for everybody in the family.
  • Wear layers of organic, breathe-able, warm, comfortable clothing with socks and slippers.
  • Here’s an old remedy: put ground cayenne or ginger in your socks (and mittens while outside) for a little added warmth.
  • Another old remedy: Wrap hot baked potatoes in flannel and place in bed 15 minutes before you get in. Your bed will be warm – and potatoes will be ready for breakfast hash browns.
  • Open curtain and shutters to let the sun in during the day, close at night to keep cold out.
  • If you like using the fireplace, consider installing an insert that will direct the heat into the home instead of sending it up the chimney. These can be purchased at home and fireplace stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding cities. In-home inspections and service calls are available from some vendors.
  • If you spend more time in one or two rooms, consider purchasing space heaters to heat small areas while turning down the heat for the home.
  • Keep all closet doors closed, unless they contain water pipes. No need to heat unused portions of the home.
  • Replace caulking around any tubs and showers.
  • Use the oven for baking during colder hours to help heat the home.

Around the Exterior

  • Caulk or re-caulk around all penetrations where lines enter the home – electrical, phone, TV, cable, technology, gas, dryer vents, water lines. Stuff fiberglass insulation in larger gaps before caulking.
  • Caulk or re-caulk around all windows and door frames, reducing air infiltration, even rain.
  • Check dryer exhaust vent hoods. If it’s missing a flapper or doesn’t easily close, replace with a tight-fitting model. A dryer vent seals to prevent cold air from returning. There are also attachments to vent your dryer inside your home so you don’t waste heat and humidity for non-gas-powered machines. These can be purchased at home and appliance stores throughout Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding cities.
  • Remove window air conditioners during the cold months, or cover them tightly.
  • Caulk cracks in overhangs of cantilevered bays and chimney chases.
  • Plant evergreens around the home; they are excellent wind barriers. A wind break can save up to 30 percent in energy costs.
  • Stop by the local feed store and buy straw bales to place around the foundation, especially if you have pier and beam.
  • Cover your water heater (if in garage) with an insulating blanket. Do not do if it’s gas-powered.
  • For brick homes, check the mortar. It may need repair.
  • Seal any foundation cracks.
  • Close off rooms not in use and shut off vents.
  • Replace worn or missing shingles.

Consider having an at-home service inspection and evaluation from a foundation company in the Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas areas.

In the Attic

  • Seal all holes between the heated space and the attic.
  • Weatherstrip and insulate the attic access door.
  • Seal around plumbing vents in the attic floor and in the roof.
  • If pre-1950s home, seal top of interior walls anywhere you can peer down into the wall cavity, using strips of rigid insulation with edges sealed with silicone caulk.
  • Throw old styrofoam into the attic. Spread old coolers and packing materials around the attic and let them insulate.

If the home has folding attic stairs, insulate the door with a cover of some sort.
Consider using a professional HVAC service in Arlington, Fort Worth, Dallas, and surrounding areas to make adjustments and repairs as needed, particularly if they are in an area you don’t want to mess with.