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North Hills Monthly

Is Your HVAC System Winter-ready?

Oct 01, 2017 11:09AM ● By Shari Berg

Most western Pennsylvania natives are familiar with the old adage: If you don’t like the weather, wait 15 minutes and it’s sure to change. The unpredictability of weather patterns in the region–particularly during the fall and winter months–makes it important to have an HVAC system that is reliable. 

Every summer, when the state hits the first hottest day of the season, some folks turn on the air conditioning, only to find it doesn’t work. As we move into the fall and winter months, a similar experience can occur the first time temperatures drop low enough to warrant firing up the furnace. 

The rush to replace an old or failing system is greatly dependent on the weather, said Dennis Rozanski, owner of Seasons Heating and Cooling in Allison Park. “On average, it starts in mid-September and can last through October, when that temperature drops lower overnight,” he explained. “A lot of people put it off until then.”

Realizing a new HVAC unit is needed once it gets colder, however, is a lot easier to bear in the early fall than in the dead of winter. On average, it takes a full day to install most HVAC units during a replacement. For boiler systems, it can take two or more days, so Rozanski urged homeowners who suspect their furnaces are not up to snuff to schedule an inspection with a trusted HVAC services company sooner rather than later. 

Ideally, homeowners should have their AC units and furnaces checked once annually as part of routine maintenance. Paying proper attention to maintaining HVAC systems can help extend the lives of the units, making middle-of-the-night furnace failures a rare occurrence. 

Homeowners who find themselves in need of a new unit may want to consider some of the recent trends in heating and cooling when selecting a replacement. 

An HVAC feature that has been a growing trend for the last two years is the Wi-Fi thermostat. Each furnace production company has its own version of this kind of thermostat, each with a different name. However, all have the same things in common. They are Energy Star® certified and can save homeowners an average of 10 percent on their heating and cooling costs each year. The units allow homeowners to access them from anywhere via a reliable Wi-Fi connection to control the temperature setting. Detailed energy reports also are delivered directly to a smartphone or other portable electronic device from the units. 

Rozanski offers the Wi-Fi enabled thermostats, and thinks that they can be beneficial for residents who are often away from their homes since they make it easy to control the temperate settings from virtually anywhere. “For the average homeowner, there really is no need to have one of these,” he said. “On average, these units can cost $50 or more than a programmable thermostat, with some costing significantly more than that.” 

Another norm for the HVAC industry are units with variable-speed compressors. Both AC and heat pump units have variable-speed compressors available, though prior to this option, HVAC units possessed only single-stage compressors. The difference between the two is the cost-savings homeowners will realize by using a more efficient unit. 

Single-speed units run at 100 percent all the time, which uses more energy and can be noisy. Variable-speed units are quieter, provide greater overall comfort in temperature and are better at controlling humidity and dehumidification in the home. 

Rozanski said there is an added benefit to variable-speed units—rebates. “There are a lot of programs out there that people may not be aware of,” he said. 

Many utilities offer consumers one-time rebates for purchasing and installing energy-efficient units such as these. Duquesne Light offers consumer rebates for energy efficiency in four categories: water heater and insulation, appliances, control technology and HVAC. Rozanski recommends contacting utility providers to see which rebate programs currently are in effect. 

While trends and rebates are just two things to consider when purchasing a new HVAC unit, Rozanski said that what works well for one consumer and one home may not work well for another. 

“The easiest way to provide customers with the best option is by talking with them,” he explained. “What are their concerns? What are their existing needs? Do they plan to be in the home long-term? If I find out, for instance, that someone doesn’t plan to live in their home for more than a few years, I may not direct them to the most expensive unit, because they will not be in the home long enough to realize the return on investment.”

Consumers also can check out recommended HVAC units and providers online via Consumer Reports.