Category: Major Systems


How To: Clean Air Conditioner Coils

Save money and lengthen your AC unit’s life with this simple maintenance operation.

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How to Clean AC Coils on a Window Unit

Photo: istockphoto.com

During the hottest days of the year, it’s likely that you rely heavily on an air conditioning unit—be it targeting your room from a windowsill or cooling off the whole-home—without considering what makes it tick. Your AC condenser coils are where the magic happens: Here, the refrigerator unit in your go-to seasonal appliance absorbs heat to make the air cooler. As air passes over the cool refrigerant, it wicks the heat out in a process that’s essentially the reverse of how your forced air furnace operates. Now, the cleaner the surface area of those coils is, the more efficiently the machine works. Dust and oil that accumulate over time can create a blanket over the coils—one that, just like the blanket on your bed, impedes heat transfer and makes your AC less efficient and more expensive. Fortunately, the hardest part to cleaning air conditioner coils is remembering to set aside the time at least once a year. The process takes less than half an hour, but better schedule a full hour so you don’t feel like you’re rushing through the job.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS
- Screwdriver
- Coil brush
- Fin brush (optional)
- Garden hose
- Foaming coil cleaner

How to Clean AC Coils

Photo: istockphoto.com

STEP 1
For window ACs, you’ll need to access the end that sticks out of the house in order to reach the coils; central air units typically keep the coils behind a removable panel that you should unscrew in order to continue. Check your operator’s manual if you’re unclear—the specs diagram will identify exactly where the coils are and the process to remove the cover, if applicable. Remember: When in doubt, trust the manufacturer. They built it. They know how to take it apart.

STEP 2
Visually inspect the coils for any large debris like leaves, spider webs, or clods of dirt. Remove these by hand, then dust off the coils using a coil brush. Available at most big box hardware stores and AC shops, this specialty cleaning tool (also known as a soil brush) features bristles with stiffness about halfway between a hand broom and a wire brush. Lightly guide the brush parallel to the fins on the coils in order to avoid bending them. This isn’t a deep scrub—you’re simply knocking off loose dust and hair.

STEP 3 (optional)
Did you notice many bent fins on your coils in Step 2? (Hint: Bent fins will reflect light and often put a bright sheen to parts of the coils.) If so, running a fin brush slowly and parallel to the line of the fins could straighten them out. This will improve the performance of your AC unit by increasing the exposed surface area for the coils. If you don’t want to invest in a piece of specialized equipment like the fin brush (which can be purchased for $15 or more online), go ahead and skip this step. Correcting bent fins goes above and beyond the task at hand—cleaning the coils—from which you’re machine will already receive an efficiency boost.

STEP 4 (optional)
Rinse the coils on any outdoor central AC unit by spraying with water from your garden hose. If your unit is indoors, you can avoid a puddle beneath your window altogether by opting for a slightly pricier “no-rinse” type of coil cleaner and moving on to Step 5.

STEP 5
Shake the can of foaming coil cleaner—either the standard or a no-rinse version—and spray it directly into your coils so that none go uncovered. The cleaner should foam immediately, filling the air between coils where grime accumulates, until each section of your coils is hidden from view. The foaming lifts off all the unreachable dirt and grime embedded in between the fins. Let the cleaner soak for five to 10 minutes, according to the instructions on the can.

STEP 6
If the cleanser specifies, rinse off the foaming cleaner using your hose. You will need good water pressure and slow, back and forth motions to thoroughly rinse the cleanser off. Indoor units cleaned using rinse-free cleaner simply need to start up; the condensate will rinse off the cleaner on its own.

How to Clean AC Coils on a Whole-House Unit

Photo: istockphoto.com

Though some of the more unscrupulous AC service companies will say you need service two or three times per year, most experts agree cleaning your coils once a year is plenty. For best results, do it in the spring, immediately before the summer heat starts to demand your air conditioning perform at peak potential.

 

Cleaning Tips for a Spotless Home

All of the Essential Cleaning Advice from BobVila.com
There’s no way around it: Keeping the house clean demands your time, your energy, and even some of your money. Fortunately, this arsenal of cleaning tips can help you finish the housekeeping more quickly—and with fewer commercially sold products.


How To: Choose a Radiant Floor Heating System

With the growing array of radiant systems on the market today, make sure that you're picking the best possible product for your home's situation and your family's comfort.

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How to Choose a Radinat Heat System

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Whether it’s a new floor for the living room or new cabinetry for the kitchen, remodeling typically involves changing how the home looks. When you install new HVAC equipment, however, you are changing how the home actually feels. Putting in a new HVAC system is a key moment in your tenure as homeowner. After all, you may repaint the walls of your living spaces multiple times, but you’ll probably install a new heating and cooling technology just once, and this selection will have an impact on your daily comfort and contentment for years, if not decades, to come. How can you make such an important decision when there are so many different options?

Ask a half dozen homeowners to name the best residential heating method, and you might get a half dozen different answers. Each type comes with its own pros and cons, and each fits differently into the overall landscape. For instance, forced-air heating, the dominant mode of home heating for the past 50 years or so, is probably the technology to which most people are accustomed. Radiant heating, meanwhile, although it’s achieved wide popularity elsewhere in the world, remains relatively rare here. But that’s changing. Increasing numbers of homeowners are choosing the radiant alternative, and it’s easy to see why.

For starters, radiant floor heating delivers a qualitatively different experience than the hit-and-miss level of comfort provided by traditional systems. The fact is that in a room heated by a single source—a baseboard, for example, or a radiator—comfort often proves elusive. Get too close and you sweat, too far away and you shiver. Forced air only compounds the problem of uneven heating, because such systems operate in a cyclical stop-and-start pattern that inevitably leads to uncomfortable temperature swings. And as the hot air rises, you can often find yourself too cold in some parts of the house, too hot in others. By contrast, radiant heat provides consistent, complete warmth that feels the same no matter where you are in a room.

