Major Systems - 2/36 - Bob Vila

Category: Major Systems

How To: Upgrade Your HVAC—Without Giving Up Your Ducts

Replacing your current cooling or heating system doesn’t necessarily require a complete overhaul. Read on to learn how you can avoid the hassle (and cost) of ripping out all of the old before installing the state-of-the-art new.

Upgrade Your HVAC without Replacing Your Ducts


Have your monthly energy bills risen in recent years? Are some rooms stubbornly hot in the summer or too cold in the winter, no matter the thermostat setting? Do you find yourself having to turn up the television to hear above the noise coming from your ducts? If your answer to any of these questions is yes and you’re looking to upgrade to a more advanced, efficient system, you should consider mini-split technology.

Mini-split technology is most often recognized by the ductless wall-mounted equipment, zoned capabilities, and its ability to cool and heat a given space. This technology allows homeowners to divide their homes by floors, rooms, or areas in which they designate zones. The zoning allows for more efficient cooling and heating, where unoccupied areas can be turned off or set to different temperatures.

So you’re interested in the new technology? The thought of replacing your entire heating and cooling system can be intimidating. Based on an outside study by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, as well as its own statistics, industry-leading supplier Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating (Mitsubishi Electric) estimates that homeowners today can expect to pay between $4,000 and $5,500 per zone for cooling and heating the space. Therefore, the size of your home and the system you choose matters; the total price can fall anywhere from $4,000 to $20,000.

But don’t be overwhelmed by the sticker shock: You can cut down on equipment and labor costs by choosing a system that works with your existing ductwork. The total price will ultimately depend on the decisions that you (and your contractor) make regarding the number of zones and other variables.

Upgrade Your HVAC without Replacing Your Ducts


Mitsubishi Electric’s Zoned Comfort Solutions™ opens up countless options for designing a super-efficient system to meet nearly any comfort need. A Zoned Comfort Solution uses an outdoor unit connected by refrigerant piping to one or more indoor units, which come in a variety of styles (wall-mounted, floor-mounted, horizontal-ducted, and more). While a single outdoor unit can pair with a single indoor unit to create one large zone, Zoned Comfort Solutions can provide a much more customizable experience; an outdoor unit can connect to as many as eight individual zones controlled by separate thermostats.

If you’re looking for an efficient system but want to keep your ductwork and the aesthetic of your existing HVAC, one option is a ducted system. This upgrade brings some of the most noteworthy advances in ducted systems today—higher efficiency, quieter operation, and advanced control. A multi-position ducted system replaces your existing central air system, making use of the original ductwork, and ultimately cutting down on installation costs by repurposing. The new PVA Multi-Position Air Handler from Mitsubishi, for example, packs 12,000 to 42,000 BTU (model dependent) of cooling/heating power into a compact unit that can be mounted in any configuration—horizontal or vertical—increasing the options for placement throughout the house. And no matter where you put the air handler, the motor’s whisper-quiet operation won’t give away its hiding spot!

In addition to repurposing ductwork, Mitsubishi Electric’s systems also offer flexibility in several areas. First off, each one of Mitsubishi’s Zoned Comfort Solutions can provide up to 40 percent more efficiency than conventional HVAC systems, and the PVA Multi-Position Air Handler offers ratings that range from 18 to 21 SEER (the Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, the metric to measure cooling output per energy input). Secondly, some Mitsubishi Electric PVA systems can be matched with the innovative Hyper-Heating Inverter® (H2i®) heat pump, providing 100 percent heating capacity at 23 degrees Fahrenheit and 76 percent at -13 degrees Fahrenheit.

The system may be controlled from a mobile app on a smartphone through use of the wireless adapter and kumo cloud™ app. Depending on your choice of indoor unit styles, you may customize the system with additional features to optimize comfort: Models equipped with the 3D i-See Sensor™ monitor room temperatures to adjust airflow in the appropriate direction; high-performance filters can scrub and deodorize the air; and convenient RedLINK™ technology lets you connect up to 16 devices to your cooling and heating system without interfering with other wireless home devices.

There are many options available and every situation is unique; each home’s distinct architecture, location, position, and level of insulation—as well as each resident’s definition of comfort—may require a highly customizable solution. The best way to find the right system for your home is to consult an expert, such as one of Mitsubishi Electric’s 3,500 certified Diamond Contractors™. Contacting a Diamond Contractor for a free in-home consultation will ensure you receive a state-of-the-art Zoned Comfort Solution designed to meet your specific needs.

Mitsubishi Electric’s Diamond Contractors possess excellent product knowledge and the education necessary to guide you through the process. A Diamond Contractor surveys your floor plan and assists in choosing a system best suited to the size and layout of your home. They know large and small houses have vastly different temperature-control needs and understand these factors impact whether you choose a single- or multi-zone unit. Finding the right fit and providing an accurate cost estimate requires intimate knowledge of system options, and a Diamond Contractor has the experience and qualifications to do it right.

Diamond Contractors are also up to date on the latest environmental programs and rebates for which your product may qualify—in other words, they can help save you even more money (on top of the energy savings from your new, more efficient system).

