Winter is Coming: Prepare Yourself with this HVAC Maintenance ChecklistWow, it\u2019s already September! Back to school has come and passed and before you know it, winter will be upon us. The heating and cooling efficiency of your HVAC system is crucial during all seasons. However, winter is perhaps the most problematic time to have to deal with your home\u2019s inadequate heating system.In the summer time, an HVAC system on the brink can bring about quite a bit of distress in the blistering heat, but you can\u2019t take the edge off a freezing winter with tower fans and ice water.During those cold winter nights, your HVAC system becomes the most valuable piece of equipment in your home. Yet if it\u2019s not running correctly, you\u2019ll experience less comfort and higher energy bills.Moreover, snowfall and cold winters can jeopardize the longevity of your system. It\u2019s essential that you proactively perform any vital maintenance to make sure it\u2019s in peak condition well before the first snow hits.Check, clean or replace the air filtersFirst of all, if you don\u2019t do this already, you need to get into the habit of regularly checking, and if necessary, cleaning or changing the air filters on your HVAC system. If you\u2019ve been negligent up to now, check your filter a.s.a.p. This isn\u2019t the first time we\u2019ve mentioned this in our blogs, nor will it be the last.Cleaning or replacing your air filters is always a good idea as it helps to maintain the optimum air quality in your home and keep your family healthy.Why are the air filters so important?Furnaces must work harder than they have to when air filters are dirty and clogged, needlessly driving up energy bills. When airflow is blocked, it can also trigger system malfunctions and even damage equipment. Moreover, summer debris includes pollen and dust, which can build up on your filters and make the approaching cold and flu season even worse.You can do this yourself, or your HVAC technician will do it as he is conducting a more thorough maintenance check.Get your ducts in a rowThe same time you check the air filters is also a good time to inspect the air ducts. They can accumulate with dust, dander, and pet hair in addition to items that may have fallen down the vents. Just as you vacuum the home to rid it of dust and particles off the floor, the same needs to be done to the air ducts.Most of the contaminants and particulates in the air pass through your HVAC system and are then trapped in the air filter. But, over time, some are able to pass through and build up in the ductwork. Vacuuming out your air ducts will help prevent blockages and indoor air quality problems, allowing warm air to flow freely, easing the temperature regulation throughout the house.If there\u2019s only a bit of dust, you can do a quick vacuuming of the ducts to keep things running efficiently in the fall and winter months. If your ducts are clogged with an excessive amount of dust and debris, epa.gov recommends a thorough cleaning. If this is what you\u2019re seeing, it\u2019s probably best to have your air ducts cleaned professionally.Call J&A South Park if you need help with cleaning your air ducts.Speaking of the air ducts, make sure they aren\u2019t blocked out front. Keep objects like blinds, carpets or furniture free from your air ducts so your heater can function efficiently with even air distribution.Clean the furnaceClean the furnace and the area surrounding it. Over the summer, you may have begun to store items close to the furnace, which could eventually be a fire hazard. Remove any items that don\u2019t belong and give your furnace at least a three-foot perimeter all the way around. Next, open up the furnace access panel to vacuum up any dust, dander, and pet hair you see inside.While there, you\u2019ll want to check the blower. The blower belt is one of the most common HVAC pieces to break or wear out on a unit. Check to see if the belt is dried or frayed. Additionally, adding a drop of oil to your blower motor can keep things running smoothly.If you\u2019re unsure or don\u2019t want to perform these tasks yourself, have your J&A South Park service technician check it out during their next maintenance visit.Clean up the condenser unitOnce the temperatures got below freezing, you probably won\u2019t want to venture outdoors unless you absolutely must.That\u2019s why now is a good time to clean up any debris from around the condenser unit, the part of your HVAC system that\u2019s located outside. Leaves, sticks and other bits of natural debris can affect how it performs. As the leaves start to fall, make sure you pay particularly close attention to the area around the condenser to ensure that your air conditioning will be in working order come spring.To clean the unit, start by turning off the power. Then take a hose and rinse out all the dirt and debris that\u2019s accumulated. If anything is stuck or difficult to remove or there is any sign of damage, contact the team at J&A South Park.Also, placing a waterproof vinyl or plastic cover over the condenser insulates it, prevents cracking and protects it from debris and the elements. You can find covers made specifically for your outdoor unit at most home improvement stores.One more thing while you\u2019re outside. You can place foam pipe covers around the exterior exposed pipes, particularly those that go into your home. This can help protect them from damage from lower temperatures.Give your home some extra fluffOne of the easiest ways to help your HVAC system operate at peak performance is to lighten its load. Adding extra insulation to your home\u2019s attic or crawl