Why your furnace may not be turning off

It’s been a relatively cold winter so far in Central Oklahoma. We have responded to a lot of no-heat emergencies. But believe it or not, we’ve also made several service calls this winter because a homeowner’s heat wouldn’t turn off!

We’re always happy to help, but in many of these cases, our services weren’t entirely necessary to solve the problem. If your furnace won’t turn off, there are several things you can check (based on your comfort level) if you’d like to investigate the issue before making a service call. Often, that will save you time and money as a homeowner.

Thermostat issues

We always recommend starting with the simplest solutions first. It might seem overly simple, but it’s worth checking the thermostat—especially if you share your home with anyone else!

Compare the temperature setting for your thermostat with the current indoor and outdoor temperatures. If it’s 10 outside, 72 inside, and the thermostat is set to 80, that’s probably why your furnace won’t turn off!

Is your thermostat set to ‘Auto’ or perhaps ‘On’? This happens more often than you would think. If there are multiple people living in one home, thermostat settings tend to mysteriously change. It’s always worth taking a few moments to investigate before opening up your wallet.

Other potential issues

If your thermostat settings are not the issue, there a couple of other things that could be the cause of the problem.

Clogged air filters can make it more difficult for your furnace to reach the desired set temperature. This could cause it to run continuously—it’s trying with all its might to do what it’s being told!

Leaks in your air duct system are less likely to be the problem, but if you are losing heat due to these leaks, that can cause your furnace to run continuously. Your furnace will keep running trying to reach the desired set temperature, even though the hot air isn’t going where it needs to go.

Mechanical problems can also sometimes be the cause of a furnace that won’t stop running. Issues with your blower motor or a failed limit switch can cause the furnace to keep running. A faulty thermostat, while unlikely, could also be the cause.

In our experience, many times homeowners are able to correct the issue themselves if their furnace keeps running, which saves them time and money. But if you aren’t comfortable investigating, or find that some of the simpler solutions don’t resolve the issue, we are happy to come out and fully diagnose the source of the problem.

Should you get your air ducts cleaned?

Although we don’t offer the service, we field a lot of questions from clients who are curious about air duct cleaning. Since that’s not something we do, we don’t have any skin in the game—so we felt compelled to share some of what’s known and speculated about air duct cleaning.

Before getting into why you may or may not want to get your air ducts clean, here’s a quick reminder about why they are important.

You air ducts are the vessels that connect your heating and cooling system. You have both supply and return ducts intermingled throughout the air duct system in your home. The supply ducts connect to vents, which is where warm and cool air enter your home. The return ducts are designed to do the opposite and actually remove air from areas of the home.

These ducts can and will accumulate dust over time. How much this affects indoor air quality is a larger debate than we can undertake here. But you can have the air duct system cleaned to remove the dust (and sometimes mold).

Companies that provide this service will often discuss the health benefits of having air ducts cleaned, but the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) disagrees. A recent addition to their website states that “Duct cleaning has never been shown to actually prevent health problems. Neither do studies conclusively demonstrate that particle (e.g., dust) levels in homes increase because of dirty air ducts.”

Our experience has been that clients who have allergy issues or other indoor air quality concerns see value in having the service performed. It’s not something that’s necessary, but it may provide peace of mind. The indoor air quality of your home can only improve from having you air ducts cleaned.

If you are going to get your air ducts cleaned, there are some things you should look for in the company that performs the service.

  • Make sure the company you’re using can provide proof of liability and workers’ compensation insurance.
  • Ask for references and check online reviews, if possible. That will give you an idea if the company is reputable and will do a good job.
  • Ensure they will be cleaning more than just the air ducts—most companies will also clean some of the heating and cooling system components, including drains. If they offer any corrosive chemical cleaning, we do recommend you decline.

If you feel you need this service, we would be happy to refer you to one of a few companies in the Edmond and Oklahoma City area we trust. As to whether or not you need the service, we really can’t answer that for you. If you suffer from allergies or have other concerns related to the quality of air in your home, it may be something worth looking into.

How to prepare for an unexpected power loss

While you can lose power to your home any time during the year, the most common time for us to lose power here in central Oklahoma is during a severe winter ice storm. This can be more than a simple inconvenience—it can be a matter of life and death for some families.

