Yes, It’s Time to Prepare Your HVAC System for the Colder Weather Ahead.
Fall is in the air, and that brings with it the inescapable transition from cooling season to the heating season. Though the cooler temperatures may bring relief from the hot mugginess of summer at first, you may start wondering what you should do to prepare for the winter months? What are the procedures for switching from the air conditioner to the furnace? How should you prepare the air conditioner for winter? How do I start the furnace?
Before you turn on your heating system, however, it’s really important to get your annual heating tune-up. This is a must-do fall maintenance task that can save you a considerable amount on your energy bills and will help ensure your furnace will have no breakdowns during a cold winter. Just like your vehicle needs to be maintained to run correctly, you need to do the same when you prepare your HVAC system.
Because a furnace/HVAC unit has moving parts, it’s important that belts are not dry and cracked, ductwork is not gapped, cracked, or rusted, and components such as coils and fans are clog-free and sufficiently lubricated. This type of assessment is best left to the professional unless the homeowner has had the proper training.
Scheduling HVAC maintenance once in the fall and once in the spring will help you save huge in the long run. You can save even more with a J&A South Park HVAC maintenance plan to ensure you get your system checked out twice a year.
Turning on the furnace
To turn the furnace on, simply look for the switch on your thermostat labeled: HEAT COOL OFF, and flip the switch from COOL to HEAT. Newer digital thermostats may have an option on the digital screen rather than a switch. The temperature does not have to be set at a specific point; that is a personal preference. If you have steam heat or don’t have an A/C, your thermostat will not have a HEAT COOL OFF switch.
If you turn the thermostat from cool to heat and it’s not functioning, then it’s time to take a trip to the furnace. Look for a switch on the side of the furnace that resembles a light switch. Make sure that switch is also “on.”
If it still doesn’t go on, it might be time to call your HVAC technician.
Check the air filter
If you’ve been reading any of our previous blogs on HVAC maintenance, you no doubt have learned about how critical it is to change your air filters. We cannot overemphasize how important this is!
When dirt and dust build-up on the air filter, airflow is curbed, lowering the HVAC unit’s efficiency and ultimately leading to more serious problems. A dirty HVAC filter cannot only waste energy but even damage your furnace in the long run. More importantly, if your filter isn’t actually filtering, it can affect your family’s health and cause breathing issues, especially for those with allergies or asthma.
What types of filters are available? Most HVAC and furnace filters are one-use, constructed of Eco-friendly paper or similar media, and shaped in cells, screens, or fins intended to catch as much airborne debris as possible. You’ll find there are many types of filters that will fit various models of furnaces/HVAC units, and it’s quite important to use the correct filter for your particular unit. Using the wrong filter that doesn’t fit your unit properly can create the same types of problems as having a dirty filter.
Find and seal leaks
Heating experts tell us that up to 38 percent of your home’s heat is lost through leaks in the ductwork and around doors and windows during a typical winter.
Locating and sealing such leaks can help you stop losing warm air. This would include sealing your ductwork and caulking windows. You might also need to lower your door threshold or replace the weather stripping around the bottom.
Back to your air ducts. ENERGY STAR estimates that leaky ducts can reduce a home’s heating system’s efficiency by up to 20 percent.
That’s why it’s essential to consider hiring an HVAC tech to pressure test and inspect the ductwork in your home to make sure that all the heated air is reaching the appropriate rooms. The technician will search for loose joints, holes, or leaks and fix these problems accordingly.
In addition, you might want to consider insulating the ducts with a material rated R-6 or higher – especially if they run through an unheated basement or a crawl space.
Before we move on from the air ducts, it’s important to make a note to keep them clear from obstructions. Move furniture, drapes, and anything else blocking your air ducts and cold-air returns. Blocked vents reduce airflow and stress your furnace.
Adjust return registers
Return registers are pairs of registers located near the ceiling and the floor of rooms throughout your home. You can identify them because they are usually bigger than a supply vent.
By deliberately opening and closing these registers, you can enhance the airflow throughout your home as the seasons change.
Remember, hot air rises, and cold air falls. In the winter, you want the cold air to be drawn through the return registers leaving the hot air behind. By opening the lower registers and closing the top ones, you keep the hot air and draw the cold air out. Since cold air is heavier, it will automatically flow down to the lower register.
By following this tip, your HVAC system won’t have to work quite as hard to keep you cozy in the winter, helping to reduce energy costs.
