Browse our Better Environments library to get helpful information on what you need to know to keep your home environment healthy and safe all year round.

What You Need to Know Before You...
IMPROVING AIR QUALITY AND EFFICIENCY
What You Need to Know Before You... Hire A Contractor

So how do you pick the right contractor once you are ready to restore your home to optimal performance levels? Follow this easy checklist as provided by Energy Star to ensure you find the best quality and value for your investment and avoid mistakes that will cost you later.

A reputable contractor should:
  • Perform an on-site inspection of the work you want completed and provide a timely, detailed bid.
  • Demonstrate to you that the company is licensed and insured to repair and install your equipment (many states require this).
  • For A/C & Heating solutions, be able to provide his/her certification for refrigerant handling, required since 1992.
  • Have several years of experience as a business in your community.
  • Provide examples of quality installation of energy-efficient solutions they have performed, with names of customers that you can contact.
  • Complete and submit warranty information on your behalf.
  • Leave all equipment manuals and provide documentation of installation procedures, including sizing calculations, AHRI certificate, and records of any measurements or testing.
  • Clearly explain the benefits of regular maintenance and help you set up a schedule to keep your systems operating at its best.
Other tips to consider:
  • Study up: Find out about license and insurance requirements for contractors in your state. And before you call a contractor, know the model of your current system and its maintenance history. Also make note of any uncomfortable rooms. This will help potential contractors better understand your comfort needs.
  • Ask for referrals: Ask friends, neighbors, and co-workers for contractor referrals. You can also contact local trade organizations for names of members in your area.
  • Find special offers: Keep your costs down by checking around for available rebates on energy-efficient ENERGY STAR qualified equipment as well as special government rebate incentives.
  • Look for ENERGY STAR: ENERGY STAR qualified products meet strict energy efficiency guidelines set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and offer significant long-term energy savings. Contractors should be able to show you calculations of savings for ENERGY STAR equipment.
  • Expect a home evaluation: The contractor should spend significant time inspecting your current cooling and heating system and home to assess your needs. A bigger system isn't always better; a contractor should size the heating and cooling system based on the size of your house, level of insulation, and windows. A good contractor will inspect your duct system (if applicable) for air leaks and insulation and measure airflow to make sure it meets manufacturers' specifications.
  • Get written, itemized estimates: When comparing contractors' proposals (bids), be sure to compare cost, energy efficiency and warranties. A lowest price may not be the best deal if it's not the most efficient because your energy costs will be higher.
  • Get it in ink: Sign a written proposal with a contractor before work gets started. It'll protect you by specifying project costs, model numbers, job schedule and warranty information.

What You Need to Know Before You... Buy a New A/C or Heating System

7 Rules You Must Know Before Buying a New Comfort System for Your Home
  • Installation is Key
    Replacing your home comfort system is a complex endeavor, and what many homeowners don't realize is that not all contractors are created equal. Proper test and tools are needed to do the job right like air leakage duct blasters, blower doors, and air particle scanners. Unfortunately, there are no industry standards AC contractors are required to follow. There are "best practices," but many contractors are not trained on how to install systems properly...and...the tools required to achieve proper energy-efficient installations are costly.

