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Maintenance Tips and Articles

What are some preventative maintenance things I should be aware of?

With the proper attention, heating and cooling systems can keep you comfortable year-round. Heat pumps and oil-fired furnaces and boilers need a yearly professional tune-up. Gas-fired equipment, on the other hand, burns cleaner and can be serviced every other year. A close inspection will uncover leaks, soot, rust, rot, corroded electrical contacts and frayed wires.

In furnace (forced-air) and boiler (hot water) systems, the inspection should also cover the chimney, ductwork or pipes, dampers or valves, blower or furnace, or the boiler itself. Next, the system should be run through a full heating cycle to ensure that it has plenty of combustion air and chimney draft. Finally, cleaning the burner and heat exchanger to remove soot and other gunk will prevent such buildup from impeding smooth operation. For the burner, efficiency hinges on adjusting the flame to the right size and color, adjusting the flow of gas or changing the fuel filter in an oil-fired system.

A check of the heat pump should include an inspection of the compressor, fan, indoor and outdoor coils, and refrigerant lines. Indoor and outdoor coils should be cleaned and the refrigerant pressure should be checked.

Blower

Tuning up the distribution side of a forced-air system starts with the blower. The axle should be lubricated, blades cleaned and lower motor checked to insure the unit isn't being overloaded. The fan belt should be adjusted so it deflects no more than an inch when pressed. Every accessible joint in the ductwork should be sealed with mastic or UL-approved duct tapes. Any ducts that run outside the heated space should be insulated. On a hot water system, the expansion tank should be drained, the circulating pump cleaned and lubricated, and air bled out of the radiators.

Thermostat

While thermostats rarely fail outright, they can degrade over time as mechanical parts stick or lose their calibration. Older units will send faulty signals if they've been knocked out of level or have dirty switches. To recalibrate an older unit, use a wrench to adjust the nut on the back of the mercury switch until it turns the system on and, using a room thermometer, set it to the correct temperature. Modern electronic thermostats, sealed at the factory to keep out dust and grime, rarely need adjusting. However, whether your thermostat is old or young, the hole where the thermostat wire comes through the wall needs to be caulked, or a draft could trick it into thinking the room is warmer or colder than it really is.

Humidifier

A neglected in-duct humidifier can breed mildew and bacteria, not to mention add too much moisture to a house. A common mistake with humidifiers is leaving them on after the heating season ends. Don't forget to pull the plug, shut the water valve and drain the unit. A unit with a water reservoir should be drained and cleaned with white vinegar, a mix of one part chlorine bleach to eight parts water or muriatic acid. Mist-type humidifiers also require regular cleaning to remove mineral deposits.

Filter

Most houses with forced-air furnaces have a standard furnace filter made from loosely woven spun glass fibers designed to keep it and its ductwork clean. Unfortunately, they don't improve indoor air quality. That takes a media filter, which sits in between the main return duct and the blower cabinet. Made of a deeply pleated, paper like material, media filters are at least seven times better than a standard filter at removing dust and other particles. An upgrade to a pleated media filter will cleanse the air of everything from insecticide dust to flu viruses. Compressed, media filters are usually no wider than six inches, but the pleated material can cover up to 75 square feet when stretched out. This increased area of filtration accounts for the filter's long life, which can exceed two years. The only drawback to a media filter is its tight weave, which can restrict a furnace's ability to blow air through the house. To insure a steady, strong airflow through the house, choose a filter that matches your blower's capacity.

Duct Cleaning

A maze of heating and air conditioning ducts run inside the walls and floors of 80 percent of American homes. As the supply ducts blow air into the rooms, return ducts inhale airborne dust and suck it back into the blower. Add moisture to this mixture and you've got a breeding ground for allergy inducing mold, mites and bacteria. Many filters commonly used today can't keep dust and debris from streaming into the air and over time sizable accumulations can form – think dust bunnies, but bigger. To find out if your ducts need cleaning, pull off some supply and return registers and take a look. If a new furnace is being installed, you should probably invest in a duct cleaning at the same time, because chances are the new blower will be more powerful than the old one and will stir up a lot of dust. Professional duct cleaners tout such benefits as cleaner indoor air, longer equipment life and lower energy cost. Clean HVAC systems can also perform more efficiently, which may decrease energy costs and last longer, reducing the need for costly replacement or repairs. Cleaning has little effect on air quality, primarily because most indoor dust drifts in from the outdoors. But it does get rid of the stuff that mold and bacteria grow on and that means less of it gets airborne, a boon to allergy sufferers.

