Four Tips for a Healthy Furnace and Wallet Through the Cold Months
It’s the New Year! And we’re betting you didn’t make any resolutions involving HVAC.
And you probably didn’t make any resolutions about being colder, or dealing with furnace emergencies, or paying more for your heating bills, either.
But after 40 years of HVAC service in Pittsburgh, we know that some homeowners are going to face those things in the New Year. Right when they’re trying to make new, healthy habits, they’ll find themselves making a fire to keep warm instead.
Which honestly isn’t a bad way to make some extra holiday memories with the fam. But still, we don’t recommend it.
So today, we’re sharing our four best tips for keeping your HVAC costs low, your New Year cheer high, and your wallet in better shape this winter.
Let’s get into it!
Tip #1: Keep Up with Furnace Maintenance
Your furnace is probably not in your line of sight as you go about your day. And everything your HVAC does is practically invisible. So we understand that you may think about your furnace only when there’s a problem, like some strange noise or smell. Or of course, a lack of heat.
But when you attend to your furnace regularly, the problems are rare.
So if you haven’t already, find a reputable HVAC company and sign up for their yearly maintenance program.
A good program consists of two HVAC checkups per year: one in the fall or early winter, and one in the spring or early summer.
Each maintenance visit typically includes cleaning the equipment, lubricating moving parts, replacing worn parts, checking refrigerant levels, replacing filters, and ensuring that your system runs well overall.
Other hallmarks of a good HVAC maintenance program:
- The company contacts you when it’s time for your tune-up, so you don’t have to remember.
- Your membership comes with priority scheduling and some discounts on products and services.
Still not convinced? An HVAC maintenance plan saves you money in all the following ways:
- It prevents damages and repairs caused by things like clogged filters, worn-out components, and ignition system malfunctions.
- It increases your HVAC’s efficiency. A worn furnace works harder and costs you more in utility bills. But a cleaned and tuned furnace runs smoothly and uses less energy. Over the long run, efficiency gains add up to substantial savings.
- It lengthens your HVAC’s lifespan. Like any other machine, a furnace that is well cared for lasts longer. Without regular maintenance, you’ll probably have to spend thousands replacing your furnace sooner than you’d like.
Tip #2: Don’t Ignore Air Quality
We’re cheating a little on this tip. It’s actually three tips in one. But the freshness and cleanliness of the air you breathe is that important.
We find that homeowners underestimate the huge impact that their HVAC systems have on their indoor air quality.
And in turn, indoor air quality has a huge impact on you – your health, your comfort, and your wallet.
The fact is, fresh, clean air in your home does all of the following:
- Reduces exposure to allergens and airborne impurities.
- Helps prevent respiratory conditions and even some illnesses.
- Improves sleep quality.
- Preserve your HVAC system and all its components.
A lot of people will spend years (and tons of money) trying to alleviate their respiratory or sleep issues while neglecting the fact that their indoor air quality could be part of the problem.
Here’s what you need to do:
Tip #2A: Use High-Quality Furnace Filters
Your filter is the first line of defense for you and for your HVAC system against pollutants like dust, debris, and allergens. Your filter’s job is to trap these contaminants and keep them out of your respiratory system and your furnace’s components.
However, not all filters are created equal.
In our experience, high-quality filters are worth the extra (but still relatively small) increase in price over standard filters.
What do we mean by “high-quality filters”?
A higher-quality furnace filter is able to trap more and smaller pollutants. It is typically made of advanced HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) or electrostatic materials that are densely woven together. And it is designed to capture all types of particles — like dust, pollen, mold spores, and even some bacteria — as small as 0.3 microns in size. That’s 300 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair.
This is in contrast to standard filters, which do a fine job of offering basic protection for you and your HVAC system. A standard filter is often made of fiberglass or polyester. (Both of those materials are present in higher-quality filters too, but higher-quality filters have more advanced combinations and densities.) A standard filter is designed to capture larger particles — like dust, lint, and pet hair — that are at least 10 microns in size.
We described all the different types of filters in a previous post. That post references the summer months, but its guidance applies in the winter too because your filter is the same no matter the season. Check it out!
Tip #2B: Change Your Furnace Filters Often
If you follow tip #1 above, you’ll enjoy the convenience of twice-yearly filter replacements performed by your HVAC company.
If using lower-quality furnace filters, you should change your filters more often than twice per year. We suggest once per month, especially during seasons of heavy use.
We know that sounds like a lot, but here’s the thing: furnace filters fill up and get dirty rather quickly, and then they can’t do their job. Instead, they’ll let dust and contaminants flow freely throughout your home.
Dirty filters also restrict airflow, which makes your furnace work harder, consume more energy, wear out faster, and drive up your utility bills.
Your HVAC company can change your filters more frequently than twice per year if you’d like. Or you can do this job yourself. It’s usually straightforward once you get the hang of it. Here’s what you need to do:
- For safety, turn off your furnace before attempting to replace the filter.
