Category: Major Systems


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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Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

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

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

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

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

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

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

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

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

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.

Photo: mitsubishicomfort.com

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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Photo: istockphoto.com

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.

Photo: istockphoto.com

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!

Photo: supplyhouse.com

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


The Essential Guide to Summer Home Improvement

Get your house in shape early this summer so you'll have plenty of time to enjoy the season. You can start by reviewing this seasonal guide to home care and maintenance, then finish up with help from Sears Home Services!

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Photo: istockphoto.com

Summertime is here! Yet while school is out for the kids, for their home-owning parents, the seasonal job of maintaining and beautifying the home has only begun. Now is the time for warm-weather tasks, such as inspecting and cleaning the siding, assessing the efficiency of HVAC units, and refreshing or replacing windows. To make lighter work of these summer rituals, use this guide as your starting point. Armed with home care and maintenance insights from experts at Sears Home Services, you’ll soon have your home operating at peak performance and still have plenty of time to enjoy those lazy summer days.

SIDING

Are you (and your neighbors) fed up with your siding? Does it suffer from grime, peeling paint, or simply a lack of aesthetic appeal? Cleaning, accessorizing, and refinishing your siding can not only boost your home’s ability to withstand extreme weather, but also increase its curb appeal and resale value—good news whether you plan to sell or stay put for the rest of your life.

- Inspect and clean: To prolong the life and visual appeal of your siding, give it a semi-annual inspection for structural deformities like chips and cracks, then wash it clean of discoloration, rot, and pests. Before you raid your cleaning supply closet, though, remember that “different siding materials carry different—often very different—care requirements,” says Jim Eldredge, a product manager at Sears Home Services. Bleach and water, for example, may be necessary to tackle coarse brick siding, while a gentler soap-and-water solution is sufficient for wood. Perhaps the simplest type of siding to clean is vinyl. “There’s a reason vinyl has become the most popular type of siding in America,” says Eldredge. It is “virtually maintenance-free” and may require little more than a quick hose-down with water to get it spotless.

- Accessorize: When it comes to beautifying your exterior, small details can make a house shine. Installing exterior accent trim, shingles, or shutters can protect a house from the elements while also giving it a polished appearance. If you’re considering minor upgrades and improvements to your siding, you may wish to request a free in-home consultation with Sears Home Services. Their experts can help you navigate the wealth of options in siding accessories.

- Paint: One of the fastest ways to revive your home’s appearance is to give it a fresh coat of paint. In Eldredge’s view, painting the exterior is of particular value for potential sellers, because it “helps your home stand out from all the others on the block.” Before you begin a paint job, prepare the surface—sand away chipping paint, patch holes, and clean it thoroughly to ensure that the new paint will adhere to the surface and last longer. While exterior painting is a job that a homeowner can certainly tackle, consider how much easier it would be to simply hire the pros at Sears Home Services. Their 10-step process for surface preparation and paint application is designed to produce a paint job that lasts for years and saves you the hassle of doing it yourself.

Photo: istockphoto.com

HVAC

Those shiny new HVAC units may be blasting cool air now, but whether they continue that tip-top performance will depend on how diligently you maintain them. As the cooling season starts, take time to measure the efficiency of your air-conditioning system and consider installing high-performance auxiliary units that can improve comfort without dramatically increasing the energy bill.

- Measure air conditioner efficiency: Before your air conditioner breaks down in the face of triple-digit temperatures, examine the unit for signs of overworking or underperformance. “Standing next to the appliance can tell you a lot about its condition,” says David Kenyon, a product manager at Sears Home Services. If “things don’t sound right,” or if you experience poor air quality or excessive humidity, call a professional to repair or replace the unit.

- Consider a mini-split air conditioner: Do you notice a difference in temperature when you walk from room to room? Uneven cooling is often a by-product of “old, single-blower setups,” says Kenyon. Today, you can achieve more uniform cooling in individual rooms by installing one or more ductless mini-split air conditioners in your home. Unlike central-cooling units, these compact machines can be installed in locations throughout the house to evenly and efficiently cycle cool air into every room, “top to bottom and wall to wall.”

