Leveraging the Benefits of Technology

How to Make Technology Work for You

By Chris Brown

Introduction

In a very general sense I’m going to make a statement: If there’s a hole if your life, there’s a piece of technology to fill it. When you think about it, that statement is very true. Traveling across country but don’t know the best route? You can get a GPS system to point the way. Need a date? There’s a million websites to help with that. Tired of missing the garbage can? How about a can that catches your trash for you! If the folks at Apple® are to be believed, no matter the problem, “there’s an app for that”.

As technology becomes more sophisticated, portable, and accessible, technology starts to make more sense as an answer to not only our personal needs but our business needs as well.

Then and Now

Every major industry in the world takes advantage of technology in one way or another, specifically personal computers. While the service industry may be as old as time, the use of personal computers and software to support businesses, especially smaller ones, is still fairly young. As early as the 1990’s a personal computer could cost as much as $3500. Because of their cost and larger sizes back then these weren’t the type of things you would run out and buy a dozen of. Couple that with the fact that they were slower and there weren’t many software options, doing things by hand back then simply made more sense. Fast forward to today and that same figure could buy you several computers that are, and I’m not exaggerating, 30 times more powerful and your software options are plentiful. With that added power comes increased productivity. Studies show that even the smallest change, such as adding a second monitor to a setup, can increase productivity anywhere between 9 to 50 percent.

Okay, so computers and software are better now than they used to be, that’s obvious but why you may want or need one isn’t. Let’s try to clarify that with another statement: The whole point is to make your life easier by saving you time and money. Trying to break down and explain the intricate details of ‘how’ for the various reasons could take the length of a book but to be general a lot of it boils down to time management, security, and removing the ‘human error’ factor (which, itself, boils down to time management again).

Think about the idea for that trash can that catches your trash when you throw it. Right now, every time you ball up a piece of paper and throw it toward the trash can there’s a probability that you will miss based on various factors such as distance, weight of the object, size of the object, skill, wind speed and distance, and so on. All of that may not come to mind when you lob the wad of paper but when you miss, how often do you think “the paper was light, if I had just thrown it a little harder”? Now think about what happens after you miss. You have to get up, pick up the paper, and then throw it away (which, if you’re like me, means stepping back to try another shot). That’s wasted time. The purpose of that magical trash can is threefold: First, to remove as much human error as possible. Second, to save time by removing human error. Third, to look cool in your room. Likewise, doing all your business management on paper by hand or even on an older, slower system may have seemed like a good idea at the time but when you can make your life easier and your business more profitable with a few upgrades, why not take advantage of what technology has to offer?

If you’re in the HVAC industry chances are that you often times have to figure heat loss and gain for a job before doing any physical work. Someone probably walks around the site taking down various numbers (such as temperature, dimensions of walls, etc) before performing what may be a series of complex calculations to determine loss or gain. Part of that calculation may contain several formulas which may look something like this: DeltaT = 72F – (-5F) = 72F + 5F = 77F. While not an incredibly complex formula, how much easier is it to simply input the variables into a piece of software (read: calculator) and have it figure the values for you? Because the software is programmed to do the same thing, every time,  with the numbers you feed it the room for error is made smaller or removed entirely. Remember, computers don’t make mistakes. They do exactly what we tell them to.

So what are your options? That all depends on what you’re looking for. We currently live in the mobile era where, for every question you can ask, “there’s an app for that”. If you use a Windows Phone or Blackberry or one of the more dominant systems such as iOS or Android you can bet that your platform’s marketplace has a slew of mobile apps tailored to specific needs such as Heat and Loss Calculators.

For a more robust solution you might consider looking into a desktop software application. Most offer bits and pieces here and there but there are a few that offer the complete package: Accounting, Inventory Control, Invoicing, Payroll Processing, and means to track income vs. expenses (read: Job Costing). For the craftsman among us, you can even build yourself a cheap in-car laptop mount out of PVC pipe and take your software on the road with you (think of the computer  mounts in police vehicles). You can even find some that offer cross platform smartphone/tablet solution as well.

