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Air Source Heat Pumps May Be a Better Option for 'Ultra' Energy-Efficient Homes

Posted by John Sims on Tue, Feb, 14, 2017 @ 14:02 PM

In many of our articles we've written about improving the energy efficiency of yourSustainable.jpg existing home and if you decide to build you must get your hands on building an Ultra Energy-Efficient home.

Here's an interesting fact: As you add insulation to a home and reduce the air leakage to tighten up 'the building envelope', the amount it takes to heat your home drops much faster than the amount it takes to cool your home.

Status quo furnace designs are strongly biased toward inefficient homes and cold climates like ours. Often the choices come down to big, bigger, or even bigger. Although this has always been an issue in mild climates, it’s becoming a problem in cold regions as homes are built tighter and more efficient; more sustainable environment

The new reality: a gas furnace maybe a poor choice for high performance homes

By comparison, gas furnaces do a good job but they have limitations. Some of the best performing gas furnaces are rated as high as 97 or 98 percent efficient. Physics limits further gains, as the combustion process is never 100 percent efficient.

Gas furnaces rely on burning fossil fuels, typically natural gas or propane. By contrast, heat pumps rely on electricity and refrigerants instead of combustion, and have long been achieving over 100 percent efficiency.

In fact, properly designed and installed heat pumps routinely achieve over 300 percent efficiency. This extreme performance has been verified on installed systems in real homes, not in a lab environment with perfect conditions.

In the 1970s use of heat pumps grew due to the oil embargo and the high cost of petroleum based fuels. Unfortunately, many systems installed in this period did not perform very well. This was not a problem with the technology, but with the industry.

However, heat pumps are not as forgiving as gas furnaces; correct sizing and ductwork are critical to optimal performance. Many HVAC contractors don't fully understand the technology;

Another myth is that heat pumps only work in mild climates. This thinking stems from the fact that heat pump performance falls off as the ambient air temperature drops(when it gets really cold). An old rule of thumb was that heat pumps are great as long as the outside temperature is above 30 degrees Fahrenheit. In some cases this is true, but heat pumps have been used in extreme climates (like Alaska) for years. Today’s heat pumps easily perform well into the teens, and special low temperature units will work well to -15 degrees below zero and lower without electric resistance heat strips.

Today, heat pumps are being used in a wide variety of residential applications. They can be used to heat and cool the home in central heating systems. They are used to condition small spaces in the form of ductless mini-split heat pumps. A more recent application is the heating of domestic hot water. Heat pumps can even be used to heat swimming pools.

Since heat pumps are electric, they are a perfect fit for solar applications. By installing heat pumps, we can use the sun’s energy to heat and cool our home and make domestic hot water. This is a very effective carbon free model that does not rely on fossil fuels.

Technology is advancing. In fact, many experts believe the future for residential energy is site-produced electricity from photovoltaics (PV solar), combined with heat pump technology, and storage (batteries). Tesla has introduced a new solar roof. We sell back-up power generators so we pretty knowledgeable about his stuff

It has worked for NASA and the space program for years it should work for your home too. In short, there are lots of smart folks who support this technology and see it as a critical part of a sustainable clean energy future.

This may be a conversation starter for many homeowners as we advance technology and options

Topics: Energy Efficient Solutions, Electrical, Heat Pumps

Not Sure About Heat Pumps?

Posted by John Sims on Fri, Jan, 13, 2017 @ 11:01 AM

From time to time we get questions from homeowners concerning heat pumps, WhatisAHeatPump.pngwhat are they? There are many ways to heat a home. From furnaces to fireplaces, homeowners have many options – which one is best for your home? Perhaps you’ve heard of a heat pump,

So Here's The Answer

Furnaces create heat, heating air by burning fuel. Heat pump systems do not create heat, as furnaces and boilers do. Instead, they transfer heat from one area to another. Because they do not create heat, these systems use less energy than furnaces and boilers do because you don't burn a fuel like natural gas or propane.

In addition to heating, heat pump systems are also used to cool homes. They move heat out of the home to lower indoor temperatures. Heat pumps are used as a combination heating and cooling system, or in addition to conventional heating and cooling equipment.

