How much do you know about your home’s mechanical system?
Every home has a system of mechanical appliances that run systems like heating and cooling, electrical and plumbing and they’re important for you to make yourself familiar with them.
While these systems can differ from home to home, it’s important that you acquaint yourself with each one, and learn some of the basic maintenance that you’ll need to do as the homeowner.
Taking care of each of these systems will help ensure that your home remains efficient, safe and in good condition for many years to come. So let’s take a look at these various systems in more detail:
- Heating and Cooling
Your home most likely has a system that keeps it warm in the winter. The most common systems that a home has are a furnace, a heat pump, electric baseboard heaters and/or radiators. Each type of system is a little different. Can you identify yours?
Typically the furnace is found in the basement of the home or some out-of-the-way closet. It heats your home by burning natural gas or electricity and blows warm air through ducts within the walls of the house.
These days furnaces tend to be the most popular method of heating a home, and there are many different sized models to choose from depending on the size of the house it needs to heat. If you’re not sure which type of furnace to choose, simply call your local electrician and they’ll be sure to give you some professional tips and recommendations.
Maintenance Tip: Have your furnace inspected regularly by a professional and make sure to replace the furnace filters every two to 4 months to ensure your furnace is running clean and efficiently.
THE HEAT PUMP
Heat pumps are usually found on the outside of your home. They do not create heat, but rather redistribute heat from the air or ground and release into the house.
The most common type of heat pump is the Air Source heat pump which transfers heat between your house and the outside air. Today’s modern heat pumps can reduce your electricity usage for heating by approximately 50% compared to electric resistance heating such as furnaces and baseboard heaters.
Geothermal heat pumps are more expensive but by using the heat from deep underground they end up being much more efficient and save you money all year round.
Maintenance Tip: You should regularly check all air ducts, filters, the blower, and indoor coil for dirt and other obstructions in order to keep them running smoothly.
ELECTRIC BASEBOARD HEATERS
Just as the name implies, these electric heaters are found along the baseboards of your rooms. They are sometimes controlled by a thermostat on the wall while other models can be controlled by a dial right on the heater itself.
While these types of heaters are really not the most efficient, they do rapidly heat a room and you have the option of choosing a different temperature in every room of your home. Most new home builds are do not have baseboard heaters installed but you can still find them in older-build homes.
Maintenance Tip: Dust your baseboard heaters regularly and don’t let loose belongings (e.g. curtains, clothing, bedding) come close to the heating coils because this can easily turn into a fire hazard.
Radiators are commonly found in older homes and use the heat from hot water to bring warmth to rooms around the house. Generally speaking, this hot water comes from a boiler that is pumped through the pipes to all the radiators in the house.
When this radiant energy heats the air next to a radiator the warm air rises, which pulls cooler air through the radiator and starts circulating the air around it. This circulations forms vertical currents that travel across a room while carrying the heated air with them.
Maintenance Tip: Regularly inspect the water pipes that lead to your radiators for cracks. You should “bleed” the water lines annually to ensure there is no air trapped in the pipes which can lead to a reduction in energy efficiency.
Not every house has a cooling system built into it. Some of us have to rely on fans, window air conditioners, and cold showers to keep cool on a hot day. But if you’re lucky enough to have air conditioning, these are the most common types:
CENTRAL AIR CONDITIONING
Central air conditioning is the popular choice among home owners. Your central air conditioning unit is usually located outside—along the side or back of your home.
The grills on the side of the unit filter the air from large debris while it sucks in fresh air through the system (pulled by the fan on top) which is cooled by a refrigerant.
Then this cold air is distributed throughout your home by the air ducts in your walls.
Maintenance Tip: It’s important to keep the side grills of this exterior unit free of leaves and debris, so that it can pull in fresh air easily. Make sure to have your unit inspected regularly to ensure there are no refrigerant leaks.
Believe it or not, the units that heat your home in the winter can also be used to cool your home in the summer.
A heat pump uses evaporator and condenser coils filled with a refrigerant. As air gets pulled into your system and passes over those coils, the air cools down and is pumped through your home’s duct system, cooling your home.
