Just like your car, your home comfort system needs routine maintenance to keep it running at its best. Without regular servicing, heating and cooling systems waste energy and are more likely to break down. But 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 use smoke pencils to check for sufficient draft and also test the air for carbon monoxide. Most houses with forced-air furnace 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.
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.
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.