- Install a programmable thermostat: If your thermostat is malfunctioning, don’t delay in fixing it. “Your best bet is to work with a pro,” says Kenyon, “not simply to solve problems, but to prevent problems from occurring.” If you do need to replace an old thermostat, now is the ideal time to upgrade to a programmable model. These customizable thermostats can be programmed to automatically raise the temperature when you’re sleeping or away from the house, and lower the temperature when you’re home and awake, contributing to a more comfortable living environment as well as lower energy bills.

WINDOWS

The same windows that give you a view of the outdoors also offer a view into your home’s structural integrity and security. Your windows serve as a barrier to air, moisture, and intruders. It’s vital to ensure that they’re performing all these functions as efficiently and dependably as possible so you and your family can spend the summer in comfort and safety.

- Evaluate window efficiency: To a longtime homeowner, a persistent draft or a patch of mold or mildew on the windows may seem more like a minor irritant than an urgent problem. But if ignored, escaping air and invading moisture can spike energy costs and wreak havoc on the structural integrity of your home. Issues like these can arise from improper installation, or they could merely be the sign of outdated, inefficient windows. Either way, poor window performance means it may be time to invest in new casings or windows. If replacement is in your future, go for efficient, long-lasting options like Sears Weatherbeater windows, which, by reducing the risk of drafts, moisture damage, and UV glare, can help lower your energy bill. Even better, because they are made of vinyl, they are virtually maintenance-free.

- Ensure security: You no doubt lock the doors before you hit the road for summer vacation, but like many homeowners, you may completely ignore another important entry point: the windows. Even if you don’t think that your home is at risk of a break-in, “security glass is a must,” says Eldredge. When you install Weatherbeater windows from Sears Home Services, you gain the benefits of impact-resistant glass as well as a host of add-ons like dual-cam locks and steel reinforcement, all of which help make your windows a less desirable target for would-be intruders.

Photo: istockphoto.com

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


So, You Want to… Install a Mini-Split

If you're considering switching up your HVAC system, don't ignore the most innovative, flexible, and efficient option—and be sure to seek out the most qualified professionals for the job.

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How to Install a Mini Split

Photo: istockphoto.com

In all but the mildest climates, whenever the temperature soars or plummets, the typical homeowner faces a tough choice between saving money and maintaining a comfortable home. After all, any HVAC technology will all but ensure a pleasant, livable indoor environment, but in doing so, most devour energy and drive up the utility bill. As David Kenyon, a product manager with Sears Home Services, says, “There’s no doubt that comfort usually comes at a cost.” That being the case, it’s perhaps no surprise that more and more homeowners are embracing the mini-split—a high-performance cooling and heating option whose efficiency helps keep expenses low.

Efficiency alone, however, doesn’t fully explain the appeal of mini-splits. On the contrary, their popularity is probably also due to the fact that, as Kenyon says, “mini-splits combine efficiency with versatility.” That is, you can employ the technology on your own terms. Some choose to install a mini-split as a way of delivering comfort to a single room. Others rely on mini-splits for climate control throughout the house, in a zoned configuration that actually enables you to target temperatures on a room-by-room basis. In contrast with systems designed for one specific type of application, mini-splits can be an appropriate choice for almost any residential project, no matter the scope.

Mini-splits offer homeowners another major benefit aside from efficiency and flexibility: They’re much easier to install than many traditional options. To a marked extent, that’s because mini-splits don’t involve ductwork. In a traditional ducted forced-air system, an elaborate network of bulky, rigid metal ducts must be fit into the home, a process that may necessitate extensive renovation. Mini-splits are, by comparison, unobtrusive and more or less hassle-free. “Retrofitting a forced-air system would require a large-scale, perhaps weeks-long effort,” Kenyon says. But because “mini-splits typically don’t require anything but modest alterations,” the installation process often goes quite quickly, sometimes taking no more than a day.

Still, there are several important points to bear in mind when you’re planning to add a mini-split. Read on to learn about the most critical considerations.