Conclusion

The goal of any business is to provide a service and be profitable. Using technology to that end provides a powerful and cost effective means to meet that goal. There is, of course, an initial investment involved. If you’re in the business of running a business this concept comes naturally and understandably but is well worth the cost to get started and a little research should direct you to what you need.

The last statement I have is actually just the motto that I live by: Anything worth doing is worth being taken seriously. If you take you’re going to do business, take it seriously. Make it profitable and make your employees productive to help make it so. Let technology give you the edge you need to do so.

 

About the Author
Chris Brown is a database migration specialist and a support technician at Aptora.

How to Retrofit a Gas Furnace

Natural Gas Furnace Retrofit

An old gas furnace that has poor efficiency ratings can cost you a bundle. While it’s possible to simply replace the gas furnace, you can also retrofit it with some of the following upgrades that will save you money and improve its efficiency without costing you a fortune.

  • Vent Dampers, When the furnace isn’t firing, a vent damper will close off the vent to stop excess chimney losses. These are most effective with older furnaces and boilers. Newer models don’t benefit much from this upgrade as they may already have features installed that provide the same basic benefit.
  • Derating Gas Burners, The vast majority of older furnaces and boilers are oversized, resulting in too much gas being burned. It is possible, through retrofitting, to actually reduce the heating capacity of your gas boiler to the point that it only produces what your home needs based on an accurate load calculation. This is done by reducing the size of things like the baffles, the burner orifice and other components in your furnace. Beware that this is not allowed in all municipalities and must be performed by a professional due to local building codes.
  • Intermittent Ignition, Instead of a continuous pilot light that burns all year round, you can have an intermittent ignition installed that will click on only when you need the furnace to operate. These are electric and quite complex so they should be installed only by a trained professional, but they are relatively low cost and they pay for themselves in 5-10 years. Keep in mind that the cost savings are more for devices that are not too old, older devices that can just be turned off entirely (pilot and switches) when not in use won’t gain much from this upgrade.

Retrofitting or Replacing a Gas Furnace

To decide whether retrofitting is worthwhile for your gas furnace, you must first determine the savings you stand to gain from doing so. If you feel like you’re going to gain a significant amount of money from retrofitting your gas furnace, you should contact a technician to go over your options. If some upgrades are not possible or you simply have a very old furnace, replacement may be your best bet.

This information is provided by Air National AC & Heating Of Houston, Inc., a Houston air conditioning and heating contractor offering HVAC installation, maintenance and repair.

The Importance of Purging Air from a Hydronic System

Hydronic System Maintenance

Hydronic heating and cooling systems, which use water as a material for heat transfer to regulate air temperature in a building, provide excellent HVAC capabilities for homes and large buildings alike.  Hydronic systems make use of water pipes plus manual or automatic balancing valves, and it’s important to eliminate air from the pipes and valves constantly to keep it working properly.

The principal result of air trapped in the system is a loud and irritating banging noise as the water and air travel through the balancing valves.  Air can also disrupt the heat transfer process, as heat can escape from the water into the trapped air and make the system significantly less efficient.  Oxygen that enters the system via the trapped air can also speed up the corrosion process and rust out the inside of the pipes as well as damaging the seals.  Control valves, which use mechanisms to open the valve automatically to respond to changes in the water system, are also an excellent way to keep an HVAC system air-free without maintenance.

Air should be purged from the system after installation, and if done properly the pipes and balancing valves will remain air-free for years.  To begin, locate the ports on either side of the mid-plate (in the center of the valve).  On a small valve measuring less than 2″, air can be purged using only the upstream port.  A larger valve will require purging from both the upstream and downstream ports.  Pipe and valve manufacturers often provide a variety of products to help remove air.

In a water-loop hydronic system, there are several different ways by which air can become trapped in the system, and these different products may be recommended based on the type of trapped air.  Air may be entrained, or contained in bubbles traveling through the pipes with the water; it could also be dissolved into the water if the temperature and system pressure are right.  Entrained and dissolved air can be drained with tools like an “air scoop.”  Free air also sometimes floats upward to the highest point in the system and becomes trapped.  Free air is easily vented automatically on automatic balancing valves.  If the system begins to make more noise than usual, consider purging excess air to return it to normal functioning.

