4 Things You Need to Know About Your Home’s HVAC System

May 17, 2018

As a homeowner, there are a LOT of things you need to know and keep track of to keep your house in good working order. So when you think about adding in-depth knowledge about your HVAC system to the mix, it can feel a little overwhelming. Fear not, for there’s no need to understand everything about your home heating and cooling systems. However, there are some key things you absolutely should know to help you understand your home better and be better equipped to make good decisions – whether it’s routine annual maintenance or if something should happen to go wrong.

When Was it Installed?

Most homeowners buy a home with a pre-existing system in place. If this was the case for you, make sure you have accurate information on when the unit, or units, were purchased and installed. This should also include relevant manufacturer paperwork documenting brand name, and model and serial numbers of all mechanical equipment. This information can typically be found somewhere on the equipment, but having the paperwork handy makes it much easier when you call your service company. It always helps to provide them with valuable background about the units they’ll be dealing with – before you describe the problem or a technician is dispatched.

There are Different Types

Because heat distribution is handled differently depending on how your home was designed, it’s important to know what kind of system is driving your home’s heating and cooling. In the Colorado Front Range, two types of residential heating systems are by far most common – central forced air and hot water (or hydronic) heat.

Forced air systems are typically powered by a furnace, and heating and cooling is distributed around the home through a mostly metal ducting system, with supply registers and return air grilles normally located in the floors and walls.

Hydronic central heating systems, on the other hand, are normally powered by a boiler, with heat distributed by means of hot water baseboards, in-floor radiant tubing, or other more ‘exotic’ options such as fancy modern radiators or even towel warmers!

Well worth noting is a growing trend in home heating and cooling that’s steadily showing up in more homes we work in: Ductless Systems. In a nutshell, ductless systems feature stylish, very quiet indoor blower units installed around the home, connected to compact, quiet outdoor condensing unts. The result is zoned cooling and heating, ultra quiet operation indoors and out, high efficiency performance, and unobtrusive delivery of conditioned air. Ductless air conditioners provide cooling only, while ductless heat pumps provide both heating and cooling. Another great advantage of ductless systems is that often they can be easily retrofit in an existing home, giving you the ability to abandon an older central system if that’s your wish. And yes, we’re big ductless fans!

Of course, there are other kinds systems and equpiment in regular use conditioning people’s homes, some of them gas and some of them electric based. Some tried and true, some of them maybe not so much. When considering a system upgrade, ask your trusted HVAC service provider to educate you on the full range of product options, efficiency levels and comfort features available. This will help you make a decision based on what’s the best fit for your home and your circumstances.

How it Impacts Your Bills

The real question on many budget-conscious homeowners’ minds is this: How might your HVAC system be impacting your bills? It’s well known that costs to operate your heating (and cooling) systems are a significant monthly and annual home expense. The most crucial elements affecting this expense are the efficiency ratings and condition (think age and annual maintenance) of the equipment employed in your system, and operating it in a way that saves you as much money as possible without affecting your desired comfort levels.

Efficiency ratings for both forced air furnaces and hot water boilers range from approximately 80% AFUE to as high as 98% AFUE. All things being equal, the higher the rating, the lower your heating bills. For air conditioners, efficiency is measured primarily by the SEER rating, with numbers running from about 13 SEER to 25 SEER. Ductless systems also carry SEER ratings for air conditioning, plus an HSPF rating for the heat pump side. In all cases, the higher the number, the lower the operating costs.

Making good use of programmable thermostats, reducing demand when that much heat isn’t needed (ie. asleep or not home), can of course save you lots of money. This holds during the summer for your AC system, too (raise the thermostat setting to save $$). An experienced technician who’s familiar with your system might be able to offer additional recommendations on ways to save money operating your heating and cooling. In some cases, it might make sense to consider a system upgrade for significant long-term savings.

Our recommendation: Learn as much as you can about your home’s existing HVAC system, and figure out how to optimize its advantages and the options it provides in order to keep your bills as palatable as possible. Seek out expert advice from your trusted HVAC servicer.

Other Essential Info and Your Options

You don’t necessarily need a detailed blueprint, but you should understand the basic ins and outs of what regular maintenance is required to keep your system operating safely and efficiently. Make a plan that works for you and stick to it.

In addition, you should know what to do if things aren’t working as they should be. Part of that comes from simply being observant – take note of any unusual symptoms you may be noticing and consider turning the system off if the situation seems to call for that. For example, if there are banging noises coming from the unit or a strange smell, the best course of action is to turn the system off and contact your service pro asap.

Above all else, if your carbon monoxide or smoke alarms are going off, or if you feel you’re dealing with a life-threatening situation, forget everything above, vacate the house, and call 911 as soon as possible. Then contact your HVAC contractor right after, if you suspect this is related to your heating or cooling system.

Beyond understanding fully how to operate the thermostat (or plural if a zoned system), go a step deeper and make sure you know how to shut off power to the system in case there’s no response from the thermostat. There should be a power cutoff switch installed adjacent to the heating equipment in the mechanical area for this very purpose. Your HVAC service tech can point this switch out to you and help you label it.

Ok, ok, we know we said you don’t need to know everything, and then dove in deep with some things – but we promise, with just a little time and tutelage it gets a lot easier! With these tools under your belt you’ll be better equipped to handle any heating or cooling issues that may arise, make the best decisions for your needs, and chat it up with your service professionals like the best of them. If you’re having any issues with your system, give us a call today.