If you’re a homeowner, you most likely have an HVAC system in your attic. Use this guide to learn about your HVAC system, including what it is, how to maintain it, common problems you may have and when to repair or replace it.
What Is an HVAC System?
HVAC stands for heating, ventilation and air conditioning. The heating component of a residential HVAC system consists of a furnace, boiler or heat pump and circulates air throughout your home. The cooling component of a home HVAC system involves a condenser unit and an evaporator unit, both of which absorb the heat out of your home and blow it outside. You can control the temperature of your HVAC heating and cooling system using a thermostat.
Your HVAC system does more than regulate your home’s temperature. A home HVAC system also improves air quality by removing allergens. You can also invest in an energy-efficient HVAC system to reduce energy costs and provide a better environment for your family. You can make your HVAC system more energy-efficient by adding insulation to your attic and regularly maintaining the HVAC system.
There are three main types of residential HVAC systems:
- Split HVAC system: As the most common type of HVAC system, it consists of two units — one indoor and one outdoor. Both units are equipped to heat and cool your home. You can either have a furnace and air conditioner, a heat pump and air handler or a furnace and heat pump to regulate your temperature.
- Hybrid split system: While this system is similar to a split HVAC system, a hybrid split system allows you to use either electric or gas to power your unit.
- Ductless split system: Instead of using ducts like the previous split systems, ductless split systems use multiple units throughout the home that you can control. Connected by a compressor on the outside of your home, this ductless system is an energy-efficient option for regulating your home’s temperature.
- Packaged system: This system combines all of the HVAC components into one unit. The unit is usually installed on the roof of the home and includes a duct system that runs throughout the house.
- Geothermal HVAC system: This system uses the heat underneath the ground — which is consistent year-round — to regulate your home’s temperature. A refrigerant flows through pipes underground to absorb the heat. While this option is costly, you will save so much money in energy costs that you will pay off this system in five to 10 years.
The HVAC system contains two main components — your air conditioner and your furnace. Each temperature-controlling unit is made up of different sub-components. The air conditioner (AC) consists of a:
- Refrigerant lines: Refrigerant travels throughout the AC unit to cool your home. Refrigerant lines are heat-resistant and cold-resistant metal tubes that allow the refrigerant to flow from the compressor to the evaporator coil.
- Compressor: The compressor squeezes refrigerant into your residential HVAC system and adds pressure to the coolant.
- Condenser: In the condenser, the refrigerant — which was in gas form in the compressor — turns into a liquid and releases heat out of your home.
- Expansion valve: The expansion valve controls the temperature of the liquid coolant as it travels to the evaporator.
- Evaporator coil: When the low-pressure refrigerant flows through the evaporator, it absorbs the heat from the air and turns back into a gas. As a gas, the refrigerant circulates back into the compressor.
The heating unit consists of a:
- Heat exchanger: This part of the furnace takes in cool air from inside your home, warms it up and distributes it throughout the home. The heat exchanger removes toxic fumes produced by gas or oil furnaces.
- Igniter: The igniter — or pilot light — lights the gas the furnace uses as fuel.
- Burner: Using a combination of air and gas, the burner keeps the igniter’s flame burning.
- Gas valve: The gas valve controls the amount of gas your furnace uses.
The thermostat controls both the furnace and the air conditioner. Your HVAC system also consists of ducts and vents that deliver temperature-controlled air throughout your home.
Our team at Atticare will make sure your heating, cooling and ventilation systems all work together, along with your thermostat. We specialize in solutions for attics, where your HVAC system should be located. If you live in the New Jersey/New York area, the San Fransisco area or the Los Angeles area, let us provide you with a safe and comfortable home.
Maintaining Your Home HVAC System
To prolong the life of your residential heating and cooling system, you should keep up a routine maintenance schedule. You should clean and maintain your HVAC system regularly to prevent major damage or even HVAC failure.
Your HVAC system will last at least around 15 years if you follow these general maintenance tips:
- Inspect your entire unit: About once a year, inspect your HVAC system for any safety hazards or damage. You should check it in the spring or fall before extreme temperatures hit. Checking and cleaning your HVAC system ensures its functionality when you need it the most.
- Change your air filters: Depending on the type of filters you buy and where you live, you should change your filter every 30-90 days. Check your filters once a month, and if they are dirty, you should replace them.
- Get a smart thermostat: With a programmable thermostat, you can easily adjust your home’s temperature. A smart thermostat takes your energy-efficiency a step further and allows you to control your home temperature using a smartphone. As long as you have a Wi-Fi connection, you can set your home’s temperature while you’re on vacation or you’re away from home.
