My Memphis Equipment Doesn’t Work as Well as it Used to
Commonly, customers complaint that their Memphis air conditioning or heating system is working, but is not working as well as it used to. There are many reasons this might happen that most people overlook. Some of the reasons have nothing to do with the air conditioning or heating equipment. The solution to this problem may have many parts and we can assist you with most of them.
1. Has something changed since the time the equipment used to work better?
- How’s the weather? The summer of 2011 was exceptionally hot. Air conditioners all over Memphis were failing to keep their owners cool on the hottest days. Air conditioning and heating equipment is not sized for the hottest day it could ever be in a particular place. Every area of the country uses the temperature appropriate for that specific area when designing the proper equipment for a home. Equipment in Memphis is sized to keep you comfortable at 95 degrees. When the temperatures reach higher than 95 degrees, your unit will struggle to keep up with your cooling needs. When it is 100+ degrees outside people start to question if the air conditioning unit they have is too small. However, if we sized the equipment for the hottest day it could ever be, the equipment would be too large on most days. When it is too large, that leads to other issues you certainly don’t want to deal with. However, there are improvements we can make that can help you get MORE out of the air conditioning and heating you already have.
- Do you know why we never think our heaters are too small? In large part, the heater you have in your home is determined by the size of the air conditioner in your home. That noise you hear inside your house when the air conditioning comes on is actually part of your heater. That part has to be big enough to generate the cooling your home needs. Because we have huge air conditioning needs in Memphis, the heaters that will work with our air conditioners are already too big.
- Have you added to your family? Additional bodies add additional heat to the living space just from the body alone. Factoring in the person’s use of the home for everything from coming in and out, leaving the doors and windows open, using heat producing appliances more often, using the clothes dryer more often, etc. can make your current system struggle to keep up. One of the factors we consider when sizing air conditioning and heating equipment for a home is how many people will occupy it.
- Have started working from home? Are you working in front of a window that makes you feel warmer than it is in the room? It is possible that your home has never kept the proper temperature during the day. Perhaps you notice the temperature fluctuations more now than you used to. If so, check out the section on My Equipment Has Never Worked Well.
- Have you trimmed shrubbery or removed a tree that used to provide shade for part of the house? Many people don’t think about how much heating and cooling may be lost without the shade of shrubbery and trees until after they have been removed. Is replanting out of the question? If so, make up for at least some of that loss of shade by adding thermal lined curtains (not regular ones) to the window. Thermal blackout curtains block a lot of energy loss (and are also great when you have a migraine and need a dark room). We use them in our home on both counts.
- Have you changed the color of the roof? A dark roof increases energy consumption. Dark roofs absorb and hold more than 80% of solar energy, while white ones can reflect 75% of it away. On a hot day, a standard black roof can be 100 degrees warmer than the ambient air temperature, while a cool roof might be only 20 degrees warmer. That translates to a cooler building and less air conditioning. Check out http://www.epa.gov/heatisld/resources/pdf/11_cities_main.pdf (for a study on this very issue from the Environmental Protection Agency all the way back in 1997) and http://waterproofmag.com/back_issues/201007/black_white_roofing.php (for some interesting details about using the color of your roof as part of an energy strategy).
- Have you added a room? Your original HVAC system should have been designed for the actual living space that existed at the time the equipment was installed. It was not supposed to come with extra capacity. When adding on a room, you must often add additional air conditioning and heating to keep the space comfortable.
- Have you split an existing room or opened up two spaces into one larger space?This often results in the vents that supply cool and warm air and the vents that take the old air out of the room ending up in places that are not suited for the new configuration of the space. Reconfiguring the ductwork and vents can often resolve this problem.
- Have you built out a former attic space? Even though the footprint of your home has not changed, the type of space you have inside your home has. When sizing equipment for a home, best practices standards dictate that we divide the space in the home into two camps. Space that will need heating and cooling is called “conditioned space” and is included in properly sizing the equipment. Space that will not require heating and cooling is called “unconditioned space” and is excluded from the calculation. When your HVAC system was installed, the attic was not counted, or at least should not have been counted, as conditioned space. Therefore, the equipment that was installed would not have been large enough to heat or cool the converted attic.
- Have you added windows? Windows are another item considered when properly sizing HVAC equipment. More windows and the type of windows can impact the amount of heating and cooling capacity you need. If the windows are well insulated, additional windows have much less of an effect in cooling and heating your home than if they are not well insulated. However, if you have torn down a shade tree and put in a window in direct sun during the hottest part of the day, the impact will be greater no matter how insulated the window is.