*This post is courtesy of Flow-Pac LLC. Our sincere gratitude goes out to them. Please contact Mr. HVAC if you would like to be a guest writer.

Why You Should Have Your Furnace Inspection Early

HVAC (heating and air conditioning) Furnace Inspections

Have you had your furnace inspection yet? While it may seem like it’s too early, now is the perfect time to have a furnace inspection in time for winter! Let’ face it, cold weather is on its way, and having a furnace inspection is the only way you can be absolutely sure that your furnace will be able to carry you through the winter months comfortably!

The best thing you can do for your furnace every year is to have it inspected early on, we’re talking late September early October. Why? Think about it, would you rather have an HVAC tech come out and spot any problems with your furnace now, or in the dead of winter when it breaks down and the streets are blocked with snow?

Not having a furnace tune up at the beginning of the heating season can cause a number of problems. Not only do you risk your furnace breaking down at the worst possible time, but you also potentially compromise your own personal safety by causing dangerously high levels of carbon monoxide to escape into your home.

A typical furnace tune up and inspection consists of the following:

  • Safety test for carbon monoxide (CO)
  • Check for hazardous debris in the chimney and flue
  • Clean air filters and re-install
  • Check operation of thermostat and safety controls
  • Check gas pilot safety system and clean as required
  • Clean motor and fan
  • Check blower operation
  • Check condition, tension and alignment of fan belt, and perform required adjustments
  • Clean burners and set for proper combustion & ignition
  • Check gas piping to furnace

What can you do in lieu of furnace inspection?

There are many things you can do on your own (in addition to having a furnace inspection) that will help keep your furnace in tip-top shape. Some of these things include:

Testing your CO detector, test your CO detector (by hitting the test button) to make sure it works. Replace the battery at this time as well. Don’t have a CO detector? Get one! They are extremely important, particularly during the winter when your furnace is constantly running.

Keeping your furnace clear, make sure there are no clothes, lint or furniture blocking airflow to your furnace. Also make sure there is nothing flammable stored near the furnace that could explode given the chance.

Changing your air filter, this one is extremely important! Clogged filters can significantly restrict airflow to your furnace and seriously hurt its performance. Disposable air filters are pretty cheap, so stock up before you turn your furnace on and change them once a month.

 

Editor’ Note: This excellent article was provided by Nick Massa of Magnolia Heating and Air Conditioning. Their website is www.magnoliaheatandair.com. We welcome other technicians and managers to write for our website. You will be doing the industry a favor while promting you and your company.

Why Use a Supply Ball Valve?

Supply ball valves are one of the most durable styles of valve available, and their design means they retain their ability to shut off water applications for years with little maintenance.  There are many reasons to choose a SB valves over traditional balancing valves.

What is a Supply Ball Valve?
A supply ball valve, or SB valve, is a valve designed with a ball-shaped device to control flow.  The valve consists of a simple opening with a round metal ball inside.  The metal ball contains a hole called a port running directly through it, like a bead on a necklace, and when the valve is open, water runs in one side of the valve, through the port and out the other side.  To close the valve, the user turns a handle to rotate the ball so that the port runs perpendicular to the pipe.  This cuts off the flow of water.

Advantages of SB Valves
SB valves are very versatile and can support very high water pressures, making them a top choice in industrial applications.  They’re available in several variations suitable for a range of projects.  A ball valve’s durability means that it won’t need to be replaced as frequently as other types of valves in high-pressure applications, and they continue to work without maintenance even after being set in the same open or closed position for years.  This can save money on a construction project over time.

Supply ball valves also feature handles directly over the valve which clearly display the valve’s position, if the handle runs parallel to the pipe, it’s open; if it runs perpendicular, the valve is closed.  Valves can be closed or opened quickly and without tools.  Though SB valves can’t restrict water flow the way a throttling valve can (restricting the flow incrementally by closing the valve to certain degrees), the supply ball system offers an excellent solution for contractors looking for a durable and economical valve choice.