Radiant heat’s ability to create “everywhere” warmth owes partly to the fact that its components sit beneath the floor and stretch across virtually every available square foot. It’s a unique system design, one that helps create not only comfort, but also energy savings. Unlike forced air, radiant heating requires no ductwork—and ducts are notoriously leaky, compromising the efficiency of a system by 25 percent or more. By sidestepping ducts, radiant heating systems minimize (if not eliminate) heat loss, maximizing homeowners’ energy savings from month to month and one year to the next.

With a radiant system, you can also look forward to a number of quality-of-life benefits. Because radiant heat is largely an “out of sight, out of mind” affair, you probably won’t be constantly aware of these improvements, but they’ll be there all the same. For example, there’s the fact that radiant heat runs at a whisper-quiet decibel level, in stark contrast to the typically noisy operation of traditional systems. As well, while conventional forced-air heating seems to supply as much dust and germs as it does warmth and comfort, radiant heating does nothing to detract from indoor air quality, making it a particularly attractive option for anyone concerned about home health.

If you’re sold on the superiority of radiant heating, read on for a few considerations to bear in mind when it’s time to choose the right system for your home.

 

ELECTRIC VS. HYDRONIC

How to Choose a Radiant Heat System - Electric vs Hydronic

Photo: warmboard.com

There are two main types of radiant heating technologies. Though they share a handful of superficial similarities—both heat from the ground up, for example—the two couldn’t be more different. Electric radiant heating systems rely on a network of below-floor electric cables to provide supplemental heat in a room that’s underserved by the main heating system (for instance, the master bathroom). As electricity doesn’t come cheap, such systems are generally considered comfort luxuries, effective for warming the floor but not the whole home. If you’re trying to keep your entire house toasty warm, narrow your search to include only the second main type of radiant heating—hydronic.

Hydronic radiant heat systems work completely differently. Here, boiler-heated water circulates through a network of tubing installed under the floor. Heat radiates outward from the tubing, first to the floor, then to the furniture, objects, air, and people in the conditioned space. Homeowners enjoy an enveloping, all-around warmth that surpasses the whole-home heating performance of traditional HVAC options. Better still, hydronic radiant heating runs primarily not on pricey electricity, but on the relatively inexpensive energy produced by an oil or gas boiler.

 

PANEL PARTICULARS

How to Choose a Radiant Heat System - Aluminum vs. Gypsum

Photo: warmboard.com

In the realm of hydronic radiant heat, the differences between competing systems are somewhat subtle yet still important to near-term comfort and long-term savings. Much depends on the design of the radiant panels that play such a pivotal role in the success of any radiant installation. Some products on the market are essentially slabs of gypsum concrete poured over the tubing. The problem is that, while not without virtues, gypsum concrete heats up slowly and cools down slowly, delaying the attainment of comfort temperatures.

For greater responsiveness—and even additional savings—consider a system like Warmboard, which has panels built with quick-to-respond aluminum, a material 232 times more conductive than sluggish gypsum concrete. In fact, aluminum transfers heat so effectively that the Warmboard system can achieve a target temperature with water 30 degrees cooler than would be required by another system. By lightening the load for the boiler, aluminum-clad panels can save the homeowner 10 to 20 percent on energy costs—and that’s in addition to the savings achieved by choosing radiant heat in the first place.

 

RETROFIT CHALLENGES

How to Choose a Radiant Heat System - Retrofitting

Photo: warmboard.com

Homeowners tend to appreciate the fact that radiant systems hide their components beneath the floor, making them basically invisible. There’s only one downside: In order to sit under the floor, radiant panels must be installed before the flooring. So, to complete installation in an existing home, it would first be necessary to remove the flooring, even if only temporarily, to accommodate the panels. On paper that all makes perfect sense, but in practice there’s a further complication. Once in place, typical radiant heating panels subtract inches from the overall height of a room and often create unevenness where different flooring materials meet. (Note that installing panels in walls may also be an option with some products.)

Given these challenges, it might appear that radiant heating is best installed during construction of a new home or addition, but it’s by no means impossible to retrofit a radiant system. At least one manufacturer actually offers a special type of panel that’s custom tailored for such projects. Look for ultrathin panels that slip over the existing subfloor. New construction does, however, offer homeowners the possibility of saving on the cost of materials and labor by opting for full-size radiant panels that double as subflooring.

 

To be sure, there are plenty of big, meaningful points of contrast between radiant heat and traditional HVAC options like forced air. More surprising, though, are the tremendous differences among systems that share the same basic technology. That’s why it’s so important to compare the radiant technologies on your radar in terms of not only their price tags, but also their design and performance. After all, your family’s comfort is at stake! Fortunately, no matter which system you ultimately choose, with radiant heating you can depend on getting a clean, quiet technology that achieves total, unparalleled comfort with the utmost energy efficiency.

How to Choose a Radiant Heat System - Warm Floors

Photo: istockphoto.com

This article has been brought to you by Warmboard. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Which Type of Dehumidifier Is Right for You?

Savvy homeowners dread high humidity, not only because it causes discomfort, but also because over time, excess moisture can be severely damaging to the home. Often, dehumidifiers are the answer, but choosing the right model can be tricky business. Continue to get advice from an industry pro.

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Types of Dehumidifiers

Photo: supplyhouse.com

Does this sound familiar? You step outside on a hot day, and though the weather may not be ideal, you can certainly tolerate it. The next day, however, the same heat combines with a higher level of humidity, and you’re left fantasizing about taking the next plane to a kinder climate. Though many people focus primarily on their own sticky discomfort, veteran homeowners know the darker side of humidity: When the moisture content of air rises above a safe threshold indoors, there can be a battery of negative consequences, from musty odors and mold growth to warped wood and cracked or peeling paint. In other words, your house hates humidity as much as you do!

The solution? It’s simple—install a dehumidifier. Doing so not only boosts the efficiency and effectiveness of air conditioning, but also protects against damage due to excess moisture. The technology always works the same way, no matter if the dehumidifier is a portable model or a whole-home unit tied into the household HVAC. Air is pulled into the dehumidifier and exposed to a cold coil inside the unit, which causes water contained in the humid air to condense into liquid water that is then stored or drained. The now-dry air then exits the unit after passing over a warm coil. For all their fundamental similarities, however, dehumidifiers often differ dramatically in terms of capacity and design.

