Answers to All Your Radiant Heating Questions

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hands in mittens holding warm mug with cocoa wanting radiant floor heating for warmthWhen the Wisconsin temps drop, we all are start looking for warmth…from hot cocoa, warm fires, radiant heating, comfort foods… the list could go on and on.  We were once told you can never be warm enough, and that definitely rings true for homes with radiant heating.  Radiant heating is an even, comfortable, and efficient form of heating that brings up visions of warmth—and lots of questions about how to get this form of heating in your home.

What is radiant floor heating?

Radiant floor heating is a heating system that is usually installed under flooring (which is why it’s also called under floor heating).  The heat generated radiates up from the floor, warming the floor and air in the room.

What are the benefits of radiant floor heating?

Radiant heating is energy-efficient, and doesn’t lose energy through heat loss from ducts in forced air systems. Radiant floor heating is most efficient without dropping the temperature at night or when you are away like traditional forced air systems.

Radiant floor heating is ideal for families with allergies, because it does not circulate allergens through ducts like forced air systems. In new construction, radiant floor heating can be run throughout your home or shop so you don’t have hot and cool zones.

Can radiant heating be installed in my home?

There are two ways to install radiant floor heating in new construction and existing homes: via an electric mat or with a boiler and tubing in the floor. The first way, an electric mat, can be installed in any home.  Electric radiant heating is usually used in certain rooms, such as a bathroom or kitchen.  If you don’t have any heating in a room, such as a room that is added on, electric mat heating may be your answer.

If you have hydonic heating in your home (or will be in your new construction), radiant floor heating works with your water boiler which pumps water to radiant floor heating lines.  This kind of heating is ideal for whole homes, in a basement, or in a room that doesn’t warm like the rest of your home.

What kind of flooring can be installed over radiant heating?

One of the best aspects of radiant floor heating is that it can be installed under almost any kind of flooring.  Other than hardwood flooring, there are many other options of flooring that can be installed over an electric mat or radiant floor tubing:

  1. If you’re considering installing carpet over radiant floor heating, make sure you mention it to the folks at the flooring store so they can recommend a carpet pad so you can feel the warmth.
  2. Since hardwood flooring isn’t a possibility, laminate floors are your way to put in flooring with the look of wood.
  3. Any kind of tile can be installed over radiant floor heating, including stone, ceramic, or porcelain. Tile is one of the most common choices because radiant floor heating can give your tile a warm feel—even when the temps drop.
  4. Engineered hardwood. Engineered hardwood is a manufactured floor, and certain engineered hardwood products can be installed over radiant floor heating.

How much does radiant floor heating cost?

This is the million dollar question.  The way to find out how much radiant floor heating would cost to install in your existing or new construction is to contact your local HVAC company and request a quote.  They can give you the numbers that help you in your decision, as well as information based on their experience and expertise.

What do I do if my furnace won’t turn on?

girl in hat keeping warm when furnace won't turn onHow long can you hold out before turning on the furnace? Our friend routinely makes it to early December before he even thinks of turning his heat on (and then only turns his thermostat to 62). Everyone flicks the ‘on’ button on their furnace eventually, especially when the temps are dropping outside and inside. What do you do when your furnace doesn’t turn on when you’re ready to switch on the heat?

Check your thermostat

Many thermostats need to be manually turned “on” or to “heat.” Double check your thermostat to make sure it is turned to heat and the temperature is low enough for the furnace to turn on. This simple check could save you money and warms your house sooner.

Make sure your furnace has power.

If you have a propane tank, check your gauge to see if you have fuel to turn your furnace on and keep it running. For an electric unit, double check that the breaker for your furnace in your circuit breaker box is on. If your furnace has a switch that looks like a light switch, make sure it is set on.

Swap out your furnace filter.

New high-efficiency furnaces can switch off if your furnace filter is dirty.  Pull your old dirty furnace filter out, and swap it for a new one to see if that is the problem.

Do the sniff test.