- Check your HVAC’s connection and voltage: HVAC units are sensitive to voltage. Too high of a voltage causes HVAC failure, while too low of a voltage makes the HVAC unit work too hard to produce energy. You may cause a voltage imbalance in your residential HVAC system with excessive use. At least once per season, check your HVAC’s circuit and your thermostat.
- Replace the batteries of your carbon monoxide detector: If your home heating and cooling system uses natural gas or oil, it can emit harmful chemicals like carbon monoxide. Make sure your carbon monoxide detector works in case of a gas leak.
- Inspect your outside unit: Periodically and after storms, check that there are no branches, leaves or other debris blocking your outside unit’s vents. In the winter, check your outdoor unit for ice or water to prevent mold or algae growth.
- Turn on your water supply: Before you need your furnace in the winter, in the fall, turn on the water supply that connects to the furnace.
- Use the auto setting: Leaving your HVAC heating and cooling system on “auto” allows your machine to turn off when it’s not in use. If you leave it “on,” it will trap more dust and clean the air more efficiently, but it will work harder and shorten the life of your residential heating and cooling system.
- Upgrade your insulation: Your HVAC system will have to work harder if your home is not properly insulated. Insulate your attic if you notice any inconsistencies in your home’s temperature.
- Lubricate all moving parts of your air conditioner: Use oil to lubricate the moving parts of your air conditioner to keep them functioning properly.
- Inspect exhaust outlets: Exhaust outlets allow harmful gases to leave your home without harming your family. Make sure there are no clogs in the exhaust outlets.
- Check refrigerant: Refrigerant only needs to be replaced when there is a leak. Your refrigerant lines need to be in proper working order, or else the compressor will have to work harder. You should check your refrigerant lines in the spring before you need your air conditioning unit.
- Use a cooling fan in the summer: An additional fan can help circulate the air blowing through your HVAC heating and cooling system. Atticare offers a QuietCool Whole House Attic Fan to pull cool air from the outside and eliminate odors, mold, smoke and allergens from the home.
- Check the condensate drain: Make sure your condensate drain is free of any clogs or debris. If your condensate drain clogs, your HVAC system could hold water and accumulate mold and mildew.
- Turn off your water supply: When you’re finished using your furnace, in the spring, turn off the water supply that connects to the furnace.
Along with preventative maintenance, you should also regularly clean your HVAC system. Use a water hose instead of a power washer to clean mold and algae off your outdoor condensing unit. Clean your evaporator coil’s drainpipe with a wet-dry vacuum or bleach. Wipe down or vacuum any debris in your indoor unit.
You may want to schedule an appointment with an HVAC professional who specializes in preventative maintenance once or twice a year. Most people schedule inspections in the fall to prepare their heat for winter and the spring to prepare their air conditioner for the summer.
During an inspection, an HVAC maintenance specialist will inspect, clean and repair all of the parts of your air conditioner and furnace. Typically, a maintenance tune-up includes:
- Testing the thermostat
- Checking the ductwork
- Vacuuming the blower compartments
- Checking refrigerant levels
- Evaluating furnace operation
- Lubricating all moving parts
- Measuring the airflow
- Changing air filter
- Checking the safety of the whole system
Common HVAC Problems
Over time, you may experience problems with your HVAC system. Here are some of the problems you are most likely to encounter and how to handle them:
- Hot and cold spots throughout the home: If you notice that one room is colder or warmer than the rest of the house, there may be something blocking your ducts. The most cost-effective option is to seal your ducts and prevent air leaks. You can also buy a QuietCool Whole House Attic Fan from Atticare to help circulate the air around your home.
- Allergies: Mold and mildew can build up in ducts and cause respiratory problems, extreme fatigue or allergies. You can clean the ducts to get rid of any dust or mold that has accumulated. A humidifier can also help if the air is dry and causes respiratory illnesses in your family.
- Long running times: If your HVAC heating and cooling system takes a long time to start, the easiest option is to set your thermostat to a temperature that is easier for your HVAC system to handle.
- Refrigerant leaks: Your refrigerant may be leaking if your AC unit is blowing out warm air. Your AC unit needs refrigerant to function correctly. Call in an HVAC professional to help you replace your refrigerant and repair any cracks in your unit.
