Heating and Cooling—Fall Maintenance Must-Do Tasks for Home Owners

Winterize your Air Conditioner and Furnace Using These Tips:

With the cold weather coming, there are tons of winterizing projects hanging over our heads. Proper maintenance of HVAC equipment is essential to keeping your furnace and air conditioners in good condition for the coming seasons. Cleaning units, changing filters, and performing other small maintenance procedures requires little time or money and is well worth the limited investment.

Central Air Conditioner Maintenance

air conditionerYour air conditioner has served you well for the spring and summer, and it’s time to put it to rest for the winter. While central air conditioning units are built to survive the elements, there are still a few issues that might arise, including:

  • Nesting birds and other unwelcome visitors
  • Rain/snow and potential corrosion
  • Damage from falling ice
  • Freezing pipes (if exposed)

Basic maintenance can be easily performed by a homeowner, but if your air conditioner isn’t running properly, you will need to contact a professional HVAC repair person for the job.

Before performing any maintenance, disconnect the power supply so that the air conditioner doesn’t start up. You also want to cut the power for the entire cold season because, on a warm day, the unit could power up and then freeze when the temperatures drop (and damage your system). For some air conditioners, you may have a cut-off switch inside your home or in your electrical box. Many newer units have a pin-type switch mounted inside a box on the exterior of your home. While this is not absolutely essential, it can prevent unwanted running and subsequent freezing, as already explained. If you live in a really warm climate, this likely will not pertain to you.

For basic maintenance, first you want to clean your unit with either a vacuum, or a water hose, removing all debris that has accumulated. Do this by taking off the fan covers; then rinse or vacuum all accessible debris. If you use a hose, allow the unit to dry before replacing the cover.

If there are any exposed pipes, you will want to insulate them with pipe insulation (to prevent freezing). This can be found at a hardware store or plumbing supply. Companies such as Frost King make adhesive-backed foam, which secures it firmly to the pipes.

air conditioner shut-off switchOpinions vary on covering/enclosing your air conditioner, but a cover will certainly deter critters and keep debris out. If you choose to cover your unit with a manufactured product, you may want to consider something breathable that releases the condensation, as some materials could potentially trap moisture in, which might promote corrosion. Air tight covers are not recommended for this reason.

Depending on your model, you can choose to cover only the top of the unit using some custom-sized plywood or similar material. Cut it to size, place on top, then set something heavy like a stone or cement paver on it to hold it in place. This is actually a good idea if your unit is at risk of falling icicles or branches.

Intermittently, throughout the fall and winter, you should check for unwanted visitors and remove any accumulated snow, leaves or other debris from around your unit. Keeping three feet of ground clearance around the unit is what professionals recommend.

Furnace Maintenance

Furnace FilterThere are a few easy things that homeowners can do to ready their furnace for fall usage. How much maintenance you can perform yourself depends on your furnace type and skill level. Oil furnaces are very temperamental and usually require a repair specialist for any work other than changing the filter. Gas and propane furnaces are lower maintenance and, if you are handy, you can perform a couple of the procedures on your own.

Filters are something every homeowner should be able to maintain. Before installing, turn the switch off to your furnace. Then remove the front furnace door (some have screws, some don’t). Removing the door should give you access to your filter holder. Most filters are replaced by removing the screws and sliding the old filter out of the filter holder. Some require no screws. Refer to your manual or ask your installer about this one. Note that filters need to be changed every two or three months, depending on the size of filter and the model of your furnace. Check your furnace manual for this. A dirty filter can prevent your furnace from starting, so should you experience such a failure, this would be the first troubleshooting step to take.

After replacing the filter, replace covers and screws where needed to properly enclose your furnace.

Humidifier filters are the next thing that can be performed by a homeowner. Again, turn the furnace off at switch before performing humidifier maintenance. Most humidifiers include a cover that comes off via the turn of a knob or screw. The filters may have a removable housing or slide out directly for easy replacement. Hoses sometimes need to be disconnected (usually by sliding off the corresponding valve) and the filter slides out of the housing. If the housing is removable, you can clean it using some vinegar and a towel. If you have really hard water and accumulated scale and rust, you may want to use a little more vinegar and let it sit for a bit, then apply a little elbow grease to thoroughly clean.

Reassemble the parts and turn the furnace back on. Instructions for basic maintenance of your humidifier can be found in the manual (which your installer should have given you). If not, you can often find how-to videos online. Usually you need to reset the digital controls once the filter has been changed, which may consist of pushing an “on” button on the control box.

Because of the delicate nature of furnaces, especially the new high-efficiency ones, it is highly recommended that you schedule a fall inspection by a professional, as a skilled technician can replace nozzles, vacuum the unit with specialized tools, and troubleshoot other problems. If you have an oil furnace, it is absolutely vital to find a specialist who is an expert in oil furnace repair and installation (you will find that many furnace repair people are not trained in oil).

The most important thing you can do as a homeowner to keep your HVAC equipment in shape is to keep filters changed and keep the units clean, while scheduling yearly checkups for your furnace. Get free quotes the easy way using our online service.

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