DIY Frequently Asked Questions

Heating & Cooling FAQ's

What does the R-value on insulation mean?

R refers to resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the greater the effectiveness of the insulation. The R-value depends on the type of material, its thickness and density.

Can I stack insulation to get a higher R-value?

Yes. For example, two R-19 batts can be stacked on each other to create R-38 insulation. You also can add loose-fill insulation on top of a bottom layer of batts.

I already have some loose-fill insulation in my attic. How do I know if I need more?

Generally, if you have less than 9” of insulation on the attic floor, it needs more.

How do I attach insulation between floor joists?

Insulation must be installed with the vapor barrier facing up. This means the paper flanges cannot be used. Use insulation supports (thin metal rods) to support the insulation. You can also attach a string in a lace pattern across the bottom of the joists.

Why do I need vents in my attic?

Venting protects against moisture buildup in the attic and framing materials and helps keep the home cooler. In the summer, a tremendous amount of heat can build up in the attic, which can make the air conditioning system work much harder than it needs to. Venting keeps the attic cooler because it allows that hot air a place to escape. In the winter, vapor occurs when the warm air inside the house meets the cool air outside and condenses into water droplets. Ventilation keeps this moisture from rotting insulation and framing materials.

Why do I need both soffit vents and a ridge vent?

A properly balanced vent system consists of two types of vents. Intake vents are placed along the soffit to allow fresh air into the attic. Exhaust vents are installed in the upper third of the roof to allow attic air to escape. With a properly vented system, the air in the attic should completely change every six minutes.

Do I have enough vents in my attic?

You should have one square foot of vent area for every 150 square feet of attic floor space. The vent manufacturer will list the vent area on the package as the FVA (free vent area). The vent area must also be split between high and low vents. If a vapor barrier is present, then the requirement changes to one square foot for every 300 square feet. Shingle manufacturers require that attics have adequate ventilation; otherwise their product warranty may be voided.

What is the best type of vent system for my house?

Most builders agree that a ridge vent system is the most effective as well as the most cost-effective.

How can I keep my insulation in the attic from spilling over onto the soffit vent?

Use a baffle in each rafter cavity that contains a soffit vent.

How do I know what is the best type of weather stripping to use?

It depends on what you want to seal. Make sure the type you choose can withstand the friction, weather, temperature changes and wear and tear of the location. If it is intended to seal a door or window, make sure it will seal it well while still allowing it to open freely.

Where should I look for air leaks around the house?

Look around door and window frames, electrical and gas service outlets, outdoor water faucets, air conditioners, vents and fans and where dryer vents pass through walls.

What type of furnace filter should I buy?

Both the type of filter you choose, as well as how frequently you change it, depends on several factors, which include: if you have pets, if you have allergies, how clean your furnace ducts are, if you smoke indoors and the amount of dust present. If these are factors, then you probably need a filter with a higher performance rating.

Is replacing my thermostat an easy project?

Yes, simply remove the old thermostat from the wall. Next, disconnect each one and mark it so you can keep track of where it was connected. Attach the new thermostat to the wall and attach the old wires.

What does it mean when a furnace filter is “electrostatically charged?”

This is when the media of the filter uses static electricity to attract and capture small airborne particles, which both positively and negatively charged.

I’ve balanced the blade, but my ceiling fan continues to wobble on the high setting. How can I fix it?

The fan is probably wobbling because the electrical box that it’s attached to isn’t secured tightly to the house’s framing members. You need to take the fan down and re-install it after securing the electrical box to a 2-by-4 brace fastened securely to the ceiling joists.

My ceiling fan is reversible. What setting should I use in the summer and what one should I use in the winter?

Use the down draft setting in the summer, and the updraft setting in the winter.

How often should I change my furnace filter?

Normal time periods are one month to three months.

What is the advantage of the higher priced air filters for furnaces?

They take out smaller particulates that are circulating in the air.

Will these higher-quality air filters last longer?

Actually, since they catch more particulates they typically last a shorter amount of time. Always check the manufacture’s recommendations.

Which is better: a metal or a cast iron stove?

Both conduct heat identically well. As a general rule, though, the thicker the metal, the longer the stove will last.

Can I burn coal in my wood stove?

Stoves designed for wood should be used for wood only. Coal burning requires a special grate designed for that purpose. Some kinds of coal produce heat much more intense than wood and can damage a standard grate and even the inside of the firebox.

How can I improve the heat efficiency of my wood stove?

