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HVAC System Buyers Q&A

 

Why do I need to "match" my condensing unit and indoor coil?

Imagine you have four old, worn-out tires on your car and you decide you only want to replace two of them. You can still drive your car, but you'll soon be disappointed with the inconsistent handling and the poor mileage you get. The unmatched tires simply aren't capable of the same level of performance. You could have these same kinds of problems with comfort and efficiency if the components of your central air conditioning or heat pump system are not properly matched.

It takes teamwork.

Your central air conditioning or heat pump system is a split system. That means it consists of two parts: an indoor unit (coil) and outdoor (condensing) unit. These two parts are specifically designed to work together as a coordinated "team" to provide top performance and maximum efficiency and comfort. Plus, since both components are necessary for a working system, both parts of your existing system were originally installed at the same time - which means they both wear out at the same time. So if you install a new outdoor unit, be sure to include a new, equally efficient "matched" indoor unit.

When a bargain's not a bargain.

If you don't replace your indoor unit, you won't be getting what you paid for. In fact, your system could be up to 15% less efficient than stated - and you'll be less comfortable, too. That's why simply replacing just the outdoor unit isn't a bargain in the long run.

Replacing the outdoor unit but leaving the old indoor unit may offer you the lowest price, but it won't give you the best value. At best, when your air conditioning or heat pump components don't match, you'll be sacrificing comfort. The system may still "work," but it won't perform up to the promised energy efficiency. Over time, this will also cost you more money. At worst, when the components aren't matched, it could create undue stress on your cooling system, resulting in unnecessary, premature failure.

Matched Systems Mean Maximum Satisfaction.

When you consider the sacrifices and the added costs of repairing or replacing these unmatched units, installing a matched system the first time around makes good sense. You'll get higher efficiencies, greater reliability and more comfort. And that's a real bargain.

New Warranty

A new unit also gives you a new product warranty. Replacing the indoor unit at the same time as the outdoor unit results in peace of mind, knowing the new warranty covers the entire system.

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How do heating and cooling systems work?

How do heat and energy recovery ventilators work?
How do thermostats work?
How do zoning systems work?
How do heat pumps and central air conditioners work?
How do furnaces and boilers work?

 

How do heat and energy recovery ventilators work?

While today's energy-efficient homes do a great job of keeping heated or cooled air in, they also seal in stale, recirculated air. A ventilating system solves the problem of stale air by bringing fresh air into tightly constructed homes without wasting precious energy. Heat Recovery Ventilators recover heat energy during the heating season; Energy Recovery Ventilators recover both heating and cooling energy year-round.

Every home contains a certain amount of unhealthy gases from a variety of sources - building materials, the earth under your home, your heating and cooling system, and even people, who breathe out carbon dioxide. The easiest way to get fresh air into your home, of course, is to fling open a window. The problem is that you lose expensive heated or cooled air in the process.

A ventilator allows your home to "breathe" by bringing healthy, fresh air inside in a controlled way. Before it removes stale air from your home, it also recovers much of the heat or cooling energy through the use of a heat exchanger. Then, it transfers that heat or cooling directly to the fresh outdoor air it draws in. Best of all, the ventilator does this without ever mixing the two air streams. The incoming air stays fresh. And you maintain your heating or cooling system's energy efficiency.

Carrier ventilators are controlled by a convenient wall-mounted control unit, and have three comfort modes. The recirculation mode recycles indoor air continuously and exchanges air only when humidity exceeds the desired level. This setting allows homeowners with baseboard heat to enjoy the advantages of a forced-air heating system. In the continuous mode, the unit replaces indoor air with fresh outdoor air 24 hours a day. The intermittent mode provides the greatest economy, with the unit turning on only when humidity levels exceed the desired level.

Making a ventilator part of your home comfort system is like being able to open a window in every room even on the hottest or coldest days ... without the drafts, the humidity or the high energy costs. It's literally a breath of fresh air.

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How do thermostats work?

Thermostats help your heating and cooling equipment maintain the optimal temperature setting with the utmost energy efficiency. Today's electronic models are a vast departure from earlier mechanical styles. Microprocessors allow you to program your home temperatures to suit your lifestyle, so you can keep things comfortable while you're home and automatically set back your temperatures to save energy when you're away or sleeping.

Electronic thermostats work in much the same way as older, manual thermostats did. The microprocessor inside compares the thermometer reading of a room's temperature to the desired temperature you select. Then, it gives start and stop commands to the heating or cooling system to bring the temperature to a level that makes you comfortable.

