If you constantly run your furnace but still find yourself piling on blankets, your furnace may not be the only reason you’re chilly.
If your first thought when you get cold is to turn up your heat, you’re not alone. Many people equate comfort to the temperature of a room. But as an Arizonan who now lives in Ohio, I can testify that the quality of the air in the winter can majorly affect comfort.
At Fire & Ice, we not only help hundreds of customers choose the right HVAC equipment for winter each year, but we also service hundreds of existing systems each month.
In this article, we’ll discuss how furnaces and various indoor air quality products all contribute to keeping you comfortable during the colder months.
You can also check out the video below to learn about 10 myths around heating your home. If you’ve always heard that turning up your thermostat heats your home faster, this may clear things up.
HVAC Equipment & Winter Comfort
When homeowners talk to me about staying comfortable during colder months, generally, their focus is on the temperature of their home. And while I agree that staying toasty is important, heat certainly isn’t the only factor in keeping your home warm.
Let’s talk about the ways we can use HVAC equipment to keep your home warm.
HVAC essentials for staying comfortable during colder months:
- Air purifiers
This is where a lot of people start the conversation about staying warm in the winter: the furnace.
For the most part, all furnaces do the same job: heat your home to a set temperature.
But the quality of your furnace can increase your comfort. When we talk about quality, we have to talk about staging.
Staging describes the capacity levels a system can operate at. Depending on the model, a furnace can have as few as one stage and as many as hundreds.
Furnaces can have the following stages:
A single-stage furnace, for example, only has one setting: 100% capacity. This means a single-stage furnace is either on or off.
A two-stage furnace has two settings: 100% capacity and a lower setting that’s usually around 60-70%.
A modulating furnace can have 5-100 settings that range from 100% capacity to 40% capacity.
Some modulating furnaces are also communicating systems, which use sensors placed throughout your home to monitor the temperature throughout your home and adjust accordingly.
A furnace is sized for the coldest day of the year. When a system has multiple stages, it can adjust its output to better maintain a set temperature.
Systems with multiple stages also run longer. This improves three things:
- Air circulation
- Overall temperature consistency
- Temperature consistency between floors
And in this case, a longer runtime won’t cost you more in energy bills. Because systems with multiple stages can adjust their output, they only use the energy they need to heat your home.
We’ll discuss how to determine your current system’s staging later in this section. But the more stages a system has, the more comfort and efficiency it can offer.
Your furnace’s efficiency won’t affect the temperature, but it will affect your energy costs.
A furnace’s efficiency is scored with an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency, or AFUE, rating. An AFUE rating describes how much of the fuel a furnace uses actually goes towards heating your home.
For example, an 80 AFUE furnace will use 80% of the fuel it burns to heat your home. The other 20% is vented as waste gas.
An efficient furnace makes the most of the money you spend to heat your home. The more efficient a furnace is, the more fuel will be used to heat your home. This will decrease the amount of money you spend on energy.
The owner’s manual for your furnace should be able to tell you what your current furnace’s staging and AFUE rating is. If you don’t have access to the manual, you also look up the model number online.
How do you find your furnace’s model number? Good question.
Your furnace should have a data sticker, which includes information like the model number. But its location may vary.
If your furnace is newer, it may have a data sticker on the exterior. Check the top or the furnace and the right and left sides.
Don’t be deceived - you may also notice a data sticker for your system’s evaporator coil. The evaporator coil sits on top of your furnace.
But if you don’t see your furnace’s data sticker, you’ll have to remove a front panel. Look for the data sticker (and model number) on the left and right near the front of the furnace.
If you have a furnace with two front panels, you may need to remove both.
During Columbus winters, the relative humidity can get down to around 15%. Meanwhile, the CDC recommends keeping your home’s relative humidity levels around 40-60%.
Low humidity can cause health issues for you and your family that range from annoying to potentially dangerous, including:
- Static electricity
- Dry skin
- Sore throats
- Bloody noses
- Increased risk of illnesses like the flu
- Respiratory issues
Low humidity also affects your home and HVAC equipment. For example, when wood gets too dry, it can crack. Low humidity can damage furniture, hardwood floors, and woodwork.
You can’t control the humidity outside, but you can control it in your home. Humidifiers can help prevent all of these issues by adding humidity to the air throughout your home.
Humidifiers also help your furnace. When you have issues with low humidity in your home, your furnace will run more often to heat your home.
Humidity helps the air hold heat. Adding a humidifier to your system can both cut down on energy costs and give your furnace a break, which will decrease wear and tear.
Whole-home humidifiers solve these issues by adding moisture to the air throughout your home.
You can also solve these issues with portable humidifiers, though on a much smaller scale and not nearly as efficiently.
Whole-home humidifiers begin around $600. But they can pay for themselves within five or so years because of the money you’ll save on energy alone.
