What is a multi-zone ductless heating & cooling system?

In our service area of Northern Virginia, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of residential installations for multi-zone ductless heating and cooling systems.

The multi-zone system uses one outdoor unit connected to up to eight indoor units, each one which can be adjusted. With the flexibility, these systems allow you to control each zone individually to meet the personal comfort needs of room occupants.

These systems can save up to 40% on your utility costs. The INVERTER-driven compressor technology uses the precise amount of energy needed to maintain comfort conditions in each of your “zones” or rooms.

The narrow outdoor units fit closer to the exterior wall and free up space for landscaping. The indoor units are discreet and tuck away, with several styles to choose from.

What To Do If Your Air Conditioning Is Running Non-Stop

Well, first of all, there may not be anything wrong with it. It may be that your A/C is doing what it can to cool the temperature of your space–the size of your unit may be maxed out if you have too small of a unit trying to cool a large space.

As HVAC technicians in the Northern Virginia area, we often see that a home may have a unit that is too small–but more than likely, we find that the filters haven’t been changed, or that parts of the unit have become clogged with debris and the general stuff of the outside or inside.

Sometimes some basic maintenance is all you need to help your air conditioning work more efficiently. See our short video on how to give your outdoor air conditioning unit a basic clean with a garden hose.

Most air conditioners in our area are also designed at a set point of 93ºF. That means that if it’s hotter than that outside, your unit is going to work overtime.

 

What Do HVAC Technicians Do on a Maintenance Visit?

What does an HVAC technician do when they make a maintenance visit to your home or office?

HVAC technicians install and repair industrial and commercial refrigerating systems. But a lot of what we do is regular maintenance. We observe and test system operations, using gauges and instruments, to test the health of your system and find anything that might need replaced to keep things operating efficiently.

Things we do during a maintenance visit include:

  • Test lines, components, and connections for leaks
  • Adjust valves according to specifications and charge system with proper type of refrigerant by pumping the specified gas or fluid into the system
  • Adjust or replace worn or defective mechanisms and parts
  • Perform mechanical overhauls and refrigerant reclaiming
  • Review the electrical connections and thermostat performance
  • Ensure your system is set for the upcoming season to run efficiently

Watch a quick overview of what we check during a spring or fall maintenance visit:

3 Things To Check If Your AC Is Not Blowing Cool Air

Are you getting a little hot and bothered with your AC lately?

On a hot day, the last thing you want is to walk into your house and discover that your central air conditioner has quit on you. When your air conditioner suddenly stops working, it can be cause for alarm or it can be something as simple as a blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker. Thankfully, an AC that’s not cooling is not always an expensive repair. There can be several common issues that you can check that you can easily manage without a lot of hassle.


First, though, it’s worth noting: is the outdoor temperature above 92ºF? 

If so, then it may not be your AC that’s having a problem. There’s this thing called the “design temperature” in the world of HVAC systems: every geographical area has what’s called a “1% summer design temperature”.  It’s the temperature that your location will exceed only 1% of all the hours in a year. So, what does that mean?

Let’s say you live in a city in Florida that has a design temperature of 92º. If your AC struggles to cool your home on days that are above 92º, it’s probably because your AC unit was designed to provide optimal comfort when it’s less than 92º.

If it’s super hot and your AC isn’t cooling, it may simply be that it wasn’t designed for those temperatures. In this case, you want to add a fan to help keep your home comfortable.

However, beyond that, certain problems can prevent an air conditioner from properly cooling down your home including:

  • A dirty air filter
  • A blocked condenser
  • A refrigerant leak
  • An undersized AC
  • Leaky ducts
  • An older AC

That being said, an air conditioner that has stopped cooling may be solved by fixing one of these 3 common issues. We see this regularly with our customers, so it’s worth checking:

  1. Power issues
  2. Thermostat issues
  3. Filter issues

Power issues:

This is the simplest. Have you checked the power cord to the AC? Is it plugged in? Is the electrical outlet still active? If so, how’s the electrical fuse box? Is there a blown fuse causing the issue? Or is

Thermostat issues:

Make sure your thermostat is set to cool. Many thermostats are tricky and homeowners may be able to save themselves headaches by reading the manual. Turn the temperature setting all the way down and see if that triggers your AC unit to come on. It may be that your thermostat has an electrical issue or needs to have the batteries replaced. Can you verify that all of the wiring into the thermostat is connected properly?

