As I write this, the first peals of the school bell are just a couple of weeks away. There still might be some 90 degree days in the dog days of summer, but as the calendar flips from July to August, it’s time to think that autumn — and then winter — are on the way.
Let this be your reminder that a maintenance call for your furnace might be in order. After all, it’s been months since it was last turned on. Maybe it’s fine, but if it’s not, you can do something about it.
Fall is one of our busy seasons at Fire & Ice. We get frantic calls from homeowners who turned on the furnace after it had a summer’s nap only to find that the heat isn’t working.
As a result, service folks tend to get fully booked, meaning that there’s a waitlist. If you want to get to the front of the line for maintenance, we suggest you book a visit from an HVAC service person now.
That way, you’ll be protected from the elements when the truly cold air hits.
Here are a few tips and suggestions about steps you can take in the meantime.
Turn On Your Furnace
Don’t wait until it gets really cold before you turn on your furnace. On a cool autumn evening, for example, you want to make sure it turns on. Let it run for an hour or so, just to be sure.
It’s as if one of your cars has been sitting idly for six months. You want to start it up before you set out on a road trip with it.
On your gas furnace, your flame sensor (a.k.a. glow stick) could be dirty and need to be cleaned. You’ll want to make sure the condensate pump is working; it may have gotten plugged up.
Turn it on, see if it goes through the cycle. The inducer motor should turn on, you’ll see the glow stick go up, and it will try to fire. If the flame stays on and the blower motor turns on, you’re probably OK.
You’ll get that burnt toast smell the first time it runs. That’s normal. That’s just dust that has been resting on the heat exchanger. It’s like a grill: If you haven’t used it in a while, and then turn it on, you’re going to burn something off.
Run it for several minutes and make certain the air coming out of your registers is warm.
If you have a gas furnace, you may experience an issue with your pilot light not igniting. For advice on how to fix this, read our article, Furnace Pilot Light: How to Re-Light, Fix and Protect Your System
Change Your Furnace Filter
Check your furnace filter, and if it’s dirty, put a new one in.
We can’t emphasize this point too many times. Filters tend to be neglected, and dirty filters cause a multitude of problems.
- They create static pressure, which is rough on the entire HVAC
- They stop collecting dirt and dust after a while, which is bad for your health.
- Dirt and dust will collect in the heart of the furnace, damaging the internal mechanicals. Your filter will not be able to collect any new debris. It will wind up in your furnace.
Static pressure can be defined as the resistance experienced by air as it passes through your HVAC system. It’s a lot like blood pressure in your body. Too much static pressure can strain your system, reducing its performance, and can result in wasted energy. Your HVAC has to work harder to get the air it needs when the filter is clogged. If left untreated it can result in premature failure of the system.
Factors that will cause your filters to get dirtier quicker include:
Pets. If you have multiple pets in your home, your filter will clog more quickly due to pet dander.
Allergy and illness considerations. If it’s allergy season, or your family includes someone who is immunocompromised, you may want to consider replacing filters more often.
Smokers. If you are in a smoking household, filters will collect particulates. Certain filters are specially designed to capture cigarette smoke, meaning the filter needs more attention than most.
How often you run your system. Your filter is working only when the blower fan is running. This could be for air conditioning or heating. If you’re running the system almost constantly in a particular season, timely replacements are recommended.
Check Your Whole-Home Humidifier
Check your whole-house humidifier if you have one; especially check your humidifier pad (which is also known as a water panel). A humidifier pad collects moisture to increase the humidity inside during the cold season. It is connected to your home’s water pipes.
When indoor humidity is low, water flows to the pad, and hot air blows over it. The damp air is then distributed throughout the home.
A dirty pad hinders its operation. It won’t produce the moisture it needs to, and the relative humidity in the house will drop. You’ll feel colder with lower humidity.
Humidifier drain lines may clog (water on the floor is a major tipoff), and mold and bacteria can form due to the clog. People with breathing issues, including asthma, will suffer.
Turn your humidifier from summer to winter, and make sure it’s turned on. We have a lot of people who never turn them on because they don’t switch them over with the change in seasons. During a routine maintenance call, this should be a part of any HVAC inspection.
Turn off the power to your AC unit
Once the weather gets truly cold, you can feel free to turn off your air conditioner. The exterior power circuit is in a small box mounted to the side of your home. Lift the cover to find the switch. Flip the switch to the “Off” position and close the lid.
Set yourself some sort of reminder in the spring to turn the power back on.
Should I Cover My AC for the Winter?
This is a reasonable question, given the snow and ice we face yearly in Central Ohio. Not to mention the scores of leaves and pine needles that rain down with the temperature change.
A quick search through Google to this question will lead you to a lot of “yeses;” you should shield your unit from leaves, then the snow and ice. The big box stores have AC covers in stock.
But our answer is “No.” Air conditioners are built to be outside. Covering it can lead to unintended consequences. We had a customer that built a cover on his AC. The mice got in there because it was sheltered, and when it fired up it went blammo, because the mice had chewed through the wires.
We’ve had customers who turn on the air conditioner in the spring without remembering that they covered it. The AC sucks in the covering, which doesn’t allow the air conditioning to breathe. It overheats and burns it out.
If there’s debris at the bottom of the unit, an HVAC tech should clean out the pine needles and other debris during a regularly scheduled visit. You can do this cleaning yourself in a few minutes, but please don’t use a power washer to do it. The insides of your AC aren’t built to withstand a strong stream of water.
Can I Skip Fall Maintenance If My Unit Is Only One Year Old?
Yes, you can. You can do whatever you want to do. But that’s your responsibility. We tell people that regular maintenance is going to keep your investment working properly for a long time.
Not getting maintenance would be like driving a car and never getting an oil change.
And it could void your warranty. Let’s say that something happens mechanically, and a service technician comes out and it’s obvious that your furnace has not been maintained: dirty filter, no records of maintenance. The manufacturer will ask “Has this thing been maintained?” The manufacturer could then say “It’s not a mechanical error. It’s the fact that you didn’t maintain the system, and we’re not going to cover it.”
If you choose not to have maintenance, you’re weighing the risk between a $119 service tune-up versus buying a new compressor, which is far more than $119.
We don’t mean to sound like a broken record, but the advice we give to homeowners does tend to have the same refrain: Stick to a schedule that features regular maintenance and change your furnace filter.
We’re happy to come to your house any time of the year, in any circumstance. But the purpose of an article such as this one is to point out the small things that could save you frustration. We want you to be empowered.
If you don’t feel comfortable dealing with your HVAC, we’re here, and we’d love to stop by and take care of those nagging issues.
Check out our service area below to see if we can help.