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HVAC Systems, Explained

How a Canopy subscription costs 38% less than picking up filters at the big box store

The world of HVAC can seem complicated for most homeowners. It’s not just about learning the lingo, but about understanding how the different systems actually work and knowing how that fits into your home. HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems are designed for the sole purpose of making an indoor environment comfortable for its inhabitants through temperature and humidity.

Let’s break down the different components of HVAC systems and how they work in your home.

 

Heating

A home is most commonly heated through a boiler, furnace, or heat pump—each of these units work differently and run on different types of fuel, including solid, liquid, gas, and electricity.

  • Boiler: As its name suggests, a boiler burns fuel to heat water to its boiling point, which then runs through pipes as hot water or steam to your home’s radiators to heat the air. While furnaces and heat pumps distribute heat evenly throughout the home, boilers convey heat through radiators and will only heat spaces that have a radiator present.
  • Furnace: Using fuel, furnaces heat up a set of coils and then blow the hot air through ducts to spread the heat throughout your home. Regular maintenance includes replacing your air filter at least every three months to ensure that the air flow is not impeded by dirt and debris that your filter catches to keep out of the system.
  • Heat Pump: Heat pumps don’t actually produce heat, which makes it the most energy efficient choice of these three units. Instead, they use electricity to move heat from cooler spaces to warmer spaces — in the winter, it moves heat from the outdoors into your home and, in the summer, it moves heat from the indoors out of your home. There are several types of heat pumps that vary in their source for collecting heat (air, water, geothermal), but they all work in a similar fashion when it comes to maintaining the temperature of your home.

 

Ventilation

Ventilation is the action of circulating air in any space in an effort to control temperature or remove odors, dust, moisture, and other airborne pollutants. This can be done through a whole-house ventilation, natural ventilation, spot ventilation, or a combination of these strategies.

  • Whole-house Ventilation: Whole-house ventilation is the general standard in most homes, as it provides controlled ventilation throughout the whole home with the help of a system of fans and ducts that move air in and out of the building. There are a number of types of whole-house ventilation systems — for help determining the system that is right for your home, contact your HVAC provider.
  • Natural Ventilation: Just as it sounds, natural ventilation is allowing air to naturally circulate with the help of open windows and doors and trickle vents. While this method does use very little energy, it can’t always be relied upon to maintain comfort levels in extreme conditions. Still, natural ventilation is an important component to any home’s HVAC maintenance as fresh air is needed to improve indoor air quality.
  • Spot Ventilation: Ceiling fans, window fans, and exhaust fans are all great choices for localized ventilation needs, as in bathrooms and kitchens. These are all important to have in conjunction with other sources of ventilation.

 

 

Air Conditioning

Homes are cooled through fresh air from the outdoors that has gone through an indoor heat exchanger, where heat is removed via radiation, convection, or conduction. There are two common types of air conditioners to cool your home.

  • Central Air Conditioners: Central air conditioners are either split-system or packaged units (more on that below). They are used for cooling and dehumidifying the air that it pumps into your home to decrease the temperature of the house. A central A/C system is more efficient than in-room air conditioners and is generally tucked out of the way outdoors or in your garage.
  • In-Room Air Conditioners: As opposed to cooling the whole home, in-room air conditioners do just as they are named — they cool down a single room. They are less expensive than central units, but are not as efficient at lowering temperatures. These are popular choices for apartments and condominiums that are smaller in size.

Now that we have a good idea of what HVAC really means, let’s take a look at the types of mechanisms that helps to ensure your home air is heated, ventilated, and conditioned for maximum comfort.

 

Split System

Split systems are the most classic system, with units inside and outside of the building. Typically, there is an air handler (with an evaporator coil) and an air conditioner (with a condenser coil and a compressor) that works in conjunction with one another for both cooling and heating purposes. Both heat and air conditioning travel through ductwork into your home to maintain the temperature designated by a thermostat.

 

Dual Zone System

Dual zone systems are just as they sound—they work with multiple zone temperature sensors that allow you to control the temperature in different zones of a building. Often used in multi-level homes or buildings with rented units, this can be an energy efficient option that also helps to ensure the comfort of everyone inside. As opposed to multiple air conditioning units that are each set to their own temperature, dual zone systems rely on dampers in your ductwork that work similar to vents, directing certain levels of airflow to different zones of a home. This can save on bills and energy usage, since it provides the flexibility of decreasing the energy needed to heat or cool spaces that are infrequently used.

 

Packaged Sytem

Packaged systems are designed for homes that don’t have space to accommodate the separate components of a split system. Generally, there is a unit that works as both an air conditioner and heat pump, housing both the evaporator and fan coil in one unit. Similar to the split system, a packaged unit moderates the home’s temperature via a digital thermostat.

