Category: Blog

7 Ways to Deal With Low Humidity This Winter

Here in Alabama, we are no stranger to humidity. It’s what makes our summers so unbearable and our snow wet enough to make a snowman (on the rare occasion that we get snow). But in the winter, the natural humidity level drops significantly, making our homes feel less comfortable as the heat blasts through our vents. Increasing the humidity can have many benefits in regards to comfort, health and cleanliness. There are many easy ways to add humidity to your house, so that you can be comfortable in your home all year round. If the discomfort in your home is due to heating issues, contact Mainline Heating and Air Conditioning in Alabaster, AL for your heater repairs. 

The Benefits of Balanced Humidity

A home with a balanced, healthy humidity level can have numerous benefits. The ideal humidity level is about 45% and if your home humidity level stays around that percentage, your living environment will be cleaner, safer, healthier and more comfortable. How do you know what the level is? You can add an indoor weather meter to give you accurate readings of the interior temperature and humidity levels in the home.

The benefits of balanced humidity levels this winter include:

  • Prevention of common illnesses-  Cold and flu viruses are transmitted more easily in dry air. 
  • Prevention of sore throats and headaches; decreased contact lens discomfort.
  • Better control of dust-  An ideal humidity level helps to keep dust, allergens and pollutants out of the air, making the air cleaner and healthier to breathe.
  • Hydrated skin- Many of us suffer from extremely dry hands during the winter, no matter what we do. Increasing the humidity in your home can help prevent the symptoms of dry, irritated skin.
  • Furniture left in better shape: Extremely dry air can be hard on wooden furniture, hardwood floors, pianos, and more. Proper humidity prevents warping or cracking.
  • Reduced electrostatic shocks: Ouch! Getting shocked by almost everything you touch is just plain annoying. Dry winter air makes the ideal conditions for those annoying little shocks we get when we touch certain surfaces. Prevent this by increasing the home’s humidity.

How to Increase Humidity Levels in Your Home

There are many practical ways to add humidity to your house. Here are our favorite easy and creative solutions:

  1. Use a humidifier
    This is the most obvious and perhaps the easiest solution for controlling the house humidity in winter. There are smaller, portable units for small areas like a bedroom. You may even already have one for when someone in your home gets sick. You can also have professionals install a whole-home system. The whole-home option is more efficient at ensuring an exact humidity level to keep you comfortable and healthy.  This is your best option for the ultimate in humidity control. 
  2. Add some houseplants
    They help purify the air and add to the humidity level while adding to the decor and ambiance of your home. Properly watered plants will release vapor from the leaves and stems into the air. Palms, philodendrons and Chinese evergreens may be the best for humidity control. Tropicals with large leaves, and plants that do well in dry conditions. 
  3. Boil water and cook using the stovetop
    When you use the stovetop for cooking and boiling water, you’ll release steam into the air while you prepare your food or boil water. Simply using the stovetop more often than the microwave will help improve your home’s humidity level. 
  4. Hang dry your laundry
    Forget the clothes dryer and try hanging up laundry inside for a little while. The moisture will evaporate into the air of your house. You’ll also save on energy costs by reducing your dryer usage.
  5. Use shower steam
    Any time you take a bath or shower, some steam is released into the air. Make the best use of this extra steam by opening the bathroom door, if privacy allows for it, or just keep the door and shower curtain open after you’re done. Don’t use the built-in bathroom fan, as this is designed to suck the excess moisture from the air. 
  6. Let bathwater cool off before draining
    As long as the water from a bath remains warm, it’s contributing moisture to the air. So, let the bathwater sit and cool completely before draining, and you’ll get the benefit of that added moisture. There’s nothing like a hot bath during the cold winter months, and it can even be useful after you’re finished bathing. 
  7. Upgrade doors, windows and weatherstripping
    This not only helps keep in warmth and moisture, but also helps lower your energy costs, so it’s doubly helpful (and helps you get return on your investment). Mitigate this heat and humidity loss by installing newer, more efficient windows and doors. If new doors and windows aren’t in the budget yet, consider using weatherstripping or other means to seal up cracks and keep your warm, moist air inside and the cold, dry air outside.