- Dirty filters: Air filters should be replaced about once a month. Dirty filters can make your HVAC system work harder to regulate the temperature in your home. Check your air filters and replace them if your HVAC system makes loud noises or produces unusual smells.
- Electrical control malfunction: After excessive use, revive your compressors or fans by fixing or replacing your system’s wires and terminals.
- Drainage malfunction: If the condenser breaks, water will collect in the AC unit and can cause significant water damage. Replace the condenser as soon as possible to protect your home and keep your AC unit running smoothly.
- Obstructed condenser unit: Along with a broken condenser, a clogged condenser could cause mold and mildew buildup. Check your outdoor unit for any obstructions, like fallen leaves or a bush in the way of the vents.
- Blocked indoor vents: The vents inside your home could also be obstructed by furniture or other objects. If your HVAC system isn’t functioning properly, check your indoor vents to make sure nothing is blocking them.
- Thermostat sensor problems: If the HVAC unit won’t start, check the thermostat sensor. The thermostat may be malfunctioning if the temperature displayed on the screen doesn’t match the inside temperature.
- Dirty components: Like dirty filters, any parts of your HVAC unit that are dirty could cause the system to work harder. You can clean your outdoor unit with a hose and your indoor unit with a vacuum or microfiber cloth.
A malfunctioning HVAC unit can cost you more in energy bills. Our team at Atticare can provide you with a quote for HVAC installation or replacement. Contact us today for a free estimate.
Time to Repair or Replace Your HVAC System
If you have a split unit system, your furnace and your air conditioner will last for different lengths of time. The furnace tends to last 15-20 years with proper maintenance. The air conditioning unit will last 10-15 years, depending on if you live in a warm environment that requires AC more often. Heat pumps typically last about 15 years.
Properly maintaining your HVAC system will prolong the life of all its parts. After about 15 years, your HVAC system may begin to show signs of old age, and you may need to repair or replace your unit. Your HVAC system may need maintenance if you experience any of the following:
- HVAC failure: Older units will have to work harder to produce enough heat or cool air for your home. HVAC failure is when the unit requires too much power to regulate the temperature and breaks down as a result of working too hard.
- Dust accumulation: Your HVAC system is supposed to ventilate the air, keeping your air free of dust, dander and other contaminants. If your air is less clean than usual, you may need to repair your HVAC unit.
- Uneven temperatures: Your HVAC system should be able to regulate the temperature throughout your home. If one room is colder than the rest of the house, you may need to have an HVAC specialist check your unit.
- Unusual odors: The heating unit may produce unusual odors because of dust burning off the furnace. The smell could also be an indication of something more serious. A wire could burn, or toxic fumes could be leaking. If you start to smell unusual odors, have an HVAC specialist check your unit.
- Noise: A functioning HVAC system should be quiet. If your unit needs to work too hard to regulate the temperature, it will make loud squealing or grinding noises.
As you consider whether you should repair or replace your HVAC system, ask yourself the following questions:
- How old is the HVAC system? If the previous owner installed your HVAC system, the installation date may have been written on the front of the unit. You can also check the chamber door for the HVAC unit’s serial numbers and call your manufacturer to find out when it was installed. If your HVAC system is between 15 and 20 years old, it is more prone to deterioration. You can invest in a new HVAC system if your old HVAC system requires too much money in repairs.
- How much will it cost to repair the HVAC system? As a general rule, if you have to pay more than half of what your HVAC system is worth in repairs, you should consider replacing it.
- How much energy is the HVAC system using? Your HVAC system takes up about half of your energy supply in your house. To save energy, invest in energy-efficient windows or better insulation, then downgrade your machine to a smaller unit.
- What safety hazards are present? If you have a cracked furnace, carbon monoxide could leak into your home. A potentially fatal hazard like that may require a new system altogether. If you simply need new wires or clear valves, you can replace those parts of your HVAC system.
- How effective is your machine? If you find yourself constantly needing to adjust the thermostat, you should consider replacing your HVAC system.
While you can replace only the furnace or only the AC unit, you should replace both at the same time, even if only one unit is malfunctioning. Replace your whole unit to save money on energy, update your unit’s technology and increase the resale value of your home. Learn more about our heating and air conditioning installation services today.
Heating and Cooling Solutions From Atticare
If you need a new HVAC system, the team at Atticare is here to help. In addition to installing new HVAC systems, we also specialize in attic insulation in the New Jersey/New York Area, the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles Area. We are a Diamond Certified company, which demonstrates our outstanding customer rating. Contact us online or call 1-866-692-5449 to schedule an appointment.