Do I Need to Replace My Furnace?

February 27th, 2015

Most homeowners don’t look at replacing a furnace as a welcome event, but the truth is that furnace replacement in Washington, DC, offers the opportunity for you and your home to gain better comfort and energy efficiency, maybe more than you’ve had in a long time. However, replacing a furnace is a big decision, and there are some important factors you should review with a heating expert from Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc., before moving ahead:

How is your current furnace’s energy efficiency?

Energy efficiency is the key to staying on budget each winter. How has your current furnace been performing? Have you seen your bills rise but you haven’t changed how you use your furnace? Today’s furnaces are very energy efficient, with some models reaching AFUE ratings of 95%. A furnace that is over 10 years of age will have trouble meeting today’s energy efficiency standards, so it may be worth taking a look at what a newer, more efficient unit can do for you and your home.

How old is your current furnace?

Age makes a big difference with large, electro-mechanical systems like a furnace. The average combustion furnace has a lifespan of 15-20 years (electric furnaces have average lifespans of 20-30 years) – how old is your current furnace? As furnaces age, components tend to break down more and more frequently. If your furnace has reached its maturity or gone beyond it, it may be time to consider a replacement.

How many repairs have you made recently?

Another earmark of a furnace that may be near retirement is a furnace that needs, or has needed, a great deal of repair to stay operational. It’s normal to have to do some repairs to your furnace over its life, but if you are keeping your furnace alive only through multiple, needed repairs, your money may be better spent on a new, reliable system.

Working with a heating professional can help you sort out whether or not it’s time for a replacement furnace in Washington DC. The heating experts at Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc., are here to help, so call us today!

Some of the Unusual Movies Released for Valentine’s Day

February 14th, 2015

Hollywood has always tried to match movies up to the seasons to draw droves of viewers to the theaters: October is packed with fright-offerings, while the winter holidays skew toward warm and pleasing family films (as well as Oscar hopefuls). Valentine’s Day falls in an odd spot when it comes to the movie release calendar, however, since February tends to be a slower time for the film industry. The studios are as likely to slot strange movies that don’t fit anywhere else in their annual schedules into the Valentine’s Day weekend as they are films with powerful romantic appeal.

So, while the second weekend of February has featured hugely successful romantic comedies like Hitch, The Wedding Singer, and (of course) Valentine’s Day, some truly weird choices have debuted in this weekend as well. And a few have even gone on to tremendous success despite the bizarre match with the holiday. Here are a couple of the odder Valentine’s Day movie releases:

  • Dracula (1931): Yes, this Halloween perennial and the start of Universal Studio’s Classic Monsters actually came out on Valentine’s Day! But perhaps this makes some sense, as the Dracula legend has often received a “doomed lover” approach in the many years since Bela Lugosi made the aristocratic vampire a screen icon.
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991): Does any film seem less appropriate for Valentine’s Day than this unnerving and sometimes very violent psychological thriller? What’s even more astonishing than the film’s release date is that The Silence of the Lambs eventually nabbed the Oscar for Best Picture, an almost unheard of occurrence for a movie released so early in the year.
  • Daredevil (2003): This Marvel comic adaptation featuring Ben Affleck as a blind superhero does contain a romantic subplot, but the stronger connection to Valentine’s Day may just be that Daredevil wears a bright red costume.
  • A Good Day to Die Hard (2013): The least successful of the Die Hard film franchise, this is an excellent example of a studio dropping a film into a weekend where it doesn’t fit in the hopes that it works as counter-programming. (It didn’t.)
  • Wayne’s World (1992): Now here is an example of counter-programming that clicked with audiences. This comedy based on a Saturday Night Live sketch turned into one of that year’s biggest hits and spawned a sequel.

Whether you celebrate Valentine’s Day with a trip to the movie theater, or you have your own special plans, everyone here at Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating hopes you and your loved ones have a wonderful weekend.

Reasons to Schedule a Mid-Winter Maintenance Appointment

February 5th, 2015

At this time of year, you might assume that if anything were to go wrong with your heating system, it would have happened by now. Your heating system seems to have worked fine since the beginning of winter, so why bother calling a technician at this time of year? But a maintenance visit can greatly improve the performance and efficiency of an HVAC system, even if you hadn’t noticed a problem before. Learn more in this guide about how you can save money, prevent issues, and begin a helpful maintenance schedule by calling and enrolling in an HVAC maintenance program in Alexandria, VA today.

