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Serving the Twin Cities Metro and Surrounding Areas

How Do I Know if a Geothermal System Is Right for Me?

There are a lot of factors to take into consideration when trying to decide what the best option is for your home. Geothermal heat pumps are a great option, but they aren’t right for everyone. While you can certainly sort through much of the data on geothermal heat pumps on your own, it helps to get an opinion from a professional with experience installing and maintaining these types of systems. They can help you go over the particulars of your situation and come to a conclusion that’s in your best interests.

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What’s the Difference between Vertical and Horizontal Loops?

Horizontal geothermal heat pump installations are by far the more popular choice. This is true mainly because they cost less and are easier to install than their vertical counterparts. In a horizontal installation, pipes are buried in a trench that measures between 100 and 400 yards long and about 4 feet deep. This is deep enough that the pipes shouldn’t come in contact with frozen soil even if the ground above freezes.

In a vertical installation the pipes for your geothermal heat pump are installed straight up and down in a hole drilled into the ground next to your home. Because of the expense involved in drilling a hole like this, vertical heat pumps are typically more expensive to install. But a vertical installation is better in certain circumstances.

For instance, if the ground around your home freezes for long stretches of time each year, a vertical installation may be called for. You might also have to go vertical if you don’t have enough space around your home to accommodate the horizontal pipe loop.

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What Is a Geothermal Heat Pump?

A geothermal heat pump actually functions much the same way a traditional air source heat pump does. In the winter, it heats your home by extracting heat from the ground and then transferring that heat to your indoor air. In the summer months, the cycle is reversed and the heat from your home is removed and transferred back into the ground. This makes a geothermal heat pump a great option for year-round home comfort and temperature control.

There are two basic components of a geothermal heat pump. The indoor unit houses the compressor and air handler, and the underground unit is made up of a loop of pipe that contains a liquid, usually a combination of anti-freeze and water that cycles through on a closed circuit. As the liquid moves through the underground portion of pipes, it absorbs heat from the surrounding soil.

It then makes its way back up to the indoor unit where the heat is extracted and moved through the house by the air handler. In the summer, of course, the opposite occurs and the heat from your home’s air is transferred to the liquid and then released into the ground below.

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Should I be worried about the amount of noise my air condition makes when it starts up?

Most air conditioners are noisier when the air conditioning condenser unit first starts. This is because the compressor needs to build up pressure to operate. If the noise lasts more than 10 seconds, call a technician. HVAC techs will check for low refrigerant levels, compressor oil levels and other issues that might be occurring.

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Who invented air conditioning?

Willis Carrier, a graduate of Cornell University's Masters of Engineering program, built the first air conditioning unit for a Brooklyn printing plant. The resulting even air temperature made it possible to print in four colors without misalignment of the inks. It wasn't until 1924 that Carrier's idea caught on for making movie theaters and department stores more comfortable in the summer months.

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Is salt air harmful to air conditioners?

Yes, it shortens the life of the air conditioning system components. Applying a lubricant on a weekly basis during the summer months and covering it when it isn't in use is recommended.

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Is there anything I can do to reduce the risk of my air conditioner breaking down?

Preventive maintenance is one of the smartest things you can do. It’s recommended that you keep both the outside coils and inside coils of your air conditioning system clean at all times.

It’s also recommended that you install your air conditioner in a shaded area. If it's too late for that, you should try to shade the unit in some way that won't restrict the airflow it. Direct sun on an air conditioner's outside condenser coil can cause it to overheat and create too much pressure. If this happens, the unit will shut off.

Another trick that can be used on extremely hot days is to place a mister over the back coil on the outside of the air conditioner. If your air conditioner has already cut out, let it rest for 20 minutes, then spray the coil with water before attempting to turn the air conditioner back on.

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Why has my air conditioner stopped cooling?

The first thing you should check is to see if the air conditioning unit is dirty. It is very important to keep the outside coils clean so the heat pressure doesn't rise too high. This could cause the pipes holding the coolant to burst, compressor failure or electrical overload. Fortunately, just cleaning the coils is often enough. You'll need to be extra vigilant when contaminants like cottonwood are floating through the air. They can clog up an air conditioner's air intake very quickly.

The inside coils are also very important. When they become dirty, they tend to ice over. This stops air from flowing through the coils, reducing and eventually stopping cooling entirely. The best way to prevent problems with the inside coils is to change the air filters regularly, though eventually it will be necessary to vacuum the coils out. Don't use a high pressure blower as this can flatten the coil fins or break them off.

If addressing these issues doesn't resolve the problem, it’s time to call a professional.

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How do I know what size of air conditioner I need?

HVAC contractors use Air-Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) Manual J to calculate the correct size of air conditioner for your home. This manual may be purchased and you can do the calculations manually by following the instructions, or they can be calculated by software that uses the formulas from Manual J.

