Spring is a busy time as we spend more time outdoors. Taking care of a heat pump is not high on anyone’s “TO DO” list. But failing to maintain your system can endanger your household and cause expensive repairs. If you don’t have a service contract, schedule an annual spring checkup (that can cost as little as $75). To cover mechanical breakdowns, a home warranty can also be a real wallet-saver.

Here are eight warning signs that your heat pump may need repair:

1. Weird noises.

Odd noises are a warning sign! These noises can include clanging, gurgling, grinding, or buzzing. Do not hesitate to call a qualified HVAC contractor because the problem can quickly get worse!!

Clanging. If you hear a clanging or banging sound in your outdoor unit, shut your system off immediately to prevent worse damage as the fan is out of alignment.

Gurgling. This is a sign that your system is leaking and needs repair.

Grinding. This grating sound indicates something is binding mechanically or bearings are dirty and need cleaning or replacement.

Buzzing. If you hear this sound coming from your indoor air handler, it normally indicates a refrigerant leak. This is dangerous as breathing this substance can be harmful.

2. Cold and hot spots.

If you notice places in your house suddenly getting warm in the summer or chilly in the winter, your HVAC system is not functioning correctly.

3. Spiking electric bill.

If your electric bill suddenly spikes, you have a problem! You will also normally notice other associated symptoms as well, such as uncommon smells or abnormal sounds, or your home just doesn’t feel as cozy as it used to feel. Don’t assume inflation is the cause of your spiking bill.

4. Unusual Smells.

The most apparent warning indicator will be unusual smells. The three most occurring smells are:

“Dirty socks.” Much like the smell of a gym bag full of sweaty clothes, your HVAC system can have “Dirty Sock Syndrome,” indicating a mildew or mold buildup in your air handler. If the smell persists after passing a safety inspection, get your ducts professionally cleaned.

“Fish.” Because your system is mechanical, parts or wiring can heat up or potentially burn up. A fishy odor can be a symptom of a wiring issue, an overheated motor, or melting components.

“Vinegar.” While vinegar is good on French fries — you certainly do not want to smell this aroma from your HVAC system! This indicates a potential electrical issue.

5. Constant running but no impact.

If your HVAC system constantly runs but fails to heat or cool properly, there is a systemic problem that needs investigation.

6. Water leaks.

If you notice water leaks around your outside unit or inside air handler, there is a leak affecting performance.

7. Clogged air filter.

If you have not replaced your air filter within the last 90 days, you could be causing problems for your HVAC system.

8. Faulty Thermostat.

If your system does not kick on when you adjust your thermostat, there may be the problem with your system. You may also have a faulty thermostat or not have it programmed properly.

To cover the cost of unexpected breakdowns consider buying a service plan from a heating and air conditioning company that includes periodic servicing for your system. Purchasing a home warranty that also includes coverage for HVAC systems (watch the fine print as some do not cover the cost of freon) is another wise idea. Lastly, pay attention to unusual sounds and smells that can alert you of a problem before it becomes too costly.

Reen Waterman is a freelance writer and newspaper columnist with his weekly column “About the House.” He writes and co-hosts a daily radio program heard in 91 countries at www.YourRefreshedLife.com. An avid outdoorsman, Waterman is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America and the American Writers and Artists Institute.

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