When you’ve used it, your HVAC unit has worked splendidly this year, but, even though it uses the same thermostat, your furnace is a different system and should be treated differently. The end of September marks the closing of summer and the beginning of winter, which means it’s time to schedule a pre-season maintenance for your heating system, before you start it for the first time. Regular maintenance and a pre-start inspection with cleaning are essential to the health of your heating unit. Every year that you start up the system without conducting an inspection and basic maintenance is a slightly higher chance that your heating system will fail, leading to expensive repairs. While we recommend getting a professional inspection every fall, there are a few things you can do on your own first.
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The easiest maintenance, and the one you should be doing regularly, is to check your furnace filter for degradation and buildup, then replace or clean as needed. The filter removes dust and other particles from the air before it is heated and returned to the room. It keeps both the furnace, and your home clean and free of excess dust and biological detritus. Unfortunately, all the debris has to go somewhere, so it’s trapped by the filter. Over time this will clog the filter and prevent air from flowing freely through it. Your HVAC system will be forced to work harder to maintain the same airflow, reducing efficiency and adding wear to the internal components, reducing lifespan.
- For slim-filters, you should change these at least every 4-6 weeks, but definitely not more than 3 months. If you don’t use your system very often, then you can allow for longer times between replacements. We recommend writing the date of installation on your filter to help you remember.
- Expanded media filters can last much longer, just be sure to clean them regularly and replace them annually (right before winter starts is ideal).
Even if your furnace isn’t damaged by a dirty filter, many of the newer models have an auto-detection system that will shut the system down if the furnace is too dirty for air to flow properly. This not only protects the system from permanent damage, but it helps protect your home too. A dirty filter near a furnace can heat up, and the excessive load can even start a fire.
You can give a general boost to all-around air quality by upgrading to a high-efficiency particulate arrestance (HEPA) filter. HEPA filters are much better at filtering out particles from the air than a standard filter. Unfortunately, they add additional restrictions to airflow in your unit so your HVAC system will need to modified or upgraded to accommodate it.
Keep the Furnace Area Clear
While the area around your furnace has made a great storage space for the past nine months, it’s time to clear it out. Remove any objects, especially heat sensitive or flammable objects, in a 32-inch radius from the furnace itself. Boxes, papers, and even some plastics can become a fire hazard within this area. Even non-flammable materials can be damaged by the heat put out by a furnace.
You should also check the outdoor heat pump for crowding. Plant growth or other debris can collect around the heat pump. Clear away any brush or objects within 24-inches of your heat pump to ensure safety and proper operation of unit. If the condenser coils on the unit seem especially dirty, you can hose them off, however, we recommend getting a professional to conduct a full condenser coil and heat pump cleaning.
Clean and Seal Vents and Ducts
Just as with filters, dusty or clogged air vents and registers will seriously hamper the effectives of your heating unit. As air flow becomes restricted, your blower will have to work harder to push warm air out into the room. The back-pressure can also increase temperatures inside of the ductwork, which can lead to dangerous conditions as lint-like material builds up inside. You should also check any floor vents and registers to make sure they’re aren’t blocked by boxes or furniture. Keep flammable items away from any floor vents.
You can do a manual inspection of your vents and ducts by inserting flash camera inside and taking a picture. That will give you an idea of how dirty the ventilation system is. Hire a professional cleaner to fix this issue. Not only will it increase operating efficiency for your unit, it will improve the air quality of your home.
If there are any leaks in your ventilation system it will have a negative effect on your home’s heating. The furnace and blower will have to heat a greater area if the ducts are leaking into areas of your home that aren’t lived in (crawl-spaces, walls, etc). Tests your ventilation by running a smoke or incense stick along visible areas while the fan is in operation, this will help you find any leaks.
If there are any leaks, don’t just wrap the unit in duct tape. While it is used for sealing, it doesn’t last as long. Instead, re-insulate the section and seal with mastic and mesh tape. Again, a licensed HVAC professional can handle this easily.
Smoke and CO Alarms
While some furnaces are entirely electric in their operation, many still use some form of fuel for heating. Any fuel-based furnace burns some kind of carbon, with natural gas or propane, to generate heat. Any time that something is burned, carbon monoxide (CO) is released as a byproduct. CO is odorless and colorless, making it an invisible danger. Before firing up your furnace for the first time, make sure that all of your alarms are in good working order. Test each alarm and replace batteries or defective units as needed. CO can only be detected by special equipment and many smoke alarms come with a CO detector installed. This is a simple danger to avoid but the consequences can be costly if you aren’t prepared.
Likewise, ensure proper operation of any smoke alarms. This is part of why we recommend a full cleaning before the first burn of your furnace. Dust can collect on surfaces inside the furnace and the initial burn-off of that dust can set off your smoke alarms. Beyond that, any flammable material you might have missed while cleaning and clearing will be detected as soon as it starts to smoke. Fire is always dangerous, regardless of if it’s a deliberate fireplace fire or an accidental fire caused by misplaced papers. Make sure your home is protected by placing smoke alarms throughout the home.
Up to now, everything we’ve mentioned is something that you can do to prepare your furnace before turning it on for the first time. If you do everything we’ve described you’ll enjoy a much warmer and cost-effective winter. You’ll find that there are things only a licensed heating and cooling technician can do. At Larry & Sons, we can handle everything described above and we’ll also:
- Check chimneys and furnace out vents for nests and debris
- Fully inspect the heating components of your furnace
- Clean and oil the blower
- Inspect fans, fuel, and flame characteristics
- Calibrate the thermostat
- Test Safety controls
These are just a few of the special services only a licensed technician can provide. Each and every one helps to improve safety and efficiency of your heating unit. We can’t recommend a full pre-season furnace service enough!
Call Larry & Sons today for full service inspections, replacements, or repairs of your heating system. Fall is the best time to get a full maintenance of your furnace before winter sets in!
We’re happy to answer all of your questions! Just give us a call today at (301) 733-5428.
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We service Hagerstown, Frederick, and the surrounding Maryland areas. We also service parts of West Virginia and Pennsylvania.