Is your Heating System Ready for Winter?

Heating System Ready for winter

Cooler temperatures are here and winter is fast approaching. With so much on our plates, from home-schooling to Holidays, have you considered if your current heating system is doing all it needs to? Is it safe? Are you wasting money on an old system? Are there ways to heat your home more sustainably?

How to tell if you need a new heating system:

1. You’re paying way too much on heating bills.

Does your heating bill seem higher than normal this winter? It could be because your heating system has grown less efficient as it has aged, and has to work a lot harder than it used to – to keep you warm.

2. If your heating system was a person, it would be old enough to drink

Most heating systems are built to last 15 to 25 years. The older your heating unit is, the more likely it is to break down.

And older systems won’t be as efficient, often carrying a fuel utilization rating of 56 to 70 percent. With a newer unit, you’ll be working with a system that has an efficiency rating of around 98 percent.

3. Your repairman is starting to seem like part of the family

Furnaces tend to need more and more repairs as they get older, and all these repair bills can add up pretty quickly. If it seems like your local HVAC technician is always stopping by, it might be time for a new heating system.

4. You and your family are feeling sick

As your furnace gets older, its heat exchanger can start to crack, which can cause carbon monoxide to leak into your home.

Obviously, carbon monoxide can be deadly, but even in smaller doses, it can lead to flu-like symptoms such as nausea and headaches. If you and your family members all begin experiencing these symptoms at the same time, use caution, and get your furnace checked.

5. “Does it feel stuffy in here?”

As your furnace ages, it can lose the ability to properly distribute air throughout the house, leading to poor air quality and a feeling of stuffiness.

If your skin feels dry, if you’re seeing a lot of dust, or if you or your family members are experiencing mold/dust allergy attacks, it may be time for a furnace replacement.

6. “What was that noise?”

One final way a heating system shows its age is by making different noises: rattling, banging, or squealing. While some furnace noises are to be expected, new and sudden noises might be a sign that you need a new heating system.

If you’ve noticed any of the signs we’ve described here and decided it’s time to replace your heating system, Bucks County’s All Seasons Comfort Control can help. Get in touch with us today, and be sure to read our tip sheet on mistakes to avoid.

There are a ton of different heating systems on the market! It can be hard to figure out what heat system is best for your budget or home size. Some common options include gas furnaces or heat pumps.

If you’re in the market for a gas furnace, understanding what size to choose can be difficult. There are three main factors to consider: your home, your climate, and your efficiency.

What size furnace do I need for my home?

Is your Heating System Ready for Winter?

The size of your house is key when figuring out what size furnace you need, but you’ll want to look at other factors as well. Does your home have a lot of individual rooms or a more open floor plan? How is your house oriented? If your living areas face south, you’ll get more sun – and more heat – in the winter.

The construction of your home makes a difference as well. If you built your house out of brick, you’ll have more natural insulation than a home with wood siding.

Even factors like trees or shrubs surrounding your home can affect the size of your furnace. If your house is protected from frigid air by your landscaping, you’ll need less heat.

What climate is right for a gas furnace?

Gas furnaces’ are good for any climate!

However, the part of the country where you live makes a difference when choosing a gas furnace. If you live in New England, you’ll want a bigger, more powerful furnace. If you live in northern California, you’ll typically have mild winters and therefore need less heat.

How do I find an efficient gas furnace?

Our country has required furnace makers to be more efficient over the past few decades. In 1992, the Department of Energy established new manufacturing standards for furnaces, mandating that they have at least 78 percent efficiency. That number rose to 80 percent in 2013, although most high-quality units hit 98 percent efficiency.

That means you could have two furnaces of the same size, but dramatically different efficiency levels. A high-efficiency furnace that gives off 100,000 British Thermal Units (BTU) and a 98 percent rating will give you substantially more warmth than a same-sized furnace with an 85 percent rating.

Therefore, you could buy a furnace with a high-efficiency rating, but still use a smaller unit and get the same amount of heat at home.

Many heating and cooling companies estimate their clients’ heating needs with this standard: 25 to 30 BTUs for every square foot of space in the home.

That means if your house was 2,000 square feet, you’d need a furnace that gave off 50,000 to 60,000 BTUs to get sufficient heating. The less efficient the furnace, the more BTUs you’d need. But this really isn’t a calculation you should do on your own.

