Monthly Archives: July 2014

How Can a Dirty Air Filter Cost You? Let Us Count the Ways

dirty air filtersRunning your cooling or heating equipment with dirty air filters is the ticket to high energy bills, more equipment breakdowns and worsening indoor air quality. Although the air filter may not seem like a major component of your HVAC system, it does a lot to protect parts and maintain original efficiency levels.

  1. High energy bills. When the filter is clogged, less air passes through it, which means less air enters the air handler. It takes longer for the system to cool your home, driving up energy consumption. Dust can cover the evaporator coil that contains the refrigerant that removes the heat from your home. The dust acts as insulation, slowing the cooling process even more. Dust inside the air handler can cover the fan and motor with dust. When dust builds on the fan blades, it slows them down, reducing the airflow through the system even more. A motor covered in dust can build heat, which can shorten its life.
  2. Equipment breakdowns. Running an A/C or heat pump over a prolonged period with a dirty air filter can cause the evaporator coil to freeze over. If it continues to run, the frost will build to the point where no air passes over the coil and cooling stops. The refrigerant in the system will return to the compressor as a liquid, which can seriously harm this essential component of your A/C or heat pump. When the frost melts, it may overwhelm the drain pan for the cooling system and cause water damage to the air handler, and on floors and walls.
  3. Compromised air quality. The dirty filter eventually pulls particles into the ductwork that can degrade indoor air quality. Indoor air particulates include dust, pollen, pet dander and dust mite waste. When these enter the system, they’ll circulate throughout your home’s air, irritating anyone with respiratory issues.

If you’d like more information about dirty air filters, please contact the pros at Keith Air Conditioning. We’ve provided outstanding HVAC services for Mobile and Baldwin County homeowners since 1964.

Don’t Let Poor IAQ Get You Down: Clear the Air and Breathe Easier

fresh air throwing pillowMobile has always been a city of change, and our area’s climate is evidence of that. From airborne ragweed to unhealthy smog levels to heat waves, Mobile’s air quality and temperatures rise and fall as often as the Gulf tides. Amazingly, though, Mobile area residents often have less to worry about with the outdoor air quality than with the poor indoor air quality (IAQ) of their own homes.

What Is Poor IAQ?

Indoor air quality is a measure of the healthfulness of the air you breathe inside your own home. If your home’s HVAC system is not operating at peak efficiency, or you have deferred regular maintenance of ductwork and equipment, you may be suffering from poor IAQ.

Signs of Poor IAQ

The major symptoms of poor IAQ fall into two general categories: people are affected, and your HVAC equipment is affected. Consider the health of your family over the past year and think of these issues:

  • Do allergy sufferers feel worse when inside your home than when they are outside?
  • If anyone living in your home has a compromised respiratory system (especially the very young or very old), are they sick frequently, or improve when away from home?
  • Do visitors or extended family have breathing issues when inside your home?
  • Do you suffer from headaches, shortness of breath, tiredness or irritated sinuses and eyes?
  • Do you see mold, mildew or gritty matter on surfaces in your home?

Think about the condition of your central air conditioner or furnace:

  • Do you schedule regular maintenance and inspection, including frequent filter changes?
  • Is your system more than a decade old?
  • Have your ducts ever been cleaned?
  • Are your ducts sealed?
  • Has your electricity bill climbed noticeably in recent years during air conditioning season?
  • Has your professional HVAC technician warned you that your equipment is aging prematurely?

Causes of Poor Indoor Air Quality

Poor IAQ may seem like something we in the Mobile area have to accept. Our average humidity is 73 percent; even our average low humidity only dips down to 55 percent. With that much moisture in our air, poor IAQ might appear to be a natural consequence. Dust mites, for example, thrive in high humidity conditions. Mold and mildew grow readily where moisture deposits. Other causes of poor IAQ include:

  • Pet dander (dead skin cells sloughed off your dogs and cats) are small enough and light enough to get airborne.
  • Irritating gases in the air from the kitchen stove and indoor combustion appliances such as wood stoves, gas water heaters, furnaces and decorative fireplaces.
  • Human skin cells wafting in the airstream.
  • Dirt and sand tracked in on human feet and pets’ paws.
  • Particulates lodged in dirty ductwork.
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from personal cleansing products such as perfumed soaps and shampoos; from household cleaning products; from detergents used in the dishwasher and clothes washer; and from upholstery, paints and stains inside your Mobile area home.
  • Dust mites living on pillows and mattresses, and in upholstered furniture; their leavings and dead exoskeletons become airborne and people breathe them in.