- Have you installed a large vent hood for the stove? Vent hoods pull the air conditioning and heating from your home and drag it out of the house through the hood and out the vent pipe. If you are even thinking about buying one, you should have us come look at your home first.
- Have you added recessed or can lighting? The Pennsylvania Housing Research/Resource Center has found that out of all the possible air leakage sites in a house, can lights are responsible for the worst leakage. With the air leakage between your living space and attic, these lights can also introduce moisture where it is not supposed to be, with all of its accompanying risks. If you have dust or dirt on your recessed lighting casing, you probably have leakage. If you use regular light bulbs, you also introduce a lot of heat into the room from the lighting. You can reduce the added heat effect by using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).
If you are thinking about installing recessed lighting, your best bet is to suck up the extra costs associated with airtight recessed/can lighting from the start. Old school recessed lighting can be expensive to retrofit. Although these kinds cost 3 to 4 times more than standard can lights, the cost will pay for itself over time. Canned lights can steal a ton of air from your cooling capacity. We can help retrofit your existing lights or help you with new ones.
- Have you lost the seal in your windows, sliding doors or other exterior doors? If you have, you no longer have double paned windows.
- Have you neglected your dryer vent? The clothes dryer will run longer and put more moisture into the house. If the dryer vent is broken anywhere, it is easy for the heat to migrate back into the house along with the lint from your clothes.
- Are you using your fireplace? Wood burning fireplaces (and even chimneys without a fire going) are notorious for drawing expensive warm air right out of your home. Fire needs oxygen for combustion. The fire draws oxygen out of your home. Your home replaces it by pulling in air from every crevice it can find, drawing in colder air. Make sure your chimney flue provides a good seal. Properly close the chimney flue when you put out the fire. A high quality barrier between the fireplace and your living space can go a long way toward reducing the effect of this heat thief on your home.
- Do you have a crawl space? Due to the large amount of water we have had in the past 18 months, crawl spaces have flooded more often than usual and are definitely more damp that usual. If your crawlspace has been flooded, then the insulation factor of the insulation is gone. If you do not have a proper vapor barrier under the house, your home could be pulling damp air from the crawlspace into your walls, living space and attic. If you look under your house and see that there is any ductwork laying directly on the ground, you may have lost the insulation factor of your ductwork. The ground’s constant contact with the outside of the duct insulation or the flexible ductwork pools wetness and allows the insulation inside to sweat. The number one complaint last year at homes with a crawlspace in Memphis was excess humidity and sweating ductwork.
2. How Has the Equipment Been Maintained?
- Do you have an HVAC professional inspect and maintain your system twice a year? All manufacturers, the EPA and MLG&W recommend annual maintenance of both your air conditioning and heating systems. It is not enough to just spray a water hose on your outside unit. With our Precision Plan annual maintenance program, we: clean & adjust the burner assembly; clean heat exchanger or elements; clean ignition assembly; monitor flue draft ; perform carbon monoxide testing of your gas furnace; clean and check condenser coil; check operating pressures; check refrigeration levels; check starting capabilities; check safety controls; check & replace standard 1” filters; check & adjust blower components; check for correct air flow; check condensate drain; check for proper temperature difference; check all electrical connections; check voltage & amperage on motors; lubricate all moving parts when necessary; check thermostat calibration; and more . . .
- Have you had the interior components cleaned if recommended? If you have a dirty blower or evaporator coil inside your home, it will impact the performance, efficiency and the lifespan of the system. It doesn’t get better by itself. However, there are things we can add to your system to make the cleaning of these interior components a one-time thing. These problems are virtually always caused by a lack of proper filtration (running the system without a filter, keeping the filter in too long, using the wrong size filter, or an installation issue that allows the air to bypass the filter completely). Homes with pets tend to have this problem more often than homes without pets.
- Was it at least 70 degrees outside when the air conditioning maintenance was done? Many companies run air conditioning maintenance calls to fill their schedule during the off-peak times of the year. Frequently, they are performed when the outdoor temperature is too cold for the technician to properly evaluate the equipment and the refrigerant charge. This impacts the efficiency, life and performance of the system.
