New Hoop for Builders to Jump Through – Zero Energy Buildings

July 21, 2015
Zero Energy Building

This pre-fabricated house in Germany is a near-zero energy building

ZEB is one of the latest acronyms to hit the fields of Air Conditioning and Heating and of Building Sciences. It stands for Zero Energy Building. In theory a Zero-Energy Building eliminates the use of non-renewable energy sources in favor of on-site and locally available renewable sources such as wind, solar power, and hydro-energy. An energy efficient design and educating the building’s occupants in managing their energy usage are also critical to achieving a zero-energy or near zero-energy goal. The obvious benefits of this goal are increased energy efficiency and improved energy sustainability. These buildings may be more secure in the event of a terrorist attack on traditional utility infrastructure.

The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are currently working together to develop a common definition for zero-energy buildings. The European Union (EU) has actually been pursing this goal for years. A 2010 Directive requires EU member states to ensure that, after December 31, 2018, all “new buildings occupied and owned by public authorities” be near zero-energy buildings.

Pictured above is pre-fabricated near-zero-energy home in Germany. Not bad! However the real testing ground for zero energy buildings would be the successful design and implementation of such structures here in southeast Texas where the greatest battle would be keeping the interior cool and comfortable.

Blogger Terry Portillo owns and operates ACU Air Heating and Air Conditioning in The Woodlands, TX.

Advertisements

Smart Thermostats Vulnerable to Hackers

July 20, 2015

nest

Your smart thermostat may be smarter than you think. In order to do its job properly it stores your zip code, your Wi-Fi network name, and your Wi-Fi password and detects whether or not you are home. It uses this information to communicate with your provider’s cloud, to learn and follow your energy usage habits , and to switch your heater or air conditioner into low energy-mode when you are out of the house. That, in and of itself, is not a problem. In fact, it’s what you paid for. The catch is that these thermostats can be hacked so that they share this information with outsiders. They can also be pirated and then utilized to generate spam or malware from inside your home or place of business.

The problem does not lie with their Wi-Fi capabilities: their wireless communication is heavily secured. It’s their USB port which makes them vulnerable. The purpose of this port is to allow manual updates of the software they utilize, in the event that cloud-generated updates prove unsuccessful. According to indepdent research Daniel Buentello, this port can be readily compromised. All one has to do is hold down a NEST thermostat’s power button for ten seconds, then plug a USB device into the port. Doing so overrides the thermostat’s security features and enables the hacker to infect it with a not-so-friendly program of his own.

Unless you make it a habit of inviting hackers over for dinner, this scenario is not likely to take place in your home. The greater risk is that hackers may buy these thermostats in bulk, infect them with remotely controlled malware, repackage, and then resell them. Under no circumstance should you purchase a second-hand smart thermostat or order one from a random individual online.

In fact, if you really want to maintain your privacy, you may want to make due with one of those old-fashioned not-so-smart thermostats. To save energy, bump up the temperature (if you’re running the ac) or nudge it down (if you’re using the heater) when you leave the house, then set it back to the desired temperature as soon as you get home. (Do not shut it off altogether or your system may use more energy bringing your home back to the optimum temperature than it saved by being off while you were away). Sure, it may take your air conditioner or your heater ten or fifteen minutes to restore your home to the desired temperature, but that is actually easier on your body than stepping straight into a perfectly chilled house on a stifling hot day or into a nice warm house from the freezing cold. And without your thermostat broadcasting your comings and goings, your jewelry and electronics are more likely to be right where you left them.

Blogger Terry Portillo owns and operates ACU Air Heating and Air Conditioning in The Woodlands, TX.


Home Buyer Beware – Refrigerant Top-Off Masks Critical Problem

October 14, 2010

It’s an all too common scenario. You find a house you want to buy and have it inspected. The general inspector recommends that the air conditioning system be serviced so you ask the seller to get this taken care of. The seller calls out an air conditioning technician who determines that the air conditioner is low in refrigerant and charges the system so that it will cool properly. What’s wrong with this picture?

A sound, properly functioning central air conditioner is a hermetically sealed system. It does not consume refrigerant. If a technician has to add refrigerant (commonly known by the brand names Freon [R22] or Puron [R410A]), the system has a leak which will not go away on its own but which will get worse over time.

A small percentage of leaks will be coming from a valve, seal, or gasket which can be inexpensively repaired or replaced. However, the vast majority of the time, the leak will be in the condenser coil or the evaporator coil itself. When this happens the coil or the entire unit will need to be replaced. The only way to know where the system is leaking refrigerant is to have a leak search performed.

What will happen if the seller doesn’t have the leak searched and repaired? If it’s a slow leak, the air conditioning system may hold an adequate charge for a year or two. If it’s a moderate leak, it may hold a charge for several months. Sometimes, if the leak is quite large or if there are multiple leaks, the system could lose the refrigerant in a matter of weeks or even days. It is not only costly to regularly add refrigerant to a leaking system, it is also a violation of EPA regulations. If you buy a house and the air conditioner needs refrigerant, a reputable ac contractor will charge it up once, but afterward he may refuse to add refrigerant again until the leak has been repaired. In most cases, this will mean having the condenser or the evaporator coil replaced.

The possibility that you may have to replace the condenser unit and/or the evaporator coil if you purchase a house with an air conditioner that has been topped-off with refrigerant is not the only problem. When the refrigerant leaks again, the system may run constantly causing either the condenser unit or the evaporator coil to freeze-up. The freezing up and the subsequent defrosting of the evaporator coil (located in the attic) can lead to serious water damage.

If you’re buying a house and the inspector recommends having the ac serviced, ask for a copy of the service invoice. If refrigerant has been added to the system, insist that a leak search be performed and request a quote from the ac company for the repair or the replacement of the equipment required to fix the leak.

