Dear Jim: You recently wrote about extra comfortable two-stage gas furnaces. We don't have gas, so we use a "chilly" heat pump. Are there any new similar types of efficient two-stage heat pumps for better comfort?: Sue
Dear Sue: They haven't forgotten about you all-electric homeowners. There have been significant improvements in the efficiency, comfort and sound level of heat pumps. My own house has a heat pump. I know what it is like to step out of the shower just when the heat pump starts - brrrr! Not only will a new heat pump improve your comfort, but if your old one is more than 10 years old, it can cut your year-round utility bills by 30 percent to 40 percent. The best ones provide $3 worth of heat for each $1 of electricity used.
Heat pumps with two heating (cooling in the summer) output levels provide the highest overall efficiency and comfort. If your family suffers from allergies, these types of systems are a must for good air quality.
These designs make intuitive sense. You can imagine the poor gas mileage that a car would get if it had only one speed: the "gas-pedal-to-the-floor" or stop. Also, it wouldn't be too comfortable to ride in.
A true variable-speed indoor blower motor is recommended for all two-heat output models. When the blower first comes on, the speed ramps up slowly to minimize initial chilly drafts. The motor has its own computer brain.
These special blower motors also use about 60 percent less electricity. This feature can save another $100 per year for people with allergies who use the continuous air-circulation feature.
One two-output design has one small and one large compressor inside the outdoor unit. During mildly cool weather, the small compressor runs. During severe weather, the small one switches off and the large one comes on. The same happens in the summer when it switches to the air-conditioning mode.
The other two-output heat pump design uses a single two-speed compressor. It has a special two-speed compressor motor and electronic controls that determine the optimum speed for comfort and efficiency.
If your budget allows only for a single-output level heat pump, select one with a reliable scroll compressor. Look for sound-reducing features such as laminated steel/rubber compressor pads (such as on luxury automobiles).
For the ultimate comfort, install a "smart heat" kit (some are available to fit existing units). These kits have a computer brain to bring on just enough backup electric heat to warm the register outlet air to two degrees above your skin temperature. This is enough to make it feel warm.
Write for or instant download (www.dulley.com) Update Bulletin No. 446 buyer's guide of the most efficient, comfortable heat pumps, output levels, efficiencies and a payback chart. Please include $3 and a business-size SAE.
James Dulley, Deseret News, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244
Dear Jim: I have a very small area in which to build stairs to a remodeled attic/study. Are there any rules of thumb as to the proper stair height and depth?: Edward
Dear Ed: We become accustomed to the standard stair height (rise) and depth (run). If it is off just an inch, it makes one stumble. You'll find bodies at the bottom of the stairs and lawyers knocking at your door.
A typical stairway has a rise of 7.5 inches and a run of 10 inches per stair. Do not vary them more than an inch from this for frequently used stairs. Whatever you do, do not vary the rise from step to step.