How to Determine the Correct Size for a New HVAC System

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Servicing an HVAC Unit
Servicing an HVAC Unit

Homeowners today have a good selection of different types of HVAC systems to consider. The best type is usually determined by your environment. Swamp coolers are made just for use in hot dry locations. Central air conditioner and heaters work well for most of the country. Heat pumps are very efficient but are expensive to install. The list goes on and on. The thing they all have in common is that they should be properly sized for the structure they will serve.

Furnaces that are too large tend to cycle off and on continuously. A central system that is too large may be less effective at dehumidification than a correctly sized AC unit. And it goes without saying that a larger unit costs more going in. A too-small system works too hard to keep up. But a properly sized system will do the right job for the environment at maximum efficiency.

Contractors Shouldn’t Rely on Rule of Thumb

Too many contractors rely on “experience” or an “educated guess. Bad idea. It’s much better to use worksheets designed by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA). They are far more accurate because they take into account individual actual conditions. These include the amount and type of insulation, the size of the home, the size and glazing type of windows, air leakage, lighting, and home appliances.

To make these calculations, the International Residential Code, which is the dominant building code in the U.S. should be followed. It requires that heating and cooling equipment be sized with the help of Manual J, or a similar approved methodology. However, the rule is too often ignored. Studies have demonstrated that heating and cooling equipment is far too often over-sized, often by as much as 200%.

So before you hire a contractor, this is one thing you should quiz him about. Does he follow this protocol (even though your local code may not require it)? After all, a new HVAC system is a big investment and it’s your investment, not his.

Other Ways to Determine HVAC Size

If you really want to be sure that all the factors are being figured correctly, do it yourself and follow Manual J. You will need to determine the U-factors of building components such as windows, doors, insulated walls, determine the “outdoor design temperature” for your area, take an estimate about airtightness, and finally use a heat-loss formula to determine how much energy in Btu your home loses through the building exterior.

You can also hire a pro. This might be a certified HERS rater, a mechanical engineer, or an energy consultant. You may be spending a bit more time and money up front, but generally speaking, contracting a trained professional third party who has no vested interest in selling you a particular brand or size of unit is far preferable to trusting a seat-of-the-pants estimate that might be questionable.

In any event, always be sure that you and any contractor are on the same page before any work begins. Whenever this much money is involved it is always in your best interest.

I hope this information on determining the correct size for a new HVAC system has helped you. If so, pass the URL along to your friends. Thanks for visiting!


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About the author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation and financial and energy trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.


10 DIY New Year Projects to Tackle–Part 2

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See the Previous 5 DIY New Year Projects

Install a Pre-hung Door

An Exterior  Pre-hung Door
An Exterior Pre-hung Door

Some things in life just get easier. Hanging doors is one of those things thanks to the pre-hung doors available at home improvement stores. No mortising, no muss, no fuss. To make things even easier, hardware clips called The Quick Door Hanger are available to eliminate shimming the door jamb in the rough opening. Basically, all you need is a 4′ level or plumb bob, a measuring tape, a pencil, and a cordless drill with a Phillips bit. I’ve gotten to where I can hang a door in about 15 minutes. Life is good.

Frame Out Your Basement

Wood framing in a basement
Wood framing in a basement

Basements are often basically unused, wasted spaces. This is really a shame because framing and finishing it out expands your living space and boosts your home equity. I mean, that space is included in your property taxes anyway, right? This is a great project that can be put on your schedule for any time of the year. Learn the basics of framing a basement and some of the options that are available to you. Yes, this is a DIY project but you might need to pull some building permits. Always check your local building code.

Dieting is One of the Most Popular New Years Resolutions

Healthy food for weight loss
Healthy food for weight loss

Exercising, putting down the cigarettes, and going on a diet; these are the big 3 New Years resolutions. But there are a plethora of choices when choosing a diet. Which one is right for you? Which one can you realistically stick to? Inform yourself with these 10 most popular diets today.

Give Your Walls a Face Lift On a Budget

Colorful walls & energy efficient windows
Colorful walls & energy efficient windows

Upgrading the look of your walls is a great way to give your living space a fresh look on a shoestring budget. You can add a bolder texture, hang wallpaper, or choose paint colors that give the illusion of more space or higher ceilings. You can even paint over that dark paneling that looked so cool back in the 60s. Which wall improvement is right for your home? Learn about wall options here. Some people hate painting but that’s the wrong way to look at it. It is one job where you can see the results of your labors in a very short time. Some BEHR paint has the primer built in which basically cuts your time in half.