space to keep your home warmer in the winter (and cooler in the summer) eases the workload on your furnace.Insulation is the thermal barrier of your home, keeping heat out during the spring and summer and in during the fall and winter. The more heat you\u2019re able to keep inside, the less your furnace has to work to keep the temperature consistent. A simple visual test will determine whether your home\u2019s attic is sufficiently insulated. According to Energy Star, insulation in the attic should be high enough to obstruct the view of the floor joists.If you aren\u2019t sure if your insulation needs to be replaced or added to, don\u2019t hesitate to call the professionals at J&A South Park. There are many types of insulation and our professionals will be able to help you select the right one and make sure your home\u2019s insulation is adequate.Proper insulation around the air ducts is another way to make sure your system is working efficiently. If the ducts are not properly insulated, heat can easily escape for them as the hot air travels through your house. This means you\u2019ll end up needing to set your thermostat higher in order for you and your family to feel comfortable in your own home.Check the thermostat and give your furnace a test runYes, your thermostat worked throughout the summer cooling season but check to be sure it will turn on your furnace as well. Change the setting to heat, then adjust the temperature so it starts the furnace. You might notice a burning smell at first, which is normal after the furnace has sat for so long. The real goal here is to make sure that it\u2019s blowing out heat. Adjust the temperature upward to be sure it turns off as well.If your thermostat isn\u2019t working the way it should be, it may be time to consider installing a programmable thermostat. The right temperature inside your home depends largely on who is there at the time, so when no one is home, the right temperature can be somewhat lower than a conventional \u201cliving area\u201d temperature. However, many homeowners forget to adjust their thermostats when they leave their home, or, more often, they simply don\u2019t want to return to a cold house.A programmable thermostat will make it easy for you to preset the temperature for certain times in your home so that your system can be as energy-efficient as possible.If your HVAC is ancient, it might be time to replace itReplacing your home\u2019s HVAC system is an expensive proposition, but if your system is old and inefficient, the added comfort and financial benefits of a new system can be very real. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, replacing a unit that is 10 or more years old with a new high-efficiency model could reduce your home\u2019s annual energy bill by as much as 20 to 40 percent.Some experts say that fall is the best time to purchase a new HVAC system. Contractors will be less busy in the fall than they would be during the summer, so it\u2019ll be easier and probably a bit cheaper as well to replace your system after summer ends, but before the onset of winter.There is also something known as the 5000 rule, one other method of determining whether or not you should replace your unit. Multiply the age of the HVAC system by the estimated repair cost and if that total exceeds $5000, go ahead and replace the unit. If the total is less than that, go ahead and have the unit repaired instead. (For example, if the cost of repair is $2000 and your system is four years old, you should consider a replacement.)Did you know that heating equipment causes around 56,000 home fires every year?While we\u2019re talking about preparing your HVAC system for the coming heating season, it\u2019s also the perfect time to make sure your family is safe from home heating accidents by making sure everyone knows these heating safety tips.Keep anything that could burn at least 3 feet away from all heating sources, including fireplaces, space heaters, furnaces and cooking equipment.Never leave a space heater unattended.Do NOT plug space heaters into extension cords.Never use your oven to heat your home or dry clothes.Install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors on every level of the home and outside each sleeping area.Do not use any heater with a damaged cord or plug.If you smell gas, turn off the appliance or furnace immediately (if you can) and evacuate the house.Contact the fire department and then your local gas company. Once this is done and you\u2019re able to return to the house, contact J&A South Park for assistance in restoring the heat.Schedule Fall heating system maintenanceAlthough we\u2019ve described some valuable things you can do yourself to bolster HVAC system efficiency, there is other work that you would best be advised to leave to the professionals. During a heating system maintenance visit, a service technician will perform a step-by-step check of your furnace to make sure it\u2019s in good working order. If there\u2019s a need for repair, they\u2019ll be able to complete it on the spot and prevent bigger issues from developing. A house call will improve the overall efficiency of your system, resulting in a lower utility bill and less wear and tear on the unit.Don\u2019t wait till it\u2019s too late. The technicians at J&A South Park can provide services and advice that will help guarantee comfort throughout the cold winter months.Give us a call to learn more about getting your furnace or other heating equipment ready for winter, or about installing a new energy-efficient HVAC system.You\u2019ll also want to inquire about our preventative maintenance programs for added peace of mind.