Solving Poor IAQ

Fortunately, Mobile area homeowners have plenty of defenses – high tech and low tech – to use against poor IAQ. Some quick steps you can take right now include asking everyone to remove shoes at the door, vacuuming wood floors daily and shampooing carpets weekly with plain water, banning smoking inside, changing your central air conditioner’s filter every month (or cleaning it if’s a permanent filter), and reducing use of perfumed or scented products.

Hiring a professional HVAC contractor to work with you is a great second step. Some of the areas a professional can address are:

  • Duct sealing to prevent air leaks
  • Cleaning and maintaining central air conditioning equipment
  • Installing high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters
  • Installing electrostatic air filters
  • Dehumidifying your home’s indoor air
  • Recommending a dedicated air purifier that will help resolve your indoor IAQ issues

You do not have to wait for a professional HVAC technician to help you, though, because simply running your home’s central air conditioner should improve the air quality and lower humidity. A lot of indoor pollutants are water soluble, so reducing moisture in your home reduces the amount of pollutants. Mold and mildew, for example, cannot get a foothold in low humidity. Dust mites thrive at humidity levels above 50 percent, but begin dying off when the humidity drops to 35 percent. Cooler air is cleaner air.

For more help identifying the sources of poor indoor air quality, and finding helpful solutions to poor IAQ in your Baldwin County home, please contact us at Keith Air Conditioning, Inc.

Filtration and Summer Allergies: What’s the Story?

As allergy season worsens, it may seem that the best solution is to retreat indoors. Unfortunately, uncontrolled indoor air quality can be twice to five times more polluted than outdoor air quality, according to some studies. To make sure that the air in your living environment is as clean and allergen-free as possible, it’s necessary to pay attention to indoor air filtration. The proper air filtration equipment, coupled with a program of source control, can remove the particulates and substances that aggravate seasonal allergies, asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Allergens and Their Sources

Allergens are very common in almost every home. Even simple activities of daily living, such as cooking, cleaning and bathing, can produce material that can make life worse for an allergy sufferer.

Many allergens are particulates, which are tiny fragments of solid material. Particulate allergens include:

  • Dust
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Fibers
  • Hair
  • Metal fragments
  • Powders
  • Liquid droplets

Particulate allergens can also include biological material such as viruses, germs, bacteria, mold spores, dust mites, animal dander and insect or vermin body parts and waste.

Gaseous pollutants and allergens include exhaust gases, fumes, smoke, ozone and chemicals such as radon. Common sources of gaseous allergens include paints, solvents, cleaning chemicals, deodorizers and pesticides.

Air Filtration as a Weapon Against Allergens

The first line of defense against allergens is the air filter in your home cooling system. The filters in your heat pump or air conditioner are designed to remove particulates and airborne contaminants from the stream of air flowing through your HVAC system, preventing this material from traveling into your home along with cool air.

Air constantly circulates through your cooling system, with cool air being sent out through the ductwork and into your home’s interior, then brought back to be cooled and distributed again. During this pattern of flow, air is forced through the filter in the air conditioner, where the filter captures and holds solid particles. About every month, the filter should be checked and changed if it’s dirty to maintain proper air filtration.

In addition to particulates, filters can also capture microorganisms and biological contaminants that contribute to or cause disease. Filters with activated charcoal layers can remove odors, fumes and gases.

Air filters are available in a range of efficiency and effectiveness. Filter efficiency is indicated by the filter’s minimum efficiency reporting value, or MERV rating. This number indicates how well the filter traps and holds airborne particulates of 0.3 to 10 microns in size.