If, at any time, you smell a rotten egg odor, exit your home and make a call away from your home IMMEDIATELY.  Call your utility company and Klecker’s at 920-261-9218 and tell them you suspect a gas leak.  Stay out of your house and wait for the HVAC technician to repair the problem. If the foul odor does not smell like rotten eggs, check your furnace filter to see if it has trapped something nasty that stinks. Inspect the area around your furnace to check to see if anything is melting or hot from being too close to the furnace.

Make the call.

If you’ve done all the checks mentioned and your furnace still won’t turn on, call your local heating service that offers 24-hour emergency repair service. If you are without heat, call the heating service to ensure you can prompt service. Do not e-mail your request; it may delay the service you need to get your furnace running—and to get your home warm again.

3 BIG Tips for Maintaining An Efficient Wood Burning Furnace

wood boiler that needs wood burning furnace maintenanceThere are a lot of reasons to choose to invest in a wood burning furnace: minimal
utility bills, a renewable source of heating, a consistent cost without the ups and downs of the energy market, a steady supply of fuel (wood), low-cost warmth for a shed, home, stable, etc., etc.  One of the main reasons we hear from customers is long-term: they appreciate the long lifespan of an outdoor wood burner.  This reason comes with a caveat; you’ll get a longer (and safer) lifespan from your wood burning furnace if you use these tips for maintaining your wood burning furnace.

Keep up on your regular wood burner maintenance.

In addition to loading your wood burning furnace, make sure you maintain a schedule of regular wood maintenance, such as:

  • Regularly inspect your equipment for leaks and cracks.
  • Add water (as needed).
  • Clean out and dispose of ashes.
  • Clean your chimney and wood heater parts regularly.
  • Check your chimney flue and stovepipe for safety hazards (nests, hives, grass, etc.) every month.

This maintenance is important for the efficiency and safety of your wood burning furnace.  Maintaining your furnace also lengthens the life of your unit.

Be selective about firewood.

Whenever possible, only use seasoned wood for fuel. Seasoned wood is dried—usually by the sun and environment—for 6 months to a year (amount of time depends on species of wood).  You can usually tell wood is seasoned by it’s coloring; it is typically grey in color. Many people even say that it’s more important to have seasoned wood than to know the species of the wood. This is true to a point; there are some species of wood that burn better than others so it does pay to pay attention when selecting firewood. Once you’ve selected the wood, learn the basics of making a good, steady fire. Woodmaster has tips for building a good fire on their website under wood furnace maintenance.

Set some time aside in the spring for annual maintenance.

Once a year, your outdoor wood burner boiler needs annual maintenance that can keep your unit working well—and keep warming your building for a long time.

  • Drain and flush your boiler every spring (never leave your boiler without water).
  • Treat the water in your boiler once a year (usually in spring or fall).
  • Oil the fans.

Have any more questions on maintaining the condition of your outdoor wood furnace or need supplies for your maintenance? Ask us via email or call us. We can help you keep your wood burning furnace working well and for the duration.

8 Parts of Your Home You Need to Inspect Before Winter

home in winter after fall inspectionEven though the leaves are turning and temperature dropping, many Wisconsinites seem to be genuinely in denial about the prospect of snow.  While we don’t want o always admit that winter is coming, there is some wisdom in preparing the season—especially when it comes to your house.  If you want to limit your chance of emergency winter home repairs, a freezing hour of no heat, or an impromptu trip into your attic, it makes cents (pun intended) to start inspecting 10 key areas of your home before the first snow fall—and to start making repairs before winter.

Doors

Before the warm air from your furnace starts flying out the window when the temperatures drop, check around your doors (and windows!) for holes and cracks.  If you find any holes, fill in holes around your windows and doors with caulk.

Windows

Check for drafty windows, which cost you additional money on your energy bills. If you do suspect draftiness, hold a flame in front of the window. If the flame flickers, it’s time to think about replacing your window.

Air conditioner

Once you decide you won’t need AC any more, schedule an appointment to get your AC inspected, refrigerant refilled (if low), filter cleaned (if applicable), and maintenance done to make sure your air conditioner turns on next summer.  Even window air conditioners need cleaning to keep them going—and going efficiently.