A modern, energy-efficient, and powerful cooling and heating system can be a convenient and affordable option with Mitsubishi Electric’s Zoned Comfort Solutions. To find a local expert Diamond Contractor, go to and enter your zip code in the Dealer Locator or call 1-800-433-4822 to speak with a customer care representative.


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

Buyer’s Guide: Portable Air Conditioners

Looking to beat the heat but unable to install a window AC? We've broken down important shopping considerations to help you choose the best unit for your home.

Best Portable Air Conditioner – Buyer's Guide


In the ambient heat of summer, nothing beats walking inside to a blast of chilled air. But while air conditioning provides a welcome relief from high temperatures, central air or even window units aren’t always an option. Some homeowners live in a building with infrastructure that doesn’t support central air; renters may not have the option to renovate and install an HVAC system. If, in either scenario, a window is not large enough to accommodate a window unit, a portable air conditioner can offer a preferable alternative to sweltering in your living space.

As the name implies, portable air conditioners are movable units—in the sense that they’re not permanent, not that they’re particularly easy to carry from room to room—that blow cold air into an interior space. Standing at a couple feet tall, the entire unit sits inside the home and transfer heat outside through a window via an exhaust hose. While they eat up floor space and don’t run quite as efficiently as their window counterparts, the right model can still get the job done. That’s why, if you’re in the market, you need to be informed on what makes a unit the best portable air conditioner out there. Read on to learn the ins and outs of this type of appliance, and check out our three recommendations for the best portable air conditioner to help you beat the heat.

Best Portable AC – Buyers Guide


When choosing a portable air conditioner, aside from cost, consider these important factors above all else.

Single-hose vs. dual-hose models: Homeowners should first decide whether to buy a single-hose model or a dual-hose model. A single-hose unit pulls warm air from the space around it, cools it down, and disposes of heat and moisture through the singular hose that leads outside. These models are typically cheaper than their dual-hose counterparts, but they have significant drawbacks. Since the unit relies on already-cooled indoor air to bring down the temperature of the condenser, a lot of energy goes to waste. Plus, single-hose models create negative pressure within the room, and hot air is subsequently drawn back inside to even out the room’s pressure. This, in turn, creates a “back-to-square-one” situation.

On the other hand, dual-hose units have both an intake and outtake hose. The intake hose draws outdoor air to bring down the temperature of the condenser. The separate outtake hose disposes of the heat, humidity, and used air outside. While pricier, these units are more efficient and generally the wiser option, especially for larger spaces.

Energy-efficiency: Generally speaking, the cooling capacity of air conditioners is measured in British thermal units (BTU). Models with a BTU rating of 10,000 or higher are typically the most efficient at cooling a room—but the higher the BTU, the louder and heavier the model. Perhaps more important than a unit’s BTU is its energy efficiency ratio (EER). A higher EER rating equates to greater efficiency, because the EER indicates the ratio of the air conditioner’s BTUs per hour to its power input, measured in watts. In other words, you need more BTUs to cool a larger space, and some units are built with greater energy efficiency than others. The EER weighs output and input against each other to tell you how effective and efficient your unit will be. Many portable air conditioners have EER ratings between 8.5 to 10, but anything 10 or higher is ideal.


Taking into account reviews from customers and experts alike—as well as the criteria outlined above—we’ve rounded up three picks for the best portable air conditioner on the market. Read up on then cool down with one of these top-rated units.

Best Portable Air Conditioner – Buyer's Guide


LG 8,000-BTU Portable Air Conditioner ($279)
Home Depot shoppers love the efficient and economical LG 8,000-BTU Portable Air Conditioner, which cools interior spaces up to 200 square feet. The single-hose unit comes with dehumidifier function, as well as an LCD remote to control the temperature, timer, and two fan speeds. The unit has an EER of 9, and it also features automatic shutoff, LED display panel, and a washable filter. At 54 decibels, reviewers note that it can run a bit on the noisy side, but those who like white noise may see it as a bonus. Available at Home Depot.


Best Portable Air Conditioner – Buyer's Guide


Honeywell MN10CESWW 10,000 BTU Portable AC ($385)
The home experts at The Spruce call the Honeywell MN10CESWW the best portable air conditioner. The 10,000-BTU single-hose unit, which is ideal for rooms under 350 square feet, is an affordable option with a 3M electrostatic filter and eco-friendly compressor. The auto-evaporation system dehumidifies up to 70 pints of moisture per day, and the no-drip design eliminates the need for cleanup. Complete with remote control, this portable AC unit is very quiet during operation. It’s available in three colors (white, silver, and black) and has an EER rating of 9. Available on Amazon.


