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Keep your HVAC System Ticking like a Well-Oiled Machine

After our cars and our homes, our heating and cooling systems are the most expensive thing most of us own.  Yet, unlike our cars, we don’t think about it until it breaks.  It’s in a closet, or the basement, quietly working to keep us comfortable, and as long as that is true, we ignore it.  But doesn’t it make sense to take care of it, so it works more efficiently and lasts longer?  Here are some simple steps you can take to keep your system in good shape.

  1. Check and change or clean the filter.  If your system moves air around your house, it has an air filter, and that is meant to be checked and replaced regularly.  This is like changing the oil in your car, except much easier, faster, cheaper and cleaner to do.  Not only does it filter dust, pollen, pet hair, etc. out of the air you breathe, it also keeps that stuff from gumming up your equipment.  Once it is coated with dust and grime, your system will be choking, and it won’t be able to deliver the cool air you need.  In addition, all that work wastes energy without delivering comfort.  Lastly, running the cooling without enough air flow damages your cooling equipment. Fortunately, changing a filter is easy to do!

Step 1: Locate the current filter: The filter will be easily accessible on the side or bottom of your unit, possibly behind a door or in a bracket.  If your unit is in the attic, the filter may be just inside a screen on the ceiling or wall of a room or hallway on the top floor of your house. If so, the screen will have small levers that allow you to open it easily. Your local hardware store will carry replacements.  

Step 2: Turn off your furnace, A/C and fan using your thermostat, your circuit breaker panel, or a switch if you have one. 

Step 3: Open the access cover or grill (if you have one) and pull out the old filter. Before you pull it all the way out, look for the arrow on the side, indicating which way to put the filter in.  There will also be an arrow on the edge of the new filter.  The arrows should always point towards the furnace or blower unit. 

Step 4: Insert the new filter carefully – it should be a tight fit, so you may need to wiggle it a bit. 

Step 5: Close the access cover.  If you don’t have a cover, and can see the edge of the filter, it’s a good idea to grab some duct tape or a magnetic cover to seal that space.

That’s it!  You’re done.  If you have any questions, ask your contractor to show you how.

  1. Have a professional come take a look.  It’s a good idea to have a contractor come take a look at your heating and cooling equipment regularly, like a checkup on your carBy far the best time to do so is Fall or Spring, when it isn’t very hot or cold.  That’s also when the contractors are less busy, so they charge less and can schedule a visit when it’s convenient for you. ENERGY STAR has a checklist of what you can expect your contractor to do.
  1. Don’t forget to let it rest when you can.  If your HVAC system is heating an empty house, it’s like your car driving around without taking you anywhere – you waste the gas and put more miles on that engine.  Setting the thermostat lower in cold weather months when you don’t need as much heat can save money and energy.
  1. Should you think about replacement?  If your A/C or furnace are more than 10 years old, thinking ahead about a replacement is a good idea.  Replacing it can save a lot of money (more than $100 a year) and you can schedule it at your convenience, and when contractors are cheaper.  Before you do that, make sure you’ve sealed up big air leaks around your home, and find a contractor you can trust.

For more information on keeping your home comfortable and energy efficient, check out the ENERGY STAR website.