Althoff Industries Inc. Blog: Archive for the ‘Home Improvement’ Category

What Is the Difference Between a GFCI Outlet and a Regular Outlet?

Monday, September 14th, 2020

Electricity is something people take for granted because of how prevalent it is in our daily lives, but electrical safety is no joke. People can get seriously injured by electrical shocks in the home.

Electricity, water, and humans are a bad combination, which is why GFCI outlets were invented. GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, and it is a type of electrical safety precaution that was invented to decrease the likelihood of people suffering from electrical shocks while they are in areas of the house that contain water sources.

Standard electrical outlets provide no protection against ground faults, making them extremely risky to use, especially when they are located near water. If your house has no GFCI technology embedded into your high-risk outlets, then there is a significantly increased chance that you could get electrocuted.

Below you can find our guide to GFCI outlets, including where they should be located in the home and what to do if one is malfunctioning.

What Is a Ground Fault?

First, we should probably explain what exactly a ground fault is.

A “fault” is an electrical term that describes an instance where electricity deviates from its intended path, and a “ground fault” is when electricity takes an unintended path to the ground.

See, when electricity is not in a controlled environment, it makes a beeline toward whatever is the best conductor in the immediate vicinity. This is why most lightning strikes the ground, because the ground is one of the best electrical conductors there is.

In the home, electricity is contained within wires that are covered in an insulating material such as plastic or rubber. This prevents the electricity from escaping and flowing through a different conductor, such as water, the ground, or a person.

Unfortunately, wires can get frayed or damaged which can break the insulation keeping the electricity at bay. When the power source is turned on this can cause a person to become electrocuted which can lead to serious injury or even death.

Standard electrical outlets have no safety features installed within them to prevent people from being electrocuted and these standard outlets were the only ones used in homes built before the 1970s.

Thus, a safety measure had to be invented in order to significantly reduce the chances of this occurring.

What is a GFCI Outlet?

GFCI protection technology was invented in the 1970s and GFCI outlets began to be used in place of standard electrical outlets in certain high-risk areas of the home.

Any electrical outlet that is located in an area of the house containing a water source (i.e. bathrooms, kitchen counters, etc.) is required to be outfitted with GFCI technology.

A GFCI outlet contains sensors that continuously monitor the surge of electricity within the wiring. When a fault is detected, the GFCI immediately shuts off the flow of electricity to the outlet.

This response typically occurs within thirty milliseconds, so the person using the outlet may still receive a painful electric shock. A sustained surge of electricity to the human body is what can cause more serious problems and GFCI is designed to prevent.

Where Should GFCI Outlets Be Installed?

Areas of the house that are required by law to use GFCI protected outlets include kitchen counters, bathrooms, garages, laundry rooms, unfinished basements, and within six feet of wet bars.

Other areas of the house like bedrooms and living rooms that don’t contain water sources are not required to use GFCI receptacles, as there is not much risk of electrocution in those areas.

Houses that are built after the year 2014 require GFCI circuit breakers to be installed during construction, so that the entire house receives GFCI protection.

However, if you live in a house that was built before the 1970s, then all your outlets will be of the standard variety and contain no GFCI protection. If this is the case, then you should most certainly have your existing outlets replaced to reduce your risk of being electrocuted.

According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), electrocutions are down more than 83 percent since the 1970s when GFCI technology was introduced, which goes to show how important GFCI is.

What to Do if a GFCI Outlet is Malfunctioning

You can tell if an outlet has GFCI protection because it will have two small buttons between the receptacles labeled “RESET” and “TEST.” Every so often the GFCI will trigger and shut off electrical flow to the outlet when a fault has not actually occurred.

This could happen for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common is static electricity occurring near the outlet.

The GFCI protection activating by mistake every once in a while is no big deal, as it can be activated again by simply pressing the “RESET” button and turning it back on.

Pressing the “TEST” button allows you to check and see if the outlet is working properly. A GFCI outlet shouldn’t require much in the way of maintenance, but it doesn’t hurt to hit the test button once every month or so just to make sure that it’s working.

If your outlet tests back negative or is repeatedly shutting off without reason, then you should probably get it replaced. If you have experience with electrical wiring, then you can probably do it yourself.

If not, then you should call a professional to come fix it for you. An inexperienced person can get seriously injured by messing around with the wires.

On the other hand, if you live in an old house or you have standard outlets located in areas where GFCI outlets should be, then you should absolutely have them replaced. If you don’t, then you are putting yourself at unnecessary risk.

Althoff Industries has been servicing the Chicago area for many years. Whether you have just a single malfunctioning outlet that needs to be replaced or you need your entire house to be outfitted with GFCI technology, Althoff has got your back.