Heat pumps provide both heating and cooling.  Heat pumps have SEER ratings like air conditioners and Heating Seasonal Performance Factor (HSPF) ratings for measuring heating efficiency. Higher SEER and HSPF ratings mean greater energy savings.

Heat pumps are all electric. A heat pump works the same as an air conditioner in the summer, but it runs in reverse in the winter to heat your home. The system will be matched with a backup heating source, most often electric heat for those extremely cold days of winter.

Air-Source Heat Pumps - the most common type

To heat your home, an air-source heat pump absorbs warmth from outdoor air (don’t worry – despite feeling cold outside, abundant warmth exists in outdoor air). The heat pump absorbs heat from the outdoor air, transferring it inside your home.

To cool your home, an air-source heat pump draws the heat out of your home, sending it into the outdoor air. By removing the heat, your home feels cooler.

Under optimal conditions, air-source heat pump systems can drop a home’s energy consumption by as much as 40 percent.

In practical terms, in the heating mode it's running like an air conditioner but in reverse.

HtPmp.png

(image from Minnesota Power)

These systems typically work well to temperatures as low as 30°F. Below that, a backup or supplemental heating source is required. The backup system can be electric, fossil fuel, or a combination and is typically used from mid-December to mid-February.

Is A Heat Pump System Right For My Home?

Not all homes are the right home for a heat pump system. Most homes in the Battle Creek Area use a furnace that burns natural gas because of the low cost

Air-source heat pumps only run efficiently when outdoor temperatures are above freezing. If you live in a region where temperatures drop below 32 degrees, you shouldn’t choose a heat pump as your sole source of heating.

In an area where temperatures reach freezing, air-source heat pumps make good primary heating systems. You’ll want to have a backup system installed, such as a gas furnace, which can take over when temperatures reach freezing. Your heating technician can install controls which automatically shut down the heat pump if temperatures reach and drop below freezing. The controls will call for the furnace to come on, efficiently heating the home in these conditions.

If you heat with propane, you know how much the cost can fluctuate. It gets expensive when you fill up. This may be great investment or when it comes time to replace your air conditioner

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Topics: Air Conditioning, Heating, Heat Pumps

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Geothermal Heat Pumps?

Posted by John Sims on Wed, Sep, 02, 2015 @ 12:09 PM

Here’s what a leading building science expert and licensed Architect, Doug Rye, who’s been involved withFREE_Energy the installation of over 62,000 geo systems will tell you.

"All the energy you'll ever need to heat and cool(and most of your hot water) for your house Is about 5 or 6 feet below in the ground; and it's unlimited"

He says: Geothermal heat pumps and geothermal energy heating systems are by far the most efficient energy source available today. Geothermal heat pumps use solar energy stored in the upper layer of the earths surface. The earth absorbs almost 50% of the solar energy that reaches its surface. That’s a lot of FREE energy!

Tapping into this FREE source of energy enables a geothermal heat pump to operate at an amazing 400% efficiency. This geothermal energy benefit means that you pay for 1 unit of electricity and get 3 units for FREE! Put it this way. Would you be happy if you paid for 10 gallons of gas and you received 30 gallons? Unless you work for the oil company, it’s a no-brainer.

Here are 7 reasons why you should have plans for geothermal heating and cooling in your home. 