Furnace

Before you hit ‘heat’ on your thermostat, schedule an HVAC technician to maintain and inspect your furnace and ducts. An annual HVAC check up and maintenance can save you money over the winter; furnaces running inefficiently cost more to run and can cause a random breakdown, costing you more on your utility bills and for emergency repairs. Don’t forget to also change your furnace filter so it isn’t clogged when you turn it on. Once you turn your furnace on, change your furnace filter every month during the winter.

Roof

Extreme summer weather can damage shingles, and winter storms only make the damage worse. If you only have a few damaged shingles, a handyman or roofing company can make the repairs.  However, if a large area of your roof is damaged or too many shingles are warped or damaged, it may be time to get a new roof before the snow falls.

Attic

An estimated 35 percent of energy loss happens through your home’s roof. To prevent that loss and keep the cost of your energy bills low, inspect your attic to see if there is adequate insulation. If not, climb into your attic yourself, or hire a contractor to add insulation where your home needs it most.

As long as you are in the attic, check for signs of water leaks or areas where pests can come in.  Winter is the season notorious for infestations, so look for any holes big enough for a rodent or bat to come in.  Plug up any holes, or contact a pest company to secure your home against unwanted guests.

Chimney

Don’t start a cozy fire on a cool fall day without making sure it’s safe for a fire. Contact chimney professionals to schedule an inspection so you can prevent carbon monoxide build up or a fire.

Smoke Detectors

You don’t have to wait for daylight savings time to keep your family safe. Test your smoke detectors and practice evacuating your home. Change any detectors with low batteries.

6 Ways to Fight Your Indoor Allergies

Pretty woman blowing nose from allergiesThe temperatures are starting to decline, and everyone’s time inside is on the rise.  One study we saw estimated Americans spend 90% of their time indoors—which can be very difficult if you are one of the 55% of Americans that have tested positive for an allergy to indoor allergens.  That makes fall a very crucial time for indoor allergy sufferers who want to rid their home of those evil allergens so they can spend their time indoors allergy-symptom free.

Buy a vacuum that removes allergens.

Besides price, size, and energy source (battery pack or electric), add another factor into your vacuum purchase: an allergy-friendly vacuum. Look for a vacuum with a HEPA filter or double bag to ensure that you can remove allergens from your home—and dispose of them without having an allergy attack.

Clean your ducts.

Indoor allergy symptoms can be exacerbated by common indoor allergens such as dust mites, pet dander, and mold. Every time you turn on your furnace or air conditioner, all of those allergens re-circulate though your home through your air ducts. To avoid the build up and recirculation or indoor allergens, schedule an annual duct cleaning.

Look for a furnace filter with a high MERV.

Furnace filters with a high Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) catch finer particles circulating in the air, including allergens.  Be careful, though; filters with high MERVs (the max is 16) can add pressure on your furnace fan and possibly damage your furnace. If you are considering a filter with a high MERV, make sure to consult a HVAC technician to make adjustments for a high MERV filter.

Take the next step to cleaner air: purify.

If you have allergies, particles in the air that can trigger symptoms that make daily living difficult. The American College of Allergists states that 50% of illnesses are aggravated by poor indoor air quality, including allergies. Home air purifiers remove allergens from the air and can be installed as part of your HVAC system. If you are interested in an air purifier, contact the professionals to determine what air purifier would work best for your home and get a quote for air purifying equipment and installation.

Control your home’s humidity.

Rooms with humidity above 50 percent can breed mold, mildew, and dust mites that trigger indoor allergy symptoms.  Use a humidistat to monitor your home’s humidity.  If you are concerned about high home humidity, contact a technician who can lay out your options for a whole-home dehumidifier that maintains a healthy room humidity.

Wash and clean your favorite places.

Look hard at the common places you sit and lay in during your everyday life.  Schedule an upholstery cleaning for your favorite chairs and couches.  Wash your bed sheets on a regular basis—all the places where dust mites, pet dander, or other allergens may be, and where they can trigger your indoor allergy symptoms.