Maintenance Tip: You should regularly check all ducts, filters, the blower, and the indoor coil for dirt and other obstructions to keep this running smoothly.
Whether your water is supplied municipally (through the water provided from the city) or through a well on your property, you may have some of the following plumbing systems in your home:
WATER HEATER TANK
One of the most common forms of heating water is the tank system. It looks like a large round cylinder in your home that is heated either by natural gas or electricity.
These tanks keep a large amount of the water hot and disperse it throughout the home as needed.
But be careful! If you use too much all at once, you could be waiting a while for the water to heat up again as it refills the tank.
Many people choose to rent their water heater from a local provider for a monthly fee just in case there should be any leaks or problems that arise. If so, their tank will be fixed or replaced at no additional cost.
If you own the water heater and you encounter any problems, it will be up to you to pay for any repair fees.
Maintenance Tip: You can control the temperature of your hot water, usually through a dial on the the side of it. If you have small children, set the temperature lower to save on energy costs and avoid any heat scalding.
TANKLESS WATER HEATER
A more energy efficient way of getting hot water is with a tankless system. This only heats water as you need it, as opposed to holding and maintaining a tank full of water at all times.
The downside is that it sometimes takes a little longer for you to heat up your shower, because the water needs to pass through the heating coils before it’s warm enough. But the energy savings can make this method quite attractive to homeowners.
Maintenance Tip: Your tankless system should be flushed at least once a year to clean out any buildup of minerals. Also, there is an air filtration system that will need to be periodically cleaned.
WATER SOFTENER OR FILTRATION
Depending on where you live, the water your home uses could have more minerals in it than you’d like. Things like iron, rust, calcium and more can also sometimes lead to a buildup in your waterlines—not to mention they could add deposits on your dishes, showers and sinks.
A water softener takes this “hard” water and uses salt to neutralize these deposits. Together with a full-home filtration system, you will notice your hair lathers with less shampoo in the shower, and your dishes will look less foggy or dusty.
Maintenance Tip: You will need to keep your water softener stocked with special softener salt and any filters in the system will need to be replaced regularly. This will reduce build-up and damage to your plumbing lines and fixtures.
The most common (and safest) type of wiring in your home is insulated copper wire. Older homes should be cautious of older wiring (like knob & tube). A licensed electrician should be able to tell you what you’ve got and how you should maintain it.
Your home may have a breaker panel (usually in the basement of a house) where a series of switches or “breakers” are wire-connected to various circuits throughout the home.
If there is a surge or electrical short along one of these circuits it will trip the breaker and cause them automatically shut-off until the issue is resolved.
Be cautious not to overload your breaker panel too. If you’re adding additional circuits for any larger energy using items (e.g. a hot tub, stove, etc.) you may need to ask an electrician to add an additional panel to balance out the load of these circuits.
Maintenance Tip: Having a list of what each circuit does is so handy! If you know which breaker controls which part of your home, you’ll be able to easily figure out what is tripping the breaker and causing the flow of electricity to stop.
Older houses may have a fuse panel. They work similarly to a breaker panel but instead of switches that can be flipped back on, they contain a series of round fuses that screw in to each circuit.
If there is a surge or electrical short along one of the circuits the fuse will “blow” and it will need to be replaced. There are various fuses of differing amperages so it’s important that your electrician ensures the right amperage of fuse is used along each circuit.
Maintenance Tip: Keep a variety of different fuses on hand. If a fuse gets blown out you won’t have to make a trip to the hardware store for a replacement.
The Take Home
Having a little bit of knowledge about each of these systems in your home can really help keep your house running smoothly and efficiently for many years to come.
But when major questions arise, it’s very important to speak to a professional. A licensed Heating and Cooling specialist, a Plumber or an Electrician will know exactly how to solve any issues that arise with these systems. They are also invaluable for running routine inspections of your home’s systems to ensure that everything is operating safely.
Remember: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! So take care of your home and it will continue to take care of you!