HVAC experts discuss heating systems

We spoke with three highly rated companies on Angie’s List to find out what homeowners need to know about their heating systems.

Krummann: The most important thing people can do is to know where their filters are and replace them frequently. The heating system is also the air filtration system for the entire house.

Martin: If you have a dirty filter, it makes your system work that much harder. You can lose a lot of efficiency just to dirt.

How often should you perform maintenance on your heating system? When’s the best time of year to do this?

McCoy: We recommend checking it once a year, in the fall. At that point, we can have the system on and see what the problem is without heating someone right out of the house. It’s better to do it before the cold season begins when it’s absolutely critical to get the system working right away.

Martin: Here [in Florida], sometimes people will go two or three years without running their heating system. But [in warmer areas] you should turn it on once a month or so to make sure it’s activating and working well. I’ve gone into systems that have gone a few years without maintenance and flushed the condenser coils, and you literally get mud coming out. All this dust and dirt buildup in both the heating and air systems can result in an expensive repair, where regular maintenance would have saved a lot of money.

What are some ways to save energy?

Martin: Maintenance is crucial. People put a new unit in, and they think because it’s new, they don’t have to do anything. If you have a car, you have to change your oil, even if it’s new. Your heating unit is the most expensive appliance, and you want to make sure it’s working at its highest efficiency.

Krummann: People should open all the supply vents in their home. It’s a misconception that closing them saves energy. The system is created to pump through the entire building and it doesn’t save energy to shut off certain rooms. It just creates more inefficiency in the system, forces the motor to work harder, and can lead to more frequent overheating.

McCoy: Make sure you aren’t covering up returns with furniture, couches or beds. If you have a humidifier, make sure it’s well-maintained and operating. Humid air feels warmer, so you can feel more comfortable with less heat.

What safety concerns should people keep in mind?

McCoy: A lot of the newer systems have devices to make sure the system doesn’t overheat or will shut it down entirely if a critical component isn’t functioning. With the older furnaces, make sure all the air and gases are going where they’re supposed to go.

You can have a furnace producing carbon monoxide, but it’s no problem if it’s going into the flue and out of the house. But if that flue is blocked or the heat exchanger has a failure, you can have carbon monoxide going into the living space, which can be poisonous.

Krummann: People who use gas heating should use carbon monoxide detectors. It’s a very inexpensive way to keep the home safe.


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Comments

It also could be a clogged orafice, bad duct work, under charged, over charged, bad blower, dirty outside condenser, kinked line. It could be a number of things if your not comfortable with the first tech call another. This type of work isn't like unclogging a drain it takes a lot of thinking and knowing what you are doing not just throwing darts in the dark. Just because one person has one problem doesn't mean every problem is going to be the same. Good luck.

R-22 refrigerant is about $10-15 a pound. If your evaporator coil on the inside unit is freezing up, then the evaporator coil is most likely completely dirty/clogged. If you gain access to the coil & scrape the gunk off (be careful not to damage coil) the coil, the unit will probable run just fine. To unfreeze the unit, turn the "fan" to the ON position where the inside unit is running; this will thaw the ice off the coil where it can be cleaned.

What is the price of freon in FL. Question, I have a Tempstar 3ton heatpump that I am having problems with. The coils and everything in the inside freezes, when this happens hot air comes out through the vents in the house. Will someone tell me what I need to do? I had some technician come to service the unit and he mentioned that I needed the air handler changed. He gave me an estimate of $3,334. is this the normal price for this? I would appreciate if someone will help me with this.

I have heard that the price of Freon is going to go up in the near future. Are there air conditioners that don't use freon?

I have a York 3ton (downstairs) & a 1.5 ton (upstairs) which was installed in 2002. The downstairs units compressor is bad. Should I just replace the unit with a R-22 (Old freon) or upgrade both units to meet the new freon requirements? Also I have 1 bedroom downstairs which is always warmer than the rest of the house. Do you think I need bigger than a 3 ton?