    If not done right, your new system is almost guaranteed to have air leaks. Just a 15% leak will decrease your brand new 14 SEER down to a 7 SEER 50% of the time...which will double your electric bill costs! The bottom line: buying a new heating and cooling system is NOT as simple as shopping for a new plug-in appliance like a TV or refrigerator.
  • Bigger is Not Always Better
    Since most systems are often installed improperly, contractors compensate by replacing old units with bigger systems. Not only will that "too large" system cost you more money every month in higher utility bills, it also will not keep your home comfortable due to frequent 'on/off' cycling. And, it puts stress on your system components which shortens the equipment's life. If you are thinking about replacement, make sure your contractor can provide you with a Heat Load Calculation on your home to ensure you get only what you need.
  • Your System Can Affect Your Health
    You're probably well aware of the negative impact outdoor air pollution has on your environment and your health. But have you considered the same about your indoor air quality? The average person will spend 85% of their life indoors. So, it's crucial the air you breathe inside is as clean and safe as possible. With the air leaks present in most new air system installations, polluted air gets pulled from the hot, dirty attic into your home mixing with the air you breathe. Mix that with mold spores, pet dander, dust mites and other harmful indoor air particles common in your home and it's enough to make anybody sneeze! To avoid this, your contractor should use a laser particle scanner to test the air blowing from your air vents once the installation is complete. And, you should consider adding a high-quality air filtration system like IQ Air to virtually eliminate these harmful pollutants in your home.
  • Safety Matters
    Another thing to watch out for with improper installations is safety issues like gas leaks, water leaks, Freon leaks, and carbon monoxide drafting into your home. The likelihood of these toxic fumes entering your home increases dramatically if testing and proper sealing is not completed on ducts throughout your home's attic space.
  • Cheap Prices Now Will Cost You More Later
    The old adage, "you get what you pay for" is true. You may save a few dollars now by going with the cheapest bid. But, you will pay later in higher energy costs, reduced efficiency and reduced equipment life. In fact, research shows a poorly purchased and installed system is more likely to have troublesome break-downs, dangerous leaks, and die prematurely. Getting free estimates is a great place to start. But don't stop there! Have your contractor perform a thorough initial interview, a detailed measurement of your home, and a thorough inspection using diagnostic test instruments to uncover issues such as duct leakage, duct restrictions, and missing insulation. Such testing is now required by new home building codes in many states, as well as the Energy Star Home and American Lung Association Health House programs. Buying a new high efficiency heating and cooling system without taking these measures is like buying a new hybrid car and driving it with the tires half flat, a leak in the gas tank, and sticky brakes. While you don't have to do it, informed consumers now know it's simply the right way to buy a new system. It's actually the cheapest way to go, once you consider the savings you will achieve on your monthly utility bills and maintenance costs. Price does matter, just don't let the initial price be your only consideration.
  • "The Department Of Energy has done a lot of studies on theefficiency of heating and cooling systems across the country.We have found that over 70% of the systems are installedincorrectly... reducing theefficiency of that system, which the homeowner justpurchased, dramatically.They may think they are buying a high efficiency Energy StarSEER 14 cooling system and in fact, if the contractor performsa typical installation, the operating efficiency of that systemmay be closer to 10, and the homeowner is not getting what they paid for." Chandler Von ShraderDOE/EPA EnergyStar Program, Washington DC
  • Your System Can and Should Pay for Itself
    When done right, you should expect a 30-60% reduction in your utility bills every month after installing a new high efficient air system in your home. Unfortunately, many people miss out on these savings by taking short cuts early in their decisions-making process. Sure, the modern high efficiency equipmenthas great energy savings potential. But, it is also MUCHmore sensitive to pre-existing deficiencies in the ductsystem, and to improper sizing...two factors many "cheapest price" contractors ignore. There's no question that a quality installation, suitable to your home's unique situation, done by a dependable, professional company will require a higher initial investment, when compared to the average job. But such a system will have the lowest total cost...usually within 1-2 years due to the lower energy bills you will experience. Don't be one of those homeowners who invest in a new high efficiency system, then don't save near what they could have on their utility bills. When shopping for contractors, ask for proof of the energy savings they "say" you will see. You'll be glad you did because your new system really will pay for itself.
  • Maintenance Does Matter
    A properly sealed and filtered air system should never need duct cleaning or coil cleaning, but homeowners are forced to spend billions of dollars each year that could be prevented with a proper installation. That said, your system will require seasonal checks each Fall and Spring to ensure it is operating to maximum standards. You wouldn't buy an expensive car, then never change the oil, spark plugs, or brake pads, right? Of course not. Your AC system is the same. Be sure to find a contractor that will be your long-term partner in keeping your home healthy and safe for years to come.

What You Need to Know Before You... Pay Another High Utility Bill

Disturbing Facts:
  • About 50% of your energy bill is a result of how much you run your A/C system.(Energystar.gov)
  • Typical new high-efficiency AC systems lose 25% to 40% of the energy they put out due to improper installations and repairs resulting in a waste of $4.5 billion. (U.S. Dept. of Energy)
  • Almost 20% of lost energy in your household is due to lost air flow through your AC system ducts. Additionally, these leaks cause your family discomfort and poor respiratory health. (Energystar.gov)
  • You can lose up to 60% of your heated or cooled air before it ever reaches the register if your ducts aren't insulated and travel through unheated spaces such as the attic or crawlspace. (U.S. Dept. of Energy)

IMPROVING AIR QUALITY AND EFFICIENCY

Peak Performance Self-Maintenance Checklist
  • Change your air filters every 4-6 weeks.
  • Keep plants, weeds, and other debris at least one foot from your outdoor compressor.
  • Be sure nothing is stacked on top of your outdoor compressor like garden hoses, lawn furniture, toys, or garbage bags.
  • Remove dust from your return air grills to extend the efficiency of your filters. Be sure to turn off your thermostat before the cleaning to avoid dust pulling into your air supply.
  • Remove any obstructions in front of your indoor return air grills like furniture or curtains.
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector (or have one installed) to detect any leaks of this colorless, odorless gas in your home which could be deadly.
  • Before the hot and cold seasons hit, be sure to run your air system to ensure it is operating properly. That way, you can take care of any issues before you are left uncomfortable in the extreme heat or cold.
  • Schedule your professional system checks in the Spring and Fall before the contractor's busy seasons starts.

