What’s the difference between an air conditioner and a heat pump?

A question that we often get asked about is ‘what is the difference between an air conditioner and heat pump?’ To answer that question, there’s lots of mechanical differences internally that make up the difference.

What people are more interested to know is what is more applicable to their situation and ‘is there any advantages to owning one over the other?’ The question gets more complex when you consider the various parts of the country and what type of climate that it would go in and what your utility rates are, which will explain in a moment.

How the Heat Pump Works

When you have a heat pump, you’re able to utilize your heat pump to heat your home to a certain point before you have to utilize backup heat. The heat pump accomplishes this in the same way that it accomplishes air conditioning in the summer. The heat pump essentially runs in reverse and absorbs heat out of the outside and brings that heat into your home.

Depending on the model in the brand of the heat pump, a heat pump can absorb heat out of the outside air down to about 10 degrees below freezing, although that’s not normally where people have them set. The colder it gets outside, the less efficient a heat pump is and the longer has to run to bring heat into your house. So, depending on the climate and depending where you were, many times a heat pump is set to turn off of heating mode and revert back to your backup heat source at somewhere around the freezing mark or maybe 40 or 45° Fahrenheit. The problem if a heat pump is set too low and the utilities cost too much in the area that is being used, it will end up costing you much more money to heat your house versus the backup heat. So, in a nutshell, depending on what area that you are in or how expensive your backup heat source is, heat pump can be either good or bad investment.

Similarities between an Air Conditioner and a Heat Pump

The first thing to think about is an air conditioner and a heat pump, in the summertime, in cooling mode, are the exact same machine. Both units will cool your home by absorbing heat inside your house, bring in the heat to the outside of your house and the heat being dispensed. There’s no difference between a heat pump and an air conditioner in the middle of the summer. The difference is when it starts to get colder, the air conditioner is shut down and the backup heat source is usually a gas furnace.

Cost Differences between an Air Conditioner and a Heat Pump

Usually, a heat pump, on average, will cost a couple thousands dollars more than an air conditioner to put in, so, as long as you’re going to get savings of $500 or more per year by using the heat pump, then it’s worth it to put it in because you get your money back over a 3 or 4 year period, but if you’re only going to save about $100 per year, it could take you 20 years to get your money back out of the heat pump versus just putting in a conventional air conditioning.

Another point about heat pumps is, if you’re just doing it for the money savings and you don’t care about the air conditioning, they are a poor investment. It will always take too long to get money back out of it.

An exception to all these rules is if you’re in an area that your backup heat sources are quite expensive. So, if your natural gas is a backup heat source, you need to use oil propane or electric. Then, it’s usually much more energy efficient to use for heat pump right down to very low temperatures because the cost of the alternative backup heat being used is way too expensive. Many years ago the country used to be much more predominately heated with heat pumps, but with rising electricity rates, many people have switched over to just using air conditioners. I would say, for most parts the country, the better value is to just buy an air conditioner except in some circumstances. You have more questions, give us a call!

How to Choose the right HVAC company (And not get ripped off)

What’s the best way to not get ripped off when you’re getting your furnace or heating or cooling system repaired? Similar to getting their cars fixed, people are worried about buying good value when they’re getting their HVAC system repaired. So in this short article we will be showcasing how you can avoid being taken advantage of, and thus making a profit in no time. So, without further ado, let’s begin.

The very first thing that you should be looking at is finding a reputable company. A reputable company is likely not going to be the least expensive company out there though, so do keep that in mind. Believe it or not, one of the best ways to determine the quality of a company is by their online ratings. If somebody does poor work – or a company does poor work in general – keeping the ratings positive is practically impossible.

It should also be considered if a company has been around for a very short period of time – that’s not a good sign either. That may mean the company previously went out of business and restarted or they lack the experience to be considered a top tier choice. So, what you’ll want to do is you’ll want to go with the company that’s been around for a decent period of time.

One part during which people make mistakes most of the time is the part where they have to look for companies that are absolutely perfect. Let’s say for example that a company has five perfect reviews. That’s not enough reviews. You should be looking for a company with a lot more than that.

What matters much more than the complaint itself is how that company responded to the complaint. If they didn’t respond at all then that instantly means that they’re not trustworthy — Bad companies are not monitoring their reviews and they just ignore them at all times. Good companies — no matter what somebody says – write good responses to the reviews and make sure to refute every argument that the reviewer complained about.

Every industry has crazy customers. They’re probably at least one percent of the entire base of customers for any company out there. Sometimes problems come up that the company could not have prevented. What really matters more is how that company responded and how much they actually cared about their customers after the complaints were made. Good companies jump on these scenarios instantly. Good companies do everything in their power to make things right, regardless of being paid or not.