 

*This post is courtesy of Flow-Pac LLC. Our sincere gratitude goes out to them. Please contact Mr. HVAC if you would like to be a guest writer.

Maintaining Balanced: Equilibrium in the Flow of Water

The hydronic system is to heating and cooling as the circulation system is to the body.  Our heart valves control the pressure and flow of the body as balancing valves control the flow and pressure of water in an HVAC system; any kind of imbalance will create problems which will eventually result in an entire system malfunction.

It has been shown that most heating and cooling efficiency problems are not from faulty equipment, but from an imbalanced hydronic system.  Quite often in an imbalanced system, one part of the circuitry will get favored over the other and the stronger side will steal the weaker side’s water flow.  So in essence, one part of the building will be the desired temperature and the other will either be freezing cold in the winter or roasting hot in the summer.  Not only is this uncomfortable, it’s also a waste of energy and very costly.

In order to achieve water flow balance, the system needs to have a design flow balancing valve at each terminal.  Depending on what size system you have, you could need an SB valve, an automatic or a manual balance valve.  The balancing valves are automation tools to measure and regulate the flow pressure and temperature at each terminal.  By keeping the flow metered and regulated, water gets forced back through the weaker side of the circuitry and the whole building’ temperature becomes stabilized again.  To find out which type of balancing valve your hydronic system requires, it is best to contact your local control valve suppliers.

 

*This post is courtesy of Flow-Pac LLC. Our sincere gratitude goes out to them. Please contact Mr. HVAC if you would like to be a guest writer.

Weak AC Airflow – Improve Air Conditioner Air Flow

Find out what’ causing weak AC airflow in your home and how you can fix it to significantly improve your home’s comfort.

5 Effortless Ways to Improve Your Air Conditioner’ Operation

We’re officially entering the dog days of summer, and already we’ve seen it all: unbearable humidity, crazy freak thunderstorms and, of course, sweltering 90+ degree temperatures. It’ times like these when people everywhere are either thankful for their air conditioners or are sweating and sleeping in the basement because their air conditioners don’t work! Weak airflow is one of the most annoying air conditioner problems there is, not only because it’s uncomfortable but also because you can’t immediately be sure of what’ wrong with it. There are a number of reasons why you might be experiencing weak air conditioner airflow, some are easy fixes, some require the help of a professional.

Ways to Improve AC Airflow

Replace your filters monthly – you’ve probably heard this one so many times that it seems cliché, but it bears mentioning because it’s so important! As air passes through your home, air conditioner system and ductwork, it picks up all kinds of junk. The purpose of the filters is to catch this dust and debris so you’re not breathing it in every day.

Now, no matter how clean you keep your house, you’re always going to have dust and debris moving through your ducts, your air filters are going be catching a lot of it, and as they do, it’s all going to start slowing the airflow. This is why it’s so important to change your filters every month, if you don’t, eventually they will become so clogged that air is simply not going to be able to get through.

Changing your filters every month is important for another reason as well, if weak airflow persists in your AC, it can actually cause your air conditioner to freeze, potentially resulting in serious damage. Changing your filters is an easy way to prevent this from happening.

Make sure your AC dampers are open – if you have weak AC airflow in only one or two rooms in your home, you might not have an air conditioner problem at all, you might just have thrown off dampers. AC dampers are essentially valves in your ducts, when they are open, air moves easily. When they’re closed, either part of the way or all the way, you’ll have weak, if any, airflow from your air conditioner. To check your dampers, go into your utility room and look for your HVAC plenum (it’ll be the big, plain metal box). You should see a bunch of ducts coming out of it, all with levers that should be in the ON position, these levers are called dampers.

If any of the dampers are in the OFF position, turn them back ON, your weak AC airflow problems should go away immediately.

Change your air filters, and we’re not talking about monthly replacements this time. When you go to the hardware store you’ll see about 10 million different types of air filters, and you’re supposed to just know which is which. All of these air filters have different MERV ratings that indicate the effectiveness of the filtration. You might think more filtration from your air filters is better, after all, it means less dust in your home, right? Well with air filters, bigger is not necessarily better. In fact, if the filtration is too powerful it could block airflow!