Filter issues:

Your air filter is designed to trap contaminants in the air before it gets pulled into the AC system. But over time that means that your filter gets dirty and clogged. And if a dirty filter isn’t replaced, it can seriously limit your AC’s cooling power. Some units are designed to shut off automatically if the filter gets clogged.

 

Depending on the age of your unit and the level of work involved, you may want to consider updating your system. If your unit is over 10 years old, you may want to consider having an HVAC professional inspect your system and give you an idea of best options. Don’t risk damaging your investment by letting your air conditioner problem continue. We can help answer your questions if you’re unsure of the best move for your place,  your needs and your budget. If you’re in the northern Virginia area, give us a call or fill out the form here on our site and we’ll get you set!

 

Why Is My Air Conditioner Not Cooling?

When it’s summer and it’s hot outside, it’s the worst time for air conditioners to stop cooling…but this is when we get the most calls, because that’s the time when you notice! There are a few ways to troubleshoot your HVAC system if your AC is not blowing cold air.

Of course, we’re going to recommend that the best way to figure out what the issue is is to contact an HVAC professional–like us! One of the main reasons is that a professional can figure out what’s causing the issue quickly and get it repaired before further damage is created. But there are a few things to know about to understand what might be happening to your system.

Common issues that cause your AC to not cool could be:

  • Power issues
  • Thermostat issues
  • Low refrigerant levels
  • Clogged filter
  • Ice buildup
  • Clogged drain
  • Dirty compressor
  • Condensate airflow switch

It could also be that your unit isn’t a fit for the space you’re using it in. Is it too small for the space you are trying to cool? Are the temperatures above normal? These can cause your AC to not cool as well, too.

 


 

One of the easiest things to check? The power. Might seem basic, but this is one of the common issues we find with our customers! If your AC is not blowing air, check to ensure that it’s plugged into the outlet correctly, and that the power cord is still intact. If the outlet and cord are fine, it could be an issue with a blown fuse in your electrical panel. Air conditioners require large surges of power, so your AC unit might have blown a fuse or tripped something (especially if you’ve had power surges or outages due to thunderstorms, etc.). Some units have overload switches built-in, so make sure you check this as well.

The old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is true when it comes to your air condition system! By having a professional technician like us perform annual inspections and staying on top of any maintenance issues, you can help to avoid any potential AC outages.

 

 

What’s the difference between SEER and EER ratings?

What’s the difference between SEER and EER ratings?

The energy efficiency of ACs is all about SEER ratings, EER ratings, and Energy Star labels.

What is SEER?
This stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, and it describes how much energy an AC uses to produce a certain amount of cooling. These ratings apply to central air conditioners.

What is EER?
This stands for Energy Efficiency Ratio, and like SEER ratings, the numbers come from dividing an AC’s cooling output by its energy usage. EER applies to room ACs like window units as well as to central ACs.

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SEER ratings have more to do with your area’s specific climate, and a unit’s advertised seasonal efficiency rating might actually go down if you live in an extremely hot climate.

EER ratings are better for comparisons. They don’t factor in seasons, so they aren’t as variable as SEER ratings. The EER rating lets you know how different AC systems work under the same conditions.

Your best resource for utilizing both ratings is your HVAC technician…like us at Small Solutions LLC! Whether you’re looking to install a more energy-efficient system or simply want to understand your current AC better, give us a call and we can help.

 

 

How does air conditioning work?

How Does Air Conditioning System Work

Air conditioning is a process we almost take for granted to work to cool our homes and buildings, but how does it actually works?

It’s fascinating to learn how it works, plus it helps you to be able to compare air conditioning systems for your home, such as ductless (also called mini-split) systems vs traditional central air conditioner.

An air conditioner collects heated air from a space, processes it inside itself with f a refrigerant and a group of coils and then releases cool air into the same space where the hot air had originally been collected.

An ac system essentially has four key parts: an evaporator, a compressor, a condenser and an expansion device.

The air conditioner in a central heating and cooling system provides cool air through ductwork inside your home, by providing a process that draws out the warm air inside, removing its heat. In a split system, the compressor condenses and circulates the refrigerant through the outdoor unit, changing it from a gas to a liquid.

This quick video explains the process, plus where the original air conditioning technology came from…it was invented in 1902!

What is single stage, two stage and variable speed air conditioning?

variable stage air conditioning

If you’ve recently moved into a new home or been considering upgrading or repairing the air conditioning system in your home, you may have heard the terms “single stage compressor”, “two stage”, “dual stage” or “variable speed air conditioning”. What are the differences, and which is best for your needs?

