Top 4 Things That Interfere With Central AC

Top 4 Things That Interfere With Central AC

 

By Carl Seville, Networx

Plenty of people who run central air conditioning systems in Houston (and other cities where  hot weather dominates the calendar) complain  about how their air conditioning  doesn’t do a good job keeping their  home comfortable, and, in most cases, they  are probably right.  There  are so many things that can and do go wrong  with central HVAC systems  that it’s tough to know where to start, but I’ll give  it a shot.

1. Leaky ducts

Probably  the single biggest cause of poor AC performance is leaky  ducts.  Ducts  are kind of like pipes – they move air through them and  deliver it at  the end.  We notice when our water pipes leak because we see  the damage  immediately, but we rarely see the effects of leaky ducts directly; rather it sneaks up on us over a long  period of time, and  many people never figure it out.  When ducts leak,  they let cool air out  into whatever space they are in, often the attic, which,  in case you  haven’t noticed, can get pretty hot in the summer.  Ducts need  to be  sealed at all the metal-to-metal and metal-to-flex connections – not at   the insulation.  Have someone pull back all the insulation and put a  nice  thick layer of goopy mastic at all the joints, then replace the   insulation.  Don’t use duct tape. It won’t work, and the metal tape   designed for ducts doesn’t do a whole lot better.

2. Too much or too little refrigerant charge

Something  else that can make your AC inefficient is the refrigerant  charge.   Traditional AC uses a refrigerant that transfers the heat between  the  inside and the outside.  Every system is designed to work efficiently   with a specific amount of refrigerant, and too often there is either too  much  or too little in the system.  A  good HVAC contractor can check the charge and either add or remove some to  make sure it is  set correctly.  A wrong charge can decrease the efficiency  by 20-30%, so  checking and fixing this can make a big difference.

3. Installing the wrong filter

Make sure you have the right filter installed.   Most HVAC systems  were designed to use one of those cheap fiberglass  filters to clean the  air.  Unfortunately, they don’t do a very good job  at it, so many people  go to their local hardware or big-box store and  buy a super-duper high  efficiency pleated paper filter GUARANTEED to  keep their air cleaner.  It  might actually keep the air cleaner, but it  also cuts down on the air flow,  making the whole system less efficient.   They can make the cooling coils  freeze, creating even bigger problems.   If you really need a good filter,  first seal the ducts to keep the air  in and the nasty stuff out, then get a 6  inch thick pleated filter which  fits into a special cabinet which your HVAC  contractor can install for  you. They do a good job filtering the air and don’t  cause the same  problems with the air flow.

4. Not enough return ducts

The  last thing I’m going to talk about is return ducts. Lots of HVAC   systems are installed with a single, large return somewhere in the  middle of  the house.  Each room has its own supply, but the air is  supposed to, sort  of magically, slide under the door and get back to the  big return duct to be  cooled again.  The problem is that the space  under the door usually isn’t  big enough, so the air doesn’t flow through  the whole house well enough to keep  things evenly cooled.  Some rooms  are hot, some are cold, and none are  just right.  Consider having an  HVAC contractor add some extra return  ducts in bedrooms and other rooms  with doors (except for bathrooms) to give you  better air flow and  increased comfort.

Notice that I haven’t said anything about  equipment efficiency.  That’s  what the manufacturers and installers talk  about, because they can make a lot  of money selling you fancy,  expensive air conditioners that are super  efficient.  The problem is, if  you put one of those on a system that is  otherwise pretty crappy, you  have wasted most of the super-duper efficiency you  paid for. Take care  of the more boring, tedious, and important things like  these first,  before you install new equipment.  You’ll be much happier,  and more  comfortable.  Then when you want to put in that super duper  equipment,  you’ll have a really good HVAC system.

Green Tip – 11 Tools to Detox Your Home

11 Tools to Detox Your Home

  • Annie B. Bond

Being a longtime chemically sensitive person means that I have a lot of tools up my sleeve for detoxing environmental problems. This list doesn’t include DIY fixes, such as using washing soda to peel petroleum-based wax off a floor, but it focuses mostly on products that you can buy that help reduce your exposure, day-to-day. Most of all, I recommend you use your head. Remember your common sense, pay attention to where chemicals are in your home, and think through some solutions.

