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THANK YOUR HVAC UNIT

The HVAC system is the most expensive appliance in your home, but it’s hard to imagine living in the Lowcountry without one. The centralized heating, ventilation and air conditioning system helps improve indoor air quality while reducing humidity levels and making your indoor space more comfortable.

Here’s what you need to know to take care of this important part of your home.

HOW IT WORKS

On the cooling side, the unit draws warm interior air into the system through a series of air return ducts.

The air is moved over refrigerated coils, transferring the heat in the air to the refrigerant in the coils. Matched in capacity and efficiency rating with the heat pump, air handlers circulate conditioned air throughout your home via ducts. An air handler contains an inside coil and a blower fan, and possibly an auxiliary electric strip heater. In the Lowcountry, the heating side typically relies on a heat pump to provide warm air through the same ventilation system.

If your HVAC system is blowing cold air, be grateful. The Lowcountry’s high heat and humidity don’t make it easy — and the salty air doesn’t help; it can can corrode the coils.

“Not all HVAC equipment brands are made and tested to hold up to the salty air and high temperatures that corrode the coils,” said Victoria Marangio of Howell Chase Heating and Air Conditioning.

PREVENTIVE MAINTENANCE

In the Lowcountry, most residential HVACs last 10 to 13 years. But homeowners can extend that lifespan with regular maintenance. And don’t forget to change your system’s filters, said Patrick Epperson Jr. of EAC Heating and Air.

Experts say to replace the air filters every three to six months. If there is carpet or a pet in the home, the filters need to be changed more often.

Most HVAC technicians recommend using standard filters to trap dust while “letting the system breathe (confirm),” Epperson said, adding that people with allergies may prefer special, heavier filters that trap microscopic particles of pollen, pet allergens and mold.

Other important HVAC maintenance tasks include removing leaves and debris from around the outside unit and keeping bushes trimmed back.

WHEN TO REPLACE

The federal Environmental Protection Agency imposed tight restrictions on refrigerants known as hydrochlorofluorocarbons in 2010, so the cost of repairing older systems may not be worth it. HVACs also lose efficiency over time, and high electric bills may make it worth replacing an older system.

When shopping for your new system, keep in mind that the size unit you need is based on the size of your living space. A unit that’s too small will constantly run and may never reach the desired temperature. A unit that’s too large will start and stop frequently, causing unnecessary wear and tear and shortening its lifespan.

Air handlers come single-, multi- or variable-speed motors. Most local contractors recommend variable-speed systems because of their soft starts and selectable levels of airflow capacity.

“The variable speed gives maximum efficiency, performance and extends the life of the unit,” said Michael Frazier, general manager of Covert Aire. “It also removes more humidity.”

COMMON COMFORT PROBLEMS

One common problem in two-story homes with only one HVAC unit is a temperature difference between the two floors.

Dave Miller, owner of Superior Heating & Air in Bluffton, said a zoning system, which uses dampers, can solve this problem with two thermostats — one upstairs and one downstairs.

“It allows you to have one air conditioner and essentially zone the duct work,” he said. “Set the thermostats to different temperatures and be comfortable in each floor.”

SAVING ENERGY

The HVAC system uses more energy than any other system in your home. On average, 44 percent of homeowners’ utility bills is due to heating and cooling.

Rental properties are another story, Marangio said.

“The HVAC system is definitely one of the top things to get abused during rental season,” she said. “The renter isn't paying for the electric bill or is in ‘vacation mode,’ so they are not thinking of the money being wasted.”

She recommends a digital WiFi thermostat, which lets homeowners limit how much renters can adjust the temperature.

WHO TO CALL

The phone book is full of HVAC companies. Weeding out the good ones from the bad can be a challenge. For a proven combination of quality products, professional installation and first-rate service, contact one of these local companies:

EAC HEATING & AIR
843-681-3999
www.eacair.com

HOWELL-CHASE HEATING & AIR CONDITIONING
843-785-3748
www.howellchase.com

COVERT AIRE
843-706-5090
www.covertaire.com

SUPERIOR HEATING & AIR
843-682-2665
www.superiorairinc.com

HAHN’S AIR SPECIALISTS
843-683-4242
www.hahnsairspecialists.com