Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. Blog: Archive for October, 2012

Hurricane Sandy, Power Outages and No Heat: What to Do?

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Fierce winds from Hurricane Sandy are approaching the Washington DC area, and we are told we may sustain power outages for several days.  Our temperatures are predicted to stay in the 40’s.  Most central heating systems including furnaces and boilers use electricity and will not operate during a power outage.  As far as hot water, most electric water heaters will keep water warm for 6-12 hours after a power outage.  What do you need to know to be prepared?

1. Do not use portable or camping kerosene heaters indoors; there is no ventilation for dangerous fumes.

2. Do not use your gas stove or burners for heat, there is a substantial risk for carbon monoxide poisoning.

3. Portable generators need to be run outside, and read instructions for proper ventilation.  Do not plug a generator into an electrical outlet to attempt to power your home, this could send power back through the utility lines and electrocute a utility worker trying to restore your power.

4. Do not leave candles unattended.

5. Do use your fireplace, making sure the floo is open.  If you have a vented gas fireplace, understand it was designed to be decorative but may be useful to heat one room.

6. Congregate in one or two rooms, and keep the doors closed to maintain heat.

7. Test your flashlights and battery powered radio, and know the location of your spare batteries and emergency kit.

8. Know where your utility shut off valves are located in case you are instructed to do so.

9. Check your water supply.  You should have 1 gallon per person, per day.  If you find you are short, fill up plastic water bottles now from the tap, before the power outage.

10. Check out www.ready.gov for more information on preparing for Hurricane Sandy.

All of us at Polar Bear Air Conditioning and Heating, Inc. are hoping that these tips are helpful to you, and that you and your family will be safe during this storm.  Our emergency number is posted at the top of our website, and you can stay informed by following us on Twitter @PolarBearAC or liking us on Facebook.

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No Heat From Your Washington DC Home’s Boiler: Causes and Solutions

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Boiler-driven hot water heating systems are popular in Washington DC because of their reliability and efficiency. But breakdowns do occur, especially as units age, and they can happen for many reasons. The first step is to make sure you’re actually dealing with a breakdown and not something much more simple. If you’ve lost heat from your boiler, check to make sure there’s fuel in your oil or gas tank before making a service call. Also keep in mind that part of the heating system is electrical. A recent power outage or short circuit in the house could have tripped the circuit breaker for the boiler.

Next, check the emergency shut off switch. It looks like a typical wall light switch but with a red cover and bold lettering indicating the off and on positions. It’s usually placed in a convenient spot in the basement. In many Washington DC homes it’s located at the top of the basement stairs. Sometimes the switch is turned off accidentally, but if a repairman or someone else in you house turned it off for a reason, you need to find out why.

If the emergency switch is on and all the circuit breakers are on and there’s plenty of fuel, the next step in diagnosing the problem is checking the boiler. First, understand that most heating appliances automatically shut down when a critical component stops functioning properly. Don’t put yourself or your family at risk. Don’t attempt to restart or repair the boiler yourself. But you can help your technician help your Washington DC heating technician by checking a few simple things before making the call.

A puddle on the floor usually means a pipe or valve is leaking. A drop in the water level inside the boiler could have triggered the shut down. But leaks in joints can also occur when something else shuts the boiler down and the metal plumbing shrinks. Is the puddle getting larger or is it stagnant?

If all the pipes are cold, carefully touch the metal panels covering the boiler. They usually warm up a bit when the boiler is operating normally. Listen for the faint hissing sound of the pilot light. If the  boiler is cold and completely silent, the pilot light may have gone out, triggering a shut down. Don’t attempt to relight the pilot. Keep in mind that many new boilers in the Washington DC area have pilotless electronic ignitions.

If the pilot is lit but the pipes and boiler are cold, and boiler uses fuel oil, the burner motor may have stopped working. Restarting a malfunctioning unit may cause further damage, so call a technician if you suspect this is the problem. Oil burner motors can stop working for many reasons, including soot blocking the air supply, blocked fuel line, dirty electrodes inside the motor, or seized up bearings. Only a licensed Washington DC heating technician can correctly diagnose and fix such problems.

Call Polar Bear today if you need boiler repairs in the Washington D.C. area!

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Washington DC Furnace Guide: Condensate Drain Line Freezing Problems

Monday, October 22nd, 2012

As you know, the condensate produced as byproduct during normal operation of your Washington DC home’s furnace has to be drained away. It’s toxic, very acidic and has been contaminated by the normal combustion that takes place in your furnace, so you certainly don’t want it hanging around.

The typical solution is to have it drain out through a drain pipe, usually beneath the floor of your basement foundation, or down the side of your home and out through a downspout. But have you ever had your condensate line freeze up on you? That is no fun chore to deal with.

A frozen condensate line is usually caused by poor insulation. What happens is that when the temperature drops, the rate of drainage begins to slow down and the droplets begin to freeze one by one, like icicles, until the whole pipe is frozen. This creates obvious problems and can interfere with the proper heating of your home.

Usually, this just means the pipe is poorly insulated, which is a solution that can be remedied. If you have a condensate drain line that freezes anywhere other than under the foundation – for example, one the runs down the side of your home – you can try wrapping it in heat tape.

Sometimes, the best way to rectify the situation once and for all is to reroute the pipe. This can be a somewhat involved process, depending on where the drain line is. For example, if the pipe is poorly insulated because it is buried to shallow beneath the foundation, it will have to be dug up to be rerouted along a warmer path.

