Keeping Your Equipment Tuned

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Maintain Your Air Conditioner, Furnace or Boiler and Save Money

Just like your favorite car, your heating and cooling system needs a regular trip to the mechanic to keep it purring. Without annual servicing, heating and cooling systems burn more fuel and are more likely to suffer costly breakdowns. With the proper attention, they can keep you comfortable year-round, reduce your utility bills and last years longer.

Heat pumps, furnaces, and boilers require an annual professional cleaning and tune-up. A close inspection will uncover leaks, dirt, rust, rot, corroded electrical contacts and frayed wires. In furnace (forced-air) and boiler (hot-water) systems, the inspection should also cover the flue, air filters and or pipes, dampers or valves, blower or pump, registers or radiators, the fuel line and the gas valve—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 air for proper combustion and draft.

Finally, it's time for the down and dirty task of cleaning the burners, blower, interior cabinet, gas valve to remove dirt, debris and other gunk that can impede proper and efficient operation. A complete combustion analysis must be performed in order to verify the efficiency of the combustion and the proper draft. A check of a 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, there are three types of detection for various requirements and at various price points.

Forced Air Heating and Cooling

Tuning up the distribution side of a forced-air system starts with the blower. To do the job right, it must first be removed. The axle should be lubricated, blades cleaned and blower motor checked to insure the unit isn't being overloaded.

Beyond typical maintenance every accessible joint in the ductwork should be sealed with mastic or a UL-approved duct tapes. This ensures that all of the conditioned air is distributed to the areas it is intended to condition. Any ducts that run outside the conditioned space should be insulated to prevent loss of temperature.

Programmable Thermostats

Modern electronic thermostats, sealed at the factory to keep out dust and grime, rarely need adjusting. However, whether your thermostat is old or young, the hole where the thermostat wire comes through the wall needs to be caulked or a draft could trick it into thinking the room is warmer or colder than it really is. The program should be reviewed to make sure that the times set are still correct for the occupants’ lifestyle. Wi-Fi thermostats should be checked for proper signal through the Wi-Fi network.

Mercury thermostats that are manual only and rely on a manual spring to set the temperature should not be cleaned or adjusted; they should be replaced with a modern digital programmable thermostat.


A neglected in-duct humidifier can leak, breed mildew and bacteria, not to mention add too much moisture into a house. A common mistake with humidifiers is leaving them on after the heating season ends. Don't forget to turn the humidifier off at the humidistat and flip the damper to the closed position. The end of the heating season is the best time to clean a humidifier by descaling the tray and if necessary the orifice allowing water to enter the humidifier. This is also the best time to remove and dispose of the used water panel and replace it with a new panel. If a condensate pump is used to aid in disposing of the excess water be sure to inspect the pump and the tubing used to dispose of the water and clean it if necessary.

Furnace Filters

Most forced-air furnaces have a standard 1 inch thick filter made from loosely woven spun-glass fibers designed to keep the blower motor clean and free from dirt build-up. Unfortunately, this type of filter does nothing to improve the quality of the air being breathed in.

There are air filters that will do a much better job of filtering small particles from the air. The challenge is that the smaller the particles removed from the air the more restrictive the air filter is. A restrictive air filter will not only restrict particles from traveling through your air duct system but they can restrict the amount of air as well. This is a balancing act! In order to increase a filter’s capacity to filter smaller particles it must be tested to be sure it allows sufficient air to pass through it so that damage to your furnace’s blower and or heat exchanger is not caused.