  1. Energy Savings: Geothermal systems use a small amount of electricity to transfer heat to and from the ground to your home. In fact, it can produce three to four units of energy for every unit of electricity used to power the system. Even the best conventional system delivers less than one unit of energy for each unit it consumes. Homeowners typically experience an annual savings of 30 to 70% when compared to ordinary systems. 
  2. Quiet Operation: Geothermal systems use the same principles that operate a refrigerator or freezer, and the units are just as quiet. There is no unsightly outdoor unit to disturb you or your neighbors. 
  3. Enhanced Comfort: Provides precise distribution of comfortable air all year long, eliminating hot spots and cold spots. During heating, you’ll experience warm air without the hot blasts associated with ordinary gas furnaces. And compared to an air-source heat pump, the air is warmer. When cooling, a geothermal unit delivers cool, dehumidified air. Thermostats: don’t need to be adjusted. You just set it, and forget it. 
  4. Clean and Safe: Geothermal units do not use fossil fuels such as propane and natural gas. Threats caused by combustion are eliminated. No worries about flames, fumes, odors, or carbon monoxide. You can go all electric and eliminate the potential of feeling sick all the time in winter. 
  5. System Lifespan: Ordinary systems often require expensive regular maintenance for each unit – the furnace, the air conditioner, and the water heater. When properly installed, a geothermal system requires little or no maintenance beyond periodic checks and filter changes. Geothermal systems typically last more than 20 years if properly maintained. It is unrivaled for economy — comparable to traditional systems in first-installed-costs and vastly superior over the long term — with energy cost savings of 25% to 50% annually.
  6. Positive Cash Flow: Geothermal systems will produce significantly cheaper utility bills and annual maintenance costs. The initial cost of a geothermal system can be tied into your mortgage or other form of low interest financing option. The savings on your utilities easily cover the increase in your loan payment giving you the extra cash flow. A system will usually pay for itself within a two to five year time span.
  7. Free Hot Water: As a bonus, a geothermal unit can provide some or all of your hot water at higher efficiencies, offering additional energy savings. Using a simple connection to your water heater, the geothermal unit will deliver hot water to the tank during the heating and cooling modes. In fact, the heat removed from your home during cooling is deposited into your water heater providing you with virtually free hot water.

Is a geothermal heat pump for everyone and every situation?  The answer is no. Here are the 3 main disadvantages: 

  1. Cost Prohibitive: a disadvantage of a geothermal heat pump used to heat and cool your home can sometimes be cost prohibitive also.  It is very important to note that most of the added expense of a geothermal heat pump is in drilling the holes for the vertical loops or digging the trenches for a horizontal loop.  The system inside your house is essentially the same as a conventional heating and air system.
  2. Not Enough Space: You may not have enough space for the loops.
  3. Finding a reputable installer in your area.  They are not for those who don't have experience.

At SimsHeating And Cooling, we are always working to educate homeowners in the Battle Creek area about heating, cooling, comfort and safety in your home.

 

Topics: Best Value, Heat Pumps, Geothermal

What is A Geothermal Heat Pump?

Posted by John Sims on Fri, Aug, 28, 2015 @ 14:08 PM

While we've on the subject of heat pumps, I thought I'd cover Geothermal. But let's first review what a heat pump is; this may help you better understand why they call it a heat pump:Geothermal2.pptx

As Kevin Rafferty of HeatSpring Learning Institute says:

"Heat naturally flows "downhill", from higher to lower temperatures. A heat pump is a machine which causes the heat to flow in a direction opposite to its natural tendency, or "uphill" in terms of temperature. Because work must be done (energy consumed) to accomplish this, the name heat "pump" is used to describe the device. 

In heat pump terminology, the difference between the temperature where the heat is absorbed (the "source") and the temperature where the heat is delivered (the "sink") is called the "lift." The larger the lift, the greater the power input required by the heat pump.. 

Compare that to your typical furnace which burns a fuel in a combustion chamber and then heats the air your blower moves around your home through the duct systems. Heat pumps use electricity to pump fluid which has been heated.

We wanted to discuss geothermal as a type of heat pump. Geothermal comes from "Geo" meaning earth and "thermal" meaning heat. Geothermal heat pumps (GHPs) have been around for a while and are a growing option for residential heating/cooling. As the cost of fuel goes up, they become a viable and attractive alternative for home owners in the right situation. Although somewhat higher in first cost, this technology can, in the right application, quickly repay this cost premium through savings in energy costs. 

Geothermal heating and cooling uses naturally consistent underground temperatures. You see earth absorbs almost 50% of all solar energy and remains a nearly constant temperature of 50°F to 70°F depending on geographic location. 

The Geothermal Process - Pulling FREE Energy from the earth!



The geothermal process is based on a simple premise: Below the frost line - usually about four feet deep – the earth is a constant temperature of about 50 degrees Fahrenheit all year long. 
During the winter, the heat pump absorbs heat from the ground and uses it to warm the air in your home. In the warmer summer months, the processed is reversed, taking heat from your home and transferring it back into the ground.

The basic elements of a geothermal system include:

  • Underground loops of plastic piping; (Open Or Closed Loop)
  • A liquid antifreeze solution;
  • A heat pump; and
  • An air distribution system.