Is your Heating System Ready for Winter?

Benefits of a high-efficiency furnace:

  • Savings – If you have an older system – installed in the past 20-25 years – you might have a furnace with a 65 to 70 percent AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency) rating, which means you’re losing 30 to 35 percent of the heat your furnace produces.

    In other words, one-third of every dollar you spend on heating is being wasted. But a modern, high-efficiency furnace will typically have an AFUE rating of more than 90 percent, which means your system will soon pay for itself.
  • More comfort – Modern technological advances in HVAC systems such as variable speeds and modulating gas valves have led to more even heating, better humidity control, and consistent temperatures and airflows, all adding up to a much more comfortable home.
  • Programmable thermostats – One standard feature of modern, high-efficiency furnaces are programmable thermostats, which can give you new levels of control over specific rooms. You’ll have the ability to keep some spaces warmer or cooler than others while setting your system to use less energy when you aren’t at home.
  • Less noise – A high-efficiency furnace will typically be made from sound-absorbing material, meaning it will make significantly less noise while running than an older unit.
  • Greener heating – High-efficiency heating systems use a third less fuel than older models, which prevents waste and conserves resources. You’ll save money while helping the planet.
  • Longer operating life – Newer furnaces are designed to minimize on/off cycling, which means they won’t need as many repairs – assuming they get regular maintenance – and will last longer than older units.
  • Boost your home’s value – If you ever decide to sell your home, potential buyers will want to know about your HVAC system. A newer furnace can increase the value of your house and help you sell quicker.

Choosing a gas furnace is a job best left to a qualified HVAC contractor, who will be able to look at all the factors we’ve listed and find the unit that’s right for you and your family.

If you’re ready to install a new gas furnace in your home, turn to All Seasons Comfort Control. For more than 15 winters, we’ve helped Bucks and Montgomery County-area homeowners keep their homes warm and comfortable. Contact us today to learn more.

If you aren’t interested in gas heating consider a heat pump. There are two main types: air-to-air and geothermal.

Air-to-air Heat Pump

Of the two, the air-source heat pump is the most common. It transfers heat between your home and the air outside. When compared to baseboard heaters and furnaces, a heat pump will lower the amount of electricity you use for heating by almost half.

If you don’t have ductwork in your home, you can still purchase a ductless version of the heat pump known as the “mini-split.”

Geothermal Heat Pump

These heat pumps get better efficiency by transferring heat between your home and the ground (hence the term “geo”) or a nearby source of water.

These heat pumps cost more to install, but less to operate, as they can take advantage of the stable ground or water temperatures. You may see as much as a 60 percent reduction in energy use from these heat pumps. They are also sturdy, offer great humidity control, and fit in a variety of homes.

What features should I look for in a heat pump?

As with any product, heat pump manufacturers are making regular innovations:

  • Two-speed compressors – These allow heat pumps to reach the heating or cooling capacity required at a given moment, saving on electricity and wear and tear on the compressor.
  • Variable or dual-speed motors – The variable speed motors on the heat pump’s indoor/outdoor fans can keep air moving at a comfortable speed, minimize drafts and increase energy savings, while also reducing the noise of a blower running at top speed.
  • Desuperheater – This component, found in many high-efficiency heat pumps, recovers waste heat from the cooling mode and uses it to heat water, often two to three times more efficiently than an electric water heater.
  • Scroll compressor – These twin spiral-shaped scrolls compress refrigerant into increasingly smaller spaces. They provide warmer air while in heating mode, with longer operating life.
  • Back-up burners –These burners help prevent the heat pump from delivering cool air during wintry weather while also reducing electricity use.

Heat pump installation is something best left to a professional. A heat pump is a complex piece of equipment, and an expert can identify the proper size unit for your home, and determine the best location to install it. If the size or placement of your system is off, the heat pump won’t give you the temperature you desire and won’t work efficiently.

Professional installation can also help prevent expensive repairs in the future. Don’t be tempted by the idea of saving money by installing a system yourself. Avoid long-term expenses by having your heat pump installation done right the first time.

If you think one of these systems is right for your home, All Seasons Comfort Control can help. Our trained technicians can install heat pumps in a way that’s efficient, cost-effective, and comfortable for your home.

