It’s time to winterize your HVAC system

Published: October 21, 2020

Close Up Of Female Hand On Central Heating Thermostat By Daisy Daisy/Shutterstock

They say that there are only two sure things in life: death and taxes. But we Canucks know there’s at least one more certainty: spring, summer, and fall are always followed by winter. Before the deep freeze sets in, take some time to make sure your heating system is ready to take on the season.

AC tune up

Before we turn our attention to heating systems, let’s give your air conditioner a little TLC. If you have a window-mounted unit, it’s best to remove it for the season. No matter how much duct tape you’ve used to seal it in place, it will never be as airtight as a properly closed window.

For forced air and wall-mounted ductless units, inspect the condenser unit that sits outside and clear off leaves and other debris. Over the course of the winter, monitor the snow and ice load on top so that it doesn’t get too heavy. While you’re at it, inspect the outlet pipe if you have a high-efficiency furnace to make sure it’s clear of debris and obstacles.

Some people recommend putting a cover over the condenser for the winter, but that can actually trap damaging moisture inside the unit while preventing fresh air from drying it out. Plus, a cover can also provide a cozy hideout for rodents to ride out the season. These things are built to withstanding the elements, so just leave it uncovered.

Vents and rads

Unless you’ve recently completed some messy home renovations, you generally don’t need to have your home’s ductwork system professionally cleaned. That said, you should lift the cover off each vent and vacuum out anything that’s fallen in. Now is also the time to open any vents you blocked in the summer (in the basement or unused rooms) to maximize the cooling effects of your air conditioner throughout the house. Finally, make sure there’s nothing blocking the airflow from any of the vents. In living rooms, sofas often end up being placed directly over a vent. If that’s the case, pick up a deflector that can direct the air from the vent out into the living space.

If your system uses radiant heat, check the radiators for a “bleed” valve. Place a small bowl under the valve before you open it up. If any air has gotten into the system, it will whistle out of the valve until a stream of water starts flowing. Repeat for each rad. Again, ensure that there’s a foot or more of clearance around baseboard heaters and radiators to maximum heat flow and avoid any risk of combustion.

Furnace upkeep

The most important preventative maintenance task with any furnace is to regularly change the filter. As a filter gets clogged, it reduces the amount of airflow and forces the furnace to work harder. Check the recommendations on your particular model but, generally, you’ll want to change the filter roughly every three months; more frequently if your place is particularly dust prone or you have pets that shed.

If you have a smart thermostat, you should also change the batteries at the start of the season so it doesn’t conk out on you in the middle of a winter’s night.

Inspection time

Beyond basic DIY maintenance, your home or cottage’s HVAC systems should be professionally inspected every year or two for optimal performance, varying the frequency depending on usage and the age of the equipment.

The chimney should also be cleaned on a regular basis: annually if it’s the primary source of heating, and every two or three years for fireplaces and woodstoves that are only used for ambient or supplemental heating.

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