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What to expect with a Heating & Cooling “Tune-Up”, “System Check”, or “Safety Inspection” and what’s the difference?

It seems like every time you turn the radio or TV on these days there is another heating & cooling company advertising their specials and trying to gain your business. Some of these companies have been in business for years and some are just getting started, but one thing we all seem to have in common is no matter what we call it, we all offer some type of special to insure your heating & cooling system is working properly and doing what it’s supposed to do when it’s supposed to do it.

The difference…

Any time I take my truck to the shop for a “Tune-Up”, I expect certain parts or fluids to be replaced. I expect the spark plugs to be replaced, and I expect the oil to be replaced. I might even expect the radiator to be flushed during a tune-up as well. I expect the service technician to look at the overall condition of my vehicle and report back to me anything they might find that needs to be brought to my attention. I also expect to have any oil-able or grease-able parts oiled and greased. All these things bring me the peace of mind that my truck is going to be there when I need it; and not have a breakdown when I need it most. Basically I expect specific jobs and tasks to be completed during a tune-up. Why should your heating & cooling system be any different?

So back to my question; “What’s the difference?” We at Parham Heating, Cooling, Plumbing & Electric, LLC have offered several different “specials” in the past such as tune-ups and system checks. I have even heard other heating & cooling contractors refer to their specials as a “Safety Inspection”. As I can’t speak for other contractors, I can tell you; to me a “System Check” and a “Tune-up” are two drastically different things. They are both really good things with really great purposes; just be aware of what your buying. During a system check or as some contractors refer to as a safety inspection, the service technician should be doing just that; a check or inspection. This does not mean that they are completing any specific jobs or tasks such as cleaning; because if your system has had regular maintenance performed it may not need to be cleaned. Maybe you are in between seasons and you want to make sure the system easily switches from heat to cool or from cool to heat, and you want to make sure there are no surprises when you need it most. The service technician should thoroughly inspect every part of your heating and cooling system or, at least, the part of the system that they specify in their special such as the A/C or the Heating part. During this check, the service technician should be checking the overall performance of the system. They should be checking all of the electrical components of the system, the amperages of fan motors and compressors, check refrigerant levels, they should be inspecting every part of the heating portion of your system and ensuring it is safe from any danger or harm to you and your family, along with many other things. The service technician should be looking for anything that is unsafe for you and your family, as well as, looking for anything that could cause it to quit heating or cooling. If your luck is like mine, Murphy’s law always seem to set in; and it’s going to break down either when you need it most, or when a house full of guests are on their way. A properly performed “Check” will give you the peace of mind that your system is less likely to have a breakdown, when you need it most.

A “Tune-Up” on the other hand is much more extensive. When I hear heating and cooling “tune-up”, I instantly expect more than just a check. I think back to all the extra things that were done to my truck; and I expect the same treatment. Now I don’t expect to have my system’s oil changed because there is none to change, but I do expect to have more done than just a check.

So what should a Tune-Up and a system check consist of?

Most heating and cooling systems condition the air in your home by moving air across coils that are either hotter or colder than the air in your home thus resulting in a more comfortable home. In most systems you will have two coils. The indoor coil maybe inside of the air handler or furnace somewhere inside the house, or if you have a package unit (meaning the whole system is outside and you have ductwork connecting it to your house) the indoor coil will be inside the unit, where you can’t see it. The other coil will be on the outside part of your system where you can visually see it, and will usually look similar to the radiator on your car. Now both indoor and outdoor coils have fan motors that pull air through these coils the whole time the system is running. As these systems are running and air is moving through both of these coils, small particle of dirt, lint, bugs and grass are being caught in the coils reducing the efficiency of the system. Now you might say, “That wouldn’t happen to my system because I change the filter regularly”. You might be surprised… Depending on many factors such as how well your duct system is sealed, what kind of filters you use, or simply how often you change the filter, your indoor coil could have more dirt caked into it than the outside coil. Will a system check or safety inspection address these issues and take care of cleaning these coils? No, but a Tune-up should!

With a tune-up, I expect all of the same “checks” and “inspections” that I have previously mentioned along with a lot more. I expect my outdoor coil to be chemically cleaned and washed out. I expect all leaves and grass to be removed so that the unit can operate more efficiently. I would expect my indoor coil to be inspected to see how clean or dirty it may be. If I have been using high performance air filters and my air ducts are properly sealed, then I shouldn’t have to clean my indoor coil every year. Unless I have my system inspected I would never know these things, instead I would just be paying extra money on my utilities every month that I could be using on something fun. I expect fan motors to be oiled, and all loose belts to be adjusted and tightened. Since the indoor coil can produce as much as 10 gallons of condensation per day during cooling, I expect my drain line to be cleaned out because I don’t want water running out into my floor or across my ceiling. I expect all the safeties and limits to be inspected for proper operation because I want me and my family to be safe. I expect all parts of the heating system, especially the heat exchanger (Carbon Monoxide Barrier), to be inspected for any holes and cracks. I also expect any and all potential problems to be brought to my attention along with options as to how and when it could be fixed. If this is what I expect, then why should YOU expect any less?

To sum things up, a system check and a tune-up are both really great things that serve two different purposes. The main thing is, with so many companies out there offering their own special, whatever it may be called, know what you’re getting and know the difference. If you’re not sure then ask questions, and your heating & cooling company should easily be able to tell you what is included in what they are offering.

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