Your HVAC System Should Be Ready No Matter What Old Man Winter Has in Store
While cold weather has been known to visit the Pittsburgh area as early as November, winter officially begins on December 21st and runs through March 20th. With all the holiday preparations going on in November and December, it can be somewhat easy to forget a few of the chores around the house that help keep it protected against the coming cold weather.
So, while you’re looking forward to stringing up the outdoor lights, you might also want to use a handy pre-winter HVAC checklist presented below to make sure your HVAC system is prepared for Old Man Winter’s inevitable visit.
Having a good prep plan in place for your HVAC system is crucial to help keep it running as it should and get the most out of your investment. Of course, a good plan will include some things that you do yourself, but it should also depend on a skilled professional to make sure everything’s on track.
✔Check those air filters
Okay, you’ve heard us say this more than once in our previous blogs. But we can’t overestimate how important this is. Maintaining airflow is one of the most essential things you can do to ensure the continued functioning of your HVAC system and, there’s no doubt, the best way to assure proper airflow is by frequently changing your filters.
Dirty furnace filters can cause a variety of issues with your HVAC system. But perhaps most importantly, they might actually prevent your unit from heating your home adequately and efficiently.
You need to stay on top of filter changes throughout the upcoming heating season to keep your system working properly. In general, it’s recommended that you change your air filter monthly to prevent debris from accumulating in the filter and then cycle that dirt and debris back through your ducts. Routine changing of filters helps your HVAC system not only run more efficiently but will save you money on your energy bills in the long run.
While you’re at it, be sure to pick up a few extra filters at your local hardware or big box store. It’s always a good idea to have a couple of extra ones on hand so you can change your filters at least once a month, or even more frequently if need be.
✔Remove dirt and debris
If your HVAC system includes a ground-level outdoor unit, this next step is also significant. Periodically, you should examine the surrounding area of your outdoor system and rid of any debris that has the possibility of affecting its operation, including dirt and sticks. First, however, for your own personal safety, make sure your unit is shut down before you begin removing any blockage that’s preventing proper airflow.
✔Periodically clean your vents
When you’re getting your HVAC system ready for the cold weather season, it’s also essential that you frequently clean the vents (sometimes referred to as registers) in your home. Dirt and pollen can rapidly build up on vents, restricting the airflow in your home as well as negatively impacting your interior air quality.
If you want your HVAC system to work the way you need it year-round, your vents should be cleaned weekly as part of your typical HVAC cleaning routine. Fortunately, cleaning your vents is fairly easy, and requires only a damp rag. Cleaning your vents will also reduce stress on your HVAC system so that it can keep your home at the desired temperature.
✔Do away with any obstacles
This is a relatively easy one: Walk around your home and check to make sure there is no furniture, toys or anything else blocking the vents. Blocking vents or having stuff too close to the furnace can not only affect the efficiency of your HVAC system but can become a fire hazard as well. The heating pro who performs your twice-a-year maintenance checkup can tell you how much of a buffer you need to maintain between the furnace and everything else.
✔Don’t close your vents
It’s quite common for homeowners to close off vents in rooms they aren’t planning to use, thinking it will help conserve energy. However, this can actually make your HVAC system less efficient. Heat likes to spread evenly within an object and the heat from your home will naturally get into the closed-vent rooms. But this means that eventually, your HVAC unit will need to work even harder in order for it to keep the temperature uniform.
✔Set the thermostat
Your thermostat may feel like a consistently changing variable in your home, but for the sake of your energy bills, it’s important to simply leave it alone. Sometimes, the weather can be a tease with its ever-shifting temperatures but try to refrain from setting your system to 80 degrees every time a cool breeze blows by. Maintaining a balanced temperature will keep you cozy whether it’s blistering hot or cold outside. We recommend keeping your home at 72 degrees.
Better yet, here is another solution . . .
✔Install a programmable thermostat
If you haven’t done so before now, we highly recommend that you purchase and install a programmable thermostat in your home. A programmable thermostat is one of the easiest ways to assure that you’re using only the energy you need, when you need it, which can save you money.
