Cooler days and nights mean we can give our air conditioners a break and open up the windows. That is until the chill of night has us reaching for more blankets and eventually switching on the furnace.
“During every change of the seasons, we see a spike in the number of calls from people who want their systems cleaned and checked as well as those who need service,” said Pat Popa of Popa Heating and Cooling in Highland, which has been family owned and operated since 1968. “Furnace checks are important. Just like you need to change the oil in your car to keep everything running evenly, your furnace requires routine maintenance.”
Even so, the typical lifespan of a furnace is 18 years, and air conditioners typically last 15 years, according to industry statistics provided by Popa.
Based on the number of houses built in the U.S. during the boom from 1994 to 2006 alone, homeowners will soon need to replace between 1 and 2 million heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems a year.
“That’s not to say we don’t take out 30 year systems, it’s just not the norm anymore,” she said. “For one thing, many homes were outfitted with oversized equipment years ago. When a furnace is too big, it can’t deliver heat fast enough, and short cycling is very inefficient. When we replace an oversized furnace with one that’s the right size for the home, people are surprised and amazed by the comfort.”
The same goes for air conditioning.
“Before the recent heat wave, we changed out an air conditioner that was quite oversized,” Popa said. “The homeowner was just absolutely amazed by the difference. In the past, he needed to keep his thermostat at 72-73 degrees to try and stay comfortable. Now, he was able to keep it around 76 degrees, and the air in his home was drier and more comfortable. When air conditioners are too big, they don’t run long enough to get the moisture out of the air.”
So, along with better comfort, when new heating and cooling equipment is correctly sized to meet your home's needs, connected to a well-sealed duct system, operating with sufficient airflow in the system and installed with the proper amount of refrigerant, it can reduce your heating and cooling costs by as much as 30 percent, according to ENERGY STAR.
New or old, maintaining your equipment to prevent future problems and unwanted will help keep it running at peak performance. As Popa mentioned, contractors get busy once summer and winter come, so it's best to check the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall. To remember, you might plan the check-ups around the spring and fall time changes.
A typical maintenance check-up should include the following:
• Check thermostat settings to ensure the cooling and heating system keeps you comfortable when you are home and saves energy while you are away.
• Tighten all electrical connections and measure voltage and current on motors. Faulty electrical connections can cause unsafe operation of your system and reduce the life of major components.
• Lubricate all moving parts. Parts that lack lubrication cause friction in motors and increase the amount of electricity you use.
• Check and inspect the condensate drain in your central air conditioner, furnace and/or heat pump (when in cooling mode). A plugged drain can cause water damage in the house and affect indoor humidity levels.
• Check controls of the system to ensure proper and safe operation. Check the starting cycle of the equipment to assure the system starts, operates and shuts off properly.
In the fall, all gas (or oil) connections, gas pressure, burner combustion and heat exchanger should be checked. Improperly operating gas (or oil) connections are a fire hazard and can contribute to health problems. A dirty burner or cracked heat exchanger causes improper burner operation. Either can cause the equipment to operate less safely and efficiently.
In the spring, the evaporator and condenser air conditioning coils should be cleaned. Dirty coils reduce the system's ability to cool your home and cause the system to run longer, increasing energy costs and reducing the life of the equipment. Blower components also need to be cleaned and possibly adjusted to provide proper system airflow for greater comfort levels. Airflow problems can reduce your system's efficiency by up to 15 percent.
You can also ask your contractor to show you how to properly inspect, clean and change air filters. A dirty filter can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure.
“The fact that we can predict some problems ahead of time is another benefit of routine maintenance checks for homeowners,” Popa said. “No one wants to have a big emergency repair in the middle of the night when it’s really cold, but that’s just the way it seems to happen.”