THE HEAT IS ON
|So how does that giant, metal, wires everywhere, pipes all around contraption in your basement work anyway?|
Most modern furnace's use electricity, fossil fuels or wood converted to flames, to heat either air chambers or water. That air is then pushed through the house by a blower (sometimes powered by a hamster runnning on a wheel) or a pump circulating the water (same hamster with a rain coat). Hopefully you know I'm kidding about the hamster, usually they use squirrels.
All the motors and controls in the furnace are used to transfer heat into the home and do it as efficiently and safely as possible. As long as the Earth has this stored up energy, which was supplied by some kind of compressing of rocks and gases and dinosaurs and leaves and such, we can continue to transfer it to our cozy little homes. When this supply runs out then it will be a long Siberian winter in the temperate zones, so we better be ready with Plan-B. Plan-B will involve solar heat, more nuclear thingys and maybe even wind or garbage. It will be developed by engineers who had at least a B+ aveage in school, so that leaves me out.
| Standard fuel burning furnace. Operational sequence.|
The first thing that happens is the thermostat "calls" for heat. Imagine the thermostat as a light switch that makes contact automatically when the temperature drops below the setpoint, the one you turn down and someone else turns up. This sends millions of little electrons (volts) to the furnace control system. These volts then go to work. First they must pass over a series of closed bridges, safety switches, to get to their destination. The destination of the volts is often a combination of devices, usually a fuel valve of some sort. Also popular are relays and motors, some with delayed timers and other fancy gizmos all designed to deliver warm air or water where it is needed most. Any malfunctions in any bridge usually stops the volts dead in their tracks. When this happens you start to get cold and usually turn the thermostat up to 80 degrees. When this doesn't help you head for the basement with a flashlight and a hammer and beat on the furnace for a while. It starts to snow outside and the windows glaze over. You call you brother-in-law who knows how to fix cars. He tells you it's probably the thermostat (which it probably isn't) and volunteers to come over after the football game. He shows up with a can of beer and together you both begin to analyze the problem. At last you realize the problem! Neither one of you knows what the hell is wrong, and now, possibly your house may explode in the middle of the night. You give him one for the road and pick up the phone book.
What You Can Check
|1. The fuse or circuit breaker. Located either on the furnace switch, somewhere near the furnace or back at the main panel. Use a good flashlight.|
2. Does it have a pilot light that needs relit? Check instructions on furnace.
3. Did you change the filter anytime during the last millennium?
4. The thermostat, yeah it could be bad but I doubt it. Some newer ones are programmable and need batteries replaced. Also by turning the thermostat temp and switches off and on you may "reset" the furnace or at least temporairly correct the problem until help arrives. Remember if you mess with it and it starts working you still need to have it looked at. It will quit again and may become unsafe also.
5. Are your neighbors having any problems. Is there fuel available, gas on, oil tank been filled up, any utility outages? Not likely but it happens.
6. Look for red reset buttons and depress them. If it works you still need to have it looked at by a serviceman.
7. If you have any mechanical skills at all then you may want to check fan belts, broken, loose or burnt wires or connections. Shut unit off at main fuse panel before attempting any repairs. If you are not sure.Don't do it!
|Never take a chance! It is better to have it checked by a professional before you use it! If you ever smell gas, fumes, burnt electrical components or see flames shooting out, then shut the darn thing off and call a professional. |
|I'm sure you know in emergencies, that your local utility company has 24 hour emergency service to at least shut down your appliance or service. They offer this free of charge unless you authorize them to repair it as well. |
| Who to call.|
If you have dealt with a company in the past who has treated you right then call them first. If you feel they haven't been so hot then now is the time to try someone else. There are plenty of qualified companies out there so don't ever feel you have to keep calling someone you are not happy with. Often talking on the phone to the service manager will give you a feel for the companies attitude. Understand it is your problem and you must pay someone to fix it. Most people are not thrilled to spend money on home repairs and such but it is a necessity of life.Also remember it is not easy to maintain a business that still makes "house calls". Especially in todays market with and endless variety of equipment and their matching parts, stocking a truck can be quite costly. Contractors want to get your unit fixed as much as you do. They usually have other service calls to get to before they go home. Just make sure you get what you pay for and they aren't in too much of a rush. You don't want them coming back next week.
I t is usually a good idea to call a local company, that is, one in your surrounding area. This makes it easier on everyone involved. Ask how long they have been in business and if they work on your type of equipment. Some unit brands require special training such as "Lennox Pulse" furnaces. Neither you or the contractor wants to waste time on a service call.
Hourly rates usually vary a few dollars. Most companies charge a flat rate just to show up and this also covers their travel time. Be wary of companies who are real cheap or real expensive. Check to see if the repairman is neat, wipes his shoes, cleans up, is polite, explains the repair as best he can and advises you of possbile alternatives such as replacing the unit or routine maintenance. Sometimes smaller companies give you a more personal approach but may lack in response time.
When the contractor leaves you will probably have a feeling about his company and possible future dealings with them.
| Heating Devices|
There are now so many kinds of central heating systems that is impossible to cover them all. As time goes on we will add to the pages as best we can. The most common forms of residential heating are:
Gas fired forced air.
Gas fired hot water, steam. (baseboard and radiator)
Fuel oil air and water systems.
Electric forced air and water systems.
