Spring is here; what can I do to help rid my home of allergens?
The first thing is to keep windows and doors shut. Your house may get too hot, but that is where an air conditioner can help. There are some other options available for those who would like to let their house “breathe”. First is to put your furnace fan on “circulate”. Most houses these days have a “summer fan switch” or a “circulate” option on their thermostat. This will circulate air throughout the house and eventually through the furnace filter. This brings us to the most important thing to catch allergens - having a good filter. Filters usually have a MERV rating, which is based on the size of particles they will trap. Most 1” pleated filters will be in the range of about MERV 6-8 and do a decent job at collecting allergens, provided they are changed monthly. With all of our new furnace installs we typically include a 5” pleated filter with a MERV 10 rating which will offer more protection and only needs to be replaced every 6-12 months. For more protection, Lennox offers its PureAir system. This combines a MERV 16 (hospital-grade, HEPA filtration is MERV 13) replaceable filter with UV lights to kill any germs and viruses. The filters have the same life span as the 5” filters, but the UV bulbs should last approximately 2 years. Regardless of your filtration level, your furnace fan must be running. Please feel free to contact G.M. Mechanical for more information.
Do I need a water softener or reverse osmosis (RO) unit?
If you live in town, you may have noticed that the water here is fairly hard. Soft water is considered less than 1 gpg and more than 10.5 gpg is considered very hard. Town water is typically ranging from 15-20 grains per gallon (gpg) of hardness. There are several benefits to adding a softener such as having cleaner and softener laundry, saving money by using up to 50% less soap, shampoo and detergents, but most importantly increasing the lifespan of your water-related appliances. You can double the life of a dishwasher, washing machine or water heater by having soft water versus hard water. At G.M. Mechanical, we typically use a Petwa 762 series controller. This particular unit has “demand regeneration” so the unit will only regenerate when it has to and not just because “it’s time”. This will save you money on salt as compared to an old-style softener. Now that you have soft water, you can go with a Reverse Osmosis (RO) unit. These units give you clean water to drink by removing Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) regardless of if there is a softener in the house or not. These units can be installed on a fridge water system, virtually eliminating the need to replace your fridge water filter. Both of the softener and RO units work great in town. For those of you whose water comes from a well, a sample would have to be tested to identify what contaminants are in the water before recommending any type of equipment. Please feel free to contact G.M. Mechanical for more information.
Summer is coming; what do I need to know before getting an Air Conditioner?
In most cases, it’s just a matter of if you want it. If you have a furnace, we can usually match it up with an air conditioner. For those without a furnace, there are “ductless split” units available that can cool from 1-3 rooms. In our climate, air conditioning is not a necessity but can make a big difference in your comfort level inside your home. When the house is too hot, it can make it hard to relax or even sleep at night. Other than the obvious cooling of the air benefit, air conditioners offer other benefits as well. You can leave your windows shut so no additional dust can come in. When the humidity increases in the summer, the air conditioner also acts as a dehumidifier. For those of you that are concerned with the noise level, Lennox offers a unit that is as low as 59 decibels (normal conversation at 3 feet away is 60-65 decibels). Also, just like your furnace, air conditioners require regular maintenance. An annual service should be done to keep your warranty valid and ensure that the unit is in good working order. You will need to ensure that your furnace filters are clean as well to avoid coil freeze-ups. One last thing is what temperature you should set it for. It is all about personal preference; however, when it's 32°C (90°F) it will still feel cool in your house if it is at 24° (75°)(above average winter room temperature). For more information or to book your free quotation, please contact G.M. Mechanical @ 403-652-1282.
Ways to conserve water this summer.
