Certain times of year are just right for HVAC maintenance, and we’re in the middle of one now. You might have already switched to heat for taking the edge off some of the cooler nights. But the full-swing season is still ahead. It’s better to find a problem early than to wait for cold weather.
Pre-season heating checkups give you and your maintenance technician time to spot any problems that might have crept in through the last few months of system dormancy. There isn’t as much of an industry rush, not like there will be when homeowners all around Framingham and Concord switch on the system for good.
If maintenance is on your to-do list, here are some summer-end tips that you can handle on your own. For everything else, your HVAC technician is the right call. He can clean, inspect and make any repairs just in time.
Change the Heating System Air Filter
No matter how many times you’ve heard it, it bears repeating: air filter replacement is the #1 thing that any homeowner can do to help preserve the life of an HVAC system. It’s inexpensive, takes only a few minutes and helps keep the system breathing freer. It also helps keep dust and other particles from making their way inside.
The general rule of thumb is to replace the filter every 60 to 90 days. But that is just a guideline. Check the filter before switching on the heating system at the end of the summer. Going forward, check it monthly and replace when it begins to look dirty. Unless your filter is washable / cleanable, resist the temptation to vacuum or wash out the debris and put it back. Although vacuuming works as a temporary fix with some filters, it can easily damage the delicate fibers.
Inspect the Ductwork Vents or Registers
With a central heating and air system, the same vents or registers that send cool air into the rooms all summer carry warm air throughout in winter. So the vents are likely clear and ready to go for the heating season. But it’s a good idea to check for obstructions, such as chairs or boxes, to be on the safe side. Open all vents, too. Closing off some of them isn’t the most efficient way to control airflow through the house. Talk with your technician about an air-control damper system inside the ductwork instead.
Ceiling vents probably don’t have debris immediately inside. But the law of gravity isn’t as kind to floor and wall vents. Remove the covers and check inside using a flashlight. If you see any dirt buildup, vacuum it out. You’ll also want to explain the issue to your technician. On top of dramatically reducing HVAC efficiency, air leaks in the ductwork can allow dirt and debris to collect inside the vents. You might benefit from duct cleaning and sealing.
DIY end of summer maintenance for your HVAC system only takes a little time, and the effort pays off in a healthier and more efficient appliance. Then for a full system check, which can really be a life-saver, Rodenhiser’s heating professionals can ensure your system is fit, working normally and ready to keep you cozy through another long winter.
If your system hasn’t had its seasonal checkup, there’s no better time than now to call Rodenhiser.
Of all the things that you love to shop for, home heating probably isn’t at the top of the list. It might not even make the top 10. But heat is one of your home’s major systems, and this is Massachusetts we’re living in, so it’s important for it function as advertised without costing a fortune to operate it. When it doesn’t, it’s a good idea to think about whether replacement is the best answer.
A new home heating system isn’t cheap, but it can add so much value that you’re glad to make the investment. In some cases, the energy saved pays for the whole system in time. But the tricky part is knowing when to call it quits on what you’ve got. Here are several signs that a replacement is in the foreseeable future.
How Old is Your Home’s Heating System?
First things first. One of the greatest indicators that it’s time to replace your home’s heating system is its age. Even with scrupulous care and maintenance, furnaces, boilers and even heat pumps don’t last forever.
On average, and with a sound maintenance schedule, most home heating starts to decline at around 15 years. Under ideal circumstances, newly manufactured systems can last much longer than that, up to even 30 years, according to Bob Vila. But an existing system that’s around 15 years old now was manufactured before some of those advancements in technology were put into service.
If your system is 10-15 years old, it’s time to start thinking about what you’ll want in a replacement. That’s the stage when mechanical, electrical and electronic issues often begin to surface. If the system has experienced erratic maintenance, time is of the essence.
Do you Have Uncomfortable Hot or Cold Spots?
Most homes have spots where it’s always too cold or too warm. And most homeowners deal with it by closing vents, plugging in a space heater, grabbing a sweater, or closing off rooms altogether. Your home should be comfortable end-to-end. If it’s not, your home heating might be to blame.