If you have already tried insulating the pipe with heat tape or some other solution, but the freezing problem continues to occur, then rerouting is probably your best option. For that kind of job, the average homeowner should consult with a Washington DC heating professional, as the job can get challenging and a little dangerous.

For any heating service you need in the Washington D.C. area, give Polar Bear Air Conditioning and Heating a call today!

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Washington Heating Guide: Reasons Your Furnace Is Producing No Heat

Monday, October 15th, 2012

If you Washington home’s furnace stops producing heat, it may seem like a total emergency, and the combination of chill and frustration may cause panic to set in. Don’t start fretting too much just yet, though. There are some potentially simple causes and solutions for this problem, such as:

  • The thermostat may be set too low or on the wrong setting. Yes, it seems obvious, but sometimes the solution is staring you right in the face. Check that your thermostat is set high enough to call for heat and that it is on HEAT mode.
  • A circuit breaker may be tripped or a fuse may be blown. It could be the one dedicated to the thermostat, glow coil igniter or furnace itself. Check the breaker or fuse box in your home and either flip the breaker or replace the fuse. If it continues to trip or blow, get it looked at professionally—there may be a bigger problem going on.
  • The thermostat may not be working, so it is either improperly detecting the temperature or improperly reporting it to the furnace, so the heat does not kick on. Either way, it probably needs to be replaced.
  • The furnace is not igniting properly. This could mean the pilot light is out on furnaces without electric ignition, the gas valve is closed and can’t ignite or some other ignition malfunction. Check the pilot and gas valves to make sure they are on and working.

If you have checked all these things and the thermostat still is not working, or if you don’t feel comfortable looking into these causes on your own, you are best served by calling a professional Washington heating technician to diagnose and fix the furnace.

Often, these big failures are just the symptom of a smaller problem, so in all likelihood you won’t have to replace the furnace or do any major repairs, especially if it has been well-maintained throughout its life.

Call Polar Bear Air Conditioning and Heating today if you need heating repairs in the Washington area!

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Washington DC Heating Tip: How to Get My Furnace Ready for Winter

Monday, October 8th, 2012

If your Washington DC home is too cold, the first place to look to is your furnace, which may not be working correctly. Furnaces are like any other piece of mechanical equipment. They need to be maintained and serviced on a regular basis to ensure they are working at peak efficiency and warming your entire home at your desired comfort level.

First of all, check and see when you last had your furnace serviced. If it has been over one year ago, you should schedule a maintenance inspection from your local Washington DC heating and cooling professional. And when you make that appointment, ask about service agreements and getting on a regular maintenance schedule. Most heating and cooling contractors offer service agreement plans which include furnace and air conditioning check-ups on an annual basis.

Okay, so you know who to call for maintenance but what can you do yourself? First of all, give your furnace a little “help” by checking the vents and returns throughout the house. Ensure that there are no obstructions or blockages such as rugs, clothing, furniture, etc. You need to have unobstructed paths for your heated and return air to flow. The more congested the path, the harder your furnace will have to work. And while you’re at it, make sure your vents are open or closed, depending on how much you use your rooms. For example, if you have an extra bedroom that doesn’t need to be heated, closed off the vent or close the damper in the ductwork. The heated air will be diverted to other parts of your home where it is needed.

You can also help the airflow by vacuuming the vent cover or removing it and vacuuming any of the ductwork that you can easily get to.

Another maintenance function that you can perform is cleaning or replacing the furnace filter. Depending on the size of your home and its air quality (occupants, pets, etc.), you may want to clean or replace your air filter every one to three months. A dirty filter can restrict airflow and can put contaminants like dirt and dust right back into your air system. If you don’t know how to replace your air filter, consult the furnace owner’s manual or go online to learn more. If your furnace uses an electrostatic air filter, it will need to be removed and cleaned, either by using a hose or with soapy water and a hose. Make sure you let it dry before re-installing it.

Once you have done what you can, let Polar Bear Air Conditioning and Heating take over from there. We are licensed and trained to inspect your furnace and ensure that it is in peak operating condition.

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Washington DC Heating Question: What Exactly Are High Efficiency Boilers?

Monday, October 1st, 2012

You have already read plenty about how energy costs are rising. You know plenty well that heating your Washington DC home is a substantial expense, and that the cost of running a boiler is constantly on the rise.

But as technology has gotten better, so have boilers become more efficient at providing heat. It stands to reason that a more efficient boiler is one that costs less to run…but what does “efficient” really mean in the context of boilers? What makes a boiler “high efficiency”?

 What Is a High Efficiency Boiler?

All boilers are rated according to a standardized system of rating efficiency, called the Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE). Essentially, this rating tells you how much heat energy is produced by a boiler compared to how much energy it draws. The higher a boiler’s AFUE rating, the more efficient it is.

For a boiler to be called high efficiency, it must carry an AFUE of at least 90%. For basis of comparison, older systems carry an AFUE of about 70%, while mid-efficiency systems run at about 82%.

In addition, a high efficiency system has a second heat exchanger for capturing and condensing flue gases, as well as a closed combustion system.

These three things — an AFUE of 90% or above, condensing flue gases and closed combustion – define a high efficiency boiler.

The initial investment in a high efficiency boiler can be costly, but the savings over time in heating bills make it well worth the expense.

If you would like a high efficiency boiler installed in your Washington DC home, give Polar Bear a call today!

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