Photo: istockphoto.com

Money Matters
“Any HVAC update begins with budgeting,” Kenyon says. In your investigation of the project costs, he continues, “don’t make the mistake of concentrating only on the initial outlay.” For a more accurate picture, it’s important to account for the operating costs as well. Over the long term, thanks to their virtually unparalleled efficiency, mini-splits “prove to be among the most affordable options out there,” according to Kenyon. Several innovations enable mini-splits to conserve energy and, by extension, reduce monthly bills. One is that, as they are ductless, mini-splits do not suffer the same air leakage problems that significantly detract from the overall efficiency of many traditional ducted systems. As well, mini-splits simply require less electricity to power their normal operation. All together, the efficiency features of the best mini-splits work in concert to slash climate-control costs in the average home by as much as 40 percent. Of course, you can’t start saving until the equipment has been installed—and this will incur significant costs. Keep in mind that, while your local contractor may not be able to provide financial assistance, established companies like Sears Home Services offer a selection of financing packages that can help you fit the project into your budget.

Project Scope 
At its most basic, a mini-split installation involves nothing more than an outdoor compressor/condenser, an indoor air handler, and running between the two, a pair of refrigerant lines narrow enough to fit through a three-inch hole. A whole-home application would involve multiple indoor units, with lines running to each unit from one or more outdoor units. In other words, configurations vary. “There’s no one-size-fits-all approach,” Kenyon summarizes. “The right approach depends entirely on your needs.” At the earliest stages of the project, therefore, you must be sure to clarify its scope. Do you want to supplement an existing HVAC system or replace it? Do you wish to cool the space, heat it, or both? Before being able to make your vision a reality, your contractor first needs to understand it. Particularly when it comes to something as complex as climate control, many homeowners appreciate expert advice and insight gained from years of experience. That’s precisely why Sears Home Services project consultants collaborate with homeowners from the earliest planning stages to the final day of installation. And as demonstrated by its Satisfaction Guarantee, Sears remains committed to your success even after completion of a project.

Aesthetic Concerns
Whatever the scope of a mini-split project, the indoor air handler operates the same way, whether it’s the only one or just one of many in the configuration. The air handler is always mounted within the space it’s conditioning, monitoring the ambient conditions and auto-adjusting its output to match the cooling or heating demand at any given time. The heat exchanger within the component works to modulate the air temperature, while the variable vanes of the built-in fan ensure even distribution. Yet, although the air handler always performs the same role, it can take a number of different forms. Perhaps most common are air handlers that mount on the wall, typically several feet above eye level. There’s only one downside: Wall-mounted air handlers can be conspicuous. Homeowners looking to minimize the visual impact often opt instead for a ceiling-recessed unit. Though they are more challenging to install, ceiling-recessed air handlers easily escape notice, because they’re flush with the plane of the ceiling overhead. Yet another option, horizontal-ducted air handlers install within soffits or under the floor, assuming there’s available crawl space. Ultimately, according to Kenyon of Sears Home Services, “the choice boils down to your budget and aesthetic preferences.”

Contractor Qualifications
Forced-air systems, which rose to prominence in the wake of World War II, have been the leading option in HVAC for more than 50 years. Because it’s so ubiquitous, Kenyon points out, “it’s the technology most technicians know best.” Even today, relatively few professionals can boast a long track record of work with mini-splits. Those with experience fully understand, as Kenyon says, that “from poor system sizing to setting the incorrect refrigerant levels, there are many ways in which the installation can go wrong.” Indeed, Kenyon continues, “installing mini-splits properly is an art form all its own.” As that’s the case—and given that it’s your comfort on the line, after all—it behooves the homeowner to seek out a uniquely well-qualified installer. Sears Home Services stands out, because its network includes technicians trained and certified to install and repair all the most popular climate-control options—and mini-splits are no exception. To discuss your upcoming project with experts who have successfully completed similar projects in the past, call or go online now to schedule a free in-home consultation with a nationwide company that has a decades-long history of serving homeowners like you—Sears Home Services.

How to Install a Mini-Split - Outdoor Unit Detail

Photo: istockphoto.com

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


Yes, It’s the Humidity: How to Control It and Lower Your AC Bills

For the comfort, energy efficiency, and health of your home during the dog days of summer, humidity matters more than you might think. Read on to learn why your current AC may be letting you down, and what you can do in the future to slash costs and live better.