If you find yourself with heating issues this winter, contact Mainline Heating and Air Conditioning in Alabaster, AL for your heater repairs. While low humidity levels can make the air in your home uncomfortable, going without heat when it’s freezing outside is worse and can even be dangerous. So please call us as soon as you notice that your heat has gone out!

 

Signs You Need Heater Repairs in Birmingham, AL

Central Alabama continues to experience below average temperatures this winter…how’s your heater holding up? We don’t want you to have to deal with a problem at the most inconvenient time- like in the middle of a freezing cold night. Know what to look, smell, listen, and feel for to catch a potential heating problem before it goes out on you. If you notice any of the following signs, give Mainline Heating and Air Conditioning a call so we can diagnose, make the necessary repairs and help prevent a furnace failure.

Here are five of the most common signs you to be aware of:

1. Unusually High Energy Bills

Understandably, this is one of the first signs that indicate a problem. While it’s normal for your electricity or gas bill to be higher when temperatures are cold, the difference shouldn’t be astronomical. Just like how a drastically high water bill is an indication of a water leak, a high energy bill can indicate poor efficiency that can mean your unit needs attention. Similarly, if you also feel as though the heater is turning on much more often than it usually does, this can be a red flag. When the heat runs continuously throughout the day with no (or very few) breaks, the unit will wear down faster and could even overheat. 

2. Your House Doesn’t Stay Warm

If the air still feels chilly in your home regardless of the temperature you’ve set on the thermostat, then you should call us as soon as possible. You and your family need a warm home on these cold winter days and we want to help! Address this problem as soon as you notice it. Our Mainline technicians are standing by and ready to complete heater repairs in and around the Birmingham, AL area.

3. Unusual Noise from Unit or Vents

Heating systems are somewhat noisy by default, but when it’s noisier than usual this could indicate a malfunction. In addition, noises coming out from the vents could also mean that the system isn’t working properly. It will be hard to determine if it’s a minor or major problem just from this observation, but either way, this is a sign that you need to call Mainline and let us figure out what’s going on.

4. Yellow Pilot Light

It’s a good idea to safely take a look at the pilot light of your furnace, and you should do this regularly but especially when your heat isn’t working well. The pilot light should be blue as opposed to yellow (or any other color). If you don’t see a flame, it means your pilot light went out and will need to be reignited, and inspected to see what caused the issue. If the color of the flame isn’t blue, you could have an issue with the efficiency of the furnace, which could potentially affect the air quality inside your home.

5. Uneven Hot and Cold Spots Around the House

Have you noticed that the heat doesn’t seem to work in certain areas of the house, but works totally fine in other spots? If there isn’t a reasonable explanation for this (drafty windows or lack of vents), then this could be a sign of some heater and/or ductwork problems. This is a common problem in many homes, but especially in older homes. Some ductwork may not have been set up properly, while other systems are simply aged and worn down. Old home or not, it’s a good idea to contact us to check the status of your heating and duct system and see what can be done to enhance its efficiency. We want every room in your home to be nice and warm, and that is possible through a few different options.  

Do You Need Heater Repairs?

Your heater won’t perform at peak efficiency if you don’t take care of it.

So now you’re aware of the most common signs that your heater most likely needs repairs. Don’t wait until something’s broken to contact Mainline Heating and Air Conditioning. After a tuneup and/or repairs, you won’t have to wonder if your home’s heating system will be able to cope with the next cold snap. 