For the best results, you need to take complete measurements of your home. (A blueprint is enough for new construction.) This includes both width and length of each room, as well as height. You need to know the cubic volume of your home, because this is the amount of space that must be cooled.

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How important is it to make sure the ducts in my heating system don't leak?

Leaking ducts can cause more energy loss in a heating system than anything else. A duct inspection that pressurizes the duct system to identify if it has any leaks could be one of the smartest investments you could make. Making sure your ducts are sealed, connected and free from leaks can drop your energy bill anywhere from 5 -17%.

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How often should ductwork be cleaned?

Clean your ductwork every three to five years. Make sure they are cleaned upon completion of any renovations on the duct system.

Ducts collect dust, bacteria and molds that are then transferred into the air as it moves through the rooms of your home. Routine cleaning can reduce allergy symptoms and some other unexplained symptoms, including as headache and fatigue.

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Should I close the heating registers in rooms I don't use?

It's okay to close a few heating registers, but be careful not to close more than 1/3 of the total registers in your home. A forced air system is designed for the size of your home, and when too many registers are closed off, it allows pressure to build up in the ducts. The blower fan has to work harder to push air through the registers that are open. This kind of wear and tear will cause the blower fan to wear out long before it should.

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What do you mean when you call a heating system a "dual fuel" system?

When a heating system is designed to run on more than one type of fuel, it is called a dual fuel system. The most common dual fuel system involves combining a gas furnace and electric heat pump. Heat pumps are efficient during mildly cold weather, but begin losing their ability to heat a home as temperatures drop. If the home is equipped with a dual fuel system, the gas furnace can kick in and take over heating.

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Can a fireplace be an efficient way to heat a home?

Generally, fireplaces draw more heat out of the home than they create?unless a special fireplace insert is installed that acts more like a wood-burning stove. It is important to use an insert that has a radiant glass door, as it increases the heating efficiency of the insert by up to 90%. When a blower is included, the heating efficiency goes up 74 – 92% as compared to a fire in a standard fireplace.

Both wood-burning and gas burning fireplace inserts are available. Call a heating contractor if you would like to explore this option. An expert can help you choose the right option for your home.

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Doesn't turning the heat down waste the energy required to warm the house back up?

Turning the heat down any time you plan on being away from home for more than four hours will save you money. It’s recommended that you have a programmable thermostat installed. That way your home is already comfortable when you return. It doesn't take that much energy to bring the temperature back up 6 – 8 degrees, but it does take a lot more energy to maintain that extra 6 – 8 degrees.

Heat pumps operate a little differently and take a lot longer to raise the temperature. It’s recommended that you purchase a programmable thermostat that is designed to specifically work with heat pump systems.

If you need assistance with installing a programmable thermostat, call you’ll need an HVAC contractor. They'll also help you find the right thermostat for your system and your personal needs.

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What setting should I set my thermostat be at in the winter for the best energy efficiency?

It’s recommended that you set your thermostat to between 68 and 71°F when you are at home, and to lower your thermostat to around 62°F when you are away, or at night while you are sleeping.

68°F is a moderately comfortable temperature if you are moving around. It can feel quite cold if you are not. For this reason, plan on wearing thermals and sweaters to stay comfortable.

Also 68°F feels much warmer in a home heated with radiant heating, than central heating. This is because the warmth is rising from the floor so there aren't any cool drafts or cold spots.

Sleep studies have proven that you sleep better in a cooler room, so dropping the temperature to between 62 – 64°F at night will keep you comfortable while saving you energy.

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What Is the White Buildup Around My Faucets and Shower Head?

A white buildup around your shower head and faucets is most likely mineral deposits that settle out from your water and accumulate over time. These can be cleaned off easily enough by soaking the fixture in vinegar overnight and then thoroughly scrubbing it. But that will not keep the problem from recurring. If your problem is severe or you would like to avoid future occurrences, you may want to look into having a water softener installed that can take those minerals out of your water before it reaches your taps.

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How Often Does My Plumbing Need to Be Inspected?

If your plumbing has never been inspected or you do not know when the last inspection took place, it is a good idea to have it done as soon as possible. Depending on your particular circumstances and the overall state of your plumbing system, a professional plumber can make recommendations about how often the process should be repeated.

If you live on a property with a lot of trees, for instance, you may need to have your plumbing lines inspected more often because of the chance that roots could begin to infiltrate the system. However, if there are no extenuating circumstances and your plumbing is otherwise in good shape, you could probably wait longer between inspections. In general, though, a plumbing system should be inspected annually.

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How Do I Get Rid of the Odor from My Garbage Disposal?

A bad smell coming from your garbage disposal is a common problem, but luckily it is usually easy to fix. The smell is the result of the buildup of food residue on the blades and in the garbage disposal chamber. A good deep cleaning is often all that is required to get rid of the smell. Before you start, make sure that all power to the unit is completely cut off. You do not want anyone accidentally flipping the switch and turning on the unit while you are working on it.