Now that you figured out what energy-efficient system is best for your home, winterizing your system can help ensure that it works properly throughout the coldest months.

Is your Heating System Ready for Winter?

7 ways to prepare your HVAC for winter:

1. Switch your thermostat

This is something you might have done already, but if you haven’t, switch your thermostat from cooling to heating to confirm that your system is in good condition.

Consider updating your thermostat if you’re still using the manual version. A programmable thermostat will let you set your furnace at a lower temperature while you’re asleep or at work, lowering your energy costs.

2. Change your filter

Or at least check your filter. Make sure that it’s in good condition before winter arrives. Filters should be cleaned or swapped out at least seasonally. But if you have a permanent electrostatic filter, you should be able to clean it and reuse it. Cleaning it keeps particles out of your system and helps it last longer.

3. Check the burners

Make sure the furnace burners are clear of dust and other debris, which tend to collect inside the burners during the summer. While you’re cleaning, look for rust and any signs of misalignment.

4. Inspect the furnace chimney

Look for anything inside the chimney that might be obstructing the airflow, such as debris or birds nest. Check for the soot build-up, as this can present a fire hazard. If the chimney hasn’t been inspected in a while, consult with a heating repair service.

This is also a good time to test your carbon monoxide detector, something you should do every month. (You should replace the batteries in CO and smoke detectors twice a year. A good way to remember is to do it when you switch the clocks forward/back an hour in the spring and fall.)

5. Oil the furnace blower

The blower motor in your furnace plays a major role in making sure your HVAC system does its job during the winter. Oil it before the season begins to improve its performance. Inspect all the furnace components and consult with a heating repair service company, like All Seasons if you spot something you’re not sure of.

6. Uncover your heating vents

Make sure there’s nothing blocking your heating vents. Blocked vents will prevent your HVAC system from heating your home properly, while also potentially leading to an overheated furnace.

7. Have a professional look at your furnace

Don’t wait for an emergency to call a heating repair service. A pre-winter heating system inspection is often just what you need to avoid emergency service. The inspection can turn up problems you might not have noticed yourself and make sure your system keeps your home and family warm all winter long.

If you haven’t scheduled your maintenance yet, contact All Seasons Comfort Control. Our technicians are ready to look at your furnace and ensure that it’s ready to do its job this winter.

Sometimes, no matter how much we prepare, issues may still arise. Some common HVAC problems we see during the winter include: the furnace not turning on, inconsistent heat, blowing cold air, gas odor, or a noisy furnace.

Common HVAC Problems:

The furnace just won’t turn on.

If your furnace won’t start at all, it could be the result of these heating unit issues:

  • Problems with the pilot light – In older units, this could be due to a faulty valve, a loose/deteriorating thermocouple, or a housing that needs cleaning.
  • The flame setting – If the flame setting on your pilot light is too low, your furnace may not light. Your flame should be a steady blue, about an inch or two high.
  • Electronic ignition trouble – In new furnaces with electronic ignition, you may have an ignition that needs to be reset. Turn the thermostat all the way down, turn off the power switch, then turn the power back on and the thermostat back to room temperature.
  • Electrical problems – Your furnace may not start simply due to a blown fuse or because of a tripped circuit breaker.

 

The problem could also rest with your thermostat, whether it’s not set correctly, needs a new battery, or simply needs to be replaced.

Inconsistent heat

You’ve fired up your gas furnace but noticed that some parts of your home are warm – maybe even too warm – while others are chilly.

This can be due to several factors:

  • Leaky or clogged ductwork
  • Problems with the fan motor
  • Lack of insulation
  • An inadequately sized furnace, a problem that is especially common following renovations


The furnace only blows cold air

If this is happening with your furnace, take action. It can leave you with frozen pipes and water damage. Once again, this is a problem with multiple culprits, including:

  • An incorrect thermostat setting
  • Dirty flame sensor or gas burner
  • A clogged filter causing the furnace to overheat
  • Failure of the pilot light, valve, or thermocouple
Is your Heating System Ready for Winter?

Gas odor

If you smell natural gas after turning on a gas furnace, this could be a sign of a gas leak. This is dangerous. Follow these steps right away:

  • Don’t touch any electrical switches
  • Don’t light matches
  • If you can, shut off the gas supply valve on your gas meter
  • Go outside and call your gas company and/or your fire department

 

Do not go back inside until your furnace has been fixed and your property is safe.

