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EPA Warns About Dangerous R-22 Substitutes for Air Conditioning

The Environmental Protection Agency has issued a warning to homeowners, propane manufacturers, home improvement contractors and air conditioning technicians regarding the unapproved use of propane as a substitute for R-22 refrigerant, used in older model air conditioning units. The United States is phasing out the use of R-22 refrigerant as part of an international treaty agreement to reduce the effects of climate change.

The EPA is investigating claims of injuries and explosions resulting from the unauthorized substitution of propane to recharge air conditioning units. As a substitute refrigerant, propane is marketed as R-290, 22a, 22-A, R-22a, HC-22a, and CARE 40. Residential and commercial R-22 air conditioning units are not fitted to handle propane as a refrigerant, and the use of propane in these units poses a serious safety risk, especially to homeowners and air conditioning technicians.

Propane is authorized for use as a substitute refrigerant in certain commercial freezers and refrigerators, but the EPA has never authorized its use in air conditioners of any kind. Homeowners are cautioned to avoid using propane with any appliance that is not specifically labeled as propane-ready.

The temptation to use a “substitute” refrigerant for R-22 is high, since R-22 is being phased out, its cost is rising and the supply of R-22 is dwindling. As tempting as it may be, there’s no good reason to compromise the safety of your family to save a few dollars. If you have an older air conditioning unit that requires a recharge, new R-22 is still available and will be produced through 2020 for servicing purposes. After 2020, new R-22 will not be produced, and only reclaimed, recycled R-22 will be available for servicing.

The older your air conditioning unit is, the less efficient it is. Over time, inefficient units become even less efficient. Newly produced units are much more efficient to operate, use more ecologically friendly refrigerants and may even be eligible for tax credits and interest-free financing options.

At Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, we use only the refrigerants that are recommended for your air conditioning units during servicing. If you would like more information about air conditioning, air conditioning maintenance or would like us to safely recharge your R-22 air conditioning unit, please call us at (617) 288-2911 to set up an appointment.

Lower Electric Bills In Boston This Summer?

If you’re looking for ways to lower your electric bills this year, you might not have to do very much. That’s because a new analysis by the US Department of Energy suggests that consumers will pay modestly less for electricity in Boston this summer. Long-term weather forecasts suggest that this summer will be much milder than 2012, resulting in a drop in demand for electricity of about 2.5%.

Even with this rosy prediction, it’s never a bad time to look for ways to conserve energy, reduce consumption and keep your air conditioner in great shape. If your home has an older air conditioner, installing high-efficiency air conditioners can help reduce your electric bill for years to come, as can performing regular maintenance on a high-efficiency unit you may already have installed.

Simple things like clogged filters and dirty condenser coils can reduce the efficiency of a unit by as much as 10% per season. Deferring maintenance on an air conditioner may actually cost you more money (in the form of higher operational costs and increased need for service calls) than the annual maintenance does! In many cases, simple tasks like changing the air filter monthly and cleaning the condenser coils can be done without calling a service professional in.

You may want to seek help if your air conditioner runs but doesn’t cool the air in your home, or if the unit leaks fluid of any kind. Likewise, if your evaporator unit frosts when you turn it on, you’ll want to call in a licensed air conditioning repair professional for assistance. Keep in mind that a small amount of frosting on your air conditioning unit is normal. Icing or heavy frosting is not!

Here’s something that won’t save any money on your electric bill, but it may save you the expense of a service call, or the trouble of cleaning up a big mess! Keeping your condensate drain clear is well worth the (minimal) effort this task takes.

Condensed water drains from the indoor evaporator unit to a floor drain. sump well or to the exterior of the home. If this drain becomes clogged, the condensed water can flood the area around the evaporator and potentially cause water damage and a nasty mess inside the home.

The primary cause of clogging in a condensate drain is organic material (algae) that grows inside the drain. This is a natural process, and clearing the condensate drain is all that’s required to address the problem. You can clear the drain using a wet-dry vacuum and a special attachment that sits between the wet-dry vacuum and the condensate drain. With the attachment in place, turn on the wet-dry vac and let it run for a few minutes. When you’re finished, your drain line should be empty and clog-free, while your wet-dry vacuum should be full of algae water that can be discarded.

To maintain your condensate drain and potentially avoid clogs altogether, you can add an enzymatic drain cleaning product like Bio-Clean to the drain pipe. (Don’t add a harsh chemical drain cleaner that contains lye or similar acids!) The enzymes in Bio-Clean will attack the organic material in the drain and keep it free from growth and organic build-up.

