To save money on energy bills be sure to prepare your furnace for winter. In this blog post, we give our top five tips on how to increase energy efficiency and get more from your furnace or other heating system. For more information, we recommend reaching out to a heating and cooling company to schedule fall furnace maintenance.
Best Tips to Get Furnaces Ready for Cold Weather
- Program Thermostat Or Home Automation System
- Replace Furnace Filters
- Unblock Registers, Radiators, and Baseboard Heaters
- Let In Sunlight
- Schedule Fall Furnace Maintenance
Adjust Thermostat for Winter; How Smart Thermostats Help
To save energy, program your thermostat or home automation system for the winter. The smaller the discrepancy between indoor and outdoor temperatures, the more money you save. In cold weather, this means setting the thermostat for as low a temperature as is comfortable. Your furnace works harder and uses more energy when it has to maintain a high indoor temperature.
A home automation system allows you to remotely control the temperature of your home from anywhere in the world. In this example, a home automation system generally means a WiFi-connected or “smart” thermostat.
image credit to energy.gov
Benefits of Smart Thermostats
These modern thermostats are accessible from an app on your tablet or smartphone. Change the temperature from work or tucked in bed upstairs. Smart thermostats go further than programmable WiFi thermostats with additional sensors and artificial intelligence.
Once you program it manually for a couple weeks, it “learns” your household’s rhythms and adapts on its own. For the best value, consult with your trusted HVAC contractor. Don’t be swayed by a slick promotion at a big box store. Some thermostats work with specific systems better than others.
A visit from a professional evaluates which thermostat is best for your single or variable-speed system and where to install it. At A-1 Mechanical, we’re happy to provide our expertise for you or a loved one.
Our team assesses the heating and cooling system as well as inquires about energy goals and typical occupancy. He or she installs the thermostat, and teaches the homeowner how to use it.
Most modern thermostats also alert you to maintenance needs, such as a filter change or if the furnace behaves abnormally, for example.
This information helps you address issues with furnace repair or service before a spike in your heating bill or a breakdown happens.
Set Thermostat in Winter when Away from Home
If you plan on being away from home for a winter vacation or work trip, we recommend setting a temperature no lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Lower than 55 degrees risks the chance of frozen pipes.
Check Furnace Filters Monthly; Change as Needed
We recommend you replace furnace filters every 3 to 12 months depending on the type of filter your furnace uses. The air filter in your furnace is responsible for trapping contaminants in the air like dust, dirt, and pollen. A dirty air filter blocks air passage and makes the furnace work harder to produce the same amount of heat. Replacing air filters keeps your furnace energy efficient.
Remove Airflow Obstructions; Keep Vents Open
Some rooms, or even spots in some rooms feel colder than others? Be sure vents are open and nothing is blocking registers, radiators, or baseboard heaters. For example, it’s not uncommon for a living room to feel colder than the rest of the house because the couch is blocking the radiator. Long drapes, toys or even seasonal decorations like Christmas trees can prevent heat from entering rooms.
It’s a myth that closing vents or doors to rarely used rooms lowers your heating bills. It disrupts the air pressure balance in the home. Ever hear a door push open or pull shut on its own? You don’t have a ghost. The heating and air system probably kicked on and pushed enough air through the room to move the door. If you’re empty nesters or just live in a large house, ductless mini splits might be best for you.
Ductless Mini Splits – HVAC Problem Solvers
Ductless mini splits provide zone heating and cooling through your whole home with individual temperatures in each zone. Or, keep your central heating and air system, run it at a lower temperature in the winter and use ductless units in the two or three rooms you use the most to increase your comfort.
Trap Heat from Sunny Windows Inside
Open drapes and shades to let sunlight through eastern or southern-facing windows. Because sunlight carries heat, there’s no downside to enjoying the sunshine on a dreary winter day. What heat passes through your windows helps rooms feel cozier. At night, close blinds or drapes as an extra layer of protection against cold air seeping through windows.
When you switch from summer to winter linens, consider swapping airy curtains for heavier drapes. They’ll block drafts and hold solar heat inside at night.
