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.

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.

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.

Use a Heat Pump This Winter

Heat Pumps

Heat pumps can be an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces during cold Idaho winters. They work by extracting outside heat and transferring it inside. Even air that seems too cold, like during winter, has heat energy present for the system to use.

Because heat pumps move heat instead of generating it, their biggest advantage is energy efficiency. They can provide the same comfort level as a conventional heat source for as little as one quarter of the conventional source’s operating cost.

While there are three types of heat pumps, the most commonly used is the air-source heat pump. This transfers heat between the home and outside air using electricity. It can reduce electricity use for heating by about 50 percent when compared to electric resistance heating.

Before, heat pumps were only sufficient in moderate climates where the temperature didn’t drop too low. With recent technology developments, they can now provide sufficient heating in colder climates too. Often, a heat pump is paired with a furnace for supplemental heating if needed in subfreezing temperatures.

In homes without ducts, a mini-split heat pump, which is a type of ductless air-source heat pump, is a viable option. These can operate in climates as low as -13 degrees Fahrenheit to keep the home warm all winter long.

Heat pumps aren’t just for heating in the winter, however. They can also be used to keep the home cool in the warmer months by reversing the process, extracting the warm air from inside the home and putting it outside. It pulls double duty year-round to keep the house comfortable while using less energy, helping homeowners to save money.

Diamond Heating and Cooling can install a heat pump or mini split heat pump for homes that want to save on heating costs or when a current heating option is unavailable. Call us to learn more about these heating options.

 

Don’t Close Air Vents

In an effort to save more money by using less energy, many people close their air vents in rooms that get little or no use. However, instead of saving money, it could cause some serious issues. Read on to learn why closing vents does not have the desired effect on air distribution.

The blower in the HVAC system pulls air from the house through the return ducts, cools it, and pushes it back out through the supply ducts. The blower in high-efficiency HVAC systems is powered by an electronically commutated motor, also referred to as an ECM. This type of motor can adjust its speed. Those that are not high-efficiency are permanent split capacitor or PSC powered, which cannot adjust speeds.

Both systems are designed so that the blower pushes against some maximum pressure difference. If the filter is dirty or the supply ducts are restricted, the blower has to push against a higher pressure.

In the ECM system, this will make the motor increase in intensity to maintain proper air flow. As it works against the higher pressure, all efficiency is lost. A PSC motor will keep spinning, but its speed will decrease as the pressure increases.

When air ducts are closed in some rooms, the system becomes more restrictive. A higher pressure in the system will either ramp up the ECM blower, or move less air with a PSC blower, while also creating duct leakage.

This can also have an impact on the coil or heat exchanger. Lower airflow means a lower rate of heat exchange will occur. This will cause less heat to flow over the coil, making it colder, and possibly freezing. The refrigerant may not properly evaporate either, meaning it would come back into the compressor,  possibly ruining it.

In summary, here are 5 problems that can come from closing air vents:

  • Duct Leakage
  • Lower Air Flow/Increased Energy Use
  • Comfort Issues
  • Frozen Coil
  • Dead Compressor

Don’t close vents to save money. Instead, use an adjustable thermostat and be mindful of the energy being used.

Winter Vacation Thermostat Settings

As many people are getting ready to travel for the holidays, it is important for homeowners to take a second to reset the thermostat so they don’t pay for heat they didn’t use. Here ‘s how to lower the heating bill while away, but also keep the house safe from freezing.

During vacations or a weekend away in the summer, the thermostat can be turned off completely with no real consequence. However, in winter that isn’t an option. The thermostat needs to be set no lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit while away. This prevents appliances and pipes from freezing and causing flooding.

However, not everyone wants to come home to a 50-degree house and freeze while waiting for it to warm back up. In that case, lower it about four degrees below the normal setting. Then, it won’t take as much energy and time to get the house back up to the normal temperature when returning. If the furnace is gas, it can be lowered six degrees because it takes less work to heat homes with a gas furnace.

A great option for those who take trips often, is a programmable thermostat. That way they can set it to lower and increase temperature before and after they leave. They can set it to decrease temperature while they are away and increase the heat when they are on their way back home so the house is at the desired temperature when they arrive home.

Programmable thermostats also work great for day-to-day operation. Many homeowners choose to lower the home’s temperature while they are at work since nobody is home to enjoy the heat and increase it when they get off work.

Talk to Diamond Heating and Cooling about setting up a programmable thermostat. There are also “smart thermostat” options available that can be accessed using a smart phone letting homeowners control their heating and cooling remotely.