Programmable thermostats basically work the same way, but they are far more convenient. Once you program the thermostat to customize the system's operation to fit your lifestyle and schedule, all you have to do is relax and let it do all the work. You simply program into its memory the temperatures you need, at what time of the day, to stay comfortable and save energy all season. You only need to program it once - until the season or your lifestyle changes.

The most important way that a programmable thermostat saves energy is in its setback feature. When you don't need a normal level of heating or cooling, you can program the thermostat to set the temperature back until the next pre-programmed time when you want normal temperatures. Programming temperatures around 63 F on cold winter nights, when you're snuggled under blankets, can help you save as much as 15% on your heating costs. You can save even more by programming your system to "setback" the temperature when your family is away at work, at school, or on vacation. In summer, setbacks work much the same way for central air conditioning.

For information on how to program your thermostat to fit your home's needs and your lifestyle, refer to your owner's manual or call Geisel.

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How do zoning systems work?

In the same way that a single thermostat controls when the temperatures in your home change, a Carrier zoning system controls where they change.

With zoning and programmable thermostats, you can actually divide your home into two, three, four or up to eight separate "zones" with similar comfort needs. Then, a system of electronic thermostats and electronically controlled dampers automatically adjusts the level of comfort in each of those zones.

A zoning system gives you the same kind of flexibility in controlling heating and cooling that you have with light switches in your home. It doesn't make sense to waste energy to light a room no one's using, so you turn off the light switch, right? With zoning you can basically do the same thing with heating and cooling - increasing your comfort tremendously and enjoying huge savings on your energy bills.

Zoning is especially beneficial if you have certain rooms or areas that are always warmer or cooler than the rest of the home. You can direct your system to automatically provide more heating or cooling to that area without wasting energy to heat or cool your entire home.

In many cases, proper zoning can result in operating cost savings of as much as 30%. While zoning does not actually increase the efficiency of your furnace, heat pump or air conditioner, it does increase the overall efficiency of your system by directing heating or cooling only where you need it. Plus, since you don't need extra capacity to heat or cool areas you're not using, zoning may allow you to install a smaller unit. Smaller-capacity equipment costs less to install and to operate. That translates into even more savings!

To find out how zoning could make you more comfortable and reduce your energy costs, contact Geisel.

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How do heat pumps and central air conditioners work?

Comfort Features

While heat pumps and air conditioners require the use of some different components in your heating and cooling system, they operate on the same basic principles.

Heat pumps and central air conditioners are "split systems," which means that there is an outdoor unit (condenser) and an indoor unit (coil). The job of the heat pump or air conditioner is to transport heat from one "station" to the other. The "vehicle" your system uses to carry the heat is called refrigerant.

In air conditioning operation, the compressor in your outdoor unit will change the gaseous refrigerant into a high temperature, high pressure gas. As that gas flows through the outdoor coil it will lose heat and condense into a high temperature, high pressure liquid. The liquid refrigerant travels through copper tubing into the evaporator coil located in your fan coil unit or attached to your furnace. The liquid refrigerant is then allowed to expand. This sudden expansion turns the refrigerant into a low temperature, low pressure gas. The gas then absorbs heat from the air circulating in the duct work, leaving it full of cooler air to be distributed throughout your house. Meanwhile, the low temperature, low pressure refrigerant gas returns to the compressor to begin the cycle all over again.

While it's keeping you cool, your air conditioner or heat pump also works as an effective dehumidifier. As warm air passes over the indoor evaporator coil, it can no longer hold as much moisture as it carried at its higher temperatures. The extra moisture condenses on the outside of the coils and is carried away through a drain. The process is similar to what happens when moisture condenses on the outside of a glass of ice water on a hot, humid day.

A heat pump basically reverses that process in cold weather. It takes heat out of the outside air (or the ground, if you have a ground-source heat pump) and moves it inside, where it is transferred from the evaporator coil to the air circulating through your home.

Where does a heat pump get the heat to warm your home when it's cold outside? Well, to a heat pump, cold is a relative term. Even though 35 F air may feel cold to humans, it actually contains a great deal of heat. The temperature at which air no longer has any heat is well below -200 F. A heat pump's heat exchanger can squeeze heat out of cold air, then transfer that heat into your home with the help of a fan coil or a furnace, which circulates the warm air through your ducts.

Heat pumps are often installed with back-up electric resistance heat or a furnace to handle heating requirements when more heat is needed than the heat pump can efficiently extract from the air. Carrier also offers a Smart Heat accessory package that provides back-up electrical heat in stages. This option allows homeowners to enjoy the energy-saving benefits of a heat pump and still maintain comfortable indoor temperatures as outdoor temperatures gradually drop.

