How to Winterize Your HVAC Unit

by Bryn HuntpalmerNovember 29, 2016

If you’re feeling the cold nip of winter outside, you’re probably just about ready to turn your heating unit to a permanent “on” position until spring. But wait! Before you start blasting the heat, there are a few things you can do to make sure your unit is running in tip-top shape—and that your AC is ready to go when the warmer weather comes around again. The Department of Energy estimates that proper HVAC maintenance can really impact your fuel or electricity expenses. In fact, giving your system a little TLC can reduce your energy consumption by a hefty 15 to 25 percent. Here’s what you can do to get your units nice and cozy and ready for the winter chill.

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Change Your Filters

Be honest with yourself here: when was the last time you changed your furnace or heat pump’s filters? Unfortunately, dirty filters can really inhibit your unit’s performance—and changing your filters is one of the simplest and cheapest ways to prolong the life of your unit, as well as cut back on your energy use. Clogged filters reduce airflow throughout your heating system, meaning it has to work harder to maintain the temperature on the thermostat. All that hard work just isn’t efficient, and it puts a lot of strain on your system’s components, too. That means not only are you adding money every month to your utility bills or fuel costs, you’re also setting yourself up for a costly repair—or even a total replacement—down the line. Bottom line: change your filters regularly, at least once every four to six weeks, especially if you’re running your heat every day.

Clean Your Registers and Air Returns

After a season of hard, consistent use, it’s easy for dust to build up around your vents and registers. But that grit is an HVAC’s foe, since your system will have to do extra work to blow heated air to you and your family. Remove grilles and floor registers, and wipe around the opening to clean out your ducts. Then clean the vents themselves before putting them back in place. As a bonus, this makes the air in your home cleaner and less polluted with allergens.

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Cut Back Brush Around Your Outside Unit

Now let’s move outside. Just because it’s winter doesn’t mean you can forget all about your AC. In fact, after a long, dusty summer of perpetual use, your air conditioning unit is probably feeling its age. In particular, check for vines, weeds, and brush that may have grown up around your outdoor unit. Look for twigs or leaves that may have fallen into the interior, and clear these out. It may not seem like it now, but winter is only a few short months long—so the more preparation you do now, the less work you’ll have in front of you come summertime.

Clean Your Air Conditioning Coils

This is for the serious DIY warriors out there. Cleaning your air conditioner’s evaporator coils targets the grit that has collected over the summer, ensuring that your system will run smoothly when hot weather arrives again. If you’re feeling adventurous, shut off the power to your air conditioning unit, and unscrew the bolts in the access panel. Then apply a mixture of mild detergent, like dish soap, and water to the coils. Allow it to sit for a few minutes, and wipe it off with a cloth. Get ready for the coolest summer on record!

Prop a Board On Your AC to Prevent Debris Build Up

Once you clean the inside of your unit, you’ll want to protect it from falling leaves, grit, and other debris throughout the remainder of the winter. Cut a piece of plywood down to the size of your unit, and place it on the top to prevent buildup while you winter down. Place a few bricks or heavy stones on top of the board to keep it from blowing off during high winds.

Of course, if you’re really worried about your HVAC unit’s performance, have a professional out to inspect your units and ducts and do some basic system maintenance. They can make adjustments that will keep you safe and snug in your home, from the first frost all the way until the last snow has melted.


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About The Author
Bryn Huntpalmer
Bryn Huntpalmer is a mother of two young children living in Austin, Texas where she currently works as an editor for Modernize. In addition to regularly contributing to Home Remodeling and Design websites around the web, her writing can be found on Lifehacker and About.com.

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