Different homes use different methods for heat, but all heating systems have one need in common. An HVAC maintenance service call at the beginning of the season can help the unit perform better. It can also keep your family safer, and extend the unit’s life. Replacing a furnace, heat pump, or boiler costs thousands, so the price of a service call is small by comparison.
Servicing your heating system can also help reduce your utility bills. When it’s in good working order, your heating system doesn’t work as hard and it uses fuel more efficiently.
Having a technician come to your home might seem intimidating, especially if you don’t really know how your unit works or what should be included in regular maintenance. But if you’ve got an idea of what to expect, you’re more likely to have a good experience. So here's what to expect:
- HVAC maintenance technician should check all items outlined below, or a more complete list provided when you scheduled your appointment.
- You should receive a written record of your heating system tune up, including repairs made or recommended.
- The technician should restart your heating system and check thermostat and safety controls.
- Every HVAC technician should answer your questions in plain English before leaving.
Note: Natural gas is the most common fuel used to heat homes in the U.S. so that's what this article will refer to. Depending on where you live and the age of your heating system, your fuel may be oil, wood, propane gas or electricity. To learn more heating concepts, click here.
Furnace HVAC Maintenance Tuneup
Gas furnaces are great for colder climates where a heat pump just isn’t enough. When the thermostat detects an indoor temperature that’s lower than the setting you chose, the heat cycle starts. Air is drawn through the unit to prime it for combustion, the gas valve opens, and then a spark lights the gas burner. The warmed air is forced through the ductwork and out through the registers or vents in your home. And once the indoor temperature is warm enough, the gas supply shuts off.
A furnace service call includes checking for carbon monoxide, cleaning or replacing the furnace filter, and inspecting the blower and combustion chamber, according to Hollub Heating and Air Conditioning.
The HVAC maintenance call should also include cleaning the burner, and checking pilot light timing, burner flame, ventilation, and all moving parts. If there are parts in need of replacement, the technician should either replace the parts at the same time, or schedule another appointment if parts need to be ordered.
HVAC Maintenance for Heat Pumps
Heat pumps work well in moderate climates, but aren’t the best in locations where winter and summer temperatures are extreme. They work differently from the way a furnace operates. Instead of creating heat using electricity or a burner and fuel, they use electricity to move heat from one space to another. In summer, they move warm indoor air to the outdoors. And in winter, they move warmer air from outside, into your home.
A service call should include checking the unit’s refrigerant, the voltage and amperage of motors and the compressor. The electrical connections should also be inspected, says Modern & Anderson Services.
The technician should check all moving parts and belts, and replace them if necessary. The filter should be replaced, the blower inspected, and the condensate drain system cleaned.
Boiler Seasonal HVAC Maintenance Checkup
Gas-fired boilers provide heat through a system of either hot water or steam radiators or pipes, and they may heat potable water for the house, too. Boilers can get quite a workout, and some that are still in use today are very old. They need a comprehensive checkup before the heating season begins.
Watch out for service technicians whose work only includes checking for carbon monoxide and calling it a day. “Mike the Boilerman” says homeowners should be aware of technicians that offer just a “safety check,” because that’s usually not a full service call.
Boiler service should include checking the gas supply line and ventilation, taking apart and cleaning the system, and checking every function of the boiler to be sure it’s all in proper working order. The technician may also need to bleed trapped air from the radiators (shown above) before firing up the boiler for the season. This is more costly than a safety check, but it will save you money in repairs over the long haul.
If you haven’t hired a technician before, a good way to find one is by asking friends and talking with people at a local hardware store. (Read: Building Your Home Management Team) You can also use a service such as Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau to find out which technicians have the best reputation in town.
You’ll want someone who is both experienced and certified or licensed to work on your system. A general HVAC contractor might have lots of experience with heat pumps. But if you have a boiler, you need one with boiler experience. Be sure to get the costs in writing up front, and don't be too shy to ask whether he or she will perform a comprehensive inspection of the whole system.
Regular checkups at your doctor help keep you healthy, and the same is true for your heating system. You’ll learn about problems before serious damage is done, and if performed early enough in the season, you won’t have to shiver for days or even weeks while waiting for a replacement part to arrive.
It’s time to make that call. Your heating system and your utility bills will thank you.
Thanks for pointing out that everything must be written down as well as repairs needed. I will keep that in mind to ensure that the right process will be done to our unit. We just need to get our unit checked because we have been in this house for a three years, and we forgot the importance of doing so until the unit started having rumbling sounds from time to time.
This is some really good information about HVAC maintenance. It is good to know that it would be smart to have my boiler checked seasonally. It is good to know that it would be smart for me to double check my boiler before it gets super cold this winter.
Absolutely Penelope, I’m learning that lesson the hard way as I sell my NH condo because I left it to my husband to handle HVAC maintenance & repairs. So we’re having to give the buyers money for a new compressor when we close & it’s only 12 years old. Not happy!
My husband and I noticed that the air inside our house is colder than it was last week. As you mentioned that getting it well maintained can help reduce one’s utility bills while not letting the unit work so hard, it has convinced me to find an expert. Doing this will help keep our home safe for our two kids with allergies while being able to focus on preparing for the holidays at the same time.
Thanks for helping me understand that there are specific services that can cost more, but it will save you money in the long run. I will share this information with a friend of mine since I heard that their boiler has stopped working this evening which made them stay in a hotel for now. It appears that they were not having their unit maintained before which caused it to malfunction.
Thanks for helping me understand that these tune-ups are important because there might be parts that need to be replaced. I guess I have to hire one this weekend because our unit has never been checked when we moved into this apartment more than a year ago. It does not show any wear and tear, but we just want to be prepared especially that the winter season is almost here.
Millie, Assuming you own your apartment, you should make an annual tune-up part of your regular home maintenance schedule.
This is some really good information about HVAC repair. It is good to know that it would be smart to have a technician come and look at your systems thermostat and safety controls. That is a good thing for me to know as a new homeowner.
Since the cold weather is coming pretty soon, we decided that we should have some maintenance performed on our heating system and we are wondering what to expect. So I appreciate you letting us know that it will have things like cleaning the furnace and testing all of the parts of the pumps to make sure they are working properly. I will make sure that the service we choose to perform this heating maintenance is able to perform all of these tasks easily and has it included in their description of the job.
Ashley, Ideally you can find a company with an annual service contract that covers not only your annual maintenance but also emergency repairs at regular prices.
I liked that you pointed out that a heat pump will help keep warm air in your home during the winter. I just moved into an older home and I am a little worried about it staying warm this winter. I really don’t want to be cold this winter. It does seem like a good idea to have a professional about if I need to update my heat pump.
Your heating/cooling systems have to work very hard & just like your car, they need a periodic tuneup so … you don’t want to skip this & find yourself dealing with an emergency.