Call us at (844) 202-7430 if you have an emergency electrical issue that needs to be taken care of or visit our website to view all of the services that we provide.

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Is It Time for an Electrical Upgrade? 6 Benefits for Homeowners

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

Do you live in an older home? Do you have a circuit breaker that’s always tripping, or even scarier, outlets with scorch marks? If you do, it is probably time for an electrical upgrade. Even if you don’t have either of those issues, maybe you’re considering refinishing a basement.

No matter what your reason for considering an electrical upgrade is, there are a slew of benefits that come with choosing to upgrade your current system.

How Do You Know When It’s Time to Upgrade Your Home’s Electrical System?

Most people don’t wake up and think, “It’s time to upgrade my electrical system today!” Most of the time, homeowners have a specific reason for upgrading their system. Usually, the reason is related to safety, a new purchase, or a combination of both.

  • You’re purchasing a new appliance. Certain home appliances require a lot of electricity. If you’re planning to purchase a new appliance such as an air conditioner, dryer, stovetop/range or water heater that relies primarily on electricity, make sure your existing system can handle the extra load.
  • You’re planning a home renovation. Planning on turning the attic into a playroom for the kids? Converting an unfinished basement to a home gym? If you’re adding lights, outlets, technology or pretty much anything that requires drawing more electricity from your system, you’ll need to assess your current system’s capacity. The same logic holds if you’re building an addition or planning a garage conversion.
  • Your circuit breakers trip frequently. Circuit breakers trip as a safety measure to turn off the flow of electricity when a breaker is in danger of overheating. This feature helps prevent electrical fires from sparking in your home. If you have a circuit breaker that’s tripping regularly, it’s time to upgrade.
  • You hear noises coming from the circuit breaker box. Humming or buzzing noises from your electrical breaker box can indicate that your system is overloaded and overworked. An overloaded electrical system can spark and set fire to your home.
  • Your house has 2-prong outlets. Of all the outlets within homes, 2-prong outlets are considered the least safe because they don’t have the third wire/prong to ground the electrical connection.

What’s Involved in an Electrical System Upgrade?

When you’re upgrading your home’s electrical system, you typically need the assistance of a qualified professional and the utility company. Electrical system upgrades vary based on the age of the home, size of the home, and type of project.

Typically, an electrical upgrade begins with an assessment of the existing electrical panel, cables, wiring, and terminals. Afterward, an electrician can determine the amount of power to bring into the home and how many additional circuits you need. This assessment could determine that you need a new electrical panel and if you need to replace wiring, outlets, and/or switches in your home.

6 Benefits of an Electrical Upgrade

Improved safety

Everyone wants to feel safe and secure in their own home. Unsafe electrical systems can spark fires accidentally and unexpectedly, at any time.

Reliable service

For most of us, living without electricity is unfathomable. We need power for just about everything we do. When you flip a switch or plug something in, you don’t want to think twice about whether it works or not.

Added value

If you plan on selling your home soon, upgrading the electrical system can be a great feature that adds value to the home.

Protect your devices

New electronic devices are expensive. Televisions, computers and appliances are all susceptible to power surges. Upgrading your home’s electrical system can help protect your plugged-in devices against unexpected surges.

Insurance discounts

Depending on the age of your home, where you live, and your insurance carrier, upgrading your home’s electrical system may qualify you for a discount on your homeowners’ insurance.

Room for future improvements

If you plan on making continuous improvements to your home over time, like major additions, remodels or adding a hot tub, an electrical upgrade now can prevent headaches in the future.

Considering an Electrical Upgrade? Call Althoff.

Our experienced electricians can assess your home’s current electrical system, address your needs, and calculate the cost of upgrading your system. If you’re in the Chicago area, contact us today to schedule an appointment by filling out our form online or giving us a call at 815-900-5002.

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Electrical Emergency Service: Common Code Violations

Friday, May 3rd, 2019

It’s a homeowner’s worst nightmare. You flip on a light switch and nothing happens. You check an outlet, also no power. Finally, you head to the breaker box to see if anything needs to be reset. If that doesn’t work, then you’re calling an electrician and spending the rest of the day in the dark ages until your power is back up and running.