A filter generally won’t make you more comfortable, but it can make you uncomfortable.
Filters can neutralize odors and remove particulates like dust and pollen from the air in your home. But filters that are clogged or too dense can lead to static pressure.
Static pressure is resistance to airflow within your system. In some cases, static pressure can halt air circulation completely.
Clogged filters are most commonly the culprit, which is why regularly changing your filters is so important for both your system’s performance and your comfort.
Some filters need changed monthly; some only need changed once a year. Your filter will have a recommended replacement schedule on its packaging.
Filters come in a range of sizes and efficiencies, which affect how frequently you should change your system’s filter.
Your filter’s Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value, or MERV, rating scores its efficiency. Filters with higher MERV ratings can remove smaller particles from the air.
One-inch filters have been the standard since the 1950s. But today they’re considered entry-level.
‘One-inch filters are typically between 6-9 MERV. Depending on your filter, you may need to change them every one to three months.
At Fire & Ice, we recommend four-inch media filters. Many four-inch filters are between 11-16 MERV, which means they’re more effective at removing odors and smaller particles from the air.
How frequently you change a four-inch filter also depends on your filter. But you may only need to change a four-inch filter one or two times a year.
4. Air Purifiers
Though air purifiers don’t affect the temperature of your home, they are certainly worth mentioning in any conversation about winter comfort.
Because of the decreased humidity, you’re more likely to get sick. Low humidity can dry out the lining in your nose, which makes it more difficult for your nose hairs to trap viruses and other invaders.
Though we’ve already discussed how humidifiers can help increase the humidity in your home, air purifiers can stop the viruses from getting that far.
Air purifiers work year-round to cut down on odors, dust and allergens. But they can also neutralize mold spores, bacteria and viruses like MRSA, Bird flu and tuberculosis.
At Fire & Ice, we offer the Reme Halo, for example. The Halo uses UV or LED light to kill mold spores, bacteria and even some viruses, including COVID-19.
The Halo also releases charged particles into your home. These particles bond with and neutralize harmful particles both in the air and on surfaces throughout your home.
Related: Air Purifiers and Indoor Air Quality
Other Features That Affect Comfort
Other than HVAC equipment, there are features that your home probably already has that could be affecting your comfort during the winter.
These features include:
- Ceiling fans
One of the best ways to stay warm in the winter is to make sure your insulation is up to par.
Depending on the type, the insulation in your attic has a life expectancy of 15-80 years. But if your home feels drafty or your energy bills are high, your insulation could be part of the problem.
Your HVAC system should be based on the level and quality of your insulation. For example, here at Fire & Ice, we use the Manual J load calculation, which covers a variety of parameters that can affect your system’s ability to heat or cool your home.
Good insulation helps prevent heat transfer in both warmer and cooler seasons.
Insulation starts out really thick and fluffy. As it ages, it shrinks and compacts. If you’ve lived in your home for a while and never added insulation, this could be a factor.
Load calculations also factor in the number, type and condition of your home’s windows. The main reason: windows can cause significant heat transfer.
If your windows are poor quality, even a brand new HVAC system will have to work harder and run more to maintain temperature levels.
One of the factors in your window quality is the number of panes, or layers of glass. Today, you can buy windows with one to three panes.
Double-pane windows are the modern standard, but many older homes still have single-pane windows. Triple-pane windows are the gold standard.
Each additional pane increases the amount of UV light your windows filter, which helps keep your home cool in the summer. But higher-quality windows also can have a tighter seal. This decreases the amount of air that escapes or enters your home.
7. Ceiling Fans
Even in the winter, you can use ceiling fans to help circulate air. The catch: ceiling fans can only circulate room-temperature air, not warm air.
Even if your thermostat is set to 72 degrees, the air blowing out of your vents is much warmer. This air mixes with the cooler air throughout your home. This achieves that 72-degree set temperature in your home.
This is the air that your ceiling fan can circulate.
How to Ensure Your Home Stays Comfortable
While adding or improving some of the above equipment and features can help maintain comfort in your home, your system can’t do its job without help.
If you want to maintain the comfort levels in your home, make sure you replace your system’s filters as regularly as recommended and schedule routine maintenance. In general, your HVAC partner should check in on your system twice a year - once in winter and once in summer - to make sure your system is running as it should.
If you want to improve your comfort during winter, ask your HVAC partner whether some of the above products can help your system and your home meet your goals and preferences.
If you’d like to learn more about indoor air quality (IAQ) products like humidifiers and air purifiers, check out this article that discusses the ways IAQ products can improve your comfort and safety.
If you live in Central Ohio, we’d love to help make your home more comfortable!
At Fire & Ice, we take the time to get to know your needs and preferences. This helps us recommend products that can help make your home as comfortable as possible.
To get started, enter your zip code below. We look forward to speaking with you!