Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cold Air Returns: An Air Return's Impact on Air Conditioner Efficiency

The dog days of summer provide an opportune time to review cold air returns and in the process provide a rarely discussed tip for improving air conditioner performance. Sealing and insulating ductwork, closing window shades, weatherproofing windows and doors, and installing a programmable thermostat are all effective tips that any expert will recommend to make your air conditioner more efficient. However, removing obstructions from cold air return grilles is one tip that often gets forgotten by even the experts.

Before discussing how eliminating obstructions from cold air returns can improve air conditioner performance, it is important to understand how modern forced air heating and cooling systems function. A fan circulates air through your home by blowing conditioned air through supply vents and sucking stale air back through return vents. That’s right. Your air conditioner sucks and that is a good thing. The system recycles air by sucking it back through air returns. The recycled air is filtered, dehumidified, chilled (or heated, depending on the season), and then forced back through registers to cool (or warm) your home.

Traditionally, air return vent covers were called "cold air returns" and registers were called "heat registers". Homes were heated long before they were cooled with air conditioning. In the early days, cold air passed through air returns and warmed air passed through heat registers. The introduction of economical residential central air conditioning brought about another dimension to air returns and registers. In the winter, cold air still passes through air returns and warm air passes through registers but in the summer, their roles reverse. Air returns still suck and registers still blow regardless of the season but in the summer time, it is warm air that passes through air returns and cold air that passes through registers. Although the terms "cold air return" and "heat register" are now a bit antiquated, they are still used frequently.

With science and history out of the way, we wrap things up with some home economics. To reduce summer cooling expense, improve the efficiency of your air conditioner by removing obstacles from air return grilles. If the air return is blocked, it causes the blower to work harder to recirculate air. If you've ever ran over a throw rug with a vacuum cleaner you've seen and heard first hand how much harder the vacuum cleaner works to create suction with the throw rug sucked into its port. A similar reaction occurs when your air conditioner fan is forced to suck air through blocked air return covers. For a number of reasons, registers are often used in place of grilles on air returns. In most cases this is not a problem but generally the register's dampers should remain open if the register is covering an air return. If the same air return drop leads to vents in multiple rooms, you might adjust the dampers on registers that are close to the blower to create greater suction from air returns that are further in proximity from the blower. If the ductwork is properly implemented, this should not be necessary but since little engineering gets applied to residential ductwork, adjusting dampers on air returns can be used to balance air flow. As a rule of thumb, however, leave cold air returns open to improve the efficiency of your air conditioner and reduce your summer cooling bill.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Revival Bail Pulls and Eastlake Bin Pulls: Two Wildly Different Styles of Victorian Period Furniture Hardware

American furniture, and its cabinet knobs and drawer pulls, became much more extravagant in design during the later half of the 19th Century. This period of time became known as the Victorian period. Leading up to the Victorian period, an eclectic assortment of Revival furniture styles gained popularity. These styles drew inspiration from old European as well as ancient Greek and Roman designs. Dark wood, curved forms and elaborately carved ornamentation characterized much of the period’s Revival style furniture. Revival styles of the Victorian period included Gothic, Rococo and Renaissance Revival. Although these styles remained popular throughout much of the Victorian period, a distinctively different furniture style known as Eastlake was introduced during later half of the Victorian period. In contrast to earlier Revival style furniture, Eastlake furniture was created with lighter and grainier species of wood. Eastlake furniture also differed in that it took on angular forms and often included comparatively simple geometric ornamentation carved in low relief. As could be expected, furniture hardware of these two Victorian furniture styles also varied greatly.

Revival style furniture hardware shared the same design attributes of the furniture pieces that they were attached to. For example, Rococo Revival, which translates to “French Antique”, drawer bail pulls shared the same fanciful “C” and “S” scroll designs found on Rococo Revival furniture. Similarly, hardware of Gothic Revival style often included the style’s distinctive trefoil and quatrefoil foils designs commonly found on Gothic Revival style furniture.