Does anyone have any experience with the Unico system for heat and air cond? I'm planning an extensive remodel in an old home (85) in northern NJ and would like to replace oil heat and window ACs with Unico but haven't seem much chatter about it. Thanks

I'll argue this. If you bought a variable speed 95% Rheem, and the contractor installed a standard duty 90% WeatherKing, then you got took. If, however, you bought a standard 90% Rheem and they installed the comparable WeaterKing model, then you have the same furnace. It is true that WeatherKing is their lower end line and that they do not market the high end pieces of equipment through that outlet, but if you are comparing the same models, then they are just that, the same. There could be some warranty variance as Rheem and WeatherKing may give a different warranty on the same piece of equipment. Also, AHRI agrees with me, if you go to their website and look for furnace models, it list (we will use model RGG*-06 as an example. Under brand, it list Rheem, Ruud, AND Weather King. Again, as long as you got the same model you paid for, it is the same furnace. If the dealer shorted you, it would not matter if he did it with a Rheem or a Weather King

Linda, I must disagree in part with Tim's answer. Weather King is the cheap line from the Rheem/Ruud company. While Bryant and Carrier are comparable, as are American Standard and Trane, Weather King is cheaper (in all senses of the word) than Rheem. If your contract was specifically for a Rheem furnace rather than a furnace made by Rheem then you have a legitimate complaint. In any event I would expect the parts to be covered by the manufacturer's warranty though the labor is probably no longer covered.

Linda, Rheem and Weather King are exactly the same product, the only difference is in the first letter of the model #. Unless there is a warranty variance, this should be of absolutely no consequence to you. We used to sell Bryant. The distributor we bought from represented both Carrier and Bryant. Many of their products are also identical. If they were out of a particular piece of Bryant equipment, they would send us a Carrier and we would put a tag on it. The converse was true also, if they were out of a Carrier, they would ship a Bryant instead.

We installed a Rheem furnace and received papers stating it was a Rheem furnace. We have had the furnace for 18 months and now have a severe problem with the blower motor. When hiring a contractor to fix the problem they discovered the furnace was a Weather King. Is it normal for contractors to sell residential a product and state it to be something it is not and if they sold us one thing and it was not what they said they sold us and only put the Rheem sticker on the equipment, what alternative do we have to re-coop. We understood we purchased a Rheem but got a lower furnace than we paid for.

Terry, You have referred to CO2 several times. Carbon DIOXIDE is not the concern - it is CO or Carbon MONOXIDE.

Without knowing all other elements, it is most likely the Thermostat. Be very careful when replacing though, if you cross any of the 24 volt wires, you could cause instantaneous damage, like a blown transformer!!

I have a Trane furnace with an outdoor heat pump. I am total electric. I tried to shut off my furnace at the thermostat but the furnace kept running all day. I finally had to turn it off at the breaker to get the unit to shut down. Could it be a bad thermostat?

Just so everone understands that every time your heat come on a fire starts in your home. So with that said you may want to think twice before you perform some more involved repairs on your HVAC system. Do yourself and your family a favor and have a professional repair your system.

I do a lot of my own maintenance on HVAC but find that a lot of component suppliers require a license. Any suggestions of suppliers who don't?

Yes sir it is....ridiculously expensive. Can you tell me the Model# & Serial# ?

WE HAVE A 6 OR 7 YR OLD GAS FURNACE. WE HAVE BEEN TOLD THAT THE MOTHER BOARD NEEDS TO BE REPLACED AT A COST OF $650.00. IT IS AN AMERICAN STANDARD UNIT. IS THAT EXPENSIVE????

Suzanne, there are several issues that could be causing it, but first & foremost, turn the Thermostat to "Emergency Heat". This will bypass the Heat pump mode & run the heat cycle off the Electric Strip Heat only. This will allow the Heat Pump to properly re-cycle & un-thaw. The unit could be low on refrigerant; the compressor could have been covered with snow or blocked enough to not allow the circulation to properly vent; the defrost timer could be malfunctioning or other items. Definitely needs to be checked properly so I suggest not using the Heat Pump mode until fixed. Best of luck.....

I am about to replace my furnace and have had 3 highly rated contractors give me estimates; a Lennox dealer,Rheem, and a Bryant dealer. I will install the highest efficiency model of each. The Lennox and Rheem were relatively close in price. The Bryant was about 30% higher. There system has impressive features in taht it senses so much that can potentially go wrong and integrates the outside temperature into its operation, but I wonder if it is overkill?

We have recently experienced some very cold weather in NC and I noticed that after snowing, the entire heat pump was covered in ice about 3 inches thick. I took a hairdryer and tried to thaw it out, but was a long, tedious job. I contacted my landlord and told him, but so far no one has shown up to look at the unit. If I turn the thermostat down to 72 degrees, it will cut off and on, any higher and it will run constantly. I clean the filter weekly so what could be going on?

there is a hole in your heat exchanger

karen,i do duct testing & air sealing. yes, it's true i find most houses are leaking @ 30% of their conditioned air.

