It’s not exactly a secret that Northern California’s population has been growing. The Bay Area, of course, is always one of the fastest growing metro areas in the US, but in recent years we’ve also started to see more and more folks moving out towards Sacramento as well. As a result, our real estate costs are on the rise, but, even so, our region is still one of the most affordable metro areas in the state for folks hoping to buy a house. This means that I hear from a good deal of families who are spending their first winters in a new home, whether they built it from scratch or bought it from someone else.
One of the most important things new homeowners should be aware of is how to prepare your furnace for winter in Northern California. Actually, this is also a good subject to go over again for those of us who have lived in our houses for a decade or more as there are numerous benefits for preparing your hardworking furnace for the winter ahead.
Here in Northern California, we have what’s known as a Mediterranean climate, which means hot, dry summers but wet, cold winters. Most of us don’t get covered in snow, but we do experience low temperatures, especially at night—temperatures so low that they require us to turn to our furnaces for weeks or months at a time. And you wouldn’t want your furnace going into those kind of chilly conditions cold, now would you?
Just like you wouldn’t start running a marathon without training first, the same thing can be said of your furnace. If you did, that’d be a pretty easy way to guarantee you wouldn’t finish the race and that you injure yourself along the way. Winter in Northern California can feel like a marathon for your furnace. So, with that in mind, let’s make sure that yours is properly prepared.
How to Prepare Your Furnace for Winter if You’ve Just Bought a Home
When you’re buying a house, there’s a lot to juggle: the transaction, the move, and any number of advanced inspections. We’ve talked here in the past about plumbing inspection tips that new homeowners should know, but it’s equally important to be aware of what needs to be done to inspect the HVAC in the home before your first winter.
Here are five basic tips for inspecting the HVAC system, and the furnace in particular, in a Northern California home you’ve just made your own:
- Tip #1: Visually inspect the physical equipment. This one sounds simple, but it’s where every new homeowner should start. Locate your furnace, generally in the utility area, and check out whether it looks like it’s in good shape. An untrained eye isn’t all-telling in this situation, but you should be able to see signs of major distress like rust or duct tape holding it together.
- Tip #2: Ask about the furnace’s age. You need to know how old your furnace is so that you can determine whether it needs to be replaced. On average, a furnace should last about 15 years, but that number is only an average. Furnaces that are 10 years and older are liable to need a replacement. If the unit in your new house has reached that age, it’s time to have a conversation with an HVAC professional about whether you should invest in a new one.
- Tip #3: Notice the furnace’s efficiency on a room by room basis. Another basic tip is to actually turn on the furnace and then spend some time in each room. If one room is excessively hot and another is still freezing, that means you could have a problem such as unbalanced ductwork in your new home. This is a complicated problem to have, one that you should have a professional HVAC technician start working on right away.
- Tip #4: Study your furnace’s history. In addition to knowing your furnace’s age, it’s also really important to know about past problems and repairs. Sometimes, HVAC techs will leave behind dated job tickets that we attach to the unit or post nearby so that the next technician who visits will know what has been done. Things like this can give you a valuable insight into your furnace. With anything mechanical, the best predictor of a device’s future is often its past.
- Tip #5: Have a professional HVAC technician perform an inspection. Getting an annual heating and cooling service check-up performed is the single most important piece of advice I have for Northern California homeowners. Have an HVAC pro out to check out your furnace—and your air conditioner as well.
How to Prepare Your Trusty, Old Furnace for Winter in Your Long-Time Home
There’s definitely less winter prep work for long-time homeowners when it comes to how to prepare your furnace for winter, but that doesn’t make it any less important. In the past, I’ve gone over my ultimate fall furnace maintenance guide, but since winter and fall come every year, I think it’s worth going over some of the key points again:
- Step #1: Change your filter. This is always step numero uno because a clean filter is an HVAC MVP. The problems that can strike when you have a dirty filter range from air flow reduction to pet dander and other allergens circulating through your home. A good HVAC repair company can even put you on a schedule where they come and take care of this for you, so you can focus on other home maintenance priorities.
- Step #2: Pay close attention to your furnace. Often, I think we as long-time homeowners tend to fall into a trap of only evaluating our furnaces based on one thing: whether or not they’re generating hot air. However, there are other trouble signs you can look out for, like odd noises, bad smells, or irregular flames in the burner. Noticing any of these signs while you prep for winter is enough to have your HVAC repairman out to take a look.
- Step #3: Get your annual HVAC checkup. If you only do one thing to prep your furnace for winter this year, this should be it. Simply put, you’re doing your furnace a disservice if you don’t get it a tune-up every year. I’m sure you ran it quite a bit last winter, which was one of Northern California’s coldest and rainiest in years. Make sure everything is still in running order before you put it back into service this season.
I actually like winter in Northern California quite a bit. Sure, it gets cold, but a heavy coat and a stocking cap can keep you comfortable outside easily enough while the extra rain we get makes all our giant trees start to look so much greener. Of course, when I say I like winter, that’s understanding that I have my warm house to go back to when I’m through with the outdoors. Whether you’re new to our area and a first-time homeowner or you’ve been here for generations, I think you’d agree that a working furnace is a major priority this winter. So make sure that yours has been properly prepared.
At Bell Brothers, we believe in a whole home approach to HVAC maintenance. Our heating and cooling professionals would love to give your AC and furnace a good tune-up this fall. While they’re at it, they can also make sure your windows and insulation are working efficiently to keep your home as comfy and safe as can be. Contact us today to schedule your fall HVAC maintenance or a whole-home efficiency assessment.
Wondering how to finance a new furnace for your new home? HERO is a unique financing option that helps California homeowners afford energy efficient upgrades to their home. Contact Bell Brothers, a HERO-approved contractor, to learn more. Our local HVAC, plumbing, and window specialists will walk you through the entire process, from applications to installation.
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