Old systems and those in disrepair don’t function the way that they were designed to. Heated air might not reach certain parts of your home. And in others, the heat might be too much to bear. But neither of those is a normal situation that you should have to live with.
A new system might also include ductwork repair or replacement, as that’s also a common cause of hot and cold spots. Duck leaks cause you to lose expensive heated air. And the lack of ductwork dampers can send too much heat into areas where you don’t need it. Dampers are much more effective at regulating airflow and heat than closing vents, which puts undue stress on the system.
Is the Humidity Level in Your Home Uncomfortable?
Winter humidity can be as uncomfortable as summer, just in the opposite way. Where high humidity makes your skin feel sticky and rooms feel stuffy, humidity that’s too low can wreak all sorts of havoc.
Humidity affects the way that your body perceives temperature. That’s why some people talk about dry heat out west and how it’s more tolerable than the hot, humid summer air back east. As it applies to home heating, low humidity can make rooms feel colder than they really are. And that can inspire you to increase the heat, which creates a vicious cycle. The more heat, the less humidity you’ll have in your home. Low humidity can also irritate your eyes and sinuses.
Heating equipment typically cuts humidity, which is why many newer systems have an on-board or aftermarket humidifier. If your home is dry as powder in winter, your heating is probably outdated. You might also have a ductwork leak, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
Have You Noticed Higher and Higher Energy Bills?
Winter heating costs can be so high that you fear walking to the mailbox. Energy costs do fluctuate, and sometimes they’re the real culprit. When there’s higher demand, such as during a frigid spell or when supply is low for one reason or another, costs nearly always go up. And in some areas, energy costs are higher during different parts of the day.
However, oddly high home heating bills are also a sign that something’s wrong. As heat systems age, they naturally perform with lower and lower efficiency. That’s even true if you’ve changed the filter and opted in for scheduled maintained on time every time. Everything has a lifespan.
Repairs are a normal part of owning any appliance. But they, too, can indicate a system that’s on its last legs if they happen more often now than ever before. This is an important factor to think about. Some HVAC repairs are fairly simple and don’t cost a fortune. But some, such as certain types of coolant leaks, can really cost you. When you add them up over a year or more, they might make the cost of a new heating system a better financial choice.
Are You Dusting More Often Than Usual?
There are a lot of reasons why homes get oddly dusty. Sometimes it’s nothing but the time of year. That’s apparent in springtime when pollen seems to collect on every surface. But excessive dust is also a reason to eye your home heating system with a bit of suspicion.
Dust can enter the system at different points and for different reasons. If the filter isn’t changed often enough, the dust that clogs it can dislodge little by little and make its way through the ducts, where it lands throughout your home. Unfortunately, this type of dust infiltration can also damage the unit.
Dust can also enter the system through ductwork leaks, and those can happen anywhere from the unit itself to any point where you have a register. But your HVAC technician can perform diagnostics to determine whether there are leaks and how extensive the problem might be.
Is the System Noisy or Noisier Than Before?
Rare is the home heating system that’s quiet as a mouse, but some noises are bad news. Squeals and screeches can do more than give you chills or set your teeth on edge. They might mean that the blower motor belt is damaged. Or a fan might be damaged.
Rattles, bangs and clangs are usually signs that a moving part in the system is broken or about to come loose. Left to continue, noises like these can be a very expensive repair, or they could be the end of the system altogether.
Clicking sounds aren’t always abnormal, but sometimes it’s wise to take them as a warning. Most systems click when they cycle on and off. But Angie’s List reminds that fast or repeated clicking might mean that you’ve got a bad electronic control panel. Short-cycling can also cause repeated clicking. If the system cycles on and off several times an hour, it needs prompt attention. If this short cycling is a new problem, the best approach is to shut it down until a technician can determine the cause, which might be simple or major.