The Step(s) Every Homeowner Should Take When Your AC is Done

technician working on ACWhen we can finally make it through a day in Wisconsin—and night—without sweating, it’s time to shut down your AC unit for the year and (eventually) get the furnace fired up.  What many homeowners miss is the step in between—the maintenance that keeps your air conditioner in peak condition and ready to turn on next year when you need.  Once you’re done with your central air conditioner, every homeowner should:

  • Turn off the power to the air conditioner. Replace or clean your AC filter. Use a hose to rinse the filter and remove the dust.
  • Trim bushes and trees so all vegetation is at least 2 feet away from the unit.
  • (Carefully) clean the coils of your central AC unit. Brush away dirt, and spray the coils with a coil cleaner.
  • Clean your drain lines.
  • Lubricate where needed, and make sure that all screws, plugs, hoses, clamps and other hardware stay serviceable.
  • Turn the power back on and test your air conditioner. If it doesn’t work properly, call your HVAC company.

If you don’t have the time or expertise to do the maintenance on your air conditioner, contact a HVAC company to schedule a AC maintenance appointment.  Ductless mini-split air conditioners also need clean filters to work efficiently, so make sure you clean them on a regular basis and contact your local HVAC company to see if more work is needed.  If you have a window AC unit, bring your AC unit in to get maintenance done—and ready your home for the next hot summer day when you desperately need air conditioning.

3 Air Conditioners for Homes without Ducts

woman wipes the sweat from brow because of no AC in home with boiler heatingIf you were blessed with radiant heating and a boiler or a home with wood heating, there is still hope for you on the hottest, most humid summer days: ductless air conditioners that keep you cool during the heat.  Today, thanks to all the advances in air conditioning technology, you don’t need ducts to cool your home during the hot summer months—and you have a few ductless air conditioning options to choose from.  Here is the good and bad of modern air conditioners specifically designed for homes without ducts.

Portable Air Conditioners

What they are: Portable air conditioners are floor units with a flexible pipe and attachment that vents outside (through your windows).  Portable AC units draw air in, convert it to a liquid and then to a gas again to cool the air which it blows into the home.  Warm air is sent back outside.

Pros: Very small, easy to move around your home, very quiet, affordable cost

Cons: Poor energy efficiency, only cools a room or small area

Window Air Conditioner Units

What they are: Window air conditioner units are installed in a window (usually a double hung, though there are some models available for casements).  These units draw air in from outside and use refrigerants and blowers to cool and blow cool air into your home and draw warm air outside.

Pros: Easy to install and remove (though they are somewhat heavy), very affordable, doesn’t take up floor space like a portable AC unit

Cons: Poor energy efficiency, can usually only cool one room of a home if you have a lot of square footage

Ductless Mini-Split/Heat Pumps

minisplit heat pumpWhat they are: Heat pumps (also called mini-splits) draw in the hot or cool air from an exterior unit mounted outside, and the interior unit quietly blows the air into the home. In the summer, the exterior unit pulls cool air in to your home providing air conditioning during our hot, humid Wisconsin summers. During winter, they deliver a warm, comfortable heat even when temperatures are frigid. Because heat pumps don’t require much energy to transfer heat, heat pumps have an extremely low rate of electricity usage.

Pros: Very quiet, incredibly energy efficient, can be used for heating and cooling, usually has thermostat for energy efficiency, installed on the wall so it doesn’t take up square footage in your room

Cons: Most expensive ductless AC option, installation needs to be done by a professional

All three ductless AC options have filters that need to be cleaned out on a regular basis to keep them running efficiently.  If you have any other questions about air conditioners designed for homes without ducts, or find out the cost of a ductless mini-split, contact your local professionals to find the ductless cooling answer for your home.

7 Ways to Keep Your Home (and You!) Cool This Summer

young woman under hot sun trying to cool downThis hot, humid summer weather is the epitome of the saying, “It’s so hot you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.”  As tempting as it is to make outdoor breakfast eggs during this steamy weather, it’s even more appealing to look for fast relief—anything!—from this hot weather.

