Autumn is a time of transition. When the temperatures drop, the winds rise, and the leaves change color, it means air conditioning season is over, and the winter heating season is fast approaching.
In the coming months, your furnace and/or heat pump will be charged with the task of keeping your family warm and comfortable on even the coldest winter days. But there is more to home heating than just setting your thermostat at 70 degrees and letting it run night and day.
To get the most out of your heating system, you need to pamper it, customize it, and support it with smart home maintenance actions. You should get to work on all of this at least a month or two before heating season arrives to make sure your equipment is ready to function as efficiently as possible right from the first moment you need it.
Here are some pre-winter preparation tips that will put your HVAC system in prime working order and get your home ready for the long, cold months to come:
- Plug or fill all potential sources of air leakage. Use caulk and weatherstripping to fill in and around windows, doors, pipes, electrical outlets, and other areas where small air leaks can lead to big energy loss.
- Clean everything. When your home is shut up tight for the winter, your indoor air quality can deteriorate, putting your family at risk for respiratory disorders and other types of allergic reactions. To remove potential sources of contamination, clean your house thoroughly from top to bottom a few weeks before the heating season begins.
- Inspect your insulation and add more if you find gaps. Attics and basements are areas of special interest. Spray-foam insulation is probably your best bet if you decide to add more insulation, since spray-foam will penetrate and fill cracks, crevices, and small openings wherever they might exist.
- Check and clean all air vents. Over the course of the summer, your intake and output vents may become clogged with dust, dirt, and other forms of particulate matter. This can restrict air flow and reduce your HVAC systemâ€™s efficiency.
- Add a humidifier to your home comfort arsenal. Humidifiers will help improve air quality, and moist air also feels warmer than dry air, which means youâ€™ll be able to set your thermostat a few degrees lower than normal and still feel comfortable.
- Reverse the direction of your ceiling fans. They should run clockwise (at low speeds) during the winter, drawing cool air upward and forcing warm air downward. The use of ceiling fans in winter can cut heating costs down by 5-10 percent.
- Change your HVAC air filter. This should be done on a monthly or bimonthly basis during the winter months, depending on the quality of the air filter you purchase. You should avoid the cheap fiberglass models and look for something of better qualityâ€”like a pleated or electrostatic filter.
- Install double-glazed or low e-glass windows. By adding an extra pane of glass or low-emissivity glass coatings, you can cut heat loss through your windows by as much as 40 percent.
- Have your ductwork inspected and cleaned or repaired if necessary. Find a reliable duct cleaning company with good online reviews (there are scammers out there, so beware!), and make an appointment to have your ducts checked for leakage and/or excessive contamination.
- Call your HVAC contractor to arrange a full maintenance inspection of your furnace and/or heat pump. A full inspection and tune-up for your furnace and/or heat pump should be a fixture on your autumn â€œto doâ€ list.Â A trained technician can find and repair small problems before they turn into gigantic mechanical failures, while performing basic maintenance procedures that can restore your equipment to tip-top working order.
The first winter storm is poised to hit the Triad; is your home ready?
Hereâ€™s a checklist of things to do before the storm hits:
- Clear your gutters; they canâ€™t direct water away from your house if theyâ€™re clogged with leaves and debris.
- Trim your trees. The Triad is especially prone to ice storms, which can cause ice to accumulate on branches. Ice-laden branches can then break off and fall on your home, car, or power lines.
- Cover your outdoor HVAC unit. Although we generally recommend leaving the unit uncovered for the winter, a blizzard is one of the few reasons that we recommend temporarily covering it. After the storm, remove the cover and clear the area of snow and ice.
- Make sure your sump pump is working by pouring a five-gallon bucket of water into the well. If it seems to be lagging, make sure itâ€™s clear of debris. For other problems, call Johns Heating, Plumbing, and Air Conditioning as soon as possible.
- Familiarize yourself with your electrical panel and power main.
- Make sure your furnace and heating system is working at full power by scheduling a check-up with Johns.
- Charge your phone.
- Secure all outdoor furniture, bicycles, etc.
- Create an emergency kit with flashlights, extra batteries, first aid supplies, candles, matches, food, and fresh water.
Winter has finally reached the Triad; are you ready? Hopefully, youâ€™ve already had Johns Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning do our seasonal maintenance on your HVAC system. But now the question arises: should you cover your air conditioning unit for the winter?
This is a question that has been hotly debated for years, and thereâ€™s not exactly a simple answer. Read on to learn about the pros and cons of covering your air conditioner, and to decide on the best choice for you.
