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“Heatless in Seattle” or How to Avoid a Furnace Breakdown This Winter

Take a second and mentally fast-forward to that first prolonged cold front that will arrive in your area. It’s inevitable. And it’s not far off. This is the exact moment when you DO NOT want your heating system to quit. Realistically, however, this exact scenario is what prompts the most calls to HVAC techs come winter. That first cold snap. Due to the constant output required by your heater to ward off the freezing temps the risk of a breakdown increases. This is especially true of older or neglected units. You can’t rewind the clock to when your furnace was new, but you can make sure it gets a good once-over periodically. The best way to maintain your HVAC system is with a thorough inspection and servicing by an experienced contractor.

Some maintenance maneuvers can be undertaken by any novice DIY’er. Tasks such as replacing the air filter (which experts strenuously advise doing every 30 -90 days) or clearing away vegetation and debris from outdoor condensers or heat pumps, for example. You can also mosey around the house inspecting vents and returns to ensure they aren’t caked with dust or blocked by furniture. However, because of the complexity and sheer number of integral components that comprise standard HVAC systems, commonsense suggests deferring to the years of experience and know-how that a trusted HVAC contractor provides. What follows is a cursory glance at just some of the tasks a professional maintenance check entails.

Inspection of Gas / Oil Connections - Combustion and pressure levels need to be analyzed and the heat exchanger requires inspection. If these connections are not properly tightened a fire hazard can develop. Unclean burners or fissured heat exchangers will yield improper burner operations that can cause inefficiency and become safety hazards.

Monitor Electrical Connections - Making sure all connections are secure. Also, voltage and current will be measured on motors. Faulty electrical parts are another potential safety gaffe.

Lubrication of Moving Parts - Components that are not properly lubricated can cause undesirable and detrimental friction. This is especially true of motors; not only is more electricity required for operation, but wear and tear decreases lifespan of parts.

Thermostat Check - Aside from the unit thermostat, all wall units should be monitored. Most professionals will calibrate with a thermometer to gauge precise temperatures. Techs will also verify that thermostats are properly “communicating” with the unit.

Aside from these standard procedures, seasoned HVAC contractors will appraise normal wear-and-tear, monitor Carbon Monoxide levels, check condensate pans, determine whether outdoor air conditioning parts are properly protected against the ensuing winter elements, etc. Because almost half of the average home’s energy expenditures is HVAC-related it’s cost-feasible to ensure the heating system is running efficiently and only the well-trained eye of the HVAC expert can determine this.


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