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Dec. 6, 2019

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Energy Adviser: Time for HVAC systems to make switch

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Published: October 8, 2019, 6:03am

Settling into the cold weather season requires more than finding the ice scraper and unboxing your warm clothes.

To be truly ready for the cold, your HVAC system needs to be ready to work on a daily basis during the many months ahead.

Regardless if your home uses an air conditioning-equipped heat pump or an electric or gas furnace with an air conditioner attached, your thermostat will have to be reset to keep the house warm instead of cool.

“It’s a common misconception that HVAC systems automatically switch from cooling to heating when the thermostat is turned up,” said Clark Public Utilities Program Coordinator Cameron Daline. “But, even with smart thermostats, the system needs to be told when to start using the heater and stop operating the air conditioner.”

Thermostats are designed to keep the indoor air temperature within set limits. When the heating system is activated the thermostat prevents indoor temperature from falling below the threshold of your choice. When the air conditioning system is on, the thermostat prevents the temperature from going beyond a certain threshold. But neglect to switch over when the seasons change and the system won’t work as you expect it to — no matter how high or low you set it.

All too often that misunderstanding leads people to believe their furnaces are broken and they schedule costly appointments with HVAC technicians over a nonissue.

“This time of year the utility’s energy counselors and many of the heating and cooling contractors we work with get calls from people wondering why the heat won’t kick on,” Daline said. “While it’s always possible that there could be larger issues at play, the first thing we usually ask is if they’ve turned off their AC unit and activated the furnace.”

Simple process

With the exception of newer heat pumps that automatically adjust themselves, HVAC systems with an air conditioning function will have to be switched over to heating. But the switch is simple. Most thermostats require the push of only a button or two; the entire process should only take a few minutes.

Smart thermostats are no exception to the rule. If you have a Nest, your cooling system is activated when the numbers are blue and the heating system is activated when the numbers are orange. Those thermostats also allow both systems to be activated simultaneously; when they are you’ll see both colors and temperature ranges on the screen.

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While your mind is on your HVAC system, it’s smart to do a little or schedule a little preventative maintenance. So consider replacing your furnace filter with a high-quality version if you haven’t done so in a while.

By the same token, if your furnace or heat pump hasn’t been inspected by a professional in a year or more, it’s smart to schedule an appointment soon. Even if the system appears to be working fine, there could be underlying issues. It’s best to catch and correct them early, while the temperatures are mild and HVAC contractors have extra time in their schedules.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.

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