Of course, we don’t know if this winter will bring any ice storms or widespread power outages, but it never hurts to be prepared.

Stock up on these essentials

1. Medications: Do you take regular medications? See if you can purchase your medicines in a 90-day supply instead of the commonly prescribed 30-day amounts.

2. Battery-powered emergency radio: Many weather-aware Oklahomans already have a battery powered radio, but then again, many families we’ve visited with don’t have one. If you don’t have one and aren’t sure how to choose the right model for you, this is a helpful article.

3. Phone charger for vehicle: A lot of us depend on our smart phones, which conveniently need a charged battery to operate. A car phone charger can keep that phone battery charged and keep you plugged in.

4. Dry foods and water: Having a two- to four-week supply of dry goods and water is a smart idea, extreme weather notwithstanding. If a storm shuts down supply lines, most grocery stores will run out of food within a few days, so it’s best to have some food and water on hand.

5. Portable generator fuel: If you’re fortunate enough to have a portable generator for your home, make sure you keep a decent stock of fuel for it. During a sustained power loss, most gas pumps won’t work properly.

Preventive steps you can take

Luckily for us, Oklahomans are highly weather aware. Our news channels largely do a wonderful job of preparing us for upcoming inclement weather. Here’s a small list of things we strongly recommend considering if you learn that significant winter weather is on the way.

1. Trim tree branches: Falling tree limbs can cause major damage to your property and pull down electrical lines. Be very careful trimming any branches in the vicinity of power lines. You may even want to hire a professional. It’s a good idea to keep your tree branches trimmed as part of your regular home maintenance.

2. Lower the temperature in your fridge and freezer: If you think power loss seems likely from a forecasted storm, you can proactively lower the temperatures in your refrigerator and freezer(s). Once the power does go out, they will maintain their cooling temperature much longer.

Safety tips for after the power is out

1. Unplug appliances: There’s a high chance that when power does come back on, it will be with a power surge. That can damage your appliances and electronics. Since the power’s already out, why not unplug them and prevent that potential cause of damage?

2. Leave one light switch on: Since the appliances and electronics are unplugged, make sure to leave at least one light switch on. This will let you know when the power has been restored.

3. Check on your neighbors: It’s the Oklahoma way. Take a few moments to check on people in your area who might be vulnerable. You might be able to help someone who is in a bad way or didn’t prepare for the situation.

4. Operate that generator safely: If you have a portable generator, remember not to operate it indoors. The generator produces carbon monoxide by burning fuel. Also, avoid plugging your generator into the outlets inside or outside your home. That runs the risk of sending power back to the utility grid, which could lead to the injury or death of a utility worker.

Hopefully, you won’t need to use your weather radio or dip into your stored food this winter. But being prepared and having a plan for what you will do if there is an ice storm that creates significant power loss will help you handle whatever Mother Nature throws at us this winter.

Enjoy LED light energy savings without sacrificing ambience

If you’ve been shopping for lightbulbs recently, you’ve probably noticed how overwhelming the selection is. There are probably twice as many options now as there were two years ago, and I’m sure in two years there will be more options than there are now.

As far as LED lighting goes, the investment for those bulbs has been steadily decreasing as the economics of supply and demand have run their course. Some of our Edmond and Oklahoma City clients have already switched to LED lighting for their homes and businesses because there’s quite a long-term savings with LED bulbs.

But the majority of our clients, especially our commercial clients, haven’t made the switch—for a variety of reasons. One of the more common reasons that our commercial clients give is that they don’t like the type of light that LED fixtures typically give off.

Fortunately, LED lighting is constantly evolving. We’re increasingly seeing the inclusion of filament-style LED bulbs, which look more like the incandescent (I/C) bulbs that many folks are used to. Want a refresher on the different types of light bulbs? Check this out.

LED filament-style bulbs are now being commonly used in many residential and commercial applications. The beautiful light put off by these bulbs is becoming increasingly popular in restaurants, hotels, nightclubs, coffee shops, and diners. These bulbs can capture the look and feel of typical Edison-style bulbs or tungsten filament bulbs while boasting lifespans of up to 15,000 hours, as compared to less than 1,000 hours for their I/C counterparts.

