Fall is here.
The leaves are turning, fans are filling the stands at the local high school football games on Friday evenings, and the temperatures are finally cooling down. Autumn is one of my favorite times of the year, especially now in the Columbus area (when the colors are about to peak).
The gradual change from hot summer weather to the frigid temperatures of winter during the fall is the perfect time to set yourself up for a big win on energy savings. During this time, you can probably avoid using either AC or heating, and should get some of your lowest utility bills of the year.
Pretty soon, we’ll need to fire up our furnace for the first time this season. If you’re already had one or Pickerington Heating & Cooling’s top-rated professional HVAC technicians out for a furnace tune-up and safety check, you’re good to go and should have no issues flipping that ‘heat’ switch on your thermostat.
If, however, your furnace hasn’t been touched since the spring thaw, you should make some basic preparations before you fire up the furnace for the first time.
Even though your furnace is connected to your home’s ductwork, there hasn’t been a whole lot of air moving through the furnace since temperatures warmed up in the spring. Like any undisturbed surface in your home, dust will accumulate inside your ducts and vents. If there is additional lag time after the temps cool down and you’re not using your AC, dust will accumulate even more.
What happens when you apply heat to all those dust particles that have accumulated in the system? They literally get cooked and begin to give off a musty, nasty burned smell.
Unless someone in your family has severe allergies or asthma, this annual ritual is relatively harmless. You can prepare by opening windows and doors before you engage the furnace for the first cycle. With decent airflow, the odor will disappear in just a few minutes. If it lingers for hours, it’s time to call us to have your system tuned, cleaned and safety checked.
We also suggest these additional precautions you should take if you haven’t had your home’s heating system professionally checked in awhile.
Change the Air Filter. This is a must, it’s easy to accomplish, but it’s relatively easy to forget. If it’s been a few weeks since any air is circulating in your HVAC system (the dead zone between when the AC is running and the first time the furnace fires up) it’s possible to have even more dust in the system.
Clear the Area Around the Furnace. Most of us tend to let clutter build up in unused areas of the house. For those of us in Columbus, that’s usually in the basement and often near the furnace. Be sure there’s plenty of clearance to get at the furnace to keep the air filter changed, and that nothing is blocking the airflow. Most importantly, be sure there are absolutely no flammable materials in the vicinity of the furnace, especially if you have an older model with a pilot light.
Check Your Thermostat. It’s definitely worth double-checking the temperature around the house with a digital thermometer the first time the furnace fires up. Even if things were working correctly in air conditioning mode, check to be sure they work properly in heating mode.
Once you have the basics out of the way – furnace area is clear, filter changed, dust cleaned up – and the furnace fired up and tested for the first time, there are a few additional things you can do to make sure you’re ready for the worst of cold weather.
Double Check Weather Stripping. Every window and exterior door should be sealed pretty tight to prevent cold air from coming in during those cold winter nights. Weather stripping is the most likely culprit to fail, as it’s usually made of softer materials like rubber or aluminum. Look for torn, pinched or otherwise damaged weather stripping and repair or replace it before the daily cold weather arrives.
Don’t Forget the Chimney Inspection. Contact a local chimney contractor if you have a wood-burning fireplace or stove that supplements your home’s furnace. Be sure they check for any blockage (the wildlife in Columbus seems to love chimneys), leaks, cracked masonry, missing caps, and so forth.
Trim the Trees. Look for tree limbs that could cause potential problems if they break in an ice storm. Pay close attention to trees close to the house, near power lines or windows. Another consideration is to ensure the tree roots don’t creep into your storm sewer causing a basement backup.
Emergency Kits for Power Outages. Prepare for the worst with an emergency kit that could help your family survive power and heat outages for days. Remember the Christmas ice storm in Ohio in 2004? Some of us were without power for two weeks!
Emergency planners recommend you have at least a three-day supply of fresh water and non-perishable food on hand. Keep flashlights, a battery-operated radio, blankets and a first aid kit on hand. You may also want to invest in extra battery backups/chargers to keep the cell phones charged, as many families no longer have a landline.
For the worst power outages, your best bet is to have an electric generator – be sure to keep it away from open windows and doors and keep it maintained, with plenty of fuel on hand.
Carbon Monoxide Detector Checkup. All too often we see cracked heat exchangers that leak deadly poisonous carbon monoxide (CO) gas into the home. You should have at least one CO detector for each floor of your home, and test them monthly. Read our series on the dangers of CO gas to get up to speed.
A Little Winter Prep Goes a LONG Way. Spend the time now prepping your home for the coming cold and you’ll enjoy the benefits of a warm, comfortable home even during the worst winter weather. You’ll also save money and energy in the process, so it’s well worth the investment.
If your heating system hasn’t been serviced in awhile, reach out to Pickerington Heating & Cooling and schedule a furnace tune-up and safety check to ensure your family’s safe and comfortable winter season!