As the cold weather approaches, the change in temperature makes heating system maintenance concern for many homeowners. In Montgomery, AL, chances are that most people have had their heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems on the “cool” setting for several months. Once the temperatures fall, these systems shift from “cooling” to “heating,” and that means a major change in the way they operate. To prepare for the changing seasons, homeowners should familiarize themselves with how HVAC systems work.
HVAC System Basics
HVAC systems are one of the most complicated things inside a home. They have many moving parts, and understanding what they do can help homeowners know what to check before winter sets in. Below are some of the most important parts of an HVAC system.
The thermostat is the part of the heating system with which homeowners are most familiar. It is placed on an easily accessible wall and manually programmed to the homeowner’s preferred ambient temperature. If the temperature falls below where the thermostat is set, the system kicks on automatically.
The condensing unit is located on the outside of the home and is part of the air conditioning or heating system. It helps keep the home cool by bringing hot air from inside the home to the outdoor air. It does this by compressing a warm gas into a cold liquid while a fan works to disperse the heat. In order to heat the home, the system is reversed, and warm air is collected from the outdoors and forced inside.
The evaporator coil is the source of cold air in a cooling system. It allows the compressed refrigerant to evaporate into a gas, absorbing heat in the process. Fans blow warm air from inside of the home over the evaporator coil. Condensation occurs when warm air comes in contact with the cold evaporator coil, which lowers the humidity and temperature inside the home.
The furnace typically takes up the most space of all the HVAC components. The furnace heats either air, steam, or water and distributes it throughout the home via ductwork, pipes, radiators, or other means. Furnaces have a range of ways to generate heat, including combustion of oil, natural gas, or propane, electric heat, or heat pumps.
The heat exchanger is located inside the furnace and is responsible for transferring heat to the surrounding air. Typically, a heat exchanger is a series of metal coils that are heated when the furnace starts. The furnace blower motor forces air over the coils, causing the air to heat up. The warm air is then circulated throughout the home’s ductwork.
The furnace blower motor starts when the heat exchanger has reached the desired temperature. Many newer blower motors run at variable speeds to more accurately control the temperature throughout the home, which saves on energy costs. Variable-speed blower motors can even help to reduce humidity in the summer.
Heating System Maintenance
Maintaining equipment is imperative to the longevity of an HVAC unit. Regular maintenance prevents problems and expensive repairs. There are certain things a homeowner should do to get their home heating ready for the winter.
Check Air Filters
Replacing air filters is one of the most important parts of HVAC system maintenance. Dirty air filters significantly reduce the system’s efficiency and increase indoor air pollution. Air filters are relatively easy to replace, but homeowners must know the size they need. Using a filter that does not fit properly can cause significant damage to the system.
Check for Unusual Noises
Most heating units make some noises when they startup. However, excessive knocking, buzzing, or rattling can show a more serious problem with the furnace. Homeowners should turn on their heat before winter sets in and check for any unusual noises. If they notice something out of the ordinary, they should call for furnace repair before it gets too cold outside.
Clear the Vents
Blocked vents are one of the most common causes of heating issues. Over time, vents collect dirt and debris that can clog up the system and lead to improper or uneven heating. Homeowners should be sure to clear their vents of anything that may block airflow and move any furniture or other large objects away from the vents.
Schedule Routine Maintenance
Perhaps the most important thing homeowners can do to prepare their heating systems for winter is to schedule routine maintenance with an HVAC professional. Since HVAC systems are so complicated, many homeowners do not know what parts to check or what a faulty part looks or acts like. As part of routine heating service, HVAC professionals check all the different parts and connections of the furnace, inspect the entire HVAC system for issues, replace parts that are broken or worn out, and identify problems that may become a larger issue. Routine maintenance should be done twice a year, right before the time when a person needs to switch their unit between “heat” and “cool.”
Get a Humidifier
Cold weather can make the air feel dry and uncomfortable. Heating units often dry the air out further, which can have a negative impact on a person’s health. A humidifier not only prevents dry skin and some illnesses, but it can make the air feel warmer. The extra feeling of warmth keeps a person from turning their heat up as often, saving them money on energy costs.
What to do if the Heat Doesn’t Work
The cold weather has set in, and the heat won’t turn on, what now? This is an alarming situation for homeowners in Montgomery, AL, who are risking their health and safety by living in a cold house. Here is what a person should do if they find their heat is not working during the winter:
Check the Thermostat
The easiest fix for heating issues is a malfunctioning thermostat. Homeowners should check to make sure they have it set to “heat.” If it is on the heat setting but is still not working, they should check to see if the batteries need to be replaced.
Check the Air Filters
As explained above, dirty air filters can impede the furnace’s ability to heat the home properly. If a homeowner notices that their furnace is on, but the flow coming from their vents is weak, then a dirty air filter may be the cause of the issue. If changing the filter does not improve airflow, then it is time to look for other potential issues.