Blogger Terry Portillo owns and operates ACU Air Heating and Air Conditioning in The Woodlands, TX.


Cool Tips for Keeping Your Air Conditioning Happy

September 23, 2010

Condenser Unit

Of course, where keeping your cool matters the most is at home, especially if you want to sleep comfortably at night. Here are a few tips for keeping your air conditioner healthy and happy:

Change your return air filter once a month. Clogged filters restrict air flow which can keep your air conditioner from cooling properly.

Cut back any shrubs or tall grass which have grown around your outside condenser unit. Vegetation can restrict the airflow around the unit and reduce its cooling ability.

Eradicate any ant mounds close to your outside condenser unit. Ants can infiltrate your unit and cause it to shut down.

Avoid piling boxes around the furnace or air handler in your attic. Your equipment needs unrestricted airflow to function at its best.

Make sure your attic is well ventilated and consider having an attic fan installed. The less heat your air conditioner has to fight in your attic, the more effectively and efficiently it can cool your house.

If your outside condenser unit is exposed to full sunlight most of the day, plant a shade tree nearby. Your unit will not have to work as hard. Avoid pine trees and deciduous trees which will clutter up the condenser with pine needles or leaves.

In the winter, pick a warm afternoon once or twice a month and turn the thermostat down so that your air conditioner runs for about fifteen minutes. Running your system periodically helps maintain the viscosity of the lubricants it uses.

Have your air conditioner inspected each spring by a qualified technician to reduce the risk of your system breaking down at the height of the summer. Ask the technician to treat your ac drains with an algaecide to keep algae from clogging your drainlines.

Blogger Terry Portillo owns and operates ACU Air Heating and Air Conditioning in The Woodlands, TX.


AC Trivia

September 15, 2010

Burj Dubai

The Burj Dubai – Photo courtesy of Daniel Cheong


The air conditioning system for the Burj Dubai (the tallest building in the world), produces approximately fifty-one million gallons of condensation each year, which is salvaged and pumped into an irrigation system.

In 1881 naval engineers constructed an air conditioner consisting of a fan blowing air across a box of cloths saturated with ice water. It lowered the temperature of a room by 20 degrees. The catch? It consumed half a million pounds of ice in two months time. (Source: Jones Jr., Malcolm. “Air Conditioning”. Newsweek Winter 1997 v130)

During their famous walk on the moon, Neil Armstong’s and Buzz Aldrin’s spacesuits had built in cooling systems utilizing a liquid cooling undergarment. Think one of these suits would come in handy for walking around in the heat of a Texas summer? Think again. On earth the infamous NASA Apollo 11 spacesuit would weigh 180 pounds.

In what film does a hunter come across two-million dollars from a drug deal gone bad and hide it in an ac vent? Answer

Americans use as much energy to power their air conditioners each years as the entire amount of energy consumed by all of Africa.

Blogger Terry Portillo owns and operates ACU Air Heating and Air Conditioning in The Woodlands, TX.


Thanks but no Thanks for the Memory

September 13, 2010

We recently shopped for a new mattress and given how comfortable the memory foam European pillow top mattress was when we stretched out on it in the showroom, the sales clerk had little trouble talking us into a purchase. The first night slept on it, we were hot, and I don’t mean hot in the adult funhouse sense of the word. We tossed, we turned, we sweated, we cast off the comforter and, lying beneath nothing more than a thin, Egyptian cotton sheet, we tossed and turned and sweated some more. Either I had fast forwarded into menopause complete with night sweats and my husband was suffering from sympathetic symptoms or our new mattress was smokin’.

The next morning I did a bit of research and, lo and behold, there was something the sales clerk had not told us. Memory foam operates through heat; your body heats up the foam which, in turn, molds to your body so that there are no uncomfortable pressure points. The catch is these beds ‘sleep hot’. That could be a benefit if you live next door to Sarah Palin and have to shoo Russians out of your yard now and then, but down here in the greater Houston area it’s more of a curse.

Even if your sheets’ thread count is in the quadruple digits, they will never feel crisp and cool if you’re sleeping on memory foam. And if you like to sleep cool, you may soon find yourself cranking the ac down, down, down, while your energy bill goes up up up.

We pawned our brand new bed off on a teenage daughter who loves its vast height and comfiness. She sleeps directly under an ac supply air vent and a ceiling fan and we still have to keep the ac 2 degrees lower than we used to so that she can sleep at night. In the meantime, we dragged our old mattress out of the guestroom, flipped it over – something we had neglected to do the first ten years – found it perfectly cool (yes!) and comfortable and I now look forward to climbing into bed each night .

Thanks, but no thanks, for the memory.


Rasberry Ants Have an Appetite for Electronics

September 8, 2010

Their appetite for electronics exceeds that of the average American teenage boy. They have already launched one attack NASA. Stories about them read more like science fiction than credible journalism. Who, or rather, what are they? Paratrechina species near puben, better known as Crazy Rasberry Ants.

Named after Tom Rasberry, the exterminator who first identified the species (hence the spelling), the rasberry ant invades and devours the electronic components of air conditioning units, security alarms, pool pumps, gas meters, and computers.

Scarcely larger than a flea, the rasberry ant makes up in numbers what it lacks in size. Rasberry ant colonies have multiple queens, with each queen laying up to one million eggs per ant hill per day. According to the Texas Department of Agriculture, infestations can reach fifty million ants per acre during their peak season (June through September). When an infested areas is treated with pesticides, the initial wave of rasberry ants die; then the remaining ants use their dead comrades as a bridge to safely cross the pesticide treated ground.

If your home has suffered an attack from these minute creatures and you’ve found a way to fend them off, let us know. You might want to let the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Department of Agriculture know while you’re at it! They’re still researching the answer to the question, “How do we get rid of these things?”