Do you know what’s more frustrating? When the electrician arrives and points out a simple code violation, that if corrected, would’ve saved you the hassle of making a phone call. It’s important, especially if you live in an older home, to be aware of common electrical code violations. Down the road, an inspection can save you from a hefty repair bill or even better, save your home and family from an electrical fire. Here, we’ve illustrated a few common electrical code violations to look for in your home.

electrical fire in outlet

New Lights and Old Wiring Don’t Mix

Back in the day, houses weren’t constructed to handle today’s modern, high wattage light fixtures and bulbs. When you put a high-powered bulb in a fixture that’s only able to handle 60 watts, you’re putting yourself in a dangerous situation. Higher wattage light bulbs create a lot of heat. Over time, that heat can melt the light socket and the insulation around the wires. Without proper insulation and a melted light socket, a fire can spark at any moment. In fact, this is one of the most common causes of electrical fires. It’s also one of the easiest to prevent. Make sure you inspect the light fixture to determine the maximum wattage bulb allowed. When in doubt, always choose a less powerful bulb.

Beware of Knob and Tube Wiring

Anyone who’s familiar with home renovation television shows will spot this electrical issue right away. It’s one of the most common budget-destroying home renovation finds next to asbestos or load bearing beams. Knob and tube was the first type of electrical wiring used in homes built before the 1940’s. We’ve learned a lot since then, and by today’s standards, knob and tube wiring is extremely unsafe. What makes knob and tube wiring so scary is that there’s no ground wire to protect your house from surges and other faults. Instead, the wiring could spark and set your whole house ablaze. If you’re down in your basement and notice old ceramic knob and tube wiring, it’s time to give your house an upgrade before you lose everything you own in a house fire.

Recessed Lighting Deserves a Second Look

Recessed lighting can give rooms a clean, modern look. It can also be a dangerous fire hazard if not installed properly. To be safe, non-IC-rated lights need to be at least three inches away from insulation. If not, the lights can overheat. Non-IC-rated recessed lights can produce a lot of heat, enough heat to ignite insulation that’s too close. If you’re unsure of the type of recessed lighting you have, it’s important that you have a professional to inspect the light and insulation to make sure you’re not at risk of sparking a house fire.

Look Out for Illegal Splicing

This electrical issue might be a bit more difficult for the average homeowner to identify without the help of an expert. Electricians use a splice to connect two or more wires together. In order to be up to code and safe, electricians need to run the wires into a junction box, make a splice with wire nuts and cover the junction box with a cover plate. Oftentimes, DIY homeowners think they can do their own electrical work. Not only is an illegal splice a dangerous fire hazard, but it can be a sign that there are more serious electrical issues in the house. If you suspect an illegal splice in your house, it’s a clear sign you’ll need a more thorough inspection.

Overcrowding Wires Happens Too Often

Sometimes, DIY-ers and inexperienced electricians get lazy. When roughing in electrical wiring, they try to run too many wires through a ⅞ hole. The maximum number of wires allowed through a ⅞ hole is three. When an electrician runs too many wires through a hole, they run the risk of burning. Burning occurs when wires rub together and the insulation wears down. With exposed wiring behind your wall, without you knowing, you run the risk of a fire sparking at any time.

Do You Think You Have An Electrical Emergency?

Have you noticed lights flickering in your home? Outlets not working? Maybe you’ve noticed one of the issues we pointed out on this list. If you think you have an electrical emergency on your hands, give Althoff Industries a call at 815-455-7000 to schedule an appointment today.

This information is provided as a general guideline. Althoff Industries does not assume any liability resulting from the provided information.

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Surge Protector Safety Tips

Monday, March 25th, 2019

Surge protectors are essential electrical safety features in just about every home. Living in a world powered by electronics, most households have at least one surge protector for their computers, entertainment centers, mobile devices or kitchen appliances.

While surge protectors can supercharge productivity, they can also cause devastating damage if used improperly.

Surge Protector Safety: Important Things to Know

According to Electrical Safety Foundation International, “Home electrical fires account for an estimated 51,000 fires each year, nearly 500 deaths, more than 1,400 injuries and $1.3 billion in property damage.” Of those 51,000 fires, “The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports that electrical receptacles are involved in 5,300 fires every year, causing 40 deaths and more than 100 consumer injuries.”

To make sure your surge protectors are keeping your devices safe, without potentially causing devastating damage to your home, we’ve compiled a list of essential safety tips.

Only Purchase UL or ETL-Certified Surge Protectors

The Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and Intertek ETL certifications help you ensure you’re buying a surge protector that’s been tested and inspected by professional safety organizations. These certifications demonstrate that the surge protector meets electrical safety standards in the U.S. You can identify UL and ETL-certified surge protectors by looking for the logo on the device, checking the owner’s manual or inspecting the device’s packaging. Not only should you see the logo, but you should be able to identify the code for the lab the product was tested in.

Surge Protectors Are Not a Substitute for Additional Wiring

Have you been using a surge protector because there aren’t enough outlets in the room? If so, you may be setting yourself up for an expensive disaster.

