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Tune your HVAC so you don’t need auxiliary heat

Before you know it, the cold winds of winter will be whistling off the mountains, down the valleys, all the way to the shore and around our homes. Time to get your heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC) system tuned up and ready to provide the heat you want when and where you want it.

A properly tuned HVAC system is going to operate at its maximum efficiency. This means it is producing the amount of heat it is designed to generate using the least amount of energy. This saves you money and also provides enough heat to warm your entire home without requiring auxiliary heat sources such as space heaters, wood stoves, or kerosene units. It also improves the safety of your furnace if you have a fossil fuel system.

So how can a furnace in peak trim reduce the need for auxiliary heat sources? The answer is this, before installing the heating system, any HVAC contractor worth his or her salt will run a heat loss calculation on your home and select a furnace that can supply the amount needed to reach the desired temperature on its own. These calculations take into account insulation levels, size of the home, number, and type of windows and doors, number of floors, efficiency of the furnace, and the desired temperature level, among other things.

Over time, the furnace will lose some of its efficiency due to aging components, debris build up on burners, clogged filters, etc. An inefficient furnace results in two things; higher utility bills because it requires proportionately more fuel to produce enough heat and it may struggle to deliver heat to where you want it.

One thing I have encountered through the years is the effect of damper position on heat and cold air distribution. Dampers are plates installed inside the ductwork of forced air systems. These are used to direct the conditioned air through the ductwork and to control the volume of conditioned air that reaches each section. Unfortunately, the dampers are inside the ductwork and out of sight. While their handles are supposed to be installed in line with the damper to provide a visual representation of the damper position, I have owned homes where this was not the case. And dampers are a crude way to control air flow and are easy to set improperly. Be sure to have the HVAC technician check these for you as well.

What should a comprehensive tune up include? I did some online research and found the excellent, comprehensive list below. It did not include damper inspection so I added that and since it focused on fossil fuel furnaces, I added a two items for heat pumps.

Heating System Tune-up: Admiral HVAC
Inspect burners, pilot assembly and sensors. Clean if applicable
Safety check heat exchanger for cracks or damage
Check and lubricate blower motor and moving parts if necessary
Check flue for proper draft
Check humidifier – Replace evaporator pad if needed
Inspect thermocouple – Replace if needed
Inspect air for burner efficiency – Adjust as necessary
Check fan limit controls
Check wiring
Check condensate drain and pump – Clean if needed
Check and clean condensate trap
Check thermostat
Check safety controls
Check pressure switches
Inspect damper positions – Adjust as necessary
Inspect furnace filter – Replace if needed
Inspect air cleaner – Replace media if needed
Inspect inside and outside coils and equipment – Clean as needed
Check refrigerant levels – Add as needed
Check system operation/evaluate performance

A system tune up will save you money, improve safety in fossil fuel systems, and remove the need for auxiliary heat. There are a couple of caveats, though. If your system was improperly sized to begin with or your home was expanded without upgrading the HVAC to account for the increased space, your furnace (and AC) are not going to condition your home effectively or efficiently. Also, if your insulation or windows are not up to snuff, you will experience cold rooms. This is especially true over tuck-under garages and in rooms with lots of windows.

So, call a trusted contractor and give your HVAC equipment a thorough tune up. Now you can enjoy the clean and convenient comfort of a properly functioning furnace all winter.