As a responsible motorist, you probably wouldn’t leave for a long road trip without checking your car’s mechanical health and ability to make the trip. Items like engine oil level, coolant level, tire pressure and even wiper blades are important to handle a long drive.
The same rule applies to your home—you don’t want to put your home’s heating system to the test for a long, cold Ohio winter without ensuring your furnace is up to the task. This article will help you be a responsible homeowner and protect what is probably the biggest investment of your life, your home.
While modern heating systems installed in homes in the Columbus area tend to very extremely reliable and durable, like all things mechanical they need attention. We recommend a trained, certified HVAC professional inspect your heating and cooling system twice a year – in the Spring, before the Summer heat arrives; and in the Fall, before the cold of Winter sets in. These types of maintenance routines can help a homeowner discover issues while they are relatively minor, before they become dire emergencies. Regular maintenance and cleaning of components of complex mechanical systems like HVAC will ensure the systems keep running efficiently and last up to and beyond their expected longevity.
No matter what else you do to protect your investment in your home, two maintenance visits annually will be money well spent. And investing in a maintenance plan[LINK] will save you money and ensure you are first in line for service.
We’ll cover the basics for forced-air HVAC systems, where air moves through ductwork to distribute hot air during the heating season and cold air during the cooling season. In Central Ohio, this type of system is powered by natural gas or heating oil, depending on your location.
There are some things that a homeowner can do to maintain their central heating system, such as changing air filters, but much of the work beyond that task requires more than basic HVAC knowledge. In some cases (especially when working with the coolant in air conditioning systems), the person working on the system must be certified. In some cases, the work may actually be dangerous unless you really know what you’re doing. Home heating and cooling systems involved electricity and some sort of highly flammable fossil fuel, both potentially dangerous in the hands of the untrained.
This post will help you grasp the steps a highly trained, licensed and certified HVAC service technician will take to maintain your system. We’ll start with the thermostat, and cover the “delivery system” (ductwork) and discuss the outside AC or heat pump unit (if applicable).
The best place to start with a maintenance check is the system’s thermostat. The thermostat is usually installed on the living room wall and allows you to set the desired temperature for the house.
Prior to the start of the heating or cooling season (whichever is up next) while the temperatures are mild, set the thermostat up to a temperature higher than the current outside temp and check to see if it turns on and continues to run. If the furnace runs normally, so far so good.
If the furnace kicks off after less than about three minutes, that is an indication that it’s short cycling, which can be cause by one of the following factors:
- THERMOSTAT – The thermostat may not be properly adjusted; it may need to be recalibrated or replaced.
- HEAT EXCHANGER – The furnace’s heat exchanger is overheating, and a safety mechanism is turning it off automatically to prevent a dangerous situation.
If your system is short cycling, we recommend you call a professional HVAC service technician prior to using the system on a daily basis.
- If the system doesn’t turn on at all when you turn up the temperature, test the thermostat.
- If the furnace burners ignite when you turn up the temperature on the thermostat, take a look at the flames. The flames should be a bright, solid blue color and a fairly tight, compact shape. If they’re flickering or have yellow or orange, you’ll need to have a technician adjust the air/fuel mixture.
Checking a Forced Air Furnace
The next step, after you determine the thermostat is working properly in your furnace, is to check to ensure the airways are clean to allow for the best possible indoor air quality and the highest efficiency. Just like the air filter in your car, the HVAC system’s air filter protects the system from dust, dirt and other particles in the air.
- FILTER We recommend our customers check their systems’ air filters at least monthly and replace if they show signs of wear and tear, or if they are getting clogged with dirt. If you have pets, or if someone in your home suffers from breathing issues (like allergies or asthma) it doesn’t hurt to check more frequently. Our rule of thumb is to check monthly and change at least quarterly.
- DUCTWORK We also recommend you have ductwork checked annually for dust buildup, rust, mold, or leaks. Corroded ducts must be repaired or replaced; leaking ducts should be sealed with duct tape; and dirty ductwork should be professionally cleaned.
- CLEANING Even when there are no apparent problems, it’s a great practice to get your home’s ductwork professionally cleaned about once every three years. Again, if you have pets, or family members with allergies or asthma, more often may be in order. And, if there is any sort of construction or you live in a dusty climate, cleaning more often may be a good idea.
- FURNACE COMBUSTION CHAMBER This chamber gets checked by your professional service tech as part of that annual furnace tune up and safety check. The first step is to turn off the gas and electricity to the unit, shut it down, inspect the chamber for any serious issues, he’ll clean it.
- BLOWER MOTOR The HVAC tech will vacuum the section of your furnace that contains the blower. To do a thorough job, he’ll have to actually remove the blower fan (a.k.a. the ‘squirrel cage’).
- BLOWER BELT Most newer furnaces have direct drive blower motors, but there are still some models that use a drive belt. Your service tech will inspect it for condition and proper tension and will recommend the proper course of action.
This article is not meant to be a DIY list of things to check on your furnace and cooling system, but to help you be a good consumer so you can intelligently discuss any issues with your system with your service technician. We love to service customers who are interested and engaged with their home’s heating and cooling system proper care.
How We Can Help
Our team offers a wide array of routine maintenance and emergency services for your heating and cooling system, allowing your family to breathe fresh, safe, clean air and be comfortable year-round. We also offer a number of add-ons to your HVAC equipment that can improve your home’s IAQ, such as electrostatic air filters, whole-house humidifiers, duct cleaning, and more.
Schedule an appointment for HVAC system troubleshooting or maintenance with us today by using our online contact form, or call one of our seven neighborhood offices listed below. We pride ourselves on our customer-focused service, and our reviews show it.
Dor-Mar…Your Climate Hero!