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After a long, hot Mid-Atlantic summer, your Cheverly, Maryland, home is due for a checkup. Learn why early fall is the right time for an HVAC tuneup and what this seasonal maintenance includes.

Rethink Thermostat Settings

Programmable thermostats are ideal for minimizing energy usage and saving on utility bills, but in order to take advantage of the savings, you have to do some work first. Setting your programmable thermostat to maximize cool air without wasting energy is a smart move at the beginning of the summer. Once the leaves start to change and summer temperatures start to fade, however, it’s time to rethink the thermostat settings with fall in mind.

If your household has a routine schedule, it’s best to program the thermostat to reduce energy consumption during the day while keeping your home comfortable in the evenings and on weekends. To save the most energy, program the thermostat to remain at about 56 degrees while everyone is out for the day to save up to 15 percent on your heating bill over the course of the year.

Cool temperatures can appear without any warning, but it’s important not to overreact. There’s no need to crank up the heat to compensate for an isolated cold night when you’ve already preprogrammed the thermostat for comfortable temperatures and maximum energy savings.

Change the Air Filter

Most air filters come with a recommendation to change them every 60 to 90 days in order to ensure good indoor air quality. While this is a good rule of thumb, it doesn’t apply in every case. When you run the air conditioner consistently over the course of a long summer, for instance, it’s important to change the filter approximately every 30 days to account for increased use.

Remember that an air filter’s job is to clean the pollutants, dirt, and debris from your home’s air. When the filter reaches its capacity, not only is it no longer effective at trapping pollutants, but a clogged filter can also slow down the entire system. When the HVAC system has to work harder to cool your home, it inevitably loses efficiency.

No matter how many times you change the air filter over the course of the summer, it’s good practice to replace it in the early fall. Scheduling this simple and straightforward maintenance ensures that your HVAC system will filter out the pollutants and allergens that surface in autumn, and you’ll breathe fresh, clean air.

Inspect the Indoor System

Most air-conditioner technicians don’t recommend that you perform maintenance on the air conditioner, furnace, or any part of the HVAC system yourself. That doesn’t mean you can’t do a visual inspection to familiarize yourself with the system and identify any potential problems early on.

Bad electrical connections can signal poor system performance and energy inefficiency, so be sure to look for loose connections or even components that have become disconnected. Next, take a quick look at the air conditioner’s condensate drain, which should appear clean and dry. A blockage, clog, or signs of mold from preexisting moisture are all signs that you should call in a pro right away to take a closer look.

These may seem like minor issues, but an HVAC system that operates through electrical problems, blockages, and mold growth can suffer from inefficiency and poor indoor air quality. If you notice anything out of the ordinary during your inspection, don’t hesitate to contact a pro for a maintenance visit.

Clean Up the Outdoor Unit

Like the indoor HVAC components, it’s best to leave the more involved outdoor maintenance to experienced technicians. There are some tasks you can take on outdoors, however, starting with cleaning up around the outdoor unit.

While it’s fine to landscape around the outdoor unit, no bushes, shrubs, flowers, or trees should actually touch the unit. Give the unit, or condenser, two to three feet of clearance to account for growth and debris, and trim back any bushes or trees that threaten to grow too close to the unit.

Take care not to cover the unit in grass clippings when mowing the lawn, and brush them off right away if it happens inadvertently. Regularly clear any fallen leaves or branches from the condenser, especially as fall approaches and leaves fall with abandon.

Once you’re ready to turn off the air conditioner for the season, you should also consider protecting the outdoor unit with a condenser cover. This will help the outdoor unit remain free from leaf buildup as well as damage from ice or snow. Protecting the unit with a cover also decreases the chances that your air conditioner will require significant maintenance prior to next summer.

Test the Startup and Shutdown Controls

As the seasons change, you might need to rely on the air conditioner one day and the furnace the next, depending on how much the fall temperatures fluctuate. Now more than ever, you’ll want to know that the startup and shutdown controls for the HVAC system work as smoothly as possible.

Test the controls by overriding the settings on the programmable thermostat. Manually adjust the thermostat settings until the heating system turns on. Allow the system to run for a few minutes, and then adjust the settings again in order to turn the heating system off. Next, do the same to test the cooling system. If either system doesn’t start up, operate, or shut down as it should, contact an experienced HVAC technician for additional maintenance or repair work.

Schedule Preventive Maintenance

Learning that your HVAC system needs major repairs is never a good feeling in any season. A preventive-maintenance agreement, however, can take some of the sting out of both maintenance and repairs.

With a maintenance agreement like this, the focus is squarely on prevention. Each spring and fall, an experienced technician performs inspections, maintenance, updates, and repairs to ensure that the HVAC system runs as smoothly as possible. In addition to changing the air filter, the technician checks electrical connections, inspects wires, calibrates control systems, and lubricates moving parts. The technician also checks refrigerant levels, cleans the condensate pan, checks for leaky ductwork, and tests the system and thermostat to ensure correct operation.

One of the greatest benefits of a preventive-maintenance agreement is that it happens twice each year like clockwork. That means you can feel confident that the heat pump will run smoothly when you’re ready to turn it on in the late fall, without missing a beat. Since the agreement also helps you earn points toward system upgrades, you’ll be poised to take advantage of energy-efficient HVAC updates at the earliest possible opportunity.

Get an Energy Audit

Fall is the ideal time to get a home-energy audit, since it’s important to be aware of your seasonal energy needs as well as any local energy-efficiency issues. As a homeowner, you have the ability to perform a brief DIY energy assessment or schedule a professional energy audit.

To do a DIY assessment, start with a walkthrough to identify air leaks. Inspect baseboards, windows, and doorframes to spot drafts and leaks. If you find any, use caulk or weatherstripping to seal small cracks and gaps. Next, take a close look at your home’s insulation. Make sure that your home has the recommended amount of insulation by inspecting the attic. Also confirm that your attic insulation includes a vapor barrier, which controls the amount of moisture in the attic area.

If you want to get serious about saving energy in your home, schedule a professional energy audit. Not only will an energy auditor give you professional advice about insulation and air leaks, but he or she will use advanced technology to identify problem areas. A thermographic inspection of your home shows hot and cool spots, which reveal where large amounts of air leak from your home. A blower-door test reveals how airtight your home is and helps identify drafty areas and ventilation problems. Altogether, a professional energy audit can help you save significant energy, and there’s no time like the present to do it.

Is your home’s heating and cooling system due for a seasonal tuneup? Call the professional HVAC technicians at Griffith Energy Services to schedule maintenance today: 888-474-3391.

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