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In Episode 1, Jim and Peter discuss the pros and cons of different types of water heaters and air conditioning units as well as the associated maintenance and considerations for each. Topics include what kind of what heater works best for your home, when you should replace your water hater, as well as common problems and solutions with water heaters. The discussion then transitions to air conditioners for residential homes where Jim and Peter discuss air conditioner selection, maintenance, and tips.
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Jim Salmon: Hi, everybody. Welcome to the houseatwork.com Home Repair Clinic. My name is Jim Salmon.
Peter Schick : I’m Peter Schick.
Jim Salmon: And you’re Peter Schick.
Peter Schick : Yes, I am. Here I am.
Jim Salmon: Today we’re going to talk about home repair, water heaters, air conditioning, maybe a little wet basement action as we’re going along?
Peter Schick : Yeah, it’s a lot of the things we’ve been hearing on your show.
Jim Salmon: Absolutely.
Peter Schick : Especially the water heater piece. Like, selection of it, maintenance of it. Pretty much anything, whether it’s a tankless, or one that has a tank. Whatever it is, we’ve just been getting a lot of questions on that, so we’ll just be figuring out what knowledge we can drop on you.
Jim Salmon: There you go. Pretty much everybody has a water heater. We’ll get into that here in a second, but I thought we’d take a minute or so and introduce ourselves. Peter Schick, why don’t you star with that, and tell folks who you are.
Peter Schick : So, I’m Peter Schick. I’m a real estate agent here in Rochester, New York. I mostly focus on income properties, and also flips. I do some of the work myself, for the flips that I do. I do some residential work, in terms of representing clients for single family stuff, but mostly in income properties and flips.
Jim Salmon: So, basically what you just said there, is you have a lot of money.
Peter Schick : Well, yeah, no. The bank helps me out on certain things. I wouldn’t go that far.
Jim Salmon: That’s a great subject, too, is to talk flips, because a lot of people are doing that, but I’ll just take a minute and introduce myself. My name is Jim Salmon, and I am a home inspector here in Rochester, New York. I’m also-
Peter Schick : Yeah, you’re one of my nemesis’, as a real estate agent.
Jim Salmon: That’s going to be great. Therein lies a show. So, I do home inspections. Pre-purchased home inspections for people that are buying a house. Or people that are getting ready to sell their house. Or people that are buying commercial buildings, or whatever. You hire me to go in there and look at it for you. We meet, and talk about it, whatever, and it’s all good.
Peter Schick : Well, let me just tell you one thing about Jim here. I have heard through the grapevine, throughout town, working with other home owners, working with other agents, this guy’s a nightmare for a lot of them. He will point out these tiny, minuscule things, and then the next thing you know the buyer’s getting something saying, from the engineer’s inspection, “This needs to get fixed.” And they always remember it. It makes guys like me want to pull my hair out, when I have to deal with some of these little fixes. Like, come one, let’s just close this. Let’s just get on with our lives.
Jim Salmon: Whenever I show up to do a home inspection, the real estate folks are usually there, my client’s there, who I usually haven’t met. And they don’t know whatever, so I start out, and I make everybody calm and explain that I am here for you. I represent you. And you should see the agents eyes rolling. “You’re not here for him!” But anyway. So, therein lies another show. I’m also a, for the past 30 years almost, the host of the Home Repair Clinic radio programs on News Radio WAM 1180 in Rochester, New York. You can listen to those shows on wam1180.com, or my website at jimsalmon.com. Also, run the website, which, as you do, too. So, we’re busy guys.
Peter Schick : Yep, making it happen.
Jim Salmon: So, we thought we’d come in here and start it off today with water heaters.
Peter Schick : Yeah, as we discussed.
Jim Salmon: On a radio program we get tons and tons of people calling in, “My water heater makes noise. It leaks. It didn’t last long. Or, how long will it last?” All great questions, so we thought we’d cover most of them today.
Peter Schick : Definitely. One of the things I’ve heard a lot, and I’ve actually experienced this, is when it starts leaking. To me, that’s … I mean, so many people, they don’t want to bite the bullet, but there’s only so much you can do at that point. That, to me, now, you have more experience with this. But, to me, that signals, that’s a big red flag to me. This thing needs to get replaced.
Jim Salmon: Yeah, when it leaks, it still may be working for a few days after that, but if it’s leaking out of the bottom that means there’s a pinhole in the bottom of the tank inside, and people think, “Wow, how can it leak? It’s glass lined.” Well, you don’t understand. It’s not like a thermos bottle with this big, thick glass liner. It’s just got a little bit of stuff sprayed on the inside of the tank, and some of that just wears away, and some impurities sometimes, and it leaks on the floor, and you’re done.
