Changing FiltersChanging filters in the HVAC system is vital for a couple reasons. For starters, it ensures that the air remains clean and healthy in the home. For another, clean filters prevent the buildup of dust and other debris – buildups that, over time, can wear down several major HVAC components while also raising your monthly heating or cooling bills. Changing furnace filters is extremely easy, and landlords with trusted tenants can usually rely on them to do this as necessary. Most filters require changing roughly once a month, while some others may last for multiple months. As a landlord, you should always have at least one backup filter on hand at your rental properties, and more than one if possible. If your tenants are not reliable, you can place a clause in the rental agreement that allows for you to come and change the filters regularly.
Replacing HVAC ComponentsFor some landlords, it can be tempting to let certain HVAC issues linger – you aren’t living in the space, after all, and many HVAC issues are relatively minor. This is a major risk, though, in large part because you could be risking the health of various components in the system. Replacing or repairing worn down components will increase your energy efficiency, plus make it last longer.
Vacant PropertiesAs a landlord, you may deal with periods of vacancy in between your tenants. These periods allow you to be a bit more relaxed with your HVAC system – you can turn the thermostat off during the summer if no one is living there, for instance, and you can lower it to between 50 and 55 degrees during winter. The only reason you must maintain this temperature during winter is to prevent frozen pipe issues. Just be sure to check in regularly during vacant periods to make sure there are no building issues, such as rising humidity or mold growth.
Checking InSpeaking of checking in, this is a great way to keep things functioning well during the day-to-day operations with a tenant in place as well. By “checking in,” we really just mean regularly communicating with your tenants – actually showing up to the property unannounced is almost always prohibited under standard rental agreements. But simply asking your tenants about any issues regarding the HVAC system or heating and cooling concerns can go a long way. For more on maintaining your property’s HVAC system as a landlord, or to learn about any of our heating or cooling services, speak to the pros at Airtime Heating & Cooling today.
Initial Inspection Before BuyingFirst things first: Whether or not you’re planning to rent a home after buying it, a major part of your inspection process should involve the HVAC system and its various components. All home purchases should be made after a professional third-party inspection and appraisal, one where this objective party can let you know if there are any issues with the air conditioner, furnace, water heater, vents and several other related areas. If such issues are present, you have a couple options. The first will be to demand a price reduction, which you’ll often get. The second would be to require that the seller attend to the issues themselves before you pay their original asking price. In either case, don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of and discover HVAC issues after you’ve already signed the paperwork.
General Landlord ApproachWe’re often asked by our clients, particularly those attempting landlord services for the first time, how to approach this situation. Our broad recommendation: Proceed as if you expect nothing out of your tenants. Of course, many good tenants will be diligent about their HVAC responsibilities. They will change furnace and AC filters regularly if you provide replacement filters, for instance, and will keep an eye out for signs of HVAC issues and report back to you. Unfortunately, though, not all tenants are like this – many will neglect these responsibilities, even if they’re in the lease. You have to be prepared for the lowest common denominator here: Assume you have to do everything when it comes to HVAC care, and adjust accordingly if your tenants prove otherwise.
Standard MaintenanceGenerally speaking, the primary role of a landlord with regard to the HVAC system is checking in for standard maintenance. The landlord is in charge of bi-annual tune-ups, for instance, during which components can be inspected to ensure they’re functioning properly. This will not only keep you in compliance will all laws and regulations, but will also extend the life of several components and save you money in the long run. For more on how to operate as a landlord when it comes to HVAC care, or to learn about any of our heating or air conditioning services, speak to the pros at Airtime Heating & Cooling today.
Different Warranty TypesNot all warranties are created equal in the HVAC world, and not all are even termed in the same ways either. Here are some broad warranty types to consider:
- Guarantee: Generally provided by manufacturers, this is less a warranty and more a promise that covers previous equipment and manufacturing processes. Essentially, it guarantees that everything was made properly and will function as expected, with no additional charge to you as a customer. If this guarantee is not met, a free exchange is usually allowed.
- Manufacturer’s warranty: Unlike a guarantee, this is a specific legal document provided by the manufacturer that states a few specific things. For one, it identifies a period of time the warranty extends for. From here, it states that certain faulty parts or products will be covered during this period of time, with specifics on which kinds of damage are covered (some warranties will cover user error while others won’t, for instance).
- Labor warranty: In some cases, HVAC companies like ours will offer labor warranties that cover system installations and any resulting issues.
- Extended warranty: Sometimes available from either manufacturers or installers, an extended warranty provides additional protection, usually for an extra cost.
Areas to ConsiderAs we noted above, not all warranties are created equal when it comes to HVAC materials – they can differ between areas, components and even manufacturers. Our HVAC installation technicians are happy to answer any questions you have on warranties, which can often make the difference in which product you select and which you discard. Here are some areas to consider asking about:
- Sold home: If you happen to sell your home during the life of a warranty, what will happen to the warranty? Will it transfer to new owners?
- Invalidation: Are there any behaviors or events I need to avoid that might invalidate or void my warranty?