Install Radiant Barrier Foil in Your Attic

Energy Q Radiant Energy Barrier Foil In the Attic
Energy Q Radiant Energy barrier Foil In the Attic

Sure, everybody knows about maxing out the recommended amount of insulation in the attic (according to location) but that only represents about half the money you could be saving on energy costs. Why not install radiant barrier energy foil over the insulation? The savings are two-fold–it keeps the heat out in the summer but keeps it in during the winter. I can tell you from experience that the colder months are the perfect time for this project. I did mine in March a few years back and it more than paid for itself during the first summer. If you use your attic and it has flooring, there’s no reason you can’t tack it to the underside of the roof sheathing. Or conversely, use the radiant barrier paint.

I certainly hope these 10 DIY New Years projects (the first 5 are on this page) have inspired you. If so, I would appreciate you sharing these pages with your friends. Have a great New Year and thanks for visiting!


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Lower Electric Bills with an A/C Misting System


Cool-N-Save A/C condenser misting paddle
Cool-N-Save A/C condenser misting paddle

Summertime is here and the living is easy. Except perhaps for that high electricity bill from the incessant cycling of the air conditioner. Sure, you’ve beefed up the insulation, sealed leaks and perhaps installed radiant barrier foil in the attic. But there’s more you can do; you may be able to lower your electric bills with an A/C misting system.

Can a Condenser Coil Mister Save the Day?

I have been intrigued by this concept for a while now and with the South Texas temperatures flirting with triple digits and rising utility rates I decided this was the year to implement it. I already understood the cooling power of evaporating water, having worked with cooling towers and chilled water systems while working as an Engineering Supervisor for Marriott.

 

But this is a different application although the basic science is roughly the same. The one I installed at my home yesterday is the Cool-N-Save basic kit. Their claim is that the mist will lower the temperature of the air around the coils by as much as 30°F. This means that your HVAC system will not have to work as hard, consequently becoming more efficient and saving you money. Have I saved money yet? I don’t know! I just installed it yesterday. But I do have historic data and I’ll update this post when I have some hard numbers.

Curious about the science? Heat flux, thermal flux, heat flux density, or heat flow rate intensity is a flow of energy per unit of area per unit of time. Call it what you will, heat flux is at its most efficient whenever the outdoor ambient air temperature is lower than the refrigerant flowing through inside the A/C coils. So the evaporative effect of the misting lowers the ambient temperature in the area around the condenser coils and bingo! Efficiency prevails.

How the Cool-N-Save Coil Mister Works

Cool-N-Save mister water filter
Cool-N-Save mister water filter

The basic kit comes with:

  • 1  Control valve and paddle
  • 3  2′ Misting arms (tubing from the control valve/paddle to the misting nozzles)
  • 3  Brass misting nozzles
  • 1  Cool Release water treatment filter (3 month life)
  • 1  20′ flexible water feed line
  • 1 Garden hose adapter

The only thing I added was a brass splitter with cut-off valves for my outdoor spigot so I can use the mister and garden hose concurrently.

A dedicated garden hose attaches to the supplied garden hose adapter whose tubing enters the filter. Another hose (cut from the 20′ line) connects the filter to the control valve on the paddle. The three misting arms connect to the control valve/paddle and dangle down three sides of the condenser respectively terminated by the misting nozzles. Use zip-ties in all the obvious places.

When the A/C cycles the fan in the condenser unit kicks off. This blows up the paddle and enables water flow to the misting nozzles. It’s that elementary, Watson. (Pardon the inevitable Sherlock Holmes reference.)

Regular readers of my energy efficiency  articles know that I stress incremental changes; it is generally many small to large changes, not just one huge one that will reap savings. An A/C misting system is my latest energy tweak. I’ll be back in touch with results.


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Top 10 Ways to Go Green

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Have a green home and lifestyle
Have a green home and lifestyle

Going green is as trendy as ever but did you know that it will save you money as well? You can do more than recycle; you can make small changes in all areas of your home and life that really add up. Here are the top 10 ways to go green on our list.

