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Consumer Ed
 
Energy Usage Tips:

Heating Tips

Heat Pumps

Heat Pump Tips

How BTUs and EERs Work

The 10 Most Dangerous Toxins in Your Household By Claude Morgan

The short list of toxins under your roof may surprise you

Safety Tips When Dealing With Natural Gas

If You Smell Natural Gas


How to Choose a Contractor
 
 
 
Energy Usage Tips:
 
Introduction
Heating and cooling your home uses more energy and drains more energy dollars than any other system in your home. Typically, 44% of your utility bill goes for heating and cooling. No matter what kind of heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system you have in your house, you can save money and increase comfort by properly maintaining and upgrading your equipment. Remember, though, an energy efficient furnace or air-conditioner alone will not have as great an impact on your energy bills as using the whole house approach. By combining proper equipment maintenance and upgrades with appropriate insulation, weatherization and thermostat setting, you can cut your energy bills in half.

All major appliances including gas furnaces, boilers, air conditioners and heat pumps sold in California meet the Title-24 energy efficiency "standards." If you are thinking about purchasing a new central furnace, please check out our Appliance Database that lists the most energy-efficient models. This database will eventually be interactive allowing you to compare models.
 
Heating Tips
 
* Set your thermostat as low as it is comfortable.
* Check and if needed Clean or Replace filters on furnaces once a month (4.5" thick pleated every 3-6 months)
* Clean warm-air registers, baseboard heaters and radiators as needed; make sure they're not blocked by furniture, carpeting or drapes.
* Use kitchen, bath and other ventilating fans wisely; in just one hour, these fans can pull out a houseful of warmed or cooled air. Turn fans off as soon as they have done the job.
* Keep draperies and shades open on south-facing windows during the heating season to allow sunlight to enter your home; close them at night to reduce the chill you may feel from >cold windows.
* Close an unoccupied room that is isolated from the rest of the house such as in a corner and turn down the thermostat or turn off the heating for that room or zone. Do not, however, turn the heating off if it adversely affects the rest of your system.
 
 
Heat Pumps
 
If you use electricity to heat your home, consider installing an energy efficient heat pump system. Heat pumps are the most efficient for of electric heating in moderate climates, providing three times more heating than the equivalent amount of energy they consume in electricity. There are three types of heat pumps: air-to-air, water source and ground source. They collect heat from the air, water or ground outside your home and concentrate it for use inside. Heat pumps do double duty as a central air conditioner. They can also cool your home by collecting the heat inside your house and effectively pumping it outside. A heat pump can trim the amount of electricity you use for heating as much as 30% to 40%.

The most common heat pump efficiency measurement is called the Coefficient of Performance, or COP. Coefficient of Performance, or COP. COP is the ratio of the heat pump's BTU heat output to the BTU electrical input.
 
Heat Pump Tips
 
* Do not set back the heat pump's thermostat manually if it causes the electric resistance heating to come on. This type of heating, which is often used as a backup to the heat pump, is more expensive.
* Clean or change filters once a month or as needed and maintain the system according to manufacturer's instructions.
 
How BTUs and EERs Work
 
Most air conditioners have their capacity rated in BTUs, or British Thermal Units. A BTU is, generally, the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water one degree F. Specifically, a BTU is 1,055 joules, but the first definition is easier to understand in real-life terms. One "ton", in heating and cooling terms, is 12,000 BTUs. A typical window air conditioner that you find at K-mart might be rated at 10,000 BTUs. What that means is that the air conditioner has the ability to cool 10,000 pounds of water (about 1,200 gallons) one degree in one hour. Or it could cool 5,000 pounds 2 degrees in one hour. Or 2,500 pounds 4 degrees in one hour, and so on.