We’ll explain the differences in the air conditioning technology in this post.

Single stage air conditioning

Single stage air conditioning is the traditional and still most common type of system used across the USA today. A standard for decades, these systems continue to represent the majority of AC units we service in the Northern Virginia and Shenandoah Valley area. A single stage air conditioner refers to the compressor type. The single stage compressor has one mode of operation: on or off. It’s either full blast at 100% on, or it’s off. If you set the temperature in your home to 70ºF and it gets warmer than that, the unit will turn on and blast cool air until it reaches back down to 70ºF.

Single stage compressors always operate at 100% capacity. They turn themselves on and off continuously throughout the day.

Variable speed air conditioning

Variable speed air conditioning works differently. To maintain the indoor temperature you’d like, they run continuously–but not at 100% capacity. They operate continuously at less than 100% capacity – often as low as 25% or 30% capacity. As a result, they run for much longer cycles than single stage AC units. Variable speed compressors blow a smooth, steady stream of cold air into your home to maintain the desired indoor temperature, rarely turning themselves off.

Two-stage air conditioning

Two-stage falls in between single stage and variable speed. Not as sophisticated as variable speed air conditioning, they’re still slightly more advanced with a high and low setting. It runs at full capacity when you need it to and at a lower level when you don’t. Two stage units don’t run as continuously as a variable speed AC, but they do cycle on and off less frequently than single stage systems.

“So, why would I want an AC that runs continuously that doesn’t blast cold air to cool my home as quickly..?”

One of the biggest problems with single stage compressors is that they’re not running continuously. Relative humidity increases whenever the AC isn’t on, making you feel hotter and more uncomfortable.

Most people deal with this problem by lowering the temperature on their thermostat.
 A single stage compressor blasts your home with cold air before it turns itself off. Then it turns on again when the indoor temperature increases. In the summer, a single stage compressor turns on and off a lot, known as “short cycling.”

Since single stage compressors tend to short cycle, they usually draw a lot more electricity than a variable speed unit that turns on and stays on for hours…
In other words, it’s more expensive.

Variable speed air conditioners run continuously, which also dehumidifies the air.

  • You feel comfortable at higher temperatures
  • They don’t turn on as often, so they lower your utility costs
  • They eliminate mold growth in bathrooms and kitchens
  • They prevent the proliferation of dust mites
  • They create conditions that are inhospitable to insect intruders

Should you change your AC unit to a variable speed air conditioner?

If it’s time to upgrade an aging AC, e usually recommend that variable speed air conditioning is the best way to go. But if your single stage air conditioner isn’t old enough to justify replacement, consider a whole house dehumidifier. If it’s time to replace your AC and you think that your single stage unit does the job fine, stick with what you know. Replacing an old 8 SEER single-stage AC with a new 14 SEER single-stage AC still results in a more efficient system. If your relative humidity is consistently below 55 percent and you don’t suffer from poor indoor air quality, you might not need a variable speed unit. (See our post here on SEER ratings.)

Ask us your questions about AC units and what might be a great fit for you…we’re happy to offer input based on our experience and the size of your home, the climate, your exisiting unit, etc.

 

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An Explanation of SEER ratings for your air conditioner or heat pump

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1569174920139{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]What is a SEER rating on your air conditioner or heat pump? SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio, and it guides consumers to purchase the best air conditioner or heat pump for their home or business.

The SEER measures air conditioning and heat pump cooling efficiency, which is calculated by the cooling output for a typical cooling season divided by the total electric energy input during the same time frame. A SEER rating is a maximum efficiency rating, similar to the miles per gallon for your car. For example, your car might get 28 miles per gallon on the highway, but if you’re stuck in city traffic it could be lower. If your air conditioner is 21 SEER, that’s its maximum efficiency.

By decree of the US Department of Energy, all air conditioners sold in the US on or after January 1, 2006, must have a minimum SEER rating of 13. Energy Star appliances must have a rating of 14.

Modern air conditioners have a SEER value ranging from 13 or 14 SEER as a minimum (depending on your state’s requirements), to a maximum of 21 or 25 SEER (based on modern technology limitations).

Older air conditioners were rated at around 8 or 9 SEER. So in actuality, a modern 14 SEER unit is still drastically more efficient than an older unit you might be replacing and may be plenty for your needs.

