Central California residents enjoy relatively comfortable temperatures for most of the year. However, as the calendar advances toward the final weeks of the year, nighttime temperatures can get pretty chilly. This change prompts many homeowners to switch their HVAC systems from cooling mode to heating mode.
As you make this transition in your own home, you should know what to expect. You should also know how to make the transition as easy as possible for your equipment and what to do if the change from air conditioning to heating causes trouble. Check out the answers to these frequently asked questions on the topic.
How Do Your HVAC System’s Air Conditioning and Heating Processes Differ?
An HVAC system uses many of the same components for heating and cooling, with a thermostat regulating the air temperature and ducts distributing either warmed or cooled air throughout the rooms. However, most HVAC systems get their cooling power through electricity and their heat through natural gas.
When you set your HVAC system to air conditioning mode, an electrically powered compressor turns hot refrigerant gas into a cold liquid very quickly. As this cold liquid passes through coils, the air surrounding them becomes cool and dry. A fan then blows this cooled air through vents to lower your home’s interior temperature.
When you set your HVAC system to heating mode, you activate a gas-power furnace that receives air through the aid of an electric fan. The gas rises through a heat exchanger, which heats the surrounding air. The heated air then circulates through your home’s ducts before returning for another pass through the system.
What’s That Funny Smell When You First Engage Your Heater?
If you have not engaged your heater for several months, you may smell a strong musty or burnt odor in the heated air. This odor commonly occurs as the heat exchanger and other components burn tiny bits of dust and other debris accumulated on their surfaces. It may smell alarming, but it does not indicate a problem.
That musty odor most likely comes from mold and mildew accumulation. These substances may accumulate if you let your home’s humidity levels get out of control or if your condensate pan doesn’t drain properly. Like dust and debris, mold and mildew may burn away after you run your heater for a few minutes.
How Can Switching From Air Conditioning To Heating Cause Trouble?
An HVAC system can usually handle a transition from air conditioning to heating with no trouble. However, this does not mean that you should switch back and forth between the two modes as frequently as you like. If you ask your HVAC system to go from one mode to another too rapidly, it may shut down altogether.
HVAC systems require a few minutes of rest between heating or cooling cycles for the pressure in their components to settle and normalize. Therefore, if you try to reactivate your cooling mode or switch modes too quickly after a cycle has completed, the compressor may draw extra power to attempt to comply, breaking the circuit and shutting the unit down.
Why Might Your Heater Refuse to Work After a Long Dormant Period?
When you have a clear and present need to start your heater for the first time in months, its failure to operate correctly may come as an unwelcome (and uncomfortable) surprise. This malfunction may stem from avoidable maintenance issues, or it may mean that one of the heating system components has reached the end of its life.
Dirt often plays a crucial role in heater malfunctions. For example, if your heater has a blower motor, the heat exchanger can overheat and fail. A dirty flame sensor can prevent the furnace from igniting. And a filthy burner may not run at peak efficiency, while a clogged filter may keep air from circulating through the system.
Furnaces in HVAC systems depend on a device called a capacitor to ignite their gas. A weak or dying capacitor may have trouble starting your heater if it can manage the feat at all. The wrong amount of gas (or refrigerant in a heat pump system) may also lead to poor heater function.
Why Should You Schedule an HVAC Inspection Before Cooler Weather Arrives?
Proper maintenance can help you ready your HVAC system for an efficient, uneventful transition from air conditioning to heating. A skilled HVAC technician can inspect the entire system for dust, mold, incorrect fuel or refrigerant levels, a capacitor that needs replacing, and any other issues that might affect performance.
You can often tell whether you need HVAC maintenance services simply by checking for various potential trouble signs around the house. For instance, if your windows constantly host condensation or your home’s vent pipe looks rusty, you may have a mechanical problem that affects the system’s operation.
Derek Sawyers Smart Energy Heating & Air can help you nudge your HVAC system from air conditioning mode to heating mode as effectively as possible. Contact us today to schedule a seasonal inspection or schedule any needed repair services.