Best Portable Air Conditioner – Buyer's Guide


Whynter Elite ARC-122DHP Digital Portable AC ($467)
After exhaustive testing, experts at The Sweethome named the Whynter Elite ARC-122DHP the best portable air conditioner of 2017. The dual-hose 12,000-BTU unit cools up to 450 square feet, and it uses a heat/drain pump to extract and dispose of heat and humidity in small spaces. In addition, the system boasts an EER of 12+ and a remote control, and it works well in rooms with high humidity. “We think this dual-hose unit will cool a room faster than other portable ACs, using the least energy, even in extreme heat,” says The Sweethome team. The unit has four modes of operation: heat, cool, dehumidify, and fan. Available at Home Depot.

Video: These Bad Habits Could Burn Down Your House

We're here to tell you, your bad behavior is not worth the risk.



You know the basics of fire safety: Check the fire extinguisher, douse a grease fire with baking soda, never leave an open flame unattended, and, in an emergency, stop, drop and roll. Even if you’re following the cardinal rules of fire prevention, some common and seemingly minor mistakes could be putting you and your home at risk, from the way you do your laundry to your late-night Netflix binges. Watch and learn about the ways you might be unknowingly inviting disaster, then make some changes to your behavior before the unthinkable occurs.

For more home safety tips, consider:

10 Safety Essentials That Most Homes Are Missing

8 Dangerous Secrets Your Home May Be Hiding

10 Accidents Waiting to Happen—and How to Stay Safe

How To: Clean an AC Filter

With just a little regular maintenance, you'll have clean conditioned air all year round.

How To Clean An AC Filter


Though often overlooked, HVAC air filters are responsible for a mighty important job: keeping dust, dirt, and other debris out of the air we breathe indoors. As they improve your air quality, they also get clogged with all of that aforementioned gunk, which makes cleaning them throughout the year vital for the sake of your health—and your wallet. When a filter is dirty, it forces the air conditioner to work harder in order to push air through its clogged fibers, using more energy to do so and thereby shortening its lifespan. Avoid high utility bills and mechanical problems down the road with these guidelines for how to clean an AC filter. Removing your filter once a month (or twice during seasons of high use) for either a cleaning or replacement should keep quality and energy use in check.

MATERIALS AND TOOLS Available on Amazon
Screwdriver (if vent removal is required)
– Hand-held vacuum cleaner or upright model with attachment (if using reusable filter)
Hairdryer with cool setting (if using reusable filter)
– Filter, properly sized to fit your AC unit (if using disposable filter)

Examine the condition of the AC filter to see if it needs to be cleaned. To do so, first make sure your system is turned off—you don’t want unfiltered air circulating throughout your home while the filter is removed. When it’s safe to continue, unscrew the vent cover or use the release handle to remove the filter. Gently slide it out, being careful not to damage it, and then give it a thorough look over.

The filter’s exact location will depend on your HVAC system. Most units house their filters just behind the return vent, typically found either near the ceiling or close to the floor. Some systems may have multiple return vents (particularly in very large homes), so check around to make sure you’re not overlooking any filters during this maintenance. When in doubt, call your manufacturer and ask where the AC filter can be found and if your system uses more than one.

How To Clean Air Filter


If you can see any grayness, discoloration, or visible surface dust on the AC filter, clean or replace it.

Remove the dust and dirt from a reusable filter (one with a plastic or metal frame) with a handheld vacuum cleaner or with an attachment at the end of an upright vacuum’s hose. Or, for an even deeper clean, use your bathtub faucet or handheld shower head to run warm water through the filter in the opposite direction of airflow. To do this, check to see where the dust is most visible, and then face that side downward; the water should hit the opposite side and pass through in order to rinse out the gunk without pushing it deeper into the filter.

• If your AC unit uses disposable filters (which are often framed in cardboard), simply replace the dirty disposable filter with a clean one from your local hardware store. Check the size, listed on the side for your convenience, to avoid buying one that doesn’t fit. Then, skip to Step 4.

If you’ve washed your reusable AC filter, let it dry thoroughly. Consult the manufacturer’s instructions for any special steps you might need to take, but, generally, leaning it against the side of the bathtub for a few hours and flipping it over midway through should do the trick. You can use a hairdryer set to “cool” to speed things up, but beware that too hot of temperatures can burn or otherwise damage the filter.

Reinsert either a clean, dry reusable filter or a new disposable into your AC unit. Just like the removal process, this part is easy: Simply slide the filter back into its designated slot, making sure the arrows on its frame point away from you and toward the unit.

Stay on schedule. To keep your airflow fresh all the time, set up a monthly reminder to check the AC filter’s condition. If needed, cleanse or replace the filter in your AC unit at this time. Warm climates may require more frequent checks in the summer, while cold climates may need more maintenance in the winter. Once you’ve figured out the rhythms of your particular unit, make a schedule and be sure to stick to it so you can breathe easy all throughout the year.

New AC? 5 Top Factors for Sizing Up Your Needs

To make sure that you're cooling your house as efficiently as possible, why not call in a pro who can weigh some key considerations and come up with the right size AC unit for your home?

How to Choose the Most Efficient AC Size


Do you find yourself raising your eyebrows at higher-than-normal energy bills? If your old air-conditioning system seems to be costing more to operate than it did summers past, yet your home still isn’t quite comfortably cool, it may be time to think about investing in a newer system. (A few other red flags that your AC system may be nearing the end of its useful life: increased humidity in your house, banging or other noises coming from your system during operation, and increasing repair costs.)