A surge protector’s job is to protect the devices plugged into it from an electrical surge, not necessarily give you 10 extra outlets to plug devices into. When you overload a surge protector, you can trip the circuit breaker or blow a fuse. Repeatedly overloading your surge protector can cause greater, more expensive damage to your home’s electrical system or even spark a fire.

To take it a step further, never plug one surge protector into another. This is known as daisy chaining or piggy backing. Interpower quotes a U.S. government white paper on daisy chaining stating, “Most power strips or surge protectors are approved for providing power to a maximum of four or six individual items. When multiple power strips are interconnected, the one directly connected to the building wall outlet is often supplying power to far more outlets than the approved number. This electrical current overload can result in a fire or can cause a circuit breaker to trip, de-energizing computers and other equipment throughout the area that are connected to a surge protector.”

It’s also important to note, never use a 2-to-3-prong adapter to plug in a surge protector. To operate safely, surge protectors must be grounded properly.

Give Your Surge Protector a Check Up

When is the last time you inspected your surge protectors? It’s easy to get caught up in day-to-day life and forget about the surge protector that’s been hiding behind your entertainment center since you bought your television years ago. It’s important to check the surge protector for signs of wear, including worn outlets, frayed wires, chewed wires, or loose wire insulation. You should also hold the surge protector to see if it feels hot. An overheating surge protector is a surefire warning that it’s either overloaded or worn out.

When conducting your inspection, make sure your surge protectors have room to breathe. Blankets, rugs and pillows prevent surge protectors from expelling heat generated by electrical energy. In case of an electrical malfunction, you want to keep flammable materials as far from surge protectors as possible.

Concerned About Your Home’s Electrical Health?

Contact the experts at Althoff Industries. Our knowledgeable technicians can help you tackle any electrical issue, including safety checks, circuit breaker inspections, electrical panel upgrades, wiring upgrades, whole home surge protectors and more. Give us a call today at (815) 455-7000.

This information is provided as a general guideline. Althoff Industries does not assume any liability resulting from the provided information. 

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How to Keep Your Household Safe from Furnace Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Monday, February 12th, 2018

Most of us view our homes as inanimate objects, constructed of wood, bricks, steel, glass, and roofing materials. Few look at our houses as a representation of who we are. Literally.

Take, for example, our home’s electrical system. It serves as the “nervous system” of our houses, providing the power it needs to function efficiently. A home’s plumbing serves much like our own and even our insulation qualities are similar. Have you ever given thought to the fact that your home’s HVAC system serves as the lungs of your home?

For the most part, in extremes of heat and cold, we rely on our heating and air conditioning to provide us with clean, refreshing air. There are those few months in Crystal Lake and NW Chicago that we can shut it all off and open our windows but for the most part, we rely on our HVAC “lungs” to provide us with comfortable, safe, clean air to breathe.

There is a potential problem that can occur, however, particularly in colder weather. It is the issue of a carbon monoxide leak. A furnace carbon monoxide leak is a serious issue that takes diligence to prevent and expert technicians to diagnose and resolve.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless flammable gas that is created when the combustion of carbon is not completed. The biggest issue with carbon monoxide is that it is toxic, causing illness, brain damage and even death can occur.

How is Carbon Monoxide Produced?

Carbon monoxide is produced by anything that burns carbon as a fuel. This includes water heaters, fireplaces, charcoal grills, kerosene, gas heaters, wood stoves, and even clothes dryers. The more energy an appliance uses, the greater the risk of the carbon monoxide it can produce.

Why is it a Dangerous?

Carbon monoxide is dangerous because takes the place of oxygen in the bloodstream and prevents oxygen from getting to the heart, brain, and organs. When exposed to carbon monoxide in large amounts, humans can be overcome in just a matter of minutes. This can cause a person to lose consciousness and ultimately suffocate in a relatively short period of time.

How Can You Protect Yourself and Your Family?

The best way to prevent yourself and family from carbon monoxide poisoning may be through the installation of carbon monoxide detectors. This will serve as a last line of defense in the event carbon monoxide levels in your home are becoming dangerous. There are steps you can take, however, to minimize your home’s carbon monoxide levels so they never reach the point of becoming dangerous.

  • Schedule an annual tune-up or maintenance check on your furnace. Most carbon monoxide issues develop over time and can be discovered and addressed by an annual maintenance check on your furnace. Many carbon monoxide issues develop gradually and can be prevented by these maintenance checks.
  • Change air filters often. As inexpensive and easy to change as air filters are, many homeowners simply forget or fail to change their air filters often enough. This can prevent fresh air from entering your furnace.  It also increases the risk of carbon monoxide production.
  • Make sure your furnace was installed correctly. It doesn’t matter whether your furnace was installed 10, 20 or 30 years ago, there may have been errors made in its installation. Poor ductwork, venting or blower installation can create carbon monoxide problems. They also may be inhibiting your furnace from operating efficiently. Standards are higher today. To make sure carbon monoxide is not an issue with your system, contact a professional.