 

6 Safety Tips For Heating Your Home This Winter

Central Alabama has already experienced several nights of below freezing temperatures, so you’ve probably (hopefully) already have the heat on. Unfortunately, most home fires in winter are caused by malfunctioning or poorly maintained heaters, and we don’t want that happening to you. Mainline Heating and Air Conditioning can take care of your furnace repairs in order to fix existing problems and prevent dangerous issues. Alternative heating methods like fireplaces and space heaters can also pose risks.  Here’s how you can stay safe and warm this winter:

Have Your Furnace Inspected by Mainline

Having a professional from Mainline Heating and Air Conditioning check your furnace gives you peace-of-mind that your system is running efficiently. We will also ensure that all connections are tight and the system isn’t showing signs of wear. We can repair worn or problematic components in order to keep your furnace running efficiently and safely. Making sure everything is in good working order will save you time and money and may be critical to your family’s safety.

Clear the Areas around Furnace and Vents

Make sure there are no cardboard boxes, newspapers, rags, and other flammable materials near your heating system. Make sure the same is true of your vents. A blocked airway or poorly ventilated furnace can transform an otherwise meaningless spark into a large blaze.

Anything that is flammable should be kept at least three feet away from heating equipment including fireplaces, furnaces, space heaters, and wood stoves.

Clean the Chimney

If you have a fireplace and chimney, you need to have them cleaned once a year. If you haven’t used it in a while, it’s possible a small animal could have built a nest in or on top of your chimney. Creosote can also build up within an uncleaned chimney and cause fires. Have a professional check your chimney before using it for the first time this winter. If you’ve already started using it, it’s not too late to have a professional come check it out. 

Use Caution With Alternative Heating Methods

Just because something is a heat source does not mean you should use it to heat your home. When frigid temps arrive and furnaces give out, some people are tempted to use equipment like ovens to stay warm. This is extremely dangerous and can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning if you have a gas stove. Instead, space heaters or fireplaces are appropriate alternatives if used safely and correctly. 

If you have a heating emergency and need your furnace repaired, contact the heating professionals at Mainline in Alabaster, AL. Please be cautious using alternative methods to heat your home- do not use candles, your oven, or a continuously running hot shower to attempt to warm up the whole house.

Turn Portable Heaters Off When Not In Use

Turn portable space heaters OFF when leaving the room or going to bed. There is no reason to heat a room you’re not in and it’s extremely difficult to recognize a fire hazard while you’re sleeping. The same goes for candles. Never leave either of these items unattended.

Space heaters account for about 80% of home heating fire deaths each year. Using them properly, and turning them off when they’re not being monitored, is critical to not becoming a statistic.

Change Batteries on Your Smoke Detector

The fire department reminds us to change the batteries in our smoke detectors when the time changes twice a year. If you haven’t done so this year, we recommend doing that today, don’t put it off any longer. Using portable and space heaters correctly should help prevent a house fire, but we know things can still happen despite your best effort. If, for whatever reason, a house fire were to start, you and your family need to be alerted as soon as possible. That’s why changing the batteries in your smoke detector and testing it monthly is so important. Maintaining a good alert system is crucial to getting out of the home safely.

If you’d like to ensure your furnace is in good operating order, contact us at Mainline Heating and Air Conditioning today!

Short-Cycling Furnaces and What to Do

Because winter is quickly approaching, you want to ensure your furnace is working properly at keeping your home warm and your family comfortable. If you feel like hardly any heat came from your vents and/or your unit shuts off shortly after firing up, it may be short cycling. Short cycling means that the furnace turns on and off very frequently with little time between on and off. This is a common issue that you may experience with your furnace this time of year. If you start having furnace problems (even if it doesn’t completely go out), go ahead and give us a call at Mainline HVAC in Alabaster, AL, so we can diagnose the problem and complete any furnace repair as soon as possible. We’ve already had some cold weather and are expecting more and we don’t want you to go without heat. Let’s take a look at the what and why of short-cycling– 

Why Does a Furnace Short Cycle? What causes it?   

Common short cycling causes include:

  • Overheating
  • Bad flame sensor
  • Dirty furnace
  • Blocked heat grates/ registers
  • Blocked exhaust vent
  • Thermostat is in the wrong location
  • Furnace is too big for your home

Thankfully, when we take a look at your system, we will be able to figure out which of these is causing the issues. You won’t have to worry about a thing, we’ve got it taken care of.

