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Here in the West we are often fortunate to enjoy long stretches of mild fall weather, but at some point that distinctive chill in the air is hard to ignore and we have to acknowledge that winter is coming. Whether you welcome the inevitable snow and cold or dread it, switching from air conditioning to heating is a necessary chore that requires some thoughtful attention and preparation in order to make sure your furnace is ready for use and your air conditioning equipment will be in good shape when it is needed again.
There are a few simple things you should do when you shut down your central air conditioning system for the season:
Remove debris that may have collected in and around the exterior compressor/condenser. Using a garden hose, carefully clean dirt from the fins. Clean off the fan assembly and blades to keep dust from redistributing throughout your home. On the inside blower/furnace unit, clean the evaporator coil with a soft brush and a no-rinse coil cleaner.
Dust and dirt accumulate in and around the registers. Make sure the vents are not blocked by furniture or other items, and use a vacuum to clean them inside and out.
Start the new season off with a new furnace filter, then replace it as needed. Check the filter monthly to make sure it is clean. In most cases, a new filter is needed every 30-60 days. Some furnaces have permanent filters that need to be cleaned rather than replaced. These should also be checked and cleaned regularly. This is the easiest and most cost effective way to keep your system running smoothly and efficiently.
This may seem obvious, but it is an easy step to forget. If you have a programmable thermostat, be sure to update the settings.
If you are not the DIY-type — or even if you are — scheduling a maintenance appointment in preparation for each heating and cooling season is the best way to ensure that your system will function properly all year long. Your HVAC professional is trained to thoroughly clean your system, catch minor issues before they become costly breakdowns and repairs, keep your system operating at peak efficiency, and generally avoid any unpleasant surprises. Many manufacturers require regular maintenance to keep their warranties in force.