- Do you make needed repairs promptly? Your air conditioning and heating system has many parts that contribute to its proper efficiency, safety, use and lifespan. Waiting to replace one part may result in the parts attached to it wearing out too. When everything is not working properly, you cannot expect your equipment to deliver perfect temperatures.
- Adding a little refrigerant every year is not normal. Your air conditioning system doesn’t start leaking refrigerant unless it has a hole in it. Having too much refrigerant is just as bad for your system as having too much. Unfortunately, many in our industry put refrigerant in improperly as a result, the unit never works as well as it should. Refrigerant should always be weighed. When the source of the leak is found, replacement of the leaking coil is a better alternative for your utility bills and the environment. Balance in the system always creates better efficiency.
- Do you change your filters every month? If not, have you had the blower and evaporator coil cleaned to keep the surfaces free of particulates, mold and other debris? If you don’t change your filters regularly because they always look clean, your system is probably bypassing the filter completely allowing the gunk that should go through the filter collect on your equipment instead.
- Are the filters you use exactly the proper size and fit snuggly? If they are not, debris can be sucked up into the system, bypassing the filter. The filter itself can also be sucked up into the equipment, which forces even more pressure on the system and adds additional debris as it by passes the filter. This debris then clings to places it should not inside your furnace and evaporator coil. This coating of debris greatly reduces the efficiency, life and performance of the system. If you don’t change your filters regularly because they always look clean, your system is probably bypassing the filter completely allowing the gunk that should go through the filter collect on your equipment instead.
- Are you using plain 1” disposable fiberglass filters? Given the way most air conditioning and heating installations have been done, most people should be using this plain standard filter until they know if the ductwork for their system can handle something more restrictive.
- Are you using a fancy filter? If you are using a fancy filter (pleated, allergy, high MERV, Aprilaire, Honeywell, etc.) have you asked your HVAC company if you have sufficient return and supply ducting to use anything other than a standard 1” fiberglass filter? Pleated filters and stand alone whole house filtration systems can reduce the efficiency, life and performance of your air conditioning and heating system if your ductwork cannot support the air restriction that comes with these types of filters.
- Have you had your ductwork inspected? Surprisingly many homes have NEVER had the proper amount of ductwork needed for the proper operation of the HVAC equipment. However, even assuming you have enough ductwork, all kinds of animals- from humans to raccoons –make their way into the deep recessed of the attic space and/or crawl space. A bump, stumble, drop or trip can pull ductwork loose or kink it in a way that reduces the air it can deliver. Remember that box that dropped two years ago that you didn’t retrieve because it was too dark to see back there? It may have landed on a piece of duct and crushed it. Those squirrels that made a home in your attic during the winter love to make nests out of anything they can find. They may have torn the insulation off your ductwork or torn a duct loose and set up a little home inside. Has the ductwork fallen from a position it used to be attached to? Is it now hanging down from the attic rafter with a huge fold where a large open hole is supposed to be? If so, your airflow is restricted and the amount of heating or cooling in your living space is reduced. Sadly though, you are still paying for it as if it was working properly. The equipment may run forever and never reach a comfortable temperature for you.
- Is your ductwork sealed properly? Assuming you have no broken, loose or crushed ducts are they sealed properly? How about the area around your heater and the indoor piece of your air conditioning system that usually sits on top of your heater? When you put your hand around the edges, do you feel air? You shouldn’t. If your equipment is original to your home, you may see the tape that used to be used to “seal” these spaces lifting up or even hanging off. The air that is blowing around your equipment is heating or cooling your attic or basement, not your living space.
- Is your insulation in good shape? If you see spots on your insulation, you have air leakage that needs to be plugged. If you are relying only on the original insulation from when the house was built, keep in mind that insulation loses its effectiveness when it gets wet (remember that old roof leak you had repaired?) It also loses insulating factor when it gets crushed (remember how much stuff used to sit on top of the insulation before you had that big yard sale?) Insulation should be even throughout the entire attic space.
- Are you keeping your outdoor air conditioner space tidy? Some research has shown that SHADE can reduce the stress on your outdoor unit. However, shade is not the same as overgrown grass, plants, shrubbery or leaves. Your outdoor unit should have at least a foot of clear unobstructed space around it if possible to allow the air to flow freely into and out of the unit.
- Have you tolerated a beloved family pet’s use of the outdoor unit as a fire hydrant? Stop that. Now. The acid in the urine eats away the aluminum on the inside of the air conditioning unit and can cause all kinds of expensive problems.