Even if your old system seems to be humming right along, it may be worth a review. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Star division recommends having HVAC systems that are 10 years old or older professionally checked to assess their efficiency. Today’s new air-conditioning systems offer much more efficient cooling power than ever before—so long as you select the right size to meet your home’s needs.

First, Understanding AC Measurements
Air-conditioning systems are rated by the seasonal energy-efficiency rating (SEER) and measured by tonnage. The SEER rating indicates how energy efficient the unit is—the higher the SEER rating, the more efficient the unit. Tonnage, meanwhile, indicates the operational size of the unit. A single AC ton is equivalent to 12,000 Btu per hour (Btu/h), or approximately the amount of coolness emitted by 1 ton of ice melting over the course of one day. An average 2,500-square-foot home might require a 3.5- to 4.5-ton unit, but there are many variables, and getting the tonnage exactly right is vital to both controlling cooling costs and maintaining comfort.


How to Choose the Most Efficient AC Size


Why Size Matters
Even though it may run constantly—and run up your energy bill in the process—an undersized AC unit is unlikely to cool a house adequately. It simply doesn’t have the power to do the job. But bigger isn’t always better in the case of a new AC unit, according to Dave Lincon, Director of Product Management and Business Development for Sears Home Services.

“When an AC unit is too large, it will cool your house quickly,” Lincon explains, “but then it will shut itself down because it’s reached the desired temperature. While that might not sound so bad on the surface, you’ll soon realize that your home never quite reaches the comfort level you expect.”

If an oversized unit cools the air and then shuts off too soon, it never has the opportunity to dry the air effectively, leaving much of the humidity (and general stickiness) unresolved.

To ensure that homeowners purchase the right size system for their houses, the professionals at Sears Home Services use Manual J (Residential Load Calculation)—a precise formula determined by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA)—to compute an individual home’s cooling needs. Nothing is left to speculation. From a home’s floor plan to its geographical location and even its method of construction, all relevant details are analyzed to come up with the correct system size. Among the many variables the formula factors in, the following five may be the most significant for determining the correct tonnage needed for a given house.

How to Choose the Most Efficient AC Size


1. House Size
Your home’s size offers a good starting point for determining cooling needs. During the initial home analysis, Sears Home Service professionals will not only measure your home’s square footage, but they will also measure the height of your ceilings to determine your home’s cubic foot volume. A home with high, vaulted ceilings requires more cooling power than a home with standard 8-foot ceilings.

House style is also an important factor. A two-story home and a ranch-style home may have similar square footage, but their cooling needs will differ for a variety of reasons, including the fact that the ranch home could have twice as much roof as the two-story house.

2. Location
“A house in Colorado will have different cooling needs than a similar-size house in Texas or Florida,” Lincon advises. Typically, houses located in hot and humid climates require larger AC systems than houses in cooler, drier regions.

And while the prevailing climate in your geographical region is a major component of “location,” the term also encompasses considerations specific to your property: Is your yard full of large trees that offer midday shade? Does your house lack any protection from the harsh rays of the sun? How is your house oriented toward the sun?

3. Number (and Type) of Windows
Windows bring in light and offer wonderful views of the outdoors, but in many homes they’re a source of energy loss, which translates into increased cooling needs. According to Lincon, not only does the number of windows in your home affect the size of the AC system you’ll need, but the type of windows also matters.

When performing a Manual J load calculation, Sears Home Services representatives will make note of how many windows your home has, their dimensions, and their type. Single-pane windows are less energy efficient than double-pane, triple-pane, or low-e windows (low-emissivity film-coated windows that reflect the sun’s heat away from your home). The presence of energy-efficient windows can reduce the tonnage requirement.

4. Existing Insulation
Insulation plays a major role in keeping outdoor heat from penetrating your home on a hot summer’s day. Sears Home Services reps will note both the type and the amount of insulation in your home’s attic and walls. Insulated entry doors will also be taken into account.

Most communities have building codes that require a minimum amount of insulation in both walls and ceilings, but older homes that were constructed before the codes went into effect may have inadequate insulation. These older structures could require a larger AC system to keep the home comfortably cool.

5. Existing Ductwork
The type and condition of your home’s current ductwork is another consideration in sizing an AC system. A certified Sears Home Services contractor can connect a new central-air system to existing ductwork, or even install new ductwork if the existing ducting is leaky or poorly situated.

If new ductwork is necessary, Sears will install it in accordance with the ACCA’s Manual D (Residential Duct Design) standards. As these may be more stringent than your local building standards, homeowners can rest assured that they’re getting not only the right size AC system, but optimal ducting as well—and new ducting is yet another factor that could reduce the required size of an AC unit.

All the Other Little Details
While these five factors are important, they’re far from the whole picture. In using the Manual J formula to determine AC system sizing, Sears Home Service reps will need to gather many other details. For example, Lincon brings up the “human factor,” which includes such variables as the number of residents currently living in the home and the existence of either “hot spots” or spaces that never seem to cool adequately. Even the presence and types of window treatments can be a sizing consideration.