  • An HVAC system can fail at any time – As the winter continues, the components of your heater or air conditioner begin to wear down more and more. In fact, your HVAC system is most likely to run into trouble in the worst kind of weather, when some of the components may become overworked from the added stress on the system. Instead of risking a sudden heating breakdown in the middle of winter, schedule maintenance now in order to reduce your chances.
  • Save money on bills and repairs – An HVAC maintenance visit can save you a lot of money every month. Heating systems account for a large portion of your bills in the middle of winter, and more so if the parts are overworked, worn down, or dirty. During a maintenance visit, a technician looks over your entire system, alerts you to any trouble, and cleans and adjusts some of the parts, which effectively reduces heating costs in most cases.
  • Begin an HVAC maintenance schedule now – Even if you’re not planning to set up a maintenance appointment now, you can start planning for the future by calling a technician ASAP. Most heating equipment manufacturers explain that their product can only live out its expected lifespan with annual maintenance, so getting your heating and air conditioning equipment on a maintenance schedule now with an HVAC maintenance program means you won’t forget to schedule an appointment later on.

Our customers have noticed fewer heating and cooling issues and lower bills after enrolling in the Polar Bear Preventative Maintenance Agreement.

At Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc., we provide thorough maintenance for all types of heating and AC equipment. Call us today for a superior HVAC maintenance program in Alexandria, VA.

Problems That May Occur with the Boiler Circulator Pump

January 29th, 2015

Hot water boiler systems need a little help pushing the hot water through the piping to heat your home. This help comes from small pumps called circulator pumps that are soldered into the pipes, and thus are part of the piping. Without the help of these pumps, the hot water would never reach your heating outlet.

How Does the Circulator Work?

Circulators use a small amount of electricity and gravity to push the water through your system. Inside the pump is a small motor; this motor turns a small wheel called an impeller. The impeller looks and functions like a miniature water wheel, and it is the component responsible for grabbing the water in the pipe and pushing it through to the other side at a high rate of speed. Rubber seals inside the pump keep water from leaking out of the pump at the points where it has been soldered into the pipe.

Common Circulator Problems

Circulator pumps are hardy little components, but they can break. Common repairs may be:

  • Broken or worn seals – the rubber seals inside the pump can age, crack or split, which can result in leaking from the pump. Water on the outside metal can lead to the development of rust, so if you see that a circulator pump on your boiler system is leaking, have it repaired as soon as possible.
  • Problems with the circulator relay switch – the motor is attached to a relay switch that sends power to it so it can operate; if the switch becomes faulty, the motor may not receive any power or receive power intermittently.
  • Circulator won’t turn on – reasons a circulator won’t turn on include issues with your thermostat, unequal settings between the circulator’s aquastat and the boiler’s thermostat and a dead or frozen pump motor.
  • Circulator runs but heat is low – this can be due to a broken or damaged impeller inside the pump.

Sometimes circulator pumps can be repaired, but other times they may need to be replaced.

The best way to handle any kind of heating repair to your boiler is to call the experts at Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc., and schedule an appointment for heating services in Alexandria, VA.

3 Reasons to Install a Humidifier

January 22nd, 2015

You’ve probably heard plenty of people complain about high levels of moisture in the air, known as humidity. High humidity levels can make people feel uncomfortable, as they are unable to sweat easily which makes the body temperature feel warmer than the outside air. But did you know that not enough moisture can be just as problematic? In today’s list, read about a few of the reasons homeowners choose to install humidifiers so you can decide whether your home is affected by dry air.

  • Dry Skin: Perhaps the most noticeable symptom of dry air is dried-out skin. It may seem as though no matter how much water you drink and how much lotion you apply, you skin never seems to stop feeling itchy, flaky, and stiff. Chapped lips are no fun either, nor is the potential for a dry scratchy feeling in the nose and throat. The most common reason people choose to install humidifiers is for relief, as some level of humidity is necessary in the air for it to feel comfortable.
  • Illness: When the air in your home is dry, it actually takes you and your family members a longer time to recover from illness. If your nasal passages and other membranes are dried out, it only irritates the illness, even if it seems like dry air may be able to clear up a stuffy nose. Even in the movies and on T.V. shows, you often see characters feigning illness by sitting in bed with a cup of soup, tissues, and a standalone humidifier. But a whole-home model allows moisture to move throughout the home so that everyone in your family can fight illness faster.
  • Cracked Paint: While chipped paint, cracked walls, and peeling furniture are rare side effects of dry air, it has been known to occur in extreme situations. If your home seems to suffer from the other symptoms of dry air as well, you may consider installing a humidifier even if the wood floors and furniture have not yet incurred damage. Waiting for this type of destruction means dealing with time-consuming renovations and putting up with uncomfortable dry air in the meantime.

At Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc., we know all there is to know about installing whole-house humidifiers in Arlington. Call now!

What Does the AFUE Rating Mean for a Boiler?