The fact is, a programmable thermostat regulates your system’s temperature automatically, based on the temperature and time you have preset. This way, your residence will be at a cozy temperature when you arrive home for the day, without it having to run at a higher temperature while you’re gone.
It’s been established that homeowners can actually save as much as 10 percent on both heating and cooling costs when they turn their thermostat down by 10-15 percent for a least 8 hours daily. A computer or smartphone can even control some programmable units while the person is not at home.
True, this hasn’t much to do with preparing your HVAC system for the winter, but the timing of preparing your HVAC system is also an excellent reminder to replace the batteries in your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, to help protect your family in case of an emergency. This is particularly important in the case of carbon monoxide detectors, as the odorless, colorless gas can stem from leaks in your heating system.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 450 people die from carbon monoxide poisoning each year. And more than 500,000 visit the emergency room due to exposure to the gas. The sooner you can detect leaks, the safer you and your family are from escaping gas and an expensive repair in the long run.
In addition to replacing batteries, you need to make sure your detectors are in good working order by testing them routinely. All detectors should have a test button that, when pressed, activates a test siren. If the test siren is quiet or doesn’t sound at all, you should replace the batteries again. If the problem persists, it might just be time to install a new detector.
✔Get an energy assessment
Most energy companies offer energy assessments to evaluate how efficient or inefficient your home actually is. Upon request, the company will send a trained contractor to provide a made-to-order assessment of your home. The results can tell you precisely what you need to change in your home to help make it more energy efficient, such as dealing with drafty windows, replacing filters, and much more. By taking the necessary steps to make your home more energy efficient now, you can gain peace of mind knowing you’re doing all you can to keep your energy costs as low as possible.
Here are a few other quick tips . . .
- Winter means it’s time to change the direction of your ceiling fans. Most fans have a switch that lets you change the direction of the blades, so they will rotate clockwise in the heating season, in order to push warm air down and help circulate the heat from your furnace.
- Space heaters can be a great way to heat just those areas that you need to occupy. Unfortunately, they’re also a great way to start a fire if they’re left unattended. If you use a space heater, make sure you keep a close eye on it and don’t leave it on if you wander off.
- If you have a full-house humidifier, clean out the water panel so it’s dirt-free and ready for operation. It’s also important to make sure the unit is rid of mold.
- If your furnace is going to go out, chances are it’s going to do so at the least favorable time, like on the coldest night of the year. So be prepared for something to go wrong, especially if you have a furnace that’s more than 15 years old. If something does go wrong, contact the techs at Schultheis Brothers.
✔ Schedule a maintenance checkup
Just as you should have your air conditioner serviced in the spring before you need it, you should also schedule a furnace checkup with a trusted HVAC company near you in the fall, again before it’s needed. No one wants an ill-timed HVAC failure on a cold winter day, so it’s a great idea to have an HVAC professional inspect your furnace in detail to avoid any discomfort and a potentially costly breakdown due to the absence of routine service.
During the checkup, our trained technicians will carefully inspect your furnace and make the necessary adjustments to ensure that it’s functioning correctly. We also look for everyday wear and tear items that might lead to a breakdown and make sure to clean the mechanisms that help keep your furnace running efficiently.
Below are several of the many benefits of scheduling a system maintenance checkup:
- Lower energy bills. The cleaner your system, the less work it has to perform. By doing away with grime built up in your unit, your system is free to work the way it was designed to. This will not only save money on your monthly energy bills but help guarantee longer life for your system.
- Extend the life of your unit. Preventative maintenance often discovers minor problems at the beginning of the heating season before they become big ones later down the road. Regular check-ups keep the system running as it was designed, and you can expect it to have a longer life.
- Safety. Nothing is as important as your safety. During each maintenance checkup, our technicians methodically check all would-be problems, such as a potential carbon monoxide leak.
- Prevent repairs and major breakdowns. As with any large machine, parts may wear out from time to time. Giving your furnace a turn-up can save you from breakdowns when extreme temperatures test its abilities. We check everything from dirty coils to motor voltage to make sure there aren’t any problems just around the corner. Often, we can locate a problem and make the repair before you even feel any discomfort.
Like anything expensive in your home, it’s important to take good care of your HVAC system year ‘round to prevent costly breakdowns.