Stay away from the stove—and the oven.

Heat in your home is the enemy; this is not the time for baking cookies or putting a roast in the oven.  Instead, head outside to the grill for dinner or to the campfire for s’mores—two ways to keep the heat out of your house.

Look into air conditioning.

There are a lot of reasons people think that AC won’t work in their home, such as the budget or the lack of ducts in their house.  If the latter reason is an obstacle, there are options such as window air conditioners, portable AC units, or ductless mini-splits. To find out more about your air conditioner options and costs, consult your local HVAC professionals for more information.

Get wet.

There are a few ways you can cool yourself and your home down with water: 1) rinse a towel with cool water, wring it out, and put it around your neck; 2) get a towel wet with cool water, wring it out, and put it over a large fan (make sure it is not in contact with any electrical components); and 3) put a bowl of ice in front of a fan.  Any of these ways is guaranteed to cool you and your home down—even if just for a little while (like for a night?).

Hit the pool.

We admit, this won’t cool your home down, but a kiddie pool, community pool, hay bale pool (Google it for pictures)…any of these options can do wonders for your body temperature and give you a short reprieve from the heat. (Even a cool bath can help!)

Head to the basement.

If you have a lower level such as a basement—even a small one—head downstairs.  Unfortunately, if your basement feels moist, you probably won’t find much relief.  Dry air is cooler air (that’s how an air conditioner cools) and moist air feels sticky—as well as causing mold and mildew to grow and negatively impacting your air quality.  If you suspect the air in your basement is humid (too humid), look into buying a humidistat to determine the humidity level and a dehumidifier to dry the air.

Cool down with cool treats.

Frozen lemonade, popsicles, frozen yogurt, ice cream…there are a lot of summer treats that’ll make you feel cool even on the hottest of days.  Or head out to dinner at an air-conditioned restaurant for a good (and cool) meal.

Keep ceiling fans going (the right way).

If you have a ceiling fan, use it—and make sure the direction is optimal for keeping you cool.  A ceiling fan going in the counter clockwise direction during summer directs the cool air down on you when you need it the most. Add a few carefully placed fans in strategic places, especially in windows when the air is cool or around your bed at night, to drop your indoor temperature (and your body temperature!).

3 Common AC Problems & What to Do

thermometer with mercury going to scorching! from air conditioner problemsThis is not the time of the year to be dealing with a malfunctioning AC unit.  No matter what kind of air conditioner you have: central air, mini split/ductless, or a window unit, you need that refreshing dry, cool air when our humid summer air hits the mid-80’s and 90’s.  This is not the time for air conditioner problems or a break down—you feel like you’re going to melt!  It’s time for some AC troubleshooting so you can get back to your cool, air conditioned home.

Not turning on

This is one of the most common air conditioner problems for homeowners today, and one that could be (possibly) remedied without calling the professionals.  If you have a central air unit or mini split, check your thermostat.  Make sure it is turned to on, set for ‘cool,’ and that the temperature of the house is warm enough that the AC unit should turn on.

Next, check your electrical breaker box to make sure your air conditioner breaker is in the ‘on’ position. A faulty air conditioner can cause power surges that would cause the breaker to trip or the problem could be a fluke. Often, a breaker can trip for no reason. If the breaker trips repeatedly, you need to call an electrician to find out if the breaker is faulty.

In some cases, especially on high efficiency units, a dirty air filter could be the culprit.  Check your furnace filter, and swap it out with a clean filter (if dirty).  Dirty filters can clog your HVAC system and decrease the long-term efficiency of your unit—or even shut it down.

If none of these fixes remedy your problem, it’s time to call your local HVAC professionals to determine if you need to repair or replace parts in your AC unit.  If your problem has happened after hours, call an HVAC service that offers after hours service.