What maintenance can I do myself?

With the proper maintenance and care, your equipment will operate economically and dependably. There are a few simple, routine maintenance operations you can do to help ensure the best performance and comfort from your system.

  • Safety First

    Before you perform any kind of maintenance, consider these important safety precautions.

    • Disconnect all electrical power to the unit before removing access panels to perform maintenance. Please note that there may be more than one power connection switch.
    • Be careful when handling parts and reaching into units as there may be sharp edges due to the construction of the equipment.
  • Routine Maintenance
    • Check the air filter in your furnace or fan coil every 3 to 4 weeks.

      A dirty filter will cause excessive strain on your furnace, air conditioner or heat pump. Replace your filter when necessary, or clean it if you have the reusable type. (If you have a reusable filter, make sure it's completely dry before you re-install it.) The pre-filter and collection cells of an electronic air cleaner should be cleaned at least two or three times per year.

    • Clean dust off of your indoor coil.

      With a vacuum cleaner and soft brush attachment, you can remove any dust from the top and underside of the coil. Make sure you only do this when the coil is dry. If you can't get the coil clean this way, call us for service.

    • Keep your outdoor condensing unit free of debris.

      If you keep grass clippings, leaves, shrubbery and debris away from your outdoor unit, it should only require minimal care to operate properly. Check the base pan (under the Unit) occasionally and remove debris, to help the unit drain correctly. If the outdoor coil becomes dirty, use a brush or a vacuum cleaner with a soft brush attachment to clean the surface. To clean dirt that is deep in the coil, contact James Thomas Heating and Cooling.

    • Make sure your outdoor unit stays in a level position.

      If the support for your split-system outdoor unit shifts or settles and the unit is no longer level, re-level it promptly to make sure moisture drains properly out of the unit. If you notice that water or ice collects beneath the unit, arrange for it to be drained away from the equipment.

    • Inspect your furnace's combustion and vent system before each heating season.

      If you find dirt, soot, or rust, your system may not operate properly or at its peak efficiency. Call James Thomas Heating and Cooling and do not operate your furnace until it is professionally inspected and/or repaired.

    • Have oil-fired boilers inspected annually.

      Call us before each heating season to replace your oil filter cartridge and conduct a thorough inspection of the unit's operation.

    • Clean your humidifier at the beginning of every heating season.

      Review your owner's manual for the proper procedure to clean the external and internal components of your unit. The evaporator pad should also be replaced before each heating season. If the water in your area is hard or has high mineral content, you may need to clean or service your humidifier more frequently.

    • Clean the core and air filters on a ventilator at least every three months.

      You can vacuum the core of an energy recovery ventilator as long as it is dry and the outdoor temperature is between 60 F (16 C) and 75 F (24 C) Heat recovery ventilator cores can be soaked for three hours in a solution of warm water and mild soap and then rinsed. Ventilator air filters are washable; just use a vacuum to remove the heaviest accumulation of dust and then wash them in lukewarm water. Replace them after they are completely dry.

What methods can I use to help conserve energy usage during the peak summer and winter seasons?

There are many things you can do yourself to help. Be sure your home is properly insulated. Add insulation to your attic or ceiling areas as this is where the most energy savings are achieved. Use drapery for insulation as well as weather stripping around windows and doors. If you have gaps, cracks and air leaks to the attic or outdoors, seal them. Keep your air conditioner filters clean and clear. Keep shrubs, leaves, and flowers away from your outside unit. Maintain your thermostat settings at one desired comfort level instead of constantly turning the setting up and down. Do not block heating and air conditioning registers. Keep furniture, drapery, and clutter away from them. Another step you can take is to install an attic vent fan.

  • Spring Maintenance

    In the spring, James Thomas can typically check a heat pump or air conditioner for all or some of the following:

    • Operating pressures
    • Refrigerant charge
    • Filter condition
    • Compressor
    • Fan motor
    • Capacitors
    • Belts
    • Crankcase heaters
    • Coils cleaning
    • Lubrication of moving parts
  • Fall Maintenance

    In the fall, you can expect James Thomas to check your furnace in the following areas:

    • Burner and pilot assemblies
    • Cracks in the heat exchanger
    • Check the pilot thermocouple
    • Examine the filter and check vent piping
    • Test the electronic ignition
    • Test the fan
    • Test the limit switch
    • Burner adjustments
    • Measure manifold gas pressure
    • Measure temperature rise
    • Carbon monoxide test
    • Set the heat anticipator
    • Check and adjust belt tension
    • Examine the draft diverter
    • Lubricate the fan motor