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HVAC for Idiots
Of all the things I’ve learned about maintaining and improving a home over the years, one topic that still baffles me is HVAC — short for Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning. So when my furnace started to show signs of giving out recently, I had two choices: Learn a little something about HVAC, or put myself at the mercy of the professionals.

Hands-down, the most valuable tool my online HVAC research turned up was a piece of software called HVAC-Calc. Two versions of the program are available from software publisher HVAC Computer Systems Ltd.. I used the Home-Owner version, which is downloadable only. To get full use of this version, I called a toll-free number and registered the program. Registration costs $49. (A trial version of the software will run without registration for evaluation purposes). A professional version is also available.

The intent of this program is to take what you know about your house — the size of the rooms, the climate you live in, how many windows and doors your house has, etc. — and then calculate all the stuff you don’t know. Namely the heat gain and loss of your house. Once you understand how your house loses and gains heat energy, you can use a formula included in the software tutorial to determine the proper size furnace or central air unit for your house.

That’s the simple explanation of what HVAC-Calc does. There’s actually quite a bit more to it than that. The two things that impressed me most about the program were the level of detail it used to calculate the energy efficiency of my home and how simple it was to learn. Besides obvious factors like number and size of windows, the program also lets you plug in less obvious things, like how many people use one room at a time or whether there are any miscellaneous heat sources in a room (an oven, for instance).

Despite all that detail, the program is simple to use. That’s thanks largely to the number of help features included with the program. First is the tutorial, which you’ll need to print to get started. It’s easy to follow and written in terms that even a layman can understand. Second is the program interface — the screen where you enter all the information the program requires. There are several cues to help guide you through the process.

The last, and maybe most valuable help feature, is the toll-free number that’s included with the tutorial. If you get stuck, pick up the phone and give the support techs a call. I did this once, and quite frankly, I’d have been happy to pay for the call. The help was courteous and effective.

There’s Always a But…
As much as I like this software, I want to clarify a couple things: This software is not meant to turn you into an HVAC expert — please don’t think you’ll be able to overhaul your heating and cooling systems after purchasing this software. Also, there’s still no substitute for experience. Use this program to educate yourself, then discuss what you’ve learned with a qualified HVAC professional.

Check out this software at:
HVAC Computer Systems Ltd..
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