With nearly a month having passed since Labor Day, it’s time to do two important tasks. First, stow away your white shoes until Memorial Day. Second, it’s time to start preparing the heating, ventilation, and air conditioner (HVAC) system for the heating season. We’ve collected several small annual tasks you can do to save money off your energy bill and prevent expensive damage to your home as well.
1) Ready Your Furnace
The best time to have your HVAC system inspected is right now while it’s still warm. Fortunately, there are a few easy things you can check out yourself.
First, change the air filter. Changing the air filter every three months removes dust and dirt that clog heat exchangers, slow down blower motors, degrade the efficiency, and increase the furnace’s run time. Plus, allergies can be triggered by indoor pollution and respiratory stress during cold and flu season.
Next, look for holes or leaks in your system’s duct work. Sealing these leaks with aluminum duct tape (do not use the cheap vinyl stuff!) or duct work mastic will improve your HVAC’s ability to circulate the air more efficiently. Reconnect loose connections or joints securely and then seal with aluminum duct tape or mastic. Good places to look are at turns, junctions, and along seams.
2) A Big Blow Hard
Turn off the power to your HVAC system and check out the blower housing. HVAC blowers typically are a centrifugal fan, sometimes called a “squirrel cage,” and they move a LOT of air. They also collect a lot of very fine dust around bearings and motor vents. If the blower in your system is covered with dust, then you can make it run more smoothly simply by cleaning it. Just spray a rag with some dust cleaner and wipe the dust off. Also, if your system tends to squeak or have a lot of vibration, the blower may have a loose mounting. Keep an eye out for loose screws and bolts, and then carefully tighten any that you find (don’t over-tighten them). Pro Tip — There may be other causes, such as bearings in need of oil or a loose drive belt, and this is a good time to look after them.
Cleaning the blower isn’t the only thing you have to consider. The AC evaporator coils need periodic cleaning. This becomes even more important if your home uses a heat pump for heating. As always, turn off the system first. Carefully remove the access panel and look for dust clogs on the A-frame shaped cooling coils. Gently use a dust wand vacuum attachment to remove the dust. For stubborn grime, you can get foaming AC Evaporator Coil cleaner. While you’re at it, also take a look at the condensate drip pan and drain to make sure it is clean and draining properly. Flushing out the drip pan with a little bleach or vinegar now can save you from summer time dribbling later on.
3) Fire in the Hole
For gas furnaces, it’s also a wise practice to vacuum out the burner area as best you can. During the summer, wind blowing across chimneys can cause older style furnaces to pull a thick deposit of dust into the burner area. Cleaning this before lighting can prevent some real headaches. Also, because high efficiency condensing gas furnaces are so efficient, water condenses out of the natural gas and must drain away. If the condensate drain is blocked, the water will block pressure switches and vents and not allow the furnace to light. On a minus 20° day, that’s not something you want to experience.
To prevent this, check all the condensate waterlines for water or blockage at the beginning of the heating season. Gently use a wet-dry vacuum to remove any water and debris. When the lines are seem clear, flush them with a little bleach or vinegar to prevent mold and mildew from regrowing and reclogging. Also, check over the air-intake pipe to be sure it’s not clogged with leaves or other debris.
4) It’s Not Just the Heat
When humidity falls lower than 20%, many people experience painful drying out of the nasal mucous membranes and itchy, red skin. Maintaining a good relative humidity in your home makes you feel more comfortable, and it also helps reduce your energy bills. Moist air holds more heat energy than dry air and so it feels warmer on your skin.
Keeping your HVAC’s humidifier running at just the right setting is also important. When you check your humidifier, keep an eye out for crusty, dry evaporators. If they are clogged with with lime scale, they can be soaked in vinegar. Often, they are too damaged and will need to be replaced. Also check inside the housing for any sign of mold or mildew, it should be cleaned at once. One last thing, check that the water supply valve turns on and off properly. Valves that stick or don’t turn off waste water and cost you money.
While your HVAC system may seem complicated, these few tips are actually easy little tasks that could save you some money. Plus, they can help keep you and your family comfortable all the way through next Memorial Day – when you can look dapper and stylish once again in your white shoes.