Types of Dehumidifiers - Portable Unit

Photo: supplyhouse.com

For a dehumidifier to serve its intended function, its capacity must match the demand. In other words, according to Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with SupplyHouse.com, “You need to make sure you get the right size dehumidifier for the job.” Much depends on two variables—the size of the space and the conditions within it. For instance, in a large, damp, closed-in basement, you would need a higher-capacity dehumidifier than in a relatively compact living space with sufficient airflow. If you’re considering whole-home dehumidification, it’s wise to consult with a contractor to make sure your unit will be compatible with your HVAC system and powerful enough for your needs. For portable units, however, you can generally rely on the coverage area specified by the manufacturer.

In terms of design, homeowners are probably most familiar with portable dehumidifiers that can be wheeled from one room to another in order to remove moisture from the immediately surrounding air. Such units are popular because they are user-friendly—as O’Brian puts it, “Installing one is as easy as installing a toaster.” They’re appealing also because these “plug and play” dehumidifiers tend to be the least expensive option, though not necessarily the least powerful. The downside: Portable units don’t run for very long on their own; many “need to be checked and emptied fairly regularly,” O’Brian notes. That said, in the wake of a moisture-related event—for instance, a flooded basement—O’Brian maintains that there’s no better option.

Some homeowners are fortunate enough to face perilously high humidity only on occasion and in certain parts of the house. For others, though, it’s a persistent problem, and not just in one or a few rooms, but throughout the home. In the latter situation, “your best bet may be an in-line dehumidifier,” O’Brian says. Specially designed to integrate with the existing forced-air HVAC system, whole-home dehumidifiers are more sophisticated than their stand-alone cousins and for that reason usually cost more—”if only because their installation requires a pro,” O’Brian adds. Yet the added cost gets you at least a couple of virtues not found in portables. For one, whole-home units do their job behind the scenes, without ever becoming an eyesore. Plus, “set it and forget it” in-line units rarely require homeowner intervention.

Retailers like SupplyHouse.com offer both portable and whole-home dehumidifiers in a wide range of capacities, from a suite of industry-leading manufacturers. To get a head start on selecting a unit, first monitor the moisture level in different areas of your home and use a hygrometer to take some humidity measurements. Then, when you’re ready to discuss specific requirements, don’t hesitate to contact SupplyHouse.com customer service, either online or by phone at (888) 757-4774. O’Brian concludes, “Whether you’re looking for a little extra comfort or a lot of protection against moisture damage, there’s a dehumidifier perfectly suited to match your needs and budget.”

Types of Dehumidifiers - Inline Unit

Photo: supplyhouse.com

This article has been brought to you by SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


Solved! What to Do About a Sewage Smell in the Bathroom

Bathroom odors are a dime a dozen, but when you’ve got one that lingers for days, your should try for a DIY repair. Follow these steps to stamp out the sewer smell—and breathe easy.

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sewer-smell-in-bathroom-1

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Q: I’ve noticed a rotten smell coming from my bathroom lately and can’t figure out the source. Do you have any idea what could be causing this lingering odor and how I can get rid of it?

A: Sewer smells in your bathroom can result from a few different issues, so you’ll need to spend a bit of time in the room to sniff out the source. Once you’ve identified where the odor is coming from, the fix will probably be easy for you to tackle on your own. It’s smart of you to address the offensive odor sooner rather than later, though: In some cases, inhalation of high levels of sewer gas can lead to a host of health problems. Prolonged exposure to sewer gases can cause nausea, dizziness, and, in the case of hydrogen sulfide poisoning, even fatality, and extreme buildup can trigger an explosion. What’s more, airborne pathogens can creep in when the seal that keeps out sewer gases has been breached, leaving you vulnerable to sewer-dwelling germs. Before you start sniffing around, slip on a painter’s mask so you don’t breathe in toxic fumes, and then take things step by step.

sewer-smell-in-bathroom-2

Photo: istockphoto.com

First, check for clogs. This is the fastest problem to fix, because all you’ll need is a bottle of drain cleaner from the supermarket or hardware store. Pour it down the shower and sink drains to eliminate any gunk that may have built up in the pipes and caused the stink. Carefully follow the instructions on the packaging, and make sure you wait the requisite amount of time before you flush the drains with water. If the odor disappears after a day or two, then congrats! You’re good to go.

If the problem persists, look for leaks in your sink plumbing. Check for standing water on the floor or cabinet base beneath the U-shaped pipe (the P-trap) under the sink. Also, run your hand along the length of the pipe to detect any moisture. Dampness in either location is a sure sign of a leak.

Normally, a small amount of water collects inside the P-trap, even when it’s not in use, capturing sewer gases that would otherwise sneak up through the drain opening. But if the water in the P-trap dribbles out and leaves the interior of the pipe dry, those gases will escape and linger in the air. When that happens, it’s probably because the washers have corroded and created a small breach. If that’s the case, you should be able to replace them and reinforce your work with caulk or plumber’s tape to ensure a good seal.

Call in a pro for inspection. Unfortunately, if your drains are clear and your P-trap isn’t in need of repair, you’ll probably have to hire a plumber. It could be that there’s a broken wax ring where the toilet meets the floor—a situation that you can detect by observing how much water remains in the bowl between uses. If there isn’t sufficient water for a flush, you could very well have a leaky seal that has unsettled your commode and let sewer gas seep into the room—both unsanitary and unsafe. Alternatively, clogged or incorrectly installed vent pipes could be the culprits. These pipes conduct sewer gases out of your home, and fixing them would require specialized equipment and a trip up to the roof. If the vent pipes are involved, tracking down the source of the odor and remedying the problem is a job best left to a professional.


Meet the Cost-Effective and Customizable Alternative to Central AC

Are you ready for the hot times ahead? This year, beat the heat and keep your home cool all summer long with a versatile, unobtrusive system that doesn't require bulky ductwork—or the extensive renovation it typically entails.

