Heating, AC, Plumbing & Electrical FAQs
Committed to Answering Your Questions
At Black Hills, we understand that a lot of the systems in your home – from your electrical system to your HVAC systems to your plumbing system – come with a huge learning curve. If you’re not sure how to best to maintain your system or how to tell if you need repairs, don’t hesitate to call our experts! Below, read our answers to some of the most commonly asked questions for helpful information about your home comfort systems.
If you still have questions, reach out to us online or at (360) 558-3242.
What are signs of wear and tear on my heating or air conditioning system?
If you notice that your heating or air conditioning system is starting to wear down, it doesn’t always mean replacement is necessary. However, some issues are more severe than others. The first sign will be an increase in electricity use to run your system. You may also notice that your heating and air conditioning unit may be pumping out different temperatures in different parts of the house.
If you have a newer model that is less than five years old, most issues should be handled through regular maintenance of your air conditioner. Have your coils cleaned, ducts vacuumed, and cooling units checked at least once a year.
However, if you have a unit that’s more than 12 years old, a replacement unit may serve to relieve these problems and cut down on your energy use, as most new models are far more efficient than those made 10 or more years ago.
Regular maintenance should also be scheduled at this time to keep your unit in working order and your ducts clean.
Why should I replace my existing heating or air conditioning system?
Most air conditioning units will last between 10-15 years if they are properly maintained. Maintenance is important for all heating and air conditioning systems. Look out for signs of aging, inefficiency, and high repairs costs. Today’s systems are as much as 60% more efficient than systems manufactured 10 years ago. If you are concerned about utility bills or are faced with an expensive repair, you may want to consider replacing your system rather than enduring another costly season or paying to replace an expensive component.
How do I select the right heating/cooling system?
First, make sure that the unit is properly sized. At Black Hills, we use load calculators to calculate the correct-sized system for your home, which also helps increase efficiency.
Additionally, know your budget parameters and the efficiency of the system being proposed. Does the system offer a payback? In other words, will the monthly savings over time offset the cost of the new unit or efficiency option being considered? Sizing HVAC equipment is very important from the standpoints of both comfort and energy use. Heating and cooling equipment that is over-capacity or under-sized will not be as energy efficient as properly matched capacity equipment.
How do I know if my system is working properly?
Is it making strange noises? Is it cooling or heating all areas of your home sufficiently? Has it been taking longer to cool down or heat up? Have your utility bills been rising for no apparent reason? Any of these are signs that you may have a problem that needs service. In most cases, the longer you delay, the worse any underlying problems will get – so be sure to contact Black Hills to check out your system whenever you notice anything out of the ordinary.
In terms of preventative maintenance, how often should you get your furnace and air conditioner maintained?
They should be checked and cleaned to ensure they are operating efficiently, properly, and safely. We recommend checking the furnace and air conditioner at least once a year so that we can fully operate the system to check its operation. It’s easy for us to obtain a more accurate reading.
How can we improve the efficiency of an existing heating and cooling system without replacing the furnace or the air conditioner and without adding more insulation?
First and foremost is MAINTENANCE. The equipment needs to be cleaned and serviced by a licensed professional at least once if not twice per year. Studies have shown that lack of proper maintenance can reduce equipment efficiency by 5 – 10%. In addition, most of today’s filters need to be changed a minimum of every 90 days – and don’t skimp on the filter.
At Black Hills, we go through a 14-point checklist to ensure that your heating or air conditioning unit is running well.
- Check ductwork for leaks and other problems
- Clean the coils of the indoor evaporator and outdoor condenser units
- Inspect electrical wiring, connections, and controls
- Check refrigerant levels
- Inspect condensate drains and drain pans
- Check and adjust outdoor fan blades and motor in the blower assembly
- Check refrigerant and compressor tubing
- Lubricate moving parts as needed
- Run a full system test
- Inspect, clean, or replace air filters
How often should I replace my filters?
Air filters keep the air in your home clean and fresh by filtering out the air in your ducts. If you don’t replace your air filters, your system will work harder than necessary, and may even stop working altogether. We recommend that you replace your air filters at least once every month or two for optimum efficiency and to protect the life of your heating and air conditioning system.
Indoor Air Quality
How does the air quality outside affect my house?
Regardless of how well you think you've sealed your home, air will circulate from outside and come indoors. So, if you have a strong source of pollutants near your home – such as a busy highway or an airport – you are more likely to have air quality issues inside your home
What are the most common causes of IAQ problems?
- Not enough ventilation
- Lack of fresh outdoor air/contaminated air entering the building
- Poor upkeep of ventilation, heating, and air conditioning systems
- Dampness and moisture damage due to leaks, flooding, or high humidity
- Occupant activities, such as construction or remodeling
- Indoor and outdoor contaminated air
What are some of the common indoor air pollutants that might be found in a home?
- Environmental tobacco smoke: Whether you have a smoker in your household or have neighbors who smoke, this is a significant contributor to indoor air pollution
- Biologicals: Bacteria, mold and mildew, viruses, animal dander, pollen, and dust mites. These are more likely to be a problem in buildings with high humidity or water damage.
- Carbon monoxide: From unvented gas heaters, leaking chimneys or furnaces, gas stoves, or automobile exhaust. Low levels can cause headaches and flu-like symptoms. High levels can be fatal.
- Respirable particles: From fireplaces, wood stoves, kerosene heaters, and smoking.
- Organic gases: From household products including paints, paint strippers, and other solvents; wood preservatives; aerosol sprays; cleansers and disinfectants; moth repellents and air fresheners; stored fuels and automotive products; hobby supplies; dry-cleaned clothing.
- Pesticides: Products used to kill household pests, and lawn and garden products that may drift or be tracked into the house.
What health problems could my family face from indoor air pollution?
While the majority of problems related to indoor air pollution are relatively minor, severe issues can develop when ventilation remains poor or the contaminant levels rise too high. Specifically, irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs is very possible as is the flare-up of asthma and seasonal allergies, and possibly the development of infections in the sinuses, lungs, and throat.
How much of an effect the pollutants in your house have will vary greatly depending on the age and general health of your family. Some people are very resistant to pollutants and may feel fine. However, even if you don't feel the effects of poor air quality, it is taking its toll on your body, forcing nearly every part of you to work harder at sorting out the oxygen needed from the air and getting it to your vital organs.
What can I do right now to fix the air quality in my home?
To start, remove any pollutants you can control. Tobacco smoke, paint, solvents, and industrial cleaners are all heavy contaminants that are not recommended for indoor use. You can also have the vents and ducts checked and cleaned in your house. Patching leaks in your roof and basement can reduce the impact of water damage and the build-up of mold and mildew as well.
Overall, however, cleanliness and ventilation will have a great impact on the common pollutants that build up in most homes.
And finally, there is filtration. The only real way to be 100% sure that your home is free of unwanted pollutants is to install a filtration system that removes all of the contaminants that float around in your home, including bacteria and viruses.