Hard to believe, but we are rapidly approaching the end of another blistering and punishing summer here in Houston. It seems like only yesterday that we were talking about our plans for the “Big Freeze” of February 2021 and how we couldn’t wait for the warm weather to return. Soon, we’ll be putting away the beach chairs and volleyballs and digging out the plastic pumpkins and Christmas lights, wondering where 2021 went.
We’ve all been spending a lot more time at home this year, between weather emergencies, home-schooling, and pandemic fears. That additional time spent in the house starts to take a toll on the various fixtures and systems that we rely on every day. Air conditioners that used to take a break during school and work hours now run full-blast, twenty-four hours a day.
Before calling in the professionals, the handy do-it-yourself homeowner can take several steps to help ensure a worry-free heating season.
Pretend It’s Already Winter!
Before the cooler temperatures arrive, it’s a good idea to run your home’s heating system through its paces to ensure that everything is working as it should be. Turn off the AC unit and crank the thermostat up 10 degrees or so and wake your furnace from its summer slumber. Once the furnace starts pumping out heating, check for any strange smells, like mildew or smoke. Don’t panic if you smell either one at first; dust and other irritants that may have collected in the blower motor may need to burn off and is perfectly normal.
Change Your Filters!
Before turning on the furnace for the first time this year, be sure to replace your HVAC system’s air filter(s). Dirty air filters make both your air conditioner and furnace work harder to draw in air, creating excessive wear and tear issues and causing your energy bills to skyrocket. According to the US Department of Energy, dirty air filters can cause as much as a 10% increase in power consumption, leading to higher monthly energy charges.
The number and type of filters used in your HVAC system can vary from a single large (4″ or 5″ thick) filter is located in the blower motor housing to individual, thinner (1″ thick) filters inside each of the intake vents around the house. Make a habit of checking all your system’s filters every four-to-six weeks, and replace them when they begin to show a build-up of dust in the fibers that discolor the filter material.
It isn’t just a financial toll that dirty air filters can take, as they allow dirt, dust, pollen, pet dander, and even mold spores and viruses to enter your HVAC system and be recirculated throughout your home. There are many unpleasant effects associated with airborne irritants, from runny noses and sore throats and all the way through to asthma attacks and COPD.
Air filters are inexpensive, with the most popular brands selling for between $3.00 and $25.00 depending on the size and the material used.
Clean the Vents!
It isn’t just your HVAC filter that can become clogged with dirt and debris; the vents that draw untreated air into the system and the vents where the heated or cool air emerges tend to get filthy as well. Excessive humidity on the surfaces inside the vent creates moisture pockets that attract dirt, allowing it to adhere, which attracts more dust and dirt in an endless cycle of filth.
Look at the AC intake and outlet vents around your home, and if they look anything like our example picture, you may want to give your vents a good cleaning. Start by running a brush attachment from your vacuum cleaner over the vent grate to pull as much loose dirt out of the vent as possible. There’s no need to remove the vent covers completely; just follow up the vacuuming with a wipe down of the outside of the vent.
Many heating and air conditioning companies offer air duct cleaning services that clam to reduce allergens and other irritants in your home. According to a study by the Environmental Protection Agency, there is no real benefit to cleaning your AC ductwork beyond wiping down the covers unless there is evidence of mold growth or an infestation (mice, rats, bugs) in the vents.
Get To Know Your Thermostat.
There was a time, not too many years ago when the thermostat for your air conditioning and heating looked like this.
Just a simple plastic box that contained a thermometer, a tiny bulb full of mercury, and a switch. It was, and still is, all that is required to control your home’s heating and air conditioning systems. Of course, most of us remember this item as something we were NEVER allowed to touch when we were growing up.
While researching for this article, I discovered a study that showed nearly 90% of homeowners that have smart thermostats never program them. Imagine having a remote control for the TV and still getting up and walking across the room every time you want to change the channel. Smart thermostats can learn the heating and cooling habits of your home without any input from anyone, making them essentially self-programming. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
Today, smart thermostats are becoming the rule, rather than the exception, especially in new home construction and renovation projects. Smart thermostats, when coupled with an app on a smartphone or tablet, can be controlled from anywhere in the world with a wi-fi connection. Smart thermostats allow the homeowner complete and precise control over all aspects of their comfort, and they are a lot of fun to play with. Take that, Dad!
Get an Annual Inspection of Your HVAC System!
Everybody knows the adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and what Benjamin Franklin meant was that it’s easier to fix something before it becomes a bigger problem. It’s a quote that lends itself perfectly to our message in this blog, as we look to discover potential heating or air conditioning issues before they have a chance to make you uncomfortable.
Nick’s Plumbing & Air Conditioning Services offers regular inspections of residential HVAC systems as a standalone service or as part of our VIP Maintenance Plans. Let one of our experts look over your entire home comfort system, from fans and motors to thermostats and vents, to determine if your system is ready for the rigors of the upcoming winter.
Want to know more about DIY Furnace Maintenance or the facts about duct cleaning? The following articles were helpful in researching this blog.