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Photo: fujitsugeneral.com

Summer never fails to usher in higher temperatures. And, unfortunately for the typical homeowner, the season also tends to bring higher energy bills. After all, homeowners across the country rely on air conditioning to maintain a comfortable indoor environment, and as conventional cooling options are infamous energy hogs, their operation usually incurs a considerable cost. Year in, year out, you may face a familiar, frustrating choice: Unable to have both at once, you must trade comfort for savings, or savings for comfort.

Only one innovative technology enables homeowners to enjoy both. Mini-split systems from leaders like Fujitsu General minimize energy consumption and running costs without sacrificing performance. Whereas older, increasingly outmoded systems typically score Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) ratings between 4 and 10, the Fujitsu mini-split operates at a jaw-dropping 33 SEER. Indeed, many Fujitsu mini-splits are certified by Energy Star for their ability to deliver cooling at a savings of up to 25 percent over less efficient systems.

Photo: fujitsugeneral.com

Another reason for the growing popularity of mini-splits—easy installation. Traditional central air can be challenging to retrofit or extend, in large part because it depends on elaborate networks of ducts. Mini-split systems, by contrast, can be completely ductless, if desired. For this reason, they are often much more compact, taking up only a fraction of the space ducted systems occupy. Because they’re so compact, mini-splits lend themselves to unobtrusive installation that entails neither the hassle nor expense of remodeling.

A basic mini-split consists of nothing more than an outdoor condenser and an indoor unit. (Here, in contrast with traditional AC, there’s no need to make room in the basement or attic for an evaporator.) Thin copper tubes, narrow enough to fit through a discreet, three- to four-inch opening in the home exterior, run between the condenser and indoor unit. Those tubes carry refrigerant from the outdoor unit to the indoor unit, so it can distribute conditioned air into the space.

A single outdoor condenser can power multiple indoor units. With Fujitsu, in fact, a single condenser can run as many as eight indoor units positioned throughout the home. To help homeowners incorporate all those indoor units discreetly, manufacturers like Fujitsu offer a range of designs. Wall-mounted units install above eye level, while floor-mounted units work best in rooms with minimal wall space, such as kitchens. Slim-duct units, yet another option, can be recessed into the ceiling, where they remain virtually hidden.

Want even more evidence of mini-splits’ versatility? Look no further than their ability to target temperatures on a room-by-room basis. With traditional central air, if you want to cool any room, you must cool all rooms. Besides being unnecessarily expensive, all-or-nothing cooling ignores the fact that different family members often prefer different temperatures. With a mini-split, you can not only save by cutting back on cooling in rarely used rooms, but you can also put a stop to feuds over the thermostat setting.

Perhaps best of all, homeowners can depend on mini-split systems for comfort, not only in summer, but in each and every season, year-round. Take the Fujitsu Halcyon, for example. Here, the push of a button switches the system from cooling to heating mode. In cooling mode, the condenser draws heat from inside the home and expels it outdoors. In heating mode, the operation reverses, harvesting heat from the outdoor air and channeling it indoors.

More attractive than window units, more compact than central air-conditioning systems, and more efficient than either one, mini-splits offer a compelling climate-control alternative that, while already popular in Europe and Asia, hasn’t yet gone mainstream here at home. That’s all changing, though, as more and more homeowners discover the features and benefits of versatile mini-splits. Ready to take the next step? To find a Fujitsu General contractor near you, call 888-888-3424 or go online right now to visit www.constantcomfort.com.

Photo: fujitsugeneral.com

This articles has been brought to you by Fujitsu. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


How the Historic Hemingway Home Beats the Florida Heat and Humidity

How do you seamlessly and unobtrusively install air conditioning in a home built before the technology was even invented? It's a dilemma faced by old-house owners and preservationists alike. Keep reading to discover the solution employed by the curators at The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum in Key West.

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Photo: Rob O'Neal Photography

Fans of Ernest Hemingway remember him not only for his classic books, but also for his larger-than-life persona and his legendary adventures around the globe. International cities like Havana, Pamplona, and Paris figure prominently in any biography of the author, but in the United States he remains perhaps most closely associated with Key West. Here, he lived off and on in an 1851 Spanish Colonial-style house that, following renovations made by Hemingway and his wife, would be ahead of its time in many ways. For example, it was among the first homes in Key West with indoor plumbing and the very first to boast an in-ground pool. Air conditioning, however, which would eventually become a vital component of any South Florida home, was—in 1931, when Hemingway first moved in—still decades away from going mainstream.

Certainly, the local weather didn’t keep Hemingway from writing. It was in Key West where he completed some of his most enduring works. That’s part of the reason why every year, thousands of tourists flock to the home, which is now a National Historic Landmark open to the public as the The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum. Though the house and its grounds offer a great deal of insight into Hemingway and his home life, longtime curator Dave Gonzales reports that until recently, the lack of air conditioning detracted from the experience. It was so uncomfortable on tours during the busy and extremely hot summer months, at least one visitor would faint each week.

Photo: The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum

Something clearly needed to be done, not only for the comfort of museum visitors, but also for the preservation of the Hemingway furniture and memorabilia contained inside. Of course, today, unlike in the 1930s, there’s nothing extraordinary about air conditioning, but museum officials worried that a modern AC solution would compromise the historic integrity of the building. Window air conditioners were ruled out for their anticipated negative aesthetic effect on the exterior. Traditional central air wouldn’t cut it either, because in order to accommodate the necessary ductwork, installers would need to build soffits, drop ceilings, and open up walls, effectively remodeling the building. Gonzales and his fellow stewards did not want to see the home changed in any outward, visible way. It wasn’t only a matter of the curators’ preference, though. It was also a practical matter, as the Hemingway Home team knew that, in order to gain approval from the Key West Historic Architectural Review Commission and the National Park Service (which oversees National Historic Landmark properties), any proposed plans would need to satisfy the stringent requirements set forth by each agency.