Few things may be as frightening as the thought of a furnace carbon monoxide leak. We rely on our furnaces as a source of warmth and comfort. If it has been more than a year since you’ve had a furnace check-up, cleaning or tune-up, we would encourage you to schedule one today. Of course, we would call us at Althoff Industries. For over 50 years we’ve been keeping families safe and comfortable in NW Chicago. We would be honored to assist you.

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Should I Repair or Replace My Furnace?

Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Regular maintenance goes a long way in extending the life of your furnace. There are points, however, when even a well-maintained furnace may need replacing. Like any other appliance, furnaces don’t go on running forever.

Here are signs that it may be time to replace your furnace.

5 Furnace Replacement Signs

1. Your furnace is old enough to drive.

Once your furnace reaches 15 years of age, it’s beginning to live on borrowed time.

Even if your 15-year-old furnace seems to be operating properly, you may notice escalating heating bills. Once you start repairing an aging furnace, those repairs often become more regular, extensive and expensive.

That’s not to say that a well-maintained furnace may not last five or ten years longer. Still, the 15-year lifespan serves as a guidepost to prepare for repairs or replacement. Like an aging car in need of constant repair, there will be a time you need to decide when to draw the line and replace it.

2. Your home doesn’t feel as comfortable as it once was.

Are you reaching for your coat even when you’re indoors? Are the kids bundling up for dinner? Are you constantly adjusting the thermostat because your living room is warm but the bedroom feels like the North Pole?

Poor and uneven heating are common symptoms of furnace problems. If your furnace is still young, it may only need a simple furnace filter change or other routine maintenance.

If you have an aging furnace, however, it may be time to budget for a replacement.

3. Your furnace is becoming the soundtrack of winter in your home.

A well-operating, efficient furnace should be almost imperceptible when it’s running. At the very least, it shouldn’t attract attention to itself.

Rattling, screeching, clamoring, popping, and rumbling noises are likely signs your furnace has an issue and needs professional attention.

If the furnace has reached the 15-year milestone, these sounds may be a cry for a furnace replacement.

4. Your heating bills are climbing.

If your rates have stayed steady and it’s not an extraordinarily cold winter—yet you still notice higher energy bills—your furnace may be picking your pocket and it needs to go.

Higher energy bills are a common motivator for furnace replacement. This can ultimately prove a prudent decision as opposed to repair. If your bills are climbing now because of an inefficient furnace, they aren’t going to suddenly become cheaper.

5. Your house has never been comfortable in the winter.

If your home has never quite seemed comfortable during the winter months, the problem could be drafty windows or poor insulation. But, it could also mean your furnace was never properly sized or installed. In the Greater Chicago area, contact Althoff Industries and we’ll help you determine what can be done or if a furnace replacement will solve your problem.

Repair or Replace?

Even when a furnace replacement is necessary, it’s not all bad news. A new furnace will operate quietly and more efficiently. Many of our customers experience savings so significant, they tell us they wish they’d replaced their furnace sooner!

If you suspect your furnace is reaching retirement age, call Althoff Industries at (815) 455-7000. We serve customers throughout the Greater Chicago area, and can help you determine whether your furnace is worth saving or replacing.

This information is provided as a general guideline. Althoff Industries does not assume any liability resulting from the provided information.

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3 Essential HVAC Tools that Provide Accurate Diagnostics

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

At Althoff Industries, our priority is not only hiring and training talented technicians but equipping them with the highest quality tools to get the job done accurately. We ensure our technicians are not only well-trained and proficient in HVAC repair and installations but that they have the essential HVAC tools to assist them in the accurate diagnosis of your heating and air conditioning equipment.

While our trucks are filled with many parts, equipment, and tools, there are three HVAC technician tools that we use at every service call. They are the combustion analyzer, draft gauge, and manometer. These tools give us the ability to measure and analyze things happening with the system that cannot be seen by just visually looking at it. Our highly trained technicians understand that the proper diagnosis involves digging deeper to uncover hidden problems that impact safety, performance, and can cause breakdowns.

3 Essential HVAC Tools

1. Combustion Analyzer

A combustion analyzer is a handheld device that looks much like a multi-meter an electrician would use to check circuits. Like blood work being analyzed at the lab, the combustion analyzer gives our technicians all the components of the combustion process at once. The three main components checked are carbon monoxide levels, oxygen levels, and flue temperature. A trained technician knows that having just one of those numbers doesn’t tell you the whole story. It takes putting all the pieces together to accurately understand what’s happening. The purpose of the combustion analysis unit is to measure the percentages of oxygen and carbon dioxide along with the flue temperature. These measurements help our technicians determine whether or not the furnace is operating within the parameters that the manufacturer of the equipment has specified.