- Lifetime warranty: This is a term used by some manufacturers, but it can be misleading in some cases. Does “lifetime” refer to the person buying the part, the part itself, the home, or what? Ask for specifics here if this kind of warranty is being offered.
- Warranty access: If something does go wrong that’s covered by a warranty, how easy is it to utilize the warranty quickly and efficiently?
What the Smell MeansIn the vast majority of cases, a burning smell from the furnace is completely normal, and relates to the furnace “warming up” again after some period of inactivity. This inactivity might be as little as a few hours, or could be as long as weeks or months in other cases. It’s one of the single most common issues homeowners have relating to their furnaces. To get a bit more specific, the smell is generally caused by the accumulation of dirt and dust in and around the heat exchangers in your furnace, or the air ducts and registers air passes through. When the furnace is turned on, this dust burns off and releases the odor in question.
Times When It’s AppropriateThe most common time for experiencing this burning smell is at the beginning of the heating season in fall – when the furnace has been off for much of the last several months and has had time to accumulate dust and debris. However, this can also take place due to shorter periods of inactivity, especially if your furnace filters are not changed often enough and there’s lots of dust in your home.
How Long it LastsThe burning smell should not last long, especially if the furnace has only been off for a few hours – the smell should only last about this long as well, in this case. In situations where the furnace hasn’t been used in weeks or months, you can expect the odor to last for a day or two.
Irregular Burning Smells and What to DoIf you notice a continuous burning smell from the furnace that doesn’t go away even after a reasonable period of time, or if burning smells are taking place even without recent inactivity, you could have another issue. If changing your furnace filter doesn’t solve the problem, call our professionals for an inspection. For more on what a burning smell from your furnace means, or to learn about any of our heating and air services, speak to the pros at Air Time Heating & Cooling today.
Issues With Poorly Sized SystemsJust like with air conditioner units, you run into several specific risks when you purchase a furnace that’s either too large or too small. Oversized furnaces will provide too much heat in many cases, making rooms – especially those closest to the furnace itself – far too hot. They’ll also turn on and off too frequently, which will stress the entire HVAC system and result in additional service calls. On the flip side, furnaces that are too small will have to run far too often to keep up with your home’s heating needs. They’ll put a huge stress on your vents and ducts, upping your energy costs in a huge way just to provide the same amount of heat as a properly sized system.
Proper CalculationsIt’s generally possible to find basic charts or calculations on the websites of furnace manufacturers, and these can be a good guide when it comes to furnace size. However, you should know that HVAC technicians like ours are trained with much more detailed calculation methods here – for a system that truly fits your home, you should consult with us. We’ll take measurements and inspections in several important areas:
- Square footage of the home
- Cubic feet of indoor air space
- Integrity of home “envelope”
- Exposure to sunlight
- Ductwork efficiency
- Type, quality and amount of insulation
- R-value and U-value of windows, doors and other air passage elements
Upgrading ModelsIn many cases, you’ll love your current furnace and its performance, but it will come time to replace it based on age. Many homeowners default to just buying the same size model – but hold on a moment. You might be able to upgrade to a more efficient model that’s smaller but still provides the same benefits for a lower cost. Speak to our HVAC technicians about this next time your furnace is up for replacement rather than just defaulting to the same size. For more on properly sizing your replacement furnace, or to learn about any of our HVAC services, speak to the pros at Airtime Heating & Cooling today.
Stack Effect BasicsStack effect, as we noted above, is most common in skyscrapers and other very tall buildings. It refers to a state where the peak of the structure, whether a home or building, acts as its own gigantic chimney – it funnels warm air (which naturally rises) upward, where it eventually is able to escape due to air openings that form over time. Why does stack effect happen? Because of temperature imbalances. When the temperature outside the building is much lower than the temperature inside, cold air will enter the structure at the bottom and push the warm air up. This leads to a worsening cycle where more air coming in just makes the drafts stronger, and so on. This is a larger and larger issue the taller the building is, and is part of the reason nearly all skyscrapers currently use revolving doors – because previous door types created air suction conditions so significant that people couldn’t even pull the doors open due to stack effect.
Why It’s an IssueWithin a home, stack effect is a problem when it begins to impact your air sealing. As stack effect worsens and pressure increases on the upper parts of your home, pressure will be put on the roof, insulation and other upper areas – these may crack, crumble or otherwise wear down, allowing air to escape as it rises. And as we noted above, this will only get worse with time, raising your utility bill each month and also potentially forcing you to spend on repairs for your roofing, insulation or even your foundation.
Possible SolutionsThe primary combatant to stack effect is strong insulation. Stack effect may take place to some small degree in your home regardless, but if you have great upper insulation, it won’t matter. Warm air will reach the upper parts of your home and simply have nowhere to go. When you use fans and other formats to recirculate it, it will get right back into the entirety of the home instead of being lost. The most important insulation level here is the barrier between your top floor and either your roof or your attic. However, we recommend having your insulation across the home checked or upgraded regularly. For more on fighting off the stack effect, or to learn about any of our furnace repair or other HVAC services, speak to the pros at Airtime Heating & Cooling today.
