If there’s just one thing to understand about residential heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) it’s the value and importance of semi-annual service checkups, including now, the start of winter in North Texas.
Most homeowners don’t realize the importance. Or they’re in denial. Why spend upwards of $75 for a winter service checkup when they own relatively new heating and cooling equipment? Or, if the equipment is older, why bother when they’ve had no issues?
All you need to do is remember to change the air filter, right?
And, for that matter, what’s the big deal about a winter service checkup for Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas-area homeowners who live in a region where winters are fairly mild, unlike the extremes of Minnesota or the Northeast?
In North Texas, as homeowners know, temperatures range from lower-60s cool to downright cold in the 30s, sometimes even the 20s. One day the HVAC system may be dormant, hardly in use, or even the air conditioner starts running. But then there’s a sudden 40 degree temperature drop and the furnace kicks in.
Not only does Arlington, Fort Worth and Dallas weather fluctuate temperature-wise, so do the elements. One week it’s bitter cold but clear. The next it’s cool and rainy or overcast. Then there’s a sudden dump of snow. Or a week’s worth of ice.
The Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas Winter Forecast
It depends on the source, but the 2015/16 winter in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas is expected to be better than the past two winters, which featured snow, ice, and bitter cold.
As one weather-watching website notes, “Dallas will have an interesting winter with not only severe weather but a few chances of snow. The Southern Jet Stream is the key for lots of moisture off the projected Super El Nino. We expect a slow start on the mild and dry side but the rain and even snow arrives by January and into February. Overall it’s a cooler, wetter winter ahead with snow near normal.”
The Old Farmer’s Almanac sees it slightly differently:
“Winter will be much warmer and drier than normal, with below-normal snowfall. The coldest periods will be in early and late December, late January, and early February, while the snowiest periods across the north will occur in late December, early and late January, and mid- and late February. April and May will be warmer and drier than normal, with drought a major concern.
Your Never Know When Disaster Will Strike
So we’re at the start of winter in Arlington, Fort Worth, and Dallas and, for the most part, the warmer predictions have held up, with temperatures hovering in the high 60s or low 70s during the day with a fair amount of humidity. No bitter cold yet, no ice, no snow flurries.
But this can change overnight or by the end of the day. Is your air conditioner and furnace ready? Now is the time to make sure.
Winter Checklist: Putting Your Mind at Ease
To put your mind at ease at the start of winter, for a relatively low cost — upwards of $75 a visit — homeowners get the peace of mind that the most important and costly appliance/system in the home is performing as expected. If something is wrong, it can be corrected, most likely at a cheaper rate, before it fails at the most inopportune time.
Here’s a simple air conditioner/furnace checklist for the start of winter.
If you don’t have one already, find a contractor in the Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas area and ask for a list of what they do during winter checkups. Service or repair may include:
- Changing Air Filters: One of the least expensive and often overlooked maintenance items is changing air filters. A fresh filter traps contaminants such as dander, pet hair, and dust to help the system run more efficiently, prolonging its life and saving homeowners from additional expense. During peak times filters should be changed once a month, depending on the age and quality of the equipment, or in non-peak times once every three months. As a general rule of thumb, change the filters before the start of winter and spring at the very least.
- Check the thermostat settings. If needed, a service or repair technician can install newer programmable thermostats to ensure that the home’s HVAC system cools and heats as efficiently as possible according to a home-and-away schedule. (If you prefer, you can purchase a programmable thermostat at one of the many Arlington, Fort Worth, or Dallas home improvement centers before the technician arrives, perhaps saving a bit of money. If it’s a routine installation, the tech may even install it for free depending on if you’re a regular customer for his business.)
- Or, if a programmable thermostat is already installed, a service tech will adjust the programs at the start of the winter so you don’t need to worry about it. It sounds like such a simple Do It Yourself chore, but you’d be surprised how many homeowners forget about it, don’t want to mess with it, or get confused and give up.
- Inspect electrical connections and test voltage on system components. Broken or loose or disconnected connections can mean the system is not performing properly, efficiently, or safely, which increases the likelihood of component failure. This is just as importance in the winter as it is in the summer because, as temperatures drop, the furnace will kick in more frequently.
- Lubricate moving parts. Moving parts without the right amount of lubrication increases friction and decreases the system’s overall efficiency. Without regular lubrication, moving parts will wear out more quickly. This is something many homeowners can do themselves but are not sure what parts to lubricate. When the service tech comes to perform the winter checkup of your AC and furnace, ask him to show you what maintenance you can perform yourself.
- Inspect the condensate drain. The drain for condensation in the air conditioner, furnace, or heat pump can become obstructed, suffer water damage, high humidity levels, and possible mold or bacteria growth may result. While this is mostly a spring checkup item, if a problem has developed over the use of the air conditioner in the summer it will be detected at the winter checkup and will not cause problems moving into the next summer.
- Check system startup and shutdown controls for proper operation. The startup and shutdown cycles, usually based on thermostat settings, should be checked to make sure the system is operating as expected. Again, pretty simple. But, many homeowners simply don’t want to mess with programming controls no matter how simple they are. When a service tech comes to the house for a winter checkup, make sure he checks the system startup and shutdown controls for accuracy.
- Inspect the exhaust outlets (furnace maintenance). If the heating system is not expelling exhaust properly, a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide or other gases may result. During the winter tuneup, the chimney flue or vent stack should be checked to ensure there’s no corrosion or back drafting.
- Check fuel lines and connections and burners and heat exchangers. Leaky or disconnected fuel lines or connections present both a safety risk as well as make a system less efficient. Burners with accumulations of soot and cracked heat exchangers also compromise a system’s energy efficiency.
Benefits of a Winter Checkup
Here’s something to think about: According to some estimates, more than 50 percent of service repair calls are due to no maintenance. A little preventative maintenance can reduce costlier repairs.
- Know that properly inspected, serviced, and tuned heating systems will save you money by reducing electricity or gas costs, which continue to go up in price, not down, from year to year. Remember that small repairs are much cheaper than major overhauls.
- If your HVAC system is humming along happily, it saves wear and tear and extends the life of the system, which is especially important if the unit(s) is/are getting up there in age — 10, 12, 14 years old. Some estimates forecast 30 percent more longevity to units that have been regularly serviced and/or repaired.
- If your HVAC system is older, its wear and tear is exponential, meaning the likelihood of something wearing out and failing increases each year. By having your heating system serviced (or repaired) annually, a technician is able to keep an eye on how all mechanical components function, age, and respond from winter to winter.
Being proactive helps prevent costly, emergency repairs when warmth is needed most during the winter. After-hours visits, especially during the holidays or in climate weather, can be expensive.
- Often overlooked, gas systems can leak and present safety concerns. The Center for Disease Control recommends you have your heating system serviced annually to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
- An improperly tuned furnace may have incorrect gas pressure, dirty burners, or defective safety controls, which can result in excessive temperatures that can damage equipment or, worst of all, increase the possibility of a house fire if left unchecked.
- Gas systems serviced regularly and repaired when needed lower the risk of explosion. While heating systems today are much safer than in the past, fire hazards do remain depending on age, installation location, and history of the equipment.