If you would like assistance with air conditioner maintenance or information about high-efficiency air conditioning, including financing options, please give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We can provide both scheduled and emergency service for air conditioning throughout Boston.

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Beat The Heat In Boston This Week

The Summer of 2013 may have gotten off to a slow start, but temperatures are going to be above 90°F in Boston throughout the weekend. This unusual rise in temperature may be a challenge for those with air conditioning. Boston isn’t known for its extreme temperatures, but it is important to make sure your air conditioner is ready to help you beat the heat!

When the temperature rises, it’s natural to kick on the air conditioner, but there are a few air conditioner maintenance steps you should take to help ensure that you have a trouble-free summer season. Central air conditioning units usually have two components: an outside unit and an inside one. Both parts of the system are important, and require routine maintenance to operate efficiently.

If you haven’t already done so, take a look at your outside unit, which contains the system’s condenser and compressor. Turn off the power to the unit at the circuit breaker, and remove the metal housing. Remove all organic debris that may have accumulated over the winter, including leaves, seeds, and spider webs. Using a hose, gently spray the unit to remove any residual dirt and accumulations. Debris can reduce the efficiency of your air conditioner by 5%-10%, so it’s worth it to take the time to get the outside unit cleaned up.

While you’ve got the unit open, visually inspect for any apparent damage to the condenser coils and the compressor. If you see any obvious damage or leaks, contact a heating and cooling professional for assistance. If everything appears to be in order, put the housing back on and secure it.

Inside the house, you’ll want to look at the evaporator, which is often housed in or near your furnace. Sometimes, the air handler will be located elsewhere, but you’ll want to find it and open up the evaporator. The evaporator should be clean, free from dust, debris, mold and rust.
If your evaporator is in poor condition, your air conditioner will not work well, if at all. Your evaporator can be cleaned, but if it has never been serviced or has started to deteriorate, you may want to consider replacing it. This isn’t a do-it-yourself task, but the benefit will be that your air conditioner will be more efficient, it will cost less to operate, and your home will be healthier and more comfortable.

While you’ve got the inside unit open, change the air filter – also located in or near the furnace. Changing your air filter monthly will help your unit maintain efficiency, reduce your electric bill, and will help ensure that your central air conditioning system doesn’t become a haven for dust, mold and other airborne irritants.

One these simple maintenance tasks have been completed, return the power to your air conditioner and turn it on. Set the thermostat to a comfortable operating temperature and observe the unit for awhile. If the system turns on inside, but not outside, check for a second electrical breaker and make sure the outside unit has power.

A small amount of frosting may be considered normal, but if the outside unit ices over while operating, contact a heating and cooling service professional for assistance.
Likewise, if the system begins to leak water, this is a symptom of a condensate drain clog. Contact a heating and cooling professional for assistance if this occurs while your unit is operating.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating is ready to provide you with exceptional heating and cooling services, including air conditioner installation, maintenance and repair. Call us at (617) 288-2911 anytime for assistance with your air conditioning unit.

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High Efficiency Central Air Conditioners

Last week, I talked about air conditioner efficiency in terms of window air conditioners. In some situations, window air conditioners will work just fine. For some homeowners in Boston, central air conditioning is the preferred solution because it cools the entire house, instead of a single room or selected rooms.

As a brief refresher, the seasonal energy efficiency rating (SEER) compares the output of the air conditioner to the electricity it consumes. The higher the SEER, the more efficient the air conditioner is. A BTU (British thermal unit) is a measure of cooling output. The higher the BTU, the more powerful the air conditioner is.

For a “whole-house” solution, a central air conditioning unit with a BTU output of 60,000 and a SEER of 19.9 (very high efficiency) will consume about 3kW/hr. At $0.05 per kW/hr, assuming that your air conditioning is on for 8 hours daily, you’ll spend about $1.20 per day on electricity to cool your entire house. Over the course of a season (assuming 110 days), you’ll spend about $135 to keep your house cool.

If your central air conditioner had a BTU output of 60,000 but had a SEER of only 10.8 (the same as last week’s window air conditioner), the daily operating cost would be about $2.25 and the seasonal expense would be about $244.

