Winter is fast approaching, and that means it’s time to prepare your home for the stresses of cold weather, snow, and ice. In all the work of securing your house, it can be difficult to properly maintain your HVAC system. Luckily, we’re here to provide the necessary steps to protect your HVAC throughout this stressful season.
Remember, before you conduct any inspections or maintenance, turn off all power to the unit.
The first and easiest step is your air filter. A dirty or outdated air filter will cause your furnace to work harder than it needs to, driving up your expenses and putting stress on your system. You can usually find the filter on the return vent near your HVAC unit. Regardless of your unit type, it will usually be located within the ductwork nearest to your HVAC unit. Conduct your first replacement at the beginning of the cold months and do so at the first of every month for the remainder of the winter. While conducting your first replacement, check the vent for debris or obstruction.
While air filters should typically be replaced seasonally, if you suffer from allergies, have pets, or smoke, you may need to replace them more often. While the cost of new air filters is not always cheap, it is still much less costly than most repairs to your HVAC system would be, so invest in this preventative maintenance to keep your system running smoothly under extreme winter conditions.
Before it gets really cold, turn your furnace on and off at least three times. You need to make sure that the system is completely functional before it’s needed, since the off-season can unexpectedly wear down the furnace. You should also check all related ventilation, since wildlife and falling leaves can quickly block vents. Make sure that there’s no material within three feet of the furnace before activating it.
Next, inspect your thermostat. Ensure that it has fully charged batteries, and that it is properly functioning across every temperature point. To reduce energy costs during the winter, you’ll need to be able to turn down your heat whenever you’re out of the home. If your thermostat isn’t properly responsive, it can drive up your energy bill. If your energy consumption has been high in past winters, a programmable thermostat might be a helpful way to schedule your HVAC usage.
If your thermostat isn’t functioning properly, the issue might be with the electronics or faulty wiring. If you’re unable to resolve these issues on your own, consider calling a professional.
If your HVAC system involves an exterior heat pump, you should check it thoroughly prior to snowfall. Look for blockages, cracks, or a fan not functioning at a proper speed, which would indicate that the motor has worn out. If your pump is unable to defrost itself properly, accumulated snow and ice will rapidly break the device down.
If your furnace uses a pilot lite, you need to make sure that it’s properly activating. First, locate the burner chamber door at the bottom of the furnace. Open the door and look for a small metal tube. You should ideally see a small blue flame when the furnace is functioning properly. The light should be burning brightly—if the flame is weak or barely visible, you should call a professional immediately.
If your furnace is turning off immediately after activating, it means that your flame sensor is either dirty or damaged. You can clean the sensor yourself, but if you’re not confident doing so or the sensor appears to be damaged, you should contact a professional.
Finally, test if your HVAC unit is distributing air effectively throughout the home. If your vents have a low airflow, it could mean that excessive usage during the summer has worn out your belt. If you’re only noticing lower airflow in one or more of your vents, it would indicate that there is probably a blockage in your vents. Read more about defrosting your heat pump here if it ever gets to that.
After inspecting devices, you should check the home itself. First, go through all of your exposed ducts and look for leaks. You can do this quickly by holding a piece of paper or tissue to the surface; any movement could indicate that there’s a crack in your insulation. You should do the same for your furnace; this one is important. If there are any cracks, you’re at high risk for a deadly carbon monoxide leak. Next, run the system and look for unusual sounds like rattling, banging, or rumbling. If there are any inconsistent noises, it means that there could be some debris or buildup blocking your system. Look for moisture buildups, particularly on windows. You should also check for rust or dirt building up on pipes.
As the temperature drops, keep an eye on any visible piping for frost buildup. You should also keep an eye on the temperature of your water. Any of these could indicate the inadequate distribution of heat throughout your home and would mean that you are at high risk for a broken pipe.
Finally, run your HVAC system and move through every area of your home. Look for cold spots and temperature dips. If you find any, inspect any nearby windows or doors. You can do this by holding a flame up to them and looking for it to be sucked towards them. If neither of these is the culprit, it means that there are either blockages or a malfunctioning belt within your HVAC unit.
Next, inspect all the vents throughout your home and give them thorough vacuuming. Look for any vents with an exceptional buildup of dirt or grime; this could mean it’s time to schedule a full cleaning of your ducts. You should also look at a full cleaning if it’s been over three years since your last one. A buildup of grit in your ducts can rapidly escalate your energy costs.
Even the most well-maintained HVAC system will be undermined by insufficient insulation in your attic. This is where most of your heat escapes, and your insulation is slowly wearing down every year. You should conduct a thorough inspection; make sure that your insulation is 10 to 16 inches deep and look for discoloration or holes.
If you’ve noticed any of these issues, or you need assistance evaluating your home, our team of professionals has the experience to evaluate your home and provide the perfect solutions tailored to every factor.
Many approaches to insulation are extremely cost-effective, and taking advantage of them to keep out the cold air will lessen the heating burden on your HVAC system. Consider installing window films, weatherstripping, or foam insulation, and invest in draft guards to ward off the cool air that blows in at entry doors.
Every autumn as the leaves drop and the cold temperatures roll in, homeowners start thinking about winterizing their homes and yards. Customers often ask us whether they should add an A/C cover to their outdoor unit during the winter to protect them from the elements. After all, it seems to be a simple DIY air conditioner maintenance step that anyone can tackle. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect answer to this question.
While covering your central air conditioner may keep it looking a little better in the long run, an A/C cover can create a perfect habitat for critters, such as mice. These freeloaders like to use your covered-up air conditioner as luxury living space to get out of the harsh winter conditions, and may make Swiss cheese out of the wiring and other components in the unit. Every spring, we arrive at several service calls for air conditioners not working to find exactly that. This can lead to expensive repairs that might not have happened if the unit was left uncovered.
On the other hand, we also have had to replace the top portion of the air conditioner due to ice and other debris falling on them from the roof, which may have been protected if covered. So what do we recommend? Well when temperatures get low and cause ice and several feet of snow can accumulate, it may be worth considering some sort of shelter.
In my opinion, it’s best to leave the A/C unit uncovered, maybe only covering the top of the unit to keep large debris out. In the spring, our company handles more repairs for units that were covered totally during the winter and caused corrosion due to high moisture level through the winter.
Utilize ceiling fans to help hold heat in the common areas of your home. This may sound counterintuitive, but it is a very effective approach to staying warm when snowstorms and other vexing winter weather comes our way. The folks over at the SF Gate Home Guide explain how this works: “Because hot air rises, a lot of the energy your central heating uses warms the top of the room, near the ceiling.
A ceiling fan running in reverse gently bounces the hot air off the ceiling and pushes it down along the walls, back into the part of the room you’re actually inhabiting.” They go on to explain that all you’ll need to do to take advantage of this winter warming hack is to switch your ceiling fan’s motor switch from down to up! Then, run your fans at their lowest setting, which will be sufficient for getting warm air to stay put.
If you need assistance evaluating your home, our team of professionals have the experience to evaluate your home and provide the perfect solutions tailored to every factor.
NJ LIC. NO.13VH01727600
Robert W. Vaughan,
Master HVACR Contractor Lic. # 5842
Thomas J. Weaver,
Master Plumber Lic # 9521