Energy Saving Features

Some air conditioners and heat pumps offer additional features that provide greater comfort (as well as additional energy savings). Two-speed units can run on low speed (using 50% of the energy) up to 80% of the time, so they operate more quietly and run for longer periods of time than single-speed models. Longer operating periods translate into fewer on/off cycles, fewer drafts and much smaller temperature swings -- only two or three degrees instead of the four-degree swings common with single-speed units. Plus, better air circulation helps prevent air "stratification" - warm air rising to the ceiling and cold air settling on the floor. In short, you get consistent, even cooling throughout your home. If you purchase a multi-speed or variable-capacity furnace or fan coil with your unit, you will enhance both the comfort and the efficiency of your air conditioning or heat pump system even further.

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How do furnaces and boilers work?

Comfort Features

Gas- and oil-fired furnaces provide warm, even heat throughout your home by circulating heated air through ducts. The heat is created by burning the fuel (gas or oil) inside your furnace. (Some furnaces use outside air to help burn the fuel; others use air from inside your home.) When the fuel burns, the hot gases that are created go through curved metal tubing called a heat exchanger and then out of your home through a metal or plastic vent pipe. At the same time, the air that circulates through your ducts passes over the outside of the heat exchanger and takes on the heat from the hot metal. The warm air is then circulated through your home. (By keeping combustion air and supply air separate, the heat exchanger allows the air in your home to be heated without contaminating it with the toxic by-products of combustion.)

Boilers create heat the same way but instead of heating air they typically heat your home by circulating steam or heated water through a system of pipes and baseboard or radiator-type heat exchangers.

Energy Saving Features

Some furnaces offer additional features that provide greater comfort (as well as additional energy savings). Two-speed furnaces can run on low speed up to 80% of the time, so they operate more quietly and run for longer periods of time than single-speed furnaces. Longer operating periods translate into fewer on/off cycles, fewer drafts and much smaller temperature swings -- only one or two degrees instead of the four-degree swings common with single-speed furnaces. Plus, better air circulation helps prevent air "stratification" - warm air rising to the ceiling and cold air settling on the floor. In short, you get consistent, even heat throughout your home.

Variable-capacity furnaces provide the ultimate combination of comfort, efficiency and quiet performance. In addition to the benefits of two-speed furnaces, they offer "smart" motors than can monitor your home's comfort needs and automatically adjust the volume and speed of air to provide the most efficient heating or cooling. They offer added electrical efficiency as well: the "smart" fan motors on Carrier's variable-capacity furnaces use less electricity than a 100-watt light bulb. They operate so efficiently that they can actually increase the efficiency rating of your central air conditioning system and offer you added energy savings when you use continuous fan operation in any season.

If you'd like to know more about topics like efficiency, go to What should I look for in a new furnace?

 

How do I compare the performance of heating and cooling products?

There are basically three ways you can compare the performance of different models and brands: (1) How much energy they use to heat or cool your home Efficiency; (2) How much you notice their presence Sound Levels; and (3) How they make you feel Comfort.

Efficiency

Furnaces
Heat pumps and air conditioners

 

Furnaces. The efficiency of a furnace is measured in a rating known as AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency). A lot like your car's miles per gallon rating, AFUE tells you how efficiently the furnace converts fuel (gas or oil) into heat. An AFUE of 80% means that 80% of the fuel is used to heat your home, while the other 20% basically goes up the chimney.

In 1992, the government established a minimum AFUE rating for furnaces installed in new homes at 78%. (In contrast, many furnaces manufactured before 1992 had AFUE ratings as low as 60% - so nearly half the fuel was being wasted.) Furnaces with AFUE ratings of 78% to 80% are considered "mid-efficiency"; those with ratings of 90% or higher are known as "high efficiency." The maximum furnace efficiency available is around 96.6%.

In general, the higher the efficiency of the furnace, the more it will cost but the less fuel it will use to heat your home. If you have an older furnace (with an AFUE of about 60%), you could save up to 60% on your heating bills by replacing it with a new high-efficiency furnace. So the cost to replace your old, inefficient furnace is paid back through lower utility bills.

If you live in a cold climate, you could see a payback in a few short years. If you live in a moderate climate, it might make more sense to purchase a mid-efficiency furnace. Your dealer can use heating data from your area to help you determine about how long it would take you to recover the additional cost of a high-efficiency model in energy savings. (Of course, after the payback, you continue to save on your energy bills for the life of the system.)

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Heat pumps and air conditioners. Cooling efficiency for air conditioners and heat pumps is indicated by a SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) rating, which tells you how efficiently a unit uses electricity. The higher the number, the greater the efficiency.