Photo: The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum

Finally, in 2015, they struck upon the only truly workable solution—the innovative Unico System. The aha moment came when the Hemingway museum learned that at a similar property nearby—the Harry S. Truman Little White House—conservators had managed to implement central air conditioning unobtrusively, without harming the features that made the winter residence of the former president so special. Unico stands apart from other HVAC options as one of the few systems designed to integrate into the home seamlessly and more or less invisibly. Unico’s flexible, small-diameter ducts can snake behind or through walls, crawl spaces, and ceiling cavities, eliminating the need for invasive changes.

Photo: The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum

Indeed, the Unico System has been carefully engineered to require as few building alterations and attract as little attention as possible. One example: The air handler is so compact that in the Hemingway Home it could be slotted into the master bedroom closet, completely out of sight—a clever outcome not only by its size but also its unique, vertical orientation. Likewise, the intake air box fit into a bathroom closet, and the return air box was hidden in existing cabinetry (here, louvers were added to allow for airflow, as shown in the above-right photo, to the right). What about vents? In stark contrast to the prominent grilled vents seen in homes with conventional forced air, Unico instead provides circular or slotted wooden outlets, which can be finished to match the surrounding decor. At the Hemingway Home, for example, the outlets are hardly noticeable, because their stain color perfectly matches the red oak flooring.

Photo: Rob O'Neal Photography

Guided tours at the Hemingway Home start every 20 minutes, with as many as 25 visitors per tour. Noise generated by the air conditioning system was a foremost concern. According to Gonzales, though, noise isn’t an issue. “We can hardly hear it,” he reports. Unico owes its whisper-quiet operation in large measure to insulation. Not only do the insulated ducts absorb sound, but they also create efficiency. In conventional forced air, ductwork can be leaky enough to compromise system efficiency by 25 percent or more. By encasing its ducts in dual-layer insulation, Unico promotes savings by virtually eliminating air leaks and wasted energy. Gonzales said their utility bill hasn’t gone up nearly as much as they thought it would.

Photo: The Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum

Another energy-saver is the built-in humidity control of the Unico System. It removes 30 percent more moisture from the air than a conventional HVAC system, allowing homeowners to set the thermostat a few degrees higher and still feel quite comfortable. In the high-humidity climate of Key West, the Hemingway Home is kept cool at a lower cost. Humidity control also helps preserve the home and its contents for the enjoyment of visitors in the future. The Unico System helps maintain a low-moisture environment that prevents the growth of mold and mildew.

As the story of the Hemingway Home attests, no matter the age of your house, you can catapult its indoor environment into the present day with high-performance, all-but-invisible small-duct HVAC. But even if you don’t live in an old home and are planning to build a brand-new residence, there are compelling reasons to consider a climate-control solution that does not dictate design, but instead adapts to the design you envision, no matter how bold or creative. Perhaps like no other system, Unico makes it possible to live in a home where HVAC adds energy-efficient comfort but subtracts neither square footage nor design integrity.

Photo: istockphoto.com

This article has been brought to you by Unico. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


How Long Does an Air Conditioner Last?

Air-conditioning systems keep getting better with each passing year, but of course not even the best can last forever. Continue now to learn how long cooling technologies typically last—and why, if your old system fails, you may view it as a new opportunity.

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How Long Does an Air Conditioner Last?

Photo: istockphoto.com

Many who belong to the current crop of homeowners weren’t alive during the days before air conditioning became commonplace. That may be why so many take the technology for granted today, regarding AC almost in the same vein as running water—as a fundamental feature of any home, modest or grand. Indeed, in some regions, homeowners consider air conditioning not as a comfort luxury, but as a bona fide necessity for daily survival. However, despite the vital role air conditioning plays in the modern home, we tend to see it as a source not only of cooling, but also of mystery and frustration. Air conditioning systems are complex, after all, leaving the average homeowner without a clear perspective on seemingly simple yet undeniably important issues of performance and longevity.

Simply put: How long does an air conditioner last? Like so many other questions in home improvement and repair, the answer depends on a host of variables. David Kenyon, a product manager with Sears Home Services, points out that different variables determine long-term performance to different degrees. Usage matters perhaps most of all. ”The more often you use the system, the more wear-and-tear it withstands,” Kenyon says, noting that systems can endure for decades in a temperate region like New England, while lasting not nearly as long in the desert of the Southwest. In and of itself, heavy usage does not doom a cooling system, but if the homeowner relies on it daily, for months on end, while ignoring its maintenance, Kenyon says, “it’s only a matter of time before system fatigue sets in.”

For peak performance, now and into the future, Kenyon advises homeowners with AC to seek professional system maintenance on a regular, annual schedule. It’s the best thing you can do to prolong the life of your air conditioning, Kenyon says, while clarifying that it’s not always an elective measure, as “many manufacture warranties require it.” Note that care of a cooling system calls for not only regular maintenance, but comprehensive maintenance. To service a system properly, according to Kenyon, technicians must go well beyond “a quick, visual inspection” to address all “key components,” from the compressor-condenser to the fan and blower (and sometimes even ducts). The fact is that, like cars in the driveway, the AC system typically cannot fulfill its expected lifespan without adequate service.

How Long Does an Air Conditioner Last? - Side View

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A well-made, well-maintained central air-conditioning system under average demand typically lasts 12 to 17 years, Kenyon estimates. If yours was installed recently, it may be a decade before you start considering an upgrade. But if you suspect your system may be nearing failure, set aside a few minutes to monitor performance. Does the system grate, grind, rattle or whine? Does your home feel humid (or does the thermostat report a relative humidity over 50%)? Do you notice an unusually large amount of dust on household surfaces? Such warning signs “indicate the possible need for repair, if not replacement,” Kenyon says.

Of course, air conditioning systems are also vulnerable to plenty of problems that the average homeowner wouldn’t necessarily notice. For instance, most cooling systems are designed to run in a cyclical pattern, intermittently delivering conditioned air to the living spaces. If the length of those cycles are uncommonly short or long, a system component may be compromised. Depending on the issue (“and what it would cost to fix,” Kenyon adds), you may choose to forego repair in favor of an upgrade. In fact, far from being a sunk cost, a “new high-efficiency air-conditioning system can save you money in the long run,” according to Kenyon.

