The winter heating season is now upon us. In the northeast, wintertime temperatures can get pretty low and result in relatively high heating costs. When the outdoor temperature is below freezing, you need to keep your house or business warm to stay comfortable but also to protect your building from frozen pipes which can cause devastating damage. Here’s how you can maximize indoor comfort with your HVAC system this winter.
Set yourself up for success this winter
First thing’s first, make sure your system is ready for the winter. Whatever type of system you have — whether it is a hot water baseboard system, an air source heat pump or packaged rooftop units — you need to make sure the system is maintained so that it can perform when those temperatures drop. Some simple things end users can do themselves include checking filters at indoor units, and checking to make sure any outdoor condensing unit heat pumps are clear of debris.
For forced-air systems, dirty/clogged filters are a very common and very avoidable problem that can cause some serious issues. For example, an air source heat pump trying to produce heating with clogged filters will not only struggle to deliver the heated air into the space but the refrigeration system itself will be unable to condense the hot gas refrigerant to liquid which is needed for the outdoor unit to produce hot gas again. Over time, this can cause damage to the system all while underperforming and running up energy bills. With the recent push for high level MERV filters, many people may not realize that these filters will clog more rapidly than standard MERV-8 or lower style filters and need to be changed more frequently.
Other maintenance items in the system should still be checked but should be done by a professional. This includes checking that gas trains are clean on gas fired equipment, that burners and oil filters are clear on oil fired units and on water-based systems that trim devices like expansion tanks, make up water valves and bleed valves are all in good working order.
It’s recommended that a professional look at these items because if there is a failure on one of these, the risks of a broken valve failing to close or water levels dropping dangerously low are too great to not have a professional handle. A properly maintained system will pay dividends on energy usage, performance as well as extending the life of the equipment itself.
Programmable thermostats are a must when preparing for the winter
Years ago, the typical thermostat found in a home was a “Yo-Yo” type thermostat that operated with a manual dial that used a bi-metal strip to engage or disengage a system based on setpoint. While this type of method is great for its simplicity, it lacks any ability to program the system to run at certain setpoints at certain times.
Without the ability to program the system, this means the building is either running hotter or colder than it should when you are not there. Different people feel comfortable at different temperatures. There is no one set temperature that satisfies everybody. Generally speaking, a heating setpoint temperature should be anywhere between 66-70F to balance both comfort and energy consumption.
Another important consideration is the setpoint temperature when the home, business, facility is not in use. Many people tend to use a setback temperature very low (Like 50F-55F) for these times. While this may be perfectly fine for some systems and buildings, it may not be desirable for all. One must consider several factors when determining the right setback temperature. Factors including the system type and how fast the heat will be delivered to the space, the condition of the building and how leaky it is for outside air infiltration and what type of outside temperatures you may be facing.
Let’s take a radiant heating system for example. This type of system does an amazing job at providing steady, efficient comfortable heat. This type of system also takes a long time to heat up the flooring it is serving. The same heavy mass (floor tile, concrete, etc) that has a benefit of slowly dissipating heat also has the same effect when applying heat.
If the setback temperature on a radiant system is dropped to say 55F for an entire day while the outdoor temperature drops below freezing in a loosely constructed building (high infiltration), the space temperature will gradually drop throughout the day and when its time to bring the radiant heating back on, it may take several hours longer than desired to bring the space temperature up to a comfortable level. For systems with a slow recovery time a setback temperature above 60F may be more appropriate. Additionally, if extremely cold temperatures and high winds are expected, it may be advisable to keep setback temperatures relatively high, especially on leaky structures to avoid the possibility of water pipes freezing.
Dry air in the winter
Most people are very aware that the winter time dries out the air. This is evident as our skin begins to feel itchy due to the dry air. The air becomes dry in the winter as there is less moisture in the air and most of us are not fortunate enough to have a humidification system in our homes or offices.
If we did, however, another important maintenance item would be the canisters of electro-steam humidifiers. These can become fouled up over time with exposure to minerals in the water and need to be either cleaned or replaced. Depending on their location, these should also be inspected to make sure they are working properly and that the ductwork they are serving is not collecting any water which carries the risk of mold growth. Humidistat setpoints for humidifier systems generally range in the 40-45% RH setpoints for the winter but this may need to be higher or lower depending on what is inside the home or business.
Maximize your indoor comfort this winter with Klima
At Klima, we are your partners in climate control. As the leading provider of HVAC equipment — from Variable Refrigerant Flow, Custom Air Handling Units, Package Rooftop Units and Dedicated Outdoor Air Systems — we work with our clients to ensure maximum indoor comfort, especially as winter approaches.