How To Get Your HVAC system Ready For Winter?

As the chilly fall weather starts to set in, homeowners should prepare to make the switch from cooling to heating. Your HVAC system works year-round to regulate your home’s temperature, but there are some key maintenance tasks to complete with the changing of the seasons.

Preparations for winter should begin early so that you don’t find yourself without heat on a freezing day. Early fall is the perfect time to clean and inspect your HVAC system and to schedule any necessary maintenance. By carefully prepping your heating system, you ensure that your house will stay warm and comfortable all winter. Not only does this greatly reduce the risk of maintenance emergencies, but it also helps your HVAC unit run more efficiently, which can significantly reduce your utility bill.

Here are nine steps to take to prepare your HVAC system for the wintertime:

1. Switch From Cooling to Heating

Testing your thermostat at the beginning of your prep work is essential. Even if it’s still too warm to turn the heat on, you need to make sure the thermostat is in good working condition. You can clean and inspect every part of your Heating and Air-Conditioning system, but if the thermostat doesn’t work, you’ll face trouble when the weather gets cold. If you identify issues early, though, you can schedule repairs with a professional before you need heat.

Set the thermostat to heat and gradually raise the temperature to a couple degrees higher than room temperature. You should hear the heating system turn on within a minute or two. If it doesn’t, remove the thermostat cover and check that the wire connections are secure. If you’re not comfortable checking the wiring, consult with an HVAC professional. Sometimes, adjusting the wiring is all that’s needed to fix a thermostat. In other cases, more extensive repairs from an HVAC expert may be needed.

2. Replace Air Filters

Air and furnace filters should typically be changed out every few months, so it’s a great idea to replace your HVAC filters with the changing of the season. When dust or debris builds up in the filter, the system has to work harder to heat or cool your home. This can lead to increased utility bills and extra wear and tear on the HVAC system. A dirty filter can also impact your home’s air quality, which can be especially troublesome in the wintertime when your windows stay closed.

You might have air filters behind your wall vents and within the furnace unit itself. Replace each of these filters as you prepare your home for the winter, and try to check the filters monthly to make sure they’re clean and clear. The filters may need to be replaced on a monthly basis if you have pets, are a smoker, or suffer from allergies. If your system has permanent filters, you can wash them and place them back in the system.

3. Cover AC Condenser

Covering your AC condenser protects it from damage during the colder months. If you have a heat pump, the system runs year-round and should not be covered. Otherwise, though, you can prep your HVAC system for winter by cleaning up the unit and applying a protective cover.

First, clear the area around the AC unit of leaves, twigs, and dirt. There should typically be at least 12 inches of clear space around the condenser unit. You can also inspect the unit itself for any leaves or debris that may have gotten caught in the system. Then, place the cover over the condenser. You can cover the unit with plywood weighed down with bricks, a trash can lid, or a waterproof plastic cover. Whatever you use to cover the condenser, make sure it will keep moisture out of the unit.

4. Clean and Inspect Heat Exchanger

Your HVAC unit may have one or two heat exchangers. These components might not need to be cleaned each year, but you should at least inspect the exchangers yearly as you prepare the system for winter. Any amount of dirt or soot that builds up on the heat exchangers can significantly reduce the furnace’s efficiency.

To clean the heat exchangers, you must first turn off the power and gas. Then, remove the access door so that you can reach the heat exchangers. You can use a brush to loosen up the dirt and a vacuum to clear it away. Be sure to remove all dirt and sediment buildup so that your furnace can function properly.

Unless you’re very comfortable and familiar with HVAC, it’s best to hire a professional to clean and inspect the heat exchangers. An HVAC expert can safely and thoroughly clean the unit, and they’ll also look for subtle signs of damage. Cracks in the heat exchangers can cause a carbon monoxide leak, which is an extremely dangerous and possibly life-threatening situation.

5. Clean Furnace Burners

Dust and debris can build up on the furnace’s burners in the summer months. Before you turn the heater on for the winter, you should clean the burners and inspect them for rust or damage. Dirty burners may not ignite properly, and they can cause your heating system to work inefficiently.

First, shut off the power and gas to the furnace. Then, remove the access panel, open the burner box, and remove the burners. Taking the burners out of the unit is fairly straightforward in some systems and more complex in others, so you should consult the owner’s manual if you’re unsure where the burners are located. Then, you can clean them with a wire brush.

Like with the heat exchangers, cleaning the burners is a task that many homeowners hire a professional for. When you schedule a yearly cleaning and inspection, your HVAC technician will carefully clean all of the components of the system and check for damage.

6. Oil Furnace Blower

The furnace’s blower motor pushes the air through the ducts, so it needs to be in good working condition for the heating system to effectively warm your home. If the motor doesn’t have enough lubrication, it can seize up. Some newer blowers don’t need to be oiled, but older furnaces usually have oil reserves that need replenishing on a yearly basis. If you’re not sure whether your furnace’s motor requires oil, consult with an HVAC expert.

To oil the furnace’s blower motor, start by turning off the power and gas. Then, remove the access panel and take out the blower motor by removing the bolts that secure it to the unit. The oil ports are usually labeled, and you’ll likely see two or three on the motor. Use oil that’s specifically intended for the furnace’s motor, and apply two or three drops into the port.

7. Inspect Chimney

Obstructions in the chimney may pose a serious health and safety risk to your household. Carbon and soot buildup can be a major fire hazard, so cleaning the chimney before you turn on the heat for the season is vital. Additionally, birds and rodents sometimes take up residence in the chimney, so you should make sure the structure is clear of nests or debris.

The chimney should be cleaned and inspected annually, and it’s best to get this done before the cold weather starts. Although you can visually inspect the chimney yourself, professional cleaning is necessary to keep your heating system functioning efficiently and to avoid safety hazards.

8. Uncover Heating Vents

Covered or blocked vents stop your home from warming up, and they can result in your furnace overheating. As you prepare for winter, uncover all of the heating vents throughout your home. Check the vents on the floor and along the floorboards to ensure they’re not blocked by furniture.

As you check and uncover your heating vents, take some time to clean any dust or dirt that has built up on or around the grilles. Not only does this allow the warm air to flow into your home more easily, but it also can improve your home’s air quality.

9. Prep the Rest of the Home

Once your HVAC system is in good shape for the cold weather, it’s time to prep the rest of the house. Even if your heater functions perfectly, you’ll struggle to keep your home comfortable if there are too many opportunities for the warm air to escape. Inspect your windows and doors for cracks or gaps, and use weatherstripping to seal any openings. If you live in an area with particularly bad storms or frigid temperatures, consider glass storm window installation.

You can also help your home stay warm by turning the ceiling fans clockwise. This will push the warm air down toward you instead of letting it rise to the ceiling. Now is also a great time to test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors.

Before the cold weather hits, you have to be certain that your HVAC unit is ready. Many parts within the system need to be cleaned and inspected yearly, and even seemingly small damage can have a major impact on how the furnace functions. To ensure that your HVAC system is clean, safe, and functional, you should schedule an inspection with an experienced technician in the summer or fall. An HVAC professional can identify and repair any damage to the system so that you don’t experience a maintenance emergency during the cold weather. Schedule your annual inspection today so that you’re fully prepared for the upcoming winter.