Peter Schick : And there’s only so many years these things are going to last. I mean, I think if you got maybe a dozen years out of it, it’s gone it’s course. It’s run it’s course.
Jim Salmon: That’s exactly right. Twelve years is the average life expectancy of a modern gas water heater. Now sometimes you can squeeze a little bit more out of an electric one by replacing elements or whatever, but usually it’s twelve, in and out, with gas.
Peter Schick : Now, this is a good thing to kind of dove tail off of. The electric one. Because, the place I just got has an electric one in it. They say, because that hurts your utility bill, meaning that’s going to cost a lot more to actually have an electric one over a gas one. That’s what I’ve heard. Is that just a myth? Or is that more kind of like, yeah, that’s more grounded in fact.
Jim Salmon: It’s not a myth. It is true, but it’s not true in every parts of the country. Some parts of the United States of America electricity is extremely inexpensive, and it makes sense. But other parts, like our area here, where the municipal electric rates are very, very high, unless you get into an area that has … A town, if you will, that has its own municipal electric. Sometimes there you can really save money and it makes sense.
Peter Schick : Like here in Rochester, Fairport Electric is kind of a … That’s a big deal there, where that’s a good reason to move there.
Jim Salmon: I think we have three or four of those around here, Fairport, New York, Churchville, Holly, New York, all have their town municipal electric companies that were set up years ago. They buy their own power and the folks get the benefit of the reduced price on that. I still think, though, that natural gas fired water heaters, natural gas being very, very inexpensive right now. It’s been that way for years, and I don’t see that changing too much. So, gas is usually the way to-
Peter Schick : Now, is there more of a … Is there efficiency concerns with that? Namely between electric and natural gas? I’ve always been led to believe, I’ve been to believe-
Jim Salmon: An electric water heater is 100% efficient, because every watt, a watt is a watt. It comes in, it comes out, and for every electric whatever that goes in there, you get the same amount of heat back.
Peter Schick : Interesting, because I heard kind of this myth going around where it’s more of gas is more efficient.
Jim Salmon: That’s not true.
Peter Schick : Okay.
Jim Salmon: That’s because it has a-
Peter Schick : That actually makes sense because it’s radiating.
Jim Salmon: There’s a waste bi-product of it. Even though modern, power vented water heaters, and even on-demand water heaters are extremely efficient between 90 and 97% depending on the ones you buy, that still means there is some waste that comes out of there. So, it’s not 100 like electricity.
Peter Schick : That’s actually very interesting, because that is a very commonly held thing that I’ve heard from many people. Many home owners I talk to. “Oh, yes. The natural gas is so much more efficient. I want that.” But, that’s not necessarily true.
Jim Salmon: No, it isn’t. But, most of the time it makes more sense to do gas then it does electric, unless you live in one of those towns that we talked about. Now, there’s several kinds of water heaters. A regular atmospheric drafting water heater. They’re still available, and the building codes changed a little bit, so we’re not on three inch flues anymore. They all have to be four inch, and those need to vent into a chimney. Then there’s power vented water heaters, which use up, they’re so much more efficient, that what’s left is about a 90 degree temperature flue gas, and you can vent with plastic. You can go right out the side wall, you don’t need the-
Peter Schick : Ah, so you don’t need to worry about connecting that to a chimney, or anything else. Pretty much you could treat the flue, essentially like, how you treat a dryer vent, more or less.
Jim Salmon: Right. The only draw back with that, though, is that we grew up with atmospheric water heaters, and when the power goes out the water heater still worked. With a power vented water heater, there’s a fan on top of it that blows the flue gasses out, and if that’s not operating the gas valve won’t turn on, so thus, you don’t get hot water.
Peter Schick : Yeah, exactly. That actually brings up an interesting point, because here in Rochester a few months ago we had this really bad blackout. What was it, March or so? Because of the wind storm.
Jim Salmon: Yeah, it was out, some of the houses were out for two weeks.
Peter Schick : Yeah, and we weren’t the only ones. I want to say it’s … Because I have family who live in Wisconsin, and they had a windstorm there, and that windstorm came here like a week later. Because my folks had, they were living in Madison, Wisconsin, and they had a power outage, too, and that preceded ours by a few days. I remember during this, I had the water heater you’re mentioning, and I was like, “Thank you, so much. I still have hot water right now. I might not have heat, but I have hot water.” Because that was the one thing. If I didn’t have the hot water, I’m getting a hotel. I was already contingency planning for that.
Jim Salmon: If you get too cold because the furnace isn’t on, you can get in the water heater, you can get in the shower and get warm, at least.
Peter Schick : Exactly, you have that working for you. I always thoughts about that, and I was like, “Well, if this goes, I’m going to a hotel.” That was kind of like the decision point.
