I work as a sixth grade teacher at a very small middle school. We are a farm community and the school operates on a limited budget. The building is old, outdated, and in need of some major remodeling and improvement. While the school board and community are always willing to spend money on the athletic fields and equipment, the day-to-day operation of the school building is often overlooked. For example, the heating system is probably over thirty years old. It is neither effective or energy efficient, and I’m convinced that it’s a health threat. My students are constantly complaining of headaches, sore throat, and itchy eyes. They frequently sneeze, cough and ask to go to the nurse. At least once per week, a child gets a bloody nose. This is definitely the result of overly dry air. Our school has a much higher than average rate of absenteeism among both students and faculty. In our local area, we deal with extremely cold and long winter seasons. The school year begins in September and runs through June. For seven to eight straight months, the heating system is running. The classrooms which are located the closest to the central heating unit are always overheated and stuffy. The teachers frequently open the windows, which wastes a tremendous amount of energy and costs the taxpayers money. However, their classrooms are so overheated, the students sweat, complain and can’t focus. My classroom is located the furthest from the heating system, and is typically very cold. My students often wear their winter coats throughout the day. I try to arrange physical activities just to warm them up.
My central cooling system failed over the Fourth of July weekend. Since the outside temperature was consistently in the nineties, with severe humidity, the malfunction was super inconvenient. My husband and I had invited a bunch of friends and relatives for a party. It rained and everyone was forced indoors. We lowered the thermostat to make sure the house was nice and cool. The air conditioner ran for about an hour and then made a horrendous screeching noise. It filled the house with a disgusting musty smell and then completely quit. We fiddled with the thermostat, changed the air filter and replaced the batteries in the thermostat. We checked the fuse box, and cleaned the supply and return vents, but couldn’t get the air conditioner to start back up. With a house full of people, I was forced to call a local HVAC contractor and pay extra for emergency assistance. The HVAC technician arrived within the hour, but the house was already overheated and sticky. When he took the cooling unit apart, he showed me the buildup of dust, mold, and algae within the inner workings. I hated to admit that I had not had the air conditioner professionally cleaned or serviced since we’d purchased it, ten years before. The technician explained that every time the air conditioner started up, it was most likely spreading harmful spores throughout the home and contaminating air quality. Plus, the buildup of bacteria was blocking airflow, hindering efficiency, and putting needless stress on components. He insisted that the cooling system should be serviced every spring to prevent these issues. I was just relieved when he completed the necessary cleaning and got the air conditioner running again.
My family has owned and operated a small hotel for the last thirty years. We are located in the northeastern region where the weather varies between subzero temperatures and the triple digits. We deal with feet of snow as well as horrendous humidity. Providing year round temperature control in the hotel is an expensive and continual challenge. It is essential that the heating and cooling units operate quietly, safely, reliably and efficiently. The majority of our budget is devoted to the monthly electric bill. Each of the hotel’s guestrooms are equipped with an independent heating and cooling unit. We have invested in PTAC units which stands for Packaged Terminal Air Conditioner. These are commercial grade, self-contained units that provide both heating and cooling capacity. They are much larger and more expensive than a through-the-wall air conditioner, but cost about twenty percent less in annual electric bills. To supply cool air, the compressor pumps refrigerant to the coils and heat and humidity is exhausted outside. For heating, the operation is entirely reversed. The PTACs need to be installed by a licensed HVAC professional because of the required external sleeve and exterior grill for mounting. Plus, a qualified technician can determine the proper sizing of the unit. They are sized according to BTUs of power needed to meet the demands of the space. The larger the room, the higher BTU necessary to remove humidity and maintain temperature. The more cold air pumping out of the unit, the more area it needs to circulate. If the unit is too big for the space, the cold air hits the wall and flows back too quickly, giving a false reading to the thermostat. This causes the compressor to shut off prematurely and creates temperature fluctuations.
