5 Ways to Prepare Your Heating & Cooling System For Winter

As winter approaches, make sure your HVAC system is fine-tuned for optimal performance. By following these 5 winter preparation tips, you can avoid breakdowns and costly repairs.

Change the filter

Your air conditioner has been working hard for you all summer. Now that you’re transitioning to winter time, see if the filter needs to be changed.

Changing your filters every 30 days is the easiest - and most important - maintenance that will ensure the health of your HVAC system.

HVAC motors have to strain to draw air through a clogged filter, which can cause the motors to overheat and break down. Dirt from an overloaded filter can also contaminate motors, another cause of break down.

A dirty filter obstructs air flow, which means you get less cool air in the summer and less warm air in the winter, affecting your comfort. Air filters are rated on a MERV (minimum efficiency reporting value) scale from 1 to 16. Anything higher than 16 is probably a HEPA (high efficiency particle air) filter. We recommend purchasing air filters with a minimum MERV rating of 7.

And lastly, keep plenty of backup air filters on hand so you don’t have to run to the store (or put off running to the store) when it's time to change filters.

Turn your furnace on at least three times while it’s still mild outside

The last thing you want to do is to turn your furnace on the first bitter cold day only to find out that your furnace is out of order.

Critters, such as squirrels and rodents, often get stuck in flue and ventilation systems during the warm months. Leaves and debris can contaminate the system. A myriad of surprises can affect your heating system during the off-season.

Check your furnace when it's still mild outside. That way, if you need to repair it, you'll have plenty of time to do so before you really need it.

Conduct a visual inspection around the furnace

No matter where your furnace is located — in the attic, garage, or closet — it’s a good idea to conduct a visual inspection before the heating season, and on a monthly basis while the furnace is in use.

If your furnace is in the attic or some other hard-to-access location, contact a professional.

Furnaces need to breathe. If there is a lot of stuff around the furnace, it reduces airflow and causes problems the same way a clogged filter can. Remove any clutter around the furnace. Maintain a minimum 3-foot clearance around the entire unit. You especially don’t want to leave anything draped over the furnace or laying around it.

Make sure you have a programmable thermostat and program it properly

With the change in seasons, it’s a good idea to check your thermostat settings. You can program your thermostat to come on in the morning about 30 minutes before you wake up so your house is nice and warm by the time you roll out of bed.

You can also program your thermostat to shut off when you leave in the morning and then turn back on 30 minutes before you return, and then shut off at night if you like it cool in the evening.

Staying on top of your heating schedule can result in significant savings on your heating bill. As the days get shorter through December and longer through February/March, you may want to fine-tune the on/off times to coincide with the changing of the season.

Chances are, there are a lot of features available in your smart thermostats you haven't yet discovered. Consult your owner’s manual or call a service provider who can help you learn all the features.

Here’s a basic suggested weekly thermostat schedule for fall and winter months:

  • 6:00 a.m.: This is when the first family members are waking up to take on the day. The temperature in the home is 70°F or lower. The thermostat would turn on around 15-30 minutes earlier so it would reach this temperature by the time your feet hit the floor.

  • 7:30 a.m.: The family and kids are leaving the house by this time. It’s recommended that you set your thermostat back at least 8°F. This would bring the temperature of the home to around 56-62°F while you are away from home. According to the U.S. DOE, “You can save as much as 10% a year on heating and cooling by simply turning your thermostat back 7°-10°F for 8 hours a day from its normal setting.”

  • We recommend you never set the thermostat lower than 55°F. If you do, you could risk frozen pipes and damaging the property in your home. Don’t push it!

  • 4:00 p.m.: Some family members start returning from work or school. The programmable thermostat knows this and turns on the heat around 15-30 minutes before the first arrival. At this point, the heat has brought the home’s temperature up to around 68°F.

  • 10:00 p.m.: The family is getting ready for bed and the thermostat can help signal that it’s ready to hit the sack. If you have difficulty sleeping at night, turn the thermostat way down. We recommend setting it to 56-62°F, the same temperature you would if you were away from home. The lower temperature, combined with dimming lights and apps that get rid of computer blue light will help you get to sleep earlier.

  • This schedule works for the weekdays, but you will most likely have different settings for the weekend when more people are at home.

Make sure you have regular maintenance at least once per year

A furnace emits carbon monoxide and in some cases, uses natural gas to produce heat. A furnace emits carbon monoxide and in some cases, uses natural gas to produce heat. We don’t recommend homeowners mess with these two volatile elements. Call a professional.

A gas or oil furnace has a flame inside (the pilot light). You want to have it inspected every year by a service provider to make sure it’s burning safely and efficiently. Your HVAC technician will also clean the entire system, improving indoor air quality and extending the lifespan of the system. How can I determine the condition of my HVAC system?

HTI Home Inspections are experts in assessing all kinds of heating and cooling systems. Call HTI at 301-461-5731 to schedule your inspection. In addition to your HVAC system, HTI can deliver a complete assessment of your home so that you'll be perfectly prepared for winter.

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