In recent years, with rising energy costs and mounting environmental concerns, manufacturers have launched fleets of HVAC equipment that boast superior energy efficiency. Between the latest technology and that of even 10 years ago, “there’s a night-and-day difference,” in terms of running costs, Kenyon says. In fact, for its ability to run up the monthly utility bill, Kenyon says, “often the most expensive system a homeowner can choose is the one already in the home.” Eventually, in other words, continued reliance on an older inefficient system becomes more expensive than upgrading to a new high-efficiency one.

Even while requiring less energy (and less money) to power their normal output, the best AC systems today still manage to achieve all-around better results. For one thing, “you get less obtrusive air conditioning” with more recently manufactured models, thanks to a broad push in the industry toward quieter functioning. For another, HVAC filtration has advanced by leaps and bounds over the years, helping climate control systems work not against, but in defense of indoor air quality and healthy living. Finally, there’s the fact that, with systems engineered to combat humidity more effectively, spaces air-conditioned by newer technology often feel more comfortable.

In short, there are good reasons not to dread the prospect of a breakdown in your air conditioning, but rather to embrace the opportunity. Before doing anything, though, you need to determine the status of your existing system. For an evaluation, seek out a local HVAC contractor or go online to schedule a free in-home consultation with Sears Home Services. Besides reporting on the condition of your system, Sears project consultants can discuss your options and, if desired, guide you from start to finish through the repair or replacement process. Another advantage: Sears backs up all its work with a Satisfaction Guarantee—a commitment to your project success that remains intact even after technicians leave. When it’s the comfort of your family on the line, there’s no substitute for peace of mind.

How Long Does an Air Conditioner Last? - Thermostat Bottom

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This article has been brought to you by Sears Home Services. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


The Pros and Cons of Radiant Heat

Experts agree that for comfort in winter, no other technology comes close to matching the performance of radiant floor heating. But is it the right choice for your home? Like so many other questions in building and home improvement, the answer depends. Learn the pros and cons, and decide for yourself.

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Radiant Heat Pros and Cons

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It’s no surprise if home heating doesn’t rank high on your list of priorities right now, but let’s face it: If you were uncomfortable at home last winter, you are going to be uncomfortable again in only a matter of months—that is, unless you make a change. Particularly if it’s been years since you last surveyed your options, you might be surprised by how much the landscape has changed. No, a 100% perfect climate control system hasn’t been invented yet, but many of the most exciting options today excel where forced air fell short. The leading heating technology of the past several decades, forced air isn’t without virtues, but on the whole accounts for the perception that home heating must be hit-and-miss in performance yet consistently expensive. By contrast, innovative options like radiant heating prove that homeowners can now enjoy total comfort at a lower cost.

Radiant heat isn’t new. In one form or another, it’s been around since before the days of the Roman Empire, but it wasn’t until relatively recently that it became a viable option for average homeowners. Today, many would argue that it outperforms its peers, delivering a qualitatively home heating experience than forced air ever did. Not only does it operate silently to create even, all-encompassing, “everywhere” warmth, but it does so at least 25% more efficiently than conventional HVAC. That said, radiant heat may not be the perfect climate control solution for every homeowner, in every situation. Much depends on the precise nature of the project you are planning. Keep reading now for details on the biggest considerations that come into play.

Radiant Heating Pros and Cons - Cutaway Shot

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PRO: Uniform heating
Homeowners are eschewing traditional forced air in favor of radiant heat, largely because there’s simply no question as to which provides a higher level of comfort. Installed beneath the floor, radiant heat panels deliver warmth across virtually every square inch of the home. That way, no matter where you travel in the home, you always get the temperature you want. With forced air, it’s a different story. Designed to operate in a stop-and-start pattern, conventional HVAC dumps hot air into the home, then stops. Minutes later, once the temperature has dipped below a threshold point, the system snaps on again, and the cycle repeats. The result? Dramatic, uncomfortable temperature swings, only enhanced by the fact that hot air quickly rises to the ceiling after arriving. Radiant heat, meanwhile, concentrates comfort not above your head, but at floor level where you actually feel it.

CON: Challenging to Retrofit
Heating and cooling components are often integral to the basic infrastructure of the home in which they are installed. That being the case, most do not lend themselves painlessly to retrofit applications. With forced air, ducts are the foremost impediment to installation. With radiant, the complicating factor is that panels must be set beneath the floor. If you love the flooring in your home and had no intention of removing it, even if only temporarily, then the installation requirements of a radiant system may give you pause (though a wall or ceiling installation may be a good alternative). But of course there are plenty of occasions when homeowners enjoy a blank slate. Custom home building may present the out-and-out ideal opportunity to install radiant heat, but you can also capitalize on the technology during a renovation. In fact, manufacturers like Warmboard offer ultra-thin radiant panels specially designed to fit seamlessly into existing homes.

PRO: Quiet and clean
Walk into any home heated by forced air, and the system soon announces itself to you, one way or another. The first thing you notice might be the unsightly metal grille of an air vent, or it might be the sound of conditioned air roaring through the ductwork. There’s also the issue of dust. Though intended to channel warm air through your home, ductwork also often ends up collecting and distributing dust and other impurities. Over the years, having become so accustomed to forced air, many homeowners may assume that home heating has to be ugly, noisy, and dusty, but it doesn’t. With panels slotted out of view beneath the floor, hydronic radiant systems are invisible, and in the absence of blowers and rushing air, they operate not quietly, but silently. Plus, for allergy sufferers and others concerned about indoor air quality, radiant heat can be like a breath of fresh air, as the ductless system does nothing to diminish indoor air quality.

CON: Boiler dependent
To supply the water that lends heat to a radiant system, you need a boiler. If you’d need to buy a new boiler, that would add to the final project cost. But of course, in any HVAC system, there are upfront costs and operating costs, and the latter are perhaps the more important. Radiant keeps running costs low, because thanks to its duct-free design, it’s not susceptible to the air leaks and energy loss that compromises forced air. That’s the main reason why radiant has been found to operate at least 25% more efficiently. To save an extra 10 to 20 percent each month, opt for a radiant system with highly conductive panels. Why? The more conductive the panel, the less hard the boiler needs to work. By way of example, Warmboard panels transfer heat so effectively that they can keep the home comfortable using water boiler-fired to a temperature 30 degrees cooler than that required by other, broadly similar systems. From one month to the next, year after year, incremental savings can really add up.