  1. Go Organic in your garden and lawn. First of all, stop it with all the pesticides. Monsanto’s Roundup is in trial right now for allegedly causing cancer. The active ingredient glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” according to the World Health Organization. Stop it with the “weed and feed” products as well. Sure, the herbicide ingredient will kill some weeds but they can also kill shrubs and trees if applied in the drip zone. Just broadcast organic fertilizer and agricultural dried molasses in the spring and fall. This will encourage deep root growth of your lawn grass which means less watering, saving money. It is also recommended to apply beneficial nematodes to eliminate fleas in the larval stage.
  2. Green Your Kitchen. Back off with the chemical cleaning products. Instead, use non-toxic or plant-based cleaning products. They perform just as well as your chemicals but they are safer for your family, better for the environment, and save money. For example, baking soda is non-toxic and can be combined with a bit of water to clean tubs, sinks and other surfaces. Vinegar is great for cleaning glass. Got bugs? Use orange oil spray instead of pesticides.
  3. Improve Your Energy Efficiency. Anything you can do to lower your electricity bill is a good thing. Today’s homes are built with tighter exteriors than older homes so strive for that. Spring for an energy audit to identify problems if you want; otherwise just do common sense things like adding insulation and caulking windows. This will really save you money when utility costs spike.
  4. Go Green in the Bathroom. Wasting water is not only bad for the environment but is also costly. Switch to low flow toilets. Next eliminate the drips; a single dripping water faucet can waste 212 gallons of water a month. Ka-ching! And, there is no point in leaving the water running while you brush your teeth. On, off, on, off.
  5. Make Some Energy Tweaks Around the House. One of the easiest things to do is to contact the Direct Marketing Association to take yourself off many companies’ mass marketing mailing lists for up to five years. Unplugging things when not in use stops “phantom loads” with most appliances that use power such as VCRs, televisions, stereos, chargers, computers, and kitchen appliances.
  6. How to Save When Shopping. Most people don’t realize how they can save and go green when out and about. First, don’t load up on bottled water for drinking when you are out doing your chores. Instead, carry a reusable water bottle. You will save money and create less scrap plastic. For the grocery store take your own reusable bags. When the industry went from paper to plastic they didn’t do the environment any favors. Also consider buying things in bulk. This saves on both packaging and money.
  7. Focus on an Environmentally-Friendly Workplace. Being green isn’t only possible at home; the workplace is important as well. Encourage workers to have a plant or two in their space; they act as natural filters to improve indoor air quality. If your company ships products, use environmentally-friendly packaging materials and reuse boxes when possible. Set your office printers to print double-sided. This is an simple way to reduce paper consumption by up to half.
  8. Traveling the Green Way. If you are only going a short distance, consider walking or riding a bike. If you can run to work and shower there, even better. Compared to driving a car, this will save money and improve your health. Use public transportation or carpool when possible. Not only will you have a greener commute but you can catch up on some reading.
  9. Food can be Green too. We all have to eat so why not do it the green way? Buying locally grown food is a good start. Did you know that food generally travels between 1,500 to 2,500 miles from farm to your kitchen? Moving food that distance results in high energy consumption and less local agricultural investment. If you took our advice on going organic in tip #1 above, grow your own veggies, fruit, and herbs.
  10. Consider Passive Solar ConceptsPassive solar has been getting quite a bit of press lately but many people don’t really understand it. Basically it means considering the sun’s energy when building or modifying your home. With new home construction, it is important to position the structure so that you get the morning and afternoon sun where it benefits you the most. Thermal mass is also an important concept. In colder climates materials such as concrete and brick hold heat well and can be used in living areas to reduce heating costs. Solar collectors, both passive and active can be incorporated into a home’s design. Solar water heaters can vastly lower your energy bills and your impact on the environment.

These tips on ways to go green can greatly reduce your carbon footprint and save you money. It doesn’t matter whether you believe in global warming or climate change; who doesn’t enjoy extra cash?


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Puzzled by Your Home Electrical Issues?



A properly-labeled circuit breaker panel
A properly-labeled circuit breaker panel

Almost everything we do in our homes and work-spaces involve electricity. From refrigerators to night-lights, electricity is involved at the most local level. Today, most of us take it for granted since it has always been there.

But it hasn’t always been there, which for most of us is a difficult concept to grasp. A political hot-potato has always been how power is generated. Coal, gas, solar energy, or nuclear? It is hard to get a consensus.

One of the only constants is the bleating from the NIMBY states (Not In My Back Yard). California comes to mind–send us our power but don’t make it here; it;s not “clean”. Hypocrites.

So, with all that in consideration, here are a few of my musings on the subject of power, power, power.

Electricity is Delivered Through Conduits

It doesn’t just show up like an expected relative. No, it enters your home through the main line into your circuit breaker box. From there it is routed where it needs to go depending on where it was designed to go.

Whenever you move into a home it is advisable to always map your electrical circuits before trouble transpires. When an issue arises you will need to know where things start and where they go, so to speak.