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Photo: absolutegreenhomes.com

One of the great, game-changing inventions of the 20th century, air conditioning has become so firmly entrenched in our lives that we now wonder how we ever lived without it. Of course, in the same way that any technology tends to improve over time, cooling systems have come a long way since their earliest incarnations. Even today, though, as effective as AC can be, the average system still underwhelms in at least one important regard—humidity control. Everyone’s heard the saying, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” But you may not have considered that the expression pertains as much to indoor comfort as it does to the weather outdoors. If your air conditioning fails to remove sufficient moisture from the air in your home, there are consequences—and not only for your comfort, but also for your bottom line and potentially for your health. The good news: advanced options like the Unico System control humidity much more effectively than traditional HVAC. Read on to learn why that really matters.

 

COMFORT

Photo: dreamstime.com

No matter its age or sophistication, any functionally sound AC system can maintain the temperature set by the homeowner. However, if the same system does little to mitigate humidity, you’ll have to set the thermostat at a low temperature to feel comfortable. The Unico System works against both sweltering heat and sticky humidity. In fact, compared to conventional setups, Unico proves 30 percent more adept at eliminating moisture. That ability enables it to combine cool temperatures with low humidity levels. Further, Unico stands out for its ability to ensure a uniform environment throughout the whole home, from wall to wall and one room to the next. Traditional systems are notorious for the opposite—for turbulent, staccato-style operation characterized by hot and cool spots. Unico sidesteps the problem in an ingenious way, by channeling cool air into living areas using a method called “aspiration” so that it draws the ambient air into its stream, achieving consistent conditions of the utmost comfort.

 

SAVINGS

Photo: dreamstime.com

In the summer, lower humidity means greater comfort, but it also means more savings. With air conditioning being one of the biggest household energy hogs in summer, humidity can influence your monthly utility bills more than you might think. It’s simple: Because air-conditioned homes with lower humidity feel cooler, you can set the thermostat several degrees higher and still achieve comfort. Each one-degree increase in the target temperature translates to a three percent reduction in energy use. So with the Unico System, thanks to its exceptional humidity control, you can trim costs a little bit every hour, every day. Over the long term, those savings add up. Another reason Unico helps you save: Its ducts are not prone to the inefficient air leakage commonly associated with standard, rigid metal ductwork. Encased in dual-layer insulation, Unico System tubular, flexible ducts minimize air leakage, maximize efficiency, and in so doing, ensure you end up paying only for cooling that you and your family actually felt.

 

HEALTH

Photo: fotosearch.com

Mold: You know its musty smell and its off-putting appearance. And you’re probably aware that for asthma and allergy sufferers, mold can be a trigger for severe symptoms. But you may not have considered the role played by HVAC. Mold can crop up virtually anywhere, but only with access to a food source and—this is critical—moisture. Because mold feeds off the sort of particulate matter that is found in virtually every home (e.g., wallboard, books, cardboard and other paper sources), controlling it becomes mainly a matter of controlling moisture. For that reason, the Unico System goes further than average technology, not only to limit mold, but to prevent it from blooming in the first place. Plus, since humidity invites the proliferation of dust mites, Unico actually protects indoor air in more ways than one.

Don’t forget that a healthy home environment also requires adequate ventilation. Here too, Unico excels. With a programmable control board at its core, the system calculates how much fresh air to bring indoors at any given time. Then, according to those calculations, the system works to ventilate the home, precisely according to need, ensuring fresh air and a further layer of protection against mold growth.

 

While conventional air conditioning can cool your home on even the hottest days, only systems like Unico are equally effective against both high temperatures and high humidity levels. That’s important, because after all, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” If you’re relying on technology capable of managing one but not the other, then, unless you live in a particularly dry climate, you’ll have to spend a fortune on utility bills to feel fully at ease in your home during the dog days of summer. Indeed, HVAC directly impacts not only your personal comfort, but also your financial comfort. It can even impact the health of your home, owing to its ability either to suppress mold or leave the door open to its proliferation. There’s a lot on the line, in other words, when you choose an air-conditioning technology for your home, and the market offers no shortage of options. In the end, though, remember the negative impact of humidity in your home, and the many benefits that humidity control brings.