The loops of piping are buried in the ground near your home, either vertically or horizontally. That ground loop is connected to a pumping module inside your home. 
The pump circulates a mixture of water and the antifreeze through the ground loop, where it absorbs heat from the earth.
When the heated liquid reaches the heat pump inside your home, the heat is multiplied and used to warm the air inside the air-handling system. A blower sends the warmed air throughout your home through ductwork.

In winter, water circulating inside a sealed loop absorbs heat from the earth and carries it to the geothermal unit. Here it is compressed to a higher temperature and sent as warm air to your indoor heating system for distribution throughout your home.
In the summer, the system reverses the process and expels heat from your home to the cooler earth through the loop system. This heat exchange process is not only natural, but it is a truly ingenious and highly efficient way to create a comfortable climate in your home.

The drawback to geothermal is the upfront investment for installation and whether it's a good fit for your home. It is considered a renewable technology. Homeowners in rural areas where propane gas is the only choice would find a geo thermal heat pump as an interesting option. 

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Topics: HVAC Systems, Heat Pumps, Geothermal

Are Mini-Split Heating and Cooling Systems Efficient?

Posted by John Sims on Tue, Aug, 25, 2015 @ 16:08 PM

Building Science Experts Offer Their Opinion Of Mini Split Heat Pumps.MiniSplits_WorthIt

In previous articles we talked about what a mini split heat pump is and listed some of the advantages and some of the disadvantages.

Like central systems, mini splits have two main components: an outdoor compressor/condenser, and an indoor air-handling unit. A conduit, which houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, and a condensate drain, links the outdoor and indoor units.

Advantages

The main advantages of mini splits are their small size and flexibility for zoning or heating and cooling individual rooms. Many models can have as many as four indoor air handling units (for four zones or rooms) connected to one outdoor unit. The number depends on how much heating or cooling is required for the building or each zone (which in turn is affected by how well the building is insulated). Each of the zones will have its own thermostat, so you only need to condition that space when it is occupied, saving energy and money.

Ductless mini split systems are also often easier to install than other types of space conditioning systems. For example, the hook-up between the outdoor and indoor units generally requires only a three-inch (~8 centimeter [cm]) hole through a wall for the conduit. Also, most manufacturers of this type of system can provide a variety of lengths of connecting conduits. So, if necessary, you can locate the outdoor unit as far away as 50 feet (~15 meters [m]) from the indoor evaporator. This makes it possible to cool rooms on the front side of a building house with the compressor in a more advantageous or inconspicuous place on the outside of the building.

Since mini splits have no ducts, they avoid the energy losses associated with ductwork of central forced air systems. Duct losses can account for more than 30% of energy consumption for space conditioning, especially if the ducts are in an unconditioned space such as an attic.

Compared with other add-on systems, mini splits offer more flexibility in interior design options. The indoor air handlers can be suspended from a ceiling, mounted flush into a drop ceiling, or hung on a wall. Floor-standing models are also available. Most indoor units have profiles of about seven inches (~18 cm) deep and usually come with sleek, high-tech-looking jackets. Many also offer a remote control to make it easier to turn the system on and off when it's positioned high on a wall or suspended from a ceiling. Split-systems can also help to keep your home safer, because there is only a small hole in the wall. Through-the-wall and window mounted room air-conditioners can provide an easy entrance for intruders.

Disadvantages

The primary disadvantage of mini splits is their cost. Such systems cost about $1,500 to $2,000 per ton (12,000 Btu per hour) of cooling capacity. This is about 30% more than central systems (not including ductwork) and may cost twice as much as window units of similar capacity.

The installer must also correctly size each indoor unit and judge the best location for its installation. Oversized or incorrectly located air-handlers often result in short-cycling, which wastes energy and does not provide proper temperature or humidity control. Too large a system is also more expensive to buy and operate.

Some people may not like the appearance of the indoor part of the system. While less obtrusive than a window room air conditioner, they seldom have the built-in look of a central system. There must also be a place to drain condensate water near the outdoor unit.