Air filters are rated as follows:

  • MERV 1, 4: this is the standard rating for most residential air conditioners. Filters at this level do a decent job of filtering particles out of the air and can trap dust and debris as small as 10 microns.
  • MERV 5, 8: these filters are commonly used in offices or light commercial buildings, and are sometimes found in homes, especially if the homeowners want extra clean air (because of respiratory problems, etc). Filters at this rating can trap particles as small as 3 microns in size, but this filtration comes at a cost, since air has to work harder to move through the filter, homes with these filters may start to see problems related to weak AC airflow.
  • MERV 9, 12: very uncommon in residential settings, filters of this rating are usually found in much larger buildings with powerful HVAC systems. Filters that are this strong need to be replaced frequently because they will get filled up very quickly.
  • MERV 13, 16: air filters this powerful are pretty much only used in sterile environments like hospitals. Since they stop such small particles (as small as .3 microns in size) they tend to cause weak airflow with all but the strongest HVAC systems.

Seal up leaking ducts, this may surprise you, but leaking air ducts are more common than you might think, in fact, they’re among the leading causes of weak AC airflow! If you think you have leaky ducts, shine a flashlight in one of your vents and see if you can see any light coming through. If you can, call an HVAC contractor to come out and seal them up, duct sealing will improve your air conditioner airflow, making you more comfortable and saving you up to 30% on your heating and cooling bills!

Resize your ducts: if you’ve tried improving your weak AC airflow and nothing is working, the problem might be simply that your ducts are too small for the amount of air coming from your AC. Call an HVAC contractor to inspect your ducts and assess if they are the proper size, if they are not, installing new ductwork will go a long way toward improving weak AC airflow.

 

Editor’s Note: This excellent article was provided by Nick Massa of Magnolia Heating and Air Conditioning. Their website is www.magnoliaheatandair.com. We welcome other technicians and managers to write for our website. You will be doing the industry a favor while promting you and your company.

The Advantage of Two-Pipe Direct Return Systems

In heating, there are two categories of hydronic pipe systems: the single-pipe and two-pipe direct return.  The single-pipe system conjures up images of those steam radiators seen in old apartment buildings.  They are commonly used small residential, commercial and industrial buildings and are based on a gravity circulation system.  Two-pipe direct return systems on the other hand, can be both pump and gravity based and are suitable for buildings of all sizes.

The two-pipe direct return hydronic system has its advantages over the single-pipe system in significant ways.  The single pipe system has one pipe running from one radiator to the next and then back to the boiler, flowing in circular motion.  Being gravity based, the hot water circulation has a tendency to lose heat momentum as it moves further through the circuit.  Essentially, the first apartment on the circuit will be toasty warm whereas the last apartment on the way back to the boiler will be freezing cold because of the water temperature drop.

Two-pipe direct return hydronic systems have a pipe circuit for the supply and the return.  The advantage it has over the single-pipe system is that the hot water directly routes to each radiator terminal at the same time.  The return circuit carries the cooled water that has been circulated from the terminal back to the pump and boiler to get reheated.  This type of circuitry can cause an imbalance in differential pressure due to the fact that length of the pipe is shorter between the terminals closest to the pump and longer at the opposite side of the circuit.  Therefore, manual balancing valves with a venturi flow meter are required to maintain an even pressured flow.   Two-pipe direct return systems take less time to heat up than single-pipe systems and provide an equal distribution throughout the building.

This post is courtesy of Flow-Pac LLC. Our sincere gratitude goes out to them. Please contact Mr. HVAC if you would like to be a guest writer.

When to Choose a Manual Balancing Valve over a Circuit Setter

Take a moment to consider the positive and negative connotations associated with the words “manual” and “automatic.”  Thanks largely to modern technological developments, we’ve come to look down on manual equipment options as old-fashioned or even obsolete, but the truth is that even experienced plumbers and pipe experts know that a manual balancing valve is often a better choice than an automatic balancing valve or circuit setter.

