Hopefully, your summer has been one spent enjoying the outdoors and quality time with loved ones. As summer creeps to a close, however, the days get shorter, the nights get longer, and the temperature dips quickly.
The coldest months of the year can still be spent in relative comfort. Or they could be spent worrying about heating, or heating costs, or both.
It doesn’t have to be this way. We want you to be able to enjoy the winter months just as much as the summer months. More than that, we want you to enjoy them without breaking your wallet.
If that’s your goal as well, read on. We’ve compiled a handful of the most useful practices for maximizing your fall and winter comfort. Hopefully one or more can help you optimize your comfort this winter season. And collectively, they should help any homeowner looking to get the most out of their HVAC system.
HVAC Maintenance for Winter Comfort
Any good HVAC contractor will recommend routine maintenance for your system. Whether as part of an ongoing maintenance agreement, or on an ad hoc basis, you need proactive maintenance to get the most out of your equipment.
If your system is less than 10 years old, it’s also probably still under warranty. These warranties are generally only enforceable if you have a maintenance agreement with a licensed HVAC contractor. So the first reason for maintenance is to make sure your warranty is valid, which can save you thousands if you have to repair the unit.
The other reasons relate to your comfort and bills. A system could be “running fine” but still be siphoning energy that should be used to heat your home.
Fall maintenance will generally include things like inspection of the burners in your furnace, cleaning or replacing your air filter, cleaning the outdoor unit if it’s a heat pump, and occasionally cleaning the blower fan in the system.
Combined, these can increase the efficiency of your heat pump or furnace. Over a period of years, they’ll also extend the lifespan of your equipment.
Would you rather replace your furnace after 20 years, or after 12? I’m guessing 20. Maintenance is the best way to get to that number.
What About Snow on a Heat Pump?
Snow usually isn’t a problem, but if you have a heat pump that’s active in the winter, a buildup of snow can inhibit airflow. This will make your heat pump work a lot harder, and could be a potential hazard. If you’re using your heat pump, make sure it’s clear of snow.
In-Home Comfort Tips for Fall and Winter
Maintenance requires a technician to come into your home, but what can you do on a day-to-day basis to get the most out of your heating system? Just as importantly, what should you avoid? Let’s talk about both.
Setting the Temperature
While it’s technically true that a lower temperature will use less energy than a higher in-home temperature, think of it this way: the difference between, say, 68 degrees and 70 degrees is incredibly small when it’s 20 degrees outside. Larger temperature differences can help, but these are situational.
The things that will save on energy costs are things like the efficiency of your system, whether it’s single-stage, dual-stage, or variable-speed equipment, whether it’s been tuned up with a maintenance visit, and ancillary things like the quality of your windows and insulation.
If you’re looking to save significantly on energy costs, look to these areas.
That said, setting the thermostat a bit lower while you’re away can indeed save you some money, but just remember that your equipment will have to work harder once you’re home and have the thermostat set higher again.
Carbon Monoxide (CO) Detectors
For those with gas furnaces, make sure your CO detectors have fresh batteries in them before winter. Additionally, the detector itself should be replaced every 3-5 years, since many have a tendency to stop working after a handful of years even with charged batteries in them.
CO is known as “the silent killer” for a reason. There’s no way for your senses to detect it. Don’t assume things are ok without setting up detectors.
A good HVAC technician should also be checking for CO levels during any maintenance visit where the furnace is being worked on. Be sure to ask about this if they aren’t performing the check automatically.
There’s no reason to be scared of CO, so long as you’re taking the proper precautions.
Testing Your System
Before the weather turns cold, and even before your scheduled maintenance appointment, run your system to make sure it’s running smoothly. Are there any noises? Smells? Cool air when it should be warm? These are the items that will help a service technician when they visit your home.
When Will the Pipes Burst?
This is a contextual question, because it depends on several factors, including the following:
- Position of pipes relative to the outside of your home
- Quality of your insulation
- Whether or not you’re running water daily through the pipes
- Outdoor temperature
Lots of people only look at the last of those bullet points. But if you’re not home for long stretches of time, there may be an increased likelihood, while a newer, insulated home with people home most of the time will likely be ok even into some freezing temperatures.
If you’re worried about this, having a “set it and forget it” strategy when it’s freezing is a safe policy, even if you adjust the temperature slightly to account for who’s home at different times.
Your vents won’t all have identical heat coming from them, so I won’t tell you not to adjust these at all. However, HVAC systems are designed to heat your whole home evenly. So, often, closing vents to certain rooms just creates pockets of cold air.
Since this colder air is mixing with the air in the rest of your home, the long-term benefits are minimal.
Use Your Fans
We all know that hot air rises, so the air near your ceiling will be warmer than the floor. You can use fans in a room to recirculate that warmer air, which will distribute the heat more evenly.
This is especially important in rooms with high ceilings, or bedrooms with beds that are low to the ground.
Supplementing Your Heat
Space heaters are among the least efficient options for generating heat. They’ll also only cover a small area. They can be useful in a tight space, but won’t replace your HVAC system.
Similarly, fireplaces or stove heat can be useful for creating pockets of heat in a particular area or room. Again, though, they’re not designed for whole-home heating. If you have company over or are having family game night by the fireplace, this can be great. For day-to-day heating, though, it won’t do much.
Additionally, if you have a fireplace, make sure you’re sealing it properly when it’s not in use, or it will vent more heat than it could ever generate and will actually increase your heating costs considerably.
The Importance of HVAC Air Filters
Have you changed your air filter recently? Be honest.
Ok, if you haven’t, you’re not alone. But it’s costing you.
The easiest way to ensure you’re taking care of this is to have it performed with maintenance visits. However, some homeowners like to handle it themselves, which is also fine.
Either way, know how often it should be changed. Depending on the filter, this could be as little as every 30 days or as long as six months.
Remember, your filter is working with both heating and cooling. Replacing it once a year is usually too infrequent.
Filters affect various aspects of your HVAC system. A clogged filter can inhibit airflow, which makes your system work harder. This can lead to a lowered lifespan long-term. They can also increase static pressure, which affects the rate and distribution of airflow in your ductwork.
Long-term, it can produce leaks, noises, even full breakdowns.
The solution? Just change your filter regularly. That’s all there is to it.
Humidifiers in Winter
For those of us here in Columbus, Ohio, as well as many other parts of the country, winter brings more than just cold weather. It brings dry air.
The problems associated with low humidity:
- Dry, cracked skin
- Scratchy throat that never seems to feel great
- Prolonged or worsened flu season
- Risk of other illnesses
- Cracked floorboards and creaky houses
- A whole-home humidifier
Individual humidifiers can only go so far, much like how a space heater isn’t going to do anything for your entire home.
A whole-home humidifier can work wonders toward each of these problems. At proper humidity levels, various viruses and bacteria are shown to die more quickly, other ailments will be lessened, and the home will be more comfortable.
For clarity, humidifiers don’t help your system heat the home. But we feel warmer when the humidity is higher, so having a humidifier might be the difference between being comfortable at 67 degrees and 72 degrees.
If you suffer from one or more of these, there’s no reason not to consider a ducted, whole-home humidifier.
Putting It All Together
Maybe you live in the South, and your humidity levels are fine. Or you’re a ninja when it comes to replacing your air filter on time and scheduling regular maintenance.
These tips won’t all be for everybody. But we’re guessing everyone has at least one they can benefit from.
So, find which ones you’ll benefit the most from, and utilize them to increase your comfort and/or lower your energy bills this winter. You won’t regret it.
If you’re looking to get even more out of your HVAC system this winter, it might require new accessories or even a new furnace entirely. Check out our product listings to find your dream system!