The typical SEER rating of units manufactured prior to 1992 is about 6.0. In 1992, the government established the minimum cooling efficiency standard for units installed in new homes at 10.0 SEER. High-efficiency units have a SEER of at least 12.0; the maximum available is about 17.

Heat pumps also have heating efficiency ratings, indicated as an HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor). In general, the higher the HSPF rating, the less electricity the unit will use to heat your home.

The 1992 government minimum heating efficiency standards for new heat pumps is 6.8 HSPF. Most heat pumps manufactured before 1992 have HSPF ratings below 5.0. Today, an HSPF of 7.5 or higher is considered "high-efficiency"; the maximum available is 10.0. (If you want to get real technical, the actual heating efficiency of air-source heat pumps is well over 100%, because they "steal" heat energy from the outside air - instead of using just electricity - to heat your home. So you get much more out of them than you put in.)

As with furnaces, higher efficiency in heat pumps and air conditioners usually means higher cost but lower utility bills. If you live in a warm and/or humid climate, you will probably see the higher cost of a high-efficiency air conditioner or heat pump paid back (through lower utility bills) in a few short years. Ask your dealer to help you determine about how long it would take you to recover the additional cost in energy savings. Of course, after the payback, you continue to save on your energy bills.

There's one other factor that affects the efficiency of your air conditioning or heat pump system: the indoor coil. (Your heat pump or air conditioner is a "split system," which means that there is an outdoor unit, or condenser, and an indoor unit, or evaporator coil.) If your condensing unit is not matched with the proper indoor coil, it may not give you the stated SEER and/or HSPF ratings and could even develop performance problems. (It's kind of like putting two new tires on one side of your car and leaving the old, worn-out ones on the other side. You'd probably be disappointed with both the performance and the miles per gallon you get.) When you're replacing an existing system, make sure you replace both units so your new condensing unit will give you optimal performance, efficiency and comfort.

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Sound Levels

                    Furnaces
                         Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps

 

Furnaces. There isn't a standard sound rating system for furnaces like the bel system for condensing units, so it's difficult to compare models.

However, models that have two-speed or variable-speed operation typically also offer lower operating sound levels, because there is less noise from the blower motor and from air turbulence at lower speeds. Carrier's variable-capacity models even have a "ramp-up" feature that gradually introduces warm air into your ducts, helping prevent the "creaking" noises that come from ducts expanding and contracting.

Since two-speed and variable-capacity models normally run on "low" speed up to 90% of the time, you'll find they're a sound solution when you want to enjoy peace and quiet.

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Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps. There's a good chance you won't ever think about the sound level of your air conditioner or heat pump ... until, that is, you try to enjoy a quiet conversation with some friends in your back yard. Sometimes noise from condensing (outdoor) units even interferes with your peace and quiet indoors, so it's a factor you should at least look at when you're comparing different models.

The sound level of outdoor units is measured in bels (similar to decibels), on a scale from 0 (barely perceptible sound) to 13 (the threshold of pain). Most air conditioners and heat pumps operate at 8 to 9 bels; some units' ratings are as low as 6.8. That may not sound like a wide range, but consider this: 9 bels sounds 10 times louder than 8 bels. That means one 9-bel air conditioner is as loud as 10 units rated at 8 bels. So we think taking the time to compare bel ratings is pretty sound advice.

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Comfort

Furnaces
Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps

 

Furnaces.

For furnaces, the same features of multi-capacity models that provide lower sound levels also enhance your comfort. By operating on low speed up to 90% of the time, two-speed furnaces run for longer periods of time than single-speed furnaces. That means fewer on/off cycles, fewer drafts (from the blower kicking on) and much smaller temperature swings -- only one or two degrees instead of the four-degree swings common with single-speed furnaces. Plus, better air circulation helps prevent air "stratification" - warm air rising to the ceiling and cold air settling on the floor. In short, you get consistent, even heat throughout your home.

 

Variable-capacity furnaces also offer "smart" motors than can monitor your home's comfort needs and automatically adjust the volume and speed of air to provide the greatest comfort and the most efficient heating or cooling. They provide the ultimate combination of comfort, efficiency and quiet performance.

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Air Conditioners and Heat Pumps.

Some air conditioners and heat pumps offer additional features that provide greater comfort. Two-speed units can run on low speed (using 50% of the energy) up to 80% of the time, so they offer the same benefits as multi-capacity furnaces - fewer on/off cycles, fewer drafts and much smaller temperature swings. You also get better air circulation, for even, consistent cooling and/or heating throughout your home. Plus, if you purchase a multi-speed or variable-capacity furnace or fan coil with your unit, you will enhance both the comfort and the efficiency of your air conditioning or heat pump system even further.

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