I had never heard of a gas pack until I moved further south. A gas pack is a self-contained, packaged HVAC system that combines heating and cooling. They are similar to a heat pump, but instead of pairing electrically-powered air conditioning and heating, the gas pack partners a natural gas furnace with air conditioning. They are also available with oil and propane heating, making them quite versatile. Because the gas pack packages two systems into one unit, they save on space. They are a popular solution for apartment buildings, mobile homes, modular homes, condos and tight installation spaces. At one time, gas packs were bulky and cumbersome. Modern gas packs are compact, streamlined and can be mounted either on the rooftop or the ground. This type of system is not only powerful enough to handle any weather, but provide energy efficient heating and cooling. Some achieve AFUE ratings as high as ninety percent. Although natural gas packs are the cleanest, most popular and energy efficient, the propane-powered units are very simple install. In my home, we have the combination of natural gas heating and electric air conditioning. Having the single, packaged unit mounted on the roof avoids the eyesore of the equipment. We don’t need to arrange our home or yard to prevent obstructing access to the gas pack. It is easily available for service or repair. The gas pack is quiet, reliable, and maintains a very even temperature. Switching between heating and cooling is quick and easy, and the system is powerful enough to rapidly increase or decrease indoor temperature.
My buddy, Carl recently asked me to help him with a home improvement project. Although I was super busy and reluctant to agree, I couldn’t turn him down. A year before, Carl had helped me totally renovate my master bathroom. He spent nearly a week working at my house and never asked for anything but some free beer. So I packed up my tools, and headed over to Carl’s house. I assumed we’d be building a deck or painting his shed or something. I discovered that he wanted to replace his entire central cooling system. He had the air conditioner components and all sorts of piping for the ductwork piled up in his front yard. While I’m fairly handy, I know absolutely nothing about heating and cooling equipment. I have a central cooling system installed in my own house, and I hire professionals to handle everything but changing the air filter. I assumed Carl knew what he was doing, and simply needed me to provide an extra pair of hands. When Carl opened his laptop and started watching how-to videos on youtube, I knew were were in trouble. Apparently, he’d purchased the cooling equipment from an HVAC contractor but was hoping to avoid the labor charges. We quickly figured out that installing ductwork and air conditioning requires specialized tools and knowledge. I think Carl and I caused more harm than good before we finally admitted defeat. He hired a certified HVAC contractor to complete the job. Although we both watched the contractor and asked a ton of questions, I still don’t feel qualified to tackle an installation project.
In the area where I live, the heat and humidity is just about a year round problem. The temperature often climbs up into the triple digits, and the humidity is frequently at 90%. Because of these extreme conditions, the air conditioner carries a heavy workload. I typically rely on the air conditioner for ten months out of the year. Despite my modern cooling system, I spend an absolute fortune on electric bills. I make sure to take very good care of the air conditioner. I change the air filter every month without fail, and I schedule proactive maintenance with a local HVAC contractor every spring. I still deal with bacterial growth inside of the cooling system. The inner workings of the air conditioner are warm, dark and moist. It is the perfect habitat for growing mold, mildew, algae and bacteria. This growth is harmful to indoor air quality and negatively impacts the performance of the air conditioner. It restricts airflow through the system, causing longer running times, higher energy consumption and diminished comfort. Plus, every time the air conditioner runs, it could be spreading contaminants throughout the house. To combat this concern, I’ve invested into a germicidal UV lamp, which installed directly into the air conditioner. This air quality accessory uses ultraviolet light to disrupt the DNA of microorganisms and kills mycobacterial growth. It keeps the interior of the air conditioner clean and protects the health of the entire home. The UV lamp runs silently, requires very little maintenance, and ensures the efficiency and reliability of the cooling system. I no longer need to spend money on expensive chemical cleaning of the cooling coil.
My favorite restaurant is in danger of losing my business. Most restaurants that lose my interest over the quality of food. I hate when I fall in love with a restaurant and then they begin skimping on ingredients. The quality of the food suffers and I begin looking for another restaurant. This time, my favorite restaurant still delivers excellent food but is completely falling on its face in another area. Everytime I go to eat there, depending on where I sit, I either freeze or sweat in my food. I can’t believe it. The manager sees this as a fundamental problem but is not able to sway the owner to address the HVAC deficiencies. It stuns me to think the owner of this restaurant is willing to risk his restaurant over something as basic as customer comfort. If a diner is seated anywhere near the kitchen, the heat is overwhelming. Conversely, every seat at the other end of the dining area is freezing because the HVAC system is attempting to offset the kitchen heat. The problem is as obvious as the solution. In and effort to be helpful, I wrote a letter as a concerned customer regarding the HVAC problem. I explained that he could easily remedy this situation without an enormous outlay of cash or huge renovation. Placing a pair of strategically placed ductless mini split heating and cooling systems would fix the problem. These ductless systems could augment both the hot and cold zones to moderate the temperature to be consistently comfortable. I sure hope the restaurant owner takes heed of my suggestions. Otherwise, I’ll be on the hunt again for a new favorite.