Photo: unicosystem.com

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


Meet the Cost-Effective and Customizable Alternative to Central AC

Are you ready for the hot times head? 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 32 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—that is, if the outdoor condenser boasts inverter technology. 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.

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This articles has been brought to you by Fujitsu. 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 heat. 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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Its 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 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 perfection climate control solution for every homeowner, in every situation. Much depends on the precise nature of the project you are planning. Some who are convinced of its benefits ultimately decide not to pursue radiant heating in view of its installation requirements. 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 same temperature. 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: Rigorous installation
Heating and cooling components are often integral to the basic infrasture 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. 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, 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.


Save Water, Energy, and Money with This One Swap

Installing a low-flow shower head can yield buckets of savings. Read on to learn more about this quick, budget-conscious DIY.

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Save Water and Money with a Change in Showerhead

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Believe it or not, showers use (and waste) more water indoors than any other single household activity or chore. In fact, showers account for nearly 17 percent of the total amount of water used inside the home. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), that translates to about 40 gallons per day for the average family; factor in the number of households in the United States and this routine hygiene uses up a whopping 4.9 billion gallons of water by day’s end. Whether your focus is on decreasing your water bill or conserving our planet’s scarce resources, you can take a big step toward your goal with one small change: replacing your shower head. Swapping out an old, gallon-guzzling shower head for an EPA-certified model can save your family an average of 2,900 gallons per year.

Wasting less water during each daily shower means you’ll spend less money on the water bill—a increasingly vital concern for the typical household. Indeed, the average monthly water bill has climbed 41 percent since 2010, according to Circle of Blue, a water-monitoring organization. But beyond simply saving H2O, a low-flow shower head can also shrink a second utility bill—your energy bill. “Less water out of the shower head is less water that you need to heat up,” says Daniel O’Brian, a technical expert from online retailer SupplyHouse.com. And O’Brian isn’t just talking about chump change: According to EPA figures, the average family switching to an especially low-flow shower head could save more than 370 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to power a house for 13 days.

Save Money with a Water-Saving Showerhead - Stylish Options Today

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So, does your current shower head offer room for improvement and the possibility of savings? “Shower heads installed prior to 1994 could have flow rates of upwards of 5 gallons per minute (GPM), which can be excessive,” O’Brian says. For comparison, all models made and sold in the United States after January 1 of that year were required to have flow rates that max out at 2.5 GPM—half the previous output—and some stand-out shower heads perform even better. Models labeled ‘WaterSense’ have flow rates of 2 GPM or lower, and are considered ultra high efficiency. To find out if you’re one of the many homeowners or renters whose bills could benefit from a switch, try this easy one-minute experiment: Place a bucket marked with gallon increments underneath your shower head, and turn on the water at whatever pressure you typically set for a shower. Time how long it takes the water to fill the bucket to the one-gallon mark. If water reaches that mark in fewer than 24 seconds, your shower head is putting out more water than necessary for a comfortable shower. This means that you could save water by switching out your shower head.

While early models of water-saving shower heads were plagued with problems, from weak flow to sudden temperature variations, there’s not much of a downside now. Updated designs corrected many of these past deficiencies, and today’s low-flow models offer satisfying shower experiences that are equal to, or in some cases better than, those offered by conventional shower heads. Low-flow models sport a selection of finishes as well as adjustable spray patterns and modes, with settings that range from a gentle mist to an invigorating massage. Better still: Water-saving shower heads are comparable to their standard counterparts in cost, and offer basic, mid-range, and luxury styles to choose from to suit any budget. While a modestly priced model can certainly get the job done, higher-priced shower heads generally include extras, such as a radio, rainfall settings, and handheld options.

“As with many products, do your homework before buying a low-flow shower head,” advises O’Brian. First, familiarize yourself with the two main types of water-saving shower heads. Aerating models mix water with air, creating a misty spray that gives the illusion of increased flow, while laminar-flow shower heads emit dozens of parallel streams. Because these don’t mix air into the water, they tend to retain heat a little better than aerating models. Once you’ve settled on a model to suit your household’s needs, installation is generally a breeze. “In most instances, you simply shut off the water, unscrew the old head, and screw on the new one,” O’Brian says. “You might find an adjustable wrench comes in handy to remove the old head, and a little bit of plumber’s tape wrapped around the threads can help prevent leaks.” In less than an hour, you can have a new shower head in place. Your DIY project will start paying for itself almost immediately.