There are a variety of accessories available, such as heat extractors, heat exchangers and glass enclosures.

How big of a stove do I need?

Bigger is not always better. Check the tag for the BTU rating. Do you need a stove for the whole house or just one room?

How much space should there be between the stove and surrounding objects?

There should be a 36” clearance on all sides of the stove to prevent scorching or possible fire.

What is the difference between a stove with a catalytic combustor and a non-catalytic combustor?

A catalytic combustor stove lowers the temperature required to burn wood efficiently. The stove burns fuel slowly and also burns off smoke that would otherwise leave the chimney as wasted fuel. This type generally doesn’t need much cleaning. A non-catalytic combustor stove (a recirculating stove) uses a heavily insulated firebox that keeps the heat in and creates a more complete combustion. This type also has a secondary combustion chamber that burns off more gasses and soot.

How often should I clean the chimney for my fireplace?

Clean chimneys once a year and inspect them twice a month. This is usually best performed by a professional chimney sweep. A clean metal chimney will “ping” when struck with a metal object. A dull thud indicates it is dirty.

What is creosote?

Creosote is formed when the smoke and gas from burning solid fuels condense on a chimney, creating a black, crusty build-up. It creates a fire hazard and reduces the efficiency of the chimney.

Do I have to get on the roof to clean the chimney?

Brushes are now available for cleaning chimneys from the inside. It’s made easier with the many brush accessories available, including extension rods, smaller brushes for cleaning in closer areas and connecting hardware such as loops, adapters and couplings.

Which is more energy-efficient: vented or non-vented gas logs?

Vented gas logs are less fuel efficient than non-vented logs. Vented logs operate somewhere between 60,000 to 90,000 BTUs and lose heat because they require the chimney damper to remain open.

How can I make my fireplace more efficient?

Try adding one of the many accessories available that make fireplaces more efficient, including tube grates, heat extractors and glass enclosures.

What is the easiest way to shut out cold air coming in around my aluminum door?

A stick-on foam tape works well on aluminum, but it must be applied when the surface is warm and dry.

What is the best product to weatherproof my door?

Many people prefer the doorjamb weather-strips. They work on metal with screws or wood with nails. Unlike the v-strips, foam strips or felt like these can’t fall off.

How can I stop an air draft around the light switch and receptacles?

A foam seal is available to go behind the switch or receptacle plate.

How does a tube grate work?

A tube grate functions like a conventional grate or andiron in a fireplace. It is an energy saving device that pulls air into the bottom tube opening, moves it around and over the fire (warming the air as it goes) and then shoots it back into the room. It keeps the room’s air from escaping up the chimney, and when combined with glass doors, is an effective way of increasing the energy efficiency of a fireplace.

How does a heat extractor help me conserve energy with my fireplace?

A heat extractor mounts on the stovepipe and extracts additional heat from flue gases beyond what normally comes from the stovepipe or the chimney. You can use it for either fireplaces or wood-burning stoves. As it extracts heat, it cools the flue’s gasses and could cause the flue to smoke, so it’s best to install an extractor with more capacity than is necessary for the size of the fireplace. The downside is that an extractor could work against the efficiency of a good wood-burning stove. As the flue gases cool, combustion is reduced and the stove gives off less heat.

Where in the room should I place a portable heater for best results?

Place heaters under a window to warm cold air as it enters the room through possible gaps around the window.

Can I use an extension cord with my electric space heater?

It is best to plug your electric heater directly into a wall outlet. However, if you must use an extension cord, only use one that is heavy duty, meaning it has 14-gauge wire.

How large of a kerosene heater should I buy?

Kerosene heaters are rated by their BTU output. Approximately 28 BTUs/hour are required to maintain one square foot of space at 70°F. Multiply this figure by the total square footage in the room you want to heat and you will have the approximate BTU rating of the heater you should buy.

What is the benefit of a humidifier?

A humidifier can make a house more comfortable during the winter months. Cold air holds little moisture. When it enters the house and is warmed, the air in the house becomes dry. Humidifiers restore moisture to the air and can make the house feel warmer, allowing you to use less heat and thus save energy.

How large of a humidifier should I buy?

There are three main sizes of humidifiers. The portable type, or tabletop style, is intended to service a single room. The console humidifiers can output from six to 13 gallons of water per day, enough for several rooms. An in-duct humidifier can be installed in a forced-air heating system.

Why should I use distilled water with my humidifier?

