Archive for October 2016

What will you do if your refrigerant is no longer available?

Right off the bat, I’m going to let you know this will be a somewhat technical article. There’s a good reason for it, though.

Your air conditioner’s refrigerant may become obsolete by 2020, with all the price increases that a decrease in supply usually includes. That’s not a game we’ll be playing, but more on that in a bit.

R22 refrigerant (also known as Freon) is being phased out, and will no longer be produced by 2020. Unfortunately, the majority of units that we work on in Oklahoma City and Edmond use Freon, and if your air conditioning unit was manufactured before 2010, there’s a good chance yours does too.

I haven’t seen much about this phaseout online that is geared toward consumers, but I think it’s something worth sharing, especially since you’ll see the effects in your wallets in the next few years.

Freon phaseout

About 25 years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began mandating the phaseout of R-22 refrigerant (Freon) due to concerns over its ozone-depleting properties. As of 2010, units were no longer produced that were already charged with the refrigerant. In 2020 production of this chemical will stop completely.

Many of our clients are just now hearing about this because of how the phasing-out system works. There were more than 50 million pounds of Freon produced in 2014, and only 18 million pounds produced this year. There will be less than 10 million pounds in 2018, less than 5 in 2019, and zero in 2020.

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, so we have fielded a lot of questions from our concerned residential and commercial clients. Here are answers to some of the most common ones.

What are the alternatives?

The generally accepted alternative right now Is R-410A refrigerant, sold under various trade names, including Puron® and SUVA 410A®. However, using these or other alternatives, will void warranties on the compressor, which is like the engine of your HVAC system.

They have been known to cause premature failure of other costly and crucial components. We aren’t using these alternative refrigerants and will not unless the equipment we install will honor their warranties.

Why should I care?

This will increase the cost of many routine repairs. Because R-22/Freon is rapidly becoming a commodity of limited supply, we have seen our costs as HVAC contractors go up over 500% in recent years.

And unfortunately, this is probably the tip of the iceberg. A small refrigerant leak could soon leave you facing the decision of spending a few thousands to charge the system and repair the leak, or replace your condenser unit, which could cost even more.

The purpose of the national phaseout is to force the consumer to replace the equipment to a more environmentally friendly, energy efficient model, rather than to continue to repair the older, inefficient units.

I can’t just put R-410A in my R-22 system?

Unfortunately, no. It would be the equivalent of running diesel through a gasoline engine. Multiple parts of your system use this refrigerant, so you’d have to replace both the condenser unit and evaporator coil.

Depending on the type of equipment you install and contractor you select, these replacements would run you $5,000-$10,000, and you would still have your existing furnace.

Will Baxter keep carrying R-22 refrigerant?

We have set a level of pricing to the end user (you) as a ceiling for us. We will stop using R-22 rather than charging increasingly more unreasonable prices to you, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see this happen in 2018 or 2019. At that time, we’ll have to let some people know we are unable to add any R-22 to their systems and will only be able to replace their unit.

This will only change if a replacement alternative is accepted by manufacturers without voiding warranties. It’s unlikely manufacturers will do that in a timely manner, though.
The purpose of this isn’t to scare you, but to help you be an educated consumer. If you have a refrigerant leak and an R-22 system, the prices for repairing that leak will only increase. You may want to get it taken care of sooner rather than later.

If you have questions or concerns about your current HVAC system, we’re happy to talk with you about them.

Signs your furnace may need a repair service

In October and November Oklahomans typically get to start enjoying cooler temperatures, particularly at night. Many of us will kick our furnaces or heaters on for the first time during the fall. If your house is like mine, you will likely experience an odd smell the first couple of times it comes on. This is usually due to a build-up of dust and is not necessarily a big concern.

You can think of that dusty smell as a reminder to take care of fall preventative maintenance. However, there are some things you may notice this fall that indicate a need for a repair to your furnace, not just a maintenance visit.

If one of these signs is familiar to you, your furnace may need repair in the future, or even a replacement.

1. Your heating bill has increased significantly.

Gas rates do fluctuate. But if your electric bill is increasing more than you’re used to during the cooler months, there’s probably a reason for that. Assuming utility rates haven’t skyrocketed in your area, something in your heating system is losing its efficiency and working harder than normal. If it’s not corrected, this can lead to bigger problems.

2. Your thermostat setting doesn’t match the real temperature.

If you have your thermostat set for 73 degrees and it’s 68 degrees inside, there is a reason your furnace isn’t warming the property as desired. It usually isn’t the thermostat itself. This could mean your furnace is not able to properly distribute heat.

3. You have a yellow burner flame.

Just like with a gas stove, you want a blue flame in your burner, because that means it’s burning efficiently. A yellow flame, also called a “lazy flame,” means there is a restriction of oxygen.

This incomplete combustion results in hazardous carbon monoxide. Streaks of soot around your burner also indicate issues with the combustion. You may not be able to see the burner flame, but if you can see it and it’s yellow, it’s safest to get that checked out.

4. You have had frequent repairs in recent years.

Heaters will typically last 15-20 years if maintained well. There will certainly be the need for a few repairs along the way as some components have a lesser lifespan, but if it’s breaking down a couple times per year and is in this age range, it may make sense to consider replacing it. Much like a vehicle, a furnace can become a money pit at a certain point.

