With a taste of winter earlier this week, including a freeze warning expiring this morning, officials with the Better Business Bureau suggest home owners take measures to ready their HVAC system for winter months.
“Poorly maintained systems can create many problems, ranging from heating inefficiency to breakdowns and release of dangerous fumes,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB president and CEO. “An annual investment in home winterization is money well-spent.” Rudy Weaver, owner of Weaver Heating and Air, compares HVAC maintenance to that of a vehicle, citing specific areas in need of regular attention, including filters and duct work.
“Heating and air conditioning systems are a lot like a car, they require service and if you don’t take care of it, it won’t last as long. The average life of a system is about 10 and a half years and if you service it, you can extend that life by a couple or three years,” Weaver said. “Maintenance is important to keep up the efficiency of the system. If it’s gas, check for proper ventilation to keep carbon monoxide from getting in the home. Make sure the heat exchanger isn’t cracked or burst or anything — that’s a safety issue. ... And just make sure it’s clean and burning properly, not producing soot.
“Changing the filter on a system is probably the most important thing you can do to it as far as maintenence so it doesn’t stop up and overheat the furnace, and the duct system is as important as the furnace or the heat pump. Without proper delivery, if your duct work is leaking, you’re just wasting energy because it’s blowing out underneath the house. And Georgia Power offers quite a bit of money to do duct sealing and duct tightening in order to save energy.”
Proper filtration and duct cleaning also can help reduce health complications from respiratory disorders.
The BBB also provides a check list for home owners to review each fall to prepare homes for the winter:
• Furnace checkup and cleaning: Clean or replace your furnace’s air filters. Have a professional check the furnace and ensure the thermostat and other parts are working properly. A typical home furnace reaches the end of its useful life after 15 years and may need repair or replacement.
• Consider insulating heating ducts: The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates that a centrally-heated home can lose as much as 60 percent of warmed air before it reaches vents if the ductwork is poorly connected, not insulated, or if it travels through unheated spaces. Use a vacuum cleaner to remove dust and dirt from vents.
• Get a chimney checkup: Before lighting the first fire of the season, your chimney should be checked for animals, nests, leaves and other debris, as well as for any necessary repairs.
• Check smoke and carbon monoxide detectors: Homeowners should routinely test these devices to make sure they work and install fresh batteries as needed. Detector units should be replaced every 10 years.
• Clear gutters and ridge vents: Clean gutters to prevent or remove any buildups that would cause rainwater to clog, freeze and damage gutters. Ridge vents should be cleared to allow the house to “breathe” properly to eliminate stagnant inside air. Close any attic vents or windows that would allow heated air to escape and cold air to seep in.
• Plug holes: The average American home may have many small air leaks. Though they may not be large, they have a cumulative effect on home heating costs. Make sure windows close tightly. Check for leaks around them, and use caulking to plug the leaks. Inspect all weather stripping for cracks and peeling. In addition, consider applying insulating film to drafty windows, and install a tight-fitting fireplace door or cover to stop a day-long loss of heat through the chimney.
• Final preparations: Test your snow blower to find out whether there is a problem now rather than waiting until a storm hits. Prepare your snow-clearing equipment, such as shovels, salt or other ice-melting products. Finally, don’t forget to drain outside faucets to prevent the pipes from freezing.
— The Better Business Bureau contributed to this article.