Check the Electrical
Furnaces draw a lot of electrical power to start their heating cycles. Occasionally, the furnace turning on can trip the breaker or blow a fuse. Homeowners should check their home’s electrical panel to see if the breaker has been tripped. If so, they can easily reset it to see if that solves the problem. If the furnace’s electrical power uses a fuse system, finding the blown fuse and replacing it should resolve the issue quickly.
Check the Pilot Light
Gas or oil furnaces are equipped with a pilot light, which burns a tiny flame continuously. This flame ignites the fuel in the furnace once it kicks on. If the pilot light goes out, then the furnace can’t burn fuel to heat the house.
Call an HVAC Repair Service
Troubleshooting heating issues can be much more involved than the average person can handle. Even if a homeowner can get their heat running again, it is unlikely they know enough to identify any underlying issues that can rear their ugly heads later on. Missing issues or improperly repairing an HVAC unit component can be dangerous and costly. The best way to handle the heat going out is by contacting a professional heating repair service as soon as possible.
Reasons the Heat is not Working
There are many reasons an HVAC unit may fail to heat the home properly. Only a professional HVAC technician can identify the true cause and make the appropriate repairs. Below are some of the most common reasons that the heat may not be working.
Poor maintenance is the foremost reason that heat stops working. When a homeowner skips maintenance by an HVAC professional before winter, several issues can cause their heat to work improperly.
Dirty Blower Motor
When the blower motor is dirty, it cannot move cool air over the heat exchanger. When that happens, the heat exchanger overheats and can burn out. This leads to the entire system failing to produce any heat.
Dirty Flame Sensor
A flame sensor is a small piece of metal that sits in front of the flame inside the furnace. Its job is to detect a flame is present whenever gas valves are open. If it does not detect a flame, the furnace will shut down shortly after it turns on (called short cycling). When the system is not properly cleaned, the flame sensor develops a layer of gunk that causes it to malfunction.
On combustion furnaces, the burner is the place where fuel and air mix and is then burned to create heat. If the burners are dirty, the furnace may produce little or no heat. Dirty burners make the furnace incapable of reaching the right temperature. When that happens, the blower motors do not turn on, and no heat moves from the furnace to the rest of the house.
Additionally, the burner creates a lot of rumbling and booming noises when it is having difficulty igniting. When the system receives regular maintenance from an HVAC professional, this and many other issues can be avoided.
When a new furnace is installed, it has to be calibrated to the manufacturer’s recommended settings in order for it to work properly. If the installation was done poorly, the furnace could receive too much gas. This will cause an unnecessarily high heating bill, but it could also cause the furnace to overheat and short cycle.
If the refrigerant is low, the system will run more frequently, which can make energy costs jump up. Since refrigerant moves in a closed system, low refrigerant is most likely the result of a leak. It is critical for homeowners to have this inspected by an HVAC professional, as refrigerant is a dangerous chemical and needs to be handled properly.
Malfunctioning Blower Capacitor
The blower capacitor starts the furnace when the thermostat signals it to switch on. If the heat is not turning on, it could be because the blower capacitor is not producing enough power to move the blower at the right speed. A malfunctioning capacitor can also cause severe damage to the blower which can be expensive to fix. During routine maintenance, HVAC professionals will check the blower capacitor to make sure it works before it becomes a bigger issue.
Cracked Heat Exchanger
Cracked heat exchangers may not cause the system to fail entirely, but it is dangerous. Not only do they make the system inefficient, but a cracked heat exchanger leaks carbon monoxide into the air, which is a highly toxic gas that can lead to illness and death. Additionally, cracked heat exchangers allow dirt and debris inside the system, which can reduce airflow and cause heating issues. It is imperative that homeowners have their system checked for potential leaks.
Bad Ductwork Design or Installation
The home’s ductwork transfers heat generated by the furnace to various areas inside the home. When the ductwork is poorly designed or installed, the system will never reach maximum efficiency. Homeowners may pull their hair out, trying to identify an issue with their furnace, only for the issue to result from bad ductwork. HVAC professionals can identify the heating system’s real issue and present the homeowner with their repair options.
Get Ready for Winter
Home heating systems are complicated, and a lot can go wrong. Regular maintenance by an HVAC professional can help homeowners prepare their system for winter and prevent major issues that can leave them with a cold house. HVAC companies get busy once winter sets in, so it is important to schedule maintenance early to keep the heating system in top shape.
Still, emergencies can happen even to people who have made the best preparations for the cold season. If that happens, homeowners in Montgomery, AL can call AirNow Cooling & Heating for 24/7 service. Whether it’s for routine maintenance, special repairs, or an emergency, homeowners can call 334-285-7065 to schedule a service.