Depending on the age of your residence, your local electrical code, and the type of devices you install, the means of delivering that electrical power may vary.

How to Save Money on Your Power Bill

One of the big problems concerned with your home electricity is that the cost tends to be in flux. Unless you are a big fan of studying natural gas and coal futures it is hard to predict when the price will rise. The  best thing you can do is maximize your home’s energy efficiency in advance. Here are a few money saving tips to consider.

  • Keep your HVAC system in tip-top shape. Having it tuned up twice a year, when the seasons are changing is one way. Calibrate your thermostat; it might not be accurate. Change out your return air filter once a month or as recommended.
  • Consider your old tank water heater with a tankless water heater. There will be some up front costs but you will save money in the long run. Why pay too keep water heated in a tank when you are not using it?
  • Install blown insulation in exterior walls. This generally applies to older homes when insulation was not as big a home construction factor as it is today.
  • Install a radiant barrier in your attic. This is an excellent way to keep your home cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter.
  • Install ceiling fans. This is a great way to keep the conditioned air where you need it when you need it. It is easy to install ceiling fans and they are inexpensive. Just remember to have the air blowing down in the summer and up in the winter.
  • Check your doors and windows for leaks. This should be done at least annually and some caulk and door sealing strips is generally all you need.

Hopefully this article helped you to understand your home electrical issues and save some money on your utility bills. Got more tips to share? List them in the comment section below.


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Maximize Your Home’s Energy Efficiency

These air leaks in your home also leak money.
These air leaks in your home also leak money.

One thing nobody likes to do is throw away money. But if your home is a perpetual slacker on its attempts to restrict energy usage, that is exactly what you are doing. As a general rule of thumb, the older a home is the less energy efficient it is. There are many reasons for this but the two main ones are:

  1. In days gone by, utility expenses were not what they are today. For one thing homeowners didn’t have all those confounded contraptions that we just can’t live without today.
  2. The building technology wasn’t what it is today. Our forebears knew nothing about tight envelopes, radiant barrier foil and passive solar concepts.

Keep in mind that in the long run it is not necessarily one big thing that will reduce your bills, but the sum total of a lot of smaller home improvements. Let’s look at a few, shall we?

Insulation is a Bargain

In most cases insulation is a good place to start, especially if you are a frequent rider on the climate change bandwagon. It gives you the most bang for the buck. Your attic should have the recommended number of inches for your location. Even if your home started with the suggested amount, remember that the fiberglass settles over time. If you want to take your savings a step further, roll out some radiant barrier foil over it.

Exterior walls are also a concern. This involves a bit more expense and hassle because obviously these walls are closed on both sides. The best solution is to hire someone to install blown insulation between the studs. Can you do it yourself? Yes, but a pro has the right equipment and knows how to make it look like there never was an intrusion.

Use Thermal Mass to Your Advantage

OK, the term thermal mass doesn’t mean what you might think it does; let’s not go there. Thermal mass simply refers to an object that absorbs and retains heat. Some examples are brick, concrete, ceramic tiles, and eco-friendly cork flooring.

In the winter of course, we want those objects to absorb heat during the day and release it at night. This can be accomplished by the sun coming through the windows or from areas where the home’s heating system affects the objects.

In the summertime the opposite is true; we want to shield these objects as much as possible.

Seal All Air Leaks

Checking for and sealing all air leaks in your home’s exterior is an easy, inexpensive project that can be done twice a year. Just pick days before the weather transitions from cold to hot and visa versa.

Possible leak culprits include windows, doors, even things like recessed light fixtures on your ceiling. The materials to put things right are inexpensive and readily available. Most likely things like caulk and floor sweeps will do the trick.

Keep in mind that the tighter your home’s envelope becomes, the greater the danger of radon is. What is radon? Radon gas is a radioactive, invisible toxic vapor that results from a natural process which is the radioactive breakdown of the uranium isotope. It pays to test for it.

Consider Installing Energy Efficient Windows or Window Film

Today’s higher-end windows are head and shoulders above those flimsy contractor-grade windows. Yes they will cost you more money but isn’t it worth it to be able to see outside and save on utility bills?

If your bank account isn’t flush don’t despair. Solar window film is an acceptable alternative. It won’t perform as well as the new super-windows but they will still make a huge difference. If you have tinted windows on your car you know what we are talking about.

Finally, if your electricity company allows it, get on one of those plans that averages your bill so you don’t get slammed on those peak months.

Shop Where It Matters!


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