Jim Salmon: Now, the evolution of water heaters, of course, have gone to on-demand water heaters.
Peter Schick : Yep.
Jim Salmon: Which are vastly different. They’re square, rectangular boxes that mount to the wall.
Peter Schick : Yeah, it doesn’t take up nearly as much space.
Jim Salmon: Europe has had these types of water heaters for 50 years. Of course, we’re a little slow on this. When they started here, 10/15 years ago, they were all vented with metal, which was a challenge. Once we got to high efficiency on these, now they’re all vented with plastic, and a typical house, a 2,000 square foot house with two and a half bathrooms, 180 to 200,000 BTU on demand water heater is what I see, a lot of times, out there as a home inspector.
Peter Schick : That’s interesting, because-
Jim Salmon: Now, there are some problems with it, but, like anything else.
Peter Schick : What are some of the problems? Because everybody talks up the on-demand ones.
Jim Salmon: I’m not a big fan of on-demand water heaters, I’ll be honest with you. You take a family of five, okay? I don’t know about your house, but you’re a little younger than I am. But, when the kids are running around and the dogs, and the whole stuff, whatever. Showers, there’s the dishwasher, the laundry’s going every single day. Sometimes you get into this a little bit, and the on-demand water heater can’t really keep up like you would like it to. So, you have to have rules. Like, when somebody’s in the shower the d-dub isn’t running.
Peter Schick : So, it’s not necessarily as warm as you would potentially like it to be? Is that what you mean?
Jim Salmon: No, it’s a volume thing, too. It can only process so much hot water at once. When it’s working, it’s constant. But if you have three or four things on, sometimes it just, it just can’t-
Peter Schick : Oh, I see. So, there’s only so much stress the system can take, in terms of-
Jim Salmon: But you’re right, though. It does turn into temperature. If there’s three things running, and then you put a fourth thing on there and it’s not able to keep up with that, the water won’t be as warm. Then there’s a point where the on-demand water heater needs a certain amount of pressure and volume flowing through it to actually turn on. So, sometimes you run into issues with that.
Peter Schick : I see. I think another issue that’s actually worth bringing up with that is, now up here we don’t have issues with water. We have tons of, we have no issues with that.
Jim Salmon: Actually, we have too much water.
Peter Schick : Yeah, exactly. We’ve had too much water, recently. I will definitely say that much. I think our friends on the lake will agree with us, but say if you’re … I’d say around a year ago, like California, Texas, they were going through a pretty severe drought. So, now water consumption’s going to start becoming more and more of a concern. Now, I would assume that having an on-demand water heater would make it where you wouldn’t necessarily think about your water consumption as much. Meaning, kind of like if you have a water heater tank, you start running out of hot water, it makes you think, “Well, I’m not going to use as much water.”
Jim Salmon: You know, I’ve never thought about that before, but now that you mention it, that’s not a bad idea. Because I have friends that routinely drain down, clean their hot tub and refill it with their on-demand water heater. Which is ridiculous. Only an idiot would do that. Some people try to get the swimming pool up to the right temperatures with an on-demand water heater. And you think, if money’s no object, whatever. But, it does give you the ability to not have to worry about all you have is 40 or 50 gallons, and you’re out. This thing will go forever. So, from that aspect, maybe you do things you wouldn’t normally do.
Peter Schick : Where there isn’t that kind of check where, “Okay, I’m running out. I’m not going to run the hot water.”
Jim Salmon: People ask me all the time, “What do you think of those on-demand water heaters?” I go, “Okay, if you’re situation is good for that, then that’s okay.” What would make it good? Okay, maybe you’re not home a lot. Maybe you go to Florida for six months. Perfect. You’re water heater’s on, you don’t have standing … You use no gas in the six months you’re in Florida. You come back, you fire it up, and away you go. Now with a tank water heater, you have the ability to put it on vacation setting, but you’re still-
Peter Schick : Yeah, but how many people actually do that? That’s the other thing. It’s only as good as the home owner’s knowledge of the actual thing. Because I’ve done that before. I have, but not very often. It’s not one of the things that’s on top of my checklist when I’m going on vacation.
Jim Salmon: We can do a whole show on what to do when you’re gone for a few months, and your house, and you’re right. That does happen, but I think that when it comes to on-demand, it has to be perfectly tailored for your family. For one or two people, perfect.
Peter Schick : I agree.
Jim Salmon: One of the biggest complaints I get about water heaters is the noise they make. There’s a ton of different noises that water heaters make. An electric water heater, for instance, produced a humming noise.
Peter Schick : Yep, I’ve heard that one.
