Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. Blog: Archive for February, 2014

How Electric Ignition Works on a Gas Furnace

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

If you installed a gas furnace for your heating in Washington, DC, instead of an electric one, it was probably because of the savings you receive using natural gas, a more economical power source than electricity. However, if you have a modern gas furnace, it still needs a small amount of electricity to run. The key electrical system in a gas furnace is the electric ignition, which we’ll examine in detail.

The two types of electronic ignition systems

Gas furnaces originally used standing pilot lights to ignite gas burners (and you’ll still find older models that use pilot lights). However, because standing pilot lights consume extra power to stay lit, they reduce furnace efficiency. The new electric ignition systems require only a small amount of electricity and do run continually. This is one of the reasons that new furnaces have higher efficiency ratings.

There are two types of electric ignition systems in gas furnaces:

  1. Furnace intermittent pilots – This system does use a pilot light; however, the pilot light comes on only when needed and an electric spark activates it. When the thermostat calls for heat, high voltage sent through the igniter causes a spark that ignites the pilot, and it supplies sufficient heat to turn on the burners. The pilot light shuts off when the burners do.
  2. Hot surface igniters  This is the more common system, and requires no pilot light at all because the ignition generates enough heat to ignite the burners. They are made from silicon nitride or silicon carbide and operate similar to light bulbs: current passes through them and causes their surface to turn hot. A sensor detects this heat, and then opens the gas valve to send natural gas to the burners. The heat from the igniter activates the gas jets. These igniters are durable and dependable, although they will need replacement at some point during the furnace’s lifetime. Make sure you have regular maintenance for your gas furnace so your technician will know when to change the igniter.

Maintenance Is Key

Gas furnaces are safer today than ever before, and it is partially thanks to electric igniters. But don’t let your furnace go without yearly maintenance: keeping those igniters working their best is how you know your furnace is working its best. Contact Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. to sign up for our maintenance program for your heating in Washington, DC.

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What is a Boiler Expansion Tank?

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Boilers in Washington DC are as common as forced-air furnaces: one of the pre-eminent ways we keep our homes cozy and warm in the nation’s capital. Boilers use heated water running through a series of pipes and radiators to provide heating for your home. They work extremely well in older houses which don’t have a duct system for forced-air furnaces, and also in newer houses which benefit from the comparatively simple heating process they use. The boiler’s expansion tank is a key part of that process, and it helps homeowners if they understand how it works.

In simplest terms, the boiler expansion tank helps control the pressure in the system. A boiler with too much pressure can cause a lot of problems, which makes the expansion tank an important safety feature. As the water heats up in the boiler, it expands which increases the pressure in the system. The expansion tank contains air, which unlike water, can be compressed. The air in the expansion tank thus acts as a kind of spring, absorbing the increasing pressure of the hot water without placing too much strain on the system.

Expansion tanks come in two basic types. The compression tank is a steel-walled model that uses a gauge to measure the overall pressure in the system. A bladder or diaphragm tank has a rubber bladder installed inside that can fill with water as the boiler does its job. There’s air outside the bladder on the inside of the tank to help it do its job.

Obviously whenever there’s problems with the boiler expansion tank, you need an expert to repair the damage. Trouble can come in the form of rust or a similar breach, or a damaged bladder if you’re using a bladder tank. If you own a boiler in Washington DC, then Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. is here to help. We can address your boiler expansion tank issues with courtesy and care, so don’t hesitate to give us a call today!

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Who Wrote the First Valentine’s Day Poem?

Friday, February 14th, 2014

The celebration of Valentine’s Day is often seen as a modern institution, even if the roots of the holiday go back to Late Antiquity and the figures of St. Valentine of Rome and St. Valentine of Terni. It’s difficult to separate our view of February 14th from the more recent phenomenon of greeting cards, comical cupids, and specialty treats from candy companies.

However, not only are some of these traditions older than we might think (mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards were an enormous success in early 19th-century England), but the earliest Valentine’s Day love poem comes from none other than the first great English author, Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote in the second half of the 14th-century.

Chaucer’s most famous work is The Canterbury Tales, an enormous collection of linked stories in poetry and prose. But his 700-line poem “Parlement of Foules” has the special distinction of being the first surviving record of a connection between Valentine’s Day and romantic love. Chaucer probably composed the poem in 1381–82. At the time, he was a member of the court of King Richard II, holding an important bureaucratic position in London. The date suggests that Chaucer wrote “Parelment of Foules” to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of the English king to Princess Anne of Bohemia.

The poem follows the dream of the narrator, where he walks through Venus’s temple and discovers a meeting of birds where they all choose their mates. This is where the mention of St. Valentine’s Day appears (English modernized):

For this was on St. Valentine’s Day,                                                                         

When every bird cometh there to choose his mate.                                                                  

The poem also contains a familiar Valentine’s image, Cupid with his arrows:

Under a tree, beside a well, I saw

Cupid our lord his arrows forge and file;                                                             

And at his feet his bow already lay.

When Chaucer mentions St. Valentine’s Day, is he referring specifically to February 14th? Late winter isn’t a time when birds in England would mate. However, the date for the start of spring—when some birds would have started nesting in England—was on February 23rd in the calendars of the time, certainly close enough for Chaucer to take poetic license and nudge it a bit to match with Valentine’s Day.

Love birds remain a popular symbol of Valentine’s Day even now, and for this we can thank Chaucer. In fact, he may very well have invented the link between love and Valentine’s Day, although we will probably never know for certain.

Whoever started these traditions, all of us here at Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. hope you have a wonderful February 14th!

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Rust on Your Furnace: What It Means

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

At first glance, it seems like it couldn’t happen. Your furnace generates heat and it doesn’t use water to do it. So how can rust show up on an operating furnace? In point of fact, rusty furnaces are not entirely uncommon. If you have rust on your furnace, it helps to know what it means before you contact your local  McLean, VA furnace repair service.

Rust is caused by the intermingling of water, oxygen and metal in a process called oxidation. In order for that to happen, all three elements need to be involved. Furnaces use oxygen for the burning process and their metal components are self-evident. So the question becomes, how does water enter the system?

If your furnace is in a damp part of the house such as a basement, then water can creep in from an outside source: dripping from a leaking pipe, for example, or gathering from a breach in the wall. But that’s not the only place it can happen. The natural gases used to fuel the furnace can contain trace amounts of water vapor. When the gases burn, the toxic components separate from the rest of the gases in the heat exchanger and are vented safely out of your home.  This includes water vapor, but if the vapor cools before it exits the flue, it can condense and cause rust damage.

The effects can’t be seen right away and may take years to manifest, but when they arise, they are devastating. Rust will corrode and destroy the metal in your furnace, forcing you to replace the affected components at great cost. In the case of the heat exchangers, rust can create actively dangerous circumstances, since a broken heat exchanger could result in toxic gases being released into your home. If you spot rust on your furnace, call Polar Bear Air Conditioning & Heating Inc. to get it fixed. We can replace the rusty component as well as correcting the problems that created the rust n the first place. Give us a call today to set up your McLean, VA furnace repair service.

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