For help sifting through the variety of water-saving options available today, including models from industry-leading brands like Jones Stephens, Wal-Rich, and Zurn, contact the experts at SupplyHouse.com.

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


The New Cool: 3 Ways Air Conditioning Has Changed for the Better

Like so many other technologies, central air conditioning has advanced by leaps and bounds in recent years. Delivering enhanced efficiency, unprecedented performance, and "stays out of your way" unobtrusiveness, the latest cooling systems are very cool indeed.

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How did we live before air conditioning? In some regions, it’s not even a nice-to-have amenity, but a virtual necessity for survival. Everywhere else, homeowners rely on AC for much-needed mid-summer heat relief, and they have done so for decades. Of course, central air conditioning hasn’t always been the fine-tuned yet affordable convenience we know today. Even recently, over the last dozen or so years, we’ve seen the technology advance, like so many others, by leaps and bounds. If it’s been ages since you last surveyed the air conditioner market, therefore, “You might be very pleasantly surprised,” says David Kenyon, a product manager with Sears Home Services. With energy costs on the rise and concern mounting for the environment, HVAC equipment manufacturers have responded by launching lines that boast, not only exemplary efficiency, but much-improved performance all around. In the past, you may have resisted the temptation to install central air, or you may now be considering an upgrade your current system. Either way, you already know there’s nothing better than AC this time of year. But to find out why the latest AC equipment outperforms what came before, continue reading now.

 

1. MORE COMFORTABLE

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It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity: There’s a lot of truth to that old aphorism. Go out on a high-humidity day, and you feel discomfort right away. Retreat back into the air conditioning, though, and you may not always get relief. It depends on the age of your system. According to Kenyon of Sears Home Services, previous generations of AC technology can maintain the set temperature but often fail to mitigate humidity. That’s why, in a room cooled by an older system, you may feel clammy and “never fully at ease,” as Kenyon puts it. Nowadays, it’s a much different story. The latest systems are considerably more adept at controlling the moisture content of air, largely thanks to a new type of HVAC component, the modulating condenser. Kenyon explains, “Modulating condensers monitor conditions in the home and self-adjust to keep humidity within a comfortable range.” In other words, many of the latest air conditioners now works against, not only sweltering heat, but discomfiting moisture as well. “That’s a big step up in terms in comfort,” Kenyon points out. An added bonus: Lower humidity usually means you can set the thermostat a bit higher, cutting consumption and saving energy dollars in the process.

 

2. MORE EFFICIENT

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“There’s a night-and-day difference between the average efficiency of air conditioners today versus the average twenty or even ten years ago,” Kenyon says. In fact, efficiency has improved so much and so quickly that the traditional rating system has struggled to keep pace. Pros and consumers alike have long relied on the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio (SEER) rating to understand the efficiency of a given HVAC component, relative to others. “It wasn’t so long ago that you would see SEER ratings between 4 and 10,” Kenyon remarks. Flash forward: Today, many air conditioners boast markedly higher SEER ratings, from around 14 up to as high as 26—numbers that Kenyon deems “off the charts!” Even so, it’s key to remember that home energy efficiency depends, not only on the SEER rating of the cooling appliance, but on a host of interconnected factors. Be sure to work with HVAC specialists that look at the bigger picture. For instance, before Sears Home Services considers a job complete, its experts study and make recommendations on an array of factors, from the condition of ductwork to the amount and quality of insulation. “For maximum efficiency, everything needs to work together,” Kenyon concludes.

 

3. MORE DISCREET

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Up to now, home cooling has typically entailed one or another type of sacrifice. In exchange for the benefits of central air conditioning, you would put up with its considerable downsides, including noise and compromised air quality. Here’s the good news: Comfort no longer has to come with a catch. As Kenyon says, “The best of the new breed operate quietly, while promoting the health of the home.” Take the issue of noise. “Once upon a time, if standing near the outdoor unit, you needed to shout to be heard,” Kenyon recalls. But where newer models are concerned, a disruptive level of noise signifies, not normal operation, but a problem in need of repair. By the same token, filtration has come a long way since the days when cooling systems were notorious for distributing dust, pollen, and other airborne impurities. From pleated media-type filters to innovative electrostatic and ultraviolet ones, new options remove such particles—in some cases, even microscopic particles—in the regular course of recirculation. “It all adds up to more enjoyable, less obtrusive air conditioning,” Kenyon says.

