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The Pipeline

By Dan Weltman

Learning About Your HVAC System

Every homeowner needs to be aware of and care for their HVAC system, but many people are not really certain what that means. Here is a primer on what an HVAC system is and how to keep it functioning optimally.
Your Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning system or HVAC system is a key component of your home. Depending on the home, it can come in a variety of shapes, sizes and types. You should be aware of what type of HVAC system you have and how to properly maintain it, as well as how to spot potential issues. Improperly maintained systems are dangerous and will cost you money. Poorly installed systems are more common than you might expect and can be dangerous and costly.

Types of HVAC Systems

The most common type of HVAC system is a forced air heating and/or cooling system, sometimes called central air. The components to this system might include a furnace, with a combustion system that creates the heat and a blower motor that moves the heated air into the home; an air conditioning unit that cools the air through the use of a refrigerant and a blower motor that moves the cooled air through the home; the ventilation system through which the air moves to different locations in your home; and a regulatory system which controls when the system turns on and off – usually the thermostat. Although the term HVAC is used when talking about the entire system, not every home has the same components.

One of the main differences between forced air furnaces is the type of fuel that is used to operate the system. The most common types of fuel are propane gas also called liquid petroleum (LP), natural gas, oil or electricity. The fuel is used for combustion purposes to warm the air that is pumped throughout the house. No matter what type of fuel used, electricity is also used to operate other parts of the HVAC system such as the blower motor and thermostat. Similarly, air conditioners use a type of coolant to cool the air that is then forced through the ventilation system. The primary source of energy in air conditioners is electricity. You will need to know what type of fuel and coolant your system uses and the warning signs for gas or refrigerant leaks.

HVAC System Maintenance

To ensure a well-regulated system that is functioning effectively, you will want to do regular maintenance to all parts of the system including the unit that cools or heats the air, the unit that forces the air through the ventilation system, the ventilation system itself and the thermostat. These systems can be remarkably efficient, especially if the equipment used is designed to be energy efficient, installed properly and well-maintained. However, in the US the poor installation and maintenance of these systems is one of the biggest known wastes of energy. To make sure you have the most efficient system here are some simple steps you can take.

How To Care For Your HVAC System

  1. Check the fuel efficiency rating of your furnace and air conditioner. If they are a newer model, the rating will be listed on them. If they are significantly older, it is most likely they are less fuel efficient. Trading out an older model air conditioner or furnace can save you money and there are often programs that will help you with the cost.
  2. Track the temperature in different parts of your house. If some rooms are colder or warmer than others, it is a sign that your homes furnace, air conditioner or ventilation system may not be efficient. These air temperature differences cause air to flow around the house inefficiently and can increase the cost of running your equipment. Never close more than 20% of the vents in your home, even if you have large sections unused. It is more effective to invest in a system designed to handle different temperature zones than to close off the main system.
  3. Regularly check the filter(s) on both your air conditioner and furnace and clean or change them monthly during peak times. This is the most often ignored and easiest task a homeowner can do to make sure their system is operating effectively. Decided on a day in the calendar, such as the 1st of each month and make it a habit to clean or change filters on that day.
  4. Frequently check your registers and return air grills to make sure they are not blocked and to make sure there is no soot on them. These are the vents through which the forced air travels and heats or cools your home. If they are blocked, the heating or cooling system has to work harder to circulate air. Worse, if the heated or cooled air is blowing into something, the temperature will dissipate, causing inefficiency. Make sure curtains, rugs and furniture are not blocking your vents.
  5. **Fine black soot found on or around the grills is an indication of a serious issue with your furnace and could mean harmful carbon dioxide has escaped into your home. Immediately call for repair and leave the home until it has been tested and determined safe to return.

  6. Keep exterior vents and chimneys clear of snow, ice and other debris, and make sure there is no brush or refuge by outside air conditions. Outside furnace vents take away the small amount of harmful gases that are created during the use of the system. If the gases cannot escape your home they can be potentially deadly. Additionally, brush and refuge by your air condition will cause the unit to become dirty more quickly and lower its efficiency.
  7. Be sure to bring in a professional yearly to perform regular maintenance on your system. They will look for signs of poor performance or wear, inefficiency such as low refrigerant levels, leaks in the ventilation system that are causing ineffective heating or cooling and much more. Pay attention to how your equipment is functioning, especially during peak times. A system that turns on frequently or irregularly, starts than shuts off after a few seconds, has become noisier or seems to be running all the time can signal potential issues. These could be signs that your HVAC system is experiencing problems and needs to be fixed. Be sure to call for an inspection any time you notice significant changes in operation that are unexplained, ie: increased running of the furnace despite warmer weather.
  8. Finally, investing in a good thermostat that can be controlled remotely or through a timer will save you money. Some thermostats can be set to lower or raise the temperatures at specific times. Others can be accessed through the internet so you can change the temperature remotely. Varying the temperature in your home to keep it more comfortable when you are home and to use less energy when you are away results in significant cost savings.

For additional information on help with any of the above suggestions contact us to speak to one of our HVAC professionals or to learn more about our Service Partner Plan.