If you’re considering planting trees on your property, plant evergreens to block wind and snow drifts from the house. Plant deciduous trees on the south and east sides of the house. They’ll shade your house during the hottest days while letting sun through after they’ve lost their leaves. Consult with a local nursery or landscaper for the best outcome.
Schedule Fall Heating Maintenance Including Furnace Tune Ups
After months of humidity and a lack of ventilation, there’s a risk of corrosion in your furnace. Plus, it’s easy to forget how it may have limped along at the end of the last heating season.
Here’s a video detailing what you can expect from a typical tune up to prepare your furnace for winter…
Aside from regular filter changes, the best piece of advice is to prepare your furnace for winter with preventive maintenance. A furnace inspection during the service visit reveals whether you need small repairs before the heating season.
Your technician also looks for signs of rodent or insect infestation. Sometimes rodents chew wiring, or leave behind nesting material or other unseemly debris. This detritus impacts airflow and pollutes your indoor air quality. The main reasons to book a furnace tune up each year are:
- Cleans, tests, and lubricates components for optimal energy efficiency, which saves money on heating bills
- Extends lifespan of equipment because it catches problems while minor and less expensive to resolve
- Most manufacturer warranties require regular HVAC maintenance by a qualified HVAC contractor to remain valid
- The cost of furnace maintenance is significantly less than it costs to repair a furnace that quits unexpectedly in the middle of winter.
Related blog: Why You Should Schedule Furnace Maintenance
How to Maintain a Heat Pump
If you’re unfamiliar, a heat pump both heats and cools homes. It operates like a regular air conditioner in the summer. It extracts heat and moisture from the indoor air and pumps it outside. In the winter, it pulls warmth from outdoor air – even in cold weather – and uses it to warm the house. This type is known to HVAC contractors as an “air source” heat pump. Geothermal heat pumps, which pull heat from the earth or a nearby water source are known as “ground source” heat pumps.
In extreme cold or several days of freezing temperatures in a row, heat pumps use an auxiliary heat source. Sometimes referred to as “emergency heat,” electric heat strips operate in some ways like the heating element in a toaster or electric oven.
In a heat pump, air passes over these “hot strips” and absorb the warmth before moving onto interior rooms. Heat pumps will draw from these as needed.
If, for example, a tree branch fell on your outdoor compressor unit and prevented the heat pump from normal operation, you could switch to just “emergency heat.” This switch on your indoor air handler unit turns your air handler into an electric furnace. This truly is “emergency heat” as a substitute until your heat pump is repaired or replaced.
In the past, heat pumps were less popular up north because the heat strips were expensive to use. Now, however, energy efficiency and HVAC technology are more in line and many Michigan homes use heat pumps.
To maintain them, however, they need two tune ups each year. Because a single heat pump provides both heating and cooling, it needs seasonal tune ups before each season. Likewise, an air conditioner needs one tune up each year and a furnace needs one tune up. Just like an air conditioner and furnace combo, check the filter regularly and remove airflow obstructions.
How to Protect AC Compressor from Ice and Winter Weather
If you use a furnace, it’s wise to protect your outdoor AC compressor from falling ice and other Michigan winter weather. Many people secure a large plastic trash can lid or even a kids saucer sled with bungee cords. Some use a plywood sheet cut to size and held down with a brick. The goal is to protect the fan blades from damage.
Winter storms like to test us, so stay one step ahead and protect your AC compressor from damage. Finally, do not use a tarp or plastic sheeting. This traps moisture inside and sets you up for mold and other problems.
Remember, if you use a heat pump – do not do this. Your heat pump runs all year and needs full ventilation.
Prepare Furnace for Winter with Help from A-1 Mechanical
A-1 Mechanical is a Lansing furnace repair and maintenance company dedicated to helping homeowners prepare furnaces for cold weather. If you are interested in learning more about how to prepare your furnace for winter or our furnace maintenance service plans, give our Lansing HVAC company a call at (517) 348-0302.