Dirt, Dust, and Heaters

A clean and healthy home makes for a clean and healthy life. We all know that the better condition our homes are in, generally the better we feel in our day to day lives. Everyone has their own tolerance for cleanliness levels and their own cleaning habits, but it is as close as possible to a universal truth that no one wants unnecessary dirt and dust and strange smells or marks in their home. For most purposes, this just means the occasional vacuuming and dusting of the house is necessary. Cleaning up messes, sweeping floors, and wiping off our shoes after entering the house from a day out in the dirt, are things we are capable of handling on our own and they keep our houses in a state of clean equilibrium.

What’s less obvious is how to prevent dirt and dust when it is a cause of our heating systems when we’re heating in Austin. Ductwork dirtiness and buildup of soot and other anomalous dirty materials in the air is something that the average person might not know how to tackle. Sometimes it is a sign of a serious problem with your heater and sometimes it is just due to a lack of maintenance. Either way, this tip is all about the sort of issue with heaters that can cause such things and how to avoid and solve them.

Duct Cleaning

If you notice an excess of dust in your home and you can’t attribute it to anything outside of your heating system, one of the first culprits you should examine is your ductwork. Just by the nature of the system, your heater is going to move a lot of air around in your home, circulating and circulating it around, and the ductwork is the vessel through which the air does most of its movement. This means that all the dust in the air will eventually find itself in, and possibly settle in, the ducts in your home. After a while, this means that your ducts can eventually become too dirty, and this will lead to a number of problems.

For example, dirt and dust restrict your heating system's ability to do its job. In the winter, dirt-clogged heat exchangers cannot warm the air as efficiently. In the summer, dirt-clogged condensing coils are unable to cool the air as well. These both increase the Austin heating systems run time, requiring them to use more fuel and energy to heat and cool your home. A similar but slightly different problem, dirt and dust can restrict airflow. Let's say your system is doing a fine job of heating the air. But if the blower fan or motor can't turn because of dirt or the air filter is clogged with dust, then the system can't effectively circulate that properly warmed or cooled air throughout your home. It's still going to run longer and use more energy.

In a cause and effect view, this leads to further problems. A heater that has to stay on longer to do the same amount of work is going to go through more wear and tear and ultimately will have a reduced lifespan. Another problem induced by overly dirty ducts is the effect on the air quality of your home. Dust contains not only fine dirt, but also dead skin, pet dander, microorganisms from cat litter, and other particulates such as pollen, mold spores, fungi, and even rodent feces. Left to contaminate your heating system, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria, mites, and other pests.

All of this is to say that a dirty duct can only lead to a host of problems down the road, meaning the occasional duct cleaning is a wise thing to do. This can be done by a professional HVAC technician with ease and is recommended for anyone who’s dealing with a dirty duct problem. There are several ways to check if you have such a problem. The most obvious is to have a preventative maintenance check be done on your heating system once a year but there are also things you can look for yourself. You can open up the air vents in your home and examine them visually for a buildup of dust and dirt. Make sure of course that you check and replace your air filters regularly as these will by their nature gather dust. Examine the return air registers for dust buildup, particularly if there are thick, fuzzy coatings of dust. And you can also open up your furnace and examine the blower fan and motor for signs of dust and dirt.

Furnace Coil Dirt

The ducts in your home aren’t the only part of the heating system that can be a victim of too much dirt. Furnace heat exchangers are designed with particular airflow specifications. If the volume of air passing through the furnace drops below that parameter, heat exchange is diminished and overall heating effectiveness suffers. While the most obvious cause of insufficient airflow is simply a dirty air filter, once you’ve ruled that out, another possible source of reduced airflow is the evaporator coil located inside the furnace plenum.

Furnaces in a furnace and air conditioning system, where there’s one outdoor unit that provides the refrigerant for the air conditioner when it is in use, and an indoor unit that does the heating work and the air blowing for both systems, have a gas burner or electric coil that does the heating in the heat exchanger. The gas burner or electric coils activate and a heat exchanger warms air pushed through the furnace by the blower fan. In a clean, well-maintained system, this heated air flows through the passages in the evaporator coil and is conveyed into supply ducts.

Dust and dirt can cause a lot of problems when affecting this small but important component of your heater. The coil in the furnace plenum is composed of hundreds of tiny air passages. Any restriction in these passages reduces airflow and diminishes the effectiveness of the heating and cooling function. Often a consequence of neglecting maintenance such as regular filter changes, dust and dirt may plug small coil passages and reduce downstream airflow. This degrades the effectiveness of heating throughout the home. It also increases heating costs as the furnace must run longer to meet thermostat settings, wasting gas or electricity. A severely obstructed furnace coil may obstruct airflow to the point that the system overheats, tripping a safety high-temperature switch and automatically shutting down the furnace.

