Tips for Taking Care of Your Heating and Cooling System

Learn to keep your heating and cooling system in top shape with these tips.

Man adjusting heating system.

Know Your Home Heating and Cooling System

2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited DK - House Works

DK - House Works, 2010 Dorling Kindersley Limited

Know your systems. A breakdown is no time to try to get acquainted with household heating or cooling systems. Learn how your system works and where it's located before trouble strikes.

Household heating and cooling systems are essential components of home comfort and safety — and rank among the household's biggest energy consumers. Treat them well to keep them blowing hot and cold. Your comfort, your power bill — and your household's safety in inclement weather — depend upon proper care and maintenance.

Add these maintenance routines to your schedule to keep hard-working heating and cooling systems happy on the job:

Change filters regularly. Clogged air filters reduce airflow and make heating and cooling systems work longer and harder, consuming more energy and causing premature wear. Check system manuals, and change disposable filters regularly to keep air flowing freely. Clean filters mean less housework, too. Changed once a month, disposable filters clean the air of dirt, mold spores and pollen before it settles as dust on household surfaces.

Keep compressors free and clear. Central air conditioning and heat pump systems rely on outdoor compressor units to exchange hot air for cold. To do the job, these units need unobstructed surroundings. Each spring and fall, check the area around compressors for obstructions. Prune or trim any encroaching shrubs or plants. Remove leaves and debris from the sides and base of the unit. Make sure compressors are free to breathe!

Schedule service calls early. Heating and air conditioning systems require regular professional maintenance. Don't wait for the first chilly night or hot day. Schedule tune-ups before the weather changes. You'll have the service technician's full attention if he's not hopping to respond to emergency calls after the first hard freeze.

Ask for advice. While he's on the premises, ask the service technician for advice about your heating and cooling systems. Most techs love talking about their job, and are happy to give pointers on how to keep your unit running efficiently.

Fine-tune thermostats. If your household has a programmable thermostat, turn down the heat at night, or when the family is out during the day, then raise the thermostat settings for the morning and evening hours. Similarly, avoid the turn-it-up, turn-it-down habit. Juggling and jiggling thermostat temperatures can cause energy-gobbling secondary heating systems to kick in-and their high-energy cost will kick you in the wallet. Try to keep thermostat temperatures steady for best comfort and energy savings.

Maintain air filtration systems. Many newer homes feature in-house air filtration systems, while other families use portable air-filter systems to improve indoor air quality. Well-maintained units remove pollens and particulates from the air. Clogged filters or dirty collection plates, however, force filters to work longer and harder. Check the manuals on how to maintain your household's air filtration systems, and change or clean filters as required.

Fire it up!
Who can resist the lure of a crackling fire? Know how to use fires safely for warm good nights by following these tips:

Practice safe burning. In an open fire, improper burning practices can encourage formation of creosote-a highly combustible coating that is deposited inside chimneys during fireplace use. Creosote build-up creates a risk of chimney fires. Guard against this by burning only dry, seasoned wood, allowing adequate air circulation, and sticking to small, hot fires. It is also a good idea to have chimneys professionally inspected and cleaned at least once a year.

Maintain woodstoves. Woodstoves can be freestanding or designed as inserts to existing fireplaces. They increase energy efficiency when burning wood as a heat source. Be sure that household woodstoves are installed properly, and use them according to instructions. You'll need to know how to properly load wood, empty ash pits, and clean a household woodstove unit; the product manual, manufacturer, or stove installer should provide instructions for safe and efficient use.

Dispose of ashes safely. Ashes generated by woodstoves or fireplaces may appear to be cool — but many a house fire has been started by improper disposal of fireplace ashes. Ashes retain their ability to kindle fire for several days, so use great care when disposing of them. When cleaning a fireplace, place the ashes in a metal container, moisten them, and cover with a metal lid. Never use a paper bag to store or dispose of fireplace ashes. Use only a whisk broom to collect ashes from the fireplace — never use the vacuum cleaner around ashes. Keep the discarded ashes in the can, tightly covered, for at least four days.

When selecting a disposal site, avoid wooded areas. If disposing of ashes in a yard or flower bed, be sure to remove all leaves or dry vegetation from the disposal area, and be sure it is located well away from wood fences or furniture. Tilling ashes into the top layer of soil will decrease the danger and increase the benefit to garden plants.

Reduce home heating costs
Baby, it's cold outside — but home heating makes up the lion's share of household energy use. Beat winter's chill and lower bills with these tips:

Get with the program. Programable thermostats are front-line fighters in the war against wasted energy. Set them to lower temperatures at night and while the family is away from home for best energy savings.

Let breezes blow. Furnace filters reduce dust, but left to molder, they can strangle free flow of air to the heating unit. Each month, clean filters-or replace disposable ones-to keep air circulating efficiently.

Cover up to stay cozy. Stop heat loss through windows by closing drapes, shades, or blinds when possible. A rolled towel, or custom-made "draft dodger" blocks cold air from beneath doors when snuggled up against the door jamb

Tune in to tune-ups. Regular maintenance is a must for cost-effective home heating. Seasonal visits from maintenance technicians will keep furnaces tuned — and spot any costly problems early, while they're easy to repair.

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