Fall is in the air. The leaves are turning red and gold in the neighborhood, and on every doorstep colorful pumpkins peek into view. You open the windows, grateful that the summer heat is gone, and the cool, sharp breeze comes in. It's unexpectedly chilly, reminding you that winter is on the way. Your yearly checklist comes to mind: it's time to unearth your sweaters from the closet, dig out your boots, buy hot chocolate, and... get your HVAC checked?
Admittedly, your HVAC system may not be the first thing that comes to mind when summer ends. Isn't it time to turn the A/C off? It's true that you may not need cooling anymore, but in fact, your system will keep working all fall and winter -- it'll just be pushing warm air instead.
After a long, hot summer, your HVAC unit may be overworked and in need of some attention. It's no fun to face high electric bills for winter heating, and system inefficiencies will make them even worse! Regular maintenance -- such as changing the air filter and cleaning the air blades -- will help your system run smoothly and keep your bills low.
Let's dive into the life cycle of your HVAC system to see what you can do to keep your HVAC system alive and healthy.
Fall is the ideal time to run a check-up on your HVAC system, since there are plenty of days when the weather is perfect and you won't need either heating or cooling. It's also a great time to reinforce your system's components against the coming winter. Any cracks or leaks will only get worse when ice and cold weather set in. If you have a furnace, it is imperative to make sure the furnace is operating efficiently so that it won't produce any deadly carbon monoxide.
The first thing you should check is air flow. Your system uses a fan blower to push air throughout the house, and during the summer, the fan blades may have gotten dirty. Even a small amount of dirt can significantly reduce the air flow to your house. The system will have to work longer and harder, which means less heat and higher electrical bills for you! Cleaning the blades will help fix this problem. Check your air filters as well: if your air filters are clogged with dust or dirt, the air will circulate more slowly and have a more "stale" smell.
In fact, changing the filter is one of the most important things homeowners can do themselves to extend the life of their systems! Add this to your monthly checklist.
Second, check the condenser coil and system piping. Make sure that the pipes carrying water to a drain or pump aren't blocked or cracked. A crack or leak in any part of the unit tubing may cause refrigerant to leak out -- and you'll notice in the spring when the house won't cool down.
If you have an outdoor unit, make sure to clear leaves and other litter from the area around it. Leaf litter blocks airflow around the unit and prevents efficient heat transfer.
There are the things you can do as a homeowner, but for proper maintenance, it's best to bring in a professional. If you try to do maintenance on your unit yourself, you can get electrocted or end up damaging your unit.
This checklist is to help you understand what goes on in your unit -- and if you want to get maintenance, contact a professional!
A professional's maintenance checklist:
- Straighten coil fins to allow greater air circulation
- Empty condensate pan and make sure the drainage is clear
- Clean evaporator coils, condenser coils, and blower components
- Check blower wheel and motor
- Lubricate moving parts
- Tighten electrical connections and check that the thermostat is working
As a homeowner, what can you do to help your unit run smoothly?
- Replace air filters in your house every month
- If you have a heat pump, clear leaf litter and debris from around your unit (this is something homeowners can do themselves)
- Look for water leaks and breaks in condensate systems
- Check refrigerant piping to make sure there is no insulation missing (if you see a problem, don't try removing the insulation)
As winter sets in and you shut your windows, it's very likely that air quality will take a hit. After all, during winter the air tends to get trapped inside your house, recirculating numerous times. Since you and your family are still living there, this recycled air picks up plenty of dust, dirt, and microbes. Those seasonal flus and head colds aren't just from the cold weather: they can also be the result of the stale, unclean air in your house.
Changing the filters regularly can help a lot with this. Fresh filters will make your air smell better and keep away the coughs and sneezes as well. In the other three seasons, you might change your filters every few months. In winter, it's important to change them more often, at least once every month. Clean filters, as always, also help your system run more efficiently, keeping your electrical bills down.
Winter maintenance checklist:
- Change your air filters regularly
As fall colors signal the end of a long summer, you can treat your faithful, hardworking HVAC system to a rest and some much-needed maintenance. Cold, icy weather can turn small summer problems into big spring headaches if you're not careful, and a little maintenance goes a long way toward keeping a happy, healthy HVAC unit.
Too often we can get blindsided by a unit breakdown and the need for a costly replacement. But with proper care, you can help prevent this situation. Poor maintenance is the primary cause of system breakdowns, and regular maintenance can help spot small problems before they become worse. The key to your unit's quality of life -- and your lower utility bills -- is regular maintenance. Whatever the seasons may bring -- heat or cold, wind or rain -- you can rest easy because you know you've prepared, and enjoy it all from the comfort of your own cozy home.