A combustion analyzer is important for three different reasons. It can help in determining and achieving optimum fuel efficiency, it is critical for the safe operation of your equipment, and it can ensure your HVAC system is operating within the guidelines of any warranty.

2. Draft Gauge

A draft gauge is a device that verifies that your chimney has proper draft pressure. Improper draft can be caused by lack of combustion air, too much combustion air, outside temperature and wind conditions, or a blocked chimney. A proper draft is critical to make sure the by products of combustion are safely disposed of outside the home. Most companies just assume this is happening correctly, at Althoff our technicians are trained to verify it. HVAC tools like a draft gauge help our technician determine if there are any problems creating these potential draft issues.

3. Manometer

The manometer is a device used to measure differences in pressure. We use this in a couple different ways. First, we use it to measure duct static pressure to make sure that you have proper air flow through the furnace and duct system. Another way is by measuring gas pressure to the equipment. Equipment is rated for certain gas pressures and those outside of those ranges can have very negative effects on performance, safety, longevity of the equipment

Other Trade Tools Used on Daily Basis

The three critical HVAC tools listed above are just part of what technicians need to perform their job on a daily basis. Other such tools may include:

  • A refrigerant recovery machine
  • Hand seamer
  • Swage tools
  • Leak detectors
  • Hand and power tools
  • Tin snips
  • Multimeter
  • Humidity and temperature gauges…and more!

Our technicians in the field often play the role of part technician, mechanic, sheet metal worker, detective, and chemist/scientist. It is why they are so extensively trained and outfitted with the latest equipment. It is not an inexpensive proposition but we take what we do very seriously here at Althoff Industries. After all, it is not just the efficient operation of your HVAC equipment that is at stake. It is also the safety of your family.

When you experience an issue with your furnace, trust the experts at Althoff Industries.

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Sept 25 is National Tune Up Day: Is Your Furnace Ready for Winter?

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

Now that school is back in session and we settle into our Fall routines, it is time to think about the inevitable winter ahead. In fact, September 25 is National Tune Up Day for furnaces across the country. It is particularly important here in the greater Chicago area where our winters can be brutal. What can you do to be a part of National Tune Up Day? First, you can schedule a furnace tune up. The second thing you can do is to use #NationalTuneUpDay on social media to spread the word. This is important because a furnace tune up is not only a matter of ensuring a furnace is operating efficiently, but that it is operating safely as well.

Why Preventive Furnace Maintenance?

A thorough furnace tune up ensures your heating system is clean, operating efficiently and also checks that any impending part failures are addressed. A skilled technician will have the appropriate tools to test gasses to make sure they are safe and that your furnace is vented properly. Notice we said “thorough” furnace tune-up. Many of the $39 and $49 furnace tune-up coupon specials you’ll see this time of year are no more than a promotional vehicle that may just be used to “find” additional problems. This is why it is important you select an experienced company with the proper equipment and training, a superior reputation and a customer-centric approach.

How Often Should You Schedule a Furnace Tune-Up?

If the tune up is thorough, once a year may be sufficient. We recommend you get a furnace tune up in the Fall as we head into the cold weather season. This assures that your furnace is ready for the hard work that it will be performing in the coming winter months, keeping you warm without interruption. That’s why we feel September 25th is an optimal time to remind our customers, and potential customers, to schedule a tune up.

What Should Be Included in Furnace Preventive Maintenance?

A furnace tune should includes this extensive list:

1. Remove dust and dirt from the unit and vents

2. Check and change HVAC air filter.

3. Ensure fresh air intake grills are not blocked.

4. Check blower wheel and motor for efficient and quiet operation.

5. Secure wiring, check all wiring for any damage or wear.

6. Examine all parts for any corrosion or cause of corrosion.

7. Determine that drains and traps are in good condition.

8. Establish that fuel-jets are working efficiently.

9. Analyze combustion gasses and compare this analysis to what is recommended for your furnace.

An HVAC technician goal while performing this checklist should be to ensure you, the homeowner, that you have a clean, safe, and efficient heating system that will keep your family comfortable throughout the winter months.

Will a Tune-Up Prevent Future Problems?

While a furnace tune up cannot guarantee you won’t have problems in the coming months, you will be far better prepared to prevent problems. In many instances, problems may be age-related, meaning the older your heating system, the more issues you may face. That being said, the older your furnace, the more important a furnace tune up can be. Even on newer systems, however, a furnace tune up can maximize its lifespan.