Reasons to Cover Your Air Conditioner
- It keeps falling snow and ice out of the unit.
- It keeps leaves and debris from clogging the unit.
- It keeps water off the coils, where it can freeze and damage them.
Reasons Not to Cover Your Air Conditioner
- Even with a cover, moisture from condensation can get into your air conditioning unit, causing damage. This is why seasonal maintenance is so important.
- The moisture from condensation can breed mold and mildew, which can also damage your system and degrade air quality.
- Covering your air conditioning unit can create a lovely haven for mice and other animals to make a winter nest.
Whatâ€™s the Bottom Line?
In the Triad, we donâ€™t often experience extended harsh winters. However, blizzards and hailstorms are the two weather events that warrant covering your air conditioning unit. If such a storm is in the forecast, cover your unit before the storm starts, and remove it afterwards. In the case of a blizzard (extremely rare in the southeast), take a few minutes to brush the snow from around the base of the unit.
Why should I insulate my pipes?
- As discussed previously, insulating your pipes can keep them from freezing during a cold snap. Even if you hire the experts at Johns Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning to do it for you, itâ€™s a relatively cheap insurance policy against the huge cost and mess of a flood.
- Even without the risk of flood, insulating your pipes makes good financial sense. Uninsulated hot water pipes cause water to lose some of its heat as it travels through the pipes. But insulating the pipes allows you to lower your water heater temperature by four degrees without any change in the heat of the water when it reaches the faucets.Â According to the U.S. Department of Energy, it only costs $10 to $15 to insulate your pipes, which results in a savings of $8 to $12 a year. This may not seem like much, but it adds up over the years, and the investment amortizes in just one year.
- Insulating your hot water pipes also keeps water in the pipes warmer for longer, thus reducing the time you have to wait for heated water to flow from the tap if you turn it off for a few minutes and back on. This adds convenience, as well as helping to save water.
How do I insulate my pipes?
- Foam pipe covers make insulating your pipes a breeze. Your local hardware store stocks several different diameters for different sized pipes, and you can cut the length to fit. Most pipe sleeves have a vertical slit down the side so you can easily slide them over your pipes. Some already have a sticky inside which adheres to the pipe, but you can secure the sleeve with duct tape, wire, or a clamp, and youâ€™re ready to go.
- Fiberglass spiral-wrap insulation looks a bit like shiny duct tape, but itâ€™s not actually sticky. Secure one end of the insulation around the beginning of the pipe, and then wrap the pipe, overlapping each layer by about a half-inch. Secure the other end of the insulation at the end of the pipe.
Itâ€™s every homeownerâ€™s nightmare: pipes that freeze and then break, flooding the house and causing thousands of dollars in damage. The Piedmont has already had its first overnight freeze of the season; can the first major cold snap be far behind?
Cold snapsâ€”several days in a row of very cold weatherâ€”can cause the water in your pipes to freeze. However, there are several things homeowners can do to prevent freezing. Even if the pipes do freeze, it is possible to thaw them before they burst and flood. Read on to learn how you can prevent and treat frozen pipes.
- Keep the air around pipes at least 58 degrees. A slightly higher heating bill is much cheaper than fixing a burst pipe. Investing in extra insulation as well as sealing any gaps in the windows, foundation, or crawlspace can also pay off.
- Insulate pipes in the basement, crawlspace, and exterior walls with foam insulation.
- In extremely cold areas, invest in thermostatically controlled heat tape that automatically comes on when the temperature drops below a certain point. (All heat tapes are not the same. You need to check the product guidelines carefully, use the right heat tape, and install it correctly.)
- Disconnect all garden hoses and shut off the water to all exterior faucets. Cover exterior faucets with foam insulation.
- During cold snaps, keep warm water slowly dripping from interior faucets. It keeps water from freezing and also reduces built-up pressure in the pipes.
- First, cut off the water at the main valve.
- Next, open the tap (or taps) that lead from the frozen pipes.
- Heat the sections of pipes that are frozen using a hair dryer. Make sure that youâ€™re not standing in water as you do this!
- If you canâ€™t reach the pipes with a hair dryer, try wrapping the pipes in towels that have been soaked in hot water.
- NEVER pour boiling water directly on the pipes or try to warm the pipes with a blowtorch; this can cause an explosion!
When all else fails
Call Johns Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning, the experts who can fix the pipes and make sure they never burst again.