- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 22, 2004

When the weather outside is frightful, it may be a little late to have your heating and air conditioning system inspected. For folks in warmer climates, nothing can ruin a holiday dinner faster than an air conditioner that breaks down on a sweltering Christmas.

Inspecting this system — which means spending a little money each year — can save you a bundle. A number of heating and air conditioning companies offer a twice-yearly inspection program where a technician looks over your system for wear and tear, leaks and impending breakdowns.

I’ve carried this type of protection for several properties, and it’s always been worth the investment.

While many homeowners seek ways to lower their monthly expenses, this is not one of those places to cut.

Think about it — the furnace and air conditioning are used day after day. Heating is an absolute necessity for those in colder climates.

For many homeowners, heating and cooling account for up to half of all utility costs, so we know it eats up a lot of energy.

If you have an exterior unit, it is abused by the elements, and we hope it keeps working around the clock despite all the abuse.

Several years ago, I had a unit break down in February. I had a very chilly family and was on the waiting list for a technician.

I wasn’t the only one with heater problems on this cold weekend, and techs make premium money off those who want the heater working now. Thus, a regularly scheduled maintenance program is your best insurance policy.

A qualified technician should take a look at the following elements of your heating and air conditioning systems:

• Check and adjust fan switch. If not operating properly, a fan switch can waste energy and cause nuisance fan cycling.

• Check air filters. We know we’re supposed to change these all the time, but when was your last filter change? Dirty air filters increase your system’s operating costs and cause undue wear on the system.

• Inspect heat exchangers. Heat exchangers crack and deteriorate with age. These cracks pose a risk of serious illness from the fumes.

• Clean burners and check all components. Poor combustion is caused by dirty burners or defective components, wasting precious heat as it “goes up the stack.”

• Check and clean ignition components. Failure of this one element of the system can cause ignition failure and shut the unit down.

m Inspect unit wiring. Loose connections and/or weak fuses lead to motor or control failure.

• Check safety controls.

• Clean blower wheels and lubricate motors. This one item of the inspection alone will provide longer life for the motor and more consistent temperature control.

• Check fuel line/shut off valves. Undetected leaks waste energy and could become dangerous.

• Inspect flue pipes. Pipe corrosion or leaks can cause a very dangerous situation.

• Check/calibrate the thermostat. Defective or improperly calibrated thermostats increase operating costs while decreasing your comfort level.

For heat pumps, the technician will also check Freon levels and test for leaks in the system. If levels are low, this could be a sign of leaks in the system, which should be tested further. If none exist, then the system should be charged up with more Freon.

Maintenance, rather than emergency repair, is always the best move.

M. Anthony Carr is the author of “Real Estate Investing Made Simple.” Post questions at his Web log (https://commonsenserealestate.blogspot.com).

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