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7 Things You Should Never Do

One of the reasons we write this HVAC News column is to empower you with information.  Many times that means telling you how to do things yourself to save money on your HVAC maintenance or energy bills.  But this time, we're emphasizing a few things you should never do because they can be harmful or cause injury to you or your HVAC system.  As we always say, knowledge is power!

  1.  Do not cover your outdoor HVAC unit.  Many people falsely believe they should cover their outdoor unit to protect it from the elements, like rain and snow.  The only time it may be covered is if it's turned completely off.  While the unit is on and operational, it must have good air flow all around it in order for it to operate, and you will damage the unit if you operate it with a cover on.  It's ok for the unit to be located underneath an overhang, as long as there are no obstructions for about 3 feet all the way around it.
  2. Do not use a de-humidifier in the winter or a humidifier in the summer.  In the winter, the heat removes the air's natural humidity, and the dry air increases static electricity, makes respiratory passages uncomfortable (aggravating allergy and asthma symptoms), causes itchy skin, damages the woodwork and wood flooring in your home (causing cracking/splitting), and increases your energy bills.  That's why you want to use a humidifier (not de-humidifier) during the winter. Here in TN, we naturally have high humidity in the summer so it would be counter-productive to use a humidifier in the summer, plus it would increase mold and insects.  Air-conditioning helps you feel more comfortable in part by taking the excess humidity out of the air, and using a de-humidifier (not a humidifier) can help even more!  
  3. Do not use your fireplace as your main heat source.  Some people think that in cold weather, it will help keep their house warmer if they use their fireplace in addition to their HVAC system.  This is dead wrong.  The fireplace causes already warmed room air to be sucked up the chimney and thus makes the house colder… and causes you to use more energy (increasing your utility bills).  The fireplace may be a nice touch for "ambiance" for a few minutes, but should not be used as the main heat source unless it is an emergency and all your heat and power is out.  Additionally, using the fireplace greatly increases indoor air pollution (particulate, soot, and toxic chemicals in the air), and can trigger allergies.
  4. Do not over-size your HVAC system.  When purchasing a new system, it is easy to think bigger is better, but not so when it comes to HVAC systems!  A properly-sized piece of equipment that's not too large is going to work much more efficiently in maintaining better and more even comfort in your home.  Check out our previous post about this issue here.
  5. Do not ignore small issues like smells, sounds, leaks or minor heating/cooling problems.  These have a way of becoming big problems before too long, and the longer the issue persists, the more money it may wind up costing you.  Money Magazine recommends the best thing you can do to save money is have regular maintenance of your HVAC system twice per year.  Don't bury your head in the sand and hope for the best.
  6. Do not block registers, air returns, or forget to change your air filters.  These are the number one reasons HVAC systems fail or have problems like uneven heating and cooling.  Set up a reminder on your computer or smartphone to change air filters a minimum of every 3 months. If you're blocking registers in an effort to deflect air to the rooms that need it most, then read our post on uneven heating and cooling solutions here.  It's better to get to the root cause of the problem than to deal with a symptom of the problem in this manner, as it will only harm your HVAC system and shorten its life if you block registers or air returns.
  7. Do not turn off your heat when leaving for vacation during the winter.  You may think you're saving money by not running the heat when no one is home, but if your pipes burst from the freezing and thawing, you could be coming home to a very costly mess!  In fact, it's a good idea to turn off the water to the house (via the main cutoff valve), and then open up all the faucets so there is no possibility of frozen pipes.  That's because if the power goes out while you're gone, the heat won't work and, if the outage is prolonged, any liquid in the house could freeze anyway. Turn the icemaker off in your freezer and drain the water line, and drain the water from the toilet tanks.