Jim Salmon: That’s normal. There’s not a lot you can do with that. The older the element, the more you might find that it makes humming noises. You always have the ability to change out the elements, which are 25 bucks a piece. They’re not that expensive. Rumbling, popping, and cracking noises are all usually associated with a gas water heater. Those are mineral deposits, and stuff on the bottom of the tank. Every once in a while I’ll show up at a house, do a home inspection, and the home owner’s so proud of his 1954 John Wood Penfield water heater that’s … What he doesn’t understand is you’re heating through eight inches of slag in the bottom of that tank before you get to any water. So, it’s grossly inefficient.
Peter Schick : Super inefficient, yeah.
Jim Salmon: Calcium, lime deposits make those noises. Rumbling noises. Some water heaters produce a little bit of hydrogen gas from the heating process, which can pocket at the top of the water heater, then when you turn on a hot faucet you get that gas coming out, and it’s spitting. That’s not a rural, but it does happen sometimes.
Peter Schick : One thing, and you mentioned, kind of, some of the noises it might make. I think, I don’t want people to necessarily mistake that with like, say, if you have a boiler. That’s a whole different, that’s a whole other animal there, because you’ll hear the clanking and everything else, but that’s more from air in the line, or whatnot. So, you hear that noise, that’s not necessarily your water heater, that’s your boiler.
Jim Salmon: I’ve been in buildings where the water heater is actually screaming, and it’s like a sizzling, very annoying. Then I’ll go up to a valve, and the valve’s like halfway shut for some reason. I’ll open a valve and it completely stops. Screaming noises with water heaters come from water passing through a smaller opening for some reason. Every once in a while your kid climbs up on a ladder and he shuts a valve halfway off, or something like that.
Peter Schick : Or you’re trying to shut off something else. Say you’re putting in a new vanity or something, you shut off the water and then forget, yeah. Yep.
Jim Salmon: Water hammers happen a lot, and so does thermal expansion, with water heaters. There’s a temperature and pressure relief valve on the side of the water heater, with a discharge tube that’s supposed to take it down to about six inches to the floor. In my career, three or four times, I’ve had those just go off in proximity to me, and that’s scalding water, that’s why the discharge tube.
Peter Schick : Yes, the discharge tube, that’s really important. That it’s actually going all the way to the ground.
Jim Salmon: I think that if … I used to work in the home center business, and people would come in, “The temperature and pressure relief valve leaks.” And they thought it was the temperature and pressure relief valve. So, they buy another one, take it home, then they bring that one back and say, “This one’s bad, too. It leaks, also.” But it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. There’s nothing wrong with it.
Peter Schick : Yes, relieving the pressure. Now, there could be issues, what I’ve seen with some of the pressure release valves, where the o-ring, the rubber o-ring that’s on that. Like, if you don’t … It could start getting, over time that starts drying out, starts cracking. Then it’s always going to be kind of leaking. Have you seen a lot of that, before?
Jim Salmon: Yeah, we see that once in a while. Especially if your water heater’s very old, and it’s never leaked, and nobody’s ever flipped it, don’t touch that switch. Don’t touch that handle on there, because once you do that it’s … You know it’s going to continue to leak, and then you’re into an issue. But the thing that happens with these is, when you heat water you create pressure, right?
Peter Schick : Yep.
Jim Salmon: And, some houses have back flow preventers near the water meter. It’s either in the pressure reducing valve, or whatever, and it won’t allow water that’s already been in your house, the pressure to exceed the pressure and push that water that’s already been in your house back down to the municipal system where it goes to your neighbor. That’s not potable, we don’t want to do that. So, many houses have back flow preventers that won’t let that happen, but the downside of that is, some plumbing systems, you heat water and it creates enough pressure to bring it up to 150 pounds, and it weeps off on the TMP valve on the water heater. And, I see people put caps on them, we don’t want that.
Peter Schick : No, let it do it’s thing.
Jim Salmon: Every once in a while, every year there’s a couple of water heaters that blow up in the United States, and you see pictures of the thing, like a rocket, going through the second floor and out the roof. The TMP valve is there to act as the first line of defense against the thing sticking on wide open and then blowing up, like a pressure cooker. Anyway, don’t ever put a cap on it. But, certain houses have this thermal expansion issue, and it’s solved very easily by installing a one gallon exteral tank, or a pressure tank. It has a bladder in it that’s about half full of air, half full of water, and that absorbs the fluctuations in pressure.
Peter Schick : So, it’s an expansion tank essentially. Okay.
Jim Salmon: You install that as close to the hot site as you can, and that just acts as a protector on that. Once you install that, I would say that maybe 10/15% of the houses that I inspect have expansion tanks near the water meter.