Discover the Althoff Difference

At Althoff Industries, our technicians are trained and provided with the latest technology to appropriately analyze the operation of your furnace. We have built our company not on selling more parts, but by delivering better service. We are customer focused and are proud of our online reviews and testimonials. Before you observe National Tune Up Day with a coupon special, discover the difference with a comprehensive furnace tune from Althoff Industries. Contact us for an appointment for a thorough furnace tune up and enter the winter season with greater peace of mind.

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You May Not Have the Correct Furnace Size: What to Look For

Saturday, July 1st, 2017

We recently received what we refer to as a “no heat” call. It was May so it wasn’t a desperation call, thank goodness, but still an issue. We immediately noticed something different upon arrival at the Park Ridge residence. This home had twinned furnaces that combined for a whopping 190k BTUs of heat and they were connected to a 5 ton condenser. As is our normal procedure, we ran the load calculation and determined that the homeowner only needed a single 100k BTU furnace with a 4 ton condenser. The existing system was simply way over-sized. We were able to install a single, much more efficient system, and the sheet metal was a work of art.

The problem is, this is not as uncommon as it should be. We often see furnaces that are over-sized and can only assume the previous installation was done without a full understanding of what was needed or the installer had some extra equipment to sell. There is more of a science to HVAC installations than most homeowners, and apparently some installers, understand.

Calculating the Appropriate Size HVAC Unit

When deciding the most efficient size HVAC unit, an installer needs to consider multiple factors including:

  • Square Feet: Total square feet of the space to be heated/cooled.
  • Weather Pattern: The climate and length of the area’s hot and cold seasons.
  • Manufacturer Recommendations: Consult manufacturer charts for the appropriate furnace for the space and climate.
  • Orientation: Since windows are not usually evenly distributed on all four orientations, rotating the orientation of a building design by 90 degrees can change the cooling load.incorrect vs correct furnace sizing Chicago
  • Latitude: The sun’s angle changes with the latitude and could affect the size you need.
  • Roof overhang: The roof overhang width matters, as well as the distance between the top of the window and the soffit.
  • Window Coverings: The presence or absence of any window coverings including, blinds, curtains and drapes.
  • Energy Efficient Appliances/Lighting: Appliances give off heat, especially older non energy efficient appliances. Types of lightbulbs used and the wattage can produce significant heat.
  • Mechanical Rate Ventilation: This could vary based on home’s age.
  • Occupants of a home: General rule of thumb is to calculate number of occupants equal to number of bedrooms plus one.

Experienced installers may also consider other factors like available insulation, the specific floor plan and ceiling heights. A trusted installer will not sell you a furnace larger than what you need, saying it’s “more for your money”. The fact is an over-sized furnace will cause you problems.

Issues Related to an Over-Sized Unit

An oversized furnace is no bargain. Especially when it comes to performance.  Here are some of the issues you’ll likely experience.

  • A home that is difficult to keep comfortable. When your home has an oversized furnace it can generate a lot of heat at once, creating an environment that can be too warm. In addition to some rooms heating too quickly, rooms further away from the furnace may not ever seem to get warm enough.
  • Your furnace will “short cycle” – Because a room heats up so quickly your furnace will “short cycle”, meaning it will be in a start up and shut down mode far too often. This creates furnace wear and may ultimately lead to a furnace failure.
  • This will lead to higher fuel costs.  The start up mode is the most expensive running time for your furnace. This means when it is short cycling it is using more fuel than necessary. This will lead to higher fuel costs and inefficiency.
  • An oversized furnace will wear down quicker. If your home does not have the proper furnace size, the furnace it does have will not last as long. It may be tempting to believe that an oversized furnace may not work as hard, but the opposite is actually true.

If you’ve experienced any or all of the above, it is quite possible you too, have an oversized furnace.

Contact Althoff Industries Today!

Having a professional perform a load calculation and install your furnace means your furnace will run as efficiently as possible as long as possible. When your HVAC is properly maintained, it further ensures that efficiency for years to come. Contact the professionals at Althoff Industries for an appointment today – we service all suburbs in the Greater Chicago area. We’ll make sure your system is the appropriate size for your home. If not, we’ll recommend a system that will save you money on fuel while providing a more comfortable living environment. The more you know about your HVAC system, the more you’ll understand the value Althoff Industries brings as your HVAC technician. contact Althoff industries

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Do I Need a Humidifier In My Home?

Wednesday, June 21st, 2017

If you feel something isn’t quite right about the air quality in your home, determining the best route back to optimal functionality can be a complicated process. While it’s true that weather and climate have a significant impact on indoor air quality, there are numerous other factors you need to consider.

