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RPB uses state-of-the-art repair and installation methods, and top-grade equipment to meet your heating service needs quickly and efficiently.

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AIR CONDITIONING SERVICES

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Do You Know What AFUE, SEER and HSPF Mean?

Our business of providing heating, cooling and ventilating services entails a number of cumbersome acronyms. We try our best to explain things to our customers in plain language, but inevitably an alphabet soup will crop up in product literature. Here is an explanation of some of the common acronyms you will encounter pertaining to energy efficiency.

AFUE (Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency) gauges the energy efficiency of furnaces, boilers and water heaters. AFUE measures season-long useful energy output to energy input, expressed as a percentage. The higher the AFUE rating is, the greater the efficiency.

AFUE and the other efficiency standards are mandated by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) regulations in accordance with their testing protocols. Currently, the minimum AFUE standard for most types of heating equipment is 80%, meaning 80% of the fuel you burn goes to useful heat. The most efficient furnaces have ratings of more than 95%. Old furnaces may operate at 60% or less. Replacing an old furnace with an 80% or greater unit can rapidly pay for itself through lower heating bills.

SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) applies to the cooling efficiency of air conditioners and heat pumps. It is derived by measuring the total cooling output in BTU during normal annual usage and divided by its total energy input in watt-hours. SEER ratings are expressed in whole numbers and decimals rather than percentages.

Like AFUE, the higher the SEER the more efficient the product will be. The DOE requires a minimum SEER rating of 14.0 and goes all the way up to several points above 20. Older equipment may be as low as 8.0. In theory, you could cut your fuel bills by about 40% by replacing an 8.0 SEER unit with one rated at 14.0.

HSPF (Heating Seasonal Performance Factor) is used to measure the heating efficiency of heat pumps, which also have a SEER rating for their cooling performance. Heat pumps manufactured since the beginning of 2015 are required to have a minimum HSPF of 8.2, with the most efficient units reaching a HSPF of 13.

As with the DOE’s miles-per-gallon ratings for vehicles, actual performance of heating and cooling equipment may vary from their ratings depending on operational variables. One of the most important considerations is making sure that components of a system (furnace/condenser/ductwork/controls, etc.) match up well with one another. If not, the system will not reach its peak efficiency.

Proper installation and regular servicing are also of crucial importance. The National Comfort Institute estimates that most HVAC systems operate at only 57% of potential capacity due to installation mistakes. It pays to hire the most professional installation and service contractor you can find.

We’re confident you’ll find that’s us.

4 Common Ways to End Up Without Heat

It’s the middle of winter and our phone lines hum with calls from homeowners who don’t have enough heat or no heat at all. Our knowledgeable technicians will diagnose precisely what’s wrong with your furnace or heat pump and the first step in any diagnosis is to look for simple things first. Here are some of the most common problems we find when troubleshooting.

1. Dirty or clogged filters: The most important thing you can do to ensure adequate heat in cold weather is to change filters regularly. Dirty filters restrict air flow. This means your furnace has to work harder to circulate warm air throughout your home. This puts an unnecessary strain on your furnace and may result in a breakdowns, excessive utility bills and diminished equipment life.

Change filters at least every three months. Changing monthly is not excessive if you have a pet that sheds. Filters are cheap. You can buy a year’s supply for less than the cost of a single service call.

2. Ignition problems: Today’s heating systems typically have one of two types of ignition systems: hot surface ignition or intermittent pilot. Hot surface ignition uses a heating element, kind of like a filament in a light bulb, which is controlled electronically to ignite the gas burner. This element wears out over time. The intermittent pilot is also controlled electronically but uses a high voltage electric spark to ignite the gas pilot and then the main burners. A pilot may burn out due to drafts or clogs in the heating equipment or problems with the thermocouple.

3. Other mechanical issues: Modern heating systems are complicated machines with a variety of electro-mechanical moving parts, including belts, bearings, fans and motors. Over time all of these components are subject to normal wear and tear.

4. Thermostat malfunctions: Your thermostat regulates when heat is to be produced and how much. So-called “smart” thermostats can be programmed to set different temperatures at different times, depending on whether residents are at home and their comfort preferences. Whether you have an automated or manual thermostat, problems can develop that lead to no heat or inadequate heat.