Peter Schick : Yeah, I think that’s, yeah. I see that fairly regularly, too. Now, one of the things that, I think, if you’re a layman, and you have one of these, and the pressure release valve does weep a little water. I think a lot of people, the problem is they think that, like you said, it’s broken. So, then, I plug it up. But, no. That isn’t the case. Don’t do that. Let it do it’s thing. It’s actually, it’s working its magic, is what it’s doing.
Jim Salmon: Also, those pressure tanks will help if you have a water hammer problem.
Peter Schick : Yep.
Jim Salmon: Especially those of you which have Pex plumbing, which is a plastic evolution of plumbing.
Peter Schick : Yep, I’ve been seeing that a lot more lately.
Jim Salmon: Pex is great. There’s all kinds of brands of that, but Pex is the main brand that we have around here, the fittings and whatever. I have a plumber buddy who, whenever I need plumbing work done, I just borrow his Pex tools. And there’s a little tool chest here with all the fittings in there, and I don’t know how much they are because I never have to pay him, so.
Peter Schick : Well, yeah, I’ll tell you this is a lot cheaper than, say, copper pipe.
Jim Salmon: Oh yeah, it is. Copper’s nuts right now.
Peter Schick : I will go with that all day long. I’ll go with the flex piping.
Jim Salmon: But that pressure tank can also help you with water hammer noises. The reason I brought up Pex is that sometimes with plastic plumbing they seem to, maybe on a bathroom vanity, or a kitchen sink, or whatever, you develop a water hammer noise. Which is like that machine gun type sound.
Peter Schick : Yeah, I know that one.
Jim Salmon: Most of the plastic plumbing companies like Pex make a little shock absorber that can be installed under the sink for those. So, that’s … Sometimes the one you install in the water heater will help throughout the house with water hammers.
Peter Schick : Okay, that’s good to know.
Jim Salmon: Have we exhausted water heaters? Should we move on to-
Peter Schick : I don’t know. We went really long with the water heaters there.
Jim Salmon: Well, there’s a lot of … This would be a good time to introduce ourselves again. My name’s Jim Salmon, his name is Peter Schick, and houseatwork.com Home Repair Clinic is what you’re listening to. We do have an email address where if people would like to write in, we’ll deal with these answers on the podcast.
Peter Schick : Yep, if you write us at contactus, all one word, at houseatwork.com, you send us your question and we’ll do our best to answer it for you, and there’s a good chance we might actually bring it up on the podcast.
Jim Salmon: Yeah. Now, this time of year, being early June, we’re starting to think about, especially around here, the temperatures in the 80s. Air conditioning is firing up.
Peter Schick : Yeah, exactly. Summer finally came here. And it’s been pretty cold up to this point. Well, I’d say, unseasonably cool, we’ll call it. I won’t say cold, but unseasonably cool. Now everybody’s starting to think, of course, it’s not a problem until it is. Now people have their mind on AC units, fixing their AC if it’s not working right now. So, yeah, as you said.
Jim Salmon: After, I don’t know. How do I put this? After winter time, when all the covers are now off of the air conditioner compressor cabinets that are outside, you look for the ones that have the u-shaped dent in them from the ice stand that fell off the roof.
Peter Schick : Yeah, from the gutter, and it just smashes it.
Jim Salmon: Those are done. That’s a replacement type of thing. I’ve seen them where the dents go ten inches into the top of the cabinet. It’s just crazy.
Peter Schick : What an interesting question would be, would insurance cover that? That’d be …
Jim Salmon: Gosh, good question.
Peter Schick : Because you’d think, well, it was an ice stand that formed on my gutter, and it fell. What are you going to do about it? It’s kind of like if a tree falls on your house.
Jim Salmon: I would say yes, to that. I think so.
Peter Schick : That’s kind of what I was leaning towards, as well. If I had my home owner’s policy I’d call them up, say, “Hey, I had an ice stand fall on my AC unit. Can I get a new AC unit?” If they didn’t cover that, I’d be kind of scratching my head.
Jim Salmon: Now, if it was an asteroid or something, that’s another matter. They don’t cover that, I already know that. If your air conditioner has some damage, and obviously all you have to do is take a quick look at it, if it has some damage then you get a heating professional in there to check it out, because most home owners are not … 99.9% of the home owners are not qualified to do anything to their AC.
Peter Schick : No, I wouldn’t even touch it.
Jim Salmon: The only thing you could do, I noticed this week, in our area, the cottonwood trees are producing … And cottonwood floating around can take an completely cover, and mat over, an air conditioner compressor cabinet. Most people think that air conditioners are somehow making cold air magically, and bringing it in.
Peter Schick : Yeah, you just have some elves working in there. Just turning a few wrenches, making the fan spin.
