Best Heating and Cooling Options for a Finished Basement

710673 - nicey decorated full finished basement in a model home
710673 – nicely decorated full finished basement in a model home

Are you considering adding some living space below ground or have you recently completed a remodel?  If so at some point you’ll need to give consideration to how best to heat and cool this added space.  Luckily this is typically a pretty straight-forward decision with the existing home factors making the determination.  Things such as the climate you live in, the capacity of your existing HVAC system, the size of the newly finished space and others will dictate the heating and cooling plan.

Tying in to the existing HVAC system is the most common, and generally most affordable, option.  A qualified HVAC technician will need to review the current set-up to ensure the system has the capacity to cover the additional space as well as compensate for the generally cooler temperature of the basement. If it’s determined that the existing system can handle the load all that’s left to be done is to install the additional ductwork and vents in the new living space. This is a fairly simple job for the technician to complete if done prior to starting the renovations, or in the very early stages.

If adding on to the existing system proves not to be a viable choice there are two options – either upgrade the unit or add a second system.  Upgrading is the preferred method if the existing HVAC system is older and likely to need replaced regardless in the next few years.  Adding a second unit may be less expensive as a smaller set-up could get the job done verses a single, much larger one for the entire house.  In addition, if space is a concern it may not be practical to add an entire second furnace and air conditioning unit.

Another popular option for heating finished basements is a duct-less, mini-split system.  These systems work by placing several indoor air handling units throughout the basement area.  These units are then tied together into a single exterior condenser.  With this option no ductwork needs to be run, no additional space is required in the basement, and the overall cost can be reduced.

If the basement has already been finished (it’s too late to run ductwork) and heating and cooling have now been determined to be a problem, there are a few options to consider.  Many homeowners add baseboard heaters, wall-mounted units or radiant heat systems. All of these options are relatively simple to use, effective in small spaces and fairly economical.

Certainly the ideal option is to have a plan for heating and cooling the basement prior to finishing it but in either scenario Diamond Heating and Cooling can help come up with the best solution and get it implemented quickly and affordably.

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Increasing Humidity Levels In Your Home

residential HVAC
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Throughout the winter months the moisture in the air gets sucked out by the decreasing temperatures, which can have some definite effects on both your body and your home.  Many people have to deal with dry skin or chapped lips, but dry air can also lead to more serious health concerns such as more frequent colds and sinus infections, as a result of the dry respiratory tissue being more susceptible to irritation and infection.  Your home can feel the effects of dry air too with paint and woodwork cracking, hardwood floors expanding and contracting, and increased mold and mildew growth – all from the decreased moisture. While the most commonly thought of solution is a humidifier there are actually many other ways to address this problem, many of which don’t cost any money at all.

  1. Turn off the Dryer – hanging clothes to dry inside your home is a great way to reduce your energy consumption and simultaneously add moisture to the air.
  2. Plug the Shower – when you’re taking a shower plug the drain to keep the water in the bottom. Leave the water there until the next time someone needs to use the shower and then drain. This water will evaporate and increase the humidity in the home.
  3. Boil Water on the Stove – in many homes the bathroom with a shower in it is too far from the kitchen to raise humidity in that area so boil water on the stove to spread moisture to that area.
  4. Vent the Dryer Inside – for those loads of laundry that still go through the dryer, install a simple venting kit to keep that air inside.
  5. Put Containers of Water on top of registers or wood stoves – simply place a container of water on top of floor registers, radiant heating units or wood stoves. The water will evaporate into the home and the air movement from the vents will help distribute it. Be sure the container is made of an appropriate heat resistant product for the location. Plastic or glass bowls may get too hot when placed on a wood stove but a cast iron kettle works perfect.
  6. Add Some Plants – houseplants are a great way to add humidity to your home. Plants are constantly releasing moisture from their leaves and stems into the air.

Certainly the most effective way to make a major change in humidity is by adding a whole home humidifier attachment to your furnace.  In one study this was found to raise humidity levels in the home 28-30%!  Generally, the ideal in-home humidity level is 40-50%, which can certainly be achieved with a whole home unit.  In addition, using one of these with your HVAC system allows you to regulate the humidity level as it changes seasonally, and keeps you from running it when it’s unnecessary.

8 Steps to Complete Prior to Turning On the Air Conditioning

37539909 - modern air conditioner on backyard with working sprinkler system

Many years the weather can change quickly from winter to summer and all of a sudden it’s time to turn on the air conditioner.  Before you flip that switch though there are some steps you should complete first.