 

 

HVAC Maintenance

Regardless of what type of system you have in your home, there are a number of things you can do to ensure that your unit runs smoothly and efficiently for many years. All systems should be inspected, cleaned, and serviced at least once per year. Industry recommendations note that heating units are best serviced at the start of fall (before the cold weather strikes) and air conditioning units at the start of spring (in preparation for summer).

On a more regular basis, you can do your part by changing your HVAC air filters at least every three months. Filters that are left to get clogged up with dirt and debris can reduce air flow, which can decrease heating and cooling efficiency and, in the long run, can damage your system. Filters can go either in the return vent or in the air handler, but not both. If you have two zones in your home, you’ll need to replace two filters. Find out your filter sizes and their locations here. For an installation walkthrough, check out our video.

Some households may consider getting their ducts cleaned to properly maintain their HVAC system, which can cost hundreds (even thousands) of dollars. In fact, this process can even damage your HVAC system so it’s best avoided unless absolutely necessary. Fortunately, regular filter changes ensure that your ductwork is kept clean and clear of debris so that duct cleaning is not needed. High-quality micro-allergen filters are the best choice, as they trap smaller particles than their fiberglass counterparts keeping all of that nasty dust, dander, pollen, and other airborne pollutants out of your air and your ducts.

Owning a home means understanding the intricacies of your HVAC system, among many other things. Contact your HVAC technician if you have any questions or concerns regarding your heating, ventilation, and/or air conditioning units.

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The Home Air Filter True Cost Calculator

How a Canopy subscription costs 38% less than picking up filters at the big box store

How much are you really paying for filters? Check out the research below for an idea of the true cost of home air filters.

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Now, where did these numbers come from? Great question.

Price for 4 filters

The big box store filter price of $50.58 was determined by averaging the price of all 2-packs of micro-allergen filters with a quality rating similar to Canopy filters (MERV 11) at one of the nation’s largest discount stores.

Canopy filters are always $17.99 each with free shipping. For four changes per year, that comes out to $60 even. At first glance, it seems that it has a higher cost. However, it’s time to factor in the cost of convenience—which certainly carries a price tag.

Cost of Driving

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Research shows that 90% of Americans live within 15 minutes of a national big box store. The average cost of driving per minute is $0.34.[1] Assuming you take two 15-minute trips to the store per year to purchase a 2-pack of air filters, the cost of driving comes out to $20.40.

Canopy delivers filters straight to your door, just when it’s time for a change. You don’t have to leave your home or remember your sizes—all you have to do is wait for the box to arrive on your doorstep and pop in your fresh new filter.

Cost of your time

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Time is money. Your time is extremely valuable—there’s no question about that. While the average worth of an American worker’s time is $24.57 per hour [2], let’s use the minimum wage of $7.25 per hour to be conservative. Calculating the time for a 30-minute round trip commute to the store and 20 minutes spent in the store, the true cost comes out to $12.04.

Your free time is precious and you should spend it the way you want (which probably has nothing to do with getting stuck in traffic and waiting in line at the store). Canopy’s door-to-door service takes your time out of the equation. All you have to do is provide your filter sizes once and wait for your new filter to arrive.

The True Cost

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When you compare the costs, it’s clear that your time and convenience are extremely valuable. When you compare a true cost of $83.02 to $60.00 flat, it’s hard to argue with the numbers.

Canopy’s home air filter subscription service was designed for your health and your convenience. With free automated shipments, Canopy’s automated filter deliveries save you time and money. You’re worth it.

A Homeowner’s Guide to Winter Maintenance

Winter is coming—that means it’s time to start preparing your home for the cold weather that lies ahead. For most, the winter months signify a time to crank up the heat and cozy up with your family at home on chilly nights. Here are some tips for keeping your heater in good condition, fight germs, and prevent that stuffy feeling that can often come with hunkering down at home.

Check the seals on your windows and doors

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This is another way to save big on energy costs during the winter. Even a small break in a window’s seal can result in money going out the window (literally!). In fact, according to EnergyStar.gov, you can save up to 10% of energy costs simply by ensuring your home is properly sealed and insulated.[1] Check all of the windows and doors in your home for drafts around the edges and, if you detect airflow, call a repairman or look into a DIY solution to keep the warm air in your home and the cold air out.

Have your ducts checked

While a window seal may be a simple DIY, inspecting (and potentially sealing) your ducts is something best left to a professional. Faulty ducts mean that air is leaking on the way to your living space, resulting in high energy bills and inefficient heating. Schedule an inspection before the weather gets too cold and promptly address any leaks to prevent unnecessary leakage.