Overheating

Like most equipment, furnaces have a way to shut off to prevent dangerous overheating and damage. Your furnace may turn off prematurely if it’s overheating, which is a good thing as far as safety goes, but bad for keeping your home warm. An overheating furnace can potentially cause cracks in the heat exchanger, which could cause carbon monoxide to leak into your home. You might be wondering, “Do I have to replace my whole furnace if it’s short cycling?” Not necessarily. There are many reasons a furnace may get overheated and cause short cycling and most don’t require a full replacement. Some of the causes actually require very simple corrections. Here are the most common reasons:

  • Blocked Registers

The registers in your floor, walls, or ceiling likely have a way to close them, allowing you to control which rooms get heat. If too many of these vents are closed your furnace can’t disperse enough heat, so the heat will build up in the furnace, causing it to overheat and shut down. Make sure that most of your registers are open and not being blocked by anything like furniture. If you make these adjustments and your furnace is still acting up, then this was likely not the main cause.

  • Blocked Exhaust Vent

This is a dangerous cause of overheating and short cycling since it can allow carbon monoxide through the vent. The exhaust vent becomes blocked by birds’ nests from birds, beehives, or something else. If you check it out and realize the cause is a nest, it may be best to have animal control or pest control handle the task.

 

  • Dirty Furnace Filter

A dirty filter can cause overheating, kind of like with a clothes dryer. A sign is that you feel hotter than usual air coming out of the registers- seems like hotter air would be nice when you’re trying to heat the house, but it’s actually a sign of overheating. If the furnace gets too hot, the switch will shut it off. A dirty filter in your returns prevents a flow of return air into the furnace, and will quickly overheat. The solution is super simple- change your filters out regularly (several times a year).

Can It Be Something Other Than Overheating?

Yes, sometimes short cycling can be as simple as bad thermostat placement. If your thermostat is getting warmed before the rest of the house, it will cause your furnace to turn off prematurely. This can be due to poor placement like right above a register or on the wall of the utility closet where the furnace is located. If placed here, the thermostat will heat quickly and reach its set point before it should. The solution is easy! Just relocate the thermostat to a location that isn’t near a vent or window.

 

If you read through this and realized it sounds like your current situation, your furnace may be short cycling or overheating. Contact Mainline HVAC for your furnace repair needs in Alabaster, AL and surrounding communities. While it could be something as simple as a thermostat issue, it could also be something more serious, so it’s always best to have our Mainline professionals take a look.

How to Prep Your House for Cold Weather

We’re starting to get a sneak peek of colder weather at night, even though daytime temperatures are still fairly warm…welcome to Alabama, right? As the weather starts the cooling trend, it’s so important to prep your house ahead of time to prevent issues and catch potential problems. The last thing you need is to frantically get things in order the day before a freezing cold night. And you definitely don’t want to be left in the cold if you have a faulty furnace that calls it quits- that’s why we offer furnace tuneups. Here’s easy, helpful list for what needs to be done:

Indoor Water Sources

  • Identify any problem pipes- consider areas that have been problematic in the past
  • Insulate said problem pipes with heat tape or other insulation products.
  • Instruct everyone in your household how to turn off the house’s water source in case you do experience a frozen or busted pipe and need to shut off the water until a plumber can come fix it.

Remember to keep faucets dripping and open the cabinets under your sinks when temperatures are below freezing at night. Put something under the faucet to catch the dripping water to use elsewhere the following day.

Outdoors

  • Disconnect water hoses and drain any leftover water
  • Store garden hoses and other outdoor equipment in a dry location ❏ Cover spigots- can use styrofoam kind or other available options ❏ Have in-ground sprinkler system blown out by professionals

Furnace

  • Call​ Mainline Heating and Air for a furnace tuneup- we’ll check electrical components, pilot or flame sensors, safety controls, as well as inspect and clean the burners
  • Make sure vents are cleaned out and filters are replaced
  • Have furnace ducts sealed if they aren’t already- we can help with duct sealing as well

Remember to have a professional inspect and clean the chimney before use (if you have a wood-burning fireplace). This will help prevent health issues and​ ​hazardous accidents.

