Furnaces and Air Conditioners take a real beating here in the Mid-West. A few simple maintenance items can help them run smoother and last longer. Let’s start with furnaces. Most furnaces in our area are forced air and use natural gas or propane as their primary fuel. Gas furnaces are basically maintenance-free except for regular furnace filter changes.
Electric furnaces are also basically maintenance-free but will cost a little more to operate. Heat pump units can be used with gas or electric furnaces and are more efficient than straight electric units.
Geo Thermal units are rare in our area and are mainly found in rural areas. These units are based on air conditioning and heat pump operations. They exchange heat with the ground or, occasionally, a pond or lake. Geo Thermal units require specialized maintenance, but as a homeowner, the most crucial task you have is the same as the other units. Regular air filter maintenance is required.
No matter which fuel is used, forced air furnaces depend on free-flowing heat exchanges. The most common blockage in any forced
air furnace is a clogged filter. Choosing a filter for your furnace will depend on a few simple questions. First, does anyone in the family have respiratory health issues? If so, a hypoallergenic filter may be required. Next, do you have dogs and cats that may shed and add extra contaminates to the air? Finally, every home will be different, so the best advice we have is to check the filter once a month and replace it if necessary.
Dirty Filters are Public Enemy #1 for Furnaces
The number one problem with forced air furnaces is, you guessed it, dirty air filters. Furnaces typically use a fan to move the heated air through the home. Low airflow results in poor heat distribution when a forced air furnace filter is clogged. In extreme cases, the restricted filter may cause the “over-limit” safety switch to shut the unit down. Once the unit cools down, it will start up again.
The air conditioner works by condensing the refrigerant in the outside unit until it becomes a liquid. Inside the home, the refrigerant is allowed to convert back to a gas. It is a little more complicated when the filter is clogged in an air conditioner air handler (usually the furnace fan). The fan blows air over the “A Coil” in the furnace cabinet, which cools the air.
If the filter is so dirty that the fan can not push enough air past it, the “A coil” may “ice up,” restricting the airflow even more. The more ice that forms, the harder the unit works until it finally ices over and can no longer cool the home. When this happens, turn off the air conditioner. Let the ice melt entirely and replace the filter. If this doesn’t fix the problem, a heating and air conditioning technician should be called to assess the situation.
Dirt is an Energy Thief for Air Conditioners
Dirt is also a problem for the outside unit. The fan in the outdoor unit must be able to move a large amount of air to cool the refrigerant effectively. The condenser loses efficiency when the cooling fins are clogged with dirt and debris. A dirty outside unit
increases the cooling cost and prematurely wears out equipment. We recommend that the outdoor unit be cleaned with a garden hose twice a year to keep it working in peak condition. Using a pressure washer on your air conditioner condenser unit will damage the cooling fins.
Your outdoor unit is designed to be exposed to the weather year-round. Some homeowners will completely cover their outdoor units in the mistaken belief this is protecting them in the winter. Covering it only increases the possibility that rust and corrosion will form because of the lack of air circulation. It is OK to cover just the top of the unit if it is located where leaves and other debris may find their way into the unit. Just remember to remove it before use.
We recommend that a qualified heating and cooling technician check furnaces and air conditioners over five years old and periodically based on the contractor’s advice and manufacturer’s recommendations.
Clean is your friend when it comes to heating and cooling.
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