Another benefit to filament-style LED bulbs is that they produce 360-degree lighting. Many of the other LED bulbs on the market give you 180 to 270 degrees of light. That means that these filament-style LED bulbs are an ideal choice for open fixtures such as chandeliers, wall sconces, and lamps.

New LED options also include a range of color, from a soft orange glow to a bright white. The other benefits of LED lighting are still present, including longer lifespans, lower operating costs, and no maintenance—but now you have more options for the kind of ambiance you want to set with your LED lighting.

If you previously thought LED lighting didn’t make sense for your property, we would encourage you to think about it again.

OG&E is currently offering a generous rebate program for businesses who switch to LED lighting—we know dozens of clients who have already made the switch and received their rebate check. If this is something you would be interested in learning more about, we would be happy to visit with you today.

Thanks to the many available options, you can still reap the benefits of making the switch without sacrificing the quality and color of lighting you’re accustomed to.

Why we can’t give you a firm price over the phone

If I’m going to invest in a project, especially a large one, I’d like to know how much it’s going to cost before I commit to it. Most of the people who call us are the same way.

It can cause a lot of frustration when you take the time to make some phone calls and reach out to contractors about pricing a project on your house, only to find out that none of them will give you a quote over the phone. Maybe they’ll offer to send a salesperson out to your house to talk with you, but if you haven’t even committed to the project yet, why would you want to feel pressured to buy something?

Most contractors don’t want to set an unfair expectation around pricing. It’s always possible that when you quote a typical price for a particular service, you’ll get to the site and encounter something unexpected that forces you to add something to the price you gave over the phone. It’s uncomfortable all around.

I can’t speak for any other companies in our industry, but I know the reason that we don’t give firm prices over the phone is because we want to give our clients a fair, accurate price—and there are simply too many variables in most service calls to do so without going out to the site.

It’s important to us as a company to be helpful to our clients even though we can’t give a firm quote over the phone. We know that a lot of times, people call for prices because they want to gauge whether or not a project is feasible for them, and there are several things we do to help people decide on that question.

We can often provide a range of prices for budgetary purposes over the phone. Before that, we listen to your project goals and expectations and help you narrow down some of the many choices based on your needs. We may ask for photos or measurements to give us a better idea of the project difficulty and ease of access. If you have drawings or plan for a project, that can help us give you a more accurate budget, too.

Sometimes, after talking with a homeowner about their project, they decide to work with us to carry out the project. And sometimes that’s not the case. But either way, we’re happy to share our expertise, and it’s our hope that it saves people time and energy.

Four possible reasons your furnace keeps turning on and off

During the heating season, we typically receive some calls from our Edmond and Oklahoma City clients about their furnace turning on and off frequently. There are a number of reasons that may happen, and I’ll name four of the most common ones below.

Before deciding to contact your service provider and have a technician sent out to your home, there are two things you should consider.

First, it’s okay for your heater to cycle on and off when it’s operating as it should. Depending on how cold it is outside and how warm you want it to be inside, it’s acceptable and normal for your furnace to cycle on and off three to eight times per hour. If that’s the case with yours, you probably have nothing to worry about. But cycling faster than that could indicate an issue.

Second, think about the age of your furnace. If you have a newer furnace, it likely came with a long list of safety features to prevent unsafe operation or damage to system components. Your furnace may be shutting down because of one of those safety features. While that may still be annoying and uncomfortable, you can breathe easy knowing your furnace isn’t operating under dangerous conditions.

What you want to keep an eye out for is what we in the industry refer to as short-cycling. That means your system does start up and run, typically for 30-60 seconds, before something tells your system to shut down. That “something” will usually be one of two sensors in your furnace:

High limit switch

This switch (also called a limit switch) kills power to the furnace to prevent damage if your system is working too hard. Tripping this switch consistently can cause it to wear out and fail. Without an operational high limit switch, your furnace will simply not run.

Flue limit switch

This switch will turn off power to your system if air isn’t properly ventilating out of your home through the flue exhaust vent. Furnaces produce carbon monoxide when they burn their fuel source, which of course needs to be safely vented. Without a functioning flue switch, your system will not operate.

What’s behind the short-cycling?

Now, what could actually be causing your system to short-cycle? Here are four common causes.

1. Flue not venting correctly

Your flue exhaust may have something blocking airflow and causing it to short-cycle. The most frequently seen culprits are bird nests and other critters setting up shop in your vent.