Jim Salmon: When in reality, what an air conditioner does is take heat out of your house, out to that compressor cabinet and giving it off. Thus cooling your home. You take the heat out, it gets cooler. So, if these, the little fins, like radiator fins around the outside of the compressor cabinet, are all filled up with cottonwood and matted over, it can’t give off as much heat. So, therefor it becomes much less efficient. If your AC unit is, oh, let’s say 12 to 15 years old, it’s in the last, certainly quarter of its life.
Peter Schick : Yeah, I’ve seen some that have lasted 20 years, and they’re still on Freon, and everything else, and it’s like … People asking, “Hey, can I salvage this?” It’s like, “You can’t even buy the coolant anymore, for that.”
Jim Salmon: It’s a behemoth. It’s an albatross.
Peter Schick : Yeah.
Jim Salmon: Freon is r22 coolant. And r22 coolant was what we used for 50 years. It was great. Well, let me put it this way. It was cheap, and it was available, and it made air conditioning for most Americans since the 40s. It’s called a hydrochloral fluorocarbon.
Peter Schick : That’s a mouthful.
Jim Salmon: Yeah, it’s a big mouthful. The chloral part of it, the way I understand it, and I’m not a scientist guy. Which, you probably can already tell. That’s, they say, destroys the ozone layer. So, now in comes more modern coolants, which are actually hydro fluorocarbants instead of hydrochloral fluorocarbants.
Peter Schick : I almost feel like you’re really splitting hairs, but I’m sure there’s some really big difference, like you stated, between those.
Jim Salmon: As far as I’m concerned, it’s a government money grab. Every air conditioner eventually needs to be replaced. Every refrigerator coolant got changed. It was a money grab, and I’d love to know who started it. The ozone layer? Okay.
Peter Schick : Yeah, they’re rolling in the dough, now, whoever they are.
Jim Salmon: I don’t sign on to a lot of tradition things that a lot of people sign on to. So, if you’re listening to this, and you do believe in the whole global warming thing, and the fact that the ozone layer was destroyed by Freon, then I apologize. Please don’t take it personally. It’s just my opinion. But, you know, r22’s no longer available.
Peter Schick : Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard. The only way you can get that is if like, I don’t know.
Jim Salmon: It’s like 200 and something dollars a pint now, too. So, if you have an old-
Peter Schick : It’s very rare. You have to go out of your way to find it. And if you do find it, is it really worth it, to actually … You might as well just bite the bullet, get the new one.
Jim Salmon: The other part of that is, most of the coolants that we’re using now … The coolant we’re using now is r410a, which is actually better than Freon. It can transfer more heat, in the chemical process, from your house to the cabinet, than Freon could. But it has other things. People ask me all the time, “Well, can I use the long copper tubes that go from my furnace, from the A-coil above my furnace, to the compressor cabinet outside. Can I re-use that?” The answer is no. It’s contaminated with the oils, and the Freon, and the stuff that was in there to begin with, and it’s not compatible at all with the new refrigerants, and the oils that they use to lubricate them. So, that, unfortunately-
Peter Schick : So, it’s not as easy as just wham, bam, thank you, ma’am. Here’s a new AC unit. There needs to be actually some significant plumbing work that’s actually going to have to take place.
Jim Salmon: The A-coil above your furnace, and you can’t see it, because it’s in a plenum, if you will. What that does is, it allows the heat that comes through that plenum to be transferred through the copper, into the coolant, where it’s then pumped outside, and given off at the compressor cabinet by the fan. None of that can be re-used. That means they have to take apart that plenum and replace the A-coil. The A-coil can’t be re-used, and then the whole compressor cabinet. One of the biggest differences between r22 and r410a is the pressure in the system. I don’t know exactly how much more, but r410a is a lot more. Yeah, so what that meant is the folks trained in [inaudible 00:28:48] and all those guys making modern compressor cabinets, had to make a better compressor.
Peter Schick : It has to withstand those additional pressures now.
Jim Salmon: Exactly.
Peter Schick : Okay. I did not realize that. I didn’t realize there was that much difference in the plumbing that have to be worked on.
Jim Salmon: It’s 50% more pressure in that line, r410a, than it is r22.
Peter Schick : Oh, wow. That is significant. That is really significant.
Jim Salmon: It’s all good, but the coolants work today. They work very well. And as long as the system’s properly installed, that’s a mouthful, too, because that doesn’t always happen. As a heating guy, you have to start somewhere. So, learning how to put this all together is not a perfect science. You want to do your research, and find out who’s the best in your town when it comes to installing that kind of stuff.
Peter Schick : Oh, I definitely agree with that. That’s not something you, on the job training, you’re really going to do.