Replace your home air filters

Home air filters that are clogged with dirt and debris not only limit your airflow which can be harmful to your home’s air handler but they can also be harmful to your health. Be sure to replace your air filters at least every three months—otherwise, you may notice that your heat isn’t performing effectively. In addition to ensuring optimal heating throughout the chilly winter, fresh micro-allergen air filters keep bacteria and other germs out of the air during a season that is known for its cold and flu bugs.

Protect your pipes

Pipes that have frozen over are a major pain, so it’s better to avoid it from happening than to deal with it. Don’t let your thermostat fall below 50 degrees and keep your water heater on at all times to ensure your pipes don’t freeze—even if that means leaving it on low while you’re on winter vacation. It may seem better to shut it off and save money while your home is empty, but frozen pipes are much more troublesome than its worth.

Get your chimney inspected

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If you have a fireplace and plan on using it throughout the winter, have your chimney flue professionally inspected before building your first fire of the season. This will ensure that the smoke and debris are leaving your home in the right manner.

Keep an eye on outside vents

Your indoor air vents are one thing, but the exhaust vents on the outside of your house are usually out-of-sight and, therefore, out-of-mind. In the winter, however, this can get dangerous if snow and ice block up the vent’s exit. Not only could this shut off your heater in the dead of winter, but it could also mean carbon monoxide buildup from the combustion of a heater that is on but not working properly.

Shut off outdoor water

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Freezing water can cause damage to hoses and outdoor faucets, so it’s important to address this before the weather gets too cold. First and foremost, disconnect all hoses, clear them of water, and store them in a safe and dry place. You’ll then need to turn the shut-off valve for outside faucets (this is often found in the basement). Once the water flow has been shut off, turn on all of the outdoor faucets to drain all of the water out. Faucets can be left on throughout the winter if the water has been shut off properly.

Seal your crawl space

In many homes, the crawl space is the culprit for most air leakage. Sealing your crawl space can save bundles on energy costs and will also reduce the humidity level of the space. Left to its own devices, a crawl space can fill up with mold and mildew which can be carried into the house through air vents. Not to mention, excessive levels of moisture tend to attract neighborhood pests. Keeping the area dry is the best way to keep your crawl space in tip-top shape and prevent exposure to airborne toxins.

Keep your home clean

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The more time you spend at home, the more important it is for it to feel clean and fresh. Keep your counters clear and dust your surfaces regularly. Vacuum your home and deodorize your carpets with baking soda if things start to feel stale—this is an easy way to refresh the space and keep your home feeling and smelling good. A clean house will also help to keep germs at bay, preventing cold and flu illnesses from spreading inside.

There you have it. With these tips, your home will be primed and ready for a warm and cozy winter. Bring on the cocoa!

 

New Homeowner Maintenance Checklist

Moving into a new home is exciting, but it also has its own to-do list filled with setup tasks, chores, and other maintenance responsibilities. It can be tempting to dive right in with unpacking and setting up your new home. But, there are a handful of tasks that will make your move-in process easier and simplify ongoing maintenance.

Have your home professionally inspected

Chances are that you already had this done in the homebuying process, but if you haven’t, it’s still worth doing before moving in. A professional inspection will usually result in a list of repairs and reveal what kinds of maintenance projects to add to your to-do list. While minor repairs are often glossed over in the rush to close on your house, make sure they don’t get neglected after move-in.

Learn how to safely cut the power and water

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Sooner or later, you will be fixing a leaky faucet or replacing a light fixture. Don’t let tragedy strike. Make sure that at least two adults in the house understand the basics of your breaker box, especially the main house shutoff. Find your water main shutoff valve and practice shutting it off. Depending on the type of shutoff valve, it may need a special tool. Additionally, these valves go unused for years and have a tendency to lock up. Don’t wait until you have a ruptured pipe spewing water to learn how to turn off your water main.

Safeguard your family from fire and deadly fumes

Equip your house with fire extinguishers on each floor and make sure they are easily accessible. Test any smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors that are already installed. Install new ones in any neglected areas. It’s recommended to have detectors on each floor of the house and in every bedroom. In fact, many areas require this by law. Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed near doors that lead to an attached garage, in basements with a furnace, and anywhere with gas or solid fuel-fired appliances.

Replace your air filters

Find the location of the air filters in your A/C and heating systems. This video shows how. This can be particularly critical in new constructions. Many new air systems come with cheap filters that are ineffective towards microscopic airborne pollutants that easily make their way through into your home’s air. Sometimes, you’ll find that there was no filter at all, which can damage your equipment. New homes can have particularly high levels of dust and air pollution from construction. So it’s important to use a pleated micro-allergen filter for health reasons. In a new construction, refresh the filters each month in year one, then switch to a 3-month schedule for easy maintenance.

