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.