Many thermostats are powered by batteries, and one of the first things our troubleshooting technician will check is whether those batteries need replacing! Modern thermostats give a readout warning when batteries get low. It’s surprising how many homeowners don’t notice or don’t heed the flashing reminders to change thermostat batteries.

The best way to assure that your heating system functions during the coldest winter days is to have your unit serviced regularly – at least once a year. Give us a call to ask about our economical service plans that include full system inspections and maintenance.

Regular maintenance is easy to overlook in the hustle and bustle of daily life. One of the great things about a service plan is that we will call to remind you when it’s time for your annual or twice-annual check-ups.

7 Tips to Help Stay Safe This WInter

The New Year is upon us and I hope with all my heart that everyone reading this has a happy and fruitful year. The New Year arrives in the dead of winter, and cold weather brings with it too many injuries and too much property damage. Many home fires and carbon monoxide poisonings stem from faulty furnaces and unsafe practices, like placing flammable materials too close to furnaces and other heat sources. To keep from being one of those statistics, here are some simple household safety tips related to your furnace and its surroundings.
  • Every home should have smoke detectors and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors placed in strategic areas, especially within 10-15 feet of bedrooms. Research by the National Fire Protection Association tells us that around half of home fire deaths result from fires occurring between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., when most people are asleep. Working smoke alarms cut the chance of dying in a house fire in half and CO is odorless and undetectable without an alarm.
  • Multi-story homes should have CO and smoke detectors on every level. Don’t place the devices directly inside kitchens or bathrooms. Humid air may interfere with their functioning and kitchen smoke may set off too many false fire alarms. CO detectors placed too near your furnace are also likely to give off nuisance alarms. Be sure to replace batteries in your CO and smoke alarms at least once a year.
  • Don’t turn thermostats all the way off when you go away for any length of time. Keep them set at least to 50-60 degrees to make sure pipes don’t freeze in the event of a cold snap.
  • After a heavy snow or ice storm, go outside to check that sidewall vents from your furnace and other household appliances have not been blocked by snow or ice. Blockages can cause CO to build up inside. The same goes for your roof vents.
  • While you’re outside doing this, visually check your neighbors’ vents if you think of it. Especially if they’re elderly and/or disabled. In this case, being a nosey neighbor could save someone’s life.
  • Be extremely cautious using electric space heaters. Avoid using them in the house and if you use them in a garage or cold basement, keep children away, make sure the plug fits tightly and turn them off when you leave the area. Better yet, turn them off and pull the plug out when you leave. Use heavy-duty cords with space heaters. Small extension cords are okay for reading lamps but the wattage of a space heater can heat them up and start a fire.
  • Be sure to schedule an annual inspection/maintenance service for your heating system. Sign up for our low-cost service plans to assure you get reminded by us. It’s the best way to keep your heating and cooling system in tip-top shape and extend the life of your equipment.

RPB Wishes You a Safe and Happy Holiday Season

The winter holidays are upon us and the last thing anyone wants is for this season of joy to turn tragic. Please keep your loved ones and valuables secure with the following tips:

  • Choose decorations that are flame-resistant or flame-retardant, and keep decorations away from heat sources.
  • Do not overload circuits with festive lights. Follow manufacturer instructions on the boxes they come in.
  • Make sure Christmas trees are at least three feet away from any fireplace, radiator, candle, heat vents or lights (except cool lights that are part of the tree decorations). This goes double and triple for live trees.
  • Carbon monoxide accidents increase in winter. Be sure you have CO detectors in the home and check them regularly to make sure they are working. Change batteries at least once a year, or right now if you can’t remember when you last did so.
  • Thieves love the holidays with all those expensive gifts they can see through a window under your tree. Make your house look as if someone is always home. Keep lights on both inside and outside even while away. Leave on radios or TVs.
  • Pickpockets and thieves are most active during the holiday season. Don’t overburden yourself with so many packages or bags that your purse or wallet becomes an easy mark.
  • Don’t place purchases inside a vehicle for all to see. Put them in a trunk or otherwise out of sight. And, of course, make sure all doors are locked.
  • Most importantly, have a safe and happy ending to the year and we hope to see you next year.