The MERV numbers for filters that commonly fit standard HVAC systems range from 1 to 16. Higher MERV numbers indicate better filtration. In general:

  • Filters with MERV 1-4 are inexpensive, but are low quality and not very effective.
  • Filters with MERV 5-8 are middle quality filters appropriate for most household uses.
  • Filters with MERV 9-12 are high quality filters commonly used in both commercial and residential settings.
  • Filters with MERV 13-16 are the best quality filters available that will work in standard HVAC equipment.

For situations that require even higher levels of filtration, there is a category of filters available that clean the air at MERV levels between 17 and 20. These High Efficiency Particulate Air, or HEPA, filters, can remove almost all of the solid particulates in your indoor air, including powders and smoke. HEPA filters are most commonly used in situations where air quality is critical, such as medical settings or areas where sensitive manufacturing is being performed.

A caution to keep in mind: high-MERV and HEPA filters are very thick and dense and may affect the performance of your air conditioning system by restricting airflow. Make sure your HVAC system can function with a high -MERV or HEPA filter. Otherwise, system performance will likely be reduced, and equipment could be damaged by the restricted airflow.

Source Control
The most effective way to treat allergens is to stop them at their source and prevent particulates and gases from being created. Some techniques of effective source control include:

  • Regularly dust and clean your home to prevent particulate buildup.
  • Reduce or eliminate the use of strong household chemicals, cleaners, solvents, pesticides and other odor-producing materials.
  • Ventilate your indoor spaces with kitchen and bathroom fans.
  • Clean heating and cooling vents to remove dirt and particles.
  • Take the trash out every day.
  • Use unscented household, cleaning and personal hygiene products.
  • Avoid creation of fumes and odors from smoking, incense, candles and similar sources.

Founded in 1964, Keith Air Conditioning, Inc. serves Baldwin County and the Mobile area with top-quality air conditioning sales, installation, maintenance and repair. Contact us today for more information on the benefits of air filtration with high MERV or HEPA filters and how you can keep your indoor air cleaner and your allergies at bay this season.

Programmable Thermostats Can Save You Money, But You Have to Set Them Properly

programmable thermostatIf you’re comparing different programmable thermostats, you have the right idea that these devices save energy and money year round. The upgrade is most beneficial if you’re away from home for extended, predictable periods of time every day. Here’s what you need to know about choosing and using a programmable thermostat correctly.

Comparing Programmable Thermostats

Think about your schedule when choosing the right programmable thermostat for you. The basic three models include:

  • 7-day: This is best if your family’s schedule varies every day of the week, such as if children come home from school at different times depending on the day. If flexible programming seven days a week is important to you, choose this type of programmable thermostat.
  • 5+2-day: With this option, you can only program two different settings; one for weekdays and one for the weekend.
  • 5-1-1: If your schedule is the same Monday through Friday but varies on Saturday and Sunday, this is the type of programmable thermostat you want.

Establishing the Settings

You don’t automatically save money just by upgrading to a programmable thermostat. You must also set it properly. Most programmable thermostats let you create four settings per day. Set a “wake” temperature for the morning, a “day” temperature when the house is empty, an “evening” temperature when relaxing before bed, and a “sleep” temperature for nighttime.

Benefit from Programmable Thermostats

Help your investment be as successful as possible with these tips:

  • Install the new thermostat on an interior wall away from areas that receive direct sunlight, drafts or sharp temperature changes.
  • Set energy-saving setbacks that last at least eight hours at a time.
  • Use the “permanent” or “vacation hold” setting when you’re out of town to avoid heating or cooling a vacant home.
  • Don’t override the pre-programmed settings unless absolutely necessary. Each time you do, you increase what you pay to keep your home comfortable.
  • Change the batteries annually in units that run on batteries (some are connected to your HVAC system’s electrical supply). Some units alert you when the batteries are losing power.

For more tips on using programmable thermostats to the fullest, please contact us at Keith Air Conditioning, Inc., proudly serving Mobile and Baldwin County since 1964.