Keep your cool

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Make sure your HVAC system is prepared for a long, hot summer

Centralized heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems are an unsafe haven for mold, bacteria, dust and other airborne materials if not maintained on a regular basis. HVAC units can send these health hazards traveling  through air ducts and, when dirty, can attract insects, dust mites, dander, droppings and rodents.

Upgrading your HVAC filter from fiberglass to electrostatic will help trap and prevent most particles from moving forward. But dust that eludes filters can settle on air-handling coils and, when combined with moisture, can become a breeding ground for mold and bacteria. Your air supply will suffer during the summer.

The best way to prevent this is to regularly clean and check for leaks in the air ducts of your forced-air heating and cooling systems. This procedure covers supply and return ducts and registers, heat exchanger coils, drain pans, fan motor and housing, and the air-handling unit.

Unless ductwork is clean and efficient, the best condenser outside will not provide thermal comfort and quality, healthy air inside the home. Inefficient coils can add up to 30 percent to your energy usage, and blockages and leaks in the ducts can trigger a 20 percent spike.

Living in the Hilton Head Island area has many perks, of course. Not the least of which is the fresh smell of salt air. On the dining table, sea salt as a seasoning adds a dash of flavor and pizzazz to any food. But the presence of salt in the Lowcountry has its downside, too. It can eventually destroy even the highest-end heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems in our homes or minimize their efficiency.

After installation, salt begins to corrode the exterior and interior parts of the condensers in these units. Salt and its hygroscopic makeup absorb water from its surroundings and insulate the coil, thus reducing thermal transfer. The salt buildup reduces the heat transfer for efficient operation, and you might notice a difference within a few years.

Inefficient heat transfer can lead to higher energy consumption and higher utility bills, of course. Extremely salt air also turns aluminum or copper foils into powder and renders them useless for cooling our homes.

“The biggest problem we have with salt air is on the exterior condenser units that are planted outside in South and North Carolina,” said Richard Lantz, first vice president of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association. “We find that the exposure to salt air and sand affects all of your condensing units that are manufactured out of aluminum and copper. Aluminum is rapidly deteriorated over the life of the unit more aggressively than in normal climates. Salt air eats the aluminum.”

Another factor, too, is that the Lowcountry’s early morning salt fog settles on surfaces — condenser fins, copper coils, windshields, the lawn, etc.  We smell it and feel it on our skin, and it’s at once refreshing and worrisome — even as we enjoy this common Lowcountry occurrence, we worry about its effects on our homes and belongings. With extended exposure to salt air, coils can form pockmarks, called pitting, and then disintegrate into a powdered dust.

There is nothing on the market you can buy and install to prevent against corrosion, which usually limits a typical HVAC system to a lifespan of 10 years — if you’re lucky. Money cannot buy protection, but regular maintenance can sustain it.

“If I lived at the beach at Hilton Head Island and I had a condensing unit outside exposed to the salt air, I would routinely rinse it,” Lantz said. “Start from the top and go to the bottom and rinse the coils and fins on the condenser unit, and that would extend the life of it.”

And just a reminder: Outside condensers have to be free-breathing, which means shrubbery, branches and plants can’t intrude on the unit within 3 feet of its location. It also should be located on the leeward side of the home, not the prevailing wind side where salt and sand can accelerate the damage.

WORK WITH A PROFESSIONAL

Having a professional HVAC contractor service or repair your heating and cooling system offers a host of benefits. HVAC systems are complex at best, and by hiring a licensed contractor, you’re putting it in the hands of someone who has demonstrated competence in the field and who is also insured and bonded.

The manufacturer’s warranty may require you hire a licensed HVAC contractor to work on your system or install a new one. It’s crucial during new system selection and installation to work with a professional contractor so that the system is carefully sized for your home and installed with precision.

A professional HVAC contractor has access to the most current product bulletins, especially contractors and technicians that are North American Technician Excellence-certified. In order to achieve this distinction, HVAC professionals must pass a stringent set of tests and demonstrate a high level of proficiency with HVAC equipment.

HVAC professionals know how to maintain your system and access all the parts. They are aware of detailed specifications for these systems, so they can reset them according to the manufacturer’s specifications. When all parts are working together as they were designed to do, your system will last longer and energy usage will almost always decline — as will your electric bill.

Many companies also offer service contracts that guarantee they will check units on a regular basis to ensure peak performance, saving you time, hassle and worry and leaving you free to enjoy summer in the Lowcountry.

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 EAC

Heating & Air’s mission is to be the most trusted HVAC contractor in Hilton Head Island, Bluffton, Okatie and surrounding areas. You can turn to this air conditioning company for the most reliable products and services in the industry. Their Hilton Head Island office staff is polite, friendly and trained to meet your needs. Their factory-trained, NATE-certified technicians wear uniforms, drive vehicles with logos, and are drug-tested for your comfort and safety. EAC is a fully licensed and insured company with 30-plus years of local experience in the industry.
843-681-3999, www.eacair.com

HOWELL-CHASE HEATING & AIR CONDITIONING

Howell-Chase Heating & Air Conditioning offers responsive, professional repair service and quality installation and maintenance expertise. Each of its experienced HVAC technicians are NATE certified. They are also knowledgeable, friendly and punctual— they’ll explain each option and recommendation to you so you can make informed decisions about your heating and air conditioning investment. Howell-Chase serves the Hilton Head Island and Bluffton areas 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
843-785-3748, www.howellchase.com

SUPERIOR HEATING AND AIR INC.

Established in 1999, Superior has provided HVAC services to the Lowcountry, including residential and commercial service, maintenance, system replacements, and new construction. They offer over 75 years of combined experience and education in all aspects of heating and air. Superior holds itself accountable for its actions by providing a third party survey process to each customer. This affiliation is Customer Care and Superior is currently the only dealer in the area with this credential. They take customer satisfaction very seriously! Even with the great survey score, the company still boasts, “97% customer satisfaction and we are still not satisfied.”
843-682-2665, www.superiorairinc.com