5 Steps to make sure your Heating and Air Conditioning will work this Winter

5 Steps to make sure your Heating and Air Conditioning will work this Winter

Before the cold winter months hit, make sure you check your HVAC system to ensure it’s working properly. The last thing you want is to have a poor performing heating system in the middle of a freezing night.

“Inspecting your HVAC system before winter can help you identify problems before they become big and expensive to fix, and it can help you catch inefficiencies in your system before they drive up your heating bill,” says Erin Huffstetler, an about.com guide who writes about frugal living.

Keep reading to learn about five steps you should take to make sure your HVAC system is working efficiently.

#1 – Replace Filters

HVAC filters trap and prevent pollutants like lint, pollen, mold, dust and pet dander from contaminating the air in your home, while also preventing congestion in your HVAC system.

“You should change your filters monthly to prevent debris from clogging your evaporator coil,” says Donavan Bagshaw, owner of Arctic Air Heating and Cooling in McKinney, Texas. “A dirty filter in the winter season can cause the system to short cycle, which means the gas burners will turn on and off prematurely, which can result in a higher gas bill.”

What’s more, “A dirty filter that’s exposed to condensation can become damp, which can lead to mold growth that can be spread throughout the home by the HVAC system,” notes the International Association of Certified Home Inspector’s website. “This can lead to serious health consequences, not to mention a compromised unit that will likely require servicing and may require replacement, depending on the severity of the moisture problem.”

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#2 – Clean/Inspect Ductwork

Heating your home accounts for 34 percent of your annual utility usage, and distribution losses can make this amount climb even higher, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website (EPA).

Since your ductwork is responsible for distributing the air, make sure that it works properly before winter weather sets in.

“Ductwork should be cleaned and inspected for dents or damage which can cause air leakage underneath your home or attic, depending upon where the ductwork is installed,” says Donavan. “And these leaks can cause your heating system to run excessively during the winter season, which increases your energy bill.”

In fact, the EPA estimates distribution losses – the amount of hot air coming from the HVAC that is lost through leaks in the ductwork – to be as high as 30 percent.

To avoid losing heat in the winter, make sure to have your duct work inspected in the fall.

#3 – Replace Outdated Thermostats

Used correctly, thermostats allow you to reduce heating costs by only running the HVAC when it is needed.

“Homeowners with digital thermostats should pay close attention to low battery indicators, which can also cause your system not to function properly,” says Donavan.

For example, “Outdated mercury thermostats could prohibit the efficiency of your heating system by improperly regulating the temperature of your home,” adds Donavan.

If your thermostat is outdated or simply not working properly, Donavan recommends replacing it.

“If your thermostat contains mercury, it would be a good idea to have it replaced. Dust and debris can accumulate on the mercury bulb inside of the thermostat and cause it to monitor the temperature incorrectly,” says Donavan.

One good replacement option: Installing an ENERGY STAR programmable thermostat and using the pre-programmed temperature settings, which could save you up to $100 each year, according to the EPA.

[Want to save on heating costs? Click to find a contractor to help with an HVAC installation.]

#4 – Check Refrigerant Levels

Low refrigerant levels can negatively impact the performance of your HVAC, even in winter.

“Refrigerant levels are usually checked during the warmer months. However, if you own a heat pump, the levels should be checked in the winter as well,” advises Donavan.

Why is this maintenance step so crucial?

“In the winter, low levels will cause the unit to freeze, emergency heat to run abnormally and possibly increase your utility bill,” says Donavan.

To prevent this, Donavan says that refrigerant levels should be checked during the normal fall maintenance check.

“If a leak has been detected, either repair the leak or replace the part where refrigerant is coming from,” he says.

#5 – Perform a Carbon Monoxide Test

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, poisonous gas that kills 150 people a year as a result of problems with fuel-burning appliances such as furnaces, stoves, fireplaces, and hot water heaters, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Carbon Monoxide Information Center’s website.

“During the pre-winter preventative maintenance of your system, a carbon monoxide test should be performed to check for improper carbon monoxide levels,” says Donavan. “Three possible causes of carbon monoxide leakage from your heating system are: A faulty pilot, improper venting from your furnace, and cracked heat chambers.”

Check your owner’s manual for instructions on how to perform a carbon monoxide test on your system.

Other Considerations

Energy Star’s website, a program by the EPA which helps consumers save money through superior energy efficiency, recommends replacing a furnace over 15 years old with a new ENERGY STAR furnace, which is 15 percent more efficient than standard furnaces.

Also, if your HVAC needs frequent repairs, the EPA notes that this may also be a sign that the unit is inefficient and needs to be replaced.


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