- Find the filter compartment on your HVAC system. It’s typically near the return air duct or furnace blower.
- Slide out the old filter. Note the direction of the airflow arrows on the filter; this indicates the proper positioning.
- Note the filter size, which is usually printed on the side of the filter or in your HVAC system’s manual.
- Buy a replacement filter of the same size and type. Or upgrade to a higher-quality filter if your HVAC system accommodates it. You can ask your HVAC company for a recommendation.
- Slide in the new filter in the same fashion as you removed the old one.
Note that some homeowners have permanent, reusable filters that must be washed rather than replaced. These are usually electrostatic or foam filters. In this case, we recommend frequent washings according to the manufacturer’s directions.
Tip #2C: Consider an Indoor Air Quality System
An indoor air quality system, often referred to as an air purification system, is a game changer.
This type of system goes above and beyond trapping dirt and allergens to trap a wider range of contaminants, including ultrafine particles, allergens, bacteria, and viruses. For this reason, it’s a great investment for homes that have pets, seniors, or anyone with special health concerns.
An indoor air quality system is also a fabulous companion for your furnace, helping its components stay ultra-clean. In fact, some HVAC manufacturers design their furnaces, air conditioners, and air purification systems to work together seamlessly.
We discussed the types and benefits of indoor air quality systems in a previous post. Have a look!
Tip #3: Invest in a Smart Thermostat
A smart thermostat wants to save you money.
These gadgets are technological geniuses, and they’re on your side. They’re programmable so you don’t have to wing it on manual temperature control. Nor do you have to leave your home (and wallet) open to the whims of family members who tend to take thermostat control into their own hands.
Beyond that, smart thermostats have remote capabilities so you can monitor and control your indoor environment even when you’re not there, and receive reports if anything is amiss.
And what’s most beneficial about smart thermostats is that they have learning capabilities. Here’s what they can do:
- Adaptive scheduling: Smart thermostats learn your heating and cooling preferences over time. They analyze patterns in your daily routine, such as when you wake up, leave home, return, and go to sleep. Then they create a heating and cooling schedule tailored for you.
- Location-based operation: Using geofencing technology, smart thermostats detect when you’re approaching or leaving home based on the location of your smartphone. Then they adjust your home’s temperature settings accordingly. This saves energy when you’re away and ensures your comfort upon your return.
- Weather forecast integration: Some smart thermostats follow the weather forecast and adjust your heating or cooling in advance of changing temperatures or conditions.
- Motion and presence detection: Smart thermostats can use occupancy sensors to determine whether rooms are empty, occupied by one or two people, or filled with many people. Then they set room temperatures accordingly.
Tip #4: Button Up Your Home
Sure, HVAC is a specialized skill. And if you’re in the market for a replacement, it’s a large purchasing decision that takes some time.
But two HVAC tips are totally within your control, even if you have little time and no expertise:
Unblock Your Vents and Registers
In a lot of homes — especially older ones, where odd angles or room shapes make furniture placement a challenge — we see furnishings in front or on top of vents and registers.
This happens even more often during the holiday season when folks have to rearrange a room to accommodate a Christmas tree.
We know it can be a decor challenge, but you really must clear the spaces around your vents and registers.
When these are obstructed, so is the airflow in your home. Restricted airflow is one of the causes of hot and cold spots, which are annoying. Plus they’re not good for your furnace. Blocked vents also put a strain on your HVAC system as it tries to force air around obstacles.
Moving furnishings away from vents and registers makes a difference you can feel. What you lose in feng shui, you gain in even heating, comfort, efficiency, and energy savings.
Seal the Leaks and Gaps
A lot of people will blame their furnace for underperforming when the real story is that they’re hobbling it with leaks and gaps throughout their home.
Leaky windows and doors let precious warm air escape, forcing your furnace to work harder to maintain the temperature you want. Even the most high-end, high-efficiency, modern furnace is no match for multiple streams of cold air invading your home all day.
We always recommend that homeowners invest in weather stripping to prevent heat loss. There are lots of types of weather stripping available at your local hardware store. Here’s what to look for in choosing the type you buy:
- Effectiveness: Does it produce a tight seal?
- Ease of installation: Can you install it yourself or do you need a handyman or contractor?
- Durability: Does it perform in high-traffic areas or exposed outdoor locations?
- Resistance to elements: Does it stand up to moisture, sunlight, and temperature fluctuations?
- Maintenance: Does it require periodic replacement or care? If so, how often?
- Aesthetics: Does it blend with your home’s design and decor?
There you have it, Pittsburgh: keep up with your HVAC maintenance, pay attention to air quality, consider a smart thermostat, and button up your home. If you do those things, you’ll be nice and toasty this winter, and your furnace will be happy too.
If you have any questions, or suspect your furnace isn’t happy no matter how much TLC you give it, call or text us at 412-952-5923. You can also contact us via our website any time. We look forward to serving you!