The Silent Killer

“Family of 10 Killed by CO Poisoning”
“Broken Furnace Sends Family to Hospital”
“Crack in Heater Blamed for CO Deaths”

Newspaper headlines like these pop up across the country, especially in winter. Estimates vary from hundreds to thousands of people killed by carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning each year. Exact figures are debatable because CO is tasteless, colorless and odorless — undetectable except by sophisticated devices. Also, the symptoms of CO poisoning — fatigue, headaches, dizzy spells and nausea — resemble those of flu and many other common illnesses.  So CO poisoning is easily misdiagnosed, and people can succumb to it without physical discomfort, almost like falling asleep. That is why CO is called the “silent killer.”

CO gas is given off by incomplete combustion of flammable fuels.  Furnaces, boilers, water heaters and stoves are all potential sources of CO.  These products are designed with elaborate safeguards and under normal operating conditions all CO produced from combustion will be harmlessly vented to the atmosphere. But abnormalities can arise.
 

The most common cause of CO build-up in the home is poor venting due to leaks or blockages in the vent system. Cracks or corrosion in a furnace’s heat exchanger is another common cause.  The most important way to protect yourself and your family is to have your heating system inspected at least once a year by our expert heating professionals. Our technicians will check all connections to flue piping and vents for cracks, gaps, rust, corrosion or debris.  They also inspect the combustion chamber and heat exchanger for cracks, holes, metal fatigue or corrosion, as well as the filters and filtering system for dirt and blockages. They will clear any debris off the burner and make sure all safety switches are working properly.

Beyond that, here are some things you can do to safeguard your loved ones from this insidious danger.

  •  Install UL-approved CO detectors in key locations inside your home. The best place to install them is near bedrooms so the alarm will wake you up if you are asleep. What do you do if the alarm sounds?  Vacate the house quickly, opening doors and windows as you leave in order to provide ventilation.  Then contact your 911 emergency response crew.
  • Be sure all vents are properly installed — including those leading from the furnace, clothes dryer, water heater and wood-burning stoves.
  • Regularly inspect your chimneys and vents for blockages caused by debris, animal nests or cave-ins. Also beware of cracks and holes. If you have a fireplace, have the chimney inspected annually for blocked flues, excess soot and debris.
  • Never use an unvented space heater indoors. Never burn charcoal inside and do not use your gas stove as a heater. When cooking, keep the oven door closed.
  • Never leave a car running in an attached garage, even if the garage door is left open. Exhaust fumes can enter your living space and build up to hazardous levels.
  • Avoid running both a furnace and fireplace simultaneously for long periods of time. This can create backdrafting that pulls CO gas that is exiting the home, back inside.
  • Never install a boiler, furnace or water heater in an airtight enclosure
  • Look for the followings signs that may indicate CO problems: streaks of soot around the service door of a gas appliance; rust spots on flue pipe, boilers, furnaces or water heaters; excessive moisture on basement windows, which may indicate poor ventilation; generally stale air throughout the house, another sign of poor ventilation.

You’ll Feel Better With A Furnace Humidifier

Winter’s upon us and you may already be feeling itchy. That comes from dry skin thanks to low humidity in your home. You or other family members may also be suffering from dry eyes, sore throats and sinus pain for the same reason. People with asthma or allergies also suffer more with low humidity, and colds tend to linger for a longer time.

Humidity levels drop during cold weather and personal discomfort is just one of the problems that results. Low humidity also wastes energy. That’s because low moisture levels in the air make it seem 2-3 degrees colder, which causes you to crank up the thermostat unnecessarily. Furthermore, low humidity leads to painful and sometimes dangerous static electricity shocks when you touch a light switch, door knob or other metal surface. Adding a humidifier to your home can solve these problems.

You can purchase free-standing humidifiers, but a better solution is to incorporate a furnace-mounted unit. Furnace humidifiers have many advantages over free-standing units, including:

  • Whole-house coverage. A furnace humidifier will cover the entire house, while you need a free-standing humidifier in virtually every room for maximum comfort.
  • Automated control. The furnace humidifiers we install come with automated humidity controls so that you can set the humidity at your desired level and forget about it until you decide to change the setting. Generally speaking most homes are best served with a relative humidity level of between 40-50%.
  • Automatic refill. Free-standing humidifiers have to be refilled with water manually about every day. A furnace-mounted humidifier will be tied into your home’s water supply and replenished automatically.
  • Out of sight, out of mind. Free-standing humidifiers occupy space in every room where you have them, and they can be noisy. You’ll be much better off with a single unit attached to your home’s furnace, which is likely tucked out of the way in a basement or utility room. Your home will be roomier and tidier.
  • Ease of maintenance. You’ll need to clean your furnace humidifier less frequently than you would free-standing units, especially if you have multiple humidifiers for different rooms.