Qualified installers and service people for mini splits may not be easy to find. In addition, most conventional heating and cooling contractors have large investments in tools and training for sheet metal duct systems. They need to use (and charge for) these to earn a return on their investment, so they may not recommend ductless systems except where a ducted system would be difficult for them to install.

 Source: EnergyStar.gov

Here's some information from the building science community when it comes to mini split heat pumps. 

 

 

Guys like Allison Bailes                                                       and Martin Holladay

Martin-headshot
bailes_linkedin

Here's their perspective:

"Ductless mini split air conditioners are also becoming the #1 choice for people replacing their old noisy, bulky and unsafe window AC units. Mini Splits are also a great choice if you're building new room additions or if you're living in small apartments, where extending or installing distribution ductwork (for a central air-conditioner or heating systems) is not feasible Similar to central air conditioners, split air conditioners have two main components: the outdoor compressor and an indoor air handler, NO Duct Work required"

The Top 8 Advantages of Ductless Mini Split Air Conditioners Vs. Central A/C Systems and Window A/C Units Include:

  1. Very quiet operation is one of the main reasons they are very popular.
  2. Energy efficient, save money on electric bills!
  3. Affordable in comparison to a central Air Conditioner.
  4. Individual Zoning. Each indoor unit has its own thermostat so cooling need only be turned on when someone is in the room or zone.
  5. The energy loss associated with traditional ductwork does not apply to a mini split system. The outside unit can be placed up to 50 feet away from the indoor evaporator.
  6. Safe & Secure, using a window a/c makes it very easy for intruders to enter your home. The mini split need only have a two inch hole drilled into a wall for the conduit.
  7. Energy Star Certified. Not only do they draw approx 40% less electricity when compared to other types of split AC units but they also qualify for governmental rebates depending on your state laws.
  8. Long term solution, great for new additions or when replacing existing Air Conditioner.

Here's a link to what these experts have to say:


Let our technicians help you evaluate your home and do a cost-benefit analysis to see if it's a good fit for you or not.

Topics: HVAC Systems, Heat Pumps, Mini Split Heat Pumps

What Is A Mini Split Heat Pump?

Posted by John Sims on Fri, Aug, 21, 2015 @ 14:08 PM

You may have heard advertising about mini split heat pumps and wondered what they were and whether that is something you should consider. Before we could explain what it is, we had to explain what a heat MiniSplit2pump is and how it works. We've talked about Air-to-Air Heat Pumps in a previous article. 

Mini-splits are often referred to as "ductless" because they do not rely a duct system to distribute the heated or cooled air. They are typically designed to heat or cool one room at a time.  

Ductless, mini-split-system heat pumps (mini splits) make good retrofit add-ons to houses with "non-ducted" heating systems, such as hydronic (hot water heat), radiant panels, and space heaters (wood, kerosene, propane). They can also be a good choice for room additions where extending or installing distribution ductwork is not feasible, and very efficient new homes that require only a small space conditioning system.

Like standard air-source heat pumps, mini splits have two main components -- an outdoor compressor/condenser and an indoor air-handling unit. A conduit, which houses the power cable, refrigerant tubing, suction tubing, and a condensate drain, links the outdoor and indoor units. 

The following is some helpful information from Energy Star that explains the advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages

The main advantages of mini splits are their small size and flexibility for zoning or heating and cooling individual rooms. Many models can have as many as four indoor air-handling units (for four zones or rooms) connected to one outdoor unit. The number depends on how much heating or cooling is required for the building or each zone (which in turn is affected by how well the building is insulated and air sealed). Each of the zones has its own thermostat, so you only need to condition occupied spaces. This will save energy and money.

Ductless mini-split systems are easier to install than some other types of space conditioning systems. For example, the hook-up between the outdoor and indoor units generally requires only a three-inch hole through a wall for the conduit. Most manufacturers of this type of system can provide a variety of lengths of connecting conduits, and, if necessary, you can locate the outdoor unit as far away as 50 feet from the indoor evaporator. This makes it possible to cool rooms on the front side of a house, but locate the compressor in a more advantageous or inconspicuous place on the outside of the building.

Mini splits have no ducts, so they avoid the energy losses associated with the ductwork of central forced air systems. Duct losses can account for more than 30% of energy consumption for space conditioning, especially if the ducts are in an unconditioned space such as an attic.