Jim Salmon: Like anything else. You had to start out day one writing your first real estate offer, and I had to do my first home inspection. I know right where that house is, too. The bottom line on that is you get lots of estimates, you do your homework. We’ll talk about sear rating here, in a second, but as far as maintenance is concerned, when they install that compressor cabinet outside, first of all it has to be level. There’s a coolant sensor in there that, or coolant heater, that maintains a certain temperature of the heater, so that when you turn it on it works properly. That’s why, if you turn the breaker off to your air conditioner, in the winter time, before you operate it. You can’t just flip the switch and go, you need to make sure its on a day, so that everything can be even.
Peter Schick : Exactly.
Jim Salmon: When they install that cabinet compressor, you don’t want it right up against the house.
Peter Schick : Yeah, you need a little space.
Jim Salmon: What I operate on is about two feel all the way around. That way that can give off the heat, and be as efficient as it possibly can.
Peter Schick : That makes sense.
Jim Salmon: I find ivy growing all over them, and [inaudible 00:30:55], and people plant shrubs on either side because they don’t want to look at it. I get that, but it’s all about how much it costs you to operate it, and whether it really cools your house or not.
Peter Schick : Exactly, exactly. Now, when you’re selecting who to go with, in terms of installing one of these. Like, an HVAC contractor, what are some of the things that you can kind of look for to make sure, “Hey, they’re kind of doing the right thing.” Say I’m a layman, I don’t really know. What are some things, basic things, that you should look for?
Jim Salmon: All right, here’s the deal. A guy shows up. You call him, makes an appointment, he showed up on time, which is good. He walks down to the basement, and he looks at the furnace. He goes out and looks at the compressor cabinet. You have a three ton unit, and your house is, let’s say, 2,500 square feet. He says, “Okay, we’ll quote you a three ton unit.” That’s a mistake. What is in there, in a furnace, and what is in there, in an air conditioner, isn’t necessarily the right one for that house. Things have changed a lot. If you have a house that was built in 1950 and had one inch of insulation in your attic, and then two years ago you tore that all out of there and had your house spray foamed with [inaudible 00:32:06] polyurethane-
Peter Schick : That’s a lot more efficient, yep.
Jim Salmon: Whoever comes to your house to quote a heating or air conditioning system needs to do some heat loss calculations on your house and make sure the right one is there. Especially with furnaces.
Peter Schick : Very, very true.
Jim Salmon: 100 thousand in, 100 thousand out. Many times not. The design efficiencies have changed, too.
Peter Schick : Exactly. The same thing with the efficiencies of the AC unit itself. In the past ten years they’ve gotten better, and same thing with the furnace itself. They’ve gotten more efficient. They’re going to need less power to be able to do more, essentially.
Jim Salmon: Right.
Peter Schick : They just need an energy audit, is essentially … Energy audit, would that be the best way to describe it?
Jim Salmon: That’s one way, although most experienced heating contractor guys and gals can look at a house, inspect what they need, and be able to determine what goes there. I would trust their intuition on a particular house, too. That’s part of what you’re paying for, is the guy’s got to know what the right one is to put in your house. The installation should be pretty. It shouldn’t be ugly. There’s shouldn’t be jagged edges of things, and it should be sealed up nicely. I can tell, every once in a while I’ll walk into a house and I’m thinking to myself, “Wow, who put this in? This is really great.” Or then, “Oh my gosh, I’ve got to be careful I don’t get cut.”
Peter Schick : Spray foam all over the place, yeah.
Jim Salmon: So, it’s … A lot of that … A bigger company isn’t necessarily the best, because they have 25 trucks, and you’re only as good as your worst, or newest guy. You know, I’m not sure that the biggest company is always the best, but then you don’t want a guy that just doesn’t have a good reputation, either. There’s plenty of ways to check people’s reputation. The internet’s a wonderful thing.
Peter Schick : Yeah, it is.
Jim Salmon: One of the misconceptions about air conditioning is, people think that somehow it uses the coolant. Like it burns Freon, or it burns r410a.
Peter Schick : I’ve hear that one, too. I’ve heard that one a lot.
Jim Salmon: I represent Train heating and air conditioning systems on my radio program, and Train did a study, if you will, about why systems fail, why they leak, and all of a sudden you have low coolant, because it’s a closed system. It doesn’t use coolant. It’s supposed to just continue forever. What it turned out to be was formaldehyde in every house. Every house has a ton of formaldehyde.
Peter Schick : Really?
Jim Salmon: You don’t know it, and some more people are sensitized to it than others. Kitchen counter tops, and lead particle board-
Peter Schick : Oh yeah, this was the same thing with Lumber Liquidators, a little while ago. They had very high amounts of formaldehyde in the flooring that they sold.
