In this episode, Johnny D explains the basics of HVAC systems, with a focus on the heating element and basic maintenance.
In addition to your air conditioning unit, your HVAC system includes a heating unit. In
Arizona, this is typically either a gas furnace or electric heat pump. Less common is a resistance heating system. No matter which system you have, you need to perform the same basic maintenance as you do for your air conditioner. Of course, if you live in the valley during the winter months, you probably don’t need to change your filter every month as you do when you’re running the A/C. However, you do need to check it every 30 days, and change it at least every two months.
Another basic maintenance task is changing the batteries in your thermostat, since most newer, digital thermostats have batteries. You only need to do this about once a year. You also want to pay attention to how the unit runs. Does it make any strange noises? If so, this is a sign that something is amiss and it’s time to call in the pros. Finally, having your system regularly serviced by a professional technician ensures it continues to run properly year-round. Preferably, this maintenance occurs twice each year – once for the heater and once for the air conditioner. At a minimum, though, you need yearly maintenance on your HVAC system.
And remember, if you have your own home services questions, just click to the Ask Johnny D page and fire away!
Steve: Welcome back to another episode of the “Ask Johnny” show. I will be joined as always by John Dargavel, who will be answering all of your home service questions. Let’s talk about HVAC, just the basics on HVAC. I always get confused: I have an air conditioner, obviously, but on the outside of the house, I think I have a fan inside of the house, I think I have a heat pump or a heat exchanger or something. Is this always a one-two combination?
Johnny: In a straight answer, yes. Typically, you are going to have a portion that runs outside. Typically, it’s on the ground, on a pad, around the exterior of the house. That’s where the compressor is located that produces the air conditioning. The outdoor unit is typically called the condenser, and that’s the part that runs outside.
A lot of people will either have a heat pump – and a heat pump is typically all electric where there’s an air handler that would either be in a closet or up in an attic – and then a lot of people would have a gas furnace, and the gas furnace would produce heating also, but with that gas furnace, the fan runs inside to that for the air conditioner.
Most people in the Phoenix area will either have a heat pump or they have a gas furnace, and in some cases, there’s electric heat that people have where it is resistance heating but it is not nearly, it is common.
Steve: Now what is that big pool of water I get on my outside unit in the winter? Is that something to do with the condenser?
Johnny: Outside in the winter, the outdoor unit, the condenser, in the winter time, that outside coil actually gets cold, and it will condensate and it causes water to drip. The moisture in the air will condense on that outdoor coil and form water around the outside.
Also, ice will form on that outdoor unit since it does get cold. The system has a de-ice where goes into a de-ice mode, and when that ice melts, you will get water on the outside by the unit. That is typically very normal in normal operation.
Steve: Interesting. Obviously, we think about air conditioning a lot living here, but yet there are times when you need the heat. What are things that homeowners can do to make sure that the heaters are running well, whether it is a furnace or a heat pump or whatever?
Johnny: Depending upon what type of system, the biggest thing for homeowners is to keep the filters changed. You want to do that on a regular basis. In our climate here, with heating, you may not need to do this as often as you do with the air conditioning. Air conditioning, we’re going to want to change the filters at least every 30 days, depending upon which style filter you have.
With the heating, you might want to look at it every 30 days, and it may not need it, but every couple of months, you might need to change the filters. But we want to keep up on filter changing.
Another thing homeowners can do is looking at their thermostat. A lot of the newer thermostats, digital thermostats, have batteries inside of them. It maybe something that once a year, we want to update those batteries. If you have batteries in it, you want to know how to change them, and typically they are fairly see the change, where there are batteries inside of a compartment that opens up.
Beyond that, it’s really recommended by SRP, APS to have these units maintained and maintained on a regular basis, meaning having a professional come out, assess the operation, make sure that it is cleaned and operating properly, which is going to give you a more efficient unit, give you more longevity with the system, that it lasts longer. Having it professionally maintenanced is an important part of owning an air conditioner.
Steve: So we should have somebody come around once a year, at least, and check it out.
Johnny: At least once a year. If you have the gas furnace, it’s recommended to have the gas furnace looked at also in the winter time, and the utility companies really recommend to have both systems – meaning heating and air conditioning – maintained. That would mean that you would have it done twice a year. Now a lot of people here in our climate do it once a year, but I highly recommend to get it done twice a year.
Steve: Yes, sounds sensible. It would be interesting to me if you lined up a bunch of people here and said, “How many of you have changed your filter in the last 30 days?” I bet most of them would go, “Not me.” It is one of those things we like to do “mañana, mañana” and never quite get to it.
Johnny: I agree. But it is super important. For the homeowner, that’s the best thing, the most important thing that you can do with the air conditioning system.
The only other recommendation is if you noticed it running longer than it normally does, you notice it making a noise or strange noises, that’s usually an indication that something’s happening and you need to call for help, meaning calling an air conditioning professional to come out and assess what is going on with it, because it’s usually a sign that something’s happening.
Steve: Yes. These are expensive things to take apart and then find out you couldn’t fix it yourself, right?
Johnny: Yes. In most cases, most homeowners are not setup and they don’t have the proper tools, and it’s not something that you want to tackle on your own, fixing your air conditioner. It typically has Freon inside of it, and there are special licenses that are required to handle that. It has high voltage inside the system, so we don’t want to get electrocuted or get shocked. It’s something that you really have to be careful with.
Steve: Do not try this at home, kids. Sounds like a lot could go wrong in there, right?
Just quickly on this side of things, what are these new thermostats, these Nests, these ones that sense us as people and know what we like and adjust? Are you seeing a lot of those going now? Is that something that is working well? Any familiarity with those?
Johnny: They are becoming more and more popular. More and more people are interested in connectivity, meaning that you can connect your cellphone to your thermostat and while you’re away, you can see what is going on at your house.
A lot of them are adaptable to your comfort inside of the home, meaning that it will know what temperature you like it set at and it will achieve those temperatures when you are in the home. When you are away from the home, it sets those up, so you’re saving energy.
There are a lot of good things about the Nest style thermostats. We install several different brands of that style of thermostat. A Trane brand that we put in is super popular also.
Steve: I’m worried that the thermostat will be the smartest thing in my house and it’ll start taking over: I’ll come back and the doors will be locked.
Johnny: They are very super convenient for people in operation. It makes it so that you can sit on your couch and adjust the temperature in your home and know what is going on inside of the home.
Steve: Thanks so much for that. I found it absolutely fascinating. Johnny D., it was a pleasure.
Johnny: Steve, thank you.
Steve: Thank you very much, sir. Have a great day.