Home heating has come an awfully long way in the past few years. If your system is older than 10, you might be in for a major surprise once you come to a decision to replace it. Newer models, whether they’re boilers, furnaces, or ductless heat pumps, use less energy to provide better comfort. And that makes you and your bank account feel great. The situation is a win/win.
No one wants to make a large investment when it’s unwarranted. But replacing bad, old or worn-out home heating equipment yields great rewards. Trust your instincts. If something seems out of whack, there’s a good chance that you’re right, even if you don’t know the source of the problem. You live with it, after all, so you’re a good judge of lurking problems.
If there aren’t any obvious signs, consider how long your heating components have been in service. Ten years with good maintenance is usually OK. At 15 years, it’s a good idea to watch it closely. If it’s older than that, or if you notice that anything isn’t working like you’d prefer, maybe it’s time to get in touch with the HVAC experts at Rodenhiser.
We have helped Massachusetts homeowners live more comfortably for over 85 years, and we’re still providing great service. Homeowners in the Route 495/ 128 area communities know our name, and so should you. Contact us today for HVAC service or to talk about your options with a whole new system.
If your home heating system is on its last leg, now’s the time to consider a replacement. How do you choose from a furnace, heat pump or a hybrid system? Here are some basic facts about each one to help you figure out which is best for your home.
Boilers are a common way to heat homes in Massachusetts, but an old, inefficient boiler can be a real fuel hog. Upgrading a boiler at the right time can save you a ton of money with lower energy costs in the future.
Are you afraid of what the financial future holds as temperatures drop in your Massachusetts home? There is an obvious need for concern, but there are plenty of ways you can lower heating bills this season. In fact, we’ve gathered together some of our favorites right here:
Tune up the system – An annual tune-up of the furnace by a licensed HVAC contractor will not only improve its efficiency, but also extend its operating life.
Upgrade the thermostat – If the heating and cooling of your Massachusetts home is still controlled by a manual thermostat, you’re behind the times and most likely wasting money. A programmable thermostat will allow you to designate when the equipment is in operation, which can help you gain control over costs.
Purchase a space heater – The cost of running a furnace to heat your home is a significant portion of your heating bill. Space heaters use less energy to operate and can keep you warm, especially when everyone is in the same room.
Replace weatherstripping – The application of weatherstripping around the edges of doors and windows is a great way to keep air leaks at bay. Of course, these strips don’t last forever. If they’re beginning to show wear, you should replace them.
Eliminate drafts around outlets – Many household outlets don’t have the proper insulation behind them. While this may not seem like a big deal, the loss of air can increase heating costs. To fix this, first remove the plate. Then apply either acrylic latex caulk for small gaps or foam sealant for larger ones. And before you replace the plate, place a foam gasket over the outlet for further protection.
Use sweaters and blankets – When it gets cold inside, many of us immediately reach for the thermostat to turn up the heat. Staying warm with sweaters and blankets is a more cost-effective option.
For more expert advice on how to lower heating bills, or for any other questions related to home comfort, please contact the friendly professionals at Rodenhiser Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning. We proudly serve the Route 495/128 area of Massachusetts.
How concerned should you be if your heat pump freezes over? Maybe not very—at least, not just yet. If a light coating of frost appears on the heat pump’s external coils, as well as the refrigerant lines that run into the house, it probably just means the outdoor temperature’s dropped to 40 degrees or below and the amount of water vapor in the air is above 70 percent. Since the heat pump coil typically runs about 20 degrees lower than the outdoor temperature, dew forming on the cold coil and refrigerant conduit freezes into a dusty layer of frost.
Two caveats are important to keep in mind when your heat pump freezes over:
Frost should be a temporary issue. Heat pumps incorporate defrosting technology to automatically eliminate frost on the coils. A reversing valve in the system redirects warm refrigerant flow back the outdoor coil and melts the frost. These systems may be actuated at regular intervals by a timer or controlled by a microprocessor that senses frost conditions.In any case, the appearance of frost on the heat pump shouldn’t linger for more than a couple of hours. If frost continues to accumulate beyond that time frame, a defect in the defrost cycle may have occurred.
