Is Your HVAC System Ready for the Cold Weather?
Winter is approaching faster than you might want it to! That means furnaces and heating systems will run throughout the day to keep Pittsburgh homes comfortable and safe. As temperatures drop, Pittsburgh area homeowners want to know, “How can I prepare my HVAC system for the upcoming winter weather?”
Naturally, you’ll want to be sure your HVAC system is prepared to effectively heat your home when you take the right steps to maintain, test, and protect it.
To live comfortably and securely with no issues with the changing seasons, you need to take care of your unit, and that’s why we’re here to help. After reading this blog, you should be on your way to being assured your HVAC system is ready for any cold weather system that’s coming.
Here are several tips to help you prepare your HVAC for the upcoming cold weather.
Do a test run
Make sure you turn on your unit at least three times while it’s still mild outside. You don’t want to wait to turn it on until the first really cold day, only to find out that your furnace is no longer working.
Plenty of times, furnaces will have things going on inside, such as critters getting stuck in the flue and ventilation systems. There are actually loads of problems that can occur with your heating system during the off-season.
That’s why you certainly want to discover if your HVAC system works early while it’s still mild.
Clean the unit and schedule a maintenance tune-up
Whether you have a furnace, heat pump, or multipurpose unit, it’s crucial that you arrange for a maintenance visit and conduct some DIY cleaning. These tasks are easy to perform, and both are great ways to boost your unit’s efficiency and prepare for cold weather.
Among other benefits, a professional maintenance tune-up can detect and fix glitches before they lead to a system breakdown. When caught early on, many issues can be solved with much simpler and more affordable repairs. However, when problems go unnoticed and homeowners continue to run their heating systems; nevertheless, more widespread and costly damage may be done. Well-maintained systems work to protect homeowners from surprise repairs and heating outages over the winter.
You can clean and boost your system’s performance by yourself with little difficulty, and a professional HVAC tech from Schultheis Brothers can optimize the unit for maximum output.
To begin with, our seasoned HVAC technician will check the wiring, filters, switches, motors, and belts. What’s more, if you require HVAC repair, he/she will be able to do a quick fix on the spot or help you schedule a repair to get your system back into tip-top shape.
Put simply, you will get more years of service from your HVAC system with easy maintenance tune-ups.
Clean around the furnace
While a maintenance tune-up will clean out the interior chambers of the unit, it’s a homeowner’s obligation to keep the area surrounding the furnace or heating system clean and clear of debris.
- Remove dirt and debris to stop these fragments from getting sucked into the furnace or air supply while the furnace operates.
- Take away any items stored around the furnace to help ensure the airflow is not blocked. Any flammable items must be stored at least six feet away from the furnace.
- Make sure all access doors and exterior panels are securely attached to the furnace or air handler—when some models have loose panels, the HVAC system will not turn on.
Change your air filters
It might seem rather trivial, but frequently changing your air filter is the number one way to avoid most everyday heating and air problems. Because most filters need to be replaced every three months, changing yours every time the season changes is perhaps the simplest way to remember when your system needs a new filter.
Frequently changing your air filter has a number of benefits. Perhaps the most pivotal advantage is that dust, dirt, and other pollutants will clog the filter, making the system work much harder to draw air. This means the system also has to work harder to heat the house, costing you more energy dollars.
Here’s a tip: If you haven’t changed your air filter lately, get a fresh start for the heating season and replace it NOW! During the winter, heating systems are in heavy use, and it’s not uncommon for filters to fill up quickly and require even more frequent replacement than every three months.
Make it a point to inspect the filter every month to see if a new one is required earlier than anticipated.
Clean those vents and air ducts
Have you ever turned on your furnace for the first time in quite a few months, only to be greeted by an unpleasant, burning smell? In most instances, this is just your system burning dust and debris which have gathered throughout the warmer months.
You’ll stop this smell by giving your vents and any accessible ducts a thorough dusting and cleaning. You might also want to think about a professional duct cleaning service. In addition to a thorough cleaning, these specialists will inspect the ducts for leakages, dents or any other weighty issues.
Have your chimneys serviced
Creosote and other flammable materials can build up in chimneys, so you need to have yours professionally cleaned on a regular basis.
Even if you don’t burn wood or coal, you should still have the chimney for your gas or oil furnace inspected routinely for indicators of corrosion, animal activity, or carbon build-up.