Shuts off and on

If your AC unit is turning off and on, your evaporator or condenser could be the issue.  These AC parts often get dirty or blocked from a lack of maintenance, and need a careful clean to start operating.  If you have a basic knowledge of your air conditioner, you can attempt the cleaning (but be careful of electrical parts, fins, and other equipment).  Otherwise, call an air conditioner technician to clean the unit and determine if the source of the problem requires repair or replacement.

Blowing hot air

An air conditioner blowing hot air is not an unusual problem—and it’s not a problem confined to just one kind of air conditioner.  When your mini split or central air conditioner starts blowing hot air, start by replacing or cleaning the filter.  For a mini split, pull the filter out of your unit and wash it.  For central air, change your furnace filter—and make sure you do so every 1-3 months depending on how often you need it.

If that doesn’t help your central AC or mini split, inspect your exterior unit.  If there is a lot of vegetation or tall weeds around your unit, clear them out and check to see if you need to see if your condenser is blocked or needs to be cleaned.

Your central AC unit may also need to have the refrigerant topped off or refilled. Refrigerant leaks are one of the top reasons that an air conditioner blows hot air. You’re going to need the HVAC technician for a refrigerant refill, so it’s time to make the call or email for professional assistance.

If your air conditioner issue occurs on a holiday or on the weekend, call the experts with 24/7 service hours for an emergency repair.  To keep from having to make too many emergency calls next year, remember to call for air conditioner maintenance in the fall or spring.  Annual air conditioner maintenance prevents problems that arise from a lack of maintenance, such as dirt and blockages.  Most importantly, air conditioner maintenance is another way to ensure that your unit turns on—and stays on so you don’t melt during the hottest time of the year.

5 (CLEAR) Signs It’s Time to Replace Your Air Conditioner

thermostat for lowering temperatures and energy billsIt’s hard to consider replacing your air conditioner when the unit is still (somewhat) working.  However, even when you’re still getting cool air from your AC, there are still situations where it’s makes cents (pun intended) to replace your air conditioner, such as:

You know your AC repairman too well.

If you know your favorite HVAC company’s phone number, or you and your HVAC technician know each other by first name, it may be time to put those dollars into a new air conditioner. The best way to determine that?  Ask your HVAC company for a free quote for a new unit; this gives you a dollar amount to decide if it’s time to stop throwing your money out the air.

Your energy bills go through the roof when you run your AC.

A habitual summer spike in your energy bills can be a clear sign that the energy efficiency of your AC unit is decreasing.  An inefficient unit has to work harder to cool your home, using more energy to do so—and more of your hard-earned money.

When determining whether it is time to invest in a new unit, consider the total cost and possible cost-savings of a more efficient AC unit. A more efficient AC unit keeps your home at your ideal temperature while not using as much energy as an older unit, potentially saving you money on your monthly energy bills.

Your AC is really loud.

An extremely loud, clattering AC is not by itself a sign of AC replacement, but it can be a signal of a more serious problem with your operational mechanisms.  Contact a HVAC repairman to determine the cause and severity of the problem.

Your refrigerant needs to be refilled regularly.

An occasional refrigerant refill is normal, but a consistent refill by your HVAC repairman should be a cause for concern—and is going to be a rising cost as your AC ages.  The type of refrigerant in your air conditioner depends on the type and age of your AC unit. In the past, AC units were most commonly produced with R22. If your system is an R22 system, it’s important to ensure that it’s not leaking because refrigerant R22 which is harmful to our atmosphere (and costly to refill as production decreases). Systems that are older than 15 years, especially those that leak, really need to be replaced with a current high efficiency R410a system.

Your home is hot—and moist.

A properly-working air conditioner keeps your home cool and dehumidifies your air.  If the opposite is true in your home, or your home’s humidity increases at random, it may be time for a new AC unit.

Your home is dusty.

There’s no way the cleanliness of your home could be related to replacing your AC, right?  Wrong.  If your home is always dusty no matter how much you clean, the problem could be your home’s duct system.  Contact your HVAC company to investigate the issue, and to see if a new AC unit could fix the problem.  They can help you calculate the cost and cents saved with a new AC unit.