How to Prepare Your HVAC Unit for the Winter Months

As a Florida homeowner, you’re probably looking forward to the cooler temperatures that come with the changing seasons. Winter is on its way! Even here in the sunshine state, you can expect to use your furnace at least a handful of times between October and May. Make your home more comfortable and efficient by preparing your HVAC unit – including your air conditioner, furnace or heat pump, air ducts and vents, and thermostat – for the winter months ahead.

Prepare Your Air Conditioner for Winter in Florida

You rely on air conditioning for a majority of the year, but for a few months, your focus turns to heating. Follow these steps to prepare your AC for winter before you switch on the furnace:

  • Power down – Once the heat of the Florida summer is behind you, it’s time to cut the power to the air conditioner. Pay a visit to the outdoor unit and look for a small power circuit box mounted to the side of the house. Lift the cover up to find a switch and flip it to the “off” position. Then, close the lid. Powering down the air conditioner prevents it from coming on accidentally in the winter and keeps water out of the refrigerant lines.
  • Keep the AC unit clean – Sweep twigs, grass clippings and other debris from the outdoor unit using a broom. Then, hose it down to remove stuck-on gunk and bird droppings. Check on the AC unit once a week throughout the winter to make sure it remains clean and free of debris buildup. This will help give your air conditioner a head start next spring when you turn it on again.
  • Inspect the air conditioner – Check for cracks, rust, leaks and other problems that might need attention. While you can wait until spring to fix anything you find, you might as well have a technician take a look when they visit your house to perform annual maintenance on your furnace.
  • Refrain from covering the AC unit – Encasing a metal unit in a waterproof vinyl or plastic tarp leads to condensation and rust. It’s best to leave your air conditioner uncovered throughout the winter, especially because, in Florida’s subtropical climate, you never know when you might need to power on the AC for a day or two, even in January or February.

Prepare Your Furnace for the Florida Winter

If you heat your home with a furnace, get it ready for cooler temperatures with these tips:

  • Inspect the fan belt – The air conditioner and furnace share the same blower motor, which means it’s already been working hard to circulate air throughout your home all summer. Before you turn on the furnace, shut off the power at the main circuit breaker, open up the furnace and check the condition of the fan belt. If it’s cracked, frayed or loose, have it replaced as soon as possible.
  • Listen closely – When you power on your furnace for the first time, pay attention to the way it sounds. Any banging or rattling is a sign that it needs attention from a technician.
  • Check for moisture, rust and dirt – After the furnace has been running for a few days, check the vent pipe for any accumulation of moisture, rust or dirt. These indicate improper operation, which demands immediate attention.
  • Schedule preventative maintenance – You should schedule furnace maintenance every fall to prepare it for the winter season. A professional knows exactly how to spot potential issues and perform quick maintenance before it develops into an expensive repair. Your furnace will run more efficiently, have fewer breakdowns and last years longer if you maintain it annually.

Prepare Your Heat Pump for the Winter Months

Many Florida homeowners stay comfortable all year round with the help of a heat pump. This equipment is ideal for our warm climate because it can deliver 150 to 300 percent efficiency when temperatures are above freezing outside. This is because heat pumps move heat with electricity rather than converting it from a fuel source. If this is the type of HVAC system you have, prepare it for the winter season with these tips:

  • Clean the outdoor unit – As with air conditioners, heat pumps feature an outdoor condensing unit. Sweep away debris with a broom and hose the unit down to remove built-up gunk. Continue to check on the heat pump periodically throughout the winter season to ensure nothing is obstructing the airflow.
  • Inspect the fan belt – The heat pump has already been working all summer, which means the fan belt could be wearing out. Check on it as the seasons change (using the tips listed in the furnace section above) to make sure you’re all set for winter.
  • Schedule preventative maintenance – Because heat pumps work all year round, you should have a technician inspect and clean it twice a year: once in the fall and again in the spring. This gives you peace of mind that the equipment is running smoothly in every season. Air Rescue offers maintenance club memberships to keep annual tune-ups affordable and predictable. Members also benefit from priority service, repair discounts and lower diagnostic fees. It pays to be a club member with Air Rescue!

Prepare Your Air Ducts and Vents for Winter in Tampa, FL

All forced-air heating and cooling systems rely on ductwork and air vents to deliver conditioned air. Here’s how to keep yours running smoothly all winter long:

  • Change the air filter – Remember to complete this task every one to three months throughout the entire year. The air filter helps keep particles off the HVAC unit, promoting smooth operation. It also traps dust and other pollutants, removing them from the air you breathe and improving indoor air quality as a result. Changing the filter regularly ensures adequate airflow through the system at all times.
  • Consider upgrading the filter – If you currently use a flat, one-inch-thick filter, consider upgrading to a pleated or electrostatic filter. These higher-efficiency versions catch minuscule airborne particles to improve indoor air quality, which can be beneficial if you have asthma or allergies.
  • Inspect the vents – All the vents in your home should be open and unobstructed by furniture, rugs or curtains to promote adequate airflow and ensure each room remains a comfortable, even temperature. Then, vacuum the vents with the brush attachment to remove dust, cobwebs and other debris.
  • Clean the ductwork – Over time, allergens cling to the ductwork walls, even with an air filter in place. Mold growth and rodent infestations are even bigger reasons to clean your air ducts. While this task doesn’t necessarily need to take place every year, it could help solve mysterious allergy and asthma symptoms.
  • Seal the ductwork – Leaky ductwork contributes to higher energy bills. Aeroseal® duct sealing from Air Rescue is an effective way to plug up these leaks from the inside. This safe, quick, permanent solution could be the key to lowering your heating and cooling bills once and for all.

Prepare Your Thermostat for the Changing Seasons

The thermostat is the brain that communicates with the rest of your HVAC system. Make sure it’s set properly for the Florida winter by following these steps:

  • Change from cooling to heating – There should be a dial on the thermostat to change over from summertime cooling to wintertime heating. When you adjust this setting, you’re telling the thermostat to switch from the air conditioner to the furnace. If you have a heat pump, the reversing valve inside the unit changes from cooling to heating mode.
  • Ease into wintertime temperatures – Because you’re accustomed to warm summer temperatures, you may need to ease yourself into winter. Start by setting the thermostat to 72 degrees when the house is occupied with the goal of working down to 68 degrees. Every degree you lower the thermostat decreases your heating costs by 1 to 2 percent.
  • Set the temperature for energy savings – If you don’t already have a programmable thermostat, consider installing one this fall. Then, set the temperature back to between 62 and 66 degrees while you’re asleep at night and gone at work all day. The automatic recovery feature of your programmable thermostat ensures you wake up and return to a comfortable home.

For more HVAC tips, or to schedule heating services in Tampa or Largo, FL this fall, please contact Air Rescue at (813) 375-9982.

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