  1. Inspect the outdoor condenser – if you covered the unit in the fall, remove the cover and clear away any debris that has accumulated on or around the condenser during the winter. The primary purpose of this inspection is to ensure there are no blockages of interior components, generally caused by leaves or vines, as well as to ensure all of the panels are securely in place.  The panels are intended to enclose and protect the electrical connections.
  2. Clean the condenser components – the bottom of the condenser box is an area that debris tends to accumulate. Use a vacuum to remove anything in this area.  The condenser coils, located inside the condenser box, should also be cleaned.  First remove the side and top panels to gain access, then use a vacuum with a brush attachment to clean.  Be gentle as you’ll want to be sure not to bend the coil fins during cleaning.  A condenser coil spray can be used to remove any stuck-on grease.
  3. Visually inspect the coolant lines – ensure lines are properly insulated and that there is no damage to the lines that could cause leakage. Any damaged coolant lines should be replaced by a professional.
  4. Replace the filter – a new pleated filter should always be installed at the start of the season. Throughout the summer months its recommended that the filter be changed once a month.
  5. Electrical – make sure the breaker and/or disconnect switch for the condenser is turned on. Also check the outdoor wiring for any signs of wear or damage, if damage is found contact Diamond Heating and Cooling prior to starting the AC unit.
  6. Inspect the drain line – there is a drain generally mounted above the furnace in the basement, it’s recommended that one cup of chlorine bleach be flushed down the drain followed by one gallon of water to keep the drain clear for the season. This drain can become clogged due to a buildup of dirt, which could result in a backup leading to water damage inside the home.
  7. Inspect ductwork and air vents – ductwork seams should be sealed and any damaged ductwork replaced prior to running the AC to ensure maximum efficiency. Close air vents in the basement to focus the cooled air into the main living area of the home and remove anything that could be blocking the remaining vents.
  8. Look at the thermostat – if the thermostat is not programmable consider replacing it to save money and energy, it’s a good idea to replace the battery in a computer-controlled thermostat at the start of the season as well.

It’s a good idea to run through this checklist now before the weather heats up.  Should there be an issue with the air conditioner you’ll have time to complete any simple repairs or schedule a Diamond Heating and Cooling technician to come take a look before you really need the unit. If all this sounds overwhelming, Diamond Heating and Cooling has an AC maintenance program where we will take care of all this and more. Contact Diamond Heating and Cooling to sign up for our Silver Club.

How Does A Heat Pump Work?

heat pump

In recent years heat pumps have become increasingly common in newly constructed homes or as an add-on to older homes, but how they work is a mystery to many.  There are two types of heat pumps, those that use air and those that draw from a ground-source.  Essentially, those that use air work to pull any available heat from the cold outdoors in the winter, then by using an electrical system it distributes that heat inside the house, essentially the inverse of how an air conditioning unit works in the summer.  The heat pump is generally connected in to a forced air heating system to distribute the heat throughout the home.  Air-source heat pumps are the more common of the two heat pumps, primarily because they are cheaper to purchase and easier to install, however the ground-source heat pump is by far the more efficient option.

Homeowners who are looking to live more sustainably or those that intend to remain in their home for a long period of time should consider the more expensive ground-source heat pump.  As the name implies ground-source heat pumps get their heat from underground.  Ground temperatures are more consistent than air temperatures allowing for a higher degree of efficiency for the heat pump.  As previously stated a ground-source heat pump requires a more involved installation process and would generally only be completed by a certified HVAC professional.  Depending on the terrain, either long trenches 3-6’ deep, or vertical boreholes, will need to be dug to lay the necessary “loop” of piping.  Consumers also have the option with these systems of using groundwater to pass through the heat exchanger rather than refrigerant. That groundwater can then be returned to the aquifer.  Setting this up would be part of the standard ground-source heat pump installation.

It may initially seem counter intuitive that using electricity with the heat pump will actually be any cheaper for the homeowner than just running a standard gas heating system, however because the electricity is only being used to move heat rather than to actually generate it there will be a savings.  The heat pump definitely delivers more energy than it consumes. Because the ground temperature stays warmer than the air temperature in the winter, a ground-source (or geothermal) heat pump will be the highest level of efficiency.

A heat pump can then be reversed in the summer months to pull heat from the air inside the home and move it outside, thus further increasing its value.  Most homeowners see an energy savings of 30-40% year round after installing a heat pump.  It’s also interesting to note that the heat pumps sold today are more than 3x more efficient than those sold 30 years ago.  So if you looked at heat pumps in the past but had trouble justifying the initial cost, it might be worth giving it another consideration.

Benefits to Flushing the Water Heater

25763704 - electric water heater hanging on the wooden wall

Most homeowners are aware that flushing the water heater is a regular maintenance requirement, but very few do it with the frequency recommended by the water heater manufacturers which is generally once per month, often it never gets done at all.  What are the real costs to not flushing the water heater and what are the benefits to getting it done?