Next, take out the blades carefully and thoroughly wash them. You can also scrub out the inside chamber so that you are sure there is no residue left there. However, be sure not to use any harsh chemical cleaners, as these can damage the inner workings of the machine. Instead, use biodegradable soaps or natural cleaning agents like vinegar and baking soda to get the job done. Once you have thoroughly cleaned out your garbage disposal, you can help keep odors from coming back by periodically putting half a lemon and some baking soda down it and running it.

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Why Is My Water Bill Suddenly Higher?

If you notice a sudden increase in your water bill that does not correspond to an increase in the amount of water you know you were using in the house, you probably have a leak somewhere in your system. Without proper experience and diagnostic equipment, you will have a hard time pinpointing the source of the leak on your own. Your best bet is to call an experienced plumber who can inspect your whole plumbing system easily and figure out where the leak is and what to do about it.

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What Can I Do to Keep My Pipes from Freezing in the Winter?

Particularly if you live in an area with very harsh winters, freezing pipes can be a big issue. In order to prevent your pipes from freezing, you should turn off all outside faucets, disconnect the hoses attached to these faucets and drain the excess water from the system. Finally, wrap the faucets and outlets with dry cloth to further insulate them from the cold.

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How Much Will a Geothermal Heat Pump Save Me?

The amount that you save on your monthly heating and cooling bills with a geothermal heat pump has a lot to do with how much you were spending to begin with. A typical geothermal heat pump is between 50% and 70% more efficient than most conventional home heating and cooling systems, but to calculate your actual savings in dollars, you need to know how the heat pump compares to the system you currently have.

You should also take into account how much you use your home heating and cooling system. In general, the more you use this system, the more you’ll save by switching to the more energy efficient geothermal heat pump. A geothermal professional can help you put all of these variables together to come up with an accurate estimate of your projected savings.

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What is Indoor Air Quality?

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is a term used to describe the quality of the air inside a building. It usually doesn't include factors such as temperature, humidity, and air movement, though in some situations, an IAQ professional could consider these factors. For example, excessively dry air (low humidity) can result in nose bleeds, dry eyes and other unpleasant symptoms.

Generally air quality focuses on particulates and gases that can be present in the air. Gases can include radon and formaldehyde. Particulates include things like airborne particles, mold spores, viruses and bacteria. All of these elements in the air can cause adverse health effects on the occupants of a building or home.

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How does outdoor air quality relate to indoor air quality?

Usually outdoor air pollution will be reduced by between 10 – 90% as a result of absorption by the building itself and the building’s ventilation filtration system. This means that a filtration system that isn't maintained properly can eventually lead to indoor pollution. Regular maintenance is recommended for both commercial and home heating and cooling systems, as both systems depend on drawing air into the building from outside.

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Are indoor air quality problems common?

Up to 30% of all commercial buildings suffer from serious indoor air quality concerns. Indoor home air tests across North America found that 96% of the homes tested had at least one indoor air quality problem. 86% of the homes tested had high levels of dust, pollen and viruses. 71% tested positive for potentially harmful chemicals and gases.

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How serious are most indoor air quality problems?

The seriousness of an indoor air quality problem depends on the specific problem. If Legionnaires’ bacteria begin to multiply in the cooling system, the results can be deadly. The presence of radon gas can cause lung cancer. Long-term exposure to mold spores can cause lung damage, brain damage, cancer and even death. Combustion products such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide can cause headache, nausea, dizziness, confusion, depression, memory loss, and if exposure lasts long enough, death.

Other indoor air quality concerns might seem far less important, but can still prove fatal if not attended to. The presence of bioaerosols (pollen, viruses, bacteria, insect parts, animal dander, etc.) can aggravate asthma and even precipitate a fatal asthma attack.

Indoor air quality is extremely important. Testing and installation of carbon monoxide detectors is recommended in homes that use natural gas or oil for heating and/or cooking.

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What should I do if I suspect my home or office has an indoor air quality problem?

If you and those around you feel ill while inside your home or office, but feel better when outside or elsewhere, you probably have an indoor air quality issue. One of the first things you should do is check the air filters on your HVAC system. Clean filters, especially HEPA filters, help to remove many particulates from the air.

Using bleach or some other home cleaning product to kill microbial contaminants is only a partial answer at best. Even though these biocides will kill molds and spores, they are toxic themselves.

A qualified HVAC technician will provide air and surface sampling. Both types of sampling are necessary to detect different types of toxic compounds that may be present in the air. Only then can you know what you are really dealing with and whether serious measures are needed.

A qualified indoor air quality expert uses both non-culturable air sampling and culturable air sampling to take a complete and accurate count of how many spores and other particulates are present. This also gives the expert an idea of how many of these particulates are able to reproduce. Surface sampling is used to detect mold on dry surfaces.

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