A noisy furnace

If your furnace is making rattling or whistling noises, it might sound worse than it is. Typically, these issues can be corrected through routine HVAC maintenance.

Regular, preventive maintenance is the ideal way to keep your HVAC system running longer and to make sure that it is operating at the peak of efficiency and safety.

Sometimes bitter nights or blizzards can leave you without heat. While waiting for an All Seasons Comfort service technician it’s important to stay safe and warm. Here are some ways to stay snuggly if you lose your heat this winter:

Stick to one room – Find a room that’s small and comfortable. Load it up with pillows, blankets, books, and anything you’ll need to keep yourself entertained. This room should be smaller, with a low ceiling. Shut all the doors to the room and use blankets or towels to seal off space under the doorways to keep heat sealed in.

Move around – Getting some indoor exercise will keep your blood flowing and your body warm. Whether it’s jumping jacks, yoga, aerobics, or an impromptu dance party, moving = warming.

Hot food and drink – When your gas furnace goes out, warm your house by cooking some hearty stew or baking a pie or some other kind of dessert. You’ll make your home feel more inviting while adding some temporary warmth. This is not the same as using your oven as a heater. That’s dangerous and should be avoided.

If you’re not that adept at cooking or baking, heat up your favorite cold-weather drink – coffee, tea, or hot cocoa – or make some nice, warm broth.

Layers are your friend – You might be tempted to wear your winter coat indoors until your furnace service expert arrives. But rather than wearing one bulky garment, try to wear a few thinner layers to help trap in some extra heat. Long underwear and thick socks go a long way to keeping you warm. At bedtime, use an extra blanket and put on a hat and scarf.

Use your drapes – Drapes are a low-cost method of warming and cooling your home. Keep drapes and curtains open during the day to allow the sun to heat your home. Close them at night to trap that heat inside. The heavier your curtains, the better they are at preventing drafts.

Light some candles – A candle will produce a surprising amount of heat, but like space heaters, you should never leave them unattended. If you don’t have any candles, you can light some incandescent bulbs, which generate more heat than their LED counterparts.

Fire up your space heater – Devices such as space heaters, heating pads, and electric blankets can make a big difference when your heating system goes out. These are great for heating small spaces. Just make sure you don’t fall asleep with an electric blanket or heating pad running or leave a space heater unattended.

Is your Heating System Ready for Winter?

How to make sure your space heater is safe:

1. Is it certified?

Check to see if the heater has a safety certification label from an independent testing body, such as a UL mark (for the Underwriters Laboratories) or CSA International.

2. What kind of cord does it have?

Most space heaters come with a six-foot cord. That should be enough for you to find an outlet. Do not try to use an extension cord or surge protector. Anyone who has spent time on social media has probably seen the photos fire departments like to share each winter of melted power strips.

These devices are useful when you need to plug in a few small appliances but aren’t meant to handle the high flow of current needed to power a space heater. This can cause power strips to overheat, melt, and catch fire.

3. What kind of plug does it have?

They’re pretty rare but check to see if the heater comes with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) plug, which prevents shocks. If the heater doesn’t have a GFCI plug, it should not be used around water.

4. Does it have a shut-off function?

A good space heater should have a smart sensor that shuts the unit off when it overheats. You should also look for a tip-over switch that can kill the power if the heater gets knocked over (another leading cause of space heater-related fires).

How to use a space heater safely:

Once you get your new heater home, fire safety experts advise following these tips to protect yourself:

  • Keep heaters on a level, non-flammable surface. They are designed for use on your floor, not on a table.
  • Remember the three-foot rule– Keep the heater at least three feet away from flammable materials like curtains and bedding and establish a three-foot “no go” zone for kids and pets around the heater.
  • Never use a space heater to heat a child’s bedroom, in a workshop or a garage where gasoline, paint, or matches are stored.
  • Make sure you have working smoke alarms on every floor.
  • Give the space heater its own electrical outlet.
  • Unplug the heater when you go to bed or leave the room. Pull the plug straight from the outlet and check the cord to make sure it isn’t worn or frayed.

If you want to make sure your furnace runs worry-free this winter, contact All Seasons Comfort Control. Our technicians will be happy to work with you to make sure your home stays warm all season long.