Q: How can we improve the efficiency of an existing heating and cooling system without replacing the furnace or the air conditioner without adding more insulation?

Great question… Many answers.

First and foremost is MAINTENANCE. The equipment needs to be cleaned and serviced by a licensed professional at least twice per year. Studies have shown that lack of proper maintenance can reduce equipment efficiency by 5-10%. In addition, most of today’s filters need to be changed a minimum of every 90 days, and don’t skimp on the filter. You should use a filter that has a high efficiency rating to help keep your air and equipment clean.

After thorough cleaning, the service technician will adjust the Freon levels in your air conditioner to the manufacturer’s specifications. Keep in mind that an over charged unit is just as bad as an under charged unit when it comes to energy consumption.

On the heating side, the burners should be cleaned for maximum performance, as well as adjusting the gas pressure, and cleaning the blower wheel. We also recommend that you leave your indoor blower running continuously. This will ensure that the air in your home is being constantly circulated to reduce hot and cold spots, while wringing our every dollar of heating or air conditioning your system can produce.

You may also want to consider a programmable thermostat to set back the temperature while you are away or sleeping. However, you must use your programmable thermostat sensibly. Short (less than 8 hours) or severe (more than 7 Deg. F.) set back periods won’t save much energy, but may shorten the life of the equipment while being stressful on your home and furnishings.

Q: We have a 100+ year old house in the city with wide plank hardwood floors on the 1st floor. What is the best way to insulate the basement to avoid the cold air that makes its way through the floorboards?

I’m assuming that a 100 year old city house is probably on a stone foundation. These foundations are very difficult to insulate economically, but the problem may not be one of insulation. If you are feeling a draft coming up through your floor, this would indicate that the house is “negative” to the basement. Air is being exhausted somewhere on the upper level, causing the air to be “drawn” up from the basement. Cold air is heavier than warm, and will usually stay put in the basement unless acted upon by some other force. You might want to do some research to see if there isn’t a chimney open, perhaps excess attic ventilation, or maybe just too much bathroom exhaust. No matter what the cause, you should try to eliminate this condition.

Your second option may be to apply one of the new thermal boards to the bottom of the floor joists to stop the airflow. This material is available in thicknesses starting at 1/8″, provides great insulating qualities for its thickness, and should help eliminate the draft and cold floors.

Q: We are remodeling our attic and were wondering if you had any suggestions for heating insulation?

Fiberglass batts are very good in attic walls with a minimum of R-13. If the ceiling is to be installed on rafters, there should be air space above the insulation. If there is only room for 3″ insulation in a rafter space, a foam board can be installed on the rafters before the ceiling is installed. A minimum of R-19 should be installed in the ceiling.

Q: How often should I have my air ducts cleaned and inspected for repairs?

In the majority of homes, cleaning and inspection once every three years is adequate. The type of air filter you are using and the frequency of maintenance on your heating and air conditioning equipment can have a significant affect on the duration between cleanings. The purchase of a good quality air cleaner will protect your heating and air conditioning equipment, duct system and your home, while scheduled maintenance will extend the life of the equipment and increase its efficiency.

Q: We are replacing our AC unit this season; what advice can you give me?

Replacing your system is one of the biggest financial decisions you will make. The reason for this is that the life expectancy of a system is around 12 years and once your system is installed you now have given the power company and/or gas company the right to send you a bill for the next 12 years.

When choosing a contractor, pick a company to install the unit based on quality and customer service, not solely on price. The name brand of the equipment is not as important as the installing contractor.

Another thing to keep in mind when replacing a system is that the duct system you are connecting to is sealed tight with the proper amount of return air. With the new higher efficiency units, you also have to be careful that you replace your system with the proper sized unit so you don’t end up with a house that is cool but has high humidity.

Do your homework, pick quality contractors, and find someone you trust and you will have a successful installation that will bring you years of comfort and the least amount of overall cost.

Q: Should I set my thermostat at a constant temperature during the summer months or should I turn it off while we are away and then turn it on when we are home? Which will save me money in the long run?

During the summer months I would recommend you set your thermostat back during the day when you are not home. However, I would not recommend that you go over your desired temperature more than five to seven degrees.

Another recommendation would be that you have a programmable thermostat installed that would automatically change the setting for you once it was programmed.

Our company has had people save as much as 30 percent on their utility bills just by setting the temperature back when no one is home.