Ice is another matter. A thick coating of ice on the coil differs from a layer of frost. Ice forming on a heat pump may eventually encase the entire unit and obstruct airflow through the coil. Usually, the system will either run non-stop or automatically shut down.If obvious causes such as falling sleet or freezing rain are ruled out, thick ice accumulation on a heat pump indicates potential malfunctions such as a low refrigerant charge, which is usually indicative of a leak, a defective defrost timer or sensor, or a stuck reversing valve.
For anything more than light frost accumulation that melts within a few hours, contact a qualified HVAC service provider.
Home heating systems can stop working for a wide range of reasons, and none of them are welcome on a cold winter’s night. Some system breakdowns may be relatively easy to fix yourself. When you can’t fix it, any additional information you can pass on to a qualified service technician may help speed repairs. Start troubleshooting heating in these three primary areas.
Inspect Air Filters
Air filters frequently get dirty or clogged, and not just the filter inside the furnace. Check the furnace filter every month, and change it at least once or twice a year.
The cold air intakes and heat vents generally also have filters. Look at each individual filter; remove any large debris that may be caught in them, and change the filters if they’re clogged with dust. Ensure that all registers are fully open.
Confirm the Thermostat Works
Programmable thermostats need batteries to work properly, and they may not function properly if the battery is low. Check that the display lights properly and doesn’t show any battery warnings. Next, locate the breaker associated with the thermostat and make sure it’s turned on.
If you want to go into advanced thermostat troubleshooting, you can shut off the breaker and cross the two wires that serve the furnace. Flip the breaker back on. If the furnace fires, the thermostat is the problem.
Check the Furnace
The pilot light should be visible inside the heat exchanger on the furnace. If you don’t see a flame when the furnace is off, then you may need to re-light it. Pilots that don’t re-light properly may have a supply issue that a furnace technician needs to assess and fix.
If the pilot is on but doesn’t ignite the burners when the thermostat calls for heat, the ignitor is the likely culprit. Turn off the gas reset valve for at least five minutes, and then turn it on and try again. Call a technician if it still won’t light.
Before you install a new furnace in your Massachusetts home, you may have to decide between oil or gas as the fuel source, depending on where you live. Both gas and oil furnaces have advantages and disadvantages, and the following guide will help you determine which option may be best for your home.
Gas Furnace Pros and Cons
Natural gas furnaces are more efficient overall than oil furnaces, with AFUE ratings of 89 to 98 percent common today, as compared to modern oil furnaces, which have AFUE ratings of 80 to 90 percent.
Gas furnaces require less maintenance, with only one or two service visits needed annually, depending on the model, while oil furnaces require more frequent maintenance due to soot buildup and oil filter changes.
Gas furnaces also tend to be quieter and cleaner to operate, and natural gas costs as little as a third of the price per heating season.
On the other hand, gas furnaces tend to be more expensive than their oil counterparts, by up to 25 percent for the most efficient models, and your home must be located in an area that has natural gas service installed.
Oil Furnace Pros and Cons
Oil furnaces are convenient because they can be installed in remote areas that aren’t serviced by natural gas lines. The home heating oil is delivered as needed by a fuel company, and typically routine furnace maintenance is included as part of the delivery contract. Oil furnaces are less expensive than comparable gas furnaces, and they often produce more heat per BTU of fuel used.
The major disadvantages of oil furnaces include the requirement for on-site fuel storage and the higher expense of home heating oil per heating season. Oil isn’t as clean-burning as gas, requiring more frequent maintenance, and oil furnaces tend to be louder and less efficient than gas models.
An oversized furnace isn’t a better furnace. Too much heat can actually make your living spaces less comfortable in winter, not more. It’s also wasteful from an energy efficiency standpoint, as well as a from a financial one.
In the past, residential furnaces were often “one-sized” rather than installed on the basis of an accurate load calculation of the actual thermal requirements of the home. To cover for the inevitable errors in this process, builders and contractors simply installed a furnace that was too big for the job. Many homeowners are stuck paying for these past mistakes.