Not many of us live in aquariums, so knowing how much water an air conditioner can cool is not much use. To get a very rough idea of how much air can be cooled, take the fact that a cubic foot of water weighs about 63 pounds. Water is about 6,300 times denser than air. So 100 cubic feet of air weighs about a pound. A typical bedroom contains about 1,000 cubic feet of air, or 10 pounds of air. That means (ignoring differences in heat capacity) that a 10,000 BTU air conditioner can lower the temperature of a bedroom, if it is perfectly insulated, by 10 degrees in just a couple of minutes. It is not the case that the room is perfectly insulated (in fact many rooms have little or no insulation) but what that tells you is that you probably do not need a 10,000 BTU air conditioner for a typical 10' x 12' bedroom. For comparison, you can happily cool an insulated 2,000 square foot house with a 5 ton (60,000 BTU) or so system, implying that you might need perhaps 30 BTU per square foot. Keep in mind that these are all rough estimates and you should not rely on any of this information to size your home's air conditioner - ask a HVAC contractor.

The EER (Energy Efficiency Rating) of an air conditioner is its BTU rating over its wattage. For example, if a 10,000 BTU air conditioner consumes 1,200 watts, its EER is 10,000/1,200 = 8.3. Obviously you would like the EER to be as high as possible, but normally a higher EER is accompanied by a higher price. How do you decide if the higher EER is worth it?

Let's say that you have a choice between two 10,000 BTU units. One has an EER of 8.3 and consumes 1,200 watts and the other has an EER of 10 and consumes 1,000 watts. Let's also say the price difference is $100. To understand what the payback period is on the more expensive unit you need to know: 1. Approximately how many hours per year you will be operating the unit 2. How much a kilowatt-hour (KWH) costs in your neighborhood

Let's say that you plan to use the air conditioner in the summer (4 months a year) and it will be operating about 6 hours a day. Let's also imagine that a kilowatt-hour costs 10 cents in your neighborhood. The difference in energy consumption between the two units is 200 watts, which means that every 5 hours the less expensive unit will consume one more KWH (and therefore one more dime) than the more expensive unit. Assuming there are 30 days in a month, you find that during the summer you are operating the air conditioner 4 months * 30 days/month * 6 hours per day = 720 hours. 720 hours * 200 watts/hour / 1000 watts/KW *0.10 cents/KW = $14.40. Since the more expensive unit costs $100 more, that means that it will take about 7 years for the more expensive unit to break even.
 
The 10 Most Dangerous Toxins in Your Household By Claude Morgan
 
It's official: Staying home is hazardous to your health. Toxins found in the home injured 789,000Americans between 1992 and 1995, and new research suggests that this figure is underestimated.
"Toxins in U.S. homes now account for 90 percent of all reported poisonings each year," says Rose Ann Soloway, administrator of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. That's an epidemic of hazardous living by any standard. And while these figures include everything from non-fatal aspirin overdoses to the deadly consumption of drain cleaners, they fail to include long-term exposure to toxins like lead and asbestos.

To address the climbing domestic injury rates associated with household toxins, Congress and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in 1992 created the Unintentional Injury Center to focus on the health dangers of consumer goods and modern home living. Other federal agencies are followingsuit. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) now has branches which deal with home indoor air quality, lead exposure and ubiquitous low-level toxicity, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development publishes a pollution look-out list for first-time homebuyers.
 
The short list of toxins under your roof may surprise you:
 
* Formaldehyde offgasses (evaporates) from cushions, particleboard and adhesives used to manufacture most inexpensive wood-based products. Carpets and carpet cushions may also offgas formaldehyde, causing eye and upper respiratory irritation. According to the EPA, formaldehyde may even cause cancer;
* Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S., warns the Surgeon General. Radon is a natural radioactive gas which can seep into homes through cracks in the basement, the surrounding foundation, and in well water. It enters the body quietly through the airway;
* Lead keeps epidemiologists returning to the drawing board, says Soloway, "mostly because we know more now about the adverse effects of low-level exposure." Levels once thought to be acceptable are now known contributors to learning disabilities and behavioral problems. Lead is found in paint in older houses, old
 