Even when the solution seems obvious, it is important to do your research before installing any indoor air treatments like a humidifier in your home.

If you choose to skip this step, you can wind up creating a much larger problem than you had when you started. Sometimes, those problems can even turn out to be hazardous to your health.

When in doubt, it is always better to ask a specialist. In this article, we’ll identify some of the best indicators humidity levels are not where they should be. From dry air during the winter months, to sticky, uncomfortable indoor air in the summer–this is your guide to understanding whether you need a humidifier (or some other indoor air treatment) in your home.

Too Much Moisture or Not Enough?

To simplify things for you, below are some signs to help identify whether your moisture levels are too high or too low.

Indicators of High Humidity

Summer air in the Midwest can be especially humid. It is not uncommon for moisture in the air to reach humidity levels of 75% and above. When there is excess condensation in the air inside your home, you may notice a sticky, moist, or clammy feel. At a more advanced phase, you may even detect a musty odor.

When left unchecked, high moisture air quality can create an environment perfect for the growth of unwanted nuisances such as pests, dust mites, bacteria, and even viruses.

Signs of Low-Moisture or Dry Air

During the colder months of the year, the opposite begins to happen. Instead of becoming sticky and moist, the air starts to feel dry. As temperatures drop, the cold air loses its ability to hold onto as much moisture.

This lack of humidity in the air comes with a host of potential health problems, commonly related to the respiratory system. If you live in an environment that enjoys all four seasons or has a traditionally dry climate, you’re likely no stranger to these symptoms.

Some of them include:

  • Chronic runny nose
  • Asthma or allergy flare-ups
  • Dry skin and nasal passages
  • Increased static in hair and electric shocks when touching people or objects
  • Bloody noses
  • Sinus congestion

Among these, an unexplained early morning cough, dry throat, or dry mouth are all indications you may be exposing yourself to dry air. All of these variables have the potential to impact your health significantly and can exacerbate or worsen existing respiratory conditions like allergies and asthma.

Solutions for Improving Air Quality

When you’ve identified your indoor moisture levels, you can start exploring potential solutions.

When Humidity Is Too Low

If you’re experiencing symptoms that are consistent with dry air, you will want to incorporate a solution that adds moisture in the air. Chiefly, a whole-home humidifier.

What Is a Humidifier?

Humidifiers are moisture increasing devices known to help relieve dry climate and wintertime symptoms by, at the most basic level, adding water vapor to the air.

Humidifiers can protect your body from the effects of dry air, but they can also be beneficial for proper maintenance of indoor finishes and structures.

Hardwood floors, wooden furniture, and hardwood moldings are just a few of the fixtures that can commonly become damaged due to excessively dry air.

To get the best results–and quality for your investment–you should choose a humidifier that is best suited to your personalized conditions and environment.

Types of Humidifiers

Central humidifiers or whole-home humidifiers are designed to improve moisture throughout your entire home. If you want to reduce or even eliminate the problems associated with dry indoor air, this is the most effective option. Because of its efficiency, it is more expensive than alternatives but more effective.

Steam humidifiers or vaporizers convert water into steam to add more moisture to indoor air. These humidifiers are beneficial, even in homes where much humidity is needed to keep levels balanced.

Bypass humidifiers connect directly to your HVAC system. These units use the blower motor of your furnace to force air through a water panel, which adds moisture. The motor then circulates the treated air back into the rest of your home.

Fan-powered humidifiers connect with your HVAC system, as well. Through the use of a built-in motor, fan-powered humidifiers work by pulling air into the unit and through a water panel, where water is added and redistributed with increased humidity. These can work as standalone units without an HVAC system as well, which lowers energy consumption.

Not super interested in the different makes and models of humidifiers?

Don’t let the task of choosing the right humidifier keep you with dry sinuses and itchy skin for the duration of the winter season. Instead, look for a team of air quality experts to help you find the best product to suit your household, budget, comfort, and personalized needs.

With qualified technicians like the team at Althoff by your side, you can enjoy the comfort of knowing they can install the equipment correctly.

Why Althoff Industries

Our goal is to bring our customers superior indoor air quality.

We understand that your system must work efficiently to maintain the comfort of your home. It must help clean, heat, and cool your indoor air while reducing indoor humidity through the steamy summer months and adding moisture to the air during the cold Chicago winters.

We specialize in creating solutions to maximize your savings without compromising comfort.

Since 1961, we’ve been serving Chicago area businesses, industries, apartment and condominium and single-family homeowners with a range of services including the installation of humidifiers.

Schedule an appointment today and discover the difference we can make in your indoor air quality and comfort. We look forward to assisting you!

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