Already widely popular in Europe and Asia, radiant heating has been steadily gaining traction in the United States over the past several years, as homeowners discover its unique and compelling advantages. Able to operate at a whisper-quiet decibel level even while promoting indoor air quality, the “out of sight, out of mind” technology ultimately delivers on a deceptively simple promise: It enables you to enjoy greatly enhanced comfort during the winter months, and often for less per month. Indeed, for the increasing numbers of homeowners who are foregoing traditional HVAC in favor of radiant, the obvious pros of the latter far outweigh any potential cons.

Radiant Heat Pros and Cons

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This article has been brought to you by Warmboard. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


A Smarter Way to Keep Your Home Comfortable

The most common HVAC technology, forced air isn't exactly the most popular. If you're on the hunt for a system that suits your needs as a 21st-century homeowner, read below for details on a newer option that may challenge your notions of what cooling and heating can be.

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In any neighborhood, in any state, homes built post-World War II typically share at least one thing in common—a traditional forced-air indoor climate control system. As the most common technology for more than 50 years, traditional forced air has become, for many people, synonymous with cooling and heating. In fact, when people complain about cooling and heating in general—its high running costs or its hit-and-miss performance—they are often criticizing, whether they know it or not, traditional cooling and heating. Some in the United States may not even be aware that traditional forced air isn’t the only option. Throughout Europe and Asia—and increasingly here at home—more and more homeowners are discovering an exciting alternative in the Zoned Comfort Solution™ from Mitsubishi Electric. Offering a unique approach to home comfort, Mitsubishi Electric systems are appealing for many reasons, but not least because they excel in precisely those areas where forced-air tends to frustrate. Compact, unobtrusive and even stylish, with customizable control and stand-out energy efficiency, the Zoned Comfort Solution may even change your mind once and for all when it comes to the role of, and possibilities for, cooling and heating in today’s home. Keep reading now to learn more!

 

COMPACT SIZE

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Taking up only a fraction of the space occupied by a traditional forced-air system, the compact and streamlined Zoned Comfort Solution installs easily compared to many other cooling and heating systems. In part, that’s because the Mitsubishi Electric system doesn’t have to involve any ductwork, although it’s flexible enough to do so. At its simplest, though, a Zoned Comfort Solution consists of nothing more than an outdoor condenser, an indoor unit and a remote control. In this case, since the main components are joined by a slim pair of refrigerant lines, installation rarely involves extensive, expensive remodeling. That said, the nature of the installation depends on a number of factors, including your choice of indoor unit. There are a handful of different designs, each with its own set of requirements. Wall-mounted units are, true to their name, simply mounted on the wall. Other indoor units, meanwhile, can be recessed into the ceiling, soffit or with a ducted unit, into a crawl space. Depending on the scope of your cooling and heating project, technicians may be able to complete the installation within a single day.

 

CUSTOMIZATION

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With a traditional forced-air system, one thermostat usually defines the temperature for the entire home. So if you want cooling or heating in one room, you must cool or heat every room—even unoccupied spaces. If the same principle were applied to other major systems, then turning on any faucet would activate all faucets, and flipping on any light would turn on all the lights. Besides being wasteful and unnecessarily expensive, the all-or-nothing operation of traditional air conditioning fails to acknowledge the reality that different people prefer different temperatures. A Zoned Comfort Solution stands out, because unlike the cooling and heating technologies of yesterday, it provides a simple solution for families who often feud over the thermostat setting. The key: Mitsubishi Electric systems enable you to divide your home into a collection of zones. Whether a zone comprises one room or several, each can be controlled by its own thermostat, completely independently from the other zones. That way, every member of the household can be comfortable at the same time—finally. Additionally, being able to target climate control on a room-by-room basis also means that you never again need to pay to cool or heat an unoccupied space. It’s a win-win for your comfort and your bottom line.

 

EFFICIENCY

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Systems from Mitsubishi Electric use dramatically less energy than conventional forced air—often enough to save you up 40 percent on cooling and heating from one month to the next. First, the Zoned Comfort Solution simply requires less electricity. Traditional air-conditioning systems operate in a stop-and-start pattern that devours electricity and drives up bills. The Zoned Comfort Solution, by contrast, shrinks bills by operating continuously instead of cyclically (with its state-of-the art variable-speed compressor modulating its output to match the space requirements, while eliminating the wasteful stop-and-start pattern). Another factor: The Mitsubishi Electric system avoids the inefficiencies that ductwork often creates in forced air. Ducts are notorious for leaking. Even if the leakage only occurs at the points where two ducts connect, it can be enough to compromise overall system efficiency, leaving the homeowner to pay extra to compensate for the wasted energy. The Zoned Comfort Solution avoids the same fate, because in many cases, systems are configured to operate without any ductwork. In others, meanwhile, the system relies only on short runs that do not suffer the vulnerabilities that can compromise the performance of full-size ducts. Indeed, it’s a common complaint that cooling and heating costs an arm and a leg, but with a high-efficiency Zoned Comfort Solution, it doesn’t have to.

 

STYLE

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Try to imagine a room in your house, or if you’re at home, look around you. Somewhere in the space—hulking in a corner or perhaps hiding on the ceiling—you’re likely to find a forced-air vent or a different but similarly visible component of the air-conditioning system. Point being: Whether we like it or not, cooling and heating systems are easily noticeable. Yet, to the exclusion of almost everything else, most major manufacturers have only focused on the functional aspects of indoor climate control. Mitsubishi Electric departs from tradition by emphasizing performance as well as aesthetics. With the release of its new Designer Series—a tantalizingly sleek and refined wall-mounted indoor unit—the company proves that it’s actually possible for climate control technology to be attractive. Available in a choice of three colors (white, silver, and black) and four capacity levels (9,000-, 12,000-, 15,000- and 18,000-BTU), the stylish Designer Series demands attention, but it doesn’t demand space. Remarkably slim, units protrude minimally, measuring no more than 10 inches deep. Much like a work of contemporary art, the Designer Series hugs the wall and acts as an accessory in any room. From there, it works to create an indoor environment with a feeling of comfort matched only by its visual appeal.