plumbing, and soil near highways and busy roads. It causes neurological and kidney damage, high blood pressure, disrupted blood cell production, and reproductive problems; * Carbon monoxide will kill an estimated 660 Americans this year. Don't look for exhaust fumes in the attached garage; the biggest culprit is the unserviced furnace burning propane, butane or oil;
* Arsenic is still laced in many household pesticides and is increasingly used as a wood preservative. Low levels of inorganic arsenic "may increase lung cancer risk," according to the CDC. The Department of Health and Human Services agrees, adding arsenic compounds to the list of known carcinogens;
* Vinyl chloride is the source of "new car smell": The plastic interior of a new car offgasses this known carcinogen. Water sitting in PVC pipes overnight may be steeping into a toxic tea. Very large exposures can lead to "vinyl chloride disease," which causes severe liver damage and ballooning of the fingertips;

* Hydrofluoric acid "can cause intense pain and damage to tissues and bone if the recommended gloves happen to have holes in them," says Soloway. This highly corrosive substance is the active ingredient in many household rust removers; But even the most liberal list of known toxins pales next to the order of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs comprise hundreds of natural and man-made, carbon-based agents. They react quickly with other carbon-based compounds, and evaporate easily, making them ideal solvents. VOCs can be found in disinfectants and pesticides too.
* Solvents: Benzene and methyl ethyl ketone traverse cell walls unchecked by normal cell defenses. Both are known carcinogens. Cousins toluene, xylene, 1,1,1-trichloroethane (TCA) and trichloroethylene (TCE) make up the lion's share of the solvent market;
* Disinfectants: Phenols, which include biphenyl, phenolics and the preservative pentachloraphenol, are found in disinfectants, antiseptics, perfumes, mouthwashes, glues and air fresheners;
* Pesticides: Chlordane, aldrin, dieldrin, though all banned for nearly two decades, continue to show up airborne in older houses.

Don't be a statistical figure on the CDC's tracking list: Be aware of what substances, from pesticides to cleaners, pose real threats in your household. Maintain ingredient awareness. Many poisonings still occur because of product combinations, like the ammonia chlorine bleach reaction, which produces the deadly respiratory irritant chloramine (a problem labeling practices have not addressed). Replace toxic agents with non-toxic alternatives. Above all, educate your household to reduce risk and exposure. For practical ideas on reducing risk, consult the following books: Living Healthy in a Toxic World by David Steinman and R. Michael Wisner (Berkley, 1996); Toxins A-Z: A Guide to Everyday Pollution Hazards by John Harte, Cheryl Holdren, Richard Schneider, and Christine Shirley (University of California, 1991); Home Safe Home: Protecting Yourself and Your Family from Everyday Toxics and Harmful Household Products by Debra L. Dadd (Putnam, 1997).
 
Safety Tips When Dealing With Natural Gas
 
*Follow directions from the manufacturer for using and taking care of gas appliances. Seek professional help when necessary.
*Keep combustibles such as papers, fluids, paints, curtains and rags away appliances.
*Keep gas ranges clean, make sure burner bowls are free of used matches, grease, paper, etc.
*Have a fire extinguisher near gas appliances at all times. Use a CO2 or dry-chemical extinguisher for the kitchen.
*Teach children never to light or play with the controls of any gas appliances.
*Keep the pilot lights of your gas range lit. If you put them out to save energy, a dangerous gas build-up can occur if someone accidentally turns on the range.
*Look for a certification seal when purchasing a new gas appliance. This ensures that the equipment design meets strict safety standards.
*Never use your gas range to heat your home or apartment. This practice creates a serious fire hazard and puts you and your family at risk from dangerous carbon monoxide fumes.
 
If You Smell Natural Gas
 
*Open windows or doors and leave the facility.
*Do not look for the source of the smell with any open flame (even using a flashlight could be dangerous).
*If the smell is very strong, or you hear a blowing or hissing noise, leave immediately.
*Do not use anything that could generate a spark
*Do not use the telephone
*Do not turn light switches or equipment using electricity on or off.
*Do not turn vehicle ignitions on or off.
*Go to a neighboring phone and call the fire department or 911.
 