Duct Blasting & Sealing

Your home could be losing up to 20% of its air flow due to leaky or improperly sealed ducts and you wouldn't even know it. The result can cause wasted air flow, hot or cold patches in your house, higher energy bills, and even poor respiratory health.

  • How Duct Sealing Helps You:
  • Increase Comfort: Sealing and insulating ducts can help with common comfort problems, such as rooms that are too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter.
  • Improve Indoor Air Quality: Fumes from household and garden chemicals, insulation particles, and dust can enter your duct system, aggravating asthma and allergy problems. Sealing ducts can help improve indoor air quality by reducing the risk of these pollutants entering ducts and circulating through your home.
  • Ensure Safety: During normal operation, gas appliances such as water heaters, clothes dryers, and furnaces release combustion gases (like carbon monoxide) through their ventilation systems. Leaky ductwork in your heating and cooling system may cause "backdrafting," where these gases are drawn back into the living space, rather than expelled to the outdoors. Sealing leaks can minimize this risk.
  • Save Money: Leaky ducts can reduce heating and cooling system efficiency by as much as 20%. Sealing and insulating ducts increases efficiency, lowers your energy bills, and can often pay for itself in energy savings. Plus, if you're planning to install new heating and cooling equipment, a well-designed and sealed duct system may allow you to downsize to a smaller, less costly heating and cooling system that will provide better dehumidification.
  • Protect the Environment: By sealing your ducts and reducing the amount of energy necessary to comfortably heat or cool your home, you can reduce the amount of air pollution generated.

At Better Environments, we use the latest technology to inspect and seal your duct problems. In order to test your system, our specialists implement the best duct-blasting fans and pressure gauges to provide you with the most accurate readings available.

Knowing how your duct system is pressurized (as well as how it should be) tells us where the problem is and the quickest way to fix it. We work hard to make the entire process simple and safein order tomake your home more comfortable and reduce your energy costs

Radiant Barriers and the Ins and Outs of Insulation

Normally, insulation may seem like nothing more than the "pink stuff" in your attic. The truth is improper insulation can be the cause of many AC system malfunctions. What you might not know is this: as insulation becomes less "fluffy" it becomes less effective over time. When you use outdated types or incorrect amounts of insulation to protect your home's inner shell, the results are costly leaks and wasted energy. However, it is not always necessary to replace insulation.Instead, it can usually be updated and improved by installing energy- saving Radiant Barriersin key areas of your home.

Radiant Barriers are proven to block heat transfer across open spaces like your garage or attic, and they are the #1 reducer of both cooling and heating bills in warm, muggy climates.

At Better Environments, we recognize the importance of proper insulation. We use the most environmentally friendly products available to ensure your home is energy efficient and comfortable for your family. The EPA estimates that if one in ten homes installed radiant barrier insulation, greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by 17 billion pounds per year. Just like recycling, simply updating your insulation with radiant barriers can save you a fortune and help the planet all at once!

Air Particle Testing

Since most people spend about 85% of their time indoors, their indoor air quality is of the utmost importance to their family's health and safety. Many irritants found in air particles contribute to poor respiratory health, asthma, and in the case of radon exposure, lung cancer. Many particles are odorless and invisible so most people are completely unaware of the amount of chemicals and allergens they are exposed to on a daily basis.

Using the latest technology including laser particle scanners, Better Environments can detect the presence of the following pollutants in the air you breathe at home every day:

  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emitted from household cleaners
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Mold spores
  • Allergens
  • Dust
  • Pet dander
  • Pesticides
  • Radon
  • And any other potentially harmful substances

Once the problem is identified, we use only the best cleaners and filters to stop the flow of airborne assailants. We understand that comfort, health, and safety are your main concerns at home, and we strive to help your family breathe easier.

Air Particle Testing

Your attic is home to the majority of your AC and Water Heater systems. It is also the most likely room in your house to experience leaks and encourage humidity. The attic entrance is an especially vulnerable place for humid air to develop because the cold air inside the house mingles with the usually warm air inside the attic through the drafty door.

Attic tents are an insulated cover designed to fit the entrance of your attic. When the attic door is closed the attic tent will seal off any leaks around the door, making it air tight which will reduce humidity inside and improve air flow.