2. Blower motor not working

It’s possible the blower itself is out, which means air isn’t circulating through your duct system. Your limit switch detects the heat buildup and shuts the system down.

3. Dirty air filters

If your air filters aren’t changed out at least every three months, that makes it difficult for your system to run properly. If your system can’t “breathe,” it can cause the limit switch to trip.

4. Faulty thermostat

If your thermostat isn’t functioning properly, it could be the cause of your short-cycling. You can test the thermostat by removing it from the equation and manually connecting the wires. There are plenty of tutorials for this online if you’re the DIY type.

Don’t forget, it’s okay for your furnace to be cycling three to eight times per hour—possibly more if it’s extremely cold outside. But a cycle of 30-60 seconds is something to be concerned about. If you believe your furnace is short-cycling and would like a professional’s opinion on the cause and solution, please give us a call. We’d be happy to help you resolve the issue.

What’s a fair price for an HVAC system in Oklahoma City?

For most families, a new heating and cooling (HVAC) system is one of the larger investments you’ll make in your home. When people have to make this investment, they understandably want to know how much it will cost before making a decision.

We’ve seen too many people pay a full installation price for a basic changeout of equipment, because they were unable to compare apples to apples. Here’s our contribution to help you budget for this significant investment.

The HVAC contractors I’ve visited with are hesitant to give a firm price quote without seeing the system to be replaced, because there are so many variables that can play into the price of a new system installation. Most prefer to come out for a visit to the property to walk through the job site and see some of those variables.

We’re no different in this regard. We can’t place a firm price on a system installation without a thorough analysis of the existing system. We also want to have a serious conversation with the client to make sure they’ll be happy with both the new system and the installation. There are a ton of options out there, and it can be a lot to consider—especially if your system is broken and it’s very hot or cold outside!

Now, we’ll probably catch some grief from our peers about this next part, but this post isn’t for them. We want to be helpful and transparent, so I’ll point out some common variables and give you some reasonable ballpark numbers you could expect to pay a quality contractor in Edmond or Oklahoma City.

Think of your HVAC unit like a car. Just like with cars, you have some economical brands and models, then you have the luxury and sports car equivalents. They exist for a reason and clearly some consumers make the investment, but the investment with top-end equipment simply won’t be right for every client.

Five factors that can affect your investment in an HVAC system installation

  1. Project difficulty: This can cause a lot of price variation. If it’s difficult to access your attic or utility closet, that can add many hours of labor to the project, which will increase your investment.
  2. Unit size: Larger homes tend to have larger equipment (or multiple HVAC systems). A larger home will need an HVAC system or systems with larger capacity, which will be more expensive than a single lower-capacity unit.
  3. Equipment brand: Each manufacturer has its own pricing structure based on their processes, materials, and workers.
  4. Unit efficiency: More efficient equipment tends to be pricier up front but has lower operating costs. There is a point of diminishing returns when it comes to unit efficiency, so it’s something you’ll have to weigh the importance of for your family.
  5. Ductwork: This is another unknown factor that can cause a large variation in price. Many homes have an undersized duct system. Your duct system allows air to flow throughout your home, and if it’s insufficient for your heating and cooling needs, it will tax your HVAC system. Upgrading your ductwork can add between $1,000-3,000 to your investment.

Three main types of HVAC installations

  1. Changeout only: Existing HVAC equipment is removed and new equipment is installed to replace it.
  2. Changeout plus ductwork: This includes modifying or even replacing the existing duct system in addition to changing out the existing equipment.
  3. Full installation with additional features: In addition to receiving new equipment and ductwork, there are several other features you can add to your HVAC system. These include features to manage humidity and zoning duct systems to maximize home comfort.

Fair pricing for HVAC installations in OKC

  1. Changeout only: $6,500-9,000, one day to complete. 
This range captures most brands and sizes but leaves out some of the more expensive, highest-efficiency models. Changeout jobs only replace equipment, so any ductwork issues would still be present with the new equipment.
  2. Changeout plus ductwork: $9,500-13,000, two to three days to complete.
This range depends on the type of equipment you choose and how much ductwork needs to be added or replaced. This is typically the better solution to address comfort concerns rather than simply replacing the equipment. Many companies in our market charge this price range just for the changeout without even looking at the duct system or asking whether it should be repaired or replaced as well.
  3. Full installation with additional features: $14,000-20,000, three to five days to complete.
While we realize this price range is a large one, that is because of the many variables discussed above. A high-capacity system with top-end efficiency, new ductwork, and a zoning system could absolutely approach $20,000 in this market.

