The Direct Energy Fall Home Maintenance Series - Part 1: Your HVAC System

The Direct Energy Fall Home Maintenance Series – Part 1: Your HVAC System

That chilly little nip in the air and the early morning frost warns us winter is coming. It also means it’s time to get your home ready for that cold weather. Preparing your home in the fall may sound like a lot to do, but in reality, it only takes a little time to get things ready. With our Fall  Home Maintenance Series, we’ll show you why it’s a good idea to spend a few hours over the next few weekends inspecting and preparing your home for the arrival of winter. With these practical tips, you can protect your home’s value, keep your family comfortable, and reduce your energy usage (and hopefully, energy bills!) all winter long.

Your HVAC system worked hard all summer to keep you cool. Now, it’s got to keep your home warm without making you hot under the collar. Most home heating systems use a blower fan to circulate heated air through out the home. These are fairly easy to maintain and are used in high efficiency gas (or propane) furnaces, electric furnaces, and heat pumps heating systems.

The Direct Energy Fall Home Maintenance Series - Part 1: Your HVAC System
This box is the key to year-round comfort in your home. Please take care of it.

Clean Out the Dust

Here are a few steps for basic HVAC cleanup:

  • Before you fire up the system, turn off the circuit breaker to the blower and set the thermostat to “Off.”
  • Open any access panels to burners or heating elements and carefully vacuum up any signs of ash, fine debris, or even insects.
  • Open the blower compartment and clean out any accumulated dust or dirt.

Over time, blowers tend to collect heavy coats of dust on the blades and motor. This restricts the air flow and increases wear to motor. Dust build-up can be due to poor air filtration or leaks in the blower compartment. If your blower blades are covered in dust and fuzz, the blower should be removed and cleaned. While it’s not a difficult task for some, it is a dirty business. Take your time.

To clean your heat pump:

  • Check for dust or dirt build up in the heat exchanger and/or evaporator coil.
  • Vacuum the coil carefully using a dust brush attachment or use a foaming cleaner.
  • Outside, look over the condensing unit. Hose off and clean the cooling fins then check for any corrosion (especially if you have a dog ). Make sure the fan can spin freely. Keep the area from 1 to 2 feet around the unit free of weeds or leafy debris, since these can reduce air flow.
The Direct Energy Fall Home Maintenance Series - Part 1: Your HVAC System
Change your filter at least once every 3 months, but more experts recommend changing your air filter once a month to ensure good air flow.

A general recommendation? Replace your air filter! Clogged air filters make your furnace run longer and increase your energy costs. Use those with the same Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV) rating recommended by the furnace’s manufacturer.

Check Connections and Drain Tubes

For all heaters, confirm that all hose and wire connections are firm and not loose. Blowers will vibrate when they run, and this can shake apart loose connections.

  • On high-efficiency gas furnaces, water condenses out at the power exhaust and drains away through condensate tubing. If there is a clog in the condensate tubing, the water can back up into the power exhaust and stop your furnace cold.
  • Clear the drain tubing by detaching the the rubber tube coming out of the power exhaust and letting it empty into a bucket. Pour a cup of vinegar down the tube that drains away from furnace to prevent clog-forming mold and fungus from forming.
  • If you have an old mechanical thermostat, consider replacing it with a programmable thermostat or smart thermostat. Both can save you money, and smart thermostats offer enhanced flexibility to your schedule and the chance for greater savings.

Inspect Your Ductwork

The Direct Energy Fall Home Maintenance Series - Part 1: Your HVAC System
Seal those ducts to prevent unnecessary air loss and increased energy bills.

According to EnergyStar, “about 20 to 30 percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts,” so it’s important to recognize loose or disconnected ducts.

  • Reconnect any faulty ducts with sheet metal screws.
  • Inspect and clean both the return and supply duct openings to keep them free of dust or anything that might obstruct them.
  • Leaks on metal ductwork should be sealed over with ductwork mastic or at least aluminum foil tape.
  • Keep an eye out for gaps or holes in the blower compartment.
  • If your home has insulated flex ductwork in its attic, make sure that there are no kinks or unnecessary bends. Flexible ducts works well, but sharp bends, kinks, and poorly supported spans will reduce airflow and efficiency, costing you more money.
The Direct Energy Fall Home Maintenance Series - Part 1: Your HVAC System
Seriously – don’t let this be your air filter. You can do better.

While most of these home maintenance tips are easy and don’t require too much skill, if a job feels too complicated, then hire a professional. This is especially true for your home’s furnace and heating system.

For example, do you notice little wisps of dust puffing out from an air duct every time you turn on the system? Have you seen dust or pet hair trapped in a vent or coating the inside surface of the ductwork? These might be indications that your home’s ductwork might be due for a thorough cleaning. Trained, licensed technicians performing seasonal check ups can tell you the most about the condition of your home’s heating system.

By being keeping up with the maintenance your home needs this fall, you won’t find yourself out in the cold when winter comes calling.

Up Next in our Fall Home Maintenance Series: Fireplaces and Chimneys.

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About 

Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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