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How Important is a Furnace in Houston

03 Jun 2021

Author: Jeff O'Hara

It’s the beginning of October, and it’s time to close the books on another hot and humid Houston summer. If you’re like us, thanks to the pandemic, you probably spent a lot more time inside your home during the summer of 2020 than in any year prior. Through it all, there was one home appliance that made it not only bearable, but actually made it pleasant to be home all that time, and that’s your air conditioning system. 

Our HVAC systems work incredibly hard over the summer months, sitting atop concrete slabs, often in direct sunlight, battling temperatures that can top 100 degrees. But what about those few days in January or February when it’s 30 degrees with a big wind chill to go with it? 

When it comes to our HVAC systems here in the Houston area, we tend to give all the credit to our air conditioners. It makes perfect sense that our furnaces don’t even show up on the home maintenance radar, remaining wholly ignored and neglected. Until there’s a problem. 

Living in the sub-tropical climate of South Texas, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that it gets downright cold around here in the winter. These cold snaps rarely last longer than a few days, but for a native south Texan, below-freezing temperatures can be a bit of a shock. If your HVAC system’s furnace hasn’t been maintained, you may be out of luck keeping the kids warm on that first bitter cold morning. 

Why Does My Furnace Smell Weird?

Every year, we get more than a couple of calls in the office on the first cold day of the year about strange smells coming from heating systems. Since our HVAC system’s furnace goes unused most of the year, dust and dirt collect on the various components, like the heat exchanger. 

As these components are operated and heated after months of dormancy, the dust and dirt collected on fan blades and built up in ducts is warmed, moistened, and circulated throughout the house, causing a musty odor a “heavy” feeling in the air. Once the air has cycled through the furnace a few times, this smell should dissipate quickly. If it doesn’t, it may be time to replace your system’s air filters. 

How Can I Tell if I Need a New Furnace? 

Considering the short amount of time our furnaces tend to be in use, it is often difficult to be aware of performance issues. When our air conditioners show signs of age and perform poorly, we know it right away as they’re in daily use 8 or 9 months out of every year. Logic would suggest that since our furnaces don’t get a lot of use, they should be ready to go on that first chilly morning. What can go wrong with our furnaces, and what can we do to prevent home heating issues this winter.

Age of the System

  • Even though our furnaces don’t serve a lot of time in the front-line battle against Houston’s weather, they aren’t immune from age-related problems. Most of our furnaces are in our attics, where temperatures can approach 150 degrees, and humidity doesn’t have an opportunity to dissipate. When the attic cools in the evening, condensation forms, which causes fans, heat exchangers, and other components to be susceptible to rust. 

Higher Energy Bills

  • Furnaces that are older run less efficiently, leading to higher energy bills in the winter months. Fans and fan motors can deteriorate from the effects of accumulated dust and dirt and corrosion related to high humidity levels. Furnaces that are not appropriately maintained, like those with neglected filters, cannot draw sufficient air into the heat exchanger, causing the furnace to work harder to meet demand.

Some Rooms Are Warmer Than Others

  • As HVAC systems age, we know they become less efficient. One way that loss can be felt is in rooms that are always colder than the rest of the house. The cause is that older furnaces lack the power to push the heat evenly throughout the home. Cold areas of the home will most likely be the rooms that are furthest away from the furnace.

Humidity Issues

  • As Houstonians, we get more than our fair share of humidity during the summer months. On the other hand, South Texas winters can be quite dry, and with your HVAC system attempting to remove what little moisture there is in it, the dry conditions become part of your home’s environment. Dry and itchy eyes, sinus pain, and dry skin can all be attributed to dry air, which can damage wood floors, dry out, and become brittle.

What Can I Do to Ensure My Furnace Is Working this Winter?

There’s no better way to check if your furnace is working before you need it than to run it for about 15 minutes every month or two. We know that nobody wants to run their heating system during the dog days of summer, but doing so allows the homeowner to find potential issues. Discovering that a fan motor bearing or heat exchanger needs to be replaced should never happen at 6:00 am on a school day.

Don’t Forget the Filters

Clean filters in your HVAC system is the first, most crucial step to ensure your heating system will perform efficiently. Failure to maintain air filters is responsible for many furnace ailments, like too much dust, too much humidity, and lack of sufficient warm air to be comfortable. Most heating and air conditioning system makers recommend changing your air filters every 3 – 6 months and more often if anyone in your home smokes indoors. 

Do I Have to Replace My AC Unit with My Furnace? 

Although air conditioning systems and furnaces utilize the same blower motor, fan, ductwork, and vents to circulate chilled or heated air, the two appliances work independently. So, even though the answer to the above question itself is no, it is common practice to replace HVAC systems as a complete entity for convenience and compatibility.

Most of the AC system’s key components are located outside, with a large fan, condenser coil, compressor, and other electric components under a common housing. The furnace unit’s entirety is situated adjacent to the blower that the AC and heating systems share, most often in your attic. Replacing the AC unit while retaining your old furnace can create a mismatched system, with the old blower motor unable to meet the new air conditioner’s circulation needs.

Let Nick’s Air Conditioning help you decide if your furnace needs repair, replacement, or just a little TLC maintenance. Our licensed and experienced HVAC technicians will check your entire system for wear and tear, and make a recommendation on its condition.

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