How Do I Choose the Right Contractor?

You’re about to make a big decision - one that most people only make a few times in their lives. This pamphlet will help you with this process. Learn how the right contractor can make all the difference in making sure your new heating and/or air conditioning system will work even better than the old one, last a long time, save you money, and improve your comfort. Find out how to choose a contractor that will give you the knowledge to make an informed decision about the system you’ll buy.

How to Choose the Right Contractor

It’s A System!

Buying a new furnace or air conditioner is not like buying a new refrigerator that you bring home, and simply plug into the wall. The equipment is only one component of a system that’s been custom designed, fabricated and installed into your home.

Other components include your ductwork, registers, grilles, dampers, accessories and more. Each of these components should be evaluted together. Some contractors want to just change your box, take the money and run. NCI certified contractors take the time to evaluate the whole system so you can make a truly informed decision.
 

How do I decide?

Good information is critical when making any important decision. An NCI certified c o n t r a c t o r carefully tests and evaluates your system using state of the art diagnostic instruments. Your understanding of the condition your home’s heating and air conditioning system will increase dramatically as he shares with you the specific knowledge he acquires as he tests. By investing a little time in understanding your system you will be much more comfortable making a decision based on this knowledge.
 
     
What difference does it make?

Millions of frustrated homeowners invest thousands of dollars each year in brand new equipment, only to discover they still have high utility bills, comfort issues, poor indoor air quality - even safety concerns with their heating equipment. No contractor can assure you comfort and efficiency by simply replacing your equipment. In order to fulfill their promises, they must test, adjust, measure and balance your system. These steps are what set NCI certified contractors apart from the rest of the industry.
 
     
So how do I know I made a good decision?

You know you’ve made a good decision when you selected a contractor that helped you understand your system is more than just a piece of air conditioning or heating equipment that automatically works. When you find someone that takes the time to look at the whole system, the rest of the benefits usually follow. You can be confident the quality will be good, that he will do what he says he will, and you’ll get what you paid for. When a contractor provides measured results, you can be assured that you will get the comfort, safety and efficiency you paid for. Find someone that cares enough to measure the invisible results of his work and you’ll know you made the right decision.
 
     
 
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

QUESTION: What’s the most important attribute I can look for in a contractor?
ANSWER: Trust. You can tell a lot about any contractor by how they deal with you before you “sign the contract.” Your participation in the buying process should lead you to trust them before you agree to do business together.

QUESTION: What kinds of things should the contractor be looking at?
ANSWER: Most of what you buy from a heating and air conditioning contractor is invisible. The list includes warmth, cooling, air movement, energy efficiency, safety, clean air, and most important, comfort. NCI certified contractors measure these invisibles and provide reports that assure that you get what was promised. Make sure your contractor has the ability to do this for you.

QUESTION: How can I get a low price?
ANSWER: You can always buy less. Remember, you’re the one who makes the decision about what to buy. But once you clearly see what you’re buying, you’ll often want more. Low price rarely assures long-term satisfaction – especially when buying a custom built product that you’ll have to live with for many years.

QUESTION: What questions should I ask my contractor?
ANSWER: There are the basic ones like “How much?” and “When will you be done?” and “What am I getting for my money?” But a good contractor should educate you until you are comfortable enough to make a good decision. Ask him what questions he would ask if he were you. Feel free to discuss your needs until you’re comfortable he is addressing them.
 

Home Comfort Reports®

Home Comfort Reports® Consumer Information Series is a service of National Comfort Institute, Inc. NCI is the largest training and certification organization in the US in the areas of home comfort diagnostics, air balancing, indoor air quality (IAQ), combustion efficiency and carbon monoxide safety.

This information series was created to help consumers make informed decisions about their air conditioning and heating system purchases so they can achieve the comfort, safety and performance they desire.
 
 


©2009-10 NCI, Inc.