Vents and RegistersAll air that makes its way to you in the home will pass through your vents and registers within the HVAC system, so caring for these areas is very important. Without attention, vents and registers will build up dust over the course of the year, which in turn makes your air tougher to breathe. Luckily, preventing this is easy. Just use the wand attachment on your vacuum, or even a traditional duster attachment, to reach to these areas and cut down on dust flowing around your home’s air.
FiltersAnother element your air will pass through before reaching you is the filter in your furnace. You should be taking care to check and replace filters throughout the year, to be sure, but this job just takes on increased importance during the winter when there are fewer paths to fresh air in the home. If you have pets, you should be changing your filters even more often than the factory recommendations state.
Thermostat FanAs long as you have updated filters in your furnace, running the fan on your thermostat is a great way to cycle air and clean it out. The fan will automatically run during heating cycles, but you can turn it from “Auto” to “On” and cause it to run all the time. This will continuously run the home’s air through the filter and make it cleaner – but it will also raise your utility bill, so use this tactic sparingly.
Ceiling Fan BladesAnother common area for dust accumulation is on ceiling fans, so you should clean these regularly during winter. In addition, consider flipping the direction of the ceiling fan in winter so the blades move clockwise – this will create an updraft that helps with warming.
Duct CleaningThe worst dust and allergen buildups in the HVAC system often take place in the duct system, where it can be tough to reach on your own or even see in many cases. If you think this might be an issue in your home, talk to us about professional duct cleaning.
Air FiltrationFinally, consider a whole-home indoor air quality machine like our “Clean Effects” device from Trane. Not only does this technology clean all contaminants from your air, it also helps with humidity control as well. If you have consistent air quality issues, this is a great outlet to consider. For more on keeping indoor air quality high during winter, or to learn about any of our HVAC services, speak to the pros at Airtime Heating & Cooling today.
Optimal Humidity LevelsWhen we talk about humidity levels, we’re really discussing “relative humidity,” which refers to the level of water vapor in the air as a percentage of the total saturation point of that air. In general, you want your relative humidity level in the home to range between 30 and 50 percent – you can easily test these levels using a hygrometer, which can be purchased at any Home Depot or similar hardware store. In some climates, humidity will ebb and flow fairly significantly based on what season it is. Winter might see dryer air, with relative humidity levels below 30 percent, while the hot sun can lead to levels well above 60 percent in the summer.
Effects of Improper LevelsOccasional departures from the optimal humidity ranges won’t do much damage, but homes that are consistently outside of this range could present some issues. These issues are found in both personal health and in problems with e home’s structure. They include:
- Skin problems: Conditions like eczema, chapped lips or psoriasis can be significantly worsened by air that’s too dry.
- Mold or mildew growth: On the other end of the spectrum, air that’s too humid can lead to mold and mildew growth in the home – this, in turn, can cause significant respiratory illnesses and other health conditions.
- Smells: Too much moisture from an overly humid home will produce a dank, musty smell that can make certain people feel sick.
- Wood damage: Wood in the home can crack or splinter if it’s too dry, but can also warp if its infused with too much moisture.
Steps to TakeWhether your home is too dry or too moist, there are solutions out there. We have products from Aprilaire and Trane that can help with both humidifying and dehumidifying, depending on which your home needs. These include whole-home options if the entire home is affected, or singular options if you only need solutions for a room or two. For more on humidity in the home, or to learn about any of our HVAC services, speak to the staff at Airtime Heating & Cooling today.
Fall is in full swing, and that means it’s an important time of year for several basic HVAC considerations. One of the most important of these is the furnace, which will be your central resource for combatting the cold of winter once the snow hits.
At Airtime Heating & Cooling, we’re here to help. Our furnace tune-up services are always available if you need a quick bit of maintenance, and we can provide furnace repair if something is broken. As a homeowner, there are also a few things you can do on your own to prep the furnace for winter. Here are a few good examples.
First Time Use
If you haven’t already gotten your furnace warmed up and primed, now is definitely the time. After months without use, the furnace collects dust, which may also collect inside vents. This can create an odor as the dust is burned out of the furnace, but this should come and go in just a few minutes if you have good air circulation. If it lingers for hours, call our technicians for a tune up.
Other precautions you should take when you’re just getting the furnace going:
Change the filter: This should be done every few weeks or so, depending on your usage.
Clear the area: If the furnace is in a storage area of your home, remove any flammable materials left near it. These can be fire hazards.
Test thermostat: Even if the thermostat was working well over the summer, the winter can be a different animal. Take a digital thermometer into each room and make sure the thermostat is heating areas evenly.
Preparations for the Cold
Once the furnace has been warmed up for the season, there are a few other things to consider:
Weather stripping: Have weather stripping on all windows and doors examined, and replace it if it’s worn.
Chimney: If you have a wood-burning fireplace that you use during the winter, have your chimney inspected before your first fire.
Trees: Trim any tree limbs that could fall on power lines or through windows.
Carbon monoxide detectors: Test all your carbon monoxide detects – cracked furnace heat exhangers are some of the most common causes of carbon monoxide leaks, and the furnace is under more pressure during this season.