Inside the walls and floors of 80 percent of American homes run a maze of heating and air conditioning ducts that connect the each room to the furnace. As the supply ducts blow air into rooms, return ducts inhale airborne dust and suck it back into the blower. Add moisture to this mixture and you’ve got a breeding ground for allergy-inducing molds, mites and bacteria. Many filters commonly used today can’t keep dust and debris from streaming into the air and overtime sizable accumulations can form—think dust bunnies, but bigger.
To find out if your ducts need cleaning, pull off some supply and return registers and take a look. If a new furnace is being installed, you should probably invest in a duct cleaning at the same time, because chances are the new blower will be more powerful than the old one and will stir up a lot of dust.
Professional duct cleaners tout such benefits as cleaner indoor air, longer equipment life and lower energy costs. Clean HVAC systems can also perform more efficiently, which may decrease energy costs, and last longer, reducing the need for costly replacement or repairs. Cleaning has little effect on air quality, primarily because most indoor dust drifts in from the outdoors. But it does get rid of the stuff that mold and bacteria grow on, and that means less of it gets airborne, a boon to allergy sufferers.
Protecting your Comfort investment with an annual maintenance program is the best way to ensure long lasting uninterrupted service thus lowering the overall cost of your system. The peace of mind that you have knowing your comfort system will work when needed is priceless.
With the correct maintenance plan the cost of the maintenance program can be covered from the energy savings your system will benefit from because it’s working in top condition.
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Appliance Service Plans: Read the Fine Print!
Many utility companies offer home appliance service plans that provide repair coverage on furnaces, central air conditioners, water heaters, clothes washers and dryers, range/ovens, and many other home appliances.
Under these types of plans, the customer pays the company a yearly fee and the company agrees to repair any appliances covered under the plan. In the event of a covered repair, customers are not charged for parts, labor, or a service trip.
However, as with any maintenance or service plan, you should read the fine print carefully to make sure you understand the costs, terms, and limitations of these plans.
Always consider whether the yearly cost is worth the advantage of having coverage in the event of an appliance breakdown. Companies offer a variety of service plans. Costs vary, depending on the type of coverage each plan offers. For example, a basic plan covering only a furnace can cost around $70-85 a year. A deluxe plan covering all major appliances might cost over $220 a year.
Covered Services And Non-Covered Services
Always ask for a complete list of covered services and parts, and what is not covered. Some services and parts you might expect to be covered may not be covered. For example, a furnace tune-up and safety check is not covered under most standard furnace service plans.
Some utility companies use employees other than their own for service calls (contractors). Ask the company if its contractors are licensed, bonded, and carry appropriate insurance. Request a list of the company’s approved contractors.
Limitation of Liabilities
Carefully review the terms and conditions of the plan. An appliance service plan limits the company’s liability if it is unable to respond to a service call or successfully repair a covered appliance. For example, under most plans, companies will not pay for repairs when the company hasn’t responded to a service call promptly due to workload emergencies and weather conditions and the customer has to have someone else repair a broken appliance. Under some plans, if the company’s cost to repair an appliance exceeds its current market value, the company will not repair it. Ask for a copy of the terms and conditions of the plan and review it carefully.
How to Maintain Your Home’s Heating & Cooling Equipment to Save Energy
Just like your favorite car, your heating and cooling system needs a regular trip to the mechanic to keep it purring. Without regular servicing, heating and cooling systems burn more fuel and are more likely to break down. With the proper attention, they can keep you comfortable year-round.
Heat pumps and oil-fired furnaces and boilers need a yearly professional tune-up. Gas-fired equipment burns cleaner; it should be serviced every other year. A close inspection will uncover leaks, soot, rust, rot, corroded electrical contacts and frayed wires. In furnace (forced-air) and boiler (hot-water) systems, the inspection should also cover the chimney, ductwork or pipes, dampers or valves, blower or pump, registers or radiators, the fuel line and the gas meter or oil tank—as well as every part of the furnace or boiler itself.
Next, the system should be run through a full heating cycle to ensure that it has plenty of combustion air and chimney draft. Contractors can use specialty meters to check for sufficient draft and also test the air for carbon monoxide.
Finally, it’s time for the down and dirty task of cleaning the burner and heat exchanger to remove soot and other gunk that can impede smooth operation. For the burner, efficiency hinges on adjusting the flame to the right size and color, adjusting the flow of gas or changing the fuel filter in an oil-fired system. A check of the heat pump should include an inspection of the compressor, fan, indoor and outdoor coils and refrigerant lines. Indoor and outdoor coils should be cleaned, and the refrigerant pressure should be checked. Low pressure indicates a leak; to locate it, contractors feed tinted refrigerant into the loop and go over it with an electronic detector.
The Low Blow
Tuning up the distribution side of a forced-air system starts with the blower. To do the job right, it must first be removed. The axle should be lubricated, blades cleaned and blower motor checked to insure the unit isn’t being overloaded. The fan belt should be adjusted so it deflects no more than an inch when pressed. Every accessible joint in the ductwork should be sealed with mastic or a UL-approved duct tapes. Any ducts that run outside the heated space should be insulated. On a hot-water system, the expansion tank should be drained, the circulating pump cleaned and lubricated and air bled out of the radiators.
Turn It Up
While thermostats rarely fail outright, they can degrade over time as mechanical parts stick or lose their calibration. Older units will send faulty signals if they’ve been knocked out of level or have dirty switches. To recalibrate an older unit, use a wrench to adjust the nut on the back of the mercury switch until it turns the system on and, using a room thermometer, set it to the correct temperature. Modern electronic thermostats, sealed at the factory to keep out dust and grime, rarely need adjusting. However, whether your thermostat is old or young, the hole where the thermostat wire comes through the wall needs to be caulked or a draft could trick it into thinking the room is warmer or colder than it really is.
A neglected in-duct humidifier can breed mildew and bacteria, not to mention add too much moisture to a house. A common mistake with humidifiers is leaving them on after the heating season ends. Don’t forget to pull the plug, shut the water valve and drain the unit. A unit with a water reservoir should be drained and cleaned with white vinegar, a mix of one part chlorine bleach to eight parts water or muriatic acid. Mist-type humidifiers also require regular cleaning to remove mineral deposits.
Most houses with forced-air furnaces have a standard furnace filter made from loosely woven spun-glass fibers designed to keep it and its ductwork clean. Unfortunately, they don’t improve indoor air quality. That takes a media filter, which sits in between the main return duct and the blower cabinet. Made of a deeply-pleated, paper-like material, media filters are at least seven times better than a standard filter at removing dust and other particles. An upgrade to a pleated media filter will cleanse the air of everything from insecticide dust to flu viruses.
Compressed, media filters are usually no wider than six inches, but the pleated material can cover up to 75 square feet when stretched out. This increased area of filtration accounts for the filter’s long life, which can exceed two years. The only drawback to a media filter is its tight weave, which can restrict a furnace’s ability to blow air through the house. To ensure a steady, strong air-flow through house, choose a filter that matches your blower’s capacity.