Cotton Barrier Cloths–440 Thread Count
Make jackets to block chemicals from car seats, crib and other mattresses, and anything coverable that is offgassing fumes. Although hard it would be ideal to cover couches and stuffed chairs made before 2005, with barrier cloth, or anything else that could be impregnated with fire retardants and stain repellents. The chemicals, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, called PBDEs, are endocrine disrupters, neurotoxins, and more, and are found most frequently in polyurethane foam cushions and electronics.

HEPA Vacuums and Microfiber Cloths
A study of house dust in regular homes across the U.S. found that all was contaminated with these six chemical classes: phthalates (plasticizer), pesticides, alkylphenols (hormone disrupting surfactants), brominated flame retardants, organotins (powerful fungicides, pesticides and bacteriacides, rigid-food packaging PVC, silicon curing), and perfluorinated compounds (Teflon and stain-resistant chemicals). One of your very best ways of detoxing your house is by using the best filtering vacuum cleaner available, the HEPA vacuum. In the 1940s, HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters were invented to filter out radioactive dust particulate contaminants in bomb shelters during the atomic bomb tests. These filters were designed to capture particles down to 0.3 microns in size at efficiency ratings of 99.97 percent.

Microfiber Cloths
The fibers in these cleaning cloths are densely packed and designed with “hooks” to pull up dirt. They will help remove a significant amount of dust and without the additional use of a cleaning agent.

Seal Out Toxics
If you have cabinets, subflooring, or general furniture made of particle board, seal in the formaldehyde with SafeCoat Safety Seal.

Door Mat
Leave your shoes at the door? This subject seems to inspire very strong feelings in people, both pro and con. No matter what your opinion about it is, at least go with a door mat. Studies prove that we track lead, pesticides, and a whole lot more, into our homes on our shoes. An effective door mat, if people scrape the bottom of their shoes well before entering, will help reduce the amount of chemicals being tracked inside.

Your Nose
How does something smell? Like chemicals? Like an unhealthy natural material? Allow your nose to teach you about your surroundings. One good test is to pay attention to the first thing you smell on your re-entry into your home. When you have entered and been there for a few hours it is likely you won’t be aware of the smell any longer. Often the first thing you smell will alert you to an allergen or unhealthy chemical.

Tests
Especially when buying a house, it is important to have a series of tests done, including for radon, your water, pesticides (long-lasting pesticides such as chlordane), arsenic, and lead. There is some controversy about the effectiveness of lead swab tests, so heads up to have professional assessment of the lead in your home, and educate yourself about sources of lead in the home.

Gauss meter
I suggest people join up with some friends and buy a communal gauss meter, a gadget that costs about $170 and reads electromagnetic fields (EMFs). I used a gauss meter for my house and learned some very reassuring things about where the high levels of EMFs were found in my home (and that they fall off very quickly, within three to six feet from the appliance).

Aluminum Foil
I can’t tell you how many times I have used aluminum foil to seal in something that was outgassing toxic fumes. It is particularly handy if you are just moving into a home and a wall smells of spackle, or there is a lot of formaldehyde-based materials in the kitchen. Taping aluminum foil securely to cover the areas is a great temporary solution.

Acid and Base Awareness
I have found that the majority of odors are either alkaline or acidic. For example, if you are sensitive to perfume and someone spilled some in a guestroom of your house, what to do? I’ve found that much perfume is alkaline, so I suggest neutralizing it by spraying the area with white distilled vinegar, let it set for a few hours, and in my experience, the smell goes away. Acidic odors, meanwhile, can be neutralized by using baking soda. For example, soak clothes in 1 cup of baking soda to a load of laundry water, agitate every few hours, and then wash after a day’s soak. Or, famously, put an open box of baking soda in the refrigerator.

Water Filters
Buy water filters suited to your water situation, but filter your water. If you are on municipal water make sure you find a filter that remove chlorine, if you have well water, make sure you find a filter that removes bacteria.

Air Filters
Stay away from ozone filters (the EPA doesn’t recommend them) but consider an air filter, especially if a family member has allergies. Also make certain that you have a good air exchange in your home; consult with an expert about this issue if you are unsure.