Windows and Doors

How to test for drafty doors and windows- light a candle (wick exposed, not the kind in a jar) and hold it in front of the door frame or windowsill. If the flame noticeably flickers, you have a bad seal. That means the quickly arriving cold air will easily be able to seep into your home and cause a higher energy bill.

  • Test door frames and window frames as explained above
  • Add (or replace) weatherstripping- your local hardware store should have several options available and can explain how to install them.
  • Install door sweeps where needed

Join our ​Maintenance Club​ so that you can get biannual tuneups without having to think twice about it. You’ll know with certainty that your furnace will get you through the colder months. We can also provide furnace repairs in Birmingham, AL whenever your system isn’t working properly.

Air Filters 101: What’s the Difference and Which one is Best?

If you’re about to go on a run, are you going to wear soccer cleats? What about wearing cowboy boots for a tennis match? No of course not, that would be ridiculous. Most shoes serve the same general purpose- protecting your feet, but obviously some are fit for specific situations or sports. It’s kind of the same with air filters. They all have a similar purpose- to keep your unit running at peak efficiency and improve air quality in your home. But some filters are better than others at specific tasks like allergen control. Did you know that there are more than seven different kinds of air filters? They’re made of different materials, for different purposes, and they’re not all created equal. Since there are so many different filters to choose from, how are you supposed to know which one you need? Is the kind you currently use the right for your system? Let’s discuss your options, the differences and similarities, and how to narrow down the right filter for your home. 

 

First, it’s important to note that filters are rated using the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV), on a scale of 1 to 16 (16 being the most effective) for how well the filter can trap pollutants that are as small as 0.3 microns and as large as 10 microns. A lower MERV rating means that the filter is more effective at removing large particles- pollen, dust mites, and carpet fibers. A higher MERV rating means it’s better at catching small particles- smoke, bacteria, and viruses. 

 

 

  • Pleated filters

 

Material: polyester or cotton folds 

Uses: filtering dust and airborne pollutants; increased surface area helps trap more. 

Considerations: Puts more strain on the unit because it’s harder for air to filter through. 

MERV rating: between 5-11

 

  • UV light filters

 

Material: shortwave ultraviolet lights

Uses: Kills mold and germs; helps prevent disease and illness 

Considerations: Useless against common pollutants like dust; ineffective against fumes; costly installation

MERV rating:

 

  • HEPA filters

 

Material: uses static electricity

Uses: highest filtering (even bacteria); ideal for people with severe allergies or respiratory illness 

Considerations: May not help with odors or fumes

MERV rating: near 16

 

  • Spun glass filters

 

Material: spun strands of fiberglass; disposable and inexpensive

Uses: Good at filtering lint and dust; one of the least expensive options

Considerations: Doesn’t filter enough to make a noticeable difference in air quality, therefore not recommended for people with respiratory problems; can get clogged

MERV rating: 2-3

 

  • Washable filters

 

Material: differing materials; washable

Uses: Only has to be bought once; environmentally friendly option; durable

Considerations: must be completely dried after washing and before reinserting. 

MERV rating: 3-4

 

  • Electrostatic filters

 

Material: small paper and cotton fibers; can be reusable or disposable

Uses: Can improve air quality in the home; cost-effective

Considerations: Struggles filtering bigger particles like dust. 

MERV rating: 8-11

 

  • Media filters

 

Material: Some are carbon coated

Uses: Low maintenance; cost-effective; have a higher surface area so they’re able to filter more and keep dirt trapped; only has to be replaced one or twice a year.