As you can see, AC sizing can be a complicated calculation. Certainly, shopping for a new AC system isn’t everyone’s idea of fun, but professionals like those at Sears Home Services can help simplify the task so you can find the right size unit, keep your family comfortable, and maybe even see some savings on your next energy bill.


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

Old House, New AC: Your Best Bet for a Seamless Retrofit

If you're planning on updating an older home so you can enjoy state-of-the-art heating and cooling, look into a system that won't make you choose between charm and comfort.

The Unico System Installed in Older Architecture


Having once lived in a charming and historically significant Victorian home, I’m quite familiar with the compromises those old houses require. Built in 1870, ours was one of the first to adopt Edison’s newfangled electric lights, and it still had the original knob-and-tube wiring throughout its three stories. Just as electricity was an afterthought, so were heating and air conditioning. The house was designed to be heated by its numerous fireplaces, which had mostly been replaced with cast-iron radiators. But air conditioning? Forget about it! At the time, our only relief from the sweltering summers were a bunch of bulky, noisy, energy-gobbling window units that detracted from the aesthetic appeal of the house and impinged upon the lovely natural light from the eight-foot-tall windows.

Anyone who falls in love with an older or architecturally sensitive house faces a similar conundrum: How do you achieve up-to-date comfort and convenience in cooling and heating without compromising the architectural integrity of the structure? The most popular and prevalent HVAC systems in America—central air conditioning and forced-air heating—often rely on a network of bulky air ducts that are tough to incorporate into an existing home. In the past, retrofitting central air conditioning into an older home meant hiring a pricey contractor to open up walls, ceilings, and floors to route the system from room to room. Adding insult to injury, the rigid, unwieldy ductwork often takes up more space than the gaps in your walls and ceilings can accommodate, necessitating soffits, chases, and dropped ceilings that steal space from the home’s interior. In the end, to keep your family comfortable, you compromise the overall appearance and aesthetics that made you fall in love with your older home in the first place.


Installing AC in an Old Home


Nearly Invisible HVAC
Fortunately, there is an innovative and viable alternative to both conventional HVAC systems and inefficient window units: A newer technology known as high-velocity mini-duct HVAC allows cooling and heating to blend unobtrusively into the interior design without marring historic charm. The low-profile and versatile Unico System distributes comfort through cylindrical ducts that measure merely two to two and a half inches in diameter. Small and flexible, these mini ducts easily slide in behind walls and snake around and between joists where traditional metal ducting cannot fit, eliminating the need for altering your home in any significant way. The Unico System also features highly efficient air handling units that are compact enough to fit into tight spaces but deliver up to three times as much cooling power as larger, conventional units.

The rest of the system is just as inconspicuous. While most traditional HVAC systems rely on a variety of unsightly components—radiators, baseboard units, large metal vents—the Unico System maintains the attractive design aesthetics of your home by squeezing even its “big” pieces into the existing walls, and connecting to small, discreet outlets. The parts you do see—either 5-inch round or 8-by-1/2-inch slotted vents—can even be painted or stained to make them blend even further into the room’s overall design scheme. Meanwhile, the system’s whisper-quiet operation will preserve the peaceful charm of your old house, thanks to Unico’s impressive insulation: The mini ducts are constructed with nylon inner cores that muffle the movement of air, and the air handlers are housed within a cloak of closed-cell, sound-deadening insulation.

Advanced Comfort and Convenience
By opting for a high-velocity mini-duct HVAC in an older home, you’re not just bringing the place up to date, you’re also priming it for the future with cutting-edge energy efficiency. Whereas conventional HVAC installations can lose energy—as much as 25 to 50 percent—through typically leaky ductwork, the insulated mini ducts in the Unico System keep thermal loss close to none. Additionally, the system helps you lower your utility bills even further by removing 30 percent more humidity from the air than a conventional central air-conditioning system does, making the house comfortable even with the thermometer set slightly higher.

This combination of flexibility, painless installation, and advanced energy efficiency has made the Unico System the go-to retrofit for numerous historic and architecturally significant homes across the country, including the Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum and the Harry S. Truman Little White House, both located in Key West, Florida; President Lincoln’s Cottage in Washington, D.C., his seasonal residence; the Petersen House in Washington, D.C., where Lincoln died after being shot at Ford’s Theatre; and the 277-year-old Orrin Hoadley House of Branford, Connecticut, an architectural gem built decades before the United States was even a country. So, if you are looking to add comfort and value to your older home, consider choosing an option that has been vetted by the National Park Service and has garnered the approval of architectural review boards in communities across the country. If it’s good enough for a presidential residence, isn’t it the right choice for your own palace?



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

Which Is the Right Type of Water Filter for You?

Water woes? A good-quality water filter may be the answer, but don't simply purchase the first one you see on the shelf. Instead, read on to learn about the many different considerations involved, and for top tips from on making the right choice for your household needs.