Good companies refund money if required. Good companies take their reputation very seriously. Good places to look: Angieslist, HomeStars, Better Business Bureau, and a variety of other ratings sites. You’ve done some review searching. You discover the company is decent. Surprisingly, the quality of the website is not indicative of the quality of the company.

There are a ton of old-fashioned companies that don’t do that well. What you’re going to want to do from there on out is you’ll want to contact the company and find out how much their rate is. If it’s a little bit higher than average, that may mean that you’re not going to get ripped on parts. At that point and time, get that company to come out to your home and have a look around.

You’re going to want to deal with the company and probably request from the service technician, that they don’t do anything until they’ve discovered what the problem is and explained it to you. Unfortunately, because there are many unscrupulous companies out there, I would suggest going with them the entire time just to make sure that you don’t stumble upon any problems.

If you have any base level of knowledge, like the names of some of the parts that you need, I would suggest talking as an informed customer. The more informed you are, the less likely you are to be taken advantage of by a company if it happens to be unscrupulous. As you’re watching them do their thing and they diagnose a part, get them to show you and explain exactly what’s going on.

There are two more ways that you can avoid being taken advantage of. They are the following:

  • If you’re unsure, maybe you can get somebody else on the phone and they can explain to the other person exactly what’s going on.
  • You can get them to leave the old parts that get replaced behind. All of these are deterrents towards you getting taken advantage of.

A point to note, if they immediately suggest that the unit should be replaced, be weary. It’s likely not true. The equipment should be replaced for a variety of reasons, but usually it doesn’t have to be replaced in most circumstances.

Why Is My Bedroom So Hot?

A cooling related question that we get asked often is“why is my bedroom so hot?”, so we decided to answer this question in a short article that explains everything there is to this issue.

The easy answer is that the heat is getting trapped inside your house, and then the heat rises so it goes upstairs and then it gets stuck in your bedroom. People want to open the windows and they want to turn their fans on but if it’s hot over the course of say, three days, the heat keeps building up in your house and it gets infused into everything. It’s not just the fact that the air is hot, your bed’s also hot, the carpet’s also hot, the walls are also hot. Even if you could turn some fans on and take the hot air out of your bedroom in a matter of minutes the heat would just return.

The only real way to make your bedroom and the rest of your house colder is by air conditioning. This process removes the heat from the air passing through your house and brings that heat outside.

A common misconception regarding air conditioning is that the air conditioner’s adding cold to your house. What it actually does is remove the heat from your house, so it has to run for quite a long period of time in order to completely finish this process. Basically, it cools down the air, then more heat gets pulled out of everything around it, aka the carpet, the walls and from everything else, then it cools down the air again. It keeps doing that on and off for a long period of time and eventually it gets all of the heat out of your house.

The main reason as to why your bedroom’s getting warmer and warmer is because there’s too much heat in your room that has come from other areas of your house and you need something to throw that heat out. The bigger the house, the worse the problem is.

Let’s say that for example, you have a three story house, or a four- story high house. This means that there’s a lot more heat that ends up on the top and the basement gets even colder. There are three different ways that you can overcome this, and they are the following:

You can make the air colder by running the furnace fan 24 hours a day, every single day of the week. The only problem with this technique is that it doesn’t really work on the long term. The air will eventually warm up anyway, which is where our second options comes in.

You can buy multiple portable air conditioners from the hardware store, or from Costco. To some degree, these do work. The only problem is the that since they are smaller, they are also less effective. This means that you’ll need to keep them on nonstop, and even though they do work better than the furnace fan, they tend to come with various nuisances, such as leaking water and making a mess or making too much noise

You can buy a whole home air conditioner. A whole home air conditioner will cool down your entire house which prevents the heat from rising upstairs to your bedroom in the first place. This is the most expensive of the options but if you want to get rid of the heated bedroom problem for good, then there really isn’t any other choice.

So, long story short, your only real solution is getting a whole home air conditioner. There are other solutions like ductless mini splits and there’s other niche solutions, but you’ll only need to resort to them if you can’t afford a whole home air conditioner.

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What’s the in-home experience of having a HVAC contractor at your house?

Something that home owners are concerned about that they don’t often express to us is that they’re not totally comfortable with having some strangers in their houses doing a job, so we just wanted to briefly go over what the experience is from the home owners’ perspective and what the experience is from the contractor perspective aka having somebody work at their house.

OFTEN times trades people are running late; the first part of the morning is sometimes a little bit slow for them to start off. They will get to your house and then they’ll start unloading their tools.

At the beginning of the job, the best thing that a contractor can start off with is to go over with you if there are any holes that need to get cut or if there’s a need for any serious modifications around the house. It’s best to do that right up front, because it lets the contractor know what they can do and what they can’t do.

If you don’t want a hole being drilled in a specific location, they can usually find an alternate path to suit your needs.