I hope this information is helpful to you for budgeting purposes. If you’ve already received a proposal from another company and aren’t comfortable moving forward with them, feel free to give us a call. We’d be happy to walk you through the process and make sure you know what you’ll be receiving for the price you are quoted.

Why did your electrical outlet quit working?

Typically, electrical outlets don’t just quit working. When they aren’t working properly, there’s usually an underlying cause. We’ve fielded thousands of service calls for our Edmond and Oklahoma City clients where the primary complaint has been that one or more electrical outlets had stopped working.

If you’ve ever been in that position, you know how frustrating it can be!

Sometimes, there are things you can do as a homeowner without lifting a tool or paying a service fee. You can use whichever of these troubleshooting tips you’re comfortable with to save yourself the time and expense of a service call.

See if other outlets aren’t working either

You can safely test this by using a voltage meter. If you don’t have one, you can also take a small lamp and use it to test the outlets. Voltage meters are less than $15 at most hardware stores. Mark the ones that aren’t working with a piece of colored tape so you can see if there are any locations where multiple outlets aren’t working.

Check your circuit breakers

Any time something electrical stops working in your home, it’s a good idea to check your breaker box for tripped circuit breakers. Make sure to fully turn your breaker all the way to the off position, before turning it back to the on position.

Look for tripped GFCIs

Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCI, or GFI for short) are put in place to disable a circuit in the event of a ground fault, which could include somebody getting shocked. These safety devices are quite necessary, but can cause a lot of grief when it comes to outlets not working. If you aren’t familiar with these devices or how to reset them, you may want to watch our video on tripped GFI outlets.

Check for bad connections

This step may not be for everyone. Before checking any electrical connections you will first want to turn off the circuit breaker that powers the outlet, then confirm the power is disabled, BEFORE you check the connections.

But if you are comfortable doing so, you can remove the cover plate and check for the following:

  • Loose terminal screws or loose stab-in connections: If this is the problem, we suggest replacing that outlet and securing the connections on the new outlet.
  • Secured wire nuts: Make sure all connections at the wire nut are properly secured. If they have come loose or don’t have a good connection, that can make your outlet stop working correctly.

We find that often simple solutions turn out to be the right ones. If that’s not the case, then involving an electrical contractor you trust is the next best step.

Common questions about bathroom exhaust fans

You’ve probably used the exhaust fan in your bathroom before—have you ever wondered if you really need it? Older homes were often built without them, and residents simply opened windows to ventilate their bathrooms.

Of course, there’s almost nowhere in Oklahoma where opening the windows after a shower is a functional year-round solution, with the varied weather we have here. And more importantly, modern exhaust fans are much more efficient at reducing humidity than opening a window is.

We receive a lot of questions about bathroom exhaust systems from homeowners. Here are answers to some of the most common ones.

What’s the investment for adding a new exhaust system to a bathroom?

That depends on several factors, including how high-end you want to go. For a new installation, you’ll want to consider several things:

  • Exhaust fan unit: Some of these are just exhaust fans, but some include heating and lighting elements too.
  • Venting: Your exhaust system will need to vent outside the home, not into the attic or a crawlspace. Longer vent runs will cost a little more due to materials and the labor to complete the work.
  • Power and switches: We typically either add a new switch plate or expand one that’s already in place.
  • Multiple contractors: Typically an electrical contractor would handle adding new switches and connecting to the power source, while an HVAC contractor would add the ventilation system.

Since there are so many variables, we typically will not price a new installation until we have seen the home and can accurately gauge the work needed. You may want to be wary of someone who will give you a quote over the phone without seeing your home first.

How much does it cost to replace my existing fan?

This depends on your unit. Some economy units can be replaced for $150. But larger, energy-saving units can cost much more. Our clients often purchase the unit they want themselves. If that’s your route, consider these things:

  • Size of the existing and new units: If they’re the same size, it’s usually an easy swap. But if the existing unit is larger or smaller than the new one, that will require filling in the gap or cutting a large hole in the sheetrock.
  • Features of existing and new units: If your new unit has heat and light but your old unit was solely an exhaust fan, you will probably need a reconfiguration of the existing switches and switch plates.