Types of Water Filters


Americans enjoy easy, take-it-for-granted access to some of the cleanest, clearest water in the world. Still, even water that’s deemed safe to drink can be comprised in quality. It may taste bad or look discolored, for instance. Alone or in combination, such issues provide reason enough to look into water filters. But bear in mind that water problems show up in other, subtler ways too. If you spot rust on kitchen or bath fixtures, or if you suspect scale buildup in your pipes, your household water may be to blame. Meanwhile, plenty of people, health experts included, worry about the unseen, long-term implications of drinking and bathing in H2O that’s less than pure.

Under the circumstances, “It’s not so surprising water filters have gotten so popular,” says Daniel O’Brian, a technical specialist with In response to rising consumer demand, the market now offers a broad range of options, and while all filters work toward the same goal—eliminating contaminants—filters differ in at least two crucial ways. First off, different filters hook up to the home plumbing at different junctures, and that determines whether a unit serves the entire house or an individual fixture. Second, different filters employ different filtering technologies. No one technology proves effective against every type of impurity, but each offers its own unique set of strengths.

So, which is the best water filter for you? “There’s never one single right answer,” O’Brian says. “It really depends on the specific water problems you’re facing, and what your needs are as a homeowner.” That’s why, in order to make an informed decision, it’s wise to familiarize yourself with the broad product landscape before going any further.

By integrating with home plumbing at the point where water enters from the street, whole-house water filtration systems filter virtually every drop—even the water in the sprinkler system. “That’s overkill for most homeowners,” O’Brian says. But in extreme cases, or if you intend to filter water for more than a few fixtures, whole-house equipment may be well worth the higher price. On the other hand, if you live in an average-size home and want only to ensure clean water for drinking and bathing, consider opting instead for an in-line water system filter or a drinking water system filter. These install not at the main valve, but along plumbing branches that service individual fixtures.


Product Collage - Types of Water Filters


There’s no such thing as a 100 percent effective water filter, and for most intents and purposes, you wouldn’t necessarily need one even if it were available. In the absence of a total solution, then, selecting the right filter means understanding how the most common technologies stack up against each another, and how effective each would be in remedying the specific water woes you’re facing.

Reverse Osmosis. Perhaps the single most effective type, reverse osmosis (RO) units force water through a multistage filtration process. Stage one is a sediment prefilter, designed to screen out larger particulates (such as sand and silt). Next is a carbon filter to remove organic contaminants, including ones that affect water odor and taste. Last but not least, a semipermeable membrane takes care of chemical contaminants. In some RO filters, there’s even a fourth and final “polishing” stage. The downside? RO filters don’t do anything to mitigate the presence of microorganisms.

Ultraviolet Light. A relative newcomer to the scene, ultraviolet (UV) water purification does what reverse osmosis doesn’t—that is, it kills germs, preventing the transmission of viruses and bacteria. True, before it reaches your home, municipal water undergoes chlorine treatment. But UV picks up where chlorine leaves off, removing 99.99 percent of the microorganisms that chlorine fails to kill. Note: UV does nothing to remove other types of water contaminants, so according to O’Brian, the technology works best not on its own, but as “a special secondary line of defense.”

Activated Charcoal. Especially common in drinking water systems, carbon-based filters capitalize on a special characteristic of charcoal: Many common organic impurities naturally bind to its craggy surface. The catch? In its natural state, charcoal doesn’t have enough surface area to deliver adequate filtering capacity. Once “activated” by an oxygen treatment, however, charcoal gains countless tiny pores, each one of which becomes a bonding site ready to capture contaminants. Activated charcoal may not be quite as effective as reverse osmosis, but if you’re concerned primarily with the taste and aesthetics of household drinking water, “you can do a lot worse,” O’Brian summarizes.


Ready to take the next step? “Find out what’s in your water,” O’Brian says. After all, he continues, “there’s a big difference between water that tastes a little funny and water that can harm your health.” To get a water analysis, you have two choices: You can either send a sample to a lab or test the water yourself with a store-bought kit. In O’Brian’s estimation, only expert analysis makes any sense. Why? Doing it yourself sacrifices accuracy, and you can’t make the right decisions unless you trust the results. Once you know exactly what to filter out of your water and which types of filters are the most suitable for doing so, “it’s just a matter of matching the symptoms to the cure,” O’Brian concludes.

Pure Drinking Water - Types of Water Filters


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Solved! What to Do If Your AC Stops Cooling

Don’t sweat it if your central air conditioning stops cooperating. Troubleshoot the most likely problems with these wise moves.

Troubleshooting AC Unit


Q: I’ve just turned on the air conditioner for the summer, but have yet to get comfortable. The appliance circulates air, but nothing refreshingly chill. Why is my air conditioner not cooling? More importantly, how do I fix it?

A: It’s the last thing you want on a sweltering summer’s day—a central air conditioning system that’s not blowing cold air! While your first reaction may be to contact an HVAC pro, with a little of your own troubleshooting, you might remedy the problem and save on a costly house call.