If the exhaust venting going to go out the side or the back of the house, which is often the case, the contractor needs to drill 2 or 3 inch holes to get the venting out.

There’s usually only a couple of spots that the exhaust pipe can go out through, so they need to pick the perfect spot for it. That’s how you can give some input and then you’ll end up with a job you like. If you’re planning on going out for the day or taking off somewhere, just get them to get any questions out the way right away. That way there won’t be any need for you to rush back to explain anything else.

After they decide the holes they just get down to work. If they’re taking the old furnace out of the house it’s probably best to let the contractor know, just in case, if you want anything covered up. They’ll use drop sheets where it is required, but if there’s anything that you specifically want to protect on the floor then let them know prior.

Usually the contractors and the employees of the contractors get along nicely, and they like to joke around a little bit with the customers because they’re good-natured people, as a general rule, so feel free to chat with them.

Even though they might decline it they always appreciate food and they appreciate customers that appreciate them, so if they’re doing a nice job and you bring them some cookies or something they’ll appreciate it.

You’re not obligated to give any tips or anything else; it’s not that type of industry. If you tell them they did a great job and the furnace looks great, that goes a long way to making them feel good.

After finishing the job they’ll collect their payment or get some paperwork signed off and that’s essentially the whole process in a nutshell. The length of the job completely depends on who’s actually going out and doing it, and what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, but usually for residential installations it’s around one day or less.

BEFORE YOU CALL FOR SERVICE DO THIS: My furnace is not working! Troubleshooting Tips

Being able to troubleshoot your own furnace will always come in handy. This can save you a lot of time, money and effort, since a lot of times the problems are not serious enough to require the assistance of a trained service technician or an expensive HVAC company to come to your home to have a look at your system. So, in this short article we’ll be showing you the basics of troubleshooting your own furnace.

The very first thing that you should do if you notice that it’s cold in your house is to make sure that the furnace power switch is on.

Key Points to look for:

  • The switch for the furnace is not at a normal height for light switches and they do that on purpose to try and differentiate them to make sure they don’t get turned off by accident.
  • The switches are often not put on the right way up, so up might mean off and down might mean on.
  • Make sure that the thermostat is actually calling for heat and make sure it’s not on some setting or program that makes it so it’s not calling for heat. If it’s a digital stat, you just turn the temperature up and make sure that it’s over and above what the setting is.
  • The next place I’d be looking is the main breaker switch, going out to the electrical panel, seeing if the breaker switch is off.
  • Sometimes you can’t immediately tell if the the breakers are on or off. If it’s labeled “furnace”, it doesn’t always mean that it’s actually the furnace. I would suggest looking for any breakers that have been turned off and making sure that it’s safe.

A lot of times people presume the furnace being out indicates that there’s something wrong with their thermostat because that’s the part of the system that they can see. I can tell you from experience that nine times out of ten it’s not the thermostat.

If it’s not the electrical power, I would be going and looking at the furnace to see if it sounds like the furnace is trying to run.

Another very common thing is the filters getting plugged so bad that the furnace overheats, so I’d suggest that you pull the furnace filter out and see if it’s plugged first.

If it is plugged, replace it with a clean filter, put the furnace back together and then just let it sit there. Sometimes it will overheat and go into a lock-out mode where it will sit off for a period of time before it tries again to reignite.Or, you can just turn the power switch off and on again will sometimes reset it.

If it’s not the power switch and it’s not the electrical, I would be looking to see if your furnace was designed to have a pilot light on it.

Regarding pilot lights:

  • Usually, before 1995 furnaces were designed to have a pilot light.
  • After 1995 they’d usually go to something like spark ignition or electronic ignition or other forms of things you won’t be able to fix yourself.

Regardless of what model you have, if the pilot light is out, that could be something you could fix yourself because there usually is a reason that the pilot light went out.

If the pilots out and it’s a furnace that needs a pilot light you can try re-lighting it. I’d say there’s an 80% chance that if the pilot went out, there’s probably a more serious reason as to why it went out and re-lighting it is just a temporary fix. You’re going to still need to do the actual repair because the pilot light will go out again by itself in a relatively short period of time.

If you’ve tried all of that and it’s still not coming on, then it’s about time that you pull out your phone and call a service technician to handle it.

If it’s a newer furnace it could be about a hundred different things, including venter motors and gas valves and control boards and all sorts of various things that you may or may not feel comfortable working on yourself.

Usually for that kind of stuff you want somebody else to diagnose it because if you’re wrong, or the service company is wrong, then they’re going to have to pay for the part that they just ordered incorrectly.

I’d say that if it’s not one of the basics (you have a good 10-15% chance to fix it yourself for free), get yourself some help and phone an HVAC company to help you out.

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