Eastlake style furniture hardware is as truly unique as the furniture that it complemented. Eastlake cabinet hardware was typically brass or bronze and took on angular shapes. The virtually all flat surfaces of Eastlake cabinet hardware were embellished with low relief designs of flora and fauna, sunbursts, chevrons, or oriental motifs. Where as the bail pull was used by previous furniture styles, the bin pull was favored by makers of Eastlake style furniture. Eastlake bin pulls were typically angular with flat fully decorated surfaces.

The beginning of the 20th century marked an end to the Victorian period, but key characteristics of Eastlake style furniture and furniture hardware were continued in the Arts and Crafts movement that followed the Victorian period. Stay tuned as Arts and Crafts furniture and Arts and Crafts furniture hardware will be the subject of my next antique furniture hardware blog entry.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Coastal Bronze: Distinctive Solid Bronze Gate, Door, Shutter and Window Hardware

After stainless steel, bronze is the most durable metal commonly used for home hardware items. Bronze is stronger and stands up to the elements much better than brass, iron and aluminum. Further, bronze hardware, offered with rich patina finishes, natural aging adds unique character to the hardware that reflects its use and exposure to the elements. Because of this, bronze is the ideal choice for external home hardware like gate, exterior door and shutter hardware.

The founders of Coastal Bronze recognized bronze’s inherent durability and enduring attractive aesthetic qualities. With this in mind, Coastal Bronze was formed to manufacturer a reliable and cost effective source of hardware products designed specifically for external applications. Coastal Bronze first introduced a line of solid bronze gate hardware that included gate latches, gate hinges, slide bolts and gate door pulls. They have since expanded their offering to include a full portfolio of solid bronze home hardware products that feature distinctive textures, dark patina finish and old European-inspired designs. Coastal Bronze’s hardware portfolio now also includes solid bronze interior door hardware and bronze entry door hardware, solid bronze shutter and window hardware and solid bronze cabinet hardware.

Shop 4 Classics is proud to now offer Coastal Bronze’s complete catalog of distinctive cast bronze hardware products.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hepplewhite Ring Pulls and Sheraton Knobs: Reproduction Stamped Brass Furniture Hardware of Federal Period Furniture

It seems fitting that upon returning from the 4th of July holiday, I continue my blogging on period furniture and its hardware with an overview of the furniture of the Federal period, which was the first style of the newly formed United States of America. The Federal period is generally agreed upon to have begun in the 1780’s and ended in 1820. Neo-Classical influences of symmetry and balance are hallmarks of Federal period furniture design. Made from darker wood species, such as mahogany and cherry, Federal period furniture was delicate in design. Much of Federal period furniture was simple, however, decorative wood inlay patterns and intricate Greco-Roman motif carvings of urns, lyres, festoons, laurels and rosettes were also common embellishments.

Furniture hardware of Federal period furniture included distinctive bail pulls and knobs crafted from stamped brass. The two major types of furniture hardware of the Federal period where Hepplewhite pulls and Sheraton knobs.

Hepplewhite bail pulls were popular at the start of the Federal period through 1810. Hepplewhite furniture drawer pulls typically had cast brass “D” shaped drop pulls hung from posts attached to oval or round stamped brass backplates. Although Hepplewhite often had simple backplates adorned with concentric circles, more elaborate backplates stamped with neo-classical motifs such as Grecian urns, lyres, and laurels have come to epitomize reproduction Hepplewhite bail pulls.

Sheraton knobs gained popularity at the beginning of the 19th century and remained popular through 1820, the end of the Federal period. Sheraton knobs had stamped brass round knob tops with stamped brass round backplates. Although Sheraton knob backplates typically had simple concentric circle designs, the knobs’ faces were stamped with floral or patriotic designs.

For more information about hardware from the Federal period, see our blog post entitled; “Shop 4 Classics Reviews Federal Era Hardware”.

The Victorian period with its over-the-top ornate furniture designs followed the comparatively austere style of Federal period furniture. In an upcoming post, I’ll provide an overview of the variety of styles of Victorian furniture hardware.