This energy saver can pay for itself in less than a year
A programmable thermostat – a thermostat combined with a clock – can handle daily system temperature changes for you automatically, year’ round. Once you set a programmable thermostat, you can forget it – unless you want to change the program.
A programmable thermostat can also help break the habit of thermostat “fiddling,” which usually causes temperature swings and excessive energy bills. You know what we mean – you’re either cranking it up or turning it down. With a programmable unit, you can keep the temperature steady when you’re home and at an energy-smart setting when the home is empty.
For example, during cold weather months, the program will cycle the heating season, so your home is a comfortable 72 degrees when you get up in the morning – and then allow the temperature to drop to 66 degrees while you’re at work. Later, when you arrive home, the system will have heated your home back to 72 degrees again. After you go to bed, the thermostat can lower the temperature a few degrees to save even more energy before repeating the cycle the next day.
To humidify or not to humidify, that is the question
The proper humidity level – many experts suggest around 35 percent – is a good thing for both you and your house during the winter. Besides allowing you to lower your thermostat setting two or three degrees (because you’ll feel warmer at higher humidity levels), a humidifier will minimize shocks from static electricity and reduce dry skin and respiratory problems for your family.
In addition, a little extra humidity will help prevent hardwood floors from shrinking, doors from sticking, and furniture from drying out. Keep in mind, though, too much humidity can create a breeding ground for mold, mildew, and insects – and damage to the drywall (or plaster), the insulation, and the structure of your home.
Older, drafty homes need more help with humidity than newer homes. You may want to try placing a couple of portable humidifiers around the house, but a better choice (if you have forced-air heat) is to install a whole-house humidifier that attaches to the ductwork on your heating system.
For a home with baseboard heat, radiant heat, or radiators, look for a self-contained humidifier that hangs from the floor joists in the basement (or heated crawl space) and connects to a floor vent near the center of the house.
Use your ceiling fans and windows to your HVAC system’s advantage
While we usually talk about how ceiling fans can help cool your home, they can also be a unique way to help lower your heating costs. If you change the fan’s rotation to clockwise and set it to low, it will help bring warm air that’s risen to the ceiling back down to the living area. Some experts claim this little trick can save up to 15 percent on your heating bill.
Your windows can also help you keep your home comfortable throughout the heating season, but only if they have the right coverings. Adding curtains to a room can reduce heat loss by up to 10 percent, according to Energy.gov.
During the winter, open your drapes or blinds on the south side of your home to bring the heat in. Keep trees and shrubs away from your windows, so the rays aren’t blocked.
Is it time for a change?
If you’ve lived in your home for more than a few years – and the heating system was in place when you purchased the house – it may be hard for you to determine if you’ve gotten your money’s worth out of your current equipment. But consider this: ENERGY STAR recommends replacing a furnace or boiler that’s more than 15 years old with a new, high-efficiency unit.
Here are some of the other clues that it’s time to go shopping for a new heating system:
- Your heating bills are going up because the system is using more energy than in previous years.
- The equipment needs to be repaired frequently – often for a different reason each time.
- Some of the rooms in your house are too hot or too cold, no matter how you adjust the airflow through the ducts.
- The system just doesn’t seem to be working properly, even after a service call.
- The air in your home is exceptionally dry during the heating months.
Unfortunately, you often can’t see what causes a heating system to waste energy, beyond apparent clues such as a sagging duct that blows heated air into the basement, a noisy fan motor on a forced-air furnace, or a leaking fuel line on a boiler. Most energy-wasting problems will be hidden from view.
Preparing you A/C unit
Before we end, let’s not forget there are also some maintenance tips to prepare you’re A/C unit for hibernation.
- Clean the outdoor unit. Wait for a warm fall day to hose down the A/C. The unit is retired for winter as clean as possible by removing dirt, dust, fallen leaves, grass clippings, and bird drippings.
- Insulate exposed pipes. If exterior pipes between the air conditioner and your house are out in the open, install foam insulation around them to defend against freezing temperatures. You might want to wrap duct tape around the foam to hold it in place.
- Retire the A/C unit properly. Don’t enclose the outdoor unit with a plastic or vinyl covering. These materials aren’t breathable, so condensation could form beneath the cover, triggering rust or mold. Breathable materials such as canvas keep rain or snow out and allow air drying when the weather clears.
The best HVAC System partners
All of us at J&A South Park have years of experience with heating and cooling installation and maintenance. We pride ourselves in service at a fair price, meaning you’re getting the kind of partner that will make sure your system is working in peak condition, season in, and season out.