 

For all but the most ambitious do-it-yourselfers, putting in or upgrading a central air-conditioning system calls for the involvement of well-qualified contractors with years of experience in HVAC. Don’t just flip open the phone book and settle for the first company listed. Instead, put thought and care into your search for the right pro. There are too many complexities involved to risk doing otherwise. As Kenyon puts it, “Even if you have a top-of-the-line system, you can’t expect peak performance, unless the components are installed properly installed.” Don’t know where to start? Schedule a free in-home consultation with Sears Home Services. Doing so gives you the chance to discuss your needs with an expert, while becoming an expert in your own right on all your different options. At the very least, your project consultant can explain the often quite generous tax credits, incentives, and rebates available in many areas to help defray the upfront cost of energy-smart HVAC. From initial planning to final installation and beyond, Sears remains committed to the lasting success of your project.

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


Solved! What to Do When Your Air Conditioner Is Leaking Water

Too much condensation pooling around your central AC? Follow these steps to keep your cool when your system can’t.

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Central Air Conditioner Leaking Water

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Q: My central air conditioning system is leaking water. Any way I can DIY the repair and avoid an expensive repair bill?

A: Most likely, you’re dealing with one of three things: a damaged drain pan, a clogged air filter, or a blocked condensate line. Left unchecked, these concerns could cause all sorts of unwanted costs, from repair fees and astronomical utility bills to the worst-case scenario: water overflowing from the system and flooding parts of your home. The good news is, if you catch a leak early, you may be able to remedy the situation yourself. So as soon as you notice water around the unit, begin the diagnostic process with these troubleshooting tips.

Air Conditioner Leaking Water

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First, check your drain pan. Located directly underneath your unit, the drain pan catches the condensation that emerges normally from running your air conditioner. If it’s cracked or otherwise damaged, it can’t do its job—soon after, you’ll start to notice your air conditioner leaking water. So, follow along the edges, paying special attention to the corners for breaches. (Tip: Use a flashlight for better visibility, since the cracks may be small.) Any minor damage you find can be repaired with epoxy, but it’s generally wiser to replace the pan altogether.

Assess the air filter. If your pan isn’t the problem, take a look at the air filter, which is placed directly into your unit; the edge is usually visible from outside. When a filter is dirty or full, ice can form on your unit’s evaporator coils and melt into pooled water below. Most filters last for a month or two, but if your system is getting a lot of use (in summer, for instance), replacing it like clockwork every 30 days can prevent problems. If yours looks dirty—or you don’t remember when you changed it—swap it out for a new one now.

Unclog the condensate line. The most common gremlin behind a central air conditioner‘s leakages is a clogged condensate line. Because it’s located outside your house near your condenser, the line is subjected to the elements year-round, and algae can build up inside fairly easily, clogging it and causing a backflow. Though it requires a bit more effort than troubleshooting a cracked drain pan or dirty air filter, you may still be able to fix it yourself.

First, turn your air conditioner unit off. Next, step outside and locate the line (typically a ¾-inch PVC pipe emerging from the ground near your exterior unit). Pull your wet-dry vacuum up to it and choose an attachment fitting that’s ¼-inch smaller than the condensate line opening; this should give you an airtight seal. Once you’ve achieved a snug fit, turn the vacuum on and let it run for three to four minutes. Then turn off the vacuum and check the tank for algae-filled water. If that’s what you see, you’ve likely solved your problem without having to make a service call, saving somewhere in the neighborhood of $100.

In the future, running a bit of chlorine through the line every six months or so should keep the gunk from coming back and wreaking havoc on your system. Likewise, it’s smart to change your air filter every month or two and periodically check your drain pan to stave off potential AC calamities. Schedule due diligence with your system throughout the year to keep things flowing. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cool!