Check your insulation

Inspect your attic (if unfinished), basement, crawlspace, and any exposed piping to see if they have adequate insulation. If not, look into installing new insulation or hiring a professional to do so. In the long run, this will help keep your home warm in the winter, cool in the summer, and your energy costs down.

Make sure your gutters are working

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Nothing can damage your home like uninvited water. Check all gutters during a heavy rain to see where water is going. Water should never be pooling at the base of your house or flowing down the side of the exterior. Make sure the gutters and downspouts are clear of debris. Note where gutters direct water. Add extenders to any spouts that don’t seem to divert water away from the house adequately.

Keep the garden outside

Wherever plants and trees touch your house, they can do damage. Shrubs that get whipped around in a storm can scour and score siding and paint so it’s important not to plant them too close. Don’t allow vines like English Ivy to climb your house since they can even damage brick facades. Larger trees with branches that drape over a house can trap moisture on the roof and encourage leaks to form. Trim them back regularly to keep your home free from damage.

Think security

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Nothing makes a house feel like home more than a sense of safety and security. When you buy a new home, consider investing in a security system from the get-go to ensure that your family sleeps soundly. At the very least, replace the locks on all your home’s entrances so that you can guarantee that your family members are the only ones with keys.

In addition to these important maintenance tasks, here are some other simple tasks that will help get your new home ready:

  • Deep clean any carpets in the house.
  • Clean out your garbage disposal with vinegar.
  • Dust ceiling fans and hard-to-reach places.
  • Get the chimney professionally cleaned, if applicable.
  • Inspect and clean out the dryer vent.
  • Bring in an exterminator to inspect your new home for pests and plug up any holes.
  • Purchase new toilet seats and replace the old ones.
  • Set up your utilities with local utility companies.
  • Change your address with the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Vacuum the refrigerator coils (it’s a power bill saver).

These tasks will get your home in prime condition for family dinners, birthday parties, movie nights, and all the other joys that come with life. Because, at the end of the day, it’s not about how big a home is, but how happy it is.

Why You Should Change Your Air Filters At Least Every 3 Months

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Studies show that people spend an average of 90% of their time indoors [1]. With all that time inside, you want to make your environment as comfortable and healthy as possible. Two factors impact how often you should change your filters and the type of filter you should use: the health of your HVAC system but, more importantly, the health of your family.

How Often?

The International Association of Certified Home Inspectors recommends home air filters be changed at least every three months [2]. The frequency of needed air filter changes will vary between households. Those that suffer from allergies, asthma and other respiratory issues, as well as those with pets and small children, are encouraged to replace their home air filters more often.

Check your filters regularly to see how dirty they get over the span of three months—if you notice that they are getting choked with dust and debris prior to the three-month mark, consider adjusting your schedule to change them more frequently.

Filters Are Critical for a Healthy Home

There are a number of reasons for regular air filter changes in your home, but arguably the most important is the effect that indoor air quality has on your health. In fact, research has found that poor air quality is the root cause behind 94% of respiratory diseases [3]. Mold spores, airborne bacteria, toxic fumes, vehicle emissions, pet dander and other pollutants may all be present in your home’s air and the best way to keep them at bay is simply to keep your air filters fresh and clean.

Mold Scrub

Clogged filters can become damp, leading to mold growth that can be spread through the home by your HVAC system. In addition to compromising your HVAC unit, it can require expensive servicing and, in extreme cases, replacement. Mold exposure can lead to serious illnesses and even death.

In a study of more than 1,600 patients suffering from health issues related to mold exposure, patients experienced serious medical problems, including:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache, anxiety, depression and memory loss
  • Immune system disturbances
  • Muscle/joint pain
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Fatigue
Filters Preserve HVAC Efficiency

A clean filter ensures smooth air flow throughout your HVAC system. If your filter is covered in filth, it will block the airflow which reduces the efficiency of your HVAC system. That can mean increased energy costs and decreased efficiency for your HVAC system.

A Best Case Scenario Filter

You want to maximize the efficiency of your A/C and heating system. That’s mainly accomplished through frequent filter changes to prevent dust from choking your system. More importantly, you want to protect your family from airborne health risks. Luckily, micro-allergen filters rated at MERV 10 or 11 will clean the air of the most common household pollutants, including mold spores, without compromising your airflow like thicker filters can.

How a Subscription Works

Home air filters live in places that are hidden from view, and out-of-sight usually means out-of-mind. Many homeowners have a hard time remembering when they last changed filters or even what size they need. By setting up automated deliveries of the filters you need, your chances of following through with a schedule that protects both your health and your system will be secured.