If you’re worried about any of these four symptoms, it’s a good idea to call a professional. Your family will be warmer, not to mention safer, if issues like these are handled quickly.

Routine maintenance is the best way to extend the life of your furnace. We charge $99 per furnace for this one-time service. If you’re concerned about your furnace or want to schedule a maintenance appointment, let’s have a conversation.

What’s all the controversy about smart meters?

When OG&E began offering SmartHours for their customers, it was on my radar but it wasn’t something I thought much about, since I’ve been an Edmond resident for many years. Now that Edmond Electric is offering a similar pilot program with smart meters, the concept of smart meters has been on my mind more often.

Edmond Electric recently received approval on a $45,000 pilot program for smart meters, which will be tested on approximately 300 customers who have volunteered for the pilot program.

As I began to do research on smart meters, I realized that this issue has been and remains a hot button issue not only for Edmond, but several communities and states.

While we don’t object to the program here at Baxter, we thought we would clarify some key points from the “pro” and “con” side of the argument. That way you can decide for yourself if smart meters are something you want to use in the future.

For smart meters

Smart meters collect and transmit an enormous amount of data which can be very useful in detecting and correcting issues within the electrical grid. This efficiency saves time, energy, money and resources for the utility provider.

Other added efficiencies from smart meters include eliminating the need for manual meter readings and providing more efficient distribution of power to end users (homeowners) throughout the day. The real-time data captured allows for dynamic rate structures like SmartHours, where rates change due to peak and off-peak demand fluctuations.

The argument for smart meters is based on the idea that fluctuating costs of doing business will be passed on proportionally to the end users. If it costs less for the energy provider, it should cost less for the homeowner.

It also correctly states it gives homeowners more control of their eventual bill, if they are willing to change their energy consumption behaviors.

Against smart meters

Honestly, I was not aware that there was such a vocal crowd against smart meters until I did some routine internet research. Some of the main arguments against smart meters focus on three concerns.

1. Radio transmissions signals may be harmful to people’s health. Websites linked to dozens of instances where legal action has been taken due to complaints of injuries resulting from smart meters. Health advocate groups have fought implementation in several communities across the country.

2. Cyber security concerns are present as this places all electrical systems under the same network of control. The theory here is that any computer device can be hacked.

3. Privacy concerns due to the information-gathering capabilities of smart meters. These sites appear unified around how detailed the information is, and that it can point out when specific appliances are used. The concern appears to be potential loss of control over when consumers can use power, or having their usage information sold to third parties.

Ultimately, we don’t want to be an advocate for either side of the debate. For what it’s worth, we have not heard one client, whether an Oklahoma City area OG&E customer, or Edmond Electric customer, voice their opinion on the matter in their dealings with us as their electrical service provider.

Choosing an electric vehicle charging station

With the popularity of electrical vehicles on the rise in Edmond and Oklahoma City, we have seen an increase in demand from both residential and commercial clients for installing charge stations for those vehicles. We embrace this increase in eco-friendly vehicles and have assisted in numerous projects.

If you’re considering purchasing an electric vehicle (EV), here are some things you’ll probably want to know about the charging stations.

Charging station levels

Charging stations aren’t one-size-fits-all items; some require a professional installation while others do not. Typically, residential EV charging stations are divided into two groups: Level 1 chargers and Level 2 chargers.

Level 1 chargers provide 110-120 volts of charging capacity, while Level 2 offer 220-240 volts of charging capacity. Some Level 1 chargers are made to plug into an existing outlet, but those can take from 24-36 hours to fully charge your EV (depending on make and model).

Other Level 1 chargers require professional installation by a licensed electrician. Often, these chargers can fully charge your EV in as little as 16-24 hours. Level 2 chargers all require a professional installation from a licensed electrician and can fully charge your EV in as little as 4-5 hours.

Do you need a consultation?

The short answer is, probably. Because of the variations in chargers, we do recommend an in-home consultation with a professional contractor of your choosing. It is important you take your lifestyle and charging needs into consideration when choosing an EV charging station to install.

For example, if you drive 400-500 miles per week and aren’t home very often on weekends, you may want a higher charging capacity. If you’re only driving 20-30 miles per day, you may be happy with a Level 1 charger that doesn’t require professional installation.

Another value to consulting with a licensed professional contractor is that they can obtain the proper permits and will know what limitations (if any) you have from your current electrical service and breaker box. They will determine the needed amperage and size the circuit with the correct breaker. Most importantly, you will have peace of mind knowing it was safely installed and it will work as needed.

What about public charging stations?

The larger public charging stations are designed to charge much, much faster than residential charging stations. Nobody wants to spend 5 hours at a fueling station!

While there are public charging locations in Oklahoma City and Edmond, there aren’t as many of them as we’d hoped to find, and online information on them was scarce. This website appears to have the comprehensive list of local charging stations.

From the clients we’ve visited with who own EVs, their advice to people who are thinking about EVs is to treat charging more like charging your cell phone that fueling a regular vehicle. Top it off every chance you get and try not to let it run too far down, as it can take a long while to fully charge from there.

If you have further questions about EV charging stations, feel free to give us a call!