Over the course of 10 to 15 years (the life expectancy of a well-maintained central air conditioner), you’d spend between $1,100 and $1,650 more on electricity to use the low-efficiency air conditioner. If you applied this expenditure to a higher-efficiency air conditioner instead, you’d save money over the life of the unit. You may also qualify for rebates or tax incentives by choosing a high-efficiency unit.

The lesson here is that if you want central air conditioning, install the highest possible efficiency system you can. The up-front expense may be larger, but your expenditure over the lifetime of the system will be lower and it will lower your total cost of ownership.

Also keep in mind that maintenance is a key part of extending the life of your central air conditioner and maintaining its rated efficiency. Without maintenance, an air conditioning system can lose between 5% and 10% efficiency each year. That would effectively transform our example 19.9 SEER unit into a 17.9 SEER unit and increase its electricity cost by $13 in the second season. That doesn’t sound like much, but after 5 years, the seasonal electricity cost would have increased by nearly $70. After 7 years, the high-efficiency unit would cost more to operate than a well-maintained 10.8 SEER unit!

If you have a central air conditioning unit that isn’t working as well as you think it can, contact us at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating at (617) 288-2911. We’ll be happy to service your central air conditioning unit and return it to peak efficiency.

A Little Boston Air Conditioner Maintenance Goes A Long Way!

With the snow having finally melted in Boston, and the temperatures are rising once again, Spring is definitely here. After such a hard winter in Boston, air conditioner maintenance might not be the first thing on homeowners’ minds. Soon enough however, temperatures will rise into the 70’s and 80’s and A/C will be the order of the day.

Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating is ready to help you inspect, repair and maintain your home’s air conditioning system. After a hard winter like the one we’ve had, a little spring cleaning may be in order. Outdoor air conditioning units accumulate lots of debris, especially from falling leaves, seeds, and petals from flowering trees. Spring cleaning will pay off handsomely, and will help your outdoor unit remain trouble-free. Getting rid of the debris is Job #2. Job #1 is always safety. In this case, that means cutting the power to the A/C unit.

The outdoor portion of your home’s air conditioning system includes the compressor and an electric motor, which make a lot of noise and heat. Compressors and motors are usually self-contained and don’t require much maintenance. You will need to remove the cover on the unit to inspect and clean the condenser coil. Removing the cover usually involves basic hand tools and isn’t hard to do. Carefully remove the cover and do not touch the condenser “fins” with your hands. Fins are made of soft, wavy metal. Bending the fins will reduce the unit’s efficiency.

Take a look at the uncovered unit. Check for oil leaks or accumulation around fittings and near hoses. These are all signs of leaking. If you notice that a compressor is leaking oil, however, that’s a good sign that a repair is in your future. Don’t try to tighten fittings that appear to be leaking. Instead, give us a call at Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating, at (617) 288-2911 and let us take a look.

Some electric motors require lubrication at the beginning of the season. If your motor has an oil port, consult the owner’s manual to see how much oil should be added. You can find oil for an electric motor at a hardware or home improvement store. Usually, you’ll need to add just a few drops. Note that some motors are sealed and don’t require additional lubrication.

Included in the box with the compressor is the condenser coil, which has a fan. The fan’s job is to pull outside air through the condenser coil. Along with air, however, the fan also pulls a lot of debris into the condenser coil and reduces the unit’s efficiency. Sweep out or remove by hand any debris that you can reach easily. Using a garden hose, gently wash the fins to remove any remaining debris. Allow the unit to dry.

Inside your home, you’ll need to clean the evaporator unit, which will be located somewhere near the furnace. The evaporator also has fins, so work gently around your evaporator. Use a very soft brush to clean the fins or gently vacuum the unit to remove any accumulated dust, dirt and debris. If the evaporator doesn’t look approachable, looks like it’s been leaking, you can’t locate it, or you know where it is but can’t reach it, contact Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating and we’ll be happy to lend a hand.

Finally, make sure all drain hoses or drain lines are free of debris and accumulation. If you discover biological growth in your drain lines, you can use BioClean, a natural, enzymatic drain cleaner to clear your drain lines. Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating stocks BioClean, and it’s safe and easy to use.

Once the outside unit has dried, reattach the cover and fasten it in place. (Don’t store anything on top of or around the unit, either!) Re-apply the power and test your system. If you run into problems, Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating offers standard and emergency repair services and we’re on call 24-hours a day! Contact us today at (617) 288-2911 for more information or to schedule an inspection. Find out for yourself why Boston Standard Plumbing & Heating was named the Best of Boston 2010!