Now, in the case of saving energy, a 21 SEER AC will provide cheaper monthly energy bills than a 14 SEER unit. But even with the monthly savings, it’s unlikely that you’ll ever recoup the higher upfront cost of the unit.

Why?

Depending on your climate, most air conditioners last 15-20 years. If you’re in a warmer climate like Florida, an average lifespan would be more around 10 years. So depending on the use your unit will have, with the upfront expense vs savings on your energy bill, it may not save you much in the long run if you’re deciding between investing in a 16 SEER or a 21 SEER unit, if the unit is going to last about a decade.

Besides money, however, a higher SEER also means greater comfort.

Higher SEER units often come with 2 components that lead to greater indoor comfort:

2-stage compressor
Variable-speed blower

These features lead to even cooling and lower humidity levels in your home, giving you more comfortable air to live in.

If you have questions about SEER ratings and your HVAC system or air-conditioning unit, give us a call! We can answer your questions and explain differences among brands and what might suit depending on your specific needs.[/vc_column_text][vc_row_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”4/6″][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1559424819063{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”][/vc_column_text][/vc_column_inner][vc_column_inner width=”1/6″][/vc_column_inner][/vc_row_inner][/vc_column][/vc_row]

How do I inspect the system when buying a home?

Ideally, if you’re looking at a house to purchase and make your new home, you’d want to find a licensed home inspector or an HVAC technician (like us!) to come and inspect the HVAC system for you. It’s like paying a mechanic to check out a used car before buying it. That’s the quick and easy way to get it handled and have peace of mind. (Click here to contact us to coordinate with us to do an inspection for you.)

One of the things that makes buying a house stressful is the nagging fear that something will break down soon after moving in. The range won’t heat up, the boiler will start leaking, or the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment will refuse to work, leaving a major hole in the household budget.

Regardless of the home’s age or the condition of the HVAC equipment, you should insist that the seller provide a home warranty to cover unforeseen issues over the next year.

If you notice any problems with the HVAC system layout or the equipment itself as you tour the home, bring up your concerns with the seller.

HVAC System Inspection

A few questions to ask the seller:

  1. What type of HVAC equipment is installed and how old is it? Is it still under warranty?
  2. What is the HVAC equipment’s brand, efficiency rating, and fuel type?
  3. Do you have a copy of maintenance and repair records?
  4. Do you have an HVAC maintenance agreement you can transfer to me if I buy the house?
  5. Is a programmable thermostat installed?

If you want to get an idea of what you’re dealing with, here are tips on how to inspect the HVAC system in a house:

  • Determine how old the system is. The average HVAC system lifespan is about 15 years. Ask the seller to repair or replace the HVAC system if it’s over a decade years old, appears damaged, or suffers from problematic performance. If they don’t want to make the upgrade themselves, ask for an allowance or discounted selling price so you can afford to install new equipment once the house is yours.
  • Check the condition of the duct work. Leaky ductwork wastes precious heated and cooled air while meandering duct runs force HVAC equipment to work harder. Check whether the ductwork has any loose connections, visible gaps, torn sections, or other problems.
  • Look at the equipment. Does the equipment look like it is in good condition? Does it make odd noises? You probably won’t be able to make an accurate assessment of the system based only on how it looks, but you may notice something that concerns you.
  • Look for insulation. It’s difficult to check insulation levels in the walls without professional equipment, but you can peek into the attic as you take a tour. You’re looking for a thick blanket of insulation covering the attic floor. Any ductwork running through the space should also be insulated.
  • Note the comfort level of the rooms. Pay attention to the overall comfort level as you move from room to room. If you notice temperature differences, stuffiness, or drafts, there could be something wrong with the HVAC equipment, ductwork, or insulation levels.

If you hire us to help you make an inspection, here’s a checklist of what we’ll be reviewing:

  • Check the operation of the thermostat
  • Check air filter
  • Inspect blower components
  • Inspect electrical connections
  • Inspect quality of installation
  • Inspect areas where equipment is located
  • Inspect equipment condition
  • Inspect condenser and evaporator coils for air conditioning units
  • Test safety controls
  • Examine condensate drains and drip pan
  • Examine the duct work
  • Examine heating and air conditioning equipment for proper match
  • Examine heat exchanger, ignition and burner assemblies
  • Test gas pressure and piping

Upon completion of your HVAC inspection, we will provide you with a completed report of our professional assessment, giving you clarity on what needs to be considered for replacement or when to upgrade to a more efficient system.