Air conditioning systems operate on a basic scientific process called “phase conversion.” Refrigerant, the liquid used in an AC system, undergoes a continuous cycle of evaporation and condensation within the unit’s sealed coil system. The unit’s evaporative coils (usually located inside your home near a blower unit) become icy cold as the refrigerant within turns from a liquid to a gas. The unit’s fan blows air over those icy coils, which forces cooled air through your home’s ducting. The gas then cycles back to a condenser coil unit (located outside) where it cools back down to a liquid and the cycle repeats itself over and over.

If your AC system is blowing warm air, several culprits may be afoot, so read on for targeted fix-it advice.

Check the thermostat. It may seem simplistic, but sometimes the cause of an AC system running but not cooling is simply the result of someone switching the thermostat from “Automatic” to “Fan.” When the switch is set to “Automatic,” the thermostat, which is an integral part of the system, switches on the air conditioning when the indoor temperature rises above the desired temperature that you’ve pre-set. If the switch was accidentally set to “Fan,” however, the unit will blow air through the duct system, but no cooling will take place. Check and reset the switch to “Automatic,” if necessary.

Replace a dirty filter. If it’s been more than a couple of months since you’ve replaced the return-air filters in your AC system, they may be clogged and dirty, which can affect air flow. When filters get clogged with animal fur and dust, the AC system can’t draw in sufficient air, and as a result, only a wimpy flow of air comes out. So remove a return-air filter and, if you can’t see what’s on the other side, replace it. if you can see through the filter, the problem lies elsewhere.

Clear a clogged condensation drain. Air conditioners work in part by removing humidity from the air (through condensation), and that moisture must go somewhere. That’s the job of a condensation drain hose—it directs water to a floor drain or to the outside of your home, depending on your system. Condensation drains are subject to blockage by mold and algae growth. When this happens, some AC units will stop cooling while others will shut down completely.

Locate the end of the condensation drain line (often in a utility room) and visually check it for clogs. If you see a clog, carefully clear it out with the end of a small screwdriver or similar narrow item. If a clog forms higher in the line where you can’t physically reach it, suction on the end of the line will usually remove it. Use the hose on a wet/dry shop-type vacuum—and hold your hands around the opening—to create sufficient suction between the two hoses. After removing a mold or algae clog, pour a couple of cups of white vinegar into the condensation pan that lies beneath the evaporator coils in the inside blower unit (learn how to access and identify the coils and the condensation pan below). The vinegar will kill residual mold buildup and reduce the risk of future clogs.

Troubleshooting AC Unit


Discern a duct malfunction. In a central AC system, the main blower forces cold air through the ducting and from there into individual rooms. If a duct somewhere between the blower and a room register (the metal grill that covers the opening of an HVAC duct) has broken, the cold air could be blowing out before it reaches the room’s register. If cool air is blowing from some registers but not from others, there’s a good chance the ducting that feeds the registers is at fault. If you have a basement, you can examine the ductwork to see if a joint has come loose. If so, refit the ends of the joint and tape the new joint securely with duct tape. If a ducting joint has come loose within a wall, however, you won’t be able to locate it and will need to call an HVAC professional.

Clear the compressor area. If dry leaves and debris have piled up next to the compressor unit, it may not be able to draw in sufficient air. To find out, locate the compressor unit, which will typically be tucked away on the back or the side of the house where it won’t draw attention. Sometimes, a small fence may have been installed around it to keep it from detracting from the rest of the landscape. Clean away all debris or anything else that might be crowding the unit, such as overgrown vines, and don’t place anything on top of it for peak functioning.

Get serious with dirty coils. The typical AC system has two sets of coils—condenser coils, which are located in the outside compressor unit and evaporator coils, which are encased near the indoor blower unit. When either set of coils becomes dirty or covered with mold and debris, cold air output can suffer. Cleaning the coils involves removing the metal enclosures that protect them. If you don’t feel comfortable working inside the units, it’s time to call a pro, but if you’d like to try cleaning the coils on your own:

• Shut off the power to both the exterior and interior units at the breaker panel. Each one will be on a separate breaker.

• Follow the AC manufacturer’s directions for removing the exterior compressor cage or the metal panels that house the evaporator coils.

• To clean interior (evaporator) coils, spray a non-rinse evaporator coil cleaner (available from DIY stores) directly on the coils, which resemble U-shaped copper or steel tubes. The non-rinse cleaner foams up on the coils and dissolves dirt and grime before liquefying and running into a condensation pan that empties into the condensation drain hose.

• To clean exterior (condenser) coils, spray the coils, and the thin metal fins that surround them, with a condenser coil cleaner (also available from DIY stores). This cleaner is different from evaporator coil cleaner and it will require rinsing with the hose. Follow the product directions carefully.

Know when to call the HVAC pro. If you’ve gone through the above DIY steps and your AC system is still not cooling, the problem could be leaking refrigerant (Freon) or a failed compressor unit. Freon is federally regulated and may only be handled by a licensed HVAC professional. A failed compressor, especially if your AC system is more than 10 years old, may signify the need to purchase a new system. These issues must be addressed by the pros, so make the call!