Certain types of humidifiers such as the ultrasonic humidifier should be used with distilled water. If not, the humidifier could leave a sticky, white dust around the house. It could also contribute to elevated levels of bacteria residue and mold particles in the air.

Does the tank size contribute to the efficiency of the humidifier?

No. Larger tank sizes merely mean you won’t have to refill them as often.

Where should I place my humidifier for maximum efficiency?

Place portable humidifiers near an inside wall, preferably facing a stairwell. Also keep the unit at least 6” from the wall for proper air circulation. Since moist, warm air rises, an upstairs floor unit will not be as effective.

How can I get the most efficient use from my dehumidifier?

Operate the dehumidifier with doors and windows closed. Place the unit away from walls, furniture and other airflow obstructions.

How do I know how much humidity my humidifier is producing?

Use a hygrometer. These are inexpensive and will tell you how much humidity is in the air.

Where should I place my air conditioner to get the most out of it?

Place window air conditioners in a window that is shaded most of the time and will allow maximum air circulation into the room or rooms to be cooled.

How do I know how large of an air conditioner I need?

The BTU rating of the air conditioner gives you its capacity. To find what BTU rating you need, multiple the square feet of the room by 25, adding 1,000 for every window and 400 for each occupant. Example: A room measures 12’ x 15’ with two windows and two occupants. The formula works out to 180 sq. ft. x 25 = 4,500 + 2,000 for the windows + 800 for the occupants = 7,300, or a 7,000 – 8,000 BTU air conditioner.

Can I plug my air conditioner into any standard outlet?

Check the voltage rating of the unit. Units with 115 volts (having less than a 9,000 BTU capacity) will not overload average house wiring. For larger capacity units and those requiring 220V wiring (high BTU capacity), consult an electrician.

Do I need to open any other windows while using a window fan?

Opening other windows allows a way for the air in the room to vent. To cool one room, run the window fan on intake and open a second window to act as a vent. To cool several rooms, run the fan on exhaust and open the windows and connecting doors.

My ceiling fan wobbles, what should I do?

If a wood blade is warped, it will wobble. Correct this problem by installing adhesive-backed weights to the blades. Operating at faster speeds may also cause humming or clicking noises with some models.

What R-value should I use?

The Department of Energy recommends R-values based on the type of fuel used and where you live. Generally, attics in homes heated by gas or oil in most southern locations should use R-19. For an electrically heated home in the same area, the recommendation is R-30. The minimum recommendation for homes in the coldest climates, regardless of heating method, is R-49.

Why should I put a vent fan in my bathroom?

Bath fans help eliminate odors but also clear away steam that causes steamy mirrors and windows after bathing or showering. Walls damp with steam build-up can result in mold, mildew, wood rot and ruined insulation.

What does MERV stand for?

Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value. It basically rates the filter’s ability to trap particles from the air. The higher the MERV number, the more efficient the filter.

How do I change the air filter in my furnace?

The filter generally is located as close to the blower unit as possible. It will be between the incoming ductwork and the blower. Furnaces may have a slot with a flap that closes over it. Slide the old filter out and slide the new one in the same way.

What size air filter does my furnace need?

Check labeling on or measure the existing filter. If no filter exists, measure the length and width of the space where the filter should be.

How should I clean my washable filter?

Spray gently with warm water in the opposite direction of the airflow. Do not use the full stream of a garden hose. Too much pressure can push holes in the filter and void the warranty. Some manufacturers suggest using a household detergent; refer to the package to verify. Do not use ammonia-based products. Make sure the filter is completely dry before reinstalling.

How do I clean my air cleaner?

Remove the intake grill and wash with warm, soapy water. Do not place in a dishwasher. Make sure it is dry before returning it to the unit. Dust the outlet grille; do not clean it with water.

How do I know if my attic is properly ventilated?

In general, the formula is based on the square footage of the attic. You should have one vent for every 150 square feet of attic floor space. The vents should be split between high and low vents. If you have a vapor barrier, you only need one vent for every 300 square feet.

What type of weatherstripping would you recommend for a double-hung window?

I would recommend a pile-type weatherstipping. It is designed to allow the sash to slide back and forth. It is usually installed at the top and bottom of a sliding window track.

How do I know how much loose-fill insulation to buy to insulate my atttic?

First measure the attic floor area, and then divide that by 1,000. For example, if the dimensions are 30’ x 40’, or 1,200 square feet, you divide that number by 1,000 and get 1.2. The label on the bag of insulation will tell you how many bags you need to cover 1,000 square feet. Multiply that number by 1.2.