Leaking toilets, taps and other fixtures can have a larger effect than most people realize. A tap that drips once every 10 seconds will waste about 100 litres of water per month. Bathroom and kitchen taps are usually easy to spot a leak; however, a dripping outside lawn service can go unnoticed for months. Another common culprit is the toilet. A slow toilet leak is usually only noticed if someone is around when it re-fills the tank. One way to find out if you have a toilet leak is to place a drop of food colouring in the toilet tank. If the colour shows up in the bowl within 15 minutes without flushing, you have a leak. Make sure to flush immediately after to avoid staining the tank. Irrigation systems usually leak water into the ground, but over a 24 hr period can amount to a lot of water wasted. Irrigation lines should be blown out and air tested every year (usually in the fall). Another way to check for water leaks is to watch your water meter. There should be no movement over 2 hours of no water use. Once a leak is found it should be repaired or the fixture should be replaced as soon as possible to avoid further damage. Most fixtures have maximum gallons per hour or gallons per flush capacity that is fairly low. Old toilets used to use 13 L when flushing, whereas new toilets use 6 L or less. Dual flush toilets typically use 6 L for solids and 3 L for liquids. For more information or for help in repairing your leaks, please contact G.M. Mechanical @ 403-652-1282.
I have a high efficient furnace now; what do I need to know?
Sometimes you just have to look at the bright side… High River became a much more energy-efficient town since the flood. Some of you had high-efficiency furnaces before but many of you were forced to change from old in-efficient designs. For those who were forced to charge and the others who just want a reminder, here are a few things to note about high-efficient furnaces. The first two things are maintenance issues. The first thing that you should be changing your furnace filters regularly. Some filters only required being changed once a year, whereas your standard 1” filter should be changed monthly. The second is that the vent termination on the outside of the house may form an icicle. If this grows and covers the vent, the furnace will not work, so be sure to remove or chip off if necessary. The last thing to remember is that the new furnaces have a lot more parts that the old furnaces did. These parts help increase the efficiency as well as eliminate most (if not all) potential safety issues with older designs. Due to the increase in sensitive parts, high efficient furnaces should be maintained regularly. Most warranty contracts for furnaces require that the furnace be maintained at a minimum of once a year by a qualified technician. At G.M. Mechanical, we offer a maintenance contract so you know what you will be charged and don’t have to remember every year. During the maintenance visit, our technician may be able to spot small issues before they become a larger issue. For more information, please contact G.M. Mechanical @ 403-652-1282.
Ways to make your house more comfortable this winter!
Does your house have a room that is significantly colder than the rest? This is often caused by an ineffective ductwork layout. To replace the ductwork would be quite costly, but there are more inexpensive measures you can take to help alleviate the problem. The first is to check for return air. Make sure there is a return air vent in the room and that it is not blocked by furniture. Another measure would be to run your furnace fan continuously. This will help circulate the warm air throughout the house to help reduce temperature variances. You may need a return air vent added to the room, an extra heat run or even just have your furnace wired to run on a continuous fan. If you are worried about the noise produced or electricity used by running your furnace fan, you can upgrade to a furnace with a variable-speed blower. These DC drive blowers use approximately 1/8 of the electricity and are far quieter.
Are you experiencing your seasonal cold? Does it happen every year when the temperature drops? This often has less to do with the outdoor temperature and more to do with the quality of air in your home. Your furnace likely hasn’t run for months, leaving a place in your ductwork for bacteria to thrive, waiting for the furnace to turn on and circulate this “bad” air throughout the house. Adding a hi-efficient air cleaner/filter can remove harmful bacteria or, in the case of the Lennox PureAir system, even viruses. Something as simple as having regular maintenance done to your furnace can also help. For more information, please call GM Mechanical @ 403-652-1282 or visit www.gmmech.net.
Are you experiencing your seasonal cold? Does it happen every year when the temperature drops?
This often has less to do with the outdoor temperature and more to do with the quality of air in your home. Your furnace likely hasn’t run for months leaving a place in your ductwork for bacteria to thrive waiting for the furnace to turn on and circulate this “bad” air throughout the house. Adding a hi-efficient air cleaner/filter can remove harmful bacteria or in the case of the Lennox PureAir system, even viruses. Something as simple as having regular maintenance done to your furnace can also help.