Boost insulation levels
When your home does a better job retaining heat, it reduces the additional energy the heating system must consume to compensate for any heat loss. Boosting the insulation levels throughout the attic and under floors improves energy efficiency, so more of the heat your furnace or heat pump delivers stays inside your home.
Insulation can be installed as a DIY project or professionally installed, and there are also a variety of insulation products to choose from, including blown insulation and insulation batting made from various materials.
You might also want to consider insulating unconditioned areas of your home as well as your ducts to enhance heating this winter. Cold air contact and infiltration in unconditioned areas cause heat loss in ducts, meaning less heat making it to your living areas. Installing insulation for ducts that sit in unconditioned areas can cut heat loss appreciably.
Seal all the air leaks
The biggest problem with air leaks is that they allow drafts into your home, giving an unnecessary boost in energy waste. Inspect your home and identify all the air leaks around it. Once located, be sure to seal them off. Seal all the doors and windows with caulk and weather stripping to minimize these leaks. While you’re at it, also seal off any leaky ductwork with aluminum tape to help save on your energy costs.
You should always be concerned when your HVAC unit produces unusual sounds. This could be a sign of system malfunction. Whenever you become aware of weird sounds from the system, be sure to contact a technician to check all electrical wiring and connections,
Inspect the ductwork
Before the beginning of the heating season, inspect your home’s HVAC ducts to ensure they’re ready for winter. Duct sealing removes the gaps, disconnections, and damage that results in heat loss and poor heating efficiency. You can inspect the ducts yourself or hire a professional to test for duct leaks and make any necessary fixes to restore proper performance.
Duct leaks greatly contribute to inefficient heating in the typical Pittsburgh home. In fact, duct leaks resulting in 20 to 30 percent heat loss are rather common. These air leaks are particularly a concern in the winter, as a major amount of heat is lost while circulating through ducts to your living areas – you lose this heat into unconditioned regions where it’s wasted rather than benefitting from it.
Moreover, cold air from the attic, crawlspace, or other unconditioned areas where the ducts are located is likely to get inside the ductwork and eventually move to living areas along with the heated air. This, in turn, reduces the temperature of the heated air arriving through the supply vents. Consequently, the homeowner adjusts the thermostat upward to generate more heat, making the system work even harder to make up for these losses.
Prep that humidifier
Many Pittsburgh homeowners use whole-house humidifiers to replenish moisture that’s usually missing from the winter air. This equipment is mounted as part of your HVAC system and requires some maintenance.
- The humidifier’s water panel must be changed at least twice a season. Do so before the beginning of the heating season to assure maximum efficiency from the unit come winter.
- Remove and clean the humidifier’s water reservoir to remove microbes and mineral scale buildup.
- Clean the exterior housing and intake vent that leads to the humidifier’s fan, if applicable.
- Make sure the drain line has no leaks.
Re-Program your thermostat
When switching between cooling and heating modes is time, you also want to change your programmed temperature settings.
Household temperature choices will differ for heating and cooling, and schedules may change seasonally, meaning setback periods need to be adjusted.
- Choose comfortable yet energy-efficient temperature set points during the home’s occupied hours. 68 degrees is suggested to take full advantage of heating energy efficiency without affecting comfort.
- During those times when the home is unoccupied, lower the thermostat temperature by around 10 degrees to realize energy savings and eliminate heating waste. Temperatures set back 10 degrees or more for at least eight hours a day can help homeowners reduce energy consumption by as much as 10 percent annually.
- For fan settings, choose AUTO. This setting only allows the blower to run when the heating system cycles. This blocks additional energy consumption and the feeling of cold air blasting through your vents as the fan runs without heat.
Is it time for a replacement?
What if your HVAC pro says it’s time for a system upgrade? Before making any decision, you should visit the U.S. Department of Energy’s Selecting and Replacing Heating and Cooling internet site.
It might be possible to switch out only the furnace or the air conditioning unit rather than putting in an entirely new system. However, replacing components isn’t always the best choice, particularly if your system is several years old—the old and new parts may not work together effectively. And you’ll save substantially on labor if the whole thing is replaced at the same time.
No matter what type of unit is most appropriate for your specific needs, always look for Energy Star® models, which are about 10 to 15 percent more efficient than standard models.
Get Ready for Pittsburgh’s winter weather.
Pittsburgh’s weather is nothing to laugh at, and it always pays to prepare for the worst this winter has to offer. As you work to prep your home, don’t forget the Schultheis team is here to help!