These coils are not easily accessible and should always be cleaned by a professional. It isn’t the same as changing an air filter, which can be done by yourself on a regular basis. If you notice a reduction of strength in your heater and find that it has to run longer, once you’ve eliminated a dirty air filter as the cause, contact an HVAC professional to see if a dirty furnace coil is an issue.

Dust-Proofing Tips

So far we’ve just looked at dirt and dust in the heating system itself, the dirt, dust, and debris that are out of sight but shouldn’t be out of mind. But now let’s take a look at some of the ways you can prevent and combat the buildup of dirt and dust in your home itself. The heating of a home requires moving a lot of air and some of that air will carry dust and other particles with it. These particles will inevitably land on the surfaces within your home but there are ways to limit this effect.

The first and most obvious method is to dust your home regularly. The optimal way to do this is with products that actually capture the dust instead of just moving it around. Things like feather dusters and yarn or string mops just push the dust around and don’t capture it. Swiffers and Grab-it cloths are probably your best bet. For those concerned with waste, a slightly dampened cloth, with water or furniture cleaner, or micro-fiber cloth is a good option for furniture.

A good deal of dust prevention can be done with the choices you make when it comes to furnishing your home. For example, heavy drapes tend to collect dust like nothing else. Consider replacing them with blinds or shutters, which are easily cleaned. Upholstered furniture is another big culprit. Cloth furniture pieces are havens for dust-loving critters, which is why wood, leather or vinyl furniture is the better choice. All three are easy to wipe down.

Also, there are ways to improve your air manually. Next time you’re in the market for a vacuum, look for one with a HEPA filter. Another option until then is using the filter of your heating system to filter out some of the dust in your home when you clean. Just switch your thermostat to the fan the only option. This turns on the blower inside your furnace and filters the air even while the system isn’t heating or cooling. Leave the blower on for about 15 minutes after you’re done cleaning. But don’t forget to switch back to auto after the 15 minutes are up so that it doesn’t run needlessly and waste energy.

Radiator Cleaning

For those with boilers and not furnaces, dust in ducts isn’t going to be an issue for you during the heating season. Instead, you have the radiator to worry about. Radiators themselves can gather dust and dirt, although because there isn’t any air that moves through them this isn’t going to occur at the same rate. Still, dust accumulation happens and sometimes this can be a tricky item to clean well. Radiators are constructed in such a way that dust and dirt can become trapped and takes some time to clean it all out. Luckily, the process is simple and it doesn’t require any special equipment. With a little time and effort, your radiators will be looking great and ready to provide heat all fall and winter long.

The basic steps for a thorough radiator cleaning are as follows:

  1. Start by vacuuming as much dust and dirt from around, in and underneath the radiator as possible. Use a vacuum with a HEPA filter if you can, as this will be the most effective.
  2. Wrap a dust cloth around the end of a measuring stick, or other long stick. Secure it with a piece of tape around one end. Be careful when taping not to cover up too much of the cloth.
  3. Place a towel out and lay it underneath the radiator to catch the dirt and dust that falls during the cleaning.
  4. Push the dust cloth on the stick from the top of the radiator to the bottom, pushing the dust and dirt down to the bottom. Repeat this for each section of the radiator. The towel at the bottom, on the floor, will collect the dust as it comes loose and falls down.
  5. You’ll want to follow this up with water treatment. Fill a bucket with warm water. Add a small amount of soap and agitate until suds begin to form.
  6. Get another soft cloth and get it damp but not soaking and dripping with the soapy water.
  7. Wipe down the exterior of the radiator thoroughly. Finish up by drying it off with a soft cloth. This will avoid rusting.
  8. Finally, look at the wall above the radiator. The heat from the radiator can cause dust and dirt to stick to the walls. Wash these areas with warm, soapy water.

Dust, Dirt, and Heating Repair in Austin

Heater cleaning doesn’t have to be an arduous affair. Regardless of the type of heater you have, dust and dirt and debris can be a threat to the efficiency and health of your heating system, but it can also be taken care of fairly easily in most cases.

Some things can be done yourself, but others require the help of a professional. AC Express is an Austin heater repair company that operates from Buda and Kyle to Lago Vista and Taylor and beyond. Contact us if you ever need heater repair in Austin. We even offer same-day heater repair services, so call today!