Hints to get the most out of your furnace this winter and be problem-free.
We all know the cold is coming; we can’t avoid it. One easy way to reduce your gas bills is to turn down the temperature at night or when you are not at home. This can be done very easily with a programmable thermostat. You can set them to your schedule and they do all the work for you. And for those that do have a digital thermostat already… please remember to change the batteries. This will help ensure that your house is toasty warm every time you come home. Another way to make sure your hi-efficient furnace is working without problem is to check the exhaust and intake (if applicable) vents on the outside of the house. If you see an icicle forming, be sure to remove it as well as any other possible obstruction. Please also keep in mind that your furnace needs to breathe to be effective. Make sure that all vents are open and that return air vents are not blocked. This “breathing” can also be adversely affected by a dirty filter. A dirty filter reduces the amount of protection from dust and other particles you receive as well as causes harm to the furnace itself. You should be checking your humidifier pad as well. A humidifier pad that is scaled up will wastewater by passing it through to the drain. It can also create a situation for mould to grow. Be sure to have your heating equipment serviced by a qualified technician to avoid costly repairs or being stuck “inside” in the cold!
Things to check on your furnace before having to call G.M. Mechanical
Every year, when the temperature drops, our phone lines get jammed with calls from customers whose furnaces have to work more often than normal. In some cases, these calls could be avoided along with the repair bill. The first thing to check if you have no heat is your thermostat. Newer thermostats require a dedicated power line (common) or batteries to operate. The batteries in your thermostat should be changed yearly to avoid coming home to a cold house. Another thing to check is your filter. A plugged filter can cause your furnace to “hi-limit”. This means that there is not enough air getting through the furnace to remove the heat from the heat exchanger. The third most common issue is the flame sensor. This is for those of you that don’t mind getting your hands a little dirty. The flame sensor becomes coated in carbon over time. This can be cleaned with emery cloth and work as good as new. Be sure to turn the power off to the furnace before removing the cover! Sometimes turning the power off for 10-30 seconds can re-start your furnace. This will not fix the problem of why it quit in the first place, but it may buy you some time so you don’t have to call a technician out on overtime hours. As always, if you have any questions or need our help, please call G.M. Mechanical @ 403-652-1282 or visit www.gmmech.net.
Dispelling Myths about high-efficient furnaces
I often hear people saying that high-efficient furnaces aren’t as good as the old mid or standard-efficiency furnaces. They say they break down often because there are too many controls in them. Well, there are a lot more controls and parts to today’s furnaces but each one is there for either better efficiency or, more importantly, your safety. The pressure switches and combustion blowers are then to ensure that all the exhaust gases get where they need to go (outside). The gas valve and flame sensor ensure that fuel isn’t being put into the furnace when it is not fired (save from potential explosion). The limits are there to make sure that the furnace doesn’t overheat, which is usually due to a clogged filter.
On the other side of things, you have parts like a variable-speed blower motor that uses less electricity. There is a secondary heat exchanger that gains you about 10-15% efficiency. It’s the same thing with cars these days. There are more parts for efficiency and safety. But you wouldn’t let your car go without an oil change, would you? The same can be said for hi-efficiency furnaces. They should have a maintenance check performed on them once a year. This maintenance check will usually spot and correct any potential issues before the furnace has a chance to fail. So make sure to get those new furnaces maintained yearly and replace those filters and your new hi-efficient furnace should last for many years to come! As always, if you have any questions or need our help, please call G.M. Mechanical @ 403-652-1282 or visit www.gmmech.net.
What is the lifespan of the equipment in my house?