Different models work with different types and brands of furnaces. Our expert technicians can specify which options are best suited for your heating system. Give us a call and arrange for an inspection and estimate at your convenience.

What Do Customers Want?

That question has inspired numerous studies and the answers vary somewhat from industry to industry.

Based on our experience, here are the top three items we think our customers yearn for:

  1. Trust. You let us into your homes to fix problems, sometimes severe ones, even life-threatening situations. You have enough on your mind without having to worry about whether the service technician is competent, honest and someone you can turn your back on. That’s why we do background checks and drug screening for everyone we hire. That’s why we continually train our service technicians and customer service representatives to always listen to the customer’s point of view and respect your wishes.
  2. Convenience. When something breaks down in your home, you don’t want to leave messages and hope someone calls you back in a reasonable time. You don’t want to hear “maybe … possibly” someone can get out there in a few hours. That’s why we have live people answering our phones and make every effort to schedule service at a time that’s convenient to you.
  3. Value. Price is always a consideration, but price alone does not constitute value. Value is part of an equation that also includes quality, convenience, guarantees, friendliness and follow-up. We do not strive to be the cheapest home service firm in town. We do strive to provide the best value.

Did I overlook anything? Please let us know how we can serve you better.

Save Money This Fall

Are you looking to save a few dollars on your cold-weather utilities? Who isn’t? Here are a few simple steps you can take to cut your heating bill down to size.

Bundle Up & Lower Your Thermostat

There’s nothing wrong with wondering around the house in shorts and a t-shirt. However, you will pay more for it in the winter. By donning an old sweater or sweatshirt, you might find yourself just as comfortable, if not more with the thermostat a couple of degrees lower. Even a slight downward adjustment of the thermostat in the winter has a big impact on utilities.

Lower Temperatures More Over Night & When You’re Out
Overnight, add an extra blanket and set the temperature back a couple of degrees to save more money. Of course, set the temperature back when no one’s home.

Use Programmable Thermostats
The problem with setting the thermostat back a couple of degrees is that it’s easy to forget. Using a programmable setback thermostat solves this problem. Plus, you can program the thermostat to restore the temperature just before you get out of bed and just before you get home. If you need a programmable setback thermostat installed, call us.

Use the Sun
Open the curtains and blinds of southern windows during the day to tap into the sun’s free heat.

Seal Air Leaks
Walk around the outside of your home and look for plumbing and electrical penetrations through the walls. If any are not well-caulked, add extra sealant. Don’t forget to weather-strip and/or caulk doors and windows. If you have pull down stairs into your attic, consider adding a specially designed cover over the stairs. Use insulation covers for gaskets and light switches on exterior walls.

Reduce Fireplace Heat Loss
If you do not use a fireplace, seal the flue. Even closed, fireplace flues are the source of a lot of air leaks. If the fireplace is used, add custom fitted tempered glass doors and seal the edges.

Tune Up Your Heating System
Combustion furnaces and boilers require annual maintenance to operate at peak efficiency. Burners, for example, fall out of adjustment over the course of a heating season, wasting fuel. Heat pumps need maintenance twice a year, once in the spring and once in the fall, so they will perform optimally during the periods of greatest use.

Beyond saving money, annual service is a safety issue for combustion heating systems. Thousands are needlessly poisoned by carbon monoxide every year from leaks and cracks in heat exchangers. Don’t risk your family’s safety or waste your money. If you haven’t already called us for annual heating system maintenance, do it now.

Upgrade Your Heating System
If you system is older than a high school student, it’s time to consider replacing it. We can improve your comfort and reduce your heating costs.

Heating Season Tune-ups Save Money, And Maybe Your Life

If it’s sweltering outside, the last thing you have in mind is cranking up the furnace. But cooler temperatures are not far away. It’s time to schedule a heating season combustion adjustment, professional cleaning and safety check.