I have a gas furnace, forced air heating system, some time I smell a funny smell, what preventive maintenance should be done? my system is about 15 years old

Hello, Anne Marie and Arturo! Thank you for your comments! You can find HVAC specialists from all across the country at Angie's List. To find one in your area, please visit AngiesList.com. In addition to finding companies in your area, you'll also be able to read about homeowners' experiences with those companies, which can help you make a smart hiring decision.

Does it make sense to replace a steam-heating system with forced air for heat, while adding A/C? (energywise and in general). We live in the Boston area.

Interesting discussions. I would like to learn more. Is anyone talking about duct leakage/efficiency? I was surprised to learn that the average existing duct work leaks about 28-30%.

Does it make sense to replace a steam-heating system with forced air for heat, while adding A/C? (energywise and in general). We live in the Boston area.

Can you seggest a HVAC company in Redding, CA?

Can you suggest a heating company in the central New Jersey area?

Kay, have you actually measured the ppm or parts per million. If so, what is it. But if you're talking about the termination point of the 2" pipe exiting the roof, this is where the waste or CO2 escapes. Just making sure it's not exiting inside the closet or attic space.

Jennifer, you should not smell gas, whether the gas stove or the gas HVAC is "on". If it's the stove, check all the fittings to make sure their tight & check the gas stove top to make sure all the gas ports are "lit" or have a blue flame rising from the jets. If these are clogged & not lighting, then gas can escape. Either way really you should have it checked out for safety reasons.

Is it normal to have a high CO rating at the pcv pipe exiting the house?

We have a gas stove and Heater Unit. When we turn on the oven, we can smell gas. Is that normal? Our HVAC units are only 3 years old.

if you buy a new gas furnace look at 95% 2stage. That means it only wastes 5% gas. Also 2 stage this means it can run on just half of the burners which saves you half the gas

The easiest way to figure return air is you need 144 inches of return air grill per ton of equipment which is equal to a 12"x12" inch return grill. if you have a 3 ton system, then you need a total of 432 sq inch to provide enough return air. The only other consideration is where is all the return air being pulled from. The further away the return air grill is from the source, then the less "pull" available. Example would be a hallway is the best place given 2-3 rooms all connected to hallway. But if another room is farther down & will possibly be shut-off fwith a door, then an extra return in that particular room maybe needed.

We're in upstate N.Y. and have a terribly inefficient steam heating system. Instead of getting a new boiler and furnace we're about to switch from steam heat to forced air, adding ductwork. (We pay over $400 a month to heat a house about 2500 sq. feet right now.) One guy said we only needed one return upstairs - the other is putting in four. The heat ducts are going up from the basement to the attic and then into the rooms. Does this all make sense?

I live in the Boston area, and like many local homes, mine has oil-fired hot water circulating through elderly radiators. Many companies advertise cleaning air ducts for hot air, but who handles cleaning radiators? And, what methods are used?

The tax credit only applies to equipment that meets the ARI rating. This means that the equip can actually produce stated efficiency levels. This can mean different Equip by whatever brand you are wanting. If you'd like me to call you & walk you through this, I can. Just leave the best # to contact you.

The guy said that the tax credit was only on the top rated systems. Is this true?

We have 2 systems...3 ton and 4 ton we think

Jan in OK - if you have a gas furnace & it's 35 years old, it's quite possible it could be leaking CO2 throughout the house. With the current high efficiency equip these days, it's much better to change out the complete system & it's the only way to reap the reward sof the systems true efficiency. You can also get the $1,500 tax credit as well. What size is your system?

I have just been told we have leaking in our heater that can mean that Carbon Monoxide is leaking out. They are suggesting we replace both units to the tune of $8,000-11,000 depending on whether we do the A/C too or not. The units are 35 years old. Any suggestions?

I live in chicago il, i am told that i need a power vent water heater...how much does one cost?...where can i one from here in chicago?

NancyS, I have installed a few unico systems in Alabama. I don't have a lot of experience with them but from what I have seen they are pretty good. Unico is a little different than your standard split system. The duct work will be smaller than a standard unit and there will bee 4 outlets in most rooms, one in each corner. Unicos do tend to be quieter. Feel free to ask some questions and I'll answer if I can.

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