This is a great question when it comes to budgeting for the future. Water heaters typically last 10-15 years when they have soft water supplied to them and are flushed out annually. Not doing any maintenance and letting this area's hard water get at it can reduce the life down to 5-8 years. The softeners themselves have an expiration date as well. For a typical household on town water, they tend to last around 8-10 years before requiring replacement. This can be extended to 12-15 years with maintenance. Next, we have heating appliances. Most people have a furnace in their house. With proper maintenance, a furnace has a lifespan of about 25 years. For those without furnaces, who have boilers, once again with proper maintenance, a boiler should last upwards of 50 years! I often get people saying to me that the older furnaces and water heaters lasted far longer than the new equipment without any maintenance. While the old equipment did last a long time, it was inefficient and not very safe. Newer furnaces and water heaters have safety devices built in to ensure that the carbon dioxide and, more importantly, the carbon monoxide leaves the house instead of becoming a potential threat. If you were reading closely, you noticed the word “maintenance” repeated several times. It’s like going to buy a new car, never changing the oil, tires or brakes and wondering why it breaks down on you. The equipment in your house is no different and requires maintenance as well!
What to look for when picking a contractor?
Check with friends and neighbours about whom they recommend. Make sure they have the right experience. Having a plumber change out a furnace or a sheet metal technician repair a water heater doesn’t often work too well. Now there are exceptions to this rule, but make sure that they have been trained in the job that you are going to have them perform. Check how long a company has been in business. A company won’t last long by giving customers poor service and not standing behind their work. Watch out for small start-ups. There are a lot of people back from the oil patch, starting up their own companies. Although they may be less expensive, if the price of oil goes back up, they are likely to leave you in the middle of a job or the event of a product failure. Remember that you often “get what you pay for”. The cheapest contractor is likely to cut corners or use an inferior product to save money. Or worse, they could be desperate for the work which is usually due to poor quality work in the past.
Also, make sure that they have their appropriate WCB coverage and insurance so that if anything happens, you are not liable for a repair to your own house or the contractors’ hospital bills. Do they answer their phone and return messages? If they don’t answer their phone before they do your work, how easily are they going to be reached in the event of a problem with their work?
Furnaces: Check vs Cleaning vs Service
There seems to be a lot of discrepancy over what services companies offer when it comes to furnace maintenance.
The first thing I will start with is a furnace “Check”. This is typically the free service that Atco provides. Their mandate is to make sure the furnace is operating safely, nothing more. Don’t get me wrong, I would rather see people do this as opposed to nothing!
The second is having your furnace “Cleaned”. This is usually what duct cleaning companies offer. They come into your house and clean all of your ducts and clean the furnace as well. All they are doing is wiping down the hard surfaces of your furnace. They usually do not have the education if the furnace is operating in a safe manner or at its peak efficiency.
The last is having your furnace “Serviced”. This is what HVAC companies do. They check to ensure the furnace is safe to run and they do a physical clean of the furnace. However, this is where they differentiate themselves; they also check voltages, gas pressure and amperages. Checking these three things can help spot potential issues down the road. We can also adjust fan speeds, gas pressures and control board timing to help your furnace run as efficiently as possible.
A furnace “Service” is what most furnace warranties require annually for validation. We offer an annual maintenance program so that you don’t have to remember to have your furnace serviced every year; we do the remembering for you! As always, if you have any questions or need our help, please call G.M. Mechanical @ 403-652-1282 or visit www.gmmech.net.
How often should I change my furnace filter?
But my old furnace hasn’t been serviced in years and it works great?
Older furnaces were a much simpler design. They do not have the safety features that newer furnaces have. Also, with the older furnaces, they were very in-efficient, typically only 50% efficient. This means that for every dollar used to heat your home, 50 cents is going up your chimney. With the money you’d save with a hi-efficient furnace, you can pay for regular maintenance and still have to pay itself off in a short period! Please feel free to call G.M. Mechanical for more information @ 403-652-1282.
My furnace comes on, and then turns off soon after, but the fan stays running.
This is referred to as short-cycling. There are a few ways your furnace will do this, but by far the most common is due to a clogged filter. With a clogged filter, your furnace cannot get enough airflow to move the heat away from the heat exchanger and into the rest of the house. This causes your furnace to trip on hi-limit. Your furnace will not come back on until it cools down to a safe temperature. Please feel free to call G.M. Mechanical for more information @ 403-652-1282.