January 15th, 2015

The energy efficiency of any heating system should be an important consideration for your home. Why? Energy efficiency relates directly to fuel usage, and fuel usage can impact your home’s budget. Just as whole-home air conditioning systems have their energy efficiency rated by SEER numbers, so, too, do combustion heating systems: AFUE. Understanding what AFUE means can go a long way toward ensuring that your boiler installation in Northern Virginia is an energy efficient one.


The acronym AFUE stands for annual fuel utilization efficiency. AFUE measures the efficiency of a combustion heating system’s ability to convert fuel into energy. AFUE is presented as a percentage, and this percentage will tell you exactly what percentage of your fuel is being used as energy and what part is lost to byproduct exhaust. For example, a boiler with an AFUE of 85% means that 85% of the fuel used becomes energy that heats your home and the other 15% is exhausted through your flue as combustion byproduct. Having this kind of specific information can help you choose a boiler that meets both your heating needs and your energy efficiency needs.

AFUE Standards for Boilers

Each type of combustion heating system has minimum AFUE standards as set by the Federal Trade Commission. When it comes to boilers, the type of fuel used to power the boiler helps to determine what the minimum AFUE number will be:

  • Natural gas hot water boiler – minimum AFUE of 82%
  • Natural gas steam boiler – minimum AFUE of 80%
  • Oil hot water boiler – minimum AFUE of 84%
  • Oil steam boiler – minimum AFUE of 82%

Condensing boilers, which are boilers that use the latent heat from combustion vapors, have AFUE’s well over 90%.

While AFUE should not be the only factor you consider for your boiler installation in Northern Virginia, it should be one of the top factors of the installation process.

Ready for a new boiler? Call the experts at Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc., and schedule an appointment today!

Why Cleaning and Adjusting Boiler Components Each Year is Necessary

January 8th, 2015

As the cold and snow set in for the season, your boiler is working hard to keep you, your family and your home warm. There is a way you can give back to your boiler, though: schedule it for maintenance. A maintenance appointment isn’t a quick review of your system; instead, it is a thorough inspection and full tune-up, during which the components are reviewed, cleaned and adjusted as needed. Boiler maintenance in Northern Virginia allows your boiler to work optimally. And while it’s always good to get ahead of winter with fall maintenance, the truth is if your boiler hasn’t been maintained in over 12 months, any time is a good time for maintenance.

Reasons to Schedule Maintenance

During regular usage, the components of your boiler become worn and dirty; some parts attract dust, making it difficult to operate correctly. Here are some of the benefits of scheduling maintenance:

  • Better energy efficiency – your boiler was made to operate at a specific level of energy efficiency, but it can’t do so when the parts and system are dirty and worn down from the previous season or seasons. The cleaning the system receives during an annual inspection appointment allows the system to work optimally.
  • Prevents repairs – the thorough inspection conducted by the technician allows him/her to detect any developing or existing problems and either make small repairs during the appointment, such as with frayed wiring, or inform you about necessary repairs. Maintenance allows you to get ahead of repairs before they can become a serious problem.
  • Extends life of equipment – maintenance keeps your boiler in good working order; when your system is in good working order, there is no extra stress on it, which helps reduce premature aging.
  • Better comfort – a boiler that is healthy will have no problems achieving the temperature you’ve set on your thermostat, keeping you in better comfort all winter.

Maintenance involves a number of tasks and steps that are all designed to maximize the operation and efficiency of your boiler.

If you haven’t scheduled your boiler in Northern Virginia for maintenance yet, call Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc., today.

Types of Terminal Units Used with Boiler Installation

January 2nd, 2015

A boiler is a large unit often installed in the basement or in its own room or area for heating a home or business.

Boilers are quite effective at providing heat, as they distribute heat more evenly than forced-air units like furnaces and heat pumps and can be modified for zone control. Water is heated at the boiler and then makes its way through a series of pipes to allow convective and conductive heat into a room. But in order to do so, it must reach a terminal unit, which is selected by the homeowner and the technician during boiler installation.

Which type of terminal unit is chosen generally depends on your home and family’s needs and your budget. You should always speak with a technician before setting your sights on a particular type of terminal unit, but as a starting point, the following list contains a guide to a few of the most popular terminal units for hydronic heating systems.