 

In the past, climate control appliances were a source of cooling and heating, but more often than not, also a source of mystery and frustration. Homeowners grew accustomed to imperfect, hit-and-miss systems, because they simply were unfamiliar with the alternatives. Fortunately, innovation didn’t come to a standstill when traditional forced-air systems rose to prominence all those years ago. When you compare the traditional option to a new and efficient option, like the Zoned Comfort Solution, there’s really no other way to go. Traditional forced-air comes with real drawbacks—space-hogging bulk, inflexibility, sky-high running costs—which all signal nothing more than an outdated, outmoded system that no longer meets homeowner needs. Mitsubishi Electric provides a technology for the 21st century. Welcome to the future of cooling and heating.

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This article has been brought to you by Mitsubishi Electric. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.


AC Is No Sweat with a Mini-Split System

Beat the heat this summer with an energy-efficient and unobtrusive cooling solution.

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Every summer, sweltering temperatures prompt homeowners to take a renewed interest in air conditioning, whether it be the lack of a cooling system or the need for an upgrade. In the past, there were only two main options, neither fully satisfying for those seeking permanent, affordable climate control. Portable window units, on one hand, are temporary by definition. Although cheap to purchase (and relatively painless to install), even the high-efficiency models tend to set the energy bill soaring. On the other hand, central air conditioning provides a permanent solution, but installation typically entails the hassle and expense of large-scale remodeling. This results in a maze of ductwork and often hogs otherwise usable square footage. In essence, homeowners tend to view one option as being too little, and the other as too much. Fortunately, there’s an often-overlooked third option that offers an appealing compromise—mini-splits.

Already beloved in many other parts of the world, mini-splits have been gaining more and more traction in the United States in recent years, and it’s easy to see why. Compared with window units, mini-splits are “more permanent and better looking,” says Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with SupplyHouse.com. More important, mini-splits are generally considered to boast the greatest energy efficiency of all, helping homeowners keep monthly utility bills as low as possible. Meanwhile, in contrast to an elaborate, ducted central-air system, mini-splits are dramatically more compact, in large part because they do not involve any ductwork whatsoever. Because of their unique and streamlined design, mini-splits can be configured precisely to meet your family’s needs, bringing climate control either to one room or to every room in the house.

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EASY INSTALLATION
A simple mini-split system consists of two components—a compressor (mounted outdoors) and an evaporator (mounted in the space that the unit serves). Connecting the two are refrigerant lines that technicians fit through a small hole in the exterior of the home. Believe it or not, in many cases installation involves nothing more than mounting and connecting the indoor and outdoor units. Though more involved than simply placing a portable AC into the frame of a window, the process couldn’t be much simpler, especially when compared with the intensive, often invasive installation requirements of a central air-conditioning system. Typically, the latter involves a sustained, weeks-long effort, with installers often having to open up walls or build new soffits to accommodate ductwork. Because mini-splits are ductless, the technology installs unobtrusively and relatively quickly, sometimes within the span of single day. Homeowners appreciate the speed and ease of installation, but they particularly love the fact that it can be completed, according to O’Brian, without “damaging or cluttering” the existing home in any significant way.

UTMOST EFFICIENCY
Mini-splits achieve virtually unparalleled energy efficiency in more ways than one. For starters, their ductless design enables the technology to sidestep the fundamental flaw that often leads central-air systems to rack up a small fortune in energy costs—namely, leaky ductwork. Despite being a vital part of a ubiquitous type of HVAC, ducts are commonly known to be vulnerable to air leaks. As air escapes from the ductwork, often at the joint where two sections meet, the system must work harder and longer. As a result it consumes more energy than strictly necessary to maintain the target temperature. The homeowner, of course, gets stuck with the bill at the end of the month. As well, mini-splits conserve energy by running continuously at a low power level. Although this seems counterintuitive, continuous running draws considerably less electricity than the usual stop-and-start, cyclical operation that characterizes both window units and central AC. Taken all together, the efficiency advantages of a mini-split enable the average homeowner to save up to 40 percent on cooling, and those savings really add up over time.

STAND-OUT VERSATILITY
Some homeowners elect to install a mini-split as a way of delivering supplemental cooling to a room underserved by the primary HVAC system—a basement bedroom, for example. The technology really shines, however, when it’s employed to keep the entire home comfortable. That’s because in such an application mini-splits allow for zoning, something O’Brian sees as “the best feature” of the technology. In the average home, a single, centrally located thermostat controls the temperature for the entire house. With a whole-home mini-split system, however, you can establish multiple zones that can each be set to a different temperature. According to O’Brian, that means you get “targeted temperature control” on a zone-by-zone, or room-by-room, basis. Not only does such a fine degree of control enable homeowners to trim costs by curtailing climate control in unoccupied rooms, but it also ensures comfort. At long last, different family members with different temperature preferences can all be comfortable under the same roof and at the same time.

Both single- and multi-zone mini-splits are available from industry leaders like LG, Panasonic, and Comfort-Aire. Capacities range from approximately 9,000 to 30,000 BTUs, with the appropriate size dictated by the project scope. The homeowner also enjoys a wide range of choice when it comes to the design of the indoor unit. In addition to the standard wall-mounted version, some manufacturers offer inconspicuous evaporators that recess into the ceiling. Others take it a step further. LG, for example, offers the Art Cool system, in which the remarkably slim indoor unit doubles as a picture frame. As O’Brian summarizes, “With the single-zone, multi-zoned, recessed, and Art Cool systems, there is sure to be something that will work for any home.” Need help navigating the various possibilities? SupplyHouse.com experts are always on hand to assist you in making the right choice for your home, your needs, and your family. Stay cool!

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This article has been brought to you by SupplyHouse.com. Its facts and opinions are those of BobVila.com.