The Best Way to Control Indoor Humidity—and Your Energy Bills

Find real respite from sticky, sweaty summer with the Unico System. Its highly efficient design cuts down on indoor humidity so you can enjoy greater comfort and more savings.

How to Efficiently Lower Indoor Humidity—and Utility Bills—in Summer


When you turn on the air conditioning to beat the heat, the typical system might lower the temperature enough to satisfy the thermostat, but it may not satisfy your need for comfort. In fact, a burst of AC on a hot and humid day may simply leave you feeling cold and clammy. Sure, any AC system can maintain whatever temperature the homeowner sets, but without a fine-tuned ability to remove excess moisture from the air in your home (and not every system tackles this task with equal effectiveness), your comfort—and wallet—may suffer.

Remove 30% More Indoor Humidity with Unico System

Unico System not only de-humidifies, its outlets (pictured in the sidewall of this log home) blend in to any décor.

Simply put, even when a room is cooled to 76 degrees, it feels less refreshing if the relative humidity is too high. (Relative humidity is the amount of moisture in the air compared with the amount that the air could hold at that temperature.) Cooled but still sticky, homeowners may then lower the thermostat further in search of greater comfort. This “solution,” however, both increases the amount of work the HVAC has to do to cool a space off and decreases the system’s ability to dehumidify the air. You see, moisture removal occurs most easily and efficiently when hot air passes over the HVAC’s cold coils and the water vapor condenses; conditioning an already cooled but still humid room will pull less water from the air with each pass. Unless you live in a particularly dry climate where you have little reason to worry about managing both temperature and humidity, you can expect this pattern to rack up some impressive monthly utility bills over the summer.

Although air conditioning does help reduce humidity to an extent, that hard-won comfort lasts only as long as the bursts of cool air. Because the traditional HVAC system cycles on and off—and is powered down when you leave—relief is inconsistent at best. Humidity lingers, along with personal discomfort and even potential health hazards that can be caused by excessive moisture (like mold!). Alas, no matter the system, the cost of running it all summer long can seem daunting. Fortunately for homeowners, advanced options like the Unico System effectively address both sweltering heat and sticky humidity.

Thanks to its unique cooling coils, the Unico System proves up to 30 percent more adept at eliminating moisture in the air than the average air-conditioning setup. Plus, unlike typical systems that constantly cycle on and off (and require a great deal of power to do so), the Unico iSeries inverter unit enables the air-conditioning system to run continuously. Yes, you read that right: By operating efficiently at very low speeds, the Unico inverter minimizes energy consumption, maximizes savings, and—for the first time—makes it financially possible for you to run the air conditioning 24/7.

The Unico System then routes the cool air through its highly efficient, airtight ducts directly where homeowners need it most, incredibly losing less than 5 percent of it to leakage (a vast improvement over the 25 percent loss typical of traditional metal ductwork). By channeling this store of cool air into living areas via “aspiration,” which draws the ambient air into its stream, Unico achieves a draft-free environment with a consistent temperature. From wall to wall and from one floor to the next, homeowners experience even comfort without fluctuation—no more of the spottiness associated with traditional HVAC.

With all these factors working together to efficiently maintain a cool, pleasant 76 degrees at the lowest possible humidity, you’ll be able to set the thermostat even higher without sacrificing comfort. And notching up the temperature has tangible benefits. Each degree you raise the temperature can result in a 3 percent savings on your air-conditioning costs. Suddenly, summer savings got simpler! With the Unico System‘s exceptional humidity control, you’ll be able to trim energy costs even as you enjoy unprecedented relief from the heat.



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

Bob Vila Radio: The Hard Facts of Water Softening Systems

When present in the water supply, a small handful of minerals can do no small amount of damage to your plumbing system. Here's what you need to know.

When you take glasses out of the dishwasher, do you notice hazy white polka dots? What about your faucets—are they coated with a chalky film?

Water Softening Systems



Listen to BOB VILA ON WATER SOFTENERS or read below:

If yes, chances are good that your home would benefit from a water softener.

Most of the minerals found in municipal water supplies are considered benign. Some are even beneficial. But that’s not necessarily the case with calcium and magnesium. High concentrations of either can lead to scale deposits that gradually clog plumbing pipes and wreck water-using appliances.

Water softeners work to prevent that. They come in all sorts of designs, but most rely on the principle of ion exchange. That is, within a water softener, a chemical process pulls calcium and magnesium out of the water, binding the mineral to pre-loaded beads of sodium or potassium.

Note that while fully automatic water softeners offer convenience, they also tend to cost the most. If you don’t mind the idea of a water softener that requires periodic care and maintenance, you can likely get a better deal. Just remember that before you purchase or install a water softener, you must make sure it offers enough capacity to meet your daily water needs. Size matters!

Bob Vila Radio is a 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day carried on more than 186 stations in 75 markets around the country. Click here to subscribe, so you can automatically receive each new episode as it arrives—absolutely free!