I thought I heard something outside my window. Whatever it was, it was loud enough to wake me from a sound sleep. I listened intently but couldn’t determine what exactly was happening. It didn’t concern me enough to get up and get dressed to investigate. So, I went back to sleep. The alarm clock went off that morning and I got on with my day. After my morning routine, I moved the thermostat up about eight degrees so the HVAC wouldn’t run non stop all day. I then went off to work. Returning home, I immediately lowered the thermostat just as I always do. But, within the hour, I noticed the house wasn’t cooling. I checked to be sure the HVAC unit had power. There weren’t any tripped breakers and the thermostat had power. So, I went outside to check the condenser. I rounded the corner of the house and my jaw dropped open. The cabinet for the condenser was ripped off. The cabinet was laying in a heap 15 feet away. That is what I heard last night. Thieves ripped the condenser cover off and then helped themselves to all the copper tubing they could get their hands on. I have seen it all now. People are desperate enough to actually carve the copper from your air conditioner. I called the HVAC company to have them come out and see if it could be repaired. Luckily, the damage was not severe enough that the HVAC could not be repaired. I will now be locking my condenser cabinet to the concrete pad. Can you believe that?
Attempting to save a few dollars can end up costing you thousands. I know all to well. The idea of a quick fix or developing a shortcut to save money has always appealed to me. I would still buy recapped tires if I could find them. I have yet to pay money for an oil change. Doing things myself has saved me money and taught me to be creative with repairs. So, when my HVAC heating unit went out, I wasn’t afraid to dive in there and have a look. I know a little bit about heating and cooling from a friend of mine. He has shown me what to look for first when diagnosing an HVAC repair. I was confident I had found the culprit when I removed a burned out valve switch. It was no big deal so, I went online and found a replacement. I got the part the next day and put it in. I wasn’t too surprised when my HVAC heating unit roared back to life. I felt pretty good about myself and was so pleased to have saved money on a service call. The furnace ran great until it didn’t anymore. Two months later, there was a sharp metallic sound and my furnace came to a halt. There looked to be significant damage so, I relented and called our HVAC provider. The heating and cooling technician came out to inspect the damage. The heat exchanger had cracked which was pretty much the death knell for the whole furnace. I wasn’t too worried considering the heating unit was still under warranty. I put in a claim and the manufacturer rep came out to have a look at what was left of my furnace. He immediately removed the valve switch I had replaced. I was completely stunned to learn I had voided my warranty by not using an OEM part. My quick fix I was so proud of had just cost me thousands of dollars. The HVAC replacement was now on me.
I so love watching the daily duel of the office thermostat setting. It is a thing of subtle beauty and majesty. Perhaps that’s overstating it but, it is fun to watch. There are designated players in this game. First, the girls who simply can not stay warm and bring blankets to their desk. Then, there are the fat guys who would prefer to do their work in a walk in cooler. Each camp has its own schedule of moves. The girls get to the office first thing in the morning to crank the heat. A young, male intern is then sent in by the fat guys to nudge the thermostat down. But, with strict instructions to hit it on the move so the girls won’t see the HVAC adjustment. The fat guys get about 45 minutes of sweet relief before the girls notice the chill. So, the designated mid morning temperature lady moves to the thermostat to inspect. With daggers firing from her eyes, she pushes the heat back up as though to dare someone to change it. This dance continues until after lunch when the girls relent and let the fat guys have some cool comfort. As much as I enjoy witnessing this dance of the dial, it costs me money. The two camps are in for a surprise. I am installing a smart thermostat which will learn the office habits to maximize efficiency. Additionally, the smart thermostat will go into a sleep mode at night before coming on in the morning before we arrive. The biggest surprise is there will be no more manual thermostat jousting. I’ll have the code for that so, this should be good.