Jim Salmon: Right, that is part of what’s going on here. But it doesn’t even have to be anywhere near the action levels for having too much of this. It can be just a very small amount, and somehow it is attracted to the A-coil inside, because the cold air return is passing air-
Peter Schick : Interesting.
Jim Salmon: Yeah, and it created these little teeny weenie pin holes in the A-coil, which then leaked extremely slowly. The next thing you know you’re out of coolant.
Peter Schick : Oh, there you go. So, that’s how a closed system … I see now.
Jim Salmon: And your heating guy shows up, right? And he’s got a little detector that he can check for coolant leaks, right? And he’s tightening all the fittings, he’s looking at all the usual suspects, and he goes, “I don’t see any leaks here.” So, he takes out the coolant and he fills it back up again, and it might be a week later, it might be two years later, you’re right back where you started because it has these little teeny holes-
Peter Schick : Yeah, the original problem never got fixed. The coil never got replaced.
Jim Salmon: Right.
Peter Schick : When it was just, “I’ll do what the customer is telling me, replace the coolant.” That’s not necessarily the problem, the underlying issue. So, it makes sense.
Jim Salmon: Anyway, don’t believe that your unit uses coolant at all, because it doesn’t.
Peter Schick : You know what? You learn something every day, and wow. I didn’t realize that. Especially with the formaldehyde piece.
Jim Salmon: The next thing we probably ought to talk about, while we’re on air conditioning, and … How are we doing time wise? We all right?
Peter Schick : We’re like at, yeah. Wow.
Jim Salmon: We’re having fun.
Peter Schick : We’re doing it. Doing it to it.
Jim Salmon: Air conditioners are rated by what’s called the sear rating. Seasonal energy efficiency quotient, or something like that. [crosstalk 00:36:45].
Peter Schick : Quotient, whatever man! It’s something like that.
Jim Salmon: It’s interesting because the government, man, when they stick their nose in stuff-
Peter Schick : Oh, you and your government mandates, I know you love them, Jim.
Jim Salmon: They mandated a sear rating of 13 or better.
Peter Schick : Okay, so, how does this … Yeah, well you’re about to tell me how this actually works.
Jim Salmon: So, and I have to go backwards and re-read this thing. It’s all done on a calculation of how much money it costs to cool something to a certain degree.
Peter Schick : Okay.
Jim Salmon: So, they come up with these ratings, and for years we were in the 13 to 15 range. When the 16s came out, maybe eight years ago, that was great. Now we’re in the 18, 20, 22, and 23 sear ratings. Which, seasonal energy efficiency ratio.
Peter Schick : There you go, ratio.
Jim Salmon: That’s the proper term. The older you get, the small print, you know. You know, most people are buying the 13 to 16s because they’re pretty inexpensive. For those folks where money’s no object, or you’re buying a new house and you fold it into your mortgage, or whatever. You buy as efficient an air conditioner as you can get your hands on. These systems can be 10/15 thousand dollars.
Peter Schick : Oh, wow. That much?
Jim Salmon: And the 13s can be in the 65 to 85 range. I’m talking doing furnace and air conditioning.
Peter Schick : Okay, I was about to say. I was thinking, AC alone … I was thinking, okay. I’m thinking the number’s like four thousand, five thousand, something like that. Depending on square footage, you know.
Jim Salmon: There’s always the low end, and there’s always somebody out there, because this is America and this is how we operate, the better price sometimes wins. There are air conditioners, the whole thing start to finish for 25 hundred. Then you stick a furnace in there, so maybe you’re at 44/45 hundred.
Peter Schick : This is one thing that I always, when I talk with a lot of home owners, that they need to understand. It’s very seldom you’re ever going to get quality and low price. This is one of the things I’ve always heard, “I’m going to get the rock bottom price, but I’m also going to get the highest of quality.”
Jim Salmon: The thing I disagree with that on is wine.
Peter Schick : Wine?
Jim Salmon: But I think, by and large, when something’s less expensive, you’re right. When something’s less expensive, there’s something not there.
Peter Schick : Well, wines are a little different when you bring that up. I saw some show where they talked about this guy who just re-bottled like, some box wine, and then sold it for double the price. Or he made it seem like it was some vintage, like 1950 whatever, and sold it for like $1,000. Okay, there’s an exception. That is an exception right there, Jim.
Jim Salmon: All right. You’re listening, folks, to the houseatwork.com Home Repair Clinic. Hope you enjoyed our podcast. My name’s Jim Salmon.
Peter Schick : Name’s Peter Schick.
Jim Salmon: And we will be back with another podcast soon, tune in.