How to Keep Your HVAC System Working Efficiently

The average home spends nearly $1,900 a year on energy bills. But did you know that nearly half of that goes to heating and cooling costs?  

Dirt and neglect are the top causes of heating and cooling system failure and inefficiency. Maintaining your equipment will keep your system operating at peak performance and prevent future problems and unwanted costs. 

Here are some steps you can take to keep your system operating smoothly: 

Get Annual Pre-Season Check-ups 

Hire a professional contractor to perform routine maintenance of your equipment. Contractors get busy once summer and winter come, so it's best to schedule a checkup of the cooling system in the spring and the heating system in the fall. ENERGY STAR has a maintenance checklist of what you should expect your contractor to do during these visits. 

Inspect and Clean or Change Air Filters 

A dirty air filter will cause your heating and cooling system to work harder to distribute air throughout your home. This can increase energy costs and damage your equipment, leading to early failure. Therefore, it’s important to check your air filter once a month in your central air conditioner, furnace, and/or heat pump. If it’s dirty, take action! Either clean it if your system has a reusable filter or change it if your system requires a replacement.  

Tip: Get your contractor to show you how to replace or clean your filter on one of their maintenance visits.  

How to Change your HVAC Air Filter: 

Step 1: Locate the current filter. It 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. See an example of where to find the filter in this video.  

Homeowner removing and inspecting HVAC filter.

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. Your local hardware store will carry filter replacements.  

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. 

Install a Smart Thermostat  

A smart thermostat is a Wi-Fi enabled device that automatically adjusts heating and cooling temperature settings in your home for optimal performance. These devices offer the ability to monitor and adjust your home’s temperature even when you are away.   

A smart thermostat that’s earned the ENERGY STAR is independently certified to deliver energy savings based on extensive field data. Some ENERGY STAR certified smart thermostats provide monthly reports of energy usage which you can use to compare performance over time. 

ENERGY STAR smart thermostats can be controlled remotely, so if you forget to change the thermostat before you leave for vacation, it can be adjusted from anywhere you have a cellular connection. 

Each product uses slightly different features to help homeowners save energy, so do your research, and choose the ENERGY STAR certified smart thermostat that's right for you

Seal Your Ducts 

In houses with forced-air heating and cooling systems, air is distributed through the house’s ducts. In a typical house, however, about 20 to 30 percent of the air that moves through the duct system is lost due to leaks, holes, and poorly connected ducts. The result is higher utility bills and difficulty keeping the house comfortable, no matter what temperature you set your thermostat to.  

If you choose to seal your own ducts, start by sealing air leaks using mastic sealant or metal tape and insulating all the ducts that you can access (such as those in attics, crawlspaces, unfinished basements, and garages). Never use duct tape, as it is not long-lasting. Also, make sure that the connections at vents and registers are well-sealed where they meet the floors, walls, and ceiling. 

Many homeowners choose to work with a professional contractor for duct improvement projects. Most heating and cooling equipment contractors also repair ductwork. 

Other Considerations 

If your heating and cooling equipment is more than 10 years old and you are noticing telltale signs of system failure, now may be the time to consider a replacement. Depending on where you live, replacing your old heating and cooling system with one that’s earned the ENERGY STAR can save you nearly $140 annually. ENERGY STAR’s Heating and Cooling Guide can help you navigate an equipment upgrade. 

Author: Denise Minor-Hoes