My digital thermostat display is blank but the furnace is on and won’t shut off.
With almost all digital thermostats, when the batteries run out of power, they stay in whatever position they were in when the batteries ran out. So if your furnace is in heating mode when the batteries run out, it will stay in heating mode until you change the batteries. Please feel free to call G.M. Mechanical for more information @ 403-652-1282.
What do I ask when hiring a contractor to make sure they are reputable?
Was just doing some looking around on Facebook and read a story of some local people being scammed by a contractor. As a contractor, I cannot stand when people do this, as it gives us all a bad name. I know many contractors in the area of all different trades and even some competing trades, and the majority of them are all good, honest, hard-working people. That being said, here are a few ways that you can protect yourself from scam artists.
If you are hiring a contractor there are a few things you can ask for: a business license is an obvious start. In Okotoks, the town has just requested that all of our employees keep copies in their vehicles. WCB coverage, so they cannot go after you if they are injured on the job in your house. Insurance, so if something goes wrong and there is damage done to your house or worse, the contractor has insurance to cover your repairs/losses.
Those are the important 3; you can also request their Alberta Business License. A company cannot legally ask for a deposit unless it has a "Prepaid Contractor License", it will say "Prepaid Contractor" right on the Alberta license certificate itself. Another thing to check for is if they have a G.S.T. number. Another way that may sound strange is to check their advertisements. If they advertise in newspapers or radio or other relatively expensive mediums, then they have invested money into the community and plan on staying around long enough to get a return on that investment.
Lots of little ways to try and protect yourself.
During the cold winter months, many ailments may become pronounced due to the cold, dry air. The heating systems in your home and office tend to dry the interior air, which may lead to problems for many. Here are seven benefits that come along with using a humidifier in your home or office during these cold winter months.
1. Helps prevent the spread of airborne viruses. Studies have shown that raising indoor humidity levels to at least 43% had a dramatic effect on approximately 85% of airborne viruses, rendering them virtually ineffective.
2. Helps prevent snoring. By using a humidifier to add moisture to the air, you create a more favourable scenario that may help soothe the tissues at the back of your throat.
3. Prevent dry skin. Because 50–60% of the human body is made of water, dry conditions may pull moisture out.
4. Helps your home feel warmer. Humidified air feels warmer than dry air. This can be attributed to the fact that with more water in the air, sweat evaporates more slowly, leaving people feeling warmer.
5. May relieve allergy symptoms. Allergy sufferers tend to feel more comfortable with heightened humidity, as it may help soothe the tissues in the throat and nasal passages.
6. Prevents static. This electricity can be annoying when associated with your laundry or frizzy hair. Even worse, built-up static can even damage sensitive electronics.
Tips and hints from G.M. Mechanical!
Water heaters are being hit hard with tariffs right now to the point where if you have a Power, Direct-Vent water tank, the unit is of a comparable cost to a tankless water heater. The only thing is, with a tankless water heater, you can still get up to a $1000.00 rebate from the Alberta government.
If you don’t have a/c and want to keep your house cool, keep your blinds closed during the day, open the windows at night to help your house cool down. Also, run your furnace fan to help circulate air from the basement to the rest of the house.
If you got a new furnace after the flood, your warranty might be running out this year. Book a Maintenance service call to potentially spot any issues before the parts are no longer under warranty!
One way to check for water leaks is to watch your water meter. There should be no movement over 2 hours of no water use. Irrigation systems and lawn services usually leak water into/onto the ground, but over a 24 hr period can amount to a lot of water wasted. Irrigation lines should be blown out and air tested every year (usually in the fall).
And lastly… please change your furnace filters often if you are completing a summer home renovation project. Drywall dust and other construction dust can wreak havoc on a furnace when it comes time to start again in the fall!