  • Baseboard Units: A baseboard unit is installed at the bottom of the wall in each room or zone in the house. These units are highly effective and can blend into the décor of a room so there is little interference with the interior design. These are some of the most common terminal installations.
  • Radiators: A radiator is a fairly outdated terminal unit for heat transfer, but it’s still in use primarily in industrial settings, particularly where a steam boiler is in use. However, some homeowners appreciated the look and feel of cast-iron radiator, and keep it in the home for heating and to add an industrial or vintage feel to the home.
  • Fan Coil Units: A fan coil unit contains a heat exchanger, blower fan, and filter to circulate air in the home from a boiler and/or a commercial chiller. As water moves through the unit, it sprays onto the heat exchanger, allowing for a set of thermodynamic processes to take place so that a fan can blow conditioned air in the home.
  • Radiant Floor Heating: Finally, many homeowners today choose radiant floor heating, which means a set of pipes runs underneath the floorboards in order to provide even heating, warm feet, and all-around comfort.

The heating professionals at Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. know a thing or two about boiler installation in Northern Virginia. For quality installation, give us a call today!

12 Grapes for 12 Months: An Unusual New Year’s Tradition

January 1st, 2015

Across the world, many cultures have specific traditions to celebrate the transition from the old year to the new. In the U.S. and Canada, we associate New Year’s with the ball in Times Square, kissing at the stroke of midnight, resolutions, and singing “Old Lang Syne.” But for many Spanish-speaking countries, one of the key traditions has to do with eating grapes as fast as possible.

The “twelve grapes” tradition comes from Spain, where it is called las doce uvas de la suerte (“The Twelve Lucky Grapes”). To ensure good luck for the next year, people eat one green grape for each of the upcoming twelve months. However, you cannot just eat the grapes during the first day of the new year any time you feel like it. You must eat the twelve grapes starting at the first stroke of midnight on Nochevieja (“Old Night,” New Year’s Eve) as one year changes to another. And you have to keep eating: with each toll of midnight, you must eat another grape, giving you about twelve seconds to consume all of them. If you can finish all dozen grapes—you can’t still be chewing on them!—before the last bell toll fades, you will have a luck-filled new year.

Where did this tradition come from? No one is certain, although it appears to be more than a century old. One story about the Twelve Lucky Grapes is that a large crop of grapes in 1909 in Alicante, Spain led to the growers seeking out a creative way to eliminate their surplus. But recent research through old newspapers shows that perhaps the tradition goes back almost thirty years earlier to the 1880s, where eating grapes was meant to mock the upper classes who were imitating the French tradition of dining on grapes and drinking champagne on New Year’s Eve.

It can be difficult to consume grapes this fast, and the lucky grapes of New Year’s Eve have seeds in them, making the job even trickier. (Seedless grapes are not common in Spain the way they are over here.) For people to manage eating all the grapes before the last stroke of midnight requires swallowing the seeds as well and only taking a single bite of each grape.

Oh, there is one more twist to the tradition: you have to be wearing red undergarments, and they have to be given to you as a gift. The origins of this part of the tradition are even more mysterious, and it’s anybody’s guess why this started.

Whether you go for the grape challenge or find another way to ring in New Year’s, all of us at Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. hope you have a great start to the year and a fruitful 2015.

The Composition of Snowflakes: Are No Two Alike?

December 25th, 2014

“No two snowflakes are alike.” This is a statement nearly every schoolchild has heard at least once, either while crafting unique snowflakes with a sheet of folded paper and some scissors or while learning a lesson on the science of snow. While even most scientists don’t quite understand what causes a snowflake to form such complex and beautiful columns and points and branches, one thing is for certain, the composition of snowflakes guarantees that no two will ever be identical.  However, it is possible for two snowflakes to appear to be nearly exactly alike.

A snowflake begins to form when a piece of dust catches water vapor out of the air. Water is created when two hydrogen molecules attach to an oxygen molecule. The two hydrogen molecules are angled from one another in such a way that they form a hexagonal shape when they come together during the freezing process; thus, a snowflake begins as a simple hexagonal shape or as layers of hexagons called diamond dust. The emergent properties that follow from the original hexagon are what differentiate one snowflake from another, as the humidity, the temperature in the air, and many other factors (some of which remain unclear to scientists) allow each snowflake to form in an entirely unique way with a seemingly endless variety of shapes.

However, in 1988, a scientist named Nancy Knight claimed to have located two that were the same while studying snowflakes as part of an atmospheric research project. And it appeared to be so; when put under a microscope, the emergent properties looked nearly identical. But while it is feasible that two snowflakes can appear to be exactly alike on the outside, they are never identical on an atomic level. Deuterium is an atom that appears attached to about one in every 3000 hydrogen molecules in the air. Because there are millions of atoms that make up a snowflake, the random assortment of deuterium in any two snowflakes—even in two that so very closely resemble one another—simply cannot be the same.

Here at Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating, Inc., we’d like to remind you to grab a cup of cocoa and relax with your family this holiday, perhaps by crafting some unique snowflake creations of your own. We wish you a very happy holiday season, from our family to yours!