Consideration: May need to be professionally installed

MERV rating: 11-13

 

So which one is right for your home? It depends on what you’re wanting from a filter, how much you’re willing to spend, and how often you want to mess with it. Media filters are a great, popular “best of both worlds” option. If you or a loved one has severe allergies, you might need to consider something more intense like a combination of HEPA and UV light filters. We want you to breathe in clean, cool air in your home and are ready to help that happen! Keep in mind that air quality checks and air purification solutions are just 2 of the many AC services that Mainline Heating and Air Conditioning offers in the Birmingham, AL area. Contact us today so we can make sure you’re using the air filter that’s best for your unit and your home.

These 3 Thermostat Habits are Costing You Money

Did your energy bills this summer make you want to cry? We get it…it’s extremely hot outside and you want to have a nicely cooled home, especially while you’re sleeping. Did you know that you may have some thermostat habits that are costing you money with no desired results? So if you are looking for ways to cut your energy use, making changes to your thermostat usage is a good place to start, considering that your HVAC usage makes up a good chunk of your monthly energy costs. If the following don’t apply to you, you made need AC service from your trusted experts here at Mainline Heating and Air in Birmingham, AL.But first, here are the 3 most common bad habits to break:

 

Habit 1: Attempting to cool your home “faster”

Setting the thermostat at 70° to get the temperature from 78° to your preferred 74° is surprisingly a bad idea, since it doesn’t actually speed up the cooling process like you’re expecting it to. Unless you have a two-stage unit, your AC only works at one set speed. Setting it lower to get to your desired temperature faster will only make the unit run longer at the same speed to reach the lower temperature setting. And when the AC runs longer…it’s going to cost you more money. So if you want it at 74° as soon as possible, just go ahead and set it to that. It’ll get there just as fast and save you money when compared to what you were doing!

 

Habit 2: Keeping your thermostat set at the same temperature 24/7

Setting the thermostat at a specific temperature and never touching it

Is the most energy-efficient way to do it, right? Actually, no. According to ENERGY STAR, you could be wasting as much as $180/year! Instead, you should change your thermostat setting whenever you leave

your home for 8 hours or longer, which is a normal work day for many. Essentially, you’re wasting money by cooling an empty house. Now, that’s  When your home will be empty for 8 hours or longer, set your thermostat

5°-8° higher in the summer. Then you can set the thermostat back to your comfortable setting when you get home. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, this can save you 5-15% on your yearly energy costs! 

 

What if you can’t remember to do that everyday? Or want to come home to a cool, comfortable home without waiting for your preferred temperature? Consider a programmable thermostat that can be controlled by an app or smart home device. You can set it back to something more comfortable on your way home from work, or the ball field, or wherever you’ve been. We would love to discuss these options with you! It could really help save some money on your energy bill and save you from potential frustration. 

 

Habitat 3: Adjusting the thermostat too much

Doesn’t this seem to go against the previous bad habit? You might be thinking, “So I need to adjust my thermostat daily, but not adjust it too often? Give me a break!” Adjusting it once in the morning as you’re heading out the door and then again after you get home is a good thing. Constantly adjusting it to get the optimal comfort is not ideal for your energy costs. Constantly changing the set temperature on your thermostat causes your

air conditioner to stop and start constantly, which causes them to run

inefficiently. Your AC should be running for longer, steadier times instead

of a constant “stop and go”. Think of it like your car- do you get

better gas mileage on streets with lots of stop lights or on the interstate?

 

So remember these 3 things to help you save money on your energy bills:

Don’t crank your thermostat way up or way down to heat or cool your home faster. Change your thermostat temperature setting when you’re away from home for 8+ hours. Ideally, 5°-8° higher in the summer. Don’t constantly change the thermostat setting when you’re home.

 

If you have good thermostat habits, but your home just isn’t getting cool (or that power bill isn’t getting any better), contact the AC professionals at Mainline Heating and Air Conditioning. We can evaluate your situation and devise the best solution. We want you to be comfortably cool for the rest of the summer and we’re available and able to help with your AC service needs in and around the Birmingham, AL area.