  1. Heating Efficiency – if the water heater hasn’t been flushed for some time it will take longer for the heat transfer process between the heating elements and the water to take place. This will result in it taking longer to get more hot water and will increase the likelihood of running out of hot water.  Most customers say that they notice an immediate improvement in the amount of hot water they have after getting the tank flushed.
  2. Reduced Operational Costs – as sediment builds up in the tank it makes it more difficult for the heating elements to transfer heat to the water, which means it requires more energy to get the water to the same temperature, thus costing more money. In addition, the premature failure of components, which can result from this build up, will also increase maintenance costs of the water tank.
  3. Reduced Noise – a noisy water tank is a sign of a problem. A properly maintained tank should make very little noise.  The noisier the water tank, the more sediment has built up inside.  However, should the water tank eventually get quiet again this does not mean that the problem is resolved, in fact the opposite is true.  At this point the build-up has solidified such that water is no longer circulating properly and an immediate flush is required.
  4. Reduces Potential for Odor – if water is unable to move properly through the water tank system, either due to excessive sediment build-up or a failure of the system, then water will become stagnate. Stagnate water can lead to unpleasant odors which will only grow worse if left unattended.
  5. Ensures Warranty Protection – this is especially important during the first few months after installation while the water heater is under a manufacturer’s warranty. Very few warranties will protect against failure caused by scale or sediment build up so it’s important to be able to show that this is not the case should the water heater fail for some other reason and require warranty coverage.
  6. Increases Life of the Water Heater – the primary reason water heaters fail is a result of sediment build-up. On an electric heater this build-up can cause the electrodes to fail prematurely.  For customers with a gas heater this build up between the heat source and the water can result in additional heat being trapped at the bottom of the tank causing it to get hotter than intended which could eventually cause the metal to become so stressed that the tank leaks or fails.

The necessary frequency for flushing will vary dramatically depending on the quality of the incoming water and the type of water heater in use, however given that there’s no down side to flushing, it’s better to err on the side of over flushing to keep the system running its best.

Furnaces: Gas vs. Electric

Amana Furnace

When installing a new furnace, homeowners have to make many choices, one being the fuel-type. Deciding between gas and electric can be difficult but knowing the pros and cons of each option can help make it a little easier.

Electric Furnaces

This type of furnace pairs with the air conditioner or heat pump to distribute air throughout the home. It contains your air distribution system, indoor coil and can have heat strips that provide additional heating power.

Pros:

  • Can heat/cool home all year
  • Doesn’t require natural gas

Cons

  • Can have difficulty keeping up with heating demands
  • Creates original heat instead of transferring it

Gas Furnaces

This furnace can be paired with a split-system, air conditioner or heat pump. It has an air distribution system and creates original heat.

Pros

  • Provides powerful heat
  • Gas is often lower in cost for utilities than electricity

Cons

  • Not all homes have natural gas lines
  • Carbon monoxide is a larger concern

Choosing which one to purchase when installing a new furnace will largely depend on what type of furnace is currently in place, and what utilities are currently available in the home. Homeowners who want to switch from one of type of furnace to the other might require some additional work.

Switching from an electric furnace to a gas furnace requires natural gas lines to be installed. This can be an expensive endeavor that some people feel negates the money that could be saved by switching. Switching from gas to electric is an easier process, because homes already use electricity in some capacity.

The team at Diamond Heating and Cooling can also assist homeowners in making a decision by determining their heating needs and helping them find the right system for those needs. For furnace maintenance and repairs on both types of systems, call Diamond Heating and Cooling at 208-378-6624 to schedule an appointment.

Tips to Limit Heat Loss Through the Garage Door

garage insulation

When homeowners look at where they could be losing heat in their home, they focus on door gaps and window seals. One spot that is often overlooked and can be a significant area for heat loss is the garage. Although the home is somewhat sealed off from it, the garage can release heat if it is poorly insulated.

There are a few things homeowners can do to limit this loss of heat and improve their energy bill.

  1. Wall Insulation

The wall between the house and the garage needs to be insulated. It already is in most homes, but in older homes, there might not be any insulation or there may not be enough. Adding insulation in this wall can make a huge difference in the comfort of the home.

  1. Garage Door Insulation

It’s common to find that most garage doors don’t have insulation on the inside, especially those with metal garage doors. It might be worth it to upgrade the garage door to a steel one with insulation, or add insulation to the inside of the existing garage door.

  1. Weather stripping

The last detail to attend to is any small gaps that may be present. Check the door between the house and the garage, as well as the exterior doors and windows for proper seals. If there are gaps, weather stripping can close them, and stop even more heat loss.

The best furnace in the world can’t win against heat loss in a house. If the home is well-insulated, turn attention to the garage to see if it is the culprit. Implementing the tips above could make a difference in home comfort, energy efficiency, and the energy bill.

For help increasing energy efficiency of the furnace in other ways, talk to the HVAC experts at Diamond Heating and Cooling. They can inspect the furnace to determine if there is another issue causing the energy bill to increase.