Though water heating and cooling system installers saw a revolutionary way to hook up a larger building project with the advent of the circuit setter, it’s not always the best choice (even setting pricing aside).  Circuit setters feature a built-in balancing valve system and monitoring and measuring points allowing for automatic calibration of the water system.  Because there’s no need to readjust valves by hand or mess with the existing system, circuit setters allow for easy expansion of the water system into other parts of the building project (such as an addition).

The main selling factor is the shutoff valve capability, which allows users to shut off water to an entire part of the system to save water and energy when part of the building is not in use.   Being able to shut off water to a particular area of the building is an excellent feature for large construction projects which may undergo renovations or need additions, but circuit setters simply come with too many expensive features for smaller buildings and homes.  Manual balancing valves may require installation at more junctions of the piping system and hand-calibration, but they offer a time-tested and much less costly method of keeping a water system in balance.

Manual balancing valves come with a wide range of benefits, including the capability to read low rates of flow very accurately while saving energy.  In a smaller home water heating or cooling system, hand adjustment of manual balancing valves does not pose a problem and costs are generally much lower than the cost of installing fancier valves.  Choosing the right system for your building project can make a world of difference in your client’ energy bills and satisfaction with the final product.

This post is courtesy of Flow-Pac LLC. Our sincere gratitude goes out to them. Please contact Mr. HVAC if you would like to be a guest writer.

 

5 Ways Automatic Balancing Valves Can Improve Your Water System

This post is courtesy of Flow-Pac LLC. Our sincere gratitude goes out to them. Please contact Mr. HVAC if you would like to be a guest writer.

When planning or installing your system, the choice between automatic balancing valves or manual balancing valves is not always clear.  While each device offers specific benefits, some are a better choice than others given the circumstances; even when multiple options exist, an automatic balancing valve is often the best choice.

In a water flow system, it’s important for the system to be “in balance” so that water flows evenly through all terminals in the system.  Balance occurs when the flow through the entire system corresponds to the flow rates designed for it, and if balance is not achieved then the heating or cooling effect intended by the system may not be achieved.  Balancing valves are the only way to achieve this – there is no way to adjust flow through the terminals by manipulating pipes alone.

While manual valves may be the right choice for many projects, here are the top five ways that choosing automatic balancing valves can improve your water system:

  1. Manual balancing valves require system-wide calibration of the flow pressure in order to achieve balance. This means that the installer must calculate the exact pressure needed at each unit and set the valve, an extremely time-consuming process and often surprisingly expensive if the system requires a large number of valves.  An automatic balancing valve, however, automatically adjust to changing flow rates to provide the perfect balance for the system even under changing pressure.
  2. Simplicity and costs. Automatic balancing valves are easier to install and require less maintenance to keep the system running effectively.  This means lower installation and operating costs.
  3. Sensible distribution of units across the system. While a system employing manual balancing valves will require a valve unit at each terminal, brancher, pump, and riser, the same system would require an automatic balancing valve only at each terminal.  This both decreases costs and simplifies maintenance by eliminating the need to re-do calculations and readjust the entire water system when needed.
  4. Greater flexibility. A system using automatic balancing valves can be adjusted easily and can even be expanded or completed in segments.
  5. Energy costs plus rising and falling room temperatures. The amount of energy wasted by a water chilling or heating system whose valves are not perfectly adjusted to put the system in balance can be enormous.  When a system with a temperature-sensitive sensor controlling water flow experiences an excess of flow due to poor valve calibration, the temperature in the room may become colder or warmer than what was set on the thermostat.  The system will respond by sharply decreasing flow, causing the temperature in the room to rise and fall suddenly.

Using automatic balancing valves eliminates a range of problems, satisfying the installer, homeowner, maintenance staff, and environment.  Installing water heating or cooling systems is certainly a challenging task, but selecting automatic balancing valves will surely reduce costs and keep customers happy.

Automatic Control Valve

Automatic Valve from Flo-Pac

About Flo-Pac
Flo-Pac LLC is a premier provider of automatic and manual balancing valves, venturi flow meters, hookup components, calibration equipment, and more.  For more information, visit http://www.flo-pacllc.com.

 

 

Manual Valve

Manual Valve from Flo-Pac