In comparison to other add-on systems, mini splits offer more interior design flexibility. The indoor air handlers can be suspended from a ceiling, mounted flush into a drop ceiling, or hung on a wall. Floor-standing models are also available. Most indoor units are about seven inches deep and have sleek, high tech-looking jackets. Many also offer a remote control to make it easier to turn the system on and off when it's positioned high on a wall or suspended from a ceiling.

Split systems can help keep your home safer, because there is only a small hole in the wall. Through-the-wall and window-mounted room air conditioners can provide easy access for intruders.

Disadvantages

The cost of installing mini splits can be higher than some systems, although lower operating costs and rebates or other financial incentives -- offered in some areas -- can help offset the initial expense.

The installer must correctly size each indoor unit and determine the best location for its installation. Oversized or incorrectly located air handlers can result in short cycling, which wastes energy and does not provide proper temperature or humidity control. Too large a system is more expensive to buy and operate.

Some people may not like the appearance of the indoor part of the system. While less obtrusive than a window room air conditioner, these units don’t have the built-in look of a central system. There must also be a place to drain condensate water near the outdoor unit.

Like the information states, we've found them to be a great fit for additions and homes that use hot a boiler to heat.

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Topics: HVAC Systems, Heat Pumps, Mini Split Heat Pumps

HVAC Systems: What Is A Heat Pump?

Posted by John Sims on Mon, Aug, 03, 2015 @ 14:08 PM

You may have heard the advertisements for mini-split systems and wondered what Heatpumpthose were. Before we can get into that, we need to define what a heat pump is.

 

In order to understand what a heat pump is, you need to grasp what is called the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, which states:

"Heat always flows from a higher temperature to a lower temperature, hot to cold."

A heat pump is a device that is able to transfer heat from one fluid at a lower temperature to another at a higher temperature. Heat pumps owe their name to the fact that they allow heat to be carried from a lower to a higher temperature level, essentially going against natural heat flow. 

In the summer, a heat pump removes heat from inside your home and replaces it with cool air; working just like a conventional, high-efficiency air conditioner.

In the winter, the system works in reverse. It removes available heat from the air outside your home (yes, there is heat in cold outdoor air) and moves it indoors, providing an even, comfortable temperature level throughout your home.

Air-to-air heat pumps are basically air conditioners with the capability of reversing their cycle to provide heating in the wintertime. 

Like we said, during the summer, air conditioners remove heat from the house, and 'pushes it outside. Air source heat pumps have a switching system that allows them to operate in reverse in the winter, removing heat from the outside air, bringing it into the house. Since air source heat pumps are not actually creating heat, but moving it from one place to another, they are less expensive to operate than electric resistance heaters, and depending on the costs of both natural gas and electricity, possibly gas furnaces as well.

For climates with moderate heating and cooling needs, heat pumps offer an energy-efficient alternative to furnaces and air conditioners. 

A great practical illustration that everyone can relate to is your refrigerator. It removes heat from inside to the metal tubes or grid in the back where the heat is absorbed by the air in your kitchen. 
Like your refrigerator, heat pumps use electricity to move heat from a cool space to a warm space, making the cool space cooler and the warm space warmer. 

Because they move heat rather than generate heat, heat pumps can provide up to 4 times the amount of energy they consume.

One drawback to air source heat pumps is that they get less efficient when the outside air temperature gets colder. It is harder to extract the residual heat from colder air. 
Let's say in the West Michigan area, winter temperatures get below 20 degrees only about 15 percent of the heating season. That means that a heat pump provides sufficient heat for about 85 percent of the heating season. That's more than enough time to help you save energy and save money on your annual heating and cooling costs.

When outdoor temperatures drop below 20 degrees or so, a back-up heating system -- usually an existing gas furnace -- automatically provides supplemental heat. 
The reason you don't see many air-to-air heat pumps in this area, natural gas is sufficiently cheaper than electricity that an air source heat pump is generally more expensive to operate than gas furnaces.

For those who are unable to receive gas services, the air source heat pump is probably the best bet.

If you are heating with propane because natural gas isn't an option; it may be a great fit for you.

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Topics: HVAC Systems, HVAC Principles, Heat Pumps

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