An annual heating system “tune-up” is one of the best home maintenance investments you can make. Homeowners who neglect it tend to pay the following penalties:

  • Fuel bills rise as much as 10-15% as a result of inefficient equipment operation. It’s like having a fireplace that burns money. Our service technicians will perform a variety of tests to measure the combustion efficiency of your system both before and after tuning it up.
  • Accelerated equipment wear. Annual maintenance extends equipment life as much as 5-10 years for your furnace.
  • Our long experience tells us that about 75% of all HVAC system repairs we do could have been avoided with regular maintenance. Repairs cost a lot more than maintenance, and breakdowns never happen at a convenient time.
  • Most important, annual heating inspections can save your life and those of your loved ones. Small cracks in a heat exchanger or problems with the flue system could allow deadly carbon monoxide gas to seep into your home. Dozens of people in the U.S. lose their lives each year to these tragedies. Our trained service technicians know how to spot danger signs in the system.

Modern HVAC systems are very sophisticated. Our well-equipped service technicians have an array of electronic measuring devices and tools to properly service these units. You can trust their professionalism and experience to do the job right.

While heating inspections can be done at any time, early fall is the most popular time for most home owners to schedule these visits. Many of our clients have their fall heating inspection done as part of an annual service agreement. They receive priority in scheduling and discount pricing for any repairs not covered by the agreement. A service agreement also is a good way to ensure you don’t forget about scheduling heating system maintenance. We’ll remind you. If you are not on our list, give us a call to ask how you can be included.

Beyond a certain point even the best maintenance cannot save an antiquated system. Efficiency improvements over the last few decades have been so dramatic that if your furnace is more than 20 years old, it’s quite possible that it would make economic sense to replace your present system even if it is still operating okay. Ask our service technician to perform an energy audit of your home to see how many years of energy savings it would take to pay back the initial cost of a new installation.

Also ask about low-cost energy efficiency improvements that can be obtained from devices such as automatic flue dampers and programmable setback thermostats or internet compatible thermostats.

The Consequences of Backflow

Your household plumbing system can be defined as fresh water in, dirty water out. Sounds pretty simple, but big problems arise when the lines blend and waste water ends up mixing with fresh water.

At the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair 98 persons died of dysentery and hundreds more took ill due to a cross-connection between water supply and waste lines at a downtown hotel. That’s how serious the problem can get.

Pressure fluctuations are the main cause of backflow incidents, along with cross-connected plumbing lines. Normally your household water supply is under 35-40 pounds of pressure. If this pressure gets interrupted – perhaps by a water main break in the street, a power failure, fire fighters battling a nearby blaze or other causes – then water can flow backward in the system. Then it may come in contact with waste water from drain lines.

A fairly common type of backflow occurrence is when a garden hose gets submerged in polluted or contaminated water. If the pressure in the water main drops, the water in the garden hose could be sucked back into the pipes connected to your drinking water. This could be very dangerous if you are using your garden hose to spray lawn fertilizer or weed killers. Household cleaning products and the soapy water from your laundry tub also could be hazardous if swallowed, as could water filled with bacteria from a pool or waterbed.

The simplest way to eliminate backflow hazards is simply to leave a physical air gap between faucets or garden hoses and standing water. Never submerge a hose in a tub of water or swimming pool.

Sometimes it is impossible to use an air gap to prevent water mixing. So for additional protection, our plumbers are adept at recommending and installing various types of mechanical backflow prevention devices.

One of the simplest forms of protection for your home is an anti-siphon toilet float valve. Many of the cheap float valves sold at local hardware stores and home centers do not have sufficient anti-siphon capability. Our plumbers install only professional-caliber products that protect your health and safety.

Another simple type of backflow preventer is an atmospheric vacuum breaker. Ask our plumber to make sure you have a hose bib vacuum breaker where you attach your garden hose. Never use spray attachments with your garden hose without such a device. Lawn chemicals are extremely toxic and can even be fatal.

Other forms of backflow prevention are more complicated. These include pressure-type vacuum breakers, double check valve assemblies and reduced pressure principle backflow preventers.

If you have an underground lawn sprinkling system, the pipe feeding this system should have one of these. Otherwise contaminants can enter the water supply through the sprinkler heads in your lawn.

Plumbing may look simple at times but it involves a reckoning with the laws of physics. That’s why you always want to call on our fully trained plumbers to deal with issues that impact the health and safety of your family.

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