Electric resistance heat.
Electric Heat Pumps (air conditiong in reverse), both air and ground water as a source of heat.
Solar heat in some southern states.
A big magnifying glass you mount over your house.
Combinations of the above in endless designs.
No, there aren't big magnifying glasses yet but I'm working on it. If only I had studied harder in school.
|Gas forced air. Natural gas heats an inner chamber (heat exchanger) on the furnace, fumes are vented out a chimney. A blower fan forces the hot air through a system of ducts and recirculates the air until the desired temperature is reached. |
Electric forced air. Air is reciculated by a blower fan over a resistance heater in the furnace (like a big toaster) using a duct system also.
Fuel oil forced air. Same as gas system but using kerosene type fuel oil. Stored in either above or below ground tanks. Oil will not easily burn unless put under high pressure by the systems pump, ignition device. Tanks need to be refilled by fuel tankers periodically. Propane systems. Same as above but use's propane gas, like a barbecue grill. Common in rural areas. Large above ground tanks need to be refilled also. Hot Water,( radiators, baseboard or in floor.) Can be fired by any of the above. A boiler and piping system holds water at about 15-20 lbs. per. Sq. In. The boiler heats up and a pump keeps recirculating the water through the furnace and throughout the radiators, baseboards or buried pipes, until the desired temperature is reached. The in floor systems which were popular many years ago are making a big comeback.
Steam. Fired by any of the above also.Similar to hot water except the boiler is only about half full of water. When fired up the boiler heats the water to create steam. The steam is maintained in the systems pipes and radiators at low pressure usually under 5 lbs. Condensed steam cools and returns to the boiler to be heated again. Once very popular it is now used mainly in commercial applications.
Electric baseboards. Individual baseboard type, electric resistance heaters are installed throught out the house, usually controlled by several thermostats in each area. Cheap to install but very costly to operate.
Coal?? Yes coal was used widely not so long ago to fire up air and water systems. It was a breakthrough when first discovered. Coal, got hotter and lasted longer than wood did when ignited and thus saved our forests as well. Anthrocite coal was cleaner and hotter burning than Bituminous coal was.
Electric Heat Pumps. Relatively new and used in conjunction with other forms of heat. Heat Pumps remove latent heat from the outside air and deliver it through a forced air duct system. They are like air conditioners in reverse in that they conduct heat via a refirgeration system. They deliver more volume of air at a cooler temperature than any of the above systems. At around 30 degrees outside air temperature, they fail to remove enough latent heat to adequately work. They then must rely on a secondary back up heat, usually electric resistance or gas, to reach desired temperatures. Ground source heat pumps can remove latent heat much more efficiently, since below ground (down several feet) remains at a more constant temperarure. Heat pumps are also air conditioners.
Solar. Dark panels mounted to face the sun, usually on a roof, absorb heat into a piping system and storage tank. The system uses either water or a glycol solution.(antifreeze). Due to lack of sun in the northern regions their use is limited there. More widely used in southern areas and to heat swimming pools.
Humidifiers, Air Cleaners And More
|Air cleaners have come a long way. There are basically two kinds: Elctrostatic and media, sometimes called mechanical. Electrostatic have washable cells but cost significantly more. If they break it can be quite costly to repair them. They work well and help remove not only small particles down to microns but also smoke. Media type are much cheaper and also remove particles, even pollen, down to small microns. Media type filters do very little for removing smoke. Media type air cleaners also have a throw away type filter that costs around $30 and needs to replaced at least once a year if not more. This filter, encased in a holder, is folded back and forth increasing the surface area to sometimes as much as 78 square feet. It has no moving parts and almost never breaks. If you don't want either of these at least get a good air filter not the $1 kind. |
|Humidifiers will add humidity to indoor air that is dryed out by heating systems. Since cold air outside holds less moisture than warm air, indoor environments tend to dry out over the colder seasons. The ideal environment is said to be 70 degrees and 40% relativly humidity. Humidifiers are not needed for air conditiong season so leave them off. Air condtioners remove humidy and the last thing you want is a humidifier putting it back in. Usually the settings on a humidifier keep it off during A/C season. If you have anyone with Asthma than humidifiers are not recommened. Ask your doctor. Other than that, I highly recommend them. You can maintain a more comfortable environment at a lower temperatue setting if you have a decent level of relative humidity. Side mounted humidifiers with a constant drain are superior to reservoir type that hang under the duct. A reservoir, or tank type, holds a few gallons of water at all times. They tend to build up mold, fungus and who knows what else in there. A constant drain type like April Air, has a small stream of fresh water going over a mesh pad, they do require a drain however. All humidifiers come with a humidistat to control the humidity level, similar to how a thermostat controls the temperature. You don't want your walls and windows sweating do you? If you have hot water or steam heat both of these accessories, humidifiers and air cleaners, must be installed as seperate units. Hot water is heat is the most comfortable and economical heat. It keeps the temperarue more even with no swings or air blowing around. It's biggest drawback is that you can not add accessories to it such as humidifiers, air cleaners or air conditioning. You can have these systems installed in your house as seperate units but you lose the availability to have one central system that supplies all the rooms from a central point. |
|My ideal design would include gas fired, hot water, baseboard heating and a ducted air conditioning system in the attic with humidification and air cleaning accessories. |