Can’t I just go without an exhaust system in my bathroom?

You certainly can! Exhaust systems are routinely installed during the home building process, but older homes don’t always have them. You may experience some humidity issues, but depending on your home environment, you may not.

I feel some drafty, cold air coming from my exhaust vents. Is something wrong?

This is a tough one to answer without physically seeing the exhaust system. Some of the questions we typically ask clients, though, may help you determine the cause.

  • Is the ventilation properly sealed? If it isn’t, cold air from your attic or crawl space could be getting into the exhaust vent.
  • Is there a damper on your vent cap? Dampers (movable flaps) on the cap to the vent system can sometimes prevent air from getting into the vent when the exhaust fan is not running. There are ‘draft blockers’ you can put in the exhaust vent, which help move air one-way, preventing back drafts.
  • Are your dampers obstructed? Something as simple as a twig could prevent your dampers from closing and doing their job, leading to a draft.

If you have further questions about your existing exhaust system or about installing a new one, let’s have a conversation. We’d be happy to talk about what makes sense for your budget and your needs.

It’s not too late to winterize your home

Utility costs in Oklahoma City, like many other parts of the country, tend to spike in the months where the weather and temperatures are the most volatile. But because these months are the most costly to keep your home comfortable, they’re also the months where simple energy efficiency measures have the largest impact.

Here are some simple things you can do to winterize your home and stay a little warmer and safer as temperatures outside drop.

1. Run fans in reverse

Rotating your fans in a clockwise motion will help force the naturally-rising warmer air back to ground level.

2. Flush your water heater

Your water heater usually works hardest in winter, especially when it sits in the cold garage. Draining your water heater can help drain any calcium sediment buildup, which will help your water heater operate more efficiently.

For best effects, this should be done annually. If your water heater is several years old and this has never been done, it will likely have minimal results.

3. Insulate and properly seal your windows

You can always replace your older windows with new ones, but that’s probably a four- or five-figure investment. If you’re worried about your windows letting cold air inside, here are a couple of more affordable things you can do:

  • For a few dollars, you can get an insulation kit for your windows. This thin plastic sheet is largely invisible and easy enough to install. There are better versions you can have professionally installed for a fraction of the investment of replacing your windows.
  • Caulking around the outside of the window can make a big difference, make sure to use a exterior-grade caulk.
  • Weatherstripping is another great option. It helps to make a firm seal in the interior area of windows, known as the sash. These are the movable parts of the window which open and close.

4. Tune up your heater

Consider this the shameless plug for our industry. Some people are comfortable doing this themselves, but most people prefer to outsource to an HVAC contractor.

Either way, a well-maintained furnace has lower operating costs and it will keep your home warmer. Most companies perform this service for around a hundred dollars per heater or furnace.

5. Change your air filters

We hate to beat a dead horse, but we find dirty air filters present on roughly 75% of our service calls where the HVAC equipment has stopped working. Consider this a reminder to change yours if you haven’t done so recently.

6. Draft guards for your doors

These may not always be the most aesthetically pleasing, but draft guards attached to the underside of your exterior doors will help with drafts letting unwanted cold air in your home this winter. You can get them for $10-$15 any hardware store.

7. Chimney balloon

I had never heard of one of these either, thank you internet. Chimneys are a huge source of heat loss in many homes, the chimney balloon will plug this draft up and can be easily removed when you want to use the fireplace. There are many brands available, here is one we found that appears to have positive reviews.

8. Check your air ducts

While a visual inspection of an air duct system is included in most heater or furnace tuneups, there are better and more in depth ways of checking to see how much heat loss you have in your air duct system. Some contractors (we happen to be one of them) have infrared equipment and can show you where your air ducts may be leaking, as well as price repairs to the duct system.

It’s estimated that in some homes, as much as 30% of the utilities associated with heating and cooling the home are lost due to inefficient ductwork.

These proactive steps can help you save money and retain heat this winter. If you’re worried that your heating or cooling system simply isn’t working, give us a call, we’d be happy to help you figure out a solution.